Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Shocker in Ann Arbor

About 10 minutes before going in the ring with Ty today in our first attempt at Utility, I suddenly thought, "Oh drat... Every one of my dogs has gotten a Q their 1st time in the Utility ring. My streak is bound to end today." (Joker was also going in Utility for the 1st time.) Then I remembered that Tramp (my 2nd dog, 1st OTCh.) did NQ her 1st try at Utility, earning her 1st leg the next day. Okay, just never mind. And besides, who else REALLY CARES???

Ty did show in Grad Open in June at the Specialty, which meant we were training regularly leading up to it, just not quite ready distance-wise on Signals and Go-outs. Joker hadn't had regular training since... March? April? Before? Both had done some Util matches last winter/spring, but VERY crudely. Then I spent all summer doing field work with Ty & Gryffin, with nearly zero obedience practice.

When Gryff cut his hock in September 19, it slammed our field season to a halt. I immediately jumped into obedience training, concentrating on Utility with Joker and Ty. We did two consecutive Friday matches @ NDT, with a productive week of training in between. I made a quick 3-day trip to California two weeks ago, so no training Thu-Sat, and was in Florida last weekend and missed 4 days of training.

On Wednesday this past week, Ty could NOT do her signals - and it wasn't just one of them. She was failing them every which way - on my drop signal, she might down, or sit, or stand and wag. On her sit signal, she might lie there, or sit, or stand up. I was SO frustrated. I'm very glad my friend Belinda was there, because I think her presence helped keep me from completely losing my cool. After that session, I was sure we couldn't pass signals. Okay, so we'd see if she could do the rest of the class. I was pretty confident with the other exercises. Then she decided that immediately after the Moving Stand exam, she needed to just return on her own. EEK! I practiced with a toy behind her to which I'd release her after an exam. Yesterday, on the last try, she started breaking to the toy instead of to me. Progress!

How to solve the signal problem??? I thought back to our meltdown on Signals in March, when she wasn't staying on the stand and was having drop problems. I pulled out a clicker and worked on those two things (stay put and don't anticipate, but DO drop when signaled). On Thursday when I went out to train, I had my temper well under control, and got out a clicker and worked on back chaining - I did several signal recalls from a sit for a click and treat. Then left her in a down, sit, click, toss a treat. We worked our way back to the drop. Her training ended on a definite up note from Wednesday.

Joker has been getting steadily better at the overall class exercises but he is just SO green. I thought he could probably do the signal exercise - he's been MUCH more reliable than Ty, and articles have been solid. The corner gloves are dicey, his moving stand is poorly understood (stop is good, return usually okay, but the exam... OH the exam... "Oh, you are coming to pet me? Let me come closer so you can do it sooner!"). My biggest concern, though, has been Directed Jumping. Three weeks ago, he was failing the exercise in multiple ways - not leaving me on my send command; not waiting long enough after the sit; and taking the same jump twice. My husband Fritz even came out one evening and called commands for me, which caused both dogs to make mistakes.

I finished up feeling SO good about everyone's training that day. Gryff had his first really full training session - during my California trip, he'd injured himself and was on three legs again. I hired my son Ryan to leash walk him while I was gone in Florida. Gryff was absolutely fabulous training Thursday. He was entered in both Open and Utility both days. I decided to give all the dogs a brief run in the agility yard. And Gryff ended up on 3 legs again :-(. Can we say dumb owner? We ended up at our local rehab vet Friday morning. She feels the injury is in his lower back, and suggests we see a chiropractor. Given that that couldn't happen until next week, I opted to have her do an acupuncture session. I've never seen one before, and it was fascinating. The needles that were in the muscle on the right side of his spine (the sore side) were twitching and dancing and bobbing. Once done, he did trot out (vs. the hopping he was doing on the way in). It wasn't a totally sound trot, but definite improvement. I was instructed to apply heat, massage, and ice a couple times a day. He is totally acting like his regular crazy self, which is a bit frustrating, but it does make me think that he can't be hurting TOO much.

We had order I in Utility today, which meant Signals first. I was in with Ty first (I did not show Gryff today), so figured we'd be able to relax after a prompt NQ. She had a significant lag on the fast and then didn't sit on the halt, but the rest of her heeling was fine. And she DID HER SIGNALS! I told the judge, "Well, that was unexpected!" Her articles and glove (#2) were all fine. Okay, would my bandaid hold for the Moving Stand? Her stop was quite good, and OMG, she stayed still when the judge stepped back! Decent finish for another passed exercise. Her 1st go-out and jump were fabulous. As the judge passed in front of us to switch sides for the 2nd half, she asked if my heart was pounding. Oh, yeah :-). Great 2nd half, and our first leg!

Joker was in Exc. B rally, and earned his 2nd leg with a 1st place 99. We went into the Utility ring about a 1/2 hour later. When we were ready to start Signals, oh, drat, he was looking forward, and when I started, he didn't. I immediately gave him a verbal command to heel. It's an expensive error, but not an NQ (it cost us 5 points). The rest of his heeling was quite nice (well, for Joker :-)), and he also did his signals. Good boy! He plugged away through articles, the glove retrieve (dangling it by a finger, but holding without dropping), and the Moving Stand. OMG, could we have another Q? He looked out well, and dashed off on my go-out cues. Oops, he pulled up shorter than I like, and I gave him a fast sit command. Jump was fine. Second go-out, same pulling up short. Not 10 feet past the jump short, but still far from where I'd like to see him. He waited for my command, I took my time, and then... he took the correct jump, came in and ... another Q for my team!

Ty ended up with a 190, 4 off the Signals, and then crooked turns, fronts, finishes on most everything else. Joker had my first ever score in the 170's :-) - a 178. He lost 9 on the Signal Exercise (ouch!), which would have been -4 had he started with me as he usually does. He lost 8 on DJ (another ouch) - I didn't ask the judge how she deducted, but I'm betting 3 points per go-out, plus fronts and finishes.

I am still in shock... even though we have been cramming for this for the past month, there are just so many things that could go wrong. I wasn't that convinced when I sent in my entries that either was likely to pass, but how can I pass up this once-a-year opportunity to show in my building? And yes, we have a HUGE home-court advantage. They aren't ready to go elsewhere yet, but this gives me a good read on where they are.

And oh my gosh, they each have a Utility leg!

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Utility Training Update

I've lost track if I mentioned it here, but Gryffin sliced his left hock a couple of weekends ago. Not, thank god, a career ending slice, but it had him on 3 legs for a couple of days, thus ending our wonderful season of hunt tests. The silver lining is that I've leapt back into obedience training, particularly with Joker and Ty in Utility. Neither of them has shown in Utility yet, nor even done that many matches with any sort of thought of being even vaguely close to ready to trial. Joker hasn't really been trained regularly since sometime in the spring - maybe March? April? Ty Q'ed in Graduate Open at the National back in June, but since then, we focused on field work, with next to no obedience work.

I had matches here at home today and a week ago. I ran them both through last week. Ty had pretty disastrous signals and various other issues. Joker stood there on the down signal, but did the rest of his signals nicely. I don't think he actually did too much else right.

We have trained a whole bunch since then - almost daily, in fact - mostly at home, but we did take one road trip Wednesday to the Toledo KC, where we'll probably trial in late November. Gryffin just LOVES to show there.

Ty passed everything except for anticipating the MS return. In her defense, because she kept turning her head during the exam, the 'judge' kept pushing her head back. She probably pushed Ty's head about 5 times. When she finished the exam and stepped back, Ty started in. I think the alarm had gone off in her head... "Times up!" Other than that, she did a lot of excellent work. I'm not overly concerned about fronts and finishes right now, but even they were pretty good. Certainly, she did all of them without more than a 1/2 point off. I waited a little extra long to cue the 2nd jump. She was twitching towards the high jump, which she'd already done, but she waited and stayed attentive. She also started slightly in the wrong direction on a couple of finishes, but then went the right way. One was to my right, one to my left. I am VERY pleased with her progress in just a week.

Joker also did a lot more correctly today. Most of the problems he had were familiar. We started with Directed Jumping, and doing go-outs cold? No goes on both of them. But I've gotten that when I've done some glove/go-out proofing and he's made mistakes, so I wasn't that surprising. I still need to work out the best position for him when I send him, what the best signal is for me to use, etc. He also wanted to repeat the HJ on the right. He doesn't quite seem to get that after doing THIS jump, we do THAT jump. His moving stand was good, though I asked the judge to do a simpler exam. He went to glove 2 instead of 1. I already knew I had a problem with glove 3, so that's why I picked 1. It is probably his weakest exercise. Guess what we'll be doing frequently this week? He missed his first article, which was in the center. He had circled and sniffed all of the outer articles twice, and I think simply timed out. This is unusual, so I'm not particularly worried. He's actually been showing me a very nice and deliberate work on them. He got back on track, and his 2nd one was fine. AND... drum roll, not only did he do his signals fine, he actually heeled NICELY with me. And notice, I didn't say "Joker heeled nicely, for him." No, it wasn't perfect. But he was with me. We've been starting each of our training sessions with a dozen or so set ups. His understanding of heel position is so poor, that it makes training the Utility exercises cumbersome, because it takes so many tries to get him in decent enough position to get started. This set-up work is paying off - our last two training days have resulted in much less effort from me to get him there. Again, he isn't perfect, but he's improved.

Gryffin did Open after not doing much work on it at all. He was brilliant :-). I caught him in some attention lapses in Utility which caused him to bark at me when I corrected him. Mr. Sassypants. Overall, some really fine work from him. He is my 'comfortable slippers' dog now. Who would have thunk it about my goofball?

It's amazing what a week of consistent training can produce. I guess it is time to get off my duff and fill out those Marshbanks entries...