I trained poop face today…

How many times have you heard someone say NOT to train a poop faced dog? We all know the look from our dog…the look which says he really doesn’t want to train today. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s grumpy, maybe he’s just having an off day (they are allowed those once and awhile), but he’s in a less than stellar mood and showing you very clearly he would prefer to be anywhere else but in the ring with you.

Well, I had a poop face Springer today (Gunner, 7yo) and, you know what, I trained him anyway. Did he get a little better, yes, but he was still pretty poop faced about the entire ordeal. But, as long as my dog is not ill or hurting, I am going to ask him to do something for me. It may not be stellar work and I may have to make some things super easy, but he has to give me something each time I take him out of his crate. Why did I work him? Because he has been giving me less than good effort in the show ring. And what better day to train him than when he does not want to give me good effort in practice? And, honestly, when I am at a trial and paying $25+ for a class, he does not get to decide when he does not want to work. Sorry.

I did not cheerlead, but I did ask him to work. He started with bouncing hand touches and a few spins and twists. I pinched his rear when he showed it to me and brought him back to me with a hand touch. But, the main thing I did not do? I did NOT pull out cookies!! If you have followed my blog for awhile, you know Gunner happens to be a dog with a food issue (I’m sure a problem created by me) and he will jump through hoops for a piece of cheese. Unfortunately, it has caused problems in the ring over time. So, last summer, I eliminated almost all food from training. He is required to tug, he is required to interact, he is required to get vocal.

But now, he watches the puppy get tons of cookies during training, while he only gets one or two for being quiet in his crate. He sees the bait pouch put away when I switch dogs and, while I know I’m humanizing him, he doesn’t think the entire situation is very fair. So, as much as I wanted to pull out a cookie and get my regular, upbeat dog back, I stopped myself. I forced him to interact, I told him I was going to “get him” while I talked to him silly and went at him with my hands. I praised him heavily for jumping up on me and interacting. He got scratches and rubs and told how wonderful he was. There was not much tugging happening, but I didn’t force the issue, as I am not going to force fetch him to a toy. As long as he retrieved it and jumped up to deliver it to me, I accepted it. Towards the end of our last session, he did start to tug with one of his yarn balls and we played for several minutes before calling it a day.

I was sweating and I was tired, but I actually got some good work in. Was it “fun”? No, not really. I like my upbeat, bouncing off the wall Springer. I would much rather work to keep him reeled in, rather than continually work to pump him up. And, while he wasn’t heeling as well as he could, I guarantee you, if I had offered him a cookie, he would have been doing circles around me trying to earn it. That, my friends, is called bribery. And it does not hold up in the ring. I don’t care if the cookie is in your pocket or if you are holding it in front of your dog’s nose, if the dog is working ONLY for the cookie, that’s bribery. I am not saying to never pay your dog with cookies for working, but you need to keep your dog’s temperament in mind when doing it. Also, learn to recognize when your dog is working for the food (or toy) versus when he is working for you. However you decide to pay him for working is your decision…it could be a rousing game of tug, a few cookies, a game of chase, whatever your dog enjoys, but, he needs to earn it by working with YOU.

Train hard. Play harder.


Slow down Speedy!

Patty Berg has a famous quote, “It’s not how fast you get there, but how long you stay.” A professional golfer, Ms. Berg’s 15 major title wins remains the record for the all-time major wins by a female golfer. But I also think it is more about what you learn along the way, rather than how fast you get there or how long you stay. We see this in dog training all the time…dogs who come out in Novice like gangbusters, blowing through to Utility and their OTCHs, only to start having issues in the ring or, in general, hating the life of a show dog. Or, we see dogs who very rarely show. While they may do well in the ring when shown, it is likely because they still believe a cookie is going to be handed to them or because they think a correction is pending if they make a mistake.

Everyone seems to be in a hurry with their young dogs. Why? I’m not sure. Slow down, teach the fundamental skills to your young dog. Teach them how to learn, how to think. Teach them the game is fun, and it is even better when you work together. Help them figure out how to work through errors and how to recover from corrections (not necessarily “physical” corrections) or interruptions. In the process, learn how to read your dog. Learn what type of praise they like. Learn their tendencies…for example, I can already tell Kazee is going to be a lefty on his turns.

Each new dog I work with (not necessarily my own dog) teaches me something new and I am already doing a lot more shaping with Kazee than my last two dogs. Does that mean I won’t layer in other learning quadrants later? No, but I do think I will like my foundation better.

This week, we have started working on two new skills – offered focus and the beginnings of a shaped retrieve. Kazee is starting to have a lot more food drive, so it helps with the shaping, but we still work in plenty of play and tug sessions (either during the sessions or separately).

Offered focus – On day one, I was using his favorite raw meal as a reward. While we were able to get through it, it was too frustrating for him because he wanted his dinner. I made some changes during the session after seeing him struggle, which helped. Day two, I used a lower value treat, which he still likes, but which does not send him over the top.

Shaping a retrieve – While I think will be switching him to a more neutral object, I started with his metal article. He has been chewing and playing with this particular article for 6 weeks (it’s hard to believe I’ve had him for that long already), so he is very familiar with the taste of metal.

I am doing a lot of little pieces with Kazee and I have been asked how many times a day I train him. Normally, he has 3-4 training sessions per day. These may range from spending a couple of hours at the dog club (rotating between training and playing with me and spending time in his crate while I train my other dog) to 5-10 minute short sessions in the house or driveway. Some of these sessions may also only involve play time. These are still learning opportunities for impulse control and relationship building, so do not underestimate the benefit of a good old fashioned game of tag in the yard!

Train hard, play harder!

Clicker stacking

While I did not get Kazee with the intention of showing breed, he is so nicely put together, it may be an option later. I believe dogs are smart enough to figure out the difference between doing breed and obedience, so I don’t worry about teaching both at the same time. And, really, is it the end of the world if your puppy happens to sit in the breed ring?

Funny story…when Gunner was a little over six months old, I had the opportunity to go to a George Alston handling seminar. Being new to the breed ring (I had never even taken a handling class, let alone shown a dog in the breed ring), I jumped at the chance to take a weekend seminar from someone who I had heard so much about. Yes, I’d been warned he yelled at people, made people cry, etc., but I was excited anyway. On day one, I made the mistake of stacking my puppy with my back to Mr. Alston. All of a sudden, I realized he was yelling at someone, “I’m not here to judge YOUR backside!” Unfortunately, I think he had already said it three or four times before I heard him…and then realized he was speaking to me. Oops! I muttered an apology and switched sides to stack my dog.

Anyway, off topic…If you have ever heard Mr. Alston speak, you know he does not want your dog watching you AT ALL while you gait. As it was easy to inadvertently teach your dog to look at you while moving when using food, he did not use it. We all then practiced our (non-food) gaiting several times while learning procedural things. Later, during a break, a friend asked me how Gunner’s obedience was coming along. Since we had some time, I switched his collar and lead out and showed them how well his attention heeling looked. Suddenly I realized that someone else was watching me…yes, across the room was Mr. Alston. He went back to speaking to whomever he was talking to, but approached me a few minutes later. “You heard me talking about not teaching your dog to watch you, correct?” Swallowing hard, I answered “yes”. He leaned in and whispered “That doesn’t apply to this dog.” Then he turned around and walked away. So much for being a tough guy. 😉 Actually, any dog can learn the difference, it just comes down to how well WE differentiate between the two requirements.

Back to Kazee…in case we decide to play in the breed ring later, I have started to teach him how to stand still (which he will need for obedience and breed). I’m not worried about formal stacking right now, I just want him to learn that standing still will earn him a click and treat. Standing still should be just as fun for him as wiggling backwards in a down or a scoot sit. This will help give me a great attitude while he struts around at the end of his lead or free stacks in the ring. I’m not holding his head still or forcing him to stay standing. If he sits, I just start over, I don’t lift him by his rear and force him into a stand position. I will be teaching him a formal “stand from a sit” later for obedience, but I am not going to ruin anything by some informal work now.

Lesson one –

Next thing I need to work on…teaching him to stick his head into his snood for dinner without having to be wrangled into it! But it is a pretty funny way to start mealtime. 🙂

Train hard. Play harder!!!!!

Dog show fun

Kazee went to his first dog show last weekend. It was an outdoor trial, where I worked out of my car, so it was a perfect first experience. While dealing with a young puppy at 4:30 in the morning was NOT fun, it was not as bad as I had anticipated. After “helping” me get ready, he ate his breakfast in the car and slept the hour and a half drive to the trial site.

2016-01-30 15.03.35

My other Springer was entered in both Open and Utility, but I still had plenty of time to work and play with Kazee several times throughout the day. Fortunately, he was able to visit with another puppy on Saturday, so he burned off a little steam with some unstructured play time. He settled nicely in his crate when he wasn’t working, although it helped that he was facing away from the action.

I have introduced a few new concepts to him during training this week (target and pot work), along with continuing to build on existing things. It seems like he is going to be a lefty…which will be a change after having two dogs who turned right on everything. And, he is incredibly smart. When you are playing fetch, you have to continually keep him engaged, or else he turns his back to you (looking the direction where you last threw the toy) and waits for you to throw it. He will literally stand there for MINUTES if you let him. I haven’t decided if that is a good thing or not!!

Our Florida winter has been practically non-existant, so I’m not looking forward to spring and summer. February 2nd and a high of 75 degrees, and when I’m sweating outside at 10:00am, I’m not happy! Today’s training went pretty well, considering Kazee was warm and late for his nap. If you have kids, I’d compare him to a two-year old…temperamental is a nice word for it.

Until next time…train hard, play harder!