2-minute dog trainer, Tempest fulfills his destiny

I’m sure it sounds strange to dog-sport people, but one of my puppy’s jobs is to be a demo dog for our training protocols, and an ambassador for Houston’s Country Dream. 

Tempest got to visit the Parkersburg (WV) Humane Society yesterday, to demonstrate positive reinforcement and clicker training for agility.  He’s four months old.

Tempest is my best advertisement. When he behaves beautifully, students want to know how we trained those behaviors. When he behaves badly, students may think “What a brat Marsha has! She must suck as a trainer.” <g>

There were a few things I did with my first puppy, Banner ’96, that I’ve changed with Tempest. Having taught remedial basic obedience (fixing the horrendous behaviors permitted from puppyhood), I have a philosophy about how to properly raise a puppy.

If I don’t apply what I know to Tempest’s upbringing I’ll be disappointed in myself.  And my credibility will be diminished. The biggest problem with not applying my philosophy is that I’ll be forced to FIX things. And remedial training doesn’t stick nearly as well as initial training.

Take, for example, contact training. If we begin training the puppy by letting them run across the contact zone, applying no training to the bottom of the ramp, we might have a dozen nice “running contacts” in the course of a couple of weeks.

There will probably come a time, though, when the puppy wants to speed up. And the best way to cut time on contact equipment is to hop across that yellow area.

Then we go back and try to retrain that contact but, in the heat of competition, the puppy reverts to what he first learned — running the contact and jumping off prematurely.

Remedial training is a poor second or third choice.  So I’m taking Tempest’s initial training — whether agility, obedience, or rally — very seriously.

Imagine my pride when I took Tempest to be my demo dog at a local shelter during their kids’ camp on Thursday.

They wanted a simple agility demo but I didn’t have the way or will to haul a bunch of equipment. I actually prefer to demonstrate more fundamental training concepts in the context of agility.

So my demo topic became clicker training a puppy from — 1) the agility tire to  2) an open crate on the ground to  3) jumping into a crate in the truck.

My training tools included my truck with crate, a small tire, a portable crate, two strings of cheese, my clicker, and my 4-month-old puppy.

I began with a brief explanation of the principles of clicker training while getting Tempest through the tire multiple times. Since he’s doing so much rear-awareness work (2-on-2-off training), he tended to hop through the tire with his front feet and straddle it, looking at me as if to say, “is this it?”

Once I started moving he discontinued that behavior and began hopping through. As I talked to the kids, Tempest would continue his tire work, to the giggles and applause of the crowd. I reached down, unhooked his leash, and he stuck right with me, staying completely focused.

We then switched to “go in” with an open crate. Tempest applied the same work ethic to the crate that he’d applied to the tire. Popping in and out of the crate, stopping occasionally to ask his question, “What do I get if I just stand here?” To which I answered nothing.

Someone in the crowd asked about Tempest’s 2-minute dog training with each meal, and I told them what he does with stools, milk crates, contact obstacles, any raised surface.  One of the kids picked up a large brick and brought it over to our work area.

I gave Tempest his stupid-pet-trick cue — “What do we do with that thing?”  He immediately hopped onto the brick, moved his front feet to the grass, and stood with his rear feet on the brick.  YAY!  Laughter, giggles, applause …

I continued talking about positive reinforcement training and how we get our dog to offer behavior (all the while Tempest is offering performance with the tire, with the crate, with the brick), building their confidence and making them more comfortable in strange situations by allowing them to pick their own footsteps.

For example, in my experience, most car-sickness in dogs is a matter of them being stressed in a vehicle. If we teach them to hop into the vehicle, to enter a crate willingly, we can make them more comfortable in a vehicle.

I explained to the crowd that Tempest wasn’t able to hop into his crate in the truck due to his size, but that I was working at getting him to “attempt” the jump in, and would help him get into his crate.

As I said that, I pointed at the crate in my SUV, and said “get in!” in the same tone I’d used for the crate on the ground.

Tempest gave a massive HOP and climbed right into his crate !!   The crowd went wild. <g>

I was so proud of his steadiness, bravery, composure, and brilliance.

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