Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New way?

Waaaay back in the day I thought it would be really cool to take a dog and train him up through the Utility level.  I went to a giant dog show held at the Western Stock Show Complex in Denver with a friend from college back when I was 18 I think.... watched a Utility class and it was so cool to see dogs that tuned in to their owners. 

I had a dog but he was a mix breed (Bloodhound X Aussie Shepherd - people always asked me if he was a Catahoula dog) and at that time you couldn't compete with your mix breed dog in "real" events.  You could go to fun shows or practice shows but it just wasn't real in my mind.  Where I got this idea to compete I don't really know....  I worked with him enough so that he was a very nice obedient dog, had a great time with him, loved him immensely but obedience competition never really went anywhere.

When he died, Furry Husband was in the picture.  We met with the woman who taught the basic obedience classes I went to with my first dog and brought some different breed profiles we were thinking of.  She worked with dogs and taught dogs - we figured she'd have some good insight and I wanted to go purebred so I could show in AKC obedience.  

We discussed pros and cons of the breeds we picked out and decided on the Gordon Setter. 

I took Booker everywhere but was told not to do very much obedience work with him because I would "break his spirit" for the conformation ring.  Booker was a wild man.  Oh, he absolutely LOVED everyone and everything but he was a wild man.  Not a mean bone in his body.  He really thought he was the mayor of Denver and wanted to shake every one's hand and kiss every baby.

We did conformation and it just wasn't my thing.  He was nice enough to win occasionally - he was middle of the pack - nothing spectacular but certainly not horrible either.  I didn't want to keep going with it.  shrug.  It just wasn't my cup of tea tho' I do enjoy watching conformation from the sidelines and we always tune in to Westminster Kennel Club every year. 

We began obedience work and we were the number one Gordon Setter in the US for Novice obedience published in Front and Finish obedience magazine.  (probably not a whole heck of a lot of Gordon's doing obedience work - they aren't generally great obedience working dogs) People would tell me what a nice working dog he was and how it was great to see such a happy dog in the show ring after we went.  I won a prize in one of my competitions - it was a decorated 8x10 mirror which I keep in my cubicle at work to this day so I can check my teeth for spinach particles.

We moved on to Open obedience and it was a lot harder.  The training methods got a lot tougher.  I didn't know I had options.  I thought this was the way it had to be.  I started to feel like each lesson I was beating my dog into submission (no I didn't really beat him) and the instructor was beating me.... he wasn't having any fun and I certainly wasn't having any fun.  We got one qualifying score in Open and I quit.  Just about that time my Dad got really sick and it was a pretty intense emotional time.  I couldn't focus on the obedience work,  I wasn't having fun and there were too many things going on that were pretty un-fun in my life.  I took a break from the un-fun things I could control and the break became permanent. 

Decided after a while that I didn't mind not having all that pressure and someone yelling at me all the time and I sure didn't miss forcing my dog, in sometimes pretty hard ways, of doing things.  I loved him and decided I didn't need a dog that obedient if that is what it took.  I just let him be our dog.  He was well loved and still goofy, happy and wonderful.  He was a really good boy. 

When Booker died, I wanted another happy, go-lucky companion I could take anywhere.  I truly appreciated Booker's optimistic nature, tho' I wanted a smaller dog.  Booker thought he was a lap dog but at 75lbs... I'm pretty sure my bruised uterus and ovaries from his paws/elbows in my gut gave a big sigh of relief when I started looking at smaller dogs. 

I really wanted an English Cocker Spaniel.  Seemed like some Gordon Setter people also had English Cockers.... the English Cockers were still a gun dog, active, not too small but not too big... they had merry temperaments - not frail - I was already used to grooming a long haired dog.  I'd met two in an obedience class with my first mix breed dog so long ago and always thought they were lovely dogs. 

 Enter Toe.

Dog training changed a lot in 10yrs.  It's all about the clicker now.  There are a bunch of 100% positive only methods.

I read a book about dog training 100% positive.  Oh my.  That author wanted you to change your life in ways you wouldn't believe in order to keep the dog 100% happy 24/7 no matter what the dog did.  It was unsettling and very odd.  If your dog wants to bite you, let him and be sure to give him your other hand to keep him interested and happy - don't mind the disfigurement cuz it's all about the dog and his happiness.  That wasn't gonna work for me and really turned me off looking at other 100% positive training methods... but I didn't know what would work. 

I decided this time around I'd explore different doggie avenues vs. obedience only.  I tried Tracking...Rally.... I thought I knew enough and could do the Novice obedience on my own without paying for classes or lessons. 

That didn't turn out so well... we got our Novice title but no one was coming up to compliment us on our work in the ring.   I didn't want to go back to the previous methods and didn't want to go the 100% positive route either.  Thought I could do it on my own.  Turns out I didn't do so great left to my own devices. 

Feeling pretty lost about knowing anything in dog training right about now actually.

I started reading this book called Control Unleashed.  It's geared more for Agility.... but there are some really interesting concepts in this book.  There are more positive methods and they work... so far. 

I started with something simple - something I knew from way back.  Only this was a new way to teach it.    It worked faster that the old school method and so well it's sort of blowing my mind.  I'm really excited to try some of the other exercises - I see the practical applications of them and the theory behind the methods makes sense to me. 

I'm messing around with the exercises in it with both Toe (supposed to help with focus in the ring) and with Keenan.  This book was recommended to me after Keenan's Cujo moment for dogs teetering toward aggression because of fear... I'll keep you posted.   Really different but interesting exercises.  I'm all geeked about it and it's sort of nice to feel excited and hopeful vs. clueless and frustrated.  


Funder said...

I am not a great trainer of anything, but I really love a mix of clicker and traditional. I just can't do 100% positive training! But I can punish quickly, move along, and shape new behavior with positive methods. You gotta do what works for you, but I think a mix of methods is really effective.

I keep hoping that my next Lab is going to be breed standard size. Lardo topped the scales at 80 pounds last week at the vet! I swear, I am buying a standard size bitch from a top quality breeder next time...

Anonymous said...

Good luck. Poor ole' Toe has got alot on his plate.

Shanster said...

Funder - I'm not at all either but I sure like to read about it and try it out and I get so geeked about finding better ways. Dork! Lardo.... that made me laugh! Yes - I think the thing I learned from my previous experience was not to swallow anything hook, line and sinker. Make sure it makes sense, is fun, you can do it and your dog is responding happily...

Dedene - Poor Toe nuthin'. :) His little tail never stops wagging, he gets lots of food, praise and attention. He's suckin it up and as long as I keep it happy and fun I think we'll be o.k.... even if the hoo'man gets a little lost and confused about all the info out there. grin.

Kelley said...

I'd love to hear some examples of things that work. I can't go 100% positive either. The more animals I work with the more positive reinforcement I can incorporate, and I find that I can prevent negative situations from occurring with experience and foresight.... so any additional techniques you want to share I'd love to hear about!!!