Sunday, February 27, 2011

Therapy Dog at Your Service

{Hello there!}

I don't know what it is but I've been slacking lately. On blogging, on training, on housework... Sheesh. I keep thinking that Spring's arrival will spring me back into action. I sure hope I'm right!

With Gilda's Pet Partner's test looming a mere 2 weeks away, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the home where she was the 'Unofficial Therapy Dog' last year. (Unfortunately, it is a HIPAA violation to post photos of the clients). April and I took Gilda at dinner time. It is a place I have missed and I was very happy to see the clients. They, of course were more thrilled to see April than anything!

Gilda for her part was fantastic. She seemed to remember the place and was very relaxed. She visited anyone and everyone who called out to her. She wandered around the home a bit but was always aware of where I was and came to me each and every time I called her. Oh how I wish this was true on walks, during class, in the yard etc...

I challenged her to walk between 2 walkers and around moving walkers and she did so very comfortably. Most amazing is her 'patience' with the clients. Some of them are very difficult to understand and yet Gilda would stay by them trying to figure out what it was they were asking her to do. (At times, she felt they were a little too slow with the treats and she'd jump up)

She posed repeatedly for a photo while one client tried and tried (and tried and tried) to get her cell phone camera to work. (I think the client finally ended up with a blurry side-of-the-head shot). She jumped up on the bed of one client (when cued) who preferred to spend time in her room away from all of the activity.

Part of her success I think was that I was calm and comfortable there. I'm trying to keep this in mind as Testing Day approaches! My plan is to go through with the testing as Gilda is fully capable of passing. She still has many faces though and can be surprisingly good, surprisingly nervous, and unfortunately surprisingly bad (case in point, she ran off after deer today during her walk with Mike. Something she hasn't done for months!).

If she doesn't pass the Delta Society's Pet Partners test, my plan is to get her Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certificate and volunteer with her at local nursing homes until the next Doggie Brigade test in March 2012.

Crossed fingers and prayers that Good Gilda shows her cute face on March 11 are all appreciated!
{How could I ever be bad?}

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Be Aware... Be Very Aware...

We had a fantastic lesson with Linda tonight. Gilda, it seems, prefers it when no one but us shows up for class!

We started with some Rear Cross exercises which are simple in theory but feel very awkward to perform. When I do get my part right, Gilda knows exactly where to go and what to do. I continue to be amazed by this...

Which leads me right to my take-away lesson for tonight: To be a good handler, you must learn to be very aware of your body position and movement and the cues they are sending to your dog.

For me, this is not easy! I am hoping that like so many things in life, practice will make it come more naturally. Tonight, for instance, we were running a Jump Jump Tunnel Jump Jump sequence with a rear cross to the tunnel. Linda said, "You don't need to run to the end of the tunnel and wait. You want to beat her to the last jump."

For those of you who have not seen Gilda move, she is a fast dog. For those of you who have not seen me move, I am a slow person. Therefore, all I could think of was "beat her to the last jump" so when Gilda entered the tunnel, I took off running for the last jump yelling "Hup" along the way but not looking back at Gilda who dutifully followed right behind me skipping all the jumps!

On the next attempt, I concentrated more on my movements and made sure to catch Gilda's eye as she came out of the tunnel and like magic, she made both jumps!

It is truly astounding what Agility dogs pick up on naturally. I am often left feeling like my dog is a whole lot smarter than me...

After working her pretty diligently on Rear Crosses, we did some sequencing work which is fun for both of us. Here, I need to be aware of my arm movements as I often tend to throw them outward and then drop them to my side. I think Linda calls this "floppy arms" or maybe "sloppy arms". No matter as they are both!

Best of all, Gilda & I were able to demonstrate for Linda just how far Gilda's Teeter has come! I should clarify that this is her AU Teeter. I really get the feeling that she won't like anyone else's Teeter for quite awhile! Gilda did great at a pretty respectable height. We now have her at the maximum height for Jungle Gym and we are just a few links away from working at regulation height for the actual Teeter obstacle. She is now excited about performing her Jungle Gym Teeter and is willing to walk back and forth repeatedly. We will  need to work like this for a few more practices before actually naming the obstacle and asking for a 2o2o. With this great success on the Teeter, I think it's time to really start attacking those Weave Poles!!!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Long Road Ahead

Apparently it's going to be long while before Gilda is comfortable in other Agility arenas again...

I took her to Cleveland All-Breed Training Club (CABTC) for her first-ever run through today and it was a such a trial (no pun intended).

When we arrived, she was excited to get out of her car crate until a split-second later when she heard dogs barking. She was in timid-dog mode instantly.

After ignoring my 'go pee' command, I tired of standing in the frigid, blowing air and headed for the door. Gilda attempted to pull me there as if I was speaking Swahili instead of saying 'heel'. And so it began...

We signed in while Gilda alternately pulled my arm out of the socket and hid under the table. I can only imagine what the club members thought. [I found out later what they thought: I sent an email thanking them for their kindness and patience. They responded with a very nice email recommending that I consider trying some agility lessons! Poor Gilda. If they could only see her perform on her home turf]

We found the crating area and set up. Gilda, having memorized the location of every exterior door, began driving toward whichever one she was closest to.  After finding the dog potty area and convincing her that she'd be more comfortable with empty innards, I thought I'd try crating her for just a few minutes.

When she heard me return to the crating room, she began scratching at the crate door as though she had never been crated in her life. I made her 'down' and then got her out to try and do some Shadow Handling in the crating area. Again she bolted for the door all the while refusing treats.  We finally completed the small circle and she willingly retreated to her open crate!

I thought that maybe this would be our victory for the day: while she will always respond to a 'kennel' command, I never got the feeling that she truly liked being in her crate. In fact, that is one thing that concerned me about trials... how would she act during the sometimes long periods of crating? So maybe this was a good thing...

After giving her some solitude in her still open crate, I found some new treats in my bag and figured maybe they would be enough to tempt her to do something! I led her out of the crate and used the new (apparently quite delicious) treats to coax her to heel with me to the hall outside of the ring.

My timing couldn't have been worse because as soon as we got there... BANG! the dreaded Teeter hit the floor! Terror flickered across her eyes as I turned around and heeled her back to the crating area trying my best to act like I hadn't heard anything at all and meant in fact to go right back.

Within minutes of returning to the crate, Gilda's name was being called. I ushered her to the ring with her tail threatning to go up against her belly at any moment. The timer started and with Gilda still on leash, I cued her to the Dog Walk (one of her favorite obstacles). She slowly inched up the board with people coaxing her on quietly. She completed the obstacle in slow motion and actually accepted her treat at the end!

Next, we approached a jump and she refused. I took her leash off and moved to the other side of the jump and cued her and she still refused. The next thing I heard was, "Time's Up".

We were leaving the ring when the stewards (I guess that's what you call them) decided that we couldn't leave without a good jump. As one of the stewards lowered the bar, Gilda trotted away from me to either meet everyone (which isn't like Gilda) or more likely to attempt her escape. I got her back, sent her over the 8" jump, and everyone cheered! I made a big fuss and gave her a small handful of treats. She truly seemed happy for the moment!

I quickly ushered her to the crating area acting happy and proud, swiftly packed up our things and led her to the precious front door! I really thought that it was probably best to follow the Agility Creed and 'End on a Good Note'.

So basically, we drove 40 minutes each way, spent all of 15 minutes and $6.00 to perform 2 obstacles. It may have been an expensive endeavor but I can't help thinking it was worth it. It's just going to take our girl some practice to get used to new venues... Hang in there Gilda, you can do this!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

AU Goes On The Road...Gilda Freaks Out...

I took Gilda to the building for practice last week and she did fantastic. She did so well that I actually wished someone was watching (and I rarely wish that!). We had a great off-leash Shadow Handling session and a huge improvement on the Jungle Gym Teeter with Gilda getting on willingly from the high end.

On Saturday, we joined a group of 5 other AU members and 8 other AU dogs, on a road trip to Happy Heeling K9 Training Center in Mt. Vernon, OH. Once again, we had lots of winter weather to deal with!

Once there, Gilda started off well. She interacted well with the other dogs and was taking treats during the Teeter noises.

A course was set up and Jessica informed me that Gilda and I would be up first. She recommended that we just do 3 obstacles. This caught me off-guard and was the beginning of the end for Gilda...

She performed her obstacles but her stress showed almost immediately and just compounded. Soon, everything was too much for her: the noise of the building, the other dogs running and barking, and especially the very loud Teeter. Gilda was reduced to quivering with her tail firmly between her legs, unable to even take a treat.

For the first time ever, she seemed relieved to go out to the car and just sit in a crate. It took me awhile to process what I should take away from this episode because I was overwhelmed with emotion and feelings of inadequacy at the time.

She may have eventually fallen apart by day's end regardless as she is a reactive dog but I think the starting point was my nervouseness when I heard that we would be 'performing'. I went along with idea that it would be good for Gilda to experience a new place and it would be good for me to watch my mentors work with their dogs.

Just another reminder of how perceptive our dogs are to the most minute changes in our emotions!

It was a great experience overall and it was so nice to spend time with a group of women who are upbeat, positive dog lovers! It was a fun way to spend a snowy day.

Here is a link to Michelle's (Brutus & Carmen) video of the day:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Neither Rain, nor Snow, nor Sleet, nor Hail...

{Our Fearless Leader}
"One of the things I find so wonderful and engaging about dogs is that training starts slowly, progresses in small steps and, then, like a small yet palpable miracle, there is a magnificent leap forward in understanding and performance.
It is at this point that I think the dog begins to internalize the game and learns to like it. No -- learns to love it! – and agility becomes reinforcing in and of itself.
Now you can incrementally build higher and higher value into obstacle performance, and sequences become intrinsically rewarding.  Also, as a bonus, you can begin to concentrate on your own handling! Very reinforcing for the human part of the team…"
~L. Randall

Gotta love Linda  for braving the storm and having class for us tonight! It was well worth my time I can tell you that. Gilda tore off after Wally once and had a few minor 'zippy' episodes but is really starting to focus on me and what I'm asking much more each class.

Tonight we introduced the Offset Lead Out (I'm thinking I have the name wrong but that describes it fairly well). We also did some Front Cross work. Why Oh Why is something so simple, in fact so difficult to perform??

We also introduced the Broad Jump which, after a bit of coaxing actually went well.
{Broad Jump}

We ended with some short sequences which were fun and informative and included a Front Cross and a  'Push' from the tunnel to a Jump.

Amazingly, Gilda performs much better when I do what Linda tells me!

Apparently a big part of Agility is learning to think like a dog...