Our happy-go-wiggly labrador, Ted, and his Aussie cousin tried their paws at a Freestyle session with Gooddogz Training. Ted’s puppy days were a little crazy and he’s still a free-spirit that sometimes loves life a little too much but he’s trying to follow in his older cousin Laddie’s paw-prints and be a good dog. Check out this classroom adventure.
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Last week, Nancy Freedman-Smith from Gooddogz Training invited me and our 5-year-young labrador, Ted, along to join in one of her group class sessions – Freestyling. The invitation was also generously extended to my Aussie shepherd nephew, Laddie, who is staying with us while his Dad soaks up some sun closer to the equator. I know Nancy from various dog about town events, and I was interested in seeing one of her freestyle monthly classes in action. I was a little bit hesitant about bringing our happy-go-wiggly golden boy to class. Ted loves learning new tricks and finding new ways to earn treats but, as I indicated to Nancy when I messaged her, I was not sure how well Ted’s patience and classroom manners would hold up in the hour long session.
“He’s a bit of a free spirit – I hope he’s not too disruptive,” – famous last words from me.
Before I met Nancy from Gooddogz, my husband, Mike, and I had participated in group puppy manners classes with Ted. We all benefited from the lessons learned in class but the process can be a little humbling when your puppy is also the classroom clown. In Ted’s first puppy class session, he arrived and walked across the room, leashed, on his hindquarters with his paws in the air eager to greet everyone. We’d practice the classroom exercises diligently at home and out and about with Ted enthusiastically participating. Back in class, we had successes but his willful personality and love for other dogs often led to raised eyebrows and a timeout or two. There was the embarrassing time, during some off-leash exercises, we all called our dogs across the room and Ted came to me like a champion and then proceeded to fly past me and through an open door to check out the back offices he’d been dying to sniff-out – he can be quite nosy. Ted did graduate from his manners class although probably by the hair of his “chinny-chin-chin”.
Nancy Freedman-Smith, the owner of Portland’s Gooddogz training, is an experienced dog trainer who is an advocate for “force-free” relationship based training. Nancy grew-up as a “crazy horse kid” who went on to study Animal Science and Equine Studies at the University of Massachusetts where she was an active competitor on the Event and Dressage team and also taught riding. Over 20 years ago, shortly after the birth of her first of three children, Nancy switched her attentions to the dog training world and has never looked back. Nancy offers a range of private and group classes through Gooddogz that offer a fun learning environment for dogs and their owners.
Nancy has two fur-kids of her own. Finney is a calm collie who works alongside Nancy as her neutral dog when she is working with reactive dogs and their owners. Nancy has entered Finn into a few photo look-a-like competitions as Richard Gere and she jokes, if he could “speak”, his laid back demeanor would give him a voice like Forrest Gump. Beck, Nancy’s collie-cross rescue, is the “polar-opposite” to Finney. Beck is more like “a frat boy who hasn’t taken his meds” and has been an ongoing training project for Nancy with his reactive dog tendencies. Nancy’s procession of fun tricks featuring both Finney and Beck flow through my Facebook newsfeed with the most memorable one for me being Beck’s stoic pose on top of a fire hydrant.
We drove over to the Gooddogz Sunday Freestyle Class at Petquarters in Wyndham on an icy afternoon with Teddy and Laddie smiling in eager anticipation in the back of our Subaru. Laddie’s an attentive and smart dog who loves to please and lives for treats. I was pretty sure Laddie was going to rise to the occasion and love this Freestyle session. When we arrived, we skated across the icy parking lot and in the door to join the class in a room at the back of the pet store. Two Border Collie 11 month old pup brothers, Maverick and Goose, and a Great Dane, Elsie, arrived with their owners.
We spread out and began a series of freestyle exercises beginning with the dogs spinning to the right and twirling to the left in front and then to our side as we walked. Armed with fresh turkey morsels and cookies, Ted and Laddie enthusiastically participated in the different exercises which are often “shaping” obedience techniques for those dogs who want to pursue activities like freestyle and agility.
“All behaviors are tricks and teaching tricks is a great way to bond with your dog. Tire them out, give them a job and learn to be a better trainer. The more your dog knows, the easier it is to teach them new things,” explained Nancy.
Nancy talked about different trick teaching methodologies:
“Luring” – where dogs follow the treat to learn the exercise which can be effective but removing the treat cue can be a challenge.
“Capturing – when you catch a dog doing something on his own and you name it and reward it.
“Molding” – when you put the dog where you want it, like pushing their butt into a sit, which most dogs don’t care for.
“Shaping” – Nancy’s favorite technique where you reward small pieces of behavior and string them together. It is a positive and fun way to learn that “teaches both the dog and owner to think”.
Ted wagged through the first half of the class doing the various exercises with his Dad but then his patience waned and he got a little chirpy so he headed into the store-side of Petquarters where he practiced the different exercises with more space and less distractions around him.
Laddie was in his element and happily demonstrated a shaping exercise with instructor Nancy. For the Paws-Up, hind-end awareness exercise on a plastic bucket, Laddie got rewarded for going towards the bucket, sniffing the bucket, touching the bucket and putting one and then two paws on the bucket. Then, Nancy threw the treat so that Laddie would come back and interact with the bucket using his own initiative. Timing is key, where you reward on the bucket, toss the treat and where your body is positioned are all important considerations.
At the tail end of the class, the owners and their dogs demonstrated the different freestyle maneuvers to music as they walked and spelled out the shape of a letter and their fellow classmates attempted to guess it. I had arrived at the class on the backside of a migraine so this finale exercise involved a little more thinking on my feet and co-ordination than I could muster but it was fun to watch our fellow classmates strut their stuff. We ended the session with some doggy bows, a trick Ted had learned alongside me during demonstrative yoga sessions, but thanks to Nancy’s advice Ted now does it more consistently on cue with a simple low to the ground hand command that brings his front end down.
Laddie left the class with a spring in his stride as he possibly mused about a future career in agility. Ted’s training class experience did prove to be a bit challenging. Ted’s a free-spirit but he must have still been listening in class because when we got home, he enthusiastically performed most of the freestyle exercises alongside his cousin Laddie and then they both collapsed by the fire like good dogs.
If you and your dog are looking to get some training tips and participate in fun group classes – check out the Gooddogz Training class lineup. Thanks for the four-paw tips Nancy!