December 12, 2015
Picture says it all. Scoop got one of these fancy pages when he won the ‘Pixie Prix’ last weekend, what us locals call the Performance Grand Prix. And his performance team with my friend Mia Grant & Vic won the Team event winning every single one of the 5 classes in overall points. Yep. The PERFORMANCE classes.
This was the first time 6 year old Scoop and I competed in Performance. He measures into the 26 inch division and has been competing there since he was 18 months old. Over the years I would say he has been competitive locally at 26 inches. He’s won many local GP’s and a Regional GP and our share of DAM Tournaments as well as local and Regional Steeplechases- when we are lucky and the bars stay up, and of course- if I handle him correctly. 🙂 In March this year we finished second at the AKC Nationals at 24 inches, just .02 seconds off the winner. But at 24, not 26.
Scoop takes off early, especially on spread jumps and the table. This past year he has had some spectacular table crashes in both USDAA and AKC. I dreaded the 24 inch table. At least when he creams through a spread jump the bars are displaceable- not so those big unmovable metal tables. The feeling in the pit of my stomach when he hit those obstacles is horrible and frightening and at some point I know he could be seriously hurt. It was hard to finish a course after those crashes with tears filling my eyes and a knife in the pit of my gut.
I have talked about retiring Scoop or doing performance now for a couple years, but then I would come home from a trial with some impressive wins and I’d be buoyed to keep on keeping on. Deciding to move to performance has been something I have done with my 10 to 12 year old dogs- not one in the prime of his life. It felt like giving up and giving in to a less competitive form of agility. But Scoop and I want to do stuff together, and what we like to do besides tricks, and hiking and swimming is agility. He likes agility, a LOT! Maybe I was waiting for a ‘bigger sign’ that it was time to move on. We are in the beginning of the qualifying season for Cynosport and I needed to make a decision. Stay the road, retire from USDAA or move to Performance. I am a Libra, the scale sign- and I can tell you that I went back and forth way too many sleepless nights making the decision. However, I had no time left to contemplate things if I wanted to compete with him at Cynosport this year. And the answer was that “I do!”
My stress over the decision was all to naught. Last weekend was so freeing, so much fun to let him jump lower with no spreads to crash, and I know the decision was the right one. It was wonderful to walk a course without worrying about how to help him over those gigantic spreads, and not even giving a second glance at the low table. Anyone whose dog struggles with jumping has these concerns and worries over balancing up what we WANT to do with our dogs, and what we SHOULD do with our dogs. For me, last weekend I knew I made the right decision for Scoop’s mental and physical well-being, and certainly for MY mental health as well.
And to top off the joy of the moment, Scoop got re-measured two weeks ago at an AKC show and easily got two measurements that moved him from 24 to the 20 inch class. I was sitting with friends on day two of a three day show, whining (yep, sometimes I do that) about how he had crashed almost every triple two weekends in a row and I had tried everything in my arsenal to help him to no avail. A friend suggested I get him re-measured. Scoop’s AKC measurement at 18 months got him just over 22 inches and at the time I was fine with that: 24 inches in AKC (as well as Nationals) and 26 inches in USDAA. No problem- until it became one. I had never measured Scoop again, and I believed he was just over 22 inches tall. Moments after this conversation I walked over to a measuring judge who just happened to be available, and she got him at 21.3/4. 20 minutes later I asked another judge to measure him and she had him right at 22. Within a half hour our competitive life was changed. No more 24 inch spreads and tables for Doobie!
I believe Scoop jumps early because he is somewhat cross eyed. His strabismus has been noticeable since he was a puppy. He has always struggled with jumping but for some years I believed it due to other kinds of health issues. Maybe there are other unknown factors as well as strabismus, but I think the biggest factor is that his binocular vision is off because of his eye placement. I can only guess that his depth perception is inaccurate and that is the biggest underlying cause of his Early Take Offs.
I am working on an article right now to update everyone where we are in researching the causes for Early Take Off. Not all dogs that take off early for jumps have strabismus.There are likely at least a few causes for ETO. You will notice I am referring to this problem as "ETO" not "ETS". We do not know if there is even a syndrome to be found- so Linda Mecklenburg, the ETO researchers and myself have begun using the acronym that actually describes the problem. So ironic that I started that project long before I suspected my own dog to be affected. But I'll save that story for another day.
My long post is over, but happily not Scoops’ agility career and all the fun times ahead for both of us playing at our favorite game.
I haven’t written much about Pie but I hope that’s about to change. My fearful little flower is blooming into a real agility dog. The dog Pie wants to be is wild and crazy and a bit on the mouthy side. The dog Pie turns into when she is frightened is anything but that. She is almost 2 years old and recently competed in jumpers’ classes at three USDAA trials. She had 5 out of 6 clean jumpers runs and is one leg away from masters’ jumpers. Her runs at the trials were fast and "on the edge", nothing less than I would expect from a fast and excitable young border collie. Until a few months ago I did not know if I would be able to compete with her. This is the story of where she's come from and where we are today in dealing with her fear issues.
Pie came home with me at 8 weeks as a happy-go-lucky young border collie; smart, playful, athletic and fun to train. Her parents are emotionally stable dogs with hugely successful herding careers. She was raised by the breeder in a perfect environment for puppies, but by the time she was 10 weeks old I realized I had a problem. Pie is fearful of moving cars. It started with walking from our house to the agility yard. Pie and I had to walk through the parking area where cars were arriving for classes and she decided she was inconsolably afraid of those moving vehicles.
Within days this transferred to her being worried about walking past our parked cars at the house, which then transferred to her not wanting to put the leash on and even begin the walk to the agility field to play. We have a yard in front of our home where our dogs hang out part of the day. She decided she did not even want to be in that yard because she could see traffic arrive. She would claw the front door in panic to come back indoors as soon as she heard a vehicle. We really don’t have that much traffic, we have only 14 scheduled agility classes per week. We have 15 acres of fenced hills and fields surrounding our home and training field where I exercise my dogs and it did not take long before Pie could identify a car coming down the road from a quarter mile away while we were on our walks. At first she just froze, but then she decided if she was off leash that she could run towards home until she came to the last fence, leaving me and the other dogs out of sight in a far off field.
An individual car was scarier than a busy highway. We live on a quiet country road, one car is obvious. In places where there was a fair amount of traffic she was better than she was in my own front yard. This fear is very similar to the wariness a dog may show when one person approaches directly towards you while walking down a quiet street or across an empty field. One car was suspicious, and hard to miss. A bunch of cars was just noise, just like a group of people will often not worry a dog that is reactive around a single stranger approaching. Her fear is not as simple as that explanation, but it reminds me of other reactive dog behaviors towards a single salient object. Pie is better around a freeway than a country road with cars passing intermittently.
Lucky things about Pie’s fear- It did not carry over to other kinds of noise sensitivity. She doesn’t seem noise sensitive or reactive to other stimulus. She does not care about riding lawn mowers or tractors or all sorts of other machines in and around our home. Her fear is isolated to pretty much one thing. Remarkably Pie is not afraid of riding IN a car; she just could not tolerate watching and hearing one approach. Once a vehicle moves away or is out of ear shot she recovers almost immediately. Her fear reaction is immediate but her recovery is almost as fast.
Training, exercise and socializing my puppy were difficult. During quiet time on the property she did reasonably well playing and training in my back yard, that is until she heard, or thought she heard a car. Her typical behavior was to freeze and lie down at best. At times in the agility yard she would run to the gate to leave, or in my back yard, she would return to the house. The times she had the biggest reactions was when we had a transition between training or play when there was nothing going on between her and I for a moment. When she was really tugging on a toy or doing some kind of high arousal or running activity, she was less likely to think she heard a noise suggesting a car was on approach.
Stay behaviors were especially difficult because while she was on a sit or down stay she had time to think about how she wanted to react to a perceived noise. The noises she would hear were often imperceptible to me. From the agility yard it is a least 400 feet to a quiet road, and the yard is surrounded by tall hedges that obstruct all view of traffic, but still at times she would stop what she was doing, flick her ears back and forth, and wait to discover if the noise she heard meant a car coming up the driveway.
Traveling with Pie was easy once she got into the car or RV. After she got through the door and into her crate she totally relaxed and fell asleep. Getting out of the car was worse, parking lots are full of moving vehicles. Even stationery cars were suspect. Any activity that did not put her in a high arousal state was difficult. She liked going for runs with my family of dogs and her best friends Laura and Brew as long as there was no traffic within view. If she was IN an aroused state she was less likely to notice that a car moved through the vicinity. But she will not take food or play if the moving vehicle was noticed before she was aroused. Trying to actively work on counter conditioning this fear seemed to make things worse. For a long time I would schedule walking her to the field when I knew traffic was coming and attempt to do some targeting, food rewarding or play, but most usually this ended with her wanting to run back to the house. At one point I decided not to take her off the property for about 6 weeks. I gave up on asking her to hang out in the dog yard in front of my home, she stayed in the house with me and went where I went if it was "car-safe". We did not walk through the parking area when there was any threat of a vehicle arriving for a couple months. For more months we didn’t walk in the fields closest to the road. In other words, I just pretty much avoided most car fear meetings and hence reactions. This may have helped or it may just not have made anything worse.
I consulted with canine behaviorist Daphne Robert Hamilton for ideas on helping Pie get through this fear. She had some great suggestions, like teaching her to target stationary cars. Pie has a “feet” cue. She will put her front feet on any item or wall which I indicate, so I would walk around my cars and RV asking her to put her front feet on the vehicle and then I would mark and reward the behavior. Eventually she could target stationary cars with their motor running. Targeting as well as other ideas of Daphne’s all helped but still we were making only tiny steps of progress. It didn’t get worse, but it also didn’t get remarkably better. And then about 4 months ago we started to take little steps forward that gave me hope she would recover from this fear well enough to at least live a happy life here at our home and in the fields where we exercise and play. I am not willing to risk her life in order to have an agility career with her. If she decided to leave me while doing agility at a trial the possibility exists that she could get lost or run towards a busy road in her effort to get away from a moving vehicle. That’s a risk I am unwilling to take. But today I think a career in agility with Pie is more than just a possibility!
Here are some of the things that I did with her that helped and didn't help. (I think!)
Walking her on my country road meeting the occasional car using food to counter condition- too scary, not good
High level of exposure to individual moving cars-she can’t tolerate that much exposure
Walking her ON leash in the scary fields- no way for her to retreat, not good
Trying to use a recall with high level of food reinforcement to me after she saw a scary car- good bye recalls there and everywhere else for a while
Taking her places to socialize on her own without a stable dog friend as support-really bad
Trying to distract her using food and toys after she was in a fear scenario- useless at best and possibly counter-productive as when the toys and food appeared she was already frightened. Rewards = fear?
Doing any kind of control training (stays, positions, static targeting) with her if there was even the slightest chance a car might arrive. If she had a fear moment when she was on a sit stay, she did not want to stay again in that environment for a while. Her ears would flick and she heard all sorts of imaginary cars.
Trying to train anything when she was having a “moment”.
Spending hours hiking and playing around fields on dog show weekends that have constant traffic sights and sounds.
Foot targeting cars.
Going out for occasional car “experiences”, but not flooding.
Making her tug toy crazy.
Making agility crazy fun- The catch 22 is that it's hard to make agility an “arousal activity” when you can't train agility.
I never start training when she is in a fear moment-I always wait for it to pass, but she will train and tug now through a car arriving if I don’t let the arousal end before the car disappears or turns off its engine.
Comforting her when she is afraid- If we are in the field when a car arrives and she is far away from me, I kneel down and praise her and she runs to me, or if I am next to her I just kneel down and cuddle her. We play the “you are such a brave girl” game. I cover her eyes and whisper right into her ears that she is the bravest girl ever. She can’t see the car, and my silly vocalization helps to distract from the car noise. I think:)
Ignoring her if she does leave us on a walk, and I just loudly play with the other dogs making her jealous until she returns.
Sending her to my friend Laura’s home for visits when I am out of town teaching- This really helped. The social experience was good since she missed out on much of that growing up. Laura and her dogs go for a few mile walk daily where they meet cars on a more regular basis than she does on my walks with her and she was with her best friend Brew. I think those visits made a huge difference.
Letting her grow up and not really trying hard to be perfect in our agility training, but using agility NOW as something that can actually distract her from her fears.
Walking with Laura & Brew
Where we are at now
I can train in the agility field as often and anytime I want, when she is doing agility she never notices the cars that might be out on the far road. She will only stop working if a moving car is close and especially if it is noisy. When the noise is gone she goes right back to work. If she is tugging she is much less likely now to stop, and will tug through a car arriving on the property. It has been a few months since she stopped working/playing when we are in the yard behind my home where she cannot see cars. She is happy being in our front “dog yard” and does not seem to react now when a car is visible. For the last month she has stayed with us in the scary field next to the road on daily walks and I never avoid hiking in that field. If a noisy car comes by, she may move farther away but comes right back. She would rather run to the agility yard than walk, she wants to get past our parked cars as fast as possible, so I let her. If she is on leash we run together. I have given up trying to make her "like" being around cars, but I haven't stopped rewarding every glimmer of nonchalance and willingness to play around the parking area.
At this time if she continues to progress along this path, and we don’t end up with a scary setback along the way, I am very hopeful for a normal agility career with her. And I hope we will BOTH be brave if we do have a setback. In all of Pies’ runs in agility competition, she has tugged on her leash coming into the ring and all the way to the first jump; exactly the same as she does at home. That will forever be my signal that she is happy and wants to play the game. I can’t imagine trying to compete with her if I didn’t have that level of arousal and happiness that a simple tug toy can show me. I don't know if I really know the reasons Pie is better, likely there are many of them. Fear is a strange beast, I don't profess to totally understand it, but I am certainly more familiar with it's inner workings now and have better tools to use to help my students. While our road to this place seemed frightening and long, now that it is mostly behind us (HOPING!) it seems to have passed rather quickly!
Photos of Pie as a puppy by Lali Miramon
September 5, 2013
On the subject of aging for the dog agility blog event I realized I have rules to share about competing with older dogs....
Old Dog Rules
Your old dog is going to cost you at least $10,000 before they leave you. Start saving now.
Once in a while you will get a free ride with a dog that has few health issues and leaves you too soon, that will make up for the dog that costs you twice $10,000.
If your old dog is a pain in the butt he is going to live a really long time.
Your heart dogs are never, ever, ever, going to live long enough. Never.
I find nothing more enjoyable than running my older well trained dogs in agility. I know them and they know me and we can just hit cruise control together.
It is more important to keep your old dog fit than it is to keep them trained. Daily aerobic exercise is a necessity not a once a week treat. The catch is that agility can help keep them fit, train your older dog at home if they are still having fun and they are in shape for the job.
Every time you train your youngster you should feel a twinge of guilt if you don’t do something fun with your old ones as well. A few minutes of tugging and some trick training go a long ways in making your old dog still feel special.
It is never fair to have a titling goal with an older dog. Once they hit an “age” throw out the goal for another MACh or a Silver whatchamacallit and compete only for the joy of it. Titling legs should be a pleasant surprise not a week in-week out mission.
Only compete with your old dog if she still gets excited on the way to the ring.
Weave poles, tight turns and extreme deceleration skills can fade with old age as your dog learns to be sensible and protect her body, or does not have the flexibility she once had. Adjust your handling and know those days are coming instead of being frustrated when your older dog fails a challenge.
Get your old dogs’ eyes checked often and be aware of their vision limitations.
Retire your old dog from agility when people are still saying, “She is HOW old? She still looks so great!”
Never say “my (old) dog deserves to have such and such title”, or go to one more National event. Dogs only deserve love, attention, exercise, play and delicious food.
If you have ever felt like you have to “drag” your old dog around the agility course you are probably right. Know when it is time to hang up the agility leash.
It may be the hardest thing you will ever do but you must be brave enough to help your old dog leave your side with dignity when the time comes and to keep them from another moment of pain or misery.
Don’t be tempted by the latest technological, surgical, or chemical advances in keeping your dog here on earth a moment longer than they should be. It is never ok to make your best friend uncomfortable in order to spend a few more days or weeks with them.
Sing your old friend a song and give them a kiss every day.
Old dogs will rule your life, they will give you countless sleepless nights, and bring you tears too many to count. They will torture you at times with ailments small and large.
When you think you can’t go on, refer to rule #20.
Enjoy every moment you get to spend with your old dog and remember all they have done for your life, your career and your sanity.
Read many other blogs on aging here...
My oldest dog Panic is in the photos, he was about 3 in these shots and is almost 13 now. He retired at 7 years of age after epilepsy ended his career. He loved agility more than anything else he ever played at; so much so that the agility is what brought his arousal state so high it triggered his seizures. He still loves to do tunnels and and the occasional set of weaves, and even after 4 years without a seizure, and one year off all medications, I am still very careful not to get him too excited when we play at his favorite pastime for a few minutes. I treasure every memory of running him full out as fast as he could go, especially in the center ring at Scottsdale in the Steeplechase Finals where he took a second and a third. NJG
November 1, 2012
The last of our "agility dogs from the 90's" left us this week. My husband pointed out that all our first & second generation agility dogs born in the last century have sadly departed the life we shared with them. Wicked was almost 16 years old, born in February of 1997. She joins Scud and Mick, 1991, Riot and Swift, 1995, Toast & Winston 1993, and Spy 1999.
Wicked was so decidedly not "wicked". She loved every human and animal that she met. She was bred in England to be an agility dog and not to be one of those "herdy border collies". She shocked us all when she showed such calm talent at moving the sheep around our fields, surpassing in skills some of our other collies who were better bred for the job.
She was the easiest dog I have ever trained, and rarely put a foot wrong. She helped many of my friends and students learn to do agility as she got to be the lesson dog, when visitors came to train without their own dog or needed a backup dog to run at a camp. You knew you got it wrong if there was an error in the run as it was so rarely ever her mistake. She retired from her agility career at 12 years old on the same day as her best buddy Riot when they both got their 500th platinum qualifying legs in USDAA. She and I had some great moments together over the years, winning the USDAA National Championship in 2000, and winning the DAM team tournament with Spy and Trigger in 2004 and taking third at AKC Nationals in 2005.
One of my students called her the Phyllis Diller of dogs, she was funny and silly and could not sit still while watching her friends run. A friend penned these drawings of her many years ago, and for the life of me I can't recall the artist. Wicked would stay on the table while I trained another dog, but not very calmly. She was usually jumping up and down, spit flying from her mouth, but she never ever left her spot on the table. These drawings are how I remember her best.
Our life is emptier and sadder without her at our heels, always a riot tug in her mouth and a smile on her face. God speed Wickie.
March 7, 2012At 4- That my passion for dogs would turn into a career.
At 18- How I wish I had taken a path to an advanced degree in animal behavior, I would surely love to have that piece of paper now!
In my 20's- To train every behavior long before you ever need to use it. It took me some time to discover that you don’t train door/gate behaviors when you want to go out the door with four dogs crowding you to go for a walk. That you don’t train stays when it is imperative that your dog do so. That you don’t teach recalls when you really need your dog to come to save his life. You don't wait to train your dog to tolerate physical exams while you are at the vet during an emergency. Train it BEFORE you need it.
30’s- That training with compulsion will take you three times as long as training with rewards.
First you lose the time you took while trying to force your animal to do something
Next you lose the time it takes to rebuild your relationship and reestablish the trust you destroyed
And now it still takes the time to teach the behavior the right way using reinforcement, right after you extinguish all the bad behavior and start back at zero
That teaching my students to play with their dogs would be way more important than teaching them to weave
The importance of goal setting and record keeping. I wish I had a better paper trail of where I have been and what I have done to teach skills to my dogs and what I was thinking at any given day, month or year in my career. I’d have started keeping better training logs and diaries.
Don’t bother to teach the dog what you don’t want him to do, just teach him what you DO want him to do. It takes twice as long to teach while moving in two directions at the same time.
I wish I had been able to look into the future and see where one short trip to Europe with Scud in 1996 on the AKC World Team would change my entire life!
Mid forties- I would have jumped on the first plane to Arkansas to train with Bob Bailey, instead of waiting 10 years
Late forties- That foundation and groundwork is the most important part of agility training, obstacles are easy.
That standing still would be one of the most important lessons I would take away from my first week of training with Bob Bailey.
That Chicken Camp and Bob Bailey would be the most valuable of ALL my animal training lessons!
That training is a mechanical skill. (Bob Bailey)
Mid 50’s- That any dog can learn to retrieve if you understand how to use a clicker and some cookies.
Late Late fifties- How important massage is to my dogs’ and my own health
Last year – That my youngster Scoop would seem to be recovered from all his health issues and look as good as he did in training today.
Two months ago- That a sure fire way to insure that he stays sound would be to get a new puppy that I really was not quite ready for!
Last month- That focusing a little too much on food training and tricks can set back your game of tug with your puppy.
Last week-That even though I didn’t give her 100% of my heart for the first month for a variety of reasons, that it would be inevitable if I brought a puppy into my life that she would be mine and I would not be able to give her back.
Yesterday- That I might as well introduce her to everyone since she's here to stay!
Photos of Pie by Lali Miramon
This post was inspired by blog action day on the subject of "If I knew then what I know now".
I hope your career with your dog mostly has you looking forward not back, but sometimes it is fun to dream......