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Weekly Training Update (Feb 15)

Lilly and I had our first training date this weekend with another team using Leslie McDevitt’s “Control Unleashed” book as a training strategy. Here’s how it went.

First, our cast of characters:

Of course, Lilly (3 year old, border collie) who can be both shy/shutdown or reactive/snarky, depending on the situation. Sadly, she does not and has not competed in agility.

Pitsch (3 year old, Australian shepherd) who LOVES other dogs and gets very, very excited about agility and other things. He is currently competing in agility and doing well.

Essentially, they have the exact opposite personalities.

Like a total goof, I forgot to take photos of Lilly and Pitsch together, but you can see some photos of him and even watch a video of his herding instinct test on his website.

*** For the life of me, I can’t embed a link this, so I’m putting the URL here. Sorry, you’ll have to cut and paste it.***


Betsy & Pitsch came over to our house. We met online through the Control Unleashed online group. Of all the people in the world using these techniques, we live about 3 miles apart up the same, rural, kind of remote Colorado canyon. So, since I have 3 fully fenced acres and since Lilly tends to do A LOT better with other dogs at home, they came here to play and train.

It turns out that other than living nearby, Betsy and I have about 101 things in common. Very funny.

How we worked it:
I kept Lilly crated inside at first so that Pitsch could have his run of the property and relax a bit.

Then, we leashed up with our long training lines, and I brought Lilly out. She clearly alerted to his presence, but with enough distance settled into some good flatwork (heeling and turns). Her body posture seemed pretty relaxed, so we practiced the LOOK AT THAT game. So, I’d say … “Look puppy,” and she’d look at him, earning a click and a treat.

She did a pretty good, fairly relaxed stay while Pitsch did his flat work.

We tried a little side-by-side heeling, with us a bit behind and to the right of Pitsch & Betsy. A couple times he turned to look at her, and she snarked. Not terrible, just her usual there’s-a-dog-looking-at-me thing.

Then, we decided to practice looking at the mules next door since Lilly enjoys it and Betsy wanted Pitsch to practice since they have neighbors with horses too. Lilly and I worked our way right up to the fence, and she looked at Molly and Junior. A couple times, she broke and lunged, but did not bark.

While Pitsch practiced looking at the mules (in other words while his focus was elsewhere), I asked Lilly to take 2 jumps on our home agility course. And … drumroll … she did it, without question, without hesitation. That’s a big deal since for a long time she has refused to do any agility if other dogs are around. Granted, we were at home, not at a training field, but still. He was about 30 feet away, and she took 2 jumps. Whoo hoo!

Then, since Pitsch was itching to have contact with Lilly and since she seemed pretty relaxed, we unleashed them and let them play.

Now, regular readers know that I use the NO visiting rule when we’re in public and most times at class. It takes the pressure off Lilly so that she doesn’t wonder if she’s going to have to interact with other dogs. But, at home, she tends to be much better. She’s still bossy as border collies tend to be, but she’s generally OK.

Their initial greeting went well, no snarking or anything, and they were off playing — chasing each other (mostly Lilly chasing him while he fetched). I never saw them wrestle or anything, but she generally treated him just like she treats Ginko. She carried her tail a little high for my taste, and she occasionally tried to throw her weight around by showing him her teeth and such, but Pitsch was a SAINT and put up with it.

A couple times, I did step in when I thought she was just being obnoxious, but I think she did well overall.

I even used a couple LEAVE ITs, followed by COME and she came right to me, even though they were playing. It’s not quite the Whiplash Turn that Leslie talks about in the book, but it’s getting there.

I even saw them have a nice, almost kissing thing. He was right there, sniffing her face, and she took it. She let him sniff her butt, she sniffed his boy parts, and all was good. Clearly, we praised the heck out of all that.

Mostly, she followed his lead. Whatever he did, she did. Where ever he went, she went.

Other than our official work, a couple interesting things happened.

1) Lilly showed Pitsch that you can be right next to the fence, right next to the mules and if you stay quiet and hold still, you can poke your head through and practically touch noses with them. That was a big moment for him. Later, we used a bit of the Premack Principle with him (give them what they want in exchange for what you want). He would run down to see the mules, then we’d call him back and immediately release him to go back to the mules.

2) Pitsch showed Lilly that just because people and dogs are walking by on the street doesn’t mean you have to go out and fuss at them. She took off several times, with him following, when she saw people on the road, but they never went all the way out. Just all of a sudden, they’d be back playing behind the house. So, I’m not sure what Pitsch said or did, but he kept her from her alert routine.

So, both set good examples for the other to follow.

We didn’t officially try any Relaxation Protocol work, but we did ask them for down-stays toward the end of our training date. Any time Pitsch moved, Lilly popped up, so clearly we have some work to do there.

I put her inside to give Pitsch a break. She can be relentless in her following. She was very bummed and hovercrafted when I asked her to go inside, so I was pretty sure she liked having him around.

Later, I let her out for a bit to say goodbye, then I crated her in my car while they drove out. We were standing around chatting about plans for our next training date, and out of the blue Lilly started howling.

Now, she only howls for 2 reasons:

1. She’s happy.

2. We ask her to.

I’m betting on happy.

And, thank to all the excitement, she ate dinner then immediately sacked out and slept like a log all night. Thanks, Betsy & Pitsch for a night of peace and quiet!

Can’t wait to train again soon.

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.

Lisa Pattison - February 16, 2008

I loved this. My aussies are older now and between the three of them I had all the challenges you are describing. Years later, two remain and when I think of the third (lost to cancer at 11)my fondest times were behavior modification. It seems to me the harder we worked on things the stronger the bonds. These guilt free(for me) training methods go along way to cherishing all time spent with the dog. Behavior is behavior. Memories are so much sweeter as I don’t recall “bad dog” memories only teamwork endeavors.
Presently, the dogs’ hearing and eyesight are waning. It is hard to move around them in the house and in trying to help them through these final years I am inadvertently reinforcing things and losing behaviors simply in an effort to keep them “safe”. I applaud your style. I remember when I use to play “3 ring circus” Each Aussie in a down stay while i worked one of them at a time , on ducks, agility equip, carting, Frisbee water dog work etc. Premack is King! Especially when it butts heads against pack behaviors. Best of Luck to you. I’ll continue along with mine in advanced tracking. I can do herding with the one as long as we can communicate.

Cedarfield - February 15, 2008

Maybe Pitsch will give her more confidence if he doesn’t react to the things that she normally reacts to–even when you’re not at home (assuming you can get Pitsch and his owner to come along:-)
That’s what they do with horses–have a nice calm one along whenever you take the green ones out to show them there’s nothing to fear.

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