Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Accomplishments & 2010 Goals

It's been several years since I did an end-of-the-year review of goals accomplished and also wrote down goals for the coming year. Here's what I've come up with:

Accomplished in 2009:
has now lived longer than any previous dog we've had :-) (he's 12 3/4 now). Still his jolly/curmudgeonly self.
finished his UDX & OM1, got pretty close to finishing his OTCH.
ran in our first Master Hunter test in July
earned 2 legs (of needed 5) on his MH - a dream come true :-)
earned her CDX & WCX
made a lot of progress on her advanced field work
ran in her first Senior Hunter test in September, completing all but the water blind reasonably well (and I knew we weren't really ready for that part)
getting serious about Utility training

earned his CDX
getting serious about Utility training

made good progress on updates to Positively Fetching.
learned a ton about field work, but know there's a lot more to learn
had one of the best summers of my life, getting to train field almost daily
chipping away at dejunking house & life
worked out at Curves reasonably consistently
chaired successful obedience/rally trials
served as coordinator at club's Master Hunter stake

Goals for 2010
House dejunking - keep it up!
FlyLady work
keep using Things and gettin' organized via 'Getting Things Done'
work out consistenly
walk or run a 5K
Finish out MWFCR Presidency smoothly
Keep on top of MB's trial work
Travel trailer?
Apprentice for several weeks with field trainer

Get Totally Fetching finished and released
Get started on DOR project
BNI membership

Finish his OTCh.
Finish his MH
Submit HOF info

Get her SH
Start her UD and beyond journey - Utiility by National in June
Advance her MH work

Earn RE
Earn UD

Cleveland Trials

Gryffin and I got a 3rd place in UB on Saturday December 12 at the big IX-Center trials in Cleveland, winning a runoff, earning a 197+ (1st & 2nd places had a 198). Gryff worked superbly :-). 2 more points, so now we're down to single digits (need 9) to finish his OTCh..

In OB, he sadly failed the DOR again. This time, there was only a slight hesitation. On reflection, I'm really not sure he heard the command. The rest of the class was grand. I did not do stays. I didn't want to waste them and frankly, my left leg was aching so badly (that's another story), I was sure not feeling tippy-top.

I am really, really happy with his attitude and how he's working. His fronts and finishes were excellent that day - only 1/2 off for one bad finish in Utility, and zippo off on fronts.

We didn't get any more OTCh. points on Sunday, but did manage a Q in UB, which gives us 3 UB Q's in a row. Gryff made two dumb errors - he spit the glove out on my foot when the judge said 'Take it' on the Directed Retrieve. That cost us a point. Then, for some unknown reason, he skipped the front on the signal recall and went right around to heel. While AKC recommends 5 points off for an auto finish, not all judges take that much, and fortunately for me, today's judge took off only 3. When I released him after that, I gave him what I thought was a little goose in the ribs, and he barked at me (he tends to talk back when I correct him - guess he maybe thought about his goof?). So I went in to the awards ring hoping we earned at least a 190, and ended up with a 193.5. I was very pleasantly surprised, I have to say.

He worked a very nice Open class, but went down on the sit at 1:55. It was order 5 again (same as the previous Sunday's), which has the down stay first. He lost 2 points on the individuals, so would have been in contention for at least being in a runoff for a placement (a 198.5 won the class). I don't think I was as disappointed as last Sunday, but I may just bag doing Open. It is just getting so frustrating to have him work such a fine class and then to fail the stays. Since he has his UDX and OM1, he really doesn't need to ever show in Open again.

In spite of two OB NQ's, I really, really enjoyed showing Gryffin this weekend. He was his fun, jolly self in all 4 classes, and I felt very confident walking in the ring with him. He was a fine teammate, and I felt like we were really clicking.

Next up will probably be several UB classes at some local trials in mid-January - there will be 4 days of trials, Th-Su, with 2 trials both Sat & Sun. I certainly won't do all of those, but 2-3 days most likely.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Joker & Ty Utility Training Update

As field training has been winding down, I've been managing more obedience work, particularly articles with both Ty and Joker.

I start my dogs off with Janice DeMello's 'Around the Clock Scent Discrimination', because I like the enthusiastic attitude it helps to produce. However, I've had a few of my own dogs and several students who were flummoxed the week the cheese goes from a microscopic dot to none. Joker was one of these confused critters. He would go out, pick up an article at random, and then turn and sit facing me. I finally got around to setting up a tie-down mat and I'm happy to report he seems to be grasping the idea. After 2-3 sessions with the articles tied tightly, he seemed to get over his anxiety about the whole thing, and is dashing out to the pile and back to me with a wagging tail. He's made enough progress that I loosened the ties on about half of them. I do 4 retrieves each time we do it, 2 of each type. I'm using a platform for the front to try to subtly work the front without having to work it. He's only occasionally tugging a tied one. I'm lengthening our distance from the pile, and need to have more and different people scenting them, but I'm hoping we're over the worst of his confusion.

He's got a pretty decent idea of directed jumping, the moving stand, and the directed retrieve. He is showing me what a nuisance it is to train a dog for Utility without a solid foundation of heel position - his pivots have been pretty ghastly, which make getting to the correct glove harder. I do see improvement on the pivots, though. I'm not looking for perfection, but I do want him close enough to heel position that he has a decent chance of following my mark signal. He dashes out and back to the glove, and mostly doesn't drop the glove on my foot anymore .

I now think signals are his least understood exercise. He's had the down and sit concept up close for most of his 8 years, but I only taught him the signal stand about a year ago. Somewhat to my surprise, he seems able to stand at a distance. I started counting steps when I leave him, and he doesn't really get signals, at least not the sit, much beyond 8 steps. Given that it was only 5 steps in mid-November, I'm happy with his progress.

I finally had Ty spayed last month, so her progress has been slowed because of that. I have her articles tied together in 2 sets of 4 articles. After using a tennis ball to reward a good delivery, she started working with a great deal of speed, but still mostly accurately. At home gloves have been mostly a no-brainer. Her biggest training lack is her signal stand stay. I put a small barrier out (same kind we used for drop on recall training) and stood her behind it and was dismayed to see how far across it she stepped as I walked away. We've spent a lot of time this past week working on 'stand still'. I put her on a 6-foot leash to reduce her sometimes wild leaping about that she offers. I do know where this lack of clarity comes from - I've used her for a year or so to demo clicker training the first night of my Fundamentals class, and one of the strongly reinforced behaviors is 'lie down and cross your front paws'. In the process, she also offers 'lie down and roll onto a hip'; 'lie down and put chin on the floor'; 'leap backwards out of the down', and probably others I'm forgetting about. So in trying to get her to simply stand still, she would start going through her repetoire. The use of the leash and clicking her for quite short stand stays has helped her make progress. While she does a decent signal down (a bit too much butt shift to my left, but not overwhelming), she also almost always immediately does her pop-up sit on her own. So I have also been clicking and treating her for holding her down longer, especially with her chin on the floor.

Both dogs do very nice full-length go-outs to a visible target here at home. I've done some work with Joker moving to targetting on a stanchion. Given the generous size of my training building, they've both done go-outs to several different backgrounds. All of Ty's field training blinds have given her a very strong response to my 'look' command (I want her to focus straight out when I say the command, and maintain that look). She just doesn't always wait for me to say 'go' :-). Joker's response isn't as strong, but he's getting there, too. He was showing a LOT of right arcing on go outs earlier in the week at a park, so I think I need to use center guides for him for a while.

Both need reminding via a side step on the first jumps we do each session, but are jumping full height confidently. I haven't started jumping them from off center (for corner go-out disaster recovery, something I'm a strong proponent of).

Both dogs have a reasonably good stop on the moving stand, though I've not done much having other people exam either one. Both can do a decent call to heel.

It's fun to be teaching/solidifying some new stuff that isn't Open :-).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Goals Revisited

When you are first learning a new sport, it is difficult to understand how to get to the end goal that the sport requires, because you haven’t made that journey before. This can be a frustrating aspect of learning a new sport.

I’ve spent the past four months training my two Flat-Coats for AKC hunt tests, pushing to get Gryffin and me to the Master level (we earned our first two Master passes in September) and Ty to the Senior level. Gryffin is my first hunt test dog, so each new level is new for both of us. He’s had to suffer my field-training learning curve. One of my frustrations with learning how to prepare us for hunt tests is figuring out what we should be training on a day-to-day basis. What have I done to ease this frustration? I pull out my many books and saved magazines and read (and read and read). By nature, I am inclined to think that if one book on a topic is good, six is better. I’m like this no matter what I’m trying to learn, whether gardening, parenting, organizing, or dog training. I like to read a lot of similar and different ideas, and sift through and figure out what is likely to make the most sense to me and to my dogs. What issues are they having? What drills can we work on by ourselves or with one training partner to advance my dogs’ understanding of a given concept? I also talk to different trainers who’ve done advanced work AND whose training makes sense to me, as well as spending time training with them if possible.

Before I finished my first OTCh title on my Flat-Coated Retriever Tramp in 1991, I was really unsure about reaching that pinnacle, even though she had the needed 1st places and 40+ points. With the subsequent dogs with which I’ve earned an OTCh., I really never doubted that we’d get there, as long as I was willing to keep plugging away at the training and showing. When I start training a new dog, an OTCh. title is usually one of my lifetime goals for that dog, but I also know that it will take me several years to get there. How do I keep myself training when I know it’s going to take me a long time to get where I’m going? First of all, I want to build a strong foundation for the various sports I plan to do with that dog. I love teaching foundation work. I enjoy the step-wise progression towards the advanced exercises. Because there are lower-level titles that need to be earned before getting to the OTCh. level, I have those as intermediate goals.

Of course, when you are new to a sport, you don’t even know what concepts you need to prepare your dog for. This is when having a mentor to help guide you along the way is immeasurably helpful. Gail Dapogny, who taught the first Puppy K class I took in 1985, took me under her wing about a year into my training endeavors, and helped me catch the fever for both competition obedience and working for excellence with my dogs. In my area of the country (southeast Michigan), there are now numerous trainers, training schools, and clubs offering excellent training for competition obedience and agility. But what if you aren’t in such a lucky locale? Take yourself and a chair to some local obedience trials. Sit outside the rings and watch. Even better, volunteer to steward at a trial or fun match. You will learn a lot about what makes up a good performance, a poor performance, and an excellent performance. See how different exhibitors are with their dog(s). Do you like the way they work together? Find out where and how they train. Chances are that the well-prepared teams are either experienced or are fortunate to train with someone who is experienced. If you don’t have many local trials that you can attend, look for obedience performances on YouTube.

We each have a unique idea of what we like to see in a performance team. By watching numerous performances, you will start to develop an eye for what you are aiming for with your own dog. It might not be the same thing as I’m aiming for with my dogs. That’s one of the great things about obedience - there’s lots of room for different levels of goals.

It’s also not just about the goal, but the journey to that goal. As I wrote about in Setting Training Goals, I spend far more time training than trialing, and I look at trials as a test of our day-to-day training.

If you take your time developing a solid foundation with your dog, even if it takes a while, it pays dividends in the long run. It will make your time competing at trials more productive and successful.

Until next time, happy training!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

KRD on Water

What, you ask, is KRD??? It stands for 'Key Relationship Drill', and it's a drill I read about in Evan Graham's book 'Secret of the Pros' while vacationing in early August. I did the drill several times (5 or 6) on land in August. It consists of one mark and several blinds set up in key relationships to that mark, including a blind that is tight behind the gunner (left orange line in upper photo), another that is well outside the arc of the fall (where the mark lands) (right-most orange line in bottom photo), another between the fall and the outside-the-arc blind (left orange line in bottom photo), and finally one under the arc made by the throw of the mark (right orange line in top photo).

The photos show the set up. The white blob was a stick man (white shirt on a hanger on a post) from which I threw the mark, and the mark landed about in the middle of the channel. For explanation purposes, I am numbering the blinds 1-4, left to right (the orange lines). I actually had white stakes at blinds 1 & 3, and my orange-noodled stakes at 2 & 4. After the dog retrieved the mark, I ran the blind behind the gunner 1st (blind 1). Both dogs have done blind 2 before a couple of times, most recently on Tuesday morning, which means they both were thinking about that blind when I wanted them to do both 1 and 3. We did blind 4 (right most one) next. Both of the dogs kept thinking about blind 2. I did blind 3 and then 2 with Gryffin, then repeated them 1, 4, 3. Before I did the drill with Ty, I had her do blind 3 from the left shore first. Though she didn't take an especially great initial line, at least she got in the water and started to swim. I then had her retrieve the mark, and then did the blinds 1, 4, 3, 2. When I reran 1, after first heading towards 2, I think it took only 1 or 2 casts, and then she was on the right line. Interestingly, Gryff wasn't quite so easy on his reruns. Ty had more trouble rerunning 4, but 3 was quite good. I really wanted to redo 2, but ran out of time and had to leave.

I will probably go back and do a similar set up tomorrow, but with the mark thrown from the other shore, right to left.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ohio Valley Retriever Club Master test

I went to Coshocton, Ohio this weekend for the Ohio Valley Retriever Club's Master test, judged by Clarence Klaus and Bob Meyer. I could have run a test in Michigan again this weekend, but I wanted to see how we would fare away from Omega Farms, where we trained all summer.

The 1st series was in a field with lots of interesting features: hills, cover strips and clumps, small bushes, large shrubs, and some trees. We had two land blinds to start. The right blind was to the left of the middle flier station, which was mostly hidden behind a very large and tall hedge of shrubs that hid both the flier and left gun stations, and about 2/3 of the way toward the left mark. The left blind was quite a bit to the left of the left mark.

As I expected, our first blind was a bit shaky. I expected it because he's often a bit independent when we first have to handle in a test. He left on a reasonable initial line, but between the cover strips and the hill that he wanted to square, he kept getting further to the right. His first whistle sit was more of a squat, accompanied by a "Huh?" look on his face. He eventually got a nose full of the blind since there was a light breeze from left to right, and I then got a fine response to my left over to the blind. The 2nd blind was better in the team work department, though he was showing a preference for fading right on that one, too.

The marks were thrown right, left, middle (flier). The right one was thrown coming in right to left, landing in front of a large/tall bush. The left and longest mark was thrown coming in right to left, landing to the left of the huge hedge and giving a little bounce as it landed. The middle flier was thrown straight left to right. Our flier landed nicely right in front of a bush, making marking it very easy for me :-).

Head swinging has been something of an issue with Gryffin this year as we've been running more multiples. I'm very happy to say that he stayed completely focused on the right mark until the duck call sounded for the left mark. However, as soon as that duck landed/bounced, he swung his eyes back to that exciting flier station in the middle. He left on my release to the flier with hard-charging enthusiasm, flew up the hill to the bush, screeched to a stop and returned with it.

Partly because he didn't give a strong indication of preference on his return, I opted to pick up the longer left mark next, perhaps because I knew he'd gotten such a long look at the right mark. I can't quite say why I made the decision - it was one of those quick choices you make in the heat of a test. A lot of handlers had their dogs do the right mark next, followed by the left mark, and several dogs ended up getting sucked to the right blind and needing to be handled to the left mark. In any case, he rocketed away on an excellent line to the left mark, but passed the bird just a bit up wind, went past, and disappeared behind the hedge. I was concerned that he'd circle around behind the hedge and reappear at the flier station at the other end of the hedge, so kept scanning for him over that way. Fortunately, he reappeared, and after a bit more of a hunt, found the bird. His pick up was veeeeery slow - was he out there trying to give mouth to mouth??? - but he finally picked it up and delivered it. His long hunt on that showed in his heaving breathing as he delivered the bird. I gave him an extra couple of moments to catch his breath, cued him up ("Where's your mark? That's right. Good.") and sent him off. That long look paid off, and he had only the briefest of hunts before finding it. He picked that bird up much faster and delivered.

One of the judges commented that I was the first handler to handle the gun like I was out hunting. I responded that, to me, that is a high compliment, since I don't hunt, and I'm just faking it in what I hope is a safe enough manner when handling the gun :-).

The first series didn't finish until 4 pm. The 2nd series was set up in the only spot at Woodbury that I've trained at. It was a simple land/water double. We had to sit on a cooler in front of a bush. There was some fairly tall cover 6 feet in front of the line which kind of blocked Gryff's view of the land bird's fall, though he leaned in towards me to see the fall through the flattened path through the cover. It was thrown in left to right from behind a large bush, landing in some cover on a spit of land with some shallow water behind it and a big rock and trees on the right end of it. The right mark was thrown right to left off the dike that edges the pond, landing with a splash. The entry was a bit vague, and several dogs chose to run to the right of the true line to the bird closer to the shore, some even on the shore. Gryff did fade a bit that way, but not too badly. When I lined him up for the memory bird, he locked in, and when released, arrowed straight to it. Here's a picture of the memory bird in the 2nd series:

There were still just over half the dogs left (34 of 45 starters) to run the 2nd series Sunday morning, which meant we had a leisurely morning. I got mostly packed up, then went across the street to the field and set up a split casting drill. The field that appeared relatively flat in the dark actually had a nice slope to it, which meant a chance to practice angling up a hill, which neither of my dogs is particularly strong at (dogs like to square a hill, as Gryffin had done on his first blind on Saturday). I got some nice work from bored Ty, then ran Gryff on the drill. As often happens when we do drills, he started out a bit on the slow and tentative side, and then got stronger and ran harder and harder. We ended on a beautiful straight line angling across the hill to the right pile of bumpers. Good boy!

I was hoping that the concentration on water work we'd done since our last test would pay off in the 3rd series, which I knew would have to contain at least a water double, a walk-up, and an honor. Considering a week ago I wasn't sure Gryff would be recovered enough from his mystery illness to even start the test (he was ill when I got back from a judging trip to Wisconsin Labor Day weekend), I was very happy to be even getting to attempt the 3rd series.

Since I was conveniently driving by, I stopped to take a look at the set up for the Senior land series, because Ty and I are entered in our first Senior test next weekend. While what gets set up is dependent on the land or water available and what the judges decide, it's always educational to take a look. The grounds are outstanding in what they offer for testing (not to mention training). I'd love to go and spend a week camping and training there!

The 2nd Master series had finished and all but one dog advanced to the 3rd series, including us. I found where the water was going to be, and heard mutterings about what the judges were setting up, including possibly a pair of in-line marks on the left side of the pond. Having trained on in-lines on land the previous Thursday, I felt at least somewhat prepared. Turns out the mutterings were wrong :-). The swampy pond was below the road level by 20-30 feet, so there was quite a steep hill to navigate getting to the last holding blind. The test consisted of a short walk-up, with the marks thrown left, middle, right. There was plenty of separation between the middle and right mark. Here's some fuzzy pictures taken on my cell phone camera (better than nothing!):

This smaller pool is just to the left of the chopped-off cattail path visible in the next picture.

The 2nd mark fell in open water beyond the last strip of cover that was beyond the cat tail path.

The double trees on the left in this picture are on the right in the blind picture:

The test was taking 8-10 minutes per dog, so by the time the series got under way, it was after 11 AM. As expected, we got to the line shortly after noon. We did the walk up, the birds went off (rather more rapidly than in the 1st two series), and after hearing our number from one of the judges, launched Gryff for the right mark. His duck landed just in the front of a cat tail clump, and he went swimming past it without apparent recognition. He got to the next clump, then circled back behind, clambered through and got his duck. He picked up the left bird without any particular problem, and when I lined him for the middle bird, he looked out well, and charged into the cat tail path. He did a brief check when he got to the grassy strip before the open water, but then off he went for the 3rd bird. It was probably his best water triple with ducks he's ever done! Nice time to turn it up a notch, Gryff-man!

There was a dry shot to indicate the blind shot from the same station as the go-bird, and it really got Gryff up and ready. There was a decent little channel just to the left of the line to the blind to aim him at. I got Gryffin to the back of the cover fairly quickly, but had several stops and casts to get him through it and not going into the channel to the right. We also had some horsing around on the shore on the opposite side. I suspect that I would have lost control at the end of that blind 2 months ago (i.e., get the dog almost there and then have him disappear into cover high enough to not be able to handle him). After delivery of the blind duck, we went to the honor spot, and he was, blessedly, rock solid on that, watching the next dog's marks fall with interest but apparent understanding that he was done.

As we climbed up the hill to go back to the car, I didn't know if the effort was good enough to pass and earn our first Master leg, but I felt it was our best 3rd series of the 3 tests we'd run.

The 'water' was so icky (can you say smelly swamp?) that it was turning the goldens and yellow labs black. Someone mentioned a cleaner pond a short walk down the road, so I grabbed a bumper and Gryff and I went down there to rinse the worst of the muck off him. He thought fun bumpers and some more swimming were a fine reward for his efforts in the test.

The test didn't finish until just after 5 pm (!), so in the meantime, I went and found a secluded place and trained Ty a bit, teaching her a nice Master level blind via backchaining. It was nice to give her a chance to do something more than just the casting drill in the morning.

After an interminable wait while the judges decided who passed, the awards were passed out. Yes, we passed!!! That little scrap of orange ribbon with 'Master Hunter' on it (the club ran out of rosettes, so will be mailing them) shows me that it isn't a dream. It made the four hour drive home zip on by.

Next up: no resting on our laurels, we've got Hamden next weekend!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ramblings on Ty's Progress in the Field

Ty has made such progress on her field work this summer. She's in the phase of training typically referred to as "Transition." This is the phase when a dog moves from a basically trained dog to one who you can handle on blinds, both land and water. The dog can also do more complicated marking set ups.

She ran her first cold land blinds on July 5, and has progressed to water blinds in the past month. I got some sage advice from Bunny Milliken after Gryff's and my 2nd Master test, which was to concentrate on water work until the weather gets too cold. Her biggest problem has been understanding that she should get in the water and swim, not get in and then turn around with confusion to look at me. While we still have a long way to go, the consistent work on simple water blinds is paying off.

Her ability to tread water was lacking, as was her ability to turn in a tight spot to face me. What really helped was taking Mitch White's advice, which was to hold a bumper in front of me, talking to her, shifting my weight from foot to foot, and swapping the bumper from hand to hand. I finally saw the look I wanted from her - staying in place, head lifted up out of the water with her ears up and her attention on me (well, probably the bumper, but that's okay!). Initially, she always turned clockwise when she would hear my sit whistle in the water (also her typical turning direction on land). Convincing her to take a right back after the too-large clockwise circles took a while. It still isn't easy to change her mind about where she's going once she's convinced she knows her destination, either on land or in the water. I would imagine that will be one of our long-term projects.

This spring, I realized that we needed to backtrack to help her to better understand the desired response to an e-collar correction. I had been tip-toeing around using the e-collar with her because her response to the corrections has always been different than Gryff's, and even a low-level correction could cause a too-dramatic reaction. In the past, I wouldn't usually see progress after a correction until the next day. It was almost as though she needed some time to think about it. With her increased understanding of what the corrections mean, I usually see improved effort within a couple of repetitions. This has also contributed to her progress.

I am finding it very interesting learning to handle her on blinds vs. handling Gryffin (he's my first handling dog). Timewise, he's about 3 years ahead of her in training, but because of my increased knowledge, she's had more exposure to advanced concepts than he did at a similar stage. My membership at Omega has also made a huge difference, simply because of the many varied training opportunities that the property presents.

Last year, I stopped field work in late August because of the need to gear up for the fall obedience trials. This year, I'm thinking about how to continue fitting at least some work so we don't lose too much of what we've all learned this summer.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reflections on our 2nd Master Hunter test

Gryff and I are in our 2nd Master Hunter test this weekend, put on a local club to which I belong, the Marshbanks Golden Retriever CLub. He did a fine job on the first series, which was a land triple with a blind under the arc of the left mark. His marks were superb - hardly any hunt on any of them, and compared to many teams, our blind was good.

The 2nd series was a water double, with the memory bird across the pond (ideally through some brush in the water), through cover on the far side, up a hill, across a road, and through another cover strip. Only a few dogs swam across and drove straight up the hill. Most swam across and hunted back and forth, gradually working their way up the hill, over the road and throw the last cover strip. Gryff took a somewhat unique approach by swimming more to the left than he should have, which meant going through MUCH more brush/bushes in the water and on the far side. I'm reasonably sure he drove up the hill. He had a very long hunt on the other side, but did come up with it. All 24 dogs who made it to the 2nd series will run tomorrow. Since I helped to set up for all 3 series, I knew ahead of time what Sunday would bring... and it wasn't easy! I'm very happy that we got to try.

Last summer, I learned a couple of phrases, "Zero to hero" and "Hero to zero". Unfortunately, we earned the "hero to zero" title today. We once again did not pass the 3rd series of the test. The series started with a land blind. The one the had planned on wouldn't work today because of the way the wind was blowing, so instead of going northwest, it went southwest, and was much more of a Senior level blind than a Master one (Senior blinds don't tend to have too many "factors", or things that would draw the dog off the line to the blind or cause the dog to want to avoid the line to the blind. Master blinds tend to have factors along the way, such as clumps or strips of taller cover, be closer to gun stations, have more variance in terrain, etc.). I think it was only about 40-50 yds, and there really wasn't much between the line and the bird. The bird was placed in front of what looked like a bush, but was really a very large thistle plant. I lined Gryff up for it, sent him off, and he made a bee-line for it and picked up the duck. That is called "lining the blind" and we've never done it in a test, and I'm pretty sure no other dog had done it before him (and he ran after at least 15 other dogs). So that was the hero part.

The next part of the test was a delayed triple in water. The center mark was thrown, than the left-hand one. I sent him to retrieve that one, which he did smartly with very little searching. On his return, we lined up for the right-hand bird, which was thrown. He retrieved that one smartly, too. Then it was time for the memory bird. The line to that one was across a 6-8 foot peninsula (which got weed-whacked yesterday so that we could see the dog from the line), with a large island to the right that has tall cover (3-4 ft high, I'd say). I did a poor job of being patient while lining him up for the memory bird (I did MUCH better being patient on the land triple yesterday that he did so well), and when I sent him, he was looking to the right. Sure enough, he went where he was looking. He crossed the peninsula and headed for the island. I decided to handle him at that point (something that is sometimes necessary, but not desirable on a mark). It didn't go well. I think he eventually winded the bird, because he suddenly jumped back in the water and swam right to it. We had to finish up with a water blind. The line to the blind was between where the middle mark had landed and the island. Danged if he didn't essentially repeat what he'd done on the mark - cross the peninsula too far to the right and go to the island. This in spite of quicker attempts to handle him back onto the line.

Given that the last weather report I looked at for the weekend was for 74 and partly cloudy, the misty rain that fell all morning was a huge annoyance. It was at least vastly better than the 90 or so degrees we had last weekend!

I was the Master test coordinator, which meant that I was there on Friday with the judges so that I would know what equipment they would need in order to put on the tests they wanted to run. It also meant I was in charge of training workers and keeping the test and equipment use moving along. I am so pleased to be able to say we didn't have a single goof up today from our group of workers - no equipment goofs, no missed cues. That is pretty unusual, and something to be proud of.

While I am of course somewhat disappointed, there was still a lot of parts that were very, very good. We now return to the training grounds for another 3-4 weeks before our next attempt.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ty's 1st Cold Blinds

We finished up field training early at Omega Farms today because of bad weather rolling in, so I stopped at the Firestation (there are some fabulous fields behind it) to check on how high the cover has gotten (high!) and to run a couple of blinds. Ty has run marks on this hillside several times, and has done several taught blinds, which is what I figured I would do. I hiked out and planted the blinds, then got her out. We got to the top of the hill, and I thought "What the heck, let's see what happens if I cue her up." Lo and behold, off she went (it didn't hurt that I broke the initial path down to the bottom of the hill between the bushes, but I was a good blind planter and wandered my way up the hill after that). She got hung up on the big wide bush halfway up the hill on the left, so after several bouncings around the bush, I hiked down the hill to get closer, but got her the rest of the way from there. She did the 2nd one with me staying at the top of the hill. Considering how high the cover is out there now, I'm even more happy.

If you look carefully (and imagine the path at the bottom of the left picture continuing up the hill), you can see an orange stake in both pictures near the center and top.

Yeah, Ty! All the homework is really paying off.


** A "cold blind" means that the dog doesn't see what they have to retrieve thrown, so you have to handle them to it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Saturday Field Drills

I went to the fields near the local airport to do drills with my Flat-Coats this morning. Lining drills became the theme. I started out with one pile for Ty, to work on a stable response to a sit correction. Even a 1 medium creates a bit of a hot spot, but I can see improvement and much less panic in her response. She's also confident enough on her handling on land now that I can stop her quite a bit to handle her through those hot spots.

Next I did wagon wheel with both of them, building distance for Gryff and seeing a lot of improvement over last weekend when I did it; closer in for Ty, who hasn't done too much WW. Interestingly enough, both seem to have more trouble going to the closer-to-us white bumpers than to the farther away orange ones.

Then I put out two back piles, and three stick men on a diagonal, with 25 yds between them (so a lopsided M). As an extension of both the Split Casting drill we have been working on the past several weeks, and the wagon wheel drill, I worked on sending and casting to the back piles from various locations, with the stick men in between me and the back piles to create suction.

We packed up and went to a pond, and I set up something similar there for Gryff to work on, with 3 stick men along the shore and orange stakes farther up the shore (maybe 10-15 yds) with a pile of bumpers at each. I worked on lining and angle back casts as we had on land. Another benefit was the tall cover along the shores, with a few obvious and tempting gaps. It gave me a chance to work Gryff on driving straight through the cover coming out of the water. Since Ty's water work is on hold until her e-collar response is stabilized, I just did fun marks with her, but required her to go in and come out through the cover along the shore.

It was a fun and productive morning.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Drill Work

I went back to the Ann Arbor airport today for drill work. I ran the middle and left pattern blinds with Ty, which went quite nicely. Then we tried the right one. She was convinced that she needed to go to the middle one again. I eventually got her to the right one, but it was really ugly. I sent her back to the left one, then tried the right one again. Ugly again. Somewhere during one of those ugly blinds, I used a small e-collar correction, which seemed to get her going again.

I put her away and set up my two launchers, aiming for in-line marks, with the launchers to either side of the line to the right blind. Since I still don't estimate the length of launch (ridiculously long for a bumper) very well, the farther away one ended up under the arc of the closer one. I decided to start with poison bird blinds with Gryffin. I launched the closer mark, called him off that and sent him to the left blind. He needed just one whistle to get the blind correctly (it helps a lot that he's run these blinds several times in the past week - a LOT). He picked up the mark eagerly. Then I launched the farther away launcher, called him off and ran him to the middle blind (behind the closer launcher). He did veer to the right after passing the launcher, but handled reasonably quickly to the blind, then picked up the mark. He finished up running the right blind.

I got Ty back out and ran the two marks and then reran all 3 blinds. I moved up quite a bit for the right one, given her problems earlier, and it went much better. I had Gryff run the marks as a double and do the right blind.

I moved to another area and set up the Split-Y drill that I did with Gryff on Thursday. This was Ty's first try. I used our white trash cans to mark the piles, and started to teach her about angle back casts. I had to stop her several times the first try at each direction, and call her back in a few times because she was getting too close to the middle pile, but subsequent tries were better. She's running some nice, straight lines. I had Gryff do just a bit of this drill (to finish picking up the bumpers) and called it a day.

Sure was nice to have sunshine today instead of a steady downpour!

Thursday Water Work

We headed over to the Pardee's pond in Concord yesterday for some water work. It was starting to sprinkle when we got there and we had a steady downpour towards the end of our session.

We started out with 3 blinds. The first was across two points with another between to go past, with the bumpers on another bump out from the right side of the pond. The points were high enough that we lost the dogs behind, and both dogs who ran it sucked to the right shore while out of sight. The second blind was across the right corner of the swim-by area of the bond and a nice run up the hill to a round hay bale. I was picky about the line across the corner of the pond and handled a couple of times to good results. Couple more whistles to the hay bale. The final one was a blind placed in a spot we'd run to the previous visit, but from the north side of the pond instead of the east side. The line to the blind was alongside one of the points (point on dog's left) and past an island. Gryff got in but veered right away from the land, I think getting sucked in by the 1st blind's location. The point was not the distraction I thought it would be.

I did some swim-by work with Ty, and she was timid about it. It occurs to me that working her in chilly water may not be enhancing our work :-/. She did gain some confidence, but it was nowhere near as good as the last session at Jane's pond.

Next we did a few marks. I did one across an island with both dogs. Ty had a no go :-(.

I ran a land blind with both dogs that we'd run the previous visit, now much easier to get to since the hay had been cut on much of the field around the pond.

My friends left at that point. I set up a couple of white cans to do some sight blinds with Ty. One was angling up hill, the other was a somewhat rolling one. She is showing signs of understanding the idea of going to a different place than she just went.

I finished up with an Split Y drill with Gryffin - center pile in front of a tree with two white cans beyond, one on each side of the tree. Lots of fun casting variations to play around with, especially angle backs. Gryff really seems to love doing pile drills - he drives harder and harder as we go along.

My new rainsuit mostly worked... considering how hard it was raining, I came through reasonably dry.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pattern Blinds

Pattern blinds are a set of blinds, usually in sets of 3, that you teach your dog one at a time over the course of several days to help them learn to run long, straight lines.

While I have taught Ty several blinds this spring, and she's done some blind drills last year and this spring, I haven't really done a set of 3 blinds consistently. With the progress I saw during our trip out east, I was eager to get serious about some pattern blinds with her.

I decided going to the Ann Arbor Airport property was a good bet. It's only about 3 miles from home, and there are actually 3 different areas I can potentially use for pattern blinds. I taught her the first one (the left of the 3) on Sunday. It went pretty well. Then I set up a launcher and ran a mark and then all 3 blinds with Gryffin. He had a TERRIBLE time :-\. He was convinced he had to go back to the mark. Now, this is NOT a new concept for him. Clearly, he needs more work on it!

I got Ty back out, let her run the mark and then redid the blind. It was a pretty messy affair, too, but she did eventually get to the blind bumper.

We squeezed in a short session yesterday morning (had to be short because of horsing around getting the flat tire fixed...). Ty did fine on the blind she'd learned Sunday, and then I taught her the loooong right one (I think it's 180-200 yds). We finished up running the left and then the right again. She's still fuzzy about switching between different blinds, but is improving. I ran the blinds with Gryff (no time for the launcher) with somewhat better results than Sunday.

Today I taught Ty the 3rd of 3 pattern blinds. I'm really happy with her progress.I ran the left and right ones with her first, then taught her the center one, then reran the outside ones again. I'm pleased with how well she's stopping on my whistle and mostly taking good casts. She seems to be getting the idea to change direction when I stop her. Then I put out a launcher for Gryff, ran the center blind, did the mark, then ran the outside blinds, then the center one (under the arc). He did much better than on Sunday, though still interested in going back to the mark's location. Then I finished up rerunning the center blind with Ty past the launcher, then did the mark and the two outside blinds. It's cool seeing the many weeks/months of basic work starting to gel for her. I plan to go back on Friday for another session, maybe even with both of my launchers out.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Finding training places

Yesterday morning, before leaving the Super 8 motel for home, I did some drill work with the dogs behind the motel. There was a nice hillside on which I did some T work, to give them some work driving up a hill, as well as doing overs across the face of the hill. Then I did a longish but otherwise uninteresting sight blind (one with a white trash can marking the end of it) with Ty, which went well.

I finished up with a connect-the-dots blind with Gryff. The pictures show the blind. There is a corner of a gravel parking lot (complete with a school bus), followed by a dried up pond bed that was about a foot lower than the surrounding grass, with some weeds in it (the higher cover you can see beyond the gravel), followed by having to go by the large bush on the right. I had the white trash can out for Ty.

With a connect-the-dot blind, you leave the dog at the line and go to a point along the blind where the dog is likely to veer, and call them to that point and then resit them. Then you go to the next likely point of confusion and call the dog to that spot, and continue to do this until you are close enough to the end of the blind to send the dog to retrieve. Then you sit the dog at the end and teach them the return path in a similar way. I left Gryff and called him to the first edge of the pond bed, then left him there and went to the other side and called him there. Then I sent him to the blind from there. When I resent him from the baseline, he went nicely into the pond bed, but started veering right (away from the weeds), so I stopped him and cast him. It was a fun little blind to run with some interesting factors.

I tried something similar with Ty, but it was too much for her - she kept wanting to veer to the right of the weeds in the pond bed and she was having confidence issues when I was trying to cast her, so I moved the white can and bumpers closer, to the far edge of the pond bed. That worked much better for her.

This workout was great to get in with them before starting the long drive home.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

WCX test

I spent Friday at the National's WCX test in Eastern Connecticut, running and successfully completing the test with Gryffin. Ty couldn't run because of coming in season, which is too bad because she's the one who hasn't ever run one before. Gryff passed a couple of WCX's at least 3 years ago (1 pass is all it takes to earn the title), but failed the two we have run since then.

Normally, our WCX test consists of a triple on land with distances of 60 & 80 yds for the outside marks and 100 yds for the center mark, and if I'm remembering right, normally all 3 marks are thrown in the same direction, either left to right or right to left. Yesterday's set up didn't look like that at all :-). The flier station was the long one and was on the left, going right to left. The middle station was the short one, going left to right, and the right station was the middle distance, also left to right, with a road to cross. I was actually happy to see that set up for Gryff, because I think it was more like what I will likely see in a Master test, which is what we're really aiming for.

I had a nice compliment from one of the judges - when I stepped out of the last holding blind to go to the line, I had Gryff sit before proceeding to the line, which helps with control and also gives him a chance to have a brief look at what's out in the field. She said that is a good idea to do that.

In spite of my heart going like a trip hammer (this was our first test in a year), I took my time and did my best to make sure Gryff was looking where he needed to be before sending him for each duck. He was nice and steady at the line, always a pleasure to see. He did have to hunt for a while on each bird, but stayed in the appropriate area well. One of the judges said something about an intelligent hunt on the last bird, using what little wind there was to help himself come up with the duck.

We finished the land triple at 9:30 AM (we were about 1/4 way through the group of 36 dogs) but didn't run water until 3:30 :-(. The judges had to wait to finish the land series for several exhibitors who were running in other stakes, and then they changed the water test twice before settling on the one we ran. We had a no bird on our first trip to the line. This means that something happens to make the test not fair - sometimes a gun doesn't fire right, or a launcher doesn't release, which is what happened for us.

The test consisted of a water double, with the memory bird landing with a splash in some reeds just in front of a large flat rock to our left. The go bird was tossed off a point of land on our right in open water. Gryff had a nice straight swim and return with that bird. I got him facing the rock for the memory bird, and sent him off. He was on a great line until about half way out, did a head check towards the go-bird station, then veered towards the island that was to the right of where the memory bird had landed. He swam between a couple of big rocks near the island, then hooked in to the left and came up with the bird pretty promptly. We finished up with an honor sitting on the road above where we'd run from closer to the water.

I hung around to watch a few more friends run and to visit just a bit more, then left to head west about 5:30, though the test was far from over. I wanted to get some miles under my belt before needing to stop. We ended up spending the night in Amsterdam, NY at the Super 8 there.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Day 2 of obedience at the 2009 FCRSA National

On Tuesday, I showed Gryffin in Versatility, where he earned a leg towards that new title. We had to do the Novice Heel on Leash & Figure 8, the Novice Recall, the Retrieve on Flat, the Broad Jump, the Moving Stand, and the Directed Retrieve. He got 2nd place in the class, 1/2 point behind Chris Van Byssum and Eagle.

Next up was Brace. Gryffin was kind of blah in both classes, and didn't start on the Figure 8 for some reason. I got all the way to the end of his leash before I really realized he was stuck, so had to give another command. On the start of the 2nd 8, I got smart and said, "Gryff heel" since Ty was chugging right along. The 2nd one was much better. The off-leash heeling went very nicely, garnering nice comments from judge Tibby Chase. On the recall, on my "Dogs come!" command, Ty rocketed in and Gryff sat like a lump. When I realized he wasn't moving, I gave a come signal to Gryffin, at which point Ty dropped :-). This video doesn't show all that. Ty had come into a nice front by the time Gryff arrived. He fortunately came to the correct side of Ty. Their finish was not so great, but at least they were both there to do it . We were 2nd of the two braces thanks to the recall. Here's a link to the YouTube video of our performance.

Team was a hoot, as it usually is. We had really good heeling & Figure 8s, but Ty sat during the SFE, and only two of our dogs did the recall correctly. All 4 dogs on the first place team did the drop exercise correctly. For those who haven't seen the exercise, all handlers leave together, and then one at a time, call and drop their dog about half way. Then all call their dogs to front at the same time, and then finish on the judge's command. It is the make-or-break exercise, typically. One of the teams first handler called and got all four dogs at once :-). Anyhow, we ended up with 2nd place and had a lot of fun.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

2009 FCRSA Obedience Day #1

Day 1 of the FCRSA National for me included Utility B with Gryffin and Open B with both dogs. The day dawned chilly and breezy but bright and sunny. Gryff was scheduled to go 4th in Utility, with the class starting at 9:00 AM. The first 3 dogs all Q'ed, which can be a good omen or a bad one :-).

Gryff had a nice solid performance - very much how he performs inside - and won the class with a 195.5, good for 6 more OTCh points (his total is 88 now). The UB ring was pretty decent, with ruts only in one corner. Of course, we had to heel into and out of that corner, and that's where glove 3 was placed, fortunately not in the rut, but on the grass above it. We did have to do the fast up hill, and that was also the go-out direction.

Open B was scheduled to start at 10:45, but didn't actually start until 11:30. Ty had very nice individuals EXCEPT for the Retrieve over the High Jump. I accept 75% of the blame for that, because my throw was not very long, and it bounced a bit to the left. She jumped out, picked it up, turned left, and 2.5 strides later, was past the jump. It didn't look like it even occurred to her that she was wrong. I was far more disappointed with myself than with her. But she was in good company - all 7 dogs in the first group NQ'ed the individuals! Ack. We petitioned the judge to skip the stays altogether, but he wouldn't go along with it :-). Ty held her sit stay (hurray!), but when the boy dog next to her came over and invited her to dance, she accepted the invitation. Oh, well. The judge said he would be willing to rejudge her, but since Gryff was in the one and only later group, I declined.

Gryffin was as poor in Open B as he'd been solid in Utility. He did a sit on recall, had a hideously long sniff instead of retrieving over the high jump (this in spite of me hollering FETCH... NO! FETCH... GRYFFIN GET IN HERE! etc. to absolutely no response). I was admittedly really PO'ed at the boy. I actually had enough time to wonder if he was going to pee :-(. Thanks god he didn't! And to cap it off, he went down on his sit stay. However, a very bright spot for the stays was that he was next to my friend Chris's neutered male Eagle and never looked twice at him. Two years ago, Gryffin was next to Eagle, fell in love with him, and broke the down stay to visit him. Ten months later, when we got together to train, Gryffin had not forgotten his unrequited love. Neutering is a wonderful thing :-).

HIT went to Chris McCluer and her OTCh Remington Twelve Gauge Shot Gun OA NAJ, with a 198.5 from Open B, and HC went to my friend Chris Van Byssum with her boy Eagle.

Last night was the annual Ring of Honor, in which special dogs are honored. Past winners of BISS, BOSS, HIT, and our Steady Singles competition are invited, as are new and former inductees into our Hall of Fame. Since both of my dogs have won a Specialty HIT, they were both included.

Today is for fun - Versatility with Gryffin to start us off, then Brace with the pair of them, and then Team this afternoon with Ty. Unfortunately, it's shaping up to be a much warmer day, darn it, but at least all stays will be in sight and shorter!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Let the odyssey begin!

I left Ann Arbor Friday morning to head east for this year's Flat-Coated Retriever National Specialty - all Flat-Coats for 8 days of Agility, Rally, obedience, conformation, and field events! We are currently in upstate NY, staying with a friend for a couple of nights, and days of field and obedience training and visiting.

I stopped at Cabela's Friday to buy 6 more small orange bumpers (a certain black boy dog managed to eat the ends off several over the winter >:-() AND a gortex rain suit (training in the rain last Wednesday confirmed the need for one).

I needed two stops for naps yesterday, which was frustrating but necessary. Also had a bit of a detour in Cleveland when I exited too soon, stopped for gas, then couldn't get back on the highway easily because of a closed entrance ramp. Yuck.

I got to Jane's at 6:00 PM, and after some visiting, I did some water work with both dogs. Afterwards, we had a lovely and social evening, with several local dog friends coming over for dinner.

Saturday morning, the dogs woke me at 5:15, oh joy. Finally really got up at 6:00 to let them out.

We went to a local park so Jane could walk her nearly 15 year old Gemma while I did some T work with Ty and Gryffin. After a quick trip to Jane's to drop off Gemma, we headed off to join a couple of other trainers, Todd & Beth, for a day of field work. We did a land series first. We used ducks for the marks, which really helped both of my dogs. I ran a single and then a double with both dogs, and we were far more successful than earlier this week. Gryff also did a decent job on the two blinds. The first blind was between the right and middle marks. The second was to the left of the left mark, which had been thrown right to left, angling back. As expected on the second blind, Gryff wanted to go back to that left mark, but was at least making an effort to change direction away from it, not just immediately sucking to it. I did see a problem developing today in that he's popping when he's really close to the bumper at the end of the blind. I guess I've been insisting on a sit because of poor casts near the end of the blind, and I'm creating a habit.

We moved over to water, which was a lovely technical pond owned by a local field-trialer. So many options! The left mark was a fairly straight-forward "across the pond and out onto land" mark. The other two used the two points that stuck out from the right side of the pond. The closer mark was off the end of the closer point and the farther was launched from the back of the farther away right end of the cove, with the duck landing beyond the second point. With Ty, I had her do the right mark first, and she did a lovely line across the two points to the duck and returned nice and straight across. Then we ran the left mark followed by the middle one, and she did very well on both.

I had her honor for Jane's Nellie, and because of Nellie's noise issues coming out of the holding blind, Ty had a VERY, very long honor, and started to break on the go-bird of the double. This is very unusual for her, although we haven't done a ton of honoring on the water, so it was an excellent training opportunity.

With Gryff I ran the two right marks as a double (they were in a so-called hip pocket configuration, which means the long mark is thrown sort of towards the short mark so the dog has to run somewhat close behind the short gun station to get to the long bird). Well, "bad boy arc to the right" Gryff made a way-too-big arc to the right and got out on the first point way to the right of the gunner (when he should have simply gone past with the point and gunner on his right), so I corrected him for that (a nick on the e-collar). He was then understandably reluctant to cross that very spot to get to the memory bird, so had a terrible line going out to it, but returned correctly. He did the left mark decently, and then we reran the right mark to give him a chance at success (and he did fine) after the correction and over reaction.

We finished up with a couple of blinds. The water one had a very sharp angle entry, which he did well, then out across the first point and back into another section of water and then out onto land another 30 or so yards. The land blind was about 150 yds, through a couple of trees with a mound of dirt between about 40 yds from where I started from, which he got over pretty well, but then veered around the left tree. Dang trees :-). There was a lot of open uphill field between the two trees and the bumpers, with another big tree to the left near the end.

After an afternoon nap, I did some more swim-by with Ty, where she is showing excellent progress, and a related drill with Gryff. Jane has the perfect little rectangular pond for this.

While the day started out pretty chilly, it ended beautifully.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday Water Work

My training partner Corinne (she has Tollers) and I spent about 4 blissful hours training water at a mutual friend's technical pond (abt an hour from home for me). We started with working on swim-by in the corner of the pond designed for it. Ty had several days of swim-by last summer, but then I stopped field work abruptly to return to obedience. I never had the sense last year that she "got" the how and why of treading water, but I saw some nice effort today, the best I've seen from her. I've done 2 sessions this spring of sending to a pile across 20-30 yds of water with a small amount of stopping and casting back. Seeing how well she did today (not brilliant, but she has something of a clue), I hope to get out to a local pond tomorrow and do some more work on this. Gryff's responses showed me that I've been casting him too quickly (he was doing auto-casts and just generally not keeping his focus on me for very long), so I worked on that a fair bit, with verbal reminders and praise when he showed good effort. I plan to do more of this as a warm-up with him before running water blinds the next couple of weeks, to remind him that this is a TEAM effort :-).

Next we did a marking drill designed to work angle entries and re-entries. The gunner stood on a long spit of land to throw into the bay behind the spit, so the dogs had to cross the spit at an angle, but once they did that, there was the bumper pretty obvious to them. Ty had a no go on the first one, but a verbal correction got her going. Gryffin's prior experience was obvious on his first mark, because he drove hard to get out there. The last one I did required an angle across the corner of another little bay, and he started to run around. I called him back and resent, and he was excessively honest and entered more to the left than I really wanted, but I let that go, since I think it was an honest effort to be right.

Next we set up a couple of water blinds, one that started through the swim-by area and exited out the opening, and also had another "slot" created by an island and a huge patch of water-lilies. I was pretty happy with his effort on that blind. I moved down the shore to the left and sent him to the same destination but this time presenting more of a channel blind picture. We had run a blind to that general area several years ago hideously badly, so it was nice to see he's learned a few things since then :-). Finished up with one that required an angle entry, then a cross over of a small spit of land and the a swim past an island. With Ty, I had her swim the length of the swim-by area as a channel blind. Her entries were poor and lacking effort, which tells me I probably need to revisit the water force with her.

We finished up doing a land blind through ridiculously high grass.

Fun, fun, fun!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weekend Field Training

I finally tested my remote launchers yesterday and discovered that both of them work (hurray!). I confess they make me nervous... There's rather great potential for injury with them. In any case, once tested, I loaded them and the black dogs into the full-of-equipment van and headed over to the Ann Arbor Airport, which I found empty of anyone using the fields. Set up the launchers, and ran Gryff on each mark as a single, then ran a couple of blinds. Then I decided to run the marks from the opposite end of the field as a double. Bad idea :-(. Gryff really didn't have any memory of the memory bird. I think it was too close to the two blinds. Ended up handling him to it, badly. Phooey. A good session gone bad. >:-(

When I ran Ty, she made me nervous on the longer mark because she hunted a really, really big area (somewhat near the road), but she did come up with it. Then we went to run them from the other direction. She also had problems with the one Gryff did so poorly on. I taught her the two blinds Gryff had done, and she did pretty well with those. Went home rather discouraged about their marking but happy with their blind work.

Today (Sunday), I met friends at the fire station, where the grass is sadly getting thick. Ralph Chapman threw a series of marks for Ty up on the hill where she's had trouble twice. I moved back after each success, finishing with the 3rd one fairly long. I felt like I finally made a deposit in her confidence bank instead of the big withdrawals. She later ran all three marks in the set up very well. I wish I could understand why she marks well sometimes and is poor at other times. Someday, maybe I will...

I did 3 blinds with Gryffin. The first was ugly, but the 2nd and 3rd were decent. He had a big hunt on the middle mark, but did the long, uphill left mark well. All in all, it was a satisfying weekend of field work.

Dealing with Disappointment

I have been showing in obedience a lot this year, working towards my boy Flat-Coated Retriever Gryffin's OTCh., UDX, and OM1 titles. At the time of writing this, he has all his 1st places needed for his OTCh., 82 of the required 100 points, and he finished both his UDX and OM1 at Tri-Cities' morning trial on May 2.

I also have two students actively pursuing a UDX on their 1st Utility dogs. Watching and helping them deal with the emotional roller coaster that is typical while pursuing advanced titles, and dealing with my own ups and downs in the ring this year has gotten me pondering ways to encourage both myself and others while in the almost inevitable disappointment phase.

Along with showing Gryffin, I have been training and showing my son's Border Terrier, Joker, for his CDX. Because of my prior OTCh. dogs, I had to title Joker in Open B, poor lad. Last fall, Joker & I were 0 for 4, failing 3 of 4 sit stays. This year, he finished his CDX in April, going 3 for 6 along the way, doing all his stays correctly, but failing the Broad Jump twice and doing his Drop on Recall once without benefit of a command from me. I am not looking for super high scores with him, just to get his title and give him the solo attention that he seems to enjoy so much that training provides. My goal when I show him is to put a smile on the judge's face, and we seem to accomplish this.

I have also been showing Ty, my 4 year old Flat-Coat girl. After having trouble with her stays in several trials, she earned her first CDX leg the same day Gryff finished his UDX.

I tell you all of that to say I have been in the ring a lot this year, and it has not all been good. I've had my ups and downs, as many exhibitors do. I have been dealing with my own disappointment at various times. However, my history in obedience has shown me that with hard work and persistence, I eventually reach my goals, in spite of the bumps along the way. Although it sometimes seems to be so, no one wins all the time!

When I was showing my Australian Terrier Rio for his UDX and OTCh titles, he NQ'ed Utility from May to November one year. Talk about disappointing! I was retraining his go-outs during that time with the help of my friend Judy Byron, but he just kept NQ'ing Directed Jumping. We didn't show often, but I would venture out once or twice a month, only to NQ once again. I remember being really frustrated with a few of those NQ's, but usually for just 5 minutes or so after exiting the ring. Then I'd go back to training and working on the problems. Finally, in late November, he passed everything in Utility. What a relief! Then, to my huge surprise and pleasure, he won the class, earning 33 OTCh. points, still the most I have ever garnered from a single class. All those months of training finally paid off.

I started writing this in the midst of an 0 for 6 streak (he failed at least one exercise in at least one class) with Gryffin while trying to get his 10th UDX leg. After going 8 for 10 for legs 2 through 9, it was frustrating and disappointing to say the least. His issue in the last 4 NQ's was his stays, scratching and sitting up briefly on a down stay, and going down on the sit stay 3 times. We spent the two weeks before our last trials doing a LOT of random stays around the house and training building, taking Linda Koutsky's advice in her Nov/Dec 2008 article in Front and Finish. My dogs responded in a way similar to what Linda wrote about, with both dogs making a lot of errors, not really taking my casual "SIT" commands very seriously at first. The efforts paid off with a 5 for 5 day at Tri-Cities, with Gryffin earning legs 10 & 11 on his UDX, and Ty earning her 1st CDX leg. Are we out of the woods on stays? I seriously doubt it! It was just a huge relief to see Gryffin sitting there when I returned on the first sit stay. It was big thrill when he did it again in the afternoon, and an even bigger thrill when Ty did both stays correctly.

I don't remember where I learned this, but something I like to remind myself about periodically is that if the only way you are going to come home happy from a trial is by qualifying or winning class X or getting a higher score than So and So, you probably better just stay home. We are working with dogs, not robots. I remind myself that I want to put forth the best effort that my dog and I can in that trial under the conditions of the day. If it's good enough to qualify/win etc. that day, great. If not, I need to make adjustments in my training. Trials are a test of my training. When things go a little bit wrong, the adjustments may be small. When things really go badly - and yes, I've had many of those days! - I take a hard look at several factors:

• Training frequency: Too much? Maybe my dog is stale from over-training. Too little? Maybe our teamwork isn't what it should be because we haven't been training enough.
• Training locations: Too many familiar places, too few less familiar or unfamiliar places?
• How much food have I been using lately?
• Have I been formal enough while still keeping my dog happy?
• Have I trained alone too much? While it takes effort to arrange it and more time to train with others, it really does pay off.
• Have I been working heavily on one or two problem exercises and letting others slide?

Obedience trainers often have a strong tendency to focus on what went wrong instead of what went right. Connie Cleveland wrote a wonderful article entitled "Don't You Dare Steal My Joy!" With a little help from Google, I found it here. It's in the "Honey's Corner" column. Take a read. You won't regret it.

In closing, I have certainly found disappointment to be a part of training and showing my dogs. Sometimes, you can put an incredible amount of time and effort into your preparation but still come up short. When this happens, pick yourself up, take a hard look at how you prepared and what your dog did well and not so well, and then go back to training. I have found that those goals reached after difficulties are all the sweeter to achieve.

Until next time, happy training!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gryffin finishes his UDX at long last!

(This is a combination of a couple of emails I wrote on Saturday May 2)

I'm sitting at the Tri-Cities trial, happy as a clam... Gryffin
(finally!) finished his UDX today, and for icing on the cake, also
scored well enough to finish his OM1 (the new Obedience Master title).
He scored a 195 in Utility, and 198 for 4th place in Open B. After
going 0 for 6 trying for #10, and going down on his sit stay in his
last 3 trials, I was really thrilled when I came back after the sit
stay and he was sitting. In fact, all 22 dogs in Open B and A passed
their stays today. Not sure I've ever seen that happen.

Later that day...

We ended up 5 for 5 today - Gryffin q'ed in all 4 classes (AM OB -
198, 4th place; UB - 195; PM OB 196.5, UB 194) and Ty (finally) earned
her first CDX leg with a 192.5. She had a no-finish on the BJ, which
was first. She started to go around me, but then stopped and sat at a
45 degree angle. Probably a by-product of working on brace this past
week. The rest of her class was sloppy but passing. Given the state
of her stays (weak at best), I am completely thrilled that she did
both of them. And very proud of my boy for his 4 passes today. We had
OB II this afternoon, which meant down stay first. He was pretty tired
by then, but the promise of his beloved rubber ball before the sit
stay lit up his eyes and he held it, hurray!

I have to credit today's stay success to rereading Linda Koutsky's
article on stays when I was in Lakeland 2 weeks ago. When I got home,
I started doing frequent around the house random sit stays (with the
occasional down stay for confused Ty) and caught both making a LOT of
errors. I'm sure going to keep this up!

Adele and Ch Grousemoor Gryffindor *UDX OM1* RE SH WCX (and 82 OTCh points and all needed 1st places)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Friday field update

With the UDX behind us (finally), and only the National obedience trial planned (June 1) between now and October, I'm focusing on field work for the most part with Gryff and Ty. My friend Corinne, who breeds and trains Tollers, has a hay field near her house we use. The owners cut down some scrubby bushes and made an impressively long brush pile earlier this week, with some places narrow enough for the dogs to jump over. We took advantage of it and set out a bumper pile 10-12 feet beyond one of the narrow places. I ended up having to call Ty over it because she seemed convinced that she couldn't possibly jump over it (this from a dog who leaps a baby gate with nary a thought). Once she realized she could, she was fine with it.

We've done pattern blinds in that field quite a bit (Corinne far more than me, naturally, living so close) (pattern blinds are blinds that you teach a dog via back chaining, usually in groups of 3, over several days). Gryff ran them some last year, Ty only a bit, since she was just getting to that stage last summer. When I was there 2 weeks ago, I ran Ty on the middle of the trio of blinds, which she did quite well. The right one presented more problems, because she REALLY wanted to go back to the left one. Yesterday, I started by teaching her how to navigate the brush pile blind, then put her up to rest. We came back out and started with the right pattern blind. On the first attempt to send her, she sat there (too much like a cold blind, which she's not ready for). We moved up a short distance. Then she veered to the left toward the middle blind. So we moved up some more. Finally, at about the 1/2 way point (I think it is about 120 yd blind total), it was like she went, "Oh THAT destination!" and headed in the correct direction. We then did the middle one from the top of the hill, then repeated the right one from near the top of the hill with fine success. Then we moved over to run the brush pile one. I think it's 150 yds from the top of the hill. We moved up some, but, if memory serves, I think she got herself all the way there and hopped the brush pile.

When I taught Gryff the brush pile blind, he wanted to go to the right (where the original pattern blind has been in the past), plus wanted to run around the right side of the pile. I used the e-collar on one sit, which seemed to wake him up. We ran the other two blinds as part of a blind drill (a mark in combination with a known blind), then reran the brush pile blind from the top of the hill. It was a two-whistle blind, and he made some excellent line corrections on both casts. It was really satisfying! There are times he responds to my casts by ping-pong-ing back and forth across the correct line (ugly and frustrating), so this on-the-money responses to my casts was fabulous to see.

I stopped at a pond on the way home for some water work (they were in the water for the first time this year last Sunday). Last year, Gryff had a HUGE amount of problems running a blind at a workshop in Ohio where he had to swim across a channel and then exit the water and run another 50 yds on land parallel to another leg of the pond. I got him across the channel reasonably quickly and out of the water, but could not get him to drive back along the shore - he seemed convinced he need to get back in the water. I found a local pond where I could reproduce this soon after that, and again had a lot of trouble. I'm happy to say he did quite a nice job on that concept yesterday. I put 3 bumpers at the end of the land dike, and after a successful first run, we moved to our left so that the line to the blind was gradually angling from left to right in the water this time. As he passed the right channel, he made a fairly obvious cut in to the shore (he often arcs/drifts right in the water, but this was a clear "oh, let's get to the shore" kind of move). We got a lot of practice on left back casts, but he was listening and responding pretty well. We finished with another move to the left so he had to do the initial part of the blind with a shore to his right.

With Ty, I worked on basic pile work across the narrow channel. After I tossed a bumper to ID the pile (so a mark), the next send was poor, but after that, she was doing a nice job. She didn't quite master treading water last year, but she was showing signs of being better at it yesterday.

I went home feeling really good about my dogs :-).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Seminar Musings

I got home Sunday night from a quick trip to Florida for 3 days of obedience lessons/seminar presenting in Lakeland. I had very little voice left, in spite of a great sound system. I had chorus rehearsal Monday morning. Having a 6 note range that kept changing didn't make for particularly great sounds. (I'm in a local women's chorus, and our concert is only a few weeks away.)

I have honestly enjoyed every seminar I've presented over the past 6 months. How lucky can I be that I'm getting to meet all these new dog friends and their nifty dogs all over the country, and getting to help them with their dogs?

On Saturday afternoon, I showed everyone how I start to shape a retrieve, and got a young (about a year old, recently neutered male) Brittany with no prior experience with the dumbbell taking it in 10 or so minutes. His owner reported Sunday morning that he was taking it every time she presented it. I think that most of the people at the seminar have never seen the db introduced this way, and have started their dogs right out with the ear pinch. The cool thing with this dog was his gnat-like attention span when we started. He was actually standing very still and thinking hard about what he needed to do as we got further along with the process. I asked his owner if he'd ever been that still in his life :-).

After working with several other dogs with hold issues, someone came out with her metal article and her Border terrier. He had learned Scent Discrimination just fine, but then started refusing the metal article a while back, and even with a fair bit of correction, still wouldn't take it. So I had her start with some nose touches, get several of those, then wait for a few, then to use a treat by the bar to start taking it. In probably 5-10 minutes time, he was taking it on his own. She was so thrilled (as was I)! On Friday, during her lesson, I'd suggested that she have her dog work for his meals, with the goal being to build some "want to" into him, since he was lacking a lot in the enthusiasm-for-obedience department. No work? No meal, or at least a significant delay in its arrival. Saturday morning, she greeted me with excitement. On Friday, we had worked on just doing an efficient set up, including head-up attention. The first time she asked for the set-up, I think she said he just sat wherever. So she said, "Oh, too bad, no meal," and walked away. She said the look on his face was hilarious. I think he did a decent set up 10 minutes later and got his meal. The next morning, he set up promptly, did a pivot as asked, and got his meal. For his dinner Saturday night, he had to take the metal article, and for Sunday's breakfast, she had him take it a couple of times, and then retrieve it, which he did. So late Sunday afternoon, as I talked about how I teach Scent Discrimination (Janice DeMello's Around the Clock), I walked her through the process with her dog. I knew it was a gamble - after all, he'd just started retrieving it again that morning, but he did great and was retrieving the right one each time with very little extra help. It was so incredibly satisfying!

Also, she said when she arrived at the building today, he was eager to get out of her vehicle, and he came in and ran and greeted several people enthusiastically, which is unusual for him. He was also awake and watching in his crate much more than usual.

There were several Border terrier owners there this weekend and they loved the fact that I've trained a bunch of terriers. I also got expressions of appreciation because I talk candidly about my failures as well as my successes (heck, I show terriers - it's part of the territory!). Last weekend, with my 3 Open B NQs, was a prime example ;-). I asked my host if any of her other seminar givers ever talk about failures, and she said no, absolutely not!

It was another exhilarating trip, and I am so lucky to get to do this with so many fun people.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rags to Riches or The Little Dog That Could (From AADTC Newsletter, Nov 1987)

The following article was written by Deb Schneider, my first obedience training partner. She recently unearthed the newsletter in which it was printed, and put it on Facebook. I have her permission to share it here.

Third Saturday of October, 1986

It was a fine autumn day, crisp and clear, tinged with the red and gold highlights of fall colors near their peak. The drive to Allegan, Michigan would have been a complete pleasure except for Adele's mounting nervousness. There was tension in the car's closed space, tangible to me and Adele's Australian Terrier, Casey, who sat panting on my lap.

We were on our way to their very first Obedience Trial.

We found the fairgrounds after several misguided circuits around the tiny town. Getting lost did nothing for Adele's nerves. She had barely turned off the ignition before grabbing the dog paraphernalia and rushing off to the trial building. Unloaded and signed-in, she started to warm up Casey.

The little dog had a history of "wimping out" when stressed, and Casey was displaying more and more of these traits: flattened ears, panting, even her normally perky whiskers had started to wilt. Adele wasn't in much better shape.

Finally, their number was called. I hid discretely behind a pole where I could watch their performance and not be distracting. They started slow ... Adele was white and trembling and Casey lagged a wimpy half body length behind her. The little dog that ordinarily heeled well had disappeared. Casey had also forgotten how to sit at the halt. Adele managed to remember a sage's advice to go ahead and give and extra command when things looked bad in the ring. She proceeded to squeak "Casey, Heel!". Then she did it again. And again. And... from where I was standing I could almost see the big, black mark the Judge made next to the "Unqualified Heeling" square on his score sheet.

"My knees were Jell-O!" Adele exclaimed on their release from the ring.

And then the question I dreaded... "How did we do?"

I tried to be encouraging, but Adele knew as well as I did what had gone wrong. Adele took her first non-qualification well. After all, Casey was her fun dog... the dog she was going to learn how to train and show in preparation for showing her second dog, Tramp, who had exhibited more competitive potential.

But on her return from Allegan, Adele started looking for ways to improve Casey's performance. And over the next year she found many.

Third Saturday in October, 1987

The drive to London, Ontario was hectic and mostly done in the dark. This time we were both showing in Novice B and if Adele was nervous, I was too nervous to notice. Her husband, Fritz, was along and we were all exhausted by the trip. At least all the humans were, but when we got up to the hotel room, the three dogs started tearing about like overtired children. At last we all settled down to catch what sleep we could before our morning show times.

Next morning we left with plenty of time to spare. We found the show grounds easily and got the dogs settled quickly. A year of experience showing both her dogs had given Adele a new confidence. She left them in their crates, having learned that absence not only made their hearts grow fonder, but also added an edge to their performances. While the dogs waited quietly, Adele attended to the problem of a conflict between Casey's obedience time and Tramp's breed ring time. Casey was moved back a dozen dogs, and we all settled into the hurry-up-and-wait atmosphere of the dog show.

With Tramp finished in breed, Adele rushed off to change. Casey could tell something exciting was up... people kept stopping by her crate and telling her how cute she was. Adele returned and took Casey for her last minute trip outside and a quick warm-up. Then into the ring they went.

I watched from ringside, confident that Casey's attention would be on Adele. From the first "Forward", it was obvious everything was all right. Casey's ears were up, her gait perky, her tiny face poked in the air to meet Adele's confident smile. No Jell-O knees this time, Adele strode out at just the right pace for her little dog.

Casey was glued in heel position. Her sits were fast and straight. The performance gave me chills and I noted smiles of approval from many of the familiar faces in the audience. Casey's recall was not only fast and precise, it was also adorable, and drew coos from the crowd. She did her long sit in a half doze and her down without a twitch.

Adele was met with many congratulations as she wove her way through the crowds back to her crate. As she switched Casey for Tramp, I teased her "Wouldn't it be funny if your dogs tied each other with high scores and were in a run off together?" Adele pooh-poohed the thought, but we hastily planned what to do just in case.

Tramp's performance was also very good that afternoon. Not as good as Casey's, Adele said, but more than acceptable. She was very pleased. Adele was warming up Casey and I, Calix, neither of us expecting to be in a run-off, but wanting to be ready just in case. Fritz had Tramp on a leash nearby. Suddenly, I heard the steward call number 113. It was Casey!

As Adele rushed to ringside, I heard the second number, 141. Oh no, Tramp! At the gate Adele remembered she had only on six foot lead for both dogs and we did some fsast shuffling, putting my leash on Tramp.

The dust settled and Adele and Casey were in the ring with Tramp and me at their side. I managed to get Tramp's attention just long enough for the first step at "Forward", and then she wrapped around my legs looking for Adele. At the halt, the judge said, "Well, I guess it's obvious!". Casey had won the run off, the class, and earned High in Trial with a 199.5!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What to do between exercises in the obedience ring

I was in Gonzales, Louisiana last weekend to teach a "Balancing Act" seminar. Because I flew there, I didn't have any of my dogs there, so I prepared the following video to take along to show the variety of ways in which I release and interact with my dogs between exercises in the obedience ring. You can tell from the video that all of the dogs enjoy my touch, which makes it easier to reinforce them in the ring. In how many different prop-less ways (i.e., no food and no toy) do you release your dog? There is one particularly looooong stretch - a full minute - between finishing the UKC Open Figure 8 and starting the Drop on Recall. The judge had to wait for the Honor dog's handler to return, and then she had to give instructions to a steward. What would you do for that length of time in the ring? Practice and find out!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fulton County KC - Day 1

I showed all 3 dogs (Gryffin, Ty & Joker) in Open B at the Fulton Co KC's trial at TKC today, and Gryff in Utility B as well.

Joker was first up in Open of the 3, and did a decent job, although his broad jump was a bit of a heart stopper - he trotted to it, slowed down, and then popped over it, ticking the last board softly. Cute drop, cute retrieves, not too shabby heeling. And he put a smile on the judge's face (Dan Herald). His stays were just fine, hurray! This earned him his 2nd CDX leg.

Ty was next up. On the Retrieve on Flat, when she was about 6 feet away, she dropped the dumbbell, and it bounced/rolled forward off to my left. She continued to me slowly, looking a bit perplexed, then went and picked it up, and kind of finished. We lost 5 for that. Drop and High Jump were fine. I handed the dumbbell back to the judge, which may have been the undoing of her Broad Jump. She stared hard at him when I left her, and when I said "Jump it," she just sat there staring. When I repeated my command, she came to me instead of jumping, while continuing to stare at him. Guess who hasn't proofed for the judge holding the dumbbell??? Frankly, I haven't proofed her for a lot of things. Her heeling was fine, as was her sit stay, which, given that she'd gone down not once but TWICE yesterday while training, I was relieved and very happy with her. She didn't go down for the the down stay immediately, and I didn't get her over on her hip. Sad to say, she popped up as I left the room, did a sit for a while, then went back down. Phooey.

Gryffin had a fine run in Open B, and then went into Utility. We had Open B III, finally something other than I or II. We had Utility B II again. Geeze we've had it a lot! It was a very nice class, but he walked on both stands, so I wasn't sure how much that would cost us. His sit stay was fine, but (boo hoo!), he scratched and bit at his side during the down stay, sat up briefly, and went back down. It was especially a boo hoo because he blew a 198.5 score.***

Gryffin did get 2nd place in Utility with a 195.5, and picked up 7 more points, bringing him up to 75 OTCh. points. So the day was not a total loss :-).

Kay Braddock and GWH Jet Q'ed in Open B, as did Mercedes True and English Setter Max. Corner go-outs got them both on Directed Jumping.

Belinda Venner and Lab Sparta earned their 8th UDX leg AND was in a runoff for High Combined!! They earned 2nd place in Open B and 3rd place in Utility B. This with the bar first in Utility (which has been causing them a lot of problems this year).

It was a fun day (well, except for those danged down stays with the black dogs...).

*** Linda MacDonald and her Golden Wings won the Open B class with a 197.5, which finished Wing's OTCh. title and netted her High in trial.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Siberian Husky Club Trial, March 6, 2009

I showed only Gryffin at the Siberian Husky trial in Dexter. We had a not-so-great NQ in Utility B (corner go-outs, moved on the MS exam, dropped an article leaving the pile, loss of focus on the sit signal so didn't do it without excessive waving on my part ), which meant another trial without a UDX leg. I can't be too upset, since he hasn't failed more than one Utility class in a row since last summer.

I'm very happy to say that we got 1st place in Open B. We had Open B II (again - 4th time this year out of 7 Open classes), earned a 198.5, and 1st place. This completes the 1st places he needs for his OTCh. title, and he also got 4 more points, bringing his total up to 68. And to top it off, he got High in Trial! He hasn't had many (this is his 2nd all-breed HIT - he had one from Novice - plus the one he got at the 2007 FCRSA National from Utility). It has been many years since I've won an Open B class, so it was a very fine day.

We really enjoyed getting home and having a nice run in the beautiful spring weather :-).