Saturday, December 30, 2006

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.

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