Poodles being as smart as they are, I’ve found that I need to have a training project in mind for each dog. Even Elly, who is now eight years old, spends her spare time thinking up mischief if I don’t keep her brain occupied. Maybe I should say especially Elly!
My current training projects with Elly are three. First, there is the perennial project of trying to teach her loose-leash walking. I wonder now if I would have been more successful if I’d been more consistent when she was a pup; I was so clueless about training that I didn’t understand why I shouldn’t allow her to pull me into the agility ring, even when it was pointed out to me. Anyway, my current method, applied consistently over the last six months or so, is starting to show results. Keep in mind she doesn’t have a collar; I use a harness because of her shoulder and hip issues. That makes it harder. In any case, I’m finding that stopping and backing up (not turning around, backing up) as soon as she’s about to pull (not once she does) gets the point across far better than anything else I’ve tried. (I use the same method with Rush, who pulls very little already; more below.)
Second, I’m trying to teach Elly not to bark out the window so much. This is challenging because she loves to bark at any dog walking by; since we live on a corner lot, this happens a lot. I was determined when I got Rush that he would not bark, so I consistently rewarded him to coming to me when Dancer and Elly barked. He now runs to me when the bark, and gets rewarded; Elly and Dancer have noticed this and Dancer now comes running when Elly barks, too. Elly seems to prefer barking to food, at least for a bit, but is starting to interrupt to come for treats too. My goal is to get her to interrupt sooner.
Third, I’m working on WAIT with Elly. She never had much of a start-line stay, because I never really trained it. Now that she’s not competing any more, I am training it. Go figure. She now has to WAIT for her dinner; to get out of the car; to go out a door; to go into a tunnel; for just about everything—and suddenly she’s learning to wait. Funny how easy consistency makes training. I can even walk around her in a sit, sometimes.
(Note: I use Elly to practice my shaping for various tricks I want to teach Rush. She’s very clicker-savvy, loves shaping and playing games, and I don’t care what the results are, which makes me that much more relaxed. It’s a good way for both of us to learn.)
With Dancer, I’m focusing on the CPE Nationals in June. This week Debbie and I worked on her double jump. She’s been nervous about it; we tried using a stride regulator (jump bump) to help her learn where to put her feet. The stride regulator is four feet from the front bar; she needs to take off from just inside the bump. It really surprised me what a difference it made to her jumping form. I am also working on her contacts, on weave entries (and fast weaves), and practice shaping her path. I’d like her to be more confident on the teeter, as well, so I’m rewarding the teeter a lot.
Now that Rush and I have started first level agility class and he’s begun to learn equipment (jumps at four inches, the tunnel, the hoop, the end of the dog walk and the bottom of the a-frame), I feel like he’s learning at lightning speed. It’s pretty clear that I have to get new things right the first time, because he learns so fast! At class on Saturday, he was introduced to the ladder. He was so tentative and so unsure. I took him through slowly, gave him lots of treats for every step he made through it; when we came back around to do it a second time, he trotted through with his tail held high like he’d been doing it forever.
I’m struggling with Rush’s excitement level in agility class. He gets so excited that he forgets his manners and jumps up and snaps at me. I remember when Dancer used to do the same thing. I know what Rush is thinking: get a move on! let’s go! come on! you’re so fucking slow! I stop and I wait for him to calm down but I want better results and I want them now—I’m as bad as he is. Dana suggests I take a step into him when he starts to jump up at me. I’ll try that the next time I get a chance.
Debbie is trying to help Rush get his focus off me and onto the equipment; we’re using his toy as a target. The final exercise this week was to send him over a jump moving away from a second jump, then wrap the jump standard (using a front cross) and send him over the jump to his toy. He did well with it, but he sure was annoyed at first, until he figured it out. There’s a lot of dog training that is very zen: to get the toy, he had to not want the toy and move away from it. It’s a lot like the “It’s Your Choice” game (my description here), which is all about not wanting the cookie to get the cookie.
Finally, I’m working on loose-leash walking with Rush as well. He doesn’t pull like Elly (meaning: he’s not a freight train), but he also isn’t a relaxed leash walker like Dancer, which is what I want. BUT… I’ve been completely consistent with Rush. He’s not allowed to pull into the house, into the arena, into the barn, through the gate, anywhere. Not ever. The first time I walked him around the block, I think I walked backward more than I walked forward. Walking backward turns him right around starts him toward me; when he’s halfway to me, I start walking forward and he ends up right at my side. Three or four steps and I reward. If I reward every ten feet or so, I have a beautiful loose-leash walk even in the excitement of class. Outside of class, we can go all the way around the block. The next part of that is to extend the loose-leash walking with more duration, more distractions, and less instruction from me; I want it to be the default.