Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sit. Stay.

The abyssmal weather continues. Yesterday the high was 104. Tomorrow is forecast to be 105. That's just air temperature. Tack on another 5-10 degrees for the heat index. This is not funny. I am not amused. Make it stop.

This weather has actually been good for Phoenix's training because it makes me pinpoint very specific things to work on in our 6 a.m. sessions. When the weather is lovely, it's easy to dawdle and mess around and let sessions become totally unfocused because it's just nice to be outdoors playing with my dog. When it's already close to 80 degrees and very humid at 6 a.m., it is not nice. We get down to business — work/play and get back in the AC.

Something we've been doing on hot summer nights is working stays, both indoors and out. Since stays will always be a weak link with Phoenix, they need constant maintenance. I will never take our stays for granted.

I have spent a lot of time proofing stays with some very creative and helpful friends. We've tossed food, bounced balls, squeaked toys, rolled around on the floor next to the dogs, picked up the dog's leash, clipped it on and asked them to come with us, we've pulled, pushed and revved them up with a game of 1-2-3-go!

It's all done with the goal of building understanding - don't  move. Distractions and proofs are low key until the dogs show they understand, then we ask for more effort at resisting temptation. Gone are the days of jerk and yank "corrections" for moving out of place. We're looking for that light bulb moment where the dog thinks about moving, then clearly decides, "No. Not gonna. I'm gonna sit right here."

At home, I'll get the vacuum out (just get it out, not even turn it on - oh what a test!) I might leave Phoenix on a stay in the living room and take Jamie outdoors. Or open the back door and call "Kitty, kitty!" He does sits on a balance disk, on the bed, in the recliner.

Nope. Not budging.

Once, I put Phoenix in a stay on the front porch, got in my van and drove down the lane. Then I turned around and drove back.

He didn't move. I could tell he thought I was totally out of my mind but he didn't move.

But what if . . .

. . . you just put your dog in a sit and do nothing?

Because this is the scenario that happens in the ring. The dog is left to his own devices for 1 or 3 minutes. To sit there. And look around. No flying food, no bouncing balls, no remote control rats (don't laugh - I have one) no people teasing or coaxing or otherwise keeping his brain engaged. Just sit there. And . . . sit there some more. Yawn.

So we've been practicing plain old sit/stays. Not excessively, because stays are poke-your-eyes-out boring. But enough that I feel comfortable that my dog understands he is expected to sit still when nothing else is going on. We spend so much time proofing stays that sometimes I think we overlook the obvious: can my dog just sit still for 3 minutes when nothing else is happening?

Proofing is good. It's builds understanding. So does occasionally presenting the exercise just as the dog is going to experience it in the ring. Fortunately, this is the perfect thing to train when the weather defies working anything energetic outdoors.

Jamie practices these stay sessions with Phoenix. He usually practices being the naughty dog who lays down. Good boy. Cookies for everyone.

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