I had a rough day today.  I came home to help around the house while my mother got used to only having the use of one arm, but I’ve ended up having to spend a fair bit of time taking care of her.  She’s had some secondary complications from the injury, mostly stress and shock related we believe.  She’s better this evening and hopefully over the worst of it!

By the time I got her settled and feeling better (I tried treating her homeopathically and am not sure if that helped or if it just coincided with her symptoms subsiding) it was nearly 5pm.  It was also pouring rain out and the yard and fields nearby were swamps.  I had four dogs who had not left their room or crates all day (Mira and Kess are in crates here), and who were wired for sound.  I was tempted to put all my rain gear on and take them out, but then how to get them clean when we got back?  I was too tired to deal with washing 4 dogs, and its too cold to hose them outside.

So I decided to just do brain work with them, and spend some one on one time with each.  I took each dog through the first couple of categories of the training list I posted at the end of my Shaping 101 page, i.e. Basics, Focus and Crate Games.  I was very pleased to see that all three of my trained dogs remembered almost everything they’d been taught, and Kess was very impressive in how quickly she learned.  And the dogs where absolutely thrilled to be training again, which was cool.  My intent today was to do a refresher and see where they are at.  From here I will set up a training plan for each dog.

I started with Mira and went through the basics.  She is extremely keen and did well, although her memory wasn’t the best.  I had to refresh her on a few things, like some more complicated shadow handling.  She has always had problems with this, and obviously lost some of what we had learned before.  Mira seems to have some memory issues in general and I noticed the same when we were on sheep last weekend.  While Hannah worked like she had just left sheep the day before, Mira had back slid considerably.  Mind you, her skills are not as solid as Hannah’s are, either in herding or agility.  I think this is in part because she’s younger and hasn’t had as much training, and in part because she just doesn’t seem to learn the same way.  

I’ll get her to where I want her to be (competitive in both sports) but she continues to be my “project” dog. For inspiration and ideas I’m re-reading Shaping Success, Susan Garrett’s book on turning her wild Buzz dog into a champion.  From Susan’s descriptions, Mira is not as challenging as Buzz was, so I have no excuses!  We can do it.

My goals with Mira for now: continue to work on her impulse control (crate games are great for this); build value in agility obstacles; get her to understand the point of agility!  Right now she thinks it’s about taking one obstacle and then running beside me.  

Hannah was brilliant.  I had her driving in and out of her crate across the room and doing all sorts of stuff.  As soon as she realized what we were doing, she was on 100% and ready to go.  She really is a great dog. My goal for her: competing in our first agility trial in April.  We need to get on equipment and get going with that.

Ross was his usual fun self, full of enthusiasm and brilliance with a dash of clownishness and a pinch of stubborn.  I was trying to get him to switch between working for food and for toys (something all the others do with ease) and he was having none of it.  Ross is all about the food.  He has very little interest in toys, and while he’ll retrieve or tug for a few seconds, it really doesn’t do much for him.  

I know that you can build toy drive in any dog, and you can do the same with tugging.  So I thought for a bit about making that Ross’s goals for now.  But then I wondered what the point would be, and even if it is a good idea.  I do not do agility with Ross because of his back and joints (he was hit by a car prior to me adopting him, and left without medical care to heal on his own).  I don’t want them stressed because I want him to have good mobility and comfort in movement for years to come.  So there is no need to train him with high intensity rewards, and in fact it may be harmful to him to do so.  Tugging can’t be that great for the spine – I know it’s bad for mine!  So, we’re sticking to food.

My goal for Ross is to get him ready to compete in Rally-O.  This has been my goal for some time now, and I haven’t made much progress towards it.  I find it hard to train to any standard without some kind of external validation, such as a class or a trial.  But I will endeavour to make progress. There’s a Rally trial being held locally in a few weeks, and I’m going to go watch to see if that motivates me.  I also want to do more tracking with him as he’s getting really quite good at that.  Perhaps I should do some scent discrimination games with him in the house until we have better conditions outside to train in.

Finally comes Kess.  Gosh she’s a nice puppy.  I can’t believe how much she’s changed.  She’s gone from being a very quiet, dull, fat lump of a pup to a very agile, intense and high drive dog, all in about 5 weeks.  She’s lost nearly 8lbs, put on muscle, and mentally perked up so much that I just can’t believe she’s the same dog.  Well, except that my intuition told me this would happen – thank goodness I listened to it and didn’t let her go to the retired couple looking for a quiet pet who originally wanted to adopt her!!  

Kess started training today like she had already been taught much of what I wanted her to know.  She slammed her nose into my palm for the hand touches, gave me beautiful eye contact for the “watch me,” and in just a few repetitions, was driving in and out of her crate like a pro.  I do a lot of training without even realizing it, when dealing with the dogs on a daily basis.  She has obviously picked up a tremendous amount just from that as today was the first real formal “training” session I’ve done with her.  i.e. me standing there with a bag of treats and a list of things to practice.  She picked everything up in a flash.  I even got out a box and started doing some shaping with her.  I sure hope she sticks around long enough for me to see what she’s really got.  I expect she’s going to be tremendous.

My goal for Kess: At this point, teaching her the basics, but with a future of competitive agility and herding in mind.

I know I need to be more specific in my training goals, and I will break them down explicitly before we go much further.  Today was just an assessment day, and a fun change after a long winter’s holiday from any brain work.  Sheep herding doesn’t demand this kind of training, and I was getting lazy about doing it when I had regular access to sheep.  I should have been doing this all winter, but for whatever reason, I didn’t.  I hope my motivation holds to continue in this direction now.  I had a blast today  (I LOVE training my dogs), and do did the dogs.  And they all slept soundly afterwards, as if I had taken them for a long run.