Some Notes, and Some Brutal Honesty

Its hard to hear that you are lacking in areas that you work so hard on. But that is exactly what we need, and seem to have found—someone willing to give us the brutal truth and also offer up solutions and ways to work on our shortcomings.

Some excerpts from an email exchange between myself and the new trainer.

“I have only seen you guys twice but I noticed the following:
1)  There is a gap between what you think he understands and what he
actually understands.  In some instances, it is that some thing hasn’t
been varied enough in training for him to be able to do with speed and
distractions.  Other times there was too big a leap from the aid used
(like the channel weaves) and expecting him to do it without the aid.
2)  When he gives you stress signals you don’t stop the session to
reboot, you continue to ask for more and he shuts down.
3)  His reinforcement rate in new environments is too low.
4)  You and him need games to do to replace his current inability to
play in public.  Play builds a bond and releases tension/anxiety.  The
closest thing you have right now is the hand touch which could be
utilized MUCH more often than what you currently do.”

“You definitely have some holes in your foundation training you
need to work on…  I think you are right in that you get
overwhelmed, so I am trying to give you just a couple things to work on
at a time.

Having drive is not the issue for Forest or many other dogs.  It’s
there, it’s just up to the owner to harness it or bring it out.  Forest
is smart and sensitive.  So when the training doesn’t make sense to him
or your reinforcement rate is too low, he is smart enough to know it and
he checks out.  That is something you can learn to work with.  It will
take time and patience though.”

Ouch. But good. This is exactly what we have been looking for. Someone to crack open the door and shed some light on our bumbling around in the dark.

Next week we will be focusing on how to play, resetting with tricks, and my reward system (or rather lack thereof).

I am excited.

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Thursday Linktasticness

Links of note:

  • Hey there USDA! Welcome to the party! It only took you a few years of internal investigating to find out what most of us already knew! Puppy mills are seriously effed up, and the government turns a blind eye…
  • Raised by Wolves breaks down the USDA report in detail, including noting that the fine worksheet for violators had a glitch that actually lessened the amount they were fined. Geniuses. ** Beware, graphic images on her post.
  • This post from Smartdogs’ blog was very helpful to me this week in dealing with foster dog drama.

Speaking of, no one gets to play with toys or bones in the same room as Pierre any more. Last night’s scuffle ended in Diego with a minor eyelid tear. Sorry guys, I am still learning how to be a good foster mom… Crates and NILIF are our friends at the moment.

Have a private lesson with NT next week. I was worried after looking at her site that there was no way I’d be able to afford it, but she gave me a very good deal since we are already enrolled in classes, so I think we may actually be able to do it regularly once or twice a month. Looking forward to it…

Break Time

So… I’ve calmed down. Somewhat. In between spazzing out at foster dogs eating my favorite sandals and cleaning up after darling cousin dogs marking all over my house. Everyone is all nestled up in their crate right now, we all needed some “apart time” to diffuse the chaos.

I couldn’t contain myself to wait a full 24 hours to write to NT (New Trainer) about my freakout, but I did try very hard to not sound like a total freak OCD crazy dog lady. She wrote me back a note saying yes she agrees that I get overwhelmed, but that I am okay staying in the class I am in. And that if I can swing it, some private lessons with her, or seminars with other specific trainers would be a good idea too. I agree. *Big breath.*

We dont have class next week due to the holiday, which I think is actually a good thing. Some time off to breathe and not obsess about agility, or behavior, or whatever. I am going back to basics with all three dogs, and will be focusing on managing everyone. Just having everyone quietly crated this AM when I left the house was something of a relief. Usually they are like a pack of wild monkeys loose out in the courtyard trying to crawl under the gate as I leave them (forever this time!!!). It was probably nice for them too.

In other not so good news, my coworker’s gorgeous-but-doofy Golden got into antifreeze—or some derivative thereof—while here at work yesterday. He is currently at the vet in dialysis, working on beefing up his already existing $6,000 vet bill. Ooof. He is as bad as my dogs in eating everything in his path, but we cannot for the life of us figure out what he found/ate. We have scoured the parking lot and suspect areas, but no obvious puddles that we can figure out. We did have the mobile car wash people here yesterday… Could they have used some products that he lapped up? Fortunately my dogs are contained and not wandering when they are here with me, but that still freaks me out, and I feel absolutely horrible for her. Thinking healthy thoughts for Elmo…

And calming, positive thoughts for Casa de Chaos.

Back to Reality

I should really go back and change the title of my previous post. Its embarrassing really. I was all hearts and butterflies and happy agility nirvana. Yeah, well… that was a glimpse into what it could be like. We swiftly and spectacularly fell back over to the other side last night.

I guess it wasn’t a total disaster. No one was maimed or seriously hurt, nothing exploded, I don’t think I offended anyone (other than they may have been mildly offended by having the watch my ineptness)…. But Forest looked at me like I had three heads and was asking him to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. “Three jumps in a row? Whats that?” “Weave poles? Never seen ’em.” ” ‘Please don’t wander away aimlessly from the start line?’ I have no idea what you’re talking about.” It was bad enough to the point of me running half a course with the trainer holding his leash. Yeah, it was bad.

I’ve never really thought about quitting, but last night was the first time it crossed my mind. Some of the many things I learned last night—I don’t know how to play with my dog; I am not consistent in my cues, reward system or handling; my dog is very sensitive (kinda was already starting to figure that one out); and that I get really really shrill when I am freaking out (I guess I kinda knew that one too, was just horribly reminded of it last night).

It was embarrassing. I was verging on being very much like the one woman at trials who when I see I immediately go the other direction because she is so wound up, and screaming at her dogs, and has zero control and just looks miserable. That’s probably why I steer clear of her, because I know how she feels. Don’t they say we most criticize the traits we detest in ourselves?

The one observation that wasn’t a crushing blow, actually slightly validating, was that the trainer actually said that he is “a complex dog” and in not so many words is not easy to train. Finally, someone said it. No one else has ever actually said that to me before. I just felt like it was always assumed/implied that I was inept or just not training/trying hard enough.

So I dont know. I am sure I can talk further to her about it. I dont know if I should keep slogging through it with Forest? Apparently my handling skills are horrid, so should I go back to square one with him and actually start over? Or maybe start with Pierre and give Forest a break? I want to ask the trainer all of these things but I also dont want to come off as a drama queen. Maybe I’ll sit on it until tomorrow and try to compose myself into a semi-rational being so I can have a semi-rational conversation…

Ugh.

The Shift

We had a good weekend. Forest, Pierre and I packed our bags and headed down to SD on Friday evening to join the family for some celebrating of graduations and such. My NYC-based sister was on town, and much eating and beveraging ensued. It was good.

Pierre did pretty well at the parents house. No accidents, mostly well-behaved, though he is proving to have issues with some men, usually older ones with grey or little hair. He was fine when he entered a room my dad was already in, but when my dad came into the room, he had a few fits. He would settle fairly quickly, but it was odd and a little nerve-wracking. He also is extremely obsessed with cats. Forest likes to chase the cat, but I have zero concern that if he actually catches it that he would do anything. Pierre however, I do not trust at all. My sister actually did a spectacular body slam/pin maneuver on him when the cat escaped into the back yard where we were all hanging out. My sister loves her cats man, and no little black dogs are getting within ten feet if she can help it. I wish I had it on video, it was so amazing. Pierre was screaming bloody murder the whole time, charming.

We had one day of a two day, one judge trial yesterday. It was my first one judge experience and honestly I may avoid that scenario in the future if I can help it. The lack of having to worry about ring conflicts was nice, but not worth the slow-moving agony we had to endure instead.

Regardless, I really think that my new trainer has already helped us immensely. I kept it really light, happy, fun. We played before as much as I could get him to (the wind and cool weather helped as well). I was just happy happy, didn’t overdo my warm up, kept him cool and contained for the majority of the day, and it seemed to work really well.

This was our first go in Open Standard and he did awesome, other than me calling him out of the weaves too early (at like 9 or 10 I got excited and said “GOOD boy!!!” and he was like “okay! what now!?!” and popped out. I went back to do them again (not sure what actual protocol in Open is for re-dos on the weaves), made it to like 10 where he popped out again, so we just kept going. He was so, so good. I was really happy with him.

In Novice JWW, again the weaves got us, but not bad enough to knock us out. It was a bit of a weird entry which my crap handling skills did nothing to assist, so he kinda just stalled out. But I got him revved back up and rolling again so we made it all good and Q’ed out of Novice there too.

I really am so proud of him and how far he has come, and I am proud of myself for figuring out how to work with his little eccentricities to keep him happy and “in the game”. I also am realizing more and more how sensitive Forest is. He acts so aloof most of the time, but I now know how much he picks up on my moods and feelings. The new trainer has helped me refocus onto keeping it fun for him—which in turn makes me lighten up, and I think it will make all the difference. Looking forward to class with her tonight—I hope she remembers the flirt pole! I have my string cheeses, squeaky ball, and nasty-ass-sock filled with hot dogs ready to go.

(If I ever consider running for political office, that last sentence could bring me down in fiery flames…)

Off Topic link: a nice post from Dogster on the ins and outs of vaccinating your dogs.

Yay Monday. Mleh.

Round Three….

So last night was our latest attempt at finding the “right” fit for us, trainer/training-wise. I don’t want to jump the gun because it was only Night One, but…. I really, really liked her. This particular trainer has been in the sport for a while, but she also runs a large dog daycare and training facility, and has an Aussie rescue as well. She is a busy lady. I like that she is well-rounded and does more than just agility. I think this showed through in some of her training techniques too.

It didn’t hurt my like-factor towards her that she loooved Forest. She was really excited for us and said we are going to do really well—with some work on his motivation and my handling skills. She was brutally honest, but really positive about it all. No BS, but truly interested in us and our potential. It felt good.

Something new for me too was that she was way less concerned about us doing things “right” than making the correct training decisions according to the dog. And, everyone, but for us especially, she was all about getting the dog excited, even if it meant stopping what we were doing and completely changing the plan in order to get him motivated and having fun. I feel like she has a vast enough knowledge to tailor everything individually and make fluid plans and adjustments.

She also gave me a specific goal for the week—work on getting him motivated to interact with a certain toy he likes at home—and will also be bringing a flirt pole to class for us to try as a reward as well.

So overall, I feel really good about it. I have been searching for someone who looks at things from an overall, high-level training and actual behavior perspective rather than a “the dog is supposed to do X at Y”, or “this is the handling system that works”, or “I am here to teach at you for an hour, okay we’re done”. I think we may have found it.

And, RE the AKC table change hubbub… That is so funny to me. At first I wondered why have it all if there is no “position”, but then again now it seems it actually could be harder with no stationary position… As in, especially with a super-fast-mega-drivey dog, it will be tough to keep them on there it seems. And, how will the count work? Does the dog have to stand stock-still? What if he is tap dancing around? Do all four feet have to be glued to the table? I am slightly confused. At least we have plenty of time until then…

—Update— New trainer emailed me a handout on working on Toy/Play Drive. I am a sucker for handouts…!

An Open Letter to the Ladies of the Club

Dear Club Ladies,

Thank you ever so much for holding agility practice last night. I so admire your fancy matching weimerarners and vislas that run the course like its the last thing they will do on this earth. Your long blond ponytails that were cool in the eighties while you were in high school swing mightily in the breeze as you tug with your ever-so-drivey dog.

As I am sure you could tell by the absence of personalized license plate or custom decals plastered across my vehicle stating my MACH status, I am still relatively new at this. In case you couldn’t yourself deduce the fact that I did not buy my dog from a breeder for thousands of dollars at eight weeks and raise him to be the most-perfectly-behaved-dog-in-the-universe, let me confirm for ya, I didn’t. The fact that we can more-or-less make it around a course—unfenced, in the middle of a city park—two run offs to rudely harass bystanding dogs or getting stuck in the tunnel notwithstanding, is a minor miracle. You have no freakin’ idea.

Go ahead and make snarky comments and snicker under your breath and say “We better go stand over HERE” the next time I run my course. Go right ahead. I didn’t come here to make friends. I already have many, many lovely friends I do a horrendous job of keeping up with as it is. I don’t need to add you to that list and I am definitely not going to waste any brain cells trying.

However, the next time I am running a course, and you start TEARING IT DOWN while I am still on it, I am going to grab that goddamn tacky-ass ponytail and helicopter you South into the tennis courts. Or even better, straight over into the dog park. Because god FORBID you get any untrained, unMACHed poorly-bred designer dog shit on your mommy jeans.

Don’t you worry, I will keep coming back. I paid my $20 to belong to this club just like the rest of you, and I am going to use every last cent of it. Even if its agonizing for all involved. Especially if its agonizing for you Ponytail.

And to the board member with the 8 screaming Bassett Hounds, keep it real lady. You were the only one who was even remotely kind to us last night. I guess you can sympathize with us, as none of these other people seem to have started out new at anything. Ever.

Sweetly,
L & F