I’m simply amazed at the transformation I’m seeing already since starting the Get Focused class through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. I haven’t spent a lot of time working on the exercises; just a couple times a week. Nor have I had the chance to try them all with Risa yet. But there’s been incredible improvement. At our weekly rally class, I feel she is much more connected with me when we’re out there. At class on Tuesday, she was so enthusiastic she kept throwing in freestyle moves or taking out signs with happy spins. No complaints here! When training at home, she is incredibly eager and practically begging to do something or to keep doing something. It’s awesome to have such a willing partner though I am always amazed at the level of energy and “crazy” she can still bring to the tasks at hand considering her age. I am not complaining.
The concept of a dog wanting to work has always appealed to me though I was never able to get this sort of commitment from Risa before. Whether simply due to her nature or plenty of training mistakes along the way (probably a little of both if I’m honest), keeping her focus has always been a bit of a struggle. I feel less conflicted about it now with these exercises and I think Risa does as well! It’s now her choice to work and she’s making that choice more and more with less wandering in between. It’s getting harder to lose her; she doesn’t want sessions to end!
She’s still not quite that driven to work in high stress or very distracting areas but it will take time. There is still improvement in those areas as well even with what little work we’ve done at that level. I have high hopes!
I always like to draw analogies between what we humans experience and what dogs do (even though we can never truly know). I know I personally do not like to feel forced to do things. Whether it’s in my best interest or whether I really have no choice in the matter, it makes me uncomfortable and not very happy. Actively choosing to do the same exact thing because I WANT to is far more appealing. I imagine it’s the same for Risa.
Actually wanting to do something that someone suggests also makes you feel differently about it. If you HATE filing and your boss asks you to put that box of invoices away, you’re not going to be happy about the task. However, if you secretly love to alphabetize and put things away in order and your boss asks you to do some filing, you’re going to be pretty excited. Even more excited if you ask your boss if you can do it and he says “Yes!”
I have had some jobs where I felt pretty unwanted and undervalued. Even some where the task I was hired to do was no longer needed and I was sort of a square peg being pushed into a round hole. They needed to find work for me but it wasn’t something I enjoyed nor was it anything I was particularly good at. It made me stressed and I know it stressed my bosses out too. It wasn’t a very enjoyable relationship for either party. I dreaded going in to work every day because I was constantly being forced to do things I didn’t want to just to earn reinforcement (a paycheck). When I was laid-off, I felt a huge source of relief. To use the old simile, like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was no longer as irritable and grumpy as I had been when I had a job. (Yes, I had gained the new stress of needing to find a new job but that future-thinking stress does not apply to dogs so I’m ignoring that for this metaphor.) I was no longer being forced to do things I didn’t like to do. I was free to do what I wanted again. I was free to enjoy my work again.
With the new way of training I’m using (not really a new method or outside my typical toolbox; more a new way of approaching training), losing the ability to work is actually a punishment for Risa. If she disengages, training ends. She gets a time out (I usually just ask her to lay down). There is no harsh tone. Simply a release cue (“All done!”) signifying that the opportunity to earn reinforcement is over and then I ask her to down while I walk away and ignore her for a minute. She absolutely wants to work; she wants the game to continue! She will be less likely to disengage because it ends the fun. And that’s the sort of relationship I want with my dog. I want one who is willingly working with me because it’s fun. Not because I have forced her to stay with me. Not because I have prohibited her from sniffing, chasing squirrels, etc. by restraining her on the leash or calling her away. But because it’s her choice to work with me and that is more valuable to her than the alternative. It’s less stress for me and less stress for her making it a much nicer partnership than one where I feel I need to constantly be on top of her to make sure she’s working with me. I don’t have to ask her to work for me now. She asks me if we can work.