Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tristan's story

In early 1999, I decided to add to my canine family with a lab puppy - I had adopted Kaylie (yellow lab x) 2 years earlier and was looking forward to raising a puppy from "scratch". One of my online friends (Laura, at the time one of the moderators on the AcmePet bulletin board/chat room) referred me to her lab mentor, who had a 13 wo puppy waiting for an active home. I jumped at the chance, and met Laura and Betty in Sarnia for the "swap", Easter weekend 1999. I spent the drive home with a wee black cuddler on my lap, and instantly fell in love.

Puppyhood with Tristan was not exactly smooth sailing, however. He was smart as a whip and learned his manners quickly, and adored his big sister. However, he was an absolute houdini at getting out of his crate, and after one disastrous afternoon (disastrous for me - he had the time of his life!) when he did about $300 worth of damage trashing my kitchen, breaking several small appliances and eating a box of cheerios and a bag of corn chips, plus several paperback books and music cd's - I had to retrofit his crate with bungee cords and double-ended clips to keep him and my belongings safe. He was the most food-driven and dedicated problem-solver I'd ever encountered - he figured out how to open most cupboards, the fridge, and on one memorable occasion, he managed to  puzzle out how to open the microwave door to get at the meat thawing for that evening's dinner.

We had a brief foray into the conformation ring, entering two shows and winning one 2nd place - however, living with an intact male was too much for me, we decided to focus on brains instead. We started formal obedience (briefly at the labrador obedience club classes, and then at Who's Walking Who) and agility - sadly, around his first birthday he developed a chronic limp and was diagnosed with elbow dysplasia. This of course was the end of his agility career, and competitive obedience held no attraction for me, so Tristan became my full-time buddy instead. We even flew to Calgary one Christmas for some prairie and mountain adventures.

Both Kaylie and Tristan enjoyed spending part of the day with me during my petsitting duties, and Tristan was never far from my side, in or out of the house. We came to an understanding about food - I kept most of the really tempting stuff in the higher cupboards, and he didn't push his luck - by 18 months, he had graduated from his crate and was good as long as I didn't get careless. When I began boarding and fostering, he greeted each doggy-house guest with happy invitations to play - he never met a dog he didn't like.Cats, on the other hand...

Years passed, and I moved to my own house in East York with Kaylie and Tristan - both starting to show their age (11? and 7) - it was time to think of a new puppy, perhaps one to play dogsports with. Enter Sophie, and Tris welcomed her as he did all canines - playing and curling up together for naps. Later, Cassie joined our merry crew, and while Tris was no longer much for playing, he accepted her as well. OH! and it was in the East York house where the great fridge saga occured. The new house gave Tristan free access to the kitchen , which he did not have in the previous apartment, so we had some regression in the food stealing - he actually broke the seal on the fridge door, rendering it useless for keeping anything cool. So, when the new fridge arrived, I needed a solution. I couldn't crate him anymore - he would literally bash his way through both plastic and wire crates, and I was afraid he would injure himself.. baby gates, same thing.. lower his head and bull his way through. I tried blocking the kitchen entry with a large plexi card table, about 20 lbs - he simply pushed it aside and went through. Tried putting Sophie's crate (with Sophie in it) in front of the table - nope, that was no obstacle. Finally decided that a fridge lock would be my answer - I went to the hardware store and explained what I needed and why- when the clerk stopped laughing, he showed me the strongest epoxy glue. Armed with 2 metal latches and the rhino epoxy, I slapped new locks on the fridge door, top and bottom. After the prescribed week of curing, I emptied the fridge (didn't want to lose any more food!) and left for work. And.... I came home to find tooth marks on the handle (previously he used his nose or paw to nudge the door open - when that didn't work, he figured out he needed the handle) and both locks broken right off the door. I have NO idea how the fridge stayed upright - at that point, I gave up and began locking him in the bedroom . He never did figure out how to open that door, thankfully.

In the summer of 2010, Kaylie told me it was her time, and our little pack was one short. The two younger girls didn't seem too fazed by her departure, but Tristan clearly looked for his big sister a few times. However, he accepted the new normal and enjoyed several fosters, including Luki the terrified hound as well as a litter of shepherd mix puppies - he adored the little ones and tried to engage them in play, but the size difference made him a bit too daunting as a playmate.

In 2012, Tristan's arthritis and wonky joints caught up with him, limiting his walks to totters down the street and back - these became shorter and shorter until we simply hung out on the front lawn and watched the neighborhood squirrels and birds. In the fall, he had his film debut in the Project Jessie fundraising movie, "Saving Dinah". His role was to play a mother dog, dying of cancer - his two scenes involved laying quietly at the actress' feet as she said goodbye and the 'vet' gave him his final shot. As the vet crouched down, Tristan sniffed his hand with the syringe, looked up at the vet's face, audibly sighed,  laid his head on his paws and closed his eyes. The entire film crew was in tears - you couldn't have scripted a better performance. Gender bending and stellar improvisation - what an actor!

He celebrated his 14th birthday December 21, 2012 but there were signs that the end might be near - his appetite was sporadic, and he often went on one or two day fasts, despite my best attempts to pique his appetite. On Sunday April 7, 2013, he began to have extremely laboured breathing, clearly struggling - and he again refused to eat, even tripe, chicken giblets or his own hamburger. On Tuesday, he made one last trip to the vet, and I said goodbye to my constant shadow, my best boy,  after 14 of the most amazing, fun-filled years.

Till we meet again, Tris - you are always in my heart.

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.