Monday, December 28, 2009

Welcome back to the dog blog, I say to myself ...

We've had tons of rain around here over the past two months, which has made the ground so extremely soggy that's it's been hard to get in a lot of agility training and practice with the girls. But did that mean I took the time to write about dogs and agility in my dog blog instead? No, it did not.

But I did move 8 of my 12 channel weave poles into my basement so I can get Tally and Pinky finally weaving. It's so funny the differences between them: Tally is go go go and doesn't seem to sweat it as the poles move closer together. Her main problem is that she goes too fast to always stay in the channel--she just sort of flys out accidentally. Pinky, however, is very deliberate, paying close attention to where she is stepping. She's very sensitive to any change in pole width, so we're progressing at a snail's pace. I don't see her becoming a fast weaver anytime soon. The only think holding Tally back is that I don't train and practice her nearly as often as I should be. She's probably be weaving a completely close set like a pro if she belonged to someone less lazy than I am.

Anyway, that's not what I came to talk about. I'm thinking about Doggie Stress, mostly because I just caught up with my Team Small Dog blog reading and This Post made me think somewhat about Pinky and Tally and stress, and rather than blah blah blah about my own dogs over in Laura's comments I figured I should do that here in my own blog.

So what I'm thinking about is how different dogs (and by that I mean Pinky and tally) handle stress so very differently. I just discovered this the other week in class with Tally, after I inadvertently completely stressed her out. Well, actually, I think she stressed me out first, because I've created a Shaping Monster: we've done so may shaping games that now I have a hard time just getting her to relax and chill while waiting our turn in class. She wants to throw behavior after behavior at me, and if they don't succeed in getting a reward she wants to start barking at me, as if to say "HELLO! I'm doing stuff here!" So when my turn came, I was exasperated and stressed. Then I wondered why I couldn't get her off of me; it's like she was stuck like glue, refusing to stop staring at me. Usually she has brilliant obstacle focus, but now suddenly she was all handler.

Val, my instructor, pointed out that I was stressed and had stressed Tally out, and her staring at me was because she wanted to be absolutely sure of what I wanted before she did anything, because obviously whatever she was doing wasn't pleasing me. I hadn't a clue ... Pinky and Lucy always exhibited their stress by going away and sniffing and pretending they couldn't hear me. Now suddenly I have a dog who stresses the opposite way, by gluing herself to me and refusing to take her eyes off me (I swear, even though she's only 14 lbs., her behavior reminds me so much of many border collies I know ...)

Anyway, I've decided that from now on, Tally goes into a crate between turns in class so I don't get stressed about her demand to play shaping games. (I tried shaping her to relax on her mat, but we got stuck on the "relax" part. I couldn't get past her thinking that the mat was just the place she was supposed to go and try out her repertoire of shaped behaviors, or bark at me if the didn't work ...) Good thing she's small and her crate is very portable.

There's also a big difference between what stresses Pinky and Tally in the first place: Pinky doesn't like too much pressure. It's as if she needs everything to be her idea. When she goes through the weave channel, she's more relaxed and faster if I keep some distance. If I act like her doing something is really important to me, she's more likely to shy away from it. If I pretend I'm not overly interested, she's more likely to try things. Tally, on the other hand, really really wants to know what I want her to do. She'll try all sorts of behaviors if it's not apparent to her, but she's very tuned in to my actions for any cues I may be throwing off. It's a little unnerving, actually. But if I can get used to it I'm going to have a tiny little kick-ass agility girl ...

In other news, I decided that since USDAA Nationals will be somewhere on this side of the country in 2010 (I really hope it's Kentucky), I may as well see if I can qualify Lucy. I'm pretty sure we'll have no problem in Perfomance Gran Prix and PVP Team, but I'm not so sure about the Performance Speed Jumping. Lucy's really a great dog, but she doesn't always take top honors for speed. I guess I'll just have to enter a lot and hope we get lucky ...


boxer said...

Dogs resilience to stress is as varied as people's. Some can take it while others break down. Good nerves nerves are very important for a working dog, particularly if we are talking about real work and not just sport (SchH is what I know, I have no experience with agility).

BorderWars said...

Hey, I know it's been a long time but I hope you get back to blogging soon.

I've moved my blog to:

When you get back to blogging and update your link, stop bye and drop me a note so I can add you to my blog roll.