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After a 4 month wait, Risa and I finally started our obedience classes. As much as I hadn't wanted
to wait so long, it really was a blessing in disguise. In the time we waited, we were able to form a
closer bond. Which made going to class much easier. Even though she still wasn't great at paying
attention to me. She was much more attentive to me than she was before.
The Head-Start classes began with 2 owners-only classes. Since they didn't involve Risa, I'm
starting at her Week 1, which was actually the 3rd week of classes.
As expected, Risa was scared when she got to her first class. Still, she behaved better than I
though she would. Luckily, there were only 2 dogs there when we arrived. The whole class
consisted of a French Bulldog, an Affenpinscher, a Papillon, a Blue Tick Coonhound, and two
Aussie Shepherds. Ages ranged from 4 months to 5 years. Since it was her first class and she was
obviously uncomfortable, the trainer didn’t require her to do much. Risa accepted food from the
trainer and from a female classmate but refused to go near anyone else or the other dogs. Aside
from that, Risa only had to wait at the door to class before leaving. This is the first thing I taught
her so it was very easy for her to follow. Even with her strong desire to leave the classroom, she
listened and waited until I released her.
Our homework after the first class was to institute NILIF (Nothing in Life is Free). All of Ris’ toys
were picked up off the floor so that only I could initiate playtime. We had to show our dogs that we
were the source of good things. Our trainer also wanted us to work on having our dogs not pull on
their leashes. If they did, we were told to just stop and not move forward. Once the leash went
slack, we could proceed.
I was worried that Risa would not want to go back into the classroom. She surprised me and walked
right in without giving me any troubles.
Tonite, we started with the clicker. I had introduced her to it in the house and she had no reaction
to it at all. However, once we got to class, it was a different story. It wasn’t that she was afraid of
my clicker, it was that she was unnerved by the other clickers in the room. This realization made it
difficult for us to complete the exercises during class. Despite her fear, she did fairly well.
We worked on having our dogs come towards us by stepping back and making our bodies into a 'C'
shape. We also taught them to touch our hands with their noses. Another exercise involved taking
food from our hands. An open hand towards the dog means 'you can eat this' and a hand facing
away means 'you can't have this.' The first time I adverted my hand, Ris tried to get the food. The
second time she didn't even bother. She just waited for me to turn my hand around. I switched it up
a couple times and there was only one time she nudged the averted hand.
We worked on waiting at the door again. No surprise, she did fine. This time, we added another
step. We were to have them wait and actually open the door. Then command them to go out ahead
of us. If the dog tried to exit the door before we released them, we were supposed to shut the door
on them (not hurting them, of course). I knew Ris was really good at this but I was afraid she’d be
so happy to see her escape that she'd ignore me. So I told her to wait (as the trainer held the other
end of the leash) and Ris didn't move an inch. She may have been the only dog (only one I saw
anyway) that didn't have to have the door shut on her. I had a million butterflies in my stomach on
that one but was EXTREMELY pleased she obeyed. Once I gave her the command to go ahead of
me, she BOLTED. Good thing her trainer had a good handle on her leash. I probably should have
warned her about that (and told her so).
At the end of class, I had Risa wait at the door again. You could see on her face she wanted to jet
out of there but she obeyed until I released her. Everyone was impressed.
Despite how fearful Risa appears in class, she loves to go. The minute I grab her bag for class
from the bedroom, she is dancing circles around me. She knows where she’s going and cannot
wait to get there.
She was not as fearful of the other clickers this time though she was a bit unnerved by them at
first. The trainer introduced some more things to us. The first was getting our dogs to watch us.
Risa had a habit of staring at me during class hoping I’d give her food. Before classes started, I’d
taught her that making eye contact with me would get her what she wanted (tossing a toy, food,
etc.). However, when I wanted it in class, I had trouble getting it!
After that, we were supposed to teach our dogs how to release a toy on command. However, Risa
was not comfortable enough to play with any of her toys in class. I had a feeling this would happen
as she has shown me before she will not play when she’s nervous.
Tonite was the first night we played ‘pass the puppy.’ Risa was not passed. Instead everyone in
class took a turn giving her food. She crept up to and took food from everyone, including the men.
Afterwards, we had the option of doing some on-leash socializing with the other dogs. Risa’s
trainer didn’t think Ris would want to check out the other dogs but I wanted to give Risa the
chance. Much to the trainer’s surprise, Risa did approach the other dogs to check them out but
made sure it was on her terms. Every time Risa approached her trainer she was given treats so
she made it a point to check her out quite a bit. She didn’t want much to do with the Blue Tick
Coonhound but did sniff the French Bulldog. Ris growled a bit when the Frenchie was a bit
intrusive but Risa behaved as I expected she would.
Risa has finally started smiling during class. She’s really starting to act like herself and must be
feeling more comfortable in the classroom environment.
We tried something new this class where we had to stand in the middle of the classroom, unmoving,
and keep our dogs attention just using our voices. The trainer walked around the perimeter of the
classroom as an added distraction. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get and keep Risa’s attention.
‘Sit’ and ‘down’ were finally taught in class. I had taught both commands to Risa previously yet still
approached the exercise as though I hadn’t. I tried to lure her into a sit but she wasn’t getting it
(even though that is how I’d taught it to her). I gave up and just gave her the hand sign. She sat
instantly. When we moved onto ‘down’ I just gave her the hand signal and didn’t bother luring her
into it. Our trainer commented on how well Risa was doing with both commands and I explained to
her it is because I had already taught them to her. She suggested I have Risa wait longer to get
rewarded for it. I hadn’t even though of that and gave it a try.
The most fun we had was ‘101 things with.. .’ Each of us got a plastic cup and had to click and
treat whenever our dogs did something with it. We were supposed to just stare at the cup and wait
for them to do something. So I stared at the cup and watched out of the corner of my eye as Risa
just stared at me, waiting for me to ask her to do something. Eventually, she nosed the cup and I
rewarded her. It took her a while to realize she was supposed to be doing something with the cup.
Both our trainer and I enjoyed watching Risa think it over. The trainer explained how important it is
to let your dog think. That way, when faced with a new challenge, they are ready to figure it out.
She used her dog as an example. When she asks her to do something new, the dog just starts
throwing out behaviors, trying to figure out what her owner wants.
At the end of class, the dogs got a chance to do some socializing with each other. Risa checked
out the French Bulldog and watched the Frenchie and Affinpinscher intently as they played
together, though she didn’t join in. Once playtime was over, we were told to call our dogs back to
us. I had already put my treats away but called out “Ris!” and bent over into a C-shape. She ran
right to me without hesitation. No one else in the class got their dogs back to them as quickly.
Tonite, we started working on ‘come.’ I had started working on this more at home so Ris did okay. I
used peanut butter as her reward at first but then tried to switch to a toy. It was the same tug we’d
been using at home but she had little interest in it at class. This didn’t surprise me as I already
knew she wasn’t keen on playing with toys in strange places. I did get her to play with it a little bit
We also learned how to teach our dogs how to ‘shake.’ Ris and I made that look easy since I had
already taught her that too. So I just gave her the hand signal and click/treated her when she did
it. Since we already had it down, the trainer asked us to show the class. I was very proud of my girl.
Risa got to do some more socializing with people again. This time, only guys gave her treats which
she took without a problem. She also got the opportunity to socialize with the other dogs as well.
Risa first checked out the Affinpinscher puppy who was all wiggles! Ris wasn’t too sure at first but
the Affy pup was persistant. Eventually, Risa played a bit with the pup. Then the Affy went over to
try and get the Aussie to play. The Aussie wasn’t really sure what to do with the wiggling puppy
either. Risa sniffed the Aussie a bit but the two of them didn’t really hit it off.
Next class is the last class for the Head-Start program. We are, of course, planning on continuing
on to the next level. Risa’s enjoying classes far too much to stop here and I know we have a lot
more work to do. I planned on doing agility with Risa from day one but our trainer didn’t think Risa
is ready yet. As much as I hated to admit it, I knew she was right. I am ready but Risa isn’t. I
certainly don’t want to start it too early and have it not be fun. However, our trainer mentioned that
she would be starting canine freestyle classes and wondered if we were interested. I wasn’t sure at
the time but, after thinking about it, decided we’d give it a try. I really wanted to do something with
Risa and I thought she’d do really well at it. Plus, she already knew a few pointless tricks (like
standing on her hind legs and spinning) that I thought would work well in this venue.
Class went extremely well tonite. As usual, Risa couldn’t wait to go. When we were waiting in the
car for the trainer to arrive, she was bouncing around. She couldn’t wait to go inside! What more
could I want???
Again, Risa got to be the demo dog. Since she already knows ‘sit,’ she was our example for how to
start adding in verbal commands along with our hand signals. Later, when we were teaching
targeting (touching an object with nose or paw), Risa demonstrated to the class how to touch the
target with her foot. She already loves to whack stuff with her paws so this was really easy for her.
We practiced our ‘doggy zen’ again. The exercise was as follows: You take a pile of yummy treats
and put it just outside your dog’s reach (they were leashed to us). Then, when they try and get the
food and fail, they will eventually look back at you. When they do, you’re supposed to click/treat
them (you can either let them eat the pile or give them a treat from your hand). Well, I had to be
the one with the smart dog. Ris reached the end of her leash and realized quickly she couldn’t get
the treats with her mouth. So what did she do? She reached out her paw, snagged a treat, and
dragged it within reach of her mouth. Her trainer was impressed with her ingenuity and told me to
let her have the treat if she does that. Eventually, Risa did catch on that she had to look at me in
order to get a reward.
Ris got to socialize with the other dogs and the other owners in the class gave her food. At one
point, she was just standing in front of the Affinpinscher’s owners waiting for them to start dishing
out more goodies.
I’m so glad to see how far she’s come in her class. And I’m so happy to see how excited she is to
go every week. I enthusiastically informed her trainer that we would be continuing with classes and
moving on to Level 1. Level 1 works at your own pace. You determine when you’re ready to move
on to the next level. You can take as much or as little time as you want.