Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Yesterday I got a last minute invite to a novice agility class in Lafayette. I jumped at the chance to run Devon in a brand new location and test how good her teeter really is.

I didn't practice the teeter in isolation, but simply asked for it in the sequence. Devon and I were both anticipating it as we went through the sequence; she kept looking at it as we ran because I’m sure she expected it to be coming up. I had a bit of a fumble because as she came out of the tunnel to the teeter, I was on the wrong side for the sequence, and I was up by the base of the teeter. Since she still needs me to provide her confidence, Devon prefers me to be slightly behind her supporting her performance. She came up on the teeter to the base, but then bailed off. I neutrally turned her around, got behind her and got on the correct side for the sequence and asked for it again. This time she confidently went up and over the teeter without hesitation!!! The instructor felt my hesitation the first time (because I was out of position) was what caused her to bail off, and when I was confident the next time, she was too.

We sequenced on that side several times, some with the teeter and some without. Devon never hesitated on the teeter again; I was really proud of her! This was the last hurdle we needed to get past in agility, and she's done it so quickly. She is 3 weeks ahead of where I hoped she'd be and more than a month ahead of where I practically thought she would be. She had solid confident runs in a brand new location and in spite of distractions (other dogs running against the ring gates, other dogs falling off equipment, babies screaming in the sitting area), so I’m sure she really gets the game now.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Maybe Ian is bored

I'm starting to subscribe to the theory Ian is bored with agility. He double Q’d both days for a perfect weekend, but his times were very slow. He only earned 17 points total, which is usually something he can do in one double Q day. I know he wasn’t hurt because my chiro vet was there and checked him over. He’s also been worried about judges again. Granted he’s had some not so great judge experiences this year, but no one so far has reached out and grabbed him! And he’s far too seasoned to be doing this!

Agility is all Ian has been doing since April 2007, and one of the ideas we’ve been kicking around is that he’s bored and needs new challenges. I’ve already decided to cut back on his trailing schedule for the next 6 months, so I thought maybe I’d increase his tracking focus.

Monday night Ian ran a 100 yard track at 30 minutes age at a local city park. He was screaming to get out of the van when we came back to his track. I could barely hold him still to get his harness on him while he wagged and air scented and turned his neck backwards looking for his flag (really, this was Ian and not Devon). He tracked me all the way to the start flag. During his track he perfectly indicated a cross track (likely a deer) and selected the correct track (mine) and kept going straight.

While he was tracking, two guys on bikes rode by about 75 ft. from us talking really loudly (I could hear them 1/4 of a mile away), and Ian didn't even look at them. As he got to his glove, another guy on a bike approached with what looked like a 120 pound cream-colored beast running beside him. As they got closer, it was a yellow Lab about the color of Connor only 3 times the size running next to the bike, ears and tongue flying. Again, only 75 ft. from us, and Ian was playing tug with his leather glove at the end of the track and NEVER SAW THEM! I did turn Ian away from the nutty beast running beside the bike, but we could see them for a 1/4 mile in front and behind us!  

How does Ian not even see all that his happening around him during a 100 yard track, but he can’t do weave poles with the judge moving in the ring on Sunday??? This dog drives me nuts! Now you see why I’ve said no more than ONE Belgian in the house at a time! The good news is Ian clearly loves to track. This dog will be the death of me yet!

Three sports: just another training day for Devon

When I said I wanted a Golden to do everything with, Gayle certainly gave me the right girl! Devon is just a joy to train. Monday was a perfect example. At 5:30 a.m. we did obedience training, starting with articles inside and then moving to the building to work heeling and start go-outs. When I got home from work we headed outside to do agility work, sequencing with focus on weaves and the teeter. She did awesome, and she’s really putting things together nicely.

We left the house around 5:30 p.m. to go to the park to lay a track for Ian and work field with Devon while it aged. The last time I worked her on mini-T, she got confused with the over piles and the back pile. Even though we’d been successful at Mitch’s on this drill, I realized we hadn’t reviewed just right and left backs in isolation since stopping handling drills in March. So, I set up just a back pile at 60 yards to work right and left backs. I also set my cell phone alarm for 15 minutes before I got Devon out to work, since Mitch felt she got bored with more than that amount of work.

Let me tell you, Devon made these back piles look easy! On 9 bumpers, she only slipped one sit whistle (but I still got her to stop), and she didn’t miss a single handle. She was sharp and precise with all but one whistle and on every handle, and she RAN to and from the piles. We stopped working at that point, because she’d been so successful we didn’t need the last 5 minutes!

What a great girl to work three sports in one day! I’m super careful to keep all her sessions at no more than 15 minutes so she doesn’t burn out.  And she looked as fresh on the last drill at 6:15 p.m. as she was at 5:30 a.m. that morning (Ok, she did get to sleep all day while I was at work). 

Monday, October 27, 2008

“That which we call a rose, By any other word would smell as sweet”

I came home Friday, and my mom had been at my place dropping off and picking up stuff. There were two purplish-blue roses on my countertop in a vase. I love roses, and these smelled good. I put my nose in them and sniffed deep. Then I looked down and Ms. Devon was watching me intently; she lifted her head and air sniffed and looked at the roses. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Well, she is a tracking dog, and she knows how to sniff. So I took the roses out of the vase and leaned them down toward Devon. Once we shooed Ian away (who stuck his big nose in but wanted to take a big bite out of them), Devon lifted her nose up and sniffed each rose individually and then looked at me like, “Was that what I was supposed to do?” She’s so funny! Such a mimic and so girlie!


Devon has been going to agility trials since she was 15 weeks old. However, this was the first weekend where she threw a royal fit when I took the boys out to run. She usually protests, but this weekend it was a demand for her turn to play! She was likely doubly displeased when tracking buddies Zoe (Golden) and Sage (Weim) who were crated next to us got their time out to play agility – and she didn’t! I did get her out on Saturday for obedience practice. I thought we’d do more obedience on Sunday, but she was so demanding, I took her to the practice jump and did some one jump work instead. I told her I was very proud of her training progress; but when she could do the teeter at new locations, she could play agility. Frankly, she’s ahead of where I was hoping she’d be at this point. The only thing holding her back now is the teeter, and she’s showing great progress on that. I’m looking forward to our first trial run in December’s CPE trial.

Devon’s obedience training

I haven’t posted yet about Devon’s obedience training. We started with a new private trainer in Ohio, Linda MacDonald. I’ve known Linda for years through the One Ash Kennel and obedience training. Since I’m taking privates with other trainers in Ohio, might as well throw one more in! Plus I’ve heard great things from my friends who train with her.

Devon is eating up this obedience training. She’s naturally good at it, and luckily the moving heeling I’ve worked on with her was solid so we could build on it and not start over (Whew!). Linda liked Devon a lot on our first visit. Of course Devon walked into the building with a bumper in her mouth talking away not knowing who she would find in this building but thinking it had possibilities! Linda said she naturally wanted to work with me, so weaning her off food wouldn’t be a problem. We worked my pace in heeling, right turns and about turns.

Linda also told me how to start scent articles. I’ve been working this process in the early morning up in the bonus room. While Devon’s not getting it as quickly as I expected her to with all her tracking work, I can see the wheels turning and she’s giving me her best. Even better is the look on her face as we’re working. She’s sitting at attention with bright sparkling eyes as though if she stared at me long enough she could just figure it out. Even funnier is when I say, “Hide your eyes” and I put my hand over her eyes, she waits patiently and doesn’t struggle to see what I’m going to present her with. It’s just too cute!

We’re also starting to teach her a focus word for go-outs, which she loves. Hey, tell her to look at food and then she runs to get it? She’s all about that!

So even though she’s doing four sports right now – tracking, field, agility and obedience – she’s really having a ball. I’m glad that Devon is in various stages of the four sports, doing advanced learning in field and tracking, firming up foundation in agility and doing fundamentals in obedience. All Devon knows is that she gets to have fun playing games with mom, and she loves it!

Contacts = cookies!

After class Thursday night it was obvious that I need to reward more for jumps and tunnels. Devon is volunteering contacts when I’m near them since we’ve been so focused on them and there are lots of cookie rewards. Clearly it’s important for her to continue with contact rewards. However, I now am going to remain neutral for her volunteering them versus constant rewarding!

Devon’s teeter and weave progress

In the last week, Devon has made great progress on the teeter and the weaves. For the weaves, she’s been doing straight up poles at home and sequencing them. However, when we got to Pawsitive, she was having problems turning into the second pole again. ON Thursday after some work with wires off to the side before we started sequencing, she started getting the turn to pole 2 on her own without wires during the sequencing. Liz also saw it and said, “When she drops her nose she gets the turn to 2.”

I decided to go back to working at home with the wires, and Kim reminded me to put them on pole 2 and 4 to do the self correct versus 1 and 3 for guiding. However, when I did this, I realized she didn’t need the wires. Sure enough, I pulled the wires off and she was weaving perfectly all 6 poles! She had indeed worked through it during class on Thursday night and figured it out! She was even sailing through the poles faster than she had previously!

We also took the big step on Thursday to try the full-sized teeter at Pawsitive. This was a big step since it was only the second time she’s ever been to that building and the first time I’ve asked for the full height teeter. She wasn’t really sure about it, but the food bowl helped and she went over it 3 times with me on her left. I also noticed she’s more confident and less likely to bale off if I’m behind her. I need to play with this some so I know where her comfort level will be at a trial in a new environment for the first couple of trials.

At home, I moved her aluminum teeter up to full height, and she was comfortable pretty quickly. She’s even sequencing it. She knows it moves different from her old one and tried them both to see the difference. Once she got the hang of it, she was running over and volunteering her aluminum teeter for cookies!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ian’s career: where are we going from here?

I have to admit, Ian’s career is drawing to a close or at least to him becoming the second tier dog. We only need 24 more points to qualify for the 2009 AKC Nationals. I’m hoping to get those points soon. After the AKC Nationals in March, we’ll follow up with the BSCA National Specialty in April.

For the 2009 Specialty, I’m hoping to have Ian certified in tracking, and we will do two days of agility and two days of rally. That will finish his RAE2, and he will get his Agility Hall of Fame Award. I think that will be the perfect time to officially move him to the #2 dog spot.

Post April’s Specialty, I can still do local agility trials and of course trials where Devon is entered. I also will continue to pursue tracking with him. I’m convinced he has the drive to go for a TDX, and from there I will explore VST.

Ian is a great dog and has a lot of performance drive. However, he’s also accomplished way beyond what I ever expected him to do. I have this fantastic little girl waiting in the wings, and she really deserves the #1 working spot as Ian’s career has come to a close.

Devon’s agility schedule: where are we going from here?

Over the last week to 10 days I’ve learned a lot about Devon and agility. She is farther in sequencing and handling than I expected. However, she needs more confidence on the teeter and the weaves.

As far as the teeter, I think we’ll just keep working on it in various places. I really believe that after she gets on 3-4 new teeters in new places, she’ll “get” that this is what you do on a teeter everywhere. I think she’ll generalize fairly quickly.

For the weaves, I’m going to open the channels up to ½ inch again and get her running at home. I’m not going to ask her for straight up poles at another location until she’s confidently running the straight up poles at home. I’m also going to do a lot of entrance and turn to pole 2 work with her. That seems to be her struggle in class.

I have Devon entered in a CPE trial in mid-December.  I think this will tell me a lot. I’ll also enter her in an AKC trial in mid-January. Both are at Pawsitive Partners where we train. There are other local AKC trials in January and February, but I’m going to use the December CPE trial as my benchmark. As much as I want to trial her and get her AKC titles started, I also know Devon needs to be very confident going to the line. We are successful in tracking and field because we have been absolutely ready for the tests when we got there. The only sport where we haven’t been has been ready and confident is agility. I can wait until summer to trial Devon in agility (after she gets her SH). Even if we do trial this winter, I will leave her in Novice through March. After that she will be doing field and possibly obedience through the summer anyway.

Lessons learned from a match

Last weekend the Ft. Wayne Obedience Training Club offered a B Match following their agility trial on Friday and Saturday. I wanted to use it as an opportunity to get Devon on new equipment and see how confident she really was. I also wanted it to be a completely positive experience. 

Here’s what I learned:

  • Devon is not ready for weaves. She totally didn’t know what to do with them as she showed me in class.
  • Devon is very confident in sequencing jumps and tunnels.
  • Devon really reads my body and motion; I don’t have to use obstacle names. She’s handling way better than she did last year, and she truly understands it.
  • Devon is committing to the jumps better/earlier, and I’m able to get some lateral distance so I don’t have to baby sit jumps.
  • Devon is giving me lead outs and reading the turns in the air and before the jumps.
  • Devon absolutely needs to be right. I gave her a difficult turn off an obstacle, and she wasn’t ready for it. She got stressed and confused.
  • I must remain positive and convince Devon she’s always right or she will shut down.
  • Devon tires easily with these new experiences.

Ian and consistency

Ian has typically been Mr. Consistent. However, since Labor Day he has been very inconsistent. In Hamilton we were 0 for 4, at the Collie Club we were 2 for 3 and last weekend we were 3 for 6. I’ve been wondering about the possibly causes, and I’ve come up with three.

First, Ian was very locked up in the rear when Dr. Bonnie (chiro vet) looked at him 10 days ago. This was likely the cause of Hamilton’s disaster. I think he was sore and distracted (see #3 below).

Second, we haven’t been trialing regularly. I have taken several weekends off to concentrate on Devon’s field work. That’s what I need to be doing since she’s moving into the #1 dog spot, so I have to accept that it will cause us to be less consistent.

Third, he’s distracted. This past weekend it was partly me being upset about trying to find $5,000 to fix my heating/air conditioning unit and him sensing my distress; and he was slipping a lot on the surface. I don’t think I’ll return to the Ft. Wayne venue, because it took him a couple of days to get used to the footing. When he did figure out the surface, he wasn’t running as fast and got fewer MACH points. 

Teeter trials and tribulations

Devon has done a great job on the teeter since I started using the food bowl. She quickly moved up to full height and started happily sequencing it. I didn’t need the food bowl after we started sequencing, and I was very encouraged by her rapid progress. She knows exactly how to control the board movement and she’s quite confident.

Last week at her first class, I got there early and asked her for a lower teeter; the first time at a new location. She hesitated and didn’t want to go on it. We used squirt cheese in a can (I forgot the food bowl), and she was still pretty squirrelly and didn’t want to go on it. Finally I realized this was “fake” fear. She was acting to get away with not doing it. I stayed neutral, but put her leash back on and asked her for it again. Funny how she got right over her “fear” of this new teeter. The devil! Before class started she was happily going over this lower teeter without a leash and for cookies (not squirt cheese).

I got my new aluminum teeter on Sunday, and I set it lower, maybe 20 inches. The plan this week is to work the new teeter a couple of times before going to class. When I do class, I’ll take her food bowl. If she’s happily going over the lower teeter, I may try the full height teeter. I’m not going to push it, and I’ll use her experience on the new teeter at home as a guide for when I do the full height teeter at Pawsitive.

Into a group agility class

I registered Devon in a group class at a local dog training club, Pawsitive Partners. My friend Liz teaches the class, and it is a good one for Devon with a lot of dogs at her level. In her first week, I did 4-5 obstacle sequences with breaks and rewards. I was very pleased with her sequencing, specifically on jumping, A frame and dogwalk. She also did spread jumps, table and a chute, which she has rarely seen, with confidence.

The one interesting thing is she could not do the weave poles. I had thought she was more ready for 6 straight up poles than she was. She never got them and looked a lot like she did last winter when I first started trialing her and she wasn’t ready. Hummmm, we need more weave work.

We start a second group class, or actually restart a group class, with K9 Athletes after the first of November. I think the two classes per week will be a great way to get her used to a lot of new equipment in various environments to prepare her for trialing. It will also give me sequencing once or twice a week all winter when I cannot train sequencing at home. 

Ian the tracking demo dog

At the tracking seminar I wanted to show the students when to start weaning their dogs off food on the track. I think that’s an important step that they need to see. Ian is a great dog to show that, because he tracks along and when he realizes he misses food, he abruptly stops and turns back for the food. However, Ian’s issues with people were a concern. Would he track with other people watching?

I laid the track and went to get him. He was so excited when he saw the tracking harness and wiggled so much it was hard to get the harness on. He saw all the people along the driveway and puffed a little. Then he saw a St. Bernard tied to the back of a truck eyeing him. He had to walk between the dog and the people to get to his track. To my surprise, he ignored all of it and pulled me to his flag!

Ian was the perfect demo dog showing exactly what I wanted him to – not only a nose down, pulling tracking dog, but also a dog that needed less food on the track. I was so proud of him!

His desire and performance on this track showed me something else too – he loves tracking more than agility. He would have never worked past those conditions for an agility course. He would have worried and barked and stressed. I really believe this dog is going to be a great tracking dog.

Tracking seminar and tracking Connor

Last week I did an introduction to tracking seminar for Ruth at Pawsitive Energy. This was the first seminar I’ve done, and it went well. I went way over time, and I know the lecture part was too long. I’ve adjusted the outline and I think I plan to limit the number of dogs and/or lengthen the time of the seminar.

I think the best thing I learned from the seminar is what I need to be doing with Connor. It’s funny how you learn more about tracking your own dogs by teaching others. Earlier in the day Connor and I had another certification attempt and he failed – again. This is the fourth time he’s failed. I was so discouraged. Steve gave me some good tips, but also agreed that Connor may never certify. On the way to Ruth’s I had decided to give up on Connor’s tracking.

However, as I worked with the beginners and laid a turn for a green dog, I realized some things I could do with Connor. I don’t think Connor truly understands turns. I think I’m still doing all the work for him on turns. I need to take step back and really work on teaching him turns. Will this work? I don’t know. What I do know is he does understand his job on straight line tracking but he doesn’t indicate turns well at all.

All I know is Connor does LOVE to track when it’s just the two of us in the field. If that’s all the farther he gets, that’s fine with me. We’ll still keep working and having fun.

Mr. Snake, can you please clear the course!

I never thought I’d have to deal with snakes in my agility yard in Indiana! Last week I went out with Ian and he suddenly jumped and then started searching for something on the ground. I looked down and saw a small snake about 4 ft. away from him thankfully moving away from him. I decided I didn’t really want Ian picking this snake up since he was intent on finding what slipped away from him. I put him in the dog yard and by this time the snake was curled up between a jump and the base of the A frame and he was mad. I took a jump bar and tried to flip him in the direction of the corn field. This just made him very mad, and he curled up, unhinged his jaw and attacked the jump bar. Now I was REALLY GLAD I moved Ian to the dog yard. He would have had a snake bite or two for sure! Finally, after being flipped over about 3 times, the snake got the idea to leave the area. I smacked the ground with the jump bar to encourage him away. I think the snake was scared into the yard by the combine picking corn in the field behind us. I hope he doesn’t come back!

Friday, October 3, 2008

New dog, old "food bowl" trick

Ok, so the teeter wasn't going so well last weekend. I was pretty depressed. I did NOT want to move it down again and go backwards. Kim, training buddy extraordinaire, and I were hashing through this AGAIN on Monday night when she said, "you know, there is that food bowl method they use with Border Collies on the table..." YES!!! Why didn't I think of that earlier! Border Collies notoriously have table issues because it stops the game. So you take the dog's food out in his/her food bowl, yep metal bowl and all, and he/she doesn't get their dinner until he/she gets on that table multiple times and does a performance. 

Soooooo, Tuesday evening the boys went upstairs, Devon and I went downstairs, and I took Devon's food bowl and filled it with kibble. She started foaming at the mouth as she usually does when her food is taken to her. And then we went outside. She didn't know WHAT to think of this! She did perfect heads up heeling to the back agility yard (I even stopped to see if she'd sit and she did; I'm mean). Then I said, "And what do you think you need to do to GET your dinner to night?" She is no fool! She ran right over to that blasted teeter! Up and over happy, tail wagging no teeter issues at all if it meant her DINNER! The devil!

After a few successful teeter performances, I put her food bowl up and headed for the weave poles. I had also been a little disappointed with her lack of speed in the weaves, so once again Kim had an idea. Instead of throwing a ball, throw a bumper! And make it a surprise. When I went out and filled her food bowl, I tucked a bumper under my shirt. We headed over to the weaves (we had to detour up and over the dogwalk just to prove to me she could do it). After her first set of weaves, out came a BUMPER! You got it, she was so excited! Her energy level was up and her attitude was up! Her weaves weren't much faster, but that's ok because she's thinking. 

We've used the same methods Wednesday night and tonight, and Devon's whole attitude about training is different. She's excited to go to the agility yard, and she's happy during her training. Tonight I couldn't get her off the teeter! She kept running over to it, volunteering it! We also did her first "sequence" with the teeter, when I did A frame to teeter. She just nailed the teeter without hesitation, and she went up from the bottom of the board instead of stepping up on the side! I've been a little worried about her getting in too much of a habit of jumping on the side.

We've also start working some 3-5 obstacle sequences (without teeter and weaves). Tuesday and Wednesday it was really just putting together some jump combos, and tonight I added contacts. This girl is nailing everything and getting quite fast! Also, based on some posts from the Woofpack list (thanks Sharon!), I ran and did turns on the balls of my feet and it did make me faster. When I went faster along the contacts, Devon's speed on the contacts was faster. Interesting! I'm starting to think I won't have the speed issue I was worried about now that she's really getting the game. 

So after tonight's session I raised the teeter one link. We're going to raise it one link per night unless she struggles, then we'll keep it where it is until she's confident again and keep going up. This was again another suggestion from Kim, and I really like it. It keeps her going forward (what I need) and it's no too big of a step each time (which she needs). I measured it after I raised it since I had not measured it after it went up and down a few times when I friend used it. It's set at 20 inches exactly right now -- 4 more inches to go! And my new teeter arrives on Oct. 17, just in time to start transitioning her to full sized teeters "on the road."

Oh, and the channel weaves are set at 1.5 inches. I will try and close them down to zero at .5 inches per day, but I also need to wean the wires off too. Taking the wires off shouldn't be an issue, since I really don't think she knows they are there. I've put wires on from a recommendation from Kim and Jenn. They said it's worth getting the dogs used to them now in case you need to put them back on later. I agree with this advice. Ian had wires on his weaves, and this summer when I needed to go back and some remedial weave work, being able to put those wires on the entrances and exits were an easy way to keep him in the poles with no stress on either of us. As soon as he was confident again, I popped them off and I haven't had any more problems with him popping out!

I think I've discovered the keys to why she failed last year. Jenn Crank identified it first when she said we skipped our 3-5 obstacle training and went right from one jump work to full courses. Second, I didn't do enough individual obstacle work -- how could I when I didn't have an A frame or an adjustable dogwalk? It only took 2 weeks of that dogwalk being lower to build her confidence; the same with the A frame. It was a huge investment for 2 weeks of training, but well worth it in the end. I have a confident dog and a full set of agility equipment!

I think the final thing that's helped us is where we are in our other sports. She's quite confident in tracking and field work right now, and there's little to no stress in either sport. Last year we were still in the late stages of pile work when I started hitting agility hard. This was bad timing because she was in full pressure stage of field. While I thought agility would be a good break, it wasn't for Devon. She was trying to learn a whole new sport while getting a lot of pressure in another one. Then I cranked up the tracking again to get her ready for fall tests, and that was way too much. Now that we're through with the pressure stages of field, I can take it easy on those sports and only work them a couple of times a week and hit the agility almost every day for 10-20 minutes. 

I'm finally really thinking it will all come together soon. This is the most confident I've been in a long time. Devon looks just great, and she's really getting things this time around!