Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kiss Control (and Trial) Goodbye

I've been meaning to post for a while, but I had trouble logging in and it wasn't worth it to fight with the system. This morning, however, I can get it, just in time to report that there will be nothing good to report for a while.

Laev has what would be traditionally termed a "high prey drive." I dislike the highly unscientific and non-specific terminology (Hull's Theory of Drives was discarded decades ago and so the words "high drive" mean something different to many people or groups), but for quick shorthand, Laev has an obscenely high prey drive. In her first AKC obedience trial, Laev really surprised me with her focus and excellent performance, far beyond what I'd expected from a dog approaching her first birthday, until the group stays -- where we were actually excused from the ring, due to Laev's noticing a bird landing and flapping on the ground THREE RINGS AWAY. Ye-ah.

(I learned this spring that her sire is like this, too -- a great working dog, I was told, but far beyond average in prey reaction. Whee!)

So we've been working on this self-control in the temptation of prey business, and we've come a long way. Laev can now walk past a cat on the way to the field and then work the helper (she used to be unable to focus on even an agitating helper if she'd seen a cat; my training director said that he'd never seen it so bad). The other night while I had three dogs holding down stays for supper, my husband stepped on the cat upstairs, making it screech -- and Laev's eyes bugged, but she stayed in her down. That's an enormous accomplishment.

All that was just undone.

Saturday I was working Laev in obedience on our training field, and I could tell she was distracted. She was looking at me, when I politely insisted, but it's quite possible for a Doberman to keep steady, bright-eyed contact on my face and to know exactly what is going on at the far end of the field. And finally, when I was doing some out of motion exercises, she broke and ran full out to the woods at the end of the field.

I yelled once, and then I didn't even call her -- I could tell she was "in the zone" and wouldn't hear a word. I turned and left. I saw Laev race along the edge of the woods (now several hundred feet from me), cut into a horse pasture and react mildly to the electric fencing (she's never known such a thing) and loop back. I slipped into a blind and stayed out of sight.

Laev noted I was missing and got visibly agitated. She began to search for me, looping the field, racing past my blind back to the cars, finding other people and discarding them instantly. Each time she passed me, I could see her coming and slip to the other side of the blind, running a little circle so that even if she caught my scent she couldn't see me. Finally I let her find me, and she was quite, quite stressed -- panting and licking, and Laev almost never licks! I immediately had her do some simple heeling, a down 'til she got her panic done, and then some more heeling. She stayed right with me.

That makes the second time ever that Laev has left me in her life, and the first time (at UDC Nationals this year) I hid and she did not leave me again, even though she and I both knew the area was populated by small, fast-moving critters. Apparently losing me was aversive enough to suppress that crittering -- and in hindsight, now I suspect her motivation for breaking the down-stay when she heard animals in the tall grass, twitched, and then ran for me. "I can't notice the critters -- I'll lose Mom!"

So I thought that this might have shut down the leaving forever, or at least in this area -- she was far more upset this time than in the spring. I expressed the hope that she'd have nightmares and made a mental note to test the field vigorously before our trial fast approaching, but I didn't panic too badly.

Now, now I'm upset.

My husband stepped on a cat again this morning (a different cat, our outdoor farm cat) on our porch, waking and alerting Laev. As she was now awake and barking, he thought to let her out, and he collected her from the crate and took her back to the front door.

This is our outdoor cat, whom we often miss during the summer as she feeds herself on mice and such. She is brilliant at teasing the dogs but very good at knowing just how fast they are and how much room they have. I have seen her taunt slower dogs by running partway to a tree, waiting until the dog is near, and then skimming up just out of reach. (She does not do this with Laev, who will climb trees after her.) She respects dogs, but she doesn't fear them. And in colder weather, when she returns for supplemental feeding, she is to get a fair warning before we release dogs so that she can hide.

My husband had just fed her, which is how he tripped on her as she pushed for her food, so she was quite near the house. And he didn't give any warning before releasing Laev.

The cat got away, reaching a tree in time. But Laev screamed with such amazing vigor and frustration that I woke, certain something was dying, and rushed outside. I found instead Laev leaping at a tree, obviously in a limbic predatory state such as I have not seen in months and months and months. She was so insanely focused on the cat that she did not even notice my husband walking up to take her collar, which was very disturbing, as she hates to be removed from prey.

At that moment I kissed my trial goodbye.

Junkies cannot have another hit. We are going to be so long recovering from this predatory adrenaline rush.... If a leaf blows during training, I'm going to lose her focus. If a leaf blows during the trial, she'll probably break. I am very frustrated; I had so much positive comment on how she's matured and how she was certain to do well this trial, and it's all gone.

I think I should get some credit for not venting at my husband. He hasn't had to warn the cat since March or April, and he was just out of the habit. I'm not really angry at him. But I sure do wish it hadn't happened.

1 comment:

Allie said...

I had to comment on this. I have not read your blog in a year or so, I think, and I have obviously missed out on a bunch of excitement. :)

I got my puppy Kipp about the same time you got Laev. I thought, I can't ever read this blog because this woman is a professional dog trainer and it will just be depressing to find out how much better trained her dog is than mine. ;)

Kipp (who also has a critter problem ;) attended his very first night of obedience class this week, having skipped puppy, basic, and intermediate, delivered right into Advanced based on the instructor seeing him a RallyO class and he blew everyone else away. I guess I am doing alright. ;)