Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blogging Unleashed

Since I can't seem to actually update this thing, I decided that if I made a point to blog about Tori's newest training class then at least I would be updating once a week, and can hopefully get into some sort of habit. Tori and I are taking a "Control Unleashed" (CU) class, based on the fabulous book by Leslie McDevitt. I have been totally sold on the ideas in this book since I first read it a few years ago. I was a member of the CU_Dogs email list almost since it started, and almost cried when Leslie decided that she was disbanding the list. I have also attended a seminar with Leslie, but I took Pirate instead of Tori because I was worried about her ability to cope with the seminar environment. Tori and I have practiced many of the exercises at home, giving her a great foundation, but I've always wanted to be able to practice her skills in a class environment. As you can imagine, I was extremely excited when my good friend and trainer Cathi Wester told me she was offering a class for some of her previous students who would really benefit from it. Tonight was Tori's first class, and it went better than I expected.

When I got to class I left Tori in the car to go in and set up my CU station (her crate, mat, and a chair). She was a little wild going inside, pulling on her leash, but this is kind of understandable considering she recently got spayed and is still on crate rest at home. The first thing we worked on was relaxation on the mat. I had a really hard time keeping Tori calm when I tried using only massage, so I switched to rewarding her previously learned behavior of laying down with her head down. I rewarded any calm behavior I saw, and she did pretty good at being relatively calm. Then we did some work on the dog offering to lie on the mat. Tori was a star at this, which is not surprising given that she is very clicker savvy and has done mat work before. I rewarded her like crazy for being on the mat, and then released her, and she would immediately fly back to the mat. She wasn't even distracted by the other dogs being released from their mats, which really impressed me.

Next, we worked on reorienting coming out of the crate. This is an integral part of CU, which requires that the dog enter a threshold and immediately reorient to you. The reason this is so important is because the new environment is going to be very exciting, and you want the dog to ignore the environment and focus on you. This means that coming out of a crate, or entering a training building or trial, the dog is focused on you instead of all the craziness going on around them. I haven't done much reorienting with Tori coming out of a crate, mostly at doorways, so I was totally shocked when she aced this behavior as well! I would ask her to wait in her crate, stand off to the side of the crate, and then release her, and she would come flying out and whip right around to face me. A couple of times she broke her wait out of the crate (I was using a soft crate with the door wide open, so I couldn't really close it to stop her), but she still immediately reoriented. I didn't reward that, but it was nice to see that she was only breaking the wait to keep playing the game.

Then we practiced the Look At That! game, a revolutionary idea that Leslie came up with, where you actually click the dog for looking at other dogs/humans/whatever. Believe it or not, this actually decreases the amount that they want to look at other things, and they are soon doing a quick glance at whatever was worrying them before and whipping back to you for their reward. Tori has already played this game, and was even offering it from the beginning of class whenever something exciting happened. Cathi was trying to get the dogs to look at a neutral object (a toy), but Tori was playing with the other dogs in class instead, which was fine with me.

Finally we worked on Doggie Zen, where the dog has to look away from your handful of treats and give you eye contact to get the click. Tori got the hang of this pretty quickly, and I worked on some more advanced versions, including putting the food at eye level.

I was so pleased with how well Tori coped with the class environment. There were a couple of barks when something would happen when I wasn't expecting it (a dog getting up, someone moving around, etc.), but she was relatively quiet. One hilarious moment came when we took a potty break. We were coming back into the training room, and there is a window at floor level next to the door. Before I had a chance to open the door, Tori smashed right into the window. I started laughing hysterically, and Cathi peeked out the window because she heard the 'thunk' her head made when it hit the glass. It took a while to compose myself before re-entering class.

I am so excited to see Tori's progress in this class. A huge thanks goes out to Leslie McDevitt for writing this fabulous book, and of course to Cathi for holding the class. My biggest thanks is to Tori for being such a good girl!

- Megan