Ima Dog, Ima Workin’ Dog, Ima Hard Workin’ Dog…

Yesterday was the Jennifer Crank seminar.*

It went well, and our biggest victory—massive amounts of handling progress aside—was Forest’s perfectly charming, well-behaved, and all-day-long willingness to stay in the game. He was a complete champ. I lost him just a bit at the very end of the day when we tried to tack on some weaves to the jump drills, but I elected not to push it as he was running on fumes at that point. Overall he gets a solid A for the day.

Jennifer has worked for many years with Linda Mecklenberg, so that is her “system” of choice. I have to say, it made loads of sense to me. I’d definitely like to learn more about her handling. Jennifer broke down agility into two segments which I completely identified with; “training” and “handling.”** Two very separate pieces of the puzzle, but both are needed to be successful. My first year-plus of agility was 95% training. “Here’s how your dog should do the table.” “Here’s how you should do contacts.” “These are the rules for agility.” There was almost zero discussion of handling. Other than “Yes, you should do a front cross between those two jumps.” No one actually explained how to do a front cross to me until a few months ago. So, while I feel we’ve progressed leaps and bound since starting with Laurie, we learned a LOT yesterday.

I very much liked that this style of running is motion-based, and that she broke all the cues/ways you are communicating with your dog into two categories, with six cues in total. In the Natural Cues are Motion, Location, Shoulders and Eye Contact. In the Trained Cues are Hand and Voice. The Natural cues will get you further, but at times you will need to lean on the trained cues.

We did probably 8 or 9 drills/sequences throughout the day. We focused on directing the dogs path with body positioning and motion, and I have to say it worked really, really well for us. I felt by the end of the day, I had so much more confidence directing Forest, and actually being able to send him away from me—not huge distances, but further than we have ever accomplished before–was really exciting. He’s got a bit of velcro in him and likes lots of info from me, so I feel that this method—or at least its foundation—will work really well for us.

I am also coming to learn that Forest is one of those “Nice dog, shame about the handler” dogs. Jennifer said yesterday, “He is a very athletic little dog with tons of potential.” Not bad for a pound dog from someone who has been on the world team and grown up breeding purebreds! She also said that in the 16″ class, that where we will really excel and have the chance to win is in his ability to perform very tight turns. So, that was exciting. Now if I can only get my crap together…

My minor disappointment for the day was our weave regression. At the end of the clinic I went back to the weaves and did just 4 repetitions of isolated weaves and he did each perfectly. But still I am a bit worried about the trial next weekend. We have class tomorrow eve, so maybe I’ll make a special request from Laurie that we work on our weaves.

But, hey. If nothing else, I have learned about agility that my problem today may be a thing of the past tomorrow, and we’ll be on to the next brain explosion…

Good dog.

* One of these days I’ll get off my butt and start taking photos, but meh, dont hold your breath.

** Personally, I’d add in my own third category; behavior. I understand that to be efficient things need to be simplified, but knowing your dogs own personal behavior issues is incredibly relevant and crucial to even begin either of the two other categories. That’s another post I should draft for another day.

The Superstar and the Territorial Pissings

I have learned that Forest is absolutely a “more time off” kind of dog. We’ve done a bit of practice here and there over the past few weeks, but for the most part we have been very light on the agility front for the past month or two. We had our first class last night of the newest session and he was on fire, it was so fun. Super-enthusiastic, good around the other dogs, and just really happy.

He was nailing his weave entries—he only missed once, and even then it was off a tough entry and he obviously tried, just didn’t decelerate in time. It was most definitely not a blow off. We worked the running Aframe into the courses too. Started with the box on the frame which he was great on, then removed it. He started bailing at that point so Laurie put it back in, no biggie. I will need to have a game plan pre-trial in a few weeks though for how to handle that, especially as I dont think we’ll be able to do any contact work between then and now.

In other dog news, I think I may have come to the conclusion that Diego may be OCD. Whole Dog Journal has an article about it in their newest issue and it outlines a lot of behavior chains that we are very familiar with. Normally I am really skeptical of assigning people or dogs the title of OCD (I think in probably 80% of kids that get slapped with that label its straight up BS). But, Diego undoubtedly has a lot of anxiety issues which he manifests through blanket and toy sucking/nursing, excessive and spastic water drinking, and now, and most charmingly—marking throughout the house anytime he feels uncomfortable or threatened.His favorite move is to mark the packages that get put inside the gate by the delivery guy. So no matter what we order, it gets anointed before ever even opened! Thanks dude.

My other BFF came up to stay this weekend with her utterly charming and sweet ACD-mix Scout. Scout is as good a doggie house guest as one could hope to have (aside from shedding like nobody’s business, wowzers), and yet Diego still came unglued. We’d been doing pretty well RE marking in the house, and having her there ramped it right back up. It will probably be this way for a while. Its disgusting and infuriating and all I do is stalk around the house looking for wet spots. Plus my aunt’s dog Buster joins in the fun and then I dont know who to want to dangle over the balcony first… Ugh.

I dont know if we should look into any sort of medication—I hate that I am even thinking about it, as I am very anti-dealing with things via drugs. The article outlined solutions, many of which we already employ, but I dunno. At a certain point you wonder if making them just feel better and relaxed outweighs the evils of dosing him up on something. I guess I could try some light rounds of melatonin and see if that makes a dent in his behaviors at all. I’d definitely have to set it up though so Buster would not be able to come in and provoke him…

Plus then we have the issue of him being a spastic water drinker, whereupon he cant hold it and will pee on one of the rugs if he really has to go. And I can tell the difference between marking and going because he has to go. For that I am trying to actually teach him to ring a bell to go out, but he’s not the quickest learner. We’ve done 5-6 sessions of targeting the bell, and he’s still only at a 50% success rate between the bell and my hand. Maybe I need to get my hand out of the equation and see if that helps…

And on and on.

All Grows-ed Up

We had a lovely dog-filled weekend which thankfully set us back right side up after the disasters of weekend last. On Friday AM we had a private lesson, on Saturday a Fun Match and today we drove down to the Fallbrook property for some full on dog time.

We love going out to Fallbrook. Its a long drive from where we are now, but we have access to about 50 private acres so it makes it worth the trip when we can find the time. I tend to avoid it in the summer as now is peak season for heat, nasty stickers, and rattlesnakes, but thankfully none were out in force today–especially the snakes! I actually plan on seeing snakes out there this time of year but today we were snake-free. I hope to never have to test Forest’s rattlesnake training aptitude, even if it means those few shocks were in vain (I still feel horrible to this day about the snake aversion training I put him through, but hope that it can save his life if he ever has a face off with a rattler).

Working on my video editing skillz on iMovie. Can’t figure out how to fade the music at the end… Abrupt ending!

Snakes aside, its one of the few places I feel okay about letting Forest off leash. We are so far from roads or other dogs and our biggest problem is if he spots a rabbit to bolt off after. Its been a bit since we’ve been out there, and we really have been pretty uptight about not letting him off leash anywhere unfenced these days. I worried that that would backfire—but it seems to have done the opposite. Knock on wood, but he was a star today. He was so lovely and stuck with us, we only lost him charging off the trail once, which in itself was a small miracle. And, he came back almost immediately—within 30 seconds. That is so huge for us.Pete has been getting much better about rewarding him for coming as well and we have made a habit of not going anywhere he may be off leash without cookies in our pockets.

He has been such a good boy lately I hate to admit we keep asking/wondering if he might not be feeling well or something. He doesn’t seem lethargic or upset or “off'”, so assuming all is fine, we aren’t complaining. It’s like he just decided all of a sudden to be a “big boy”.  He seems to have settled and maybe a little less obsessed with what else is “out there” in the world, and a little more content to be hanging out with us. It is a good feeling.

On the agility front, we had a good private and fun match—except for the weaves. We seem to have regressed somewhat in that front, probably because learning by channel weaves isnt the best for teaching them independence. If I dont set him up perfectly, he blows the entry. So, we’ll be starting some 2×2 training this weekend and cross our fingers that we can get through at least a few sets of weaves in Open next weekend at our trial. We also have been working on running contacts on the A-frame with the “box”. Its going really well and Laurie said she was impressed with how he was doing on that front.

Monday morning… Ergh.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAL!

That’s what I felt like this AM in our private lesson with Laurie. Well okay, maybe a little more subdued than that, but still. Forest _PLAYED_ in class. With a TOY. He played. Maybe just for a minute or two, but god-frickin’-dammit he played. First chasing the furry tied onto the end of a lunge whip (yet another reason I love Laurie, she’s a good improviser), then he even grabbed the furry as a reward for going through the tunnel. After the third time through the tunnel or so he slowed down with this look on his face like “Hey, you guys tricked me with that stupid toy!” It was quite hilarious I thought, and we moved on to other food-based things. But seeing him actually GO for the toy coming out of that tunnel was a life changing experience. Small triumphs and great trainers. It can be done.

She assigned us our “Summer Homework” since their July-August schedule slows down a bit and we wont pick up back on a regular class schedule ’til September. Fine with me, we aren’t trialing much over the next few months (besides one here near the beach in August which should be totally doable unless a heat wave strikes, and the potential Mammoth trek). Our homework is to take the jump-mat-tunnel-mat drill on the road to as many new places as possible and work on a “routine” that then becomes our pre-run routine at trials. I love it, makes complete sense and not something I would have thought to do. Incorporating the mat as his safe place will hopefully allow him to ease into the environment at the trial and work past his spaceys.

He did try to go after one of Laurie’s dogs today when he got too close (about 25′). She got after him for it–ie. yelled at him for 2 seconds–which was fine with me. It was good though, he definitely has a low threshold for loose dogs in his space, and it is something we need to manage and work through. Again, mat work is a focus.

We also did some box work in prep for training a running A-frame. He has never been speedy on coming down the AF, and Laurie thinks a running one may be easier on him. So, get in the box dog!

She again said how well and quickly she thinks we have come along, and she likes that he is already “operant trained”–ie. it took him about 5 seconds to figure out how to get in the “box”. She also has two (of her many) dogs that have overlapping “Forest-like” traits, so shes pretty adept at pinpointing his issues and knowing where to start with handling them.

Its been interesting to read some debate on other blogs about what a trainer “owes” a student. One I was reading yesterday more or less said that if the student cant handle criticism, that they shouldn’t be doing agility. Well, I agree to some extent, but I also think it depends on the context and the delivery of the criticism as well. It takes two to tango (or three really in this case–teacher, student, dog). If the student is truly making the effort and is willing to learn and she/he and the instructor arent communicating well, I dont think that means the student cant hack it. I also think there are a lot of instructors out there who may be great at training their own dogs, but arent necessarily cut out to be teachers.

I think if you are taking someone’s money under the “contract” to teach them, you need to honestly try to work with what they present. And if after a solid try it still isnt working, instead of telling them they should try something else (ie. knitting or stamp collecting), recommend another trainer. Everyone has different chemistry. You never know, that perfect person who may get the best out of them could be just in the next town over.

I am sure some people with less manic, competitive drive than I have have given up before finding the right fit. And that is a bummer. I consider us very, very fortunate to be where we are now.

The Private

So we had our first private this morning. I was really proud of Forest, and it solidified my feelings that Laurie is the right trainer for us. She loves all dogs obviously as its her job, but she really likes Forest and in just an hour she had figured out and confirmed a lot of things I have wondered about, as well as pinpointed some things I never would have seen/known on my own. I also really liked that she referenced specific events or issues that happened in our first two classes, which means to me she is paying attention to each individual team. That means a lot to me.

She was glad that we have the mat work foundation and advised that we always have the mat with us at class for the foreseeable future, and that we use it to start and end training sessions at home as well. We started by encouraging him to root around in her toy bag (where he summarily found each and every stale piece of kibble that was rolling around in there underneath the mountain of toys) and got him fired up on eating the string cheese out of the wrapper and tugging on it. She even had me clicking him for using his teeth at first, to work up to getting him to tug first on the cheese, which eventually we’ll transition to tugging on toys.

She told me she thinks he is afraid of the jumps. I had never considered that before, but it makes sense. He overjumps everything by a mile, and it would make sense why he is so funny about jumps at home and the practice jump at trials. So she had me sitting next to the jump and getting him to go back and forth independently for a cheese reward. We started at 8 inches so there was little chance of him hitting or touching the bar. He got it quickly and was offering the behaviors on his own within five minutes. We then moved on to a 3 jump grid, where he was super-tentative at first, but quickly worked up to it. We’ll do that at home, first with the single jump maybe in the living room, then move that down to the patio, then work up to the grid.

We also did some weaves, with him on leash, pulling toward a reward on the floor at the end. We only did 4-5 sets, but by the last he was actually driving through on his own to get the cheese at the end.

She also wants me to work on getting him to relax at home, starting and ending with the mat. She recognized that he doesn’t really like to be touched unless its on his terms, so at least for now, the massage part of the mat work isn’t part of the equation. However, getting him to lay on his side when we are done working and to just chill for a bit is the goal.

So it was a lot of basic stuff, but I think it is exactly what we need. He was happy and stayed with us nearly the entire hour, and that was with dog day care chaos and noise on the other side of the wall as well as someone setting up all the agility equipment in the same room we were in. She said she was impressed with how well he did and how hard he worked. I may attribute a bit of that to the fact that we’ve pretty much taken the last week to ten days off, so he was probably ready to work.

I feel good about having a plan and having direction. And I am happy to slow down and have some specific goals, instead of just blundering my way through everything. We got our Novice Agility Title certificate in the mail yesterday, I think that is more than enough to hold us over for quite a while…

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.

Quickie Update

This week has been crazy between dog stuff, work and side-work stuff and Pete leaving town, so not much time for a proper post.

Monday night was great. Forest was meellllllooooww, thanks to running his brains out the afternoon before. And he was very, very good. Our standard course we would have Q’ed for sure. Missed first weaves entry but then nailed it, and he had his super-fast-pants on. I had to actually run to keep up with him on the dog walk and he even pretty much ran down the AF which was awesome. I was very proud of him. Jumpers wasnt as pretty, but entirely my own fault. The second course had four front crosses in it and I made a total mess of it. Oh well. She tends to give us harder courses than I *think* we’ll have at the novice level, so I can only hope that we’ll have a fairly easy time once we get into the trialing phase.

New Trainer tomorrow evening, looking forward to it.

Prepping and cooking tonight so we’ll have plenty o’ time to pack for our “travel” weekend. Staying with my Dad and stepmom as our trial is way down in South San Diego. We’ll stay with them on Friday and Saturday night which will be fun. My sister will also be there, so I hope to get to have some quality family time squeezed in too. Plus my parents have a new kitty—about 4-5 months now—and he is too cute. I need my kitty fix. Not really reminding too many people down there about my trial, I don’t want to be too distracted. I know I’ll be a stress case, at least on Saturday. The only people “allowed” on Saturday are my mom, Pete, and my BFF from 6th grade who I grew up riding with. Everyone else is barred!

AND, I volunteered to set jumps on Sunday for a few classes. Agility Hell has been held off by a thread.

In Random Dog News: Connecticut Humane Society busted for shady practices, including euthanizing dogs for behavioral problems such as seperation anxiety. Both my dogs would have been toast. Eek, eek, eek.