Saturday, March 4, 2006

Scout Earns Canine Good Citizenship Title!

New Canine Good Citizenship Title! 
March 4, 2006
San Leandro, CA

Never Give Up

On Saturday, March 4, 2006, Scout, my nine year old (almost ten years old), Australian Shepherd/Pit Bull mix finally got her Canine Good Citizen certificate. I don’t say finally as if we made multiple attempts trying to complete the test. I say finally because of the long road it took to get here.

I adopted Scout as a six month old from a shelter. I had looked for several months to find that exact mix in a female because I wanted to do obedience and agility. We took several classes to start training. However, life takes turns that we do not expect. I lost my long-time job when the company was bought and moved out of state. I ended a long relationship, which also ended my current living situation. I got a series of jobs in another county that forced me to work nights and weekends, including moving a couple more times. Finally, about a year and a half ago I landed a job as an administrative assistant for an electrical contractor which gave me some stability. I could finally once again start to think about training Scout.

She was still in great shape and still had a very enthusiastic attitude. I felt I had to start with the CGC and regain a solid base of obedience. I knew, however, that I needed to work on several areas before I could even just get her into the test building. First, since she has always been a serious puller and is very strong, I have always walked her on a halter. She would have to learn how to walk on a flat collar and a loose leash. Second, she is very over reactive to noises and distractions, and has a tough time sitting still. Third, she has severe separation anxiety. I knew the out-of-sight exercise would be a bear.

Even with all of this in front of me, I decided that Scout deserved to finally have her chance in the sun. She had waited nine years to have her turn in the spotlight. I set out finding a trainer who could help me and to find a location for a CGC test. I had seen Dawn Bushong, another Mixed Breed Club member, at shows and I really liked how her dog worked. He was very happy and enthusiastic. I knew she lived nearby me. I emailed her to find out who the trainer was that she worked with. She said she worked a lot with another club member, Vicki Ronchette of Braveheart Dog Training (http://www.braveheartdogtraining.com/). I contacted Vicki, and she did have a CGC test coming up in a couple of months, which included seven weeks of training for the test. After I sent in my application with the money, I set out figuring out how to retrain Scout.

I live in an apartment complex that allows dogs, so I started out in front of my front door teaching her the heel position on the flat collar with treats. Since she is a total food hound, she picked up on this very quickly. Then I gradually increased the distractions by working out in the parking lot and then to the street. My fourteen year old cattle dog mix has a Mixed Breed CDX and several agility titles, so I scraped my memory for how I trained him in the heel position and started to apply that to Scout. That was the easy part. I then moved her to outdoor shopping centers and busy downtown streets, sometimes only doing heeling and downs for a couple of minutes before she would break down due to the distractions. I had it in my mind that I could not feel successful as a trainer at this point unless I was able to get Scout into a pet store. The first attempt was a disaster. It took a half an hour just to get her from the car in the parking lot, across the lot, and to outside the front of the store. She could not focus or sit still in anticipation of going into the store. I figured that once I had her focus only for a couple of brief times that I would end it there, and try again another time. It took two more attempts on two more weekends of constant repetition before I got her into the store, on a flat collar and on a loose leash walking at my side. The class started the following weekend. This was during the Christmas season, so the store and parking lot was extra busy. I’m sure there were a lot of people confused why I was putting so much time and effort into just walking into the store with my dog.

In the beginning, Scout did fairly well in the class. As expected, she had a hard time focusing and sitting still, but I was just barely able to keep her attention with the exercises we had previously learned. The out-of-sight exercise was horrible; she barked and whined the whole time. I noticed in class how many people were using clickers, and how successful they were with their dogs. I was familiar with the clicker technique, so I decided to try that with Scout. The results were amazing. I saw an instant change in Scout. She appeared to be a lot clearer about what we were trying to learn. She also seemed to enjoy figuring out how to get me to click that thing so she could get a treat. It turned into a new game for her. We tried it in the car with the whining and barking, and she caught on very quickly. I used the clicker in class, and there was a very noticeable difference in her response.

We passed the test, and now we are on to Rally with the same trainer. My favorite image is still looking at Scout’s very pretty face with her bright blue eyes without the halter. Sometimes the smallest most insignificant things can be the most important.