Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Year in Review

So it’s that time of year again. As 2011 comes to a close, it is time to reflect on what the past 365 days were like for us.

Goals and Progress

While it is logical to start here, it’s also a bit embarrassing. My goals for this year were… ambitious. Not in the sense that they were impossible to accomplish, but in the sense that I didn’t really work on them. Oh, sure, I had the best of intentions, but somehow they slipped away from me.

 Maisy showing off her best trick.
I had a list of official goals, and then a list of unofficial ones. Sadly, I did much better on the latter. I guess those were the things I was more interested in.

Officially, I was to work on writing training plans and keeping records. Although I did keep some records (and was quite enthusiastic about it, too), I fell off the wagon early on. Another great in theory/bad in practice goal was trying to achieve stimulus control on three basic behaviors. Complete and utter failure. I did a bit better on my goal to teach Maisy 12 tricks… but only a bit. I taught two. I did the best on my goal to train in shorter sessions. I’d say we still go longer than 3 minutes sometimes (which was my goal), but a session almost never goes more than 5 minutes.

Unofficially, I wanted Maisy to be more comfortable with life (huge check), and go to a trial and/or runthrough (check and check). I wanted to become a cleaner trainer, which is a work in progress, but at least it’s, you know, in progress. I failed at getting more things on verbals, but I was very successful at taking more videos and photos. We definitely went hiking (maybe not enough, but some), and had tons of fun.

Thankfully, I can call the year a success. As I said last year: no matter where we’re at in another year, as long as we’re together, I’ll call it successful. And so we are.

Trials and Accomplishments
We made it! Hooray! After retiring her last year, we had three very good experiences. Back in April, Maisy and I went and hung out at an APDT trial. Then, in November, we entered (and did quite well at) a CDSP runthrough. Finally, just this past Monday, we entered a CDSP obedience trial, where she was awesome.

Medication and Behavior
We’ve probably made the most progress in this area, but then, this is where we’ve spent most of our time, energy, and money.

Great Danes? Scary? Nah...
We continue to visit our veterinary behaviorist at the U of MN, Dr. Duxbury. Seeing her was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, as Maisy has made so much progress with the addition of medication. She continues to take 10mg of paroxetine every day. Over the summer, we experimented with trazodone (a complete and utter disaster), and then switched to clonidine for use in stressful situations. It’s nice to have a short-acting drug for things like boarding and extended times away from home. (Speaking of which, Maisy had her first boarding experience this year, too.)

Maisy has definitely improved in her ability to relax, both at home and in public, and I have been able to relax along with her. I no longer feel the need to scan the environment constantly for potential triggers, and I can walk her without fear of over-the-top reactions. She’s still reactive at times- I don’t think it’ll ever go away entirely- but it’s rare, and she recovers much quicker than ever before. She’s been able to hang out with strange dogs without issue, including former “trigger dogs” (large, black dogs with prick ears), and she's even been a decoy for another reactive dog!

We also graduated from reactive dog class this summer. This wasn’t entirely planned- our instructor moved, and we never really joined another class- but it seems to be okay. I haven’t seen any backsliding, and although we didn’t discuss it directly, at our appointment in December, Dr. Duxbury didn’t seem to think we needed to get back into class.

Skills and Training
I was incredibly inspired by the Denise Fenzi seminar in July, and have since spent time working on Maisy’s obedience behaviors again. Well, “work” might be the wrong word here- one of the things I really took away from the seminar is that work is play. We are finally both having fun with obedience training. Maisy’s heeling is about a billion times better than it was last year, and she has something approaching a real retrieve now. It still needs work, but we’ve come a long, long way, and I finally believe it’s possible.

Me and My Growth
Finally, I feel like I’ve done a lot this year, too. Not only have I continued to learn, I’ve also gotten some hands-on experience with other dogs, too. To top it off, I’ve done some pretty cool dog-related activities.

Knowledge first. Although I didn’t do a very good job at keep track, I’ve continued to read plenty of books on dogs. The ones I know I’ve read includes: SOS Dogs, Inside of a Dog, and So You Want to be a Dog Trainer. (Next year, I'll definitely do a better job of keeping track!)

Sara and I at the Fenzi seminar. Photo by Robin Sallie.
As you all know, I’ve also been to a ton of seminars. I think my favorite of the year was the aforementioned Denise Fenzi seminar, but Clicker Expo comes in as a close second. That was so much fun, and I’m sad not to be going again next year. I also saw Sarah Kalnajs, Kathy Sdao, Ken Ramirez, and Patricia McConnell.

One neat experience that I had- but didn’t write about here- was acting as a trial chair for a UKC obedience and rally trial. I was pressed into service when the previous chair moved away this summer. I was really overwhelmed by everything I needed to do, but I had a lot of support, and the trial went off without a hitch. WOW, though. There is so much work that goes on behind the scenes. If you take your dog to shows or trials, please take a moment to thank the host club and the workers for all they do. Better yet, volunteer to help out if you can. I guarantee that your assistance will be greatly appreciated.

I began volunteering with BEST this year, too. This program was started by my friend Sara as an extension of Paws Abilities Dog Training in Rochester, and provides free training classes to dogs in shelters and rescues in order to make them more adoptable. I’ve worked mostly handling dogs during class, but also did a bit of teaching.

Speaking of teaching, I became an official dog trainer this fall when I began teaching reactive dog classes for Paws Abilities. It’s been challenging, but it’s also been fun to see the growth in my students. Working with a reactive dog is not easy, and I’m excited to help people develop the skills they need to be successful.

And so...
2011 was a pretty awesome year all the way around. On pretty much every front, Maisy and I made at least some progress, and I cannot tell you how incredibly proud I am of my little muppet dog. I am just so happy with her. It will be pretty difficult to top 2011... but I'm sure going to try! I can't wait to see what 2012 brings! 


Sam said...

I'm glad you didn't focus on what you didn't accomplish but instead looked at all the things you and Maisy HAVE done this year. Just from reading your blog alone, I think I've seen huge changes in the way you train and the way little miss Maisy works and lives in the big old world. Here's to a great 2012~

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I think you and Maisy had a great year! But no more slacking on the trick training and you better join a real obedience class next year :)

Crystal Thompson said...

I'm working on finding an obedience class right now, Laura. ;)

Ninso said...

Very accomplished year for you guys! Congrats!

Chris and Mike said...

AND this past year you've inspired a bunch of us readers with reactive dogs. I'm sure Habi and I are not the only ones out there who have appreciated the honesty, insights and encouragement you've shared. Here's to a fabulous 2012!

Crystal Thompson said...

Thanks Chris and Mike- it is very kind of you to say so. I'm always pleased when my blog can help others.

Joanna said...

What a great year! You and Maisy worked very hard!

If you want more inspiration in terms of trick training, I highly recommend Silvia Trkman's online Puppy/Tricks class.

Here's to great things in 2012!

andrea said...

what a lot accomplished even if it wasn't exactly what you anticipated :)
congrats - looking forward to 2012 :)