Sunday, December 23, 2007

Old Dog, New Tricks

I went up to Stacy's place on Saturday for an all day workshop on Body Language. The workshop was supposed to be in two parts on different Friday nights but the first part got cancelled due to a snowstorm. Her place is up a steep, winding dirt road that's challenging enough when it's dry. So thankfully when the snow hit she postponed until this past weekend and decided to have it all on one day. This was good for me because it saved me 3 hours of driving and I would be way more relaxed and rested on a Sat. morning than I would after driving an hour and a half in rush hour traffic and climbing a snow covered hill in the dark. Though a lot of snow had melted by Sat. and there were bare patches of dirt on the road there was also plenty of snow & ice still left over and a few steep icy spots that were going to be difficult to get up. There was a bit of drama as I got stuck behind a minivan that couldn't get up the first steep bit and I had to back down a steep snowy single lane road for about a quarter of a mile. Then I had to wait 20 minutes for the minivan to back down and heard from the people in the van that the big SUV ahead of them had made it up but slid on the ice in the process. I was nervous about trying to make it up but someone convinced me to give it a try and can I just say how much I love my Honda Element? I made it all the way up and back down again with absolutely no problem. I'm not a car person, as far as I'm concerned they get me from here to there and that's where my interest in them starts and ends but my Element has allowed us to get to some pretty cool places in the mountains that we otherwise couldn't have gone and for that I'm very grateful. Never mind being able to haul a husband, 3 large dogs, a huge pile of crap and 2 mountain bikes from here to Scottsdale and getting 25 mpg.

Anyway, I learned a few cool handling moves that I'm not sure I can exactly explain. I'm glad I signed up for a working spot because I needed to practice one of the moves over and over (and over and over) before I finally got it right on about the eighth try. I didn't take many notes this time around because I wasn't sure how to verbalize what I was being shown. It's probably the same reason I have such a hard time learning this kind of thing from books & magazines. I need to have someone show me then I need to be able to try it and have someone tell me what I'm doing right/wrong.

One handling move that worked nicely was to bring the arm down and in the bring the dog in. I've been using the off arm technique that I learned last spring at the Marco Mouwen seminar for this, when I remember anyway, and it works nicely with Cody but it still feels so awkward, esp. if I'm trying to move forward with any speed to get in position. Cody hates to come in to me, it's always been a problem but he responded to the arm coming in right away. The other move was sort of a like an RFP but not quite as extreme and didn't involve the opposite arm or an extreme turn into the dog but rather moving the inside arm low and behind your body a bit to get the dog to come in. This took Cody longer to understand and I kept rushing things and moving forward rather than stopping and holding my ground until he came in to me. I had to practice a few times by stopping completely and having him come in to target my hand. Luckily he knows how to do that, it's a strong default behavior when we're out on walks and he wants to lunge or react to something. In fact he bumps my hand with his nose constantly trying to work me for treats as we're walking along and it drives me crazy. So he was quite happy to run up to my hand for a treat once he figured out what I wanted. The move feels weird though and it's going to take some practice to get used to it.

Another interesting point was that we tend to watch our dogs at traps to make sure they don't go into the trap and if we happen to glance at the trap even briefly it's enough to send the dog right into it. There was a spot on the practice course with a tunnel trap and I didn't even notice it when I walked it. I ran the course first time through and neither Cody or I even glanced at the tunnel. But after watching other dogs go off course and much discussion about it sure enough the second time through I started worrying about it and watched Cody too much, glanced and turned ever so briefly to the tunnel and sent him right in. Doh. After that I gave him the cue to come into me, ran in the appropriate direction and trusted him to follow and he did, no problem. It's hard to trust Cody though because if he gets too far ahead of or behind me he's prone to making his own choices. Heck, sometimes he makes his own choices even if I'm right there. Frustrating but not much I can do about it other than to not reward him.

One surprise was that Cody had a hard time with an exercise that involved several rear crosses in a row. Rear crosses aren't typically a problem for him but thinking about it I only do them in places where I know he'll be successful with them and I seldom do several in a row. One of the crosses involved having him come in to me, run across my feet then turn away and do a wrap over a jump. He had a hard time understanding this but Stacy gave me a good exercise for practicing on the flat and I think it'll be a handy thing to teach all 3 dogs. Only problem is that it involves using the inside arm to turn the dog away which was something I'd decided I was going to avoid with Strummer. I guess I could use a verbal turn cue to accomplish the same thing. Something to practice.

In general I was happy with how well Cody held out for the day and how quickly he picked things up. The old guy is 9 1/2 after all. It took him a bit to get used to the carpet surface and I think it slowed him down a bit which made him easier to handle. I loved the surface for myself, the padding was wonderful on my knees. I wish trials could be on that stuff, nice & springy for the dogs and you're not choking on dust all day. Yeah, I know, dream on.

In all we had a great time, Stacy's place is out in the country up in the foothills a bit and it's so relaxing to be out of town. I wish I could live in the mountains but it's completely impractical for me because of my job. I couldn't stand driving to town every day esp. in winter, never mind the pollution/gas. Every once in a while I think about moving to some land out on the plains, I could do that and commute with no problem but part of me likes living in town. I hate driving and if I lived out in the sticks I imagine I'd be driving all the time to get to the pool, grocery store, trails, etc. Still, it's a nice treat to spend the day away from the city and if I get to learn some agility and play with my sweet old dog it's all the better.


  1. I'm the same way about learning physical things--I can read about it, I can think I'm doing the right thing, I can even videotape it, but I just can't see it until someone tells me what I'm doing wrong. I'm sure that my instructors think I'm dense (or willful) after telling me for 13 years TO do abc or NOT to do xyz. Oh, well, some of it rubs off eventually.


  2. roxanne10:43 AM

    Glad you made it up there safely. I can drive icy going up and driving back down, but backwards? No way. I look over my shoulder and lose all sense of direction and space.

    We're solo today. Our guests called and said they we're coming because of the snow (way more than the TV weather guys said there would be). It's still coming down, about an inch an hour.

    I hope you kids get to stay home today too.

    Kisses to your pups.

    Ho ho ho

  3. We canceled plans to go skiing at Eldora, I don't want to drive up Boulder Canyon in a snowstorm. We only have about 2 inches so far but it covered up the icy roads and we nearly broke our necks several times trying to walk the dogs. Sure looks purty though. Hope you're enjoying the holidays anyway without your guests. Sometimes a quiet holiday dinner is nice too.