I took Strummer to an AKC trial 40 minutes from my house this weekend to work on his little 'I must go hysterical whenever I see a dog running agility' issue. We had some success at a NADAC trial last month so I was somewhat optimistic. AKC is a whole 'nuther animal from NADAC though as far as trial atmosphere goes. The second we walked in the door I was smacked in the face with a big wall of stress and tension. Is it the Double Q that makes everyone so uptight? If you Q in the morning you have 4-6 hours to sit around getting wound up for your possible double Q in your afternoon run. If you don't Q in the morning you're pissed off and grouchy at having to sit around 4-6 hours for a run that doesn't 'count'. Or maybe it's the sitting around all day for only 2 runs thing that makes people grouchy. Or maybe it's something to do with the exclusive nature of the venue and the type of crowd that will attract. I was appalled by the things people were saying out loud in public on the Colorado agility forum when the issue of allowing mixed breeds to compete came up. And let's not even go into how awful many of the people were to me when I unwittingly brought my mix Cody to a trial to spectate and work on his stress issues. Apparently you're not even allowed to have a non-competing mixed breed on the grounds of an AKC trial. It would be nice if they'd post signs to that effect. At least they would be forced to own up to their discriminatory policies in a public way and it would save those of us with mixes a lot of ugly stares & glares. I wonder how many of those people seriously think whatever purebred dog they have is superior to everybody else's breed and they've got something to prove about it. Or something, I don't know, but the horrible atmosphere was obvious even to Jonny who's been to lots of USDAA and NADAC shows.
Anyway, I realized today might be a bit more challenging with all the extra handler stress in the air, plus it seemed crowded to the point of claustrophobia. I had brought a couple types of really great treats as well as regular kibble to switch off between and I decided to start off with the good stuff right away. Strummer started losing his mind right away but I was able to get him under control quickly and he soon settled into a sit and eventually a down. I used the good treats at a high reinforcement rate and rewarded him for looking at the dogs in the ring and not reacting. He had a couple more lunges when I became distracted talking to somebody but again quickly managed to control himself. I worked on some of his tricks to keep his mind off the ring and he liked that but ultimately I'd like him to be able to relax on his own without so much interaction from me. We're a long long way from there though and at this point I'll take whatever behavior I can get that doesn't involved screaming & lunging. One 'trick' he really likes is to lie down and put his chin on the ground between his front paws. He kept offering that so I rewarded like crazy. It's something I shaped during his pet obedience classes and for some reason he likes to do it and it's a perfect imcompatible with lunging behavior (plus it looks very cute).
After about 1/2 an hour Jonny took him outside for a break then I worked with him once more for about 15 minutes. He was near perfect, started to lunge once then thought better of it and stopped himself, what a good boy. He played at his head betweeen paws trick some more, so much so that it was hard to get many reps of him looking at the ring but that's fine. It would be ideal if in the end he doesn't look at the ring at all. I'm starting to have some confidence that he will indeed be calm enough to compete but again I need to see him behaving at a lot more trials before I'll be convinced. I'm going to try crating him at the DOCNA trial next month. It's only 20 minutes from home and I'm only entered for the first 3-4 events I think so it should be a shorter day for him. He can start getting measured as well so I have some sort of idea what height to use for his USDAA application. Unfortunately I think he's right on the border of 21". I tried getting him used to the wicket at the AKC trial but it was a bit much to ask since the wicket was right next to the ring. He kept squirming and crouching down away from the wicket when I lowered it on his back. On the one hand maybe that means he'll get a lower measurement, on the other maybe a judge won't accept that and try to force him to stand up. We'll see how it goes with a real judge next month.
His weaves and jumping are coming along nicely though I looked ahead at the jumping program and wow I don't know when we're going to have time to work through all that. Seriously, he will be a vet dog if I try to perfect every exercise, never mind all the other stuff he has to learn and the limitations I have with the weather and having to train outside. I think you have to not work and have your own equipment and training arena anymore to keep up with the latest training methods. Still, I like what I'm seeing so far as far as his jumping goes so we'll keep at it.
I found an article in Clean Run about training a dog not to jump up in the chute but it requires me buying a chute ($219 is the cheapest I've found so far) and doing 50 reps a day. Yikes. I may try shortcutting the method and see what happens. I know that's not ideal but maybe it's better than doing nothing and the full blown method is not practical unless I pony up for a chute. I wouldn't even bother but I hate seeing Lola struggle when she gets stuck and it's a safety issue. I had her do about half a dozen chutes out at Biscuit Eaters this weekend and she jumped up right at the end every time so it is a consistent problem. Oy, it's always something.