Monday, February 18, 2013

Reactive agility: An interview with the dog

Today we have a very special event here on the blog: we're interviewing Bella herself to get her thoughts on our agility for reactive dogs class.

So, Bella, what did you think of your first day of class?

Well, at first, I was a little scared to go in because I remembered being at this place before. And while the teacher back then probably knew an awful lot about reactive dogs, he didn't seem to care too much about me being a scared-y dog and he got mad at me and my humans a lot.

But mom gave me lots of hot dog slices to get me inside the building this time and once she set down my towel, I knew I was stuck there.

To be honest, it only got worse when the first dog to come into the class with us was a black Labrador named Willie who looked just like the neighbor's dog who bullies me in my own yard! Geez mom, what are you trying to do - scare me to death?

I'm watching you, Willie.
But this black dog went and laid down on his own towel a long ways away from me so I tried to relax and pay attention to mom and dad. Every now and then Willie would get mad at me or I'd get upset about him but when that happened, hot dogs rained from the sky in front of me and I forgot all about the big scary dog at the other end of the room. Willie forgot about me sometimes, too.

Wow - that must have been pretty scary. Did you just hang out on your towel the whole time you were there?

Oh no, at first I thought that was all we were going to do but then we got to get up and walk around a little. Mom and dad kept giving me treats for ignoring Willie while we walked back and forth across the room.

But the best part was when the teacher put a jump in front of us and tried to teach mom and dad different ways to lead me over the jump. She called it front- and back-crosses and oh, was that good for a laugh.

For me it was a little hard to concentrate on going over the jump with the big black scary at the other end of the room and sometimes I would stare at him a little too long getting more and more nervous. But then mom would shove a hot dog at my nose. Oh yeah, nothing like the smell of a cold, slimy hot dog to get your attention.

Class - the long view, with classmates.
So we walked around a little and jumped a little and then we went back to our towels.

The teacher told us she was going to have us each try some of the obstacles and it would be real hard on the dog left sitting at their towel because there was going to be a lot of noise and excitement. But we had to learn to be real calm while all that went on around us. Boy, it was hard but mom and dad just kept giving me hot dogs while the big, black Labrador had a go.

Then it was my turn and I'm pretty sure I shocked the shi---nola out of mom and dad when I got to the A-frame and went right up and over! Hahaha. Every now and then I like to change things up and take something they think is going to be real hard for me and make it look easy. Gotta keep 'em guessing, you know?

So yeah, I did the A-frame on the first try. And then I did it again. And again. And again. And I even did it one last time when they tried to get me to go back to my towel just for good measure. Sorry mom.

That's okay, Bella, we were very proud to see you having so much fun. So, tell the people, did you do all the other obstacles just as easily that first day?

Hahahahahaha! Oh, gracious no. Have you met me?

But Willie, the big show-off, pretty nearly did. I don't think it took him more than a couple of tries to master the teeter-totter even. I don't think he's as a-scared of stuff as I am. I think he's just real scared of other dogs.

And I probably didn't help that time he got too close to me when we were walking around the room and I pulled mom over lunging and barking at him. Sorry about that, pal. (Okay so we're never gonna be "pals" but we can kind of exist in the same room together now without acting like we're going to tear each other apart now.)

Anyway no, I didn't do all the obstacles that first day. But I started to learn about them and mom and dad learned a lot about how to teach me to not be scared of them.

Dad went home and made me some of the obstacles to practice on and what he couldn't make, he got mom for Christmas. Mom's going to talk about a couple of the more difficult things we tackled in the coming weeks because she says she has "stories". (I think that means she's going to make fun of me but whatever, I know I rock.)

Do you have any other classmates besides Willie? What are they are like?

I've had two other classmates at times:
  • Deja was a pretty pit bull who hung out with us for a few weeks. But I don't think she was as loco as the rest of us so she stopped coming after a time.
  • And then we have the handsome-est Miniature American Eskimo dog named Elmo who comes to class when he can. Sometimes Elmo and I trade crushes on each other. He's even more scared-y than I am but I don't think I've ever seen him be reactive. He loves his mom, Rebecca - a lot. You can tell 'cause he's always watching her. Not like me - I sometimes forget mom and dad are there when I'm off sniffing something extra-specially good.
How about your teacher? Do you like her? You don't usually like people as a rule...

Yeah, Carolyn's okay. I like her 'cause she doesn't try to touch me. She lets me sniff her and still doesn't even try to pet me! I didn't think you hu-folks had it in you to be so close to me and not try to touch me. My teacher also teaches other teachers so we had Lisa come and work with us for a while. I really liked her - she smelled like super good treats.

So all in all your class sounds pretty awesome...?

Yeah, you know it turned out okay. I wasn't even on my new special medicine when I first signed up and going to class made me feel a little better about things. All that thinking and behaving and learning new stuff was pretty exhausting so I was too tired to worry (too much) about flies in the closet or pine cones dropping on the roof.

In fact, for a while I loved it so much that I'd do zoomies once I got in the classroom. No, it was not very dignified but I was back in class where I got to climb the A-frame, get all sorts of attention and eat a couple of pounds of hot dogs! What's not to love? (From the hu-mom - Bella exaggerates somewhat about the amount of hot dogs... Somewhat.)

Well thank you, Bella, for your time tonight. Mom was wondering how she was going to share your side of this adventure.

Bella LOVES her class. It has been a lot of effort, a lot of time and a lot of adjustments along the way but she has come so far from her first days. And it shows in her behavior at home. This is a dog that loves to learn and we do her a disservice when we forget that.

Thanks for visiting. Hope you enjoyed our little interview.

And thanks to Alfie, Snoopy, Luna and My Brown Newfies for bringing us the Monday Mischief Pet Blog Hop.

Make sure you hop on through to the other blogs and see what trouble our various critters can get into over the weekend.


  1. I DID enjoy the interview ^^

    That class does sound like a lot of fun. I can just imagine her running the A Frame!

  2. That class sounds awesome!

  3. Hooray for Bella! Sounds like a great class and she has some sweet classmates :) Can't wait to hear more about the other obstacles!!

  4. This made me smile. I think Bella is loving agility. Reading her last few sentences made me smile because it reminded how Jasper is now when we go to sheep herding lessons. He knows right away now and will start barking and whining before we pull in the driveway.

    That first picture tells so much about how Bella was feeling doesn't it? I can imagine it was stressful at times, but then she did the A-frame. Wow! Jasper was terrified of the A-frame the one time he got to try one. Bella rocks in his world. :)

    O'm looking forward to reading mom's stories Bella. :)

  5. Mom says I would have done well with agility but at 6 it is a bit late to start. My sister tried it as a puppy and got kicked out or being a nuisance...behaving is not her thing...I think you will have tons of fun!

  6. What a terrific interview Bella. It looks like you did just fine. Mom tried to take Lily there, but she was so terrified she threw up every time so mom quit
    Benny & Lily

  7. Oh no, that's terrible.

    If mom was looking to build Lily's confidence but she's too scared to 'go to school', I can give you some ideas about how to build your own agility obstacles... Let me know if you're interested.

  8. This is a wonderful interview. I'm glad Bella is doing so well in her agility class. Delilah loves her classes too, I think that is something you accept with these super smart dogs, that you need to find ways to engage their brains and keep them busy. Once you do that, you see a huge difference in the dog.

  9. Bella that sounds like such a great class. Meadow feels for you, cause although she's not really afraid of other dogs, she's afraid of THINGS. And she also doesn't like when people try to pet her, yet for some reason, that seems to make people want to try and pet her more. Sounds like your teacher knows how to deal well with that sort of thing. :-)

  10. Yay! I loved Bella's perspective and I am so glad she seems to be enjoying herself out there. I have seen agility classes help many of my real-life friends and even though some of them will never be fully comfortable in close proximity to other dogs they have come a long way and are only getting better. It's fantastic Bella is growing so much and in such a short time.

    Bella definitely rocks. :-)

  11. I just wanted to say, we used to do agility with a ten year old dog who was trying for the first time. At 6 you may not be able to join the more intense competitive side of things but you are definitely not too old to learn and have fun! If you are serious about trying, there might be an instructor in your area teaching non-competitive classes such as the one Bella is in. Just a thought...

  12. Woof! Woof! Great interview. Agility is a big commitment ... just make sure always have FUN. What we observed in our agility years many forgets that the 'dog' is main crucial part of a successful agility run. Looking forward to read more about your agility class. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  13. What a great class, Bella! I am so glad that it's turned out o be so much fun for you. It sounds like those hot dog treats really did the trick; you're a pup after my own heart :)

  14. Sounds like you had an awesome time in class, Bella! Keep up the good work!

  15. Sounds like you're making good progress Bella :) I'm glad you and your peeps like your new teacher - the previous one didn't sound very well equipped to train anyone. I think I would really enjoy your agility class :)

    Waggin at ya,

  16. I loved hearing your thoughts on your class, Bella! It sure does look like fun and it sounds like you've come a long way! :)

    Marquie, Lassie & Petal

  17. It took us a month just to get Honey to walk on a flat ramp. I don't know what it would take to get her to walk over an A-frame. Goes to show every dog has her inner scairdy-pup.

    Loved hearing more about your class. It's great seeing Bella thrive.

  18. Thanks, Pamela. If it's any consolation, it took 6 months to get her over the dog-walk successfully - the width of the ramp seems to play a significant part in the confidence department.

  19. Oh Roo, you would have so much fun in an agility class! You'd be very good at it, too.

  20. I swear there is something about fearful dogs that just draws people to them. EVERYone wants to touch Bella - it's like a personal challenge or something. Poor Meadow - Bella feels for her.

  21. That is so true, Jodi. I just don't think we had a clue. Before Bella we had Beau, the Lab and everyone told me he would require so much attention and activity and he just didn't. He was different, mellow and very special but I think he set us up to 'dismiss' the 'you have to keep them busy' advice. We have learned what it means to have a smart and energetic dog now. :]

  22. Aww. Well, Jasper rocks the fetch world Bella has no understanding of so let him know. ;)

    And sheep-herding? How did I not know Jasper was doing that? That is very cool. I would not trust Bella around sheep, or pretty much any animal, at this point. Maybe someday...

  23. I love this interview. It's fun to try to figure out what our dogs are thinking. It sounds like you know Bella very well. What a great class!!!! It's so good when trainers go to the effort to put together a class like yours for "special" dogs.

    I too wonder what makes some reactive dogs behave aggressively toward scary things and what makes others collapse (Shyla is in the collapsing category). In some ways, it feels easier to have a "collapser" because I'm not afraid of her harming someone but I feel so badly for her when she enters that non-thinking terrified state.

    Thanks for your insight on setbacks and how they change with time. Shyla definitely had a huge setback after being spayed... but, as of this week, she seems to be bouncing back! She still gets scared of lots and lots of things but they don't paralyze her like they did last week.

  24. Bella- You do indeed rock. The A-Frame is a pretty big deal. My non-scardey dogs won't go over one.