Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shame About the Handler

I haven't actually watched Greg Derrett's DVD of this name, but the quote came to mind when I watched my videos from practice this weekend.

In terms of finding her way around the course (with a few exceptions), my dog is leap years ahead of me. Marisa says I am outright spoiled with Marge and am going to be in for a wake-up call when I get my next agility dog. She has saved me countless times on course. And I mean countless.

Here's what I set up for yesterday's practice. I've been itching to do box work for a while, knew I needed to work on the A-Frame contact, and threw in the discrimination because we haven't done much of that, either.

The box part of the sequence was actually inspired by a sequence I did way back in Beginner Agility.. a sequence I previously aced. When I ran it back then, I front crossed between 5 and 6, and, since my front crosses currently leave much to be desired, I wanted to try my hand at in again.

Not so lucky, this time. Looking at the video, I think a rear cross would have worked ten times better. But, I was so bent on the front cross that I kept doing it anyway. It most likely made it harder for my dog and I.

The double pinwheel at the beginning was also trickier than I previously imagined. Because I needed to race Marge to get into front cross position, I pulled away before she committed to the fourth jump and she, as a result, didn't take it. It was fixed with a "go" (and/or lots of encouragement once she started to tire -- as you'll hear in the video) but I kind of feel like using a go-out in that scenario is like lying to her since she has to come in to me immediately after.

Marge was flying around this course. She came out of the tunnel, took the double and was suddenly a million light years ahead of me. I fell prey to my usual error and tried to beat her, rather than decelerating to cue her to slow down. Then, I made matters worse by getting in her path over and over again -- which led to either a bar down or a really tight turn by Marge. I could just smack myself! I also probably put the double too close to the wall, making the angle really hard for her to get over the next jump.

These video clips are from the end of the session, which explains all of the praising and rewarding - I finally realized at this point that we weren't really feeling this course, so I broke it down and made it more fun. After this, I went as far as to stop every 2-3 obstacles and just feed, feed, feed. Marge wasn't really stressed, but I felt like maybe I'd confused her or made things more difficult for her; since my first priority with agility is having fun, that's exactly what I did.

She tired out really quickly, probably since she was going so fast in the beginning. I wouldn't say it was a wasted day, but I feel like we spent ourselves early on and didn't really get to work on much. I think I tried so hard to incorporate front crosses that I used them when something else would have worked better. Way to be counterproductive!

The A-Frame contact -- it's coming along. The nose touch with the post-it as a target has helped tremendously. She's still slamming into it more than I like and creeps down it when she starts to get tired, but I'm still trying to find the perfect distance to put the target from the frame so that she gets into 2o2o position on preferably the last board. She's doing great with hopping up on the side and getting into position.

For the next rental, I think I'm going to take a break from the A-Frame and just do some simple stuff.. teeter work, table work, and maybe some novice-type front crosses. For my next lesson with my instructor, I'd like to work on tunnel sends (hers were god-awful yesterday) and some general handling things - AKA, training me.

Once again, I have to thank my boyfriend for coming along - I can't even move the A-Frame an inch without him. And, I would have never had the time to set all of that stuff up and run the course without his help.

In other news, we are now the proud owners of an obedience dumbbell - though Marge won't be competing in obedience any time soon (very possibly never), I'm having fun learning the exercises and training something that's a little less impact during our down time. Stay tuned for video later in the week.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Unexpected Life

We had a surprise coating of snow this morning. It made for a messy morning commute to my first day of classes, but Marge thoroughly enjoyed it when I got home. Here, I egged her on and she did all kinds of zoomy/bitey stuff with the snow.

Today, we saw a neighborhood teeny tiny Boston Terrier who Marge absolutely loves. We met one day in the field a while ago and on subsequent meetings, we would approach each other and they'd begin playing immediately. I was shocked upon approaching them today alongside the road when the owner said, "he bites!"

I thought maybe she forgot who I was, but she remembered me and Marge. The two dogs did approach each other, Marge play bowing and wagging her tail wildly, and he was okay, until all of a sudden, he let out a few big-dog-in-a-little-package sort of noises and the owner quickly pulled him back.

I do not know this woman well at all, but we spoke a little bit about it. She explained that one day, all of a sudden, the little guy just decided to get snarky with a neighborhood Schnauzer, unprovoked (at least to her eye), and after that, he's been iffy with dogs.

He was fine the rest of the time, as Marge sniffed him and he sniffed Marge. He looked like he genuinely wanted to socialize with her, even from the start. To me, I think he became either overstimulated or unsure for that one moment, "spoke up" to make sure he wasn't going to get hurt, and then felt confident enough to continue interacting. It could have been any number of things, but, to me, he did not look inherently aggressive.

I don't know the whole story, or if there was some other triggering factor, but it reminded me so much of when Marge's dog-selective (and wholly fear-based) snarkiness started in June. Here you are, an unassuming dog owner trying to do the right thing, when something goes horribly wrong and you get an unusual reaction from your dog. I wish that no dog had issues, but they are out there, so in one way, it's kind of a comfort to know I'm not alone.

It's so easy to fall into the belief that a given dog's behavior problems are uncommon or unprecedented - I am guilty of doing this myself sometimes. It's a real wake-up call to hear or read the stories of other dogs - some raised by their owners from puppyhood - who have similar or even more severe problems. As I become a part of the dog world, I now find that a very large number of dogs have at least one reactivity, anxiety, stress, or fearfulness demon that they and their owners have to face. Here I thought I was alone - but, I'm not!

I do hope that the little Boston Terrier and Marge can continue to see each other, but Marge isn't exactly the kind of dog who can take a lot of rude behavior from others - I have enough trouble finding suitable playmates for her as it is and don't need to make things any worse. I hope I will see them again in the field someday and hear better news about his behavior.

I think Marge will get a good old fashioned dose of Buddy the spaniel this weekend - absolutely no dog beats that happy, super social little guy who I trust to be a complete gentleman with my quirky girl.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Human Flaws

We just can't keep away from the beach. Here are a couple of shots from our pleasant romp there around noon.

The day started off well, but got a little rocky in the evening.

As many of you know, my father has not yet fully won Marge's approval, to put it mildly. She is leaps and bounds ahead of where she was when I first got her (though he'll never admit to that), but we do still have some problems. Her issues are mostly apparent when he comes home - I've been working extensively to get her to move away from the door when he is coming so that she'll not growl. That's been going well, but she does have her reservations about being too close to him, depending on the situation.

Food, however, changes the entire picture. If he has food, she'll (begrudgingly and anxiously) do anything that he asks. Tonight, he wanted her next to him as he sat on the couch. Despite my obvious disapproval, he chose to do what he wanted, and told Marge to lay down next to him while he intermittently fed her treats. That wouldn't have been terrible, if not for how much he petted her, asked for behaviors, etc. Marge, though not absolutely terror stricken, made it apparent that she was not wholly comfortable.

This, of course, got her hyped up, which, in turn, made her hyped up when my sister and her unassuming math tutor entered after finishing working in the adjacent room. Marge likes the tutor, but, due to the situation, got very nervous when she approached. Her hackles raised and she kept her distance; I did not worry because I know that the tutor never provokes her and mostly ignores her. My dad, on the other hand, ordered her to sit in one spot.


Don't get me wrong, my dad is great, BUT, BUT, BUT, he has the training all wrong with Marge and despite my nearly constant suggestions to him or criticism of his behavior, it has not changed. And, it likely will not change. He simply doesn't view Marge's issues the same way I do. I'm the person trying to change or manage these behaviors so my dog and I can go out and have fun. He's the person saying that Marge is Marge and her attitudes about various things cannot be altered. It's a different generation, a different mindset.

Later on, we headed out for a walk. I think it was doomed from the start. I should have known that I'd wind up analyzing every little behavioral response by Marge, linking it subconsciously to the prior dad/tutor/hackles situation, which was ultimately started by my dad, in my opinion, and deeming the day a massive failure.

It wasn't an awful walk - but I felt like Marge was reacting to tiny little things, turning her head to listen to various noises, and all that kind of stuff. As a result, I wound up walking longer than I originally anticipated, looking for that "perfect point" where Marge looked happy and engaged and 100% perfect - not just satisfactory or good, but perfect - to turn around for home. Though the tail end of the walk was actually pretty good, I know that I both walked too far and handled some situations incorrectly.

When we have these days where the cards just seem to continually come crashing down, even if it's just little things adding up, it's hard to think of everything in perspective. Yes, she started out at rock bottom and now is much better. But, when we encounter some bumps along the way, I begin to worry that we'll start crashing down again, for real, like we did over the summer. And that is my biggest flaw. Just like my dog, I can be a terrific worrier.

Fortunately, Marge and I went home and had the most super-positive happy and amazing agility/rally practice in the back yard. I think it was the best thing we could have done.

We'll start all over again tomorrow. What other choice do we have?

Tuesday Training 23

Holy cow.

Talk about a LOT of training!

We were at the training hall Monday for three straight hours. First was totally private practice, then was semi-private practice (a lesson with my instructor and another handler), and third was regular class.

Hour 1
Because I knew we'd be there a long time, I didn't want to overdo it in the beginning. So, I set up an APDT Rally Level 1 course from my club's last trial and ran it two or three times with Marge.

I don't think she was as enthused as she was at our Rally practice a couple of weeks ago, and certainly not as enthused as when she does agility (but that's a given). She lagged a bit and wasn't as tight as she normally is on her turns. It was pretty warm in the building, though - I was absolutely dying in that sweatshirt I was wearing - so that may have been a factor. Looking back at the video, she did better than I first thought she did.

What you can't see in the far right corner are three "married" signs - Halt/90 Degree Pivot Left - Sit/Walkaround - Down/Walkaround.

After that, I cleaned up the Rally equipment while Marge practiced sit and down stays. No problem with either other than the fact that she loves to slide into a down after sitting for a little bit. I have no aspirations for obedience competition any time in the future, but it's not a bad skill for her to have.

I then dragged out the teeter, and we did a little bit of work on it with the table underneath. It was the fastest I've ever seen her do the teeter; she slowed at the pivot point (which I actually want so that she doesn't spook herself flying off of it or anything), but had so much less hesitation. A few reps with the table, and then I removed it and she did it full height. Still looked very nice. I put the treats right on the teeter rather than feed them from my hand, so maybe she makes the connection that it's not a scary thing.

Hour 2
Next was my semi-private lesson. Marge did not take very kindly to the other dog who was with us, a young, adorable Golden. I tried introducing him to her before we started and she gave him nasty growls and a couple of snaps. Probably my mistake. We kept our distance the rest of the time and she was eventually more comfortable with his presence. If we have a lesson together a few more times, I think she'll feel better about him.

We worked the A-Frame mostly (sorry, no video). We've incorporated a nose touch to our 2o2o criteria and it seems to be helping tremendously. She hit her contact almost every single time with the help of our temporary target, a simple piece of paper. She's still not doing it as smoothly as I like, but she wasn't thudding into it like she did so many times in the last video.

She did do one silly thing.. I forgot to put the target on the descending side of the A-Frame (we were obviously switching which way we ran it) and she ran half way up, turned around, and performed her contact on the target. Marisa was hysterical.

She said to leave the target for a while, at least a month or two, and gradually make it smaller. Sounds like a plan to me. I'm not using a target on the dog walk.

Only other things we did were some bounce jumping, the dog walk and table to solidify criteria for those two obstacles, and a small sequence to practice using either a front or a back cross between two jumps.

Hour 3
Then, finally, we had class. Marge had to hang out in a crate while I helped set up and walked the course. I gave her a Kong and covered her crate with a sheet so no one would disturb her, but she whined for a good portion of the time. Almost every other dog in the crate room was whining, though, and I think it may have added to the stress.

(Later on, when I walked the second half of the course, I put her in a down stay and she didn't move. GOOD GIRL!)

Here was the course:

  • Opening was simple enough; lead out to jump two (on the non-wall side of the jumps), and ran completely straight to get her in the right tunnel entrance.
  • Back crossed over 5 and 6. Marisa told me to try to front the second time around, but I was already in back cross position and I got screwed up. Marge, I believe, spun in a circle, but then when I sent her on to 6 and told her to weave (I was way behind her), she did it beautifully. Way to make up for my mistake!
  • Jump to dog walk to table was simple. Her dog walk looked great today. Didn't miss any contacts and had lots of speed.
  • Still having some table sticky issues.. I don't think I'm clear enough to her that she is to DOWN and stay DOWN until I release her.. she gets her cookie and then gets up. I suppose I could try delaying the reward to really proof it first.
  • Used my inside arm to get her over jump 11, front crossed, front crossed again after 12. No problem.
  • The tunnel to A-Frame was pretty disastrous.. the tunnel was too short, which made it really hard for all of the dogs to find it. Both Marge and I were exhausted at this point and we kind of bombed it, but Marisa said to leave it alone, so I just told Marge to tunnel and sent her over the A-Frame without doing the obstacles before it.
  • Closing wasn't bad.. just, again, had to basically run into the triple to make sure she took the right tunnel entrance.
This will be our last agility class until probably the middle of February, maybe longer. In the meantime, I'm going to practice during my ring time and take some more lessons. We're pretty much going full steam ahead for an early April AKC trial. I don't plan to trial heavily this year, but I want to make the most out of the trials that we DO do. I was told today that we'll breeze through Novice.. I really hope it's true!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Quiet Morning

After Friday's noisy walk, I knew we needed a quiet time to go out and get some exercise. I opted to walk Marge instead of going back to sleep this morning. It turned out to be very pleasant - all we heard were foghorns out at sea and the sound of our own footsteps.

We walked down to the beach, as we do so often, but a large group of offleash dogs was playing in the distance, so we could not go far. We walked along this path and then turned for home. I could have stayed for hours, just watching the waves and thinking silently to myself. There is something so serene and enchanting about looking out to the open ocean, and this is one of my favorite spots to do just that.

This is my favorite picture from the outing. I did stage it by throwing a treat for Marge to run at, but that doesn't detract from how much I like it. Too bad I cut her back end off a bit.

Now, I'm in bed, and will only be for another ten minutes or so before I have to get up and start the day for good. Though I did want to go back to sleep this morning, I reasoned to myself: I could sleep any time I like, but I don't always get the opportunity for me and my dog to go out into an almost completely silent world.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bang Goes the Hockey Puck

Today, my sister, Marge and I returned to a park that we haven't been to in a long time. I thought that it would be quiet at noon on a Friday - kids in school, people at work. Unfortunately, this visit wasn't all that different from our last visit (which was probably the most awful outing I've been on with Marge), because Marge was extremely sensitive to some of the sounds around us.

It's really hard to see her so confident and happy to start out, eager to get out of the car and explore the park, only to have her enthusiasm shattered a while later when something scares her.

The biggest culprit? - hockey. There is a small rink where people on rollerblades can play. When the puck hits the wall, it, as you can imagine, makes a loud noise. This sent her into such a panic the last time we were at this park (in September) that we had to leave, and it was the last straw before I took Marge to the vet, looking to find a solution to these issues. The other source of sound came from park personnel doing.. well, something. I'm not sure what.

In an effort to find a bright side, all I can say is that she didn't panic as badly as she did last time. However, there was still plenty of "get me out of here!" on her part, which makes it probably her strongest fear reaction in a long time.

I didn't really know what to do - she took treats most of the time, but she was pretty stressed out. She was fine while we walked on the wooded trails deep in the park. But, once we got back to the main part of the park, she heard the sounds again. So, we tried going on the beach. She didn't hear anything any more, but her heart obviously wasn't in it. She lagged behind us instead of excitedly jumping in front of us.

Eventually, towards the very end of our visit, I just sat with her in the middle of a big open field and slowly fed her treats as she soaked in the world.

It took a while, but she did start to look a tiny bit better - not much, but just a little. We walked in the general direction of the car, sort of zig-zagging our way to it so that she didn't just make a beeline for it.

She found something stinky to roll in - normally, I would have called her off of it, especially since she just got bathed last night. But, I thought it would make both of us feel better for her to just let loose and do what she wanted. After that, we went home.

This park confuses me. Marge has attended agility trials here (May '09 and August '09) and hasn't had much of a problem. Hopefully, we'll be competing here this summer, too. She used to LOVE going to walk on the paths, on the trails, on the beach, in the fields. Even when people were around. Were there no sounds then? Or, did she only become afraid of them now?

I've wondered to myself if Marge can be conditioned to these noises, just as she's become more conditioned to the sounds of my neighborhood. I don't know if it's better to avoid the park in favor of others, or to go to it often so that I can help her to realize that she sounds aren't going to hurt her. It's not a particularly busy park, which makes it nice - but, as we've found out, the hockey playing and seemingly constant park maintenance make up for the lack of traffic.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 572

That's how far we've come since Marge entered our home for the first time.

I can't believe I've already been blogging a year. What's more, I can't believe how much we've done since the first time I wrote here, in a slightly cynical and sarcastic post that I called "Day 207." We passed the CGC test, battled a summer of hell and fireworks and now well on our way to a career of competing in our heart sport, agility.

Fear, which used to consume everything that we did, is now only one theme in a great book of adventures.

My blog and my blogging friends are things I really look forward to every day. Excitedly typing in the details of our day-to-day adventures, uploading agility courses and their corresponding videos, and sharing with others what it means to live with Marge are things I wouldn't change for the world.

I've learned things about myself, too - what I'm good at, what I need to work on. Many times I've gone back and referred to old posts and comments to see where I've been and what I used to change things along the way.

I've met some amazing people through my blog as well. I've celebrated with them on their own victories - training challenges, trial successes, and the little triumphs of every day - and they've celebrated with me on mine. Others created comics and edited pictures to put a smile on their readers' faces. I have been one of those people smiling.

I've seen some bad times, too - the passing of some blog friends on to the next world, the sickness of good people, and various other struggles. I hope that I've been as supportive to you guys during your rough patches as you have been to me.

So often I worry that my posts are too long or not interesting enough. After all, not everyone trains in agility or goes to class or does the same things we do, but you all have proven me wrong by being faithful readers and most of all, turning into a whole new group of friends. So, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for helping me make MargeBlog what it has become.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday Training 22

Switching Contacts.. Again

After the rough run-through (in terms of A-Frame performance) in New Jersey and an equally bad attempt to try to teach the four-on-the-floor behavior (or even the beginnings of it) during my ring time, I decided that I'm going to give 2o2o one more push.

Aside from my lack of ambition, I had serious concerns about Marge not being able to to two different kinds of contacts on the Dog Walk and A-Frame, and also did not think she'd do well with going into a down on grass (she can get iffy about it - doesn't like getting wet). I really hadn't given the 2o2o a fair chance, I had maybe 2 private lessons to train it and the rest was in class. So, I'm going to focus on it these next few weeks and see where it goes.

Here is a compilation of some A-Frames from my ring time.. be as critical as you can, and take into consideration her body mechanics.. does it look like a huge stress on her body? I'm just baffled as to why it would be so bad for HER to do a 2o2o, yet I see dogs twice her size doing it without a problem. I don't know if I'm being too cautious or not cautious enough. I don't want her to hurt her front joints, but I also don't want to do a large amount of repetitions in teaching the modified running contact.

Louie seems to think that Marge's successes and failures in getting into 2o2o position have a lot to do with when I cue her. If I cue her once all four feet are on the down ramp, she misses it. If I cue her earlier, she usually hits it. I'm going to continue working on it and see what happens. I'm also going to do dog walk work in hopes that proofing the contact on the dog walk might help out the A-Frame situation.

Crates and Snarky Town

Marge hung out in a plain old wire crate for almost an hour between our private practice and our agility class. She did great - I sat right there with her and fed her little bits of treat often. Just as I was about to take her out, one of our newer classmates - a very happy, goofy - very large breed dog - came in and went right up to the crate she was in.. which Marge did NOT take well. I can't really blame her for it - she felt trapped and acted accordingly to try to remove the perceived thread. The door was closed, and I blocked as best I could, but the snark ensued. Nasty barks, growls, hackles up.. the whole shebang. I'm hoping it doesn't set us back - I had her wait in the crate for a few more minutes to calm down before I let her out.

She got all nutso when she saw him come in to the room to run his course during class, so I put her in the connected bathroom with the door half closed and stood by, ready to slam it shut in the event that he came over to say hello. I did wind up having to do it. I tried to play Look at That with her but she wasn't really interested.. don't know whether that means she really wasn't that uncomfortable with him or what. Those were her only snarks of the day, so on the whole, her behavior was quite good.

Another Indoor Class
The day's unseasonably warm temperatures did make me long for the big open agility field, but class inside was fun too.

The (silent) video.. there was lots of talking and it's more fun for me to recount the play- by-play here!:

  • The opening was more offset jumps. Seems to be becoming a theme in this class! This week's jumps were much harder than lasts. Took me once or twice to get the first two down pat, but the two back crosses before jump 3 and before the A-Frame were not problematic at all. According to my awesome teacher, we have smokin' back crosses. You can practically see those lead changes in midair!
  • I think I've spoken enough about the A-Frame, but Marge hit the contact more times than not while running this sequence. I think she missed it once out of four times.
  • Her weaves continue to look beautiful.
  • The jump after the weaves was interesting.. we started learning the new "backy-uppy", popular for threadle handling, and I'm so happy I finally got it because it worked out awesome in this situation.
  • The next cross was the really hard front cross down the opening line of jumps.. I could get there, but Marge wasn't really turning into me. I think that's the one thing we left unfixed from the class.
  • Teeter didn't look bad! I put treats on the end of the board and she ate them, didn't try to jump off or anything. Thinking about doing some teeter work next week during my ring time.
  • Tunnel to the final line of jumps was interesting. Marge totally saved my butt on this one, because I got way too far out ahead of her but she still came into my side and took the three jumps. Other dogs opted to go up the A-Frame, take the weaves, etc. Thanks, Marge, for not letting your less-than-stellar handler get in the way!
Next week is our final week in agility class, maybe except for one possible drop-in in February. This doesn't mean we won't be doing agility anymore - even with college classes, I'll still be able to squeeze in a trip to the club every Monday from 2 to 3. Unfortunately, since class is later than that, I can't stick around. I'll also hopefully be able to have some private lessons and get back out to Jersey for another one of those run-throughs. We are NOT hibernating this winter!

Non-Agility Updates
I know these Tuesday posts are always really long, but I haven't brought up our other training endeavors in a while:
  • Walks are continuing in some capacity. Night walks happen when I think it's quiet enough and/or cold enough out. She's been doing well.. had no problem with an ambulance being across the street from her on Monday night's walk. I thought for sure that she'd at least keep an eye on it.
  • We had another visitor to our house, a 15 year old girl friend of my sister's. She was in her crate in the basement with me when the doorbell rang and didn't try to get up or anything. Very chilled out, very good. I went upstairs with her a short while later and she took to the girl immediately. I mean, 100% comfortable with her. Welcoming pets, trying to jump up and kiss her face. Awesomeness.
  • She's been pretty good with my dad, too.. going up to him with full expectation of being petted (there is only so much I can tell him - he insists on petting her), jumps on him sometimes, bops him with her nose.. MUCH better than before. Don't want to jinx it, but the door situation has been managed pretty good as well. She's beginning to learn the default behavior of coming to find me and get her cookies (ie. move away from the door), especially when she knows its him coming home (his car makes a distinct beeping noise when he locks it - convenient for me, convenient for Marge).
  • Planning on some Rally practice too, maybe even with other people around. We've got a trial to prepare for!
As you can see, we're keeping busy. I know the Tuesday Training posts are pretty technical in nature, but it's so important for me to log my progress. I recently went back and read some of my old blog posts, and the difference from month to month, sometimes even week to week, can be profound.

Stay tuned for a fun post in the coming days - MargeBlog is about to turn 1 year old!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

To Jersey and Back

We had our practice session this morning in New Jersey. Unlike other times when we've gone to new places, Marge was actually quite confident when she got out of the car. (She did growl as a herd of Shelties came her way, but that's not too bad.) We met up with our friend from the club, which made Marge feel even better.

The place was really nice - indoors and spacious. The man running it was really nice and gave Marge some cookies. She took to him immediately. There turned out to be only three other handlers there - a very small group - which meant lots of time for practice.

This was the course (obviously property of whoever created it):

And, as usual, some notes (I'll keep it brief!):

We really had no problems running this course. Though it was an excellent level course, it was wide open and flowy.

  • A-Frame, A-Frame, A-Frame. I've been practicing the down on the flat very often. She got it maybe 30% of the time. A couple of times she offered a 2o2o. I guess I'll just keep plugging at it... I'm REALLY hoping, though, that she's not going to get confused stopping on the dog walk and running to the bottom of the A-Frame. I don't want to mess up her contact criteria altogether!
  • Hit her weaves perfectly. Pretty good because the entry was tough (required some distance from the handler) and it was the first time on this set of weaves. The set makes a difference.
  • Oh.. the teeter. Marge went on it, banged it down, and then got terribly freaked by the squeaky noise it made as it popped back into position. She recovered, though, and was able to finish the course. I skipped the teeter in subsequent runs.. it was NOT worth her getting scared over.
  • Table was a bit better. She jumped off once or twice, and all the other times plopped immediately into a down.
  • Dog walk contact was pretty good. She kind of sputtered her way down the ramp a couple of times, but I'm really not looking to change it from a 2o2o especially since she's actually starting to get it.
Behaviorally, Marge was superb. Aside from one woof as one dog (our agility classmate) went bonkers on course, she was fine. That's a pretty big deal, considering she watched the runs of three totally strange dogs and was in the building with totally strange people.

My only complaint of the day came at the very end of our session.. the guy running it was demonstrating a contact training device to one of the other handlers, and it made a series of loud beeps. To me, it sounded like my smoke alarm, and I'm sure Marge felt the same way. She seemed to recover 100% though, as I took her through the tire and tunnel a couple more times just to make sure we ended on a good note.

On the way home, my dad (who so nicely drove me there) and I stopped for lunch. Marge waited in the car for a couple of minutes by herself. She was fine.. I gave her a cheese-stuffed Kong and she worked at that while we got our food. Then, she actually was calm enough to get out of the car and potty behind the building. It might sound funny, but all of that combined was probably the best part of the day. Even just a few months ago, that probably would have sent her into a frenzy.

Overall, we had a lot of fun and I wouldn't hesitate to go there again. I actually might go next month.


I figure I should use this post to bring up some other events that we'll hopefully be at this year.

I'm already thinking ahead to our first trials of the year. We're got two trials potentially set up for April.. one, an AKC (gasp) agility trial, the other, an APDT rally trial at our training building.

I'm still iffy on AKC, just because they're usually pretty big trials, but at the same time I think it's looking like a go.. it's at the same site as our fall NADAC trial, mixes now run in the same classes as purebreds and can get the same titles (statement here), and she's allowed to wear a collar (security blanket for me). Also, since it's very early in April, there's a chance it'll be a small(er) trial since the cold might scare some people away. I do have some concerns about the teeter, but we'll see what happens.. I'd be fine running her in only JWW and possibly FAST, if anything.

I'm REALLY excited for APDT rally. Since it's at our club, I really don't have too much concern about stress or anything like that. She's taken the rally course by storm lately. We're going to do some practice with friends from the club pretty soon. The last trial my club had was run SO smoothly and a lot of qualifying scores were given out. With some luck, I think we can finish our RL1 title this year. How cool would that be?

After that, we've potentially got a stretch of about 4 CPE trials and 3 NADAC trials. Those numbers sound really big considering the fact that we only did one trial last year, but, we'll take it by ear and see what happens.

I probably won't post tomorrow or Monday, so I hope all of you have a lovely weekend, and stay tuned for this Tuesday's training update after our agility class.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fields of Gold

We went on a walk in a park today. I didn't take many pictures because we did some behavior mod work for the first time in a long time (which was really no more than doling out cookies as jogging men passed by, but still!), but have these from a stroll down a golden grass-filled trail. It was pretty.

And, my favorite of the bunch...

This trail was quiet, but some other parts of the park were pretty busy. There were a lot of walkers and joggers around, mostly men, some coming within feet or inches of my scaredy girl. The main road just feet away roared and added to the commotion. Marge did well - we did some short on-leash recalls (just basically calling her back to me as she walked ahead) and she was slow, but that was the only sign that she gave of being uncomfortable.

I'm really excited for our practice session tomorrow. It's indoors at a totally private training facility, which means nothing else will be going on other than the small run-through group I'll be a part of. One of the other teams will be an agility classmate of ours, so I think that will give Marge some comfort. I hope it lives up to my expectations and Marge has a good time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bright and Lazy Days

It is with great pleasure that I announce that MY INTERNET IS FIXED! The technician wasn't able to fix it when he came yesterday, because the problem wasn't in my house, but apparently Verizon got their act together and repaired it. Let's cross our fingers it stays this way. I'll be around to visit all of my favorite blogs tonight and tomorrow - I owe all of you a whole lot of comments!

Just briefly, I'll mention that Marge did very well for the hour-plus that the technician was here. I initially kept her in the backyard in her crate, with a cup of kibble in her brand-new Premier Kibble Nibble, but she started to get antsy after emptying it out and even tried to break through the zipper... so, I decided to let her inside. The tech really didn't bother with her, I fed her lots of cookies and all was well. Big step for Marge!

I had a busy day today and had to go run a couple of errands. I was surprised that when I looked outside to see what Marge was doing during her last pottybreak before my departure, I found this:

She had found a little patch of January sunlight and took a snooze. She does this often in the warm months, but seldom gets the chance to do so during the winter because the sun just isn't strong enough. So, it was a nice treat!

I felt bad to call her in right away (she isn't allowed outside unsupervised), so I let her hang out for a bit.

Showing off her bald belly.. little hooch!

Though I like the flexibility to go wherever we please during the winter (versus the summer, filled with lots of scary stuff), I'd be lying if I said I didn't appreciate the sunshine today.

(We've got something pretty exciting coming up over the weekend in terms of agility - a chance to practice at an all-new location! We'll see how it goes and I'll report back here once it's all over.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesday Training 21

My internet issues have still not been fixed. A technician from Verizon is supposed to coming to my house on Wednesday morning, but I'm honestly finding it hard to be optimistic that the issue will be resolved then. My dad is adamant about not switching to a different service provider, so I'm hoping that this doesn't drag on forever (especially given the fact that school's coming back and I'm going to need internet access for that reason, too).

Basically - to sum it up - my upload speeds are quite high, running as usual. This is the reason I'm able to upload with no problem to Youtube and Photobucket. However, my download speeds make dial-up look like high speed internet. For you computer nerdies, if there are any of you out there, I'm getting an average 14 Kbps when downloading files. Youtube videos will not load, regardless of how long and complex they are. Some sites will not load simply because they time out. We've tried all of the usual stuff and Verizon has run a few tests, but they can't find the problem. It's not a computer or virus issue, as it's happening on two PCs and two laptops, all with different operating systems. I'm really hoping the answer lies somewhere within the wires that they'll be looking at tomorrow. If not, I'm just about ready to rip my hair out over this one.

To limit my frustration, I'll just blog about our agility news for this week's training update. There sure is enough of it!

A-Frame Contact Criteria
Well.. looks like we're going with a four on the floor. During our lesson, Marisa watched Marge run over the A-Frame a couple of times and she really has absolutely no contact performance. It is totally contingent on me being right there with her to tell her "zone" for the 2o2o - if I'm not there or I run past her, she doesn't get into position.

Since running contacts take a lot of work and a lot of repetition, I decided against them. Though I wouldn't have to worry about Marge slamming her shoulders into the ground, running the A-Frame so many times could be problematic itself. Marisa suggested four on the floor before I said anything about it - so, we're giving it a try.

Right now, I need to work on Marge dropping and downing at my side. She does it in heel position if we're going slow enough, but I need to gradually build up to speed. She sort of gets it and she's consistently in the yellow, so we're off to a good start. Many times she was crooked, but she is dropping into the down and hitting her contact. I know some people use poles as guides at the bottom of the A-Frame, so I could look into that as well - maybe do some back-chaining, starting with a down between the poles, then a down between the poles at the bottom of the A-Frame, then a down between the poles after going over the A-Frame. Hmm. Just a training musing.

Marisa said it may not be as 100% reliable as a 2o2o, but she said she really didn't think the 2o2o was going to work for her and also said that her stride shouldn't ever change so drastically that she totally misses the yellow. I brought up the possibility about Marge leaping from high up and still dropping into the down, but she said that if it happens, we'll worry about it when we get there.

I just got the idea into my head that maybe using a zone honor (as you'd do if you were training running contacts) in addition to the down might help solidify the criteria for Marge. Hmm. I'll have to ask about it next time.

Of course, if you have any experience training contacts this way, please, please, please, let me know! (Kathy, I'll be shooting you a message once this dang internet starts working again!)

Agility Class
Class was a LOT of fun. The course was really cool - it was flowy despite being pretty twisty-turny. Here's a (very) approximate course map.

Here is the video (thanks, Louie!):

Some notes:
  • Allow me a brag.. I was the only one to run the opening sequence correctly on the first shot! We originally all walked the course with the jumps on our right hand side, but at the last minute I went back out and walked on the other side. I got out there and knew I had to be on the wall-side of the jumps. It worked. Marge did this absolutely wonderfully and her send-ahead to the dog walk was awesome.
  • 2o2o on the dog walk was fine, she hits it pretty consistently. Like I said, it's pretty contingent on my motion, but I feel like I can correct that a bit easier on the dog walk then I can on the A-Frame.
  • The table.. Marge still isn't "sticking" to the table. I worked on some sends to the table while I was waiting for my lesson to start, and she's just "eh" about it. She hops on and off sometimes, and others, she just releases herself (usually after getting a treat). I'm trying to make my obstacles a little bit more independent, so this is something I'll work on as well.
  • The red tunnel was tricky.. I didn't get it right, initially. I had to bring her across my feet to get her into the tunnel and, at first, used the wrong hand. Over all, I thought we'd have a lot more trouble with it but Marge seemed to be paying perfect attention and knew where she had to go.
  • Her weaves were BEAUTIFUL! Fast, accurate! I barely even looked to see if she made her entry because she was totally on the ball.
Okay, now, the second half.. what is up with that tunnel suck by the A-Frame? There were two reasons I didn't front cross in front of the A-Frame (which would have blocked the tunnel). One, I figured in a real trial, I wouldn't have the time to get there. Two, I wanted to be close to the A-Frame to enforce the contact. The only reasons I can think of for the tunnel-suck are either Marge not paying attention or me being ever-so-slightly in her path. What do you think?
  • As you can see, her A-Frame is very much a work in progress.. on this run, she preferred bowing to downing. We'll work on it.
  • Figuring out the last line of jumps was actually pretty difficult. I had to be in the perfect spot to ensure that she took the jump right next to the tunnel, but not far enough that she took a different jump. Then, I had to send her out to the triple but then decelerate and stay close to ensure that she didn't go barreling up the dog walk (which she did a few times). Once I figured out the mechanics of it, it was nice.
I'm really upset that we ran out of time and couldn't run the whole course. This was such an awesome course and Marge seemed absolutely thrilled to be running it.

Starting next week, I'm going to have an hour at the building all to myself before class. I anticipate that this will help me with the contact situation and also give me some time to practice with my instructor. In a few weeks, we won't be able to attend most of the classes anymore (at least 'til April) due to my college schedule, so I'm really happy that I got this time.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Beach at Sunset

Just as the title implies, Marge and I made our way down to the beach late in the afternoon. I had wandered down there the other day and was instantly struck by the beauty around me; because I didn't have a camera with me on that occasion, I knew I'd have to go back soon. Thursday was the day.

As I marveled at the sunset, Marge found things that were beautiful in a different way - they SMELLED beautiful, at least to her. Yuck!

We walked on, the low and setting sun splashing everything with a dash of gold. It was so picturesque - except, of course, for Marge's glorious pile of litter pictured above - and ridiculously relaxing. Internet trouble has had me stressed out beyond belief for the past few days - a resolution to my horrendously slow speeds and inability to navigate most websites (the reason that my comments to those I follow have been sporadic, at best) doesn't feel within reach. Making this very blog post is an arduous task. So, it was a welcome to be able to get out of the house and walk on this mild winter day.

Do you remember a picture like this from over the summer? The inspirational graffiti still stood tall among the old ruins, and it called for yet another photo-op. I hope that I have made Marge's life "good" since I made that vow over the summer in this very spot.

We reached our destination at the end of the beach. The sunset was magnificent!

Yes, Marge got her picture taken, too.

A short while later, we turned around and headed for home.

Another day gone, another walk complete - how lucky I am to have such a secluded and peaceful place to walk with an equally great companion to accompany me. No matter how slow my internet connection is, nothing can take away from such an exhilarating experience.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thinking of Nick

A few months before Marge would make her way up to New York from Georgia and ultimately wind up coming home with me, there was another dog who had won my heart like no other had done before.

I volunteered at our local no-kill shelter since the summer of 2007 up until its unfortunate close at the end of 2008. After my previous life filled with horses suddenly became merely a memory, a figment of my past (something that STILL causes me grief, but that's for another posts), I needed a new way to fill my life with animals.

Dogs came and went at the shelter quickly, most to good homes and happy endings. I fell in love with many of them, wondered what they had been through in their lives, why they had wound up here. Though I formed attachments to them, I never got too close, since most of them left rather quickly, anyway. It wasn't a bad setup - after my massive losses in the equine world, I was in no hurry to get myself emotionally wrapped in any animal of any species (except for my wonderful boyfriend, Louie, who came into the picture around that time).

All of this became null and void when I found myself making great friends with a Shepherd mix from less-than-desirable beginnings in his life. Nicholas, or Nicky, as I often called him, came into the shelter right before Christmas of 2007. Though I was not there when he was brought in, I was told that his previous owner had kept Nick outside in the yard for the entire first two years of his life, and that it would be impossible to get too near him. And, for three days, or so the story goes, no one could get near him. He barked and lunged and spun in his cage when ever someone got to close - he did not know how to trust.

A little while later, I'm not exactly sure when, Nicky had calmed down enough to be able to walk with the volunteers. He became an absolute model citizen - well, except for his fear of men, which was probably explained by his bad situation earlier in life. I remember taking him on endless walks, and I remember how he'd get the zoomies any time I'd try to jog with him. I used to sit beside him, locked into his cage with him, with absolutely no fear in the world - there was not a mean bone in this dog's body. He just wanted love.

I remember the time he got loose from the leash and ran up to an innocent bystander barking like a lunatic - a story I kept to myself out of fear that I wouldn't be allowed to walk him anymore. On the other hand, I remember seeing people out on the street and having Nick pass them with ease - if only I knew then what I know now about reactivity and fearfulness, I could have helped him so much more. But, he grew on his own and really was a lovely dog.

Yet, no one wanted him. His stint at the shelter was about 8 months long - he soon became the dog who had been there the longest. He saw the least number of potential adopters. Why? Probably because he was a big old black and tan Shepherd mix, two or three years of age, and simply wasn't as eye-catching as the young wiggly puppies or purebred dogs who filled the nearby kennels.

One day, my sister and I got it into our heads that we could convince my parents to bring him home. Looking back, I feel like we schemed like two 5-year-olds who wanted something they couldn't have - and, as you probably have figured out by now, it didn't work. My dad was more open to the suggestion, but my mom was afraid of Nicholas, despite the fact that he adored her. his dislike for cats complicated the issue even further - how was I going to bring a boisterous, barking dog into a 10-year-old cat's quiet home? It was not meant to be, and, for a little while, I was VERY upset.

I came to terms with the fact that he wouldn't be coming home with me, and, as if by luck, that's when Marge came into the shelter. In fact, I think he left for his own home within one week of Marge coming home with me.

I could not bring myself to say goodbye to him when I heard the news he was going to his new home. I didn't want to be there when he left. I would not go into the play pen with him to play, because I knew I would break down into a thousand tears. So, I silently wished him luck in his new home, gazed down at his beautiful, smiling face for one last time, and knew that it would be farewell.

Before the shelter closed, I heard that he was doing very well in his new home - that his reactivity problems had virtually disappeared, he was able to attend family barbecues and events mingle with dogs and people that would have scared him during his stay at the shelter. Some of the employees even got to see him again, too. I sure wish I could have seen him.

Though I am obviously happy with how things worked out, as I got to bring home a wonderful little black dog named Marge who pours her heart into everything she does with me, I do admit to fantasizing about what could have been. What would Nicky have been like in my home? What if I could have adopted both him and Marge? I suppose the only answer to that is that everything happens for a reason, and those scenarios will never play out anyway except in the confines of my nostalgic mind.

I hope that Nicky is out there, still enjoying what ever home he wound up in. I hold out hope that one day I will see him again. He won't remember me, I'm sure, but it would be so nice to see the smiling Shepherd who was probably the first dog I ever really felt close to. Thank you, Nicky, for being such a good friend through all of that time we were together.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tuesday Training 20

Forgive me for all of the training news lately - it's all I've got! It's been so cold (and WINDY) here lately that we haven't done anything else, besides our usual walks in the neighborhood.

Ready to Rally
The Rally run-throughs on Saturday went smashingly well. Aside from one growl at one woman, Marge's behavior was absolutely wonderful. There were only a handful of dogs there and Marge wasn't forced to be near any of them, so it worked out perfectly. She mingled with old human friends from the club and lay down right outside the ring, waiting for her turn and watching other dogs play the Rally game.

I did not get my first run on video, but it was flawless - we would have Q'd for sure if it was a real trial! Marge really seems to get into "work" mode when we're at events - it brought back memories of how she strutted her stuff during her CGC evaluation last April. I did use treats, but pretty sparingly, for she didn't need them. I tried to stick to the APDT rules of only treating after a "halt" exercise - and still, Marge did great!

It prompted questions from friends about whether or not we were entered in the APDT trial next weekend, but, the answer is no. Though I considered it in December, I feared we were not ready and also that my APDT registration wouldn't have made it in on time. Neither of these are apparently true, based on Marge's performance and the information from other knowledgeable people about APDT registration, but that's okay - there will be other times.

Here are our third and fourth runs of the day.

You may notice that Marge is wearing a slip chain collar. However, as a disclaimer, I feel it necessary to make sure that all of my readers know that I am NOT NOT NOT a correction-based trainer - such would be a horrible mistake when working with a fearful dog. The collar is always loose and is not used to punish for bad behavior (I use verbal no-reward markers). In fact, I am using the chain collar for the opposite reason than most do - I like it because it is light. Marge's best Rally actually happens offleash, and, since the collar is slack around her neck, I have found that it simulates the feeling of offleash the best. Though I plan on buying a leather collar for obedience work (since some venues only allow leather or fabric collars), I wanted to use the equipment Marge is familiar with for now.

Back to Class
It's been two weeks since our last agility class, so it was nice to get back into it on Monday. Though we were pressed for time, we did one large course and one small course, both skills-filled.

Tunnel/A-Frame discrimination did not prove to be much of a problem, as I thought it might. However, seeing the A-Frame reminded me that we really need to start solidifying our contact criteria - she really has no contact right now on the Frame. Dog Walk is currently a 2o2o and will stay that way, and the teeter is a running, because I know my dog is not brave enough to try any crazy fly-off stunts.

Otherwise, the course worked some crazy front crosses, some of which I had trouble executing. It was a lot of equipment in a little space.

Her weave entries were great and she did not break early from the poles at all - I'm crossing my fingers that our weave issues are behind us now.

One other thing to note is that Marge's table performance was almost non-existent - she would not stay on the table! We haven't worked the table in a while, so I guess that's just a cue for me to drag it out during our next practice.

Other Tidbits
The @#%^$ people in my neighborhood did some fire works over New Years. I was out walking at about 4 PM on January 1, thinking that it'd be safe, but there were still some around. Marge wasn't nearly as bad about it as she was over the summer - took treats and didn't pull home like a freight train - but they also were not particularly loud, so I'm not sure if I can count that as improvement. Either way, I'm hoping we don't hear those darned things for a long, long time to come. Really, where is the appeal in making noise, anyway?

We've kept up somewhat with our night walks. The holidays have thrown us off, but we're getting back into the swing of things slowly but surely. Monday night's walk was a little odd - there wasn't much around but the wind was blowing - Marge had her head up the whole time and was not really stopping to sniff as she usually does, but instead was making very frequent eye contact with me. One explanation I can think of was that I had very very high-value treats with me, and "watch me" is a very very reinforced behavior, so those two things combined led Marge to want to get the cookies instead of sniff around.

I'm hoping to get out and do some doggy-dog stuff this week, but temperatures are expected to drop even further, so I'm not sure how likely that is. How I miss the park, beach, and, most of all, the woods!

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