I was not really in the market for getting another dog when I stumbled across the Midwest Italian Greyhound rescue site. I have a Toy Fox Terrier and was reading about the history of the breed when I saw that Rat Terriers were perhaps crossed with Italian Greyhounds to create the foundation stock for that breed. I had seen IGs in the past but did a search just out of curiosity to look at what they were like.
The Midwest Italian Greyhound site came up and there were pictures of five puppies that they had recently rescued from a puppy mill in Missouri. There were so cute. I emailed and inquired about them, again just more out of curiosity. Three of them were here locally, two being fostered with employees of the Elmbrook Humane Society. When I contacted Carol Sumbry she told me of her little foster ‘Tank’, and what a great little dog he was. Well, I decided to go see him and his brother Pinot.
If I was going to add another dog I did want an agility prospect, because I am very much into the sport. Carol thought that Tank would make the best agility dog because he had food drive AND toy drive, which is very important. She also felt that he loved to work. And she was right. While Pinot was a sweet and curious little dog, Tank was a real go getter. I filled out the paper work, talked to my husband, and we both went back to visit Tank. Carol ran my application by the Midwest IG people and after a home visit I was approved.
What I knew about Tank, (now Zizzo, Tank just didn’t seem to fit him), was that he was rescued from the puppy mill at 12 weeks. For some reason the pet shops would not take his litter. I now feel that was most likely because Zizzo and his littermates had giardia. When he was being fostered by Carol he had diarrhea and she had it checked multiple times, and he always was given a clean bill of health. Thinking it was just food and nutrition she put him on a great diet and the diarrhea did seem to go away. Unfortunately the stress of moving to a new home brought about the giardia again. Finally, on the 7th stool sample my vet, Tom Hirth, at Pewaukee Veterinary Hospital found the giardia using the ELISA test. This test checks for antibodies of the giardia and does not need to see the actually protozoa. It still took 5 months to totally clear it up.
In the mean time I was of course training and socializing my new puppy. He was 12 weeks old, they estimated, when he was taken from the mill. He was neutered, micro chipped, vaccinated (even for rabies) the day before he was transported up to Wisconsin. What a lot to go through, but Carol said when she got him he came out of his crate ready for action.
In the next three months Carol did a wonderful job with him, taking him to her puppy classes, training him, housebreaking him, and getting him on the road to good health. In my opinion the Midwest IG people are the best. They go all out for their rescues and put their heart and soul into their puppies.
With all that I did find however that Zizzo had some deep fear issues, mostly of unfamiliar dogs. When he would approach a dog, even a small puppy that he did not know. he would tuck him tail and try to hide his head. I could not get him to play or sometimes even eat with another dog around. I now think that those first 12 weeks is everything to puppy development. Reading Dr. Ian Dunbar’s books I have learned that puppies need to experience people, dogs, and many sights and sounds in those first 12 weeks to grow into a confident whole dog that has a great sense of self. Zizzo was never going to be able to get those first 12 weeks back.
I had many people tell me that I was NEVER going to be able to trial Zizzo in an AKC agility event. If you have never been to one, you should go. They are a lot of fun, but they are busy, loud, and most often crowded events. Dogs are crated very close next to each other and people do not watch out for their dogs many times. Some people with dog friendly dogs just don’t get the fact that not all dogs like unfamiliar dogs coming in their space, so I knew that if I ever wanted to get my little IG out in this environment it was going to take a lot of work.
I have no problem teaching the basics of agility to dogs. I have a lot of patience and even though most dogs have some apprehension of the teeter, A frame, or Dog Walk all it usually takes is time, and the patience to go slow and shape the behaviors with high rewards. One of the first foundation exercises that I teach my dogs is foot touching a target plate. A target plate is simply a white plastic lid from a container. Something everyone has available. I use this to teach the dog to go out ahead of me because it gives them something to focus on. It’s easy to teach and the dogs learn quickly that putting a foot on the target gets a little treat to appear on it. ( Hint…it works even better when they are really hungry).
Zizzo picked this behavior up in no time. It helped him get over his fear of the Dog Walk and Teeter because even though he thought those obstacles were very scary, he knew he could touch his plate. That was a safe behavior for him. (NEVER drag a dog across an obstacle on their leash. NEVER. You have to gain their co-operation, thereby creating a sense of accomplishment and confidence on their part. This is what translates to love of the game, and therefore speed).
Since touching his target plate was very rewarding for him, even at distances of 15 to 20 feet with distractions, I thought I would try to take the plate to some trials and see if I could get him to touch the plate with other dogs around him. This would get him thinking instead of just reacting. He would be using the ‘operant’ part of his brain and not just doing what the reactive part of his brain was telling him to do, which was to tuck his tail and hide from other dogs.
The first time I tried this behavior at a trial was Hounds For The Holidays in Milwaukee. Hundreds of dogs are entered in this trial and I knew it would be a challenge. I took the plate to a relatively quiet corner where he felt safe. I put the plate down only a foot away from him and told him to go touch. No problem, he leapt on it wagging his tail the whole time. From there I simply moved it to other locations in which dogs were a little closer to him. I also had him touch the plate right outside of his crate and then let him run right back in.
The other skills I taught him that I believe helped was targeting my hand, so that if I did not have the plate he could concentrate on my hand and get rewarded for that simple behavior. At the same time, being a clicker trainer, I walked through crowds at trials and elsewhere and clicked and treated him for what I called ‘brave’ behaviors. This included just looking at dogs without tucking his tail. Walking next to me instead of behind me. Sitting and observing without hiding behind my legs. All of this helped immensely.
Of course this was going on concurrently with me training him and getting him ready for his first real trial. Zizzo came to me at 6 months, and he was now 18 months. He knew all the obstacles, he understood my handling, he had good focus, and most important he understood how to enter and execute all 12 weave poles from different angles. I really felt that he was ready if he could just focus on me and not start thinking about all the scary dogs outside the ring.
The last thing I had to teach him was a warm up technique while we were waiting in line for our run. I chose a High Five. It’s a simple dog trick but I thought it also represented success. It’s still one of the things I do with him before we run.
I chose Camp Bandy in Amherst Junction for our debut. It’s a small trial and the people are so friendly and supportive. Zizzo seemed fine when we went to the start line, but when I left him to do a little lead out he started wandering the ring looking dazed. My heart fell. We had worked so hard and it looked as if it was going to be too much for him. The judge told me to ‘get my dog’ and that if I could reconnect with him she would let me still try the run. There was no way I could just go ‘get’ him. He was spooked and if any of you have ever tried to catch a spooked dog you know how hard it is. They are not thinking, just reacting.
What I did was to just turn and run toward the first jump calling to him ‘come on, let’s go’! I had no idea if he was behind me but when I heard the people in the room cheer I knew he took the first jump. We went on to the A- frame, teeter etc. and had a clean fast run. I will never forget that first leg of Novice.
There were many obstacles to over come since then. There still are. To this day if Zizzo spots something that spooks him at the end of his run he will get that dazed look and wander. We have actually lost two qualifying runs because of this. I have taught him to target his leash now and stick his head through it. That has helped immensely.
On November 8th, 2009 at the same location he took his first run Zizzo achieved his Masters Agility Championship Title, his MACH. It actually only took him a year and a half to get, and that is rather quick. Many dogs take years to achieve their MACH. Even though Zizzo is scared, he’s a dog that tries to do well. I have had many people tell me that they can see that he gives me all he has, and he does. When we began I never thought I would achieve any placements. But he has placed 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and even 1st place at quite a few trials.
The tradition at the end of the MACH course is that the handler and dog run with a jump bar and the ribbon. The MACH ribbon is usually huge, and his is. I chose not to do that. I had no idea how he would perceive it, but the club made an announcement at the end of the 16” class that he got his title. But the way I felt inside and how proud of him I am outweighs any MACH run.
I have my own dog training business, Hi5 Dog Training. I chose that name because I think it signifies the success that I have had with him. A picture of Zizzo and myself are on the homepage on my website (www.hi5dogtraining.com) doing a Hi 5. I hope in some way that when people see this they can know that any dog can grow and gain confidence with patience and understanding.
My instructor, Joan Mullen, believes that dogs become their names. Zizzo’s AKC registered name is Lo Zizzo Funziona Con Corragio, which means Zizzo run with courage. And I think he has learned and is still learning how to do that.