Dad burn it! A line of dogs ain't no place to teach a puppy to sit and down. But I see people trying to do that. I'm not talking about teaching the dog to hold position during the group exercises. I'm referring to watching little 16-week-old Fluffy get her first lesson (or even her tenth for that matter) in how to sit or down, for even a few seconds, with a golden on her left and a border collie on her right.
Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!
Learning any new thing is hard enough for a puppy without having to succeed while being bombarded by the stimuli emanating from a line of dogs and their handlers. The latter probably klatching at the other end of the ring, paying no attention whatever to their own dogs.
Once I watched a person who should know better trying to teach her puppy to down in the setting I've just described. I'm not making this up; before she gave up about one minute into the fiasco, the puppy, yo-yoesque, had popped up 11 times. And this was a veteran handler -- meaning she had one year of experience 20 times.
Moving right along . . . I have pretty definite ideas about how I prepare my dogs to succeed in the group exercises.
Presto! has learned basic sits and downs in the friendly confines of the backyard. And I've gone one step beyond that. Most of the time Presto! has practiced sits and downs in the PVC box that I also use to teach signals and go-outs.
Given those environmental constraints, the steps have been pretty routine. Baby steps (literally) to increase the distance. Lots of verbal encouragement and generous reinforcement with treats. Feeding with my knuckles on the ground when reinforcing the down.
Along the way I've also practiced this in the park when distractions have been present but not overwhelming.
During this phase I've gradually worked my way out to 40 feet. Frankly, this hasn't been a piece of cake with Presto! As I indicated in a post I shared several weeks ago, Presto! does not seem to carry the staying-put gene.
Normally in my scheme of things the next step would be sits and downs in the center aisle at PetSmart. But I jumped the track a couple of weeks ago. I was curious to see how my little guy (then 10 months old) would do adjacent to the line of dogs at our Sunday morning training group. (Yep: Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!) Then I compounded my mistake by sitting him there -- about 10 feet from the closest dog -- with no leash, no long line, nothing but a prayer.
After I had chased Presto! around the ring (baby gates, thank God) a couple of times, I attained belated enlightenment. And a few days ago Presto! and I practiced sits and downs in PetSmart for the first time.
Which will be the topic of my next post.