The irony of this post is that today's temps are hitting near record highs — 60s on December 3, un-freaking-real — and are predicted to stay above normal for most of the coming week, confirming my theory that the whackadoodle weather pattern from this summer plans to stick around for a while. Not a snowflake in sight. Seriously not complaining.
But we live in the Midwest and eventually reality is going to hit and I’m not going to have the ambition to make the hour round-trip drive to the club building to train. There’s only so much snuggling on the recliner we can do before Phoenix starts bouncing off the walls.
Here’s what’s on our “train without leaving the comfort of your home” list for the winter. We can do all of this indoors at home.
1) Scent article room search. Instead of putting articles in a traditional pile, scatter them around a room. The dog has to work harder to find his article and this has the added benefit of encouraging easily frustrated dogs to settle and do their job. Phoenix is a poster child for this - loves doing articles, loves the instant gratification of finding them easily in a tradition pile. He was definitely challenged when I scattered them around a room. As the dog gets more proficient, articles can be hidden in more difficult places. We are up to “hiding” articles in plain sight on the seats of chairs and the couch or under an end table.
2) Body awareness: backing up stairs. Phoenix mastered this in about 2 sessions, leaving me to wonder at what point in his development did he learn the foundation for this. He is an easily shaped dog and is willing to try different behaviors when faced with new situations but sometimes it really scares me how freaky fast his mind works. Now that he’s learned how the mechanics of it, I’d like him to do it without barking at me. Is that too much to ask?
3) “Go to (fill in the blank)”: this is something I’ve taught all my dogs because I’m often too lazy to walk from one end of the house to another to take something to the Farmer. We use this system a lot for mail delivery. The shelties and Jamie were all good at it. They went straight from Point A to Point B. Phoenix takes the offered item and then runs amuck, ignoring the Farmer until eventually delivering what’s left of whatever I gave him. This winter I need to load up the Farmer with treats, then practice sending Phoenix back and forth. At the moment Phoenix clearly finds possessing the item more rewarding than actually delivering it. Who knew the "Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman" was so much fun.
4) Touch (in the context of go outs): strengthening the understanding of “go touch what is straight in front of your nose.”
5) Core strengthening - balance disk: right now Phoenix is sitting up and waving on his balance disk. He looks like a demented prairie dog. I have 2 disks so may do something with hind feet on one disk and front feet on another.
6) Body awareness - bowl work: good for moving hind quarters, glove turns, finding heel, moving laterally while working fronts. Plus he thinks its fun to put his feet on a bowl and do stuff. He’s apparently a reincarnated circus dog. I should get a big ball and teach him to roll it with his front paws.
7) That stupid pet trick you saw someone else’s dog do and thought it was hysterical. In our case, it’s balancing food on his nose and having him toss it into the air and catch it. Since he can catch flying cheese at 30 feet, I figure this might take all of 17 seconds. We haven’t tried it yet.
8) Fronts and finishes. Forever. Amen.
9) Backing up on the flat (no stairs). This falls under a number of categories: tricks, body awareness and adding an element of silliness to obedience exercises. While I don’t think he needs to back half way across the county, I like using a “back” cue during any distance work. For example, Utility signals: give the drop signal, then cue “back.” Phoenix finds Utility signals an annoying imposition on his time but he thinks backing up in a down is crazy fun. I don’t know why. He’s nutty like that. I also use it on the drop on recall: come, down, back, release.
10) Tugging skills. Phoenix has always been an enthusiastic tugger and I’ve let him develop some bad habits through my own lack of understanding of the mechanics of tugging with a strong dog. So we’re working on more TUGGING (biting and staying on the tug) and less MUNCHING and THRASHING, which helps him work with a clearer, calmer mind and is easier on my body with more effort from my dog and less work for me. His “outs” are improving, too.
When we go to the building or get together with friends we can work "big" stuff, like heeling and retrieves and directed jumping and all that. But these little exercises will keep both of us from getting cabin fever and keep body and mind active. Plus, tugging with him really is better than any gym workout!
So let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Did I type that out loud?