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.