Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dr. Yin Touched my Dog!

I was asked by The Behavior Clinic to bring Gilda to participate in this event:

"Sophia Yin Presents: Fear and Aggression in the Vet Clinic; A Seminar and Workshop!"

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. I only knew that a) I was super stoked to see Dr. Yin in action as I have read (and love) her book, 'How to Behave so Your Dog Behaves' and b) I'm always up for taking Gilda to new adventures in public.

As it turned out, Gilda was one of the demo dogs used by the veterinarians and veterinary technicians that were attending the seminar. Dr. Yin was teaching safe,  low-stress handling techniques as the workshop portion of her seminar.

{Demonstrating the towel technique!}

Gilda was surprisingly good right out of the car, heeling and accepting treats despite lots of people and dogs. She had a short wait in the portable crate where she ignored her stuffed Kong and she was very eager to come back out!

She was mesmerized by the bowls and bowls of sliced hot dogs (something she never gets at home) and wasn't distressed in the least about being left with 2 strangers! She was stressed with the handling and especially with being put up on a table but she kept on accepting treats and did very well.

[I am very happy that I didn't choose Pico because hot dogs or not, he would have snapped, no doubt!]

{Dr. Yin (center) Handling Gilda!}

It really was a thrill to see Dr. Yin in action. She is every bit as calm, kind, and caring as I expected after reading her book!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What About Gilda?

With Pico trialing now and taking Agility lessons, I haven't posted much about my beloved Gilda...

{Gilda happily unaware of the tiny demon behind her!}

Well, she's doing great! She is now under the care of Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Elizabeth Feltes at The Behavior Clinic. Dr. Feltes is trying some pharmacologic therapy to help Gilda with her stress and obsessive behavior. Her KPA certified veterinary technician Amanda, is helping us on the training end.

So for now, Gilda gets lots of walks (13 miles yesterday!) and lots of pond swimming and clicker training sessions in an effort to keep her stress lower so that we can better assess how the medications are working. They seem to be helping her a bit. She is sweeter with us giving more tail wags and licks and letting us pet her for longer than usual. The meds have not helped at all with her obsessive behaviors so we are still working on that!

Occasionally I take her along with us to Pico's agility class. She usually seems content in the safety of the crate. This week however, she completely ignored her peanut butter stuffed Kong and protested the fact that I was out there playing with Pico. At the end of class, I got her out and asked for a couple jumps just to see if that's why she was vocalizing.

As I was walking both dogs (Gilda off leash) to the door to go outside, Gilda performed the Teeter on her own!!! This is huge so of course I made a fuss. When the class after ours cancelled, Jessica suggested I just see what she'd do out there.

Gilda happily ran a course with me twice! And she was fabulous. I was so happy that I nearly cried.

{Cutest Demo Dog Ever!}

Today we are headed to The Behavior Clinic so that Gilda can be a demo dog for none other than Dr. Sophia Yin! You might say I'm little excited about it all!!!!!!!!!

Monday, September 10, 2012

TDAA Champ! (In my eyes at least...)

{Proud Pico!}

Pico had his first Teacup Dogs Agility Association (TDAA) trial at Four Seasons K9 Athlete Center yesterday!

I was somewhat leery about entering in a completely new venue (having just started in CPE) and I talked to many dog friends to get their opinions. My goal at this point is to enjoy Agility while I can and with that in mind, I entered... I'm so glad I did! Teacup, it turns out, is as relaxed and fun as CPE.

It was also good to get Pico into an Agility Center that was completely new to him. Four Seasons is a beautiful (hard to find!) 14,000 sq foot building which is much more open than he's used to. Apparently, if I'm with him and there's Agility to be done, he can pretty much ignore most distractions!

It's hard to tell from this blurry video still, but even the equipment is scaled to small dogs! Teacup trials offer a brief 'equipment familiarization' period before the trial starts. I was able to get Pico out and onto the equipment prior to his runs. He even did well with the Teeter which is much lower and shorter than a regulation Teeter. Brave boy!

Our first run was in Beginner Standard 1:

This was a nice, flowing S-shaped course. As judge Margaret Hendershot explained: "Beginner courses should be very easy and fun because they are designed to get you out there working with your dog". I couldn't agree more and really appreciated her thoughtfulness.

During the briefing, the judge said that the table behavior would be a 5-second stand. Pico does not have a cued stand behavior so I knew right away that we would get a fault. Many people offered solutions ("if I run in place, my dog stays standing", "don't cue him and maybe he'll stand"). My opinion though is that he has been taught to hit the table and lay down and he does it very well. I sure didn't want to stress him by saying, "No buddy.  In this one instance, I want something different". I'm not going for Qs at this point, I'm looking for experience. He did a beautiful table down and he held it for 5 whole seconds. It was great!!

Pico, as in his first trial seemed initially wild and unfocused but quickly seemed to realize what we were doing out there. We had many faults and received an 'E' because Pico jumped off the teeter at the pivot point. I made a mental note that I'd need to stay right by him if another teeter popped up.

Our second run was a game, Heinz 57:

'Heinz 57 is a point accumulation game that goal of which is to earn exactly 57 points. Points will be awarded as follows:
Jumps: 1
Tunnels and Tire: 2
Contacts and Weaves: 3
The chute is a special obstacle. It will double all of the points earned up to that point. The chute may be taken twice, but may not be taken back-to-back.

Time stops on the table which is live at all times. If the team scores more than 57 points, the excess points will be subtracted from 57 to arrive at the team's final score. Placements will be by points. Time is a tie-breaker.' 

[Qualifying times are based on level and jump height. Pico, a beginner 8" jumper,  needed to get 57 points in 53 seconds to qualify]

Lucky for us, we have good friends who are also accomplished Agility performers (Thanks Marilyn and Melinda!) They helped me to map out a course which, if followed, would give us 57 points.

We chose: Jump (1), A-Frame (3), Tunnel (2), Tunnel (2), Dogwalk (3), Tunnel (2) for a total of 13 points. Next, we would go through the chute to double to 26 points, Take a tunnel (2) to make 28 points, take the chute to double that to 56 points, take a Jump (1) to get to 57 points and hit the table to stop the clock!

Pico, not in on the plan from the beginning, sat at the start line and when I cued him to jump, he turned around and jumped on the table! I thought that he had just ended the game before we even began but the judge said it was fine since he hadn't crossed the start line! Phew! We quickly restarted with the first jump and then Pico  skipped right on past the A-Frame! I had to double him back over the A-Frame  because I couldn't do math while I was out there running around like a madwoman! Luckily, he followed right along after that. Unfortunately, he slipped on the entrance to the dog walk and it ate up time getting him back on. We were over time by 12 seconds so we did not qualify but we still got 1st place for our division! Woohoo! As Mike said, "And so the dynasty begins!"

It was here that I discovered that you can get place ribbons even if you don't qualify! Who knew?! Turns out we could have received a ribbon at our first trial too. Live and learn...

Our final run of the day was another Beginner Standard:

[I love how the judge includes happy cartoons!]
Another nice, flowy course with an interesting 5-6-7-8 combo. Pico had a great start line stay (yay Pico!) and walked the entire length of the teeter since I stayed right near him (yay Pico!) He then perfomed the tire and sent to the tunnel beautifully (yay and yay!). He took the jump and then entered the left side of the tunnel. I, for some reason, thought that he was to enter the right side of the tunnel so I proceeded to send him back through the right side. I learned later that in TDAA, if the numbered cone is at the center of the tunnel, then entrance is optional! Again, live and learn. We had some additional stumbles but he stayed right there with me watching for cues all the time and coming right back after off-courses! In the video (which isn't good enough to post), he hits the table, drops right to a down, and his tail wags furiously for the entire count of 5. So stinking cute!

In TDAA, no faults are allowed for a qualifying score even at the beginner level so once again, we did not Q but we did place 2nd (out of 2 dogs!)

It was a really fun day and I got to meet so many new dog friends! I am looking forward to entering into more trials with my tiny teammate!

Friday, September 7, 2012

What Makes a Great Instructor? [Dog Agility Blog Action Day]

"We need to learn and embrace patience. Patience is a holy key that will unlock the door to a more fulfilling life. Behind the blessed door of patience are found better parents, powerful teachers, great businessmen, wise masters, and a more compassionate world." ~S. Maraboli

While experience is paramount, I believe that Patience is at the heart of all great Agility instructors.

A great Agility instructor practices patience with us as students (some of us more than others!) and they also teach us how to become patient handlers and trainers for our dogs. It's a tough bill to fill for sure!
If you think about it, people come to Agility with all different levels of experience, different personalities and different styles of learning. On top of that, students bring their dogs with them... Dogs will all different levels of experience, different personalities and different learning styles. Only instructors with some serious patience can deal with this crowd effectively!

As I've written many times, I came into Agility knowing literally nothing about it or about dog training in general. Of all the lessons I've learned over the past 3 years, Patience is by far the most important one.

Patience has helped me learn about our dogs and their differences.

Gilda needs all the patience I can muster as she lives her every waking moment teetering on the very edge of stressing either up on down depending on the situation! Stress impedes learning for all living things so it's important to find ways to avoid it.

Gilda is a quick study but requires time and space to feel confident in performing what she's learned. She can perform a teeter for example but will only willingly do so if she's the only dog around for miles. Frustrating? Yes. Very!
Frustration however, (on either my part or hers) drastically decreases learning.
Linda, in her calm, patient way, took the stress out of the teeter by changing it from an exercise to a fun game with great rewards! Without Linda's patience and understanding, Gilda would still be quivering in a corner at the mere sight of a teeter. Lord only knows where I'd be!

Pico, on the other hand is 'Mr. Operant'. He generally loves to train and loves to work. He requires the most patience from me when new things don't come easily to him because that generally means that I need to change my teaching technique.

I was determined to train Pico to weave using channel weaves because we have a set of 6 of them sitting in our basement. As we started our weave training, it became quickly apparent that Pico didn't understand the exercise at all. It was clear that he didn't understand why he was getting a click/treat sometimes and not others. The ever-patient Jessica made every training adjustment she could think of before recommending that we try using the 2x2 method to train the weaves. One session with the 2x2s and Pico's little light bulb came on!

I know for a fact that Jessica prefers the 2x2 method and has for some time now. I'm even more certain that she wanted to switch Pico's method after our first session. In the end, it was Jessica's experience that led us to try the 2x2s but it was her patience that enabled her to wait until I was ready to try it!

In our fast-paced world of 24/7 ATMs, instant pics and fast food, it's often hard to wait... to really wait. Dogs love instant gratification as much as we humans do. It's up to us to teach them patience through our actions. The rewards are great I'm sure... I'm still working patiently toward them!

Thanks Linda and Jessica. Without your patience for myself and my dogs, I'm quite sure we wouldn't be where we are today.

* For more posts on 'What Makes a Great Agility Instructor', please link to Dog Agility Blog Events: Instructors