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! :)

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