Driving the Respect Bus

Dog trainer and author Bobbie Anderson, who sadly recently passed away, would start her seminars with the quote, “If you don’t have respect (from your dog) at home, you won’t have it in the ring.”

One warm day over a decade ago I took my young, red Border Collie, River, to Bobbie’s training barn for a private lesson. Bobbie had the doors to her training building open for cross ventilation. A few minutes into the lesson River decided he’d had enough and ran from the building to my car and jumped into his crate. Bobbie had me pull River from the crate, (gently), and command the dog to follow us. She told me to let go of River’s collar, turn around and walk into the building. I was doubtful. My method was to take River by the collar and guide him back into the building. No, said Bobbie. Let River figure it out on his own. She was right. It only took two tries and River decided that he should remain by my side. I’ll never forget that. River never again ran from her building during training.

Now I have a Border Collie, Levi, who not only drives the “respect-bus” but has the whole route outlined in his mind. I’ve learned the hard way that when you get a dog’s respect it doesn’t mean you can wipe your dirty hands on your jeans and move on. Over time if you don’t maintain that respect the dog will assume leadership of the pack. Like an alcoholic admitting his mistakes, I’m here to tell you, I’ve let Levi believe the respect “game” is his for the taking-every day. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a near perfect house dog and pet. He doesn’t rush me at the door. He waits quietly for his meals and never steals food from the kitchen counter. But the minute we step outside we have entered his domain. The keys to the bus are now in his paws, so to speak. He still comes to me immediately when called and gives me full attention when I start putting obedience jumps up in the yard. Are you wondering where I’m losing respect? I had lost respect in several places but had closed my eyes to what my crafty canine was doing.

When I walk Levi with some friends at a local equestrian center, he enjoys running around and smelling all the different scents from the horses and wildlife that have passed through the area. His favorite appetizers, however, are road apples, aka horse manure. When he comes across an enticing pile he ignores my command to “leave it”, something my puppy learned quickly. It sounds like I’m harping about a minor transgression. But one decision he takes from me leads to more decisions he makes on his own, leaving me out of the loop. If you think this doesn’t carry over into the competition ring then you’re as naïve as I was.

The last couple of shows reminded me how disrespectful Levi has become. At the last trial we walked into the obedience competition ring and I removed Levi’s lead. In two, yes that’s T-W-O seconds I had lost my dog’s attention. He turned his head away from me and scanned the ring. The bubble over his head said, “Jumps!!!” We heeled over to the starting point, my control almost lost. By the time the judge had heeled me around the ring and commanded me to stand my dog for the signals, Levi was forged and anxious. His eyes were quickly scanning the jumps to his immediate left and right. Heeling and signals are control exercises and I had lost control. Levi was “ramping up” in anticipation of the jumps.

Before you wonder why I don’t enter him in Utility B, with the possibility of jumps being the first exercise, let me tell you. I’ve done that already. Levi could do all Utility jump exercises and nothing else. It excites him. If he does it first he wants to do it again. And, no, I’m not entering him in Agility. This is my game, my world and he can play it for the eight minutes he’s in the ring. He may drive the bus, but I pay the bills.

The next exercise was scent articles. Levi knows articles in training. I’ve proofed him in several locations (with the jumps set up in a ring situation), at different times of the day and with people helping me. But retrieving turns him on too. I’m requiring a hyper dog to slow down and think in a high stress environment. If he can’t find the right article immediately he gives up and grabs anything.

From there we went to the directed retrieve exercise, the gloves. The ring environment is the only place Levi “kills” the correct glove, returns in an arc to me and then won’t let go of the glove.

The moving stand should be easy. But Levi hates to be touched when he’s working. He’ll be your friend in a quiet environment but not at a show. Consequently he loses points for minor steps, sitting or deciding to come to heel on his own. At this show he actually wagged his tail when the judge walked toward him. He’d seen her at enough shows that he now accepted her as a friend of the family.

Finally, we set up for the directed jumping. Jumps! Oh, boy. Finally Levi got to jump. He was in a close approximation of heel position, ignoring my command to get straight. The judge said, “Are you ready?” Levi was crouched, quivering and set to go, barely able to contain himself. He whined all the way to the go out spot. The judge said, “High jump.” Levi looked at the named jump. He’s no dummy. He knows which jump is which. On command from me he took the correct jump. Then Levi couldn’t even set up for the second go-back. He was scanning the ring. When I told him, “Look”, he appeared to be looking straight back but he took the bar jump going out, sat on command, then took the jump again.

Levi will be nine years old in July. He’s been training in Utility for about three to four years. He has one Utility leg. Levi is a very smart dog, a wonderful pet and companion. I have to admit he’s the hardest dog I’ve ever trained. He’s high drive, loves to work and never shuts down. But put him in a show environment and he has absolutely no respect for me. BUT I will not quit! I will not miss this wonderful opportunity to learn so many valuable lessons. Instead of crying in frustration after the last show, during the four hour drive home I came up with ideas to work through our respect issues using tools from Susan Garrett, Bobbie Anderson and the trainers at Leading Edge Obedience. I decided if Levi gives me what I want he gets what he wants-jumps and tug toys.

Here are a few things I’m now doing in training. First of all, my forging dog has to accept that I “own” the space in front of me. I learned this from one of Terri Arnold’s seminars. A leader goes first. When one of Terri’s dogs pushed in front of her at a door she spoke briefly and harshly, grabbed the dog and pushed him behind her. Levi needs this correction. If I’m unhappy Levi needs to know exactly why, immediately and succinctly. This does not in any way mean abuse. In a pack of wolves, the leader corrects the transgressor sharply and quickly. I’m not making it clear to Levi right now that I’m the leader including when we are away from the house, in the obedience ring and on walks. Right now, some days I’m the leader and some days I’m not. My fault. My bad. I need to be consistent with my strong minded, high energy dog. My mommy-training enabling behavior has got to stop!

Heeling: One day after the last trial I emptied out my training bag and had Levi heel through all the toys, dumbbells and tennis balls. It blew his mind, allowing me an opportunity to teach him to focus on me. All play rewards come from me and must be earned.
Signals: Levi has a stellar “watch”. He just needs to wait and respond to my command. Wait and respond = tug toy.
Articles: I’m going to make articles harder to slow him down, using a method from Joanne Permowitz at Leading Edge Obedience. This must be continued in training until he is retired from Utility. The tug toy reward “ramps” him too much. This is a good place for a cookie reward and a calm “excellent” from me.
Gloves: set him up in new situations to mimic a show. Hmm. Gloves set up near road apples? Everyone knows about the pennies in the gloves trick, I’m sure.
Moving stand: Not only is this a respect issue, it’s a stay issue. He’s breaking a stay, therefore he must do one minute stand stays with people moving around him and occasionally touching him.
Jumps: Directed jumping is actually two exercises built into one, the go-back and jumping. It’s been fun training the go-back-turn and sit, with Levi using a version of the old three dowel method. It’s working and gives him an instant reward. What happens if we are at a show and there is no ring stanchion for a target, just a blank wall? Levi needs to learn to run straight back, turn and sit promptly. And wait for my next command.
If Levi doesn’t get into perfect heel position before the directed jumping he cannot do the exercise. Hey. I’m retired. I’ve got all day. I’ve corrected him, helped him (mommy training), and scolded him, all to no avail, since he is almost falling over waiting to jump. So no set up, no jump. Crate time. I can train Catcher and work him in front of Levi.

Okay, this is my plan. If it doesn’t work then I can’t say I didn’t try. Levi is a dream to train, take to shows and yes, even makes me laugh in the ring. He’s happy, flashy and on a good day, when the stars line up just right and I have done my homework, I know he will give me two qualifying Utility performances. In return Levi can have his jumps and tug toys. It sounds like a sweet deal in return for eight minutes in the ring, don’t you think?

One thought on “Driving the Respect Bus

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