I was planning to sign in today to regale you with funny tales of last night's utter humiliation at the paws of my youngest but, as is par for the course with Elli, she didn't oblige me.
It's been over a month since our last handling class, and Elli has had only sporadic training at outside locations since then. Our handling and table session at the public landing was not a resounding success; she was very focused on her Beagle buddy Mia (not to be confused with Ian's Beagle buddy, Becca), and focused little or none on me. I had a hard time keeping her gaiting in a straight line, and she was bound and determined to sniff every couple of steps. A subsequent work session at the Wag It training center yielded much the same results. Her gaiting is atrocious, her table stacking isn't much better, and she is apparently never going to have the plush coat I would like her to have. I do not anticipate her doing much of anything at the Springfield shows, frankly, other than helping to up the point count.
But I do expect her to eventually do, if not great things, then at least very good things in the obedience and agility rings in the future. So, to start working on those skill sets, I started Elli in a heeling class last night.
Ian and I have been training with Thom Lambert at Canine Connection for over a year and a half now, and I think it would be fair to say that I've gotten quite spoiled with my boy. Arguably the best-behaved and most consistent dog in his class, it's hard for me to remember that, when we started out, he didn't know how to do anything other than stand there and look pretty. It took WEEKS of daily, evening crate pad/clicker/treat sessions for him to get the concept of "down." He forged horribly when heeling, he would lie down on the sit stay every. damn. time, and he was bound to go visiting on the recall or during agility work.
In that year and a half, though, he's gone from there to being completely off-lead the entire class, including coming into and going out of the building. He's earned a CD and is ready (I hope!) to start competing in Open. He focuses, he stays with me, and while he'll never be a sharp, precise worker, he's a happy worker and he really, really wants to please me.
Little Miss Elli, on the other paw, really, really wants to please herself.
So when I headed into class last night, I was fully expecting to be humbled by the little, black, hairless whirlwind. The outings with Mia had prepared me for her total disinterest in my end of the leash; I was sure she'd be tearing to go play with the other dogs, I just knew there was no way in hell she was going to do a sit or down stay, and I was prepared for her to bark three-quarters of the time or more.
But Elli is loath to do the expected. She was excited to be there, to be sure, but as soon as we took our place in the room and I put her in heel position, she whipped her little head up and focused on me. I reinforced that liberally. Then we worked on having her sit in front and keep her focus on me, also with lots of treats for eye contact. (I swear to doG that my head is going to start flipping backwards -- for I am my dog's PEZ dispenser.) We played the Leave It game with good success, then did some sits and downs. Even with Thom knocking on the door, pounding on the heat duct, and twirling a weave pole, she stayed in her sit and/or down. The ONLY time she got up was when a huge, hyper Yellow Lab (is there any other kind?) got loose and pounced on her. I really couldn't blame her for getting up out of a down position for that, and I was sort of impressed with the fact that she didn't nail him for his rudeness. Actually, I kind of wish she had, because it might have done the Lab some good to have someone put him in his place, but anyway...
For the recall, I left her and went about halfway across the room. Elli waited until called, came running in, and gave me an awesome front, then a nice, straight finish. I may be a little biased, but I'd say she was easily the little star of her class.
As is almost always the case, I learned way more from the session than she did. I learned that she is very high drive, very motivated to work for reward, and more precise with her positioning and movement than her brother will ever be. She's also whip-smart, which is a double-edged sword; she picks things up very quickly, and she also gets bored very quickly. When Thom told us to take breaks and just play with our dogs, I had to restrict "play" to some touch games, some hand signal work, and some tricks, because any loosening of focus on my part meant she was whining, barking, and jumping to go play with the blue merle collie a few feet away.
Next week we will start doing some Choose To Heel exercises, and do some heeling as a group, which I suspect will erode some of her focus -- dogs moving in front and away from her mean the prey drive (or is that the Play drive?) is triggered, so I'll need to be prepared to "treat on the move." She does a good job heeling off lead at home, though, so I know she understands the concept. We just need to carry that over with the distraction of the other dogs.
So, this isn't at all the funny and self-deprecating little post I was expecting to write this morning. Which is good for my training program and for Elli's future obedience career, but not so much for your entertainment. Sorry, guys!
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