Between a rock and a dog…

Inara and I seem to have hit an impasse with our training.  Not due to lack of skill, but because I can’t trust her off-leash.  She’s totally ready for advanced rally signs, but even the 2nd level of rally and obedience stuff is off leash.  Ginger and I were talking this evening and we feel she’s kind of hit the max benefit from our Rally classes we’ve been taking.  Ginger thinks I need to expand outwards, into new training places.  That frightens me.  It’s very difficult finding good, positive trainers.  And quite frankly, other places are really expensive ($140 for 6 weeks?  Really?).  And I like Ginger and her style of teaching.

I suggested to Ginger that maybe she can offer “semi-private sessions.”  Her normal rally classes have 6 dogs and are $85 for 6 weeks, so I said that maybe she can offer 3 week sessions, with only 3 dogs, for $85.  It’d be a lot more individualized attention, and if we chose the dogs well we could do off-leash stuff w/o worrying.  Once Inara got used to being off-leash around those 2 dogs, another dog could be added in.  I’m not looking to get her playing with other dogs – I want her to IGNORE them entirely.

I may also just do some private sessions with Ginger out and about in the community, just for the change of scenery.  We all know that dogs don’t generalize, so I do maintain Inara’s training elsewhere.  It would be nice sometimes to have Ginger on walks in the park with me when other dogs are passing in close proximity.  Not because I don’t know what to do, but because my confidence increases with her around *blush*.

Any other ideas for me as to break through this impasse?  I’m going to start working hard with Inara on training/walking w/o relying on the leash to keep her by me, even outside.  It will be on, of course, but only as an emergency measure.  But while we’re doing that, I want to DO something – classes, seminars, something.

Inara with Joe, Big Mike and Johnny O of Rescue Ink.

Exciting weekend!!!

I know I’m a bit late in posting, but Inara and I had a super exciting day this past weekend!    We were entered in beginner obedience and beginner zoom rally at a C-WAGS trial on Sunday.  I was pretty nervous because I had never been to the facility before, but Ginger told me to bring Inara early so she could sniff around before other dogs got there.  Great idea.

So we get Inara’s sniffing done and do a little training to get her into working mode, and then other dogs started arriving.  I decided that Inara would probably be more relaxed staying crated in my car than crated in the building with all the other dogs.  However, it was rapidly getting very hot so I ended up having to bring her inside anyway.  And miracle of all miracles – she didn’t bark as I brought her in.  NOT ONCE.  There were dogs out on leash, and dogs crated, and dogs barking, and she went by them all to the corner I’d chosen for her.  Whoa.

Our turn to do our first run-through came up and in she went.  She kept pulling towards the judge in between exercises because it was a new person and darnit she wanted to say hi!  Fortunately that didn’t count against us, LOL.  She had a couple bobbles in her routine – she popped up from her down during our position change exercise, and scooted closer to the judge during the greeting portion.  But other than that, she was outstanding!  Her heeling was gorgeous (she did bump me a bit on our left turn) and during her down/walk-around, apparently a dog in the other ring was doing an off-leash recall (possibly over a jump?) and according to Ginger, Inara thought about getting up – BUT DIDN’T.  My goodness, my girl is learning self-control!

So we finished and I was pleased.  My goal for each run-through of the day was just to qualify.  I didn’t care if I didn’t place high, I just wanted to qualify and have fun.  So the judge gathered us to hand out ribbons and says, “1st place goes to team #52, the pit bull.”  I was looking around trying to figure out how another pit bull competed without me noticing when Ginger said, “Liz, that’s YOU.”  Holy cripes we got 1st place.  *insert shocked face here!*

So then we did our 2nd obedience run-through.  Again, a couple bobbles, but over all very nice and I was pretty confident I was going to at least get another qualifying ribbon.  The judge is handing out ribbons, and I hear “2nd place, Inara!”  WHAT???  Whose dog have I stolen and been competing with???  I was totally grinning from ear to ear.

Then we did our Zoom Rally run-through.  That one was tougher because Inara was getting tired and over-threshold.  The first few exercises I just kind of dragged her through, but then she engaged with me and we finished pretty well.  However, I was still going to be shocked if we weren’t NQ’ed.  But oh no!  We got 4th place!!!

We were scheduled to do one more Rally run-through but Inara had had enough.  She lost it at another dog and I couldn’t get her back, so I withdrew her even though we were already in the ring.  It wasn’t going to be productive for either of us to try to force her through.

So now Inara has 3/4 legs for an obedience title, and 1/4 legs for a rally title.  And I’m floating on air.  🙂

This is our 1st run-through, with 1st place:

This is our 2nd run-through, with 2nd place:

This is our Rally run-through, with 4th place:

Silly pet tricks, Part 1

For some reason, I got it into my head that I want Inara to stick her tongue out on cue.  Why?  Why not?  Unfortunately it’s slow going.  For some reason I’m finding this a hard behavior to catch with the clicker.  I’ve had three little sessions and I think we’re seeing a bit more tongue action, but I don’t think she’s realizing that’s what I’m clicking.  You can see that she’s up and down and throwing behaviors at me.  Which also doesn’t make it easier to see when her tongue flicks out.  But we’re trying and we’ll get there!  Anyway, here are the first three training sessions we’ve done.  They’re not exciting, but I thought it would be fun to be able to see any progression.

On a random note, we have our first C-WAGS Rally competition this Sunday, so wish us luck!!!

Pivots, seminars and footsies

So Inara and I had dog school tonight and she did fabulous.  🙂  Last week was a little rough ’cause it was our first session and there were new dogs in class, but this week all the dogs did beautifully.  Ginger had us working on a bunch of different things to help keep it interesting for us.  She broke out the dreaded Left Pivot sign.  I HATE the Left Pivot.  You have to put your dog in a sit in the Heel position, and then turn 90 degrees to the left without really moving your feet, and your dog has to go with you.  Right Pivots are no problem for us.  But the left ones have just been elusive.  Not tonight though!  I, being the genius that I am *rolling eyes*, finally remembered that Inara knows what “Left” means.  Duh.  So I said, “Inara – Left!  Heel!” as I turned so she knew to turn left and get back in heel position.  It wasn’t tight beside me, but after several reps she was turning left and then hopping back into heel position.  I was pretty excited.  Alright, that’s a lie.  I was thrilled.  I thought we’d NEVER get that down but now we’ve got a great start on it!  Woot!

This weekend I’m PUMPED ’cause Inara and I have working spots at a seminar with Steve and Jen White.  They are known for their positive reinforcement training skills, even of police dogs (WHAT???  You don’t need compulsion to train police dogs???  Yes, that was sarcasm.).  And I keep hearing, “you get to go to that?  I’m so jealous!!!” so I know it should be really good, LOL.

Inara is having some sort of problem with her feetsies.  The outside toenails of her back feet (mainly her back left) are rubbing raw spots onto the inside of the toes next to them.  Her nails aren’t long or rough, so I’m not sure what the problem is.  Her toes actually were bleeding after a long walk this past weekend.  I’m not real sure how to toughen them up or stop the rubbing.  And I’m not sure why it just started.  The only thing I can think is that I got her a walking harness (from Brown Dog Designs – OUTSTANDING quality) so she could pull on walks and get a better workout, so maybe as she’s pulling her feet are pushing outwards a bit, causing the outside toes to chafe on the inner toes.  I don’t know, but I don’t like it and I WILL figure out a way to keep her toesies comfy.

Inara in her BDD Walking Harness
Ouchy feet. 😦

I’m a bad blogger…with a GREAT dog!

It has been WAY too long since I updated this blog, which is a travesty because Inara is doing so well!!!!  *insert happy dance*

Since my last posting, we’ve been doing Rally almost non-stop.  The classes usually have 6 dogs total in them, and we no longer are confined to the corner by the bathroom!  There are no more Sucks To Be You Sequesterings for class!!!  Ever!  Inara may still give a few random barks when dogs enter, but I truly believe it’s more out of habit now than anything else.  She is easily redirected back to me at these times and starts throwing tricks at me for treats.  She will occasionally still throw a half-hearted lunge/bark at another dog, usually females (she’s becoming rather bitch-selective!); but again, she is easily redirected and continues right on as if nothing happened.  And we actually worked off-leash this week (with the other dogs in other rooms).  She has NEVER paid attention to me like she did while working off-leash.  It was really neat.  I’ll admit it – I was giddy.  🙂

So I have gone from having a stark raving lunatic of a dog that barked and lunged uncontrollably at other dogs and couldn’t be in a class setting, to a dog that is now happily working off-leash with other dogs in the near vicinity.  All with the miracles of positive reinforcement and negative punishment.  No aversive collars.  No leash yanks.  No yelling.  Just a clicker, treats, fun and a great trainer who read my dog correctly.

Holy amazing weekend, Batman!

So Inara had a crazy amazingly good weekend!  It was busy and stressful for her but she handled herself spectacularly.

Friday night we started a new class at Fortunate Fido.  It’s an intro to C-WAGS Rally-O.  We’ve not done any Rally-O before so this is new stuff for us.  Also, there are other dogs in the class, which Inara is learning to deal with well.  However, this time there are FIVE – count them, FIVE! – other dogs.  Holy crap!  The most other dogs we’ve dealt with is three.  Fortunate Fido isn’t huge, so having six dogs in there is cozy.  Ginger had a ring gate up between us and the closest dog (I think more for me than Inara, LOL), but it was still nerve-wrecking!

Ginger had us come in first so we could assume our position by the bathroom.  I kept her in the bathroom while the other dogs came in, but she was still VERY worked up.  Lots of barking and ignoring my existence for about 10 minutes.  Once she settled down I opened the bathroom door but we stayed in there, just clicking/treating for attention.  Eventually we were able to move into the little hallway outside the bathroom where she could peek out to see the other dogs but they weren’t in her constant sight.  We continued working on focus and played a lot of Look At That.  After maybe 30 minutes we were able to do some of the exercises, out in full sight of the other dogs.  By the end of class, we were actually doing a Rally course out in the middle of all the other dogs!  We had five dogs around us and Inara was doing a small Rally course!  I nearly died of joy.

And then Saturday there was a big dog event, the Doggie Doo, where vendors and doggy professionals can set up tables and the dog-owning public can meet everybody.  There are TONS of dogs there, not all of them under great control *wink*.  But Ginger asked Inara and I to help out with a demo of shaping.  Oh dear.  Terrifying.  But we’ll give it a shot.

We got there early before there were too many other dogs.  Before long though, the hoardes arrived.  And Inara had a melt-down.  Okay, that’s a lie – she had several melt-downs.  But you know what?  She recovered each and every time.  I was able to regain her attention.  And we did our demo successfully.  Within a few minutes, Inara had been shaped to push herself on a skateboard.  And we did a little Rally course as well!  In front of an audience of both people AND dogs!  I was completely beside myself!

Isn’t it amazing what our dogs can do when we give them a chance to push beyond their (and our?) perceived limits?

9 or 10 week old Inara, snuggler from the beginning!

Graduation Night!

For Inara, that is.  🙂  We graduated last night from our Attention At Heel class at Fortunate Fido.  It ended up being such a super fun class!  I really never thought we’d have so much fun heeling and practicing turns, but we really did.  Inara was consistently bouncy, with a waggy tail and playful attitude, even though there was another dog in the class.  She especially loved it when Ginger broke out the jumps – at one point she was just jumping back and forth faster than I could click and treat!  She didn’t care about the c/t – she just wanted to jump!  LOL

We rarely had to do any Sucks To Be You Sequesterings (STBYS).  Most of her barking was very playful and when we were having downtime letting the dogs rest.  She wanted none of that resting business!  She wanted to WORK!  I didn’t do the STBYS for the playful barking at me – I saved those for when she was just blatantly barking at the other dog for attention, but that only happened a handful of times throughout the whole 6 week session!

Through this class, we worked a lot on teaching the dogs that the heel position was a great place to be – we would do maneuvers that kept the dogs moving and active, and by using targeting we’d eventually end up with them back in heel position, with a big c/t for that.  We practiced sidestepping both directions, backing up in heel (Inara actually does that pretty well, one step at a time!), tons of different turns (cripes, who knew there were so many fancy turns in Rally competitions???), jumping, figure 8’s, etc.  It was never dull, for the handlers or dogs!

I know I shouldn’t still be surprised by how far Inara has come, but I can’t help it.  Ginger and I were lamenting the fact that we don’t have video from the first day of Relax class so we could do a true comparison.  That first day was rough – non-stop barking and lunging, no attention on me, and she couldn’t even see the other dogs!  Now she’s able to work around other dogs and remain focused on me as long as the dogs stay about 10′ away.  She cannot yet sit still and watch other dogs jump and race around, but that’s okay.  We’ll get there.

I’m finding that a great reward for her is the opportunity to jump up and touch my hand.  She used to just jump up with her front feet, leaving her back feet on the ground, but last night she decided to leap straight up with all four feet to bump my hand!  Her head was even with mine!  It was so much fun!  And I’m thrilled that she’s enjoying targeting so much since we can’t treat in the trial ring, but I can have her do that.  🙂

We’re starting a new class tomorrow night.  I’m a little nervous about this one because there are 4 or 5 other dogs in it and it’s going to involve a lot of movement because it’s a C-WAGS Rally class.  We’ve never tried Rally before but I think it’ll be a lot of fun.  We’ve just not had a class with that many other dogs in it.  Ginger is going to give us our regular corner by the bathroom so we can easily do our STBYS.  I’ll keep you guys updated!

I’ve begun kind of interning with Ginger, which is neat.  I’m helping her return phone calls and schedule appts, and I’m tagging along on private appts.  I’m doing a shaping demonstration for her on Saturday at a big dog event, which is scary!  I hope we don’t get performance anxiety in front of all those people!  LOL

Well, I will try to keep this updated more frequently with our progress.  I appreciate all the kind comments you all leave!  I like knowing that some of you are getting hope and ideas from my blogs.  Let me know if there’s anything in particular you want covered!

Inara with the greatest dog toy ever - Tuffy's "Rant the Ant"

Started new class yesterday!

Inara and I started a new class at Fortunate Fido yesterday – Attention at Heel.  The description is:  “We work on attention and proper heel position.

  • Heel position
  • Find heel games
  • Back up in heel position
  • Attention games
  • Canine freestyle moves

I thought this would be a good class for us as Inara’s loose-leash walking (LLW) is atrocious and this can only help.  This will also help us in our C-WAGS competitions.

There are only 3 other dogs in class – a young yellow Lab (who likes to stare at Inara, not aggressively, just rudely), a Golden that thrashes at the end of his leash and plays tug with it, and another Golden who is very very senior.  Tough crowd for Inara!  Ginger gave us our usual spot by the bathroom so we can easily do our “Sucks To Be You Sequestering” (STBYS) as that has been so effective so far.

Inara was a little more worked up yesterday than she has been, but I attribute that to being cooped up for the past week due to the heat, as well as having been out of class for several weeks.  She did her usual “I’M HERE!!!” barking upon entering, so I just picked her up by her harness and carried her straight into the bathroom for our first STBYS.  It took her a couple minutes to settle down but she worked well once she was relaxed.  She got into a couple barking matches with the young Lab, forcing us to go into the bathroom.  We had to do several STBYS’s, some of them for a few minutes at a time, but overall I was pleased with her behavior.

We worked on “fronts,” which Inara can basically do but often is slightly crooked.  Ginger said that this class is to prepare us for competition so we’ll only be accepting perfection – time for the crooked fronts to stop!  We obviously worked on attention/eye contact, as well as having the dogs sit, down and stand in the heel position.  Inara doesn’t know stand, so that’s another thing we need to work on.  I’ve worked so hard on ingraining an automatic sit that she gets confused when I want her to stand!  I can’t even lure her into a stand from a sit – she just scootches forward on her hiney and stretches her neck real far.  So I have to get her up and walking and then click the split second we stop before she can sit.  I think this is going to be a tough one for us.

She did impress me though because Ginger wants us to teach them to target things with their back feet.  I’m pretty sure Inara doesn’t realize she has back feet most of the time.  But Ginger used us as the example pair since Inara’s done some shaping exercises before.  She put a folded blanket in between 2 ring gates set up to mimic a hallway.  I walked Inara toward the blanket and then backed up a step so she was sitting in front of me, with her back to the blanket.  I then used social pressure to encourage her to move backwards and get her back feet on the blanket.  With just a few clicks she was doing it on her own, and making the other people laugh because she was trying to stretch and reach the treat while keeping one foot on the blanket, LOL.  I was really impressed and it was fun having my dog be the “this is how you do it” dog.  🙂  We then worked a bit on the touch command, which Inara is great at – she can be sitting in a heel beside me and jump straight up to touch my hand and then land still in the heel position.  It was a good class and I think we’re going to have fun and learn a lot.

Outside of class, we’ve been trying to meet with friends 2-3 times a week to walk with another dog.  She’s doing great!  She’ll bark a couple times when she first sees the other dog (shocking, I know), but then very quickly can walk beside it, just a couple feet away, like it’s not even there.  It’s very cool.  🙂

I hope everybody else is doing well with your challenging dogs!

Thank you’s and brags!

Hello all!  I hope this blog entry finds you all well and your dogs healthy, happy and non-reactive!

First of all I’d like to say thank you to Embrace Pet Insurance for featuring Inara as part of their Therapy Pet Week newsletter.  It was so kind of them to contact me and ask to use her story!  So check out their newsletter, leave them a kind comment thanking them for being pit bull friendly and then order some insurance for your pet through them!

Secondly, I’ve been getting some kind comments recently from readers who stumbled upon this blog and I want to say thank you.  I know I don’t keep it updated like I should, but your comments really brighten my day (and make me want to just hug some of you who are struggling!).  I’m so glad that you guys are realizing you’re not alone. Sometimes you feel like the only one with a crazy dog, don’t you?  I know I do, even now.  But trust me when I say there are a TON of us with reactive dogs.  If you’re looking for someplace to get training assistance or just find a sympathetic ear, feel free to pop over to PitBullTalk.  You don’t have to have a pit bull – we welcome all breeds of dog owners.  😉

Now, onto the brags!  Inara and I had been training for a regional competition called C-WAGS.  We were entered in the obedience portion of things (HA!  I know, right???).  Well I was pretty nervous but we got there this past Sunday morning and things could not have gone better.  It was at the center I train at, so I think that helped Inara a lot.  Also, it was CRAZY hot so there weren’t many dogs out.  Most were crated in their cars with the AC running.  So Inara was actually content to lie in her crate in the air-conditioned car, napping, with the occasional foray out to stretch her legs and pee.  She barked at a couple dogs but it was half-hearted.  She was announcing her presence, not threatening them.

Finally it was our turn for our first run-through.  We were second to last, and the woman competing behind me knew Inara was reactive and had agreed to not bring her dog into the building until we were out.  So there were no other dogs in there, which was great.  I had a little trouble getting her focused when we walked in, but I waited until I had some eye contact before we entered the ring.  So we entered and went through the routine – and not only qualified but got FOURTH PLACE!!!!!  There had been probably 15 dogs competing and we got 4th place!!!  I nearly cried with joy.  I never thought my crazy little pit bull would compete, in OBEDIENCE, of all things, and actually beat other dogs.  It was pretty amazing.

Our second run-through we NQ’ed because she was hot and tired and couldn’t focus on the heeling portion.  It’s too bad because the rest of our routine was nearly perfect so we would have ended up pretty high in the rankings again.  🙂  But I didn’t care.  I had gone there with the intention of having fun, seeing how Inara did, and not even qualifying.  But we came home with ribbons.

So please, I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t underestimate yourself and/or your dog.  Believe other people when they say that you can do it.  And above all, make sure you AND YOUR DOG always have fun while training/competing.

Thanks for reading!

Quick update on life!

I know, I know, it’s been a while since I updated.  But we moved so life was consumed by packing for quite a while!  LOL  We now have our very own house, with a fenced in backyard.  It’s exciting and Inara really seems to be happy here.

What else?  Let’s see.  Inara’s mom, Sophie, is safely in a rescue in NY where she is being fostered and loved.  She’s been there for a few weeks now and is apparently quite the energetic dog!

Unfortunately we had to miss the last 2 sessions of our class with “normal” dogs due to car troubles and moving.  However, we are competing on May 30th in a C-WAGS competition.  We had a practice run-thru last night and Inara did SO WELL!  She heeled beside me like a pro, making my instructor laugh because she was obviously having trouble staying with me as opposed to bounding ahead.  She’s got quite the perky heel!  She did her sit and down stays very well.  And perhaps most shockingly of all, she managed to stay in a sit and down beside me while I shook hands with a couple people she’d never seen before!!!  Woot!!!

So with our competition coming up so quickly, my instructor and I are conspiring as to how to give Inara a fighting chance at competing.  We both realize that if she has to navigate through a gauntlet of dogs to get into the building where the competition is being held, she’ll fall apart and won’t be able to get focused on me.  So Ginger is actually doing some research to see if the two of us can come in through a window in the office!  Can you imagine???  I love having a trainer who’s willing to brainstorm and do what she can to help us out.  So hopefully that will work out and somebody will get a video of me hoisting Inara and myself through a window!  LOL

I’ve started a new business making and selling slip leads, leashes, slip collars and martingale collars made out of parachute rigging cord.  They’re colorful and super strong.  Check out my website!  Lead Me On

Pink and yellow 5' leash

Finally, and very excitingly, Embrace Pet Insurance contacted me to see if they could interview Inara for their newsletter!  How cool is that?!?  As soon as I have the link to the newsletter I’ll post it up here!

Anyway, I suppose that’s about it.  Thanks for sticking around through my sporadic postings!

Enjoying the sunshine