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!