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Monday, February 15, 2010

Zulu's First Agility Seminar - A Success!

Today was Zulu's turn at the seminar experience with Stacy Peardot-Goudy.

Zulu just turned 1 year and I have to admit that I haven't done very much jump work with him (just in the last few weeks), but I have worked his tunnel, chute, table, a-frame and dog walk, which are spectacular, so I felt fairly ready for this seminar. 

As a side note, the reason I haven't bothered very much with jumps is 1) because I wanted him to finish growing and 2) I've had a preview of his natural jumping style when he plays in the yard and I felt confident in his body awareness abilities when it came to jumping.

The terrific part about having Stacy back out here is just watching how she interacts with her dogs. I have to admit that while having Dalmatians has been terrific, Border Collies work differently and it's always nice to observe an alternate way of training. In the past, I hadn't been a big toy person...not because I don't believe in them, but because physically it was painful for me and so I avoided them. Well, thanks to modern medicine, that's not always the case for me now so I'm able to physically interact with my dogs more often and so I've had to learn how!

Zulu learned several of his base behaviors using treats. I'm very comfortable shaping/eliciting behaviors using food, but have decided to break with my own tradition of continuing to use food as a motivator (great with Dals & Labs) and quickly moved Zulu over to toys (balls and best yet, his favorite toy pelt). I started this endeavor a few weeks ago and the first thing I noticed when combining the toy & behavior was that he was CRAZY! Seriously, the behavior went to hell in a hand basket as his love for the toy made him loose his mind.

Two things come to mind. First, I might have introduced the toy to the agility game a little sooner to make a smoother transition and two, I was going to have to give some serious time to helping him understand or remember that he really could control himself, offer the behavior and get his beloved toy simply by doing what he had already been taught to do...after all, it was only the reward that had changed (from food to the toy).

On our first run, I aborted the toy and tried to just use food. It was a disaster and as Stacy said, I was training him like he was Rouge, my young Dalmatian. It was icky, I felt disconnected (handled like a fool) and Zulu was looking at me like I had grown 10 heads and was acting like a crazy person. It was time to collect myself and come up with a new plan or the day was going to be long and painful!

So I pulled the toy back out and with Stacy's guidance, told myself it was okay to embrace Zulu's toy enthusiasm and to go back to basics. In this case, the basic concept was "If you want the toy, then do a jump and earn it!" Sounds simple, but Zulu is an adolescent and as expected, the term "gimme" has started to creep into his aura. That was the case with today and he was outraged when I wouldn't give him the toy "just because" he wanted it. In his attempt to demand the toy he jumped me, pounced on me, zigged when he should have zagged, circled, barked, nipped at my hand (which was holding the toy), and was just plan trying to push me into handing it over.

By the afternoon, he was a rockstar and caught onto the game of jump = toy & play. Seriously, I couldn't have been prouder and left feeling very accomplished as well as having a much clearer game plan on where I want to go with him. Zulu was pretty proud of himself as well. Each time we were done with an exercise, he would jump up onto a chair and I'd tell him how very proud I was of him. He was soaking up the attention and overall, loved the interaction & time spent today.

It was a great day for both of us and I know both Grandma's (Barbara & Felicia) would be very, very proud!

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