21 January 2008

Well, let's try to analyze this mixed bag of a dog show.

OK, so here are some kudos. Maybe the rest of this story will be boring because I believe if i was reading this about someone else's dogs, I may be bored. But maybe there are lessons here for all of us, or maybe you are such an agility star you have some good ideas about things I can do to improve on some, um, issues.

Kudos to Gary for getting up at 5am and making sure my leaky radiator was full so I did not throw an engine rod on my car driving there! And he wore the head flashlight to do this too. How much are we loving that head flashlight?

Kudos for Gustavo for not escaping or screaming and being super well behaved and acting like a well trained puppy and taking walks and playing a lot of tug on his nasty ratty piece of fleece.

Kudos to Ruby for just being so fast and what a good dog. And winning all her classes, except for 2nd in one. It was CPE. So it's not like winning all her classes in USDAA. But I was super happy with all her runs, except for her slowish weave poles, which continues to be disturbing, especially when she is flying around out there and then hits those poles and slows way down. (In CPE, slow poles aren't that weird so she can still win I guess, but that doesn't make them ok.) She got a 2nd in a class where they had to do 3 sets of poles. I avoided them in things like Gamblers and those Wacky CPE Point Hogging classes. Which in one, I hogged more points than I believe anyone else in the whole dog show. I have to recheck that score when they post it online, but I apparently got 83 points when most people were getting 40 or at the most 60. I just used shrewd strategy of ground covering and weave pole avoiding and hogged points like it is the end of the world and I'm the last polar bear trying to collect the last ice cubes. Sorry polar bears. Also rocking, Super Q worthy Snookers. Ruby, you are the best. But your weave poles continue to disturb me and I am not sure if it is me, are you trying to tell me something about my handling skills by slowing down in the poles? Is it you? Does your shoulder hurt, which seems unlikely because you are never lame anymore and so fast? Is it both of us? Is there someone else? I don't want to break up Ruby! But I don't know what your slow weave poles are saying!

Otterpop. I am not giving you Kudos. OK. You won all your classes except for 2 which we need to have a little talk about. She had a good fast first place winning first run. It was a points one and I did the fast point hog thing. In the next class, Standard, the start headed straight down a line right to an old man setting poles. There are a couple guys in like their 80's that do CPE. They rock. They are so cute and I find it amazing they can run around out there with their dogs and they are 80! And there was one of the fellas, sitting in a plastic lawn chair, ready to dash out on his spiderly 80 year old legs each time a dog knocked a rail down. And Otterpop takes one look at him, beelines out to him and starts barking.

Take that Otterpop. I called her in to me, and instead of keeping going, marched her to her leash without a word, put it on, and took her straight to the car, not even picking up BELOVED FRISBEE, and just locking her in the car. Alone. I took the other dogs on an enjoyable walk. Thank god I do not have kids. I would go to jail. I think people probably think I beat her, which I DO NOT! because she was all cowery the whole way there probably because I have not spoken even a word to her this whole time and she thinks I have become the dog Whisperer or abominable Snowman.

Otterpop you are FOUR YEARS OLD!

So her next run, wow! Super speedy! Perfect manners. Not a glance at any old men or photographer or pole setters or judges. Wins class! This pattern followed for a while. Til the last class. It was like she sat there and figured this out to get back at me. I mean, I know this isn't what dogs do, right? There has to be some other reason, I am a bad handler, I did something, but she has never done this. She starts out, not super fast but just fine, fast enough, it is Snookers. She takes a few jumps (I was doing the same aggressive all "7's" course I did with Ruby), and then just stops and gives me the look she gives when she is playing fetch and there are other dogs around and she is not giving up a precious stick because THEY WILL TAKE IT and IT IS HERS. But she is in the dog agility ring and there is no frisbee or stick or tennis ball, she is just supposed to keep on jumping and she has just stopped. And is looking at me like "I am Otterpop the Great and Powerful Ruler of the Universe and Screw You." What did I do Otterpop? Do you want to break up with me too? I thought we had a beautiful relationship and now this.

I just ceased the run and took her to jail again. BecauseI didn't want to signal that behavior like that is going to fly for even a second. I don't know. It was our last run, so I didn't get to test the post jail Perfect Dog On Parole technique. I think my dogs are messed up. Obviously I messed them up. I am trying to give myself objective advice as an agility trainer but I am a little baffled other than I think I am doing something weird to mess my dogs up. We do fun tricks, they seem excited and motivated and happy to go in the ring. They are amazing when we practice. But we have weird patterns here. I don't think I am a bad handler. But I know I'm not the greatest handler, and clearly not the greatest trainer. I have many successes and handlers I respect tell me I am doing a good job. Even let me run their dog. But, I have a new young dog here and if I am doing something completely crazy and lame I want to fix it NOW before I screw up what might end up being a very talented little dog.

Maybe it's just my shoes? Or my accessorizing? Should I start wearing makeup? Get a boob job? Follow everything Susan Garrett says like I am in a cult? Take the pressure off the dogs and just do a bit of a run and leave the ring and play? Is it a customer service issue? Heidi Klum? Aack, the karma is catching up with me for being a mean lady? Damn, it's always something.


team small dog said...

So when I read that through, it sounded a little like an inbred, overboob jobed stage mom cackling on a casting agent's voice mail about not getting a My Little Pony commercial callback for her precious spawn.

So let me follow up with this. I was super happy my dogs were fast and happy and not knocking bars or missing contacts and handling complex, masters level courses with aplomb and style.

When we train and before and after runs, we spend a long time on the lawn playing frisbee and having fun. If they are good on a run, it's all about frisbee and hot dogs and a nice walk. I think I make agility about having maximum wacky fun with dogs. I work less at trials now to spend more time hanging out with the dogs and walking them, so they don't become running/crating little robots. This is usually the thing they love. So that's why I get disturbed and manic and mommy dearest when weird things happen. Having an upset Otterpop, Ruler and Master of the Universe, breaks my feelers, and if it turned into a regular thing, would put an end to her dog show career. But you just can't be barking at sweet little 80 year old men. Period. Otterpop. You do get some kudos for all your other runs except those 2 where you were fast and accurate and happy!

Anonymous said...

Maybe the answer is in Donna's book--how far have you gotten? Check the index for "when species meet except when there's an 80-year-old man setting poles." I was just thinking yesterday how my relationship to my dog is so odd compared to my relationship to people (not that, in general, that relationship to my own species is not odd). But, for example, why did I think it was so cute that after I put Ariel's ball into the dryer with my sadly deflated comforter so that it would get plumped up (remember, I missed going to the CPE trial so I had housemaid duties), and Ariel just stood there watching the dryer and listening to the ball bumping inside the whole time the comforter was drying? Now, had that been my kid, I would have been thinking oh my god those lead paint chips he ate while we were in Panama have caused autism! Cute would not be what I was thinking. So why did I think it was cute that Ariel was exhibiting behavior appropriate to a mentally retarded 4 year old human in response to my behavior, which, let's face it, was borderline sadistic? Oh, hell, sadistic. Yet that's the kind of thing you see on YouTube all the time! People's pets doing cute things in response to mildly sadistic acts of the humans who love them. And they are so cute! Let me tell you, I'm re-thinking the word, "cute." I'm thinking just maybe lurking below "cute" is species not meeting.

So, I was wondering whether, while deeply disturbing to you and other serious agility dog trainers, to run of the mill humans Otterpop running over to bark at the 80-year-old man was cute?

I'm just thinking that these are great puzzling moments. Everything seems to be going well in the meeting of the species, and then there is a mysterious break down, which is cute, but bad. No one knows what is happening. All species are puzzled.

Which means that Cesar Millan is really rich right now because he can explain things to the average dog and the average human. I don't think I have ever heard Cesar say that a dog is being cute. Dog behavior and human sadism is never cute to Cesar. It's a mis-meeting of species.

But then you get a non-meeting event (slow weave poles, barking at 80 year old man) which puzzles agility dog trainers, who are like the Ph.D.'s of canine-human species meeting stuff, and calling Cesar is not going to help.

And you try really hard to figure out what is going on in the dog brain so that you can figure out some meeting place. And you can't figure it out. Yet.

But it's a good thing! Intractable problems are always good because "intractable" is a word for problems that are really disrupting the status quo. It means that if the problem is not solved, something probably has to give. The prospect of giving up because of an intractable problem is probably the single biggest motivator to actually solving the problem. So intractable problem probably means brink of discovery.

It's like when I thought Ariel watching the dryer was "cute" -- I had no motivation to seeing my own sadistic behavior -- I (dis)missed the missed meeting of species. So you are way ahead of the game, of course, because barking at the 80-year-old man was not cute to you in the context of species-meeting-in-agility-competition. (Though in writing about it, you rendered it somewhat cute.) It became an intractable problem.

Let me know when you have solved it, because I think Ariel is on the verge of some intractable problems. She has started barking in irritation when she never ever did that before. Now, I could just give her to Rob -- I know that my end of the the problem is that I give out 10 conflicting signals for everything she is supposed to do, and Rob only gives one clear signal -- but her end of the problem is to meet me somewhere, maybe at only 5 conflicting signals. Because I let her under the sheets. And Rob is not likely going to let her do that.

team small dog said...

Well, the reading of Donna's book is going REALLY slow, becuse it's Donna's book. She said to start with Chapter 8, and even Chapter 8 is hard to read. I think you will be able to read Donna's book though! So she might have the answer in there but it will take me a while to find it.

Both my dogs have a grand history of stress. Ruby was a feral animal, and couldn't even be near other dogs on a leash for a long time. Getting her in the ring, at a busy trial, and to a start line thru a crowd of dogs was a long process. Having her in class, being able to be tied up near other dogs, crazy. Never really thought we would make that happen. but we did.

Otterpop has always hated everyone other than like 5 people, and still randomly explodes. I taught her to be able to walk on a leash near any kind of moving vehicle without explosions by carrying a frisbee around.

If either of my dogs had been large dogs, I don't think I would have been able to train them. I would have been afraid of them hurting someone or another dog or killing themselves when a truck drove by. I'm not sure what I would have done.

If one of my agility students came to me with the Otterpop problem, I would say, well, it sounds like she is stressed out in the ring. Back off. Which is how I first got her to do the teeter and stop barking at ring crew guys and judges, and then she turned into a good dog and now it looks like she is stressed again and I need to back off. So she might have to go back to giving up Q's and do 5 things and run out and get her frisbee. That was what fixed that teeter problem. I'd always hide a frisbee right by the teeter, do the course to the teeter and run out and frisbee fiesta. Teeter fixed after a few months. But boy oh boy, what a long time to get an ADCh doing that. Not sure how she ever made it to Masters with all those frisbee fiesta runs.

Ruby's problem is a little weirder because she is overall motivated and unstressed and fast except for the weave poles. She does have a history of lameness which I always felt was exacerbated by the poles, although this was always just conjecture and never proven. But her poles first started slowing down when she kept going lame.

Most stress in the ring though, aside from general overall stress about being in a trial or other dogs, is usually from poor handling. I watch thousands of runs. I teach beginners. And when you see the difference of really crystal clear handling and the ease of a dog in running a course, and super unclear handling because someone is a beginner or just not a very good handler, the stress level of a dog is usually high, causing a run quality that is very low.

So I have to figure out, is this a stress reaction (in Otterpop's case, yeah, for sure it is) and what causes it. Is it being in a dog show? Is it something I do or have done handling (Ruby was a hard dog for me to train-she would SHUT DOWN instantly on any error I made running. And as a beginner handler and trainer, I made a LOT of errors) or is it something I've done more at a training level?

Those are all my questions. I bet Ariel's barking is a stress reaction due to your still developing handling skills, not unlike when Ruby used to completely shut down and check out. I think that as you get better, she will get over this. I can give you a lot of people that are good handlers to look at with great fast dogs, and tell them many wacky things their dogs used to do when we were learning stuff in class a few years ago. And you might not believe me because they look so polished and confident out there.

Am I answering my own question? Yeah sort of. Maybe Otterpop is demanding I become a flawless handler. And maybe she also wants a little dog show pressure off of her. Maybe Ruby pretty much is ok with my handling and is meeting me halfway there like you want Ariel to do, except won't budge on the pole issue? Or maybe there's something else there, general overall dog show stress manifests in those poles. Or the soreness. Maybe there's a lot of answers, and maybe none of those are right.

Maybe I need to try and figure out Donna's book better. We were acknowledged in it (along with all her agility pals-thanks Donna!) so I feel we have some responsibility to apply the uses of critical theorietical scientific dog writing to our problem. I'll go look in Chapter 8 some more.

Anonymous said...

I own most of Donna's books, but have read about 10% of their words. The titles are plenty enough for me! The titles of her books give little old me plenty to go on! ("Primate Visions," Modest_Witness@Second Millenium," "Companion Species Manifesto," "When Species Meet"--see what I mean?) It's probably the same as why I am such a TEAM SMALL DOG FAN. You give good title, too! Just like Donna. A good title is worth 1,000,000 words that you aren't smart enough to read and understand. (It's why Adam Phillips is my favorite non-fiction author, ever.) I always told my students that a great title would fix their (lousy) essay! Best advice I ever gave.

We went to a Rachel Sanders running A-Frame Seminar this weekend. Almost everyone there, including Rachel Sanders, was interested in a running A-Frame because they really had come to hate A-Frames because of intractable problems reasons. Except Ariel and me. They are OK with us, and her 2 on 2 off just emerged as great for some reason I don't understand. Most of the people there said their A-Frame started out OK, and then became an intractable problem, and so now they are considering whether to build hit boxes out of PVC pipe. So, I'm a little worried that her 2 on and 2 off will disappear and I'll have an intractable problem and will need to have built a hit box out of pvc pipe. I'm thinking I prefer the sundress on tropical island approach on that one.

But now, the whole agility thing seems fraught with the dangers of screwing up a perfectly good dog.

team small dog said...

Yeah you just thought dog agility was doing some jumps and running over some big wooden stuff painted blue and yellow when you signed up! Welcome to the dark side!

Elf said...

I never know when Boost will break out in full spooked-out panic and/or barking, like this.

Spooks in the ring, sometimes, too. Her breeder (Greg Leal) came to me after one such run and said, looking bewildered, "does she do that often?"

Then there's Tika, who looks so normal most of the time (by some definition of "normal" but she'll get some odd brain buzz going and start fear/barking at something, usually someone just standing still--the leash runner waiting to take the leash, a judge standing off in teh corner instead of out in the middle, someone standing in the entry to a tent...

Life is interesting with dogs like that.

Slow weaves--all of my dogs have been slower in weaves in competition than at home or in training. WIth Boost and Tika, I don't think that most people can tell, but they are. With Remington, he'd sometimes get down to walking through the weaves, where at home--especially if there was a food target at the end--he could weave like Superdog.

My theory is that it has to do with their confidence and not wanting to do something wrong. I don't have any great answer except finding ways to make the weaves super exciting and super fun at home and do millions of them and reward only for faster & faster performances, not merely for completing them. And, if they pop out in competition, don't go back and fix them.


team small dog said...

Wow-I know who you and your dogs are from being at dog shows and I always figured they were perfect! I always think I am the only person with less than perfect dogs. Or not even close to perfect dogs.

Yeah, Ruby used to always have fast weave poles, then they got slower and slower. So it's like a mystery. Why. I had this whole plan of going to CPE just so I could pull her out and reward her when she had fast poles in the first couple classes (that's her usual pattern then they get slow) and she never had fast poles. Now I will have to do this at turlock and use up a Q towards her ADP. Although I could have the good fortune of knocking a bar, then fast poles, then pull her out! What a thing to look forward to.

I thought Otterpop was the only dog in the world that was so spooky and evil. She is a challenge because she does have the evil side too, so you never know exactly when it's legitate spooky or evil combined. I go with both when it's charging at a sweet 80 year old man in a chair. Even if it was just spooky.