Saturday, June 5, 2010

Choosing a puppy

This has been a hot topic around the school lately because a number of students are getting puppies and Sinco is having puppies.

We all get puppies for different reasons. Sometimes the puppy we pick is for reasons other than agility, then later on we decide to try to make it into an agility dog.

All kinds of puppies can make good agility dogs.  My biggest thing is trying to get the best fit between person and puppy.  Sometimes we pick puppies because they are cute, we feel a hole in our lives and feel we need one, any one or we pick because we like the pedigree or like the parents.  These are all considerations when selecting a puppy but if you want a puppy that will be a good performance dog then you need to look at many other characteristics.

If the puppy I'm considering is from a planned breeding then I want to know as much about the parents as possible.  I ask lots of questions.

1.  Health screenings - I want proof (no matter how well known a breeder is, I want to see copies of all health checks) of OFA certification, CERF tests, any genetic test results (check out your purebred dog - almost every one of them has a list of recommended genetic screenings) and DNA recordings with AKC and any other parent organization.

2.  Health information on the dogs related to the ones being bred - littermates, offspring, parents, grandparents and others.  Every line of dogs and every breed of dogs has problems and it is what the breeder you are working with has done with that information in their breeding program that is important.  There should be known health screening records on all dogs going back 8 generations. 

3.  Temperament information about the dogs related to the ones being bred.  It is important to meet as many dogs as you can that are related to the one you are getting.  Ask owners of dogs related to your future puppy about their dogs.  Ask what they are like around other dogs, children, strangers and what they are like at home versus around busy activities.

4.   Then when your puppy is born if possible watch videos of your puppy, ask lots of questions about which puppy got out of the box first, which puppy is the pushiest, which is the most laid back, which is the loudest etc.  When the puppies are old enough to move around more watch videos or ask questions about how the puppies do in new places, around new things, around loud sounds, around people and around other dogs.  A good breeder should be exposing the puppies to lots of different things before they go home.  Ideally they should have experienced riding in a car, been started on potty training, been introduced to a crate, been to a number of different new places and/or new surfaces.  In most litters there will be wide variation in temperament and structure among the puppies.  Just because two "high drive" dogs were bred together doesn't mean that all the puppies will be "high drive."  Just because a specific breeding produced "all great dogs" doesn't mean that the repeat of that breeding will also produce "all great dogs."  Look at each dog as an individual.  I have seen in any given litter some pups who are more sensitive and reserved, and some who are bolder and more active and everything in between. 

5.  The breeder should know lots about you and what you want in a puppy so they can help you match up with a puppy.  They are the experts on their litter. Try to visit the litter often if at all possible.  More than once is recommended.  You also want to see if there is a connection between you and a particular puppy.  Often a puppy will pick its owner.

6.  Things to look for in the temperament of a puppy for performance:  boldness, self-confidence in new places, lack of sound sensitivity, follows people readily, persistence, energy level, forgiveness and biddability.  Now some people like a dog that is tougher or harder meaning that the dog is more independent, more self-serving and more easily aroused into prey drive.  Other people like their performance dogs to be less independent, have a natural off switch and to be very biddable.  Both kinds of dogs can be highly successful performance dogs with the right owner.  However if there is a dog/owner mismatch it can be a tough road for both.  In agility you can have a biddable dog with a natural off switch who is also plenty fast enough to win.  (I have one of those, so I know...)  But not everyone wants or needs a dog who will win at a national level.  Most of us want a dog who will run and do well at local trials and will earn the championship titles in the sport of our choosing.  Again it is important to be realistic about your goals and about your time and resources for training and trialing.

7.  Structure.  This is very important.  It will vary somewhat depending on the breed but having balance of angulation in front and rear and a front that is not too easty-westy is important for most sports.  8 weeks is generally considered a good time to evaluate a puppy's structure.

8.  Lastly there are times when puppies come to us for reasons unrelated to performance sports.  It may be good to be open to these experiences because they may come to us to teach us valuable lessons about other aspects of life.  So when a puppy chooses us be aware they may not be choosing us because they want to do performance sports with us but they may be choosing us because they want to teach us something else about ourselves.  This happens to me all the time so I know it does happen.  I also know it doesn't work to ignore those opportunities either.  They may even be disguised as performance prospects if they think we won't pick them otherwise.

A note about selecting a mixed breed.  I think there are a lot of great mixed breed dogs out there who make great performance dogs.  Again you want to select one with good overall structure and temperament.  The more you can find out about their history the better.  The notion of "hybrid vigor" is a myth.  Mixed breed dogs are just as susceptible to the genetic diseases of their purebred counterparts.  It is made more complicated because they can inherit them from different breeds.  Many of the genetic disorders only need one copy of the gene in order to produce problems.  Genetic based aspects of a dog that affect temperament or structure will not change with training or conditioning.  You can improve upon it but you will be limited by the genetic make-up.  With a dog of unknown parentage it is hard to know what that genetic make-up really is.    If you are getting a dog from a rescue or other group where you can foster the dog for awhile to see how the dog fits in with you and your family that is an ideal situation.  Then you will have some idea of who the dog is before you adopt them.

The bottom line is that if you are trying to choose a puppy/dog for a performance sport then you want to do your homework and find out as much as you can about the dogs who interest you.  Also think about the details of the kind of dog you would like and think about who you are as a trainer and competitor.  The more you know yourself, the easier it will be to find a dog who is a good match for you.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Spring is Sprung!

Spring made is AKC Novice Standard debut this weekend.  He earned two Novice Standard legs and two Novice JWW legs.  He earned his NAJ this weekend.  His confidence was definitely increasing and therefore his speed in JWW was increasing.  He nailed all of his weave poles.  On Saturday and Sunday he did his contacts well.  On Monday he bailed on the teeter which was the fourth obstacle.  I had him do the weaves right after it so we could end on a good note and left the ring.  He needs more work on contacts in different places and on different types so we will do that before we trial again.  I will only trial him in ASCA and NADAC where we can repeat the contacts.  It is too hard when he can bail and I can't put him back on so he doesn't get a chance to work through it.  The teeter at BOTC caught a lot of dogs by surprise so I am not surprised that he started to lose confidence on it.  I have been working him on my teeter at home and he is gaining his confidence back. 

Spring is interesting because he doesn't show signs of fear with the teeter.  He can jump on low ones anywhere and ride them down in all kinds of crazy positions.  I do think his vision issues cause him to become unsure - the base seems to be the latest to throw him off.  He doesn't know how or can't see the base well enough and maybe he doesn't know where the tip point is relative to the base.  You can see him stutter step before contacts sometimes and we believe he has a vision issue which causes this.  So I suspec he doesn't know how to interpret what he sees and how it relates to the location of the board and tip point.  More miles will help him sort it all out, I'm sure of it.

It is always something new with my dogs!  I know I learn more from having different dogs and I don't have "cookie cutter" dogs which is why I so firmly believe there is no one way to train a dog.  No matter what anyone says - there is really no one training method that will work for all dogs and all people.  This is why I like learning different methods and I'm willing to try different things.  The methods I use the most are the ones I've had the most success with and are the easiest for people to be able to use at home on their own.  I also like to use training methods with my own dogs first before training others.  It is best to experience how a method works before teaching others.  It helps to be able to work with a lot of different dogs to be able to try out different methods. 

Now to go out and learn more about dog training, conditioning and trialing...

Tay Update

Tay was cleared earlier in May  to trial at BOTC AKC trial.  I picked that one because it would be just 2-3 runs a day.  Tay struggled with the weaves all weekend and I realized I had rehabbed her on 24" spaced weave poles and they had narrower ones at the trial.  Once I realized that I stopped worrying about her weaves.  I made sure to have someone watch her run or video it so I could be sure that she didn't hurt herself or appear sore in any run.  She ran fast and she ran well.  There were glitches but we are rusty as a team.  Most of our rehab at the end was done working on individual obstacle performance and short sequences. 

Well I was at a seminar with Stacy this morning and our first run involved a lot of tight turns.  I asked folks to watch her to be sure she ran well.  She ran great!  I was pleased with how well she did.  I did our usual warm-up and lengthy cool down.  I put her away and then about 40 minutes later brought her out again and she was limping.  It was noticeable to everyone there.  I walked her around and around and she got better.  I ran her on a shorter version of the sequence and cooled her down for awhile.  I put her away.  Lin Gelbmann came by and I asked her about it.  Tay was again limping when I got her out and Lin palpated her bicep tendon and she was sore again.  Lin thinks she is almost as sore as she was last January. 

I'm so disappointed.  I was hoping to be able to run her this summer and to focus on her more.  So now I need to start over with the rehab.  I now have a large wading pool which I will be able to incorporate into her rehab which may help.  It is not clear whether I will be able to get her strong enough to do agility again for an extended period.  Lin thinks she is stronger than she was last January.  Lin thinks she is injuring it by planting that foot and turning. 

Stay tuned to see how things go from here.  It looks like I won't be trialing much at all this summer. 

Feisty Files Update

It is time for another chapter in the "Feisty Files"!

As a refresher, in March of 2008 Feisty entered Excellent Standard and JWW.  Since then she has earned 26 Excellent JWW legs (23 MXJ legs) and over 275 MACH points (all from JWW).  She has also earned only 5 Excellent Standard legs.  She earned her AXJ in March of 2008 and her AX in June of 2009. 

In standard the table has been the biggest training issue.  I have spent a lot of time working on proofing her table performance and making it fun.  In February of this year at a USDAA trial she did the table which was situated right next to the ring stewards, timer and scribe as well as a row of people leaning over the railing AND the place where the noisy speaker had been.  Feisty got on the table and went down without any hesitation at all.  I knew we had made a huge breakthrough.  After spending many runs in Standard getting an "E" for training the table (either leaving the ring to a party when she would finally get on it or leaving the ring because she refused to get on it at all, this was a huge victory.

May's TCOTC trial was our first time in Excellent standard in over 6 months.  I was feeling good about her table performance and Jacque Hoye was the judge.  We spent a lot of time working in Jacque's classes to proof her table performance so I thought this would be a good place to begin again.  Feisty did a great table and a great everything else on Saturday to earn her FIRST Excellent B Standard leg in two years!!!!  I was ecstatic!  On Sunday she missed the weave entry which was right before the table.  I made her redo the weaves so we could go to the table.  She got on immediately and went down and we left right away to a huge party.  Perfect way to reward the table!

This past weekend we ran in the BOTC AKC trial.  On Saturday we ran JWW first.  Feisty knocked a bar on jump 2 which is unusual for her but most likely due to the long grass in the ring.  So I went into training mode and did more distance handling than usual at an AKC trial.  I also "left" her in the weaves.  She proceeded to miss the entry and pop out early and it was the next to last obstacle on the course.  If I do this with my other dogs it is not a big deal.  However I had a momentary lapse in memory of which dog I was running here.  Feisty remembers everything and forgets nothing!  Then on our standard run she popped out at pole 10.  I remembered then that I better try it again and she popped out again so I took her off the course.  I know I can't repeat my mistake from JWW and let her go on without weaviing again.  On Sunday she ran JWW and popped out again at pole 10 - and I pulled her off right away.  Then in Standard she took a wrong course into a tunnel when all who watched said that I was turned and calling her in plenty of time for her to come with me.  So we left the course to cut our losses at that point.  Needless to say I was feeling pretty frustrated with myself for having not "fixed" our weaves on rd 1 on Saturday.

So once again Feisty puts me into a position to consider something that I've only ever done with one other dog of mine (Tobie).  I rarely recommend going home and training something between trial days.  For most dogs they are too tired to really be able to process any training at the end of a day of trialing.  For other dogs the adrenaline rush of the trial atmosphere or the stress of the trial scene is ultimately what is interfering with their performance so practice at home is not going to help that.  I decided that I needed to make myself feel better that Feisty could weave 12 poles.  I also realized that she had been practicing on the 24" poles so I should get out the 22" poles and practice with those.  We stopped at the school on the way home and set up the narrower poles.  I used the container of hot dogs as proofing material and placed the container by the 10th poles.  The first time she weaved great right by it - she got hot dogs for it.  Then she realized there were yummy treats in that container.  Then she actually started to pop out to check out the container.  Yippee!  I recreated the problem and I verbally corrected her and asked her to weave again.  She got faster and more excited about weaving and very quickly figured out how to weave past the container to get hot dogs.  Then Pam offered to guard the container and we had it open and by the 10th pole.  Feisty worked through it and got faster and more excited about weaving.  Proofing does help build confidence and speed!!! 

Our Sunday night training paid off!  On Monday Feisty ran two perfectly clean runs to earn her FIRST Double Q - two years after getting into Excellent!!!  It was great!  She took second place behind Pam and Windy in JWW!

It is really hard to run a dog who has as much as potential as she does and is as skilled as she is when she can act so squirrelly at times!  She is also the first dog I've had who is in that very small minority of dogs who exercises her independence.  She has done this in seminars as well in trials where she has made up her own course that does not reflect my handling at all and she has refused to do obstacles by stopping and standing there staring at me.  There have been times when I could tell it was stress related but there are times when she is definitely not stressed.  So any time she is running as a teammate it is a real treat!  She is a very high energy dog who loves to do things with me but everything has to be aligned just right for her to be willing and able to run as a teammate!  She is also the kind of dog who loves to be challenged in her training and does not shut down when she is mentally challenged.  She can be shut down with stress or boredom.  Proofing is mentally challenging for her and she gets into it.

So I finally got the positive reinforcement I needed to keep going with her!  We have had a LONG dry spell!