Monday, March 18, 2013

Sonic's 1st Beginner Novice leg

I showed Sonic yesterday in obedience for the first time. Beginner Novice is an optional titling class, new since I started a new dog in obedience (Ty, back in 2008). Sonic is the fourth dog who I've started in Rally before doing obedience. The Flat-Coated Retriever National Specialty is in April this year, and I wanted to be able to enter her in something besides Rally. BN seemed a good possibility. Early last month, I did a novice run-through at a match at my building and it went so well, I considered also doing  regular novice at the National.

I want to pause to reflect back to last October, when I showed Sonic in Rally Novice for her title. We showed 3 times, earned some nice scores, but it took a lot of verbal help and guidance to get those scores. She was also barely under control outside the ring. I realized it would be a while before she was ready for any off leash work required to go into Advanced Rally. A funny thing happened over the next several months. I focused almost all of my training time on her field basics, doing obedience once a week in class and then doing most of the demos required in my classes through out the week. In December, we ran a fairly complicated Excellent course for class off leash, and I thought, "Hmmm, I think Advanced will be possible soon!" We showed in conformation at the crazy-busy Novi shows in January, then spent some time heeling and training around the crazy-busy obedience ring area. What she showed me there also encouraged me.

She got two Advanced legs in February, doing very nice work. Then on February 20, we headed south for 2.5 blissful weeks of field training. We did a teeny-tiny bit of obedience work, but not much. We got back less than a week before our next rally trials. With classes starting last week, there wasn't a ton of training time, but I fit in what I could. She had a fine finish to her RA title on Friday, earning a perfect 100.

We moved up to Excellent B for her 1st Excellent leg with a 99.
On Saturday, I attended the 1st day of a Connie Cleveland seminar as an auditor. During each 15 minute break, I'd grab Sonic out of my vehicle and we'd do some heeling. If I put in the needed training time, I think she will be a wonderful heeling dog. She still needs quite bit of support from me, but it is getting better.

So Sunday, off we went to the Toledo KC for a try at Beginner Novice. While I've been feeling quite ready for Excellent rally, I knew our heeling isn't nearly as polished as I'd like it to be for obedience.  She's been doing so well on the sit and stand for exams with our class instructor, and quite well with classmates playing judge, that I haven't been good about getting new people to do exams. I got a bunch of people to do sit for exams, and she got better each time we did it.

Yep, I corrected her in the ring - after the first about turn, I think I said, "Hey, WATCH!" which did get her back on track for the rest of the pattern. I used my one legal "phrase of praise" after the next about turn to good effect, I think. I am not happy that she paced the whole first leg, but that is a work in progress. It simply isn't habit yet for her. I also praised (legally) as we headed toward the 1st right circle on the first Figure 8. The sit for exam was excellent, but then Jim Ham doesn't dilly dally around on his exam :-). The small amount of work we did on it during our Florida trip wasn't exactly promising, so I was pleased she pulled it together.

We ended up with a score of 194 and 3rd place, all 6 points lost on the heeling pattern. I'm glad I made the choice I did to fix her as I did, since she really seemed to get her head together after that.

We show again in Rally Excellent next Friday and BN on Saturday. My goal is to have two legs on each title going into the National in late April. We'll be showing somewhere she hasn't ever been before, which will be good experience for her.

While I'm a trifle disappointed in the heeling pattern, I am also realistic about why it went as it did. Lack of experience. Time and effort will fix that.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2013 Winter Odyssey Part II

On Wednesday and Thursday (Feb 27/28), I joined Mitch White's training group. On Wednesday, training consisted of 3 singles on land for each girl: medium, short, long. We did a mind-blowing Influential lining drill (18 buckets - 8 is the most I've used).

I did a final water-force session with Sonic (well, I hope it's the final one :-)). Then swim-by work with Little, whistle sits in water with both (Sonic hasn't figured out how to tread water yet, but she is turning and focusing on me pretty promptly). Ended the day with 3 water marks for each. First was across about 40 yds of water, up over a sizable dike into another small bit of water. There were cheating possibilities, but neither fell for them. Second one was out near a bunch of posts in the water. I did the 3rd one from up a hillside with a long log at the water's edge, which they both handled a bit clumsily but without trying to cheat around it.
Thursday's training: 2 land marks up hill, the left one behind or just in front of a long log, the right one with several patches of brushy cover to go through (or dodge around as several dogs did). We also attempted - and succeeded at - a land blind for which they had to go through some more of that brushy cover. A cold blind for each of them! I had to move up, but I was quite pleased, given their lack of exposure to casting into cover. Did the marks as a taught double with both girls. Neither did very well. Reran later and both did well on the rerun. Moved to water and did a taught in-line double. Long mark was beyond a whole string of fence posts that are in the water. Both girls did that well. Closer in mark was from a launcher behind them. Little stood and jumped forward when that went off. She visited various decoys when I sent her for the memory mark (which she'd ignored when she ran it as a single the first time), but got herself out to the mark. Cheryl Knapp and I then went over to the Horseshoe Pond and worked whistle sits in the water with Sonic and Gem-E, then I did some swim-by work with Little. We finished up letting the girls run and play together, something I haven't had/taken the time for. They had a lot of fun dashing about and going in and out of the pond numerous times. I guess the day's work hadn't exhausted them.

On Friday, after a slow start, we started with 3 cold land blinds ("cold blind" means one the dogs haven't seen me put bumpers out nor does it have a nice attractive white bucket for them to focus on). They were about 120 yds each. Little's first one was poor - she did NOT believe me when I sent her, but we kept plugging and when she spotted the orange stake, woo hoo!, she zeroed in on it and dashed in for the retrieve. The 2nd was better, third about the same. Sonic did very well on the 1st one, poorly on the 2nd (there was a log to go over), and very well on the 3rd. Next, I did swim-by work for Little that didn't go very well. I was feeling like *such* a swim-by training failure (I never really felt either Gryffin or Ty really 'got it'). While there are some parts that were much better than when we arrived, we weren't as far along as I'd hoped to be. It seems to be my Holy Grail. Then I got Sonic out with the goal to start teaching her how to take over casts (going left or right) in the water, something we'd barely touched on earlier in the week. She proceeded to do so well that she was doing better than Little had. It just seems to make sense to her. That bouyed my spirits a lot. That got me thinking that what I need to do a lot more of with Little is land disciplined casting, which I CAN do when I return to the cold north. I also played with teaching Little to circle a bucket for treats, which she thought was splendid (food=splendid in Little's world). I did this because it was something I did with Sonic, and I thought it might benefit Little. Later in the afternoon, Mitch coached me on improving Sonic's whistle sits in water and more swim-by with Little. She was actually much better in the bigger pond than the one we've worked on since Tuesday. Cheryl and I did a 200 or so yard Postman marking Y-drill (back and forth) to give Sonic a chance to stretch out some.

After checking out of the motel, I started Saturday morning with Swim-by work and Little did the best she's done. Being in the somewhat bigger pond makes a big difference for her. Sonic didn't do quite as well as she did in the smaller pond on Friday, but still was doing quite well on the early stages. Then we did 3 new land blinds. Unlike yesterday, when Little was mystified about what we were doing on the first blind, she took off like a rocket on her first blind today. Not quite in the right direction, but at least she had momentum :-). It was very windy that day.

I spent Saturday night with a college friend in Clearwater, who I hadn't seen since her wedding 23 years ago. After keeping somewhat up to date on each other's life through annual holiday letters, we had a lovely time catching up with each other.

It was a boring couple of days for Sonic and Little after 9 straight days of swimming/field work. I taught 6 obedience lessons Sunday and Monday, so they had a lot of crate time. It was great to catch up with so many of my Lakeland friends.

Monday evening, I drove to Betsy Reiney's in Palatka, where Sonic swam for the first time outdoors last spring. We had a nearly perfect weather day for field work on Tuesday. I joined Betsy's Tuesday morning group for land work - some marks with ducks from launchers, as well as a site blind (which they both lined on their first try, which I did before running the marks), and then did swim-by with both girls back at Betsy's - quite successfully - that afternoon. The land blinds we did weren't quite so successful.

We had another full day of training on Wednesday. There were some very good things from both girls, some not so good things. They have different strengths and weaknesses. We started with Bill Hillman's Star Drill. Sonic did quite well, while Little had a lot of trouble. We did a marking Y-drill and reran the blinds from the day before, with much better results. In the afternoon, I did some water whistle sits and swim-by work.

On Thursday, I did the Star Drill again with Little (better than Wednesday, but lots of room for improvement), and then we set up an 8-bucket Influential Lining Drill, which went pretty well. We did 3 new land blinds. Sonic 3 or 4 whistled the first one at 150 yds - I was thrilled with that! The other 2 went almost as well. Little had a ton of trouble on the long one, so we repeated it after running the right one. We worked more water whistle sits, but decided not to work on swim-by. I was ready for a break from it! After lunch, Betsy threw 3 long water marks for each girl.

And with that, our training for this wonderful voyage was over. I am so grateful for the generosity of all my hosts and the use of their training grounds. We had an uneventful drive home, stopping again on the way home to stay with Bonnie. Altogether, I put over 3000 miles on the Burb. And it was worth every mile!

2013 Winter Odyssey Part I

I returned last Saturday from a 2.5 week trip to North Central Florida. What a fabulous trip it was!

We (Sonic, Little, and I) left Ann Arbor on February 20, with a stop that night in Maryville, TN to stay with my friend Bonnie Hornfisher. We got back on the road at 9 AM the next morning, and after a somewhat interminable day of driving, arrived at the Red Roof Inn in Ocoee, FL.

On Friday, I met my friend Cheryl Knapp to train with her group at Wayne Gey's ranch, the mecca of field training in North Central Florida.

They had all started with some pattern blinds. I taught one of them to both girls, with mediocre results. The group was doing work that my girls weren't ready for, so I did some brief water pile work across the short leg of the Horseshoe pond. Then I joined the group on the Big Pond, and the girls got to do 2 water marks. The 2nd was probably the longest either had ever done, which was probably not the smartest thing I could do during their first swim of the year, but they both did fine.

The next two days were spent attending Mitch White's Water Workshop. I worked on Water Force both days with Sonic. Mitch has changed how he does it, using a peninsula, so it was great timing, since it was the next logical step for Sonic.
On her way.

I'm on the end of the peninsula doing an early send.

Back at the base line, racing down the peninsula.

I did a bit of training after the seminar, since Little hadn't done anything all day, and Sonic not much.
The next morning, Little started off with Mitch's Casting Over into Water drill, which she did very nicely. I love the photo below - the intensity, the rippling muscles of her shoulders, and how nicely she is leaving from under my still hand.
Little launching towards a pile of bumpers.

Little also did some swim-by work, which went remarkably well, since we'd done almost none of it when in Tennessee last November.

On Monday, I did a brief session of disciplined casting - Sonic did well, Little lousy. Then I worked o water force with Sonic at a different pond, and water whistle sit work for both. Little's are looking very nice. She's getting the idea of treading water and gives me nice focus. Sonic hasn't done very many before, but I'm pleased with what she gave me that day.

I spent lunchtime at a nearby Chevy dealer, getting the strut for the back hatch of the Burb replaced. It had failed on Friday, fortunately in a somewhat gradual way. I was glad that my crates have doors on both ends, so I could get the girls out the front instead of chancing having the hatch slam done on the dogs or me.

In the afternoon, I did the cast over into water drill with Sonic and swim-by work with Little, then hauled all 4 launchers out to see which would work (last time I tried, not all worked). The #1 remote is at home, since it wouldn't take a charge. All the launchers did fire, but took some swapping around of remotes. I also worked mannerly walking with me to the holding blind (I had the Burb parked out near the launchers) and some holding blind control with launchers honking. Little is much more willing to heel with me when cookies are a possibility.

Tuesday: It was a rainy morning, but given we were training water, the girls didn't mind. Started with land disciplined casting again. Little isn't as good at it as Sonic, but it was much better than Monday. Swim-by work with Little in the horse shoe pond (a bit smaller than the one we used yesterday) - that went quite well - she seems to get that after picking up a side bumper, she will be getting back in - and a fine, hard-charging water force/pile session for Sonic. Then I did some 'Send Back' marks. I left the dog at the line, walked out and threw a mark, released her from out there, had her deliver to me, then sent her back to the line (marked with a bucket and two white stakes) and blew a whistle sit when she got there. Then I'd walk to a new location and repeat. While neither girl simply lined back to the base-line in one try, it did go better than the last time I tried it. I finally used the starter pistol for the first time that I got back in December. It added some extra excitement. I finished the morning with 6 white bucket site blinds, the 1st 3 with slots through trees, the last 3 longer blinds. We headed back to the motel and worked on my website and escaped the rain.