Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Just a few things of note:

1.  I worked on stumps in our agility area today and had great success!  I think I took out close to 10 annoying, trip-happy stumps.  there are still 6 bigger ones out there, but progress is progress.  We're having a professional come take down a leaning tree and I'm hoping he'll have the equipment to take the stumps out while he's here.

2.  I just downloaded the Clean Run Course Designer software, and so far it seems really great!  I can now make nice course maps for the blog.

3.  I kept my vow and just filled out an entry for a trial in August, complete with a volunteer form.  Hopefully it will go better this time.

4.  I also filled out an entry for our first USDAA trial and it's in the mail!  We'll do one round of Standard, one round of Snooker and then I entered Steeplechase.  I'm already worried about measuring, but hopefully other than that things will go well.  This is very exciting.

Volunteering: Blog Action Day

I'm picking up on the trend of a bunch of other agility blogs today by talking about the topic of volunteering at trials.  AgilityNerd has a good explanation of what's going on and a list of participating blogs if you want to see more.

In reading the posts about volunteering, there was one simple thing that was important to me that other people didn't seem to be talking much about:  knowing how to volunteer.

I would like to be helpful at a trial.  Really, I would.  During the semester, just getting to a trial is a success and I often need to be able to get work done between rounds.  I'm only in class 30 weeks out of the year, though, and I want to be able to lend a hand as much as possible when I have the time.

 During my spring break, I knew I had time to volunteer and I was ready to work.  I signed up for bar setting or leash running because I thought I knew how to do them.  Honestly, my experience was very stressful.  I sat myself down in a chair for ring crew and instantly began to realize that I didn't know what to do.  It was too late to ask questions:  now I was out there on display and there was no one around me to ask!

I was by the first few jumps.  One dog came in the ring and the handler set him up about two feet in front of the 20" jump.  I instantly got nervous.  Here is something that I see a lot in agility but no one seems to talk much about.  If this were a horse, you would not ask her or him to jump a full height jump from a stand still less than a full stride away.  Yet, agility people do it all the time!  Often the dogs are athletic enough to get out of the jam, but this dog was not.  When released, the dog leapt straight through the bar.  Now it was down.  When did I set it?  The dog was out of the way now.  Should I get it now so the course would be ready as soon as the dog finished?  Or do I wait until the end, holding up the next dog for a few seconds?  I compromised, but I felt like all eyes were on me, judging me.

Then a while later, a dog crashed through a double.  I realized I had no idea how the bars had been arranged.  Ascending?  Square?  I remembered CPE is always ascending.  There were so many bars!  Where did they go?  I put them in a way that I would have done it for horses.  Luckily the judge was near me so I asked her.  She came over and quietly showed me the right way:  the back bars are supposed to cross.  She was wonderfully kind about it and I was grateful.  For the moment, I felt good that, even though I was unsure of what to do, people appreciated that I was trying.  Now I know how to set broad jumps.

A few rounds later, though, another bar dropped.  I fixed it.  Then the next dog came into the ring and set up, and a spectator who was watching yelled for them to wait.  She lept out of her chair, climbed over the fence and came brusquely up to the jump I had just fixed.  As she approached, she muttered to me, 'the bar is crooked.'  I looked, and the bar was sitting on the correct cups, the ground was just a bit uneven.  She jiggled it around in the cups, glared at me and stormed back to her seat.  I felt so humiliated!  Couldn't someone have just asked me to check that the bar was in the right cups?  Did she have to rush out into the ring to try to prove my incompetence?  Anyway, I do not mean to rant, but I felt truly awful.

Needless to say, when the round was over I felt exhausted and I fled from the ring relieved.  I haven't volunteered since.  As I'm writing this post, though, I feel ashamed that I simply haven't asked my questions and learned the skills I need to feel confident as a volunteer.  I know that I'm just oversensitive at trials because I still find the whole environment stressful.  But it's summer now and I could be volunteering.  I vow right now that I will volunteer at the next CPE trial I enter.  I will try not to let people's personalities get in the way of my enjoyment, and I will take the initiative to ask questions so that I know how to do my job well before I get out there.  I certainly owe it another chance.  I'm also curious about the potential of putting some sort of volunteer handbook together that people could read before the trial so they know what to do.  On a trial day, everyone is stressed and wanting things to move quickly, so there's not a lot of time for education.  I'd be happy to put time in at home before the trial, but when I've searched for instructions in the past I haven't found them.  Here's a job for someone!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bo-Gee Day Two

Another great day!

Today we went back to the Deerfield Fairgrounds for two more rounds of Standard...our first at level 3.  Today Level 3 ran separately from Level 2, so I at least felt like things were a little different.  This was a new judge for us (although I guess at this point most of the time we haven't had a judge before), and the courses really had a different feel.  They flowed nicely, were a little more spread out, and had multiple tunnel-to-contact tight turns (as in, he'd go in a tunnel next to the contact and it would curve out until it was parallel to the contact.  He'd take the tunnel and then make a tight turn back to the contact.  For an example, see the tunnel to the dogwalk in the AKC finals this year, starring our teacher!  http://www.youtube.com/user/graceDogStar?blend=1&ob=5)

Our first course had quite a bit of looping around, and included 12 weave poles, which I've never had before at CPE.  Apparently in level 3 if there are 12 poles you just have to get them done but if there are 6 you can be faulted if the dog pops out.  The first jump was very close to the fence and the entrance to the field (maybe 8 feet?), so I was worried that his excited bark-and-leap routine that has now become a habit would end up with him being so excited that he would go take the first jump.  He was good, though, and just leapt pretty much in place.  Then we were off.  He wasn't as super-fast as he can be, but he had good pace and flowed around the course beautifully.  He nailed the weave entry which was on a funny angle and cruised happily.  The only thing I would fix was the dogwalk.  It was set up right next to the fence and there were spectators right on the other side.  As he was coming down the ramp, they startled him a little bit and he sort of slid on the dew covered plank.  Again, there was no question that he got his paws in the yellow, but we missed the 2o2o.  Other than that he was super.  First place and Q.  One dog in another height was 2 seconds faster, but Jonah was next.  He beat the second place dog in our class by more than 10 seconds.

Round two was a similar course with a little less looping around.  It only had one of the tunnels with a quick turn to a contact.  This time we only had 6 weaves.  Jonah was pretty much full speed this round, and handled everything with ease.  Again, though, he ran through his dogwalk contact.  We're going to have to really drill this, and if he misses it again in a class or trial I'm going to have to be more strict and not just go on.  A few times this weekend I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but this time it was clear that he could have stopped if he'd wanted.  Anyway, he handled all the tricky parts of the course beautifully:  far side tunnel entry, tough weave entry, a rear cross, etc.  He did slip on the grass at one point but he recovered.  Two obstacles later I slipped but also managed to stay upright.  I guess someone had fallen pretty badly on Friday.  I'm glad we kept our feet under us.  It was the fastest run of any height, so good enough for 1st and Q, beating the next dog in our class by 15 seconds this time.  We got a bunch of compliments.

In general, it was a great weekend.  All his runs were great.  There are three things that stand out for me:
1.  I can be more confident in our handling.  If a rear cross is the best option, I should try to go for it.
2.  That said, I shouldn't be lazy.  I've gotten more comfortable with blind crosses, which are definitely faster, but I know I can get in place for front crosses and the eye contact really is better with a front.  He's focusing on me 100% of the time, and I owe him the favor of doing the same for him.
3.  Our dogwalk contacts need drilling, big time!  This has been a strong suit for him in the past, and I don't want to let it slip!

In other news, a tree fell in our agility area out back so a project for the week is getting that cut up and out of the way.  Hopefully I can work on the stumps at the same time and really get that area in working condition.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day One Review, Day Two Preview

We had a great day today!  A basic, bulleted summary:
  • The weather was wonderful.  It never rained but it stayed cloudy and cool.  
  • We got our Level 2 title!
  • We Q'd in all four rounds.
  • No faults on the day.
  • First or second place in every class, many of which were big classes (as many as 10 dogs).
  • Good focus in a busy outdoor environment.
  • A-frame contacts were great.
  • Dogwalk contacts were iffy.

Our first round was snooker.  I'd walked an ambitious 7-7-7 course which required taking the first red and running all the way across the ring to the 7 (broad jump).  I didn't think it would be a problem because the only thing in his direct line of sight was the back side of a curved tunnel--you couldn't see either of the entrances.  Well, as I warmed Jonah up he was really, really high.  More excited than I've EVER seen him for agility.  When we went into the ring, he started barking and leaping all around.  It was not like anything I'd ever seen from him.  Anyway, he took the first red and then saw the tunnel and before I knew it he had run all the way around and into the entrance.  Oops.  There goes our 7-7-7.  After that, though, he locked in and got the second two 7's and finished the closing beautifully.  One other dog got the 7-7-7, so we ended up in second place, but other than the initial whoops I was very pleased with the round.  It was so exciting to see that he was SO enthusiastic to play agility.  

Round two was wildcard.  This course was exciting because I looked at the map and figured out what would be the easiest course for us.  Then I looked at what the fastest course would be.  They were not the same.  The faster line required two rear crosses.  There is no way that I would have chosen to do this (or possibly even recognized it as a handling option) before I started lessons at DogStar.  I thought, what the heck?  I'll give it a try.  So, we ran a 10 obstacle course and put in three rear crosses.  Definitely a record for us!  All that went beautifully.  What didn't go so well was that Jonah went into a tunnel and couldn't get out!  The bags had fallen in front of the exit, and Jonah had to try to jump over them, bumping his head on the top in the process.  His feet got kind of tangled in the straps.  He got out alright, but both of us were frazzled.  I didn't give him a good approach to the weave poles and he missed the entry.  Once I brought him back, he nailed the poles and got back in a groove for the rest of the course.  I told the judge what had happened and she fixed it for the next dog, but I kind of thought it would have been nice for her to offer to let us re-run the course.  I don't know what the rules are for that, but it slowed us down significantly.  I know handlers are responsible for making sure jump bars are up and in the right heights, but I don't know how we could be expected to look at the far sides of tunnels.  We ended up with a Q and first, so I shouldn't complain.  

Round three was standard.  It was a pretty basic course and it went great.  Only problem was that he was moving so fast on the dogwalk he didn't stick his contact.  He wasn't even close to blowing the contact, but the 2o2o position didn't happen.  We were half a second out of first place, but other than that dog we were at least 6 seconds faster than the next dog of any height and of either level (2 and 3 shared the same course).  That finished our level 2 title!

Our last round was our second standard run, which didn't count for anything since there weren't any day-of move ups.  Jonah came with full excitement, but I didn't bring my full focus.  I forgot to front cross the weave poles because he was moving so fast, and when I tried to throw in a front after the A-frame I was late and pushed him off his line.  I was late with another front cross later on, but Jonah was generous and got the job done.  Again, we were less than a second out of first and six seconds faster than any dogs any height and level other than that (the same dog beat us both rounds).  

All in all, it was a great day with great enthusiasm from Jonah.  We came home with nine ribbons in just four runs, and there were lots of people in our classes who had clear runs and did not place.  

Tomorrow we'll head back for two more standard runs, this time in level 3.  Should be good!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Trial Preview

Tomorrow we're heading up to the Deerfield fairgrounds for a trial.  Here's a really quick preview of what's to come:

Round 1:  Snooker Level 3
     There are seven dogs in our class!  That's a record, I'm pretty sure.  Part of me wants to go for a high point total, but I think I'm going to abandon that ship.  It's the first round of the day and I want to set a confident precedent.  With that in mind, the goal will be a flowing, motivating course with enough points to qualify but not necessarily enough to win the class or even get a ribbon.  If we qualify, we'll be done with level 3 snooker and we'll move on to level 4!

Round 2:  Wildcard Level 3
    This is our level 3 debut in wildcard.  So long as I remember that now I need to do two of the two-point obstacles, I'm thinking I should be alright.  I'll have to keep a heads up for potential off-courses as I walk the course, especially if there's a dog walk anywhere in sight.  Other than that, wildcard courses are usually pretty flowing, so we'll just try to run fast and have fun.  There will only be four dogs in this class.

Round 3:  Standard Level 2, Round 1
     If we qualify here, we'll finish our level 2 title!  I don't have too many plans in mind other than wanting to really handle well enough to pull out that Q.  Level 2 courses, even though this one is shared with level 3, usually aren't too hard.  I think it should be a pretty straight forward run for us, but anything can happen!  There are 14 dogs between levels 2 and 3, but I can't tell how many are in which level.

Round 4:  Standard Level 2, Round 2
     If we don't qualify in round 3, we get another chance here.  It should be easier, too, since usually I think they just run pretty much the same course backwards in round 2.  If we do qualify in round 2, then I think this becomes a dummy leg.  They've said there are no move-ups on the same day between rounds.  It's a little unfortunate because levels 2 and 3 are running the same course, so if I were to qualify I would have done the same exact thing as is necessary for a level 3 Q, but I understand that they have to keep organizational things in order.  That means I'll have a choice.  If he's doing well and still has energy, I'd like to try to really push this course and take risks.  Maybe I'll try a lead out, or rear crosses...who knows!  The other option is, if his energy is not low, I could scratch him.  I don't want him to have any bad experiences in the ring, so we'll see how things are going.

In sum, tomorrow's weather is supposed to be quite wet, with 30-40% chance of thunderstorms all night. I've never run Jonah in the rain before, but in general he doesn't like it.  I wouldn't be too surprised if people scratch, which might make the day go faster.  We'll see.  We also haven't had great success trialing outside before.  So, tomorrow really might be more about overcoming adversity than having super, speedy runs.  We'll see how things go and do our best.  I'm hoping that between our tent and car we'll be able to stay comfortable and dry and that we can have focus in the ring.  

Puppyversary! Part III

When we got home he was relieved to get out of the car.  We gave him some water and a little taste of food, since they'd barely eaten on the van.  Then we walked him around the yard a little bit.  After a few minutes my mom came out and he met her politely, although without the same attachment he'd showed us.  We decided to walk him and Molly (my parents' dog) down to the local school for introductions, since they'd be living in the same house (we live on the third floor of my parents' house).  Molly is not very good with other dogs, so this was sort of a moment of truth.

Jonah trotted merrily down the street with us.  Now that he was outside, he had lost all of the previous fear and seemed to be just thrilled with his new people and the new place.  He was looking around on his own, clearly not heeling, but he never pulled on the leash at all.  I remember thinking that he looked a little bit like a fox.  He has a big bushy tail, pointy ears and his trot just floats along.  Dave and I couldn't stop grinning, and we were laughing that our dog had better leash manners on his first day with us than Molly did after years living with my parents.

Our proud attitude continued when Molly arrived at school a few minutes after we did.  She went crazy, barking and pulling and leaping in an attempt to get near this new dog.  Jonah looked at her like she was out of her mind (which she is, although she's quite endearing in her own way) and was generally unconcerned.  We never got them close enough for a full meeting at the school, and mom decided that we'd have to try again later.  It was the next day before Molly was calm enough to be loose with Jonah.  In general, they now both have Jonah's initial attitude towards one another.  Mostly they ignore each other unless there's a tug toy involved.  Outside, Molly used to chase Jonah, but once Jonah got enough self-confidence to run full speed, she couldn't keep up and he decided to chase her, instead.  She thinks that was utterly ridiculous and refuses to run with him anymore.  Sore loser.

Anyway, back to the beginning.  We brought Jonah back home and finally brought him inside.  It was instantly obvious that he was much happier outside than inside.  Some of the stress came back, and he needed encouragement to go up stairs and down hallways.  For a few weeks, he would hesitate going through doorways.  When we would leave a room, he would come up to the doorway and be afraid to go out of it to follow us, even though he clearly wanted to be with us.  Who knows what that history is.  It was weeks before he would go into our kitchen.  Several times in those first days we had to carry him up or down the stairs to take him outside.  He would just get so nervous and frightened.

From there on out, things got slowly better.  It was a while before he would fully relax in the house, but he was always very well behaved.  We took him everywhere with us--frisbee games, walks, hikes, pet stores...anywhere we could think of.  There were definitely times where he was scared, shy, or nervous, but overall we were such proud new parents that we just had to show him off.  We didn't mind too much when he clearly preferred us to other people, either.

So, here we are one year later.  Our terrified puppy now competes in agility, has run a 5k, kayaks, hikes, camps, and is our very best friend.  I'm not sure I can fully recommend someone else doing what we did, but I can tell you that there's no dog in the world that I'd rather have.  I know we got amazingly lucky.  It's been a lot of fun to go through new experiences with him and watch him blossom and gain confidence.  I dont feel in any way that he's a 'finished product'--we're still learning every day.  Sometimes we even have backslides, but it's alright.  Who could possibly resist that happy grin, or the rolling over for a belly rub, or the wagging delight when we get home.  When we brought him home, I had just started an intense summer program and it was completely draining.  I would study all day until I worked myself into a migrane headache.  As soon as we had Jonah, though, the headaches stopped.  I had a reason to go outside and be thankful.  It's not that my work got any easier, but there was new meaning in my life.  And that's where I'll leave things.  Whatever situation you find yourself in, I hope you can find loving meaning that cheers you every day, no matter how hard the day has been.  I hope you can come home to love.

Puppyversary! Part II

On Wednesday morning June 23, 2010, Dave and I woke up before 6 and got on the road.  We drove south of Providence to a LaQuinta inn and pulled into the parking lot just before 7.  As soon as we reached the parking lot we could hear barking.  There was the Puppybago, a winnebago filled with dog crates, most of which seemed to be full.  One of the drivers was walking a golden, and the other came over to ask who we were.  When we told him we were there for Laddie he looked a little nervous and said something along the lines of how he really hated the crate.  I was worried because I thought he was crate trained and we had the crate all set up in the car.  The driver went in to get our new boy.

I can still feel the excitement Dave and I had.  We were worried, yes, but in a really hopeful sort of way. Then we saw him.  He was terrified and my first thought was that he was tiny and skinny.  I guess he's taller than an average sheltie, but much slimmer.  The driver handed the envelope of paperwork to Dave and I guess the leash came to me.  I knelt down and within seconds Laddie was attached to my lower leg.  I wouldn't say he was friendly, but he certainly wasn't rude.  Really he was just scared to death.  Dave came over and he detached himself from me to immediately connect with his new dad.  It was such a good feeling that, although he clearly had fear issues, he was at least going to trust us for this one moment...He had found his people, and somehow he seemed to know we would take care of him, or at least we were his best shot.  

Then we tried to put him in the crate in the car.  It took some physical encouragement to relax the outspread paws and flailing claws, but eventually we got him in.  The crate was a little small for him, but the driver said it was bigger than the one he'd been traveling in.  Then we got on the road.

He was dirty and he smelled.  He kept farting.  He was drooling.  But somehow, beneath all of that, I was already falling for him.  Dave drove, so I had the luxury of getting to spend most of the drive looking back at him.  We started going through names.  Laddie just wasn't right for us, but we had decided that we couldn't come up with a new name until we'd seen him in person.  I wanted a biblical name.  We thought of Ezekiel (Zeke), Melchizedek (Mel), Luke, Noah, Dan... but finally we decided on Jonah.  Jonah is my favorite book, and somehow it fit.  

To get a sense of what I thought Jonah would look like, here are his ad pictures.  I have one of his agility pictures next to it for noticeable comparison:

Fluffy guy

A little nervous...we saw a lot of that at first

We saw some skepticism, too

But now, usually, he's a healthy, happy guy!

Puppyversary! Part I

I'm writing this post one day late, but yesterday marked the day that Jonah has lived with us for one year.  Since I didn't have this blog when we got him (although now I wish I did, so I could better relive the memories), I'll try to recap the story of how Jonah became a member of our family.

As I mentioned in a post a week or so ago, Dave and I had started the adoption process before our wedding.  There was a puppy in a local rescue organization that we'd been approved for, but we didn't want to bring a dog home until we were back from the honeymoon.  When we got back, the puppy we'd had our eyes on had been adopted.  I remember being in the Seattle airport, waiting for our flight and sending emails in response to ads I'd seen on Petfinder.  When we got back, I would pour through the ads daily and send Dave any links that looked promising.  My general line was, "Am I cute?"  Usually the answer was no (Dave at least at that time was pickier than I was, and the result paid off!).  Sometimes it was yeah.  Often it was 'cute now, but what about when he grows up?'

When I sent him Jonah's picture, I was clearly tired.  The title of the email was "Just One."  Here's the body of the email:
could you look at this guy:  http://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/16639644
> now i'm done with puppies for the day.

The link is still working as of the time I'm writing this post...who knows how long it will last.  Here's the text in case it's down:

On the weekend of May 1, the middle Tennessee area was hit by devastating flooding resulting in more than 30 deaths and historic destruction. 
Many wonderful rescues were heavily damaged by the floods and are in danger of permanently closing their doors. In order to help them, we are assisting them in placing their dogs. 
This handsome gentleman is one such displaced dog. Laddie is a one year old sheltie, possibly a mix. 
He is medium sized, 35-40 pounds. He is excellent with other dogs and cats. Shelties are active, smart dogs who need homes with smart owners who know how to entertain a smart dog. When rescued, he had a broken leg which required surgery and has been repaired. He is now back up and running like nothing ever happened. 
Laddie has been through a lot and is, despite everything, a happy, outgoing boy. He will make a family a very wonderful pet. 
He is available to meet and although he does not belong to Big Fluffy Dog Rescue directly, he is an honorary big fluffy and our resources are at their disposal including our foster network. Here's a chance to adopt a wonderful dog and help a flood victim at the same time. 

Dave's response? "Unadulterated adorableness."

Now when I look at this ad lots of red flags come up:  needing smart owners, broken leg, been through a lot...

But, I thought he was pretty darn adorable myself and I figured it was worth pursuing, so I called Big Fluffy Dog Rescue.  Since I'd already been approved, they had me call the organization who 'Laddie' was with, Hickman Humane Society.  Now, BFDR is located about 25 minutes away from us.  Even when they said this dog did not belong to BFDR, when it said the foster network was in use I sort of figured that 'Laddie' would be in New England.  I was wrong.

I talked to Laddie's foster mom at length.  I learned about his injury.  He had been attacked by a pit bull who grabbed and shook him until his leg broke and they could pull the dog away.  Apparently they'd had to put the attacker dog down due to this demonstration of aggressive behavior.  shudder.  Laddie had  undergone surgery, but the foster mom said he had fully recovered except that he would hop sometimes when she put him on a leash (another red flag?).  I knew we wanted a fit, active dog, so I asked a lot of questions about his leg but she convinced me not to worry.

She was very concerned that Laddie needed room to run, and was very impressed to hear we have a large fenced yard waiting for him.  I was told that he loved his crate, that he was not a big barker, that he was probably a full-bred sheltie, and that he loved to eat shoes.  When we got him, it was instantly clear that he did NOT love his crate and he was NOT a full-bred sheltie.  We've never seen him eat shoes, although sometimes he mysteriously takes my inserts out of my slippers and puts them elsewhere in the room, unharmed.  Luckily she was right that he's not a big barker.

Anyway, I spoke on the phone twice with Laddie's foster mom.  When I learned he was not local, I was very worried.  I had been certain that I wanted to meet the dog before we adopted.  They promised me, though, that if it did not work out one of the BFDR fosters would take him.  We would lose the transport fee, but that would be it.  It was a bit of a gamble, but Dave and I were so excited we just couldn't say no.  So, he was scheduled to be put on transport a few days later.

Last Private for a While

Today we headed back to DogStar for another lesson.  This time Jonah's enthusiasm and focus were much better right from the start.  In fact, he was already restless in the car before we even got there.  I pulled him out of the car, brought him inside, and he was instantly ready to go.  He ran the first course beautifully, handling lots of wraps, a tough off-side weave entry, and a push around a tunnel to an initially-hidden table.  There were some turns I could have tightened up, and he could have been a little faster at points, but in general it was a super course.  His weaves were super speedy--a huge contrast to last week!

Grace had me handle the table with both a push and a pull.  My push had worked fine the first time, but he was focused enough that the pull worked great, too.  When I first walked the course I was unsure if he would get that discrimination.

There was a threadle on the course which we got the first time with my typical handling of sending and waiting for him to come back towards me before cueing the next jump.  Next Grace had me front cross between so I was then pushing to the backside of the second jump of the threadle.  It was a really neat option, and one I want to get more comfortable with.  The first time I did it we got the job done, but I had to run so fast to get in position in time Jonah didn't get the collection cues, so his turn was very wide.  The next time I got ahead but then was just waiting there with my shoulders pointing at him and it was enough pressure that I pushed him off the first jump altogether.  Oops.  So, that's something I want to practice.  When I could get to the front cross, the second jump of the threadle was much smoother.  Now I just need to be able to get there reliably.

We broke the second course up in two parts and practiced the shorter parts before doing it all together.  In the first part, I didn't support an offset, angled jump enough and he missed it, but other than that he was fantastic.  Again, Grace had me run the sequences a few times in different ways.  I put front crosses in different places, did post turns and rear crosses all over, often in places I wouldn't have even considered doing them.  Each kind of handling worked, though.  We didn't miss any more jumps.  It was only a matter of how tight the turns were and how confidently we were moving.  I really like this style of having to try different handling methods.  I know our toolbox is getting much bigger.  Even though at this point I usually like a basic front cross over a lot of other options, I know there will be times where it's hard to get to that spot and we'll need another method.  Now we'll have confidence that we can do things other ways than we're used to.  Yay for learning.

So, Jonah was back to his great normal self for our lesson.  In fact, we're getting so comfortable in this setting that we've decided to change things up!  Starting next week, Jonah and I will be going to a group class so Jonah can get more relaxed having other dogs around while he's doing agility.  Since this is one of the most stressful parts of our trialing experiences, it will be good to have practice without trial stress.  I love our private lessons and I would like to go back to them if Jonah gets to the point where he can do agility with other dogs around and not be stressed, but for now I think this will be a good learning experience for us.  We've come so far in all the other aspects of agility!  It's funny because when he first started he didn't mind other dogs at all, but those few experiences of having on-course dogs come at him in our previous group classes seems to have made a big impact on him.  I certainly can't blame him.  I just hope we can get through it.

As an aside, I'm just really proud of how far we have come.  We'll be in Grace's most advanced class--competition agility.  It's only been around 9 months since we started playing the agility game, and he's gotten (in my opinion) pretty good.  I know we're only in the middle levels of the least competitive agility venue, but when I look at USDAA Masters and AKC Excellent courses, I know that we could get through a lot, if not most of them, right now with the skills we have.  We might not be the fastest team out there, but I'm really happy with where we are, where we've come from, and where we're headed next.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Not Our Best...

Today we had our first lesson in two weeks.  We got there a few minutes early so we just sort of walked around the room and chilled out.  In retrospect, I'm wondering if that was such a good move on my part.  The whole mode of the day turned out to be rather unenthused.

Anyway, we ran the first course, which was basically a big spiral with a few discriminations.  So far as I can remember, Jonah nailed all the discriminations, but he ran right by one of the jumps and then he popped out of the weave poles at pole 10.  I didn't bother fixing the jump, but the weave poles took three tries for him to go all the way to the end!  We haven't had any trouble with weaves in quite a while, so that was a surprise.  Then we were supposed to take that same jump he'd run by and he ran around it again, despite its being on a clear path, and he almost crossed behind me in going to the next jump.  Usually we only retry a section of a course if it doesn't go well, but this one we had to do all over.  When I really baby-sat the jump, he would take it, but he was not driving out to it himself.  As for the weaves, he popped out again at the same spot.  Hmm.

Grace opened the last three poles into a channel and he went through and after she closed it back up he went to the end, but his enthusiasm for the poles was clearly down at that point.  He still hopped through, but it was more methodical and dull than his now-normal driving pace.  Overall, he just seemed distracted and unmotivated.

The second course added some more difficult lines and handling to the discriminations.  Now he was missing the discriminations, blew an A-frame contact and he missed the weave entry.  Geez, it felt like a real back to basics day.   I guess we all have those, though.  We could do everything, but I had to help him a bit with the weave entry and make sure I had his attention early enough before I asked for the discriminations.  Not our best work.

After getting through the courses we did a few exercises with wraps and serpentines.  On one wrap he back-jumped (although according to the AGILE listserve that's all the rage these days!), and on a push-back he went entirely around the jump.  Really?  We just did these perfectly yesterday!  I think I did alright at not showing my frustration to Jonah, but all he really wanted to do was go straight to the teeter. At least he's conquered his teeter fears.

I was almost afraid to ask after this lesson, but when I did ask if Grace thought Jonah was ready to start in USDAA she said, "Oh, he's definitely ready."  So that made me feel good at least.  Hopefully next time we'll be a little sharper!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Big Decision

Well, last week while I was away, I missed an opening date for a trial at All Dogs Gym in July.  Since they fill on opening day, I was a little bummed that we'd miss a trial.  Then I got brave and started to look at what non-CPE trials there are in July that we could potentially substitute.  There are two possibilities, but they are past their opening dates as well, so I'm not sure if we would get in.  Nonetheless, I figured I could go ahead and register Jonah so we would be able to enter future trials.

So...Jonah is now officially registered with...USDAA!

I still don't know whether I'll put him in Championship or Performance, but it feels like a big step.  I'll have to talk with Grace about it tomorrow.  I hope she'll be pleased.

Back to Agility

Well, it's good to be back, as nice as the vacation was.  In the first few days I was back at home, I wasn't very good about making real plans before going out to practice with Jonah, so we largely just did obstacle performance.  His weaves look good, fast and enthusiastic.  His dogwalk contacts are solid, and I can even rev him up so he races into 2o2o before I can catch up.  He's dropping instantly on the table.  His teeter is not particularly fast but he looks happy and confident on it, and he can do it at a reasonable (about 10') distance.

Yesterday I tried to do some distance work, and I met mixed success.  I set up a curved tunnel with a jump outside it, something like this:
        / /         ___
\ \      .  

That probably makes no sense at all, but if you imagine a circle, the tunnel took up about half the circle and the jump was set up so the dog could take it opposite the tunnel on the same, circular path.

Jonah was pretty good if I stayed at the top or bottom of the circle, sent him to the jump and then the far tunnel opening.  

What was more difficult was if I was on the far side of the jump.  He got a little jump-happy and would just jump it back and forth rather than driving out to the tunnel.  We need work on that.  I kind of ran out of ideas, took the jump away completely and just worked on sends to the tunnel.  At one point I would give a verbal 'yes' when he got to the correct entry, and then he would turn around and come back out looking for a cookie.  Then he started jumping on top of the tunnel.  He hasn't done those behaviors in a while, but it was clear to me how difficult the distance really is for him.  He was running through his list of possibilities because he was perceiving it as a new thing.  

Today I set up three jumps.  First they were in line with the second offset a few feet.  The offset was actually a challenge for him and if I wasn't ahead on landing of the first, he would go straight to the third, or recognize my 'out' command too late, turn, and take the second jump backwards.  Once we did it a few times, though, he was cruising.  It looked like this:



Next I moved the middle jump so it was perpendicular to the other two, like this:



I worked on pushing to the backside (so he would jump the middle jump toward me) and the opposite (so he would jump the middle jump away from me).  This was a breeze.  No trouble at all either way.

Then I moved all the jumps parallel again, but this time as a serpentine (as in, I moved the two end jumps in line with the middle jump from above).  We worked on regular serpentines, threadles and pushbacks.  With the threadles, Jonah was backing off a bit, so we took a long break to chase squirrels and practice our other equipment in the back.

The last thing we did was to put the jumps back in line as with the first exercise but with the middle jump only offset by about three feet.  Now he would always take the middle jump unless I pulled hard, which I didn't ever do, as I want him to go find jumps at this point.  I worked on handling the line from as much distance as I could and keeping his speed super high (which it was).  I got to as much as about 20', which is as much as our yard allows.  He was looking great.  

I tried a few lead-outs, and I was pleasantly impressed.  It has always been a challenge to get him excited and fast out of a lead out, but that was not the case today.  Today he actually broke the stay a few times and started leaping through the line of jumps.  Not our usual problem.  He would only break the stay when I tried to rev him from a distance.  I would bend down as if I were about to sprint away, and I would verbally say, "Ready?  Ready?"  That was a little too much at first, so I toned it down a little, but even just the body positioning and one ready made him explode out of the stay.  

So, in conclusion, I have two things I'd like to focus on in the near future:
1.  Distance.  I'll talk with Grace about this tomorrow.  I need to balance enthusiasm and speed with this new skill that often slows him down.

2.  Start line lead outs.  That seems elementary, but it's time to revisit it.  I had abandoned it because he would always be so slow out of a lead-out, but that may no longer be the case.  It may still be a while before we can use it in a trial where he's more stressed out, but we might as well start practicing it some more.

Poconos Finale

This is the last of the Poconos posts.  I thought I'd just upload a few more pictures that we got throughout the week.  It was a lovely vacation and you should get to enjoy some of it, too.

Jonah protecting his kayaks



Me and Jonah, with a stick nearby on the dock

Dave, Jonah and stick

Hi guys, isn't the sunset nice?

Funny expression

Neighbor's dock at sunrise

Sunrise at Fairview Lake

This one is sunset

Pretty, eh?

Human Shaping

Here are a few pictures that I took last week on vacation.  Jonah thinks his people can be a little dense sometimes...

Hey, Dad, are you ready?  We're going to try a shaping exercise.  See if you can figure out what I'd like you to do.  Here we go:

I'm staring at the door.  Dad, do you get it yet?

Daaaaaaad, you're slow.  Hint.  Hint.  I'm staring at the door knob.  

Second Saturday: Promised Land...and Newts!

This is the last of the posts that I wrote while we were on vacation last week.  Sorry...I got a little wordily excited about newts.

- - -

Today we woke up to the soothing sound of rain, and the desire to stay curled up under the covers that accompanies it.  Compared to the temperatures in the nineties from earlier in the week, today the high was in the high sixties.  Dave wanted to go for a run and I wasn’t feeling it, but somehow when I looked at the Promised Land State Park map, the most appealing plan was a nearly seven mile loop, two and a half miles of which were open and run-able. 

Upon arrival, we were immediately bombarded with vicious mosquito rampages and they found the one place we hadn’t thoroughly bug sprayed moments before—our faces.  Within a few minutes the repellent had worn off and they covered our whole bodies with red, ugly, itching bumps.  Oh well.  

We started with the thickly forested area, where the trail was narrow and verging on overgrown.  Jonah almost always likes to lead the way, but when the overgrowth was as tall as he was he chose to fit his way neatly in between Dave and me.  He still wanted to go faster and every few steps I would feel a paw trying to give me a flat tire, but it was better to let me part the branches.  Dave said that, whenever he could, he would peer around my leg like a car inching out before moving over to pass.  As soon as the path cleared out, he was happily back in front.

We didn’t see too many types of wildlife; most of the birds, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, snakes and even bears who we knew were nearby had found places to try to stay out of the light rain.  What we did see were newts…LOTS of newts.  I stumbled across the first little guy just as Jonah stepped on him (he seemed fine—the ground was very soft) and we stopped to admire him.  Then there were three more gathered on a rock.  We began to keep track of who spotted them.  Usually whoever was in front had a defi-newt advantage, but the game stayed neck and neck for a long time.  Four to zero quickly became five to six, then I creamed out to a mi-newt eleven to nine lead, then the score became newt-ral at nineteen and a half to nineteen and a half (we both spotted one at the same time), and then finally we emerged off the small path onto the new(t) big running space.  We thought the game would be over, but to our surprise there were swarms of newts on this big trail.  We were also running at this point, and keeping score became impossible.  After we’d counted one hundred newts we stopped keeping track but they were everywhere and we were doing quite the footwork to try not to step on any as we ran along in the rain, grateful to be fleeing from the bugs and out of the wet undergrowth. 

When we reached the car, we were all hot, tired and soaking wet.  Jonah had rolled in some poop that we had to wash off once we got home, but mostly we were all pleased when we could sit down and relax for the evening after a long hike.  With well-used muscles and bellies full of a newt-ricious dinner, we settled down just in time for the rain to start pouring once again.

Ricketts Glen

Here's another picture post from our week in the Poconos.

- - -

One day when we were browsing the bookshelf, we found a map of Ricketts Glen State Park.  It talked about a 7.2 mile hike around 21 waterfalls, and we decided we had better go.  

It was a hot day (mid 90s), but the trail turned out to be nice and shady.  

The trail had been advertised as 'most difficult,' but we quickly found that our idea of what that meant was clearly different from whoever had written it.  Considering the number of bikini-and-flipflop girls we saw giggling and shrieking in the waterfalls, I would have to assume the map was trying to scare them away.  In fact, even the mileage surprised us.  Due to poor trail marking, we ended up only doing about 3.5 miles, but we still saw 17 waterfalls.  Anyway, it was not what we expected (a long, difficult, quiet, remote hike), but it was quite pleasant.

We put Jonah's pack on him but we only put one poop bag on each side.  We wanted him to get used to wearing and moving around in it without having any real weight.  The pack seemed to work great.  I couldn't tell that it ever bothered him, and it stayed dry inside even when he went in the water.  It did get a little dirty, but that's what it's for.

Jonah was a total star the whole way around.  We kept him on leash and he was super well-behaved.  He didn't pull at squirrels, he walked quietly and politely by every single person we met (we didn't see any other dogs), and he would wait for us when we were going up or down narrow staircases and switchbacks.  Overall, he was an A+ dog for the day.  

I guess that's about all I have to say by way of introduction, so we'll get right to the pictures!

Jonah hitting the trail with his new pack.

Down a stone staircase

Checking in


Saying hi

I love you, Dad.

I hid my mom, I'm so clever.

Mom, quiet.  Dad might not know where you are.

I climb big trees with my dad.

Ok, I know this blog isn't about waterfalls, but I figured I'd show you a few pictures of them while I'm at it: 

The three of us under a big fall.  It was a great trip!


We're still in the Poconos series.  Hopefully I can get up to real time for our lesson tomorrow!  This post was originally written at the end of the week.

- - -

We have taken Jonah out kayaking a few times, and I think he likes it more each time.  The first time Dave had to pick him up and put him in my kayak, but ever since that first time he is happy to jump right into the kayak from the dock.  It's not as wet as jumping into the water!  He also likes to jump onto and off of the sailboat, but we've decided it's not a good idea to take him out sailing.

Once Jonah is on the kayak he is usually very good.  He likes to lean over and get a drink from time to time, and he will shift positions, but he is rarely disruptive.  His biggest problem is when he sees his dad when he's riding with me or if he sees me when he's riding with his dad.  He would very much like to go visit!  When we're close together it's fine, but when we get farther apart, and the one time when Dave was sailing and I was kayaking, Jonah gets pretty excited.  Maybe we should just let him jump some time, but I don't think either of us particularly want to have a dripping wet puppy in our kayak, so we've held off on that so far.  Well, you'll see a slight exception to that in a moment.

Anyway, this is largely a picture post!  I decided I wanted some shots of Jonah kayaking, so we went out with a camera in hand.  Here we go...

Jonah the figurehead

I've been spotted

Alert and stoic

Sometimes you get thirsty...good thing the water is nearby.

Playtime?!  It's hard to see Dave's face here, but if you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see two happy boys at play.



Look what I did, Mom!

There's a rock in one corner of the lake.  We went over to it and Jonah wanted to get out.  I love his zigzag reflection in the water.

Standing on the edge of the rock under a few inches of water, Jonah decides it's a good idea to push Dave's kayak...

...but it backfires and Jonah ends up in the water.  He swims to me (not the rock that's much closer) for help.

Mom!  Dad made me wet.  Somehow he managed to pull himself up onto the kayak while he was swimming, rather than going the three more feet to land.  I was impressed it didn't tip.  Of course, then he was standing on the body of the kayak behind me.  Dave paddled over and got Jonah back into his kayak.

Heading back home.

Anniversary Post

Another of the Poconos series, this was written on June 5, a date that's easy for me to remember!

- - -

Today is Dave and my first anniversary.  That might seem to have little to do with Jonah, but it all feels very connected.  First off, we had already decided that we would get a dog before we had gotten married, but we wanted to wait until we returned from the honeymoon to actually bring one home.  I had already found a five-month puppy who had stolen my heart online.  His name was Nolan, the same name as one of the Duke basketball stars, and he was a precious little (officially ‘medium’ sized) tri-colored guy of clear herding background although you would have trouble pinpointing what sort of herding breed to classify him as.  He must have been a rambunctious little guy, because the description said he would be a great candidate for agility.

As I think about it now, that may have been what got me thinking seriously about the idea of agility.  Since I’d had knee surgery and couldn’t play my normal sports, spending time running around with a new dog could be a good option, and would potentially fill some of the same urges that the horse competitions had done for me growing up.

Anyway, I’d been through all of the screening interviews, paperwork and phone calls necessary to get us approved by the rescue group, but at the end of the process I was told that, even though we sounded like the perfect home, it was policy not to hold puppies.  If Nolan was still available when we got back from the honeymoon, we were first on the list, but if another approved adopter came along while we were away, they had to place the puppy so they could take on a new dog.  Of course, by the time we got back Nolan had found another home.

Another reason why our anniversary is connected to Jonah is that we found a traditional registry useful but also lacking creativity, so we gave people the option to give us puppy money as a wedding gift.  One of our favorite couples actually contacted our vet and found out the exact amount (to the cent!) of neutering surgery and wrote out a check for that, in case we got a new friend who hadn’t yet been fixed.  Others specified that they were contributing to an adoption fee, training classes, vet bills or food costs.  We have great friends.  So, when we finally got Jonah, it really felt like all of our support network of friends and family were with us and that Jonah was a real sign of our new stage in our relationship.  We didn’t want any pre-marital puppies—gosh no!—but it didn’t take nine months after the wedding before our canine child came into the picture.

The Big Splash

Poconos Post #2, and part I of the June 5 story.

- - -

Today we woke up fairly early to go out to the dock before church.  As soon as we got out by the water, Jonah was looking over the edge again.  He would look, then back up and whine.  The looks started to become gazes, and he was leaning out over the edge for a closer view.  Again, he would whine and retract, coming over to check in with us.  We were in no way (at least that I was aware of) telling him to jump in, but it was clearly on his mind.  Next he would reach far enough to get a drink, judging the cool temperature and the distance to the water.  More whines and returns to us for encouragement.  We would tell him he was alright but otherwise we were trying to let him figure this out on his own, and not stress him out if he decided not to.  We didn't want him to think he had let us down.  This was his own idea, after all.  Quickly drinks were not sufficient, and he started taking one paw and stretching it down for a little tap into the lake.  Then whines, backing up and looking for a new angle.  After five minutes of a clearly stressed puppy, he got both front paws down in the water, and then, splash!  I still don't know if it was intentional or not.  He looked surprised at the cold water, and he began to paddle for shore, where he immediately became a hyper excited dog, racing all over the shore and dock with obvious pride.  

It was a really fun thing to watch, although it was clearly stressful for him.  We've seen him get like that before, but it has always been when we're asking him to do something that he's unsure of (for instance, going up or down stairs when we first got him).  This was fascinating because, for some unknown reason, he had convinced himself that he had to do this.  Has he been watching dock diving on TV or something?  Was it a challenge to his doghood or something?  Very strange, but we were all very happy with him because he had obviously overcome a significant mental challenge to splash off the dock.

- - -

For the rest of the week, Jonah only jumped off the dock a handful of other times, but he was never stressed again like he had been.  Somehow he had proved to himself that he was able to do this daring feat, and then he had decided it just was not for him.  He went in the water quite often, but he found that it was much more comfortable to not use the dock at all, go in from shore and swim out wherever he wanted to go.  Not a bad choice, if you ask me.  I've never been one for the big plunge into cold water.  I'm happy to swim if it's cold, but, like Jonah, I'll take my time getting in (although he usually bounded into the water from shore at full speed!).  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Dock and the Millpond

This is a post that I originally wrote on Saturday June 4, when I had no internet.  On our drive to the Poconos, we were listening to a book on tape:  Ian Flemming's Moonraker (a James Bond story).  I think it significantly influenced my writing style, but I figured it's good to switch things up from time to time!

- - -

We arrived in the late afternoon but in the few hours of evening there were already signs of Jonah's improved confidence.  While the last time we were here he never stepped onto the docks by himself, today Jonah trotted carelessly down the dock steps, passed us, and jogged down the length of the dock.  Once he has satisfactorily surveyed the area, he began to start looking down over the edge of the dock and into the water.  I turned to Dave and asked, "How long do you think it will take him to jump in?"  Dave laughed, paused for a moment and replied, "I bet he'll be in by Tuesday."

Before it got dark we decided to go over to the millpond across the street.  It's always very quiet there, and there is a lovely, grassy path to the dam.  The path is probably about three quarters of a mile, so not far, but enough distance that you feel like you've at least accomplished a little bit of something.  We crossed the street, walked about fifty yards around the bend so we were out of view of the street and the potentially fascinating vehicles that might stream by at any moment, unhooked Jonah's leash, and we all started for a run down the trail.  Jonah, of course, exploded down the path while we took a more businesslike pace, but we all at least headed off in the same direction.

Dave and I chatted some and spent some of the time enjoying our quiet surroundings as our footfalls grew synchronized and we settled into our respective wheel ruts that had probably not been rolled over with any wheels for weeks if not months.  The trail clearly had not been mowed this spring and the grasses had begun to bend with their own weight.  It was a perfect haven for hundreds of ticks, a fair number of which decided to hitch rides along with us.

Meanwhile, Jonah grinned merrily as he darted this way and that.  He would race ahead of us, disappear momentarily, and then come running back towards us to remind us that we clearly could not keep up a suitable pace.  Inside, thought, he was pleased that he had enough time to take small detours to pounce on a squeaking chipmunk at the side of the trail, spend a few moments thoroughly interpreting numerous fascinating sniffs, and still maintaining a clear lead ahead of his people.  Not a bad life.

Upon reaching the dam, we all slowed to admire the pond.  There is a small, two-board bridge out to the dam.  Dave and I crossed it, and before we knew it we heard a loud splash.  There was Jonah, amidst a cloud of slimy pond vegetation, looking half shocked by the fact that the water had the nerve to splash back into his face when he leapt on it, and half thoroughly pleased with himself that he had conquered it.  Dave and I were similarly split between shocked laughter and impressed parental pride.  The bridge was a good two feet up from the water--much higher than the dock was from the lake back at the house. Of course, here Jonah could stand, but he did also venture out far enough to take a token swimming loop before emerging like a shrunken, furless cat, shaking vigorously so that he appeared to have been electrocuted, running wildly about, and finally coming back to us for leaping, soaking hugs.

After all that excitement, it was time to head back.  Pushing into our steady running pace, Dave and I enjoyed our own meditative footfalls while being constantly entertained by the notably less consistent but assuredly higher-calorie-burning tracks of our slimy, stinky but exuberantly happy canine companion.  His skunk odor always comes out more when he's wet, so add the skunk to the muddy pond scum and your everyday wet dog goodness and you've got some fine doggy scent going on.  But we were all content as could be.  When the sound of car traffic came back into earshot, we slowed to a walk, clipped the leash back onto Jonah's collar, turned to each other and said, "Let's do this every day."

Week in the Poconos

I have been quiet of late because we spent the last week in Pennsylvania doing nothing but relaxing.  It was wonderful and I was well rested when I started back to class last night.  Most of the week would not be especially interesting to this blog, but I wrote out a few posts while I was there which I will now upload here.  We also got some great pictures, so keep reading!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Camping Adventures

So I entered a trial in early July that's out in New York.  This is the trial farthest away from home that we've done (close to 3 hours.  I know, lots of people probably routinely have to go a lot farther, but I don't like road trips).  I entered it because it's an outdoor trial, a good weekend for our schedule, it's good to try a change of pace, and ... camping.

I was enchanted by the people who camped at Muddy Paws last weekend.  They were right there, didn't have to wake up early in the morning, and had everything they needed.  Of course, the weather was also great, but hopefully it will be in July, too.

This trial site is located within close driving distance of the Catskills, Adirondacks, Green Mountains and loads of other parks.  I figured it could be fun to do a one day trial and then spend Sunday hiking in new territory.  As great as the big parks sound, we're planning a trip to the Adirondacks with my family in October and the Green Mountain park is close to our place in Vermont.  The Catskills have great potential, but I found it challenging to navigate the websites about them.  Thus, I selected a smaller park which is on the way back towards home in Massachusetts:  Mount Greylock.  Apparently it's the tallest peak in MA, which means it's barely a real mountain at just under 4k feet.  I guess you can drive to the summit, but the camping seems pretty remote.  There are 5 first-come-first-serve lean to's in the park which will be our goal, but I went ahead and booked a spot in the campsite in case we're late getting there and/or the lean-to's are taken.  Even the established campsite requires a 1.3 mile hike to get there, so hopefully it won't be loud party type people or especially small children.  I'm sure we'll have a good time no matter what.

Yesterday Dave and I took a trip to REI and looked at tents.  They didn't have exactly the ones we were interested, but we were able to see what the dimensions of tents really felt like.  They had 1, 2 and 4 person tents set up already, and it was clear that the 2 was doable for us plus gear plus Jonah, but it was far from roomy.  The four person tent was unreasonably large and heavy, so we knew a 3-person was just the thing.  We set up a 3-person that they had there for comparison even though it was outside our price range, but it gave us a good idea of what we'd be getting.  Then, when we got home, we ordered our new home away from home:  the Big Agnes Fairview 3.  We found it at a good price ($180) at the REI Outlet.  Unfortunately that means we won't have it for our trip this coming week, but we'll have it in plenty of time to try it out before the big trial.

Our other purchase last night was a pack for Jonah!  Obviously we don't want to put too much stress on him, but I've been reading that dogs over 25 lbs can carry about a third of their body weight.  We'll start light and see how things go, but Jonah could at least carry his own food.  We tried the pack on him last night.  At first he was hesitant to move around with it, but soon he was chasing us around the yard happily.  I think it will take a little getting used to but in the end I hope it's a good purchase.  I'll try to take a picture of Jonah with it on, but for now here's the ad picture.  The product is the Ruff Wear Approach Pack.  We generally consider him to be a Medium size dog, but we got the Small pack and it's the right size for him.

And a shot with it on a dog:

So, this whole backpacking and camping will be a bit of a new adventure for us, but I think it has great potential.

Second Lesson Back

Yesterday we had another great lesson at DogStar.  Our opening 'warm-up' course was pretty basic--mostly just a big spiral.  Jonah's energy was good but I didn't support him enough on a push to an off-set jump, which he ran right past.  We tried running that line a few ways.  I'd initially pushed and pulled all from one side, and my second attempt at the same handling worked fine.  What actually worked better, though, was to handle from the other side and rear-cross the last jump.  It was nice that he was moving along enough that the rear was not de-motivating.  I think he actually liked it.

The second course brought out a few more issues:
1.  I tried a lead out on an angle.  He held the stay fine but ran right around the jump, and didn't have any energy.  Apparently running with him is still the best option when it's possible.

2.  We had some table issues.  Twice he approached the table with so much speed he couldn't stick a landing and had to jump off the other side.  A couple other times I had to ask for a down verbally--he didn't do it automatically.  Apparently we need some more table practice.

3.  There was one incident of dogwalk suck.  He came out of a tunnel facing the dogwalk and, instead of finding me and curling around to a jump, he took the dogwalk.  The next time we did the same question all I needed was a verbal 'here' to pull him off.  Jonah's been very good about not taking off courses lately, so I don't think much about them when I'm walking a course.  I should be a little bit more heads up about dogwalks in particular.

4.  Jonah's contacts were good all day.  He did fall off one dogwalk contact (He was running so fast he didn't get the stop while his back feet were still on the board.  He did stop, it was just a step past the contact zone), but otherwise we had no problems.  Grace said we'd done a really good job with them and in general I have to agree.  I think he's quite reliable with his dogwalk contacts.

5.  We played with two ways of wrapping, and I think it was a valuable exercise.  The course came out of a tunnel, turned right, wrapped a jump and then went back in the opposite direction.  When I first walked it I was thinking I would wrap to the left with a front cross.  Grace suggested a wrap to the right with a post turn.  I asked her what the benefits were either way, and she said that it often slowed dogs down to have to change leads (which the wrap to the left required).  I'd never thought about that before, so it's another consideration to add to my toolbox when walking courses.  The first time I ran the course I followed Grace's suggestion and post-turned to the right.  It was effective.  The next time I wrapped left with a front cross, and Grace and I both thought he seemed happier that way.  We didn't have a watch on it to time the difference, but a happier dog is a good enough reason for me.  My guess would be that it was faster, too.  So, conclusions I could draw from this are:  a) Maybe Jonah changes leads quickly.  b)  Maybe Jonah prefers a path with less back-tracking.  c)  Maybe front crosses are tighter than post turns.  d)  I should still continue to play with handling lots of ways so I have lots of possible options that I am confident Jonah will do well.

6.  The one other challenge of the course was an offset line of jumps.  First I handled it all on one side, and it worked.  I had to be careful with my footwork, as I had to wait for him to approach the first jump out of a tunnel, then I drove and pushed to a tire, and then I had to hold up and have him come back towards me to get a tough angle on a third jumps.  It felt like I was playing stutter step, but we got it done and his path was actually pretty fluid.  Next Grace wanted me to get a front between the tire and the third jump.  The first time I didn't get there in time because I waited too long for the first jump.  Then I tried three more times, and Jonah was so speedy that I just could never get there in time!  I knew I was late, so I never even put the cross in, because I knew it would jam him and I want to always be rewarding him when he kicks it into such high gear.  Thus, we gave up on the front cross :).  Instead, I did a double rear cross.  After we'd had so much success with the single rear cross, it seemed like a good idea.  The first worked great, and he got the approach to the jump fine (but maybe wider than ideal?), but then he needed to just drive straight to a tunnel, and instead he tended to curl back around to find me.  It only took a step or two for him to pick up on the new direction, but it was still an awkward, inefficient couple steps.  Even when I used a verbal 'tunnel' cue, Jonah's footwork wasn't perfect.  The rear cross works well for us when it's a bit of a wrap, but our straight rears need work.  Anyway, the last time running the course I went back to the one-sided handling, which was a little more awkward for me but he ran smoothly.

Overall, it was a very good lesson.  I think Grace wants us to go ahead and get into either USDAA or AKC.  We'll have to see.  I'm still wavering day by day as to which one.  Grace seems to prefer USDAA.  Anyway, we've got a good summer schedule lined up with CPE and I still want Jonah to get his CATCH, so we need CPE trials.  Plus, the pressure is low and it's lots of fun!