The Road to Recovering From Stress

In my last post “Stressing in the Real World” my friend Helen opened up about the ups and downs of training her challenging Standard Poodle puppy “Uppity.” Today we learn what the keys where for Helen’s turn about.

Once again here is Helen . . .

Although I had a lot of bad days while trying to train Uppity one thing we did have that was great was a nose tap to my hand. She understands nose taps and loves doing them. I discovered that as long as she really understood what was being asked of her, she was fine but as soon as things got tough, she ran for the hills (literally!).

After my humiliating experience at the seminar with Susan, we all went to an agility trial together. While waiting for our runs, Susan decided to do some shaping with Uppity. What started out as a session I was used to seeing with my puppy staring blankly, sniffing or attempting to leave ended up in brilliance.

I watched in awe as Susan methodically shaped this puppy (who usually quit after the first thing went wrong). Susan was quiet while waiting for Uppity to offer a response but went mad with praise as she rewarded her with a cookie for any small success.

Susan knew it was unlikely that Upp would tug in that environment so she never asked but she still broke up the shaping sessions every 4 or 5 cookies by having Uppity chase her down the field and back. In no time at all my puppy was enthusiastically offering a figure 8 around two cones and loving what she was doing. By Susan’s last shaping session Uppity was excited to train and never thought of shutting down, sniffing or leaving.

At one point during one of the last sessions, Uppity stopped and refused to work but Susan just waited her out and then fed her dog Feature who was in the crate behind us until Upp (who was on leash) decided to start trying again. I was never that patient when I trained, I would always want to help my poor puppy! It was a huge eye opener for me and I learned so much watching the whole thing.

Right then, I knew I could train this puppy, I could see the possibilities. It was the first time I had really felt that I could. Before that I always had doubts but knew I would die trying (perhaps of old age!) but that all changed for me as I was certain it was going to happen!

I went home from that trial with hope and a plan. Do more shaping! Allow Uppity to learn to fail and not worry about it. I put more joy into my rewarding and kept my sessions short.  Per Susan’s encouragement, I shaped her to back up and did more perch work,  recalls,  collar grabs and value for reinforcement zone– but most of all we just had a lot of plain F-U-N!

At one session she shut down and refused to tug after tugging brilliantly several times. I went and got our Border Collie and tugged with her while Uppity watched. When Up looked interested, I offered her the tugger and she tugged with enthusiasm. I had to do this several times but we got through the session. Knock on wood, that was the last time she has refused to tug with me and that was two months ago.

With that barrier mostly behind us, I am seeing huge strides with her training now and in such a short time. She is ten months old so it has only been two months since her major and last meltdown. It was all about building confidence (hers AND mine!). We are training things in tiny baby steps. Breaking things down into bite sized pieces, keeping sessions short and not letting her shape me to do things her way! I am not taking any setback personally (or trying not to anyway). I look at them as “learning opportunities.”

We are working on Susan’s e-course and very excited about it! The more I do, the better Uppity gets. I can honestly say I am very excited about training Upp now and look forward to every session!

This past weekend we went to ringside at an agility trial and worked on backing up, tugging and did some shaping. She was glued to me and ready to work at anything I asked. People can’t believe that this was the same  puppy that wouldn’t come to me at a seminar only two short months ago!

Tomorrow I share the lessons that Uppity has brought to me.

What am I grateful for?

Susan Garrett, Lynda Orton-Hill, the Say Yes program (and of course our California instructor, Stacy Winkler) but most of all, my big black Poodle puppy who finally LOVES working with me!

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