That’s what I felt like this AM in our private lesson with Laurie. Well okay, maybe a little more subdued than that, but still. Forest _PLAYED_ in class. With a TOY. He played. Maybe just for a minute or two, but god-frickin’-dammit he played. First chasing the furry tied onto the end of a lunge whip (yet another reason I love Laurie, she’s a good improviser), then he even grabbed the furry as a reward for going through the tunnel. After the third time through the tunnel or so he slowed down with this look on his face like “Hey, you guys tricked me with that stupid toy!” It was quite hilarious I thought, and we moved on to other food-based things. But seeing him actually GO for the toy coming out of that tunnel was a life changing experience. Small triumphs and great trainers. It can be done.

She assigned us our “Summer Homework” since their July-August schedule slows down a bit and we wont pick up back on a regular class schedule ’til September. Fine with me, we aren’t trialing much over the next few months (besides one here near the beach in August which should be totally doable unless a heat wave strikes, and the potential Mammoth trek). Our homework is to take the jump-mat-tunnel-mat drill on the road to as many new places as possible and work on a “routine” that then becomes our pre-run routine at trials. I love it, makes complete sense and not something I would have thought to do. Incorporating the mat as his safe place will hopefully allow him to ease into the environment at the trial and work past his spaceys.

He did try to go after one of Laurie’s dogs today when he got too close (about 25′). She got after him for it–ie. yelled at him for 2 seconds–which was fine with me. It was good though, he definitely has a low threshold for loose dogs in his space, and it is something we need to manage and work through. Again, mat work is a focus.

We also did some box work in prep for training a running A-frame. He has never been speedy on coming down the AF, and Laurie thinks a running one may be easier on him. So, get in the box dog!

She again said how well and quickly she thinks we have come along, and she likes that he is already “operant trained”–ie. it took him about 5 seconds to figure out how to get in the “box”. She also has two (of her many) dogs that have overlapping “Forest-like” traits, so shes pretty adept at pinpointing his issues and knowing where to start with handling them.

Its been interesting to read some debate on other blogs about what a trainer “owes” a student. One I was reading yesterday more or less said that if the student cant handle criticism, that they shouldn’t be doing agility. Well, I agree to some extent, but I also think it depends on the context and the delivery of the criticism as well. It takes two to tango (or three really in this case–teacher, student, dog). If the student is truly making the effort and is willing to learn and she/he and the instructor arent communicating well, I dont think that means the student cant hack it. I also think there are a lot of instructors out there who may be great at training their own dogs, but arent necessarily cut out to be teachers.

I think if you are taking someone’s money under the “contract” to teach them, you need to honestly try to work with what they present. And if after a solid try it still isnt working, instead of telling them they should try something else (ie. knitting or stamp collecting), recommend another trainer. Everyone has different chemistry. You never know, that perfect person who may get the best out of them could be just in the next town over.

I am sure some people with less manic, competitive drive than I have have given up before finding the right fit. And that is a bummer. I consider us very, very fortunate to be where we are now.


The Private

So we had our first private this morning. I was really proud of Forest, and it solidified my feelings that Laurie is the right trainer for us. She loves all dogs obviously as its her job, but she really likes Forest and in just an hour she had figured out and confirmed a lot of things I have wondered about, as well as pinpointed some things I never would have seen/known on my own. I also really liked that she referenced specific events or issues that happened in our first two classes, which means to me she is paying attention to each individual team. That means a lot to me.

She was glad that we have the mat work foundation and advised that we always have the mat with us at class for the foreseeable future, and that we use it to start and end training sessions at home as well. We started by encouraging him to root around in her toy bag (where he summarily found each and every stale piece of kibble that was rolling around in there underneath the mountain of toys) and got him fired up on eating the string cheese out of the wrapper and tugging on it. She even had me clicking him for using his teeth at first, to work up to getting him to tug first on the cheese, which eventually we’ll transition to tugging on toys.

She told me she thinks he is afraid of the jumps. I had never considered that before, but it makes sense. He overjumps everything by a mile, and it would make sense why he is so funny about jumps at home and the practice jump at trials. So she had me sitting next to the jump and getting him to go back and forth independently for a cheese reward. We started at 8 inches so there was little chance of him hitting or touching the bar. He got it quickly and was offering the behaviors on his own within five minutes. We then moved on to a 3 jump grid, where he was super-tentative at first, but quickly worked up to it. We’ll do that at home, first with the single jump maybe in the living room, then move that down to the patio, then work up to the grid.

We also did some weaves, with him on leash, pulling toward a reward on the floor at the end. We only did 4-5 sets, but by the last he was actually driving through on his own to get the cheese at the end.

She also wants me to work on getting him to relax at home, starting and ending with the mat. She recognized that he doesn’t really like to be touched unless its on his terms, so at least for now, the massage part of the mat work isn’t part of the equation. However, getting him to lay on his side when we are done working and to just chill for a bit is the goal.

So it was a lot of basic stuff, but I think it is exactly what we need. He was happy and stayed with us nearly the entire hour, and that was with dog day care chaos and noise on the other side of the wall as well as someone setting up all the agility equipment in the same room we were in. She said she was impressed with how well he did and how hard he worked. I may attribute a bit of that to the fact that we’ve pretty much taken the last week to ten days off, so he was probably ready to work.

I feel good about having a plan and having direction. And I am happy to slow down and have some specific goals, instead of just blundering my way through everything. We got our Novice Agility Title certificate in the mail yesterday, I think that is more than enough to hold us over for quite a while…