Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mickey's Nose knows his birch odor

       Last night I had Mickey tested for recognizing Birch odor. The Odor Recognition Test (ORT) is a test to show that my dog understands and can alert to a specific odor for trialing. This will save many people and spots from making the mistake of entering a trial when their dog is not ready. However, just because a dog passes their ORT, doesn't mean they are ready to trial.

       My experience with the ORT was interesting. As I walked into the building, my excitement escalated. I was even surprised I was able to walk forward as I felt like I almost was going to freeze like a deer in front of head lights. Mickey and I went into the room,, made a circle to the right to calm me down, then stood behind the line. I felt like I was there for awhile but it probably was only 8 seconds. My head was getting light. I had previously did the "test" run and Mickey spotted the odor. I'm so glad I did that as that dropped my anxiety down a few notches.

        Mickey kept looking at me while we stood behind the line, I was waiting for him to look forward on his own, but he was intent in waiting for me to tell him to "go find it!" He knew what we were doing, he knew there was birch some where out there, he was just staring at me "come on already will you just tell me to GO!!! I cued him to find it and he probably nose touched about 4 boxes, then tapped his nose on a box that I "almost" was going to say "alert" but he nose touched the box next to it. I had to hold back to see where he was going to indicate. He went to that first one he tapped and indicated strongly that was the box. I said, "ALERT!" they said yes, I rewarded Mickey. I was still in shock that I was like, "did he pass?" I think I asked two or three times as I couldn't believe it. It happened so fast. I didn't even know my time. They probably said it and I didn't hear. I said I have to leave, they gave me my booklet and I couldn't stop staring at it, like Mickey just got a big beautiful ribbon. As I walked out the doors to go back to the parking lot, I sniffled about ready to cry. I just couldn't believe reality happened. I knew he could do it, but reality hit! I went up to Kim and said, "You see that show 'So you Think you can Dance" where they come running out saying they are going to Vegas? I could see her and everyone else's face going "well, did you pass?" I then said, "I'M GOING TO VEGAS!!!!" Then everyone knew that we passed. I almost was going to bust out of the doors waving Mickey's book saying WE ARE GOING TO VEGAS, but I wasn't sure if anyone had seen "So you Think you can Dance" show.

        When I finally got in my truck and going on the road, a pure calmness came over me. With being so stressed in my life of having a lot of trouble of achievements in other areas, passing this ORT was a good thing. A great streak of getting a leg in Beginner Novice, Rally and now passing the ORT. I'm feeling rather accomplished, and now I can really start getting to work on real training and rising above :-) I'm so fortunate to have an incredible dog! He's got the stuff, now it is all on me.

Now we are really going to start!

     Last Sunday I was finally able to debut in obedience. I did Beginner Novice A and Rally Novice A. It was held at Southwest College in Bonita, California (small town near east Chula Vista in San Diego County.) It was a very warm day. I had watched other dogs in the higher classes where their handlers were pleading to their dogs to do certain tasks. The dogs would phase out, and turn their heads away. It was hot. From experience, the more your dog turns from you, the higher your stress level goes. You have eyes watching you and when your dog doesn't perform, you become more stressed and exasperated. The handlers are thinking  "Oh NO! not NOW!" Seasoned competitors have been there many times.

      For Beginner Novice A, I got a score of 187 1/2 out of 200. Not too shabby for the first time out. Mickey certainly could perform better, but he wasn't completely engaged on me. He did his heel fine, but didn't look up at me. Although some will argue why do they have to look up at you? I find that when Mickey looks up at me, he's more engaged, and focuses on my body movements ready to move smoothly with me when I make turns. Dogs read our shoulders well in what we are going to do. Head down and looking forward he will not catch as quick, unless my feet tell him.

      Mickey and I need more practice. Not drilling, practice. He needs to realize that we will be doing these activities in high distraction places. The more I get him out to places, the better he is in focusing. In the past month, I have been taking him out more and I've seen a huge improvement.

       For Rally, my score was 70 out of 100. I just passed. Several times he and I bumped into each other. His focus was less. Was it from high distraction? Too hot? who knows. We need more practice. Not drilling, but practice. More fun games. I will break down the signs and do 5 at a time, then play, 5 at a time then play. We have always done the course in a row. My principles of training are kicking in here of bring down the criteria.

       I am very proud of Mickey's performance, I couldn't be happier. He received a first place ribbon in Beginner Novice A and a white ribbon in Rally. Our next show will be July 7/8 at the Ventura County Fair Grounds.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Almost Show Time!

      The past several months I have been reading "Breath" by Willard Bailey. An older book on competition obedience. It is a story format, not a "How to." It really had helped me get through my 20 year fear of going into the obedience ring. This Sunday I will debut. I'm not anxious at all, I'm looking forward to it with excitement. Mickey and I have had some good practices. I'm reading my regulations and reminding myself that this is my debut, not a performance that people paid to come see you. If I mess up, there are no consequences, just learning. If people laugh at me or think I'm terrible, no worries, just keep practicing as I wrote in a previous blog entry. They don't matter, what matters is Mickey.

      Mickey and I have been bonding more lately. We have been going out more together, even this morning I took him out to Starbucks with me. As usual,he's flirting with people standing in line with me. Ahhh that's my Mickey! It doesn't matter if we are at a park, him being a service dog or what ever, getting him out is crucial at this point. I think the key to his success in the ring.

      Before I go in the ring, I need to do a decompressing time. Let him sniff everything, be a dog, look like he isn't trained, be goofy and the likes. Then, like a play, or a performance and we go into the ring, voila! We are on. He can transform just like that when I work on getting him in the zone. It takes focus on my part. Sometimes when I'm in my class, my energy level is so low I don't work on it, just go through the motions. Our connection is a little less connected. When I feel better and I take conscious effort to connect, Our are locked on to each other like two love birds gazing in each other's eyes. I send off the aura to Mickey of "you are such an awesome dog." I know he feels that peace from me as he stares in my eyes more. Such a love affair. Beginner Novice is a short course. I think this will be a really nice transformation before going into Novice A. Ironically I"m the only one entered in this Beginner Novice A class. Maybe a good thing since this is our first time. I won't have that "competition" tension. Just do your best.

        Later in the day I will have rally. It will be a little more relaxed since I can chatter to my boy love talk. Although in Beginner Novice A, I can touch him between exercises and a gentle stroke on the side of his head he just loves. I think we can succeed in both with the two different kinds of reinforcements I can give in the ring. I don't expect to be perfect on the rally course. But watching a lot of videos of Rally Novice A, I'm not all that worried.

        I tend to be so fixated in being perfect, a long life problem of mine trying to succeed having a disability. That I have always felt pressured to succeed beyond logic to over come my disability. I've programmed myself this way too much and too often. Very few people understand and if they grew up with a disability, trying to fight for everything to be normal, they would understand. But now is the time to focus on Mickey and I as a team. Not think of proving myself. For 25 years I have wanted to prove myself as a dog handler, which has held me back in many ways So fearful to perform in front of people. now that is all going to change. My perspective is different, my fear is nearly gone and I now get it that it is about giving Mickey an awesome bonding experience. He's a working dog and will work as long as I don't stress out. Stress will ruin this opportunity to succeed. This doesn't mean I'm not going to be nervous. I think being nervous is a good thing, stressing out is not.

         More each day I admire Mickey and his capabilities. I"m so blessed with this dog. He impresses people where ever he goes. I have the dog to perform and make me look good, now it is my turn to be right for Mickey so he can perform well. I can't wait for this Sunday.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rude awaking that moves you forward

I've been involved with training and handling dogs for 25 years. So what gives? Sometimes I feel I should be much better than I am. I know there was a time I was a good handler, doing right by positive reinforcement training. However, in the past four or so years, I have dwindled. I had been fighting fatigue. Gradually and surely, I reverted to old handling habits that were not so great.

When I'm fighting fatigue, it just isn't about tiredness, my brain is half shut down. I have less energy to think, see, hear and function. Its like being a zombie, but trying to do what you need to get through life, waiting for the next day that your energy comes back. You wait for the moment to sleep or just sit or just rest. When I'm in this state, my handling skills really go down. I recently had a horrible discovery, I am heavy handed on the leash again. I knew it was there, but I thought it was a once in a rare time fluke. Then I found out it wasn't. How heavy my heart became. It was like, what happened!!! I thought I kicked that habit and was better with the leash! I realized that I had been fighting fatigue for so long that I just went into automatic mode. I now steer with my leash. No wonder when Mickey comes to the store with me, he's more like a robot than a happy dog. When you are fatigue, you are unaware what is happening around you. This includes what your dog is doing. You jsut think he's quiet.

At a Denise Fenzi seminar a few weeks back, something hit home while she was talking about motivation. Make yourself more interesting. I realized that I make going out in public very boring for Mickey. I never really talk to him. I get into reading labels and shopping dragging him along. Now I see why Mickey would solicit attention from people around me. They were more interesting and Mickey was trying to balance BORING with some affection. He would bat his eyes as people would walk past him and they would think he's so cute. Of course this would just reinforce Mickey's behavior even more with the attention, while me the Zombie was just trying to get a boring errand done. Of course Mickey wanted to be with me, but it wasn't as fun as it use to be in the earlier days. So he's going to solicit from others. This seminar made my light bulb go on. Like DUH! My poor dog. Since then I now make me a little more interesting in the store.

Also at this workshop, I realized I've been very stuck. I think Denise has felt the same as if, what can I do for you? The past few have seem like repeats. Fighting health issues put me in a weird funk and certainly enabled me to move forward. I thought with some practice we would be decent. Not really. I thought our first time with her about a year earlier was better. At that time I was spending more time with Mickey. I realized, I need to come home and get Mickey OUT to parks, store and just getting out. The boy had cabin fever. The ever so often once a month or less Rally class just wasn't going to cut it. So now Mickey's life has more activity. I see our bond coming back.
Four years ago, Mickey was with me 24/7. We had a stronger bond. He use to side step with me so ever nicely. I thought it was a cool thing, but then as my health dwindled and I became more fatigued, I just drag him along. I was so unaware of what was happening.Those past years were just a fog. They were not torture for Mickey, just boring.

But with recent training and the recent workshop, I realized it is time for me to have awareness that I have seriously slipped with my dog handling skills. Yes, even with the occasional dog class. I had slipped. Time to reassess what happened.

As a child, I learned very poor riding habits. I use to be really hard on a horse's mouth. I was heavy handed and learned the push, shove and compulsive way of training. Force training. Of course it was very well justified why we trained or interacted with our horses that way. I didn't know any better, I was just a kid.

I developed serious eye problems and it was best for me to stop being around horses. About 1984 was the last time I have ever ridden a horse, but all those years of yanking on a horse's mouth and developing bad habits have stayed with me years later. My first learning in dog training was leash correction with a choke chain. Snap pop and release. After awhile I realized I didn't like this. This is why I never went into the obedience competition ring. I just couldn't pop a leash that many times to get a dog to heel. Let them walk naturally. That's all I needed from my hearing dog of the time. I then learned clicker training and slowly transformed to a fairly decent handler with no heavy handling. Even though I have recently slipped, I'm no way the heavy handler I was back 20 years ago. When it comes out now, it is considered wrong to the positive reinforcement world, but rather mild compared to what I use to do.

The more I turned Zombie, the worst my handling got. The more I was on autopilot, the worse my handling became. The more fatigue I got, the worst I got in connecting with my dog. Life was a fog of trying to get to the next day.

Focusing on competition obedience, I have been slowly trying to get my skills back. I now can leave frustration behind and work on creating behavior. Frustration only leads to force. I also want to bring joy back in Mickey's travels out in public with me. I am now talking to him, petting him, and saying what a good boy he is instead of just going in motion to do errands at a store. I stop and look at those beautiful soft precious eyes. He really does want to please me with all his heart. He wants connection and craves it. Yes, this is anthropomorphizing, but also my gut feeling.

I'm starting to get back my handling skills again. I try not to be hard on myself, but I do shake my head and wonder. How could someone like me who had dedicated so much time in trying to learn positive reinforcement skills fall? It is rather humiliating since I have put up such a strong stand and support for positive reinforcement training. Newer people see mediocre handling skills. They don't see how I use to handle my dog. They just see my sloppy, nagging handling skills. Fortunately I'm changing and I'm more aware to shape myself away from this. Self awareness is important.

It is easy to get into a cycle of beating myself up. But what a waste of energy. How does that move me forward to better handling? What brings me to better handling is, hug my dog, and we move forward today. The exciting thing is, recently I have surpassed some of my better handling in the past. I'm moving forward. I'm doing better and that is a very peaceful thought.

As I become more comfortable video taping myself, I will be able to look at myself to improve, not look at criticizing myself. will disregard what I don't like, and focus on how to improve. Watch my dog and watch myself in a positive way. As much as it has hurt to see some old habits come back. Thank goodness it isn't as harsh as I use to do and thank goodness I am working to go forward. Thank goodness my management skills of myself is helping my fatigue. I still have the ups and downs, but just a slight burst of energy lasting a few extra days is a gift. I'm fortunate and I'm so grateful that I can actually improve and look forward to doing better.

I look forward to my debut of showing June 17th. I'm getting out there and I'm at the stage in my life that I'm happy about my handling skills again. An uplift, and this uplift will carry into the ring. Mickey and my love affair will be stronger than ever. We have now put it all together, the good parts that I had been writing about, and dropping the bad. We are moving fast forward ahead. I love my boy Mickey.