GO!

Should I stay or should I go?

This is a place to gain some understanding of dog behavior and to assist people in training their dogs and dealing with common behavior problems, regardless of the method(s) used. This can cover the spectrum from non-aversive to traditional methods of dog training. There are many ways to train a dog. Please avoid aggressive responses, and counter ideas and opinions with which you don't agree with friendly and helpful advice. Please refrain from submitting posts that promote off-topic discussions. Keep in mind that you may be receiving advice from other dog owners and lovers... not professionals. If you have a major problem, always seek the advice of a trainer or behaviorist!

  
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Farley

Farlekiin the- Dragonborn
 
 
Barked: Tue Oct 23, '12 8:28pm PST 
As some of you know, Farley and I have been attending agility classes since April of this year. It has been really good. We've both learned a lot and he is great at it. We both have lots of fun.

Thing is, classes can be hit or miss, depending on the energy in the class, the other dogs, myself, etc. When he is relaxed and able to focus, I feel relaxed and confident and we have a successful class. When he is in high-arousal and over threshold (80% of the time), classes are a nightmare. Farley works best with no other dogs in the agility ring. Obviously, this is pretty much never the case. Not only are there lots of dogs but none of them are ever crated (there is no rule for that) and many are also running free. I know it is my responsibility to control my dog, but he is basically above threshold the moment there are other dogs around in the ring (whether we show up early or not), and since I cannot control the stimulus or environment in the ring, it is VERY hard for him to learn. I know when he is over threshold because he will not accept food from me (normally he will do anything for even the smallest piece of food).

Farley used to be pretty leash reactive and having no luck with "corrective" or "aversive" techniques, I used positive reinforcement and it made a huge difference. He has no issues with this anywhere outside of agility, it is only in the classes.
It's like he cannot handle having other dogs being loud and running around him and stuff. Even from afar, he glares, will not take food or focus on me, and will bark and howl the entire time. When we are running a course, if another dog is too close he will leave the course and go chasing it. I try to quickly give a verbal distraction and call him back, rewarding hugely with food and praise if he does choose to listen. He will listen maybe 50% of the time. The other half of the time it seems to fall on deaf ears.

There is a female GSD in his class that he appears to take issue with. Despite once being leash reactive (which was just barking), he has NEVER shown aggression towards another dog or tried to ever harm another dog. He loves other dogs, is great at the dog park, plays nicely, etc. But for some reason he seems to have it out for this one female GSD. She is calm, very well-behaved, and for some reason he just goes nuts when he sees her. Almost every class, he glares and charges at her, circling and barking at her. I keep him restrained during down time, but several times he has run off the course, charged her and harassed her. I know it isn't fear because she completely ignores him and he is the one seeking out confrontation with her. Even if she is 30 feet away, he is staring at her and will charge after her. When he does this, his tail isn't down or between his legs, but rather in a high-set, very aroused state. If he wanted to physically harm her, he would have had ample opportunity to do so. He just circles her, barking his head off. It's like his brain shuts off. It's very frustrating. I did have someone mention that maybe she could be intact, and that might be causing Farley to be acting so strange, but I figured since he does this almost every class and Farley is a male, it'd make sense for her to bring it up. (Not that it would excuse his behavior-which is unacceptable, of course).

Anyway, tonight's class really put a damper on my confidence. As great as he is at the actual sport itself, we are having a lot of trouble with the environment of the classes and I have tried all sorts of techniques because I am not one to give up that easily (I worked with Farles and his leash reactivity for the better part of a year-and-a-half, but we did it), but I have not noticed a substantial difference in the agility environment. It makes me sad because I used to have GREAT verbal control over Farley and in the classes I have resorted to trying to physically control him because I am lacking the confidence I once had to trust him to listen. I feel very powerless and end up getting frustrated and then I cannot concentrate and I mess up and feel like I have failed Farley.

**ETA** This behavior holds true for Farley regardless of whether he has had a hefty exercise or training session beforehand, whether he has eaten beforehand or not, etc. I have tried different variations and they are not factors in his behavior. I have also tried a dose of Melatonin an hour before the classes and that didn't seem to do anything either.

It's pretty much come down to, either I find private classes without other dogs, or I find classes that are offered in a more controlled setting (crated dogs). Either that or I give up all together.

Sorry for the long post. I'm just feeling sort of demotivated and wondering if anyone has any experience like mine, or any wise words for me. I ordered him a Thundershirt for storms, but I was thinking I might try it in agility too, and see if that helps lessen his reactivity a bit.

Edited by author Tue Oct 23, '12 8:53pm PST

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ARCH Demon RL1, RL2, RL3, RLV

Intimidation- seldom- facilitates- learning
 
 
Barked: Wed Oct 24, '12 3:39am PST 
Not only are there lots of dogs but none of them are ever crated (there is no rule for that) and many are also running free.

I don't understand why any class would be conducted like that. When dogs are not working...sorry, TRAINING...in our classes, they are either tethered or crated.

Agility is a high energy sport and one NEEDS control to be successful. All of the dogs should be under control at all times.

Farley used to be pretty leash reactive and having no luck with "corrective" or "aversive" techniques, I used positive reinforcement and it made a huge difference. He has no issues with this anywhere outside of agility, it is only in the classes.

So are you sure he was just leash reactive and not reactive in general? He sounds reactive and like the amped up atmosphere is triggering it.

But for some reason he seems to have it out for this one female GSD. She is calm, very well-behaved, and for some reason he just goes nuts when he sees her. Almost every class, he glares and charges at her, circling and barking at her. I keep him restrained during down time, but several times he has run off the course, charged her and harassed her. I know it isn't fear because she completely ignores him and he is the one seeking out confrontation with her. Even if she is 30 feet away, he is staring at her and will charge after her. When he does this, his tail isn't down or between his legs, but rather in a high-set, very aroused state. If he wanted to physically harm her, he would have had ample opportunity to do so. He just circles her, barking his head off. It's like his brain shuts off.

the fact that he confronts her does not mean the behavior is not founded in fear. Fight or flight is called that for a reason. He can't flee, what is left? Demon used to be like this with Acacia, Ali's older Belgian. Strangely, not Bing, her younger, crazier Belgian, just the calmer, older one. He may have some issue with her, be a bit frightened and be trying to tell you all she is a scary dog.

Have you read Scaredy Dog?

http://www.reactivedog.com/

One of the other things we do in the warmer months is run reactive Rally and Agility classes where the dogs are each in the ring alone, w one dog outside watching at a safe distance waiting to come in, one dog outside watching at a safe distance who has just left and dogs in the car taking down time. We have been really successful with that format.

Honestly, Farley sounds like a reactive dog, having problems with the high energy environment and with one dog in particular. A good trainer would be helping you find ways to work through this (like click the trigger games, lots of CC&D etc).
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ARCH Demon RL1, RL2, RL3, RLV

Intimidation- seldom- facilitates- learning
 
 
Barked: Wed Oct 24, '12 3:44am PST 
BTW, I am not surprised he is good at the exercises themselves. Studpid dogs hardly ever seem to have issues. Most of the behaviorally challenged dogs I encounter are VERY smart.
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Jackson Tan

Lad about town
 
 
Barked: Wed Oct 24, '12 5:26am PST 
If it were me, I would probably give it a break for a while. There were activities I've had to give up for Jackson because he just was not improving and it wasn't worth the stress. If it's not enjoyable right now there's no need to put yourself through that. Take a little break when this lot of classes finishes up and work on focus lessons, then reevaluate.

Just as an aside I actually tried melatonin this week and it knocked me stupid, so if Farles isn't feeling it he really must be super over threshold. That stuff really is surprisingly strong. shock
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Czarka, CGC- UJJ

Why walk when- you can run?
 
 
Barked: Wed Oct 24, '12 6:42am PST 
This is really complex. If your dog is getting over-excited about the environment, rather than about the course, you lose communication. If Charks gets distracted... _I_ will telegraph 'unhappy' even when working hard not too. Dogs read body language way beyond humans. She sees 'unhappy' and she's even less under control... I cannot fool her by telling her I'm fine.

Sooo... _I_ have to be sure I am feeling positive and in control. If you are troubled by what is going on... you are just spewing those cloudy emotions at your dog. Performance of the team goes plummets.

Your attitude is clearly not everything. You DO need your pup to be clear-headed and in communication with you. Get a copy of Control Unleashed. It's a fine book which specifically deals with many of your issues... and, although it has some great general obedience wisdom, it's really written in agility context.

Your more specific issues? If your dog is way over the top in excitement... minor behaviors become significant. I suspect it's rather like being drunk. Your dog has moved more into reptile brain from thinking brain. So, certain inhibitions go out the window... or are at least really reduced.

Since your pup is going over the top... you can try various activities as warm-up. What works (and not) depends on your dog. I've tried tiring the Chark out before going to class. That's tricky, because if I get her too tired she might not feel like running. I've tried coming early. If there is a class ahead, I've crated her, but with a view (you can only keep your adrenaline up for so long). You might run a short agility sequence before starting class if that is allowed. What I finally settled on was doing obedience drills. THAT works [mostly] for us.

We've stuck with it and worked our way up in the classes. This means that the training courses are long and complex... THAT also really helps with Charka. She's mellowed as she gets to do more.

IF pup goes out of control during training... YOU can give a short time-out (mat or crate). For us, the equipment is largely self-rewarding. So just removing the chance to run it for a couple minutes helps pup calm down.

Oh, yes. We have similar headaches. Charks CAN go over the top. At this point, mostly mild, and her human and canine classmates are familiar with her occasional zoomies (which can involve close passes).

Agility is not just fast off-leash obedience. Controlled wild-and-crazy is the goal. So... work on channeling that energy and communication laugh out loud

Ah, the question... stay or go? Up to you. There is much you can work on. But the human side has to feel good/have confidence. This is a team sport. If half the team is not having fun? It's not going to work well thinking
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ARCH Demon RL1, RL2, RL3, RLV

Intimidation- seldom- facilitates- learning
 
 
Barked: Wed Oct 24, '12 6:43am PST 
BTW, this is what our reactive agility classes tend to look like:

https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=221460034540034& oid=442126%20740723&comments&set=o.442126740723&type=1

You can't see it in the video, but there is a dog waiting outside the fence on each side of the pole barn, one to go in, one that just came out. These classes are NOT our regular agility classes, but ones tailored for dogs with issues. We crate a completely safe environment for them to work.
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Cohen CD RE- ADC SGDC- FDCh CGN

The Monster
 
 
Barked: Wed Oct 24, '12 8:27am PST 
It sounds like Farley understands it as "when I go here I act like this". He's set himself up some behaviour patterns that are going to be more difficult to address if you insist on being in the same room with the same group of dogs week after week. I would give it a rest for a session and work on some more CC&DS exercises in arousing environments and wait, hopefully, for the dogs who trigger him most to move up to the next level of classes.

I would probably check out Scaredy Dog too to get some better control over his reactions. Also consider Control Unleashed.
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Mulder

Spooky Mulder
 
 
Barked: Wed Oct 24, '12 8:56am PST 
I've never heard of a class just letting the other dogs run around as they please while a dog is running thinking

Have you talked to the instructor about this? Surely he/she is aware of Farley's difficulty, are they not willing to work with you somewhat here?

Personally doesn't sound like all that great of a class if things like this are allowed to continue. I would look around for another trainer, or see if this one can't make some arrangements to improve the environment you're working in now.
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Farley

Farlekiin the- Dragonborn
 
 
Barked: Wed Oct 24, '12 10:31am PST 
Thanks for the replies.

Usually when we are doing a run, half the ring will be the course and the other half is where people are letting their dogs off (there is no physical divider to separate the halves, his is all within the same ring). I actually had to make a request yesterday that everyone move to the other side and spread out, because everyone and their dogs were crowded right beside my course, like 2 feet away from equipment that Farley is supposed to run.

Of course once everyone moved, he still took off after the GSD, twice. I don't know if I would call Farley dog reactive in general, it seems to totally depend on the atmosphere. We worked on the leash reactivity, but he is never reactive at the dog park. He can be surrounded by tons of excited off-leash dogs and be totally fine. He did get charged at and almost attacked by a large GSD about a year ago a the dog park, so certainly that could be why he feels the need to harass the GSD in his class. But we still take him to the dog park and he is fine when he meets GSDs off leash, probably because he isn't trapped in a ring with it. Anyway, I suppose it isn't outright fearful behavior, but the reactivity could definitely be based in fear.

It's hard to explain. Take the GSD out of the picture, and he's still a bit overexcited during classes but he's a lot better- he does get super excited watching them run and he barks, howls, wants to chase etc, but he is good with all the other dogs in the class. He greets them nicely and plays with some of them. The more calm they are, the more calm he also is. When the GSD is there, it's different. He stares at her and like I said, charges and barks. It's a completely different reaction with her. Actually, I've never seen him act like this towards another dog.

I really like our trainer, but he's not a behaviorist and our classes are short enough as it is without having to deal with my problems. I would hate to leave him as an agility trainer, but I would really like to find classes that are in a more controlled environment. When we are alone in the ring or if there are very few dogs, the course is #1 and it is great. When the GSD is around or there are really loud dogs running freely around, the course becomes #2 and the other dogs are his #1 focus.

I do have CU and have tried some of the techniques. I have also been rewarding the preferred behaviors from day one. The thing is, the majority of the time he is over threshold the moment we go in the ring. While the book has good ideas we can practice and work on outside of agility, it's another story in the ring where he is in too high of a mental state to learn. I usually end up putting as much space as I can between us and the other dogs during waiting times, and I reward him for looking at me and we play little games and anything else I can do to distract him. Honestly I could handle his behavior better if he wasn't taking off after other dogs mid-run.

I exercise him before the classes (run him with the Chuckit which hardly tires him out for longer than 10 min), I have tried training sessions beforehand which normally wear him out, but neither of them seem to be factors in his mindset. The only factor I have any control of in the ring is putting space between us, and even that is limited.

I definitely agree my mood affects him. Normally I try my best to stay calm and confident even if we're having a bit of an off day. Last night was the first time I really let it get to me and started messing up because of it. Normally I can hold it together but it was the straw that broke the camel's back I guess.

What can I do to address this problem with the GSD? Am I supposed to use the same +R techniques that were successful for his leash reactivity? Every time he sees her, click + treat? That will only work if I can put enough space between him and her which is really hard to do in the ring where the classes are. My anxiety about him taking off after the GSD is more so what ruins my concentration and mood more than anything. His behavior otherwise, is generally not bad and I can handle it a lot better. If I can just work on his reaction to this one dog that would help a great deal. I am sure it can be done but I was feeling pretty hopeless about it yesterday.
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ARCHMX Asher RL1X RL2X RL3X RL

we will dance in- the ring without- words
 
 
Barked: Wed Oct 24, '12 10:41am PST 
Do you use a clicker? Do you know what Click the Trigger is?
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