Our “fika” training post from last week was very much appreciated – so we decided to write some more about it!
The absolute biggest challenge in my training is to find a balance between active training and calm “just hanging out”.
I have, since Tassla was a puppy, devoted myself to what we call “fika training”. “Fika” is a Swedish word that means having a snack, often in good company. This means that I sit down, having “fika”, with the dog on leash parked next to me. I’ll do this before, after and in the middle of active training, and sometimes just in the middle of a walk. Haha, the amount of time I’ve spent having “fika” with that dog when she was young! And it has paid off. She has settled beside me and kept – depending on the environment – pretty calm.
I’ve then worked on “hanging out and relaxing” in other situations as well. When I stand around, watching others train with Tassla standing next to me, I have taught her that if I stand with my hands in my pocket and kind of stand in a relaxed manner, I want her to be chill too. She can lie down if she wants to, but she doesn’t have to. She can sit there and watch as long as she’s quiet and doesn’t have that crazy glare in her eyes.
The biggest challenge in this training is hunting situations. I can easily count the number of organized training situations, trials and hunts that I participated in during her first couple of years and it was NOT enough for this to become something normal and part of everyday life. Unfortunately. This is the part that is so difficult! The lack of access to hunting grounds where we can train as a part of everyday life. Instead, those situations become a bit of party and circus, all at the same time. Not really the way I want it.
But I think my training has been a bit sloppy during this winter … It is so cold to sit down and have “fika” 😉 and I have been sick a lot and lazy too. Instead of “fika” training , we’ve gone out and had her work on long lines and then returned home. Oh, Lena!
A couple of years ago, after that lazy winter when Tassla was roughly four years old, I was on a very nice weekend with a mock trial on the one day and a training day on the other.
Tassla was pseudopregnant at the time and probably not feeling her best. She gets very bitchy against other dogs. And at the same time the just really wants to sit very close to me and cuddle like a maniac. She also seems to be extra sensitive to stress. We hadn’t been in an environment like that, an environment that felt very much like a hunt, when she was pseudopregnant before, and I was really chocked by how stressed out she felt. (I don’t think I’ll expose her to that again under those conditions; it was too hard on her. ) The first day, her skin got all flaky and she was whining almost constantly when standing still (never when working; she’s always silent then, and her skin settles down too). I’ve been working a lot on her whining when still, for example at trials, during the last year and I’ve found a couple of really good strategies and managed to almost completely get rid of it.
But now I was really distressed by her behavior. That might be the most difficult aspect – to not get affected by the dog’s stressed behavior. Will bring earmuffs next time;).
After that training, I also got a little worried that our training hadn’t been good enough regarding keeping calm in “circus environments”, so in the coming weeks we went to visit a place where I know there are lots of rabbits. I just walked around and let her sniff, and she was very “on” and wanted to hunt. From time to time, I sat down and “fika” train, to her great annoyance initially. The first time it took three breaks before she seemed to think “ok it’s that old game you want to play! Ok, I’ll lie down for a bit then.” I took the opportunity to get her going a bit from time to time, so that she really had to go from activity to rest. And as soon as she started to relax, I rewarded by moving.
It worked very well. The second time she knew exactly what we were doing straight away. At first she tried to “pretend” to settle and lay down with her head very actively pressed to the ground, but of course I didn’t fall for that. I could see from her eyes and her body that she wasn’t relaxed at all. I just waited for a sigh, or her body getting softer and perhaps her beginning to blink a little slower. Only then do we move on.
Then I went back to this very well planned “on and off training” and practiced it a lot more before the next hunting season. She did not get to work when the feeling was all wrong and she needed to get a lot more opportunities to be in a challenging environment without being crazily active, we needed to make that a normal thing. There was a lot of “fika” that summer! 🙂