Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Loose-Leash Walking

Here is an article from Karen Pryor's website (with permission of course!) with excellent Loose Leash Walking (LLW) tips. There is also a brief video and the option to purchase the entire video.

The important messages are:
~Loose Leash Walking is not a natural activity for dogs and must be taught like any other trick
~A dog will pull if it gets them what they want: faster access to the car, a squirrel, or even for their owners to give up on leash walking!
~Allowing a dog to pull even occasionally can be disastrous to LLW training. (I am guilty of this... when I only have a few minutes to get Gilda to Doggy Daycare and she's excited to be there...)

How to Teach Loose-Leash Walking

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Break for Dogs

I have found lots of reasons this past week or two not to practice Agility. Some are valid reasons others are convenient ones (who wants to go out into the cold rain if it's not absolutely necessary?)

{Gilda after Class}

As such, I was a little nervous about how our first class of the new session would go. Much to my surprise, it was great!
Now let me clarify what I mean by great...

When we got to the building, Linda was working with Dash on a difficult sequence. Gilda was able to enter the building and act fairly well behaved even with Dash, a fast and super-intense guy, moving around on the course. With no other classmates, Gilda was able to work off-leash fairly reliably with just her 'tab' in place.

It seems that Linda and I have agreed to forgo the Start Line Stay (SLS) in class for now. Linda holds Gilda's tab until I give the "okay" cue to Gilda. This small change in practice has had a huge positive effect on Gilda. Gilda is a dog who can hold a stay for an hour in most places (as long as a squirrel or deer isn't in the same area code). She is even much more reliable with her stays when we practice Agility. For some reason though, SLSs are very stressful for her in class right now. With Linda holding her at the start, she isn't able to go whenever she wants. She still has to wait for her cue. The improvement in her stress level makes it well worth the drawbacks for now!

Another seemingly small change was that I was much more careful with my handling of her collar tab. With Gilda being on the smaller side (we still do not have an official height on her), the tab is pulled taut if I stand straight up. This 'tight leash' situation seems to stress Gilda (and most dogs) so I was very careful not to put too much tension on her when I was holding the tab.

With two very small changes, we had decreased Gilda's stress enough that she was willing and able to follow cues, she was willing to tug (which she won't do when stressed) and she didn't try her 'I need a pee break' or 'I'm so thirsty I'll die on the spot' antics.

We did some interesting handling maneuvers with Gilda doing much better than me as usual! After working on small pieces of the sequence, we ended with:
Jump (45 degree turn), Jump, Tunnel (front cross), Jump (180 degree turn), Jump, Tunnel, Jump.

It was such a relief to feel like a team again and it was so nice to see Gilda looking excited to play Agility again. I really think she needed her Spring Break to break the slump!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Discussion Group 1: Stress

Our Agility classes run for 6 weeks with an 'off week' between sessions. Our 3 fabulous instructors had the great idea to offer an optional discussion group on the off-week and they got us started by arranging for those interested to meet at a local restaurant. They also chose the topic: 'Can you Motivate a Stressed Dog?' and provided articles to read prior to the meeting.

It was not only a great idea but a great turnout as well. I didn't think to count the attendees but there had to be 20 women in the private dining room!

We started by defining stress. According to Webster:
 a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation a state resulting from a stress; especially : one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium <job-related stress>
We then had a round table discussion about what signs and/or signals our dogs give when they are 'stressed'. Some of the group's responses were:

Ears pinned back
Tail between legs
Running off course
'Whale Eye'
Ignoring Commands
Slow Obstacle Performance
Obstacle Refusal

We discussed the difference between 'Stressing Up' and 'Stressing Down' in dogs. The consensus was that Stressing Up was a more favorable state than Stressing Down. Dogs that are Stressing Up are often energized and excited. Dogs that are Stressing Down are often fearful or anxious and can be moving toward a Shutting Down state which is not conducive to learning. 

We talked about the fact that a dog's stress is more of a physiological reaction to their surroundings while a human's stress is both physiological and emotional. In other words, the dog isn't thinking "I am so stressed out right now! I need a break or I'll freak out!" The dog is reacting to the environment.

Next we discussed whether or not a stressed dog could be motivated to learn. Many in the group felt that it was possible but that the stressor needed to be identified and addressed first. This could be accomplished by working to keep dogs under threshold so that learning could occur. Many contributors  cited Leslie McDevitt's book, 'Control Unleashed' for tips and techniques.

We somehow got onto the topic of Training and each person shared a little bit about how much time they spent actually training their dog. Most attendees felt that every interaction they had with their dog was a form of training. Others spoke of doing short, focused obstacle training sessions as well as more casual training such as working for meals or shadow handling on daily walks.

It was a really nice evening shared with dog lovers! It was great to have a range from novice to expert and to hear other's experiences with their dogs and training. Networking can be such a powerful tool to learning.

I am looking forward to our next Off-Week Discussion Group which will be led by some of the students. Thanks to Linda, Jessica and Jeanne for a fun and informative time!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Supporting The Arc

Have I mentioned that Agility can be frustrating? I'm feeling rather stuck in our training: Gilda seems more disinterested than usual which tells me that I'm probably not challenging her enough. The problem is, I'm not sure what to do next! I think I need a class on handling AND a class on training...

We had a good class on Wednesday. As predicted, Gilda is all but ignoring her classmate Maya and is more willing to work again. Start Line Stays continue to be an issue in class as well as slow tunnels (I never thought that would be an issue!) and suddenly the Teeter was a scary thing again.

{Beautiful Maya}

We worked on turning our dogs both before an obstacle and after an obstacle. It was apparent that this was a new skill for Gilda but she handled it (no pun intended) pretty well. We also worked on obstacle discrimination using Movement as our primary cue.

At one point, we were working on a Jump, Jump, Jump (straight line dogs on our right), to a tight left turn into a Jump, A-Frame. Gilda was consistently missing the 4th Jump and Linda told me to "Support the Arc".  At first I nodded but then I said, "I really don't know what that means". She explained that I needed to work the turn more so that my direction was clear to Gilda. I still didn't really get it and I had to have Linda demonstrate it by walking it. Once again, when it comes to Agility, I seem to learn better when I can actually see the action and practice it first. Also, like Linda said, it's easy to get in the habit of 'speaking agility' and it's difficult to know what level of understanding each student has. I will need to continue to speak up so that our training can move forward...