Sunday, September 21, 2008

Our Tracking Is Made of Win. (And a Freaky Moment.

I was running late this morning when Laev started fussing in the crate. I told her irritably from the bathroom to wait a moment, that I was hurrying. As I started brushing my teeth, however, I turned back and noticed that she was shaking.

I crouched in front of her crate, toothbrush dangling from my mouth, and saw that her head was trembling horizontally. It looked like a minor seizure. Laev was alert, though, and responded normally to my cues to lie down and look at me. I yelled for my husband to bring me a dog biscuit, and as soon as she ate it, the shaking ended.

This is almost certainly ideopathic tremor syndrome, something that turns up occasionally in Dobermans and some bulldog breeds. Symptoms are head shaking (vertical or horizontal), the dog may not seem to notice, and the episode often ends when the dog eats. It sometimes shows up and then vanishes forever; it sometimes worsens with time. Affected dogs may show increased incidents when stressed. I don't think it's associated with developing into full epilepsy. Anti-seizure drugs do not reduce frequency. Today's research yielded that current theories range from deep cerebellum disease to a kind of stereotypy.

I haven't seen it in Laev before, though I did have a foster who demonstrated it twice and then never again. It was kind of freaky to see it, though. She hasn't been unduly stressed of late, I hadn't done any diet change yet, and Laev's at about as small a risk for stereotypy as possible; she has a very enriched life. Despite the apparent lack of cause, I was pretty sure I knew what was going on -- I learned about head tremors on a list-serve when I first got into Dobermans -- but just in case, I stayed home for a bit so that if she started exhibiting other symptoms, I could get her quickly to our vet.

That meant we tracked in our field again. I laid a track, came in and did some quick research on tremors (no new info in the last few years, it seems), and then took Laev out to track. Down, treat, hand target, treat. More down and treat. I was using a new treat, a grain-free kibble which I felt was a good size for tracking and still healthy. (She'd never had it before, so this new sample wasn't responsible for triggering her episode.)

Laev seemed to be relaxing into the down, but finally she just couldn't take any more and she leapt from a down straight forward toward the track. I blocked with the line and downed her again. Treats between her paws. I finally dropped a treat far enough forward that she had to crawl for it, and then stand up and eat, and then follow the little trail of kibbles I was dropping for her to lead her silently and sneakily toward the scent pad, which was well-laid with more kibble.

Once she hit the scent pad, I did NOT cue her to track. I've learned that the cue is loaded with excitement! She eased herself onto the track and set off.

Oh, wow. I haven't seen such a wonderful track from her in ages. She never got frantic, she nailed the first serpentine and every curve and corner thereafter except one -- but even then, when she realized she was off, instead of becoming frantic she simply made a tight circle and picked up the track again. She was slow, methodical, ate most of her kibbles, and kept no real pressure on the tracking line. This is a dog who, for the first year, forced me to wrap her line behind me and SIT on it as she tracked.

Because I am a greedy trainer, I even backed down the line on a straight leg and let her work further ahead of me than usual, which didn't faze her in the least. I closed up again before the final corner.

The biggest flaw was at the end, when she didn't want to down on the article. I think she was enjoying the track too much and was resistent to the idea of it ending. I went up and encouraged her to indicate, and then I reinforced with a higher value food, lots of it, before calmly ending the track.

I was very pleased, overall. As I told my club members when I went to join them for bitework, just a seizure or two before the trial, and we'll be fine....

I did take Laev for bitework, as she seemed totally fine. I loaded her into the car after the track and went back to the house to get keys, etc. Shakespeare must have seen us from a window, because he went out the door, checked briefly on Laev in the car, and then ran to the field and the start flag. As I left, he was methodically working out Laev's track, picking up the kibbles she'd left. I called to him that he was a wonderfully brilliant dog.

Laev's bitework was mostly fine, though she got uncomfortably hot and confused during the first session. It was warm today. I need to balance on the fine point between anticipation of control -- her call to heel from the hold and bark is really nice now -- and letting her be crazy and pushy and demanding -- she was starting to anticipate a call to heel and was staying out a bit further and glancing back, wanting the next step in the chain. A few bites for a good hold and bark seemed to cure that, but I have to be sure that I don't reinforce her checking back in anticipation....

There was one incident in her first session when the helper slipped the sleeve before I arrived to collect Laev. Laev joyfully headed toward the car with her prize. I called her, but she was a bit reluctant to share her prize with me, passing and circling, so I stepped behind a blind. (My disappearing is Laev's worst nightmare.) She looked for me quickly, reported club members, and then she headed for the pond. With the sleeve.

I jumped out and called her again, running after her, and she turned at the water's edge and I got her. The next time the helper slipped the sleeve, I played tug with it and her, emphasizing that bringing me her win is a good thing.

We did a bit of side transport work in the second session, which we've spent a little time on but not a whole lot. I really saw Laev "get it" at the end, and she was doing very nice right-side heeling on the helper with me just along for the ride, the way most judges like to see it. Needs some polish, but I'm happy with it for now.

So... more good tracking in our future, I hope?!

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