Agility-U Maximize your Mini class with Tracy Sklenar review

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For the past 6 weeks I have been participating in the online course through Agility University (Agility-U) taught by Tracy Sklenar called Maximize your Mini (aka Small Dog).

Over the past couple of years I taken a few online agility and dog training courses through various platforms and so far this one has been my favorite.

I originally registered as their mid-level student, where I could post comments and view materials, but couldn’t post videos of my practice for comment by the instructor.  After a week of observing Tracy’s teaching approach and feedback, I decided to upgrade to the level where I could post videos for review and comment by Tracy.  While this option was expensive, for this particular class I’m glad I was able to.  The upgrade was very easy to do, the tech support for the course was excellent.

I very much appreciated and enjoyed Tracy’s ability to instruct, the level and timeliness of feedback and responses, and her wide range of knowledge.  I’ve taken classes before where because I don’t run AKC or USDAA, the instructor didn’t know how to give feedback that would be useful for me running NADAC with distance, over and over they focused on skills and techniques that I would never have reason to use on course.  Not so with Tracy, she sees value in distance skills and though she doesn’t currently train or run NADAC style with her own dogs, she had no problems supporting my goals and needs in ways that were very helpful to me.  She continuously encouraged me to push my skills, try different ways to handle things at a distance, reminded me of my goals and to practice for them, and gave feedback on how to more clearly communicate with Zora without needing to get closer to her.  I’d never before taken a course with Tracy and knowing she focused her own skills mostly on USDAA, I was concerned maybe she wouldn’t be a good fit for my needs, but I was very happy to quickly realize what a great instructor she is regardless of the venue you train for or your training goals.  I very much appreciate an instructor who can focus on what their student needs and is working towards and adapt to that individual student’s need.  Tracy can and did do just that with each of us in the class.

The class materials were also very well done.  I appreciated the multi format style, each week materials were posted in PDF format with a written description of what Tracy was wanting us to practice that was well explained the whys and the hows.  Then the course map was included often with multiple easy to discern lines to better visually describe course and handling challenges.  Tracy also included links to demo videos with her dogs, using dogs of various levels to show how to set up and work through various potential challenges each set up gave.  I found the materials very accessible and easy for me to understand.

Though this course was specifically about improving ways to better handle and communicate with a small dog on course, when anyone was having more foundation based challenges, I very much liked that Tracy met each of us where we needed help.  She was willing and did post lots of foundation and intermediate step instructions and videos that I believe she uses in other classes she teaches.  These were all very helpful it seemed to many of us in the class, myself included.

I too liked that when Tracy posted the new class materials and homework, the website platform automatically emailed us to tell us.  I’ve taken other classes on different sites where unless you remember to religiously check the website, you have no other way to know when new materials are posted and it’s easy to forget.  With the email reminder prompting it was very easy to remember to stay on track with class.

I learned a number of new things in this class that I’m already seeing payoffs with when running and handling Zora.  Taking a class with someone who is experienced running and training dogs of all sizes to a very high level and can give explanation and suggestions to help better adjust to a small dog (especially for someone like myself who ran large dogs for so long, having a small dog is an adjustment for sure!) was fantastic.

The only 2 things I didn’t really appreciate about the course was the required CAPTCHA when I signed up through their website, but again the tech support staff was quick to help me out.  And the cost, the cost was higher than any other online dog training class I’ve taken, but all told the level of instruction and amount of materials and instructor feedback was significantly better than I’ve had in other classes, so I think the cost is actually very reasonable for what I received from the course.

All in all I would encourage anyone interesting in taking an online agility class to explore the courses through Agility-U and definitely consider taking one of Tracy’s courses.

NATCH Zora!! Happy happy joy joy

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Zora with her pretty purple NATCH ribbon

This past weekend the dogs and I traveled with a friend (hubby had to work) to Sugar Bush Farm in NY where we spent a glorious weekend at the NAE NADAC trial.  This site is amazing and lovely.  Then again any place that reminds me of my great aunt’s sheep farm in the mountains of New Hampshire is my favorite place.  I have a conditioned happy response from the time we spent on Windy Hill when I was a kid.  It’s like I just instantly relax, smile and breathe.  It was lovely.

It was additionally great to catch up with my friend, Ben.  When I was teenager, he was my access to dog agility.  We traveled all over the east coast together.  He taught me how to drive when the time came, encouraged me to become an agility judge, gave me a safe space to be after school and on weekends and it’s been great to reconnect.  We had a good time chatting on the drive up and drive home.

Now, on to the actual events.  The trial offered 2 runs on Friday afternoon.  So we ran tunnelers and weavers.  Weavers was a bit of a muck up, so when Zora nailed a set of weaves really well I decided to end on that, leave and go party with her.  I’m so glad I made that decision as our weaves the remainder of the weekend were some of the best and most consistent she’s been in a trial yet.  Which I was and am thrilled with!!

Friday night Tom, Zora and I slept in an on-site camper the facility had.  And got minimal sleep.  The camper was nice, serviceable, but being in a new place every little sound woke me up.  The dogs seemed to sleep ok at least.  We were up early, so took a bit of a walk up the road and back in the crisp morning air.  The smell of cows in the air, the creek running along side the road, not a person to be heard, it was a really nice way to start our day.  Also helped get my body moving, which is always a good thing.

Saturday started with Elite Jumpers and first run of the day we qualified to complete our first NATCH!!  (NADAC Agility Trial Champion).  I’m so excited!!  We had a great jumpers run, it was nice to finish the championship with a good run.

My friend (and Zora’s breeder) Holly who lives near by, came by the trial a few hours later and got to see some of our later runs.  Which was very nice.  As she’d not had the chance to see Zora run agility prior It was nice to share our win with her and visit as I don’t get to see her very often.

Saturday we had some great fun runs and finished the day 8 for 8, which was fun.  We had weavers the last run of Saturday, and I was thrilled with how it went!  Definite redemption from the weavers run the day before.  The dogs then got to enjoy some off leash play time in the large fenced field with a pond the site offers.  They had a blast.

Sunday (after another crappy night’s sleep, it poured rain all night, the dogs thought it was crappy too, we were all very tired Sunday), the rain cleared for the trial and we tried our bonus skills in our 2 regular runs.  While we didn’t qualify in either, I was pleased with some of the things we were able to do in each of those runs.  We also have lots more to practice, yay!!  🙂  Switch out at such a distance is still on our list to practice, practice, practice!!

All in all a great weekend.  Tom and Zora were excellent.  I had a great time visiting with friends and enjoying the trial site.  We can’t wait to do it again!

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Judge Bernie Doyle, Zora and me with our Natch ribbon sitting on a yellow table

6 years of partnership

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Tom sitting in harness among the daffodils, tulips and dandelions on our little front garden

May 1st.  6 years ago today, May 1st, I arrived in Smithtown, NY where my instructor for the next 2 weeks picked me up in a class van at the ferry dock to attend training with my new guide dog.  You can read a bit more about that particular day from my post this day last year for our 5th anniversary.

Today I’m going to touch a bit on the process and journey that got me to the Guide Dog Foundation and eventually Tom.  As I talked about a couple of days ago for International Guide Dog Day, my first guide dog I owner trained and then tried once more with a couple of new puppies to no avail.  Finding a dog with the temperament, aptitude, health, and structure to handle the high stress work of public access is a challenge.  And if I was going to spend money on a dog, I didn’t want to purchase a labrador.  It’s a personal thing.  I think I could have more easily found a suitable owner trainer guide dog candidate had I been willing to look at labradors, but I wasn’t.  Nuff said.

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Tom guiding in harness on our morning woods walk, stopped to tell me about a rock on the trail

So, instead I started looking into my options for a program trained dog.  My health conditions made that a bit tricky.  Sensory processing disorder isn’t well understood.  By anyone.  Including the medical community.  And commissions for the blind.  And I, as a long time dog owner, am also rather particular about things such as ownership and breeding practices.  I don’t do co-ownerships.  And I wasn’t interesting in attending and supporting a guide dog program that had base policies of retaining ownership of the dogs they placed.  Those things limited the organizations I was looking at and considering.

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Tom & me right before starting out on a walking route

Once James retired, and I was seriously looking at getting a program trained dog, I knew I would need formal O&M training.  Orientation and Mobility training, white cane training.  Without James, my mobility and independence was suffering massively.  I was avoiding going out, I stopped my daily walks, it was definitely time to do something about that.  I worked with a local O&M instructor and was amazed!!  I learned so much I cannot even recount!  It was a whole new world being opened up for me.  I didn’t have to figure this all out myself!  Through that instruction I learned new ways to travel, assess traffic, figure out street crossings of all kinds, safer ways to travel parking lots, better more effective ways to stay oriented on my walks and so much more.  My O&M training also brought to my awareness just how co-dependent I had been with James.  Until then I didn’t really really grasp just how much James had been doing, and also just how dangerous some of it had been.  O&M taught me how to actually be independent instead of co-dependent.  I feel Tom and I have a much better, safer relationship and partnership because I received orientation and mobility training.  I am so grateful for that.  I am also a much more confident traveler both with and without a guide dog.  While, yes, I prefer for many reasons to use a guide dog, I can get around with just my cane when I need or want to.  Again independent not co-dependent.

After completing my orientation and mobility training, and researching various guide dog programs, I found myself returning to the information on the Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown, NY.  I liked that they were on the east coast, the trained various breeds and crosses, they had generally flexible policies and seemed open to unusual circumstances.  After meeting some teams with dogs from different programs across the country, the dogs trained by the Guide Dog Foundation really impressed me.  They seemed temperamentally solid and structurally sound dogs.  Talking with the folks who worked in Consumer Services, I decided to apply.  I submitted the required medical, O&M, vision and other forms along with a video that included both my cane travel skills and traveling with James.  After months of waiting, I heard that I was approved for the next step of their process: phone and in person interviews.  The phone interview seemed to go well and then a month or so later a field rep trainer came over for my in person interview.  He took me on a Juno walk to assess my ability to follow and cue a guide dog and watched me cane travel on a short route.  Apparently I passed to satisfaction as a short while later I received my approved and placed on the waiting list notice.

If I remember right, I was placed on the waiting list in something like October the year before I got Tom.  James had retired in July of that year.  In December, a dog, a female yellow lab of all things, came into my life.  I thought she might have promise as my next guide dog, so I asked the Foundation to remove me from the wait list.  She was around 9 months old when I got her, but after just a couple of months, she showed some serious temperament concerns and I returned her to her breeder.  That was a stressful mess of a time!  As I had only been off their wait list for 2 months, GDF allowed me to resume placement on their wait list.  For which I was relieved and grateful.  After that yellow dog situation, I was done trying to owner train for now and wanted the ease of mobility a guide dog affords me sooner rather than later.

Shortly after that, just a couple of months later, at the end of April I got the call!!  An offer to join the upcoming guide dog class!  I was thrilled and shocked as I only had 2 weeks to plan, pack and rearrange my work schedule.  From there, as they say, is history.  Tom was perfect.  Tom is perfect.  He is absolutely the dog I needed, and is an amazing dog and amazing guide dog.  I am grateful daily to the Guide Dog Foundation, their breeding, raising and training programs.  And that Tom was the dog they matched me with.  Over the past 6 years Tom has grown and transitioned with me as our lives have changed in so many ways I never would have imagined.  I’m very much looking forward to where the future will take us and hope for many more years with Tom as my guide.

Video clip from our morning walk in the woods.  Tom guiding and stopping for various roots, rocks and drop offs.

NADAC Agility trial – Gush!!

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We still have another day of trialing to go tomorrow, but today was SO AMAZINGLY AWESOME I just couldn’t wait to post.  I want to remember this feeling.  Awesome!

Today, for the first time ever, we tried some bonus boxes.  While we didn’t fully complete either course from within the box, it was still awesome!!!!!!!!!!  I was so so so proud of Zora!!  And the practice we’ve been doing.  She WAS FANTASTIC!  I love that little dog.

Attempting the bonus runs was exhilarating.  I had so much fun!  I think Zora did too (I hope).  Our first bonus attempt was the very first course of the day – Elite Regular Round 1.  We’ve been struggling with the turn and send away still in practice, so it doesn’t surprise me we did on this course either.  BUT!!  She nailed that lead out line, I was so happy with that!!  I was also thrilled with the distance we were able to do even after I left the bonus box.

Our 2nd bonus attempt was in Elite Tunnelers.  After our barrelers run, I took migraine meds and Tom and I went off to the car to nurse it, and told my husband he could run Zora in tunnelers.  Then I was informed there was a bonus box on that course and I reneged  (I blame my reneging on Maxalt and the length of time we had between barrelers and tunnelers, damn when that stuff works it works really really well for me).  Poor guy.  Thankfully he is a really great sport, and had fun laughing at me about it.  LOL.

When I walked the course, I thought, “Hmm, we’ve been working on that switch turn away on a box, but doing it on a tunnel is still often a struggle first time for us, we’ll give it a try but I’ll plan on helping her if she needs”  Yup that’s the spot she needed my help.  It was still awesome fun!!  Again her lead out made me so so so happy.  We had a while where she’d have likely come to me instead of going straight into that #1 tunnel, so I was thrilled we’ve worked so hard on that!  It paid off!!

We also now only need 3 more jumpers qualifiers to complete our NATCH!  (NADAC Agility Trial Champion).  I’m so excited!

It was a great day!!  Not many Qs, but awesome runs!!  I’m so happy.  Damn I love this little corgi dog!

Also, Zora says Tuna Brownies are excellent and I should think to make them more often.  Tom equally agrees.  Seriously, they both snubbed the cheese I offered them and held out for the tuna!  If you don’t know about tuna brownies, here is the recipe I use.  Be warned, your dog might stalk your fridge after.

Tuna Brownies:

In a bowl beat with a mixer until well combined and fairly smooth:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 6 oz can tuna in water (undrained)
  • 1 6 oz can tuna (water drained out)
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese (optional)
  • 1 Tbs garlic powder (optional)

Then using a spatula, mix in until well combined and dough looks glossy:  1 to 1.5 tapioca starch.  Tapioca starch is one of the coolest ‘flours’ to bake or cook with.  I love the stuff, use it all the time.  In this recipe it helps the cooked dog treats be more doughy and less crumbly.  You can use regular flour of some kind as a replacement, but if you do these treats are likely to be crumbly and maybe flakey.  I prefer the doughy option that tapioca starch gives especially for training treats as they are easier to toss while still being soft enough to break up with your fingers.

Pre-heat the oven to 350’F.  Grease or line with parchment paper a cookie sheet or other baking dish.

Plop the dough onto the prepped cookie sheet, then press into a 1/2″ thick disk or squarish shape.

Bake for 15-20min.  Remove from baking tray and cool on a wire rack.

Once cool use a pizza cutter wheel or knife (pizza cutter wheel is waaaaay easier) to cut into bite sized dog treat pieces.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge (after of course letting your dog sample your wares, need to make sure you get their seal of approval, right?)

International Guide Dog Day!

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April 26th is International Guide Dog Day.  This year I thought I’d give a little of my own history with guide dogs.

This is James.

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James, a black dog with long-ish fur, in the green grass with his bright yellow Cuz toy

James was my first guide dog, though he didn’t start out as such.  When I was 18 I moved to Pittsburgh, PA to attend college.  I rented an apartment, and Regal (my first flat coat) and I moved in.  To find the apartment, I had connected with some dog people in the area, who after I moved in invited me to attend an agility fun day to get to know folks.

At that fun day, a young family with a puppy was spectating.  I went over to pet the cute puppy and long story short thanks to a forgiving landlord within 2 hours said puppy was now my James.  He was probably around 12wks or so, a black retriever type dog, as he grew he resembled more and more a flat coated retriever in build and type, though I have no idea if he actually was.  Regardless, it was either life with me or a trip to the local animal shelter, and I think his life with me over the years was a pretty good gig for him.

James grew up in downtown Pittsburgh, and I raised him as I do my puppies with the idea of doing competition agility, obedience and the like.  We went to the park every day before I headed to school.  On the weekends we often went to a dog training class, or walking with friends.

When James was about 10months old, my health concerns became such that I withdrew from university and returned back home to New England.  James and Regal it tow of course.  In a unfamiliar city with the pressures of college (and a bus system, oh dear lord the bus system was really the final straw, can I tell you how lost I got on that damn bus system?  How many miles I walked after I took the wrong one, got off at the wrong stop?  How many classes I missed trying to get to school on the bus?  How terrifyingly lost I found myself over and over?  How I used to I’d wait at the bus stop until someone I knew lived near me happened to also be taking the bus so I could unknown to them simply follow them?  I still stress at the idea of riding the bus even here at home).  I could no longer hide the problems I’d been having increasingly throughout high school, it was time to figure out what was wrong and what to do about it.

A few months into trying to figure out my health stuff, it was suggested by my medical team I might benefit from a service dog.  I’d been training dogs for most of my life, and James showed various aptitudes that he might be suitable.  Hence his career path shift at that point.

He was originally trained in various supportive tasks primarily for my panic attacks, migraines and what we later figured out was actually sensory overload shut down.  As my challenges with visual processing became glaringly apparent as they increased over time, James was trained more and more in guide tasks.  By the time I had to stop driving completely, he was 5 or so and working as a guide dog.

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James in harness sleeping on his white and blue checked blanket during a class I was taking

James was a huge part of my life and having him helped me gain the confidence to get out and live my life.  With James, I had the confidence to travel both across the country, and across the world (we went to Japan together).  To get out shopping on my own.  To further attend college classes.  To explore opportunities with my business.  To eventually move out of my parent’s house into my own place.  With James I felt safe in a way that I never had before in my life.  He took care of the details, bringing to my attention what I needed to process and gave my nervous system a break from the constant influx of data that our world throws out.

When James was 7 he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in a front leg and immediately retired.  We then had a further fantastic 6 months before his leg ultimately shattered and I made the difficult decision to let him go.

A few months prior to James’ cancer diagnosis, he had begun to slow down and show me signs that I should start planning for the future.  I had originally intended to owner train my next guide dog, same as I had James.  But, I found the statistic that less than 1% of the general dog population has the aptitude, health, structure, temperament and the like for public access service work to be true.  After a couple of failed potential prospect puppies, I decided to go the formal guide dog program route.  A path that lead to further independent travel skills and eventually to Tom.  But I think that’s a story for another day.  One I will likely tell in a couple of days on May 1st for Tom and my 6 years of partnership anniversary.

To say that James changed my life is an understatement.  I had no idea when I took that little black ball of fur into my life, completely unplanned, that he would play such an important role.  I count 3 positives (and a super long list of negatives) that came out of my attempts at college life in Pittsburgh, James hands down tops the list.  He was a wonderful dog, and I will miss him and be grateful to him always for the life he helped enable me to live.  Thanks J, you were one of a kind.

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James and I standing outside a Japanese temple on the island of Okinawa

Denial

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You know those moments when you love and appreciate your dog so much you find yourself crying?

I do that with Tom a lot.  Especially at times of vision transition and flux.

He’s such a good dog.  I cannot describe how much I love him.

Every couple of years or so my visual system shifts again.  No one in the medical field really knows why.  I have a screwed up nervous system, that seems to be the current answer.  I’ve given up trying to find answers to the why, instead I focus on the what and the how.  As in what do I need to learn/change/adjust?  or how will I now do x, y or z?

Usually before I get to the what and how stage, I live in the denial stage for a bit.  Ok, as long as I feasibly can quite frankly.  Because figuring out a new status quo can be frustrating, and scary, and a whole slew of emotions I get tired of processing through each transition.

Tom always seems to know things are shifting or have shifted long before I’m ready to acknowledge it.  So he adapts, and he starts bringing to my awareness obstacles or things that before he didn’t have to.  And if I’m really stuck in denial, I get a little annoyed with him and try to hurry him along.  I argue with him, I don’t need to know about all of these roots!  Can’t we just go back to the old way?  You only tell me about the really big ones?  Come on!  Let’s go!  Yet, he keeps doing his job.  He’s right.  I now need to know about every single root.

Eventually I face reality.

And am yet again reminded what a wonderful dog Tom is.

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Tom resting his head on a blanket, face close to the camera

Trick Dog Practice!

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Today Zora and I reviewed some of our tricks in prep for taking the new AKC Trick Dog tests.

Her balance beam trick is my favorite.  I taught it to her last summer on a whim, balancing on a 4×4″ beam we had in the back yard.  It was hysterical fun.  The one we had in the back yard was long enough for her to turn around completely on without any feet touching the ground.  And at the dismount she’d do her paws up cuteness trick, adorable.  And funny.  We were both laughing her and me.

Our Novice Trick practice video:

We also practiced some of our intermediate and advanced tricks.

Some of our intermediate tricks especially need some brush up.  Her getting a toy by name has obviously gotten a bit rusty!  And I think I might change which of our Advanced tricks we do in the evaluation. Maybe add in her skateboarding trick, or her weave poles.

Tricks are a fun way to train, bond and just enjoy time with my dogs.  Many of the things we’ve done as tricks turn out to be incredibly useful skills as well.  I don’t often purposefully decide “today I’m going to teach my dog a trick!”  For us tricks are usually more a result of life necessity (such as I swear to god we are not going to lose yet another tennis ball in this field!!) or boredom (like her shark avoidance trick.  Where I was bored after 3 days of bed rest and she brought me her fish toy.  So I made the JAWS music and pretended the fish was a shark coming at her.   She learned to “abandon ship!!!”  leaping happily from the bed as I sang the JAWS ‘dun dun. dun dun.’ theme.  I really need to video that one, it’s hysterical)

Hedge Your Bets

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“Wow I’m impressed he behaved himself with such a crew!”

Is a response I received from the owners of a dog, Rascal, I have staying with me currently after I sent her some video clips of our group walk in the woods this morning.

Video clips where he was among a group of dogs, doing his own thing, having a good time sniffing and wandering in the fields and pine forest.  Video clips where he wasn’t barking, lunging, dragging or otherwise upset.

Her surprise doesn’t surprise me as her dog is often upset and reactive around other dogs.  The owners have done a fantastic job getting Rascal to where he is, able to walk on leash passing other on leash dogs, but they are afraid to let him really engage with other dogs because ya there are many he doesn’t like.  Don’t blame him, he thinks young dogs especially are rude little snots.  He’s right much of the time.  LOL.  Like many of the dogs on my overnight string at any time, he needs support to be successful in social situations.  Often a lot of support.  Which is one of the reasons he comes to me when his owners are on vacation.  Because, I hedge my bets.  (and because his owners are awesome and they love when he’s happy)

Before gearing up for our walk this morning even began, I thought through what, if anything, would make this outing so the chance of success for Rascal would be near assured.  And I mentally went through a plan, with plenty of bail points in it should he tell me he really wasn’t ok with this.

Some key areas of my plan:

I know he trusts and is completely comfortable with my 2 dogs.  He is more likely to be ok with another dog if he feels Tom and Zora are ok with that dog.  They would both be on the walk.

I know he trusts me to keep him safe and is usually willing to defer to me for safety.  I of course would be on the walk.

I know he is highly food motivated, so I packed some extra awesome treats.

I know he is never trustworthy completely off leash (hound dog mix, he will follow his nose completely), so had my trusty easy to handle 30′ long line.

I also know having him with complete 30′ range to start to walk would be much harder to manage his initial introduction to the setting, so started him off on his regular walking leash and gentle leader that his owners use with him for daily walks, switching him to the long line only after I saw he was chill and happy with the environment and goings on.

I also knew because he’d be on the 30′ line and I’d be holding it the entire walk, having Tom in harness likely would massively complicate things with a hound mix zig zagging around Tom’s feet, so the trusty cane was brought out and used instead of the trusty guide dog.

I know he’s most likely to be comfortable around other dogs if he feels he has an escape route.  So we planned the walk at an area that starts off with huge wide open fields where the dogs all have plenty of room.

Video from the start of the walk in the large open green fields.  Zora and Rosie fetching the ball, Tom at my feet, and Rascal and Ted watching the 2 girls retrieve the ball:

I carefully planned what dogs he would be around.  Making sure they were all dogs that a. prefer to ignore other dogs if the other dog shows no interest in playing, b. have solid relationships with both myself and my walking friend and are willing to respond to what we ask quickly, c. all prefer to play with us humans and/or fetch the ball over playing directly with each other on the walk (meaning most likely dogs to ignore Rascal and give him whatever space he wants) and d. are all rather tolerant of some rudeness (ie not likely to react if Rascal showed some posturing)

I also planned and orchestrated the system for getting him most comfortably to and from the walking area in my friend’s car.  Loading all of the other dogs into the car first, leaving Rascal in a room in the house.  Then bringing him out alone, and keeping him at my feet during the ride providing him high rate of reinforcement and reassurance that all was well.  This also gave him space and time (on the 12min drive) to figure out the other dogs in the car had no interest in him at all, and he could relax (which he did), as the other dogs were in the car rows behind where he and I were with no chance of them encroaching on his space in the car.

My bail out plans included: assessing the arousal level of the regular group of dogs before getting Rascal out of the house.  If any of the usual walking group seemed atypically wound up or aroused, I would have left Rascal in the house and gone on the walk without him.  Then of course observing and monitoring Rascal from the time of putting his leash on in the house, through the walk to and loading in the car.  We sat in my driveway for an extra few moments, to double check that Rascal was settling in.  If at any point then he had shown he was uncomfortable, he would have gone back into the house and not gone on the walk.  If, while on the walk, he started to have trouble coping with the other dogs, I would have split off from my friend and walked just Rascal, Tom and Zora while she took her dogs to give Rascal more space.

Video from about 1/2 through the walk in the pine forest:

All of these pieces I thought about and planned long before my friend pulled into my driveway, and even before I put leashes on the dogs at all.

All of these pieces were key in setting Rascal up for success.

Had I not thought through the parts of a successful group walk for Rascal, chances are he would have had a miserable time as would we all have.  It would have been no fun, very stressful, and further reinforced for him that other dogs are scary and to be barked and lunged at.

Instead, all of these pieces were why Rascal had an awesome time on the walk.  Sniffing, romping, coming when called, getting some treats, and appropriately engaging with the other dogs.

All in all an excellent time was had by all!  Success!

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Post walk Rascal wagging his tail till it blurs and Zora sitting looking happy & tired in my kitchen nook

 

Act Up NADAC trial recap

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my club’s agility trial was this weekend.  Due to family commitments today, we only attended yesterday.  I was happier we went than I expected I would be. Because all last week I just plain didn’t want to go to any agility trials.  The health effects during and after the trial 2 weekends ago were hard, very hard.  But to support our club and because I’d previously volunteered to run the fundraising raffle, we went. And I think because I was engaging so much working folks to part with their hard earned cash and enter the raffle, I had a good time.  It was beyond exhausting, and my dogs really got the short end of the stick all day, but I helped the club raise some much needed funds.

Like I said unfortunately yesterday my dogs got less of my attention than they usually do at a trial.  Tom near had a panic attack until I let him actually do his job guiding me around and hanging under the table.  Zora and I had some pretty good runs. We are 20 points closer to our NATCH, and with the open barrelers Qs we earned,  now in Elite in every class.

Even more fun though was in a number of classes, I pushed myself and Zora. She’s already shown me if I handle her conservatively and in our comfort zone, she has no problems qualifying.  I mean she’s 2.5yrs old and has over 2500 points, that’s 250 qualifiers. And we only trial about 10 weekends a year. But conservative isn’t so much fun for me in the long run.  we have our first year of trialing under our belt,  I’m feeling more comfortable with her on course and it’s time to push ourselves the way we do in training.  So I really tried to do that in many of the courses, knowing it meant we likely wouldn’t qualify but work towards other goals.

The primary area I’m working to push our teamwork with is in the distance area.  Working on connection, communication, commitment and teamwork at ever increasing distances.

Our trial day started with 2 rounds of tunnelers.  I was super pleased with our first round.  Zora was moving at a nice clip, and working really well driving her lines away from me.  We trained the final switch out, which I thought we might end up doing, I was very pleased with her efforts!  She gave me her best!  The second round (same course) she was slower and more hesitant, waiting until I was really clear with each cue before taking it and continuing to move forward.  I noticed this all day yesterday, first round was always faster, more confident, 2nd round slower more cautious.  I think a factor is likely mental for me.  I think likely in the 2nd rounds of a same course, I get lazy thinking ‘oh we already did this once, it went rather well, we’re good to go for round 2!’ instead of really working to be as clear and crisp in round 2 as I was in round 1.  Something I will have to make a point to remember and practice!

Our 2 regular rounds were both Qs and again I was very pleased with her distance commitment!  I was able to run round 1 from a 10′ or so line in the center of the ring.  The 2nd round I needed to move off my line in 2 spots to support her further when she slowed questioning my signals.

Barrelers, like I mentioned we qualified in both rounds.  And I ran those courses rather conservatively, trying to assure as best I could we’d qualify as I wanted to be done with open.  The strategy worked, we are now in elite barrelers.

Chances, first round went ok.  She’s a good dog.  I was a sucky handler.  Round 2 was a complete hot mess, Zora was convinced I really couldn’t want her to go up the a-frame.  The course started hoop, a-frame to an out loop of jumps back to the a-frame for an out tunnel discrimination before ending on a fast line of hoops to tunnel and done.   In round 1 she had steamed up the a-frame the start, nailed the loop of jumps, then couldn’t find the out tunnel and we had a lot of messy redirects before she finally found it and took it.  Meaning I’d stopped her 3x in a row from taking the a-frame or any other more obvious to her near by jumps to redirect to the tunnel.  I can’t fault her in the least when about 10min later on round 2 I’m honestly wanting her to take the a-frame and she’s like ‘you’re nuts lady!  didn’t you just spend 15 seconds telling me I was wrong for thinking you wanted the a-frame last run?!’  So after she finally believed me and went up the a-frame, we did a quick silly line of jumps out to a tunnel and were done.

I seriously need to remove the concept of ‘fix it’ in that way from my trialing repertoire.  I don’t do that crap in practice!  In practice had we had the struggle to the out tunnel discrimination like we did in chances round 1, I would have sent her back around the loop of jumps, worked to set a better line for her so that coming off the jump loop she had a chance in hell to actually know the tunnel was there.  And that builds her trust in me and confidence.  Instead I did this stupid focus on the tunnel fix it to try to still manage to qualify and all I did was degrade my wonderful little dog’s trust in me!  Stupid stupid stupid!  Take the long range view Katrin!  The q’s are shit if they end with a dog who second guesses everything you ask of her.

At our next trial in 2 weeks, I vow to do better.  Trial like I train.  Keep the trust we have in practice alive in competition.  That is my goal!

Well Trained

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I’ve said for so many years, dogs are the best teachers in the business.  And there are so many ways I could go into that, but right now a funny story to demonstrate.

Last night my husband, who is in charge of taking the dogs (except Tom, as Tom refuses) out as many times as they require once he is home in the evenings, came in from taking Zora out chuckling.

“I think Zora is playing me.”

Oh, why?

“The past couple of evenings, she’s been asking to go out a lot more than usual.  I take her out and she immediately goes over the dog walk.  So I give her a treat for doing the contact.  Then she goes over the a-frame.  And I give her a treat for doing the contact.  Then she wants to come inside.”

By now I’m laughing too.  She really does have him trained.

My husband, while he loves our dogs, isn’t really a dog person.  He fully admits that if I wasn’t the driving force behind us having dogs, and if I didn’t take care of 99% of their needs, he wouldn’t have a dog.  But he is very good at upholding various rules and criteria if I ask him to (and an expert at petting them).  Such as Zora doing her trained contact behavior whenever she does a dog walk or an a-frame.  With me, if I don’t ask her to do the equipment and she does it on her own while we out for a potty break, I either ignore her or lightly praise her for doing it correctly, and interrupt her if she doesn’t do her trained contact behavior.  My husband apparently didn’t get that part of the memo, LOL.  All of this time he’s been giving Zora a treat every single time she happens to put herself up and over a contact obstacle and does her trained contact behavior in the yard when he has her out.  So she figured out how to get him to do it even more often.

Zora has him trained to do many behaviors.  This one I’m rather impressed with.  Particularly because we had a period where she did something similar, getting him to take her out many many times in an evening because he was giving her a treat every time she came back inside.  Once I noticed what was happening, we changed the instructions for him so she only got a treat for coming inside if she actually toileted outside when he took her out.  No treats for crying wolf.  Her asking to go out then dropped off drastically to a reasonable 1-2x an evening.  By asking to go out then doing the contact obstacles, she found a loop hole.  Zora is one smart cookie.  Who really enjoys her cookies whatever way she can get them.

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Zora lounging on my husband’s lap.  She’s totally has him wrapped around her corgi paws.  LOL