Saturday, December 8, 2012

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Little Pleasures

So Presto! is seven months old, at least a year -- probably more -- away from the Novice B ring.  Right now it's all about teaching fundamentals . . . and making it fun.  As I write this, I have two lacerations on my nose and one on my upper lip.  Yeah, we're having fun.

Attention, fun and want-to:  in training and competition they're like a three-legged milking stool.  Lose any one of those and the whole thing topples over.  Presto! was born with want-to gushing from every pore.  My challenge is to sustain that enthusiasm while at the same time teaching pinpoint heeling, spot-on fronts perfect finishes, relentless focus, and "discipline," a word not easily installed in the vocabulary of a young border collie.  Ah yes, discipline.  More on that in an upcoming post.

So we train and play, play and train..  My mantra:  patience, patience, patience.  And the big rewards -- the truly thrilling moments in our training sessions -- are the little pleaures.

I've been amazed at how easy it's been to teach my little guy to sit and stay.  Planted there while I go to the van to get whatever.  Sitting at attention (well, most of the time) while I put cheese on  the go-outs pole.

Sitting yes, downing no.

Presto! has known the concertina (fold-back) down since he was about nine weeks old.  He's also known how to pop right back up. And I quickly learned that trying to hold him there was the most counter-productive thing I could do. But this past Monday, one day after his seven-month birthday, the light bulb went on.  I ran back into the house.  "Barbara!" I said, "He just stayed down for about ten seconds . . . on his own!"  And we've progressed from there.  Laugh if you wish, but that made my day.

Then there's the matter of the finishes.  My bad!  Fronts have always been my Waterloo -- or so I thought.  Near the end of  Bravo!'s obedience career, before it was cut short by the double whammy of lymphangiectasia and an arthritic right hip, he was regularly putting on a heeling clinic in the ring.  And we were losing our points elsewhere.  On fronts?  Where else?

There are six fronts and seven finishes in Utility.  The last few times Bravo! showed, I approached the judge after our run with something like,  "How many of those points were fronts?"  And was surprised to get a response something like:  "It wasn't the fronts, it was your finishes."  Which puzzled me.  I can look over my shoulder and see the finishes, and most of them looked good.  Had I hit a run of blind judges?

Fast-forward now to Presto!'s early training in the backyard.  I'm practicing get-around finishes.  The kitchen window opens.  Barbara says, "Every one of them is crooked."  Oh God!  Barbara's vision is failing, too.

It took 23 years, my wife's keen eye and her explanation for me to understand how I was teaching finishes, wrong.

I'm slew-footed.  It runs in my family.  In the 8th grade a classmate said:  "Here comes your grandmother;" and he demonstrated with his feet  pointing more east-and-west  than north-and-south.  "Here comes your mother."  Another demo.  "And here you come."

Yep.  And I've been teaching my dogs to finish lined up with my left foot, which is perpetually in impending-let-turn position.

So I've taken a full-length mirror out into the back yard, and we do finishes in front of that mirror.  When Presto! is seated at an angle to my left foot but parallel to the prime meridian, I've got a good finish.  A little victory?  I think so, but we'll see how it goes in the ring.

And then there's retrieving.  I learned early on that the little stinker won't retrieve . . . anything.

As far as nonretrieving dogs are concerned, this ain't my first rodeo.  A long time ago my first instructor, Debby Boehm, told me, "Anytime someone brings me a dog with retriever in its name I know only one thing: the dog won't retrieve."  Indeed, it took me a year to teach Cheddar, my now-retired golden retriever, to play ball (or even to tug, for that matter).

I haven't pressed the issue with Presto! until now.  In the beginning I tried throwing a tennis ball for him.  He'd chase after it then settle down and begin stripping the fuzz off of it.  So much for tennis balls.  Besides, our play style has not included my being a ball-throwing machine for him.  Our play is interactive, down and dirty, like two dogs. (Hence the lacerations.)

Now though, I've begun to serious up about the retrieving.  I don't want to work on it outside where there's a lot of room.  I want a tightly confined space.  My home office is at the end of a hallway, at the front of the house.  So I close the door, creating a dead end.  I get down on my knees about seven feet out and toss a small Kong toy toward the door.  If Presto! brings it back to hand, he gets a treat.  So far he isn't putting on weight.

But we had a breakthrough a couple of days ago.  He brought back three in a row.  Granted, I had to stretch my arms all the way out and grab the toy to keep him from dropping it.   But I want him to succeed.  By the way, one of these sessions lasts less than two minutes; I don't drill on anytrhing.

"Big deal," you say?  Maybe, but I'll take my little pleasures where I can get them.

Patience, patience, patience.


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