Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dog Sitting!

We have a new friend in the house:  Romeo.  Romeo is half poodle, half Chinese water dog (I think that's what they said...).  His people are out of town for a couple weeks, so we get to hang out with him.  He's really cute and I know we're going to have a lot of fun.  Jonah stayed with Romeo and his family while we were away last week, so they already know each other.  When his parents brought him over yesterday, they all looked so happy!  Then when Romeo's parents left he got a little sad and it's taken him a little time to get settled.  Now he seems pretty happy, though.  He ate his dinner happily and he likes to cuddle with me and Dave.  Should be a fun few weeks :).

All Dogs Class #3

Today was our third trip to All Dogs Gym and we had a good time.  Unfortunately, Jonah was nervous.  There's a dog in the class who really has a mind of his own.  He's not good at agility because he completely ignores his person, and he takes off for adventures.  Today he completely left the ring at one point, but usually he goes to visit the other dogs.  Jonah does not like him.  He often comes bounding over towards Jonah and Jonah feels cornered and defenseless.  Each time I try to get in between them and give Jonah a job, but he's just really concerned.  This dog doesn't do anything mean--he just wants to play, but Jonah doesn't want any part of it.  Whenever that dog is running, Jonah watches him every second and is fully on guard.  His experience with the GSD a few weeks ago certainly didn't help things.

So this dog went two before us, and when it got to be our turn Jonah was still shaken.  He jumped the first jump fine, but then he just ran right past the weave poles.  He's usually good with them, so I was surprised, but you could see he was just nervous.  I brought him back and let him slowly make his way through the poles.  Not our brightest moment, but we did it.  We did a few jumps and he was fine but then I tried to rear cross a tunnel and he just didn't have the motivation to drive in ahead of me.  Then we had another line of jumps which he started fine, but he didn't want to push out away from me for a jump in the corner.

Basically, when he was nervous he lost his drive.  He was slower than usual, wouldn't go ahead of me and wouldn't go laterally away from me.  He became a velcro dog.  With the jumps, that was alright once I figured it out and I just supported him more.  With the rear cross, Laura suggested I just get ahead of him and front cross.  We did the jumps to the tunnel again with another front cross and it worked great.

While we're here, I just want to say that I really like Laura.  She recognized right away that Jonah was nervous and didn't make me feel at all like I was screwing up.  Instead, she just encouraged me to be positive and help him a little, rewarding him a lot more than usual.  Then, when I tried to rear cross the tunnel and she suggested I front it instead, I thought she was very aware of us as a team.  She recognized that he didn't want to go ahead of me and she said that I like to be moving so the front would probably be more comfortable for me.  I hadn't even considered putting a front there when I'd walked the sequence, but she was completely right.  I hate standing still during a sequence.  Overall, I thought it was really cool that she's started to get a sense of us.  It's only our third time seeing her, and she has so many dogs I don't know how she can keep them straight.  After our sequence, she took the time to suggest that I try to work in some more motivating games (leash tugging/barking on cue, etc) that would boost his confidence and we could do at a trial.  I am really pleased with her as a teacher.  My first time with her I thought she was much less invested in her students, but after today I have to take that back.

Our second sequence involved an obstacle discrimination of a straight tunnel under an A-frame.  We did a jump to the tunnel to a pinwheel to the A frame to a jump.  It was almost an identical setup to what we had at Riverside, but this time Jonah was spot perfect.  I was really pleased.  Of course, he was fast going away from the dogs and slower coming back (he walked into his contact positioning), but he did everything well the first time and got both the discriminations without any bobbles.

After this round, Laura again went out of her way to show some interest in us.  She said that she knew he didn't like other dogs in his face, but what if the other people gave him cookies over there to make him more comfortable in that area of the ring.  That was great for Jonah!  He was getting all sorts of chicken, roast beef, cheese and other delicious treats and looked mightily happy.  Our last sequence wasn't near the people, but I bet if it had been he would have been more comfortable.

Our last sequence was a tire to another pinwheel to the teeter.  I was concerned that Jonah would squeeze under the tunnel again, but he leaped right through happily.  Then he headed towards the A-frame instead of turning to the next jump.  I lost eye contact with him while I was trying to do a front cross, so it was my fault.  oops.  I called him off the A-frame in time, but it was messy.  Laura suggested that, when he's nervous in practice, I should probably not call him off any obstacles and just let him finish them so he can have as much confidence as he can.  He clearly just didn't understand.  He works hard for me.  Anyway, we tried the tire to the pinwheel again and it went beautifully with my improved eye contact and positioning.  Then we went on to the teeter, which he did absolutely perfectly!  I was so proud of him.  Our work at home is totally paying off.  He was confident and happy, and he got a whole lot of cookies.  Good boy, Jonah!

I'm bummed that I have class in the morning for the next two weeks, so it will be three weeks until we can go back for another class with Laura.  Oh well, the time will fly, I'm sure.  I'm considering going to one of the evening agility classes at All Dogs for the next few weeks to get him more comfortable there before his first trial, which is there on the 15th and 16th.  After our class today I had some doubts about whether a trial is really the best thing for him.  I want his confidence to be high and for him to have fun.  As I've thought about it, though, I think we'll probably just give it a shot.  It's probably the kind of thing where he'll be nervous the first time he trials no matter where or when it is.  I might as well do it in a place he knows and (normally) likes.  Even today when he was nervous I'm sure he would have qualified in his runs, he just would have been slower and would have needed more support from me than usual.  Anyway, we'll keep thinking about it, but as of now we're on for our first trial.

Snow Fun

I'm a student, so I get a lot more vacation than a lot of people, but it still feels like I don't have a lot of time off.  So, when there's a foot of snow during my vacation and I want to be doing agility, I get restless.  Jonah gets crazy if he can't run around too much.  Solution #1:  Shovel a path around the house that we can run around (carefully).  Solution #2:  Make a path around the fenced area of the yard, Jonah's favorite place to run, so he can have his regular romps.  Solution #3:  Practice the teeter in the garage where there is no snow.  Solution #4:  Get so fed up with the snow that I decide to just shovel the back yard.  Well, not all of it, but about a 30' x 30' area.  It took a while, and by the time I was done I hardly had any energy to actually use it.

Anyway, I shoveled the area down to an inch or two of snow.  It's not ideal traction at all, so I don't want Jonah full speed or jumping much, but I've been wanting to work on obstacle discrimination and distance, so we did a little of that.  First I had a U-shaped tunnel and just worked on sending him out ahead of me to either entrance.  Then I made the tunnel straight and put a single 8" jump parallel to it and worked on sending him to those from a distance.  We're at the point where 5' distance is easy, 10' is a doable challenge and 15' is difficult.  So, we work mostly around 10' but I vary it a little.

We also put out the pause table from Four Paws for the first time.  It's great!  Jonah really likes the table.  He could be faster if he jumped and downed in one continuous motion, but as it is he jumps on and starts to go into his down as soon as he's up there, it just takes him a second to get all the way down.  Now we have a table to really work on his speed.  Definitely a good use of $25.

Jonah is doing great on the teeter, too.  He doesn't blink an eye at it, and yesterday was the first day that he actually had a happy face all the way across it.  Usually he doesn't look especially unhappy but he's not overly excited, either.  Yesterday, though, was definite enjoyment.  It's good to see.

We're going away again this weekend for New Years (but Jonah's coming with us this time), so we'll have another few days off from agility.  When I get back I'd like to try to dig out the weave poles and keep him sharp on them.  We should be getting our real set in about two weeks. 

I'm not sure I actually blogged about the weave poles we're getting--I found a place (Circle S Agility) that will make weave poles to order and will send them unfinished for much less than the other stores.  For $70 they'll make a set of 6 poles at your choice of spacing and with your choice of leg types.  This is their practice set, so it comes with 36" poles instead of 40" and the hinge in the middle (used for storage) is a lighter duty type.  Since I'll probably keep mine set up most of the year, the lighter hinge won't bother me, and Grace even recommended the shorter poles for Jonah so he keeps his head down in front of him.  I'm ordering two sets (so I'll have 12 poles) with 24" spacing, and welded offset legs.  I'll have to paint them once they arrive, but that shouldn't be much trouble.  I'm excited. 

We get back Sunday and then I start class on Monday.  So much for vacation :-/.  This is a two week class and then I have one more week off before the real grind starts again.  I hope I can still give Jonah the attention he deserves with agility.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lots of Catching Up

Merry Christmas!

Sorry we're late.

We were out of town for a few days and Jonah went to stay with some of our friends.  It sounds like he was a good boy, but he has come back with a bit of a limp.  From the little investigation I've been able to do inside, it looks to me like a right stifle issue.  It seemed a little swollen while I was feeling around.  I'd like to watch him run but there's a foot of new snow on the ground and we don't have too much room inside.  More news on that front tomorrow.  He is peppy and it doesn't seem to be slowing him down any.

Before we left he was doing great.  I brought in the dog walk for the season and touched up the paint.  It looks like we'll be limited in our at-home practice, as we're reasonably snowed in.  We still should be able to do some weave poles, and maybe once the snow compresses a little/melts/I shovel or blow it away I'll be able to set up some jumps and things, but otherwise we're pretty limited.  Of course, if Jonah's injury proves serious we could be up for some rest anyway.

I was really pleased with Jonah's weaves before we left.  We made big strides forward in independence.  I worked on recalling him through (which was great, and he finds the entries every time), sending him through (where he'd slow down some but I could be about 6-10 feet behind him), and lateral distance (where I can now be up to 15 feet to his side.  Sometimes he struggles finding the entry when I'm on the off side and that far away).  I think these are all great steps forward and I'm very pleased.

As for other equipment, our teeter is up and running!  I set it up in the garage and Jonah was getting a few short sessions each day before we left.  At first I set it at a low height but he was so relaxed about it that I quickly put it up to regulation.  He has only hopped off a couple times in the probably hundred plus repetitions we've done.  Overall, he is good at the teeter and he doesn't look nervous but he's not fully excited, either.  He likes to tip it pretty close to the middle so it's pretty slow, but for now I'm alright with that.  I just want him to do it so many times that, without making it boring, he is not at all concerned.  We've been working on me being next to him, recalling over it and me being laterally about 5 feet away.  We'll get to sends in a bit.  I've been using really good treats and I just do it 5-10 times each session.  Then we go run around and take a good break before going back to it.

In other news, we've gotten confirmation from both of our trials (1/15-16 and 1/29-30).  I hope we can get Jonah back in great shape in time to make our big debut!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

CPE at Riverside

Today Dave and I went to watch a CPE trial at Riverside. 

We got there just as people were walking the course for Jackpot.  It was a non-traditional Jackpot, and it took us a little bit to figure out what the rules were, but basically there was a line through the middle of the ring and obstacles were worth twice as many points if the handler were on the opposite side of the line from the dog. 

In general, I was pretty unimpressed.  There was a tunnel under the A-frame and dog after dog would not get the discrimination.  It didn't really matter that much, as they got points either way, but it didn't say great things about the dogs or handlers. 

It was also very clear that most handlers got totally confused when their dogs made a mistake.  It was hard for people to regroup and make a new plan.

It was a little tough as a spectator because all the levels of dogs were mixed together and we didn't know how many points each dog needed to qualify. 

Anyway, there were some decent teams but more laughs than good rounds.  The people tended to be unathletic but unable to compensate for that with good distance skills.  One dog was able to do a send to the weaves, which was impressive, but other than that there wasn't much good distance.

I've decided that I really want to make an effort to plan flowing courses rather than repeating obstacles over and over.  It just doesn't look like fun to go back and forth over the same obstacles.  I'd rather use our speed to move to different obstacles, even if it loses us a few points.  I don't think we'll have too much trouble qualifying at least at first.

In other news, our teeter board is painted and drying.  The paint on the contact zones took a long time to dry, so we'll see how the other color does, but I'm hoping I can put it together either tomorrow or Tuesday.  I can't wait!

Friday, December 17, 2010

An Eventful Night

Laura at All Dogs was out of town this week and I'm done with Thursday night class, so we decided to go to Riverside.  When we got there things were a little hectic.  Joan, the instructor, wasn't there because she'd had to take one of her dogs to the vet last minute.  The woman filling in clearly didn't know we were new, so I was a little confused, but she set out a sequence and we went second since no one else wanted to go.  It was pretty basic.  The whole course was a big serpentine.  Along the first wall we did a jump to the dog walk, then there was a send out to a tire, then turn back to a jump and weave poles, then a 3 jump pinwheel turning again to an A-frame, jump, chute, and then turn back to a jump and teeter. 

Jonah was alright but neither of us were really settled.  He went under the tire a few times before he jumped it and then he went in a stray tunnel instead of the A-frame.  Otherwise, his weaves and teeter were slow but correct and he did everything else alright.  He was needing me to support him more than usual on the sends, but I guess that's ok in a new place.

Then there was just a lot of waiting, as lots of dogs were having some issues and we'd gone close to the beginning.  Once all the dogs had gone the teacher laid out a new sequence.  The real teacher arrived after the first dog went, and she seemed really great.  Then we were next to go when...the dog on course jumped a jump towards us and then kept coming and attacked Jonah.  It happened so fast I didn't have time to pick him up and get him out of the way.  Before I knew it the dog was on top of him biting his neck and he was trying his best to wriggle away.  Luckily he did get some separation and Joan and the dog's owner were able to grab it as Jonah fled to the door, running straight through a jump on the way.  I got to him a few seconds later as he was trembling in the corner. 

He wasn't the most scared I've ever seen him (he would still eat treats, and he welcomed my comforting him), but he was pretty shaken.  Luckily the dog didn't break the skin--Jonah's hair was just all disheveled and he had a lot of slobber on him.  After checking him out and being generally uber positive with him, we went back into the waiting area of the room and chilled out while other dogs went.  He was especially cuddly.  It was about ten minutes, but he relaxed and was wagging his tail for cookies again as we waited. 

When it was our turn to go again, he got really nervous again.  He wouldn't run and his tail was between his legs.  He'd do one obstacle and then pout and try to leave.  At one point he went into a tunnel and I went to the end but he didn't come out.  He was just hiding in there.  Poor guy.  So, needless to say it wasn't our greatest agility moment.  I had to reward every obstacle individually and just make a big enthusiastic deal out of everything.  Great first impression on the teacher, but oh well.  He was clearly just terrified.

We did a third sequence before class was over and he was better but still generally unenthused.  He would do anything that faced away from the other dogs but didn't want to go towards them.  Siigh.

Anyway, when we left I ran him around in the parking lot a bunch before we got in the car so he wouldn't just get to go directly home.  He jogged along happily on a loose leash and I think it helped us both lose some adrenaline.  By the time we got home he went straight for his new duck and now he looks completely happy and normal.

So, we'll have to see what he's like when we go back to Riverside.  He'll have a few weeks off as we're away next week and they're closed the following week, but I want to make sure he gets over this since we're entered in a trial there at the end of January. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vacation Begins!

This morning I had my last final, so I'm officially done!  Enjoyment ensues.

Last night, though, was our last class at Four Paws.  We were one of only two dogs again, so we got lots of attention.  It was fun.  We did a bunch of longer sequences with pinwheels, front and rear crosses, tough weave entries and other fun things.  Here are some things that stood out:
1.  He's getting a lot better about letting me send him out to jumps, but I can't take it for granted.  There were a few times when I thought he was committed and realized only just in time that I needed to correct his line.  We always got the job done, but sometimes it wasn't as pretty as it could have been.
2.  His rear crosses lack confidence.  I'm not sure how to work on this when the weather is so frigid (with the windchill it was subzero today).  Again, he always did the obstacles but he wasn't driving as well as I'd like.
3.  He's still a little teeter shy.  More to come on that shortly...
4.  Jonah's weave entries were excellent, and getting more and more independent.  At home, I can be close to 10 feet away.  One time in class yesterday he popped out of the weaves at the end when I faded away to the next jump, which was a 90 degree turn from the poles.  We practiced this a few times and he got solid. 
5.  He's started to blow some 2o2o if we're really running and I don't stop short at the bottom of the obstacle.  He always touches the contact zone, so it wouldn't be a fault, but I still need to support him for now to get the 2o2o consistently.

As I said, Jonah always did the sequences without real fault.  He would have qualified if any of the sequences had been in a trial.  Still, there's a lot we can clean up to have nicer, flowing rounds. 

At the end of class we talked some about competing and general strategy.  The other dog's handler had been to watch a CPE trial last weekend and said she'd been unimpressed.  The teams seemed undisciplined and they didn't take things very seriously.  I guess the games had looked like total chaos at times.

I came away encouraged that I'm not out of my mind to have entered a trial, and that we might even do alright.  However, I'm not sure if I'll love the CPE culture long-term.  I'll have to choose another venue at some point, but that will be excited.  In the meantime, hopefully we'll rock CPE :).  At least it will be a low stress entry into the world of trialing. 

We just got our CPE membership number today-exciting!

As a little goodbye gift, our teacher let Jonah pick out a new toy.  He picked out a nice stuffed, squeaking duck and he pretty much hasn't put it down since.  Big hit. 

-  -  -

So, now that I'm done with school, it's time to get to work on fun things.

Today I swept out the basement, which I don't think anyone had done in many, many years.  It was a real mess, with nails and glass, insulation, plaster and other general trash that you would not want your dog to get into.  I'm encouraged, though.  The big area is about 20'x20' and I think it will be a good space to do some winter drills. 

I did get some slightly disappointing news:  I didn't win the jumps or the weave poles from the Four Paws auction.  We did get the pause table, so that's a good new addition to our collection.  I'm a little bummed, especially about the weave poles.  They would have fit in the basement, but now it looks like we won't have inside poles.

The big reason for cleaning the basement, though, is for the teeter.  Tomorrow I'll go get a board and at least get started on the painting.  I'm really excited about having a teeter, since it's by far his weakest obstacle right now.  There's no teeter in CPE level 1, but soon enough we'll be in a situation where there will be one.  We'll get to play lots of teeter games and build up lots of confidence as we raise the height, too.  If that's the only real goal we achieve this winter, I'd be pretty ok with that.

A big question for me right now is what to do on the basement floor.  It's cement, so I'd like to have some padding.  If we just have the teeter, we don't need much, but if we try to get other equipment to work with, we'll need more.  Four Paws was auctioning their stall mats, so I might ask if they're still available, but we'd need 15 to cover the area and it would be quite a project as I'd have to cut some of the edges for some pipes and things around the edges.  I'm not sure if it's worth it--hopefully we won't be down there for that long, but it would definitely make the winter more fun.  I'm going to take another look at it tomorrow and maybe I'll ask Four Paws if they'd take an offer.  Whatever we do, it's going to be fun.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Today I sent off three important pieces of mail:  a CPE membership form and two trial entries.

January 15 and 16 will be our first trial.  It's a CPE trial at All Dogs Gym, where we're going for classes.  We entered level 1, which has no teeter or weave poles in standard.  They may be there in games, but only as an option.  On Saturday, we'll do Standard, Colors and Wildcard.  Sunday we will do Standard, Jackpot and Jumpers.  I thought about it a bunch and eventually decided to enter the Regular division, where he'll jump 20".  He had no problem with 20" the other day in class, and we were most likely doing much harder lines in class than we'll do at least in the Standard classes at competition.  I decided to go ahead with the Regular division because I don't think we'll want to go back and repeat level 1 at a higher height later, and 20" doesn't seem to bother him at all.

The second trial I entered is two weeks later, January 29 and 30.  It's another CPE trial, but this time at Riverside in Nashua.  That means I better make sure we get there before the end of January!  For that one, I entered Fullhouse, Snooker and Wildcard on Saturday and Jackpot, Fullhouse and Jumpers on Sunday.

I don't want to get ahead of myself, as our goals for these trials will really be to just have a fun time and get comfortable in the trial environment.  That said, it would be possible for Jonah to finish the Level 1 titles in these two weekends.  There are 4 title categories:  Standard, Handler, Strategy and Fun.  For the Standard title, you need 2 qualifying runs at level 1 standard.  That would mean we'd have to go 2/2 in the first trial, since the second doesn't offer standard.  The Handler category takes one qualifying leg in Colors and one in Wildcard.  We'll have one shot at Colors on the 15th and two tries at Wildcard.  It's possible that we could finish this category at the first trial, and we'd be able to move up to Level 2 Wildcard at the second trial.  For Strategy you need one Q for Snooker and one for Jackpot.  We'll get one attempt with Snooker and two for Jackpot.  Finally the Fun category is one Q in Fullhouse and one in Jumpers, and we'll get two tries at each of those.  If he somehow managed to do all of those, he'd be a "CL1," but let's not get too hasty :).

In other news, our teeter arrived yesterday!  Next week I'll get a board and put it together.

It also looks like we will most likely be getting a set of weave poles, 5 jumps and a pause table from Four Paws.  I thought the bidding would be a little more competitive, but I guess it's not :).  Good Christmas for Jonah this year!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Back to All Dogs Gym

Today Jonah and I went back to All Dogs Gym for our second class there.  We had a lot of fun and I learned a lot.  There were actually more dogs this week, but somehow it felt less rushed.  Maybe we were just more relaxed.  Also, the sequences were a little easier, so we moved through them more quickly.  Jonah jumped 20" today and he did a great job.  The height didn't seem to bother him at all.  The only jump he had trouble with all day was a broad jump that he stepped on when I didn't give him a good line and he didn't have enough time to register what it was.

Our first sequence was a box that we jumped the two diagonals of, then a tight turn to the weaves, an 'out' to a jump and then a turn to the A-frame.  The first diagonal of the box faced right at the A-frame, so I decided to lead out far enough that I could front cross in front of the A-frame to keep him from going off course.  It worked beautifully, I caught him, and he jumped the second diagonal on a lovely line.  Then I was celebrating and forgetting about the turn to the weaves.  He jumped big and made a huge sweeping turn that gave him a terrible entrance.  Oops.  We stopped and tried it again, this time with me stopping my forward motion before the last jump of the box, doing more of a push to it and then moving laterally to the poles.  Beautiful.  He weaved well (faster than last time but still not as fast as at home), went nicely out to the jump and did a perfect A-frame.  Good boy.  Lessons learned:  First, the location of my front crosses should indicate where I'm going next.  I'm still not always sure what that means when I look at a new course, but when Laura showed me what I did and then suggested a better spot, it made a big difference for Jonah.  Second, I need to reign in his wide turns.  Adding a few crosses, stopping my forward motion and moving more laterally all help.

Our second sequence was a serpentine ending with a tunnel to a straight line of an angled broad jump and triple bar jump to a table, then to the dog walk.  The serpentine went very nicely, and Jonah went into the tunnel but he was a little lackluster on the tunnel entrance.  Then the jump line to the table was fun--we could just both run fast.  His table was very good.  When I called him to the dog walk, he stopped short about half way up the ramp.  I was surprised, as he did it fine last week and hasn't been nervous about dog walks in a while.  Then Laura pointed out that the light was streaming through the window and hitting the dog walk right where he had stopped.  I baited him up and over, and then we came around and did it again and he ran right across with no trouble.  It was a good learning experience because I would never have thought about light being a concern, but now I can look for it in future courses.  Otherwise, the handling worked smoothly and his contact was very strong.

The last sequence we did was the tunnel to the broad jump again, but instead of going straight to the triple bar, the broad jump was the first of a 3 jump serpentine.  We did two front crosses (between the broad jump and the second jump, and one on the landing side of the third jump), and then went straight to a jump and then another tunnel.  I was a little disorganized at the beginning.  Again he was a little dull going into the tunnel, and instead of moving ahead to where I should have been I paused and worried about his dullness a little.  Then I realized I had to get into front-cross position, so I booked it.  My disorganization made him step on the broad jump, but then he got it together and finished the rest of the sequence beautifully.  I'm really pleased that he's staying out a lot better, which let me get the second front cross in time.  We did the sequence again and, when I got in place better, the whole thing flowed great.  The big message Laura had for us at the end is that I'm 'flappy' with my arms.  Once she said that, I could really picture myself:  I'll flail my arm in the direction of an obstacle I want him to drive out to.  Instead, when I use my arms I need to hold them steady and strong so that they're easier for him to read and not just a bundle of loose motion.  I think that makes a lot of sense, but I'm going to need some practice to clean things up.

Anyway, it was a really good class.  Laura's out of town next week so we won't be going to All Dogs next time.  I may try to line up Riverside since I don't have class on Thursday nights anymore.  We also have our last session at Four Paws on Tuesday.

I've made a big decision:  I'm going to enter a trial tomorrow.  Tomorrow is the opening day for a CPE trial at All Dogs Gym in mid-January.  I'm going to enter Level 1, which has no required teeter or weaves, and I'll probably enter at the 16" height rather than the 20".  I'm not sure yet which games we'll play, so I'll keep you posted.  Anyway, it should be a big step forward for us!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Inside Drills

It's pretty cold and windy today.  Other than running the weaves and dog walk, I was uninspired to do much outside.  Instead, we came inside and worked on our table and contact stays. 

I piled up the big couch cushions and it didn't take long for him to figure out that it was a 'table.'  His downs were super fast and I think the stays are improving.  I worked on varying the amount of time I asked him to stay, I'd reward fast downs immediately, and I played with getting him to stop and stay even when I kept moving right past the table.  We'll keep working, but I was pleased with the results.

Then I just took a box and had him stay in his contact position with 2o2o the box.  Again I was trying to work on him being next to me up to the box, and then stop and stay until released even when I kept going right past him.  It took a few tries, and I still have to give a separate stay command at this point (right now 'contact' means 2o2o but he doesn't connect that it means 'stay in 2o2o until mom releases me').  I was just working in the hall, so I didn't have much room to work on lateral distance, but he was great with me going a good ways out ahead of me.  I'm still returning to reward his stays a few times usually before I release him.

It's nice to know that we can have some successful training even if we're stuck inside.  I know our moving handling needs a good bit of work, but we'll have great obstacle performance by the end of the winter!  Our teeter base should be here within the next week.  By then we should also know if we've won any of the equipment from the Four Paws silent auction.  It should be a good winter!

Penultimate Four Paws Class

Jonah and I got a semi-private lesson last night and we stepped things up.  Unfortunately I was still sore from the weekend's events (I played my first frisbee in over a year, thanks to my ACL surgery), so my handling was not as smooth as it can be.

This week we had numbers out on the floor and we walked our sequences before we ran them.  We would walk the course two ways and handle each sequence twice to try different methods.  To work on:  Jonah's stays.  He was unhappy tied to the wall, so I asked him to stay while I walked the course.  He wasn't terrible, but there's room for improvement :).

Our first sequence was weave poles to a U shaped tunnel where we had to take the far entrance, to a tire, shoot, 180 degree turn to the dog walk, then back to the tunnel, a jump and the A-frame.  I've got a lot of work to do so I'm not going to draw out a full map today (sorry!).  Here's the opening line that was a little tricky (===O is the chute, O is the tire, the funny thing at the right is the tunnel, and then the poles are at the bottom):
==O                   O              O\
. . . . . . . . . . . .                O/

The first time I handled Jonah on my left through the poles and pushed him out to the tunnel entrance (the upper on the map), then picked him up on my right out of the tunnel to push him to the tire and rear cross the chute.  This worked great.

The second time I had Jonah on my right for the poles and tried to pull him to the tunnel entrance.  Before I knew it, he'd plunged right into the entrance straight in front of him.  Oops.  We tried it again with me coming to a complete stop and calling his name as he finished the poles.  He did it alright the second time.  This handling scheme had me pick him up on my left out of the tunnel.  We had trouble getting the line to the tire because I was already moving forward and he'd be taking too sharp an angle for the tire.  This second plan was good for showing our weaknesses, but the first worked a lot better for us.

Our other sequences were mostly jumps, including a serpentine and pinwheel, a mini-threadle and some 'out's.  I won't lay them all out right now, but here are our points of note.  

He was wary of the teeter.  I'm glad I ordered one because I think we're going to want to take some steps back.  He would go across and tip it fine, but then he wanted to get right off at the end instead of staying in his contact position.  We need to keep proofing that.

Jonah liked when I did the one-sided serpentine handling better than when I did a front cross in the line.  He did better with the pinwheel when I rear crossed than when I stayed on the inside the whole time.   The rear cross made him turn tighter as he was looking to catch up with me.

He popped up once on the table.  Oops.

We need to keep working on our 'outs.'  He got to the jumps, but it was a little shaky.  At one point we were working with a box on the diagonals, and the first time he came in the gap between the jumps.  It was very similar to the situation at All Dogs last week, so we need to keep working that.

His A-frame is awesome!

Other than doing sequences, we got a little advice about venues.  I'm still not really sure what I want to do.  I like to run, so NADAC could be a good option, but I'm worried that he'll just never be as fast as the border collies and it could frustrate me.  I think we could be really good at CPE, but I think I'd like to do one of the more competitive venues, too.  I guess I'm leaning away from USDAA right now because the heights would be the highest.  AKC has a reputation of not always being the nicest people, though.  Anyway, we'll see.  There's a CPE trial that opens this Friday that's in mid-January at All-Dogs.  I'm tempted...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Beginning of the Week


Today was the first day I've really kept our outdoor training short because of the weather.  It's 32 degrees with 21 mph winds, making it feel like 21 degrees.  It's been flurrying, and the flakes are going sideways.

Anyway, Jonah had to go get some shots this morning.  He was pretty good at the vet but thought the table that weighs him and moves up and down was pretty frightening.  I had to pick him up and put him on the table.  Brave agility dog?  hmm...

After that, I decided he deserved a quick trip to Petco.  We picked up some new food, a bag of Puperoni (his favorite doggie treat), and a new toy.  Kong has a chew piece with ridges that you can put peanut butter/cream cheese/paste in, and it also has a rope going through it.  I thought this would be worth a try since it could combine a tug toy and food all in one thing.  Clearly I had to try it out when we got home.

When we got out to our training area, the ground was frozen and I didn't have too much interest in staying out too long.  We worked on proofing contacts on the dogwalk with the stay in the 2o2o (front 2 paws off the dog walk and back 2 paws on) position and did the weave poles a bunch of times.  On the weaves, I could throw the new toy, filled with peanut butter, out in front of him as he went past the last pole.  It worked really well.  Obviously he loves peanut butter and I was able to play tug with him, then have him drop it and charge on at the poles again.  It was some of the fastest weaving I've seen him do.  I'm getting really excited about his weaving.  Tomorrow we'll play with the channels again at class and then on Thursday it's back to straight poles at All Dogs Gym.  I'm hoping he'll be a little faster this week on Thursday than he was last week.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

December Goals

It has come to my attention that it is now December, which means it's time for a goal check-in.

Here's what we wanted to accomplish in November:
1.  Faster speed and distance up to 15 feet for dog-walk contacts
     Our distance is improving, but I'd say we're more at 10 feet than 15.  I would still like a little more speed, but his confidence is high, so I'm happy with that.  I'm especially pleased that he went right on the new dog walk at full height this week at All Dogs Gym. 

2.  Fast down on table
     Our last class at Four Paws was a step backwards with the table, but when we were at All Dogs Gym he was the best he's ever been.  Maybe we'll pick up the pause table from the Four Paws auction and be able to practice with a real table at home.

3.  Front and rear crosses
     We're able to do front and rear crosses, so I'd say we've accomplished the goal I set out, but there's always room for improvement.  I'd like to see full speed rear-crosses where he doesn't hesitate when I step behind him.

4.  'Passing' the advanced beginner class, having a plan for moving up to intermediate
     We passed with flying colors, and have a pretty good plan moving forward.  We have 2 more weeks at Four Paws, we've found a class at All Dogs Gym, and once finals are over we'll check out Riverside, which would be closer to us. 

5.  Attend a trial without competing (we'll see if my schedule at school gives me enough time to get to one).
     Nope.  Next weekend there's a trial at Riverside, though.  Assuming I'm in decent shape for my finals and last paper, we'll head up there one of the days.

Our goals moving forward are a little tough to lay out because I don't know how long we'll be able to be working outside.  Then I'm not sure what we'll do inside.  I'm going to have to go check out the basement.  I think we'll put the teeter down there, but there's not a ton of space for equipment other than that.  The other concern for December is that I won't be done with finals until the 15th, and then we'll be busy with Christmas and New Years festivities for a few days, too.  Anyway, here's my tentative goal list for December: 

1.  Attend a trial without competing
2.  Get our new teeter set up
3.  Get Jonah happily and confidently  navigating our teeter and sticking the contact, even if not at full height and even if padded to muffle the 'bang'  (Goal for January:  full height, full noise teeter)
4.  Proof staying the contact position--letting me walk away and have him stay until released
5.  Rear cross at full speed.  Hopefully we can get outside to do this or work on it in class.

That should keep us busy in an already busy month.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Fun

By this point you might notice that I've spent a substantial part of today blogging.  I guess I've decided I needed a day off after my last day of class.

Anyway, I have an update about equipment.  First, Four Paws is having a silent auction for a bunch of their equipment, so I've put in bids for a tunnel, a pause table, some jumps and a set of weaves.  We'll see how that moves forward, but maybe we'll pick up some new toys.  Second, after much thought, I ordered a teeter base!  I know it's getting cold, and in not too long there will be snow on the ground, but it was probably our biggest problem yesterday at class and I can't stand to not be able to work on it.  I got an adjustable metal base, and I'll have to get and paint a board, but it should be good.  It would fit in our rooms (although might not quite match the decor ;)), so I might have to set it up indoors for the winter :).  I don't know how long the shipping will take, but I'm excited!

Jonah and I had a great practice session today.  I set up five jumps in the pattern from yesterday's course numbers 3-7 and we just played with a bunch of ways to handle it.  He was happy and fast, which was fun to see.  Here's the setup: 

So first we practiced it the way we did it yesterday:  Lower jump to the left, jump above it jumping to the right, then down over the next, curl up to the vertical jump, then curl around to jump the far right jump 'down' according to the map above.  I swear he remembered it, and he was a total star.  Here are the ways I played with handling it:
1.  Staying on his right the whole time.
2.  Front cross on the landing side of 5 to get him to come in to me, making the turn after 4
3.  Front cross after two, then landing side rear cross after 4 to direct him to 5

Then I did the whole sequence backwards.  I tried:
1.  Rear cross to the first jump (far right on map), then stay on his left for the rest of the sequence
2.  Front cross after first jump, rear cross at 4
3.  Handle entirely on his left

In general, this was great practice.  I was impressed that pretty much everything we tried worked, especially running the sequence forward.  The only problem we had in this direction was that if I got out in front of jump 3, he would jump two and come to me past 3.  When I stayed solidly on the landing side of 3 he would always come jump it.

When we ran the sequence backwards and I was on his left for jump 3, he would sometimes not totally check in with me, and he would try to take 3 on a ridiculous angle.  I had to call his name and step back to make a point of him needing to check in before I pointed him to the jump.  The second thing was, when I was on Jonah's right through 2-3 and rear crossed at 4, he would slow down before the rear cross.  I'm not quite sure how to improve that.

So, it was a great jumping session.  I was thrilled with our ability to handle the sequence multiple ways, and it was chock full of difficult lines.  Good boy, Jonah.

School: The Beginning and the End (sort of)

Yesterday was (thankfully) my last day of class.  I still have papers and finals to do, but I feel like I have sufficient time to do them and I'm glad the rush is over.

Yesterday was also Jonah's first trip to All Dogs Gym.  The description of their Intermediate sounded like just the right fit for us:  "In the Intermediate classes, the dog and handler become a team—with focus on learning and building basic handling skills.  These skills include the front cross (in which the dog turns toward handler), sends (in which the dog is sent ahead of the handler) and the rear cross (in which the dog turns away from handler). Also, the dog will advance with weave poles and with the seesaw. The focus will be short sequences of 3-5 different agility obstacles with emphasis on learning, practicing and using different handling options.  The goals of the Intermediate classes are that the dog is weaving 12 poles in line, comfortable negotiating a full height seesaw, and for the handler to have a working knowledge of the different handling skills."  (taken from

When we got there, we quickly realized that this was going to be a lot harder than what we'd done at Four Paws.  Everything was full height, and the questions were very tough.

When we first arrived, Jonah walked right in and never seemed the slightest bit nervous.  There were dogs in the kennel barking on the other side of the wall, just like at Gemini, but it didn't seem to bother him at all.  I had some tasty cookies and we practiced some tricks while we were waiting for the beginner class to end.  His attention was completely glued on me, with those big eyes staring at me and the tail constantly wagging.

There were 6 dogs in our class, including Jonah.  There was a toy poodle, a GSD, a cocker, what looked like a lab mix, a big white dog whose breeding I was unsure of, and Jonah.  The poodle jumped 12" (and was probably the best dog in the class), the white dog jumped 20", and everyone else jumped 16".  I'd never had a choice about what height to jump, but I decided 16" was probably a good starting point.  

Then we walked the first sequence.  It was a jump to the dog walk to a tire to three jumps.  The first three obstacles were a simple line, but the next three were baffling.  When I first looked at them, I thought there was no way Jonah would do it.  Laura, the teacher gave us a little bit of an idea of what to do:  she wanted us to send our dogs out to the tire, have them turn to the next jump at a distance and then finish the next two as a serpentine.  Gulp.  Here is the course map for the day.  Our first sequence was obstacles 1-6.

The poodle went first and, after a few tries, got it together.  Then the brown dog went and couldn't get through the sequence.  We went next.  I thought, "Well, at least we wouldn't be the only ones to fail."

I set Jonah up in a sit before the first jump, led out and called him.  He stayed well, and when I released him he jumped the first jump nicely and proceeded right up the dog walk.  As I suspected, he didn't go full speed across the dog walk.  He didn't look scared but was a little cautious as he trotted along the top.  I was proud of him.  He's had some concerns with dog walks before, and he'd never been on this one or any dog walk that was full height before.  Good boy.  Then he started down the ramp and stuck a beautiful contact.  I gave him a cookie, heard a positive murmur from Laura behind me, and then sent him forward to the tire.

He drove out in front of me perfectly and jumped the tire.  Laura had emphasized that the handlers had to book it to get on the landing side of 5 to push our dogs to 6 in time, so as soon as he jumped the tire I was focused on getting in position.  Jonah curled right around the tire and came running happily towards me, running right by jump 4.  Oops.  Laura told me to slow down, and that he just didn't have the 'out' tool fully established yet, so I needed to support him a little through the turn from the tire to 4.  We tried it again, just doing those two jumps, and then tried the end of the sequence.  Once he had it patterned that he was supposed to go to jump four, he drove out to the tire, stayed out for jump four (although I did have to be a little closer than would be ideal, making me have to really move to the next jump), came into me and jumped 5 on a nice angle, and then I pushed him out nicely to 6.  Wow!  I know we ran into an issue with that turn of 4 to 5, but once we got it he did the sequence really well.  It was a big confidence booster.  Most of the other dogs in the class never got to the 6th jump, because the handlers couldn't get there in time.  They could get the first turn done because they were closer, but they couldn't get in place in time for the last.  I was grateful for a quick pair of legs!

The second sequence we did was a lot simpler.  I couldn't get the map to show this so I left out a tunnel, but the sequence was numbers 7-12, except at 12 there was an obstacle discrimination.  There was a tunnel at a 90 degree turn, with one opening just to the right of the A-frame, and then it curved downwards on the map.  We were supposed to push out past the A-frame and do the tunnel instead.  Jonah did 7-8-9 smoothly and ran happily onto the teeter.  It was a lot different from the teeter we've been using at Four Paws.  First, it was full height.  Second, the board was wood, not aluminum.  The implications of that were that the board was heavier and it dropped farther and faster than he was used to.  When it hit the ground, it was a really loud, metal sounding bang.  So, he ran up, tipped it and looked perfect until it hit the ground hard and bounced him off.  The noise shook him a little bit.  I feel bad that he got a little spooked, but I don't think it will be a long term thing.  He got right back on but wanted to jump off before it fully hit the ground, so we assisted it down slowly and he was happy.  Then we went on to 11 and 12.  The second he saw the A-frame he wanted to go, and he almost ran me over to get to it before he even registered that there was a tunnel, and then he happily went through the tunnel.  So, obstacle discrimination is now on our list of things to work on.

The last sequence was 10-14.  They don't have channel weaves, so they had guides on the poles for the dogs who didn't weave independently yet.  I figured that would confuse him more than help him, since he'd never seen guides before, so I said he'd weave without them.  This time on the teeter we put a stanchion under the entry side of the teeter, so he hopped on in the middle and just rode it down part of the way.  Once he figured out what we were asking him to do he happily rode it down and stuck his contact.  Then when I released him he bounded over the jump, happily bounded up and down the A-frame into another perfect contact, bounced over the jump and entered the weave poles nicely.  He did pop out at about the 10th pole, but the second time through he went smoothly through all 12.  He wasn't as fast as he can be, but I didn't think it was too bad for a new set that looks so much unlike what we have at home.  I would guess he weaved in about 5 seconds.  Considering the fact that he's only weaved a real set once at Four Paws, and that was probably about a month ago, I thought he did well.  The other two dogs who went through without guides popped out, too, so he certainly wasn't behind the pack.

Overall, it was a great class.  The culture is really different from Four Paws.  Because there were 6 dogs, we didn't have as much active time, and we only did the three sequences.  That said, when it was our turn I felt like we got good attention from the teacher, and she really showed us things we have to work on.  At Four Paws, I feel like our 'success' rate is probably over 90%, and we only have a few mistakes in a lesson.  At All Dogs Gym, we made a whole slew of mistakes, but I don't think it hurt Jonah's confidence and it really opened my eyes to what our weaknesses are.  It was reassuring that all of the other teams were struggling, too, so you could really see what the effective handling was, and we didn't feel like the black sheep of the group.  

I have a few main focuses to work on:
1.  Distance
2.  The 'Out' command (Both distance and the 'out' command contributed to our difficulties with numbers 3-4)
3.  Pushing around a stanchion (We didn't practice this, but it would be one way to handle the turn from 6 to 7).
4.  A front cross in a turn like that from 6 to 7
5.  Teeter (Harder to work on since we don't currently have one)
6.  Obstacle discrimination

This will keep us busy!

Four Paws Class

Ok, I'm sorry I haven't been posting as quickly as we've been doing exciting things, but here I go trying to catch up.

On Tuesday we went back to Four Paws.  The big job of the day was to work on rear crosses.  I was glad we'd been working on them at home, because Jonah had no problem at all in class.  The other two dogs sometimes turned the wrong way, but Jonah was right on the money all but one time when I was a little discombobulated.  We did one sequence of a rear cross to the channel weaves to a turn to the tire:


So, we'd set the dogs up on our left, rear cross over the jump and do the weaves with the dogs on our right.  Jonah had no trouble with the rear cross or the weaves, but then we were supposed to do a front cross after the weaves before the tire.  Try as I might, I couldn't get past the weaves before he did.  I'm pleased that he's driving through the channel so fast, but it wasn't working for me to get the front cross in.  If the weaves had been straight, I would have been able to get past him, so I guess it's not a real cause for long-term concern.  Anyway, the next time we did a rear cross to the tire as well as to the jump at the beginning, and that worked great! 

We did a bunch of sequences but the one other one that sticks out in my mind is below (impressed with my map?  Just wait for the next post!):

So, the line from 3-4-5-6 was a little tricky.  Our teacher suggested two main ways of doing it.  First, you could send your dog to three while you stayed near two, wait for them to come back to you and get lined up with a fairly straight line through 4-5-6.  Second, you could send your dog to three and be moving between 4 and 5, so when they jump 4 on an angle you're there to catch them and turn them back to 5 and 6.  The first time through we did the second method, where I was more ahead of Jonah, and it seemed pretty natural for us.  Since we're trying to work on having him out in front of me more, I tried the first method the second time.  I think I'm just personally more comfortable when I'm moving, so waiting for him to go jump 3 and come back to me felt awkward, but he got the job done both ways.  It's neat that now we're getting into questions of handling 'style.'  I'm learning that I'm most comfortable in front of Jonah, but it's good practice for us to work the other way, too.  The jury is still out on which style makes Jonah run faster.

After doing a bunch of sequences we spent the last part of the class on the weave poles.  Again, we never got them quite straight but they were only a few inches apart.  I'm excited about this because Jonah is really quick through them and he's doing the one-paw-each-side method.  I'm impatient to get them straight, but since he's still hopping at home and using this different method there, I'm optimistic about what going through the channel method again might do for us.  If it makes him faster, that would be great.  He also never pops out with the channel, even if it's only a few inches apart.

Another main take away point for this class was that I need to be careful about how I get Jonah excited.  I was playing with restraining him, and at first it seemed to be working well, but as the class went on I could tell he was a little bit resentful of me.  After realizing this, I tried getting him excited without being so physical.  I'd just bat around with him, getting him to jump and wag rather than holding him still.  This seemed to work better.

So, overall, this was a great lesson with tough sequences, rear crosses and good weaving progress.  I felt like I didn't give Jonah my best because I was so stressed about getting through the last week of classes, but he was a star nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Lesson of Selflessness

Tonight we had a great class.  This was the first week of the 4 week extension of the Advanced Beginner class, and only 3 dogs are in it.  Each dog and handler pair is quite competent, so the class moved along quickly and we got a lot done. 

We probably spent the most time on weave poles, finally moving them in closer.  These are the three dogs that can weave straight poles, although one dog walks through them when they're straight.  We moved them in slowly, and never got to quite straight, but they definitely had to start weaving around them.  At the end they were probably about 6 inches apart.  I was very pleased with Jonah.  He was really driving through, and when they got close enough he was doing one paw on each side rather than hopping through.  So, even though in the past I've complained about the channel now that he can weave straight, maybe going through the channel again in class will get him to do the faster method.  The poles at class are 22" apart, so I wonder what he'll do with 24".  After a few trips through, our teacher was impressed with Jonah and asked if we did weave poles elsewhere.  When I told her we had makeshift poles at home, she suggested that I cut the poles short in hopes that he will weave with his head lower to make him faster.  I'll have to see if I can find some shorter poles, as I'd like to avoid cutting them if I can avoid it.

Other than poles we did a whole bunch of sequences.  We worked on a serpentine, front crosses, rear crosses with the tunnel and a single jump, and trying to send Jonah out in front of me.  Overall, he was great.  I was especially pleased with his tight lines for the jumps, and he was happy with the rear crosses, thanks to our work this weekend.  His contacts were excellent.  We need to keep working on our sends.

He actually jumped off the teeter once, which was a surprise.  He's been great with the teeter recently.  Anyway, he got right back on, but he was slower than he has been.  Hopefully it's just a blip.  We'll see!

The main thing our teacher wants us to focus on is getting Jonah out in front of me.  She described it as being like a race.  If I always win the race, it's not fun for him.  Clearly he's a lot faster than I am, but he doesn't run the course that way.  Especially now that I can work at a little bit of distance, I don't have much trouble getting in place for front crosses.  So...I need to let go of my competitive nature and let him win.  We'll have to see how that speeds him up.  The other thing I was doing was restraining him at the beginning of a sequence instead of doing a lead out.  He was getting very excited and did seem to come out faster that way. 

The next few days we won't have much time to practice, but when we get back I'm going to work on sending him out ahead of me and throwing his kong out in front of him.  I'll keep working on rear crosses and just emphasize lots of rewards to get him moving faster and loving agility.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jump Handling Practice

Today I set up a basic little exercise, but we learned a lot from it.

Here's the setup:
__          __          __

The possibilities were actually quite large.  We did regular serpentines, where I practiced front and rear crosses at each point, and worked on lead outs of various lengths and some distance.  Having the jump out of line was quite telling.  A few times Jonah would take the jump to the side instead of doing the inside line of the serpentine.  

I also worked on threadles, where he would jump the jumps of the serpentine but he would jump each one going the same direction.  I tried the two handling methods that have videos on
The first one, the push pull, simply wasn't a strong enough cue for him.  He's conditioned to do the serpentine, so he ended up just doing that.

Then I tried the front cross technique.  On the video I'd thought this looked a little bit silly, but the bigger motions seemed to make more sense to Jonah.  He wasn't going full speed, but we got it done without much trouble.

So, fifteen minutes outside with four jumps and we got a lot of good practice out of it.  I'm glad we have class tomorrow.  Hopefully we can find some new, challenging things to work on!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Winter Weekend

It's finally time to face the fact that our outdoor training is going to start to be limited.  This weekend the highs were in the mid 30s.  When we went for a walk past a little pond nearby, it was mostly frozen over.  Puddles have clear ice crystals in them.  We had some great training time this weekend, but my un-gloved hands were definitely feeling it by the end of our short, 15 minute sessions. 

We had three focuses this weekend:  weaves, contacts and rear crosses.
1.  Weaves.  Jonah had been a little slower on his weaves recently, so I was hoping to speed him up.  The leaves around the poles are getting a little bit deep and he's been knocking poles over and I had been complacent about slower performances.  This weekend I made an emphasis on really getting him excited before sending him through.  When I do that, he flies through.  I'm not sure exactly how we'll do when poles become part of sequences/courses that don't allow me to excite him beforehand, but I'm hoping that, if I just keep making him go through quickly, it will just become habit for him to go faster.  I'm thinking again about buying a real set of poles with a metal base.  They would probably be easier to move and he could go through them without worrying about knocking them over.  Then again, I had thought that a teeter would be the next equipment I'd buy.  We'll have to see.

2.  Contacts.  I worked on doing a rear cross while Jonah was on the dog walk.  He loves the dog walk so much he didn't care much at all if he could see me or not.  His contacts are pretty good these days, but I got a lot of repetitions for them this weekend.  Still, he doesn't like me to be very far away from him and he turns toward me when I'm not right next to him.  We'll keep working on this.

3.  The big project of the weekend was front crosses.  After some online searches, we found a few good exercises.  First we tried a setup like this:

___                   ___


___                   ___

Say I started at the bottom right with Jonah on my right.  We would jump the diagonal (bottom right, middle, top left), and I would ask him to do a rear cross at the top left, curl around and then he would jump the other diagonal (top right, middle, bottom left).  The first few times we were a little confused.  If I stopped suddenly, Jonah would, too.  Sometimes he would turn the wrong way after the jump.  After doing the pattern a few times, though, it started to flow nicely.

Today we did a series of exercises that we found on (check it out if you haven't already!).  First we did a zig-zag on the flat.  Jonah was excellent, and we could do it at a medium jog.  
Here is the video:

Next we did landing side rear crosses on a zig zag.  This one was a little tough for me to figure out my footwork.  Jonah didn't have any trouble, though.
Watch it here:

Finally we did the same zig zag with the rear cross before the jump.  The sequence of exercises worked beautifully, and Jonah did the crosses confidently, and faster than the dog in the video.  
Here's the last exercise:

After he was doing the rear cross smoothly, I played around with sequences, having him wrap around jumps, leading out and mixing front and rear crosses.  Jonah was loving it.

Two things of note:
1.  I've raised the height of the jumps.  Now he's jumping about 16", and I think he's happier with the higher jumps.  It's clearly not difficult for him, but it's enough of an effort that he notices the jumps.  When we were just using paint cans he was pretty much stepping/tripping over the jumps.  It's nice that he's now close to competition height and he seems perfectly happy with it.

2.  I brought his kong outside, filled with peanut butter and I'd throw it out in front of him at the end of a sequence.  I've tried this with toys before but he is so food motivated he hasn't really cared about the toys.  When I've tried throwing food he loses it in the grass.  The kong is a good middle ground.  I've been looking at food tubes online and I might give one a try some time soon.

This week is Thanksgiving.  We have class on Tuesday night, but that will be about it for agility (Dave and I will be away).  The following week I'm hoping we'll get to go to one of the new places.  I'm a little anxious to get him settled in a new class location and moving towards being able to compete.  He's doing so well...I want to be able to put it to the test!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Class Time

We had a great class tonight.  We did a variety of sequences, working all of the obstacles in at various points.  I won't go through everything, but here are the highlights:

1.  Jonah was running so fast when he jumped on the table that he almost slid right off the other side.  Funny!

2.  At the base of the A-frame I meant to drop a cookie on the target, but nothing came out of my hands (the cheese was sticky) and I went on to the next obstacle.  He couldn't believe that I could possibly have forgotten to cookie him, so he kept sniffing around and delayed in coming to the tunnel.  When he did come to me, he missed the tunnel entrance.  Next time around I got my cookie right and he did the tunnel perfectly.

3.  We worked on a pinwheel.  It was three jumps, making half a circle  ( __  |  __ ).  We actually had a little bit of trouble with this.  I was supposed to do a front cross after the second jump, but I was having trouble getting there in time and I wasn't making eye contact with him.  When he didn't have clear direction from me, he went straight after the second jump and was on the A-frame before I knew what had happened.  After a little practice we had it going smoothly.

4.  Jonah was great on the teeter, which was low but free-standing this week.  I let him go his own speed (pretty fast!), and he was a little surprised when it moved faster than expected, but he didn't seem bothered at all and was happy to get back on the next time without any hesitation. 

5.  In general, I was really pleased with Jonah's willingness to go out to jumps that were farther away from me.  We're only talking about 10 feet or so, but it's some amount of independence nonetheless.  As he warmed up, he seemed to get more and more focused and attentive.  The wider, open courses feel great.  He is smooth and quick, looking for the next obstacle and driving to it.  We need to work on the tighter, more technical questions, but I know we'll get there.

We're going to have our class extended another 4 weeks at the same place and same time.  I'm looking forward to it.  Tonight there were only 3 dogs and it looks like that's the way it will be for the next month.  The dogs are the more competent ones, so I'm excited that we'll be able to be challenged while still being in the fun environment we're so comfortable with.

I'm still waiting to hear from another new agility place to see what they have for us.  It's farther away (about an hour without traffic), but it looks like a nice facility and they have competitions there, which seems like an added bonus.  If that doesn't work, we'll wait until my classes are over and I'll go to the new, closer place (about half an hour) on Thursday nights.  Meanwhile, we've got 4 more weeks already set up for us.  Time's counting!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Weekend in the Poconos

Dave's family has a house in the Poconos and this weekend we took Jonah for his first trip there.  The drive is about 5 hours--the longest we've taken with Jonah.  He was a little fidgety, but overall very good.  Once we got to the house, he was quite brave going in the house and exploring around.  There was cat smell and cat toys and all sorts of other interesting things.  He even went down into the basement when we were turning on the breakers.

Yesterday we went to the Promised Land State Park and had a lovely walk.  There was a stream across the path that we humans had to build a stepping stone path across.  Jonah didn't understand at all why we didn't want to wade through the 3-6 inch stream and decided to jump and splash on me while I was moving the rocks.  My feet stayed dry, but thanks to his playing the rest of me got pretty wet :).

We hiked out to a pretty bridge between two lakes and took a little break there.  We played with some tricks and Jonah was doing great with long-distance down commands and stays while I ran away from him.  He also explored on top of a beaver dam, but didn't get to meet any critters.

Later that afternoon we went for a run and Jonah was great.  It's so much fun to run with him.  We never have to worry about him getting too tired--he's really in his element when running along.  He just looks so happy!

All weekend Jonah had been a little concerned with going on the dock.  There was a wooden dock that he went out on by himself, but he didn't want to go down the steep stairs onto the metal dock.  We carried him down and he'd walk around cautiously on the dock.  It was funny how I'd almost forgotten how nervous he used to be when we first got him.  We hardly ever see that from him anymore, but it reared its head with the docks.  It was neat to watch him as he was clearly so nervous but he also wanted to be with us, so he'd slowly make his way to us and conquer his fear.  Good boy.  It makes me realize that, just because he's been so good with all his agility lately, he could very well be nervous again when we take him to a new place or to a competition.  We'll have to see!

Today we had a real adventure.  Jonah went kayaking.  He (understandably) didn't want to jump off the dock into the boat, so I picked him up and handed him to Dave in the boat.  Then I got in front (2 person kayak).  Once he was in, though, he was great!  He thought it was awesome.  When we'd stop, he would lean over and take a little drink.  Sometimes he would decide we weren't paying enough attention to him and he would lick us when we were defenselessly paddling along.  We had a great time.

Now we're safely home and ready to start a new week.  I heard back from the closest potential new agility place and their intermediate class conflicts with one of my classes.  I only have 3 more weeks of class, so I could do that in a few weeks, but I went ahead and emailed one of the other potential places, too, just to see what our options are.  Wish us luck!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Serious Downturn

Today I drafted an email to our instructor asking if it would make sense to take both the morning Intermediate class as well as the extension of our Advanced Beginner course.  Then I went to the Four Paws website to get her email address.

There was a new announcement: 
It is with sadness that we must announce the closing of Four Paws Academy at the end of this year. We will not be starting any new classes after the week of November 8th. We wish to thank our staff and students for the seven wonderful years we had, and wish you all happiness and success in the future with your dogs. 

So, I erased what I had written and wrote a plea for advice, instead.  There are a number of places within a reasonable distance that offer agility courses, but it seems like most of them are casual courses and the instructors are not actively competing.  There's Gemini, but I'm reluctant to take Jonah back there because I want agility to stay fun for Jonah.  There are two places that look pretty good that are about an hour away.  Then there is an agility club nearby that has regular practices and seminars, but it's not a class.  

I'm totally bummed.  I have loved our classes at Four Paws!  The facility is great, the instructors are great, the other dogs and people are great, and Jonah just has a blast when he's there.  Anyway, I don't know where we'll go from here.  We do have class this coming Tuesday, but what then?  Right when I thought we were about to take a big step forward...not so much.  I'm sure we'll figure something out.  I'm anxiously awaiting the reply from our instructor.  Till then, I'm just disappointed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Class #5

Our trip to class started a little bit crazy, as Dave had gotten me completely engrossed in the trivia (we were trying to name all the animals in the Bible) and when I finally looked at the clock it was past time to go.  Luckily I had already prepared treats, and Jonah and I ran to the car and got on the road.  We only ended up a couple minutes late, and the class hadn't started yet, so then we took a big breath and got going.

We did a bunch of sequences with jumps, tunnels, a chute the dog walk, A frame and teeter (which had a pause table under the high end of it again.  When we got to do it normally last time I thought we were done with the 'crutches,' but I guess not).  Jonah was fantastic.  His lead outs are getting very solid, even when he has to hold the stay for a long time and I am far from him.  He's getting comfortable working at more distance from me and he drives at obstacles much better than he used to.  I'm finding front crosses to be quite natural at this point, so we're both improving.

We spent a bunch of class working on a serpentine.  It started out with the jumps angled but vaguely in a straight line:
\          /           \
Then the teacher angled them more and more until they were pretty much straight:
__             __          __
It was a really neat exercise.  Jonah was perfect every trip through and really drove straight to the jumps.  It amazes me how big of an angle we were asking the dogs to jump on, and how they really didn't seem to mind one bit.  This would have been a very advanced exercise on a horse!  When I've set up serpentines at home, I've always asked Jonah to make wider turns, but now I can't wait to set it up again and work on shaving off seconds from the performance.  We did the serpentine with the dog on one side of us and also doing a front cross between the first and second jumps.  Our teacher alluded to the fact that you can do a front cross after the second jump, so I want to try that at home.  I also want to work on rear crosses in this pattern.  Good homework.

After the serpentine we did a bunch of other sequences, including the channel weave poles.  They were closer this week, but still not even close enough to be brushing the dogs' shoulders as they went through.  A few of the dogs in class are having trouble with them, so I can't blame the teacher, but I'm personally kind of bored with it.  Oh well.  

Our final sequence was where we came up with one issue this week.  We did a jump to the poles to a U-shaped tunnel (apologies for my silly looking tunnel, but the Os are the openings, and just imagine the tunnel curves in a U):
                               O  \ 
|         ::::::::::::         O  /  
When I started with Jonah on my right, we had no problems:  jump, weave, tunnel.
When I started with Jonah on my left, though, I tried to do a rear cross while he was in the tunnel.  When I stopped at the tunnel entrance, he stopped.  Then he went in but as soon as I crossed behind me he turned around and came back out.  I had to run around the outside of the tunnel once before he would do the tunnel with me crossing behind.  

In response, the teacher had us practice rear crosses with the tunnel straight.  This was great, because it got me to be really sending Jonah out ahead of me.  He had no trouble at all with this.  It shows me that my running next to him and then stopping suddenly is problematic.  In situations like these, I would be better off slowing down and really sending him into the tunnel rather than having me run right up to it.  This is a great thing for us to work on at home.  I'm excited to have two big things to be focused on.  Rear crosses I guess are a central concern.  We haven't done them in class before yesterday, so we're not behind, but I always like to be ahead, so we've got some practice to do.

Next week is the last of the 6 beginner agility classes, so we got to hear a little about what comes next.  Our teacher confirmed that the night time Intermediate class is full.  The current plan is that we would extend our class at the same time and with the same dogs and just keep working along as an 'advanced advanced beginner' class.  I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I think our teacher is great, I like the other dogs and people in the class, and the time works well for me.  On the other hand, I would love it if we were in a class that challenged us a little bit more.  I'd like to be working on straight weave poles and rear crosses, obstacle discrimination and generally more difficult sequences.  When we watched the Advanced class back in August when we first visited Four Paws, we got to see what those dogs are doing.  Honestly, I think Jonah could fit in with that class.  Yes, we have to work on rear crosses, but those dogs weren't weaving consistently and they had their problems.  I know that, with a little help at class and a lot of practice at home, we could move forward a lot more quickly than we're doing in our current class.  So, all in all I really enjoy our class but I'm itching to get Jonah out and competing, so I wish we were going a little faster.  The best thing about this week, though, is that we've got good homework to set up.  Now, if only it would stop raining...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Musings on Venues

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but yesterday I took some time to look around at the different venues to start thinking about which ones Jonah would compete in.  Of course, this is all subject to change based on what our teachers have to say, and it's still pretty far off, but I would like to go watch one this year and I thought it would be best to watch something I'll actually compete in.

First off, Jonah can't compete in AKC as he's a mixed breed, so even though that's the most popular in this area, it won't work for us.

The trainers at Four Paws do AKC, USDAA and NADAC.

In our area, we have CPE, NADAC and USDAA trials. 

As for CPE, it seems like it is a good place to start, and you can pick which games you want to do based on your dog's skills.  There are a lot of CPE events in our area, but it would be nice to do something that our teachers know and do, too.  I also don't know how much I'm excited by the games.  I'm sure they'd be fun, but I'm thinking I might be more interested in more 'traditional' agility.

NADAC sounds like a great place for us to begin, but there aren't quite as many competitions around us.  Having watched some youtube videos (I know, scientific, right), I'm pretty sure he could be successful right away.  The courses are pretty simple, and having time to run in between obstacles is, in my opinion, nice.  As an athletic person, I want to be getting exercise while I'm handling.  The distance work is not something we've done much of yet, so it's hard for me to judge how that would go.  My worry with NADAC is that, as we progress up the levels, the time could get tight for him and he'd be competing against a lot of faster border collies.  I don't want to set him up in a program where he won't be able to succeed, so I'm concerned that he would get 'stuck' in NADAC where he can't really progress.

Then there's USDAA, which both of the advanced instructors do at Four Paws.  There are 12 weave poles at the introductory USDAA level, but I think weave poles are actually one of Jonah's strong points, so that's not necessarily bad.  It seems like USDAA might be a good fit for Jonah because the times are a little looser.  He might have to jump higher, but my guess is that USDAA might be the best fit for him.  It sounds like the atmosphere can be a little more competitive, and I'm not sure what I think of that, but I think we'll give USDAA a shot.

So...I think my current plan as of today would be to start Jonah in NADAC to get some comfortable experience in a relaxed atmosphere where he can succeed.  Then we'll add USDAA into the mix and see where things go from there.  Of course, we'll also be working closely with our instructors and getting their feedback, which I value greatly.  I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Advanced Beginner Class #4

For some reason, only 4 of the 7 dogs in our class came this week.  We still had the two teachers, so it was two dogs in each group, which was fantastic.  Unfortunately, the other dog in our group (our new friend from yesterday!) got scared of one of the other dogs' barking, and so she spent most of the night being very cautious and uninterested in doing agility.  Poor thing.  I was impressed with how both the dog's person and the teachers managed to stay super positive and made small goals that she could accomplish and be praised for. 

As for us, because the other dog in our group was doing her own thing, we got to have our exercises tailored to us, as well.  We did a bunch of sequences and worked on lots of front crosses, rear crosses in the tunnels, and other general body positioning. 

First we did the teeter to a U-shaped tunnel to the channel weave poles to a jump.  The teeter was free-standing but not full height.  The high end was probably about 2 feet off the ground.  Again Jonah was very enthusiastic about getting on the teeter and I worry that he's going to scare himself, but I just let him go and stay a little behind him as he reaches the tipping point.  He never showed any sign of concern.  I'm really proud of him.

Anyway, on one of our sequences, we did the teeter with Jonah on my left and then went straight ahead to the tunnel which curved to the left.  I pointed to the tunnel and stopped, waiting for him to pass me so I could move to the left and pick him up coming out.  He stopped, too.  Oops.  Our teacher was great in explaining what had happened and let us try it again so we could get it right.  When I fixed my handling, he went perfectly.  It's so neat to see how closely he picks up on my body language even when what I'm doing is unintentional.

Next we did a sequence of a jump to the chute to the A-frame to a jump.  Our work with the chute at home paid off, and he didn't hesitate at all this week at class.  On the A-frame, he was doing things correctly but he wasn't really driving up and over, so we played with different ways to get him excited.  In general, I think he gets a lot of his speed off of my running, but on the A-frame I get him on and then run to the end and stop, waiting to treat him for his contact performance.  Here are some of the things we played with to get him moving faster: 
1.  Rope toy.  He loves to tug at home, but in class he's pretty disinterested.  Actually, whenever there's food in the picture he loses interest in playing with toys.
2.  Baiting the target.  This worked pretty well, but in the past when I've baited he has run right off the bottom of the obstacle.  Maybe his contacts have gotten good enough that I don't have to worry about that any more. 
3.  Recall over the A-frame.  Our teacher held him at the base and I went to the end and called him over.  He was a little worried when I gave him to a strange person and then went out of sight, and while he did run a little faster, I think it was more to get away from her than to get to me.  That's something I'd like to work on, since it's definitely nice if I can hand him off to someone else to hold from time to time.
4.  ''Roughing him up.' The most successful thing we did was to push him around a little bit (playfully, of course--I wasn't hurting him) and then sprint off away and get him to chase me.  Of course, in competition I couldn't do that because you can't touch your dog, but it was a good training idea.  I brought a rope toy but he was pretty uninterested in it. 

Next we put the sequences together and did the following:  teeter-tunnel-weaves-jump-jump-A-frame-chute-jump.  It was probably the longest consecutive sequence we've done, but Jonah was awesome.  So cool!

After that we switched to the other teacher and did sequences with jumps, a pause table, a tunnel, the dog walk and the tire.  Jonah didn't have any trouble with any of the obstacles (except for one brain fade when he went under the tire rather than through it), so we really got to work on handling technique.  I practiced getting to the right place for front crosses, making my footwork clean and not running backwards, and walking a sequence and then handling it.  We also worked on jumping on angles and leading out farther and on angles.  It was great to be able to go at our own pace, practice hard things a few times and really get them right, and to have an instructor who is great at explaining what I'm doing (because I often have no idea) and how to improve it.

Overall, I'm thrilled with our teachers and couldn't be happier with Four Paws.  The instructors stay so positive but give feedback to push us to get better.  They answer questions thoroughly and make me feel good about having asked them.  I'm so glad we've found such a great place.

I'm also thrilled with Jonah.  He is just eating up anything we put in front of him.  I'm so proud and I can't wait to keep seeing how to work with him along the way.  Who knows where this agility will take us, but even if he never earns a title I'm loving the process of getting to know how to work with him in a fun, high-paced game.