Thursday, December 11, 2008

Training with Limited Space or Time

With the onset of cold and wintery weather here in the north, many people have limited training time because of darkness and bad weather. While I have the luxury of space because I have a training building in my back yard, I don't always have the luxury of a lot of time for training. I'd like to discuss how I spend that limited time to make progress towards my goals with the 3 dogs I'm currently training.

If there is room to do so, I work on heeling. Even if I only have a few minutes, I can work on building my teamwork with my dog by doing what I call Rhythm Heeling - moving with my dog at a consistent and brisk rhythm (I still use a metronome sometimes, set at 124 steps per minute for my male Flat-Coated Retriever, 122 for my female FCR, 119 or so for my terriers), with the dog's attention on me, and maintaining a consistent position at my left side, i.e., heel position. We heel in big flowing circles, just to the right with an inexperienced dog, in either direction for the more experienced dog. When my experienced dog is working well with me - maintaining attention, position, and rhythm, I might add some turns, smaller circles, pace changes, and halts. With the inexperienced dog, I don't put these elements together until my dog can "do" Rhythm Heeling consistently well. I work on the components that will become turns, halts, and pace changes separately. I use the Rhythm Heeling exercise to limber up both me and my dog before we enter the ring at a trial.

When space is also limited, I work on what used to be called doodling. I've referred to doodling as Maneuvers for years, and it's now called rally :-). Doodling consists of pivots to the left and right of varying degrees; side-stepping left and right; backing up; working on fronts in several ways; working on your dog getting himself to heel position (AKA a set up); and finishes. When did you last work finishes with your dog in all sorts of oddball but qualifying locations around you? I am currently working on front position maneuvers with Ty, my youngest dog, with a dumbbell in her mouth. She is showing definite signs of improvement, but she is just beginning to remember to hold the dumbbell without mouthing while she does the small position shifts I ask her to do. She can do this minor shifts beautifully when her mouth is empty. When we add in holding her dumbbell, it is much harder for her.

In a hallway, you can work short recalls, distance position changes (verbal or signal), beginning retrieving work, dumbbell retrieves, glove retrieves with different turns before the retrieve, go-outs, moving stands, stays, scent discrimination, fronts, and finishes. You can teach your dog to touch a target with his nose or a front paw. You can use this later for working on go-outs or the broad jump. You can proof you dumbbell pickup by placing it near a distraction, such as a toy or something that looks like food but isn't. You can also work many of the rally stations.

You can simply practice your shaping skills by playing Karen Pryor's "101 things to do with a box" game, where you put a cardboard box in the center of the room and click and treat your dog for interacting with it in a different way each training session. My Border terrier Java has circled the box, jumped in the box and sat, jumped in and immediately jumped out again, jumped on the upside box, put front paws up on the side of the box, dug in a corner once inside the box...

Do you have a formal dining room that is collecting dust? Move the chairs out of the way and heel rectangles around the table, which will help your dog make tight left turns. Do you have an office chair on wheels? You can do multiple moving chair fronts, like scoot fronts, using your legs to keep your dog straight. When you run out of space, toss a cookie behind your dog, scoot yourself back across the room, and start over.

You can work on various tricks that help to build your dog's strength and flexibility, such as sitting up/begging, waving, doing figure 8's around your legs, rolling over, and spinning to the left and right.

I have been reviewing my goals for my dogs recently and updating what I want to achieve in the coming week and month. Don't forget to do this from time to time.

If your dog is too perfect at home, talk to a friend who also trains, and go train at her house. Invite her over the next time. Sometimes just adding another dog around will cause your dog to be less than perfect at home. Be creative with your limited time and space and have fun with your dog.

Until next time, happy training!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Kay Braddock's Toffee Bar Recipe

We have a ritual at our training school - if you earn a title or something else significant with your dog, you bring treats to class. It doesn't help our waistlines, but we all look forward to it :-). Here's a much requested recipe from Kay Braddock.

Toffee Bars by Kay Braddock

2 sticks butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg yolk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t vanilla extract
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9" X 13" baking pan
2. Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolk; beat well
3. Add flour, mixing well, then stir in vanilla. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for 25 min.
4. Cover cookie layer with chocolate chips and return to oven 3 or 4 min.
5. Remove from oven and spread melted chocolate evenly. Sprinkle with nuts. (Sometimes I use toffee chips instead of nuts).
Cool completely before cutting. (Sometimes I put these in the refrigerator to firm up the chocolate).

Ingham Co. Kennel Club 11/30/08

Have you ever heard the term "Bad school, good show?" It's a phrase
that I learned when I showed horses, and it means if the schooling
(aka training) goes badly, the show is likely to go well. Gryffin was
a case in point for that phrase this week.

I hadn't shown since the Marshbanks trials in October, and while I've
been training with some consistency, it still wasn't as much as I was
able to put in in September and October. Gryff's been working slower
than usual without his much more typical enthusiasm, especially when
compared to little rocket Ty. Yesterday with only one other person
around (and she wasn't even doing anything), he couldn't do Signals -
got the old "deer in the headlights" look. I used a toy behind him
some for proofing and then to reward him when he was successful. I
also did some go-outs proofs with the toy and the results weren't
stellar - he was heading for jumps on his go outs, veering off to the
side, etc.. I considered not going to the trial today, but it was my
last trial for the year (boo hoo). Only Gryff was entered, since I
figured it was too busy a place for undertrained Joker, and I'm still
waiting for Ty to come in season... After lugging 3 dogs and their
gear, a single dog was EASY!

We showed first in utility and except for a major struggle on the 1st
article - I think he was literally working the pile for 30 seconds -
all of which cost us 2.5 points, he had a nice class, and got 1st
place of the class of 9 with a 194.5, netting us 6 more OTCh. points.
He now has 57. We left Utility, got to our crate, I gave him a couple
pieces of cheese, grabbed the dumbbell and went into Open. He had a
nice class there, finishing the individuals by 8:45 (!). All 6 dogs in
the group survived stays, hurray! There was a single runoff, which was
for 1st place. They each had a 198 (Dave Tucker and Maddy ran off),
and we got a 197.5, so we were again close to earning that elusive and
needed-for-his-OTCh. Open B 1st. After the way he's been training, I'm
completely thrilled with the results :-). That was his 5th UDX leg,
and for frosting on the cake, we earned High Combined, his 2nd one.

So it was a far finer finish to the 2008 trial season than our 3 NQ
finish last year!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Getting Consistency on Fronts

To those of us "in" obedience, the term front refers to any time our dog comes and sits directly in front of us, ideally perfectly straight and centered in a square sit. Scoring-wise, any position of the dog within reach of the handler is a passing front. A finish means the dog moves from wherever he is into heel position at the handler's left side, either moving around behind the handler to the right, or swinging to the left. Neither the front nor the finish is a principle part of any exercise, so you won't fail an exercise if your dog fails to do either of them, as long as he gets close enough for you to touch without moving your feet.

In Novice obedience, there is only one front: 3 points out of the possible 200 points available for the whole class. In the grand scheme of a qualifying score in Novice, this single front on the Recall exercise isn't that crucial.

In Open, there are four fronts: one on the drop on recall, two with a dumbbell in the dog's mouth, and one on the broad jump, which requires a 180 degree arc into the front.

In Utility, there are six fronts: one on the Signal exercise, three after a retrieve, and two coming off jumps.

According to the AKC, a totally skipped front is supposed to be 5 points off, because in AKC arithmetic, 3 + 3 = 5 (-3 for no front, -3 for no finish). However, not all judges take off that much. Surely it depends on the exact circumstance. In any case, a dog who totally skips fronts, AKA does automatic finishes, ends up losing a bunch of points that way by the time you are in Open, and it gets even worse in Utility. Having had a dog (my 3rd) who had a lot of problems with auto finishes in Utility, I've been there, done that, and it really wrecks havoc with your score.

In my experience, perfecting fronts and finishes are long-term projects with the majority of dogs, measured in months, if not years. I teach fronts in a long series of steps to my dogs:
  • Stationary front attention
  • Chair fronts
  • Moving front attention
  • Scoot fronts
  • Steering fronts
  • Wagon wheel fronts
  • Cookie-toss fronts, which include platform fronts and/or chute fronts
  • Angled fronts
  • Offset fronts
Do you have a dog who skips fronts? First, be aware or become aware of on which exercises your dog tends to skip the front. With my Rio, it was the Signal Exercise and Directed Jumping in Utility, i.e. those without something in his mouth. This may have been confusion over the Moving Stand call to heel. One of my current dogs, Gryffin, has had several really bad fronts on the Directed Retrieve exercise in Utility. In part, I think it stemmed from the close proximity of the judge as Gryff was coming in, plus he often focused his attention on the ring steward in the ring, standing nearby waiting to retrieve the remaining two gloves. Knock wood, he has been doing well in recent trials.

Some dogs go right to heel when a judge is close by and moving around behind the dog. For some dogs, this motion isn't an issue. But for many, the pressure the dog feels from the judge is too much if the dog isn't accustomed to someone there. In Novice, the judge is typically at the opposite end of the ring from the handler and where the dog has to front. In Open, judges are often at the opposite end during the retrieves, but some stand at the same end of the ring as the handler to watch for bumping on the front. Once the dog sits in front, the judge will move around behind the dog to check the straightness of the front. This motion might cause your dog to finish early. On the Broad Jump, the judge will be closer due to the nature of the exercise.

In Utility, the judge is typically at a distant on the Signal Exercise finish; moving in on the Scent Discrimination fronts, moving from behind you to behind the dog on the Directed Retrieve front, and moving from somewhere either behind you or off to one side on the Directed Jumping fronts.

A crucial step in dealing with anticipated finishes is to always be prepared to catch your dog anticipating a finish. Do NOT simply stand there and let him complete it! Catch him with a foot or your hand. Turn your body away to prevent completion. You need to recreate an error in order to fix it. With a really severe problem that seems to only crop up in the ring, sacrifice a Q and catch him in the ring. The day after Treasure finished her UDX (she earned legs 6-10 all in a row), she started to go right to heel on the drop on recall, a problem that had cropped up too frequently in the recent past to ignore it. I don't remember exactly how I stopped her, but I did, and that one small correction mostly cured her of doing auto-finishes.

Fronts take a long time to perfect. Adding the hold of a dumbbell, scent article, or glove to the front typically decreases accuracy initially. Think about it from your dog's point of view. He needs to think about not only where to sit, but also about holding onto the item he's carrying as he executes the sit. I can still picture my first Flat-Coat Tramp's early attempts to front while holding a dumbbell. Her nose was to one side, her rear curled around to the same side. She did hold well, though :-). When my younger FCR, Ty, first started to front with a dumbbell, her fronts were very crooked, and she'd hold her nose in the air, chomping away on the dumbbell while swinging her head from side to side. Ack! Not exactly the picture we're aiming for. Her typical rear-to-my-left sit has been decreasing while training for and showing in Novice. It has reappeared as we've been working on her retrieves. She's just not yet able to adjust her front and remember to grip the dumbbell correctly. I still have to help her quite a bit.

Once you have narrowed down when your dog is most likely to skip a front, you should start to proof that exercise more heavily. The following proofs are from The Art of Proofing: Preparing Your Dog For Obedience Trials, my newest book:

Work fronts:
  • Past odds and ends on the floor, such as sticky dots, hair balls, or scraps of paper.
  • With a person standing nearby, first behind you, then to one side, then the other.
  • With a person walking up behind your dog as he comes into his front. This can happen on any recall. This can cause automatic finishes, which means your dog does a finish without a cue from you. Make sure your dog cannot only front well enough with someone nearby, but can also stay in his front sit until you cue the finish. If he starts to finish without a cue, don't let him complete it-mark the error verbally and turn in place with him or block him with a hand or a foot.
  • With someone dropping a toy nearby when your dog is 6-8 feet from you. This can cause your dog to skip his front. You want him to keep his focus on you all the way into his sit in front.
  • With a person walking all around you as your dog fronts. A lot of dogs are especially startled by someone walking out from behind their handler, which often happens when a dog is returning to a front from a glove retrieve on the Utility Directed Retrieve, or after jumping during the Utility Directed Jumping.
  • With your dog holding a dumbbell, scent article, or glove. A dog's ability to front accurately often deteriorates when he holds something in his mouth.
  • While standing off to the side, so that your dog has to "find front." The farther your dog is from straight in-line with you, the harder this becomes. Most dogs are better at straightening their front from one side than the other, so you should spend more of your training time teaching your dog to master his harder side.
  • With an object or a person blocking your dog's path. Start 6-8' away from the object at first. When he can adjust himself into a straight front properly, move closer to the distraction.
  • With a toy or a cookie-loaded target behind your dog. If he is a thief, you'll need a helper or a leash to prevent him from cheating and stealing the treat early. Instead of stopping in front with his back to the toy or target, your dog might do an automatic finish, going right to heel position so he can see where the toy or target is. When your dog successfully fronts, you can release him to the toy or treat as a reward. This is a great concept to teach young dogs in preparation for later Drop on Recall and Signal training and proofing.
  • With your back near a baby gate or a wall.
  • Standing at a 45 degree angle to a wall or gate.
  • Leave your dog on a sit stay across from another person. Go stand to one side of that person-you are off center from your dog-and call your dog. Does he come to you or the other person? This is particularly important to work on with small dogs, who may not look up as high on your body as larger dogs. This becomes extra challenging if your helper dresses in clothes and shoes that are similar to your own.
  • Alternate between a call to heel (like the finish on the Moving Stand from Utility) with a call to front.

With Rio, I also resorted to tossing a treat or toy as he was coming to me, especially after jumping. You might prefer to have someone else do the tossing for you.

Given enough time and training, most dogs can learn to front with accuracy and consistency. Good luck!

Until next time, happy training!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Designing Retriever Training Set-Ups seminar

I attended Mitch White's Designing Retriever Training Set-Ups 2-day workshop in Frazeysburg, Ohio over the past weekend. When I attended his 3-day Advanced Handling workshop in June 2008, one of my favorite exercises was when Mitch had each of us design a mark that we thought would challenge our own dog. We needed to be able to explain why we thought it would challenge our dog. I acknowledge that what I know about designing marks could fill about a 2 page book. At least I know what I don't know. When I heard about this new workshop, I knew I had to sign up.

Helen Szostak (breeder of all of my Flat-Coated Retrievers) and I left Ann Arbor Friday afternoon with Gryffin, Ty, Wrigley (Gryff's sister), Vega (Ty's sister), and puppy Stevie (Ty & Vega's niece) all stuffed into my minivan.

The weather gods smiled upon us. While the mornings were cool, it was bright and sunny most of both days, requiring participants to shed the layers of clothing we all had to start out each day wearing.

The seminar started with a discussion of marking principles. Mitch then broke up the participants into 4 teams of 5 people. Our assignment: design a mark that could be run by different level dogs, with an explanation of what we thought the challenges were and what we thought dogs would do. Our group took some time to come to a consensus but finally did. I got to run my group's mark with Ty, my younger dog. None of the dogs who ran our mark did quite what our group thought they would. Guess that's a big part of why we attended the workshop!

Saturday afternoon started with discussion of "elements" (factors, diversions, or hazards) and how the different types of elements effect a dog's ability to get to a bird, whether for a mark or a blind. Our next assignment was to design a mark and a blind. Our group thought (incorrectly) that the mark and blind would be run as a pair. I discovered that I have a much better sense of how to design a blind than a mark. Only two of our group of five had much experience with blinds, so we kind of took charge :-). Another group designed a blind that was quite similar to ours, and I got to run theirs with Gryffin. He hadn't run a blind since early September. On the whole, I was very happy with the results. He was a bit rusty, but I could see that our summer's worth of training was not in vain. While I still don't think we're ready to run Master in the first half of 2009, I do think both of moved in the right direction. I think I'm more confident in my timing of handling on blinds, and Gryffin isn't fighting with me and trying to take charge nearly as much as he was in the spring.

We finished the afternoon with each group designing one more blind. Gryffin did a nice job on his final blind, which had very few elements until the end. According to that blind's designers, he responded just like they predicted :-).

On Sunday, we met at the Woodbury Wildlife Area near Coshocton (I hope I have the name right). We started with a discussion of the many different Marking Concepts, including converging marks (where both marks are thrown towards each other) and hip pocket marks (both marks thrown in same direction, with one thrown fairly close - "in the hip pocket" - to the other one). Then each of four new groups got a different assignment - to design a pair of marks based on one of the marking concepts. It was interesting to note how much more rapidly we all got down to the work of designing our marks, even though we had new teams. The terrain at Woodbury provided a great number of challenges for the dogs, and very few were immediately successful when the marks were run.

Mitch set up a double and a blind that were both full of challenges. Before he ran one of his master dogs (Charm) on them, he had us describe what we saw as the challenges of both the marks and the blind, and what we expected to happen.

Next, we moved down the road to another location. Our assignment: design a pair of marks (two groups did converging marks, two did hip-pockets) and a blind. The marks had to be <= 100 yds, the blind <= 50 yds. Given the location of the line that Mitch gave us, it didn't leave many options for the blind, so we decided on that first. We had to do a hip-pocket, and made use of one big clump of bushes for the closer gun station, and various smaller bushes for where the marks should land. I got to run Gryffin on my group's marks. His rustiness came through, and he needed help on his memory bird.

I look forward to using my new found knowledge, though I won't be doing too much field training over the coming weeks. I also look forward to working with Mitch more in the future.

If you get a chance to attend one of Mitch's workshops, sign up FAST. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Quiet Weekend

I spent the weekend at home, having failed to get into the Sportsmen's trial today that I entered. Dratted mail!

I did hear that Raissa Hinman and Aura finished their CDX today, Mary Kuhns and Caitlin won the Novice A class with an impressive 196 and earned their first Excellent Rally leg, and Nancy Stein and Reuben earned their 2nd Novice leg today.

Earlier this week, I started teaching Joker a stand signal for Utility. This is harder than with the other dogs I've taught one to, since I never taught him a solid kick-back stand for Novice or Rally. He does seem to be catching on already. The part that confuses him is he thinks any hand presented needs to be nose-touched. Using the leash to hold him back seems to be helping. Another Utility exercise we are working on his Directed Jumping. I'm really not sure when he learned how to do such nice go-outs, but with a visible target and two sticks to make a chute at the end, he's doing full-length go-outs with a great sit at the end. I've even started combining a go-out with some jumps. We did a two-target marking game today. I think that's the first time he's ever done marking with two targets. He seems to have the concept pretty well. And he's done several sit stays (after failing both at last weekend trials).

With Ty, I've been working on her drop on recall. She's finally understanding dropping at the bar from a sit stay with us 50 feet apart. I figure I'll go to 2 bars the next time we train it. She's also doing pretty decent Directed Jumping. Her sit at the end is loopier than I like, so I narrowed her chute to try to tighten it up. She used to have a very loopy sit out in the field, so it isn't that surprising. We also drilled some finishes. Her left finish via a signal is still the most consistent.

Gryffin is also in sit-stay boot camp. He doesn't really seem to have the concept that front foot movement is BAD, so that's what I'm working to help him understand. I am seeing some improvement, though I haven't gone out of sight much this week. We've also done some go-out sit proofing, with toys to either side of the go-out spot. Today, we worked some DOR with a bar, just to remind him about stopping promptly.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Art of Praise

In last month’s wonderful, new, glossy-paper issue of Front & Finish magazine, there were several articles discussing how to avoid the trap that using food to train your dog can create. It’s not that training with food is bad. It’s what some trainers do with food that is the problem, such as failing to wean away from excessive food; depending on the food to get the performance that they like and want from their dog; handing out a treat for a really lousy effort on the part of the dog; failing to build a solid relationship with the dog that is separate from treats; etc. Here were all of these articles in the same issue, addressing a topic near and dear to my heart. This got me thinking about and paying attention to how much food I was using while training the three dogs I’m currently working. They are Gryffin, my 5 year old neutered male Flat-Coated Retriever, who as of this past weekend has 4 UDX legs and 51 OTCh. points; Ty, my 3 year old intact female Flat-Coated Retriever, who just finished her CD; and Joker, a 7 year old neutered male Border Terrier who was purchased as a pet for our son when said son was 12. Since said son is off at college and his dog loves to train, Joker gets to play some, too. I’m looking for Open legs on him. Our four recent attempts netted no legs, with the biggest issue going down on his sit stay.

The Flat-Coats are both fanatical retrievers, so I use toys a fair amount in my training in addition to food. Flat-Coated Retrievers are supposed to have a wagging tail; the breed standard says so :-). Having a tail-wagging FCR isn’t such a surprise. But Gryff wags when he sits in front. He wags on his finishes. Almost anytime he sits, his tail is sweeping the floor. If it’s still, I can usually get it moving with some praise.

Joker the Border Terrier loves treats – I have yet to meet a BT that doesn’t – but he also seems to be overjoyed at the chance to Do Something and get attention and petting. He loves to leap in the air to touch his nose to my palm. When I praise him and pet him, his tail wags, his body wiggles, his facial expression seems to say, “This is just the best!” It is sure reinforcing to me when he responds this way and it makes our training time together fun.

One of the topics I encourage my beginning students to explore is how their dog likes to be praised and/or petted. I think it is important to find out through trial and error what works to calm your dog and what excites him. This is ideally something you do without involving lots of cookies. Some dogs are calmed by a stroke on their head. Others get excited by this. When I was showing my BT Java in Novice, I got in the habit of bending down and patting him gently on his left side before the start of the Heel Free (off-leash heeling) exercise. If I do that with Ty, she immediately releases herself and wiggles all over. She quickly taught me that patting her is just plain dumb right before the start of an exercise. Instead, I use some quiet praise to let her know I liked the setup she just did.

About the closest thing to cuddling Gryffin can do is when he’s sitting in heel position. I reach down and quietly stroke him on the top of his head or scratch him around his left ear. It helps to calm him some. He likes to walk through my legs front to rear and have me scratch him in front of his tail, on the top of his rear end. I can do this very rapidly in the ring, especially Utility when articles or gloves are being picked up, and then proceed promptly to the next exercise. Some dogs enjoy it if you pinch their butt. Others hate it. Some like to have you play-grab at their feet. Others are offended by this. Try a variety of what I call “pushy-shovey” games to find out what works with your dog and what doesn’t. Some dogs are fickle enough to like something one day and be irritated by it the next. Java was like that. He forced me to try something new frequently.

I’d also suggest that you simply stand with your hands off your dog and praise him. How does he react? Does he wag his tail? Do his eyes brighten? Or does he ignore you and wander away? Obviously, different dogs and different breeds will react in a variety of way to praise. Our two BT’s react differently from each other. Java has always been the most serious of our dogs. It takes more effort on my part to get him to cut loose and really wag his tail. Joker definitely lives up to his name and is generally sillier than Java.

Years ago, I was working with someone in a private lesson. When she released her dog, she would grab at the dog’s face. Based on how the dog reacted – backing away and trying to avoid the grabbing – the dog found this unpleasant. I took the dog to experiment some with different types of releasing. When I gently pinched and prodded the dog in the ribs, she bounced back in an upbeat sort of way. The rib prodding energized her. The head grabbing did not. When the dog’s owner changed how she released and played with her dog, her dog responded by bouncing back and interacting instead of avoiding her owner.

In my essay Musings on Entering the Ring, I talked about the Setup Game, where you practice moving around the training area/ring, working towards getting your dog to sit in heel position promptly and correctly. Mix this game together with praising and releasing. Practice the two together. After a smartly done set up, praise with enthusiasm, give your dog a little push away from you (or a big one, if he likes it), and dash off to the next set up spot. If your dog likes to spin, cue him to do so, and race away and get him to chase you.

It always strikes me as oxymoronish to say, “Work at playing with your dog,” but sometimes that’s what it takes. Keep experimenting. If you’ve tried something for a while and you aren’t seeing an improved response from your dog, try something else. Have fun and eventually, so will your dog.

Until next time, happy training!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Setting Training Goals

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a goal-setter. I wouldn’t have the training building in my back yard if I wasn’t. My dogs wouldn’t have advanced titles, nor would I have finished several other long-term projects over the years. Although goal setting is not for everyone, it is for me, and I’d like to share some of how I use goals to achieve what I have with my dogs in the various title-earning venues in which I’ve participated.

One of the wonderful aspects of obedience is the title progression. While there are certainly success stories of someone finishing an OTCh. (Obedience Trial Champion) title in 2-3 weekends, this is far from the norm. For most of us, getting to a UD (Utility Dog) title or beyond is a multiple-year project.

When I am helping someone new, I usually ask her what goal(s) she is aiming for. If she hasn’t titled a dog before, this will be harder to answer, but I like to know what would satisfy her in terms of a title level and a score level. Say she says that she would like to earn a CD on her 7 year old Golden Retriever and she would be thrilled to get a score above 190. Since she’s starting with a middle-aged (or beyond) dog, and she hasn’t done a lot of training, getting this particular dog trained all the way to the Utility level probably isn’t a realistic goal because of the dog’s age. So we concentrate on the Novice exercises and work on her handling so that she’s not losing points for handler errors. We work to eliminate as many substantial deductions (those of 3 points or more) as possible, but don’t focus as much on the little errors. We might introduce the retrieve and jumping if the dog is physically able to add some variety and spice to their training.

If someone comes to me with their new puppy and tells me their goal is an OTCh. title, my first and foremost goal is to help them build a very strong foundation with attention to critical details, including solid attention, excellent heeling, accurate position changes, solid stays, fast recalls, and retrieving and jumping skills. While I do stress these details in my early competition classes, not everyone tunes into them nor is everyone interested in these exacting details.

I set four different kinds of goals with my dogs: lifetime, annual, monthly, and weekly. Sometimes I write them down, sometimes they are just a flexible list in my head. I do try to revisit these goals regularly to revise as needed.

Lifetime goals: what titles do I hope to earn during this dog’s lifetime?

These are the dream big, shoot-for-the-moon goals. These might be goals that you want to share only with yourself and your best friend, but it really helps if you share these with your instructor!

If my dog is of good quality for his breed, an AKC breed championship is one of my goals. When I get a new dog, I aim for obedience titles of OTCh. (Obedience Trial Championship, a title I’ve earned on 2 Flat-Coated Retrievers and 2 terriers so far) and a UDX (Utility Dog eXcellent). With my three most recent obedience title-earners, they first earned rally titles. In the past, I’ve earned Tracking Dog titles and agility titles. With my recent Flat-Coats, I’ve added advanced field titles as a goal. Gryffin earned my first ever Junior & Senior Hunter titles. I have a goal of a Master Hunter for him. Having never attempted this title before, I’m still a bit overwhelmed by the requirements. Will we achieve that goal? I can’t say, but we’re having a lot of fun aiming for it.

Annual goals: what titles and training goals do I hope to achieve in the next twelve months?

These goals tend to be more concrete. I have to look at what the rest of my life looks like for that time period and when I can attend trials. While we are blessed with a huge number of trials in my area (southeast Michigan), I don’t like to trial every weekend, so I pick and choose dependent on several factors. These include judges, trial site, host club, and what other time commitments I have. I have a pretty good sense at this point in my training life when a dog is ready to qualify. It is always something of a gamble when we start to show a new dog - we are dealing with dogs, after all! I spend far more time training than trialing, and I look at trials as a test of our day-to-day training. When some error crops up once in a trial, I make note of it, but don’t get hysterical over it. But if it happens in another trial not long after, then it becomes more of a focus in my training. If a trial goes well, I think back over my recent training and continue along that path. If I start having breakdowns in performance, I might focus on those particular exercises that didn’t go well. I might also have to make a major course correction with a particular dog.

Monthly goals: what do I need to do this month to advance towards our annual and lifetime goals?

These goals might include something like “Train in at least one new location each week,” “Attend a fun match,” “Get started on Scent Discrimination.” For my dogs, I have been focusing on finishes for all 3 that I’m training, and in a recent trial, I saw some excellent effort on finishes from each dog. Were they all perfect? Nope! But they were very much improved, and that’s what I want to see.

Weekly goals: what do I want to accomplish this week to advance my monthly goals?

I might pick 2-3 weaknesses for a given dog or in my handling and really focus in on those exercises or portions of exercises. In the advanced classes, there are several critical components: heeling, fronts, finishes, recall speed, retrieves, stays. You need to make sure that your foundation on each of these remains strong enough to satisfy your goals. I almost always work some heeling when I have more than just a couple of minutes for training. This is the most important exercise for building and maintaining teamwork, and just like working out, it requires regular sessions for you and your dog to stay in tune with each other.

Occasionally in my advanced proofing classes, we make a list. Anyone who wants to join in writes their name and their dog’s name on the list and includes 2-3 goals to focus on for the week. This is a voluntary thing, but usually those who participate make some good progress by doing this.

I stole a wonderful idea from Margie English several years ago. She described how she went about improving her dog’s scores to work towards an OTCh. title. She kept track of her dog’s scores on each exercise in Open and Utility and then worked on the areas or exercise that were most consistent point-losers. Often the difference between winning or getting OTCh. points is only .5 to 2 points, so if you can shave off that much, you can earn OTCh. points. After showing my Border Terrier Java in both Open B and Utility B one weekend with so-so results, I did some counting. We had to do 22 finishes over the 4 classes, and he lost a 1/2 point on all but 3 of the 22 (I know this because I almost always go over my score sheet with the judge to be sure I know where we lost the points). So we lost 8.5 points on just finishes over the course of the weekend. Sure enough, when he finally started being straight more often than crooked on his finishes, his scores went up enough that he finished his OTCh. My OTCh. Australian Terrier Rio was the same way with fronts - once he started doing those more consistently, he finished his OTCh. title.

So start thinking about what are realistic goals for you and your current dog(s), jot them down for later review, and get training.

Until next time, happy training.

How I Use Matches to Prepare for a Trial

I'd like to discuss how to use practice matches to help prepare you and your dog for a trial. My experience is primarily with obedience and rally matches, but you can take this same approach at an agility match or a field training set up.

When I first started in obedience in the mid-1980's, a rule of thumb that is still valuable today was this: when you can participate in 3 different fun matches with your dog under similar conditions to what you will be showing under in an obedience/rally/agility trial (similar levels of distractions, no food in the ring, no special collars, no extra props) and pass all of the exercises at your current level with scores and performances from you and your dog that satisfy you, then you are ready to enter a real trial.

When I was preparing to show my first dog, Casey, in Novice A, I didn't really understand how to use matches. I used them as a test rather than as part of my training progression. I went in the ring to "see where we were" and being a newbie at the game, was wrapped up tight in a bundle of nerves and anxiety. Neither my dog nor I did very well at any of the three matches I entered before our first AKC Novice A obedience trial. I was learning ring procedure while trying to teach it to my little dog. That's one of the hardest parts of training your Novice A dog - it's like the blind leading the blind. So what have I learned over the years since those early, poorly-used matches?

Before I ever start entering my inexperienced puppy or dog for a run-through at a match, I start taking him along with me and my older dog(s) on road trips as soon as it's practical to do so. I have shown most of my dogs in conformation, which helps them get used to the dog show scene with much less pressure for performance put on them. It doesn't hurt that I can take food and toys into the conformation ring. This gives them a fine early imprint that the ring can be a great place to be.

When I take my inexperienced dog along with me, I walk him around the grounds, letting him meet people and see the sights. I set up a crate for him so that he can get used to resting at a busy trial. If he's far enough along in his training, I work on some voluntary attention work. I encourage my dog to play with me (I confess that getting my dogs to play other places is one of my weaknesses as a trainer) and to perform any silly tricks he's learned. Nothing very long or demanding, just laying the foundation that when he goes to a new place, we do some stuff together.

I am fortunate to live in an area of the country (SE MIchigan) where there are many clubs and training schools. This means that with some effort on my part, I can get my dog to many different training buildings for practice, whether simply renting floor time to train or attending a fun match.

As my new dog progresses in his training, I will start asking a friend to follow us around the training area while I work on heeling. I might ask for her to call commands, but I don't necessarily respond to her commands. I want to see how my dog handles having a person nearby while we train. I start putting different heeling components together and as I see my dog able to handle these different parts when training on our own, I ask my friend to call a pattern for us. When we can do this with some reliability in day-to-day training, I will then enter a match.

I still remember taking Treasure (Ch. OTCh. U-UD Grousemoor Forget Me Not UDX OA OAJ WC; Can UD) to her first match. Unlike my more recent dogs, I trained her consistently in obedience from when she came home at 8 weeks old. She was 13 months old and just learning halts – I think she'd had about 10 days of training on them – when we attended our first match. During the on-leash pattern, I asked the "judge" to skip calling halts. I used extra verbal commands (this is how I teach my dogs to heel) as she needed them. She did well enough during that first pattern that I added some halts during the second heeling pattern. I kept the leash attached, even though in a trial it is supposed to be off leash. I knew my dog wasn't ready for off-leash heeling, so we didn't try.

When you enter a match, especially the first several times, remember to expect less from your dog than what you can get from him in a familiar location, especially if it is much busier at the match than your dog is used to. One thing to be careful of is that you don't suddenly start correcting your dog more at the match than you do where you normally train. Too much of this will sour your dog on new places instead of building his desire to work with you in a new place.

During your run-through, if something goes wrong, ask for a do-over of that part. Maybe you are doing the Novice Stand for Exam and, as you return around your dog, he turns sideways. I would at the very least mark the error with my verbal correction, and do it over. If a 2nd or 3rd try doesn't fix the problem, I move on, but make a mental note that I need to work harder on that particular part.

If your dog errs in an unexpected way, pay attention to where the judge was in relation to your dog or what was going on nearby, and try to recreate the error in training. For example, dogs are often really surprised in Open when the judge is nearby and walks in close behind the dog as he comes into his sit in front of his handler. One of my dogs finds it overwhelming to retrieve his dumbbell if someone is standing nearby, so it is something we continue to practice.

Another important ingredient to explore at practice matches is time. How long does your dog need to be at a busy place before he can focus enough to work? Does crating him in the building create the right desire or is keeping him in your vehicle better? If it's possible, I usually crate mine inside when I'm doing obedience, rally, or conformation, though they are now used to a lot of time in my van at hunt tests and field training outings.

How long does it take to "air" your dog? Does he need some way to blow off steam before getting down to work? At most trial sites, there isn't anywhere to let dogs off leash to run. I know some people who take along a bike or a scooter to give their dog some exercise before going in the ring. I've gone out with a retriever bumper with my dog on a flexi-leash to give him a chance to run a bit.

How much warm-up time does your dog need? What sorts of warm-up works the best? I personally always do some rhythm heeling to warm us both up and help calibrate our attention and teamwork. I do some fronts and finishes and general position maneuvers. I'll add more components to our heeling (turns, halts, pace changes). If I'm going into Novice, I do a Stand for Exam. If I'm going into Open, I might do a short, on-leash retrieve and possibly a short drop. For Utility, I add on glove turns, signals on a 6-foot leash, possibly a moving stand, possibly an article retrieve or two (my current dog, Gryffin, seems to benefit from this). With my terriers in particular, I have to be very careful to not use too much food in warm up, because this dramatically illustrates the lack of food in the ring to a dog who you have shown a lot. If you can give the majority of your treats inside the ring at a practice match, you can increase your dog's desire to get into and stay in the ring.

Over time, my goal is to make our time in a match ring as much like a trial as possible. I reduce and eventually eliminate extra commands, props, and any treats during the performance. I don't correct every little mistake. I feel it's critical for you to let some minor mistakes go by to make sure your dog can recover and get back on track, because you know what? You are going to both make mistakes! If something happens in a match that would be an NQ (non-qualifying score) such as a failure to drop on the Drop on Recall or a substantial deduction (3+ points off) such as an automatic finish, I do correct that and repeat the exercise if possible.

Fun matches are a great place to figure out some of these ingredients and to fix problems that crop up when you start to compete in trials. Use them wisely. There aren't any matches in your area? Organize one! If everyone brings their equipment, whether jumps or ring gates, you can simulate a trial.

Until next time, happy training.


The common definition of a fun match is an event at which you can practice competing with your dog, but doesn't earn you scores towards any title.

There are AKC Sanctioned Matches, which a club must hold under AKC rules in order to show the AKC that the club is ready to hold an actual trial. Back when I was first training, there were several of these a year in my area of the country, and at least in the Novice A classes, there were trophies given out and you were scored.

There are also so-called Show 'n Go matches, which I believe were named that because there weren't any prizes, so there was no need to stay around and wait for the end of the class - you just showed and could leave.

Musings on Entering the Ring

[I started writing essays recently. This was the first. I am distributing them using Constant Contact. You may sign up to receive them "hot off the keyboard" by going to the Northfield website and clicking on the "Join our Free email list" link. I plan to archive the essays here.]

I judged Rally recently. After judging a lot in 2007, this was the first assignment in 2008 for me and the first under the Rally Regulation changes that came into effect in January 2008. In thinking about judging over the past several months, I haven't been sure that I even want to judge all that much. And then, about a month ago, I found out that I would be judging outside. Oh, yippee! Two weeks ago was the all-weekend monsoon rain, and sure enough, I showed outside. Fortunately, just in conformation. But it made me think a lot about how various types of weather might cause difficulties to Rally exhibitors outdoors. Okay, no downs (if judging was in the early morning, the grass would be wet from dew; or worse, there might be puddles somewhere). Use as few sits as possible. Don't do any fasts you don't have to. Judging in the afternoon sun? Have the honor dog do a down stay. It did make for some different course design decisions than judging indoors.

So, to the point of this essay: entering the ring. I've competed in a large variety of dog sports: obedience, conformation, tracking, rally, agility, and hunt tests. In each sport, there is a point at which you "enter the ring" for the judge(s) to start the judging process. That entry is often the first impression the judge has of you and your dog. I can still remember entering the Utility A ring with my first dog, little 10-lb Australian Terrier Casey. I'd take off her leash and the judge would measure her (this was back in the days when judges measured all dogs in Open and Utility). Then we would proceed to the start of the Signal Exercise. But we didn't often proceed as a team. I'd lead and Casey would trail behind, sometimes multiple feet behind, eventually catching up to me. In looking back on those ring entrances, I can't imagine how she would then actually manage to heel with me, but she did. Not brilliantly, but passing.

When judging at my recent Rally assignment, there was generally a direct correlation with how a dog and handler entered the ring and how much of a team they were through the course. The dogs that came in sniffing the grass and needing to be begged to sit at the start (some handlers didn't even bother with a sit, which is allowable in Rally) mostly continued to do so during the course. They weren't a team. Then there were the teams that came in together, with the dog focused on the handler, sitting promptly by the start sign. They mostly proceeded through the course with the same style they would have if we'd been inside on mats.

It all comes down to attention and practice, practice, practice. In my obedience classes, we practice this in several ways. We set up sections of baby gates, and work on going through the opening in the gates and moving varying distances from that opening to a set up spot. Sometimes we use the Racing Game - run from entrance to set up spot. This can energize a lackadaisical dog. Sometimes we turn to the left, sometimes to the right. We also do the Setup Game. I use round rubber disks (PolySpots I bought from Wolverine Supply) that I've numbered from 1-12. I place these in a big square around the training area, usually with at least 12-15 feet in between. Each disk is strategically placed so that you have to set up in a different direction than the previous one. Sometimes you set up in the direction you were already going. Sometimes you need to be 90 degrees to the left or to the right, sometimes 180 degrees around. The goal is to get your dog set up in heel position so that you can read the number on the polyspot right side up. I like to see handlers get their dogs lined up straight before asking for the sit. This takes practice and more practice. It takes the dog paying attention to the handler and the handler planning the best path for their team to set up smoothly. If I need to do a 90 degree left turn on a set up, I often move to the right a few feet before turning left for the setup. When you practice this exercise, figure out which direction produces the best and most efficient setup for you and your dog. Work on the weaker directions, but plan to use the best ones when you are in front of a judge. You can't plan if you don't know which direction produces the best setup.

Agility handlers should be practicing getting to the start line, removing the leash and having their dog on whichever side is best for that particular course. If you have a dog who is highly distracted by the previous team finishing their course, practice your ring entries first by yourself until you and your dog are an efficient team. Then add a person running nearby. Then add a person and a dog running.

Field dogs need to know how to move out of the last holding blind to the line. At the Junior level, this can be on leash, but judges do want to see some control here! My OTCh. Flat-Coated Retriever, Treasure, was a superb heeling dog in the obedience ring. Put her out in a field with guns and birds... forget it! She dragged me to the line, determined to get there as fast as possible. Because I wasn't that serious about my hunt test training at the time, I didn't rehearse the correct behavior for going from holding blind to the line enough in practice for it to be a well-established habit. Again, this takes practice, and a lot of it, under increasingly test-like conditions.

Each time I train one of my dogs, I try to find at least one setup to praise and treat. The setup is a behavior I want to keep sharp and valuable to my dogs, and so every so often, when I get a setup that is particularly quick and smart for that dog, I tell him he's right, sometimes give a treat, sometimes even break off for a game. When I go to a practice match, I again try to reward at least one well-done setup while in the ring. When I'm in a trial, I recognize a good set up with quiet praise.

Whatever your sport, learn what the setups need to be, and practice, practice, practice!

Until next time, happy training!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Marshbanks Golden Retriever Club's 2008 Obedience & Rally Trials

There is so much to write about, it's hard to know where to start! There were lots and lots of legs and titles earned this weekend at the Marshbanks obedience & rally trials by many different folks!

I'm happy to report I was 6 for 8. The 2 NQ's were Joker going down on his sit stay in Open B both days. Dang, guess we need to train a lot more sit stays. I can't say retrain since I confess to very little work with him on stays. Ty was 2nd in Novice yesterday for her 3rd leg and CD title with her 3rd 198. Gryffin got his 3rd UDX leg, with a 2nd in Utility for 9 OTCh. points. Today, Ty had a 195 (we lost 2 points for moving feet on her SFE) and 3rd place. Gryffin lost a runoff for 2nd in Utility with a 196.5, got 2 more OTCh. points for that, and got 2nd place in Open B with a 198, for 3 more points. He's got 51 points now, and earned his 4th UDX leg and his very first High Combined! What a difference a week makes!

I want to say a huge thank you to Corinne Williams, who rounded up a fabulous bunch of ring stewards. And thanks to all of you who stewarded who are reading this!

High in Trial on Saturday was Kathy Sweet and her Brittany Vanna out of Open B with a 198.5.
High Combined was Laura Romanik and her Sheltie Flare.
High in Trial on Sunday was Marcia Johnson and her Golden Saber out of Open B with a 199.
High Combined was Adele Yunck and Gryffin.

Here are the very impressive total of legs, Q's, and titles from NDT trainers. Nice going, everyone!

Class Name Dog Leg/title Score Placement
Rally Nov B
Helen Szostak Vega 2nd leg 97 2nd place

Rally Adv A
Barb Farrah Vegas 2nd leg? 99 1st place
Mary Kuhns Caitlin 1st leg 2nd place
Brenda Reimer Liza 1st leg 4th place
Kim Hundley Obie 1st leg?
Judy Bocklage Tally 2nd leg

Rally Adv B
Barb Farrah Oscar 98 1st place
Georgette Holst Esme 3rd leg RA

Rally Exc A
Dani Noto Gamble 3rd leg RE 97 1st place

Rally Exc B
Patty Boist Max 3rd leg RE 93 4th place

Novice A
Judy Bocklage Tally 2nd leg 191 1st place
Mary Kuhns Caitlin bonus leg 190 2nd place

Novice B
Jackie Takas & Monty 3rd leg CD 198.5 1st place High in Golden Specialty
Adele Yunck & Ty 3rd leg CD 198 2nd place
Barb Farrah & Vegas 2nd leg 197.5 3rd place
Nancy Stein & Reuben 1st leg

Open A
Linda Grzywacz Promise 2nd leg 197 1st place
Raissa Hinman Aura 1st leg 196.5 2nd place
Lynaia Bermann Lexi 2nd leg 194.5 4th place
Jay Mahler Golda 2nd leg
Belinda Tantalo Daisy 1st leg
Kay Braddock Hank 1st leg
Kathy Knol Casper 3rd leg CDX

Open B
Shelley Devereaux Gena 196.5
Belinda Venner Sparta 194
Adele Yunck Gryffin 3rd UDX leg 193
Eveyln Morga Ember 7th UDX leg 193

Utility A
Mercedes True Max 2nd leg 197 3rd place

Utility B
Adele Yunck Gryffin UDX leg #3 196 2nd place 9 OTCh. Points
Jay Mahler Sadie 185
Eveyln Morga Ember UDX leg #7 189

Rally Adv A
Barb Farrah Vegas 3rd leg RA 98 1st place
Mary Kuhns Caitlin 2nd leg ?
Judy Bocklage Tally 3rd leg RA 96 3rd place
Kim Hundley Obie 2nd leg 88
Deanne Matthews 94

Rally Adv B
Barb Farrah Oscar 98 1st place

Rally Exc A
Dani Noto Gamble 97 1st place

Rally Exc B
Patty Boyst Max 95 2nd place

Novice A
Mary Kuhns Caitlin bonus leg 188 1st place

Novice B
Jackie Takas Monty bonus leg 198.5 1st place
Barb Farrah Vegas 3rd leg CD 196 2nd place
Adele Yunck Ty bonus leg 195 3rd place

Open A
Raissa Hinman Aura 2nd leg 195.5 1st place
Linda Grzywacz Promise 3rd leg CDX 194? 3rd place?
Jay Mahler Golda 3rd leg CDX
Belinda Tantalo Daisy 2nd leg 4th place

Open B
Adele Yunck Gryffin 4th UDX leg 198 2nd place 3 OTCh points
Shelley Devereaux Gena 197

Utility A
Bonnie Hornfisher Becky 1st leg 183.5 2nd place
Mercedes True Max 3rd leg UD 182.5 3rd place

Utility B
Adele Yunck Gryffin 4th UDX leg 196.5 3rd place 2 OTCh points (He now has 51) High Combined
Eveyln Morga Ember 190

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ann Arbor Dog Training Club October 2008 Trials

I showed in obedience today at the Ann Arbor DTC's fall trial (I skipped yesterday for various reasons). This was my first time in the ring since July 4.

I started with Joker, my son's 7 year old Border Terrier. He was in Open for the first time, and because of me, had to be in Open B. We started with heeling, and when I said heel the first time, Joker galloped forward. Did he think he was retrieving? Who knows, but let's just say his heeling put a smile on the judge's face :-). Stellar it was not, but he did manage to keep recovering. When we got to the figure 8, he suddenly clicked and from then on, he did a very fine job (well, for him ), even doing very nicely on his fronts and finishes. Maybe not perfect but excellent for him. Sadly, his sit stay only lasted 2:45, so he didn't Q. Drat!

Next I showed Gryffin in Utility B. Except for some steps forward on the signal stand (I think we lost a point there), he did a fine job. Beautiful straight go-outs. Super article pick ups (one of his bugaboos). Ended up with 4th in the class with 196. Someone said that was good for 2 OTCh. points. We're inching along, now at 37.

Then it was Ty's turn in Novice B. She hasn't shown since April at the National. All week, I've been reminding her to BACK because she's been forging so much! She didn't surprise me with anything radically new, though she was not sitting on set-ups rapidly like she normally does. Dave Maurer was our judge, and he did something very kind, which I will sure remember when I judge. He asked if I was ready before the Figure 8, and just as I said ready, Ty started to scratch. He asked "Really?", I said "NO!", she finished scratching, I said "Ready!" and off we went. Very nice overall performance, fine stays. We were called in for a runoff against PJ Larson and her lovely Terv, who had won the class the day before with a 198.5 and had a very fine class today. Ty's runoff pattern was even better than her class patterns, and happily for me, we won the runoff and 1st place with a 198+.

It was finally Gryffin's time to do Open B. Gryffin has had a spotty record in Open, with only 6 Q's to his credit ever and a high score of 197. His last Open Q was nearly a year ago at the Marshbanks trial (granted we'd only shown in Open 2 more times, both NQ's). His class was very nice. Could he do his stays? He had Golden girls on either side, AND Dave Rugulski's Flat-Coat girl Sassy only one dog away. Hurray for him (and me :-)), he did do them, and earned his 2nd UDX leg. We were in what turned out to be a 3-way runoff for 3rd place, and ended up 5th, but he earned a 198.5, which just makes me smile :-D.

A bunch of NDT people got legs of various sorts. I apologize to anyone who I leave out, but I'll tell what my middle-aged brain remembers:

Friday in Rally:
Mary K and Caitlin 3rd place in Nov A for their first RN leg (not sure of the score)
Brenda R and Liza 3rd place in Nov B for their first RN leg 97
Nancy S and Asta 4th place in Nov B for their second RN leg 97 (and I know there were at least 2-3 more 97's, since I was table stewarding)
Barb F and Vegas 1st place in Adv A for their 1st RA leg 99
Sandy M and Tara 1st place in Exc A for their second RE leg 99
Kim H and Libby finished their RAE title
Barb F and Oscar did Adv B and Exc B (sorry, don't know scores, but I think at least one was a 1st place)

Mary K and Caitlin 1st place in Nov A for their first CD leg
Belinda V and Sparta earned their 1st UDX leg

Mary K and Caitlin 2nd place in Nov A for their second CD leg
Irene M and Sera 1st place Utility A for their first AKC UD leg
Mercedes and Max 3rd place (?) Utility A for their first UD leg
Alice J and Onyx 1st UD leg
Belinda V and Sparta earned their 2nd UDX leg (in the first 9 dogs in UB, they were the only ones who passed!)
Adele and Ty 1st place Novice B 198+ 2nd leg on her CD
Adele and Gryffin 2nd UDX leg, 4th in Utility B

Congratulations to everyone and to Ann Arbor DTC's trial committee for another fine set of trials.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wednesday field drills

My training partner Corinne and I went to a nearby hayfield today for some field training drills. The weather was picture perfect - coolish temps, sunny, and breezy.

We started out with a marking drill, an X drill. We set it up so that the dogs had to run across the side of a hill in order to hold their line to the mark, something that many dogs don't do very well. There were also some gentle up and down - sort of a roller coaster effect. As I expected, Gryffin faded down the hill, which made him have to work harder to hunt up his bumper. Ty did a better job on the marks than he did.

Then we set up a blind drill: we set a pile of orange bumpers at about 100 yds/ We again set it up so the dogs would have to run along the side of a hill. We added a couple of chairs, one on either side of the line to the pile of bumpers. The chairs were about 60 yds from the line. We sent our dog to the pile for a retrieve, then added a mark from the left chair thrown to the left followed by another send to the pile. This gave the dog a double temptation to fade to the left (having just run to the left to retrieve the mark and having the hill sloping to the left). After that pair of retrieves, we did another mark thrown from the right chair across the line (so again throwing left).

I wasn't surprised by the results - Gryffin, who has the most experience, got more and more confident and speedy as we worked through the drill. He ended with a Poison Bird set - Corinne threw a mark from the right chair across the line to the pile, I stepped back, told him to "leave it," relined him up towards the pile, and then sent him to the pile. Once he completed that retrieve, then I let him retrieve the mark.

Corinne's two dogs did quite well, though they required some more handling than did Gryffin. Ty needed the most handling, but we muddled through. Since she's still very green in handling out in the field (as opposed to in my yard), I was pleased with the results.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Annual Interlochen Trek

We made our annual trek to Interlochen Band camp yesterday to listen to the Ann Arbor high school choirs and bands do their end-of-camp concert. Our older son Chris attended camp all 4 years he went to Pioneer and this was our younger son Ryan's 2nd year. The camp lasts from Tuesday to Monday, and it is stunning to hear what these young musicians and their teachers accomplish in such a short time.

We–Fritz, Chris, our four dogs, and I–left home at 9:00 AM. We are still learning to use our Garmin GPS, and hadn't programmed it to avoid dirt roads, so one of the final turns put us on a dirt road for many miles. That took up some extra time, darn it. We stopped for a very quick lunch, fed and walked the dogs, wolfed down lunch, and dashed to the Bowl for the concert. Ann Arbor's new Skyline high school will open this fall with only freshmen. Their choir led off the program. We arrived during their 3rd song and heard their 4th one. Their 13-member group did an outstanding job and got a standing ovation from many in the audience.

Huron's choir has always impressed me, and they didn't disappoint this year. Pioneer's choir was also wonderful. It was fun to hear them sing Sing Me To Heaven, which my choir, Women's Chamber Chorus, performed in the recent past.

Pioneer's band was once again outstanding. They played two songs, and the 2nd one, Africa, featured their large percussion section. It was simply fabulous! Ryan played gourd and marimba on this piece.

My brother and sister-in-law, Steve & Deb Burling, met their senior year at Pioneer, when they were stand partners in the clarinet section. They were on their way home from our family cabins in Ontario, and came to hear the concert - the first time they'd been back to Interlochen since the summer of 1970!

Once the concert was done, we moved over to the tennis court by the lake for Pioneer's marching demo. They explain the different marching components that the kids have learned during the week, then they do the Freshman 40, the Sophomore 40, the Junior 40, the Senior 40, and finally, the alumni 40. During the 40, the members, led by a drum major, march 40 yards down the court, with the percussionists bringing up the rear. This meant Ryan did each of the "40's." I was so engrossed in watching my brother join in the Alumni 40 (he was definitely the oldest alum out there - go, Steve!), I forgot to watch Chris. Sorry, son!

Next up was the drumline performances. Ryan will be in Symphony band this fall, so he moved up to the SB drumline, Conga. They rehearsed for many hours all summer long, and they gave a fabulous performance. I will put a link out (surely, someone will put it out on YouTube soon) when I get one. Ryan was in last year's Concert Band drumline, Ashiko's performance.

It was once again a great trip, albeit a long day. We didn't get home until 10:30, and then the Olympics sucked us in... I love it when they are on, but it does mean not enough sleep :-).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Field training @ Omega Farms

I spent the day at Omega Farms in Webberville, Michigan at the Marshbanks Golden Retriever Club's field training day. We started the day with Marshbanks member Al Hogan giving a review of how to operate a popper gun safely and how to use the Tangelo launchers.

Then we headed out to the so-called Heart Shaped Pond, site of one of the Senior tests we ran last year. It has quite a bit of grass growing out in the pond, which makes the dogs have to hunt some. We set up three stations, a medium-length one from the left side of the pond, a long one from the right shore and a short one also from the right shore. The two longer marks came from launchers, while the short one was hand-thrown.

I ran Gryffin first on a delayed triple, with the short right bumper as the memory bird. He retrieved the medium left mark, then after delivering that one, locked on to the memory bumper. The middle mark was thrown, and he noticed it about the time it splashed into the water. He completed the second and third retrieves in fine form. After his initially dismal marking at last weekend's Challenge, it was good to see him in good form.

I ran Ty on a single fro the left station and then a double with the short right mark as the memory mark. She did a fine job.

Once everyone had done the marks, some of us stayed and ran a few simple land marks through several cover strips, one of the great training features at Omega Farms. I set up 3 land blinds, which 3 of us ran. My friend and training partner Corinne William's two Tollers are really coming into their own on blinds, and Neon lined two of the blinds. I taught Ty one of the blinds (she's not quite to the cold blind stage, but moving closer to it), so that we could practice going across strips. She did great.

Al, Corinne, and I then went to another pond (the one closest to Bell Oak Rd) and set up a couple of water blinds. There was a brisk wind out of the west. Al and I ran one from the east side of the pond across a corner, across a dike of land and out into an area of tullies to the north. Gryff did a fine job, taking a great cast off the dike all the way to the blind. Then we ran one to the south side, one which I'd had huge problems with Gryff early last year. It's great to see how much he's improved since then :-).

What a great way to spend a summer day!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Raisin River Rhodesian Ridgeback Agility Trial Day 1

The Raisin River Rhodesian Ridgeback Club has 3 days of agility trials in my facility this weekend, with the first one today. It was the first agility trial on the "new" floor (installed May 2006).

Denise Tarby put together a great team who got the building looking sparkling clean on Thursday afternoon and evening. Great job, everyone!

Terri McCardell has been hard at work for several months making new jumps and wings, and the Excellent JWW course I watched this morning looked great.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2008 August vacation

I got home last night from a couple of weeks "up north." Following long-time family tradition, I spent about 5 days at my family's cabins in Ontario (east of Sault St. Marie), in the woods on a lake. We had mostly lovely weather, with a whiz-bang of a thunderstorm the afternoon we were leaving. Fortunately, it was over before we had to cross the lake. I got to spend time with 3 of my 4 cousins on my father's side of the family. We are 3rd generation, and our kids the 4th, and it is lovely to see the interaction and fun amongst that 4th generation. My 15 year old was the eldest of his generation there this year (his brother and older cousin were absent this year), down to my 5 year old "niece" (cousin's daughter).

We only took Gryffin along, to give my 82-year old, dog-hating father a break from my menagerie (I can't quite go there with NO dog). Our younger son had to be back last Friday for drumline practice, so we left the lake Thursday afternoon and stayed in the Canadian Soo that night. After breakfasting in St. Ignace, we (husband, son, father, and I) parted company, with the 3 guys heading back home and Gryffin and I heading back to Harrisville for field training. We'd stopped there for 3 blissful hours the Friday before, on our way north (the guys left Tuesday evening, but since I had to teach through Thursday night, and knew I'd be driving myself, figured I'd squeeze in a visit to the Amazing Technical Pond (ATP ) on the way. I wrote before about the 4th of July "Blind Retrieve Challenge" that I attended with Gryffin and came home from on cloud 9. Last weekend, they had a Marking Challenge, and I signed both dogs up. Fortunately, a friend from my general area was coming up, and bless her, she brought Ty along with her, saving me 4 hours of driving both ways. Ty had spent the 1st week with her breeder.

The owners of the ATP (Amazing Technical Pond), the Barbee's, have a large number of Bumper Boy remote launchers that were in use during the Challenge. Gryffin has seen these before, but he was really clueless about watching the launches over the weekend. It didn't help that a lot of the shells that produced the launch didn't work very well (nor did the wet weather help), and instead of firing with a loud bang and a super high launch, there would be this mild little "phfffffffft" noise and the bumper would go about 5 feet up (as opposed to 30 or more feet high). So we had several "no goes" (where he sat there with no idea what he was doing). He did get better as the weekend wore on, but it shows that our marking work has really been lacking this summer. He did a lot of excellent work on his blind retrieves, even lining a couple (needing no whistles/handling to get to the bumper).

Little Miss Ty just got better and better all weekend on her marking. There was one particular mark on Sunday that almost all of the dogs had trouble with. I had Chet, the guy who was running the launcher remote controls, all ready to launch another as she was on her way out, but she just kept going and going and going, disappeared over the ridge into the crater where the bumper was and reappeared moments later with the bumper.

On the last series, we were working on water retrieves across a smallish pond (maybe 40 X 80 yds). There were two blinds planted on the top of hills on the other side of the pond, one to the left, one to the right. I decided to try a double retrieve with her. On the memory bird, she didn't remember , and instead of heading to the right of the very tall left hill, headed at it. When she got out on the far shore, she "popped" (turned around and looked for help). After waiting a bit, I gave her a rather sloppy, casual over cast to the right. To my great surprise, she took off in the correct direction along the shore and ran up to the top of the other hill! I was caught by surprise. Before I could react, she ran back down the hill toward me without having picked up a bumper. I managed to get her to sit at the base of the hill (she was about 40 yds away across the pond). I let her sit there a bit while I debated trying to handle her back up the hill (having struggled with up-hill casts with Gryffin, I didn't figure she would just do it). "What the heck, why not try?" I gave her a back cast, and lo and behold, up the hill she charged to the pile of bumpers! No, it wasn't the bumper from the mark, but at that point, neither of us cared. She is still what I consider a rank beginner in the handling department, so that retrieve left me feeling great.

I camped at the Barbee's from Friday through Wednesday, and my friend Corinne joined me on Monday with her two Toller girls. We spent Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday and Wednesday training. Corinne hadn't been there before, but was very glad I'd talked her into making the trip. The great thing about the ATP is the large # of ways you can repeat the same concept without repeating the same mark or blind. There are lots of ways to practice in-and-out marks/blinds, because there are so many narrow channels and narrow strips of land. With young dogs who want to run the bank instead of getting in the water, you can see the surprise on their face as they ran along and suddenly run out of land :-). Gryffin was doing fine on marks with my launchers or person thrown, but I know I need to get working harder on his marking skills.

One of the blinds we did yesterday was across two small islands with a long strip of land cross-wise between them. We ran it in one direction in the morning, and then the opposite in the afternoon. It was so cool to see him seem to say "Oh yeah! I got it!"

I'm still considering trying a Master test with him next month. I think his blinds are close to ready, but we do need a bunch more work on his marking. There's just SO much to put all together! I'll be working the Master test at my club's test on Aug 23/24, so I'm sure I'll get more ideas of missing pieces.

I also finally got Ty started on "Swim-by", an exercise designed to teach handling in water. The Barbee's have a 20 yd X 40 yd rectangular pond specifically for Swim by. I've been doing much of the preliminary work to prepare for our visit, and we got an excellent start on it. I also watched Sherree Barbee working a couple of young Labs that she is training for clients who were just starting on Swim-by. I see why serious trainers get Labs - they make my speedy dogs look like slugs :-).