Monday, January 21, 2008

Strummy Grows A Brain

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.


  1. Hi Elayne,

    Good to hear Strummer did so well in such a stressful environment. It is hard for my Meeker to hold it together sometimes in those situations too.

    On the chute front I posted an article a while back about using a shower curtain rod in a doorway with some material on it to help dogs get used to ducking. It might help:
    Also some notes on making your own chute:

    Take Care

  2. roxanne3:49 PM

    If you took Strum to Jeffco, then my sympathies. It's always squishy there. It's very hard to get a dog some space.

    I used to take Lilly and we would sit in the stands with me feeding her the whole time, but we haven't done that for a long time. That was back when I thought she *might* be able to compete some day.

    We made a DIY chute too since Lilly is so sheepish about the chute. I just attach it to a scrunched up tunnel, so it's not perfect or terrible sturdy, but Lilly hardly blasts through.

    I like the shower curtain idea from above. That's a good one.

  3. Back "in the old days" people used to talk about constructing chutes using an old plastic pickle barrel (not sure where you'd get one--macdonald's?) and just a sheet fastened to it.

    AKC trials: I railed online a few years back about how even if I had a purebred dog (which I do now), I'd never want to do an AKC trial because the rules state very clearly that noncompeting dogs can't be there and I have non-AKC dogs and I sure wouldn't be leaving them at home. I was deluged with email from AKCers saying that's just not true, it's really one of those rules that everyone ignores. In fact, I *have* been to AKC trials with my mixes--because my club has had meetings at those sites once in a blue moon--and no one has given me grief about it. But maybe that's because I know a bunch of people there? Although how the people I *don't* know would know that, I don't know (you know?)

    Maybe it's different in different parts of the country? CA is traditionally more tolerant of many lifestyles, while CO has been known to attempt to vote down the rights of certain classes of people. ( You think it carries over into doghood? An interesting thought--


  4. roxanne4:55 PM

    I forgot to say that the only AKC event in CO that I know for sure bans non-competing dogs is the big CKC show. I've seen people asked to leave, even though they were just sitting in the stands with their dogs. Then, again, I know people who keep their "other" dogs crated at CKC and have not been hassled.

    Maybe no one ever bothered us at smaller AKC shows since Lilly (who has her ILP) blends in with all the other bcs.

    Weird, but it does make you feel ooky ... doesn't it?

    I honestly doesn't matter to me if dogs are purebred or not. But, here in CO, it does somewhat limit the number of trials you can enter since there are SO many AKC trials.

  5. Steve-thanks for the links and in fact it was your Clean Run Index search thingy that helped me find the chute article. Your methods are quite similar to the article. I like the idea of a shower curtain as I have a spare one and maybe I can scrunch up my Agilite lightweight training tunnel. The problem with making a chute is that it seems like the biggest expense is the chute part-$125 for a 12' chute. By the time I pay for a barrel and all the parts I'm probably not too far off the $219 for the mail order chute. And when you add in the cost of the ER visit after I saw a finger off you see that the DIY method is really a false economy. NTI has a chute with a tunnel in place of a barrel and it's $145 but the chute is sewn on so I can't do the first part of the training that involves only the barrel. I'm going to look out for a used one.

    As far as intolerance at AKC trials and Amendment 2 (a distasteful piece of anti-gay legislation promoted by evangelical Christian groups some years ago, it was voted in by the people and struck down as unconstitutional by the CO supreme court) it’s an interesting comparison though the link you’ve provided actually shows that Coloradoans are more tolerant of gays than the average American despite the outcome of the vote. Also the political make-up of the state has shifted in the past 10 years and is likely going to turn the state blue in the next few years or so (or maybe even by this November). Boulderites of course are still scratching their heads as to how Ralph Nader never got elected but Boulder has always been a world apart.

    It’s hard for me to speculate as to why the CO AKC community is so uptight since I know so few of the people who compete there. I’ve been competing for 6-7 years now and I’d say I knew about 20-30% of the people at that AKC trial this past weekend and in fact I probably know maybe 30% of the entire agility community because so many compete in only AKC. I can only speculate that it’s something to do with the weirdness and elitism of the conformation world spilling over. This trial was put on by a breed club and these trials are typically more uptight than the trials put on by the agility clubs because so many of the breed club members make up the entry. The show was only one ring so I imagine maybe a half to a third of the regular agility people who entered got in. The show that Cody and I were nearly thrown out of was also put on by a breed club and I knew maybe 3 people there. A person who is well known in the agility community came up to talk to me just as the official looking people who were glaring and pointing at us looked like they were about to work up the nerve to come over and if she hadn’t I’m pretty sure they would have tossed me out. Technically the club can get in trouble if an AKC rep is there and sees a mixed breed dog on the grounds. Now there were several mixes running around off leash at that trial. One belonged to the food vendor and the others I assume belonged to the people who owned the barn or maybe other clients who were there to ride their horses. I’d love to know how the AKC handles that. How long will the club be able to use the facility if they try to kick the owners’ dogs off their own property. If the trial is in a park do they kick out spectators from the neighborhood who are out walking their mutts and come to watch? How long will they be able to use that park if they do? I know my neighbors would kick up a stink if they tried that in my neighborhood. It’s up to the club whether or not they want to enforce the rule and I suppose they enforce it as it suits them. There were a lot of people clearly upset that Cody and I were there so it would have been in the club’s interest to give me the boot and they would have had plenty of support from the crowd if I’d kicked up a stink.

    The trial this past weekend was at Jeff Co but I’ve been there many times for USDAA trials and it never seemed that cramped. Typically you’re allowed to have unentered purebred dogs at AKC shows and Lilly looks close enough that noone should bother you. The club can choose to ban unentered dogs if they know they’re going to be pushed for space or they don’t want the liability of the public bringing their dogs around (probably why they’re banned at CKC) but the majority of trials allow them. I’ve seen unentered purebred dogs in the stands at both CKC and AKC Nationals when they were in Denver many years ago. In fact someone brought in underage puppies to AKC Nationals and I saw the person working the gate coo over them and wave them right in. Again, it depends on whether they decide to enforce the rules. I think many workers aren’t clear on all the rules either. It’s also possible that CKC has changed their policy over the years.

    Even though there are so many more AKC trials I long ago decided I had no interest in them. I hate that they exclude people and all the stress and tension and only 2 runs a day. I’d rather spend my money on lessons and my time hiking in the mountains or even just training out at the practice field. The ribbons and titles aren’t enough for me, I have to enjoy the experience of competing. There are enough trials these days to get in nearly one trial a month and for me that’s plenty.

    Wow, politics, religion, Amendment 2 and the AKC all in one post, are there any other inflammatory subjects I can hit on?

  6. Wow, I'm impressed. :-)