22 September 2009

Teaching old dogs new tricks but not how to turn tricks except unless if they could bring home some extra cash?

So the reason it's good to have a pair and a spare of dogs, minimum, for dog agility dogs is that your pair could be sitting out on doctor's orders, lollygagging around in their underwear, playing cards and having a smoke on the sidelines, for an unspecified amount of time. Maybe the rest of their careers. Maybe a few weeks. Who knows? So you need that spare dog for running around with, while the other pair relax and work the system to the best of their abilities.

At practice time though, we have this dilemma. Everybody wants a turn, but some dogs, not supposed to be doing much agility. Any agility. No running allowed. So some of the turns today, learning funny tricks ala clicker training.

Ruby loves to learn tricks, even if we never quite end up with quite what it was we were starting with. There was the classic push Timmy around on the skateboard by bashing her head into the skateboard. Faster. And FASTER. Timmy would just sit there, sort of frozen in horror. Her weird spin flip thing, and weepy sad chihuahua with insane bobbing head are perennial favorites. I'm teaching her to run around my legs right now, maybe faster than is good for her, while I hop up and down. It's sort of like canine freestyle dancing with the stars, Go-Go style. Ruby likely missed her calling as a circus dog. She has the most weird tricks of anyone.

Otterpop's trick repetoire revolves around more useful tricks. I can send her to her bed when she's barking. A rock solid leave-it, a nose touch to my hand when she's uncomfortable. Utilitarian, but she thinks they're fun and they help her be a good dog. While she's in her hinky leg detox rehab, I thought she should get a few cute circus tricks just because. Live large. I've been teaching her a gun finger BANG dead dog except our version is I shoot her while she's running and she flips over and gets up and starts running again. Partly because it's funny and she's an unsinkable Otterpop, and partly because I'm not sure how to teach her to lay there quietly. I guess that's the next trick. I have to scratch my head and think about how to do that one before we start. I think we have time. She LOVES learning tricks.

So they actually had a swell time, every time their turn came up got that clicker out and worked on their tricks in the shade and they had a lot of treats and life was good. No one seemed to notice no manic frisbee games or running around the agility course. Maybe they can be somewhat crippled pagent performers and I'll make them wear hats.

Gustavo and trick teaching. Oh my. Gustavo likes to run fast. Tricks have proven not to be his thing. He wows them at the nursing home with a really good sit, lay down, nose touch and rollover. That whole routine took like a year. If his sensitive little soul gets confused, he stands there looking like he's going to cry. And if I push the issue, even nicely, like make him try to do the thing that confused him one more time, meltdown. This goes for teaching a trick, or anything in agility. AND, if something scares him while he's a little confused, lordy me. Melty, melty, meltiest meltdown of a tuna melt.

Gustavo likes to run fast. Running doesn't confuse him. Not confused is happy. Confused is sad. Gustavo operates on a whole different level than his overachiever sisters, practicing their backflips and plotting to overthrow the dictatorship in their spare time. He barks at stumps. But did I mention he likes to run fast?

He had a stressed out trial. The weight of the world seems to close in on him while he runs around those courses. Things worried him there and he got confused about weave poles and scared of the teeter and who knows what else and confused and stressed out and Gustavo equals the tuna melt recipe. And nothing stinks worse than a tuna melt. So today when we practiced, found a mixture of fun running and working to destress his teeter and poles.

Teeter, fine. If he isn't worried or stressed out, the teeter is his beloved. He runs across the field to it. It was a beloved teeter today practicing, so that's good. Not perma poisoned like before. Same with the a-frame, always a beloved practicing, but can turn foe in the stressful dog show ring. The poles were ok from easy entrances and lower speed, but turning up the heat is where the poles start to betray him. No longer friends. Harder entrances and lightening fast speeds and he misses the entry and gets confused and then he might stop, deer in headlights, and look like he's going to cry. Too much pressure. Happened once today, when I kept turning up the heat on the difficulty level of hitting those poles.

When the pressure builds too much, you can almost see his little brain start to ooze out his ears, and today, one hard, fast pole entry repeated one too many times, and he took off, ran across the field away from me, as if chasing the Brangelina and their multiple spawn across the French countryside. I call to him, and am not answered. I go to him, gently scoop the wounded lambie up, and replace him in the car to decompress for a little while. Teach the smug little rocket scientists some demeaning party tricks.

When I go and bring him back out, start with his favorite thing, his special talent. The 100' snooker recall across the field. He loves this, and we even got to use it in his snookers this weekend. The pressure is off, he is happy again. No Mark Ryden dour faced girl, squirrel on her head, ready to claw out eyes. He's a dog. We go back to that pole entrance. Just one time. Just to see, can he do it? Just once, then he just has to play, play and play?

Yep. Just once. It was a gamble. Probably not the right thing to do, since I wasn't sure if he could. But have to find some kind of balance of enough pressure to push his learning, gently, and enough of setting him up where he won't fail. It's a tough one to figure out.

He got it. And that's my cue, that he gets to just be a dog now and class is over.

1 comment:

Amy Carlson said...

Gustavo is channeling the Fainting Fish of Karen Pryor. Check it out at www.reachingtheanimalmind.com and I think it is chapter four, click on "Fainting Fish". The poor weenie Oscar fish makes a mistake and sinks to the bottom of the tank, gasping in despair. Could be Gustavo?