Monday, October 22, 2012

This Fall's Competitions

I've had a very productive fall of various competitions - field, obedience, and rally. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Ty finishing her UDX, and Sonic earning her WC, a couple of Junior Hunter passes and her 1st rally novice leg.

This past weekend were the annual Marshbanks Golden Retriever Club's obedience and rally trials held in my training building. Assuming all my arithmetic is correct, Ty finished her OM2 title, earning 12 points for her 2 Utility B Qs. Earning a UDX and OM2 were my top level title goals for her, so anything else she does in the future will be a bonus. Her heeling is simply not up to snuff enough to pursue an OTCh., especially in my very competitive area.

Sonic earned legs 2 & 3 on her RN (rally novice), making this her 1st AKC title. Her performance on Saturday was the best of the three legs.
I gave her 2 runs before showing her, 1 first thing in the morning and another about an hour before we showed. I'd run her through rally and beginner novice on Friday at the match that Northfield Dog Training sponsored. She had a lot of trouble concentrating for any length of time outside the ring, but once we entered to run the course, she was quite good. This gave me some confidence on Saturday before I showed her.

She earned a perfect 100 and 2nd place. I never did look at the times of my run and the 1st place exhibitor, but since we moved through the course pretty quickly, I have to assume I paused longer on the walk around exercises.

On Sunday, she had a lot more trouble concentrating, plus the course was quite jammed in together, so almost as soon as you'd finish one sign, you'd be at the next one. I kept her with me mainly because I talked to her almost non-stop and was very proactive about giving her extra help when she needed it.
We earned a 99 and 1st place to complete her RN, her 1st AKC title.

Little is still staying with my family, since I'm still having good weather and time enough to train her. Plus, she's hit a really fun and exciting stage of training called 'Transition', where it seems like she makes progress every day. She learned a set of pattern blinds last week easy as pie. Essentially, you teach the dog 3 new blinds over several days, adding a new blind when they've mastered the previous one(s). If you hold 3 fingers up and spread them wide, that is kind of the directions of the blinds. I don't remember having so little problems when I did pattern blinds with Gryffin and Ty, but maybe it's a case of amnesia. Whatever the case, she did them so well, I asked Helen to help me get started with Blind Drills, where you add a gunner and marks to the pattern blind field. The 1st day we did them (last Friday), I had Helen positioned to the right of the right blind, throwing to the right. It went so smoothly that on the 2nd day, I positioned her between the middle and right blinds, throwing an angle back mark to the left. This produced several chances to work on casting Little away from distractions, as she really wanted to veer to where the mark was thrown. Since this is exactly what the drill is intended to teach, I felt it was a successful venture. I'm not sure when I'll be able to have someone throw again, but hopefully soon.

I'm working on whistle sits with Sonic, using a PVC baby gate parallel to and to the right of the line she's running, because she has been tending to loop at least 6-8 feet to her right AND come creeping in before she sits. Neither of these is what I want, so borrowing from my obedience fixes for go-out sits, I'm using a barrier. I had tried using my 4 foot PVC broad jump boards a month or so ago, but they weren't big enough to work well. She seems to only need the gate to the right, so that's all I'm using. I saw some nice results with it yesterday. I'd really love to have her either started on Double T or ready to start it when we get to the Catledges in Tennessee, because I've heard wonderful things about their Double T field. We are also working on baseball casting where I put her on the (imaginary) pitcher's mound and 'cast' her (give hand signals and voice commands) to send her to 1st, 2nd or 3rd base to retrieve a bumper.

I've also been shaking the bushes looking for some local hay fields in which to work on marking, and I've got a few lined up. Now I just need time!

What is next? My next two weekends will be spent flying to Minnesota and Lakeland, FL to present seminars. The following weekend, Marshbanks is hosting a CCA (Certificate of Conformation Assessment), an event for Golden Retrievers at my building, and I'm co-chairing the eye clinic that same day. The next afternoon, I'm driving to Tennessee with Sonic and Little to train field. For a whole week!!! When I made the final arrangements, I felt like a kid on Christmas, I was so excited. I hope, hope, hope that it is still warm enough for water work, because that is the biggest reason I'm going. I am leaving T3 behind since the place I'm going has a trailer I can stay in. It also means I can travel a lot faster.

I'll probably enter Ty in the Toledo KC trials Thanksgiving weekend. She really likes showing there, and therefore, so do I.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why Do I Volunteer?

Dog clubs and the related dog sports are overflowing with opportunities to volunteer. Without a large corp of volunteers, dog events would simply cease to happen.

I have done a lot of volunteering over my years in dog sports, from becoming newsletter editor for the Ann Arbor Dog Training Club soon after I joined in the mid-1980's, to serving on various boards, to chairing numerous obedience trials, to working on hunt tests and other field-related activities. I'm co-chairing an eye clinic for one of my clubs that is happening next month, something new for me.

Why do I volunteer? Sometimes, volunteering can seem like a thankless job. People who rarely or never volunteer most likely have no concept of the amount of work that goes on to host an obedience trial. I can only imagine what chairing a large all-breed conformation show combined with obedience and/or agility must be like! The logistics boggle my mind. Same with chairing a National Specialty. I've had committee positions for several Nationals, but never attempted to chair one.

So, what makes me volunteer? I find I get a great deal of personal satisfaction in helping to organize and run efficient events. I like seeing what works and what doesn't, making note of both categories to try to tweak it for the next time to make it better.

I enjoy working with other like-minded club members. It is a simple joy to work as a well-oiled machine with a group of people. I recently stewarded in Utility at the AADTC trial, something I have only rarely done in my long years of exhibiting. I almost always either have a dog to show or there is a reason I am staying home.

There are a lot of little details that go into helping a judge run their ring efficiently. I enjoyed the simple challenge of being where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be. I've judged far more than I've stewarded, and I've mostly had the pleasure of working with excellent stewards. They really do make or break the day for everyone involved.

At Marshbanks hunt test this summer, I was working a gun station during the final series, and when teams finished, they had to walk back to the vehicles past our gun station. One pro in particular thanked us several times (he ran a bunch of dogs), and it was interesting how a simple and sincere thank you made it all seem worthwhile.

Volunteering to steward at an obedience trial can be a great way to get familiar with the ring routine of different classes before ever showing your own dog. I've had students who, after stewarding, tell me, "My dog can do that!" You get to know judges, and find out they aren't quite as scary as you thought.

If you can, volunteer to help in some way, however small. And if you can't help, please offer some sincere thanks to workers at all levels. It really does feel great to be appreciated and to know people are enjoying the event on which you've worked so hard.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Catching Up

Every week, my reminder software pops up with "blog post". And every week for months, I've deleted it. I don't completely understand why I've been unable to write until now, but I think a big part of it was losing Gryffin so suddenly in July. Here's my write-up from what I posted on Facebook on July 6, 2012 when it happened:

Ch. OTCh. Grousemoor Gryffindor UDX OM1 MH RE WCX; RL3

June 6, 2003-July 6, 2012
photo by Karen Taylor

Tuesday (July 3), Gryffin didn't quite finish his dinner. Wednesday, as I prepared to leave town to attend a seminar in Ohio, he didn't seem quite right, and didn't finish his morning meal. I told my husband and son that I was worried about Gryff and to please keep a close eye on him. Thursday morning, Fritz took Gry
ff to the vet because his breathing was labored, and a chest x-ray showed several tumors in his lungs. By the time I consulted with the vet & Fritz last night, I stayed on in Ohio until this morning. Fritz said Gryff seemed worse this morning, so I came home, getting home about 1 PM. Gryff greeted me with enthusiasm, acting close to his normal waggy self. But watching him laboring to breathe throughout the afternoon, I knew it was time. I didn't want to wait until his wag was gone. Fritz, Ryan, and I made that last difficult trip with him and were with him at the end.

We had an amazing journey together, amassing a lovely collection of titles before and after his name, always owner handled and trained. But it is those memories of the little things of living with a goof ball Flat-Coat boy that will make me smile for now and always - "woo wooing" at me when he was really in a good mood; his happy huff huff huff when he was working confidently; his sticking his nose between my knees for an ear fluff; going all the way through my legs for his happy dance butt scritch; ending up upside down on the floor or ground in front of me, squirming back and forth, giving his back a good scratch; barking at me when I'd catch him being naughty; his love of swimming; his sometimes overwhelming desire to Go Do Something; picking up the food dishes so I could fill them at the next meal; his never flagging optimism and happy attitude. I've often said it's hard to be sad with a boy Flat-Coat around.

Gryff was my first dog to train seriously for field events. His love of the game - still evident at last month's National, where he did some brilliant work in the Steady Singles competition - showed me, who used to really dislike guns and dead birds, what a joy it was to learn this game with a dog with such heart and desire. He was such a lovely combination of steady when he needed to be and explosive as he'd leave the line to retrieve.

We attended the National together every year of his life, from California in 2004 when he was 11 months old, running his first field events and placing in the puppy sweeps class, until this year in Wisconsin, where he was 1st runner-up in the Steady Singles. He made it to the final cut in the 9-11 year old Veteran's Sweeps class. And he earned a 198.5 in our final Veteran's Novice class. It made me smile stepping to the line, gaiting him around the ring, and heeling with him. I am so very, very grateful we had that last chance to step out together and shine.

Rest well, Gryffy Man. You were a magnificent part of my life. You leave a gigantic hole in our family and in my heart. I hope there are plenty of ducks and swimming holes for you, wherever you are now.

"It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life, gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are" (Author unknown)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

And so, what I thought was going to be "How do I retire this dog who doesn't want to be retired?" became "How do I go on without him?" In answer to that question, it helps to have been down this path of loss 5 times before with previous dogs. Many, many people say, "It never gets easier." Personally, I disagree. While it is never easy to lose a dog, there are things that made losing Gryffin less difficult. All three of my girls have had long, lingering illnesses, which in retrospect, are incredibly stressful. I despise that weight of "Is it going to have to be today?" that hangs over you. All three of my boys have gone very quickly, in a matter of days or even hours. While it is like ripping off a huge bandage, and hurts terribly, I find peace in knowing the suffering for the dog was much shorter. Gryff's last day with me was during that awful high-90's/low 100's heat wave and with his breathing already compromised, I couldn't make him wait another day. As I said before, I didn't want to wait until his wag was gone. While I do not in any way like having to euthanize my animals, I am very grateful that we have that choice.

Because of who he was, most of my memories of Gryffin simply make me smile. He was such a goof ball. When he was younger, my boys called him 'Disney Boy', because he always had that Disney character look on his face - happy and optimistic. At some future date, I might start writing down some of those memories to share in one place.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

In the 3 months since then, I have mostly been concentrating on field work with Sonic and Little, who came home from the National with me to continue her field work. Little is pretty much through her field basics. We have another week or so to work on 'Swim-by', which can't be done locally anymore because it's gotten too cold. She has quite a bit of the skills needed for it, now we just need a good pond in which to do it, time to do it, and warm enough weather to do it. She is pretty much done with Double T. I am planning to get her started on Pattern Blinds, one of the early steps in the Transition stage of training. I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep her this year - it depends on how much longer I can make myself go outside and train!

Just last weekend at the Ann Arbor Dog Training Club's fall trials, Ty came off her 3+ month vacation and finished her UDX on Friday. 

To show it wasn't a fluke, she QQed again on Sunday. All 4 performances were fun and without any big errors. She is just 7 points from her OM2, which I hope to get done at next weekend's Marshbanks trials. She just needs ONE solid Q to do that. After that, we'll coast. I do not have getting an OTCh on her as a goal anymore, but if we can have that much fun in the ring with relatively minimal training, I'll keep showing her.

Three weeks ago, at 13 months old, Sonic earned her 1st 2 Junior Hunter legs with very solid performances. Her duck handling left a bit to be desired, but it improved from day 1 to day 2. The next weekend, she earned her WC (Working Certificate) at the Marshbanks test. She is now the youngest dog to title for me. I moved her up to the WCX the next day, not with any real expectation that she'd be able to do the whole thing (a triple on land, double in the water, honor on the water, all off leash), but to see how she would be going to the line off leash and no collar. While she wasn't rock-solid steady while the guns and birds flew, she DID wait until I sent her, a very big accomplishment. She couldn't find the flier go-bird and eventually 'switched' - a big no-no - and went and got the middle bird. If she was more experienced, I wouldn't have let her continue, but as it was the last test of the season and she's so inexperienced, I let her get that one, then the left one, then resent her to the flier on the right. She still needed help from the gunner, but did get it.

Last weekend, Sonic earned her 1st Rally Novice leg with a generous 97 and 3rd place. Showing her made me appreciate how well trained Ty is :-). Sonic is a keg of dynamite. She has so much energy, she really needs a hard run every day. I gave her a hard run before we left home, but she was still over the top. To her credit, the middle half of the course was very nicely done, with nice attention. She really did as well as I could expect. Here's a link to a video of her performance:
This has gotten long enough. I hope to be back again much sooner than 3 months!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Rest of the FCRSA National, 2012

This is long. It may be that no one but me will ever read the whole thing. I thought I would keep writing during the National, but obviously, I didn't. Once we got home from the National, life continued on its crazy path, and I couldn't settle down to do this write up until now.

When I last wrote, it was after the first day of the FCRSA National, when Little 'jammed' in the Unsteady Singles, and Gryff was one of 4 dogs invited back for a runoff Saturday evening for the Steady Singles Championship.

I scratched Gryff from Saturday's Master test, wanting to save him for the runoff. He looked just a bit off before running the 4th series on Friday, and I didn't want to use him up before the runoff.

I ran Little in the Junior test on Saturday and she did a fine job, earning her 4th pass and her JH title. We were done with that by 1 PM or so, so we went back to the Expo center and T3 for the afternoon. I have to say, I will long remember that afternoon, savoring the anticipation of participating in the runoff that evening. Here's how Gryff prepared (having a nap in the crate in the trailer):
One of the wonderful things about the Steady Singles competition is there is so little pressure on the handler. Other than doing all you can to get the dog aimed in the right direction so they have the maximum chance to see the birds fall, once you release the dog, there is nothing else you can do. When compared to a Master test, where you have to be ready at any moment to blow your whistle if your dog gets in trouble, this was so relaxing. Yes, of course I was a bit nervous, but I would say overall, it was one of the most enjoyable field tests I have ever run in.

From my division, Joe Skorupa and his wonderful brown boy Zip! was the other dog chosen besides Gryff. From the other division, Karen Peterson and her very experienced girl, Polaire, and Bunny Milliken and her very inexperienced girl, Teal, were chosen for the runoff. Karen decided to scratch Polaire, because she was coming off several months of rehab for an injury.

The runoff consisted of two water marks across the Bunny Pond. The running order was Gryffin, Zip!, and Teal. 
We ran the right mark first. It required one re-entry. As Gryffin approached the point of re-entry, he responded in a too-familiar fashion, and ran around the ear of the bunny, snatched up the duck - he knew exactly where it was - and then, remembering lessons past, swam through the ear on his return. Naughty boy! As he did that big run around cheat, it made me mile and shake my head. He has always been a terrible cheater, so it wasn't surprising. On the 2nd mark (the longer one), he did the 1st re-entry, and then, by gum, ran around the other ear of the bunny at the last possible instant. And then he swam coming back. I figured at that point, we were out, but I frankly didn't really care. I was just so pleased to even be in the runoff.

Joe and Zip! stepped up, and much to my surprise, Zip! cheated nearly as badly as Gryffin on both marks. I thought his line through the 1st pond was better than Gryff's, but there was not a dramatic difference in their performances. 

Next, Bunny and Teal ran the marks, and Teal followed in the older dogs' bad foot steps, and followed that naughty path around the bunny ears. Teal also had more of a hunt on each mark.

The judges decided they needed to see more work, but having seen all 3 dogs cheat so badly, opted for a land mark. We moved to a different field, and as the daylight faded, we stepped up to run the last mark. It was about 180 yds out, 2 gunners throwing left to right. There wasn't much between the mound we ran from and the final cover patch into which the duck was thrown. Gryff took an excellent line almost all the way there, faded left, hunted in and around the gunners, and came up with the bird. Zip! hunted more to the right of the bird, and came up with it faster than Gryff did. Teal flew out and overran the fall and hunted in the next field for a bit. So the judges were presented with 3 very different performances on the final bird.

The comraderie was simply wonderful. Everyone was supportive and personally, I had a great time, as did Gryff. 
Left photo by Xan Latta (that's Bunny Milliken in the foreground) Right photo by Candy Ferner

The results were announced later that evening at the field banquet. As I suspected, Joe and Zip! were crowned Steady Singles Champion, and Gryffin and I were 1st runner up, and Bunny and Teal were 2nd runner up. Here's Gryff with his huge ribbon.
With this result, anything else we managed at the National would be icing on the cake. It was the thrill of a lifetime to get to run Gryff on those runoff marks, and results were a complete joy.

On Sunday, I helped marshall at the WC (working certificate) land and ran Little for her WC title. The test was very straightforward, and almost all of the dogs passed the land. Sonic did not get to run any of the field events because she had come in season 2+ weeks before, much to my huge disappointment.

The next evening, I showed Gryffin and Ty in the Veterans Sweepstake. Both made it to the final cut - Gryff was one of 7 at the end of the 9-11 year old Dogs and Ty was one of 6 at the end of 7-9 year old Bitches (out of over 30 girls). As I was gaiting Gryff around the ring, it just simply made me smile. They both really enjoyed their time in the ring, as I did. While neither got a placement ribbon, it was still a thrill to be in the ring at the end.

The next day was obedience day. Frustratingly, after lovely heeling, Ty failed to respond to my sit signal for the umpteenth time in Utility, the only serious mistake she made. It meant my hope to finish her UDX were dashed. However, she did manage a Q in Open B, something I hadn't managed since showing Treasure years and years before - Gryff never Qed in Open B at a National, and Ty hadn't before this year. We lost a runoff for 2nd place, but we accomplished one of our goals for the year - to qualify in a regular class at the National.

Sonic was in puppy sweeps that afternoon and we got a 3rd place in her class. She was a lot of fun to show, and not too wiggly for the exam.

Wednesday was Versatility for Ty and Veterans Novice for Gryff. Ty was simply dreadful, making me very glad she was going to be on obedience vacation for several months. I hadn't done all that much obedience work with Gryffin, but he had a delightful performance and earned 1st place with a very fine 198.5. Here's the video of that, our final ring performance together:
On Thursday, Sonic was my only dog entered, in the regular 9-12 bitches puppy class. The judge checked Sonic's bite multiple times, made a negative comment about it (it has been level for the past several months, but looked to be a tiny bit undershot that day), but then made a nice comment about her lovely head. But we were excused with the 1st cut. 
This concluded our 2012 National experience, one to never be forgotten:
Gryff: 1st runner up in the Steady Singles; made final cut in Veterans 9-12 dog; 1st place in Veterans Novice.
Ty: made final cut in Veterans 7-9 bitches; 3rd place in Open B.
Little: JAM in the Unsteady Singles; finished JH title; earned her WC title. She also got 3rd place in American Bred, but that had nothing to do with me :-).
Sonic: 3rd place in her puppy sweeps class.

Friday, June 15, 2012

FCRSA 2012 Day 1

I had the most aMAZing day today! Gryffin and I ran the Steady Singles, a competitive club event where the dogs have to be steady (off leash, no collar, no going without being told by the handler) and all the marks are singles - bird is thrown, the dog retrieves it. The first series had two land singles. Gryff went right to the left one, and overran the 2nd (in high grass) by a small amount, but caught wind of it and circled back and snagged it. Both marks were > 100 yds, I was told, though with the flat terrain, they didn't look that long to me. The 2nd series - by invitation only - was a single loooong land mark (240 yds?), past a large mound of dirt on the right about 1/2 way out, with the mark thrown right to left, and the wind blowing left to right. The test dog went behind the gunners, the 1st dog didn't pick out the mark at that distance, then it was Gryff's turn. He took a very nice line to it, fading a bit into the gunners once past the mound, but staying on the correct side, went just a bit past, then came in and grabbed it. Since I was also running Little in the Unsteady Singles, I left right away, so didn't see any other dogs run it. In fact, I saw very few of the other dogs run any of Gryff's stake. We were called back for the 3rd series, which was a single water mark, with land/water/land/water/land - i.e., they had to cross a peninsula. The bird was thrown a short distance from the water's edge. As he crossed the peninsula, Gryff made a little cut to the left, as I'd seen the one other dog I'd seen run do. He swam across the 2nd bit of water, emerged on the far shore, and though I thought he was too far to the left, he found the bird immediately. Invited back to the fourth series! I think there were 12 dogs back. It was a much longer land/water/land/water/land mark, probably in the 150 yd range. He took a very nice line out to it, but had his biggest hunt of the day. Once again, I immediately left to go back to Little's stake, so didn't see any of the other dogs run. All I knew was he'd gotten five ducks he'd been sent for, with almost zero hunting.

In the meantime, Little was doing an excellent job with her ducks. She was in the Unsteady Singles, which means I could hold her collar to help keep her in place. The first series had two relatively short singles, which she got easily. The 2nd series was a longer mark, though still not all that long. The first water series had a mark with a peninsula to cross, with the duck near the far shore. The peninsula was quite a bit wider than any of the ones we've trained on, and on the way back, she put her duck down a couple of times, once to shake, and once to... who knows? Talk to the duck? She went right to the 2nd one, which got us into the last series. It was similar to the 1st water mark, with a short land/water/land/water/land, with the bird about 20 yds from the shore on land. The whole thing was quite a bit tougher than the previous one, but the eleven dogs called back would all get at least a JAM (Judges Award of Merit). I really had NO idea if Little knew how to hunt that far from the shore. She took a very nice line, ran across the peninsula, jumped in right away again, then faded to the right some. Turns out there was something in the water that must have looked like a duck to her. After she discovered it wasn't, she reoriented herself, got back on line, got out and went almost immediately to the duck. She recrossed the far water, but then was very naughty and ran ALL the way around the right end of the pond. She just really didn't seem to be able to find me. She went to the nice men on the ATV, and I finally hollered COME, and then she came in my direction. Fortunately, she never once dropped her duck, in spite of the very long run around.

The end results of the day: Little earned a JAM, and Gryffin... he was one of two dogs from our division to get chosen to be in a runoff tomorrow, late in the afternoon, against the top two dogs from the other division. The winner will be the Steady Singles Champion, something Gryff's dad Chat won a bunch of years ago. I am over the moon with excitement about this opportunity. He did such a fine job today and I'm just so darned proud of the big lug.

The Expo center/fairgrounds where I'm camping has stock car racing going on. I was told it should end by 10 PM. I sure hope so, as I'd really like to go to sleep soon! Although it is nearly 10, and it sounds like it is still going strong... Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ty's 8th UDX leg & Sonic at 9.5 months

I am camping at the Toledo KC obedience trial this weekend with Ty and Sonic. Ty earned her 8th UDX leg this afternoon... slowly but surely, we are getting there. She NQed on a whole bunch of exercises in the 1st Utility class, some of it because she was so excited she wasn't thinking. We had a couple of firsts today: it was the first time Ty has Qed twice in Open on the same day, and the 1st UDX leg that wasn't the first (or only) trial of a weekend. We lost a 1/2 point off on the 2nd sit stay for shifting, which cost us a tie for 4th in Open B. But 1/2  point off sure beats 30! She is over halfway to her OM2. That and her UDX are my two goals for her. Someone asked what other goals I have for her once those are done, and I said, "None!"
I'm so happy with how well Sonic handles the obedience trial atmosphere. She's excellent in her crate, sleeping much of the time, quiet otherwise.

A couple of months ago, I was entertaining thoughts of entering her in Rally Novice at the National (which starts June 15). Then she was with me at a May 12 trial, and I attempted to do pretty simple concepts like sit and look at me, and heel for a few steps, with just a buckle collar (if we are around other dogs, I usually have a pinch collar on her because she is SO blasted strong and can move like a rocket and drag me somewhere fast. And I'm not a small person). I quickly forgot about Rally for this year's National :-). But today, I have to say, she was improved from that 3 weeks ago trial. We have been working very, very hard on walking on a loose leash, and when it is just the two of us and not too much else going on, she is greatly improved.

Yesterday evening after dinner, I took her out for session of my 20-treat exercise. I was pleased to see it took her just 2.5 minutes to look at me that many times. This is down from 3+ minutes the last time I did it. Today, I had her out in between Ty's classes in a big rec center building, playing tug some, and working some attention, fronts, and pivots. She was much more focused than at the May 12 trial.

I am running her in 3 field events at the Specialty: the Unsteady Singles (a judged competition whose rules are a bit on the vague side :-)), the Junior hunter test, and the WC (Working Certificate). She has to do a simple double for the WC, with marks at 40-60 yds. She did her first "cold double" last weekend. A "taught double" means you throw what becomes the memory bird first as a single, so the dog gets to retrieve it once, then you throw it again,  followed by the "go bird" to make it a double. A "cold double" means both marks are thrown right away, without teaching her the memory bird first. We did some more cold doubles on Wednesday. Each time, she did the 1st double without help. On the 2nd one, she needed some help, but so far, she always leaves my side, which is unusual for dogs at this stage, at least in my (limited) experience. I think it has helped a lot that I have taught her the mechanics of doubles using Pat Nolan's Marking and Memory drill. We've got a pretty well established set of cues that I use reasonably consistently.

Running the first cold double did make me realize that, while her marking is quite good, my control of her is poor even with a pinch collar and an e-collar. We have been working all week on pivots and self-control with bumpers on the ground nearby. When she pivots well, I send her to retrieve one of the bumpers.

While she is in no way guaranteed to pass the Specialty tests, I do think she will be better prepared at 10 months than Gryff was at 11 months, when he attended his 1st Specialty. It helps that I have learned a thing or two since 2004.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sonic at 9 months

How can my baby girl be 9 months old already???

The past month has been spent almost entirely on field work-related training. She only got to swim once in April, and she had apparently forgotten how to swim horizontally. She is still splashing some, and it seems to worsen as she tires, but it is mostly relatively efficient. We've been working 'progressives' in the water, which means someone is throwing a series of single marks farther and farther away from her. I think she's gone between 50 and 60 yds in the water on her longest swims. Here she is on her longest water mark last Sunday. She had some problems at the end of it because we had thrown 4 ducks into the strip of cover, and the duck scent was attracting her. She did work it out in the end, which made me happy.

We are still mostly working on her swimming straight out with as little chance to cheat (for you field newbies, cheating refers to a dog who runs around water instead of taking the straightest path to the bird through the water) as we can manage. She's had several lessons on 'get out on a point and get back in the water beyond the point to get the bumper, then get out and back in again.' She's only required a couple of gentle reminders from the gunner that, no, she shouldn't try to take the land route back. I'm not fooling myself. She'll figure out that it is an option at some point.

I've only been at home one of the weekends since I wrote about Sonic at 8 months. Lots of travel. I presented a seminar in Texas, which meant I flew, so the dogs stayed home under the care of my husband and 19 year old son. The next weekend, we - the 3 Flat-Coats and I - drove to Maryland to present my On Beyond Novice seminar for the Catoctin KC in Frederick. I hadn't done this seminar in a while, and it was fun for me to be able to concentrate on the advanced exercises. It was gratifying to have so many people in attendance who have attended previous seminars.

The next day, I had the privilege of getting to field train at Pat Nolan's grounds, Lily Pons. Unfortunately for me, Pat wasn't there, but it was very fortunate for him because he was presenting a dog training seminar in Korea. I trained with Linda Reynolds, who I had first met 3 years before doing some field training at a FCRSA National. She told me about Pat back then. We were joined by two others, one with FCRs and one with a Lab and Golden. I've watched YouTube videos of Lorraine with her dogs as young puppies demonstrating several of Pat's early puppy training ideas. I talked to Linda about more of Pat's ideas, and I learned some new drills that I've been putting to good use with Sonic. My favorite is Pat's "M & M" drill, which stands for marking and memory. It turns out my yard is a gold mine in terms of this drill. Essentially, you throw multiple bumpers at different objects in your yard - a tree, a bush, a chair... - and that helps the dog remember where to look for memory marks. Sonic enjoys it and it is helping me stretch her out a bit on her ability to do doubles and triples without anyone helping.

We have been working quite a bit recently on Sonic's Force Fetch. We are up to working on 'Walking Fetch', though I keep debating with myself whether we should be there or not. When she is picking up a bumper that someone else throws or that I throw fairly far away, she mostly picks it up nicely. Doing up close ones, she often seems to go for an end. But all in all, I think we are moving in the right direction. Last month, she was reaching down to the floor for a bumper at meal time. She'll now pick one up and deliver it to my side. Sometimes, her pick ups are good enough that she can deliver it without dropping. Other times, not. She has had several chances to retrieve birds, both pigeons and ducks, and she thinks they are splendid. She is more willing to hold onto a duck when exiting water than a bumper, so we might be able to manage the required delivery to hand in the Junior test at the National next month.

Three weeks ago, when I finished the two sections of Maneuvers I was teaching, I had Sonic out and had her do what the class dogs were doing, which was checking on their ability to do the various directional maneuvers they'd been learning without a treat in the trainer's hand. I was pleasantly surprised at how well she is understanding most of them. Her ability to side step to the left when in heel position is poor when my hand is empty, though it was improved Thursday afternoon as compared to Tuesday evening. She can do all of the others with my left hand empty, and some of them with little or no hand guidance at all.

We've done a bit of work on a formal Novice recall. I pulled out a platform to use for her to come onto to front, and that took some reminding. She learned to get on a platform at 8 weeks, but I guess I haven't had her on one for a couple of months, at least not for fronts.

I am including her in the stay groups in my 3 sections of Novice Practice each week. While her sit stay is still wiggly, her physical changes that have happened in the past month - being far less cow-hocked - means it is much easier for her to keep her back feet set wide enough to hold a sit. She still likes to flop over, though it is far less frequent. Her down stay is decent, though she does like to flop over on her side and streeeetch herself out, or turn upside down. But that is something I've seen before:
Ty in the Open B down stay at the 2009 FCRSA National
Photo by Cathi Winkles Photography

We've done my 20 treat exercise on multiple occasions in several different locations. She is very interested in her surroundings, and it usually takes her several minutes to voluntarily look at me 20 times. I've also started doing a bit of heeling in other places. I showed Ty in obedience at the Midland KC trial last Saturday, and I hauled T3 there to get it dewinterized, as well as to try out camping at an obedience trial. The hauling is a PITA, but I do like having it at the trial. Friday evening, I did some obedience work with her outside the trailer. The video isn't very good - I couldn't figure out any better way to prop up the iPad - but you can see a bit of what her heeling, fronts and finishes are looking like. In the section on fronts, some people walked by with several dogs, which distracted her in a major way, but not for too long.

I am planning to enter her in 3 different field events at the National - the JH, the WC, and the Unsteady Singles, a club event that just happens at most of the FCRSA Nationals. I think she'll be considerably better prepared than Gryff was at his first National field events, when he was 11 months old. I'll also show her in the Puppy Sweeps and regular puppy class. Last week, I briefly flirted with the thought of entering her in Rally Novice at the National. When I had her out to do a bit of work at the obedience trial Saturday, I quickly changed my mind about that hare-brained idea. I'll be busy enough the week of the National - I'm running Gryffin in the Master test and the Steady Singles. I'm showing Ty in the Veterans Sweepstake, Open B & Utility B, and possibly the regular Veterans 7-9 month class. I'll probably enter Gryff in the Veterans obedience class. Maybe the Veterans Sweeps, though I'm not sure I want to show that many times.

Last Tuesday, after doing all of the demonstration work in my Heeling and Come & Stay classes, when we got back to the house, she seemed like she was getting the zoomies. I took her out in the back yard, and she ran and ran and ran and ran great big circles. It was like all the concentrating on the demoes was making her brain explode, and she needed to run it off. Tonight, I took her out after class was over and let her have her run. She is fast... and it is a bit unnerving when she is coming at me full speed ahead. Her accelerator works great. The brakes... well, we are working on them!

My plan for the next month is to stretch her out on her land and water marks, keep exposing her to different concepts in the field, make more progress on her force fetch, do some conformation practice, throw in a bit of obedience work, and keep enjoying her for herself.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Food Delay

I think I first heard the term 'Food Delay' in one of Dawn Jecs' books. I read her books a long time ago, so I'm not sure if what I am about to describe was based on something she described or not.

One of the biggest hurdles for many trainers who use food to train their dog is weaning off the food sufficiently to get reliable obedience ring performances from their dogs. I want to describe at least some of the ways in which I work on this process with my dogs.

When I first introduce an exercise, I often have food in one or both of my hands, and it is often in sight, used as a lure or magnet. My first step in the weaning process is to increase the number of repetitions my dog must do or the duration of the exercise (such as attention, heeling, or stays) with the food readily visible. I start out with a one-to-one ratio of action to CR (conditioned reinforcer) and treat. As my dog's understanding grows, I raise the ratio to 2-6 correct responses per CR/treat, still occasionally treating 2 in a row. When I can get several responses in a row with the food in my hand, I give the treat on the last one of the series, and without reloading my hand (I usually just hold one treat in my treat dispensing hand at this stage), I ask for one more repetition without the food in my hand. I use all of the other cues I was using when the food was there, such as hand position and leash pressure. After a single response, I CR & treat. My dog needs to do many repetitions when the food is obvious and a single one when it is not.

I gradually reduce not just the visible food cues, but also any other extra cues I'm using, such as leash pressure and extraneous hand cues. I am striving to have my dogs respond to a simple verbal cue or a single signal. Most dogs learn via successful repetition, and lots of it. If you have a dog for whom repetition either bores him or confuses him, you will need to spread your reps out over more training sessions.

Food Delay is the process of working you dog with no physical reinforcers - food or a toy - in your hands, in your pocket, in your mouth, or tucked under your shirt. In short, get it ALL off your person. If your dog has been very used to food and/or a toy always being readily present, you might discover these are part of your dog's cueing system that you were unaware of.

Before I start the Food Delay exercise, my dog should have a good understanding of my Find Heel exercise, including distraction resistance. If you aren't familiar with this, take a look at these videos:

I have also typically done several months of heeling work with my dog, but I return to Find Heel as the starting point when I start Food Delay. I'm going to describe a formula of food on you and food off you, but it is critical that you do NOT do this exactly this way more than a couple of times in a row. Let me repeat: do NOT do this exact formula more than a time or two. Dogs are very good at counting, so you need to be more random than that.

After you have removed all reinforcers from your pockets, etc. - take that bait bag off! - take 9 treats with you to some place high enough that you can leave the treats without your dog being able to reach them. A counter or windowsill can work well. Leave 6 of your 9 treats on the counter, and begin your Find Heel work. The first three times your dog gets to heel position, CR and treat him from one of your 3 treats. You may start with one in your left hand, but be aware you want to become more subtle about it before you are done. After giving the third treat, continue walking without making any fanfare that you have no food on you. When your dog catches up again, CR, and with a phrase such as "Let's go get a cookie!" run or walk briskly to your treat stash. Give him one, and leave empty handed. Some dogs hang out near the treat supply, which is why it is critical you put them somewhere your dog can't steal them. It's almost as though the dog is saying, "Hey, dummy, the treats are HERE!" Repeat this 'dog catches up, CR, "let's go get a cookie!"' routine two more times, which should have you getting to your stash of four treats. Give him one, take the remaining 3 with you, and finish up by rewarding him for catching up directly 3 more times.

So now you've done this formula of 3 on–3 off–3 on once. The next time you work Food Delay, you need to change the formula some, such as 2 on–1 off–1 on–2 off–3 on. Plan to work on a ratio of two treats on you to one treat off for a while, but be as random about it as you can be. It can also be important with certain too-clever critters that you are subtle about when you take extra treats with you vs. when you leave empty handed. You can do this by tossing a treat for the dog to chase while you reload (or don't) vs. simply delivering a treat directly and then reloading (or not).

As you practice this, start requiring your dog to heel with you for longer periods of time before you deliver a treat or run to your stash of treats. Over time, you will work your way up to an entire ring performance for a jackpot at the end.

You can do a similar exercise using a special toy instead of food. I will practice with a toy on the floor to which I release my dog when he is concentrating and performing a given exercise well enough.

Food Delay is critically important to start to work on early enough that the lack of food doesn't turn a switch off in your dog's mind. Start early, practice it often!

Let me know how it is working for you.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Growing puppies

If you read my last post (Sonic at 8 months), you might remember that I wrote about Sonic's floppy sit. "I think the biggest issue  is that she is very cow-hocked right now, and I think she just can't physically hold a non-flopped over sit for too long. I just have to be patient with her and wait for more maturity."

I wrote that on an airplane bound for California on a Saturday. When I next tried a sit stay - I think it was 3 days later? - she could suddenly sit with her back feet more widely spaced, which means she could and can hold a longer non-flopping sit stay. While she is still "hocky"(her back toes point out and her hocks point in vs. the typically more desireable, at least for the conformation ring, toes forward, hocks backward), she is less dramatically so. So I'm reasonably confident that continuing patience on my part and physical maturity on her part will take care of the problem. Well, some work on building strength through training will also help.

This has reminded me once again that she is, after all, still a puppy, and will go through a lot more growing before she's done. It's just not the dramatic, "wow, she looks different every day" growth.

I am in Maryland, leaving soon to start Day 1 of my "On Beyond Novice" seminar. I haven't done this one in a while, so it should be fun. I was in Austin, TX last weekend (no dogs) also for a seminar. All this travel has meant frustratingly little training time for my dogs. I did have Sonic out during Week 6 in my Maneuvers classes. I have everyone do a checkup of how many steps or turns can they do of each maneuver without food in their hand. I was pleasantly surprised at how well Sonic is doing on all except side-step left, which was her least understood directional. She has very nice understanding and control of her body, which you can see her starting on YouTube (sorry, I can't seem to add links easily on my iPad).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sonic at 8 months

Sonic at 8 months

Sonic is a very active puppy, already 23.25" tall and at least 56 lbs. She is strong. Very strong. I shudder to think what it would be like to walk her on a leash if we hadn't been training consistently since she was 8 weeks old. We practice it just about every day because of our walk to and from the training building.

Our biggest achievement in the past month was completing the 7 "weeks" of Around the Clock Scent Discrimination. Weeks is in quotes because it isn't used as an exact time of 7 days, but rather it defines the stages that Janice recommends. The most I did any stage was 6 days for Week 6, which is the week you take away any cheese on the scented article. We worked articles every day for 33 days straight, something I've never managed before. We have only done them a few more times since, including using some fresh articles the last time we did them.

We have continued to work our field-related obedience, including walking with me vs. formal obedience heeling. The latter is stylized. The former can be on either side, and I  prefer that she is looking forward while remaining aware of where I am.  I continue to struggle with her not dragging ahead of me and pulling on the leash. To counteract the forging ahead, we do lots of sits. These have improved a lot this month. We also work on her finishing to either side, coming with a sit in front, sometimes close, sometimes a bit farther away. I'll also call her directly to heel from a short distance away. She seems equally responsive to my verbal sit cue and a whistle toot.

Cookie-toss sits are improving slowly. She is able to sit with little to no creeping toward me at about 4-6 feet. What I really like is that she is turning herself all the way around to face me before she sits, something Gryff has always been poor at. A straight sit should make accurate casting in the field much easier for her. I've learned that you can do cookie toss sits outside in grass. It just takes patience while they dig the treat out of the grass.

At each meal time for several weeks now, I've been having her hold a 3" bumper while I put the other dogs' food down and they start to eat. When we started this, she was very reluctant to even take the fat bumper, let alone hold one for any length of time. She has progressed to jumping up and grabbing it and sitting while I put the food bowls down for the other dogs. Just this week, I've started requiring her to reach down towards the floor, lift and hold it. This work  only adds about 15-30 seconds onto meal time, and though it is slow, she is making progress.

We have started force fetch, but haven't done much with it in the past couple of weeks for a variety of reasons.

I have started adding her to stay lines in my classes. If you've watched any of the scent article videos, you may have noticed that she flops over in a puppy sit frequently, a common occurrence with Flat-Coated Retrievers. I find that it helps some to put her rear end up on a 1" pad. This shifts her weight forward enough to reduce gravity's effect on her sit. When Treasure was a young dog, she had a lot of trouble holding still on sit stays. I finally realized at least part of the problem was that she was sitting with her hind feet so tightly under her that she was sitting on the outside of her hocks and with her front feet quite close to the back feet. This didn't give her a firm base of support, and thus she kept shifting.  Having remembered Treasure's problems, I've tried with Sonic what helped Treasure, which is have her do a small hop, lifting her front feet a small distance off the floor to try to spread her back feet apart some. We are only having modest success. I think the biggest issue  is that she is very cow-hocked right now, and I think she just can't physically hold a non-flopped over sit for too long. I just have to be patient with her and wait for more maturity.

Our work on field marking has been greatly inhibited by a couple of bouts of lameness. She was sore on both her left elbow and right hip the first time, and more recently, she has been limping on her right front. I had X-rays taken last Thursday but haven't heard from my rehab vet who recommended the X-rays, to see what she thinks. I have not been completely restricting her from running, but have mostly been letting her choose to run vs. encouraging it through our activities.

She was in her 1st real dog show on April 7. There was a Supported Entry by the regional Midwest Waterways FCR club, which means there were majors in both sexes. It was a bit touch and go whether she would be sound enough, but she was. She was the only puppy in her classes – 6-9 month puppy bitches – both in the Sweepstakes and the regular classes. This meant she got to go in the ring 4 times, which was very good practice. The half-limp tail that her litter all seemed to have now vanishes when someone approaches and she wags furiously. We managed credible stand for exams, and her gaiting was far better than in the puppy match in January. She mostly didn't look up at me, and mostly trotted. She had to let loose with some boings during the regular class,  but that's life with a puppy.

We have purposely worked my 20-Treat exercise a couple of times. Since I gave it as homework in my Fundamentals class last Thursday, I made a point of doing it the next day in the grocery store parking lot. It tooke her 20 seconds  to look at me voluntarily the first time, and a total of 3 minutes 40 seconds to look 24 times (yes, we are over achievers, doing 24 instead of 20 :-)). This was better than the 4-5 minutes to do 20 treats a couple of weeks ago. I will try to get her out another time next week (I'm traveling this weekend and next without the dogs), to set a good example for my students.

A few days ago, I had two of my launchers out to do marks with Gryffin. I decided to do a short mark from each one for Sonic, to give her an introduction to watching the extra big throws. She thought the idea was splendid and did both marks very nicely.

She got to do her first X marking drill the next day. The gunner stands in one place, throwing 4 different singles. There are many variations on the order of throws. We did right angle in, right angle back, left angle back, and left angle in. She did a very nice 'check down' on the final mark.

I am hopeful that the lameness issues will resolve soon so we can do more retrieving work in the next month. There are of course many less strenuous activities to work on, but we both want to be out field training. It is hard for both of us to be patient!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Rule of Three

I want to decribe a training technique I've used for years, but never written about much, if at all. Maybe it's because I've never come up with a catchy name for it. The Rule of Three isn't exactly highly descriptive. But here goes:

Let's say your dog has a consistent problem on heeling, such as going wide on about turns. I assume you've taught the dog where he should be and that you are doing appropriate and accurate footwork on a consistent basis, but he still goes wide regularly. To address this, I add a leash correction* to the about turn in this way:

1) As I start into the about turn, I use my verbal cue (CLOSE), followed by a leash pop in the direction I need him to move in order to be correct, followed by praise. I might also release after the leash pop if this is very new for my dog. So Step 1 is CUE, CORRECT, [dog responds], PRAISE, RELEASE (if appropriate).

2A) I immediately try the about turn again, ideally going back to where I just corrected him. I use the verbal cue again, but NO leash pop, followed by praise if there is improvement, followed by a treat. So Step 2A is CUE, [dog responds, hopefully with some improvement], PRAISE, TREAT.

2B) Use this step instead of 2A when you want to be able to go on to step 3 in the same session. I immediately try the about turn again, ideally going back to where I just did the correction. I use the verbal cue again, but NO leash pop, followed by praise if there is improvement. So Step 2B is CUE, [dog responds], PRAISE.

3) Repeat the about turn for a 3rd time, again ideally in the location where you gave the correction on the about turn, do the about turn with NO cue and NO leash pop. In other words, like you would do it in the ring: silently. As soon as you complete it, praise, treat if you see improvement, and release. So Step 3 is DO THE SKILL IN SILENCE, PRAISE, TREAT, RELEASE.

We worked on this sequence for lagging on the outside Figure 8 post in a couple of my classes recently, and the dogs were all showing some nice improvements.

Something else I see people struggle with when learning how to use leash corrections fairly: they correct their dog, but then immediately simplify. What I prefer to do is try Step 2A first - I want to see if my dog learned anything from my correction in Step 1. What I view as a correction may not be considered a correction by the dog. If my dog does indeed show improvement - do remember he doesn't have to be perfect right away! - then that tells me the correction was appropriate. If your dog is just as bad as before, then the correction wasn't sufficient OR the environment is too distracting for your dog's current level of training OR the dog just doesn't understand his job yet. This is when it is crucial to be honest about what your dog understands. Most dogs require a lot of repetitions before they really understand how to respond properly to your cues. If you haven't put in the training time to get in the repetitions, be honest and spend more time on your homework before making it harder or adding leash corrections.

To summarize The Rule of Three (how about helping me come up with a better name for this???)
1) CUE, CORRECT, [dog responds], PRAISE, RELEASE (if appropriate)
2A) CUE, [dog responds, hopefully with some improvement], PRAISE, TREAT
2B) CUE, [dog responds], PRAISE

I hope that makes sense. Feedback is appreciated.
* I use a quick leash pop with a release as a correction - the strength of the pop appropriate to the dog's temperament, size, type of collar, etc. - enough to motivate the dog to try harder so he can avoid it the next time, but not so much it makes him quit.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Key to Sea Poodle Club Trial 4/1/12

Today was the inaugural obedience trial hosted by the Key to the Sea Poodle Club at the Toledo KC. They had 2 Specialty shows Friday and Saturday, then had an all-breed obedience trial today. Since Ty LOVES showing and training at TKC, it was a no-brainer to come home yesterday after my judging assignment in Kalamazoo instead of staying on and showing at their trial today.

Two of my long-time students went into today with 9 UDX legs. Brenda Riemer and her sheltie Liza and Barb Farrah and her Flat-Coat Vegas (who just happens to be my Gryffin's nephew) have been chugging along, almost always staying neck and neck with UDX legs. They both earned their 10th leg today, so finished their UDXs on the same day. To top it off, Barb and Vegas won the Utility B class and Brenda and Liza were in a runoff for 4th in Open B.

Raissa and Bootstrap were in a wonderfully small stay group, and Boots held his stays and earned his 1st UDX leg. Kay and Belle earned their 9th UDX leg, a remarkable 7th in a row, including a 4th place in Utility B. Ty and I earned our 6th UDX leg, just out of the placements in both classes.

Raissa & Alaskan Malamute Bootstrap, leg #1
Adele & Flat-Coated Retriever Ty, leg #6
Brenda & Shetland Sheepdog Liza, new UDX
Barb & Flat-Coated Retriever Vegas, new UDX
Kay & German Wiredhaired Pointer Belle, leg #9

It was an excellent day for our Tuesday morning proofing class folks! Nice going, everyone.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mini adventure with Sonic

Sonic and I are spending the night at the Comfort Inn in Plainwell, MI. I judged rally today For the Kalamazoo KC and will judge it again tomorrow morning, so here we are.

I'm happy to report that today's teams were far better prepared than the last time I judged in this area. I only saw one perfect score - and it was a lovely performance - but several other very nice displays of teamwork.

Sonic spent her morning and until I finished judging at 3:00 in her crate in the , with a few brief potty breaks. She hasn't been on too many trips without at least one of the older dogs along too often, so it seemed like a good opportunity. After I finished judging, I got her out to potty, then took her into the nearly empty building for some training. I had her on my rolled leather choke collar, which doesn't provide as much control as the pinch collar, but more than her buckle collar. We worked some attention - it was not particularly stellar, some maneuvers, and some brief stays. Phew, we have lots of work ahead of us.

After settling into our hotel room, we did articles. It is the first time I randomized the placement of the articles vs. having them in the regimented rows that is Around the Clock. She has been searching from a pile of 10 unscented plus my scented one. I took out one pair, since the pile looked different. It went smoothly, and included sends from about 15 feet away - the length of the hotel room. Except for not staying a couple of times while I placed my scented article, she did a spot-on job.

While waiting for my dinner order at Applebee's to be ready, we did another 10 minutes of work near the parking lot. I decided to see how she would do with my '20 treat exercise'**. It took her between 4 and 5 minutes to voluntarily look at me 20 times. Hmmm, there is something we need some more work on. The weather is back to being normal spring weather, i.e., COLD. 10 minutes was all my bare hands could manage.

After I finished eating dinner, we headed out behind the hotel to give her a run. We discovered a lovely flat grassy field, fenced on two sides, with small hills/mounds on the other two sides, with no one around. She had a lovely romp chasing bumpers and working on various field related skills, including delivering to hand to each side, which is much improved, I'm happy to say, staying while I throw a bumper, and doing simple double retrieves (I throw two bumpers about 90* apart, she retrieves one, then retrieves the other). This was all mixed in with fun retrieves without a stay.

That saying "A tired puppy is a good puppy"? Very true. She is sacked out on the bed nearby.

I hope to take her in the building again tomorrow for some more attention work after I finish judging.

** The 20-treat exercise is explained in The Art of Proofing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

ATC Articles Week 7

When I wrote last Friday, I was debating whether to eliminate cheese and/or wires before moving on to Week 7. I did indeed move on to Week 7 Saturday. Sonic did days 1-3 without error, so last night, after we finished doing them, I decided to just take off all the wires in preparation for today's work. Since I've been able to hear her sniffing, I was reasonably confident that she was using her nose vs. her eyes. I figured if it fell apart, I could put the wires back on and eliminate them more gradually.

The gamble paid off. She was 4 for 4 this evening. I almost stopped her on the last one, because I spaced out which was the right one (bad trainer!). But she knew. I think I'll do one more day like what we did today, then start to follow my advice I always give to my students:
  • Lengthen the distance to pile out to the 20 or so feet required in the ring.
  • Randomize the appearance of the article pile, vs. the regimented set up I use when teaching the articles with Around the Clock.
  • Add a turn before the send. I have never taught a 'send direct', where the dog turns with you and goes directly to the pile, because I like the control the 'after a sit' method gives me.
  • Add other people scenting the extra articles.
  • Take the show on the road. Given that she did them in multiple different places early on, I am not as concerned about this as if I had done all seven weeks in the same place.
  • Stop using the pair of articles I taught her with.
That ought to keep us busy for a while. I may or may not pursue all of that at this point. My main point in starting this whole project at 6 months was so she had the concept of how to use her nose when she arrives at an article pile. I do believe we have achieved that goal. If I've counted right, today is the 30th day in a row we have done scent articles. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Week 6 Day 6

From my training log notes from Friday's article session:

"Start with cheesed leather. (I wrote this on Thursday. Normally, the 1st article in ATC is a scented metal.)
Put out articles in correct pattern, but without regard to which type was where. Started with whiff of cheese on leather. Also whiff of cheese on 5th article @ position C, also a leather (this was an extra-curricular one. Normally, there are just 4 retrieves each session of week 6.)She was 5 for 5. Some nice confident pickups and trotting back.

The question is, do I move on to week 7 with wires, or first eliminate the cheese and the wires? I'm thinking the former..."

As I've thought about this more today, I continue to concur that I'll move on to Week 7 tomorrow. I can always backtrack.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Article update

Today was the 5th day I've done Week 6 of Around the Clock scent articles with Sonic. It it the week when you are supposed to stop putting cheese on the scented article, and it is the week that can be problematic. I did week 5 five times, and on the final day had only the tiniest smear of cheese on the scented one.

As I've come to expect, going from that teeny tiny little bit of cheese to none has caused her to make mistakes. Since she'd made zero mistakes before, I hadn't had any reason to correct anything. Sonic has erred in slightly different ways each time, but it seems to be more of a problem with the scented leather than the scented metal. Yesterday, she did both metals fine, but the 1st leather wrong. I decided after that to go back to the teensy little bit of cheese on the correct leather one.

At the end of yesterday's session, I pulled out my bag of article wires which I made a few months ago from some leftover garden fencing. One of my students got the idea from another local trainer as an alternative to tying the incorrect ones to a mat.

I put the wires on each of the unscented leather articles at the end of yesterday's session. Sonic did pick up one leather by the top wire that was sticking up, but after that, she seemed appropriately deterred by the wire, and kept searching for the one without. I did put a tiny bit of cheese on the 1st leather, but not after that.

I plan to continue to do the Week 6 sequences until she gets them right several sessions in a row, then move on to Week 7.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

When is it time to quit?

I showed my 1st dog, Australian Terrier Casey, in conformation in 1985. That was my first attempt at competing with a dog. We earned her CD in November 1986. I've been in the ring in several venues a lot since then with my 8 dogs and had a lot of successes, along with my share of NQs. One thing I've been incredibly fortunate to do with all of my dogs is to earn the titles I set out to earn. However, during the years I have been teaching obedience, I've sometimes had to have the difficult discussion with a student about having to give up on a long-sought title.

This question started rolling about in my head this morning during my morning bike ride with the dogs today.

How do you know when it's time to quit and give up on that dream?

Sometimes, the answer jumps up and slaps you in the face: your dog gets injured and you just can't get him sound enough to trial. Sometimes, the dog simply gets too unsound because of age or structure problems, and even with the low jump heights we now have in AKC obedience, can't jump comfortably. 

Sometimes, your dog is so fearful during stays because of a bad incident in his past that he can't help but come to you. Or your dog just isn't cut out for the rigors of the requirements needed for certain advanced titles. 

I am asking myself this question about Ty right now. She currently has Ch UD OM1 RE SH WCX. She has qualified for the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America Hall of Fame. She just finished her OM1 last month. She has 4 UDX legs and 19 OTCh points, including an Open B 1st place. She finished her UD a year ago this weekend. I do feel like I have finally figured out a better way to train her. I'm not sure I've found the best way, but at least we are both having more fun. She has been quite a puzzle for our whole time together (I got her at 16 months). Last summer, when we got back to field training, I had a big Ah-ha moment. I wasn't training with any test in mind, just trying to improve her skills. With less pressure from me, she was much happier and having more success. Most of her Senior Hunter legs the year before were shaky - some moments of brilliance mixed in with quite a few ugly moments. While she was much improved at the end of field season in the fall, I still can't imagine her ever getting all the pieces solid enough to pass 1 Master test, let alone 5 to earn a Master title. 

Her age is another issue. She turned 7 in December, which shouldn't seem old, but in Flat-Coat years, it can be. Sadly, two of her litter mates died of cancer recently. While I may still have years left with her, I have no way of knowing. Given how frustrated I can get with the mysteries of her responses, I'm not sure I want to subject either of us to those frustrations in whatever time we have left, whether short or long. During my trip south, she had a couple of brilliant days training in the water, much to my surprise. The 3rd day, when I ignorantly asked her to do something much harder (I'm still enough of a novice at the field game not to recognize when something is dramatically more difficult - thankfully the person I was training with pointed it out to me!), she had a bit of a meltdown. That evening, when we got to Lakeland and trained some obedience, she was positively radiant. She was fast, she was fun, she had confidence. She knew her job. Another Ah-ha moment for me.

Another issue is time. I enjoy training and running Gryffin much more in the field than Ty. It's not that he never frustrates me, but he is simply better at it. And I have my baby girl Sonic coming up. I really like having 2 dogs to train in the field (and in obedience, for that matter). Three gets unwieldy. 

Another issue is money. How much money are you spending on entry fees that result in another NQ? How about class fees? My first dog took 21 trials to earn her UD, but she earned a leg our first time in the ring. Her 2nd leg came 6 months later, and the 3rd a year after that. I did have a baby between legs 2 and 3, so that held me up a bit. But not much. It never occurred to me that we wouldn't finish the UD. In the years and dogs since, I just keep plugging away and eventually get there.

If you have been pondering this question, here are a few more questions to ask yourself:
  • Are you enjoying your training time?
  • Are you enjoying your trial time, even without passing very often?
  • Is your dog enjoying the training time?
  • Is your dog enjoying the trials?
  • Is your dog still physically sound enough to be doing what you are asking him to do?
  • Do you have a promising young dog you've put on the back burner because of the time needed for the older dog?
  • Is there another activity that you can do with your dog to keep her busy but doesn't take as much time and/or money?
My plan with Ty, at least for now, is to work towards her OM2 - I've never had one - and then see where she is on her UDX and OTCh points. I'll play with her in the field on days there is time and she has the desire, but not with any pressure. Gryff will do field work as long as his body allows him to, and Sonic will get to do everything I can throw at her.

It should be fun!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sonic at 7 months

In the past month, my primary obedience-related focus with Sonic has been her hold for retrieving, getting her picking up a dumbbell and articles, and getting her started on Around the Clock Scent Discrimination. As I've written about several times recently, we started the Around the Clock process the day we left on our 15-day trip in late February, and have worked on them every day since. I don't think I've ever managed to be this consistent. My goal is to have her understanding that she should use her nose when presented with a collection of scent articles, not just grab the first one she gets to. I am teaching her this now because when I start her working on a bumper pile for field, I do want her to grab the first one she gets to, at least ideally. Because of the importance of scent articles for Utility, I will be more forgiving of potential 'shopping' in a bumper pile than field trainers who aren't doing scent work, but I am hopeful that she can understand the difference. Here she is doing Week 5 Day 2 today here at home:

We have continued to work Rhythm Heeling fairly regularly, though hardly at all during our trip.

The other big milestone was her first swims in real ponds. I am so glad I spent the time (and $'s) to teach her to swim in the local therapy pool. She is a very good swimmer, and was in fact difficult to keep out of the water. Here is her Florida swimming video:

She is really getting the idea of the field game. She had several marks thrown by other people during our trip, both land and water, and this morning, she did the land marks that everyone else did, though hers were shorter than Gryff's. Still, I think she is approaching the 100 yard mark, which thrills me. She only visited a gunner once today - that definitely needs more work! She is holding pretty steady in her sit stay until I release her, races out, is learning to hunt well, and usually racing back to me. I am not demanding a delivery to heel position. That is something we are working on 'in the yard.' 

I have been working on field obedience with her every day since the Friday of the Mike Lardy seminar, after I was reminded by watching him what I should be working on. I do plan to have her able to work off both sides. I am very awkward with her on my right, but she is coping pretty well. We are doing walking on both sides, sits when I stop, sit stays, recalls, and finishes to both sides. I have introduced her to a heeling stick (kind of like a riding crop), the beginnings of collar conditioning, and just today, the beginnings of force fetch.

We will be showing in a supported entry in conformation next month, so I'm also doing a bit of work on stacking and gaiting. My son and I took several pictures of her today in honor of her reaching 7 months of age.

She's made some excellent progress in the past month. It will be fun to see where we are when she is 8 months old.