Saturday, March 11, 2006

Big Making-Up-For-Lost-Time Post

I wanted to post earlier this week, but I was too depressed.

Okay, "depressed" is a strong word. But I was discouraged. Laev was simply overwhelmed by the second day of the trial and couldn't perform at all. Too much mental! I actually asked that we be excused during our Rally run; we were still technically qualifying and had only two stations left, but it just wasn't anything I was ever going to be proud of. I know what kind of work my dog is capable of giving me, and that wasn't it.

So obviously overstimulation and distraction were our big failures. Excuse me -- not failures, but areas where improvement is possible. ;-) So this week I took Laev on field trips with me as I ran errands. Library parking lot: jump out and play with me. Would rather stare and sniff than play? Fine; get back in the car. Try again. Repeat at the farm store. Repeat elsewhere....

I had about 50% success in this; she just doesn't always find me the most fascinating thing in the world. I know that if I let her explore first, she would probably then play with me, but I don't want to go down that slippery slope of teaching her to focus first on her environment. It won't always be possible for her to explore in competition, and more importantly, if she should escape the car while we're traveling or something, I don't want her to roam the entire rest area before deciding that now she can finally hear my calls! So she has to learn that from the moment she comes out, I'm the coolest option and the only option until I release her.

I'm not being mean about this -- if she doesn't want to play her favorite game of tug, she goes back in the car. Her choice.

Anyway, I guess it's paid off a little, because I took her in to Schutzhund practice this morning (no tracking today, due to lightning) and she focused right in on me. No sniffing the ground for cat poop, no playing with goose feathers, no staring around the barn. Just me! and my toy. Awesome. Even our training director was impressed.

I talked with him about this week, and he thinks I'm on the right track. We'll see how it goes from here.

Then we did bitework today. Laev is figuring out the hold-and-bark, but like any red-blooded dog, she'd rather be biting than barking! And her handler was *bad* today....

Laev was barking enthusiastically at the helper, giving him strong eye contact (she's already focused on him, not the sleeve). He was moving slightly with her barks, rewarding them, and as I allowed some slack in the leash to accomodate their shifting without popping her collar, I apparently let too much out. (I'd love to blame this on my very real lack of depth perception, but I'm not completely sure I can get away with it.) Little did we know that Laev was, even while barking madly, calculating with her cunning Doberman brain, and when she figured she was close enough she went for a dirty bite. Right to his crotch.

Well, she didn't have quite enough leash to do it justice, and thank goodness for scratch pants, and he wasn't permanently damaged, or even hurt. She released instantly and went right back to a hold and bark, after a moment of which she was rewarded with the sleeve. Okay, she'd tried it once, it didn't tip the game in her favor, oh, well, now she'll play by the rules.

I told the helper it wasn't anything personal. Sorry about that.

So Laev sits and holds the sleeve, good. Downs, good. Outs, great. Stays, good. Everything's fine. I'm told to carefully, slowly, remove the sleeve and deliver it to the helper, reinforcing calm waiting in the dog. We've done this before. Great.

I take the sleeve, begin to move, and Laev launches. She's tired of down time! I have just enough time to manage, "I don't have her!" as she takes off (I could have stopped Shakespeare verbally, but not Laev, not yet).

She hits him with both paws and bounces back, staring at him. "What's with you? Why aren't you dressed for the game? Where's the sleeve, you dummy?"

And people say Schutzhund dogs are dangerous. :-) No threat from him standing calmly, no target to bite, and the game's not on.

I call her, and she comes bouncing back to me. Down, wait. The helper informs me that if I let the leash slip during this hold and bark, allowing the dog to reach his crotch, he's going to use the agitation whip on me. And *now* we get to alert on the helper, now properly dressed for the game. Yay!

But he was still very happy with her work, which she did cleanly thereafter, and I was very happy with it. We have a long way to go in the maturity department, and maybe the Brain Fairy will bring some focus to help with the distraction, but she's overall doing pretty well for her age and what more could I want, really?

(Note: for those who don't train in Schutzhund, the agitation whip is *not* used to actually strike the dog and cause him to bite, contrary to what some numskulls will say. It's a noisemaker, primarily, to stimulate a dog and/or increase the threat appearance. Please don't write me nasty letters telling me I'm a horrible person for letting my dog play her favorite games.)

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