Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I'm Beginning to Think I Shouldn't Call Her Reactive Anymore...

Last night, I took Maisy to a Performance Dog Conditioning class taught by Lin Gelbmann, a vet tech with thirty years of experience in equine and canine rehab. The class is designed to do structural and gait analysis of your dog, and then provide exercises to get and keep your dog in the best shape possible. I signed up because I really wanted to get a structural evaluation on Maisy, mostly because I wanted to know if there was anything there that would preclude starting Maisy in agility classes.

And it was awesome.

The class was held at held at On the Run Canine, a local agility school. When I signed up for the class, I didn’t really think about what that meant, so when I walked in and saw all the motion, heard all the barking and teeters slamming, and realized that it was basically just controlled chaos (in the way that agility is, not because of anything this school was doing), I was pretty sure that this was not going to work. Even worse, the classroom area was not blocked off with visual barriers (let alone sound barriers), and I began to silently panic.

Still, I’d paid good money to be there, so I figured we’d try it. I figured the worst thing that could happen would be that we’d be have to leave, in which case I’d try to schedule a private consultation. I picked a spot on the edge of the class area, as far away from the agility ring and the rest of the dogs as I could, and set up my mat and treats. Then I went out to the car to get Maisy.

We walked in, and I fed her lots of treats. She pulled a little bit on the leash because she was so excited, but it was happy excitement, not stress excitement. When we walked into the class area, she spotted her mat and promptly flopped down on it, and offered her “flat dog” behavior.

We were there for 90 minutes, and during that time, she did not have a single reactive episode. Not one! There was one soft “wuff,” and one very low and brief growl (quieter and shorter than another dog, even). She even had a fairly soft mouth throughout the evening. After we’d been there about 20 minutes, she did have a short period where she took the treats harder, which usually indicates an escalation of stress, but that abated after five or ten minutes, and she returned to taking the treats softly again.

Even cooler than that is the fact that there was a point where something clearly upset her, and she began to lunge for it. She got about a foot off her mat, and suddenly stopped herself, turned around and slammed her body down on the mat. It really seemed like she realized, “I’m not supposed to be doing that! Mom likes it when I lie on my mat instead.” Needless to say, I jackpotted that.

I was pretty proud of my handling skills, too. Throughout the class, I was constantly monitoring her body language, and when she was more nervous, I increased the amount of treats I gave her. Then, as she calmed down, I reduced the amount of treats she got. It was difficult to shift the criteria that rapidly, but I think I got it right. It helps that I understand her triggers well- last night, fast moving people, loud dogs, and the sound of the teeter were all stressful for her. Understanding that, I was able to use the treats when those things were going on, and then could back off when it was quieter.

By the end of the class, Maisy was pretty relaxed, and was far less jumpy about noise and motion. We even got up and did some light obedience work! I put her in heel position, did pivots, and had her heel on both sides. And she worked beautifully! She was heads-up attentive, completely focused on me, doing ten foot stretches with turns with no treats. She looked like a real obedience dog!!

I was absolutely elated. You know how you feel at trials when you get a really great score, or a new title? It felt like that. I was so proud of her, and just thrilled to see all the hard work I’ve put into her is paying off.

Look out world: Maisy has arrived!


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

that is such GREAT news! I am really happy for you! All your hard work is really paying off.
But how did her assessment go?

Sam said...

That's awesome. To go to a place like that with so many new distractions and be successful is a GOOD THING!

Love your description of agility. Controlled chaos does sound about right..

Crystal said...

The assessment was ALSO awesome. If we want, we can start playing agility-there are no big red flags in the way! I'll give a full report on her assessment and the exercises we are to work on tonight or tomorrow.

Dawn said...

Wonderful. WHere are you thinking of taking agility classes?

Crystal said...

Probably Agile Canines. My current trainers both recommend them. Where do you go/recommend?

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I like Annelise at Agilie Canines a lot. But she's also pretty expensive. I currently train at TCOTC and love the amount of space that they have but instructors vary a lot. I did Vito's foundation work, and still drop in for a class when I can, at Cloud 9. I love the instructors there, they really do great foundational stuff, but they don't have the space. They do accommodate reactive dogs well though.

Crystal said...

I hope this doesn't sound arrogant or snotty or whatever, but money really isn't an issue. (I love being married to a geek, lol.) Anyway, that means I do have the luxury of going to the best place for us.

I originally joined TCOTC because their agility program looked good. But, last time I checked, the agility program was full. And the website still reflects that. Plus, I've heard variable feedback about their agility program. Nothing specific, just some grumbling.

Although, I just checked out Agile Canines website, and their foundations and beginning classes are full, too. I think I could get into foundations anyway- I know the instructor pretty well.

I hadn't heard of Cloud 9... and it's good to hear they accommodate reactive dogs. That will be the most important thing, of course. They look pretty good, though.