So, my Border Collie has 0 focus issues. I can do anything and ask anything& he would literally play agility all day, every day with no breaks except for water& meals. Penny? Well, it’s a constant work in progress. Somedays, I’m seeing backwards progress& it really makes me wonder how much do you push a dog before you decide they just aren’t going to make the agility dog you want? I don’t know that Penny will ever see the day where she’s competing at a trial due to her focus issues. She has minimal food& toy drive ..though I’ve been working extremely hard on tugging& after almost 14 months, it is finally starting to pay off. She will now tug in previously distracting environments and she will recall to a tug toy. HELLO, BABY SUCCESS!
My favorite thing? She works like a dream when she is in a place she knows ..but when I shell out all kinds of cash for a Jess Martin seminar, she gets busy running around like a bad dog& stealing all the other dogs toys. Yes, this really happened. Yes, it was horrifying. Yes, I would wish it on my worst enemy because I think it’s good for everyone to be knocked down a peg or twenty.
I know what you’re all thinking right now- it is impossible for a dog that good looking to be as bad as I’m saying. Seriously, though. She was awful. It wasn’t funny at the time.. I was considering just packing up and leaving a mere 40 minutes after I got to my 8hr seminar. And I’m not kidding. You could see the looks of horror on the other peoples faces. There were dropped jaws, whispers of ‘why would she bring THAT dog here?!’ and a general consensus that they could all relax. The worst dog in the class didn’t belong to any of them ..it was Penny.
Then, Jess Martin did something that I will be eternally grateful for. I’m serious. I will never praise another trainer as much as I will her for one simple thing. She caught my dog& turned to everyone and in that moment, instead of telling them what they were planning on hearing (this is a prime example of a dog not ready for this class), she told them that this was her favourite kind of dog to work with. She then went on to explain how during the sit/stay, Penn& I disconnect and asked to run my dog. I don’t know about you but I don’t turn down an offer for a world champ to run my dog. Their run? It was glorious. I mean that. They ran the 7 obstacle sequence like true pros. While I stood there and thought quietly to myself ‘See. I didn’t bring an untrained dog to this seminar.’ and then when Jess& Penn finished, everyone stopped judging me and Jess proceeded to give me TONS of tips to work on focus& drive. I have been trying to take at least 10 minutes a day& work on those things with my dog ..and while I still have bad days where I wonder why I even bother, it’s nice to see lots of progress.
My dog has a recall. We hike in the woods all the time. When she would grab toys& run away, her recall left her. It was awful and embarrassing. Jess was the first person to give me a reason for that. It wasn’t a recall issue. It was a stress response. Which made a lot more sense. I would get stressed to take her collar off because I was expecting her to run away. Penn would get stressed because she’d feel me be stressed so as soon as her collar was off? She’d run away from the stress and so she proved my fears correct. Now, Penny has to work for her collar to come off& we’ve made it a game. I don’t stress taking it off anymore& as a result? I have a dog who stress runs a lot less. Significantly less, actually.
Another thing with Penn was that she has a sit/ stay so her start lines were always pretty great. I could get as much of a leadout as I wanted. My only problem? She either wouldn’t release or when she did release ..you guessed it. Stress running again. Jess told me to ditch the start line stay and run with Penny. I would say this has made the single biggest difference in our training. I can know keep her high focus on me (tugging, targets, spins) and start taking obstacles from there.
Honestly, Jess gave me so many solutions for my major headache with my dog. And her advice? Well, it was the complete opposite of what everyone else had been telling me. I was told I NEEDED a start line stay as foundational training. Jess said I had a stay so ditch it for the long haul. I was told that I NEEDED to tug. Jess said build your motivators into things you can bring into the ring with you. I was told I NEEDED all kinds of focus. Jess kindly reminded everyone that a course takes approximately 30 seconds to run. I only needed that much focus and the rest was just icing on the cake. She also reminded me that the moment I get frustrated, my dog leaves the situation because she simply cannot deal so my best bet? Do something ridiculous so that I stop being frustrated and laugh instead. It’s been working.
So this post is pretty much just a giant shout out to Jess Martin. If you ever, ever have a chance to take anything from her ..a seminar, online course, whatever.. DO IT. She was not above telling the stories of her own personal struggles with her dogs and oddly enough, knowing that a world champion agility trainer has almost the exact same struggles as Penn& I are having? Well, it certainly helps ease the pain of them. If you get the chance to train with her, it will be worth every penny (no pun intended!) and you will walk away with a totally different perspective on your dog and why they do what they do. I never, ever thought that Penny was stress running away and it would never have crossed my mind because Penn doesn’t have a stressful life and I didn’t even clue in to my emotions feeding into her. So, Jess, if you happen to ever stumble on this post, you have a new supporter in Cape Breton. I look forward to going back in the middle of November ..hopefully with a much more focus& engaged dog!