Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pop Quiz

So, let's say that you are the owner of a young, high-energy sporting breed dog, and you decide to try out an intro agility class for fun. Let's also say that you kind of view class as a glorified dog park with playground equipment, and regularly let your dog run amuk around the arena and on the equipment.

Let's say that also in your class is a high-energy, adolescent Border Collie pup with a whole lot of herding drive, whose parents are working hard to improve off leash control. The pup has a tendency a couple times a week to do a brief "victory lap" of the class after an exercise - a practice that the owners are very much trying to prevent and stop. The pup is getting better, though is still not 100% perfect. The owners acknowledge the issue, made everyone in the class aware of this tendency, confirmed that it wouldn't be a problem with anyone before taking this pup off leash, etc.

Let's say that with 15 minutes remaining in a class session where the pup has exercised much more impulse control and had much improved focus and recalls, the BC suddenly decides to make a break for it and do a lap of the class. The BC notices your dog, and they start play-bowing at each other. Do you:

A) Stand calmly holding your dog and wait for the owners who are hustling over to scoop up their dog?
B) Reach down and hold the pup's collar and hand him back to the apologetic owners? or
C) Say, "well, she's been wanting to play all night" and proceed to drop your dog's leash, so that the two dogs can engage in a wildly fun, protracted game of chase all around the training center, while the BC's owners wonder how the hell they are ever going to catch their young dog whose brain has now gone into full-blown, ecstatic herding mode and is oblivious to anything else in the world?

Three guesses how last night's class ended.

Yes, my fault for not having this training issue solved yet. But it was improving every week as he learned that the fun happens when you do the exercises with mom, and that going and looking for your own fun isn't very successful. Of course, now that he had about the best reinforcement he could have for running off, I fear we may be back a few more rungs on that training ladder. A bit frustrating and I was not a happy camper after that. I suppose I did stupid things as a first-time trainer also, but that was one of the damnedest decisions I've ever seen a classmate make, no matter how novice.

After a well-timed, lucky pounce enabled me to retrieve my Noodle, we went to the back of the room and did Crate Games for the remainder of class, in order to do some impulse control work. Tonight we are headed to the park with a long line and lots of freeze dried liver and his favorite tug toy (well, second favorite - his loofah dog toy was unrecognizable after last night's class and so had to go to the dog toy graveyard like so many before it).

He does try so hard to be right. We'll get there.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Two Biggest Challenges (By Cadence):

1) Supressing my incredible herding-drive urge to run large circles around the agility class filled with moving dogs and people.

2) Being the only adolescent boy in a class filled with pretty girl-dogs.

It's hard out there for a Noodle, but I still managed to hold it together for 90-95% of the time last night. Mom has to admit that I sure try awfully hard to do the right thing despite my biology.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

CATCH-2 Django

When Django earned his CPE C-ATCH agility title this past July, I was very content and proud. He is the first dog that I have earned a major title on, and I was satisfied with our accomplishments, was enjoying our teamwork together, and did not have any big ambitions for any titles beyond that. I knew that as long as his health allowed, we would continue trialing and hopefully that may mean more titles as I hope to still have many runs left together with him, but I was done striving. Instead, I decided to focus on being the best team we could be.

If Django is anything in the agility ring, it is honest and forgiving. Consequently, I've been able to "play it safe" a lot of the time in ways that I couldn't with a very high, fast dog like Maebe. Django and I have a lot of clean runs and get a lot of Q's, and even place a decent percentage of the time, but I know I was babysitting to his weaknesses rather than training and improving them. I felt myself doing this especially as I was grasping for those last few C-ATCH legs back in the spring and summer, and I knew that wasn't really the type of trainer that I wanted to be. Plus, I wasn't really challenging Django to meet his full potential.

After we earned his C-ATCH, I decided to stop worrying about qualifying, and instead to test my training and challenge him. I stopped finding ways to avoid off-side weaves at all costs, I ran faster to encourage him to drive harder towards me through the course, and I tested how far I could be from obstacles.

I pleasantly discovered that we kept Q-ing. In fact, our Q rate increased and we even had a few perfect days of trialing in the past few months and began placing consistently, often even taking first. He also was getting faster, and not petering out by the fifth run of the day. We got three traditional Jackpot legs in a row, which was previously unheard of for us. Suddenly, I found we were entering this past weekend's trial needing only one more Standard leg for a CATCH-2, and having two opportunities to get it that day.

So, old habits die hard, I found. I approached the trial feeling very relaxed and unconcerned about finishing the title, but as I walked the first course, I started to feel my nerves get a bit rattled. The course was a nice one that we should have done well. But, I found myself worrying about his A-Frame contact so got right to the end to slow him down to hit it, then promptly forgot what I was supposed to be doing next. In the half-second pause I took to re-orient myself, Django got tired of waiting for direction and took an off course jump. I apologized to him on the course for screwing that one up, then just had fun as we finished up the course.

The second run went much better. I took a deep breath before leaving him at the start line, and the opening went very smooth. Once we got past all the tricky parts though, and were almost in the home stretch, I did shift back into baby-sitter mode, and did some awkward handling to play it safe. But, he earned his Q and still took first place even with the time I took to over-handle the last few weaves and jumps. All in all, it was a nice run and I was very proud of him.

I'm happy to be back in "non-striving" mode though. We ran the last two classes of the day using the "no hand-holding" philosophy again, and he ran fast, clean, and had some brilliant weave entries. In doing so, Django taught me another important lesson - that once the training and team-building effort has been put in, you need to trust your dog, and in effect, yourself.

Here's Django's title photo, courtesy of Raymond Dutton. As always, Django is not real sure what all the fuss is about and is just wondering when he is going to get his cheese.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Things Learned in Foundation Agility Class Last Night

By The Noodle (aka Cadence)

1) Tunnels are awesome.
2) Schnauzers are awesome.
3) While the Buja Board is fun, and I get lots of cheese on it, it is maybe best not to pounce on it like I'm doing my best lion imitation.
4) I have rear feet and need to pick them up when walking through the ladder.
5) Sometimes tunnels are closed at the end but I can still get through.
6) Schnauzers would probably be really fun to herd.
7) Even though the table at class looks exactly like the table at home that I have gone on dozens of times, it is best to give it a full inspection before getting on it for the first time.
8) Mom starts swearing and almost falls if I try to run in front of her at top speed between two obstacles.
9) I can do two obstacles in a row without turning and herding Mom, causing the aforementioned swearing (unless she is really, really late).
10) I could stare at a schnauzer all day.
11) I will be much faster than Django and Mom is not going to get away with the sloppy handling crap she can get away with with him.
12) If I run over to say hi to the pretty Border Collie mix twice in a row while she is doing jumps, my Gentle Leader gets put back on and I have to sit calmly for a while and look at Mom.
13) Mom really better learn to handle.
14) Schnauzers are almost as fascinating as kitties.