Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sassie Joiris Seminars

July has been a really busy month, I've had something planned every weekend so I'm just now getting around to posting about the two seminars by Sassie Joiris that I hosted here in NC in conjunction with Paws 4 Ever in Mebane, NC.

I have been wanting to bring Sassie down here for a couple of years but had to wait until July 10 and 11 to see it finally happen. Truth be told, I was just as excited to meet Sassie in person as I was to host her seminar. I first "met" Sassie online through her blog ( a few years ago and was immediately drawn to her way of training dogs and people. Sassie doesn't follow anyone's rules when training--except one which she shared with us on Sunday in the Agility ABCs seminar--she considers the situation and the individual and then draws from her experience and knowledge to come up with a way to train whatever needs training. She's one of those rare individuals who isn't afraid to think outside the box and I doubt she's ever given up on anything that she's decided to do.

On Saturday there were about 30 people present for the Talented Tricks seminar. Some were experienced dog trainers, some were people who had never been to a dog training seminar in their lives. Everyone seemed to be fascinated with watching Sassie's demonstrations of the way she trains her dogs and then in trying out those methods themselves.

Sunday's seminar was billed as "Agility ABCs" and again had a good mix of experienced and novice trainers. During Sassie's lecture/presentation she shared her one rule of dog training. I hope I'm not giving away an state secrets if I share it with you now ;-) Sassie never asks her dog(s) to do anything for her. Rather she offers them the opportunity to work with her. Meantime they all have access to each other and according to Sassie, "an obscene number of toys" 24 hours a day. And yet they struggle to be chosen to work with her for a treat or two.

The "secret" to developing this kind of focus and drive to work is fairly simple. You play with the dog and if they get distracted by something or someone else, you withdraw your attention and sometimes your presence. And it works! We did this with dog after dog, all ages, all breeds and time after time the dogs would start out working and then get distracted (sometimes with Sassie's help) so the handler would leave the room and stay out until Sassie called them back. Soemtimes it would take just one or two absences, sometimes many more (the younger the dog, the more quickly they learned that inattention to the handler caused the handler to leave the room)but each dog learned to keep their focus on the handler.

I've since used this with Zodi whenever I work her outside where she's very likely to get distracted by the sounds and smells of the nearby wildlife, people driving up in their cars, etc. And even inside she'll sometimes decide not to return the toy to me when I throw it for her so I get up and leave the room and even though she's in there with that toy and the others, when I come back in she's sitting there not doing anything. I'll then throw the toy again in just the same way and she'll bring it right back to me.

And I even used it at agility run-thrus last weekend which are in a large field. As I removed her leash at the startline she took off to investigate and I left the ring closing the gate behind me. I just stood there neutrally in plain sight until she came ans stood by the gate for about 30 seconds. I went back in again and she again took off to go look at a bar setter so I left again but this time stood behind a a large young man so she couldn't see me. The third time I went in she was glued to my side, did a very nice stay at the startline and a few nice sequences, too.

I'm so excited to have some way to fiind a way to foster the kind of focus and desire to work with me that I've been able to develop in my ohter dogs just by rewarding them for their attention. Zodi has just never fit that mold. There were times whenI could have had a ribeye in each hand and she still would have ignored me. Now I feel perfectly comfortable using normal treats and toys knowing that I have a very clear way to communicate to her what I want.

So, thanks, Sassie, I was close to giving up with her and now I can imagine us actually being able to compete in agility one of these days.