Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What to Expect......

With word slowly spreading about the upcoming "arrival", it seems a fitting time to make a blog post about not only "what to expect" for us, but what our canine friends may come to expect as the time gets near. 

Babies and dogs can go really, really well together.  Or things can go really, really poorly.  It all depends on your level of preparedness for what it means to share a home with both a newborn and a dog (and in my case, four dogs).  There are some fundamental skills that dogs should know BEFORE baby comes home - it`s not wise to wait until you get home from the hospital, and you don`t have the time to start training new skills.  In today's blog post I hope to share some of what I will be doing in my own home, in case that others may find it helpful. 

My dogs are my life.  And now, my future child will also be my life.  For me, it is not an either/or -my dogs are still going to, and always will, play a very important role in my life.  Therefore it is my responsibility to ensure my dogs' happiness, quality of life, and safety, as we all make this new transition into the next part of our journey together.  

Keep in mind, that your home and lifestyle may be very different than mine, and therefore your circumstances may be different, so please don't take this as "the only" things you need to teach your dog, as every single dog/family dynamic is different.

Go To Mat:  This, to me, is a very important skill to have.  This skill will allow you to include your dog in many more activities with your child. When a dog has the skills to go to a specific place and lie quietly, your dog is less likely to be left out of activities.  Whether it's feeding time, changing baby, or going on a picnic together, this skill can really increase your dog's involvement in your daily activities with baby.

Upstairs/Downstairs:  It is important not to overlook spatial skills as well.  My house has a main level and an upper level,  it also has a deck with stairs and a front porch with stairs.  Lots and lots of stairs.  When moving about the house, I am a strong believer of having the dogs go up and down stairs BEFORE me, not behind me, as that way I know exactly where they are relative to my location, and I don't have to be checking behind me to make sure nobody has decided to follow me halfway down the stairs.  A simple safety measure that should be considered in every home.

Stay: A no-brainer, really.  This plays a role in most of the skills the dogs will learn.  Having a dog be able to stay put when you need to do something (change the baby, answer the phone, etc), is a huge safety measure.  Having the dogs be able to go upstairs and stay upstairs without needing reminders is a really helpful thing to have on hand.

Off: I'm not ashamed to say that my dogs are welcome on my furniture, and they sleep in bed with me at night. I do not plan to take that privelege away from them.  That being said, I think it is very important that all dogs understand to "get off" something when asked, so that you can use the space for whatever it is you may need.  In this case, feeding a newborn is easier if the dogs are not trying to snuggle in your lap or lick baby's toes while you feed. 

Leave It:   Useful for far more things than just babies, the use of this skill becomes instantly clear when it comes to dogs and kids.  Preventing the dogs from pestering a baby in its swing or playpen, leaving baby's toys safely alone on the floor, leaving the pacifier that baby just flung at the dogs alone...well, the list will go on.  And the older baby gets, the more important this skill becomes!  This can also be important when you get to the point in walking with your dog and stroller (which I plan to do, I will be beginning stroller training in the next month or two when the snow is melted), it is important for your dog to redirect its attention away from something it wants quickly, easily, and without conflict.

Travel Safety: This will not be anything new for my dogs, as my dogs are always crated or seatbelted in a vehicle, but I thought I would throw it out there for others, whose dogs may have a history of travelling loose in a vehicle.   Dogs travelling loose in vehicles with young children pose great risks for both dogs and children.  Children may grab at, poke, pull, and throw things at your dog (after all, that's what babies do!), and if you are driving you are not in any form of control of the situation in the backseat. Your dog may get frustated, anxious, and defensive if it cannot stay safely out of reach of your child.  Also, in the case of an accident, an unrestrained dog can become a dangerous projectile for all passengers in the vehicles.  So if your dog is used to being loose in the back (or front) seat while travelling, take the time now to get your dog used to travelling in a seatbelt harness, being crated, or by purchasing one of those rear-vehicle barriers that keeps your dog confined to the back of a van or SUV.

Leave a Room on Cue:  Very helpful when you want the dogs to leave a room quickly, or when the dogs are entering a room when you are in the middle of a task with your baby. Perhaps you want them to exit the nursery (if you will allow them access at all) while you get baby ready for bed.  Or maybe you need to split your attention for a few minutes, such that you cannot supervise your dog and your child 100% (this is to be covered in a future posting). That way you can safely divert your attention for a few minutes while you do what you need to do.

Walking on a Loose Leash: I don't think this requires any special explanation, as the importance is pretty straightforward. 

Reliable Recall: There will likely be situations as time goes on when you need to quickly call your dog away from something (perhaps toddler and dog are playing nearby you, and toddler starts to cry and scream).  When you are more than two feet from your dog and child, the safest thing you may have at your disposal is a quick recall to call your dogs away, separating your dog from your child, so that you can then deal with the situation at hand.

The Ability to be alone: This will not pose a large problem for my dogs, as they are already used to having to split my attention from time to time.  I often have boarders or fosters who simply need my individual attention at that time, so they have learned long ago that just because I am home, it does`not mean I am available to them 100% of the time. I will be utilizing baby gates in my home as a safety measure (not just at stairs, but to separate different areas of the home as well), and I need to know that my dogs will not throw a fit just because they are confined behind a baby gate for a period of time.  If your dog has problems being away from you while you do something in the home, the time to fix that problem is long before you have a baby, not after you get home from the hospital.  Your baby will absolutely take your attention away from your dog at times, especially in the early stages, so it`s best to have them used to it before any other big changes occur.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it is a starting point for some of the things I will be working on regularly with my dogs in the coming months.  It is my goal to make the transition for them as seamless as possible, so that there are few to no surprises in routine (other than baby itself) when the time comes. 

I will look forward to sharing my experiences in this endeavour with you all as time goes on, and you can expect to see more `Baby and Dog` posts in the future.  While bringing a newborn into my home will absolutely be a new endeavour for me, I hope that my experiences with clients, understanding in canine behaviour, and my personal experiences in raising dogs and children together will help some of you who may be feeling overwhelemd about trying to decide how to keep the peace amongst what may feel like chaos at times.

Friday, June 15, 2012

First Agility Trial of 2012!

So our first trial of the season has come and gone, and wow, what a weekend! I swear, this is what the last two years of practice has been all about.  This is the first weekend I have ever entered Shimmer into a full weekend of runs (okay, so it was a full weekend minus one run, but still).  I had no idea how it would pan out, but I knew it was time to start applying what we had learned in the various games.

And perform she did!  She ran 7 runs two weekends ago, and she took home 5 Qs to her name.  She got her second Starters Jumpers Q, so she has now moved up to Advanced in that class. She got 2 Standard Qs, so she now needs one more under a different judge to get her first agility title, ADC. She got a Q in both Gamblers (and a nice one at that!) and Snooker runs, so hopefully in the next trial she'll get one more of each and that will be her second titles, SGDC.  Really looking forward to our August trial (Sigh...can't believe we have to wait that long!), and what that will bring!

The weather was very warm, the first warm weather we've seen so far, so there was lots of water, sunscreen, and sweating. But the dogs couldn't have been happier, with so many smells, the beautiful river to run alongside and dip into, and camping. Who doesn't love camping? There's something surreal about camping in a huge 3-bedroom tent with 4 dogs and having everything go right!

I suppose I can mention the two runs that she didn't Q in.  Turns out both of them "could" have been Q's, but I'll tell you why there weren't.

In the first Standard run we ran, Shimmer popped out of the poles at pole 6.  Being new to Standard (and therefore sometimes forgetting the rules!), instead of simply putting her back through all 12 again like I should have to get the Q, I put her back in at pole 6, which cost her that run.  Oh well, just one more "shame about the handler" moment to add to my list!

The second "almost Q" came the next day, in her first Standard run again.  All was going very smoothly until she fell off the teeter. I'm not exactly sure what happened, she approached it from a good angle, I think she was just going faster than she was used to (she was really in the zone this particular weekend!), and lost her footing as she braked at the end.  She tumbled off sideways and landed on to her back. After making sure she was okay, and realizing she really only got a scare more than anything, I put her back over the teeter again to let her know that all was well on course, and we finished cleanly.  The "almost" part comes because if I hadn't have put her back over the teeter, technically she performed the obstacle right as she didn't slip off until after her foot touch the down side of the contact. However, had I not called "training" and worked the teeter with her, knowing her environmentally sensitive personality, I may have risked future teeter performances so it was absolutely, totally worth it and I'd do the same thing again in a heartbeat lest it ever happens again.

After the trial was over we did the touristy thing and travelled around  Fundy National Park.  We visited beautiful Hopewell Rocks, and took on some of the amazingly beautiful trails throughout, including the walk to Dickson Falls.  I recommend anyone who likes to get out with their pets to consider seeing the Rocks and Fundy Park, it was our second time there and you can be sure we'll be going back again. 

I couldn't have asked for a better start to 2012 trialling season, and cannot wait to see what the summer holds in store! We're trial-free for June, but will be taking on the Rally ring in July with Kash!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Whistle Recalls, and Why I Love Them!

I've always worked very hard to have decent recalls on my dogs. Having a reliable recall is the cornerstone to having dogs that are able to enjoy off-leash time safely.  It takes a lot of work to maintain a reliable recall with any dog, and with some of the more independent breeds, like terriers and hounds, it can take even more work.

Contrary to some beliefs, it -is- very possible to teach your dog a very successful,very reliable recall using a reward-based approach. I am happy to be able to run my dogs off-leash regularly in a number areas in which dogs are permitted to be off-leash, as my dogs much prefer running along a beach or a river to a fenced-in dog park. That being said, regardless of training method, it needs to be known that *any* time you take your dog off-leash in an unfenced area, you are taking a risk.  That doesn't apply to just reward-based training, it applies to ALL forms of off-leash training.  There is no 100% when it comes to dogs, as they are living, thinking, feeling beings that have their own desires and motivations. So even the best trained dog can fail at some point - whether that dog has been trained with food rewards, tug toys, or shock, the dog always has the choice once off-leash to pursue its own goals. I have seen recalls fail from all of those training methods (and others), most of the time with no repercussions, as the dog does eventually return (like after chasing the deer), but sometimes it only takes once to result in disaster.  I don't know how many times I've heard "But he's never done that before" - the problem is you only hear that in the bad news cases. The cases where the dog comes back eventually is often brushed off, and not taken seriously as it should be.  So before you decide that off-leash freedom is "the best" option for dogs, think long and hard about how well your dog understands to come when called, how much effort you are willing to put into teaching it, and what types of places you may be able to safely have your dogs off-leash.

So, what does that have to do with whistles?  Well, going from two, to three, and now to four dogs, who all enjoy off-leash time together, you eventually need a way to call all of the dogs to you quickly.  It gets a bit cumbersome to call them one by one: "Zipper, Kash, Gaci, Shimmer...come!".  So to create a nice, crisp, clear recall when I am running several dogs off-leash,  I am teaching the dogs that the sound of a whistle chirping means "Come!".   I was also interested in how a non-verbal acoustic signal to recall would work compared to their verbal recall.  Of all my dogs, Gaci is the one who struggles with recalls the most.  This coincides with the fact that she has the highest prey-drive of my bunch and when she is out and about she very easily gets pulled into her own world of smells and animal dens.

I started out by simply chirping the whistle, and then dropping a handful of their supper on the floor, the same way I would teach a dog that a click means treat. I did that many, many times:  whistle = food.  Once I did that for a few days, then I would blow the whistle, drop some food on the floor, and then take a few steps away from them. When they were done eating they would naturally begin to approach me, so as they were coming I would chirp the whistle again and drop food for them when they got to me.  I did this as a group exercise, although I could have done it one by one as well, but since they already have a decent recall, I decided to start it as a group exercise.  I will be working them individually (or in pairs) when we start taking it to more distracting environments, but for the indoor work I am comfortable working in groups.

Once I was able to take a few steps away from them, and they were eagerly running to me, I started adding some new understanding to it.  When I let them out for a bathroom break, instead of opening the door and calling their names, I am going to use the whistle to get them to come indoors, where they will be met with high-value rewards.  I keep one whistle upstairs and one downstairs so that when I get the urge, I will do a "test" and chirp the whistle when the dogs are on a different level or when they aren't paying attention, and reward them when they arrive. I will also know this way who is really gaining understanding of the whistle as a recall cue, and who is not, so I can work more individually with any dog who is struggling.

Today was the first day I took the whistle out into the woods. I took Gaci and Kash down to the river today to let them run and swim and do what they pleased, while I tested their skills with the whistle and practiced some recalls. The key with making them fun and successful is not to over-do it.  Also, I make it a point to always send them back out to play as a reward, so that coming when called is not a signal for ending all of their fun.  So in the hour that we spent down by the river, I probably only practice five or six recalls, varying the situations from really easy to moderately hard.

Here's the video from their run a couple of days age, with a few of their recalls thrown in.  At the 3-minute mark, I whistle them to return and only Kash does.  Then I call Gaci verbally, before I realize that she cannot come because her long line got stuck on a root and she couldn't return to me.  All in all, I'm very pleased with how quickly they drop what they are doing and come rushing back. 

This video is of Zipper and Shimmer practicing in the same place:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Poor Guy!

Oh no, it happened. I thought it would never happen to me, but it has. Just when you think you're doing great, it rears its ugly head. I suffered a case of.....Greedy Trainer Syndrome.

Greedy Trainer Syndrome happens when training is moving along great. You are progressing, you and the dog are both having fun. You keep pushing forward.....until you get to a point where you realize that you and your dog are on two different pages (and if you are really unlucky, in two different chapters!)

Kash is, by all accounts, an amazing boy. He loves to learn, he's got zest, he spills joie de vivre, and he attacks everything head on. So when I noticed he was getting slower, and sloower, and sloooooooooower in agility, doing what I consider simple stuff, I had to sit back and reassess. And it only took, oh, two minutes to realize that I was slowly but surely pushing him farther than he was ready for, or farther than we had really trained for! And I also realized that I was slowly but surely leaving some very important, but fundamental, things behind that I should be doing each day at this point. As I'm getting my girls ready for their trials for the year, I know that he's nowhere NEAR the level they are at, but yet I had him attempting some of the same things! What gives? Darn old Greedy Trainer Syndrome!

And the poor guy. It's not like he was giving up. He remained engaged the whole time, never got distracted with smells or birds, he followed me around, did what I asked, he was just....slow. It was so clear when I woke up and realized he didn't have any confidence in what he was doing. He didn't have enough understanding, and I wasn't maintaining my criteria (speed and drive while learning accuracy, breaking it down for him to keep it fast and fun). I acknowledge that for some things that speed may take a tiny dip, but not this much. I goofed up.

It's not a big deal, though, really. We're just going back to basics. Like basic basics. I am not doing anything obstacle-focused until we spend some time getting speed back. So we're going to run. Lots. And chase. And target. And tug. The only obstacle-focused activity we will do is doing simple jump grids with a target at the end, or with me racing him to a toy. Other than that, we'll simply be getting the "agile" back into agility! So far in his tunnel training he loves running a straight tunnel, so we'll use that (sparingly) as another racing game.

Today we did a session of just this. I did some one-person restraints where I threw his toy, held him back, and told him to "Get it!!!". I threw some, restrained him, and raced him to the toy. We did circle work. Once in a while a little bit of food would fall (I have a food-dropping problem that I need to be trained better for!), and he would get distracted eating it so I'd just take off running. Until he caught me. It didn't take long for him to overtake me, and I would let him grab his tug - but we kept on running. We started out fun and we ended with fun.
 He did GREAT! It's the boy I used to have, and the one I want back for agility. I know he has it in him, so I'm not going to settle for sloooow performance. I pushed him to that point, so I'll get him back out of it. And really, once I got out of "agility-brain" and into "training-brain", I realized....what's the rush? He's barely over a year old, we have a lifetime ahead of us to get there. And I know we'll get there. When he's ready.

In the meantime, here's babyKash at 4 months old playing around with some things. Even at this age he was speedy, so this is what we're going back to!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Novice Obedience - Part II

Two posts ago, I shared the first half of the Novice-level Obedience skills that Kash needs to know in order to compete in trials.  Here are the remaining three skills that he needs to work on.

Exercise 5:  Recall
In this exercise, your dog starts from a sit in heel position (at your left side).  On the judge's cue, you tell your dog to "Wait" and walk about 40' away and turn and face your dog. When the judge tells you to, you call your dog.  Your dog should come in fast and straight, sitting promptly in front of you, without being cued to do so.  Your dog needs to be close enough so that you can reach your dog without moving forward (bending obviously necessary for the shorties!).  Finally, you ask your dog to "Finish" (return to heel position).  This can be done two ways - from the left or the right, which are two quite different behaviours.

Kash's Progress:  Kash knew a generic "front" from his Rally training, but practicing it in the context of this exercise, I quickly learned that he didn't understand the position quite as well as I thought he did.  He sometimes would come in crooked, or he would self-finish, going back to heel before I cued.  So we've gone back to teaching a game of "find front" in which he has to find the position, be straight, and come in fast, from different angles. It's coming along well.  As a separate exercise, I am also practicing the "formal" version by putting him in a wait, walking away, and calling him to front.  Here is an example of what it looks like (although in this video I asked him to sit from a distance - just happened to be what we were working on at that moment when I recorded it):

We will continue to work this exercise until he is confidently and quickly finding "front" position from many angles.  His finishes are decent - they don't need much tuning up other than continually reinforcing faster and faster reponses.

Exercise 6:  Long Sit
In this exercise, all of the dogs in the Novice class will enter the ring together, and sit next to each other (several feet apart).  On the judge's cue, all of the dogs are asked to "Stay", and I will walk about 40' away to the other side of the ring and stand facing my dog.  The dogs have to hold a sit-stay for 60 seconds, at which point we return to our dogs and wait until the judge declares the exercise complete. 

Kash's Progress:  Kash finds this exercise quite simple in most environments.  Sitting for 60 seconds is not that hard for him. We have "overtrained" the behaviour so that he is actually doing 90-second stays in training. This way, 60 seconds will look easy-peasy in the ring. The only situation I need to get a bit more practice in is in dog-heavy environments.  He has no problems performing at local parks where dogs are moving by on-leash (and occasionally off-leash, despite the leash laws of the city!), in pet stores, and any part of our property, but I haven't actually worked him in a dog-heave "event" simulating a show environment.  I will get the chance to get some good practice in in a few weeks when we attend our first agility trial of the year, I'll make sure to do some stays with him there. 

Exercise 7: Long Down
This exercise is the same as the Long Sit, except that the dogs have to hold a Down position for 3 minutes.

Kash's Progress: We have been slowly working up to three minutes (haven't really worked on it much prior to this point, to be entirely honest!).  All has been going very well, though.  No real issues, we've done a few full 3-minute stays very well, although we still bounce between 2 and 3 minutes to keep it fun for him. Like the Long Sit, I will "overtrain" this up to 4 minutes so that 3 minutes seems really easy for him.  Nothing like making the ring environment seem easier than the training one!

That's the entire sequence of exercises in a nutshell.  In order to achieve this title, he needs to get a qualifying score (which means he needs a total of 170 points, minimum, out of a possible 200) in 3 different trials, under 2 different judges. 

Our goal is to be ready for October, although it's looking like we may make our debut a little bit earlier, and I may consider entering him in his first run in July to see where we are at! There's also the Terrier Specialty in Halifax in August, which I can't really say no to........oh dear. There's just too much to decide!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kash's Training Day

I had an unexpected day off this morning, so since I had some errands to do in town anyhow, I decided to pack up Kash and spend the time I would have spent with a client doing some training.  I took his breakfast with me, and he spent a half-hour working for his meals at PetSmart.

It was his first time going to PetSmart, which isn't a big deal, really, as he's used to going to lots of new places, but it was a great place to really work on some of his skills. We practiced heeling through all of the aisles, past dog food, toys, and people. There were no dogs present during the half-hour we stayed there, which I was hoping there would be, but we still had a great time.  He did really well with his heeling routine, stayed with me, sat promptly, and paid attention to direction changes.  Eye contact (which I am working on increasing when he's in heel position) is coming along nicely!

We practiced two sit- and down-stays each from a distance, which he did really well, he didn't get up at all, even when people walked past next to him or behind him.

I'm convinced it was "Take your child-under-5 to PetSmart" day today,because the store was crawling with young children!  While it made things a little interruptive at times, training-wise, (if the children weren't approaching on their own, their parents were obviously bringing their children over to visit and/or stop and watch) it was a GREAT opportunity to finesse Kash's comfort around children.  He did awesome. Spectacular, in fact.  He didn't show any discomfort with any children, had a great time showing off his tricks, and had an even better time taking treats from the little ones.  He didn't even get upset when an 18-month old boy ate the treat he was supposed to give to Kash!! We all had a great laugh over that!

I sometimes forget that Kash is still very much a teen, as he has so few "that's not MY dog" days, but when I remind myself that he's still socially immature, I remember how proud of him I really am! Today was just an awesome training day all around.  I look forward to our next training session there, I'll be scoping out a time when there are hopefully some dogs present, so we can work around them!

After his long training session we came home and "relaxed" by throwing the ball around.  Can't ya tell he was all tired out?!?!?!

(Yes, that's my boy least 4' off the ground....)

Novice Obedience - What's it all about?

(A little blurry, as it's a phone photo, but a photo of a happy heeler!)

Recently I mentioned that I am going to be making my debut into the Traditional Obedience ring with Kash.  I thought I would take a few moments and share what exactly that means, and what exercises make up the requirements for the first title, called the Companion Dog title.

Exercise 1: Heel on Leash
This exercise is pretty straightforward; it is a heeling pattern that is done on leash, following the judge's orders of the following things:  Forward, left turn, right turn, about turn (where you turn 180 degrees and go in the opposite direction, fast, slow, normal (comes after a fast or slow), and halt.  At "halt", you come to a stop and the dog is expected to sit automatically in heel position without any cues to do so.

Kash's progress: This is already a decent behaviour for him, due to his Rally training. However heeling is one of those things that always needs to be practiced and can always be improved somehow.  Our biggest work has been in making it quieter, as the biggest difference between Rally and Traditional Obedience is that you can interact verbally with your dog in Rally; in Obedience you cannot, so I've been working on removing that verbal feedback so it's not a surprise to him later. And of course just being an adolescent, distractions are important to keep working through.

Exercise 2: Figure 8 Heeling
This exercise is an extension of the on-leash heeling.  Two people stand about eight feet apart and on the judge's order, you walk a figure 8 pattern around the two people.  The dog must ignore the people and remain focused in heel position.  There are two "halts" as well.

Kash's progress: We haven't previously done much of this, so it's something we will need to practice. We have done this exercise using two trees, but no people yet.  I doubt it'll be any issue though because we do lots of regular heeling by people and he does well.  But I'll have to make a point to practice it some!

Exercise 3:  Stand for Exam
In this exercise, on the judge's order you ask your dog to Stand and Stay, and walk 6' away.  The judge then approaches, gently examines your dog by touching it, and your dog has to remain standing, without moving about, and accept the stranger's  touch. When the judge is done, I go back to my dog and he is to remain standing until the judge says we're done!
Kash's progress: We only started teaching this about 3 weeks ago.  He struggled a bit at first, as he has long been conditioned to "Sit to say hi", but I think we've had our lightbulb moment as he seems to really understand the purpose of this exercise now.  Since the initial training, he has now done four perfect Stand for Exams, from start to finish, for four different people.  Four down, forty-six to go.  Just kidding. Well, not really. If I got 50 people to do it for me, then I know he'd never have a problem again! It's something we'll do every chance I get (as in, as much as I can hassle people to help me out!), but I don't really foresee any problems from this point on.

Exercise 4: Heel Off-Leash
This is the same heeling pattern as the heel on-leash, except it is done, well, off-leash!

Kash's Progress:   This should not really be a problem for Kash.  99% of Kash's heel training has been done off-leash. We just have to work on our overall heeling, and continuing to work around distractions, as mentioned above.

Those are the first four exercises that are included in the Novice-level of Obedience.  In my next post I will share the final three exercises, which in total will make up the requirements for his CD (Companion Dog title).  Stay tuned!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Traditional Obedience, A New Venture

(Puppy Kash playing with his tug)

I'll be honest. Traditional Obedience, as it is called in relation to its newer cousin, Rally Obedience, has never been my cup of tea. It's not the level of training required, I love training and I love training precision skills. I love spending time working together towards a common goal with my dogs. The thing that has always made me look the other way is that when watching it, it has always looked so....dry.  Cold.  And in some ways, militaristic. And that's not me. I like upbeat, excitement, mutual interaction (versus "do it because I say so").

And, if I can be entirely honest, growing up, I've watched quite a few obedience trials while hanging out around the conformation rings, and the training methods often....left something to be desired. Choke chains, physical corrections, ear pinches to get a dog to retrieve. Just not my thing. Thankfully, training methods are changing to a more humane, dog-friendly way of getting desired behaviour from your dog. Although to be honest there is still quite a lot of correction-based training in my local obedience ring - I think that is what continues to drive me away, as I hate watching dogs being jerked around by their necks, or have to wear a special training collar to perform, and some downright unhappy dogs. But times are changing, albeit slowly.

The reason I HAVE decided to venture into this sport is three-fold:
1) As much as I'm sure I question it at times, I feel the need as a trainer to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk! I've said time and again, and I know it is true, that you do not have to hurt or intimidate your dogs to be a successful competitor. I know it's true because I see my colleagues doing it, and read about it often. But at the same time, I feel a niggling urge to actually get out there with my own dog and demonstrate that fact.  Also, there's that little part of me that loves to say "Hmmm....another challenge for my terriers and I?"  I'm a sucker for seeing non-traditional breeds excel in more traditional sports.  But the fact remains - it's easy to complain about the less-than-stellar training methods that still occupy that sport, but in order to see change - sometimes you have to contribute to make change, instead of sitting back and waiting.
2) We have limited options here for competition.  Now I know, I have my hands full enough by doing Rally and Agility, but sometimes I get a craving for something different. This definitely fulfills "different". Disc dog is becoming more popular, and I'm thinking of getting Kash's RPT (Retrieval Proficiency Test), and eventually branching into that, but he has to become able to catch the frisbee mid-air to make progress beyond the RPT. He's not there yet. Agility, and everything else besides the Obedience sports, takes you out of province, and let's face it - running a business takes time. Competing out of province takes time (and money). There's only so much time, and I don't have a lot of extra to spread around! So keeping things local allows me to do a little more.

3) Finally, and perhaps one of the most important - Kash LOVES to work! Sure, he's young, and gets distracted from time to time, but he's so comical, and engaging, and he learns. so. fast. I just love working with him, as it's not even work, it's more like learning through play.  He can turn anything into play. Chasing me. Playing pushing games. Making a toy out of anything - seriously.  You can go somewhere without toys, and quickly find something that will qualify! He just has such a joie de vivre, I so want to show him off!  He's really the first dog I've considered entering into traditional obedience. So that's the angle I'm approaching this with - making what feels like "dry" exercises into extensions of play. Mixing the two so it's hard to tell the difference between them! Obviously at some point we'll have to formalize it, such that it's clear for the dog just what each exercise entails, but it doesn't mean that we have to do boring drilling to get there!

(Kash found a child's rake laying in the grass. Makes a good toy!)

So, there you have it, we're going to try it out!  Maybe I'll love it, maybe I won't. But I won't know until I try.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

So What is the Plan?

(Kash practicing his Long Sit today in a distracting environment)

I think I've finalized my plan for the 2012 trialling season. Note, I've said planned, as we all know some plans can go awry (for instance, since making this plan, I realized I have since been invited to a wedding during one of the weekends I put on the plan, therefore making me alter that plan to choose another trial would be nice to be human-social every once in a while, after all).

So, without further ado, this is what I'm hoping to achieve:

May -  Agility Trial - Shimmer and Gaci competing, out of province.
June - was originally Agility Regionals weekend in New Brunswick, but a wedding has made me have to change this. Will still likely be agility, just not sure which weekend, nor where.
July - Rally Obedience, for Kash.  Two runs, hoping to complete his Advanced Title that weekend.
August - Agility Trial - Shimmer and Gaci, out of province.
September - Agility Trial - Shimmer and Kash (his debut to agility), out of province.
October - Rally/Traditional Obedience trial.  There are 6 Rally runs, and I think 2 obedience runs, over three days. I know I want to enter Kash in at least one Trad. OB run, and also work on his Rally Excellent Title. So it's just a matter of figuring out how many of each I want to enter Kash in, and whether I'll do one per day over three days, two per day over less days, or some combination of those. I have time to decide, especially after I see how Kash's Trad. OB skills shape up.  We've started working on it, keeping logs, which I'll share in a future post!

My Overall Goals for the dogs:

Kash (as referred to before):
- complete his RA title, begin working towards his RE.
- enter Traditional Obedience and earn at least one leg towards his CD (he won't be entered until October, which is why I'm only expecting one leg - if we do two runs, then I'll hope for two legs!)
- make his debut in agility.  I'll probably only focus on Standard and Jumpers for his first weekend out, and I'm aiming for a fun, positive experience, with commitment to working, rather than placements (although a Q would be appreciated....I'd never say no, after all).
- if a CGN testing opportunity arises, we`ll try to jump on it.

Shimmer's main goals are all agility-oriented this year. We're still on a break from Rally (she's received her CGN and RA titles). But, I also have more concrete goals for her this year:
- complete her second Starters Jumpers Q, and enter Advanced.
- complete her first Gamblers Q (we still have lots to do on this, to build up her confidence for distance work).
- begin her first Standard run, and -maybe- earn her first real Agility title. That might be a bit over-reaching, but I need to start somewhere.

Just have fun in agility and continue to build confidence in public areas, and to spend quality time together.

- continue warming beds like a champ!! (Love you old guy!)

November starts the beginning of the winter break again from trialling, so it's a lot to put into one season! I'm not 100% sure I'll reach all of my goals, and if not that's okay. I'm having a blast with my dogs, and that's what matters in the end. We will see how the summer pans out!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Children: A Complex and Curious Species

(Kash playing with 11-month old Alexa,
both equally interested in the mysterious covered dish)

The play on the title is not an accident; a great many dogs view children as an entirely different entity than "humans". Even well-socialized dogs understand that children are not at all like their adult version: they have high-pitched voices (that squeak, squeal, and shriek), they move fast - children generally don't walk from place to place as much as adults do ( running is a joyous thing), they are unpredictable in their behaviour, often have limited impulse control, and may even show more fear and uncertainty towards dogs they don't know. Many dogs, who grow up in the presence of children, learn that this stuff is "normal", and as long as parents supervise carefully it can go without a hitch. But for families without children, especially those who live in rural areas, even puppyhood exposure to children can result in dogs who just aren't quite sure what to do in their presence.

I had an interesting experience with Kash today. A wonderful family with two girls, 4 and 10 (I think), came to visit with a pup I am caring for who is looking for her forever home. Now, Kash was exposed to lots of children when he was a puppy. He is generally great on walks when children are present, he gets on well with my niece and nephew, but to be totally honest he doesn't see a ton of children on a daily basis. We don't have kids, we live in a rural setting, and when we are out and about he generally ignores them as I don't often -want- children approaching my dogs on their own, especially without parents present.

So it was an interesting assessment of his level of socialization when these children arrived with their family. He was, overall, great with the older girl. She was calm, laid back, and totally unobtrusive. She actually was surprisingly great with all of the dogs (surprising due to age, not anything specifically about the girl). The interactions with the younger, four-year-old girl were....interesting. The younger girl is a typical, active, child, who does very typical child-like things! Kash really enjoyed her presence immensely if she was sitting and calm, and he would show off tricks, work for her, and solicit attention and touch. However, he was clearly worried when she would run full-tilt directly at him with her arm outstretched (ball in hand), as he would pin back his ears, drop his tail, and back up and bark. Then as soon as she stood still, he would approach again. He chased a ball until he got tired, and did seem to adjust quite well over the 1.5 hour period.  Which just goes to show that it's very rarely an all-or-nothing thing.  He very much likes interacting with her, but at at the same time is not entirely confident in all of her behaviours towards him, as he doesn't understand what some of those behaviours mean.

From this, I have learned that I am going to make an extra effort to take him to places where children tend to be more active - parks, the boardwalk, etc - and actively countercondition him to the quick movements of children, so he learns that running around, running away from him (this wasn't a problem for him at all), running towards him - are not scary things, but normal things that children do!  I'm also going to work on teaching him that children running towards him is a cue for an auto-check in, so that if there is an unsupervised child running at us, I can instruct him on what to do, and know that he'll do it quicky while I intervene with the rampant child.

All in all, it was a great visit, and I do think it was good for him. He had some stressful moments, and in another situation may have approached it differently, but he recovered very quickly and continued to enjoy her presence even if a few moments before she accidentally scared him.  And boy, did he sleep after they left! Between the running for his toy, showing off his tricks, and the small bit of stress he experienced, he napped away the afternoon until suppertime.

For more information on dogs and children, and how to keep everyone safe, please check out the following great programs and resources:
"Be a Tree" Program -
"Dogs and Storks" Program -
"Dogs and Storks" Blog -