Compare and Contrast

Getting a reward for Risa during the trick training portion of the event.  It almost looks like focus!

Getting a reward for Risa during the trick training portion of the event. It almost looks like focus!

I’m really glad I posted my Throwback Thursday entry this past week. It gave me insight and a nice reminder of where we’ve come from. And exactly how much Risa has improved.

This last Saturday was the Canine Carnival: a festival of sorts highlighting animal rescue in the area. It’s a huge event that draws immense crowds and plenty of rescue groups, local pet stores, trainers, dog daycares, etc. I’ve actually taken Risa to it several times. The first few times were to work on her reactivity and fearfulness. The last three years we’ve put on a demonstration of canine freestyle.

We volunteered to dance again this year but, this time, with our local training club. It really was the right decision and saved me from having to sit alone in a booth all day. On top of that change, the event was held at a completely different location having outgrown the original space.

This put a lot of potential stress on Risa. Firstly, it’s HUGE and a bit chaotic. This I know from previous years. Secondly, it’s now at a new location and the new is always tough for Ris. However, I also know how far she’s come and I knew she could handle it. I knew she wouldn’t be as focused and precise dancing as she typically is in competition. We simply haven’t trained to that level of distraction. I did know, however, that she would still work with me and not be overly stressed out.

I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived and I got Risa out of the car. She wasn’t worried at all. No tucked tail. No trembling. No hesitation. She just got out and we were on our way. :) I gave her plenty of time to scope things out. We walked around near the demo ring and she got to sniff and wander at her own pace. It was still early so there wasn’t much of a crowd which allowed her a lot more freedom. I was even able to get her in the ring so she could investigate the scents in there. While inside the ring, I worked with her on some focus exercises that I learned in the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy class we’re taking. I was impressed; she was able to focus pretty well and complete the tasks I asked. Since there was agility equipment set up, I was also able to let her take the tunnel and use it as a reward. She loves the tunnel!

She spent most of the event in her crate. It’s just easier and less stressful for her that way. While she was out, she only had one minor reactive moment (I hesitate to even call it that) with a puppy who had escaped from her handler and made her way to Risa’s backside. I cued Risa to come with me a couple times but the puppy was too persistent and didn’t want to leave Risa alone. So Risa turned and did an open-mouth lunge towards the pup. Risa never made a sound and, as soon as the pup went “Whoa!” and backed off, Risa was right back to looking at me. Totally appropriate and not over-the-top like she used to be! She was a bit of a jerk about her crate, though, and grumbled at several dogs who got too close or nosy while she was in there. Even with the blankets covering it up.

When it came time to demo she did really well. I did lose her focus a lot; mostly while heeling. It’s okay, though. I always remember the audience and many of them haven’t seen dogs doing tricks like Risa does. Or they struggle getting their dogs to “sit” on cue. Whatever we do probably looks pretty impressive. Besides, we’re having fun!! I was impressed that Risa was able to do her go out and circle the basketball. I figured that would fall apart but she nailed it. It was great.

I hadn’t originally planned on staying the entire time knowing how potentially stressful things would be. When asked if we would be staying for the afternoon to demo again, I said “Yes.” Risa seemed comfortable and not overly stressed out or scared. So we demoed again in the afternoon. It was a bit uglier in the afternoon as far as precision, focus, and execution but it was still good enough considering. (I got to work on my improv skills!) But the same could be said for all of the dogs who were demoing. Even the ones with solid temperaments and better focus had some trouble in the afternoon. It made me feel better about my own dog’s performance as well.

Even more encouraging than the wows from the audience were the compliments from my fellow club members when we returned to the tent after our dance. They were all really impressed with Risa and her skills. Risa rocked it and I am so very proud of her. It’s really incredible how far she’s come.

Posted in Canine Freestyle, Dog Sports, Fear, Fenzi Academy, Reactivity, Training | Leave a comment

The Illusion of Control

Dr. Ellie Sattler can't stand off-leash, out-of-control dogs either.  It's more annoying than being chased by a velociraptor.

Dr. Ellie Sattler can’t stand off-leash, out-of-control dogs either. It’s more annoying than being chased by a velociraptor.

“You never had control. That’s the illusion!” -Ellie Sattler “Jurassic Park”

If you have a fearful dog and a dog reactive dog, you think a lot about control. Firstly, you need to have your dog under your control to prevent bad things from happening. Things your dog thinks are bad or things other people are going to think are bad if your dog does them.

What’s even more important is that other people have control over their dogs. This is, of course, a potential nightmare for owners of reactive dogs. I can’t think of too many worse events than having another dog rush us; friendly or not.

I also believe a lot of people think they have control over their dogs when they really do not. Does having a leash on your dog signify he is under control? Not in my experience. I can’t recall how many times I’ve seen an on-leash dog dragging his owner from tree to tree or, heaven forbid, right into another dog’s space. Is that dog under control? Hardly. The leash is just a tool. It doesn’t equal control.

The same can be said for other tools in our dog training toolbox. Prong collars, electronic collars, front-clip harnesses, buckle collars, etc. A dog wearing any of these devices may appear to be under control but is he really? What happens when the tool is removed? Does the person still have control over the dog or is the dog doing the equivalent of kids at the end of the school year busting out the door screaming “I’m free!”?

While I don’t believe we can ever have 100% control over another being (and, really, who wants that?), the ultimate proof of our control over our dogs resides in training not the usage of tools. While the tools are beneficial to the training process, they are often used as a crutch. Sure your dog might not bark at the mailman when he’s wearing his anti-bark collar but that doesn’t mean he has been trained not to bark at passerbys. If you remove the tool and the behavior’s still there, it hasn’t been trained. You don’t have control.

If your dog will do a whiplash turn off of deer in a wide open field while wearing nothing but what he was born with. . . you have control over your dog. Your training has paid off. If you need to continue using the crutch just in case, then you don’t have control. Be honest with yourself. It benefits everyone. Personally, when I’m out walking Risa, I don’t care whether a dog is on or off leash. All that matters to me is that the dog is under control.

Posted in Thoughts | Leave a comment

Throwback Thursday

Risa checking out the scary event.

Risa checking out the scary event.

This entry is from June 13th, 2009. It’s amazing how far my girlie has come. Also worth noting is the fact that I still try and take her new places to make her feel more comfortable and that it still doesn’t always work. :)

“So today a local dog boarding business had an open house of sorts. I found out about it last weekend and figured it would be another great opportunity for Risa to get out somewhere new as we’ve been doing every week.

I took her for a 2.5 mile walk before we arrived. I wanted to get the edge off but not tire her out too much. However, it was more difficult to judge how much to do since she didn’t get much exercise Thursday or Friday (because I was sick).

When we arrived, Risa did not want to go in. :sad: I won’t push her, so we stood on the outskirts and I gave her treats when I could (she wasn’t too interested in them). Her tail was tucked pretty tightly and she was doing a lot of visual scanning. One of the rescue group volunteers who was there came over to see Risa. She was a very nice lady but Risa wasn’t interested in getting too close. (Risa did see this person twice more while we were there. The third time, Risa went cautiously up to her just upon hearing her voice and got petted slightly.) Eventually, she seemed okay and was willing to come with me inside the sectioned area. I tried to find us a nice quiet spot to hang out but the only suitable place was WAY in the back. It was too crowded to maneuver Risa back there so I picked her up and carried her.

She was back to being more uncomfortable back there but at least I could manage our space better. I continued treating her for looking at scary things and looking at me. At one point, someone was blowing bubbles and one floated by. Risa saw it and was fascinated by it (which was hilarious). It wasn’t long before I realized she was getting a bit too stressed out and that we should leave. I was carrying her back through the crowd when they announced a contest: Largest Lap Dog. I already had Ris in my arms so I figured “What the hell?”. I had a bit of trouble sitting in the chair because someone was letting their dog get too close but we managed. Ris tried to evacuate my lap at one point but I couldn’t let her. I just kept praising her for being good. Once we were done, I again retreated to the outskirts to await the results. Turns out we won 3rd place! After that, I stopped at one of the booths (I wanted to get a “I Love My Mutt” magnet) and we were off.

ANYWAY. . .after that long story. . .I got to thinking. Is this really working? Is taking Risa somewhere new every week really helping her or just stressing her out more? Most of our outings she seems to be doing better but today she was more scared than anything. :sad: I suppose it could be due to the crazy last couple days but I don’t know. I try and not push her too hard even though it does sadden me that we can’t just go to these types of things and just have fun. I know she may never be the type of dog that’s 100% comfortable in situations like this. But I’d just like her to be less stressed out in new places. And I’m not sure what I’m doing is helping. . . :(“

Posted in Fear, Reactivity, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment


Hard to believe it's been 8 years.  Seems like just yesterday and like we've been together forever at the same time!

Hard to believe it’s been 8 years. Seems like just yesterday and like we’ve been together forever at the same time!

Tuesday the 15th marked Risa’s 8th Gotcha Day. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been together so long. She has plenty of toys and other things so I decided we’d take a day trip together to celebrate it. She’d done pretty well at the obedience trial in June and there was another in July that was an easy day’s drive so I signed us up. It also happens to be close to one of our favorite non-local parks. I knew it was going to be a great weekend of fun. Some time to de-stress and just enjoy each others’ company. What I hadn’t counted on was me having an emergency appendectomy 10 days before the trial!

Needless to say, the stress level in my household has been pretty high over the last two weeks. First I added foster dog Augie (who was adopted on Risa’s Gotcha Day by one of my coworkers) and then two straight evenings of fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend. The Tuesday after that we were hit with some pretty major storms and my appendix decided it’s warranty was up and failed. I spent most of Tuesday evening and Wednesday in the hospital, came home that afternoon, had to send Augie off to another foster home, and spent the next 5 days recuperating. Risa didn’t get walks for days and, once I finally felt good enough to take her out, I couldn’t go fast or far. Training went by the wayside. Life got turned upside down!

I thought about canceling our weekend but figured I’d feel well enough to go. I was right. Of course, I felt much less prepared than usual but decided it was just about having fun anyway. :) We had nothing to lose.

Risa was a bit overwhelmed by the new location but, overall, handled it well. It was a small trial which helped. She wasn’t scared or super stressed out, thankfully. I was a little unnerved, however, as we were due in two rings right about the same time again. Fortunately, I had enough time between our two outings to successfully handle Risa. But it was tight and nerve-wracking trying to figure out how to potentially be in two places at once!

We did our Pre-Novice run first. Risa rocked her sit stay, the recall, and her stand for exam. Everything else was pretty ugly. Her heeling was atrocious and very unfocused. She lagged terribly and sniffed the “posts” on her figure 8. I lost her completely on the off-lead heeling. If we’re going to have a breakdown in performance due to stress, that’s where it’ll happen. Not surprisingly, we didn’t qualify. I wasn’t upset about it. I had a feeling that we would NQ there. I just haven’t prepared her well-enough for off-lead heeling in a new, stressing environment.

I figured we had a better chance in Beginner Novice. Though there was one thing I was concerned about: the judge was male. Risa is still really leery of men and I haven’t been able to find enough (practically none) men to work with her on it. I thought, because it’s a sit versus a stand, she might have a chance of pulling it off. I was prepared for her to break her sit and leave when he attempted to touch her head even if I was hoping she wouldn’t. When the judge attempted to pat her, she did duck her head out of his reach. She never moved a toe and, eventually, did let him touch her. I probably wouldn’t have passed her but she didn’t NQ there!

Risa always seems to come home with a good haul.  I'm so proud of her!

Risa always seems to come home with a good haul. I’m so proud of her!

The heeling on-lead section was ugly. She wasn’t with me at all. Her figure 8 was actually quite nice, though. Even if her halt sits were way out of position. She rocked the stay, of course. I can always rely on her to do that. Her recall is always fabulous as well but, this time, there was an added element of difficulty. Firstly, I got confused on where I was supposed to go. Whoops! :) After I got to the right location, I had Risa sit and walked off to do the recall. As I called her to me, the dog in the next ring left his handler and stuck his head over the ring gates to check out Risa. He was probably 6 feet away from the exact spot I was calling her to. Bless her heart, Risa never even flicked an ear in his direction. I know she saw him there. Everyone saw him there! But she ignored him completely and came and sat directly in front of me with 100% eye contact. The entire event must have flustered the judge. He moved to block the other dog but hadn’t told me “Exercise finished.” I stood there smiling at my Awesome Girlie thinking “For the love of God PLEASE say ‘Exercise finished’ so I can release my dog before she does something about that other dog.” It seemed like I was staring into my dogs happy, smiling face forever but he finally ended my suffering and I was able to praise the living crap out of my dog. I was so incredibly proud of her. The judge asked me if I saw the dog coming to which I replied “Yes” with a huge grin on my face. That recall was a major victory for Risa; the judge had no idea how huge it was. As a bonus, he told us we had qualified. Risa had just earned her Beginner Novice title.

We went back into the ring for awards and it turns out Risa took 1st place with a score of 190. She also earned a prize for being the high-scoring mixed breed dog. (She may have been the only mutt there but it’s not like we care.)

After the show, I took her to one of her favorite places for a nice long walk. She hasn’t had a real walk since before my surgery and we both needed to get back to our usual routine. Even better, this place has a river running through it that she can wade in. That’s not something she gets to do very often.

I ended our day with ice cream. I’m not sure when she last had a chance to indulge in the cool, creamy goodness of ice cream. She tends to have issues with dairy so I don’t often let her cheat. It was a special occasion, however, so who cares what I have to pick up tomorrow? :D Risa was incredibly happy to inhale her ice cream treat. In fact, she tried to help me finish mine!

Overall, it was a great day with my girl. I’m so proud of her. She really rocked it today.

Posted in AKC, Dog Sports, Obedience, Reactivity, Training | Leave a comment

A New Challenger

Introducing: Augie!

Introducing: Augie!

It’s been several months since I’ve had a foster dog. I really think Risa missed having a canine friend in the house but I needed a break after Crash left. On top of that, the rescue I previously volunteered with is on a bit of a break so there were no dogs in need of temporary housing.

I decided that I would be better off with a medium- or low-energy foster dog the next time around. I really don’t have the time to dedicate to a crazy dog that needs to be entertained all the time even though that type of dog is my preference. I like a dog who wants to do things and am less enamored with one who is content to lay around and sleep all day. But I’m fostering, not keeping. It’s important for me to remember that and take in dogs who don’t need more time than I can give them.

Almost on a whim, I decided I could foster for one of the organizations I’ve been involved with from the very beginning. I used to assist them with training classes and I helped train one of the dogs in their Dogs to Vets Program. Due to my work schedule, I haven’t been able to help them as much as I’d like to but I could offer to foster a dog! I also knew that they typically look for dogs who are more mellow so I knew I wouldn’t find myself in a situation similar to the one I had with puppy boy Crash!

I took Augie home with me just over 2 weeks ago. My best guess on breed mix is Australian shepherd and Golden retriever. He’s such a cute boy but he’s very overweight. I know that will not last long; I like my dogs lean! Even in the short time he’s been with me, he’s become much more active and energetic. I love how much easier it is for him to get around and, even though he’s still a chunky monkey, he looks a lot better already. He still likes to nap a lot!

Part of the joy of fostering a dog is the challenge. Augie is my 6th foster dog and he presents different challenges that I haven’t had to deal with before. He does the usual stuff. Barking. He has no self-control and poor loose-leash walking skills. He jumps on me when he’s aroused. The main problem is that he doesn’t like other dogs in his space. Anyone who has followed Risa’s story knows I’m no stranger to this type of behavior. It’s just that he’s the first foster dog that hasn’t been overly excited about Risa (actually, she was much more enthused about meeting him than he was about her). I usually have to watch her to make sure she’s feeling okay about the situation. This time, I need to watch them both!

I'm seriously too cute for words.

I’m seriously too cute for words.

I don’t feel that he’s aggressive in any way. In fact, I think he may actually like other dogs (he sure pulls hard on the leash in an attempt to meet them on walks!). And he did grow up with two other dogs. I think he is just very space-conscious and insecure when indoors. Perhaps he was bullied and is used to having to growl or snark to get the distance he needs. I don’t know. All I do know is that it has caused some frustration and stress in my home. Fortunately, Risa has been very good about heeding his warnings. There have only been two incidences where they had a nice shouting match through the bars of the x-pen and they were pretty minor and easy to break up. The only real difficulty is when Risa tries to respect Augie’s space and ends up trapped in or out of a room because of it. Due to the setup of my house, there really isn’t a better place to move Augie to so that I could avoid this problem.

It’s difficult to have two space-conscious dogs in the home. I have done some classical conditioning with them both but we’re still in the early stages. Things came to a bit of a head over the weekend with the craziness of the Fourth of July. Risa is terrified of the fireworks and she needs to be able to move around and pace to feel more comfortable. Augie started snarking at her which increased her stress levels since she felt she couldn’t leave the room when she wanted to. I was at a loss of what to do to keep everyone happy (it’s stressful for Augie too!). Thankfully, a friend suggested putting a blanket around the x-pen and it’s been much calmer since. Augie doesn’t have to feel threatened by Risa’s proximity and Ris is free to roam the house as per usual.

I’ll still keep up on some classical conditioning and slowly work on introducing them to each other. I did have them both outside for a brief meet and greet. Considering how excited Augie was seeing a dog on a walk, he showed very little interest in meeting Risa. I didn’t get a good read on him but they did quickly sniff nose-to-nose. We’ll just play it by ear. They don’t have to be friends. I just want both dogs to feel safe and comfortable in my home.

Posted in Classical Conditioning, Fostering, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment