It’s hard to believe how much time has flown by. Eight years ago today, we brought home the amazing Miss Dahlia. She came home a sweet dog lacking confidence and has grown into a sweet dog with the confidence to tackle everything from moving houses to agility to silly tricks to being able to go outside during a thunderstorm. She’s just the best.
So, this year I bring you, 10 things Dahlia has learned this year. It’s been quite a year for our girl!
1. That sharing my house with another dog is really not as bad as I thought. It might actually be kind of fun.
2. That having another dog to play tug with is kind of awesome.
3. That even though my Mom was told not to shove toys in my face to get me to play, I will try that with my brother. Sometimes it even works!
4. That having my own yard is kind of awesome.
5. That barking at the dogs in the yard behind me is the best.
6. That I don’t really mind (that much) when my brother leaps at my head.
7. That I can share my toys and treats and even the same bowl of water.
8. That I am still the best fun policing dog around.
9. That the “wait and come game” is even more fun with a friend!
10. That nothing gets me down, not even vestibular disease.
She’s one of the seven great dogs (there are only seven at a time, you know) and I hope for many more years to come for my girl!
My dog Molly hated weave poles in the game of dog agility. Hated. Whenever we saw them in training or competition, she blew by them as though they were invisible. When I recalled her to me and helped her enter them, she would stress down, sniff, sneeze and shake her head – oozing stress. And if she weaved any slower, she would be moving backwards.
I knew when I saw Julie Daniels’ “Foundation Weaves - Love Them and Flaunt Them” class on Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, that we needed to enroll. Straight away, I liked that the class material was available for dogs at all levels. Beginners, in-progress or retraining. As the class progressed, this was very much true. The teams enrolled in a working (Gold Level) spot with Julie were from all walks of their agility life and she guided every single one of them with skill.
I also liked how versatile Julie is with the equipment required. A set of weaves is very spendy, even if you make your own. The downside of an online classroom is that you need to have more equipment at home, or wherever you will be training. However, Julie has a wide variety of inexpensive equipment options that teams working in this class can use. That is a big plus for those on a tight budget!
Molly and I enrolled in a working spot and I was very upfront about our major “weave baggage”. Not only did Molly have a dramatic stress reaction to the weave poles, so did I. But the course material made weaves…fun! Yes, fun! If I haven’t made it clear yet, this class is very versatile and so are the course materials. There are many different ways of training weave poles and Julie brings them together, blends them, adds things of her own and then helps teams choose which path will make them most successful. I love that! There is nothing I love more than seeing an instructor that can rise to the challenge of acknowledging that different dogs learn in different ways.
Julie brings a lot of enthusiasm and great energy to the class, she wants her students to be successful. She loves the subject (weave poles!) and it shows in her interaction with her students! You can’t help but feel happy about weave poles during this class! The course was 6 weeks long and by the end of it, Molly and I had made significant progress in our attitude about weave poles as well as Molly’s general knowledge of what her job was. I had a dog who was really loving the obstacle, for the first time in her career. So if you want to teach weave poles, are struggling to teach weave poles, if you need to re-train weave poles, or if you are like me and hate weave poles with every ounce of your being – check out Julie’s class. You are going to have a wonderful experience! (Class information as well as session scheduling can be found here.)
Today, while I was asking my girl River a question for around the 20th time on our ninety minute public outing, I was thinking about how freaking boring our life together would be if we didn’t have an ongoing flow of conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean that I stand in a park and talk to my dog like some crazy dog lady (I would… never do that… ) but we do indeed have a back and forth stream of communication. Here are a few things I posed to her today; in long written word here, but we worked through them with body language and a few single words only:
1. “Would you like to enter this fenced park to go swimming in the lake? There are other dogs off leash there, and I know that can be uncomfortable for you, so I’ll let you decide.”
She chose to take a short walk around the area first so she could take in the environment and then pulled me towards the entrance. Once off leash, she ran to the lake and waited for the toy to be thrown without even glancing at another dog. Remember folks, this is my “extremely dog reactive” cattle dog bitch I’m talking about.
2. “That five month old puppy is approaching you. You know you have to ability to not react, and if you quietly lay down and wait for me to deal with the situation you can get back to the toy throwing sooner. Oof. She just stole your toy… Please stay there and I will get it back for you and be very, very happy with you.”
She did exactly that. A very sweet but slightly foolish Doodle puppy stole River’s toy less than a foot away from her feet not once but TWICE and River let it happen. She has learned over the last several years that I can help her handle these predicaments; she does not have to use her teeth or other scary displays on strange dogs.
3. “I know it’s hard for you to think while swimming, but I would really like to do some Rally-O proofing exercises with you and reward all of your brilliance with toy throws. Can you work with me this close to the water and new strange stimuli and I’ll promise to make my other criteria lower?”
She responded with near excellent fronts, finishes, and short steps of heeling less than ten feet from the water! Rally exercises are still pretty new to her, so I was asking a lot, but she gave me her best.
You’ll notice that I never gave her a traditional command during these exchanges. In fact, during our actual verbal communication I did not give her a single cue word other than our Rally practice cues. Leaving other dogs alone, down stays while I got her stolen toy back, and her focus on me versus the humans and dogs in the park were all given. I let her choose what she wanted to do every step of the way and each action of mine was directly in response to her. If she hadn’t pulled me towards the entrance of the park, I would have kept walking down the trail and waited to visit the swimming area until others had left with their dogs. If she had made a move to react negatively towards that puppy (which, honestly, would have been warranted!), I would have moved us much further away and possibly left the area. If she hadn’t been able to focus on me enough in that environment to practice Rally moves, I would have abandoned the idea of difficult proofing until another time with fewer distractions.
These are just a couple of examples from one day, but the list goes on and on; I try to make me and my dogs’ time together one of mutual enjoyment whenever possible. I try to give them as many choices about their life as I safely and sanely am able to. Life with dogs is just far more interesting and rewarding when you treat them as a thinking being with thoughts and feelings about the world. Three years ago, I never imagined that my “super reactive” cattle dog could swim in a fenced dog park with other dogs around without having a complete fit every five seconds. But she did indeed play for over an hour today, with! other! dogs! around!, and I have the photos to prove it. All of our hard work towards building our relationship, trust, and teamwork is paying off. I haven’t needed to teach her any new cues lately. I have never used punishment based training methods for her dog reactivity, and I have never forced her to do anything around dogs she absolutely did not want to do. I did not flood her, I did not strap an e-collar on, she never wore a pinch or choke chain, I didn’t have to train a ton of commands and throw away all of her choices to follow them, and yet… I have a dog I can take to a public lake off leash without huge reactions. Her recall is pretty stellar, her focus is lovely, and she is a mostly happy (I won’t lie: there is still some level of stress around strange dogs and sometimes she can still get a snark in if it’s needed!) little dog who once tried to bite the face off every single strange fellow canine she came across. We constantly improve together thanks in large part to the talks we have like the ones we had today.
So: next time you’re out for a walk, try having a conversation with your dog. You might be surprised how much you can communicate and learn from them without ever opening your mouth.