It’s been almost 2 months since Risa left this world. Grief still washes over me from time to time. I still miss rubbing her neck ruff and placing my face where her muzzle met her head and just breathing in her scent. My face fit perfectly right there. . .like a matching puzzle piece. I’m pretty sure Kyu is handling it better than I am but there is no doubt things changed between the two of us after her passing. Partially because the little empath knows when I’m upset even if he doesn’t know why. And because the household dynamic changed.
It feels like fall is failure time when it comes to training Kyu. I struggled with his training last autumn as well. (Likely due to a different stressor: job loss. I’m beginning to hate October.) He’s a very different dog than Risa and, for this, I’m mostly thankful! He’s really a delightful little dog who’s super playful and fun to be around. He’s also very easy to live with even if he is overly obsessed with squirrels and other dogs (it’s a work in progress). I know he and I got off to a bit of a rocky start but, truly, I love the little one.
I knew he would come with his own set of challenges (as we all do!) that would force me to become a better trainer. After all, his predecessor did the same. She forced me to rethink what I thought I knew, learn more, and adapt. Kyu is following in her mighty pawprints. <3 Whereas I struggled with Risa's life skills (yay for fear and reactivity!), Kyu and I are struggling with his sport training. I didn't realize it at the time, but Risa was a very forgiving dog when it came to training. She could take very little information from me and, somehow, figure it out. She was also willing to keep going and keep trying (yay for herding/working breeds!). I recently found one of our old videos of a shaping session and OMG I have no idea how she even figured out what I was asking for! LOL. She worked hard through silence and me staring off into space giving her no input whatsoever and, amazingly, managed to come up with the behavior I wanted. Yikes! I'm so glad I'm much better at shaping behaviors now! Risa would also work for long periods of time and just keep going with it. This was pretty reinforcing for me, too, as I also enjoy the training process!
Kyu is not like that. While he can train for longer periods of time, he’s not going to work on the same thing for a half hour. Even if I switch things up and only work on each thing for a short period, he’s still not going to be into the game as much as Risa was. He is also incredibly sensitive to my moods and picks up on my frustration even more readily than Risa did (and she was also very sensitive). I’m also finding he needs things to be very clear or he’s likely to just give up. He doesn’t want to be “wrong” (moreso because of how I respond even though I try my best to make sure he realizes it’s not a big deal) so he will just stop if it’s unclear what I want. Which, of course, is hard for me because I’m human and it feels like my dog doesn’t want to work with me! I can objectively realize that it’s just information that I can use going forward in training. . .but that’s often hard to do in the moment!
So I’m trying to figure out how to best train him so that I get the results I want and he is a happy and engaged partner. It’s hard. I’m finding it difficult to use some of the methods that have worked with Risa (and my students’ dogs) to train him. He loves to play and he loves to play WITH me (not just with toys) so I have that advantage. But it’s sometimes hard to incorporate play into training when I’m not used to doing so. I’m trying to watch and read his body moreso and be more mindful of breaking down the behaviors into smaller pieces so he can be successful and not frustrated. AND also to recognize when he’s “non-compliant” that maybe he really doesn’t know it as well as I thought and/or we haven’t worked on it in ages so maybe we should start at an earlier part of the process before I just assume he’s still got it. I’m also getting a little sneaky and trying to work it into our moments of play (either with toys or personal). Asking for a spin before I toss frizzee or something. I’m also trying REALLY hard to reward him for effort even if it’s wrong. Anything he tries = reinforcement of some kind. THIS IS HARD. Even though I know “wrong” is just information. Even though I know I want to keep training in the happy bucket (thanks, Amy Cook!) and focus on his attitude more than his performance/precision. Even though I know that he will not learn the “wrong thing” if I reward the “wrong thing” because I’ll change my training session accordingly so he doesn’t keep doing the “wrong thing. . .” IT IS HARD.
I know he’s going to make me a better trainer just like Risa did. And I know he’s going to be an amazing, talented, and wonderful performance dog. It is just going to take some time. I was patient waiting for Risa to be ready (ha ha, okay, no I wasn’t but I still waited!). I have to do the same for Kyu.