Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Will I never get this dog in the ring?

After much heated debate between the many loud and varied voices in my head I decided to pull Strummer from his Standard runs in the DOCNA trial that is coming up in just 2 weeks. Part of me feels like 'don't be such a chicken, he's going to be crazy in his first few trials no matter how hard you prepare. Suck it up and get it over with'. The other part of me is still nervous about his dogwalk and A-frame and doesn't want to overface him. Both will be perfect by the April USDAA trial, I promise, and then he can have his big Standard debut. I wanted his Standard debut to be in DOCNA and at this particular trial for a number of reasons but none were good enough to override the fact that I don't feel his contacts are well trained enough for trialing. I hate going to the line feeling unprepared. Sure he's probably going to have his share of baby dog craziness but that's different from not being reasonably proficient on an obstacle. This is the first time I've had such a disparity between levels of training between the different obstacles. Strum's well ahead of the game with handling/jumping, can run masters level courses. Weaves, table, teeter are good, at least good enough for Novice, but those contacts are lagging behind because I switched horses mid-stream. I don't regret the decision but I have to live with the consequences. I'll still run him in Gamblers and Jumpers and hey now I have $40 extra to go towards the April entry.

The major factor driving this decision is the A-frame. I've been taking it for granted that the A-frame will come along with the dog walk, don't need to train that separately. That's what Sylvia says, anyway. Well, Strum is hardly one to follow the crowd and as it happens the A-frame is turning out to not be such a gimmee. Sylvia recommends running them over the low frame for just a short time then raising it up fairly quickly because the lower heights supposedly encourage jumping. Strum did fine with the lowered frame (nearly flat) but when I raised it to a decent height his chosen method of performance was to leap over the apex of the A-frame and then off the frame from the top third. After I recovered from my heart attack I thought, 'Oh, that was just a fluke' so brains here had him do it again and of course he gleefully leapt off the top of the A-frame again. So that was the end of that and that was on Friday so you can see why I'm skeptical that I'll have a decent A-frame in 2 weeks. On Sunday I lowered the frame again to flat and after a few repeat performances of leaping as far as he could he finally settled back to running. But who knows how long this will take. That A-frame isn't light either, I nearly put my back out and gave myself a hernia trying to lift it while it was flat.

The good news is that I'm finally seeing a bit of success on the 4', full length dogwalk at the practice field. On Sunday I back-chained it a bit then set him up at one end and let him run the full thing. It was a thing of beauty and a nice solid hit. Gave him boatloads of treats and ended there, no need pressing my luck. Thought I'd at least enjoy a couple of days of thinking I'm a dog training genius before that fantasy gets shattered by another session. I'll try again tomorrow, hopefully something will have stuck in his fuzzy little brain and we'll have nothing but perfection from now on.

Class last night was something else. Poor Strum was crawling out of his skin with excitement and poor me had to deal with him for an hour and a half. It's important for him to learn to work in a class situation with all the distractions but an hour and a half is way too long for him to have to be exposed to other dogs running. Or rather it's too long for me to have to deal with him. I'm thinking the strong winds last night had set him more on edge than usual because he seemed to be backsliding in his ability to control himself from previous classes. He was great during our runs though but 3 runs in 1 1/2 hours is not enough for a dog like Strummer. We had to wait 40 minutes in between 2 of our turns and at this point in his training that's way too long. We have one more class and then there aren't any more offered anyway so I'll be on my own until Joy gets back and starts lessons up again. When you figure out how much instruction in minutes I get per dollar for regular classes with 8 teams per class vs privates with Joy there is no comparison, those regular classes are a false economy plus all that standing around trying to entertain an overstimulated Border Collie drives me crazy. Then there is the issue of handling systems/consistency which did come up last night. This teacher is easy going and lets me do what I want but who knows how another might respond when I say I don't want to do something a certain way. Will be interesting to see how this pans out in the agility world in general but I suppose that's a topic for another day.


  1. I think you made the right choice. There is nothing worse than going to the line with your dog, having to think about your plan and your plan B should his contacts fall apart on you. You want the confidence to know that you just need to think about your plan.

    As for the overstimulation...pick your battles. Some dogs just never get over it and you can wear yourself out trying to get them to relax around the ring. And then you're too worn out to run. I think Stacy did a blog post about "picking your battles".

    You'll get him in the ring. He wants to be there...so it will happen when you are both ready.

    "If you don't have time to do it right the 1st time, where will you find the time to do it over? "


  2. I agree, if you can reproduce a problem in training / practice, then you are kidding yourself that the problem won't occur in a higher stress environment of a trial. We see that a lot - students get so anxious to finally compete that they ignore issues they are still having. Then comes the frustration, the NQ's and once you start competing, its hard to stop to go back and fix issues.

    My Rip gets overly excited and barky when the other dogs run so I can appreciate that fun.

    I cant imagine taking a class where you had to wait 40 minutes for a turn - do you have 30 people in the class?? Just crazy! Our classes are limited to 8!

  3. There were 8 people in the class but when the instructor spends over 10 minutes on a single person who's dog can't get a weave entry, well, the day lags on. Also, the heights start out small to tall and I'm the only 22" so I wait 1/2 hour for my first turn then they run tall to small so I go again right away. Then they change the course, we walk it and run small to tall again so I had to wait through 2 rounds of turns in between.

    I was toying with the idea of skipping dogwalk and/or A-frame if they weren't looking good by the trial, I wasn't going to run him over them if they weren't just right but decided against that. The point would be to get him some ring time and experience with sequencing in a trial environment, on different equipment, etc. A single ring, indoor low key DOCNA trial at a site that he goes to regularly is a much better place to debut than a 2-ring USDAA trial which is what I will have in April. After the April trial everything is outside until next fall and outside is going to be another challenge, especially with 2 rings. Would be good to get more ring time with the lower stress environment before moving outside. But in the end skipping obstacles seemed so half-assed, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I'd rather work harder on proofing.

    Strum's lunging and carrying on is a battle I do want to fight. It's much worse than your average overexcited dog and though I know I've seen one of Stacy's dogs lunging and carrying on outside the ring it's not nearly as bad as Strummer when he gets really over the top. I don't think it's good for him and it stresses me out so it's important to me that he learns to relax. Also, his performance deteriorates when he's in that state, his brain is totally out of his head. I know he can do it and he's been doing much better but for some reason, probably the wind, last night was hard for him. I've been neglecting that aspect of his training recently too so I need to get back on that. I need one of those duplicators from Calvin and Hobbes so I can have a few clones of myself, then maybe I'd get it all done.

  4. Yes, a Transmogrifer is what you need, I think thats what Calvin called it. If you find one, I'd like to borrow it :)

    I'm planning on running Skye in that April USDAA in Loveland so I'll keep my fingers crossed for ya that it all comes together by then.

    I'm sure you've tried things to resolve the lunging and crazyness, but if you hit upon the magic solution, let me know. For Rip, when another dog is running, I have to put my hand in his collar, and my hand on his chest and tell him No, and Leave It, but alas he will still bark and try to escape. Its not all *that* bad for us, but I dont like it, and I know it would probably upset people at a trial, especially some of those who are easily upsetted anyway.

  5. I could probably have a whole blog devoted soley to Strummy's behavioral issues and what I've done to work on them. In short it's been a combo of desensitization, rewarding for calmly watching, some stuff from the 'Control Unleashed' book, teaching tricks in lieu of lunging, putting him in a down stay while one of my other dogs does a jump or tunnel, lots of impulse control stuff. I'll have to put together a post on it one of these days. One thing is for sure, there is no 'magic' answer. This is why many people say 'oh screw it' and let the dog do what it will. I think a lot of people don't have the extreme behavior Strummer has and maybe ignoring it works for them and their dog but it's not what I want for Strummer.

  6. Good for you for getting your criteria straight first. I know from experience how tempting it is to put it into the ring to see how it goes. But Tika had pretty danged solid contacts before we started trialing, and at the first trial, and then we spent a year trying to fix them when she discovered that it was possible to bail off from way up. So you're doing a good thing.