Yay, we finally made it back to class! In the last ten days, Czar and I have attended two Sunday morning classes and one Tuesday evening. It was so wonderful to see how happy he was to be back!! I was quite uncertain how he would cope after such a big gap, but I was happily surprised, right from the first time I slipped his training collar on.
Last year, when we first started taking obedience classes, another husky owner suggested I change from a semi-slip collar to a martingale collar. Most racing huskies wear a semi-slip, which will tighten a little, but not all the way, like a correction collar. In harness, this will be connected to a neck line and help keep dogs running in parallel with their team mate.
In obedience, many dogs wear a martingale, which is nearly identical to a semi-slip collar, but the slip section is replaced with a chain loop. The theory is that the noise of the chain section provides an extra signal to the dog. I like it because it is idiot proof - I am hopeless with check chains, and am always terrified that I will tighten the collar and it will not loosen back again. With the martingale, I don't have to worry about that, because the collar can't continuously tighten.
To go back to obedience, I put Czar back in the martingale and then attached his lead, he immediately ran to the end of the lead. The chain rattled as it tightened, and Czar stopped before the absolute end of the lead. Instead of leaning into thelead like he would normally, he kept it tight, but didn't continue to push the limits. I was impressed. We headed out to class.
My second surprise was Czar's quick memory. Although we had neglected obedience training for almost all of the racing season, he was very quick to pick it back up. I actually think he was more excited and happy than back in April when we stopped attending classes. It took only a few goes on each command to get it looking pretty good. By our second class, his sit was automatic at the end of each heeling pattern, and his eye contact was earning us compliments from other training pairs.
Not that we were perfect. We are still reliant on treats. The emphasis on an automatic sit made the stand command confusing. And Czar was so focussed on me and on treats that after the treat was delivered, he would pop up and swing around in front to remind me that he was starving. (Of course he wasn't - lots of people don't feed their dogs before training, but Czar gets breakfast to ensure that he doesn't take my fingers off with his treat. It doesn't seem to damage his concentration at all.)
Czar's biggest issue was handler error. I felt like my footwork was ok, but baby brain seems to have impaired my interpretation of instructions, particularly on Tuesday evening. I just couldn't seem to end up facing the correct direction at the end of a sequence. I'm struggling to remember command words. I'm just as out of practice as Czar. And bending over is starting to become difficult as my bump gets bigger. Fortunately, Czar's "drop" is pretty good, but giving him treats without him popping back up because my hand isn't coming all the way down. These are challenges that will only continue over the next three months!!!