Sunday, March 11, 2012

Leave It

I've wanted to work with a local dog trainer, Rikke Brogaard, for years. Somehow it's never come together, though. When I found out recently that she will teach small groups if you get the group together I pitched her a group consisting of Eddie, Bobby, Buce, and River. She was either going to love the idea or die laughing. Fortunately it was the former.

We met yesterday and she brought along 4 of her dog trainers in training so we had more than 1 to 1 attention and we worked for 2 solid hours in the wind and cold. Today, of course, it was sunny and delightful out. We have hopes for much nicer weather the next time we meet.

As we straggled home together we talked about what we'd learned and what was most important for us and how tired our brains were. I cited some stuff about improving my timing and getting to observe how others worked but I didn't feel like I'd really named my lesson yet.

This morning it came to me. Naming was actually the lesson. Two of Kath's goals for Bobby are leave it and give commands so he'll actually play a game of fetch and can be detached from his beloved sticks. We did a set of exercises based on that. I'd done most of them before and it was nice to see Ed do so well with them. Unfortunately he was a little too good. We had a hard time finding something that he wanted to leave. Near the end of the exercises, though, Rikke said that using the leave it command for Ed when approaching difficult people or dogs would be a good strategy.  Earlier in the work one of the trainees, Rachel, and I were talking about tricks. Her dog is apparently a champion trickster and she sometimes uses his tricks to redirect his attention in situations where he might act inappropriately. I told her that I was struggling a little with Ed jumping through a hoop. As we talked she urged me to definitely put a name to the act. Without a specific name he doesn't know exactly what I'm asking for.

I'm always reluctant to put the name on a command too soon. It's the same way I'm reluctant to rearrange furniture or put up art. Once it's there it's permanent (for me) and what if I choose my placement wrong? So what? I suppose. But for me it's a big deal. As I learned yesterday, though, it's also a big deal for the dog. If I name the actions I'm looking for then he knows what to do in high pressure situations and we're both happier.

All day today I've used the leave it command for passing people and dogs that Ed might ordinarily bark, lunge, and snarl at. We had a couple of small losses but we've had far more wins, some of them huge. As a result I'm feeling pretty awesome about life and my dog and I can't wait to have our next session. So, if you'll excuse me I have some scheduling emails to write.

*Photo by Kath. Lest you think the dogs are being terrible, we'd just spent 2 hours teaching them to pay attention to us, there was no way they were going to look at the camera instead.


  1. yet more wins in your column. this is shaping up nicer and faster than anticipated. you are SO GOOD at being a dog owner. I think of my desires for another animal, and then I think of really everything you do for yours and know in my heart it ain'gonna happen.

    You and Ed are the awesomest of the awesome.

  2. You'd figure it out. You might not be perfect but I'm not either. And some might say I should be directing my energies elsewhere but here I am and I like my friends and my dog and doing weird geeky dog stuff.

  3. and THAT is the way to live a life. Doing things that are important to your happiness with people who do the same.

  4. Misti, it's true - you would do what you have to do. And the dogs kind of walk you through it. (Or you'd get lucky and land one of those self-civilizing pets.) It's kind of nice that we don't have to be perfect to have a great dog in our lives. And Kizz, you do plenty of other fine things with your energies and talents.

    One trick about namimg - I have been a too-soon namer in the past, though I'm generally on the side of agonizing forever rather than putting art on the walls... The good news is that you can have more than one name for the same thing. You just can't have more than one Thing with the same name.

    How great that Ed's already taken "leave it" to a whole new level!

    Oh and - have you downloaded the swueaky toy app yet?

  5. I trained a beagle once for obedience shows. We ruled the arena for three years in row. With Hooper, I'm lucky if he sits when I tell him too. I have been totally lazy with him. Maybe it's because I felt sorry about where he came from. Now that he's old, I feel sorry for making him work at anything. For the most part he's well behaved. Except around Amy. He doesn't like Amy. I just keep him out of situations where I know he'll be bad. I'm a lazy dog parent.

    This thing you do with Ed? This makes me want to be a better dog parent.

  6. Cindy, after hard-core obedience, I think you're entitled to a little lazy dog parenting. We're lazier this time around, because the dog is less troubled. Which is kind of unfair, actually. I wonder whether good-kid siblings feel that way. (Oh, wait, yes, I think maybe sometimes I did.)

    Some of what Kizz & Ed are up to looks like work, for sure. Some of it looks like a giant party. So lucky I get to party alongside... maybe Hoover will suggest some age-appropriate party tricks.

    Anyway, I don't think you should say bad things about yourself as a dog parent, and I'm pretty sure Hoover would agree.