As I wrote this, I found it to be like a summer reading list, inviting and recreational, no pressure to perform or achieve, just to do and enjoy the doing. These are not things I feel I HAVE to do but rather, things I WANT to do but have let slip. Yeah, okay, I probably should have been doing some of them all along but the learning curve that is Phoenix’s obedience career simply hadn’t taken me there yet.
Phoenix has the technical skills to perform the Open and Utility exercises. Continuing to work them over and over is not going to remedy his ho-hum attitude. The word “proofing” makes me cringe because I’ve seen it used badly more often than not - it always seems to be a “let’s set the dog up to fail” scenario - but I want to challenge him on some skills and hopefully keep them fresh and interesting at the same time.
Here are a few ideas:
1) Using different scent articles. Not just a different set but entirely different objects as articles. So far I’ve collected a leather luggage tag, a small aluminum bowl, a plastic funnel, a plastic dog food scoop, a small metal Jell-O mold (thanks, Michele, now my dog can retrieve antiques!) and an enamelware cup. I’ll mix these in with his regular articles. Sometimes they’ll be scented, sometimes they’ll just be out there in the pile. Am considering trying fabric articles, as well as metal, leather and plastic. I did this with Jamie a number of years ago and he enjoyed it immensely.
2) Stays. Okay, this is the ONLY exercise I am not sure that Phoenix completely understands. So . . . what if . . . I leave him and instead of walking straight away, I turn around and walk behind him? Can he not move his feet? What if I leave him in a “sit up” (sit pretty, beg) position? Can he hold it while I walk away? How many different ways can I help him understand that “sit” means “sit still and do not wiggle, scoot, shift or re-arrange your feet”? (Phoenix does a lovely “sit up,” so that’s not an issue.)
3) Fronts. I have totally abandoned, neglected and ignored working on fronts this spring. We need to get back to working cookie toss fronts and “front feet on a bowl” fronts. Both are exactly what they sound like.
4) Dumbbell and glove retrieves - total informality needed here. I want to incorporate more restraint when sending him (holding him back so he'll charge out on the retrieve). For all his craziness, Phoenix has never offered much resistance on restrained recall exercises but this spring I’ve started using very mild restraint and he seems to be finding it more fun to fight it and really fly out on the retrieves.
5) Heeling: 99% of this is going to be breaking my old habits and incorporating play - tossing a cookie, releasing him to it, then calling him to heel while I’m moving; hand targeting (stationary) or hand touches (moving); tag and chase; lots of fast-time (that revs him up), spins, bounces and working A LOT to the right so he constantly has to drive and make effort to remain in heel.
6) Building strong understanding of cue words/jackpotting/back-chaining exercises/delayed gratification. Okay, that’s a mess of a concept but they are all linked together: I’ve been working on building a strong cue word foundation and am not sure Phoenix totally gets it yet but he’s willing to try. He’s shown me he’s very situational with cue words - he often doesn’t “believe” in them when we are training away from home.
7) Tied in with #6 is an overall reduction in food use. In all honestly, I’ll probably still be using about the same volume of food, only it will be delivered jackpot style instead of one cookie per behavior. Cookie breaks will be less frequent but with higher payout, with the goal of chaining multiple exercises (formal or informal, doesn't matter) together without loss of attitude before rewarding.
If my list gets any longer, we’re gonna need more summer. And given that the air temp today is supposed to be 97, with a heat index of 103, I’m not a big fan of that idea.