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!