Training Tootsie

Tootsie and I have had six-and-a-half hours of training with Bethany in ten visits. Tootsie adores her. The Training Game is fun, all about Tootsie, and chock-full of treats. What’s not to like?

Sessions last sixty minutes or until Tootsie loses interest. She vastly prefers Cheerios over packaged training treats. Even so, she’s often too full after thirty minutes to be enticed by more treats.

Tootsie learns lightning fast. Between sessions, we practice for a few minutes at a time and as needed throughout the day. Some commands work, some don’t. Some do until they don’t. During our sessions, Bethany reinforces commands that haven’t worked for me.

Watching Tootsie and Bethany work together is educational. She is very consistent with the marker (yes!) and always uses single-word commands. I’m more…uh, conversational and likely to use the wrong word for a command or say “good girl!” rather than the desired “yes!”.

Tootsie usually does what I want in the house or fenced-in backyard. On walks, she ignores even the most basic commands. Every movement or loud noise is a distraction. She stays ready to hightail it home at the drop of a hat and often bolts or strains to go faster.

Walks have been cut for now to as few as possible for only as long as needed for business. The last three sessions with Bethany took place on the driveway with Tootsie in her harness on a long, light leash. We’ll switch to the retractable leash eventually. The idea is to desensitize her to the distractions and create an ever-expanding comfort zone.

We’ve been meeting with the trainer twice a week. Starting this week, we’re going to weekly sessions. With each session, more commands work for me all or most of the time. I’m also using commands a lot more outside of practice sessions.

If awake, Tootsie is ready to play. No matter what I’m doing, she brings me a toy to throw and keeps bringing different toys until I do. Since we’re not walking as much, I set a timer for ten minutes twice a day for rigorous outdoor playtime. A tired dog is a happy dog. Wearing her out makes life easier for me too.

Most problem behaviors (mine and hers) ceased almost immediately. She still acts out occasioally, but my response has changed. Positive reinforcement has made us both happier.

I’m not sure how much longer we’ll keep working with the trainer. Desensitizing Tootsie to the world outside our front door is the goal. Until then, we’ll keep on keeping on. As always, I’ll keep you posted.