Confidence & Agility
Our Trip to Mushing Boot Camp Pull Clinic
The instructors were Jamie Nelson from Togo, Minnesota and Ann Stead from Duluth, Minnesota. In the equipment list they list a bellyband as needed equipment. I know you're thinking, "What's a belly band?" At the time I didn’t know either so I brought up extra equipment to improvise. Jamie quickly remedied our equipment problem with the stuff I bought. They use an "X" back sledding harness for the pull clinic. A siwash harness is very similar in the front to the "X" back harness. The "X" back harness comes to a point and ends in with a loop near the tail of the dog. They attach a band to the side of the harness and run it under the dog's belly to the other side of the harness. That's what a bellyband is!!!
Jamie then attached a leash to Gus's collar and took my traffic lead and attached that to the welded ring she had rigged up on our make shift harness. I wasn't sure at first what this different set up was for or what it was going to do, but I kept an open mind as Jamie explained it to me. She said that the bellyband gives the dog security. She said they like the feel of it. At first I thought that was odd that a simple strap under the belly was going to make them feel secure. But I'm open minded so I wanted to see how this little strap was going to do all of that.
After Jamie got Gus all rigged up she explained that I had to lift on the loop the traffic lead made on the end of the rigged harness and keep pressure on it as I gave Gus his forward command. She said if he didn't move right out to encourage him to move with my knee on his butt if necessary and praise him if he moved. If he didn't to correct with the other end of the lead that was attached to his collar.
I gave Gus his forward command and right away I noticed that Gus never turned around at all. He didn't have to because he knew I was on the other end of the harness and bellyband. It was strange, but the immediate security I was seeing really impressed me!
At the time I felt Gus was unsure of him self and that he would get confused with his turning commands at times. By using the bellyband and handle on the end of the harness I could see that Gus's security problem seemed to vanish!! He knew I was right there behind him because he could feel me there on the bellyband and harness. That seemed to put his mind at ease and he concentrated much more on his turning commands. Gus did fantastic!! I'd ask him to shift to the right, and he would immediately move over. We kept that track for a bit, then I'd ask him to shift to the left and he would immediately move over again. I was so proud of him!!!. We shifted back and forth several times and each time he moved right over. I tried tuning 180 in each direction. No problem. 90 degree turns both directions. It was great!!! It really showed me that Gus actually knew his commands much better than I thought he did. It also confirmed that I was right. His problem was that he needed more confidence in what he was doing to be comfortable enough to function out in front of me while sulky driving.
Most cart training information you find all starts with teaching the dog to tolerate dragging something while you walking beside your dog. That is the foundation for all the cart training that I've seen. I think that is because that is as far as most people ever go with cart training. Most people that do drafting do not drive their dogs! Those of us that want to take our training farther, I think looked at it as a distance obedience thing and started trying to fad back from the heal position in hopes of eventually being able to work from behind the dog. This made sense to me and works pretty good too. After seeing the difference in Gus, Anne and Jamie's method of teaching the dog to pull on command right from the start from the back position while giving the dog the secure feeling that your right there behind them is MUCH better for sulky driving.
I've seen lots of comments from people on the carting email groups saying that their dog will pull other people but not them because he won't pull unless they walk beside him. Or he keeps turning around and stopping. Those are all security and confidence issues. Well this method seems to eliminate the insecurity problem and creates a sense of security and self-confidence with in the dog to be out in front of you working. That is the key to the success of driving!!!
We went on to tire dragging after that. Gus didn't just drag the tire, he dragged Ken too!!! Ken was holding a lead attached to the opposite side of the tire leash. We did lots of turns, passing exercises “on by” exercises. Gus did great!! Then we worked on the “line out” command with the help of a 4x4.
Jamie and Anne also had agility equipment for the dogs to work on. I've heard people say that having your dog work on agility equipment does a lot for their self confidence. So I thought that was a good idea. They had two tables of different hights, tunnel, hanging tire, "A" frame, seesaw and a raised plank walk.
Now Gus is not what you would call an agile dog. Not that I ever though I was selling him short by thinking of him like that. I always thought that I gave Gus a lot of credit because he's so smart, but he's just not a jumper. Watching him try to leap to catch a ball is some thing along the lines of what watching Hulk Hogan try to do ballet would be like. It just doesn't fit his body type. At the time his body type was sporting an extra 10 pounds that it didn't need too! He's just never been jumper. He's much more of a bulldozer instead. He even has trouble getting into our SUV.
I really didn't think Gus would jump up onto the tables, but I patted the table and said, "get up there." I was shocked!!! Gus very eagerly tried he just couldn't quite get his back foot up there from standing right in front of the table. I told Jamie I wanted to try him on the lower one first since he was so eager to try. He hopped right up on the lower table. We did it a few times and Gus got better and more confident with each try. We moved back to the taller table and gave Gus a running start. He jumped up there so well that he almost over shot the table because it's shorter than his body is! It was some thing to see him doing that. He was proud of him self too!! And he was having so much fun!!
After that I decided to try the "A" frame to give him practice on wide boards before moving to the small planks. He did great on the "A" frame. The plank walk was made up of three planks. A ramp up, a 3 1/2-foot elevated board and a ramp back down. The planks were 8-inch wide boards. I told Jamie I was worried about Gus trying the plank walk because it's so high and Gus's feet are so big. With his toes trying to extended like grappling hooks he could almost touch both edges of the of the plank at the same time with just one foot!!! I really didn't think that he could do it and I was worried about him getting hurt. I told her as long as Gus was willing to try it, I'd go along with it. But I really had my doubts that he could or would do that plank walk. Jamie said the size and height of the plank isn't usually a problem because the most of the dogs they get up there are so small they can put both feet together with room to spare. Plus they normally stay along side to catch the dog if he starts to fall. I told her as big as Gus is I though it would be better just to get out of the way and let him have the room to jump clear of the plank instead if he were to start to fall.
I started him on the plank. He put one front foot on but missed with the second front foot. We tried again. He got both front feet this time but missed with his back foot. We tried again and he got all his feet on this time!! I praised him BIG TIME!!! It was so hard for him and you could see he was really concentrating on where to place his feet. I told him to go nice and slow and he did. He made it all the way across that time!! You should have seen him when he got done. He was prancing and bouncing around and he came right around like he wanted another try at it!!! Just like he did with the other equipment. I started him on the plank again. This time he went right across it!!! You could just see the self-pride growing in him before your eyes!! It was incredible!!! He so bouncy and happy!!
From there we went on to the tunnel. It took a food bribe to get him to go through it, but he did it!! He went quicker each time he went through it. From there we moved on to the hanging tire. It was fairly low so he was able to kind of climb through instead of jump through. Gus was just great!!! He eagerly did each thing!! He looked liked he felt like "Super Dog" after all of that. I can see I'll have to ask my husband Ken to build some agility equipment to rebuild any confidence slumps!
I really learned something while working Gus with this equipment. I knew we had a good strong bond between us, but I really didn't know just how strong the bond and trust was till I saw how eager he was to try to work on all that unfamiliar equipment. He was willing to try any thing I ask him to do. Jamie said Gus has a real trust in me to be so eager to work like that. She said she was really impressed and that I've done a really nice job with him. I was so proud of him!!! I was just beaming!!! Gus was having so much fun and he was so proud of him self too!!!
From there we tried to see how a Sacco cart would fit him. We lifted the shaft hoop and lined up Gus in front of it. Then I slowly lowered it. It stopped at his hips. He's wider than the shafts and hoop at the end. They had a Dog Scooter to try out too like my email buddy Daphne Lewis uses, but I was too chicken to try that. I brought up my City Mini Canine Sulky to use instead. We got him going but only had him go a short distance then ended on a positive note. It was a long day for Gus and he was just pooped by that time, me too!!
This should gives anyone who reads this an idea of what the pull clinic is all about and how important self-confidence is with sulky driving. I found it to be a different and positive approach to things. Teaching confidence is a pretty hard thing to do, but if the success I saw with Gus was any indication, Ann and Jamie have figure out how to do it!!!!
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