For the last five days we have had a keen group of campers in for Skills Camp. This camp is much like puppy camp but in more detail. We can not expect young puppies to work for 5 days like these olders ones, so puppy camp is only 3 days. Even for the older dog, 5 days is mentally fatiguing. Skills camp focuses on body awareness exercises, getting the details of the nose touch for contact training perfected, starting the 2×2’s for weave pole training and an introduction to some of Susan Salo’s jump grids.
Underlying all we do here at Say Yes is the development of life skills. The skills needed to be a good family pet. I am a big believer in the direct correlation between the skills that make a great family pet also lay down a phenomenal basis for an amazing agility dog. That could be the topic of another blog. So all puppy and skills camps start with a focus on relationship building skills before we get into the more “sexy” things like contacts & weaves. This camp was been a bit of an anomaly as far as my experiences have been here at Say Yes, in that we have quite a few dogs that have some confidence issues that could lead to behavioural challenges down the road. For the first time ever we had to excuse a dog from camp (we have a one strike policy against aggression towards other dogs or humans, however we have never had to incite that policy.) Sadly that was the case this time around, with me being the target! I know these dogs are not bad, just lacking the full compliment of skills, at this time, needed to deal with the all of the stressors of dogs and people nearby. Normally we do not have any issues as we have a 11,000 square feet of floor space for dogs to work on, but not all dogs cope like others. We had several dogs that were severe barkers in their crates. I have a great staff that really work hard to help over come these small issues. All of these dogs at camp we would categorize as “nuisance” barkers. They are the ones that bark until they hear footsteps and then get quiet. Their barking has been reinforced in the past with people coming into view, even if it is just to scold them. So the use of reinforcement over the 5 days has really turned most of these dogs around. It is difficult to convince people of the fact that punishing dogs for undesirable behaviours, such as barking, lungeing on leash at other dogs or any of the challenges we are seeing at camp, does not help to create a more desired response from the dog. It is human nature to continually punish (even mild punishers like yelling at the dog to “shut up”). It is so cool to see how well dogs in this environment turn around when you focus on setting the dog up to succeed through the use of high value reinforcement, rather than continually nagging at the dog to stop.
Either this group of people are really talented, or we have gotten really good at teaching nose targeting, because I would say by day two these guys had their nose targets as good as most campers have it when they leave here at the end of camp. Surprisingly a weakness of this group is Crate Games. I don’t know what else I have to do to convince people that with my own, pretty talented dogs, the main reason I am able to progress my skills so fast is entirely do to my dogs’ brilliance at Crate Games. Here is the list of skills I know these games have a direct impact: 1. start line stays 2. contact training 3. distance work 4. handling understanding of deceleration, rear crosses & front crosses 5. focus forward for sequencings 6. focus forward to expedite the shaping of weave poles 7. finding entries into tunnels 8. understanding the release cues out of control positions such as the table. So in short Crate Games has a mammoth positive effect on my ability to train: contacts, weaves, jumping, tunnels, the table, gamble work and handling. Hmmm is there anything left in agility? Trust me on this, if you put some time into perfecting your dog’s understanding of all of the games in the dvd so that your dog drives in and out of the crate FAST and waits for a release no matter what the distraction, you will save a ton of time with the training of all other agility skills.
Today I am grateful for all the little things people around me do to make my job so much easier. I know I have been grateful for my staff recently, but I can do it again. Everyone gets along so well and are so willing to do what it takes to help make everyone’s dog training better. Yesterday two of my instructors got up earlier to help one of our newest staff members train her dog. Three of us here are vegetarians now and we are so lucky to have Jodi who is a student/apprentice to the program who is also an unbelievably talented gourmet chef, specializing in vegetarian food. For most of this year we have had these amazing staff meals at camp. Wow, it is awesome how your God arranges these things in your life for you!