Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And they,

Since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

So so hard to do some days.

I first read the Robert Frost poem in grade nine English and it struck me then. Deeply, profoundly. This was an essential truth. Without turning back to life, even in grief, nothing would make sense. I attended an all girls school and I doubt many of my classmates had seen a chainsaw let alone used one. I had. The image of the boys rueful laugh as he turned is seared into my brain as if I was there. This single line has given me the strength to get up out of bed on days of great grief since I first read it.

Usually around here the animals are quick to turn to normal life. This time is a little different. Sally, and Yen, are mourning in a way I have only seen mother animals before. It's visceral and concrete, and oh so touching. They are looking for Wyn, longing for him even. They lost a great friend, an entertainment unit and a snuggle buddy. Brody is quite fine with the vanishing act, as are the cats.

Big T and I keep tearing up, looking for him, calling him by mistake, I can't bear to take down his leash and scenting harness.

He was a typical puppy in so many ways and something really special too (I hope you all feel that way about your puppies, and dogs). I'm still sad for us and so sad for him. Life was so much fun in his world.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

sit down ..

Wyn is gone.

Dead and gone.

Oh sorry. Should I have built up to it?

Everybody who  knows has had the same reaction. NO. It just isn't possible.

Vital happy Sir Wynston Churchill, heart thief extraordinaire is no more, in his physical form anyhow.

He was hit by a car whose driver believes she was going too fast and wasn't paying enough attention.to the road. She is devastated and will be much harder on herself than I can ever be.

He died instantly, in the middle of a great game of tag with Sally. I wish we could all die doing something we loved so much.

Ironies of ironies he never ever had left the property unless he was in a car or on a leash, in fact he was barely on the road- just doing a loopy zoom around to get Sally in his gangly puppy fashion.

Sometimes life is cruel, sometimes it is just incomprehensible.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

You All Know the Saying About Assumptions ...

and yet ...

We all make them
Even bright intelligent people I respect make them;  heck, I'm pretty sure I make them.
One assumption in particular gets my goat every single time I hear it.

"I'm a big dog person."


What the heck is a big dog person? A person who only likes big dogs I take it. Makes no sense to me. No sense at all. I'm not even a dog person really, I'm an all species kind of gal ... but I can at least understand saying dogs are the animal you can relate best to (or horses, cats, rabbits, parrots - whatever!).

One recent blog looked at the poor training of small dogs. Lots of great writing as usual but it got me thinking. I wonder where the assumption that small dogs are more poorly trained than large dogs comes from? Measured perception in 2010 is not fact. I know dogs of all sizes that are poorly trained. In my experience at least little dogs get to live in houses more often than not so get to learn the most basic of house manners. Many a large dog begs blatantly at tables, or counter surfs, things small dogs simply can't do.

I can actually more easily understand being a small dog person than a big dog person. Small dogs can hike miles and swim and play all kinds of sports but they can also be content to hang out at home on a windy gross day. Big dogs need exercise. Big dogs equal big poops to clean up in the yard.  Small dogs are nearly always welcomed in houses that are dog friendly - large dogs may not be. Small dogs cost less to feed, and spay and provide chews for.

I was a self proclaimed "big dog person" until the fall of 2000 when a very endearing little Pomeranian and a TINY chihuahua entered our lives as foster dogs. At that point I realized small dogs were neat in and of themselves. Just a few months later Brody joined our family and I kept thinking - oh Brody is so special, he's so smart, so active, so trainable , so much like a big dog. Then, after Joe, Petey (and his harem) Pompeii, Ibby, Fritz, Aldwin, and so many more small dogs (including Thea and Yen of course) I have really internalized and accepted that no, I was wrong, they are all wonderful dogs. End of story.

Except of course I fully expect we'll always have dogs of all sizes living with us!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I laughed, I learned ...

Yesterday morning I read a book. A non fiction book I blasted through quickly knowing I will return to it time and time again. Trials Without Tribulations, authored by Kathryn Harvey. Good read for everybody no matter where you are at on your competitive spectrum and no matter your dog sport. http://www.citizencanine.com/pages/twt.htm

I recognized myself, and many other dog sport people in the book. Not specifically necessarily, I have no way to know if the author had the same people in mind as I did but great handlers, word class handlers, right through to the person first stepping on a start line will find themselves here. It's an E book, which is relatively new to me, a print bibliophile if ever there was one. For this book and this topic the format worked just fine!
I wondered what I would get out of the book specifically as I am a pretty relaxed competitor with decent mental management strategies generally, and, let's be honest, I'm very happy at my level of competition without great aspirations for expansion.

What I loved most? The focus on team ... rather than putting all the work of running on the dog and the thinking on the handler and simply focusing on the handler Kathyrn has made sure that the dog's role in the game is lauded and recognized. "How many athletes routinely get to sleep with their teammates?"  A thought that I had never considered in terms of it's impact on us as a team. (Amazing as I look at 3 dogs in the chair with me, another at my feet, and another in the chair beside me!)

Do you know what the The Dunning-Kruger effect is? I didn't either. Worth a read for that alone.

She echos and reinforces some of the things I have long believed about the cost of competition on our dogs but she goes much further than that, offering specific strategies to build resilience in the whole team and improve performance. I cannot think of one person who won't get something of value from the book. I know I will read it again and again. Even if you are competing but work with sporting dogs in any way you may find  this book a good one for your virtual bookshelf (I know it will influence a couple of details in the way I structure class set ups).

My biggest concern? It ended! Looking forward to a sequel!

Do yourself and your dog(s) a favour - order your copy today!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

the sheer POWER of choice ...

Mr Poop A Lot  Wyn was wired last night.  6 month old puppy equals wild child on occasion.

I could have put him in his house (crate). I could have tethered him to me and let him get bored enough to settle. I could have taken him for a long run (in the dark and rain - NOT). I suppose I could have ignored him. None of those options worked for me in that moment of time.

We played trained right in the middle of the living room. We worked on go to mat (a skill I had forgotten he had), coming between my legs and sitting (a position I'm determined to start his sports dog activities from),  and flat work (what agility people call shadow handling). This boy? He nailed it all. The white dynamo known as Yen? She had a turn too - she nailed her activities too (a little shadow handling, hand touches and the beginnings of "table" behaviour)

Of course they were rewarded when they made good choices but the really profound thing for me about last night's session (and the final exam I set up for the play course which you can see if you click on the link) is the way they transitions through whatever  reward happily and without expectation of anything else. Toy? Awesome! Food? Delicious. Personal Play and Touch? Amp up to orbit!  A piece of liver or a scratch on the chest it did not matter at all.  The knowledge and confidence I can see in both of them as they look forward to the game that follows great choices is inspiring. The satisfaction is mutual.

It's taking my trail mix of treats just one brilliant step further. Sally and I have long used toys and food as rewards but it was rare that I mixed them up in one session. Brody has liked personal play and food - but again we rarely switched between them in the same session.

I feel so liberated! In training circles you hear references to tool boxes. This ability to absolutely wholly choose a  valuable reward from any of the three groups is much more than an item in a toolbox. The power of this choice is a gift. Pure, simple and one not to be forgotten.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

50 Ways to Play ...

The play's the thing ... Hamlet used the play to catch the King; we, as dog lovers trainers, can use play to capture the interest of our dogs. Play is natural with babies and puppies but we tend to fall into set patterns of play as our dogs mature.Even with the crew here it's easy to see how reinforcing playing the dogs favourite way can be. Sally would play fetch all  day. Sam would chose a variation of "Getcha". Brody loves tricks for food and so on.

That said,  handlers who are proficient in all types of play have a leg up on the rest of the dog world. They can make easy transitions within a sport, or sport to sport and they can work with a wide variety of dogs. It's  good for the dogs too. They can enjoy whatever, and learn to enjoy it wherever with glee.

Play helps with recalls, in fact a dog wanting a good game can be hard to lose. A game can distract a dog from something stressful.. In fact games were how Sally learned to deal with trailers bouncing by our country home. I'd hear a trailer coming and a great tug toy would be out before Sally realized what was happening. She'd tug right through the trailer; then we built the tug to be the reward for ignoring a loud trailer.Play is a great reward for a dog (and many handlers enjoy it too). Play builds relationships and it will come as no surprise to anybody that I believe relationship is the critical element to life with a dog. 

With many thanks to all who have shown me great games human and dog here is a list of 50 ways you might want to play with your dog and your dog with you!

Toy Play 1-18
Personal Play - 19-38
Food Play 36-50
  1. Fetch
  2. Catch
  3. Big Balls- try kicking them or having a multiple of balls out
  4. Basketball when I play basketball with the dogs my goal is to get a bouncing ball past them - their goal is to get (and in Sally's case puncture) said ball
  5. Frisbee - the fancy disc stuff alarms me with the leaps and twists but chasing a frisbee adds a dimension of fun for many dogs
  6. Tug   
  7. Chew -while not interactive so important for so many dogs - stress relief, pleasure, boredom prevention ...
  8. Get it/Out - Sally and Wyn both enjoy this game just for the games sake ... they take and spit out a toy just to interact with me
  9. Make a toy -what in the environment can be a toy? You may find your dog has more imagination than you thought - if Sally hears "go get/find a toy" she'll scan to see if there is a traditional toy at hand if not you  may find yourself presented with a wide range of things - leash, water can, if she can carry it you may get it!
  10. Hide a toy - start simply - let the dog see you hide it somewhere that's hardly hidden, you can build to very complex hides 
  11. Select a toy - from a scattered group your dog or you can chose a specific toy to play with 
  12. CRUSH it -best played with water bottles!
  13. Go Fish- Sam loves being a huge shark on the end of a flexi lead - we have great fun fights!
  14. Flirt pole fun!
  15. Water games with a hose, or in a lake or in a tub
  16. Three way fun ... if you have multiple dogs your dogs may enjoy both tugging with you in the middle or having two toys (or more) out for a fetch game
  17. Monkey in the Middle -some dogs love this game, some hate it -it's really important to make sure they have success frequently 
  18. Srsly it's a toy!! We use all kinds of crazy things as toys here - a spoon, a hairbrush whatever - this game is nearly a reverse of #9 ... human picks the "toy" both enjoy the play
  19. Tag- alternate who chases who; you may not want to let this one go too long the high dogs here get pretty amped up by it!
  20. Goose Goose Duck - Wyn enjoys this game - I goose one flank, then the other, then rub his ears
  21. Wiggly Waggly gonna get you! Yen loves wiggly fingers coming after her toes 
  22. Monster hands Sally loves hands that are clenching and unclenching come in to give her a really good scritch 
  23. Push and run put one hand on your dogs chest and either push gently back or hold steady then take off .. your dog will bound after you
  24. Getcha - will your dog chase you? I bet if you turn away and glance back then take off they will!
  25. wwwwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiittttttttttttt 
  26. Leap - was reminded of this goofy fun game for shy dogs yesterday - the dog simply bounces off you or beside you
  27. how high can you go? - high hand touches, ,actually all hand touches can make great games 
  28. many many tricks become highly reinforcing for both dog and human - Brody  loves his dance and offers it with great joy when he wants to interact with me
  29. TTOUCH - massage may not be traditionally seen as play but it sure does build relationship - and gives great pleasure to both parties -so here it is!
  30. Stretching - again not a traditional play (and for some dogs might fit into food play better) but we all enjoy stretches here.
  31. Silent walk - how careful is your dog to pay attention to you? The dogs here like this game as sometimes the first dog to get to me gets a treat... very motivating to pay attention to changes in direction
  32. Belly rubs and raspberries - just enjoy your dog physically in whatever way you both like (Brody likes being blown on but I'm sure enough that's unusual enough not to give it it's own number)
  33. Hide and Seek -big field? trees? hide and call your dog ...
  34. Where are we going? - get your dog following you - then go up, down, under, over and around whatever you can think of - stop and engage your dog occasionally to keep them motivated.
  35. Puppy Push Ups - not exactly traditional personal play but some dogs think this is the most amazing game.. it's just rapid fire sit, down, sit with lots of happiness 
  36. Zeke and Deke - if you zig and zag and move oddly your dog will be curious and want to engage you
  37. On/Off - what ever works for you to go up and down in energy with your dog .. Sally can flip between tug and table like nobody's business 
  38. Shell game - hide a treat under a cup and have a couple of empty cups out too - let your dog find the treat 
  39. Where'd it go?  hide treats (much like #10)  in varied places, under blanket, on a chair -wherever you think of 
  40. Track that - a trail of yummy treats is fun for your dog to track 
  41. Magic there might be no game more fun for some dogs than to be happily working away and suddenly have the world's best jackpot appear (like magic) - most effective if the dog really isn't expecting it!
  42. Dinner games - if your dog has issues with resource/food guarding please don't play some of these  without help but meal dispensers like treat sticks, Kong Wobblers, some Ottoman toys, multiple bowls whatever take meal time and make it even more fun! Dinner on a cookie sheet can help a dog connect noise and fun.
  43. Trade it - Dog has treat, you have treat. Trade treats! Great for manners and great for fun.
  44. Bowl the treat - Denise's term for the action of sending a treat rolling away from you .
  45. Rapid Fire - how many tiny treats can you deliver in 2 seconds? 4 seconds? 
  46. Ping Pong - similar to bowling but the treat could go in varied directions (personally I  face the way I  send the treat)
  47. Leave it/get it Can your dog ignore a treat then get it? I bet they can ...
  48. Under, Over send the treat under your legs or over your legs - randomly switch it up and the dogs get pretty happy to be engaged with food! Don't forget to get down on the floor with your pooch!
  49. Juga-giggle - my efforts to juggle treats have dogs engaged and well fed usually - a juggler I am not but it's pretty entertaining to try and the dog playing with me loves the fall out (literally)
  50. Bouncy Bounce - probably Mr Food Brody's favourite game. A piece of food in a closed fist in each hand. We face each other and I bounce from side to side on the balls of my feet then take off one way or the other. Brody chases me and gets the treat from whichever hand is on his side.

Have fun - create your own special games. Wyn and I have a hand nose bump that is our special thing. He enjoys it as much as I do! Not all dogs will find all games fun - that's fine. Your dog may be amused by activities like the one pictured above, maybe not though!  Balance is the goal but find fun games from each type to enjoy with your dog!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

How things change ...

When Brody and I started agility it never occurred to me that there could be any way to do 'real' agility at home. We did street agility when we saw something to jump or walk along but basically agility was a once a week activity. Brody weaved through the rolls of Christmas wrapping paper planted in weighted down glasses in my living room. 
We started trials and about 6 months later I got a teeter for my birthday. I used it occasionally and appreciate the way both Brody and Sally understand teeters. I am sure having our own to play with made a big difference.  I'm loving having it with Yen at the moment too.
Now I have more space than I know what to do with, a complete set of contact equipment, a few jumps and tunnels, and  I have never even had the dogs on the dogwalk. Crazy right? One day having the time, space and energy will all come together. This I know.

We do play at home though. In a funny shaped yard that has undulating ground. 
There are some other challenges to playing here at the moment too. 
A dog who isn't seeing well, a dog in her prime, a young dog and a puppy - and occasionally a rocket fueled Chihuahua and a goofy  golden - all have very different needs. Being ultimately lazy I hate resetting things multiple times. There are a couple of designs that allow me to work very very different skills with each dog. 

Here is my current favourite: 

The table is sometimes used just as a waiting pad for Sally and/or Wyn.

I've only numbered 2 variations but there are literally hundreds ... Sally is enjoying the distance work we play with  drectionals and leaving me are both lots of fun for us, Brody loves the tight wraps around the standards. Wyn has done a little bit of work through the standards only  turning and moving with me. Yen has begun to think about the principle of GO... racing ahead of me to a plate, she's also starting to understand that a straight line may not always be the desired path. Sam loves  blasting through straight lines and Thea just loves running!  

I believe that jumping is a skill that dogs need time to work on and develop - I don't jump daily, but I do use a box, a pinwheel and a fair bit of one jump work to make sure the dogs all understand how to jump (Wyn and Yen are both still on poles on the ground and will be until each is one-they are getting plenty of cross country jumping on our walks!).I also set up grids particularly for Sam and Sally who have long strides that they need to learn to adjust. I see much grid work in Wyn's future too! (He's a brick with legs, a little pin head,  at the moment!)

if I had to pick one thing to have (or fake) at home it would be a jump. Ideally 3 or 4 jumps, and a tunnel or two. Today's back yard training event will have lots of great ideas to try.  Maybe one will bump my number one setup out! The amazing organizer, Steve, has over 70 set ups listed! Check em all out and tell me your favourites!