I often share with my students, “Shrek can do that, and he knows nothing!”

What I mean is that Shrek only knows lots of “bits”. Even though I practically live at an agility training facility, I do not actually train my dogs all that much or often. By the time my break rolls around, or I get home at night, I spend a lot more time just being with my dogs. Somewhere along the way, however, my dogs do learn to be fantastic teammates – in and outside the agility ring!

Today was one of those rare days when I did nothing for other people, I took my youngest dog out with family for just a normal day. We walked up and down Little Mountain. This was no big deal, Shrek goes for walks all of the time! He can walk nicely on a leash. That’s not really a bit – that’s a tool nowadays. Loose leash walking is a life-skill that will always be needed, but it was nice to see that Shrek could maintain that composure even if people or dogs passed by. I don’t know when that changed, but apparently some “bits” fell into place there.

During the walk down the mountain, Shrek’s name was called (not by me) because treats were being handed out. Shrek said “oh! I know that game”, and immediately tried to offer his focus every 2-3 steps to see if I would engage. Some more “bits” showing up. 🙂 I did oblige him and accepted his offer with some petting, praise, and even a treat, but I did urge him that he was indeed “all done” and that I didn’t need him to work right now. We were just out for a walk. This is another important “bit” for me – you are allowed to just be a dog and sniff the ground if you want. If we are out for a walk, we are out for a walk – no need to work, just enjoy yourself!

Before lunch, I thought I’d see if he would offer work on the side of the street in downtown Mt. Vernon… he was pretty tired from the walk and I could tell, but he was able to offer focus, engage (though a much more mild version of our typical engagement), and when people needed to pass us, he was able to down and hold his position until released. Say what?! A down “stay” with duration and distraction (I was kneeling beside him), in a new location. Pinch me!

We chose a restaurant for lunch that let dogs join you if you sat outside on the deck. Awesome! Shrek has never had a meal with me outside of my home, and boy, was he totally overwhelmed. He wasn’t interested in begging for food, but he was interested in smelling every single inch of that deck. Needless to say, he didn’t settle down much, even though he was pretty tired. A train zoomed by twice, only about 20-25 feet from our table. Though slightly concerned, he was not fearful, and bounced back immediately both times. He never laid down, so we have some more “bits” to work on there, but I look forward to trying it again sometime in the future.

As if he hadn’t had enough after that, we drove across the bridge to the Highland Games. Again, that loose-leash walking tool was pretty handy! And, another “bit” that was successful – do not try to wiggle and greet every single dog you see. Being a public and family event, there were a lot of pet dogs on pinch collars and flexi’s (never used at the same time that I saw), and of course, that means not-so-savvy-dog-people and likely-untrained-pets. Shrek was super at sticking close to me, and continuing to check in every so often if he saw something that concerned him. He alert barked at something once, and I’m still not sure if it was a noise, a movement, or a dog. But he recovered quickly.

When we came home, Shrek slept for 2.5 hours before he was ready to get up again. After (human) dinner and another mile walk, I thought I would see if I had any dog left for some (gasp!) agility training! This means, working on offering the jump and some tunnels.

It started out fabulous. Shrek offered immediate focus and engagement, and he wanted to TUG. I always know I can get my best work out of him if he feels comfortable enough to play with toys. Don’t get me wrong, he loves FOOD, but I think he values TOYS more for skills that require lots of movement, which I pretty much want in agility 😉 He did a tunnel, tugged, then I got on the ground for offering the jump, he did a couple, and the third one, something caught his eye. He left to sniff and apple tree. I gently interrupted him and tried to re-engage him, but that was obviously a fail. He was more interested in investigating than working. Again he ran over to the apple tree, and what do you think he found? APPLES. Do you know what apples look like? BALLS. Do you know that Shrek has a ball fetish? He grabbed an apple and took off. First, I thought that if I got close enough, I could trade him – appleball for treat. Nope. As soon as I got close enough to him to offer a treat, he bit down (he loves to chew on balls). Now, this appleball tastes really good too! He was hooked, and I was feeling a bit defeated (for about 15 seconds).

So, what does one do? Chase your dog around until you can trick him or tackle him? Wait him out until he eats the entire apple? There are plenty more where that came from! Sit quietly getting eaten by mosquitoes until he gets bored?

None of these options would have worked for Shrek, or any dog, I think. So, here’s what I did:

  1. I grabbed a couple of apples of my own. I tossed them up and down, I ran around with them, I made them move like a toy – anything I could do to get Shrek to drop the one he had out of his mouth, and then, he was rewarded with a thrown apple. This went on for (probably) 7-8 minutes before he finally was enjoying the game well enough that I could interject myself. So, step 2:
  2. When I was ready to reward a dropped apple with a thrown apple, I threw it close enough to my body that I could “beat” him to it, and began moving it around like a toy, letting him bite at it, and tugging on it a bit. He thought this was great fun! I was able to ask for his release cue “all done”, and he earned a treat for that (my ticket back “in”, y’all!). On to step 3:
  3. A student of mine has been teaching me about “soft mouth” with bird-dog training. I’ve found this work fascinating since Shrek’s desire to bite down/chew/grip things is pretty strong (just ask Liz about DaddySmokey!). This training has been teaching Shrek to hold things in his mouth without chewing on it like bubblegum. So, you guessed it – step 3 was “soft mouth” game with the apples. SCORE! Shrek quickly understood that apples were just another thing we can put in our mouth and not chew. Whew! I was feeling MUCH better by this time. Step 4:
  4. I then used the apples as the reward for “offering the jump”. I went right back to where I left off, he immediately offered a jump and we had a major party with the apples. I then leashed him up, gave him an “all done”, and we took a break. Step 5:
  5. I let him eat an apple while someone else did agility training, and I ignored him while he ate the apple and while I watched the other team work. Step 6:
  6. My boy Shrek got pretty bored with that apple. He had three available to him by leash, but he barely finished eating one before he wanted attention from me. Score! I gladly accepted his invitation and started with some simple tricks (down and rollover) for treats. He seemed pretty pumped, so on we went to step 7:
  7. Leash removal and treat. He immediately pounced at me (total engagement), and a produced a toy of MY choice to return to the same set up that he had originally left me at. And holy crap, was he amazing. He totally blew me away. Resuming offering the jump, a couple of left/right circles, and a tunnel. We played and played and played, leashed up, gave an “all done”, and walked away with my 8.5 month old PRT wanting more.

This was a pretty lengthy process. I think it ended up being 45 minutes to an hour from the first leash removal to the last “all done”, but it was so worth it. I learned so much about my dog, so much about myself, and so much about the importance of choice. I had other options. I could have been mad, or frustrated, or crying that my dog wanted apples more than he wanted me, but at the end of the day, that wasn’t true. When Shrek was given choices, he (and I) was WAY more successful than if I had chased him down and tackled him. Our relationship and understanding of each other grew today. Today, lots of different bits and tools, and choices were used, and I am certain that he will continue to “know nothing” and still know everything at the same time.

Photo Credit to Agility Gallery