Why can we see the holes in our training, but we can’t seem to stop long enough to fix it? Sure, we might work on it by throwing in some fundamental drills here and there to try to help our dog, but to actually STOP showing and work on fixing the hole is very difficult. While at a seminar last weekend, the foundation hole in my dog’s training kept showing its ugly head.
I have never had the good fortune to live in a location where I was able to train with someone really good. Maybe if I had, they would have seen the hole a long time ago. That’s not true…I saw the hole a long time ago. What is it? Basically, it is the “get it game”. The drill where you throw a cookie to a puppy/dog and they are supposed to run out to get the cookie, then whirl back around and race back for another cookie. I’m sure I did the drill, but like so many people, I did not do it long enough or often enough for it to become ingrained in my dog. And now, the hole shows up on every retrieve exercise and some recall exercises – looping on a dumbbell pick up, wide turns on direct jumping, wide turns on the glove pick up. It is all the same hole.
I have tried to patch the hole with cookies, games or corrections. Other trainers’ suggestions have included never doing a retrieve off of a flexi lead, throwing something towards my dog to interrupt him when he’s not concentrating on coming into me directly, tagging him while he picks up the dumbbell, or throwing a toy or cookie when he’s coming in to front. I’ve done them all. Have they helped? Yes, temporarily. But they didn’t solve the problem, which is the dog needs to make a concerted effort to pick up the object and concentrate on the next portion of his job….to get back to me quickly! I made a decision last weekend to stop and try to fix my hole, not just patch it. Yes, this means I miss a trial or two (or more), but if it helps fix my issue then it is worth it.
Another part of my issue involves a pushy dog, who is upset that he is no longer the center of my training universe. A dog who is grumpy around the house and giving me lackluster effort at shows. The seminar presenter asked me how much freedom my dog had…my answer was “too much”. She kept pushing. How much freedom does he have? He has all the freedom he wants. He is loose in the house except for bedtime, where he sleeps in a crate in our bedroom. He does not have free access to regular play toys, he does have access to chew toys. While I do not plan on crating my dog for long periods of the day, he will be spending some time in his crate each day. He will also have less liberties in the house and his sleeping crate will be moved out of the bedroom.
But, I have to be honest, I am upset. Not that he’s losing some freedom, his crate is being moved, or I will miss a few shows, but that I have let it get this far. That I didn’t deal with it sooner. That I took the path of least resistance to try to fix my problem.
I could blame it on being busy. I could blame it on having a non-traditional breed who can be difficult to work with and live with. I can blame it on work, or the family, or the new puppy in the house, but it is me who is responsible. I am the one that makes the rules in the house for the dogs. No one else. Yes, sometimes everyone has to suffer because of my rules. We have to listen to a dog whining in his crate because he would rather be with us on the couch while we are watching television or we have to rotate dogs being outside because they are not allowed play time together.
Do I think I can fix my problem on a 7 1/2-year-old dog? I don’t know. But I don’t mind breaking it down and trying. One thing I am not willing to do is keep amping up corrections to keep the hole patched. I need my dog engaged with me when working. Engaged because he WANTS to work, not because he’s afraid of what will happen if he doesn’t work. That being said, I want my dog to work a specific way. I do not want him simply in heel position. I want him brimming with excitement at the very thought of heeling work. I want him leaping in the air at the thought of being able to retrieve his dumbbell. There is, in my mind, a difference between engagement and attention. The latter can be forced, coerced and corrected, but if your dog is not engaged with you and wanting to work, why bother? So, while attention is good, keep striving for true engagement from your dog. And work to achieve that perfect picture in your head…that picture of a happy, working dog who loves the sport YOU have chosen to do.
Train hard. Play harder.