Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sweet Smell of Success... (who knew it smelled like Rats?)


[*This post is part of  Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day (DABAD) on the topic "Success". See more posts on Success here: Dog Agility Blog Events: Success*]


Our very athletic, high-energy, smart-as-a-whip rescue dog, Emily Litella's Little Nevermind 'Gilda' seemed to be a total Agility-type dog...
Despite being all of those things, she is also fearful and reactive with a dual diagnosis of OCD and GAD. (you can read her story here: Gilda's Story)

When Gilda enters an Agility building (other than our training building, The Agility Underground), she is visibly anxious and timid. If there is a trial in progress, she can most likely be found quivering in a corner flat as a pancake. Clearly, competing in Agility is not her favorite activity so we chose to not put her in that situation anymore...



To everyone's amazement, Gilda successfully passed her Delta Society/Pet Partners Therapy Dog test at the Complex Level (a pretty big deal in the TD world) and she happily visited kids at the Local Children's Hospital.
That all ended a year later when a 2 year old picked up a flip flop and swatted her face with it (referred to now as the Terrible Toddler Incident). At the time of the incident, she handled the situation well. On subsequent visits to the hospital though she  became a little jumpy and animated when small kids would move toward her (and young kids naturally gravitate toward the Doggie Brigade dogs!) So that ended that activity...


And so we tried Herding. Once.  We found that the instant she was corrected with a slight line tap, she just stopped. Not for a second, or a minute, I mean, she just stopped. She dropped to her belly, wouldn't look at us or the sheep and that was it. The instructor said that she saw no natural herding instinct like we (and the local deer) do. Since we don't own sheep and/or a pasture to work on training ourselves, we chose to move on...


We took a Treibball class. Gilda seemed to really  like Treibball and actually showed some promise.  To this day she will happily push balls with her nose on cue. However, there has never been another class or a trial anywhere near us...



Recently, we tried Lure Coursing and while she was a little overwhelmed about the unfamiliar high-energy surroundings, she did have a few good spurts of chasing the lure. Most likely we could train this as she truly loves to chase a moving target (just ask the local deer, squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, muskrats)...
















Dock Diving is clearly out. After one dive (of her own free will), the look of total shock and panic in her eyes told us that she was probably never going to jump into water again. And she hasn't! She will swim all day long and would play pond fetch for hours if only she could (we don't have a pond)...






Our goal for our beloved Gilda is to help her to be as content as she can be in her doghood. So we take her on long solo hikes (she reacts to other dogs if brother Pico comes along). We take her for pond swims and pond fetch sessions at friends' swimmin' holes. We take her to Agility practice in the Agility Building that she loves. We get the big exercise balls out and do Treibball drills. We teach her tricks. Lots of tricks...

And that's kind of how we thought things would stay... we'd just keep doing the things that made her happy and we would work to avoid the things that make her shut down. Maintain the Status quo if you will...

And then, everything changed when Barn Hunt came along! Our little Gilda (medium actually according to Barn Hunt rules), it turns out, is a natural-born vermin finder! After attending 3 Practice Hunts locally with good success, we had the opportunity recently to attend our first Sanctioned Barn Hunt trial at Anything Goes For Dogs! in Marysville, OH.

{RATI Qualifying Ribbon}
First up was the Instinct Test (RAT I). Using a Novice course with a straw bale tunnel, three PVC tubes are laid out in the open. One tube is empty, one tube contains used rat litter, and one tube contains a live rat. The dog is required to find the tube containing the live rat and mark it.  The handler is required to Call the tube which requires some understanding of your dog's body language. Being new and somewhat thick-headed, I thought that Gilda needed to complete a Tunnel and a Climb (more on that to follow) in addition to marking the tube. As it turns out, all she needed to do for her Instinct Test was to clearly Mark the tube with the rat in it! We (I) wasted lots of time until the kind judge told us  to find the rat. Luckily, the Instinct test is simply a pass/fail qualification test. Despite my misunderstanding, Gilda easily qualified by finding the live rat and Marking it clearly (see if you can guess what her 'tell' is) so, she earned her RAT-I title!!



Next up was her first official Novice Leg (RAT N). The course was similar to the RATI course except that all 3 tubes were buried somewhere in the straw out on the course. In the Novice level, the dog is required to perform a full Tunnel (entering one end and exiting the other), perform a Climb (four paws on top of a straw bale) and Mark the tube containing the Live Rat. The handler is required to clearly Call the correct tube (I raise my hand and say "RAT!")

For the first time since we tested for our Pet Partners therapy dog certificate in 2011, we were once again 'Team Gilda' and it felt great.



As we exited the Start Box together, I signaled Tunnel, and she shot through! (#1). Next she hopped onto a straw bale to hunt (#2). She then quickly jumped down and Marked a tube by (did you figure out her Mark?) pawing at the tube (#3).  I raised my hand and announced "RAT!" to call it (#4). When the judge said, "Yes", I knew we had qualified. When I learned that Gilda earned a First Place Blue Ribbon out of 22 medium dogs, I nearly cried! If any dog deserves a Blue Ribbon, it's our ever-trying, always improving Gilda!

{Patiently waiting for Round 2}

{Found it!}




{Pico is proud of his sister... Okay, he is just photobombing as usual}
But Ribbons and Titles aren't what makes me happiest about this new dog sport... It's the changes that it brings to Gilda.

Somehow, Barn Hunt makes Gilda a 'normal' dog (for lack of a better term). She relaxes more at Barn Hunt Trials than anywhere else (even home!) She is able to truly work with me when we are in the ring. She is the leader in the ring but is still able to follow my cues. She is able to sit fairly patiently in the Blind with 4 other Dog/Handler teams while we wait for our turn to hunt.  Best of all, she is so excited when it is her turn but not over-the-top like she gets when reacting. She just *loves* to do this!


{Typical Gilda: Worried eyes, Tense paws, body and face}



{Barn Hunt Gilda: Soft Eyes and relaxed mouth and body}


I think it would do us all good to follow Gilda's lead and keep on trying new things. She proves that there is success out there for all of us... You just have to keep sniffing around until you find it!

[After this post, Gilda went on to quickly earn her RATN (Novice Barn Hunt Title) and RATO (Open Barn Hunt Title) She is now working toward her RATS (Senior title )and she loves hunting for 4 Rats!]

{Gilda with her Novice Title Ribbons}


{Gilda with her Open Title Ribbons}
{Gilda with her Senior Title Ribbons}


For more info about Barn Hunt, see Barn Hunt Association's website

7 comments:

Agility Boxer said...

Love this story, congratulations to you for allowing Gilda to find her nitch

Mufaasa's Mum said...

What fantastic story. And extra kudos to you for searching around until you found a sport that suited your dog, instead of trying to force your dog into a sport she didn't like. I'm pretty sure Gilda appreciates it, and the success you find there will surely spill over into other things down the line!

Doranna said...

Aww, very cool that Gilda found her niche. I bet that success spills over to increased confidence elsewhere, too!

andrea said...

SUCCESS indeed :D WTG
aren't we and our dogs lucky there are so many cool games to play with them?

WonderPupsMom said...

Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I love these dog blog days and I'm looking forward to reading and commenting on all of your posts too. I am so excited to have found something that makes G so happy for sure.
happy dogging.
Dee

Newbie and the Murr said...

Awesome story! I love when people find the sport that their dog is over the moon happy with!

Sue said...

This is really wonderful, thanks for sharing your and Gilda's journey. It is so gratifying to read of your efforts to find a sport Gilda would enjoy guided by your willingness to let her just be a happy dog. Ribbons are nothing when compared to helping a dog feel safe and happy. Good on you! And good for Gilda too.