Monday, September 24, 2012

Go to the Head of the Class

Dave's out of town so I got to take Nika to her class tonight.  Wow.  She's so smart.  I'm really impressed.  Of course I've worked with her a lot at home, but we always do short sessions, and I often work her with a lot of distractions where she's not 100% focused.  With that in mind, I didn't have super high expectations.  This is a new class, a higher level, with new dogs...all reasons to be distracted.  Well, she was awesome.

We started warming up with some heeling.  Sure, every now and then she'd look around or get excited and leap out of position, but in general she was right with me.  It's funny not having Grace as our teacher, because the new teacher didn't know us and when class started she asked if I knew what heel position was.  I'm certainly no obedience expert, but I know what heeling is :).

After 5 minutes or so the teacher had caught on.  We all worked on heeling and while the others were lucky to get a few steps in, Nika was working on turns, sits, downs and any rally signs I could remember.  She was great.

When we practiced sits and downs, I realized that she's gotten a little rusty with hand signals only.  She's great with verbal only, and great with both verbal and hand, but we need to work more with hand only.  Good to know.  After a few repetitions at class, she was quite sharp again.

For recalls, we were the only dog who got to do recalls out of a stay rather than standing with the instructor holding the dog.  Again, she was picture perfect.

We worked on stand and stand for exam.  She's gotten good with the verbal only or with the hand signal only for stand, but she's not always great at staying right in heel position for it.  For the exam, she wiggles if she's not lured.  We'll keep working on that.

When we practiced stays, I was actually able to get her to break her stay when I jumped up and down.  Another thing to work on.  Otherwise, though, she was excellent.  I could run away from her, go anywhere away from her, get far away, go around and behind her, bend over...jumping was the only thing I could think of that made her get up.  Even then, it was the third jump before she got excited enough to break the stay.

At the end of class we practiced some targeting and spins.  I haven't done much targeting with her lately so I'll have to go back to that.  She was good so long as I held the target but wasn't as great when it was on the ground.

We ended class a few minutes early and I had her play on the teeter (which was really low) and a skate board.  She was good with both.

Overall, she was just such a joy to work with.  So bright, so focused, so happy.  We took a number of tug breaks during class, too, and she was eager to tug.  I'm so excited to see how she does with agility.  I think she'll be a superstar!

Also, yesterday we went to an English Shepherd gathering.  It was lots of fun.  Pictures and a longer post to follow!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'm a Terrible Blogger.

Sorry.  Work has changed my life a lot.  I really like my job, but I find that I want to spend every minute that I'm not working or commuting playing with the dogs rather than writing about them.

Here are some things that have happened since I last posted:

Jonah and I have worked seemingly endlessly on his table.  He's fantastic at home, but at our trial this weekend he still failed to lie down.  We got a jumpers Q with a pretty quiet but otherwise unproblematic run.  Standard was also a little on the slow side, and then had the table fail.  He had a beautiful running A-frame, but that was about the only part of the run that was anything special.

Jonah's classes have been going pretty well.  I feel like I'm not 100% there mentally because I have to rush so much to get there after work.  I need to focus on letting go of the day and giving him everything I have.

Nika graduated from Beginner Obedience last night.  She and Dave have done a really good job.  I'm not sure they've decided what class to do next.

Here is a bit of a photo dump:

Me and Nika after my triathlon this summer.

She used to be so small!

Nika and my dad make funny faces.

Silly puppy face.

Nika and the family in Plymouth after Dave's, my dad's and my uncle's tri (I had dog duty).

Our soon to be house (next Friday!)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Blog Action Day: Collaboration, Mistakes & The Blues

It's blog action day again!  (  Today's question is "What makes a good instructor?"

I’m very lucky to have worked with two excellent instructors lately.  They’re quite different, and I appreciate different things about them.

There are lots of good instructor traits that are pretty straight forward:  someone who has lots of experience to share, someone who makes you better, someone who is invested in you and your dog, etc.  Those are good, and there are more of them, but I thought I’d focus on three other things that I’ve appreciated recently.

1.     An instructor who will collaborate with you.
     Grace has a ton to teach me.  She has this fantastic attitude, though, that makes me really believe that she appreciates my point of view, too--both as a handler in general and as the person who knows my dog best.  When I work with her, it’s like we’re working together. We’re both a little bit dorky, analyzing each little piece of a run in search of that impossible 'perfection.'  When a line wasn't as tight as we'd like, she’ll say, “What if you try this?”  And sometimes it will be a clear improvement.  But then other times she’ll say, “Yeah, I liked your way better.”  I feel like we’re a team trying to solve puzzles together, even if I’m the one paying her and doing the vast majority of the learning. Grace makes me feel like a good handler.  It’s a nice confidence boost.

2.     An instructor who lets you screw up.
     I’ve had a few lessons with Laura this summer. I don’t really think of her as my instructor, but I’ve learned so much in several sessions that I have a heck of a lot to owe her.  I love her handling style, and I think it’s awesome that she’s on the world team.  Anyway, what I like most about Laura is that she has the attitude of “I’m going to do what I think will work best for my dog, no matter what other people do.”  She teaches with that attitude, too.  A few weeks ago there was a tricky section and I walked it differently from everyone else.  When I told her my plan, she said something like, “Cool.  I’d like to see how that works.”  Well, it didn’t work.  Her way worked.  But she let me do it my way first, and I appreciated that.  I learned more by screwing up on my own terms than I would have if she’d just had me do it her way from the beginning.   

3.     An instructor who shares the down times with you.
     Lately things haven’t been going well for us at trials.  It’s really quite embarrassing.  In practice we’re flying through international courses with  tight lines and fantastic running contacts. But then, we’re 1/10 in our last 10 runs at trials.  That’s awful!  Jonah is just so stressed that he can’t get it together.  Neither Grace nor Laura has a quick fix for us (if someone does, let me know!), but they were both there this weekend to watch my runs, tell me I was doing a great job staying positive, and then just agree with me that this sucks!  I’d rather be able to fix it, but sometimes it’s nice to have your instructors be just as lost for words as you are.

Edit:  I want to be clear that, by commiserating with me, my instructors aren't blaming Jonah or suggesting that there's nothing I can do.  They're just standing with me, acknowledging that it's frustrating, and helping me be patient :).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dave's Guest Post

Today I took Nika to her third week of beginner obedience. It was also her first day at home while Katie was at work. I'm sure she was bored, but it's tough to tell how much that's affecting her right now. She's been removing yogurt cans from the recycling and searching the room for the best chews, with an occasional bark thrown in. Of course, none of this is unusual, but I think Katie and I both feel bad when we don't get to do something with her where we can say, "OK, she's definitely going to be tired tonight."

Anyway, her second week of class, last week, was really awesome. She paid great attention for the whole hour and aced everything she was supposed to do. I often only half listen to what Grace is saying because it seems more important to keep the puppy working the whole time, and because Katie has probably already taught her what she needs to know. (Thanks Katie!)

This week wasn't quite as good. There were more big dogs doing obedience in the ring next to us. Nika never totally lost it, but she did spend a lot of time looking at them. It would usually be a short glance and then back to me, but still. All the tricks went pretty well except for down. She couldn't do the raised arm down at all, and she was even slow with the lure. Oh, and it was also taking two "comes" after a stay to get her.

But distraction isn't really that bad, especially considering how much her focus is increasing as she's getting older. The more frustrating thing is when she does things she knows she's not supposed to. Lately, this has been pushing open the gate at the top of our stairs and running downstairs. I can hear the getaway, and when I go out, she's always close enough to look at me and decide it will be way better to ignore me and make a break for it. I know I'm not supposed to chase her in this situation, but it's also not good to have her wandering the house. Not really sure what the best thing to do is.

To end on a positive note, she's really cute. One of our favorite pastimes is to go out back and sit down together and just watch Jonah run around. She's really good at focusing on him, but I guess she still likes to have a friend to watch with.

Monday, September 3, 2012

ARFF Trial

Overall, the trial experience was quite good.  It was a long day, but what trial isn't.  I met some nice new people, got to talk with other friends, watched some good agility, and even got a job offer!  Somehow it was my own agility that didn't quite live up to the rest of the day.

Round 1:  Advanced Standard
    Jonah was amped to start this run.  There was a strange, table-like platform outside the ring which we'd practiced on before going in.  He was dropping immediately and looking really happy about it.  I was hopeful.  When we went in, he was bark-bark-barking.  He started fast!  His weaves were not quite full speed, but not too bad.  Then he took a little bit of a detour and barked at the judge (which he's never done before), but came back and did some jumps at decent pace.  Then he started racing up the dogwalk but once again got concerned about the judge and just trotted down the down ramp.  He flew into the chute, up and down the A-frame and hopped right up onto the table.  Then he sat there.  And sat there.  And sat there.  And looked at the people outside the fence.  And ignored me.  And looked sad.  I tried moving so I was between the people and him, but no go.  So, we went on.  The rest of the course was lovely and fast.  That makes 2 perfectly clean standard runs in a row except for not being able to lie down on the table.  Thanks, Jonah.  We did a lot of table work and fast down game this week, but I guess it wasn't enough.  We'll keep working and hoping.  We still need two more standards.

Round 2:  Grand Prix
     This course started with a demotivating line including a tight wrap at 2.  Jonah was pretty peppy starting out, but that wrap killed the motor.  There were points where he got better, but in general he was just unenthused.  His dogwalk was a slow trot.  It seemed like it took him forever to tip the teeter.  He did have a lovely A-frame, but the jump after that required another wrap which unfortunately got him slow enough that he then stopped and looked at the timers instead of doing the weave poles, and incurred a refusal.  Poor guy.  He was just nervous again.  I wish he wouldn't be.  I can't tell what in particular he's scared of.  Laura suggested putting myself between him and the outside of the ring, which could have helped here, but then the judge might be scary sometimes.  I don't know.  Something to play around with.  Anyway, aside from the refusal he was clear but 8 seconds over time.  The refusal alone probably took 8 seconds, so it's good to know that a Q is certainly in the realm of possibility.  Still, I don't know how to get a magic de-stress button.  Our last trial was much better.  Oh well.  We'll just keep trying, I guess.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

ARFF Trial Preview

Tomorrow we're going to the ARFF trial.  We're just doing 2 runs in the morning and then I'll work the rest of the day while Dave brings the dogs home.  Nika's going to come to the trial, too.  It will be good socialization for her.

Round 1:  Advanced Standard
     It would be nice to get this Q, but the number 1 goal is to treat it like we did the last trial:  FUN FUN FUN-RUN RUN RUN!  I will keep going if he makes a mistake, and it will be a success if he doesn't get stressed or if he recovers from his stress.  I want to handle relatively conservatively and not get too far ahead of him.  I will work on supporting every obstacle and keeping a positive attitude.  We'll see how it goes.

Round 2:  Grand Prix
     One of our goals for the year was to get a tournament Q.  Well, here's a chance.  We should get to do a dogwalk, which is good practice.  Also for GP you don't have to worry about being better than other people (as in Steeplechase), you just have to go clean and under time.  We were less than a second off from getting a GP Q last winter, so if things go right we should have a chance.  Again, though, the goal is fast and fun and positive.

Wish us luck :).

Behind Again...Two Lesson Recap

I just don't seem to be able to keep up with blogging.  Hopefully life will settle into a rhythm soon.

Thursday Jonah and I went to DogStar.  We just weren't as sharp as I'd like us to be.  Basic things were hard for us:  we missed a couple dogwalk contacts.  There was a turn out of a tunnel right to an A-frame, and he just ran right past the A-frame.  We missed a weave entry that wasn't hard.  We got the wrong side of a tunnel 3 times in a row.  Just lots of silly mistakes.  I'm taking things for granted and he's needing more support than I'm expecting him to need for some reason.  Oh well.  Lots of things went well, too.  We practiced lead outs.  His downs on the table were improved.  We aced some tough jump lines with tight turns and threadles and such.  He was getting good and excited and he ran fast--I just wasn't quite there enough to really polish most of our runs.  We did have one perfect and lovely run, but it was the second time through one of the courses.  Anyway, it was a good reminder for me that I have to be alert and proactive.

Then on Friday we went to Laura's for our last lesson with her for a while, since I will be starting my new job next week.  This was another one of her international courses, and it had some real tough spots.  Once again, when I was focused on the tough sections we did those beautifully but we had some mistakes on the 'easy' things that I took for granted.

Actually, our first 'mistake' was that Jonah somehow crashed through a triple jump.  I don't know if he tripped or just misread it (it was jumping right at a fence and he might not have seen it well), but he face planted and did a flip.  It was pretty dramatic.  Poor guy.  He shook it off alright, though, and went on to do a nice tight serpentine with lots of looming off course options.  His lines were lovely.  I tried handling a few ways and found that rear crosses can actually be good options for us:  I'm often able to catch back up, and it really drives him forward and gives us a tight line.  I've been trying to avoid them lately, but I shouldn't necessarily do that.

There was a very tight 180 degree turn weave entry out of a chute that he missed the first time, but then he got it every time after that.  I think he really just came so fast out of the chute that he didn't have time to see the poles.  That's a tough question.  Out of the poles I was able to leave him pretty far away and he finished his poles nicely and ran well through a tight, turning jump section.  His teeter was a little slow, but his table was phenomenal.  As good as it could have been.

Then the end of the course was an open but turning line.  I ran the most direct route and expected him to take the jumps that were vaguely on the same line (just slight turns), but I pulled him off one.  He just hugged tight to me.  The second time I shifted my path a little and said "jump" and it ran quite well.  Again, I need to support him.

This is a good lesson going into a trial, where he's even more likely to run past obstacles.  I need to be very clear with what I'm expecting.

In other news, I bought Laura's old dogwalk bases, so we won't have to use our shelving units any more.  Yay!  The dogwalk will look like real equipment :).

In other other news, the puppy is teething like crazy.  Today she went to a triathlon and had a marvelous time watching exciting things, meeting other dogs, and lounging in the shade.  Good girl.