Agility Stress?

Discussion in 'Agility and Dog Sports' started by rudysgal, Jan 16, 2013.

  1. rudysgal

    rudysgal New Member

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    Hello Chaz People. I've been reading up on Chaz the past few months, and since a lot of you are into dog sports, I was wondering if any of you have experienced anything like what I'm about to describe with your own dogs, and if it's something we can work through or if this is obviously too stressful.

    Background: Rudy, 2 year old jrt x chihuahua, has completed three levels of agility class and enjoys practising weekly at our local agility "club" just him and me.

    The problem is, I have put him in a new class at a new place and, while he was fine last week, these trainers are pretty hardcore, and I think the environment stresses him out. He's started putting on the brakes in the middle of the course and refusing to budge (he's off-leash), throwing out a lot of calming signals like intense sniffing and distraction, and this class he shook (and he's generally not your stereotypical shakey chihuahua).

    My question is this - is experiencing agility stress to some extent normal? Or is this a sign we should throw in the towel? Is there something I can do to remedy the situation and make him more comfortable or is this particular environment just not meshing well with him? This is only our second class with this new club, and the last class he did GREAT (though we didn't do as much).

    What would you do? I feel like he's telling me he wants to stop, but perhaps I'm being a wee bit over protective since the last class wasn't like this. I'm kind of afraid to put him through it again though if we experience another class like the one today.

    PS by "hardcore" I don't mean cruel. They just really encourage you to continue moving (agility is a fluid sport, as they say). Rudy seems happier when I go slow and treat tons along the way.
     
  2. Flyinsbt

    Flyinsbt New Member

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    It does sound like he's stressing. Probably due to the new environment. It's not uncommon at all for a dog to feel stressed about working in a new place.

    What I would do to deal with this is quick and fun. You don't want to go slow, because that isn't the behavior you want longterm. But he needs plenty of positive feedback. So I'd stop and reward frequently. Really frequently. Every obstacle, if that's what it takes. Certainly, not more than a few obstacles in a row before he gets rewarded.

    Eventually, you should be able to go a little further between rewards, but really, most of the time you are working, you should be breaking it up so that the dog is frequently rewarded. Preferably, when they are moving quickly, so the dog knows that is what you want. Right now, since he's showing you that he finds the change a bit stressful, I'd want to back it down and make his criteria simpler, so the rewards should come easily.
     
  3. adojrts

    adojrts New Member

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    Yep, stress. My first question would be what does he know and how well does he know it? Is he being over faced?
    And agility is a fluid sport, but you don't keep moving if things are not going right. Short micro (1 or 2 obstacles if need be) sessions that are light, full energy and fun are better than longer, slower, stressed sessions or sequences. Of course that is also assuming that you and your dog are ready for sequencing.
    What do you mean 'off leash'? Was a lot of your former training for agility including obstacles on leash? If so you need to start over at the beginning, because if it was on leash, I would highly doubt he or you has the skills to be doing it off leash or sequences now.

    Another thing, make sure your not making 'sighs' or any kind of a negative sound or body language when something goes wrong or a mistake happens. With some dogs that is the death of them and will shut them down in a heartbeat. Doesn't matter if it is your mistake or the dogs, put a smile on your face and get over it. Mistakes happen and they happen to everyone and thing.
    There are a lot of dogs that don't like to make a mistake and we have to teach them that failures are ok and to bounce back from them.
    Beware of drilling, low motivated dogs wont take a lot of repeat sequences, piece work or exercises. Some dogs will think that if you keep doing it and it was right the first couple of times, that something is wrong........they are doing 'it' right and shut down. My golden rule is 2-3 times doing something, right or wrong, then we move onto something else. If it wasn't going right, I'll put my dog up or the students dog and we figure out how to fix it without the dog.
    Some dogs also don't like unclear or inconsistant information, therefore you may need to look at what you are doing, how your doing it and hopefully you have an instructor that can see the little consistancies and help you fix them.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2013
  4. Kilter

    Kilter New Member

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    I would go back to doing what works, or seeing if the instructors can modify things to make him more successful. It may mean doing two things then rewarding when the rest of the class is doing half a course, but if it gets him happy, do it.

    I know lots of handlers with 'cheerleader dogs' where they have to reward and reward over everything and be the cheerleader the whole way. With those dogs pushing for speed and getting aggressive as far as running hard just shuts the dogs down quickly, they don't like it. Some handlers will even modify the course if they see their dog isn't 'up' and run a loop and end it vs. doing a course their dog is going to hate, food for thought.

    Not every dog can be run the exact same way either, so if the instructors tell you that, don't listen. If they haven't seen him before they may not realize he's shut down either, been there done that.
     
  5. Aleron

    Aleron New Member

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  6. rudysgal

    rudysgal New Member

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    Wow. Thank you so much. I'm sorry about the very rude late response. I read the suggestions and comments the day after and wanted some time to digest, and then life got in the way.

    As far as how well does he know it... I would say pretty well. We've done 3 ' levels' plus extra classes. But I guess the reality is, he doesn't enjoy agility when other dogs are present. When we go to the training space for an hour on Fridays and we are all alone? Loves it. But the older he gets the more pressure he seems to feel to perform and the more he shuts down.

    The cheerleader dogs comment was very interesting.

    We have left the training that wasn't working and enrolled in a light, just for fun rally type class where everyone is so laid back and calm. He's still a little weirded out for some reason by the space (he doesn't like that the black floor matting doesn't line up perfectly and he's worried about stepping on the cracks) but he hasn't shut down yet and seems to be enjoying himself, which was my goal.

    Thank you four again so much for helping me make my decision. Hopefully I didn't wear out my welcome with the late response.
     
  7. Laurelin

    Laurelin I'm All Ears

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    Honestly, I wouldn't give up on agility but I would back track on it. 3 levels of classes means totally different things depending on what trainer you're going to. I've done 3 or more levels of classes now at 3 different trainers who teach totally different ways. 2 were not very good (started on a leash and directly on equipment) then I moved over to this new place, which is very competition oriented. I wanted to put summer in a more advanced class here since she 'can do a whole course' and I'm very very glad i started from scratch. We went from being in the most advanced class at her old place to starting completely at baby-dog foundations classes here. Even though she could do all the obstacles, she didn't have the foundation or the drive worked in between them.

    To me it sounds like he needs good foundation work and drive building. He does sound stressy but drive can work you through all that. To give you an idea, I've been at this almost a year at the new place. We still haven't done a very long course- about 6 obstacles at most. Lots of the work is driving forward to a target, when to collect, cik and cap, exercises on front and rear crosses, threadles, etc.

    When I was at my old place, Summer was totally disinterested. She walked most the course. She was 6 and I figured she was too old or telling me she wanted to quit. Nowadays, she's the fastest, most eager dog in her class. And she's 9. Training methods can make a world of difference.
     
  8. DJEtzel

    DJEtzel New Member

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    It sounds like along with some drive, he could use some more confidence around other dogs. Does he typically show any reactivity or nervousness in big crowds of dogs? Being little, he can be intimidated by other dogs in the class very easily. You may want to let him watch from a safe place like a lap or crate for a class and reward a lot for calm, interested behavior, then try working with him SLOWLY (talk to your instructors about this, if they don't understand and aren't willing to work with you, you should probably find another instructor) and building his drive and confidence some more.
     
  9. rudysgal

    rudysgal New Member

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    Thank you for this perspective because the Rudes sounds just like how your summer used to be. And it's probably true that we have never experienced any proper foundation training. Question as well because I have seen a lot of you on this MSG board talk about drive... How does one build drive?
     
  10. rudysgal

    rudysgal New Member

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    Thanks for the post. Yes you are very right... He is reactive. NOT aggressive, he goes out of his way to get away from other dogs, but if they get in his space he bares his teeth and shrieks. So I do think that with the place that wasn't working, it was too big with too many dogs and loud voices and stimuli.
     
  11. Laurelin

    Laurelin I'm All Ears

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    Neither of my dogs like other dogs in their space. That's perfectly fine/normal.

    There's a lot of drive building games you can do. Does he like toys or food? Playing with toys is a great way- tug, ball, etc.

    We do a lot of sit run sit. Targetting. Building drive to a target. Restrained recalls. I am sure someone will have a link to something.

    Honestly, I had given up on Summer but I am SO GLAD we tried it again this new way. She's having a blast.

    If the training facility you're at has a foundations/flatwork class then I'd try to get in that.
     
  12. Kyllobernese

    Kyllobernese Member

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    I started doing Agility with Kiska when she was four years old. She never really had a good foundation, I did it more to help her confidence and it did do that. She did get three Q's ( Gamblers, Jumpers and Snooker) which was at an indoor trial. Most of our trials are outdoors and I soon found she was shutting down, would just stand and not move on. As there is only one indoor trial a year I decided to retire her and start over with my young dog. I don't doubt if I had really worked at it I could have gone on with her but as she obviously was not enjoying it I quit with her. Probably if I had not had a younger dog in training, plus Remmy, I would have tried a little harder with her.
     
  13. BostonBanker

    BostonBanker Active Member

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    I agree that, if you want to do agility, you don't need to give up. Some dogs need very different things to get comfortable with agility, and you may need to find that trainer who is willing to help you with a dog that doesn't fit the normal mold.

    I've posted about my stress-case agility dog, Meg, quite a bit. She was extremely difficult to get excited about agility. Just a soft-tempered worrier at heart. But she was my only dog at the time, and I wanted to do agility, so we worked like crazy at it.

    Some bits of advice that really helped us - some of which I got right here on this board!

    - Ado already said it, but don't "just keep trying" if something isn't working. For a long time, Meg couldn't take being wrong more than once. She'd try, and if I made her try again, she'd quit. Take a break, do a trick, play a game, do something you can reward your dog for, and then go back to it. Make what you are asking easier.

    - Speaking of which - make things easy. So easy it feels stupid. Do a jump to a straight tunnel, and pump up your dog and see how fast you can get it and reward like crazy. Speed circles are great too - just a very simple circle of jumps, or jumps and tunnels where the dog stays on the same side of you. Any time you see the slightest increase in speed and confidence, have a party and reward.

    - Play with your dog. Constantly. Before you go to the start, while jumps are being adjusted, after you are done. Whatever silly game your dog likes. Meg's favorite? She loved when I'd meow (yes, I looked like a fool). I'd meow, say "Where's the kitty?!" and she'd get so excited she could barely contain herself. Teach silly, fast tricks like spinning or jumping up at you or barking on command. Gusto likes it when I smack the floor and let him jump at my hands. Anything that makes your dog excited. My rule with my dogs is that if they are out of the crate at agility, I'm engaged with them and playing. If I want to stop and change the course, chat with someone, check my phone, discuss what went wrong with a course - they go back in the crate. They know when they come out of the crate, it is time to put their game face on! And more importantly with my two dogs - they know I've got my game face on too. Nothing stinks more than feeling like you are giving 100% to the team, and your partner is slacking.

    - Figure out how your dog likes you to run. This was something I had to figure out on my own, because I constantly heard "If you want your dog to run faster, you need to run faster!". Now, that works for Gusto. If I get ahead of him, it turns into a big game of chase. For Ms. Softy Meg? It just undermined her confidence. I can be a bit ahead of her, but she gets worried and freaked out if I'm blasting off without her. It's hard for me to remember when I swap out my dogs that I need to wait for her a bit!

    - Be willing to adjust the rules if you need to. Again, this was something I had to work out, and I might get smacked down for saying it. I'll preach "Maintain your Criteria!" until the cows come home for some dogs (including my younger dog Gusto), but with Meg, I had to be willing to compromise. At home and practices, she has a bombproof start line. She sets up between my legs on one cue, sits and holds it. I can proof it out by throwing food, running off, having other dogs and people move around - anything. At trials? It doesn't happen. The busy atmosphere, the extreme pressure of the dogs on the line behind her - it's just too much. I could try to work it out and force her to maintain my start line criteria, but instead I compromise. She can do a stand stay as long as her feet stay still until she's released. Could it be proofed out? Probably. But it would turn her start line into a stressful place, and it isn't worth it to me. The woman who helped me with Meg from day one said "For a dog who is bonded to you and highly worried, there is no greater nightmare then you leading them out into a field surrounded by strange dogs and people and objects - then asking them to stay by themselves while you leave." I pick my battles.

    I think the biggest thing for me and my dogs is the playing and getting them pumped up. If my dog isn't acting excited and revved up, we don't even go to the equipment. At this point in her life, Meg rarely takes more than a minute to get ready. She knows the game. Gusto is still such a baby, sometimes we will use up half our time on course in classes or practices before I even get his leash off him. Tugging, spinning, jumping - whatever it takes. If your dog doesn't like those games (Meg doesn't) another one that worked well for her was to hold her back by the chest, throw a treat out ahead of her and say "Ready? Ready?" until she was pumped and straining to break loose for the treat, then give her the release word and let her run to the treat.
     
  14. adojrts

    adojrts New Member

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    BEST POST, PERIOD.

    Nicely done, BB. Excellent information and advise.
     
  15. Emily

    Emily Rollin' with my bitches

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    Fantastic post.

    OP, you should check out Sylvia Trkman's video Ready Steady Go. It's basically what BB told you in lots of detail. She has all sorts of fun, practical advice for getting your dog geared up for agility, esp about building that really fun relationship.
     
  16. Kimbers

    Kimbers New Member

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    Agree with what everyone's been posting. (Actually, this thread is great inspiration for working with Kailey.)

    Just one thing to add, though. If your dog is stressing heavily, working on being calm and content should come before drive. If your dog is just a teencey bit unsure, uninterested, or uncomfortable with a situation, doing drive work and being their cheerleader should boost them up their drive and chase away their worries. But if your dog is so stressed in an environment that it shuts down and doesn't want to work, you'll need to do some work with getting them comfortable before you add drive to the equation. Remember, you build drive brick by brick. But before you can even start building, you need a level surface, ie a calm, unstressed dog. (Hope that makes sense.)

    Oh, and one more thing. Shaping games are great for confidence for some dogs. Worked wonders with Kailey, who used to act almost exactly like what you described. The dog has to puzzle through, learning to deal with being wrong and not getting a reward. They don't get any sort of negative reinforcement, though, so it shouldn't be stressful. It's a fun game that teaches the value with working with you as the dog's handler and keeping at something even if it takes a while to get it right.

    Other than that, I have nothing to add. BB pretty much covered it all. Just work on reading your dog's body language and remember that you guys are individuals who need to move at your own individual pace.
     

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