Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween and Goal Check-In

Well, Jonah had plans to dress up as a large fish so that he could be 'Jonah in the whale.'  His parents really let him down on that one, though.  We are currently waiting in the kitchen for any trick-or-treaters who happen to come our way.  We usually get quite a few, but nothing so far tonight.

Since this day marks the end of the month, I figured we should update our goals and think about how to move forward from here.

These were our October goals:
1.  Consistent, fast contacts on the dog walk.  By this I mean not stopping and then repositioning, but running down the ramp immediately into the contact position.
Grade:  A-      I'd say we pretty much achieved this goal.  There's always room for improvement, but he does go directly into his contact position these days.  In general, he's not really driving up, over or down the dog walk, but he's putting all his paws in the right places.  I can't remember the last time he just ran off the end, which is good.  I do still think he could speed up his performance of the whole obstacle and really 'hop' into the contact position better.  Overall, though, he loves the dogwalk (he still will do it on his own without me telling him to), he performs it accurately but he could get faster.

2.  Consistent 9 weave poles without popping out and reasonable speed.
Grade:  A+     This has been a MAJOR success.  Jonah is consistently hopping through 12 straight weave poles.  He rarely pops out and his speed is very good.  I haven't timed him again, but I would not be surprised if he's in the 3 second range now.  In the last few days he's been better about me not needing to 'cheer-lead' him through them, and he's going fast without much from me.  I'm so thrilled he even weaved at class on a different set of poles.  He's above and beyond my expectations for weaves.

3.  Immediate down on the table
Grade:  A-     'Immediate' might be an exaggeration, but I'm pleased with his performance.  Also, I'm a bit at a loss as to how to speed him up.  Getting him excited doesn't seem to make him faster.  I'll have to think about this and ask our teachers.

4.  Figure eight over a jump.
Grade:  A     Yep, success.  He knows exactly what the pattern is and does it speedily and accurately.  Good boy.

Here's a look at our longer-term goals:
1.  Consistent, fast contacts when I can be at a distance, not right at the foot of the dog walk.
     This is definitely something we will keep working on (actually, I have to admit that I haven't really been working on the distance at all, so it's time to start).  Consistency is there, but speed and distance can improve.  I'd like to be able to be 15 feet away by winter.

2.  Performance of the chute, once we get it
     Yes!  Jonah loves his chute at home.  I pulled it out again this weekend and he had a blast  with it.  I'm a little miffed that he ran out at the chutes at class last week while he loves it so much at home, but I'm not going to worry about it.  I'll keep doing the chute at home and give him a big reward when he does the chute at school.

3.  12 weave poles, with no popping out and reasonable speed
     Yes!  Definitely something we will keep practicing, but I am totally thrilled with his performance.  If he went to trial right now, I would be pleased and I'd think he'd be at the faster end of dogs he'd compete against.  I don't know if he'll ever transition to the one-paw-on-each-side technique, but if he's quick and consistent with the two-paw-hop method, I'm totally happy.  I'll keep encouraging him to drive through the poles full speed, but this is the skill I'm most pleased that he's learned.  My big thing now is to balance how often I ask him to weave so he keeps his skill sharp but doesn't get bored.

4.  Basic front and rear crosses.
     Well, basic, yes.  He's definitely better with landing side rear crosses than when I do them before a jump, but generally he's doing well.  I need to learn how to handle the crosses better, which we're starting to get at class.  I just need to be patient when class isn't moving as fast as I'd like.

Where does that lead us?  I'd say Jonah is doing fantastic.  Unfortunately Jonah is rapidly catching up with my limited agility knowledge, and I'm running out of ideas for exercises to set up for him.  I know the handling techniques are a big weakness, but I don't know how to do them correctly, so it's hard to practice.  I feel like a lot of how we'll move forward from here will come from what I can learn at class.  After watching video and reading some rule books, I think he's pretty close to having the skills to compete at the lowest levels.  That said, I don't know anything about how to get into the competing, and I would want the help and blessing of our teachers.  Since he does so much at home that we don't do at class, the teachers don't even know what his skills are.  We have three more weeks in Advanced Beginner class and then we'd move on to intermediate, which says it does novice course work, so maybe that's when we'll start talking about competitions.

Anyway, here are our updated goals for November/the rest of this season:
1.  Faster speed and distance up to 15 feet for dog-walk contacts
2.  Fast down on table
3.  Front and rear crosses
4.  'Passing' the advanced beginner class, having a plan for moving up to intermediate
5.  Attend a trial without competing (we'll see if my schedule at school gives me enough time to get to one).

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Summery Day in October

We're in the middle of a bit of a heat wave here.  At the end of October it's getting into the 70s, and it's pretty humid, too.  To celebrate the excellent weather, Dave, Jonah and I went to one of our favorite off-leash parks.  We ran a few miles across beautiful fields, by a calm pond and through the woods where we were surrounded by the vibrant fall foliage.  It was truly breathtaking.  At first Jonah was so thrilled to be out there that he would sprint to and fro, but he settled into a rhythm with us, and towards the end of the run he was actually seeming a little bit tired.  We stopped at the pond after our long run and Jonah swam a little and got really excited to be splashing around in the water.  It was much nicer than our trip to the beach (which I realize I forgot to post about--we went to the beach last weekend, but it was cold and windy and Jonah was not very interested in going in the water.  I thought at that point we were done with his swimming days this season, but clearly I was wrong!).  Then we ran to the big hill and did some hill sprints.  Even though he was clearly tired, Jonah was doing a pretty good job keeping up with us.  Anyway, by the time it was dark we were all nice and tired and Jonah was a hot, stinky, wet, but exceedingly happy dog.

Last night we also had our third Advanced Beginner Agility class.  Two of the 7 dogs in the class didn't come this week, and there was a noticeable difference in how much we got done and how quiet the room was.  We started out doing a pinwheel of three jumps, and we were supposed to do a front cross between the second and third.  Jonah was very good, but, man--he's fast!  I'm wondering when you would actually do a front cross in that situation in competition.  It seems like you wouldn't want to cross the plane of the two jumps on the same line, and if you wanted to do a front cross you'd do it after the third jump, but I'm probably wrong.  It was good practice either way, but made me really move my feet!  Here's a basic diagram of the setup (we'd do one of the lower ones first, then the middle one, which is vertical below, and then the third):

                                        __             __

Next we did the teeter (which has a cinder block under the end they'd get on, so it wasn't a full-height climb, but it dropped like it normally would) to a pause table to a U-shaped tunnel.  Jonah is doing awesome with the teeter.  At first I was working hard to make sure he wouldn't go too fast and make it drop suddenly, but after a few tries I just let him go his own speed, and he wasn't bothered at all.  Good boy.  He was great with the rest of the sequence, too.

Our third sequence was the A-frame with a 90 degree turn to a line of offset jumps.  This was good for working at a little bit of distance (and by little I mean I was probably 10 feet to the side of one of the jumps).  Jonah was really driving enthusiastically and I was super pleased.  His contacts on the A-frame were good, too. 

This week there was a tunnel underneath the dog walk.  We've put our tunnel under our dog walk at home, so I didn't think this would be any concern for him, but he definitely did slow down and take a look at it.  The dog walk was pretty low, so the tunnel was not far away and it's a bright orange tunnel, so I guess it did look quite different from our setup at home.  After the first time when he walked a little on top, though, he was unconcerned and ran happily across the top.  His contacts here were much better than last week, too.

We did some more sequences with the dog walk, tire, chute and a tunnel.  I was a little disappointed that he ran right past the chute twice.  I think the chute in class is heavier than the one we have at home.  Anyway, I'll have to keep bringing our chute out at home and rewarding an extra-lot so he'll drive to it at class.  As for the other obstacles, he didn't have any problems.  His lead outs are getting much more reliable, too.  It's fun to watch.

The final hurah of the night came with the weave poles.  They had pushed them a little closer together, but still he wouldn't even brush his shoulders against them while running through the channel.  We finished up a few minutes early, and I asked if we could do the poles closer together.  By closer together I was thinking close enough that he'd have to wiggle a little bit.  She said it was kind of a pain to move them all, so I said it didn't have to be all 12.  Then she went ahead and did all 12 fully straight.  Gulp.  I was concerned.  I'd gone ahead and said he could do 12 straight (which he can), but I felt like I was putting myself on the line that he had to do it now that she'd done the work of straightening them out.  The weave poles at school look a lot different from ours at home, so I was worried that Jonah wouldn't generalize.  Anyway, we gave it a shot.  The first time he got excited and didn't focus so he popped out at about the 3rd pole.  I brought him back to the beginning and asked him to weave again and he went beautifully!  I can't tell you how proud I felt.  It wasn't the fastest he'd ever done them--he didn't hop consistently the whole way through, but he was driving happily and smoothly through all twelve poles.  Considering that we've only been doing 12 at home for 8 days, and home is such a different environment, I'm honestly a little bit shocked.

That said, we've got things to work on.  I hadn't realized how much I'm verbally encouraging him through the poles to speed him up, and the teacher said I should try to wean off that.  She wants us to work with targets and toys and treats to get him excited rather than my own voice.  Otherwise, I think think she was really impressed with his weaving and even before that she said a few times how he was doing super. 

So...overall, it was a great day! 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Second Advanced Beginner Class

Class this week was good but less exhilarating than last week.  We spent a lot of time just getting repetitions on things Jonah does well:  tunnels and chutes (he went through without help at class, thanks to practice from our new chute at home), A-frame, dog walk, altered teeter (it was full height but had a pause table under each end so as to minimize the movement), channel weave poles (grr, still about a foot apart), etc.  Last week we did lots of sequences but this week was mostly back to individual obstacles. 

Anyway, we did come up with a concern about contact performance.  Jonah will go right into the two-on-two-off position, but he doesn't like to touch the target with his nose.  The teacher is concerned that if he doesn't put his head down he won't be able to move forward off the obstacle as quickly.  I'm honestly not 100% convinced that this is a big deal, but I will work on it.  After all, there won't be any targets there in competition.

Another thing that was difficult for us was doing the dog walk with a 180 degree turn away from the handler to a tunnel.  Jonah's rear cross turn isn't bad, but I always do it while we're moving.  Doing it from the stopped contact position proved difficult, but he did do it after a couple of tries.

We did do one sequence that was quite challenging for us and shows that we need some work.  The setup was something like this:

                                    ___        [ ]

(Key:  ___ is a jump; [ ] is a pause table; [[[ is a broad jump)

First we did the broad jump alone, since we had never done one before.  Jonah didn't blink an eye.  Next we did the broad jump, about 20 feet to a 90 degree turn to the two jumps, which were about 10 feet apart.  Again, no big deal. 

Then the teacher added a harder twist, though.  We were supposed to jump the broad jump and then jump the first jump, do a front cross and turn to the pause table without jumping the second jump.  I think we could have done this ok without the front cross, but the cross definitely complicated things.  In my attempt to get in the right place to do the cross, I cut the corner of the turn to the jump.  Jonah followed me instead of taking the wider line to the jump.  Then the second time I stayed closer to him and he jumped, but then I didn't get to the front cross in time and he went straight ahead and jumped the second jump.  Oops.  The third time I compromised and we got it, but Jonah had slowed down a little and he already knew what he was supposed to do. 

This shows me that he needs to be more independent in driving out to jumps even when I'm not right with him.  I wish we could have had more time to practice this, but we moved on to other things and I was never fully satisfied with our performance with that line.  I set it up yesterday in the back yard, though, and we got lots of repetitions and were doing it beautifully.

So, overall it was a good class, but we know we need to work on things.  We're going to practice our 'turn' command (turning away from the handler), our contact touches, and our jumping independence.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New Tunnel and Chute!

The tunnel and chute came today, and now Jonah's a total pro.  The first time he went in the chute he turned around and went back out.  Then I had him down-stay at the opening while I went to the end, held it open, and called him through.  He came right through.  From then out, I didn't have to hold the chute and I could send him to it from the opening.  Each time he would come out the end with this brilliant, exhilarated face.  It was awesome to see him so happy.

He didn't have any trouble with the tunnel, and he went through it when it was straight, curved like a U, and curved like an S.  I staked down the chute but not the tunnel, and it held its shape great.  I'm very pleased with what I got.

The only funny thing Jonah did was he realized that if he jumped on top of the tunnel he could squish it.  This is clearly a fun game.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Weave Pole Wonders

I know I posted on Friday that my goal was to have Jonah doing 9 weave poles reliably by November, but we've done it already!  He found his footwork and was bombing through the nine, so I went ahead and took a big step:  I added three more poles so now there is a full set of 12.

Even though we've only been doing nine for a bit over a week, Jonah popped out of the 12 right after the 9th pole on his first time through.  I think it's unbelievable that his muscle memory catches on to a certain number so fast.  It makes me feel good that I went ahead and pushed the weaves up to 12 now.  If there are fewer later on, it shouldn't be a problem, but we shouldn't run across more than 12.

Anyway, as I mentioned, he popped out after 9 the first time.  The second time he popped out after 11 (just one early).  Then, he went through the whole way perfectly!  Third time's the charm.  Since then, he has popped out a few times here and there towards the end when he's tried to push his speed, but in general he's been excellent.

As for his footwork, he's starting out great, hopping side to side with two feet.  As he gets about half way in, he usually gets a little out of rhythm and starts running the rest of the way.  The running is a little bit discombobulating, and it looks like he almost trips over his own paws sometimes, but he's still really trying to move forward quickly.  He's even driving through the poles so that they're really moving when he goes through them.  I have a lot of confidence that, as he keeps going, he'll figure out that it's easier to just keep hopping all the way through.  I don't know if he'll ever move to the one paw on each side technique.  I hope so, but I feel like there's no way for me to teach him that--it will just be what's most comfortable for him.  He figured out the hopping on his own, so I think he'll know what's fastest and easiest for him. 

When Dave got home from work he timed us, and Jonah got through the 12 poles in between 4 and 4.5 seconds.  I know the best dogs do it in less than 3, and I know it's supposed to be hard to speed dogs up, but I'm still kind of amazed that the dog we got about 3 months ago now cruises smoothly through 12 weave poles.  It's like we taught him something, or something.

Now that I'm so excited, my job is to keep him excited.  I know that if I drill things over and over he gets bored and slows down.  Since the biggest thing I want him to improve is his footwork and speed, I want to keep sessions short, extra rewarding and fun.

Aside from weaving, Jonah's contacts are looking great.  He's mostly going right into the contact position quickly, but he still wants me right next to him.  His jump figure eight is also looking excellent.  As for the table, he's just not very fast going to the down.  I'm not sure how to work on that, but hopefully we can figure something out or ask our teachers tomorrow night.  I'm very glad we have class tomorrow night because I'm in need of some new things to practice.  I was trying a jumping exercise today with a rear cross but I'm just not exactly sure what I'm supposed to be doing, so it's confusing both me and Jonah together.  We've got a lot to learn.

Also, I keep waiting for our tunnel and chute to arrive.  They left Arizona a week ago and the shipping log last had them in NY on Saturday.  I hope they get here soon so we can start working, especially with our chute.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Update and Goals

As I need a quick weekend break after class before I dive into homework, I thought I'd update the blog.  First off, Jonah and I have been enjoying our new playground, although we're frustrated at how early it is getting dark.  Often by the time I get home we can't see the obstacles outside.  Nonetheless, Jonah's making progress. 

He's loving the dog walk, and he keeps going up it without even being asked.  He especially loves going up there and trying to pounce on Molly when she's out there with him.  She's not so sure about the dog walk, so he's safe up there.  I've been having him get up on the flat top and then I gently shake the board while praising him, petting him and giving him treats.  He definitely gets a little concerned when it's moving but he hasn't been trying to get off or anything, so I think he'll slowly get more accustomed to it.

As for the contact performance, he's doing well but I'd still like to see some improvement.  He generally stops at the bottom with four feet on and then I have to give another command before he steps his front two paws onto the ground.  He's not missing the contact, but stopping and then slowly repositioning is not a very fast process.  I need to keep working on it.  I think I'm going to try baiting the targets so he's really driving to the food.  The problem in the past has been that, when there's food already there, he will blow the contact and turn around to get the treat, so I'll have to be careful.  Anyway, it's great to have the dog walk to practice with and I can already see he's getting better.

He has also been good with the weave poles.  Now he rarely pops out of the 9 poles, which is an improvement from when I set them up last weekend.  When we just had 6 poles, he had his footwork down so he could fly through them quickly, but somehow he hasn't figured out that he can still do that footwork when there are 9 poles.  He's jogging through but he almost trips on his feet and it's clearly inefficient.  I'm hoping that soon he'll get his rhythm back and start cruising through all nine.

I follow an equestrian blog that lists clear goals each month, and I thought it would be a good idea for me to jump on.  I'll set out a few of the things I'd like to achieve this month and then moving forward this season:

October goals (eek, only 2 weeks left!)
-Consistent, fast contacts on the dog walk.  By this I mean not stopping and then repositioning, but running down the ramp immediately into the contact position.
-Consistent 9 weave poles without popping out and reasonable speed.
-Immediate down on the table
-Figure eight over a jump.  We started this in class last week, and Jonah does it but slowly.  I'd like it to be a faster, more fluid motion.

Before we have to move the equipment inside for winter:
-Consistent, fast contacts when I can be at a distance, not right at the foot of the dog walk.
-Performance of the chute, once we get it
-12 weave poles, with no popping out and reasonable speed (i.e. not walking and making an effort to drive through)
-Basic front and rear crosses.

I'm sure I'll think of more goals, but that's what I've got for now.  I hope these are pretty achievable if we put some work in. 

And now, back to work!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Advanced Beginner Class #1

Tonight was the first of our advanced beginner class, and Jonah and I had a blast. 

Right from the start we got to work on new exercises.  They were simple:  a figure-8 over a jump and jumping back and forth with a slight curl.  Despite the simplicity, it was quick and fun and different and Jonah was very good at it.  He got a lot of cookies in a very short amount of time. 

Next we went right into sequences, doing a jump to a curved tunnel to another jump, doing a front cross while the dog was in the tunnel.  Jonah was great, really driving to the obstacles, and I had to move pretty quickly to get the front cross done in time.  It was nice to be a little bit challenged! 

Our second sequence was a jump to a chute to another jump.  It was all straight (no crosses), but the chute is tough.  Jonah was very brave.  The instructor did hold the end of the chute up a few inches, but it was pretty close to closed.  I bet next time he will do it without assistance.

Then we did the teeter to a jump.  Jonah showed no nervousness at all, but he really wants to rush at the teeter and I have to work to keep him slow enough that it moves at a reasonable speed and doesn't make a huge bang.  I still hold on to the tab leash for this, but I'm feeling good that he doesn't get nervous at all.  I'm sure he'll start to figure out that going slowly is a good thing as he gets more practice.  I just want to make sure he doesn't have a bad experience that sets him back.  One of the dogs in class tonight scared herself with the teeter and she wouldn't get back on after that, so we're trying to avoid something like that.

Next we did the dog walk.  It was totally different from last week.  He ran right up, then he did slow down on top, he took a few slow steps, and then ran the rest of the way down.  The next time he was faster and the time after that he was running the whole way.  The second time he did slip on the down ramp, but that didn't seem to bother him.  We immediately back-chained the ramp and he didn't show any problems.  Our teacher suggested that, since we now have our own dog walk, I reward him a lot on the top of it when it's a little bit wiggily so he gets the idea that it's a good place to be even if it's moving.

We did a line of three angled jumps to a teeter.  It was all a straight line, so pretty basic, but we did relatively long lead offs (about 20 feet, past the second jump).  I was thrilled with Jonah because he was so enthusiastic and really driving to the obstacles.  I don't think he needed me there at all--he would have done the line himself.  This week we had a higher table and it took him a few tries to get as fast as he is with the smaller ones, but not any problem and I'm sure he'll continue to get faster with the high table, too.

Then we did a sequence with a tunnel and the A-frame.  Again, Jonah was great.  We're now naming the A-frame and he's attacking it with gusto.  What a star.

That's the blow-by-blow of what we did.  Overall, Jonah was just completely happy and attentive for the whole hour.  While we were waiting for other dogs we would practice our tricks because he was so starving for my attention at all times.  I'm really excited that this class will challenge us a little bit more and give me some ideas for practice at home, since I'm currently running out of ideas.  It will also teach me more of the handling techniques and give me lots of practice.  Jonah is really paying good attention to my cues but my toolbox is limited.  I think it's going to be growing quickly from now on. 

It's neat to watch the other dogs in the class, too.  One of the dogs who was normally very good in the beginner class had a tough night tonight and was afraid of a bunch of the equipment.  I guess some days are just better than others.  Also, there were two new dogs who weren't in our beginner class but had done an intro class somewhere else.  They have a different skill set and seeing what they're good at shows me where we need to be working.  For instance, they both had better contacts than Jonah, so we're going to keep working on that (and now we have the dog walk to do it!). 

Also, one of the dogs weaved 12 straight poles.  He was very slow, but he did it all very methodically.  It makes me want to get Jonah up to 12 poles as soon as I can.  I want to keep his speed up, though, so I still want to master 9 before I put in the last 3.  It does look like we'll be using the 12 pole set at class right from the beginning, so even though most novice courses just have 6, and Jonah can do 6 well, we're going to be challenged.  I need to make sure it stays fun at home when I practice, though.  I tend to want to practice and practice and practice until it's perfect, but Jonah loses interest and then goes slowly, so I need to make sessions short and have good rewards.  That and contacts are our big goals for the next week. 

In other news, I just bought a tunnel and chute from eBay! 

Monday, October 11, 2010


The dog walk is up and operational.  My rushing to get it going meant the paint got a little messed up in a few areas, making me a good winter touch-up project when we bring the dog walk back in in-gulp-a matter of weeks most likely.  That said, I think it's working really well and it looks pretty darn good. 

When we first put it up, Jonah was, in fact, a little worried about it.  It did wiggle a little bit which I was actually pleased with since that seemed to be what concerned him about the dog walk in class last week.  Dave and I set it up on the low height first (about 20"), and he jumped off the ramp the first time up, walked very slowly and cautiously the second time but went all the way across, and then he decided it was lots of fun.  Dave and I each stood at one end and called him across it back and forth and, before we knew it, he was running carelessly along it.  So cool!  He even blew a contact he was so excited and he surged right over it.  (Yes, I know that's not a good thing, but I'm not worried--we'll be able to fix it.)  It was nice that he actually was nervous about the dog walk at first and then overcame his fear.  The more confidence building he can get, the better.  I'm hoping that confidence carries over to class and other new dog walks he encounters.  Even if he's nervous about some other dog walk he'll have good, positive memories of another one.

At lunch, I took the plunge and raised it to its final height, which measures out to be about 40 inches.  I know that's 8 shy of regulation, but it's going to be good enough for us.  It's definitely higher than it's ever been set up for us in class.  So far at this height Jonah hasn't shown noticeable nervousness, but he does go a little slower.  He'll trot along it but he hasn't really run yet.  He's doing well with the contacts but so far I've been staying close to him.  It will be fun to keep working on them with me being in different positions.

I also set up the weave poles outside.  Since he's been doing so great with 6, I put up 9.  I actually brought out a tape measure and made sure they're nice and straight and evenly spaced.  They're 22" apart for now.  My stakes are not perfectly straight and one doesn't match, but I'm convinced they're a good training tool for the time being.  When I asked him to weave them, he kept popping out at pole 6, not being used to 9.  I guess he already has muscle memory or something that's gotten him used to 6.  Knowing this, I'm going to go up to 12 as quickly as I can.  First, though, we'll get some practice with 9 and get that going consistently.  It would have been better if I weren't changing both the number of poles and the location at once, so maybe I'm rushing things too much, but we'll see how it goes.  If I have to go back to 6 (or 7 or 8) to get his confidence and speed back, I'll do it.

In the ebay world, I am currently bidding for tunnels.  There's a package of a tunnel and chute for $50 and an individual chute for $30, so I'm seeing if I can get a tunnel for less than $20.  I went ahead and put in five bids, and four are currently winning with prices of $2.75, $1.04, $4.08 and $1.25.  I'd be very surprised if people don't bid higher, but if they don't I'll be laughing at myself for having 4 tunnels.  Oh well, I certainly won't be spending much (they have free shipping, too)!

So, now for the big surprise of the honor of the new dog walk, I decided it was time to step the blog up and add pictures!  Enjoy :)
 (The dog walk, lookin snazzy.  I put it between a cluster of trees because the space was pretty unusable for any other equipment--got to make the most of what we have!  Also you can see the lovely rock in the foreground.)

 (Close up of the contact zone with the target.  The yellow's already getting dirty, but I think overall it's not half bad.  You can see one of our hula hoop 'tires' behind the dog walk.)

(Jonah nailing his contact...with his eyes closed)
 (Happy dog on his new dog walk)

 (Now showing off his new set of 9 weave poles)

(Close up)

(The weave poles alone.  Not perfect, but a good start for us.)

(Jonah on his table)

(Blurry Jonah flying through one of his 'tires')

That's all for today, but tomorrow is our class, so you'll be hearing from us again soon.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Weekend Project

Jonah and I have been working hard, and the results of our work are about to be fantastic. 

First off, we've decided to move.  The backyard no longer suits our agility needs (well mostly we're just killing the grass but space is also a concern), so we're going into the woods.  We have about 3/4 of an acre fenced in back behind our house which has long been space for the dogs to run.  Earlier this summer I cleared out a path around the edge, but this weekend I went crazy clearing out a larger space.  Mostly this consisted of raking about 4-6" of wet leaves, dirt and sticks into piles or to the edges of our space.  There were also lots of bigger branches to move out of the way, and I cut down about 15 small trees and saplings.  There are still a bunch of larger trees and a few 'islands' where large trees have fallen that I couldn't move out of the way.  There are now about 15 stumps where I cut down the trees and saplings.  There is a rock.  The ground is uneven in some places. we have an agility area where we can leave some of our equipment outside and not have to worry about ruining dad's lawn.  It's also wider than the yard, although not nearly as long.  I paced it out and it's about 75ft x 75ft square-ish.  So, it's very, very far from an ideal agility field where you'd have a competition, but it's a very exciting improvement for us. 

The reason for doing all this was because...we are making a dog walk!  Yesterday I went to Home Depot and got 2 2x12x8' boards and one 2x12x12' board.  I got a bag of play sand, some exterior primer, some brown (so as to be less obtrusive to the neighbors) and yellow paint and some hinges.  Here's what I did:
1.  Prime the boards
2.  Tape a line for the contact zone (I did about 2' from the end)
3.  Paint the top of one board in the majority color--in my case, this was brown.  More common would be blue, red, purple or green.
4.  While the paint is still wet, sprinkle sand on it, fairly heavily.
5.  Use a stick to spread out the sand so it is a pretty solid layer over the paint.
6.  Repeat for the other boards while the paint and sand dry. 
7.  When the paint is dry, brush off the loose sand that did not stick to the paint.  The color of the paint will be dulled a lot by the sand.  In fact, if I were doing it again I might do the sand layer as a second primer layer rather than the first layer of color, but I think either way would work fine.
8.  Paint another layer of color over the sand.  This will take a fair amount of paint to get in all the cracks, but it seals in the sand and it makes the board the nice color you want it.
9.  Paint the sides, ends and bottom of the boards.
10.  When the paint is dry (I was rushing and did this too soon, so learn from me and wait!), remove the tape and re-tape to paint the contact areas.
11.  Repeat the sand painting process for the contact zones.

Ok, that's as far as I've gotten so far.  I decided not to rush any more and just wait overnight to assemble.  I will just screw in the hinges and prop the boards up on some shelving units we have.  It will be more like 36" than 48", but I figure it's a darn good start. 

I'm actually really pleased with how well the sand worked.  The surface has a really nice grip which Jonah will need, since I didn't put any slats on it to add traction.  As I mentioned, I rushed the painting a little which resulted in some messy spots, but overall it looks fantastic and I can't wait to set it up and let Jonah try it out tomorrow.  I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I moved our weave poles, 2 hula hoop 'tires,' a jump and a pause table (It's a large, old drawer that I put some indoor/outdoor carpeting on the top of.  It won't last forever, but it's good for now) out to the new area and we played around a little bit.  I'm watching some ebay auctions for a tunnel and a chute and I'm plotting about a makeshift teeter.  I don't think an A-frame will happen this fall, but I'm just thrilled with how much we already have going for us and we'll get lots of good practice out of our current toys!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Last Beginner Agility Class

Today was week 6 of our beginner agility class.  I had felt some pressure that this was the make-or-break test night since it determined whether or not we'd be able to progress to the Advanced Beginner class, but by the time I got inside I felt much more relaxed.  Today we got to work entirely off leash once we had warmed up, and that is definitely more comfortable for both me and Jonah.

First we 'backchained' a little sequence.  We did a curved tunnel, which he went right in with no problem this week.  Then we did a tire to the tunnel.  The other dogs in the group would jump the tire and then turn to their handlers who would then direct them to the tunnel, but Jonah went straight for the tunnel, which was great.  Then we added the A-frame before the tire and the tunnel.  Jonah was perfect up, down, into position.  I'd treat the target at the bottom of the A-frame and we'd go on to the next two obstacles.  Finally we added a jump with a 90 degree turn to the A-frame to the tire to the tunnel.  Jonah was a total star, enthusiastic and really driving forward.  We even did a front cross at the base of the A-frame before the tire, which went nicely.  My only concern is that, after getting a treat at the bottom of the A-frame, he likes to sniff for more food before he goes on to the next obstacle.  I'm sure we'll address that, though, and he was definitely the best in our group for this sequence.

Next we went to the teeter.  The high end was about 2 feet off the ground.  We walked on it slowly and the teacher assisted it down the first few times, but then we did it totally on our own.  Jonah showed no concern at all, and my biggest challenge was keeping him slow enough that it didn't move too fast and make a big 'bang.'  That said, I had been worried about how he'd do with the teeter after last week's slight nervousness and the fact that they'd said dogs wouldn't pass to Advanced Beginner if they were afraid of the teeter.  Not a problem for us.

Then we did the weave poles, which were still in a channel about a foot wide.  We just had one target at the end.  This was pretty easy for us.  The other dogs were popping out and/or slow, and they needed a second target in the channel.  Not Jonah!

Then we came to a setback:  the dog walk.  Two weeks ago Jonah flew across the dog walk without blinking an eye.  Last week he was a little slower but still didn't seem concerned.  Today he would drive right onto it, but when he was getting up to the flat part it was shaking a little bit and he would jump off.  We had to lure him very slowly across it and he never ran or even walked fully confidently across it.  I'm not sure what was different about it this week.  Our teacher said sometimes dogs get worried on the dog walk when it shakes after they've been on the teeter because they're expecting bigger movement.  I'm not sure what was in Jonah's head tonight, but somehow I'm not too worried.  Hopefully next week he'll be back to normal.  I'm also thinking I might buy some boards, sand, paint and saw horses this weekend and make our own dog walk.  Then we'd have a great contact practice tool as well as getting over the fear of the dog walk.

After the dog walk we went through the chute.  Once we tried it completely closed and he started in but popped back out.  When the teacher would hold the end open even six inches and then drop it on him once he was on his way through, he had no problem.  None of the dogs in the class did it completely closed, so we're right on track with this one.  If it stops raining and dries out I'll get our 'chute' out and practice this week.

Our last task of the night was a line of three jumps to a table.  We set up in front of the first, I led out until I was between the second and third, and called him through.  He was awesome!  Jump-jump-jump, leap onto the table and bang right into a down.  Excellent boy.

To end the class the teacher gave a demonstration with her dog.  He was good, but I think in a few months Jonah will be able to give him a run for his money!  As soon as we master the chute, teeter at speed, get back to normal with the dog walk, and get used to 12 weave poles, and I get more comfortable with my crosses, Jonah will do just what her dog did.  He weaves 6 poles at a rate faster than her dog, so I'm feeling really good.  It was great to get to watch an experienced dog run a course and to see where we're headed.

So...we passed!  Now next week we'll go an hour later and start Advanced Beginner Agility.  We can't wait!  We have things to work on, but I feel good that we're right on track and I'm excited that we'll be doing more off-leash and more sequences in the weeks to come.  What fun!