Sunday, July 31, 2011

Family Socialization

After our trial we drove straight to the Poconos to see Dave's parents and aunt and uncle.  I was worried that Jonah might be a little grumpy after a stressful day, but he was wonderful.  He actually wagged to meet Dave's aunt and uncle and was quickly on his back asking for belly rubs.

We all went out to ice cream, and Jonah was mostly good on the walk there and back.  There were lots of people, a busy road and other dogs.  He was perfect with other dogs, good with cars (and motorcycles), but questionable with people.  While most of the time he walked by quietly, he barked at four different people.  I have a bit of a sense of what dogs will bother him at this point, but I can never tell with people.  He barked at three men and one little girl.  I'm guessing the girl looked at him and got excited, and we know that men make him more uncomfortable in general.  Dave really doesn't like it when he barks at people, as he was dog-shy as a kid and knows how scary it can be to have a strange dog bark at you.  It's a bit of a bind:  he won't get better if he doesn't meet people, but he can be rude when he does meet people.  On this trip there was a little more going on than ideal, and he was overstimulated.  We should try to keep him out of those situations, but again it's hard to know how many people will suddenly show up or what dogs will walk by or what kind of vehicles will be on the road.  We're making progress, but sometimes it's very slow.

Today Jonah got to take two runs out to the millpond and he enjoyed swimming both there and in the lake.  He got lots of cookies from my father-in-law, Burt, whom Jonah has always been somewhat shy of.  Jonah warmed up to him this weekend.  One of the highlights of the weekend was when Burt grabbed a handful of cookies and asked Jonah to sit.  Jonah sat and received a generous collection of cookies.  Burt asked for his paw, which Jonah obediently gave.  More cookies.  Then Burt looks over to Dave and asks, "What else can he do?"  As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Jonah drops into a down and starts wagging, staring expectantly up at Burt.  It was hysterical.  He got lots of cookies.

When we left, everyone commented on how well behaved and nice a dog he is.  I was proud.  I know I can be critical at times, but he really is a truly remarkable dog and we are so blessed that he graces us with his presence and asks so little in return.  

Our USDAA Debut

Well, we survived our first USDAA trial.

It all started with a hectic drive on Friday night, trying to get there in time for measuring.  There was significant traffic and rain, which turned the 1:45 minute drive into a 2:45 drive and meant we arrived 15 minutes late.  Mercifully, though, when I wandered over to ask where we should set up, I happened to ask the judge who said I could bring Jonah over to be measured.  Win!  I grabbed him, the card and some cookies and we headed over.  He got right on the table, but as soon as the judge moved the wicket he hopped off nervously.  After that, though, he went back on and stood quietly.  Luckily there weren't any other dogs around and things were nice and quiet.  He measured just under 19", which was a surprise since he measured over 20" every time he was measured in CPE.  It's a nice surprise, though.  After that, we set up our tent, got dinner and headed to bed.

The night was quiet and I slept well, but it was morning before I knew it.  I collected my course maps and started to get ready.  The courses seemed pretty simple.  Snooker was not particularly flowing and there was a funny spot in the steeplechase with a tough weave entry, but otherwise things looked quite manageable.

I watched the Advanced Standard class and was generally unimpressed.  That was a relief, since I knew Jonah could be better than a lot of the dogs in Advanced, who were flying off teeters, weaving poorly and having other troubles.  When I watched the Masters ring, I was hugely impressed.  Not with every dog--there were lots of the sort of dog you'd see at CPE--but some of the best dogs were pretty phenomenal.  Jonah will probably never be as driven as those dogs, but I hope that some day we can be as accurate.

When our turn came for Standard, I ended up getting Jonah warmed up a little too early, and I think by the time he went in the ring his enthusiasm was a bit lower.  The dog before us had some trouble getting its collar on, so we had to wait a while in the ring before we started.  Jonah didn't get all barky and leapy and excited, but I didn't think much of it and off we went.  He was obedient but somewhat unenthused down the first line:  jump-teeter-tire-tunnel.  No problem with the smaller tire or the 22" jump height.  Out of the tunnel he got his weave entry but popped out around pole 4, looking distracted.  I brought him back and he weaved through all 12 but not as fast as usual.  Then we picked up some speed again:  chute, A-frame with a nice running contact.  Then:  embarrassment.  I said, "table," ran up to the table and stopped.  Jonah ran right around it, realized I had stopped, stopped and looked at me.  "Table," I said again.  He was puzzled, but trying to do what I wanted he went under the table, turned around and looked at me from the other side.  Poor guy.  He's never seen a 24" table and did not generalize that this might be one.  Then he got it and hopped up into a nice down, but seconds had ticked away.  The rest of the course ran well, and his closing line was as fast and motivated as ever.  We got our Q and finished 4th out of 9 (7 BCs, 1 aussie and Jonah).  If it weren't for the table confusion, he would have been second.  Overall, not a great run for us, but perfectly acceptable.

Snooker was less acceptable.  We were waiting at the gate when the dog before us got a case of the zoomies, went off course, DQ'd himself, and then decided to exit the ring at full speed.  Jonah, waiting his turn, happened to be right in the way of the exit.  Before I knew it the dog was at us barking.  There were no teeth or aggression but a lot of barking, which Jonah of course joined in.  I pulled him into the ring while the other dog's handler apologized profusely.  I wasn't angry--I knew the dog was just being a dog, but Jonah was clearly frazzled.  I set him up and led out.  He held his stay, but his ears were flat against his head and he kept glancing over his shoulder to try to make sure he was alone in the ring.  Our first two jumps were good but then when we went back towards that corner of the ring he just stopped.  It took some encouragement for him to pop over our second red and head to the 7 obstacle, the weaves.  Still nervous, he missed the entry and then popped out.  I knew we were short on time.  Well, then he pulled the next red so I just went to the closing.  The whistle blew as we were in the air over the last part of 7.  If he had landed before the time was up, we would have qualified.  So close.  It was a frustrating run.  I'm not sure if the incident with the other dog was the cause of his stress or not--it could have been the heat or anything else.  Anyway, only one Starters dog of all the heights managed to qualify and we still got a yellow ribbon.

Our third round was steeplechase.  It seemed like everyone was crowded around the ring.  The first few 22" dogs were spectacular:  not a paw out of place and as fast as I've ever seen in person.  I knew Jonah had no chance of competing with those dogs for time, but the course was doable and we headed out there.  Again, he didn't bark or leap or get excited like usual, but he started pretty well.  The first third of the course ran clear but just not his top speed.  Then we got to the weaves and he popped out again.  We went on and a few jumps later he just ran right around a jump.  He did nail the second weave entry, which was a tough 90 degree off-side entry.  Then we turned for the closing line and picked up some speed until he ran right past the last jump.  I called him back and he backjumped it.  Disqualified.  Sigh.

I was frustrated.  He's been running so well in class lately, with no signs of nervousness.  Today was a different story.  I felt like this was exactly what I'd wanted to get through before we went to USDAA, but I guess I failed at that.  Still, I know it could be a lot worse and I'm proud of him, but it's aggravating when I don't know what's causing the stress and thus I don't know how to fix it.  It turns my fast, accurate dog who loves agility into a begrudging companion who isn't having any more fun than his handler.  He'd been doing much better at trials lately (well, our last wasn't our best, but it was better than this!) so I thought he was over his trial stress, but clearly I was wrong.  I need to remember that he's still been doing agility for less than a year and he's a green dog at competitions.  It's not always going to be linear improvement for us.  Just because we've grown in leaps and bounds thus far doesn't mean it will continue like that.  Now the things that are difficult are harder to fix than simply teaching how to tip a teeter and the like.  These are deeper issues of fear and confidence.  He's been great at some trials, so I know he can do it, but I need to not expect that from him to the point that I'm disappointed when he's nervous again.  He needs my full, approving support.

So, big take-aways from the weekend:
-I need to work more on weave poles and making them have a big payoff.  His weaves have never been an issue for him while trialing, but that stood out this weekend.  When he was unenthused, he just didn't want to do them.  He will get lots of cookies for weave poles in his near future.

-My lower expectations at trials.  I am competitive, but he's not ready to be competitive all the time yet.  This is all about him having fun and gaining confidence.  When I expect him to perform and he doesn't, I get frustrated and am not as encouraging for him.  That only makes him think trials mean a dissatisfied mom, which is the last thing I want him to think.

-If I can, I should find a 24" table to practice on.  I felt so bad that he clearly just didn't understand what to do on it.  Poor guy.  Hopefully this one should be an easy fix once he gets it!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Class Number Five

Jonah was excellent at class yesterday.  The courses were fairly open, so we got to run fast and have fun without many problems.  Here are some high/low lights:

-In the first course, we did a nice slingshot start so I could get ahead of him to push him off the dogwalk in a dogwalk/tunnel discrimination.  It worked beautifully.

-Then there was a jump with a 180 degree turn back to the dogwalk.  If you tried to support the dogwalk too much you could push the dog off the line and back into the tunnel, but if you didn't support it enough the dog would miss it altogether.  Luckily Jonah loves his dogwalk and is pretty independent with it.  As he landed off the jump I just said "walk it" and boogied out of there.  He nailed it.

-At the end of the dogwalk was a flip to a tunnel.  This is one of those things that is in a fair number of courses but we haven't ever had to do it before.  Jonah got the flip great, but his contact was a little slippery (as in, he didn't hold his 2o2o until released).

-Jonah pulled a bar because I didn't give him a good approach to a triple bar jump.

-Grace suggested I try blind crossing the teeter.  He flew off!  Oops.  That's a homework assignment for us.  Not that you need to blind cross a teeter that often, but we might as well have the tool.

-The second course went very well.  There was a tough turn in the opening where I had to move my front cross to improve his line, but generally it was good.

General thoughts:
-Jonah's table looked better, with good, fast downs.

-We ran the dogwalk a few times after class to get solid contacts.  I'm not pleased that he's gotten relaxed about the 2o2o when he's not at home.  We'll have to keep drilling it, but it's tough when we don't even have the dogwalk up every week for class, and he's always perfect on his dogwalk at home.  silly boy.

-I think I've gotten too fond of the blind cross.  I'm only going to use it when necessary at a trial.  It's still not a bad thing to practice, but it gets us both a little confused about where we're going.

So, this afternoon we're hitting the road and heading out to our first USDAA trial.  I'm kicking myself a little bit, because I realized something that I hadn't thought of before:  I want Jonah to be jumping 22 inches.  I think he will measure into that height category for Championship, so I didn't want to do Performance because I don't really want him jumping 16".  But, I realized that I could just put him in the 22" Performance division if I wanted!  I'm not sure he would even need to be measured if I did that, because it's the highest Performance height category.  I know Jonah would love to not need to be measured as much.  Anyway, we're going to see how things go tomorrow and then I'll make a decision about what to do in other trials.

As we left, Grace told us, "Go kick some border collie butt!"  So, that's what we're going to try to do :).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Trial Preview...Gulp.

I'm not sure what I signed up for.  This could be embarrassing.  Why did we want to do USDAA??

Here's what we have ahead of us:

Round 1:  Starters Standard
     There are nine dogs in the class.  There is Jonah.  There an Aussie.  There are 7 BCs.  I know the whole point is just to qualify and have a nice clean run, but it doesn't really seem fair.  He's just not as fast and driven as Aussies and BCs.  I guess I could put him in Performance.  We'll see.  Also, aren't Aussies and BCs bigger?  I figured most of them would be 26" dogs (OK i just checked.  The Aussie breed standard is apparently 18-23"and BCs 18-22" so I guess they're not really bigger than Jonah).  Oh well.  At least Standard is my favorite class.

Round 2:  Starters Snooker
     This is a little more manageable, perhaps.  Six dogs in the class, only half of which are BCs.  One Golden, one Kelpie, and Jonah.  My concern for Snooker is that we're used to much longer times, so I'm going to try to shoot for a faster opening to hopefully get through the closing before time is out.  You need 39 points to Q, so that's actually a pretty low point opening.  It would be nice to get a placement ribbon since this is by far our best shot, but the Q is first priority.

Round 3:  Steeplechase
     Yeah, there are 29 dogs in the class.  19 are BCs, 6 Aussies, 2 Goldens, 1 Lab, Jonah.  We'll give it our best shot, but something tells me we're probably not going to qualify.

Ugh.  I feel like I'm that pretender who doesn't even have a 'real dog.'  Not that I actually feel like Jonah is not a real dog.  I love him so much and I'm super proud of him.  I just feel self-conscious that that will be everyone else's opinion.  In CPE, there are tons of All-Americans and less athletic dogs, and no one ever seems to think twice about it.  I feel like now there's more pressure to do well or people will think we don't deserve to be there.  I know Grace said we're definitely ready, but I'm worried.  

I guess it will just be a completely different mindset from CPE.  If I get 2 Qs, I should be really, really proud.  I shouldn't care about placement ribbons, and I should just be excited to be there with such other wonderfully talented dogs.  And, if it's really that bad, we never have to do another USDAA.  Or we can do performance (where there are a LOT fewer dogs)!  Or we could try AKC, where there's less time pressure. I don't really know what to think.  Sigh.  Maybe it won't be so bad...

Wednesday Happenings

1.  I finished cutting up the fallen tree so that I can move it out of our agility area!  Now I just need Dave's help to move all the pieces completely out of the way, but I rolled them so they're under the dogwalk and not a hassle for the moment.

2.  Jonah went to the vet today for his lyme vaccine.  He was still quite nervous but I didn't have to carry him this time :).  He got to use the step-on scale rather than the terrifying moving table.  The vet told him, "If you can do agility you can do this."  And he walked right on.  She thinks he's a little thin, so I guess he gets more cookies!  At one point the vet looked at Jonah and said, "You love that person, don't you." It made me smile.

3.  I set up this course in our agility area.  I love it back there.  Yes, there are trees to avoid, but it's cool, shady and the footing is great.  How lucky are we?!  The only problems we had were that he popped out of the weaves at the last pole since he was turning right and I had large lateral distance to get in a front cross before the tunnel, and missing 16 altogether in the closing line.  Both were easily fixed, and he ran pretty well.  He wasn't quite as enthusiastic at home as he usually is at class or trial, but maybe I need to bring out the good cookies at home as well.  I typically just give him pieces of his food at home.  Anyway, I thought this was generally a nice course:

Monday, July 25, 2011


Sorry I've been a little slow with the posting lately.  Not to make excuses, but I've been busy preparing for my first triathlon, which I did yesterday and which went very well.  I felt slower on the run than I would have liked, but I still managed to win my age group with a time of 1:10:49.  There's still a lot of room for improvement when I decide to do it again, though...I was even beaten by a 63 year old woman, and I was close to 20 minutes slower than the fastest time!

Anyway, in the dog world Jonah, Dave and I headed to a run-thru at DogStar on Friday to work on project distraction.  Jonah was somewhat distracted, but not by Dave.  He caught a form of tunnel suck and we just had major trouble with a tunnel/A-frame discrimination.  Jonah was also blowing A-frame contacts.  A-frames are very expensive and hard to build, so I was really hoping we wouldn't have to make our own, but we'll have to see how things go.  Anyway, Jonah had some great moments but in general wasn't at his very peak.  He was good with Dave walking around near us, away from us, being out of sight, etc.  The only time I noticed Jonah really look for Dave was when, at the same time, the outside door opened, Dave left and another dog came in.  The result:  Jonah popped out of the weave poles, but he came right back to me and went back to work.  Things could have been much worse.

We've also been doing some socialization trips and Jonah has been doing much better.  I'm working on not putting pressure on the leash from my end so that I'm not making him more nervous, and he's had multiple polite interactions on-leash now.  Good boy.

This is our last week before our USDAA trial!  I want to make sure Jonah's obstacle performance is sharp, but I'm not going to try to do too much this week.  I've seen that if I overtrain he gets a little dull, and I want this to be fun for him.  So, I have a few main tasks for the week:
-Get the chute out and do it a few times, since he has never seen one in a trial and rarely sees one in training.
-Drill our dogwalk contacts a few times a day.  He's always great at home, but I just want to make sure good, solid 2o2o is firmly in his mind this weekend.
-Work on fast downs on the table.  We don't need to waste extra seconds there if we can avoid it.
-Measure Jonah at home.  I want to have a good, current sense of how close to the cutoff he is.  If for some reason he manages to measure up, there's no way I will make him jump 26" and I'll put him in performance.
-Be a good handler at class on Thursday and make sure Jonah has an awesome time!

Better Late than Never

There was no professional photographer at the Sugar Bush Farm trial, but here are some shots we took of the beautiful morning after the rain:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hot Hot Hot!

A major heatwave has hit the Boston area and it's having an effect on our agility.  For the last few days, I haven't wanted to do much with Jonah in our yard because he's sluggish and unmotivated.  I just don't want him to associate agility with slow, uninterested work.  So, he's had some time off.

We did go to our lesson in DogStar's airconditioned facility yesterday.  Mostly Jonah was very good.  He was excited and fast, but that came with a bunch of 'mistakes.'  Here are some high/low lights:
-The do before us had been having trouble with a jump near the fence at the edge of the ring, so I pushed out to it more than I normally would.  Jonah read my body language very seriously and jumped the fence!  I was laughing so hard I had to take a minute to regroup.  He was trying to do the right thing.  Good boy.

-In his excitement Jonah missed one weave entry.  It was a tough entry, but he's still been very good lately, so I didn't anticipate it.  At another point I got a fair amount of lateral distance from him while he was weaving and he popped out around pole 10.  I was encouraging him and I think sometimes I need to leave him alone more.  Also, while it's good to test his independence, I shouldn't take things for granted in a trial.

-Jonah missed a couple A-frame contacts, also when I had lateral distance from him.  He would turn rather than going down to the end and hop off before getting to the yellow.  This is somewhat frustrating because I can't currently school an A-frame at home.  I guess for now I should just babysit the contact a little--not be far away and slow down as he's coming down te ramp.  Not where I'd like to be, but not the end of the world, either.

-Aside from those little troubles, Jonah was mostly very good.  He was really moving and handled some tough jump sequences very well.  good boy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Pictures

I just got my pictures of the Bo-Gee trial from John Woolley Photography!

I like these two jumping pictures a lot.  They are visual evidence of our improvement.  The jump is in the closing line of the course, where I took a leap and did a double rear cross.  I'm pretty sure this was the first time I had done a rear cross in a trial on anything other than a tunnel.  Anyway, Jonah used to be slow enough that it was never any trouble for me to get ahead of him to put in a front cross.  At this trial, though, he was speedy and I couldn't get there in time.  I knew he was running well when I walked the course, so I decided I might as well try it, and it worked beautifully.  

Other things of note:  
1.  In the first picture Jonah is nicely jumping near the stanchion.  The next picture looks like he's more in the middle of the bar.  I guess he could be closer, but I think it's not a bad line.
2.  In the first picture, Jonah is focused on me behind him.  By the second shot he is clearly picking up his left lead towards me and has spotted the next jump, on which he is now focused.  If I'm not confusing myself, I think he took off from the right lead based on the fact that his left hind is farther extended on the take-off.  That means he changed his lead over the jump, as he should for a rear cross.
3.  Jonah's jumping form over the first jump has his paws straight out in front of him rather than his usual tuck.  I'm not sure what that means--it might just be a timing thing.
4.  I'm actually in these shots and, at least in the first image, I look like I'm running along pretty well :).

This is the first good tunnel shot that I've seen of Jonah.  Since I'm trying to collect at least one shot of each obstacle, this is a good addition to the collection.  It seems like he is on the far side of the tunnel which might make his line a little longer, but it looks like he's moving along pretty well and pushing off the ground to catch up to me.  I like how his ears are flopping in the breeze.

I love photos from trials and of Jonah in general.  Some day I'll do a non-agility photo shoot with him, too.  I know I'm biased, but I think he's a very handsome boy.

Socialization Project Update

Socialization is a frustrating thing.  It takes so long, and progress is far from linear.  When we teach Jonah a new trick, he is quick to learn it.  A few sessions and usually it's done.  Then he remembers it.  But socialization is different.  Sometimes I wonder if we'll ever get 'there.'  Hopefully we can at least get better.

I've been taking Jonah to Beaver Brook a lot lately.  We work on loose leash walking, focus and just doing tricks and ground work while other dogs are around.  That part is going very well.  There are lots of distractions there, from yelling children to chattering squirrels to barking dogs.  So far as those distractions stay about 15 feet away, Jonah is doing very, very well.  Unfortunately those distractions do not always keep their distance.

My general plan is working with him on focusing on me despite distraction, but that plan has some setbacks.  For instance, now dogs will run up behind him, he'll be focused on me, and then the dog will sniff his butt and Jonah will be so startled that he leaps around and barks.  I can't fully blame him.  The other day there was a nice lady with a corgi who asked us if Jonah was a BC.  We were talking with her for 30 seconds or so, Jonah was completely focused on me, and she came closer until we were at a normal talking distance.  Well, somehow Jonah's focus on me had kept him from realizing there was another dog nearby.  When he finally realized it, the dog was only 5 feet away or so.  For a very smart dog, he's not always very aware.  I guess that's kind of the point of the focus work--is so that they don't have to worry about the distraction.

The real goal, though, would be for Jonah to fully realize what is happening and to be alright with that.  It's ok if a dog approaches him, and even if it barks at him he doesn't have to bark back.

So here's where I think I'd like to shift my approach.  When Jonah barks at another dog, I turn him away.  This means that he never gets the interaction of meeting the other dog and may be teaching him that other dogs are best avoided.  I know Jonah's not going to hurt the other dog.  So, when it's possible, now I'd like to drop the leash/let it go slack when a dog approaches Jonah and let them do their doggie introduction.

Today we took Jonah to an off-leash park.  He barked when he was approaching the leash-free zone, but as soon as he was off leash he was fine.  He's always been fine off-leash, so I'm thinking we need to go back to that a little bit more and then see if we can transition to where he is on-leash without any pressure from me so that he feels free to act as he wishes.  We'll have to see how things go.  I wish there were a good doggie daycare nearby where he could go run around with other dogs all day, but most of the ones I know of just keep the dogs crated most of the day, which wouldn't help matters at all.  Socialization Project must go on.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Up and Down

Today Dave and I took Jonah to a local park.  Right from the moment he got out of the car he was a little crazed.  There were squirrels everywhere.  He was not focusing on me well at all.  At first he was fine with other dogs nearby, but then one of those boisterous labradoodle types came bounding over to him barking. Great, I think.  I turn Jonah away and ask him to focus on me as the dog comes right up to him and starts leaping next to, in front of, behind and on top of Jonah.  Of course, Jonah starts barking at it, and I keep trying to move Jonah away from the dog and focus on me.  The dog follows, leaping and barking as Jonah barks back.  The owner wanders over behind the dog calling its name to no effect.  Finally he yells at me, "Can you just stop!?"  I was totally flustered and said, "I'm just trying to get him away from your dog!"  Meanwhile the barking and the other dog's leaping continues.  Eventually the guy did get his dog on leash and things settled.  I stood there shell-shocked while I listen to him go over and start complaining about what a terrible dog owner I am, and the lady with him responds, "Yeah, I saw a woman the other day yell at a dog for chasing a ball.  Some people just really don't get dogs."

It made me pretty angry.  I'm trying to get Jonah to be better around other dogs while he's on leash, but experiences like this don't help.  At that moment I was feeling pretty self-righteous:  the rule in the park is that dogs must be leashed (although most people don't follow that rule), I had my dog under control except for the barking, and I was trying to remove him from the situation.  He had not had control of his dog, who was, at least in my opinion, the one creating the ruckus.  In hindsight, my moving away was clearly not helping, as clearly the only way he could get control of his dog was to physically approach and leash it (voice commands had zero effect).  So, once I realized the dog was following us I really should have stopped.  Honestly I wonder if it wouldn't have been better for me to just let the two dogs work it out.  I know Jonah won't actually attack the dog--he'll just bark.  The problem was that this dog did seem like it was on the edge of aggression, and I never want Jonah to get hurt.  He's had that happen to him enough.  That's where this on-leash reactivity came from, after all.  Sigh.  It was not a great moment for any of us, but I guess the best thing is to just keep trying.

- - -

Since Jonah's focus had been sub par at the park, Dave and I did some work here.  Of course, here he was great.  First Jonah and I did ground work while Dave ran circles around the yard, did jumping jacks and sprints and the like.  Jonah was excellent.  Then we went back to the agility area.  Jonah and I did a little course while Dave tried his best to distract us.  Only once did he look at Dave, but it happened to be enough to miss a weave entry.  Once we went back to fix it, though, he was great.  When we were done, Dave left and we schooled the table a few times.  I could tell Jonah was slightly concerned about where his dad had gone, but he stayed with me.  When I finally released him and told him to go get his dad, he took a few tentative steps, stopped, and looked back at me.  "Are you sure, mom?"he was asking.  I said yes and started to run in that direction.  Exuberant, he raced away to find dad.  This was the perfect way to wrap up the session.  Part one of my training with Jonah was among our worst, but Part Two was one of the best.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

So. Much. Fun.

We had our weekly lesson today and Jonah was, quite simply, awesome.  We got there a little bit early and Grace gave us the opportunity to warm up for a minute.  I appreciated the chance to school dogwalk contacts.  The first two times Jonah blew the contact just like he's been doing in trials.  After that, though, he was dead on.  He was taking the dogwalk at quite a brisk pace, maintaining the speed down the ramp and sticking that contact for all he was worth.  Good boy.  He was then 100% in our courses later on.

Our first course ran smoothly except one place where he should have turned left but turned right and back-jumped before I realized what was happening.  I'm not sure why he did was a sharp slice of the jump and turning left would have been much easier.  However, I stayed by the first stanchion for a mini send, so I guess he thought he should get back to me rather than continuing his motion.  I'm not sure how to practice that other than setting up the same thing, which I just might have to do.  Our second time through the course he missed a jump right up next to the wall.  I didn't support it and just took it for granted since he'd taken it the time before.  The other dogs in class had trouble with it too.  We were wondering if, because it was so close to the wall, they were having trouble with depth perception and losing the white bar a little bit against the white wall.  Anyway, I shouldn't take things for granted even if he's running great.

We aced our second course beautifully.  There was so little I would improve.  We challenged ourselves and did a tough rear-cross weave entry and a decent lead out from the table.  Everything was so smooth and fast.  He was really eating things up and was super attentive.  What a good boy.  The second time through the course he was weaving so fast that I 'woohoo-ed' before he got to the end and he popped out at pole 10 looking at me like, what's wrong, mom?  I should hold my excitement for the end of the course, I guess.  Other than that he was still pretty phenomenal.

Our last challenge of the day was to do the same opening of the course but then to handle the dogwalk contact at enough distance to handle two jump wraps to the weaves.  It looked like this:

So, basically, I had to be on the far side of 2 while he did his contact independently.  I wasn't sure that he would stick the contact with that much distance, and he did turn towards me, but he kept those back two feet firmly on the board until I said OK.  I was so proud!  After that, the jumps and weaves were easy and we were done.

The only other thing of note for the day was that his table was shaky.  He would not go straight into the down.  I practiced a few times after class and I think I just need to keep schooling it before the USDAA trial.  Other than that, though, I couldn't be happier with Jonah.  I did better this week, too!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Things of Note

Just a few things to add to the blog:

1.  Jonah and I saw a coyote yesterday, just on the other side of our fence.  It was clearly startled by us and ran off, but still a little eerie to know firsthand that (s)he's so close.  I don't think a single coyote would ever go for Jonah, but if there were a group they can supposedly take on a family dog.  We're going to try to keep the fence gate closed now, because I'm sure a coyote wouldn't be happy if it got cornered in there.

2.  I've signed up for Susan Garrett's puppy peaks webinar, as the first segment of it is free.  So far I've really enjoyed it.  I'm not sure that I'll continue paying $20/month once it is no longer free, but it did inspire me with the idea of 'extreme maintenance'--that, just because your dog isn't a puppy doesn't mean you shouldn't be introducing new material and working hard to challenge established behaviors.  Just because Jonah can do all the agility obstacles doesn't mean I should get lazy with training or he will lose the behaviors over time.  Also, he deserves my attention!

3.  In partial response, we did a distance session yesterday.  It was really hot out so I didn't want to have him do too much running.  I did my normal warm-up at a trial, but increased my distance.  Here's what I do:  I have a single jump and first I run with him back and forth over it a few times.  Then I stay in one place and work on wraps.  With him on my right, I send him out and have him wrap both left and right.  Then, with him on my left I send him out and again have him wrap left and right.  Very simple, yes.  However, when I increased the distance, sometimes Jonah would turn the wrong way.  When he was sending out farther, I had to exaggerate my body cues and take a step or so in the direction I wanted him to turn.  Luckily he thought this was a great game, and he let me get to the point where he would drive out to 30' away from me!  For us, that's very good.  Next time I'd like to send him from an angle rather than straight at the jump.  I'd also like to do the same exercise with a curved tunnel and work on getting the correct entrance.  Sometimes simple exercises with easy setups can be very good!

4.  Jonah's dogwalk contacts remain 100% at home.  I can't get him to miss!  I'm starting to wonder if maybe he doesn't especially like the rubber contacts.  Or maybe it's just the trial environment.  Anyway, I'm hoping that Grace has the dogwalk up tomorrow :).

The Good Days Are Here Now

After the trial on Saturday, we packed up and headed for Mount Greylock State Park.  We grabbed dinner along the way and arrived at the parking lot around 6:45 or so.  Grabbing our packs, we headed for the trail.  It was a 1.3 mile easy hike to the campground, but we decided to take a longer loop and pass an isolated lean-to just in case it was available.  It wasn't, so we kept along that trail towards the camp site.  The trail started pretty tame, but then things got more exciting.  The trail became very steep down towards a river.  I had hooked Jonah's leash to the bottom strap of my pack and he was happily walking out in front of me, but when we started going down so steeply he was wanting to go faster than I did.  The footing was slick, so eventually I just let him loose to pick his own way down to the bridge.  He was very good about staying right ahead of me on the trail and not going too far.  When we got to the bridge I put him back on his leash but soon it was so steep upwards that I had to let him go again so I wasn't pulling him down on top of me.  I think he loves those steep trails, but they're definitely harder with a leash.

After we got through the tough terrain, we made it to our site.  It was a lovely, quiet campsite.  I woke up in the middle of the night and it was incredibly silent--so relaxing.  We're getting to like our tent setup a lot.  The only issue was, when we packed in and didn't have extra blankets around, Jonah tried to steal about half of my sleeping pad.  I think we're going to have to get him a little pad of his own that he can carry in his pack.  We didn't put his pack on him this time, but for longer trips it could be very useful.

In the morning we headed back to the car on the easier path, put our packs in the car, and drove to a trail head a little ways away.  We were ready to do some trail running, but the paths were just too rocky and rooted.  Luckily there was some good terrain to give us decent exercise.  We ended up going over 7 miles, and then we went to the lodge on top of the mountain for lunch.  Up there, a nice lady saw Jonah, gasped, and asked if she could say hello.  I told her he was shy sometimes, but he would tell her if he was not interested.  Quite the contrary, he wagged and looked up at her happily.  She baby-talked to him, hugged him, and buried her head in his neck fur and whispered to him, "The good days are here now."  Her husband laughed and said, "And sometimes he's not shy."  I was so proud of him, and I thought her words were so astute.  I guess it's clear that he's a rescue, and now he was being friendly and out for a fun walk.  Yes, the good days are indeed here now.  A few miles down the trial we ran into the same couple again and when she approached him he was stressed and barked.  Well, sometimes he's still shy/unfriendly.  I suppose good days aren't perfect days.  Good thing we've still got things to work on.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend and we can't wait to go hiking and camping again soon.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Volunteering and the Fourth Green Ribbon

I do not remember sending in a volunteer form with my entry to this trial, but when I showed up, I was on the schedule.  At the briefing, the organizer lamented that only 75% of people had volunteered, which she clearly thought was low.  This seemed like a slightly different culture than I'm used to.  In fact, many things about the trial were different:  there were only a handful of dogs that I recognized, people called obstacles different things (like "hill" or "wall" for the A-frame, and "bar" for jumps), and the upper level dogs were, in general, more advanced than those I'm used to seeing.

Anyway, now that I think of it I probably did send in a volunteer form because I'd seen that 75% of the entries were held for volunteers, and I was signed up for bar-setting which is my preference.  I had been assigned to Standard 3, which I was running in, so I had to scratch myself from that but I put myself in Standard 1 instead.

My volunteering experience this time was significantly more positive than the first time.  In Standard I was near the last line of jumps, and the judge kindly taught me how to set the 'eyes'--the electronic timer on the finish jump.  Few dogs dropped bars and it was fun to be in the ring.  There were no strange experiences with dogs trying to jump in my lap or anything.  It was really quite easy.

Then I worked Snooker 1 and 2.  This was much more of an event!  Instead of having 3 bar setters as before, now I was the only one.  I always seemed to sit in the wrong spot, and dogs liked to knock the farthest bars no matter where I was.  Also at least 4 dogs decided they had to potty during their runs.  The judge and I had fun laughing at all the running around I got to do :).

A little while later I was reading and waiting for my next class when I heard someone yell, "Katie, can you come here a minute?!"  I gulped and grumbled a little, thinking I had missed another assignment or something.  When I walked over, though, the judge was preparing to distribute her nice green and yellow 'judge's choice award' ribbons, given for 'anything extraordinary.'  She had two:  one she gave to a woman who seemed to be having extraordinary fun with her dogs who were having extraordinary fun in response.  They were a lot of fun to watch, and quite good, too.  The second award went!  I guess all my running around bar-setting did more than give me a good view of the action and a little exercise.  Our little friendly conversations about the irony of my seating positions had made an impression.

Now, I want to clarify that I in no way share this to draw attention about this to myself because that is not at all what this blog is about.  The award had more to do with the situation of not having other bar-setters around than it did about me.  I do feel, however, like it is a good way to follow up my Blog Action Day post from a few weeks back.  My first volunteering experience had turned me off from the task, but now I see that it can be fun and relaxed.  Plus, I'm disappointed that we missed our Jackpot run, but we still managed to come home with four green ribbons :).

Sugar Bush Farm

As soon as I finished my midterm on Friday, I raced to the car, drove home and let Jonah out.  After his compulsory laps around the yard with stops to do the other essentials, he returned to me wagging.  I opened the doors of the car and crate and he lept into the already-packed car.  Next stop:  picking up Dave from work.  He was already outside waiting for us.  After that: traffic.  But really it was as good as it could have been at 4:30 on a Friday heading out of the city.  Within an hour, we were free and clear headed west.

We pulled into the driveway at Sugar Bush Farm just before eight and were welcomed by the owners who were amazingly friendly and escorted us by golfcart to the best camping spot on the property (at least I thought so).  It was at the back of the lower level ring, about 20 feet back from the ring itself.  To one side was a tarp that someone had set up but it turned out the next day they never used it.  On the other side was a vast cornfield.  It was lovely and quiet with a great view of the ring.  I could even see the 45C ring if I looked in the other direction.  We set up our tents with the shade tent right in front of the camping tent for an additional vestibule which turned out to be a nice treat.  Then, after reading for a while, we went to sleep.

It was raining, and the sound on the tent was as relaxing as could be.  Of course, I didn't exactly want to take Jonah out at his normal 10:00 in the pouring rain, and before I knew it I had fallen asleep.  At one o'clock, I woke up and the rain had stopped.  Jonah and Dave were sleeping soundly but I figured it was a good time to take Jonah out and go to the bathroom myself.

Half asleep, I stumbled out of the tent with nothing but myself and Jonah.  I should have remembered I wasn't in the suburbs anymore, and I wasn't at home, either.  It was dark.  Really dark.  As in, black.  I couldn't see anything unless I was on top of it.  Then, before I knew it, Jonah was pooping!  Again, there should be no surprise here.  I took him out for his nightly walk so that he could do this.  Yet, as I checked my pockets, I knew I didn't have a poop bag (at home, I don't pick up Jonah's poop because he has two wooded acres to himself back there, so when I go out at night I don't normally bring poop bags).  Here we were, in the middle of a dark field.  I knew I couldn't leave it there, but I also knew that if I left the spot I'd never find it again.  Heck, I couldn't even see the poop now.  So (and I hesitate even to write this because it's so gross, but sometimes extreme situations call for extreme measures), I waited a minute, took a breath, and reached down to collect the poop.  Honestly, it wasn't as bad as I had expected.  Then we started towards the bathroom.

A minute later, I felt a thrusting pull on the leash and Jonah was growling.  Next he began to bark.  Having only one free hand at this point, I struggled to reach him and quiet him.  Then I hear Dave whispering, "Jonah! Quiet!  It's me."  Staying put and quieting him wasn't working so I just let the leash loose and ran after him towards the whisper.  We still couldn't see Dave.  Yet, a second later, all was quiet.  Dave and I were shaking.  Here we were in the middle of the field with our dog making a ruckus. I was extremely embarrassed and I hope we didn't wake everyone up.  We were at least 100 yards from the nearest camper, but we realized in the morning that voices carried awfully far in that space.  Oh well. We were nowhere near as loud as the pack of coyotes that got to screaming a few hours later.

Then it was back to sleep, and before we knew it the sun was shining on a beautifully misty morning in New York.  All was well.

Round One:  Jackpot Level 3
     This was a non-traditional Jackpot, and I thought it was very doable.  We had to consecutively do two tunnels, a jump and an A-frame at very minimal distance, in any order and at any time in flow.  I was not worried and I walked a course that looked very promising.  I was excited.  Then, as we went to warm up, we were both slipping on the wet morning grass.  I had time to go put on cleats, but there was nothing I could do for Jonah.  In the past, I'd always thought cleats were unnecessary, but when I was actively slipping I definitely thought it was worth it.  (Note:  I didn't buy cleats for agility--I have them for my other sport, ultimate frisbee, but they happened to be in the car, so why not use them?)

When it was our turn, we went in the ring and Jonah immediately got excited, leaping and barking.  I guess this behavior is here to stay--it wasn't just a strange hitch from Bo-Gee.  With the electronic 'go,' I did a bit of a slingshot start and we were off, flying down the outside line of jumps.  Reaching the end of the line, I planted my cleats and turned towards the dogwalk.  Jonah dug in his claws but there was nothing he could do to keep his legs under him and down he slipped.  He was up quickly, though, and seemed no worse for the wear.  He raced over the dogwalk and right through his contact.  Yarg!  They are so good at home, and I was planted completely still at the bottom.  He went right down to the end but he showed no sign of stopping.  Humph.  At least he's no where near blowing the contact.  In fact, it's a pretty nice running contact.

Next we made our approach to the gamble.  Jonah was full speed and ready.  Tunnel, frame, jump...frame!  I was not paying attention and was unclear about directing him through the discrimination.  I was just thinking that since the tunnel was closer to me he'd come to that, but I didn't work it hard at all and it's completely my fault.  Oops, sorry bud.  It was alright though.  We could do the gamble at any time.  So, I figured we'd just go ahead and do it now.  Tunnel-frame-jump...DAD!  After taking the jump Jonah saw Dave filming him and he raced across the field to see him.  I couldn't believe it.  He had been so focused.  My "comes" fell on deft ears.  I was kind of shocked, as this just is not his typical behavior, and therefore I don't really know how to react.

Anyway, after what seemed like an eternity but was probably only maybe eight seconds or so, he clicked back into gear and came racing back.  I got him in the tunnel to finish the gamble, then raced for the table, but was too late.  We were about 10 feet away from the table when the buzzer sounded.  Sigh.  That's two Jackpots in a row that we've missed.  I was pretty unhappy about it until, when I was getting lunch, there was a woman who'd just gotten her C-ATCH.  Someone else in line congratulated her and she responded wryly, "Finally!  We've only needed that one Jackpot Q since December."  I guess maybe missing two isn't so bad.  We even got a white ribbon.

Round 2:  Standard Level 3
    This was a nice course and it ran well for us.  At one point there was an offside tunnel entry and I pulled him too hard.  Thinking I didn't want the tunnel, Jonah looked around and thought he was supposed to take the dogwalk.  I called him back and he stopped, but I think I was too harsh in my call.  I was thinking this was the start of another crazy moment, but instead he looked kind of hurt by my tone.  Sorry buddy, my bad again.  Luckily he doesn't hold grudges, and he went into the tunnel and finished the rest of the course very nicely (although he ran through the dogwalk contact again!  argh!).  The only other thing of note was that I had to rear-cross the A-frame.  I don't usually do that, and the consequence was that he turned around to look for me when he got to the top.  Then he was on his way, though, and finished the course well.  First and Q.

Round 3:  Snooker Level 4
     For our Level 4 debut, I decided to go for it.  The course had all three of the reds at the start line with only one out in the field.  The seven obstacle was the weaves, which were not bidirectional:  they had to be taken back towards the start line.  Well, I made a plan and stuck with it, even though all I heard during the walk through was, "Three sevens are impossible."  Well, it wasn't impossible, as I saw a 16" dog do it, but it certainly wasn't easy and I didn't know that it was possible for us.

We went in the ring and I set Jonah up.  He was excited again, but he let me put him in a sit-stay and I walked out a good ways--probably close to 20"--as a lead out.  I felt confident walking out there.  When I turned back to him he was sitting quietly, looking at me patiently.  When I said OK, he took the first jump and headed right to me.  What a good boy.  Then I had to push him around for the weave entry, which he nailed and he sailed through the weaves.  Next we had to run back to the start line for another red.  I pushed to the backside and he flew over the jump.  We ran around the outside of the obstacles for the next pass at the weaves.  Unfortunately that ran him past his dad.  No running over this time, but he slowed and looked over at Dave.  Then his attention snapped back and we got the weaves for the second time.  The third red was the easiest; it was the one right out in the field next to the weaves.  Yet, as we turned towards it he had to stop and look for dad again.  Come on, Jonah.  Two seconds or so and then he jumped the red and we were off.  Through the weaves for the third time, then tunnel (2), jump (3), jump (4), double (5), jump (6), and back to the weaves (7).  We turned for the table and I was kind of shocked the timer hadn't gone off, but we made it!

It was not an especially pretty run, thanks to the two stops to find dad, but it was good enough.  Q and 1st.  We were the only level 4 dog to get 51 points, and one of only a handful in any level (the course was 45C).  Of course, the fastest dog to get 51 points was a full 10 seconds faster than us.  We've still got plenty of room for improvement!

Round 4:  Wildcard Level 3
     Unfortunately the walk-thru for this course was right when I was running Snooker in the other ring.  I got to walk it, but I was worried I'd miss my run so I walked it very quickly, and in hindsight I don't think I made the best plan.  The first wildcard was a tunnel/A-frame discrimination.  I led out past the first jump and towards the tunnel.  He was excellent for the lead-out again, and nailed the discrimination, took the next two jumps and then cruised a tunnel, leapt over a double and then missed a 90 degree on-side weave entry.  I know he has trouble with this angle, so I think I should have chosen the tunnel rather than the double as the wildcard right before the weaves.  It was farther away so I thought the double would save time, but the missed entry took more time than the tunnel would have.  Oh well.  We fixed it quickly and raced to the end.  It was a really nice run except for the missed entry.  Unfortunately, it was a very competitive class, the biggest we'd ever been in, so it was only good enough for 3rd, but I was just happy with the Q.  I know if I'd had more time to think about this round I could have given Jonah a better chance.

All in all, it was a good day but not our best trial.  The last two times we've been out Jonah has been fantastic, so it's a little bit of a bummer to feel like we're backsliding.  Still, we had moments of greatness and came home with three Q's and two blues in a very competitive trial.  In general, I'm happy when I can safely say that something is my fault, but I get frustrated with the dad-finding because Jonah completely disconnects from me.  I need to think about how to work on this.  I'm going to set some courses in our back area and have Dave come out there while we run them.  He may also come to one of our lessons.

I'll post about our camping soon, but now I need to get to work.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Weave Entry Project

The goals I set out for this month were somewhat lacking in definable training improvements, and I've just come up with an addition.  I think this is more of a summer project than just a July thing, but I'd really like to work on weave entries.  I'll just use the 6 poles because after a few times through 12 Jonah is usually slowing down.  This is primarily about entries and we don't have trouble with popping out of the poles, so six should be fine.

Here are six entries that I'd like to be able to master without me babysitting the entries too much.  Some will obviously need a little more help than others, especially at first.  The following map is NOT numbered as a sequence (I'm not going to go from 1 to 2 to 3 and so on), and I'll probably only have two jumps or so set up at a time.  They are six different questions that I'd like Jonah to master.  Here's the diagram.  In all cases, I will take the weaves headed up/North:

Jonah's straight entries are looking super these days, so I don't have that listed.  Here's what we do have:
1.  An on-side, angled approach.  This should not be any problem at all.

2.  An off-side, angled approach.  I don't think this should trip him up at this point, but it has the possibility for a wrong entry, as he'll be approaching from the incorrect side, facing the incorrect entry.

3.  On-side, 90 degree approach.  This has been difficult for Jonah in the past, and now I want to drill it frequently enough that he can regularly find the entry on his own.

4.  Off-side, 90 degree approach.  With support, I think this is actually easier for Jonah than number 3.  So long as I can push him around the first pole, he understands well.  My goal will be that I don't have to be right there pushing him into the entry.

5.  Off-side, 180 degree approach.  Again, if I'm there to push around the pole I think Jonah will get this fine.  It would be great if he could be independent with it, though!

6.  On-side, 180 degree approach.  I think this is a really challenging entry.  We'll see how it goes!

7.  This isn't on the map, but I would like to work on distance with the weaves, with a specific goal that he will weave straight away and straight towards me.  His lateral distance is pretty good, but these (especially the send straight away) are harder.

That should be a concrete set of goals for us to work on progressing with our weaves.  I'll try to video the final results so you can see how it goes.

Good Jonah, Bad Me

Today's class was good but I just didn't bring my A game.  For some reason I couldn't sleep last night, and before I knew it the sun was up and it was a new day.  Now I'm exhausted.  At least I got a bunch of work done over the night.

Anyway, we got to DogStar for our lesson and Jonah gave a few initial barks again but then settled in and didn't mind the other dogs and people.  I think the group class will end up being a comfortable place for him.

The first course started with a tight jump sequence.  In the first four jumps I did three front crosses!  After that the course opened up and wasn't too bad.  On our first attempt, we got it all done without any faults, but it was not our sharpest work.  Jonah was not motivated with all the wrapping and looping at the beginning, and then I let him make some wide turns elsewhere on course.  On our second try, Grace had me handle differently, but somehow the result wasn't much better.  She wanted me to wrap left instead of right as I had done, but even though I was just pulling Jonah around to the left, he decided to turn right.  I can't tell why he did that other than that he'd been patterned (once) to turn right.  Anyway, the course still started unmotivated and a little messy.  Honestly, though, I'm not sure that opening would ever be fast and flowing.  I know we could improve it, but it was one of those cases where you just couldn't really get going.  The opening was fun to watch because all three of the handlers chose to handle it differently.  One strategy seemed rather unorthodox to me, but then it ran really well, showing me that I need to think more outside the box and shouldn't assume I know what will work best, especially when it's not my dog.

The second course also had a winding start, but not quite as stuffy as the first.  Instead of a threadle there was a 270.  I walked the rest of the course and it seemed pretty straightforward.  I was done walking sooner than the others so I thought, "How could I challenge myself?  Is there any spot I could do as a distance challenge?"  And there was.  In the middle of the course (although labeled here starting with 1), there was a section that I figured I could try to handle from farther away than I normally would.  Here's what it looked like (using the new Course Designer software!):

Everything actually ran pretty well.  We always got the jackpot done, although a few times AKC would have called us for refusals.  The tire proved difficult, which I suppose makes sense since it was the farthest away.  A few times he would head towards the tire but then second guess himself before he took off and circle back around to look for reassurance from me.  Once he wrapped the tire to the right.  I managed to get him over the jump alright and it was a tighter line and thus potentially a better decision on his part, but it showed me that we need to work on straight sends.  It's tough because he can't see me well and thus my cues have to be extra precise when he can see me.

Numbers three and four went smoothly.  For number five, I admit I stepped over the line (but there was no line in class, so it didn't look bad :)).  The problem was that, even when I exaggerated my cue, Jonah was turning right after the tire, which made the entrance to the A-frame difficult.  It took a few tries for him to turn left and run that part nicely.

Anyway, it was cool that we got the job done on that, and I would think it was harder than what we'll likely see this weekend.  It was good to push myself.

One more thing that I tried with the second course was a slingshot start.  I had been doing lead-outs all class, and Jonah had been doing well, but I know he prefers it if I can run with him.  I had to be ahead for a front cross at the third jump, so I just started Jonah with a send to the first jump while I ran a straight line, and I thought it worked great.  Here's a diagram:

After this 'jackpot' section, the course continued and there was just one more tricky place with a threadle.  I handled it the first time with a front cross between the two jumps and I thought it ran quite well.  Then Grace wanted us to try it with two front crosses and I felt like a total clutz.  We got it done, but I was too worried about where my feet were going to be encouraging to Jonah, who slowed dramatically.  That's something to work on.

Overall it was a good lesson, but I just felt like I was rough around the edges, and Grace commented on it as well, so apparently it was visible.  Jonah was great and I just wasn't mentally there 100%.  Hopefully I can be more together on Saturday for the trial!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sugar Bush Trial Preview

I've been waiting for this weekend for a while, and I can't believe it's almost here!  We're going to drive out to Sugar Bush Farm in NY on Friday night right after I finish my midterm.  When we get there, we'll set up our tent and try to get a good night's sleep.  Jonah should have some time to settle into the site and walk around the rings so the morning isn't quite as exciting.  There's currently a 30% chance of scattered thunderstorms, but hopefully we'll be alright.  It will be good to give the tent some rain experience, and we'll have the car right there if it gets too bad.

Then in the morning we'll be able to wake up at the trial site--no driving!  Here's a peak at what's to come:

Round 1:  Jackpot Level 3
     We didn't get our last try at Level 3 Jackpot, but hopefully we can get this one.  It's nontraditional, and Kim Stumph is the judge.  The last Jackpot we did with her was very manageable, so hopefully this will be as well.  It's the same course as Levels 1 and 2, so I would assume it shouldn't be too tough.  Plus, it's the first round of the weekend and I would think she'd want to get things off to a good start.  Jonah is one of five dogs in his class.  This trial is a little bit farther away than we're used to going, and I don't know the vast majority of the dogs and handlers, so I don't have a good sense of what our competition will be.  I'm sure we can handle anything, though.

Round 2:  Standard Level 3
     If we get this Q, we'll be half way done with our Level 3 Standard Q's.  There are four other dogs in the class, and I feel confident that we'll be competitive if nothing out of the ordinary happens.  I think standard is my favorite class.

Round 3(?):  Wildcard Level 3
     Three of our four classes are in Ring 1 and our Snooker run is in Ring 2.  Ring 1 is running Jackpot-Standard-Snooker-Wildcard.  Ring 2 is running Jackpot-Standard-Wildcard-Snooker.  We are one of the last dogs in each ring, so I'm not sure how the schedule will move around.  I'm not sure if our Wildcard or our Snooker run will be first.  Hopefully I won't have a conflict with the runs or the course walks.  I'm sure people will be flexible if there are conflicts, but it would definitely add some stress.  Anyway, our Wildcard class is huge with nine dogs.  We'll have to run fast and clean!

Round 4 (?):  Snooker Level 4
     This will be our Level 4 debut!  It will be our first run in this ring, so hopefully Jonah will be able to focus in.  There are only 3 other dogs in our class, so our highest level class has the fewest dogs.  I'd like to get the Q with a smooth course rather than pushing for high points, but we'll see what the course setup is like.

That will be the end of the trial, but not the end of our weekend fun!

After the trial we'll be driving about half an hour away to Mount Greylock State Reservation in MA.  We'll have a 1.3 mile hike with our backpacks to the campsite.  I'm hoping we won't have any trouble getting setup before dark.  Then, Sunday morning we're going to drop our packs off at the car, get some breakfast, and head out for a day hike/run.  We'll get to spend some time on the Appalachian trail (a first for all of us, unless Jonah is hiding something from his past), hike the highest mountain in the state (which, for MA, means it's not even a 4000 footer!) and generally enjoy a day outside.  The weather's supposed to be great.

So, all in all it has the potential to be a fantastic weekend.  I'll let you know how things go!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth and Goals

First off, happy fourth of July!  We're avoiding the crowds at the fireworks this year but we did just have some delicious burgers which seemed like good old fashioned July 4 food.  Next up: s'mores, as soon as we have space in our tummies.

Earlier today we went on a long run.  It was very hot and humid, but we still covered at least 6 miles, although we had to stop for a few water breaks and for Jonah to swim in some of the ponds we passed so he wouldn't over heat.  He's totally game and fit, but he does get hot.  Dave and I just bought a camelback yesterday for water, but he doesn't have that luxury.

We've also been doing a bunch of agility in our back area, and Jonah's looking great.  His DW contacts are spot on, so I just need to make sure I keep the same criteria when we're at class and trials.  I set up the line we struggled with in class and, although a few times it was still a little rusty, I got it to the point where we could consistently run it smoothly.  It's a tough line!  We've also been doing some distance work and he's been super.  I'm very pleased--he's happy on the teeter at distance, changes in direction over jumps and he's nailing tough weave entries.  Good boy.  Of course, our area just isn't that big, so even if I feel far away it's rarely more than 15 feet.  It's a good start, though.

Ok, now it's time to look at how we did for our goals this month:
1.  Get our agility area fully safe and useful, with stumps and leaning trees removed.
Well, I guess we fail this one, since it is not fully safe and useful.  That said, though, we've made big improvements.  I've gotten all the stumps out except three big ones (that means more than 10 are now gone!).  One of the leaning trees fell, so I need to chop it up and move it.  There's still one more leaning and I'm not sure yet when the tree guy is coming back to take it out.  So, I've done about as much as I can do by myself and now I'm just waiting for him to get here and finish it up.  We're definitely able to run full speed now much more than we were before, and it's awesome!  Now we just need to work on focusing when a squirrel runs across the ring...

2.  Go to run-thrus at DogStar and work towards improving speed while keeping accuracy.
Again, I guess we fail.  The first run-thru was while we were in the Poconos, and the second was the day before our two day trial, and also the day after our lesson.  I didn't want to burn him out with four days in a row of agility, so I passed.  Oh well.

3.  Have a positive time at Muddy Paws this weekend.  It could be a challenging day, starting with our Level 3 Jackpot debut, then Standard level 2, Snooker level 3 and Colors level 2.  I'd at least hope to get the Standard and Colors Q's.  That said, Jonah's had a long break from agility and this will be in a new environment.  He could find it intimidating, so I really don't feel like I should have much in the way of expectations.
     Yes!  We in fact did not get our Jackpot Q, but Jonah was fantastic all day aside from not getting that off-side tunnel entry at distance.  It was not his fault.  He was not prepared for that question, and he was foot perfect the whole rest of the trial, so I'm not complaining.  

4.  Complete our Level 2 title at Bo-Gee.  If we get the two Level 2 Q's this weekend, then all we'd need is one more Level 2 Standard Q.  We could have as many as 4 chances at Bo-Gee, so I think it's a reasonable goal.
Yes!  Again, Jonah was excellent at this trial and qualified in all his runs with beautiful, fast clean runs.  I couldn't have been happier with him.  He was excited and speedy and had a generally great time.

5.  Continue working towards on-leash manners.  I really want to not have to worry about Jonah acting aggressive, and I know he used to have excellent manners.  I still don't fully understand why things have changed, but I have confidence we can get the old Jonah back.
     I think we've made and are making real progress on this.  He still has little melt downs from time to time, but I'm pleased with his manners at this point and I'm not afraid to take him anywhere.

6.  Develop a training plan.  We're starting lessons with Grace tomorrow since it's just so much closer than Riverside.  I loved working with Joan, but the commute is four times longer to get to Riverside and back than it is to go to Dog Star.  I'm sure things will go well with Grace, too.  We'll have a half hour private lesson tomorrow and will develop a plan from there.  In some ways I think it would be nice to get Jonah back into a group class for socialization purposes, but my schedule doesn't fit with that at least for the summer.  I want to have a clear focus about how we are going to have a solid A-frame contact, and generally work towards speed and confidence in all aspects.  
     I guess I never came up with a concrete 'plan,' but I'm very pleased with where Jonah's training is headed.  Grace has been super to work with and I can already see real progress.  We're now in a group class for socialization purposes and Jonah handled that quite well last weel.  The A-frame contacts are looking good without too much work, and speed and confidence are soaring by the day.  I had felt like we were at a bit of a plateau, but I now feel like we're shattering that and headed for new heights.  Along with this confident, fast dog, i now have new handling challenges, but I'm happy to have them.  I certainly wouldn't want things to be easy!  

7.  At the end of June, I'd like to write out 'My Handling Philosophy.'  Steve of AgilityNerd did this a while back, and I think it's a good idea.  Mine will be tailored specifically to me and Jonah as a team, trying to maximize our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses.
      Here's my current draft, which will always be open for revision and additions:  My ultimate handling goal is to always strive to put a complete effort into helping Jonah have as fun and as confident a time as possible.  That means I will swallow human-induced pride and make unconventional choices where it will help him, whether that is running with him from the start line, allowing him to leap and bark before a run, doing extra crosses, or running closer to him than a 'textbook' handler would.  I want to try as hard as possible not to be late with crosses or do anything else that makes him lose momentum and second guess himself.  I will try to move on from off-courses as if they were planned, even if it means losing a Q.  In practice, I will try new and harder things, but I need to keep myself from getting frustrated and move on quickly to something motivating for Jonah so he never feels that agility is a place for frustration.  All in all, the happier he is, the faster he runs, and the more fun we both have.

Looking forward to the month of July, here are some goals:
1.  Enjoy our first experience camping at a trial next weekend at Sugarbush.  Hopefully collect some Q's and have a good time at a new facility.

2.  Maintain solid DW contacts away from home.

3.  Attend our first USDAA trial and have a positive overall experience.  Hopefully we get through the measuring!

4.  Continue to work on manners on and off leash with other dogs and humans both in our group class and away from home.

5.  Hopefully this month we can have our agility area up and running, without stumps or leaning trees.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Group Lesson

Yesterday Jonah and I had our first group lesson at DogStar.

On our way to class, though, we decided to stop over and visit grandma.  She lives at an assisted living community just a few miles away from us.  It's basically like a big apartment building, and Jonah's not so sure what he thinks of it.  First up:  sliding doors.  Next:  strange rug-cleaning machines, wheelchairs and walkers and lots of elderly people with them.  Jonah's response was to be glued to my leg and behave perfectly.  He was clearly nervous, but had no bad reactions at all.  Once he got to grandma's room, he was relieved and happy to see her.  He's so gentle with her and she loves him to pieces.  It's fun to watch.

Anyway, after that we went to our lesson.  When we first arrived, it didn't take long for Jonah to notice that there were other dogs in the room and he instantly got excited and barked.  He wasn't barking at any dog in particular--just the whole environment.  We went over in a protected corner near the dogs and he was good with paying attention to me.  There are two other dogs in the class:  one standard and one miniature.  Both dogs and their humans are really nice.  It's a great group.

While walking the first course, Jonah barked at the other handlers when they got near him.  He definitely wasn't happy about them.  I guess I need to be more aware.  I know to watch his reactions near other dogs, but I should be more heads-up about other people as well.

Our first course went very well, except for one screw up on my part.  Jonah was in hyperspeed.  His weaves were as fast as ever, and he was very attentive for my handling.  He did not get his 2o2o on the dogwalk immediately but went into it when I insisted.  There was a tunnel that I had to push for at a bit of distance that he was awesome with.  Then came a threadle.  We got the threadle itself without trouble, but then I was unclear with my cue of the second jump.  I had imagined him wrapping the jump to the left but my handling really indicated jumping right.  He followed my handling rather than reading my mind and consequently we got the wrong tunnel entrance.  My bad.  The rest of the course was gorgeous and he was blazingly fast.

Course two was much more exciting.  There was an opening line that I handled as a serpentine which we got done, but I wasn't far enough ahead on the middle jump and we collided on landing.  Oops.  When I handled it later with rear crosses it ran beautifully.  Next I didn't support the dogwalk enough and he missed it.  Next we were supposed to wrap off the dogwalk but he just got right back on it.  It was a total mess, but a very exciting one.  He was like a real big dog, making real big dog mistakes where his handler couldn't keep up and he was SO EXCITED to be playing agility.  So, although obviously I want him to run clean all the time, this was a totally new way of screwing up and I was enthused by his drive.  I couldn't stop giggling as my crazy dog and I made our poor attempt at the course.

Next up was a course that ended with a ninety degree threadle.  As in, the jumps were at a ninety degree angle and he jumped the first jump towards the other but then had to take the back side.  The whole course ran beautifully up to that point, and then disaster happened.  First I sent him out to the first jump and waited for him to come back for the second.  It worked but he was so exuberant that he made a very wide turn.  Next I tried to get a front cross in.  I failed.  I tried again.  And I failed again.  Grace was laughing at us and said, "The faster you run, the faster he runs.  You should always run like that."  Then we went back to the send and wait handling, and we got it done again, but it was still messy.  I want to set up this line at home this week and practice until we can run it smoothly.

In sum, we made a lot of mistakes and had plenty of messy looking areas, but Jonah was as excited to be playing agility as I've ever seen him, and his speed was better than ever.  It made me think that, if we can control the crazies and I can learn how to handle this fast dog, we will be able to compete with the border collies.  Look out, USDAA!

Jonah settled well with the other dogs and people.  After he barked at the people in the first course walk, he never barked at anyone else, either human or canine.  He stood right next to the other dogs and was quiet and focused on me.  I was proud.  I think this group class will be very good for both of us.  I hope it will make the trialing environment a little more relaxed.  It's also really good to watch other people run the same course.  The poodles were slower than Jonah and could be handled differently.  It was neat to see what caused problems for different dogs and learn the different approaches to handling.  Even though we probably spent less time running than in our half hour private lessons, I know I learned just as much if not more.  Jonah was also able to stay focused for the full hour without any trouble.  I think he could have kept going another hour.  It was so much fun I'm already counting down the days until next Thursday :).