Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Girl dogs, attitude & moodiness

There has been a good deal of discussion on the Clean Run list the last few days regarding gender in agility. It started out as an observation and question about why there are so few men running agility in the United States. Over the days it has now morphed into a discussion regarding the gender preference of dogs and if one sex is more popular than the others in agility. More or less, it seems to balance out to 50/50 and some regions seem to sway more one way than the other.

If you go all the way back to the beginning of this blog, you'll see that I had many reservations about bringing home a girl dog. In fact, I was downright terrified and almost backed out. My entire life I've always had boy animals. You could not have paid me to have a mare when I had horses -- I just absolutely could not stand being around them. I always worried that I would have the same feeling towards female dogs, but I thought perhaps spaying would remove the hormonal aspect that worried me so much.

Because the following post from the Clean Run list struck such a chord with me, I'm just going to copy/paste it here:

"I think whether you like a male or a female dog depends on your own
training and working preferences, but there are differences. In
general, Males work FOR you, females work WITH you. Of course there
are exceptions, but in my experience most males want to make you happy
and are willing to please but also tend to get upset and hurt feelings
if you are mad, and tend to take things personally. The girls are
tougher mentally, not as interested in whether the heck you like it or
not, and more likely to have their own agenda. They mature faster and
are less likely to take guff from you.

Step on a male's toe and he's likely to apologize for getting his foot
in the way. Step on a female's toe and she's likely to cuss you out
for getting your damn foot in her way. I adore my boy but tend to
prefer the girls because I like dogs with some hardness. Others can't
stand the push back they get from the girls and prefer the boys.

Robin Nuttall with Pinhead and Dobes
Graphic and web design www.ddgraphix.net
Columbia, MO"

And that, right there, sums up why I love boys so much. I just find them so easy to work with. Even on a bad training day, they are right there ready to try again because they really do want to please me. Even Kaiser in all of his independent "I don't need no one" ways, really does want to please me and he's always ready to play with me. Luke will literally go until he dies and rallies back from even the biggest blunders with an attitude that says, "Bring it on, what is next!" There is just a part of me that connects with the boys. I like their style.

Robin's last sentence more or less describes what has brought on this rambling post. The push back. And boy did I get that last night. I don't recall the last time I had such a miserable night of training with Secret. She more or less repeatedly gave me the big FU and wanted to do nothing.

I have, of course, contemplated why. Was she pissed off that I threw the apple she was playing with back over the fence at the rotten children that chucked it into my yard? Could be, considering the withering death stare she gave me when I did it. Or maybe she was mad at me because I had her locked in the house when Bethany & Rascal came over and I expected her to come out and run the course without having what she considered "proper time to meet & greet." Whatever the reason, Secret decided that she was not going to have anything to do with me OR agility last night.

Am I projecting stress already?? I set up Round 6 from the 2010 Championships last night. Another lovely hand-drawn course from watching videos. Alterations to my course were basically just substituting a hoop for the tunnel in the upper right corner and having the start & finish on a curve due to space constraints.

I brought Secret out of the house and she got a very brief hello with Rascal, who was tied up to the deck waiting his turn. She did her usual submissive show-your-belly maneuver and I told her to get up and go. She didn't even make it to the dog walk before she laid down and rolled over at me. Uh.... What? I changed toys several times and we never made it past the dog walk. When I did get her to go on the dog walk, she stuck at the end and wouldn't go on to the jumps (believe me, I bagged the idea of the distance line, so that wasn't it). She would just sit (literally) on the dog walk and bark at me.

Okay fine, into the house she went. Of course she knew I wasn't happy with her, so she rolled over on me a couple of times and then ran to the door with her tail between her legs. I let her sit in the house while all of the other dogs worked through the course.

When I brought her back out for another try, I could tell she still didn't have any desire to play with me. I tried to get her interested in her Jolly Ball briefly, and then I just grabbed Kaiser's treats. I figured that way I could at least get SOMETHING out of her. Nope. WHAT? Okay, I'm used to her being slow when food is used, but I'm not used to her NOT working for food. She just had no interest and sincerely, the look she was giving me came across as a giant "Screw you, lady." What?? What did I do??

I put her back in the house until Bethany & Rascal left. I brought her back out by herself and grabbed the frisbee. She did do a few catches, but refused to do any agility equipment for the frisbee. I grabbed the food again and this time we DID manage to get through the course (minus a major stick on the dog walk again) very slowwwwwwwly and I just called it quits and brought the boys out.

Suddenly miss prissy pants was all about playing -- with Kaiser. I put a stop to that ASAP, because if she wasn't going to play with me, she wasn't going to play with anyone. After letting her think about this for a bit, I grabbed a tug rope to see if she really did want to play. She did! And she even decided that going over some jumps before running back to me to tug would be fun! And contacts! And weaves! At one point she tugged so ferociously that she popped the handle right off the tuggy. And therein lies my mistake, because I left it lay on the ground while we played with the longer part.

She didn't care and we happily took off at the start of the course with enthusiasm and speed -- Until she hit the end of the dog walk and she saw that Luke had picked up the stray handle and was running around with it. Then she was done. She was stewing that Luke had her toy, even after I took it back. I finally said screw it and just quit for the night. I'll admit, I was upset by the events of the evening. I made Secret stay away while I hosed the boys off, telling her that she didn't do any work and didn't have any reason to get hosed off. I got the death glare from her again. Meh, deal with it.

Don't get me wrong, I know we have more good times than bad. I love my dog and I know she's amazing -- But I am pretty much 100% that my next dog will be another boy. While I have no doubt it challenges and improves me as a trainer, I don't think I'm cut out for the girls.

In other news, look what came in the mail this morning!!

It's for my Champs Team with Kaiser -- We are the "Kinetically Charged Syndicate" and we're going with purple, purple, purple! :o) Robyn made up some amazingly awesome personalized team shirts for each of us, we are currently testing the waters with dying the dogs (I spent the weekend playing with food coloring & kool aid, which didn't work -- so we'll have to bring out the big guns) and I found these SPARKLY hats online! Since those crazy kids seem to think they want to wear shorts in October ( :oP ), we are also looking into the idea of some silly tall socks. I didn't run in Team when I went to Champs in 2009, so I'm having fun getting into this. I guess Luke and I will also be running on a team with some great folks from the East coast. Due to some miscommunication I didn't realize this until yesterday, but we are looking forward to running on our Veteran Lab (or Lab mix, in Luke's case!) team. We are team "Dirty Old Men." lol


  1. Hey! I "know" you(in the loosest sense of the word) from BC Boards, facebook, and also having adopted two BCRMN dogs.

    And I totally hear where you're coming from on the female dogs!! My dog Jun shuts down on me if I start putting the slightest bit of pressure on her or "demanding" things. She has brilliant days and then days that I swear her brain was abducted by aliens. My one male is SO much more consistent. (Then again, my other male is WAY more independent than my female and doesn't want to work for OR with me!!)

    That said, I have learned that getting frustrated and trying to MAKE her do what I wants is useless at best, destructive to our relationship at worst. I still struggle and have a hard time remembering sometimes that I need to work WITH her, make it positive for both of us, and just stop if it's not going well. But when I do remember that, things go SO much better! I am not "the boss of her." We are partners. And honestly it is a really cool kind of relationship to have, when you can figure it out.

  2. Hey there! I obviously stink at putting two & two together, because on the BC boards I didn't have a clue you were from my neck of the woods. Yay for another BCRMN alumni! :o)

    Thanks for your thoughts! I learned a while ago that it is impossible to "make" Secret do a gosh darn thing. She's really made me work outside of my comfort zone to find what motivates her. What I experienced last night was similar to what we went through when she was about eight months old -- Really, she's been a happy little worker for quite a while now, so this just deflated me and seemingly came from nowhere.

    I fear that I fall into over-training mode with a big event on the horizon. Secret is the last dog on the planet that would benefit from over training. I know I have to step back with her, which is hard when I feel there is so much we need to do to be ready for Champs.

    But ultimately, that's just silly. I qualified with and entered a dog who has been competing for six months. OF COURSE she's not going to be ready. ;o) I need to maintain my goal of having fun with her. I didn't enter her because I thought she had a snowball's chance in hell of winning, I entered her so that she wouldn't have to sit on her butt for four days. lol

    Our relationship is so much better than it was a year ago, and I'm sure it will get better from here -- Heck, maybe some day I will be a diehard owner of female dogs due to what I experience with Secret.

    But I doubt it. lol I think I'm hardwired for the boys.

  3. The main reason I would have a pack of female dogs in my future versus a pack of males is because (in my experience) male dogs will always care about marking more than they care about things that should be more important.. Its so nice going to the dog park with CeCe and not having her stop at EVERY STINKING TREE. And then in agility of course, no worries what so ever of her marking anywhere inappropriate.

    If over-working is a problem of yours like you say, try setting a timer for 5ish minutes. That way you dont get carried away, especially if you're using toys. With treats I find myself wanting to finish what I grabbed, but then get mad at myself when I realize how long I was working (toys I can never really tell but I can see when she is slowing down). I usually work CeCe every day for about five minutes; I try to keep her wanting more! I think I did the same with Riley but only a few times a week but lately he's been on major break.

  4. "I fear that I fall into over-training mode with a big event on the horizon."
    "I need to maintain my goal of having fun with her."

    Yes! She sounds SOOO much like Jun! We compete in disc. The second I start getting into "gearing up for competition" mode and drilling things she is DONE. She is not a "drilling" dog. Especially when she's getting it wrong and she can tell I'm not happy. She picks up on my stress SO easily and it totally shuts her down! I know that, and I know I need to keep my head in the right place to work with her, but I still forget sometimes. I'm getting a whole lot better at not getting upset when she's not doing well. It's much better to just say "oh well," and hang it up for the day. Go re-adjust my attitude and come back to it the next day more positively. Last year she pretty much would not work for me at all by the end of the year. She got the winter off, I changed my perspective, and this year she is doing better than ever and we're both having fun! I hope you and Secret can get to that place too!

  5. Robyn, length of time isn't our issue. Believe me, Secret taught me ages ago that less is more. Typically it takes me more time to set a course/exercise than it does to run all three dogs through it.

    No, with Secret the burnout is more from working too many days in a row -- Or more specifically, working too many new skills. We've been really focusing on distance & discrimination lately and I know it's challenging for her. I feel like I have a lot of pressure on myself to teach her those skills before Champs, and she's just never been a dog who responds well to pressure.

    Ultimately, I feel she's a dog who does better training two or three times a week -- not five or six.

    I always find perception to be an interesting thing. More often than not, when I talk to my friends who vocally prefer female dogs their main reason comes down to "marking" with males. I hear it a LOT in the shelter as well, regarding both cats & dogs. Aside from a brief period of peeing on the corner of beds in hotels (sigh...Kaiser), I haven't had any issue with my boys. Even when he was intact, Kaiser was not an inappropriate marker and never peed on an agility course. Luke never even lifted his leg until Kaiser came along and taught him. Ultimately, for whatever reason it doesn't bother me when they mark bushes and whatnot while off leash. When it's time to work, they do, and they know they aren't allowed to mark anything on leash walks. And potty breaks at trials are super quick. ;o)

    Ninso, when things aren't going well do you simply walk away or do you try to end with something positive? From my riding days, I always try to end with something positive, no matter how mundane and simple it might be. Truthfully, I often wonder if it's better to just stop when things go south and not worry about ending on that happy note. Heck, we could just go for a walk and she'd be happy.

    Secret is being more pleasant to me again, but there was a period there where she was just being surly. I didn't "train" last night, but just goofed off and played her & Luke against each other taking turns sending out to a single jump in the yard -- seeing who could go further (and holy cow, Secret won!). Then we went for a jog when I got home from the shelter, which she thought was super fun (better than walking, for sure!). One of these days I should really introduce her to roller blades...

  6. "Ninso, when things aren't going well do you simply walk away or do you try to end with something positive?"

    I will try to end with something positive, but it would be something REALLY easy. So if I was working, say, obedience finishes and she was having a hard time, I would just ask for a sit or a nose touch, reward her for that and be done. I would not try to wait for a "good" finish. Or if it was disc, and I was working on a particular sequence and she's not getting it right, I will just toss her a regular throw, end on a catch, and that is the "positive" ending. She would probably be pretty offended if I just straight-up walked away from her, so I try to do something super easy that I can reward her for and tell her what a good dog she is.

    And once again, just like Jun with frequency--I only train disc a max of twice a week for 5 minutes or less! When I was training 3-4 days a week she was really stressed. But I think it may not have been the frequency that was the issue but my mindset, asking for too much or putting too much pressure on her. I've really chilled this year.

    "Secret is being more pleasant to me again, but there was a period there where she was just being surly."

    Not to be critical, just passing along what I've learned with what sounds like a very similar dog . . . I used to get upset with Jun for "having attitude" or "being stubborn" etc. Now I try to avoid those labels, as I know better what she can and cannot handle. And usually when it seems she is being "bitchy" there is an underlying problem, and most of the time it's me! When I work within her capabilities, she works beautifully for me!

    I really want to start biking with Jun! But she is afraid of people and reactive, so I'm scared to. I think she would really enjoy it though.

  7. I didn't want a female dog but then along came Legend-I love her but definatley want a male next time. Although with rescue dogs I guess I can't say that for sure! And not all female dogs are as moody as her, Lyric is a total sweetie all the time.