Monday, August 31, 2009

Fun with judges' discretion

I ran Lucy in a USDAA trial in Colfax, NC, on Friday and Saturday. It was hosted with a brand-new club (Carolina Piedmont Agility) at a brand-new site (well, the site's been there for a while--it's a horse arena, but it's new to agility) and it really couldn't have been nicer. I'll definitely be going back.

I only entered Lucy in 4 classes on Friday and three on Saturday because now that she's old, I need to lighten up. We did pretty well--a Snooker Super Q and a Pairs Q (netting us our PIII relay title) on Friday, and another Super Q and a Standard Q on Saturday. I so wish I had gotten Saturday's Standard run on video, because it was exactly the kind of run that keeps me doing agility. I was where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there, and Lucy corresponded. Alas, you'll just have to take my word that occasionally I'm a really good handler!

Our Saturday Snooker run was another story. (It was caught on video by a friend, but I don't have it to post. Not sure if I want to, either.) I had made a simple plan, but then executed it badly, and at one point, after completing the 2-part number six obstacle in the opening, Lucy then back-jumped 6b (or, I should say, my bad handling caused her to back jump). I assumed I was toast and started heading to the finish line, but I wasn't hearing a whistle ... why no whistle? Then Lucy, smart little dog who apparently has learned the "if you don't hear a whistle just keep going" rule, decided to jump a red, which happened to be the red I had planned to go to after the number six anyway. I heard the judge call "One!" Holy moley, I thought, I'm still alive here! So I just proceeded with the rest of my plan, pushing for speed because I'd wasted time thinking I was cooked. The rest of the course was gorgeous! We finished before the buzzer with 42 points (which, because no one else in the running got enough points to even qualify, gained us a Super Q). But why didn't we get whistled off after that number 6?

I asked a few people and no one seemed to really know, so I buttonholed my friend Derrell Stover, who's a judge in addition to being one of the most awesome handlers I've ever seen. He told me there are two schools of thought about how to judge what we did, and our Judge (Allison Bryant) apparently subscribes to the Cheri Wittenberg philosophy, which is: we had successfully completed that obstacle combo, and we then faulted it before attempting another red and therefore we were not pointed for it but could continue to accumulate points. However, he said that if it happened again under a judge who subscribed to the Tom Kula school of thought it could be considered an off-course and we could be whistled off. For some reason I find these issues of discretion fascinating ... it sort of adds to the excitement of Snooker, really. Or maybe that's just me being geeky.

At any rate, the lesson, which I should have already learned by now (and Lucy seems to know!) is if I don't hear a whistle just keep going, even if I know I screwed up. As it was, lucky little Lucy saved my butt, but I'm supposed to be the one thinking out there.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Patience, possibilities, payoffs ...

Tonight I felt like I had a big breakthrough. I've been struggling for the past few months to walk three dogs, two of whom are young and full of themselves. Talladega has been the toughest of the three, because when I got her at the end of May, she was almost like a little savage with absolutely no self-control whatsoever. On the leash she was awful, especially when we crossed paths with other dogs. She absolutely loves other dogs and thinks it's her god-given right to meet them all. She would ignore food, even if it was right under her face, preferring to whimper, bark and pull toward the other dog. It was mighty frustrating. But I tried to remain steadfast and patient, and tonight, for the first time ever, whenever we passed other dogs (three times), she fell into line at my side with the other two, looking up at me and not the other dogs. It was beautiful! One guy said "It looks like they're synchronized!" Of course, Tally's learned by now that not only is she never, ever going to get to go say hi to that other dog, but that Charlee Bears are pretty good and there's probably going to be one for her when we get past the other dogs. It also helped that I spent a lot of time hand-feeding her meals in exchange for attention, tricks etc., so she's learned that food has value.

She's also a whiz to train in general. After working her with the wobble board and skateboard, I decided to try some other cool stuff with her. A friend lent me a little wooden spool so I could try to teach Tally to roll it with her front feet while walking with her back (it's a first step in teaching a dog to do something like pushing a baby carriage). All I did was get a bag of treats and set the spool in front of me, and the first thing Tally did was put her front feet on it and start rolling it! I think after the skate board she just assumed that's what I wanted. I was completely amazed. I also wanted to teach her to push a playground ball with her nose, but when I put the ball in front of her she put her front feet on it and started rolling it with them while she walked on her hind legs! We still have some coordination issues to work out before she can sustain the spool and ball tricks for more than five or six steps, so I have some practicing to do. By that point maybe I'll have picked up a tripod so I can video it all properly. She's a truly amazing little dog.

I have a lot of focus work to do to move forward with her agility training. It's hard for her to keep her mind off the people, other dogs and great smells in class. She's improving, however, and next session we're signed up for a Focus and Motivation class taught by Melanie Miller (I took the class last summer with Pinky). I'm hoping it helps.

As for Pinky, moving her down to the "baby" level class was the best thing, I think. Making things very simple and progressing very slowly turned out to be exactly what she needs. She's really blossoming doesn't seem nearly as nervous as she used to be. She seems to enjoy the class much more than when I was trying to have her on a more accelerated track. I was just asking too much to quickly.

And Lucy is still good little Lucy. We took another distance class because gambles are still tough for us, and I learned that I'm relying too much on body cues for "right" and "left" and not enough for verbals. When your dog is heading directly away from you to a distant gamble obstacle, they're not necessarily going to see the body cue for a change of direction. They have to hear it (something I should have remembered and worked on after Stuart Mah, but I didn't).

My dogs are filling me with optimism ...