Friday, May 27, 2011

Lesson at DogStar

Today we had our first lesson at DogStar, and we had a great time!  There were differences in style, but I think we'll get a lot out of lessons with Grace.  For example, when I'd arrive for a lesson with Joan, she would always ask first what I wanted to work on.  Grace already had courses set up with numbers and just had me walk the first course.  That worked well and her courses were good, especially since we've been away from agility for a while.  I'm just going to have to be proactive if there's something in particular I want to work on in future sessions.

The first course was fairly short but had some good questions.  There was a push to an off-side weave entry, a bunch of wraps and some otherwise tight turns.  He nailed the weave entry and weaved well (he's hopping through consistently now, so his footwork has improved).

Wraps are definitely something we need to work on.  When I stop moving, Jonah likes to stop, too.  I pulled him off one of the jumps the first time through the course because I changed direction before he had committed.  He stopped on a dime, turned, and started running after me in the new direction.  It was a great reminder for me.  In general, I haven't done much practice with wraps because I think they're demotivating for him.

Grace suggested doing 'suicides' with two jumps a stride or so apart where we just run back and forth with wraps, so he gets used to the idea of committing to a jump, taking it, and wrapping tightly to catch up to me while I go ahead and start moving to the next jump.  We'll have to try that.

One other thing Grace emphasized which I thought made a lot of sense was that I should be a little bit more active with my verbal cues.  If, when I stop for a wrap, I verbally say 'jump,' he knows not to stop and follow me but to go out and jump and then catch up with me.  I can also often wait closer to the jump he's wrapping to let him feed off my acceleration steps when he lands.  He's not super happy being away from me, so I should support him as much as I can.

Other than pulling Jonah off that one jump, he was very good.  His energy and speed were great.  The one other mistake was that he ran through the weaves between a jump and the A-frame.  Looking at it afterwards, that line was the fastest, but I need to be careful to notice things like that in a course walk, because it would count as an off course.  I tried it again and just paused for a moment to change his line towards me rather than the weaves, and it worked beautifully.

After working through the first course and tidying up our lines in shorter sequences, we ran through a second course.  Its challenges were a pull off the A-frame to the weaves to a cross and a few long open lines to a turn where I had to really move to get in place for a front cross.

The first time through, something happened (a loud noise, I think) and Jonah got flustered on the A-frame which resulted in him missing his weave entry.  We went right around again, and without the distraction he nailed it nicely.  The first time I did a front cross at the end of the weaves and it worked fine, but then Grace challenged me to try a blind cross at the end of the weaves.  I've never blind crossed anything other than a tunnel before, but I figured it was good to try new things in a lesson.  It actually worked great.  Once Jonah is in the weaves, he very rarely pops out, so I wasn't too concerned about that, and it definitely allowed me to keep a better sense of where I was going next.  Grace says some dogs speed up when they see their handler's back.  I'm not sure how much he sped up, but it's good to know that I have a new tool if I needed it.  I think it would be more beneficial on a 6-weave set, since it's harder to get in front of him there than on 12 poles, as we did yesterday.

As for the running lines, I found that I wanted to babysit him a little through angled jumps and then I didn't have time to get ahead for a front cross.  When I just trusted him, though, he found the jumps just fine and I got in position.

One more thing I learned on my front cross positioning is that I was trying to block his path, which made him chip and slow down to stop in time, but he didn't know yet where he was going next.  When I did the front cross earlier and immediately started moving in the correct direction, he still made a sharp turn but it was more flowing to continue on to the next obstacle.

I had been worried about the A-frame contacts, and Grace and I talked about it some.  Her opinion was that, if I'd only been called on one contact, I was doing well.  She agreed that it was more natural and comfortable for him to have a running contact, and she thought that, based on how he was running, he would be consistent enough to keep with the same plan.  Apparently many people aim for an 80% success rate with contacts, and he's only been called on one out of probably more than 30, so over 95%.  For now at least it's not going to be a big focus for us.  If we have more trouble in the future, maybe we'll return to it.

Overall, the lesson showed me that I need to work on wraps, be more vocal with verbal cues when I'm not reinforcing him with my own movement, and it also gave me confidence that we're doing pretty well.  He was very confident and fast which meant that I had to be a better, faster handler.  I always used to feel like I was able to get to the right place at the right time without much trouble, but when he's fast it makes my job a lot harder.  I'll take that problem any day, and I hope I'm up to the challenge.  He's such a great agility partner and he seems to be growing with me, getting faster right when I'm ready to be pushed a little more.  Thanks, Jonah!

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