This weekend was exhausting. I have to write a separate post about how I spent my Saturday (hint: PUPPIES), because that’s this whole other topic that requires a bit of background information, so this post will be about today, Sunday.
Sundays are training days. For the last two years, my Sundays have been set aside for weight pull training at Karen’s farm. There used to be a group of us who would go out there every Sunday and train, but the number has fluctuated over time and now it’s often just Karen and me. That suits me just fine. I love it when my dog buddies Mike and Betsie can come out, of course, but I also like just hanging out with Karen and talking shop (if shop is dog show drama, training philosophies and techniques, and anything else to do with dog training and ownership). I work Cerb and she works her latest project, a little toy mix named Mollie. Lately we’ve incorporated Rally training, as Karen’s trialing with Mollie and I am… doing something. I haven’t figured it out yet.
See, I have Issues. I worry way too much and get super uptight about, well, everything, and taking Cerb to trials is definitely something that makes me really anxious. Months ago, maybe more than a year now, I was at a show with my dog show friend Lindsay and they had a Rally trial going on, and I watched and kinda thought “Huh, we could do that.” I took Cerb out for a spin around the Rally 1 course and he totally rocked it, but I — in my white-knuckled panicked terror — blew right by a Side Step sign and we didn’t qualify (though the judge did really like us and said she was sorry she couldn’t give us the Q). That was the last time we trialed. That’s really stupid, because it was actually a really positive experience and I left the ring with a smile on my face, but… I don’t know, I can’t even explain myself.
So I’m really nervous about trialing, but I really want to trial and I enjoy training Rally stuff with Cerb. Karen likes to challenge us, too, so she gives us really difficult courses. The result is that, despite not having a Novice Rally/Rally 1 (AKC and UKC) title on my dog, he is currently “schooling” at Level 3, which is the hardest Rally tier in the UKC. He’s just cool like that. The routine on Sundays is now: show up, set up the weight pull cart, pull until Cerb’s brain is functioning again (he can’t brain when he has the wigglies), put the weight pull stuff away, set up a Rally course, run it, then pack up and go home. Whew!
Except today. I do not know what got into my dog today, but it took all my willpower not to chop him up and turn him into stew. From the moment we pulled into the farm’s long driveway, he was a live wire. He tried to bust out of his crate when Karen’s little dog Mollie ran up to greet me and it took him a good ten minutes to get over himself and settle down. We set up the weight pull stuff (we have to roll out a long carpet, pull the cart into place and add sandbags for extra weight) and Mollie pulled for a little while, and then it was Cerb’s turn. Forty-four thirty-pound sandbags put on the cart (which weighs 400lbs by itself, I think), and then I stuffed Cerb into his harness and brought him into the barn.
SPAZZ. ATTACK. He was just… insane. Spinning around, jumping on Karen, falling over himself to offer me heels and downs and sits. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a dog who offers behavior. This is one of the huge benefits of positive training — you end up with a dog who volunteers desirable behaviors in hopes he might get a reward. This was just way over the top, though, and Karen and I exchanged exasperated glances over his head as I hooked him to the cart. I had him pull it a few times and it should’ve been cake. It’s way lighter than what he’s pulled in the past, but this is the thing: weight pull is mostly mental. Dogs are way stronger than most people think, but being a good weight puller is about more than muscle and conditioning. The dog has to focus and use his body effectively, and Cerb wasn’t able to do that in his hyped-up state.
Karen suggested we take him for a walk in the woods on her property to “take the edge off” a bit and I thought that sounded great, so we hooked Cerb up to an old tire and set off. We did a one-mile circuit through the woods, which meant Cerb had to drag the tire uphill and downhill, across roots and rocks and piles of leaves. He stopped a few times but we just kept walking forward, encouraging him to keep up, and he had a pretty good attitude about it. I was definitely surprised he didn’t just up and quit on me. I was really proud of him when we got back to the farm. He flopped down in the grass next to his much-beloved bucket of well water (seriously, he loves the water at Karen’s — we use it as a reward for good behavior because he just thinks drinking from a bucket is the greatest ever) and actually seemed exhausted. We went off to set up the Rally course.
Ten minutes later: BARK BARK BARK BARK JUMP JUMP BARK SPAZZ.
I really have no idea what his deal was, but he was just crazy. While Karen and I were setting out the Rally course, he pulled on his leash (tied to a nearby post) and yapped incessantly. I went over to sit with him in hopes he’d be quiet, but no — he threw himself on the ground, rolled over, barked at Karen, jumped on Karen, and generally made a giant ass of himself. I ran him through the Rally course once before throwing up my hands in complete frustration. He got a brief time-out in his crate while Karen worked with Mollie, and then Karen decided to give him a run through herself. I don’t like to train my dog when I’m frustrated because I feel like I’m more likely to be negative towards him when he doesn’t really deserve it.
Karen took him out and he did… pretty well. A lot of forging forward and bouncing around, but he was trying. The best part was when Karen was approaching the fence bordering her horse pasture. As she and Cerb walked towards it, one of her horses perked up and came racing up — seriously, cantering — to see what was happening. Cerb looked and gave Karen a “What the hell is that?” look, but then returned to heeling like the horse was no big deal. Nice! In the past he has kinda tried to eat Karen’s livestock, so I’ll take this as a victory.
On that good note, we called it a day. A gorgeous but frustrating day. Karen gifted me a lovely old tire so we can have Cerb drag it around our city neighborhood (oh god, the cops are going to stop me and think I’m some kind of dog fighter, aren’t they), so hopefully that will help make our training sessions a bit more productive. Who knows? Maybe we’ll have a Rally title by the end of the year.