Thursday, June 11, 2009

Are we having fun yet?

I took the Trouble Twins to a Fun Match last Sunday to work on various training issues. It was at a place called Riverstone Agility and we'd never been there before so it was a great opportunity to get Strum on some new equipment at a new place. Also the owner generously gave all the money to Western Border Collie Rescue so it was good to go out and support them. I do the occasional reference check or home visit for them and they're an excellent group. And no, I didn't come home with more dogs than I left with though at one point I was ready to come home with less dogs than I left with. One good thing about Strummer, he's put me off wanting any more dogs which is good because I was sorely tempted by this little sweet pea. She knew all the moves-gave me that look, crawled in my lap so she could reach my face to give me lots of puppy kisses, acted cute at every and all opportunities. But I resisted though was tempted to see if they'd take a trade-in on Strummer. Oh, I keed, I keed, I would never part with Mr. Guaranteed Personality.

C'mon, you know you want me

We'll start with Lola since she was the success story of the day. My goal for her was to practice the table and she was perfect, flew right on no problemo and stayed until I released her. There was a curved tunnel next to the table so I was able to
send her through and do a bunch of table/tunnel reps. sometimes rewarding on the table, other times after she'd done a tunnel then the table again. The thrill of the sardines seems to be wearing off for her though so I think I'll try something else next time. And just when I was finally getting used to the smell. Her weaves and contacts were perfect. I think her only mistake for 2 runs was a knocked bar on a serpentine and those are so rare for her that I don't worry over them. She was a perfect little rockstar.

Strummer on the other hand. Actually his first run was not so terrible aside from some missed dogwalks. A-frame and weaves were perfect, teeter was a little iffy and I should have had him redo it. I can't remember how many dogwalks I had him do but it seemed like a lot (4 or maybe 6) and his success rate was low. Can't remember exactly, maybe 4/6, and I was depressed about that.

The course was nice, there were plenty of opportunities for modifying it for your needs or there were a Starters and Masters course nested if you didn't want to worry about being creative and making up your own. You can see the course map here.

I ran the novice course first with Strummer and he did a fairly nice job. I got in a front cross between #5 and #6 and I think everything else went to plan except for the #14 tunnel to the #15 dogwalk. For some reason Strum kept insisting on the tunnel and finally I had to send him back through the tunnel exit so I could get him on the dogwalk.

I should have run the novice course for his seocnd run because we weren't there to work on handling, just obstacles and especially the contacts but I thought I'd give it a try. Trouble was there was a storm coming and some distant thunder during our warm-up for his second run sent his brain straight out of the building. The ring was empty of dogs while people changed the jump heights so I decided to use the practice jump and on his second jump he went flying over the jump and charged straight into the ring even though there were no dogs running there leading me to believe that his desire to chase other dogs doing agility is perhaps in part a stress releaser. All along I'd figured it was a prey drive/self control issue but now I think there is that other dimension to it as well which makes the job of dealing with it all that much harder. Anyway, it was a challenge to get him to not lose his head at the dogs in the ring while we waited our turn which was a huge contrast to his first run of the morning where he was calm and focused. On this video you can see how relaxed he is (at least for him) as we enter the ring for his first run (scroll to mid-page for the video then we are at the very end).

We started off with the dogwalk and I can't even remember how many I had to make him do before he finally got it right. When he did I called him to me to collect his reward so he knew for sure that yes, that is what I wanted. I was out of position after the dogwalk so the handling after that point was a mess, poor guy was so confused as was I. It's always a challenge for me to get back into the flow of the course at fun matches after I stop to reward and get out of position. He did manage a nice A-frame again and weaves so it wasn't a total loss but yikes what a mess in general. Poor guy, I'm not sure if he was unhinged by the thunder or by being in his crate for over an hour while other dogs were running or what. I parked away from the ring with his crate facing away from the ring but still I imagine he could still hear to some extent. Also, there was a severe storm system on it's way that eventually turned into tornadoes in some areas. We were home way before the tornadoes started but maybe he could feel the bad weather coming and coupled with the thunder it upset him. He is o.k. doing some things outside with thunder and there were just a few isolated claps far away but still I guess it was all a bit much for him. He was a bag of nerves all day and for a while I was thinking maybe agility competitions are going to be too much for him if he's going to be a wreck for the whole day but then I found out about the tornadoes and even though they were far away (15-20 miles I think) perhaps the unsettled weather systems were upsetting him. Lola was off her head all day as well so hopefully that's all it was.

Strummer has no more trials until August so we have plenty of time to work on that dogwalk but that match makes me feel like I'm beating my head against a wall. My new video camera is supposed to arrive today so I can go over some practice sessions I taped before my old one started to croak. Trouble is there is such inconsistency from session to session, one day he's brilliant, the next it's like he has no clue. It's hard to say if he simply needs more practice or if what I'm doing is never going to be effective and I need to try some other way. I have a few ideas of things to try and maybe it's time to move ahead with them.


  1. As I understand it, random reward applies to the quality of the reward, too, not just the quantity. If she's tiring of the sardines, she's getting them too often. Use regular treats more often and just occasionally use the special ones. If she's losing interest, then she's probably getting too many of them for that to be special any more.

    That unsettled weather or other noise can sure affect sensitive dogs. There's a dog in one of my classes who hates fireworks. We can be up in the hills for class, barely even hear the fireworks wayy down and across the valley, but he'll be a wreck all of a sudden and useless. I don't know what the solution is except for desensitization to the situation. Although I've heard with thunderstorms it could be the noise, could be the vibration, could be the electricity in the air-- Good luck with that.

  2. Lola only gets sardines for the table and only at fun matches and trials (only for standard runs where there's a table). But I think the novelty has worn off for her so it's time to find some new things and shuffle them around. I tried lox bits a long time ago and she seemed to love those and I like them a lot better than sardines so we'll give those a try.

    Strum may end up being one of those dogs that has to be pulled if there's thunder. On the other hand I thought Lola would be one of those dogs but as it turned out she became less sensitive over the years and I can usually run her in it. We'll see how it works out for Strum. We had more storms last night and the poor guy spent the evening curled up in my lap.

  3. Just saying--if she gets them ALL THE TIME at fun matches on the table, then maybe that's too much? Mix it up with more ordinary treats?

  4. Oh, that baby girl would be HARD to resist. What a face!

    Strum is still a youngster. Give it time before you pull the plug and try something new with him.

    And, I'd bet the storm had a LOT to do with his jitters.

  5. Hmmm, mixing the treats is an idea. I'm not sure she's ready for that right now though, I think I want her to be sure she's going to get something fantabulous whenever she gets on that table in a stressful situation. I think maybe finding some more really novel, high value treats that only get used for the table and rotating between those might be the ticket for now. But I don't know, I'm struggling with many training issues at the moment and don't have a whole lot of confidence in my instincts.

    Yeah, that little girl was a cutie. I just got some reference checks to do from the rescue and it's for someone who's interested in her and my first thought was 'No! She's mine!'. But then reason and the memory of Strummer's freaky storm day yesterday made me hope that the references will turn out good and the person snatches her up before I do something stupid.