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!