I think more than anything, doing fun training exercises. It lets us work together and learn together and greatly improves communication. And he is so happy to be able to do what I'm asking and so pleased with himself to get things right. This can be any sort of challenge we attempt together. Working as a team builds the relationship.
+1 to what Raindrops said. The trust, communication, and teamwork that occurs during training cannot be beat. I think sports like Nose Work/Scent Work are wonderful in part because they're really focused on the dog, putting the burden on the human to learn how to read the dog. Dogs can be pretty subtle, and these sports really push you to explore those nuances and gradations.
Everything said above and GROOMING. I’ve been home grooming Happy every week or so since she came home. I think she enjoys the dedicated attention and it seems to have fostered a real sense of trust between us.
I think we show our love best when we meet our poodle's needs. Training together in a fun way accomplishes this very nicely, as do sniffy, meandering walks with regular check-ins for treats and/or play.
Adding to PTP's list... or knowing that they like to lie outside with you on nice days, so you make the effort to move all your work stuff to the patio so they can watch the squirrels while you work...
Thanks so much everyone! Yes, definitely doing a lot of these. Maybe a bit too much tricky training and not enough play. I think that maybe I'm also not showing him just how pleased I am with his training progress. I will be more vocal about it. Also, I could stand to let him sniff around more on walks. And awesome! Yes I love talking to him and should do it more often. He always likes to sleep at my feet and he always wants to be in the same place as the family, so that has been nice. But I do think he definitely has an independent streak as a teen that he did not have as a younger puppy. Trying to work on focus exercises. Nosework sounds cool, what does getting started with that look like?
The easiest way to start with any kind of scent game is to hide a treat and let him find it. If you are interested in the dog sports, you can try NACSW for K9 Nose Work and AKC for Scent Work. Note that the sports are largely identical, but some of the trial specifics vary. If you train in one, you can easily pivot to the other.
For nosework training, we started with arranging a bunch of open boxes in a room, with treats in one of them. (We took a club seminar so did this on leash, maybe not necessary at home in the living room.) Give a release command . . 'find it', 'search', we eventually settled on 'nosework' when we trained on odor. When the dog locates the box with the treats, have a party, give praise, and drop some more treats into the box for reinforcement. You could start this part of the training on your own and then look for a trainer/classes or a friend who can help with the next steps.
Next step is to 'pair' the treats in an open box with odor. The first odor for most nosework competition organizations is birch. Odor is prepared by infusing one half of a Q-tip with scent oil. (I use 3 drops of oil for a baby food jar full of Q-tips.) Place a Q-tip hide (3 Q-tips enclosed in a vessel) in the box with the treats, and proceed as before. Eventually you'll be placing odor hides in the environment (inside, outside, and on vehicles), though closed boxes continue to be used in competition as well. There are a variety of vessels used to hold the Q-tips, 3 Q-tips per hide: electrical shrink tube, tins w/magnets, straws, lip balm tubes (unused), floral pic tubes.
This is very general, there are a lot of on-line resources, including preparation and handling of the Q-tips. Some of the training methods vary. My instructor, who is a nosework judge in several venues, follows this method. Others start dogs immediately on odor.
My dogs have sooooo much fun with nosework. While my spoo participates in nosework trials, my beagle-mix doesn't, though she has the better nose. When we 'play' nosework at home, one of the dogs waits in the gated kitchen while the other searches. They get so excited about this activity. I alternate who goes first, because they know if I'm playing favorites!
Nosework is relatively inexpensive. I bought a small kit initially, which included the bottles of oil. The oil lasts forever so I've shared with training friends. It's beneficial eventually to have a training partner or two so that you can watch each other's handling, and also to help place hides. I started out with semi-private lessons, then some classes, but currently just practice on my own or with friends, attending the occasional seminar.