Penny wrote a great post on the same topic. Penny, this one is for you 🙂
When I got Ruby I was not thinking of getting involved in any sports, dog or human. I was recovering from burnout and spent most of my day gathering the energy to get up, but somehow getting my first puppy at that time seemed like a smart idea. Whippets were supposed to be mellow fellows with modest exercise requirements and the boyfriend promised to help out as well.
I was looking forward to training the little guy, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity since my childhood. When researching the breed I found a piece of internet wisdom that went something like this: The good news is that whippets are the most trainable of the sighthounds. The bad news is that sighthounds are not very trainable. Ummm, ok, I better get educated then!
I promptly went to Amazon and bought Jane Killion’s book When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs. Then I looked for a puppy school that would have experience with “impossible dogs” and found Silvia Trkman. The first thing I read about her is that she went to agility world championships with her samoyed Aiken. I was beyond impressed! Agility looked waaaaay harder than obedience, and she did it with an “impossible breed”! I sent her an email asking if she has a spot left in her upcoming puppy class and in her optimistic style she wrote back that yes, we can join the group and that whippets are quick learners who love to work if they see work as a game. Well, I’m sure that after Aiken every dog seems easy to Silvia 😛
So we got this 8-week brindle pup and for the first three days he would not be still for even a second unless he was sleeping and even that was not for long. On the fourth evening he lay down on the sofa for the first time and we were wondering if he’s all right… he was too quiet so we were worried he got ill. As it turned out puppies are not supposed to run around every waking second, but we didn’t know that.
He didn’t care much for kibble, and would only eat it at home and only if really hungry. I tried feeding him all his food during training, but he wouldn’t even show that he heard the clicker if all I had was kibble. With time and since he never got food in his bowl he decided he could try working for kibble that was scented with salami over night. But if he got even a small amount of “good stuff” that day then kibble was not worth his time. And even if the conditions were perfect so he took the kibble he was not a fan of repetition. He would perform a behavior three times (and get rewarded each time), then just wander away looking for something else to do.
When we showed up for the first puppy class Ruby almost strangled himself on the leash from trying to get to other puppies. In the beginning I spent most of the time just standing on his leash, ignoring his whining and attempts to get other puppies to play and rewarding any and all attention he had to offer. It took us eight visits before he was able to focus on me more than on other dogs. But he was crazy about his bottle on the string and would play enthusiastically, so there was some hope for us.
Somehow I managed to teach Ruby some tricks and Silvia was very kind in making me feel like we were making fantastic progress. However, when not on school grounds Ruby could not focus at all. When Silvia asked us what we would like to do when the puppy class ends I sheepishly answered I would like to try agility. I reckoned she would be the only person who wouldn’t call me crazy if I said that out loud.
To be continued… (and some puppy photos for the end)
All photos were taken by Mateja
Next post: How I Fell In Love With Agility – Part 2