Friday, January 16, 2009

Doggie Boot Camp

I'll never forget the day that Teddy arrived. We drove to the cargo pick up building at the airport and went inside. As soon as I walked into the office, I could hear loud barking coming from somewhere in the back of the echoing warehouse. I thought surely that couldn't be my little angel puppy? Oh, but it was. Teddy was mad at the world and very angry at being confined in that little crate for the long journey.

And that was just the beginning. At only 12 weeks old, Teddy came ready to take control of my world. He wanted to rule, and since I was the only one around, I became his loyal subject. The dog that preceeded Teddy was a 4 1/2 pound very soft, often ill Yorkshire Terrier. So coming from this background, it's needless to say that this rolicking Standard Poodle was a bit of a change. I knew how to love a dog, but I didn't know how to be a leader in this type of relationship.

Over the years, Teddy and I have gotten along just fine. He is great around the house and very easy to care for. We've had modest success in the obedience, rally, and freestyle rings, and we both enjoy therapy visits. Our performances aren't stellar, but we do good enough to get by with brief and sporadic moments of glory. But there is definitely something missing from our working relationship, and it really shows up in our agility performance. In the hyped up, adrenaline-filled agility field it exaggerates the lack of teamwork between dog and handler. So, after 5 years of frustration and vying to be top dog, I decided that I needed to take action. Many people told me that they would have given up on Teddy a long time ago, but I only found those comments to be hurtful and offensive. Giving up on Teddy would do him a great disservice. He's not a dog that wants to sit at home on the couch all day. He's capable of so much more, and besides, it's not his fault that I never learned how to take the reigns. And I sure don't want my next dog to have similar issues.

I'm a big fan of Susan Garrett. I've read several of her books and bought her training dvd's. Everything that she says makes sense and I like her methods. So, I've decided to follow her Ruff Love program. I'll be blogging about Teddy's progress as we go through the stages. The program is not as mean as it sounds, in fact, it is very humane and all about positive reinforcement. It mainly teaches me how to control Teddy's rewards and use them effectively to motivate him.

We started the program around January 5, although, I have to admit that I only partially followed it for the first week. Instead of having Teddy on leash when he was outside of his crate, I just had him follow me from room to room in the house, so I was constantly using verbal commands with him. I also only hand fed about half of his meals. Because of that, I really did not see any improvements in Teddys behavior. As of this week, I am following the program to the letter. I bought a head halti, and Teddy wears it whenever he is out of his crate. I only take it off for obedience classes, therapy visits, and to brush his teeth. I have been hand feeding about 85% of his food. I also control his access to his toys, and we have many play sessions throughout the day. What I really like about this is that toys that he was previously bored with, are now exciting when I bring them out. The only time that Teddy will really be able to run off leash is when we are in agility class.
It could be my imagination, but I think I can already see a tiny bit of improvement in Teddy. The other night during our utility obedience class, we had some down time while other people worked. I took Teddy in an adjacent ring and practiced some freestyle moves while a Golden Retriever puppy was working at the other end of the ring. I took off his leash so that we could do some moves around my legs, and he was giving me some really nice attention. I was surprised that he was that focused on me with the puppy nearby. Maybe he was really hungry, who knows, but I'll take that as a good sign. The real test will be when we go to agility class. We'll see how his focus has improved. Check back here as I will try to provide updates on our progress. I'm really looking forward to removing those muddy paw prints from off of my forehead!

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