Anyway, back in January (yes, of 2012, har har har), Pamela over at Something Wagging this Way Comes laid down the gauntlet with her "January is Train Your Dog Month Challenge". I chimed in that we would be participating, and we did - we just never did the follow up. We were supposed to post about this back in February.
I suppose I could have declared failure and let it lie but it's just not in my nature. And since I can never pass up an opportunity to brag about Bella, I say "better late than never!"
Bella loves a challenge
One of the most fundamental aspects of Bella's life is training - to help her get over her fear, to build her confidence and to guide her in simply becoming a functioning member of society. It's constant because it's necessary. I've never really done this with other dogs in my life. Sure, most knew how to sit here or give a paw there. I even trained one of my earliest dogs, Alfie, to give me a hug. But it didn't go much beyond that.
|Alfie and me|
As a result, Bella has been through Beginner and Intermediate Obedience, Ruffians 1 (how to work with reactive dogs) and Agility for Reactive Dogs - Beginner and now Intermediate. She loves agility but has always been afraid of the tunnel and now she's also facing the dreaded "chute".
One of the things she has been most afraid of around the yard since we first brought her home are the collapsible bags used to gather up leaves and other yard debris. And the tunnel and chute look an awful lot like them, albeit sideways versions.
In an effort to spare our agility classmates the 10-minute delay that was accompanying any attempt to get Bella through the tunnel/chute during class, I decided this would be what I'd work on with Bella for the Challenge.
Another part of the Challenge was to choose something that would both train Bella and further solidify my relationship with her. Already aware of the benefits of working with Bella to overcome her fear - she learns to trust herself and she learns to trust us - I knew the more of that we could bring to her life, the better.
Our (not especially exciting) training program:
- First things first, we needed to get Bella to be in the same room with the scary thing (for now, just the tunnel without the fabric part of the chute extended). This consisted of nothing more than giving her a treat every time she went anywhere near the object. No clicking, just treats at this point.
- Move on to getting Bella to approach the object on her own terms. Every time she did this, she was rewarded with both a click and a treat. We are beginning to shape a desired behavior here and you can see her start to figure it out in the video below.
- I then began asking for more and more from her before she got her click (and subsequent treat). If at first she just had to look at the object to get a click, the next step was to wait until she touched it to offer the reward. When she was comfortable touching it, then she had to put her head inside to garner a click. Finally, she had to go all the way through the chute to win the rewards of clicks and treats (as well as some good old-fashioned play time).
- Once she was consistently going through the tunnel, I began to let out the fabric of the chute a little bit at a time. Retreat back to step 1 and lather, rinse, repeat.
"Let's go to the video tape" *
One thing I did learn while editing
And while she still won't go through the closed chute, Bella does romp right on through the long tunnel in agility class now and will go through the chute if we hold it open. Given time, and a little more practice, she'll make it the rest of the way, I just know it.
Having cut out the many minutes of Bella just lying on the floor looking at me trying to get her near the tunnel and the numerous "I'm just going to sniff over here for a while"s, I have whittled the evidence of our Train Your Dog Month participation down to a, hopefully somewhat entertaining, minute and a half.
Thanks Pamela, for the great Challenge. While training is something we do almost every day, having a specific goal in mind gave focus to our efforts and really paid off.
And on the off chance some of my visitors didn't watch the Challenge play out in real time back in January/February, here's a link to Pamela's results and a Linky to all the folks who did have their act together enough to actually play by the rules. Enjoy!
* Yes, I am older than dirt but no, I'm not really much of a sports fan.
Music: "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" by Kelly Clarkson