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Improving Showmanship for the Reticent Dog:
The Brett Chronicles

By Barb Hoffman
Introduction by Jon Kimes

This is a brief history of the effort made to better socialize Brett, an outstanding Cardigan who was ringshy.  I brought Brett home at 10 weeks and by all appearances he seemed a happy, well socialized puppy.  He had ample “house” time running about the house, playing with toys, being held and watching television.  What was “strange” about him was that I always felt oddly disconnected to him.  He would sleep on the bed but made no attempt to make physical contact with me.  It was as if he tolerated sharing his space but I was unimportant.

At about 16 weeks I decided to take Brett to visit the outside world.  I took him to a favorite outdoor shopping district.  Based on his home performance, I expected nothing more than perhaps the usual puppy anxiety which is quickly overcome in most instances.  But it was immediately apparent he was more than just a little awestruck; Brett seemed simply overwrought by everything.  Passersby frightened him, the sounds of buses, motorcycles, and helicopters concerned him.  Boys playing volleyball in the park frightened him.  It was the first of many, many trips to the area to acclimate him to all the things that happen in life. 

I became extremely tuned-in to Brett as I intensely focused on him during these trips.  It seemed every single new experience was a challenge with which he had to observe, analyze and determine whether this was something that was OK or something to be avoided. I, myself, became attuned to every possible input which could bother him.  He took nothing for granted and nothing in his stride.  Even when I took a companion playmate of his, when the other dog was straining at the lead to be petted by strangers, Brett would sit as far away as possible and usually positioned himself to be pointed the opposite way. 

He eventually, in a strange way, seemed to like his stroll around the Plaza, pulling at the lead as he made his way.  But on no account was he amenable to strangers stopping to pet him.  It seemed to me we had gone a certain distance at socializing him and we were able to gain his championship with his barely passable ring manners.  But whatever else I did, it seemed there was a brick wall - I couldn’t do anything more.

At about 20 months of age, Brett went back to Canada to Barb.  The following is a chronicle of the activities she put him through in an effort to increase his self-confidence.  We both felt making this information available on the website could help others who have dogs which are a similar challenge.  As Barb continues to work with him, we will add to his chronicles.

Below are Barb’s words:

June 4, 2008

Just thought I'd give you a Brett update.  We went to Sue's yesterday to take her some agility equipment.  Took Brett with us as I'm trying to get him out as much as possible.  While we were there I thought I'd see if he was interested in agility.  Sue had some of the equipment set up.  It took him only 2 tries to know that "over" meant go over the jump.  One try to go through the tire, one try to goaqility up onto the table and sit.  He went through 6 upright weave poles with only one mistake, and that was mine because I got too far ahead of him.  And he was wagging his tail and wanting to do it all again! 
I had him on lead of course, but the lead was loose the entire time.  The jumps are set really low for practice, just about 4 inches off the ground and I wouldn't want to do it seriously with him because of the hip issue, but I think we'll go out a couple of times a month and train him.  Agility really does wonders for some dogs' confidence so it might help him in that regard.  Anyway, we were all very impressed with his response. 

June 27, 2008

I'm going to do a conformation class at Sue's.  She's got that nice big fenced field and no one is doing class for the summer.  So I've got about 7 dogs so far.  It will pay for my gas to take Brett for agility.  He really enjoyed himself last night but there was no way he was going through that tunnel.  We'll just take it slow.

July 2, 2008

Sue does "Agility for Confidence" at 5:30 and I have Brett in that.  He does the low jumps, short broad jump, dog walk and weave poles now.  He still won't do the tunnel - we'll work on that in a couple of weeks.  Then we have the conformation from 7 to 8.  Lennox got to be in an ex pen and agilitywatch the festivities.  He barked like crazy for a few minutes and then settled down.  He's so good with other dogs and people and there's a woman who brings her 3 year old which is also good for all the dogs.
I put Brett in a crate in the van with the door open so that he could watch.  Next week I'll put him closer in the ex pen with Lennox (a Cardi puppy).  Got to go slow with that lad.
July 23, 2008

I took Brett to agility last night.  It was the first time he was actually eager to get out of the crate - up to now I've had to pull him out, everywhere we've gone.  He was smiling and I had to grab him quick to prevent him leaping out.  He got out wagging his tail and prancing.  The conformation class was small because many of the people who usually come are camping at the local circuit and are busy. So I got to work with him and had different people move him around and go over him and walk into his space.  The personal space is definitely shrinking so that's hopeful. He actually invited one of the people who was sitting on the ground to play which shocked the hell out of me! 
July 31, 2008

Another Brett update.  As you've probably gathered, Brett is my "project.” 
Anyway, he did great at "confidence" class on Tuesday.  Sue put different things of different textures and colours on the agility field along with the jumps.  She had a yellow rubber tarp, a green plastic garbage bag, a big wood board with a pebbly surface.  Also new was a small broad jump and large orange traffic cones arranged like a tunnel that he had to walk through.  And the tire jump.  The first time he balked slightly at everything which is what we expected he would probably do, but he did it aagility bit reluctantly.  He really didn't like the garbage bag and jumped over it.  The second time around he walked over everything without hesitation except the garbage bag which he jumped over again.  Sue and I started just talking and walking nonchalantly over to the garbage bag and her and I just stood on it talking.  Then we made another lap and he walked over the garbage bag!  Praise be! 
Yesterday we had company, a woman and her brother who have a litterbrother of Brodie.  Of course Brett got along fine with Danny the Cardi and after 10 minutes of just standing chatting with Leslie and Steve he went to Steve and got pets, then went to Leslie and got pets, then back to Steve, sat right close in front of him looking up for more pets. 
He hasn't wanted to play with toys since he came, and when I'd throw the ball or a toy he'd flinch and then just look at me like I was out of my mind and walk away or jump up on me.  Every once in a while I try to get him to play.  This morning thought I'd give it a whirl again while I was having my coffee.  Lo and behold he ran and got the toy and brought it back to me.  He did that several times, then started shaking it and throwing it up in the air.  How cool is that! 
He loves Lennox and is so tolerant of him.  Lennox is a little terror.  Brett is just the best babysitter, so patient, but eventually he'll sort him out but always in a firm but gentle way.  Lennox is absolutely fearless and I think he's been so good for Brett.  Lennox goes to classes with us too and watches from the ex-pen.  When I start my conformation class after agility Brett goes in the pen with him.  Sometimes Sue takes him out and joins the class.  Last week she took Flash instead.  Brett was jumping around wanting to go with her.  For the second week in a row he was eager to get out of the crate when we got there and this week he was reluctant to get back into the crate to leave!

August 1, 2008

Usually if there's something blocking a doorway he won't go near it.  In a way that's good.  I never have to secure the gates or even put them right across the opening because he won't go past if he tries and it touches him, even if I try to coax him.  Yesterday, I purposely left the door from the kitchen to the kennel open and didn't put the gate across. (He likes to go out there and mark in front of the males' kennels, so there's a good motivator!)  I put an empty laundry basket in the middle of the doorway so that it would touch him if he tried to get by.  A few minutes later the laundry basket was pushed aside agilityand he wasn't in the kitchen.  I put the basket back in the middle and called him from the kitchen.  He popped around the corner and trotted up to the doorway.  Tried to gingerly get by both sides but couldn't without touching the basket.  He backed up a couple of steps.  There was no body language that indicated fear.  I called him again and he pushed the basket out of the way and came to me tail wagging!  I had to mop up the kennel again, but hey, it's a small price!
This morning I thought I'd try the toy playing again.  As I was looking in the basket to see what toy I'd take out he was watching me.  He went to the basket and took out a toy himself!   I took it, squeaked it and threw it.  He ran to get it. He was happy, tail was wagging, absolutely no flinching, ears up.  We have a fish toy with one of those recording boxes in it that makes a musical tinkling noise to approximate water falling I guess.  Anyway I activated the sound and he perked up and barked at it, but no flinching.  I threw it and he went right after it.  I repeated that with several toys with squeakers in them and noise boxes and he retrieved them all.  I guess he was curious about the noise because he stopped bringing them back to me and started chomping on them until he hit the noise maker and then really went at it, squeaking them like crazy and so proud of himself.  Then every time I threw one he'd bring it back to me and bite it until he got the noise then wait for me to throw the next one.  We repeated this several times. 
I plan to do the toy thing each morning for a few days and then stop and see if he'll initiate it. 

August 6, 2008

Last night was agility/conformation classes.
We had a bunch of new things on the course - the idea being to get him used to change.  He was eager to get out of the crate and dragged me to the agility field when we got there - baby step!  Sue had tied some helium balloons to the perimeter fence and there was a good breeze so they were flapping away.  He noticed one when we were about 6 feet away from it.  He stopped walking (no flinching) and stood looking at it and cocking his head for about 15 seconds, then went on his way and didn't pay any attention to them for the rest of the night.  He wasn't avoiding looking at them, he just wasn't concerned.  Another baby step! 
Sue's handy neighbor turned a wheelchair ramp into a dog-sized bridge complete with handrails for the course. Total length is about 8 - 9 feet. One end was propped up by a piece of 4" x 4" which could be removed so that there can be some play in it when the dog steps onto the downside.  So it combines 3 elements:  Walking up a slight incline,  walking between handrails, that are about 18" apart, so something fairly closed in, and walking down something that sometimes moves, so you haveagility movement that can be random.   We thought it could be a precursor to the dog walk and the see-saw, the same way that the hoola hoop standing up on its side and then the short recycling barrel lying on its side are for the tunnel.  I thought it was pretty ingenious!  Anyway, there was just the slightest of hesitations on the first attempt and once he was over it he quickly looked back at it.  So he was a bit concerned.  But he trusted me enough to do something new.  Baby step.
We proceeded around the course Sue had set up.  He walked between and then over the pool noodles that were spaced about 2 feet apart side by side, that was new - no concern at all.  Last week he refused to go through the recycling barrel.  He refused again but there was a different quality to it - he didn't look concerned, he looked stubborn.  So I put his leash through it and Sue hung onto the leash and then I pushed him through it from behind.  (It's about 3 feet long.)  Quick praise and on to the next thing, which is a very low jump (he loves the jumps but I don't let him jump high or often - I'm using it like a reward now when he does something more challenging.  Also use food and praise intermittently at random). 
Back we went to the bridge for the second time.  No hesitation and no looking back.  Another baby step.  Then Sue removed the 4x4.  We went around the course again.  At the recycling barrel he balked again.  But again, no fear, just stubborn.  I repeated what we'd done before only this time a light tug on the lead brought him through and I didn't have to push him.  Baby step.  At this point I decided that was actually bigger than a baby step and praise and food together and we'll leave that on a good note and do it again next week.
Back we went to the bridge without the 4x4.  Up and over, he noticed it moved but didn't flinch or try to jump off.  More praise, and another baby step.  Around the course again, through the tire without hesitation, across the tarp, through the hoop, over the pebbly wood and the broad jump, up on the agilitytable, all with confidence, and back to the moving bridge.  He took no notice at all that it moved this time.  Baby step. His tail hardly stopped wagging the whole time and he has a smile on his face. End of successful session! 
I put him in the ex-pen and took Lennox and Flash onto the course.  I think Flash might be coming into season and she's acting like such a diva that I thought the agility might be helpful to her too.  She balked at every obstacle - totally put on the brakes.  We made her do them and once she'd done something once she was OK with doing it again.  She is majorly hard headed, that one.    Lennox thought I'd taken him to a party!  He was just so willing to do everything and nothing phased him at all, he is so brave and he had such a good time.
People started to arrive for conformation and they gathered in the area of the ex-pens with their dogs.  We ignored Brett.  Previously he would stand in the middle of the pen and bark his brains out.  Tonight he was jumping on the side of the pen, barking but it was a friendly bark, not the "stay away from this pen" bark.  Sue worked with him first and he was so happy to be out, tail wagging.  We did the serpentine walk to simulate being in a crowd of dogs and people.  Brett did it down and back the line with NO flinching at all.  Tail was not wagging but it was out behind him and his ears were up.  Let several people go over him on the table without flinching at all and let them get into his personal space without twirling around.  Baby steps.
At home he's been going into the toy box occasionally on his own and taking out the tinkling fish and playing with it on his own.  He also invites me to play by bringing me the toys, again completely on his own.  Baby step.
Started working on his startle reflex.  When he's not expecting it I drop something or make a sudden move, or a loud noise, or if I'm close enough to him I touch his rear end.  The startle reflex is becoming less exaggerated and the recovery time (he used to just go and hide) quicker, and in the past week he's only hidden twice.  More baby steps!
I'm so proud of our boy as you can probably tell!  I'm going to start taking him when we go into town for errands to get him into different situations.  I need to see if and how well the learning is generalized to unfamiliar situations and surroundings.
August 12, 2008

During our morning play period Brett played tug for the first time.  A sign of confidence!  Baby steps.  Have class tonight and will give a full report later.
Aug. 13, 2008

It continues to go well.  Last night we had a big beachball sized ball, bold colours and patterns just sitting on the ground.  Also a piece of bubble wrap about 18" x8' held down by rocks.  Sue left the tractor and trailer on the field.  Everything was in a different place, we do that every week.  The bridge had big traffic cones on either side as close together as we could get them so that it made it even more enclosed.  The pebbly surfaced board was butted up against a 6" x 12' plank so that he had to go over the pebbly board and onto the plank or vice versa.  The tunnel was set up in an S shape and there were twice as many pool noodles.
The bubble wrap was interesting.  The first time he jumped over it back and forth for the entire length.  (All the stuff we do we approach from different angles and have the dog on different sides of the handler to vary it.)  Next time approaching from the opposite end he took a couple of steps down the length then hopped off and jumped back and forth again.  It's an interesting exercise becauseagility every time there's enough pressure the bubbles pop.  So at the same time that he's on a new surface, there's also a distinct, sharp noise as well and the sun bounces off the surface of the round bubbles giving it a different kind of look, almost as if it's moving on it's own - touch, sound and sight are challenged, a triple whammy!  On the third pass he walked down half the length before jumping off.  It was interesting that the noise didn't seem to concern him.  I think playing with the squeaky, noisy dog toys at home may have influenced his comfort level about noise.  On the fourth pass he went down the entire length and jumped off which tells me that he's still concerned about something.  On the 5th and 6th pass he went the length and walked off.  Yeehaw!
The bridge, both wobbly and firm, and even crowded with the big traffic cones did not concern him in the least. 
He wasn't bothered by the tractor or trailer but wasn't curious about it either.  I'd like him to eventually be a little more inquisitive.  We went and stood by it talking with the dogs.  Jessie sniffed around it.  Brett stood looking at it for about 10 seconds and then sat down.  The good thing is he didn't try to avoid it and wasn't concerned about it.
The blue recycling barrel is not Brett's favourite thing.  He put on the brakes, got that stubborn look and wouldn't go through it on his own.  Threw the leash through it to Sue and gave his butt a push and he went through, about the same as the best he's done on it before.  I tried him without throwing the leash through by putting his front feet on the edge and pushing his butt and he went through on his own without the leash pulling or guiding him.  We did that 4 times by the last time I didn't push him just touched his butt and he went through.  I think this may take some time...
He crossed the pebbly surfaced board OK but put on the brakes when he got to the plank.  He's had an issue with the plank from the beginning.  After the first class we removed it altogether and decided to reintroduce it making it part of something that he's comfortable with.  Its purpose is to work the dog up to doing the dogwalk which is for some unknown reason an amazing confidence builder when they master it.  We tried putting food along it but he just jumped off and went for the food from the side.  Since he's eager to eat that tells me that he's not fearful of it.  On the 2nd pass he did the same thing, jumped off the plank after the first step.  3rd pass coming from the other direction, same thing.  4th pass he serpentined it. i.e. stepped on it sideways with his front paws and jumped over with his back paws, then back and forth like that to the end.  5th pass he did half of it before jumping off.  6th pass 3/4 and we left it at that.  Good progress.
The jumps, the tire, the hoop, the pool noodles, no avoidance, no concern.  Next week I'm going to drop the leash at the hoop and see if he'll do it on his own.
Then the BALL.  Whoa!  When we approached it both he and Jessie backed away.  Sue and I just stood close to it with them talking.  Jessie approached it and sniffed it.  Brett was avoiding.  We lured him close to it with food and gave the treat about 6" away.  Then 3" away.  Then holding the bait against the ball.  Then put the bait on top of the ball.  He wanted that liver in the worst way.  It only took about 10 seconds for him to stretch out his neck and grab the bait off the ball.  As we walked away he sniffed the ball and touched it with his nose. Big step!  I think next week I'll rub the bait on it and see what happens.
The tunnel we just stood around talking close to it.  Jessie sniffed it but Brett is still avoiding it.
I took him for a little stroll around Sue's front garden.  She's got all kinds of flowers and plants and statuary and sparkly gewgaws, solar lights and stuff in it including a little fountain thing that makes a noise as the water circulates.  He's not wanted to go near it before.  I left the leash loose and let him agilitywander and he walked along the edge of the garden sniffing the solar lights and some of the stuff that was near the edge.  I'm really liking that he is beginning to show some curiosity about his surroundings.  When he's using his nose he also relaxes more. 
I worked a bit with Flash after that because she's been balking at everything lately and acting like a stubborn little diva.  She balked at every obstacle the first time again.  But did everything without concern on the second pass. Sue had the beginner dogwalk set up.  It's only about 18" off the ground.  I baited her onto it and she did the whole thing and was so proud of herself!  You could just see her confidence grow!  She went around the course like a pro after that, even the noisy, shiny bubblewrap didn't phase her.  She didn't like the ball though and avoided it.  We'll work on that next week.  She worked really well in the conformation class after that.  I switched handlers on all the dogs and it didn't phase her a bit that someone different was on the lead - usually she would back away very forcefully and give them dirty looks.  Not this time. 
Next week I'm going to work Brett in conformation class after agility.  He only got to visit with the other dogs on leash outside the ring this week.
So that's it for this week.  Lots of baby steps.

Aug. 20, 2008

Last night was class again.  We put some new stuff on the field.  A garbage bag full of paper that we'd kick when we walked by, a garden hose snaked back and forth to resemble a ladder, a flag attached to the side of the bridge, a couple of those Tweety Bird and Sylvester garden ornaments whose legs twirl around in the wind, the bubble wrap made wider.  The bright coloured and busily patterned ball rubbed in raw liver.  The tunnel shortened to about half and laying straight.  The beginner dogwalk set up at the side of the ring. 
He's been having issues with the plank, the precursor to the dogwalk.  Last week we butted it up against the pebbly board in a T-shape hoping he'd walk across the board (which he doesn't have an issue with) and onto the plank; no dice.  He did about 3/4 of it eventually, but was still concerned about it.  This time we laid it along the side so that he'd have to step onto it to cross the board.  That worked and he didn't take any notice of it.  We did that a couple of times both ways, then moved the plank against the side and walked him across the board, then down the length of the plank and he didn't take any notice at all.  Next week we'll move the plank away from the board about 2", then 4", then 6", etc. until he does it away from the board altogether. 
I walked him past the dogwalk a couple of times just to get him used to it.  On the second pass he jumped up onto it without any prompting, walked several steps on it and jumped down.  That's a big step.  I tried to bait him onto it going up the ramp but he wouldn't do it.  So we'll try again next week.  Maybe once he does the plank, he'll feel more at ease with the dogwalk. 
He hopped through the hose the first time.  I want him to walk over it so that he pays attention to where his feet are.  We went over it several times and by the last time he was walking over it.  Success!
He sniffed the ball but didn't like it when I kicked it and he backed away.  We put food on the ball and he readily approached it and took the food off.  He approached the garbage bag and sniffed it on his own.  When we walked away I kicked it and it made the rustling sound and he didn't like that.  He avoided it whenever we walked by it after that.
Sue also had this stuffed toy that talked and made music and a farting sound.  It's a big ugly thing that looks like an alien.  The body is blue fluffy stuff and it has a rubber head with huge eyes and the head moves up and down.  It's about 12" high and about 10" across the middle.  We put it on the pause table.  Brett likes the table and so up he went.  He avoided looking at the toy.  I put it in front of him.  He sniffed the air but didn't touch it.  I activated it and told him to get it.  He backed away at first, thenagility went toward it and started barking at it.  He would get up to it almost touching it and barking at it but wouldn't take it.  When it stopped he'd walk away about 5 feet, then turn around and look at it as if waiting for it to start again.  But he didn't show any sign of fear.  The whole time his ears were up and tail was wagging and he was ready to take food.
The bubble wrap was interesting.  Sue turned it over onto the other side and the bubbles popped much easier.  Didn't phase him in the least.
He took notice of the flag on the bridge the first couple of time over it, then ignored it. Not at all concerned about the bridge when it's steady or when it moves.  He didn't like the garden ornaments although he tentatively sniffed them.  We'll try the ball, the garbage bag and Tweety and Sylvester again next week.
At the recycling barrel that we use as a short tunnel, I was able to bait him through it the first time holding his leash and the second and third times I dropped the leash and baited him through.  That's a big step.  Then I put bait in the middle of it and dropped his leash, told him to "get it" (that's what I tell him when we're playing with toys and I throw them for him).  It took him about 5 minutes, but eventually he put his head and both front feet inside, on his own, stretched out as far as he could and got the bait.  The next time I put the bait 3/4 of the way into it.  He did the same thing but couldn't reach the bait without moving his body into it.  He backed out, looked at it for a few seconds, then ran around to the other end and snatched the bait out!  Who says dogs can't problem solve?!
We also had some party horns and a whistle and every once in a while we'd get Ruthie to blow the horn.  The first time he looked in her direction (she was sitting off the field) and barked.  After that he'd hear it, look in her direction and then carry on.  At random intervals Sue would blow the whistle and he did the same thing as the horn.  I want to get him used to the sharp, sudden noises.
With the tunnel we just stood talking by it and he still wouldn't approach or even sniff it.  Next week we'll shorten it as much as possible and see what happens.
I dropped his leash and called him through the tire jump and he did it on his own!!!!!  That's huge as the leash is a safety line for him.  He had enough confidence to do it on his own.
When he went into the ex-pen when conformation class was starting we put the ball and the alien toy in it.  He didn't take any notice of them at all but didn't avoid them either.  So we'll see what happens next week when they're back on the field.
In class he worked for Sue and Diane - he knows both of them.  A new person was at class and he worked for her too.  So all in all a successful evening. 
At home I continue to play with him and get him to fetch.  I drop stuff and make loud sudden noises randomly.  His startle reaction is much less intense and he recovers almost immediately, almost all the time.  Baby steps!
So that's it for this week.  Stay tuned for the continuing adventures......
Aug. 22, 2008

We took Brett to a dog show this weekend.  The best part was that he showed the best he's ever shown and we only spent about 1/2 an hour under the tent (previously we've spent an hour under there getting him settled).  Also Flash just came into season so maybe between the hormones and another whole male in close proximity, it spurred him on.  He didn't lag behind me on the go round, stayed beside me and actually tried to gallop!  I'll know we've taken a major step when he'll move out in front of me.

Aug. 27, 2008

We had a major breakthrough with him at yesterday’s lesson.  I'll get to that it a minute.  When we got there I had to restrain him from jumping out of the van, he was smiling and happy and he pulled me to the ring.  Sue had set up some different stuff, and some of the same stuff but in different combinations that we'd talked about through the week. 
There was the blue tarp (about 9' x6') butted up against it on either end were pool noodles and it was held down on both sides by 3 large traffic cones.   Tweety and Sylvester (that he didn't like last week) the hoop and the tire jump were in a line.  The black garbage bag with paper inside that he avoided agilitylast week was by itself.  The dog walk was close to the perimeter fence (just enough room for the handler to get between the walk and the fence.)  The bridge with the flag on it was against the fence on the other side of the field.  We put the long tunnel right up against the other side of the bridge so that it was blocked on both sides, and a jump about 8 feet away on one end so that it was butted up against the fence on one side and the tunnel on the other. 
We decided to try him off leash as that is a test of confidence and trust.  He loves the jumps and is very comfortable with the bridge so that was why we chose those two obstacles.  Up until now, the things he's done on his own have been with the leash trailing.  The idea was to have him, without the safety of the leash, go over the jump and then over the bridge off leash and come to me.  But we arranged it so that he had a choice and would have to do one of four things: 1) go over the jump and bridge to come to me, 2) go through the tunnel (which he has studiously ignored), 3) go around the tunnel to get to me, or 4) run away.
We also had the bubble wrap, the pause table and the pebbly board with the plank butted up against it and several jumps, mostly bar jumps and one board jump.  We were originally going to move the plank away from the board gradually this week but decided to do that next week instead.  There were 6 pool noodles spaced about a foot apart and the garden hose arranged on the ground to simulate the rungs of a ladder.
So we started off walking around the course randomly doing a few jumps, he hopped over the pool noodles, walked over the tarp, the cones didn't concern him at all, walked the bubble wrap.  I think it's getting old and weaker so the bubbles are really snapping good now - didn't phase him.  He spotted the garbage bag and pulled me to it and had a good sniff at it - that is a score because he was showing curiosity, was relaxed enough to use his nose and initiated the action.  Baby step! 
There was no wind so Sylvester and Tweetybird's legs were not going around.  We weaved him through them and I spun the legs as we passed.  He looked at them and gave them a wide berth.  I guess they'll be with us for a few more lessons!  Then I dropped the leash and he went through hoop and went through the tire jump with the leash trailing.  Onto the pause table - that's also something he likes. 
We secured the blue recycling barrel at each end with plastic jugs full of water with bungee cords attached and going over the top so that there was no movement when the dog went through it.  We thought that might be some of his reluctance to do go through it previously.  We baited him through with the leash on so that he would know that it wasn't moving.  He went through twice with the leash trailing and we decided to leave it at that for this week. 
Ruthie had the whistle and would give it a sharp blow every once in a while.  The first time he looked in her direction but didn't bark.  After that he didn't pay any attention to it.
He hopped over the pool noodle sequence and stepped through the garden hose "ladder.”  Yay!  Over the pebbly board and back over the plank.  No concern.  More jumps and then I walked him alongside the dog walk, then back the other direction only this time I was between the walk and the fence and there wasn't room for him so he had a choice of going up the dogwalk or walking along the other side.  He walked along the other side.  Back in the other direction and he did the same thing.  He went over the bridge and the jump on leash, no problem although he was a bit concerned about the tunnel being between him and me.  Then we did a couple more jumps, the plank, weaved through Tweety and Sylvester, over the bubblewrap and back to the bridge.
Then we decided to try the bridge OFF LEASH.  We approached from the bridge side first so that he could see the jump on the other side - he really likes the jumps so it was a kind of motivator.  Sue held his leash and I walked to the other end.  She took the leash off and I called him.  He looked a little concerned and not quite sure of what to do, he looked to the tunnel side and it was plain that he was calculating that he could go that way.  I called him quickly again "Brett, bridge" and he came roaring across it and over the jump!  We were so happy we were both almost in tears!  That's a giant step!  Praise and treat and I put the leash back on him.  Sue held it again and I went to the other side.  Theagility time he would have to do the jump first, then the bridge.  No problem!  Then we took the stabilizing block away so the bridge was wobbly.  Called him again, there was the slightest pause as he realized it was wobbly, but over he went and over the jump, then back again, no problem!  I was totally ecstatic by this time!
And Brett was just so proud of himself, smiling with his tail wagging and hopping around and jumping up on Sue and I so playfully.  Oh my god, it was amazing. 
We decided to try another big challenge while we were on a roll - to do the jump, the bridge, the pebbly board, the bubblewrap, the board jump and the hoop in a sequence off leash.  That's 6 obstacles!  We started at the pole jump that was in front of the bridge.  I was beside him this time.  Took his leash off.  Gave the command "over" and "bridge" and away he went - remember that the big tunnel is now between he and I when we're doing this so that, and the fact that I'm now beside him, not in front of him encouraging him is a big deal.  Then the command "walk it" over the pebbly board, "walk it" to the bubblewrap, "over" to the board jump and "hoop" to go through the hoop.  He did it impeccably, no hesitation at all, wagging his tail and smiling, he was so proud of himself - OMG I was in raptures by this time!  Sue was jumping up and down, clapping, Ruthie was clapping outside the ring.  He was jumping up and down WITH us, not looking concerned at the strange human behaviour!   That was HUGE!!!  I'm getting teared up just thinking about it.  Lots of praise and a treat.
We put the leash back on and did a couple more jumps.  Then I baited him up the ramp on the dogwalk and he actually did it, got halfway across and jumped down.  But he didn't "bail.”  He just decided to come down.  Another big score!  Another jump, hoop, pause table, pool noodles, bubblewrap and finish on a very successful note! 
When the conformation class started Sue took Brett in for it. (Flash is in season so she had to just be in the car watching this week as we didn't want her dripping all over the field).  He was so proud of himself and happy, there was a whole different quality about him....I think the off leash work was a big psychological breakthrough for him. 
Next week is our last outdoor conformation class but we're going to keep working with Brett until the frost.
I am so excited! 

Sept 3, 2008

Here are some views of the agility field the way we had it set up last night.  It's different each week although many of the obstacles are the same or in different combinations.
We had a breakthrough with the blue recycling barrel last night.  We baited Brett through it the first time with the leash trailing.  Then when we did off leash work he went through it several times without bait as part of 3 different sequences!  We had a set back with the pebbly board and the plank.  As you can see from the picture the plank is butted against the board in a T and there was a rock under the edge of the board holding down the blue tarp which was against the board.  The rock gave the board quite a wobble and he wouldn't do it after that.  So we left it and will lay the plank BESIDE the board next week and start over like we originally planned moving it by inches away from the board.
We were also able to bait him into the long orange tunnel.  When he got his two front feet and one rear foot in we called it a day on that note.
He still wouldn't jump in the pool after the toys.  But that's OK, he's not afraid.  We found the blue farting alien and this time he barked at it but also grabbed it and pulled it off the pause table.  In one of the pictures it's sitting in the middle of the beginner dog walk but we didn't leave it there as I don't want to turn him off the dogwalk. 
He's still startled by Tweety Bird and Sylvester when I twirl their legs but he recovers immediately.  He will walk by and between them and sit next to them when they're still and pays no attention.  Same with the black garbage bag.  He also didn't mind the wheelbarrow, that was new this week.  He sniffed at the edge and walked away when it was upside down.  We righted it and I stood next to it and tapped it and it made a metallic sound.  He startled and then approached it.  We put food on one of the feet and he took it, unconcerned.
Of course the big news was the off leash sequences that he did.  The first time he did the diagonally stripped board, the bubblewrap, the hoop, the tire jump and the barrel.  The second time he did the barrel, the tire jump, two bar jumps, the table and the bridge.  The third time the bubblewrap, diagonally stripped board, bridge, weaved through 3 traffic cones, a bar jump, the barrel, the tire jump, the hoop and the back to the bubblewrap.  When he does that he has to go by the wheelbarrow, cartoon lawn ornaments, ball, garbage bag and the big stuffed duck.  He watches me all the time and is happy, smiling and tail wagging.
Sue had Lennox in for a while at the beginning - he'll do anything!  Absolutely no fear.  I think that's good for Brett.
Anyway, Brett is becoming less dependent on the safety of the leash.  I expect that soon that may translate into the confidence to move ahead of me on the leash when I show him. 
Last night was our last conformation class so it's back to indoors and mats next week.  It will be interesting to see how that goes.
Before we went to Sue's I stopped by the pet food store and took him in with me.  He walked very nicely beside me and the cart.  He was anxious about the place though and wouldn't approach anyone and moved away when a couple of ladies talked to him.  But not in a freaky way, just anxious.  So I'm going to try to get him out more in situations like that.  Sue and I are going to take him into the shopping plaza in Prescott next week and just walk around there. 

Sept. 12, 2008

I had Brett to class at our club's training on Tuesday nite.  We didn't go to Sue's as it was pouring rain.  Mr. Lennox went with us to share the hour with Brett.
Brett did his shaking thing when we first got there although I didn't have to drag him out of the crate.  The shaking lasted about 2 minutes until a skateboard came roaring down the hill a few feet away from where I was exercising him.  He had his usual startle reaction but instead of running away he went toward the skateboard barking.  So that's a step in the right direction.  Of course Lennox was all over the skateboarder.  Brett watched that for a few seconds and then approached the kid. 
When we went into the waiting area outside the training room Brett sat in front of me looking at all the dogs coming in.  Before, he hid under the bench.  He approached dogs and people and was cadging treats from other handlers.  Lennox picked that up pretty quick too! 
Lennox was amazingly well behaved his first time on mats.  Moved out like a little trooper!  Several people commented on what a beautiful moving dog he is.  I took Brett for the second half of the class and he actually moved out in front of me, occasionally looking behind at me as if to tell me to get the lead out!  Stood like a rock on the table and gave ears.
Next week it's back to Sue's on Tuesday afternoons, then to handling class in the evening.  It's interesting that Brett is using his nose more and more.  That's a sign of curiosity and the beginnings of confidence. 


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