Friday, December 3, 2010

School: The Beginning and the End (sort of)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This will keep us busy!

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