Monthly Archives: October 2012

Rush’s second trial (and Dancer’s umpty-umpth)

Well, I’ve been working with Rush since the last trial, trying to make sure I give clear signals, stay calm, let him know where he’s going, and more. It helped, but he’s definitely still a work in progress.

He did very well, Qing in five of eight runs, but his failures drew occasional gasps from the crowd. His attempts to fly from the top of the a-frame (twice) were shocking. His efforts to hit his contacts were gratifying. I have proof that he got his dogwalk contact once (I only asked for it once):

Photo by Joe Camp

The best part for me was realizing that he loves being in the ring. He got calm and focused as we waited to go in. He didn’t care about treats; he cared about getting to go into the ring. He wanted to run to his position in front of the first obstacle, but he held his start-line stay every single time. He was relaxed as I walked out to my position, but he dug down and prepared for takeoff as I raised my arm to show him his line. You can see it in the Wildcard video I posted.

He’s a strong and powerful jumper who’s very confident.

Photo by Joe Camp

Dancer did not enjoy herself as much. She was all about doing the agility for me; but she seemed tired and strained. Do dogs get depressed? I’m worried that there’s something vaguely wrong, but perhaps she’s just tired. Her weight is up a bit, so it may be she just feels heavy.

Official results

Rush, standard level 1: 46.28 sec, 123 yards
Rush, wildcard level 2: 15.95 sec, 90 yards
Rush, jumpers level 1: 36.17 sec, 110 yards, 5 faults (off-course)
Rush, fullhouse level 2: 35 points, 31.04 sec
Rush, snooker level 2: 47 points, 44.97 sec

Dancer, snooker level 5: 51.17 sec, 34 points

The Delta at low water

I took Dancer and Rush out to the Delta on Tuesday and was struck by how low the water still was, even after a few days of rain. I was able to walk out to a bit of land that is usually an island.

By moving to the left of the photo and around that puddle, I was able to walk right out to that island, which is usually separated from where I was standing by a channel that is about five feet deep.

In fact, I walked right out to the green arrow:

View Larger Map

Slow and unsteady

When my daughter and her then-boyfriend now-husband bicycled across the country two years ago, they called themselves “Team Slow and Unsteady”–she made it to Virginia anyway (and he went back to school from Denver, as planned). I have been feeling slow and unsteady myself lately and am finding some inspiration from Team Slow and Unsteady.

Slow, yes. In Rush’s eyes, I am seriously slow. He really would like me to do everything much faster, especially agility. Unsteady? Ah, that’s what I am working on. I mentioned last post that I’m trying for clarity in my cues–and steady really matters. It’s working! Focusing on the need to make sure my meaning is clear to Rush has helped. I am holding my cues longer; in fact, I’m trying to hold my cues until I’m sure Rush has understood me.

It’s when doing rear crosses that I’m most aware of the need for clarity. You can tell instantly if you were clear; if you weren’t, the dog spins away from you before following the path you thought you were indicating.

Here is the kind of situation I’m thinking of. As I signal the dog to take jump 6 (I’m thinking of this being in the middle of the course), I have to keep your right arm up until the dog takes the jump, even as I cross behind the dog. My arm is telling the dog to take the jump; my motion is indicating where the dog should go next. Note my path is from left jump standard to right jump standard. If I’m late on the rear cross–if I start it too late–Rush spins; if I’m on time, as measured by just barely clearing the left standard of jump 5, there isn’t a single extra stride.

Over time, of course, I hope to be farther away from the jumps, to make my path shorter so that Rush can run faster and I can run slower. This is step one in a clear rear cross path.

Now the next part of being slow is that I want to take advantage of the weaves to get a bit ahead of Rush. I have trained stopped contacts (on the a-frame, the dogwalk, and the teeter) so I have a moment there, but I think I can run faster than Rush can weave (although he weaves pretty fast at this point). Right now, he pops out if I leave him while he’s weaving, but Debbie points out that I should be able to leave him in the weaves and go handle the next obstacle instead of worrying about him weaving.

When she said this, I felt like she was speaking a foreign language to me. Doesn’t everyone babysit the weaves? Apparently not. I mean, I try for independent weaves, but what I meant by that, I realize now, was that I could walk/trot next to the weaves while watching my dog. Nope, not what Debbie meant at all; she meant “tell the dog to weave and then start running to where you need to be next.” So if it’s weave-right-turn-to-jump, you move lateral right to be ready to cue the jump; if the next obstacle is straight ahead, you run straight ahead so the dog knows where he’s going.

So I’ve gone back to four poles, which Rush knows and understands well, and I am training myself to just barely watch him while I handle the next obstacle, whether it’s left, right, straight, rear cross or front cross. Training myself seems to be much harder than training Rush.

On holding your cues longer….

Debbie said something last week that has taken a bit to sink in. “If you don’t hold your cue until Rush follows it, he will learn not to trust your cues.”

I showed Debbie the video of Rush at his first trial, and she was (of course) concerned about his jumping up and lunging. She set about helping me fix it immediately. She set a simple course that looked something like this:

The handling was prescribed: stand on the start side of jump 1; send and do a front cross into 2; stop a few feet from the end of the dog walk (landing side of five); send to 4 and do a landing side front cross between 5 and 6; do a rear cross from 6 to 7 to pull to 8. Reward straight out from the end of 8.

The first time through, Rush couldn’t even make it from the crate to his start-line stay at 1 without lunging and barking at me. Back he went into the crate. It took a few tries but eventually we got to a one-step leadout at 1. I released, he barked at me as he made the turn to 2; he ran the dogwalk, stopped nicely, did 4 and 5, and I was late to the front cross and he yelled at me. Debbie had me clean up that bit of handling: I needed to be further away from the dogwalk so I didn’t have as far to go for the front cross.

Then I commenced to struggle with the rear cross from 6 to 7. Rush spun; he yelled at me; he lunged at me. Debbie had me put him in the crate to cool down for a moment; then she told me to hold the cue. What was the cue? Oh yes, dog on left, hand low and quiet, me running toward to the right-hand standard of jump 7. I was to keep running at the standard until Rush took the jump, then zig to tunnel 8. The first time I thought I was going to run into the jump!

(Rush yelled at me again, so I put him in the crate and ran Dancer. Nice of her to be sweet and calm and steady. She helped me work out the handling.)

I got Rush out–he didn’t lunge at me on the way to the start, so he got to stay out of the crate!–and we started again, for what felt like the millionth time, but couldn’t have been since it’s only an hour-long lesson. I ran calmly, hands as quiet as I could make them; I held my cues for a long long time. Rush followed my cues, clearly understanding where I wanted him to go!

It was smooth. Rush was silent. He didn’t lunge or bark or jump. He ran the course perfectly, with nary an extra stride. I felt, for the first time with Rush, like all things are possible.

Now… if I can just remember to give him those clear quiet consistent cues.

(Not?) missing Elly

People ask me how I’m doing since Elly’s death. “Accepting it” would be the best phrasing. It was expected, so I was somewhat prepared for it. In many ways, she was a lovely dog, very sweet, but her health had been poor from age 2.

I have to admit, as well, that I am enjoying the positive changes that have come from not having to worry about her. I can feed kibble to Rush and Dancer (although I cook for them from time to time) and use cheese as training treats (which means I can stop at a grocery store and buy cheese if I forget treats). I don’t have to ask her to stop barking every few minutes when someone walks by the house. If I leave the gate open for a moment, the dogs don’t run down the street. I am saving about $250/month on supplements, vet bills (Adequan and pain killers), and routine health maintenance for an unhealthy dog. I can walk Dancer and Rush by myself, and I’m walking them around our neighborhood from time to time. I don’t have to get up at 4 AM to let Elly have a middle-of-the-night pee. It’s definitely easier. All that is nice.

I do miss the unbridled enthusiasm and sweetness with which she greeted every single day. Almost every single day, that is; that was how I knew it was her time. She was miserable that last day, and I have no regrets that I didn’t try to extend her time with me any longer.

Rush’s first trial

I took 6-1/2-year-old Dancer and 17-month-old Rush to Turner for the CPE trial last weekend. It was the usual single-ring Turner scene.

I’m trying to figure out how to describe Rush’s behavior. When we went into the ring for the first time (Jackpot), his reaction was “oh my god oh my god oh my god holy shit I wanna run”–he tore off his leash, rushed the course, lunged at me, barked at me, had to be told to sit mid-course, did a couple of obstacles really well (including a nice set of weaves), and came nicely to his leash at the end (something I was worried about). But no Q for that!

I realized that, while I had taught Rush to come to his leash at the end of the run, I had never trained start-of-run behavior. Usually, I go to the barn, I take off his leash, we work, then I practice end-of-run behavior (coming to the leash). Before the next run, I took him out in the field, and I practiced start-of-run behavior: sit nicely while I take your leash off and then stay sitting until I release you.

His second run came in standard. We got a two-step start-line stay. I didn’t try for more than that. In a previous post, I said that I wanted to make sure he held to my standards on his contacts. He did! He stopped! He also got two off-courses, so no Q. I learned a bit more about handling him at a trial. Calm hands, calm demeanor, run like hell.

Third run. Now, CPE has these weird games. Wildcard is a ten-obstacle sequence with three choice points. At each choice point there’s a harder option and an easier option. At the lower levels (where Rush and I are competing right now, in level 1), you get two easys and a hard. The course began with a jump-choice sequence; the choice was between the dogwalk (hard) and a tire-tunnel sequence (easy). Tire-tunnel, no question. I was even able to lead out past the tire. From there, the course went across the top of the arena, and the next choice was single jump vs. double. The double required a good bit of handling, so I opted for the straight line through the single jump. That meant I needed to push Rush down a straight line to the tunnel. Hmmm…. he’s pretty good at that! From the tunnel, it was jump, then a 180 turn to the last two jumps; I did a front cross to help him with the 180. He was going so fast that he almost collided with me at the front cross–and he did three obstacles (jump-tunnel-jump) while I did the front cross. He barked at me and I apologized to him. 71 yards: 13.4 seconds. Q. The next fastest dog in the class did the course in over 17 seconds. So that was Rush’s first Q ever.

Of course, we had five more runs over the weekend. Rush Qd in colors (and stopped on the dogwalk) and lunged at me; he Qd in Fullhouse (and I realized I need a send to the table); he Qd in Snooker (and I could have used a send to the table); he missed a dogwalk contact (and I stopped him and told him off and he got the next one–yes, there were two, and no a-frame) in regular. In Jumpers, our last run of the day, he was clearly tired, and perhaps I should have taken him home. He lunged at me, the judge saw something she didn’t like, and NT for us (meaning no time was recorded). Not a great ending to the day. The run was very fast, other than the one lunge, and I got a nice two-jump leadout, and no sass about leash removal.

To summarize: his contacts were mostly pretty good (and I held my criteria on the one occasion when they weren’t). He gets frustrated easily and comes in to me when he is, and yells at me. Jumps and lunges. I really need to work on that. He swears a lot on course when he doesn’t know what I want, and he and I need to learn to read each other better. I need a send to the table. His start-line stay was excellent by the end of the weekend. His coming-to-leash behavior was excellent. He never got the zoomies.

Dancer was also there. She was reliable, steady, easy… I may have been guilty of taking her for granted. She Qd in Jackpot (57 points!), Jumpers (31.57 seconds, 135 yards), and Colors (where she missed the weave entry, then did a fabulous fast set of weaves, with single-stepping).

Practice today

I took the dogs down to the barn today for some tuneup practice before our trial this weekend. I wanted to work weaves, contacts, the teeter, and discriminations. Dancer was amazing, flying through the course and hitting everything perfectly. She even did swim-style (single-foot) weaves. She got a ton of treats, and then I started working with Rush.

Rush is doing well on weaves with me on his right (dog on left), weaving all 12 poles with style and speed. Dog on right, not quite as good; he’s struggling with a tenth-pole problem. He’ll get there soon. His contacts were great (after a gentle reminder about his dogwalk contact); he takes a line of jumps well.

Then I started work on discriminations. I had two discriminations set up: dogwalk/tunnel (tunnel on outside) and a-frame/tunnel (tunnel on inside). I started work with a line of three jumps at 15 feet leading to the dogwalk/tunnel choice. The first time through, I paused, stood straight, called “come, climb” and Rush flew right into the tunnel. I did the shoulder sag that indicates “no reward” and sent him over the line again. Tunnel again. Shoulder sag again. Third time through, I made the stop dramatic and Rush again flew into the tunnel. My sigh and disappointment were even more dramatic (although I was probably a hair late on the cue all three times).

The fourth time? I stopped dead, I called “COME! CLIMB!” and watched, despairingly, as Rush flew toward the tunnel once more. Then, somehow, a light clicked on, and Rush jumped OVER the open end of the tunnel, landed squarely on the dogwalk, and continued to gallop over the dogwalk and into a perfect two-on-two-off at the end of the dogwalk. I gave him all the chicken hearts and all the other treats I had in my pocket.

After that, I couldn’t make him get it wrong. If I said “tunnel” he did the tunnel; if I said “climb”, he took the contact obstacle. Wowza!