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December 6, 2013: Dog Training, Class #5

Our friend Carol recently asked me if I was taking Ryder to class because she was being disobedient. “Problem dog, eh?” she said. I didn’t elaborate. I just said that Ryder is doing quite well. Had she asked me to elaborate, I would have said that the perception that many have is that dogs go to dog school when they’re totally incorrigible or when they have a single bad habit that’s near impossible for owners to deal with – for instance, they pee where they ought not, make flying leaps onto kitchen tables, jump on strangers, get into it with the older dogs.

Okay. So Ryder did do the above. And we could have dealt with these habits. So this wasn’t the reason for going to

dog school. We’ve raised two dogs from near pups. There was Bootleg who lived to be 17. And there is Rainbow who is now 13. Bootleg was easy, Rainbow was a handful. I suspect that Rainbow would have been more obedient if we’d found a trainer who was well-versed in positive reinforcement techniques. One never materialized.

The real reason for going to dog school is that I have for a long, long time, wanted to learn how to put positive reinforcement theory to practice, both with our four horses and with our four dogs. Ryder could have been the best behaved dog in the whole world, and I still would have taken this class. I’ve spent the past ten years reading everything I could find on the subject. However, I did not have the opportunity to put theory to practice. Clicker training and what goes with it – it’s far trickier (no pun intended) than it looks.

I had heard that Claudia “used the clicker.” That was it. Nevertheless, you just never know how things are going to go in class, for you or your dog. I have in every class I’ve now taken in the foundation series, asked myself repeatedly, how did I get so lucky?

Last night, Pete, Ryder, and I had a private lesson. We were the only ones in class in part because the roads were so bad that few wanted to venture out. We were a few minutes late for class – I like to get there early and get set up and take Ryder on a short walk.

I wish I could write at length about all I learned last night, but I can’t because Ryder and I worked one-on-one with Claudia. But I will give it a shot. I’d read the Foundation Manual beforehand, so I had some idea as to what we’d be doing. We first worked on putting Ryder on her side. It’s tougher than it looks. Claudia used her stuffed dog and showed me how to do this. Ryder was of course more interested in the dog than she was in the exercise. I was surprised, Ryder was not too keen on this exercise.

We also worked on targeting, using a yogurt container lid. This time, we moved the container lid away from Ryder, so that she had to move it further away to touch it. We also put the lid on Ryder’s WOOF mat – she had to touch it, and then lie down. She then got the reward.

At one point, Ryder was sniffing around. Pete, watching, wisely said that she needed a pee break, which she did.

I really liked the next exercise, which was “leave it.” You put food in one hand, and a clicker and treat in the other. The dog nuzzles the treat hand. You then say leave it. When the dog looks away, you click and give a treat. Then, you do chaining. The dog nuzzles the treat hand. You then say “leave it.” When the dog looks at you, you click and give a treat.

We also worked on walking on leash. I at first felt very klutzy. And at times, I was unsure about what I was doing. Claudia was (as she was with Ryder) extremely encouraging. It seems like she was in interacting with me, modeling how I should behave when working with Ryder. I have noted that I have an actual, visceral response when I am praised. And the same holds true for the dog.

After class we signed up for elementary school, which will begin January 5. This is the next class in the obedience sequence. Obedience is foundational, applicable to whatever I end up doing with Ryder.

Next: 256: 12/7/13: Moving Sideways