Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Hummmm, this is comfortable....

I thought these two photos were funny. The first one is Devon curled up in "Page's lounge chair." It's not really Page's chair, but it is the one she spends the most time in. Devon has hopped up there several times in the last few days as if she's testing it out for comfort. Maybe it's more comfortable than where Devon usually spends her time? I'm not sure Devon's convinced.

And here's a recent shot of Page testing out Connor's couch. Again, not really his couch, but since the weather has been warm, 10-year-old Connor prefers to spend his days on the couch where the air conditioning is the coolest. You can see I'm once again protecting my furniture with fleece!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fun video for Page

Thanks to Steve Ripley for making this fun video of Page's debut weekend. What a great memory I have with all of Page's runs! Thanks Steve!!

Agility Club of Indianapolis trial, day 3

Whew! I was completely exhausted by day 3. The girls did an absolutely wonderful job again on Sunday. I'll go in chronological order for this post.

Page, Novice JWW
This course was a bear. Later in the day I realized it was the Excellent JWW opening and closing bridged by a tunnel (at the end of the weave poles). I decided it would be a forward moving front cross drill for Page and I. I had learned a few things about Page on Saturday that I wanted to put in practice.

First, I realized she was rock solid on her start lines. Since she was steady, I wanted to push her and see if I could get a lead out to where I was comfortable. Page held her start line, and I liked the first front cross.

Generally the opening to the tunnel I was very pleased with. I wish she would not have had that first refusal, but she is a baby dog and those things happen. Page never let that tunnel bother her as an off-course option, which is remarkable for a baby dog who loves tunnels. That tunnel got a lot of extra work in Novice!

I never found a good way to run the ending after the tunnel. Even after a lot of study, I never found a simple option. Even the seasoned Excellent dogs had trouble there, and Devon went around the second to the last jump. It's too bad one of the last two jumps wasn't tweaked to make it doable for baby dogs. Even though we didn't Q, I still felt like this was a very good effort by Page.

Devon, Excellent A Standard
This was a really fun course, and Devon was ready to run it. I think Devon did a fantastic job with this course, except for the weaves. Since she was feeling fine and gave me no effort, I made her do them again. Of course, she popped out at pole 10 to do the teeter! I'm so thrilled with her confident, happy teeter, I didn't mind.

After the teeter, Devon put on the afterburners. I'm not sure it comes through on the video, but she was moving and I was barely in control! She was 11 seconds under SCT and that was with a second attempt at the weave poles! You can see with her speed she doesn't bother to hit the A frame contact. But I really enjoyed her burst of speed because it meant she was having fun and really enjoying herself out there.

Devon, Excellent B JWW
Very quickly Devon was up in the JWW ring. This was quite a technical course, so I worked very hard on my handling. I thought we did a great job with a very difficult course. Again the weaves bit us in the butt; can you tell what our homework from this trial is? I will not fault Devon for missing that next to the last jump. I made an assumption she would take it and I didn't support it fully.

Page, Novice Standard
I saved the funniest video for last! But before the clip, I'll continue with things I learned about Page this weekend. On Saturday night as I was thinking back over Page's JWW run, I realized why she struggled with the forward moving front cross/going around a jump in two places and didn't in the third. Page has always favored her right lead over her left lead. In fact, when she first started jumping, she would only turn right around the jump which clued me in that she was only using her right lead. After 3 days, this went away.

On Saturday in JWW, the two jumps Page went around where when she was on her left lead. When she was on her right lead, she was comfortable with more lateral distance and less support from me. I used this knowledge when I walked the Standard course, and I made note to work extra hard to support jumps when she was on her left lead.

The next thing I realized is that she hadn't missed a weave pole all weekend. All our weave entrances had been off-side until the last run. The tunnel, jump, teeter, weave, broad jump section of the Novice course looked to me to be more difficult than it presented on paper. If I was running Devon, I would have picked her up on my left out of the tunnel and pushed her to the jump, working her on my left through that section.

But Page doesn't push well and I knew I'd have to support that jump. She would also be blasting through that tunnel, and I didn't think I could get into a good position to support that jump if I picked her up on the left. Since her weaves were so strong, I decided to pick her up on my right and rear cross into the weaves. I could support the jump-teeter combo and if she didn't get the weaves I'd just turn her around and try again. My plan worked well!

Even though I made a note to support jumps on her left lead better, I missed one before the A frame. It didn't really matter because of the table...

Be careful what you train. On Sunday, Page wasn't going to sit on that table for anything. I knew by the look on her face when she went down she was staying! This is the entertainment factor in the video. The only way this video would have been funnier is if you could have seen Judge Christie Bowers jumping up and down and acting just as nutty trying to get Page to sit as I was. Luckily I've only signed her up for one more day of AKC agility before Sept. 1. And if it's a sit on the table that day, I'm taking it as a training run!

It was a long weekend, and this is our only trial between the end of February and the end of August. When I considered whether or not to do this trial, it seemed silly to spend the money on the entry when it was our only agility trial in a 6-month period. However looking back, I think it was a very valuable snapshot on what we are doing well and what we need to work on for the next 4 months.

Devon's biggest accomplishment is her success on the teeter. I know I cannot take this obstacle for granted for a while, but she was very confident in her runs. I plan to continue taking her to a few other locations in the next two months to train. I'm also looking forward to the CPE trial the end of August before some fall AKC trials. The more trial experience she gets with the teeter, the better!

I also know that the other reason she did the teeter so confidently is that her "self esteem" was high. On Friday she was "special dog" because I didn't bring Page; she had me all to herself. This is very important to Devon. She was spoiled as the most important dog to train from the time she walked in the door until the day in April 2009 when Gayle secured Page into the crate next to her. As much as Devon likes her little sister, she doesn't enjoy spitting training time with Page. I will need to do a few "Devon only" trials to keep her attitude up.

I need to go back and work weave entrances. I think that Devon's shoulder being out and sore began this problem about 10 days ago, but now it's created a small training issue. I doubt I'll have to work hard to get Devon's weaves back; she has nice weaves. But I will need to make an effort.

Generally for her first weekend in Excellent Standard and her fifth weekend in Excellent JWW, I think Devon is doing a lovely job! We are well on our way to becoming a seasoned team! I'm looking forward to fall trials with Devon.

Page showed me some incredible things this weekend. She never went off course. She always looked to me for direction, which is remarkable for a 16 month old high drive pushy pup. Page knows this is a team of two sport, and she's all for it. What a privilege it is for me to run her!

Page never missed a weave pole, even with very challenging off-side entries and a rear crossed entry. Her performance in the poles was off, but I know that's totally due to there only being 6 poles. I can't wait to move her into Open so she can see 12 poles.

Page's start line was completely solid. I never once thought she would break. All the hard work on her start line criteria paid off this weekend. It's so nice to know I can get that lead out I'll need. I will need to maintain this skill and be ever vigilant.

Page stepped up on day 2 and nailed all three of her contacts. Even though she missed her correct performance on the teeter and dogwalk on Saturday, she did get the A frame. The fact that she improved her performance on day 2 once again speaks to the remarkable dog she is. That said, proofing contacts is our big homework assignment in the next 2 months. I want her contacts to be more solid to a verbal release regardless of my movement.

Finally, I'm pleased with Page's jumping. She is over jumping, which I've been assured will fade quickly with experience. She doesn't over jump in training, so I'm comfortable. I do need to really think about where I need to be to support jumps for her so she can gain confidence, especially on her left lead. While this is a longer term goal for us, I can still set up jumping drills and work that left lead.

This weekend told me Page is set up to have a fun fall of agility trials. We have work to do, but at least she has the foundation in place and she's a very willing partner, holding up her end of the bargain. What more could I ask for?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Agility Club of Indianapolis Trial, day 2

I am exhausted!! I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning, still dreaming of what an awesome teeter Devon did and still with that silly smile on my face. I felt like it was the day after Christmas!

However during my 1.5 hours of laying in bed wide awake, I did realize something else. Devon has struggled with off-side weave entrances for about a week now. I assumed it was just something in training breaking down, but then I remembered I didn't like Devon's stride right before take off on a couple of jumps in her JWW run on Friday. I realized Devon doesn't do anything to be difficult (i.e. the weaves), and I needed to have her checked out by Dr. Bonnie when I got to the trial.

The morning was chaotic. I thought I had to get Page measured (turns out I didn't since she jumped 24 inches); I was chief ring steward in the JWW ring, so I was in charge of making sure all the volunteers showed up; I needed to walk the Novice JWW course since it was Page's debut and she was second dog on the line; and I knew there would be a conflicted with Page's run and my turn to walk the Excellent Standard course for Devon, so I had to walk that course early (and I was standing in line to get Page measured!). Combine all that with not sleeping between 2 a.m. and 3:3 a.m., and it was a lot! I'm glad I've run multiple dogs before!

Page's Debut!
Ok, Page gets top billing today, since it was her debut. I had said I wouldn't trial until she was 2-years-old; and then when Page started doing well, I thought Labor Day weekend would be good. But she was doing so well, I couldn't miss the opportunity to run her in a local trial this weekend even though she's only 16-months-old.

Page was unfazed by the building and the trial environment. She's been to trials with Devon for the last year, and that helped a lot. The normally mouthy girl was quiet in her crate all day long.

I am running her at 24 inches, because when she was 12 months old she measured 22.5 inches tall. I decided to jump her at 24 inches to start, since it's easier to drop her jump height later versus trying to teach her to jump higher. Because Page is handling 24 inches so well, I decided to leave her at 24 inches at least until I get her permanent height card.

This was a really nice Novice JWW course. It flowed well and gave me three opportunities for forward moving front crosses. Unfortunately I only executed one of those well, and it was the one before the weaves. I pulled Page off of two jumps with the other two crosses.

Page's weaves were solid, even with the off-side entry. I knew the last line of jumps would be a challenge, and when I pulled her off the jump in the back, I got discombobulated! I turned her around just so I could reconnect with her. Even with the turn around, Page ran this course in 23 seconds! My goodness, I've never run a dog this fast before!!

After being on the line at 8:30 a.m. for JWW, it was about 3 p.m. for Standard. I had crated in the JWW ring, since I was working over there. I had a crate set up on the Standard side, too, to help me manage the girls on that side since it was a long walk between the rings. Page was so funny when we walked into the other ring. She had no idea there was ANOTHER whole ring of agility equipment! She was like a kid who walked into FAO Schwarz for the first time! She couldn't WAIT to get on that equipment, too!

This was also a nice Novice course, but the chute to the weaves (again best handled off side) was tricky. I knew Page could handle the weave entrance, though. Regarding my handling choices, I chickened out on the front cross before the teeter. Page was really moving and she didn't stick her dogwalk contact. She did come all the way down, stopped and looked for me to to release her, so I let it go. I should have made her wait and walked a couple of steps and then released her. That would have given me time to do the front cross I wanted, but I knew I'd be too far behind where I was.

Then I did a real no-no and sent her for a take off side/forward send rear cross on the double, which she didn't read -- DUH!! What was I thinking?? I should have and planned in a pinch to run through the double and then rear cross on the flat to the chute. Page didn't need me to manage that weave entrance! However, I let her speed push me into bad decisions. This is something I'm going to have to stop!!

The funniest part of this run was the table. I did SUCH a good job of teaching the automatic down, Page wouldn't sit. Judge Carla was laughing, and I even said, "Nice automatic down I taught!" She finally sat, but we lost about 8 seconds there. Funny, how I knew we'd have time to spare!

I also made Page stick that A frame contact and hold it. I thought I'd need to be ahead more for those last two jumps, but she read my forward movement just fine and ran straight. Page was 13 second below SCT, which included an extra 8 seconds at the table and an extra 3 seconds on the A frame. I don't think I'll have to worry about time!

In all, I'm pleased with her first qualifying score in Novice! The lessons for me are to concentrate more on my handling and support her jumps better. We'll get there, but for the first time out with a 16 month old puppy, I think we did pretty good!

Devon's runs
Devon did a super job today! I realized this morning that this is Devon's first weekend in Excellent Standard. She got her OA a year ago, but then she was doing field work last fall and got spooked on the teeter before we did any fall/winter agility trials. Today's course was challenging, but flowing. Devon did look long and hard at that teeter again, considering another off course to it! The still photographer's shots proved that!

But Devon did everything in sequence and really nailed this course. I was so thrilled with her teeter, again confident, that I told her so the entire time she was on the table how brilliant she was. Judge Carla said something to me after the class about another confident teeter. I really like her!

Devon's only problem in the whole course was in the weaves, and again I resolved to find Dr. Bonnie and see what was up. She was comfortably under time, so I was thrilled with this run!

Before Devon ran JWW, Dr. Bonnie spent a few minutes with her. I was right; Devon's left shoulder was out. Dr. Bonnie confirmed that would make the weaves very uncomfortable, especially the off-side entrance.

Devon's JWW run was again pokier than I expected, but she ran the course flawlessly, and I handled better than yesterday! She got slightly distracted by the ring crew after that rear cross, but she was in good company with many other dogs.

Devon really didn't want to do the weave poles. I never mind them popping weave poles as long as they give me effort. Devon didn't give me effort, so I turned her around and asked for them again. The second time she gave me very nice weaves.

Dr. Bonnie agreed with my handling choice, saying it proved to Devon her shoulder didn't hurt anymore and she could (hopefully) do the weaves tomorrow. I figured the adrenalin from yesterday's runs had carried her weave performance yesterday, and today it broke down since she was a little more tired.

Devon was right on SCT in JWW with the repeated weaves, so I was again pleased with her time. Since this was only her second weekend in Excellent B, I'd say we're doing very well!

Both girls did incredibly well today, and I was pleased with all four runs. Devon and I are a little rusty since we haven't trialed in 4 months, but we're doing great things in Standard! Page and I are a new team -- plus Page gives me the added challenge that I've never run a dog this fast! What a journey this will be with both my talented girls!

Friday, June 25, 2010


I am just busting I'm so proud of Devon! Today she did the teeter at the Agility Club of Indianapolis trial. She had been looking so strong that I entered her right at the closing date. But as the trial neared, Devon started bailing off the first time over the teeter, and she was hesitant to do it in a new environment.

So as of this morning when I left the house, I was still torn whether to run her or not. The dog trainer in me said not to. She was not solid on the teeter even in known locations, and this was not a place we trained. And if she bailed off, I couldn't put her back on it. But my gut said try it. I know this dog. She's feeling pressure from Page who now shares equal training time. Today was Excellent only and crating was tight so Devon was the only dog there. She felt very special. And I know she steps up for a crowd. She loves to be admired. I didn't think we'd do much damage if we tried it and she bailed; I just wouldn't ask her to run again this weekend and I would know where we stood. So as I walked out the door this morning, I grabbed a second jackpot for Devon.

I chatted with a friend, Dr. Bonnie, who actually helped put me on the road to this retrain. We discussed all the reasons I had made the decision to enter her, and Bonnie agreed I should try and run her. She also felt if Devon didn't do the teeter, I should very neutrally walk off the course and not finish. She would also get no jackpots, but again I would be neutral. Bonnie advised me to explain to Devon ahead of time what the plan was, so I did. It might sound silly, but I got her out of the crate, and we "talked" about how she was very special and I knew she could do the teeter. But if for some reason she didn't do it, she couldn't do the rest of the course. But I thought she was so smart she was going to do the teeter. As always, Devon looked very solemnly into my eyes (as she held a stuffed yellow duck in her mouth) as if she understood every word.

So I walked the course, which was strange because we haven't run Standard in exactly a year! I had my plan. As my marker dog came up, I was nervous. When I got Devon out, I warmed her up as usual, but as our turn came closer, I felt like I did before Ian's MACH run -- about to puke! The girl in front of me warned me if her dog broke the start line he was coming off. Sure enough he did, and we were up. We had lots of friends who were in the stands who knew this was a big deal for us, and I knew they were all pulling for us.

The course was dogwalk, chute, tunnel, teeter, table. My plan was to go with her to the tunnel and meet her at the tunnel exit praising her all the way and running with her to the teeter. You will see in the video clip below, Devon saw the teeter as she exited the chute. She started toward it, but I said, "tunnel." She took one look at the tunnel and said, "Nope, Mom, I'm doing the teeter!!" I realized she was right and we were going to the teeter.

Have you ever seen a more confident teeter?? Trust me, I've never seen a better one from Devon. And she even went off course to take it!! You can hear the crowd cheering, and Judge Carla Boudrot turned to the crowd and said, "I guess she was having a teeter problem?" My plan was as to tell Devon how brilliant she was the entire time she was on the table. But you see Devon was so proud of herself, she jumped up and put her paws on my shoulders as if to say, "I KNOW!!! AREN'T I SUPER COOL!!" I was so thankful that the judge understood and didn't whistle me off. I thanked her profusely during the next walk through!!

So here's the run. You can tell how super proud of herself Devon was.

Devon's JWW run was actually first. It was a nice run, but she was moving slowly and she was very distracted. As I front crossed in the middle of the course, I realized she was distracted and looking around. I got distracted and lost my place for an instant and pulled her off a jump. I felt just terrible. However, Devon nailed her weave entry, and she's been having problems with that entry, so I felt like it was a huge success.

I got to redeem myself in JWW, though. About 10 dogs out, Jane Glier asked me if I wanted to run her Corgi Kip. He runs in the 8 inch class, and I've run him before in class. I really like this little dog, so I said sure! I already ran the course, so I had a plan. Jane said he didn't rear cross well, and I said that was fine since my plan didn't include any rear crosses. Well, I underestimated how fast that little stinker was! I had to rear cross, and as you can see, Kip handled it just fine. It's so much fun to run a well-trained dog, and Jane is a great trainer. Kip and I Q'd and he earned a 4th place! The funniest thing was hearing folks in the crowd wonder what the heck I was doing out there with an 8 inch dog!! Here it is on video!

We're back for another two days, and I can't wait to see how the rest of the weekend goes!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A fun time was had by all

Devon, Page and I packed up this morning and headed to Pawsitive for drop in classes. We had a blast! The girls ran great, and there were lots of fun folks for me to hang out with, too.

We had an interesting standard course set up. Devon ran the first class, and she was pokey off the start. I think it was a combination of two things; first, the start had her running toward the teeter and I think she was anxious about when she would be asked to do the teeter. She has been pokey at the start lately and I think it's concern/anticipation of the teeter.

Second, I had trimmed her nails this morning and just nicked one too close. It didn't bleed much, but once she started running it broke open and bled. I think her toe was a touch sore. Shame on me for not doing this the previous day as I had intended!

Devon's teeter confidence is so much better in places where she routinely trains. However, in the last two weeks she's gotten into the habit of bailing off the teeter the first time over it, then going up and over on the second and all subsequent attempts. Today she again bailed the first time but then went over confidently on all other attempts. This was very exciting because the teeter was different today, and she wasn't rattled by the change in equipment. So it's just confidence in new places we need to work on and not fear of the equipment. That's a good sign!

Devon is entered in Standard at this weekend's trial, but I don't think I'll run her. There's a very good chance she'll bail off the teeter on the first try, and with the 4-paw safety rule I must go on. I want to wait and trial her where I can give her multiple attempts (like in a FAST class) and have her succeed.

Page will be debuting at this weekend's trial. At 16.5 months, this dog is looking amazing. I never in my wildest dreams imagined she'd be ready before fall at the earliest. But she's handling challenges very well, and she's learning from my consistency on her small problems.

Page held every start line today, and most of them were right handed starts. She nailed every contact except the first time over the teeter. I anticipate that will be a tough one for her this weekend. The opening of the first course had two forward moving front crosses, and it was a challenge. I was thrilled that Page held her start, and we nailed front crosses.

Page's other recent challenge has been the table. Remember that I hadn't planned on trialing her until this fall, and I knew AKC was considering a table change rule. I've taught Page an automatic down on the table; I did that with Devon and I love the performance. So when the positionless table change came out for Sept. 1, I thought, "Great, I don't have to worry about a sit!" Oooops! Now I'm trialing.

So the first time I asked Page for a sit on the table, she looked at me like I'd lost my mind. "NO, MOMMA! A box is a down!" She wouldn't even sit for a treat! So the last 3 weeks I've been working on her going from a down to a sit on the table. Bless her soul, she has put that together this week! Her tables looked great today.

One of the other courses we ran was a JWW course with an awkward set of 6 poles. I am so glad we got to run this course, because I wish I had a video of the look on her face the first time Page went into 6 poles. She got the first two poles and then kind of fell out and blew by the rest of them, then she stopped and looked around like, "What the heck happened to the rest of the poles?!?!" I turned her around and we did them again and she figured out there were only 6 and did just fine.

The other funny thing about this course was after a pinwheel going to a second set of poles, Page went running straight out in front of the jump. Liz stopped me and said, "What happened there?" I said I hadn't the foggiest idea. Then she asked what I had said, and it was "GO." Then I said, "Well that's her weave command and it shouldn't have meant go flying out in front of me." Liz very calmly said, "Yes, and where did she go to?" DUH!!! She went flying to the other set of weave poles in front of her, and not the weaves 180 degrees behind her! How stupid was I that I didn't see that! Liz said she was doing exactly what I asked of her but couldn't figure out how to make the weave entrance.

Once I changed my handling to a rear cross on the flat and directed her to the poles I wanted and THEN said, "GO," Page handled the sequence just fine. Bless Liz! It's so handy to have someone to see these things! Liz was also considerate enough to remember some of us would see a broad jump this weekend, so she set one up and we did that, too.

In addition to Liz's wonderful eye and kind kicks in the butt, it was fun to see friends I don't see often. We got to share in Ada Mae's Senior Hunter cake, brought by her proud mom Jane. I was so glad we got to help celebrate their accomplishment. Ada was owner trained and handled by Jane, and I know they have worked so very hard together!

We're off to bed with visions of agility trials dancing in our heads! The bags are all packed and jackpot are ready to head to the trial site in the morning!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rain, rain go away!

We got hammered by a series of storms last night. Twice we were all crowded in the little bathroom below the stairs, once around midnight when the wind and hail got bad and a second time at 3 a.m. when a tornado warning was issued. Connor hates storms, and Devon decided last night she did, too. Page took everything in stride, even laying down in the tiny bathroom as her brothers and sister panted at the baby gate. Wish I had a photo of the profile shadow Ian cast on the wall from the bathroom nightlight. Belgians really do look like wolves!

This morning the yard was completely flooded. I didn't get pictures for a few hours, and the water had receded quite a bit by the time these were taken. Page, always one to make lemonade from lemons, decided it was a blast having a lake in the back yard! Once she took her first all out run through the water, Connor got into the act and has enjoyed the water all day. Silly Goldens! From this video clip you'd never guess Connor was 10 years old!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The library dog gets an honor

Recently the library where Devon serves as "Library Dog" and does the children's reading program gave her an honor. They purchased three library books in Devon's honor. I was so touched by this, and they even made these the featured books during National Library Week in April.

The books are: Nubs, the True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle; Ivan the Terrier; and How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Dogs? Nubs is the touching real-life story of a wild dog bonding with a Marine and how because of the dog's heart and dedication, he found a way to get Nubs back to the United States. It's a touching story, and shows how dedicated we can be to our four-legged friends because they show us the same unconditional love first.

Ivan the Terrier and How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Dogs? are both funny children's stories. That Ivan reinforces my belief that there will never be a terrier in my house! And I now know you should give dinosaurs an extra thorough review if you ever let them take care of a dog! Some of them aren't very nice!

Attached to each book is a sticker saying the book was purchased in honor of Devon the Library Dog and it has her photo. This is such a touching thing for the library to do. I am an avid reader because my mom took the time to make sure it was something I did and enjoyed. As far back as I can remember, my mom was checking out books like these from the library. And like many kids across the country, I did the library's summer reading program each year. That's why I'm so glad these fun and educational stories will be at our town's library for years to come. And if Devon inspires kids to read, all the better! She gets her rewards -- she's in it for the belly rubs!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

More photos from the hunt test

I want to thank Larry and Polly Shaffer for taking these wonderful photos. They say they aren't professionals, but these are fantastic photos! Between the Shaffers and the Ripleys I have some wonderful memories of Page's first two JH legs.

Day 1
I love the two photos of the deliver to hand. I also love the close up of her intense expression looking for the second mark. The fog gives the photos an interesting touch.

Day 2
Day 2 was bright and sunny, and decoys had sprouted everywhere! I'm quite sure Page didn't really see them; she only had eyes for her marks. I particularly like the last photo where I'm leashing Page up talking with Ed (one of the judges), and Page is ignoring us completely. I know she's thinking if she just sits there and is very patiently SURELY someone will throw another duck for her. It couldn't be over that fast! Doesn't she look pretty!

Friday, June 11, 2010

This week's VST tracks

It's after June 1, so it's time to hit tracking a little harder if we want to meet our goal of fall tests. Both girls track well, but we need work. I've had a few people tell me they think it would be hard to prepare both girls to do VST at the same time. Actually, it's much easier to lay two similar types of tracks, versus one VST and one TD or TDX track. It's also lots easier to find good VST tracking areas then TDX grounds. I am again very thankful Page passed her TDX last fall. She did me a lot of favors when she did that!

And as I've said so many times, Devon and Page are so different, it's easy to treat them as individuals. Devon's strengths are the experience she has in tracking and her article indications. She also tends to track "typically" of must dogs. Devon's weakness is confidence. Page's strengths are her nose-down footstep tracking style. She is atypical in that she works until she solves her problem; she doesn't lack confidence. Page's weaknesses are article indications and her lack of "mileage" or experience under her tracking harness.

We've tracked twice this week. Page usually runs first, so I'll start with her tracks. Unfortunately the places I used for both girls on Sunday were too "new" to be on Google Maps or Google Earth, so no images. Page's track was very good; it was aged about 2 hours and 20 minutes. I did a very short track with grass, sidewalk, grass, curb, grass. I'm also trying to "wean" chalk with both girls. I'm making my chalk marks smaller (only 1-2 inches long) and placed on cracks or on paint lines where it's easy to get scent anyway. I'm hoping to teach the girls to look to these "scent holding" places for clues on their tracks.

Page worked her track well, and she worked her turns meticulously until she found the correct new leg. She shows no favoritism to vegetation versus non-veg. either on straight legs or when working turns. She tracks nose down no matter what the surface. Unfortunately she tracked right by a plastic article hidden just off the track under a bush even though it had kibble in it. More work on articles!

Tuesday's track was even better than Sunday's track. This is a track Devon ran a few weeks ago. It was aged 3 hours and 15 minutes; the track was 334 yards long with 37% non-veg. Page started strong and continued strong. She tracked nose down on the sidewalk, only getting distracted when a worker rolled a wheelbarrow within a few hundred feet to unload mulch. She wagged and barked at him as I explained what we were doing. He shrugged his shoulders and went about his work; and as soon as I told Page to do the same, she did.

The orange lines on the map show his various paths during his work related to Page's track. I was simply amazed how Page worked as if he hadn't been there. The only sign she was distracted by his scent was when she worked the turn and tracked toward the distant pile indicating she did check out his path once.

The nicest thing Page did on this track was the non-veg turn off the sidewalk into the curb. She worked this like she was working a vegetative turn; it was beautiful to watch. As soon as she found the new leg, she was off nose down in a straight line.

The worker did pick up her metal article (which I retrieved later). She did not give any indication it had been there, but then again I had to hold her to get her to acknowledge the bright white plastic article in the grass she wanted to track by, too.

The only part of this track that gave Page any problem was the angle across the last leg of parking lot. Angles are hard for dogs to work in field or in tracking; they want to square up. Page worked hard to adjust herself along this line and did a fairly good job.

I must carry high value treats and hold Page until she finds her article, indicates it and reward her. She will indicate the articles if I make her. I now have to convince her how valuable it is. I think Page is ready for me to introduce MOTs on her next track. I'll be interested if her turns in curbs help her transition to MOTs.

Devon worked well on Sunday. Her track was similar to Page's: short and only 2+ hours old with grass, parking lot under a roof (bank drive thru lane), grass, parking lot, grass. Devon struggled a little at the start. She also worked hard in the parking lot under the roof. She also overshot the veg turn before the second parking lot run. Her article indications were lovely, and once she was solidly on the non-veg legs she tracked confidently.

Devon's track on Tuesday awas 3.5 hours old. It was 423 yards long with 53% non-veg and two MOT turns. This track was much tougher than the one she had earlier in the week.

Devon really struggled to start in the short, sparser grass which was dry. Her first turn was also a real struggle. However, once she got into the curb, she worked the long non-veg section well.

As Devon works non-veg, she tends to track straight then lift her head and circle, checking out other options. I don't know if this is a confidence problem or if she's double checking herself. I've learned the rule of three with Devon. If she circles more than three times, it's time to call her in for water and a rescent.

Unfortunately the two MOTs were too much for Devon. She tracked well to the turn and indicated loss of scent but struggled to find the new leg. In addition, I had forgotten to bring water and she was thirsty. On both MOTs I finally pointed out the new leg, and once she found it she worked the new leg well.

Devon also struggled on the last vegetative turn, spending way too much time on it. I've heard this is typical of VST dogs, as well as forgetting how to start strong which Devon also exhibited. Because I want to keep Devon's confidence high, I plan to work starts the next time we track. I'll lay two to three 125 yard tracks that start, have one turn and end on non-veg.

After some work on starts, I'll next move to more transition work and build in some turns into curbs to build more confidence. As her confidence builds, I'll put the MOTs back in.

Generally both girls look very good in tracking. They love to track and get very excited to see their harnesses come out. I'm enjoying our work, so I look forward to working on this journey this summer.

A little jealousy ...

... never hurt anyone, least of all Devon. Last week I was on Cloud 9 about Devon's teeter retrain. The hard work was paying off and Devon was more confident on the teeter. We to build more confidence, but she was going over it and looked solid.

On Saturday we went to a training place where Devon does not like the teeter. This is my "bellwether" teeter; if Devon will do it confidently, she's really doing well. I took Devon out to the floor to do the teeter in isolation, and she was up and over it completely confident. I have to say I was shocked. Just two weeks before she had flat refused this teeter, and that morning she was doing some tough sequencing on it.

While I was thrilled at the new attitude with the teeter, I have to say I started to wonder what the sudden difference was. As much confidence as the retrain gave her, I always thought there would have to be some very large motivator to give Devon that final push to once again do the teeter. And then I started going back in my mind about our training time frame and the pieces fell into place.

About 2 weeks earlier, Devon had just started to give me a full height teeter. She wasn't totally confident in every location. Devon had done the teeter at the kennel club when the building was quiet and she was the only dog. However the first time I asked for a teeter in class 10 days earlier, she refused it. The rest of my week got very busy after than, and it also got very hot. I really didn't have a lot of time or energy to train, so I only trained Page the rest of the week. Completely by accident, I had put Devon up and not trained her after her teeter failure. Then we headed off to the hunt test, and Devon had to spend the weekend sitting in the van with all the attention focused on Page.

Apparently, I unintentionally found that motivator: jealousy. After 6 days of watching her sister get mommy time in agility and field, Devon had enough. Memorial Day she ran to the backyard and went up and over my teeter confidently. Since then in the last 10 days she has been on three different teeters in multiple sequences, she's only bailed off the teeter once.

Devon is no fool. She realizes Page is doing agility and now doing field and getting ducks. As much as she likes her little sister, she doesn't want Page to outshine her with me. Devon still doesn't like the teeter, but she's doing it confidently. She even did it with her Aunt Susan handling her (which I think is the first time anyone else has ever handled Devon). Susan said that's a sign that she's really ready to be confident on it.

So I guess I found my motivator! And since Devon is giving me the performance I want, she's received equal training time with her sister. I've been working various entries and exits off the teeter to build confidence, and Devon is doing very well. I hope this confidence continues so we can earn that AX title and start working on double Qs to go with those first 8 MACH points!

The best laid plans...

So much for planning ahead. We should be at a hunt test this weekend, but Page decided to come in season for the first time last week. Really, she's waited this long (she's nearly 16 months old), you think she could have looked at the calendar and seen our trial/test schedule and waited until July. We only had training in July!

Oh well! I'm sure if she really knew she was missing hunt tests and the opportunity to get nice fluffy ducks, she would be disappointed. So finishing that JH will have to wait for a while, and we'll push off her WC until a fall test. If all goes as planned/hoped, she should be out just before her agility debut the end of the month. Let's hope this first cycle sticks to the plan!

The good news is that after initially trying to rub the panties off by writhing across the living room floor, Page gave up and is quite content to look silly. She's better than Devon about wearing panties, because she can even be crated in her panties and not shred them (if you take your eyes off Devon for a minute, she's shredded everything). Once again I'm so very amazed at how different Devon and Page are. Devon, Ms. Perfect, is the shredder and Page, Ms. Bizzy, is the contented one. [On a similar note, Devon, the momma's girl, sleeps on the day beds or off somewhere in the room, and Page, all confidence and can do it on her own, is always as close to my chair as possible or even curled up on my feet.]

Page is even fine running in agility with her panties on, not missing any speed or accuracy in weaves or with her contacts. I've worked to be very consistent on reinforcing startlines and contacts. Her startlines look much better, and she's much quicker to sit and stay steady. Contacts are probably 90%, with her dogwalk contact looking the best. She's starting to creep down the A frame, stopping at the top or halfway down. I'm not making eye contact, but simply waiting her out. I'll probably have to go back to clicking when she hits the board, since I don't want this to become a habit.

Other than those little issues, I'm very pleased with the rest of her agility work. After going through a week of popping out of pole 12, Page seems to have worked through that and does all 12 at great speed. What I'm particularly pleased about in her Tuesday night sequencing class is that she's starting to realize I'm lining up obstacles in her path with my handling and she's starting to take them.

Like any green dog, Page had been curving into me when obstacles were a little farther out in front of her and she had to seek them out. Now she gets to look for what's next. If there's a slight push, she's now responding to it and taking the obstacle. Unlike most fast, green baby dogs, Page isn't overly obstacle focused but does want to play the game with me and look to me for instructions. She's also responding to rear crosses on the flat and forward moving front crosses, too. By far her best handling skill is wrapping a jump. She reads deceleration quite well in those situations.

And the biggest thing I can say about Page's agility training is she is months ahead of where I would expect any dog her age to be. She really is an amazing partner.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


The video below came across one of my email lists, and I'm so very glad I took the time to watch it. In this region we have the privilege of watching Angie Benacquisto run her Rat Terrier Dylan quite a lot. They are an incredible team to watch; dog and handler completely in tune with each other at top speed.

But what I really, really like about this video is the beginning. If you watched them run today, you would have no idea these video clips existed. As I'm bringing on a new dog and working through a tough issue with another, it is great to be reminded that great dogs and great agility teams don't start out being great. They are built over time. They are built through trust, hard work, never giving up and believing in each other. And when you do all those things, that's when the magic happens. Ian taught me about that magic, and it's a good thing to remember as my girls work on their journey.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Devon's teeter retrain

Devon achieved a major accomplishment Tuesday night: she sequenced the teeter in class for the first time since October 2009! Devon is a confident dog and had all positive experiences as a puppy, including lots of woods walking and on wobble boards. However, the teeter has been an issue for her from the first time I asked her to put her front feet on the lowered end of the board and it sank under her.

Although Devon had a teeter performance and earned her NA and OA very quickly, I knew it wasn't a confident performance. Then back in October she got spooked by my shadow going across the teeter in front of her and she bailed off. She refused to get back on it, which frustrated me. Thanks to my reaction, a potentially small blip turned into months of refusing to do the teeter and a huge problem.

Over the winter, I clicked and treated any interaction with the teeter. That worked for confidence around the teeter and on the bottom of the board, but she still would only go to the pivot point and refuse to go over it. By February as this problem continued to lurk, I began talking with good agility trainers I knew looking for another solution. The hard part about this teeter issue is it's not a "training issue;" it's a fear issue. Somehow I had to overcome that fear.

Also, I was convinced even though Devon had a "performance" on the teeter, she never really understood she controlled the board. I felt this lack of understanding that she was in control was the root of her fear. What caused the initial fear was when I asked her to play the "bang game" for the first time on the up end of a lowered board (she was almost 12 months old). The very first time she put her paws and full weight on the board and it dropped out from under her, she was done. Yet I knew she would have to learn to do this if she was to have a confident teeter, but because that was the source of her initial fear it was the hardest thing to overcome.

As I talked with other trainers, the idea of working out the problem away from the actual equipment was born. It was followed up by another friend who said one of the dogs she worked with who had teeter fears started first on a wooden board that moved. Wobble boards were out, because they don't have predictable movement. However, it gave me an idea for something else.

In February I stopped asking Devon for the teeter completely; we wouldn't even go near it in class or at home (but she had to watch Page work the teeter, and Page has a great teeter). I got a 1" x 12" x 12' board and cut it into 3 pieces (three 1" x 12" x 4' boards). Then I nailed three dowel rods under the middle of each 4' board. One dowel was 1 inch, the next 1.5 inches and the third 2 inches.

I started with the 1 inch dowel board and at first ask Devon to use her front foot to bang down the up end of the board. She got very high value treats that she only got for this particular exercise (thanks to Agile Gold for buying out the supply of elk jerky, buffalo jerky and ostrich jerky from a specialty pet store for us!). After she gave me a foot bang, I asked for foot bang then full weight with the front feet on the board. This was critical and probably the hardest thing for Devon to do. I did do some luring at this point instead of just shaping, but once she got the idea of what I wanted, she had to offer the behavior I wanted. Finally asked Devon to bang down the up end and pull her body onto the board and walk into a 2o2o position.

Once Devon was banging the board from the pivot point and walking down it, I asked her to walk back and forth across the board banging both ends. She was now giving me the teeter bang game but on something different than an actually teeter where she associated so much fear. My goal was to get her to understand that she moved and controlled the board off the teeter thinking it would transfer to the equipment.

The second key to my re-training is that I started clicking at the pivot point and rewarding her immediately there. I know this sounds obvious, but Jenn Crank caught something when Page got spooked by her teeter at our lesson the end of April. Jenn said I was clicking in the yellow contact zone and not the middle where I needed to reward the brave behavior. I bet I did that with Devon, too, it just took someone else listening to my clicks to catch that I was clicking late.

Each session was very short. I would only take 12 pieces of jerky out with me and when it was gone our session was done. In about 6 weeks Devon worked up to the 2 inch board. Once she was happily giving me the behavior at home, our little board went on the road. I knew Devon was ready for more when I was at a different training building and after working on her teeter board I used a longer teeter board they had with a 6 inch pivot point and she had no problems offering me the behavior I wanted.

Once we had confidence on the road, I dropped the teeter here at home as low as possible and asked for the behavior on the teeter. Once she was banging the low teeter, I asked Devon to walk back and forth across the low teeter, just as I had the boards. It took her no time at all to become confident on the low teeter, and I'm sure it was because she figured out she controlled the movement on the small wooden boards.

From the low teeter, I just started raising my teeter here at home a couple inches at a time until she was at full height. A couple of weeks ago I lowered the teeter at the kennel club during a private training session. Devon successfully did it and I kept raising it until it was full height. We also worked at a second training building with success on a low teeter but she wouldn't do the full height teeter. After that minor setback, I lowered my teeter here at home, but she was so confident I went right up to full height in one session with only 8 cookies.

Last night before class started I took Devon to the teeter in class and asked her for it. She went over it on the second attempt, and earned a huge party from me and a jackpot (interestingly I had forgotten the special jerky treats, but she didn't seem to mind). After a few more times doing the teeter in isolation, Devon successfully sequenced it very confidently in class!

I'm going to focus the rest of June on getting a confident performance on a full height teeter at the three locations where I train. Devon is still crouching low to the board as it tips, but she's confident and her weight shift is forward. I believe in time she'll become even more confident and not lay as low.

When I feel like she's confident in known locations, it will be time to take her performance on the road to less familiar equipment. There are 4-5 locations in neighboring cities and states that offer run thrus, open training or building rental. My goal is to have her teeter performance trial ready by fall. I'll start her with a local CPE trial, followed by AKC trials that offer the FAST class where I can get her on equipment in another run and I can repeat the teeter if it's in the ring.

So, that is the story of Devon's teeter retrain. It's been a long road, but I believe Devon's performance is far more confident that it was because she now knows she controls the board. Victories are always sweeter when they are harder to attain, and I know her first Standard Q after this retrain will be pretty special!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Page's two orange ribbon weekend

We headed to western Pennsylvania this past weekend for the Greater Pittsburgh Golden Retriever Club's spring hunt test. This is my third trip to these grounds and a test put on by this group. They are a fun group of folks, and their tests are very nice. I want to thank Steve Ripley for taking some really lovely photos of Page both days.

This was actually not Page's first Junior Hunter test. I put her in one test last fall when she was in the middle of her force fetch and she was 7 months old. She was too young and she decided she wanted to keep that nice fluffy pillow of a duck they threw for her. Now that she's 15 months old and through her basics, it was time to try again.

Saturday's test was challenging, with land marks in corn stubble with high cover. The first mark was short (approx. 50 yards) with the dogs running perpendicular to the corn rows, but there was a small rise near the line so the dogs didn't see the bird hit the ground. There were decoys on the hill just out from the line, too. The mark was hand thrown, so later dogs had a smaller arch which was hard to see with the cover.

The second land mark was longer (approx. 75 yards) with the dogs running at an angle across the corn rows and through more decoys. The dogs saw the mark land, but it was in knee-high cover. In addition to the factors making the marks challenging, the Senior Hunter test was just a few hundred yards away from us across the road. Their start time was the same as ours, and their guns were loud.

Page was catalog #8, but she ran third due to conflicts. The first two dogs had a lot of problems with the second mark, and the first dog got distracted by the senior tests' guns and left the test area. Page was definitely ready to go, and she was difficult to keep calm in the blinds. The first two dogs were black Labs. When the judge came over to ask my number, he peered over the blind to see what type of dog was coming up next. He said I'd get 15 points since I had a Golden. I told him she was the prettiest thing they had seen so far and pointed out her pink camo collar. Both judges laughed and one turned to the other and said, "This ain't her first time at the rodeo!" Page stepped on the first mark, and she only had a brief hunt for the second mark when she came up just to the left of it. Both judges were very complimentary of her land series and she got called back to water.

Page again ran third for water. She was even more excited to get out of the blinds for her second series. The water marks were straight forward. Each landed in the water right against the shore which had lots of cover. There were decoys at the water's edge, but clear paths to the birds. The edge of the pond dropped off sharply, and we were allowed to walk down to the water's edge. While it was an advantage to be close to the water to get the bird, I made the decision to stay on the top of the bank. It was the right decision for me because the grass was wet and I didn't feel like a swim that day.

Page handled the marks well, swimming in a straight line out to both of them. However, she dropped both birds at the water's edge a couple of times to shake. Then the climb up the steep bank with a heavy wet duck caused another drop on each duck. Page was quick to fetch them back up and deliver to hand, but the test environment really brings out what you have to work on!

The judges had nice things to say about Page. One said it was like she had radar for those birds, and he loved her drive. I had several exhibitors compliment her, too; it was nice that they were Lab guys. One guy stopped me and said he loved her and had never seen a Golden run like she did. He said, "She runs like a Lab!"

There were 23 dogs that started the test, 17 went to water and 16 passed. Devon got to be pick up dog for the last dog who didn't go in the water. I had the gunner assist her water blind by standing in line with the bird. She went in nicely and I whistled her once to give her an angle back when she got distracted by the gunning station. She took it nicely, and she was THRILLED to get a bird since she had sat in the van all day long.

Sunday's test was straight forward. The first land mark was about 55 yards in short cover with a hidden gunner and lots of decoys to get through. The second mark was longer through short cover and just into heavy cover, again with a hidden gunner. There were decoys but there was a nice gap through them. We had to change our line between the two marks, so it was nice practice to receive the dog at a different place. We also had to call with a duck call for our own marks. I thought these were nice junior marks sticking to the saying, "hard to get to easy to find; easy to get to hard to find."

Page lined these marks, and I was incredibly pleased with her precision marking. However, her performance in the blinds was worse (she won't relax, tries to bolt out and barks a little), and she dropped each bird once at the line before delivering to hand. The judges were complimentary, both saying she had the potential to be much more than a junior hunter.

The water marks were very nice. They were short swims (no more than 50 yards) and both splashed in open water. Page again lined her marks, but the duck was dropped a couple of times at the water's edge and on the line. As she was returning from the second mark, she had visions of swimming off into the sunset with her new best friend the duck. She paralleled the shore and I had to give her a firm "here" to get her in.

I told the judges it was clear what our homework was, and they agreed. One judge said he's seen junior dogs fail on returning that last mark because they don't want the series to end, and he was right. I knew I had to stick with her on that last duck.

On Sunday, 22 dogs started, 16 got called back to water and 15 dogs passed the test.

So Page is halfway to her Junior Hunter title, but we have some work to do. We'll be working on delivery to hand on water and steadiness in the holding blinds. Page also needs a lot more experience on ducks. She's not as comfortable carrying them as Devon always has been. Page also wants to do things at top speed, and she has to think a little more when she's carrying a duck!