Friday, April 30, 2010

Obedience Trial

I always enter one trial during tax season. My own club's trial is held early in April and it is the very worst time for me to be entering a trial, but it is my own club and I always enter. This year I entered Jazz in novice obedience - with high hopes - and Coach in Rally novice - with no hope.

Jazz and I have been working very hard all winter on attention and enthusiasm. He has gone from drooping around the practice ring to an occasional, heads up pace. I tried to reward often and unexpectedly. I also tried to only reward attention. Looking at me is what counts. I have to laugh at myself because I fell for the old "northern breeds aren't supposed to look at you" line. "How can they pull a sled if they are looking at you?" Then again - who asked him to pull a sled? Silly me. I really didn't enjoy heeling either. I didn't expect him to look at me and I didn't enjoy heeling with him because I didn't understand it. No wonder we had trouble. Any way - I am on the way to trying to fix all that. I felt very encouraged by our work in training this winter and I was ready to try it in the ring.

Here was my biggest surprise. All seven years of his life, I believed that Jazz was a very confident dog. Then I met Coach and realized that Jazz is not that confident, he just isn't shy to the point of panic. What I took for indifference or confusion, is Jazz shutting down. I feel pretty bad about my misunderstanding, but nothing I can do about past mistakes now. I want to try to give him a confidence boost and see if we can have fun in the ring.

We went into the obedience ring on my birthday and I wasn't real nervous. (I have gotten very nervous in obedience and am working hard to get over that.) Jazz sat nicely at the start - he usually won't even do that. That was the highlight. I have been working on saying "ready" and giving him a treat, then starting to move and treating as soon as he comes with me. That seemed to help - he started with me. That was it. From then on he was dragging around the ring. I was much less tentative than I usually am and continued walking briskly around the ring. (I do a lovely heeling pattern when I don't have to worry about those pesky dogs!) This was at least as bad as any time we have entered the obedience ring. Rats! Oh well - I did the one thing I haven't been good at doing. I stayed totally confident and happy to see him. I told him he was great and we finished all the exercises. I left the ring and did my very best to show him how much I love him and how proud I am that he is willing to be that miserable for me. I don't know if it made a difference, but it was the best I could do.

The next day was Coach's turn. I wanted to get him in the ring at a fairly young age (eight months) and make it fun, exciting and profitable for him. I am trying to learn from my mistakes with Jazz and help Coach stay upbeat and confident. I guess so far I am doing that! He was a hoot in the ring. He nearly knocked the easel down on the way in. He was leaping around like a lunatic and I thought, "Uh oh - bad idea." We got in the ring and I asked him to sit. He plopped down and looked at me like the perfect little guy. I was way too excited about this. I sounded like a chubby, middle-aged, squeaky toy! I chirped, cheered and carried on throughout the course. I was so busy encouraging Coach and convincing him that this was fun, that I nearly missed two signs. After that, I settled down nicely. (He settled down nicely from the beginning.) Anyway - I cost us a few points, but Coach was really great. He pranced around the ring like he owned the place. We got 88 points, a qualifying leg, and 4th place out of about six dogs. What fun!

We took a "first time in the ring" picture of Coach and I. The judge offered to make it a ribbon picture. I felt kind of silly, but it really will be a nice memory of our very first ring experience. The judge made me laugh - she said she was a little concerned by the way he came in the ring, but he settled down to work very nicely. That is a great description. He really was working with me. Funny that this is the first time I have felt that in the Rally or obedience ring. Poor Jazz - we will relearn and try some more. At least I finally know what I am aiming for!

I am including a clip of Coach and I in Rally novice. The wonderful thing about video clips is that I can find the very best part to show off! Try to ignore the obnoxious, high voice I am using! Who knows where that came from!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Two Dog Family

I am finally done doing tax returns and can write about my dogs again! I have been composing this in the car and during my commute for months. Now, I am not sure how to begin.

I have never lived with more then one dog at a time. Jazz and I have been doing OK together for the last six plus years, but I decided to add Coach to our family last fall. The whole "puppy" experience is kind of like child birth. It's pretty awful at the time, but you forget the bad parts until the next time. We are now past the really messy parts, (I hope) and I am watching my two dogs become a pack. It is absolutely fascinating.

The beginning was fun to watch. Jazz has always loved to play with other dogs, but didn't have a lot of opportunities. I thought that he would be excited to play with Coach. I was wrong. He snubbed the poor little guy! I was stunned until friends told me that is pretty natural. My suspicion now is that he was just proving who was the boss. Whatever the cause, Coach was amazingly persistent and after about two days, Jazz seemed to just break down and the party was on. They ran, jumped, barked, yelped, and knocked things over. (They are still doing that pretty often.)

When they finally started playing I worried about someone getting hurt or about the two of them fighting. I had no idea dogs were so tough. Coach did end up with a "black" eye from an accidental whack in the face. Jazz and Coach both got nicks and scrapes in their ears. I have to remember to take collars off so no one tries to drag anybody around the back yard by the collar. (That is scary.) They will get up on their back legs and snarl at each other as if they are fighting to the death, then wander off. I have learned that when Coach starts yelping like he is being killed, Jazz has usually already walked away. I think the yelping is more like hollering "uncle" than actually being hurt. I always check though!

The next thing I worried about was jealousy. They would start fighting if they were both near me at the same time. I think I am lucky because the fights were mostly warnings from Jazz and no one ever got hurt. They always stopped if I just said, "That's enough." I have worked through that with them and can now pet or cuddle both dogs at the same time. It is such a terrific feeling to be squished between two big, fluffy dogs!

I was most surprised by how mean Jazz was to Coach. Jazz would take every single toy he could get and pile them in the yard. Then he laid down over them and snapped at Coach if the poor little guy tried to get them back. I was really disgusted by this greedy, rude behavior. I am proud to say that I was smart enough to leave them alone and see what developed. I did give Coach toys in his crate. As soon as he came out of the crate, he took the toys out and used them to lure Jazz outside to play with him. In the end, Coach would get whatever toy he really wanted, but he had to wait until Jazz let him have it. I believe this is just a natural way for them to work out the order of things between themselves. Again - no one got hurt at all.

Now that Coach is very nearly as big as Jazz, things are changing again. I left a soft crate up in the living room for Jazz. He has never used a crate at home and I don't know why I left it up. Anyway, about a month ago, Jazz started coming inside in the evening and going into the crate to sleep. I was very surprised until I watched a little more closely. Coach would not let Jazz sleep anywhere else. He pounced and yelped until I could actually see Jazz wince with each screechy bark. Sometimes Jazz gave in and played. Sometimes he came inside and got in his crate.

That is the stage we are at these days. Coach tries to coax Jazz out of the crate. Coach tries to eat the crate. Coach sometimes tries to go in after Jazz. (That tactic is a really bad idea and results in some fairly serious snapping and snarling.) If Coach gets loud enough, Jazz comes snarling out of the crate and runs him off. Sometimes, I come snarling up and run him off! Mostly I try to distract him with something else to do. He is not an easy puppy to distract!

I have learned a lot about being assertive from watching Jazz with Coach. I don't see him as mean or selfish any more. I think he is a pretty good "big brother." He doesn't put up with a lot of really out of control behavior from Coach. They still play like crazy dogs for hours on end. Coach has learned a lot about self control and being gentle from his interactions with Jazz. Jazz has remembered how to have fun and behave like a crazy puppy once in a while. I have gained confidence in myself and the dogs. I am sure that I need to keep an eye on things, but so far they interact very well.

What they do not do is cuddle with each other, or show signs that I would interpret as love or even affection. They wrestle and fight and then go to their separate corners. Except when Coach suddenly starts using his "big boy" bark in the middle of the night. Then Jazz is right there beside him in case they have a fight on their hands. Or when I brought Coach home from the vet after surgery. I couldn't stop laughing at the amazing happy dance Jazz did. He sniffed Coach and then galloped around the yard. He wriggled and jumped and even licked Coach's ears.

I think I can watch these two interact for years and continue to learn things about dogs and maybe a little something about myself. I believe I am becoming a much better trainer by watching Jazz. It's not that I really DO anything differently. It's all about attitude with dogs. Maybe it's more about attitude in general than I realized. I'll have to keep you posted on that.