Archive for the ‘Micah's Journey’ Category

Micah’s October Challenge

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Halloween presents an especially difficult scenario for the socially challenged.

Dogs that have social “issues” have an especially hard time on this night of nights, with ghosts and goblscaryins running through the neighborhood, ringing doorbells and yelling “trick or treat”. Can you imagine what they must be thinking? Don’t worry mom - I’ll protect you!!!!!

Micah tried REALLY hard to be a good boy tonight. (I temporarily have a couch sitting almost directly in front of my front door. Not great decorating, but hey – it’s just temporary. The couch is on its way out).

So Micah planted himself on the arm of the couch and sat patiently waiting for his reward for being good. And he WAS good.

That is until the doorbell rang, or he heard the squeals of the kids running up the walk. As soon as I opened the door he would leave his designated spot on the couch to run to the door. Try as he might, it was a tough task for him to hold his position.

Dog training is a process. Sometimes it’s a L-O-N-G process. He’s definitely not an automaton. He’s a feisty little terrier boy, high on the scale of reactivity. And so, we continue to tame the wild beast within. Stay tuned.

Crack Balls

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago at agility class, Micah had to run over and “snark” at another dog. He does this occasionally. Not a lot, but occasionally. Especially if there is someone new in class that he’s not familiar with. After working with him for. . . what . . . 4+ years now? I started thinking that I might be trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Even though he is physically Perfect for agility (lean and leggy), his inability to focus is getting me down. I started to entertain the idea that we may never be able to really excel at this sport, and I might have to look for something else to do with him.

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Tonight at agility class at Dog City Training Center, Micah discovered the “crack balls”. (We just call them that because it seems that ALL dogs LOVE them). He has a special toy at home that he’s totally nuts about, but I think the new crack ball will give it a run for it’s money. He was absolutely spastic as I placed the ball on top of a shelf while it was our turn to run; jumping and {{{quivering}}} and yipping for the ball. Please momma, please momma, PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE!!!!

I tried to get him to come but he was having none of it. So my instructor suggested that I put the ball in my pocket and throw it for him as a reward at the end. It was a good idea – at least in theory. He had a lot of trouble completing his sequences because he kept pulling off to come (try to) get the ball. However – his level of excitement was unbelievable, and he was TOTALLY focused on ME. As she pointed out, he didn’t so much as LOOK at another dog during the entire hour we were there. And that’s saying a LOT for Micah.

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Since this was our first attempt at training with a toy instead of food, I do realize that this was the roughest night. I’m sure that as he gets accustomed to using the ball, he will be able to focus a bit more, just knowing that the ball is coming. I’m very excited about this new possibility.

Maybe there’s hope for us yet. Fingers crossed!

Stay tuned.

Micah’s 2×2 Weave Pole Update

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

I know it’s been some time since I said I was going to post video of Micah’s progress with his weave poles. Our progress has been a little slower than I would have liked, in part due to me! and my lack of organization. But I think he’s coming along nicely.

He is doing 8 poles at home, with a fair amount of speed, but he lacks consistency. He frequently doesn’t complete all 8, but I have a plan for working that. Alas, I was so excited to go to agility class the other night and show my instructor how well he is doing, and he looked at her set of poles like he had never seen one before! Ha! What was that about generalization? And how dogs aren’t very good at it? (That’s why you always have to work something in LOTS of different places, for the dog to really GET it). OK dog trainer – start moving those weaves around the yard a bit. Oh yeah, I remember now. Duh!

Anyway – here’s the video of him and his 8 poles. I have a longer version (still under 3 minutes) of a summary of 2 poles to 8 poles, but I really think the only one who might be interested in that is Gail. Let me know if anyone out there is dying to see it, and I’ll post it.

Here’s the link:

micah doing 8 poles

Great News!

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

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The American Kennel Club (AKC) has always been a promoter of purebred dogs. That’s what they’re all about. All of the events that they hold (and there are MANY) are for purebred dogs only. They hold more agility, and obedience trials than any other dog organization that I’m aware of.

For those of us with mixed breed dogs, there are not that many options for performance sports. I’m pretty sure that USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) would be the largest organization offering agility to ALL dogs, regardless of breed status, but I think AKC far outnumbers them in trials. As far as obedience goes, UKC (United Kennel Club) does allow mixed breeds, but they have very few trials (at least in my area).

I participated in a survey a couple of years ago, asking what exhibitors thought about letting mixed breed dogs compete in performance sports (obedience, agility and rally). I thought it was a dead issue by now, but then I was informed by a friend that they have indeed decided to allow them to compete in AKC events. Wow – that is HUGE! I’m pretty sure they’re doing it for the extra money they will make from the mixed breed exhibitors (and not out of any good will), but hey – I’ll take it.

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They made the decision in April and the mixed breed competition will commence on October 1, 2010. They will compete in a “separate but equal” class, but again, I’ll take it. It DOES make me curious though, why they can’t just compete with the rest of the dogs. Are they worried that the “mixes” might show up the “pures”? I’m not prejudiced – most of my dogs ARE purebreds. I just find it odd that they will compete separately and their titles will be slightly different. But again, really, who cares?

So the quest to seriously start working Micah in obedience has begun. I’m really looking forward to being able to be in a trial setting with him (on leash) so that he can get used to that. If he can get used to working in that atmosphere ON leash, we might eventually have a chance of making it OFF leash to do agility.

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Chalk up one big “atta-boy” for the good old boys of AKC. You Rock!


Work With Your Dog!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

I frequently try to explain to clients, how critical it is to “build the relationship” with their dogs. I often get the impression that they don’t really understand what I mean. They will say “oh, I have a great relationship with my dog”, but while they are saying that, the dog is off sniffing an ant instead of paying attention to them.

If done correctly, work = play and play = work. Dogs LOVE to learn and do things with you, and it helps them thrive mentally. Yesterday was a perfect example of how that works, and how to help that bond blossom.

Micah and I had pretty much fallen off the wagon with our 2×2 weave pole training (update on that at the end of this post). I had really wanted to videotape the entire process, but my camcorder was acting up, so we had pretty much stopped the training. I finally realized how stupid that was, so we resumed training a couple of days ago, sans camera. I took my own best training advice and made our sessions REALLY SHORT! So consequently, we did several short sessions throughout the day. Last night I could barely pry the little guy off me. If he had one of those cartoon bubbles over his head showing what he was thinking it would have said, “Are we going to do some more mom? Huh? Huh? Are we mom? Are we? PLEEEEEEEEEEASE Mom!!!”

This is the kind of stuff that great relationships are made of. If you want a dog that is responsive, pays attention, and wants to work with you, try devoting just a few minutes a day to working / playing with him. Teach him a new trick, or play 101 Things To Do With a Box. You will be AMAZED at how your relationship will flourish, and how attentive he will be. And isn’t that what we all really want?


Update on Micah’s 2×2 Training
I will probably have some video of our progress within a couple of days, but for now here are just a few pics of our recent progress. Just a few days ago we were still on our 1st set of 2 poles. We finally made the plunge and added the 2nd set.
Note: In case you’re not familiar with weave poles, they are a set of poles that are used in dog agility. The poles are in a line straight in front of the dog and they must enter from right to left and weave through the poles as quickly as possible, without missing any.

Susan Garrett, who is an absolutely brilliant dog trainer, has come up with a method of training weave poles called the 2×2 method. You use sets of 2 poles to train, and initially you concentrate on entry (to the poles) and then progress on, adding additional sets of 2, as the dog is ready. You start with the poles set up in front of you at the 9 o’clock and 6 o’clock position. The dog simply goes straight through them. Gradually you move the poles to the 8 o’clock and 2 o’clock position. It’s a whole process of gradually moving the poles to the 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock positions while adding more sets of 2.

Looking back, I think we spent WAY to much time on the 1st set of poles. But oh well. We added set #2 and I’m actually pretty happy with his progress. Many times he actually adjusts himself to hit his entry correctly. But not always. You’ll get a better idea when I get the video together.

This 1st pic is of Micah hitting the correct entry on the poles. Notice how far apart the bases of the 2 sets of poles are at this point.

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You can almost see the concentration on Micah’s face as he goes through this set. Notice that the bases of the 2 sets are getting closer together, and the line of poles is starting to get straighter.

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This is how the poles were set when we quit for the day. As you can see, he’s making some good progress. The line of poles is getting straighter and straighter. We’ll keep on practicing, and hope to have those poles mastered sometime in the near future. ;-)

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By the way, I think I deserve HUGE kudos for not glutting up the blog with “useless video crap only interesting to the momma”. Ha!

“Unleashed” Again

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I’ve been meaning to follow up on my original blog post Unleashed on the class that Micah and I are enrolled in, but just hadn’t gotten to it.

The class has been going pretty well, for the most part. We’ve done some interesting exercises. As I explained earlier, in our first week we basically worked on getting our dogs attention while working in a gated “box”. If our dog was doing well, someone might approach a little (on the outside of the gate) to see if our dog could continue working, and stay in their “comfort zone”.

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Since then we have also had dogs working on opposite sides of a single gate, walking back and forth together. The gate serves as a visual barrier for them, while allowing them to work surprisingly close. For a reactive dog, this is harder than you might think.

walking the gate

We’ve had handlers approaching each other, meet in the middle, and then continue on.

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We’ve had dogs use a tunnel or a jump to get a little revved up, and then go to their mat to ramp it back down. (The mat is used as a calming zone for the dog).

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There are lots of different things going on at any one time during class. While some people are working with an instructor and/or another dog and handler team, others are working on maintaining eye contact, or doing relaxation exercises. The point is to be able to work while there are lots of other dogs and people around, and still stay under their “I’m going to lose it” threshold.

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I would highly recommend this class for anyone who needs their dog to have a little more self control, focus and general calmness.

The Handwriting on the Wall - Again!

Monday, February 9th, 2009

NADAC (the North American Dog Agility Council) has a fair number of fundraisers every year. The closest one to me is in Calera, OK. It’s not far - just across the border.

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Several people had told me how laid back the trials are, and that the folks running them are the same. It’s just a one-ring trial, so no chance of having your dog “set-off” by seeing another dog running in the next ring. And the ring is closed in on three sides by walls, so only one side is open, and there are ring gates there to block it off. All in all, it sounded like the perfect venue to try a little black terrier with issues, and this was going to be the last weekend for Calera for quite some time.

So off we went early Saturday morning. I felt a bit of trepidation deep in the pit of my stomach, but some excitement too!

When we got there he had the normal outbursts while encountering new people and dogs. We only signed up for two runs: a Jumpers run and a game called Chances, that has a numbered course with a “gamble” in the middle of it. (A Gamble is usually 3 or 4 obstacles in a row with a “gamble line” that the handler is not allowed to cross. The point is to send your dog from a distance to do the obstacles). I only signed up for it so we could practice our running together - I didn’t care about, nor was I even going to try for the gamble.

It was not what I would call a pretty run, but it wasn’t totally without merit either. He did the beginning ok, then got off course but came back to me; ran through a couple of tunnels, and then bypassed the weave poles (cause we’re still working on the 2×2 method, and not doing them yet). Then he took the next 2 jumps, but went around the next tunnel, ran to the open doorway to bark at something outside, and came back to me to finish the course. As I said, I was not at all concerned about Q’ing (qualifying) or doing the gamble. I just wanted a little black pup-pup that would stay with me and try to please like his big sister. (They are VERY different dogs; each with their own strengths and weaknesses). I came away from the run feeling OK, but not really good.

Our Jumpers run was, well, short. The building has a couple of overhead doors that were opened up by the time the afternoon heat set in. (They have chain link fencing blocking them off, so escaping is not a worry). As I set Micah up on the start line, a group of very noisy Guinea’s decided to congregate within a few feet of the door.

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Micah could not contain himself, and ran over to bark at them. When I called him back, he ran past me and out of the ring. So that was the end of our Jumpers run. It WAS a very disappointing day. He usually does pretty well in class, but class is not the same atmosphere as a trial, and Micah is just not ready for it - plain and simple. It was good to find out where we are at. My gut instinct was right. So I will forego even thinking about trialing at this time, and do what I SAID I was going to do - start working him in obedience. I think that will help his concentration, and his self-control. And we will continue working the Control Unleashed program, (whether we’re in a formal class or not). More on that to follow.

I certainly haven’t given up on the little dude, but this definitely has put us behind the eight ball. At least for a while.

Stay tuned.

2 X 2 Weave Poles

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

If you’re not an agility person, you probably don’t know what weave poles are. If you ARE an agility person, you know that it’s one of the toughest obstacles on the agility course. Weave poles come in sets of 6 (usually only at the novice level) or more commonly, a set of 12 that the dogs must weave in and out of as quickly as possible. They must enter from right to left, and do them consecutively, without skipping any.

Weave poles pose lots of challenges for dogs: some dogs are going so fast when they enter the poles, they neglect to collect themselves (slow down) in order to hit their entry, and they miss the 1st pole completely. Some dogs seem to pop out before they get to the end of the weaves. Some pop out in the middle. Some large dogs have a particularly difficult time twisting and turning their bodies in order to make it through the challenge. Tessa was one of those dogs.

One of my very favorite trainers, Susan Garrett, has just released a DVD on her new method of weave pole training, called the 2×2 method. It’s very cool! Brilliant in fact!!! It’s creating quite a stir in the agility world.
2×2 Weave Training DVD Set

Instead of teaching dogs to go through a set of 6 poles, she uses poles that come in sets of 2 (hence the name). It is a completely different method, and one of the advantages is that it teaches the dog the correct entry into the weaves up front - before you worry about doing a whole set of poles. You can then reward (for the correct performance) or Not reward, without having the dog continuing on with the weaves. You work the dog from LOTS of different angles and relationships to the poles. It focuses on ENTRY! Did I mention, it’s brilliant?

Micah and I started re-training our weave poles on Friday, after watching the DVD on Thursday night. We are starting over from scratch, and are VERY excited that this new method will work for us.

We were doing great while we could work on the patio, and I could use food as a reward. But when we started to need more space (to work having him go into the poles from many different entry positions) we needed to move it to the grass, and that meant that I could no longer use food. (Food is WAY too hard to find in the grass!!) So I needed to use a toy as a reward, and he needed to be able to run and get it and bring it back to me for a quick game of tug. Hence, the problem. Micah LOVES to tug, but bringing the toy back is not his best thing. So we needed to take time out from our 2×2 training to work on retrieving. AUGGGGHHH! Bad trainer mom… he probably should have known this already. But whatever, I digress. He’s not doing too badly, but it did put us a bit behind schedule.

We’re still working on the perfect retrieve, but in the mean time I started using a stuffed toy that has Velcro on the belly, so you can put treats in it. So now I throw the toy on the “reward line” and then we both run to it, and I open it and give him his treat. I think that’s still acceptable for rewarding him.

We’ll be here - working on our 2 x 2 method, along with about a million other things. If you’re into agility at all, you may want to check out Susan Garrett’s new DVD, or even scope out her blog. She has lots of great agility video on it.

“Unleashed”!

Friday, January 16th, 2009

As I mentioned in my last post, Micah and I enrolled in a new training class, and it started last night. It’s for dogs that are reactive, distracted, anxious, stressed, uncomfortable, etc. in any number of situations.

Initially I thought the class was going to be very small, but we ended up with 8 dogs and handlers. I am actually VERY happy about that, as I think working around MORE dogs and people will be more beneficial.

As we approached the training barn, Micah EXPLODED, barking and howling at a man who was walking out the door toward us. It was someone that he has seen several times, and actually rode to class with in the same car. Go figure. He continued to bark relentlessly as Cait attempted to direct us to our appointed station. I could barely hear what she was saying, and she was just a few feet away. Such is life with the Micah man.

However, once settled in, he calmed down immensely. I brought a mat for him to lie on (when he wasn’t in his crate), where he could get treats for being a good boy. For the most part he paid attention like he was supposed to.

The class also has a huge focus on relaxation. We not only want our dogs to be able to work around whatever environment we bring them to, but we want them to be able to do it with a minimal amount of stress.

I have to admit that we haven’t ever done any work in this area. Generally, Micah is excellent at giving me attention, and “working” with me, but there’s really no relaxation going on there. :-)
When he’s “on”, he’s ON.
(This is Micah giving me “chin” where he bops his chin on the ground)

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So we will work on relaxing - on body massage - and on having soft eyes and a relaxed mouth.

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During class we did an exercise where we each took a turn inside “the box”. It was a square made up of ring gates, similar to this but without the jumps in the middle, and much, much, MUCH smaller!

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One dog at a time, we entered the box with our dog and just walked around. Whenever our dog gave us eye contact, we would treat. Depending on how the dog was doing, someone with (or maybe without) a dog would approach the “box”, very gently, to see if the dog inside could continue to work with his handler, without getting stressed. While that dog was working in the box, the rest of the class was free to work independently, by either moving around the barn, or working on relaxation techniques on their mat.

Cait Macanliss of Dogstar Academy in Lancaster TX runs the class. It’s very informal, and she has an easy, relaxed way about her. She’s a natural “animal person” and went out of her way to make sure that everyone was comfortable.

And it was really comforting to walk into a class where your dog COULD react and have a “meltdown” if he needed to, and know that no one there would judge you. I’m looking forward to the next few weeks, and all that we will (hopefully) learn.

Maybe next week I can bring my camera and get some shots if no one minds.
Stay tuned.

Back to Agility

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

I can’t believe that it’s been 8 days since my last blog post. I vowed to do better this year, and I have already failed you. Another New Year’s Resolution shot to hell. Sorry dudes and dudettes. All three of you that are out there. I’ll explain more in a subsequent blog, but for now, a bit of fun news (at least for me).

Tonight was the first night of agility class for us since my foot surgery last September. I was pretty excited and a little nervous thinking about how we would do. We hadn’t done ANY agility at all (other than weave pole training) during that time, so this afternoon I decided it would probably be a good idea to take at least a couple of jumps before we showed up for class. :-)

I was pleasantly surprised by my scruffy black boy. He remembered even more than I hoped. He ran, and jumped, and stayed with me like a real pro, all with lightning speed.

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And when he ran across the dogwalk he stopped in perfect 2-on-2-off position without me even asking for it. (That’s when the dog puts his front 2 feet on the ground, and his back two feet on the contact obstacle, and waits to be released).

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I think he only made one small mistake in class, and that was just overshooting a jump, which I am totally cool with. The most important thing when we are working together is that he listens to me. If he makes a mistake or two along the way - no sweat!! But if he decides that he wants to run off and do his own thing - that is the cardinal sin - the worst thing he can do (as far as I’m concerned).

The other thing that I was a bit concerned about is that Micah is somewhat reactive. I think I’ve mentioned that before. He IS a terrier, and it doesn’t take much to set him off, barking and growling. He hasn’t spent much time in the last couple of months around many other dogs (other than his immediate family).

Well I’m happy to report that he and I were “in the zone” on our first night back. He was a good boy, and paid attention to mommy. Granted, we weren’t doing full courses, just short little drills, but still, after having been away, I was VERY happy with that.

Next week we will attend our 1st of 7 classes based on the book Control Unleashed, by Leslie McDevitt.

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It’s an awesome book, based on desensitization and counter-conditioning for dogs like Micah (and worse) that react too much, to too many things, unnecessarily. I’m very excited about being able to participate in that.

It gives me great hope that someday Micah will have all of his fabulous energy under control, and that we will actually be able to compete in the addiction that we enjoy so much! Agility!!