Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking back and looking forward

Ahhh, a quiet New Year's Eve. Just my style. I like this break between mid-December and the first of the year. It allows me to reflect on last year, check my goals and see what we can do in 2012.

Let's start with 2011 goals. For Devon, 2011 was about finishing her Champion Tracker and figuring out if she really was going to be an agility dog. I knew she could accomplish the VST/CT; she proved that in 2010 with her two near passes. I was excited for the spring tracking season, but when Devon only made it into one test out of the six we entered, I was discouraged. And to add to my frustration, that one test was the last test of the spring season in late May, and it was our first 85 degree day with not a cloud in the sky. Bless Devon's heart she tried, but she just couldn't find the track out onto the roof of a parking garage.

I think it was on the drive home, that I really was ready for the VST/CT journey to be done. I knew my dog could do it, but it was HARD!! And now, we had to wait all summer -- and another very hot summer -- and try again in October. I was not looking forward to getting up at 3:30 a.m. to put in tracks all summer. I'll leave Devon's CT post for another time, because it's overdue, but my superstar passed her first test of the fall season in fine style, earning her VST and Champion Tracker on Oct. 2, 2011. She is quite the girl!

Now to agility. Devon's agility career has never been consistent, always stopping in the spring through the early fall for tracking and field work. And I struggled putting foundation on her, causing training issues. This year, I decided no field and we were going to stay with at least two trials a month all year and see if this girl could get past her weave and teeter issues and have an agility career.

As far as titles, I wanted her AX and legs on her MX and MXJ. Frankly, I knew that was a tall order. She had been 2 years without a Standard leg and more than a year without a JWW leg. I'm thrilled to say that Devon proved she had the heart and love of the game I thought she did. Devon earned her AX in mid-November, and the following weekend earned her first MX leg away from home! She also has 4 MXJ legs and 38 MACH points. It's a start, and I'm thrilled for her.

In our last trial of the year, tough breaks cost us Qs all weekend, but I must have had a dozen people come up to me and tell me that Devon had never looked better. Many folks didn't even realize Devon wasn't Qing! She was confident and happy -- and really that's all I could ask for!

Page and I had a growing/training year. I had no title goals for her, but she did finish her OA, earn her OAJ and got her first AX leg this year. Our startline issues continued to plague us this year. She's a smart, pushy, driven girl who cuts me no slack. She's going to make me a much better dog trainer!

Finally, 2011 was a great learning year for me personally. I completed my first full year working as a consultant for an agency, my first time in the private sector after 11 years of working for two state governments. In my previous life I was able to compartmentalize work and doglife. I had time for one and then time for the other. However, in the last 15 months I've had to learn to blend the two, and in doing so work took priority and dog training suffered.

So that has lead to my thinking in the last 2-3 weeks about our 2012 goals. My thoughts have lead me to explore not only my dog goals, but also how they intertwine with my personal schedule. I arrived at two quotes that are my launching pad for my 2012 goals:
1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (New Living Translation) 24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.

“The main reason for people’s lack of success in life is their willingness to give up what they want most of all, for what they want right now.” Zig Zigler

The last two years I've also thought about the My One Word project. I've tried to select one word to keep me on task and focused each year. I have to admit, 2011 was so hectic and chaotic, I can't even remember my one word!

So in searching for the passage in 1 Corinthians 9, I saw the subhead "The Need for Self-discipline" in the New International Version. That's when I knew I'd found my One Word (or two words hyphenated) for the year: Self-discipline.

So, working forward to our 2012 goals, I'll start with me. It's time for a true confession: I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I have all these good intentions when I set the alarm (isn't here some saying about good intentions?), and then I hit the snooze for 45 minutes to an hour! Really! Every 7 minutes, I walk across the bedroom into my bathroom and hit the snooze and go back to bed. My poor dogs are so used to this, they don't even move!

So then my chaotic day is off to an even worse start, because I'm already mad at myself for missing my morning workout and my morning training session with the girls. Then of course someone at work needs me to do a rush project for them and I'm off and running on that before I even leave the house. That guilt from the morning carries through the day and I'm exhausted when I get home and I just give up and go to bed and start things over again -- no work out down and no dogs trained.

So, self-discipline begins with getting up when the alarm goes off. I've already started this during my holidays and this week back to work and I'm happy to report I'm getting better! Now I'm only hitting the snooze for 15 minutes! And I'm working out in the mornings again!

So, there's a sneak peak at my 2012 goals: getting up on time, maintaining my fitness program, eating more fruits and veggies (yes those nasty green things) and building in time to train the girls regularly. All those goals build on each other, and they all take self-discipline!

Next, we'll move to Page. Many of her problems are due to deficient training time. For the first 20 months of her life, she had it great. I worked from home part time. She got trained once or twice a day. Her mind was always engaged as was her body, with very little crate time. Now she's lucky if she gets two training sessions in a week, and she spends most of her day in a crate with occasional breaks and play time with my parents (my dad is now an expert toy thrower for Page!).

For Page, 2012 will continue to be a year of training, with few title goals. We need to get our training and teamwork back and better than ever! I need to be more focused and directed in my training sessions, with not only agility, but also field and obedience. I'm leaning toward taking a couple of months off from agility competition with Page to work on some specific training goals. I'll finalize this plan in the next few days. I also want to progress in her obedience training that has been spotty in the last two years. Once the weather breaks, I want to finish her transition training. I don't think we'll test this fall. I think maturity and time will be beneficial for Page's field career.

For Devon, 2012 will continue to be about agility. I want to see if we can knock off her MX and MXJ titles this year. I also want to see where she is this time next year in double Qs and MACH points. I would love to get her MACH, but I want to see what she wants to do. Is she consistent enough to MACH? I suspect she is, but I'm not convinced yet. I prefer to take this goal one step at a time, and I'd like to know that she's still running as strong and confident in December 2012 as she looked in December 2011. The MX and MXJ are for me; the game is for her.

I also want to solidify all of Devon's obedience training in 2012 with the thought of trialing in 2013. I have absolutely loved the two lessons I've done this fall with Bridget Carlsen! I see amazing progress in Devon, and I'm going to continue those and a seminar with her in 2012.

As far as field, I think we're going to play with no pressure this year. When Page trains, Devon will train. I'm anxious to try some set ups and see what Devon has this year after taking some time off. In 2011 our only field work was a WCX in July at Hambden, and Devon was amazing. She was the only dog of 14 that passed the test. She was strong and steady, and I absolutely love walking to the line with this dog.

Finally, I think I have one more goal for myself, and that's a goal for competition with Devon. When my head's in the right place, Devon runs like a dream. When I'm anxious for a Q, Devon doesn't run as well. I need to get my mental game in place so that I remember each time I walk to the line that it's a privilege to step into the ring with my amazing dogs. My girls want to play these games with me -- how lucky am I? When my attitude isn't right, they tell me.

So that's it for my 2012 goals. Self-discipline for me to help me get my goals and the girls' goals on track. See, it's as easy as one word (or two hyphenated)!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Smiling at your dog

I was reading a devotional this morning, and I came across this section:
We can affirm with eye contact, too. Try smiling at your child with your eyes. We often convey discipline through our eyes; but we can also communicate warmth and affirmation with our eyes.
It reminded me of my first obedience lesson with the late Al Breece. He lived outside of Columbus, Ohio, and trained seven or more CH OTCH Belgian Sheepdogs and Tervurens. His great CH OTCH Houdini sparked a love in me for Belgian Sheepdogs, which resulted in my getting Houdini's nephew Ian a few years later.

I took Reece to Al for obedience lessons. Reece was only about a year old, and he had some fear/reaction aggression issues, which he grew out of by 2 years of age through training. The first thing Al did was just look at Reece and smile. Reece relaxed his body posture and wagged his tail. Al looked up at me and said, "Well, good. He knows what a smile is."

I wish I had not been so intimidated at the time and asked Al why he did that. Today, I can make a few guesses. But it has always made me smile at my dogs, just to tell them I think they are great. I caught myself doing it just this morning, in fact. It usually makes that dog wag it's tail, and then another pup (usually Devon) will be jealous that someone's getting attention and they come to me for attention; leading to me being surrounded by everyone wanting their share of attention.

But I still think it's nice that my dog knows what a smile is.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reece (April 4, 1997-May 19, 2011)

Reece was helped across the Rainbow Bridge this morning. My Novice A dog; my strong-willed, independent border collie who always questioned my judgment. From Novice A and trained thru utility, plus agility and rally and even a little herding. What I would give to have you all over again, now that I am the trainer you deserved. I’ll see you again someday.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Devon's adventures in the rally ring

This winter I decided to pursue Devon's Rally Advanced title. I was chairman of a local obedience and rally trial, and I didn't want to be 'bored.' Devon is a very environmentally-aware dog. She tested this way in her puppy test, and Gayle warned me I'd love it for field work and tracking, but it would be difficult for obedience.

As wonderful as Devon is in training, she is very distracted in new environments. She sees the smallest things I never notice, and that nose has gotten her in trouble! At a show and go this fall, she was obsessed with the high jump during and open run thru. She was so obsessed, I could not get her to heel at all even on leash. I decided to try a retrieve and go back to heeling later. As soon as the leash was off, she took off across the ring to the far standard of the high jump - there was a black wheel on the metal jump! I had not even SEEN the wheel, but she did from outside the ring. She had to go see it.

And as I mentioned, that nose gets the best of her, too. Here is her first attempt at Rally Advanced. The off-set figure 8 was 30 feet across the ring, and she had not been in that area at all, but she spied it off the startline and took off to have lunch!

Needless to say when your first run ends in being excused from the ring you have no where else to go but up! And this run became legendary during the weekend, with the judge even telling the utility B competitors about it the next day!

Devon's second trip in the ring earned her first leg with a 92 and a second place. She was better, but I think she was still trying to see if she would get lunch in the ring. She was also very distracted by the chalk in the ring mats. I'm not planning to "fix" this until she earns her VST, because sniffing chalk is something we've encouraged in that sport. But after the disaster of the day before, I was pleased she was with me and tried.

Devon's third trip into the ring came at a local Sibe specialty. It was a very small trial (19 total entries in all 6 classes). I had taken the girls to a show and go in Dayton the night before and got home at midnight, but it was worth it to continue taking Devon to new places.

I tried a new strategy at this trial to take her up to the ring and show her where she would be working. This was a great idea, because when she walked into the ring, she was more focused than I'd seen her in the past. She had a really nice run, with some sniffs and wide turns in the beginning. But she finished strong, showing what a nice working dog she is. Devon earned a 94 and first place for this run.

On May 8, we went to Ft. Wayne for Devon's forth time in the Rally ring. it had been 6 weeks since she'd been in the ring, and we'd done less training in those 6 weeks. I was concerned about how she'd do. I shouldn't have been.

I used the same philosophy of showing her the ring before we went in, and I worked her in that area. This was clearly her best run yet, with only a couple of sniffs. Darn that sniff before the jump causing her 3 points, because she ended up with a nice score of 96 and 3rd place to finish her RA!

I'm really proud of Devon earning her RA. She progressed well with each time in the ring. I feel like we learned a lot about each other, and it gives me good insight into what she'll be like preparing for obedience (which is a long way off).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Photos from an agility trial: Page

More photos from the Pawsitive Partners USDAA trial on Sunday. This is Page. Awesome candids!

Photos from an agility trial: Devon

Thanks to Virgil Sweeden of Paw Prints Life who took these awesome photos of Devon in action at the Pawsitive Partners USDAA trial on Sunday. It tops off a great day of Qs and placements!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Funny, funny girl

Page has a sense of humor, and she's very smart. Yesterday she had some extra time outside to enjoy the sunshine and lack of snow. She also took some time to, well, "clean up" the yard a little. We had agility class last night, and we were about 10 minutes away when I heard something in the crate behind me ... then I SMELLED it!

Yep, Page had thrown up in her crate. Even though it was cool outside, I instantly cracked all the windows. I thought, oh great! How am I going to clean this up and will the smell ever come out of my car!

I glanced back at Page, and she was contemplating her situation. Gross poop puke in her crate. I thought, oh great! She's going to be a mess and the car will never smell the same. We were sitting at a red light and I looked back again to check on her. Page was taking her nose and flipping her crate blanket over the puke. I watched as best as I could as she systematically nosed the blanket over the mess and even took her paw to give it a pat. Once it was completely covered, she laid down in the crate giving herself a couple of inches distance from the blanket as if everything was normal. You could almost read the thought bubble over her head: "Momma will NEEEVER notice!"

I wondered where I could stop to clean up the mess and was scoping out a Walmart when I saw a Goodwill store. Perfect! I went into the store, looked for the "color of the day" (it was yellow), found household goods and grabbed two twin sheets and a small baby blanket. The total was $5 and I asked for a large bag for my items. Out in the parking lot, I realized what a great job Page did in cleaning up and keeping herself out of the mess. I cleaned up the crate using just the small blanket I purchased. I stowed Page's stuffed animal, crate blanket and soiled blanket in the bag and tied it up tight. I put one sheet in Page's crate and had one to spare! All that and I was only 5 minutes late to class! And the bonus: my car doesn't even smell!

Thanks, Page, for cleaning up for me! What a funny girl!

Monday, February 21, 2011

ACI trial Feb. 19-20, 2011

I'll try and get posts up of previous trials during the next few weeks, but I have a minute to blog so I wanted to get this up. This is our third trial this year and we hadn't trialed since October 2010 due to Devon's heat cycle. I'm pleased with how things are going! Devon is training very well, and her teeter and weaves are solid. She's still having some stress in the weaves at trials, but we have been showing progress.

Saturday Excellent B JWW
Saturday was Devon's 5th birthday, and I can't say our first run, Excellent JWW, was a gift to her from me. I planned the opening so she would see the poles really well, but then I praised her in the poles and scared her to death! My voice was too strong and high and she popped right out. She went back in fine and weaved strong until a hand movement pulled her out and then we fumbled a rear cross on the flat. Poor Devon! She was so confused and stressed, she just stopped and shook herself off. You can see by the video I apologized. What a kerfuffle!

What I really like about this run is how she recovered. She took a couple of wide turns to say hello to the ring crew, but she is happy and fast. We were well under time even with the chaos at the weaves. Devon was still stressed, but she performed well.

Saturday Excellent A Standard
I wondered what Devon would do with the teeter as the second obstacle. She does prefer it early in the course, but it was against the wall and pointed into the wall. Although she looks strong on the video I felt she didn't charge it as she usually does. I was pleased that she was confident, because I think the teeter placement was difficult. It made me wonder what the Open and Novice dogs did with it later in the day.

No surprised after the earlier run that weaves were an issue. I did want her to give them an effort, and she did that for me. The rest of this run was fantastic, including her table performance. Devon slipped on her take off to the table, although you can't see it on the tape, for a split second I feared she might miss the table and crack her chin on it. Thankfully she recovered and you can't tell there was a problem.

Devon handled the A-frame to tunnel ending like a dream even though I had wanted to do a front cross before the A frame. What a good girl!

One thing different for Devon is that she didn't want to tug at this trial. That was unusual for her, since at past trials even in January I was able to get her tugging all the way to the gate. On Sunday I played with getting her more amped at the start. I think this really helped, and I could tell by her body posture she was more up. She also did less scratching before her runs.

Sunday Excellent B JWW
This was a really, really nice run. I was super pleased with Devon's weaves. She did pop the second pole but got right back in and weaved them strong when I asked. I actually got several compliments on Devon's weaves from folks who didn't realize she skipped two poles!

I was reminded watching the video that Devon is super sensitive to motion into her when I pushed her off the jump after the triple. I was distracted by the leash runner's position as Devon came around the loop at the front of the ring and held my position to make sure she wasn't also distracted. Devon did a great job, but I forgot the conversation I had with Kathy about running that line as a push after the jump to the tunnel if the dog was too far behind. I wish I had done the push to see how she would have handled it; considering it worked really well for Kathy and Emma I bet it would have for Devon.

Sunday Excellent A Standard
I think this was the best run of the weekend -- of course, if you ignore the weave poles as Devon did! I can't blame her, and I let it go because the run was so beautiful. Those weaves will come. What I was thrilled about was how well we both handled this course. She was very up for the run (again I did different things in our warm up and pre-startline), and I was super pleased with her speed. While this looks like a straight forward course, there were a lot of NQs on it.

Usually the end of February is our last agility trial of the "season" since we usually only do agility from October to February due to field training all summer. However, this year I'm going to focus on Devon's agility career and continue trialing. Now that Devon is pretty much done with her training issues and has a lot of confidence, we are a lot closer to Q'ing. I want to keep the momentum we have going and continue trialing to see if we can't work on those Excellent and Masters titles.

What is really thrilling me is the speed she's working on. Even with our mistakes, she's consistently 5-8 seconds under time in JWW and she was 15 seconds under time in Standard on Sunday. She is faster than Ian was by just a few seconds now, and I know she has more in her. As we relax and become a team, I can't wait to see where we go! Devon is just such a fun dog to run!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Evolution of a training program

I have a whole list of posts I want to make, but time has gotten away from me. They will come. But I took 10 minutes to eat lunch and decided to jump on Susan Garrett's blog for some lunch-time reading. Today's post, "Is good Dog Training Static or Dynamic?" hit home for me, especially following a weekend agility seminar with Jenn Crank.

One of the other participants at the seminar asked me if I learned anything new at the seminar. I had to think about that question for a minute. I've followed the same handling system since 2002, and I take private lessons and seminars with Jenn. The honest answer is I heard little "new" information this weekend -- but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth my time!

I wrote down two pages of notes. Mostly they were things I had heard before, but I wanted to remember them and highlight them for my training program. In addition, I wrote down several things Page and I need to work on (and we have some homework!).

But I think what I enjoyed most was Jenn's transparency on her own dynamic training program. She talked about the differences in how she trained Xtreme's contacts and Kaboo's contacts. One was taught using the "one rear toe" (ORT) method and the other using a front foot focused two on two off (2o2o) method. She went on to talk about what she liked and didn't like in the end performance of both.

I have always struggled with my dogs' contact performances, and I think Page's performance is the best I've trained so far (we still have a way to go until it's perfected). Page and Devon were similarly trained as Jenn's dogs; Page was taught a 2o2o through nose touch and Devon was taught a stopped contact through shaping with the ORT method. (Devon runs her contacts now, but she was originally taught to have a stopped contact.)

Jenn's thoughts on the pros and cons were interesting to me, and I'll tuck them into my mind for that time years from now when I train another dog. That's why I appreciated Susan's blog post this morning. Training isn't static. My training program is evolving.

But my training program is consistent. While I love the dog training information Susan Garrett uses, I don't pay attention to her agility handling. Since I began agility, my experience has been with the Awesome Paws Handling System, and that's what I will maintain. The key is finding good resources that are dynamic and fit consistently with your training program.

Speaking of consistency, Jenn Crank and Carol Cassity are two peas in a pod even if one has never heard of the other and they work in different dog sports (agility and field). Don't hang the toys from the tree sounds a lot like don't hide the candy to me!