Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lori Drouin Obedience Seminar

I spent last weekend attending Lori Drouin's Obedience Seminar in Gonzales, hosted by our local dog club.  I brought my Sony Cybershot but alas, the supposedly freshly charged battery was dead.  I ended up taking lots of pix using Ganetta's camera, but she took those home.  I may never see them.  I hate that-- I so miss having and sharing my pictures.

Working on sit/stays; down/stays, come to heel.
Maxie is lying down in lower left corner, facing me.
Lori came in from California for the event, with her 3 shelties.  Cost:  $150/member, $200/non-member.  Another great benefit of club membership and such a good deal, turned out, all 20 participants were LCCOC members, as were the handful of auditing students.   There was no room for outsiders.  I brought Maxie and Lucky, who took turns in the training ring and they both did fairly well considering we are all untrained in Performance Obedience.

Maxie did OK, but I find I don't enjoy training a 7 lb 10" dog so close underfoot.  Lots of bending over to give treats, straighten his position, etc.  Lots of checking to make sure I'm not stepping on him.

Lucky at 45 lbs 21" is size-wise much easier to train, but she continues to find Obedience work boring.  She does some of it fairly well, but in the absence of physical stimulation (tugging, fetching, running, jumping) she finally just lies down, sighs, and won't budge.  Won't even go for a treat tossed at her.   I have to laugh when I hear people claim that Obedience work is "atheletic" because a jump and "go outs" are involved.  It is mostly about holding focus on the handler's face while waiting, sitting, staying, heeling, turning, finding a scent article, fetching the left, center, or right glove on command, or finding one article among many that has the handler's scent.  All that is fine, but just being honest, I can't bear to micro-manage my dogs' every body move all the way down to paw, nose and eye placement every single second.

The weekend ended with a Q and A.  A lady asked how to solve the problem of her dog breaking eye contact with her upon entering the ring.  Seems the little Papillon, when seeing the judge for the first time, breaks its gaze on the master's face for a moment to check out the new person.  Oops, points off for that.  They spent the next 10 minutes entering the ring, again and again, practicing total handler focus.  This turned me OFF.  I think it totally un-natural for anyone, dog or man, not to briefly glance around and survey any new environment they go into.
Lori Drouin, photo by Cheryl W.

That said, Lori is a good teacher.  Very organized.  Very knowledgeable.  A clear communicator.  Pleasant.  And chock full of information.  I did enjoy her tips on:
  • footwork,
  • figure 8's,
  • proofing points on heeling,
  • dumbell training,
  • the "easy" cue,
  • drop on recall,
  • backchaining the right and left turns,
  • early scent work training. 
 I took notes and will incorporate some of these as "structured play" activities at home, if only to stimulate my dog's intelligence and use for parlor tricks.

I especially appreciated her comments on how to curb "anticipation", which I can apply to agility training.  I don't want D to ever decide they already know what I'm going to ask for next, or when the exercise is finished.  In agility, for example, you always behave as if there is another jump after the last jump so both D and handler will run at full speed over the last jump.  You don't want D to slow down or quit before it's over. You don't want them to break their start line stay before they are released, so you frequently go back and treat for that in training, though never in a trial.  You want them to anticipate that a treat could always be forthcoming for staying put.

An 18 page handout was given, which I read through Monday morning.  It was all about CONTROL, using every conceivable means possible from food rewards to corrections to body posture to using dowels to get D doing exactly what you want, exactly when you want. So many, many control words throughout the document, it tired me to read it. 

Some think a dog heeling around a ring for 10 minutes in perfect sync with a handler, totally focused, is beautiful.  I think it's creepy.  If it takes that much work to "get it right, if only just this once", it is telling me it goes against the dog's grain.  We're supposed to be harnessing and accentuating their natural abilities, not seeing how much we can warp them into "perfect obedience". I'm not a "fit this square peg into that round hole" person.  If I want to fill a round hole, I'll get something round in the first place.

I'm perfectly satisfied with striving for Q's in agility, i.e., "perfect" scores, no deductions, which are possible even if the dogs take a few wide turns, forget to completely stop at the down contact, or glance to the side on their start line stay.  They can even earn championship status that way.

Today I came up with an analogy of what I consider "natural".  (It's not nearly as limiting as "If man were meant to fly, he'd have been given wings", but it does set some limits to what I'm willing to strive for):
  • Building and maintaining a bridge using proper engineering principles results in a bridge that stands for decades -- that's natural.  
  • Training perfect dog obedience behavior that falls apart the minute you quit training and you hold your breath every attempt to succeed --  that's un-natural.
  • Taking advantage of a dog's natural willingness to please to the point of controlling their every move in exchange for a pat, some praise, or little morsel of hot dog, chicken or cheese -- that's pitiful.
  • And saddling myself with the ball and chain of constantly finding fault with my canines, holds no appeal to me.  It would make me a slave to my own excessive expectations, never fully satisfied, and there is no way I am going down that agonizing road.
Maxie and Lucky, I'm delighted when you front and finish on que, but I don't care if your butt is 2 inches off to one side.  I won't be getting out the dowels and tapping you into perfect alignment because, for one thing, I don't want to carry those dowels around.

Upwards and onward!

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