KPA: Preparing Makes Perfect

Well, it happened. The first testing weekend. It felt like it came so much faster than I was expecting. That’s life for you, right? I was so worried about this workshop weekend, constantly anxious about how it was going to go. Luckily – spoiler alert – it went really well. Here’s a bit about how Paco and I prepared ourselves!
The Karen Pryor Academy assessment weekends are designed to be mostly practice, discussion and instruction on what we the students worked on in our first web unit. While inevitably there is an assessment to demonstrate how well we’ve mastered the covered topics, I discovered that the weekends are, as a whole, relaxed and laid back. This was a great discovery once the workshop started – but I hadn’t always known that it would be okay. In fact, like I mentioned, I was quite sure it would not be okay!
Our dogs are required to be crated during the weekend workshops. This means they are crated while they see us – their owners/handlers – walking around interacting with other people and dogs. We give them plenty of bathroom/stretching breaks, but it’s a long day for the dogs. Not many dogs are used to this kind of set up. I certainly had no idea how Paco would react. His owners crate him at night and when they’re not home, and I’d seen him interact nicely with other dogs briefly, but didn’t exactly have a way to replicate this exact environment to see how he’d handle it.

Like all my dog training situations, I tried to go into the weekend as prepared as possible with management tools ready. I made sure to be completely packed and organized the night before so I wouldn’t feel rushed at any point. This helped immensely. I am the type of person who needs to feel prepared, and I only feel prepared if my ducks are all in a row! Part of packing meant taking a trip to the Petco in my neighborhood to stock up on long-lasting chews and high value treats. The last thing I needed was for Paco to be uninterested in my treats when I needed him to focus, and I knew the chewables would help keep him occupied if he was upset about being in the crate.  $60 later, we were more than ready:

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We arrived early Saturday morning so I could give Paco time to take in his surroundings. He did wonderfully with the other dogs that morning, and cautiously went into his crate as I tucked him in to begin listening to instruction. I was so nervous. Every little whine he made would cause my stomach to flop because I anxiously anticipated it being followed by a howl or other disruptive vocalizations. Everyone else’s dogs were being perfect. Would Paco be the problem child of the class? It still was unclear.

Two hours, a half-a-dozen harsh barks and lots of “please let this work” attention-withholding moments later, Paco was happily gnawing on his bully stick.  He seemed to have given up on throwing a fit to get out of his crate. We both breathed a sigh of relief, him seemingly thinking, “Oh, okay – you’re not going far. I can chill here and chew on this delicious bully stick without my world ending,” and me thinking, “You’re not going to lose your mind and disrupt class if I move two feet away from your crate. Whew.” He continued for the entire two days like that: a perfect angel.

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I am lucky that he adjusted so well to the novel environment, but I know he wouldn’t have had as easy of a time if I hadn’t made sure to prepare myself so well. Folks forget how vital some simple management can be. For Paco and I, it ended up being the difference between a successful weekend and a disaster weekend. Thank goodness for bully sticks and hoof chews!

Next week I’ll tell you more about the content we’re learning about and spending lots of time practicing. Let’s just say Paco’s new nickname is “Mr. Shaper.” Stay tuned!

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