Monday, January 4, 2016

Miley's Training Routine

Continuing on from my last post, in order to increase Miley's confidence and put that working relationship back together, I had to completely reassess our training routine.  What wasn't working was sort of blasting through a continually lengthening list of behaviors and exercises that spanned two sports and a strength training routine.  This worked fairly well when I had two dogs, but not so much with one young dog.  My pattern was to have one on a down stay while I worked with the other on an exercise.  Then I would swap them and continue on in this manner through however many exercises I was shooting to get through.  It killed two birds with one stone by allowing me to essentially train two dogs at once.  While one was getting direct training, the other was getting their down stay proofed.  I loved it, and our training sessions would easily last an hour.  The problem with moving down to one dog is that those down stay proofing periods are basically eliminated.  Miley could handle it at first, but I let it get to a point where everything was too much for her and we had a training plan that was no longer functional.
Miley and I each had our own little break downs.  Her's was predominantly hormone and situationally (losing Heffner) induced.  Mine was basically a big ole brain fart.  One of those situations that if it weren't happening to me and someone came to me asking what to do, I would most likely have some advice that they could follow.  Advice that I should definitely follow.  But because I was caught up in my own head, I couldn't find a way out of this hole on my own.  So I wailed to a couple of friends who helped to gently get me going in the right direction.  I backed off of Miley and we did a lot of fun outdoorsy things.  Lots of walks all over.  Hiking, some light jogging and lots of trips to the lake. Aside from our weekly agility class, we basically stopped training.
After some time had passed, I gradually started adding back in light training sessions.  Only about two minutes TOPS.  And we worked on things that I knew she liked.  Hand touches were one of her favorites.  I would try to capitalize on times of the day when she was higher on energy and pestering me to play with her.  Naturally, this was usually when I was trying to get something else done and "calously" ignoring her. ;) I decided that if the little Sassy Pants wants attention, then she's going to need to do a little something for it.  I also had to do a slight mental adjustment and accept the fact that training time wasn't going to be on my schedule for a while.  And it worked splendidly!  First she was a little confused.  Was I trying to play with her or trying to sneak in some training?  If her confusion went on for longer than 20 seconds or she seemed to start "melting," then training was done for the day and I would just grab a toy and play with her or wrestle with her.  After a few days, there was no melting.  We were able to get through simple things just fine.   So I decided to up the anty a little bit again and bring out items that she could choose to interact with in a way that I knew she already knew how.  Again, only for a couple of minutes and if she acted confused for too long or started to melt, then we were done for the day.  Gradually that built up and I could present her with the dumbbell and she would go through a routine of being sassy and trying to get me to play with her without interacting with the dumbbell.  She knew what I wanted her to do and we got to a point where she did finally take the dumbbell.  Huge party!!  I did manage to get a little video at the time of the routine that she would go through and I'll put it together with other clips of where she's at currently with various dumbbells and articles, in a later post.

Bit by bit, we were able to build up our training time and I was able to adjust the timing of training so that it was more convenient for me.  You know, as in, not ten minutes before I needed to be out the door for work.  As our training sessions improved, so did Miley's performance in both our obedience lessons and agility class.  Total positive reinforcement for me!  With all these improvements and all these things that I wanted to work on, I started to feel overwhelmed with all that there was to do.   Thankfully, before my head exploded, I decided to sit down and take a more calculated approach to our training sessions.  I know that Miley has a limit to how much training time she can handle in a day.  She's still young and there's only so much mentally and physically that I want to ask of her.  Hormones aside, I don't want her to get back to a point where training isn't as much fun.  So I sat down and made a list of the various disciplines that we're focusing on; obedience, agility, conditioning and tricks.  Within those four disciplines, I made an unlimited list of the behaviors/exercises that we need to work on.  For each behavior/exercise, I broke them down into manageable parts that I would eventually chain together.  For example, the recall exercise for obedience involves a stay, a run to front, a sit in front and a finish.  This makes the recall exercise a lot more manageable than trying to precisely nail all those parts together at once!  Once I had my list, I prioritized the exercises and behaviors to make them more manageable and less overwhelming for me.  While I totally could, I'm not going to worry about directed jumping right now.  Of the highest priority exercises/behaviors from each discipline, I then divided them up so that I was only working a couple exercises/behaviors a day from each.  I would then rotate each training day what I was working on with Miley.  This kept our training sessions relatively fresh, kept her interested and gave me the feeling that we were accomplishing something.  So far it's been working out really well for us and I've been seeing some great improvements in working attitude, the exercises themselves and the bond between Miley and I.  I'm definitely a happy lady!

Let me know your thoughts on what has worked well for you and your dog!  And Happy New Year everyone!! :)

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