Sunday, February 27, 2011

Our Fourth Trial

Today was kind of a whirlwind.  It was not our best trial, but there were some moments of brilliance. 

When we arrived, we went in to find (thankfully) a quiet hall with the table and measuring wicket.  There was no one around to measure him, but I had him hop up on the table and played around with the device to get him used to it.  I’d say he was about 90% relaxed, which I was quite pleased with.  Then the judge came over but she said Jonah wasn’t on her measure list.  Apparently CPE recognized his last measurement as his last, so we’re done with CPE measurement!  We should get our permanent height card in the next few weeks, which will be quite a relief.

Round 1, Jumpers Level 3:  The course was fairly friendly.  It was definitely the hardest jumpers course we’ve done (which you’d expect since it was our first level 3/4/5/C course), but other than a non-flowing tunnel entry (he landed off a jump facing one entry and had to take the other), it was a lot of turns but pretty smooth.  We ended up doing 4 front crosses and a rear cross, compared to two front crosses in our last jumpers run at level 2.

The parking lot was really icy, so I thought I’d skip our usual jog before we ran, and then when I went in the building to go to the warm-up jump it turned out he was only a few dogs away.  They were moving a lot faster than I thought.  So, I skipped the warm-up jump, too, and we went right in the ring.  Jonah flew off the start line and cruised through the first half of the course.  I cut his momentum a little at the hard tunnel entry to prevent an off course, but then he went in the tunnel and jumped the next two…and then he stopped.  It was like going from warp speed to nothing in a second.  He’s never shut down like this on course before.  Suddenly he was not highly focused on me like he usually is, and he just decided he had to find his dad.  Dave was good about not making eye contact with him, and after maybe five seconds of me clapping and calling him to come, he shifted right back into hyper speed and finished the course.  We got the Q, and even with the mental lapse it was a 1st place.

I was pretty flustered then, but looking back it’s kind of funny.  He’d get an A+ for the course other than that one spot, where he gets a D. I guess I’m going to chock it up somewhat to a fluke, but also I know that I need to be more focused about having a real warm-up routine where I get him obediently paying attention to me before we go in the ring.  More on that to come.

Round 2, Snooker Level 2:  This was by far our greatest run of the day, and the best snooker run we’ve ever had if not the best run we’ve ever had.  My goal had been to plan a flowing course, even if the points weren’t super high.  The course had a nice distribution of reds, and I planned a nice course of 2-5-7.  Again, I know it’s not especially high points, but it flowed nicely.  Jonah was great start to finish.  I did lead out and he broke the stay when I turned around and before I said, “OK,” but that was really the only slight problem with the round.  It flowed, he was fast, and we got through the opening and then all the way through 7 without any trouble at all.  I couldn’t be happier.  Another dog in our class had planned a higher point-total opening, so Jonah was a Q and 2nd.  The dog who won was about 10 seconds slower than Jonah, so I definitely had time to do a tougher opening, but I wouldn’t change a thing if I were doing it over.  He got the flowing course he deserved.

Round 3, Fullhouse Level 3:  This round was not my finest moment.  Actually, it was one of my worst.  Somehow I really mistimed things again.  There’s not a lot of room to watch at Riverside, so I can’t just stay in there and read while I wait until it’s time to go.  Anyway, I thought I had plenty of time but when I came in to check they were already running 20” dogs.  Actually, the dog in the ring was the dog after Jonah!  The gate steward was very generous and said I could go grab him and run as the last 20” dog.  I literally ran to the car, got Jonah and brought him in, where there were 3 dogs left to go.  Needless to say, we didn’t get to warm-up for this round, either.  Also, in the short amount of time we were waiting a German Shepherd started barking and growling at him, and he responded in turn.  I had to go past that dog to go into the ring, but once we got around the corner Jonah seemed to have forgotten about it.  I was shaking.  Great preparation for a run, huh?

Once again, Jonah started out really fast.  We did some jumps, the tire, a tunnel, and then headed for the A-frame.  I wanted to do the A-frame and then a turn towards me to a tunnel under the frame because it was a similar question to what we would have in Jackpot in our next run.  I was pretty focused on that, and Jonah did great.  Then I guess my handling got less clear.  I gave him a bad weave entry and he missed it and went to a nearby jump instead.  I stood stunned for a second, and then just started improvising.  I did another handful of jumps, including a ‘joker’ double jump twice, and then my brain was just fried.  The buzzer hadn’t gone off but I just sent him to the table so we could be done.  I felt like I had let him down so much by being so ragged and disorganized, so I wanted to end on a good note. 
We ended up with a Q and 1st, but it was not a round I was happy with. 

Round 4, Jackpot Level 2:  This time I was very deliberate about warming up properly.  For the fourth time, he was great off the start line, and he was great for a good while.  He confidently found a tough rear-cross tunnel entry, cruised through his weaves, did a jump combination and a bunch of other jumps.  Then we tried to do the combination again.  It was two jumps with a 180 degree turn between them.  Coming out of the weaves before the combination, he slowed down a lot.  He jumped the first jump and then just stopped again.  He wasn’t looking for his dad this time, he just looked unhappy for a minute for no apparent reason.  Maybe he heard or saw something that I didn’t pick up on.  Anyway, the buzzer sounded before we jumped the second jump so we didn’t get those five points.  Once the buzzer sounded, we took off for the gamble and Jonah instantly picked back up.  He cruised through the tunnel, up the A-frame, turned towards me and did the rear cross in the tunnel, and drove out to the table.  It (the gamble) was picture perfect.  Q and 2nd.

Overall points:
-I need to warm up properly.
-Jonah’s interaction with other dogs is getting bad at times.  This is really stressful.  I know the trial situation is stressful for him and there are lots of dogs in a very small area, but I wish he could relax.  Usually I can bribe his attention to stay with me, but I wish it weren’t so much effort.  He used to be great with other dogs.  I’m thinking we should take him to Willards Woods and keep him on leash more, since his off-leash social skills are great.  Also, hopefully outdoor trials will be a little easier for him since there should be more space.
-The running A-frame is super.  He’s sped up a lot and isn’t coming close to blowing the contact. 
-Jonah’s weaves are great when I give him a good entry, but I shouldn’t take tough angles for granted.  As the snow melts we’ll work on entries.
-Jonah’s energy was superb at the beginning of every round today (at least the first 6 obstacles were pretty much full speed).  Now I just need to figure out how to maintain it. 
-We’re 20/20 on Qs.  I heard a lot of people today making some comment about the ‘elusive Q,’ or being so surprised/ecstatic when their dog would qualify.  I want to appreciate the fact that, although we’ve only had a couple runs I’ve been happy with from start to finish, we’re getting the job done and making progress.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Riverside Trial Preview

On Saturday we head up to Riverside for our next trial.  Here's what we have ahead of us:

Measuring.  I think this might actually be the last time he has to get measured?  I know I've said that before, but I think this is his second measurement after his second birthday, which should be his last.  Only seven dogs have to get measured and they can be measured Friday or Saturday, so hopefully the environment won't be quite so stressful for him.  Once we're done with that, agility will seem easy :).

First Round:  Jumpers Level 3.  Our Level 3 debut!  I'm expecting a big step up from our last Jumpers courses, but he's been fantastic in Jumpers the last few times, so hopefully he'll be up to the challenge.  There are only two dogs in Level 3, 20" (Jonah included), so a Q should mean a good placement, too.

Second Round:  Snooker Level 2.  If we get this Q we'll be done with level 2 Snooker.  My goal is just to plan a smoother round than last time where we barely pulled the Q together.  There are two other dogs in the class.  One is the dog that pretty much always beat us last time we were at Riverside, and the other is a border collie.  Could be a tough order, but in Snooker more than in any other class I really just want to qualify.

Third Round:  Fullhouse Level 3.  This round should be a bit of a breather.  Hopefully he'll come out quick and we can collect a bunch of points.  Fullhouse is fun without all the pressure of a lot of the other games.  It's probably the least stressful game for me.  There are two other dogs in this class.

Fourth Round:  Jackpot Level 2.  It looks like this will be our first traditional Jackpot (judging by the fact that the levels are split up in the running order).  We'll run the same course as level 1, so I'm not too worried.  I think it will be a pretty straight forward gamble, and Jonah should be comfortable by this point in the day to be working away from me.  Maybe I'll try to work a little distance into our Fullhouse run.  There are two other dogs in this class again.

If we get both the Snooker and Jackpot Qs we'll finish our CL2-S title.  I don't want to get ahead of myself, though.  Snooker's hard!

Really I think the most stressful part of the day will be measurement, and then things will get better from there.  Wish us luck!

Lesson at Riverside

Jonah and I had a great lesson at Riverside today.  The big highlight was that he was actually excited and happy about 95% of the time.  He let me 'rev him up' and didn't get worried--he played along and started to get to his playful, almost nippy self.  I was thrilled, and it made him run faster.  There were a few times where I'd be walking the course and I'd just leave him free and he was going around picking out obstacles on his own.  He would jump, get on the contacts and he even weaved by himself.  Then he would look at me wanting a big cookie.  Smart man.

We worked on some wraps that were difficult for me as I just haven't done much of that before.  When I'm not sure of myself he picks up on it and gets a little worried that he's the one screwing up.  Of course, it's pretty much always my fault, so I need to figure out how to be encouraging to him even if I'm messing up royally.  The first wrap was a threadle with me picking him up on landing and pushing out to the next jump.  He did it correctly every time but it took me a few tries to get my handling smooth and minimize my backing up.

The second wrap we did was a much bigger struggle for Jonah.  He was supposed to take a jump and then wrap around towards me.  He was on my right approaching the jump and then I tried to front cross while he was in the air so he'd come between the stanchion and my left side to go on to the next jump.  Well, it used to be that Jonah was so scared at Riverside that it was a success when he did any obstacle.  Now, as I mentioned, he's actively looking for obstacles.  When I did my front cross, I was pressuring him too much rather than inviting him into me, so he back-jumped the jump.  Oops.  Well, I got more deliberate about my handling but he kept back-jumping.  This is something we're going to have to work on.  I'd rather have him excited to jump than not, but this could cause us trouble in competition.  I was able to get it to work, but it was quite an effort.  I also tried handling it as a post-turn, which was a little more natural for him, but it would be good to be able to do it either way.

Other points of note:
1.  The running A-frame looks good.
2.  I need to keep my upper body upright.
3.  Rear crosses were great today.  We rear crossed single jumps, a double, a tunnel, a tire and weave entries.  No trouble anywhere.
4.  I need to watch where my feet are pointing.  When I tried to send him ahead but was turning too early, he would turn before the obstacle.  I can't wait to have outdoor space to work on distance handling.
5.  Dog walk contacts were great.  I still have to rev him a little for him to be really running across the top, but he's driving into the contact great.

Overall, Jonah's doing super.  Lots of room for improvement, but he's only been doing agility for 6 months!  That's hard to feels so natural now.

Monday, February 21, 2011

February Goals

I just realized that, with one week left in February, I forgot to update our goals.  Sorry for the delay, but I thought better late than never.

Here were our January goals:
1.  Keep performance of teeter, weaves, chute, and table sharp.
     I'd say we've done a good job on this:  I'd give us an A-.
     We've been doing the teeter whenever I think of it and Jonah is very happy with our teeter at home.  He was great at All Dogs Gym when he had to do the teeter for his standard course, and he willingly does the teeter at Riverside, where it's especially 'bangy'.  We did have trouble with the new teeter at DLC, so I'm a little worried about his nervousness at generalizing on teeters, but we'll get there.
     The weaves are going great.  I set them up in the backyard today where we *finally* have a strip of ground without snow or ice.  It's pretty narrow, but perfect for weaves.  He was speedy and accurate, and I worked on both front and rear crosses.  He sometimes struggles a little going straight away from me, but otherwise his distance weaving is quite good.  In general he's a little slower away from home, but I'm alright with that for now.
     I must admit I haven't been getting the chute out much, but he hasn't had any trouble whenever we've seen it at trials.  Maybe I'll pull it outside tomorrow.
     The table is good.  Somehow he seems to know when he's supposed to down on it and when he can just jump up (CPE trials).  I must be doing something in my body language, but I couldn't tell you what it is.

2.  Attend our first and second trials, where we have safe and happy experiences.  I hope to pick up some Q's, but most of all I just want to be able to assess where we are and get some good feedback about what we need to work on.

     This has been an overwhelming success.  We get a solid A.
     There are certainly things for us to improve on, but we have been safe and (well, generally) happy.  We've Q'd in all our runs, we've won 8, come second in 7 and fourth in 1.  I've gotten a good sense at what our strengths and weaknesses are, even if I can't predict how forward Jonah will be in a given run.  I know what we need to work on, now we just need the snow to melt so we can do it!

3.  Get Jonah happily using his crate.  We're working on this at home so that, at a trial, I can leave him to go walk the course, etc.

      Here we get a B-.  
     We've worked on the crate, but then we discovered that Jonah was just a lot happier working out of the car rather than being in the loud, crowded crate room.  Once we figured that out we kind of abandoned the crate project.  He was getting happier in it before we stopped, though.

4.  Work on playing leash tug so we have a motivating game before our runs and an immediate treat after our runs.

      Our grade:  B
     Usually I just forget to bring my leash outside to play with him.  He likes to tug on it at home, but he's uninterested at a trial, and when I have any food he wants food, not the leash.  We'll keep working on this, but I'm feeling less like it's a huge priority.  He's pretty happy at trials and that was the main point of trying to play tug.  

5.  When weather permits, work on distance handling.  I think Jackpot may be the hardest game for us right now, especially since Jonah becomes more of a velcro-dog when he's nervous.

     Another B.
     When we're able to work on distance he's doing great, but the weather simply hasn't been very permitting.

Well, our grade point average isn't very good this month as I set out the goals, but I'm actually really pleased with everything we've done in the last 6 weeks since I wrote up the goals.  It's hard to believe we've only been trialing for a few weeks.  It's starting to feel pretty natural, and Jonah's pretty darn good at it.  I still can't believe he'll be in two level 3 classes this weekend!  Even the blog is looking a lot snazzier with the professional pictures.  It's like Jonah's become a real agility dog :).

So, as I said, March is only a week away so I'll do another big goal list then.  As for the next week, here are some basic goals/plans:
1.  Practice the teeter, weaves, chute, table and tunnel at home.
2.  Enter the trial at Breezethru, our first trial at a place we haven't been to class at before.
3.  Have a positive lesson at Riverside on Wednesday, and hopefully use the measuring wicket again
4.  Have another positive trial experience at Riverside this weekend.  We've got Jackpot and Snooker at Level 2 and Fullhouse and Jumpers Level 3.  That's a pretty tough day for us, and we're really just going to have to see how the courses are.  We know we're capable of doing Level 2 Jackpot and Snooker, but they can be difficult depending on how the judge is feeling.  Then Jumpers will be the 3/4/5/C course and could provide some real challenges.  Fullhouse should be a bit of a break, though.  I'm not too worried about that round.  Anyway, as far as goals go, I'd love to Q in all of the runs, but we'll see how challenging they are.
5.  Get Jonah his rabies vaccination next Monday.

Should be a busy week.  I'll let you know how things go!

Another New Picture

Here's the picture from our most recent trial at All Dogs Gym.  This one was taken towards the beginning of our Snooker run, before I had made Jonah dizzy with lots of non-flowing loops.  I love the shot because he just looks so happy and his tail is so cute out behind him.  Thanks to John Woolley Photography for a great shot!

When Dave gets home I'll ask him to put it into the website.  Last time I tried I screwed it up :).

Outdoor Weekend

Jonah, Dave and I had an agility-free but still wonderful weekend.

On Friday, Dave got out of work early and we went to the beach!  I had no idea what to expect with all the snow, but it turned out that the beach itself was fully clear of the snow.  The dunes and surrounding area were still all white, but the beach was lovely sand.  The weather was beautiful--50 degrees!  That meant that the parking lot was a complete lake of mud.  Luckily Dave and I had worn our boots.  Jonah was not so lucky and Dave had to pick him up while I wiped his muddy paws before we put him back in the car when we were leaving.  Once we were out of the parking lot, though, the beach was lovely.  

They have an expansive area for off-leash dogs (you go left off the board-walk for the dog area, right for the horse area.  It's well planned!).  Mostly Jonah wanted to stay with us rather than meet new dogs, but he did make some casual acquaintances, and at the end made a good friend with whom he ran and wrestled for a good while.  

The beach was fantastic because it was the first time Jonah had been able to really run full speed in a good long time.  The snow really slows him down at home, and the agility rings are small enough that he's never flat out.  He had a ball chasing us up and down the beach.  You could see how thrilled he was to really put his ears back, flatten out and gallop across the sand.  We all got tired more quickly than we should; the combination of not having run much lately and the sand underfoot made for quite the workout.  

Jonah was a little unhappy when he was thirsty but the water was salty.  Yuck.  He did like wading in the water.  He didn't go in past his legs, but it was shallow a good ways in and he was happy to be wet.  There weren't really any waves to speak of, so he was more comfortable going in the water than he was the last time we went to the beach.  When he came out he was diligent about rolling in the sand so he was good and dirty.

Right when we were headed back to the car, Jonah met a nice dog that he got along well with.  As they were running the dog's mom asked if we did agility.  I thought that was kind of cool since it was out of the blue.  Apparently Jonah looked like an agility dog to her.  

- - -

After leaving the beach, we all drove up to Vermont for a quiet weekend away.  It was cold and snowy again once we got up there, but we got to enjoy winter the way you're supposed to.  We made warm fires, slept late, read books and enjoyed playing in the snow.

Dave and I rented snowshoes and we went for some great walks in the woods with Jonah.  He was able to run on top of the snow, and the snowshoes allowed us to get around without falling in past our knees. Jonah still thought we were way too slow, but it was a huge improvement from the alternative.  We spent a couple hours each day out on the trails behind our house, exploring.  There's a nice pond we like to hike to, and then on Sunday we tried a new trail that took us to a beautiful view on the other side of the mountain.  There was a hefty elevation change and we were sweating, but it was all worth it.  Jonah chased a flock of wild turkeys and went after a deer, but otherwise he was just as thrilled as he could be jogging along the trail in front of us, stopping frequently to look back at us and remind us of our inadequate speed.  He was grinning every time I looked at him.  It makes me feel guilty that we don't get to do things like that every day, but it's tough when it gets dark so early and most of the local trails are icy messes right now.

Other than our snowshoeing adventures, Jonah and I went for a brief morning run on Saturday.  The air was cold and hard to breathe, but the run got our blood flowing.  We were running on the snowy shoulder of the road, but there was a lot of sand and salt that got all over us.  Jonah was a mess when we came in and even after toweling him off we had to wash the comforter of the bed which he got all muddy.  

Then, on Sunday morning, we almost got a new friend.  Dave and I were just about to go down the hill for breakfast when we looked down the driveway and saw a dog.  She was a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog.  At first we figured she must be from the house across the street, since she was sitting in the street between the two driveways.  We let Jonah go play with her and they had a nice time until Jonah started to get a little tired and her size started to bother him.  At one point she wrestled him into an icy snowbank and he cried a little.  She was clearly just trying to play, but it was a bit much for Jonah.  Anyway, they played for 20 minutes or so but there was no sign of the dog's people.  We didn't want to just leave her out in the road, so we thought we'd walk around the block with her and see if we didn't find her house.  Well, we went all the way around and saw no signs of people looking for her.  By the time we'd gone back to the house she'd been with us for over an hour.  We got the dogs some water and I called the clubhouse to see if anyone had called to report her missing.  Nope.  I left my number but no one ever called.  After I'd gone in to use the phone, she trotted off down another driveway and wouldn't come when I called, so we just hoped that she was on her way home and we went on with our day.  She had no sense of cars so I hope she got home alright.  There's not a lot of traffic up there, but I'd still be very nervous if Jonah just went missing.  It seems to funny to me that no one was calling for her or actively looking.  I guess it's just a different mentality.  As for me, I'll keep Jonah close by.

When we got home Jonah's collar had arrived.  It looks really good!  I'll have to post a picture soon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

New Picture!

Well, a few short hours after my last post, I got one of the pictures!  It was as if she'd read my post, because I got the full image uncropped:

I think it's really cute.  In the horse world, I would usually only consider a jumping picture 'great' if the horse was just reaching the peak of the jump.  This picture would not fall into that category, since he's definitely in his descent, but given the visibility in a tire, I think this is a much better shot.  If he were really in the middle of the tire, you probably wouldn't be able to see his whole body as well, or at least it would be hard to get a good, bright picture.  Riverside is a fairly dark area, so I'm impressed with the quality of the shots the photographer (Cindy Telley of Petart.nh) got.  There were a few other good ones of Jonah but the backgrounds were messy or they were basically the same as pictures I already have.  I think I look a little silly so I cropped myself out for the sidebar image.  I like the variety of having some shots that aren't just basic jumps.  Hopefully we'll get some good contact/tunnel/weave shots at upcoming trials :).

Thursday Fun

Well, I ended up having more work than I would have wanted today, so we didn't go up to Riverside for a lesson.  All was not lost, though.  It was 50 degrees today!!  There's still some snow in the yard where I've shoveled, but it was soft enought that we could play around on it a little bit.  So I pulled out the weave poles (just 6), tunnel and table and we just played with mini-sequences with those three things.  Jonah's weaves were faster than they've been in quite some time.  I had the tunnel straight to encourage him to go fast and he was cruising through it.  He was also driving out ahead of me to the table nicely.

I had the weaves and the straight tunnel parallel to each other, and he was happily driving away from me into the tunnel and finding the off-side entry to the weaves to come back to me all while I stayed behind both obstacles.  I thought that was pretty great.  For some reason he had more trouble doing it backwards:  he'd drive through the weaves headed away from me without any trouble but then he wasn't as good at finding the tunnel entrance.  Oh well.  We could have kept working on it but he was losing the edge of his motivation so I wanted to stop while we were ahead.

In other news, I ordered two more pictures of Jonah, one from each of our last trials.  They say I should allow 4-6 weeks for delivery, and it will be hard to wait.  I know they like to crop the pictures, but I just bought the digital files and I'd be happy to crop it myself if it meant I could have them sooner.  Anyway, I'll post them to the blog as soon as I get them.

I'm also still waiting for the collar I ordered in January.  I hope everything is alright with that...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Riverside Lesson

We got a last minute email from Joan last night saying she had a cancellation today, so we jumped on it.  Jonah was a little slow to warm up but he had many moments of greatness.  Here are some highlights of the lesson:

-His teeter was kind of slow, and he fell off once when it bounced hard on landing.  He was never afraid to get back on, he just never ran on it.  I'm not sure I can blame him considering how loud it is.
-He had great off-side weave entries, and he weaved quite fast.  It was a 12 pole set, which he hadn't done in a little while.

-The A-frame was slow, as it has been recently, until we worked on a running contact.  I've been wanting to do a running A-frame with him for a while, so I was glad when Joan recommended it.  We set a jump a stride out so he had to go up, come down and collect for the jump.  This worked great and he was running up and over by the end of the lesson.

-We had some difficulty with a tunnel/dog walk discrimination.  Jonah was really going for the dog walk and I really had to pull hard and call his name to get him into the tunnel.  I'm thinking I should do a bunch of work on dogwalk/tunnel discriminations at home once the snow melts and we get our dogwalk back up.

-Jonah's dogwalk is getting a lot faster.  It's super fun to watch.  He's really driving up and over now.  He still slows down some for the down ramp, but that means he never misses his contact!

-Sometimes when Jonah does his 2o2o contact he sits down on the ramp.  Joan wants us to work on getting him to stay standing.  We should be able to do that indoors with our mini-box (basically a single step that he does his contact position on).

-He was really cruising through the lines of jumps and he would drive out ahead of me to the table.  Good boy.  He loves jumping.

-We worked some on getting him a little more obstacle focused by basically shaping a jump, where I'd just look at the jump and reward him when he would go take it.  I moved back farther and farther away from the jump until I was about 15 feet away from it.  He thought this was a great game.

At the end of the lesson Joan got out the measuring wicket and I just played around with it for Jonah to get more comfortable with it.  He was nervous about it even without a scary environment.  Poor guy.  Hopefully at our next trial he won't be so scared.  It should be the last time we have to get measured for CPE (our second measurement after his 2nd birthday).

This is a good week, because we get to go back for another lesson tomorrow!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Our Third Trial

Jonah and I went up to All Dogs Gym today for our third trial.  It was a bit of a roller-coaster day, but overall good.

We got there nice and early and I got a chair set up and everything.  The course maps weren't available yet, but I went ahead and got Jonah and brought him in for measuring.  Well, the judge didn't come for about 10 minutes after measuring was supposed to start, which meant that about 15 dogs were waiting in about a 5'x10' little area.  Jonah was initially really excited to be there, which I thought was encouraging.  As more and more dogs came to be measured, though, he started getting anxious and would bark at dogs that got too close to him.  Then, when the judge finally arrived, an actual line formed, and I didn't want Jonah in the line because dogs were just too close for his comfort.  Anyway, we waited until the line subsided and ended up being the last dog.  At this point Jonah had pretty much melted down.  He did jump up on the table, but then as soon as the judge came near him he would jump off.  He did not want to walk right up to the measuring device, and each try to get him measured got him more and more flustered.  Eventually we had to had to move the measuring device into another room where there weren't other dogs walking past all the time.  He measured 20.5" and finally that ordeal was over.  Unfortunately his concern for being too close to other dogs lasted most of the day.

...But I had missed the briefing.

...And they were already walking my course.

I ran Jonah out to the car, grabbed a course map and ran back to the arena.  There were a few last course-walking stragglers, and I nearly ran through the course once before going back out to get Jonah again.  Luckily it wasn't too tough a course, and the quick course walk didn't hurt me.

Our first run was Jumpers.  It was probably the best run we've ever had.  Jonah was totally happy and relaxed by the time he got to the line.  He charged out over the opening line, drove out away from me to jumps and tunnels, took tight turns and was very attentive.  The whole thing just flowed beautifully.  He maintained a fast speed throughout the course and was happy and wagging when we finished.  Our time was 18 seconds.  We won our class by 4 seconds and Jonah was the fastest dog of any height in either level 1 or 2 (the two levels that ran this course).  Very good boy.  Also that was our last level 2 Jumpers run.

Next up was Snooker.  I feel like I really let Jonah down on this one.  I must have stared at the map for 20 minutes and I just couldn't see any nice, flowing routes.  7-7-7 seemed as good as anything else, so I went for it.  It required a good bit of looping back and forth, and Jonah just never got motivated.  He seemed a little concerned and actually slowed down to a walk at one point.  We got the 7-7-7 and then started the ending but he dropped the bar on the 4 jump.  That meant we just barely qualified (we needed 28 and got 29), but it just didn't seem like a satisfying run.  I tried to be fully excited for Jonah, but it was overall a disappointing run.  Only one other dog in the class qualified (they got 44 points!), so we ended up second.

Our third class was Fullhouse.  This was another one where I had trouble deciding on the best course, but I ended with something a lot better than Snooker.  It actually worked out that I just did a whole series of loops with Jonah on my right the whole time.  I had hoped to try some weave poles and a teeter to warm up for Standard, but neither ended up being on the course.  We did get to do the A-frame.  The 5-point obstacles were the A-frame, a combination of jumps and a double jump.  I wanted to do the double and the combination twice each since I thought they would be faster than the A-frame.  Anyway, I'm still trying to get a sense of how fast Jonah will go and how to plan my courses to be near the table at the end and I didn't get it perfectly lined up, but it all worked out alright.  Jonah started fast but when he was on the A-frame the judge was very close to him and I think he got a little worried about the judge.  He stopped for a second and took a good look at him.  Then he kept going but had lost his speedy edge.  In the end we got 31 points, a Q and first place out of 6 dogs.  This was our last Level 2 Fullhouse leg, and it finished our CL2-F title.

We closed out our day with our debut Level 2 standard run.  I had developed an annoying headache and wasn't as sharp as I should be.  I think Jonah picked up on my less-than-maximum-enthusiasm, but otherwise he was good.  The course was two jumps to weave poles.  Jonah collected nicely and nailed his entry.  He wasn't especially fast through them, but he was independent enough that I was able to front cross while he finished them.  His A-frame was good, he was good through a pinwheel with a cross, and then he aced a discrimination of a tunnel and dog walk.  He really slowed down up on the dog walk, but his contact was solid.  Then the course ended with some tunnels and the teeter, which Jonah didn't blink at.  They'd put some padding on it so it didn't bang as loudly, which was nice.  The course was generally a little dull but it was very accurate and obedient.  It was good enough for a Q and first.

All in all, I wish I knew what made Jonah come out speedy in some runs and slow in others.  It's so much fun when he's fast and I don't have to be trying to generate all our energy.  I was really pleased, though, that we didn't have any off courses or even near off courses.  He was always paying close attention to me, and the only problem we ever had was that he was just slow.  I am once again really looking forward to spring when we can set things up at home and get more practice in.  Luckily this week I don't have class so I think I can go to Riverside for a lesson.  We have a private lined up the following week, so we'll have some good practice there.  It's just not the same as being able to do things every day at home, though.  Even the area where I shoveled the back yard is now so frozen it's unusable.  Especially when I want to be working on speed, I don't want to risk bad footing.  Nine out of the next ten days are supposed to get above freezing, though, so maybe we'll get some good melting.

I've been putting our ribbons up on a wall in our bedroom.  The space is filling up fast!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Partial Thaw

Last week was Jonah's birthday and this week it's mine.  It snowed this morning but then the sun came out and it got above freezing.  I'm disappointed that we won't get to have a lesson this week and we have a trial this weekend, so I did some shoveling in the backyard.  I pulled out the weave poles and Jonah was super. It was less icy than last time so he was really able to drive through them and he was moving fast.  It was good to see.  We worked on some off-side entries and as much distance as we could in our small shoveled area, and he was super.  Then we went to the garage and got a bunch of repetitions on the teeter.  His contacts weren't great if I sent him out ahead of me (he would stop at the tipping point and look back at me), but other than that he was great.  No sign of nervousness whatsoever.  Hopefully his concern at DLC was just due to being in a new place.  He's done the teeter at All Dogs a bunch of times, so I'm hoping he'll be fine.  I'll just be sure to have him approach a little slowly to try to prevent a fly-off.

Four days until our third trial, and I think we're in pretty good shape.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

New Hope

I got some exciting news yesterday.  I think I told you that I contacted the local agility club to ask about membership, and yesterday they got back to me.  They have a weekly practice during the week and then one weekend day a month, and all for a membership cost of $20 for a year.  Considering that open practice at Riverside is $15, that's a pretty excellent deal.  Then there are workshops and seminars that offer actual instruction, as well.  It won't replace lessons, but it will give us a lot more practice with looks at lots of courses and drills.  I looked at some of the course maps from last year and there are some really neat exercises that would challenge us.  It may also mean that we won't have to go to lessons as often, which would save some money and quite a bit of driving time.  I'd still like to have some teacher's eyes on us regularly, but it might not need to be every week anymore.

So all of this was on the club's website, but what I found out yesterday is perhaps even more exciting.

I'll start off with a bit of a tangent.  When I was younger and active in the horse world, I spent all my free time at a farm in Bedford, only about 15 minutes from my house.  One summer, we got word that a young foal had been born just down the street.  Being a young, horse-crazy girl, this was an amazing thing, since the farm I was at had competition horses and had nothing to do with breeding.  Anyway, my friends and I would go visit this foal in our lunch breaks and we met the people there, who were very kind to our frequent oggling.  A few years later, I kept my horse at my trainer's parents' house in Concord, farther down the same road from the farm where the foal had been.  I'd ride on the trails behind the road, past this same farm and to a public ring a block past it.  So, needless to say, this farm was tangentially relevant to me for many years.  This summer we took Jonah to the same trails I used to ride on, and he loves to swim in the lake there.  In the last few years, I've driven past the farm hundreds of times.  It's usually pretty quiet, but I've noticed that there is dog agility equipment in one of the fields.  I've never seen agility dogs there.  When I started looking into agility for Jonah, the first thing I did was try to find this farm to see if they might do lessons.  I was never able to find it, and I finally gave up and decided it was someone's private equipment.

Well, it turns out that it is someone's private equipment.  That someone happens to be involved with the ARFF agility club, though, and it is their home field.  After driving out of state for my lessons for a few months now, the prospect of being able to do agility fifteen minutes away from home is some of the best news I've heard in a long time.  The round trip of driving will be less than one way of getting to any of the places we can go for lessons.

Now the only problem is the snow.  They don't have an indoor location, so they don't usually get things in gear until April.  Then I'll be away most of May, so we might not really get into the full swing of things until June, but from a cost perspective, so long as we go twice all year we'll be saving money.  So now we just have to wait.  Oh, and it's snowing again...and the roof is leaking.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dogs! Learning Center

Today Jonah and I went to Dogs! Learning Center (DLC) for our first lesson there.  Jonah was fairly timid going into the new building but we had some time to get comfortable before we really started class.  For the first fifteen minutes we just walked around the arena and did individual obstacles.  We were the only dog there for about 10 minutes, which was a nice quiet way for Jonah to relax.

Jonah was happy to work pretty much right away, even if he wasn't fully comfortable.  We popped over little jumps and did the table and then I took his leash off and did the contacts, chute, weaves, tunnel and tire.  In general his obstacle performance was good.

His contacts were dead on all night.  He was tentative on the dog walk and never cantered across it.  That was a little funny since neither it nor the A-frame were full height, but I guess it was just a new enough place that he didn't trust the equipment.  He was also very wary of the teeter.  He ran past it a couple times, and once he got on, he turned around and got back off.  In the end I lowered it slowly with my hand, and he never did it fully alone.  That concerns me for when we try to go to a trial at a new place, but since we don't have to deal with that just yet, I won't be too worried.  I don't really know what we could do to work on it other than making him extra comfortable with the teeters he has access to and then trying to get him to see as many teeters as possible, but that could be difficult.

Jonah was great with his down on the table all night.  I've been worried that the CPE table mentality will screw up his down, but apparently not.

His weaves were accurate but medium speed.  He was jumping through but he can go a lot faster.

Anyway, we did a course that included a motivating first line, a serpentine, a long line of 5 jumps to threadle, the table and weaves to another serpentine to the teeter.  I was a little worried since we've never been 'taught' threadles (other than by!), and I certainly haven't done them since we were jumping outside.  In one of our classes with Laura she said we shouldn't really have to worry about them unless we were competing internationally, so needless to say they haven't been a real focus for me.

We ran the course clean, but it wasn't always especially smooth.  The threadles were pretty unmotivating for him and he slowed down a lot.  Then the last serpentine needed a rear cross turn to the teeter and it got us kind of disorganized.

After doing the course once we walked and ran it again.  The second time, we weren't supposed to use verbal cues, but we were supposed to only use our body cues.  Other focuses were to get our 'off' hand out of the way and to keep our bodies upright.  Honestly I can't say I was able to think about everything as I did it.  By dropping my verbal cues Jonah and I were really thrown out of the loop for the threadles. He kept trying to serpentine it.  When I was using my voice I was able to catch him before he locked onto the backside of the next jump, but without my voice he just took what he saw.  After a couple mistakes, he got the idea and the line went smoothly.  I think it was a good exercise for us and highly illuminating for me.  I need to clean up my cues so my voice isn't the main 'safety valve.'  We'll still have that when we need it, but it won't be the foundation of our handling.

One more general issue was that he was barking at one of the other dogs.  Annoying, but he stopped after he'd been there for a while.  I don't know what his deal is when he doesn't like certain dogs.  If I know he's in that mode I can generally distract him pretty well, but I wish it weren't an issue at all.

As a whole, Jonah was very good but he never got to full speed, or really anywhere close to full speed.  I liked Carolyn and it was a nice facility (although we've gotten spoiled with size!).  We're looking forward to getting back to it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

All Dogs Gym Trial Preview

Next weekend we're headed back to All Dogs for our third trial.  We're taking a different strategy this time:  I only entered on Saturday, but I entered all four classes.  It will be a long day, but then Sunday will feel like a Sabbath in comparison.

We're also going to have stiff competition.  Luckily at this point I really am feeling less interested in placement ribbons and I care more about qualifying scores.  Here's a look at what's to come:

Round 1:  Jumpers Level 2
     We had such a great run in Jumpers this past weekend I'm just hoping we can live up to that again.  It's a nice way to start the weekend because we'll run a shared course with level 1, meaning it should be pretty straight forward.  If he gets a Q this run, he'd have both the level 2 jumpers legs he needs, so the next time would be level 3 and we'd run with 4/5/C...eek!  Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, there are four 20" dogs in level two.  One is an Enthusiast, though, and I think they get pinned separately.  Anyway, we should get a ribbon if we qualify.

Round 2:  Snooker Level 2
     We've had one successful Snooker run, but I still think it's the most stressful game because there's just not any room for error.  This is another class where levels 1 and 2 share the same course, but practically that pretty much just means we won't have weaves or a teeter.  It should still present challenges.  Anyway, hopefully the reds will be set up generously.  Jonah is one of three Level 2, 20" dogs.

Round 3:  Fullhouse Level 2
     Fullhouse is lots of fun, not a lot of pressure.  So long as I can keep him off the table, which isn't usually a problem, we just have to collect points.  The only issue is that there are six dogs in the class!  That's the biggest class we've been in.  Anyway, we'll see if we can make a good, high point plan, but the stress is on the Q.  This would be our last level 2 Fullhouse leg.

Round 4:  Standard Level 2
     This will be our first shot at level 2 standard, but I think it should go well.  We'll have weaves and a teeter, but he does those well so I'm not too worried.  Actually I'm probably most excited about this run of all of them.  There are five dogs in the class, but since this is the first time we're required to do weaves, my guess is that at least one of the dogs will be slow with them.  I could be completely wrong, but there shouldn't be anything for me and Jonah to worry about and it will be a fun new challenge.

Overall, I think it should be a good (but long) day.

Tomorrow we're off to Dogs! Learning Center for our first lesson there.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jonah!

Today is Jonah's second birthday.  For agility, that means that the next time he gets measured (at All Dogs Gym in a little less than two weeks), he will get his permanent height card for CPE.  I'm sure he will be pleased when he doesn't have to do the measuring thing anymore...until we go to a new venue, anyway.

So, for his birthday we got...a snow storm!  We've got about 6 inches now and we're still supposed to get up to 20 inches total over the course of tomorrow.  That put a damper on pretty much everything:  I had no class today and none tomorrow, Dave worked from home, and all our other activities have been cancelled. We were going to go to Willards Woods for a nice walk, but it seems much safer not to drive if we don't have to.  The paths now are deeper than Jonah is tall, so if he's out on one all you can see is the tip of his tail, which he carries up high.  Luckily the snow is nice and light, but I'm not sure if I'm going to be shoveling off the backyard again.  We're running out of space to put the snow.  The snowbanks where I've piled the snow from shoveling the yard are just about as tall as I am.  It might be time to give up outdoor agility for a while.

We did go to Willards Woods last night as a pre-birthday event.  Mostly it was just cold and windy and we didn't see any other dogs the whole time we were there, but there was one notable experience:  Jonah voluntarily picked up his right lead multiple times while going in a straight line.  The road to recovery?  Well, a very small step, but a notable one to say the least.

In other news, we have a new agility spot lined up.  Joan might have a cancellation at Riverside next week, but in general it looks like my schedule won't match Riverside's or All Dogs Gym, so we're going to start going to Dogs! Learning Center on Friday.  We'll see how we like it.  Two people I've talked to at trials have recommended it, so that's a start at least.  The other point for it is that the owner has been VERY prompt in responding to emails, which is a big deal to me!  I know that's kind of silly, but as someone who's on her computer a lot, I appreciate it.  Jonah will go to the Advanced class.  We'll see how he is.

I also just contacted the local agility club.  They have weekly practice more locally than the lessons we've been going to, so that might be a nice thing to do in nice weather.

Happy Birthday, Jonah!