Written By Amie Chapman
It seems very fitting for Pixie to earn her first AKC Trick Dog title in the month of October, after all October is Trick or Treat season, but in Pixie’s case tricks earn her treats. During the last 7 months it has been challenging for Pixie to do training in places other than home, especially finding consistent training situations around other dogs to help with her comfort level around dogs she doesn’t know. Just recently some of the dog training schools have opened back up and I took the opportunity to sign Pixie up for a tricks class. My main goal for her was to increase her comfort and focus around other dogs, as dog distraction and comfort around strange dogs is still an issue for her. I was not necessarily interested in working towards earning AKC titles. But in true Pixie fashion she likes to choose her pace of learning and progressing.
The last class we took consistently was the scent work class last December and even though she learned some new skills there, she was not very comfortable in the environment. She was timid and took some encouragement to be on task. Fast forward to now 10 months later and she is a very different dog. This class is in a very similar environment, a warehouse where sound echoes and mirrors along two of the walls, not an environment that she has a lot of experience in. Her first class she was a little on edge as we walked in, especially when looking in the mirror at herself. But she quickly settled in and was the most focused I have ever seen her in a new place with another dog close by her. There is only one other dog in class, which has made things a little easier on her.
I was not fully aware that we had the option of testing for a title during the class. We are allowed to learn at our own pace and choose when we are ready for testing if we choose to do so. We were given a list of commands or tricks that can be used at the novice level and well Pixie already knew about half of them. To earn a novice title she had to do 10 tricks or cues from the list or the option of a handler’s choice. The first class we tried some new ones on the list that she didn’t know and we practiced the ones she did know at home.
After practicing at home the night before our second class I decided to go ahead and ask to be tested at the next class. When we showed up for class she was calm, focused and ready to work. We rehearsed each trick for the first part of class and then told the instructor that I felt like she was ready to test. I gave the instructor my list of 10 tricks/cues and one by one she asked us to perform them as a team. Most of the things we had to execute twice to prove that she understood what the trick was. At the novice level we were allowed to use rewards after each trick as a reinforcement before moving on to the next one.
The 10 tricks that I chose for Pixie were
- Sit with a hand signal only, absolutely no verbal cue allowed.
- Touch a target with her nose
- Shake hands
- High Five
- Get in a box and sit
- Paws up (just her front feet on a platform and hold the position)
- Get on (all 4 feet on a platform and hold the position)
- Jump (over a hurdle)
- Go to bed (sent to a mat and lay down)
- Find it (she had to locate a treat under a cone, 3 cones were set up and only 1 had a treat under it.)
Pixie executed each task with no issues. She was focused the entire time and eager to do what I was asking. She is really showing major improvement with her maturity, ability to focus, and comfort level in new situations. Working towards a title has caused me to focus as well. It is easy to get into a rut with training and continue to work on the same things. When Pixie was younger she would sometimes get frustrated during training sessions and just lay down or walk away. So I stopped trying to work on more challenging tasks with her, I didn’t want her to dislike our training sessions together. I had to wait it out until she was ready to work on more complex things. She has always liked to work on tasks that come easy to her. If she couldn’t figure out what I was asking, that is when she would get frustrated and quit. Recently I have tried more complex things with her and she is definitely more receptive to trying. I’m able to do more repetitions with her without her choosing to stop and do longer training sessions with her as well. I have said this before but I will say it again.
By signing Pixie up for this class we are both being challenged to try more. My dog training experience is mostly puppy training, teaching the basics. Training Pixie to do more advanced things and helping me with my needs is new territory for me. Other than teaching my previous dog Eli some fun tricks, I haven’t trained anything more than basic skills. As a puppy raiser for other organizations I was limited in what I was allowed to train. I have gone to a few expos and taken different types of training classes to increase my knowledge of how to train Pixie. Each class we take together increases our ability to be a better functioning team.
Pixie chooses how fast she wants to progress in her training, I’m not in any rush. As long as Pixie keeps improving and showing me she wants to work, we will keep training and moving forward. Some dogs are fully ready to work by a year and half – 2 years, Pixie was not, she needs more time to continue to mature and I’m totally ok with that. I’m still confident that I will be able to remove her “in training” cape soon. I’m very proud of how far this shy and timid girl has come. She continues to surprise me at times and I’m sure she will continue to. Now the question is, can we together learn and execute 10 more complicated tricks in the 3 weeks to earn an Intermediate tricks title before our class session is over.