Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Back to the Dog Show!

Finally, after lots of work, trials and tribulations, Syd headed back to a dog show. Hawk was entered in Des Moines for their January show, and I decided to enter Syd. Thankfully, though, Don agreed to handle her, as I felt I would be a detriment to my dog. I knew I would be a nervous wreck, and I did not want to express that to my dog.

The weekend went well. Syd was comfortable being with Hawk, and as a bonus her grandpa Harry was at the show, and she loves to hang out with him. Ringside she was more nervous, as there are usually more dogs crowded around. I thought Don did great with her, not allowing her to be stressed or act up. That is probably the best thing I did was to hand her off, as she got the picture from Don pretty quickly that there was no need and no place for misbehaving. He just has that way with the dogs, and if it had been me, Syd would likely have been a raving lunatic!

Sunday Syd was much calmer, and showed very well. She went RWB to a 4 point major, and I was just so thrilled to see her in the ring and comfortable. As an aside, I know my dog, and when she's stressed, her tongue is about 20 times it's normal size, lolling out the side of her mouth. VERY pretty... NOT!
So Syd survived, and I survived also! Hopefully things will continue to improve, and I'll be able to show her myself at some time in the future.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Look What the Big Brown Truck Brought Today!

Very exciting, the Big Brown Truck was here today, and delivered our highly anticipated new DVD. It's Susan Garrett's "Crate Games" dvd. No it's not specifically geared toward reactive dogs, but it's just something new for Syd to learn, and another avenue to build her confidence. All my dogs are good in crates, at home and on the road, but in no way are they the crate maniacs like the dogs trained this way. It looks like a great challenge, and I look forward to working on this with Syd and the other dogs.

Syd thinks the books are boring, but we also received the new Focus Not Fear book. That's for mom, although I'm sure Syd would be happy to chew on it a while. :-) No affiliation, but these came from

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Is There ANYTHING Good about Tonight?

Tonight we had a very scary situation, unlike anything that's happened here before. And it just exemplifies the added challenge of working with a reactive dog in a multi-dog household. Pardon me while I take a deep breath, as I know for sure that I was the most traumatized by the explosion in the house.

I got home from work just a bit later than usual. Sydney has been going to work with me, and over lunch or in the early afternoon, we go for a walk and do a bit of training. The normal course of events when I arrive home is to put Syd in her crate to attend to the dogs that were left home during the day. Like clockwork, the other dogs went outside, and I started to prepare their supper. Supper involves heating up the chicken, getting various things out of the fridge (yogurt, probiotics, veggies), and setting up the bowls in a specific order on top of Syd's crate. Then I dispense the supplements and veggies, lastly adding the heated chicken to the bowls. I usually do this while the herd is still outside. Tonight they were impatient because I was running late.

I let everyone inside, and as I was shutting the back door, Syd started screaming. She had her toe stuck in her crate. The other dogs, frenzied for their supper and at the sound of the screaming Syd, started in our direction. I'm pretty sure an "Oh Sh*t" formed in my brain, as I was trying to free one dog and prevent the others from ganging up on Syd. Bree was first to arrive and grabbed Syd's thigh. She wasn't viciously attacking, but doing something I see freqently in corgis. Dart in, nab, and then back out. Repeat. I finally got Syd's foot free of the crate, and I just pulled her up with one hand, and swung her up as high as I could (I'm nearly 6 feet tall). Bree was still jumping trying to reach Syd, and Syd was snarling, growling, and generally acting like a furball of fury trying to defend herself. I could not blame her for her reaction to the situation this time.

The "joiners" were all barking and trying to get involved. Although my corgis are not typically the "go for the blood" types, the start of this event was a young dog screaming and yowling in pain, so I was not going to take any chances that things would escalate. It was definitely an adrenaline charged event. My corgi boys generally know when mom means business, and as soon as I could focus on them, I sent them OUT of the kitchen.

What good could possibly come of this situation??? Well, when Syd gets into her "mode" of snarly, ugly-face dog, she will NOT be deterred. Trying to get her attention has been an exercise in futility. Tonight, as Syd was snarling and trying to protect herself while hanging in mid-air above the gang of barking dogs, I called her name to try and get her to calm down. I was afraid I was going to drop her if she didn't calm down. I was so surprised when my ugly-faced dog stopped snarling and actually made eye contact with me. I was so happy with this breakthrough, in light of the massive fiasco that was NOT Syd's fault, I feel like my girl is definitely showing signs of rehabilitation.

The dogs all settled down, had supper, and none of them seems worse for wear. Surprisingly, Syd was quite subdued and submissive afterward, and we went outside and played ball for a bit to try and de-stress her. She acts fine, and I'm hoping that this won't be a huge setback for her.

All this goes to show that in a multi-dog household, the program to get Syd over her fears is going to be that much more of a challenge. And I have to be patient, and not get discouraged when Syd's program hits a roadblock. As I look at Syd at my feet, Hawk the Vallhund is licking Syd's face and ears. He's forever the nurturer, and always wants everyone to be happy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Be Careful What You Ask For...

Who Me???
This is evident every day with Sydney. I have a house full of boy dogs, sweet-natured, laid back, loyal with every fiber of their being. Kane ( is about as compliant a dog as ever existed. He was fantastic as my Novice A dog, and fairly easily earned his CD, CDX, and RE titles. This was my first step back into competitive obedience since I competed in fun matches and trained my first Springer back in the 80's.

So, this time around, I wanted, I waited, and I was so thrilled to get a bitch. Sydney was just about made to order. Not only is she much more correct in conformation than my other performance Cardigan, she is eager to learn, very driven, and highly trainable. In the show ring she has sass and attitude that commands attention. She's showing that she's got potential with sheep, and every outing to the agility center is a whirlwind of drive and execution from this little brindle dynamo. Oh, I wanted a bitch. I wanted a dog that was smart and driven. I'll say that maybe my girl is too smart some days! And she's definitely a "lot of dog" most days. I have to keep on my toes with her.

It should not surprise me that my girl also tends to be reactive. If she were as lackadaisical as Kane, easy-going and a stranger to no one, Syd would *not* be the driven performance dog that she is. That edgy, driven dog is also more sensitive to stimuli, and I think that this plays a big part in her initial over-reaction to the collie-stepped-on-my-tail episode that seemed to start the ball rolling toward reactivity.

The only real bummer about her program of working for her food is that she has to be back on kibble for the most part. I cook for my dogs, but not for myself! It's OK to give her some bits of chicken with her supper, but too messy to dole out mashed sweet potato, pureed carrot, yogurt, cottage cheese, salmon, etc. But that's OK, Syd is fine with kibble, and loves every minute of working for her food. :-)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Good Work Continues

Sydney continues to improve. Now that she's got such structure in her life, it's more and more obvious that she's insecure. The improvement is that she now looks to me when she's nervous, rather than lashing out with ugly-face behavior. It's not 100%, and I expect it will always be a work in progress. The "I'm nervous, please don't let bad things happen" behavior seems to be Syd jumping up against my leg. Now we are working on that, so that she will sit, or put a paw on my foot, etc.

Yesterday we went to the agility center to work on some fundamentals. First up was the boom-board. A 5-6 foot plank with a pivot point of a 4 inch diameter PVC pipe. It's not designed to be used as a teeter, but more something to acclimate the dogs to the sounds of a teeter hitting the ground, and the feeling of a board moving under their paws. Object is nose-touch c/t (click & treat). Then we worked up to paw touch, c/t. Then paw on either side of the plank (either the downside that's already on the ground and won't move, or the up side that will then fall down with pressure from the paw). I'm using the boom-board to get Syd more confident about the noise, and the idea of just shaping yet another new behavior. She did some whining and trying to avoid yesterday, mostly by running around the sides of the boom-board, trying to get from point A to point B by circling around. Once she got it, though, she was a good sport. I could see the nervousness in her body language, but she got to where she'd use one paw and bang the boom board anyway. She wasn't slamming the board with great enthusiasm like Hawk does, but she knew that to get that treat, she had to make the board go "boom."

Saturday afternoon, Syd and I took a short walk, with leaves flying by, and scary garbage cans sitting curbside at many homes on our street. Lots of attention work, and Syd did pretty good. We had a perfect opportunity to work on reactivity and confidence when we passed a house with just a slight bit of fencing off to the side. A small dog in the backyard barked as we walked by. A neighbor one house down was kind enough to have left his car parked on the street, so it was the perfect set up for Syd. She saw the dog, started whimpering and trying to decide what she was going to do about it. We kept moving and stopped next to the car, which put the barking dog out of sight. I got Syd's attention, and we did c/t for eye contact several times. She even got to feeling comfortable enough to do a spin/twist combination for me. I've discovered that when Syd is way beyond her comfort zone, she is too nervous to do a sit, and no way she'll think about a down when she might need to flee the country in a flash! ;-P So, I'll take a good stand, get back, eye contact, or spin. We'll have to work up to the tougher stuff like sit and down.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fun New Behaviors :-)

Syd is doing an excellent job of working for her meals. Thank goodness she's a dog who thinks kibble is just as exciting as cookies! She is just as enthusiastic about the last bite as the first. I don't thinkthat Syd is getting bored with our limited repertoire of behaviors, but I am!

The cure for both of us is to learn some new behaviors. We've added "jump in the box" where Syd will jump inside a rectangular frame of our stacking box. "Touch" hand targeting, as well as targeting a small paper plate. Pick up the plate, and my new personal favorite "Go through." For this, Syd will run through my legs, and then turn and pop her head back through and look up. Very cute, especially from a smiling, happy girl.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The First Agility Class

Syd had a good day today, and tonight we started her first agility class. Syd has class first, then Hawk has his class directly afterward. I tried to be very calm and not get stressed out about this new adventure with Sydney.

We were just a few minutes late getting to class, and when we entered the room, the two terriers in class erupted in barking. I was able to maintain Sydney's composure and attention, and we moved to the only available seat... directly in between the terriers. ;-}

I went to class prepared. I had a container of hot dogs, a container of Aunt Julie's Liver Brownies, some petrified hot dogs, a container of soft liver treats, and several tug toys that Sydney loves. I could barely zipper our gear bag! I guess I was determined to have whatever I needed to make class fun and hopefully Syd would rather pay attention to me than be afraid of the other dogs. Only once did Sydney have to be re-directed. The other dogs heard something in the next room and started barking. Syd caught eye contact with the Schnauzer, and started to rumble and whimper, all at the same time. I got her attention back pretty quickly, and I was very happy with her reaction.

All in all, I think Syd handled the pressure of her first agility class very well, and I'm glad I kept her enrolled in the class. She was crated in the building for the duration of Hawk's class, and she was pretty relaxed watching another group of new dogs working.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Ray of Sunshine

What a great morning! I'm so proud of Sydney. This morning as she was working for her breakfast, she learned some new "stuff" that she thinks is very very cool. first, she was getting bored with stand, down, back. So, we added "park" (hey, I named her Syd, so SIT doesn't really work for us), "ready" (making eye contact), the beginnings of "front" and "spin." Oh does she love to spin, usually it's more like a bucking bronco flinging around in a circle, and it normally ends in a stamping of the feet in a play bow. But no nasty looks at Savannah (I put her behind the baby gate this time after my major failure yesterday). She did lose attention for a brief moment when her cat walked into the kitchen. Poor Syd is so lonesome without her playmates she just couldn't help herself from snuffling and wagging at the cat. But like a good girl, when I called her back to me, she regained attention very quickly. No matter how the rest of the day goes today, this morning was a giant step forward, and regardless of her insecurities, this dog is so sharp and eager to learn. As our chiropractic vet told me once, I just have to figure out how to make MY agenda Syd's agenda.

This evening was even better. Syd was sharp, focused, and very interested in working for her supper. We even added a "sit pretty" just for fun. At this point, I'm sure Syd will be learning all manner of cute, fun, and completely useless behaviors just because she can, and just to keep her from getting bored. In fact, I think tonight we might even add a box to the mix, and see what she can learn to do! There was no stress from her even though old Savannah was lurking behind the baby gate, giving me the soulful eyes of a Weimaraner who has not eaten in weeks, even though she just finished slurping down her supper not 10 minutes before.

Syd went to conformation class tonight, and that did not go really well, but it wasn't a total disaster. We went last week, and just a few dogs showed up, so it was pretty quiet and relaxed. Tonight, there were several dogs there, and Syd was pretty stressed. For the most part she behaved, but her eyes were red and she was very distracted and uneasy. A cute Harrier puppy tried to initiate play, and Syd got pretty upset, barking but running to the far end of her leash. I only made her stay for about 15 minutes, and made sure that we left on a good note. Hopefully we can chalk this up to a good stress test, and helps us to gauge what Syd is ready for.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

It's a Bad Momma Kinda Day

Well, this morning started off pretty calm. Sydney went outside while everyone else had breakfast. Once that was over, she came in the house on leash and worked for her breakfast. Savannah was still in the house, sitting at the edge of the kitchen entrance, interested in what kind of food was being handed out. She never made eye contact or acknowledged Sydney. And for the first few minutes, Sydney was OK with Savannah's presence. But, as is usual with Syd, at one point, she decided that Savannah was scary and threatening (yes, the old, arthritic Weim frequently looks ferocious- NOT) and Syd took her attention away from me and started to watch Savannah. Watch and more work brought her back to me.
Then Savannah lifted a paw as if to wave, and that was all it took. Sydney started her ugly talk, and well, I failed my dog in the moment. I let everything go out the window, and popped the lead and then dragged her by the leash to another place in the kitchen, her snarling and sliding on the linoleum trying to make eye contact with the oblivious Savannah. I put Syd in a down, using a harsh tone of voice as I "assisted" by putting my hand on her withers. :-( Sigh. Sometimes I wonder. Of course, immediately afterward, I knew that I was mostly mad at myself. I should have put Savannah all the way outside, rather than present an opportunity for Syd to get upset since she's still in the beginning stages of learning to be calm and trust in me. So I guess I'll take the hit in the one step back scorecard, and not penalize Syd's scorecard for something I allowed to happen.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Starting the Sydney Scorecard

OK, so Syd was pretty ugly to her sister and Savannah this morning. I opted to bring her to work with me yesterday and take her for a walk over lunch. Not a loose dog on a flexi type walk. A "listen to your mother, you need to be wherever I am" kind of walk. She did really well on the walk, and behaved like a good girl. As a reward, I did put her on the flexi at the end and tossed her rope toy a few times so she could de-stress. One step forward.

As we returned home yesterday after work, I opened the front door slightly, then in my customary fashion, I slipped off Syd's lead so that she would be free to go into the house, as it's always a tangle of dog tripping me up if I don't. For the first time ever, Syd backed up really quick after a half-step into the house, and took off down the street. I just about could not believe it, she has always been reliable running from the van to the front door, usually standing on the porch barking at me if I'm not quick enough to let her in. argh. I grabbed a bag of treats and headed down the street. I don't know what she thought was out there, but she was sniffing, then hopping, alert about a big evergreen bush about 4 houses down the road. Of course it's almost dark, and the shadows might have been teasing her, who knows. Usually the word "COOKIE" is enough to bring the entire herd running. But Syd was absolutely pre-occupied, and I could not get her attention at all. Very strange, and un-Syd-like. She might be naughty, but she always comes to me for treats and toys. Finally I was able to get close enough so she could smell the treat I had in my extended hand. She came back to the real world, and I scooped her up and carried her home. She didn't seem to be acting strangely at all once I picked her up. One step back.

When we got to the house, everyone else was outside in the back yard. I put Syd on the leash and took her out front for potty. Then put her in her crate to bring in everyone and begin the evening supper ritual. Heat up the chicken and sweet potatoes, get out yogurt, pro-biotic, kelp, supplements, and various other things for each dog's ailments. It takes a while to get everything portioned out and ready to go for the herd. Sydney and Breezy are crated next to each other in wire crates in the kitchen. I use the tops of their crates to set out all the food bowls and prepare their supper. Usually it's a good thing, as they are the happy recipients of anything that I accidentally slop over the edge of a bowl, or chicken pieces that fling off the fork. Last night, Syd was in rare form, and I heard her start to rumble and stare at her sister for no apparent reason. Breezy was laying in her crate, back to Syd, so I don't know what the initial start of the rumbling was. And with Syd, it doesn't really matter what starts it, once she starts, she has a hard time stopping. I opened her crate door to remove her from the situation, and she started posturing at Bree, who was still not facing Syd at all. At that point, I decided Syd was not entitled to the yummy supper festivities, and I escorted her out the back door without a word or a look. Another step back.

Supper proceeded without incident, and all the dogs happily at their home cooked dinner. Syd was bouncing against the back door, and barking to insist she come inside. I waited until she was merely whining under her breath and laying at the door. I greeted her with the slip lead, and let her into the kitchen with me. I had put her home cooked food in a container in the fridge, and got out a small amount of kibble instead. I brought Syd back in the house on her leash, and she stood in the kitchen, with Kane in the vicinity. Syd had to work for her kibble, sit-down-stand-back-watch, no kibble without performing a behavior that I asked for. And, if I gave a down command and the ever-obedient Kane did a down lickety split, I gave him the piece of kibble, which irked Syd to no end. The looks she gave, from Kane then back to me. Syd loves to work, and I'm going to use that to our advantage (I hope). She did all manner of cute behaviors for her supper, and it ended on a good note. The last few bites I got out some of the chicken, and when she did a really fast down, or a balanced stand, she got a jackpot of chicken instead of kibble. Finally, a step forward. Hmm, it seems like we are back to ground zero, in terms of steps. I think that will be typical as we work through this issue. I'll take every bit of forward motion Sydney can muster.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year, New Committment

I've been very dedicated to trying to help Syd get over her reactivity. But I've also avoided taking her places, not wanting to push her beyond her comfort zone. I decided that it was time to start adding more distractions and possible stress into her routine. She's so smart, and follows the program so well, it's time to step up our game.

Conformation classes start again next week, and agility class begins on the 10th. Syd has been several times to both of these buildings, and feels comfortable there. We'll see how it goes, and if it's too much, we'll back off. She loves the agility center, so I am hopeful that she already has lots of good experiences associated there, and the small class setting (just 4 dogs) is OK for her.

Oh, and I can also report that I am now sporting an Xpen in my living room because everyone needs a 4 x 4 Xpen with lid to make the house really sparkle. :-) But, I wanted Syd to graduate from being crated in the kitchen out of the way of all the commotion. So, now she can be in her Xpen, able to stretch her legs a bit more, and be more a part of the family.