Class was again very good. Kathy is a methodical and organized instructor. She has a solid ability to watch and provide feedback to several students at once. She remembered where we were last week, so noticed Gimme's big improvement with the pivot platform on my right and how much her pivots had improved.
At one point we'd finished the exercise, so Gimme and I were reviewing her independent pivot behavior (i.e. not tied to heel position). Gimme was a little frustrated and was "talking" to me with a whining tone. Kathy asked me about the noise and what it meant. I told her I thought Gimme was a bit frustrated. Kathy reminded me, if I'm still using a prop to get a behavior, I should break off and do something entirely different before using the same prop to get a different behavior so as not to confuse Gimme. Well duh, I should have known it...
We started class by reviewing the things we worked on last week and seeing where we are now. As I said, Gimme had a huge improvement and was able to demonstrate it well, even in the distracting class setting. Kathy teaches the side pass based on the pivot with the dog's front feet as the pivot point. Its an interesting way to teach it, one I'd never seen before. She said the advantage to this method is the dog moves their rear end toward you and then their front end, so you don't end up with a dog with a side pass done at a 45° angle, where the front end stays with you and the rear end lags. Kathy also said a side pass is a totally unnatural behavior physically speaking, so once you are actually side passing, never do much at one time.
She had us start with the footwork for a 90° pivot. We move our inside foot (the one closest to the dog) 90° to a point in front of the dog. As the handler steps the outside foot up to join the inside foot, the dog will pivot their rear into position parallel with you, as they turn their front feet. The 90° step starts teaching the dog the physical cue for the side pass, by creating exaggerated hip and knee movement. If you are doing
it correctly, it takes four 90°
pivots to do a circle.
After you have done this a few times, you switch to a 45° pivot. It is all the same, except you move your foot 45° instead of 90°. This will create a hip and knee movement which is a bit more subtle than before. Your dog will notice these hip and knee movements and they become a physical cue for a side pass toward you. Obviously it takes eight 45° pivots to do a circle.
When you are ready to actually work on the side pass, you will turn your inside foot as if to take the 45° step, but instead of placing the foot in front of your dog, you'd place it in front of or past your outside foot. The dog will "read" your hip/knee cue and start pivoting her rear behind/toward you and then when they realize you aren't in front of them, they'll move their front end over to remain in "heel" or "side" position. Thus you train a side pass where the dog leads with their rear and develops a habit which doesn't degenerate to the 45°angled side pass.
Kathy then demonstrated four different ways we could use this physical cue to do a side pass, showing us different ways to dance in a side pass. Its intriguing. Gimme isn't ready for the side pass, so we just practiced the 90° and 45° pivots with my foot work. She does it better when she's on my left, but did pretty darn good on the right.
Another thing I did in class was to be very conscientious about not doing all the work for Gimme about relaxing in the class setting. I realized over the weekend at the barn hunt trial (which I've not yet blogged about), I'm doing all the work for Gimme and its getting to where it takes more and more from me. Its a bad habit I've fallen into.
Last year I noticed Gimme was really unable to relax when we were out and about. So based on Kathy's advice, I took Gimme out for some relaxation walks. This is just me walking 100 feet and then stopping and standing or sitting in one place and waiting until Gimme relaxed on her own before moving on. She actually picked it up very quickly. Unfortunately I haven't stuck with it and haven't done enough of it in different, less calm settings. So I've fallen into a bad habit of managing her behavior with lots of treats and such. Managing her is doable, but it also means Gimme never relaxes, which is ultimately stressful and tiring (for both of us, eh).
So today was the first of my planned instances where I will just wait for Gimme to relax. She was doing a lot of pestering and hinting, trying to get me to pay up like she is accustomed to. I just repeated to her, "relaxation is its own reward", and waited. Gimme thinks this new mantra is a load of horsey poopy. However, she did get more settled. She was still pestering and hinting from time to time, but overall was much more relaxed than she has been this year. At times she needed a hug from me, for reassurance. I think its entirely normal with such a big change. Whenever she was close enough and calm, I made sure to stroke her. She's very tactile, so this is a reward which actually supports a calm state.
I think this will pay big dividends as she learns to relax and calm herself in public and other challenging situations. I look at it as part of the process for her to grow up, where she takes more responsibility for her own emotional state. I also plan to get back into practicing the relaxation protocol. Its more boring than dirt, but I know its good for high mental energy dogs.
We met up with Tonya on the way home to get more flower essences for the both of us, body work for Gimme and a very quick communication session. Tonya noticed how much quieter Gimme was in the car and when she communicated with her how much calmer her mind was. These things are all coming together methinks.