Monday, December 31, 2012

It's New Year's Eve: 2013 Goals

Wow, I don't get to blog very much any more. I think about lots of things I'd like to blog about ... it's time I don't have. Maybe I'll be better about it in 2013.

So those pesky goals for 2013. I've been thinking about them for several weeks. I like how Kathy Keats posed her questions in the conclusion of the Agility Mind Gym series in Clean Run's December 2012 issue, so I'll use those questions to frame my goals this year.

What have you learned about yourself in the last 12 months?

What a deep question, especially this year. I have learned to endure. I have learned to endure through pain and loss and disappointment and frustration. I'm not patient, so this is hard for me. I don't always do it well ... who am I kidding, I never do it well. But I find at the end of 2012, I might be at peace. Let's see if I can stay that way.

What have you changed about yourself in the last 12 months?

I'm getting serious about keeping my body in shape. Severe sciatic pain in mid-October when I couldn't walk for nearly a day and a half was my wake up call. I still have pain most days, but I'm getting better and I can finally move. I need to be stronger, and I'm working toward that goal.

What do you want to improve about yourself in the next 12 months?
I want to improve my physical condition, for my dogs and for myself. I demand a lot of my body, but only during part of my day. I need to have the fitness to continue what I love doing. It's hard to train dogs when you're in pain.

In my handling, I need to be more intentional while running courses. Neither of my dogs is ready for me to make assumptions (are they ever?). Devon feels the disconnect and stresses and heads for the ring gates. Page goes by jumps.

In my training, I need to be more diligent. Work on something every day. Fine tune when the weather is bad and I'm stuck inside. Take advantage when I have opportunities for more training.

Part 2 -- Ok! Enough about me! Onto the pups!

What have you learned about Devon in the last 12 months?

Devon can shake off bad training decisions on my part and the ghosts of issues past. She has shown me, especially in the last several trials, that she can literally shake it off and continue to run confidently. What could have been a setback isn't anymore.

I have also learned that I need to give Devon lots of time to work out training and become confident. While Devon is bright and learns quickly, it takes her time to be comfortable with training and learned exercises. I wish I had learned this earlier, because she's been telling me this for years. All the obedience training we have done for years came together this spring for her CD. I tried to rush her into the ring and she was stressed and unsure of herself. When she was ready, we got three straight legs with one placement and compliments on her heeling.

The same is true in agility. We came into 2012 with one MX leg, four MXJ legs and 38 MACH points. In spite of some struggles from March through May, Devon ends 2012 with 14 MXJ legs, eight MX legs, 180 MACH points and three double Qs. And more importantly than the stats, for the last three months I've had people stop me at trials and tell me Devon has never run better, faster or more confidently. People can't tell Devon and Page apart on course anymore. 

How has Devon changed in the last 12 months?

Devon is a much more confident agility dog this year. Decisions I've made to run with her from the start, jackpot problem obstacles and reward speed have paid off. She's within 2-3 seconds of Page on many runs. This confidence in known environments has paid off in new places. This year she has several Qs in other locations besides those where we train. This weekend she Q'd in a place she could hardly run in when she started there 27 months ago. She was fast and confident in her weaves. And even when stressed, she shook it off and moved on.

What do you want to improve in your dog in the next 12 months?

I want to continue to build on this confidences and translate it into fast confident runs that are clean with weaves on the first attempt. To do this, I need to be focused and purposeful while still continuing to jackpot her and reward her speed. Devon has shown me she can handle me maintaining criteria and only rewarding criteria, not just every try.

In obedience, I want to finish teaching her utility exercises and perfect them. Devon is solid on a couple of exercises, and spotty on most exercises. It's time to push her through to completion. Even though we are having a ball in agility, we need to begin to focus on the next phase of her career, which is obedience. With training and effort and using the same rewarding and jackpotting techniques I've used in agility, I see great things in obedience training. Now we need to complete that picture and polish it up!

What have you learned about your dog in the last 12 months?
Page is working very hard to read my handling cues in agility. I can see her effort in class and in trials. And she's doing all this without losing speed. She's slowing down to read my cues, and as we become a better team, I'm sure she'll get faster at reading my handling -- and I'll get faster at providing it!

How has your dog changed in the last 12 months?
Page is maturing and not being as willful as she has previously. Oh sure, I still get a long discussion at the table, especially last weekend when I asked her to by pass a tunnel, which she did, only to present her with a table, which she didn't appreciate. But her startlines are become very solid, and we're doing a better job of teamwork.

What do you want to improve in your dog in the next 12 months?
Now that we've come to an understanding about staying for startlines, collecting into weave poles and most of the time stopping for the table (although she does tell me what she thinks), we must get these contacts in hand. I was encouraged two weeks ago when she acknowledged the A frame contact and decelerated and hit it and she even gave me 2o2o for the dogwalk!! But this weekend away from home they fell apart.

So that's our goals for 2013. We'll see how we do with them in about 12 months!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sad news about Connor

On Thursday we found out Connor has very advanced stage lymphoma. He's been living with my parents since the first of March because itLink had become difficult for him to manage the stairs at my house. Two weeks ago it became apparent something else was going on, and we had him examined and blood draw last Tuesday.

We made the decision not to do any further "treatment" because his blood work looked very bad. He's 12 years old and has spondylosis. He's had a great life and I didn't want to put him through anything painful at this point when it wouldn't even buy him much time. However, I did want to pursue some acupuncture for pain relief and appetite stimulation.

Today we met with Dr. Catherine Florence at Indiana Veterinary Alternatives. The lymphoma has progressed very rapidly. Just a week ago the only swollen lymph glands were in his face, and now every lymph gland he has his swollen. She said it wasn't good that lymph nodes in the front and back of his body (both sides of the diaphragm) were involved.

His nose and face are also swollen, and breathing through his is nose is difficult. When Dr. Florence heard how rapidly his symptoms had progressed and saw his current state, she agreed we were focused on making him comfortable.

Connor liked the acupuncture, and we could see immediate help with his nasal breathing. He has some Chinese herbs to take twice a day. His next appointment is next Tuesday. His eyelids were drooping before we left, so I think he's going to spend the rest of the day snoozing.

I thought I'd put in some photos of Connor's second agility trial hosted by the Cuyahoga Valley Golden Retriever Club in June of 2003. This was the trial where he earned his NA and NAJ. Connor is my first titled agility dog, even though I started agility in 1999 with Reece. I'm glad I have memories from this winter of Connor making up his own agility course, hopping over 4 inch bars and running through tunnels as I was trying to reset bars. His tail was going 100 mph and he had a big Golden smile on his face. I just stood and watched him play and smiled through tears. He's such a good boy!

I don't think it will be long before Connor is at the Rainbow Bridge playing with Reece. Well, actually Reece will be playing with him and bossing him around. Connor will likely be curling up with Reece and snuggling, which Reece will tolerate only if no one is watching!

Friday, March 9, 2012

How you play the "game"

This article by Rick Reilly on Peyton Manning really made me think. The theme of this article is about how Peyton was remarkable because of his grace and class. He held onto his "southern gentility." He said "yes, sir" and "no, sir." He tipped well and he took time with his fans. And in the end, when a decision was made that "would've gone down most guys' throats like a porcupine," he took it, smiled and ended it with grace.

As a player, Reilly notes that Manning watched more film and knew more about most defenses than the guys in them. He was the last one to go home at night and played bruised and sick even though his paycheck didn't change if he played or not. And the biggest story I didn't know:
"That Super Bowl win was classic you. Every day that whole week, you made your center, Jeff Saturday, spend an extra 15 minutes snapping you balls you'd soaked in a bucket of water. "It might rain," you said. So when it did, and Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman looked like he was throwing greased watermelons, you looked like you were throwing rocks."
So what can I apply from this article? My attitude is noticed. Being a good sport counts for something -- it counts for a lot! And preparation is vital. If my team of two is prepared, we can do anything. Right now, I could do a better job on both fronts.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lessons from hosting a Super Bowl

Indianapolis hosted this year's Super Bowl, and it was a huge success. I can't imagine what it would take to put on a Super Bowl. I heard Allison Melangton, President and CEO of the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee, speak once more than a year ago, and I liked what she had to say. I also enjoyed reading this article and listening to the video clips from the IBJ.

I found three of her lessons learned inspiring:
  1. If you believe in something, be bold about it even if you have doubters.
  2. Don't let logistics get in the way of a great idea.
  3. Do what is your strength, not what others do.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

23.5 hours

So my plan for self-discipline has been going pretty well until this week. Priorities loomed and I felt "too busy." Then along came this YouTube video that I thought was very good, and I wanted to share it. I have been doing 35-45 minutes of exercise for a couple of weeks, and I've felt better than I have in months. Training the girls was more fun! This was good motivation to keep it up!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2011 Flashback: Devon's AX

I can’t let 2011 get too far in the past without a blog about Devon’s agility career. Agility has been tough for her, and a lot of it has had to do with training (i.e., it’s my fault). I took for granted the access to foundation training I had in Ohio, and I didn’t have it here. What I learned through Devon helped me create the agility foundation program I used with Page and now teach.

But Devon did come with a fear of movement and she’s very environmentally aware, so lack of confidence in her foundation along with those issues have caused training and confidence problems. And in Oct 2009, after earning her OA, Devon got spooked on the teeter in training and wouldn’t get back on it. It took her nearly 6 months to even start back with a board and a 1-inch dowel.

Then in June 2010, I pushed a weave performance one weekend during a 3-day trial when she was sore in her left shoulder (something she’s battled on and off for most of her career). That caused a weave confidence problem!

So 2011 was the year if we would figure out of Devon was really going to have an agility career. Other than tracking to finish her VST and some obedience training here and there, we focused on agility all year. And it paid off!

In 2011, Devon earned all three legs of her AX for her title, as well as her first MX leg. All three of her AX legs were earned at “home” training buildings. I had a slight worry that she’d never weave successfully away from home on the first try, when she earned her first MX leg in Zanesville, Ohio, proving me wrong! In addition to her first master’s standard leg, Devon earned three MXJ legs this year and a total of 30 MACH points.

While 30 MACH points in one year is certainly low, it represents a year of hard work for us. Most of her Qs and points came in the second half of the year. By December, Devon looked confident and happy in agility. Even though we didn’t Q all weekend in her last trial of 2011, I’m so proud of her attitude and performance. We’re getting there, and I can’t wait for next weekend when we get to step to the line again.

The one thing I have learned with Devon is it truly is a pleasure to step to the line with her in any venue. She is a happy willing worker, but she really does it so we can have fun together. When I remember that, magic happens!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2011 Flashback: CT Devon!

I cannot believe it's taken me this long to post about Devon's VST/CT pass. Devon is my first certified tracking dog, first TD, first TDX and second VST/CT dog. Devon and I have learned tracking together, and she has been a wonderful teacher. Without Devon, Page would never have earned her CT ... even though it was a year earlier than Devon's pass. I've told Devon since we got Page that her journey is going to take a different path than Page's - and that's OK by me!

Devon made the third draw in the Oct. 2, 2011, Glenbard Obedience Training Club's VST test in DeKalb, Ill., on the campus of Northern Illinois University. This was the second time I'd made the trip to this campus and this test. It was the site of Page's pass on Oct. 3, 2010, and of Devon's first VST test.

I was more than ready for Devon's VST journey to be over in October 2011. The first fall had been fantastic. Page earned her VST at her first test, and out of three tests in the fall of 2010, Devon nearly passed two coming within approx. 100 yards of the final article. I knew my dog could pass this test! I was content that most VST/CT journeys take several tries and a lot of time due to the difficulty of getting into tests and then passing them. I knew it was your track on your day, so I was fine to hold her over the winter.

But the winter of 2010-2011 was very cold and snowy without much tracking. Then we started entering spring tests and NOT making the draw. UGH! Here I had a dog ready and no tests! We finally made the sixth test we entered, the last test of the season in late May. It was a sunny day and the first 85 degree day and my dog was toast. At that point, I knew I'd have to hold Devon over the summer, and with work ramping up I knew it would be tough to track.

The summer of 2011 was HOT. I realized that Devon couldn't track VST above 75 degrees. As fall approached and the October VST test deadlines were looming, we'd only tracked about 7-8 times. Devon looked good ... but then I again was I dreaming she looked good? We'd hardly tracked, so was she really ready for the grueling VST test? I entered, trusting my dog, and we made the draw for the first test of our fall season.

It was good we'd been to DeKalb. I knew the area and was comfortable. It was also good I knew the route, because Sunday morning came with pockets of very heavy fog. There were times on my drive to the campus that I couldn't see past the hood of the van.

I got to campus very early and waited. I chatted with two wonderful people with Goldens, one new to tracking and working the test. Finally the draw came, and we got track #2! Yeah!!! I LOVE early tracks. I had hoped for an early track, because if it ran like the year before, the early tracks were on the west side of campus in the less populated areas. The down side of those tracks was geese, as I'd learned the year before. The downsides of the later tracks were people and squirrels!

In a last minute judging change, Darlene Bernard was joining her husband John as the judge because the original judge was ill. This was the same judging panel as I'd had the previous year. I stayed at the draw site, as they wanted each of the participants to stay there during the track before them.

I heard quickly that the exhibitor at track #1 failed, so it was our turn! I drove to the track, but there was no parking near the start, so I handed over my keys to a wonderful person in the gallery, got Devon, and we walked with Darlene to the start.

Here is where the test got REALLY interesting. Devon's start was almost exactly where Page's final article had been the previous year. I knew this was going to be tough for me not to want the track to be like Page's track. I was going to have to watch and trust my dog.

Darlene told me as we were walking to the track that they moved the start up because there was a bunny nest near it (i.e., don't let my dog go backwards!!). Then Devon saw a squirrel playing near her start as we walked up. I was NOT going to let her go squirrel hunting this year (an evil squirrel on this campus last year is why she didn't pass).

Devon started well, and indicated her first turn nicely. However, when she got halfway down the leg, she start circling. Unfortunately, she had to poop, which makes her very distracted while tracking. The first orange box on the map is the search area she made after she pooped. This was again very hard on me, because this was the exact search area Page had on this test the previous year. The track could have gone on either side of this street, and as much as I thought it was on the other side, I doubted myself as to whether I wanted it there because it was last year.

Devon finally dragged me across the street (the blue line) and came up with a plastic article. Later, Darlene said that was one of the nicest pieces of tracking she'd ever seen from a VST dog, and the fact that I followed her unquestioningly was a nice piece of handling. This was also the same location where Page dragged me back across the street last year to track to her pass. Things were very eerie for me!

Devon came up with the plastic article, but she did it coming perpendicular to the track. I suspected this, but when she started working forward, I let her explore. Again, I wasn't sure if I was reading her correctly or wanting it to be like 2010. Finally when she worked back toward where we found the article, I opened my shoulders toward either possibility, sat her, watered her and rescented her. When she worked along the purple line, I stepped out in confidence behind her. This was a difficult mental thing to do, because I had so many doubts.

We came upon a pavement pad between trees and a dumpster and imagine my horror to see the ground covered in broken glass (marked on the map in the red box). Lots of it! I took a subtle peek behind me and Darlene was still directly behind me as was the gallery (always a good sign), so I pushed Devon through the glass. When she wanted to circle, I guided her on through, not caring if I got a reprimand from the judges. I was not going to injure my dog! (I checked and washed her paws thoroughly after the test.)

Out onto the parking lot, and in VST, that means you are looking for an MOT, or Moment of Truth turn. For those non-trackers that's a 90 degree turn on a non veg surface where the dog cannot accomplish the turn by fringing on veg; typically it means no veg within at least 30 yards of the turn in any direction.

When Devon indicated a right turn, then double checked herself and indicated it again, I went. You can see by the blue line on the map, she turned a little early. As we tracked forward, I was searching the area for another article, knowing most judges will try and reward the dog with an article after the MOT if they can, and we had not yet had an article on non-veg (at least one article needs to be on non-veg). I saw the article about a split second before Devon winded it and headed that way.

At the article, I knew two things. First, I knew the track diverged from the 2010 track here, because Devon's article was at the spot of Page's MOT in 2010. Second, I knew the track went forward along the building and into the grass because we had no place else to go. We only had to find that last article, and we still needed one more turn, but we were close. In fact, Devon and I had been this close on two other occasions the fall of 2010, but I was determined we'd finish this time! We had only a little more parking lot and good lush grass in front of us!

After a water break and a rescent at the article, Devon tracked strongly across the parking lot to the grass. I could see the tracklayer's steps in the wet grass into the pine trees. Out of the pine trees, Devon started circling. The orange box shows you the search area, and the photo here is of us during the search. Devon looks confident, doesn't she? The final article is to my left up the hill, beyond it's crest and to the right of the two pines and shadows of the trees.

I think this is the only place I really almost panicked. We were so close, and we'd failed at this point two other times! My mental game slipped, and I was ready to put my nose down and find that last article myself!

What you can't tell from the map but can see in the photo is that we had to go up hill for the final article. After seeing the end of the track and the terrain, I do know why Devon struggled here. Remember I said it was very, very foggy that morning? Fog is damp and damp holds scent. I now know she was working the scent cone from the final article. It had traveled downhill with the fog and settled in that valley area, especially the taller cover she wanted to go into. The tracklayer's scent was trapped in the trees, but once she cleared them, Devon was exposed to this large fairly dense scent cone she needed to explore. Her early article search about gave me heart failure!

Finally we worked back to that pine tree area, where I knew the track was. I sat Devon and watered her and rescented her and she settled right back into her job, moving forward and uphill. As we crested the small rise, I saw a bright teal sock on the grass and as Devon crested the hill right after me, she saw it too. Devon made a beeline for it, and as soon as it was in her mouth I raised my hand in success!

Can you see me with my arm in the air on the hill in the upper middle of this photo? And Darlene with her hands in the air by the pine trees in the lower left. Darlene was all smiles when she saw Devon come back down the hill, sock in hand. She cheered in delight, as did John behind her and the gallery sent up a cheer, too. I think that's my tracklayer in the gallery with her arm in the air.

I was in tears as soon as Devon had that sock. I ran down the hill and threw my arms around Darlene and thanked her for passing both of my girls to their Champion Tracker. The first words out of her mouth were, "I know! And did that track look familiar???" What a hoot! I bet Darlene was floored when I drew track #2.

After a quick hug for John, Devon ran to the gallery to present her sock to each and every one of them. They all gave her the adoration she deserved! I was fortunate to have one other VST judge in the gallery, Beth Walker, who later passed with her Belgian Terv earning another CT. Jeanne Ramirez was also in the gallery, wife of judge Vince Ramirez and another multiple CT Terv trainer/handler. Both complemented us on our pass and me on my handling.

In addition, my tracklayer had Goldens and just started tracking. This was her first VST track she laid. She said several folks in the gallery remarked on my good handling. That's important to me because I've never wanted to fail my dogs by my handling. Several in the gallery also remembered Page's pass last year, and they were very impressed with both my dogs. At the end of the day, Darlene asked me when I was going to bring another Gaylan's Golden Retriever for them to pass to be another CT. I told them it would be a while! I had no more tracking dogs left in my house to finish!

Now for the details: Devon's track was 655 yards long, with 379 yards of veg and 276 yards of non-veg. It was aged 3 hours and 5 minutes. It had four turns (yes, really!), and leg lengths were 115 yards, 66 yards, 169 yards, 260 yards and 45 yards. Devon passed in approximately 25 minutes, which is very quick for a VST pass (Page took about 45 minutes). There were a total of 3 passes at our test, which is a very high pass rate out of 8 tracks.

As has been the case from the time Page entered our lives, Devon's pass is intertwined with Page's pass. Their journeys, while different, are so interrelated. The October Glenbard Obedience Training Club's test at DeKalb is the test where Page passed her VST/CT. For those of you who do tracking, you know that it is a random draw to even get in a test. Then, once you reach the site, you have a second random draw for tracks the day of the test.

There are 8 tracks at this test. Devon got the third draw and drew track #2. In 2010, Page had drawn track #3. Imagine my surprise when they took me to Devon's track, and the start flag was almost exactly where Page's final article was! The map here is an overlay of Page's track from 2010 (pink) with Devon's track from 2011 (purple). What where the odds that I drew that track when 75% of it was Page's track from the previous year backwards! It was incredibly difficult for me to handle Devon wondering if I was seeing what I wanted to see or she was really tracking what she was supposed to!

So that's Devon's story of her VST pass. While Page's was a great accomplishment, her journey was much shorter and straight forward. Devon is my first certified dog, and we worked for four years for this title. When Devon certified to track at 7 months, the first words out of the judge's mouth were not congratulations. They were, "Did you know what she did back there before the last turn?" My response was to ask if we'd passed; I'd never certified I dog before. Judge Steve Ripley said, "Yes you did, but did you see what she did?" I said no.

He then told me Devon indicated a 48-hour old cross track he'd laid in the field 2 days before. He asked me how far I wanted to go with this dog, and without really understanding what I was saying I said, "I want a Champion Tracker." Five years later, that dream came true!
I have to thank Steve for teaching me what he knows about VST tracking. Steve and his wife Janet who laid hundreds of footsteps for Devon to track were an important part of success.

Devon and I learned tracking together, she taught me what I know about how dogs track scent, and she is my heart dog. Frankly, I'm glad our journey was longer; there was more to savor. What a great joy it was for us to accomplish this goal together! She is a truly wonderful dog.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Flashback: Page gets a mulligan!

It’s rare in an AKC trial to actually get a mulligan, or a “do over.” A few months ago, Page and I got one, and I decided to use it to my advantage. Page had not been weaving, due mainly to her lack of wanting to collect to slow down the game. We were just past our third try at the weaves and moving on when half the lights went out in the ring. The judge gave us a do over because we had not completed the course, even though we had already NQ’d.

When we finally got to run the course again (20 minutes later and not 5 minutes later as initially thought), Page went around the second jump. UGH! Something we’d done so well in the first attempt. I’m not fast enough to turn her around, and I knew the weaves would be a problem anyway, so I changed my plan.

When I walked the course, I knew you could run it with all front crosses or all rear crosses. In my first attempt, I went with all fronts, and I was happy with the results. So the second time when I had nothing to lose, I used all rear crosses. How rare is it to get the same course and the same trial situation and get to run it a different way?

Well, I learned something. The fronts worked better in this case. My dog has much more clear direction with the front crosses. Now it could have been because I did a bad job of executing the rears, and I’ll accept that. But it told me something about my team. Page gets better direction when I’m in front of her and I need to do everything possible to continue to learn to be in front of her.

Run 1

Run 2