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February 23, 2014: Dog Training: In it for the Long Haul

And so, today was a search and rescue training day. It was a bright, beautiful, near windless day, temperatures in the high 20s. It was bit nippy, but I could feel the heat in the sun. For sure, spring is on the way. I suspect that the dogs felt it too, for I later learned that some who usually do really well were a bit off today.

We met in Wasilla behind the Menard Sports Center. I’m beginning to feel as though I’m getting the very familiar with the areas behind the local schools and sports centers – they’re all vast parking lots. And behind them are snow berms. And behind the snow berms are wooded areas.

I worked first with Ryder – Vicky Parks agreed to both be the subject and do some instruction. Ariel and Amanda, the two younger members, followed suit. We first worked in the wooded area. Ryder started strong, she found Vicky two

Kathy putting Tarra's vest on

times with very little effort – this was more sight than nose-related. And she played with the offered toy when she found Vicky. Then, the third time, she found Vicky, but after she didn’t go for the toy. It was akin to watching a child push a plate of spinach onto the floor. I knew that absolutely no amount of cajoling was going to change this situation. So, Vicky and I simultaneously decided that I should be the subject.

So we worked at the parking lot’s edge with me hiding behind a nearby berm. Ryder came to me when Vicky (who was holding long line) ordered her to search. However, she had no interest in playing with the grody mitt or the non-descript thrift store stuffy toy.

Huh. As I now understand, finding the subject is one part of the K-9 search and rescue equation. And playing with the toy is yet another. It’s like in algebra when you have to balance equations. If one side is lopsided, you fail. But, quite clearly, Ryder is destined for a career in language arts, this as opposed to math. I suspect that in time we’ll get her enrolled in a small, private liberal arts college – that is, one that will bring out her more artistic side.

I returned her to the truck and took both Jenna and Rainbow for walks. I then took Ryder for a walk. She grabbed at her purple leash the minute her dainty little feet hit the ground. Tug, tug, tug, on and on it went, for over an hour. Toy drive? You betcha, she’s got it. That is, when she chooses to have it.

I had Pete hold her and I took off a few times, across the parking lot. She came right to me and played with the non-descript stuffy and a toy that Kathy had on hand. It was a ball on a string. She pulled so hard that she broke the string, and then she attempted to get me to tug on the string. Between bouts, Ryder politely asked other dogs to play with her, by bowing and then going into the down position.

So what’s to be learned, if anything, from all this? The answer is that Ryder has the pieces of the search and rescue puzzle in front of her. However, she doesn’t yet have a clue as to their interrelationship. There’s the take-off and search piece, the mad scramble through the wooded area piece, the find the subject piece, and the toy drive/reward piece.

I’m confident that Ryder will make the necessary connections. I’m hoping that this will happen sooner rather than later. Then once she makes it, she’ll always have it. She’s just that sort of a dog. Really, none of this has anything to do with the other, supposedly tangible variables, such as using a long line on the trail, having the just right chew toy, or her having taken too many classes and being burnt out. Rather, it’s just circumstantial.

So, I must remain patient and be accepting of the fact that this is what Stacey B calls a small bump in the training schedule. I did acknowledge to myself that I don’t have a super dog here. Rather, I have an average dog, and it’s going to take some time before she’s search and rescue ready.

I’m going to keep going to search and rescue training and agility class because I think that what Ryder learns in search and rescue and agility will complement one another. Plus, what’s happening is fodder for my future book –Researching the Border Collie Mind. Lucky me. This is at least what I keep telling myself.

Next: 55. 2/24/14: The Writing Life: The Wonderful World of Work