Monday, September 20, 2010

Stress and Worry

Sunday's two runs weren't much better.  The trial site was a bit quieter as Newark Airport changed their landing configuration, but there were trains going by to make up for that.

Open Standard really didn't look bad at all.  I thought that if we made it past the opening, we'd be fine.  I went in to the ring as smiley and confident as I could be.

It wasn't a bad run, really, but it was more of the same - Marge running off and not paying attention, and more trouble at the table.  We also incurred a failure to perform fault because she went around the first jump.  From the second she got in to the ring, her eyes were all over the place - I didn't want to lead out, but I thought I had to in order to help her over the #3 teeter.  I know it doesn't look bad in the video - heck, we would have Q'd if not for the first jump - but we weren't connected.

Open Jumpers looked terrible on paper.  It really didn't have much flow to it at all in my opinion, and my initial reaction was to take her over 5 or 6 jumps and walk out.  Every one told me that I should just try to do the course, and so I did.

I'm not even going to upload the video because it's pointless.  Marge was completely unresponsive to her name when I called her from the start line, and made it over two jumps before she went darting to the other side of the ring.  A quick "here" brought her back, and then I just sent her over the last three jumps on the course and walked off.  There was no way we were going to be able to do anything.

One thing I did that I'm unsure of was not treat her at all when we got out of the ring.  She went over  expectantly to my cooler where I had her treats, but I picked it up and walked back to the tent without giving her a single morsel.  One part of me thinks I shouldn't treat her because she didn't do the course, and the other part thinks I should have because she did complete the last three jumps.  I don't really know.

It's like I'm not interesting enough to her at all - even while waiting to go in to the ring while I still have treats, I felt like she wasn't really engaged with me.  Someone suggested giving her less treats before going in to the ring.  Someone else suggested giving more treats while milling around the trial site.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't really worried about all of this.  Everyone says that this will go away with some time and patience and more trial experience, but I don't know.  Looking back at my previous runs from trials, she seems distracted at the start line, too.  There also were some running away incidents, but they were so minor that I didn't think anything of them.   That would mean that this is an existing problem that appears to be worsening. It's not the NQ's I'm upset about - it never has been - it's the idea that Marge is stressing out in what I thought to be her favorite environment.  If she was goofing off and having FUN, that wouldn't be so bad.  But it really looks and feels like stress to me.

I had so many people coming up and asking me what was going on, what was wrong with Marge, and I snapped at someone and said "I have no f^&(ing clue."  I think people were surprised by how down I was about it.   I hope I didn't anger anyone. But the runs just felt so unhappy, like I was forcing Marge around the course.

Today, she seems jumpy and stressy, too, but I suppose it could just be me confirming my own beliefs.

My next trial is in 2 weeks, at a park we've trialed at twice before.  I will have two agility classes before then.

I'm supposed to be sending my entry in for a November trial at a park we've trialed in before.  I almost don't want to send it.  Maybe I'm jumping the gun by assuming these 4 runs are indicative of a very big problem, or maybe I'm not.  I just can't imagine bringing a stressed out dog to a competition because I really don't want to make Marge do anything that bothers her.

I'm going to have trouble getting to everyone's blogs as my internet connection is not working right yet again.  An angry phone call to Verizon will ensue this evening, I'm sure.


Sierra Rose September 20, 2010 at 2:39 PM  

Hi! Well, looked like a full course there on the video, and pretty fun. Things will sort seems that our bond when working with our furries changes. My latest discovery is getting Sierra Rose to do an enthuiastic DOWN with a talking bear toy that she doesn't get to play with often. Treats aren't always of big value to her.
All good. Keep it fun, all will work through!

Hugs and snaggle-tooth kisses,
Sierra Rose

Sam September 20, 2010 at 2:48 PM  

Yeah, we did run the whole Open Standard course. Open Jumpers is the course that I shortened. I didn't upload that video because there's not much you can see (Louie shut the camera).

Cinnamon and Mint September 20, 2010 at 4:27 PM  

Sam, I think both humans and dogs have bad days sometimes. What I think you need now is perhaps some patience. Don't get too stressed, and relax!

andrea September 20, 2010 at 6:36 PM  

I'm glad you shortened the course ... click and cookies to you

did she do the last three jumps happily and with you?

regarding the treat no treat thing .. I have yet to completel ignore my dogs coming off a course .. they may not get a superjackpot but I usually have a good ending (even if I cut a course short - and lord knows I have done with the wild women) so they get a "paycheque" - no bonus though if that makes sense ...

if you think she's stressed - and you know her better than anyone - I'd really break down agility into tiny chunks of JOY and excuse myself or stop and regroup midcourse a couple of times- throw the concept of q out the window for 2 trial days - or three ...

if you hit the start line and all is connected and great that's super - but presume it WON'T be. I don't mean rehearse it that way I mean plan either a short path or where ou are going to stop and thank your dog.

Use all your mental management stuff (if you have any - if not start building a sports pysc plan for you!!) too - but really think about what you feel the key issues are and how to rebuild your connection ...

Sara September 20, 2010 at 7:07 PM  

I've had trial runs where I've felt Oreo was so stressed, that I should throw in the towel. Obviously, I haven't.

For awhile, I think Oreo's stress got worse before it got started getting better. It had more to do with me than him.

Hang in there, stay positive, set small goals for each run, that way you can leave the ring feeling succesful.

Dawn September 20, 2010 at 7:09 PM  

I think I like what Andrea is saying. It may take a few trials to get connected again. But that's OK! Reward her when things go well, and let her (and you!) have some fun!

But then I have no experience whatsoever in agility!

Muttsandaklutz September 20, 2010 at 7:46 PM  

I'm sorry to hear things went so differently at this trial. If I may share my thoughts: I've had runs with Lucy thought have gone quite similarly to these in many aspects. And yes, I've had one run too where I didn't give her any treats after her run because she was zooming / doing her own thing and repeatedly running to the exit gate as if demanding to have her treats NOW. It sucked! So, you have company in those shoes.

But I do wonder if in Marge's case the venue played a role. It did seem like there was a lot going on, a lot of distractions to deal with. I have a feeling she will be back to her old self at her next trial where she's already comfy with the venue.

And even through all of whatever she was going through this weekend, she did have some very lovely contacts and weaves.

NAK and The Residents of The Khottage Now With KhattleDog! September 20, 2010 at 7:47 PM  

Perhaps the nicer weather is calling to her?

Sorry it isn't fun right now -

KB is right - yesterday's Ashley does remind me of Marge!

Chris and Ricky September 20, 2010 at 8:55 PM  

Sam - I think it just takes awhile for the dog and the handler to get used to trialing. It's not just the different environments - it's knowing what to do - how to warm up your dog, how to get the connection and keep it going into the ring, what to do at the startline, when to give treats and how much etc.etc. We are struggling with all these things. I don't really like trialing yet. It's so much waiting around and so much uncertainty and so many things I still have questions about. I try to go and focus on having a good time with my dog but it is difficult. But I love agility and I love the training and the classes and I am going to keep trialing and see if I can relax and get into a routine that works for us. I seriously do think that many of the issues we face are because we are new to the whole thing. I think Marge went around the first jump of your STD run because she is a baby dog in agility. I think she does enjoy being there - please don't give up yet. Try not to be so hard on yourself. Keep at it and I predict you won't believe how far you guys have come when you look back at this time a year from now!


houndstooth September 20, 2010 at 9:05 PM  

I'd chalk it up to a lot of uncertainties and distractions, go to the trial in two weeks and see how it goes. Go into it looking for fun, though.

If I'm doing training or performance of some kind, even if it's been difficult, I always try to end on a positive note.

Never Say Never Greyhounds September 20, 2010 at 9:17 PM  

Sorry you are having problems at agility trials. I would lean towards just doing a jump or 2 and then "jackpot". Mine all know what "jackpot" is so I can tell them that in the ring and they know we are going over to get it. Gook luck! I know you are probably getting suggestions from all directions. Stay clam and listen to your gut.

Lorenza September 20, 2010 at 10:31 PM  

Looks like it was not the place for Marge. I know she will do it pawesome next time!
Relax and have fun!
Take care
Kisses and hugs

Amy / Layla the Malamute September 21, 2010 at 3:10 AM  

I had a whole freakin thing typed out but my phone froze and deleted the whole thing.

I'm sorry Sunday wasn't much better. I still can't see the video, but it wouldn't really matter even if I could. I've never met Marge so I don't have a good interpretation of how she exhibits regular distraction vs stress or anything else.

I think if you're unsure of whether or not it's stress - bad stress, not good excitement - the best way to find out is to trial again. Not to put her in a situation that you know she won't enjoy, but to try and get a better idea of what exactly changed. A new location, new equipment, all that will be different at the next trial. If the problems aren't there (or are different), you can try to narrow down the causes. It'd work the other way too; if the problems are the same, then you know it wasn't that particular environment.

I do agree with you for not rewarding her after that run. It's kind of a grey area, since like you said, she did do the last few jumps, but if she wouldn't even respond to her name then that shouldn't be rewarded. It's not really the same, but if I'm in class and Layla gets the zoomies and takes a contact to a perfect position, I would reward that. Yeah the position is right, but that's not the premise of it.

The issue of it all is the fact that agility (and obedience and rally and everything, but especially agility) is just a big display of your relationship together. Most dogs are physically capable of performing the obstacles, but few have the relationship needed to perform a whole course as a team. So when the people came up to you asking what was wrong with Marge, I don't blame you for snapping at them. At best, that was a super rude remark to make to someone. You were a lot more polite than I would've been.

I'm sorry I don't have any advice or suggestions. Just lots of positive thoughts that this will disappear as randomly as it appeared. Like I said, I can't see the videos, but if Marge had a good time visiting people and dogs on Saturday, I don't think she's changed her whole outlook on the environment at agility trials.

As for the upcoming trials, they're important to try and figure out what exactly is going on in her fuzzy little head. Maybe it was just the trial site and Bayshore will go on with no issues. But as for the November trial, send in the entries and if you have to (after seeing how Bayshore and the lessons go), you'd be able to withdraw them in the future. In early November there's a NADAC trial in Freehold. If there are still issues by then (I'm hoping there won't be though), she might benefit from a trial situation that lets you train in the ring. There'd still be enough cues to make her realize it's a trial.

Really sorry I don't have any advice or solutions. You guys are more advanced than I am anyway. But from what I can tell (just reading and never having met Marge or seen the videos), I don't think she's stressing in the environment to the point that you guys would have to give up trialing. If she was stressed in that way, I can't see her running to a stranger in the ring. I'd imagine that she'd follow you immediately, breaking her stay, and just cling to you.

Sorry it's such a long reply (with no real answer). I hope you get some answers soon.

Amy / Layla the Malamute September 21, 2010 at 3:13 AM  

I wouldn't reward that ***. If Layla took a wrong contact but was in perfect position, I would NOT reward that.

Diana September 21, 2010 at 8:30 AM  

Ok this is just my opinion so take it for what its worth. watch your standard run again and just watch yourself, not your dog. What do you see? Do you know what I see? ( please dont be offened) someone who is no longer confident. Run the course like you own it. How can your dog be sure of what is going to happen if you arent? Run it like you mean it. Ive seen you run your dog, you attack the course. You didnt do that here. Dont let all this stuff get in your head. You werent running and giving your dog information. Your dog probabaly didnt know what was going on. "why is my handler acting this way". Dont walk on to a course already defeated. Have a plan and do it. RUN IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT!! (please dont be offended. You have a great dog and lots of potential.)Diana

KB September 21, 2010 at 9:10 AM  

I like Andrea's idea too, although I have no idea how acceptable it is to stop a couple of times during a run to reward your dog.

The other odd idea that I have is to really reduce your practice for a while. I find with my underconfident dog, K, that really short intense practice sessions make her extremely amped for each one. I literally mean like 5 minutes each... but then she is SO focused. I guess this idea also goes along with Andrea's idea of breaking up your runs into short parts and rewarding each one.

You're way more advanced than I am but that is the idea that occurs to me after reading your description and watching your video.

Keep your chin up. I bet that this is just a phase that you'll figure out how to work through.

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart September 21, 2010 at 8:12 PM  

I'm sorry to hear about the tough couple of days. I'll hope it's just a fluke of the venue or whatever and that Marge bounces back.

Kim September 22, 2010 at 12:29 AM  

I'm with Diana. Relax! Remember how much you two have already accomplished as a team in the time you've had her and put it in perspective with one "meh" trial weekend. Every team has poor connection weekends, so don't sweat it. Marge want's to please you and to have fun with you...if you aren't having any fun, neither is she. I think Marge may read you better than you give her credit for ;)

Scout and Freyja September 22, 2010 at 12:56 AM  

We can't make too many comments 'cause we don't do the agility-thing but we think that Marge should have received a treat because she did not know why you did not treat her. We think agility should be fun and poor Marge wanted a little treat...sigh.

Anonymous September 22, 2010 at 6:09 PM  

Hi Sam! Of course, I know NOTHING about agility but here's my two cents...

I think a LOT of it had to do with the venue. With so much going on, and with Marge's sound sensitivity, I'm sure she was stressed the first day. And then that memory carried over to the second day. I really think our fearful dogs are fast learners, which is both good and bad. She learned quickly that she had to be on the lookout for scary stuff. And she remembered that going into the next day.

Also, I know with Mayzie that she's REALLY in tune with my emotions and stress. This was really brought home to me in one of our rally classes. She's usually very focused and seems like she's having fun. But on this particular night, she was absolutely all over the place. Sniffing, not paying attention, etc. I was like, "WTH?" Then I realized on my way home that I had been really tired going in to class that night. I remembered thinking, "Ugh, I don't want to go. I just want to stay home." And I really think she fed off of that. The next week when I was in a better mood, so was Mayzie. You were probably stressed going into the trial as well, and Marge probably picked up on that.

And last (okay, I guess this is more like 3 cents), I would've given Marge a treat. Even if you had her do something easy like touch or shake or something else she finds fun and is easy for her, and THEN give her the treat. My trainer's always saying that you should end any training session on an up note. Plus, I think it's really important to our fearful dogs that we're VERY predictable. But having said that, I wouldn't worry about it too much. I doubt skipping that one treat is going to scar her for!

Hang in there and do what you feel is best for the next trial. But I do have a feeling things'll be better next time.


Golden Samantha September 22, 2010 at 10:15 PM  

Oh Sam... am so sorry things haven't worked out as you'd like them too. Am having "RECALL: probs with Sammie such as I can't believe lately!!!! My instructor says two steps back and one forward, but doesn't help me at all! Oh gosh, hard, but hang in there - you are one amazing trainer and Marge has done incredible work with your aid.
Hugs xoxoxo
Sammie and Avalon's Mom

andrea September 23, 2010 at 5:00 PM  

I just made time to watch the videos and I have to say I agree with Diane
Your handling was not the handling I've watched on other runs ... usually I can predict what obstacle is next based on watching a handler .. this time there were a few spots I had trouble .. she ran wide or went visiting a couple of times that I saw that perhaps she wasn't sure what she was supposed to be doing

Does this make any sense? - if you thought she was stressed (and she certainly was distracted by the environment!) you might have gotten stressed which changed your handling enough to make her less confident , which made you less confident and so on and so on ?

I saw lots of lovely moments on the courses too- nice weaves, nice contacts, some lovely send aheads to jumps etc

try not to make yourself nuts but consider backing up your handling to a novice dog level and making the information as CLEAR as possible

(Brody will crash into the side of a tunnel - STILL - if I am the least unclear at one!!)

Kari in Alaska September 24, 2010 at 12:35 PM  

I agree with those who say that it will get easier with time. You are still very new to this and know that Marge has some issues with adjusting to new locations so I am sure she is feeding a bit off our nerves but if she isnt shutting down I would consider it a success!


BRUTUS September 24, 2010 at 7:56 PM  

I didn't read all the comments, but I bet someone already said this. Still: it just wasn't your weekend. Bummer, but don't get too bogged-down by it. You many never know why Marge wasn't herself - as much as we'd like to know what is bothering our dogs and fix it...

I think you made the right decision to end your jumpers run. If she did do the last 3 jumps as you directed, I don't think you would have been reinforcing anything bad by treating her afterwards. When Brute quits on me, the rule is ONE good thing, then JACKPOT when he does what I want, end on a good note so there is a positive thought in his (if not my) mind to walk away with.

I bet Marge comes back at your next training session and/or trial and acts like nothing ever happened. You have my complete understanding - remember I have a "non-sporting" breed as a partner! Some days he just WON'T work (period) and there is nothing I can do about it. Burns me up, but I've learned it's better to just walk away and go do something else that is fun instead of frustrating, it's better for both of us at that poitn!

Hang in there - this too shall pass....


Carolyn September 25, 2010 at 6:37 PM  

I watched the videos. Looks like Marge is pretty interested in being a ham! Lol!

One of the things I had to do when Cooper started similar behavior this summer was to remind myself that this was a game and supposed to be fun. If I walk onto the course with an intense attitude, I lose him.

Also, I started hand feeding all his meals and stopped treating at home. Made a big difference in his focus.

Not sure if this will help you, but it's made a major difference for us.

Hang in there.


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