Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Amazing Girl!

Reese and I went to an agility lesson tonight and we had a great time. Reese really exceeded my expectations. She only ran off a couple of times, and really only to the door, when she heard some noises and got distracted. I think it is safe to say I was being boring then and she was probably a little stressed and needed time to explore. (It was at a barn where lots of other dogs have been running around, there are horses boarded there and I think I heard some sheep - so the smells were probably overwhelming.) It didn't take her long to get back on task though. She did not get the zoomies and run all over the whole barn and refuse to come back like she has in the past. I had to use a bit of trickery only a couple of times and then she came running back and got her reward. 

The teamwork we have built up working stock this year has really paid off and helped improve our relationship. When you see that teamwork transfer over to a new venue it really is huge for the handler. Yes, we have worked hard and we are seeing the results but it doesn't so much seem like work now. It is just fun, I am having so much fun with her each day. Even though we are working on things I try to make it as much fun and as much like a game as I can.

Recalls, recalls, recalls. They still need a lot of work but I am seeing results and it is so rewarding to see.  It definetly makes me want to keep working hard on them, so they continue to get stronger and faster. Having family members that had a dog get hit by a car, my sister saw it happen, really puts a fear in you about letting your dog off leash. Especially one that has as much drive as Reese. We are progressing nicely and I think we are almost ready to start adding a few light distractions besides smells. We are trying to go to as many new places as we can to generalize what we have now before adding a lot of distractions.

Through all our hard work I have been increasing Reese's drive to work with me as opposed to the other things she might find interesting on her own. I am having so much fun with her these days. She really is becoming the dog I always wanted. I always knew I had to play a big hand in shaping that dog, but now I am learning just how to do that. Dogs come to you with everything they need, but then it is up the human to shape those things to be what you want.

So we are going to continue to work on running contacts and while it will be a long process, it is just getting cold here and if we are working outside, we will need to be moving to stay warm so this is a good time to work on contacts. I am going to get a thinner plank for outside so that I can work on Reese just running over it, really driving full speed. She was doing okay on the plank in the basement in the past but I realized she wasn't running over it full speed. Speed is one of the reasons I want running contacts. The other is for injuries - to avoid them and reduce the risk. I sat with a rehabilitation veterinarian while watching agility once and picked her brain a little. She stated that was one of the things she would worry about most was the shoulders from the quick stops that many dogs do on the down side contacts. Some dogs shift their weight properly as they stop to reduce the jarring and I could probably teach her to do that, but I want to go for running contacts first.

It was a good lesson, Reese stayed focused on me for I would say 80% of it, and 10% I had to get her back focused on me but she did refocus quickly and the other 10% she was checking the door and wandering a bit. But it was okay, I was able to work on getting her back and we need to learn how to reconnect when we lose that connection. When she started to wander off or I was talking with the instructor I was grabbing her collar in the beginning and then trying to send her through the weaves. I was being too controling of everything she did. Once I relaxed and let her wander away a bit, she actually returned to do check-ins quite frequently and most of the time she just sat there and relaxed while we talked. Then I sent her through the weaves again and it was much smoother and she did just fine. She was also on informatin over-load with everything I was telling her both verbally and then my body language was telling her something else. I think the lesson is be clear in what you want to tell your dog and use the most plain language you can.

I am finding working with a dog is sort of like playing tennis. The most subtle change in placement/tilt of your racket or the way your swing moves will change the trojectory of the ball entirely. When working with your dog the most subtle change in your body language will tell your dog something completely different. It really is amazing how much they pick up, and it is also important to remember that dogs read body language first, they hear the verbal commands second.

So we have a lot to work on, and we will be videotaping a lot of it so that I can see what I am doing.  I'll try to put some of our contact work up as we progress.

For those trialing this weekend....
May all your runs be clean,
your jumps collected as you turn quick,
your straight-aways fast, and may one paw always hit the yellow.

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