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"

Adventures in Heeling!

We are still having so much fun with our heeling class!  And I am continually shocked by how amazingly well Inara is doing.  She’s ignoring the other dogs or just watching them calmly.  Generally now the only barking we have is upon first entering (though this past week she barely barked at all when we got there) and then maybe some play barking as she rolls around on the floor during our breaks.  I never thought I’d see her so relaxed and silly around other dogs!

This week in class we worked on some crazy turns that Ginger said we’d need to know for advanced rally classes or if we did agility classes.  We also worked a little on heeling on the right side, which confused Inara immensely.  She’d do it for a few steps and then cross behind me to get back to my left, LOL.  I think I’ll hold off on working on that outside of class – I want to get normal heeling perfected, first!

Ginger had us do some jumping this week, which Inara adored.  She flew over the jumps with room to spare, tail wagging, and then turned around and pulled to be allowed to go back over.  She didn’t even bark at all at the other dogs jumping, which is amazing!  I think at some point I’m going to have to accept the fact that she’s learning now and stop being shocked when she acts normal, LOL.  I don’t think I’ll ever take it for granted, though – we’ve had to work too hard to get to this point.

Tonight we went outside and practiced our heeling in front of the house.  This was our first time trying it outside, so I began with clicking and treating every couple of steps.  By the end of our session (30 minutes?) she was able to heel 2 houses down before I treated her.  We also worked on getting into the heel position.  She’s still having a bit of trouble realizing that if she’s in front of me and I say “heel,” that she needs to get beside me.  But I think she’s starting to get it.  A few times tonight she would move from right in front of me to perpendicular, facing me, and then pause, and then swivel and sit beside me.  It was neat watching her figure it out and try different things to see what got her the click.  And the best part of a good training session?  Having an exhausted dog afterwards!

Tired Inaras are good Inaras!

We have an obedience trial coming up at the end of August.  I use that term loosely as it’s really more of the obstacle course from hell (in a fun way!).  But I’m really looking forward to it as I think we’re going to make an awesome showing.  Inara and I are really learning to work as a team and trust each other.  If she’s on her game we may even try the novice obedience, which is off leash.  When she’s in her working mode, she’s astoundingly attuned to me and I think we may be able to do it.

The next 2 sessions of class have been postponed until September due to scheduling conflicts with everybody, so that sucks.  I’ll just have to hold my own “class” and continue working.  I may even sign up for this class again, just to keep working on it.  Or I’ll try something else.  Who knows?  The possibilities are nearly endless now that I have a less reactive dog.  🙂

Who’d’a Thunk It?

So last week we started an Attention At Heel class with Ginger at Fortunate Fido.  We had class again yesterday and Inara just did great!  We only had to go into the bathroom 2 or 3 times, and once was our normal beginning of class sequestering.  That’s the lowest number of sequesterings yet!  And it’s even more impressive because there was a lot of movement in class yesterday and several times we got within probably 15′ of the other dogs while we were all moving.  Inara barely even noticed!  She’s getting so focused while heeling.  We can even do it without treats in my hand, at least for short distances.  That’s quite a feat, at least for us!

Yesterday we worked a lot on turns – left, right, u-turn, about turn and Schutzhund turn (AKA left about turn).  Inara and I got to show the class how to do the Schutzhund turn.  It wasn’t as pretty as she normally does it, but it’s hard to do on leash.  It gave my classmates the basic gist of what to do, though.  We also worked on finding the pace that works best for our dogs.  Ginger says that normally people need to walk a bit faster than normal, but Inara and I have to do a steadier, more even pace.  We try hard to slow down most everything about Inara.  😉

It’s actually kind of amazing me how much fun I’m having learning how to heel and turn.  Heeling always looked kind of staid and boring, but it’s really not!  It’s fun getting this connection with Inara, and seeing her have fun as well.  She looks so pretty when she heels – she’s got her eyes on me, she bounces a bit and her tail is wagging.  I think she’s actually enjoying it, too.  That, or she’s enjoying the plethora of treats she receives!  LOL

We had a great little training session this evening.  She earned most of her dinner by heeling in straight lines, doing Schutzhund turns, and just learning that the heel position is a Very Good Place to be.  We tried something new tonight since she’s having trouble learning that if she’s in front of me (not in a front, just somewhere in front of me) she needs to come back to me when I say “heel.”  If she’s already beside me she’ll stay beside me, but she doesn’t realize she needs to get beside me first!

So I lured her into a heel position, clicked, and then tossed the treat in front of me.  She ran out to get it and I did a 180 so my back was to her.  As she was heading back towards me, I said “heel” and waited for her to naturally get beside me, then clicked and tossed the treat in front of me again.  It actually worked really well!  I got a bit dizzy from constantly doing 180’s, but I was setting Inara up to succeed as she naturally wanted to come back to me for another treat, so by adding the “heel” command in I’m hoping that she will associate the act of getting into that position with the cue.

So yeah, heeling is actually fun!  Our next task tonight is to work a little bit on getting her accustomed to her new iron basket muzzle.  

I figured she should learn to wear one – it will give me more peace of mind when she can start meeting other dogs.  And, technically, she should have it on anytime we’re not in the city of Cleveland.  I won’t use it for that (I’m such a rebel!) but it’s nice knowing I’ve got it now just in case she ever needs it.  But I want to make sure she thinks it’s a Very Good Thing, so I bought some squeeze cheese because the nozzle will fit through the wires more easily than treats will.  So we’ll spend a few minutes working on that and then we’ll be done for the evening.

Happy training to everybody!

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!

Progress continues!

So for those of you who don’t know, Inara and I are part of a 1940’s style pin-up calendar that donates money to Daddy Dolls (for military kids).  All the pictures must have a pit bull in them as a part of the photo, not just kind of added as an afterthought.  This is our third year doing it.  In fact, you can find the calendar on Facebook – just do a search for Pit Bulls & Pretty Girls. 

Anyway, the first year I found a photographer here in Ohio.  But last year I went to NY to do a mass photo shoot with some friends.  It was super stressful for both Inara and I because she kept trying to start crap with the other dogs and that necessitated her being kept crated the majority of the time.  Not cool, but her own fault.  She also had trouble maintaining stays during the photo shoot, so it was tough to get a good pic of her.

But this year???  Holy criminey she did so much better!  With a few clicks and treats I easily got her within a couple feet of a dog she went after last year.   She was able to be crated around the other dogs instead of sequestered in a hallway.  She didn’t snark at the other dogs while crated in close quarters in a van.  Her obedience during the actual photo shoot was stellar.  In other words, I couldn’t have asked for a better dog!

It really amazes me how quickly and easily she takes to things when using the clicker.  I used to get so annoyed at the “clicker nazi’s” who always made me feel that if I wasn’t using one I was just the dumbest person they’ve ever met.  Actually, those people do still annoy me.  😉  But now I understand their zeal for it and their desire that everybody give it a try.  A true effort, not just a couple days or months.  We’ve been working on this for over a year, but now her progress is really coming in leaps and bounds instead of small increments.

I love my dog.  🙂

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!

“Normal” class #2

Class number 2 today, and Inara did even better than last time! We had to go into the bathroom straight upon arriving in class. That didn’t surprise me or bother me, though – I think Inara will just always be one of those dogs who announces her presence upon entering a room with other dogs. We then had to go into the bathroom maybe 5 more times the rest of the hour. That’s a huge improvement! The last 3 times we only were in there for about 10 seconds, which was great. I figured out that it’s the Corgi in class that’s setting Inara off when she does go off. It stares at her and is barely under control. It was also very vocal this week which didn’t help. Ginger put a barrier up in between Inara and the Corgi and that made a big difference. I really wish I had video of Inara pre-Relax class and Inara now. Ginger was commenting that even her FEET looked more relaxed, and she was right. Her toes weren’t splayed out, digging into the mat like they used to do. Her breathing was more normal. And her tail was wagging, but at a nice mid-line level, not flagged over her back. She really seemed to enjoy herself today, and a couple of the times she barked it was at me in play. I was totally okay with that (and Ginger was as well) because it was nice seeing her be able to relax a bit and engage with me. Ginger hopes we’ll be able to compete by the end of May. There’s a competition then and it’s apparently outside, so she thinks Inara would be even better outside than in a building. I’m just totally loving this dog that Inara is turning into!