Wow. It has been a long time since I’ve bothered posting here. I’d feel terrible if people actually read it. As it stands, I only sort of feel like I let myself down as this was supposed to be my way to chronicle my agility adventures. Since stopping blogging, I’ve learned a lot! Mostly, how important it is to let your dog make the wrong choice. I took a Fenzi course called Control that Crazy Canine. It was all about impulse control& how to teach your dog to have it. I learned a scary amount from that course.. for starters, I was always SO nervous for Penny to make mistakes. I was micromanaging her trying to prevent any mistakes from happening. I had deep fears of Penn’s mistakes. She used to make a mistake, stress and go away. Then not recall back to me. Which is great. And by great I mean so embarrassing when it appears to people who don’t know you that you haven’t even managed to properly teach your dog a recall but you’re trying to do agility. I have written time& time again about my struggles with red dogs’ focus, so I’m going to write about the positives that came from this course.
So, this impulse control course. It started June 2nd. The day of my last Jess Martin seminar.. which was another disaster. Penn was shut down. Wouldn’t work with me. I got frustrated. We ended with a sour taste in both our mouths and definitely were not happy. I knew I needed to make a change. I loved my dog& wasn’t very content with continually being that frustrated with her. It wasn’t good for either of us. We stopped playing agility that day& didn’t play again until 6 weeks later when the course was over.
The course took us back to basics. It was centered around crate games. I had played them with Penn as a pup, but not to the extent that this course required me to play them. We found all kinds of success in making her focus on me before getting rewards. She loved the games. I loved her focus during the games. We started to learn that it was better to work together instead of against each other. I packed the crate in SUV& we practiced everywhere. I got a longline. I allowed her to disengage then asked for her to refocus. Slowly, new environments caused the pit in my stomach to fade. I had faith she could refocus& work through her stress.
Since June 2nd, I have been frustrated maybe 4 times with her. What changed? My attitude. Her attitude. Personal play& huge rewards. Before, I gave lots of rewards. Kibbles, ball, tug.. but they were lacklustre. Now? Now I give crazy, amped up rewards with lots of engagement for her. We play tug, we play hand targetting, we play chase. We interact so much more than before this course. I learned just how important it is for me to use my voice to keep her focused. Mostly, I learned it was okay for her to make mistakes. If I constantly prevented mistakes from happening& then got upset when she made one, how is that fair to her? It isn’t. So I let the mistakes happen. I made runaways from agility courses a nonissue. I ignored her. When she looked at me, I ran away& called once. If she didn’t come, I ‘played’ with my invisible dog. Eventually, curiosity got the best of her& she came. HUGE rewards. The issue is far from solved but it has improved 75%.
Last night, we went to a brand new environment. She actually worked with me, focused, trained& had one mini runaway. She came back. She recalled instantly (ONTO an agility field.. that is amazing for her), refocused& threw herself into working with me. I’m so excited. I used to be slightly terrified to train in our yard. She was notorious for runaways there. We haven’t had one serious runaway to the woods since starting the course. We can successfully train in the yard now with NO treats. Just a ball& personal play as rewards. I always had a lovely relationship with Penn in terms of snuggling on the couch, hiking, doing tricks. We needed to find a serious fix to our agility working relationship. I think it is safe to say we are on the way to it.
Did the course actually cover stress, play& recall? Not at all. These were brilliant side effects from this mind blowing concept: choice. Letting Penny make her own choices& rewarding the heck out of the good ones while ignoring the bad ones. Logically, it makes sense. I trained her tricks by shaping. I let the dog make her own choices to see what worked. I forgot to allow that thought process to follow us into agility. I was so determined to prove everyone who said I needed a Border Collie wrong that I set us up for failure. I was so stressed about having a focused, fast non-BC that I ruined a lot of her drive in new environments. I have let go of all that. Now, I can watch Penn take the tug& run laps. She eventually comes back, we tug, I reward, we train another sequence. It doesn’t take long for her brain to make the leap that engaging with me is more fun than running away. Now bringing the toy back is the best. game. ever! Before, I was so stressed that she would take the toy& run, I caused it. She would run away from my stress. I have (mostly) let go of that. I have let go of a lot since starting this course. We don’t have anything to prove. She’s just two years old. I’m just learning how to play this game. We’re both still young enough& smart enough to make huge strides to a bigger& brighter future.. I will have my fun trial dog and she will be a rockstar. We can go at her pace. We have time.
I have a beautiful red dog. She wants to work with me, truly. I want her to find happiness& success in working with me. I haven’t been to a trial since early May with her but we are headed off to one the first weekend of August. I have accepted she may run away, she may stress& we may have to just say screw it& scratch every run making the weekend an expensive bust. All that means is she isn’t ready. We will keep going to new environments, keep asking for focus& try again in October. I have given the power to Penny. She can make her own choices. I’m officially just along for the ride.. here’s hoping it stays as positive as it has been since June 3rd.