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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tweed has humbled me as an owner and especially as a trainer

A few weeks ago, I entered a video contest with Tweed.  We spent the past year learning or I should say, relearning how to do agility as a team.  Tweed was in a terrible dog fight and almost lost his life.  When he recovered, he couldn't successfully compete in agility anymore.  So, we started over and the video was a short story about our training.  I was approached by people at trials, my students and sent many messages about that video and what it meant to each person.  Many said they cried, many said it was amazing he was brought back from such a horrific incident, and some could relate with their fearful dogs having to gain confidence again.

Everyone said how lucky Tweed was to have me and what a great job I have done with him.

But, here's how I see this past two years.  I never really talked about the dog fight. It was embarrassing and difficult.  I'm a dog trainer, I teach prevention, training, and how to avoid these exact scenarios yet this happened in my house, between two housemates.  Without sharing all the details of a history of dislike between only these two dogs, Tweed was close to death and I gone for only an hour.

After a long long recovery, Tweed was back to looking normal, cleared by his veterinarian and rehabilitated with a specialist, he was ready to go back to agility.  I signed up for Handing 360 with Susan Garrett to get a jump start on my agility again.  I needed a push after two little humans and I needed to bring new life to my students classes, all of which were becoming stagnant. I watched the videos, played around, got inspired and went back to trialing in USDAA after 7 or so years off.  Tweed did great, got out of Starters fast but we got stuck in Advanced. Not only was he avoiding jumps, he was extra sensitive to me and my training.  I was starting to feel lost and insecure about my training as Tweed seemed to be breaking down although physically well.

I had come across some information in an ebook in this class about using corrections in training.  I thought, "I don't do that, I'm not mean but he needs to know when he gets it wrong to help him learn".  I read and read and thought and thought about this training.  Was it possible I was actually being mean and making it harder for him to learn?  Could everything I know, be wrong? The idea is when your dog gets something right, we mark it happily and reward, they learn and want to do it again. When they get it wrong, I said 'ahh' or 'hey' or 'no' or any number of verbals to let him know this was not what I wanted.  What I didn't realize was he had no idea that was what I meant, he simply took it wrong and I was inadvertently keeping him from getting it right. I never taught my students to do this correction but I wasn't teaching what I was practicing.

Here is a scenario:  Tweed runs down a line of three jumps, he takes the first one, then the second, then turns to look at me and runs past the third, I say, "ah ah, no".  He stops, looks upset, runs around circling me more, questioning me.  My old thinking would say, he now knows not to run past that jump but to take it. The next time he gets it, I'll highly praise and he'll make the connection, balanced training, right! (yeah yeah, I get it now) What I actually did was give him worry or anxiety about any number of things and I have no idea which of these he actually 'learned'. Did he learn that he gets in trouble if: 1. he turns to look at me. 2. He runs ahead of me on a course. 3. He goes anywhere near that jump. 4. He runs. 5. He gets excited and too happy.  The list is endless, but he definitely didn't learn what I wanted him to learn.

What I should have been doing was teaching him when he should check in and when he should drive ahead and take the next obstacle (plus so much more).  I need to be clear in what I was asking and consistent in what those cues mean. He was constantly trying to decided what I wanted because he wanted to please me and have fun and if he was worried about an obstacle, he avoided.

Now I know, if any dog doesn't read our cue correctly, then I didn't teach them well enough.  It's our fault, go back and figure out where the hole in the training is and how to teach them. Then proof it in every scenario, with distractions and new environments.  If you ever think to yourself, "he should know this" then you didn't actually teach it well enough because he clearly doesn't know.

I admitted I did this for years, verbal correction and now I see I never really taught him in the first place.  He was very talented and I was a pretty good beginner, but when he got physically hurt and couldn't be the athlete he was, we got stuck.  I flipped through many videos and 'picked' our problems.  It still wasn't working, we weren't getting better and I was getting hungry for moving on to higher levels. I then attended a trial here in Michigan and guess who was entered, Susan.  Here we go, I've spent the last 11 months in her class and it doesn't show at all.  I didn't commit to doing it in order as she suggested and work all the exercises. I removed the verbal corrections and now have a dog that is happy but showing how little he really knows. 

I watcher her and was inspired, she handles her dogs exactly as she teaches. I could see it, after all I had watched the videos but hadn't done the work. I went home and began training from the beginning and here I am 50 days consecutive training, 1/3 of the way through the course and you have now seen the video.  I wasted 12 months of a year long class before I figured out I needed to go back and do exactly what I preach and push to my students.  A little foundation, consistent teaching and fun is 'giving me back my dog'.  I will not let my students miss their opportunity in agility, they will be better than me.

Tweed shows me everyday that I made big mistakes with him and my previous dogs. I feel guilty every time he slightly shuts down, gets worried, flanks, or shows any confusion.  I did that to him, all by using a little verbal correction that I thought was harmless, I thought was necessary.  This is what that video means to me, all the amazing changes in him due to a little confidence and a huge epiphany in my head.  Look at us, a 9 year old dog still improving and me, realizing once again that dog training will never be 'finished' and maybe I was a little late to this game but will be early to the next one.

Thank you, Tweed, I look forward to years to come.
Laura



Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Winter Games




Games we can play!

Basket Game


1.  Get a basket, trash can, traffic cone, laundry basket, jump wing, etc.
Stand right next to an object and mark “yes” for your dog going around either direction.  Try to not use too much luring or help.  We like if they can try to figure out what to do to get the reward.  Do this until you don’t have to help and they are going side to side around the object.  Always mark “yes” and reward/praise and celebrate!!

2. Step back about 1 foot and line up the dog on your side in an informal ‘heel’.  Step toward the object, use the dog-side hand and ‘bowl’ them toward the side to go around the object. 
*dog on left – step with left foot, use left hand, go around from left to right or clockwise. 
*dog on right – step right foot, use right hand, go around from right to left or counter-clockwise

3.  Step back another foot and continue with same as step 2.  You can start dropping the treat on the floor as the dog circles to encourage them to race (or chase) back.  I use a toy and toss or roll it behind me after they circle.  Encourages fun and drive. 

Remember: Mark, Reward, Celebrate

4.  Continue moving away and adding distance.  Always step once, if you need to make a ‘bigger’ step or multiple steps because they won’t circle, go back to step 2.  In other words, you progressed too fast for your dog. 

5.  Add a second circle around the object. 
Move back up to the object, send your dog around and as they complete, send them around again with a hand gesture.  (usually the same gesture as sending the first time)
On the second time around, back up to encourage speed and chasing you.  Use your dog’s natural instinct of chasing to encourage excitement and play.  Practice both directions.

6.  Back up 1 step and ask for two circles.  Practice both sides and CELEBRATE with your dog!  Continue adding distance and play. 

7. Movement from you in opposite direction. 
As your dog is circling, you begin to walk backwards while sending them to the object.  Your movement away shouldn’t change the game for your dog.  Start with moving at the end of the circle, one step at a time.  As they get better, you move sooner and sooner.  If you can’t get them to circle, then back up, you missed a step in your game and they need more practice. 



Sometimes we get stuck on the idea of the finished product.  Don’t focus on getting to the last step, instead focus on what your dog understands.  Take all the time you need at each step before moving on so there aren’t in ‘holes’ in their learning.  If you find you aren’t getting what you want 10 out of 10 tries (1 practice session), then you moved too fast and they are missing a piece of the game.  Start back at the beginning.  If your dog isn’t having fun, getting excited and getting faster each time you play, then change your approach mentally.  Maybe you are the one not making it fun J  MARK, REWARD, CELEBRATE

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"My child doesn't need 'kisses' from your dog"

"My child doesn't need 'kisses' from your dog"

Food for thought:
I went to a dog show a few weekends ago with Gabby, my 14 month old daughter, and no dogs.  I went to watch some of my students compete and show my support.  I knew it would be tough to watch my child around all those dogs in their territory and run a dog, so I didn't even attempt to show.   Anyhoo...here is a scenario that happened:

Gabby was in her stroller and we were watching the dogs run.  A woman, unknown to me, came up with her two goldens.  One was older and they both seemed very nice.  She asked me if my daughter could meet the dogs.  I said, "sure" and then watched them interact.   Gabby didn't really care as she meets and greets many dogs on a daily basis in our lives.  The woman really wanted Gabby to get excited so she started tapping the tray on the stroller to get the dogs to look up and focus on Gabby.  I couldn't figure out what she was trying to get out the situation but then realized she wanted them to give my daughter 'kisses'.   At that moment, one of the dogs started in for the big lick.  Gabby still wasn't even looking at them as she was watching the action on the course.  I stuck my hand right between that dog's kiss and my child's face.  I politely said, "oh, we don't need kisses from the doggie".  She pulled her dogs back and said in a slightly annoyed tone, "if there's no food or kisses, then we aren't interested."  She walked away with her two sweet dogs. 

Hmmmm....I thought about this for a while.  After being a dog trainer for many years before becoming a parent, I was constantly annoyed with the lack of instruction from other parents when having their children meet dogs.   It is a huge problem and the dog always gets blamed for the parent's lack of knowledge on animal behavior.  I have some amazing stories to tell of my dogs and parents bringing their kids up to them to meet and how they (the parents) behaved with their kids.  In this situation, it never occured to me that the dog owners can be just as bad.  Why would any dog owner ask their dog to get into a child's face, especially a strangers child?   My logical thinking brain can only assume that she thought I was a spectator there with my young child and wanted to help show they were a friendly bunch and give a good experience to my child.  I don't assume the worst in people but it made me realize it's not always the parent but probaby equally the dog owner. 

My 'take away' thought to you:  Don't be afraid to speak up and control the situation if you aren't comfortable.  I wasn't afraid to stop the kisses even though my animal behavior knowledge told me the dogs were fine and safe, but I wasn't comfortable with them kissing Gabby.   If you are the owner of a dog that likes kids, think about how you can appropriately use your dog to educate children and parents in situations like those.

Gabby's waking up, gotta go.....

Sunday, February 16, 2014

And winter continues....with sunshine and warmer temps

      The winter continues on with cold temps and light snows.  It's funny when you go outside and 13 degrees feels like a heat wave!   Without the wind and the sun shining, it isn't too bad.  I took advantage of that to take Gabby out to the world and do chores with me.  She loved it!  She tried running in her little boots and did pretty well but when she would fall down, it was like the classic movie A Christmas Story.  She couldn't get up because of being all bundled up, but I got some cute photos of her.



She is also wearing a beautiful hat made from the fleece of one of our rams, spun by Tiffany at Woodspryte Farms and knitted by one of my agility students, Carol.  A gorgeous brown finnsheep with soft wool.


      The weather has also taken its toll on our water hydrant.  We have many barns and water in each barn but the main animal barn is the fartherest out and that hydrant finally froze up.  The hydrant leaked and we figured it was just time before the water running down the pipe and into the ground would freeze.  Now, we bucket water from another barn for the sheep, cows, llamas, mini horse, cat, and birds.  It's not as bad as it seems.  We have two troughs in each pasture and take one day each week to make multiple trips to fill all four troughs.  Then, as the week progresses, we move the tank heaters to each trough as they get low.  

     We have enlisted the help of one of our dogs to make this process easier.  Bubba, our chocolate lab, a big strong dog that loves to work and frankly, can use the job, pulls the sled with the buckets of water from the front of the farm, to the back barn.  He seems to enjoy it and wags his tail the whole time.  I walk beside or behind him so he doesn't take off running and tip the sled and all the water.  Such a good dog.  Gabby enjoyed walking around with Bubba also and my back loved not lifting and carry those five gallon buckets.



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     Lessons are booming, despite the winter cold, and I have sold most of the extra lambs and sheep.  We are down to our core flock of 16, 8 of which are ewes to lamb in April.  A nice, easy number to handle this year.  5 of the flock are lambs that are growing like crazy and will be heading out to get training for dog herding lessons this summer.  3 rams are staying and will be used in the future to maintain colors and unrelated genetics.  It's always hard to keep a small number but yet have unrelated sheep.  We are looking forward to the ducks laying eggs again and all the pastures are sure to turn green soon.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mother Nature!!

     Farm and Winter

     The weather still isn't letting up and I think it's here to stay!  I have some more beautiful photos of the farm animals thanks to my wonderful student and her ability to stand in the cold and take some great photos!
" Mini is always looking for a handout!"


 "The sheep, llamas, and cow don't come out often but if you call with a bucket of grain.."


 "This little 4 month badgerface ewe lamb standing next to her mother will be getting a new home this weekend"


 "My husband's 'Cowbella' never misses a meal"


     The winter is taking a toll on everyone.  Our animals are cold one day and comfortable the next.  I've been washing horse blankets and sheep coats to keep any manure and wetness off the furry kids.  We did loose one adolescent sheep.  Not sure what happened, I think kicked or trauma internally of some kind and then the cold didn't help the situation.  After two days of not eating and not showing any interest in food or water after all the usual help we can give, my compassionate husband took it upon himself to end his suffering.  It's a hard part of farm life to choose to take a life.  It seems especially hard while I'm growing life inside me right now but I know from many years of experience, he was not going to come out of this happy and healthy.   I'm not sure I could make those decisions by myself so I am grateful for my husband although it really bothers him.  I also think it's important to share that this does happen and it's not something to be hidden.  I am very honest with anyone that asks about sickness, accidents, and just basic bad luck.  It's unrealistic to think everything is always 'peachy keen' when raising animals.  


Kids and Dogs

     On a different subject, I'd like to write a little about Dogs and Kids.  It's so common and I have many students that have dogs being introduced to babies or living with young children, I think it's something to discuss.  Whether you are having children of your own or grandchildren now, I think this is a subject to always have in mind.  I have the point of view from having only dogs for most of my late teens, 20's, and early 30's with no kids.  These four leggeds were my kids and my life revolved around them.  Now, with an almost 14 month old and 8 months pregnant, my perspective has changed.  I still love and respect my dogs but they did take a back seat to raising a baby for a while.  We are now coming to the challenges of a toddler and adult dogs.  Gabby, our daughter, is walking, baby talking, chasing the dog, feeding the dog, hugging the dog, and loving the dog so it's very important to teach all parties involved how to properly exist with each other.  

     My husband and I agree that no matter what, the dogs are NEVER TRUSTED in regards to the human babies.  Both are only predictable as long as your are supervising.  What this means to us, is if we are not in the room, the dogs and baby are not left alone with each other.  I don't care how great your dog is and how respectful your child is, never leave them unattended.  It's as simple as bring the baby or the dog with you.  We have a baby gate in our entrance and the dogs easily go in there when not being watched. 

 "All dogs will bite in the right situation"

      Now, look at this photo....

    This is my daughter, Gabby, and Tweed, our 8 year old border collie.  Out of all our dogs, he was the most distant dog for young toddlers.  He is now our best babysitter.  I wanted to show this picture to tell what I see from his behavior.  His ears are back and his body is a little tense.  This tells me he is tolerating this behavior but not exactly happy about it at the same time.  I'm carefully watching him and what he is trying to say through body language.  (plus I know his history with Gabby)


     Now in this photo, you can see some changes that made me think, I will let him choose to stay or not and let Gabby have a little fun.  He stretched out his front leg, relaxed his torso, and you can't tell but wagged the tip of his tail in a gesture I know says, "I'm happy and calm"  Some things you can't tell from a photo and if one of my dogs was uncomfortable with the situation, I wouldn't take the time to take a photo before showing Gabby that's not how we act around a dog, lol.  So, you won't see any bad photos here for that reason.  Tweed has an area to go to if he needs to get away from Gabby and has a signal he gives me to say, "I've had enough and I want a break".   He simply leaves the room and I've worked with Gabby "leave the dog alone, he needs to go rest".   I missed the shot of her getting off him and gently petting his neck before hugging with her head on his back.  I still teach her not to play around his face and mouth, although, gentle, he still has those teeth and it only takes once.  

     If you have a nervous dog and exploring toddler, try letting the dog out around the baby when they are strapped to their high chair and eating.  Food gets dropped, the dog eats it, a great association for the dog, and then put up the furry kid before letting down your baby.  Always allow your dog to retreat without being followed by child.  Behind a baby gate is a wonderful location.  The dog can come up and sniff on their own terms or can sit back at a comfortable distance without being corner by a child.   

Stay warm and settle in while trying to accept winter is here to stay...  
Try trick training with your dogs, maybe my next blog will be out indoor training for cabin fever!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Oh, The Weather Outside it Frightful...

     The weather continues to blow outside but we are enjoying ourselves with inside activities.   I took Tweed to a USDAA agility trial and even at 30 weeks pregnant, I had a great time!  This is his first trial in this venue and he qualified 3 for 3 starters runs.  We only went one day as that was all I could run at this time.  I've included a short video of our day. 


     We also have some great new agility students that started last week.  Looks like we will have some new competitors and agility enthusiasts this Spring.  Two students went to the trial with me and did really well for their first time in USDAA.  One of my new students is a photographer and came out to take some photos of the animals in the snow.






     I am now 10 weeks away from my due date for second baby and things are ready around here for now.  I have organized the nursery and newborn supplies along with the guest quarters for my family to come and stay and visit.  Just trying to keep up the exercise and movement so I don't get to uncomfortable with the big belly.  Delivery of our new surprise can't come soon enough!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Snow Storm January 2014

Our weather has really come flying in with lots of snow and soon to follow lots of cold!  We ended up with between 15" and 20" of snow with drifting.  The animals are doing just fine and I must say, although a long tired walk for me to the barn, I made it there and back.  It seemed so far away when I was only half-way!






I was surprised at the depth of snow all the way down the road to the barn and actually walked along the fence line for support.  



The wind chill was about -20 degrees but the actual temp was 8 degrees.  Not too bad yet, but the cold is still to come. 


 
Our pigs were snowed into their shelter but they didn't seem to mind as I took them breakfast in bed. 


The horses got extra hay and didn't seem to care that they were outside as they have the option of being in or out.


Then, my hard working husband came home from 24 hours of plowing and started in on our house and all the neighbors.





I will get more photos tomorrow of the plowing to see the actual beauty of the snow, although the temperature is suppose to drop again tonight.