Last week, I was fortunate enough to be able to make the seven hour trek to sunny, southern California to teach a "Drive Development for Competitive Dog Sports" workshop.
The workshop, co-hosted by Independent Ringers South (IRS) and Maximum Power Kennels (Kraig Guay), was organized by long time sports friend Kadi Thingvall of Dantero Kennels. Kadi did a fabulous job of putting this workshop together in short order. With just a month of lead time the workshop was well attended, and well organized. The facility grounds in Valley Center proved to be a perfect venue, with manicured lawn grass and plenty of shaded parking. It is one of those fields dog trainers just drool over!
That shaded parking was incredibly helpful to me as a teacher as I didn't have to stress about my personal dogs getting too warm while I was teaching.
Thursday afternoon I packed up my gear (including five dogs and "Coconut" the cat) and at 5:30am Friday morning I hit the road to drive seven hours from Sonoita, Arizona to San Diego, California. Unfortunately, my originally planned 3:00am start time to leave my house wasn't quite met, so I did run into a bit of heat driving through the desert. Having a dog trailer is incredibly handy for road trips, and all arrived safe and sound in San Diego.
This was a particularly edgy trip for me, as I had Hydro in tow for his first real road trip since returning home. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, check out my blog on my sister site at www.bajadogtraining.com and click on the blog link. Fortunately, Hydro did great! I had to exercise quite a bit of thoughtful caution to manage his arousal levels (such as only potty walking in strategically quiet areas), but overall I was quite pleased with his progress.
My other dogs that came along for the ride were: Jeronimo (10 month old Malinois bred by Les Ombres Valeureux), Snap the Pitbull (shelter dog extraordinaire), Seamus the Famous (Border Collie bred by B & B Border Collies in Texas), and one show bred AKC Border Collie (owned by a client). I love road trips, as it allows me to get the dogs out at a variety of places, accustom them to hotel rooms, frequent potty breaks, and working in new environments.
With all dogs walked and fed, I settled in to the hotel with Snap, Seamus and Coconut (who has traveled with me before and is a pro). Fortunately, the hotel had great parking right outside my exterior entrance so I could keep an eye on the dog trailer.
Saturday morning I woke bright and early, walked and fed all of the pooches, loaded up and drove to the facility in Valley Center. Brenda Arao was studiously finishing paperwork, checking in attendees, and overall keeping the wheels greased. Big shout out to Kraig who was kind enough to pick up Starbucks en route. I would simply die without coffee.
I kicked the morning off with some lecture; my normal spiel on training theory, drive work, "Thinking vs. Reactionary State", "Stim Scale", etc. It was nice to see many familiar faces from the sport dog world, and the Search and Rescue scene.
Julie Kirk-Purcell was in attendance again with her little Malinois, Xero. I so appreciate those who have sat through my lectures, and still manage to glean information from the lecture and workshops. This was Julie's third time working with me, and so rewarding to see marked improvement. It was great meeting several Search and Rescue handlers who were interesting in "upping their game", as it takes time, dedication, and tons of out of pocket money to travel to these workshops. I know, as I have done many of them over the years (and still do) to improve my skills.
Equally rewarding was the opportunity to work with the local AKC obedience and agility folks. I have noticed a trend as of late in traditional AKC sport handlers branching out to acquire drive development skills. Many thanks to Pete with "Tektite" (love that name!), littermate to Brenda Arao's "Taser" du Dantero for making arrangements to use the facility and for working so hard at the drive work. Pete showed great dedication to improve Tektite's desire and drive. While he originally wanted work on leash heeling, it quickly became evident that drive work is what would improve that heel work through desire to be with the handler, and reconditioning that "happy place" on the field.
As a trainer, I want my dogs to hit the field and turn on the after burners. This takes time and repetition to condition in the "happy place". A positive association must be hard wired in before any structured work begins, and this is a huge problem with training that I see consistently. Prior to the conditioned response to a field/ring, the exercises are formalized too quickly, and the dog starts to make negative associations with the work.
There were a couple of rescue dogs (Malinois) in attendance, and several Ring Sport dogs with potential.
Sunday continued with an expansion of Day 1 material with less lecture, and increased hands on. Play technique skills were practiced, and drive was built in some young dogs. Technical tap stick work introduced in a non stressful manner (pairing food with yielding to stick pressure), and we discussed the games to cue drive (leash pop, tap stick, bark and quiet, etc.). The concept of muscle memory was applied both on the part of the dog (i.e., heads up tempo work), and the handler (in the form of burning the presentation of reward into place). Remember your mirrors!
I love it when handlers studiously listen and take notes. Those with truly thoughtful questions inspire me to be a better teacher. The mixed bag of students from a variety of disciplines was a breath of fresh air, as it truly reinforces the concept of drive work and clear progression in training. We even got in a little bit of planking. 🙂 For those in attendance, remember that if your dog is a "five" make them the best "five" they can be!
Overall, great attendees and organization. I look forward to the next time!