In my initial dog training post, I mentioned that Ama, my little Finnish Spitz, had successfully gained her Rally Novice obedience title. At this level, all the exercises are done on-lead. The next level for us, Rally Advanced (RA), is going to be more challenging because the course is conducted off-lead. I think we can do it. I’ve learnt to never underestimate the happy wanderer! But….. at our latest training session, things didn’t go entirely to plan (ie. there was no plan).
It is an old adage that pride goes before a fall. Primitive dogs do have a way of teaching their owners humility. Just when you think you know how your primitive dog will react in a given situation, it does entirely the opposite. Lesson to self – expect the unexpected.
Ama is not a fan of other dogs. She does have a few friendly pooch acquaintances, but when presented with the opportunity to play, she prefers to be off doing her own thing, patrolling the fence boundaries or generally ferreting around. We have done some off-lead training (with reward treats close by to keep her attention). Ama has wandered off, but she has never dashed after another dog. I therefore never expected her to do this, but she did. It could have ended badly because the dog she rushed was the only other reactive dog in her class. Fortunately, at the last moment she veered away. And then, she returned promptly when I called. Thank goodness for our recall training.
In hindsight, there were some warning signs to which I should have been paying attention:
- Ama seemed more distracted than normal. I had to work extra hard to keep her attention.
- We had just started working exclusively off-lead while simultaneously I was reducing her food training rewards.
- The RA training course was longer than she was used to, with several new obedience tasks that she didn’t fully understand.
- My training partner, Jill, was sitting on the ground in the distance playing with her dog. Jill’s behaviour was out of the ordinary, and as I’ve come to realise, far more interesting than Ama’s training itself. Ama is a curious soul. She likes to know what is going on.
Ama’s life did flash by my eyes. She came back though and no altercations were had. I’ll chalk this up to experience – a clear case of handler error. I don’t know why I felt that I could rock up to training and just do the usual! Different training conditions require more modest goals. I feel if I write my strategy down (and lay it out here for all to see), I might actually stick to it. Here’s my plan:
- Set a limit on the number of stations to be attempted without reward (eg. three seems a good number to start with). Without a limit, it is too easy to get carried away.
- Break up the training by interspersing the formal training with tricks she knows and loves.
- Work on-lead until thoroughly warmed up.
- Pay more attention to Ama’s level of engagement, ie. Is she there in mind AND spirit? Or is she just there because I say so? Maybe I can push the training boundaries slightly if she is really engaged.
- Check first for distractions, including other dogs in the vicinity having more fun than her.
- Quit while we’re ahead.
All this seems blindingly obvious now, but I guess I jwas a bit too complacent on the back of our earlier Trial success. I didn’t plan how to approach the step up to the next level. While nothing beats learning on-the-job, sometimes a little forethought can go a long way to ensuring that training is both fun and safe for everyone.
Well, it worked okay – at least until two swallows started flitting across the training grounds.