Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mental Rehab

A couple of months ago I was talking with my agility trainer about some concerns I had about Maddie. There was this video of Maddie running in a practice match when she was barely two years old that was going viral on many Greyhound Group Facebook pages. She was so happy, silly, and excited. She did her first weave poles in public and bounced up and down on her hind legs gleefully. She is completely adorable in it.  To see it, Click Here. So where did that joyful hound go?  She is more steady and purposeful today, but she seems to have lost her spark.
 Of course, when I watch Maddie's agility videos, I second guess myself.  She looks pretty good and she always ends the course with the speed and appears to be having a good time. But my gut says otherwise. For example, prior to our runs she loves to tug... until we get close to the ring.  She will usually eat treats, but sometimes she won't.  She seems to get very serious and it is difficult to get her to be silly.  She used to dig holes in the dirt ringside and I was constantly having to fill them in, but now I am lucky if I can get her to dig at all.
I also never lead out anymore. Maddie starts her courses slow (even trotting the first jump sometimes).  I start the course alongside of her because I can outrun her and it often feels like I am dragging her through the first few obstacles. God help us if the weave poles are the second or third obstacle.
So I was telling my trainer about these concerns.  I said that unlike my other hounds, I could see Maddie being uninjured and perfectly sound her entire life, but at some point just deciding that she had done agility enough times and quitting. My trainer said something that resonated with me.... You always have to rehab something.  If its not physical, then it is mental rehab.  So true!  Seven had to rehab physically almost her entire career..... but mentally was bombproof, driven, and highly motivated. Riley was seriously injured several times and also spent a great deal of her career rehabbing physically.  Despite getting hurt and falling off obstacles more than any of my other hounds, she never needed any mental rehab or retraining.  She is fearless and she loves it. So with Maddie holding all of the agility cards now, I am spending a lot of time thinking about her. Agility is supposed to be fun, but I think she is feeling a bit squashed by pressure and stress.
So I have adopted some new strategies:

Warm ups are completely informal. I try to get Maddie to play, dig, tug, or run around with me. I try to get into the ring earlier if possible to get her to dig or be silly while the prior dog finishes their run.  I poke at her front feet and try to get her to play bow.

I am trying to be very cheerful and praise her verbally throughout the run. I already did a lot of that, but I want to make sure I am not neglecting and if I can do it more.... do it more.

Hide all disappointment. Maddie is very affected by my feelings. When she would pop out of the weave poles, I would definitely correct her with my reaction or expression.  Nothing I (or my other hounds) would consider sharp, but it appears that Maddie's perception is that it is indeed sharp... so I must refrain.  It was not helping anyway. The other errors are 99% my fault, but if I am disappointed in myself, I am not sure Maddie can tell who the disappointment is directed at.  So I must not be deflated about how I handled something.  At the last trial, I think I did a good job and it showed.  She popped out of the weave poles once and I just said oops and started her over.  I tried to be very neutral.  And then the other error, was me calling Maddie and it pulled her right off the correct jump.  I praised her enthusiastically for responding to my call instead of dropping my head and silently scolding myself.

I have to be careful in training too.  I recall a couple of months ago, Maddie ran very well in training, but then refused the treats for whatever reason. I was disappointed she didn't want the reward.  And as I was driving away, I thought how stupid is that.  You want her to run agility well and she did that.  I shouldn't care if she ate the treats or not.  She was probably stressed for some reason, but ran well despite her worries. I should have been over the moon for her perseverance, but I was not. I felt really crappy later.
So mental rehab is in full swing and I think it paid off in the last trial. I was very happy with both of us. Mental rehab will just be part of our routine now. Maddie has been training great! We only train for a short time 1 to 3 times a week, but I am trying to make sure they end with my heart over flowing with how thrilled I am with Maddie.


Pam said...

I'm SO glad you posted this! As I am just starting out with Rudy and have such high hopes for him, I have begun to worry about just the things you mentioned. Right now, he's happy just to play the games, get the treats, etc. But, I can see him start to worry a bit... I don't want him to worry! I just want him to have fun learning and playing the games with me. Like you, I want to end each training session with joy in my heart. Thanks for the reinforcement! :-)

vail hanna said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Jennifer. In my efforts to control Suzi, I believe I have done the same thing. I was at a NADAC trial last weekend. The first run, she zoomed away as usual. I calmly scolded her for running away. She ran 3 more times, and never ran away, but was slow and had to be coaxed into running, despite my many praises. To have a greyhound be over the time limit 3 times clearly says she was not happy. I, too, have changed my training g habits and am focusing more on praise and fun. To see that an agility guru like you reinforces my thoughts will help me not to give up but to enjoy more. After all, the whole objective for me is to have fun with my dog. If I lose that, I have lost it all.

Julie Rice said...

I've had several Dobes and they were all sensitive souls. They loved to do agility at home and in class but despite my best efforts at staying "up" in trials and pretending that any off course was just what I wanted all along, they all exhibited some amount of stress. What seemed to work best for them was doing my regular warm up ritual, lining up at the gate, setting them up for the first jump, praising and leaving the ring to reward as if we just won the class. Sometimes I'd do a couple of jumps as i headed to the exit. Sometimes I'd do tunnell jump tunnel and leave. This helped them a lot as did learning more about goal setting so that I was focused on process goals rather than outcome goals. It did amazing things for my anxiety levels even in big National classes. UKI is a great venue for this especially since they let you carry a toy in their entry level classes. Show n Gos aren't as successful because dogs are smart and know the difference between a trial and anything else.

Amy / Layla the Malamute said...

Great post! I've been checking your blog for awhile to see how you guys are doing and if she enjoyed Invitationals. Enjoy your mental break.

joyce j said...
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Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Thanks everyone. Pam, not seeing enough of your pup on FB! Good luck with your retraining, Vail. Amy.... did not have a good time at all! LOL Got in a car accident. Everything was fine.... even the van, but the 21 year old distracted idiot totaled his car. We were lucky we did not T-bone his driver's side door. Then Maddie had a teeter issue all weekend. No more big events for her. Decided not to write about it since it sucked so much.

joyce j said...
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Amy / Layla the Malamute said...

Oh wow! So sorry about Invitationals, but glad you're all okay.

I have to disagree with Joyce. Some dogs need to be corrected for zooming, and frankly, you don't know how they'll react to it until you do it.

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Amy, Thank you. And thank you. I have responded to Joyce via FB, but the thing that has me irritated is that she is referring to Maddie's match video TWO YEARS AGO. AND I did NOT scold her zoommie. Joyce went into greater detail on the actual post explaining that I should not had made her lie down. Well I didn't! In the middle of the excitement, Maddie just lied down. I have NEVER EVER had any of my dogs lie down as a punishment. I have also never had a problem with zoomies so I'm pretty sure I've got it handled.

Amy / Layla the Malamute said...

I was wondering what she was talking about! I don't remember seeing zoomies.

Clearly, you've shown you know exactly what you're doing - and with a breed that's by no means easy. I love watching you and your dogs and you're a big inspiration for those of us with difficult/unusual breeds.