But She KNOWS This!

Sorry.  But I have no idea what you want.

Sorry. But I have no idea what you want.

Lately I’ve been working with Risa on her fundamentals. Mainly positions (right-side heel, fronts, behind) and working on her transitions for freestyle. I never really trained those things well since I was in a big hurry to get to the fun stuff and didn’t realize at the time how important the foundation behaviors were. Her understanding of left-side heel is pretty good but it’s still easy to confuse her at times. It’s also clear that some of her tricks aren’t under stimulus control as well as I thought either. ;)

I was focusing on fronts with her the other night after struggling to teach her an in-front side pass using a pivot platform. She did okay and we were making progress that way but it was clear she didn’t understand that “front” meant be straight in front of me regardless. Risa wanted to swing into my sides instead. This isn’t surprising. She has a much higher reinforcement history for side positions. I decided to pull out the platform to help reiterate that fronts are straight and to help her be correct so I could reward her.

Risa is familiar with the platform but I haven’t used it lately. I felt I relied on it too much and used it too long creating a dog who understood the position with the board under her paws but didn’t actually know the position without the aid. I also haven’t really needed it for her left-side behaviors which are very strong and I was able to use a smaller pivot platform to help her polish her right-side behaviors. When I plopped the platform down to work on fronts, Risa didn’t stand square on it. She’d fidget or stand half on. I was a bit dumbfounded. “She knows this!” I thought to myself. “Why won’t she just get all four paws up there so I can click!?”

It’s not that she doesn’t know it. Just that she’s out of practice. I haven’t worked on it in a while so she isn’t quite as fluent in the behavior as I had expected. It’s not surprising, really, but it’s something to keep in mind and something we often forget. Just because a dog “knows” it doesn’t mean they “know” it forever. Case in point, I studied Spanish for 7 years in high school and college. I was pretty fluent. I knew how to conjugate verbs in various tenses, knew the phonetics of the language, and even used to watch movies dubbed in Spanish to hone my skills. It’s been years since I’ve conversed, written, or tried to understand anything in Spanish and so I’ve lost my fluency in it. I have no doubt that the information is still all there in my head; I would simply need to start practicing it again and it would all come back to me.

Our dogs are no different. The knowledge is still there but it just needs to be activated again. It didn’t take long at all for Risa’s light bulb to go on and for her to realize what her criteria was for standing on the platform. Then we were able to work on fronts properly. It is, however, something to keep in mind when we work with our dogs. One may never forget how to ride a bicycle but you need a bit of practice to get good at it again if it’s been a while since you’ve done it!

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Experienced Teacher

It's amazing how much her confidence has grown with other dogs.

It’s amazing how much her confidence has grown with other dogs.

I’ve mentioned before that Risa is my teacher dog. Sometimes I feel like she’s out to teach me everything one could possibly experience with dog ownership! From fearfulness, reactivity, raw feeding, homecooked dog diets, cancer, GI problems, traditional/holistic medicine, chiropractic care, dog sports, dealing with frustration, clicker training, etc. . . I’ve learned a lot from her. The newest thing she feels I need to learn is how to deal with a dog who wants to say “Hi” to everyone.

Yes. You heard me right. My fearful, reactive dog now has difficulty not going up to people and dogs she doesn’t know. “How is this a problem?” you may ask. Part of this new development is nice. After all, she’s more likely to investigate a dog who gets too close rather than try and aggressively chase him away. This allows me to relax a bit more (which is a nice change!). However, she’s starting to want to check out everyone and every dog. If we see a person, she’s drawn to them. When a dog is nearby, she wants to see who they are–especially if they turn away from her. Her nose is drawn to their rear like a magnet!

I find it hard to get upset with her; curiosity is the opposite of fear. But I worry she’s going to try and sniff the wrong dog setting off a reactive meltdown (possibly for both dogs). She also may find a dog who, after the initial greeting, wants to play. I know she doesn’t want to play with every dog she meets and this forwardness on the part of the other dog could set her off and potentially cause more negative experiences with dogs which she doesn’t need. It’s also a problem because it’s causing a loss of focus and concentration when she’s supposed to be working with me. It doesn’t help that people are unintentionally reinforcing her curiosity by petting her either.

It’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve had to tackle this issue with several of my foster dogs. The main issue with Risa is, as always, focus. She needs to learn when it’s okay to meet and greet and when she has to work. But the blame can’t fall onto her. I’m not always clear with her on when it’s okay to greet and when it’s not. When I do allow her to say “Hi,” I’ve forgotten to release her with a “Go say ‘Hi'” 90% of the time. So I need to be more consistent. I also need to find people who can follow directions and not continue petting my dog when I’ve made it clear I want her working with me and not visiting. (This is probably the hardest part because, even in our training classes, people feel obligated to pet her when she ditches me to investigate them!)

Who would have thought I would have this problem with my dog? It’s great to see her more comfortable and confident. However, I also have to keep in mind that she is not confident. Yes, she is still fearful of people and dogs. Some of the people she investigates are fine until they try and pet her. Then she backs away. Some of the dogs she meets are also potential playmates. . .but she won’t play with a dog she’s just met. It’s sort of sad, really, to see a dog initiate play with her and watch Risa turn and walk away. It just takes her time to warm up to new friends. After several meetings, I have no doubt she’d be willing to romp with her new buddy. It just won’t happen right away.

I also know other dogs, in general, still cause her some stress and anxiety. We’ve been practicing group stays in our obedience class (even though I have no intention of doing them in competition) and she’s done really well. However, if another dog even shifts position, she shows minor stress signals like lip licks. I reward her heavily during these sessions as I know it’s incredibly difficult for her and I want it to be a positive experience. But it’s just further proof that she’s only more confident in general. . .yet still a fearful dog at heart.

Makes me wonder what else she’s out to teach me next. I still have a lot to learn. :)

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

Proud Momma

Waiting our turn.  Being last sucks.

Waiting our turn. Being last sucks.

I’m incredibly proud of Risa today. She was an absolute rockstar at the rally trial. This was our first time at this location and I was a bit nervous. I don’t like not knowing what to expect; I like to plan things really well so Risa can succeed and feel safe. On top of that, with the exception of Friday, every day this week was too cold for us to go for our walks. I was really worried I was going to have a stir crazy dog on my hands!

I needn’t have worried so much. While she was mildly stressed by the new trial environment, she was not terrified. I never expect her to enter a new place and be like “Oh new place? Lots of dogs and people I don’t know? Whatevs. We’re cool.” Mild distress is to be expected. But even our long-time trial buddy commented on how much calmer Risa seemed in the new environment. Ris didn’t even mind the dogs in close proximity even if they inadvertently ended up in her face! She even felt comfortable enough to get all up in people’s stuff and had to investigate every single person that walked by. It got a little frustrating that she was magnetized to everyone but it’s hard to get mad at her. Curiosity is a good thing in a fearful dog!

Even though I struggled to get her focus on me while we were preparing to enter the ring (something that is a huge stressor for me), she was really good in the ring. I still lost her several times but no where near as badly as I used to. And, when she did wander, it was easy for me to get her back and refocused on the task at hand. (I tell you, having a dog who really REALLY understands heel position is a lifesaver when she’s a wanderer too. I just need to recue “fuß” and she flips right back into position without me needing to move my feet. Saves us from losing more points!) Both courses were a little tight but all the signs were ones I knew she could do. They were also well laid out so that we had enough stationary signs to keep Risa focused better. I’m really proud of how well she nailed some of the signs. Especially the halt, call front, finish left, halt sign on our Advanced course. Ris tends to have trouble getting straight on the front from a sit in heel position. We’ve been working on it using a tip from Denise Fenzi. I have Ris go through my legs after calling her front which helps keep her straight in anticipation. IT WORKS! She did it beautifully in the ring even though she doesn’t always in training. :)

Risa scored well also. She had a 93 in Excellent and just missed fourth place by 2 points. Not bad out of 20+ dogs! Her Advanced run was a 92; this is the first time she has scored higher in Excellent than Advanced. She now has four RAE legs. Just six more to go!

I’m so incredibly proud of her. I knew today was going to be tough for her. I’m so happy to see a much more focused worker at my side. Even more focused than the last trial where she was at “home base.” She also got a lot of compliments on her attitude in the ring as well. She often does. I’m glad to have “the happy dog” as my partner.

Posted in AKC, Dog Sports, Dog Training Seminars, Fear, Fenzi Academy, Rally, Reactivity, Training | Leave a comment

Risky Business

What would your dog do if another dog broke position?  What might happen if your dog moved during the stay?

What would your dog do if another dog broke position? What might happen if your dog moved during the stay?

It’s not news to anyone that I am not a fan of group stays in canine sports. The main reason being that my dog cannot do them. Oh she can do a stay amid distractions. She can even do them with dogs nearby (and she would rock them even harder if we actually practiced them). The issue is that she is afraid of dogs. I won’t put her in a situation where she could be frightened during a show in the ring. The ring is a safe zone for her and I will do whatever I can to never have anything bad happen there. I actually am fine with the concept of a group stay. It’s a different problem that makes it potentially dangerous.

That brings me to the point of this entry. Too many dogs in trials are not ready to trial.

I hate to say it but I see it and hear it a lot. Owners who have entered their dog in the trial and they’ll “see what happens.” Attitudes like that are what make group stays potentially dangerous. You don’t know how well-proofed the dog in the ring with your dog is. You don’t know how comfortable he is with other dogs. Even if the dog manages to do well during the obedience portion of the event, you can’t always determine that the dog will be solid during stays. It’s a game of Russian roulette. Sure, most dogs are friendly and most dogs in trials are solid dogs. But not all of them are.

If you aren’t sure how your dog is going to behave in the ring, if you really aren’t sure they’re ready to compete, do everyone a favor and STAY HOME. You’re not proving anything by showing a dog who isn’t ready and you could potentially set up another dog and handler team for a very bad time. If your dog fails to stay 40% of the time during class or when you’re proofing things on your own, why on Earth would you put him into a trial? Are you able to envision your trial performance? Do you have a pretty good idea of what your dog is going to do in the ring? Is it enough to meet the requirements set forth? If it’s not, STAY HOME.

I know no one can accurately predict 100% how their dog will perform in the ring. Dogs (and their handlers) get ring nerves. And, no matter how well you’ve prepared your dog for distractions, I don’t think anything truly replicates the craziness and pressure of a trial. So, regardless of how well you have trained your dog, odd things can happen. ;) But really think about your dog. If something goes a slight bit amiss, is he a danger to anyone around him? Does he have the potential to scare another dog or person even if he means well?

I just can’t understand why anyone would attempt to trial their dog if they didn’t think their dog was ready. We all get nervous before we show and hope we’ve prepared our dogs well enough for the trial. But if you KNOW you haven’t prepared your dog well enough, you shouldn’t have entered him. Not only is it a bad idea for all the above reasons. . .it’s a huge waste of money! Showing dogs isn’t cheap (the RAE title in AKC can cost you upwards of $600 and that’s assuming you qualify each and every time you attempt to earn a leg). Why would you throw your money away when you know your dog has a slim chance of qualifying?

We want to have fun with our dogs when we show. It’s amazing to see the bond between the species and I love watching a team work together in the ring. But be honest with yourself. If you haven’t put forth the effort to prepare your dog for the trial properly, just stay home.

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

Eleven Years Young

My grey lady in the sunshine on a bitterly cold Birthday.

My grey lady in the sunshine on a bitterly cold Birthday.

Earlier this month, my grinny girl turned 11 years old. That’s pretty hard to believe. Mainly because she doesn’t act her age and people often confuse her for a puppy. ;) I can’t say I’m complaining about that. I want her to be youthful, energetic, and bouncy for as long as she can be. I’m very proud she doesn’t look her age. . .though the ever-creeping grey is starting to really betray it. It’s also hard to believe she’s been a part of my life for almost 9 years!

Risa certainly didn’t need any more things for a Birthday present. She got plenty of toys for Christmas, always has treats and goodies, and didn’t really have any other needs that could be fulfilled with a gift. So, like we did last year, we trialed in AKC rally instead.

It was her 3rd and 4th attempts at earning more RAE legs. She showed at this time last year and it was ugly; we were excused during our Advanced run. I didn’t have to worry this time around. While she was still unfocused, she was much less unfocused. It’s clear the work we’ve done on attention is paying off. Of course, we have a long-standing habit to break, so it won’t improve overnight. :) I cannot get upset with her about it either. Her wandering is clearly based in curiosity. She likes to check out the judge and see what’s going on. With her fearfulness, I can’t chastise her for it. It just means we need to work harder. :D

Her scores were pretty good both days. She had an 85 in Excellent and an 87 in Advanced on Saturday and a 92 in Excellent and 97 in Advanced Sunday. Sunday’s course was much more difficult for her. There were no stationary signs until halfway through the course. Since I tend to lose her focus while heeling and regain it for the signs, we struggled. Even so, her Advanced run was beautiful (IMHO). Very minor wandering and excellent performances on each sign. It’s a shame I didn’t get it on video!

Risa and her qualifying ribbons from RAE legs 2 and 3.  Progress!

Risa and her qualifying ribbons from RAE legs 2 and 3. Progress!

On her actual Birthday, we went for a walk at one of the locations we don’t typically get to. I wanted to take her somewhere special. It was pretty cold out and windy (18 degrees) even though the sun was shining. She got chances to sniff things and I asked her to climb up on stuff to work on her conditioning and body awareness. We even walked off the main path to follow a trail she wanted to investigate. It was her day. And we walked over 6 miles! She napped pretty good for the rest of the day not surprisingly. Risa may be tireless on the walk but, unlike in her youth, she enjoys a long nap afterward!

I hope she continues to retain her youth for many more years to come. I love that she refuses to act her age and rarely shows signs of slowing down. She shows some. . .but not many. I think long walks, mental exercise, a good diet with supplements, and conditioning have really helped her hold up well. Keep defying those age stereotypes, Miss Risa. :D

Posted in AKC, Dog Sports, Fear, Rally, Reactivity, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment