Saturday, August 20, 2011

Goal setting

Been doing a fair amount of that this week.. both realistic aims and pie in the sky dreaming.

We're back in the ring over labour day, up at Spot On - we've entered two standard runs, a jumpers and steeplechase. A lot of runs for a day for wee Sophie - I've started daily jogs to build our stamina, and if it cools a bit more in the evening we'll start cycling again. Our goals at the trial will be to plan and implement running lines that will keep us together - the "stay right in her face" plan that we started at the nationals will be our new trialling format for the time being. This will likely slow us down a bit, but for now, we're all about getting trial experience - speed and q's will come in time.

We're also trying to get out to a weekly informal group of like minded individuals for training with distractions. So far we're doing mostly rally exercises on leash at these evenings, but it's all part of the "making myself more interesting than other people" programme.

Some more long term goals: Next year's Regionals. Although we don't have a realistic chance of qualifying (gambling is going to be a sticky point for us I'm sure), our steeplechase run at the nat's this year has whet our appetite to play with the big dogs. :) The pie in the sky goal will be to qualify for the CPE nationals in New York, but since that requires achieving all of the level 1 and 2 titles before February (and thus 20 some qualifying runs in an area that only has a few CPE trials), I think we can safely say this will be a project for 2013. :)

Rally goals: We are working on weaning off food treats, and are planning on attending a few more rally trials in the fall and winter. I hope we will earn our Rally Novice Title this year, and then we'll work on the advanced level skills.

Have some personal career goals that I'm still working on, but those have to stay under my hat for the time being. :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summer Update!

Sophie and I at the Nationals in Barrie

Sophie and her CPE title ribbon!

Work has taken first priority this summer, so we haven't been doing a whole lot of agility or rally... however, we did make it up to Barrie for the AAC Nationals Aug 6-10. I entered Soph in the Friday warm up games - Steeplechase and the 60 Weave Pole Challenge. Our Steeplechase run was marvellous! My good friend and agility coach Andrea Harrison was an immense help in walking the course and planning a strategy for us. Our new game plan is to stick to Soph like glue, never ever giving her an opportunity to break focus. This means some creative crossing is necessary, but we do what we have to.

The steeplechase started out with a nice run up the outside - jump jump frame. The frame was in the corner with a ring crew seated just on the far side. Knowing the judge would also be there, I chose to run on the perimeter again, keeping myself between Soph and the ring crew and thus limiting her mugging options. This worked beautifully, and she held her contact as I front crossed back into the inside line. Jump 4 was followed by a hard turn toward the centre, so I front crossed again to get her in line for jump 5 and #6, the weaves. Slight bobble on the weaves but I was able to draw her back in and finish them. Next was a tunnel that curved back to the weaves - flawless the 2nd time through. Back over jump 5, and a gentle curve around the top of the ring with jump 10-11-12, passing another ring crew without a blink. I had planned a front cross in front of 12 to draw soph away from the tunnel, but I was a little late and we had an offcourse - just one stride into the tunnel and I was able to recall her out and get her back on line. Jumps 13-17 were a pin wheel that she did just fine, then we were back into that blasted tunnel (correctly this time!) and over one last jump to finish!

Final analysis, with the off course and a slightly slower performance on the weaves, put us over the course time and gave us an E, but considering where we were and the difficulty of the course, I could not be more pleased with her performance. Looking forward to some more trials this summer!

Next up was our weave pole challenge - it was HOT and muggy at this point so I wasn't expecting great things. However, Soph did just fine, getting to about the 40th pole or so. Good girl!

The rest of the weekend we were on the sidelines, cheering on Andrea and Team VariHarri, Brody and Sally (Soph's littersister). Both of them had STELLAR runs all weekends - Brody, at age 11, placed 15th in his class overall, Sally was 28th in her jumpers class on Sunday. Rockstars!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Our Rally Debut!

Last month, our training buddy Emily (with Elsie the kelpie-esque mutt) encouraged us to enter an upcoming Rally trial out in Vanessa (about two hours away). After a successful series of run throughs at a fun match, I decided nothing ventured, and nothing to lose but entry fees. So off to the Poodle Farm we went!

After an interesting evening in a tent with a dog that had never gone camping nor slept under nylon before (and around and around she paced on and off all night...), we were up for our first run at 9 am. I appreciated our show host (Debbie DeCosta) and her insistence on the fun and positive aspect of rally obedience, as well as taking into consideration the space that some dogs need to put forth their best performance. Indeed, she actually she excused one dog from the warm up area when the dog in the ring was too distracted - as well, she allowed the ring dog to begin again once she had refocussed and settled down.

Our first run was a bit of a sniffing fest - the floor was much more interesting than me, and I just couldn't get her working until the final few stations. Highlight of the run was the sit - down - sit station, which in Sophie-land is translated as "station should now read "sit, down, stare at handler like you've never heard the word sit before... wag tail.. then roll over and beg for a belly rub.. flap your front paws around.. grab forefoot and chew on it.. roll back into a down position and stare some more. then flop onto your side and continue wagging tail... then finally, with a bit of physical prompting and the fifth hand signal, pop into a sit and then try to jump on your handler". My stifled giggles led Judge DeCosta to comment and compliment us on maintaining a positive attitude and smiling throughout - how could you not grin though?

The following two runs were much smoother. Our second run was lovely - Sophie was focussed and intent, and I was much better at maintaining her attention at the heel (as well as smoother about feeding at "legal" opportunities. (CARO rules allow you to give treats at stations when the dog is in a stay position - a great way for green dogs to start trialling!) Had a few deductions for repeated commands and tight leashes, and the judge commented that I'm not consistent about providing instruction on what Soph should be doing... interestingly, this is a flaw in our agility runs as well. I need to remember that I can cue "heel" when leaving a station, instead of simply expecting her to continue heeling. Regardless, this was a qualifying run and I believe we ended up with 5th place and a score of 193.

Our Third Run, I was tired and a bit distracted at the slightly rushed pace of the trial - meaning I made several handler errors and nq'd us. I started to go back through a set of weaving cones when I didn't need to (judge was generous and didn't nq us, simply calling it a "repeat"), as well as omitting a sit when calling to front (this was a call to front, followed by a moving swing finish ie there was no sit after the swing back into heel position, you started moving again once the dog was back on your left) - I was concentrating on keeping Sophie moving forward after the swing, and completely forgot to get that sit in the call to front. DOH! NQ #1. On the last station, I moved a bit too quickly and the judge called it a "Fast" heel, NQ #2. So it goes - Sophie was a good happy worker throughout and I have no complaints!

Many thanks to Jen and Emily for video and photography of our weekend - all three runs can be viewed via this link:

Final thoughts: Rally has been a great confidence booster for both Sophie and myself. It is also a great way for me to fine tune my training skills - agility, you can get away (to some limited extent) with fast and loose training. Rally requires more careful precision throughout and breaking down behaviours into discreet training steps. (And yes, I know that teaching obstacle performance in agility - esp. on contact obstacles - requires the same precision, but once the dog reaches obstacle proficiency there is less need for continuing precise work to maintain successful performance) This past weekend has also shown me that for whatever reason, I feel MUCH less ring nerves in the rally trial environment - I hope that continued success in this venue will lead me to relax in the agility ring as well.

Many thanks to Andre Yeu and Mirkka Koivusalo of When Hounds Fly! for their Rally classes ad ongoing support, as well as to Emily Fisher, Jen Durst, Elsie and Arlo the zenhound for their support and encouragement (as well as chauffeuring, stellar videography and photography, and agility mannequining in the past!) You all rock!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Titled Hound!

4 months between blogposts - oops! lots to report though. We finished a 6 week class in Rally Obedience at When Hounds Fly, which gave us loads of options for managing and encouraging good behaviour in and out of the ring.

We had another AAC trial in May - three runs - the first was a copy of the train wreck on New Years, as soon as she entered the ring I lost her. The following two runs were improvements, finishing with a jumpers run in which we nearly q'd, missing one jump. A credible performance.

Today, we had entered another CPE trial - our first since last april. First up was the Standard Class, a lovely open and flowing course taking me around the perimeter, then diagonally across the ring, curving back to another diagonal line to the finish. We were clean up the first line and across the back, but had difficulty after the aframe turning to a tire jump and to the dogwalk - slight loss of contact at the tire, then she froze and bailed off the dogwalk. Managed to keep her with me however, and into the correct tunnel curving into the diagonal, but ran out of time before finishing. I was pleased, however.

Next was the Fullhouse class, where (for the non CPE readers) I have to make up a course which includes 3 single bar jumps, 2 "circles" (tunnel chute or tire) and at least one contact, weave or double jump. Our planned route took us down that same line along the wall, which she had no trouble with. Ran into trouble at the curve into the diagonal - went to have a look at the aframe instead - but wouldn't take it, so got her back on my intended course down the diagonal. Jump jump jump to the first tunnel - but here she had a choice, table right in front (which in Fullhouse ends the run) or the tunnel curving back to the 2 jumps i wanted to finish - and dang it, she chose the table - finishing with 15 pts instead of our required 17 pts. Dang! Still, pleased at how attentive and focussed she's been.

Now up was snookers. We started on that same side, red jump to a tunnel - no difficulty. But here comes the turn again - and i've lost her. Down she goes toward the scribe - quick sniff hello and I'm able to get her back .. start trying to get her back up the ring to the required red jump, and we nearly get there (and this is a huge achievement, taking her away from the beloved ring crew and away from the exit). Turn her back though, and she's gone , running around, and then enters the exit gate - automatic nq in CPE. Not bad though.

Our final run is colours - where there are two overlapping courses and the handler must choose either red or blue - once chosen, you have to stay on that course. We chose the blues, which kept us on the inside. Jump jump tunnel - all are good - now we've got a turn - soph spots judge pat and by passes the jumps to go say hello, and then over to the fire exit door to look out the window. She waits for me there, and with some feigned touch cues and quick movements, I'm able to get her back (passing several offcourse opportunities and the judge), back to the fourth jump, and a BEAUTIFUL push "OUT" to the tunnel, front cross to get me between the ring crew and the line - jump, jump , jump, tire and YAY we have our Q! and that gives us or CTLH-1 (only took us three years!) Whatta dog!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

February recap

Well, we've had a few practice sessions this months with my "agility mannequins" as well as house league and a fun match today... so here's what's been working and what hasn't..

Practice sessions: We've graduated to running full courses, with treats hidden in my pocket, and with both a "judge" and 2 seated ring crew in the hall. We are still starting with shadow handling around the room with random people as our warm up (and we will be working that into our "trial routine" before we go into the ring). Once we are getting good focus during the SH, we move on to the full runs. Most of the time I can run without rewarding until the end, although i will stop to reward a tough distraction. I was very pleased with one of our sessions when I was able to send her into a tunnel with "ring crew" seated right at the entrance. Good girlie!

House League: Since it was held on valentine's day this year, we had a heart theme as well as some gamble challenges. The first game was "Queen of Hearts" - an adapted version of the CPE 'fullhouse' game, where you make up your own course which must include certain required elements, as well as a distance challenge. We started off well with two flowing sequences, but did lose her midcourse. Was able to recall her and finish with a smooth closing. We did miss one required "circle" , so ended up with a score of 22 in 52 seconds.
Gambles was next, and I chose a course that kept us away from the crowd and ring crew. Started with a nice line along the wall, which she ran beautifully - we tried the mini gamble twice (layering a send to the teeter and over the frame from behind a tunnel) and completed one successfully. (Although the second was arguably okay IMO, but the judge said my foot was in front of the tunnel entrance..regardless, she was still able to hold her contact on both teeter and frame. ) The rest of the course was down the middle to the main gamble (over two jumps and into a tunnel), which she aced and we would have gotten except her fool handler stopped one step over the line. DOH! 28 points there. The final run was a standard, which unfortunately began along the fence with the spectators, and I did lose her when she saw the judge, so the first half was a bit of a mess. However, once we got back on track and moving away from the peanut gallery, her run was just stellar - you can watch the second half here. (please note the amazing lead out on the table!) 10 faults (missed weaves and an off course) in a time of 1:23. 22)

Her performance all day , and in particular the final run, earned her a milking-nozzle tug toy for the most improved performance - yay sophie!

Last but not least, we wrapped up February with a fun match today. When I did lose her today, it was clearly as a result of brain farts/confusing handling on my part and off she'd wander. (Except for the first run, when she was a little high and distracted and I lost her to the peanut gallery ring side. Even then, I was able to bring her back, do some brief shadow handling that I could reward, and finished the course successfully. The two runs in the middle were flawless, and the final run we did again have a drift off, but again, I was able to recall, get her back working with me, and finish cleanly. (And I do have to say that she handled one sequence beautifully - the fourth run had a frame to a jump and then a hard call off away from the tunnel to a jump off set towards the middle. I knew that I would ahve trouble getting ahead of her, so I asked her to hold the contact until I was at the middle jump, then released her and got her over there in time for a call towards the third jump to finish. Our first attempt she released herself too early and did the tunnel, but we had time for a repeat and that time she was able to hold contact as I led out about 10 feet, got her over the jump and called her in for a perfect sequence.
Once everyone had finished for the day, I begged for one more run with a judge and ring crew of one, seated at the end of the tunnel (third obstacle). She started off well with two jumps, but beelined for the ring crew bypassing the tunnel - I was able to block her and resend her into the tunnel, then turn her away to the next jump, finishing the rest of the run cleanly (with the judge shouting to be heard over two dogs barking up hysterical tantrums ring side.

So.. what worked for us this month. ROUTINES. We are establishing a carefully scripted performance that we will use at trials. Beginning with her release from her crate about 5 dogs before our run, we go out for a potty break. Then we fill in the remaining 8-10 minutes with shadow handling and tricks, touch, spin, take a bow, stretches and bouncing up to my hand, plus playing "who's that?" (Look at that) with people that she knows and loves well - she must hold her sit stay and return to focussed attention after each glance away) . Each of these is heavily rewarded as we near the gate for our run. As we set up for the run at the start line, I may throw in some bouncing hand touches which she finds self rewarding. During the run, as we approach judge or ring crew (esp on contacts), I will maintain her focus with strong reminders of "steady" (don't go too fast) and "with me" (our SH version of loose heeling) . Each run is finished with a bounced hand touch, followed by "let's get your cookie" race back to her crate for her jackpot. Once the runs are finished for the day, or if there's a lengthy break between runs, I will reward her with some premacked "go say hi" sessions. I need to also follow Silvia Trkman's lead and provide a steady, constant flow of information on course - as I get more comfortable memorising courses and handling smoothly , this will come more naturally.

And that's our February! Our next steps will be (hopefully) a few more practice sessions with mannequins, one more houseleague session this coming weekend, aiming toward a CPE trial at Tee Creek in April. We've also been invited to a games night during the week, with our former classmates on Tuesday after houseleague. Webb Anderson is back in April as well, and we are looking forward to both a half day seminar and a private lesson that weekend. (That will be one week before our CPE trial).

On a personal note, I'm thrilled to announce that I'm now teaching beginner's agility for family pets at Petopia/Puppy People! More agility recruits!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Project "Ignore Ring Crew", day two

Well after a couple weeks hiatus, Soph is back with a vengeance. We did two sessions today.

Morning was up at the larger training hall with a full set of equipment. We started out with some shadow handling around another team who were running full courses. Soph didn't set a foot wrong during the shadow handling.. again , that involves direction changes, side switches, stays and recalls around the equipment and at varying distances from Andrea and Sally. We then moved onto a bit of a pinwheel with three jumps, just for some handling work. No trouble at all there, she was jumping well and accurately. At one point in the morning, a young couple came in for an adoption interview with A. - Soph (and Sally too) beelined for them and got one jump in on the man but responded VERY quickly to a happy send to her kennel with a reward. Once they were settled to meet their new doggy friend, we went back to work on some full courses. (The hall was now empty except for us, so this was ideal to work on our handling. Sophie's contacts are officially phenomenal, and I was able to get some long distance from all three contact obstacles, even getting 8 feet from the teeter as she held her 2o20. Then I took a tea break as soph had a rest.

The head trainer had her first aid seminar participants in for an impromptu agility demonstration, so we did a bit more shadow handling and "who's that" (stays with the CU look at that exercise) practice with 6 strangers. She did very well here, but the premacking "go say hello" exercise here didn't go so well, there was a language issue that I wasn't aware of. However, we did get a beautiful contact at the bottom of the aframe with the 6 bystanders less than 10 feet away, and one successful "go say hi" before calling it a day at the big hall.

Next we were off to a more intensive session at When Hounds Fly , with the long suffering Emily and some two- and three-jump work. This time we had weaves, and two jumps. Started off with the weaves perpindicular to our ring crew - no trouble. Worked increasingly tough angles, finishing with the weaves aimed directly at E. She held it together amazingly well, scoring some impossibly tough weave entries and tight wrap turns to the jump while entirely ignoring the seated ring crew. Time for another tea break, followed by a session of "who's that" with both Em and Andre , who was great at acting very goofy. Then a few "go say hi's", with increasingly quick "that'll do" and call offs. Back to the equipment, where we added a third make shift jump - soph had some trouble reading it initially but figured it out - did some nice send aways over all three obstacles, ending with some beautiful high speed figure 8's with tight wraps and quick front crosses over the two jumps. Our final premack, Soph is clearly wanting to continue working with me rather than harassing the ring crew.

All in all, a VERY productive working day. Our next session will be half and full courses with one or two ring crew at varying distances .. we have houseleague coming up and we'll play that by ear, probably clearing the ring other than a judge I think.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Project "Ignore Ring Crew", day one

So here is the game plan: back to foundation skills, with very minimal distractions to begin with.

Today we began with shadow handling with one judge/ring crew (mucho, mucho gracias Emily!) in the lobby. For an added bonus, there was a puppy and two other adults nearby but not involved with us. We had ZERO trouble here, doing stays and recalls, loose heel work, direction changes, crosses and etc. Emily was both standing and sitting. At the end, did some controlled premack on leash where she was allowed to sniff and lick hands of the ring crew, but had to keep all four feet on the ground. This was hard for her initially but she got the rules by the 2nd or 3rd try.

Next we moved to one jump, with Emily sitting about four feet away parallel with jump. Again, we had no trouble. Worked both sides, drop and runs, stays with and without lead outs. Soph didn't blink, not a missed step. Premack again, to finish, and less attempting to jump.
Put her away for a half hour while we had tea.

Second round, identical process.

Shadow handling - she was a little high and a little less focussed this time, but no outright attempts to mug (just shooting glances at Em. and occasionally stepping towards her - my timing of the click was crucial in keeping her on track I believe. ) After about 5 minutes she was back in the game.

One jump - again, slightly distracted and I did lose her once but managed to grab her before she made contact. Not an ideal solution but I was then able to reset her and continue on without any further trouble. Finished with a few sets of weaves - this was less successful. No trouble weaving away from ring crew but weaving toward was too difficult - I had to body block her the first time, and block her with an outstretched hand for the 2nd and third times. Clearly that was too difficult, and I should have angled the weaves perpindicular initially instead. Duly noted for next time. Again, finished with a few premack's, and by the third "go say hi", sophie approached but immediately returned to me for her final cookie. We wrapped it up at that point. Good good dog!

Monday, January 3, 2011

And on the mental management end of things

appropriately, was flipping through a borrowed Clean Run last night and came across a great article by Lance Bassham (Olympic Medallist and mental management-expert) - entitled "Handling Disappointment"

Some highlights:

"The first step in dealing with disappointment is that things are not always what they seem.... Let's look at disappointing events and see if we can learn other valuable things from the experience."

"What should we do when we are disappointed? I have three suggestions. First determine if you are responsible for the disappointment. If so, accept responsibility for your actions. Ask what you need to change about yourself to get through this and to reduce the chance that it will happen again.Then let the worry and concern over the damage that this has caused to your journey toward your goals be replaced by a renewed effort toward rehabilitation. Protect your self-image by thing and talking about what you need to do, not about what you did wrong. "

"Second, protect your attitude...contentment tends to make a person successful before long. You can't keep a good man down because he gets up quickly and moves on toward his goal."

"Finally, see if you can find any benefit in the situation before you determine that your life is no longer worth living. Remember, people value things in direct proportion to the p;rice paid for them, so maybe you will value success much more if you fail a bit in the process. "

So... Our first AAC trial was a mixed blessing. Our first class (jumpers) was a complete train wreck from start to (a very fast) finish. I was a little scattered in our start line routine, and Soph wasn't at all connected with me from the get go - and soon as she was released and over one jump she was like a cannon zooming around mugging every ring crew and the judge over and over and over again. Brat. So finally snagged her on the third zoom past and retired from the course. Time to regroup and rethink things. I did have a lovely course planned and visualised, but Soph wasn't on the same page... onward and upward.

Next was a steeplechase course - a nice flowing course that curved into the middle of the ring - great, away from the ring crew along the sides! Good, that gave us the opportunity to start off with a solid 3 obstacle sequence (jump, jump, aframe) that we were able to successfully complete. Bit of a hairy moment as she posed on top of the aframe, gazing down at the judge and I could see her contemplating "Should I jump on her head or would it be better to mug her from the solid ground?" Thankfully she decided to bail off halfway down (missed contact) but I was able to get her back after one jump on the judge and over the next jump. Unfortunately, I was flustered and kept going forward to jump 10, instead of doing the hard turn back towards jump 5. Tried to get her back to the correct jump which was a mistake - we did manage to get back onto the 6-7-8 line of jumps but had run out of time at that point. S'okay, we managed to keep things sorta-together and worked as a team.

Time for lunch, a massage for Soph and a break for us both... soph in her crate and me as ring crew for masters snooker. Enjoyed watching our classmates having much success in the ring.

Final course was our standard run. Again, this course began in the middle of the ring, with a jump-frame-3 jump sequence in a fairly straight line, away from the crew. Soph required a lot of coaxing down the frame, and she did drift off in the middle of the following three jumps, but I got her back on course turning her onto teeter #6 (held contact, YAY!) and turn onto the table (quick down, YAY! held her down and didn't bark, double YAY!). Then 6 weaves - she missed her entry and I had a heartstopping moment moving her back - will she bolt or can I get her back in the weaves? YES I can get her through them on the 2nd try .. now we can super-charge down the side in a straight sequence - tunnel, tire, jump, turn past the gate jump back to the centre chute, curve into the tunnel and wrap back over the dog walk and a jump to finish and we FINISH THE COURSE. And it's not pretty and we're way overtime but we held it together and DID IT.

SCT is 64 seconds, our time 112.58, 83.55 faults and a first place in 16inch specials ..

Video to follow. :)