Friday, November 28, 2008

Ian is Qualified for the 2009 AKC Agility Nationals

Whew! Ian did me a HUGE favor and earned more than the 7 points he needed to qualify for the AKC Nationals in his first run this morning. I wasn't keen on going into this last weekend of the qualifying period still needing points, so I was really glad Ian didn't make me sweat it out until Sunday for a Q!

Ian was at the end of the 24 inch dogs, and I got to watch at least 10 dogs before he ran. I was a little worried, because the judge moved around the course a lot, especially in the weave poles. Ian has been refusing to weave when a judge is moving in the weaves. However, Ian was flawless and fast up until three jumps before the end, when he slowed considerably. I was convinced he might not even make course time with only 18 obstacles, but he earned 8 MACH points.

On a side note, I think I've finally hit that big sigh of relief most people feel after they MACH. Ian wasn't running well when he MACHed in June, and we've had to work through some weave and stress issues this summer and fall. I had this one last goal for him to qualify for a second AKC National, and as soon as he did this morning, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders! Our JWW run was a lot of fun -- he Q'd with a nice time and was one of only 7 dogs (out of 31) to Q. It's really fun when you and your dog have reached all the goals (and in Ian's case more goals than I could have ever expected) for the team.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Photo MEME

Ok, I read this on C-Lee's blog, and it sounds like fun. This is the 4th photo in the 4th folder of my photo files. It was taken the first week of June when we had the 100 year flood. This is looking off my back deck toward the north. What's underwater is the circular drive in front of my training building. I didn't get nearly the rain others south of Indianapolis got. On a work note, the floods caused me a month's worth of overtime because the state opened it's emergency center and on-going disaster recovery programs.

Oh, and you can see "Ian's tree" (aka Charlie Brown's Christmas tree) in the lower right hand corner of the photo. This was a lovely little evergreen tree when I moved here. I'll let you figure out how Ian killed it. Connor is responsible for breaking off the dead limbs. He loves sticks.

Anyone who reads this must do the same on their blog! Tag you're it!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

She’s not a baby dog Part 2: The compliment

After we finished the game, there was a nice woman with a black Lab asking about being measured before the Novice classes in next weekend’s AKC trial. It will be her first trial, and I told her Devon and I would also be in Novice. While I didn’t need a measure Devon, I would make sure she got to the right place for measuring, and I offered to answer any questions she had during trial.

She looked at me, then at Devon in shock and said, “SHE’S in Novice? She looks so much better than a Novice dog!” I could have cried! What an awesome compliment for a girl who only started back jumping in early September and didn’t have a successful full-height teeter performance until exactly one month ago in October. We still have room to improve on a consistent weave performance, but I am just so pleased at on outside opinion of her performance. Of course I did admit to this nice person that Devon was my 4th agility dog.

She’s not a baby dog Part 1: Gamblers

Last night Devon and I went to Lafayette for another games night. This week it was Gamblers. While one of the Novice level Gambles had a teeter in it, so we didn’t “do” the gamble, the other was a fairly straight forward Jump, tunnel, jump, jump at about 10 ft. of lateral distance. The difficulty for Devon and I on this second Gamble was the tunnel was under an A frame. The tunnel opening was closest to the handler/gamble line, so based on my handling system, Devon should have done the tunnel. However, I’ve rewarded handsomely for contacts and the line off the first jump set them up for the A frame.

You guessed it – Devon did a lovely jump to the A frame. I was so befuddled and there was a dog on my opposite side lunging at us that I forgot to ask for her contact, which befuddled her! She came off and to me since I didn’t even signal the other two jumps. I laugh and told her she was brilliant and we played tug.

So our second time into the Gamble, I stopped my forward movement after the first jump, which should have made her turn toward me and change her line to the tunnel – NOPE! I was ready. I called her to me and she turned and came back to me for a treat and a good girl. I then redirected her to the tunnel and she nailed the last two jumps at 10 ft. of lateral distance.

To note, she was AHEAD of me over the first jump … shades of things to come! The atmosphere was high in the building last night, since all the dogs were in the ring watching each other and we had two sets of dogs running. Devon was calm and good, even volunteering tugging to relieve her stress (wish other owners had taken note). However, this higher energy atmosphere is what we’ll be dealing with at a trial, and she’ll be wired and ready to run. I’m glad we know rear crosses!

Back to the Gamble for a third time, and I only needed deceleration and a verbal to change Devon’s path after the first jump right into the tunnel. When we ran the game for real, she nailed the Gamble! I had set her up badly for the whistle, so we were over time by 3 seconds and didn’t get enough points in the opening to “qualify,” but it was a well executed run by both of us. I didn’t panic when the whistle blew, and Devon completely ignored the number shouting and the whistle blowing.

The 7th teeter

My plan to get Devon on as many different teeters before her first AKC trial has worked out far better than I imagined. I had no idea I’d be able to get her in seven different locations in 6 weeks. I have dedicated time to this mission, and probably an additional $100 in building rental and drop in fees, but it has been one of the best things I’ve done in my training.

I know Devon and I need to have lots of training and foundation behind us before we start to compete. We’re both more confident walking to the line. She gives me her all every time she goes to the line, but she prefers to know exactly what her job will be. I made a huge mistake last year pushing her through some half hearted agility training and expecting her to know her job.

So here is a list of the training facilities we can count to Devon’s credit: Pawsitive Partners (two different teeters), Greater Lafayette Kennel Club, K9 Athletes, Wild Weavers of Ohio, Dogwood Training Center (Ohio), Pawsitive Energy and Queen City Dog Training Club. We’re doing weekly classes at Pawsitive Partners and we’ve been able to do several training sessions at Lafayette. This has been very worth our time since our first several trials in December, January and early February will be in these two training buildings.

Today, I can confidently say after seven teeters and training in various building under lots of conditions, she’s ready. I can’t wait until next weekend! Here’s hoping I can get a video camera on special Friday morning so I can post Devon’s runs (and runs by Ian and Connor, too!).

It’s that time of year

The agility equipment is now neatly tucked away in my small training building. Sigh! We had a pretty, but cold day on Sunday, and it was the perfect day to pack up the equipment since a rain/snow mix was coming in on Monday. In about 1.5 hours, we had everything neatly stored, with the weaves, one tunnel and a teeter still out for practice. Devon got to show off for mom and dad before we started packing everything up. We also discovered a rabbit huddled under the dogwalk before Devon did. It bounded to safety while Devon watched from the dog yard one fence away. She was sure to check out the rest of the rabbit beds in the tall grass after she missed that one.

Breaking the “bailing off” cycle

Last week I noticed Devon had developed a pattern of bailing off the teeter on the first time over it during an evening practice session, but she would turn around and do it successfully the second time (usually to great rewards) and then remain successful the rest of the evening (also earning rewards). She did this three training sessions in a row, so I was seeing a pattern that I didn’t want to continue or to crop up in a trial (since she cannot repeat the obstacle at a trial if she bails off after having all four paws in it).

The first thing I decided to do was change my words. I’d been saying, “teeter, teeter, tip it” as she approached the teeter and as she progressed over it, even when she’d glance over the side which I take as a sign she might bail. I believed continuing the performance word was encouraging her to continue the obstacle performance. However, I started to wonder if repeating the teeter command might be putting too much pressure on her. She was well aware of her job on that board. So thinking about Wendy Pape’s contract training sessions, I decided that once she had four paws on the board, I’d switch my words to “Good girl!” as she went over the obstacle. As Wendy always says when she’s training contacts, praise them on the board and don’t stress the whole obstacle.

My second concern was that she would learn to re-try the obstacle once she bailed, which would get us whistled off the course at a trial. I have already vowed never to call her off a teeter, especially when she’s on it. I never want the teeter to be a bad thing. However, this would add a lot of stress around the teeter from the judge if she tried to get back on it at a trial.

After much discussion with Kim, we decided if she bails off the teeter, I’m will take her immediately away from the obstacle and put her back on course 3-4 obstacles before the teeter. We want Devon to know she has to perform the obstacle correctly the FIRST TIME in order to earn a reward. If she goes back to it instead of coming with me, she’ll get a “good girl,” but no food rewards for the second effort; again only rewarding the completion of the obstacle the first time. We thought this plan might also rehearse moving her away from the obstacle if she bailed at a trial.

My first test of this new “protocol” came last Thursday in her class at Pawsitive. This is a location that she has done the “first time bail” before. We also had a different teeter that she had not seen for 4 weeks, so it was a good test. She was successful the very first time over the obstacle with the new verbal reward after she mounted the board.

The biggest test was Friday evening at Queen City Training club. We went to run thrus and she’s never been to that facility before. She nailed the teeter the first time over it. I gave her jackpot rewards, then turned her around and asked her for three obstacles and the teeter again. She was successful and got more jackpots. We did a second run and she was again successful.  Last night at Lafayette, she was successful every time over the teeter, especially the first time.

So while she may still bail on a teeter performance in the future, I think I discovered the problem this time was my verbal pressure in continuing to give her an obstacle command on the board. Since I have switched to full praise when she’s on the board, she hasn’t bailed off the teeter a single time!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Does it count if I retrieve a cat?

Last week we had a field lesson at Gamekeepers. First, Mitch set up a “big dog” T drill for Devon. The back pile was at least 80 yards and the side piles were at least 60 yards from the center. This was more distance than Devon had seen to date, so we were really pushing her. She did just a fantastic job. She slipped one whistle and had a no go toward the end of the drill, but other than that she did just great.

After the T drill, Mitch wanted to see some long marks in his front field. Devon got the first mark at about 90 yards. Mitch moved to another location to set up a mark about 120 yards long. As he was setting up, I heard a sound and in my subconscious I noted it was an animal sound. However, as it continued, my subconscious registered it was an “out of place” animal sound, and I locked in that it was a cat meowing. I turned, and sure enough there was a brown tiger cat meowing walking up behind us. I turned to see how Devon was handling this since she had no leash on and I wasn’t holding her, and she only had eyes for Mitch. Good girl!

So Mitch threw the bumper and I sent Devon. As she was going out for her mark, this friendly cat came and started winding its way around my feet. As Devon started to come back with the bumper, I yelled to Mitch about the cat. He was shocked and said most cats stayed away because of the dogs, and he asked what I thought Devon would do. I said, “Well, we’ll find out.” Devon has been around cats inside, but she’s never had one run from her. You should have seen the look on Devon’s face when she saw the cat at my feet. She was about 20 yards away when she saw it, bumper in mouth at a dead run. She made a quick decision and headed right at the cat, which smartly ran about 15 yards to my left (I can’t imagine what the cat thought). After removing it from my feet, she returned to heel and never bobbled her bumper – GOOD GIRL!

I yelled to Mitch and asked what I should do about the cat. He said take the bumper and release Devon to see what she’d do. So I did. As soon as I got the bumper and gave her a release word, Devon turned and took off toward the cat. The cat took off, with Devon in hot pursuit. It made a couple of bad cut back moves, and Devon almost had it twice. As soon as Devon had taken it close to the tree line near the road (this is a dirt road that barely gets half a dozen cars a day), I called her back to me. She looked over her shoulder like, “Mom! You have GOT to be kidding me here! I’m having WAY too much fun!” I decided to add a nick to my “here” and after a couple of light collar nicks, she broke off and came right back to me, settling in heel position. Mitch decided we didn’t need to worry about her retrieving a live duck if she ever got one, because she almost retrieved a live cat back to me!

Devon continued her marks, and then Mitch set up three site blinds, including one with suction to where Devon chased the cat. I’m so proud of my girl. She never once even looked toward where she’d run the cat out of the field but continued to work like a pro! She lined all of her sight blinds except the long one (115 yards) which she got on two handles (three whistles because she slipped the first one). Not bad for the first time handling to a blind!

Devon’s agility update

Devon has made huge strides in agility. Last week we had an agility lesson with Jenn Crank, Devon’s first since her iliopsoas muscle pull in March. Devon was successful on a new teeter, and other than a slow, testing first attempt at the dogwalk, she was fine on all the equipment. Jenn reminded me to continue to use all forward cues as I class and do Devon’s first few trials in Novice. She also picked up that when I’m a little unsure about what Devon will do on a sequence, I tend to let my voice get really high and baby talk Devon. Jenn reminded me that I need to be confident and sure of what she’ll do and reflect that in my voice.

This great lesson was followed by a great training session at Dogwood in Ohio. I was able to rent the building for an hour, working Connor (he was delighted) and then Devon. She was so excited to be in another new building to do agility! She cantered over the contact equipment, going faster across the dogwalk than I’d ever seen her. I could tell her speed increased, because I had to move faster. She also was successful at not only sequencing every set of 6 weave poles, but she was also successful at two sets of 12 weave poles.

I also did run thrus in Lafayette last week. Devon did a really good job, even getting 12 weave poles. She did bail off the teeter the first time, mainly because the entrance was awkward and didn’t allow me to support her from behind onto the board (I had to post around and be parallel to the end of the board). Even though she bailed the first time, she was successful the other two times over the teeter with that entrance.

We completed our week-long tour of three new training buildings by working at Pawsitive Energy on Saturday evening. Devon really liked the dirt floor to do weaves and was flying through them. The speed decreased the accuracy, but she did well even though she didn’t hit every pole. She did struggle with this new teeter. This was the first time she’s really been unsure in a new building. Even though she bailed off of it, she went right back on and was successful. She did bail off the first three times we attempted the teeter, being successful on the second attempt. We went off to do other things, and when we returned to the teeter, she was successful on the first try for three more sequences at the end of our session.

The thing I was most pleased with at Pawsitive Energy was her dogwalk performance. If I thought she was speeding up earlier in the week, it was only shades of what was to come Saturday. Devon RAN up the dogwalk so fast she bounced the up ramp. I could barely keep up with her, and I was running as fast as I could to the other end. I’m thinking I’m going to be very glad I stayed with the 2o2o contact! I would have never imagined Devon would be running over the dogwalk!

So we’re still training daily on various handler positions in the weaves and getting her on equipment at local training clubs. We head to Queen City for run thrus this weekend, and yet another new training facility. This will be her 8th new agility facility in five weeks, and she’s done the teeter at seven of them. I’m so proud of her! I think we’re really ready to start trialing in December!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A perfect mini-T drill

Devon and I have been working "overs" in isolation for three sessions. On Tuesday, the second session, the light bulb came on! I continued one more session on just "overs" to make sure she was solid. So today was the first time I put it all back together.

I set the back pile at 40 yards and the side piles not quite 20 yards off the center. I identified the back pile and sent her. On the second send, I stopped her then asked for a right back. Perfect. I sent her again, stopped her, and identified the left over pile. I sent her and it was perfect. I lined her up and sent her to the back pile, stopped her, and then did a left back. Perfect! Next I sent her to the back pile, stopped her, identified the right over pile, and sent her. Perfect again! 

And so it went, sending her to the back and over piles without identification. A perfect mini-T drill, with Devon nailing ever handle and ever sit whistle. I was so very proud of her, and you could tell she knew she was doing it right out there. The only flaw is that when she turns to sit, she's not facing me square, but usually facing to my right. However, she's taking every cast, including the left back even though she must turn 270 degrees to take it. I will have to straighten up that sit, but for today I wasn't going to fuss at her when she did such an awesome job!

Tracking in the wind

It was cold and windy today. The temps didn't get above 40 degrees and there was a raw wind between 12-15 mph, gusting to 17-20 mph. The wind chills made the temp feel like 30 degrees this afternoon. I got up around 7 a.m., and after letting the dogs out thought better of morning tracking and headed back to bed. I finally pulled myself out of bed and headed out with all three dogs shortly before 12:30 p.m. Even though it was cold and not an ideal day to track, the weather is closing in, and I wanted to see what the dogs, especially Ian, would do with this wind. I laid Devon's VST track first, and then I laid Ian and Connor's tracks.

Ian's track
Ian had a 140 yard track with one left turn at 110 yards. The turn was into the wind. It was aged 35 minutes. He handled the start well, but right away allowed the wind to push him to the right of the track. It was funny to watch him actually get frustrated by the wind and the way it was pushing the scent. It didn't help that the land also sloped slightly to the right, so the wind was pushing the scent downhill. He looked back at me a couple of times as if asking for me to explain to him why this track was so very different today. 

I'm glad I made the first leg so long, because at about 50 yards, he decided he had to poop. I really hope this does not become a tracking habit. This was the third time he's pooped on a track, and he shouldn't have had to go based on his normal schedule and the time of day. However, once he got that taken care of, he went back to work and for the rest of the leg did a great job of fighting the wind.

He did a lovely "loss of scent" indication at the turn and circled several times. Finally he stood in the right direction of the track and stopped. In the last few tracks we've done, at this point he's stopped and stared at me. However this time he never looked back at me. Instead, he started a slow walk down the new leg, and I stepped in behind him and followed. As I did, he dropped his nose dead on the track and was nose down until he pounced on the glove to "kill" it! 

This was the best turn Ian's done to date! I'm thinking that after a half dozen sessions of just one turn, he's finally getting what turns are all about. I'm going to do several more tracks like this until he's confidently pulling me onto the new leg. I'm feeling really good about his tracking right now! I'm also proud of myself for not rushing him, but taking the slow and steady approach and letting him learn.

Connor's track
Due to the lay of the land and working around a pond, Connor's track was shorter than Ian's track. Connor only had 50 yards to a left turn and then 30 yards to his glove. Based on Ian's track, I'd say Connor's track was 35-40 minutes. Connor was excited to start and was a happy camper at the startline. He tracked well off the start and for the first 30 yards. However, he started eating grass shortly after the 30 yard marker and then left the track and went 25 ft. out to eat animal poop. He struggled to the turn, and finally locked into the turn but the whole time was eating grass and hunting poop as well. He made the glove, but I had forgotten treats, so he wasn't as cheerful at the end. He did track me out and seemed happier as we walked to the van. He of course got his rewards at the van.

I'm wondering if the wind was too much of a factor for him. I can only think it was the wind that stressed him to eat grass. After the start he really wasn't his normal perky tracking self. It made me wonder again if I should just retire him. I don't really have any plans to try another certification attempt, but he was enjoying tracking so I thought I'd continue to work skills with him. I think I'll just make sure I'm not tracking him more than once a week and continue to see what time and Connor tell me.

Devon's track
Devon's track was 480 yards around a local elementary school. It had 200 yards, or 42% non-veg, including concrete, rubber mulch, regular mulch and blacktop. I gave her a total of four articles, including a cloth glove at the start, metal and plastic on the track and leather glove at the end. We ran the track at exactly three hours, and it was 3:30 p.m. at the start. I could tell the school had seen some traffic during the age time, including teachers coming and going from an area of the building that would have crossed Devon's track in at least one place.

I brought Devon to the start flag at a 90 degree angle and faced the flag so that the track went off to my right. Devon got her scent, then went straight in front of me and circled left finding the start. She found where I walked into the start, and quickly followed it past the flag for a very strong, confident start. The track ran about 40 yards in grass along the road, then crossed a wide driveway, then back up on grass in front of the school. Devon tracked confidently through this and into the mulched landscaping beside the school's front entrance. She tracked through the landscaping up to where I went onto the concrete behind a bench when she got sucked into some cross tracks. I believe these were squirrels, since some of the mulch she checked out had been disturbed. I let her explore, and she finally came back to tracking and went quickly across the front entrance of the school and through the other mulch bed. I was very impressed she tracked me right on my footsteps through this mulch bed, going right around the exact plantings I did. She was again confident onto the grass and at the first turn wanted to explore the trees (again, I think she was looking for squirrels). 

At this point she over shot the turn and struggled a little to find the second leg. She worked it for a couple of minutes, and then confidently found it. This leg was difficult, but one she had done successfully in the past. She went on grass between the corner of the building and a metal iron fence (about a 45 ft. distance between them). From grass she went onto concrete for only a few feet then into and through a rubber tire mulched playground area for about 60 yards. Devon raced through this grass and into the mulch to check out a white rock just into the mulch. She had not yet had an article, and I think she believed that could be her article -- tracking with her eyes. When it turned out not to be an article, I believe she lost confidence that she was on the track. I backed her up and I knew she was right on the track. However, she searched the entire area almost the distance of her line for several long minutes. I finally stopped her for a drink and rescented her. I was reluctant to show her where the track was because this is behavior she's shown me the last two times at about 1/3 of the way through the track and I've helped her. The conditions she was presented with were not hard, and she's tracked this mulch several times in about three different schools (quite popular in our area), and she's never had a problem. 

Finally after checking out everything in the area more than once, including peering down the storm drain a couple of times, she went into the mulch bed, and I took a couple of steps behind her even though she wasn't right on the track. This was all the encouragement she needed. She put her nose right down and headed for the track. Twice more in the mulched area she searched left, which I let her do, but then came back and tracked out through the mulch to find her metal article just outside the rubber mulched playground. A great place for a reward!

I'm wondering if the wind caused some scenting challenges through there with the building, fence and playground equipment. It would have been coming from our left, but it was likely swirling around the playground equipment, through the fence, down the storm drain and back at us off the building. Plus when the rock pulled her through the area, I believe she was just running to the rock and not really realizing she was on the track. She likely "left the track" back where we came between the building and the fence, even though she was actually on the line of the track I'm wondering if she didn't know it. However, I'm glad I made her work through this and I didn't help. Even if it was coincidence that this was the third time she'd stopped at about the same place in the track, I don't want her to get used to my help. I have rarely helped her track, preferring to let her work it out. I think this is the best way to work her, since she's a very smart girl and learns quickly on her own. She's also a not-so-subtle con artist and will take the easy way out of she can get away with it.

Devon tracked on grass to her third turn, then after the turn fairly easily out across the parking lot for about 70 yards. She was back on grass for a turn and 30 yards, then across a small driveway and back up on grass for her plastic article. At this point someone came out of the building (right over the last leg of her track), and Devon was just sure this guy came out to see her and her plastic article. Imagine her disappointment when he got in his waiting van and drove off!

Devon found turn five pretty easily and then after only a little transition work in the grass went back down onto the parking lot and across it 80 yards. I was especially pleased with this leg since I left no chalk marks and only put water down in four places. She went up over the sidewalk into the grass for her last turn. She went across two sidewalks including the entrance where people had clearly gone in and out, even the recent guy we watched, and she didn't even flick her head. She also went by the courtyard holding the climate control units which were running, and again didn't even give them a thought and tracked all the way to her glove.

I was really proud of Devon on this track. She was tired after being the van for 3 hours and putting a mighty effort into field drill about 30 minutes before running the track. I'm also glad she worked through that scenting issue she struggled with on her own. I was pleased with my article placements to give the right amount of reward for her, and I thought the track had a nice balance of veg and non-veg. 

All in all a good day of tracking!

Devon's really clicking in agility

Devon is just doing such a good job in agility. Thursday night in our class, Liz could not get over the confidence and speed she had. The first set of sequences were working rear crosses. Based on Devon's limited trialing in agility last year, I have a feeling I'll be looking at her rear a lot, so I'll need this skill set. Devon read rear crosses beautifully, and Liz said on her second one she knew it was coming two strides before the jump. She turned tight over the jump and just nailed it! 

The speed we've been working on the A frame also translated to the class setting. Devon started that hesitant slide on the A frame, but I ran through the obstacle and she saw her target treat container, and she came right down the A frame and never repeated the slide again. When she picked up her treat container, Liz said, "Oh how cute! What a good, good girlie!" and Devon held her 2o2o and started wagging her tail! It was really cute! 

I was also pleased with her speed on tunnels. I could hear the difference in her tunnel performance, because I could hear her accelerating and really running through the tunnel. She had been trotting through tunnels, but at class Thursday night she started to run through them. In no time she'll be blasting through them, and it's all translating into speed on the course and over jumps. I was getting confident, fast jumping on the course, and I was really pleased. I felt like I could finally start handling her versus babysitting obstacles and working skills.

She did bail the first time over the teeter. I said, "Oh my" when she bailed, which was just a disappointment reaction on my part I hadn't really intended. I turned her around, and she went right back on and over the teeter no problem. I gave her lots of rewards, and then we started the sequence over again (it was the 5th obstacle) and she drove to the teeter no problem. When we repeated the sequence later, she never even looked at me coming out of the tunnel but headed right toward the teeter and nailed it. The teeter was right after the tunnel, so I'm betting that first time over it she had very little "prep" time for the teeter since she was blind to it until right before she was on it. However, she only bailed that first time and gave me all the effort she had every other time and did lovely performances the rest of the class.

We sequenced the weaves twice, and both times she got the performance on the second try. The first time she was not driving through them, but noodling and popped the 4th pole. However the second time I asked her for them she drove, and again Liz even noticed the difference in her performance. On the second sequence, she missed the entrance (rare for her), but again nailed them on the second try. I have to stay behind her in the weaves for now and not push her out of them. I know this is a baby dog thing we need to work on, because she's getting more confident here at home with my various handler positions. I think this is something we'll work on all winter, since I can do weaves in my building.

Over all, I could not have been more pleased with her class work. In a matter for 4 weeks, she's gained confidence by leaps and bounds and all the work at home is translating into great performances away from home. She's now worked on equipment in three different locations away from home, and she's done very well at all three. In the next 7 days, she'll be on equipment in three more new places. I think this is setting her up very well for her first set of trials in December!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Swift progress

I was just looking over the blog posts, and I realized what incredibly fast progress Devon made on her teeter confidence. She went from not even being at full height on Oct. 3 to doing a brand new teeter in a new location in a sequence on Oct. 28. In fact, during a match on Oct. 17-18, I wrote that I didn’t even try the teeter, and she wasn’t ready for weaves at all. Less than 10 days later she was confidently doing both away from home! I’m really proud of this girl!


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The need for speed

Now that Devon has mastered the teeter, we’re starting to work on building speed. I think this will come with confidence in “playing the game,” and I had planned to wait a little longer before pressing her for speed. However, after discussing it with a couple of trainers and thinking about it more, I decided to play with encouraging speed at this point, and I’m pleased with the results.

First, I took a toy and played the “ready, ready, GO!” game and raced her to it. Then I went to the weaves with the same energy and the same toy and said, “ready, ready, GO WEAVE!” Now, these were 12 poles with wires only on 2 and 4 and open 2 inches. She just nailed the poles and at more speed than I’ve seen her have. You better bet I rewarded that! We repeated this four times with me in various positions before I saw her speed slightly diminish as she got tired. At that point I moved onto something else.

For speed down the contacts, I put her on a 24 inch table next to the A frame and used the same toy target and again did my “ready, ready HIT/STAY!” Unfortunately this game with a toy means grab the toy and take off on a victory lap with it, so we got no two on two off. When I tried to make her stop with the toy, she clearly got confused. Since I wanted to keep the speed and association I got at the weaves, I decided we’d change the target reward.

The next day I put good human food in a plastic disposable container with a lid. I rewarded her from this small container so she knew what kind of yummies were in it. Then I put it out as a target and said, “Ready, ready, HIT/STAY” and she flew down the A frame and nailed the contact. She does like to pick the container up in her mouth, which is fine with me. She’ll even take a jump with it in her mouth before I reward her for it.

I’m really encouraged by the speed I’m getting with just minimal work on rewarding for it. The weave speed even translated to her 6 poles straight up. Interestingly I did a ring rental at a new place (for her) yesterday, and she still kept the speed with 12 straight up poles even if she only did about 8 of them. I rewarded her for the effort and the speed she gave me, but I won’t try 12 poles straight up again for a while!

Also during the ring rental, we worked full contact performance with the speed reward at the bottom. I got drive all the way down the A frame, but she wasn’t able to hit a two on two off with that speed. She did give me a four on the floor stop just at the base of the A frame. I think I’m going to go ahead and reward that, since she’s purposefully driving down through the contact zone and stopping. It’s a lot better performance than her halting/sliding down the A frame to make the contact!

I was also pleased with her drive on the dogwalk, considering this particular dogwalk has a lot of bounce on the ups and downs. Between her being fine on the dogwalk and sequencing a brand new teeter (again without doing it in isolation first), I was thrilled with her work so far this week!

That “light bulb” moment

Oh I just love the moment the light bulb comes on and the dog gets it. Devon is such an honest dog, she shows me right away when she gets something. Yesterday was the second day in a row I’ve just isolated the “over” part of the T drill. I had two buckets 40 yards apart and I set her in the middle. After a couple to each side with me up close, I stepped back 15 yards and asked her for an "over" again. She came into me instead of going over. UGH!

So, then I had my light bulb moment. I stepped closer to her (about 7 yards away) and took a bumper from behind me and threw it to the over pile to identify it again. I immediately saw the light bulb go on for Devon; “OOOHHHH! You want me OVER THERE!” She just nailed her over. I repeated this again a little farther back, and she again nailed it. I was able to do a couple more to each side at about 15-20 yards and this time she turned and went straight “over.”

Lots of rewards for each of these correct performances! I’m going to try one more session of “over” in isolation this evening to see what I get. I know Devon well enough that I think she got it. If she did, we’ll put it all back together this weekend and see what we have.

Monday, November 3, 2008


I want to expand something I’ve touched on in two recent posts, and that’s balance. Devon and I are really hitting our stride in training. I’m loving starting every day and going home every evening to train her. That has not always been the case with us, and we’ve really struggled especially last year. I think I’ve hit on some of the reasons why we’re doing well now, and they have everything to do with balance.

  1. I’m keeping my training sessions short; no more than 15 minutes. This way I concentrate on what I need to get accomplished, and I’m leaving Devon wanting more.
  2. We are at various stages in all her sports. In agility, we’re refining and building on skills. In obedience, we’re just learning skills. In field, we’re doing advanced skills. In tracking, we’re applying solid skills to new situations.
  3. We’re not competing in all sports at once … yet. In field and tracking, we’re between levels and learning new skills that are built on previous foundation. In agility, we’re preparing to complete for the “first” time. In obedience, we’re building a foundation. I can see a day when we’ll compete in multiple sports at once, but for now we’re not.
  4. I’m focusing on her learning and training process. I’m working at teaching her skills and perfecting them; I’m not focusing on when she’ll be ready to compete.
  5. And mostly, my attitude is in the right place! This is probably the key to all the others. I’m simply enjoying training Devon. I’m enjoying the look on her face as she learns new obedience skills. I’m baby talking and praising her on the way in from each bumper in her really tough field drills, because I know she’s working her guts out for me – and in return she’s “smiling” and wagging her tail and RUNNING in with her bumper. I’m setting frustration aside and enjoying the journey – and that’s something new for me. It used to be about the Q. When Devon got hurt this spring I was angry and depressed. We had goals, and we had things to do. But now I’m finding the “game” is about reaching the goal; the journey. 

Tracking Connor

Connor is back to “normal” with his tracking – he’s really enjoying it. He’s been nose down, right on the line tracking every since our failed certification attempt last month. I believe he’s not certifying because of the pressure and the bad emotional feelings he’s had at that location when we’ve failed the last three times.

I like it better when Connor’s happy about doing something, and that’s the way he’s been in training. Therefore, I think I’ve given up on the idea of getting him certified and getting his TD. I’m still going to train and track him. I’m still going to try and “fix” this turn problem we have. But if he never earns his TD and just has fun tracking, that’s fine with me. 

Tracking Ian

I’ve started working turns with Ian. Now comes the interesting part of tracking – reading the dog. Ian is very clear when he loses scent, and he does a good job of searching. However, I’m having a hard time figuring out when he finds the new leg. He pulls in the direction of the new track, but he’s about 30 degrees off the line. I don’t go because he’s not correct. Twice now he after going through this search process, pulling me a couple of times in the “not quite but close” direction he comes near me and stands and stops working. At this point I ask him where his track is and take one step in the direction of the track. He immediately drops his head right on the track and tracks off. This indicates to me that he knows exactly where it was, but stopped working because I didn’t follow. But both times he indicated a line in a direction 30 degrees off the track. I’m wondering if he’s fringing a little due to wind (I’ll have to consider the wind direction next time to watch for that). This is just something odd that we’re going to have to work out.

The second odd thing is his flinging himself versus tracking nicely. The last several times we’ve tracked has been taller cover, and he’s been a little wild again. However, Sunday morning we tracked on short cut grass (the lawn of a school near the tracking test so a totally new field for him). He tracked like a dream with his nose down and really working. The only difference was the location and the change in cover. Hummmm, something else to think about!

Working T drills

Devon and I have been working the mini T drill for several days. This was just where we left off when she was injured in March. At Mitch’s place last month, she did this drill very well. However, we’ve struggled once we got home. At first she wasn’t working the back pile well, so I did the back pile in isolation. Then she couldn’t see the over piles, so I moved them closer. Then she was pulling to the over piles, so I didn’t use buckets the next time … and she couldn’t see them again. Next I used buckets, but she was confused and thought we were doing lining drills. And it goes on.

The good news is she is nailing her right and left back handles, and she’s also stopping very well on her sit whistles. Now I need to do over piles in isolation this week and see if I can get some of the handling to the sides back.

I’ve been reminded that field work is a balance, and that’s right. I’ve seen some awesome dogs fall apart on a certain drill or set up. Two things that I have been doing right is keeping my sessions to 10-15 minutes and ALWAYS praising and talking to my dog as she’s working. These two things have kept her attitude up and my frustration level down. I wish I’d found this balance last summer when we were working piles!

Training multiple sports

I’ve posted before that Devon is training is multiple sports at one time. This weekend, I got in a discussion about that with another Golden person and a Lab person. Both of these individuals compete in at least three sports with their dogs. However, they immediately said they can’t do all of them at once. I started to disagree, because Devon trains in multiple sports at once. Then they started talking about how their dogs break down in the other sports and they don’t have time to train every night, etc. I decided to stop talking. Either I have a really great dog (which I do), or I’m a real freak and have no life and do nothing but train (ok, that’s true too). I wasn’t having any of the problems they say the are.


Tracklaying at a test

I had my first experience as a tracklayer at a TDX test. It was a great experience, and one I’d recommend to anyone who is tracking. I had track 4 at the White River Golden Retriever Club’s test at Summit Lake State Park. The cover is very thick, and includes multifloral rose and other stickers, plus trees and roads as obstacles. This is a 6 track test with first priority going to Golden Retrievers. Usually four or five of the six dogs pass this test.

I was familiar with tracking in this park because last year Devon was entered and ran track 5. We were 180 yards from the glove when we missed our next to the last turn and were whistled off. I had also tracked their last year in preparation for the test. However, being with the judges and plotting the track and being responsible for laying it was totally different!

I now know how badly tracklayers want their dogs to pass, and how hard judges work to make a good, fair test. It took us an hour to plot this track, and there were long discussions on how the cross track layers would get in and out of the field. Article placement was also discussed, and how articles were used to pull the dog onto the track away from a difficult area.

For my part, after we plotted the track, I went back and walked it twice more until I could barely lift my feet. The terrain was so rough my hips were sore from lifting my legs, and I was catching my feet on rose limbs. At one point, I tripped and reached my hand out to grab a tree to steady myself, only to deeply bruise my knuckle from a thorn on the tree. I was dragging and exhausted after the 1.5 hour drive home, only to know I would be driving back at 6 a.m. the next morning to lay the test track.

We had a beautiful day for a test. The chief tracklayer had us on a clock and we were all perfectly timed. I checked my articles at least 5 times, went through my list out loud, “leave the start flag, lay the article, pick up the rest of the flags, leave articles at the flags with Xs, don’t take the white cross track flags…” I carefully laid out my articles, giving them an extra pat for good luck. I did everything I could to help this unknown dog and handler pass.

Draw time, who got my track? Club member and friend Laurie and her Golden Dusty. Goodness, this was going to be a track! Dusty is a high drive, handful of a dog, who does everything fast and with energy! I couldn’t imagine what following him on a track would be like, and I soon found out it was as exciting and fast as I expected!

Dusty was off like a shot from the start flag, rounding the first turn at 50 yards as Judge #1 Rosemary was just past the start flag, and Judge #2 Steve and I were well behind. As I made the first turn, I could see Dusty enter the woods 100 yards ahead of us. We were still in the woods, when we heard Laurie shout she had the first article – we still had 100 yards and a turn to get to her! Luckily Dusty had a search at the third turn and managed to take his line around a couple of trees, because that slowed him down enough for us to catch up! But before we reached the turn, he was off like a shot!

At this point I got to see from behind the only thing on the whole track that worried me. Dusty was square on the track; I know I laid it. I saw him sniffing between two sapling trees I walked between. However, Laurie was 25 ft. to the left of the track. I wanted to tell her, “Get behind your dog! He’s right and you’re wrong!” Luckily she didn’t pull him off the track, and she did step in behind him.

The second article on track was found, and Dusty did manage to get a drink of water and give us a moment’s rest before he was off again! At the fifth turn, he bolted so fast off the turn, he pulled the tracking line out of Laurie’s hands. My last image of Laurie until right before she found the glove was her running after Dusty to try and grab the line! She did before he made the next turn. However, Judge Rosemary fell right before that turn (doing what most of us had been trying not to do the entire track). She was fine, but that was the last time we saw Laurie and Dusty until 20 yards right before the glove. I’m so glad we got to see them find the glove, because that was a great party!

As Judge Rosemary said, “That pass made the whole weekend worth it!” That sums it up best. Laurie was all smiles, Dusty was very proud of himself, and the whole gallery was screaming from the road for us to come out because they had no idea where we were behind the trees! Laurie’s first words to me were, “You stink great!” Wow, what a compliment!

I was fortunate enough to be the tracklayer for the only passing track that day. I guess I was the “stinkyest” person there! What a great feeling to be part of that pass! Tracking takes a village, but it is so worth it!