A gal at the Terry Simons seminar last weekend brought up a very good question. Someone mentioned to her at a trial that her dog was "too much dog for her". How do you respond to such a ludicrous comment? Terry said to thank them for their opinion and just walk away and let it slide off your back. I'm 99% sure I'll never get that exact comment regarding Izzie. She's a Pug. Let's face it, the breed is not exactly known for their achievements in sports or training. Pugs are portrayed as fat lazy sloths that are stubborn and cannot even be trained to go to the bathroom outside consistently. It's much more common for me to get a reaction such as "Really? You're doing agility with a Pug?" or "Pugs shouldn't be doing that much activity, they're not built for it". What do i say to that? I *should* say just like Terry suggested "Thank you for your opinion..." and walk away, and that's pretty much what i do. Most of these people though are not dog sports people or even people with sporty dogs like Jack Russell Terriers and Border Collies (in fact my biggest supporters and sources of encouragement actually have those breeds). No, the ones that put me down are mostly people who own toy dogs themselves.
Ever since i got Izzie i've been facing criticism from the toy dog community. I am very interested in training dogs, not just basic training for manners (of course Izzie has manners) i like the process of training for dog sports and performance events. Not things Pugs typically excel at. Do i care that Pugs don't tend to be involved in these things? No way. I don't care one stinkin' bit because MY Pug will do these things, MY Pug is still a DOG. She is going to push the limits of sports. There are plenty of Pugs doing performance events from flyball to agility to rally to obedience and beyond. They're not walking 10 steps and keeling over. These dogs are fit and trim and they are very well trained. Just like how i want my Pug to be. It's not because I'm vain and i want my dog to look like she has an eating disorder. It's because when she is doing things that are taxing on her body, the more toned she is and the more fit she is the better she'll be able to handle physically demanding skills. It's for her HEALTH not my ego.
It doesn't stop there. I've been chastised for many simple things i do with my Pug.
I walk her on a Collar, because she knows how to walk on a loose lead. She doesn't like wearing her harness but she'll tolerate it for rollerblading, she's always walked perfect on a regular collar and her neck isn't so fat that she'd easily slip a collar (not to mention she has no desire to). I have no concern that her trachea is going collapse because of collar use, she doesn't pull and there is never any tension on the lead.
I do a lot of off leash walking. Again, Izzie is trained to stay relatively close to me and knows cues from distances and knows when i call her to come back to me, she comes. She knows "leave it" too even though she's not one to pick up random crap from the ground.
She goes to the bathroom outside 100% of the time. Izzie hasn't had an accident since she was about 16 weeks old because i don't allow her to. Shitting in my house is a HUGE no-no. I don't care if it's -45C windchill with 100km/h wind, you can go on my deck but do NOT shit in my house. She's a young dog, i am not budging on this issue for a young healthy dog. Same goes for nail trimming, she'll let me dremel and paint her nails because i have worked with her on it. She actually falls asleep while i do it because right from the start i set my rules that fighting nail trims is not acceptable.
I don't take my dog for a full workup every year. I don't see a need to spend over $700 per year to run every test available looking for something, even a tiny thing. If other folks wanna do that fine, just don't call me a horrible owner because i don't do that. If my dog gets sick, she'll be treated. For now though, i am not going to spend a ton of money going looking for something wrong. I spend every day with her, i will notice if she is even slightly off.
My Pug is slender. Get over it. She needs to be more toned and fitter. Get over that too. Izzie will not look anorexic to me, she may to you though because you are not used to thin pugs. Look at the Pugs excelling at sports, they're very fit and very toned. She eats 1/4lb of raw per day, it's not very much but it's all she needs. She gets calories from treats during our training, which means some of her food needs to be cut back.
Izzie and I don't shut down our activities for the summer. She is conditioned to the weather we get here, which is why we can go on 10k hikes through the mountains in the middle of the summer and she will still beat me to the top every time. This doesn't mean when it's scorching out at 40C we're out rollerblading, I'm not stupid. I just know MY dog, so don't get on me about how Pugs shouldn't be out in warm weather.
Pugs are Dogs. They are part of the species Canislupus familiaris. They are not some sort of rare special species of animal that is so fragile and needs so much special care. Especially not young, healthy specimens of the breed. Let your Pugs be dogs, not couch cushions. Train them. It's not hard and it's a great bonding experience, plus it exercises their mind. Let them run and play and act like dogs! They want to run and play, these are very athletic little dogs if you let them be.
So the point of this diatribe is that if you don't want to do the things i do with my Pug for your Pugs, that's cool with me. Just don't harp on me about how I'm doing things wrong. I'm pretty damn sure Izzie is happy and healthy and she sure as hell isn't hating what we do.
If she didn't like participating in sports and training, we wouldn't be doing it.
Izzie doesn't normally play with toys all that much. She occasionally picks up a toy to "kill" and more often will pester me with a ball. To be honest, her favourite toy is probably me. She loves to bite me and play maul me, in return i love to play "hand monster" with her and have her pretend to kill my pretend hand monster. However she's never really been much of a tugger. Even as a pup she wasn't too crazy about it. Never asks to tug, never starts tugging on a toy. In fact usually she releases the moment there's any tension on the toy.
Until today that is...
This morning she offered to tug. Yes this might be such a tiny little thing for most people and their dogs, but not for us. The dog that does not tug asked to tug, and proceeded to love it and play for FOURTY MINUTES with no prompting from me. She got into it growling and lifting herself on to her back legs to get more leverage, even shaking it to "kill" it. My dog, who hates tugging, asked to play tug today TWICE (the pictures are from our evening tug session).
Izzie asking to tug is a very important thing to me. Having her like to tug makes rewarding her much much easier, especially for things like 2x2 weave training. I can't toss tiny pieces of food on the line of reward for her to get, they'll get lost and she'll be searching for food which could become a bad habit. It's also a good way for the dog to warm up and get revved up, also pretty important for agility. There are other ways of course to do those things, but tugging seems to be the easiest and now that Izzie is offering it we're gonna run with it.
Maybe she figured out tugging by watching the fun the dogs had this weekend at the seminar. Whatever it was, i like it. Keep it up Izzie!
So this weekend was the Terry Simons seminar. I'm certainly not at the level that most of the handlers were at this clinic but I came away with a ton of information that was very helpful to me in the now and lots that is going to be very useful in the future when Izzie and i start working on more complex things.
Now for the highlight of the weekend... But first a little backstory.
Right now Izzie and I are focusing mostly on getting her confidence up. We had a rather shaky start to agility, too much was thrown at us at once with no foundation work for that stuff to build upon. Like anything with a less than strong foundation, it collapsed. Izzie shut down at the sight of agility equipment or an agility ring. This is not good at all, and i thought she'd never come out of it.
When we started our lessons at Go Dog Go (after taking quite a break from agility all together) Izzie was perking up a bit, but she still wasn't as happy to be playing as she was when we started her very first few classes. As we went on she got better and better, she was overcoming her mental blocks and regaining her confidence albeit slowly. Then we had to take some time off for winter, when we finally got a space to do a workshop i jumped at the chance to put Izzie in. It didn't go as well as i hoped. She was okay, but not enthusiastic. She'd do the exercises, but wasn't thrilled about it and would just saunter along with her tail down (well except for some of the tunnel stuff). To put it bluntly, I wasn't too thrilled. So i left that workshop with a problem in mind, and searched for ways to help fix that problem. I came up with a few.
1) We need to build confidence.
2) We need to build drive
3) I need to be more exciting
4) Rewards need to be higher value
So we got started on our exercises.
To build confidence i lowered the jumps, at first they were just bars on the ground. Build confidence, drive, and speed then add height later. To build drive i did a ton of restrained work. For everything. Want to fetch? Restrain to make her want it more. Want dinner? Restrain. Want to chase the other dogs? Restrain. Gotta wait for everything, which made her want it that much more. This also helped make the rewards much more valuable. As for me being more exciting? I worked on that... Speaking in a higher voice, encouraging her more, learning to wind her up more before we train.
We worked and worked and worked on these things. I could see the gears turning. We worked on them at the park (when it wasn't freeeeezing), we worked on them at work, and we worked on them at home. All the places where i know Izzie is comfortable already.
However the test is not whether she can perform in places she knows, but whether she can rock it when she's in an actual agility setting. That's where this weekend came in. I didn't originally know i could bring her with me while i audited, but on Saturday after the morning session i was informed that i could so i raced home to get her. She was naughty of course, broke her stays a couple times when left on her chair while i walked the course, but she made it up in that she listened very well when i told her to stop and sit... From about 30+ feet away. Good Pug, sort of. It's certainly not something we've worked a ton on (never had the opportunity). Anyways, she was relatively good so at the end i let her come out to walk around while Terry set up a U-shaped tunnel and three jumps in a line and explained the game. Start your dog through the tunnel and then over the three jumps and race them to the jerky and $5 bill... You win, you get the money. Dog wins, they get the jerky. So we watched, Izzie observed closely. So once all the participants went, Izzie and I tried.
It was magic.
She didn't hesitate, she was confident and she flew. She may not have beat me to the end, but she got the jerky anyways and i didn't take the money. The performance Izzie gave me right there was reward enough. That short moment let me know that we're on the right track with what we're doing to fix our problems. That was the highlight of my weekend. My good little girl showing me the fun she has for agility like back when we first started.