My experience at APDT Cynosport Rally this weekend was VERY different from my previous AKC weekend.  So, along the lines of always telling the truth and naming names I want to thank the members of Medina Swarm who hosted this trial.  Thanks Cindy Wilmoth for answering my initial email and encouraging me to attend.  There were not many workers there, but they were pleasant and friendly to a fault.  The trial secretary, Barb Kaplan, was absolutely amazing.  Even with last minute entries and a number of somewhat confusing changes she was unfailingly helpful and pleasant.  The judges were wonderful.  They actually walked the course with us and focused on helping new exhibitors (me!) understand the signs and requirements.  They explained, in advance, how they judged some of the exercises where there might be ambiguous guidelines.  Great job Carolyn Martin and Hope Schmeling!

I saw something that was truly impressive.  A woman showed up with a dog that was not registered with Cynosport.  The woman was confused about many aspects of showing.  Clearly, this was her first time in a trial setting and no one had mentored her.  The club members sat down with her, got her registered online, helped her fill out the forms, and found a legal collar for her dog to wear in the ring.  Everyone encouraged her and she ended up getting 3 legs for her Level 1 title!  I’m sure she is now motivated to train more and show more.  That would not have happened in other venues.  Mainly because of rigid rules about closing dates and entries.  But also because folks are less likely to drop everything to be helpful to a total newbie.

The feel of the trial was definitely more relaxed and easygoing.  It was small in number of participants, but so was the last AKC trial I attended.  Everyone seemed to know everyone, and all were nice to people and dogs.  Awards were given out by name at the end of classes.

I only intended to participate one day, but ended up going back for the second because it was such a nice experience.  Plus, Gail Jaite took her time explaining titling requirements (which are a bit confusing) to me and I decided I wanted to finish my Level 1 titles before the next trial.

I did finish them on both dogs and was able to move up to Level 2 in the last trial.  I hadn’t even looked at the exercises until about 15 minutes before going in the ring.  Luckily, my dogs have a pretty wide behavioral foundation to call on.  I spent a couple minutes with each teaching something we’d never done before (leave dog, run 2-3 steps, call dog while running, as dog catches up start backing up and call dog front, then finish).  They both did well.  I’m really looking forward to some of the new challenges in Level 3 as well.  Each level in Cynosport Rally is more challenging than analogous levels in AKC.  Plus, Cynosport Rally courses are longer.  The Level 2 course was 22 stations, and seemed like it went on for a long time!

What a contrast to last weekend!  I am already looking at several more trial weekends coming up.  I will definitely be spending my entry money in places that seem much more user friendly.  Plus, I have decided that I am sick and tired of the AKC traditional obedience culture that poisons the atmosphere at many trials.  Bitchiness and unpleasantness abound.  It is stressful and negative, and I don’t intend to be a part of it when there are much more pleasant options available to me.   Some people may strongly disagree with what I just wrote.  But this is my blog and these are my experiences.  If you disagree write about it in your own blog!  I want to trial at places where people are nice to other people AND to dogs.  I just want to spend my free time having fun showing.  That doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.

Some people might wonder why show at all?  Why not just train and play?  That’s a really good question.  I like working towards a goal of some sort.  I don’t have lofty goals, but coming home with a bunch of ribbons is really nice.  I like an objective measure of improvement.  I want to improve over previous trials.  I even like analyzing problems that develop and working on fixing them.  My dogs really seem to enjoy showing.  Star, who can be a bit suspicious and nervous, seems to be gaining in confidence and boldness every time she has a good ring experience.  She’s learning to stay focused and work through distractions really well.  And Zen just loves to do stuff.  So anything I want is fine with him as long as we’re active.

I was stunned that Star actually beat Zen 3 out of the 5 times they showed.  I was pleasantly surprised by her progress.  It’s fun to see a baby dog develop.  And Zen has his ups and downs, but every so often he has a fantastic performance and that keeps me going through the downs.  I am learning so much about how to manage and work with an extremely high energy dog from him.  Doing stuff is reinforcing for him.  Doing it right is another story.  So my challenge there is to get accuracy while maintaining all that fabulous attitude.  It’s a process.

Now I have more training to do before the next trial.

So, I start packing up to go.  I really can’t get out of there fast enough at this point.  I want to toss my ribbon and prize in the nearest trash can, but I know that is bad sportsmanship. 

Earlier in the week I had made arrangements with a very generous person to pick up a loaner pup from her for my current video training project.  Since I was already halfway between us she agreed to drive up, meet me, and drop off the pup.  As I’m packing my van she shows up and we talk, play with pups, and take some pics.  It took about 20 minutes.  I was parked right outside the door to the building and noticed that we were being observed (and I think even photographed) the entire time. 

Those of you familiar with AKC events probably realize what’s going to happen next.  Dumb me, it didn’t even occur to me that there was a problem. 

As I turned to put the pup in my car I was accosted by several club members.  The one that asked me if I was lying about my title earlier screeched at me “do you know how many rules you just broke?!”  My honest response was “what?”  I still didn’t get it.  She said “you can’t have puppies on show grounds” and another person chimed in “it’s in the premium”.  She continued “and you cannot buy and sell puppies on a show site”.  I immediately realized they were right.  It was truly an honest, ignorant mistake.  And I knew that denying we were buying the pup, even though 100% true, would never be believed.  Honestly though, if I thought we were doing something wrong I certainly wouldn’t have done it right in front of everyone :-}! 

So I said “I apologize, we’re leaving”.  But I wondered why they watched and waited so long before saying something.  If they came over right away and said something we would have gone off-site immediately and exchanged the pup there.  Looking back on it I think they were already pissed at me for wanting my ribbon and now found a way to gain evidence of my wrongdoing.  I expect they will file some sort of charges with the AKC. 

Anyone that goes to AKC shows knows the “no puppy” rule, myself included.  Granted, it’s a rule that is rarely enforced.  Or should I say selectively enforced.  Puppies are everywhere at some shows.  But it is a rule and I did break it, totally unintentionally this time!  I feel really bad that the breeder was pulled into this.  She looked quite appalled by the level of anger and venom directed at us.  It was so ugly and unpleasant and seemed quite vindictive when a simple sentence would have resolved things immediately.  I know our club would have handled things quickly and quietly. 

And people wonder why AKC obedience events are not as popular as they used to be.  Huh, I can’t imagine!

So there you have it…..

 

So let me narrow down the audience for this one.  First, you are someone that trains and shows dogs in AKC obedience or rally.  Second, you care about my experiences and opinions.  Now that there are 2 of you left, here I go!

I promised myself to always be honest in my blogs and honesty is NOT always pretty.  Be warned.  Plus, I believe that if people want you to write nice things about them then they should behave nicely.  And if you only write what is true then it’s not libel or slander. 

Other than dog training, writing makes me feel better.  It helps me process events and information and make sense of them.  I think this is true for many introverts like myself.  We don’t always know what we think and feel until we’ve had time to reflect on it.  Since this bothers me so much I need to write about it.  I’m sharing it because I know so many of my friends train and show dogs in a variety of venues. 

First, the good part.  My dogs are freakin’ awesome!  Zen and Star went to Columbus for the weekend and did a fabulous job in Rally.  I love to train and lately, dog training has been my therapy.  It has been the major thing that makes me feel somewhat normal since Chris got sick and passed away.  At first, it was very hard, harder than it’s ever been. Dog training has always been somewhat natural to me.  But after everything that happened I couldn’t remember how to do simple things.  I made really dumb mistakes on courses.  My brain was not functioning normally.  Stress can truly have cognitive as well as emotional manifestations.  But I kept going because it’s what I do.  If dog training didn’t make me feel better then nothing ever would.  I got better and so did my dogs.  I worked on problems and saw success, which made me feel even better.  Zen’s heeling, in particular, has improved greatly.  And Star’s reactivity is being managed very well indeed.  So I was happy with my dogs and with myself. 

Clearly, I am a dog person and not a people person.  Anyone that knows me knows that.  But I try to be “normal” and polite.  Try is the operative term here.  I know I’m not always the most sociable or easygoing person in the room. So I do admit and accept my part in what happened. 

Anyway, yesterday Zen finished his RAE2 title and I was really happy.  I worked hard for that title.  It means something to me.  It’s about dedication, teamwork, and conquering challenges.  Maybe it means nothing to some people, but it means a lot to me.  I was excited to go in the ring for ribbons.  Zen was also second with 99s in both classes, so it was very nice.  There was some confusion during and after awards, but the club members told all of us that earned titles to wait and get our ribbons and prizes.  We waited and when we got to the head of the line the club members were out of ribbons and prizes and asked me “are you sure you earned a title?”  So my response was a thoughtless “do you think I’m lying?”  That set the tone for a very bad experience.  I should have been more patient, sure, but they then made it much, much worse.  One said to the other “if she wants a ribbon she needs to go to the other building and get it”.  I love being talked about 1) like I don’t exist and 2) like I’m a major inconvenience.  I’m sure my face reflected that because the club member then said “never mind!  I’ll go do it!” in a very unpleasant manner and flounced off.  So my pleasure and excitement over getting great scores and a nice title with my dog were totally shattered.  I left the ring and went to pack up.  The club member did find me and practically tossed the ribbon at me saying “here” then walked away.   The other “prize” given to all other title earners was not offered.  A friend insisted on getting it for me, but at that point I certainly didn’t want anything else from this club, ever.

I have shown in AKC events for 20 years and this was, by far, the worst I have ever been treated by anyone.  I just wanted to pack up and get the heck out of there as fast as possible.  I was made to feel like I was causing trouble and doing something unacceptable by expecting what the club offered. 

You might think this would be the end of the story, but no, it actually got much much worse.  I left not only never wanting to deal with those particular people or that particular club again, but feeling like this venue is definitely not for me in the future.  You’ll have to wait for part 2 to hear the rest of the story. 

This post definitely devolves into a massive rant!  Read at your own risk.

It’s been over 20 years since I first got involved in the dog showing world.  My introduction came with an 18 month old rescued Black Lab named Katie who needed some training.  I was in grad school and got her as a companion, and she turned out to be a wonderful one.  What I didn’t know was that training her would completely change my life.  Through Katie I was introduced to the world of obedience trials.  At that time (1992) there was little to no agility in the US and rally hadn’t been invented yet.  I know I went to a USDAA trial early on, but there weren’t many.  I loved training and working with Katie and watching my first obedience trial thought “I could teach my dog to do that”.  Actually I did teach Katie all that and much, much more.

But I was ignorant and didn’t even know it.  As we all are when we start down a new path.  I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.  And I’ve spent 20 years learning it.  And I still don’t know LOTS!  Since Katie (who earned her CDX, 2 UD legs, and 2 NA legs before retirement due to a torn cruciate) there have been many other dogs.  Sully the troubled Golden that I just never could quite click with personality wise.  But his behavioral issues forced me to learn a lot.  Then Copper the nearly perfect Papillon who went on to earn MACH2, UD, RN, and tons of other titles.  Then Luna, my little tiny Papillon girl who did agility like a baby BC and made it to Excellent, but had to be retired early due to a luxating patella.  Getting a chance to work with Morgan, the absolute perfect Sheltie.  Truly perfect.  No dog could ever live up to him.  He was so special.  There was Kix the Sheltie with the overwhelming neophobia.  I learned that sometimes the best thing you can do for a dog is to place him in a home that makes him comfortable.  Smudge the crazy blue Sheltie with more drive than sense sometimes.  He managed lots of speed points in agility and only 3 QQs over his career.  He also got a CD and is 1 leg shy of an RA.  Then Zen my first BC and hollee ball addict.  What a great boy!  UD at age 3 and almost RAE2, plus Open agility titles.  His fault is too much enthusiasm, regardless of the activity.  And now Star, my little introvert who loves to work, adores her frisbee, but doesn’t love people.

Each of these dogs has been a unique individual with his or her own set of strengths and challenges.  Each has been well-suited to some dog sports but not to others.  And the same is true for the thousands of dogs I’ve helped train over the years.  I enjoy training and showing, but it is definitely not right for every dog.  Some dogs prefer calmer and quieter settings rather than loud and chaotic agility trials.  I have been reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain (about introverted humans) and thinking how well it applies to dogs.  Some dogs have trouble with the repetition and precision required for successful competition obedience.  Some dogs are physically incapable despite a strong desire to do the work.  Some dogs are just happier as homebodies.

The good part is that every dog we train can teach us an enormous amount.  We will never train the same dog twice, so we should learn to alter and improve our training methods as we go along.  Our dogs should make us better trainers.  Another really good part is the change in relationship you have with a working dog as opposed to a pet dog.  It takes the relationship to a whole other level that most people don’t even know exists.  There is nothing like the connection you can develop while working with a fully engaged canine partner.  Most dogs are probably bored to tears.  They rarely get to use their brains.  We give them that opportunity through training.

The bad part is that people use dogs without thinking about what is actually best for the dog.  They just assume that the dog should go along with the program.  If the person likes agility then they assume the dog will too.  They treat dogs as if they are interchangeable, rather than as unique individuals.  They impose their will and desires on the dog and the dog gets no say in the process.  You can see this in the “my last dog was perfect” syndrome.  When the next dog isn’t a clone of the last dog, and actually requires creativity and thoughtfulness to train, people are unhappy.  The dog needs “fixed” and quickly.  People get a puppy as a performance prospect and jump right in to sport-specific training.  They are in a huge hurry to get this pup into the ring and to start showing.  This worries me for some very valid reasons.  First, pups are not physically ready for the demands of most dog sports.  They need to physically develop and mature.  Second, they are definitely not mentally ready for strong training pressures either.  Yet people push and push their pups and young dogs.

Sometimes they work their dogs into a frantic and hyper state during training.  Then they claim this as evidence that the dog “loves” the sport.  When I see a situation like this I feel so bad for the dog.  Those huge highs and massive overactivity levels verge on hysteria, not enthusiasm.  Typically these dogs resemble crazed lunatics on an agility course.  They are so high and out of their minds with adrenaline and cortisol that conscious thought is not possible.  They are not “having a good time”.  They are chaotic and overactive, which is exhausting and unpleasant.

On the other hand, some people that train obedience really want a passive and quiet dog.  They train the dog to do nothing.  Doing nothing works for the dog because that is a way to avoid getting in trouble.  Unless, of course, you’ve been told to do something and you don’t.  Dogs trained to do nothing often appear quite well behaved, but they are actually shut down and emotionally abused.  They are forced into unpleasant situations and their only way to cope is to become helpless and passive.  That is NOT a well-behaved dog.  It is an unhappy one.

And of course, there are people that blame their dog for their own crappy training.  Oh, and the ones that are convinced they need to be alpha or their dogs will take over the world.  Really?  In 2013 you still think the alpha model is valid?  Read something current on dog training, please!

While the bad is bad enough, the ugly is even worse.  There is outright physical and mental abuse in dog training.  I’ve seen things that still make me cringe when I think back on them.  I’ve seen dogs baited into aggression so they could be severely ‘corrected’ by the ‘trainer’.  I’ve seen dogs with 3 different ‘training collars’ on at one time (choke, shock, and pinch).  I’ve seen dogs ear pinched out to an article pile repeatedly.   I saw a dog at an agility trial being dragged to his crate by one ear.  I actually saw one moron put on chain mail gloves then goad a dog into trying to bite him.  Geesh!  I hope that when we die our dogs get to make the decision about whether we go to heaven or hell.  That would be true karma!

I’ve seen agility dogs that should have been retired long ago still being pressured to compete.  Why?  It’s sad and pathetic.  Is a MACH 15 really worth it?  Let the poor dog have a nice enjoyable retirement.  I’ve seen agility dogs with injuries that their trainers mask or ignore so that they can continue showing.  There’s a whole industry built up around agility dogs with physical injuries now.  Granted, dogs can and do get hurt in a variety of ways.  But some people will ignore the dog’s physical condition until he breaks down completely.  Then they will rush for a quick fix to get back in the ring.

Some people overtrain their preferred sport.  This burns the dog out mentally and often leads to physical injuries.  A friend of mine who is a chirporactor told me the worst canine spinal injuries she saw were from obedience dogs that were trained and shown constantly.  Being forced to hold unnatural positions (such as heads up heeling) for long periods without compensating work leads to  problems.

So if it’s so bad and ugly, why do I still participate and enjoy dog sports?  Because there is still so much good.  There will always be people that do bad and ugly things to dogs, whether through ignorance or deliberate choice.  I can’t stop them.  What I can do is train my dogs with joy and enthusiasm.  I can treasure the short time we have together training and showing.   I can also treasure all the time we have just being together.  But I know that my relationship with my dogs has changed for the better because I am involved in performance events with them.  It has led us to a whole different level of relationship.  It has also led me to meet some really wonderful people and amazing dogs.  And there’s still so much more to learn and do.

 

 

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Star is brilliant and loving and easy to live with.  She is also an introvert.  She doesn’t really want to interact with you, whoever you might be.  She prefers the company of the few people she knows and trusts.  And if you leave her alone you will make her comfortable and happy.

On a walk yesterday it occurred to me that Star and I are alike, and also that people totally misunderstand introversion.  So I thought a blog post was in order! Being an introvert does not necessary mean that you have a mental disorder or that you are pathologically shy.  It means that, as a general rule, the people around you require an enormous amount of energy to deal with, even when interactions are pleasant.  Being sociable is fine in small doses and with those we truly like.  It becomes overwhelming and exhausting very quickly, however.  And when it does we need our solitude to refresh ourselves.

In Star’s case she is happiest to be ignored by other humans, except for her few really good friends (most of who she imprinted on as a puppy).  She doesn’t want you to look at her or talk to her.  At best you are neutral; at worst you can seem highly threatening.  When you invade her space and boundaries she will let you know it with a growl or bark, then she will try to move away.  If you continue to try to interact with her because “dogs like me” you are escalating an unpleasant situation into a dangerous one.  If you then want to correct her for growling at you I will step in and forcefully change your mind about pursuing that path.

Many dogs are attention whores.  In children there’s  a stage called indiscriminate sociability.  Most dogs are there all their lives.  I own several.  Feel free to lavish your attention on them.  They will love it.  But be aware that one only seems to love you because he’s hoping you will throw his hollee ball.  Another dog I know loved you until he clearly determined you had no cookies, then you were old news as he moved on.   They don’t care about you, but about what you can do for them.  They are users!

Star and I are actually both more than fine without your attention.  I don’t mind giving a nod and a wave to my neighbors as I pass, but I don’t want to get dragged into a 20 minute conversation every time I step out the door.  I want to go take my walk, enjoy the day, enjoy the solitude, unwind, and enjoy being with my dogs.  Star seems to feel the same way.  She wants to keep moving, watch for squirrels and enjoy a chance for a quick “sniff break”.  She doesn’t really want to be with you.

Dog people are the worst.  They think all dogs like them or that they have a special way that wins over all dogs immediately.  Trust me, it won’t work on Star.  If you try getting down on her level and making weird noises and gestures you will totally freak her out!  Stand up and ignore her and she’s just fine.  Quit trying to be her friend.  If you do that she is actually much more likely to approach you for a quick sniff, but that still doesn’t mean she wants to interact, she’s just information-seeking.  Allow her to sniff you without suddenly swooping down on her and you’re more likely to win her over.  Give her time and let her make all the moves until she determines whether or not you are safe.

I’m pretty OK with Star’s behavior because I understand it myself.  We cannot be made into social butterflies through conditioning or reinforcement.  We cannot be bribed into liking you.  We can learn to tolerate social activity, to a point.  Then we need a break from it.  It’s not completely fun for us, it’s an obligation.  As I said earlier Star has friends (and so do I!) that we are happy to see and enjoy spending time with.  But then we need twice as much time alone to recover.  Why?  Genetics and early experiences.  Of course, that covers pretty much everything!  We were indeed “born that way”.  Our experiences then either made our natural tendencies more extreme or altered them in the opposite direction.  We’re both in the “normal” range in terms of sociability, but low normal.

We’re not “anti-social”.  The term “antisocial personality disorder” is actually an extremely serious and dangerous personality disorder (think psychopath or sociopath).  That’s not us.  We are more asocial.  We don’t need it much.  It needs to be on our own terms in small doses.   For human introverts, internet communication is fantastic!  It’s controlled, yet still offers many of the benefits of social interaction.  Most introverts, myself included, prefer email or text messages to phone calls or face to face conversations.  I’m sure if Star could text she would enjoy it too!  It’s a controllable activity.  I am thrilled with the prospect of teaching online classes because they strongly appeal to my introverted nature.  Facebook is another great outlet for introverts.  Social activity that can be totally controlled and managed!

This is not to say that I haven’t worked on making Star comfortable around people.  I work on it constantly.  I will likely always have to work on it.  We have done tons of exposure to people below her arousal threshhold with huge reinforcement.  She will happily play tug and frisbee anytime, anywhere, and we do this in crowded settings like dog shows, which has helped her attitude about those settings quite a lot.  We work on seeing people and reinforcing for moving away or not overreacting.  And yes, I even reinforce her for grumbling.  I absolutely want her to feel free to express her discomfort so that I can be aware and do something about it.  Better that than a snap without any warning.  Punishing out the warning signs is a huge problem that only makes things worse.  Her discomfort is at its worst at the vet.  I actually believe some negative experiences there exaggerated these tendencies.  The first thing I did was change vets to change the context.  Luckily we also had a chance to work with a wonderful vet and trainer, Linda Randall, at her clinic on CU type exercises.  It was a great experience for Star.  But she still doesn’t want to be handled by strangers or even greeted by them.  My vets understand and have done a nice job staying neutral with her yet still doing what is necessary to care for her.  I have also positively trained her to wear a muzzle in case it is ever absolutely essential.

Star is NOT aggressive.  She has never made physical contact with another creature using her teeth.  That is not to say that it could never happen.  We all know that anyone can be aggressive when pressed hard enough.  Without good management, handling, and training, she could end up in an overwhelming situation and feel forced to defend herself.  That is why I need to be  her protector and ally.  I want her to be brave and confident, and know that I have her back if necessary.  I will sometimes ignore her minor reactivity.  Staying calm and relaxed myself gives her information that there is no cause for alarm.  And sometimes I may even pet her and talk softly after she has had a major reaction, to let her know that I understand she is upset and needs my support.  This is not reinforcing her reactivity at all.  Once the reaction happens it is too late to alter it.  All I can do then is minimize the aftereffects.  My goal is to be proactive enough to avoid reactions before they even start.

As a human I have the ability to realize when I have had enough social interaction and leave the situation.  Dogs don’t have that luxury.  It’s our job to monitor their interactions for them and to respond appropriately.  Over the years I’ve learned to manage my introverted tendencies.  In fact, many people, my college students in particular, are surprised that I describe myself this way.  I can act appropriately in social settings, but it is not always natural to me.  And it is always tiring.

At best, this is what I hope to achieve with Star.  I cannot make her an extravert, but I can help her cope in the least aversive ways possible.  I can give her the tools through training and exposure that allow her to tolerate social interaction when necessary. Now if you see us at a dog show don’t totally  ignore us!  But understand that she is my first priority.  Please follow my cues for how to interact with my dog.  Don’t swoop down on her and invade her space.  Let her make up her mind about you in her own way and time.

And if you’re talking dogs, I’m happy to do that all day!  That is NOT a social obligation and it’s something I never get tired of doing :-}!

The first part of this post is NOT a rant!  Went to Youngstown All Breed’s Rally Trials yesterday.  They offered two trials in one day, which was very brave and made for an extremely long day.  We got there at 11:30 and left at 9:30.  The Club did a really great job.  Their workers were all nice and efficient, even when things got really late and everyone had to be exhausted.

I was extremely happy to be able to go to a trial and spend the day with my dogs.  My life has been totally disrupted and dog training and showing fell far to the bottom of the list for quite some time.  You do what you have to do and set priorities as necessary, but I really did miss working with and showing my dogs.  And my dogs seemed very happy as well.  Some people get to do it every weekend.  I doubt I’ll ever get back to that, but I will never take it for granted again.  It’s a luxury many people don’t have.  

I’m veering towards a rant here, but will control myself.  While agility used to be my main focus I think that will change now.  I just don’t have the time and resources to get my dogs on equipment enough to feel that they are safe and well-trained.  Plus, I find it sort of lost its allure for me.  I’m not impressed by many of the trends I see in agility.  And I am more and more concerned about what people are asking their canine partners to do in the name of “fun”.  And mainly, I just somehow don’t feel up to it.  So rally is a nice compromise.  It requires more precision and control, but the majority of the training really can be done in my living room.  It still has quick changes and speed, so it fills a gap between obedience and agility, in my opinion.  

Yesterday was a much needed good day for us at the trial.  Zen got two more RAE legs with 2 firsts, a second, and a third.  He’s pretty close to earning his RAE2.  In the second trial of the day he won the High Combined award with two 98s.  This is the first time I’ve been to a trial that offers that award for Rally and I thought it was extremely nice and would like to thank the Club for that.  

Now for the rant!  What wasn’t quite as nice were the judge’s comments as she handed me the award.  She told me that if Zen were her dog she would have a “come to Jesus” meeting with him for “pushing me around” out there in the ring.  I had the presence of mind to tell her that I was happy he was my dog and not hers.  I think Zen would agree!  Why couldn’t she have just left it at congratulations?  She was, after all, the one that gave him the scores that gave him the High Combined.  If she found his performance lacking or unacceptable then she should have scored it accordingly.  But she didn’t because he meets the criteria for successful performance.  If I’m not mistaken, judges are there to judge performances, not to offer advice and opinions, unless asked.  So what was she talking about?  Zen forges, wraps, and bounces as he heels.  He is excited and enthusiastic throughout his performance.  I have been working on it and it has gotten better.  But as with all things, it is a work in progress that I hope to improve upon in the future.  I am assuming she was suggesting that he needed some sort of physical “corrections” to fix this problem.  It seemed implied that he was being bad or defiant or god forbid, dominant :-}  She’s barking up the wrong tree there.  It’s actually a good think she said this to me and not some other struggling positive trainer.  I can shake it off easily and move on.  But it might devastate someone that is working hard and respects the judge’s opinion just because she’s a judge.  

So back to more pleasant stuff, Zen was happy with the ‘swag’ he won, and so was I.  He won his first cash, $50, which I believe he would like to spend on more hollee balls!  And this was Star’s very first experience in any ring, her Novice debut.  She did great!  The first time in the ring she was a bit barky, and lost 3 points, which gave her a 97 and 4th place.  I was happy that she got over her excitement and settled down and worked nicely.  In the second trial she got a 99 with what I considered a perfect run.  I have no idea where a point could have come off of it.  She got first place, beating a GSD with a 99 also on time (by 20 seconds!)  She was happy and engaged and having fun.  Everything I hoped for the first time my dog has trial experience.  Image

My second rant would be about the level of training of many of the dogs going in the ring, which seemed to be either little to none or very poor.  I felt really really bad for many of the dogs.  They were clearly not prepared either through thorough training or positive experiences, for their time in the ring.  They were confused and stressed.  We observed lip licking, sniffing, zooming, slow responses, scratching, and just general disconnection from the handler in many cases.  We watched the performances and then looked at the scores and were just astounded when a horrendous and painful to watch performance earned a score of 90.  Really?!  The poor dog needed multiple cues for everything, and then only performed the bare minimum.  I’m guessing the judge was judging accurately.  And if that’s the case then the guidelines still need some work.  Scoring does seem to have tightened up some, but horrid performances are still earning legs.  Therefore, handlers have no reason to do anything differently in terms of training.  If they just want a leg and don’t care about the score then that’s easy enough to do.  In fact, a good friend of ours from agility decided to do rally with absolutely no preparation and she managed legs and titles on all her dogs.  I actually taught one of them a stand and wait for the walk around while she was in the ring with another!  The power of cheese is endless!  In her case the dogs aren’t stressed but they are confused.  Continued pressure without training is likely to lead to stress.  But we saw many dogs that are both stressed and confused.  

The thing is, I don’t think most owners even realize it.  They aren’t savvy enough to see what experienced trainers see.  All they know is that the dog is not doing what they think it should know well and they get frustrated.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Frustrated owner leads to stressed dog with leads to poor performance which leads to more frustration for the owner.  If we had good, solid training and instruction available everyone could be much, much happier!  Sorry for the long post.  Now off to do something fun and relaxing with the rest of the weekend.  

Went on a short vacation with friends.  We each brought several dogs.  They brought their 9 month old sporting breed.  We chose the vacation spot because it had a fully fenced 8 acre area with pond.  Guess what the young sporting breed did while off leash?  Exactly what you would expect, investigated the underbrush and pond.  That’s his nature.  The Border Collies, OTOH, stuck by us in case we would “kick the ball!”  They could be anywhere in the world and their view would be the same (ground, ball, kick, chase, fetch, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat).  

The problem, of course, is that the sporting breed dog would not stay close to the people or return when called.  In fact, we noticed that all the other guests there had the same issue.  Dogs off leash, gone.  No recall responses at all.  We learned the dogs’ names because we heard the people yelling them so often “Simon! Simon! Simon!”  Of course, Simon was busy and did not come until he was tired.  Eventually people caught their dogs and put them on leash.  But not until the dogs were darn good and ready.  We almost got blitzed by a very wet, very happy Golden Retriever with a tennis ball.  No one could have stopped a dog fight if it started.  

You might think that this blog is going to be about recalls, but it’s not.  It’s about something much more fundamental, thinking.  The young sporting breed with us is a very nice boy.  He’s really sweet.  He gets at least an hour of free running exercise at home every day.  He is also managed well inside with expens, crates, and tethering to the owner.  She uses kongs and bones to keep him occupied.  The problem is, she has not taught him to think, at all.  He is a mass of reactions to the environment.  He is “out of his body” all the time.  If he is not physically contained, he is like an ADHD kid.  He is either jumping on you or ignoring you for some other distraction, but he never settles down.  He is “on” at all times unless he is sleeping.  He cannot pay attention to his owner because his attention is already occupied by a thousand other things.  

I tried to be very diplomatic in suggesting that some training might help.  Of course, she has been training, but not in the way I would recommend.  This boy needed to expend some mental energy.  He needed to solve challenging problems and figure out that he had a brain.  His training has been mostly physical responses, not mental puzzles.  And of course, my first thought was to work on impulse control.  Impulse control exercises force dogs to think about what they are doing and give them the option of making behavioral choices and seeing the consequences of those choices.  It puts them back “in their bodies” and helps them focus on themselves rather than on everything around them.  Over and over again I’ve seen dogs calm down, settle, and focus when impulse control exercises are properly executed.  

We worked on basic self-control starting with slow treats and “zen” work.  I started slowly moving a treat towards him, when he jumped to take it (as I knew he would) I slowly moved it away and waited.  When he settled I started moving the treat towards him again.  In less than 5 minutes he figured out that he needed to either sit or down to get me to move the treat to him, then give him verbal permission to take it.  It was an internal struggle, but he was completely focused on the task.  He wasn’t perfect, but it was a start.  In another quick lesson I pushed him harder.  He needed to be both still and quiet (a huge issue for him as he was a frustrated vocalizer).  But I shaped it for a bit and he got it.  He was focused on the task, and on me because I controlled the reinforcer that he wanted.  After each session he was so much calmer than he was even after an hour of running free (which of course I strongly suggested she change to running on a long line).  Physical exercise cannot replace mental exercise!  You just end up with a dog with more and more stamina that is still not thinking or able to calm himself down.  

Our last session we worked on “go to mat”.  He had worked on the baby steps of this with his owner already and he was a superstar as we raised criteria!  We worked up to tossing a cookie across the room for him to chase.  He would run back, down himself on the mat, wag his stumpy little tail, and patiently wait for the click and treat.  It was beautiful!  To see him go from an unfocused whirlwind to a self-controlled youngster was a lovely transformation.  And it only took 3 short training sessions.  I hope they continue this work as I know he will be a happier dog and they will be much happier owners.  A tiny little bit of focus training helped move him back into his body and helped him learn to take control himself.  Seeing such an easy, dramatic transformation  makes me sad for all the dogs that never get a chance to use their brains and be “in their bodies”.  It can be so quick and easy and it’s so much better for dog and owners alike.  Physical control alone is never enough.  It leads to what a friend of mine used to call “a prisoner at the end of the leash”.  You aren’t changing the dog’s behavior, you are simply preventing the dog from doing what he wants, which leads to conflict. It is so much better to teach our dogs that cooperation is the key to getting what they want!

 

I was just looking at a Facebook group that I belong to and noticed that nearly every person’s photo had a dog in it.  Sometimes the person and the dog, sometimes just a dog or two.  Occasionally a child.  That got me to wondering about the way we choose to represent ourselves to the world and what that says about us.  I’m really curious about the folks that only have dogs, nothing of their own image.  Since most of my “dog friends” are female and middle aged plus it might be that we just don’t care for the way we look.  Fair enough.  

But I think it goes deeper.  We are not dog owners.  We are DOG PEOPLE.  There’s a huge difference.  A dog owner has a pet or two who may be well-loved and cared for, but probably lives on the edges of the person’s life.  A DOG PERSON has multiple pets, sometimes a pack that borders on unmanageable.  But those dogs are at the center of the person’s world.  They rank right up there with family, friends, and work.  Anyone who is not a DOG PERSON likely thinks we are extreme.  Honestly, many times we teeter on the edge.

Our love for our dogs is not limited by reason or logic.  It is never “just a dog”.  Most of us understand that our dogs are not our children and that our relationships differ from those with other humans.  Most, not all.  Our dogs are our companions.  They are with us 24/7 if we want them to be.  If it’s their choice they would spend all their time with us.  Some of us replace human companionship with canine companionship and feel we are getting the better deal.  Humans are difficult.  Relationships are complicated.  But dogs are simple.  They “say” what they mean.  They don’t lie or deceive us in any way.  Our relationships with our dogs will likely last far beyond many of our human relationships.  They are a constant for us.

Many of us participate in training and competitions with our dogs.  Again, some teeter on the edge in this area.  For some, winning at competitions is absolutely everything.  In fact, they make a living based on doing just that over and over and over.  There’s nothing wrong with doing what you love, as long as it doesn’t hurt your canine partner in the process.  But when your dog becomes the vehicle for your self-worth that’s a bit unhealthy and usually not good for the dog.  When you lose perspective on just what role the dog should play in how you feel about yourself, that’s a problem.  We’re starting to see more and more aging agility dogs running with numerous physical issues.  Canine chiropractors, massage therapists, and physical therapists are making a lot of money these days.  Why?  The person will tell you that the dog “loves it”.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But the human member of the team should be care enough to do what’s right for the dog, not what’s the most fun or rewarding at the moment.  It’s hard to have perspective when you are in this situation.  

I know someone who gave up agility because her young dog just didn’t love it.  She had been very successful with several other dogs, but this one was clearly not enthralled.  She has gone on to explore other types of activities with this dog.  Listening to the dog rather than insisting that he fulfill the role she wanted has likely opened up interesting new worlds for both of them.  I really admire that.  

DOG PEOPLE usually have high expectations for their dogs.  Sometimes I have to step back and admire what we have already accomplished.  I think “the normal pet owner would be totally amazed at how much this dog can do”.  We know that the mental and physical potential in our dogs is much higher than most people realize.  And we tend to push the envelope.  We want more, better, and faster.  We whine about an off course, a missed weave entry, or poor heeling.  The fact that our dogs do it at all is stunning to me, especially because we are often less than clear in our training.  We focus on the failures or the mistakes rather than appreciate how much our dogs do right.  

So what does this picture say about me?  Am I my dog?  

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I am always impressed by people’s blogs.  People are SUCH good writers.  I get motivated and inspired and decide to blog myself, but then I get stuck.  I don’t know what I’d have to say that people would find interesting or useful.  But then I think that doesn’t really matter.  Blogging is about writing for yourself, not for others.  So it doesn’t matter if people don’t read it or people don’t like it.  What matters is that I thought it was important and I feel better for having done it.  Selfish?  Sure.  But is that a bad thing?  I don’t think so.

So what types of things do I want to blog about?  Dog training for sure.  Before we had such easy access to the internet I had no idea how many fantastic dog trainers were out there!  We were such small fragmented groups, and I think each group felt isolated.  Particularly if you were a proponent of positive training methods.  In 1992 I started classes at a typical kennel club and with a private trainer and both were “modernized” for the time because they allowed the limited use of food.  But they also required choke collars (sometimes pinch collars) and corrections for all dogs from the first moment of training.  Back then I was in graduate school in psychology and learning was my specialty.  I was appalled at the very damaging classical conditioning that was going on.  Forget the lack of understanding of operant conditioning as well!

Want to teach your dog to hate training with you?  Put a choke collar on him, tell him to “heel” (even though he has no idea what that means), give him a good strong jerk and take off walking.  That ought to do it!  If your dog didn’t get it you didn’t jerk hard enough.  The failures were never the method or technique, they blamed the dog (he’s too dominant and stubborn), the trainer (you’re too nice, not tough enough, not alpha enough) or the application (do it harder, faster, or more often). What a terrible disservice to treat our best friends this way, and then to make their owners feel bad when it didn’t work!  The amazing part was that sometimes it did work.  But it only worked in that it suppressed behavior.  Some dogs figured out that being passive and doing nothing was the best choice.  That was considered “well-trained”.

I am so glad things are better now.  At least in some cases.  Though I just heard that a local kennel club had a young German Shepherd in a basic obedience class who was “strung up” on a prong collar for being reactive and aggressive.  That’s still their solution in 2013?!  Really?!  You’ve learned nothing about canine behavior, stress signals, reactivity, aggression, management, or learning theory by now with all the fantastic resources that are available?!  This upsets me beyond belief.  It’s not training, it’s abuse.  And can you imagine what the outcome is going to be for this dog?  My guess is he’ll be blamed for having a bad temperament and end up being euthanized.  Someone at that kennel club should be held responsible for this dog’s death because there is likely no reason for it.

This is why I will freely admit that I love dogs.  People, not so much.  People frustrate me with their lack of desire to change when better ways are available. They frustrate me because they don’t follow any sort of logic or reason.  They frustrate me because they are hurting dogs and I think that is unforgivable.  Your ignorance, sometimes willful ignorance, causes suffering to another creature and you don’t seem to notice or care.  That’s unacceptable.  Get a hobby that doesn’t involve other living creatures!  Take up boating, or knitting, or bird watching.  Leave the dogs to people that actually know what they’re doing and that care about their welfare!

And I’d like to apologize to every dog I trained in ignorance, especially my wonderful Katie.  You were too good-natured to hold it against me.  But I still feel guilty about how I treated you and I will always strive to do better for every other dog I encounter during my lifetime.

OK, I guess I DID have something to say.  Surprised me as much as anybody that this is the way this blog turned out :-}

 

 

 

 

For brothers, they couldn’t be more different.  Trick is playful, friendly, and outgoing.  He chases butterflies.  Treat is tough, serious, and all-business.  He could easily survive in the wild on his own.

Trick caught a baby chipmunk and gently carried it around for a while, but didn’t know what to do.  He dropped it (with encouragement from Judy) but was very distressed about the whole situation.  Treat would have known  exactly what to do, and it would not have ended well for the chipmunk!

 

Trick also enjoys lazy naps on the balcony edge.  He makes us very nervous because it’s about a 25 foot drop to the concrete driveway below.  But he doesn’t seem to notice.