Friday, March 3, 2017

In which Foxie gains skills and displays them for the camera...slowly

Foxie Loxie and I have been taking agility classes.

tunnel practice in the park.  Picture taken by my New! Phone! Camera!

We started classes in January, with a very basic "Intro to Agility" class.

Like many Shelties, Foxie's biggest challenge is timidity.  Training him is not unlike training a skittish young horse:  he has a lot of fears, and at first, his response to fear was to run away...which isn't a very good response for horses OR dogs, but it's much easier (and less scary) to fix in dogs.

Fox has gained a lot of skills since coming to live with us.

I deliberately look for situations to challenge him, and then I help him cope with the new stuff.

5-K Jingle Run (Walk) with my mom
Huge crowds of weirdly-dressed people and dogs.  Plus a marching band and fire trucks.

Nile Creek, Renegade Rendezvous camp with Roo
Hot weather, lots of power equipment, plenty of strangers, a creek with fish!  and LOTS of horses!

Kenmore Air Marina.  We watched the float planes take off and land.

I am definitely his Comfort Object.  If he can see me, he can cope.  But he prefers to be on me.

Bare Bones ridecamp

His favorite, most secure place is up on my shoulders..

"Yertle-ing", also known as a lamb-carry

I wasn't a bit surprised at our first class when he was terrified by the big gymnasium-like room where the agility classes are held.

"I need to be on your shoulders!"  he told me.


"Also, I need to POOP!"

That DID surprise me, lol.   

But we got everything taken care of and he didn't poop on my shoulder.  (it was a close call)

That first class, he followed me on leash over a few jumps and through a hoop, and earned many teeny-tiny treats and lots of praise.  Then he was done for the night.  I was pleased.

Week 2: off leash  (OLD PHONE CAMERA = terrible photo) over low jumps, through the hoop and through a tunnel

Fox has gotten braver in subsequent weeks.  We finished the first series at the end of February, and this week we started the new class, this time using "teacup" agility equipment that is designed for small and tiny dogs.  

He now copes with his fears by going V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y through the course.  He gets plenty of praise and treats, as always.  Here's what works for him:

*  We keep the sessions SHORT.  He is rarely on the floor for more than a few minutes at a time.  Then, it's some other dog's turn to practice.  Watching other dogs and other handlers is good for both of us!

*  We introduce new things slowly.  One or two new skills per night max, and I ask him to try the new skill.  He doesn't have to get things right the first time, or even the tenth.  There is no hurry, no timetable, and no deadline.  

*  Sometimes we "begin in the middle."  For example:  when he was learning to cross the A-frame, I picked him up and put him on the downhill side, and then shamelessly lured him to the bottom with treats and praise.  The next time, I put him closer to the middle and lured him to the bottom.  By then end of the night, on his 5th or 6th short session on the floor, he was approaching the frame, climbing up, and then climbing down to earn his treat.

*   If he goes off-course, it's not a crisis.  I bring his attention back to me, and we re-approach the obstacle.  

*   Plenty of tiny treats and praise.  If he does something wrong, there is no "bad buzzer" noise.  Maybe an "oops!" and then I ask again.  And I don't ask LOUDER or STRONGER the second time.  The cue is the cue is the cue.  He doesn't get reprimanded for doing it wrong, but he doesn't get praise until he does something  (even something tiny) that I've asked him to do.

We will probably never be as amazing at the game as the 8" agility champion Sparkle who finished the 2017 Westminster course in under 37 seconds.

And that's okay.  

Of course, all of these lessons are immediately applicable to training horses...or cats.  I'm not as confident about how this stuff works with goats or co-workers.  I'll let you know how that goes.

Here's how we look right now: 

For a little dog who was scared to be on the floor 8 weeks ago, I call this a WIN.

And that is Good!

Monday, February 27, 2017

In which awesome knightly things were planned, and then it all went straight sideways

It's always good to have a plan so you have something
to crumple up and use for traction when you get to a slick patch of reality.

The PLAN was to arrive at the trailhead early, do a quick loop (about 7.5 miles) and then head over to Fish Creek.

The REALITY was that we woke up to sn*w.

Just enough sn*w to make the dogs happy!

It wasn't a ton of the pesky white stuff, but it was still falling, and I have a standing policy that I don't hitch up and drive away from home when there's sn*w on the roads.

So, we went to breakfast.

In the hour or so that it took to order and snarf the veggie omelet and amazing homemade biscuit with marmalade, the roads cleared, the skies cleared, and we made a New Plan.

The New Plan was that we would all meet up and partake of Knightly Games, which are now informally being held mostly-monthly in the arena at Fish Creek.  Duana had a wonderful time doing this in November, and was eager to try the games with her young mare Freya.

Alas, Du got a call from home that the water heater was behaving in an untoward manner, and she was required to return home to help with the mess.  Instead of swords and lances,

Something this spendy should be more fun.

Du and Jason (and Dean and Katie) got to wrestle with a big, expensive box.

Then, Dory had to go wrestle with a bit of fenceline that was leaning in an alarming way under the weight of wet sn*w.

And Monica was under deadline to get some photos of her artist booth so she could enter some spring events.

That meant that back at Fish Creek, it was only Patty and Flower and the Dragon and me.

(and the Knights)

So, we introduced ourselves

Fiddle knows the rules:  weird stuff means cookies

We meandered around the arena as the Knights and their minions got into their garb, set up the weaponry, the quintain

Garb is an important part of the game.
My endurance garb was pressed into service, as it's the only garb I've got.

and the Heads.

Heads   photo by Tamara Skeen

Flower and Fiddle are both new to these Games, so we started off with baby steps:  walking through the weave poles, and then trotting them with no weapons in hand.

Then, we walked the poles and pushed the heads off with our hands.  That got a little reaction from Fiddle (WHA-A-A-a-a-a-a?) and almost none from Flower.

Next we added weaponry.  For beginners, the preferred weapon is a boffo.

Desensitizing the wild pony to the boffo = NBD

We walked the pattern and bashed heads, gently at first

and then more energetically.

Then: trotting!

Still not the thundering hooves you see in the movies, 

but a very nice start, and we were all well pleased.

Patty and I have spent the winter training our dogs, and we were happy to apply some of the things we've learned in canine training to our new equine adventure:

Still with the sn*w on the ground.  I am so done with winter.

  • Start small
  • Increase difficulty slowly
  • Reward the "try"
  • Praise praise praise praise praise  (add carrots, where appropriate)
"It's like dressage, but with a boffo.  We can do this."

When I got home at the end of the day, the art festival booth mockup was set up in the driveway.

Monica explains her artistic process to an interested onlooker

So: it wasn't the day we planned.

It was a Good Day, anyhow.