12 April 2008

Don't lets make this into a thing.

A weird and disturbing thing happened the other day. Dog training is so hard. Do you hear the sound of my head bashing against the wall?

We were practicing and all of a sudden, the big muscle dogs from down the road came running up to the fence and scared Gustavo. I mean, little weenie that he is, it wasn't really that scarey of an event. The dogs came up to the fence and barked. Gustavo is a tiny little 12lb dog who can run like the wind, but pumpkins can scare the pants off of him. The big dogs don't scare me, but then, neither do pumpkins. And he generally does like to freeze and stare at unknown big dogs he sees from far away when he's running on the beach or in a field. Seems like a smart thing to do when you are a puny little thing. But then he likes to go play with them.

So when the dog posse came running up the lane, big, meatheady, tan country dogs, charging the fence, who woulda thunk he would have been all that phased? I am used to tough and mean little dogs that, had they been over there would have either ignored them (Otterpop, if I had the frisbee) or maybe just given them a look and a quick charge back, then back to business (Ruby, if I had a chunk of cheese). And the big dogs were on the other side of the nice, tall fence. But his bodyguards were parked on the other side of the field, and it was just him out there.

Gusvtavo acted as if his whole little world was coming crashing to a halt. I mean really. Crashing. And, he shut down. Deer in the headlights. Slammed on the brakes. Frozen. Not moving. Stuck.

Here is where we part ways, dog agility friends and non dog agility friends. Dog agility friends all gasped when reading the last paragraph. Non dog agility friends are like, "So the dog stopped running. Sounds like a nice time for a cold beer!"

But It means. Turn off brain. Lose drive. Go slow. Something I thought I would never, ever, ever let happen with this dog. Not once. Not a single time.

I have lived through Ruby who was a MAJOR shut downer for years. She was the first dog I ever trained and hugely challenging and would shut down completely the instant I made any kind of error or a dog walked by or there was a noise or a fly on the field. Screeeech. That is the sound of her old brakes. It took years for me to channel her natural and intense prey drive for the powers of good. And every so often it still goes haywire.

Then I got an Otterpop, a paranoid dog who can run with blinding speed everywhere, except for at a trial which freaks her out. And I tried this and that and Susan Garrett and this and that and I never have quite hit on the magic combination that makes for a dog that has 100%, non distractable, all the time drive. Here is where my dog training skills go weak and buckley. Because the Good Dog Trainers say that "Your Dog Needs To Only Think That Agility is The Best Thing Ever to Do With You At All Times. The Distractions Should Not Be Higher Than The Intensity of Your Dog's Drive to Play With You." Augh. I have to go to work, and to be a good dog trainer I have to teach my dog to PLAY better. Smash head against wall again.

I had my mini border collie dreams for Gustavo. Of full drive, all the time. Which quickly became apparent that border collie, he ain't, not even close. Which is ok. I wouldn't trade Gustavo for even Oprah's ranch if she was going to Big Give it to me. OK. Maybe I would think about it. Don't send self to Sophie's Choice Mental Hell Game. But fast running, he does. And the first time seeing him compute the fact that, Hey, I could stop running now because I got scared, totally freaked me out.

So I had to quick step into what would I do if I was teaching agility class Right Now and this happened to a student? I would say, "Let's not make a big deal about it. Don't make it into a thing. Back up, do something SUPER EASY that he likes for a reward he loves." Which actually happened to a dog when I was teaching the other night and we patched it up lickety split.

What is his best reward? Better even than hot dogs in a tupperware?

Play bitey face frisbee with Otterpop. This is different than Otterpop's version of frisbee. Hers is old school. Someone throws the frisbee and you get it. His involves she chases the frisbee and he attacks her and she attacks back all the way to and from the frisbee and he makes an attempt to get it but really Otterpop owns all frisbees and that is a lot of work to get it. And play over and over and also get a treat sometimes when he actually gets the frisbee away from her. So that's what we did. He snapped out of it and played. And then I'd quick park Otterpop, have him do a couple jumps, chase the frisbee himself, and then get Otterpop out of her parking space and let them chase it together. Repeat, rinse, repeat.

So we didn't really end up doing much agility. Even though I had taken apart the dogwalk to make a mini table dogwalk, dragged tunnels across the field, set up channel weaves, lowered the a-frame, essentially remodeled the whole agility field just for Gustavo basically, who now I am afraid to do anything with except a jump and a frisbee in fear of ruining him.

So we fixed it. But I saw it. And even though the advice I gave as an agility teacher the other night was "Don't lets make this into a THING," I have this seed planted now of the ugly I saw. And I want it to go away. Don't I always try to have an ending on a story, like a HAPPY ending, like a sitcom? Like Laverne and Shirley? Isn't my life a nice sitcom and every episode ends so HAPPY? Thanks Laverne for fixing my dog! Don't lets make this into a THING.

There. Ha. There's a partial frowny ending. Doom and gloom. No more Mrs. Sitcom. Laverne and Dog Screwing Up Lady. You tell 'em Otterpop.


Elayne said...

If it makes you feel any better I know people who’ve had to pull their top masters border collies (the kind that get placements at Nationals events) from runs when there is thunder in the distance because the poor dog is shaking and cowering in it’s crate. Everybody’s scared of something. For me it’s monkeys, for Gustavo it’s pumpkins and country dogs. I love agility, a lot, but there's no way I'm doing it if there's even a sliver of a possibility that I might end up with monkeys in my hair. Lucky for me that monkeys aren’t native to Boulder and so far I haven’t received any dinner party invitations from Michael Jackson. Lucky for Gustavo Halloween comes only once a year and there aren’t likely to be too many loose country dogs at agility trials. If you’ve had him this long and so far those are the only things he’s afraid of it’s not worth fretting over though I can empathize with how frustrating those shutdown training sessions are.

team small dog said...

Wow. I never thought about what it would be like to do agility if there were monkeys in my hair. I like monkeys but I don't think I would want them in my hair either. I am totally with you there. It could be pretty fun to try to teach a monkey to do agility actually. It might be really, really hard to teach contacts to because of the swingyness.

Yes. I don't want to make it into a thing. So I don't turn it into a thing. Because I guess now I can see there is an opening for where someday there could be a thing. But I have to look at it as it shouldn't become a thing.

Urban Smoothie Read said...

my dog was a paranoid mutt too, n with some noise phobia...

whenever a stranger approach, she thought they are there to kill her..so she will attack them 1st. sigh...

n during trials, she used to run off the ring... then improve to, doing a lap of honour.... now mostly over shot at obstacle.. but we are getting there soon...