You couldn’t have told me when I began training Rally-FrEe that it would serve to get me hooked on Canine Freestyle—aka dancing with your dog. I was sure that was for old ladies, or housewives and their Golden Retrievers. Not that there’s anything wrong with old ladies or housewives or Goldens! I kid, but in all seriousness, watching video I never appreciated what a training undertaking it is to train such a massive chain of behaviors. Honestly, sometimes watching a routine can bore me. Yet, other times I can be moved to tears. You’ve got to watch some good routines (check out the links!). There are only a handful of favorites, I’ll grow that list as I get the time to pull my saves from disparate locations.
But let me first put the enormity of the training task in perspective. Imagine asking your dog to do 5 things before giving them a reward, and expecting her to do it with such zest that her pupils are dilated and she’s as keen as could be. Does your dog even know 5 behaviors? It’s actually easier if your dog knows less behaviors to ask them to discriminate between them (less wrong guesses to be had). Anyway, let’s say you ask your dog to run to you, then sit, roll over, back up, lie down, and wave “Hi”. On top of that, let’s ask your dog to do all that but without any visual cues, just by the words out of your mouth. That might be just a fraction of a complete routine…but that’s how you train it, in segments (that you will overlap and chunk in different segments, letting the chain become a little predictable to help, back-chaining and creating a lot of value and comprehension, to say the least). Once your dog is proficient at certain behaviors, then you assemble them and choreograph them with bizarre movements from you (what some call dancing;) so that you are dancing rather than demonstratively cueing your dog. Sound like a tall order? It is!
There’s a lot of people saying that this is the hardest thing you could train your dog. I believe it. And I’m hooked. I just completed my first routine. It started off as an obligation, and morphed into my own creation. To start off I selected behaviors that my dog already knew really well. It’s hard enough to add them all together, so adding new stuff would have been deadly. However, I did teach a simple, easy to discern “jump into my arms” trick…but that has a very different body language and is easy to both perform and discriminate, and comforting because she’s close (I notice dogs that might be struggling with tasks feel secure when they are asked to do this trick in a string of behaviors). I actually say I completed it, but I have a couple of eligible videos but haven’t entered any because I can’t decide if I should choose one of those, or perform it again. It’s never going to be perfect, that’s one thing you’ll need to let go of!
I can’t wait to get started on my next routine’s tricks…but I’ve become very responsible and won’t introduce or practice too many untrained/partially understood behaviors at once anymore. But I know I’m hooked because throughout the day my mind will wander to great ideas for routines. Since I just started nose-work (yes, 1 more totally different dog training endeavor!), I recently had the idea to do a routine about the tragedy of a dog that can’t smell. You can borrow that idea if you need one 😉 I’ve got tons! My only request is that you send me a video of the routine.