Is It Me?

I’m frustrated.

I’m discouraged.

And, I’m not sure how to make things better.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been trying to set up a training session with the Border Collie Lady. We haven’t had a chance to continue our agility lessons since the end of May because of various scheduling issues. She competes in agility and conformation with her dogs, so a lot of her weekends were full. Then when Phoenix got sick, I really didn’t want to be away from him more than necessary. Over the past month though, I’ve been trying to set up a couple of sessions with her, but keep getting this excuse and that for why she cannot get together.

I understand that she is probably busy, but I also feel as though she is not truly interested in helping me. During our training sessions, I got the impression that she didn’t feel as though I could truly succeed in agility with limited sight, but I thought I could prove her wrong with time. I really enjoyed our sessions and felt as though she had tons to teach me, if I could only get past her preconceived notions regarding my abilities.

As far as I know, she has a sister who is blind, so I thought it would only take a bit of effort to win her over.

Well….

I’m now feeling as though I was sadly mistaken.

I don’t think she truly wants to help me. And I’m feeling discouraged.

I really, really want to compete in rally obedience and agility with Canyon, Cessna and Rogue, but I feel as though my skills are somewhat limited. I feel as though I need someone to watch me in action with each of them, and offer suggestions and advice regarding the areas we are struggling. I know I can succeed in these dog sports, but am really not sure I can do it without guidance. I find it helpful to have someone providing training structure and suggesting areas for improvement and new ways of overcoming challenges, but there really is no one else in our area except for the Border Collie Lady and a training program which seems to constantly cancel group classes they advertise on the radio.

After my experiences with the Border Collie Lady and previously Sue Alexander, I’m really beginning to wonder if I’m just too much work. I know Sue didn’t ask me to leave her program because of disability related concerns, but having negative experiences with two dog training programs, has really done a number on my self-confidence.

Is it me?

Are there things I need to change about myself?

Is it them?

Am I expecting too much of other people?

Should I just avoid dog training programs all together, and just educate myself?

These are things I need to consider, because the status quo is not working. If I want to achieve my dreams of competing, then I’m going to have to figure out where the problems lie. And, if it is me, then I need to figure out how to stop and change whatever I’m doing to scare off the people who can help.

Or, figure out a way to teach myself the things I need to know.

Any thoughts? Or words of wisdom?

I’m Horrible

I’m an absolutely horrible handler. And and even worse trainer.

Today, I decided to practice jumps with Cessna and Canyon in an effort to be ready for our return to agility tomorrow. I cleared off the coffee table and flipped it upside down. Our coffee table has a piece of wood that goes between each of the legs, so it makes for a good jump. I first put Canyon into a down-stay and then got Cessna to sit about three feet from the first “jump”. As soon as I called her “over”, Canyon broke his stay and got into her way. I firmly told Canyon to go back to his spot, not realizing this action was the start of a rough session with Cessna – she had become unsure because of my tone. I then returned to Cessna and still did not notice her demeanor. I asked her to go “over” and she proceeded to walk around the legs instead of jumping over the wood between them. I immediately said “wrong” and called her to return to the spot where she’d started. I still hadn’t caught on to her nervous behaviour. I again asked her to come “over” and she again proceeded to walk around the “jump”. I’m terrible, I raised my voice. I didn’t realize she was already nervous. I lost sight of my goal and just wanted perfection. When I raised my voice, she walked away. I should have taken the clue and stopped everything for a cuddle session or game of tug, something she enjoys.

Instead, I proceeded to work on the “jumps” with Canyon. After he got the gist of what I wanted, he was a star. I should have checked in with Cessna. I shouldn’t have ignored her feelings. I just didn’t realize she was upset until I called her back for another try.

I finally clued in. I got all excited and did some easy commands for treats. She perked up and seemed eager to try something new. I then took her collar and showed her what I wanted. She did okay.

I should have noticed. I should have thought about how my actions would effect her. I should have remembered that she still has those underlying worries. I shouldn’t have raised my voice. I shouldn’t have been pushing for perfection.

I’m a terrible handler. And an even worse trainer…

Agility

Cessna and Canyon had their second agility lesson on Tuesday. It was pretty sunny, so both were a little slower.

Cessna seemed to remember almost everything she’d learned on the weekend, so we started teaching her jumps and weaves, as well as, starting to ask her to do two jumps before being sent through a tunnel or shoot. Cessna and I learned jumps while taking lessons with Dogs In the Park, so it was nothing for her to start jumping 18 inches right away. We’ll raise the bar a bit further during her next lesson, but the Border Collie lady (Dawn) thought we’d start lower while we were teaching her what’s needed.

I didn’t need Huib’s help as much this time, so he took some pictures.

Cessna loves the Dog Walk and A-Frame, so even before I asked her to “walk on” or “climb” she was running towards the other end.

Cessna was a little warm by the end of her half hour, so she lazily walked through the tire.

Huib had to help me with the weaves, so didn’t get any pictures. For now, Cessna is just being asked to walk through a channel of poles that are about three or so feet apart. As she gets used to the poles, they’ll be brought in closer to one another. Dawn told me that her two year old female (Ruby) is just now starting to perfect her weaves after an entire summer of working on them four days a week, so she said we’ll take it slow. I think the weaves and teeter will be the main areas where Cessna and Canyon will need time and tons of practice before competing. They were both quite nervous walking along the teeter – I held their collars while they walked along and Dawn and Huib held the other end and slowly lowered it as we reached the other side. Cessna was the only one who didn’t try jumping off at the middle, she decided it was best to just get it over with and walk quickly lol!

Canyon didn’t have as great a session, he was really distracted!

He walked confidently along the A-Frame and Dog Walk. Loved running through the tunnels and shoots. And had no issues going through the tire and weaves, but he refused to go over the jumps and continually got off the teeter around the centre.

I really think I need to start using a leash with him when we’re in the arena though, he would do the piece of equipment I asked him to attempt and then run over to this place or that to “mark” or sniff.

Here are a couple of pictures Huib took of Canyon during his lesson.

Dawn is away for the next two weeks – attending a show in Sudbury with her younger dogs (Ruby and Tay) this weekend and then the agility regionals in Sault Ste Marie next weekend with two of her older ones (Gracie and Echo) – so we won’t have another lesson until the beginning of June. I think I’m going to try and build a makeshift jump for Canyon and Cessna to practice.

Before I go though, Dawn has asked me to come and participate in a demo she is hosting Canada Day weekend!! She thinks it is important for others to see how my disability isn’t deterring me from doing agility with my dogs. I know this could be seen as bad (you can insert whatever word you want here) to others, but I don’t mind being used for education – just weeks ago she didn’t think we could do it and now she wants us to show others we can, so this opportunity means a lot to me. I also found out that her sister is blind (or visually impaired) so I’m wondering if this is where a lot of her understanding and/or beliefs have come from. Maybe her sister isn’t as able or willing to participate in traditionally sight-oriented activities. I’m glad I’ve been given this opportunity to teach her that not all blind/visually impaired people are the same.

Agility Has Begun!!

This afternoon Cessna and Canyon had their first agility lesson.

Canyon was in a bit of a hyper mood, so I decided to start with Cessna. I thought she would be a little easier to work with; making it easier for me to focus on learning what the dogs were to do on each piece of equipment.

We first started with a really short Tunnel, calling her from one end to the other for a treat. After a bit, we extended it and did the same. I’d stand at one end and say “tunnel” while pointing to the opening, and Huib stood at the other end calling her name with a treat. Finally, we curved the Tunnel and did the same exercise. Cessna was a little slower with the Tunnel curved, but still ran through when I pointed to the opening and said “tunnel”. We then moved onto the Shoot. Similar to the tunnel, Cessna didn’t mind running through. I just pointed to the opening and said “shoot” and she ran to Huib for her reward (pieces of cheese or hot dog).

With the Dog Walk and A-Frame (both were only about a foot off the ground), I had Huib do it with Cessna first so that she had an idea of what it wood be like. Using a leash, he guided Cessna along the Dog walk, asking her to “clime” at the beginning and then having her pause for a treat, before getting the release to jump off. Then with the A-Frame he asked her to “walk on” at the start and then pause at the end for a treat before being released. I wanted Huib to do the dog walk and A-Frame with her first, so that if I ended up screwing up in some way, she’d know it was my fault and have a good idea of how it should go.

We then brought out Canyon and went through the Tunnel, Shoot, Dog Walk and A-Frame. He was quite excited about the Tunnel and Shoot – the Boarder Collie lady thinks he’ll be a Tunnel addict lol! He actually took to all four pieces of equipment so quickly that she decided to start teaching them the Tire and Teeter as well. They eagerly jumped through the Tire of course, but weren’t as thrilled about the Teeter. I think we’ll just have to do a little more practicing.

It’s hard to believe how much we accomplished in just an hour. Our next session will be Tuesday at 2:00pm. Huib will try and take pictures. He wanted to take some today, but ended up having to help out a little more than usual.

Lesson Six

Canyon and I had our sixth lesson with the Border Collie lady. It’s sad to think that next week will be our second last indoor obedience lesson before we start outdoor agility, but she has had to change her classes to Thursday nights and already has someone booked for 9:00pm privates, so I guess we’ll just have to go with the changes. Last night, Canyon wasn’t as into practicing some of the behaviours, but I think his lack of enthusiasm was because we had started the session off with a high energy “game” and then moved onto less exciting things. I think that next week we’ll just have to do the new “game” at the end of the session, so the more practical task work won’t be as boring to him.

This week she decided to teach me a new way of ramping up canyon’s excitement level in order to get him to do quicker retrieves and recalls. This new “game” is supposed to help him want to quickly run out for a toy and immediately rush back and give it to me, so I’ll toss it again. She feels this skill is necessary for him to be successful at both Flyball and Agility – she’s still showing a little bit of iffiness regarding me and agility, but I’m determined to win her over lol! So, for this “game”, she had me toss a ball and then when he reached it, I started waving around another ball and calling him back all excited and cheery. Canyon has a high ball drive so he thought this game was the best thing I’d ever asked him to play lol! He began to get faster and faster at returning to drop the toy and play a quick tug game, before I asked him to “give it” (release the ball we were playing tug with) and then tossed it for him to retrieve and start the cycle over. around the fifth toss though, Canyon decided he liked one toy over the other and would start ignoring my efforts to play tug and just paraded the other toy he’d just retrieved in front of me lol! We tried to convince him to give it up, but ended up having to just take his collar and throw the other toy, so he’d gladly bring it back for a quick tug game and then retrieve. She asked me to keep playing this game with him and to maybe look at getting two of the same toys so he won’t end up favouring one over the other.

We then tried to do some “heel” work, but Canyon was too riled up to concentrate. He kept running between me and the box where we had put the toys because I only had a treat and he wanted to play the other game again. After a couple unsuccessful attempts at getting his attention, I decided to do some more basic stuff like “sits”, “downs”, “stands” and some “stays” so he would relax a bit. He didn’t really completely settle, but I was able to keep his attention a little easier after a few minutes, so we decided to do some “fronts” instead of heeling. His fronts are coming along. He seems to come in really straight every time I throw a treat to the right or ahead of me now, but still doesn’t seem to come in as straight if I throw it to the left and ask him to come. The border Collie lady tried doing some fronts with him to see if she could figure out what I’m doing wrong when I throw a treat to the left, but he seemed to do it with her as well, so we’re a little perplexed. After he had been doing really straight ones for a while, we decided to test him and see if he was ready to practice while I leaned against a table in a sort of squat/stand position. He came into a pretty straight front about two times, but then started coming in crooked more often than not, so we moved back to sitting on the edge of a chair. I’m sort of feeling as though we’re moving too slowly on learning the fronts, but I’m sort of stuck on how to help Canyon move a little quicker in his learning. It’s sort of like he just doesn’t care or he doesn’t really understand why we’re doing this in the first place. I’ve found it easy to teach him some behaviours like “sit”, “down”, “stand”, “give five”, “leave it”, “give it” and “wait”, but I’ve pretty much failed in teaching him to “touch”, “stay for longer than a minute, to “heel”, to not turn his head when I’m reaching for a toy and now the “front” seems to be another place we’re stuck.

Since getting Canyon over a year ago, I’ve really had to learn to think outside the box because he’s highly sensitive (can’t even handle the sound of a martin gale collar) and isn’t overly food motivated. As mentioned in earlier posts, Canyon didn’t know much of anything when we first got him, so we had to first work on getting rid of some of his undesirable habits he had (mouthing, jumping up & pacing) and teaching him his name, before we could move on to the skills he would need for being a well-behaved family pet. He learned his basic obedience commands quickly, but once I started to try and teach him some more complicated behaviours such as heeling and stay, I noticed his eagerness to learn disappeared. I’m not sure if it is something I’m doing wrong. Or if he’s just going to take more time to learn these behaviours, but I sort of feel as though I might be asking too much of him. When Aspen was young, we tried to teach her as much as we could before she turned six months because her breeder warned us that she may choose not to be as compliant after that and to be honest, she was right. Aspen knows how to “sit”, go “down”, “to heel”, “give five”, “wait” and “come”, but those are all skills she learned before six months. Since then we’ve tried to teach her new skills like “speak”, but she just doesn’t seem to have the desire to learn. I guess we’ll wait and see how our lessons progress this summer because I really don’t want to give up and just accept that Canyon wants to be a regular pet, but I often wonder if this is what he’s trying to tell me.

His number one love in life are toys, so I think I need to figure out a way of always incorporating them into our training. The problem with toys though, is that he becomes so excited and obsessed with the toy that I’m finding it hard to get his attention and “working” for what he wants. But, when I just use treats he doesn’t seem to have the drive and enthusiasm for learning new things that a toy ignites.

Training With Canyon

On Tuesday, Canyon and I had our fourth lesson with the Border Collie lady and it went quite well!

Last week, we worked some more on our positioning for the “heel” and then began trying to walk further and further with him remaining “in position”. He stays right by my side most of the time, but will sometimes get a little ahead, so this week we started saying “wrong” and starting over again. She explained that if I just kept changing directions when he got out of place that he wouldn’t understand exactly where or if he did something wrong. This really made sense to me, so instead of just continuing on for as long as I want, I’m stopping the second he’s out of place, telling him “wrong” and returning to where we started. I found this week to be one of the best sessions because Canyon and I have really begun to understand one another.

This week we also practiced our “fronts”, “sit-stays” and “hand touches”. For the “front”, she has me sit on the very edge of a chair with my legs slightly outstretched to give Canyon a sort of spot to aim for. Then she has me throw a treat and then call him, using my hands to sort of direct him into the centre of my body – not sure this really makes too much sense, so I’ll try and explain how I position my hands. When Canyon is retrieving the treat, I sort of hold my hands together as though I’m praying, but have my arms outstretched, and as he comes I bring my arms towards my body in a sort of “U” motion. For the most part, Canyon tends to come in straight, but stays about a foot or so back. The Border Collie lady thinks this is probably close enough since he’s a big boy, but we are rewarding the times he comes in really close, as opposed to when he is just perfectly straight. His “hand touches” are coming along, but he still won’t really do them on command – it more looks as though he’s just bumping my hand because it was there or because he thinks there is a treat. I’ve made a “touch stick” to try and further his understanding. We made the “touch stick” from a mop handle and put bright yellow and navy blue electrical tape on one end to give him a target. Cessna already knows this game, so I’ve also purchased a button thingy that makes different laughing noises when pressed for her to practice the “touch” with. I want her to get really good at “nose touching” before we move on to learning a new command for “paw touching”.

The rest of our session this week was spent learning two new behaviours – backing up and turning left and right. For backing up, she has us toss treats between his front paws and as he goes to move, we say “back”. He really liked this game, but after ten tries was not quite ready to do it without the treat being thrown. Unfortunately, Huib will have to help with this one because the aim needs to be perfect and I need to click the second he moves his paws. I think teaching Cessna this command on my own will be easier though since she is black and there is better contrast between her paws and the floor. she already knows how to back up when on leash, so I think it shouldn’t be too hard to teach her how to do it in other contexts.

Then, to teach the the lefts and rights, the Border Collie lady had me hold a treat above Canyon’s head and with my right hand move him in a counter-clockwise circle while saying “left” and then doing the same with my left hand, but instead having him move in a clockwise circle while saying “right”. He started doing this one quite easily, but we’ll have to practice a bit before I think he’ll do it without the lure. Cessna knows her lefts and rights for working, so again I think it will be easy to teach her in the new context.

Canyon and I have four more obedience lessons with the Border Collie lady before she sets up her agility equipment for the spring/summer sessions. At this point, we’ll be working outside and she’ll have less of a time constraint, so Cessna will begin coming as well. I won’t work the two together, but will have one in the truck while the other has their half hour lesson. I’m hoping to build some of my own agility equipment in the summer, so we can practice what we’ve learned at home.