Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Big Red Dog

Here are a few pics from Jamie's veterans sweepstakes class over the weekend. Thanks Marsha for being our photographer! Really glad she got shots of Jamie's butt and not mine.

Is he a handsome fellow or what?

Phoenix, Part II

So basically where our training is headed now is two-fold:

1) much more emphasis on building excitement for gloves, dumbbell and articles. These will become "toys with rules." Not a big stretch since he very much enjoys retrieving and tugging. Yes, there will still be other toys to play with, but the "ring objects" will be used a majority of the time.

While the ultimate goal is to have the mere sight of a dumbbell send him into paroxysms of ecstasy, in reality, I'd be totally happy with a bounce and tail wag.

2) making personal play (touch, push, bounce, chase and other silly games) a higher priority as rewards with much less emphasis on food. I KNOW he enjoys this, I've just not made it a priority because it's easier to pull out a tug or deliver a treat. Because those rewards had worked so well for me with other dogs, I was determined they WOULD work for Phoenix. And they did. Except when they didn't.

This means our training sessions will be brief and informal, which isn't such a change. I've made a list of exercises/skills and how I can incorporate play into each of them. Again, Phoenix is forcing me to re-think how obedience training works, how dogs learn and how dogs perceive different situations.

I am very sure that somewhere between Novice and Open, Phoenix began to perceive the obedience ring as "The Place With No Treats Where Mom Is Unhappy and This Is Not Fun." Changing his world view isn't going to happen over night.

I'm not trying to show him that "obedience is fun" as much as I'm trying to show him "playing games with Mom is fun." He thinks they are, sort of, but not all the time and not necessarily when pressure is on. I very much want our training to look like showing and the right now, there's a big neon sign  hanging over the ring entry that says "Abandon all hope for reward ye who enter here."

You can call it relationship building if you like. Relationships with our dogs are very complex and often change in relation to environment and situation.

Much of our "new" approach (it isn't new at all, trainers who are smarter than I am have done this for years) is based on breaking the cookie habit and giving my dog a chance to learn than he can play and have fun with me, no props needed. I relied heavily on cookies for rewards and my dog relied on them for information, even when they were delivered infrequently. He showed me over the weekend that he can play and have fun in the ring between exercises - in fact, I found myself looking forward to the end of each exercise so I could release him for a moment of silliness before plunging into what came next. With time, I'm confident I can build play and the anticipation of play and the simple enjoyment of working with me into all obedience skills.

Leaving the cookies and tugs in the training bag is daunting. If your instructor told you the only reward you could use for your dog in class was YOU, would you have a good training session?


  1. Awww, those are great shots of you two! So sweet! And the outfit looks perfect!

  2. Boy is the "me as a reward" a challenge! I had so much fun teaching my HIGHLY food-motivated Aussie all kinds of stuff as she worked for her meals as a puppy. And after three lovely performances in novice (with some points off for things like happy crashing into me on the recall) she figured out that there was not ever going to be food in the ring. Which was kind of the end of heeling.
    It's been a long road toward understanding that we could have fun together in the ring, even if there is no food. A couple of weekends ago she had her first two tries at utility. We didn't Q, and we had some baby-dog moments of distraction (she's not quite 2 yet), but I was so happy to get bouncing between the exercises and a generally good attitude.
    Unlike Taz the Terv, who skulked through the exercises, avoided the correct glove because someone was walking in the vicinity with (ick!) dogs, and decided that between my legs was a more enjoyable place to finish to than heel position. Life is just much harder when you worry about things.