Friday, January 30, 2009

Doing what works

What do you think it is that governs the choice of dog training methods?

Looking at two polar opposites, though there are infinite shades between the two, there are all-positive reinforcement and all positive punishment.

Being biased towards using positive methods, I just don't understand how or why someone would chose to use physical corrections with their dogs.

I know that's why agility appeals to me, though I do cringe at overtly rough handling.

I do use negative punishment however, and if I have that correct it is the name for taking away something good based on the dog doing something incorrect. For instance, when DJ jumps out of the car before he is released, he gets put back in. Or if he tries to start eating before being released, the food bowl gets picked back up.

I do really hate doing the food bowl thing, not that I've had to do it much for the past couple of years, anything to do with dinner has a very quick learning curve.

To that end I'm pretty easy going as a dog owner, I would just feel like an asshole not letting a dog sniff when they want as long as we keep a reasonable pace. I feel like we mostly have an understanding that works for us in that regard and other "controversial" aspects of dog keeping – like don't let dogs on the bed, don't let them go through doors before you and other nonsense.

I'm an amateur and novice at that but come on, how can that not strike anyone as superstitious?

I think my role model for dog training is now Sylvia Trkman. The way she writes is such a refreshing change of pace from dog whispering dominance obsessed people that have taken over the discussion of dog training in the U.S. Be partners with your dog, not their boss. Love that!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cheese and jellyfish

It has been dark and moonless on the beach the past two mornings. I stepped on jellyfish and they exploded.

If you've never experienced that, it is very, very discomforting to step into a slimy goo-filled organism and have it burst underfoot with a loud and disgusting pop. I screamed both times, which DJ seemed to interpret as a signal that he was going to get a treat.

He is very weird when I scream, like when we're alone like in the car not that I'm just going around screaming all the time but I yell at other drivers on rare occasions. He's like the RCA dog, ears forward head tilted, curious yet baffled.

Marco, the dearly departed, found screaming, at him or otherwise, incredibly stressful. Not that he was often if ever screamed at, I think there was one time when he was stuck on the bed and had to pee and peed on my pillow. I yelled at him but felt very guilty about it.

Deej doesn't really get stressed, not the ears slicked back, mortified with horror look of stress anyway. More like he's an alien from outer space observing the eccentricities of the native species.

Anyway, what was I talking about?
Right, more kind of dreary a-frame practice and also the table. I hope DJ doesn't find it dreary we have fun when we're there but the feeling of absolutely having to practice makes it kind of a chore, plus the whole scramble to get up pre-dawn and be organized and drive in traffic. So its not really the agility more of the attendant hassles, like getting to agility.

This morning I found that someone had liberally sprinkled the ground around the a-frame with a profusion of some kind of brightly colored cereal (kibble?) and perfectly formed cheese cubes.

The picture is from our first trial, last March. Before Deej's table neuroses developed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mass excitement ensued, congratulations to all involved

Major breakthrough of ginormous proportions today.

The hellacious experience that has been nail trimming is no more, hopefully. There may be setbacks but today DJ sat in front of me, gave me his paw and sat quietly while I snipped off a tiny bit of his nail.

Hah! Take that Sheyna, you lazy ass for making nail cutting a horrific ordeal for so long.

I feel both shame and elation at the same time. Talk about feeling like a champion dog trainer! MACH47? I trimmed a nail today! Huzzah!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Two new titles

Deej scored shiny new titles in the trial over the weekend. We actually managed to scrape out of open standard, barely squeaking out by the skin of our teeth. Not because of the A-frame which has been mentioned here with such obsessive frequency but because of the inescapable black hole of suckiness that is the table.

Due to some nefarious machinations behind the scenes (not really, probably neutral machinations) we had to down on the table every freaking day of the trial. Every day. Evil? Yes.

Table bugged us all weekend -- by Sunday, nope wasn't happening. But Sunday's run was also our debut in Excellent A and the course was nice and hard and twisty, and we totally rocked it – nailing not only the dog walk, the A-frame and the weaves but also got in 2 excellent front crosses.

DJ sat on the table, he stood on the table, he yawned on the table, he bowed on the table. He did not down. After begging and nearly prostrating myself on the dirt, we left the table and finished the course.

So that happened.

But I also learned two important lessons this weekend.

The first is that if my mind wanders during the middle of a course, DJ also checks out.

During our standard run on Friday, we got through everything except the weaves and by that point I was like we're going to Q, we can stay and make sure, blah blah blah, and he missed the weave pole entrance and couldn't get it in 3 tries so we went on.

Friday was an exceptionally long day.

Second lesson was that we are really slow! Not to get into too much detail since that is insanely boring to read but the jumpers course on Sunday started with a tunnel. It was our first day in Ex. B, so competing against seasoned dogs and in one case a former world team member.

I took DJ's leash off and he immediately sauntered into the tunnel. Slowly, yet so fast I couldn't get my bearings to figure out whether to call him back before he got past the start line.

He mosied out and then went wide on a front cross. My fault since I had been sort of caught flat footed waiting for him to get out of the tunnel. Weaves could have been faster too.

All in all our time was about 32.5 and the 4th place dog clocked in at 26.something.
I have no pictures or video from the trial so the one here is from Virginia Beach.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tomorrow -- on trial!

Cold this morning. Very cold, 47 degrees. Braved the beach however -- in bare feet no less.

Not a good idea, the sand was tremendously chilly, particularly near the stairs. Ice sand spiked with sharp stabby shells.

It did take some effort to roll out of bed and get dressed for that kind of thing but DJ and I got out of the house with almost everything we needed for a trip to the beach and then over to Lucky Dog, except for my wallet.

Swung by home on the way to pick it up and we got there by about 7:05. The A-frame had been moved into a corner and the grass was encrusted with frost. Frost for dog's sake…

I left Deej in the warm car while I moved everything and got the box set up on it and then hustled him in to run around for a minute and then get up and over. Nailed it every time, even moving top speed. Tried it for fun going the other way and he did get the contact.

This weekend: 3 day trial. I think if I give him the cue as he leaps over the apex and point EMPHATICALLY in addition to giving him a collection cue before perhaps, we should be good.

We'll rock it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dog nails and A-frames

Last night we trekked back to Lucky Dog to practice the A-frame. We'll go back tomorrow morning and hit it again. Not today though! Today is cooooooold.

It was 37 degrees this morning when we got up. This is Florida, not Michigan. We're not prepared for this kind of treatment. 100 degree heat? 100 percent humidity? Bring it.
Under 50? No thanks.

That's a lie actually, hot weather is much worse than cold, though less painful.

In any case, cold or not, today, I decided, was not an A-frame day. Need to just be patient. We have a 3 day trial this weekend and I don't want either of us to get burned out on it…plus I do want to be careful about how much I ask of him. He is the trying-est little guy, so smart and so happy to figure out what I'm trying to get him to do.

Tuesday night, the night mentioned at the beginning of this post, DJ rocked the A-frame. And I cut off a piece of the rectangle. Just a foot or so, maybe more in the middle.

At this point, its been a couple months, ok maybe just barely 2 months. And even less spent on the actual A-frame, I'm just not sure how long its supposed to take or how long it takes to get rid of the box, she doesn't really specify in the DVD.

You can't win if you can't hit contacts, so hopefully – eventually -- all this work will pan out. Because…I like to win. Yes, yes its all very fun and a great day but really who goes to trials to lose?

It’s always a long way to drive and a lot of money to watch your dog jump over your head as you point helplessly to the yellow paint.

I don't blame Deej at all, just sucky dog training.

Speaking of sucky dog training, day 2 of desensitization went well, in fact mission accomplished! I was able to hold his foot and touch the nail trimmer to a nail. A few times in fact. Now, I shall do that for a bunch more days, cursing my laziness and short-sightedness for not doing it 2 years ago.

Next goal, put one nail in the clipper.

Also, I would just like to say publically that the cordless Dremel is worthless and that is why I use a clipper. Still, and will until someone buys me a Dremel with a cord.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Snips and snails and puppy dog nails

If there is anything else preoccupying me right now its trimming dog nails. This may be the bane of my existence at the moment. Maybe not every dog, maybe not every nail, but the problem is that DJ does not like it. He's quite adamant about his distaste for the whole procedure.

Thus far its been accomplished by wrangling and 2 to 3 people administering treats, restraining and cutting.

No more. The line was drawn in the sand that we cannot continue on that path anymore, for one thing, no one wants to do it so the nails grow and grow and grow. Two weeks after one ordeal its as though it never happened, just long nails as far as the eye can see.

I have made halfhearted attempts at desensitizing him to it. But gave up, because I am lazy and a Bad Dog Person and it seemed that every attempt was like trying to empty the ocean with a thimble.

Now it is just time to get started. I have my thimble and I'm ready to go. Its what must be done. Our goal: touching one nail with the nail cutting device.

Friday, January 16, 2009

More blathering about A-frames

This morning was agility! The A-frame was lowered because there was a puppy agility class the night before and I finally figured out a way to get it up by myself.

I was quite proud. Deej had a few good runs and also leapt over the contact twice. Which made me not quite as proud.

But still if he does it right every time we practice well what is the point really. I've been trying to impart the feeling that this is exactly what I don't want but I'm really not sure how to so I just say oops and we do it again, no chasing the snack bag and tugging and eating snacks. Just do over.

He needs his nails trimmed something fierce. I've tried clicking and treating and going slow and such. He's just violently opposed to the idea of it. He used to be violently opposed to the idea of anyone touching his feet at all but now will shake with each hand.

Because its such a pain in the ass I drag my feet about doing it, and they grow so fast! But must be done. Seriously, his nails look like he's never had them cut in his life and its been only three weeks.

My mom's dogs went their whole lives without having their nails trimmed and they weren't nearly as bad, though Scooter did have one really long dewclaw, Madame Wu-style.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The history of doing nothing

No agility today…I figured I should give the dog a day off, he works a lot harder at it than I do and Rachel Sanders says don't practice the A-frame every day.

So we're skipping today. I do like getting there at the crack of dawn though. Yesterday we got there right as the two gentlemen pulled up on their bicycles to vacuum the inside. They were very friendly, smiles and hellos all around. Deej was not friendly he barked and threatened.

I love DJ, but I really want a dog that is well-socialized. Well you might say, that is entirely up to me -- maybe if I wasn't a sucky owner my dog would not be a maniac who threatens innocent bystanders.

Very true but in my defense Deej came with his issues fully-formed. He came from a shelter, a nice no-kill shelter up the road from where we live. Lot of pit bulls there for whatever reason.

I was pretty clueless when we got him. I thought pulling some Dog Whisperer-style shtick would show him what's what.

That didn't work, (you mean imitating ridiculous shit you see on tv doesn't work?) he got worse and turned into an Exploding Dog.

Every walk was a nightmare, he could barely get within eyesight of another dog without losing his mind. Much less walk by them. Kind of like the Tasmanian Devil in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

I'm sure someone who knew anything about dog training could have had him shaped up in no time but I had to read books, I had to research and experiment. It was a problem because I had this idea that we were going to do agility so had to do it. Plus he was bonkers insane and needed exercise every day so just never letting him leave the house was out of the question.

The first training class we tried was a "balanced" class where prong collars or chokes were required, dropped out after finding that out. Not My Thing.

My parents got our golden retriever when I was about 10 with the plan that I would show her because she was That kind of dog, went to some training classes in a dark parking lot. The training was very advanced, tell the dog to down and then throw them over. Pretty much soured me on dog training for a long time. If yanking your dog around and tossing them on the ground is what it takes I'll take an untrained dog…but I digress.

Finally found a positive trainer and went to her CGC class. Deej was very good kind of, by that point we'd been working on stuff though his self-control was still extremely low.

He got his CGC somehow with flying colors despite the fact that he could barely stop barking at the people who tried to pet him in practice. Though he was by far the black sheep of the class, he did fine on the test. The other problem dog bit his owner on the face after failing so I was like, hey at least we're not them. Dunno what happened to them.

Kinda neat how far we've come but at this point I just want a dog that likes other human beings, no questions asked. Luckily DJ loves agility and I think its really the reason why he's gotten so much better, he can actually work in a field with other loose dogs doing stuff. We can use the practice jump at trials. Its in unusual situations where he's already kind of stressed but not really stressed just a little on edge that he loses it and goes all nutty.

It makes me feel good that he's doing so much better but its exhausting sometimes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Full moon agility

The beach was very cold this morning, like 50 degrees – or less! I walked barefoot and my feet were freezing, I had to stand in the surf to warm them up and then a strong wave rushed in and soaked my shorts.

Very chilly. I had planned to walk for a few more minutes but kept getting paranoid about how deserted the beach was. At 6 am when we walked onto the beach it was still dark though the moon lit up the sand enough to see fairly clearly. DJ kept running into the dark line of mangroves and sea oats at the top of the beach. I always envision someone snatching him and running away or waiting for me to come looking for him. So I hollered at him every time he went near.

Plus I kept hearing the leash knocking around which made me whirl around looking for someone behind me. I kept envisioning someone creeping up on me and being only inches from my unsuspecting back, in the dark on the deserted beach.

Creeped out we turned around and headed back to the car. DJ warmed himself up by running, running, running and I trundled along.

We headed over to Lucky Dog Sports Club to practice the A-frame again. It went well.

The first time his striding was perfect, subsequently it really wasn't. We'll work on it again tomorrow and Friday, then I'm starting to fade the box by cutting out pieces.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


My boyfriend / soon-to-be-husband-one-day, came with us to our last agility trial. His thoughts?
Playboy will never do a ladies of agility issue, he said.

Mean. Yet true.


In the standard class in AKC, we need one more leg to get into excellent. I'm not really in a hurry, 2008 was our first year trialing and in jumpers with weaves we're only 1 leg away from finishing our excellent A title.

We would have finished it long ago actually if I didn't occasionally kind of psych myself out about Not Being Ready to move up. But in standard, we've found ourselves bedeviled by one very very big problem. The A-frame. DJ had been ostensibly trained to do 2 on 2 off on the A-frame. Never really happened in trial, and rarely in practice but he was hitting the contact so I didn't really correct it. Naturally he started leaping over the contact. To the point where he seems to be convinced that the yellow is electrified or otherwise booby-trapped.

You know how, like…everyone in the world says to have criteria and stick to it or else…that's probably why. I'm no dog training expert but yep, that makes sense...

In November we started re-training using Rachel Sanders' method for running contacts. It's been going pretty well. At a fun run on Sunday, he did the A-frame perfectly, beautifully, 3 out of 4 times. At class on Monday, he did the A-frame perfectly 0 out of 6 times. This morning we traipsed over to the club at 6:45 for A-frame practice. And can look forward to many mornings (and evenings) of the same.

For the past few weeks its been about 4 times a week of practicing but I think, maybe, to avoid the leaping over the contact in trial we'll practice a little more often.

Monday, January 12, 2009

How not to be a good and nice person

So it turns out, if your dog runs out the exit of a ring at an agility trial and starts nipping the almost full-grown puppy playing right outside the exit like a maniac because the sight of squirmy submissive dogs makes him feel weird and wrong things…what one should NOT do is take said bad dog back to his kennel and hide in your tent crying for the rest of the afternoon.

The correct response is to immediately see if the other dog is ok, apologize and turn yourself into the authorities – and possibly submit yourself to forced readings from Control Unleashed for the next 5 weeks. You must not pretend that nothing happened, wish yourself into a hole or just vanish from agility forever.

If you're lucky well-socialized people may step in to help and understand if you are a total nincompoop who is mortified to speechlessness. Most times, in other situations, people are not very kind if faux pas' are made. Oh and faux pas' are made, yes they are.

Sorry lady who will remain nameless for that incident at that place that will also be unnamed, in the unnamed venue. Thank you for being so nice, the next day, after you weren't so angry.

Look at me blogging.

I spend an inordinate amount of my time reading blogs. When I should be working, I'm reading blogs about agility.

Just like people who love to read who think they should be novelists, I decided to become a blogger. And now look at me, all blogging and stuff. Whew.