Lately, what I’ve noticed with Rugby James, is that he’s started slacking on some of his basics. Yes. I said it. A dog trainer has a dog who is a slacker. In basic work even. Oh my. I’m just keeping it real! Rugby still responds well to his basic work, but he’s just gotten a little slower and a bit sloppier with his responses, and his real life applications aren’t as sharp as I would like them to be.
Well, here’s the truth: All skills need to be polished, don’t they? If we don’t practice any skill, over time, doesn’t it get a bit rusty? I played the flute coming up as a kid, but I haven’t picked it up to play in probably thirty years or more. Am I going to have the same skill level? Absolutely not! I haven’t practiced. I’m not even sure I still remember how to read music anymore, to be perfectly honest with you.
If we want to see our dogs performing consistently well, we need to keep things polished up from time to time and practice all learned skills so that our dogs will stay sharp and quickly responsive. Thankfully, Rugby is not a robot! He doesn’t respond as a robot. He’s a thinking, feeling, expressive dog who can choose to comply with work or not. And if I want him to comply, I need to practice, and I also need to make practice fun so that he will want to participate with me.
We tend to think that once our dogs learn a skill, it’s a permanent addition to them….much like putting a collar around their necks. When we fit a collar and buckle it, we never give it another thought. We think of it being permanently attached to our dogs.
On the other hand, I think behaviors are a bit more fluid….they are alive, and change and grow right along with our dogs. In order to maintain those good habits and skills, we need to keep our dogs thinking and working! It’s always a good time to revisit basic skills, as well as work on new skills to keep our dogs from getting bored with their work.
This past week, I’ve started putting the polish on some basics with Rugby, and I’m finding that he and I are both enjoying that. Rugby typically likes any and all sorts of work and I rarely wait until his behavior gets off in a ditch before I work to correct it. I start after he’s gotten sloppy a time or two, because then it’s not much work to sharpen things up again. In just a few days, he’s back on track and working at his best performance levels.
I’ve noticed that as Rugby is aging, he has less patience in work when it comes to learning new things, so he seems to be very happy to work on his known skills. Rugby has never been a poster dog for impulse control. In Rugby’s world, those two things are mutually exclusive terms! My huge battle with him for nine years has been teaching him to slow down and think through a task!
Rugby is one emotional dog, and he has rarely been able to cognitively attack tasks initially. He frustrates super easily, and he’s ridiculously food motivated, so when I’m trying to teach something new, he often just completely melts down with frustrated barking and barking and barking. *sigh* Once he melts down…sometimes several melt downs….then he can often start the cognitive process to think through what he needs to change and adjust to get what he wants. His first response is always emotional.
I had hoped that going back to focus on the basics would boost his confidence and allow me to see a more patient side of Rugby come to the surface. He doesn’t have to think very hard on the basics, so he’s able to perform them quickly and get a great, fast reward of some kind. I do think that in revisiting his basics, he’s enjoyed being able to get quick rewards for known tasks. Rugby is all about cutting right to the chase and getting that tidbit of food!
He’s known basic commands for nine years now, and he really is very rock solid on them. I rarely “have” to offer treats to him, but I know that intermittent food rewards are the best way to win Rugby’s heart and keep him working hard. It’s just important to remember that practice makes perfect, and all skills need to be practiced to keep our skill levels high….dogs included! Let’s see what Rugby has to say about this subject!
Well, lately the Mama has been working on fings what I already knows. It seems silly to me, on account of I already knows how to do this stuff, but there’s snacks in it for me, and sum good play, and lotsa good pets, so I go along wif her!
Sumtimes we works inside the house, where there isn’t nuffing to distract me, and sumtimes we works outside in the back yard where there is varmints, and smells and sounds what can distract me. Sumtimes we works in the back yard when our neighbor is out working on his car, on account of he does that wif friends, and they talks and laffs a big much what usually gets me into a big barking jag! When all of the neighbors is away at work, the Mama and me works right in front of the house just a lil bit, on account of that is super scary to me! The Mama calls it “stretching me out of my comfort zone” only I doesn’t know what that is. Mostly I fink it means scary.
Because I gets very excited wif food rewards, the Mama mostly uses dog kibbles, and she usually trains about firty minutes after I has had a meal. She always lets my breakfast or supper settle a bit in my tummy before she does any training. And mostly, I’m not as hungry, so I’m a lil bit more patient wif her, and I works a lil bit better. She saves the real exciting treats for times when we is working on very hard stuff….like don’t bark at the blender, or when the neighbor dogs is barking outside and I likesa give them my two cents!
We works on basic command fings, like Sit/Stay, Down/Stay, Come When Called, Place, Get It, Leave It, Watch Me, and we does old tricks what I has done for a long time too. When we works on a short leash, I hasta do the fing a few times before I getsa kibble or lotsa petting. The Mama is a really good encourager, so she always uses those sweet words wif a soft sweet sound, she smiles, and she squints up her eyes a lil bit too. I always gets encouraged a big much, and once in a while, the Mama gives me “jackpots” of kibbles, what is free or five of them, one at a time, really fast! I does lubs me sum jackpots!!
We always works on new fings too, but I has really been lubbing sum extra work on stuff that I already know. It makes me feel extra smart on account of I can do fings really fast and I doesn’t hasta fink very hard. After we does a few of the basics, the Mama always frows in sumping new for me to mix it up a bit sos I doesn’t get all bored, and I likes that a lot. And, she knows I’m smart, so she doesn’t make me do stuff a billion times in a row. She has me do sumping I knows well free or four times and that’s it. Then we getsa move onto sumping else. She starts wif a lil handful of kibbles, and once that lil handful is gone, we don’t work anymore, so it usually goes really fast, and I likes that! We just repeats it at different times during the day, and not all at once, so I like getting lil snacks froughout the whole day!
You might fink that your dogger won’t like doing stuff he already knows, but hopefully, you’ll try sum of these ideas, and see that he’s gonna be all in on the fun! This kinda stuff is how you and your dogger will learn how to be a team, and we’re all about teamwork at my house!!