Positive Perspective

You gotta accentuate the positive.  Eliminate the negative. . .

You gotta accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. . .

I’ve been a bit bummed, stressed out, and unhappy lately. It sort of came to a head on Monday this week leaving me pretty upset. I felt unappreciated and surrounded by a lot of negativity. I tend to be a negative person by nature and it’s very easy for me to get stuck in the negativity when it’s all around me. I don’t want to be that person. I hate being that person. I decided that, if no one else was going to notice the positive in me, I would make it a point to.

On Tuesday I created a list where I would write down one good thing I did each day. Whether it was something I did that made me feel proud, a compliment from a coworker, or something I did to help someone else out. I wanted at least one positive thing per day to reflect on. I placed the list out in the open where I could see it and realize that what I am doing is being recognized. Even if only by myself.

A strange and somewhat surprising thing has happened already – and it’s only been a week! Since I’ve started taking notice of the positive, I am seeing it more and more. Whereas, on Monday, I felt like no one ever gave me any form of positive reinforcement at all; by Friday I’ve noticed that I do actually get told “good job” more frequently. Because of this, I’m even more motivated to do more to get some of that good feedback from others and myself. (Seriously!)

While I’m still surrounded by negativity, I’m finding it’s impacting me less. There are still moments when I find myself complaining about something or rolling my eyes when someone else is whining. But it’s not as frequent. It’s almost as if this focus on the positive is forming a protective bubble around me. Forcing me to look beyond all the mistakes and constant criticism and switch my energy towards a more productive, positive outlook.

The same thing is true when you’re training dogs. You really do get a completely different attitude towards working with your canine partner when you focus on the things they do right rather than the things they do wrong. It is hard to switch your perspective when your dog is tearing up the house, pottying inside, pulling on the leash, or being reactive to other dogs. I think human beings are almost programmed to notice the negative easier than the positive. But, by simply changing your point of view, you can help your dog overcome his issues. As you focus on the positive, you see the positive. You become more positive. And the relationships around you change for the better.

They always say “Your attitude matters. Pick a good one.” I never thought I’d be the sort of person to actually agree with this. It works in dog training. It can work in your life too.

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Failure is Always an Option

When it became apparent during our last trial that Risa’s ability to focus in the ring was still sketchy, I decided I needed to up our game and actively work on it. Since it’s nearly impossible to replicate the chaos of a trial, I needed to find an acceptable analog. Our winter, much like that of the rest of the country, has been absolutely unbearable. Cold, snowy, cold, frozen. . . Distractions outside are few and far between and I didn’t want to risk frozen fingers in the attempt! This left me with few options.

So I chose to work on Risa’s focus in pet stores. This seems like an ideal place since there are both human and canine distractions along with enticing smells. I could also control the chaos a bit by going at odd hours when the store would be less crowded. They are also one of the few stores that allow dogs inside.

The problem is, Risa hates pet stores.

It’s probably entirely my fault that she gets super stressed out when she goes to a pet store. And it doesn’t matter which one or how often we’ve been there before. She hates going. This intense fear regarding pet stores goes back to the first weekend after I adopted her when I took her to Petsmart on a Saturday. I knew she was fearful and under-socialized. I was just trying to help her overcome her fears. Unfortunately I overwhelmed her, didn’t listen when she made it clear it was too much, and showed her she couldn’t trust me. It’s been almost 8 years and she still hasn’t forgiven me for my mistake.

I still thought I could overcome this obstacle and possibly change her associations with pet stores by working on her focus there. I started by giving her a treat as soon as we entered the store-something Jane Killion suggested at the “Pigs Fly” seminar I attended over the summer. This not only makes entering a new place awesome but also gets your dog’s focus on you rather than everything else that is going on. I then moved to a quiet location in the back of the store (if we’re anywhere near the door she spends her time pulling in that direction) and gave her some time to investigate. Once she’d had a bit of time to get her bearings and check the shelves for monsters, I would ask her to work. I kept the sessions short so as to not overwhelm her. After about a month’s time, I started adding in some “Give Me a Break” from Leslie McDevitt’s “Control Unleashed” to further help Risa acclimate to her environment and be less afraid.

For 2 months I have gone to a pet store every weekend (and to class, a match, and practiced before our club meeting) to work on her focus. I have seen very little improvement. Especially at the pet store. She has been more focused at our training facility (though clearly still not enough as she was very distracted at the fun match) but not at pet stores. I wonder if it’s just too traumatic and if I should stop taking her there entirely. The weather should be getting better soon (or so I hope as we consistently continue to plunge into winter-like temperatures despite it being spring) so I should be able to find more places to take her and work on focus. Or maybe we should tough it out and keep trying at pet stores.

I’m really not sure how to proceed but clearly something isn’t working. Her focus is still unreliable in stressful situations. Though at least it’s due to curiosity, not fear!

Focus work in the pet store:

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Pump You Up

Working on some rear-awareness with the cavalettis.

Working on some rear-awareness with the cavalettis.

I’ve started Risa on a canine conditioning regimen. I should have started this with her ages ago but it’s better late than never. After all, she’s not getting any younger yet she’s still active and athletic. I’d like to keep her that way. Besides, she does have back troubles and arthritis in her knees. It will also be lure coursing season soon and I want her to be able to take full advantage of her ability to race after pseudo-prey. I also want to make sure she’s in top form for her other competitive sports; I don’t want her to tweak her back before a competition again.

So I’ve pulled out her wobble board, created some cavalettis, and bought an exercise ball.

We’ve done some conditioning work on the wobble board before. I brought it out a couple years ago when Risa’s chiropractor mentioned her muscle mass differed greatly between her left and right thighs (her arthritis is worse in her left knee). I had her walk back and forth across it, spin around on it, and I rocked it back and forth beneath her while she held a stand or a bow. She was even able to perform a “sit pretty” as it moved beneath her which I encouraged to help her build up her core strength. I have also begun holding her front paws while she stands or walks across it on her hind feet only.

It has been several years since I’ve done any work with cavalettis but Risa has pretty good hind-end awareness already. Her ability to back up away from me along with her enthusiasm for doing backward circles in both directions proves this. But I knew this was a good exercise to add to her regimen. The first few attempts she sped through the poles without issue. I set up the poles again over the weekend using my training gates to create a channel. This method worked best as it forced her to stay straight and allowed me to easily set up 6 poles and keep them equidistant from each other. I also have more flexibility in adjusting the height of the poles. She was a bit cautious going through at first which is ideal as the dog is supposed to walk through slowly. After a couple passes, she decided that these were supposed to be jumps and sailed over the first 3 poles landing artfully between the remaining ones without ticking a single bar. Yes, she has good hind-end awareness. ;) But this is not something I wanted to encourage so I made sure to guide her with my hand for the next repetitions to prevent her from leaping around again.

Risa absolutely loves playing with the exercise ball.  In fact, her enthusiasm often rolls it over!

Risa absolutely loves playing with the exercise ball. In fact, her enthusiasm often rolls it over!

Out of all the exercises I’ve introduced, I think her favorite are the ones involving the exercise ball. I don’t have a very solid stand for it to rest on so it’s often butted up against my legs for support or stuck in a corner. This means that it has a tendency to roll around a lot once she puts her weight on it. I am trying my best to prevent this since that’s not how the exercises are supposed to work. However, I am incredibly thrilled that she is so confident on the roll-y and unpredictable object. One day, while working on the ball, she decided to hop up onto it completely. It rolled out from under her and she got off it quickly. She was not phased at all and immediately put her front feet back up on it when I cued her to do so. I’m always impressed with how much she trusts me and how easily she can shrug off potentially scary situations!!

Despite having just started these exercises, I can already see positive results. She’s always been very well-muscled but I’m seeing some definition I haven’t seen in a while. I’m hopeful that, along with keeping her strong and safe when she is active, this will decrease the frequency in which we have to see her chiropractor too.

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Competition Obedience

It was a match so there is no score.  But a series of happy faces means we won!

It was a match so there is no score. But a series of happy faces means we won!

With the addition of several new classes in AKC, I decided maybe it was time to try obedience with Risa. I knew she’d never earn a CD; I won’t risk doing group stays with her. The Beginner Novice was a possibility but, for some reason, the idea of Pre-Novice appealed to me. It’s, essentially, the same thing as Novice just without the group stays. I knew Risa could do pretty much everything required with the exception of the stand for exam. She’s still really leery about strangers touching her. But I knew it could be worked on.

When I found out there was going to be an obedience fun match this weekend, I decided it was time to see where we stood. I wanted to have an idea of where we still needed work. Besides, we haven’t competed since January and I wanted to give Risa and I a chance to get in the ring again!

I’m very happy to know that Risa is exactly where I figured she would be in regards to doing obedience. Her figure 8, recall, and stay were superb. Not perfect but pretty close! Heeling needs some serious work but that’s nothing new. That’s where I lose her focus all the time. She did surprise me on the stand for exam, however. I figured she would break her stay or, at the very least, not be happy at all about a stranger touching her. Risa actually held the stay and didn’t look upset about being touched either! Unfortunately, she then decided the judge must be her new friend and went over to say “Hi.” Knowing how fearful she was and how much Risa still can be afraid of strangers, I can’t say I’m displeased with that reaction!!

We still have work to do but I think it’s possible we could add PCD to the end of her name sometime in the near future. I was also happy to see her so calm amid the chaos. She voluntarily laid down while we were waiting our turn even with all the dogs nearby. The only real reactive moment was when she postured and barked once at the chow puppy in the nearby conformation ring. She even managed to keep her cool when a golden retriever got loose and ran up her butt. She did whip her head around to see who it was but I just kept her moving and offered her treats until the dog was caught.

Our obedience debut:

Posted in Dog Sports, Fear, Obedience, Training | Leave a comment


How do we determine what breed a dog is?

How do we determine what breed a dog is?

There’s an old saying that goes “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck. . .it’s a duck.” But how do we really know if a dog is the breed we think he is. How is it determined that this dog is that breed?

This seems like a simple question doesn’t it? But it’s really more complicated than we realize. After all, what makes a dog a particular breed? Is it his appearance? Each breed, regardless of what registry recognizes it (or doesn’t), has a breed standard. This standard outlines what the ideal dog of this breed should look like. Ears, tails, coat, color. . . It’s all laid out. While no dog is perfect enough to meet this standard 100%; it is still a guideline for judges, breeders, and the general public to determine what breed a dog is.

It’s also important to note how the dog behaves. This is outlined in the breed standard as well. Retrievers should carry game from the water and return it to the hunter. Herding dogs should move stock. Draft dogs should be able to pull heavy loads. Pointers should point.

The pedigree is also important. After all, that proves a dog’s purity for generations. You know he’s a standard poodle because every one of his relatives for generations was also a standard poodle.

But is that all there is to it? What about border collies who don’t herd? Are they still border collies simply because they look like a border collie and had parents who were border collies? How about if you have a German shepherd with floppy ears and a very straight rear? Is he still a German shepherd even though he doesn’t really look like one?

When dog breeds were first developed, what the dog did was more important than how the dog looked. Dogs were classified and categorized by the task they performed and how they executed it. Any dog who “gave eye” to move stock was a border collie. He didn’t need to be long-coated, black and white, have half-pricked ears, or be of any particular size. It was his style of herding that defined him. Similar-looking dogs who worked upright to move sheep were not considered border collies even if they looked like border collies.

Like so many things. . .it's in the eye of the beholder.

Like so many things. . .it’s in the eye of the beholder.

If you go to the local shelter or rescue and adopt a dog with a golden coat, long hair, a medium build, and drop ears; you’re going to call him a golden retriever. And so would anyone else who looked at him. But who’s to say he isn’t really 1/8th Labrador retriever? You cannot prove it. Despite the recent popularity of dog DNA testing, there are no genetic markers for breeds or even breed characteristics. No respectable registering body would allow you to register your dog as a golden retriever for breeding purposes because you cannot prove his lines are pure.

You could also have a Rottweiler/golden retriever cross who looks identical to a hovawart. Or a Yorkie/Japanese chin who looks like a papillion. They’re mutts but their appearance is indistinguishable from recognized purebred dogs.

So, again, I ask the question. What makes a dog a member of that breed? Is it his appearance? Is it his behavior? Or is it proof of pure lineage? The answer depends on what you think is most important. :) People who value a dog for his working ability will define him by his ability to accomplish the task. Those who like a particular look will use that to determine whether or not that dog is of that breed. And those who value purity will judge the dog by his ancestors to conclude what breed he belongs to.

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