Spring Forward

Tinker’s progress had, for whatever reason, seemingly plateaued for a bit. I don’t worry about this because I know that when he’s ready he will take a leap forward. True to form, this is what happened today.

I had begun our interaction today in the usual ways: reuniting properly, asking him to come to me, etc. and we had started our heel work and Stop, Start, Change Direction when I heard one of my other dogs, Emmett, ascend the stairs. Tinker, as he always does when he knows one of the other dogs is nearby, made a beeline for his crate. I decided to use the time practicing SSCD with Emmett instead so Tinker could watch.

Emmett and I walked, circled, backed up, paused over and over again as Tinker watched from his crate. I had Emmett on a leash, which I always have attached to my two other dogs when they are in Tinker’s presence so I have control of them, keeping pressure off Tinker. Emmett and I stopped in front of Tinker’s doorway and he watched as I rewarded Emmett with praise, some good petting and cheese.

After about 5 minutes of practice I began walking Emmett into Tinker’s room, and rewarded Tinker with a bit of cheese after asking him to reach toward me for it, then I asked Emmett to go into a “down” in front of Tinker’s crate for his reward (I only asked for this because I didn’t have a way to make a space between Emmett and I so I could call him). At this point they were approximately a foot or so away from each other. As soon as Emmett received his reward, we walked out again. Short and sweet. We repeated this interaction over and over…and over again.

As mentioned, Tinker seemed to have plateaued for a bit. For a little while, his SSCD practice was going well, and then it wasn’t. I’m unsure as to why but didn’t want to dwell on it, choosing instead to focus on recall with him and keeping interactions positive and calm for him, engaging him very briefly in heel work but not pressing him on it when I saw he was edgy. I thought at some point he would decide to try again. It seems as though today was the day.

I finished my practice with Emmett and brought him back to the main floor, where he stayed of his own volition. Both of my other dogs have been very accepting and respectful of my time with “the man upstairs”, something that is a demonstration of their belief in my leadership. They know that when it’s their time with me, I will summon them. They no longer follow at my heels. Emmett’s bark this morning was met with a lack of response from me and he had begun descending the stairs when I decided to call him back up for practice. His return to the main floor was my decision as well and he accepted it willingly.

When I returned to the TV room, I sat on the floor and laid a slip lead on the floor, something I had already planned to do today. I placed it next to me in such a way that Tinker, poor eyesight or no, would definitely notice when I called him to me. I asked him to come to me and when he came to claim his reward, he took some cursory sniffs of the lead. I thought it would be more jarring to him to have the lead on the floor but he didn’t seem to mind its presence. I called him back to me periodically, slowing moving the lead closer to me by inches each time and eventually had it on my lap. Tinker would take a few sniffs here and there but largely ignored it.

I began having him come to me with the lead in my hand, rewarding him when he came and he did very well. After several interactions I picked up the slip lead, opened the loop to a large size. Holding it in front of me, I would reach my hand through the loop to give Tinker his reward. We repeated this over and over, and slowly I moved my hand back toward me so that Tinker would have to reach his head through to gain his reward. I didn’t have him come all the way through but he had to reach far enough so that his head was about halfway through. He did very, very well even though he did startle a few times which caused him to really take a good sniff of the lead.

That was more than enough for the day! On to SSCD practice…

It had seemed quite curious to me that Tinker had done so well with the slip lead practice; his confidence and calm was marked, even though he had been interacting with Emmett just a little while before. Sometimes this kind of activity will lead him to close down for a bit, and sometimes he is totally fine afterward. But today Tinker was decidedly different.

I requested him to “heel”. He joined me quickly; we began to move and Tinker walked with me beautifully and weirdly smoothly. He paused when we had to pass through a doorway, which is something he always does. I think this has something to do with his poor eyesight. After a moment’s look at the doorway he began moving forward once more. We kept moving, and the practice become one of those moments with Tinker in which time drops away and it almost feels as though we’re in a bubble together. The focus is there from us both; everything else fades away and we’re just moving together, back and forth; circling, pausing; stops, starts, forward and backward.

I have never seen him more confident. It was so incredibly touching to see him enjoying the practice, deciding to push himself, showing me that he could do it, too, just as Emmett had. And, more than this, he trusts me enough to follow willingly, happily and, for him, following almost blindly.

Yes, of course…I cried a bit.

Something I had learned in my AB training and something I try so very hard to impress upon my clients is that dogs learn by watching, not by telling one another what to do. Emmett was the teacher today, Tinker the student. I was simply the facilitator. As Jan Fennell says, it’s easier to train multiple dogs because they will, if we get out of the way, learn from one another quite quickly. That was certainly the case today.

Tinker clearly could have had a longer practice, but I didn’t want to risk pushing him beyond his tolerance so I ended our session together, reluctantly.

I can’t wait for the next one!




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