Friday, June 3, 2011

Now what?

It's all fine and good to have a grand epiphany about changing up one's training methods. It's another thing entirely to actually go out and do it.

When I wrote about switching from being a "food trainer" to putting the focus on ME as the motivator, I did not mean to imply Phoenix will never get another cookie in his life. Believe me, the dog will not be lacking for cookies. But they will play a different role. In short, cookies are being demoted.

For the last two weeks, I've built more and more play into our training sessions. Phoenix has always enjoyed playing. He's a fierce tugger, loves balls and anything soft, fuzzy and squeaky. (No, I am NOT taking the cat to training.)

But we had some glitches with our play. Again, this was nobody's fault but mine. Sometimes Phoenix chose not to play. Um, no thanks, yawn, not interested - this was especially true at shows and reflected not only his stress level but also a weak spot in our relationship. So is an issue we need to deal with. If I present a toy, I expect him to engage with me. Granted, I have to do my part. I can't stand there and wave a toy at him and then give up when he looks the other way - I have to make it come alive for him to make playing and interacting with me very inviting and fun.

Phoenix definitely has his favorite toys and I have my favorite toys and believe me, they are NOT the same ones. I like tug-style toys that I can hold on to (for dear life) with both hands. Anything that I can't get a grip on soon ends up getting yanked out of my hands and Phoenix goes capering off to entertain himself. Of course, he loves balls and plush squeakies (his "skeeks"), which are fun for him but really hard to tug with. We can interact with them best by hiding or playing tease and chase games where the toy is just an accessory to interaction.

Right now, we are playing with MY favorites because A) I want him to understand it doesn't really matter what KIND of toy we have, I'm the one who makes it fun and B) I need to get better at making it fun. In other words, I need to break out of some lazy habits.

Previously when I'd used toys in training, I tended to switch frequently during a training session so the poor little darling dear wouldn't get bored. The only thing this got me was a dog who was dangerously close to calling the shots and saying, "No, not playing with that. Get the other one. Now, wench."

Which is not the attitude I was trying to cultivate.

Hope everyone has a fun weekend! The Belgians and I are off to Ames this afternoon for an agility weekend, my only outdoor agility weekend of the year. It's supposed to be super hot and rainy with the possibility of some severe weather . . . which will remind me why this is my only outdoor trial of the year.

Plus we'll drive through the Iowa State campus and relive past glories (okay, my four years at Iowa State were heavy on the beer and panicking about papers and exams and light on the glory) and I'll shop at a couple of the book stores. It's time to renew my supply of Cyclone apparel. Mostly to annoy the Farmer, who is a staunch University of Iowa Hawkeye fan.


  1. My obedience experience is limited, so please excuse me if you're already familiar with her, but one of my favorite motivational trainers (not just for obedience, but just as a trainer in general) is Denise Fenzi:

    I've been to several of her seminars and they are extremely fascinating (and, once again, I don't even compete in obedience). Talked a lot about solving the issues you've had.

    Anyway, just want to pop in and put that out there as a resource, just in case. ;-)

  2. "No, not playing with that. Get the other one. Now, wench."

    LOL - that is so Phoenix!!

  3. I've been reading this series with interest- I have a dog with stress issues, and I want to compete with her. I love your conclusion that you need to strengthen your relationship and "become the cookie." I look forward to reading more about how this turns out.