Friday, January 8, 2016

Shaking Up Routines

Earlier this week, Barley, Soth, and I came home from a 2+ week visit with my family for the holidays. While family time is always great, Barley and I are both creatures of habit and love our routines, so it's always good to come home (except for the fact that when we're at my parents, my dad gets up super early, so Soth goes to him for breakfast and lets me sleep until a decent hour and that joy is over now).

We celebrated our homecoming with a nice 3+ mile walk at the lake and despite a few icy patches on the sidewalk, we both had a skip in our step. Barley was especially happy to see a little snow on the ground even if it wasn't the 4-6 inches Facebook's trending stories told us to expect.


There were a lot of interesting "ice sculptures" along the shore where waves had crashed on rocks and small plants, so it was a beautiful homecoming.



The park had also cut down a few trees in our absence, so Barley made sure to check them out, too. She's a dog that notices everything, so we had to stop and inspect ever singled downed tree.


Then we got to do a lot of noticing later in the day as well. For the last two years, we've had agility at the same time on the same day in the same location. We've been in the same place for all of our training for the last 4.5 years. This week, that all changed. Our old training center was in a building with a leaky roof and all kinds of other problems the landlord wasn't fixing, so when the lease ended, the training center moved. This week was our first class in the new location and on a new day of the week and Barley definitely noticed.

Barley's very familiar with the street the new building's on because it's not far from some of her favorite places, PetSmart, Pet Supplies "Plus," and Chick-fil-a--all places where she gets treats from the cashiers--so she didn't notice anything out of the ordinary until we pulled into a parking lot we'd never visited before. She was immediately on high alert, but seemed to relax a bit when we saw our trainer and one of our classmates after we got out of the car.

What do you mean I don't get to hang out in this hall between turns anymore?

Warming up before classes started went well. She was focused on me instead of the other dogs, she didn't want to sniff around the room, and she was confident with the teeter despite being away from it for three weeks. We found our new spot to hang out between turns where she could still watch the other dogs without worrying about them running up to her. I started feeling pretty good about how the night would go.

Then we had our first turn. 11 obstacles designed to help us change direction without losing speed. I was sure we had it in the bag.

I sent Barley to the first jump, which she did, and then she ran as fast as she could to the far end of the room. We went back to our old method of do a jump, come in for a treat, repeat to get her focus on me. We made it through the first 5 obstacles that way and then she ran wild again.

We'll be playing lots of focus games between turns now.
Pretty soon, our trainer and I realized that the new building is going to be a huge distraction for Barley. The entire front end is a window because the space used to be a retail store, so every time Barley jumped at that end of the building, she saw her reflection flying through the air (hopefully this will stop when it starts getting lighter outside during class time). Then there's a restaurant in the space next door, so Barley was constantly noticing people walking by and especially the headlights on cars as they pulled in and out of spaces. Even when we sat on the opposite side of the room between turns, Barley noticed every. single. car. that moved in front of the building, so we'll be doing lots of "what's that?" and focus games when we're not on the floor.

We also had an even more unexpected distraction. Since there's a lot of foot traffic going by to go into the restaurant, people can look into the windows and see our class going on. There were two groups that came in to watch--with children in tow. There's a small, waist-height gate between the front door and the training floor, but that doesn't stop kids of reaching out or over at a dog and it wouldn't stop a determined Barley from getting over it. Barley is very nervous around children, so my anxiety was going up, which I knew was going to make her even more anxious, and I was trying to come up for a game plan for success while our other classmates went. I'd decided to skip the first jump so she'd have more space from the kids and our of our classmates offered to stand in front of the gate with our trainer so she could intercept Barley if she veered off in that direction (we seriously have the best classmates). Luckily, these kids had the attention span of a gnat and right before our turn came up, they left and I relaxed.

This might be our most challenging 6-week session yet, but Barley and I have worked through major distractions before, so I'm confident that soon she'll be running courses without reinforcement between each obstacle again. Until then, though, I'll be patient, generous with the snacks, and very thankful for understanding classmates.

Happy FitDog Friday everyone!



26 comments:

  1. I love the snowy photos of Barley!

    That's too bad that agility has so many distractions! I hope you are able to figure it out! I'd be nervous with a bunch of random children wandering around, too!

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    1. I think in the long run the distractions will be beneficial practice for us--but right now, it's just making me a little anxious! Every time I think we're making really good progress in agility, the universe sends some new distraction our way ;)

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  2. I can sure understand why she would be distracted!

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    1. Going into the class, I knew she'd be distracted, but I hadn't guessed exactly what those distractions would be, so now hopefully we can prepare better for next class!

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  3. Sounds like a good training plan! In the end, the new location and distractions will likely make her an even stronger agility pup! For us, it's gotten easier to for me to keep Rocco's focus the more different locations we've gone to for agility training. (At first, it was hard!) We went to a new location this week and Rocco did much better than I expected, especially since it was outdoors on grass. Have fun!

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    1. I'm hoping that this benefits her in the long run. She'll never be a competition dog because being around that many other excited dogs is just too much for her to handle, but she loves her weekly class sessions with our really wonderful classmates. I'm glad Rocco did so well in the new environment--Barley's inner diva tends to come out any time I want her to do anything on grass and she gets very temperamental!

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  4. I agree that in the long run this will probably be a blessing, as you'll get to work on both agility and focus (and relaxing in the face of distractions). And really, the latter is more important than the former for Barley, in terms of life skills. As you get more comfortable in the new space with its new 'hazards', I bet Barley will come along well too. Sounds like you have a good plan and you and Barley have such a great relationship. Keep us posted!

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    1. I'll definitely keep you posted. The whole reason we signed up for agility was to help Barley learn to avoid distractions and relax around other energetic dogs, so I know this fits right in, but all of the things I had predicted would be triggers (new floors, new walls, new waiting space, people walking by on sidewalks) were non-issues and I hadn't even thought about reflections, headlights, or people actually coming into the training center, so week 1 was a bit stressful--hopefully we'll be better prepared next week!

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  5. Great training - it's always fun to explore! We're actually thinking about getting in to agility this coming year, and if so I'll reach out to you for tips and tricks!

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    1. We love agility! We've had the chance to work with several really amazing trainers who are so focused on choosing the training methods that work best for each individual dog in class, so we hope your experience is just as good!

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  6. Sounds like fun!I would think that window would be a distraction for a lot of dogs!

    Thanks for all the suggestions on your comment today on our blog! I'm excited to try some of those that you mentioned!

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    1. I thought the window would be more of a distraction, too, but our other dog classmates didn't even seem to notice it :)

      I can't wait to see what you think about the beers! We have some really great options in our state, but Thirsty Dog is my absolute favorite.

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  7. We love our routines too. One thing with our nose work we do is we always are having classes in different locations so we learn to work no matter where we are, and not worry about stuff. There are a lot of fearful and reactive dogs in nose work and the sport really helps them start to overcome their fears and build confidence in themselves.

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  8. Because I compete at many different venues in Agility with my dogs, they get used to performing in different environments with different distractions. Hopefully it will all work out for you guys!

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    1. Barley will never be a competition dog, but I know it's important for her to learn to deal with new situations in general, so hopefully it gets easier each week.

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  9. That window does sound pretty distracting. Do they plan to put up blinds? That's what they did at one of the training places we went to.

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    1. I don't think there are any plans for blinds in the works right now--they had to spend a lot of money on flooring to make it safe for the dogs, so I think the budget for updates is pretty much used up for the foreseeable future.

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  10. Wow. That's a lot of shake-up in the routine - gone for a while, park looks different, agility in a new, distracting place. I am sure you guys are up to the challenge too and will settle into a new routine soon.

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    1. I hope we settle into the new routine, too! Barley handles changes at parks pretty well as long as she gets to investigate them, so hopefully that transfers to class, too :)

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  11. It's good to be home, but not as good when something has changed there! I know what a big window is all about...Luke's sessions with the personal trainer were in that kind of place, and it also had a restaurant next door and kids walking by! All of those things are a huge distraction for Luke. It did give us a chance to work with him though and we made some progress on getting him to focus on me. I also feel pretty confident that you'll work your way through this one...good luck!
    Jan, Wag n Woof Pets

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    1. I'm glad Luke was able to make some progress with the window--that gives us hope! By the end of class, Barley was getting more focused--but every time I think we've moved on from having to treat between every few obstacles, something new comes to send us back to that stage :)

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  12. Here's to patience & having a good time doing agility at the new location! I'm sure Barley will get used to the new place and working through the distractions will only make her more confident.

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    1. Patience is definitely going to be the key! We'll keep you posted.

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  13. We would be super excited to have a unique and challenging place to train in. I bet you will find significant improvement over the 6 weeks. Change of location and adding distraction is wonderful for proofing training. I do think the training center should take steps to make sure that kids and passers-by cannot get to the dogs physically. They may need to rethink their open door policy or come up with a way to keep them farther back.

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    1. The door was actually locked when class started, but they kept knocking on it to be let and then asked for a pamphlet and didn't leave right away. I know they need to make money and want to attract new customers, so turning people away isn't good business--and there is a barrier between the training floor and the front door, but I do not trust parents to actually pay attention to what their kids are doing when they are around dogs. Luckily, we have good classmates and a wonderful trainer who the first thing she said when she opened the door was "I have a reactive dog in this class who will not like you," so I think we'll manage ok.

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