Friday, November 19, 2010

Tay - the light at the end of the tunnel - literally!

Tay's surgery went well.  The biceps tendon was 80% torn so it was severed in surgery today.  What is amazing to me is that he said it was very badly damaged and he had to do a lot of cleaning in there and yet she only seemed lame to a well trained eye who was really looking for it.  When her activity was restricted it was very hard to tell she was sore.  When her front leg was stretched back there was no apparent pain response.  The only pain response was when the tendon was directly palpated.  When she tried to do agility she would show lameness.  I tried to rest and rehab her twice with no success because the tendon was torn and not just strained as originally thought/hoped.

So often our dogs will be limping briefly and then the limp "goes away" and we assume that the pain is gone and therefore the injury is gone.  This is often not the case.  When our dogs are repeatedly sore after activity is a very likely there is a serious underlying injury causing it.  Soft tissue injuries can be so hard to diagnose.  Dogs are very stoic - part of their survival instinct. 

I took her to the University of Missouri Vet School for the consult and surgery - I explored other options but needed something that would have a doable rehab (no hobbles) and not cost a small fortune.  As some of you know, Tay is a special dog.  She use spinning and pacing as part of her self-calming rituals.  She is prone to worry and anxiety about things that are hard to control like strong odors.  Hobbling her would most likely cause her psychological damage.  Some of my other dogs would handle it fine but not her. The vet there was able to use ultrasound for the diagnostics (not an MRI) and digital x-rays which is much more cost effective.  He had excellent client service and genuine understanding of dogs and totally understood Tay's fears of going to the vet and was very respectful of that.

For the initial consult I had a thundershirt on Tay, had given her valium, had her stone collars on her and left her in the car until they were really ready for her to come in.  I had very high value treats with me too.  When I brought her in the volunteer came over and was really nice to her and talking to her.  Tay actually walked through the double glass doors and walked into the exam room which she rarely does at any vet's office.  In fact she has generalized double glass doors as scary. 

Tay liked the third year vet student (even in her white coat) and without any treats.  The student said "She knows I don't have my degree yet."  Tay licked her face which she does not do at the vet's office. When the surgeon came in Tay was afraid of him and he was great - no white coat, very soft in his approach and met her on her terms.  He got on the floor with her and was very gentle. She still was afraid.  I said "she knows he has his degree" and he said "I have no doubt she knows :)"  Even the second day Tay still really liked the student so that made me feel good because Tay was not too happy about being there.

The next day when I had to drop her off for surgery I thought she'd be in the waiting room for just a few minutes and they'd come and get her.  I couldn't give her any food and I didn't have any thing on her since I thought she wouldn't have to wait long.  As it turned out we had to wait 40 minutes because everyone was busy in surgery.  Fortunately the waiting room was really quiet and I did lots and lots of T-Touch on her.  It was all I had.  After about 15 minutes her breathing slowed and she laid on the bench next to me.  That is huge for her at the vet hospital. It is good to have a variety of stress relieving tools available.

Over the years with all of the different stress issues I've had with dogs I carry lots of "tools" in my toolbox because I never know what I will need.  I highly recommend learning T-Touch - it came in handy for me when I could not use anything else to help calm her down.   It took about 15 minutes before she calmed down.  Thundershirts are based on concepts from T-Touch body wraps.

Anyway all of this has given me a lot to think about.  The surgeon thinks it was a "jump down" injury and not a repetitive or turn injury and probably happened when the tendon was luxated.  Very plausible given that Tay is obsessed about jumping into chairs (thanks to Leslie Renaud's idea to give stressed dogs a place to go at trials!) and she has a "running" aframe which when she is excited can be more of a leaping aframe - usually not over the yellow but more of a leap off than a striding off.  "Running" contacts can be injurious too.  Tay's tendon was luxated in the surgery and the surgeon can't be sure whether it was luxated before it was injured or not.  However she has sporadic lameness on the other shoulder which is not typical with biceps tendons.  Usually only the dominant leg is affected with a biceps injury UNLESS they are genetically predisposed to luxating tendons.  That means the tendon rolls out of place and makes it more prone to injury.  I am contemplating having him scope the right shoulder to see if that tendon is luxated and if it is then he can "tack" it down to hold it in place.  He scoped both elbows and ultrasounded both shoulders and the right shoulder tendon looks to be in good shape and no sign of problems in the right elbow.  She is painful in both elbows so the concern is where is that pain coming from in the right leg.  I have a follow-up appointment in Missouri in January and I'm leaning towards having him check out her right leg at that time just to be sure.

In the meantime we have lots of leash walks ahead of us.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day 2 - Lemonade has been served!

Today was a much better day on the Feisty roller coaster ride! She demonstrated that she does in fact love agility and she is starting to love it more and more in public.  She ran two perfect runs today and ran them well enough to earn 2nd place in both runs!

Her first run was JWW and it was jump weaves for the start - not a very fast start for us and she was a bit cautious the first third of the course.  But then she turned on the afterburners and she was back!  It was a blast!  We ran in the morning today and there were a lot more people around the rings so much more background noise to drown out the clicking of cameras.

For Standard - always our hardest class - the table was in the exact same place it was yesterday.  It was a tough course for her with an off course tunnel at the end of the dogwalk and needing to turn a sharp right turn to a jump instead.  All of our hard obstacles were done by the time we got to the table.  After the table it was a fast sequence of jumps, tunnels and aframe - all of which are fun and easy for us.  Feisty was ready to run when I got her out for standard.  I had lots of time to let her hang out with me and I massaged her a bit while we waited.  She was up and happy and we did our usual obedience warm-up routine.  Then about two seconds before we entered the ring she put her tail down and tried to pull me away from the ring.  I immediately scooped her up and did something I rarely do with her - I blew in her face.  She hates it but it served to distract her.  Then I goosed her in my arms and kept talking to her about how great she is and how it is just the two of us out there.  This course also required walking into the middle - yes the middle - of the ring to start and we started from the middle going out toward the crowd but it was a tunnel there.  So by the time we walked out there she was squirming (good sign!) and I took her leash off and then put her down and didn't ask for a stay.  We just took off running and she flew!!!  I had to call her name a lot after the dogwalk but she came with me.  She did a great table down and then part way through the count stood up and shook (I am VERY glad for the new rules where no position is required on the table!) but she stayed on it until the "go".  Then we flew!  It was a blast of a run!

So I actually feel this double Q today is a personal Q because it shows we (Feisty especially) have come a long way where we can recover from a horrible experience one day to run spectacularly the next day.  That is huge progress since three years ago that would not have happened.  It also shows that I have done my homework with her and banked enough positive experiences in agility that today she was able to draw upon them and trust me.  She started to shut down right before the run and I was able to think on my feet and jazz her up and go with it. I was worried that yesterday she felt a violation of trust but fortunately for me I think she thought "God" or the "sky" was falling and it had nothing to do with me or agility (PHEW!!!!!!!).  It is also a really good thing and example that dogs do NOT generalize well. 

One day I'm crying with frustration and literally the next day crying with joy - all with the same little grey dog!  For me the more they challenge me the more they reward me!  She keeps me on my toes and keeps me thinking all the time!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Trying hard to make lemonade today

I had one of the hardest agility trialing days I've had since I retired Tobie.  That may sound surprising given the ups and downs Feisty and have over the last 4 years.  However today I had a melt down.

What brought me to that point?  Well I'm in St. Louis trialing in a place that none of my dogs have been to before.  We have done a lot of road trips recently and they are getting into the routine of these pretty well.  Today we started with Ex JWW and I ran Sinco first.  She had a nice run but missed her weave entry in spite of my collecting to help her.  No biggie.  Then Spring ran and he popped out of pole 10 and so I had him redo them and did them all and we left the ring to a party right away.  No biggie.  Then Feisty had her turn.  I wanted to warm her up a the warm up jump located between the two rings so she could feel the energy in the arena.  While waiting for the jump she went from tail up and happy to tail tucked and shivering and not wanting to move.  She did this once before a couple of weeks ago and I got her over it but never figured out what caused it.  This time I left the area immediately and went to my crating space and got the high value treats out.  We worked on tricks and waited by the start gate and her tail came up and she looked ok again.  I figured it would be like last time - she'd work through it.

Well we went to the start line and as soon as I took off the leash she wanted to leave the ring.  I tried a couple of times to get her to come with me and finally said "thank you" and we left the ring.  I had no idea what caused it.  I called Pam and asked her to do some healing touch long distance for her.  I kept her out and let her walk around outside to shake it off.  I assumed it was bad vibes.  So I had downtime before our next run.  There were only a few dogs left in the JWW ring and most of the people were over by the other ring.  I walked Feisty around the outside of the JWW ring.  The only place she freaked was where the only person was - the photographer.  I tried to give her treats close to him.  Then I had a flashback to the summer.

This summer I was taking lots of photos of puppies and she was around one time when the flash was going off.  She obviously thought it was lightning and she looked like she did during a thunderstorm.  The thunder never came.  I didn't worry much about it and I thought it was just the flash and eventually she'd realize that no thunder followed. 

Well I decided to test my theory and we got a bunch of high value treats and went out to the van where I had my camera.  She likes to get in the van so that is a happy place. I got the camera out and clicked and she immediately froze up and wouldn't eat treats.  BINGO!  The interesting thing is that she is so convinced it is coming from sky that she is not afraid of the camera when it is quiet.  She has made NO association between the camera and the noise. 

So I started to formulate a plan for the standard run.  I talked to the photographer and asked him if he would please not take any pictures of any of my dogs because I had one who is very afraid of the camera click.  I was wearing a blue tie-dyed shirt so I thought he could remember me.  He said he would and he understood.  I kept a careful eye on him and he left the standard ring and went over the far side of the JWW ring.  I thought - great!  I ran Sinco and she missed the weaves again - hmmm...  Then it was Feisty's turn.  Still no photographer at the ring and we had a good spot on the far side.  We hung out and she was relaxed and happy.  About 5 dogs before us the photographer came back to the standard ring.  Well I still was not concerned because I had asked him not to shoot us and I kept Feisty out of range of the sound as long as possible.  I took my time setting up so the photographer would be ready. 

My plan was that if Feisty was squirrely I'd do one obstacle and leave.  If she was a bit squirrely but running I'd skip the table and keep going.  She started out on fire - she was fast, nailed the weaves, and so I went for the table.  The photographer was about 20 feet from the table.  As I released her from the table he clicked the camera and Feisty scooted around the chute - the next obstacle and I looked over at him and he was shooting her.  I said "Please stop taking pictures of her!" - by that point Feisty was half way to the exit which was directly opposite of the camera.  I was furious.  All of the work I've done with the table and to have this happen.  The melt down began.  I thought I was managing the situation as best I can given that have NO time to work on it.  Yes I realize it is a training issue but taking photos is optional.

So I recovered from my melt down and walked her around the rings - by this time most of the people were gone.  She seemed fine and happy.  She really treats the click sound like thunder and once it is gone she does fine.  Hopefully I can get the photographer to remember tomorrow to not photograph her.  

So I thought I could work on a bit in the hotel room.  I have her stone collar, a thundershirt, and beef liver (stopped at a pet store for some even better treats).  I have a business suite room since I have to be here for four days.  Even across the room 20-25 feet distance and she can't tolerate the click.  Even not having had dinner she was not hungry enough to work through it.  Again she likes the quiet camera just fine. 

There will be no portrait shoots for Feisty anytime soon.  If I could just show her that it is coming from the camera and not the sky she would be fine with it.  She is fine with clickers - for awhile I thought maybe the Iclick bothered her but it doesn't.  She is not bothered by any other types of clicks.

It is so disappointing to me because she had been running better than she ever has at trials and now to have a setback like this and something new to have to train/proof her for.  I am at a bit of a loss of how to begin with it but I think I will have to have someone else help and hold the camera 50 plus feet away - find a point where it clicks but she doesn't immediately go over threshold. 

Keep your fingers crossed that this has not added a new problem for the table!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rambling thoughts on training

Poisoned cues and Names...

I've mentioned in previous posts how I had created the word "teeter" as a poisoned cue for Sinco's teeter performance 2-3 years ago.  I had to retrain her teeter for the third or fourth time and finally realized that if I changed the name to "bang it" she was much happier about doing the teeter.  I think she is finally over it now but it took awhile and she would avoid it or do it slowly if I forgot and said "teeter" - the cue I use for all the other dogs.  I do try to remember to say "bang it." 

Anyway the poisoned cue concept has reared its ugly head again.  I am having another mysterious training issue (I seem to get these with each and every dog I train!) and I am having trouble getting Spring to come when called in many different situations including at home as well as in training or trialing.  This is a life issue.  Jane Fallander watched me with Spring a couple of weeks ago to help me figure out what was wrong.  If I said "go leash" he would come happily to me and put his head in the loop of the leash.  If I said "Springy" or "Springaling" he would scoot AWAY from me.  If I show him the money by letting him know I have treat in my hand he would come back but he would not come without me showing him the money.  However he would do agility obstacles or go to his leash without showing him the money.  So the "aha" happened that his name has become a "poisoned cue" and no longer means what I want it to mean. 

He is a puzzle because he does like to be petted, to be held, he loves his neck and head scratched and his butt scratched and he likes to play hand games. He is not like some Shelties who don't like to be touched. He really likes the touch.  I've seen many Shelties (and many other breeds and mixed breeds) cower when the owner reaches toward them.  While we may like to hug and pet our dogs there are many dogs out there who really detest the hugging and petting.  Spring is not one of those dogs.  He relaxes and sits on my lap very often.  I never force dogs to snuggle with me.  If they choose to do so then great but if they want to be off by themselves that is fine too  and I don't take it personally (I've had Border Collies...).

So I've started to teach him "Bungee" means come to me and is his "training/trialing name".  It is not yet ready for prime-time but it is in the works.  He seems to really like the name and is coming to it without first seeing a treat is present. 

How the cue got poisoned is pretty clear.  While I love this dog he pushes my buttons more than any other dog I've ever owned.  He barks and spins right in front me in the hallway or at meal time or trying to get him to go somewhere.  I've almost fallen over him many times.  I spent awhile making him walk on leash down the hallway to go outside to help him stop the behavior.  I can try to reward an alternate behavior but it very much has to be lured since it is hardwired for him to do the bark and spin routine.  I don't think he is truly aware of what he is doing.  So as a result I've said his name "Spring" in vain many times and have probably used a harsher tone with his name which caused it to become a poisoned cue.  Usually I'm very careful how I use my dog's name especially as puppies to avoid that.  But like I said he pushes my buttons which causes me to forget my training rules!

Now I'm in the process of analyzing his perplexing table issues.  I seem to be plagued with table issues in agility these days.  I think in large part it is the one obstacle that is not offered at the trials where training in the ring is allowed (ASCA and NADAC) so I can't fix it there like I can most other obstacle/trial training issues.  I have also done CPE with him where I can't spend extra time having him stay on the table.  Spring has developed a tendency to bounce on and off and on and off and on and off the table at AKC trials.  I've been working on proofing it with people around it and people running dogs around it.  He doesn't appear to be stressed or worried about the judge.  I wondered if it was the judge but lately that doesn't seem to be it.  I have a hard time collecting him again - his name is a poisoned cue.  Again he is pushing my buttons on the table so I have to work hard to have my happy face on while I try to collect him to leave the ring.  I've planned table parties for him many times but he has yet to get on the table and stay there for more than a nanosecond since he entered Excellent A.  So the problem was not always there - it is new and getting worse.  Now the word "Table" may be a poisoned cue except that in training he gets on it just fine whereas his name as a cue didn't work in ANY location. 

I have tried to vary my position relative to the table to try to get success.  He has had lots of table rewards in training.  He is not a sensitive dog, he is very stoic and he is very tough.  He thinks very highly of himself and is more cocky than confident right now.  He has learned that I can't do much about what he does on the table at trials. He is ring-wise about the table at trials.  I've trained in the ring at ASCA trials with him with the other obstacles but they don't have the table on their courses.  There are not enough run thrus at convenient times/days to be able to work through it there.  At this point I don't really have a game plan for how to address the problem.  It is one I have not ever seen other dogs do at trials to the degree that he does it nor have I seen student's dogs do it.  It is a new behavioral problem for me.  Lucky me :)

Traveling and perspectives on training...

It has been a few years since I've had dogs ready to take "on the road" to trials outside of Minnesota.  This Fall I've been trialing in Iowa and Wisconsin and soon to Missouri in the hunt to qualify for AKC Nationals.  We are really fortunate here in Minnesota to have a canine massage therapist at almost every one of our trials.  In other parts of the country it is rare or even unheard of to have a massage therapist at a trial.  As a result participants are still not as aware of how much physical well-being is affecting their dog's agility performance.  Here in Minnesota we are getting trained to "rule out the physical" when a performance problem develops especially with weaves and jumping. 

We are also spoiled by the high quality of agility equipment we have at most of the area trials.  In Minnesota we are cutting edge with more of our clubs/groups getting rubber on the contacts, smaller slats on contacts, safer jumps, tunnel bag tunnel holders and 24" weave poles.  I lived in Wisconsin until 1993 and started my agility training there and for most of the 1990s went back to Wisconsin for trials.  I was surprised to see one of the clubs still has equipment that is from the 1990s and has not updated their jumps or contacts.  I'm very grateful to live in an agility community where we strive to keep the equipment safe and updated for the sake of the dogs safety and well-being.

Agility Foundations thoughts...

I'm so excited that we have so many puppies up and coming here at Agile Canines.  It seems to be a cycle every three years or so when many of us have puppies at the same time.  I am always striving to improve the foundation training for the puppies and those older dogs new to agility.  Jane Fallander has been incredibly patient as I've tried to train her in for how to work with agility students and how to best prepare their pups for performance sports.  She is an excellent clicker trainer and has taught students how to shape behaviors and use the clicker effectively which is something that I value in my training program.  I've been teaching her how to teach my favorite agility training games like "Ready-steady" and "Ready 1-2-3" which can be challenging to teach.  However because she has more time available we are able to get more puppies started and that has been very good.  This is the first year of trying our program this way and there will be "growing pains" and revisions made.  But the first group of "novice a" students - those who have never done agility before that graduated from Jane's classes are excelling and progressing so rapidly through agility foundations that I'm really encouraged by our program.

I'm discovering too that while agility foundations is something that has become a jargon term in the agility arena and it talked about a lot on various agility training lists and in various magazines it seems that it is still not actually taught at many schools.  I've recently had students come to me for training who started in agility in other parts of the country such as Chicago, Colorado, Arizona as well as other parts of Minnesota.  I always want to know how they started their dogs in agility.

The skills I want dogs and handlers to have before starting agility foundations are the following:

Dog management skills - able to get the dog in and out of doors without the dog lunging at the end of the leash and able to protect dog from dog running loose off leash.
Loose leash walking
Send to a target (plastic lid)
Send and stay on a mat
Able to be in a crate quietly during class
Able to play with toys and take treats with distractions
Able to stay and do a recall with distractions
"Ready" games
Able to shape new behaviors with a clicker easily

You will see NO tunnels are listed.

The skills I teach in agility foundations:

Front and rear crosses
"Out" and "Go"
Start of contact training with a board
Teeter games
Serpentines, pinwheels, boxes, 270s, threadles and straight lines with hoops
Lead outs
Running with the handler with acceleration and deceleration cues
Puppy jump chutes

You will see no tunnels are listed.

Note: I teach tunnels near the end of the beginning agility obstacles so dogs learn to love other obstacles first and also because I feel that curved tunnels are slippery and can cause injury to young developing dogs as well as adult dogs!

Most of the foundations exercises are for the handlers as much as for the dogs.

Running Contacts or Two on - Two off?

I teach all of my students how to train a two on two off with a board they can use at home.  I feel that regardless of how their contact behavior ends up the process of teaching this the unique way that I do it really develops rear-end awareness in the dogs.  This awareness I feel is invaluable for agility dogs. 

Then as the puppies become fully developed and the handlers assess their physical condition I discuss with each one about the pros and cons of running contacts versus two on two off contacts.   Choices are based on size, structure, ability of the dog and the physical ability of the handler.  Keeping up with a running dogwalk can be very difficult.  It is possible to have one criteria for the dogwalk and a different one for the aframe which many of my students have done successfully.  Some of my students have tried the running contacts and found it to really have pit falls and have opted to return to a two on two off which is easy to do since the dogs were taught that on a board initially.  Others have opted for what I call a "modified running contact" after a couple of years of doing a two on two off they introduce a "quick release" on the contact.  This can be very effective for a running contact and still have the independent performance desired.

Training a "true" running contact that has no sign of deceleration in it on the part of the dog, that hits the yellow zone consistently every time requires hundreds of repetitions.  The aframe is usually a bit easier than the dogwalk.  While it may on the surface seem easier than a two on two off it is really based on muscle memory and getting the dog to have the same speed and striding each and every time over the contact is much more difficult than it appears. 

Dogs taught a two on two off actually need FEWER repetitions on the contacts to train and maintain the behavior than those doing a running contact.  When a trainer is consistent the dog will actually do fewer contact performances for a two on two off.  I do get concerned about the impact of a two on two off on the aframe for many breeds of dogs and yet a running contact may be very difficult to achieve.  I encourage my students to do as few aframes as possible when they have the desired behavior and have a two on two off.  I have one dog now who does a two on and two off and she has done far fewer aframes in her lifetime compared to my Sheltie and Pyr Shep who have running aframes and have needed lots of reps.  I also will try to avoid the aframe in gamblers if I can and places where I can avoid it I will to minimize the frequency of impact.  I also am careful about the surface I run my dogs on. 

As an aside, more dogs are being injured in curved tunnels and poorly timed/cued turns on jumps but the injury often shows itself on the aframe or weave poles but may have occurred elsewhere.  I have a dog with a running aframe - never been asked to stop and she has a shoulder injury that most likely happened on a slippery turn between jumps or in a curved tunnel.  Tunnels are much more slippery than many realize.  But the aframe is often the one blamed for shoulder injuries when the turns are more hazardous.

Enough of my rambling thoughts from the last few weeks!