WordPress Daily Prompt – Strategy
With the arrival of Summer, dog training classes have shut-down for two months. There are some crazy people who will still train in 40ºC, but I’m not one of them. So rather than reporting on our current progress/strategies, I thought I would share a little tale of my early training exploits with my beautiful Finnish Lapphund girl, Makea. Makea is now five years old and one of three (very noisy) dogs in our household.
The Finnish Lapphund is a Spitz. It is a working dog, originally bred by the Sami people of Lapland to herd reindeer. Reindeer are ornery beasts so the Finnish Lapphund employs its loud (often high-pitched) bark and strong body to drive recalcitrant reindeer to re-join the herd. Its bark is also designed to enable it to be distinguished from wolves. When not herding, the Lapphund would also guard its family, and this job may account for its tendency to bark at unfamiliar things, alerting all and sundry to danger, and going from couch potato to alert watch dog in a nano-second. On the trail, it had to partly fend for itself, while the rest of the time it earned its food through hard work. The willingness to work for food now seems to be hard-wired into the Finnish Lapphund. One always knows where to find one’s Finnish Lapphund when there is food left unattended on the bench. Food is by far the best training aide.
Five years ago, our family prepared excitedly for Makea’s arrival. We read up on everything we needed to do when you get a new puppy. It was such a long time since we had a puppy, and we found a whole industry out there ready and willing to help us bring up our baby ‘right’. In the dog training lingo, this is known as puppy socialisation; we booked her into a beginners training class. However, because it was November, most classes were ending and would not resume for two months. We started in late January. It was scorching.
So here is our puppy socialisation story as recounted to some of my Facebook friends. Please be aware that it contains the ‘a’ word.
Makea Goes to Puppy Class
The instructor greeted us at the gate, noting that Makea was a bit, ahem, excited, and rather chatty (aka barking non-stop). The dog training grounds are conveniently located next to a bicycle path (need I say more) and regularly visited by rabbits. Did I mention that they have these wussy shade-sails, which provide no sun protection? But hey, no big deal as it had cooled down to the mid-30s (celcius that is) by then.
I was startled to find that the organisers had put Makea in the advanced adolescent class (just joking) because all the other pups were well behaved and sitting on their mats like well-trained pooches. And barely a peep from them! They must have been rather startled by Makea’s, ahem, barking. So the instructor erected a barrier around Makea so that she could concentrate on us rather than the other puppies, bicycles, etc, etc. Lucky the instructor had a spare barrier because when the first didn’t work, she whipped out a second to extend it further, and thus increase Makea’s ability to concentrate (on barking).
We pulled out the big guns – the chicken balls, and had a modicum of success with the training. Makea can sit, be lured to the settling mat (noting settling is not really in her vocabulary yet), and complete a partial drop (oh well, good enough). The rabbit poo was more effective at settling her.
Then came some lead work, combined with an obstacle course just to make it more interesting for the beginners. Makea led off. You know the drill, but unfortunately Makea didn’t. With the other dogs following behind within arse-sniffing distance, it wasn’t really possible to practise walking on a loose lead as we had been taught (ie. stopping immediately the dog began to pull and waiting for it to offer a loose lead). If we had done that, it might have taken the participants all night to finish the course. It’s a very good thing that my lovely friend who has offered to show Makea, is a very good snowboarder, because walking Makea is like enduring a black diamond ski run.
Finally, I was rather pleased with how Makea showed absolutely no fear or hesitation about running through the pipe on the obstacle course. We are on a winner there. I think I am quite justified in claiming Makea as THE MOST interesting, not to mention beautiful, dog there. No bias.
We endured the screens for six weeks and by the conclusion of classes, Makea was still a very barky girl. In fact, the strategy was not only completely ineffective but also harmful, because now she was both barky and anxious. Imagine how you would feel if you couldn’t see the dangers that lurked behind a screen? This taught us a valuable lesson. As owners, we need to advocate for our dog, even if that means standing up against the prevailing wisdom of the time. It took us three years to go back to dog training after this less than stellar experience. I’m still learning how to be diplomatic, but firm, in advocating for my special girl. Oh yes, Makea and I are now doing agility. She loves those tunnels.
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Thank you for reading.