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February 21, 2014: Dog Training: Elementary School Graduation

Last night was the final session of elementary school obedience class. There had been six previous classes—Pete and I missed the first class because he had bronchitis. I didn’t think the previous obedience classes had gone all that well. Ryder, while interested in the other handler/doggie doings, didn’t seem overly enthused about participating.

I continued to work with her during our daily outings. While out on the trail, we worked on come, leave it, and let’s go. And on the walk home, we worked on sit, stand, stay, and heel. I never worked long on any one thing because I have a short attention span. But I’d recently begun seeing signs of improvement in all

Pete and Ryder do rally

of the above – Ryder had also recently had what I call shining moments – Monday she stayed until released in the Matanuska Lake Parking Lot, and yesterday she did the same on the walk home.

However, I wasn’t looking forward to last night’s class, for I figured that Ryder would again have a hang dog attitude. So I suggested that this time around Pete do the class exercises.

Claudia (instructor) explained early on that we’d be doing rally, a sport that’s like agility. But instead of going up, over, and through actual obstacles, you instead do obedience exercises at pre-determined stations. (However, in both, participants do go through a tunnel). At these stations, for example, the dog is asked to turn left and right, and sit, stay, go down, and stand.

Claudia demonstrated what needed to be done at each station, and then she had the handlers walk the course. Pete, while in the process of examining the signs, was the essence of concentration. As he returned to the bench, I knew that he knew what to do. He’s good with directions, be they destination or place-related.

The class members then did the course, first on- and then off-leash. Two dogs preceded Ryder. Both did extremely well but had slight momentary lapses. Then it was Pete and Ryder’s turn. It was, I thought, time for Ryder to lie still and not move. But much to my surprise, she started out and continued in a very upbeat and perky fashion, playing close attention to Pete and his body movements. And she happily did what he asked. Ryder had no problem with the tunnel, but Pete inadvertently bypassed the sit, down, stay, and up station. Her subsequent stay was also a little iffy – she started to go before Pete gave the come directive. Done, Pete, Ryder, and I then watched the other dogs and handlers. All had shining moments – the best being when a previously tunnel shy Labradoodle trotted through this obstacle. As I thought, this dog has the makings of an agility champ.

The second time around, the dogs were to do the same rally exercises, but this time off-leash. Ryder was now the essence of concentration as she watched the first two dogs again do what they do so well. She laid down with her paws crossed, and every so often raised first one, then another light brown eye dot. Looking at her, I wondered – do dogs internalize what they’re seeing, thus making training-related connections? I would have said no before last night, adding that dogs can’t reason. But by the evening’s conclusion, I was not as sure as previously.

The first two dogs preceded Ryder in rally session number two. And both did extremely well. Then Ryder was on deck. For sure, I thought, Ryder will take off and attempt to hobnob with her classmates who were behind the swinging door. This seemed to me to be a given since I’d done no outside off-leash work with her. I was wrong. Ryder and Pete did even better than previously. Her shining moment was her stay—she laid down like a rock and did not move until Pete called her. I’m not a parent, but my feelings were akin to watching a much-loved child kick a winning soccer goal, or perform a difficult piano piece.

We returned to our station, and Ryder again became her usual watchful self. The other remaining dogs and handler then took their turns. I noted that even those dogs who were less focused had shining moments. And like Ryder, they were alert, focused, attentive – and happy.

We were at the conclusion of class, presented with diplomas. It was as I looked at the seemingly insignificant piece of paper that I had a training-related revelation. In doing rally, we did many of the exercises that we’d done in classes and were asked to do on the home front. I hadn’t followed the book per say; but rather did things in a more piecemeal fashion. Nevertheless, it appeared to me that Ryder had made the elementary school connections. And so had Pete.

So what’s next? We’re going to take a break from Better Pet Companion classes for the next few weeks because Pete and I have other things going on. He’s going to be an Iditarod Volunteer in early March, and I’m going to Fairbanks when he gets back. But we will take other classes in the near future. We’d like to do either rally or agility – that is if they’re offered on a weeknight. Otherwise, they conflict with Saturday search and rescue training sessions.

I’m also excited about continuing work with Ryder on the home front. I’ll continue with the walks, and both on the trail and on the road I’ll continue the obedience work. And if this ceases to be fun, we’ll find something else to do.

Next: 53. 2/22/14: Dog Training: Agility and Herding (six and six classes)