Monday, January 24, 2011

The First Step

Things are getting worse. Kind of. Sometimes. Under certain conditions. Okay, let me describe it to you: for the last few weeks, Rubi and I have gone early to class to practice watching dogs in the lobby for thirty or so minutes. And for the last few weeks, Rubi has been getting progressively LOUDER during these sessions. But that's it. Her attention has actually improved. She looks at me more often, and follows my cues with about 90% reliability (which is pretty good). She also offers hip bumps and head downs and the occasional lie-on-my-side. This would be awesome if she weren't talking to me at the same time. And she is talking to me; the majority of the time when she's vocalizing, she's looking at me. Rubi reminds me a bit of Allister, actually. For those of you who don't know my youngest dog, Allister, he's a charming little guy. Drivey, but not over the top, and smart as a whip. However, Allister has An Opinion. On everything. And he wants the world to know.

But while Allister is chatting on principle, Rubi's chattiness is definitely related to the other dogs. Last week after doing our thing in the lobby, we went to the lecture class for CA (no dogs) and demonstrated a few of the foundation behaviors. And Rubi was fine. Come to think of it, though, B is also "fine" when we go from lobby work straight to class, where there are other dogs.

Okay, I admit it: we have a problem. And I don't know what's wrong.

I have about half a dozen theories, none of which fit the symptoms exactly. My best guess right now is that she's just not getting enough exercise. In case you are lucky enough to live elsewhere or have gone into hibernation for the season, it's friggin' cold out. This limits our exercise abilities quite a bit. B needs to run, and there's not a good way to do it in 1,500 square feet of house. (If I had the money, I'd get a treadmill. I do not have the money.) But if B were suffering from a lack of physical stimulation, I'd expect her behavior to get worse overall, and it's hasn't. She's the same old B at home. In addition, last Monday when I took her to the club while it was closed  and there were no other dogs around (perk of being an instructor), she didn't require an extended warm-up period. The other top possibility for B's worsening behavior is that I am asking too much of her too quickly. She's just not ready to work that closely with other dogs. If this is true, than when we start Level Three this week, there's a good chance it will be a disaster. I will be assisting with Level 2 before I take B to Level Three, so we won't get a chance to practice looking stupid in the lobby. It's pretty much look stupid in class because B isn't ready to be around dogs like that. On the other hand, if B is "just" under exercised, starting class right away might not be a bad thing. Instead of trying to relax around other dogs, we'll be up and wearing off energy around other dogs. If it's the energy and not the dogs that is the problem, we should be okay. If it's the other dogs and not the energy, we'll pretty much suck like lampreys.

With teeth.

On a less freaky/more awesome note, Rubi and I conquered a huge milestone in our relationship the other day: we worked off leash in class (not around other dogs, just in general). Like many dogs with Rubi's training background, she believes that if there's no leash connecting us, she doesn't have to listen.  You can't correct her, you can't keep her from running willy-nilly about the ring, you can't force her to do anything. And she's right. I can't force her to stay with me.  And on some level, my own insecurities got the best of me, and I agreed with her. Why would she want to stay with me when there are so many more interesting things out there? I'm not really that exciting. I can't compete with other dogs, other people, or the lint on the floor on the other side of the ring. Our relationship isn't that good.

Well, it turns out I am cooler than some of that stuff (I'm pretty sure she still thinks other dogs are more awesome than me). But, hey, check it out! I'm cooler than lint! YAY! Rubi did seem to have trouble with the pattern of rally. She was all "Exercise, treat, yay! Be free! oh, wait, another exercise, treat, be free! What, again? oh good! . . . " But each time I asked her to return to me, she did. It was a big step in learning to trust, not just for her, but for me. Ask any competitive team - dog or human - what the foundation is for working together, and they'll tell you it's trust. And it's not enough that your teammate be able to trust you. In order to win big, you have to trust them, too.

During class, I gave the instructor my camera hoping to get a few pictures for the blog. Unfortunately, they all turned out blurred enough to be considered modern art. But as I studied them further, I was amazed at how clearly I could see one quality: Rubi is having fun. In the thick of it, I think I sometimes forget that Rubi loves training. Once Rubi decides to go for something, she throws her whole being into it, one hundred ten percent. She can certainly never be faulted for a lack of enthusiasm. And on that note, I give you The Art of Training Rubi:

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