Since my plan to win the lottery and build a state-of-the-art training center is not moving along as quickly as I’d hoped, Phoenix and I train outdoors a lot. Since I'm back at work full time and it's late October and gets dark earlier and earlier, we train outside when we get the chance.
Which explains why we were working go-outs last night. In the rain. In 37 degrees. This was clearly not a formal run-through session as Phoenix and I haven’t worked a lot of blank wall go-outs. Although nearly all of the sites we show at have gates along the back of the Utility ring, we are showing at a site in November that presents only a blank wall, not even an electrical outlet to provide a visual mark.
Last night I used food on a semi-hidden (in the grass) target next to the outside back wall of the garage to give Phoenix a reason to run straight at solid cinder blocks. Tonight I will be using a different method to provide better control of A) the reward and B) the kittens. Which are not the same in spite of Phoenix occasionally thinking they should be.
Our training session went like this:
Give kittens a big bowl of food inside the garage so they will leave us alone. They find training very entertaining, especially when it involves food on targets. Phoenix is used to having them appear in the middle of whatever we are doing. Sometimes he can deal with them. Sometimes he can't. I don’t get on his case about it, we just work through it.
Place target on ground and put food on target. Mark Phoenix to target and send, let him get the food, call him back.
Run out and put food on target. Run back. Mark Phoenix to target, which is being approached by a kitten. So much for thinking they would stay in the garage and eat their own supper. What - and miss the floor show?
Shout at kitten. This does no good. Send Phoenix fast.
Too late. Kitten is faster and is eating the food off the target. Phoenix decides it is not possible to do go-outs under these circumstance.
Take Phoenix by collar and run to spot to show him that a 5-pound kitten is not a clear and present danger and that he is still expected to go to his spot. Scoop up kitten from spot so she doesn’t get sat on. Praise Phoenix for overcoming the Threat of Cat. Gently toss kitten out of the way with suggestion she go play somewhere else.
Turn to walk back across yard. Feel sharp pain in my leg. Remove kitten from leg (it’s Siren, the leg climber). Set Phoenix up and mark him to the target, which now contains no food but two kittens. He looks at me like, “Are you serious?” I remind him the kittens are not treats.
Farmer comes in from chores, squints at me through the mist and asks if I don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain.
I tell him if I had my own building I wouldn’t have to train in the rain. He gives me the “I married a crazy woman look” and goes in the house.
Send Phoenix. Kittens scatter. Sit! He sits. Kitten pounces on his tail. I reward with hazardous duty pay.
Run back across the yard. Set up. Mark Phoenix. There are now three kittens between him and his go-out spot. I send him. Kittens run left. He runs right, in avoidance. Collar hold and run to spot. Show him the cookie he could have had for going straight. Decide it would take too much time to round up kittens and shut them in a crate.
Set Phoenix up. Peel Siren off leg. Stuff her under my arm. (I should have documented the amount of training I’ve done this summer with a cat tucked under my arm. Might qualify for Ripley’s.) Mark. Two remaining kittens are running amuck. Send. Phoenix flies across the yard, ignores kittens and sits fast when I stop him. Praise. Treat. Nose is running. Fingers are numb. There are muddy little cat paw prints on my jeans. End session.
Tonight’s plan: food stuck on the garage wall vs food on a ground target. I would like Phoenix to actually get a reward at the point of success (going clear to the wall) without having it stolen by the kittens first. I have no idea how high the kittens can leap. I expect to find out.