Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: Trials and Tribulations...

My annual posts...one that wraps up the previous year and one that lays out our goals for the next. It helps me reflect back a year or two. What we've really accomplished and what we should aim for.

First I just have to smile when I think of our year - it was a roller-coaster with twice as many highs: Murphy's CDX, Teller's Can Championship, Murphy's OAJ, Teller's CD, RN and CCA...We had a blast at the GRCA National Specialty this past September - so much so that I've even thought about trying to get to Oklahoma for the 2009 specialty...the problem is the distance (2+ days on the road each way) and the length of the specialty - YGRC had all of the events over 7 days - Oklahoma is doing fewer events over 10 days...Hard to plan for two plus weeks to be out of town...

The lows of course: some frustrating outdoor trials with Murphy, the broken wrist and just a life in chaos on so many levels...

Murphy:
  • Last year at this time I was debating leaving those two CDX legs on the table. Walking away and retiring Murphy from Obedience. I'm really glad I stuck with it - but SO SO SO glad to announce that as of July, Murphy is officially retired from obedience...maybe he'll do a veterans class in 3 years - maybe not. It just doesn't matter. Finishing Murphy's CDX - knowing who he is, his stress, his marginal work ethic - it was an incredible high for us. The CDX was one of our goals for 2008...I'm happy to check that one off!

  • I have confirmed that Murphy much prefers indoor agility trials...we'll stick to indoor trials for him in the future. Even in training he has really awesome days and days when he's not into playing...when he's on, he's really really on.

  • We didn't get much (any) tracking in this year. Not enough hours in the day or days in the week I suppose. It's on the list for next year.

    Teller:
  • My plan for Teller was a few conformation shows here and there - I had decided that if he hadn't won points by the end of April I was going to focus on his other work. I needn't have worried - Teller started off with 5 points in Sherbrooke (Canada) and another 3 two weeks later, then finished his Can CH out of the 12-18 class in June.
  • On a whim I entered him in the local NADAC trial in Stowe in August - I had zero expectations for him - he was so green and of course he's intact...He blew me out of the water with his ability to focus - we made some rookie mistakes - of course I had to learn not to run him like Murphy, and he had to learn a bit about taking what is in front of him...Out of the 9 runs we had over the weekend we left with one first, six second places, and a fourth place - oh and 5 legs towards various NADAC titles.
  • I didn't have to worry about doing obedience with him and breaking his conformation stuff - it just didn't happen. At nationals he did both the breed ring with Graeme and then rushed to Novice Obedience with me an hour later...
  • I had planned to put Teller in rally this year - but not obedience...some agility here and there - but didn't expect a lot. No one was more surprised than I was when he went to the National Specialty and earned his first novice obedience leg. I love GOOD surprises ;-)
  • The National Specialty was just a fantastic boost for Team Magica - Teller's first NAJ leg, his first RN leg, his first CD leg, his CCA, making three cuts in Am Bred...just a wonderful week!
  • Two weeks after the specialty we went down to the Souhegan KC show in search of a second leg...We drove down the day of the show and drove home the same day - a new thing for us. Murphy always needed to see the place the day before and feel the place out - what would Teller do? He didn't care. Settling into a crowded and chaotic environment and pulling off a nice score - which would have been nicer if I hadn't screwed him up on the recall (five point boo-boo). That was two for two for Teller-Woo!
  • Two weeks after Souhegan was our local BOTC trial. Because we had Q'ed under Bob Harris in Rhode Island a second leg under Bob wouldn't have counted towards his CD. So if we were going to finish our CD that weekend it had to be on Saturday. When I brought him into the ring and setup for the heel exercise he was visibly excited - AND interested in the dumbbells in the ring next door. It's never a good thing with the judge first compliments us on our work the previous night (there was a match and he apparently saw Teller working) and then asks me how much caffeine Teller had that morning! By now my faithful blog readers know that he went three for three and earned his CD on November 1st. I never expected to have him in obedience this year, I didn't think he'd be ready. When I entered him I just wanted to see where he was training-wise - and what he'd do in the ring. To say he surpassed my expectations is an understatement.
  • At the same trial Teller was entered in rally novice as well - easily getting his second and third RN legs with scores of 97 (both errors my fault btw), fourth place and the high scoring golden prizes both days.
  • Teller continues to train well. He's working all of the open and utility exercises now, and his agility work is really coming together - we have a lot of speed and he's consistently "on" and ready to work. One of the dogs we train with is miss consistency - she's what I would call an "honest" dog. She comes out every day and gives the same performance every time. Teller is very similar I think - if he's not working he's a beast - wanting to greet everyone and wanting to be the center of attention. When he's working though he is honest - if he makes a mistake it's almost certainly my fault. But, he forgives my mistakes and is SO much fun to train.
  • I almost forgot Teller's commercial for Pet Food Warehouse. It was great fun to film it and I'm just so damn tickled when I see it on TV! I immedieatly stop what I am doing to watch it - every darn time.

    So that's our year in review. I'll post our goals for 2009 tomorrow...
  • Monday, December 29, 2008

    My wacky Woo...

    When I woke up this morning (I don't wake up quickly) I smelled something strange...citrus, more specifically orange...hummm...not exactly a smell that is normal for a bedroom - but definitely better than other potential smells. So I open my eyes and there's a clementine orange on my pillow, then I look around there were lots of oranges all over my bed, clustered around my head, arms and torso. The brain cells began firing at this point. I had purchased a box of clementines at the grocery store yesterday and left the box on the stairs, overnight Teller had very carefully unloaded the box and brought all of the clementines up to me - presumably as offerings of affection. I was laughing hysterically as Woo sat at the side of the bed wagging his tail to beat the band - obviously very proud of his night's work. This one really earns his keep sometimes :-)

    As I was picking up all of the oranges and putting them back into the wooden box I examined them - not a mark, dent or scratch on any of them. Woo had been very careful when he moved those oranges - not a single one was eaten either - even though I know that he LOVES fruit - oranges in particular...

    How many people have such loyal and devoted dogs who bring them breakfast in bed?

    Wednesday, December 24, 2008

    Scent Articles...

    Over the last couple of days Teller has had a major break-through with scent articles - and I'm kicking myself for not trying this sooner! When Murphy was learning articles I shaped the whole thing - clicked when he got to (or hovered over) the correct article. I had some moderate success with that method - but never had to really proof it for the ring.

    I've tried a few things with Teller - cheese on the articles (Terri Arnold's method) and some of Bobbie Anderson's methods. I wasn't liking any of them honestly - they are great methods, but they weren't clicking for me. Someone suggested integrating the cheese with my scent - as in rubbing the cheese into my hand and then rubbing the articles with my cheesey hand. I didn't like this idea for a few reasons - first it was messy, second it was messy and Teller was looking for the visual orange cheese on the article and not using his nose. I was considering going to the tie-down method - but I wasn't sure how I wanted to handle that - is the tie on the article as much of a visual hint as the cheese? The answer I received for that question was that you can use the ties on the scented article too - but you just don't tie it...but...if the correction for the wrong article is to get a "check" when the dog picked up the article, then the visual tie-down is ultimately going to lead the dog to believe that he's chosen incorrectly - yes you train through that, but there's got to be a better way.

    This is where Murphy comes back into the process. Murphy is my easy dog - he doesn't need a lot of mental or physical stimulation - he doesn't HAVE to work every day, he doesn't care if an entire day goes by without retrieving a tennis ball or a frisbee. Neither of my dogs have ever been counter surfers or trash pickers - except for Murphy - but ONLY when there's butter or a butter wrapper within his reach...One day a couple of weeks ago I made toast for breakfast and as I'm buttering my bread both boys are sitting next to me - pointing the stovetop (where the butter was). Too bad they aren't pointers huh? So I had a lightbulb moment! BUTTER!

    Fast forward to the articles. Instead of cheese which was giving me moderate success (but not scenting success), I switched to butter - just a little rub of butter on my palm and then on the article. At first Teller wanted to lick the correct article - but I was able to fix that by giving him a second command: Find IT! and when he found it, BRING IT! A few reps of that and now it's back to FIND IT! The brilliant thing is that Teller is using his nose on the pile. He's very reliably going to each article, checking each one and grabbing the correct article and bringing it to hand (I'm not working the front and hold yet). I've been able to reduce the amount of scent (and thus butter) that I'm putting on the articles - I'll post more as we make further progress...Of course we haven't proofed the articles yet - but we're getting there!

    Murphy has also been re-training articles and is NUTS about the butter scent - in fact breaking his wait to run (GALLOP) to the article pile - it's pretty funny actually. I love it when Murphy really likes working - at this point I'm using the same article set for both boys and not rescenting the article I used with Teller (Teller works articles first and then Murphy) - so at that point the butter has pretty much been worn off - but while Teller works for almost any reinforcement, Murphy is doing 2 retrieves off the full pile and getting a lick of butter for the successful find :-)

    And on another note, we want to wish all of our friends and blog readers a VERY Merry Christmas from the Magica Boys (Erica and Q too)!!!

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Training update...

    I haven't posted updates about our training progress...we've been doing a lot and I'm feeling like things are coming together...

    Murphy is still Murphy - he's either really ON and ready to work or he's eh...and doesn't so much want to work. When he's ON though he's been phenomenal. I've been retraining contacts with him - instead of a sit on the dogwalk and a nose-touch at the base of the a-frame I've been working a paw touch at the bottom of both contacts. At this point I'm using a mouse pad as the target - it doesn't move when the dogs hit it and it provides a tactical response (it's springy). Plus, I have zillions of them around the house - they're disposable. Murphy's weaves have gotten stronger and faster, his table is the most enthusiastic he's ever been. He's reading me well and when he's into the work his speed is improving as well. He's been working some utility stuff too - go outs and directed retrieves mostly. He seems to enjoy the work...

    Teller has been working pretty hard the last few weeks - and he just keeps getting better and better. I've changed his contact criteria as well - he had been doing running contacts successfully - I hadn't really trained them because I couldn't get him to blow the contact in training. His natural stride on the a-frame is one stride up, one stride jumping the apex and another stride to the bottom of the contact...To be fair he never blew the contact when we trialed either - but as time went on I became more and more uncomfortable with the running contact. I didn't have as much trust in the contact as I wanted and if I needed it I didn't have the training I really needed to make on-course adjustments if I needed to. So Teller is doing the mousepad work too. Lori has been working the target with Hannah's a-frame and I like the success they've had with that method. I don't want either boy coming down for a 2 on/2 off contact - I worry about their shoulders...Physically I think working the target at the bottom of the frame really lessens the impact there. We're only about 3 weeks (and maybe 50 reps) into this new method so it's too soon to tell - but I think we're on the right track. I'm getting some nice distance from him too, he's reading my body cues better now and dropping significantly fewer bars. Part of this is that I'm handling him better these days - I've been working VERY hard to stand up straight - I tend to do more front crosses with Teller (because I have the lateral distance) and fewer rear crosses. It's tempting to "help" the front crosses by bending over - not sure why I feel like that actually helps - it doesn't. I get in his space which causes the bars to come down - if I'm bent over I'm not moving forward which means he stops forward momentum as well and of course down come bars. Murphy is so darn cat-like in his jumping - I can count on one hand the number of bars he's knocked in his lifetime - but again, with the rear crosses there's no possibility to get into his way...

    Teller has also been working his fair share of obedience too - both open and utility exercises. I'm seeing some really exciting things. Teller's go-outs are really coming together - he's "getting" it - running out to the gating and doing a GORGEOUS sit. I've worked the directed jumping part separately - not surprisingly this has not been a problem for him. At this point I'm not going any further than 2-3' behind the jumps and I'm working a much smaller diamond than what he'll see in the ring. Tonight I decided to put them together to see what I had - interestingly enough I had a nice straight go-out and it flowed nicely into the directed jumping part. PROGRESS!!!

    I need to get him a set of scent articles. He's using Murphy's and they don't fit him properly. On my list to buy (when I win the lottery) is a shiny new Max 200 set for him. Larger bars and thicker bit for him...I think he'll be happier with the larger bars - I know I will be - the others are just WAY too tight for my liking - not that he tends to care.

    The open stuff is also coming along nicely - drops, retrieve over high, broad jump...it's all coming together. What is most exciting (for me anyway) is that he's really maturing in his work. I was working drops the other day while someone else was throwing a dumbbell in the same ring and while he noticed that the other dog was jumping and retrieving he didn't seem tempted to do anything other than what I was asking him to do...We're having a lot of fun right now. I have no idea what we're going to do in the spring - but we're having a lot of fun right now!

    In the next week or so I'll do my annual year-end thoughts and my goals for the coming year...

    Why I have goldens...

    You know I get that question a lot - why do you have goldens? They shed, they're big dogs (not exactly portable critters), they drool, there's a fair amount of grooming, etc. My answer is generally that I just can't imagine NOT having a golden. They're smart, they have a great sense of humor and they are just about the sweetest critters on the face of the earth...

    Every so often I have one of "those moments" when I see all of those things at once...this is why I have goldens...



    Q and Teller napping on the couch.




    Teller and Q cleaning out a lasagna pan...


    Teller, Murphy and Q sharing dish duty.

    Monday, December 01, 2008

    The Letter L.

    As Babe would say..."L is for LAAA, LAAAA, LAAAAAA!" Tonight we did a modified L exercise from Clean Run - it was a really simple layout but both boys really liked it - we had some good speed and some good distance work too (go and out). I put together some diagrams - one because it was such a fun exercise and two for me to remember and to try again sometime...In all of these blue is the handler and green is the dog's path...

    1) The first part of this was just half a speed circle with them on my right - Murphy really LOVES to move out so this exercise was right up his alley. I had more distance with Teller than I did with Murphy - which is interesting - but in general a good thing. I need a shorter path with Teller (who is faster). Both dogs had great "go buttons" tonight and I was able to send them one or two jumps ahead of me. With Murph I was probably right on the blue line, with Teller I was five feet or so to the left.


    2) This is similar - no crosses here - dog on the left side. I started pretty close to the dogs' paths on this one but used my outs here - the blue line here is probably closer (down) than I was with both boys.

    3) The rear cross exercise. Murph has always "had" a rear cross - it's front crosses that cause problems for me - not him - ALL ME! I get in his way and I have a tendency to bend at the waist as he comes around. Thankfully Lori has been reminding me every time I do it and I've done a lot of reps with the front crosses with Teller (more so than with Murph) because I have more lateral distance with him and feel like I can better get to where I need to be. Rear crosses have been tough for Teller - he's often moving out but hasn't liked me crossing behind him. We've worked it a lot because I'm going to need a solid rear cross - what really made a difference for him was the cone or jug game: going around it while I moved behind him. Once he got the jug he got it over jumps.

    4) Similar idea here - straight away with a rear cross behind the third jump - again - both boys got it here and I was able to cross right in front of the second jump and send them to four and five from a good distance.



    So takeaway - the go and the out work we've been doing over one jump in the backyard has finally started to pay off. Ditto with the rear cross work. It's coming together and clicking for both of us. Teller is making me work harder to be a better handler and Murphy is enjoying the job and I think is thankful I'm less of a detriment to his job!

    The funniest thing is when we do these alphabet drills I have the Sesame Street thing playing over and over again in my head...Sesame Street was brought to you today by the Letter L and the number six!