Quickie Con Chaos

This month is crazy. One wedding down, another one to go. Final job interview on Thursday. Out and back in one day to Vegas for a work thing (which will be agonizing…) on Friday. So, not much dog stuff going on. Unfortunately.

We had one class last night before Laurie heads out for the USDAA games in Kentucky. Forest did well, my handling left something to be desired, but we were doing some tougher courses. Overall it went fine, neither here nor there. Worked a bit more on weaves and me driving them right to them, which made sense. He needs his hand held, so thats what I need to do. At least for now.

That’s about it. We found out we are getting booted out of our squatter pad in six months, which means I am already starting to freak and look for a house now. I dream of a backyard. Doesnt even need to be nice. Just big with a fence with no holes. I am a yard work addict, so no problems there. I/we can’t technically afford more than a one bedroom condo, but if new job happens it could definitely become more doable. I have already mentally checked out at work, which I realize is a massive no-no, especially as I dont have the new gig locked in yet. But, whatever. I will learn my lesson if it is due to be learned.

In the meantime, look at the fabric options I am considering for Forest and Diego’s matching crate covers!

Boredom begets brilliance… Right????

There’s a First Time For Everything…

…and this weekend’s first was that we were 0 for 4!!! Woot. AND, we did not get ONE, not one, single set of weaves all weekend! Hip hip hooray! But after stewing and brewing on the sticky 2 hour drive home yesterday, I’ve decided to dwell on the positive.

– We did have probably the nicest JWW run we’ve ever had. I dont know what my deal is with JWW—probably that its non-stop and I never have that half-second of regroup time on a contact or a table to reset my brain. Think on your feet woman!!! We blew the weaves, retried, still blew them but just I kept going. The opening had a tough front cross-to small send-to front/rear cross sequence, and I have to say I think I handled it really well. It was pretty tight, and Forest is so athletic as long as he knows what I want he can mange just about anything. We ran well enough that one of the jump setters told me after the fact that that was a really nice run. Thanks jump setter guy, you have no idea how badly I needed that!!! I really think the Jenn Crank seminar did wonders for my handling confidence.

– Forest handled the heat relatively well. It must have been mid-to-high 80’s but he never really checked out on me or shut down. I was vigilant about keeping him in the shade, and I was constantly wetting him down with ice water. We went through my frozen cottage cheese cups of water on day one, but thanks to the hotel, we came back on day two with ice machine offerings that worked out just as well. He definitely was not revved up before we went in—he was focused, but not revved—and I think that was due to the heat. However, again, he stayed with me 90% of the time and that was huge.

– I did my first go as gate steward, and if I do say so myself, I rocked it. I have no fear of being the uber-organized-demanding-get-your-butt-over-here-boss-lady. In a nice way. No one got upset with me, so I must have not been too mean. Or if I was, they didnt tell me to my face! One of the show organizers came over and said “man, you guys are movin’ over here.” I took the credit, telling her about my whip cracking ways. She laughed and said, thats how you do it! So maybe I will be in Open forever, but I will have a job as a ring steward.

So, it was a productive weekend, even if it wasnt the most glory-filled. Small victories, a fun adventure on our own, a few pounds lost through sweat. We have an insane October on our plate, none of which includes agility. I will need to get creative, and disciplined, to keep things on track. Laurie has a weaves rehab class, but I am not sure if/when we’ll even be able to make it. The two weddings, one in Hawaii, over the next three weeks are going to put a serious cramp in my training. No more trialing, again, until November. Ergh. I hope someday we can get trialing on a consistent basis, but that whole real life thing keeps getting in the way. And it could get worse before it gets better; its looking likely I may get a new job. Which is awesome in the greater scheme of things but again, maybe not so much for agility. We shall see.

Another one on the books.

Paging Dr. Phil… We Need a Weave Intervention!!!

Yeah, our weaves suck. Other than that, we did just fine. But we are about to graduate into Excellent Standard, and our weaves are barely 50-50 at best. We may be in Open JWW forever.

The JWW course was tough. Out of 30+ dogs, only 5 Q’ed, or so I overheard. It had a horrible 90-degree weave entry and I knew it was curtains before we even began. Our Standard course was much more sane, as always, but even with a completely straight shot at the weaves, we still missed them at first try. Ugh. I still think we may have got a Q out of it, which means we have titled out of Open Standard. Yikes.

* edited to add — no Standard Q. Our run past the table and entry from the back may have been what did us in? I don’t know.

The trial site is nice, out a bit in BFE, but on a huge grassy park with minimal distraction (once you get over listening to the announcer for the model race car track!). We are currently holed up in our hotel room, which is quite nice for the $70 internet special I got (and infinitely nicer, and cheaper, than that shit hole hotel I ended up in on my failed dog show mission). The Vagabond Inn is where my family always stayed on our ski trips when I was a kid, so I was partial if only on a purely sentimental basis. Its dog-friendly, clean, lots of grass for potty breaks, and has a fridge! And I Yelped it up, as usual, and found a yummy little pho place for dinner. I got a forward recently about a new agility hotels list, I’ll be sure to put this joint up there.

So, an early night, I’ll be drinking wine and watching Mad Men on the laptop, Forest is already crashed out under the blanket I brought from home. He’s a pretty good traveler as long as I let him sleep on the bed!

I will dream of perfect weaves…

Ima Dog, Ima Workin’ Dog, Ima Hard Workin’ Dog…

Yesterday was the Jennifer Crank seminar.*

It went well, and our biggest victory—massive amounts of handling progress aside—was Forest’s perfectly charming, well-behaved, and all-day-long willingness to stay in the game. He was a complete champ. I lost him just a bit at the very end of the day when we tried to tack on some weaves to the jump drills, but I elected not to push it as he was running on fumes at that point. Overall he gets a solid A for the day.

Jennifer has worked for many years with Linda Mecklenberg, so that is her “system” of choice. I have to say, it made loads of sense to me. I’d definitely like to learn more about her handling. Jennifer broke down agility into two segments which I completely identified with; “training” and “handling.”** Two very separate pieces of the puzzle, but both are needed to be successful. My first year-plus of agility was 95% training. “Here’s how your dog should do the table.” “Here’s how you should do contacts.” “These are the rules for agility.” There was almost zero discussion of handling. Other than “Yes, you should do a front cross between those two jumps.” No one actually explained how to do a front cross to me until a few months ago. So, while I feel we’ve progressed leaps and bound since starting with Laurie, we learned a LOT yesterday.

I very much liked that this style of running is motion-based, and that she broke all the cues/ways you are communicating with your dog into two categories, with six cues in total. In the Natural Cues are Motion, Location, Shoulders and Eye Contact. In the Trained Cues are Hand and Voice. The Natural cues will get you further, but at times you will need to lean on the trained cues.

We did probably 8 or 9 drills/sequences throughout the day. We focused on directing the dogs path with body positioning and motion, and I have to say it worked really, really well for us. I felt by the end of the day, I had so much more confidence directing Forest, and actually being able to send him away from me—not huge distances, but further than we have ever accomplished before–was really exciting. He’s got a bit of velcro in him and likes lots of info from me, so I feel that this method—or at least its foundation—will work really well for us.

I am also coming to learn that Forest is one of those “Nice dog, shame about the handler” dogs. Jennifer said yesterday, “He is a very athletic little dog with tons of potential.” Not bad for a pound dog from someone who has been on the world team and grown up breeding purebreds! She also said that in the 16″ class, that where we will really excel and have the chance to win is in his ability to perform very tight turns. So, that was exciting. Now if I can only get my crap together…

My minor disappointment for the day was our weave regression. At the end of the clinic I went back to the weaves and did just 4 repetitions of isolated weaves and he did each perfectly. But still I am a bit worried about the trial next weekend. We have class tomorrow eve, so maybe I’ll make a special request from Laurie that we work on our weaves.

But, hey. If nothing else, I have learned about agility that my problem today may be a thing of the past tomorrow, and we’ll be on to the next brain explosion…

Good dog.

* One of these days I’ll get off my butt and start taking photos, but meh, dont hold your breath.

** Personally, I’d add in my own third category; behavior. I understand that to be efficient things need to be simplified, but knowing your dogs own personal behavior issues is incredibly relevant and crucial to even begin either of the two other categories. That’s another post I should draft for another day.

The Superstar and the Territorial Pissings

I have learned that Forest is absolutely a “more time off” kind of dog. We’ve done a bit of practice here and there over the past few weeks, but for the most part we have been very light on the agility front for the past month or two. We had our first class last night of the newest session and he was on fire, it was so fun. Super-enthusiastic, good around the other dogs, and just really happy.

He was nailing his weave entries—he only missed once, and even then it was off a tough entry and he obviously tried, just didn’t decelerate in time. It was most definitely not a blow off. We worked the running Aframe into the courses too. Started with the box on the frame which he was great on, then removed it. He started bailing at that point so Laurie put it back in, no biggie. I will need to have a game plan pre-trial in a few weeks though for how to handle that, especially as I dont think we’ll be able to do any contact work between then and now.

In other dog news, I think I may have come to the conclusion that Diego may be OCD. Whole Dog Journal has an article about it in their newest issue and it outlines a lot of behavior chains that we are very familiar with. Normally I am really skeptical of assigning people or dogs the title of OCD (I think in probably 80% of kids that get slapped with that label its straight up BS). But, Diego undoubtedly has a lot of anxiety issues which he manifests through blanket and toy sucking/nursing, excessive and spastic water drinking, and now, and most charmingly—marking throughout the house anytime he feels uncomfortable or threatened.His favorite move is to mark the packages that get put inside the gate by the delivery guy. So no matter what we order, it gets anointed before ever even opened! Thanks dude.

My other BFF came up to stay this weekend with her utterly charming and sweet ACD-mix Scout. Scout is as good a doggie house guest as one could hope to have (aside from shedding like nobody’s business, wowzers), and yet Diego still came unglued. We’d been doing pretty well RE marking in the house, and having her there ramped it right back up. It will probably be this way for a while. Its disgusting and infuriating and all I do is stalk around the house looking for wet spots. Plus my aunt’s dog Buster joins in the fun and then I dont know who to want to dangle over the balcony first… Ugh.

I dont know if we should look into any sort of medication—I hate that I am even thinking about it, as I am very anti-dealing with things via drugs. The article outlined solutions, many of which we already employ, but I dunno. At a certain point you wonder if making them just feel better and relaxed outweighs the evils of dosing him up on something. I guess I could try some light rounds of melatonin and see if that makes a dent in his behaviors at all. I’d definitely have to set it up though so Buster would not be able to come in and provoke him…

Plus then we have the issue of him being a spastic water drinker, whereupon he cant hold it and will pee on one of the rugs if he really has to go. And I can tell the difference between marking and going because he has to go. For that I am trying to actually teach him to ring a bell to go out, but he’s not the quickest learner. We’ve done 5-6 sessions of targeting the bell, and he’s still only at a 50% success rate between the bell and my hand. Maybe I need to get my hand out of the equation and see if that helps…

And on and on.

Weekend Update — DASH AKC Trial

Another trial under our belt, another weekend of agony and victory. Well ok, neither really, just a lot of mediocre honestly.

The best part was having a trial so close to home; that was really, really nice. Made things a lot more relaxing. Plus, this was the first trial I went to under Laurie’s stewardship, and it was great. Not only to have someone to give feedback, but to feel a little less like my own dingy at sea and a little more part of a supportive group. Also a lot of people came up from SD, so it was a trial with lots of familiar faces.

I really liked one of the judges. I timed a few classes on Saturday—and I was not so hot at it. The Standard class I don’t think I flubbed (plus my scribe was seasoned crusty veteran and a total riot), but when it came to timing FAST, I was a disaster. I will claim that I wasnt the complete reason for the trainwreck that was Open FAST, but lets just say I didnt help the situation either. Thankfully the judge had a sense of humor—she gave me sass, but in a good way. If she hadnt been such a good sport, I would have been completely mortified (instead of just mostly).

Overall, Forest was very good. He still gets in these situations with a ton of stimulation, and his little brain cells start to short out on him. But, he keeps his composure for the most part and at least we are getting through courses without him totally checking out on me—at least these days if I lose him, I can get him back (except for with exceptionally loud gate persons, see below).

Saturday was a long day, between me delivering coffee at 7am and being in the last class of the day—Novice FAST. Our Open STD was first. We had a rough start thanks to me—after sitting through three rounds of Excellent as timer, I still managed to start before they gave me the “Ready”. Dumb ass. They let me reset and start again. I dont remember much about the run except that he nailed his weaves on the first try (Hooray!) and then blew his contact on the Aframe. Thats okay. That is fixable for us if I just pay attention (and we are working on running contacts, so no biggie).

Open JWW was not good. The gate guy is this huge dude who screams/bellows at the top of his lungs. We actually have been around this guy before, but Saturday Forest said “No way Mom. This guy blows.” I could tell he was melting down right before we were going in. Shit. I took him out there, we made it over three jumps with his tail tucked between his legs, and he bolted past the weaves to the opposite end of the arena. He was really, really scared, stood there shaking. I just walked over and picked him up and carried him out. It took him a while to recover from that one. I felt really bad, and if I knew what his triggers were I would be more careful, but they seem pretty random. Or maybe I am just starting to catch on… I guess the two fear meltdowns we’ve had a trials both have been noise-based, so something to watch out for. Laurie also said I did the right thing by getting him out of there and not pushing him in that state. It was good to get some validation on that front too.

I elected to do FAST on Saturday only. Which in hindsight I am glad we did—not only because we got 3rd place and a Q—yay! But, because it gave me the opp to get Forest back in the ring and to fix that bailed contact. He did everything perfectly, including the send—it was Novice, so it was very easy, but I was still proud of him as distance work is not our strong suit. We went under time just about perfectly, but now that I really understand how it works, I’ll probably be more aggressive next time getting more points! So, at least we ended on a high note.

Sunday was fine too. Back into JWW first, and thankfully Mr. Town Crier was nowhere to be seen. The judge however (the one I liked) was standing—with her enormous sun hat and purple “frock” directly in the sightline from the start. He bolted straight to her, gave her a hard stare, then came back to me and we went on. Missed the first weave entry, got it, then somehow missed a fence in a pinwheel (?!?) but it was fluid and I didnt see the point of backtracking so we just went on. Again, I got back up for making the right call so that was good. Laurie did comment though that I forced him into a sit on the start and that she saw him start stressing immediately from it. Interesting, and something I obviously was not aware of.

So, onto Standard Open. I actually do have video of this, will try to sneak it in here shortly. Unfortunately the video misses the first few seconds and our start—I left him in a stand stay, not knowing if he would—but after a violent shaking episode (one of his standard stress quirks) we were off and I even got the tunnel entry I was worried about. I missed a front cross but snuck in a rear instead. Perfect table and both contact obstacles, then the weaves. The video is quite funny—you see him enter, then turn back too quickly and slam himself into that second pole. Even the judge kinda laughed and commented “That pole bit him!” It took a minute to get him rebooted, but he did like a champ, then I flubbed the pinwheel and got him to add in another jump. Then off to glare at the photographer, back on track and a finish. Whew. Somehow we Q’ed with that disaster. Yikes.

Ugh. So, I think our biggest problem at this point is just that we need to do more trials. Get him more used to the chaos, and me more able to concentrate while on course. I think my goal is 10 trials this year–so we have 5 to go. The weather will be cooling down and I think we’ll be able to do it. If I can get into Excellent JWW by the end of the year, I’ll be happy. For some reason Standard is so much more doable for us, probably because we have time to be more thoughtful about everything.

Not sure when our next outing will be, but time to start planning now! At this rate I would not be surprised if our non-Summer reared its annoying head and decided to be hot well into fall, but I hope not. Cool weather makes speedy dogs.

The Private

So we had our first private this morning. I was really proud of Forest, and it solidified my feelings that Laurie is the right trainer for us. She loves all dogs obviously as its her job, but she really likes Forest and in just an hour she had figured out and confirmed a lot of things I have wondered about, as well as pinpointed some things I never would have seen/known on my own. I also really liked that she referenced specific events or issues that happened in our first two classes, which means to me she is paying attention to each individual team. That means a lot to me.

She was glad that we have the mat work foundation and advised that we always have the mat with us at class for the foreseeable future, and that we use it to start and end training sessions at home as well. We started by encouraging him to root around in her toy bag (where he summarily found each and every stale piece of kibble that was rolling around in there underneath the mountain of toys) and got him fired up on eating the string cheese out of the wrapper and tugging on it. She even had me clicking him for using his teeth at first, to work up to getting him to tug first on the cheese, which eventually we’ll transition to tugging on toys.

She told me she thinks he is afraid of the jumps. I had never considered that before, but it makes sense. He overjumps everything by a mile, and it would make sense why he is so funny about jumps at home and the practice jump at trials. So she had me sitting next to the jump and getting him to go back and forth independently for a cheese reward. We started at 8 inches so there was little chance of him hitting or touching the bar. He got it quickly and was offering the behaviors on his own within five minutes. We then moved on to a 3 jump grid, where he was super-tentative at first, but quickly worked up to it. We’ll do that at home, first with the single jump maybe in the living room, then move that down to the patio, then work up to the grid.

We also did some weaves, with him on leash, pulling toward a reward on the floor at the end. We only did 4-5 sets, but by the last he was actually driving through on his own to get the cheese at the end.

She also wants me to work on getting him to relax at home, starting and ending with the mat. She recognized that he doesn’t really like to be touched unless its on his terms, so at least for now, the massage part of the mat work isn’t part of the equation. However, getting him to lay on his side when we are done working and to just chill for a bit is the goal.

So it was a lot of basic stuff, but I think it is exactly what we need. He was happy and stayed with us nearly the entire hour, and that was with dog day care chaos and noise on the other side of the wall as well as someone setting up all the agility equipment in the same room we were in. She said she was impressed with how well he did and how hard he worked. I may attribute a bit of that to the fact that we’ve pretty much taken the last week to ten days off, so he was probably ready to work.

I feel good about having a plan and having direction. And I am happy to slow down and have some specific goals, instead of just blundering my way through everything. We got our Novice Agility Title certificate in the mail yesterday, I think that is more than enough to hold us over for quite a while…