Frustration in Training

Old lady or not, she still wants to do things.

Old lady or not, she still wants to do things.

Despite her age, I’m still actively training Risa. I had some goals for her this year but, as time goes on, I am seriously rethinking them. We are certainly struggling with her abilities; there are some things she simply cannot do anymore. The biggest problem now, however, is age-related. Unlike last year, when I thought of her as “broken” rather than old, she is finally an old dog.

I’m thrilled it’s taken so long but saddened at the prospects for her future in competition (and otherwise). I am ready to let her retire when she tells me she is done. Or sooner if she’s incapable of making that decision (much like she is incapable of deciding that lure coursing is a bad idea with her back).

I recently listened to an outstanding podcast by Hannah Branigan regarding frustration in dog training. As she states, frustration is the first step towards extinction of behavior. When training behaviors, this is typically the last thing we want. I’ve noticed, however, that Risa is often frustrated during training sessions. In most cases, it’s not due to unintentional lack of clarity from me or that she doesn’t know the behavior. (Though there is fair argument for my training stupidity in her backups which has definitely created frustration for both parties. Wish I’d recognized this sooner!) I believe she’s losing her hearing which is causing her lack of understanding and frustration. She’s been so good at verbal cues without supportive hand or body movements but, as her hearing fails her, she is uncertain what I want her to do. This leads to frustration on her part. She tries her hardest but I’ve noticed more barking and leaving the session lately. Ris is not much of a barker though leaving to do her own thing has always been an issue (for various reasons). I recognize her quitting now is usually from frustration. It’s getting harder for me to indicate to her what I want her to perform.

For that reason alone, I know the end of her competitive career is drawing near. She’s also starting to act like an old lady and simply tell me “I’m going to do what I want.” As long as it’s safe, I’ve been letting her. Kyu still has to wait at the back door to be cued to exit to the yard. Risa just goes outside whenever the door is opened. I really don’t care.

As per usual, Risa challenges me in new ways. Forces me to think outside the box and become a better trainer. If we still want to play these games together, I need to think of ways to make my requests clearer. She still continues to teach.

Even when she retires, I’ll still continue to train with her. She enjoys it far too much to quit entirely. 🙂

Posted in Canine Freestyle, Dog Sports, Obedience, Rally, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment

Mystery Solved

The mystery behind the mix has been revealed.

The mystery behind the mix has been revealed.

Everyone has always wondered what kind of mix Risa is. Myself included. Knowing or not knowing would never change my opinion of her, naturally. But part of me always wanted to know what she was. She doesn’t LOOK like any particular breed or mix so I always assumed she was a combination of quite a few breeds. Sort of what dogs would look like if they were allowed to breed indiscriminately without human intervention.

I know when the DNA tests first came out, they were pretty hit-or-miss. I also know that, even with known mixes, the pups can look absolutely nothing like their parents. Several of my friends had run the newer DNA tests on their dogs and the results seemed feasible. My curiosity eventually won out over my skepticism and I bought one of the tests. Waiting 3 weeks for the results to come in was agonizing which was silly since I’d already been waiting 10.5 years to know. 🙂

For all the unknowns, I knew she was a herding mix of some sort. Her behaviors have always indicated that (even if she doesn’t actually herd). Which ones, however, was the mystery. I’d always suspected border collie and guessed that Australian cattle dog would be likely too considering how commonplace they are in Montana (where I adopted Risa). While she is built very much like a sighthound, I truly would have been surprised to find any in there. My guess was border collie/German shorthaired pointer/Boxer, Australian cattle dog. I wasn’t even close. 🙂

Risa's pedigree!

Risa’s pedigree!

As I suspected, she’s pretty mixed up. I was surprised to see German shepherd in there especially at such a high percentage! Twenty-five percent GSD! That certainly explains a lot (her GI problems, bad back, temperament issues). I would never have guessed Rottweiler or husky. Collie actually didn’t throw me, though, as she was listed as a collie mix at the shelter. I had just always assumed border collie versus rough collie. Makes me think that her mother was probably a collie cross (since that’s probably the “known part” from her original family when she was purchased in a Walmart parking lot). Husky, while unexpected, would certainly explain some of her aloofness and her joy of running for the sake of running. Both the German shepherd and husky could account for the copious amounts of hair she sheds!! 🙂 Some of the other breeds mixed in there are apparently cocker spaniel, poodle, golden retriever, Weimaraner, Chihuahua, soft-coated wheaten terrier, standard schnauzer, Russell terrier, and miniature pinscher.

Yup. Pretty mixed up Muttski. But it’s sort of cool to “know.”

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The newest addition to my crazy life.

The newest addition to my crazy life.

As I mentioned previously, I brought home a puppy late last summer. He’s a Windsprite, a small coated sighthound formerly known as a Longhaired whippet. The name is a bit of a misnomer (which is why it underwent a change this past year) as they are not a recessive coated whippet but a unique breed created from crossing a sheltie and a whippet about 70 years ago.

I never thought getting a puppy was a good idea. I knew they took a lot of work and I’d lamented having certain young, vibrant foster dogs who required more time than I could give. Given Risa’s injury, however, I couldn’t take a chance on a rambunctious adolescent dog who could accidentally injure her. Against my better judgement, I decided a puppy was my best bet. Risa has also always loved puppies.

When I made the decision, it wasn’t the best time to decide to bring in a puppy. The cost of Risa’s care was more than I could afford. But I had no idea if she’d ever compete again and, like it or not, I had to come to grips with the reality that she will not live forever. With her being such an integral part of my life, I couldn’t imagine myself being able to function without her. Without a reason to still train dogs, take walks, leave the house, and generally give a shit about anything. I knew I needed someone to help me get through that loss when it comes. And I needed to get him into things while she was still around so that I didn’t feel I couldn’t do some of these activities again because they were “Risa’s.” I got him for me. . .but I knew he’d be good for her too.

Kyu is similar to Risa but different in his own right. He’s confident and bold. Incredibly intelligent and receptive. He’s easy to engage and not super sensitive. He is in love with dogs and people. He’s really everything I wanted. I’m so glad I went to such a great breeder (and friend!) who picked out the perfect puppy for me. He even does a couple behaviors that Risa does which is incredibly sweet and awesome now and someday will cause me to break down and bawl uncontrollably.

He is not perfect, though. 🙂 He is much barkier than I like (I blame the sheltie). When I first brought him home, he used to cry and scream when he was left alone. He’d work himself up into a panic. I couldn’t shower, feed Risa, do Risa’s PT, or even leave the room without him having a meltdown. I finally had a meltdown of my own after about a week. I debated giving up and sending him back; clearly I was not cut out for this puppy. His breeder talked me off the ledge and I stuck it out. I’m so glad I did. Funny how I never once considered sending Risa back yet her issues were far more severe. Granted, she would have gone back to an uncertain future. Not so with Kyu.

He's been with me for 6 months now and I can't wait to see how far he can go!

He’s been with me for 6 months now and I can’t wait to see how far he can go!

He also eats Risa’s poop if I don’t pick it up right away (gross). He jumps up and pokes me in the face with his nose. He’s bent my glasses and left a scratch on them a couple times. I also think he’d truly like to crawl into my skin; he likes to be THAT close. 🙂 None of us is perfect but, really, I hit the jackpot with this dog too.

I see so much potential in this dog. Much like I saw in Risa but the road to channel his abilities should be far easier than the one I traveled with Risa. Still, his journey is a continuation of hers. Everything she taught me I will share with him. He will reap the rewards of my struggles and victories with Risa. And he will teach me more and test me in his own way. I have high hopes for him but I also respect who he is and look forward to where he will take me. I never expected I’d ever get a sighthound. They’re not known for being performance dogs or very handler-focused. But Kyu seems to be pretty much the total package I wanted. I’d waited years for a second dog. . .and he was worth it.

Posted in Back Problems, IVDD, Puppy, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment

It Doesn’t Have to be This Way

Nicely trimmed toenails!

Nicely trimmed toenails!

There are two things I can’t tolerate when it comes to dog care: obesity and long nails. There are no fat dogs in my house and I like nails Dremeled short and smooth.

The weight thing is never an issue in my house. My dogs are active and eat well for their level of activity. They are lean and muscular. It helps keep them active and feeling good. It’s especially beneficial to older dogs with joint issues (Risa) and for preventing future problems (Kyu).

Nails are equally important to your dog’s health and well-being. Long nails can cause pain and deformation of the dog’s feet. They can also cause your dog to place their weight improperly and cause injury. Short nails keep your dog sure-footed and protect your thin human skin from injury from sharp claws!

Risa does not enjoy nail trims. She never has. She tolerates them far better when I use the Dremel than she did with the nail trimmers and I am far less likely to cut the quick and hurt her. I just have to be cautious I use the tool properly so I don’t burn her with the speed of the file. When utilized properly; you get nice, short, rounded nails. It’s easier to drive back long quicks and you avoid the pinching pressure that nail trimmers can cause. No sharp points on the freshly trimmed nails either.

When I brought Kyu home, I wanted to start with him right away to get him to enjoy nail trims. I didn’t want it to be a war of wills. I knew several people who did nail trims by flipping their dogs over onto their backs and cradling them in their lap so that’s how I started. I got treats and I placed him on his back between my legs. And he fought it. He hated it. I kept calm and tried to soothe him but he wasn’t buying it. I kept working on it. Eventually, he would calm down enough to eat food but I could tell he was still not comfortable. I did it sporadically so he wouldn’t associate it with a nail trim. Sometimes I had the clippers and sometimes nothing. Occasionally I’d touch his nails with the Dremel (turned off). Sometimes I’d have the Dremel on nearby and gave him treats. He hated it no matter what I did. Kyu did not like to be restrained and he especially didn’t enjoy being on his back.

After failing to acclimate my puppy to this position, I started to question myself about it. Why does he have to be on his back? I don’t trim Risa’s nails this way. I have her lay on her side for nails. Is there any reason why Kyu has to be on his back if he hates it so much!? I changed my vision of what nail trims should look like and started working with my dog in a position he felt more comfortable being in.

I got out a container of treats, the clippers, and my clicker. I waited for him to lie down and told him he was good. I briefly touched a toe and click/treated him. I repeated it several times on different toes, back feet, front feet, with a click/treat each time. I spent only a few minutes and stopped. I did it again the next day. And the following day. I started working on this with him every single day. I slowly progressed to making it harder by having the clippers out, holding a paw, squeezing a toe, stretching out a leg, touching a nail with the trimmers briefly, etc. If he pulled away, I let him. If he wanted to get up and leave, he could. I wanted him to have the choice to let this continue. His nails, of course, continued to grow so I had to have them trimmed professionally twice so that my work could continue but his nails wouldn’t become overgrown.

There were times I doubted it was going to work. However, after working on it pretty much every single day for 2 months, I can now trim Kyu’s nails with little fuss. He still flinches a bit when I actually trim a nail (I spend more time “fake trimming” than actual trimming) but he doesn’t leave. And he doesn’t hesitate when I try again (whether a fake trim or not). He almost looks forward to the little sessions every morning. I haven’t been able to progress to the Dremel yet but I’m hopeful we’ll get there someday. If nothing else, I’m extremely thrilled to see how quickly we’ve progressed from “Oh no! You’re not trimming my nails!” to “Yeah, I can accept this part of my life.” All because I changed my preconceived notion and vision of our final goal and decided to listen to my dog.

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Little Miss Perfect

The face of perfection.

The face of perfection.

This year started off pretty rough for Risa with a diagnosis of IVDD and 6 weeks of strict crate rest. That was followed by months of intensive physical therapy and, still, I had no idea if she would ever compete again.

Since her future was uncertain, I decided to get a puppy. A Windsprite named Kyu is my next partner in training. He adores Risa and she loves to play with him too!

However, Risa made it clear to me she was not ready to retire. She finished her PCD title in AKC obedience in June. In the fall, she danced again and earned her Veteran In-Sync Entry title in RFE musical freestyle. As if that weren’t enough, she finally got back into the rally ring this weekend and finished her ASCA RNX title with style!

I had minimal expectations for her this weekend. We haven’t practiced rally since prior to her injury. And, to be fair, we never really practiced much rally at all! Lately, when training, it’s been harder to get her engaged with me. I know part of it is due to her age; she’s starting to reach the point where she says “not gonna” more frequently. I just wanted to have a good time with my girl while she still wants to play these games with me.

We trialed in ASCA rally for the first time at this trial last year. Risa earned one leg towards her RNX title. The “X” means that she scored at least 195 out of a possible 200. Knowing how little we’d trained and her physical limitations, I put the dream of the RNX title out of my mind. I just knew the chances of her achieving such a lofty goal were unlikely.

It was a small trial with two competitions on the same day. Her first time in the ring could have been a disaster. She caught a whiff of a super interesting smell right before we were due in! I let her wander off in search of it as best I could. I knew there was no way she’d ignore it so I gave her a chance to seek it out. She never found it but it was apparently enough to put it off her mind when it was our turn.

The run was actually quite nice. She did her sits in front (which she hasn’t been doing at home) and her attention was actually nice! Risa placed 2nd with a score of 196. The RNX was still within our grasp!

For her second run, I knew she’d either be better because she’d already been in the ring once or she’d be worse because she was tired. It was a long day at the show and she’s almost 13! Her second run was outstanding. I could feel it while I was out there. She was engaged and responsive. She nailed everything. I knew it was good. I praised her to the moon after it was done and thanked her for being so amazing and awesome. I knew it had been probably her best run in rally EVER! I just hadn’t expected it to be a perfect run. That’s right. My dog reactive, fearful, busted-back, old fart of a dog got her first perfect score ever. A 200! I couldn’t believe it. This dog is like a fine wine; just keeps getting better with time.

As long as she still wants to play, she will. I can’t believe we finished out this year with four new titles in three sports. . .and a PERFECT SCORE!! <3

Posted in ASCA, Back Problems, Canine Freestyle, Dog Sports, IVDD, Rally, RFE, Training | Leave a comment