I blogged in may about a trial that had not gone well. I posted "We need to start to build duration, reduce the reinforcement schedule and be a lot stronger about maintaining criteria. I also need to figure out how to do all that while keeping things fun and reinforcing for both of us".
Further reflection led me to believe I needed to adjust my expectations. The connection and relationship is where I need to put my energy. The precision fine tuning and reduced reinforcement schedule will need to come much later in this process. This is a reply from Denise Fenzi to a frustrated session I had with Stella. "Play. A tiny bit of work. Play. Work. etc. If she can stay engaged and playful in public, then she can work. And you will find that is just as hard to get five minutes of continuous play as it is to get five minutes of continuous work. That's because they are both forms of engagement, and engagement (which excludes the environment) is a big deal".
That was a HUGE lightbulb moment for me and all of a sudden I just let stuff go and got back to enjoying working my dog. Stella also finished her season which helped a lot and I have seen a wonderful, steady improvement in our working relationship over the past few months. She has just turned two and we have lots of time ahead to enjoy our journey.
Heeling games has been great for us. We have always enjoyed playing together but now we have learned to use that play and movement to create energy and reduce pressure. Various "games" help keep things fun and interesting. We are creating joy for working together as well as developing muscle memory for that happy healing position. The course describes heeling as "an intense, exciting dance between engaged partners requiring absolute concentration and energy to be performed well. When heeling is practiced as a series of specific behaviors – left turns, right turns, change of pace, etc, the dance is lost. This class will teach you how to practice heeling as a game – with the end result that your performance will be sharper, more interesting, and with much improved focus and endurance".
Here is a video I have done showing Stella and I working on some our our heeling games while camping last month. Sorry the lighting is a bit dark but it was stinking hot so I had to wait until after the sun went down to do any work.
There are lots of great online courses being offered at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy on a wide range of dog sports. I am currently doing our first working spot in Ob-ility and also auditing the Ring Preparation course. I feel these courses are a great compliment to training with my wonderful "real-life" instructor.