Get to work!

There is a special category of dog recognized by its tenacity, drive, and focus. It is not a category recognized by the AKC, and not one breed that defines it. It is the Working Dog.

This last weekend Loki and I had the pleasure of attending a fantastic workshop put on by Von Grunheide Shepherds and taught by Shade Whitesel. She is one of only a handful of trainers across the country to train working dogs exclusively through positive reinforcement.

About 25 of us attended altogether, including some of Snohomish County’s newest K9 Officers(dogs and handlers), and from all skill levels. While it was a bit chilly, we had a beautiful day for the workshop- sunny and not a cloud in the sky.

This workshop covered how to get focus and engagement from your dog and explored some of the basic exercises required in the first levels of most obedience sports.

Using the four motivational tools of tug, ball, food and attention, Shade explained how to play correctly and usefully, when to reward and how to use that play to teach foundation obedience. She also introduced the concept of a marker word, which helps handlers communicate better with their dogs, and proper timing of cues, which helps the dogs learn words faster.

Then she showed off her dog, Reiki. He is a beautiful black shepherd. According to her website, he is her first attempt at training all behavior through clicker training.  He was fantastic- focused and quick. She displayed some of the commands she uses and he was a great demo partner.

Following her demonstration, she worked with many of us on our dogs and some problem areas. It was very interesting to see the different dynamics between different people and their dogs, from the K9 officers and their highly driven pups- most under 18 months old- to some seasoned dog owners who were looking for new ways to interact with their best friends.

Loki would much rather have been either playing with the dogs are elsewhere playing with me, but put on a pretty good display of non-engagement, helping Shade to demonstrate how to get your dog to interact. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Loki is going to become a champion Shutzhund dog anytime soon.

This was the first in a series of Working Dog workshops put on by Von Grundheide. Next month is the Introduction to Working Dog Protection, followed in March by Working Dog Tracking. Loki and I are signed up for Protection together, but I don’t know how well he will do based on his obedience display, but I’ll keep you posted.

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