Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Little Off

Today we went to Grace's for our lesson.  Jonah started great.  Grace set up a tunnel next to the dw and we practiced our "left" and "right" cues on the down of the ramp and also did the tunnel with a tight 180 degree turn to the dw.  He was awesome!  I had to give the cue earlier than I thought (while he was still on the top part), but once I got that down we were flying, and he was nailing the contact.

Then he got hot.  It was a hot, humid day, and after 10 minutes of running he needed a break.  I didn't think much of it.  It is hard work, after all.  He got a drink and we practiced the table for a little while.  Then I thought he'd pick right back up, but he didn't.  He was slow, and then he started looking a little gimpy on his right hind.  Doh.

So, we practiced some weave entries for which he was sometimes amazing and then missed some easier ones.  He was never really lame, but never got back to full steam.  I went back to the dw and he was slow.  He actually did a 2o2o at one point, something he hasn't done in a long time.  We ended up just calling it a day after a good little sequence.

Then we went to a pond and went swimming.  Happy dog.

I decided not to go to ARFF since he wasn't full strength.  Of course, he was flying around the yard without any noticeable problem, but better to be safe.  I don't expect this to be a lasting injury but I'll keep an eye on it.


Jonah has been doing great with the dogwalk, so today I set up a 180 degree turn at the end (like a tunnel flip would be, except it's wet so I didn't want to use a tunnel and used a jump instead).  Well, our first repetition was almost straight on and when Jonah got to the DW he almost slipped right off.  Time for a change of plan.

In fact, every time over the dw he was slipping.  He was more hesitant about really striding down, and once he actually lept.  I think he just wanted off.  So, in the end it was a straight and 'easy' session (were it not for the rain), but I think good practice to make it a little more physically challenging for him.  I certainly don't want him to get hurt, but I would trial in light rain like this, so it's good for it to not be completely foreign.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Graduated but Still Learning

Yesterday I graduated.  I don't usually like graduations--there's a lot of waiting, pomp and circumstance, and listening to boring things.  Yesterday was almost fun, though.  I got to spend time with some friends, the weather was lovely, and the speeches were quite good (although quirky.  in true Harvard style, one speech was fully in Latin.  Oh, and my diploma is in Latin, too.  ::shakes head::).  I got to wear a sweet gown with a big hood.  Generally I'm kind of embarrassed to tell people I go to Harvard, but for the day it was kind of fun.  Afterwards we went out to a nice lunch with my family at the Top of the Hub, a restaurant at the top of the Prudential tower in Boston.  The view was fantastic, and one of my dad's employees works there on the weekends and he tipped them off that we were coming, so we got VIP treatment.  As silly as it was, it was enjoyable and a special time to remember.

Then I came home to my wagging happy dog.  He's the best.

This morning our dw session was very good.  We were working on pushes and pulls, straight ahead, long approaches and short approaches.  Some of the angles were quite tough, but he did very well.  I'm so pleased.

This afternoon we went to DogStar.  Grace didn't have the dw up so we got to help set it up.  It's kind of complicated with all the pins, but very light.  Cool.  Then we practiced.  Jonah was great.  One random leap, but we think he did get his toes in--it just wasn't the nice striding we like.  A few other times were one foot or high in the yellow, but overall I'm pretty sure he was 100% in the contact zone.  Yay!  I did some hard stuff, too.  Rear crosses, front crosses, blind crosses, hard entrances, hard exits, staying behind him, getting in front of him, and being next to him.  He's not always doing the same striding.  Typically he's 5 strides, hitting with the back feet in the yellow.  Sometimes he adds a half stride and hits with his front feet.  Occasionally if he has a tough entrance or something he'll add a full 6th stride.  He's very good at doing what he needs to do to get his job done, whatever that means.  What a smart bugger.

After our lesson we set the ring back up for runthrus and then we ran a course.  It had a tough weave entry which Jonah missed the first time.  I am going to make a point of working weave entries a little bit in the coming weeks.  I can almost always help him in trials, but it would be good if I could trust him a little more, or at least if it were more engrained so we could miss incidents like last weekend.  Siigh.  Grace suggested walking him around the outside of the ring before running if I have a chance, and letting him meet photographers so he realizes they're not evil monsters.  Good ideas.  She doesn't think I'm making him do things he hates by taking him to trials, as she noted how much more confident and happy he is about the whole agility thing.  That's good to hear from someone else.  He's come a long way, and we'll give him some more chances.  If he continues to be super stressed, maybe we'll take a break.  For now, we'll hope it was just a blip.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jonah the Conformation Mutt

I'm reading a book that talks a bunch about dog conformation.  It's really fascinating.  It makes me curious about Jonah's build, so I tried taking some pictures.  This is the best one, although it's far from a perfect shot.  I positioned his legs so he would be square, but it made him stand a little awkward--his front legs are out in front of him and he's not positioned so his rear pasterns are perpendicular from the ground (and note that I really have no idea what correct conformation position is--I'm just guessing from other pictures I've seen).  Here's our shot:

Here he is with some lines drawn in:

So, my beginner's assessment is:
1)  Overall, his balance is farther back than ideal, which probably makes his front end pretty light and good for jumping, but contributes to his more 'casual' running and weaving style, rather than a low to the ground BC.

2)  He's a little bit tending towards a ewe neck--not ideal.  Also his neck is a little on the small side.

3)  I like his front angles pretty well.

4)  He is longer than tall.  I'm fine with that.

5)  Given his length, his back is not especially long, which I like.

6)  I'm rather fond of his topline.

7)  He has a decent size pelvis which should give him power.

8)  Probably his biggest issue is his straight hind legs.  This picture hides it pretty well, but his hock is actually that tan spot next to the top of the white on his tail.

9)  I guess the magic pelvis angle is 30 degrees.  He looks more like 40 or 45.

10)  His femur is much longer than his tibia.  This may contribute to why he sometimes paces rather than trots.

11)  He has a nice long croup.

There are tons of other things I could pick apart, but that's good for now.

I think he's a pretty dog, even if his conformation's not perfect!

What do you have that you did not receive?

Well, another miss.

It was a gorgeous morning.  I had only entered Standard (we would have had a steeplechase round, too, if he'd qualified for finals) on Sunday.  It was the second class of the day, so I had a leisurely morning and didn't leave until 8.  We got up there in good time, and then I had about 20 minutes to take Jonah to the pond, let him run around, do his business and get some good tugging in.  He was happy and excited and I was really optimistic.

The course wasn't bad.  The first obstacle was a chute that opened into a box of jumps:  one straight ahead and one on each side (we were to take the one on the right, although quite a few dogs went straight for an off-course).  Then the teeter, a line of jumps that pretty much dictated a RC, a tight turn to the A-frame, turn after the A-frame to a tunnel with an alluring jump straight ahead, and then a tight little loop with weaves and a funky tunnel entrance (basically the dog was looking at the back side of a curved tunnel and had to go duck into the left end of it).  Then calling the dog back towards the back side of the tunnel, big uphill double (the ring was definitely not flat!), table, dogwalk facing right out the out gate, and a hard turn to the last jump.  So, some potential tricky spots, but nothing especially difficult.  I was feeling good about our chances.  It was so beautiful out, it was hard not to feel good.

On Saturday I kept getting him to the ring too early and so this time I waited longer.  With 5 dogs left, I got him out of the car, which was right by the ring.  We went to the pond and were splashing around when Laura called to us, saying they were yelling for us at the gate.  I panicked, and we raced over, only to find that, of course, there were still 4 dogs left.  Grr.  Now we were waiting there, black dog in the hot sun, and once again I had to entertain Jonah and keep him focused and excited for a few dogs.  The gate steward just seemed stressed and wanted the next 6 dogs all squished under the shade tent at the start, but no way was I going to put him there--he would be stressed about the other dogs and sitting still is the last thing he needs before a run.  We were supposed to go in when the dog before us got to the table.  Three obstacles before the table she starts yelling "Jonah?  Jonah!"  "We're right here," I say.  "You need to be on the line," she remarks.  "They're not at the table yet," I respond.  "Well, I haven't known where you are," she quips.  "Sorry," I mutter, knowing well that I'd been 15 yards away for the last 4 dogs, when I would much rather have stayed happily at the pond for another minute or so.  Feeling pressured, we went in while the dog before us was at the table.  There was a bar down, which took them a while to put up.

Jonah was great about keeping his energy up despite the wait.  He was bouncing and leaping and barking and playing and he reeeally wanted to go in that chute.  We got the 'go' and we were off!  Flying through the chute, nailed the turn.  Woo!  The teeter slowed him down a hair, but he was still doing great.  Down the jump line.  Happy dog.  Lovely RC, tight turn to the A-frame.  Not our cleanest down on the A-frame...he kind of added a step and broke out of a clean 2 hit performance, but clearly in the yellow.  Tunnel, with me racing for a BC, jump.  Nailed the weave entry.  Weave-weave-weave-weave...stop.  Another pole 10 pop out.  Well, there goes our last shot for a Q on the weekend.  Yarg.  Oh well, no reason to get upset.  He was stressed, looking outside the ring, and it took him a minute to come back and restart.  I clapped and stayed right with him, encouraging him, and he got through it this time.  Thankfully.  Then jump, he ducked beautifully into the tunnel, powered uphill over the spread, and then...ran past the table.  Looking at the people sitting outside the ring.  "Jonah, table," I tell him.  He hopps up.  Then he looks at the people again.  Ears down.  Won't make eye contact with me.  "Sit," I say.  He sits.  I must say "down" 10 times, and he's just stressed.  Doesn't acknowledge me.

Well, we already aren't going to qualify, and there's no point of making a bad experience out of me yelling at him, so off we go.  I sigh, and try to put my excited self back on.  "Ready?" I ask.  Then, "Run!  Run!  Run!"  And he flies across the dogwalk for a beautiful jackpot.  He would have run right out of the gate, but I called him and he soared over the last jump.  Well, at least it was a great finish!

We went out and had our party.  It took a little extra effort on my part to be super excited, but I know I need to make the ring a happy place, and partying after a run will help with that.  We went for a nice long romp and Jonah had some more good pond time.  What a happy dog.

On my ride home, I was having trouble with the weekend.  It was really frustrating!  We put in so much work, and he runs great in practice.  We don't have trouble with weave poles, with the table...with anything in particular.  I don't know how to practice handling him when he's stressed.  I don't know if I'm forcing him to do what he doesn't want to do.  I don't know how to make trialing fun.  But sometimes he's amazing.  It's not like he is always stressed in the ring.

I really love agility for the philosophy of "It's always the handler's fault."  This time, though, I was having a hard time convincing myself of that.  Is it really my fault that he randomly gets stressed sometimes in the ring?  I want it to be, because that assumes I can fix it.  But I have NO IDEA how to fix it.  Believe me, I'd happily put in the work if I knew what to do.

Then last night I was waiting for Dave to come to bed and I just flipped my Bible open to a random page.  I was tired, and didn't feel like reading much, but my eyes caught on one line, "What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (1 Cor 4:7).  I don't mean to get all religious on this blog, but the verse was just what I needed.  In general, I'm really proud of Jonah's agility.  He's fast, he's smart, and he's quite well trained.  But there's no reason I deserve that.  Yes, I've put in many hours of training, but so do lots of people who don't have dogs as polished as mine.  I generally like to think that's because I'm 'good at it,' but really why should that be the case?  If I have 'skill,' it's a gift.  I certainly didn't do enough careful research of breeding to select the perfect canine companion like so many competitors do...we got really lucky with getting such an athletic, smart, trainable dog.  Or maybe not lucky.  Maybe it's a gift.

Anyway, I want to remember how much just getting to play agility is a gift.  Most people around the world, if they're able to have dogs, would never dream of the luxury of going to weekly (or more) classes and competing on the weekends.  I don't pay for my own trial fees--Dave does.  We don't pay rent but have a beautiful 2+ acre yard with a fenced run and an agility area.  We have wonderful trainers around us.  We have great friends.  What gifts!  So can I really complain because we missed some Qs?  In the future, when I go into the ring I want to remind myself of that verse and try to get past the whole Q standard.  My job really is to make Jonah have the most fun possible.  But when he gets stressed, it's OK.  I don't have to blame him or myself or anything at all.  It's life, and maybe someday I'll even get to appreciate it as a gift, too.

(end preachy post.  sorry.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Day 1 Disaster

Sometimes things just don't go right.  Usually I can find ways to blame myself for problems we have, but sometimes it just isn't meant to be.  After today, part of me wonders when it's time to just decide that Jonah doesn't like trialing.  We've been going to trials for over a year now and at this point I'm not actually sure he's noticeably getting more comfortable in that environment.  He likes agility, that much is clear.  It's not clear, though, whether he actually likes competing.  I do.  Sometimes he seems to have a ton of fun.  But not always.  Today was one of those days...mostly at least.

Round 1:  Advanced Snooker
     This was not a pretty snooker.  There was no flowing course, no matter how low a point total you wanted.  I ended up planning a pretty smooth opening of 1-5-1-6-1-4.  I think it would have gone pretty well, but we only got the 1-5 part of things.  He was a little wary off the start line, not barking or getting as excited as usual.  The five obstacle was a jump to a tunnel, and coming out of the tunnel he just looked worried and slow.  I called him but he had his glazed over face and he just loped out into the middle of the ring and took a random jump.  Whistle.  Yarg.  I noticed it happening and called him, but when he gets like that he's just in a zone and it's hard to shake him out.  Well, there went our chance at our AAD this weekend.

Round 2:  Steeplechase
     This run actually wasn't a full disaster, but it wasn't a Q either.  The best line was for me to run on the left of the A-frame (obstacle 2), but the judge was standing right next to it on the other side and the approach was uphill, so I changed my mind last minute and ran on the other side so I'd be between him and the judge.  He started great, cruised over the first jump, the A-frame, tunnel, jump.  Then he forgot how to weave.  First he ran right past them, like he couldn't even see them.  Then I brought him back and he missed his entry.  Then he missed again.  Next he got it, but even though I stayed right with him he popped out at 10.  YARG!  Jonah does NOT have trouble with his weave poles.  He's generally very solid.  He was just worried and stressed and couldn't handle it this time.  I have no idea why.  After he popped out, I knew we wouldn't qualify anyway since we'd wasted so much time, so I just went on.  Whistle.  But then, it was like suddenly Jonah caught on fire.  I'm not sure he's ever--anywhere--run so fast (in agility).  Obstacles 6-17 (the end of the course) had to have rivaled even the best BCs.  I handled really well and aggressively, knowing there was nothing to lose, and he rose to the occasion.  It was amazing.  So!much!fun!  We had a BIG party after that.  I would pay a lot to have him run like that all the time.

Round 3:  Advanced Standard
     This was the big running dogwalk debut.  Unfortunately, the approach to the dogwalk was a 180 degree turn from a tunnel under it, so not a lot of oomph going in.  The dogwalk was not rubberized and had reasonably big slats, so I was worried about it.  In the end, it was not a beautiful jackpot like we get most of the time at home, but it was a clear hit.  Good boy.  He was running well, but then the photographer was right next to the table, and the clicking noise freaked him out.  First he didn't jump right on the table.  Then when he did he kept glancing at the guy and it took him a second to lie down.  The photographer felt bad and backed away, but then the motion worried Jonah too.  Oops.  After the table he picked up again and was doing well until the second to last jump which pointed right back at where the photographer was.  He disconnected and got stressed, so I changed my handling plan to go get him and run with him.  Well, he took the jump...and then took the chute again for an off course.  So close!  Yarg.

So, I was really frustrated.  I still tried to be super positive with Jonah, but I just don't know what to do. I have this awesome fast dog who loves agility at home and at practice, and sometimes at trials.  Then other times, he's just this scarred slow poke who is no fun to handle and who has no fun himself.  I would say, 'we'll just take a break from trialing for a while' and maybe that's what we should do, but my sense is that the only way he could possibly get better is by having positive trial experiences, since I can't recreate his nervousness in practice.  Maybe he just doesn't want to be a competitive agility dog.  That idea sort of breaks my heart because I know how good he can be, but there's no point in doing it if he's not having fun.  We'll go back tomorrow and see what happens.  Let's just say this wasn't the kind of 'tune up' I was hoping for before nationals.  At least he got his DW contact, though!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Update

Jonah's been a little less enthusiastic about our training sessions lately, so I've tried to back off, mix other things in with the DW, and do fewer repetitions and fewer sessions.  Hopefully he'll be himself at the trial this weekend.

Anyway, he's been looking great.  I played the 'go get the contact' game where I'd put start him near the top of the down ramp or on the top board and have him just run down and get his contact.  He was excellent.  The thinking was that, since he sometimes gets a little wary on the DW at trials and will slow down on top, I want him to still get his contact even if his stride has changed a lot from his normal 5 stride.  Hopefully he'll just run right across, but I figured this could be a good proofing exercise.  We'll see what the courses look like tomorrow.  Here we go!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

NEAT Trial Preview

I'm looking forward to the trial this weekend.  It's an outdoor, 2 ring trial.  Hopefully it will move along pretty well.  Anyway, if things went amazingly this weekend and we went 3/3 in our Advanced classes, we would finish our AAD.  We'll also have a chance at getting our first tournament Q in Steeplechase.  That all sounds good, but I'm not planning on it.  I don't want this to be a weekend with any pressure.  It will be the trial unveiling of our new running dogwalk, and I want the whole thing to just be about running fast and confident.  If he makes a mistake, I'm not going back to fix it.  We're just run-run-running!

Saturday Round 1:  Advanced Snooker
     Last time in our Advanced Snooker run I got too greedy and went for a 58 point plan.  That is NOT my plan this time.  If there are 4 reds, I'm not doing 4.  I want to make the nicest flowing course I can that will get me my 37 points.  There are only 4 dogs in the class, so we'll get a ribbon no matter what.  This run is just about building confidence, getting used to the setting, and getting a Q (hopefully).

Saturday Round 2:  Steeplechase Round 1
     This will be our fourth try at Steeplechase, and we haven't gotten one yet.  Unfortunately it's a big class (28 dogs, 16 of which are BCs), which means the time between the top three dogs will likely be pretty tight.  We will only ever need one steeplechase Q, though, and we've got tons of time to get it.  If this is the day, great.  If not, so be it.  Luckily steeplechase courses are usually fairly open, and his A-frame and weave poles are solid.  I'm not too worried about anything in particular.  For some reason I tend to get nervous competing against all the masters people, but I guess it's time to get over that since it won't be too long until we're in masters classes too!

Saturday Round 3:  Advanced Standard
     Unleash the dogwalk!  This will likely be our first stab at it, unless it was in snooker.  We'll see how things go.  Hopefully the course will be as basic as the other Advanced Standard courses we've had.  We don't really need any extra challenges (especially right before or after the dogwalk)!  There are 9 dogs in the class, but placing will be the last thing on my mind.

Sunday Round 1:  Advanced Standard
     So, if we qualified in snooker and standard on Saturday, the pressure would be on a little bit in this run as it would earn us our AAD.  I'm not inclined to want to put a stop on the DW just to be safe, though.  We'll run, as he's already a little hesitant on new equipment about whether he should run or stop.  I want him running for nationals, baby!  So, this will just be another chance to go fast and have some fun.

??Sunday Round 2:  Steeplechase Round 2
     If we somehow manage to qualify on Saturday we'd have another run on Sunday.  That would be exciting, but not something to count on.  In the catalogue under steeplechase finals, it says "I know it's going to be you!"  That's some nice reassurance.  

Running with Grace

I don't know how I haven't previously realized the pun potential in our trainer's name (see post title).  It's pretty excellent.

Anyway, Jonah and I went to DogStar today for a lesson.  It went really well.  To some extent it's just a lot of practice and repetitions back and forth over the DW, but I just feel so much better having Grace's eyes on us, and she challenges us more than I do on my own.  We did different entries (straight ahead, jumps with tight turns, tunnels) and exits (jump straight ahead, tunnel straight ahead, pushes and pulls to jumps and tunnels, RCs, FCs...).  It's so luxurious to have a full size space!  It was also fun to string together little sequences that involved two DWs.  cool!

Jonah was overall great.  He did miss a couple of hard pushes, but it's good to know our limits.  I was encouraged by the full lesson.  Grace supports us in our decision to try running in the trial this weekend :).

Monday, May 14, 2012


I'm kind of afraid to put this in words, but there is a chance we will be getting a puppy this summer.

Our plan had always been to get a second dog once we had moved into our own place.  The time frame for that is...whenever we find a house that we can afford and isn't a ridiculous commute (we found one we liked, but it has the potential for 90 minute commutes for me, which I'd rather avoid!).

We hadn't planned on me having a job where I would be working from home for the summer.  Basically, I'm working on a flexible schedule for company based on the west coast, and I can do all my work from my laptop--the ultimate in portability!

So, if we ever want to have a puppy and be around for all the housetraining, now is probably our best bet.  In a lot of ways, it's a bit of a shock to be talking about this.  I don't feel like I've mastered Jonah's training and I want to be able to continue to give him the time he deserves.  I still want him to get his CATCH and ADCH, which means we have a lot of work ahead of us.  I'd thought that if we at least had our CATCH before we got a puppy, I'd have a pretty good sense of a training plan for the new kid on the block.

I guess I'm realizing, though, that Jonah (and probably all dogs) will never be a 'finished product.'  Or, there are at least lots of steps along the way.  He had stopped contacts, and knew how to perform all the obstacles.  Then I started teaching running contacts.  He knows how to weave, but I'm wanting to challenge his independent entries.  There's always more distance to work on.  I'd like to speed up his teeter.  We need to tighten our wraps.  I want to be more fluid with threadle handling.  We need to keep proofing our discriminations.  Basically, we're not done!

But just because we get a puppy doesn't mean Jonah will be left in the dust.

Actually, I'd gone through a phase when I really thought we'd just stick with one dog.  I feel like we give Jonah a good life, and I worry that he won't get as much attention when there's another dog.  But then last week Romeo came to visit while his parents went out of town.  Jonah was just SO HAPPY the whole time Romeo was here.  He's a pretty happy guy all the time, but the visible improvement in his mood made me think, "If having another friend around makes him this happy, how could we not get a puppy?"

So, we've started looking.  Part of the key to this project is that we want to get the puppy while I'm working at home.  Our first choice breeder's litter isn't due until July, which means we'd miss out on my being around.  At this point we're down to two breeders.  One litter is already a few weeks old, and the other is due in the next week or so.  We're going to meet the one litter the first week in June.  Unfortunately the other is in Oregon.  I'll keep you posted.  It's an exciting time, and it seems like there's so much pressure.  I know we'll love any dog we get, but I also want to be getting an athletic agility partner.  Considering the fact that it's likely we won't be getting another dog for 10 years or so (and I really don't want to think about replacing Jonah), this is a big life decision for us!

Friday RunThrus

Friday we went to runthrus at DogStar.  We did the hardest course first and it was tough.  There were two difficult weave entries which he got thanks to my busting my butt to get ahead, trust him on a discrimination, and then give him a little support for the entry.  Later Grace said I should trust him, so the second time through the course I gave him more space and he missed both the first time.

There were two other parts of the course we had trouble with:  one was a rear on the flat from the weaves to the teeter.  He did it, but the line was not as tight as I would have liked.  The second time I did a FC at the end of the weaves and it was a little better, but it was basically a 180 degree turn weaves to teeter, so I felt like I was spinning around in a major circle.

The other funny spot was a discrimination DW/tunnel.  It was a 90 degree turn and he came into the jump flying, jumped big, and went out to the tunnel rather than coming back to me for the DW.  I was more careful the second time and he was great.

As for the DWs I did at runthrus, my plan was to do them in flow as the course dictated but stop afterwards to reward.  Then I'd go back, start with the DW and continue on with the course.  That plan worked really well, and he was perfect with jackpots every time.  The turns afterwards didn't bug him, either--they were pulls to a jump.

The other course was pretty straight forward.  I almost got run over as he flew out of a tunnel and I was too close, and we had one wide turn that I didn't manage well, but otherwise no trouble.

Dogwalk Update

Ok, so let's start with the dogwalk project.  My last post highlighted the issues we'd had at ARFF with the slats.  We'll see how things go with that on Wednesday, but every session I've done at home and at DogStar has been excellent.  No slats, no problem.  Actually, DogStar has slats, but they aren't as big and he doesn't notice them.  Worst comes to worst I'll just skip the DW at ARFF for a while.  He looks fantastic aside from that.  I've been throwing in a few hard approaches among easier repetitions, and that seems to keep his motivation and confidence high while challenging him.  He hasn't missed, although some times it's just been 1 hind foot (very clearly in the yellow) rather than a full jackpot.  Could be a lot worse.


Ok, I haven't updated in the last few days, and I'm sorry.  BUT.  I have some very, very exciting news:

I'm done with school!

On Friday morning I handed in my last paper and boy can I tell you it feels great!  Then we went house hunting (no luck), then we went to run thrus (more shortly), and then we went up to VT for the weekend. It was a wonderful weekend and I don't remember the last time I felt so relaxed.

I was supposed to start my new internship today, but a confusion in communication means it looks like I'll actually start Wednesday.  The crazy thing is I'm already feeling a little bored.  Ha.  That's me, eh?  This morning I've done dishes, gone through a ton of emails, did course evaluations, read half a puppy book (more to come on that, too), researched a lot of dog stuff, shopped for a popup crate and ex pen, done two excellent training sessions with Jonah (yes, more on that as well) and translated half a chapter of Mark (Greek to English).  Productivity for the win.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Big Yikes!

For our second session on the dogwalk today, we went to ARFF.  Official practice had been cancelled, but they said we were welcome to go set up our own exercises if we wished.  We were the only ones there when we got there.  I thought about going home, but figured we'd made the drive and might as well go for it.

Well, it didn't go well.  I'd say he was probably about 70%.  There are two dogwalks there--one is low (3' ish) and the other is full height.  I started with the full height and he was tentative.  It was a little wet outside, but it really wasn't slippery.  The dogwalks are wood boards with slats, and I think they just felt funny to him.  Especially the slats.  The first time, he was just picking his way along the slats, looking for them and trying to avoid them.  Doh.  He did pick up the pace.  After a few repetitions I moved to the lower dogwalk, but that didn't seem to make any improvement, so I went back to the 48" one.  Again, I'm pretty sure it was about the slats and just feeling funny, and not about the height.  We ended on some good jackpots and went home.  He was kind of distracted about being in the newish place.  The horse was on the other side of the fence, there were good smells, his dad was there eating ice cream...all reasons to not be on his best game.  Anyway, I'm glad we had this bad session without anyone watching :).  Hopefully he'll get used to this equipment.  I'm not sure what to do other than keep working at home so he is really solidified with the footwork, and then take him back next week to try again.  We'll get there.

Generalizing is Hard

It's been raining a lot, so we haven't been able to practice much.  Bummer.

Anyway, today Jonah and I went and had a private dogwalk session with Grace.  It was really good, in that he wasn't perfect and we learned a lot.

The first two times over the dogwalk, he got in the yellow easily but broke his stride and trotted on part of it rather than striding confidently across.  I was a little surprised by this, as he's been on this dogwalk 100 times and isn't nervous about it.  Maybe he thought he was supposed to stop for a 2o2o.  I don't know.  Anyway, by the third time he was in his stride and was consistently jackpot-ing.

Then Grace made it harder :(.  Instead of having me throw the ball, she placed the ball out in front of the dogwalk.  Then she added a jump.  He was good about driving out to the jump today so long as I was ahead or parallel with him.  When I was behind him, he would slow down.  I think the ball really helps him drive forward when I'm behind.  So, even though it looks like we can mostly fade out the ball, we're going to keep working with it when I'm lagging behind so he keeps getting repetitions driving forward no matter where I am.

Next we tried different entries, and it actually did make a reasonable difference.  We had a curved tunnel to the dogwalk, which was fine.  Then I tried to run the tunnel the other way and have a harder entrance to the DW, and he lept.  Oops.  We also did tire to dogwalk with a sharp 90 degree turn.  It definitely changed his striding.  Grace wants us to keep working on that so he figures out to either add another stride or power through to hit his contact.

At the end I did dogwalk to tunnel and dogwalk to tire, both as pulls.  Unless I lead out or send him around something, I can't be enough ahead to push at this point in our training.

In sum, it was a great lesson because Grace pushed us out of our comfort zone.  I also learned that, just because Jonah is doing great at home, it doesn't mean that he'll be able to generalize instantly to other dogwalks in other locations.  Grace suggested that we do ring rentals at other places to try to get him exposure to lots of equipment.

So, the dogwalk project is far from finished, but we're well on the way!

Monday, May 7, 2012


I put the dogwalk up to a full 48" today.

Jonah was perfect.

I only did 6 repetitions, but that was plenty.  When I set it up, it looked really high!  It's a good 8" higher than it was yesterday, and I was worried he might leap.  Nope!  What a smart boy.  Now I'm really going to have to start thinking about bringing out the tunnel to have an obstacle after it.  For the moment, though, I'm just super thrilled.

1 month from board on the ground to full height running dogwalk at 100%.  Silvia does say she thinks it can be done in 2 weeks, but I think the fact that her course lasts 3 months is telling.  Jonah's a smart boy despite my weaknesses as a handler.  I'm so lucky.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Return of Perfection

Much to my relief, our little blip yesterday did not lead Jonah to forget how to do his dogwalk.  He looked fantastic today and was 100% jackpots again.  What a star.  I think he's actually getting a little bored, so I'm going to raise it to 48" tomorrow (I got new supports!  Yay!), and then soon I'll bring out the tunnel to have a next obstacle to focus on, so I can start fading out the thrown tennis ball.  Should be good!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The End of Perfection

Well, today wasn't our best session, but Jonah still did well.  We're dog sitting.  Jonah was doing great, and he'd probably done 6 perfect repetitions when we started another run...and half way across the DW I realized Romeo was sitting about 3 feet away from the end.  Yarg!  I shouldn't have had him out there, I guess.  Jonah did get in the yellow, but it wasn't pretty, and he lept over his little friend.  Then, once I got Romeo out of the picture, Jonah's next run he lept!  I was anticipating and clicked by accident.  Strike 2 for me!  After that, though, he was back to his normal accurate self.  Hopefully that's just a little blip and we'll get back to our previous accuracy.  I'm hoping to get new supports tomorrow.

Friday, May 4, 2012

And Another!

We did our second running session at our lunch break today, and once again Jonah was 100%.

However, I also determined that I want to really secure this performance before I go on much farther.

I tried putting up a jump after the A-frame and tried to send him to that instead of throwing the ball.  Well, he couldn't see the jump well and didn't know to look for it.  I know I could change that, but there isn't a lot of space for the jump anyway.  I think next time I try adding an obstacle I'll bring out the tunnel, which is hard to miss!

I also tried having him do the A-frame to the DW and the DW to the A-frame.  He was successful, but looked a little more hesitant and unsure.  I really am going to have to train a 'go on' command or something because, for the first time in our agility career, I reliably know I won't be able to keep up with him if he's full speed (which he has been).  It's awesome that he's running so fast, but I can't rely on my speed now, and I need to work on turning commands and some sort of 'straight ahead' training.  As I said, my yard isn't very conducive to a lot of this training, so I'm going to have to depend on working at DogStar and ARFF.  For now, though, we can just keep going like we have been so he gets it really cemented.  Most of all, I don't want him to lose his new found understanding!

Another Perfect Session

Dogwalk training is fun when your dog is perfect!  I think it's so interesting how it just clicked for him.  I didn't notice him 'figuring it out' was just like one day he came out and understood.  Maybe a vision came to him in a dream.  However it happened, I'm thrilled.  He's always well within the contact, too.  There shouldn't be any close calls or missed calls by judges because we won't be making them think much--he's just solidly in the yellow.  What a good boy!

Today we did another 8/8 and called it quits.  I'll try to do another session this afternoon, but we're having people over and I have to finish a paper today, so we'll see how the timing goes.  This weekend I'm going to see what I can do about getting new supports or adjusting the ones we have so we can actually get to 48".

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Last Class for a While

Jonah and I are going to take a session off from group classes so we can have some private lessons to get more repetitions in on the dogwalk.  That meant it was our last group session for a while.  Sad.  I like our class.

The first course had some nice challenges.  Nothing too bad, but good areas to work on tightening lines, etc.  The first tough spot was pulling him through a gap between two jumps that were about 10' apart.  I called his name, and he was right with me.  No problem.  Then there was a discrimination, taking the tunnel, and then out of the tunnel a 180 turn back to the A-frame.  The discrimination was no problem, but I worry about those turns to the A-frame because I'm afraid he won't get enough momentum to do his contact correctly.  He didn't seem to have any trouble with it, though.  His turn from the tunnel to the A-frame was nice and he was at least 6" into the yellow on the down contact.  The next tricky spot was  a blind at the end of the weaves with a funny angle jump to tunnel.  The blind wasn't a problem, but he tapped the bar on the jump.  It didn't fall, but Grace said I was over handling it, emphasizing the turn to the tunnel when he would have seen the tunnel anyway without me turning my body so much.  I think she's right.  I wouldn't have noticed that myself.  The course's final jump line had some funny angles but he nailed them without any trouble.  It was a really nice run, fast and clean.

The second course was a bit trickier.  We got through it clean as well, but some spots weren't especially pretty.  Here's the first spot that I screwed up:

The jump at 2 was not something you could take for granted.  I either had to FC on landing side of 2 or BC the tunnel, picking him up on my left for 2-3.  I tried both ways at various points, but I preferred the BC.  Then I really wanted to push myself and see if I could get a blind or front in between 3 and 4.  I did.  They were both ugly.  Since I had to wait a second to support 2, I was then late for the cross between 3 and 4.  Sorry buddy.  I also tried it with a RC on the flat after 4.  That worked, but it definitely slowed him down.  I never had a handling of this line that I loved.  The rear was definitely the safe option.  I might set it up again some time and see if I can't get a good blind in.

Here was the second icky area (look familiar?  these obstacles just didn't like us):

We only got to run this segment once.  I ran it as a serp from 1 to 4, and then put a FC between 4 and 5.  1 to 2 worked nicely, but 2 to 3 was a little funny.  He jumped bigger over 2 than I would have liked, so I had to call pretty hard to avoid the backside of 3.  Then my FC between 4 and 5 was late.  I should have just reared 5.  I guess I could have tried to put a FC between 2 and 3 and then another on the landing side of 3, but I think the serp was a better option--I just wish we had executed it better.  I guess I really should set this up and practice.

At the end of class Grace had us run the sequence in the first map a few more times and she timed it for us.  We were always within .1 second, and since it was timed by hand I don't know that I figured out any handling method was really better than another, but it was good to at least know we're pretty consistent :).  I'd love to do more timing.  It's fun to compete with ourselves!

What a dog!

Man, the running dogwalk was frustrating for a while, but now I feel like we've got it!  Still, I want to be cautious not to get too excited--I'm sure we'll take a step backwards somewhere along the way.

Today I put the dogwalk up to what used to be its full height.  I measured it, and it's just under 40".  I was worried, because this is a good bit higher than the last time we were running, and that was a few days ago thanks to the rain.  So, I started Jonah just on top of the down ramp, from a stop.  He lept.  Ugh.  I tried moving him back a couple feet so he'd have one running stride.  Jackpot.  Then I thought, what the heck, and I let him run the whole thing.  Jackpot.  And again.  Jackpot.  Jackpot.  Jackpot.  Jackpot.  Jackpot.  Jackpot.  Jackpot.

Eight in a row, and then I called it quits.  What an awesome boy.  I'm so stinking proud of him.  I hope we can hold onto this kind of performance, because it's amazing!  I can't wait until I try it somewhere away from home.  It's going to turn some heads, for sure.

Also, I need to figure out what I'm going to do with my supports.  I'd like to figure out a way to raise it so it's at least 45", but I haven't figured out just what I'm going to do yet.  For now, though, this is pretty good.  Yay Jonah!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Welcome to the Club

Today Jonah and I had a big adventure.  We joined an agility club!  (well, officially they have to vote on us, but we paid our money and got the unofficial approval)

It was a rainy day so I didn't do any running dogwalk work, but we went to the ARFF field for our evaluation.

When we got there there were probably 8 dogs or so out in the field.  I parked and left Jonah in the car while I went to see what the situation was.  Sue was there so we chatted a bit.  Joan, the person I was supposed to meet, was busy doing another evaluation.  Lots of the other dogs were running around loose. Two dogs were running at once, with no barrier in between.  There were horses on the other side of the fence.  It was a bit of a hectic environment!

Our saving grace (for us) was that the other dog getting evaluated was having a tough time.  I felt really bad for the handler.  Apparently the team competes in AKC excellent, but only trials outside.  The dog was very high and having issues with reactivity.  They were on the far side of the field, and still the dog was very stressed.  I'm sure the human was stressed, too.  It wasn't a great situation, but I at least knew that Jonah would be better than that.

When Joan finished with that dog, she came over, introduced herself, and said I could go get Jonah.  Well, it turned out he was pretty excited too!  First he had to go through a gate between three dogs.  He barked.  Great, I thought, what a way to start.  Once we were beyond that, though things got better.  He was pretty amped and was not excited about sitting still while I talked to Joan.  Soon enough she took us to the equipment.

There was a low dogwalk (which will be awesome for our training in the future!), and she asked us to walk across it.  Jonah was still on leash, so I jogged a little while he went up and over it.  He gave me a nice 2o2o.  We went back the other way and the poor little guy was about to explode.  Mom!  We don't walk over agility equipment!  Joan had us do the teeter.  Again, it was funny to be on leash and walking, but he did fine.  Next she walked us over to the A-frame.  I got up the guts to ask if I could take him off leash, and she said that was fine.  Good thing.  He did a lovely A-frame, and I'm not sure how we could have done it on leash.

I put him back on leash and he was really wanting to run.  This isn't how we do things, he said.  Joan was clearly just pleased that we were not as difficult a case as the previous dog, and said we passed with flying colors.  She gave me the membership form but said we could play a little bit before I filled it out.  We did the first 5 obstacles of a sequence, but people were walking on the rest of it.  He was good and clearly just happy to be running.  Then I just toyed around with the contacts and some jumps.  We didn't do much, but it at least took a bit of his edge off.  Then I put him back in the car, filled out the form, and we were done.

It was a bit of a strange experience, not knowing what to do, and all.  I'm sure I'll feel out how to handle it all.  I was just thrilled we passed.  It's close, a fantastic deal financially, and should give us a chance to practice some stuff and meet people.  I'm thinking I might look to get a pop up crate so he'd have a place to go away and relax among the busy atmosphere.  The car is rather far away.  We'll see how things go.  It will be a great place to practice our dogwalk.  There was another person there who's going through Silvia's online contacts class now.  It would be good to get her insight.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Goals

I can't believe it's May.  May is an exciting month for me.  In 11 days, somehow, I will have finished three papers.  Then I will graduate!  My program has been a little bit bittersweet for me.  I went in pretty convinced I would be a professor, but my experiences at Harvard showed me that it really isn't the career path for me.  I've learned a lot, but most of all I've found that I'd be happier in another setting.  I still don't know exactly what my career path looks like.  Research is really exciting for me, and I have a passion for issues of poverty, but nonprofit jobs can be hard to find and don't tend to offer generous salaries.  I'm so lucky to have Dave with a steady job, but I had always imagined myself as a hard working breadwinner.  The feminist side of me (which, granted, I didn't have much of before I went to Harvard) is somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that I could be supported by my husband while I waltz around doing social service work.  Anyway, I know this blog isn't about me, but it's an interesting time.

The best news is that, for the summer, I have a fantastic internship doing research for a grassroots mobilization project.  AND...I get to work from home!  Jonah is thrilled.

That also means that today I have to give notice at my current job, something I always hate doing.

Oh, and did I mention I have to write some papers?...

Anyway, April was a busy month, too.  I wrote 37 posts, an all time high.  I hope no one minds the short dogwalk updates.  I know they're better with videos but I can't find that darn tripod.  Yarg.  Here were our goals for the month:
1.  Start our running DW!!  By the end of the month, I want to have worked through the carpet stage and the flat plank stage, and be starting to put it up to a ramp.  This in itself will be a big goal!
     Yes!!  We're at 30" and Jonah has done three perfect sessions in a row.  Until a few days ago I would have told you that progress is really slow, but something clicked and now I'm really thrilled with how things are going.

2.  It would be really, really amazing if we could finish our Level 4 standard title this month.  That means going 5/5.  It's unlikely, but would be a huge success, and would mean that our nationals runs for standard would all be at level 5.
     No.  This was a bit of a disappointment, but I knew it would be difficult to do.  I did not expect that we would miss 3/5.  That's pretty bad for us.  One slip and fall off the dogwalk, one teeter flyoff and one missed discrimination.  Humph.  Now it will be a bit of a tall order to do 3/3 at nationals, so I may go to Gemini and try to pick up one beforehand.  Oh well, sometimes things don't go well.  I also have to be prepared for our Q rate to go down once we first introduce running dogwalks at competition.

3.  Finish Jackpot Level 4.  We'll have two tries.
     Yes.  We needed two tries thanks to my stupid greed (I tried to get more points and ended up over time).  In the one we missed, though, we did get all 3 jackpots.  In the one we got, it was a challenging one that few people achieved.  So, our distance work is looking decent.  Hopefully nationals will be a traditional gamble so I won't be tempted by greed.

4.  Finish Wildcard Level 4.  We'll have two tries at this, too.
    Yes.  Unfortunately we needed both tries at this as well.  In the first one he had a moment of Dad-distraction which led him to an off-course jump.  The rest of the course was lovely at least.  Sunday's wildcard that we got was pretty good, although it lacked a little pizzaz.

5.  Get Jonah to be able to tug away from home.  I don't know if we'll get to tugging at an agility location, but at least at Willards or a field or on trails will be a start.
     Yes.  This has been going quite well.  He did actually tug at the trial this weekend before his standard run.  The result:  a teeter flyoff.  Oops.  But if we suddenly had a problem of too much motivation, I wouldn't be too upset.  At least it's a change, and he's having more fun.  Of course, the two runs after that run he was much more his chill self.

So now the month of May.
1.  2 Qs at our USDAA trial.  I've entered 2 Standard runs, a Snooker, and Steeplechase (all S's). 
2.  Full height running dogwalk.  Ambitious, but if things keep going the way they have been, I think it's doable.
3.  Practice discriminations and contact-to-tunnel turns.
4.  Work on teeter performance so he's faster and also doesn't consider flying off.
5.  Keep tugging.  I'd like for him to tug at both DogStar and the USDAA trial.

I'm looking forward to a great month.  I should actually have some time to work with Jonah and get him in good shape for Nationals.  Now if it would only stop raining...