Monday, February 13, 2012

Kody's great disappearing act

Dog trainers can be attracted to dogs who have quite a few challenges and they can also be very good at working through those challenges. My dogs are "working dogs" and to me their job is just as important as any other. Their main task is as "teacher dogs" to all levels of reactive and aggressive dogs. They have helped many stay in their forever homes, avoid euthanasia and overcome huge challenges.

This blog is about Kody Bear, CGC, RN, therapy dog and "teacher dog". I trust Kody off lead or on. On Sunday, it was no different. After teaching Intermediate Treibball, I decided to let Kody run around the field to release some energy.  He did just that and with abandon...disappearing for at least five long minutes or more.

He ignored a hand cue to come, which hadn't occurred for at least six years. Kody is going to be eight-years-old in March. He chose THIS time to showcase his worst behavior and in front of the Intermediate Treibball class.

Confident me, gave a hand signal and watched Kody's eyes glaze over as he raced away and out of sight. I did try a couple of strategies, a verbal cue, a "NOW" and then turning my back and walking toward the truck as if to leave. Kody wasn't buying any of it. Did I go after him. No.Why? I trust Kody. I knew he would be back. He had been in an xpen watching the other dogs play Treibball, a game he loves. He did a bit of demo work and did well. I could speculate and say it was revenge or a way to get some energy out, and give a myriad of excuses.

One client commented that he probably headed out after a deer or a bunny. I knew differently, because while Kody has a high prey drive, we've worked very hard. I knew he had his sights on other more interesting quests.

What it was, in reality, was the scent of either a dog or a coyote in heat. Earlier dogs were doing search and rescue workouts and the smells could have been enticing. At that moment, I wasn't as interesting as the smell of a dog in estrus. Kody did his magic disappearing trick.  While waiting for his return, a student helped me start to pick up the Treibball equipment and we nonchalantly loaded it into the truck.

Soon Kody came running in full stride along the fence. He looked quite handsome and happy, but he was foaming at the mouth. That was the telling sign, as he does that when aroused. He came back to me and what did I do at that point?

I nonchalantly gave him the signal to come again, he sniffed one more time at a nearby tree and then came racing to me. I asked for a down and tossed a handful of treats between his legs. We were once again connected.

Then we went into training mode and for about 15 minutes practiced recalls, releases and returns, hand signal and all off lead. He returned each and every time, he was in perfect form, as he had been for the last six years.  He could have run off again, but he chose not to, just as readily as he chose in a moment of wild abandon to answer the call of the wild.

Will he run off again? I hope not and I will take precautions to avoid it, however, yes he could. I can't predict the future. As trainers, just as we think our dogs are, in fact, perfect, they prove us wrong

Training continued the next day and off we went, just the two of us, to the woods for a long off lead trail walk. Kody raced ahead, but checked in frequently, raced back to me with each hand signal, waited at the intersections and avoided any temptation to leave me for coyote smells. So the disappearing act? A fluke, possibly. Dogs are emotional beings, and they are not robots. The lesson to be learned is that even in a time of embarrassment, disbelief and hurt, trust was still alive, even when Kody decides to be less than perfect. Trust your training, trust your dog to do the right thing. When that point is reached it shows a bond and relationship.  Do I trust Kody, yes. He had a moment. It doesn't make our next moments any worse for the wear.

It makes me laugh now to think about it. Just another day in the life of a behavior trainer. Less than perfect is okay with me, especially since 99% of the time Kody shows how great he is as my trusted partner.

Happy positive training!

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