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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCp0R7q-qPc (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!