Thursday, December 29, 2011

What's the Best Agility Dog? A Novice Perspective...

This is the second most frequent question I am asked (right after, "You do Dog What?") when people find out we take Agility Lessons.
Having only 3 dogs in my life, my experience is limited and yet I feel qualified to answer this question!
The simple answer is: The best Agility dog is the dog who loves to do Agility. (understanding of course that the dog must be physically able to run and jump).
If you attend an Agility Trial, it will be come evident pretty quickly that there are all types of dogs AND all types of handlers.
The real qualifier is that while most any dog can do Agility, most of them come with their own unique challenges...
I recently heard an Agility friend exclaim in exasperation "This was supposed to be my EASY Agility dog!" when speaking of her most recent Agility dog.

{Me & One of the Best Agility Dogs!}

While there are many 'Best' Agility dogs, I'm not sure there are many 'Easy' Agility dogs and mine are no exception! While Gilda may not be the easiest Agility dog, she is still the best Agility dog in my eyes!
We had a great class last night. After not even looking at a set of weave poles for weeks, Gilda had no trouble getting right back to where she left off with them! She was happy and moving briskly throughout class and was willing to follow. She had one of her best Teeter sessions yet getting on with confidence and choosing to move along the length of it. We were even able to add more motion without a fearful reaction from Gilda. Of course the chicken baby food helped (a little)!
An outsider might think that a nearly 3 year-old Gilda should be performing better and faster with a full-height Teeter. I however, know how far this little dog has come and just how bright she really is.
And then there's Pico... Pico was supposed to be a 'companion dog': an easy going, low maintenance, lap lounging kind of dog... Notsomuch...

Instead he is a high-engery, fearless dynamo with an intense love of clicker training and to my novice mind, a real knack for Agility. In just a few short sessions, he was able to pull off a Jump-Tunnel-Jump last night! He is bright but in a different way than Gilda. Where she is intense and a little touchy, he has a shorter attention span but is not as stressy, taking most things in stride. Although he is just starting Agility, I can already see and feel a difference in how I train and handle each of them.

The point is, if you're interested in Agility at any level, most dogs, can play along quite well and will match your degree of commitment to the sport. And, most will bring along their own unique set of challenges!
Play Happy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pico has a Breakthrough

Pico is turning out to be a bright, highly motivated little dog. Some things he gets right away (sitting to get his leash on, 'paw', 'sit', 'up', 'belly'). Other things need time and tweaking ('stay', 'come', 'heel').
Now that I have typed out those lists, I see that he quickly gets the tricks with the instant rewards! I'm guessing this means that he needs more frequent reinforcement on the tricks he isn't getting so quickly (am I right Linda?)
Today, Mike and I took both dogs hiking which can be a true trial of patience as Gilda herds Pico the minute he is off leash (and even sometimes when he is on leash which is lots of fun!)
Pico had a real breakthrough with his heeling on leash during this walk! It was like a little light went off in his little head which said, "Oh! You mean if I walk right next to you, with a loose leash, I get FOOD?!"
He is a work in progress!

{I'll count to ten and then RUN}

{Ready or not, Here I Come!}

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Baby Steps and Baby Food...

We had our last class of the session and it was a great one! I had taken Gilda to Akron Children's earlier in the day and she did very well (after her usual 15 minutes of excitability). One of the docs (an avid rescue dog lover) picked Gilda up and put her on his lap where she sat all stiff legged for the first minute. She then seemed to realize that it wasn't so scary after all and that a nice rub down was worth being forced to actually touch a human! She never ceases to amaze me...

I wasn't sure what state of mind she'd be in for class after a stressful 2 hours in the hospital but she was happy and very willing to do a nice little warm-up with me including jumps, tunnels and an A-frame!

When Linda arrived, we got right down to business. It seems we no longer need the 'Happy Game' to get Gilda geared up! We did some short jump and tunnel sequences with some front and rear crosses, changing it up pretty frequently and Gilda did great. I think we  had fewer errors tonight (and yes I know all the errors are my errors!) than we had in any other class. Gilda basically did whatever I asked of her and she did it happily and with moderate speed! Gilda also did a fairly respectable send from a jump to tunnel, something she's not been real comfortable doing.

{See? I CAN stay!}
We brought Pico out and did some Jump practice with him. His Jumps are now on cue ('Hup' for Gilda and 'Jump' for Pico... What was I thinking?!). My homework with Pico is to really work on his 'Stay' so that we can begin Recalls to Heel work. We also introduced him to the Teeter. Using a table, we had him get on the Teeter midway and run to a target at the end. Pico has never been on a Teeter or used a target but an onlooker would have assumed that he's done it many times! It's very different working with a dog with no Obstacle fear! Linda is guessing that at 8 pounds, Pico will probably use a Four-On behavior for his Teeter.

Lastly, we brought Gilda back out for some Teeter work. We started by asking her to get on and walk with no movement. She was tentative but willing (Linda's baby food helped). We then gave the Teeter some slight movement and finally asked her to do the Teeter with a few inches of movement. On her last attempt, I could almost feel her relax and she ran it without shakiness or hesitation (see video)

Baby steps and Baby food!!!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Agility Therapy

So often our Wednesday class rolls around and I wonder if I can even get myself, let alone the dogs, there! Yesterday was one of those days. I had lots of things to do and felt unprepared for class. I did however, have my pumpkin-tuna fudge treats ready!(Recipe below)
I decided that it would be much easier if I didn't take Pico along and then had a change of heart on the way out the door and brought him along. We are both glad for that...

{Therapy in Action}

As usual, Agility Class was the best thing I could have done for myself and our dogs!

Gilda is once again warming up off-leash with only Linda and her gosh-darned treats as a distraction! (Details below)

Linda was preparing a Snooker course and decided that it would be good for Gilda and I to start learning the game.

[Here is a good article about Snooker and point scoring]

Very basically, Snooker consists of an Opening Sequence and a Closing Sequence.

We started by learning our 'Closing Sequence' which was: Blue Tunnel(2), Dog Walk (3), Red Tunnel (4), Single Jump (5), Triple Jump (6), Red Tunnel (7).

Other than a little handling issue (!!) between 4 and 5,  Gilda was moving a little slowly but was willing to play the game.

Next, we began to add in the 'Opening Sequence'. Linda had 4 red jumps set up. The goal for the Opening is to perform one red jump followed by any obstacle, another Red Jump followed by any obstacle, a third Red Jump, followed by any obstacle, the fourth red jump, followed by any obstacle, and then the Closing Sequence. (note that Red Jumps can only each be used once).

With our limited amount of class time and our goal of keeping Gilda de-stressed, we were able to perform half of the Opening followed by the Close. This was an 11 obstacle sequence which was great for us! Way to Go Gilds!

Now it was Pico's turn... We started by sending through a curved tunnel two times without issue. Next, we showed him the chute for the first time. He was quickly willing to go through the chute with Linda holding it open with one hand and that dang baby food in the other (again, see below).

We then moved to another area of the building to send him through another tunnel. This perplexed him but he was eventually willing to send. As we were working on Jumping, another member came through the door and Pico tore off to investigate (or maybe attack, who knows these days). Suddenly, the chute caught his attention and all 8 pounds of him performed his first closed chute! Good Boy Picasso! We finished our Jumping practice (again some handler training) and ended the class. I know I felt better and I think the dogs did too.

Now for the treats issue...

For the last three weeks, Linda has brought along some homemade Tuna Fudge treats and they are all Gilda has wanted! To the point of following Linda around as though she is the pied piper of dogs. I swore that I would make some for this week's class, and I made this version from Henry's handler, Marilyn :)

{The allure of Tuna Fudge!}

Not to be outdone, Linda showed up with a jar of chicken baby food which caused both dogs to trail her every move despite the freshly made Tuna Fudge in my hands and pockets! Sheesh... guess it's back to the store for baby food this week.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tiptoe Through the Gilda

Gilda is a funny dog. At Dog Daycare she is timid and is often seen giving odd signals of submission to the more dominant dogs. With Pico, she is a tormentor, rolling him over rocks, grass, and gravel with equal gusto. During hospital visits, she is friendly and interested in new people. At home, she guards the house as though she is a highly trained attack dog.

{Gilda cautiously explores
her new fenced area}

She is a tough dog to figure out and that's part of what I struggle with in Agility. It's hard to find the right tone of voice for fear of stressing her out. Sometimes I'm too excited, other times I'm too stern.
Today in class, I was too timid which is my normal response with her so as not to stress her out. Somehow though, even timidity can make dogs like Gilda nervous!
At one point after a short sequence, I asked Linda, "Okay. So how do we get her to do it with more speed?" Linda said, "You stop tiptoeing around and run it like you mean it". As usual, her advice worked like a charm! I ran the sequence with enthusiasm and Gilda followed suit!
Our progress may slow but it is steady... Gilda is happy and wags her tail at Linda during class and she is staying with me for an entire class even when the next class enters the building!! This is huge for our little team.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ending on a Good Note

One of the most important rules of Positive Reinforcement Dog Training is to be sure that your dog ends ALL training sessions (even 1 minute sessions) on a positive note. This rule is all the more important when dealing with a stressy or Reactive dog like Gilda.

The general rule of thumb to keep in mind is: If your dog (or yourself) isn't 'getting it', go back to something the dog knows well and performs consistently, have them perform it (even something as simple as a sit), treat (or click and treat) and end the session before either of you gets frustrated. This way, the dog ends with success.

Staying true to this Agility Underground principle, Gilda sure ended this session on a good note! She  had another great class during which she was focused, willing to work and had a wagging tail nearly the entire class! (the tail thing is HUGE for Gilda)

It had been quite awhile since Gilda had seen or attempted any type of Broad Jump so we started with the 'Happy Game' [See FAQ 6: What is the Happy Game? ] just calling her back and forth from either side of the jump.
{Broad Jump example}

After running around the jump twice, she quickly realized that the only way to get a tasty duck treat was to jump over it!

We Backchained a short sequence and ended up with: Jump, Jump, Tunnel (FC), Jump, Jump, Double Jump, Broad Jump.

Gilda really seems to be getting the idea that paying attention to me wins her the prize of running, jumping, climbing and tunneling.

With Gilda more focused and eager to follow, Linda & I are able to work more on Handling. We are learning that at this point, Gilda isn't confident in Sending very far away from me and that my cues need to be extremely clear or else she chooses follow me.

These are not bad issues to have at this stage of the game as I'd rather have her following me than stressing and running off any day! I am so proud of my Gilda...

[Somehow Linda & I both forgot to have her get on the Teeter to continue her desensitization program!]
{Gilda: "Cross Your Paws"}

{Pico: "Got it!"}

As for Pico... he continues to be both the smallest and most expensive dog We've ever had! After 2 beautiful sends through the Tunnel, he was off and running and then proceeded to disregard the new 'Potty Fee' rule by pooping on the Astroturf! He redeemed himself and managed to end on a good note by offering to Jump with lots of distractions around!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Thoughts from A Dog Friend

A fellow Agility Underground member and dog lover posted the following Note on Facebook. With her permission, I'm posting it here as others may also be interested in finding out what draws people to Agility.

Michelle runs 2 French Bulldogs, Brutus & Carmen, with great success.

{Michelle &  Brutus}

{Carmen & Brutus
aka 'Team Frenchie'}

Be sure and check out Brutus' Blog

Agility - Why I am addicted!

by Michelle Hrnchar on Monday, October 17, 2011 at 7:29pm

I've been thinking about writing this for a while.  Hope that many of my friends (fellow agility enthusiasts or not) will take a moment to read it.  I try to keep most of my dog activities on the dogs' own pages, but it's undeniably become one of the biggest passions in my life.

First of all, let me say that I'm unbelievably lucky to have so many people around me who are amazingly understanding.  Although they may find it tough to grasp why I love spending so much time doing "crazy dog things", they entertain my quirks, my stories, and even my tardiness to family events!  I couldn't do what I do without the support of my dad & stepmom (who let the dogs out a few times each day that I work), my wonderful husband, Paul (who endures my absence on many a weeknight to train and many weekends to trial), and even my extended family & friends (who have come to accept me for the crazy dog person that I am). 

Next I have to give credit to my amazing dogs, Brutus & Carmen - who I affectionately refer to as Team Frenchie.  French bulldogs have been bred for decades to be companion dogs.  Astoundingly enough, mine have allowed me to indulge in a sport developed for performance breeds.  Beyond that, they have met & exceeded every goal I've set for them, and become a real source of both pride & joy in my life.

Brutus - my heartdog - who came into my life on a whim during a trip home from Chicago - certainly one of a kind.  You can't deny he has issues, but he has taught me so much - not just about dogs, but about life in general too.  Although far from perfect by Frenchie standards, Brutus is amazing creature.  From puppy classes at PetSmart, to his first agility/obedience titles, to qualifying for the 2011 AKC Invitational & more - he's risen to the challenge every time!  He could teach us all a lesson about breaking stereotypes!

Then there's Carmen - my little princess.  She came into my life in 2010 as the result of a friendship as well as generations of careful breeding.  She has the moxie to make it in the breed ring, but it's like she's known from the get go that there was something else in store for her.  Carmen has always had a "small but mighty" mentality, apparent from the time I met her at the tender age of 4 weeks.  She has a drive uncharacteristic of her breed, and athleticism & an unbelievable energy level to compliment it.  Her desire to please and sheer enjoyment of running/jumping/climbing is something rarely seen in a "nonsporting breed".  I am so honored to be her teammate, and so touched by all the people who have gone out of their way to compliment her efforts!

Finally, the element that my (non-agiilty) friends & family find the hardest to understand.  The answer to the question "how can you spend ALL DAY sitting around at an agility trial"????  Yes, we drive many hours to spend all day for what amounts to less than 5 minutes in the ring - but there's so much more to it than that.  First, the training & goal setting that gets you ready for the trial.  There's the mental challenge of memorizing the course.  Figuring out how to best handle each individual dog thought the challenges each course presents.  The adrenaline rush of actually running the course (as short as it may be).  It's all part of the wonderful package of dog agility!

But above that - it's about relationships.  Bonding with my dogs and watching them learn is a wonderful thing for sure.  But beyond that, it's about all the friends I have made along the way on this crazy journey.  From training partners to (seemingly) random friendships that have developed along the way - the bonds I've formed with so many people who share my addiction to dogs.  All that time around the ring together, rooting for one another, sharing stories & successes, and consoling one another when it doesn't go so well.  The human bonds I've made in the last few years are as much a part of  my passion for agility as are the dogs that make it all possible! 

So thank you to all those who have made Team Frenchie possible.  My family, my dogs, my friends, my trainers - you are all pieces in the puzzle!  Whether I know you you well, or only know you through the auspices of Facebook - please know that I appreciate your support!  Each time we step into the ring, it is with the understanding that this is something truly special that we are privileged enough to do.  We have many more goals to attain, so please bear with us & know that we never take it all for granted!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Walk in the Park

I decided to change things up a little and we took the Wobble Board to the Park with us. With Pico in the crate, I worked with Gilda first. She hates the Wobble Board as much as the Teeter. She was able to get 2 front feet on so I C/T and acted all happy about it. She still flinches and jumps when the thing moves even a hair. We are still working in the grass so that it doesn't make noise and send us back to beginner class!
Next I kenneled Gilda where she could watch and brought out Pico. The Wobble Board is a piece of cake for Mr. Fearless and he acts like he can't believe he's getting food for something so easy! Today we worked on him getting on from the high side. He's not as quick to get on but he did well. I have not named the Wobble Board for either dog as it's more of an exercise leading to the Jungle Gym Teeter and (hopefully!) the Teeter.

After our walk, I worked a few 2o/2o with each dog using the parking curb. Gilda has done this a lot and does well. Once she gets on, I give her the "Two" cue and then C/T.
Pico is just learning about 2o/2o. He quickly figured out that I wanted him to get on the curb and walk using C/T. I captured 3 2o/2o and was quite pleased with both of us! I have not named the "Two" cue for Pico yet.

{Training is hard work!}

Both dogs are now laid out as if they'd run a marathon! Ah the benefits of dog training!

What Did You Say, Linda?

Yet another great class for Gilda! She was happy to be at Dog School and was eager to play Agility. We started with a brief Shadow Handling warm up with a few Jumps. We are back to warming up on leash but Gilda is focused and is not flying off after Jumps so we'll try moving back to off-leash next week. (Linda says 60-120 seconds is all the warm up needed for a stressy dog)

{Typical Scenario:
Pico's ready, Gilda's worried...}

We began class with a 'Happy Game': Linda called Gilda to a Table and used a C/T. I then moved so that a Tire was between us and called Gilda to me. She left the table and went under the Tunnel so no C/T. When Linda called her, she correctly jumped through the Tire and onto the Table. I moved and she was able to correctly leave Linda's table, jump through the Tire and onto the Table near me for a C/T. Smart girl, Gilda!

Next we tried a new exercise: 2 U-shaped tunnels were set side by side so that all 4 entrances were lined up. A Jump was set up in front of the tunnels. I was to guide Gilda in a Jump-Tunnel-Jump-Tunnel as many times as possible using any or all of the tunnel entrances with the single Jump. Gilda did well... I got stressed out... Before my stress adversely affected Gilda, we moved along to sequencing!

We Backchained a short sequence and then ran it in both directions: Tire, A-Frame, Tunnel (Front Cross), Jump, Jump. Gilda did well... I began a new idiosyncrasy of switching treats from hand to hand depending on which hand I needed to signal with. All of this fumbling around was not conducive to clean, clear handling! Linda pointed this out (a few times), and I continued to do it without realizing! [Adult learners may be more motivated to learn but some of us have difficulty overriding our previously learned tendencies!! Either that or we just like to challenge Linda's patience...]

During the process of analyzing the sequence, I learned 2 little tidbits that I think will really help me with my handling:

1. In its simplest version: When the dog goes through the Tunnel or the Chute, they will exit the obstacle looking for the handler on the same side that they entered the obstacle. Ex: If your dog enters the Tunnel off of your right, they will exit the tunnel on a left lead looking to their left to find you. Simple right?

2. The dog will always naturally turn toward the side the handler is on. This is important when deciding how to most efficiently navigate a course or in our case, a few obstacles: Gilda was to enter the long side of a J-shaped Tunnel off of my right side. When she exited, I wanted her to make a 45 degree left turn to perform 2 Jumps which slightly curved to the right. My first inclination was to keep her on my right out of the tunnel and over the jumps. Linda demonstrated that by performing a Front Cross after Gilda entered the Tunnel, I could pick her up on my left and use her natural tendency to curve toward me (in this case right, the same direction the Jumps were curving) to send her over the Jumps! (If I had kept her on my right side, her tendency would be to curve toward me or left and I'd be trying to push her over the jumps to the right). Simple and Amazing.

I am thinking that Linda's probably said these 2 things to me many times over the months she's worked with us but I wasn't able to process them until now. {Thank goodness she's a patient soul}


Each time Gilda ends class happy and I've learned something is a HUGE success for our little team!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Happy Gild-more

Gilda is never quite as happy as Pico to get in the car. Once I park the car at Agility Underground though, Gilda is the more excited one! (Pico is excited, he just doesn't know why!). This week was no exception. Gilda was very excited walking to the building and seemed like she just couldn't wait to get started.

We started the lesson with Pico and I could hear Gilda softly whining in protest from her crate. Normally, I might find this a bit annoying however, I was thrilled! To me, this was a sign that for the first time in months, Gilda was showing signs that she'd rather be playing Agility than sitting in a crate...

Making sure that Gilda could see us from her crate, we introduced Pico to the Teeter. Using C/T, we just had him get on and start his 2o/2o being sure he didn't actually move the Teeter (which is pretty easy with a 7.5# dog!) On our next exercise, Pico showed his first signs of Agility nerves when I handed him to Linda so that she could place him on the horizontal plane of the Dog Walk. His 'Bad Little-Dog' attitude came out and he growled and nearly bit Linda on the face! (I keep reminding him that this is precisely why many people don't like little dogs). Despite his stress, he was willing to run down the Dog Walk beautifully. He is also starting to send through a second curved Tunnel out of a Tunnel! Exciting stuff when he's not being embarrassing!

{My Favorite Mutts}

Gilda came out of the crate ready to work so we wasted no time on 'Happy Games', we just started to work on sequences and she was great! She was speedy, jumping well, and very focused on watching for cues from me. This is how people catch the Agility bug I think because when your dog is clearly having fun, it's a great feeling!

Gilda was able to perform some beautiful simple 6- and 7-obstacle sequences (and would have done more if I could have remembered the sequences!). At one point when we were near the Teeter, Gilda got right on it willingly. Linda made sure it didn't move and Gilda got a C/T for being so brave. When class was done, we too Gilda to the Teeter, had her get on for a C/T, gave her an "okay" release cue and ended class. Linda's plan is to end class like this for awhile to take the stigma out of the Teeter.
This was by far our best and most successful class in a loooong time!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gilda Gets Her Groove Back

Linda's private "fun and games" lessons are really paying off! Gilda was really excited to be there today and actually seemed anxious to get going with the Agility games.

Linda & I continue to work as a team during class to keep Gilda moving and happy. We are still not asking for Start Line Stays, Teeters, or Weaves. It is an expensive and slow way to go about Agility training but it's what happens with a novice handler and a tricky dog. We are so fortunate to have found Linda and the AU team because I'm not sure anyone else would still be hanging in there with us.

Tonight we worked on simple, short sequences in attempt to keep Gilda's success rate high and her stress level low. It really seems to be working too as her speed was back for the first time in ages and she stayed happy throughout class. Our next goal is to get back to handling and I am ready!

Pico came along again and faced some challenges of his own. He was placed in a crate among 3 of Linda's crated dogs. These were dogs he had never been around before. After some initial snarling and barking, he was able to calm down and sit nicely in the crate while I worked with Gilda.

At one point, Linda brought Frosty out to tug to see if it would motivate Gilda to tug and Pico got a bit animated and very barky. Again he was able to contain himself nicely.

When it was his turn to play Agility, he was ready and willing as he always is! He was very speedy through curved tunnels and started working on 8" Jumps. He also worked on his first Table. Tonight was also the first time Pico got the 'Zoomies' in the building. He regularly races in super quick circles around the yard but hadn't strayed much from me in the Agility Building before. He is a bold and happy little guy who is perpetually ready to work for food!

I am glad I made the decision to stick with Agility for Gilda. I think the more confident I become in my training and handling, the better she'll do. Time will tell...

My little video camera is fixed so we'll hopefully have some video soon!

Pico's 2on/2off

I think Pico wants to be an Agility dog:

{Pico performs while Gilda
watches for chipmunks}

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Back on the Grid

After quite a hiatus from Agility, we are back from vacation and back 'on the grid' so to speak. Gilda (and Pico) had 2 weeks off from training of any sort!

{Vacation's Over!}

Today we started back to Agility classes with surprisingly great success on the dogs' part. (Not surprisingly, I was the rusty one!) Our main goal continues to be keeping Gilda in a "happy dog" state and to reinforce any and all willingness to move on her part.

Linda, thankfully, kept reinforcing the importance of continuing on even if an off-course occurred. It helps me greatly to be reminded of this just prior to each sequence!

Gilda was willing to run, Jump, Scale, and Tunnel quite happily. She didn't have any episodes of running off nor did she hide in any tunnels. She's just going to take more time and patience than the average Agility dog...

Pico is different from Gilda in oh so many ways! Nothing (besides being separated from me) seems to scare him at all. He is extremely food- and praise-motivated and will continue to work for either for as long as someone is willing. I was very surprised to find that despite not practicing, he had no problem with sends to the tunnel or trotting across the board. I'm not sure yet whether or not we'll pursue Agility with him but he has taught me a lot already about how different dogs can be when it comes to training!

I think our time off has given all three of us the spark that we needed to get going again!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gilda Goes Pro!

Gilda's official Doggie Brigade trading cards are finally here! She is now like a pro athlete...

{Big Smile For the Kids!}

{Official Stats}

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gilda Gets Going... Pico Plays a Part...

Linda's plan is a great one! At Linda's suggestion, we moved Gilda back into private lessons to try and get her out of her Agility funk. Tonight was week 3 of private lessons and it seems to be working beautifully!

{Gorgeous Gildz}

Linda went all the way back to making Agility a fun game. The first week we spent much of class just calling Gilda back and forth between us and treating her. After a few repetitions, Linda would move so that a jump was between us and then 2 jumps were between us. There were no commands and Gilda was always correct. This took the pressure off of her and she was able to relax and run like she used to!
We slowly added in other obstacles, again keeping things upbeat and relaxed. Gilda got a treat anytime I held her collar so that that wasn't stressful.
This week we were able to get Gilda to do some really nice sequence work at a fairly quick pace. While we still had some trouble getting her to tug, she remained relaxed and happy throughout the class which was such a relief to me (and I'm sure her too!)
Pico came to class tonight which served many purposes:
1) To help with his crating issues and to acclimate him to the Agility environment.
2) To motivate Gilda by being forced to watch me work with her 'brother'. (This sounds cruel but it really isn't. Gilda is highly motivated to clicker train at home when she sees me working with Pico).
3) To give Gilda a break during class.
All three goals were achieved! Pico did great being crated while Gilda worked and only cried a few times. Pico also did great on his first ever Agility lesson. He was willing to go through a straight tunnel and a "J" tunnel and he learned to walk on the board with just click/treating.

{Agile little Pico}

Gilda seemed to come back strong after her break too. It was so nice to see her relaxed and happy because that's what it's really all about in the end!
After class, they visited the kennel where they will stay during our vacation. Both dogs did well there for the most part... Gilda stood at the fence and barked at the pond incessantly.  Since she had such a good day, I stopped by our friend Lynda's and gave her a swim in the pond as a reward!

{Gilda in her Glory}

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

2 Steps Forward... One Step Back...

Gilda is having a difficult time in Agility class. As usual with dogs, the reason isn't immediately clear to us humans. In the last month we have had extreme heat and humidity, a new dog in the house, and new flooring at Agility Underground. [The new Astro turf is wonderful!It is soft and cushy and has to be better for the dogs. Handlers are allowed to run barefoot on it which takes me back to childhood!] Gilda could also be worried about something we aren't even aware of... who knows?!
At Linda's suggestion, we are pulling Gilda out of her group class and back into private lessons for awhile. At least that way, no other dogs will perform the dreaded Teeter and set her off! We are also going to borrow a Teeter and practice at home.

{Oh that face!!}

With Gilda's background, setbacks aren't a huge surprise. As smart as she is, learning often takes longer than 'normal' because we have to first work so hard to overcome her fears so that she can learn.

I have watched many online videos of what appear to be confident, obedient, driven dogs. Often, the videos are accompanied by a blurb written by the handler that describes the great trials and tribulations they have gone through to get their dogs to this point. I believe that Gilda is one of those dogs and that it's just a matter of time, patience, and perseverance.

{Me & My Gilda}

We will be moving forward together soon!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gilda The Wonder Pup

Many of you have heard this story. I'm putting it here for those who haven't...

Gilda's favorite thing to do in the whole universe is to play fetch in the water. We can no longer take her to Bow Wow Beach to do this because A) once in the water, she won't come out and B) she barks incessantly at anyone and everyone with a tennis ball in their hand which is very annoying for everyone.

{Pond Fetch!}

With the recent heat wave, I took both dogs to a friend's pond because it was far too hot to walk Gilda. I thought it would give me a chance to practice recalling Gilda from the water using the toss of the toy as a reward. Pico was tied to a huge Pin Oak so that he was in the shade.

While Gilda was swimming after the toy, I'd do some clicker training with Pico. Going back and forth in the 93 degree heat got old real fast and I decided to let Pico drag his leash for awhile. He was doing great staying near me, investigating the water, and watching Gilda.  And then, in a flash, he was off and running and headed straight for the road! In case you didn't know it, chihuahua's are speedy!

{Pico behaving &
Gilda in her glory}

I took off after him yelling, "Pico! Come!" in a panic-stricken voice. Before I knew it, Gilda was out of the water and blazing past me and all I could imagine was that they would both be hit by a car!

Before I finished my thought, both dogs were hurtling toward me and I realized that Gilda had gone to herd her brother back to safety! All I can guess is that she heard the distress in my voice and she came to save the day!

Once Pico was safely back in custody, Gilda was back in the water waiting for the toy to be lobbed for retrieval as if it was just all in a day's work for her. She truly is a Wonder Pup!

{Protective Big Sister}

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Doggie Brigade Visit

After a lengthy hiatus, Gilda made a visit to some of the kids at Akron Children's Hospital today. I was a little nervous about how she'd do since it had been such a long time but she was great!

I wasn't going to post about her visits here because I was trying to keep the blog mainly about Agility. However, I think the two activities actually complement each other nicely.

Agility training has helped teach Gilda focus and handler-focus both of which help her in the often chaotic hospital setting. Hospital visits have helped with her noise and movement issues. She now willingly gets on the elevators, even the glass-walled ones. She is still a little too eager to get off but we're working on that. She is also better about navigating the stairwells which often echo and require her to walk with people behind her. We are hoping that some of this will translate to the Teeter!

Clicker-taught tricks help to get her focus back when unexpected noises happen or lots of people crowd around. In those cases, we do hand-touches, waves, high-fives, and downs.

I am always amazed at how well she does when she's there. She just seems like the most well-adjusted, confident, social dog which aren't usually words we use to describe Gilda (I'm so glad she can't read!).

The biggest payoff today was seeing a patient smiling and willing to sit up and move around to see Gilda. Mom reported that they haven't been able to get the patient to move much since surgery last week. It doesn't get more rewarding than that!

Friday, July 15, 2011

My New Dog, 'Sierra'

At least for a moment...
We had class outside Wednesday night and when Gilda wasn't sniffing the newly raked sand for treats and critter trails, she was moving through the obstacles like molasses through a funnel.
The heat and lack of shade were factors as Gilda does not tolerate either well. Also, we had just done some group Teeter work which had her a little concerned that she might be asked to get on it again. I really think she was wishing she was home dealing with Pico's antics rather than playing Agility!
After trying a tug toy with only a flicker of  success, Linda suggested that we put Gilda in a nearby kennel so that she would have a good view while I ran with Sierra, a 9 pound, cute-as-a-bug Jack Russell Terrier. The obstacles were: A Frame, Jump, Jump, (RC) Tunnel.
On a good day, Gilda is fast. Sierra, is a whole different kind of fast! If I wasn't out in front of her (which I wasn't!), she would flip her little muscle-bound body around and start barking as if to say, "Directions please and hurry up with them!" And, if my directions weren't clear, she'd happily choose her own course! She was just eager and willing to run for whoever had the treats!
Our classmate, Henry the Rat Terrier, had quite a crush on Sierra so after 3 runs with Gilda watching like a hawk, Sierra went back to her car crate and Gilda was released from captivity. Linda's ingenious idea worked and Gilda ran better and tugged like a champ on a borrowed lamb tail tug toy!

{No photo of Sierra available!}

It seems that the Agility Team often consists of more than just the Dog and Handler. Tonight our team included Linda and Sierra whose help we greatly needed! Watching Sierra run had an energizing effect on Gilda and I even got a tiny lick on my nose which in Gilda-speak tells me that she is happy and on board with what we are doing.
With my very limited dog experience, it has taken me awhile to understand Gilda and to pick up on her subtle cues. Unlike Bruno and Pico, most of Gilda's cues, like the infrequent nose lick, are subtle ones!
I really enjoyed the opportunity to run another dog and to experience even briefly the challenges that different temperaments and running styles create.
Kudos to Linda for coming up with a very unique way of motivating Gilda!

We ended class by running a Jump, Tunnel, Jump, Jump, Tunnel, A-Frame Jump sequence with everyone doing well despite the heat.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What Kind of Dog is That?

{Pico & Gilda at Peace}
Mike & I are asked this question a lot when we're out and about with Gilda. (I'm guessing the same will happen with brother Pico too).
Does it matter? Mostly No and a little Yes...
We looked into DNA testing for Gilda but ultimately decided against it after hearing that results can be quite unreliable. Her breeds don't really matter to us in the end but it's fun to try and guess and I find myself often attributing her tendencies to one of our guesses or another.
Last night, Jessica attributed her ability to learn new skills quickly to her Border Collie background and I attribute her aloof nature to her Australian Cattle Dog genes. I find it very helpful to remember that she most likely has genes from 2 herding breeds and by nature, herding dogs must be very vigilant and aware of the slightest movements and noises in order to protect the flock. This insight helps me realize that sometimes it's not my lack of handling skills causing Gilda to become distracted.
Along those same lines, I found this little blurb today and found it very interesting:

Australian cattle dog
The Australian cattle dog is a working breed that requires a demanding physical and psychological regimen. If left unfulfilled, cattle dogs become easily frustrated. They are remarkably sensitive to a pack leader's body language, owing in part to their impressive history as a herding breed. Unfortunately, this sensitivity can make them difficult to train for agility courses. Additionally, if pack leadership is lacking in any way, an Australian cattle dog is very likely to establish dominance or bond more closely with a senior dog, rather than with the owner. Examples of the breed include the Blue, Red, and Queensland Heelers. The unverified world record-holder for longest living dog is held by Bluey the Australian cattle dog who, according to anecdotal evidence, lived to be just over 29 years old.

We often talk about how Gilda is a difficult first Agility dog because of her speed. Now I understand that she is also a difficult first Agility dog because she is so adept at watching my physical cues and unfortunately they are often not the right cues and they often change as I practice and learn. How confusing that must be for her!

It's okay though because she pays me back daily as I struggle to understand what she is trying to tell me...

{" I really don't like the Teeter"}

Thursday, June 30, 2011

HA! (Don't) Lose, MOVE!

Linda & Jessica developed this mnemonic to help us remember the 6 cues we use in Agility:

HA! (Don't) Lose, MOVE!

HA - Hands & Arms
LO - Location
S - Shoulders
E -Eyes
MO - Motion
VE - Verbal

Opposite Day

We had a great class last night. It was possibly our last indoor class on the sand since the new turf surface is to be installed sometime in the next 2 weeks. No more orange shoes and sand in the car! There was a new dog, Lily, a Clumber Spaniel, in class which gave Henry and Gilda a bit of a challenge but overall, everyone did well.

Gilda had a great class. She was attentive and focused and did everything I asked of her. We started class with some shadow handling exercises including some Front Crosses on the Flat (FCOTF) and Rear Crosses on the Flat (RCOTF). I can see now why these have always seemed so confusing! There were 4 of us in class and it looked like we were doing completely different things when in fact, we were all still doing RCOTFs:

Gilda & I were practicing a RCOTF with a 180 degree turn cued with an outside hand. (See video example here courtesy of Jessica & Style)
Marilyn & Henry were working on a 'zigzag' RCOTF which has alternating 90 degree turns. (See example here courtesy of
Lina & Jax were working on cueing a 180 degree turn with the inside hand.
{Funny Face on the A-Frame}

Next we worked on a simple Pinwheel sequence with our dogs on our left: Table, Jump, A-Frame (RC), Tunnel. On the first attempt, I was ahead of Gilda at the bottom of the A-Frame and attempted to use my right had to cue her into the tunnel. In the process, I ended up behind the Tunnel entrance instead of moving toward the Tunnel exit to pick up Gilda. On the second attempt, as Gilda was descending the A-Frame, Linda said, "Slow Down"  and like magic, I was able to step behind Gilda as she came off of the A-Frame while cueing Tunnel with my left hand and moving across to the Tunnel exit! It was a light bulb moment for sure. It was so simple and yet I'm still not to the stage of handling where I can think to make such adjustments without some coaching.
The funny part is, this is the first time I've ever heard Linda instruct me to slow down. It's usually "Don't wait!" or "Go! Go!"

Later, we were were doing a sequence in which the dogs were on our left. At the bottom of the A-Frame, we were to perform a FCOTF to send our dog to the Table off of our right. When Gilda hit the Table, Linda said, "Good. But you don't need to raise your outside arm so high".  This cracked me up because usually it's "Arm up!". Thus, I dubbed it 'Opposite Day'.

It's always great to leave class feeling like you've improved on something and that's the way I felt last night. I'm pretty sure Gilda felt the same way...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gilda Goes to Dog Camp!

Gilda and I are home from Dog Camp and what an experience it was! Before I agreed to be camp nurse, I read the following description and thought, "I can do this!":

In March ’07 we began renovating the cabins, tearing out old kitchens and installing brand new cabinets and appliances. We purchased all new bedding, with high profile cushy mattresses and high thread count linens. The cabins were scrubbed, and stairs were built to lofts to accommodate campers with dogs and suitcases. We continued to refer to these as “rustic cabins,” but they’re really not that rustic — now we refer to them as cottages.
When I arrived at the facility however, I found myself in a state of shock! At my current age, I no longer enjoy "rustic". I do not have wash-n-go hair, I can deal without A/C for no longer than 2 minutes per day, I suffer from a very real case of arachnophobia and I utterly adore sanitation especially in kitchens and bathrooms . 
The A/C it turned out, was a window unit in the "loft" area that we wouldn't really be using since there would be 10 humans and 11 dogs packed into our 800 sq. foot cabin! 
It was 90+ degrees, sunny, and 100% humidity when we arrived. My painstakingly straightened hair immediately reverted to puff and frizz, I was hot and sweaty and there wasn't a thing I could do but be thankful that there were no spiders to
be seen and just go with the flow!  I already knew that the dogs wouldn't care what my hair looks like and I soon discovered that teenagers don't either!
With all of that being said, it is the perfect place for the Ohio 4H Teen Dog Experience to have their camp. Where else will you find a place accommodating enough to allow 14 teens to bring their dogs for 4 days with full use of the incredible Agility building? The campers love it there and are very respectful, cleaning up after their dogs, staying in designated areas with their partners and helping with cleaning duties in the cabins. (When they weren't busy pulling pranks on each other at least).

{Rustic "Red" Cabin}
{Rival "Blue" Cabin}

Once my initial panic wore off, the campers arrived, and the weather cooled considerably. I felt much better about my new rustic experience! While the campers got organized, I took Gilda up the mountain-of-a-hill to the agility building. She was apprehensive with new surroundings and equipment but was willing to work a little.  We used our multiple daily hikes up and down the hill to work on loose-leash walking.

Later, when the campers and their dogs went to the building, I took Gilda up to watch. All was well until the Teeter (which was all the way at the other end of the huge building) came into play at which point, she shot into the back most corner of a kennel and stayed there.  I was eventually able to convince her to relax out in the open while the campers and their dogs worked.
{Out of the crate!}

It was truly amazing to watch the teen campers and their dogs. Each and every camper had fantastic handling skills and all of the dogs were happy to work . It was really remarkable to see. 
For Agility classes, the campers were put into groups based on their skill levels and they rotated through stations performing exercises based on level and need.
Gilda and I did our best to stay out of the way so we missed most of the activities. The campers had lots of active class time with their dogs covering Agility, Obedience, Tracking, Rally O, and flyball. Other classes included grooming, husbandry, tugging, judging, first aid and 4H book work. They also had lots of craft activities including making a pivot box, a TAGulator, a treat dispenser, and a tug toy. After the last dinner, the campers had a hilarious blindfolded cake decorating activity which was designed to demonstrate the importance of clear and concise communication.

{Agility Building}

Gilda and I spent our free time trudging up the hill (I should say I was trudging, she was prancing along as she always does) to do short agility sessions. Most of the Jumps there were Winged Jumps and it took some coaxing to get her to jump. The Pause Table was covered in a stiff carpet and it took sheer determination to get Gilda to get on it let alone perform a Down! She was eager and willing to do the tunnels, Dogwalk and A-Frame (as long as no one else was in the building!) so we used those as our short, successful sequences.

{Lower hill}
Sometimes we'd climb the hill only to walk straight through the building doing shadow handling skills to the outdoor field. Once outside, I'd throw the ball a few times and then let her explore the outdoor fenced agility area. Other times we'd play fetch in the empty agility building with the ball bouncing off of the equipment including the terrifying Teeter in an effort to get her to interact with the equipment. It seemed to work as she happily chased the ball and brought it back.

{Gilda waits for the 'Fetch' cue}

Once we went to the building after the campers had been working on Flyball exercises and the equipment was set up with a Curved Tunnel at one end and 4 low Jumps in a straight line. I was able to get Gilda to enthusiastically take the Tunnel, 4 Jumps, turn around, and take 4 Jumps to the Tunnel. She seemed to particularly like this set up. 

We also spent time using Peanut Butter for some much needed recall work. I would randomly call Gilda to me for her favorite reward. Just when I thought we were getting back to great recalls, she would start to come, sniff, turn around, and we were right back to where we started!

Dog Camp was a great experience for both of us and I've made some invaluable dog friend connections! The directors: Abigail, Karin, Kristen, and Megan (all the way from WI!) are amazing young women who spend months on lesson plans, raising donations, activity and meal planning, and lots of shopping, followed by days of leading, teaching, cooking, and cleaning to make this all happen. They are all bright, upbeat, positive people that speak often of their love for "their campers"! I am amazed that they devote so much time and energy to such a great cause.  Also brilliant is their Teen Counselor program which I believe will prepare some campers to transition to the counselor role. How genius is that?!

Not only did the directors have a fabulous gift bag for me when we got there, but the campers also presented me with a bag full of dog toys and games! Thank you from Gilda & I to the campers:

Bree (Scotty, Sheltie)
Cassy (Chiquita, Rat Terrier)
Gabby (Ozzy, Australian Shepherd)
Hannah (Wesley, Black Lab)
Helen (Maddie, Border Collie)
Josie (Shadow, Weimaraner)
Katie (Chase, Border Collie)
Laura (Cleopatra, German Shepherd)
Megan (Jake, Australian Shepherd)
Melissa (Rogan, Australian Shepherd)
Myranda (Duke, Lab Mix)
Rachel O. (Bandit, Golden Retriever)
Rachel P. (Java, Australian Shepherd)
Rachelle (Sander, Border Collie Mix)

{Rachel P. & Java Bean}
{Director Megan (seated)
Rachelle & Sander}

{Helen & Maddie}

{Josie & Shadow}

{Laura & Cleopatra}

{Katie & Chase}

{Hannah & Wesley}

{Melissa & Rogan}
{Rachel O. & Bandit}

{Myranda & Duke}

{Megan & Jake (center)}

{Gabby & Ozzy}

{Chiquita without Cassy!}

{Bree & Scotty (center)}

{Cassy (Chiquita's handler) Left}