Saturday, May 29, 2010

Falling in Love

I suppose the title is a little much, but I think one of the things we enjoy about dogs is the wonderful feeling of falling in love with a dog. The relationship is so important to training and I don't know how to avoid falling in love with the silly things.

Coach is finally turning from puppy to dog. I am not a person who loves puppies or babies. I like a critter that can communicate! Babies cry, pee and sleep. Puppies bark, pee, CHEW and sleep. Coach is still a puppy, but he is fast approaching the lovely dog stage. He is nine months old and just the last week or so I have seen him settle down a little. (Hot weather is very helpful if you have a Northern breed!) He is learning so fast and is such a sincere little guy.

Jazz has always been hard to engage. He wants to run around and do his thing. He doesn't always listen well and still quits working when he is bored. He used to ignore me when he was done. Now he continues to work, but he is no good at faking enthusiasm he doesn't feel! His personality is so very different from Coach. Jazz does have a sense of humor. Non-dog people don't believe that is possible, but I am certain of it. He loves to poke me when I am not paying attention and if I jump or yelp he stands there and laughs. He also steals my things and leaves them where I will see them. When I pick them up and say "MINE" he just grins at me. He is a very sweet, funny dog.

Coach is still growing into the dog he will be, but his personality is so different from Jazz. I am just getting to know him. He is very sincere and he doesn't have much of a sense of humor. Everything about him is full speed ahead. He will be quiet and peaceful if I am doing something active. He could spend all day following me around watching me do something. (Jazz quickly gets bored and wanders off for a nap.) He works hard at doing what I ask him to do. The one trait he and Jazz have in common is lack of patience. When he doesn't understand what I want him to do, he gets pretty "chatty." Yelping and screeching are not helpful in the training process, but Coach is convinced they are necessary.

I think it's fascinating to watch the two dogs interact and to see the differences in how they learn and work. I love Jazz, but Coach is young and learning so quickly it is a joy. I always had to convince Jazz to do what I wanted. Coach is desperate to do something for me. He loves to work and has such fun at it. I hope I have learned enough from Jazz to help Coach keep that enthusiasm.

This afternoon we were practicing stays. I usually have the two dogs work separately. They tend to fight over treats and attention, which is not very helpful to the training process. Today I practiced stays together. Jazz has an excellent stay in any position and I hoped he would show Coach the ropes. Coach is able to stay fairly well if I face him, so I was working on turning my back and walking away. He came with me a few times and I gently put him back. I was watching out of the corner of my eye as I turned my back the third time. He started to get up and Jazz bared his teeth! Coach sat back down and held his stay. That really made me laugh! Maybe I should let Jazz train Coach - after all they speak the same language.

Coach held his stay a few times in a row. Something about his serious little face as I came back to him just did me in. I am now truly and completely in love. It's a wonderful feeling and I am grateful that both of my dogs are so very dear to me. The Fruitcake Lady says a woman my age should give up on men and get a good "dawg." Works for me.

Friday, May 21, 2010

We FINALLY Earned That CD

One of the reasons I write this blog is to represent the "not so great" dog trainer. I am fairly new to dog training. I have Samoyeds, which are not supposed to be that easy to train. I don't train often enough. I'm not as organized or dedicated as I would like to be. I have had some real train wrecks in the ring.

All that being said - I really wanted to put a simple little novice obedience title on Jazz. I was told that anyone can get a CD. Maybe that was meant to be encouraging, but it really put the pressure on when I failed miserably the first time we went into the obedience ring. I was also told that I would never put a CD on my dog because I didn't train him properly, wouldn't use a pinch collar, or just was too green to train a "difficult" breed. I have had judges look at me as I walked into the Novice A ring and sneer, "Novice A with a Sammy? Are you sure?" I am not dedicated, organized, etc, but I am very stubborn and it made me mad to be told we couldn't do this.

I am here to tell you that it was touch and go from the start. A smarter person would have given up. A kinder person would have let poor Jazz off the hook. He is miserable in the obedience ring. He works nicely in practice. We can get a bunch of dogs distracting him, I can put the treats away, he will heel in the food aisle at Petco on a Sunday afternoon. We walk into that obedience ring and I get nervous. We have done so poorly and I have let my disappointment show. I never yelled at him or treated him badly, but he can tell when I am disappointed. The combination of nerves and repeated failures have left him unsure and unhappy. I just hate being so dumb!

We managed to get two legs over the last twelve tries. (Yes - we have tried twelve times!) Both of those scores were in the 170s. Jazz has never lost a single point on a stand for exam, only failed the recall about three or four times by running past me and gazing longingly over the ring gate, failed one sit stay by laying down, and failed one down stay by returning to me. Get the picture? We CANNOT heel in the ring. We are getting better out of the ring, but we have failed the heel on leash! YIKES!

Last Sunday I hauled my poor sad boy into the obedience ring once again. He lagged miserably and never sat down once, but we did not fail. I always have to laugh because he won't sit during the heeling exercises and then does a lovely finish with a snappy little sit at the end. After we were done, I asked the judge if we had qualified and she laughed and said yes. She kept laughing. She said that as soon as we were done, Jazz heeled beautifully over to where she was standing and sat the minute I stopped. It really is funny, but he is great when it no longer counts. We can all bet that the problem is me and not him.

Thirteen must be my lucky number. We qualified and earned our CD. I always imagined that we would go in the ring and have that lovely moment when it all came together and we did a nice job. (I never had to worry about first place. We are often the only novice A dog in the ring.) That did not happen. We just squeaked by and got a Q.

I was absolutely thrilled. I really wanted this. I will never take Jazz into the novice ring again. We are going to learn the open exercises. I like practicing obedience and so does Jazz. Maybe I can find a way to get him happy about obedience trials. I think we'll try a few fun matches before I commit to entering open. I would really hate to decide I HAVE to get an open title. The poor dog doesn't deserve to be tortured because I don't know when to quit.

Those of you who earned your CD with ease - count your blessings and remember that none of this is easy.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Agility and Enthusiasm

This is a continuation of my last post. I talked about Jazz lacking enthusiasm in the obedience ring. We have the same problem in agility. He used to have enthusiasm in the agility ring, but I think I worked real hard to kill that. I got too fixed on qualifying and let my disappointment show. I didn't take it out on him, but he knows when I am really happy and when I am disappointed. I didn't praise and party enough. I also failed to really let him know when he was right and let him know it was OK to be wrong. He doesn't like to be wrong and he works slowly so he can be sure he is right. So many mistakes for me to overcome.

Anyway - I have been reading Susan Garrett's blog and I reread the article called "But it Isn't a Border Collie." She talks about levels of arousal. Too little excitement and you get a sniffing, doodling around dog. Too much and you get zoomies and lack of attention as well. Jazz has gotten to the point that he is not excited. I worked last weekend on getting some excitement back in the game. I was really worried that I should stop doing agility with him. I hate to MAKE him do it, but I think it is good for him physically and for our relationship.

I used Susan Garrett's suggestions and one of my own. I started each warm up with a little jog. (She says she runs five minutes before each run. She must not be running NADAC. I don't think there is that much time between runs! Anyway - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.) I then gave him a vigorous massage. More like roughing him up than massaging. He thought it was weird the first time, but liked it after that. My final warm up was to spit cheese for him to catch. He really likes that game anyway and it seemed to get him fired up. I also tried blowing in his face at the start line. That was hilarious. He leaped up, bowed, barked, danced around and took off. I may save that for desperate measures - I don't think either of us are quite ready for that kind of enthusiasm.

This routine worked very nicely. I also made absolutely sure to remember that this is fun. I praised him and enjoyed his company. REALLY enjoyed his company and the runs. I got my happy dog back. He was his old silly self. Everyone who knows us commented on the difference. He ran faster, but really he just had more fun. He galloped around with a wagging tail and a grin on his face for ten runs in two days. The last two runs on Sunday were too much. I should have pulled him. I am still learning when to quit. He was fine for those last two, just not all that excited. I don't think he was physically tired, just tired of agility.

I was so happy on the way home and he knew it. He was feeling pretty proud of himself. We qualified three times, which is pretty good for us. We still aren't as fast as we could be if he were more confident. I will continue to work on getting him excited about agility. I think he will speed up if I give him lots of positive reinforcement and make sure he has fun. If he does not speed up, but continues to have fun, I will enjoy his company and let him run.

I have to remind myself every day to have fun. I know he will be too old soon enough and I don't want to regret anything about our friendship.

Laugh at your dog today - they like it!