Recently I was asked to give my advise to a fellow blogger (a brilliant blogger btw) whose dog Gustavo gives her moments of joy sandwiched between ones of frustration. From what I can tell it is a stress related behaviour and until further advised with a more thorough background by Laura, I am going in that direction with my advise. I decided to dedicate a few posts to Gustavo and Laura not because she is a close friend, nor is she holding any unusual photos of me that I wish to keep private and I am not even doing this in hopes of her adding my blog to her sidebar list of recommended blogs to read. No, the reason I am going to address Gustavo’s issue here is because I don’t think it is just Gustavo’s issue. I think what Laura is experiencing is common to many agility enthusiasts. Plus she has cleared the air about me and a nasty skort rumor.
For a more complete background on Laura and Gustavo you should visit her blog (it is absolutely ridiculously funny so it will be time well spent). For a background on what I consider a “stressing” dog let me just say a dog can stress “high” and get the zoomies or just leave you and start grabbing any obstacle that happens to be nearby (many dogs that stress high tend to grab tunnels if they are anywhere in sight). Other dogs may stress low. A low stressing dog may be more obvious because he will just shut down, or go and visit anyone or anything to avoid doing whatever it is you want him to do. Often times this dog will immediately put his nose to the ground. You may think your dog is usually interested in smells, but really that is an appeasement behaviour dogs use with other dogs they are feeling anxious and are trying to calm the situation.
Before we venture into some long drawn out process of desensitizing your dog, we need to evaluate just one thing. Aaah yeah sorry, it will be a long drawn out process since I sold my last bottle of “Susan Garrett’s Magic De-Stressing Pixie Dust.” So any of you that are prepared to put in the work to help your dog (it is all fun work btw), we first need to decide if you are the one leading your dog to Stress Island? By that I mean, are you taking an unprepared dog to an environment where he is bound to stress high and get the zoomies or low and just shut down or leave you? How do you know if he is unprepared? Video yourself at home. People who lament to me “he does it perfectly at home” may not even realize that their dog has rarely done it perfectly at home. You may think he does because it doesn’t cost you anything to hop him back on the contact or pull him back and re-send him to a weave entry, so the reality of these errors is not as present in your backyard as they are at a trial where you are publicly listed as a NQ.
Once you have videoed yourself running a course at home and know he truly is “perfect,” take me up my $5 challenge. To be really certain he has full understanding of his agility behaviours try the following.
Susan Garrett’s $5 Challenge of Certainty
- Ask 3 people (ideally agility instructors, even better if they are seminar presenters) for 5 of their best weave challenges and 5 of their best contact challenges (ideally with some good handling challenges mixed in). You should now have 15 challenges to try on your dog. It is important that you get all 15 of them from people you don’t normally train with so that the challenges will truly be unique to you.
- Before you attempt any of these challenges ask someone you know to watch you and keep count. Tell them you will give them $5 for every mistake your dog makes. Better yet, get them to watch and send the money to me! If you really believe in Mr. Perfection at the home, this little challenge should not bother the dog however it may put pressure on you. We need this pressure to get a true evaluation of where the weakness lies.
One of three things will happen here. One, you will both be perfect and you will not own any money to anyone and we will know it is a trial stress issue. Two, you will be anxious with the added pressure of the money and someone watching. Your anxiety will cause you to screw up or your dog to stress and we will know it is a mental prep issue. Three you will be brilliant but your dog will just be unable to nail the challenges (which points entirely at your dog training).
Either way you will have an answer. Do not cheat. Do not practice any of the elements of the challenges a head of time otherwise you negate the test and you will never really know with any certainity where the source of your dog’s stress is coming from. For the rest of your life their will be a void inside of you, a question left unanswered, a destiny left unfilled, all because you could not be honest with yourself. Okay, maybe not but it would be really cool to know the reason why wouldn’t it?
What’s that? You aren’t willing to put your training up to the $5 challenge? Hmmm then why the heck are you spending hundreds of dollars a weekend to trial a dog that isn’t ready for a stranger’s evaluation of your home training skills while others stand by and watch? Get my drift? Train your dog first before you put him in a weekend trial. It is only fair to the dog you love. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
Once you have completed the challenge and passed (I would say a score of 12 of 15 is a pass) then we can look at other sources for your dog’s stress at a trial (so I will give you a chance to try this before we roll up our sleeves for more).
Today I am grateful for the chance to get together with my family tonight as my niece Amy is getting married so family coming to town!