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Raika – Who’s the cutest??!!

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Raika – Who’s the cutest??!!

I’d like to talk about Raika.  The Leaping Lunatic.  Moderately neurotic, single minded and full of life.  The apple of my eye.  The cutest ever.

Welcome to my blog, Raika.

Raika doesn’t really deserve the amount of adoration I slavish upon her.  Raika has removed more hair from my head than any haircut.  She’s ripped my clothes, bruised my body, and bloodied my face.

When I get out of a chair Raika leaps up, desperately hoping for some action.  If I ask her to touch my hand she touches my hair.   She moves faster, thinks harder and cares more than any dog I’ve owned.  She is beautiful, engaged, and more than a little crazy.  Really, what sane dog dives to the bottom of a 9 foot swimming pool?  Raika does.

With so much drive, energy, and intelligence, what could possibly stand between Raika and true greatness in competitive obedience?

Well, two things.

The first is…competitive obedience.

You see, Raika  lives for variety, challenge, speed, interaction and athleticism – not exactly the hallmarks of competition obedience.  Unlike agility, where the participant is rewarded with a flat out rush of adrenaline, obedience is at most a hand touch and a heartfelt “good girl!” Adrenaline rarely comes into the picture.

Silent heeling with a predictable pattern?  Ho Hum.  Recall towards a stationary person who just left?  Big Yawn.  Signals –  In the same order one more time? How very clever.

I’m not saying Raika dislikes obedience.  She certainly loves to train, but she competes to make me happy – that is her nature.  Raika can no more intentionally disobey than a puppet can ignore it’s strings. Raika believes that to disobey could lead to disapproval, and disapproval could lead to homelessness, a fate she’s not interested in exploring. Unlike her daughter, Juno, Raika is genetically wired for relationship.  She was born watching me; predicting my moods, and eager to please.  I did not have to create a relationship with her, she created one with me.

When Raika realized there would be no ball in the ring, her energy dropped dramatically.  The reality of competitive obedience set in. Without a ball in the picture, she still worked, but the sparkle was missing.  I have no interest in competing with a dog that doesn’t want to play the game with me, so I felt a lot of personal pressure to make the ring more fun for her.

I removed all toys from her training and substituted ring objects – my goal was to make the ring experience as close as possible to training by having the ring objects become her toys.  We had a rough couple of weeks but pretty quickly she embraced her dumbell and gloves as substitutes.  Once this change was complete, her Open performances regained their sparkle and a bit of cheerful naughtiness.  Utility never regained the level of excellence that I knew she was capable of,  but on some days we came close.

The second thing that stood between Raika and competitive obedience was stress early in her career.

Raika taught me the importance of reading and recognizing emotional distress in dogs – the fruitlessness of trying to jolly up a dog who is seeing ghosts, and the potential long term damage of ignoring it – let me tell you right now, more “ring experience” will only make it worse.  Raika was nervous at AKC dog shows.  Her discomfort never showed up on the schutzhund field where she began her competition career.  She reserved it for the AKC environment, where she became flat and difficult to engage.  In spite of this, I went straight to trials with no matches, classes, or ring preparation to ease the way. I learned my lesson when she heeled backwards in her first novice trial, apparently under the illusion that the judge was a stalker who needed to be watched carefully.

Fate stepped in here in the form of a book; I ordered a copy of Control Unleashed after beginning to read it at a friend’s house.  The book made me uncomfortable.  Much of what I believed about obedience – perfect attention, no sniffing, “working through” stress;  these ideas were held up to inspection.  Contrary to common wisdom, here was a book telling me it’s ok if my dog chooses not to work.  Um.  Really?

Reading that book did more to change my training philosophy and respect for the dog than anything else I encountered in the prior 10 years.  So here’s to you, Leslie McDevitt.

Control Unleashed helped me to see work as a privilege – Raika was no longer allowed to work until she indicated that she was ready.  When she understood that she really had a choice, she always chose to work.  Sometimes she needed to check and make sure the gremlins were asleep, but then she worked.  She didn’t always perform with the edge I had in training, but she looked happy and beautiful.  And really, it was pretty darned good most of the time.

Here, you can see her for yourself.   This was her sixth run of the day at the National Obedience Invitational in 2010 – she was tired, but she gave me what she had, because that’s what Raika does:

When the quest for the OTCH began, I combined my respect for her emotional state with increased value for her ring objects. I learned to play between exercises, even if it created disapproval on a few faces.   I was there for her.

And she was there for me.

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

12 responses »

  1. She was born watching me; predicting my moods, and eager to please. I did not have to create a relationship with her, she created one with me.

    And you nurtured it – to the extreme! That is so very impressive. And watching you two in the ring(s) at the Invitational was great fun. I hope that I can be there (and ever evolving) for little Georgia, with your expert guidance…You have given us much to aspire to; thank you for that and for this informative post, Denise!

  2. Hi Denise,
    Can you elaborate on how Control Unleashed influenced your training/exhibiting, please? I have repeated struggled to read it and make sense of how to apply what she’s saying to anything with my own dogs/my training philosophy. *sigh*

    • There is a yahoo group called CU_Dogs where you can ask questions directly of Leslie and other experienced trainers who make use of CU. I highly recommend it!

  3. Raiki is my kind of dog, the kind I love. I lost a service Malinois two years ago; and she was easy to motivate; but like, Raiki, she trained herself to be my service dog. She would keep my shoes in her bed, and bring them to me, when I was getting dressed. It took her awhile to realize that I had two feet. She would brace herself, if I was down on the floor, and let me use her back to get up. She always put herself between me and any danger, she thought was a threat. I did not teach her those things. They seemed to come naturally.
    I don’t show any more; but I still train my dogs, as if they are going to show. We do not have to go for all the precision. Training is just a fun time for the both of us to engage.
    Thanks for sharing Raiki.
    I really wanted a Terv, but alas, alack, it will not happen. I am too old.

  4. Barb, The most important aspects were choice (don’t ask a dog to work when they are emotionally distressed), teaching dogs to look at their fears rather than relying on you (teach a look at that command and reward dog for looking at the thing, not at you), ,give the dog a break (in the middle of work, Repeatedly giving the dog a command that means they may now choose; more work or to take their own break) and working dogs under threshhold when they are in a potentially stressful environment.
    The way I just said all of that is simplistic, but it’s the best i can do without writing a book myself.

  5. “The Leaping Lunatic. Moderately neurotic, single minded and full of life. The apple of my eye. The cutest ever.” This is also Jade….. 🙂 You are right on in regards to trial environments. Jade, at this stage, is not ready for the obedience ring–it would have shut her down–she would have also been stressed, but…. the agility ring, trials and fun matches, brought out something I couldn’t do at home…….drive and excitement. I believe she was stressed a bit early on even in these situations, but now is starting to be much more confident in the whole environment.

  6. Kathy with Liz/Breeze/Cricket

    I hope one day you write a book or do a video, I have learned so much just by watching you and your training ;-), seeing a great example of how it should look and learning from all the help you do post and offer, I often think when I get stuck what would Denise do??? LOL, unfortunately I usually dont know, hahaha, but sometimes I can figure it out and it really helps! Kathy with Liz/Breeze/Cricket

  7. I’ve order Control Unleashed and will receive it from Amazon today. Maybe it will help me to unlock the great potential that I know is inside 8 year old Norton who only has 1 leg in Utility. Please pray for us…we don’t have alot of time left to show the world what he can do.

  8. Please, please write more on the topic on how you put Controll Unleashed into practice. It is something all of us with stressy dogs want to know more about. Love your new blog!!!!! Just viewed your post on training the puppy and loved your take on letting the dog decide to work. Anxiously waiting for more posts.

  9. I’m sure over time it will be discussed in various posts and videos.

  10. Oh man… you are so hard on yourself. Raika looked great. but i get what you are saying. I like that she jumps for reward. i use that a lot with Loki. I can see why she’s your heart dog!

  11. Hey – new time reader – and YES! I don’t have a lof ot experience. I always thought competitive obedience was so cool… I got my first purebred dog to trial and learned older methods. We were the number 1 novice dog in our breed and even in Front and Finish which was so cool to me at the time.

    I quit with 1 leg into Open because it wasn’t fun for me to always be correcting my dog and having him shut down and wince when I came toward him. Figured I would never be able to do obedience again cuz I didnt’ have what it took to “make” a dog competitive.

    I let him just be a dog and he was a wonderful companion and friend to me. I taught him dog tricks because there is no pressure… it’s fun and if a dog won’t do a trick for an audience, it’s more funny to everyone than it is corrective. I’ve always loved dog tricks for that reason – the fun of it.

    I have a new dog now (13 yrs later).. we started out with tracking – great fun – no negative experiences and so cool to see him do his dog nose thing! Then I watched Rally and thought I could cheer him thru… I still did NOT have a good, confident, sparkly performance and he really tuned me out in the ring. I knew I was missing something but didn’t know what – kept the training positive and went to a drop in class that focused on positive. We got a title.

    I went on to Novice obedience thinking I could get him thru it on my own. We did – he got his title… all his waits, come, stays were great but heeling really sucked. I tried the old pop him any time he wasn’t in heel position like I had learned but it seemed to make him shy away from me even more and shut down – I did that once and didnt’ repeat it. Didn’t want to go that same path. Again, I knew I was missing something or didnt’ have what it took.

    We got a puppy with “issues” – impulse control issues and fear issues — a person recommended Control Unleashed. And yeah – WOW. I’m not saying I fully get it or that I’m a great trainer – but it really really opened my eyes to the different ways of training and we are working on all sorts of new concepts. It’s really cool!

    Our problem dog is way better – not “fixed” yet but a lot better. My new competitive dog is now playing in agility and doing well – new to both of us so I have no preconceived notions or old habits.

    I’m taking an online trick class from Silvia Trkman… all positive, shaping, reward…. I still don’t understand it all but it is absolutely a step in the right direction and it’s great fun to see and ENGAGED dog learning and happy!

    A friend of mine, who I met back in the old days/old ways school of training and who has also had this revelation pointed me to your blog… I’m going to enjoy the stories and posts!

    Thanks so much… I just never knew it could be like this!


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