Rollercoaster

Wow. Yesterday was a Day. One of those days where I ran the entire gamut of emotions, from being so happy I wanted to cry to actually crying for well, the usual reasons you want to cry.

I was at the first day of Wags’ annual seminar with Rachel Sanders. For anyone who hasnt read my effusions on Rachel before I’ll recap briefly; I love her. She is fun but honest. To the point and constructive without making you feel like a total ass. She can be direct, but it is also interspersed with “good for yous” and “that was a great try”. Plus she has a great sense of humor and always has some silly story to share. I also was graced with the presence of quite a few of my favorite agility friends, and I’d been looking forward to this for months.

Our first drill was a reasonable course of 10 obstacles that was perfect for Phin. He ran it wonderfully but unfortunately, it was punctuated by him having to stop and gag a few times, mostly in the beginning. However, he got over it quickly and ran like a champ. It was the longest we’ve ever worked at jumping at one stretch and he was just awesome. At the end of our turn Rachel said he was great, “phenomenal” was actually the word she used. I was so happy, so relieved that my ego about this dog wasnt just in my own head, that I really wanted to cry. I was so beyond excited that I let that cloud over the fact that I should have pulled him out right then and there due to the coughing.

I did end up taking him out an hour or two later after one more gagging incident. Forest and I ran a lackluaster turn then we bowed out. There was some attached work drama that came up as well that put me in a foul mood, but I slowly growing a thick skin. We drove straight to the vet.

Phin has been to this vet maybe three times for just routine shots and etc. While he has never loved being there, he was definitely a bit more on edge yesterday than he had been in the past. I had him in the room for a few minutes and seeing how tense he was I went back to the car to get some treats and his Gentle Leader. We went back to the waiting room and did some sitting, downing and backing up which helped him get more comfortable, or at least took his mind off the scary stuff. I warned the vet tech that he was shy around new people and he was okay with her other than trying to scoot away as she took his temp. Then the vet came in (a new one, every time I go to this clinic it is someone else)  and it all went downhill rapidly from there… He wouldn’t let her look in his mouth, he was very skittish but never growled or froze, he only was trying to escape. The vet started asking me if he has always been like this, and I said yeah, his fear of strangers is getting worse. This threw her for a loop and suddenly she’s asking me if I use positive reinforcement training and advising that I see a behaviorist or a trainer. I dont really remember what I said to her but whatever it was was probably in a snotty tone. Ugh. I mentioned that they could not control him at 8 weeks in the vets office (true story), so in some ways this was an improvement, but I dont think she believed me. She took him away to do Xrays to rule out an obstruction, telling me they may have to sedate him. I almost lost it at that point.

She came back, saying he was better away from me and that they didnt sedate him but that it took three people to hold him down for Xrays. I wish they had sedated him honestly. The vet was nicer to me for the rest of the visit, but I am done there. I came home and broke down on the phone with Pete telling him about my day.

I love this dog so much and he is showing me how spectacular and awful—by other people’s standards, not mine—he can be within just a few hours of each other. Maybe if I spend a tenth of the amount of time on handling and socializing as I do on agility he can be better? I dont know, but I am exhausted. Regardless, I am trying to focus on the positive, with the understanding that I have a lot more work to do. I also I need to learn to be more okay with my own opinion of my dog and not be so affected by others… Oh yeah, and find another vet too.

The Beast Turns One/Pack Dynamics Part 2

Tomorrow is Phinny’s birthday. Well it may not be exactly it, but I figured December 12th would be an easy one to remember and its in the general ballpark within a week or two. Lotar–Shit Puppy–Phineas Fungus Littletard. Nugget. Doug. Spaz. These are all his names, from not only me but his ex-owners, fosters, fan base.

I can’t believe I’ve had him almost a year. And then again, he feels like he’s always been here. I have moments with Forest where I like/love him so much it hurts, then not that much later he and I are looking at each other like we don’t know each other and haven’t gone through the years of co-existing and learning together. I haven’t ever had that with Phin, though it may happen eventually. He is always right here, waiting for the next project I have for us to do together, for better or worse.

That’s not to say he isnt annoying or aggravating on a daily basis. His minor effects are that he steps in poo frequently, destroys every toy within a five mile radius, slams Forest into doorways and walls, knocks over the occasional lamp or eats a stray remote. His less minor effects include resource guarding, reactivity to strangers, and separation anxiety. But, goddammit, he is one hard working, intelligent dog.

He continues to amaze me with what he learns–how swiftly he picks things up and how I can cut corners (again for better or worse) because he reads what I want and where I am going before I do half the time.That may be the biggest trap with him–the temptation to rush because he is so game to do anything I throw at him. A lesson in self control for me I guess.

His intensity can be overwhelming for me at times—he plays tug so hard he may pull my arm out of the socket one of these days, and he is on alert at all times. Its hard to shut him off. He alarm barks a lot at home, and I still have a lot more work to do with his reactivity issues.

But under his non-stop bull in the china shop persona, he has a pure sweetness. We were heading into the lobby at work the other day, and a mom and son, about 5 maybe came out the door right on top of us. I startled a bit, just because I am always on guard with him around anyone new, especially when the environment suddenly changes. The little boy landed almost on top of him, said “Oh, hi doggie!”, and threw his arms around Phin’s neck. I was worried Phin may knock him over or at least aggressively lick his face (gentle is not in this dog’s vocab), but instead, he threw his head up and stood stock still, nose to nose with the kid, wagging his tail, clearly reveling in the moment. It was so sweet, and yet terrifying at the same time.

I know expectations are not a good thing. Setting up for disappointment and all that. But I can’t help it. I have high expectations for this dog. I dont know where exactly we are going, but I know it will be good. Very good.

Brain Dump — aka December Seminar #1

We arent doing any trials this month, instead we are going into full bore seminar mode. At least they are about as far apart form each other as possible while still within 30 days of each other, but I have a feeling at the end of it all I wont know what to do with myself. Or maybe I will, I guess thats the point.

Today we had day two of a handling seminar with Daisy Peel.* My biggest takeaway from the whole thing was how much I really, really like the Mecklenberg-based system. I have already been doing it for a while, but having someone who really, really knows it like the back of their hand explaining to you the endless options you have to work with, starting with the foundational six cues, was very enlightening.** And, it made me feel more confident that I will also be able to competently handle Phin using that system, even though he is fast and powerful.

Actually, one of my concerns was that because Forest is “not-fast” and Phin is the opposite that I would have trouble transitioning between the two. However, Daisy made me run my ass off this weekend, which, lo and behold, got Forest moving. I have been in a place for a while where I understood this concept, but there was a disconnect between my understanding of just running anywhere fast and the actual proper locations to get him going—as in often times needing to go in waaaay deeper somewhere to keep him moving instead of sending and taking off away from him. With Phin, I will be able to direct and run, but with Forest, he needs the support.

I was for the majority of the session, the lone “non-Border Collie” handler, and I am 99% sure I was the only one there running their first agility dog. That was a little tough at times. It was a Masters handling seminar that I somehow squeaked into through the backdoor, and the level was high, but we hung in there. Clearly, I was not on the same “foundational playing field” as most of the others and was laid into a bit about it. I get it, I am not in denial, but I am all the more proud of my pound-puppy-cum-first-ever-agility-dog. He is not going to go overseas ever. Maybe not even to Nationals, ever. Hell, if we even ever qualify for Nationals and/or get an Excellent/Masters title I’ll be happy with him. I think he is pretty awesome, hands down.

Main points from my notes;

  • Run with him, pacing him so that you don’t get too far ahead, either abandoning him or slamming on the breaks. He does not need that many turning cues.
  • Watch your dog always, even on the startline. Eye contact is one of the six cues. Walk a course assuming your dog will be running behind you, with your head turned back, see how that changes your perspective.
  • Shut up. Stop “cheerleading”/pushing him to go faster. Only verbal should be obstacle cues or verbal markers for correct decisions or good efforts. Pay attention to his decisions and try to reward the right ones at least with a verbal–this will help build confidence.
  • She also had some funny one liners about a few things, especially blind crosses. She said “They are not sexy, don’t do them just because they’re sexy!” Her point was there’s a time and a place for them, but it needs to be the right time and place.

So really it boils down to; run faster, shut up and support your dog. I think can do that. The training better contacts part however….. Ugh. Thats a never-ending battle that probably will go with me to my grave.

* I did have video from yesterday, but my Lumix  point-and-shoot is suddenly is shooting a different file format that my computer doesnt like. Ergh. We’ll see if I have the patience to figure that out or just abort the files.

** I realize I sound like one of those crazy “system” Nazis. Maybe I just am a believer! For me and for my dogs anyways. It clicks with me so I am officially on the APHS train. Their main spiel is that you are using mostly “natural” cues as opposed to trained cues. Seeing how quickly Phin has picked up on my handling with a minimal amount of jump training makes me believe it. Thats my pitch, I’ll shut up now. 🙂