Friday, June 27, 2014

Weave Practice :o)

Well, I ended up putting entries in the mail today for Secret & Kaiser to do the 18-pole Weave Challenge at the Wisconsin State Fair in August. I don't know if there are still openings or not, but I guess I'll find out. I'll also find out if they are serious about the whole Bordetella vaccination, because the vet records I sent in didn't mention that due to the whole issue of "I stopped giving it." I figure if they ask about it when they email to confirm (or not confirm...) I can just say they will have it before we go. Kind of adds to the cost of the trip over, but oh well. We'll have to see what they say about it I guess.

But for now we just wait. Wait to see if we got in. Maybe they would let me try to get Secret in the dock diving pool again afterwards?  ;o)

It was no big surprise that Kaiser had the fastest time, but I thought Secret did super awesome! Here's how it all factored out:

Total -- 28.43
Round 1 -- 13.72 seconds
Round 2 -- 14.71 seconds

Total -- 29.12
Round 1 -- 14.37 seconds
Round 2 -- 14.75 seconds

Kizzy (for fun):
Total -- 41.45 seconds
Round 1 -- 20.52 seconds
Round 2 -- 20.93 seconds

Times are approximate based on my ability to operate the pause button in movie maker.   :o)

Luke did come out and put in a valiant effort, but he never managed to put two sets of 18 together and he started to peeter out pretty quickly. I didn't push him on it and let him just chew on his ball the rest of the night.

I set up the web cam to spy on the dogs while I was at work today. I realized that I've never done that since Kizzy joined the pack, so I have no idea what they do all day while I'm gone. Turns out they don't do anything different than when there was only three of them. In fact, I rarely saw Kizzy on the camera all day long. I have no idea where she hangs out all day....

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Do you remember our kind of pointless trip over to the Wisconsin State Fair a few years ago (it's been three years already???)? I was all excited to go to our first dock diving competition since, you know, Secret is such a crackhead about jumping into the river and all. Well, that was a big bust. She never jumped into the pool.

This year, though, they are having a weave pole challenge! It's an 18-pole up and back deal. I assume because there isn't enough room for the traditional 30-pole up and back ("traditional" in the sense that this is the format the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge adopted a couple of years ago instead of the old 60-pole challenge). The main thing holding me back is the 7:30 start time. I was able to make a day of it with the dock diving thing, whereas it hardly seems worth it to drive over for something this short. Granted, I could do it without missing much work...

And look! Money!  $$$  There is money to be won! Hmm. It's getting tough to say no.

I won't lie, I'd be hanging my hat on Kaiser for this thing. He's a little fart, but he's a stinking fast and solid little weaver. Plus he'd win the crowd over, and who doesn't love that?  :o)  The rules say there is no food in the competition area, but they do allow toys... Which means that Secret could even put in a fairly respectable showing under the right circumstances. There are two rounds and they combine the total time to come up with the winners.

So of course tonight I set up my own little weave challenge. I still have my old stick-in-the-ground poles that I stuck on the end of the regular set of weaves. This threw Kaiser off at first and he was having a difficult time ending on the stick-in poles due to their irregular nature, I'm sure. I finally got them spaced a little better, though, and he rocked it. Secret, surprisingly, didn't have a problem with the 18 poles at all! She totally nailed it on the first try. Kizzy and Luke both made it through all 18, too, but I would leave them at home for this.

Hmm..... The only downside is that we have an AKC trial Friday, Saturday & Sunday before these dates. This wouldn't affect Kaiser, but Secret would probably be about at her weaving limit after that. Meh. It's only a $10 entry! I should just go. Maybe my dad will go with or something! That could be fun!

I actually trained the dogs this weekend and failed to share the update. We played on another fun Happy Hurdle Day course by Ann Croft Agility Coach. It was hot. Bleh. It was actually bad enough that Luke came out and was like, "this sucks," so I didn't even make him do it. lol  Everyone else had two very short sessions because we all melted in about four minutes and needed a break. I figured we needed to do something challenging since I just got word that we made it into the trial mid-July where we get to run ISC classes! Yay for fun stuff!

This weekend I work both days and then we get to go play AKC in New Berlin the weekend after that!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

NATCH 5 Luke!!

What a weekend! I can't remember the last time I felt so great about a full weekend of agility. It's pretty common for us to have one awesome day. Or maybe even for one dog to have a really great couple of days in a row. But usually some stupid mental issue on my part will cause me to disconnect and flub all over the place with my dogs. It's not their fault, they just do what I tell them to do.

That said, this weekend was outstanding! Every time we stepped to the line everyone really gave their all and we just had a blast. I felt connected on every single run; and even when I was starting to drag for those last Regular runs of the weekend, I managed to pull it together and give my dogs the effort they deserved and they did not disappoint.

The highlight of the weekend, of course, would have to be Luke earning his fifth NATCH! With his two V-NATCH awards, that makes his 7th Championship title overall. I am beyond proud of the old man and all of his achievements in life. There has never been a dog who tries harder and gives it his all quite like Luke does. I don't have any runs on video from this weekend, but if I did you'd see that he saved my sorry butt not once, but twice on this Chances run. We survived two redirects to earn this title! He pulled out an extra Chances Q for good measure again today, again saving my behind with a redirect to a tunnel. He is such a good dog.

Just look at how amazing my crew is!  :o)  The final tally of the weekend was 10/12 for Kaiser (man, that's a lot of runs, no wonder I don't do it often), 5/6 for Luke and 5/6 for Secret. Kaiser did not get Chances either day (my fault on both), Luke knocked a bar in Jumpers this morning and Secret missed the dog walk contact yesterday when I was pushing too much for speed. They were all just flawless this weekend!

Not only that, but they were FAST! Whee!!! Secret had YPS of 5.26 and 5.56 in Jumpers!! Her Regular runs were 4.55, 4.64, 4.88 and 4.95. That is super awesome for the long-legged border collie! I still run her at 16" Skilled (because I can) and we use these NADAC runs as fun-building exercises. I'd say it worked.  :o)

Luke had Jumpers runs of 4.81 and 5.46 YPS (he was hauling today when he knocked that bar). His Regular runs were a respectable 4.02 and 4.14. Good job big guy.

Kaiser just totally blew me away this weekend. He was ON for every run. I'm looking forward to seeing the results posted online to see how many DRIs of 100+ we squeaked out. I'm really hoping to get a Platinum Speed Star with him yet and with weekends like this it would add up quickly. Kaiser's Jumpers YPS were 5.13 and 5.51 (so check that out, as fast as he was, Secret beat him!!). His Regular runs were in the 4.8-4.9 range. Touch-n-Go was 4.99 and 5.29. He managed a 5.09 in Weavers and almost hit 6.0 in Tunnelers with a 5.9. It's no wonder I'm so pooped tonight, my dogs had me sprinting around the course all weekend!

Kizzy ran her two Jumpers runs and while she didn't bring home any Q's I am thrilled with how they went. Yesterday she did earn an E because someone was being a door-blocker (just in case) but had their dog with them, so she ran out to visit. But once outside the door she came straight to my hand, so that was fantastic. On that particular course she missed one jump in the middle when she went wide on a rear cross and then she also ran past the last jump going 100 mph. Gosh darn it she is FAST at trials....

Today was even better! We are having an issue with her going, "I'm FREE!" when the leash comes off -- she runs towards anyone sitting in the ring (a friendly Klee Kai, go figure), but she always runs right back and starts the course with me. Today she again went super wide on a rear cross (gosh it would be nice if I could manage to teach that skill to her) and we kept going, but we finished strong and we finished TOGETHER. I decelerated pretty hardcore coming into the last jump and she actually slowed and turned INTO me -- and came STRAIGHT into my hands! I was so ecstatic that I could barely manage to get the leash over her head. We ran out of the ring and had a huge party after that run!

I had planned ahead and brought the dogs' water toys with today, so after the trial was done we drove over to Airport Beach to swim for a bit. Thanks to the rain that had just passed through the area and likely due to the high water that pretty much made the entire beach disappear, we had the whole thing to ourselves. I like going there because I can throw the toys way out without worrying about a current pulling them away, so the dogs get a much better swimming workout. The little dogs enjoyed playing in the shallow water and eating god knows what they were finding in the grass... Then we came home and everyone got a pig ear that I'd picked up at Petco on Saturday during Luke's "buy whatever you want as a celebratory treat" visit. It's been a pretty great day to be a dog in this house!

I'm working at Petco the next two nights, so hopefully the dogs enjoy two days of rest and relaxation following the busy weekend - while I will be trying not to keel over from exhaustion. I'm looking forward to a couple of days of AKC coming up over the 4th of July. I also sent entries for the AKC trial in New Berlin on the 18th and 19th. I couldn't pass it up because they are offering the ISC classes on Friday! Then today I won a free day of trialing at the next NADAC trial, so I guess we'll be coming home from New Berlin and then going to play NADAC on Sunday.  :o)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Mock Trial" at home

Oooh, how long has it been since we've had a fancy paint drawing of a course map?  ;o)  Yeah, yeah. Maybe some day I'll spring for Course Designer. I haven't even done the free download on my computer yet because I don't want it there taunting me after the free trial ends.

Last night I dialed my brain back into "NADAC mode" and fabricated this little number. The goal of the night was pretty simple -- replicate, to the best of my abilities, the behavior chain that Kizzy would go through at the trial this weekend. I kept Kizzy to a simple 13-obstacle Novice course (3 jumps to tunnel, serpentine, S-shape sequence to finish), but was able to add a few more loops for the other dogs to replicate more of an Elite course. With Kaiser and Luke I practiced more Chances skills than anything. My only goal for Secret was to run fast, and with the jumps set at 8" for everyone, she pretty much did just that.

If Kizzy manages to keep it together even half as well as she did last night I'll be thrilled. She got to play first last night. We started in the house by putting her on a slip lead and going out into the garage. We had some "focus time" together in the small pen and did hand touches. Then we left the treats behind and walked into the yard on leash and set up for the first jump. She was tugging on the leash at this point and I let her do it (and I will do the same at the trial if she chooses).

She did take off for the leash when I chucked it across the yard, but came back when I called. The first time I think I just took off without setting her up again, to be sure I kept her engaged and happy. I did a blind cross on the first turn of the serpentine and she ran past the middle jump, but we kept going and didn't correct anything. At the finish we ran straight to the leash where she practically stuck her head through it by herself, then left the yard together and went and had a party.

We did this once more, again starting with the nose touches before heading into the yard. This time Kizzy didn't chase her leash and gave me a nice wait at the start line. She missed the middle jump in the serpentine again, so hmm, handling error there I guess. The finish was wonderful again, with Kizzy letting me put the leash right over her head and going going out the gate to get our treats. On the second time especially I had worried that she'd leave the yard to go help herself to the treats since she knew the routine, but she didn't!

After everyone had played through their turn I brought Kizzy out for one more go. This time Luke and Secret were both laying in the yard chewing on their toys. I figured they could offer some level of distraction for us. Kizzy was tugging on her leash as we went to the start line again, and again she chose to the follow the leash when I chucked it. I called her back and this time I did ask for a wait at the start, which she gave me. I emphasized that middle jump in the serpentine this time and she got it, and ran the course clean. It was followed by another great end-of-run behavior sequence and we had a big party outside of the yard.

Truthfully, this training session went about as well as I could hope for. I will still be trying to control the sun, moon & stars at the trial to make sure the environment is as success-producing as possible for her, but hopefully we are well on our way to growing more as a team.

Kizzy is also coming along nicely with the trick training/shaping exercises that we do with her dinner each night. The nose touches are pretty solid, and Kizzy has totally picked up on the touch light trick! That one was actually pretty solid by the third session, so she ended up learning it faster than I thought she would based on that first session. Last night we started to work on "sit pretty." The girl has like zero core strength, apparently, so this will be good for her. I should start working on a video of the stuff she's learning.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Training field trip for Kizzy

I don't know how much I've written about it, but I've been trying some new (okay, not new, but new to Kizzy) stuff with Kizzy's training in an effort to build our working relationship a bit. She's been on a trialing hiatus since I believe it was the beginning of March. While her overall performance in the ring was improving and she's even managed to bring home a handful of Qs, the pain point of her leaving the ring was getting worse, not better.

This spring we were able to start working at home again and even there we struggled at times. What I would find is that she would engage with me until she didn't want to, at which point she'd just leave. This would happen if there was something we struggled with or if she just felt our session was getting to be too long (she is not a heat-loving dog, by the way).

I started to work Kizzy more with food instead of toys in training. I found that food kept her attention for longer bouts of time. Overall I felt she was running a bit slower, but stayed engaged more so than with toys.

A few weeks ago I upped the ante in an effort to test the waters to see where she was in her ability to work with me through distractions AND without the reward being carried on my body. I started out very small, with just a simple box of jumps set near the deck, on which was placed a bag of treats. We would do one or two obstacles and then run to get a treat.

We progressed to eventually doing much longer sequences and even a full Happy Hurdle Day drill with three "treat stations" set out in the yard (baggies of yummy treats in boxes). Not only did Kizzy have to choose to stay with me when I did not have the motivator in my hand, but she also had to make the conscious decision to continue past the treat stations. This was hard for her and she was running fairly slow as a result, but I was impressed with her ability to make good decisions and return to play the game with me. We also worked a lot on coming to hand and getting lots of petting before running to a treat station, so I am hopeful that this will translate into end-of-run behavior at trials.

In addition to the work we've been doing around agility equipment, Kizzy and I have also retreated indoors for some team-building exercises. It is time for Kizzy to "learn stuff." It's always been a bit of an embarrassment that Kizzy doesn't really have any tricks in her repertoire. People ask, "What does she know?" and the answer is always a mumbled, "Nothing...." Tricks are something I teach to puppies when they are too young to do that "fun agility stuff." I did nothing with Kizzy for nearly her first month with me because I didn't plan to keep her. Then when I did decide she was staying, I pretty much jumped straight into agility work because, after all, she was around 18 months old. Fail. Huge fail.

So we are starting from square one. Kizzy has been introduced to the clicker and we started off with a nose touch to the hand. I'm happy to report that she picked this up rather quickly, although that is not to say that the process has been flawless. It's been interesting to see how her brain works, and she's not really one to explore options if nothing is happening. She has the propensity to just lay there and zone out if she doesn't know what to do. As a result, I have kept things very simple up to this point and with a very high reward schedule. I felt that she was solid enough on the nose/hand touch that last night I introduced an object to interact with -- the touch light. Yeah.... This will probably take a few sessions for the proverbial light to go on.

Yesterday I loaded Kizzy up to take her on a private little field trip to Petco. Not only have my coworkers not met her yet (or Luke; sorry Luke), but I felt it would be a good chance to check her ability to pay attention to me and work through distractions.

I felt that the trip went very well! We took some time in the parking lot for her to realize that I was attached to the other end of her leash. Once in the store she was sniffing and exploring everything, but I was able to get her to check in with me regularly. She quickly improved as I asked her for behaviors in the aisles. She did hand/nose touches in a new environment. She stood or sat nicely while I talked with coworkers. She even did her nose touches for one of the girls I work with!

We had a bit of squawking when an anxious black lab skittered by the end of the aisle. That was a very distracting experience for her, but once the other dog had moved on she settled down and checked in with me again. In general it was a very good experience for her. I get another huge, fat, "FAIL" for not having spent more time working on these skills with Kizzy.

We were only at the store for about a half hour but it was a very exciting half hour that took up a lot of brain power. That, combined with running around the yard while I mowed in the morning, made for a very tired Kizzy. She was zonked out for the entire trip home. Everyone got pig ears to make up for the neglect of those who had to stay behind.  ;o)  And also because I was ditching them to go volunteer at Butterfest for the rest of the afternoon.

Because I do feel that she has made advancements, and because I want to do a check to see where we're at, Kizzy has been entered in Jumpers for both days at the NADAC trial this coming weekend. It is anticipated to be a VERY small trial. I figure it's not fair to put her in anything with contacts since she hasn't seen any in so long (another training fail!), and the Novice Jumpers courses should be fairly Kizzy-friendly. Of course, it's the last class of the day on Saturday and the first on Sunday, so we'll just have to see how things go....

Because it's our only event for the entire month of June, Kaiser gets to run everything (figured we may as well start working towards that second V-NATCH), Luke is in 3 a day and Secret is also entered in 3 a day (Regular & Jumpers for her -- I'm sticking to my "no more Chances" with her since she hates it so much). I have faith that our judge this weekend will be accommodating to Kizzy's quirks, but I'm hoping the work we've been doing will pay off and she'll just be a little angel.  :o)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Just what is "Success"?

Success is a difficult subject on which to pontificate. It can mean so many different things to so many different people. As life has shown me, success is even measured differently from dog to dog -- and the measure of success will undoubtedly change numerous times over the span of a single dog's lifetime.

Luke was my first agility dog. In the beginning days of our agility career there is no doubt that there was only one measure of success in my mind -- the qualifying runs (Q). It was likely at one of our first (NADAC) trials that I learned of the "big award," the NATCH. Instantly this became the end goal; the reason we were doing agility. I took this game called agility far too seriously and gosh darn it, why wasn't my dog getting there faster???

Then Luke was diagnosed with Addison's disease in October of 2009. When you fear you will lose your dog, your perspective tends to change. If my memory serves correctly, Luke had everything he needed for his first NATCH at that time, save for six or seven Chances Qs. Upon diagnosis, not knowing anything about the disease, I didn't know if we'd ever do agility again.

Luke did return to the agility ring, and in only a few short months he had returned to his previous fine form (only faster, thanks to all the weight he dumped when he was sick ;o) ). While I still placed altogether too much pressure on myself and my desire to be a Champion, my attitude towards Luke, agility and this thing we call "success" had changed and I was simply grateful that we were able to still play this game together.

Those last few Chances Qs came together rather quickly and Luke earned his first NATCH in July of 2010. That was a pretty special day and I felt pretty successful for a number of reasons, but mostly that we kicked Addison's ass and came back to meet our (okay, my) goal. Luke has gone on to complete a total of four NATCH awards (one Chances Q away from five!) and two Versatility NATCH awards. At 10 years old, I am beyond thrilled with his achievements in life. We reached another goal at NADAC Champs in 2013 by making the finals. You couldn't ask for a more awesome first agility dog.

Kaiser had the dubious task of being my second agility dog. He had big paws to fill, following in Luke's footsteps -- and this is where I learned humility and that every dog is different and you cannot expect them to fit into a mold.

While he was my second agility dog, Kaiser was my first Klee Kai. That in itself lent itself to more challenges than I would ever have anticipated (perhaps I should have done more research?). Kaiser was absolutely brilliant in training. Distance work seemed to come naturally to him, so I figured he would be a stellar NADAC dog from day one and would sail right through the levels to earn his NATCH in record time (because yes, success was still measured by that Champion title).

What to think, then, when we spent nearly the first year chasing him out of the ring and begging him to trot nervously through courses at trials? It was such a trying year that had Kaiser been my first agility dog, it is quite likely that I would have quit. This is where I started to have a different view of success. Now success was no longer measured by the Q, but by whether or not my dog stayed in the ring with me for an entire run. Success was when my dog was happy to be in the ring with me.

We celebrated each of those small successes and I learned not to take this game called agility so seriously. Eventually those small successes built into larger successes and Kaiser became a real agility dog! He has won several classes at NADAC Champs (my own shortcomings kept us from larger success in that realm), has now earned two NATCH awards and one Versatility NATCH, and is now starting his journey to the PACH in AKC.

Even with his impressive list of achievements, I still measure Kaiser's success by his happiness in the ring. If he's not happy, we're not having fun, and that's the most important thing to me. He tries his little heart out and I just want to do right by him.

You would have thought that I would have learned my lesson in humility and what success was really all about by the time Secret arrived. Alas, I had all sorts of preconceived notions flitting about my head regarding border collies and their capabilities in agility. The weight of my dreams was on Secret's shoulders when she arrived, and it was a heavy load to carry.

If I were to measure success by total number of Qs or percentage of clean runs overall, there is no doubt that Secret would be my most successful dog yet! She managed to get her NATCH (despite hating the Chances class with a hot, fiery passion) in under two years and sailed right through the lower levels in both USDAA and AKC. Qs have never been a problem for Secret -- happiness in the ring has been.

At the end of every run with Secret I measure our success by her happiness and speed during that run. Some of my favorite runs with Secret have been non-qualifying because she was so HAPPY and driving forward that she took an off course obstacle! We celebrate those moments and hope for many more of them! Secret will be five years old in a few months and I am amazed by all that she has achieved. But mostly I am just happy with the fact that she is enjoying herself in the ring now. We still have our moments and some runs are faster than others, but we are a team out there and to me, that is success.

Kizzy's arrival has taken me back to those early days with Kaiser, but to an even more challenging level! Her agility journey is just beginning, but she's again teaching me about those teeny tiny measures of success (like staying in the ring). Kizzy has a few Qs under her belt (miraculously!), but I hardly even count those. They are certainly not a measure of her preparedness to move on to a higher level.

With Kizzy the true measure of success will be her desire to interact and play this game with me at trials. I am sure that we will get there, it will just take time. But until then, it's just another great lesson in humility.  :o)

Ultimately, I still love awards. I still have goals of Champion titles for all of my dogs. But it is no longer how I measure success. Success is in the relationship we have with our dogs, as that is more important than any title or trinket.

Today is another great Dog Agility Blog Action Day! To see what others have to say on the topic of "Success," please visit this link!