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 :-).