Monday, December 03, 2007

An Encouraging Weekend

I took Strummer to a NADAC trial 20 minutes from my house this weekend to work on his barking/lunging issues. It was a one ring, indoor trial, no pressure atmosphere so ideal for him. I've been working on click/treating him for watching other dogs in the ring without reacting but if I sense things are too much for him and he's going to go over his threshold I'll reward him for staring at me too. He started out o.k. at around 15 feet from the ring but after 5 minutes or so he went into a lunge so I marched him out right away. On the way out of the building I ran into some people I knew so I stood chatting for a good 15-20 minutes, clicking and treating Strummy all the while as he sat calmly by my side. (As an aside, I was making a quiet clicking sound with my mouth, not using a real clicker). Then I took him back ringside and he was absolutely perfect for the entire Novice class. It was as if he had suddenly located his brain. Maybe the crazy boy is finally growing up. A couple people who've known him since I got him noticed how much better he was being in general so that was encouraging. I left after that, no point pushing my luck.

Sunday I took him back again and this time he was perfect the entire time he was there, no problem walking around the arena with all the other dogs or sitting ringside while all the other dogs waited their turn. We hung out about 5 feet from the ring through the whole Elite class and he did great, no barking, lunging, staring, etc. and his pupils were only a bit bigger than normal. He was hardly the picture of relaxation but what a huge improvement. There was snow fencing up around the ring so maybe that was blocking his view enough so that the motion of the other dogs didn't set him off. Also, the contacts had the rubber surface so there was no noise of toenails running down sandy plywood which sets him off. Plus no teeter banging, that had to help as well. I suppose NADAC's wacky rules are good for something.

I need to see quite a few more weekends like this before I'll start to have confidence in him but it sure felt good to see such a marked improvement. Sometimes I think the behavioral training successes are more exciting than the agility successes.

I've also been working daily on his weave poles. I've abandoned the 2x2 method in favor of the channel weaves, mostly because I have a set of channels and a DVD detailing a specific training process that's easy for me to follow. I thought it would be fun to learn the 2x2 method just for the sake of learning something new but it's hard when all you have is a book to go by and noone you know who's ever done it to help troubleshoot. I was stalled at a certain step in the process and couldn't seem to progress past it so I decided to take the easy way out and go for the channels. So far Strummy thinks it's pretty fun and he gets less overstimulated and stressed than he was getting with the 2x2 method. In just 2 weeks he's gone from the poles being wide open to the poles being 5" apart. I spent a lot of time at the start with the poles wide open because I think the hardest thing for him to understand was that he was meant to run all the way through the channel. Once he figured that out and we had a 100% success rate for several days in a row I started closing the channels inch by inch and he's breezing through it now. When I got to 5" he had 100% success the first and second days. Tomorrow we'll try 4".

Still working on proofing his contacts on a practice board. If I stand in different positions he'll go into his down facing me rather than facing forward on the board and he's getting frustrated because he's not getting rewarded for it. Still need to work on that before I put him on the dogwalk or A-frame. I want that end behavior perfect, I figure once I get it just the way I want it on the board it shouldn't take all that long to get it on the contact equipment. I'm tired of having dogs with contact issues and I'll take however long I have to to get it right this time.

Lots of running and swimming last week too. I finally made it back to the pool after a whole month off and it wasn't as awful as I thought it would be. In all about 4800 yards or so for the week. My long run last Sunday was awful as that stupid Turkey Trot had taken more out of me than I'd thought and I got out too far before realizing I didn't feel so great. I couldn't even walk home because it was too cold and I wasn't dressed for walking so I had to gut it out. This Sunday was much better though, ran for an hour and a bit and I finally had some spring back in my legs. Probably put in around 12-13 miles for the week plus 5-6 miles or so of walking. No biking, weather was too cold and I'm a wimp. Need to start on a strength training regime. Yep, gonna start any day now.


  1. Roxanne ( PM

    It sounds like your outings went well. That's great. Three cheers for Strummer. Am I reading right that he just gets lungy because he gets so excited? In other words, he's not snarky in the way that Lilly is (out of fear).

    I'm so jealous that his improvements are big enough for others to notice. That *never* happens with us.

    I swear I'm gonna get a shirt that says something like "working hard here ... click/chocolate for me."

  2. Strum gets way overexcited when he watches other dogs do agility. He's had this problem since the day we got him. He's up on his hind legs screaming and straining against the leash, completely out of his head. I tried body blocking him one time out at Biscuit Eaters and the bruises he caused were so bad and so numerous that the chiropractor seriously thought I had joined a rugby team.
    He's not snarking out of fear, at least not in that context. He sometimes has problems reading other dogs and will snark at them when we're out walking (and sometimes these dogs deserve it to be honest) if they get in his face but that's becoming less and less of a problem the more I work with him and the more he grows up and learns doggie body language.

    You work a lot harder with Lilly than I work with any of my dogs so yeah I'd say you deserve a huge click/chocolate.

  3. Good work with Strummer! Keep at it and before long not reacting will be his new habit!

    I wish more flyball people would do this kind of work with their dogs--my biggest problem with that sport is that so many people think it's funny and cute that their dog barks and lunges like a maniac outside the ring. It's horrible. Or there are people who know it's a problem, but instead of training through it they just give in and keep their dog outside or far away before their runs, so then they're always rushing through the crowd at the last minute to get to the ring.

    As for channel weaves, I love that method. If you are patient and don't close them too soon, it's really easy to get the dog to drive and have independent pacing through the whole set. I actually staggered the closing, narrowing the ones in the middle of the set a little bit while keeping the ends more open, because that helped solidify the entry and prevent that annoying last-pole-pop-out. Now when we have issues I'll sometimes go back and open the channel a little bit for practice.

  4. Well, I refuse to compete with a crazy lunatic dog. That would be no fun at all. There's no way he could go in the ring and focus properly after going so over the top like that. I'm not a good enough handler to handle crazy maniac man.

    I see people at agility trials too with their dogs barking & lunging at the dogs in the ring. One woman was next in the ring and waiting gaitside right at the ring entrance with her dog barking it's head off and lunging at the dog running and I was very grateful we were running after her. I see others waiting well away from the ring and I don't have a problem with that. For me though I'd rather have my dog behaving, I hate being rattled when I go in the ring.

    I like channel weaves too, that's how I taught Lola though this time around I'm being more methodical about it.