Monday, February 15, 2010


Here is Zazzy’s post-op recovery plan (now half way through it!):

Week 1

Zazzy is confined to downstairs, sofa is replaced with my mattress. (Yes I slept down there with her for a week!) Z was only let out into the garden on lead to see to the calls of nature. She feels very sorry for herself, crying in the night and trying to rip out stitches. I did not get much sleep! Poor Z has to wear a bucket collar all the time for the first week.

Week 2

As for week one, adding short lead walks of a few minutes, gradually building up in duration to a walk round the block. Ten days after the op the stitches are removed. Zazzy is feeling better, she is now trying to run around, play, and leap on/over things, I’ve got my work cut out trying to keep her calm! Although the vet said she can run off lead once the stitches were out, I kept her on lead until the end of the second week just to be sure.

Week 3

Zazzy is allowed free running. She wants to go wild running and playing with the puppy, while I desperately try to keep her as calm as I can (!!!!), while at the same time trying to increase gentle exercise (walks) (well that's what I was thinking, she had something more exciting in mind!) to build her fitness back up. Also work on wobble board, pilates ball, ladder work, walking backwards etc.

Week 4

Start playing crate games, sends and recalls. Letting her run as much as she wants now. She seems more playful than ever! (that makes me happy!!) Half way through the week I got Zazzy going round one large circle over low jumps (twice, once in each direction), plus had two goes at recalling her to the end of the see-saw, rewarding her there then gently lowering it to the floor. Kept up the balance and co-ordination work.

Week 5

Plan is to build up her fitness with on lead trotting, free running over hilly terrain, balance and co-ordination work, crate games, and introduction of more agility equipment if or when possible (lowered if available).

Week 6

Plan is to build up back to all agility equipment during the sixth week. Not sure how long it will take for her to be fit enough to return to training classes as usual, will have to see how that goes.

Good luck to little Yazoo who is having her op this week! And even more so to poor fretting Karen who no doubt will have a tough time holding down the little fidgeting flea for the next couple of weeks! I will be thinking of you!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Start lines and queuing

I have met a few people now who are encouraging their dogs to go crazy barking and lunging at the ends of their leads when around agility. Not just for a few seconds while psyching the dog up to get ready to compete, but all the time they are anywhere near agility. The handlers tell me that they have been advised to get their dogs like this when near agility, because their dogs are not driven enough and this will make them faster. They must never stop their dogs from behaving like this for fear that it will damage their agility prospects. My immediate gut feeling was that this made me uncomfortable (apart from the discomfort of having to stand near them that is), but it has taken me a while to think about it and figure out why. If I’m truthful I guess I would love to find a way to get Zazzy more motivated. Because Becky was (and still is!) very noisy when working, that did make me think a bit harder about the correlation with barking and motivation. But I don’t think this is the way forward and these are the reasons why: 1). I don’t think that continuous hysterical barking can be good for a dog (and it's certainly not good for me!). Think of all that adrenaline coursing through its body, doing this repeatedly must be a physiological strain (on the heart, adrenal glands etc.). 2). I have seen this behaviour, if encouraged, escalate into nipping, chasing, charging, biting, and going for anything that moves if it gets too close. 3). It may be a short cut to getting a dog excited, but once you have your dog in this hysterical state, can it think straight? Can you get a start line wait? Will it leap off the contacts? Can it be directed accurately? The answer I have been given is that ‘I would rather have my dog going fast without a wait/contacts or going in the right direction, than a slow accurate one’. That doesn't seem like a solution to me, more an exchange of one problem for another. 4). Getting dogs into a hysterical over-reactive state is not training let alone good training. Good training would be bringing out the best of the dog using motivational confidence boosting rewards. Of course that is harder and will take longer, and you would have to find yourself a trainer who knows how to do that rather than one who can offer a shortcut that may or may not work, and also possibly leaves you with a dog with bigger issues and bigger problems to sort out later. 5). I have seen many dogs barking in different ways (flyball dogs are interesting to watch for example). I have seen dogs barking hysterically that are not that fast or motivated when working, and I have seen that many of the best and fastest agility dogs are silent. I am not convinced that encouraging hysterical barking and lunging behaviour will ultimately have an exact correlation with increasing speed. Dogs can behave like that and still not be terribly motivated doing the job that you ask of them. Getting excited about the movement going on around them does not automatically mean they will be fired up to work for you. That comes from what motivation you have been using for the actual training. Also a dog that has gone rigid with over-stimulation cannot move well or jump properly. 6). Look at the top dogs in the sport. How many of them are hysterically barking and lunging on the start line? If I think of the top handlers that I know and have seen in training, such as Dawn Weaver, Toni Dawkins, Natasha Wise, their dogs are the fastest around, but I have never seen them standing by the ring for half an hour making their dogs bark! 7).Even if this were a good thing for your dog, what about the rest of the people and dogs in the queue, and at training? My dogs have been intimidated on the start line, subdued in the queue and even bitten by over-hyped dogs. It is hard to concentrate standing next to a screaming dog (and sometimes the noise is painfully loud), let alone try to remember a course or run it well when you are trying to keep your own dog out of harms way. And what about my poor dog?! Surely all the dogs in the queue have a right not be intimidated, let alone put at risk of harm?

I have just found this on Susan Garretts’ website and it sums this subject up very well, from someone who knows a great deal more than me:

‘…. I am NOT in favour of allowing any dog to bark and go crazy while another dog is working. Geeez, aren’t these critters supposed to be our family pets first? How does that contribute to the behaviour of your family pet? And as Rebecca pointed out, the top dogs in any sport have a grace and fluidness rather than a franticness about them. Don’t allow displacement frustration replace good old fashion drive training. There is a MAJOR difference. One requires thought and a progressive training plan. The other only requires you tie a dog to a fence and let the chips fall where the may. You can see why some trainers will offer up that advise, it requires little effort on their part and it may create what you want (however beware of what else you get in the process!)’

There is a ton of really good advice on her website.

Crate games.

What can I say? Brilliant. I played crate games last year with my dogs, who had already been brought up a different way. I thought it was useful and valuable, particularly it helped with Kaydee who gets over-excited when I am getting ready to take them out for a walk. However Deece has been playing crate games from the start, and now I can see even more benefits. I am grateful that I have been allowed to take the crate to the end of the indoor training centre that is not being used for agility training, while Zazzy is not able to do her usual agility class. This has allowed Deece to play crate games with dogs working near by, and I have been trying to move the crate a bit closed each week as his focus improves (had to move it back away a bit this week as he kept looking at a excitable dog when it was near, and ran towards it once, but generally he is getting better!) I have been concentrating on 1) getting him to play, play, and more play with me! 2) a fantastic foundation for a start line wait: ready, focused, not moving! 3) he is quiet when working 4) building drive and speed when called to me (at the moment his return to the crate is slower, something to keep working on!) 5) He is being rewarded for having his collar grabbed 6) he is learning to go from a toy reward, to a food reward, to a toy again. Deece is very interested in all other people and all other dogs, at the moment they are of more interest to him than toys and most foods as well, so these games are really invaluable for him. It has been three weeks since Zazzy’s op so I also took her to play some crate games last night. I was really pleased with her speed, drive, and desire to play. However there was one really interesting moment. She left the crate before I released her, and at that point I stood still and did not get the toy out to play with her. Within no more than two seconds her face completely crumbled, and she sunk to the ground like her world had ended, it took a long while to get her happy and moving again. A timely reminder of how careful I need to be with her training, to make sure I only ask for small incremental steps of difficulty so she gets it right most the time, to try and keep the speed and happy demeanor that she had last night.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Game of trumps

Yesterday I was out with Becky and Deece. A couple of friendly dogs and their owner passed us, and Deece started playing with them which was nice (I want him to give him lots of chances to socialise).... then we both went on our ways (in opposite directions)... only Deece carried on going with his two new best friends. I called him, and he carried on playing. Uh oh the first time he has not responded. Hmmm. I got Becky to bark (this has worked with other preoccupied puppies in the past!).... no response. I called again as he was now disappearing over the horizon. I could see him jumping up at the his 'new owner' (naughty boy I have been working in teaching him not to jump up!) and she was gesticulating in my direction. I called again. At last he came running back and I made a big fuss of him, and played with his toy. Well I have worked hard on getting him to play as he went right off tugging when his baby teeth started coming out, but playing with a toy with me does not trump playing with other dogs. Hmmm. So last night I was lucky to be able to set up a similar situation with a friend and her dog, good boy there was no hesitation in coming when I called. Today I went out with sausages. Sausages, I am happy to say, do trump engaging with other dogs. I am not sure they trump being called away once play is underway though, so this is something to keep working on! We are also playing a new game out on walks. If he goes off and turns his back on me, I run off and hide! Ha ha! It has worked like a charm, he keeps an eye on me now! He really is a doggy dog, very interested in smells and he really (and I mean REALLY) got the hots for one of the puppies at puppy class last week, which is a bit of a worry!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Wishful thinking

This morning an amazing thing happened. I was out walking my dogs before work, there was someone coming towards me. I changed direction but her dog set off towards my pack quite fast. Having suffered numerous incidents in the last year, I didn't wait to see what it had in mind, but asked her to call her dog.... and here's the amazing thing..... she called it back to her. I have rarely seen such a marvellous thing occuring in park during the last year, and it really made me happy. No argument, no 'why should I', no 'oh he/she only wants to play' (as some rabid beast in full hunting mode charges into my dogs barking and snapping), no pretending that I cannot be seen or heard as they walk past me leaving me to try and fend their dog off. This kind of problem is a regular topic of conversation among all the dog owners I know, so is it just wishful thinking that things could be improved, or is there something that could be done?

On a completely different note, I have bought a cheap second hand camera off of ebay hoping to jazz up my blog. That was a week ago and it hasn't arrived yet. So feeling a bit like Bart Simpson I guess I will have to send a daily email of 'where's my camera?' WHERE'S MY CAMERA?' until it arrives! I need to get some pictures of my 'puppy', who is now as tall as my girls! Deece continues to be a ray of sunshine, his tail is constantly wagging and he is nearly always grinning. His canines are coming through now, although his baby canines are just about hanging on in there. He and Zazzy get on really well, and now Zazzy has got over her op she is more playful than I can remember her ever being before, so I am very happy about that. I have a six week plan going from operation to starting back training for agility. I can barely remember what it is though! Due to the bad weather we have hardly done any this winter. I guess I am feeling well adrift from agility, we have been out of competitive mode since last August.
I had a lovely time at 'The Dog Barn' near Chichester on Saturday. I met up with Laura who helped me do some restrained recalls, and in turn I helped her with Boomer's contacts. Boomer and Zazzy did their puppy class together, but he is streets ahead now, really fast and looking fantastic over the equipment, and has really muscled up! Laura brought her gorgeous borrowed sheltie to the co-ordination and balance workshop that I ran in the afternoon, and wow what a transformation! She has really done wonders with her. The course was really enjoyable and all the dogs seemed to have a fantastic time.

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