Week five is up already, and at last week’s class to celebrate all our dogs’ new-found skills, we had a “fun and games” night! Naturally, the purpose of fun-and-games night is not just for fun and games. It was also a great opportunity for dog-and-handler teams to practice their basic obedience skills in combination, and to work against the distraction of music, other dogs moving around, and obstacles.
We started with a simple team relay game, in which each dog/handler had to complete five timed tasks as quickly as possible — a loose leash walk between two points, a full-minute sit, a full-minute down, a 20-second play session with a toy, and then a 40 foot recall. As expected, Dude aced the first three points (the walk, the sit, and the down), did a passable but not impressive job with the toy play, and totally bombed the recall. Why, you might ask? It’s simple: we haven’t been practicing. Our training center teaches a recall using a dog’s favorite toy, and for most dogs it’s quite effective. For dogs who aren’t into toys, we recommend building toy drive first — and we’ve been working on this with the Dude, making very slow but steady progress over the past few weeks. While we’ve been working on toy drive though, we have neglected to practice his recall at all! So when we got to this portion of the exercise, we teased the Dude with this duck and sweet potato treats, ran across the field, and called him as excitedly as we could. And Doodlebug — in true Doodlebug form — casually sauntered in our direction, pausing several times to sniff the mulch, hunt for kibble in the grass, pee on a tuft of weeds, and investigate the other people standing around to see if they had any better treats. Eventually — we did not give up — he got back to me, and we had a big party. Better late than never, right?
Next, we played musical chairs. We started with all dogs loose leash walking in a big circle around some plastic lawn chairs to some music (I believe the song was, aptly, Who Let the Dogs Out). Whenever the music stopped, everybody had to walk (on loose leash!) to the nearest chair, sit in it, and get their dog into a sit also. The last dog standing was out. We played and played until it was just Dude and one other dog still in the running — a beautiful white-and-black pit bull. Then the music stopped, we got seated first, and the Dude won — woohoo!
However, the Dude was not a total winner. In fact, last week’s class was the night that we pretty much skipped from phase 2 to phase 4 of Dude’s (relatively mild) reactivity. He had been polite around all the other dogs in the past, but during games night he decided that two of the other dogs in class were just too exciting, and a few times I caught him staring and then growl/woofing at them. After I regrouped from my initial embarrassment, I quickly realized that I had not been managing him correctly — I had been letting him stare quietly at other dogs for weeks. Staring is impolite and can sometimes lead to reactive behavior — behavior I may have avoided, in Dude, if I had taught him not to do it earlier on. On two or three occasions in class, Dude barked smack at another dog, and I died a little bit on the inside. At the end of class, even though Dude had won the musical chairs game, I was feeling pretty low.
Luckily our head trainer — who knows me well at this point — picked up on my frustration right away, and gave me a valuable pep talk. We regrouped, refocused, made a plan, and looked at the bright side. Then the next morning, we woke up and went on group hike with our trainer and a bunch of other dogs who are also working on themselves.
Homework was self-directed, based on each dog’s performance during games night. Ours was abundantly clear: start drilling come when called, continue working on toy play, and keep working on leash walking among distractions — like other dogs.
Stay tuned next week to hear about the Dude’s graduation week!