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!