In the car was my little white JRT Olive. She didn't know where we were going, but after spending the morning visiting with her grandma, auntie, and little grand nephew Rohan, Olive was ready for some action.
I was a tad bit nervous. New location for Olive. New people for me. The environment at Heart Dog is exceptional for proofing behaviors. The sounds of birds, squirrels and other interesting things float through the air attracting dogs toward the trees. The gophers are prevalent on the grounds and although I didn't see any on the actual agility field, they were everywhere. I had a right to be worried. With the distractions of the forest as well as the heat, I wondered whether I could keep my little Olive's attention.
When I arrived, it was 94 degrees. Both Olive and I came out of our air conditioned car and started to melt into the ground. I thought...I don't think we are going to be able to do anything until it is cooler. I was a tad bit disappointed because it was a long drive and to see Olive not wanting to interact and very sniffy made me sad.
So I kicked myself into gear and said, "Vici, what would you tell a student that had this problem?"
After a very distracted walk in the potty field, I took Olive over to the water tubs and let her just lay in the water. She was so happy it made me smile. After a good soak, I did some of Olives favorite behaviors and rewarded with hot dogs (hand touch, sit up, right, and left). After some success with that I walked over to see how many dogs before Olive and I would "enter the ring" keeping her focus on me with the reward of a hot dog (variable reinforcement).
Since there were about 4, I lay her down on the cool grass and waited. I rewarded her for laying and when we had 2 dogs to go I started moving. We jogged a little, I got her retrieving her toy, tugging, and most importantly I was becoming Olives center of focus. The work at a fun match does not begin when you enter the ring. It begins much earlier in developing the fun factor while waiting for your turn and then continuing the fun after you leave the ring.
With one person left to go, I reviewed my simple plan.
- End of the dog walk - target/reward. Play
- Tunnel jump - reward play
- Weaves - reward play
- Table - reward
- Toss the toy and tug at the end
Not only did I work her through distractions, I was able to reward equally with toys and food. With hot dogs in my hand, she still drove to the toy, brought it back, and tugged!!! Yeah for us. She hung with me at the start line waiting for our turn and stayed with me throughout the 2 minutes we were on the field.
Yes, we had moments of distraction. In round 2, after she got heavily rewarded with hot dogs I tried to tug with her and she decided to ignore my toy and go back and get on the dogwalk. I ended up spending what seemed like 5 minutes but was actually only 10-15 seconds wrestling with her to get her back on the toy and was able to reward some tugging with hot dogs to add value in the tug/toy.
To say that I am proud of Olive is an understatement. It was freak'n hot out there and she is a dog that doesn't like extreme temps. The fact that I was able to reward with food and toys, even if we didn't do any obstacles would have been enough. But she also completed the obstacles that I requested with enthusiasm and joy!
Our road is not a short one. I expect to still be doing agility with this little girl when she is 11 (knock on wood). My expectations now are that she learns to love the game. The only way to do that is to instill value.
I've come a long way since my first agility dog training experiences 12 years ago. I am thankful for all my friends and mentors that have gotten me this far. Each dog teaches me something, but mostly my dogs are teaching me that it isn't about the winning, the praise, the fame, or fortune. It is about relationships. The relationship I have with my dogs. The relationships of friends who share this silly passion with me. The relationship I have with myself.
To sum up my trip to Heart Dog would be to say it was a very successful "taking it on the road" training event.
A summary video:
Working through some sniffy, distraction issues;