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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Training Breakthrough for Zala

Zala keeps the line tight while at rest.

Phoenix and Journey lead the second team. Caught this goofy tongue shot!

Zala had been having some difficulty remaining focused when running with Phoenix. Phoenix is a big softie and we think that he just allowed her to not be as serious about leading as she should have been. She would have an occasional interest in what was running through the woods, to the point she would try to scamper off after it, still attached to the team. Letting the line slack a bit while on a quick break and turning her body sideways to see what I was doing were her other offenses. Each time, I would give the command, be it "tighten up" or "on by", then get off the training rig, place her in the desired position, reinforce the command with praise and we would do this over and over again. Training can be very repetitive and frustrating, especially when you wonder how many times you'll have to do the very same thing until it sinks in. Patience is the key. (I sure could use more of that) Then it dawns on me. Hey, this isn't working, let's try something different!

Sometimes the very best teacher for a dog is another dog and the musher just needs to stand by and provide assistance. Today, Klaus would be helping with her lessons.

We like to train and run, for the most part, without necklining the leaders. This means that both leaders must work together but be able to think for themselves and not use the other leader as a crutch. However, there are times when training with a neckline between the leaders can be an excellent tool. Especially when one is very good at something that the other hasn't quite picked up yet. Klaus is excellent at keeping his line tight ALL of the time. He may become interested in things running in the woods but he continues down the trail straight ahead. When we break for either a few seconds or for more than an hour, he keeps his line tight ALL of the time, even if laying down. This is a gift he has always had and if his line isn't tight, there is something very wrong.

Since Zala got her tremendous work ethic from uncle Klaus, we believe that she must have some more of the exceptional traits he holds buried beneath the surface and we want to try and bring them out.

We began today's run with Klaus and Zala in lead, necklined together. We commanded nothing new of her other than the usual "tighten up". Once the neckline when on, she was glued forward with not the least bit of slack in her line. She didn't move her body sideways but only twisted her head to look back, just like uncle Klaus. When the command to go was given, off she went, straight as an arrow down the trail. When she caught a glimpse of a red squirrel scurry from tree to tree she did attempt to dart back behind Klaus for a brief second until the neckline and my "on by" voice command abruptly reminded her of her job description. After that, no reminders needed. While at rest, a tight line she kept. All good behavior received verbal praise from the musher, however not once did I have to get off the rig to correct.

It still amazes me to this day, that one seemingly small change in a team can be made to receive such a greatly different result. It's hard, sometimes, to get outside of our own little boxes. We think that it should be this way so we continue to do it "this way" when, if we would just think to try it "that way" we might save ourselves an awful lot of trouble.

In dog training as in life, there isn't just one way to do something to accomplish the same result. It's just remembering this that is the challenge when we have "this way" stuck in our minds at that moment.

Zala will continue to run necklined with Klaus for the next few runs. Then the neckline will come off and we'll see what stuck and just devise a new training plan there.

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