Perfect trifecta for brilliant behavior?

Could it be?  Have I found the penultimate trifecta that inspires genius in Inara?  That keeps her from over-reacting but keeps her drive up enough to provide a brilliant rally performance?  I’m not sure I should share this secret!  But I will, because I know others may benefit from it.  It has three main ingredients (hence the word “trifecta”).

1.  New treats:  Nothing extraordinary, just a generic lamb-based food roll cut into training treat sizes.  Inexpensive, easy to carry, not messy.  Stinky but not in an offensive way.  However, they must taste divine.

2.  New diet:  Inara used to be on high-protein grain-free kibble.  Last week I switched her to raw, which has about 18-20% protein, about half of the kibble she was eating.  Pertinent?  Perhaps…

3.  Calming collar:  I bought this from Ginger 3 or 4 weeks ago.  I hadn’t noticed anything at first, but last night Inara was such a different dog that I’m wondering if this is one of the key aspects of the trifecta.  Anyway, it’s a possibility.

So what happened last night that made me discover this miraculous trifecta?  We had Rally class.  It’s a new session (last night was week 2) and there are three pit bulls (two of which are reactive), a 10 year old Border Terrier (completely inoffensive but apparently has a target painted on him) and a reactive Lab.  The first week Inara had snarked at the Border Terrier, just to let him know that she was a bitch.  Not that that’s difficult for other dogs to notice.  😉  But last night the Lab broke free from his owner, just one of those horrible accidents that happen, and went after the Border Terrier in a very intent way.  Fortunately everybody was on their toes so the kerfluffle was short and no harm was caused.  However, the noises during the incident!  Holy cripes.  Barking and snarling and more barking from the reactive dogs.

All but one.  Inara whipped around to see the fiasco but as soon as I called her name, she whipped right back and focused on me.  Not a peep out of her.  *insert SHOCKED face here*  That’s right, my dog who still barks upon entering the building just to announce her presence did not bark.  My dog that holds a grudge against any dog that snarks at her did not bark.  My dog who occasionally barks obnoxiously at dogs completely ignoring her did not bark.  Not only did she not bark, she stayed focused on me, eating treats and looking relaxed.  *insert shocked face again*

Short of magic, the only thing that changed last night was that perfect trifecta.  Same seat.  Same dogs.  Hell, I probably had the same outfit on.  Same everything, except the trifecta.

So, gentle readers, there you have it.  Treats cut out of a lamb food roll, new lower protein diet and a calming collar gives you a perfect dog.  Who knew?

She of the trifecta

Can dogs be bipolar?

If they can, I believe Inara is.  And I say that with love as I wouldn’t have her any other way! “But Liz,” you may be asking, “why ever would you think that your sweet, innocent little doggy might be anything less than perfect?”  Well, gentle readers, let me tell you a couple fun things about gorgeous Miss Inara.

1.  Last night we started a new session of Rally.  We’ve taken it several times but each time there are different dogs.  Inara actually started off doing pretty well, a few barks here and there, but just her standard “Hi!  I’m here!” barks.  So Ginger sets up a practice course for us, and off we go.  Obstacle number one?  No, not a rally obstacle – a real-life obstacle.  We have to pass by the seriously non-offensive Border Terrier.  FAIL.  Inara pretended as though she just noticed he was there – RARARARARARR!  Really?  So I smile sweetly, grit my teeth, and pull her back to where her brain can turn back on.  Just like that, she’s with me again.  Alright, off we go to the starting line again.  We start, and again have to pass by innocent Border Terrier minding his own business.  RARARARARARARAR!  *sigh*  Find the magic location in the room that turns her brain back on, and off we go again.  With some fast talking and quick thinking, we make it through the course with only a few more grumbles.  Then our turn comes up again.  I brace for the outburst and…nothing.  Perfect show dog.  “Mother,” I can hear her saying, oddly enough in a British accent, “I have no idea why you think I would create an outburst.  How gauche.  Pish posh, let’s trot along and have a spot of water, shall we?”  I simply shrug and go with it.

2.  Walks.  While walking, should another dog have the unmitigated gall to step on her path and come close, Inara does her most spectacular Cujo impersonation – barking, lunging, throwing the f-bomb, insulting their mother, etc.  It’s charming.  Fortunately, with bipolar doggy, it lasts less than a minute and then off she trots, quite pleased with herself, acting as though nothing out of the ordinary just happened.

3.  Very rarely is she just “there.”  She’s either UP UP UP!  Or asleep.  Thrashing a toy around wildly or snoring on the couch.  Playing tag with me or laying in the sun.  Very few in-between states where she is conscious but not doing much.  Asleep or wild.  On or off.

So yes, I do believe I have a bipolar dog.  Any others out there feel me?  Have any bipolar dogs of your own?

Inara in a rare moment of conscious calmness, with glowing ears.

Steve & Jen White

Went to a seminar at PosiDog this past weekend.  I wrote this part for my forum on Saturday evening, after the first day:

So this weekend I am at this: http://www.posidog.com/sjw/ . I didn’t attend the Friday event, just today and tomorrow. I’d never really seen Steve and Jen at all, but every time I mentioned their names, I heard, “OMG they’re awesome! I’m so jealous!” And now I see why. They are SO much fun. So charismatic. And so sweet together, too. :-)

PosiDog, the training club this is at, is an outstanding facility. It’s very spacious and the staff is SO accommodating to, uh, special needs dogs. :wink: They’re letting a few of us crate our dogs in an office area so it’s quieter for them and they’re blocked from each other’s sight. They have a ton of lightweight visual barriers that they have set up to designate several working areas. The area for the “banana bunch” (space sensitive dogs wear yellow bandanas, and we’re all in one group, working one at a time, so we’ve been dubbed the “banana bunch” :giggle: ) is completely enclosed so the dogs can’t see out at all. They also let me bring Inara over to the club last night so she could check it out so it wouldn’t be as new for her today.

Inara was pretty amped up this morning – not barking very much, but definitely not paying attention to me. I considered it a miracle when I managed to get a glance from her. But by the end of the day she was giving me lovely attention.

S&J are alternating lecturing (I use that term loosely) with working. And the way they’re having us work is so odd to me, but it’s really working. They’re having us use a “training triad” – handler, trainer and coach. The handler handles the dog, the trainer provides feedback to the handler, and the coach monitors the feedback between the two to make sure it stays respectful, positive and helpful. They’re having us write out training plans before each and every working session. I hate training plans, but I have to admit they’re helping. Our first working session of the day we just did 5 reps to get a baseline. My plan was to work on our Attention Heel, but that was a no go. My goal was reduced to “get Inara’s attention.” It was really nice because after my baseline session, one of the girls told me what a beautiful calm energy I exude and another girl said that it’s obvious Inara and I have a really good bond. That was really nice to hear. :)

After our first session, each working session consisted of 5 reps, 3 times in a row with feedback from your trainer and coach in between. It was a really bizarre way of working for me because it only took about 5 minutes to do your 3 sessions, total. But it was working.

During lunch, I inhaled my lunch and then spent the rest of it working with Inara. Most of the dogs were put away so we were able to work in the main area a bit. At the end of lunch, one of the staff members came up to me and handed me a big bag of Fromm’s treats. She said, “this is for you because I’m just so impressed with how you’re working so hard to make Inara comfortable and happy in this space.” It was so nice!

After lunch, they asked for a volunteer to do their 3 sessions in front of the whole class, on video, with feedback from S&J themselves. I raised my hand, of course. So Inara and I got to strut our stuff, and thank god she actually did pretty well! It was kind of nerve-wrecking having everybody stare at us and videotape us, but Steve said he was extremely impressed with my poise and how calm I was with Inara. He said that it’s pretty obvious she could easily be worked to over-arousal, but that my calm, relaxed way of working with her really was beneficial. He also asked me to get some video of us working later down the road and send them to him because he anticipates we’ll go far. :D

So then I put her away and they played the vids of us working up on the screen. Several times for each video and we all analyzed what I did well and what I could have done better. We noticed that I’d taught Inara a pattern (I’m good at that :rolleyes2: ) – I was just walking around waiting on her to provide eye contact, and it turned into “change direction, tight leash, loose leash, eye contact, treat, repeat.” So I had a new goal for our next working session: kill the pattern! lol

It was a really fantastic day and Inara and I are whipped. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. :)

The 2nd day was actually more frustrating for me with Inara than the first day – she had seemed to regress to the point where she would spend minutes barking upon entering our training section.  Fortunately, the subject that day was problem-solving!  So I problem-solved and tried not to get discouraged, but it was so hard.  I know how far we’ve come and I know what she’s capable of, but for some reason (perhaps the 19 other dogs?  strange facility?  strangers?) I felt like we were back at step 1.  I do have to admit though, using the training plans and the 5 rep sessions, we made progress throughout the day.  Our final session we had no barking and she was able to take one step in an Attention Heel position.  I called it quits after that.  Always end on a good note.

Overall, I cannot rave enough about Steve & Jen.  They are so very kind, funny and willing to help.  And the PosiDog facility was one of which I am totally envious!  So definitely a worthy weekend.  Inara and I were beat, I have a new respect for how far we still have to go, but I also had it brought to my attention several times what a great handler I am.  So we’re on the right track.  We’ll get there!!!

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"