July 11, 2011

CGC Class -- Week One

A few days ago, I signed Kane up for a CGC class run through the doggy daycare he used to go to. I was going to wait until he was 2-3 years old and had finished maturing, but after Ellie and with my renewed purpose towards Kane, I decided now was as good a time as ever. Many of my friends are aware that I was just a little (or maybe a lot) nervous about how well he would do. He's never been in a formal class setting; everything he knows, I've taught him myself, and I wasn't sure how well he'd do with other dogs in such prolonged contact with him. He's reactive towards other dogs, in a friendly manner, and I was so sure his brain would liquefy right out of his head and I'd be one of THOSE owners with one of THOSE dogs.

But it went remarkably well overall, and I'm super-proud of my puppers. I'm exhausted so I'll copy-and-paste the rest of this.

There were two other dogs in the class: a lab/golden retriever mix and a samoyed. The lab mix was hyperactive, easily excited, and mouthy as all get out; he'd actually bruised his owner from his mouthing. The samoyed was better than the lab mix, but still easily excited and prone to the zoomies and she loved to BARKBARKBARK, especially when her owner wasn't doing what she wanted, lol.

Compared to those two, Kane was a saint, LOL. I'm a lot more confident in Kane's ability to pass the test now; I'm amazed at how well Kane did overall, considering this was his first class setting.

There was one incident at the beginning that has given me a lot to think about, though. I had agreed with the Samoyed Owner to allow our dogs to greet, also under the instructor's direction and supervision. The Samoyed was friendly, exuberantly so, and after doing a polite mutual sniff of genitalia and butts, she shoved her face right up into Kane's to sniff. Kane, however, did not appreciate that and stiffened and growled a warning.

I immediately redirected Kane, the Samoyed Owner did the same with her dog, and everything was cool. The instructor liked that we were both quick on the draw so to speak, but the incident had riled Kane up a bit and he was losing whatever focus he'd initially had (which wasn't much since this happened within the first 5 minutes of Kane's first class EVER). The instructor saw this and asked to take Kane.

He was having none of it. He wasn't shrieking or lunging back towards me, but he kept trying to pull towards me (I was only ~4-5 feet away during this entire episode). The instructor did a couple of leash corrections (not even hard enough to be termed a "pop") and he flattened his ears and plopped his butt down into a sit and licked his lips at her. Noticing this, she immediately stopped the leash corrections, reassured Kane with a couple soothing strokes to his ears, and then gave him a few "easy" commands to follow. He warmed back up to her a little, enough to happily respond to her clucks and follow her around for a bit, but it was obvious he still wanted to be with me instead. He was panting harder than he should have been, focused entirely on me except for when she clucked or waved food at him, and he always sat with his back to her.

After she got him settled to where he wasn't panting as hard or pulling towards me (although he still had his back to her), she asked me if I'd realized that even though he was a physically strong dog, he was mentally very soft. I said yes, I had, and explained to her why I thought he was that way, going into vague detail about my prior "training methods". And boy was that humiliating to say in front of everyone, even if the trainer reassured me that everyone makes mistakes and I'd obviously learned from them. She said that I was probably right about those methods causing his softness to some degree, but also thought that he was probably soft to begin with and those methods had simply exacerbated it even more. She trains mostly positive, using food as the primary motivator, but she does use leash corrections sometimes. That being said, however, she advised me to use leash corrections as a last resort, since Kane was so easily motivated by food and his ball, and the corrections might hurt his ability to focus. She also reassured me about Kane growling at the samoyed; that likely happened because this was Kane's first time in a class setting and he was a little worked up about everything, though she made a point to keep him from getting close to the other dogs after that.

I'm still worried about the growling. Kane is 19 months in two weeks; he's approaching adulthood as a bull-doggy and growing out of his puppy friendliness with everyone and everything. I'm 100% sure he'll be friendly to people for the rest of his life, but this is the second time he's growled at a rude dog in as many months (the first time was ~3 months ago when a lab also got in his face). Maturity is a prime time for his dog tolerance to change and I think that's what's happening. Any opinions?

After that it was smooth sailing!

I really can't get over at how focused he was. Once he realized he was there to train (despite the new setting and other dogs), he was 100% focused except for when the other dogs did something crazy. Like the Samoyed getting the zoomies, jerking her leash out of her owner's hand, and zooming around the room to do some impromptu agility obstacles while BARKBARKBARKing at how awesome everything and everyone was. Or like when the lab mix also short-circuited and decided that his owner wanted to be mauled and humped and tangled up in the leash.

Did I mention Kane was practically a saint compared to them? LOL.

Things I need to work on with Kane:

1) Heeling. I still haven't taught Kane heeling. The trainer was AMAZED at how well Kane did when I told her he didn't know how to heel, AFTER she told us to loose-leash/heel walk around the ring. And he did do a good job, although there were the occasional moments when he switched sides on me or decided he'd had enough of what I was asking him to do and he sat in front of me. Starting tomorrow, I'm going to teach him that when he's on just the flat collar, he has to heel; when he's in the harness too, he can do whatever he wants. Right now, he's the opposite; I have to work to get him to walk nicely on his flat but he automatically does great in a harness. Too bad you can't use a harness on the test. :( We're miles ahead of the lab mix who still pulls on the Gentle Leader his owner has him in.

2) Not auto-greeting in the friendly stranger and friendly stranger w/ a dog tests. He seems to think that if I talk to the person, it's okay for him to greet them (and their dog). Looking back, I reinforced that without being aware of it, so that'll be something new for the both of us.

But that's IT. Everything else went so smoothly!


  1. Why did the trainer use leash corrections? It sounds to me like that would have been a perfect time to simply walk him away, and let him close the distance between himself and you only when he was looser on the leash. At our first training class, a woman took Lola's leash and began to jerk it up to pop it, without asking me first, and I very nearly smacked her. I didn't go back. I think it's the height of rudeness to use punishment before you explain to the handler that you're going to be doing that, why you're using punishment, why you can't use a reinforcing method, etc.

    Most dogs start to change their outlook on sociality at about six months. Lola definitely seemed to turn overnight from dog-friendly to very dog-selective, at around the six month mark. I've heard however that just a few unfortunate incidents (rude dogs, stray dogs being aggressive, etc) can really rile up any latent DA in a breed prone to that.

    Well done on Kane being best dog there, too!

  2. @Sophie

    She used leash corrections because he wasn't allowing her to redirect him at that point. He was so riled up by the Samoyed and I imagine by the new environment that at that point, he was solely focused on getting back to me and nothing else. I didn't mind it because of that reason, and she stopped as soon as she'd broken his focus and worked on building that bond up with him again.

    Bully breeds are usually late to the game as far as dog tolerance changing. Their tolerance doesn't start to change until they approach maturity (usually around 2-3 years).

    And I think that having unfortunate incidents between your dog (whatever breed it is) and another dog can set up the dog to be defensively DA.