Saturday, May 28, 2011

First Fun Match

Leo got to run in his first fun match today. I wasn't sure when we went to bed last night that he would get to run. The weather was pretty horrendous yesterday and the fun match was being held outdoors in the park. I'm not too keen on running the dogs in the sopping rain even though the grass tends to hold up fairly well. A club we belong to was hosting it, the JAG Agility Group.

We arrived right about 7:30 and needed to unload the trailer, set up the fencing for the ring, then set up the first course. Jim had designed four each Standard and Jumpers courses. I think most of us (in the club) were under the impression that we would have just two each. That said, things ran a bit longer than I would have expected. Standard was run small to tall and Leo was the very first dog. I had just taken him out of the truck, let him potty, and pretty much went straight in the ring.

He ran so fast! He held his start line. He moved fluidly. He was focused solely on the course and tuned into me. It was incredible! His very first "real" run ever where he was also running outdoors and he completely rocked! I couldn't have been prouder of him. He even took the teeter with just the slightest halt when it tipped. Here's the course; I did skip the weaves though since we have not worked them enough to fuss with it. He's really only worked on spread weaves with gates around them. I wanted the entire experience to be positive.
We actually ran the course twice. After our run the jump heights went up, then we reversed back down to 8. By then Leo had warmed up a bit so he didn't run quite as fast. He also got nervous on the dog walk. Not sure what that was about. He all of a sudden started going slowly and then stopped. He kept looking straight down at the ground and finally sat. I couldn't convince him to keep going so moved him to the ramp and ran with it. I didn't even worry about his contacts; he was safe but I didn't require his full stop, four-on performance. Then we had a bit of issue on the teeter. He ran it well but he slowed down and wasn't going to move ahead. I had to readjust him a bit back to where the board tipped and we finished fine. Again we skipped the weaves. Still though, he ran well, had fun, handled a front cross between 4 and 5 and a blind cross  at the #8 tunnel on both runs. He took the tire, not the spacing around it, and quite simply, out performed my expectations.

He then had a bit of a break in his crate while Vegas got to come out and play. We were getting kind of late by then and I needed to get out of there to run an errand. Leo did get a chance at to run the Jumpers course, too. This one we only ran once. Fortunately there was nothing he couldn't do and had the run been in a real trial, he surely would have qualified. He ran well again and it was really exciting. He took the double and triple as if he'd done them regularly. In fact, I just introduced a double to him on Tuesday. Go Leo! So proud of my little boy. In fact, I think I'm going to move his debut up and run him at the CPE trial the third weekend in June. They still have runs left and since level 1 doesn't have the teeter or weaves, we should be totally fine. I'm really excited to see what the future holds for my boy!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tuesday Training

Starting this week we joined some friends for a bit of training. We started out with some nose work. I have to say, having just introduced Leo to birch recently, he is taking to it really well. He's a great little worker; the more we try the more I realize that. For a non-working breed, it's refreshing; for a toy breed, it's a delight. For his first search he had five hides. We had scattered a few boxes around the center of the floor. The setting was an open area of a large outbuilding, concrete floor, roll up door was up, little to no breeze, the weather was cool but dry, plenty of dust, dog smells, a gurgling fish tank, and many objects including kennels, boxes, trophies, tables, equipment, tools, a four wheeler/quad, utility trailer, and more. There were plenty of hiding spots both low and high, contained and open, with plenty of potential for odor to drift and/or pool in place. I don't recall the places we hid the items, but we did increase the difficulty level from last time. I know I repeated the command, "find it," a couple of times during our first search, but Leo responded quickly to each reminder. He searched thoroughly when he caught odor and began to detail surrounding areas.

The only difficulty he had was on the angled table brace under a table. It was over his head and there was no real way for him to step up to reach it. He seemed to really know he was in odor multiple times and came and went from the table repeatedly, finally standing under it but just couldn't seem to stand up and tell me exactly where he was finding odor. Last time Leo seemed to know the odor was "up" but didn't know he could step up or put his feet on things to gain ground and find the item. I encouraged him, per Pam's suggestion, and this time he seemed to remember that. He gladly put his feet up where he needed to. For instance, there was a large, heavy duty wagon with it's "tail gate" down that he stepped up against.

The other intriguing moment in our nose work practice was when he was searching around the wagon and happened to knock the paired treat off the tin with the odor. He kept searching, not noticing he knocked the treat off, and I fully expected him to drop to the ground and alert on the treat. Instead, that little stinker alerted fully on the now unpaired birch! Go Leo! I was so proud of him. It was a totally awesome moment.

Leo got to do two searches, both inside. He was very impatient in between his turns for quite a while but eventually settled down to wait and watch out in the drive.

After nose work we went in the arena for a bit to do some agility. I worked him on the jumps and just random equipment I could direct him to. He was super excited to work and willing to take anything I asked. He even did the double-jump for the first time and I'm excited to see him really clearing the jumps with ease. His jump style is really nice - smooth, efficient, and he gauges where to start his jump well so his landing is clear. I'm quite certain his dropping a bar will be an extreme rarity, if at all.

Vegas had a turn for a bit then I brought him back in to really work the teeter. Since this is a different barn from where we have been taking classes, I wanted to work him on this teeter to gain additional exposure, experience, and confidence. I'm glad to say he very willingly boarded the teeter every time. His speed varied as did his continuance on the board. A time or two he began to back down the board and or try to turn around when the board tipped, but I encouraged him back to move forward and he did so. All said and done we had no less success than we have had at the other barn and the largest benefit being practice on another teeter.

We then worked on some recalls, specifically the "call to front." I'm struggling with bringing Leo in close enough without a two part move. One of the tips Laurie gave us was to put your feet shoulder width apart and recall and, as the dog approaches, toss the treat between your legs. I did that quite a few times alternating with a regular call to front. There were two benefits to this training session. First, Leo was really holding his sits! I don't recall him slipping into a down a single time. Yahoo! Huge accomplishment. Second, we were working that close front position as well as an enthusiastic recall, both of which we were getting with some level of consistency.

It was a great evening of training where we accomplished a lot with a lot of variety and enjoyed each other's company. Then last night he got a bath almost right away after work. Somebody was starting to smell just a bit more like a dog than I prefer. Plus his fuzzy leg hair was starting to get a bit sticky feeling from the variety of surfaces we've been on and he's been in lately. I am starting to feel like I need a much deeper tub. I have tried to get Leo to swim while in the tub when the water level is high but he tends to stand at the edge of the tub on the curve so he doesn't have to swim. I took some pictures and a smidge of video I'll have to post tomorrow or this weekend. He's nice and clean, smells fantastic, and I got him all trimmed up and fresh again.

Coming up this weekend he's going to get to participate in a fun match for the first time Saturday. I have just one goal for us aside from fun working together - trial like experience. I hope we have a good turnout so that he is able to work in a ring by himself with plenty of people and dogs in the vicinity that will allow us to tune into each other. More news on that then... Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Graduated Again!

Leo graduated again! We had a quiet agility class last week with just three of us in attendance. It meant we got a lot more work in and left with dogs a lot more pooped. Autumn, our instructor, set up a full course of 17 obstacles! Wow. I was super pleasantly surprised to be able to run the entire thing with Leo. He handled my crosses well, I am having to figure out by trial and error whether front crosses, rear crosses, or blind crosses work best in some situations since he's so much smaller than his sister, but he's coming along fantastically. Our session a few classes back working on jumps with rewards was totally worth it though. He rarely goes around a jump now. Our next class starts soon - on June 6 and I already have a list of goals.

I chose to repeat the same class even though he could move up because ultimately I can teach him what he needs to know but he needs to work around other dogs and deal with those noises and distractions. There's one handler in the class we just finished that was going to be in the "move up" class and I prefer not to work with her in class, too. Besides, weeknights are better for us than Sunday nights.

Our goals for next class include:

  • Running the full teeter without hesitation
  • Solid start line stay (We have it most of the time currently)
  • Weaves
I have the 2x2 weaves training video now as well as the poles, so I just need to start practicing it. That means watching the DVD. It wouldn't hurt to put Vegas through Susan Garrett's course, too, to solidify our weaves. His start line is pretty darn good. However Leo has those days where he gets doggy ADD. His nose starts working, a noise startles him, he looks around and gets distracted, or he anticipates (not always a bad thing!), and fails to hold his start line. I would like to keep working it. In addition to just working the start line, I want to work on building drive off the start line. I want him amped up and flying off the start line. 

And the teeter. Still our nemesis, to an extent, but we'll conquer it. I need to finally get a board on the base our dear friend, Jen, gave us and work it, work it, and work it some more at home. The positive with the teeter? Leo always willingly "boards" this obstacle. He knows it won't hurt him; he just doesn't like it. So he gets on and the results afterward vary from backing off the "tip" to just simply completing the forward progression so slowly it feels like watching a Japanese Maple grow. Very painful.

Next Saturday the 28th Leo will get to participate in his very first fun match, too. This will give me an opportunity to proof him in a trial like environment. Should be interesting as its outside, too, at our favorite park in town. Since it's free for me, I've got nothing to lose and much to gain working with my little man. I can't wait to see how he'll do.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Perfect Spring Evening

The dogs and I had a ball going to Champoeg State Park tonight. We had the trails all to ourselves which is just perfect in my opinion. It lets me allow them off lead freely and also I enjoy meandering along, taking pictures, letting the dogs sniff things out, and generally just enjoying ourselves without worry of others and what unpredictability that may bring. Things are very overgrown with plenty of Spring rains and random bits of sunshine to draw the growth skyward. I took a ton of pictures of the "wildlife," flowers, foliage, and the dogs, of course. Here is a montage.

I also used our lovely Walkies app on my Evo and it tracked how far we went and made a little map.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Intro to Odor - Birch

Leo's done some nose work in the past at home searching in boxes and and random places in our downstairs, but I'd not done searches aside from food. Well today we got together with our friend Pam and her "sniffing dogs," Gigi and Jewel, and used a friend's wide open concrete space in an out building. There were TONS of choices for hiding things and though we had the roll up door open, there was no breeze but we had the benefit (er, challenge?) of potential cross breezes, etc. Each dog got to do three total searches, each with four finds. I'm proud to say Leo did really well, even when I hid things in semi-complex locations for his skill level. The most difficult thing for Leo is his uncertainty about the noises things make, etc. For instance, there was a hide in a cardboard box but he didn't pursue it because the box was closed. I had to wait until he came back to it and then kind of help him by opening it up. I also have to encourage him to stand up on things that are over his head. He also can get a little bit distracted, particularly by another person in thinking they might have something for him. I'm feeling a little less confident on my directions working with the dogs now that I'm not in a class and Pam is being taught some things a bit differently than I was. I'm sure it'll all work out but in the meantime, Leo is doing good. In fact, I think the greatest accomplishment I saw in him today was his enthusiasm for getting in there and working plus his ability to start to detail when he really gets in odor. He's doing a great job and I think I will keep moving ahead with him on it, too.

Week 6 Next Steps Agility

Leo had agility practice again on Thursday night. It's hard to believe the class is already almost over. The past six weeks have flown by but to look back on Leo's progress is amazing. One of the biggest deals lately is Leo's quick conquering of jumps. It's interesting to look back because I think in training we take jumps for granted. With an "Oh, they're just jumps" mentality, sometimes I think dogs may get the mistaken impression that "just jumps" are not important even when set up directly in front of one. It was an interesting concept but the more I think back to training, I think we focus so much on training contact behavior, worrying about success with the teeter, and sitting/downing on the table plus the plethora of other things like doing what we're told and positive experiences versus negative interactions with other dogs in class, "just jumping" can go by the wayside. But in the grand scheme of things, most dogs won't experience the "Oh, it's just a jump" thought process and, instead, will take what is put in front of them. It's the small percentage, like Leo, that taking the jump directly in front of him was a bigger deal. I'm glad to say that with just five minutes at the barn one practice session, by treating, rewarding, and building value in the jumps, he happily flies over all eight inch jumps now without question.

My remaining concerns to continue working on with Leo seem to be:

  • Building and maintaining speed over the dog walk. He likes the dog walk. He willingly takes the dog walk. But he often meanders across it as if there might be treats there or as Jim likes to say, lollygagging. 
  • Contacts. I don't have to worry about him going through the contact zone, but I do want to have a solid criteria. Right now it seems like he gets what I want (four on with a sit), but he doesn't understand where I want it. He's often halfway up the yellow on the a-frame when he offers the behavior and the same for the dog walk. It's an interesting conundrum and I can't decide whether to let it go or work it until he gets that I want it at the end of the board. But at least he's being safe. 
  • Teeter. Good God the teeter. The good news is that he willingly boards the teeter. I'm not having to place his feet on the obstacle. The bad news is, he recognizes it as a somewhat evil obstacle still and will veer away from it as if I am always headed for it with him in tow. Plus, he's figured out the tip point and as soon as he hits it or just before, he stops. We need to work through that because, quite frankly, I'd allow him a running contact on it if possible. 
What is my mantra for these things? Patience, grasshopper, patience. Fortunately I've mostly nailed that one with Leo. He's grown so much in our training and with patient moves like sticking with foundation agility two sessions in a row, so I'm not concerned that he won't do what I want eventually. But, it means possibly shifting my goals for us a bit. We'll see, but I was hoping for his debut in agility to be the August Columbia Agility Team CPE trial. There is a fun match over the Memorial Day weekend I may enter him into for a run or two just to begin getting experience in a trial environment. 

Aside from all that, we start up our obedience classes again next week and I'm looking forward to that. Now I need to get disciplined and work with him prior to that so it looks like we've made progress!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Good Agility Practice

Tonight I talk week 3 of foundation agility for the Spring session. I brought Leo along to practice with before and after. When we got there I set all the bars at 8" and mostly just worked with what was set up. Leo was doing really good. Fast, motivated, focused. He's gotten much better about taking every jump in front of him lately.All it took was one class where I spent two or three minutes working a single jump and treating it. I think what someone said to me was right. I was rewarding everything but jumps as if they were no big deal so he must have gotten the idea that they were no big deal.

When my students showed up I hooked Leo's leash to the wall and got to work switching things around a bit, dropping all the bars, and lowering the teeter. Leo's so good - for the most part - about laying and watching us work. I say "for the most part" because he did have a few moments tonight. He chirbles. It's this funny little sound he makes in his throat that's clearly impatience but not obnoxious. Mostly it's adorable and funny. One of my students' husband comes along and asked if he could sit next to Leo. I told him of course and Leo got spoilt the rest of class sitting on his lap. Would you believe the little stink still chirbled on occasion on his lap? It was truly too funny. I'm glad my class gets a kick out of him and his cuteness.

So after our awesome class, Leo and I worked a bit more. It was so cool to see him drive toward the obstacles like he does when he's truly motivated - like for breakfast or dinner or his post-bath zoomies. He was so glad to be "free" and get to work. What a joy this boy is. He's really trying hard and building confidence all the time. The barn had some noisiness tonight...lots of baby birds roosted in the rooftops, some metal clanging and banging in the wind alongside the wall, dogs barking. It's good, though, for him to work through it and while he'll startle stop sometimes he quickly gets back to work.

So anyway, we were doing mostly the obstacles that were there and I threw in quite a few crosses to see how he would handle it and he mostly did well. I "lost" him a couple times behind my arse but that was more due to him learning queues than anything. All in all a good practice session that allowed us to continue to build on what we know, work on driving ahead, and gave some more teeter practice (which he's rebelling a bit against againz). Yay for a true working toy dog! Love my Leo.

On another note, Leo participates in the Yahoo Flickr group 52 Weeks for Dogs. I take a picture of him every week between Monday and Sunday and post it. The picture from yesterday was this week's submission. Kindly enough, someone posted a really great article about teaching the retrieve in obedience. It makes me really excited to start some serious work on that, especially, too, after having been at the obedience trial all day and watching how awesome dogs can work in this sport.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spring is Here!

Spring! Spring! Spring! These spring days are really making a huge difference in life. The dogs and I have been getting out and about as often as is possible and realistic. We spent several hours outside Saturday, first when I mowed the lawn and second when I walked four dogs (Dads', Leo, and Vegas). Sunday we went to Champoeg Park for several hours and tonight Leo got to go along to the Willamette River Water Treatment Park for his first time on a bike ride. Here are a few pictures from Champoeg:

So today I probably looked like the crazy dog lady. I didn't want to drive to the park only to ride my bike around with the dogs. But I didn't want to leave Leo at home either despite his having agility tonight. I put him in his harness in his front pack, hooked Vegas up in her harness on the Walky Dog, and away we went. Leo was surprisingly relaxed in the pack despite the motion on the bike. I was super impressed so we'll definitely do it again. When we got close to the park I moved off the street up onto the path and let Leo out to run. He did great! He managed at least a mile over the course of our outing with our repeated loops around the park. Super impressive considering his little, tiny legs.

After coming home for just over an hour, Leo and I were off to agility class. I can't believe we're done with week five already! We warmed up doing whatever obstacles we wanted. I worked Leo on the weaves initially and ended up removing one of the gates to try to test his weave entrance recognition. He was doing pretty good. We only tried the teeter once; he was struggling with it so I'll definitely be getting a board for our teeter and start working it like crazy. From there we set our dogs up in stays on the wall and walked a 12-obstacle course. Leo and I went last which really gave him a chance to rest up after our warm-up which was quite vigorous. When it was finally our turn Leo did well until the a-frame through the tire. He self-released from the frame and went through the side of the tire. I tried to correct it and he wasn't having any of it. Before I knew it he took off in his zoomies. And having just chatted with another handler about his well trained "drop" when he was doing the zoomies, he didn't respond to it. I tried to be stern. That didn't work. I tried the straight obedience command "down" and hand command all serious. That didn't work. Then I succumbed to the giggles. He made everyone just laugh and laugh. I'm sure it was the "floor buffer leg action he had going on as he zoomed around and around. I can't believe he had it in him after the run but I guess it was just one of those nights for the boys. I barely got him back to take a tunnel and then the dog walk. We tried the course again and he made it almost half way then skipped the tunnel and ran straight for a water bowl. Leo took a couple of laps and then ran right back to where he'd veered off course, took the tunnel, and climbed the a-frame with hardly a hitch. That alone was humorous. He did well until the same spot on the course again and started off in the zoomies and acting silly. I guess he was feeling his oats!

We don't have a lot going on for a while. His obedience class is on a break until May 19 so we will be working on some things in the meantime to stay on track.