Training, Sasha-Style

Dog training real and imagined

If you’ve been following the blog you might remember that I enrolled Sasha (my Sheltie rescue) in Basic Obedience.  She already knows the commands of sit, down, stay, come, etc. and the class was intended as socialization time to help her acclimate to both people and dogs. The basic class turned out to be a great learning experience for both of us. We’ve discovered, for example, that she reacts fearfully toward clickers—which made being in a room with a dozen people clicking endlessly quite a challenge! I resolved that by moving her away from the rest, just far enough that she could relax and focus on me.

I also learned her patience has definite limits. She’ll willingly repeat an exercise three times. If I push for a fourth attempt she looks downright exasperated by what she apparently thinks is my inability to learn something! So while everyone else was doing (seemingly) endless repetitions of one exercise, we practiced a variety of commands on the leash.

Another learning moment for me: this dog gets downright cranky when she’s tired or hungry. The trainer recommended we don’t feed the dogs before coming to class, suggesting that a hungry dog will be eager for treats and consequently eager to learn. That meant Sasha didn’t get her evening meal on training night. Instead, I filled the treat pouch with her favorite yummy treats and some cheddar cheese, which she loves. That should have worked, right? Not with Sasha, who was clearly uninterested in any of the exercises that night. And she wasn’t pleased when other dogs, drawn no doubt by the alluring scent of cheddar, edged close to me—far too close, apparently, from her point of view.

In the past month I’ve learned (the hard way, of course) that I have a dog unwilling to train when hungry, disinterested in multiple repetitions even when offered cheese or tasty salmon bits, and definitely not the kind who’s up for an evening  out. We’re an “early to bed, early to rise” household, and Sasha tends to head toward the exit near the end of class when we’re practicing loose-leash walking around the training arena.

I’m taking all that into consideration as we move into Intermediate Obedience. Due to a quirky schedule, we’re actually starting Intermediate before our final basic class session. I chose a Saturday noon class so she has time to enjoy her morning meal and a neighborhood walk before we dive into training activities. We’ll continue to use the “three times and move on to something different” strategy for training. And thankfully, the trainer for the Intermediate class is shifting folks away from clickers in favor of verbal reinforcements, which will please Sasha (and me, too).

Next on our training agenda: object differentiation, which means Sasha needs to understand that fetch means more than looking at an object. And in between frequent short bursts of training time, Sasha is enjoying a happy life with a family who loves her (even the cat).

Sasha 3-20-16 posing for spring