Tag Archives: obedience

Home Away from Home: Fort Custer State Park

My husband and I try and take a mini vacation every once in a while to just get away from it all.  This kind of trip typically involves the outdoors and the dogs.  Since we’d planned to use up the rest of our vacation time from work for the week of Thanksgiving we figured this was ample opportunity to ‘just get away’ for a little while and what better way to do that than to hit the trails?

We planned for weeks on where we wanted to go.  We researched the various trails, distances and locations that we wanted to check out since we had already thoroughly abused the local parks and recreation areas close to home.  At the suggestion of our friend Cindy from The Nut House, we checked out the deal on Fort Custer State Park.  That was it.  We had found our spot and the wait began – which was mercifully short.

We headed toward Kalamazoo on Sunday evening after attending the NWDA weight pull that was being hosted that weekend (more on that later) and settled into our hotel room (after an awesome dinner at Mongolian BBQ!) for the evening since we were going to hit the trails first thing in the morning on Monday with the pack and the addition of Peanut and Cindy.

Left to Right: Peanut, Lyric, Ryker, Mika & Luna

We hit the trails around 11am the following morning after packing our backpacks with the supplies for the trip and harnessing up the dogs and got lost in the woods for four hours.  We made a few stops throughout since my knees aren’t always the greatest on hikes (and for a picnic lunch!).  We seemed to be alone to enjoy the wilderness with our pack of pit bulls other than a pair of mountain bikers who were stopped due to one of them wiping out and messing up his bike pretty badly (he was uninjured, thankfully!).

All in all, it was a wonderful set of trails despite the fact that they were pretty poorly marked.  I can’t wait to head back there in the spring when the weather is a touch better to do it all again.

Here are a few more shots from our trip.  The rest can be viewed here.

Small Steps: Competing with Dog Aggression

I don’t claim to be a world renowned dog trainer or have umpteen years in training dogs (though I’d like to think I’m pretty good and always willing to try something new…).  The reality of the matter is I’ve only had a passing interest in canine sports in the last seven-ish years or so.  I’ve done my share of pet obedience prior to that and always had easy dog … one that was compliant and had no real issues to speak of.  That all changed six years ago when I was given Ryker.

Ryker started off as an easy dog.  He got along with everyone.  He has drive in spades.  He enjoyed learning and being challenged with new tasks and goals.  He is also dog aggressive/reactive.  For anyone who’s ever had to deal with this issue, they know what a challenge it is doing competitive sports that involve being in close proximity to another dog.  The worry that passes through you when you’re training – especially in off leash scenarios with a dog that is relatively reactive can be excruciatingly nerve wracking.

For years I was terrified to compete in competitive obedience with Ryker because I was worried he’d go after another dog.  We trained and socialized and then trained some more.  I was never quite comfortable enough to take the plunge into obedience.  It caused me to falter on more than one occasion.  I would fall up short when working with dogs that he was comfortable around because they’d get too close and I would tense up and then he would react.

The reality was becoming more and more apparent that it wasn’t so much a dog problem.  It was a handler problem.  I was the issue.  My body language and reactions set him up to fail when he knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing.  After all, we’d done this all for years and he was a pro at this and so was I.

With the help of some very close people in my life (you guys know who you are), I finally gave in and we attempted our first leg to obtaining his United Companion Dog (AKC Companion Dog equivalent).  We NQ’d during the off leash heeling pattern.  Why?  Well, a previous dog who’d run the course before us had hiked his leg on a pole and having an intact, domineering brat of a dog…well, Ryker had to follow suit and let that dog know it was his turf. (Little did I know that this little action would come back to haunt us at other obedience venues too.  *headdesk*)

Yes, they really did take a picture of him doing this.

My heart sank because I knew I’d NQ’d.  The judge, however, allowed us to continue through the rest of the trial and he was beautiful – even the recall over the jump that we’d only done once prior.  We finally got to the part that made the butterflies start fluttering around like they were on crack in my stomach – the group sit.  I wanted to run to the bathroom and throw up my lunch.  My hands were shaking and I reflexively kept changing positions on the leash.

My friend Jen and her boy, Icon, were with us and I continued to nervously eye up the Novice A – both of them had NQ’d also when they blew off every off leash exercise known to man.  Neither of them wanted to stay when their handlers left them.  It smelled like trouble in my book.  The judge, seeing that neither dog wanted to listen to the handler, asked them both to remain with their dogs – on leash.  I let out a big sigh of relief.

We did our group exercise.  Ryker was placed in a sit/stay next to Icon – a dog he had trained with for many hours and was comfortable with – on one side and a very calm Novice C dog who completely ignored every attempt at stink eye he shot at the strange dog.  We finally left our dogs.

It seemed like an utter eternity standing across the ring willing Ryker to keep his furry fanny firmly planted on the ground and to not get snarky with his neighboring canines.  It was finally all over.  The judge released us to return to our dogs.  My boy had done it.  He finally did it.  I was elated.  I was beyond proud of him.  I didn’t care that we’d screwed up and didn’t actually qualify.  He had done what I felt to be the impossible.  He had helped me overcome the biggest gap in the bridge of our training – my fear.

I knew, right then and there, we could do it and get his UCD.  I knew that all that we had worked for, trained for, socialized for…it was all a reality.  It could be done.  Above all else, I was proud of my dog.  The dog I never thought could do anything that involved having another dog in the ring.  I knew that he -the dog that looked at another dog and puffed out his chest and barked his fool head off at – could do it and that I helped him get there even as much as I’d held him back.

Consequently, there was a second trial that weekend.  I signed us up for it.  The butterflies returned but not so furiously.  Now they were big, beefy beasts that were proudly strutting their stuff and proclaiming that we could do it and they were my cheerleading squad.  We were on a mission and we went in and owned the ring.  We managed to wrangle in our first qualifier – even if we squeaked by with a 178.  I was on cloud nine.  We had done what I thought was the impossible and made it possible.  I truthfully owe that small victory to the dog who never failed to amaze me and the people who knew we could do it.

It’s not much, but we did it. We’re still battling with his loathing of other dogs but each small step makes me realize that we will get through it and we can do anything we set our minds to with a little bit of elbow grease and a good old-fashioned kick in the pants from friends when I start to doubt our foundation as a team.

Now we have one down and two more to go.  Here goes nothing!

Gross Weather = No Training Time

Unfortunately, my absolutely favorite place to train when the gross weather rolls in is out of commission for the month of December.  What does this mean for me and the beasts?  It means that we have to brave the sleet, the snow and the rain to get our training thing done.  This is fine for me since I can layer up and be nice and toasty, but the pit bulls believe that they will melt because they are made of sugar, spice and everything nice.  Convincing them that they simply will not die when they go out into the cold and the muck is a feat in itself.

The last few days we’ve been absolute slackers.  They’ve stayed in the nice, warm house and run on their Grand Carpet Mill and trashed the house with the massive box of goodies ranging from Wubbas to stuffies to Kongs and everything in between.  Let me tell you, getting beaten by a Mega Wubba is on my list of things I definitely do not like having repeated. (Thanks, Ryker!)

As it stands right now, I’m not going to be able to travel with my friend Jen to Kentucky in a couple of weeks to try again for Ryker’s Schutzhund BH because of the likely possibility that I’ll have to work a crap load of hours the week before Christmas.  I will be glad for the paychecks I get, but it just sucks because I wanted to go and had planned to for weeks because I think we are read – well, Ryker definitely is (my nerves suck!).

Lyric is coming around beautifully with her obedience and I’d love to start working more on it so that we can try for our URO1 in the early part of next year and possibly a UCD the following year if she’s ready.  I’m trying to keep it light and positive with her so she continues to enjoy it.  She is the kind of dog that starts loathing things if they become boring or restrictive because she is such a free-spirited dog.

Mika’s doing well and has the most phenomenal heeling for such a young dog.  We’re not really pushing her very hard because we want her to have fun and not rush things.  Being a title chaser can only be benefited if the dog enjoys what they’re doing and I can’t see the point of ruining a young dog like that for a piece of paper.  I’m very proud of Bruce for what he’s done with her and what he continues to do with her.  The bond between the two of them is amazing – especially since most of the dogs in the house prefer me and if she had to choose, it’d be him and not me she’d run to first. (Traitor!)

Luna and Duo, well, they’re just relaxing.

Luna’s enjoying the fact that she doesn’t have to constantly train and be conditioned for weight pull since I’ve retired her from pulling heavily.  We’re going to attempt UKC Rally next year, I think.  She knows all of the moves, so that won’t be a problem.  We’ll just fine tune those fronts and finishes before we go and be all set.

Duo, on the other hand, won’t be doing much of anything except snoozing with his Grandpa.  He stresses out when he leaves and his reactive behavior around other dogs leaves something to be desired.  In reality, he’d rather just hold down the bed or the couch than travel with his siblings.  The one-on-one time he gets when he stays with Grandpa, I think, is his favorite thing in the planet.  How else would he not look plumper when we return than before…because someone feeds him entirely too many goodies while we’re gone!

Ah, well…with any luck, the weather will clear and I won’t have to spend as much time complaining about the garbage weather and inability to train.  Heck, the possibilities of taking classes this winter very well may make my life a little less not busy (Ha!) and brush up on a few skills and basic behaviors and before the dogs and I know it, spring will be here again!

Training Trials and Tribulations

I’ve been training as frequently as I possibly can since Ryker and I assassinated our chances at a BH recently. He knows what he’s supposed to do and so do I, but we have had to go back and connect where we needed to when it comes down to the nitty gritty of the whole training aspect. It’s taken us a bit of time, but I think I’ve gotten it…finally.

However, things change when I switch the dog I’m working with. In this case, Lyric. She frustrates me sometimes because she is always thinking. My friend, Jen, said it best. I’ve been giving her mixed signals when I ask for something and while she wants to please me, I’m confusing her. I feel like a complete idiot in this aspect and it’s good friends that help me see that I’m flat out being stupid and that it’s not the dog…it’s me.

Lyric is, and always has been, a thinker. She’s forever analyzing a situation and trying to figure out which way will best make me proud of her. When I get frustrated, I handle myself and her horridly wrong and I feel like a jerk after the fact – especially when someone I highly respect tells me I’m being a jerk (in a more elaborate example). I just need to reassess how I handle her and I think the first thing we need to do is go back to the basics – more for me than her. To do this, we’re going to enroll in a basic obedience class.

Now, Lyric has much more knowledge than what she’ll get in the basics class, but for me to remember that I have to work my sensitive little monkey in a better fashion. She’s not like Ryker who will go, “Whatever you want, mom!” and do it in the fashion I ask. She’s also not like Mika or Luna who will do anything for that toy. She wants to please me and wants me to be happy with her and to do that, I have to change who I am with her for her.

I’m still feeling like a complete idiot from today, but knowing that I can admit to myself and to her that I screwed up makes things a whole lot better. Tink (Lyric) – I love you, even when you do some of the stupidest things you make me laugh and I promise I’ll get better when we work together. I hate seeing the doubt in your face when I get frustrated.