Friday, August 21, 2009

The Taming of the Beast (Part 4)

One of the ways we have chosen to help Brandy learn more self-control is through the use of select distractions placed on both sides of the path she must take in order to complete the recall (come command). Brandy has a history of behaving in a predatory manner toward small dogs. With this in mind we are using Ellie and Rugby as distractions. The goal here is always to make the exercise challenging and yet keep it simple enough so Brandy gets lots of practice making the correct choices.

Ellie the Yorkie and Rugby the Maltese are both very confident little dogs. Their overall behavior is that of dog rather than that of superbrat, pampered clothing accessory. They know they are completely safe while in the crates. When this was first started, Brandy's owner's husband remarked it looked to him like Ellie was actually a diver, diving in shark infested waters while staying within the safety of a shark tank.

At any rate, care is taken to ensure the safety of all the participants. While Sam was warming Brandy up with a short, brisk heeling pattern, the crates were placed six feet apart and a 15 foot longe line laid out on the ground. Sam heels Brandy to the start point, requires a sit and then first attaches the longe line before removing the leash.

What follows is a test of Brandy's self-control. She must hold her sit/stay until called. She must refrain from focusing on either of the distractions and finally, when called she must travel in a straight line at a fast enough pace to ignore the siren call of either toy dog.

Note that when Brandy thought she had a chance she left heel position and tried to sneak up on Rugby. Sam made use of the come command as the "correction". As this sort of sneaking up continues, Brandy will be given lots of practice on turning away from the object (another dog) of her predatory focus. This practice is critical to the success we are training for and without the necessary practice at saying "no I won't" Brandy would never learn to control herself.

We have now changed handlers. Sydney will continue to handle Brandy for the rest of this training session. This frees Sam up to handle additional dogs as we continue to increase the level of difficulty for Brandy. One of the first things to note is that from an unseen location Sam is cuing Rugby to bark. The reason for doing this is because we know that Brandy has been particularly bothered by the barking of toy breed dogs.

One of the more interesting things to note at this point is that the pressure being applied by the two toys is causing Brandy to travel in a much straighter line and she is also moving faster.

We have made several changes as we continue to increase the level of difficulty. Sam has come back as the handler, the two crates are much closer together, and the 15foot longe line has been replaced with a 20 foot longe line.

The added distance plus the closeness of the two crates means Brandy is tempted to simply avoid the entire problem by going around. She does manage to continue to make the correct choices, even when Sam heels her between the crates rather than around.

Sydney is once again working as Brandy's handler, while Sam shows up with a new dog. Pete the Lab is the perfect choice for this level of Brandy's training. He has more training that she does and he has that wonderful solid Lab personality that all too often turns from rock solid to just a rock. At first we continue to work Brandy using the 20' longe line. It doesn't take many repeats of the exercise before the mistake is made. Sure enough, just as she told us she would, she decides to cut around the crate defined runway and in doing so runs smack into and then over poor Pete. Pete breaks his stay, Sam gives his the leash and then uses the come command to bring him back. He is most happy to go along with our program even if it seems to mean Kerry Blue raining from the sky.

With the weak spot in the training finally exposed, we go about correcting it by shortening up the longe line, doing many repetitions while slowly increasing the distance. The two crates with their toy breed occupants remain as constants and Pete is moved from on location to another to give some additional interest to the exercise. In cases like this all four dogs are actually being given a chance to practice correct behavior. This means everyone is a winner.

We continue to increase the level of distraction and now have added a fourth dog. The fourth dog is Sanity, who at this point in her career is an old hand at this sort of training and doesn't require a handler to help her make good decisions.

The way the dogs have been set up is important. Pete, who is handled by Sam is now sitting close to Brandy and the crate with Ellie is actually out of Brandy's sight since Pete is big enough to pretty much block her view. Sanity, acting as her own handler is sitting on the other side of Rugby's crate. This means the crate is something of a buffer between Brandy and Sanity. It isn't much, then again, at this stage there should be no need for much of a buffer.

As we continue to practice the distance traveled is once again increased. It is also interesting to note that even when Brandy chooses to look away from Sydney, she never turns her head toward Sanity. Sanity's presences is strong and very few dogs are willing to offer her anything other than respect.

We now come to the last of this session. Pete has been moved to the other side of Ellie's crate and Sanity is now sitting in the direct line of "fire" so to speak. While Brandy started telling us the pressure is getting to heavy, Sanity began to take the pressure off by ever so slowly shifting around until she was facing the camera and just that little bit further away from Brandy. Brandy was able to successfully complete all the recalls in this set and we called it good and quit for the day.

Lest anyone make the mistake of thinking the dogs don't get enough praise and snuggles. Sydney and Brandy do some after training cool down time. It is good to note that Brandy is completely relaxed and comfortable now. Some of her physical and pretty much all of her mental exercise needs have been met for this day. Even terriers can be relaxed, calm and restful to be around. They just present more of a challenge in the brain stimulation department than many other breeds.


  1. I got a kick last night at watching these videos on YouTube .
    Thank you all for the work you all did while I was
    enjoying the waterparks and camp fire. Can't wait
    to take the "beast" for a drive:-)

  2. Pete will be looking over his left shoulder for a while, on the alert for Kerry Blue skydivers, but I could tell he enjoyed the chance to be part of any training exercise with Sydney and Sam. Speaking of whom, are there two more talented, dedicated teenagers anywhere?

    They've learned a lot more than obedience handling skills while at Applewoods, and they've brought much to the school, too. Calmness, perserverence, self confidence, and kindness are evident as they work with the dogs. In Pete's case, they've taught him to be proud of his accomplishments, and eager to learn more. Not incidentally, we have a civilized dog who is a pleasure to live with.

    Margot, you're the best! Keep posting those cool videos, please.

    Best regards, Peggy