Friday, September 28, 2007

Short bits ...

This weekend Lucy and I will be competing at a USDAA trial in Chesterfield VA, sponsored by the Central Virginia Agility Club. I'm hoping I will feel nice and relaxed about the whole thing, and get myself to focus on the runs, not the Qs. That's when we seem to do best. She's been awesome in class and practice, so I'm hoping a good time will be had by all this weekend.

In other news:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gratuitous cute puppy blogging (again!)


hercules with locopup
Originally uploaded by bunchofpants
This is Hercules, my friend Jackie's 6-month-old Chihuahua pup (seen here with his littermate, Samson). He's eating a "Locopup," which is the doggie version of the gourmet popsicles sold at Locopops, our local gourmet paleta shop. All proceeds from the sale of Locopups go to the Durham County Animal Protection Society.

Agility videos available for rent at smartflix.com

I've long wondered whether some of the agility instruction videos available would help my training, but they're not cheap and I'm often reluctant to part with my cash unless I'm convinced it's something that will work for me. So I'm very happy to report that Smartflix.com, a DVD rental site for instructional videos, has added some dog agility titles to their offerings. Among the new DVDs available are:
Most videos at Smaretflix.com are $9.99 for a one week rental. You can check out the rest of the dog training DVDs available here

Friday, September 14, 2007

The riddle of Gomey ... solved, maybe?

I mentioned the other day that Mr. Gomez will sort of blow right past an obstacle sometimes, even when it is directly in his path (and it's usually the only logical next obstacle). Well last night in class I got a few suggestions as to why:
  1. Val said I have "Lucyitis," i.e., I'm very accustomed to the way Lucy takes direction from me. Lucy is very attentive will pick up on very subtle movements--this is a good thing if my subtle movement is correct, a bad thing if I accidentally flick an arm or point myself towards an off-course obstacle. On Gomey, however, subtlety is entirely lost. If I want him to really understand which obstacle to take, I need to be make my indication very obvious. So running directly toward the teeter, for example, isn't quite enough for Gomey. I need to remember to clearly point toward it, and it probably wouldn't hurt to remember to say "teeter." (With Lucy, I often only call the obstacle if I'm at a distance or there is a discrimination involved).

  2. I have trouble sending Gomey ahead with my usual send-ahead command ("Go!"). I've always figured it was just because I haven't practiced it enough with him. But a classmate wisely pointed out that "Go" is the first syllable of his name (duh! never thought of that before!) That would explain why instead of going, he usually looks at me ... so I need to think of another send-ahead command. I like "Andale!" just because it would be fun to yell it while running a course, but I'm afraid it's too many syllables. I like the idea of using Spanish ... maybe "Vaya!" would work, although properly conjugated I guess the correct form would be "Ve" because I would use "tú" and not "usted" with Gomey. Anyway, I'm open to suggestions.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lucy update

I went to class with Lucy last night ... it's true, I'm too addicted to agility to quit or even miss one single class. Before class I did some weaves, contacts and tables with Lucy, and she did them all beautifully (well, her table downs could be a teensy bit faster). Not only was she weaving well and very quickly, but when we finished a set, unless I directed her to another obstacle, she'd flip herself around and head back towards the weaves right after getting her reward. She seemed like she was enjoying them. So hopefully there's nothing physically wrong with her, although I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to get her an athletic evaluation at VetHab just to be sure.

So our off-kilter weekend could have been because of any of the following: it was really hot (mid-to-high 90s); she wasn't fully recovered from the three-day trial the previous weekend; I'm a dorky handler; I was feeling a bit tired and cranky; I was running two dogs and their runs and walkthroughs kept coming up at the same time (which really stresses me out); and I need to master the "mental game" as much as I need to hone my handling. I think it was all of the above.

My friend Barb just lent me her copy of With Winning in Mind by Lanny Basham, who was an Olympic gold medalist and world champion in shooting. I'm not a big fan of self-help books in general, but I'll give this a try. Barb never finished it, and she wants me to report back to her on it--in other words, I think she wants me to read it so she doesn't have to. I've flipped through it a bit and saw one bad sign: it involves affirmations. I'm sorry, but I've actually tried affirmations before, and nothing ever made me feel like a bigger loser than sitting there telling myself what a winner I was. But what the hell, I can at least read the guy's book before I form a judgement of it. For all I know affirmations are just what I need.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For the birds ...

Our dogs love a nice hike in woods, where they get to smell the world and all its critters. And I'm quite fond of birds, although I'm not really a birdwatcher--I can't get the hang of using binoculars and I couldn't imagine keeping lists of what I've see--I still think they're cool to watch and fun to hear. My husband's quite fond of photographing them. So I was rather distressed to see this article in the NY Times about research indicating that even leashed dogs in a forest reduce the number and diversity of birds present, at least in the short run.
The researchers chose trails in places where dogs were banned and in other areas where dog walking was common, expecting different results in each. “We thought that where there was regular dog walking birds would get used to it,” Dr. Banks said. “Well, they didn’t.”

Regardless of the type of area, dog walking led to a 35 percent reduction in the number of bird species and a 41 percent reduction in overall bird numbers, compared with the control. (People walking alone caused some disturbance, but less than half that caused by people with dogs.)

That's a bit of a bummer.

Awful, thanks for asking

This weekend was not the most fun I've ever had at an agility trial. In fact, it may have been my worst trial ever. It was the kind of weekend that leaves one wondering why one spends all of one's time, energy and money doing dog agility.

I know I should feel a lot better about the weekend than I do, because Mr. Gomez qualified in 6 out of 8 runs, despite being somewhat of a goofball. But we're still in PI and PII (We finished PI Gamblers and Pairs this weekend, so we'll now be in PII everything), and the lower-level courses are relatively easy. More importantly, refusals aren't counted yet. Once we hit PIII I have a feeling we will tank a lot of runs because Gomey often blows right by obstacles in his hurry to get ... well I have no idea where he's going sometimes. He's just going. He comes right back when I call him and takes whatever obstacle I want him to, but it often seems as if he still doesn't get the point of this whole agility thing. He completely gets the point of the game where I throw the ball over and over and over again and he runs and gets it and brings it back every time. Now there's a game! He's clearly a very pattern-oriented dog, and agility throws up a brand-new configuration every time. I think the poor boy will never get over the confusion.

Lucy's the dog who really "gets" agility, and she and I have become reasonably successful over the past year. So not getting a single Q all weekend felt rotten. A few of the problems were simply my handling, but some of the issues were things I thought I could trust Lucy to take care of. Weaves, for example. I'd spent a lot of time making sure she understood how to find the correct entry from all angles, and had gotten good deal of independent performance and distance with her. She was becoming an excellent weaver. But this weekend, she was missing entries and popping out over and over again. Now I've completely lost confidence in her weaves to the point that I plan to go back and start re-training her in an open channel. There's no way one can succeed in Masters level without trustworthy weaves.

Another issue is the table. She has become slower and slower to down on the table as time goes by. In practice she's great--I say "Splat" and she goes splat. It's one of the first things I ever taught her, and since we don't do AKC, the table only ever means "down," never "sit." But in a trial she just doesn't want to lie down. It's completely infuriating. I'm not sure what to do in training to fix it, because in training she's fine. Maybe I need to borrow a friend's table and feed Lucy her dinner every night in the "down" position. Or, (I don't really like this idea and doubt it will even work), I could sacrifice my runs to her training by picking her up and carrying her off the course if she doesn't immediately down on the table. She hates being picked up and carried. Problem is I can't take her to her crate because she loves it in there. So I'd have to just carry her around for a while. But the big problem with this is that I've spent too much time building her motivation to risk shutting it down by stopping a run in such a way. Still, I don't know what else to do.

And there are those pesky contacts. I've trained, re-trained, and re-re-trained. She just loves sailing over them. She's perfectly capable of a two-on, two-off or a nice controlled, moving contact--she does them in practice ... well, not all of the time, but lots. But she loves to fly in a trial. It's faster that way. And I'm just not willing to end a run for a missed contact. I don't think it's really very effective (I know people who have done it and it hasn't really helped them at all and, again, I don't want to mess with her motivation). But now I'm stuck babysitting her contacts saying all kinds of things ("easy wait easy bottom easy!") hoping to just slow her down enough to at least scratch yellow with one tiny claw. You can't succeed at the Masters level that way (especially in Gamblers).

So right now I need something to build my own motivation. I don't even feel like going to class this week. What's the point? It just a Sisyphean exercise if I have to keep training my dog to do the same things over and over and over again. Of course, it's all probably something I've done anyway, in which case the whole thing is really hopeless.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Agility geekiness: More fun with blind crosses

A while back I wrote about playing with blind crosses and discovering their potential to get Lucy to turn on the afterburners. I mentioned that I couldn't imagine them working well anywhere but after a tunnel, but then at the trial last weekend I saw several people successfully execute them after a jump. That made me want to try it in practice sometime, and I got the chance during Lucy's class Wednesday night.

Val had set up a very NADAC-y arc of 5 jumps leading into a tunnel, with a line of jumps coming out of the tunnel. The object of the exercise was that we were to run it once staying ahead of the dog and then again staying behind the dog to see which way was faster (Val timed us, and in every case having the handler ahead was faster, which didn't surprise me). Then were to run it again ahead of the dog using every trick we could think of to beat our fastest time. I added my own wrinkle to the exercise, however: the path looked like it might be a good place to to try the blind cross after a jump, so I decided to give it a go. I knew very well that, if successful, it would really make Lucy go faster. I just didn't know if I could pull it off.

I tried it at two different places. In the first run, I did a lead-out to just beside the third obstacle (a triple), where I could make eye contact with her over the first two jumps. If it were a different dog (Mr. Gomez, for example), I might not have tried blind-crossing after a triple because of bar-knocking danger, but Lucy rarely knocks bars and can often slice triples at amazing angles, so I figured I'd take the risk:*

The important thing was to make sure I got moving (and quickly--she really does get speedy if I'm in front of her!) as soon as she committed to the first jump so that I was well out of her path as she attempted the triple, and to remember to look back and make eye contact with her as soon as I had completed the cross. It worked like a charm, except that in my haste to make the cross I went to wide and ended up pulling her away from the tunnel entrance rather than driving her toward it. I got to re-run so we got an accurate time, and I fixed that problem but paying closer attention to my path.

I decided to try leading out further the second time and trying the cross between jumps 4 and 5:

I don't usually take such long lead-outs with Lucy, not because she doesn't have a good start-line stay, but just out of a superstition that I shouldn't tempt fate if I don't have to. But this run worked better--I had a little more time to makethe blind cross and pay attention to my path coming out of it. The scary thing about a blind cross is that you have to turn your back of the dog, and you definitely want to have enough time to make sure your paths aren't on a collision course before you do.

I may or may not get an opportunity to try a blind cross at the trial this weekend--it's likely I won't because they really only work under a small set of circumstances. One must be ahead of one's dog--even farther ahead than a normal front cross. The intended path must also be very clear to the dog--you are turning your back on the dog, after all--so a blind cross may be called for when you want to keep the dog in obstacle focus. If a sharp change of direction is needed, a front cross, rear cross or counter-hand turn would be more appropriate.

*This post represents my first attempt at using the Clean Run Course Designer software. I decided to take advantage of their 30-day trial to see if it was a toy worth paying for. I must say it's quite fun! I may have to bite the bullet and give them some money.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Odd Dogs qualify, take fifth place



The Odd Dogs' astonishing third place standing didn't hold, and I take the blame. During today's relay event, Amanda/Weaver and Janice/Machias were reliable and turned in respectable runs, while Lucy and I went off-course after the second obstacle. It was that stupid dogwalk/tunnel discrimination, again. I'm starting to think that the best way to get Lucy to take the one I want is to aim for the other one. She didn't actually take the dog walk, just touched it with a paw--a rear paw, at that. Don't ask me what she was thinking or what I did to get that result. At any rate, in the DAM relay if you're eliminated, you're supposed to immediately run to the finish (and pass the baton to a teammate if applicable), so that ended my portion of the run.

Fortunately, a lot of teams did way worse than we did--some had two E's, and I was fortunate that mine came so early in the run that it didn't waste too much of the team's time. And the important thing was that we got our Q, which means I've completed all the tournament requirements for my ADCH. However, in individual competition this weekend I failed to get either of the Standard titles I needed for my MAD. In fact, all I got was one Snooker Q (it was a very nice run). Oh well, I'll be trialing again next weekend, and a couple of weekends after that, and a couple of more after that. Sooner or later we'll manage to pull together a Standard run or two.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

DAM team update

I'm slightly flabbergasted. With only the Relay left to run tomorrow, The Odd Dogs are currently in third place (out of 13 teams) in the DAM team tournament! We ended yesterday in sixth place, which was partly my fault because Lucy took an off-course in Standard and we were eliminated, although Weaver and Machias did pretty well. (We all did well in Snooker, though, and I was very proud of my run with Lucy).

Then first thing this morning, our oddness really paid off on the jumpers course, which was devilishly tricky. The really zippy fast gonzo dogs were going off-course, knocking bars and spinning into refusals left and right--the course was eating them for breakfast, it seemed. But Weaver the Foxhound and Machias the Akita made good use of their slower but steadier pace. Lucy and I managed to rock that course; aside from a fleeting moment when I almost lost her over an off-course obstacle, it felt perfect. It was one of those runs that reminds you why you run yourself ragged building courses, gate stewarding, timing, scribing, setting bars, etc. so an agility trial can happen. We vaulted into second place after Jumpers.

In Gamblers the border collies got a little revenge, because the amount of ground they can cover so quickly made it easier to rack up the points without the danger of off courses and refusals (except in the gambles, of course, but they were optional for bonuses). But we Odds were tenacious and managed to only slip down to third place. Obviously anything can happen in the Relay tomorrow, but so far I'm very pleasantly surprised.