Sunday, October 20, 2013

Airport Musings

Hello from the airport!  Due to an unfortunate mistake on my part (i.e. making my reservation for the wrong day.  doh. The change fees for United were higher to get on a 4 hour trip with a stop than to book a new, direct 1.5 hour flight on Jet Blue), I am at the airport with several hours to spare.  It might be the first time I've felt like I had time to blog in a long time.  So, here I am, and I'll give an update on the dogs.

Jonah is, as always, great.  I took him to my weekly lesson last Thursday and he was his usual self:  steady and reliable.  Then I took the day off and took both dogs to a lesson on Friday.  He was the most excited and social I have ever seen him at an agility activity.  I have no idea what it was.  I brought both dogs, and Nika got her turn first, so by the time Jonah came out he was really ready to go.  Of course, that's true at trials, but then he's stressed.  He was not stressed at this lesson.  He saw a crowd of people and pulled me towards them, wagging and wiggling and weaving through their legs and jumping up to see them.  Who is this?  Not Jonah.  Then, he did the same with other dogs.  He was jumping around and trying to run and play like he does with Nika, but he's never done that in an agility setting before with any other dog, ever.  So cool.  Then, when we got to the agility part, he was so wild and fast and silly that I couldn't get him clearly through one section for several tries.  But I was laughing a lot at him, which didn't help.  What had gotten into him?  What a goof.  It was great.  If only I could recreate it.

Nika has been a bit up and down lately.  She has moments of brilliance, and then sometimes the wheels really fall off.  At the same lesson when Jonah was being so silly, she was...a puppy.  We went first, and so I pulled her out of the car and asked her to start the course right away.  She was so stimulated by all the dogs and people around, and being in an environment she's only been to once or twice, she didn't focus well.  She started fine, but then wouldn't lie down on the table (and usually she's good at that, compared to her brother.  I've vowed to not have two dogs who can't complete the table).  Then she took a silly zoomies lap, pulled bars, forgot how to weave, etc.  We got through the course, but it was a real mess.  Then our dogwalk and teeter criteria started to fail.

I was underwhelmed, so I took her to run throughs that afternoon.  Convinced that I should get things right this time, I came out with a very workman like approach, and she did fine.  She bailed off the teeter a few times, which is unusual for her.  I wanted to do hard things, so we did and she was fine, but lacked enthusiasm.

When I got home I reassessed and decided I needed to step back.  So in the last few sessions before I left for a business trip this week, we focused on short, fast and fun.  I want to keep all the speed and eagerness I've built in, and it's better to go slow and maintain that than to lose it while doing harder things.  I want to have excellent obstacle performance on all obstacles and need to maintain it at all times.  Then, I want her always happy and drivey.  As long as I can keep those things I can increase difficulty, but only if I can keep those things.  That's the plan at this point, and hopefully I can keep it.

UKI is coming to our area, and I'm thinking about trying it.  Their table criteria is a down, but it doesn't look like all standard courses have a table, so Jonah might have a chance.  Nika will measure into the 20" category, so I have to think about whether I want to start jumping her at that height or enter their Select program so she would jump 16".  There's a trial in November and I might just sign up.  Nika also just had her 18 month birthday, so she's eligible for USDAA, where I'll also have to think about jump height.  I haven't entered anything yet, but it's on the horizon.  Meanwhile Jonah is now less than 20 Qs away from his CATCH so we'll be doing CPE whenever it's convenient.  2014 could be the year!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Herding vs. Agility

Today was the Northeast English Shepherd Gathering.  Thanks Marianne, Nika's breeder, for organizing a great event!

The weather didn't cooperate especially well, but everything else did.  There were lots (35ish?) of English Shepherds there, and Nika made so. many. friends.  She's still bad about jumping on people.  I keep thinking she'll grow out of it, but it hasn't happened yet.  The excitement makes it worse.  She played with lots of dogs and had a grand time.  Jonah came out and was a very good boy, too.  He would bark at Nika but was excellent with all the other dogs and people.  Last year he found the whole thing a bit stressful, but today he didn't show any signs of that.

One of the highlights of the event was that we got to try herding.  Cool.  I didn't really know what to expect.  Nika was the first dog to go.  Marianne picked us because she said she knew my dogs would be in control.  Ha.  I was worried that, having never been exposed to livestock, control wouldn't be the first adjective you'd use to describe Nika.  That might still be true, but she turned out to be a really good girl.  

We entered the pen and she was distracted.  She saw the sheep but they weren't moving, and she thought the smells around the ground were about as interesting as the sheep.  When the trainer got them to walk, she was interested, but kept checking with me like, "Mom, that's kind of cool, but I'm paying attention to you like a good girl."  I'd walk towards the sheep and she basically heeled with me, checking back and forth between the sheep and me like, "I don't really know what I'm doing, but those things are neat."  At one point a sheep turned around and stamped its foot at Nika.  Nika ran around behind me.  In general, I wouldn't say she was especially scared, but she wasn't sure.  By the end, she was getting more bold, maybe even too bold.  She'd lunge towards the sheep and they'd run, rather than keeping a steady pace.

The trainer thought she had instinct and was well behaved (she'd lie down on command for me, etc.) but a little distracted.  She thought Nika's young age might contribute, and that she could be good at herding, but that it would take regular practice (which, in the suburbs, isn't easy).  So, I left thinking that it was neat but that Nika wasn't really cut out to be the world's greatest herding dog, especially given the fact that I love agility and want to spend time on that.

So, we went back to agility :).  We had brought some equipment and set it up for a demo.  It was interesting.  There were tons of dogs around, and Nika was pretty distracted.  Much more so than at a typical trial.  We started, she knocked a bar, had some off courses, couldn't see the weaves, which were right next to a white fence, and then got herself caught in the chute, which was really bogged down with rain.  Our second attempt went much smoother, but then a puppy came romping into the area to join in, and focus went right out the window.  I think it was still a decent taste of agility for the people watching, and it's not like we're world team members anyway.  Not our best work by far, but fun nonetheless.  Then a bunch of people played around on the equipment with their dogs, which they really seemed to enjoy.  Yay for exposing new people to agility!

Then it was Jonah's turn to try herding.  When we took him down to the area, he was barking when he first saw the sheep.  The trainer had mentioned the importance of dogs staying quiet, so I was thinking she wouldn't have much tolerance for Jonah's antics.  I told her that if it just wasn't going to work, that was fine and she should just say so.  After all, (at least to my knowledge) he wasn't bred in herding lines like she was.  To my surprise, she asked if it was his first time seeing sheep and, when I said yes, she shrugged and said it was a pretty typical reaction.  The first couple times he got near them, he barked and lunged, but then he settled right down.  And he was awesome!  Confident, calm, focused, and he just seemed to get it really well.  We moved the sheep around, changed direction, went the other way, and he was a total star.  Not distracted at all like Nika had been.  After a couple minutes the instructor said he was doing great so it was time for the next step.  She took the long line from me and had me go in front of the sheep.  Well, Jonah continued to show interest and instinct, but he was really worried about the instructor and kept looking over his shoulder at her, and then back to the sheep, then over at me.  He did fine, but after a few minutes when he walked by the gate he just stopped there, saying, "I'm done."

I have a few overall thoughts to compare agility and herding.  It may not be a fair representation of herding, but this is based just on my little taste:
  • Handling agility is WAY more fun because you get to run.
  • The instructor made a good point:  herding should be about practical work with livestock, not just entertaining dogs.  If I got into herding, it would really just be for the sake of the dogs.  I don't have any need in my current lifestyle to be moving sheep around.
  • In agility/obedience, checking in with the handler is really important.  In herding, handler focus is really a minimum.  Nika needed more obstacle/sheep focus but kept looking for me for encouragement and direction.
  • Agility can be more positive.  When Jonah barked at the sheep, I was told to "reprimand" him.  What?  I don't even know what that means, and I'm glad.  (I just called him back to me.  He came.  I asked him to sit.  He did.)
  • Food-motivation doesn't really translate to herding.  Both my dogs like to work for food.  They'll work for toys, too.  Neither had a place here.  
  • I think of Nika as my confident dog, but after today I think some of that depends on my ability to play with her happily through verbal praise, toys, food, etc. When those go away in an uncertain situation, she really wants to please and the lack of those is almost like negative reinforcement for her.
  • It's cool how much natural instinct both dogs have.  Neat to watch.  And Jonah really seemed to get satisfaction out of it.  Maybe Nika would, too, if she gained more confidence that she was doing it right.  Obviously my own lack of knowledge contributes to my inability to guide them, but they did darn well despite my blunders!

Catch Up

I realize that I haven't posted in...months!  Yikes :(.

Work is very busy, and any free dog-related time ends up going to playing with the dogs and working them, rather than writing about them.  In general, that's a good thing.

Anyway, lots has happened since the last post.

Nika went to her first trial!  And then her second.  And third, and fourth.  She's awesome.

I won't go through every run we've had, but basically she has a phenomenal focus, and has put together some beautiful runs.  This past weekend, the judge came up to me after a run and said, "You're amazing.  Where do you trial?"  I thought this was a funny question, because I've shown under her at least 5-6 times, but apparently Jonah is not very memorable.  I thanked her nonetheless.

We've had mistakes:  some dropped bars, a missed A-frame, some off courses or missed obstacles.  But, she's picked up a whole bunch of Qs and has already moved up to Level 4 in Fullhouse.  She's never made me regret starting her in level 3.  Everyone thinks she's awesome...I can't tell you how many comments I've gotten.  One woman referred to my dogs as "The fluffy one and the fast one."

Meanwhile, Jonah's doing great, too.  He's had a few perfect days lately and has just been generally very reliable.  Some super fast runs, too.  I'm proud of the big guy.  He always really wants his turn, even if he sometimes still gets nervous in the ring.  Oh, and he hit his 100th CPE Q last weekend!  Now he only has 18 left before he earns his CATCH.

For class, Nika has graduated into Competition Agility, the highest level.  Jonah and Nika switch off week to week, and both are kicking butt.  It's so fun to have the two of them.  They definitely have different strengths.  I'm lucky to have such awesome dogs.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


It's been a long time!  That's because we've been so busy.  Both dogs are doing great and we're gearing up for an exciting late summer and fall.

Last weekend we went to a training session where we did a few sequences from Masters Challenge courses.  Both dogs got through them nicely.  For Jonah, he's such a steady guy and I can always do things multiple ways, with him covering for my mistakes.  What a guy.  With Nika, sometimes we screw up--she's not as experienced and we're still working out our partnership.  When we get things right, though, it's awesome.  She's really fast.  What fun!  Plus, she's only 15 months and the fact that she can fly through International level courses is pretty awesome. week from today Nika will make her trial debut!

We're going to a CPE trial and she's entered in Fullhouse, Standard and Jackpot.  If the Standard course doesn't look friendly, I may scratch her.  I figured I'd enter, though, since it was between the two classes I really wanted to do (since I can make my own, Nika-friendly course).

I've entered her in Level 3 because she doesn't have trouble with weaves or the teeter.  Her A-frame is her weakest obstacle right now.  She's great with the box in place, but when I take it off she starts having her second hit be high.  We'll get there.

I decided to start her at 16".  I'm hoping she'll measure into 16" regular, but if not I'll just show her in Enthusiast.  For now, there's enough for her to focus on that I don't want jump height to be an issue.  I know different people have different ideas about this, but it's what I feel most comfortable with.  She doesn't need extra pounding while she's young and learning.  She may jump 20/22" later on--she's certainly capable.

Anyway, I'm really excited.  I think she'll do great, but I'm also not in any rush to get Qs and titles.  That will come if we get used to going to a trial environment and working together and having fun.

Meanwhile, Jonah's entered in Jackpot and Standard, and hopefully he'll do well, too.  He still needs *9* standard Qs to finish his CATCH.  We may start picking them up faster now that the puppy's trialing, though.  We've only done a couple this year, so no surprise we're slow getting Qs!  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Glen Highland Farm

Jonah, Nika, Dave and I just got back from a wonderful trip to Glen Highland Farm (GHF) in upstate NY.

GHF is a gorgeous, 175 acre farm in the quaint country town of Morris, NY.  It is home to a fantastic border collie recue operation that places over 200 BCs each year.  We got a tour of the facility and met some of the dogs.  They're beautiful, lovely dogs and GHF gives them plenty of space to run and care to blossom until they find their forever homes.


 Vacationing at the farm helps offset the (obviously huge) costs of the rescue program, and it's a great place to relax with your dog.  The leash-free property includes 5 miles of trails through beautiful rolling country fields, lush mossy forests, along a meandering river, and through a shady hemlock grove.  There's a pond for swimming (great for dogs, but Dave and I passed despite bringing our wetsuits) and plenty of space for ball/frisbee chasing.

There were several lodging options: tents (which we chose), cabins and luxury RVs.  Our tent was huge, including a full size futon, a bookshelf and a small table.  There was plenty of space for all our gear, 2 crates, and 2 bikes.  There were bathrooms and a nice shower about 100 yards down the trail.

Another highlight was the dining pavilion, with gas grills, a wood-burning grill, and then a microwave, toaster and all the dishes and supplies you could possibly need.  There was a pantry with refrigerators.  We went pretty basic with our cooking, but we didn't have to!  Other people made flambeed steaks, sizzling bacon, mouth watering salmon and fresh grilled corn.  Yum!

I pulled into the farm with very high expectations, and for the most part it lived up to them.  They'd gotten a lot of rain, so a bunch of the trails were closed when we arrived, although for the most part they reopened before we left.  The trails themselves are fantastic, although you get through them pretty fast if you're running like we were.  Anyway, they were nice enough that we weren't at all complaining to retrace our tracks.

Dave and I each went out road biking and it was awesome.  There are some sizable hills, and the scenery is beautiful if you like farm country even 1/4 as much as I do.  There was hardly any traffic on the country roads.

I had been very excited to go on an agility vacation.  Their website says, "Our agility equipment is available for use anytime during your stay. With 2 complete courses of obstacles, you can practice any aspect of the sport you like and use each day to build greater skills or just have fun challenging both you and your dog." Well, they did have a huge field big enough for two courses (albeit not entirely flat), but all that was there was an A-frame (a nice max 200), an AKC tire (also max 200), 2 aluminum jumps, a tunnel, a 16" table, 6 weave poles that appeared to be 22", and a teacup dogwalk.  I'd planned on setting up some international courses and working through sections each day, but needless to say we had to change our plans.  I did get some great sessions in with each dog, but it was nothing I wouldn't have been able to do at home.

Overall, the dogs had a fabulous time.  They met new dogs and people, ran a LOT, swam, chased swallows in the field, chased deer, chased each other, caught a woodchuck, got snapped at by a snapping turtle, and slept well at night.

For us, when we think camping we think wilderness backpacking miles away from other people.  This wasn't that.  If you're used to campgrounds, though, this would have been awesome:  the bathrooms were great, the dining pavilion unmatched, and 175 acres of off-leash adventures to share with only about 20 people.  All the dogs and people were great, too.  It was spread out enough that it wasn't loud, but if you were moving around the property you'd bump into people regularly.  We kept reminding ourselves that the more people there were, the more support for the rescue program, which we definitely want to support!

So, it was a great trip.  I would definitely recommend it!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Nika's Videos

Here are some videos of Nika's progress.  Her dogwalk is coming along as well, but I don't have footage of that.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What a Weekend

I know I haven't posted in a long time, but I wanted to post this video I made.  Nika had her first birthday yesterday.  She's doing great (see video).  As far as agility, she's not picking up the running dogwalk as fast as Jonah did, but otherwise there's not much I can complain about.  I ordered a set of channel weave poles, so hopefully they will arrive soon and we will start training those.  We're taking Silvia Trkman's Foundations class, too.  We just got our first assignment, but I'm excited about the course.

Jonah's doing well, too.  We went to a trial last weekend and he had the fastest Standard run in the whole trial!  What a good boy.

Here's that video:

Today we took Nika to watch the Boston Marathon.  She was great.  We were at the halfway point, and then the bombings were another 13 miles down the course.  Nonetheless, it was scary.  We had lots of friends watching in the city, and it was a few hours before we'd heard from people that everyone was alright.

Here's to being thankful for all we have and enjoying every moment we have with our friends, families and dogs!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Winter Fun

I woke up early this morning and actually have time to write a quick post!

We've got snow now, which I love but which makes traditional agility a little harder.  We're still spending lots of time outside, but I'm doing most of our training indoors.

I have two main projects at the moment:  pedestal work and cik & cap turns.

For pedestal work, I have a box about 6" x 9" and about 4" off the ground.  Both dogs are doing well.  They can pivot around the box with their front two feet on the box and their back two feet on the ground.  Then they can do the opposite:  back feet on the box and front on the floor.  They also can rotate with all four feet on the box, and then they do a variety of tricks while on the box.  The training process went well.  Nika had a little more trouble 'getting' the 2o2o position since I haven't done too much of that with her, but she has more speed in pivoting around.  I do think it's helping her body awareness.  Next I'm curious to see if I could do one paw on the box or two left paws/two right paws.

Our other project has been cik and cap turns, Silvia Trkman style.  I watched the video and now we're in the training process.  In the first shaping session, they both quickly understood to go around the far side of the cone, but they didn't want to make a complete circle:  they always wanted to have the cone between me and them.  So, it took a few sessions before they would happily do 'multi wraps' where they just keep turning in the circle.  Jonah's harder direction was clockwise (not surprising--this is his harder lead).  Nika's harder direction was counter clockwise.  She doesn't seem to be a particularly one-sided dog now that she's figured it out, though.  Now we've graduated to working on wrapping trees out in the yard.  They generalized to the trees very quickly and can get some distance.  I work on rear crossing, front crossing, lead outs and sends.  All that is going well.  Jonah still needs work to keep his wraps tight.  When he gets excited, he just runs wider.  Nika shows a lot of promise.  We'll keep working this and hopefully I'll get some video soon.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Welcome to 2013

I've been continuing to have lots and lots of fun with the dogs, and less and less interest in blogging about it.  Sorry.

I couldn't miss a beginning-of-the-year post, though.  I do really love keeping up with goals, so it's good to look at what we'd planned and what happened, as well as think about what's to come.

This is what I said last January:

"In 2012, I would like to:
  • Have our first pairs run without any calamities.
  • Earn our USDAA Starters Title.
  • Earn our CPE Level 3 Title.  
  • Go to CPE Nationals!
  • Earn our CPE Level 4 Title.
  • Earn our USDAA Advanced Title.
  • Earn our first USDAA tournament Q(s).
  • Go to a workshop.
  • Have fun.
  • Stay healthy.
  • Continue to work on socialization with other people, dogs and cars.
That's not a long list but it's some big goals.  I'd like to think it's reasonable, but life can always be unpredictable.  Wish us luck, and we hope you have a wonderful year, too!"

Well, it surely was unpredictable.  Here's our report card:
A+:  First pairs run without calamities.  We're 2/2 in pairs runs, and neither has had any trouble at all.  
A:  Yep, we got our AAD!  It's the prettiest ribbon we've earned together.
A:  Yes, we got our CPE level 3 title.  No problem!
B:  We did go to CPE Nationals.  But it ended up being too electric an environment for Jonah, and his performance suffered.  Our confidence and interest in trialing plummeted.
F:  We did not get our CPE Level 4 Title.  That's just because we didn't enter trials, though--not because we were NQing.  
F:  Nope, we didn't get our AD.  We have all our games legs, but Jonah's trial anxiety means he's not wanting to lie down on the table.  If it weren't for the table, we'd have our AD as it's the only fault we've ever received in Advanced Standard.
F:  We didn't get a tournament Q either, but again largely because we didn't enter many (I think it was only 1 NQ).
A:  Yes, we went to a workshop with Grace and then one with Lo.  Both were excellent, and I can't wait to do more!
A:  Yep, we had lots of fun this year, it just wasn't all about agility.  I feel closer than ever to Jonah, and that's what it's all about.
A-:  We haven't had any major issues around our health.  Just a few tweaks and colds here and there.
B+:  We've done a bunch of socialization.  There's always room for more and he's still not perfect.  He's getting much better about having strange people at our house, but he's still prone to be startled by strangers in public.  I think it would take a whole lot of work to get him 100% comfortable with meeting new dogs and people, and I don't know if we'd ever get there.  He was as happy as I'd ever seen him the last time we took him to the Middlesex Fells, though.  I think he is getting better.

So, it was a good year for me and Jonah although agility trials were not the same priority they'd been in 2011.  Here's a look at what I'd like to do in 2013:
  • CPE Level 4 Title
  • Get past anxiety about laying down on a table in trials
  • Go to at least one seminar
  • Improve wrap skills, making tighter turns
  • Enhance drive, and work towards using a toy as a reward
  • Teach new tricks
  • Stay healthy and have fun
I've decided to focus primarily on CPE this year because I don't think I'll do CPE with Nika.  Once they're both trialing, I'll stick with USDAA.  I think having Jonah get his CATCH this year is doable, but we'll have to see.

Last year I recounted some of the events of the year, and I'll do the same this year.  Some were really big happenings!

  • We got a puppy!!!  I hadn't accounted for this when I set last year's goals, but it's had a huge impact on what I've done with the dogs.  More on goals for her shortly.
  • Jonah learned a running dogwalk contact
  • We made a full height dogwalk
  • We got real agility jumps
  • We bought a house!  That meant a number of weekends went to things like putting in the fence and moving furniture, rather than doing agility.  It's worth it though, and we all love the new place.
  • I graduated
  • I got a job  
  • I trained for a marathon, even though a stomach flu kept me from finishing the actual race
  • We swam, ran, hiked, camped, traveled and had lots of fun

Here's what I hope to accomplish with Nika this year:
  • Solid obstacle performance on all obstacles, including running contacts
  • Handling understanding such that she can do Masters level courses in training
  • Do agility in at least 5 places, whether for classes, seminars, run thrus, or anything else
  • If she's ready, go to her first trial
  • Take her to trials with Jonah so she continues to not be flustered by the environment
  • Continue socialization.  She's got a great foundation, but I want to keep exposing her to dogs, people, etc.
  • Trick training, as with Jonah
  • And again, stay healthy and have fun!
So, this year will definitely be different from last year, but I'm really looking forward to it.  I always wish I had more time with the dogs and for blogging, but I'll make do.  I'm just so lucky to have such a wonderful human and canine family.  Thank you everyone!