Sunday, September 16, 2007

Houston, We Have Control!

We realized we'd been hammering the blind search a little too hard, and she probably wasn't going to improve while we beating that particular deceased equine. So Monday night I said, "Let's do just one blind search, let her circle #5, do a hold and bark in #6 and get a bite, and then let's do something totally different."

Laev must have heard me say that we were doing only one, because she did it perfectly. :-) Prompt, speedy search, straight to me, straight to the final blind, clean hold, good bite -- all wonderful. So we set up for some close agitation and control.

I held Laev's collar and cued her onto the helper, who raged and threatened and teased while she roared and tore up turf. Then I dropped her from midair and called, "Sit!" Laev did (the helper froze at the same moment), watching him intently. "Watch!" Tough, but she had to look at me, and she did -- though not without a few barks of frustration. Then I stepped backward. "Come!"

Oh, no, we can't do that! Turn her back on the helper? Not a prayer. She'd follow me well enough, but always swinging to keep one eye on him.

So we set up a couple of chairs with assistants in them to keep them steady, and I backed between the chairs during the next rep, so that Laev didn't have room to turn. When I had a solid front, I sent her to the helper for a reward bite.

Ohhhhhh...!

Rage. "Sit. Watch." Five seconds. "Come." Five seconds. Send for bite. Repeat.

Saturday, her initial blind search wasn't as pretty (but it was successful, and that makes 3/3 correct), but we faded out the chairs, moving them wider apart and then discarding them on the third rep. She knew the game by then -- "You're not taking me away from the helper, you're telling me how to get him. It's a trade!"

For her second round on Saturday, we added criteria, and this is where she really stunned me: Rage. "Sit. Watch." Five seconds. "Come." Five seconds. And then I turned and started in the opposite direction. "Heel." Laev moved right with me, with full eye contact, as if we'd done this a thousand times. I heeled away about five steps and then sent her back to the helper.

The second time, my training director told me to heel away in a curve to the left, so that she could see the helper over her left shoulder. He told me afterward that he thought she'd just been too surprised to protest the heel and had gotten it right more or less by accident. But Laev had no problems with this, either -- "Yep, I heel, you send me to him! I'm on it!" So we quit on that awesome note.

Now, if only I can make myself work long, long durations....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Vroom!

Laev is a very speedy dog -- physically, I mean, she's very fast. When she rounds a blind and sets out across the field to reach the last blind and helper, she's really booking.

It shouldn't be a huge surprise, then, to hear that my friend's 11-month infant (who had to attend Schutzhund training one night with us because her father couldn't sit her) was trying out some of her words for the new audience and, pointing at Laev working, declared, "Vroom vroom!" While Laev may lack the combustion engine required for proper vroom noises, she certainly zipped across the horizon as fast as any car the baby saw.

Indeed, baby Emma further defined Laev as "car," even though she knows the name of her own dog. Laev is simply, to her, "car."

It is a nice example, though, of how we assign meanings to words (cues) which may carry different meanings for others. To baby Emma, a car is anything that moves fast! while we think of it as a vehicle. How, then, could I be upset when I say to sit front and my dog knows that he is to sit facing the wall where we used to practice that? ;-) Okay, that one was hypothetical, but you get the idea. Experience and detail count.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Laev As Exercise Program

I've often joked that Laev's my exercise program, but I didn't realize she was a part of my strength conditioning.

I was working on a new costume and needed to pin the sleeves for taking them in. It was a complicated process, and I kept flipping the garment inside and out as I tried again and again. Finally I realized that I could leave it inside out and simply rotate it on my body, backwards, to size the other sleeve. Wouldn't work with all shirts, but it would with this one.

Well, I spun it around and inserted my left arm into the sleeve. Wow, that was tight! Something had to be wrong; surely my left arm wasn't that much larger than my right. Of course, no one is perfectly symmetrical, but I am right-handed and usually the dominant limb is the larger.

I commented to my husband and sister on the difference and asked if they could help identify where the fabric was caught, as it must be. But it wasn't.

"My left bicep can't be that much bigger than my right!"

Alena looked at me. "Which arm do you use to hold Laev?"

Well, duh. Laev gets to jump and pull in her padded collar during work, and she does it all on my left side.

So now I need to balance that kind of strength training. Heck, maybe there's a market for renting out dogs during practice...?

Scared Me

Laev took a nasty tumble Monday night. It was no one's fault, just a combination of factors.... She had been working on a very frustrating control exercise and was higher than a kite as she worked through the challenge. She'd been working on several different helpers and had developed a bad habit of using her feet as she bit to accommodate the different styles she was seeing. We inadvertently set up the next exercise so that she was running into the artificial light, with the helper backlit and visibility poor. The grass was damp with night dew. All this together, she missed the sleeve, hit a helper in the back and took his legs from under him. He could not but fall on top of her, and he heard a crunch and I heard a canine scream.

I called her immediately -- I didn't want her accidentally biting in fear and pain while the helper was on the ground -- and she ran to me, but she didn't want a foreleg on the ground. I calmed her (she was quite agitated) and checked the leg for obvious breaks before beginning to walk her out. I confirmed verbally that the helper was fine.

After several minutes, she was using the leg almost normally, so we gave her an easy bite so she could leave the field with the sleeve and a good feeling. I returned after crating her and we re-hashed the scene; again, it was no one's fault, but safety always has to be first. There will be additional lights mounted to minimize the effect of direct lighting.

I brought Laev out for a second session of easy work; I didn't want her ending on a bad note. We didn't want her straining her leg, either, so we set up a few easy hold and barks. She was perfect on the first one, but filthy-dirty on the second -- probably some spilling stress! I pulled her out for P-. She was good again on the third, and she went back with the sleeve.

That night I gave her a small NSAID dose, just to fight any inflammation, and the next morning she showed very little soreness at all. The following day, she was 100% normal. So it seems there was no serious injury.

We do, however, need to clean up her habit of using her feet, no matter which helper or style she faces. We'll add that to the fact that I'm still recovering from screwing up her blind search after unaccountably dropping half my cue for two weeks....