Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Last night's class was good, but not as good as the others have been.  Right from the start Jonah was trying to get on all the equipment rather than paying attention to me.  I'm not sure if the initial warm-up when I was pulling him away from obstacles influenced the performance later, but nonetheless he was distracted. 

When we warmed up with the back-chaining, he was about like he's been in past weeks:  he'll get it sometimes, but sometimes he swings his butt off.  Also he'll get the two on/two off positioning, then look at me, and upon being reminded then he will touch the target.  One of the teachers has told us to bait the target so he's driving to that rather than looking for me, but the other teacher doesn't like to bait targets.  It's a little bit of a confusion, and I'm not sure we've found the right answer, but we're not too far off.  He's so great with the target when it's not at the bottom of an obstacle, but somehow it's not his thing when it is. 

We learned some ground work for a rear cross and he was awesome at it.  The other dogs in the class were having trouble, but Jonah got it right away.  Of course, we've done a bunch of spinning exercises before, but it was still a nice breath of air to have him be super good at something.

After warm-ups we split up into groups and our group started with weave poles.  We had three straight poles that we were supposed to weave through.  It was a little tough to handle leashes and luring the dogs right through the poles, but Jonah did well.  Again, he didn't 'get it' like he does at home, but the environment was different and I was handling it differently than I would at home, so I don't know why I would expect him to understand.  After doing the three straight poles we did the full channel of 12, still about a foot wide.  Jonah thought that was no problem at all and went right through happily.

Next we worked on a line of three jumps that were all at funny angles.  Jonah jumped the first great but then wanted to run out at the second and I had to push him back into the line a little bit.  All of the dogs were doing this, but it's strange to me that he would be so great with jumps at home and not at school.  Again, though, I handle a little differently; at home I'll often start with a lead out, and our jumps at home don't have wings.  You wouldn't think a wing about a foot wide would make that much of a difference, but maybe it does.

Then we did the tunnel, which was curved.  For the first time since we were at Gemini, Jonah didn't do the tunnel perfectly.  He balked entering, went in a few feet, turned around and came back out.  Oops.  After the first time he always did it well, but I was surprised at his hesitance at the first time through.  Other days we've always started with the tunnel straight and then curved it, so maybe he was confused when it started out curved.

After the tunnel we did the chute.  Jonah had no problems with it.  Our teacher still holds it open about a foot as they enter and then drops the cloth on their backs once they're inside.  Jonah didn't seem at all worried, but he wasn't really driving through, either.  I'm not sure if he would push it all the way open on his own just yet.

Next we did the teeter.  This week it was about full height, but there was a pause table under the high end so it would only drop a few inches.  Again Jonah showed some hesitance.  He got right on but then hopped off.  Then he walked all the way up, onto the pause table but then was nervous getting back on.  The movement of the teeter wasn't an issue, but I guess it just looked different with the pause table with it, or something like that.  He got better, but always seemed a little less-than-enthusiastic.  I'm not quite sure how to practice the teeter at home, since he loves any moving board I throw at him.  This week we had him get his front feet on a yoga ball that was rolling around and that didn't faze him, so I'm not sure what it was about the teeter last night that worried him.  We'll have to see how that progresses.

Next up:  dog walk.  Yet again, Jonah got on and then popped off.  Now, I guess I shouldn't blame him since we do the back-chaining where we hop on and off about half way up the ramp, but still, he was just not very confident.  In general he wanted to move more slowly than he did last week.  Last week he would canter along it but yesterday he trotted except for the last time when he sped up a little bit.  His contacts were pretty good, but he would get the positioning and not want to actually touch the target with his nose.  I might try asking him to 'down' at the bottom and see if that gets him crouched and ready to move on to the next thing without swinging his butt around. 

The A-frame was next, and once again Jonah popped off the first time.  Then when I slowed down he went right up and over.  This time the teacher baited the target and that worked quite well. 

The last thing we did was the pause table, which I was quite pleased with.  Jonah has a tendency to cheat--he doesn't go quite all the way down, and when I click and treat he likes to get back up into a sit.  He's very good at going right down once he gets on the table, and we just need to work on going all the way down and staying there.  When I fed him on the table rather than in his mouth, though, it seemed to work better.

Overall, Jonah just acted a little more cautious than he has in the previous weeks.  I also felt a little nervous because he's doing so well at home and I feel like I need to prove to the teachers how great he is.  At the end of class, they told us that, depending on how they do next week, they will either pass onto Advanced Beginner or not.  It sounded like the teeter was the determining factor.  At this point I'm not too concerned because Dave and I decided that if he is hesitant about the teeter again and doesn't 'pass' right on to Advanced Beginner, we'll get a private lesson and work on it with more focus.  It seems like it would not be too profitable for us to retake the beginner class, since we've only been on modified teeters twice now and next week will be the first time we do a 'real' one (although still lower than regulation).  If that were the case, I'd be very excited about a private lesson.  I think it would be a ton of fun to play with all the obstacles at our own pace, get lots of repetitions, and try some harder things.  So, either way will be fun.  Hopefully we're both back to our confident selves next week and moving forward, but if not, we'll take the time to get there and have a lot of fun in the process!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Oops! Week 4

I realized I never posted about last week's class! 

Last week we got to go on the teeter for the first time.  The teacher began with an explanation of why the teeter can be frightening for all sorts of reasons.  She emphasized the need to start by having the dog play with it as a tippy board, then click-and-treat for a few paws on and very slowly work towards walking the whole length of it.  Jonah went first, and he walked right up, on, across, down and off.  We all kind of giggled.  He didn't blink an eye at all.  We did it a few times, shrugged, and let the next dog go.  It was far from full height and there was a little rug under it so it didn't bang too loudly, but still, he was a total superstar.

We went through a curved tunnel.  First the tunnel was straight and full length, and then the teacher curved one end and then the other.  No problem.  The other dogs were a little hesitant, but again Jonah was perfect.

This week we did our first chute, too.  The teacher held the fabric end of it open a little bit so he didn't fully push through it, but I'm not sure he would have cared if it had been totally down.  Hopefully we'll get to try that soon.  I'd like to bring our makeshift chute out at home, but it's been too wet.  Maybe I can make one inside to practice with. 

Other than the new things, we practiced the table, the dog walk, some jumps and the channel weave poles.  He's getting the table although he's not super fast into the down yet. 

He was totally loving the dog walk and ran it pretty quickly.  Unfortunately he would come down so fast he would swing his butt off for the contact.  We need to keep working that.  I've tried some work on the stairs at home, but he just doesn't get going as fast.  I'll have to balance the speed on the dog walk with the need for an accurate contact.  Luckily he's pretty good at slowing down when I ask him to, so we can run the up and over and then slow down for the down.  We'll just need lots of repetition to get the swing of it.

This week we didn't get to take off our leash in class for the jumping, and that makes things really tough.  I am worried about keeping the leash out of the way and so I'm not focusing on the jumps and Jonah responds in turn.  He jumps, but he's not as focused as he is at home.  They asked us to bring tab leashes, so I made one (I braided together strips of an old towel and tied it to a snap, and it works great).  The one teacher was totally supportive of us just using the tab, but the other (who worked on the jumps with us) seemed to want us to keep the leashes on.  Maybe this week I'll just ask if we can take it off because I know Jonah will be good and it makes things so much harder.

For the weave poles, we started with four baited targets along the channel and backed down to one.  Jonah was very good and went straight down the channel, but I'm still not sure he makes the connection between his poles at home and the poles at class.  They were still about a foot apart, so they weren't even brushing his shoulders as he went down the line.  Anyway, he was not super speedy but did his job.  I think this week I'll try to run faster next to him and see if he'll pick up the pace.  Hopefully they'll be closer, too.  On another note, it seems funny to me that they're starting everyone out with 12 poles rather than 6.  I guess it could be hard to make the transition eventually from 6 to 12, and this eliminates that challenge, but it seems like just so much to look at when there are 12.  Jonah's up for the challenge, though!

Overall, Jonah is doing everything we ask of him very well.  The contact positioning was his only flaw in week 4's class.  A lot of the other dogs are shy of some obstacles.  It will be neat to see who goes on to the next class.  I'm pretty sure one of the dogs in our group will not--she is just nervous about most obstacles, and would probably need to go through the beginner class again.  One of our classmates asked if we just go straight on the the advanced beginner class when beginner is over, and I don't know for sure, but I can't imagine that Jonah would not be able to move on.  Then we get to start doing some basic sequences, and the obstacles will start moving towards full height.  The class starts the week after beginner ends, and it's just in the later time slot on the same day.  The teacher for that class is one of our current teachers and we like her, so that's good news.  The advanced beginner class takes 'graduates' of both the beginner class and the puppy agility class, so we might get to meet some new friends.  It will be great to see...just 15 days!

Ready for Week 5

It's hard to believe that tomorrow is the fifth week of our six week beginner agility class.  At the same time, Jonah has made huge strides.  It's been wet so we haven't been practicing quite as much outside, but nonetheless he is showing improvement. 

He is weaving with real enthusiasm and rhythm.  Mostly he does the 'small dog' two paws on each side.  He is able to find the entry himself, although we need to keep working on making the angle more challenging.

He loves the tire jump, and I can send him to that from a good distance (maybe 15 feet or so). 

I haven't been bringing out the tunnel very much but he loves that and can drive to it, too.

Our contact board is still a work in progress.  He sticks it beautifully at slower speeds, but if we run to it he will blow past it.  This is what I've been wanting to work on most, but since it's been so wet I've held off because I don't want him to slip.

In the last two days we've been working on rear crosses.  I've worked with a single jump, just having him jump and spin back around the standard to his reward.  We also have done two jumps at a 90 degree angle and have worked on doing both the inside and outside route.  Then I did three jumps facing the same direction and worked on a serpentine.  This had mixed results--sometimes he was perfect and sometimes he would turn the wrong way or not drive ahead well.  I'm sure it's my fault--I don't really know what I'm doing.  It's lots of fun when he gets it, though!  In general, I'd like him to be driving more positively to the jumps.  I'm not sure why he loves the tires but thinks the jumps are boring.  I may try higher jumps (right now they're only about 9"), and I need to be good about rewarding more often and excitedly at the jumps.

As for our actual homework, his lead outs are good, his front cross ground work is right on, his obedience work is doing well, his fast downs are getting better, and he runs well with me.  The homework is pretty basic, so we're generally making up our own things to do.  It's nice to not be stressed about the work, but I could use a little more guidance, too.  We're excited to move into the advanced beginner class.  It's coming soon!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Practice Time

Jonah had a few days off from agility practice since we were away this weekend.  Last week my school schedule was pretty busy, too, so he's been low on agility repetitions.  When I took him out today, though, he was fabulous.  His contact positioning on our mini ramp (the board is about 4 feet and the high end is elevated about 9") was better than it has ever been.  He was really moving through the straight line of three jumps I set up.  His lead outs were perfect.  I could walk all the way to the third jump and call him over them all.  I could walk out to the second, call him out, and stay where I was, sending him over the third.  I could send him individually to the tire while I was way behind.  His weave poles were the best they've ever been.  He was really driving through them, so the poles went flying a few times, but he didn't seem to care a bit.  We got out a pause table which is really too small and it's rectangular so he can only lie down one way, but he was really getting that, too.  I am so impressed with this dog.  He is really smart and he's so much fun to try all this agility stuff with!  I can't wait for tomorrow's class.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dog Run Dog

Today Jonah and I both ran our first road race (5k), and we did great!  I've been having some foot pain and still have knee pain from my ACL surgery sometimes, so I wasn't able to get out and run as much recently as I would like.  Nonetheless, it was a perfect day for a race and everything went off nicely.  We got there nice and early to register and we had time to relax before the race.  Molly (my parents' dog) was also there and she was being really nervous and slightly aggressive.  That was a little stressful to be around, but Jonah was calm and pretty relaxed.  Once it came time to start the race, they started all the dogless runners first, waited a few minutes, and then sent off all the dogs with their humans.  There were probably about 100 human runners and around 75 dogs.  It was quite the pack at the beginning.  When we were waiting at the start line, dogs around us were growling, barking, whining, shaking, jumping, pulling and pretty much anything else you can think of.  Jonah jumped up a time or two until I crouched down to his level, and then he was happy as long as I was near him.  When they said go, it was a crazy mass of legs, but after a minute or two things shifted out into an order.

Jonah was energetic and happy to be running the whole way.  He sometimes runs next to me but today he was out in front the whole time.  The course started on quiet back roads past farms and fields and it was quite pretty, although I can't say I spent too much time looking at the scenery.  I didn't have a very good sense of what was ahead of us on the course, so I kept our pace moderate.  It was clear very early on that there were hills, so I wanted to make sure we didn't run out of steam.  It turned out I was good running up hills but I was more cautious down hill (Jonah always wanted to go faster no matter what the terrain was doing).  Mile one went well, and the second mile seemed quite short.  After the second mile marker I was feeling like we could pick up the pace a little bit, but again I didn't know what was in store, and I kept hoping I'd have some way of knowing where the end would be so I could have a good sense of how much faster we could go.  We got onto a busier street and Jonah started pulling ahead whenever a car would pass, but finally we made the turn onto the final street, with about a quarter mile to go.  We picked things up and passed 5 people in that last road stretch.  Then there were about 100 yards to the finish line, and we passed three more in that stretch.  Jonah was so happy and excited, and I was pleased with how things were gone.  I'd had no pain at all, and that was a huge success in itself.

We came in just over 23 minutes, which was even a little better than I had been expecting.  Jonah cooled off quickly and then we got to wait for the rest of the family.  Dad (without dog) came in just over 30 minutes, which was a great success for him given the trouble his knees have been giving him.  He was slow and steady but rain the whole way.  Mom and Molly walked the 5k loop but they were far from the last people to come through the finish line.  Given Molly's social problems, it was a great accomplishment for them, too!  We were about to head home when they were starting the awards ceremony when I noticed that one of the people I had passed in the last 100 yards was the third best woman in the 5k women-with-dog division.  We were second!  I know in the running world a 23 minute 5k is nothing special, but we were excited to be recognized, anyway.  What fun!

Jonah is asleep right now--he's had quite a weekend (yesterday we went on a 7 mile hike, too)!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back to Four Paws

Today was our second class at Four Paws, although it was the third in the sequence (we missed week 2).  We started with the normal stuff--walking, sitting, short lead offs, switching sides, etc.  Then we did some stretching and targeting.  Jonah was super with all of this, and we have a new plan when targeting.  He will jog to the target from 15-20 feet away, but he's not really driving, so now I'm going to start sit or down-staying him, walking to the target and putting a treat on it, returning to him and getting him rev'ed up and then releasing him to the target.  I tried it a few times in class and it didn't seem to have a huge effect, but we'll keep trying.

Next we did some back-chaining.  Jonah and I got to use the A-frame this time, which was exciting because we'd never been on the A-frame before.  Jonah didn't seem to mind one bit, though.  Sometimes he would swing his butt off when he touched, but in general he was very good.  We worked from both sides and had about 85% success, I'd guess. 

After back-chaining we split into groups.  Our group had 2 other dogs in it, and we started with weave poles.  They were set up in a wide channel (about a foot apart).  There were 12 poles, so twice as many as Jonah's ever done before.  Then we put 4 targets with treats along the channel and walked the dogs through.  I wouldn't say Jonah really made the connection that this was like his weave poles at home, but he did well.  I can't blame him for not 'getting it,' as these look entirely different than his and were wide enough apart that they didn't have any opportunity for actual weaving.  When I had our poles in a wide channel, I would usually have him stay at one side and recall him through, so me walking next to him on a leash seemed pretty different.  Anyway, I'm excited for the poles to start getting closer together so he starts to actually weave with 12 poles--it'll be a big step up from our makeshift poles at home.

Next we did the tire.  It was on the ground so not really much of a jump.  The process was a bit of a handful:  sit-stay on one side, bring your leash through the tire, move around to the other side and recall through.  Our stay wasn't rock solid and Jonah just went ahead and jumped through, but he clearly had no trouble with the tire.  They asked us to get tab (short) leashes for next time, and I think that will make things a whole lot easier.

Then we did the tunnel, and Jonah was perfect.  They started it fairly short, and one of the dogs in our group was nervous, but then they pulled it out to full length for Jonah and he jogged right through.  Good boy!

After the tunnel we switched groups and went to the dog walk.  I was supposed to click and treat every few steps, but that seemed to confuse Jonah and he kept hopping off when I clicked.  When I tried to just treat him, he would lose his concentration and hop off.  Anyway, the first time we tried we didn't get the whole way along the dog walk but he was happy hopping on and off and taking a few steps.  The second time, I didn't click and treat along the way, and he went right up, over and down to a perfect contact position touch.  Awesome.

Then we did a line of very small jumps (about 4").  The second jump had wings.  Again the leash was a complication and I got it caught on the last jump so that it fell over and landed on him.  He wasn't fazed, but it was not ideal.  The second time our teacher said I could take his leash off, so I sat him in front of the first jump, took off the leash, walked past the first jump and called him through the line.  He swerved a little between the second and third jumps but was really good.  Then I patted him, gave him a cookie, and he heeled off leash right back to our leash, sat, and let me put the leash back on.  The next dog tried to go off leash to follow Jonah's example and ended up bolting across the room. 

After jumping we did the A-frame.  Again the first time he was a little concerned and hopped off a few times, but then he went right ahead over to another beautiful two-on-two-off position.  The second time we did the A-frame he was picture perfect the whole way.  No hesitation on, up or over, and right into the position at the end.

Last we did the table, which he had no problem getting on, but he was a little slow with the down.  We'll have to work on that one.

Overall, I am so super impressed with Jonah.  I can't believe how much we've done in such a short amount of time.  He was probably the best in the class, and the other dog who's good was there last week and has done a previous class before as well.  Most impressive, though, is his confidence.  He just doesn't seem at all like that shaking dog we had at Gemini.  I don't fully know what the reason is other than that he just likes Four Paws better, but I'll take it.  I can't wait for the upcoming classes and getting ready to eventually go to our first competition, hopefully sometime next year!

Weave Poles

Jonah's practice has been awesome in the last few days and we can't wait for tonight's class! 

Our three big marks of weave pole success:
1.  Jonah will now do the weave poles on his own.  When we're just walking around in the yard and we're not in practice mode, he'll just go do them for fun.
2.  Today for the first time Jonah did the big-man-style technique, with one paw on each side of the poles!
3.  The flower pots and garden stakes have been a God-send, but now Jonah is driving through hard enough that he knocks them over.  I think it's about time to start re-thinking about investing in a 'real' set. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Sorry for the lapse in posting.  We didn't go to class this past week because we had tickets to a Red Sox game instead.  The game was fun, but didn't turn out well for the Sox, who lost 5-14.  Oops. 

As for Jonah, he has been doing great.  Our homework hasn't been very challenging--it's just working on sit/down stays, lead outs, recalls, targeting, and contact positioning.  We've had to work some on the contact positioning, but it's going really well.  I just have a board elevated about 6" and I ask him to do the two on/two off.  He totally understands, which is great.  Sometimes he still gets excited and jumps fully off, but if I manage him to wait as he's getting on the board, he's good about planting right into the two on/two off.  Now, it seems like people usually do this with a target, which I've done, but when I was using the target he often swung his butt around off the plank.  He was focused on the target and not on his legs.  Since I'm usually alone when I'm training, I thought it would be easier to train the actual positioning rather than asking him to target and having the positioning be the by-product of where I placed the target.  There won't be a target in competition, anyway.  I have found this to be really helpful for him and he knows what he's supposed to do.  good boy.

As for the rest of his homework and our other playing around, he's doing great.  He jumps, we do turns and crosses, he loves our makeshift tunnel, he does the 'tire,' and, he even is weaving fantastically!  Some days he'll pop out on the first time through, but once he's done it, he's golden.  The bases are now in a straight line and the poles have a slight angle mostly because I can't get them fully upright.  It's not a perfect solution for the long term, but I'm sure he has a HUGE step over his classmates and will be a star when we get to weave poles.  He generally does the small dog hop rather than the one leg each side, but he's moving through them quickly and efficiently and he really seems to enjoy it. 

We've also started working on sending him over obstacles ahead of us.  He's definitely more confident when we're right with him, but he's doing well.  I can send him to jumps, the tunnel and the board, but I still try to show him the entry to the weave poles. 

In other news, we're doing some cross training!  Next Saturday we're participating in Dog Run Dog, a 5k race for dogs and their people.  I'm still pretty slow, recovering from my ACL surgery, but I'm excited about the opportunity.  I've always been more of a sprinter and team sports person, and I've never run a road race, but having Jonah there gives me a boost of enthusiasm.  In our runs recently he's been kind of touch and go.  Usually he's perfect, but the last time I ran with him at the local park he started trying to chase bikes and people who were passing him in the other direction.  It was like he couldn't process them fast enough when he was running--the same day as long as we were walking he was cool as a cucumber.  I'm hoping the race next weekend will not have much passing us in the opposite direction, and I'm sure he'll be fine.  I don't feel a lot of pressure to clock in a good time, so even if we have to walk for Jonah to relax we'll have a good time.  I'm also excited because my mom, dad and Molly decided they're going to come, too!  Jonah and I will run together, my dad will run alone and mom will walk with Molly.  It will be good training for Molly.  My uncle and two cousins might possibly come, as well, and they could bring their dog.  The race allows teams, which has an added component of fun.  We're hoping for good weather!

Back to agility, we have class on Tuesday and I'm very excited to get things going again.  We need some new challenges :).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome to Four Paws

Last night Jonah went to his first beginner agility class at Four Paws Academy.  From start to finish, he was a total star.  The location is bright and spacious with high ceilings and no dark corners.  There were no scary noises on the other side of the walls.  We could hear the teacher speaking.  There was a lovely little sitting area for Dave to watch from, but Jonah was comfortable enough out in the rest of the room that he never tried to go running back to his dad.

There were 5 other dogs in the class, all bigger than Jonah but none particularly large.  There were 2 labs, a golden, and two mixes who were about that same size.  Most were older but the golden was still looking pretty puppy-ish.  He had taken this class before and is repeating it, by the looks of it because of his puppy-ish lack of attention. 

The main teacher was very nice, straight forward, and her explanations were always easily understandable.  We also had an assistant who is also a main teacher at Four Paws and clearly knows her stuff.  Both were open to questions and very helpful whenever we needed anything.  They've both been competing in agility for many years and their experience was refreshing.  Right from the beginning they said they'd worked with dogs who had been afraid of every piece of equipment, but that they would keep the experience positive and work at whatever pace is appropriate for the dog.

As it turned out, Jonah was not afraid of *any* agility equipment, and the only hint of nervousness resulted from being asked to walk right next to a large, loud floor fan.  We started the day with targeting and then we did some loose-leash walking and stretching to warm up.  Jonah was a pro at all of these.  He ate his treats (if you missed our previous posts, at the last place we did agility, Jonah was terrified and wouldn't eat), was looking at me probably 85% of the time we were walking, let me stretch him in new ways and mostly sat quietly while the instructor was talking.  His stay was a little less solid than at home, so we'll keep working on that.  We also played with tippy boards and practiced the two-on-two-off targeting on the dog walk.  He was excellent with both.  On the dog walk he did start to swing his hind off the board, but the instructors both helped us, by making sure he was really straight before giving the touch command and by adding a 'wing' to the dog walk.  They told us not to worry but just to keep working on it. 

All the introductions in the beginning did eat up a bunch of the class time, so it was time to go before we knew it.  I am kind of in shock that we made it through an entire class having a fun, positive time where both of us were comfortable with the people, dogs and environment we were in.  Yes, everything we did was familiar to us and it's not like we learned anything earth-shattering, but it was just so...pleasant. 

Unfortunately we will miss next week's class because we are going to a Red Sox game (I grew up in Boston but we've never gotten tickets before!), but they are going to send us our homework and we'll be looking forward to week 3.  For this week, we're supposed to practice targeting, contact positioning, stretching and control work like sit and down-stays, heeling and lead-outs without obstacles.  Jonah can do all these things but we'll keep working on getting better and more confident, especially on the contact obstacle positioning.  I'm so proud of Jonah and I can't wait to see how he progresses!