Presto! hadn't been in his new home nine hours before he had his first little lesson. Right now, at 14 weeks, he enjoys three five-minute lessons a day. We're rotating through 25 little "exercises."
Fundamental to everything I'm doing with him are these two absolutes:
Everything we do must be fun. My first instructor, Debby Boehm -- the person who took me from bumbling neophyte to (bumbling) OTCH handler -- told her students, "If first you get want-to, all else will follow."
Think about it. In your lifetime, what's been easier to learn, something you loved doing or something you hated but had to master?
When I say, "Should we go practice?" Presto! can't contain himself. Each training session consists of five or six exercises. He can't wait to get into position to begin each exercise. Between exercises, he sticks to me like glue, head up, eyes riveted on me: "What're we gonna do next?" And the learning curve has gone right through the roof.
I train exclusively on a buckle collar. Presto! will never see a prong collar. And God knows he'll never see an electric collar. Both are the tools of weakness. Would I change my mind if I had a Rottweiler? Absolutely not! It's about want-to, not about , "By God, you have to!"
Everything we do is laying the foundation for the exercises that will be so important later. The
first thing Presto! ever did here, training-wise, was little follow exercises. Those were preliminary, preparatory, precursors to preludes and preambles to heeling. In other words, he didn't know he was starting to learn to heel; he only knew he was having a blast (for a grand total of 30 seconds). He's still having a blast, but now, at 14 weeks, he quickly pops into position when it's time to heel. He does a nice tight about turn. (I didn't teach that, it just happened one day.) And when I halt he sits at my side.
Oh, and all this is off leash. We won't have any heartburn later about taking the leash off -- he's been off leash since he was eight weeks old. However, recently I've disciplined myself to put the leash on about a third of the time. We're going to need that in Novice.
There's all this talk (quite valid) about the difficulty in teaching go-outs. "We've put so much effort into teaching the dog to be at our side, to be focused on us," we say, "then suddenly we want him to run away from us, and in a straight line to boot. That's so hard for the dog!"
Presto started doing little go-outs when he was nine weeks old. He gets to run out to a target, get a treat, then run back and jump for another treat. He loves it. He'll grow up never knowing about the difficult transition.
More about go-outs and sits and stands and downs, all of which I teach in a PVC box, in my next post, entitled "Box Work."