Our obedience school graduate

(I feel like “obedience school” is kind of a harsh, traditional word for it, but I’m not sure what the appropriate synonym is. Training class? Whatever.)

Our little obedience school graduate. Still acts like a psycho. #germanshepherd #soproudofguion

Little Edie graduated from her basic obedience class last night!

It was fun taking this class with a different dog; we took it with Pyrrha a few weeks after we got her, and the class was a struggle for poor, shy Pyr. We had to spend the whole class behind a door, as she just couldn’t handle the room full of other dogs. Just getting Pyrrha into a calm mindset to actually train was challenge enough; some weeks, she couldn’t get there, and we’d just focus on helping her relax in the classroom.

Eden, however, has been a different story; she’s gregarious, eager to work, and such a quick learner. She may have been the craziest dog in class, but I of course think she was also the smartest. Ha! It helps that she is extremely food motivated, and we always brought her to class without having had dinner. In class, she’s willing to do anything — I’ll do back-flips! Speak Portuguese! Solve a differential equation! — to get that treat.

She’s learned a number of commands in class, but we need to be better about generalizing those behaviors and practicing them at home. Training with a partner makes this easier; I can go work with Pyrrha, and Guion can work with Eden in a different room. Training solo has been a bit harder, because the exiled dog always seems to know what’s up (Someone is getting treats in there, and it’s not me!).

Things we learned in class that I’d like to keep working on:

  • Not jumping on people. She still goes WILD whenever we have guests over, and this has been a hard one to teach. Because even if we instruct people to turn their backs to her and not look at her, they still get mauled. Eden is able to throw out a sit during these greetings, but it’s certainly not her first reaction still. I don’t even need a sit; I’m fine so long as all four paws are on the ground. But we need to take charge of this, because it’s a nuisance.
  • Go to your mat. I think we need another mat in the house, because right now, we’re training this on the same mat, and I know Pyrrha wouldn’t like sharing it with Edie.
  • Stay. She’s definitely figuring this one out, but we need to practice a whole lot more before this is rock-solid.
  • Leave it. Eden has shown incredible self-control with this command in class, but it’s a harder thing to practice at home or on walks, so we need to be more vigilant about that.
  • Bravo! Teaching her to offer a bow. Just a cute trick, and I think she could learn it. Luring is most useful with this command, but I know capturing is preferable, so I need to remember to have treats on hand when they get let out of their crates to do their morning stretches.

Being in a class is always so motivating to me. I wish we had the funds to take them year-round. Eden really thrives in a classroom environment, so I think we’d like to take another class with her. Intermediate obedience or agility could be really fun with her. I don’t think she’ll ever be an agility star (she doesn’t have that border collie quickness), but I think she’d really enjoy it.

Have you taken your dogs to obedience classes? How did they go?


Eden at school: Week two

Guion came with me this week for Eden’s second time in obedience class. This week, we went over the distinctions between capturing, luring, and shaping, and largely practiced teaching her how to go to her mat/a place in class.

(And here are some bad photos of us working with her in class…)

Eden in class | Doggerel

She didn’t show any fear about being in class this time, but she was VERY excited that there were other dogs in the room. We set her up in a corridor behind an ex-pen with sheets over it, to block most of her view. She would still get distracted from time to time, but overall, I was proud of how she was able to maintain focus on us, particularly considering her adolescent stage. (The fact that she was desperately hungry also helped! Train on an empty stomach, people!)

I always love this second week of class, because you get to discover what kind of dogs everyone has (since dogs aren’t brought to the first session). There was Willow, a beautiful, smart little spaniel mix*; Tessa, a giant all-black mix, who really just looked like a very tall, leggy flat-coated retriever; a one-eyed all-white American bulldog; a coonhound in a Thundershirt; a wire-haired fox terrier; and an extremely vocal Wheaten/Great Pyrenees mix (crazy looking! But cool) who had a hard time calming down.

(*I felt especially charmed by Willow. She was only 20 lbs., and seemed so darling and responsive. Part of me was all, “OMG. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tiny dog??” Don’t tell the shepherds. Sometimes I have those thoughts.)

Eden in class | Doggerel
Guion loves working with Edie.

Eden also served as the demo dog for teaching a dog not to jump on people (one of her favorite hobbies whenever any human enters a room). The first dog that Erin, the instructor, chose for this exercise showed no inclinations to jump on her. I raised my hand. “We have a jumper!” I said. And Eden didn’t disappoint. But she also figured out the game pretty quickly, and within a few trials, she was sitting politely, even when Erin beckoned Eden to jump on her.

Eden in class | Doggerel
I’m trying to work with her on loose-leash walking in a tiny space. Not successful.

We have lots to practice this week for homework, but Eden loves interacting with us (and truthfully, the food) and learning new things, so she’s a joy to work with. The tricky part now has just been keeping Pyrrha sufficiently distracted in the yard or in another room. It can be hard to work with Eden without Pyrrha getting agitated/upset that she can’t play the training games too.

Multi-dog people: What are some of your favorite tactics for training one dog when you have other dogs in the house? How do you keep the other dogs from getting antsy?

Edie is the “demo dog” in her first training class

Eden started her first obedience class at Canine Campus this past week. Deven, the lead trainer, e-mailed me the day of and asked if Eden could come and be the “demo dog” for the first class. In the first class, the humans don’t bring their dogs and instead get to learn positive training techniques and clicker basics without the stress of managing their own pups for the first time. I think it’s a smart strategy. And I thought Eden would enjoy all of the attention and treats, so I said yes.

Puppy punk

(I wasn’t able to get any photos of the class, so this photo of the muddy-nosed pup will have to suffice.)

Eden got a little romp session with Fiona before we came to class, and I didn’t give her dinner, so she was arrived both a little exhausted and hungry. This class was the first time I have ever seen a fearful reaction from her. We’ve taken her to PetCo, to the busy pedestrian mall, on car trips, to various parks, the river, etc., and nothing has even slightly rattled her. But this class made her uncomfortable at first.

Specifically, she was uneasy about Deven taking her on the leash to go meet the other people, who were all sitting on chairs around the room, staring at her. She even jumped and let out a little bark when one person shifted in his seat. I was kind of astonished, and a little panicky-feeling, thinking, Oh my god. We adopted another shy dog; I had no idea. Deven, of course, realized this, and recognized that Eden was uncomfortable without me by her side. Edie immediately loosened up once I had the leash and was taking her around instead. “She just wanted to know that her mama was close,” Deven said. And this warmed my heart, because I haven’t previously felt that Eden was all that bonded to us. (In Eden’s defense, however, we’ve had her for only four weeks!)

As the class progressed, Eden shook off her anxieties and started to perform, throwing sits, jumping, and playing with a ball. She also was off the leash, and I could sense that that enabled her to feel more freedom. I saw her fears melt away, and was reminded that her now-happy behavior was nothing close to what Pyrrha could do in a similar situation (slink around and cower, even with meatball coercion). Edie ran up to people who initially made her a bit uncertain, and she soon thought Deven was her BFF 4 Life (owing to the meatballs and clicker practice work that Deven did with her). She got to play with a food toy and charm the other people sitting near us. She didn’t want to leave the room when class ended!

I was proud of her, and she responded beautifully to Deven’s cues. Much of which I can’t take credit for! She’s just smart, and she figures out what you want her to do very quickly, a lot more quickly than other dogs I’ve worked with. I had several people come up to me and ask if she was always that well behaved. I said that she wasn’t and that she was just grubbing for treats. 😉

Deven reassured me as we got ready to leave. “Don’t worry about her fearful reactions at the beginning of class,” she said. “She’s young, and she was just in a new and weird situation. Clearly, she was able to warm up.”

Regardless, it was a good reminder not to take our new, confident dog for granted. She still needs lots of socialization and encouragement too — like all dogs do, regardless of temperament.

We’re looking forward to this class and working with Edie! Guion plans to join me for future sessions, but he wasn’t able to make it for this first one. More class notes to come!

If you’ve taken obedience classes, what did they teach you about your dog that you had not previously noticed?

Pyrrha’s first day of school

First day of school at Canine Campus
Canine Campus: Trainer Deven working with Anka.

Last night, Pyrrha attended her first “day” at school!

We have enrolled her in a general obedience class at Canine Campus and I’ve been really grateful and pleased with everything we’ve been taught so far. Deven (shown above), the head trainer, studied with Pat Miller and Suzanne Clothier, so she won me over from the start. Speakin’ my language, you know?

Deven is also very experienced with shy dogs, and that also put me at ease. On the first night of class, people attend without their dogs (since dog training is really just human training in disguise). We talked with Deven about Pyrrha’s various issues and fears. She said that the goal for this class might just be to get Pyrrha comfortable in a new and distracting environment. The training facility has several break-out rooms with dutch doors, so we could move into those rooms and still hear the lesson, but Pyrrha could be essentially removed from visual distractions.

First day of school at Canine Campus

Last night, we showed up about 15 minutes early, because I wanted Pyrrha to be able to scope out the place before everyone else arrived. She acted with her typical vigilance and extreme alertness–and looked a bit on edge whenever a new dog came into the room–but Deven instructed us all to not let any of the dogs meet each other. After Pyrrha understood that none of these dogs could come up to her, she started calming down–and even looked somewhat happy and eager (lying on the ground with her tail swishing, mouth open, playful expression).

First day of school at Canine Campus
Sorry for the poor photo quality. Weird lighting in there.

We have a class full of fun characters: A handsome Welsh springer spaniel named Rufus; a sassy JRT mix named Hannah; a very bright shih-tzu named Tsunami; an older merle border collie; an adoptable mix named Buster (seen in the background of the photo below); and Anka, an all-black German shepherd mix puppy, whom Deven is working with in the first photo. It was SO tempting not to snap all their leashes off and watch them romp around and play. But, that’s not why we were there…

First day of school at Canine Campus
I’m trying to get her attention. It’s kind of working!

Once class began, we moved Pyrrha into one of the break-out rooms, since it was clear that she could not focus on us when she was out in the big room with all the other people and dogs. This seemed to work quite well. We practiced some basic cues, like our “look” cue, targeting, “give,” and some loose-leash walking. I’m always amazed at how much I learn from just hearing Deven talk about these principles. I’ve read too many dog training books, but I’ve learned far more in two classes with Deven than I did in a year’s worth of reading. I know all of these things, these various theories, even how to teach these cues, but seeing Deven put it in practice and actually trying it with Pyrrha has made such a world of a difference.

First day of school at Canine Campus
Over-exposed Guion, working with Pyr in the break-out room.

The other big thing I learned last night is that my husband is a GREAT trainer. He might be naturally better at it than I am. This is extremely hard for me to admit. I am supposed to be the “dog lover”! The amateur “expert” on training! I read 60 books! He read 0! But, no. Guion is just inherently good at this. His timing is better than mine is; he doesn’t repeat cues; he waits for her to figure it out before jumping to the next thing. Ugh! Haha. I am proud of him. I really am. Just a little envious, that’s all.

Pyrrha came to class hungry, so she was VERY eager to learn. It was exciting to see her so engaged and focused on us–but I think that was mainly the hunger speaking. Still. It was nice to see her aptitude to pick up new cues and behaviors. I think she might be pretty smart after all. 🙂

First day of school at Canine Campus
Getting some praise from Dad.

We learned more than I think she did. But I guess that’s the point? Very much looking forward to our next class!

Pyrrha is going to school

In the front yard

This past week, I decided that it was time for our shy princess to go to obedience school. We have signed her up for a 6-week basic obedience course at Canine Campus, a local training facility.

I feel confident about the head trainer, who is certified with several training organizations and has trained with Pat Miller, who wrote one of my favorite step-by-step training books. I e-mailed with her about what she thought about Pyrrha’s suitability for the group class, since Pyrrha’s history with strange dogs is not a good one. She assured me that the dogs aren’t supposed to interact with one another, and a portion of the class is just teaching the dog to focus on you and not the rest of the room. Alternately, she said that if the group class turns out to be too overwhelming for her, we can funnel our payment for the class into either private lessons or another class. She said that shy dogs have often done well in her nose-work class.

I expected that I’d take more initiative training her at home, but I have been so busy lately in the evenings that I haven’t put in nearly as much time as I have wanted to. Pyrrha knows her name, “come,” “sit,” and “down,” but that’s it–and she really only responds to me; she won’t take any commands from Guion, unless it’s clear that he has something delicious in his hand.

That said, here are my basic goals for these next six weeks of training class:

  1. For Pyrrha and Guion to build a better relationship and for her fear of him to be mostly eliminated. (Guion will be coming to as many training classes as he can.)
  2. To jump-start my incentive to train with her on a more regular basis.
  3. For Pyrrha to be able to interact in a room with distractions, other dogs, new people and be able to focus on me.
  4. For Pyrrha to gain confidence.

Our first class starts next week, so you’ll be sure to hear lots from me on how that goes!

Has your dog gone to school? What was your experience like?