Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Crossing Thresholds.

Threshold, by definition means, "any place or point of entering or beginning". So that could mean a gate way into a new training ring, two posts that mark the entrance to a trial field, a break in the snow fence, or even between two pylons, right?

After our last few trials, I'd been thinking that something about going into the ring was the hardest part for Psyche. She was happy and calm around the trial ring, would tug up to the trial ring, give me her all on the practice jumps outside the trial ring... and then we get into the ring, and something happens. All along people have told me that maybe it's something I'm doing that's freaking her out (and maybe it is) but even when I felt calm, cool and collected, Psyche was still very stressed. Even at a fun match, when I knew it was completely for fun only, she still stressed. Even when I had her toy. She only ever was comfortable at fun matches at our own training field through the club... which has a wooden gate, but it's a gate that she's been going through since she started agility, and that gate means we're going in where she'll get lots of time to play with her toy or a class full of yummy treats.

*insert lightbulb moment here*

Now, of couse, none of this actually came to me until after today's training session. I was looking through CR sequences and course maps, looking for something good to get a good training session out of. I didn't want to just dink around today with all my equipment where it's been the last two months. Sadly, because of my lack of tunnels and real weaves, I couldn't find anything, so I decided I'd work on making our training session as trial like as possible.

We went up to the field and I moved things around into a very simple 'course':
Now, it's not hard, but remember, that's not what I was going for. However, I looked at this little sequence, in my back yard, with my horses watching me, like it was Nationals and Psyche and I were up against crazy well known agility people. We started at the gate, where I tugged with her, then got her revved up, dropped her toy and gave a "let's go" command. We walked in and the first time you could see the stress in her body. Even though this was our backyard, she was stressed about it. So we walked up to the start line, did a horrible 'start line stay' and released and did the whole 'course' with many mistakes. But at the end there was a huge celebration and she got to run out of the ring and get her toy and we had a long play session.

Second time we do the same thing and I get a lot more confidence walking into the ring, but still not crazy comfortable. I manage to get a nice stand stay from her and she sails through the course with a couple issues with her weaves (now, this is an easy weave entry. And she knows it. But at a trial, even the most simple weave entry she'll miss if she's stressing, so I was expecting some messed up weaves.). But again, at the end, huge party, run out and get her tug, lots of play.

Third time, she pranced into the ring like she owned the place, start line stayed, and blew my mind. She was still a little iffy, you could tell, but getting more confident.

Now, there were some mistakes I made. I should have had treats on me, in my pocket, to reward a start line stay (and eagerly offering me a sit, because once she gets stressed she doesn't want to sit or down) and so that at the end I could call her back to me, reward, and then BOTH of us walk out and get her tug. This is something we'll work on next time for sure.

This little thing about thresholds is something I'm going to work on for a while. I think it'll help her a lot. But I'm going to do the treat thing, because I feel like the treats are a good way for me to get her understanding exactly what I want. Now it's a matter of maintaining my criteria. Maybe I need one of those "Note to self: Maintain Criteria" pendants from Mad Dog Metalworks?!

Over all, a really amazing session. Even though I could feel her stressing, it felt good to be working on it and actually see some of her trial issues at home, in training. I've always felt at a loss because those issues didn't show up in the places that I could actually work on fixing them, so now, if I can recreate the situation and work on teaching her how to handle it... this might lead to something.

It's a never ending journey, that's for sure.

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