Saturday, December 30, 2006

Where are we going?

Wow, where to begin. A new year is like a new car - it smells good, it's clean, there are no dings, dents or scrapes, the tires still have those little rubber whiskers, there's no dog hair on the seats and no soda cans on the floor. OK, lots of things to work towards next year...In no particular order:

In Agility:
  • I need to get solid contact behavior without having slow contact obstacles. I think that's going to work out to be a sit on the dogwalk and a touch on the A-Frame and I need to think more about the teeter. Murphy isn't fast enough to blow that contact - and he's long enough to have a foot on the contact where he pivots. I've got the behaviors back for the A-Frame and the dog-walk but now I've got SLOW dogwalks and A-Frames. This too will settle out.
  • Distance, Distance, Distance...Another aspect of the speed factor - if I can send to a tunnel from 20' away - or to a jump and then a tunnel at 30' for that matter I can get ahead of Murphy and be where I need to be for the next line. This means distance on flips too.
  • I'd like to have a more solid startline behavior. I haven't trained it as much as I should because it seems to break my obedience waits. Yeah, I know - train don't complain.
  • Titles of course are secondary - but...I'd be happy if we can button up our NA/NAJ titles and get through OA/OAJ. I'd like to come out in 2008 in Excellent. If we can make it there this year - that's fantastic.

  • Heelwork, enthusiasm in heelwork, focus in heelwork - consistancy.
  • I need to get off the cookies. I know it's my problem, not his. I'm using the cookie (or cheese) because it's easy. Shame on me.
  • Staywork - I'm not sure what happened - we went from amazing stays 3 months ago to problems now. I've got to work through the bunny-hop waits and the position changes on the stays when I leave. If I leave and he holds position he'll stay there without a problem. If he breaks it's going to be in the first 10 seconds. I don't understand what that is happening and obviously I'm struggling to fix it. One of the things I start tomorrow are fieldtrips for stay work. I don't want to blow another Q because of stays.
  • Titles: CDX by summer. I know that utility is called futility for a reason, but I'd sure like to be frustrated in Utility next fall then still farting around in open. We've got all the utility pieces, it's a matter of putting them together.

  • Let's get certified and sign up for a tracking test.

  • Stay out there, stay committed and make a difference - it's not a lot, but it's what I can do. I'd love to find a kid and get Murphy involved in reading with kids, but I'm going to let Murphy tell me which way he wants to take this. With puppy coming I want the therapy work to be Murphy and Mom time.

    For me:
  • I need to get in better shape.
    Time is our issue in agility - it's not Murphy - it's me. I need to lose weight and speed up. That means eating better, sacking lunches and getting out there. Enough with the snoring and heartburn too.
  • I need to remember that dog sports are what I do for fun.
    Murphy doesn't fill out entry forms, he doesn't drive to the training center. He's for the most part pretty happy hanging out on the couch with Q. All of these games he plays for me, he enjoys spending time with me and he plays the game because it makes me happy and it's time with me (the cookies help too). I need to remember to not take things so seriously. I'm competitive and I like that quality about myself, but I WILL NOT become that ultra-competitive "If I don't win my dog hates me and I'm a real bitch to be around" person. I've seen people turn into that over the last year and they're no fun to be around - not at shows and not at home.
  • I need to chose my stressors and let everything else go.
    Working 50 hours a week and answering pagers at 2am is fine - it's part of the job, but I don't need to take that home with me when I'm not on the pager.

    In General:
  • Have more fun with people that matter. I'm looking forward to really enjoying the agility and obedience circuits this summer. Getting out there, tenting, camping, BBQing - mixed drinks coming out of the mini-van, getting pizza delivered to a tent in the middle of a fairgrounds somewhere in Mass...Fewer hotels, simpler weekends. Bring on the wipe-ies :-)
  • Chris Zinks says that a canine athlete (in any venue) needs to be fit - fit defined as 20 minutes of trotting three days a week - running around after a ball of playing with another dog does not cut it. Galloping is not the same, chasing a tennis ball is not the same. So we've got to break out the bike, the lungeline, means less injuries; and fewer or decreased rick of injuries is important. Murphy's weight is only half of the picture...
  • I'm hoping for a happy, healthy and beautiful baby boy in January. I've got a list of all these things I'll do differently than I did with Murphy - I need to remember though that he's a baby too - being a puppy is cool and he should get to be a puppy for as long as that lasts. One of my greatest mistakes was rushing Murphy out of puppyhood.
  • I would like to get puppy into the conformation ring for the Essex Cluster - again, the running thing :-) I also want to get a better idea of what UKC is, from a conformation standpoint the owner-handled/no professional handler aspect is really cool. Something I need to try at least once or twice.
  • More housework, more dusting - less cartoons and computer games.
  • Where have we been?

    I think it's helpful to everyone to stop and pause at some point and reflect on the path that has brought us to this point and impetus that leads us to our next path - whatever that may be. To know which path to take is to know where one has been, so what was 2006 for Murphy (and me).

    Some of the baby behaviors continued to plague us in the novice obedience ring - we had mouthing and silly stupid puppy behaviors. Murphy goofed off (or stressed) both days of the Schenectady trials in 06. We were hoping to button up our novice title at that show, we (I) went in too confident and it was more than an ego bust to leave there without legs and with a naughty dog.

    In February 06, we shifted gears and dove into agility in preparation for our local spring trial. We backed off obedience work and I found myself with a stronger dog, a better relationship and a better understanding of what I needed to do to be as strong of a teammate to Murphy as he was to me.

    We began cross-training again for the Novice ring - with two legs under our belt from '05 we strengthened the heeling and tried to boost Murphy's confidence.

    On April 1st we traveled to Amherst, NH for a one day trial. Murphy kicked butt, didn't stress and put in a really really nice performance to earn his CD and second place. It was a high for us - the next day Murphy turned 2 years old. The following weekend Murphy took high score at the waggles versatility match. The following weekend Murphy ran in his first ever agility trial - he had problems with the chute (he didn't know what it was) but got around the course confidently.

    Murphy's first outdoor agility trial - some sniffies, some inattention - but it's clear he's enjoying the game. Murph manages to pull off his first jumpers leg - over time but clean to win the class. We had some nice runs at a UKC trial in NY, silly mistakes by both of us - anticipation, not enough obedience work...Murphy and I start to work towards getting into the Open Obedience ring, meanwhile hitting the agility road almost every weekend.

    Ring stress in agility manifested by visiting ring crew - but coming back to play and then disconnecting again - ain't this fun! We keep plugging. One very hot weekend in June we come out Open O in Topsfield - as a match more than anything else. Murph showed me that he's a green dog and where our holes were - he was honest and credible but his inexperience showed...

    I decide to counter the ring crew sniffing by leaving the ring when he left me and simply putting him away (in his crate) when he blew me off no matter how slight. This makes Murphy mad, he doesn't like coming out of the ring and not getting cookies and fanfare. At the same time I'm working a lot of obedience in prep for a local three day show. I stepped up my expectations and came down hard on Murphy when he did something wrong. The net result was that when I said "oops, my bad" on a jumpers course in NH and he knew he was wrong (even with it being my fault) he didn't want to play the game anymore. It's not fun to play if you're wrong and it's not fun to play if mom gets grumpy when you make a mistake. In open obedience I saw a dog who didn't have the stamina to make it through an open routine. He'd start strong in the heeling, but would envitably shutdown by the end and make one stupid mistake each class - that's OK - green dog stuff. I spent the rest of July repairing the "wrong factor" eating a lot of agility runs. We'd go in the ring and just run - if we got an obstacle we got it - if we didn't - we didn't. I didn't go back and fix stuff - we just ran - confidence stuff.

    All of our run eating and no-fault system pays off at the Golden Ret trial, we had some nice runs, no stress (and our share of mistakes that we ran around) and we got another jumpers leg and first place. The following weekend in Westfield we blew a contact on a brilliant standard run and made a few time mistakes. In Stowe things really came together and Murphy came through on some really brilliant NADAC courses. It seemed like we were back to where we needed to be.

    We took all of September off from competition. It was a nice respite that we used to train a lot of open obedience work.

    Two weekends at Amherst - our lucky trial facility. The first weekend Murph blew his retrieve over high - both days. Both days the high jump was on the aisle side of the ring, and both days the dumbbell was thrown into a "crowd" and a bunch of dogs waiting to go into the rally ring. The pressure of all of those dogs were too much for Murphy and when given the command to retrieve he sat there - defiant - I'm not going down there...My submissive doggie, I can understand. We proofed and proofed for it. The second weekend in Amherst started with the mouthing again (I HATE THAT) and a DQ before we even got to the figure 8. It's so frustrating after all that training to have a perfectly nice and experienced judge tell us "just more training". Gee thanks.
    On the agility side of the world, Murphy started blowing contacts - they hadn't been a problem in the past, but the darn dog-walk cost us twice at the Keene, NH show - that made three dog walk contacts that cost us three legs (the title). So back to the drawing board.

    I chaired the local obedience trial, Murphy entered in open both days. The first day I was in a hurry to rush into the ring and add that to the chores I was supposed to be doing - the long and the short of it was that Murphy's attention in the heelwork SUCKED. The rest of the exercises were solid. We were looking at 2-4 points (total)lost on the last four exercises (drop, retrieve on flat, Retrieve over high and broad) and a big fat DQ on the heelwork. Bleck.
    We entered the Thanksgiving cluster in Springfield, MA. Three days of agility: inside on sand. The first day was the best of the three - some sniffing on the livestock sand, but coming back to me to play. We blew both runs on time - but, there was an amazing moment in that first jumpers run where I was worried about running into a post and was late calling Murphy and he literally pivoted and took a 24" jump from the pivot. I was impressed - and totally forgot that there was another jump after that one - whoops! The rest of the weekend got worse, Murphy got stressed, he wasn't getting enough romping time elsewhere and the confined space and roughly 900 other agility dogs (plus 500 rally/obedience and 3,000 breed dogs) were too much. On a bright note: Murphy passes his therapy dog test and we make our first visits to the nursing home.

    Ah, the month where nothing gets accomplished! A mild fall into winter was great - it was warm enough to work outside, but it was too dark to really get anything accomplished. Training has been limited to agility run-throughs (emphasis on contact behaviors and distance) and a couple of nights each week obedience run-throughs. I need to step things up as we're entered in Schenectady again next year.

    SO! That's where we are in the final stretch of 2006. I had intended this to be one post and focus on our goals for 2007, but as you can see I had more to reflect on than even I thought I had. So there's 2006 in a nutshell. I think I'll sleep on 2007 and get back to y'all on the flip side.

    One of those moments...

    Murphy had a therapy visit at the nursing homes today - one of those "golden moments" that everyone with therapy dogs talk about when they are asked why they do it. It was a lousy drive over this morning, several inches of snow and unmaintained roads - a bit treacherous to get out there. We made our rounds asking if people would like a visit from a therapy dog. A couple of the residents are afraid of dogs or highly allergic so we stand in their doorways and do some tricks: high 5, spin, wave and take a bow. Sometimes it makes them smile, sometimes it doesn't and they remain fearful or they are too sick to be lifted by silly yellow dog antics.

    One woman about my mom's age asked if we'd hang around and wait for her mom to get back into bed and then make a visit. We waited for a moment doing some tricks in the hallway for some other residents and when she was settled we went in for a visit. The woman was pretty non-verbal and obviously had some motor difficulties as well. My Murph went in there and rested his chin on the edge of her bed and sat down looking at the woman. The woman's daughter put her mom's hand on Murphy's head and it stayed there for a moment, then the woman slowly began moving her hand a bit back and forth - "soft" she said, Murphy moved just inches closer and sighed softly, closing his eyes. The woman began talking softly while stroking Murph's head. The look on her daughter's face was as priceless as the look of joy on the patient's face. The woman asked me about Murphy's training and we talked a bit about the long-gone dogs of her youth - she had grown up with farm dogs - who apparently looked a lot like Murphy (my guess is that she may have had border collies which were sometimes called swap collies or farm collies - some people are trying to "recreate" farm collies by crossing Aussies with Borders - for whatever that's worth - my guess is that they were less a breed and more of a type of working dog bred down from generations of working stock - and their ancestors well represented in the working border collie population of today - but I digress.)

    Each time the woman said something Murphy's tail would move ever so slightly (wag, wag) while the rest of him remained completely stationary - listening to everything she had to say - as if he understood what she was saying and knew it was important that he not miss a word. Its interesting to me to see my goofy boy become so serious. The innate quality that makes him so suited for this kind of work - the moments when it's not about training - you can't train empathy, it's about dogs doing what they do best and then getting out there and sharing that quality and making a difference for someone else.

    If you ever think about doing therapy work with your dog do it - train for it. It's a legal high and a beautiful way to make a gift to someone else. Each visit is different and those moments don't come every time, I remember Kasei having similar breakthroughs with kids while he was on duty - and remembered why it used to be so much fun.

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Murphy's idea of heaven...

    We had a holiday party at our training center this afternoon, it was a potluck affair with simple agility and rally courses for people to run. It really wasn't meant for staff - I brought Murphy because he always goes with me - when I got there one of Murphy's favorite people was there - the granddaughter of one of our regulars - Paige. She's 10 and Murphy adores her - absolutely adores her - and she is so good with all dogs, but seems to have a special place in her heart for Murphy.

    So I asked her if she wanted to run Murphy through the courses today - one was half agility (jump, tunnel, jump) then table where the dog had to sit on the table while the handler grabbed an ornament out of a bucket, then they had to heel through a rally sequence. I was so proud of Murphy who left me (he's a momma's boy) to play the game so happily - AND as excited as he was to be playing with his friend (off-leash in a room full of other dogs and bags and bags of cookies on the sidelines) he didn't get naughty or mouthy - didn't even think of it.

    The second course was three tunnels, L called it barrell racing - basically the barrell racing pattern with the dogs running through tunnels and then across the finish line. Again Murphy pulled out his best behavior to play not only with Paige, but then again to play with Mardi (who lost her golden last week) - she wasn't clear about what she wanted him to do, but he did everything she asked of him with glee.

    After games people gathered for some lunch type stuff, Murphy was still hanging out with Paige, I helped clean up the big room and came into the front room to find Murphy, with Paige and two other girls her age all snuggled up on the couch - I offered to put Murphy away so they could have some lunch and it was so funny to see Paige INSIST that Murphy remain with her.

    Murphy's ideal afternoon: 1) play obedience and agility and get lots of treats while not working hard and taking nothing seriously; 2) share the buffet plates with three gorgeous and lovely young ladies, who alternately slip him bites of noodles and cheese and kisses on the muzzle; 3) Belly rubs by above stated lovely young ladies and finally 4) coming home for an undisturbed nap on the couch with Quincy to dream of another perfect afternoon.

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Why we train...

    One of those stupid moments - Q had his face in my pint glass full of egg nog - I squirted him with a water gun, he jumps off the side table and takes the glass with him - which shatters on the tile floor - egg nog and glass shards everywhere. Murph sees spilled egg nog and of course goes for it - Q sensing victory also trots over to the dangerous mess. In one motion I tell Murphy to sit (sit on recall anyone?) and stay while scooping up the cat and tossing him in his kennel. Murph is seated 5' from the mess. I leave the room to fetch the vaccuum and mop while Murphy sits there. I get everything cleaned up safely and think to myself - THIS is why I do all of the work, this is why we train, this is why education is important. Titles don't really matter - it's having a dog you can live with and you can keep safe.

    Unfit blogger...

    Wow, I am way behind in my blogging. When last I left you Murphy and I were headed off to Springfield for the Thanksgiving cluster. We had some success there - some nice runs - but also some stress - it was a big show - a lot of hurry and wait - the waiting was painful...Anyway, we're back and focusing on obedience whilst we work our way through the holidays...

    PS: Our Christmas card this year: