Written by Marilyn Miller
The puppy play group that Blaze was in for four weeks improved. The second week she came out of her shell and played with the other puppies. Being the smallest puppy she got pushed around a lot and rolled over, but she dove right back into the fray for more. The two large puppies were put into a play class the next hour. The last play session was Easter Sunday morning. It was held in a basketball court so there was lots of room to play, work on heeling and recalls.
On March 31st Blaze and I began a Beginner Novice 4 - week class at "My Dog's Mind" in Hampton, NH. The time is perfect for me - noon on Thursdays. I have not taken a novice class with puppies in 15 years when I began training Mandi and Luckee Fella. A lot has changed since then. The first week there were six puppies in the class, all larger than Blaze of course. Terrence Kirby is the trainer. The first thing he looked for was a training collar on the dogs. I had a snap-together collar on Blaze with her name and phone number stitched on it which would be allowed in the show ring. Blaze was the only puppy without a chain collar. Mr. Kirby let it go as she is so small. I said the chain would break her beautiful coat. Most people brought clickers which he recommended, but were not mandatory. I never got into clicker training. I have a couple of clickers which I have had for 20 years and never used. I did take one to the second class with me. I was willing to give it a try.
The first week we worked on eye contact, learning how to use the clicker and recalls on a 30' line. When the dog comes in to you, hold him under the collar, then click and give the treat. Do not lure the dog in with food. We rotated chairs so the dogs had different distractions around them every time we moved to a different chair. Eventually each person sat in the chair facing the group. We worked on sits and downs with eye contact. I learned a good trick for getting the dog to down and that is to squeeze gently on the dog's back (around the shoulder blades) and at the same time pull the leash forward. We also worked on the command "back away" so that the dog learns to give the handler some space. Blocking them with our feet seemed to work.
On April 7th (the second class) we worked on clickers again. Mr. Kirby said the dog can learn a lot faster by clicking. When he hears the click for performing the command correctly he know a treat will follow. The click is instant praise. You can also teach the dog that a click is a release command. My clicker is in the shape of a frog that fits on my finger. It takes some getting used to coordinate the click at the right second. After one lesson using a clicker I seem to be getting results with Blaze. "You're Free" or "O.K." are also good release commands and the dog knows she can take a break.
On recalls we called our dog, threw a treat between our legs and had the dog go through. While the dog was eating the treat we would turn around and have the dog return to us. This is preparation for a nice straight front. It is also to teach the dog not to be afraid of going through narrow spaces. We used 30' lines for recalls and if the dog ignored us, a light tug on the leash would get their attention. We worked on Heeling and walking on a lose leash. Two rules that were emphasized are " never follow the dog" and "never allow your dog to pull you". When the dog is not by your side you do not have his attention. Turn around when the dog ignores you and click when she is by your side. Reward for distractions such as other dogs or treats on the floor (click and treat). I use toys at home as distractions on the floor. We also used a hand signal for "sit" while walking the dog. We walked a few steps then gave the "sit" hand signal. Then click and treat. We repeated this a few times. Any position of sit is allowed to begin with, then later we would work on a good straight sit. I try to get a good sit right away as it is hard to correct a sloppy sit once it has been allowed. The hand signal we learned for the sit while walking is more like the one used in Rally for "get back 3 steps".
We also covered sit and down - stays, keeping our foot on the leash to keep the dog in position. Gradually increasing the length of time of the stays and using the stay hand signal. As the time is lengthened, click and give a treat, wait a few seconds, then click and treat again. Don't forget to verbally praise your dog.
I am finding this class interesting and Blaze seems to enjoy it also. We are both learning and looking forward to the next two sessions.
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