Monday, September 19, 2011

We Went Back

Marge's reaction to trialing in Sewaren was profoundly different this year.  She had no trouble with the planes overhead and, for the most part, her head wasn't swiveling all over the place while she was in the ring.  Thanks to some really heartbreakingly small errors, we didn't walk away with any Q's.  But I am SUPER happy with Marge's performance since it was her first trial outside since June.

Saturday - Standard

Standard was the first run of the day on Saturday, which is usually recipe for a lousy Standard run.  The course appeared pretty fun and flowy, with the problem areas coming towards the end.  The contact obstacles came in the first half of the course, though, which I think helped Marge stay focused; it was almost like a hybrid Standard/JWW course.

It started out quite well, with Marge holding the A-Frame, getting right on the table, holding the dog walk.  The next part of the course was an offside tunnel entrance to the teeter.  Marge held her dog walk while I led out just a tad and then attempted to flip her in the to tunnel.  She didn't pass the plane of the tunnel, but went in on an angle.  I didn't think much of it and continued.

The serpentine at the end was a bit sloppy but we got it done.  We crossed the finish line after jump #20 and I was ecstatic.  Our first Excellent Standard Q? Yes? Maybe? No.

No one clapped, which was the first warning sign that perhaps I didn't qualify.  Louie went over to get my scribe sheet and sure enough, written on it was "R (Tunnel)."

Perplexed, I watched the video that he had just recorded to see what the problem was.  Marge had entered the tunnel kind of weirdly, but she didn't stop her forward motion and didn't go behind it.  Furthermore, the judge didn't raise her fist to mark the refusal.

I approached her after the class ended and asked her where the error was.  She said that because Marge entered at a nearly 90-degree angle to the entrance of the tunnel, based on the "rule of thirds," she had to score it as a refusal.  She said it was a close call and told the scribe to write "tunnel" on the sheet so that I would know where the problem was.

I'm still not really seeing it.  In my mind, Marge Q'd on this course.

Saturday - JWW

Determined to run a good run AND have the AKC actually record it as a qualifying score this time, we set out to run Jumpers.  The course played well to Marge's strengths and I thought that perhaps we could do it.  However, this time, an error by me sent Marge over an off course jump.  A rear cross cue likely would have gotten her in the tunnel where she was supposed to go.

Sunday - JWW

Tricky course, and I knew it.  I THOUGHT that if we managed the weave pole entrance, that we'd be okay.  But, frankly, there were a couple of off course traps that I missed, including the one where I sent Marge out after the triple and she took an extra jump as I tried to front cross.  Calling her in might have saved that.

Then, she went around a jump, which, again, would have been solved by actually calling her in.  It didn't help that she was jumping HUGE.

Sunday - Standard

Our last shot at a qualifying score for the weekend.  I was worried about the beginning and the icky line from the table to the teeter.

I opted to not lead out in the beginning, and that went alright.  Got her on the teeter and was thrilled with how she flipped away from me to get on the table.  Her eyes were darting all over the place on the table, though, so I wasn't too thrilled with that.

But the damn tunnel got us again.  She swung out too far and incurred another tunnel refusal.  Later, she nailed a really hard weave entrance while I rear crossed behind her, but then popped out of the poles.  I truly think that it had to do with where the judge was standing.. several people commented that he was awfully close to the dogs.

Still, not a bad run, and really, just two freak little things that kept us from qualifying.

Look who visited us right after our Standard run.  One of these jumbos was on approach to Newark when I pulled in to the park in the morning, also.  They didn't seem to bother Marge today at all so I was happy to get to spot my favorite plane.

We're *so* close to a breakthrough, I can feel it.  Our next trial is at East Freehold Park in two weeks, where, historically, we have had awesome luck.  Some of my best runs have come at this park, so I'm ready to get kick our Fall agility season in to high gear then.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gearing Up

I have had a lot of my mind; personal things, school things, family things are all swirling through my head.  I'll apologize in advance because this post is not particularly well written or clever; in fact, it's being written by someone with a huge migraine headache who just stress-ate a half a sleeve of Oreos (there goes the diet!).  The pace is going to be grueling over the next month or so for me, and it's pretty easy to sit here and worry about things.

But I AM going to an agility trial this Saturday and Sunday, so I'm excited about that.

I have practiced the teeter a TON with Marge since our last trial.  In fact, I took her to practice at a private facility over the weekend, where she got to train on two teeters... an old, squeaky one, and a new, rubber one.

She didn't hop off at all, so I'm hoping her confidence transfers over to this trial this weekend.

Her runs this week at class were also excellent.  I haven't seen her run that well with me at our club's agility field in a long time.  I'm betting it's the cooler weather.

The trial is being held in the same park that spurred a lot of agility worries for me last year.  However, I really think that our situation is different this year.  For one, our last trial was only a month ago, as opposed to three months ago.  Also, Marge's noise sensitivities aren't quite so extreme any more.  And lastly, they are not using that dreadful automatic counting table this year at the trial.

I'm hopeful.

Oh, and in case you forgot (since I haven't posted for real in what feels like 5 years), here's what Marge looks like.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Greatest City On Earth.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Shy Dog 101

A dog training dream of mine is to teach a class for fearful dogs.  Shy and fearful dogs are the dogs I'm drawn to work the most with when I'm teaching, and to have a class of 6 or so of them would be something I'd enjoy a lot.

There are very premature talks of a class like this eventually being offered.  If it is, indeed, offered, there are several people (to my surprise) that are interested in being involved in it.  Despite this, I've just as prematurely started to think about what the most important things to convey to a class of fearful dog handlers are if I was, indeed, to teach it.

1. Learn to think in terms of association, not rewards.
The distinction between classical and operant conditioning is, admittedly, something that is a bit hard to teach.  Most people (unknowingly) only think in operant terms when training their dog - "If my dog doesn't bark, I'll reward him" - even when the situation might be better suited to associative learning - type work.

I think the best way to teach this concept is to avoid any technical terms (classical, operant, reinforcement, conditioned response) and to delve right in to the bare minimum that a fearful dog owner should know - how to use desensitization and counterconditioning to change what the dog does, rather than reinforcing outright behaviors.

Getting handlers to think in terms of "loud noise = cookies" or "new stranger = playing with a toy," as well as being able to recognize that fear is not voluntary, would be monumental in the rehabilitation of dogs of this type.

2. Learn how to properly approach a shy dog.
Even those who OWN shy dogs bend over, reach their hands out and talk to the dog to try to get it to sniff them.  The reality is that this type of greeting is super scary to the dog - a big giant human hand is entering their space, maybe grabbing for them, and they just don't like the idea of that.

Much more beneficial is the idea of letting the shy dog approach on their own terms.  Standing or sitting still, not making eye contact and not outstretching their hands is a much more inviting posture for a dog who is afraid of being touched by someone they do not know.  As the comfort level increases, the new person can start to offer food, perhaps by throwing it on to the floor.

3. Learn how to stand up for what's best for a shy dog.
If a well-meaning but uninformed person approaches Marge looking to pet her, I have no problem body-blocking them and telling them NO if I do not feel Marge would be comfortable with that situation.  Unfortunately, this is something that takes a little while to get used to doing.  I can't tell you how many shy dog owners in my classes have allowed people to pet their dogs when the dogs are clearly not enjoying it.  In fact, I myself have had to stand up for these dogs and politely point out to both the offending party and the owner/handler that the dog is uncomfortable.

It would be awesome for shy dog handlers to learn that it is OK to say "no" to a friendly advance from a stranger.  By apologizing and saying that the dog is shy and learning how to comfortably be around people, it minimizes conflict and keeps the dog AND the person safe.

4. Learn about different aids and products that make the process a bit easier.
"I don't want her on pills." "I heard ____ product only works some of the time."  "I don't think she's THAT scared so I don't want to use it."  The excuses are many, but people seem very, very reluctant to add anything in to their training toolbox when it comes to alleviating some of a shy dog's anxiety.  While I do not think the decision to put a dog on medication should be taken lightly, I do think that it is helpful for shy dog owners to learn about medication as an option, should a situation ever arise where the dog needs to be medicated.

In terms of natural or non-invasive products, it is true that the results vary from dog to dog.  However, most of these products are cheap; some, like an anxiety/body wrap, can even be made from household items.  Sampling some of these and seeing how the dog responds would, again, be quite beneficial.  If the end goal is to have a happy, comfortable dog, what's wrong with speeding the process along?

On a similar note, it is also important for shy dog owners to know how veterinarians, behaviorists, and dog trainers can provide their services to help a shy dog get better.

5. Learn to be proactive.
There are certain things in the environment that you can't prepare for - you can't do much in advance about a crack of thunder or a child jumping out from behind a bush.  However, sometimes shy dog owners walk their dogs right in to not-so-good situations.  Walking in close proximity with crowds of people, particularly children, or taking the dog to the park on the 4th of July are, for example, not the greatest ideas, depending on what type of fears the dog has.

The same can be said for situations around the house - if the dog is afraid of strangers and you're expecting your neighbor (who, to top it off, refuses to leave the dog alone) to drop by, put the dog in the yard, or in another room, or in a crate, instead of "seeing how it goes."

Similarly, learning your dog's specific signs of anxiety can be useful in getting out of a situation before it spirals out of hand.

I hope that I get to put my knowledge and enthusiasm for working with fearful dogs in to motion.  I'd also like to hear from you.  Lots of my blogging buddies have fearful or shy dogs and I'm always looking for new ideas. What do you think should be covered in such a class?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Our Obedience Journey

Our competition obedience journey started roughly one year ago, when the obedience training director at my training club told me that Marge was advanced enough in her training to drop in to a Show-Ready Novice obedience class.

Dogs in this class were already competing or close to doing so.  I had never set foot in an obedience ring, never went through the foundation classes like every one else.  Yet, I was now here in this class, not knowing what to expect.  Would I like it?  Would Marge like it?  Would we do well?

Long story short, we made the decision to press on with our competition obedience training.  Two obedience matches later, we entered our first UKC obedience trial in June of this year and picked up scores of 193 and 194.  Here is her first run.

Last weekend, the day that Hurricane Irene scared the pants off of all of us, I had to make the difficult choice to either go to or skip the obedience trial I had entered.  I was stressed to the max with thoughts of my house being washed away by a storm surge (dramatic? maybe), but needed to free myself just a little bit from the chaos and so decided to go.

We had not practiced at all, save for one little ring rental hour shared with a few friends earlier that week.   Marge was picking up on my stress and I just couldn't seem to get her where I wanted her to be in terms of performance during our warm up.

But we went in the ring and got it done.  Not as pretty as our other two legs, we managed to hold on to a 191 and earned our final qualifying score.

Marge is now registered as a United Companion Dog (UCD).  Her first obedience title.  She also was, once again, the high scoring mixed breed in the trial.

It's hard to explain how I feel about the whole process as it's so vastly different than anything else we've ever done.  I wish I could say that it was the title that took us the most work to get, but I'm not sure that's true.  Sure, having Marge hold a Stand For Exam was the culmination of years of socialization work, but the rest almost came naturally.  A little heeling practice here and there, some fronts and finishes, and we were really good to go.

Still, I am really proud of the both of us for earning this title.  Even if it was a tiny little trial at our home training club, I never, ever thought we'd do competition obedience, let alone do it successfully.

We're done with competition obedience for the time being.  Quite honestly, the possibility is there that we will not continue competition obedience at all.  Real life responsibilities beckon (the same reason I've been absent from the blog world), and I'd really like to focus on agility for now.  We are dabbling with the Open exercises, though I'm not sure if I'd like to start fresh in AKC or go on to Open in UKC.  Only time will tell!

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