Sunday, July 17, 2011

Are You Ready?

A recent theme in my classes has been the topic of how to know if you are ready to show, so I thought it worth exploring the topic here.
   When I was first starting out in obedience in the '80's, a common recommendation was that when you could go to three novel places (ideally fun matches) and do a run through just like you would in a trial - no food on you, no special training collars, no toys, no extra use of your voice - AND your dog would qualify on each exercise and you would be satisfied with the results, then you were ready to enter a real trial. I think this is still excellent advice.
   In the AKC Novice obedience class, your 200 points are broken down into 2 heeling exercises, worth 80 points, 3 stay exercises worth 90 points, and one recall exercise (which also contains a stay) worth 30 points. Of that 30 points, the sit in front is worth 3 and the finish is worth 3. Heeling is more important to your final score in Novice than in any other class, as are stays. It usually takes longer to teach a dog to heel well than most other obedience exercises.
    There is a large chasm between a perfect 200 and a just passing 170. To me, that is one of the wonderful things about obedience. You don't have to be perfect, or even all that close to it, in order to earn legs towards a title. There are a lot of factors that go into qualifying. First, there is the amount of training that a trainer puts into her dog. Most people who excel with a dog do so because they do their homework. Lots of homework. Yes, there are dogs who are easier to train and ones who are harder. Some dogs can handle a lot of repetition, some can't. Dogs usually learn and perfect obedience exercises via repetition, and lots of it, so it stands to reason that the dog who can handle a lot of repetition is going to reach the end goal a lot faster than the one who doesn't do well with repetition. But it isn't a race, so what's the rush? Sometimes students tell me, "Oh, we should be farther along with exercise XYZ." Since life has a way of interfering with our dog training at times, the reality is you are where you are with your dog, and you should just do your best to move forward. 
     My most recently completed Utility Dog title (May 28, 2011) was with Joker the Border Terrier, who turned 10 in early May this year. We purchased him for my son when Chris was 12. They did agility training for a couple of years, but Chris wasn't interested in trailing, so they stopped. In 2006, I asked Chris if I could take Joker to a Border Terrier National, where he earned his first RN leg. Joker didn't learn to retrieve formally until he was at least 5 years old. He learned scent discrimination when he was 7. As long as you keep your older dog in good physical shape, there's no need to be in a big hurry. (Yes, I realize some breeds don't live a long time. Yes, you need to be in more of a hurry with them.)
    Are you practicing being silent when you heel with your dog? This is one of the biggest sources of stress for dogs transitioning into the obedience trial ring, especially if you have first shown in rally where non-stop chatter is acceptable. Their handlers help them too much in training, chattering, encouraging, fixing. No wonder dogs are confused! You have got to practice heeling for longer periods of time with your mouth shut and no extra help or encouragement from you. One of the exercises I do occasionally in my Novice Practice class - the holding point for students who have gone through my four 6-week Novice teaching classes - is the 30-second test. We do group heeling for 30 seconds or so, which is roughly the length of a typical Novice or Open heeling pattern. I call for halts, about turns, pace changes, etc. Before we start, I tell everyone to keep track of anything extra that they do that they couldn't do in the ring, whether praising, encouraging with their voice or body, correcting, or treating, and to just add it all together into one number. When the 30 seconds is over, I ask everyone for their number. Most people start out with at least 3-4. The goal is to get that down to zero on a consistent basis before trailing, or to at least have the errors you are fixing be small ones as opposed to ones that would cause a substantial deduction (3 or more points off). If your dog is frequently not sitting automatically when you halt, for example, this will blossom into a lot of points off and possibly even an NQ (non-qualifying score) under some judges in the ring. 
    Are you practicing without any treats or toys for even a few minutes at a time? How about for 5 minutes? Ten minutes? How about with no external motivators on you at all for that length of time? Your long-term goals will determine how important this stage is. The farther you hope to go (UDX, OMx, OTCh), the more critical it is. If you are only going to trial occasionally, and will stop after earning titles such as a UD, this weaning process is less crucial. But it is still important. Because I knew our path was "UD = U Done" with Joker, I didn't concern myself with perfection. At a match shortly before he finished his UD, he went 10 feet off center on a go-out. I didn't fix it. I sent him to the opposite jump, proving to myself that he would still jump from his incorrect destination. Yes, it is several points off when they end up off center. But it is not an NQ.
   When I'm preparing a new dog for Novice, I do a lot of heeling. I don't fix every little error. I know my dog will make some errors in the ring. If, during training, I always fix every little error, what will happen in the ring when I don't? I do make a mental note of any errors that are consistent, such as going wide on about turns when we are turning away from a wall or gate. If I'm seeing any consistent errors, I pull that part out of general heeling (or whatever the exercise) and do some drills in order to strengthen my dog's understanding and commitment to being correct. I also check on my handling. Am I doing something badly myself that is causing the dog to make his error? A common problem with dogs who go wide on about turns is that their handler steps to her left as she is doing the turn, causing the dog to go wide.
    I look at trials as a test of my training. Going into my most recent set of trials, I knew I hadn't been training as regularly as Ty needed. We had several shaky exercises. We showed in 6 classes, and NQed in 4 of them. But in the two in which we qualified, we earned 3rd places, and even 1 OTCh point. And much of the work she did that was qualifying showed some promising effort. I don't plan to enter any more obedience trials until October, since I want to take a break and work on field training for a few months. We also clearly have some homework to do on several obedience exercises. With time to train and effort on my part, we'll be more ready the next time.
     Nancy Gyes wrote an article called Train like you compete, compete like you train way back in 1997. It is specifically about agility, but there is plenty of help for anyone competing with a dog in any venue.
      Connie Cleveland has several excellent articles on her website. Here's one related to this month's topic, What Motivates a Dog to Perform? 
      I hope this has given you some useful food for thought. Until next time, happy training.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Maiden Voyage of T3

As I wrote about on June 21, I was planning on my first travel trailer trip to be to the Ann Arbor KC trial this weekend in Monroe. All DID go as planned. I seem to have given The Travel Trailer the nickname of 'T3'. Much easier to say. I brought it home on Friday June 24, after taking an hour of video of the guided tour of the trailer itself and of the hitching process. This has already turned out to be an excellent thing, since I've referred back to it to figure out several different things.
   I spent quite a bit of time last weekend shopping and outfitting it, and Fritz and the 4 dogs (our 3 plus visiting FCR puppy Little) spent Sunday night (July 3) sleeping in it, parked in the driveway a short walk from the house. I think I got this excellent suggestion from a Facebook friend. It only took 3 extra trips to the house for stuff I forgot. It was hot and stuffy in there but we couldn't get the AC to work. It had worked fine at the dealer the week before, but I couldn't get the breaker panel cover open, so we muddled through. It did cool off over night just fine.
   Fritz was up and out early the next morning to run in a 4th of July 5K. I made myself tea, had breakfast, and took a shower, which meant figuring out the water heater (it can be either electric or propane) and the water pump. Step 1 of the new adventure completed. I also figured out how to open the circuit breaker panel with the help of the video tour, and sure enough the AC circuit breaker was off. My 1st trouble shooting success.
   That afternoon, after reviewing the hitching video footage and improving my list of hitching instructions, Fritz and I got it hitched up, and I took it for a short drive around our country block, then parked it behind the training building, which will be its storage spot when not in use. I am very glad it is such a wide area, since my backing skills are on the poor end of the scale right now. But the wide parking area is plenty wide enough for me to get it turned around in, which is a relief.
   Gina Czapiwski, her husband Rob, and their daughter Tracy were also going to camp at the AAKC trial, so Gina very kindly went to the Monroe Fairgrounds and reserved us adjoining camping spots.
   We were finally packed and ready to leave home a bit after 2 on Friday. The drive was thankfully uneventful. When I arrived at the fairgrounds, I pulled off to the side and walked in to find my camping spot. I didn't want to end up with the Burb and T3 trapped in a maze of twisty little passages, unable to extricate myself. Luckily, the spot was such that I was able to make a loop and pull in, no backing up required. Yeah! A 25' x 50' spot sounds really large until you pull into it with a 23' trailer attached to a Suburban. The show building was close enough that I could walk there in about 3 minutes, so I was able to leave T3 hitched all weekend.
   Next step was to get hitched up to water and electric. I'd plugged into 110 power at the house and behind the training building, so I had appropriate extension cords for that. I dragged my cord over to the pole, popped open one of the covers and... uh, oh, it was a 30 amp receptacle, not a 110. Ack! Deep breath. There was a 110 plug on the other side of the pole. I plugged in, but when I checked in T3, there did not seem to be power. Then I made the dismaying discovery that without being plugged in, the 110 outlets don't function. Uh, oh, what would I do to charge my various electronic gadgets to which I'm addicted?
   Next, I pulled out the brand new water hose to hook up to the water supply, uncoiled it, and... it reached about 1/3 of the way to the water supply. It looked like I'd be unhooking the trailer and driving somewhere to buy more hose. When my neighbors noticed my predicament, they kindly offered me a new 50 foot length of hose, which they didn't need since they were close enough to the supply on the other side to not need it. I got both ends hooked up, turned on the water and it dripped like crazy at the source. So I turned the faucet back off and PHSSSST, the water sprayed liberally out the top of the hose, getting me rather wet in the process. Fortunately, it was a hot afternoon. I switched so that my neighbor's hose was hooked to the faucet instead of mine, but it still leaked. I gave up and finished doing other set up stuff, putting out the awning, pulling out the big straw mat underneath it, and putting up the hardly-been-used X-pen. I put the dogs in it, made myself a cup of tea, and sat under the awning to enjoy it. My neighbors continued their much lengthier set up process - they had MANY more dogs than I did. I posted on Facebook about the fact that my attempts to get the water and electric hooked up had failed. Not 15 minutes latter, a white mini van pulled up and there were Charlotte and Jim Lovelace, who just happen to live 3 miles away from the fairgrounds. I've known Charlotte since my teen years in 4-H, and she's trained several dogs at NDT. They offered much welcomed assistance. The power wasn't working because the GFCI button needed to be reset. Once done, my power was on. The water issue was solved by filling up the tank and then just running off that via the trailer's water pump.

I moved the X-pen to the shady side of T3 late in the afternoon.

Here are all the Czapiewski's Boston Terriers. We figured out their 8 dogs probably weigh about what my 3 FCRs weigh.

T3 has an outside shower with hot and cold water. Within 10 minutes of turning on the water heater, the water was warm enough to give Ty a bath on the adjacent grooming table. That was nifty! The water pressure wasn't great, but it was easy on my back.

   I had a reasonably good night's sleep. All was quiet at 3:15 when I got up to turn off the fan. A lot of dogs erupted in barking at 5:15 - I later found out that some bozo had driven by on M50 honking like crazy, which I didn't hear - but I went back to sleep until 6. I wheeled my equipment-laden cart over to the Expo building about 7 AM and got my crates set up. Many friends were arriving at about the same time. I returned to the trailer, had breakfast, then walked back with the dogs.
   I showed Ty in Utility B first, and alas, she once again did not do her sit signal after a lovely drop. But she did both articles, which have somewhat mysteriously been a problem lately, and everything else very nicely. Her go-outs were better than most of the dogs I saw. There was a lot to be very happy about in that performance.
   Next, we were in Open B. She had failed the down stay in her past 3 trials, and also had some problems with other exercises, but we'd been to several matches and I was reasonably optimistic about our chances. Her heeling ended on a sour note, with a big wide on the last about turn that lasted almost to the halt. Her broad jump front was also very poor, but the rest of her work seemed quite good. And she did her stays just fine, hurray! This meant we accomplished another of our goals for the year, which was to double her lifetime Open Q's to 6 :-). Much to my delight and surprise, she earned a 197 and 3rd place in the class. That is the highest Open score she's earned. 2.5 of the points lost were on heeling, the other 1/2 on the BJ front.
  In the afternoon trial, she once again stuck in the down and didn't do the sit signal, and in spite of a lot of searching, finally gave in and got a wrong 1st article. On her 1st go-out, she pulled up just a bit short, just as I gave my sit command. What flashed through my head was that if I have to do DJ in either of the Versatility classes in which we are entered, I'd better do something about this. On the 2nd one, she again turned a bit early, so I reminded her to go, and she did.
   Because of the stay issues in the past 3 trials, I only entered Open B the one time, and entered Versatility in the other two trials. When I looked at what exercises we'd have to do, my heart sank. SIGNALS. Also the Novice SFE, the Utility Moving Stand, the Retrieve on Flat, the Broad Jump, and the Novice recall. Unlike other times I've done Versatility, the exercises were quite mixed up (vs. 2 Novice, 2 Open, 2 Utility). She once again (ick, 3 times in one day, now that was discouraging) failed the sit signal. Then she trotted through the broad jump. Then when I really looked at it, they boards looked spread too far apart. I mentioned that to the judge, so he had the steward check it, and sure enough, she'd made an error and set it at 52 instead of 44 (she measured to the 1st edge of the last board, not the last). It was reset, and Ty jumped it fine. Without much thought, I threw up my hands and praised her when she landed and just released her. Heck, we'd already blown it and she'd had the too-large jump to contend with, so why not? She did do a very nice front fix on the dumbbell retrieve, which was nice to see.
   I had a lovely dinner Saturday night with the Czapiewskis, then did a bit of bumper training with Little, Gryff and Ty. I did run T3's AC for a bit, proving to myself that it worked, but later in the evening, just running the fan was fine. As I cleaned up my dishes from dinner, I found it very satisfying to be settling into my new home away from home.
   This morning, I had a text message from Brenda Riemer saying she was outside the rig, was I up? So she came in for a visit while we finished our morning beverages.
   We had Utility 1st, and lo and behold, Ty managed to pass everything! She made several stress-related errors - her heeling was sloppy and she slowed up and then stood about 18" away on the signal recall - close enough to Q, but a substantial deduction. Her Moving Stand return was also lacking in confidence - she slowed up about 2 feet out, and walked around to her finish. She was really over thinking things. On her first go-out, she hooked to the left somewhat, but sat fine and jumped the left jump fine. I think it was in response to the pressure of the stay line up on the right side of the Open ring, on beyond the end of the Utility ring. Her 2nd go-out was to about the same place, but she jumped the right jump fine, too. When all was said and done, there were only 4 qualifiers out of 13, and we earned 3rd place with our 188, good for 1 OTCh. point. She now has 3 :-).
   I apprentice judged Open B under judge Michelle Armitage, who is from Ottawa, Ontario, with a break to go do Versatility again. This time, we had to do the Novice Heel Free, SFE, the Open Drop on Recall and Broad Jump, and the Utility Moving Stand and Directed Retrieve. She heeled better than she had all weekend - I wish I knew why! - but didn't come on the DOR. She started to, but froze in a stand after only a couple of steps. I called her right away again, and she completed the rest of it fine. Her Moving Stand was much better than it had been in the morning, and she really had some zip on the Directed Retrieve, so it was a nice way to complete the weekend.
   I had a lazy afternoon, with a late lunch at T3 and packing up to come home.
Here's Ty, enjoying the cool AC blast:

Gryff doing the same.
And finally, Little looking like she has no bones, lying up on the bed.

A kindly gentleman helped me with the thrilling chore of my first fairgrounds dump station visit, showing me the ropes and giving me some suggestions about other items to purchase to make the task a bit less onerous. The trip home went just fine. I got the trailer unloaded and unhitched successfully.
   What a blast!

In case you are wondering who Little is, she belongs to Helen Szostak and her breeder, Cheryl Kistner. After Joker finished his UD in May, I asked Helen if she had a young dog I could borrow to do some basic field training with. I transported Little to and from the Maryland National, and she's been with me for training since. But that is another post. She'll probably be here until the end of July, when we'll be going on vacation. She's now 10 months old and a wonderful sponge for training.