Thursday, October 26, 2006

In through the out door...

I didn't train last night - still recovering from my overnight work. Damn. I'm not as young as I used to be - plus all of the sleep issues I have I think it takes me twice as long for half as much recovery. Q has discovered that climbing up on my nightstand and knocking off my can or glass (plastic now) from the top will always get my attention - just like a golden retriever - he'll take bad attention as easily as good attention. It worked because it woke me up enough to get the day moving which ultimately fills his food bowl. I get to the office actaully early for a change - and can't get onto the 4th floor because the elevator knew it was only 7:48 and I didn't have my pass-card...stupid elevators!

I decided to take tomorrow off - good for my sanity I think. I can sleep late and get the house cleaned for my guests and the party...that just makes today hellish and chaotic - oh well!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sunday and Monday...

I got home last night and went to bed prompty at 8pm - yeah I know grade school right?

It was a long day even after sleeping in a bit at the motel and then leaving right after we finished. The good news is that Murphy was a lot better than on Saturday - and the judge who had been so horrid to us last year was actually a reasonable human being. Murphy flunked the heeling again when we did an about turn into another team doing an about turn in the other ring - Murphy made faces at the cutie lab in the other ring and then generally lost his heeling focus. We've had worse for sure. We also got through the rest of the exercises with minimal problems - a couple of points here and there...

Tonight I had to work on a server upgrade from five in the afternoon until 3:30 - it made for a long evening...Quincy is upstairs bouncing off the walls now that I'm home and Smurf has an upset tummy, I grabbed McD's from a 24 joint and it sucked butt - nothing like a burger sitting around for hours and fries from yesterday morning...

Three days until the CCA event!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The first snow...

As I made my way through NH yesterday the rain in Burlington turned into snow. It's early for snow - even in Vermont. Most of the leaves are still on the trees and it apparently was havok on my property. The old apple tree in the front of my house is gone, last summer with a heavy load of fruit 2/3 of the tree broke. This time the snow and fruit was just too much for it. Mom and Dad - always so quick to bail me out when homeownership crises arise already took the tree down and hauled it away. It's probably better that way - I don't have time to mourn the tree's loss - I do things like that - cry over an old apple tree that already lived on borrowed time - brought back only slightly after I cleared the ants out of it the first summer I owned the place. At least I don't have to come home and be surprised by the damage - I'll have to check the lilacs too - I'm not hopeful.

Naughty Dog...

Murph had fun today - I only wish he had included me in his fun! Two weeks ago the high jump was the enemy - he didn't want to jump into the crowd - fair enough. So we worked high jump retrieves for two weeks. Today Murphy got into the ring, got distracted and took the high jump for fun. Swell. Heel work marginal - possibly passing - probably not. Figure eight - Murph takes the high jump again - literally going out of his way (20') to take it. He had the crowd in tears of laughter. Oh and the mouthing is back - swell. We've got tomorrow under a judge that I don't like so all bets are off. I'll take a chill pill and just go with the flow.
On another note, I saw my biggest fear develop in the Open A ring - second group of sits. A mastiff got up and went over to the golden next to him - not sure what happened, but the golden squealed and bolted out of the ring.. The mastiff - not standing starts staring down a collie (who starts barking alarm). The GSP on the other side of the mastiff gets up and looks worried as the mastiff makes eye contact. An english cocker also gets up and runs towards the stewards, the Mastiff goes to give chase. A well-meaning steward grabs (and I mean grabs) the mastiff by the collar - a miracle she didn't get bitten. She's not holding the mastiff and cocker with the Mastiff growling at the cocker. A pointer breaks as well - visibly stressed. The Norfolk gets up and hides behind the gating - between the gating and the wall. The judge tries to coax the norfolk out from behind the gate. It won't come out, so he grabs it by the scruff and slams it into a down. Only at this point are handlers brought back into the ring and the mastiff is excused. The collie held and there was a little
Chihuahua at the very end who hid his head and stayed. Everyone else got the chance to try the down stay again.. It was a small wonder no one got hurt.
Lastly, It was sad to see an open B dog - multiple OTCH top 10 nationally dog working off a 200 go down in the long sit. The gasp from the crowd and the look on the dog's face when its handler came back said it all - it knew it was in serious do-do and it sucked to be her today. Now my dog is sometimes naughty and I try to accept that with whatever decorum I can muster. But I have never ever heard anyone joke that someone had better dig a hole in the parking lot because poor X (dog's name withheld) isn't going to get to go home tonight - a half-truth of course, but when I left a couple of hours after this team had finished the dog was still working or being worked. That's Utility B, Open B (and the warm-ups that go on before that) and two hours of schooling and correcting. Maybe it's because of the way I was raised - but that kind of rogue drilling just doesn't seem right to me. I don't learn that way and I don't expect my dog to learn that way - and here's the big secret - you have to have a border collie to do that. I don't know any golden who would take that constant work with zero positive reinforcement and still want to play the game.
Naughty dog is sacked out on the bed, he's had his bone and he's very content. I went out and worked him a bit before dinner - let's cut the food bribes, work for me now and the spam will follow. I deliberately set him up to be stupid and corrected him from doing so. A friend of mine here with me with her utility dog had some good wisdom - she's a soft trainer too - with a soft dogs - if we were talking horses she'd have a light hand. She suggested we put him in a down when he's naughty - we'll see what happens tomorrow. I'm nothing if I'm not optimistic.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Time flies...Another week goes by

Well another week is over and we find ourselves once again at the Motel 6. This place is becoming home. Murphy is a professional hotel dog, he walks in the room - looks for the motel 6 soap on the side of the tub (for some reason motel 6 soap is yummy - he doesn't eat hilton soap, holiday inn soap has no appeal, never thought about econolodge soap - but motel 6 soap is money). I've gotten pretty good at twarting the soap eating and I beat him to it again today. Murph did his business, had his dinner and is snoozing peacefully on the bed while I catch up with all of the electronic comminucation I missed while on the road.

So it was an interesting week for us - first, we got a new puppy. It wasn't planned and it's not staying. It's a sheltie baby - one of Cassy's - and she's just hanging with us while the perfect home is found. It's interesting living with a sheltie - I told Cassy it's like dating a gay man: it's fun having her around, I like her a lot - more than I thought I would...I truly believed that I could only live with a golden and now I can see that I could live with her I think - but it'd never work out long-term. I don't do barking and the princess act that I find cute today probably won't be cute when she's older :-) The first night I had her I took her out to potty and she was three-legged lame. Yep - I've just broken Cassy's puppy. I bring her inside - she's fine. I bring her outside because she hasn't peed and she's three-legged again - only this time on a different leg. Sheeeeesh! Last night we spent 20 minutes out in the rain because she was so mad that she was getting wet that she couldn't even think about potty. So we both stood there (I let Murphy go in as he's not a particularly big fan of rain either), getting soaked in a battle of wills. She eventually peed btw. I'm not sure either of us learned anything though. Diana's adorable - just a big fluffy cutie. She's adaptable, Murphy loves her and the Q-man thinks she walks on water. Diana and Quincy were instant friends and Murphy seems pretty content to watch the two young'ens wrestling. Quincy is getting some of his dues paid back in spades and it's wonderful to watch the "kids" enjoying being kids. I call her princess and I hope that she finds a wonderful home where she will be treated like the royalty that she is.

So Murphy and I had to switch gears back to obedience for this weekend. I think we're so close. It's just a matter of putting everything together. I have to keep two very important things in mind this weekend - regardless of score - I need to keep positive. I need to make sure that Murphy doesn't think he's failed. If he thinks he's wrong he's still getting worried on me. That's OK because there's virtually nothing I can fix in the ring anyhow. Just have fun Murph and we'll be OK. Smile Erica and have fun - that is why we do this afterall isn't it?

One more week until goldenfest at my house. I can't wait to see Linda, Molly and Siena again. Kara will be up for the weekend too - I've got so much planned for big fun!

We're not on until 11 tomorrow morning - that means a pretty leisurely trip tomorrow morning, relaxed, happy, smiling and fun Open A :-)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Cheshire Debrief...

Quincy had his snip-snip on Friday before I left town. My mom was an excellent kitty caregiver and made sure his recovery was quiet and that he was well fed in my absence...If I didn't know (and hadn't paid the bill) I wouldn't notice anything different about the Q man. Cats are truly hardy critters.

It became clear to me that fall is not only on its way - it's here and it's COLD. The frost on the car this morning was thick enough to have necessitated scraping if I hadn't decided to waste fossil fuel and just let the car warmup.

Ah, the trial. Nice site - sort of weird rituals. I've never been to a trial where they let you tape off your reserved parking spots - seriously - it's a thinned out forest in a park where the trees are spaced out in such a way that you can park between them. People set up their tents and canopies and then use liberal amounts of surveyors' tape to mark territory for their vehicles. Honestly one of the strangest things I've seen. This behavior wouldn't fly at any other trial, but everyone did it here.

Murphy's runs were average this weekend - not what I hoped. His jumpers runs were first - both days and they were both pretty crappy. I got him out too early on Saturday and today he just wasn't with me. His standard run on Saturday was great - but we had a refusal and a blown dog walk contact. Today's standard run I revved him way the heck up and it turned out to be too much - he got ahead of me on a straight line and ultimately got mouthy with me - boom! Done. Disappointing from a competitors point of view, but it was a nice weekend overall.

First I ate better (or worse depending on your perspective) this weekend than I have in a long time - lobster topped sirloin on Friday and the Olive Garden on Saturday night (pumpkin cheesecake to die for). Secondly some of my friends finally got legs they've been working so hard for all season. DJ and Tegan got their first Open Standard leg after an entire years worth of trying - DJ is already in Excellent Jumpers. It was an outstanding run and she has so much to be proud of - I admire DJ's patience and positive outlook. She can have an awful run (we joke that Tegan can take down an entire course - and she has in the past) and still come out of the ring beaming about the one piece that went well. DJ can see the faintest glow in the middle of a hurricane and every run Tegan puts down is rewarded with all of the pomp and circumstance of a MACH winning run. So when she really lays down that great run the emotion is contagious. Lori and Hannah nailed down their AXJ title after a season of coming so close to the apple on every occaision. If it can't be us, I'm sure glad it was them - well deserved ribbons this weekend.

Obedience next weekend. I did some dumbbell work with Murphy this weekend with some dogs and some pressure and I'm not replicating the problem. I'm going to email Lori to see if I can crash her rally class on Tuesday - maybe just show up at the end of class and ask people to hang out and create some pressure with dogs he doesn't know so well...

On an unrelated note that feels a bit like a "cave-in", I turned the heat on tonight - didn't need much, but man, the house was chilly and I'm nothing if not a sucker for comfort.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Forgot...rule out the physical problems

I asked the dog obedience list about our difficulties with the high jump - everyone mentioned physical stuff. Is he sound, his he in jumping condition, is he moving funny, any dificulties with motion or jumping? And they were right to ask that question, that would be my first thought too - if I didn't have my hands on this dog every day. There isn't an ounce of fat on him and he's an amazing athlete.

We all watched him tonight in agility. His trotting is clean and sound - equal reach on both sides. Murphy was jumping cleanly, no stutter steps, no hesitation, no chipping, no compensation AND he's still clearing the jumps by 8" or more above the top bar. The one thing we all saw was that on the indoor footing is that as he's galloping he's doing a more collected gallop on the footing - he's got his hind legs underneath his body - the same motion he does when he has the puppy zoomies - it's collection and extension all at once and it's very normal for him - what would be out of character is full out galloping without regard to his footing - Murph's too smart for that.

Lessons learned...

Ah, the corporate debrief - the place where the business casual meets the whiteboard. I've put together some lessons learned from the weekend in Open A...and the learnings are surprising - at least to me.

1) Murphy understands the exercises now - he didn't in July, but he does now. In July we had focus issues - big time. Murphy ran out of gas half way through the class, that doesn't happen any more. We've got a pressure bubble problem for sure - I actually think it has more to do with ring gating than people based on some experimentation yesterday and today. He happily jumped towards Demi and Cassy tonight, but was really nervous about jumping towards the gating yesterday when Lori and Hannah were working on the other side of the room - Or Hannah is incredibly scary and Demi is not...

First Kiss

Demi and Murph share a moment way back when they were both baby dogs

2) Murphy is far less reliant on food than I am. Holy cow, I'm so hooked on using food rewards. Murph doesn't need it - I do. That's lazy handling on my part. It's just as effective to be an animated handler between exercises as it is to reward the behavior with a wad of cheese. You'd think agility would have taught me that already: teach the exercise, the dog knows the exercise, let the dog do his job.

3) Don't snack on chocolate between out of sight exercises - you dog WILL catch you and won't be pleased.

4) Lastly, Novice looks like a lot of fun now - damn, open is complicated! So many pieces..

We've got an agility trial this weekend - talk about multi-tasking and cross training! Murphy ran agility tonight and he did really well - some really nice speed and defineatly a good work ethic - his weaves were blazingly fast and accurate - I really just can't believe how awesome this dog can be - and he just keeps getting better and better.

Some goals for the weekend - run fast, run clean - ideally I'd LOVE to finish Murphy's novice jumpers title this weekend - and I'd really love to be greedy and pick up a standard leg as well - GREEDY GREEDY GREEDY!

Monday, October 09, 2006

The joys of Open A....

Well, for the second day in a row the retrieve over the high jump killed us. Same problem as yesterday: I set Murphy up, tell him to wait, throw the dumbbell and send him (all on the judge's orders of course). Murphy sits there, not moving when sent - ditto for a double command. Today's judge called exercise finished as soon as I issued the second command (no chance to help him today). We were qualifying up until that point today...Lost 4 points on heeling (mouthing), 2 points on the drop, 1 on the retrieve on flat and 1 on the broad jump. We got full points for the stays - so we were working off a 192 - suck, suck, suck.

A whole new kettle of fish. I don't think it's physical - he hasn't shown any reluctance to jump and he continues to "over jump" each obstacle - he's easily clearing 24" with at least 6" to spare. His retrieve on the flat was fine - absolutely no hesitation. No hesitation on the broad jump either. I did some new things today in the ring - lots of pump-ups. Some hand touches, some cheerleading - The best thing about the whole weekend was that today he stayed with my between every exercise - he remained engaged and he remained focused - though I did rev him up slightly too much before going in and got some mouthing, but I used my "second command" in the heeling to tell him to knock it off - and he did - and didn't stress about it either.

Some of my thoughts on the high jump problem:
Pressure - as in spacial pressure. The high jump was 3' from the ring gating where people were walking by, he would be jumping into a corner and back side that had probably 10-15 dogs and 20-25 people who were watching rally and utility. I do know that Murphy is very submissive and will yield whatever he has to a dog that wants it - we've been trying to work through this - but he still won't retrieve an object that is contested. Perhaps having the jump where it was and jumping into a crowd was too much for him. The retrieve on the flat and the broad jump put him into space in the middle of the ring or on the side against a physical wall where there wouldn't be pressure from spectators and other dogs.

Not understanding the exercise - I'm not sure this fits but I always have to raise the topic when something goes wrong. He's been pretty solid on this exercise, in previous trials he's gone out to the dumbbell around the jump and jumping on the return - he's made mistakes but he's always moved when sent. He didn't even move today. He didn't give me the look like he thought he had done anything wrong either - and he gamely moved onto the broad jump when asked. If he thought he was wrong I think he would have made that obvious - his being wrong in the past has resulted in a stress meltdown - there was no stress today.

Sport confusion - Does he have this exercise confused with agility and was waiting for me to move and then release him. Yesterday when I moved towards the jump to help him he was ultimately successful - however, the agility picture would never look like that to him where I'd only take two steps and send him to a dumbbell. Plausible..

Too many stays - we had a problem last week where he was breaking his stays as soon as I stepped away - this after a long run of really successful stays with variable reinforcement but we had solidly moved into the 7 minute sit and 15 minute downs without any problems. I'd ask for a sit (or down) and he would stand up as soon as I moved away. If I walked away and he stayed in position he'd stay there forever... This didn't affect our "waits" - it only affected his "stay". I didn't work him the last 4-5 days before the trial on anything other than some baby stay stuff - position, walk away, immediately come back and treat..really heavily rewarding the initial 10 seconds. His stays weren't a problem this weekend - with the exception of a really slow down when I came back from the long sit smelling like chocolate cookies (I got busted - "you've just eaten chocolate - I some before I go down"). If the problem was a product of too many stays, wouldn't I have seen this with the retrieve on flat and broad jump? Even more so I should have seen this on the drop on recall...

I keep going back to the pressure thing - I need to start recruiting crowds and their dogs to help.I should also up the reinforcement history on that exercise. Perhaps backing up and clicking the initial jump? Murphy will have a few days off of obedience, we've got an agility trial this weekend. And then another obedience trial in two weeks...

Off we go again!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Close but no Q

I'm as pleased with Murphy as I think I could be today - he was a good boy and came very close to qualifying in open today. I'm optimistic for tomorrow.

There were some difficult surroundings today - three little girls hanging over the ring gating (ack) and several dogs on the other side of the ring gating in the direction that we were sending the dumbbell for both the flat and over the high jump.

I still need to work on transitions - it hasn't been an issue at home training so I know it's a matter of comfort level - his and mine. I need to be more animated between exercises and I need to be better at keeping him engaged with me - more hand touches, more spins, more stupid pet tricks.

Murphy's heel work was nice I thought - a slow sit, and he forged on the fast which I compensated for by moving faster, the ring gate about turn always re-connects us. I had some inattention on the fig 8, but he was there. His drop was perfect - on man he was brilliant. No problems with the retrieve on the flat, we rean into a bump on the retrieve over high. My throw could have been better - for sure. I try to throw left, this one went right - into the corner of the ring where the rally people had gathered with their dogs - waiting to go in and waiting for scores. Murphy does have issues with competition for his dumbbell - in that he won't compete for it. If another dog wants his dumbbell - or he thinks someone else does he will yield it to them without question.

So we position ourselves in front of the high jump, I throw the dumbbell, Murphy waits, I send him and he sits there - "this is a test", I'm not leaving (argh!), I give him a second command - he sits there. So we've just NQ'ed - what do I do? I decide to help him aka schooling in the ring. I move with him and bowl him over the jump (the judge - a lovely very very very nice lady) gets a bit flustered: "You touched your dog!" - yeah, by accident - the schooling part was on purpose - the touching was accidential. The judge rushed in towards me after I "schooled" and Murphy debated whether or not to return over the jump - the judge though - and that's what she's such an awesome lady - noticed this and backed off so Murph came sailing over the jump and fronted beautifully. :-)

His stays were prefect - no problems. What a good boy! So, the lessons learned - there's always something. ALWAYS something. Murphy seems pretty tuckered out at this point. I'll order some dinner and go to bed early again tonight. The show starts at 9am tomorrow. We're "on" at 11:15 so I figure we'll mosey in around 9 tomorrow.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Greetings from Motel 6...

I slept in a bit this morning and awoke to Murphy chomping on something (not unusual as he has 24/7 access to chewies). For some reason the chomping sounded differently and sure enough he had the remote control in his mouth. He has NEVER done anything like that so I was more puzzled than pissed - though I am pissed.

I packed slowly, we really weren't in any hurry to get here - we played agility a bit this morning - not a lot - enough to get Murphy moving without burning him out. I had debated whether or not to run him - I didn't have a strong "gut" either way so we ran.

The foliage was peak the whole drive - seems a bit early for that. The Stowe and Woodstock exits were backed up onto the interstate and both exits have long ramps too...The drive took me about 2 1/4 hours - not bad, especially when I was really careful about speeding on a holiday weekend - the state boys in both states come out for the tourists this time of year. Surprisingly enough I didn't see any troopers in the traps, a couple with cars pulled over though.

So we're here, Murph and I took about an hour to relax and settle and then we went out to get some dinner. I'm pleased to report that I remembered to beat Murphy to the soap - for whatever reason the motel 6 soap is the best tasting soap ever. He nearly always gets the one on the side of the tub, woofs it down and smiles the remainder of the evening. The site wasn't open for setup tonight which means we'll have to leave early tomorrow to get a crating spot. I'm actually feeling pretty good. I feel like I've worked through the stay stuff we had earlier in the week and I'm really looking forward to seeing exactly where we are with the individual exercises. There are two fantastic judges here this weekend doing Open A which is always encouraging - if we NQ we're not going to get raked over the coals...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Repairing the stays...

For whatever reason Murphy's stays are broken. Not the stay per se - duration is not the issue. Its when I walk away, Murphy has started standing up. So close to our fall show season - Souhegan is on Sunday - it's dissettling to say the least.

So I've backed way the heck up and we're drilling baby stuff. Three steps and return. Walk away, hide, come right back. Rebuilding whatever confidence we've lost. It's going well - though Murph is clearly tired of all of the testing - if he hadn't given me the scare I wouldn't need to test him would I? We'll work stays tomorrow night with the gang and that'll be that.

We haven't schooled any of the individual exercises since Tuesday - and unlike the July shows I used as matches - I don't feel compelled to cram for them either. Which must be a good sign. Over all I was feeling pretty confident, a week ago I couldn't wait!! There's going to be nothing worse than blowing the stays after a nice round of individuals. Let's just go and be credible - if we flunk, let's flunk in style. It's my lucky show venue, our lucky hotel and heck, I'll wear my lucky shoes - no matter how badly they smell after the summer agility season :-)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mixed Bag.

Went out and worked Murphy in obedience today. This was supposed to be our last schooling session before the show this weekend. There were very good bits of our session and some very bad parts of out session and I frankly don't know what to think. For one, Murphy's heeling, his drop, his retrieve on the flat, his retrieve over high and the broad jump were great. His stay work sucked butt. He got into this thing today where he decided to break every time I left him - no not 30 seconds after I left - 2 and a half steps after I left he was standing up. So a 30 minute training session (I played some agility after our run-through) became an hour training session - I KNOW his brain was gone, but I just had to work through it. So what do I do now?

I think I'll work him a bit tomorrow morning before work - just stay and a few steps - a couple of steps backwards to rebuild some confidence, then I'll proof some more at waggles tomorrow night. It's hard not to get frustrated a bit - and that's the last thing he needs to read from me. So suck it up and try to fix it without stressing anyone out (especially Murphy).