I recently attended a seminar that was very enlightening. I learned many things; as well as questioned things I thought I already knew. One of the enlightening moments was the insistence of the speaker to engage with your dog, especially in dog sports, but also just in general. I do this with Jojen and it is delightful! So much so that I fantasize about being able to quit my job and just take classes and play in trials for the rest of his life.
Then there is Sadie. I know I am not helping her reach her potential, I know she could do so much more, she's so smart. The caveat is she is not as much fun to work with! Why is this? Because she is a challenging dog. She's reactive, whiny and so incredibly distractible she barely notices my presence when we are out and about. With Jojen and even Beanie, I was the center of attention during training, they were easy.
But as I listened to the speaker at that seminar I began to see that her challenges are what I need and how amazing would it be to have the same bond and connection with her as I do with my boys. She's a natural athlete, really smart and very funny. She deserved my attention too! So I signed us up for a class and with all good intentions went to our first one. It was a disaster! Half way through she stopped looking at me and did her best to pretend I was not there. She was trying her hardest to deflect my frustration and very clearly wanted to work with the instructor instead. I could see happening to she and I exactly what I see happening to my students when they come to class with a challenging dog. Their dog looks for any port in the storm; anyone with clear expectations and signals; anyone that does not want to throttle them at that moment! It broke my heart and I contemplated giving up (as I am sure many of my students do). The one advantage I have over my students is I knew what I was doing wrong, I knew my dog was responding to me and I knew how to change it. So I gave us a few days to cool off, asked nothing from her and instead just showered her with affection.
I had to re-establish her trust in me, that is the cornerstone of any working team; trust. With a dog like Sadie, her soft, slightly anxious nature, she needs to have someone she can trust. I needed to step up and be that person. I am not perfect, I have a short fuse most days and I get frustrated far too easily, however as I've gotten older I've accepted the challenge of laughing in the face of those imperfections and proving myself wrong. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail miserably, but at almost 40 my competitive streak has hit it's stride and I want to beat my own personal best in most everything! So I made a list of goals for Sadie and I to reach, they are not all lofty but they are no less challenging for us and I set about working on them with joy and lowered expectations, I set her up for success!
I have 4 goals right now (I'm sure as we progress there will be more or they will change):
#1 Sit straight: She is the floppiest dog I have EVER met. She can not sit straight and flops into a down after only a second or two. It can be VERY frustrating! However our wonderful teacher made some suggestions on helping her with this, so we have a plan!
#2 Loose Leash Walking and eye contact: This is really as simple as her acknowledging my presence on leash. I practically cease to exist once the leash is on and we head into town. Admittedly she has improved but it's been glacial so I would like to get more consistent eye contact from her when on leash (as well as not pulling, but really the eye contact is more important to me!)
#3 Polite Greetings: Yes, this is not as important to me as the other two. She is a very "enthusiastic" greeter and it is mortifying as a trainer to have a dog that throws herself at people in sheer adoration, but recently I had the ability to see her through someone else's eyes who was truly captivated by her sweet, overly friendly nature and who reminded me that there are far worse things your dog could be than overly friendly! So, yes, we will work on it but I won't squelch her enthusiasm for making new friends!
#4 (long term) Enter her in a Rally trial by Dec. 2015: Trying to achieve this goal may bring to light other goals and milestones we need to reach and that is exactly what I want and look forward to. I am excited by the prospect of feeling we are ready to enter a trial setting and have a reasonable chance of finishing a course! So even in my lofty goal I am humble, if we can just finish a course I will consider it a rousing success!
I am happy to say our "training" sessions during the week went well and our second class was light years better than our first; even though she ran the opposite direction on recall so she could visit with a person and shove her nose in their treat bag; even though she balked at trying to sit straight while against a wall. The difference was me. I never once got frustrated and if I felt it coming on, I got out her rope tug toy and played with her instead of continuing to ask for something from her. The effect was magic! Her attention on me was fantastic, her whining was almost non-existent and she only jumped on the instructor a couple times! All wonderful successes! Plus at the end I was able to start using one of her favorite positions as a rewardable behavior, we've begun working on "bow" and she is a natural! It was a fun class for both of us! I can't wait to go back next week and I think she'll be happy to as well!