Monday, August 31, 2009

Small Victories and Big Ideas

Jazz and I did not qualify at the Amana trial this weekend. We entered Friday and Sunday. Friday was our usual terrible heeling. The judge was generous and we only lost 29 points in total. That would have given us a 171 and the barest qualifier you can imagine. I was feeling pretty confident after he managed to stay in a sit position for the whole long sit. (Our only problem in long sits and downs was occassionally laying down.) We started the long down with an English Bulldog named Rufus on our right and the Boston Terrier Reilly on our left. Jazz looked fine and I was really feeling confident. Then I heard a weird noise. It was the strangest sort of whine, strangled grunt, space ship kind of noise, I have ever heard. I finally figured out that the noise was coming from the Bulldog. He then started a froggy, squirmy, land swim in the direction of his handler. If I hadn't been so busy giving Jazz a happy smile and praying he would stay put, I would have been giggling hysterically. The looks on the other dogs' faces, the handlers, and particularly the poor woman that was watching her Bulldog lose his mind were really very funny. I was busy trying to show Jazz how happy I was that he was only watching Rufus and not practicing land swimming. Finally, Rufus got up and walked over to his handler. I saw Jazz wiggle a little and then settle down. I was still looking at him and thinking we had dodged the bullet when he got the most surprised look on his face. I honestly think he had been contemplating the Bulldog and suddenly realized he was laying on a mat across the ring from me. He didn't seem to have any idea why he was laying there, so he got up and wandered over to see what I was doing. I guess I should be grateful he didn't run off, disturb anyone else, or pee somewhere! I think we were about 15 seconds short of qualifying. To quote Charlie Brown - ARGHHH!!

Saturday we went to a focus seminar in Muscatine taught by Nancy Reyes. This seminar was so perfectly in tune with the problems Jazz and I have been having! I learned so much about volunteered behaviors and we worked a good eight hours. Poor Jazz was almost asleep in the practice ring by the end of the day. I had worried about spending the money. Worried about wearing out his patience with another trial day to come. Worried about all kinds of things. It turned out to be so much fun and so helpful!

Sunday we went into the ring and I was feeling the glow from our seminar the day before. I was so much more relaxed in the ring than I have ever been. We began the heeling on leash with Jazz looking intently at my face! Those of you who have this experience in the ring on a regular basis have no idea what a blessing it is. I said, "Jazz heel!" and he did! We heeled a little ways and the judge said halt. Jazz wandered off, but came right back and sat. Again - it's the little things in life that can really make my day!! The very best part was a portion of the heeling pattern where I looked down and saw my dog trotting along, watching me and looking very proud of himself. He came to one nice, straight halt at my side. The joy I felt is ridiculous! He then fell madly in love the lovely young ladies that were the figure eight posts and tried to leave me for them. He did a perfect stand for exam. We got to the off leash heeling and he was kidnapped by the evil hamburger grill that was on the other side of the closed garage door. He just could not stop wondering how to get to the burgers. We weren't able to complete the heeling pattern. We did get the very nicest recall front and finish, but very slow recall. He managed to complete the long sit and down correctly.

I really can't tell you how great I feel about Sunday's performance. For a very short time, I felt the teamwork and sheer fun of heeling with a dog who wants to be there. I am so encouraged. I am marching briskly around the yard and if he falls behind or doodles, I just keep going. He is returning to heel position more and more quickly. I have so much hope.

Des Moines, here we come.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


It seems like only yesterday I was thinking I had weeks to prepare for the end of August and early September obedience trials. My plan was to work very hard to finally master the fine art of heeling. I was certain that I had tried everything. I was wrong. I don't think I ever really made up my mind to teach the dog to heel.

The biggest problem I had with heeling, was my unwillingness to ask the dog to look at me while we were heeling. I felt like I was making him ignore all the "fun" stuff out there and stare at me. It seemed mean or silly. (Don't laugh, I'm just trying to own up to issues that I think many people have!) I decided that Northern breed dogs just don't usually look at people while they are walking. I actually read that. Someone said that you can't expect a Samoyed to look at you while heeling, since he is bred to pull a sled and look ahead all the time. It was a great excuse and I used it for way too long. (I have heard owners of others breeds claim that grabbing your arm while walking is just instinctive in the breed and can't be changed.) It's no wonder we have problems with heeling. (Don't you hate true confessions?)

When I did try to train heeling, I got very confused. There are so many people out there with so many training methods. It's pretty hard to figure out what method to use. I began by trying to do exactly what I was told to do. Unfortunately, some of the methods I was told to use are not ones that I am comfortable with. (I will never be comfortable using a prong collar.) The other problem with all these training methods is that many of them are in complete disagreement with each other. I had a hard time focusing on a method and sticking with it. It seemed to me that I would try something and it didn't work, so I would go through a whole series of different methods or plans. I have no idea how many of them might have worked if I had executed them properly and been persistent.

So I started to really try to work this out. I have been breaking the heel into small parts. I know that at least ten of you told me to do that and I didn't appear to listen. Well, I heard you and am now trying to apply the things you have been telling me. I have worked on the watch command at the start. (Watch - treat - watch - treat. Boring but necessary.) I have worked on starting together. (Jazz heel - treat....) Each little piece. We are making progress. I just noticed that if I say ready, he looks away. I'm sure that has to do with too many trials where the word ready was a signal that I was a nervous wreck and no treats were coming! So there is another little part. (Ready - treat - ready - treat.) We were really doing well at home and I was having fun with it. I have been using a metronome because I discovered that I speed up on the turns - as if we don't have enough trouble! Lots of good productive work and lots of good things were happening.

I was feeling confident until this past weekend when two things happened. The first thing that happened is that I realized August is almost over and the trial is this coming weekend!! The second thing that happened was a run through that was truly terrible! I was feeling so proud of our work and I was looking forward to showing all my classmates how much we have improved. We were awful! YIKES!

One bright spot in all this. I modified Peggy's advice about back chaining the entire obedience trial sequence. She did recalls. Yippee all done, lots of treats!! Then she did heeling pattern, recalls, yippee all done, lots of treats!! All the way back to the beginning. I didn't go that far, but I did start doing recalls at the end of our training sessions. I do them as a kind of grand finale to the session. I am getting much quicker, more enthusiastic recalls. We'll see how that goes in the ring, but it seems to be a good thing for us.

I have decided not to panic. I have promised myself and my poor, long suffering dog that I will not be a nervous wreck at the trial. I broke down and bought hot dogs. I am saving them for trial day. If they don't get his attention and get him interested, nothing will. I have entered two weekends in a row. We will be at the Amana trial on Friday and Sunday and we are entered Saturday and Sunday in Des Moines. I am publicly promising that if I do not get my CD by the end of the Des Moines trial, I will stop torturing myself and Jazz. I will go back to basics and wait to try obedience again until next summer.

I hope to see you all this weekend. Happy heeling.