I had an opportunity to speak with a trainer I really look up to earlier this week. I sent an email to Willard Bailey, author of Remembering to Breathe and OTCH Dreams, as well as the Willard Unleashed Blog. Even my mom has read his books, and Bryan is used to seeing them in various locations around the house. I emailed him asking for his input on the tugging issue I wrote about the other day. To my surprise, he responded back quickly and said to call him to discuss it further.
The conclusion we reached after lengthy discussion was that tugging amps him up too much, and I should not be tugging with him before going into the ring. I'd been using it thinking it would get out some energy, but it seems to have the opposite effect. He also didn't think I would get anywhere trying to put out the tug toy and trying to work him around it. He recommended continuing the calm, quiet petting between exercises; then, when we're done training or out of the ring, heel a distance away from the ring or outside the building, THEN use tugging as a jackpot.
We also talked about ring nerves, and he recommended giving as much attention to my dog as I expect from him. Hopefully that will help me tune out the audience, and it will help keep the connection strong between me and my dog.
I felt so much better after talking with him; some of what we talked about were things I considered, but having it organized and laid out was so beneficial to me. I feel like we have a plan now, and the difference since then has been incredible. We've had a few training sessions using tugging as a jackpot. He doesn't get the tug toy though until I've decided we've completed the last exercise, and we have to heel over to it. He has been in control and confident, rather than losing his mind in the middle like he was before.
At Utility class on Wednesday, several students and my instructor commented that Scorch seemed confident and well-composed. (They all are yelling at me to "breathe!" when they catch me holding my breath too) We also had a tremendous breakthrough with one of the games our instructor had us play.
She put gloves out. Glove 2 (middle) was one glove. Gloves 1 and 3 (corners) each had 3 gloves lined up. We sent to the corners only, which was nice since the middle is a bit of a magnet for Scorch.
I sent Scorch to Glove 1 first, but he had trouble taking his focus off of 2. He finally got it, and I called him as soon as he thought about picking up the first glove (so he didn't "shop" all three). He brought it back, I took it and finished him, then immediately asked him to look again and sent him. He got through the gloves in corner 1, and on the third one, something seemed to click.
We pivoted to Glove 3, and he immediately focused in. I sent, he came storming back, I took the glove, finished, and immediately focused him and sent again. All of a sudden, we were on fire. It was the very first time I really saw him focus and channel his drive, instead of just being energetic and galloping through the exercises. He didn't vocalize, and his fronts and finishes were great.
We did heeling and signals, with all the other dogs milling around. He reacted a little to the intact Golden, but otherwise stayed focused. He did great with directed jumping over the bar, but had a bit of trouble with the high. He's graduated to a sit box for go-outs and was fantastic. And above all, he was QUIET. After we finished class, we had five minutes of intense tugging before going home.
We've done some run-throughs at home and he's been QUIET and we've really had fun! Will we qualify in Orlando? I sure hope so, but at least I know we're well on our way, and we've really improved our working partnership.
So here's what I did to him at work today (I'm lucky he's not easily embarassed).