Monday, March 28, 2011

The Double-Trainer Conundrum

Yesterday was a beautiful blue-sky, sunny Sunday and we decided to walk Gilda together for the first time in months. Mike has done the lion's share of dog walking this winter which I justify by telling myself that, after all, he is training to walk another marathon...

It occurred to me that we are using 2 distinctly different styles of walking which is most likely the reason that our 'loose leash walking' is taking so long to solidify.

While we both use the over-the-shoulder style leash for walking, Mike wears his around his back which in effect shortens the leash to the point that there isn't any slack. I use a longer line and attempt to teach Gilda that a loose leash means forward motion while a tight leash means we stop all forward motion. The problem is that it's hard to teach her that a tight line is bad when she walks with one half the time...
{Mike's style}

{Not the best example of LLW}

I haven't seen much written about 2-owner training issues. I'm guessing that it will just take double the effort for Gilda to understand how she is to behave with each of us. Training for a marathon means that Mike can't use the 'stop when tight' philosophy or he'd get a heck of lot less training in. Training for Agility and Therapy Dog means that I need a dog who reliably walks with a loose leash in the Agility arena and through the hospital.

I'm pretty sure the best solution is to get a second dog...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Agility Induced Disorders

We had class with Linda last night and Gilda was the same sniffing, scattered, ADD dog that she was at practice earlier in the week. The good news is... Linda says this is NORMAL!!
Apparently, many dogs go through similar phases while learning Agility. At 2 she is a teenager now and is probably thinking she knows exactly what to do without 'Mom' telling her. In fact, at one point, she took off running and created her own course of sorts including a Tunnel!
All joking and humanizing aside, it was such a relief to hear Linda say that she wasn't concerned at all! It took a huge load off of my lack-of-handling-skills concerns.
I took along freshly cooked chicken bits sprinkled with garlic powder sprinkled on them and worked on treating Gilda for paying any attention at all to me. (Note to Novices: This makes it difficult to listen and watch your instructor but it pays off in the long run!). Gilda actually pulled herself together somewhat and seemed at times to be my old AU Agility girl, happy jumping and running. It seems like patience, diligence, and chicken breast will cure her in the end.

And now for my own Agility Induced Psychoses... I've already discussed the fact that while running even a short sequence, I lose all ability to hear. I like to blame the loud heater/blower thingy but it's all me. I don't hear Linda until around her 4th iteration (look at your dog... look at your dog!... Look At Your Dog!... LOOK AT YOUR DOG!). Luckily, she only increases her volume and never sounds irritated (she keeps a happy face)!

As you can gather from the example above, I also have an Eye Contact issue when doing Agility. I have some very valid reasons for being clumsy and awkward and I let that fact run the show at times. My concern for where I am headed next often overrides the need to maintain eye contact with Gilda. Gilda has proven time and time again that lost eye contact = an off-course dog. This leads me directly to my next Disorder:

 My Complete and utter inability to multi task while working at Agility. Please note that by nature, I am a great multi tasker. I multi task for 12 hours at work and when I'm inclined and motivated, I multi task quite readily at home. (Just ask my daughter how many things I could pay attention to at once when she was younger!)
In Agility Class however, I morph instantly into a uni-tasker and it's not a helpful Disorder to have. After a year of classes, it's still not easy for me to run while maintaining eye contact while giving timely verbal cues and timely motion, hand, arm, shoulder cues, keep track of where I'm headed, and have a treat or toy ready, and decide how to handle an off-course... Whew! I'm exhausted just considering it all!

My final Disorder is one that I will have to cure STAT! Last night during a short sequence, Gilda suddenly veered off course sniffing all the way. I realized that I had verbalized my frustration over a mistake I made by saying "Aw" or "Oops" or something to that effect. Seemingly benign to humans but apparently very powerful to a canine teammate! Linda reports that I also drop my shoulders when I'm disappointed. This will have to go to the top of my priority list as it instantly stresses Gilda!
In an attempt to look at the bright side of the situation, I have to wonder if this is an indication that our bond is growing? Gilda is a funny dog and still prefers to curl up without touching any other warm body. She still often demonstrates what I call "cattle dog aloofness' and at the pet store today, she curled up at the cashier's feet (there was a cozy rug there) when she stressed over the sounds of crashing shopping carts. Maybe I'm just grasping for anything resembling bonding!

We are off for our Doggie Brigade Photo Shoot armed with fluffy fur and our freshly printed Delta Society Acceptance Letter! Hopefully we can get through the day without a relapse of any of the above!!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No News is Mediocre News

{Gilda & The Weave Poles}

Gilda and I had a rather dismal practice on Monday. She morphed into 'Sniffy McSnifferson' and I was not in a real authoritarian mood that afternoon. I was able to get her to perform the full-height Teeter with 2on/2off multiple times so I think we are ready to "name" it now. She also did some pretty respectable Weave Pole practicing.
I was amazed that she continually 'lost interest' while sequencing obstacles as that's where her concentration usually comes into play. She would do Jump, Dog Walk Tunnel and then just drift off sniffing while I was trying to complete Jump Jump Tire!! This is a new development that I'm not entirely thrilled about.
Tonight is a 'School Night' and tomorrow is Gilda's official Doggie Brigade Photo Shoot so I should have some news to blog about soon...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gilda Excels on her 'Big Test'!

{The newest member of the
Doggie Brigade!!!!!}

Gilda passed her Delta Society Pet Partner's Test with flying colors today!!! In fact, the only slight mistake she had was because I wasn't paying attention. I am so proud of how far this little dog has come and I think she will really enjoy volunteering to visit hospitalized kids as much as they will enjoy her visits.

I used a few tricks like scenting my hands and the sides of my jeans with dog treats and wearing my favorite training hoodie (what I didn't know was that there would be ID photos taken... so there I am in all my glory with my hair  pulled back and a hoodie on!) I have no doubt that her Agility Training has helped immensely with her confidence and her ability to concentrate and perform.

The thing that helped me the most today was the tiny book on  Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas. I just recently received the book so the information is new to me. Apparently, just as the author writes, these are signals that all dogs, Gilda included, understand innately.

While we were waiting for our turn to be tested, I had Gilda lay down in front of me (not an easy task for her to hold in a new building with lots of people and dogs around). I then turned my head to the side (a calming signal) and yawned (a calming signal) while I performed long calming strokes from the back of her head to her tail. She responded by yawning and by relaxing which isn't something she's prone to do in public! It's well worth the read for all of you reactive dog owners out there! Apparently it's pretty easy to reinforce this 'language' in your dog which helps them to use more calming signals and thus communicate more effectively. Sounds odd I know but check it out.

Early in the morning,  Mike took her on a 4 mile walk and bathed her so she'd be a bit tired and smelling fresh for her big day. I did some short obedience exercises with her once I got her to the testing site but tried to keep it brief and cheerful. I also told her a few times that she would be tested and I'm pretty sure she understood!

The test itself is about 20 minutes long and is quite rigorous for the dogs. I led Gilda into a room that she had never seen before and inside were about 10 people and 1 dog.
The test is led by the Evaluator and the helpers act as patients and the crowd during the test. The test begins with a Skills Exercise Test which is very similar to (maybe exactly like) the Canine Good Citizen Test. Part I consists of 11 exercises:

Accepting a Friendly Stranger
Accepting Petting by a Stranger
Appearance and Grooming by a Stranger
Out for a Walk (loose leash)
Walk Through a Crowd (loose leash)
Reaction to Distractions (IV pole, wheelchair, people)
Sit on Command
Down on Command
Stay in Place
Come When Called (with stranger petting ears)
Reaction to a Neutral Dog (owners shake hands)
Next is the Aptitude  Test which is similar to a Temperament Test. This consisted of 9 exercises:

Overall Examination by a Stranger (paws, ears, tail)
Clumsy Petting (by stranger)
Restraining Hug (by stranger)
Staggering, Gesturing Stranger coming Toward Dog
Angry Yelling near Dog
Bumped from Behind
Crowded and Petted by Several People
Leave It (toy on floor)
Offer Treat (take treat from stranger)
Gilda dealt well with all that was happening around her and actually seemed to really enjoy this part of the test with all of the petting and attention! She has really come so far I'm amazed. I'm not sure how old the average entrant is but I think 2 is pretty respectable. When we got home, Gilda was rewarded with a rare treat of canned dogfood and she is now sitting in her favorite spot watching for deer and squirrels!

We now begin a 6 month mentorship before our actual solo hospital visits begin. Have I mentioned how proud I am?!

Here is a nice article about the Doggie Brigade program.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Remember Where You Started...

Last night was a 'school night'. This was our second session of this class and already Gilda was much more comfortable working around Maya. Gilda's biggest problem in class continues to be Stress Sniffing and Linda is helping us formulate a plan to decrease this.

We did a lot of work on Pinwheel drills varying the placement of Front and Rear Crosses and attempted to work on Forward Sends. Drills are where Gilda gets increasingly 'sniffy' and her avoidance behaviors become more pronounced: she runs off in short bursts, runs to the door for a pee break, starts water seeking, and becomes distracted after the first obstacle.

I have to guess that my novice handling has a big role in this. I think that while she has made great strides in understanding her role on the obstacles, she is still very unclear about what I am asking her to do on the flat. When she is unsure, she stresses. I'm thinking we should add shorter foundation exercise drills into our practice sessions so that she can both learn and be successful.

With both dogs getting 'stressy' (Gilda more than Maya), we did some 6 obstacle sequences. It is obvious that Gilda enjoys this which makes it fun for me.

Last we demonstrated for Linda where we are on the 6-Pole Channel Weaves. Gilda is more consistent now so Linda recommended closing the Channels an inch at a time (after getting an 80% success rate) and then working to add an additional 6 Poles with all the Channels open to start. Linda reports that when you get a good 6 Pole Weave with the Channels all but closed, it is a much quicker process to progress to a 12-Pole Weave. This makes me believe that we are a lot closer than I thought we were!
(See FAQ 4: What are Channel Weaves )

{What is up with those ears?!}

While Gilda's sniffing and inability to pay attention can be frustrating in class, I only need to think about how far we've come since we started this Agility Journey. I remember thinking that I'd never be able to take her leash off in class, that she'd never go near a Teeter, and that she'd never be able to walk to the building on a loose leash among other things. Now she is doing all of those and more. Realizing this helps me to stay more patient with her and makes me think more positively about all that she will be able to do in the future...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reactive Dog (Video Proof)

Today I was able to get the video camera in time to film Gilda's response to the Mail Lady (or anyone) coming to the front door. She is over-threshold as soon as she hears the mail truck half a mile away. It gets even worse when the doorbell rings! Notice how quickly she recovers once Gail leaves the porch.

The humorous thing here is that Gail was delivering 2 books today: 'On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals' by Turid Rugaas and ' Scaredy Dog! Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog' by Ali Brown.

Oh the irony!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Doggy Daycare

Cheryl from Happy Tails: Happy Tails Farm and Doggy Daycare

was kind enough to send a few photos of Gilda's first day ...

{Hi I'm Gilda! Nice to meet you}

{We're allowed on the couches whenever we want!}

Gilda loved it at Happy Tails and slept better than she has since she was a puppy! I wish she was able to go there more often...