What a winter it has been, and we are still in it! Fifth highest snowfall since recordkeeping started for Albany, NY, an hour away from me. I believe Pittsfield got even more. In a one month stretch, it snowed every day. The biggest storm dropped 2.5 feet. Record cold temperatures as well. Weeks at a time in single digits often below zero during the nights. Wind chills even worse. I think about last winter when I packed down the snow just by walking back and forth while Thor ran. It would be impossible to do that this year. The dogs don't want to be out for more than a few minutes and, even then, Glitter often comes in limping.
Despite the weather, Glitter and I have been participating in the Capital District Agility Fun League where she is having a banner year. Perhaps she knows it will likely be her last? She is consistently getting scores where in past years we either trained (using food which makes it No Score), or going over max course time due to visiting and sniffing, or not getting enough points in games to have our score count (in the team scoring, they drop the lowest score).
I've also attended two seminars with Glitter. One, "Nothin' But Net" (an expression borrowed from basketball) was about getting your dog to ignore distractions, something Glitter desperately needs. I have always attributed Glitter's lack of focus at trials to stress. While that may have been true, Bobbie Bhambree (presenter) of Divine K-9, says that's an excuse that lets the dog off the hook. She believes that agility has not been given enough value (through reinforcements), that reinforcement is being used incorrectly (that once a dog has learned and been proofed on a skill, that skill should rarely be reinforced. By reinforcing an "easy" skill, dogs realize that they don't have to work hard. By the end of this seminar, Bobbie had Glitter doing restrained recalls through two lines of people talking to her AND treats scattered on the floor which she actually had to run over to get to me!! After two unsuccessful attempts (she grabbed a few pieces of food en route), which I did not reinforce but simply returned her to Bobbie, the third attempt was successful! She ran over the food as if were not even there, fast and focused on me! Jackpot, jackpot, jackpot!!!
The second seminar was called "Superstar Seesaw." Although Glitter has an excellent seesaw performance (after tons of noise games, movement games, tippy board play, wobble board, seesaw games while slowly increasing height), I wanted to learn what Bobbie had to teach. I was afraid Thor was not ready for a new environment with new dogs and new people. So took Glitter with the intention of learning the games which I would then bring home to Thorry. Turns out, I knew all the games but one! All the things that I had done with Glitter. Made me feel pretty smart! And gave me greater confidence to work with Thor (who has done a lot of tippy board work and is doing a seesaw close to full height). Although he had no fear of movement or noise, I should not have rushed him until we had played more of the games. I need to build more drive to the seesaw and more comfort crossing narrow boards. Now I know, without uncertainty, what I'll need to do (come spring!) with Thor.
Been too cold and icy, with inadequate sand spread at all training facilities (not to mention early darkness when I should not be driving), for me to continue classes. That, along with the lack of yard exercise and lack of park play, means that Thor has not been getting the exercise that he needs. In the house, we have been working on impulse control, heeling, tug (which he loves!), "get it" and "let go." Thor took some of these skills and invented his own game. I sit in a chair with an armload of (chewed up) bits of soft toys. I wait for Thorry to sit (without telling him to sit); it has to be his idea, his impulse control, his way of saying "please."
When he is sitting (and leaning forward with intensity and focus), I toss one scrap. Thorry leaps up to grab it! At first, he would drop the one he had, sit, and wait for me to throw the next until I was all out of scraps. Then I would go and gather them up again. As we played more, Thor began to return each scrap to me after catching it. Now we can play with just one scrap because I always get it back! I've started adding cue words, "catch" just before I throw it, "let go" when he's about to release it to me, and sometimes "tug. He is equally happy to get his reward by continuing the game or by breaking into a game of Tug. Cool!