Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Prideful Petbull

I'm new to dog training. Since we've gotten Veronica I've taken a class with her...pretty much consistently in the almost 4 years we've had her; and I read allot about training and canine behavior...because I've decided that my dog is absolutely fascinating and I want to understand every nuance of her magical being.

Along the way I've formed some opinions. I have always preferred positive training methods; even when it was just an academic discussion (because truth be told the only thing I taught my precious Basset Hound Frances Abigail- Ms. Veronica's predecessor...was not to potty in the house).

My preference for positive training is based on the way I look at my relationship with my dog. I want training to enhance our ability to communicate with each other and bring us closer. But even more importantly, I want her to do as I ask not because she's afraid of the consequences if she doesn't - but because she wants to do as I ask.

In retrospect, it's a very, very, very good thing that I think this way, because Veronica is one of those super soft dogs that would really in all honestly, I think "go bad" with correction based training. Sometimes I forget how soft she is because "soft" has nothing to do with being bratty, and willful and pushy and obnoxious - traits that also make up her character. On a good day I find them endearing, and she makes me laugh and I'm glad she is who she is; and on a bad day I want to list her on Craig's List as "free to any home that doesn't blow their brains out after a week"

But today I was treated to an illustration of just how soft my dog is, and why I best forget everything I read to the contrary and stick with all positive, all the time. We had a Rally Obedience class. We've been doing Rally for at least a couple of years. I'm actually thinking of competing the next time that a convenient opportunity arises. Veronica is now able to do the courses without food reinforcement (of course she gets the jackpot at the end). Our biggest challenge is her reactivity towards other dogs; and this is something we have been working on diligently for years. It can be very frustrating - 3 steps forward, 2 steps back - even more so, because I'm sure it's me who scews things up not her.

Anyway, we had class today and because of close quarters there is always a part of the course that runs very close to the other dogs; one of whom happens to be Veronica's Arch Nemesis - Romona the Wicked Whippet. (Total mutual dislike down to their toes). I could have held my own pride in check and reminded myself that having to use a treat to keep Veronica focused simply meant "we weren't there yet" - she wasn't ready to pass that closely by her Arch Nemesis in that context and that was OK. But noooooo...I didn't want to use treats at all, I totally ignored the fact that Veronica wasn't ready in favor of my preference which was that we'd worked hard enough and long enough and she knows what I want her to do and how hard is it and she should be ready damn it!

Not only didn't I use treats, I opted for something I rarely (if ever do) I gave a correction. Not a harsh correction by any means. We came to the weave cones - the part of the course that was right next to the dogs - and when Veronica wouldn't focus on me and tried to bark at Romona; I reached down with my left hand and grabbed her snout. I gave it a little shake and a stern "No" and held her snout past the cones. When we were away from the dogs, Veronica decided to turn around and give Romona a little "up yours anorexic bitch" lip; and again I reached down gave her snout a little shake and a stern "No". Feeling all satisfied in my "handling" of the situation we finished the course and took our seats.

Then our turn came again. We cruised through the first half of the course - no treats. "Well, I certainly told her", I thought as we approached the cones and the evil which point Veronica stopped dead in her tracks, fell to the floor in a crouch and attempted to crawl away from the cones. Discussion ensued and it has hypothesized that Veronica was a bit traumatized from the snout grabbing. At the risk of sounding anthromorphic, it looked to all the world (well at least all present) that her feelings had been hurt by my public correction, and now she was afraid to try further). Much hoopla and treating ensued; then my trainer got her to reluctantly do some of the course with her because Veronica suddenly decided she could not suffer the possibility of that sort of humilation again. So again, with many, MANY treats (you know the ones I didn't want to use since I'm planning on competing) Veronica finally finished the course looking like a dog that had been pulled from the shelter that morning, never having seen a Rally course in it's life and believing there was a strong possibility that the ceiling could fall on her head at any moment.

Then came our next turn...using the treats but back on track. Not it's actually worse. This time around Veronica has concluded that it is not safe to be anywhere near the left side of my body - lest I assault her with a humiliating snout shake. She refuses to finish herself left, and takes it upon herself to finish herself right. She also decided that heeling means heeling as far away from me as she can possibly get while still attached to her leash and positioning herself at an angle - to again fend off any vicious attacks from her crazy human. (and at this point let me reiterate, for those of you who don't have that good of a sense of me from other posts...I hardly touched the damn dog!!! I put my hand over her mouth, and when I say gave her muzzle a little shake...I've seen parents shake 2 year olds in the middle of Walmart harder than I shook that dog; I was simply trying for the effect of stern communication). Oh and the best part; twice she tried to leave the course and run to my trainer like she wanted to be saved. Seriously. "Help me Miss Alice, help me; Momma's been abducted by aliens and this woman next to me is a...a...a snout shaker"!!!!!!!

The class was highly amused. It isn't often that this level of drama is introduced to a Rally Obedience class. Usually they're pretty bland. Veronica's runs were starting to look like a Shakesperian tragedy.

Our final run...I knew I had to get her over this and end on a good note. The treats were flying fast and furious, I was praising her up one side and down the other - what a good good girl, wonderful dog, nice job, so smart, good baby ..."...and Veronica finally started to heal from the grave injustice I dealt her earlier. She decided just maybe it was safe to be by my left side...of course I also switched leash hands ( I prefer to hold the leash in my right hand for Rally and have her target my left) - but since in her mind my left hand had grown teeth and was going to eat her face whole - that had to be adjusted.

So...3 steps forward, 2 steps back - I think we're back on track.

In retrospect my pride (I want us to be ready now) got us into the mess just as much as Veronica's pride (I cannot believe you did that to me in front of all those other dogs). So maybe we're a good match for each other.

The other lesson learned - I will never, ever (at least with this particular dog) let myself think that a correction is the way to go (other than verbal, of course) and I will from here on out praise her til the cows come home!