Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Trial Report -- DPCA Nationals

First, for those of you wondering how I'm able to do two Doberman Nationals in the US in a single year, let me mention briefly that the United Doberman Club and the Doberman Pinscher Club of America each hold a weeklong national show.

Today I took Laev to her first AKC Open attempt. I hate AKC Open, I really do. I like all the individual exercises, but I despise the group stays with a passion. This is why Laev has had her CD for a while and yet has never done Open.

But today, we tried Open. Fortunately, I iterated a few minutes before we went in the ring that we weren't out to do well or even necessarily to qualify today, that I just wanted ring time and that I considered our entry my donation to the club's trophy fund. It wasn't that I didn't think we had a chance; Laev actually did very well last night when I took her to a local store for practice in a strange environment, nailing her out-of-sight sit even while a store employee invited her to come and see him. She twitched, then settled back into her sit and grinned to herself. "Nope! I'm waiting for Mom!" So I returned, treated, and then took her to greet him, which they both enjoyed. So I knew it was theoretically possible.

Real life, though, doesn't always follow theory.

Bad stuff first: The moment we entered the ring, Laev disconnected and looked sniffy as she gazed about. She was slow to set up, looking a bit vacant about the eyes, and I knew we weren't ready. But we had to begin, and so we started forward on the judge's order. Laev heeled about 10 steps and then disconnected again, heeling wide, sniffing the air and occasionally the floor, and then she left me altogether -- something I did NOT expect today. She didn't try to bolt from the ring or anything, but she was very interested in sniffing a particular corner. Who knows why?

She wanted to reengage during the figure 8, but she just couldn't quite swing it. I think if I'd had five seconds to down her and cue her into heel again, she'd have had it, but I didn't think of it before the judge's order and she couldn't quite make the leap while moving.

Laev missed the drop on recall. She normally has a lovely drop on recall. This was her stressing out and trying to return to me, I think. She did drop nicely into heel position and for the first time seemed to know what she was doing. Too bad she skipped the down in order to recollect herself with me!

I was actually happy with the retrieve on flat. Laev ran eagerly out to the dumbbell but knocked it with her foot as she reached it, and the dumbbell flew out the back of the ring -- through the ring gate, by the sniffy corner. Oh, no! Laev ran promptly to the dumbbell, stretched her head through the gate, and started to bring the dumbbell back in. Oh, no, again! I had visions of the entire ring gate returning to me. But Laev paused, worked out how to fit the dumbbell through the hole, and brought it to me. The front was crooked, but I didn't care; she was totally on task and thinking! Yay!

Move to the retrieve over high jump. Again, Laev did everything okay (imperfect front again). But she was getting frustrated and stressy again; I'd had to down her and cue her into heel position for the setup. Hmm.

The broad jump was the final exercise, and Laev did NOT want to set up for it. She actually trotted over to the boards as we moved to our place and began to sniff them -- very odd! I called her back, popped her into heel, and sent her over the jump. She jumped acceptably but got lost, hesitating rather than coming directly to front. Silly dog.

There was a pattern to all this madness; Laev needed about one minute when we entered the waiting area to settle and focus. Last night at the store she needed 30-60 seconds each time we switched aisles to be on again. Each time we went to a new location within today's ring, she unfocused again. We need more new locations in our training! She doesn't have fast-focus in new locations.

Now, the good stuff, because there was good stuff too.... When we entered the obedience area today, Laev got very tense, and then she downed herself and looked directly at me. I was so pleased that she had put herself into a calming focus-down on her own! Even though she wasn't "on" yet, she had downed herself and checked in. She really did try to focus all day, even under tough circumstances.

One story: another handler, moving around us, stepped squarely on Laev's tail. Laev yelped and jumped and got frenzied for a moment, as this reactivated all the stress she'd been unloading, but after a few seconds of jumping she was able to settle on her mat again. The handler was very apologetic; she had seen the butt and walked around, she said, but she hadn't even thought of looking for a tail! Ah, the perils of a natural dog. :) Laev recovered, though she was more sensitive about touch for a few minutes.

Other good stuff -- I already mentioned the dumbbell problem and solution, which was nice to see. And a fellow competitor commented that Laev had a very happy face while running to me, where many of the dogs were offering a lot of appeasement behaviors in the ring. (Laev was stressed, too, which was why she missed the down, but she wasn't worried about me at least.)

And I stayed calm while things didn't go well. I didn't think of everything I could have done to help her (quick down, hand target, etc.), but I didn't get upset and make things worse. That's a good thing. (It helped that I didn't have high expectations for today, but still, I get more nervous trialing Laev than any other competition or hobby I do!)

In the bigger picture, Laev was MUCH calmer than normal in the trial area. Even though it was tight quarters, with strange dogs bumping into each other in the way I hate, she never hackled or got worried about another dog. I was very pleased with that. And while we were a part of the 80% of our class which NQ'd, my dog and I had happy attitudes about the whole thing and we enjoyed our outing, which is what matters.

(EDIT: I don't mean to say that Laev normally hackles when she sees other dogs, of course! I meant that even in startling situations -- as when two dogs come around a blind corner and physically collide, as happened yesterday -- she just shrugged it off, whereas before that would have resulted in a bit of hackle as she jumped back.)

It was sad that we had to end the day on a bad note. I signed Laev up to donate blood for the DNA databank, and the blood draw workers restrained her in a way that made her very uncomfortable. I informed them that I could hold her safely, but they didn't buy it. I kind of understand that -- when I tell my vet that I can control the dog, my vet knows me well enough to believe it, while to these folks I was an unreliable stranger and they don't want to be bitten -- but Laev did not appreciate having a total stranger straddle her and wrap her head while another stranger tried three times to find a vein in her neck and finally moved to the leg for more attempts. She was upset enough by it that afterward she hesitated to take a treat from the worker -- which says volumes, considering Laev's appetite.

So Laev, bursting with pent worry, kind of exploded from the blood draw area, jumping on me and careening at the end of her leash. I didn't have a toy to hand her, which would have given her an acceptable outlet for the energy, and so she looked like a bronco for a moment. I didn't mind, really; I knew what was driving it and I knew that she'd be okay in a moment. (I did feel bad when Laev, recognizing my sister, jumped up and bashed her cheek with a giant schnoz.) But someone came and told me where I could buy a pinch collar at the show, which was sad; it was just a stressed dog dumping energy. I said that Laev would settle when I asked, and indeed she did, but the damage was done; she'd looked like a crazy out-of-control dog. Ah, well. I can't control everything.

So Laev left on a more stressy note, but if I log more location miles, it shouldn't matter in the long run. And we didn't do well in our first AKC Open attempt, but that's okay; after watching the line of obviously stressed dogs in the stays, I'm not sure if I care enough to do it. I want to go on to Utility, but I just hate those Open group stays. It's not an example of real-life function -- I would NEVER leave my dog alone in a stay with a bunch of strange dogs in real life! -- and I don't think it's safe. (Even today, I had brought a backup person whose purpose wassimply to call Laev out if it looked as if there would be an altercation in the ring.) I think obedience should be about teamwork, not nerve-wracking out-of-sight stays. (End of soapbox!)

I need to find some UKC trials; I prefer their honor stays and single group stay. Laev's not done any UKC yet.

But I learned something today, and I hope that Laev did, too. And we had a good outing. Yay, dog sports!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tourist Trap

I've decided not to leave Laev where she might encounter gunfire without me, so I took her with me to our annual outing to Nashville, a tourist destination small town trading on its down home rural appeal and its spectacular fall foliage. It was rainy and cool, so Laev was perfectly happy to nap in her car crate. I stopped at the car to let her out, but she mostly wanted to continue her nap.

Then I took her out to work a bit in the town, which I thought would be good practice. Boy, was it! I don't know why this was so hard for Laev, who has been out in public regularly since puppyhood, but she was very distracted by the environment. She wasn't out of control or anything, but I knew I didn't have her attention. She just couldn't focus.

Alena and I stopped by a leather workshop for some supplies, and that was where Laev finally settled. Maybe it was just the staying in one place for a while? I don't know. But she finally started offering me unprompted behavior and she began to relax comfortably. She also served as store greeter while we were there, as at first we were waiting outside the open door, but as time passed and I conversed with Alena inside, we crept in out of the rain and Laev parked on the entry mat, looking for all the world like a well-trained dog. We chatted with the shopkeeper, Laev accepted pets from customers, and she almost got a job. ("Are you guarding the shop today?" a visitor asked. "No, anyone can get in, but she will only let you out with a minimum purchase." The clerk responded, "She can stay here all day!")

After that, I tried a bit of out-of-sight stays in the parking lot (with Laev on a long line and Alena only a few feet away!), but it was too much for her in that environment. She didn't move, but she would stand in place. Wish I knew what the big deal was, there!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

On Embroidery & Poisoned Cues

One thing about studying behavior and OC, it messes with your whole perspective on everything.

In my other life, my non-dog hobby is costuming. A couple of years ago I purchased a sewing machine with embroidery attachment to help my group produce more amazing pieces; I also had glorious visions of selling personalized dog beds and other materials.

Yeah, right. That embroidery machine declared its supremacy upon arrival and never let me make a bid for recovery. It all but alpha-rolled me. I appreciated the upgrading sewing capability, but each attempt at embroidery left me frustrated and angry. The software seemed straightforward enough, but the infinitesimal margin of error in setup and operation resulted in an incredible parade of thread tangles, broken needles, jammed hoops, and other accidents I could not have even imagined.

It wasn't long before I was avoiding embroidery tasks. Not only did I abandon my visions of extra projects -- I have veritable heaps of dog bed materials lying abandoned about me -- but I began to avoid the costume embroidery for which I'd purchased the machine in the first place. When I did tackle an embroidery project, I had profound physical reactions -- my muscles tensed, my breathing changed, and I was irritable and sharp.

And that blasted beep. The machine has only one sound, a double-beep. This double-beep sounds once for successful completion of an embroidery block ("beep-beep!") and thrice for each and every error, jam, tangle, break, explosion, or other unhappy event ("beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep!"). Whenever the machine beeped, I jumped, even if it were announcing success -- because the initial sound of success was identical to the initial sound of failure. Even after I realized that it was the good kind of beep, I felt only a weary relief instead of the joy of accomplishment.

This, I reflected, was a poisoned environment and a very poisoned cue.

Tonight I realized that I could no longer put off the embroidery which needed done for our present costuming project. I spent an hour and a half preparing, reinstalling the embroidery software and carefully arranging all materials, testing and retesting the fabric in the hoop. I set up the machine and, hesitantly, pressed the start button. Then I sat anxiously watching, shoulders hunched and fingers curled.

The machine beeped. I jumped. False alarm; the thread wasn't really broken. Restart. Beep. Jump. Ah, first block finished. Start next block. Beep. Jump. Slipped bobbin thread caused a mess of my highlighted gold. I carefully reset the machine and redid the messy part, hand-cranking the machine to avoid jams.

Restart. Beep. Jump. Nothing appeared to be wrong. Restart. A horribly-familiar clunking sound; the needle had been broken. Upon examination, I found that the bobbin thread had slipped again, tangling the embroidery foot and breaking the needle. Rage.

Clean up, new needle, restart. Beep. Nope, this was fine, just a bit of confusion in the machine with a mid-block restart.

Still, I'm listening carefully, and whenever I hear some stress on the needle as the machine goes partially over previous stitches, I stop it and hand crank. Machine programming notwithstanding, this still beats picking out each stitch by hand!

Eventually I start the machine again and sit back. It's running right now, but I don't trust it. At this point I've probably hand-cranked a couple thousand stitches, but I much prefer that to the lost time and materials of a ruined piece, broken needles, etc. Even though right now everything seems to be peachy, I can't just relax and wait for the cue to start the next block, because I don't trust that cue. The sound does not offer me clear, unambiguous information -- it's a threat of bad news.

Superstitious behavior is rampant in this project. I watch the machine constantly, occasionally even stopping it when I turn away to the computer (as now) as if that could prevent accident. Some of my dear readers are probably laughing at me right now. Go ahead and laugh -- it's not as if I don't find myself ridiculous in this as well! -- but I'm still watching the machine. Reinforcement is a powerful thing, even if I know it's only a superstitious behavior.

It did jam royally once -- I had to cut out the hoop from the bobbin tangle, restart the block and manually fast-forward about 5,000 stitches to finish -- but now, finally, the embroidery is finished. It looks pretty good, and it cost me only one needle. I am pleased. However, I did not feel any pleasure at the final "beep-beep" of completion; that cue is too poisoned. The slowed needle retraction is not intended for indication or communication, but it is a far more valuable signal to me!

Not A Completely-Bad Weekend, Either

I'd forgotten, in my gloom, that Laev had done a fairly nice track on Saturday morning. Despite the 5k race alongside our track and a brisk wind, she stayed focused and worked pretty well, only pausing to sniff where some stupid park dog had pooped on our track (grr) and missing one article at the end where her stupid handler made an error (grrrrrr). Overall, though, pretty good.

I had the track taped to provide footage for Jen, and I captured an image from it, just to prove that the weekend wasn't all bad:

Monday, October 05, 2009

Not A Good Weekend

Well, I'd thought we were making decent progress with Laev's gunfire fear. (Quick review -- Laev was not fearful at all for years, but developed a phobia with exposure to a neighbor's LONG gunfire sessions. She became very sensitized to real [not recorded] gunfire and also to thunder through this, to the point where she shakes and her obedience is possible but not reliable.) We'd gotten to the point where Laev could hold her down while I fired at a distance and then returned to treat, and I'd even fired a couple of times from my right hand while we were heeling. (It's tough training alone...!)

But, hunting season is fast approaching, and apparently it's time for all the hunters in my area to get together for target practice. This means the hours of repetitive shots have returned this week, and not just little pistol shots -- I don't know what's over there, but it sounds like a freakin' cannon. If it's a rumbling boom even inside my house with 6" walls, it's of course a disturbance to my dog....

So much a disturbance, in fact, that when I left Laev in her kennel outside one day, I returned to find that she'd leapt out through the 6-foot-high roof, breaking welded wire to escape. I was NOT pleased.

And of course our gunfire progress has gone to pot. I can't control her exposure and keep it at her threshold; we're right back to what created the problem in the first place. I may have to start keeping Laev in my car, taking her whenever I leave home so that she's never alone with the neighbor's target practice.

Friday I had a very upsetting incident, and while I was fully functional on Saturday, I probably still had some emotional spillover. Laev was present on Friday and probably still a bit confused or worried on Saturday, but she gave me some really nice send-outs. (I've been rebuilding distance; I'd worked so much on close, controlled send-outs while making sure that she didn't keep running due to stress that now I need to go back for distance.) Her turn-and-downs were lovely, really made me happy.

Then Laev had much bigger fish to fry, because it was her first bitework session in three weeks! I'd been limiting her work to give her knee a chance to recover. I knew she was pumped to get back, but I wanted to check her knee, and so our first exercise was a control exercise -- not exactly setting up for success! Fortunately I was getting some video footage of anticipation and arousal work for Jen White, and this was indeed a great example of a dog getting too high to respond to known cues. Laev was NOT performing to standard -- she ran to the blind instead of to me, she needed two cues to return to heel from the blind, she was a bit mouthy on the outs instead of her usual ultra-clean response.

I'm not really worried; I know we'll have it all back in a week. It's actually good for me to see her pushed because I know where we need to work. But it was frustrating, after losing so much elsewhere.

I really don't know where we'll be for the fall trial. Our problem last time was the gunfire; if we lose all our gunfire progress to hunting season, we'll be exactly where we were a year ago, with lovely skills but no way to show them off. I'm really depressed about the whole thing right now.