HOMER IS HOME. I would have updated sooner, but my internet was out again yesterday (which means ANOTHER week without the training update - and agility was cancelled due to rain, too). I don't have any details at all except that he was found. Thanks for your good wishes!
I'm very excited to announce that I taught my first class with my dog club Monday night as an assistant. It's a non-competitive agility class, where the dogs learn the basic obstacles without the competition skills. There are only three dogs in the class - a GSD mix, a Papillon, and a Lab mix. A fourth is slated to join us next week.
The Lab mix is a nervous girl. I knew it right away when I saw her - big eyes, ears back, tail low, tip-toeing. So, I kind of leapt at the chance to work with her and was put in charge of her for the night. She had taken this class before, but still was having a lot of trouble with the tunnel.
I started by simply going over to her, crouching down, lowering my head and letting her come up to sniff. She realized pretty quickly that I wasn't going to try to pet her, but was just going to throw bits of turkey her way.. we progressed all the way for her to come up and bop my hand with her nose. She seemed to learn quickly, as she didn't know "touch" before I started teaching her it. I informed her owner that "touch" was particularly good for fearful dogs as it lets them dictate the terms on which they interact with a person (without the invasive petting).
We moved the tunnel off to the side of the room so that the other dogs could practice jumping and recalls while we worked. I scrunched up the tunnel really small and it was evident that this dog was seriously afraid of it, giving herself a lot of room from it. Once we got her in to the vicinity of it, I told her owner: baby steps, lots of cookies, lots of praise. We ended up getting her to put 3/4 of her body in to the tunnel.. the most that she had done so far. When we were finished, she was still curious and investigating it. We ended with a fun session of running through the uprights, which she seemed to like. When she saw the other dogs going through it later, she was very interested in watching them.
I was going to introduce the clicker to see if that would help her at all, but I decided that the extra noise might not be a good thing, and told her owner to try it at home first.
She has a LOT of object and sound fears. She is afraid of the tunnel and the (very low) A-Frame, and would not jump when I put the bar up to 8". Hearing a dog scramble up the A-Frame sent her in to a tizzy. So did the hula hoops dropping on the floor. Agility can really go either way with a dog like this.. some soak it all in, and others really struggle. Her owner is also a bit over-concerned about giving her too many treats, which, of course, will be to the dog's detriment. The biggest thing with new trainers is that they really don't understand right away that treats are an integral part of getting the dog to associate the activity with something fun. It will be interesting to see how this sensitive girl and the others progress.