Back on Track

Ah, my Red Dog and I are back!

Brady at Wanda's*

Two gloriously smooth and quiet runs Friday afternoon with Brady at this weekend’s CPE trial. Not a single argument about anything, not even the table. Simply perfect.

Brady dislikes the table. In CPE, the table stops the time on the games. Brady would much rather the game go on. In fact, I feel a bit bad for him sometimes when we play in CPE. The courses in many of the CPE games courses are frighteningly short – as in nine to 12 obstacles at times. While that was a fantastic thing for Jasmine, who wasn’t a big fan of the agility thing and could become easily bored or disengaged – for Brady this is a horrible thing. Brady loves long courses. The more obstacles the better. And I don’t think it’s simply due to his long stride and love of running, although I’m sure that plays a factor. I think it’s because he honestly loves to play agility.

I was actually fairly nervous walking him into the ring and up to the line for the first run. The run, a jumpers course, had a tricky bit right at the beginning, although the rest had a very smooth flow that I knew Brady and I could easily handle. But there was a straightaway at the end too that we’ve been having a fair amount of trouble with of late.

No problems.

The tricky bit of the course right at the start seemed a recipe for an argument. But I calmed myself with the thought that it wasn’t anything Brady and I had not seen before and that we completely had the skills to carry it out, especially if I held up my end of the bargain and handled it properly. Therefore, I walked into the ring telling myself to breath and to be confident within myself and with my dog. In other words, trust my dog and trust myself.

And it flowed beautifully. Even at the end, a straightaway where Brady typically looks back at me and argues about me being far behind, worked. Mainly because I held pressure at precisely the point in his path that he needed it and did not waiver. He did glance back at the part he usually does, but saw the pressure being held and reacted accordingly by moving forward. Intent means everything to Brady.

It’s a lesson my dogs are always trying to teach me. I go in with lack of confidence, other things on my mind, not being into that day – basically a lack of intent, and my dogs know it, especially the younger three. I think that feeling of intent is something most dogs need, but with the border collies, it’s almost imperative.

Brady and I have been having relationship woes on agility courses for the last few trials.

Although we train outdoors, on dirt or hog fuel, Brady sometimes has difficultly maintaining his composure in outdoors trials. At least more often as of late than at indoor arenas. Part of this is my fault. Until this year, when I found some awesome trail running shoes, I’ve not been particularly confident about running on grass. It’s often slippery and I adjust my handling accordingly. It’s also often slippery for the dogs, and I saw at a trial a couple of weeks ago how Brady adjusted himself to the conditions after slipping a bit going into a weave pole entry..

Brady’s frustrations, usually with me and my late cues or handling choices, lead to what I call arguments on course. At best, that means an excessive amount of barking – often stopping in the middle of the run to come over to me and shout his displeasure. At worse, Brady exhibits his pissedness in a nip at me. Not good. Especially not nice to my legs.

The thing is, he’s often not wrong to be displeased. However, the expression of displeasure is another thing. Arguments shouldn’t ramp up from a shouting match to biting. That’s just not very civilized.

I can’t do a lot about this at trials, except to walk him off. Sometimes that has an effect, especially when I catch him in time. But at other times he’s so wired that he can’t get past the event that triggered his explosion. And Brady holds grudges.

Because of this pattern over the past few weeks, Brady slipped and this past week did something he doesn’t usually do in our weekly agility lessons. He attempted a serious nip at me.

In fact, he charged me full face forward and a tooth hit my kneecap. My timing for once was perfect. I cried out in surprise (the pain always hits after, as in way afterward because of the adrenaline), stopped what we were doing immediately and walked him down. The walk down is a serious, almost foot stomping walk, full of intent, and right into the dog’s space. There is no mistaking the walk down. When I do the walk down, every single one of my dogs knows I mean business. Serious business. I made my eyes hard and flashed them at Brady and grabbed him by the collar, a little tightly, but not with any pinching, and firmly and assertively marched him back to the crating area. The important thing about the walk down is silence. Total and deadly silence. I then placed him firmly in his crate, closed the door and walked away.

Then I breathed. It’s important to not hold on to any anger. Dogs understand a quick flash of temper, but when you observe dogs interacting together, corrections are quick and dogs don’t hold on to them. If they do, something is seriously wrong.

I had Brady wait out the next run. That allows him to think about what just happened and gives me time to simmer down so I don’t go out in a mood. Training should never be done in a mood.

When he came out, I petted him softly and we continued our session. We had wobbles with the sections we were working on, but I made sure to reward him often for  parts he did correctly and broke down the parts he was having difficulty with and rewarded for those bits until it became a whole. I also made a very conscious decision at the end to not complicate anything and try a bit that everyone else – including me with Youke – was working, and kept it very simple at the end. Then we ended with a huge game of tug, his favorite way to celebrate.

The eye flash and walk down are pretty much the most serious corrections I can give any of my four dogs. Usually all it takes is a sharp announcement of their names and an eye flash to stop something naughty. The use of pressure, the walk down, takes it to the next level. Unless I’m breaking up a serious dog fight (which thankfully I’ve only had to do less than a handful of times in my life) that’s about as serious as it gets, coupled with taking away or walking away from something of value (in Brady’s case, walking him off from doing agility).

BeachJulyBrady It’s pretty hard to stay mad or frustrated at this. So much sweet, adorable muppetness in such a tightly wound, unforgiving furry body.

And this is why I follow a philosophy that if a correction must be made, it should be quick and appropriate to the situation. it should make the point, but not belabor it. It should not be unnecessarily harsh, nor should it be physical in most instances. And it’s important to immediately move on. Now, if only I could somehow teach Brady this.

* Photo taken a few weeks ago by Erich Simon.

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