Monday, June 16, 2014
On the surface, Molly has lots of drive. She is bouncy and intense. She is crazy. She is highly food and toy motivated. With agility, it seemed to me that she had high drive for the sport because she runs fast and enjoys doing almost all of the obstacles. Wild energy only gets you so far, though. Especially when that energy is borne of reactivity arousal or environmental stress arousal.
So much of Molly's early training I misunderstood everything that she was doing. I misunderstood the messages that she was practically screaming at me. I would try to run courses with her and would confuse her. She would burn off her stress via zoomies. She would bite or hump me out of frustration. Once when we were working a short yet complicated sequence, she ripped my treat pouch right off my waistband and shook it terrier-style until the treats flew through the air. She would chatter and howl and scream in her crate and when I would let her out of the crate to run the course she would absolutely explode around the course while I attempted "handling." Crazy. But she was having fun, she enjoyed doing this work. Right? And she would do it all for some stale cheerios floating around in the bottom of my training bag.
We started trialing. There were even more dogs around. Even more noise. Even more expectations and confusing (lack of) directions from me. Stress from me. Still, she ran and she ran fast and her tongue and ears would fly in every direction and she was grinning and never stopped moving.
And here we are, two years and a few months change from when we started agility training. Agility and all related training and trialing has done wonders for Molly's dog reactivity. It forced me to confront the issue even more than I already did. You cannot run an agility dog who wants to scream at and jump on other dogs. I am learning how to handle an agility course. Molly is getting used to hopping in the car and being shuttled to training center after trial after training center after trial. The noise doesn't send her over the edge anymore. She has a job and she wants to do it.
But the insane boost that all of that noise and stress an insecurity used to give her is gone. I talked months ago about breaking Molly's spirit. Her spirit isn't broken, she just isn't being sent into a whirlwind of stress energy that she doesn't know what to do with anymore. I have a dog who follows my perpetually under construction handling. I have a dog who does not love the weave poles. I have a dog who is stressed out by my expectations on contact equipment. I have a dog who is not driven to do these things right now. I have a dog who knows we are doing A Thing, and she will do This Thing because I give her a meatball and because she loves me - but she is not driven to do it.
Molly has drive, but not strong work drive. She's out for a good time, sure. She is very motivated by food but much to my surprise, food does not send her to another world. There is only one thing that Molly will do anything on this earth for and that is fetching a ball. The ball is the only thing that unlocks true Drive in Molly.
I never liked training Molly with the ball. She is a jerk when she has her ball. She is pushy and rude and will do any task halfway just to get the ball. We tried weave pole training with the ball and she would flip through a couple poles and pop out and want the ball. I thought, "She cannot focus on work when it comes to wanting this ball so I will use a tug or her food toy." And that worked okay. But Molly's weave poles have continued to be flat and uninspired. Her work in agility class has become acceptable but ho hum. We aren't riding anymore arousal - we are just at agility class. Until very recently, Molly's stress behaviors were continuing to fool me and mimic "drive" and enjoyment of work.
Though Molly is a jerk for her ball, there is no reason I can't harness that passion into behaviors that I want. She is going to have to earn it. Just this week my husband made six more weave poles for us. And I am holding tight to my criteria that I want Molly to drive through those weaves to earn her ball.
With all the flashy blasting over the course and insane behavior dust settling, I am seeing Molly's true nature. I was and still am a little afraid that she has grown to not enjoy agility - come on now, this is a pitbull after all. But that would just be an excuse. As with any type of dog training, it is my job to use the things that motivate Molly to create true enjoyment of running agility together and to help her understand it is fun - all of it. I feel like it has taken us two years to look at each other as a team, and build on what we finally have together. I am looking forwards to the journey!