Assigning Responsability in Vito's Obedience Training

I took the boys to an obedience lesson with Nancy last week.  This has been something I have been wanting to do for a long time but had never made a priority.  Usually I post about things really quickly after they happen but I have been doing a lot of thinking about the advice given to me for Vito.

I see Vito as having 2 issues that is keeping our obedience career on hiatus.  #1 is his anxiety over people watching, especially ring stewards.  #2 is getting him ready to really work/play instead of just going through the motions; this may or may not be related to #1.  I have been handling our 2nd issue by having Vito do some tricks and really trying to get him jazzed up with a toy or treats.  I skip formal set ups and do lots of walking backwards a few steps before turning into him to heel.  It allows an effortless transition into work and keeps enthusiasm high.  Once Vito is in that happy mode he does a fantastic job of working and has a lot of fun.

So at our lesson we talked about putting the responsibility to work on Vito.  Nancy observed that after a period of down time, such as being on a down stay while we talked, Vito had a hard time popping up to work and I fell into my routine of jazzing him up.  She urged me to work on duration sitting in heel position, being quiet, and creating a conditioned response to the two.  Basically I'm supposed to stop working so hard for him and start letting him step up.

I know I didn't fully digested Vito's lesson plan and this week that followed I had many conflicting thoughts.  Shortly after the lesson, Denise Fenzi posted about her long journey with her new OTCH dog Cisu.  Denise wrote about her need to be there for her dog, maintaining that connection through interaction and just supporting her every second.  Comparing those thoughts to our lesson and my want to have an enthusiastic and pushy dog I was confused.

So I've been thinking about how to balance the two ideas and have finally reached the conclusion that they really aren't opposing each other like I feared.  Vito may need that constant connection once we start training, but he needs to make that choice to connect in the first place.  While I've been trying to create more drive for working I've really been luring and pleading with him to start.  My efforts need to go into maintaining the connection that he chooses to seek out with his complete focus, not just attention.

K-Koira  – ( March 30, 2012 at 9:55 AM )  

I am looking forward to hearing about any choose to train exercises you go through. I am currently working on this with Pallo, as he tends to tune out rather than pay attention, or pay attention for one reward and then zone out or go do his own thing.

Ninso  – ( March 30, 2012 at 10:30 AM )  

Sweet! Denise Fenzi talks a lot about the dog choosing to work as well (from my understanding). I'll be interested to hear how you start implementing those ideas!

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( March 30, 2012 at 1:51 PM )  

I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do. Vito already pays attention and won't go off wandering. He just is SLOW to move, wanting to stretch before getting into position and then will lag in heeling or do a slower trot out to retrieve/go out. Unless I've jazzed him up.

We have started doing setting up, 1 step and throw ball/treat, moving to different locations each time and waiting for awhile in heel before stepping off. After the first one he's roaring to go but I'm hoping it will just become habit.

Lynnda  – ( March 30, 2012 at 2:30 PM )  

Life with competition dogs can be complicated! Especially when you are forging new ground in dog training. Yes, Classical Conditioning can be highly useful in training for dog sports, particularily in obedience which is inherently less reinforcing to the dog [unlike brief motion-based sports agility or flyball and instinct-based sports like field/hunting or tracking or herding]. Years ago Patty Russo talked about setting up a ring for competition obedience [no extra stuff in the ring] and talking the puppy in and just playing [then leaving & no playing outside the ring -- just inside the ring, maybe with a person with a clipboard even].
Balance is tricky. I definitely think you are right that you need to emotionally support Vito in competition & training [a la Denise F] and work to develop Vito being able to Turn On for obedience when it is his turn. Check out some of Susan Garrett's work on getting her Decaf [retired for a while] to be able to ignore environmental stuff and stay engaged. I remember her telling the story of Decaf noticing surfaces. Luckily the dog [a BorderXTerrier] enjoyed tugging. She did not even ask the dog to sit [or other cued behaviors] on wood chips until the dog was willing to play with her on the wood chips surface.
Aren't you glad you enjoy the journey as well as the goal? [After all, we spend a lot more time training than we spend in the ring competing....]
Lynnda L in Minneapolis, MN

Jen  – ( March 30, 2012 at 5:44 PM )  

I don't know where you are with Vito's training, but we played a really neat game in class the other night. Our instructor laid out gloves and each corner had 3 gloves instead of one. We would send the dog out for the retrieve, take it, call them to heel, and then immediately send them out as soon as their butt touched the ground. The speed, repetition, and immediate rewards (both intrinsically because they all enjoyed glove retrieves, and also in treat form) was really exciting for the dogs.

There was one Golden who was a little low on enthusiasm. So our instructor had the owner race him out for the glove and grab it away from him. He was delighted at the new game and after that he tore out after it.

Just that one game taught me a lot about making obedience more fun and keeping the dogs guessing... maybe try it with Vito's toys if he's not excited about dumbbells or gloves, but it's such a neat way to mix it up and focus their drive (or build it up, in the case of the Golden).

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( March 30, 2012 at 6:59 PM )  

Lynnda- Vito certainly has us on an interesting journey! I think it's going to be a fine line of creating that CC response to the ring and yet still making sure that he can choose to get into work/play mode without all the jazzing up routine on my part.

Jen- Thank you for the ideas. I have been doing a lot of games with Vito and he is a really fun dog to train. I think the multiple glove game wouldn't help our specific issue of needing to work on transitioning from down time to play, but racing for the glove is a great idea I can do while still working on waiting before the fun starts!

Lynnda  – ( April 1, 2012 at 11:44 PM )  

Don't forget Leslie McDevitt's Give Me A Break game in "Control Unleashed". [Also article in April 2012 Clean Run.] Ways to help dog Choose to work/play with you.

Kathy  – ( April 2, 2012 at 4:49 PM )  

Wow, that is some pretty deep work you are working on- I think that of course is one of the most important balances but not easy to sort out of course, good job for really thinking about your relationship with your dogs and making your training all fit in. I hope you blog about what you come up with and how you sort it all out :-).

achieve1dream  – ( April 5, 2012 at 8:59 AM )  

Wow, I wish I had some ideas for you, but this is way out of my league lol. You'll figure it out though. :) You're so good with your dogs. Good luck!!

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