Wednesday, July 1, 2009

We Were On A Break!

I've been meaning to post about this for a few weeks now, but I wasn't truly decided until yesterday. Theo and I are taking a break from agility class. Theo, of course, will not approve. But I need one. I was beginning to dread Wednesday nights, and the whole point of the classes was to be a night of fun for both of us. Well they're not for me lately, so on a break is where we are.

On class nights, my evening goes something like this. I pick up Theo at doggy daycare, then walk him around for 30 minutes because there's a half hour gap between when doggy daycare closes and when class starts. I'm ok with this because Theo has so much energy, he could use the walk. I usually get lots of strange looks from the people who live in the neighborhood I walk in because they're private streets, and no one recognizes me. One day I was sitting down on the curb feeding Theo his dinner (since there's not time to go home first, I bring a bag of kibble) and some guy driving by actually stopped and asked if I needed help with something. Either I looked like I was in distress, or I looked like I was up to no good. Don't know which. ;p When it's time for class, I take Theo to get a drink of water, then take him around as many obstacles as we can get to for a warm up. Really, I'm just trying to get rid of more puppy energy.

When class starts, that's when Theo's barking begins. I have to hold his leash tight because the sneaky devil will lunge forward at any moment when he decides he just has to be there on the course, showing them all how it's done. If I give him a constant stream of treats for an hour, he will be quiet, but since I won't give him that many treats, I have to endure a lot of very loud barking. It's ear-splitting, really. Sometimes I try and pick him up to make him stay quiet. Lately, he's start clawing at my neck like a cat when I do this. He stops barking, but starts whining, sounding like a piglet getting Chinese water torture. Usually people start looking at me funny, wondering what the heck I'm doing to him. It's embarrassing. Sometimes I just let him bark, and my trainer comments (and by comments, I mean she not-so-subtly tells me to shut my dog up).

When it's finally Theo's turn to run a course, I let him off leash. Usually he dashes to the course with enthusiasm, and runs over any obstacle he can find. After a good minute of calling him to our starting point, he finally mossies over. It takes another minute at least to get him to actually sit down (asking him to sit usually results in him backing up 3 feet with lots of barking in between), and another minute to get to my starting spot while getting him to stay seated. Oh, by the way, usually the other people have completed running the entire course in this amount of time. When I'm in the right spot, I tell him to go over the first obstacle. Sometimes he decides to just go around the obstacle, the little bastard. When that happens, we have to spend another 3 minutes getting back into position. When he misses his contacts, I make him go back and do it again. Usually after 3 or 4 tries, I just pretend he hit them. He's so fast, that he's usually gone 3 obstacles ahead while I'm still telling him to go over the first one. He's great at keeping an eye on me, but he doesn't do so well with the listening.

Did I mention the barking? He barks the whole time he runs a course. It's because he's excited. He wants to let everyone know how awesome and excited he is. Too bad he's usually too busy barking to listen to me. Our exchange usually goes something like this: Me, pointing to jump, "Theo, jump!" Theo, standing in front of jump, looking at me, "bark! bark! bark!" Me, pointing to the jump, "Theo, JUMP!" Theo, after he's gone around the jump, then jumped over it backwards, "bark! bark! bark!" If it weren't so frustrating, it would be, without a doubt, absolutely hilarious. Usually while there's steam coming out of my ears, the entire class is in stitches. It almost seems like an old-style comedy routine.

I could live with the humiliation except apparently Theo is a little too excitable. My trainer told me the last class of the last session that Theo was launching himself into the A-frame too hard, and she was afraid he was going to hurt his shoulders. He's such a boy! She actually suggested we go back to beginning agility to work on his contacts. Beginning agility! After 3 classes of advanced! Heck no! Beginning agility was boring even when we were beginners! I'm sure we could have worked something else out, but I was down-right insulted at the suggestion.

I was so frustrated after that class that I was ready to give up agility all together. But then I remembered how much Theo loves it. He's only that big of a pain because he has so much fun, he just can't contain himself. He is a Corgi after all. They do all things all out, right? And then the woman who runs the doggy daycare (who also helps teach the agility class) told me very emphatically that Theo is an agility prodigy. He is really good at it and he loves it. He has no fear on any of the obstacles, and he's faster than the wind. If he could just focus (I took this to mean if he had a better handler), he could be really great. How could I cut him off after that? I can't. And I won't.

But that said, I do still need a break. In another 7-8 weeks, another class will start up. I think I've convinced Husband to start coming with me to class. I'm hoping he'll give handling a try. Husband has 10 times my patience, and he's wicked smart, so I'm convinced he could be a really good handler for Theo. And if not, maybe he can at least help me with keeping Theo quiet!

The woman who runs the doggy daycare also suggested I put agility equipment in the backyard for Theo to play around on. Her reasoning was that he'll be less psychotic in class if he can play on similar equipment at home. Two problems with that: first, money does not grow out of my bum, and second, my backyard is made of concrete. Otherwise, it's a great idea. Anyone want to buy me agility equipment? Ho-hum.


Esther said...

Oh Theo!

I don't think your agility instructor was trying to insult (although I'm sure why you felt that way!) Perhaps Theo just needs some more foundation work? (i.e. focusing on the handler, being less reactive, etc). I hope things get better by your next set of classes! :)

Kelly said...

OK I am dying to see Theo run the course! :) Sounds hilarious, but I can definitely understand how frustrating it must be! Gibson was so frustrating in Rally that I think I'd need a year before I started it up again lol. Such excitable little pups.

Laura said...

I just started reading your blog, but don't give up! A break could be really good though to rework some foundational agility skills with Theo. Also, it's not hard or expensive to make agility equiptment yourself. You may not want it on concrete, but it's easy to pack a couple of pvc jumps and take them to a nearby soccer field! Really all you need are a couple of jumps, and then a 12ft board to work contacts...

a corgi said...

LOL; I always enjoy reading your posts; you are so funny and I always come away laughing; so sorry Theo has trouble with agility classes; it is just that he is way smarter than the other dogs there and the instructor

I actually thought of getting Koda some agility things for a course in our small backyard but I can just see us spending the money and him just looking at the things and saying "ho hum"


Jenna Z said...

It sounds like you NEED a break! I hate to say it, but it also sounds like you guys need to go back and work on fundamentals like setting up, commands for each exercise, attention and focus on the handler and proper execution of each exercise (A frame, taking jumps in only the direction indicated) He's young and enthusiastic, yes. But if you let this go for too long, it will be extremely hard to turn his behavior around later. I would imagine these are things your instructor has been saying and working with you on, but I can't imagine her letting you continue in the advanced class with issues like these. He may be having fun and he may be fast but if he's refusing obstacles, taking them the wrong direction and taking the a-frame in a potentially shoulder-damaging way, your training will not go forward. I am by no means an agility expert but I would take things slow and over your break maybe construct a couple of pvc jumps in the yard and work on setting up quickly and efficiently, consistent performance of the jumps on your command, and regain some control with sits/downs in between jumps (you can tape off a box on the ground to simulate a table). Don't give up, and don't think taking a step of two back is failure. With such a stimulating sport for such a gung-ho dog, it will take a LOT to retain that attention and focus.

JuLo said...

Thanks everyone! I'm by no means giving up. It really is a break. I would be fine with going back to beginning agility if I thought it would help, but I don't think it would. In beginning agility we basically just get introduced to the equipment. We all stand in line and take turns going over jumps or walking over the a-frame. Nothing that focuses on the handler, nothing that teaches them control.

Jenna, I guess I have to acknowledge that my instructors are rather lacking in the "advanced" class. They don't usually give me many tips beyond trying to help me time my direction with Theo. They were good at first, but I feel in the last class they were kind of giving up on me, and would usually just wait for the horror to end. lol. The point of these classes is supposed to be for fun, not for competition training. They actually hand out a list of "real" agility trainers the first class.

I guess what I really need to do if I'm serious about agility is probably find another class. But I love the trainers, and I hate change! Eek! I think I'll take a few weeks to think it over.

Laura, yeah, I think I could make jumps pretty easily, but what he really needs practice on are weave poles, a-frames, and the dog walk. I guess I could do weave poles easy enough, but the heavier equipment is what he really needs the practice on. Doh!

Laura said...

Well if you are doing it just to get your dog over the equipment then it doesn't matter if you stick with your current class. But if you really want to teach your pup agility, it's all about the handling!!!! Teaching your dog the obstacles is the easy part, the hard part is teaching your dog how to read your body language and the timing of front crosses, rear crosses, etc. Pretty much all of that stuff you start with on jumps, a lot of it on only one jump! Even on the contact equipment the hard part is teaching your criteria once they are comfortable with the obstacle. Since Theo sounds pretty confident, I would just work with a board and decide what contact method you want (running, 2o2o, one rear toe..), you don't need the full obstacle for that!

I am by no means an agility expert, but I try and practice with just the 2 jumps in my yard and then a 12 foot board for the running contacts. Weave poles are also a must once you are serious, and simple stick in the ground poles work just fine :)

I guess what you have to decide is what your goals are with Theo. If you just want him to run over obstacles than your current class is fine. But if you are serious about doing an activity TOGETHER and not just having THEO run madly, then that means learning handling skills, even if you don't want to compete. And I don't think your current class is designed to teach those foundational skills. Flatwork is more than just introductions to the obstacles and attention work :) My Vito is absolutely crazy to get to the obstacles, but he knows how to read my shoulder turns and hand pushes/pulls/etc.

Philip said...

Theo sounds a lot like one of the dogs in my class, except that this dog is a lab and even more unruly since he is also big. His handler is doing a good job calming him for the most part, but when he is really out of control, she gives him a time out - ties him to the fence right during class and ignores him. It looks so sad, but it really works, he calms right down. Not sure if that's something you can try with Theo.

I totally understand your frustration though, I think what you really need is go back to the basics. I know it sounds boring, but if you do it right, it won't be. I had to take Philip back to basics on the A-frame and the weave poles because the trainer required different techniques of me than what we did before. I really didn't want to at first, but I did since I figured she knows better, and I'm really glad I did - Philip has gotten a lot better already, and it's actually fun.

It seems like he is trying to take control, you really have to be careful to make sure he only does the obstacles you ask, and never let him just play on them on his own. If you want, I can bring you a couple of jumps next time we are at a park. I can also show you a couple of exercises that might be good for Theo's attention. Does he jump 8" or 12"?

Lesley Collins said...

Is it just me or are Corgis just loud? I try to teach my rescue Corgi tricks and gets so excited all he does is bark.

JuLo said...

Laura, I agree the problem with Theo on the course is all me. I'm just not being told what to do differently, so that's frustrating as well. If Theo could focus and if I knew what I was doing, I think Theo could be really great.

Philip ('s owner :p), lol! I don't think a timeout would work for Theo, just because I don't think he would associate it with any kind of punishment. He's certainly not looking for attention from me during class, and he's used to having to wait his turn, so I doubt tying him up would really teach him. But maybe. Can you email me the info for the place you take Philip? Maybe I'll give that place a try. :p

Lesley, Corgis can definitely be loud, but for Theo is really depends. He's quiet as a mouse at home. The only time he really causes permanent damage to my hearing is when he's super excited. Hehe.

Laura said...

I didn't mean to imply that the problem is all you! I was just trying to say that foundational handling work is extremely important if you want to get anywhere in agility. I think it's obvious that your current class isn't teaching you HOW to teach this to your dog. It's not necessarily a bad thing though depending upon what your goals are :)

Ivy@PaperElixir said...

Wow, that does sound like it'll take a lot out of you on a weeknight! I admire your determination to stick to it because Theo's enjoying it (and put up with all the smart comments from your instructor)... I think it might be a good idea to let your hubby give it a shot, sometimes they just respond differently to a different "energy". I still really want to see a video clip of Theo's frantic energy on the course ;)

JuLo said...

Laura, I still think the problem is all me. Hehe. I'm a terrible handler! It's ok. We all can't be good at everything. :p I agree, I need to decide if the class is right for me. I think Husband would be better at taking the time to think about the right way to do it. When I run the course my brain tends to fly right out of my head. I never remember what the objects are called, and it takes all of my concentration just to make sure I'm staying on the right side of things.

Anyway, if my husband is running the course, that frees me up to take videos! ;)

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