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…

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.

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.

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…!

Thursday Linktastic-ness

I actually am legitimately surfing the intrawebs today for animal sites, doing media research for an upcoming charity event my work is putting on in May. (I had no idea the LA Times has an “Unleashed blog”.  Lots of good stuff on there…) Found a good one from today;

Eeegads on so many levels…

In other news, we are heading out to our first training session with the new trainer tonight. She has a much smaller area than we are used to practicing in so it will be interesting to see how that goes. Sequences instead of full courses… I am feeling kinda zoned out today, hopefully I can perk up pre-class. At least its only a 30 minute drive instead of over an hour!

We also got our confirmation for our first trial! We are official. And it looks like there are a million dogs before us, which is good and bad. I will undoubtedly be having horse show flashbacks with the whole hurry-up-and-wait process that will undoubtedly happen. That’s okay, part of the fun, right? ….right???