Chimera looks to be going through a sensitization or "fear" period. Two or three days ago, his demeanor changed slightly but suddenly. He became more worried about odd noises (stops and stares longer, and his body is stiff and uncertain), and a handful of times he has growled and alarm barked at people who appear suddenly or are hard to see in the dark. I'm taking care to encourage him when he is worried, and redirect him to something fun -- either playing with me, or (if appropriate) saying hello to the person and getting treats from them. This is something that should pass soon, and unless a traumatic event happens when he's more sensitive, hopefully will have no lasting effects.
He isn't particularly affiliative with unknown people anyway. He's not scared usually, but he'll go up to sniff them and gather information, but doesn't care to stay for petting. I don't mind that at all, as long as it doesn't turn to shyness, which is nervousness or fear about approaching people and being touched. I have friends and visitors give him treats to create a positive association with meeting people, and give him a reason to accept petting. When we're out and about, I praise him for calmly watching people as we move along.
Yesterday we had a lazy morning, and then drove across the bay to have our first obedience lesson with Denise Fenzi! Denise is one of my dog trainer idols -- she has been very successful in competition obedience (and recently mondio), and nowadays she does it with entirely positive methods. Dragon and I took a handful of lessons from her and I was very happy with her coaching and our progress. This time we did a 30 minute lesson, and as usual we accomplished quite a bit!
We talked about different forms of play that Chimera might like, and practiced. Being a healthy puppy, Cai loves to play, but there are certain kinds that are more useful long term for training and carrying into the ring. We played tug, wrestled with our hands, and had him chasing a rabbit fur toy around.
We started teaching Cai to heel, but having me step ahead, bend a bit down and to the left, and make encouraging noises. When he (of course!) ran up to my left side, I praised and treated, and turned to the right so he could have another opportunity to earn reinforcement. He caught on quickly, until I was able to take one or two steps with him tagging along. We did some front crosses and practiced on the right side, too, since Cai will need that for agility. This is an easy-peasy way to teach the dog that it's fun to be at your side.
One of my weaknesses with Dragon was getting sucked into teaching and refining lots of behaviors at home, but being lazy about taking them on the road. Denise pushes people to start proofing against distractions early, to teach your dog that it's fun and worthwhile to pay attention to you no matter what is going on. I hope to do a better job of this with Chimera. This easy heeling game was an eye-opener for me -- we can do this anywhere, at any time!
We did a quick clicker training session with a dumbbell. That's something I can do on my own, now that Chimera is more operant. In fact, we've done two or three follow-up sessions already.
We did a few restrained recalls. Cai came flying right to me, as fast as he could!
I showed Denise his progress with the fold-back down from standing, and he offered sits here and there (that's not on cue yet). She said that we could start working on getting him onto a platform, and on putting his front paws onto a disc. (I tried doing this with a round coaster tonight, but he kept scratching at it and trying to mouth it. I need a bigger, heavier disc.)
Cai and I both had a good time learning from Denise. It was also a good socialization experience for him, as he was in a new place with a new person.