Today I took Sylvie to her first agility class. (It's not a clicker class, but I'm clicking with the instructor's permission. She tells the other people to use random marker words, sometimes "yes!" and sometimes "now." It doesn't make sense to me and I don't see how it would make sense to the dogs.) The class was frustrating and I don't feel a good rapport with the instructor.
I feel like she set us up to fail. Most of the class was about the start-line stay. She told us to sit our dogs in a row against one of the shorter walls, with barely 5' between each dog, and to walk away from them as far as we thought we could while they stayed. Excellent. We're in a big strange room with all kinds of weird smells, two big strange dogs are moving around WAAY too close to us, the handlers are rustling food bags, and we're all kind of irritated that the instructor started 15 minutes late with no explanation. Under those circumstances, the distance I can move away from Sylvie in her sit-stay is about 2 feet. Meanwhile the instructor stood behind me and talked about how if this were competitive obedience my dog would be disqualified because she went into a down.
Next we did targeting, which Sylvie loves. Finally we get to move! But before we could show off our fantastic touch cue, she had to set up some fails for the big herding dog in the prong collar, who didn't know "touch." The dog offered a paw, then nosed at the food hand, then gave up and lay down, while the instructor repeated the meaningless cue again and again, and when the dog's owner dutifully mimicked the set-up it I bit my tongue, though I really really wanted to tell her to try moving her hand closer. The class description had said 'for dogs who know their commands with distractions,' and I don't see why a dog who responds to verbal cues needs to be hauled around by spikes in its neck.
For the third fail set-up, we had to target objects. The instructor had left her targets in her car, so she dug around in the supply cabinet and came up with...... dog food bowls!! The very same dog food bowls used for feeding the shelter dogs, which Sylvie ate from when she lived at this same shelter! Sylvie rarely gets to eat from a bowl, so she was dancing around excitedly. I told the instructor why, and she gave me a jar lid to use as a target instead. But the other two dogs got to target the food bowls, which were placed not 5' from us, and Sylvie wasn't even allowed to see for herself that they were empty. Luckily Sylvie already knows how to target objects, which made me feel like I'd thwarted the instructor's efforts to sabotage her.
That's not how I should feel about a teacher, right?
Hopefully next class will be better. I feel a much stronger allegiance now to the MSPCA, where I took clicker obedience with Sylvie, where we were given typewritten homework and the class felt like it was actually planned and we were told explicitly to bring our dogs to class in flat collars or martingales. This kind of irritated venting is probably not welcome on a forum about positive reinforcement, but it does help me figure out how to be proactive. I definitely have to do the boring work on sit-stays, and to establish a hierarchy of distractions for Sylvie that leads up to the kryptonite of distractions: two big dogs moving around and taking treats very close to us.
Sylvie's Hierarchy of Distractions
- My body movement
- Food on the ground
- Furniture moving around
- Loud noises
- People carrying strange objects (canes, crutches, packages)
- Things flying past her face
- People making strange movement
- People at the door
- Little dogs
- Big dogs
- Big wiggly dogs!!
- The vacuum cleaner
- The mailman!!!!!!!!!!!
So. I'll work through Karen Overall's relaxation protocol, I'll throw balls around, squeak her squeaky-toys, drop cheese on the floor, I'll train her while I do yoga, I'll take her down to the river to train in very stimulating environments, down to the bars, to the hospital, to the POST OFFICE(!!!!), to the dog park where she was picked up as a stray, to the pet store, I'll dress up in big boots and clomp around the house, I'll train her in the subway, I'll take her down to get the mail (the one time I brought her down with me she growled as I opened the mailbox, which is just ridiculous), I'll fill the living room with balloons.