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Retraining Rain's running DW contact

I'm retraining Rain's contacts. He had two-on-two-off, we were told my wonderful trainers to start running (due to his stress at stopping on course) and now he really isn't sure what he is supposed to be doing! So, with Ronda's help, we are going to try to teach him clear criteria for the running DW contact. This journal will document our progress this spring and summer and see where we end up.

Rain is 6 years old. He is a rescue who has struggled to manage his (and my) anxiety at trials, but is now only four qualifying runs away from his ADCH. He needs one standard leg, one tournament leg, and two Super Q's. We're focusing on USDAA this year and letting AKC take a back seat for now.

Rain was lame three weeks ago, very briefly. I gave him two weeks off and have brought him back slowly over the last week hoping he will be ready for the BRAC show this weekend. His weave pole work looks better so I'm hoping he will be okay.

Training Trep

Today was Trep's second agility class. Well, we got reprimanded for not doing our homework. Truth be told, I'm better about training when I don't have a class to go to so now, I've decided to go back to the journal and the camera and take the time (hours) to film, download, edit, and write each day about my training journey.

Today, was a beautiful day. Sunny but not too hot. No wind. I spent 10-15 minutes working Trep over his 9 foot striding for the A-frame. I started with a toy -- tossing it after the third jump. This was too much stimulation and he was rushing the strides. He knocked the third bar with his front feet the first time and then with his back feet the next time and truth be told he was just rushing to get that toy so I switched to food. With food the striding is better, but he ends with his head turned to me. I'm thrilled with that either and will have to check with my instructor to find out how to solve the head turn (if it needs solving). It comes up again....

Next, we worked the dog walk. Trep is working on a 2O2O behavior. I did a running with Smudge and knowing how fast Trep will be, I decided that I'm better off with a 2O2O that I can turn into a fast release down the road. I'm just not that good of a handler to handle the running DW yet (at his speed). He has the end behavior find, but has no speed going into the end behavior and when we did try one trip across the entire DW he couldn't hold the end behavior which is no surprise. I think my instructor would rather I go for speed across the board with the wicket and not try to get the 2O2O but he offers it so I will practice this week with the DW lowered and push for speed. I don't like him running fast on the high DW as he is too clumsy right now.

Finally, we did some wrapping of the jump turning left. And then some rear crosses to the left. Tomorrow, I will have to work him to the right. I like his speed and how he tightens the turn as we work on this. He knocked the bar once because he wrapped so tight. I reward for the tight wrap but am cognizant of bar knocking and want to ask my instructor about this. I'm assuming I shouldn't do that too often or he will think knocking bars is a-okay and that is not something I want to convey, but at this stage I don't think he is really jumping so I'm not too concerned (yet).

Linda Mecklenburg seminar

Wow. Spent three days in Mt Gilead, Ohio at Linda Mecklenburg's house with Jen Crank and Linda Mecklenburg reviewing the basics of Linda's Awesome Paws Handling System. It was a great experience and I'm still processing it all.

We began on Monday, August 3rd with RTH on the flat with Jennifer Crank. I was ridiculously nervous since Linda had told all of us that there would be a competency test upon arrival so I assumed this was it! As it turned out, there was no competency test. I think she just meant that she was going to watch each of us to see where our holes were. But it took me a while to figure this out so I stayed nervous for about 1/2 the first day.

Next was RTH over a single jump. Linda asked me how many times I had practiced and I said a thousand times or so. She laughed, but I was serious. My friend Barb and I were terrified of arriving at the seminar unprepared so we practiced every day for three months. Linda gave everyone homework and we did it. I'm not convinced everyone did it to the same extent that we did though. I guess we were a little more anal than most! Fortunately, it paid off. She watched and she told me he was perfect and let me sit back down. Whew! Barb and I studied from the magazine articles and we argued about which way our toes were pointing and how close to stand to the bar and which way our hand should be pointed, etc. I'm very happy that Barb is very detailed oriented as I am not. I get more the big picture and she gets more the tiny minutea, we make a good pair that way. It paid off since we both got positive feedback on our basics on the first day.

Rain was a bit shut down, as he often gets at seminars. At this seminar, it didn't matter much since we were reviewing handling basics and the focus of information was on me and not him. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to move my feet and arms in a way that made sense to me. The biggest challenge for me was learning the feel of a lateral send. I think I have it now, but learning it there was very awkward. I called it the crab walk. Now, I'm running sideways and my dogs seem to get it, I hope it works in a course!

I think the biggest challenge for me will be how to integrate the basic skills that we learned into a course when I'm running at a trial. I need about 30 minutes to do my 8 minute walk through!

Been a while...

I kind of forgot about this journal when I began house hunting, bought a house, and moved. I didn't stop training though so I'm back and starting to journal again.

Smudge has come along nicely. Is in her second agility class with Melanie. She likes class a lot. She went to her first agility trial in early January. It was a CPE trial. She had five runs and qualified in them all taking 3 firsts, a second, and a third. We didn't run anything perfectly. I forget that she is a baby dog and made some errors from assuming too much from her. Like peeling off when I was sending her to a tunnel and so she followed me and took the wrong entrance. On the plus side, she ran faster than she normally does which was fun (and led to a few other mistakes since I didn't have the time to make front crosses the way I normally do).

I will post videos soon.

I am currently training Smudge in obedience, freestyle, and agility. I'm working with Sally Glei on obedience and having a lot of fun with it. We are using games to teach the necessary skills which I enjoy. Smudge has a ball at her lessons with Sally.

Currently, I am training the following:

picking up, holding, dropping dumbbell
heeling (5 minutes every day)
backing away from me and laying down at a distance of 6 feet
standing on cue
doing sit, down, and stay at a distance
glove game

I need to practice:
having her take jumps with no motion cues from me

180s, 270s
discrimination cues (hard to practice because I don't have a dog walk or Aframe)
lateral distance work
handler vs obstacle focus
go vs quiet (speed cues)

The most important aspect of her agility training is building her confidence. She isn't afraid of things, but she is soft in terms of confidence. She doesn't want to be wrong. As long as I keep it simple and fun, she is fine. She isn't speedy or super gung ho in agility, which is a little bit of a bummer. Having trained a foster dog (Elvis) and some client dogs, I know that training enthusiastic dogs is more fun. Not that working with Smudge isn't fun, because it is, but I do wish she was more enthusiastic about her agility training.

On the other hand, Smudge is very enthusiastic about her obedience training. She offers behaviors over and over, never tiring of the games. I think she prefers the handler focus aspect of the training. She likes to be close to me and the behaviors are fairly simple for her to learn. So, I'm learning obedience even though I have no huge interest in it myself. I believe in doing what my dogs enjoy doing and building on their strengths. I think the more she does in obedience and freestyle, the more confident she becomes in agility. In agility, I have to build her ability to run ahead, send to obstacles, and make some decisions for herself. It will be a challenge -- fun for me to figure her out.

Smudge's first agility lesson

Well, I finally took Smudge to an agility lesson with someone besides me. We had a one hour private with Melanie Miller. I wanted Melanie to tell me if I had any big holes in the training to date. Melanie was very positive (as usual) and made me feel I have been doing a good job with Smudge.

We began by sending her to a jump with no physical cues from me. I just told her to "go jump" and let her find it by herself. She did this well to about 10 or 11 feet. Melanie wants her to be able to do that from about 15 feet away.

Then we worked on some Linda Mecklenberg single jump exercises. Smudge had forgotten how to do this, but I did it with her this morning (2 days after our lesson) and she was doing great. She only knocked the bar one time. I got her to 16" quickly and she was taking the jump from a variety of angles very easily.

I showed Melanie Smudge's teeter and she felt that looked great. Smudge drives to the end and even waited when I went past the end without releasing her. Yeah Smudge!

We then worked on short sequences at a slow pace. I just walked and let Smudge go her own pace. Smudge liked that a lot and I could see her gaining confidence. She liked that there was no pressure to hurry.

The table was in the sequence and she sure loves the table (food involved!). I'm already walking past and letting her just hang out. I want a good lead out on the table with this dog. She likes the table more than the tunnel. She isn't really all that into the tunnels yet. Hmm.

I really enjoyed the lesson and could tell that Smduge did too. At the end of one hour, Smudge did not want to leave the field. Quite unusual for a dog that generally is very ADD and quits easily. She liked the little games and everything was very low key and easy paced so she enjoyed herself a lot.

Smudge is currently running a 12 foot 12" board that is 25.5" high. I'll raise it to about 27" tomorrow. We'll get to full height one of these days!

The really great thing about my training right now is that I am working mostly off intuition. I have no big plans that I have to push on to the dogs. I just work them, enjoy myself, and figure we'll do what we'll do when the day comes. I think they are happy that I'm relaxed and so can enjoy themselves a lot more.


USDAA trial this weekend

Wow. Rain had the trial weekend of his life! At the PBH USDAA trial over Memorial Day weekend, Rain qualified in 9 out of 10 runs. And it was my sloppy handling that cost him the 10th qualfier. He was on fire and really paying attention to me. I'm very happy and hoping this isn't just a fluke.

SATURDAY, MAY 24, 2008

On Saturday, the weather was cool and cloudy so he was fast and happy. We started with Advanced Snooker. I was worried about his weaves since he hasn't hit a weave pole entry (or held them if he did) at a PBH trial in a long while. I made the weaves his second pointed obstacle and no worries, he hit them at a good speed. In the closing, he approached the poles at full speed (the judge had to jump out of the way) and I never thought he would make the entry, but he collected and flew through them perfectly. I was very excited! He got 44 points in 44.91 seconds (course time 53 sec). He got 2nd place. Great start to the trial as far as I was concerned since Rain seemed very happy as reflected by his weave pole performance.

Later, he ran Advanced Standard and miraculously qualified and won his class. We haven't had a USDAA Advanced Standard Q since September! This is a class where he gets very stressy, misses weave poles, won't do the teeter, and stresses on the table. Not this time. He flew through the course with 45.12 (SCT 55). Only 2 dogs qualified in this class.

In terms of my own handling, I get too frantic when I think he might not have a total bead on the next jump. You can hear it in my voice when I say "Rain! Rain!" in a tight voice. I want to eliminate this from my running lexicon. I need better system of indicating next jump. I also noticed in watching the tape, that Rain does look around on the start line -- a sign of stress so he wasn't stress free, but he was less stressed as demonstrated by weaves and teeter and table (where he stared at me all but 1/2 second which is HUGE).

Then, he ran Advanced Pairs. This would be a run for his Advanced Pairs Title. He ran with Stacy Garvin's Bond. I was worried because we took the harder half. We had to do a 180 on the start line and had a tough weave pole entry. He did miss the weave entry (his only missed entry all weekend), but I fixed it (which he did happily -- another huge accomplishment) and we got the Q for both Bond and Rain's Pairs title.

The last class on Saturday was Advanced Gamblers. This was an interesting gamble with two tunnels in a "c" shape next to each other. The first tunnel was bidirectional, but you had to send into the lower entry of the second tunnel and then take a jump. Rain did weaves, back to back A-frame, the teeter twice, and then did a gorgeous gamble. When he came out of the first tunnel, he looked at me, took a stride and then I sent and he went right into the tunnel. Yeah! Another title -- Advanced Gambler Title. (44 points, time 42.37)

I was totally blown away that we were 4 for 4 this day. I had no goal for qualifiers at this trial. My goal was to have fun, stay relaxed, make sure Rain was having fun, and see if we could get the weave entries. The teeter, which has been a huge issue in the past, seems resolved. And now that he is relaxed (since I am), he isn't haven't many stress related issues. We still have lots of room for improvement, but I feel that my new mental mindset and ability to stay relaxed and have fun, allows him to enjoy himself. People still see me as very competitive, which I am, but I don't see anything wrong with that as long as I stay relaxed and make sure Rain is having fun. My primary "competitiveness" is with myself -- I want a good relationship with Rain and an ability to communicate and that shows up in good fast runs. If that is being competitive then I want to be very competitive. I want a great relationship with all my dogs and I want to feel that we gave it our all and worked with each other throughout the day.

SUNDAY, MAY 26, 2008

The weather was warm and sunny, but that didn't have much impact on Rain's performance. We began the day with our first ever Masters course. Last trial, he earned his Advanced Jumpers title, so we were in Masters Jumpers. There were 13 22" dogs (mostly BCs) and I was thrilled that we were one of 6 qualifiers and took 5th place. He ran perfectly as far as I was concerned and looked like he belonged in the class! (His time was 26.77 -- SCT 34).

We ran Advanced Standard next. He was a bit slow at the start of this course, but picked up after the table. He ran lovely and got another qualifier which earned him is Advanced Agility Dog title. Wow. Two good standard runs in a row blew me away. His time was 47.27 (SCT 58) and he was the only dog to qualify in this class.

Our last class was Advanced Gamblers. I almost didn't run him in this because it was the last class of the day, I was exhausted from working all day and he didn't need the run. I packed up my car and then they were walking the course and I thought, what the heck. I walked it too long as Rain was 2nd dog in and I was engrossed in my strategizing when the judge said "clear the field." I ran to get Rain. He came out of the crate kind of groggy and I was like, "let's go!" And, by golly, give the guy credit, he came out running. The gamble didn't look difficult a send to a teeter and then a go to a jump that I couldn't be near since I was blocked by a jump -- the dog had to send ahead -- not a problem for Rain. I liked my opening and it put us in perfect position to approach the gamble. There was some question whether I negated my gamble by doing two gamble obstacles but I didn't think that I did, but maybe I did? Yikes. If so, the judge and his supervising judge missed it! This run didn't get video taped so if I did make that mistake, I got lucky! He earned 42 points and ran in 37.78.

MONDAY, MAY 26, 2008

We started Monday off with another Advanced Standard course. At this point, I had actually considered leaving Rain at home. I was so blown away by his performance and we had our AAD and I was tired! But, I decided to push him a bit and so we came back. We were both a bit fatigued for this run and so we made mistakes.

Basically, I made an assumption that when he came out of the chute, he would see me to his right and pull back to me and take the tunnel. I knew he would come out left, but I didn't really call him to me and that was an error. Then I did get him back on track. At the table, I decided to leave him since we don't practice that enough. He started to get up. I put him back and as soon as she said "go" he left. He has never done that before and I think he realized "whoops" and that caused him to knock the next bar (only his 4th knocked bar that I recall). But, the best part was that even with all that he went right into the weaves and did them perfectly and finished the rest of the course just fine. I was happy about his ability to rebound and keep playing. Yes!

Our second class on Monday was Advanced Snooker. I decided to push for some 7's as practice knowing next trial we'll be doing masters level. The 7 was a weave jump combination. He was a bit slow at first, but he got two 7s in a row and then had to pass things and the gate which was challenging (he trotted), but then when he saw I'd chosen #3 tunnel as our last pointed item, he began to run again. Then, very nicely he hit everything (he did 4 sets of 6 weaves). He earned 47 points and was 0.5 seconds under time -- wow.

Our last class of the trial was our second Masters Jumpers class. He broke his start line stay (very unusual) and then flowed through the course. I didn't worry about the break because that means he wanted to go and that is wonderful for now. I can worry about it later when he is way too drivey (one can hope!). He ran in 27.08 (SCT 32). Not super fast and I see lots of lines that could be tightened up, but I was thrilled with this performance at the end of 3 days. Only 4 dogs qualified so I was super happy.

This was the most incredible weekend I've had with Rain. I really felt like he and I were a team. We were working together and that is the best feeling in the world. All the qualifiers were just icing on the cake.

Running contacts update

Geez. The time flies and I don't journal. Sigh.

Smudge and I keep plugging away at her running contact. She is up to 18" high on a 18" wide board. Barb helped me cut the board to 15" yesterday. I plan to run her on that for a week and then move her to a 12" wide 12 foot long board. That will be interesting. The hardest part is figuring out how to get that board home from the store! Have to borrow a truck. I find the wood and the cement blocks to be the most annoying part of learning these contacts!

Anyway, Smudge is making steady progress. Here are her stats:

4/13: 13/13 100% gorgeous (I started noting the quality of the Yes I was giving because I decided I wanted the paws to land in the zone in a specific order. So the criteria has gradually gotten stricter for her to earn a Yes. I like both paws to hit in the lower 1/3 of the contact zone and both back feet to hit too.)

4/14: 14/18 78% (on this day I added a ramp so that there is a ramp up the table and down the table and I raised it 1". Big changes generally lead to decreased accuracy for a day or two)

4/15: 16/19 84%
4/16: 13/13 100% (2 that weren't perfect though)
4/17: 18/26 69% (table is now 11" high)
4/18: 12/14 86%
4/19: 16/21 76% (I continue to get stricter with criteria on this day I added a tunnel at one point to increase her speed)
4/22: 12/12 100% (she did five or more runs but I forgot to turn on the camera)
4/24: 15/15 100% (added 1/2" or so)
4/25: 12/12 100% (took 6" off the width of the board)
4/29: 10/10 100%
4/30: 20/28 71% (raised it again)
5/1: 6/7 90% (did more than this but the camera battery died so I don't know the exact percentage)
5/2: 9/10 90%
5/8: 13/13 100%
5/10: 13/13 100% (raised it 1" but there were 4 yeses that weren't as perfect as I want)
5/11: 16/17 94%
5/12: 21/27 82% (rasied another 1" to a height of 16" -- today was interesting because she was perfect in one direction, turning to her left, but when I turned her the other way, she changed her rhythm and didn't earn a yes for four turns. Very unusual for her because she has a very steady rhythm at this point. After 4 no's I turned her the other way and she did it correctly then I took her back the 2nd way and she was 8/10 which was better than 0 for 4.)
5/13: 11/12 92% (the no was because only 1 foot was in the zone -- she did fine when we changed directions)
5/14: haven't watched the tape yet, but think she was 100%

I need to vary her training directions. I plan to start with her right turns for a while so we don't get to much in a habit. I'm very easily connected to habit. I never think about the fact that I do her exactly the same way every day.

I did stop training Oz this way for a while because of soreness. He went to the chiropractor and he was very out of whack. She doesn't think it is from this work, but I decded to take a break until he sees her again this week. I do a little with him off camera, but not too much. Besides, his percentages are not as good as Smudge and I don't have the energy to build and re-build the ramp for each one of them. There are too many bricks and boards involved at this point!

Video to follow. I've been swamped with work and just barely have time to write all this today.

Rain's Sunday runs

Rain ran very well on Sunday. He was fast and focused. He didn't look at ring crew. He didn't kiss the judge. I was pleased. We came close to getting our AX. Unfortunately, the weave poles were wonky -- split in the middle 1/2 leaning to the right and 1/2 leaning left and that caused Rain to pop out of the middle. I need wonky poles at home to proof him on. That was the only mistake. She called him on a teeter refusal, but he didn't. He just came out of the weaves too fast and had to bend back for the teeter. She also called a refusal coming out of the tunnel on to the table, but I don't know why. He did that perfectly. I liked her courses, but this judge gave me trouble. Didn't matter since he E'd on the poles anyway.

Rain ran such good weaves on the JWW course that I lost concentration and sent him to the wrong end of the tunnel. Then, I lost it big time on a seemingly easy curve, but got him back and finished fine. The goal is that he end happier than he started and I think I accomplished that even with my handling errors. I really need to minimize those.

On Friday, I ran my friend's young 24" dog at run throughs. I had so much fun running him. He is much easier to run than Rain. I realize that Rain is a very difficult dog to run. He loves playing but there are many tiny things that impact his run. I really have to be perfect on many levels (emotionally, physically, etc). Running my friend's dog gives me more confidence that I really have the skills to run a big dog. I hope one day to have an easier to run big dog or clients that will let me run their dogs for them! Because I really love running the big dogs.

The trial

I had fun at the trial this past weekend. Oz ran 4 for 4. I wasn't surprised, but I was happy. He hasn't been in training since I retired him in June 2006. I hadn't run him in several months when I put him in the June 2006 trial. It was after that trial that I discovered he has a subluxation in his spine. I stopped training him, but he continued to run, play, and jump happily so slowly I began to work with him here and there. In the past few months, I would take him to run throughs at 4" and he got faster and faster until I decided to put him in the trials at 4".

He did a good job. I was really frustrated with the judge on Sunday. I don't normally complain about judges, but she really upset me. She told us she'd come out in 10 minutes to brief the class and so I hung out talking and waiting. She finally came and briefed and when we asked how long to the first dog (that would be Oz), she said, "how fast can you get him?" Well, he was napping. I needed 5-10 minutes and assumed I would have that after the briefing. He walked the first half of the course and I really thought she'd caused me to lose a Q. That would have really ticked me off. Fortunately, he ran 5 seconds under course time (normally he is 20+ seconds under) so we got that stupid Q. Since he ran Excellent level before, I want to get him through the Novice and Open courses asap and not spend a lot of money doing it. My goal is a PAX if I can keep him healthy and happy.

Little Oz seemed totally bummed that he ran so slowly for me. Right after the run, he was dancing around and saying "see I can do it now!" So...I decided to be ready for the next JWW run. I had him all warmed up so when she briefed, I was ready to go and you know what she said this time? "Let's run in 10 minutes." That was so frustrating. One time, she briefed and we ran immediately and the very next class she briefed and gave us 10 minutes. I was angry. So, now I had a warmed up dog who doesn't stay warmed up for long. I put him back in the car for a few minutes (in the AC) and then got him back out after 5 minutes. He did great and ran much faster for the JWW Q.

Rain's AKC trial

After deciding to not attend AKC trials for a while, since Rain has been so shut down by all the handler focus on these courses, I took him to one this weekend. I'm actually going to run Oz. I have to start him over at Preferred Novice and just wanted to get him to some shows to get him back into Excellent as fast as possible. Since the show didn't fill, I decided to put Rain in on Friday and Sunday. Just to see.

Well, yesterday, he ran well. On the standard course, he was still a bit distracted. Missed his weave entry and hit the teeter so fast at a slight angle that he flew off. But I was very happy that in both cases he came right back and did the obstacles correctly and with energy. He didn't shut down at all. I'm still not doing something quite right because he goes wide on a lot of turns. I watched myself in slow motion and I'm not clear if it is all me or not. At one point, I'm giving him plenty of cues but he is watching the judge so doesn't turn to me as fast as I wanted. I guess I need more proofing of people standing close to him in class so he learns to just tune everyone out.

His jumpers course went very nicely. His opening was lovely. He was turning over jump 3 toward the tunnel so he knew where he was going which is the key with Rain. I ran the next 3 jumps as I wanted signally the front over the double well in advance and he turned over that jump too knowing exactly where he was going. The next front he didn't catch and went wider than I wanted. He did a nice 180 and run towards a tunnel. Out of the tunnel he was able to hit the weaves nicely although, on tape, I notice his rhythm in the poles faltered a bit. I must have been a bit late on the front out of the weaves, because he didn't turn early enough. I get worried about doing anything while he is in the weaves for fear he will pop out. I keep proofing those at home, but his performance at home is nothing like that at a trial. Ugh. Anyway, that put him wide over the next jump which made it hard for him to catch my next front, but he pulled it together and we qualified.

This is Rain's 3rd leg toward an MXJ. Now if we can just get that last standard leg towards an AX!