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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

If Training Was Easy . . .

Maggie is not the easiest dog to train.   She is a very smart dog, but has a wild stubborn streak that goes all the way back to her puppy days.  She is also a "what's in it for me" kind of dog. It takes a lot of work on my part to keep her motivated while we are training.  

I have been having a tremendous amount of frustration with her in agility lately.  I know that she has the spunk and heart to be a good agility dog, but you can't force a dog to do agility.  Many nights I came home from class with the thought that maybe she just isn't cut out do it.  Maybe I should quit making her do agility.  But I know she can do it and I know she has fun doing it - you can see it in her face when she is running full out on course. 
 I just need to change what I am doing.  I have created a dog that thinks she needs to have a reward all the time.  If she doesn't get that reward, she doesn't see the point of playing.  So I have been changing things up in our training. 
 First, I have stopped having food rewards on my person.  Instead, I hide stashes of food around the field, and we run to the food for her reward.  This way she never knows where the food is coming from or when.  I also make sure I have a good variety of treats -some plain ones like cheese and some high value ones like stinky tuna.  
Second, I have stopped keeping her in her crate so much.  Maggie does not like to be in her crate.  She is very social and is happiest when she is out with everyone else.  When she is in her crate she just mopes.  So, how motivating is it for her when after a good run she gets stuffed back in her crate, isolated from everyone?  Not very.
Third, I need to quit comparing her to other dogs - to both the other dogs in our class and more importantly to Bosley.  I need to remember that each dog is different and everyone comes to class with their own set of issues and goals.

So far what I have been doing seems to be working.  Our last 2 agility classes have been the best classes we have had in a long time.  I am also learning when to quit training her and give her a break.   Last night, everyone in our group wanted to work on distance exercises.  I knew that this would frustate both me and Maggie, and since she had been doing so well all night, I didn't want to end on a bad note.  So we skipped that and did a bit of weaving instead.

I hope I am on the right track with her.  I don't want to give up on her - she deserves so much more than that.  


  1. that sounds like a perfect plan Kim....I had to do alot of the same with Tate....like stopping comparing him to other dogs as Tate worked at his own speed....it has helped me not to compare Kort to other dogs too....
    training can be so frustrating at times, but the reward in the end is so worth it!

  2. the change in maggie in the past few weeks is huge- she is having way more fun-and so are you!!

    they key for maggie is to keep her guessing. keep up on the random reinforcement, and keep up with the change in reward all the time. I think that you should also start using toys more again with her- last week with the hockey ball was awesome (and a little strange!)

  3. the random reinforcers CHANGED that way K and I ran in a matter of months. That is why we preach it so much, it works!!!

    I would also break up sequences still - 3 things put her away, come back run the whole sequence etc. then run it again maybe 4 obstacles. that needs to be random too. sequences aren't always 1- 14 obstacles, but THAT can get predicable for them too.

    so not only is the reward random reinforced, but she will be surprised to only have to do 3 or 4 things and get rewarded.

    you'll see her speed pick up even more by doing this, because she will THINK the reward will appear in that spot again - though hopefully she won;t act like kaleb, but you know what, i would rather have a harder to motivate dog act a little over the top sometimes - that is when you know for sure they are having fun!

    again sometimes run with the goodies - make the goodies appear in your hand in an area say around the back of a 270 where you know she might slow down, when she goes into a tunnel, back in your pocket it goes. then reward her with another one you have stashed somewhere.

    i would say in the next 3 or 4 months by ALWAYS running this way you will notice a huge change. This is the only time in dog training you need to consistently inconsistent!!!

    maggie has LOTS of potential!!!!!!!!!! if she didn't want to be there she would bugger off, run to her crate, or just plain refuse to go work with you. and I see NONE of that.

  4. i meant to add, Maggie is one of a kind - i wouldn't be comparing her to anyone other than the goofy, sweet dog she is!