Sunday, February 7, 2016

Of Dumbbells and Rats

Yesterday Miley and I went to a Barnhunt workshop in Newberg.  There are so many dog sports that I would love to try out!  Thankfully I live in an area where opportunities abound to learn, train and trial in many of them that it's really just a matter of finding the time.  Since I'm already pretty heavy on the disciplines that require a fair amount of very regular training in order to progress in, I'm wanting to try out some of the sports that rely more on the dog's natural instincts versus trained behaviors and exercises.  Hence barnhunt.  This is a sport that I so wish I had tried out with Bess.  She would have lost her mind over it! :)

The workshop was incredibly helpful in going over the general gist of the sport.  Then the dogs get to meet a rat, first in an open fronted cage.  Then in a clear tube.  And finally in the competition tube.  An instinct course is set up and the dogs have the opportunity to do a mock instinct test a few times.  Miley showed some initial interest in the rat, but not a huge amount.  Once the rat was inside the competition tube, she wasn't quite as interested and needed some encouragement to find the one tube out of the three that contained the actual rat.  She did nail the climb element that is required for the novice level testing, but I already knew that she would have difficulty with the tunnel portion as she still isn't going through the tunnel in agility class.  We're gradually working on it in a very low pressure manner.  Since I already know she's got at least a year before she'll be trial ready, I haven't been terribly concerned.  The workshop hostess was thankfully very willing and patient to work with Miley and she set up a modified tunnel that consisted of only one straw bale that she had to go under and we actually got her through it!  Woot!

Miley was incredibly spacey the night before at agility class, so I wasn't terribly surprised that her general distracted behavior continued into the workshop.  We've been through this before with the whole time line of events that followed her last season, and this time isn't any different.  I just need to ride it out and things will get better.  Just in time for her to go into season again. ;) Generally, she was very interested in smelling everything and climbing on the straw bales.  Her real interest in the rats is hard to gauge at this point.  I don't know if she really isn't interested, or if she's just too distracted for it right now and something that requires her to be stationary and not running and climbing is of very low interest to her.  At any rate, it was another fun thing to try out with her and MY interest is enough that we're going to try again in March when we're able to rent some one on one time with the instructor to give it another go.  Dominic will also be bigger and have a little more of an attention span at that point and I'd like to see what he thinks of the sport as well.

I did take full advantage of this outing to bring Dom along so that he could get more socialization in another very different setting.  The workshop was held at a stables, so there were new sights, smells and sounds for him to experience.  More new people that he hasn't met before.  And a larger quantity and variety of dogs in working mode than he's been exposed to so far.  He also got to get a taste of what it'll be like training away from home when he has to wait in a crate when it's not his turn and the back and forth of swapping dogs out.  As has been his way of handling everything so far, he took it all in stride!  We started joking in agility class about Dom's motto in life after he decided that the lowered dog walk and everything else that's been thrown at him, was no big deal.  Dom's motto on life:  "I got this."  Now lets just keep our fingers crossed that puberty and those damned hormones don't mess with my plans. ;)

And in case you're wondering, there are great danes competing in this sport, one of which has his champion barnhunt title already!  I'm very lucky to have Marta in my area.  She has done, and continues to do a plethora of performance sports with all of her danes.  She is someone who I admire not only for everything that she has achieved with her dogs, but because of the respect and consideration she shows them as well as the vast amount of knowledge that she has.  Here's a video of one of her dogs' master barnhunt legs:

I've also been continuing to work with Miley on her dumbbell retrieve.  We got a little stuck when it came to her picking it up off the ground.  She was not super confident picking it up without my hand being right next to it.  She understands that the dumbbell plus the command "take it" mean putting her mouth on the dumbbell and bringing it back to my hands.  Picking it up off the ground without my physical support makes her less sure.  I was prepared for this.  Bess went through the same process.  However, I decided to do things a little differently with Miley and I decided to play around with choice.  My end goal is that regardless of the situation, location, or what have you, I want Miley to pick the dumbbell/article/glove off the ground and bring it back to me.  So I eliminated distractions on the ground so that it was clear what I was wanting her to retrieve and just waited for her to make the correct decision that I knew she had a basic understanding of how to make.  Really, she just lacks the confidence in herself and experience with the exercise to generalize it.  I wanted to see how long it would take her start retrieving and how much support she would need initially from me.  An experiment of sorts.  I was pretty pleased with the results and thankfully recorded the first two sessions I did with her.  First we did the leather article, which is her favorite.  Then we did the wooden dumbbell.

She did need a little support at first and she was a little slower to pick up the article and dumbbell at the beginning.  But you can see her progress with each in just the single sessions while she gains confidence in what she's doing.  I'm really proud of how she's coming along with this!  One she gets pretty solid retrieving in our training room, I'll move it to other areas of the house that she's comfortable with (there are portions of the house that are uncarpetted that she is not a fan of walking on).  Eventually I'll take it on the road and we'll start working the retrieve into our weekly training sessions in very distracting environments.  Bit by bit we're getting there and I'm looking forward to what the final product will look like! :)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Life With Miley

I started this post when I was not in the right frame of mind.  I was feeling frustrated and there were multiple things that were out of mine or Miley's control that were influencing what was going on and it was unfair of me to get so overly critical and negative of my dog.  Miley has been going through a false pregnancy (I feel like I'm beating a dead horse every time I bring this up) and it has been worse than the last one.  There have been things going on with her physiologically that neither she nor I have any control over.  While I can rationalize this part of the time, the rest of the time it's a little hard to deal with and I get frustrated, negative and critical.  So I need to check myself, before I wreck myself.  Or my well meaning dog.

Miley went 7 days without eating her normal food.  She even refused all treats that I offered her in a non working setting.  Thankfully, she would accept her normal training treats while working.  But that was it.  So while she didn't completely starve herself for 7 days, she really didn't eat much.  And she has become incredibly noise sensitive.  To the point where the sound of Dominic eating out of his metal bowl will make her tuck her tail.  She finds new inanimate objects to become afraid of every couple of days.  Things that she has a history of touching and getting treats for, she now doesn't even want to come near.  This has been a very difficult and frustrating false pregnancy to get through.  Part of me is worried about my dog (lets be real, how often do you voluntarily pass up delicious food???).  Miley is the first dog that I've had for whom refusing food is not a sign that I need to rush her to the vet.  It's disconcerting and while I can rationalize that she'll get through this and start eating again, while it's going on, it seems that she will never eat again and I'm going to watch my dog self starve herself to death.  I can admit this now because she has started eating again.  Admittedly it's hit or miss how much she'll eat, but she's eating real food.

However, I hit a wall.  The combination of worry, frustration and not being able to rationalize myself out of the moment, made me a very unsupportive partner for Miley.  I didn't act out negatively towards her, but I was not as understanding when she needed me to be and there was a whole lotta negative talk going on inside my head at the time.  So I'm writing the post to sort of put myself in check.

I got so stuck on the difficulties that we're having at the moment, that I couldn't switch gears.  I'm a big fan of Denise Fenzi and she has had a few blog posts about training the dog that's in front of you.  Not the dog you wish you had, not the dog you plan to have, not even the dog you might have had yesterday or an hour ago, but the dog that is standing there right in front of you.  I wasn't doing that.  Admittedly, my way of not training the dog who was in front of me was to just stop working with her.  And that may very well be the solution for some dogs on some days.  Miley is very forgiving and she was fine with that, but that was a failure on my part for not continuing on with something, anything, that maintained the connection that she and I have.  Something that continued to further and build up that connection that will ultimately strengthen everything else that we do.  I'm getting a little grandiose and maybe a little overly exaggerated, but really, it's the truth.  I want a working partner that I have a very strong relationship with.  Not every dog is going to be in a position to do or work on exactly what I want to work on at that exact moment.  I need to pay attention to the dog that's in front of me.  Period.

I did a lot of thinking while I was at work today as well as thinking out loud with my friend Megan, who is probably the most awesome person for me to go to when I'm needing to work through these moments.  Giving myself a little bit of time and separation from the frustrating moments allowed me to dissect them a little and try to figure out why I was reacting the way that I was.  Ultimately that was the problem.  Miley is having a physiological response that neither she nor I can control.  So the real problem is how I'm reacting to what's going.  In it's most basic sense, why am I getting so frustrated with the training hiccups that we're having?  What's going on is out of my control, so why am I placing so much importance on it?  Ultimately, I feel the need to prove and produce.  If Miley and I aren't making progress that I can show, then I'm failing.  But who cares what kind of progress she and I are making?  We're not going to win the Nobel Peace Prize for anything that we do.  It won't solve world hunger.  And it won't stop global warming.  But it does matter to me.  And because it matters to me, I put pressure on myself to produce.  I know the mechanics of producing the end product, but when things get jumbled up in between, frustration happens.  I get caught up in knowing how things can go, how I feel that Miley should respond if there weren't other forces at work and I don't alter my game plan based on the dog who I have before me.

Sometimes switching gears to focus on what Miley is giving me at that moment can be as seemingly simple as focusing on what SHE can do instead of what she can't at the moment.  When I focus on the negative, the negatives have a way of seeming to pile up and become insurmountable.  If I focus on the positive, it gives me a more productive and better oriented place to start from.  So lets focus on what Miley is good at.  The most basic thing I desire from my dogs is that they be enjoyable to live with and are able to go on the most basic activities that I get so much enjoyment from.  Miley does that with pretty flying colors.  She's my current running partner (for everything except my weekly long run) and my current hiking, snowshoeing and random outdoor expedition partner.  She very happily goes along with me on these outings and is only continuing to show more enthusiasm the more varied the places she gets to go.

She's a pretty happy and forgiving dog.  Bess was not terribly tolerant of repetition while training and would shut down.  Miley may wilt a little if we're working with something scary, but she doesn't check out from me entirely.  As a matter of fact, if she's scared of something or unsure of herself, she's more likely to come to me for reassurance.  Even when I'm the one asking her to work with/around something she's not entirely certain of.

She has increasing stretches of wonderful heeling while out in distracting environments!  I LOVE heeling.  Love it!  That is probably the single exercise where I feel the most connected to her.
Really, the list continues to grow of the things that she does well and that I love her for.  I just needed a little perspective.  And probably will again.  Now I've got this post to go back to as a reminder that this is just temporary and there are still many things for us to come.  In the end, I'll be a better dog trainer because of it.