Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First agility training session of the year!

Yesterday we ended our second 2010-2011 winter agility break and went to one of the arenas to train! (Our first break was from the end of October to the end of December, and our second break was from the end of December -- after we sneaked in some agility -- to yesterday :)

Wall-e trained first again. I like training Wall-e first because 1. still being a baby dog, he's the one who needs the most training, and 2. I can test out my handling with him and make sure I've chosen the best handling plan before I handle Mika, who slows down a bit if I handle sloppily.

First we did the teeter bang game. I noticed the last time we trained at this arena, in December, that both dogs were a bit nervous about this teeter. Mika used to be fine with it, but considering that she hadn't used a teeter in months, I guess a bit of her old stress started creeping back. (The only way she showed stress was by licking her lips and folding her ears back a bit, but I still had to take notice.) And Wall-e has never been on this teeter before, and he's still extremely sensitive to any noises he hears in arenas. He showed stress by not running right to the edge of the teeter to wait for it to hit the ground, like he usually does.

But Wall-e did really well with the bang game. He wagged his tail as he pushed down the end of the teeter (I propped up the other end with a chair). I gradually moved the chair to increase the bang, and he ended up being able to do the whole teeter with zero stress!

Then we ran part of an Advanced Standard course that was set up. Wall-e was nuts!! The course involved two jump wraps, which he did nice and tight with our cik and cap cues. And his contacts (just the A-frame and dog walk) were great! I'm so excited to trial him in Standard this year and see how his fast 2on2off holds up!

To finish, we played around with a tunnel to build tunnel drive. I used Wall-e's new favourite toy to reward; it's a cat toy that we bought at a garage sale years and years ago. It has a plastic ball in it that spins around and around, and the dogs just go wild for it!! And because there aren't a lot of toys that Wall-e goes wild for, it's great for an agility reward. I can't throw it or tug with it, but I can set it up on the other side of an obstacle:

Then it was Mika's turn! She couldn't run into the arena fast enough; she was just dying to train. And once we got in there and I let her off the leash, she started racing around everywhere, like "Are we REALLY here?!"

We did the same teeter bang game that Wall-e did. You wouldn't believe how the old memories started coming back of how we did this same game, over and over again, in the winter of 2007-2008. And Mika still has the same adorable technique of pushing down the teeter with her front paws, and then flipping her body around to face me. The only thing she's added is increased drive!

The segment of the course that we ran was SO much fun!! As I re-watch the clips I have this huge smile on my face because Mika is just having the time of her life. Zoom here, zoom there, she had so much speed and attitude...this dog is incredible!!

We finished up with some jumping-into-my-arms training. Mika can go over a jump, and she can jump into my arms, but when I try to ask her to jump into my arms *after* going over a jump, she gets a bit confused. She hasn't really connected this trick to agility yet, so we'll be doing some more of this at home. She did get it one time, though!

So to finish it off, this was a great training day to begin 2011. I'm so, so lucky to have two amazing, happy, healthy dogs who I can have so much fun with! I can't wait to see what adventures this year will bring for us!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hear the buzz

I'm going to give Mika a haircut for the first time. Probably next weekend. She just gets so stressed at the groomer's that I'd like to start doing it at home.

I started introducing her to the noise of the clippers on Thursday. First it was casual, by accident; I just walked into the bathroom to look for the clippers and Mika happened to follow. When I found them, I let her sniff them and she immediately ran away. This dog is my master generalizer; I've never clipped her in my life, but she knew right away that it was the same thing that the groomer used!

When we had our actual training session on Thursay, Mika knew that we were training and didn't run away when she saw the clippers. First I threw a bunch of treats on the floor, then a bunch more, and then turned on the clippers. Mika started to shake even as her tail continued to wag wildly (you should see this dog during all our training or trick sessions; her tail wags so fast throughout our sessions that it's almost a blur). She stopped shaking as I continued to throw treats on the ground, and that tail kept going. She realized that I wasn't going to clip her, I was just rewarding her for hearing the buzzing noise. And she was fine with that!

We did the same thing in our first session on Friday. In the second Friday session, I threw treats on the ground as I brought the clippers close to her back. She was completely fine with that. In fact, she's loving our "pre-clipping" sessions; all she has to do is hear the buzzing noise and she gets piles of treats thrown on the ground!

I think Mika will be fine. I just don't know how I'll be, concerning my lack of :) Be prepared for a disaster!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Montana's antics

Thanks to my mom for taking this photo :)

Montana is really starting to fit in to our family. Well, it's impossible for her not to; she's around all the time! She ALWAYS has to follow someone around. One of her favourite spots is on a kitchen chair (it's always the same chair) under the table. I guess she likes it because there's always something going on in the kitchen. She still nips occasionally, mostly our feet. It's a good idea to always wear socks in our house now; not for warmth, but for protection from Montana's teeth :)

Montana would never bite our other pets, though she does find them interesting. Shadow, our other cat, and Montana have been getting along really well. Shadow's definitely the boss between the two. If the two cats are sitting in front of each other, staring, Montana is the one who will look away first. Sometimes Montana wants to play with Shadow (at least, l think she's playing; it's hard to tell with Montana!) and will bat out a paw. Or if Shadow is on a counter and Montana is on the ground, Montana will swing her paw at Shadow's swishing tail. Shadow's an old lady who has better things on her mind than playing, but she's actually quite patient with "the youngster" and will either ignore Montana or hiss if she's getting too bold.

Montana isn't too interested in Mika. Mika knows how to stand her ground and will snap/"roar" at Montana if she really bothers her, so Montana doesn't try anything too daring with her.

But poor Wall-e! Montana takes advantage of the fact that
he's so easily bossed around. Wall-e would never, ever, ever snap or growl or do anything to defend himself, so Montana pretty much has a full control. She'll step in front of him and sit down, "guarding" him so that he can't pass by. If he tries to walk around her, she'll move with him and sit down in front of him again. Wall-e knows that if he gets too close he'll get a swat. And he's almost twice the size of her! If only I could tell Wall-e to give Montana a little bark a few times, and then she might not bug him anymore :)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Strengthening the core

Last week I talked about how I was continuing to train Wall-e the sit-up/beg trick. I have been trying to train Mika to do the trick too, but not with much luck! She doesn't seem to have the physical ability to do the trick. Last summer, she could balance with me supporting her for about a second, but now she can't balance at all. I guess maybe that's because she's not as well-conditioned now as she was in the summer? So because of that, we've been getting back to working on the exercise ball. I realized a while ago that our ball is too small for Wall-e (it's a round exercise ball, not a dog one), but it's just big enough for Mika to stand on without having to arch her back. We did some basic ball exercises today and yesterday; standing, sitting, and lying down. We only worked for five minutes each time, since we're just getting back to it. Soon Mika will have the abs of a body-builder again :) I remember back in 2009 when we were preparing for Regionals, we did ball work 3-7 times a week for months and months, and it was amazing to see how much Mika's condition improved. Then I started getting lazy :) No more of that!!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Do your dogs pull on the leash?

The age-old dilemma; pulling on the leash. To pull or not to pull, how to train, what tools to use; people have been discussing the "behavioural problem" of pulling on the leash for years.

I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately as we see other dogs on walks. It's interesting, and sometimes upsetting, to see how people attempt to train their dogs.

Some people's dogs don't pull (like Mika). Some people's dogs pull and their owners don't mind (like Wall-e). Some people's dogs pull and their owners yank them back. Some people's dogs don't pull and their owners still use collar corrections if the dog even steps slightly ahead of them. And some people's dogs don't want to walk and are dragged along by their owners (I don't see this often, but I do see it too much). I see dogs with buckle collars, dogs with martingale collars, dogs with harnesses, dogs with Gentle Leaders, dogs with chokes, dogs with prongs. There seems to be no end to how people train their dogs and what tools they use.

Let me talk about my own dogs and their leash "manners." Mika doesn't pull unless she sees another dog; in that case, I wouldn't give her time to pull because I'd already be asking her to "Gimme a check," which is her cue to focus on me and trust me to keep her safe. When Mika was a puppy, she did pull. I was taught at puppy kindergarten class to start walking in the opposite direction whenever she used the leash to go taut. It didn't work 100% at the time. I think she just doesn't pull anymore because she just doesn't find walks all that exciting, and she also doesn't like the feel of a tight leash; at the very rare times that she does cause the leash to go taut, she shakes herself (her key sign of stress) and stops for a couple of seconds. In addition, Mika just likes to stay close to me. She doesn't like being far away from me on walks.

Wall-e, on the other hand, looovess walks and just can't wait to see what's ahead. When I first got him, he didn't pull. Then again, when I got him he was nervous to walk down the street! (He had never seen the suburbs before.) I never had to train him to keep a loose leash because he already did. He probably started pulling at around the same time he started chasing cars (at about nine months). But then I was all about building drive and I didn't want to decrease any enthusiasm. I only started to seriously train him to walk on a loose leash at the end of December, after reading in one of Suzanne Clothier's book that the first step to overcoming any kind of problem with a dog is walking on a loose leash. So we started training loose leash walking, but even though I was using positive reinforcement, Wall-e just wasn't having as much fun as he did when he pulled. I missed seeing him racing at the end of the leash like a little furry sled dog (and yes, I missed desperately trying to keep up with him). So after about three weeks of training him to walk on a loose leash, we went back to our old ways.

I think that letting a dog pull on their leash is perfectly fine. (Well, maybe not for the St. Bernards and Mastiffs. :) As long as the dog still has focus on the handler and checks back often, without being asked, the handler and dog can enjoy their walk while still staying connected. My only worry about pulling on the leash is that it could cause injury to the trachea over time, which is why I'm looking into buying a sport harness. I have a no-pull harness that we got for Mika when she was about a year old, but I don't want Wall-e to stop pulling; I want a harness that will still allow Wall-e to pull without causing him injury. He enjoys pulling and I don't want to get rid of that for him.

So, what about you guys? Do your dogs pull on the leash? Are you okay with it?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Did you wash your paws?" and returning to disc

We did some more tricks today and yesterday :) We're all so happy to be back in the routine!

Yesterday I continued training the sit-up trick with Wall-e (sitting up on his haunches, a.k.a. "begging"). Like so many of our tricks-in-progress, we've trained this trick off-and-on for a while. I know that I really should just commit to it and train this trick exclusively for a while, or else my dogs won't develop the muscles necessary for staying in the position.

I've been thinking about what cue to use for this trick after I train it. I don't want to use "Sit-up" because it sounds too much like Sit. Likewise, I don't want to use "Beg" because it sounds too much like "Back" (which is Wall-e's new back-up cue, long story that I'll explain another time). I was reading a trick book yesterday and it gave the suggestion of "Did you wash your paws?". I think that's super cute, so I might end up using that!

Today I did some more disc dog foundation training with Mika. Poor Wall-e had to be "retired" from disc before he really even began, to save his knees.

Anyway, today we had a very short session on building disc drive. Mika likes discs, but not enough to consistently bring them back when I toss them. So for a while I've just been wiggling the disc on the ground (we're using the soft floppy disc at the moment) and do some light tugging when Mika grabs it. After about 30 seconds of wiggling and tugging, I threw a bunch of kibble on the ground to jackpot, and then ended the session by saying "Free Dog!" (our end-of-session release cue).


I meant to say in my last post, thanks for everyone who gave input on whether to get the balance disc or the sport harness. I think for now I'll just get the trial sounds CD and get the other stuff later :)