25 March 2012

The Greyhound Agility Diaries - Mina Becomes The Teacher

This weekend I've been at university with Mina.  It's always lovely to meet up with my friends and fellow students - particularly when we have our dogs with us  - and to have a whole weekend of learning and talking 'dog'.  This weekend was no exception to the rule.

Chilling out on Sunday
Saturday was filled with a number of practical lectures, two 'train a new behaviour' practical sessions plus a lecture from the head of the South Yorkshire Police victim support dog unit.  All in all, it was a jam-packed day, which was rounded off by a lovely beach walk with some of my friends and their dogs. Both Mina and I came away pretty pooped but looking forward to today, when we would be able to have some 1-2-1 time with the lecturers and time to practise our chosen discipline of agility.

I'd pretty much decided that for the agility session I wanted to focus on getting Mina's contacts right.  I wasn't planning on introducing her to the contact equipment fully and had set my training criteria quite carefully.  I planned to slowly introduce Mina to the contacts on the A Frame and get her comfortable with just being on the contact part (using lots of positive reinforcement and homemade liver cake) and then to ensure she would wait and target my hand (eventually working up to just a nose/head dip) before being released.  Due to Mina's size, age and conformation I decided that a nose target to the ground wasn't appropriate.

As it turned out, Mina had different ideas to those that I'd carefully planned! Whilst I was sorting myself out with treats and our lecturer, Lynda, was holding Mina's lead, Mina had different ideas.  Before we knew it, she'd walked on to the contact area and calmly started walking up the A Frame (with Lynda holding the lead) and, just as calmly, walked down the other side and waited on the contacts. I was dumbfounded and overjoyed, all in one go.  Mina always used to have 'mountain goat' like tendencies when she was younger and used to love scaling the embankments in one of the parks in Northumberland, when we lived in the NE.  However, at her current age, I didn't think she'd take to scaling the sides of the A Frame quite how she did.

Mina taking a breather in the agility area
Now, normally, I wouldn't encourage anyone's dog to scale the A Frame (or any agility equipment) without doing the foundation work.  The chances of it going wrong and the dog developing a fear of the equipment can be too great. So, as Mina had taken matters into her own paws, I worked with her.  We did several repetitions of the A Frame, all with me holding her collar whilst she walked over (it is more stable holding her collar than lead, but as she'd started scaling it whilst wearing her lead, we didn't take it off the first time) and lots of liver cake at the other end.

As we were on a roll, and Mina was still excited, I decided to have a go at the rigid tunnel.  We collapsed it as far as it would go and to begin with, I clicked and treated Mina every time she stuck her nose in it, or put her paw in it. When she appeared comfortable enough with this, I went to the other end of the tunnel and our lecturer, Emily, held Mina at the other end.  I kneeled down, showed Mina that I had tasty venison liver and called her through....

...the tunnel isn't really an ideal size for greyhounds but the lure of the venison liver was strong and Mina calmly made her way through the tunnel for it and we practised this several times.

I am so proud of Mina. She constantly amazes me with her capacity to learn and to disprove the many myths that surround older dogs and greyhounds.  Mina is the proof that you can teach an old dog and greyhounds new tricks.

The Canine Student Becomes Teacher
But, enough of my pride; what lessons did Mina teach me?  Firstly, she taught me role reversal - sometimes our dogs become the teacher. Despite me having set the criteria of gradually introducing Mina to the contacts of the A Frame, she took matters into her own paws (so to speak)! I think sometimes, when we're training our dogs we can forget to look at what our dogs are really telling us and we can fail to adapt our training around them.

Secondly, Mina showed me again how important it is for us to really know our dogs - especially when they've reached their training limit.  I was having tons of fun -  after all, Mina was proving to be a super star - and I wanted to continue but the signals from Mina was that she was well and truly pooped.

She would have continued because I wanted her to but she wouldn't have enjoyed it and, knowing our luck, would have injured herself.  I think it's a human tendency when our dogs are doing well to have the "just one more go," "just one more repetition before we finish" mentality.

I've heard so many stories how the 'just one more go' has pushed dogs to their limits and has meant a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation process to get them back to their former selves. I never want to do this to Mina or any of my dogs.

So, we finished on a high and both had a cooling drink before setting off home. Luckily for Mina she could snooze in the back of the car and dream of being a mountain goat for the day!

A 'pooped pooch' ready for the journey home

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