Friday, July 31, 2009

Reactive Dogs - Part I

Since we don't have class on Tuesdays anymore, I decided to take Iris over to the state park to get some exercise. Also, Tues was VERY humid and the park has a pond. We usually see a few dogs while we're there, but we've never had any problems before.

Not so on Tues. This woman shows up with her very reactive cocker spaniel and a rambunctious young (I'm guessing around a year old) pit bull. The cocker is on a leash and is completely melting down, barking and lunging at the other dogs in the area. The pittie is off-leash and bounds up to Iris and jumps up on her. She snarks at him (Iris is on leash) and he backs off. No big deal, neither dog seemed phased by it. It looked like a pretty typical "adult dog telling a rowdy teenager to knock it off" interaction. Meanwhile, the cocker is still melting down, and this woman has no clue how to handle the situation.

Iris, however, was being awesome. Because the cocker was on leash and this woman was walking away from us, I stayed by the pond and decided to work with a Iris a little bit. She was being so good, it seemed like a good chance to reward her for it. I'm still kicking myself for sticking around.

All of the sudden, the cocker is off-leash and running toward us at full speed, barking and growling. Great. The cocker gets right in Iris' face, but luckily both dogs just make a lot of noise and don't actually make contact. While poor Iris is fending off the cocker, the pittie shows back up and tries to hump Iris from behind. @*!&#(*#@!!! I pull the pittie off while the woman is yelling at her dogs. They both suddenly back off and go over to her. She puts their leashes on and leaves. She's yelling at her dogs the whole time, saying things like "Get over here! That's it! We're leaving! THAT'S IT!" Never says a word to me. Not a single thing.

Once I knew that Iris was completely uninjured, I really wanted to find a friendly dog to walk past before leaving. I did not want the fight to be the last thing in Iris' mind. It took some wandering, but we came upon a very nice woman with her two dogs - an Irish Wolfhound named Falkor and a Heinz-57 named Belle. Both were very polite, laid back, friendly dogs. The dogs all got sniff and the humans had a nice chat. I was so relieved I was able to end the night on positive experience for Iris.

At first I was really pissed off at the cocker's owner. What was she thinking letting her dog off-leash? And then not even asking if my dog was ok? Seriously? But after living with Iris, I have a lot more empathy for people with crazy dogs. The woman was clueless. Her dogs should not have been off-leash. But she didn't mean for them to go after Iris. What I think happened is she got far enough away from Iris for her dog to stop exploding. She thought it was safe to let her dog off-leash, but then he noticed Iris again and the shit hit the fan. When the woman got her dogs back, I think she was so shocked and embarrassed by what happened, all she wanted to do was get out of there.

Shocked and embarrassed? We've has those days too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Last week was our last Tues night agility class. Now the big question is, what next? The end of Tues night classes feels like the end of an era of sorts, especially since we're moving again in August. Here's a lot of thinking out loud because I've been thinking quietly for the last couple weeks and still don't have a decision I'm happy with.

For the last few months, I've had Iris in two weekly classes. The plan right now is to cut back to one weekly class (especially in light of recent veterinary expenses). For now, I'm going to keep Iris in the reactive agility dogs class at Dogs! Learning Center. It's right down the street, and I do like the class. Iris gets to practice working around other dogs, but the downside is that we won't be doing as much agility. The class is more focused on getting dogs to work around other dogs, which isn't a bad thing for Iris.

After we move, I'm not sure what we're doing. I can keep Iris in the class in Hudson, even though it is less agility focused. The other option is to check out Gemini Dogs. I don't know a lot about their classes other than that they're only about 10 min away from the condo we're moving into. Much easier commute than what I've been doing! Whether or not I can make it to class in Hudson on time is going to depend a lot on how long my commute ends up being. On the other hand, Iris isn't always a model student so the reactive class might just be better for her.

I just found out that Emma Parson is running a Control Unleashed class at the Methuen MSPCA in October. I have been dying to get Iris into a CU class. It seems like every time I try to get her into that class, something else comes up. I was going to take it in July at Masterpeace, but then it looked like we were going to move halfway through class, so I wouldn't have made it all 6 weeks.

The other thing I'd really like to do more of is herding. Iris LOVES herding. She was SO focused the last time I took her out herding, even with a group of dogs and people watching. We took one class with a new instructor right before Iris started having seizures and then had to cancel our next lesson. While Beth's style of training was a lot like what we're used to, the way she runs lessons is a little different. She runs it more like a group class. The plus side of this is that I got to watch a bunch of different dogs of various experience levels work sheep. You can learn a lot by watching! The downside is that each dog got less individual time on sheep. I'm having a really hard time deciding which way I want to go with that. The more I think about it, the more I think it would benefit Iris to have more individual time with the sheep. I could supplement that by trying to audit a couple of clinics. On the other hand, I know Iris can handle the environment at Beth's farm, and that is always a bit of an issue with Iris. And I did like the way Beth handled the dogs, which matter a lot too.

Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sport of Choice?

This question was posed on an Aussie forum I frequent, and some of the responses were pretty interesting.

What got you into your sport of choice...why that one, why not another type of dog sport? What else have you tried, but don't care for? What haven't you tried but would like to?

It's no secret that agility is my "sport of choice." I love the challenge of running a different course every time we go out. Iris loves getting to run around like a nut. She loves doing the different equipment and getting to play. It's just a big game for the dogs. I love watching the dogs - my dog and my classmates' dogs - figuring things out.

I love training agility because of the variety of challenges it presents. We haven't competed because Iris can be pretty reactive to other dogs. Instead, we've just been really enjoying classes. I've been lucky to take classes with a great group of people and their dogs. It give me an excuse to get outside and play with my dog.

We've also done some herding, which I think Iris likes even more than agility. I love the dynamic between the handler, the dog, and the stock. It's so cool to see the dog's natural instincts unfold. Herding is a completely different way of training. With Iris, I could go out there with all the treats and toys in the world and my dog wouldn't give a damn. She wants SHEEP.

As far as other sports go, I know Iris wouldn't be able to handle to environment of flyball. I don't think I'd enjoy it as much as agility anyway. It's too repetitive! Plus, Iris has very little desire to retrieve (which is too bad because I think it's be a great way to exercise her), so that rules out disc dog as well. I suppose I could train her to retrieve as a trick, but it's just not her favorite. Musical freestyle looks fun, but I'm way too self-conscious to ever take that outside of my living room!

At some point I'd like to try Rally, but that will probably wait until Iris is a little older. For now, I need something that tires her out! I'd also like to get her CGC someday, but I think she still has issues she needs to work out before we can do that (some things are as simple as loose leash walking, which has gotten worse and worse lately. Oops!)

Ok, so now what's your sport of choice?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Final Tues Night Class

Tuesday night was our last Tues agility class. It was long course, with a tunnel/dog-walk discrimination, a couple sets of 6 weave poles, and a rear cross at the end. Iris was great. Class was a lot of fun. Well, class is always a lot of fun. I get to go play with my dog for a little while.

Iris flew off the teeter the first time around but after that she was good about waiting (that seems to be a regular occurance for Iris!) I did get her to do the tunnel/dog-walk discrimination correctly, although I really want to work on her directionals more. I have to "baby-sit" her a lot or else she'd rather do contacts than tunnels. Sometimes I think she understands "out" and sometimes I feel like she doesn't. Actually, I don't think she was too bad about it on Tues? This week has been a blur. I probably should have blogged about class earlier this week! Sandy (with Baxter Black) took a bunch of video during class, and I'd really like to see it! I'm not sure if she got any of me and Iris.

We did finish class with a nice rear cross (for us. Maybe not that fluid but better than we often do). Not a bad note to end on. I feel like I should say something emotional, but I'm not good at that sort of thing. It's been a blast, but we're not dropping off the face of the planet yet. We'll still be around.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cook Out

Just a quick brag before I head to bed.

I brought Iris to a cookout at a friend's house on Saturday. Iris can get pretty overwhelmed in large groups especially if there's a lot of guys. Because she was going to need her meds before I was going to make it home and since I hate crating her on weekends, I decided to bring her (and her crate in case she needed a time out). I have to say, Iris was AWESOME. Really, I couldn't have asked for better behavior from her. She greeted everyone politely. Well, mostly politely. There are a few people she gets excited to see and forgets to keep 4 paws on the ground. I admit, I often let her act a little too bouncy when she's happy to greet someone because that's better than barking at someone approaching. I probably should teach her better manners but if she's sitting politely to greet people, you don't get to see her wiggle butt!

Iris didn't react to any people (a few woofs at cars pulling up but she relaxed once the car stopped moving) and 2/3 of the group were people she'd never met before. I even got her to relax during the bonfire. Iris is absolutely terrified of matches and lighters. She was concerned about the bonfire, but not terrified. Lots of treats and massage helped.

Iris actually acted like a "normal" dog all day - begging for attention from everyone, showing off her tricks for handouts, relaxing in the grass. She was leaps and bounds better than I expected her to be. We've still got a long way to go, but it definitely felt like we passed a milestone.

Agility Update

I'm well past due for an agility class update. We've still been going to class even though I haven't been blogging about it. I really do get out to do things with my dog besides just worrying about her!

The last two agility classes we've had have been the same set up but different courses (which I didn't notice until after Julie posted the course maps). The course from two weeks ago focused a lot on distance, something that I'm not very good about. There were a couple of dogs in the class that have better distance than us, and it was VERY cool to watch them work though the course. Watching them makes me want to get better at it with Iris!

When I did the course with Iris, we did a rear cross after the second jump, and front cross after the 7th jump. Front crosses are much easier that rear crosses! I think I'm going to start bringing some cones when I take Iris over to the tennis courts to play. I don't really want her doing any jumping there because it's pavement, but that doesn't mean we can't work on her direction cues. We still have a lot of trouble with rear crosses, but I think our front crosses have gotten better.

During class, Katrin asked if problems with muscle coordination can be a side effect of Keppra. Iris was jumping ok with her back legs, but she was jumping funny with her front. I wasn't actually sure if it could be a side effect. The biggest side effect I'd talked about with my vet was hyper-activity, which for Iris lasted less than a week. I had a lot of trouble finding any info about Keppra that was specific to dogs. The only thing I found about Keppra and dogs is that the elimination half-life is significantly faster in dogs than people (hence the 3x per day dose). Problems with muscle coordination did come up on the list of possible side effects in people, so I'm guessing it's the same in dogs. My poor girl. Actually, I never would have noticed it at home. There are benefits to being active with your dog!

In class last week, we did the same set up but with a different course. I decided to do a rear cross before the 5th jump which meant I had to do another rear cross before the 9th jump. At least we're getting in some rear cross practice. We probably need a lot more.

Iris seemed like she was feeling pretty good during class. I think she was jumping better than she was the week before too? Of course she started class by running face first into the side of one of the jumps. It looked like she was going to run around the jump and at the last second decided to try and jump over it. But she made the decision too late. I didn't think too much of it, but this weekend she managed to hurt her face twice running into things. She's got a cut above one eye (she hit her face on a table during her joyous post-bath celebration), and the next day she bruised the side of her muzzle after turning quickly into a door frame. Both injuries happened when she was really excited and acting like a dork.

During class we're still doing weaves with cages on. At home, we've been practicing (not as consistently as I'd like) and we've gotten to the point where Iris will do them with the cages off of the first three poles. She's gotten very consistent about doing them correctly when she's on my right side but is still missing the entrance about 50% of the time of when she's on my left. Because we're moving in a month, I'm making it my goal to have her weaves trained before we move. At the new place, I won't have a fenced in place to train her (I'm going to try to find something, but there isn't anything in the condo complex) so if I don't do it now, it might be a little while before we can get back into doing regular off-leash training sessions.