Agility Ups and Downs

The Toller had a short day at the USDAA trial this Saturday.  Many pros but also one big check on the negative side.

Gamblers- NQ
It took awhile for Vito to start tugging with me in our warm up, although he still remained engaged with me and wanted butt rubs.  He did a great job of entering the ring and not staring at anybody, even though I actually set him up facing the timer and scribe.  We all had to start with that jump and I wanted to do the dogwalk second but it was really bad approach if you started from the traditional side.  I was the only person to start from the opposite side but the wrap made it a perfect approach and there were several dogs who slipped when started the other way and weren't fully trained in squaring up.
Anyway, I was really happy with run!  Vito seemed really confident with some decent speed for him!  I unfortunately didn't do a smooth rear cross to the gamble, got too close to the line, and I knew Vito would turn in to me after doing the chute since we almost NEVER practice the chute.  So he crossed the line and while I was successful in sending him back out we were .24 seconds over time.

Standard- Q
Our warm up was still a bit slow to start getting into it, but then he really got excited.
The opening was almost identical to my gamblers opening and Vito ran the dogwalk even more confidently.  It was beautiful!  He did slow down in the weaves but recovered after the table.  Vito actually slid into his automatic down for the first time in a trial, but didn't quite get his elbows 100% down so still needed my verbal cue.  I was super happy with this run!

Pairs- Q
Disaster.  I used Vito's tennis ball in warming up which he really enjoyed.  But right before entering he stared at a man watching the ring.  He didn't react, but Vito got excited like he thought he knew the person at first and then just stared when he realized he didn't.  I thought I had him as we entered
and took off his leash to set him up but then Vito transferred his fixation to a ring worker (female) sitting at the 2nd obstacle (the chute).  Major reactive barking.  Since they were still setting bars I tried moving away and Vito easily came with me but still tried to bark and stare past me as I body blocked.  I moved again but it didnt' help.  The "go" button was pressed as I crouched down in front of him and my brain froze as I was trying to decide what to do.  Vito decided for me as he took of barking at the worker although did take the first jump.  He rushed her and then excitedly jumped on her.  She ignored him and I was able to call him back to me after about 5 seconds.  He then did the chute which was right there but barked again and curled back to go another few feet to her.  This time he came back almost immediately and was very fast and focused as he finished the rest of the very short course which even included the teeter.  He did a great down as I passed the baton to my partner.  Since she was clean and fast we managed to qualify.

I have no idea what triggered the huge difference in the last run versus the first one.  He was a bit more excited from his ball versus tugging, but not too much more since it's not like he gets ball obsessive at trials like he does in other places.  It had been 7 hours since he has his Clonidine which is right at the point where it wears off for him.

I have no idea what I should have done on that last run even if my brain had kicked in before Vito decided for me.  I see 2 options.  #1) Try and get him back, but accept the fact that Vito needs to check out the person and then finish the course or a short sequence afterwards to show him that it's no big deal and agility is fun.  I know that there is no risk of Vito harming the other person.  #2) Immediately re-leash Vito and pull him from the course as he's barking.  According to my notes, Vito has reacted at an agility trial 7 times, including Saturday's, and 1 time at an obedience trial.  2 of them have been to his Daddy who he suddenly notices watching.  1 of them was to the spot where he thought his Daddy was standing but really nobody was there (and it was more mild barking and jumping at the wall since he couldn't react to anybody.)  2 of the episodes have been to judges where Vito will react at the start line but will run the course until he gets to judge's location.  And then there was 1 mild barking episode to a leash runner and Saturday's big episode to a worker.  Our 1 obedience episode was to a loud dog and handler warming up right at the ring entrance.  There have been a handful of other times that Vito has stared at people in the ring and outside of the ring without reacting or running up to but it is still not a common occurrence.  If I do notice Vito staring at someone outside the ring, I have been successful at getting Vito to calmly walk up the person and get cookies for hanging out near them.  Once we get close he takes a quick sniff and is fine.  I don't think he has ever done reactive barking outside of the ring at a trial, but if he does get in reactive mode it is impossible to get him back without backing up to a very far distance or alternatively letting him approach the person despite his barking.

So, any advice if it were to happen again?  Any advice on what to do with Vito in general?

The pairs run was unfortunately not videotaped but I do have footage of our gamblers and half our standard run:

47  – ( February 19, 2012 at 11:24 PM )  

This is the second agility person blog I've found today! I'm so excited to meet you and your dogs. ^^ Sorry about pairs. Have you ever read Control Unleashed? Its geared toward agility dogs and really helped me. Just a thought.

andrea  – ( February 20, 2012 at 8:07 AM )  

Nice runs!! that dog walk is a thing of beauty for sure ..

With the reactivity as you know he won't hurt anybody i think his choice to go investigate the person was probably a sound one - good of her not to react at all - it's tough cause I know he's a bit stressy anyhow or I'd say try to have him see as many people doing weird things as possible - I'm sure her fluffing the chute is what caught his attention for her specifically

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( February 20, 2012 at 8:37 AM )  

Thank you 47! I love reading other peoples adventures in dog sports :)

I am very familiar with Controlled Unleashed and know it's very beneficial for many dogs. I'm just not sure it's the right fit for Vito's issues, unless he is actually in the midst of a possible reactive episode. Most of Vito's anxieties did not start until, or severely increased, when he hit 2yrs old. Despite his anxieties he really enjoys people and can truly relax in many environments.

While it is hard for him to calm down once he gets overstimulated as it then turns into anxiety, I am not seeing that occur at agility or obedience trials. The environment itself seems fine for him as he has grown up in it. His people reactivity is usually non existent but is much more likely to happen inside the ring or just outside of it. Half the time it starts when he sees somebody that he thinks he knows, or actually knows. The other half is Vito feeling a ton of pressure from an audience watching him. Usually that pressure just turns into a slower, less confidence performance and does not turn into reactivity. Since he has overall improved with his speed/confidence in the agility ring this last year I think he is starting to feel less worried. The obedience ring can still be a different story. So long back story coming to a close, I'm just not sure how to apply CU principles to Vito.

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( February 20, 2012 at 8:39 AM )  

Andrea- I think that's a great idea to start doing more stuff in class with him. 99% of the time he has no reactivity in class but does occasionally run a bit slower. I have been working on increasing his drive in class, mainly by just figuring out that right warm up routine. But perhaps he is ready for some light pressure of people standing near obstacles or sitting on the floor. I know in obedience my dogs might be a bit hesitant when first introducing a distraction but then they work even harder with the added confidence they gain because of it!

Donna and the Dogs  – ( February 20, 2012 at 11:39 AM )  

Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I passed along the Versatile Blogger Award to you today at: http://www.donnaandthedogsblog.com/blogengine/post/A-Few-Fairly-New-%28and-some-overdue%29-Awards.aspx

Loretta Mueller  – ( February 20, 2012 at 1:37 PM )  

Distraction training and more distraction training...Gator will alarm bark and people, no set reason...I will redirect or even take him out of the situation if I can (I know in the ring you can't)...TONS AND TONS OF TRICKS in the ring...keep him as busy as you possibly can. If he is busy he won't be reacting (I know you are doing this i am SURE!!)...High drive for sure puts them "on the edge" so that makes sense to me he would be more reactive...Work your recalls, make them SOLID solid solid...reward and make it so automatic that when he IS being reactive you can recall him and he will be very happy to do it. I'm rambling...sorry...but Gator used to be just like that...I swear. He is great now as you can see.

Autumn  – ( February 21, 2012 at 3:13 PM )  

I don't have a ton of advice on the reactive barking, but I would like to comment that it has happened to me too with my BC mix. She is young and has only done this a few times at trials, but with experience and time, it has gotten a lot better. Her barking was very similar - she got fixated on a spectator with a camera (I think the camera was the trigger) and then it transferred to the leash runner. When the run started, she was clearly still fixated, but did a couple of obstacles. Then while on the DW, she turned around, jumped off the DW and alert barked at the leash runner. Same situation - she wasn't going to harm the person (she is normally very friendly towards people) and the leash runner was very cool about it. I ended up taking her off the course and gave her some crate time. That never happened again for the rest of the day.

My take on it was that she got into this obsessive mode and just needed some crate time to snap out of it. We've done some distraction training in class and over time, this has happened less and less. I think it's just a matter of her figuring out the world and getting exposed to new things (like people with cameras). It's tough to correct when the reactive episodes are not consistent. But I think in Vito's case too, time and distraction training will help it resolve in the long run!

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