Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I was so excited to take Gilda to her first Sheep Herding Lesson today. In preparation, Mike took her on a 5 mile hike and I took her on a nice pond swim.

We got to the farm early (imagine that! me, early...) and got to watch a man work his beautiful belgian sheepdog. Kelly, the instructor, sat outside of the fence and gave direction while the handler moved his dog using a long line. Having never watched a sheep herding lesson, I tried to glean as much as I could.

Kelly asked me to walk Gilda on a loose leash through the gate and around the field. She explained that this way, Gilda would learn that her new surroundings were safe.

Kelly's dog, Possum, moved some sheep for us into a smaller pasture and Kelly took Gilda in briefly just to take stock of  her and then it was my turn to take the rope...

{Awesome Possum
waiting for a turn}

With Kelly's guidance, we moved the sheep from one corner of the pen to another corner just by moving around them and toward them. At one point, Gilda got excited and barked and ran at the sheep. Since this is not permitted, Gilda was given a reprimand through the use of the cord. The cord is held loosely in the handlers hands (Kelly describes it as holding a fishing rod and reel. Corrections are issued by closing the thumbs down on the line and off again quickly. These are not harsh corrections, just a reminder to the dog that what they are doing isn't correct. At this point, we aren't using any commands. We are trying to see how comfortable the dog is with livestock and we are beginning to teach them how to move around them.

We watched a cattle dog's lesson and then it was our turn again. This time Gilda acted completely disinterested in the sheep and would barely glance in their direction as she haltingly followed me around with Kelly's direction.

I was somewhat mystified as Gilda is usually very keenly aware of moving things... especially living moving things! We have witnessed many of her attempts to herd ducks, deer, small children, our other dog and ourselves when we run to the phone.

{Gilda waiting

After she gave a lesson to a second cattle dog, Kelly and I talked about the day and future plans. When she asked what my goals were, I pointed to her Border Collie, Possum. I didn't mean I wanted her dog (okay, you know I did). What I meant was that I want a dog who is both obedient and content with her life.  Possum would like to move sheep all day long, you can tell, but instead, she is content to do what Kelly tells her. Best of all, she is friendly to people and dogs and just seems thrilled to live on the farm.

Kelly said (and I'm paraphrasing) that Gilda was barking at the sheep out of fear as if to say, "I'm really really big and scary see? See how scary I am?" (This is how she acts in other situations that she is unsure of too). She went on to say that Gilda is a dog who has learned how to slow down to avoid doing things. Today, when we told her that she couldn't bark at or run at sheep, she decided that she wouldn't interact with them in any way at all. I told Kelly that this is how Gilda is in Agility: Where she used to run fast through the obstacles, she now trots half-heatedly and looks miserable! It reminds of people who decide that rather than risk failure, they won't try at all... not at all what I want for my dog!

When I described the issues we have with Gilda at home, she said that it sounds like Gilda is used to being her own boss and treats strangers her own way rather than our way. She said that she witnessed me giving in to her on several occasions just while loose leash walking her. No surprise as I wouldn't want to make anyone wait for us! I could hear Jessica in my head saying, "Don't settle for crap!" and Linda saying, "Why did you just treat that?!"

Kelly's recommendation is that we first work on some obedience to  learn how to clearly communicate with Gilda and to teach her to obey and trust. Having seen Kelly's dog and her teaching style, I am comfortable with this plan and really look forward to creating a great bond and a happy dog. Look Out Pico! This will affect you too!!!
{Trying to look

Monday, March 19, 2012

What is BAT and Who Needs it?

As most of you know, Gilda is a Reactive Dog. She has made great strides in her Dog Socialization Skills and in her willingness to pay attention during Agility classes. She continues to struggle somewhat with on-leash Reactivity and especially with at-home Reactivity!!

We have been using many of the exercises from Grisha Stewart's book: Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration, and Aggression in Dogs. You can link to her website for more info: Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) site or see my Amazon Book Widget to the right to click and order!

One of the first things we did was to alter our home environment by Reducing Visual Stimulation. When left to her own devices for any length of time, Gilda can always be found monitoring the yard for deer, squirrels, walkers, bikers, cars turning around in the driveway, the mail carrier, and most of all... The UPS truck!

To quote Grisha Stewart (with her permission of course):

"Starting at home, one simple solution to reducing visual triggers for your dog is to eliminate any perches from which your dog can spy on passing dogs or people. Reactive dogs with lookout posts successfully practice barking all day long, and the training time you put in is nothing comapred to your dog's nine-hour shift of guarding the house! Dogs need entertainment, but working for Homeland Security all day is not fun, it's stressful. Just imagine this from the dog's perspective; She barks, the boy or dog walking by goes out of sight, and she thinks her behavior has worked to protect the house - but then it happens again and again! Her barking becomes a stronger habit with each passing day. A home with a perch is like a giant Skinner box (operant conditioning chamber): it automatically trains the dog to bark." 

This describes Gilda to a T! She doesn't destroy anything when left home alone so we thought that giving her full run of the house would keep her happier than being crated. Oh what a barking beast we inadvertently created! She also feels the need to guard us from anyone who enters the house that she doesn't already know. She has nipped the gas guy and an attorney now! (We were lucky he wasn't a litigator!!)

To remove Gilda's perches, we applied an opaque product called Wallpaper For Windows to our french doors, sidelights, and sliding glass doors. It looks like this:

{Before BAT:
the Ever-Vigilant Gilda-
note the nose-rest!}

{After BAT:
No more view for the dogs
but the Peeps still get light!}

The product was easy to apply. Once the windows were covered, we noticed an immediate decrease in barking! Gilda can no longer see her triggers. She will still bark at things she hears (doorbell, UPS truck from 3 miles away...) but the improvement is drastic!!!
We are also using BAT techniques on our walks and Gilda is responding very well. Pico, on the other hand, continues to React while on leash... He is a piece of work!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

If I Knew Then What I Know Now (Dog Agility Blog Event)


I came into Agility in January 2009 so green that Kermit the Frog would have been jealous! My dog Gilda, then a one year old was just as green as I! My goal was to enjoy a special bond with my dog.

Gilda is our second dog. Our first was a Golden Retriever Mix rescue that we had for 15 years. He was a wonderful dog which I naively attributed to our most awesome care and training. I figured we'd just do the same things with a new dog... which may have worked out well with another Bruno. Not so much, it turns out, with a Herding breed mix!

{Bruno the Great Dog!

We were very fortunate to start our training at a top-notch local facility with instructors who all have vast knowledge and understanding of dogs. Each of the instructors owns at least one 'Herder' so they understood Gilda a whole lot better than I did at the time! They tried their best to start us off right but I'll admit, I knew ZERO about Agility. I was in a hurry to get to the fun stuff: the running, jumping and climbing part of Agility!

{Agility Underground!}

Gilda is clearly built for the sport with good speed, great muscle tone, long legs, and good intelligence. She had good basic obedience skills and I figured she'd excel quickly. However, it has been 2 years and we have yet to enter a trial...

{Our Little Liquid Lightning!}


1. I would have picked the same dog!

I wanted something different from Bruno and that's exactly what we got in Gilda! She has taught me more about dogs and dog behavior in 3 years than I ever could have imagined!


2. Chances are good that we would still not be trialing yet!

While Gilda is clearly smart and built to do Agility, she wasn't really mentally fit to do Agility when we started. We have since learned a whole lot about Dog Reactivity, especially thanks to Grisha Stewart and Leslie McDevitt and their Books and work. We have made major improvements in Gilda's dog socialization and stress threshold. She is a much happier and more confident dog these days and that's more my goal than anything!

{Still Leery of the Teeter}

3. I would have taken Clicker Training classes when she was still a puppy.

When we started taking Agility classes, my only exposure to Clicker Training was from a dog show I had recently attended at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL. The show was aimed at children but I, of course, was fascinated by the dogs performances. It was our instructor Jessica who really urged me to take a Clicker training seminar and I am forever grateful. I am amazed to this day at the power of the C/T! If you are new to Clicker training and don't have access to a class, check out Emily Larlham (Kikopup) on YouTube. She has lots of free videos and has a wonderful teaching style. I also like that she has all different sizes and breeds of dogs in her videos.

{Puppy Pic!}

4. I would have worked on developing an Attention Behavior.

Gilda was a very frustrating student for the first 1.5 years! She sniffed, she ran off, she shut-down! All of her behaviors left me feeling very frustrated as a novice handler. Our early progress was s-l-o-w! Once Gilda started to learn focus, classes were magically much more enjoyable! Many 'big name' trainers have Attention videos online. Check out: Jane Killion's book When Pigs Fly  and again, Emily Larlham,  one of my faves.

{Will Focus For Food}

5. I would have worked More on Foundation Behaviors.

Like most novice Agility students, I was eager to get moving and didn't comprehend the sheer importance of Foundation Skills (I know, it's right there in the name, right?!). To me they seemed boring and dry and Gilda didn't seem to enjoy them either! In all honesty, having no Agility background, I couldn't grasp how what we were doing applied at all to the actual running of the course. If you believe nothing else I've written, believe this: it totally applies!

Foundation exercises include Shadow Handling with your dog doing Front Cross On the Flat, Rear Cross on the Flat, Push, Pull, Foundation Recall exercises, Contact Training, 2x2 training and much much more! If you and your dog have good Foundation Skills, you have set yourself up to be a solid team from the start! A great place to get Foundation exercise information and video examples is on Steve's fantastic website, Agility Nerd.
Many of the foundation exercises can be worked while the dog is still too young to jump and climb. Some dogs, like our second dog, Pico, *love* foundation work. Pico finds it just as thrilling and reinforcing as obstacles.

{Pico Loves
Foundation Training}

{Gilda's thoughts on
Foundation Training}

Luckily for me, dogs are flexible! I may wish I had done these things from the start, but we are doing pretty well adding them in as we learn more. A longer learning curve is an okay thing especially if it's what your dog needs to thrive.
If you're trialing, Run Clean. If not, Run Happy!

For many more blogs on the topic "If I Knew Then What I Know Now", please go to: Dog Agility Blog Events

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Even a Bad Day is a Good Agility Day...

I am thrilled with how well both dogs are doing in Agility class! Gilda is anxious to get going, wags her tail frequently, is jumping well and attacks at least the non-moving part of the Teeter :).

{Go Gilda!}

Pico Loves to work and is tenacious in his quest to figure out what we are asking him to do. He has good handler-focus and a high stress threshold. He is so dang cute to watch too...
We continued working on Pico's Jumping skills asking him to both collect and wrap and to Jump in extension using my position and the reward as cues. He definitely prefers extension (and regularly demonstrates these around the house!) so we'll continue to work on Collected Jumping with him.

{Little Leaper!}

We did an exercise in which I jogged past a series of Jumps without cueing. Pico got a C/T if he voluntarily took the Jump. He did very well but crossed behind me a few times so we'll continue working on his right and left side Shadow Handling to remedy that.
Next, we did some Table work with Pico. After first asking for a 'Down' on the flat, he quickly offered one on the Table. Such a good little problem solver! We started Proofing his 'Down until Release cue' and will continue working on that too. Lastly, we did some Running Contact work on the Dogwalk He loves to run and did well only jumping off of the Contact once in 4 or 5 runs. Not bad for a greenie.
After 30 minutes of making very dramatic (and hilarious) noises in her crate, Gilda was raring to get her turn. She impressed Jessica with her very enthusiastic (for Gilda) Jumping! Last week in class, she would drop to a 'Down' after each jump. This week there were no 'Downs' and she was turning and wrapping nicely.
We worked a Table A-Frame Tunnel sequence a few times and I was thrilled with Gilda's performance!
Next we worked on Sends through a Straight Tunnel. Starting with a run, I would decelerate before the Tunnel entrance as I was cueing Gilda through. This told her to turn and come back to me when she was through the Tunnel. This was brand new for her and I think she did well considering.

{Turning After a Send}

In case I haven't said it, I am thrilled with both dogs!!