Turning a Corner in Puppy Training

Last Sunday, while training my young Border Collie, it came to me that we had stepped up a level.  He has been introduced to all aspects of the obedience ring exercises, thanks to the expertise of my trainer, Joanne Permowicz of Leading Edge Obedience, www.leadingedgeobedience.com.  What was different Sunday was that I was no longer going through the session showing Catcher over and over what I want.  Now he is starting to willingly offer behaviors based on my cues.  It wasn’t until about thirty minutes into our session that I realized that we were more in synch with each other.  That means too that Joanne’s instructions to me, the other half of this team, are sinking in and that alone is amazing.  Not to say that I don’t stumble with some of the concepts or that Joanne doesn’t have to remind me about details I’ve forgotten.  The result is now I’m playing (engaging) more with my dog and can read my puppy better. 

 A big part of puppy training is basic heeling.  Who knew that heeling would be/could be so confusing?  In the old days I’d take my dog into the obedience competition ring and walk wherever the judge told me to walk, not thinking about how I was moving.  Now I’ve adopted Terri Arnold’s method of heeling: heel, toe, heel, toe.  She (and Joanne) teach the theory of heeling, including left, about and right turns, as well as keeping my feet under my body.  For the first time my dog, in this case Catcher, and I enjoy heeling as a team, not just walking.  Heeling versus walking in the obedience ring is the difference between dancing versus shuffling your feet.  It takes concentration, cadence and confidence which translates into practice, practice, practice, first without the dog and then with the dog.  Were a neighbor to see me in my living room or outside in the back forty, they’d be shaking their head in consternation as I heel up and down, back and forth, turning here and there and stopping, talking to myself: cursing or laughing.  They would probably say or are saying, “That lady is going nuts!”  Anyone who has taken an obedience seminar knows sometimes Novice heeling lectures and work groups can take up the better part of the day.  It looks easy but to be competitive it has to be near perfect.  Catcher “gets it”.  My sweet Levi doesn’t understand or care to comply but then he has that little forging problem I’ve been working on for seven and half years of his life.  (He’ll be eight in July.)

Something I learned along the way is that Catcher slows down when learning something new.  At least he doesn’t shut down.  He is the type of dog who wants to please.  Toys are a good release for him but that too is taking time to teach.  “Good boy, get the toy, grab, bounce, spin, out”. 

Terri mentions in her books not to train poopy face.  That’s a funny expression but if you’ve trained dogs for a length of time you’ll understand.  An unhappy dog, or a dog that has shut down will not learn, neither can one that is confused.  The goal is to keep him engaged in learning, to keep him willing to try again.  What is funny with Catcher is sometimes he looks to me, the more senior one in the room, for a speedier reward.  “Hello!  I’m being perfect!  Hurry with the Tuggie!”  Our agreement is that he’ll keep trying if I’ll try to keep the rewards coming in a timely manner.  Someone should write a book, “Dog Training Will Keep You Fit”. 

There are still a long list of things to tweak, reinforce, push along and perfect.  After training my over-achiever, ball crazy Border Collie, Levi, it almost seems like cheating to have a dog that calmly follows my agenda, not his.  It’s hard not to whoop it up when I’m training alone, telling Catcher what a smart pup he is.  Training Levi taught me to stay calm even when I feel like doing the Snoopy dance, www.snoopy-dance.com, when there is a training breakthrough.

 Catcher will turn one year old on May 8th.  The first year of training is the foundation, the groundwork.  The second year is where we learn to dance together.  It’s going to be a fun year!

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