Sunday, August 23, 2009
Dogstock and Backyard Agility
We've been hitting the dog park at peak times the past few days. Today was huge -- dogs and humans of all shapes and sizes! A veritable Dogstock, a gathering of representatives of the many canine clans.
Some folks were settled at the various benches chatting, while their dogs made their rounds. Other humans were scattered about the park, as dogs swirled around them. Hamlet's mode is to check everyone out and then find one dog to play with, preferably a puppy or any dog that likes to run and play. Doesn't matter how many dogs are running about the park, Hamlet wants one best buddy to romp with.
He's very adept at avoiding conflict, going into Mr Submissive poses when aggressive dogs get too dominant. He'll either roll over on his back to show his literal lack of balls or run behind a bench or throw himself into a down in the grass, his sudden stillness confounding his aggressors. Upon arrival today, a big black dog started following Hamlet around, barging in between him and any potential playmates.
I remembered this dog from earlier in the summer. "Gertrude" (name changed to protect the innocent) had fixated on Hamlet and kept bowling him over. Gertrude's human was armed with a spray bottle, chasing this dog all over the park, spraying it and yelling at it. Intermittently, the human would catch up with Gertrude and force her down onto the ground with some sort of Vulcan dog-pinch. I'd never seen such bizarre dog handling strategies, which obviously were not working at all. Eventually, I realized that this human was operating under the outdated assumption that dogs should be handled as if they were wolves and should be sprayed with vinegar and given regular "alpha-rolls" to teach them who is "leader of the pack."
Gertrude's human didn't have a spray bottle today, and so was forced to run around after the dog helplessly calling after it "no" and "stop." I heard the human say to a companion that Gertrude probably thought Hamlet was a member of her "pack" and that is why she was chasing him ("bullying" would be a more appropriate word) around. Gertrude was one wound-up aggressive .. er .. bitch and I'm sure my expression began to reflect my opinion of her owners, as they finally wrestled a leash on her and got her out of the park -- lightening the mood of everybody there, especially young Hamlet.
After an hour or so of Dogstock, we departed for home and supper. Hamlet was not ready to rest though, so we went out back to do some runs through our new "Agility in a Bag" set up. Yes, you too can set up an agility course in your back yard, even in a small yard like ours. I found the equipment online and ordered it to help increase training opportunities as fall brings a change in schedule for this human and her dog. Back to school means that training opportunities must be creatively inserted into the day. With our own hurdles and tunnels set up in the backyard, Hamlet and I can practice agility at morning, noon and night! Below you see Hamlet as a blur of action leaping across a hurdle. The cue is "hup!"
When I unpacked the set, the first piece that sprang out of the box was the tunnel. I set it down on the floor and Hamlet was instantly going in and out of it. It has an attachable chute so it can be used as the official "Tunnel" or "Chute" obstacle. I will probably give into temptation and get a nice long tunnel to use out at my mom's house. She has a lovely big protected yard area where I can set everything up at proper intervals.
I set up the weave poles inside the house, so that in order for Hamlet to reach the kitchen from the living room, he has to go through the weave poles. I figure a week of doing that -- many times a day -- should imprint the pattern into his body and brain. In a week or so, I'll try taking off the guide wires and see if he's got it. It just took a bit of turkey to get him to go through the weave path the first time and after three times through that way, he was going through on cue for a treat at the end of the poles. That was last night. Today, he automatically takes the weave pole route when going to and from the living room.
Here Hamlet poses at the end of a weave run. He's so good at posing. Just a simple "stand" and "stay" and he remains focused on the camera until the picture is snapped and he's given the "OK" release.
And a final shot, rear view, showing him on the twisting path from living room to kitchen.