Monday, January 28, 2013

Social Butterfly vs. Flyball Champion

After deciding to take a break from formal obedience training at the start of the new year, we enrolled Athena in an intro to flyball class.  Our intentions for starting flyball were to 1) try out a dog sport, 2) provide Athena with new experiences, 3) incorporate distractions with training, and 4) keep ourselves from getting lazy with Athena's training.  We chose flyball over other dog sports such as agility and rally because Athena is ball obsessed.  Well, little did we know that "ball obsession" is not exactly a good quality for a flyball dog to possess.  But, aside from Athena's desire to run after all of the tempting tennis balls during practice, we think we may have found her calling.

Jumping over 1, 2, 3, FOUR hurdles!

During our first two flyball practices Athena has learned how to jump over hurdles, turn over a hurdle, jump on a wall board and back over the hurdle, and pass another dog.  Athena is very much a tug loving dog, so she's thrilled that her reward for doing anything at flyball practice involves tugging.

Practicing turning over a hurdle

To be honest, we are flyball rookies.  We really don't know much about the sport and therefore have no idea if Athena is good at any of the elements of flyball.  But, I've got to say that I am majorly impressed with Athena.  We went into the first practice thinking that she MIGHT jump over one hurdle at the end of the 6 week class.  I can't believe that last night we saw her jump over FOUR hurdles in a row AND jump onto the wall board and over a hurdle.  I think with the right training Athena could be a serious flyball competitor.

Me showing Athena how to jump over hurdles

Except that there's just one problem.

Athena keeping her eye on her doggy friends

Athena is a social butterfly and flyball is not a sport for dogs who have trouble being calm around other dogs.  She wants to play with all of the other dogs so badly that she FREAKS out when she sees them having their turn to run.  We are the ones in the class with the annoying dog who barks and whines in the crate the entire hour and a half.

Get me outta here!  I want to meet that doggy!

During last night's practice we attempted "passing" another dog off-leash (I lure Athena towards me with a tug toy as she runs past another off-leash dog who is being lured by their owner.)  Apparently other dogs are WAY more exciting than me (even when I'm using my high pitched squealing voice) because Athena darted towards the other dog in an attempt to play with them each time we tried to pass.  This is definitely a no-no for a flyball dog.

Other doggy running, oh my!

So, if we ever want Athena to actually compete in flyball we have to get her social butterfly-ness in check.  I am currently reading Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed in an attempt to find some strategies that may work to keep Athena's attention on me rather than on the other dogs.

Do you have experience working with a social butterfly?  What have you done to keep your dog focused during dog sport training and competition (or just in life in general)?

23 comments:

  1. I am so very excited! When you mentioned give Athena a go at flyball I just knew this was going to be the sport for her!! I'll be waiting eager to hear how she progresses.

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    1. We will be sure to keep everyone updated on her progress! I'm just shocked at how well it's been going so far. She truly loves everything during practice!

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  2. Yay, Athena!!! How exciting. Maggie is actually a social butterfly but sounds like Cujo on leash so she has yet to experience a group class. Nigel is so chill though that he just does a little pulling towards them. And he's SO food driven that I think he'll focus on us and a high value treat!

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  3. Oh, my dogs can't be in a crate in the room with flyball without flipping out either, because they want to play so much. Though oddly, they both are fine with being crated at tournaments.

    So, recommendations for flyball passing. First one, play the switch game. Basically, the point of the game is to make you and whatever you are playing with the most exciting thing in the entire world. If you want the entire work up of what the switch game is like, let me know and I will add a blog post with it to my Flyball Training Series. Speaking of, if you haven't yet, you may want to check out my Flyball Training Series of posts (link is in the upper right of my blog), or check out posts about flyball training with my dogs over the years by searching some key words like flyball, flyball box, box turn, passing, etc.

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    1. Well I'm glad we're not the only ones with a crate barker during practice!

      I would love to see a post about the switch game if you have a chance to write one =) We seriously know nothing about flyball (you can probably tell from my guessing of what to call the moves we've been practicing). I have checked out your Flyball Training Series when I first started following your blog, but not since we started flyball. I will be heading over to check it out again! Thanks!

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    2. A video example of an advanced version of the switch game was on Fanny Gott's blog. Her purposes were for IPO and protection sports, but it can also be used for (her sport) agility and other drive-involved games. Here's the video link: http://youtu.be/gjVlA8Upq90

      It looks super fun, but remember that this is very advanced work being shown. Still, the process is pretty quick, if I remember correctly.

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    3. That video is great, but it doesn't show the beginning steps of how to get to that point, which is the most important part!

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    4. Oh, and for what it is worth, I leave my dogs in the car when it isn't their turn to play flyball. They go bonkers in the crate, but will actually chill out and rest if in the car. You might try that next time, if it is reasonable for where you practice.

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  4. You know that boy who sits at the back of the class and throws spit balls and makes farty sounds with is armpit? Yeah, meet his mom. I swear Ray is the class clown everytime we're in class. I keep thinking I should send him to doggy daycare so he could meet more dogs and maybe that would help settle him down.
    On the other hand, those pictures of Athena totally ROCK. Totally. Rock. She is truly on her way to flyball championdom!

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  5. Boomer is a complete social butterfly... he whines and yips and tap dances when he sees another dog or a cat or another person. He so loves to greet people that it's almost embarrassing! I hate to admit it but it's something I just can't seem to get him to stop.

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  6. She is such a social butterfly! You're such dedicated owners that I'm confident you can make progress on her distraction skills. Look at her working it, that's so awesome! Tell me what you think of that book! I could stand to read it!

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  7. So happy Athena is such a natural! I know this isn't really advice to keep her calm in general, but if she MUST be crated, maybe bring something to keep her occupied? Obviously she can't have a large amount of food when she's being so active in-between turns, but maybe a toy or something to chew on? Also, try covering the crate door with a light blanket so that she can't see the other dogs going crazy. We do this for dogs that need breaks during daycare and it helps quite a bit.

    Good luck and I can't wait to read more!

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  8. Could she come out of the crate and say hi to another dog as a reward if she ever quiets down? Gambit is a social butterfly and staying focused when he sees a dog he wants to play with is very tough for him. I don't know of anything that will distract him - treats, sticks, toys - well, except for squirrels. We're working on the whole walking calmly past other dogs thing.

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  9. Hank and I are doing intro to agility...Let me first say I love Hank very very much but he has a problem, he cries and whines when he gets bark when he gets bored, I can't put him in a crate if he is able to hear or see me, he screams bloody murder and sounds like he has seriously hurt himself. Yes, I spend hours and hours a day keeping him entertained so that I can save my hearing. I have learned from going to classes that we have to bring something to keep him entertained, I stop at the pet store on our way to class and get him a bone for him to chew on. It works quiet well, it keeps him calm and he ignores all the other dogs.

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  10. While it may not be great for flyball, I don't think it's such a bad thing to have a social butterfly. We've all met that dog who spends his entire life staring at a ball at someone's feet. I'm sure with time she'll learn that flyball is not a place to play with buds. I taught Kaya fetch in the first place to get her to pay attention to me around other dogs. I thought about trying flyball with her, but there is one issue. She only wants to play with "her" ball. She'll look at me like I'm bat-shit crazy if I try to get her to play with another one. Maybe there's a way to recondition that.

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  11. This flyball business look like a lot of fun! I can understand Athena being distracted by the other pups though; I would have the exact same problem...

    Also, my trainer loves Control Unleashed. I hope you will like it too :)

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  12. Control Unleashed is great, but the book is not laid out well for a DIY approach (IMO); you might want to check out a similar program written in a do-as-you-read, more user-friendly way: Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out:
    http://www.amazon.com/Fired-Up-Frantic-Freaked-Out/dp/0985934921/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=1VB6GLB5S73R9&coliid=IW30BF94ZBR0X

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  13. Where do you go for Flyball? We have a female pittie who has many of the same behavioral qualities of Athena and we've always wanted to do Flyball with her as she's ball obsessed! The only difference is that when we take her to the dog park with her ball, she will play for HOURS chasing and retrieving with no care for the tons of other dogs around her. I'd hope that this would translate at flyball and she would just focus on us but, we've had bad experiences with other obedience type classes as they are on leash and this girl can not be on a leash with other dogs around. I'd love some more info about where you guys go so that I can check them out and make contact with them. Thanks!

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    1. Athena is the EXACT same way. When we take her to the park she pays zero attention to the other dogs and only focuses on her ball. She NEVER runs up to other dogs unless we say ok. She will acknowledge dogs who come up to her to meet, but she's more interested in us with her ball and ChuckIt. That's why I thought that same kind of focus would translate to Flyball, but she's only EXTRA attentive at practice when the actual ball is involved.

      We go to Dogtown PDX in Gresham. The instructor's name is Tara Cozad and she's with a Flyball team in the Portland area called Flying Underdogs.

      Here's the link to Dogtown PDX:

      http://www.dogtownpdx.com/

      And the link to Flying Underdogs where you can contact Tara:

      http://www.flyingunderdogs.com/

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  14. I'm so glad I found this post, albeit 2 years later. :) My dog is also a "social butterfly" so he'd much rather chase after another dog than pay attention to me. Squeaky exciting voice be damned! Looking forward to reading the follow up posts!

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