QUEST: The Incredible Journey from Puppy to Performance Dog
Aka Developing Focus in a Future Performance Dog
By Deborah Jones, Ph.D. and Judy Keller

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

On Dec. 2, 2006 Judy and I decided to choose a tri-colored male Sheltie puppy as our next agility performance prospect. Quest was 4 days shy of 8 weeks old when we brought him home. We temperament tested him twice; once when he was 6 ½ weeks old (the basic test) and again on the day we brought him home (a more challenging level of testing). We know from experience that it takes a certain type of temperament for a dog to excel in agility training and showing.

To be honest, I was not 100% sure about Quest when we took him. He has some excellent qualities, his food and toy interest are extremely high, and his recall and following are wonderful. In addition, he is very people-oriented and enjoys being handled. But I still have some mild concerns (they are lessening all the time) about his reactions to unusual or startling events. More specifically, his lack of reaction worried me. Ideally, a puppy might startle at something, then compose himself and investigate the item. Quest did not have a huge startle response, but he would then move on to another activity rather than investigate. This was only true for some of the items in the testing (a dropped set of keys, several toys that make noise and move); for others he would investigate (a large open umbrella, a water bottle thrown on the floor). And, if we added food, he would practically run over any of the objects to get to the cookies.

He’s been with us for 3+ days now, and I am feeling better about his ‘raw material’ all the time. His breeder allowed us to take him for a ‘test run’. We had his structure evaluated the evening we brought him home, and he passed that test with flying colors. Then we spent the last few days interacting with him and watching his responses to things in the environment. So far, he’s showing himself to be bolder and more confident all the time. Even so, we will be very careful in our socialization and training to always enhance that boldness and confidence.

Quest has already had a number of training sessions. We use his food (hand feeding much of it) to condition the clicker and teach name recognition. We started with “Quest, click, treat” and repeated that over and over. Then we added his recall cue to the chain. The sequence is “Quest, come, click, treat”. We aren’t actually expecting him to come at first, just conditioning the cue as one that pays off highly. After 3-4 sessions of this Quest is now running to us when he hears his name and recall cue. We are reinforcing this with food the majority of the time, but also with praise and petting other times. We have also done a little bit of luring with food, into a down and around in a circle. We click when he completes the action and give the cookie. He’s also starting hand touches. When we hold out a palm he moves toward it, we click and treat. We’ve also been using a verbal secondary “yes!” in the same way as the clicker.

Today when I was feeding his lunch I would swear he offered a spin for a cookie.

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