Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A good attitude leads to success

Last night we went to the kennel club for agility class. I got there early so Devon and I could practice obedience in the practice ring before the class I help with. Devon did a great job. She was prancing in her heeling and really having fun. I switched treats last night and used small pieces of string cheeset, and she really loved it. 

Since things were going so well, I decided to ask Devon to "smack" the wall (this is an intermediate step in teaching a go-out). She has really struggled to foot touch things, and I finally realized why last night. I believe this goes back to the very first time she put her foot on the teeter board (low) and it moved and banged. That really frightened her, and she doesn't like to foot touch anything that might move. The wall has been hard when she sees my shadow moving on it.

But now, Devon has figured out the foot smack on the wall. In fact, she climbs up the wall with her front feet she's so proud of herself. I was sending her to the wall and she was climbing up it and I was giggling at her. She just thought she was so funny to make me laugh, I'm not sure she really needed any treats. 

She "smacked" several walls and then we called it a session. She went into a crate while I helped with the intermediate agility class. An hour later she came out and did her novice agility class. The first thing we worked on was a sequence involving the weaves. It was jump, chute, 12 weaves. I was sure she could do it and she did! She flew through those weaves to a big reward. Everyone was proud of her since they knew we'd been struggling with weaves.

We repeated the sequence, this time with a rear cross at the weaves. Devon handled this just fine, but she popped out at 10 when I got too far ahead of her. I told her she was silly and she must do all 12 poles, and we repeated them with the rear cross. This time she was successful. She was strong all the way through all three times at the poles and just looked fantastic.

The rest of the class went really well for Devon. She never hesitated at the teeter which was surprising since she had trouble with it the previous two weeks. This was my first clue that being successful was leading to more confidence to be successful. 

Toward the end of class we were sitting in the observation area while the 24 inch dogs were sequencing. I had asked Devon to lay down and relax, but she kept getting up. Finally, I realized she was "shaping" me to be responsible for her position. I decided to turn the tables on her. I just looked at her and waited her out, and pretty soon she realized she was supposed to lay down and that would earn her a treat. 

Well, Devon has this shaping thing well in mind. Hummm, if I offer more behaviors, I might get more treats. She backed up, and I ignored it. She got up and went to the back of the metal chair I was sitting in. As I turned my head out of the corner of my eye I saw her foot touch the chair. I started smiling! She wanted that cheese in my pocket so badly, she was giving me her toughest shaping behavior! 

I asked her what she was doing, and she heard the smile in my voice. She gave me a foot touch of the chair, and I gave her cheese! Then I decided if she was still going strong after 45 minutes of agility class, we'd see what she could really do. I got the clicker and more cheese (this got her attention), and I went to the ring gates near the practice ring. It was quiet over here and I knew I could shape her. 

She gave me a nose touch of the ring gates and got thing. Then she reached forward and smacked her foot on the ground below the ring gates. That earned her a piece of cheese. A second foot smack just under the gates earned her another piece of cheese; but then I upped the requirement. The next foot smack on the ground didn't get her anything. Hummmmm ... and the foot went out and barely tapped the gates - jackpot! She gave me several more foot touches of the ring gates, and I laughed and gave her cheese and told her how brilliant she was on each one. What a girl!

Last night reminded me that you can either spiral up with your dog or down. If you're in a rotten mood, the training session tends to go badly and everything starts to spiral to the bad. Last night, I just enjoyed my dog. I had fun training and she made me laugh. This set the mood for the whole evening. It led to our confidence and success in the weaves and on the teeter, and eventually to the success of the foot touch of the ring gates.

Attitude is everything, and you must have a positive outlook on each and every training session. You choose your attitude. I heard in a sermon one time about a man who said he didn't think he loved his wife anymore. A counselor told him every day to do something for his wife as if they were newlyweds and act like he was in love with her again. This man brought home flowers for her, did chores around the house, spent time listening to her, etc. After a couple of weeks, his attitude changed and he fell in love with his wife again. His attitude and feelings followed his actions even if his heart wasn't in it at first.

This story has stuck with me, because I think it is a good parallel to our training. Do I always want to train? Not really. But if I act out a positive attitude in my training session, my session will be successful and positive - and fun. If I continue to tell my dog he or she is brilliant and smart, the dog will act that way. 

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