Man, this week is going by too fast. I got up today and realized I have today, tomorrow, and Saturday and that's it. And Saturday I have to be in Washington, D.C. for a meeting most of the day, so I'm not sure it's going to be a very useful training day. Yikes.
This morning I realized that I have just started to really understand my dog. I've been living with him for two years now--two years! wow!--and working with him in basic schutzhund training for a little more than a year. I always knew how to get him interested in working and that he likes some things more than others, but I never really understood why we sometimes work so incredibly well together, while at others it seems like our whole routine falls apart, the dog lacks focus, or the drive just isn't there.
Butch has been telling me for months that I need to learn to reward the dog more, praise him more, encourage him more. And I've done that, but I'm starting to see that I never built proper patterns for this dog that create any sense of suspense or excitement or expectation. This week, since I've stopped being such a slave to practicing the routine and have been focusing instead on drive building and short exercises, Doc and I have reconnected and he's starting to get that at any moment looking up at my face and staying at my side could result in me whipping the ball out of my pocket and chucking it across the yard for him. Or that staying in a down 30 feet away from me isn't boring or inconvenient or frustrating--it's a rule in the game we're playing that will ultimately result in the best thing ever at any moment. At any moment! How exciting for him--all he's got to do is play by the rules!
He's suddenly remarkably cooperative and I'm feeling like I understand now why all those prong collar corrections I was giving last week when he was refusing to pay attention were not having the right effect--I really hadn't connected the reward to the action in a way that really motivated the dog. Sure he was motivated before because he knew sit meant sit and that he might get a treat for it--but he wasn't Motivated with a capital M because he didn't understand that the rules of this game meant that sit could also mean YEEEEEEHAAAAAAA, fight, tug, bite, chase!
He's starting to make that connection better now. We did some really nice bursts of heeling in between ball and tug, and every once in a while, rather than just heel, reward, heel, reward, we did heel, rewardrewardrewardreward, then heel some more, then rewardrewardreward, take a break, do something else, then some spontaneous heeling, downing, sitting, recalls, rewardrewardrewardrewardreward . . . and I abruptly brought the whole session to an end while he still wanted to play so he could have something to think about while he laid on his bed in the kitchen. And something to look forward to later.
Three more days.