Sunday, February 21, 2010

Agility Challenges

Before I get into training news (yeah, I've had a lot of that lately, I know -- blame the snow that's still on the ground), here are the pictures I promised from last week's Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

Marge's favorite breed was the Border Terrier. She liked the terrier group last year, too. Out of all the hours I spent watching, this was the breed that she watched the closest. I don't think it's a coincidence that she had played with an old Border Terrier friend the day before. It was really cute to see her watching the screen so intently.


Saturday, as planned, I went for run throughs in northern New Jersey. Since there were several trials in the area this weekend, I knew that I wouldn't have to share the time with many people. Turns out I was right - I was with one other dog, a black Labrador.

Here was the layout, as best as I could remember it. I didn't even get CLOSE to running this whole course. It was one of the hardest courses I've ever seen. All of the contact approaches were extremely difficult.

I walked the course as if I was going to run the whole thing and then set Marge up at the start. She was NOT getting that tunnel under the dog walk. I mean, she was at the point where she was jumping over the tunnel to get on the dog walk. I worked it a while, but I wasn't convinced that she was getting better at it as I was having to practically stick my hand in the tunnel for her. For some reason, tunnel discriminations really bother her, especially when the tunnels are under the contact equipment. Guess I should work on this on our home turf, maybe gating off the contact obstacle so she can't make the wrong choice.

Louie suspected that the repetition of the opening sequence stressed her out. He was probably right. I felt like Marge was disconnected from me for a good chunk of the session. She did a lot of sniffing of the obstacles that were along the walls, not in use, and a lot of eyeballing, even though there really was not a whole lot going on.

She also ran up to another handler who was walking the course while we were breaking stuff down. This is something I'm really worried about, because I have this sinking feeling that she's going to do the same at the agility trial when she sees the judge.

For the rest of the time, I tried to just break stuff down and make it easy for Marge. We skipped some sections of the course entirely, and worked on the table which they were nice enough to bring out for me. On the bright side, Marge didn't have too much trouble when the man in charge counted down for me ("5 and 4 and 3 and 2 and 1 and go"), and that's something she's never done before at all.

Something else that I really liked was that Marge was able to do the teeter this time. Last time we went to this facility, she was absolutely terrified of the teeter, as it's both loud and squeaky. This time, I made it a lot of fun, and she seemed to be a lot more into it.

Her contacts were pretty good. I brought my post-it to use on the A-Frame, and she did it without a problem. I tried it a couple of times without, and she was about 50/50. So, I'm going to just gradually reduce the size of the post-it until she's solid without it. Her dog walk was fine, pretty speedy, but she did take a tumble off of it - the approach was REALLY hard and I probably shouldn't have even done it. She didn't seem fazed, as I ran her over it a couple more times to make sure she wasn't spooked by it.

I left the practice feeling sort of disappointed by Marge's inattentiveness. I didn't really think there was a lot of distractions, yet her nose was running her into every corner to sniff every scent. In reality, it was probably the tunnel/dog walk that set the stage for things to go badly, but I really hate it when she's stressy and all over the place - it makes me wonder if we truly are ready for what we're doing.

I don't think the sniffing is going to be a big problem, as she's loads better outdoors, but I do have a genuine concern about her running up to the judge and standing there sniffing for an obnoxious amount of time. (At the NADAC trial, the judge stood in one spot and did not move - in AKC trials, it doesn't look like this will be the case.) It's hard to practice with a "judge" in our training hall, since there really isn't all that much room. I guess I'll try, though.


Today, we had Rally practice with our friend and her Westie, S. It went pretty well. Marge seems to be doing a bit better about having someone "judge" her in Rally, so I'm hoping that will transfer over to agility. Tomorrow, I have time at the training hall again, but I'm unsure what I'm going to do with it. I feel like we both need a break from agility, yet I don't want to set up a Rally course. Maybe I'll do some work on tunnels with her, to make her feel super motivated about them. Or, I may bring her obedience dumbbell along and do some of that, in addition to working on the wicket. Either way, there will most likely be video - I know that's an area I've been lacking in lately!


Dexter February 21, 2010 at 7:38 PM  

That obstacle discrimination can be really hard and sometimes things just look weird to us dogs. Having those judges in the ring during competition must be very distracting. Don't stress out too much, OK?


Frankie Furter and Ernie February 21, 2010 at 7:55 PM  

It sounds as though Mango is giving you some SAGE ADVICE.
Marge you look soooo zoned in on that Westminster thingy. Nice Concentration!!!

Two French Bulldogs February 21, 2010 at 8:28 PM  

Those obstacles look mighty hard. You look awfully cute watching that TV..Cute!!
Benny & Lily

Lorenza February 21, 2010 at 9:14 PM  

I agree with Benny and Lily! But I don't know a thing about it!
Marge sure was paying attention to the show!
Kisses and hugs

RILEY AND STAR MY MALTESEKIDS February 21, 2010 at 10:06 PM  

A dog that watches t.v. Now that's is smart. We don't have an attention span long enough to even watch a dog commercial much less a whole show!

Riley and Star.

houndstooth February 21, 2010 at 10:09 PM  

I love those pictures of Marge watching the dog show!

It sounds like you guys have been really busy!

Life With Dogs February 21, 2010 at 10:34 PM  

Congrats on the teeter progress - it would not have been that long ago that I would have thought it impossible.

We can all blame a lot on the snow this year - and there is more on the way! :(

Kathy Mocharnuk February 21, 2010 at 11:05 PM  

One thing is during a trial you are not going to be trying things over and over, so I imagine you will just keep going and so I doubt Marge is going to run to the judge as long as things are moving, but if she does....the worst thing that happens is you might have just made a donation to the organization you are running at, but no big deal, LOL, you get her attention back and do another obstacle or two and leave if she is really distracted or finish up if you get her back, and that is the worst that would happen, so try not to stress about that-she certainly would not be the first dog to do that. I would rather my dog run to the judge then out of the ring. Also the novice courses are way easier then what you have been practicing, and you can set up the tunnel under the contact obstacles a few more times so she gets used to that. I think you are going to be fine. A pracitice judge is always good though, or practice ring crew that sit there. I can not wait to see Marge do some rally, she sounds like she is just doing so awesome at that. Good luck with your practice tomorrow, you guys are just progressing so much lately!

Kari in Alaska February 21, 2010 at 11:17 PM  

its so nice to see her watching TV :) mine do that as well

Diana February 22, 2010 at 5:34 AM  

That is a tough course! Dogwalk-tunnels discriminations are tough when set up like that. Did you do a lead out? I would lead out and turn your body so the whole thing is facing the tunnel. Stand so you are blocking the dogwalk, see what happens. Its hard when you and the dog are trying to learn something and the dog isnt getting it. They are trying and then stress out. If I feel its me giving bad cues or late cues than I reward Miley anyway even if I didnt get anything that I wanted. That keeps her motivation up. Then if we get it,lots of treats and praise. Diana

Chris and Ricky February 22, 2010 at 7:06 AM  

That was an extremely difficult course - that jump to the aframe was ridiculous!!!! I agree with the stuff Kathy and Diana said. AKC novice courses are very easy and flowing and open. Few obstacles, no contact/tunnel discriminations, only one side change (in the entire course, I think) so it will be easy to get the AKC experience without having to worry about huge challenges and remembering the course, etc. I also don't think Marge will sniff and wander because you will keep going and she will go with you. You guys are going to do great - don't worry!

♥ Sallie February 22, 2010 at 10:06 AM  

Keep trying! Everyone needs a break now and then. Doggies and humans. :)

BRUTUS February 22, 2010 at 11:17 AM  

That was a weird course - that's about the most awkward entry to the dogwalk anyone could possibly design! Be glad you have the opportunity to practice with distractions - it can only help!! All trials are still practice, for that matter, you just happen to be observed by a judge! Just remember to look at it that way & it'll really help!
If Marge runs up to the judge, don't worry - it'll only be like the 2000th time it has happened to him/her. I worried about the same problem with Brutus (being the pathologically friendly guy he is), but he only did it once so far - the very first run of the first trial. He's never paid a bit of attention since, can't say he's even aware the judge is there.
We had a decent trial this weekend. There was a handicapped handler in a powerchair, which drove Brutus to a complete meltdown everytime he saw it. He was a mess in the crating area - all that cortisone release just fried him. However, somehow he managed to focus during our runs (which I'm SO happy about), had some of the nicest moments so far. Almost finished with Level 2 CPE, although we keep NQ-ing our standard runs on time faults - This weekend it was bad weaves that really slowed us down (last time it had been getting "frozen" on the a-frame, dog-walk, and teeter, which were all beautiful this time!!). Some day I'll get some videos posted!! (If you facebook at all, I do have some posted there).

Have a great week-
Michelle & Brutus

AC February 22, 2010 at 12:24 PM  

You two are one hard working team. Even if Marge seemed a bit off, there's something to say that she was able to do the teeter. I'm not sure how Marge was in the past with people, but it may not be all that bad that she felt comfortable enough to run up to the other handler, even if it wasn't what you hoped for.

I'm getting more excited for your upcoming trials!

Cinnamon and Mint February 22, 2010 at 3:34 PM  

I have Border Terrier friends at agility and dog dancing. They are all enegetic!

You are working really hard! I would have been much better than I am now if my Mum had been as diligent as Sam. We do some practice every day, but what Mum does is just have some fun with me, not serious training.

NAK and The Residents of The Khottage Now With KhattleDog! February 22, 2010 at 4:33 PM  

I really should learn to watch television!

That Mango is so helpful with the agilities!


KB February 22, 2010 at 6:06 PM  

Did you know that sniffing is one of those 'calming' signals that I wrote to you about previously? I often notice that when K is approaching a scary dog, she slows and sniffs the ground. Some people believe that it's a way of calming both herself and the other dog.

In any case, it certainly is believed to be a sign of stress. When K starts sniffing a lot during our training class, the teacher suggests that I go play with her away from the group to get her stress levels to come down.

I find, with K, that whenever I have her repeat something hard, she first stresses and then after a number of failures, she 'shuts down'. What I mean by 'shutting down' is that she just randomly tries things. E.g., in our first day of scent discrimination training recently, I pushed her too hard by leaping to a harder problem than she was ready for. Prior to that point, she had about an 80% success rate in choosing the pill bottle with the right scent in it. After that point, her success rate fell below 50% (less than random). By repeating a hard thing too many times with her, I'd stressed her beyond her limit.

It doesn't sound like you even approached Marge's limit. But, I'm wondering if just abandoning a hard problem for a while before returning to it in an easier form would be a good strategy for Marge (like it is for K). As always, my disclaimer, I don't mean to sound like any expert at all. I just thought that I'd share the idiosyncrosies of my neurotic dog in hopes that they might give you a new idea about training Marge.

Gus, Louie and Callie February 22, 2010 at 8:20 PM  

What cute pictures of you watching the TV.
Don't worry Mom she will get it.. We can't wait to see the video..

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

Cheryl, Indiana, Shingo and Molly February 23, 2010 at 11:21 AM  

Looks like Marge really enjoyed the show!!

Woofs and Kisses!

The Army of Four February 23, 2010 at 5:25 PM  

The Border Terriers, eh? Cool!
Play bows,

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