Saturday, 28 April 2012

Show Observations

When I competed with Riley a few weeks ago it was a very long day for us.   My morning trials were early up in the rotations and the afternoon trials were last up in rotations so there was about 3-4 hours in the middle to just hang around.  We did have a nice walk and then I put him in the car to relax as he will settle there much better than in his crate. 

That left me with lots of time to watch and hopefully learn.  I am still quite new to this dog competition thing and especially to formal obedience competition.   I observed a variety of obedience levels from novice through utility plus a few rally obedience rounds.  The actual exercises were interesting to watch but what really caught my attention was watching how handlers interacted with their dogs.

I was dismayed to see how much of a disconnect so many people had.  I am not nieve enough to think that everyone trains purely positive and really can't point fingers considering I used some not great techniques in my not so distant past.  This blog post isn't about the training techniques or whether or not I agree with them.  Dog trials are pretty stressful environments and I think it is important to not leave my dog coping without my support.    I hear so much talk about ring stress or being nervous but those same people complete one exercise and then move to the next without giving any thought to the dog.  I know that reward options are limited in the ring but we can still praise or "play" calmly with our dogs as we move to the next exercise.   It seems to me that most people just go into robot mode and that leaves their dogs hanging with no feedback.   How on earth are our dogs supposed to enjoy competing with us when we do things like that to them?  

Watching as teams left the ring was also eye opening.  Lots of  people walked directly to a crate and put the dog away.  Sometimes they gave a cookie but rarely did you see many people seem to take much joy in competing with their partner.   If a round hadn't gone well you could see some people reacting to their frustrations with bad body language or perhaps jerking on their leash if their dog was pulling towards friends or its crate.  Sure we all have bad days but again I think what are they teaching the dog?  The dog isn't going to associate the poor ring performance with it's owner's bad temper or a jerk five minutes later.  I think that type of reaction just teaches our dogs that going to dog trials really isn't a very fun thing to do because it just stresses their owners out and makes them unpredictable.

I'm not saying we need to be micro-managing every moment of the day.  Crates are wonderful things and are a good way for both handler and dog to chill out.  Riley hasn't spent much time in a crate since his puppy years so I chose to put Riley in my car when I had a long time period available because he is very comfortable and relaxed there but doesn't relax quite that way in his crate.  When he was out with me I tried to be aware of him.  I watched lots of others totally ignoring their dog unless it was to correct it for sniffing or other "wrong" behaviours.   I am lucky that Riley is a fairly confident dog but this isn't his regular environment and he wasn't super relaxed.  If I am watching something or talking to someone he often leans his head against me if he is mildly stressed.  I just gently stroke his ears while watching or talking and that seems to be what he needs.   I hope I don't sound like a know-it-all but we need to remember to reward the quiet, good behaviours offered!

I should also note that there were also wonderful teams to watch.  Those teams showed great joy in being together.  They didn't always have perfect rounds but you can tell that they were enjoying the process.  That is what I hope to achieve!  Dog sports should be fun or else why the heck would we want to do them?  Yes, they can be humbling, disappointing and even embarassing sometimes but we are making the choice to do them for both us and our partner dog.  In my opinion we owe it to them to support them through the good parts and the bad.


Saturday, 21 April 2012

Pass, Pass, Pass, Fail

Riley and I competed at a trial last sunday.  We were registered for two rounds of CKC Rally Excellent and two rounds of Pre-Novice obedience.  He did awesome in both his pre-novice rounds and we passed (they are no score just pass or fail).  This felt great because when I tried last year he broke his sit stay which was only 30 seconds but he really wasn't comfortable in the line with other dogs.  I had taken the stay for granted because he normally had a great stay in our outdoor classes but that didn't generalize well to the indoor trial environment.  This time he was very solid and seemed like he should be fine with the increased novice times when we trial that in the next few months.  He also did very well with the required honor stays in our Rally rounds.

Our morning Rally Excellent round wasn't our best round.  One of the stations is an offset figure eight and there was a ball on one side and food on the other.  Riley tweeked on that ball being there the moment we walked in the ring.  He didn't touch it but his focus was not great.  We managed to get through the round and we were one of only two rounds to qualify. 

The afternoon RE round was basically a disaster.  It had been a very long day and the afternoon course also had an offset figure eight but this time there was a big, squeeky stuffy toy on one side and basically poor Riley's head exploded and he could not focus.  The dog LOVES a stuffy toy!  He couldn't care less about the food temptation but toys are a whole other story.  He didn't take the toy but oooooohhhhh was he tempted!  He watched that toy the entire round and made sure in every station that he was positioned so he could keep it in sight.  BRAT!  Anyway, it is really my fault because I obviously have not trained that enough.  When I work at home with him he will ignore stuff and work but something new just sitting out there is way to big a distraction.   The plan will now be to get some new toys and train this in lots of different environments until we can work through it.

When all this happened I basically just laughed at him and moved on when we left the ring.  I could have been mad or frustrated but I wasn't.  He can do every one of those stations beautifully so this obviously wasn't the outcome I had hoped for.  It wasn't great but it did give me great feedback on what we need to work on just like how those broken stays on the last trial gave me good information. 

Stella was registered to do her Canine Good Neighbour test at that same trial but she is in her first heat so we elected to defer that for now.  We might try for that in may if the scheduling works out. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Boss

I was walking along the street the other day with the dogs when a woman complimented me on my beautiful dogs.  I said thanks and then she asked how they got along.  I replied they got along wonderfully.  She then commented well but of course one of them has to be the boss and wanted to know which one was.  I replied that I suppose Riley was the "boss" but really there is no conflict between them.  She then replied on how important it was that everyone understood where they stood and was making alpha referances.  I just smiled at this point and moved on.

It seemed obvious to me that she was a firm believer in the "pack mentality" where someone is the alpha leader etc. that controls everything. I am not a personal subscriber to that theory.  I suppose if pushed I would say that Riley is the current "boss" dog in the house.  When Lucy was alive she was the "boss".  In both of those situations I have been lucky enough to never have dogs in conflict.  Is that just good temperment or is there more to the situation?  I do believe in leadership but more from me than from my dogs.  I don't expect one dog to discipline the other.   When we were dog sitting recently the other dog tried to bully Stella out of the coveted cuddle spot next to me and I just let it be known gently that was unacceptable and resulted in nobody having the spot.  She tried that twice and figured out there was no benefit to her behaviour and not an issue for the rest of her visit.  There has been extremely few corrections between my dogs and they have always been very fair so I have not interfered.   Instead I want to provide a comfortable situation where everyone respects the ground rules and each other.    I know that is really oversimplifying things and lots of people have awful dog-dog problems that are not treatable and are very difficult to live with.  My heart goes out to those people because I can't imagine how hard it would be to need to rehome or even crate/rotate between dogs.

I am a fan of opposite sex dogs when possible.  When we were looking to add Riley to our home I knew that I wanted a male because Lucy generally preferred male dogs and if she was gonna have any issues it was usually with another female. When we looked at adding Stella I wanted a female because we often have my mother's dog Sam here and the boys are super competitive but were always good with Lucy.

I also knew not to rush introductions or push for a connection between them.  Lucy was ten and hated puppies so that one had us worried.  She refused to make any eye contact with Riley for three days and then she pinned him when he tried to rush past her out the door.   She didn't leave a mark on him but from that moment on he respected her and within the next week she had fully accepted him.  The only issues we really every had were if she grumped at another dog he would jump in to defend her.

When we added Stella I didn't have any worries because Riley is very good with puppies and small dogs.  Things went well from the start but I was still very careful to give him extra time and space away from the obnoxious puppy who loved to hang on his jowls.   There were lots of moments her prefered to be on the non-puppy side of the baby gate :o).   It actually was good for all of us because it gave him breathing space and also kept her from getting too focused and attached to him before she properly bonded and got focus with me.

Today I am counting my blessings to have harmony in our home without worrying that every move my dogs make is a plot to be the  "ultimate leader in charge".

Puppy Stella snuck in close for a cuddle when Riley was sleeping.

                                                         Lucy and Riley

Monday, 2 April 2012


We have had a series of dogs staying with us since our return from our ski trip in February.  We had a friend's small dog, another Vizsla puppy and currently Sam (Riley's littermate) is visiting.   They are all wonderful dogs that are welcome to visit or stay with us anytime but having other people's dogs stay with me brought up a few thoughts to me about what behaviours that I think are important to live with.  Behaviours that are super important to me might not bother other people at all and vice-versa.

Each new fur member of our family seems to relax more rules more than the one before.  Kinda like families with lots of kids that wear down the parents :o).  Bud was my first cat and Lucy was our first dog.  Cats aren't easy animals to have rules with but it was understood that cats were not welcome on tables or countertops.  Bud is no longer with us and we now have two other cats that frequent the tables and countertops of our home pretty much whenever they want.  I don't want them surfing the counters to help "clean" any dirty dishes and they definately aren't allowed there when we are cooking but otherwise they pretty much do what they want.  We can directly blame that one on puppy Riley as the cats would often jump up onto tables or countertops to escape a huge puppy that wanted to chase or play with them. 

When Lucy first joined us we had lots of rules.  Real life happened and that smart little monster seemed to figure out lots of ways to bend us to her set of rules instead.  I also learned so much more about natural health and positive dog training so by the time Riley came along a lot of things just weren't important anymore.  Stella has successfully eliminated our no dogs on the couch rule although thankfully Riley shows zero interest in claiming his spot.  I don't allow free reign on the couch and expect her to sit and wait for permission before jumping up but she is rarely denied permission.

So that brings up the question as to what are the important rules I expect for my dogs?  The main rules are no jumping up on people, polite food behaviours and barking only in context.  I don't mind dogs that are barking for a reason (squirrel in yard etc.) but hate it when dogs bark at every little thing or just to hear themselves.  Stella barks more than I would like but we are working on it gradually.  She is much more environmentally aware than Riley and has been more naturally barky since she was a young puppy but she is learning to turn it off when asked.

What rules are important to you?