Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First Day of School (times 3)

Today Jonah goes to his first beginner agility class at Four Paws Academy.  He's already visited the location and he was fairly relaxed about it, but I know once we pack it full of other dogs it will be a completely different atmosphere.  If he's able to focus on us, I know he is quite over-prepared for beginner agility:  he's already doing jumps, tunnels and weave poles in sequences at home.  We know, though, that he can forget everything he knows when he gets nervous.  My fingers are totally crossed.  I have to spend all day today at orientation, so I won't be able to practice with him.  I'm hoping that we'll be able to get to class a few minutes early, but I will have to see what time convocation ends.  Then traffic could be problematic.  I'm excited for the possibilities of this class, yet I know that if it's anything like the other beginner agility class we started, we really won't be doing too much tonight or even for the next few weeks.  It's funny how, when we're actually at class, we can only do the most basic things, but then I'm running out of things to do at home (as in, I could design more challenging courses, but I don't know how I'm supposed to handle them).  I'm considering class to be working mostly only on the first issue:  the in-class fear problems.  Maybe I'll be able to ask the teacher about things to do at home.  There's also an advanced beginner agility class right after the beginner one, so maybe we'll get to stick around for a few minutes to watch.  Fun!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sequence Heaven

Today I had the yard set up with a 'tire' (hula hoop tied to the old swing-set), 2 jumps, the tunnel and weave poles.  It was an extremely simple setup, with only the tunnel crossing the middle of the yard.  Here's my diagram:
              o                 [                                   [
                                                   | |
                              . . . . . .

Key:  o = tire;  [ = jump;  | | = tunnel; and . . . . . . = weave poles

Sorry for the quality of that course map, but maybe it will give the general idea.
We just played around with all the obstacles in mostly sequences of 2-3.  Today my goal was to keep Jonah's enthusiasm high, and it worked great.  Sometimes he still misses the entry to the weave poles, but overall I couldn't be happier with how he is progressing.  He really drives ahead to the jumps and the tire.  The first time we turned to the tunnel he ran right past, but then he was looking for my cues and he would charge right through.  As long as I slow him up and help him get started on the weave poles, he would do any of my little sequences like a pro.  His lead out is good, too.  He will wait happily and then charge out to meet me as soon as he's released.  I kept the session short (15 minutes max) so I could end while he was still having fun.  Great work, Jonah.

More Jumping, Weaving and Ground Work

I'm a little late posting this, but the other day I did front crosses!  I set up a super simple exercise:


And I would just practice crossing after the first jump.  It was successful, but I found that I was thinking about my footwork and the result was that I was losing enthusiasm.  Jonah responded with a similar lack of enthusiasm.  Honestly, though, it would be difficult for me to do a cross with him running full speed.  Anyway, by the time I was really getting it, Jonah was getting bored, but I was satisfied with the fact that I can, in fact, do a cross.


In the last few days, we've been doing a lot of weave practice.  First off, I figured out a pretty good temporary solution to the physical pole problem.  Last I posted, I was looking to buy a set.  Well, after looking around I'm not sure I'm ready to make a purchase.  I'm just not impressed with the PVCs--they seem too flimsy.  The metal ones are pricey.  I found fiber glass sets which were moderately priced, but since I've been doing the channel method I just wasn't sure I wanted to buy straight sets.  Any metal channel sets are really expensive. 

Anyway, I realized that I can just double up my flower pots and they are sufficiently sturdy.  This sort of offers a good solution because A) they're cheap.  I haven't spent a penny on them--I'm just using things I found in the garage.  B) I can use them for channel method, because they stand separately.  C)  I can use them indoors.  No stakes in the ground.  D)  They're easy to move.  I can pick them up in a minute and when I want to make the channel smaller it only takes a few seconds.  E)  I can also tip the poles weave-o-matic style.  I've been having a slight tip to help Jonah even with a little channel.

So, the downside is that I can't figure out a way to do guide wires.  I'm sure there's some product I could buy, but I don't know what it is and, well, I'm too lazy to figure it out at the moment.  Since my poles are stakes, not PVC poles, the typical guide wires won't clip on.  I had some wire in the tool box, but it wasn't sturdy enough to hold its shape and it looked like a torture device.  I quickly abandoned that idea.  Between channel and weave-o-matic, I think we will make do without guide wires at least for now.

Each day we've been running through our poles a few times a day, 5-10 repetitions each session.  I've brought out the big guns of treats a few times, and now he seems excited to be doing the weaves.  We started with the poles offset about a foot and have now successfully brought them all the way straight (no channel).  I still have the poles tipped weave-o-matic style. 

I am thrilled with how he's coming.  Today for the first time he actually hopped side to side like a real agility dog.  Well, like a real small dog agility dog, anyway.  The border collie one leg-each-side move is still on the horizon.  He doesn't attack the poles like your typical border collie, but he's definitely running through them the whole way.  I started him by asking him to stay and then recalling him through the poles, but now I just help him find the entry and then jog next to him.  He's good about focusing on the poles, not me.  Once he's found the entry, he rarely pops out.  Of course, we're only doing 6 poles right now, but I'm totally satisfied.  We have a full set of 6 inside and outside, so when he's ready to do more we can combine them.  Before we do that, though, I'll work on keeping his confidence high, pushing the pace a little, and straightening the poles so they're fully upright.


We've been doing a fair amount of ground work and I'm pleased with the results.  Jonah had gotten a little forgetful of his healing, so we went back to that (off leash), and were working on our sits when I stop, turns, changes of pace, and him switching sides in front of me while I walk.  He's really quite attentive and I think it's good practice.  In the horse world, doing agility without the ground work would be like jumping without dressage.  Funny that, in the horse world, I often enjoy the dressage more than the jumping.  I hope I can get there with the dog stuff, too!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jump Practice

Well, it's still raining but Jonah was being silly inside so I decided we just had to go out and run around.  I had a really simple set-up, but I was thrilled with the results.  We had three jumps right in a row and one perpendicular to them between the second and third.  The jumps were just poles on paint cans, so only about 9" high, but I wanted it fun and easy.  I'd say there were probably 15' between the jumps in the line of three.  It looked something like this:

                  [             [             [

It was actually remarkable how many mini sequences we could do with this.  I started out with just the three in a row, and I was absolutely thrilled with the result.  Jonah has always been pretty obedient with doing the obstacles we ask him to do, but he's never been excited or full speed about them.  This changed that!  I'd set him up in a sit-stay or down-stay before the jump, walk out past it, and then call him through.  I'd start running but he'd catch up to me and pass me before we got to the last jump.  I was sure to click over each jump and then I'd give him a few little cookies and lots of excited pats after each one.  He got SO excited!  He was leaping and jumping and trying to grab my sweatshirt.  Next time I'll bring a rope out with us so he can pull on that as a reward, too. 

After doing the straight line both directions with me on both sides, we added a curl around to the perpendicular jump.  We also worked on slightly angling the jumps to go from the perpendicular jump to one in the line.  I set him up at too tough an angle once but the other times he had no trouble.  It was certainly harder to add the turns/angles, and sometimes he would get confused, but I'm certain it's because I don't really know how to handle these types of questions.  I've read about front and rear crosses and I understand them.  I thought I'd be able to try them today, but I was expecting him to be kind of lackadaisical like he usually is.  The speed was a great surprise for which I am very grateful, but it also meant that he was going so fast I could hardly remember where we were going.  Thinking about how to correctly execute a cross was a bit beyond me.  I'll have to read up and set up a good exercise for practicing those next time.

Improvising in the Rain

It rained all day yesterday.  Jonah would walk out to the screen door, see the rain, and turn around to go back in.  I could make him go out to do his business, but that was about it.  He wanted to be in the garage or in the house.  None of this wet nonsense.  Needless to say, by about 1:00 pm he was starting to get rowdy.  Molly wouldn't play with him.  I wouldn't play nearly enough with him.  Socks and paper bags and toys and napkins were on high alert for good reason.  When he eventually picked up one of the wedding thank you notes I knew I had to do something.  I pulled the weave poles onto the porch to dry.  Then Jonah got a rawhide.  Soon he was bleeding and the rawhide went away.  Then he got a stuffed Kong.  Before I knew it, that was empty.  Then the fun began.

I brought the weave poles inside.  At this point I'm using the high-tech version where I put stakes in upside down flower pots that have small holes in the bottom of them.  Since I'd just cleaned the room, I put towels down in a line and put the poles on the towels.  We're going for the channel method, so I started with the poles about 20" apart lengthwise and about a foot apart width wise:
                       o             o               o
                               o              o              o
Jonah was a star!  I was able to keep moving them closer until they were about 6" offset.  He was actually weaving around them, and he really understood the concept.  Dave and I were giggling that he was wiggling.  The only problems we had were when Molly would come in and stand in the way.  This would make Jonah pop out of the poles, but understandably so.  Anyway, I practiced having him sit-stay at the entrance and then I would recall him through and have him touch a target.  I also walked beside him as he weaved.  I was careful to work from both sides.  Overall, I was thrilled.  I had looked back at my agility book and it said it took months for dogs to get the weaves, so I kind of panicked and decided we had better start practicing.  He has a long way to go, I know--the poles have to be straight, eventually he'll have to do 12 instead of 6 poles, and he'll have to speed up (right now he jogs through but there's no hop or anything).  He's on his way, though, and I'm confident he'll get there.

The next question is equipment related.  Sometimes he would knock over the flowerpot/pole contraptions.  I think they'll still be a good training tool for a little while, but at some point if we want him going faster we'll need something more sturdy.  Also, I can't think of a way to securely add guide wires to these poles, and I feel like he's pretty close to that step.  My book identifies a few types of poles:  PVC's with stakes, all PVC, or metal base.  My first reaction was that the PVC's with stakes would be a good start because they're inexpensive and you can put them offset if you want to work on the channel method.  Then I was thinking that winter will be here before we know it, and weaves are a good thing to work on inside.  We can't exactly just put stakes through the hardwood floor.  That means something with a base is probably best.  The PVC bases seem pretty flimsy, so I'm leaning towards metal, but I have to do some research.  I don't really want to spend a fortune, so we'll see what I can find.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Ultimate Weekend

This weekend Dave was playing in an ultimate frisbee tournament, so Jonah and I went out to watch.  He is much improved around ultimate and has grown to be a favorite on our team.  In general he will tolerate people petting him, although he rarely approaches people himself and he often does not make eye contact.  Also, he still hates the Grimson brothers on our team.  No idea why.  Actually, he's warmed up to Mark pretty well but not Brian.  He doesn't bark at them anymore, but he did still growl at Brian and consistently walks away from him.  This weekend their parents came to watch and Jonah decided that he really liked Mr. and Mrs. Grimson.  Funny.

On Sunday it rained.  We had one tent which everyone crowded under, so people were even closer together than normal, but Jonah didn't seem to mind one bit.  In fact, it seemed great because he was even closer to the ultimate bags.  Every ultimate bag is full of delectable smells like sweaty old sock, wet cleat, spilled gatorade, squished protein bars and the like.  If you're really lucky, there might be a bagel and/or some peanut butter, or some trail mix, a banana, or some other tasty treat.  Needless to say, Jonah was often trying to root around for treasure and we had to watch him carefully.  Overall, he was getting a little pully on the leash.  I hope that doesn't carry over to other places.

Sunday was also a special day because one of our team members brought his wife and their two dogs.  When they first said hi, they were initially friendly but quickly Lily and Austin (both significantly bigger than Jonah) leaped towards Jonah in a barking fury.  I wouldn't say they were really fighting, but it was aggressive play for sure.  They spun around so fast that their leashes became a contorted mass.  When Jonah realized he couldn't get away, he panicked a little bit.  I had to come unclip his leash and pick him up right out of the fray.  Five minutes later, he was eager to go meet them again, and we had no further issues throughout the day.  I think Jonah was pleased to not be the only canine on our sideline.

Between doggy and human friends, being outside all day and the various goodies our teammates gave him throughout the tournament, I'd say it was quite a good weekend.  Jonah is fast becoming a frisbee dog.  Maybe soon we'll get him his own frisbee so he can even play, too. 

Friday Night Out

Jonah, Dave and I had a fun Friday night visiting Four Paws Academy's advanced agility class.  First we let him walk around in their training room and he was a little bit worried, but very focused on us.  It has nice, bright lighting and high ceilings.  There were no dogs barking on the other side of a wall, and there were no sudden loud crashing noises.  We brought him some turkey as a special treat to eat in the new place, and he thought it was most excellent. 

After looking around inside we went on outside to watch class.  The whole vibe was so friendly.  Everyone came over to introduce themselves and tell us how nice Jonah was.  Their dogs seemed to be every shape and size: a basset hound, a yorkie, a pug, a golden, a Shih Tzu, a JRT, and a poodle.  Dave and I figured we were half the age of all but one of the people there.

The teacher set up numbers to make a standard course, and the people walked their course and then took turns running it.  It was so much fun to watch!  Each dog really had a lot of character.  The pug would complain and bark as he ran, but he was really good.  The golden just sort of loafed around and waited for his slower dad to catch up to him.  The JRT was very fast but would frequently get distracted and go off course.  The basset was hysterical through the weave poles because his body was just so long.

In general, I was actually surprised the dogs weren't better.  I guess I've pretty much just watched championships on TV and YouTube, so I was not expecting slow dogs or dogs who made 'errors' (popping out of the weaves, jumping a wrong jump, etc).  Anyway, I know I'm probably really naive and don't know what to look for, but I thought that it wouldn't really take Jonah that long to get to that point (and by 'not really that long' I guess I would think a few months of focused work doing regular homework).  Anyway, I know I'll get busy with school and probably won't have the time to be doing training with him all the time, but I just thought he would catch up fairly quickly.  Of course, our class experience so far shows us that the actual agility things aren't the issue--it's getting over his fear.  So, we'll just have to play it by ear and see how that goes.

I did get a lot of ideas of exercises to set up in our back yard, even just with small jumps that we could put together as simple sequences.  I want to start with a simple straight line of jumps and just get him going fast and confidently down a line.  Then I have some ideas of turns that I think he could do easily, and they had a sequence with a tunnel which introduces a front cross that I really think he could do.  I think if the rain holds off I will try those tomorrow.

So, we have news!  Jonah is going to start his new agility class at Four Paws next Tuesday night.  Since I'm starting school, their class is later in the evening and the environment seemed so much less frightening, we decided to re-start him in beginner agility at the new facility.  We haven't met our teacher, but we were really impressed with the advanced teacher and, since it fits better with my schedule, we decided to take the plunge.  Jonah will get this week off from class and start up again a week from Tuesday.  This week I'll work on the homework we got last time and try my new exercises.  I was so impressed with the happy, friendly vibe at Four Paws and I'm super excited to try it out.  Hopefully this will be a big step forward.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Class #3 and Other Travels

Before class even started, Jonah got to go for a trail ride.  He was initially confused when I got on the horse, and he barked a few times, but once he settled he was a total star.  We hacked around for about an hour up and down hills, mostly walking but Jonah even ran along when we trotted.  At the end I took him over to the water jump which he adores, and he jumped the bank in (about a 2' drop), and immediately laid down in the water.  Happy boy!  He kept dunking his head in so it would splash, and then he would come up blinking because he had water in his eyes.  After rolling around and getting every single hair thoroughly soaked, he raced out of the water and rolled in the sand, becoming incredibly disgusting.  Thrilled and disgusting, though.  Once we got back and I'd put the horse away I gave him a good hosing, which he was not thrilled about ("What's wrong with being filthy, Mom?"), but he was at least presentable for class.

I took a minute before going into class to remind myself that it was my job to stay positive the whole time.  It took some effort sometimes (mostly to stay calm when the teacher would snap at me for not following directions I hadn't heard--it's SO loud in there, but I think she assumes we're all just unable to pay attention), but I would say I maintained a good attitude about 95% of the time.  That's a huge improvement from last time.  And Jonah showed huge improvement, too.  I'd say he went from being frightened out of his brain about 95% of the time last week to 30% this time. 

There were still times when he would simply not comply:  when we were running around to warm up he slammed on the brakes whenever we got near the door;  sometimes he would show no interest at all in food; there were points when you'd think he had never learned a sit or down command. 

And yet, there were these brilliant moments when he was right there with me.  We did a new spinning exercise and he totally got it the first repetition--AND managed to maintain focus on it the whole time, while everyone else in the class needed special attention and practice.  He raced through the tunnel like a real agility dog.  We shaped the dogs walking through the ladder and he understood that faster than any other dog in the class, and the teacher told us he was smart (high praise, from her). 

Most of the time I would say he was somewhere in the middle.  He would do the exercises we were asking, but he lacked enthusiasm.  Still, the fact that he actually did them was a huge relief.  At one point, he had to go practice having his two front paws down off a stair and touching a target.  Of course, we were assigned to the scary stair in the far corner of the room, where there were no lights and he was as far away from the other dogs as possible.  At first he was far too stressed to focus, but after a minute he settled nicely and really 'got it.'

So, I was still exhausted as I was leaving class and Jonah was still very anxious to exit the building, but there was clear improvement.  We're on our way!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Day at the Farm

This week I taught a Pony Club camp for seven kids ages 6-15.  It went off remarkably well, all things considered.  Only one kid fell off, and it was after his lesson when he was walking back to the trailer and a horse got loose and galloped towards his pony who spooked and left him on the ground.  He was alarmed but otherwise unharmed.

The big news was that I brought Jonah the first day.  The farm is quite near his training place, and the owner said I could bring him by whenever I wanted to feed him delicious delicacies in the scary room so maybe he would warm up to it.  So, I took him there on the way to and from camp.  The lights were off, the room was entirely empty, and the kennel dogs were barking and howling as loud as ever.  In the evening, there was a class in the room next door, so he could hear the clickers and voices.  Lots of distractions!  He was certainly nervous, but the turkey was delicious indeed.  When I turned towards the door, he was anxious to leave, but hopefully he'll be a little more comfortable at this week's class. 

In between sessions at the dog place, Jonah had adventures on the farm.  When we first got there we had a romp up to hilltop.  This farm is gorgeous.  There are a few big hills, and you can see Boston from the top on a clear day, even though the farm is a good 30 miles from the city.  Jonah thought romping around up there was pretty much heaven.  Unfortunately, then I had to work.  I started by just setting up some stalls for the kids' ponies to hang out in, so I was moving fence sections in the truck.  I would load them and call Jonah to follow me, but I don't think he understood that I was still in the truck.  He was concerned when I was out of sight and he kept going back to the parking lot and sitting next to my car. 

For the morning session I kept him down at the barn, but after lunch I did some unmounted lessons and Jonah hung out with us.  Some of the kids got him really excited and he was having fun, but most of the time our attention was on the lesson and not him, but he was mostly alright. 

Then, I was supposed to help the younger kids get ready for their afternoon lesson but the plan got scrambled so I ended up just teaching their lesson.  I'd thought Jonah would be fine around the horses while they were getting ready, which he was, but I had not planned on having him with me while I was teaching a mounted lesson.  He mostly stayed with me, but didn't get the concept that he should not stand in front of the jumps the kids were about to jump.  I was constantly calling him back.  Then he found the water.  He did his usual 'get really excited about water' thing and was racing around the field, rolling, shaking, etc.  Mostly he stayed out of our way until he decided the horses should play with him.  That was sort of the beginning of the end of his good behavior, as he tried to chase a few horses.  In the end, I took off my belt ant used it as a leash.  This mostly worked except one of the girls was very timid and only wanted to jump if I ran along next to her.  That was fine in the morning when I was on foot without a dog, but holding a dog and a horse and running and jumping was a bit more than I have coordination for.  Oh well. 

So, the final conclusion is that I think he had a fabulous time, but he was a bit of a hassle for me.  I didn't bring him back the next day because, as I was in the role of a professional at that point, I didn't want to be distracted.  I'll bring him back again when I'm just riding but not teaching.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Last Practice Before the Weekend

Wow, Jonah is so great when he's having fun!  I went all out with the setup today:  we had a jump, a "tire" (a hula hoop tied to the side of the swing-set, about a foot off the ground), a 'teeter' (our board on a log), a plank (lifted about 8" off the ground), a slide set on the ground to walk on, our 'tunnel' (sheet over a shelf, about a foot wide and two feet tall) and....POLES!  I cut holes in cones and stuck rods in them.  I had to stake them down so they wouldn't fall over, but that was alright.

With the poles, first I put them straight but he didn't really seem to get it.  He would follow a lure through, but was pretty slow and his interest was moderate.  Next I tried tilting the poles out.  This worked a lot better, but he would still pop out.  So, I bit the bullet and re-staked the cones for more of a channel method (off-set poles).  With this, I could call him straight through and he was great.

We played around for a while with the different obstacles and then did a little course.  Basically that meant we would do an obstacle, click and treat for it, then run to the next one, stop and do it, and then run to the next.  I know, it's not a real sequence, but the running was kind of like it's own little reward and kept his interest high.  Plus, we weren't just doing the same thing over and over so we didn't get bored and it was easy to keep enthusiasm really high.

Our course consisted of a lead off through the poles so I could be sure he started from a good sit and would find the entrance.  Then we did the tunnel, slide, plank, jump, teeter, jump again, and the tire last.  The tunnel-slide-plank-jump went really fast and I could treat on the run.  We still have to slow down a lot for the teeter, but he has no fear and does a good job.  The second jump was again no problem.  The tire also takes more guidance from me, so I had to slow him down and position myself next to it to act as a wing, but once we were all lined up he jumped right through it.  After he finished I made an extra effort to be excited and we ran around, had lots of pats, threw a tennis ball and then I laid down and let him lick my face.  He was thrilled, and it was a great place to stop.  What a good boy.

So now Dave and I are heading out and Jonah gets the weekend to hang out with the 'rents and Molly.  Good life!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Class #2

Class is hard work!

We got to class a little early to get Jonah used to the room...but it didn't really work.  He was still very afraid.  Dave came with us today, and Jonah kept trying to go over to him, to the point that eventually Dave just had to leave the room.  Whether we were heeling at a walk or run, stretching, spinning, practicing on the board, or even sitting, downing or staying, Jonah simply wouldn't look at me or listen to my commands.  I have to admit I got pretty frustrated, which only made things worse, but he wouldn't eat or play with the toy I brought him, and when I tried extra hard to be enthusiastic and happy it didn't seem to help.  He was just so scared he simply didn't want to please.

He likes targeting a lot, so he did well with this.  We practiced touching a few times while staying at the target and then releasing him to go away from it.  Then I would ask him to touch from a distance.  He was still distracted, but focused better than earlier.

In general, I found the leash was hard to handle.  He's so good off leash I never practice with it at home.  Then, in class, it's always getting tangled and wrapped around our legs.  Of course, it came in rather handy when all he wanted to do was bolt towards Dave and the door, but in general I can't wait until he can be off leash at class (and hopefully not afraid by then).

In the end he actually did better.  Our teacher dropped the teeter so it would bang on the ground and Jonah didn't mind at all.  Last of all, we did the tunnel and he went right through with no problem!  This was the one thing all day where I really saw that our work had paid off.  He was so frightened of the tunnel last week, but today he showed no sign of fear and jogged right through.  Phew.  That said, he might not have flinched at the teeter noise and he may have gone through the tunnel, but still in between activities he was not in a happy, relaxed state.  In fact, he wasn't his happy self for a few hours after class.

So, I don't really know what to do.  I want agility to be a positive experience for him, and I think it is at home, but not in class.  Since I don't have the equipment or experience to teach him myself, we need to go to a class, but I'm worried he's going to shut down from wanting to do agility if going to class keeps being so frightening.  Today didn't seem to be any better than last week, so I don't know if we should continue going back.  Would another facility be a better match for us?  Will he get better if we just keep going?  Is he just not going to be an agility dog?  Or is he not ready for agility yet?

Pre-Class Update (Now we're live)

Well, Jonah has been doing great and we’re ready to go back to class.
Our homework for this week was:  1. Heeling;  2. Stretching;  3. Charging the clicker;  4. Spins;  5. Stays;  6. Weave between legs;  7. Targeting;  8. Shaping with a board

I’ve been doing the heeling work off leash and he’s been very good.  Sometimes he will not check in with me for a few seconds, and when we run sometimes he gets a step ahead of me, but overall he’s obedient on both sides of me as I walk, jog, run, speed up, slow down and change direction.

The stretching is probably what we’re weakest at.  Dave’s comment after last week’s class was, “Why should a dog do static stretching if humans shouldn’t?”  Good point, probably, but it’s also probably best to get to the point where we can breeze through it in class so it doesn’t take up much time and we can get on to fun stuff.  Anyway, he can do all the stretches but he’s not super sharp at them.

As for charging the clicker, stays and targeting, we’re really just keeping up with what we’ve been doing.  Not much new, except sometimes instead of calling him out of a stay with a come we walk back to him and reward him.  With the target, we now put the cookie on the target rather than feeding on the ground or out of our hands.

Spins and leg-weaving are funny, because he was too scared to do them at class last week but as soon as we got home that night he was good at them.  Now he’s quicker and sharper with them, and will weave pretty continuously as long as cookies are nearby.

Finally, the shaping the board is good.  He actually is better when it’s elevated as then it makes sense to him to get up on it.  He’s good enough for this week’s homework, but here’s what we’ve been trying on top of that:

So I know that they usually combine the targeting with the contact obstacles, but when I tried to put the target just off the board he would always jump off the board and turn around for the target.  My book says use a partner to avoid this, but I haven’t had a partner for lots of our sessions, so I’ve taken a different twist.  It seems to me that the target is not exactly what the goal is (having two feet on the board and two feet off), so I’ve been trying to teach that separately.  I just ask him to wait on the board and then tell him to “step step” off of it with just his front two feet.  I stand in front of him to keep him from just running off.  It seems to work pretty well.  He definitely seems to understand that he gets clicked-and-treated when two feet are on and two feet are off.  We will see how that helps/hinders contact training down the road, but so far it seems hopeful to me.

So, as we get ready for class, I am once again very excited.  I actually feel like I’ve run out of homework and am ready for something new.  We’re going to try to get there early and try to play with Jonah in the room a little so he sees it’s not so scary.  That’s the big wild card:  will he be so scared he shuts down again?  If so, who knows what to expect.  If not, I think he will be super.  We’ll let you know how it goes!

Backyard Practice (Original Post 8/9/10)

Today was a lot of fun.  I finished my agility book and kept thinking about what equipment we need to buy/make so we can practice at home.  During our lunchtime walk with my mom and her dog Molly, mom got creative and suggested we look in the garage for some makeshift ideas.  Here’s what we came up with:

1.  “Tunnel”:  We started easy, but it had great results.  We pulled out a narrow card table (18″ wide and maybe 3 feet tall) and wrapped a sheet around it.  I know, the height is more than twice an agility tunnel, but it was something.  The sheet was even blowing in the breeze for an added challenge.  Jonah took a look but then decided it was a great game.  First I would sit or down/stay him on one side, go to the other and call him through.  After a few tries, though, I could run him up to it and send him through.  Good boy!  Next time I will wrap the table with the tarp in the garage so it makes a funny sound under his feet.  There are also some low shelves that I’ll try once we’re ready for a bigger challenge.

2.  Plank.  One of our assignments for this week is to shape walking on a board.  We found a nice 1′ wide and 4′ long wooden shelf in the garage and walking on it was very quickly not a problem.  Our teacher hinted that next week we’d raise the board if the dogs were ready, so we tried it.  He loved it!  Even when I wasn’t near it I kept seeing him jump up on it and walk around.    We tried two heights, the taller of which was about 15″.

3.  Jumps.  I just propped up some boards and shaped him jumping them.  For the first one, I put one side against the swingset, so he couldn’t run out that way.  I acted as a standard on the other side and just looked at it.  Before long, he was hopping back and forth and I clicked-and-treated away.  Good boy.  We also put the old slide up on its side.  He jumped everything, although sometimes ran around.  We’ll have to work on making sure he knows jumping gets him rewards.

4.  Pause table.  We pulled out a bag of hay and used it.  It was only about a foot high, and not square, but Jonah had no trouble hopping up and sitting or downing on it.

5.  Teeter.  I took a rake, laid it on the ground, and then put our plank on it so it would tip.  It would only get maybe 3″ off the ground on the end that was up, but it made a good banging sound when it flipped.  Again, he was a total star and got it right away.

What fun!  Now I feel like there is a whole lot we can do just working from home with what we have.  I’d still like to get/make a couple jumps because my makeshift ones look so different, and we’ll definitely need weave poles when we get to that, but we have lots to do this week before we start thinking about that.

Sunny Saturday (Original Post 8/8/10)

We had a really nice day today.  First we went to watch a frisbee tournament.  We met lots of new doggy friends and a few new human friends.  I must make one correction to yesterday’s post:  apparently Jonah is still sometimes rude when meeting new men.  He growled at two people who came at him to pet him.  Also, he still hates the Grimson brothers.  Usually he warms up to our friends, but not those two.  I have no idea why.  Anyway, we practiced tricks between points, sat in the shade and had a generally marvelous time.

Next we went to the Blue Hills for a hike.  It was lots of fun, the highlight (for Jonah, at least) was finding a mouse.  Before we knew it Jonah had a mouse in his mouth and was trotting down the trail.  He promptly dropped it but it looked like it’s little leg was broken.  After climbing on both of Dave’s shoes, we finally nudged it off the trail and it found its hole.  Poor thing.

On our way home we stopped and I got an agility book, and then we went to Petco to pick up some bones and a new brush.  Jonah was a total pro–he walked straight in (even excitedly), sniffed around and was perky the whole time with no signs of nervousness.  Good boy!

Class #1 (Original Post 8/7/10)

Well, we survived our first class. I was so excited for it beforehand, and I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed. The reason?  Fear.

We started with an easy warm-up, but all of our heeling practice went out the window and our dog who is normally a saint on the leash was trying to pull me to the door. He would not make eye contact. He was too afraid to eat treats. We were supposed to run at one point and when I started jogging he stopped so fast that his collar came right over his head. Oops.

Next we did stretches and spins which he mostly ignored because, well, it is hard to lure a dog who is literally shaking and is uninterested in food. Rather than stretching or spinning he spent most of this time cuddling in my lap. It was cute, don’t get me wrong, but not what we were going for.
Once we got to using the clicker and practicing targeting, he came out of his shell a little. He’s gotten very good at targeting, so these were his 5 minutes to shine. He was the best in the class and he had one proud mom.

Next we started with obstacles, beginning with a simple board which we were supposed to shape the dogs walking on. He was alright but it turned out our board was in an especially nervous corner, so he was looking less to please and more to find a way out. Oh well.

At the end the dogs got a chance to go over a low A-frame. Jonah was having no part of that, as it was in the same nervous corner our board was in. He sniffed it and that was all we got.

Then we tried the tunnel, which they pulled together so it was only a few feet long. Again, on the first try we had no luck. All the other dogs breezed through. We tried again and, after maybe 2 minutes of me crawling through the tunnel and trying to lure and sweet talk him through, he finally went! It was exhausting, but at least I felt like we accomplished something.

Anyway, I was discouraged when we left but on the way home I thought back on how far he has come. When we got him, he wouldn’t walk through doorways, wouldn’t get in the car, wouldn’t go in new buildings and he growled at strangers. The first time we used the clicker, he was so terrified that I was seriously afraid we had lost his trust. Now he is great with all of those things. After considering all this, I have new hope that, once he gets comfortable in the agility space and he understands what we are asking of him, we will once again see the happy, grinning, wagging pup we know so well.  It was a harsh wake up call and at times it was embarrassing to be the one with the ‘delinquent’ dog, but hey, we’ve got lots of room for improvement.  Time to start practicing!

In the Beginning (Original post: August 5, 2010)

Today Jonah starts agility. I am super excited but I haven’t been satisfied with the information I’ve seen online about how to start agility training. I’ve found a bunch of blogs discussing topics much more advanced than us, but nothing about the very beginnings, so I thought I’d record our experiences in case anyone else is ever looking for the same thing I was.

Why agility? Well, I am an equestrian who is currently without a horse and with a dog. Competing with animals feels very natural to me. I’m an ultimate frisbee player, too, but ACL surgery earlier this year means I’m out for now. Playing with the dog is more my speed at the moment.

Jonah has tons of energy and needs exercise. We have a large fenced yard but, unless there is a squirrel, chipmunk or bunny nearby, he doesn’t charge, leap, bound and play enough by himself. We run with him, but we’re not nearly fast enough. Thus, agility.

Our training background?  Well, we started classes at Gemini because we knew they offered agility. Jonah started in the beginner obedience class where he practiced the sit, down, stay and come we had taught him on our own.  He has newly learned to leave it, go to bed, target (“touch”), heel, and had practice rally-o commands. We’ve used luring, shaping and clicker training. After three obedience lessons (and a LOT of practice at home), we’ve graduated! A beginner agility class is starting and Michelle thinks we’re ready.

As for how we’ve prepared for agility, we haven’t done much aside from the obedience class. In our fenced area, there’s a tree that has fallen down and Jonah likes to climb it and walk along it. It’s like our own dog walk. I also pulled out some old hula hoops and he jumps through them.  We’ve had him walk on and jump over the slide from my old swing set. When we go for walks, we have him jump on/jump over/go under/walk along any safe, strange object we can find, like trees, benches, rocks, etc.  The other day we took him to the horse farm where I used to work and he jumped many funny looking jumps, ditches, banks and had a blast in the water complex.  We’ll see how that goes for preparation.
Wish us luck!

Moving Day

I decided this was a better location for this blog.  Sorry for any confusion!