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When to break

Posted on October 28, 2010 at 8:39 AM Comments comments (369)
Now that my main showing season is coming to an end I have been able to come up with a game plan for the winter.  My first project- take a break!  Sometimes our dogs just need a vacation.  It's difficult sometimes when things are going well, you don't want to take a day off or even when things are not going so well, we want to keep at it.  For me, this was a great time to take a vacation with my young dog.  Give him time to regroup and just be a dog.  Whether he excels in the sport of agility or not (hopefully he will) he lives with me because he is a pet first and foremost.
In realizing that altho. Tugger has a great understanding of agility, I did not give him the prep and practice he needed before he started competing the last few months.  It is well worth the wait to get the dogs out to matches, CPE shows before they make their debut.  That may mean you miss a show close to home, but take it from me- your dog will thank you for it!   I think that Tugger had many successes even with the failures.  I saw things from him that I had worked to obtain and for that, I am grateful in my training.   Now it's time to get him into regular classes.  
It's sometimes difficult with our regular lives- family, work, school to set aside time to train our dogs.  Altho. I have a busy schedule with my 9-5 and then teaching agility 4 days a week, I have arranged my schedule to accomodate classes for Tugger and give myself the time to build a relationship with him.
Just this week in his first day back to class he made some HUGE decisions.   He's a social butterfly and after 1 maybe 2 failures, he had a huge its yer choice moment to stay with me.  To watch the dog make that choice was so gratifying.  Since his first day at class, he is showing me every time we go out that he just needed some guidance and now, he is proving to be an amazing partner.   I am looking forward to the winter training time and getting back out there this spring. 

What should I do?

Posted on October 17, 2010 at 8:29 PM Comments comments (185)
I haven't posted much as it has been a crazy few weeks with teaching and training and therapy for Missy Nia, but there couldn't be a better time then after a great 3 day agility show.  I saw many students making bold decisions and handling courses as they do at home.  Some of the dogs that we have added some heat to in class were better prepared for the stresses of the show.
Mental prep was a huge part of playing the game this weekend.  Conflicts and course lag time with such large height classes made many of us put in the effort to get focused before our runs.
Those of you reading this may have spent the weekend with me and my 2 dogs that ran. A bit uncharacteristic weekend for me that's for sure.  I made the decision to play with Shianne.  A dog that almost died of cancer last August and doesn't do well in high stress situations.  Weaves are her "stress point", but we spent the last 4 weeks retraining and it was a huge success!  Shianne came out on course with confidence and speed and great understanding.  Old dogs can learn new tricks!  What also was different this weekend was my young dogs behavior.
As I previously discussed rehearsal of behaviors, Tugger had the unfortunate opportunity to rehearse zooming 2 weeks ago at Wine Country.  So it was no surprise (ok, maybe it was a surprise on my FIRST run) that Tug would repeat the behavior and the behavior continued to grow.  Not a good thing!  It was very discouraging as I put in the time to train from the start.  What decision do I make while he continues to struggle on course?  How do I handle the many students and fellow agility competitors watching the teacher's dog run amuck in the ring?  And how do I mentally focus and be there for Shianne when I've just been completely embarrassed on course?
There is no simple answer as I think every person handles things differently, but the main thing that needed to happen was what was best for my dogs and my feelings be put aside.  I spent last night looking at my runs and seeing first if there was something that may be triggering the behavior- stress?  over arousal?  lack of information on course?   I couldn't find anything.    Was it simply because he is a 2 yr old intact Vizsla.  (If you know the breed, you know they are NOT an easy breed to work with)  That would be a very good excuse to use and allow myself to let things go.  Did I consider that?  I would be lying if I said no.  But I realized that I have expectations that are above just making up an excuse and letting it go.  
What I did know is that he does not get adequate training time.  In fact he rarely gets trained.  He gets 5 min here and there before classes.  So to expect brilliance of 20 obstacles in a new environment with alot of pressure I think is unfair simply because I have not built the value for the teamwork needed on course yet.   That's an easy thing to fix, but what do I do while the show is still on?  I chose not to rehearse the behavior again that day at the show.  Not an easy decision to not run.   Today, my decision was to work him in the practice area and see what I got.  I also wanted to have success as pulling a baby dog out the of the ring is not going to make the game any more fun.  I found a nice loop and off we went.  Tugger was able to get reinforcement for working with me and he was a happy dog. 
So now I have had time to come up with a game plan.  No matter what you have in the ring, there is always an opportunity to train.  I won't quit, I won't be angry or upset, and I won't allow what others say get me down.  What matters most is the training and time you give to your teammate and my biggest lesson this weekend was that I simply did not do that.
The good news is- Tuggers still sleeping on the bed tonight, he's still wrestling with his sisters and doing it all again tomorrow (with more structure and 1 on 1 time with me.)
Sometimes the easiest thing to do is come up with an excuse or a reason to make things seem like it's ok, the hardest thing to do is accept and acknowledge the mistakes or that you may have not done what was needed in your training and make the decision to put forth the effort to change what you don't like on course or in daily life. 

Multiple personalities

Posted on September 10, 2010 at 12:28 PM Comments comments (305)
It's Friday!  While many folks are showing this weekend (and good luck to all!)  I am hoping to get a little more training time in.   I must say that the baby dog hasn't gotten a lot of attention in terms of agility.  Don't worry, he always gets attention, but we haven't done much equipment the last few weeks. 
Our main focus has been our recall and distraction work.  Last night was yet another night of "ah ha" for the boy.  Working on jumps was important, but setting up on the line and when we finished an exercise his ability to stay with me instead of leaving me to see his favorite auntie was much more important.  As with any agility dog, the equipment is the easy part.  Dogs naturally like to run through things and jump over or on stuff, but can your dog stay focused?
Things are really starting to come together with Tug and we had a GREAT training session!  I've decided his older sister Shianne was in need of some attention.   So she has begun her journey back into agility.  No guaranties with this girly, but fun is a priority for us.   I'm always amazed by the differences in each dog.  Finding a way to bring out the best of each dog and working with their personality is important as a trainer.  Mastering how to enhance what you already have and bring out what you know is inside is very rewarding.   Shianne and my first goal is no Zooming!  She is so excited to come out and play, she goes into an over aroused state.  It will be my challenge to help channel that energy.  So, if you see me walking around like a zombie- It's probably because Shianne just gave me a good run. 
Thank you to all that have responded about Nia.   She is doing well and slated for surgery on Wed.  I'm sure she will do well as long as I staple her to the floor for the next 3 months.  If anyone has ideas on how to keep a Siberian Husky happy for 3 months being crated and no walks, PLEASE post!
Enjoy your weekend!!

Sad day

Posted on September 5, 2010 at 10:30 PM Comments comments (187)
The past few days I've been killing myself trying to figure out why Nia is limping on her left leg.  She is scheduled for xrays next Friday, but the wait is killing me.  Well, wait no longer.  This morning as she went outside she trotted around with the dogs and I saw that she was now holding the leg.  I found nothing when I checked her out, but hey, I'm not a vet. 
The day went on and Nia didnt put that leg down once nor did she do anything but lay around so I thought it was time to take her to the emergency center.  Sure enough, she has a full ACL tear.  This poor dog can't catch a break.
When Aaron hugged me and said, "I'm sorry" and that she won't do agility again, That's when it hit me.  Although I've always hoped for the best and want to get her back in the ring, the reailty is, she will never get that last run pain free.  Nia loved agility and she is officially retired. 
There is nothing like your first agility dog, the one that teaches you so much.  I'm just glad that she is still around and its just a knee.  Surgery date hopefully soon. 
I want to thank all that have already shown their support and are keeping my spirits up.  I'll surely be calling on all my practitioners, reiki, accupuncture and therapists in the next few months so that we can get this girl atleast feeling as close to 100% as possible.


Posted on September 3, 2010 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (40)
So I guess I wasn't quite over my "bang head here" moment since I'm just getting back to the blog today.  Really, it was because I've been spending so much time training.  Not on equipment, but working on all the behaviors I desire from Tugger.  Being a bird dog and a dog that isn't know to work close to a human, there are certain challenges I will face.  But, I will not allow the fact that my dog is this breed or that breed limit my expectations.  SIberian Huskies are certainly not known for their agility abilities, but Nia has proven to be a great teammate over the past few years.
So, getting back to my "bang head here" moment.  I had taken Tug to the school to train in a new environment.  They recently added a new building and relanscaped so there is an area with a small pond type area.  This area must of had 30 geese at least hanging out.  Bird dog remember......  So first what a great opportunity to place some Its yer choice.  He was great!  He got a little sticky in his behaviors, but we worked through.  Next on lead I released him to "go play".  For him, that is permission to mill about, sniff and do whatever. I threw in a recall.  Yup, totally ignored me.  So, we moved farther away from the reinforcement.  Only took once.  We had great recalls after that.   I got a little greedy and decided to get the camera.   What beautiful pics I was taking of him by the water and acting on his natural instinct while staying close to me. And then it happened.  A few birds took flight and Tug was gone faster than I could spit out the word.   There were 2 footballs fields where he headed AND a major road not far away.  When I lost sight of him I was in a panic.   So, these types of stories usually have this great ending.  All my recall work paid off and Tug came when I called.  Hell no!  Actually, I didn't even call.  I did give a whistle that usually he responds too. 
When I finally found him, the geese were gone, but 2 seagulls were occupying him.  I was able to gather him up, place him in his crate and go home.
The unfortunate part is now that he was so HIGHLY reinforced for what I've been working so hard against, I have some work to do.  BANG HEAD HERE! 
But, it was a good lesson to learn and we will continue on our training.....

Perfect entry for my first blog

Posted on August 27, 2010 at 9:12 AM Comments comments (163)
Hi Everyone!
First- to those that are reading, thanks for coming along for the ride!  This is not something I thought I would ever do, but why not share my dog training and other experiences with all of you.
Yesterdays training adventure was a perfect way to start the blog.  During training, you can learn the most from guess who? The DOG!  The dog will give you the answers of what you have (or don't have) and where you need BALANCE.
Through out your dogs training, you will need to find a balance.  You may work hard to get one desired behavior and then find out that the behavior is so strong, you need to re assess and re balance.  What do I mean?  Here's a great example about balance from some recent training I've been doing with Tugger.
For a bout 2 months my focus has been building more speed from Tugger.  Don't get me wrong, the little bugger is FAST, but not in all scenarios.  I was looking to build speed off the startline  with a long lead out or when transitioning from collection back to extension.  Part of building drive in him was building his value for toys and Tugging.   Jolly balls with Tug ropes is my new found love.  That was my ticket! 
I won't give you all the secrets, but lots of fun games of chasing me and racing to the toys was part of my training routine in addition to lots and lots of fun short sessions of tugging.  
I knew it would not happen over night, but at the last show when Tug blasted at me off the line and the mamma saw her life flash before her eyes, I thought wooohoo!  He's got it!   
Fast forward to this week.  Playing a new game with Tugger where you play a great round of tug and then drop the toy and run away. My goal was to run Tug back to get the toy and actually have him re instate the game of tug with me.   To my surprise- He ignored me completely and hung out with his toy!  He didn't even consider the game of chase.  This time I thought not "woohoo  He's got it!"  but "ooooh, He's got it!"        Balance!    What I got out of that training session was not frustration or anger that my dog completely ignored me, but that now I need to find a happy place and good balance with value for the toy and the mamma.  I also found it very rewarding that the short training sessions I have done has made an large impact on his behavior.  Again, now its just about balance.  
Tomorrow- Learn when to "bang head here".   I'm still recovering from that one, so one more day before I share one of the biggest training lessons I've learned to date!