Monday, December 31, 2012

Phobias in dogs

Feisty, my Pyrenean Shepherd, developed an unexplained fear of camera clicks about two and a half years ago.  I first realized it about a two years ago.  When I realized what was causing her to completely freeze and tremble I did some brainstorming.  Something I just now learned Patricia McConnell recommends.  I wrote down everything I could think of that might have contributed to the fear.  I worked it back to the litter of puppies I had raised six months earlier and the flash photos I took of them when they were really little and their eyes were not open.  I then speculated that the flash of the camera looked like lightning and Feisty's fear of lightning that was tied to thunder, now had been classically conditioned to camera clicks.  Since I didn't realize it was happening at the time and it was about six months later before I put it all together I was not able to do an immediate intervention.

I've begun to ponder this again and look up my old resources from my days of studying psychology because today I discovered that the phobia has spread to include the sound of the "i-click" clicker - the softer clicker noise.  I have at times noticed that some people's mouth clicks stress her slightly.  I had hoped it would not spread to the clicker which is used a lot at our training school and where she spends most of her days with me.

I think back to a seminar with Suzanne Clothier many years ago where she talks about phobias in dogs and how difficult these pathological fears can be to overcome.  In re-reading psychological literature written for humans it becomes clear why it is so hard.  In humans classical conditioning is often used to desensitize humans to a fear of something.  Humans can visualize what they are afraid of - they can start mentally at a very low level of fear/arousal.  It is much harder with dogs to get to that low level.  I have tried using a CD that has camera clicks on it and turning the volume down as low as it goes.  The problem is that in her mind it goes from 0 to 100 in intensity no matter how gradually I try to increase the volume.  There is almost no in between state in terms of volume.  She can hear a camera click at 100 plus feet - the length of an agility ring with background noise around her.  

I have a phobia too, I have a fear of heights.  I can recreate some level of fear just by visualizing being at the edge of cliff, or watching a movie at the edge of a cliff or even looking at a picture from the edge of a cliff.  Pictures from hang gliding are the worst for me.  Yet I can sit in an airplane and look out the window and I just love that.  But when I'm even in a low level of fear no amount of my favorite food paired with that image will change my association.  No amount of verbal rationalization can change my perception.  So I can understand why this approach does not work well with Feisty either.

It would not be such a problem except that there are now photographers around every agility ring at every trial, especially national events.  Only if the background noise is really loud and intense or it is really windy can she function.  I often will yell cues loudly and talk loudly to her when we go past a photographer when we are running.  I often try to ask them to not take pictures of her but I can't always arrange that.  If she freezes I just pick her up and carry her.  If she keeps running past them and doing agility I don't fix anything and just let her keep running.

Now that her fear has spread to the sound of a soft clicker it can make things even more complicated.  It is hard for others who do not have a dog like this to appreciate how debilitating these fears can be.  Unless you have lived with a dog like this and tried to work through it you really have no idea how difficult it is.  I have tried essential oils and rescue remedy and herbal calming tablets.    My next recourse would be to give her anti-anxiety medications however those produce drowsiness and can interfere with safe functioning while running agility courses.  If it were a fear of thunder and we are at home trying to sleep through a late night storm then drugs would be perfect.  But in the case of this kind of phobia it comes up at agility trials and training.  I could switch activities but there are photographers present at almost every sport including more and more at obedience which is her other favorite activity.  I could opt to not trial her and that is always an option.  However when she is not afraid she runs like the wind and she truly looks like she loves it.

On the positive side, she is not as bothered by the flash from the camera on my phone which I can totally silence.  I don't take it for granted and we have a huge happy party anytime it is on and I take a picture with her around.  Usually I try to put her away so she doesn't have to deal with it.  So I am now contemplating what is next for her.  I have downloaded the music from Through a Dog's Ear that I learned about from Patricia McConnell and may try that with her for some calming background music.

It is never a dull moment when you own a Pyr shep!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Wow, it has been a long time since I've blogged!  I've had a lot of posts in my mind over the months.  Now on this wintry day where I'm house-bound it seems like a good time to catch up!

I have had a lot to reflect on during the last week.  Many hopes and dreams have dried up this past week.  After spending almost every weekend from Jan - June trialing in AKC to keep Sinco and Feisty in the top 5 for their breeds so we could go do the AKC Agility Invitational next weekend, it seems like it was not meant to be.  First my knee got progressively worse with all of the trialing and there were many decisions about when and what surgery to have.  A surgery in July to remove torn meniscus only revealed how bad the bone on bone is on the inside half of my knee.  It seems to have been trauma related because the outside half of my knee is in great shape and my other knee is fine.   I was a passenger in a car accident in my 20s where my knee hit the dashboard and swelled up immediately.  I decided to withdraw from the NADAC Championships that were at the end of September because I felt like I was not well enough to run that many long courses with two dogs over a week's time.  I had gotten out of shape with the knee surgery and inability to fully use my knee.  This was a big disappointment to me.

Now I had to decide about the AKC Invitational in December.  I felt that may be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.  I went back and forth about whether to have surgery for knee replacement before or after the Invitational.  I opted for after and opted for hyaluronic acid injections beforehand to help provide some cushion and reduce the pain.  They helped more than I realized for awhile.  I started those at the end of August.   On Labor Day I sprained my left ankle badly rolling it off a curb while carrying metal crates.  I have never sprained an ankle like that before.  Fortunately the ligament went back into place on its own the next day but the pain and swelling persisted.  I was lacking stability now on both legs.  In October I started physical therapy for both my knee and ankle I needed strengthening if I was going to run in December and to help my recover after my surgery.  It helped a lot, I am able to straighten my legs, I have better balance and have been able to build back muscle I was losing. I also started weekly chiropractic adjustments to help keep me aligned which has helped a lot too.  I use the Medi-pro red light on my left ankle and foot quite a bit.  My surgery was scheduled for Dec. 20th just two days after returning from the Invitational.  I want to be able to run at AKC Nationals in March.
On Nov. 20 I felt my knee twinge while herding.  The hyaluronic acid injections that had helped suddenly wore off and fluid filled my calf within hours and then was gone.  The pain doubled in intensity in my knee almost immediately. 

Also in mid-November Sinco hurt her wrist and toes presumably while killing a large rabbit in the backyard.  Tuesday this week, after a month of having her take it easy and lots of laser and medi-pro red light on the front feet we tried to do a little agility.  She seemed full of energy and really ready to go, no sign of soreness when her feet were palpated and she was running in the yard with no sign of pain.  However she held up her right front foot almost immediately after doing a pinwheel of jumps.  She showed more pain there than she had the whole month before. That was it, the decision was made to not go to the Invitational.  I was heart broken and yet I had been feeling signs over the last six months that we were not meant to go.  Since Tuesday we have not been able to find pain in her toes.  She will start wearing a boot on that foot and having a healing magnet on that foot when she is resting.  I have also started her on a course of Doxy in case it is a case of Lyme's.  She has never tested positive for it but I have had enough dogs with tick borne illnesses to know that the symptoms come in many forms.  Doxy is a pretty safe antibiotic and I always have a lot on hand from past experience.  Trying to cover all the bases.  The boot should arrive Monday and I can see if she will acclimate to it and be able to resume normal activity with it.  She and I will rehab together it seems.  Fortunately I won't be able to do much so if we have to rehab her it is better when I'm rehabbing also.

I had early on chosen not to enter Feisty in the Invitational even though she had qualified.  I had heard there would be a lot of photographers - more than even at a nationals.  Feisty's fear of camera clicks would paralyze her there if that is the case. That would stress her out too much.  She loves to run in front of a crowd if they are far away in a stadium/coliseum type setting like when she ran at NADAC Championships in Springfield IL.  But this would be much closer quarters and would be much more stressful for her. So I did not enter her.  It turns out that was a good choice because yesterday she ruptured an anal gland and had to have emergency surgery.  She cannot do agility for 10-14 days.  I am not sure whether the Universe didn't get the message that she was not entered at the Invitational...

Not being able to go doesn't take anything away from both dogs being #3 for their breed from 2011-2012.  I'm very proud of our accomplishments.  It was hard work, especially to be there with an Australian Shepherd.  While I was looking forward to seeing a variety of breeds and the best agility dogs of those breeds compete and to be with friends and students who were also going, I must admit I am a bit relieved.  I was worried how well I would be able to run and whether Pam would have to run her for me.  I think the universe has been trying to tell me that we are not where we need to be to do this now and I try hard to listen to my intuition and to what the universe tells me.  Sometimes the universe has to get out a 2 x 4 and hit me over the head but I do try to avoid those kind of lessons.

My intuition has served me well over the years with business decisions as well as personal decisions.  Whenever I procrastinate on something there is almost always a really good reason for doing so.  Other times when I rush into something it is almost always the right time to rush into it.  There are times when overcoming obstacles is the right thing to do and I find I can do that with patience and planning if I am meant to overcome them.  Sometimes I am meant to go around them and sometimes I am meant to go in a different direction.  When I am faced with large obstacles I do stop and take my time to see what feels like the right path to take.  

I have also learned that I need to stop and take time for myself.  This is a hard one.  I am fortunate to be able to do work I truly love.  I love helping people have more fun with their dogs, helping them learn more about a sport to do with their dogs and seeing them achieve their goals.  Whether they want to compete or not, if my students really want to learn and try hard that is what is rewarding for me.  

But I know that I need to do things for me to help me recharge my batteries and do other things I enjoy.  Being able to go on a cruise to Alaska this fall and to be able to take hundreds of photographs was truly a fun escape for me.  I got to rediscover my favorite non-dog hobby of photography.  I am now trying to find my winter boots so I can see about taking some photos of the winter wonderland.

I have not had a day like today where it is just me and the dogs and I don't have to be anywhere all day long in a very long time.  Trialing every weekend to make a goal was fun to a degree but it was a lot of time away from home and family and a lot of time on the road because I had to travel to Chicago, Omaha, Des Moines and other places where I could be sure I would get into the trial and where the running surface was good for all of us.  It was fun to see people I haven't seen in years and to watch teams I rarely get to see.  We won't be able to go next year because I have hardly trialed at all in AKC this year, hardly trialed at all period and I have knee replacement surgery coming up.  But maybe the year after that and maybe with Carmine or maybe not.  We will see.  I will let my intuition guide me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Training in the ring - using it effectively

Having just been to a couple of NADAC trials in the last couple of weeks, I have had a number of students ask me at the trial "what should I do if _____ (dog's name) does _____ (misses contact, misses weaves, doesn't stay  - fill in the blank)?"  I found my answer is almost always the same:  "what have you tried already in a trial setting and how did that work?" 

I always want to know what if anything has been tried and how it worked.  Often I do know the answer but I like to hear my student articulate it.  In classes when students are getting ready to trial we often talk about training in the ring options with NADAC, ASCA and UKI.  So often "training in the ring" is associated only with punitive consequences for dogs who do not perform the desired criteria.  However I encourage a lot of training in the ring for positive motivational purposes.

To use training in the ring effectively you want to have a plan before you step to the start line for the "what if _____" scenario.  My long time students know this and will often discuss this with me before their runs.  I think this can be invaluable.  I encourage students to keep a log of some sort so they can track their progress.

Now there are almost as many possible plans available as there are dogs and handlers.  When discussing a training in the ring strategy for a situation with a dog who may break a start line, miss a contact or miss a weave entrance,  I will ask my students "what is the lowest level of correction you can give your dog and still be effective?"  Usually I know the dogs pretty well by this point and have some thoughts.  While some will tell you that you want to make a punishment strong enough so it never has to be given again I will argue that in a trial setting there is a level of stress on the dog already.  I will never start at the highest level of correction (which is a time-out) but start at a lower level.  We are not perfect and sometimes I still have started at too high level (like Oops!") was too much under stress for some dogs.  Other dogs that is of no consequence to them.  

My favorite personal story of training in the ring was when Sinco was just starting out.  She launched an aframe contact at an ASCA trial.  I marked it and made her come back and repeated the sequence before it and asked for it.   She stopped perfectly.  I praised her and then made a big loop of obstacles out to the exit (didn't attempt the rest of the course).  As she saw us approaching the exit she took off away from me and ran over to the aframe (at least 50 feet away) and ran up and stopped in a perfect two on two off.  She was trying so hard to convince me that she knew what I wanted and she really could do it.  I was so proud of her and if I had tried to stop her at that moment I would have shut her down.  She never ran off like that before so I knew she had something on her mind.  I want my dogs thinking out on the course.  I learned too at that moment that she would never need much of a correction and she has very rarely made a mistake like that since then.  

While I have a lot of individual variation with how to execute training in the ring, I do have a few hard and fast rules about training in the ring (and in class).  This applies to NADAC, ASCA and UKI.

1.  I never ever let my dogs get on the down ramp and put themselves in to the two on two off.  That is not a correction (the dog is doing what they know how to do and have been doing since they were puppies - I no longer want that behavior by the time we are trialing). I redo the entire obstacle.
2.  If I can repeat the sequence before the contact with speed I want to do it - it is usually the speed that "kills" the behavior.  I know my dogs can do it from a standstill.  The test is can you do with speed in a trial setting.  
3.  With weave entrances it is crucial to get the speed and angle when training in the ring.  Doing just one obstacle before it will not generate the same speed as you had when the dog missed it.  Even if I have to create my own set of obstacles in to it for flow and speed I will.  i know my dog can weave from a standstill - but that is not how they need to weave at a trial.  They need to weave with full speed heading into them. 
4.  I NEVER mark in any way shape or form a missed weave entrance if the dog is in the act of weaving.  I have learned over the years that this can be the single biggest cause of weave pole stress in dogs.  Our timing will never be perfect enough to mark the missed entrance and a negative marker when a dog is weaving can set you back a lot.
5.  I try never to pull a dog out of the poles when weaving - missed entrance or not.  I want them to learn to always go to the end of the poles.  We can go back to the beginning.  If we don't Q because of it I don't care - It is too easy to shake a dog's confidence on the weave poles.  
6.  When working through some behavior that I've had to use some form of correction in a trial setting I will use positive verbal markers when they do it right like "yes!" Very often if they do something right the first time in a trial and it has been a struggle to get there I will leave the ring to a "party" - high value reward of whatever the dog likes.
7.  ONLY train ONE behavior per run.  I never try to train more than one obstacle or behavior in a trial run.  It is too confusing to the dog.  I also make sure if I'm training it that I get the desired behavior before leaving the ring or that the dog knows that didn't happen when we leave the ring.  This is why I try to leave the ring happy and doing easy obstacles if needed to get out of the ring so I don't set the team up to fail on the way out of the ring when we ended on a good note.  If we are leaving to a time-out then the dog must stay by my side on the way out and not take any obstacles.

The rules that vary by individual dog and handler team are the following:

1.  The level of correction needed.  To some dogs a slight pause in the action and then going on is enough for them to perform great the next time.  Others need a verbal marker, still others need a down before going on, and others need to repeat the sequence and the obstacle, some need to be taken off the course (I save this when the lower level corrections have been used and found to be ineffective in changing behavior).  With young dogs I prefer a low level correction and then repeating the sequence so I have an opportunity to reward.  I try to leave doing some simple obstacles so I don't have to risk another training moment on the same run.
2.  The number of times needed to make a point.  My personal example is that Sinco learned after one broken start line stay that no more action happened.  She didn't break again for many many months.  Her daughter Carmine on the other hand took four times of leaving the ring on a broken stay before she realized she should stay.  Knock on wood she hasn't broken her start line stay since.  Tobie years ago was so predictable that every three months he would break a start line stay - I could almost predict it on the calendar.
3.  How to create a positive motivational run.  It may involve using a dog's favorite obstacles, may involve starting in the middle of the ring, it may involve letting go of specific criteria for a run or two in order to make being out there a fun time and it may involve just stepping across the ring gates and leaving again.  I did this with Leysha for a time or two when she was so stressed at the start line as a young dog.

Sometimes it is harder if a dog who seems sensitive in class suddenly gets really turned on and high at a trial and becomes a completely different animal.  But these cases are very rare.

Then there is the other side of training in the ring - this side is much more difficult to figure out.  I enjoy the problem solving involved with this and it requires a lot more patience.

I use training in the ring for dogs who are stressed by the trial environment and/or stressed by having to perform in a public setting.  For these dogs it is critical to know the signs of stress in your dog.  The way a dog shows stress varies widely.  Videoing these dogs close up when they are running and then viewing it in slow motion can be very helpful.  This is how I learned that one of my dogs was doing a lot of stress licking in the weave poles.  That told me that he was really stressing about the obstacle and I needed to do whatever I could to reduce his stress about it so he would enjoy doing it and stop trying to avoid it.  When dogs avoid obstacles in a trial but not in training most likely they are stressed about how to do that obstacle in that setting.

This gets complicated because a lot of things can cause this.  Ask yourself these questions when you have a dog who performs very differently in a trial versus training.

1.  Has the dog really learned the obstacle thoroughly in training - the three "Ds" come into play here.  Distance, duration and distractions.  Can the dog in training perform the obstacle with all three of these?  I use a lot of crazy distractions in classes with people, with funny looking things in funny places.  I also do distractions like those found at a trial.   I want the dogs to be able to focus with lots of distractions.  The hope is that the dogs will develop strong mental focus such that when they go to a trial they will be able to focus on the tasks at hand and not succumb to the distractions of a trial.  I make distractions in training harder.  I have found that this builds speed and confidence in the dogs.  I don't like to trial a dog until they can show me they can handle distractions in training.
1 a. A subpart to #1 is that the most important thing about training in the ring is CONSISTENCY!  This seems to be so hard for us and so easy for our dogs.  Our dogs figure out routines and patterns and can stick to them amazingly well.  We have a very hard time requiring the same behavior from our dog's more than once.  We can get into habits ourselves very quickly but we also can accept a lot of variation in behaviors from our dogs and call it "good enough."  Well the dogs know this and know there are no rules and will continue to test the parameters of the behavior and also they will FAIL to learn the desired behavior.  We will think they understand it but what they understand is a LOT of variations of that behavior.  Have a clear picture in your mind of what you want your dog to do and do not deviate from it (unless instructed by your coach to do so).  So be sure you have been consistent in the criteria you have with the dog.
2.  Has the dog had enough exposure to performing alone with the handler in a big ring with people all around?  This is hard for both handler and dog.  I recommend new handlers or handlers with stressed dogs start in classes such as jumpers or tunnelers where they don't have to worry about contacts and weaves and just focus on being out there having fun.
3.  Are you the handler stressed out there?  If so then many dogs will also feel your stress and then become stressed themselves.  If that is the case you will need to find ways to reduce your stress - often I find if the handler focuses on reducing the dog's stress then their own stress will diminish.  There are also many mental management programs available to help handlers overcome ring stress.
4.  Is the dog looking for "mental health breaks" out there?  Visiting ring crew, seeking tunnels and aframes from across the ring, leaving the ring, zooming around the ring, sniffing, avoiding obstacles, trotting or walking through the course or being silly with the obstacles (like jumping on top of a tunnel)?  All of these are ways in which dogs will take a break from the mental stress.  This is why often the dogs will come back after one of these breaks and do a couple more things and then take another break.  I recommend when dogs are doing this that the handlers do only short courses with their dogs.  Make up a course of 4-5 obstacles that takes them easily from start to finish line.  When they can do that well then add another one or two obstacles and build from there.  It make take a few trials.  It is better than trying to push the dog too hard.  There is a fine line between having a dog learn to work though it and shutting a dog down with too much pressure.
5.  Is the dog running slower in the trial than in training? Anytime I have a dog who is not running as fast in a trial as they do in training I do short courses in the trial with them.  I have had dogs like this who are very stressed by the environment.  I don't make the courses longer until they can do short ones fast.  The concept here is that they learn to go fast and the reward (in addition to treats/toys) is to get a release from the stressor quickly.  So they learn they find relief.  Along the way they also build up confidence in their own ability to work through it in short bursts.  It is much harder and takes much more time to do this by making them do an entire course.  In fact many sensitive dogs will get slower and slower and shut down when forced to do long courses under stress.  Dogs like this will get faster on the last one third of the course because they know the relief from the pressure is coming - dogs learn to count obstacles or time out there.  Dogs have a great sense of time and distance.  I want my dogs to be just as fast in the beginning as they are in the end.
6.  Is the handler running the dog the same way at the trial as they do in training?  Very often I see handlers moving closer to contacts and weaves in a trial then they do in class.  The dog is not used to that level of pressure from the handler.  While the handler thinks it helps the dog - the reality is that it changes the picture a lot for the dog and causes confusion.  Videoing runs and training can help a lot to illustrate whether this is happening or not.
7.  Is there a particular aspect of the trial environment causing the stress?  Is it male judges, ring crew, photographers, people with hats, loud voices, buzzers, whistles, clapping, cheering, barking dogs, running dogs, or something else?  It can help in some cases to isolate the source of the stress so you can work through it away from the trial setting.  It can be very hard to isolate a source of stress.  Again close analysis of videos of runs can help this as well as having some attentive friends watch the runs.

I recall talking to Silvia Trkman about ring stress and my Pyr Shep and asking her how she worked through it.  She said in Europe it is not such an issue because in most cases they can turn ANY run into a training run.  So her dogs never learn there is a difference between training and trialing.  I really took that to heart.  While here in the US we have rules against training in the ring in some organizations but so far there are no rules about leaving the course early with a smile on your face because you made a short course with your dog in a stressful place.  I have done this and still often do with my Pyr Shep Feisty.  I leave with a smile on my face and say "Thank you!" as I leave.  That kind of positive motivational training can be done anytime.  I use this a lot of the time for various reasons with all of my dogs.  I think a short motivational run will gain me more in the long run that staying out there pushing my dog harder mentally when very little is to be gained by that.  If I need to build mental stamina - again I can do that in short bursts and gradually ask for more over time. 

The bottom line is this:  I can't ask for it all at once or I will lose more than I will gain every time.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Should I stay or should I go?

Carmine is having to ask herself this question at every run lately.  She has broken her start line stay on about 2/3 of her runs at the past few AKC trials.  I have had to be very clear about it because she is too fast and pushy for me to let it slide.  I started reviewing some videos tonight of runs and I noticed that she has been pushing it even on the ones I thought she was being good.  So I need to do more proofing on my inhales before I say "free" which is when she is leaving instead of after hearing the release word.

I feel strongly that allowing a dog to break a start line stay only causes a run to unravel and often leads to deterioration of contact criteria, weave poles and eventually turns and possibly jumps.  Starts, contacts, turns and weaves all require thoughtfulness, impulse control, and collection.  Breaking a start line stay also allows the dog to be in control of the run and very often it is difficult to keep a dog on course when they are in charge right from the beginning.  Now breaking a start line stay is not the same as making the conscious choice to run with your dog at the start line which I often do with Feisty.  

Today a student of mine asked me if I thought Carmine was understanding the leaving the ring for breaking the start line since I was still having to take her off.  I believe she is understanding it because she seems to recognize the error the minute I look at her and walk off when she breaks.  However  I may have caused some confusion now that I've seen the videos where she has been leaving a nanosecond before my release when I didn't realize it.  That confusion means it will take longer to get the point across and explains in part why it is taking longer than I anticipated.  There is some general rule of thumb that for every mistake it takes three times as long to overcome it.  Today she paused before she left after hearing my release - I thought that was a sign of progress.  She also stayed for both runs today so that is huge progress.  

The second run has been the hardest for her and she goes into the ring barking and wanting to pull on the leash (which I try not to tolerate).  She is higher than a kite which is why staying is so hard for her.  It is hard to have the self-discipline to take her off when I too would really like to run the course.  Normally I would not have a young dog doing this much AKC for several reasons.  One there are the fewer runs per day available which makes it harder for a dog to have a chance to learn from their mistakes such as this.  In USDAA, NADAC, ASCA or CPE there are 4-6 runs a day available and progress can be made faster when training contacts or start line stays in this manner.  Second AKC runs are expensive per run.  Third no training in the ring is allowed in AKC.  Fourth the environment can be more stressful for dogs who are sensitive.  If it weren't for my goals with my other experienced dogs I would not have had her in so many AKC trials at such a young age.  I am looking forward to the NADAC trial this month in order to have better opportunity for training in the ring and I look forward to less trialing in July and August and more focus on training.

While Carmine is definitely driven and excited to do agility to the point where she forgets about impulse control, she is also sensitive.  You can tell when a mistake has happened because she shortens her stride and jumps more vertically.  So she is very much a team player out there and she always leaves the ring by my side and she tries very hard.  I am so proud of her for her two wonderful Jumpers with weaves runs this weekend where she showed me a glimpse of her true potential and she showed me a glimpse of her speed and focus in a trial setting.    I feel so fortunate to have such a fun, driven and sweet canine agility companion.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tables, Teeters, Weaves... oh my!

How often have we heard that "my dog only does X in a trial?"  Well I have been there along with many others.  It can be puzzling and frustrating.  Often I am initially puzzled, then confused, then frustrated and then I begin to analyze it and try to figure out how I will "fix" it.

Recently I have been tested in my resolve to "fix" issues with the table.  Feisty was very affected by judges and ring crew near the table and she would run by it and then refuse to get on it or stop and sniff it and then get on it.  She needed lots of desensitization to pressure around the table.  While Feisty's issues have often been very stress related - she did eventually start to be a bit silly with the table and less stressed. 

Spring would either run past it totally or bounce on and bounce off.   Spring was not at all stressed but he was in part not sure of the criteria and quickly realized I couldn't do much about it.  I found he likes to get into a barking argument with me over things and I learned not to engage in arguments on course with him.  I stopped caring what he did and that took some of the fun out of avoiding things for him. 
 He was more sensitive to my pressure but it took awhile for me to recreate that and figure it out.  I am excited that I am seeing improvement in my two dog's table performances in trials.  I had to think outside the box and be creative in my training and do a lot of observing of runs at trials versus training.   

What did I do?

  1. I first increased the degree of proofing of the table performance.  I had people sit on the table, next to the table, stand over the table, I played CDs of crowds talking, clapping and cheering, I put all kinds of unusual obstacles in the dog's path on the way to the table so the dog had to work to get on the table and I varied my position relative to the table.  
  2. I then looked at videos of the table performance in trials to see what might be different to affect the performance in the ring.
  3. In the case of one dog who was inexplicably avoiding it or launching on and off of it I did several standard runs where I just ran by the table and didn't ask for it at all.  I totally took pressure off of doing the obstacle.  It actually caused him to get on the table and try to get me to come back to it.  Then I knew I was making progress. Then I gradually increased criteria and found if I hung back and sent him ahead to the table he was much more willing to go.  I was crowding him a bit - he didn't care if the judge crowded him. 
  4. In the case of the dog who was avoiding it because the judge was intimidating her I would have her get on the table - no matter how long it took and then immediately leave to a big reward of a favorite treat.  I wanted her to work through her stress of dealing with a judge up close to her.  Sometimes if the judge was away from her and still she would get on it fine.  If we had NQ'd before the table I would leave to a party.  If there were some fun obstacles after the table when she had done it well I would go on.  If there were hard obstacles I would leave early.  I always praised her profusely when she got on the table right away. Often I wouldn't ask her to stay more than a second - release the pressure quickly.  I gradually increased her criteria to being on there for the 5 second count.
  5. In all the cases I gradually increased the criteria and leaving immediately to a reward.  Now I am able to continue the course and the dogs are doing the table well in trial settings.  Often if I have NQ'd before the table I will take the opportunity to jackpot a good table by leaving the ring early to a favorite treat right after the table.  Dogs who like to run agility can be rewarded by going on to more obstacles but be sure they are set up for success.  If they miss a contact or weave and are corrected after doing the table you may undo the work you are doing with the table.  Plan the runs carefully.  I also if I NQ before the table will sometimes make a fun exit of the course and NOT do the table at all.  
I often have students and others ask me about weave pole problems that happen only at trials.  Ever since I adopted the following weave pole training policy I have to say that my own dogs have significantly improved their trial weave pole performance.  I have been doing this for about  10 plus years now.

  1. I try not to ever pull my dogs out of the weave poles when they have missed a weave entrance. I wait for them to come out or finish on their own.  There is no point in trying to negatively mark a missed weave entrance because our timing will be late and 99.9% the dog will be actively weaving when they process the marker word.  Then you see dogs become stressed and worried about weaving. We tend to pull our dogs out of weaves more often at trials than anywhere else because we are worried about time.  Dogs become worried about weaving if this has happened to them a lot.
  2. When training, I  ALWAYS repeat the sequence before the weaves.  I don't want my dogs to ever learn that I could help them collect for the poles by letting them do the weaves from a slowed or stopped position. 
  3. When training weave entries I very quickly move to adding an obstacle before the weaves.  I get myself out of the picture as much as possible when training weave entries.
  4. I use ASCA and NADAC trials to work on this in a trial setting as well as Gamblers, FAST and other classes in other organization where I can repeat a sequence.   My first Border Collie Bradish taught me this - he could not hit a weave entrance in a trial and I would always restart him at the weaves and he quickly learned that he didn't need to be responsible for collecting for the weave entrance.  Once NADAC came along and I could train in the ring and repeat the sequence before the weaves in a trial setting the problem got better.  Now I never let my dogs shirk their responsibility - they always have to collect for the weaves.  
  5. In training weaves I do a lot of proofing with toys, treats and moving items near the poles. I also vary what I'm doing - running backwards, flapping arms, moving sideways, clapping etc.  I also train very hard entrances and exits, front and rear crosses and distance on the poles.  I do all of this very early on in the weave training.  I don't want them to become dependent on me in any way when weaving.  I also put tunnels and jumps within a couple of feet of the exit of the poles as a form of distraction.
The teeter is another difficult obstacle for young dogs when they first start trialing.  Different types of teeters are out there with different tip points and different sounds.  Recently I have had a number of people come to me for help with teeter problems.  I have found the following things when done before teeter training significantly help a dog's confidence when learning the teeter.

Carmine - photo by Neider Arts
  1. Shaping your dog to knock things over to make noise and make them move.  You can teach your dog to shut cupboard doors, dryer doors and drawers.  You can teach your dog to knock over cans and bottles, to bang and walk on cookie sheets, aluminum foil etc.  You are limited only by your imagination of how to develop a dog who is confident enough to make noise.
  2. "Bang it" game is a critical piece of teeter training.  I spend a lot of time teaching young dogs to push the teeter down with their front feet.  I do NOT move on from this until the dog is eagerly pushing it down.  Gently or tentatively pushing it down is not enough.  Time and time again I see dogs with teeter problems have not played this game and even if they know how to do the teeter they are often afraid of this game.  These dogs are often ones who are slow and tentative in their teeter performance too.  I make sure the dogs are learning to both move it and make noise.  If needed I'll put a cookie sheet under it and encourage students with teeters at home to do the same.
  3. I train the teeter with having it low and very gradually raising it.  I don't raise it until I have seen repeatedly fast and eager teeter performance from a dog.  Too often teeters are raised quickly before a dog is really ready for it.  I have all the rewards at the end of the teeter.  I went very slowly with my own puppy on teeter training and I've been known to revisit teeter training with young dogs when they lose confidence - often on a teeter that tips faster than expected or makes more noise on landing than expected.
  4. Exposing young dogs to a variety of teeter types in a training setting is really important to build confidence.  Some teeters tip faster than others and this can startle young/green dogs and cause them to lose confidence.  
  5. If a dog develops a teeter problem in a trial setting I will address this in training and go back to the very beginning of training with bang it games.  More often than not the lack of confidence shows up with this game and confidence can be increased by playing this game.
Last weekend Feisty, my Pyr Shep, who has been worried about many things in a trial setting had a teeter collapse under her in a FAST run.  It went down slowly and quietly and I didn't even know it happened until we came off the course and the ring crew was running out there to fix it!  She has not had any issues with the teeter since.  She kept running fast afterwards - good brave girl!  She is not fond of many teeters especially when judges are hovering.  Her slow teeters are more a factor of how close the judge is when she is doing it and I often have to keep her focused ahead and on me to keep her moving.  If no one is around (as in the above FAST run) she can do it very fast.  In her first year of trialing she knew every teeter she had ever been on and she would sniff a new one as if inspecting it.  Then one day she stopped doing it and will get on any new teeter right away.  I never fussed over her but let her build her confidence at her own pace.  Teeters are a difficult obstacle for young dogs.  

So in sum, when having trouble with an obstacle in a trial - video your trial runs, examine your foundation training of that obstacle including proofing and examine what you are doing differently in a trial compared to training.  Making training scenarios harder than trialing can help a lot and making sure you are not doing something unusual in trials will help too.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reflections on World Team Tryouts

As Kory Kaye said: "It IS much more fun to be on the other side of the plexi-glass" at AKC's World Team Tryouts in Hopkins MN.  I have gone and watched many times and this year I had a dog capable of the speed and technical skills to attend as a participant. We have been lucky to have it be here in Minnesota all these years. In addition this year docked tails were allowed in the hosting country.  My plan was to attend as a participant to see how prepared I am for the courses, how much I like the environment and whether it is something fun to do in the future.  I never really thought I was a candidate for the team.  I wanted the experience.

The first challenge however was to have Sinco measured.  In practice she can measure consistently at 16.75 but when she is excited she can measure as high as 17.75.  In order to compete she had to measure under 16 7/8.  We measured once when we got there and she was a "little high" so we did our practice session on Friday, had a shoulder massage by Michelle Bame and walked a lot.  Then she was measured about six times by three different people.  When three different people measured her at 16.75 we were given the OK but warned if we made the team we had a lot of work to do to get her to measure in consistently.

We had a good practice on Friday.  She did the weaves and had no trouble with the viaduct jump and she was really pretty amped up there.  I was happy with the warm-up.

Saturday was Rd 1 Standard first.  I felt confident that we could do everything on the course.  I had a plan on one section that was unique but it worked well for us.  I had no doubts as to how to handle it.   Sinco and I handled the beginning part of the course well and then 2/3 of the way through the course she popped out of the weaves at pole 10 three times and I moved on to finish the course.  At first I thought it was my handling because it was a hard exit but when I got on the other side of the weaves and she still popped out I realized it was something else.  Yet otherwise she seemed to be feeling ok.  I  had Michelle check her and she was a bit tight in the TL junction so Michelle worked on her before the next run.  

On Rd 2 JWW I again felt confident about my ability to handle the course and the weaves were in an easy exit location so I hoped that she would do them.  I knew we were out of the competitive picture and I was not stressed at the line.  I felt confident that the courses were challenging but they were within my ability to handle them.  I handled the opening well and she did the weaves and I said  "Yay!  Good Girl!" when she did them.  Well that got her really high and I could not keep her on course after that.  So we had a number of off course issues after that and I tried to recover and keep going but she was rather silly and made me smile out there.  When she gets silly like that and starts to lose focus there is not much that can be done to get her back on course!

Michelle checked her and she was given the ok that she was feeling fine. 

On Rd 3 Standard the weaves had a hard entrance and exit but were near the end of the course.  I felt it was a challenging course but I felt confident in my ability to handle it.  We handle the entire course well and I was very pleased.  I got there to the weaves and she got the entrance but could not hold on to it in the weaves.  I finished the course anyway since I knew the weaves were our weakest link.  I was pleased with my handling and how she ran otherwise.

Sunday Sinco checked out ok and ready to go.  The rd 4 was JWW and I was excited to handle it because I felt confident in my plan.  It had a very collected start and then an opening straight line so I thought she would like that.  Sinco was really slow at the start and then didn't open up well on the straight line so I had to ad-lib my handling which is not always good.  It caused an off course and I kept trying to get my dog back but she was not running happily for some reason.  Then she lost her confidence and didn't want to send to a tunnel and I tried to keep going and we recovered at the ending and she did her weaves.  I realized that at that point I needed to do something to get her more excited about running these courses.  She didn't seem to be barking but was more worried.  I think the micromanaging on the opening parts of the courses was getting to her and shutting her down and she didn't trust opening up again.

The weekend before at a local AKC trial I had figured out if I play with her too much before a run she gets too high and loses focus.  Therefore I try to do a more controlled focused warm-up.  That is what I was doing at the try-outs.  But I realized as she was not enjoying the courses I need to try amping her up again.  So I got the toy out again at the warm-up jump and she was doing tight turns to play tug with the toy.  Then she got excited and barked while waiting to run so I was happy to have my dog back.

Rd 5 was Standard and again I felt confident in how to handle it.  It started out tight but she came out of it fast and was sending into tunnels.  She was slow on the aframe and got called for her aframe contact when I released her and she didn't take one more step but leaped off.  I didn't realize it until I was done.  We were in sync handling the rest of the course and our lines were tight.  I missed a tunnel near the end of the course so we again had an E but I was happy my dog was barking and happy on the course again.  So we ended on a good note and as a happy team - both dog and handler.

In summary I enjoyed running those courses and having technical handling challenges.  I am excited to prepare Carmine for these challenges because she is not as much of a worrier as her mother and so I think she will be able to enjoy this kind of competition more than her mother Sinco does.  I'm hooked... 

Sinco enjoys NADAC Championships as does Feisty so we will be going there in October and enjoying every minute of it.  Meanwhile I will still continue to do international style training with Carmine as well as distance training.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Perspective starting again with a novice dog...

I have been traveling out of town to trials a lot lately and staying late to run my novice dog, so I have a lot of time to watch runs by handlers and dogs I don't get to see very often.  It is fun to watch different teams and to watch different handling and training styles.  Often at local trials I don't have as much down time to watch runs because I'm coaching students, helping at the trial or plan to leave early to go do some chore at home.  Being out of town I have nowhere to go but the hotel room so I might as well spend Saturday afternoon watching agility.  It also helps to watch novice dogs just starting out to be reminded of what it is like to start with a green dog. 

It is interesting to watch teams that I don't know where they train, how they train or even who they are.  I watch them objectively and I often think about how I could help them do better if this were a seminar I was giving.  Trial situations are interesting because I know from personal experience that the performance that I may get in familiar training setting will decrease by at least 10% at a local trial.  I also know from personal experience and that of other top handlers and trainers that performance at a national competition will decrease another 10+% because of the stress of the environment.  If you do world competition then anticipate another 10% decrease.  These are really just abstract numbers.  I think the percentages will be higher for dogs who tend to get very excited in trialing environments and very eager to do agility and higher in dogs who are having trouble focusing on agility when in a trial environment.  So I know that you can't and shouldn't judge a team based on how they are trialing because there are so many variables.  When I don't know a team I don't know what their goals are or where they have been already on their journey.  It takes courage to get out there and perform in front of others.  I do watch the dog's demeanor because that is what is fascinating to me and I do see behavior patterns - common elements from dog to dog.  My own novice dog is experiencing that 10% decrease in performance in a trial setting so I am taking note of that so I can focus on those skills in training.

So I know with my own dogs the collection cues I give on a regular trial weekend seemed to be somewhat less effective than in training and the turns are a bit wider.  I've been trying to pay closer attention to this so when I see my dog do tighter turns at a trial so I can positively mark that in hopes of increasing that trend.  Many of us have experienced contact performances disintegrate right before our very eyes in a trial setting.  Now that I've started a little bit of trialing with my novice dog I have seen wider turns at the trial than in training and I've seen some confusion on the contacts.  Carmine stopped two on/two off beautifully with me moving past on the aframe twice on one course.  Unfortunately her criteria is a running aframe and a stop on the dogwalk.  I fully expected the dogwalk to turn into a running one as I've experienced that many times before with other dogs of mine.  She also learned to run narrow boards for a time while I was deciding whether to train a running dogwalk.  I did some proofing of her dogwalk and even did some quick releasing her and then making her stop in training in order to test her focus and understanding.  That training may be helping her stick her dogwalk in a trial.  I need to do more proofing of the running aframe to make it clearer that is what I want.  I was able to get the running aframe on two out of three runs in a trial setting with the aframe.

I rarely start trialing a dog in AKC to the degree I have with Carmine but that is where my focus is with my older dogs and I feel she is ready. So far she has gone two for two in novice standard and two for three in novice jww.  She is also the kind of dog that could develop too much obstacle focus if she stayed in novice too long so I am wanting her to get in and get out of novice.  She is training on more complex sequences but I am still wanting her to know how to extend so we do work on transitions from extension to collection and back to extension.  It is also interesting that I have not done much more than 10-11 obstacle sequences with her  in training so the 14-16 obstacle sequences of novice in a trial are the first ones she has done.  It helps that I am an experienced handler, however I don't try to do an entire course with my dogs in training.  Even if one is setup I almost always will stop somewhere along the way to reward a great performance or to redo something I want to do better. 

The thing I love about teaching is that I get to work with a wide variety of students and dogs so I know there are so many variables that go into creating a successful team in competition.  What works for one team may not work at all for another team or may only work in part.  Sometimes it is a trial and error type of learning which can be frustrating but often it is the only way.  Sometimes it takes a lot of repetitions.  Generally speaking they say you need to do 3 times as many correct repetitions for every incorrect one in order to get the desired behavior solidified.  This is why it is important to address something right away and not let it go on for run after run.  The longer you let it go the harder it will be to fix.  I am on a new journey with Carmine and I need to take notes and keep track of what works and what doesn't work with her.  She is like most dogs, very complicated.  It is extra fun to run a dog that I have literally known since the day she was born.

I enjoy starting out with a novice dog at a time when a lot of my students have young dogs too so it helps me be able to appreciate their challenges in training and trialing and keeps my perspective fresh.  I enjoy watching agility runs because it is an ongoing learning experience for me and tests my observation skills. 

What I've learned...

Many folks doing agility now never saw or met my first agility dogs.  I thought I'd share some of the positive things the dogs in my life have taught me.   Many of us like to say that each dog comes to us to teach us something.  I have been privileged to have had some really great teachers over the course of my time training dogs personally and professionally.    They have given me a broad base of experience and skills.  The provide the basis for my philosophy that dog training can not be done with cookie cutters but has to be done with individual molds for both dog and handler. They have all made this journey very fun as well as educational. 

Ashley taught me:
  • how fun obedience training can be
  • how fun agility can be
  • how fun having a dog can be
  • how loyal a dog can be
  • how horrible it is to lose your first special dog suddenly at the age of two years.

Demi taught me:

  • about the challenges of bonding with a 1 1/2 year old who has been left to play with other dogs her whole life and not been trained to do anything
  • introduced me to the concept of ring and performance stress
  • introduced me to the idea that not all dogs are cut out to be performance dogs, some just like playing the game in the backyard or class and that is ok
  • some dogs are awesome with any dog or puppy or person of any age (and some are not)

Bradish taught me:
Bradish 1998 AKC Natls
  • how much fun agility can be
  • how easy distance training/handling can be
  • how fast a dog can become ring-wise and behave differently in training and trialing
  • how athletic dogs can be
  • the need for criteria on contacts
  • how they can keep running when high on adrenaline and seriously hurt
  • the importance and value of "flow" in courses for safety
  • the importance of a reliable recall which he did not have

Nigel taught me:
  • how hard agility training can be
  • the importance of motivation
  • how to manage a dog aggressive dog
  • how some dogs can do things to get attention whether it is punishment or reward
  • how hard it is to raise two dogs 2 weeks apart in age
  • how independent a dog can be
  • how important physical soundness is and how important conditioning is to soundness
  • how hard stays and self control training can be

Leysha taught me:
  • how to motivate a dog for agility and how to reward speed
  • how easy obedience and self control training can be
  • how to handle smoothly and how to train distance
  • how stressful trials can be for dogs
  • how much dogs know about what they have been bred to do
  • how much a dog who is willing to please will do for a person

Tobie taught me:

  • how to handle a fast dog
  • how to use toys in training
  • how hard stay and self control training can be
  • how to manage a reactive dog at busy agility trials
  • how important jump training is
  • how hard it can be to maintain contact criteria in a trial when a dog is easily self rewarded by doing obstacles

Sonic taught me:
  • a deep appreciation for trial ring stress and how it affects dogs in many ways
  • how much what we do in a trial setting especially with weave poles compared to training is creating stress for dogs
  • how hard it is to teach one criteria for the aframe and a different one for the dogwalk
  • a deep appreciation for what it means to lose a dog at the peak of their performance career as well as when they are full of life and potential and are as sweet as the day is long
  • how truly sweet a dog can be to all animals and people

Amigo taught me:
  • the importance of good structure for longevity in performance sports
  • the challenges of training a dog who is "what's in it for me?"
  • the importance of a good "leave it"
  • the fun of shaping a dog to do tricks in a manner of minutes
  • how to live with separation anxiety
  • the importance of bridging the gap between training and trialing

Sinco continues to teach me:
  • a love for all dog sports
  • not all dogs enjoy shaping with a clicker
  • how much fun a dog enjoys competition can be
  • an understanding of how much dogs can want to be right
  • an understanding of the importance of rewarding what you want especially speed
  • an understanding for being careful about correcting a dog
  • a greater understanding of how much work it is to raise a well socialized litter of puppies
  • a greater understanding of hormonal changes and how they affect performance
  • a greater understanding of what aspects of temperament are hard-wired an what aspects can be affected by nurture.

Feisty continues to teach me:

  • a great understanding of the many ways trial ring stress expresses itself
  • a great understanding of how the presence of people can produce pressure that can affect a dog's performance
  • a greater understanding of how to use food to motivate and train for speed
  • what it is like to live with a  high energy dog who is very sensitive to her environment
  • an understanding of how to train to make it seem like it is all the dog's idea
  • about what sound sensitivity really means
  • how reinforcing the crowd laughing can be for a dog

Tay continues to teach me:
Cante (Tay)
  • a love of shaping a dog to do tricks
  • a great appreciation for the impact of soreness/injuries on a dog
  • an appreciation for how dogs can be very sensitive to smells, touch as well as sound
  • an appreciation for the different types and degrees of intelligence dogs can possess
  • what a truly sensitive dog is in all the ways she is
  • how really truly difficult training a stay can be for some dogs and how abstract some training concepts are and how some dogs have greater difficulty grasping those abstract concepts
  • to remember that not all dogs enjoy competition no matter how much I do

Spring continues to teach me:
  • the universe really doesn't understand "no" when you wish for something in other words don't tell the universe "I don't want a Sheltie who spins and barks" because you will get a Sheltie who spins and barks at high speed!
  • how difficult shaping as a training tool can be for some dogs
  • how hard running contacts can be even with a small dog
  • how smart a dog can be in terms of the "show me the money" game

Carmine is just starting to teach me:
  • how much fun a dog who loves a crowd can be
  • the challenges of training a highly toy motivated dog
  • the importance of on and off switches that work well
  • how to handle a fast dog
  • how hard running contacts can be
  • how training the agility obstacles can be the easy part but the rest of the relationship training takes much more time and much more work

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Making Lemonade

I’ve often said “I was making lemonade!” when I come off a course early to celebrate something done well at a trial or come off a course to celebrate a run where I tried something new.  “Making lemonade” is what happens when a run is an NQ early on the course and I decide instantly that I’m going to reward X or I’m going to try a specific handling move that I have wanted to try but I might not be as willing if there was a Q in play.  Now as I’ve written about in my blog awhile back – I get mad at myself if I let the thought of a Q get in the way of handling the way I really want or training something I really should.  I call this the curse of the AKC double Q only because I find this is the place where it most affects my decisions.  That has started to change for the better.

However this weekend I am really proud of myself because I took risks on the standard courses with BOTH Feisty and Sinco that actually created two very fast clean runs with some very fast lines and turns.  Now some have said it is because we got our MACHs I can do that.  However I disagree because I really was not that concerned about earning their MACHs and I still have a very substantial goal which requires even more Qs and speed points than a MACH and that is to keep the two dogs in the top 5 for their breeds through the end of June.  I was not at all stressed about getting the last Qs of their MACHs – many years ago this used to be a huge stressor for me but as I’ve written in other blog posts this is no longer a stress point for me.

I really believe because I’ve allowed myself to take chances when there wasn’t a Q on the line in the past, I was able to take those handling risks this weekend with a Q on the line.  I did things I’ve trained a lot – like wrapping my dog around the last weave pole for a nice tight turn on Saturday’s Standard course and leaving both dogs on the teeter and running out ahead to show them the straight line over the last two jumps.  This weekend there were lots of opportunities to do tight rear crosses into weave poles.  Again this is something that I’ve trained a lot and have set up in classes so I feel confident in this skill.  I was very glad to have that skill this past weekend with both dogs because it made it much easier to do the courses.  This is also something I will work on when I have an NQ because it is a difficult skill that needs to be maintained.

Last weekend I NQ’d with Feisty on the table and I ran really fast the rest of the course and handled the last several obstacles at a distance and layered jumps which was really fun to do and she did it beautifully and it actually worked very well and better than it did for most people who ran with their dogs closer to the obstacles.  Now I know if she is running really fast I can trust her distance skills.  There was another run two weekends ago where she NQ’d on the third obstacle with an off course and I left the ring and still rewarded her.  I didn’t think there was anything on the course I really wanted to try, I didn’t want to risk mental or physical injury to her and I decided the best reward would be to reward her for a short course.  She had been slow off the start line lately so this might help.  It has… she has been faster off the start line ever since. 

So the lemonade is tasting really good these days and I can’t help but feel like it is paying off with both dogs but most especially with Feisty.   This past weekend she double Q’d on Saturday AND she took 1st place in both classes with smoking fast runs!  On Sunday she had another super fast standard run and was only .10 behind first place.  This from a dog who until the last few months NEVER placed at all and often just loped through the course.  I knew she was really fast in training and with good training in trial settings I am seeing her run fast at trials.  Not only is she running faster at trials but I’m starting to see it in more runs on a weekend.  It started last Fall where maybe 1 in 10 runs she would run as fast as I knew she could.  The last few trials I’ve seen it more like 3-4 runs in 10.  So I see this as huge progress and I truly believe careful handling of her trialing experiences have contributed to her increase in speed at trials and her improved attitude.  The other exciting thing is that for the last 2 weekends and 6 runs at AKC trials Feisty has WANTED to play tug BEFORE every run!  This is huge because for her it means she feels comfortable in the environment.  I have not been able to get her to play at an AKC trial for years.   I play with her only 1-2 dogs before we go so it raises her energy level and gets her revved up and yet not stressed so she is ready to go.  I think it is also helping her to come off the start line faster.

So this is another way you can “train in the ring” at any trial without violating anyone’s rules.  If it helps to have a plan of “if this then this” I recommend it.  It takes practice to be able to think quickly on your feet to decide what to do.  I also trust my intuition and go with what “feels right” in the moment.

So even in winter we can all enjoy some lemonade!

Annelise and Feisty who would like her lemonade beef flavored please and Sinco who would like it any flavor other than lemon…