I recently enrolled in the Canine Freestyle course offered by the Karen Pryor Academy and taught by Michele Pouliot, winner of multiple International Freestyle competitions. It’s a distance learning course and I have 2 months to study and work diligently to learn the material in the curriculum. I hope to do a blog post every so often sharing a video here and there and my feelings about what I happen to be working on at the time.
When I complete the course, I hope to have the information to skillfully be able to teach my dog, Gibson, the variety of behaviors in order to put together a choreographed routine to music. Others who have taken the course have told me it’s taken them a year or more of training the foundation behaviors before they have actually started a routine. Matters not to me….I love working with my dog!
Unit 1 and 2 of the course for me were a refresher as they were more about clicker training in general and clean training. Training clean means that one’s methods of marking behaviors and dispensing reinforcement/rewards are helping achieve your performance goals.
Unit 3 moved into Attention. We always tell our clients that attention is the first most important part of any successful training. If you have your dog’s attention, you’re 50% of the way toward anything else you wish to teach them. I’m fortunate that over the years I’ve worked on attention a lot with Gibson, my 7 1/2 year old Australian Shepherd. However, heeding the advice of Michele Pouliot, I’m going back to square one and begin as if I’ve never trained this behavior before since this very important behavior is the foundation of any canine freestyle routine.
I’ve been at the training center today and have had some very successful sessions with Gibson. I experimented with different marker signals (clicker, verbal mouth click and a verbal “yes”). I like the click the best, of course. However, I’m now attempting to vary the hand I use to deliver the reinforcer so that he doesn’t expect it to be coming from one side or the other. I normally click with my right hand and deliver the food with my left hand. Imagine that I find I’m not as good at clicking with my left hand and delivering food with my right. I now have empathy for our clients!
Its been a good day and while I’d like to keep going because I’m having fun practicing and critiquing my own skills via video playback, I can see that Gibson is getting a bit tired and I want to end the day on a good note. All in all a fun first, formal training session on my way to canine freestyle.