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June 5, 2007

As I began trying to teach Lilly more complicated behaviors, it became oh-so clear that I needed to understand how she thinks. Once I figure that out, it’s usually pretty easy to break down the task, then click-treat and shape it to our goal. This really struck me for the first time when I tried to teach her to Roll Over.

From a Down, she seemed completely baffled about Roll Over. I tried all the tricks, like getting her to track a piece of food with her head. Nothing.

So, I taught her to Lay Flat from a Down as an intermediate step. I figured laying flat on her side on command might come in handy some day at the veterinary hospital. Once she got Lay Flat, then Roll Over suddenly made more sense to her. Victory.

I only had to ask for Lay Flat for a day or two before she automatically shot from Down to Roll Over.

Still, we haven’t had much luck with other tasks. For example, I still can’t get her to Bow (play bow) on cue, despite many attempts, many different strategies.

When we began training in Rally Obedience I tried to teach her her to Stand from a Sit. And, the best we’ve done so far is that I have to lure with one hand and touch her hindquarter, along with the cue.

She has a great Stand-Stay from a heel (we call it Freeze), but that’s it.

We have a similar issue with going from a Down to a Sit from a distance. If I’m close and can step into her a bit, she’ll sit up, but from a distance, she looks at me like, “huh?”

She can go from a Sit to a Down from a distance, but not the other way. It kind of makes sense, though, since Down is a more submissive body posture, and Lilly is often very happy to be close to the ground.

Our latest challenge — mostly because it’s getting embarrassing at our work-and-play class — is Whoa (which is supposed to mean stop right where are).  We’ve tried stopping her between cones, at a leash laid on the ground as a marker, in doorways, at the edge of stairs, and none of it makes sense to her.

Now, part of the problem is that I’ve ALWAYS worked with her and treated her up close. She’s very focused on me and being right there, so suddenly to ask her to stop far away seems weird.

Yet, she can hit her agility contacts without me standing right there. She can often make her weave pole entrances without my help, but stopping … just stopping, makes no sense to her.

Gigi Moss, our big-picture trainer, suggested this week that I try targeting, like how I first taught contacts. So, Lilly and I will spend some quality time with a paper plate and see what we can figure out.

While I’m at it, I’m also trying to teach Walk Up, which is a herding command. (I would like to try herding at some point with Lilly, but everything I’ve read and heard from pals who do it is that the training methods might not work well for a soft dog like Lilly.)

Anyway, I just went back and read what I’ve written so far and something dawned on me. I wonder if I should try Freeze as her overall stop moving word. Hmmmm…

We’re also working on The Hokey-Pokey. So far, we’ve played with Right Foot In, Right Foot Out, using a hoola-hoop on the floor. But, for the life of me I can’t think of a way to have Shake It All About make sense to her since she already has a Shake command and a Lift command (where she just picks up a front foot on cue as a calming signal when she’s stressed).

For “do the Hokey-Pokey,” I’m just using my hand gesture for Spin, so we’re good there.

But, after that the challenge will be coming up with something for “that’s what it’s all about.” I’d like her to bark a few times at that point. I guess I’ll need to introduce a hand gesture for Speak.

Do you see how I spend my time? I know these are just silly things, but I hope that if I can figure out how to make these fun things make sense to her, then maybe someday we’ll have a break-through in agility.

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

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