Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Snowy End to 2012

I've given up hoping for another snow-free winter like we had last year. As awesome as it was to continue training through January and February, there is a certain amount of fun that comes with the dreaded white stuff.

We got about 4 to 5 inches of super fluffy snow (the fun kind!) yesterday, so we took advantage of playing in it this morning since I didn't have to work. Have I mentioned lately how nice it's been to step back from the shelter? I miss being more involved there, but I've learned how important it is to have down time now and again to recharge. The biggest bonus is that I don't resent going there anymore, so everyone benefits. I'm working tomorrow and New Years morning, then only one weekend in January. And you know what, I'm kind of sad about that now...

December has spoiled me, what with having to use up all of my vacation at work. It's going to be hard to go back to working a full week again! But no worries, I'm still off Monday & Tuesday of this coming week. Maybe the house will get cleaned yet.... Who am I kidding?

I'm not sure if having me around more is what has been turning Secret into a possessive bitch lately or what. She's been attempting to guard Kaiser away from me more than usual the last few days, for which my response is to invite him into our space and tell her to knock it off. This morning I was sitting at the computer and they got into a fight. I don't even know what prompted it, but it was NOT okay and clearly started by Secret. It was all noise and gnashing of teeth, but it's still enough to unnerve me.

Kaiser turns five tomorrow! I find it so hard to believe, because to me he stays the perpetual puppy of the family. Luke turns nine only two days later, on Tuesday. Crazy.

This has been a year full of changes, no doubt. All of the uncertainty when the family business was struggling, being unemployed, finding a new job.... The dogs have adjusted better than I could have hoped for, considering how drastically different their own lives are now. I can't imagine having gotten through it without them. It would be pretty depressing to come home to nothing!

We've had plenty of changes in our dog life as well. By far the biggest would be taking the plunge to start showing in a new organization. Secret has conquered a lot of fears this year -- dealing with the teeter and all of the other "new equipment," that weird slatted dog walk issue that cropped up mid-year, traveling alone -- oh wait, we didn't conquer that one.  ;o)  Trials in general seem to be causing her a lot less stress and there are many areas where she really shines (namely, anywhere but the weaves...).

Some of my dog friends were recently talking about goal setting -- as in, do you make them and do you tend to achieve them. Goals have always been an area where I find I struggle. Now my job requires that I come up with them each year, so you can imagine how much anguish that causes me. lol

So much of the future is unknown, especially when you are dealing with other living beings. Injuries can happen, someone could get sick, who knows. I always have an "end goal" in my sights with regard to agility that starts on the first day we trial -- get the Championship titles. Do other people not set that same goal? To me it seems silly to set anything smaller, because those will undeniably be achieved on the way to the bigger goal. And I don't ever set dates to get things by because honestly it's not going to alter my life at all if we get it or not... Would it have been nice to finish Secret's NATCH in 2012? Sure, but we didn't, so we'll do that in 2013. I'd hardly call that a "goal" for 2013, though, considering she's two Q's away and it's highly unlikely that she won't get it eventually.

See, I stink at goals. I'm too practical.  lol

My goals since starting USDAA have always been to get her a PDCH. Why else would we be there? If my goals were to get as many CH titles on her as possible I suppose we could start AKC or CPE, but that's not what drives me. I don't know what drives me.... Maybe that should be my goal for 2013, to figure that out.  ;o)  Ultimately I do agility because I like spending the time with my dogs and I love being around awesome people who share my passion and understand me. That's not going to change no matter what titles are on the line.

I do really want to attend NADAC Champs this year, but that will come down to finances, not qualifying. We'll see how the year goes, I guess.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to one and all! I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday!

Today has been a quiet day here. I worked at the shelter this morning -- This is how I have truly ENJOYED my Christmas mornings for the last three years. I only had six dogs, largely due to a hugely successful adoption promotion we recently had -- how awesome is it that so many animals found homes before Christmas?!

My brother & his family had to get back to Chicago today, which means that we had Christmas with my mom's side of the family on Sunday instead of today -- With nothing else planned for the day, I attempted to go see Les Mis with my parents, but who knew the movies were so crazy popular on Christmas day?! The 1:40 showing was sold out and the next one wasn't until after 5:00. The line was well out the door, so we decided against seeing anything else and just came home. I've spent all day hanging with the dogs and reading The Hunger Games, which my nephew brought up with him from Chicago. Yeah, I tend to be a bit behind on literature crazes.

Today was my last of SIX days off in a row. Honestly, I can't even tell you what day of the week it is anymore, so in that respect it will be nice to return to work tomorrow. The dogs and I have enjoyed our downtime together, although they probably would have preferred a bit more excitement. Luke pulled a muscle while playing fetch last week, so even that has been quite limited for them lately. I've eased up the last few days, though, and everything seems to be going okay for him -- so the dogs quite enjoyed their frisbee time today. In between that, Secret has been SUPER cuddly lately...

We had a white elephant gift exchange with my mom's side of the family. My cousin stole the dog-themed gift basket from me.  :o(  Brat.  But WIN, he gave me the big tuggy rope with tennis balls attached to it, claiming that his wee Min Pin would never play with it -- He just wanted the chewies. That would be the extent of the Christmas gifts the dogs received this year... Sorry dogs, I'm a terrible mother. Not only do I make you dress up in antlers, but I also fail to get you any gifts.

Life returns to normal now. The holidays are over. Secret & Luke are entered in a USDAA trial on January 5th, so we have that to look forward to in the new year! Yup, I decided to enter Luke and withhold Kaiser. Luke gets to run Veteran Standard & Gamblers, so that should be interesting fun. Secret is entered in Standard, Gamblers, Snooker (all P2) and Jumpers (P3) -- I kept her out of PSJ since she doesn't need any more Q's at the moment and we won't be sticking around for round 2. I might wing it and see how late the day goes before I decide on staying over before driving home. Have I mentioned lately how nice it would be to have USDAA trials closer to home?......

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Snowpocalypse That Wasn't

Happy End of the World! As you can plainly figure out for yourself, we are still here and the world didn't end today on this, the last day of the Mayan calendar.

This day also coincided with a "giant storm" that turned out to be pretty sad (at least in terms of Wisconsin winter storms). Don't get me wrong -- we had snow and we had wind, but it was far from the epic proportions they were obsessing over on the news.

We ended up with a sad little 5" or so that mostly got blown into drifts here and there. It was also fairly wet & heavy snow, not the fun fluffy stuff that the dogs enjoy so much. No worries, though, they are making the most of what we have. Yesterday morning Secret plunged face-first into the snow that was building up on the deck. Weirdo.

I was scheduled to have the morning off yesterday (Thursday) due to Secret's vet appointment, but with the blizzard in the forecast I elected to shuffle my days off around a bit so that I could avoid driving and just stay home. That means that I don't go back to work until Wednesday now! The dogs seem to think it's pretty awesome to have me home all day.

Secret and I just walked up to her vet appointment yesterday because I hadn't cleared the driveway yet. It was a quick & easy appointment. I did her bordetella vaccination at home before we went - this was an epic failure last year and I figured if worse came to worse I could say screw it and just have them do it when we went. She still put up a stink over the whole thing, but I think I actually got the majority of it up her nose this year.

With that out of the way, Secret wasn't actually due for anything other than her annual physical and heartworm test. Easy-peasy in and out. I discussed her chiropractic schedule with Dr. Randy and he didn't really have anything to add to that -- we agree that she is freakishly long and there isn't much we can do about it.

Today I tortured the dogs with a Christmas photo shoot. You'll have to wait for those pictures, although if you are on Facebook you've already seen them... Since the pictures turned out kind of cute, I decided this afternoon to make a Christmas card -- something I haven't done in years. I made treats to take to the vet's office, though, and I thought it would be nice to have a card to go with them. I thought Dr. Marta and crew in Viroqua would like a card, too, so I'll be sending that off in hopes that it reaches them before Christmas.

Tomorrow I'll blow a bit of time delivering our Christmas goodies to our favorite vet staff and then I suppose the dogs will expect me to entertain them. Tonight they convinced me to take them along while I did some last-minute Christmas shopping. Yeah... That was fun. Actually, I was kind of glad to have the company as I spent 40 minutes attempting to get out of the parking lot at Farm & Fleet. It probably would have been a bit better had I not waited until everyone got out of work to go shopping...

On a somewhat training-related note (since we have done zero agility to speak of since the last trial) --- Since Secret is doing so well with her pre-dinner tugging, I decided to switch it up and change out the toy. I've been able to use either tug leash successfully, but had not tried other toys yet. Yesterday I pulled out an udder tug. Square one. Very interesting! Guess this little game will continue for a while, changing out toys until she happily & immediately tugs anything presented.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

It snowed....

Well yay... It snowed. The weather-guessers have been threatening the possibility for the last week, but the forecast kept changing. To be safe, I did put all of my agility equipment away on Friday. I'll never forget the year that all of my jumps got frozen to the ground for an entire winter a few years ago. It's a pain to play around them and probably not that good for the equipment, either. The only thing I took directly to the basement was the table. The rest can wait for another day.

It's hard to hate the snow when the dogs love it so much. As I type this, Secret has been outside for over an hour playing SO happily in it. Kaiser & Luke joined her in a game of chase and now that Luke is back in the house Kaiser is keeping Secret entertained. Seriously, she is going bonkers out there. Who knew she liked snow THAT much?

It's hard to say how much we've got so far. It's very wet & heavy, but there must be close to 3" out there by now.

It made for a fun day at the trial. It was a very, very small trial today anyhow -- made even smaller by those who opted to not take their chances with the weather. We started at 8:00 a.m. and our last run of the day was around 12:10 p.m.

I don't have video from today (seriously, it was SMALL and everyone was so busy running or working that I didn't even get my camera out). The dogs all ran well and were on their best behavior all weekend. I didn't even mention that yesterday, but Secret did SO WELL in her crate all weekend! I crated in the back of the arena again and used the same thick blanket (better at blocking movement/noise) that I did at the USDAA trial where she seemed to stay quiet. I did not hear her bark even once the entire weekend. Not once! That makes me so happy and I think she rests a lot more in that situation as well!

Jumpers went well for all. It was nice and flowing, so I managed to use all blind crosses in Secret's run. Gotta keep it fun one way or another.  ;o)  Luke sailed through the course nicely, so we managed to get the last of the Jumpers Q's that he needs for the next NATCH. Phew, glad that's out of the way -- although it would be kind of fun to have gotten a NATCH on something other than Chances for once! Kaiser was a little twitchy in Jumpers because I over-handled a few tight spots, but he stayed with me for a Q.

Chances was up next and while it didn't look like a bad course, it ended up being pretty brutal. The overall success rate in Chances this entire weekend was dismal, which might be why our judge decided to give us all a mulligan and offered the opportunity to try it again before we switched to Open. Sadly it wasn't for points, but who hasn't wanted the chance to try a Chances course again?

On Secret's first run I handled a turn-away/send out from the wrong side of the hoop (something I only noted when I watched one of the two successful runs). So on her second go I changed my tactics and she did a beautiful job! It was just lovely -- and not many dogs managed to get it on even the second try, so I was very proud of her.

Luke had gotten that turn/send out, but then didn't get the additional switch after that jump. I fixed my blunders with him and he also got it on the second go. Kaiser, being Kaiser, did even worse on the second go round and decided to just make up his own course.

Luke Q'd in both rounds of Regular. Yay! Secret decided I'd used up my runs for the day with that extra Chances run and pretty much said, "Meh, I'm done," on the second round of Regular (the first was lovely!). She made it through, but we had all sorts of blunders that more or less stemmed from me not supporting enough (because I assumed she'd get there on her own -- so yes, I was being lazy, too). Her weaves were very slow and we had two big redirects that sucked up a lot of time, so Secret ended up being 0.6 seconds over time in Round 2 -- Which means she got one of those stupid 5-point Q's to screw up all of my nice round numbers.

Kaiser didn't have a good day in Regular. Fifteen runs in a weekend might be a little much for him. He nailed all of his contacts, I'll give him that! His first run was really nice but we failed to get a turn following the a-frame and he took an off-course hoop. I loved his dog walk in that run, though. It was the second-to-last obstacle and he ran across and nailed the stop at the end (vs. creeping like we usually do). In Round 2 he decided he'd had enough and took the weirdest turn/path ever to take an off course hoop. This hoop was also the finish hoop, so I guess he just thought he was done for the day. I debated just ending the run there, but it was kind of a naughty turn away so we did the last few obstacles, which included a really pretty a-frame contact (especially for the end of the weekend where he usually short-strides them).

So Secret & Luke ended up tied in the Q department with 5.5 each. Kaiser came home with 9 Q's and a new title ribbon -- Family Dog Center has a new style new title ribbon that I should really get a picture of, but my floors need cleaning and I'd be embarrassed to set up for a ribbon picture.  ;o)  Maybe next time.

The next NADAC trial isn't until the end of January, so there won't be any more NATCH opportunities yet in 2012. We actually don't even have any more trials the rest of the year, so I guess it's okay that the snow has come because now we just get to play for the next few weeks.

Oh, and speaking of play -- Secret continued to tug all day today and put in even more effort than she did yesterday -- actively sitting back and jerking the leash a few times. I am happy, happy, happy about the progress we've made in such short time! And I'm sure everyone we trial with is happy as well because Secret no longer sits and barks the entire time we are waiting to go in the ring....

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It's Working!!

You know that crazy idea I had recently that involved making Secret tug for her dinner? Well guess what, I do believe it's working.

She's been getting to the point where she is actually offering resistance and increasing the amount of time she will tug before eating. I've been asking for small increases in duration each time and it appears to be getting through to Secret. The first tugs were more or less borne of frustration, but now she's catching on and seems to understand that tug = eat.

Today we had a NADAC trial here in La Crosse. My expectations were no different than with dinner -- If you want these treats in my hand, you must tug. Truthfully, this was probably a step beyond what I'm asking for at dinner, as I haven't asked for her to tug when I actually have food IN my hand. But it clicked for her and she was totally game!

We actually got some GOOD tugging. Not crazy tugging like you see from so many dogs at trials, but good honest-to-goodness interacting and even a little play growling and a slight shake once, even! Hey, I'll take it! We're making HUGE progress!

And I do think it made a difference in her runs today. Secret was a happy girl -- all except for Chances. That was the run where I had to pull her out of her crate and go straight into the ring. We barely had any time to get pumped up and it showed in her run. We had plenty of time before each of her other three runs, though, and they were great! Secret even beat Luke's times in every run! In her first round of Regular, Secret had the 2nd fastest time in the class, with the average being about 5 seconds slower (right around where Luke was).

Secret was 3/4 today -- We didn't get Chances (barely anybody did...), so she will not be getting her NATCH this weekend. Oh well! Hopefully we can get a Chances Q tomorrow to increase our odds for January!

I'll be curious to see how tomorrow goes with regard to the tugging. She's always so pooped by the end of the day on Sunday, so I'm curious to see if this jazzes her up at all.

Luke was his usual crazy, happy self. He was a bit of a wild child and was slipping around the arena today. He knocked a bar in the first round of Regular for one of those stupid 5-point Q's, but somehow managed to keep the rest up (despite a lot of ticking). Luke wasn't even close in Chances, which means that he won't be getting a NATCH this weekend, either -- But he did knock out a nice Jumpers run, so he got one of those out of the way, at least!

Kaiser actually has two videos to share. He got to run last night because I won a free day in the worker raffle at the last trial. Kaiser was the obvious choice because Luke isn't running games anymore and I really don't feel Secret is up to three days at this point in her career. I could have, you know, saved money and applied it to Saturday or Sunday, but we're only running five runs each day this weekend and Friday had six. Yay for more runs!

Kaiser gave me the most bang for my (free) buck and knocked out 6/6 runs last night. He likes games, so it's not much of a stress. I think we got a gimmee in the first round of Touch-n-Go because I'm pretty sure that he went through an off course hoop, but you win some & you lose some...

He finished his V-NATCH points in Weavers and got his Outstanding Elite Tunnelers title, which means that he just needs three more Tunnelers and four more Touch-n-Go Q's for his Versatility NATCH. Oh, and I won the worker raffle again last night for another free day! Sweet!!

Today was rough (on both me & Kaiser) since we didn't get home until after 11:00 p.m. last night. He was a trooper, though, and put in some nice runs. Only two were Q's and they aren't pretty Q's, but I'll take them. I'm thrilled any time we bring home Regular Q's!  :o)

Petco sent me a 20% off coupon last night that had to be used today, so we swung by there on the way home from the trial. They correctly peg me as a sucker, because when I have coupons I buy stuff we don't need. On my way to the food, I walked past a Kong display that said, "Buy one, get one 25% off." So of course, I did. I got a couple of the Squeezz toys. We have these at the shelter and I've always been impressed by how long they keep squeaking. Well that was a stupid choice, I've been listening to obnoxious squeaking since we got home... But the dogs think they rock, so yay.

Right now Kaiser & Secret are going bonkers in the back yard. Time to conserve energy for another big day tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Big Dreams, Tiny Budget

It's been a while, but today is another dog agility blog event day. The subject is "backyard training," and if you'd like to see what everyone else has to say you can visit this site:

I haven't had a chance to visit to read what everyone else has to say yet, but I'm hoping to get some good ideas! Since August of 2008, 99% of my training has all been done in my backyard. Both Kaiser and Secret were solo projects taught at home with no outside help. Part of the reason is because there were/are no local classes that fit my needs, but also because training just gets expensive -- especially with three dogs!

When I first started agility with Luke in 2007 he was my only dog. I quickly became addicted to the sport and we enrolled in session after session of weekly classes with no break. I'd often take a private or semi-private lesson each week in addition to our group classes, and sometimes I'd even go down for ring rental on another day. Paying for all of that training time adds up, there is no doubt.

What ultimately led to me getting serious about finding a way to train on my own were the struggles Luke and I had in the NADAC Chances class.  When we got into Elite we just COULD NOT Q. We literally went over 10 months without a single Q when we moved up (and we were trialing two or three times a month back then!) and it was getting depressing. The local training classes did not touch on or encourage distance work at all, so I felt the only way we were going to see any improvement was if I found a way to work on my own. Thankfully I feel that my experience riding and training horses for so many years really helped my intuition for learning agility and I felt that I could be fairly successful on my own.

The more I got into agility, the more I found myself backing away from horses. I was approaching 30 and had been renting my apartment for over 8 years, so I decided that it was as good a time as any to start house shopping. I would sell my younger horse, Norman, to help with a down payment towards the new house, which was more or less the beginning of the end of my equestrian life. While house shopping, I stressed to my realtor that a big flat empty yard was ALL that mattered. She struggled greatly with this request, but eventually we found the perfect property. My yard is 100'x100' fenced with no obstructions -- unfortunately it's in the town of Sparta, but you can't win them all...

My older horse passed away shortly after I put the offer in on the house, so I was horseless as we moved forward with the deal (unfortunately the only reason I was looking in the Sparta area was because that's where my barn was....). I found myself selling off all of my tack and equipment to put towards my new passion in life --- buying agility equipment! Before I moved in, I had a couple of tunnels, my dog walk & a-frame were ordered and all of my PVC was cut and ready to assemble into jumps.

Being able to train at home has been such a blessing and has completely changed my outlook on dog training in general. I can't imagine going back to a group class anymore because it goes against how I train my dogs. I love having the ability to set an exercise and work each dog for five or ten minutes. This keeps them fresh, happy and excited about agility. All the work that we do is in drive because I don't have to worry about bringing them up & down over the course of an hour long group class.

I can work on what I want/what we need. Training at home was THE KEY to building Luke's distance skills and is largely why Kaiser & Secret both have had good distance from day one. So many people at trials have asked me for help and I struggle with advice since I know how difficult it is to work on those skills in a class environment when the instructor and other students aren't interested in learning those skills.

There are negatives to training exclusively at home, no doubt! I don't have anyone to tell me how many stupid handling errors I am making or give me advice on how to correct this. I video as many of our training sessions as I can for this reason, but it would still be nice to have one on one feedback on occasion.

When you have a weekly class that you pay to attend, you tend to be guaranteed to train at least one day a week. At home, sometimes it just seems like a whole lot of effort to set a course, especially when it typically takes longer to set/take down a course than the time I spend actually running it with the dogs. It was great when I had my cousin, Bethany, coming over to train with me regularly because that helped a lot with my motivation. I miss that, for sure. My motivation was kind of lacking this year -- I never even got my contacts out of the garage this whole season! It was the year of jumping drills & teetering; that's about it.

I also miss getting to run drills that someone else comes up with. Many times when you set up exercises for yourself, you tend to set them to your strengths. I dubbed this year the "Year of the Backyard Dog" and set numerous drills from the Clean Run article of this name in order to attempt to push myself out of my comfort zone more often. I love these drills! They are easy to set with a fairly minimal amount of equipment, they tend to fit into a space that allows for easy stationary video and they test a wide variety of skills. If you look, you can even find ones that focus on specific equipment. This came in super handy when it came time for me to train the broad jump earlier this year after we started USDAA!

Living in Wisconsin, I would gather the worst part about backyard training is that it goes away for a good half of the year. Last year ROCKED in that I was still playing agility outside in January and February, but most years bring an end to running outdoors far earlier than that. Not only does winter make training outside difficult if not impossible, but we tend to have long stretches of time where you can't do ANYTHING outside due to ice or extreme cold.

That's why, two years ago, I decided to put down mats on half of my basement. Secret was due to make her agility debut in February of 2011 and I was panicking about the idea of having no way to train her. My basement was half framed in on one side when I bought it (the other side has a finished room, so that couldn't be touched), so my dad helped me knock it all down and I ended up with a 20' x 23' big open space. It's not much, but it has given us a great winter play area.

I can fit a few jumps in this space and usually bring down my table, the teeter and a set of 6 2x2 weave poles. I also keep our exercise peanut in the basement and we burn off some energy on that when the weather prevents us from playing outside. The stairs are also a great way to get some crazies out on a cold day as well as to get some good cardio exercise in!

We are still snow-free going into December, but my new job doesn't allow me the opportunity to train outside before it gets dark. Right now I'm thankful that all of my dogs are more or less able to survive in "maintenance mode" and that we are still able to be successful at trials with the limited amount of training that we have available to us.

We'll see how true that statement holds this weekend, as we have a NADAC trial here in La Crosse! Secret has a shot at getting her NATCH, as she just needs two more Chances Q's. I'm going to try to not feel too pressured and just let the chips fall where they may. Even if she got it in January it would still be less than two years into her trial career, so I'm in awe of her, regardless. Luke also has a shot (at NATCH 4), but he needs two Chances and two Jumpers -- I tend to be far more likely to screw up his Jumpers runs for whatever reason, so we'll see what happens. It could be a very exciting weekend, though, especially on the heels of Kaiser's NATCH at the last trial!