I love dog training because — and I know I have said this before but it remains true — it is a creative endeavor requiring intelligence and a consideration of what constitutes ethical behavior.
Well, that is not exactly true because not everyone trains in creative, intelligent, and ethical ways — but it is true for me, and that is why I really quite love training dogs.
Sparkle is training for Utility (an advanced obedience class). Things are going really well — she has almost all the pieces, and we have even started to put some of them together.
But go outs have been perplexing. This exercise requires she run out to a designated spot and turn/sit to face me on cue.
I use a target to train it — like a treat or a toy — and this has worked well with my other dogs, but it was not working for Sparkle. The trouble is that she is FAST — so she would race out, grab the whatever, and barrel herself back; the sit cue didn’t really register.
Of course, I trained sit at distance separate from the “race out” part and it is fine. I do the go outs with a sit from short distance (1 - 2 feet) and it is fine. It is when we add in distance — which tends to up that sparkling drive and energy — that things don’t go as planned.
Here is where things get interesting (to me).
Whether she should or should not register the sit cue and do it (because I said so!) is irrelevant to me.
This matters. A lot.
When people think, “she knows this and should do it” they tend towards adding a negative and/or corrective consequence.
My ethical framework doesn’t permit that kind of thinking/behavior when training for performance events.
Instead, I am perplexed and puzzle things out (hence, training as requiring intelligence, creativity, and ethical behavior).
It occurred to me that my training for the directed retrieve was also a race to a treat (in a bowl), and then a fast race back — why would Sparkle think the go out was different?
This is another reason not to get all mean and snarky with a dog who is not meeting our expectations — because likely they are! Just maybe not the expectations we expected, if that makes sense.
I decided I needed to change up the picture a bit.
I used panel jump “bars” to create a bit of a physical barrier, and shaped the behavior (with a clicker and treats) of getting in the space — and then turning to face me and then to sit.
I will now start adding distance to it — in very small increments. She will master the behavior AND retain her pizzazz because both matter to me.
After all, her name IS Sparkle.