Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Inspired by AKC nationals - Part 1

After watching the AKC nationals all weekend I've come up with some short sequences that both fit into the 70'x40' space at Waggles but also capture the essence of the challenging  bits of the courses. I came up with the following two sequences that are derived from the round three hybrid course. This one fit nicely in about 2/3 of the space available - I actually set the tunnel a little flatter and wider than the image below depicts.

I handled this one a few different ways. I have a great send to the tunnel/startline with Teller - this was one of the things I felt comfortable working with him as a young dog - so he has lots of confidence taking the tunnel in front of him while I lead out elsewhere. I set him up in front of the #1 entrance of the tunnel and moved past #2. I released him and moved out towards #6, pulled him through with a front-cross. He read the 180 from #4 to #5 which allowed me to front cross smoothly between #5 and #6.

I also tried a blind cross after #5 - which I didn't like and also handling #2 from the left side and pivoting as he went over #3 - I feel like that might be a safer bet with keeping the bar up, but it wasn't the smoothest route for Teller.

When I watched this sequence on the livestream I didn't understand why the dogs weren't taking the off-course tunnel after #2 (though it wasn't #2 on the full course), I set up that tunnel to be inviting, but even tunnel-suck Teller just didn't see that tunnel as an inviting option. I handled it from the #4 side of the serpentine, front-crossing between #3 and #4 and then handling 4-5-6 as another serpentine. I didn't like that - I felt like my footwork and Teller's path between 5 and 6 was inefficient and sloppy. When I ran it again I preferred the pull through, actually taking him out a bit past #5, bringing my hand in and then sending him ahead of me onto the teeter.

The original course was designed by Dan Butcher and as such is (obviously) not my content to re-post here (courses are the intellectual property of the judge that designed them) - it can be found here. However, I do feel comfortable posting my small sequences that were inspired by particular courses. As far as any implied intellectual property that I post here, understand that these sequences are only my interpretation of small seqeunces, based on what I want to work on with my own dogs. As such, I welcome and encourage other folks to download, setup and use the sequences I post here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday Night Weaves

I didn't have a lot of time to train tonight and between my tire blow-out on Sunday and my injury on Monday (I fell over Murphy, broke a dish and managed to deeply embed a shard of ceramic in my palm, a deep slice in my thumb and an incredibly painful egg the size of a tennis ball on my shin) I was pretty sure that I was under the effects of a full moon and it was best if we didn't tempt fate.

Simple setup that I pulled four sequences from - I didn't plan - even though I have half a dozen "inspired by AKC nationals" sequences I've put together to work on.

Easy warm-up. Continued work on those independent weave poles. Sending Teller out and ahead of me over #1, about 10' of distance on the weave poles, call over #3 and front cross to #4.

Pretty much the same as above. Again with the distance in the poles. Send ahead, run ahead of Teller and threw in a blind-cross after #2.

I saw pull-throughs killing people at nationals this weekend. I ran this sequence a couple of times to tighten up the 180 from 1-2. Then a pull through to #3 and a send to the weaves,

I had some fun with this one, the same 180, but also ran this sequence with #3 on my right and a rear cross at the weaves.

I had some great independence in the weaves tonight and some good solid speed in the crosses and in the weaves.

Tomorrow is contact work!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Learning to travel light....

So I'm one of those people who, in preparation for a trial, packs for every contingency. Do you need a AA battery? A 500mg celephexan? Is there a celebration? SURE, I've got some champagne. My truck was empty for exactly 12 hours before the dog crates went into the back and then the rest of the trial and training gear. First aid kit (rivaling an EMT), shade cloths, tarps, bungees, leashes, harnesses and collars, pop-up crates tucked behind the seats, an entire package of socks, dog toys, tennis balls, non-perishable dog treats and dog food, brushes, scissors, bowls, shampoo, extra bedding, towels, umbrellas, extra sneakers, boots, sandals, several changes of clothes in various layers of warmth, assorted toiletries and naturally a kitchen sink. I was "that" person, when I fell and broke my wrist field training, I was able to pull an ice pack out of the first aid kit as I drove myself to the critical care hospital for an x-ray.

This becomes relevant because yesterday afternoon after taking the dogs for a run/romp I stopped to fill up my truck with gas as we were running on fumes and I thought I'd try to same time on Monday morning. While I was there the tire pressure sensor was on so I thought I'd check the right front tire. When I removed the plastic cap the entire valve stem came out with it - and the tire flattened in front of me. SUPER.

I have onstar so it wasn't a big deal to get someone out to take care of changing the tire, but I had both dogs with me, in their crates that are over the 3rd row of seats in the back of the outlook. It could have been worse - I was only about a mile from home, I was in a safe location, it was daylight and it wasn't raining, snowing or windy. The spare tire for the outlook is located under the truck - between the two rear tires - however (and I only know this NOW because I looked through the manual as I was on the phone with onstar), the release for the spare tire is in the storage compartment that is behind the third row of seats - in my case that means UNDER the dog crates.

So as I'm waiting for the roadside guy, I called the dispatcher and asked for an ETA - all things being equal it's probably a better idea to walk the two dogs home and walk back to meet the service guy than it is to logistically figure out how to keep two dogs safe on leash while removing their crates from the truck and all the assorted stuff I had packed in and around their crates while standing 50' from a major highway. My guys aren't crazy - but it's an environment that we're just never placed in (Thankfully). The local GM service dispatcher cheerfully reports that service will be there in 10 minutes. Just enough time for me to get home - but not back to the truck to meet the service guy. Crap. So I used that 15 minutes to move all of the things that were next to the crates into a pile in the front passenger sear (thankfully the 2nd row of seats had been unpacked since the last trip). There wasn't a ton of stuff there - but it was all the stuff that I keep there for an emergency - those supplies that never get unpacked.

In order for crates to go in or go out Teller's crate (the 36" crate) has to get pushed back into the second row to allow Murphy's crate (42") to slide out, this means that the second row seat had to go flat. It's a bit of maneuvering, but since this is exactly the first time since I leased the car three years ago that I've ever removed the dog crates it's not too big of a deal. I'll commend the roadside guy from Spillane's for happily removing Murphy's crate from the truck while I held the two dogs on flexis and then when he was finished putting the crate back in. I couldn't have held the dogs and either removed or installed the crates at the same time. I've got to give them a call today to provide positive feedback.

So now that everything is unpacked and strewn around my garage, I need to rethink what I repack. My habit before every trip and trial (daytrip or week away) is to go through the truck, unpacking and repacking anything that needs to be restocked or consolidated, despite the fact that a daytrip to a trial is fundamentally the same as going out to Waggles to train. If I'm working out of the car all I really need a chair, a cooler (water, cheese, etc), my camera, shade tarp/clips/bungees and the dogs - depending on the location I might not even need a chair. If I'm setting up a tent the amount of stuff I need to bring increases a little - the tent of course, stakes, more bungees, the noz crates, perhaps a small table to make the tent cozy. If we're over-nighting there's more clothes and my laptop. For indoor trials when I have crates to lug in and out I've found that this handtruck has been a live saver - it takes up virtually no space!

It was really strange to drive to the Saturn garage this morning without the crates in the back. No crate rattles, no buckets clinking against the sides of the crates. It was also a little weird to look out my back window without the crates being there. I'm used to looking through the wire crates to see out the rear window. The picture on the left is my rig without dog crates - both crates (42" and 36") are usually right up against the back of the second row seats. I also discovered how much hair has accumulated under and around the crates! Holy cow I could have built another dog! I raked most of the hair out with the bristles of a snow brush this morning, but I think I'll vacuum back there before putting the crates back in. Just another adventure!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Day Three AKC Agility Championships

What a great day for the sport of agility. For those of us at home on AgilityVision it was a solid eight hours of livestreaming - the hybrid course, the challenger course and the finals. Holy smokes there were some great runs! I rooted for the Dylan the rat terrier in the 16" challenger round - that team went on to win NAC in the 16" division. Congratulations Dylan and his handler Angie Benacquisto - what a run!

I had to dig a bit to understand how the rest of the rounds were scored and how teams moved on. The hybrid course was round three - all of the entries were entered in the hybrid round.  Of the three rounds a total of 300 points were possible and course times were added together to come up with an aggregate score. The top 7% of dogs moved onto the finals directly.

There were a number of dogs - who placed in one of the first three rounds (but didn't qualify as one of the automatic finalists. These folks were entered into the challenger round. The winner at each height class (including preferred) won their way into the final round.

The total number of finalists at each height class was based on the total number of dogs entered at that height group. So the top 18 20" dogs went on to the final - plus the winner of the 20" challenge division.
And then there was a similar number on the preferred side. There was an interesting anomaly in the preferred side - something like 80% of the preferred dogs made it to the final round. In the 20" division only 7% of the dogs made it through to finals. Since this was the first year that there have been entries and divisions for the preferred dogs I'd imagine there were fewer dogs entered than we'll see next year. And I'd imagine that AKC will go back and look at their metrics a bit.

A couple of generic observations:
Dogs had to run their measured jump heights this year. In past years a 17.5" border collie could run in the 20" class - and most 17.5" border collies do run in the 20" classes - or that's my observation anyway based on what I see in New England. For the NAC there were a lot (LOT) of border collies in both the 16" regular and in the 12" preferred. I think that changed the game a bit for other dogs that compete in the 16" division. There weren't many shelties in the 16" regular finals. Alternatively these same 17.5" BCs could have jumped 26" (as 26" is an optional height class open to dogs of all heights). Let's see - 16" or 26". I guess I don't understand why AKC decided to force people into their height class. If a handler can make the decision to jump their 17.5" border collie at 26", why can't that handler decide to jump them at 20"?  Especially since those dogs can jump 20" at every other AKC agility trial - but at nationals they have to jump their measured height.

The NAC had 24" weave poles. If the AKC is going to standardize their national championship event with the 24" poles they need to come out and make the 24" decision across the board for all trials. Make the rule effective immediately - it's the right thing to do for our dogs. Get it done.

The regular NAC winners were:
8" - Joanna Ammenthor & Blink (Toy Fox Terrier)
12" - Marcy Mantell & Wave (Shetland Sheepdog)
16" - Angie Benacquisto & Dylan (Rat Terrier)
20" - Rosanne Demascio & Drifter (Border Collie)
24" - Jackie Bludworth & Pete (Border Collie)
26" - Daisy Peel & Solar (Border Collie)

The preferred NAC winners were:
4" - Nancy Lewis & Frazzle (Poodle)
8" - Gayle Anderson & Millie (Shetland Sheepdog)
12" - Megan Magnant & Roxy (Border Collie)
16" - Naci Berkoz & Rusty (Australian Shepherd)
20" - Elizabeth Armstrong & Rig (Border Collie)

Sunday: Hybrid course (PDF) designed by Dan Butcher
Sunday: Challenger course (PDF) designed by Daniel Dege
Sunday: Finals (PDF) designed by Tammy Domico

And if you missed the livesteam, remember that the Challenger and Finals rounds are available as Video on Demand (VOD) and on DVD by mail order from AgilityVision. Below is a preview:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day two of the 2010 AKC National Championships

I spent a great deal of today glued to my laptop watching the livestream of the 2010 AKC agility national championships. There were some phenomonal runs on some tough courses - to be able to watch all these amazing runs realtime is just an amazing privledge. The quality of this product continues to amaze me. Check it out!

We're looking forward to the Hybrid, Challenger and Championship rounds tomorrow - Start time is 7am (central time). The awards ceremony is scheduled for 6:30pm (central time).

Round I: Standard Course (PDF) designed by Scott Stock
Round II: JWW Course (PDF) designed by Jane Mohr

Rally I and Rally II Classes - March 27, 2010

The course from today's Rally I (Novice) class:

And here's the course from today's Rally II (Advanced/Excellent) class:

Friday, March 26, 2010

AKC Agility National Championships

Today was the kick-off of the 2010 AKC Agility National Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Today's event focused on individual state competition. So far I've been really impressed with AKC's coverage of the event. Results were posted on facebook within minutes final results and the full list of results have been posted on the championship website within 30 minutes of the final scores.

To top it off, so many of the "local" (New England) folks are out in Oklahoma kicking butt - it was fun to watch some of them walk and run their courses today (via the livestream).We hope to be out there with them next year - yeah, I'm putting it out there, Teller and I are going to shoot for the 2011 National Championship - We'll figure out the logistics once we get through the qualification criteria (6 QQ's and 400 points). We've got a long way to go. I am hoping it'll return to the eastern seaboard too - that'd be doubly nice..

To top off all of the super coverage by AKC, the good folks of Agility Vision are offering live-streaming and video on demand for three of the four rings. The quality of this product is outstanding and very reasonably priced. For those of use left behind it's almost like sitting ringside - only you get to sit ringside at three rings simultaneously...


  • 2010 AKC National Championship Homepage

  • Friday: ISC JWW Course (PDF) designed by Scott Stock

  • Friday: ISC STD Course (PDF) designed by Sheila Kauffman

  • Agility Vision's coverage
  • Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Thursday afternoon: Weave entries and a-frame reps

    Next weekend we're back at AK9C (if all of the stars are in alignment) and back to 24" weave poles - thank god for that - I really don't like putting him through the shorter spacing. So today's work was one of my "one stick sessions". My goal for tonight was to work weave entries and a-frame reps. For the a-frame reps I lowered the a-frame down to 5'. Two weeks ago Teller managed to get himself tangled in the PVC box. To be fair he shouldn't have hit the box with his right rear paw and while I don't think he hurt himself he did scare himself enough that the next time I asked him for an A-frame rep he actually came up and over and then paused above the box. At that point he just didn't have the momentum  to bounce into the box.

    So today I started with some box reps on the ground. Pounce into box and then tunnel -> jump -> box. Then I lowered the A-Frame to 5' and built up some more confidence and accuracy into the box on the a-frame. I was pleased to see him confidently bouncing into the box on the a-frame again...I'll probably do one more session on the lower a-frame before putting him back up to the box on the full-height a-frame over the weekend.

    Sequence A on right: 

    After our 10 a-frame reps I setup a short sequence. My plan was to reinforce speed in the weaves to I broke off the sequence and threw the ball after #3, #6, #8 and then after #12. I started this sequence with Teller on my left, blind-crossed the tunnel, front-crossed after the weaves.

    Restarted with Teller on my left over #4 and then front-crossed before the #6 weaves. Handled the #8 weaves with Teller on my left -  but moving ahead to ask him to find his own entry with me down by pole 5.

    I put in a front-cross before #9 and a blind at #10.  I'm still not as comfortable as I should be with the blinds - so I'm trying to look for places to add them and work on them in training.

    Sequence B on left:

    To get the tunnel one must give up the tunnel - we've been seeing SO much of this recently where the off-course tunnel is the end that just calls the dogs...PUPPY PUPPY PUPPY, come into this off-course tunnel suck. Pay no attention to your handler, it's the tunnel you shall seek. So another weave sequence, this time working on tunnel temptation... Front-cross into the weaves (resist the tunnel Teller-Woo) and another front-cross between #4 and #5.

    I handled the #8 weaves on my left with a push out to #9 finishing with a rear cross on the #12 weaves.

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Post conditioning cool-out.

    The gorgeous weekend was replaced by a rainy, damp and chilly start to the work week - it's really hard to get the dogs out and training when it's pouring rain and the ground is saturated. As a result both boys spent Monday and Tuesday in the house not doing much of anything (after the weekend where they spent a lot of time in the car either on the road or hanging out waiting to run or drive home again.

    Above: Murphy leaps through leaves last fall.

    So when the sun came out this afternoon we changed our plans from training to conditioning (and enjoying the sunshine and later light). First up was a bit of hillwork for Teller, where I stand on the top of a hill (small one) and throw a bumper down for him to retrieve back up to me. We haven't had a lot of opportunity to do hillwork this winter/spring first because of snow and cold and secondly I won't do hillwork when the footing is slippery - tonight I found the sandy hill mostly dry with good footing, so we were able to do about 10 minutes of hill work.

    After hillwork, I let Murphy have his off-leash time (we were at the expo so he can be off-leash there) fetching his rope man while Teller walked with me...just walking, stretching and a bit of relaxing. After Murphy had his romp (as much as Murphy ever romps), I let Teller do some relatively long distance chuck-it retrieves. All-told another 20 minutes or so.

    Above: A Teller-Woo sandwich.

    After that they both went on leashes (flexis) for a 15-20 minute cool down walk/trot/amble before we went back to the car to go home. Perhaps it's from my time with horses both as a rider and a groom - but I think we have a tendency to short our dogs on the cool-down part of their training or conditioning. No, dogs are not small horses. Dogs are different anatomically but as mammals the process should be the same for our dogs as we do for ourselves. This is roughly:

  • Stretch

  • Warm-up

  • Stretch

  • Run/Train/Trial

  • Cool-out

  • Stretch
    I have to admit that I'm not so good at stretching and warming up myself - but I make a commitment to make sure that my dogs are properly warmed up and cooled out before and after training, before and after trialing and probably more importantly before and after any conditioning work....yet over and over again I see dogs running their course in agility, getting a few cookies and going right back into a crate or a car.

    Above: In greener (summer) days Teller keeps the squirrels at bay.

    Maybe...just maybe with the warm spring so far this year we just might get the pool opened the first weekend of April - bring on the swimmies!
  • Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    About a month ago I was looking for suggestions for what to listen to next - and then all of a sudden there are four books in my queue that I'm really excited to listen to. I downloaded "House Rules" and "The Help" at the same time, but when I got to my truck (I play most of my audiobooks on my Garmin Nuvi plugged into my truck's speakers) House Rules was first alphabetically. So now onto "The Help".

    To say that this book was a delightful read is an understatement, the first 45 minutes or so had me scratching my head and debating whether or not to turn it off and move on down the queue to the next book. On the surface, the shallow society women of Jackson, "Missa-sippy" contrast with the colored help that serve them. Separate and not quite so equal, the stereotypical post-slavery southern culture and the social challenges of standing in any kind of middle ground. There was a sting of frankness in the writing: negro, negra, colored - all of which smacked me a bit, made me feel a little uncomfortable. I am of the generation of political correctness. I'm aware of racial inequalities of the past, offended by the concepts - and was truly uncomfortable as I was transported back there to a time when a proposal such as the "Home Health Sanitation" proposal was taken as a necessary evil. The "coloreds" are capable of cleaning the homes and bathrooms in which they work, cooking all of the meals for their employer's families and raising the white children as though they were their own, but at the same time there's the belief that "the coloreds" spread disease so they should have their own bathrooms in the garage.

    The heavily southern accents and those same stereotypical characters faded into the background though as I got deeper into the story. Miss Stockett expertly peeled away the layers, humanizing the stories of the colored maids and the feminine lead character of Miss Skeeter. The story centers around the young college educated white Skeeter and an older colored maid Abilene (A.B.) who works for Skeeter's (Eugenia's) friend and fellow league member Elizabeth. Skeeter is both an aspiring writer and a forward thinker. She's unqualified for the editor positions she's applied for post-graduation, but receives support from an editor in NYC who recommends that she write something in order to demonstrate her capabilities. Skeeter temps as a household advice columnist (Miss Merna) for the Jackson Journal, but having never kept a house Skeeter has to draw on Abilene's domestic experience and advice for this column - which leads to the idea for a book about the life of a colored maid in Mississippi.

    Interwoven in the process of writing this book are stories of courage, ignorance and adaptation. The sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King's march on Washington. A mere glimpse of the reality of what it was like to live as a southern "colored person" in the 1960s (the KKK does not play a big role in this story). High southern society on the edge of holding onto their traditions. The maids that submit their stories to Skeeter are brave - there are grave consequences to making waves and upsetting the status quo.

    There are parts when I busted a gut laughing (the pie incident comes to mind) and there are sad parts - but throughout the whole book I was happy to have some long stretches in the car to enjoy the book in large sections - and every time I arrived at a destination I had to hang out in the car and listen just a little bit longer. The ending (though this is not a spoiler) wrapped up most of the ends I was really looking forward to resolving - but left enough hanging that I get to choose my own ending. This bothered me a little at the time, but even a day later I am still thinking about all the possibilities for some of the characters - I'm not sure any one ending would have satisfied those possibilities.

    The narrators are superb. The southern drawl I initially found distracting (probably a product of my Northern New England ear) became a sweet song I could look forward to every time I got into the car. The characters were so deep and rich - even the secondary characters like Stewart and Cecelia. I wanted more! The voice of Miss Skeeter was particularly well-done and I've added a couple more of Jenna Lamia's work to my queue: "The Secret Life of Bees" and "Saving Ceecee Honeycutt".

    I'm not sure if Kathryn's words were included at the end of the print book - There was a 10 minute piece at the end of the audiobook outlining the origins of the story. Her own childhood maid (that worked for her family for two generations), her escape from Mississippi that was both liberating and restrictive. Miss Stockett had many of the same pangs that made me a little queasy - only she had lived through them. She saw the truths that could otherwise be dismissed as part of the fiction. I walked away with a "Fried Green Tomatoes" impression that although this is a fictional story and the characters are products of that fiction...perhaps Miss Stockett is a bit like the Fried Green Tomatoes** character Idgie - the bee charmer. Skeeter is Miss Stockett's return to Jackson, Mississippi and the local girl "does good".

    Kathryn Stockett's "The Help" is published by Penguin AudioBooks and narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer and Cassandra Campbell. "The Help" was released on January 28, 2009 and runs 18 hours 19 minutes. The Help is available from

    **Which reminds me - perhaps Fannie Flagg's novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe needs to get into my audiobook queue as well.

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    And then there was a blindcross: Schenectady Dog Training Club AKC Agility Trial

    We day-tripped to Greenwich again this weekend for the Schenectady Dog Training Club agility trial. Amazing spring-time weather - both Saturday and Sunday temperatures were in the low 60's with gorgeous sunshine and just a hint of wind on Saturday. I remarked to some friends this weekend that if we had only known (six months in advance) it would have been a lovely outdoor trial weekend!

    In general there are more positive things to say than negative. Teller must have had his B-vitamins again this weekend as he was really "up" all weekend. When I brought him ringside on Saturday morning - even after his relative long walk and jog around the farm - his entire body was vibrating as we prepared to go into the ring. Pupils dilated, quivering with excitement and anticipation. Lord knows I love that he's so into the game that he's so excited to play - but it's still hard for me to run that dog in trial. I think we're getting closer and working more as a team. I can't take anything for granted because he'll take and do what he thinks I want from him. Those off-courses are my fault, I feel like I'm about three-quarters of a second behind where I need to be in my cues and my positioning. I'm hoping that I'll see that energy in training once we get back outside and he can really start moving out again - extending and Wheeeee.

    I think a lot of people want to trial the dog they have in training - it's the opposite for us, I want to train the dog I have in trial. Semantics? I don't think so - I think it's a different animal - and I think its easier to get the trial dog in training than it is to get the training dog in trial. And I'll sacrifice the consistency in Q's (particularly standard Q's) for progress towards that "grab your butt and run" dog in training. And in all honesty - Q or no Q - he's a rush to run - as a result I tend to walk around the entire weekend with what my mother would call a $hit-faced grin on my face. The JWW gods favored us with a gift and delivered an MXJ leg on Saturday - that's MXJ #6 for Teller.

    Sunday's JWW run was decent. I had the same jeeped up dog for the first run - despite more time to warm-up before his first run (small to tall on Sunday). Again I was late on a couple of cues and we had a wrong course. The funny thing is that he "got" the technical part and I goofed on what amounted to a straight run of four jumps into a pinwheel.

    Yesterday's standard course was a nice run. There wasn't a particularly high Q rate in the 4" through 20" dogs. Lots of off-courses into the tunnel (at the #2 dogwalk) and lots of wrong courses on the #12 tunnel (wrong side of the tunnel). There were also quite a few dogs that took the off-course double instead of coming around to the #14 weaves. So we got all of those. We missed the a-frame contact and had a bar on the #17 jump. He was close on the a-frame - but you don't get any points for "almost". And I almost forgot - I actually squeaked in a blind-cross in this run and it'll be pretty obvious why I don't often (ever) throw those in on-course. First because I got too far over to the left to get the #12 tunnel entry and secondly because a less honest dog wouldn't have found his way around me to take that #13 jump. Then there's the real possibility that he could have taken me out at the knees and laughed his little Teller laugh about it the whole way home.

    Here's our Sunday afternoon Excellent Standard run:

    Keith and Denise VanHousen had beautiful courses all weekend. They asked good questions of the dogs and handlers while allowing dogs of all sizes to really move out.

    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    Random moment of the day

    We were at the Schenectady Dog Training Club trial today in Greenwich, NY - Teller was really amp'ed up this morning - probably a combination of having a couple of days off and the change in season. I knew I was in trouble the moment I brought him into the building - he was vibrating (more on that in another post). Anyhow, during the anthems I asked him for a down-stay while I stood and hummed along with O'Canada and The Star-Spangled Banner. Teller takes his stays pretty seriously and he knew he wasn't supposed to move. However, he couldn't help wagging his tail furiously as he's frogged out on the floor trying very hard to remain otherwise motionless. Funny boy!

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Thursday night: agility skills class

    It's not my usual night to be out teaching, but Lori wasn't feeling well so I covered her classes tonight. I planned to create four jumper sequences out of this layout - starting with a couple of speed circles, then getting into trickier stuff! I haven't spent much time with these groups - so I hoped that we'd be able to work through everything, I wasn't sure how much we'd get through.

    A (at Left): There's nothing like a good speed circle to get both dogs and handlers warmed up for the evening. It gets dogs and handlers tuned in and it gets that initial "OMG we're in class YAY" excitement down a notch. So I had the teams walk the speed circle, all of them naturally stayed on the inside of #5 and #6. Then I introduced the concept of a blind cross between #4 and #5 (finishing on the outside of #5 and #6).

    Tonight I worked both Murphy and Teller - one of the things I need to make a better effort about is getting mental stimulation in for both dogs on nights that I'm out teaching. Otherwise it's like WWF (the wrestling not the pandas) when I get home at night - and all I want to do is to nuke something for dinner and think about my head hitting the pillow!

    B (on Right): This is the same exercise the other direction. To save time on dog and jump height transitions, I had each team do two reps of A (one speed circle and one with the blind cross) and then two reps of B.

    For both Murphy and Teller I was able to layer the #5 jump  for the blind cross - and even layer and blind cross on  #6-#1-#2 (and 2-1-6). I don't do a lot of blind crosses with my guys - I don't trust myself to get there in competition where Teller is so much faster. I'm also pretty sure that if I got in his way he'd take me out at the knees - and well, someones got to drive home and Teller has a lead foot.

    C (on Left): Now that everyone is all warmed up things get a little trickier! My challenge for the group was to somewhere on course use a front cross, a rear cross and a blind cross. Their added criteria was to stop and reward their dogs approximately halfway through the course - but I didn't give them an exact place to break off and treat.  

    When I setup these sequences before class I actually swapped out the middle jump for twelve 20" weave poles. It actually made things pretty tight - which was an added challenge. 

    D (on Right): Ever the optimist. I had planned a fourth sequence - this one a mirror image of "C" - but we just ran out of time.  The best laid plans of mice and Erica :-)
    The good news is that the ankle I rolled yesterday evening while I was out walking with the dogs was sore, but stretched out of soreness. If it's good tomorrow I think its just a strain and it'll be fine. I just need to remember to stretch it out a couple times a day

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    More on 24" weave spacing.

    In January I posted this video comparing Teller's weave pole performance on both 20" and 24" weave pole spacing. Once I put together and really studied this video I was even more convinced that the right thing for our dogs is for governing bodies to mandate the larger spacing - and make that change now - not phased in over two years - NOW.

    Two weeks ago at the trial in Greenwich, I asked Teller to do 20" poles - the first time I've worked him on 20" spacing in well over a month. Why would I do that? Well, that's the spacing provided by the facility and host club. Perfectly legal weave poles in AKC, CPE and USDAA - perfectly sound, quality equipment. We threw away our first run because of some floundering in the poles - thankfully Teller came back in subsequent runs having figured out the shorter spacing - gawd I love a thinking dog! So this week in preparation for another day-trip to Greenwich, I've worked Teller on the 20" weaves at Waggles. He's confident and happy going through either spacing but I'm neither confident nor happy about the shorter spacing.

    I've left my weaves at Waggles for the winter - so all of the agility dogs that train there are seeing them from time to time. My observation is that once the dogs figure out what has changed, they all rapidly adapt and finish with a faster more confident weave performances. This is true for the 4" dogs and its true for the 26" dogs.

    The case for the 24" spacing has been made - a quick search of youtube reveals several  videos comparing weave pole spacing - in every case dogs look more comfortable and safer in the larger spacing. Yes, there's a short learning curve on the 24" poles - the keyword being short. Without exception after a couple of reps,  dogs are weaving the new spacing comfortably.

    The AKC board of directors has on their plate the recommendations from the 2009 agility advisory committee. In that report is a recommendation to mandate the 24" weave pole spacing, phasing in over time to allow clubs to update their equipment gradually. I think most clubs that rent equipment (in the Northeast that's primarily from Max 200) will ask for and use 24" spacing from this point forward. I'd also imagine that those clubs that don't ask for 24" spacing will have the larger spacing because that is what Max 200 will provide - just as they automatically provided 22" spacing as recently as last year. What is the incentive for existing facilities to upgrade their current weave poles to the 24" spacing?

    As an exhibitor I have a couple of options: first I can "vote with my trial entries". I can and will choose my trials based on weave pole spacing - just as I'll choose entries based on facilities, proximity to my home or proximity to affordable and clean hotels. There are so many trial options in the Northeast now - no club or venue is the only game in town anymore - which is a good thing for all exhibitors.

    I'll continue to lobby for the larger spacing, I'll continue to train primarily on the 24" spacing and I very much hope that AKC hears the fancy's pleas to make agility safer and healthier for our dogs. I urge members of the agility community to continue to make their opinion heard - write to AKC, write to hosting clubs and to the host clubs out there please specify 24" poles to your equipment provider and advertise your weave pole spacing on your premium lists...

    My comparison study (from January) 
    Teller's second session on 24" poles:

    20" poles in competition for Teller
    (SAAC - March 6-7, 2010):

    24" poles in competition for Teller
    (EESSC - February 20-21, 2010):

    Monday, March 15, 2010


    As luck would have it Northern VT missed that huge Atlantic coast storm that hit New Jersey with hurricane force winds so we got a little rain yesterday - but I'll take any forecast in March that has a high temperature above 40. Spring fever is hitting us pretty hard around here these days - Spring in Vermont as I've said a few times is such a magical time of year. This spring seems like no exception. A mere three weeks ago we had a relatively big snowfall - heavy wet snow that hurt to shovel - and just more punishing cold. Then right before the SAAC show (March 6-7) it was as though winter just - gave up. Highs in the 40's, lows above freezing - Sunshine. Gorgeous SUNSHINE!! This week the trend continues. It's lighter later, warm enough to get the dogs out to play after work. It won't be long before the tulips out front look like this:

    Customer service rant: LG Dryer

    I received a shiny new LG DLE1310w front load dryer as a Christmas gift - I know nice gift huh? My old kenmore dryer (about 6 years old) had died and it wasn't worth repairing. I suffered through life without a clothes dryer waiting for the appliance cash for clunkers program - upgrade to energy efficient and get a big government rebate while upgrading the dryer. I've got clothesline in the basement, it really wasn't too big of a deal not having a dryer - except for the towels - I missed the soft towels. But the appliance clunker program has been delayed time after time - incredibly annoying actually. But now I can use the program (whenever it actually takes effect) to replace the really old dishwasher that was OLD when I bought this house 10 years ago.
    The brand new shiny LG front load dryer was delivered at the end of January - amazing how "in stock" really means "we'll actually get it there in 15 days - and we'll call you to move the delivery out another 4 days" - I'm not sure if that was an LG created hassle or a Home Depot hassle. In the end, my LG Dryer was actually delivered by a GE installation and delivery team but that's not my point.

    So dryer is installed, the installers tell me to run it a few times empty to "burn in the lubricants". I did and it reeked. My whole house smelled like burning tires. It seems like if I were an appliance company I'd either use lubricants that don't burn and smoke or - even better - I'd burn the appliances in at the factory. There's nothing like watching your basement fill with smoke to inspire confidence in a new big-ticket appliance purchase.

    That night I did an inaugural load of laundry, excited for the energy efficiency of the new dryer - and it should be much faster than the old one too! I went downstairs the next morning to find the laundry in the dryer still soggy - of course all of the clothes I had planned to wear that day were in the dryer. Interesting. Maybe that was some weird fluke? Sensor dry, cotton, yep - go. An hour later, clothes less soggy, but still damp. THREE hours later laundry is finally dry.

    So off to home depot I go to replace the dryer exhaust tubing. The one that was there was fine - no buildup, but a bit of crackle around the edges. I figured I might as well replace the vent tubing to go with the fancy new LG dryer. Once that's taken care of I had really high hopes...but alas, it still takes 3-4 hours to dry my laundry. Somehow when you factor in three and four cycles this fancy shiny new energy efficient dryer is not so energy efficient.

    So I call LG and get an off-shore customer service agent that I can't understand (as described below) and the conversation goes something like this:

    Me: I have a brand new LG Dryer, model number DLE1310W. It takes 3-plus hours to dry a load of clothes on the manual setting and 4 cycles to dry clothes on the dryer's sensor setting.

    LG: Um-hmmm. I understand that you do have dryer that not dry clothes well. Have you cleaned the lint tray?

    Me: Ummmm, yeah.

    LG: Are you do use using dryer sheets?

    Me: Yes. (and I'm thinking: yes as a matter of fact I do use using)

    LG: That's be your problem. Using da dryer sheets change da hum-hid-itty inside the dryer and make the dryer sensor not work properly. If you use dryer sheets the dryer won't dry clothes.

    Me: Are you kidding me?

    LG: Dryer sheets are very bad.

    Me: Seriously?

    LG: Yes. No more dryer sheets.

    Me:  {{Silence}} pick jaw off floor.

    LG: Have you checked the lint tray?

    Me: It's not dryer sheets, it's not the lint tray. This is a brand new dryer that has never worked properly. I need you to open a service call on this dryer right now and dispatch a technician. If you cannot authorize the dispatch of a technician or can't open that service call you need to transfer me to a manager who can open a service call.

    LG: {{Silence}}

    Me: Hello?

    LG: Yes M'aam. I'm placing a service call.

    Flash forward a week...I did actually try a couple of dryer loads without dryer sheets and the result was exactly the same. The LG repair technician was supposed to come out this afternoon - LG scheduled me for the first available service opening - that typical 1pm-5pm window - particularly helpful. But the option was "next Monday" or "three weeks from the following Friday".

    I waited from 12:30 until 6:30pm - no service call. So I had to place yet another call to LG Customer service - yet another off-shore customer service representative that I can't understand, who can't tell me why no one showed up for the appointment - but can schedule another one for next week. They finally conference me in with the local repair service who claims that they never got the dispatch order for a service call.

    It was an incredibly frustrating afternoon - I'm annoyed with LG, I'm annoyed with Home Depot and I honestly don't believe that the local service vendor didn't get the service dispatch. This is a brand new, reasonably expensive dryer that doesn't work and not only do they not care that the appliance doesn't work, they weren't even slightly apologetic for wasting my time and my afternoon.

    There are very few things that annoy me as much as bad and disrespectful customer service and that's exactly what I've received from LG and their vendors with this dryer. There's absolutely no reason to have phone operators that are equipped to read from a script and nothing else. What is the point of scheduling a service call if the ticket doesn't actually make it into a vendor's system? And how about a genuine "we give a damn" apology for a bad product, a missed service call and wasting my time? I didn't get that either.

    In case you were wondering, my review of the LG DLE1310W dryer is as follows - one star (out of five).
    Pros: Looks pretty. Doesn't seem to be affected by anti-gravity rays. Doesn't glow in the dark. Plays a cute little beep-beep song when the cycle finishes.
    Cons: Takes several hours to dry a load of laundry; customer service is non-existent; good luck scheduling service.

    And I can't help but wonder...all of the folks out there running around with soft towels and comfy jeans - are ya'll using dryer sheets?

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    Soft Eyes

    These are my own definitions - but for the purposes of this post they should be clarified:
    Hard Eyes: narrow focus, limited vision, tunnel vision. Focused on one item in a pile of many. A single tree in a larger forest. 

    Soft Eyes: wide focus; the whole picture. Focused on the group, the entire landscape, the big picture.

    My introduction to the concept of soft eyes goes back to Sally Swift's** "Centered Riding" - the core concepts of her book were soft eyes, deep breathing and imagery. A concept I'm remembering from years ago is the directive to imagine the rider as a tree: the legs are the roots, stretching towards the earth, the upper body as a tree trunk growing upwards - straight and strong. I vaguely remember an illustration of a human tree sitting on a horse - a visualization technique. Keep in mind this book was released many years before Jane Savoie's "That Winning Feeling" which was for all intents and purposes the first application of psychocybernetics geared towards the  equestrian competitor.

    When I'm describing a shaping exercise - in this case I'll apply it to the "place" game - I often refer to the soft eyes concept. The place game is a very simple shaping exercise: I place a towel (blanket, rag, shirt, etc) on the ground. The final behavior I'm looking for is the dog going to his "place" and laying there until released. The blanket being something of his own that can easily travel with us on the road. Even in someone else's house, he can know that when his blanket comes out and goes on the floor the desired behavior is the same. In the example below c/t is a click and treat and as with all shaping exercises you'll reinforce the dog several or many times at each step as you move towards the final goal. So let's break down some of the possible steps towards the final behavior (your mileage may vary): Looking at the blanket (c/t), moving a foot towards the blanket (c/t), walking towards the blanket (c/t), putting a foot on the blanket (c/t), putting two feet on the blanket (c/t), three feet (c/t), four feet(c/t), standing (c/t), sitting on the blanket (c/t), laying down on the blanket (c/t), adding duration on the down on the blanket (c/t), adding distance on the down on the blanket (c/t) get the idea. When I play this game (and any other shaping exercise that involves an object) I'll click when the dog is interacting with the object, but deliver the treat away from the object. In effect this resets the exercise.

    I'm looking at the towel (blanket, place, etc), but also at my dog. However, like most obedience dogs trained to give (and reinforced for) active attention, my staring at him is not going to encourage him to offer behaviors. The more that I stare at him, the more that he'll stare right back at me. Knowing my goals for my dogs I don't want to break that freely offered behavior (nor should you), but I'll work around the default behavior (attention).

    The soft eye can stare at the blanket - away from the dog, but still see the dog and everything the dog is doing. Soft eyes means seeing the big picture. If my dog looks up at me for a visual cue, he'll see my focus on the towel. Initially he'll probably look down towards the blanket because he's curious about the focus of my stare. A clickable moment! If I had used my hard eyes, I would have seen only the blanket - not the slight glance towards the object of my focus.

    Here's a clip of Teller playing with some shaping games. The first clip is the blanket game and the second clip is a new object for Teller to interact with - he's never seen the laundry basket before. I initially was going for a down in the basket for a final behavior (and I may still require that in a future session).

    When I do a shaping or training exercise I keep my sessions short and successful by employing the "one stick" method. I'll cut a piece of string cheese into quarters and only work as long as that one stick lasts. Of course anything soft and easily chewed will work for this method, one stick could be a hot dog, a small piece of chicken, a handful of zukes, etc. If I'm gauging my rate of reinforcement properly and my dog's understanding of the work at hand I'll have an enthusiastic dog from the moment I put down the object through the moment I end the shaping game or training session. I almost always end a session with a jackpot or play with a toy and physical pets and praise - again part of keeping the session productive, short, light and fun (for both of us!).

    For the purposes of this video, I let Teller get a little bit frustrated in the "blanket" game. You'll see him think about why he's not getting reinforcement for laying on the blanket and he starts to think about offering other behaviors (putting his head down, frogging his hind legs, etc).

    This is not to say that there aren't times in dog training where we'll employ our "hard eyes". If we're training a specific hit on the a-frame, we want to use our hard eyes to narrow in on the spot that meets our given criteria. To expand out a bit more, when we're evaluating a class dogs in the conformation ring we want judges to move from soft eyes (the entire class) to hard eyes (the individual dogs). We hope as well that the judge is using hard eyes to focus on the dogs and not the faces of the handlers holding them {grin}. And in the larger world when we're driving we want to easily shift between focusing on what is ahead of us and where we are going and then a larger view of where we are in relation to other objects on the road with us. You are using hard eyes to read this blog and soft eyes to notice things in periphery to this browser window or this computer screen.

    As an aside, the "blanket" we're using in the video above is from ABO Gear - we purchased ours from Clean Run. It's reversible sort of a sueded cotton on the tan side and a semi-waterproof nylon side. Down-filled - and just the right amount of filling.  Teller likes the cool (nylon) side and Murphy likes the warm side - even Q likes this comfy bed. This travel bed washes easily, hang dries and are long lasting - a couple of mine are over 2 years old and look like new. I particularly like that I can pull them out of the crates in the car after a trial weekend, shake hair and dirt off and they're good for another week between washes - I never use the carry bags for the beds - but they're very useful for hauling other things back and forth to trials and training. These beds are even on sale this week from Clean Run.

    ** As a side note, Sally Swift died last year (April 2009) at the ripe old age of 96. Even if you have never sat on a horse or never pick up her book I'm sure you can see how ahead of the time she was in terms of animal and human training. In 1985 no one had heard of a clicker, our dogs were trained with heavy-handed physical methods. There were shades of black and shades of white - I think Sally saw yellow.

    Rally Class - March 13th, 2010

     This was week six for this rally session.They saw their first course two weeks ago on their week five. This course was significantly more complex and longer than anything they've been asked to do before - more thinking but no tricks this time. I setup gating to let to let them really get a feel for ring procedure and also to give them a chance to practice warming up their dogs as if they were going into a ring. 

    The next session starts on 3/27 - we've got a novice and an advanced/excellent class this session.

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Book Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

    The House rules are pretty simple: 1) Clean up your own messes. 2) Always tell the truth. 3) Brush your teeth twice a day. 4) Don't be late for school. and 5) Take care of your brother. Jacob always follows the rules.

    "House Rules" centers around a single mother, Emma Hunt (who happens to be an advice columnist for the Burlington Free Press), her eldest son Jacob (an 18 year old Asperger's austistic) and her son Theo (15 years old). Emma's entire life has revolved around helping her son cope in the world around him - yellow Wednesdays, blue Fridays and the avoidance of all things orange. To this extent Theo is largely left out by virtue of not requiring the same level of accommodation. As a typical teenager, Theo responds by breaking and entering and petty theft - which mostly goes unnoticed by Emma.

    Jacob is mainstreamed in school - at the same time brilliant but also completely socially inept and incompetent. He is obsessed with forensics and as the book opens he is setting up a fake crime scene in his living room - complete with corn syrup blood. Jacob requires a social skills tutor and Emma has hired a UVM graduate student named Jess Olgavee. Under Jess' tutelage Jacob has blossomed - even progressing far enough to take a girl to prom.The character Oliver (a newly minted lawyer) is a gem, likable and warm. The Hunt case is Oliver's first and only case (and of course his first murder case).

    At nearly 20 hours long, there are certainly moments where the plot drags; there were more than a few times when I was frustrated with the characters for not resolving certain plot points sooner in the story. I had solved the "whodunnit" about 7 hours into the listen and yet the book ran another 13 hours. I kept asking myself how a family could be so isolated from their entire community and yet so much more isolated from each other. I found it completely implausible that a family member could be charged with murder and yet the topic was never discussed between the characters.

    Jacob's narration was particularly frustrating for me because while the other characters explained his aspergers, his inability to lie and literal interpretation of language (Are you pulling my leg? No, I'm not (physically) pulling your leg), Jacob's narration was not the same literal aspergers dialogue. The reader was expected to both believe that the character was limited and literal, yet in his own voice he was (for the most part) not at all disabled - then when the author included aspy behaviors in Jacob's voice they were beyond cliche.

    However, the talent of the narrators does make up for any of the shortcomings of the individual characters. The transitions between readers (to be fair this is the author's voice as much as a credit to the narrators) are smooth and natural. I particularly enjoyed listening to Christopher Evan Welch (from The Art of Racing in the Rain) as the farrier turned starving lawyer retained to defend Jacob in his trial on charges of murder. I might have to go looking for more of his narrations just to get my "Enzo" fix.

    There are several literary ticks that are just plain annoying though and this is probably more obvious in audiobook format. The characters (in all voices) are constantly listing items - more than simply listing facts, the lists are ordered and numbered: 1) Blagh, blagh 2) Blagh, blagh 3) Blagh, blagh 4) Blagh, blagh and the sub-ordered into a) Blagh, blagh b) Blagh, blagh c) Blagh, blagh. Within the first three hours of the TWENTY hour audiobook I was rolling my eyes and groaning in disgust every time one of the characters launched into an ordered list. As this was my first listen to Jodi Picoult's work I'm not sure if this is typical of all of her books or if this HIGHLY annoying tick is new to "House Rules". I probably could forgive the tick if the ordered lists were limited to the voice of Jacob (the aspergers austistic character) - but a) it was not and b) the usage was excessive and c) the ordered lists were unnecessary and d) yes, I'm mocking the literary tick and e) yes, it does make me feel a little better.

    As the story is set in Vermont, I am familiar with the locations used in the book. The problem is that Ms. Picoult's use of creative geography was distracting from the believability of the rest of the story. The main characters live in Townshend, VT, which Ms Picoult insists is 8 miles from Burlington, VT - her characters are often described as walking to and from Burlington. There are several inconsistencies in the story line with characters going to dinner on Church Street in Burlington, but then returning home from Hanover (and if you lived in Townshend I highly doubt you'd just pop out to dinner in either Burlington, VT or Hanover, NH (90 minutes away). On the map to the right:
    a) Hanover, NH
    b) Burlington, VT
    c)Townshend, VT
    d)still mocking.

    Overall, I do recommend reading or listening to "House Rules". It was a satisfying listen - well worth an audible credit (though I actually purchased it "on sale" the week it was released). The book does not have to be listened to in long sittings. In the afternoon I could pick up where I left off on my morning commute and then again as I rushed out to Waggles in the evening. I did have a couple of 5 hour drives (day-trips to a trial) in the middle of the book and it held my attention on the long duration listens as well.

    Jodi Picoult's "House Rules" is published by Recorded Books and narrated by Mark Turetsky, Nicole Poole, Andy Paris,Rich Orlow and Christopher Evan Welch (who so expertly narrated "The Art of Racing in the Rain")."House Rules" was released on March 2, 2010 and runs 19 hours 55 minutes. House Rules is available from

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Grocery Shopping

    I had to make a trip to the store for dog food this afternoon, then we went out and worked contacts and 20" weaves. When we got home I carried in the 15 pound bag of Fromm, Teller carried in the 10lb box of Honest Kitchen and Murphy supervised his staff.

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    Sugaring in Vermont.

    The sap is running!!! Maple sugaring and Maple syrup is a springtime ritual in New England and a matter of pride in the State of Vermont. My coworker Bob put this video together (featuring my other co-worker Bob) of his visit to the Schroeder's Sugarworks in Colchester, VT. I think the most impressive part of this is that the Schroeder's are totally off-grid. All the power for their home and sugar house is from solar and wind sources (though there's a gas generator used occasionally).  And Dad if you're reading this, I've got two gallons of fancy here for you!

    Tuesday, March 09, 2010

    Fitness in our agility dogs.

    Watching runs this weekend at the trial it was my perception that a lot of the "little dogs" say 12" and smaller were struggling with the a-frame - I noticed this on both Saturday and Sunday - in excellent (A and B), open and novice dogs. The 16" and above crew didn't seem to have any obvious changes in a-frame performance, but in the span of two days I observed more a-frame scrambles and struggles than I've seen in a long time - maybe ever. Yet many of these same dogs were out there competing in January and February and weren't struggling at all. What changed between then and now?

    I think this is one of the disadvantages to the year-round trial season in New England. Even as recently as two years ago there just weren't winter trials. We didn't have the facilities in New England to hold trials in the winter - dog clubs can't compete with soccer leagues in terms of facility rentals ($$$). So after the November cluster dogs more or less had the winter off from trialing. Probably training through the winter, but not trialing. Now we're asking our dogs to be out there all winter but are we conditioning them the way we do in the spring, summer and fall? It's cold, it's dark and the little guys just can't hold body heat the way the bigger dogs can (regardless of coat). It feels like everything is harder in the winter. I'm sure that dogs of all sizes were working harder on course, but it was the little guys that were so obvious. That A-frame is a mountain!

    Are we warming up and cooling out our dogs the same way we do at outdoor summer shows with lots of available space? Some of the winter venues are so tightly cramped that they don't even offer a warm-up jump. We take our dogs out of their crates or our cars and work stationary stretching or limited movement games. Then we run the course and the dogs are more often than not put right back into their crates or our cars until the next run.

    It's tempting to think that training is exercise. That an hour of class once a week is getting the dog out and worked and keep them in condition. Maybe even that trialing is both exercise and conditioning. Those little dogs on the a-frames this weekend made it through November and December with carry-over conditioning, but now that we're in March that carry-over is gone and scaling a 5'6" a-frame is a herculean effort for an 8" dog.

    Listen, I know what it's like to live in Vermont in the winter. I juggle darkness and cold and bad footing (ice is slippery, but also cuts pads), but in fairness to our dogs we've got to make it happen - or make sure that we as handlers ask them fairer questions on the weekend. For December, January and February I'm out almost every night in the cold and dark getting the dogs out to do something. It might not be the 45 minutes I aim for in the spring and fall - or the multiple hours of swimming they get daily in the summer - but it's 20 minutes of something - even if that's throwing a ball indoors at the training center, hill work next to a lighted parking lot or a bit of lunging in the street under a street light. Sure, I'd give my eye teeth for an endless pool in my basement - or a dog-sized treadmill (my treadmill has a 60" belt that just doesn't cut it for big dogs) but I've got to make do with what I have for resources.

    I haven't trialed a lot this winter - but when I have, I've worked hard to make a deliberate warm-up and cool down effort for both myself and for Teller. It's not just going out for potty, it's out there taking a bit of a walk, lunging him a bit at a trot in either direction, then going inside to stretch and get ready to run. This usually means that I do my course walks during the obsessive walk-through or I'll warm him almost all the way up and "park" him for 5 minutes while I walk the course, then resume the warm-up process, stretching and engaging him.

    In my mind, a cool-out process is equally important and my routine here goes back to my life with horses. I'll bring him back to the car after his run (and ring-side cookies), quickly change my shoes (particularly during mud season), put on my own coat, hat, etc, offer him a small drink of water, change from his slip-lead to his collar and flexi. I'll usually get Murphy at the same time and we go walk (for Teller that's walk-trot-canter) under his own steam - for at least 20 minutes before they go back in their crates to wait for the next class. For my own purposes, if it's too cold to do a proper warm-up and cool down it's too cold to trial and it's not worth risking an injury to my dogs to go for a leg.

    There's light (literally and figuratively) at the end of the tunnel now - it's actually light when I leave work and days like yesterday (50 degrees) when I can get them both out on real turf, play 45 minutes of ball, bumpers, chase, romp, wait and recall. Sure, I loaded two grey golden retrievers into the car and then bathed (conditioned and blow dried) both of them when we got home, then ran three loads of laundry (bedding from the car and two loads of towels). But after so much time just hanging around in the car and crates this weekend they needed to get out and be dogs. In the end, I had two soggy but very happy and very tired golden retrievers...It was worth it.

    Monday, March 08, 2010

    Spring thaw and muddy dogs.

    After 25+ hours in the car and crates this weekend, Murphy and Teller were both due for some serious romping and running. My plan was to take them out to the reservoir but word was that the ice was still all the way to the shores (despite the 45-50 degree weather) - so that meant a lot of soft ice. So we went out to the school to run. Murphy and Teller got about 45 minutes of all out running - something they both needed - particularly Murphy who had all that idle time in the car - but none of the mental stimulation aspect of going into the ring and running a course.

    Saturday and Sunday high temperatures were in the mid-40's and today topped out at 50 degrees, so what little snow we've had this winter has melted, but the ground is by and large frozen (save for the upper 3-4" of mud!). It was too nice a day not to go out and play - even knowing that it'd be a mess to clean up. I'm not sure what the school soccer fields used to be 60 years ago before it was a school - but the smell of two wet muddy dogs was something to be reckoned with - that was amazingly STINKY mud! Two baths and a load of laundry later and the two boys are soggy, happy and tired!

    It's too early of course for this to be spring - but it sure feels nice to have days like today when it seems like spring is a possibility and that maybe, just maybe winter won't last forever!

    In the spirit of charity...

    This came across a list I belong to - judges putting themselves out there for canine cancer research. How about that a-frame contact?

    The trial was put on by the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America (four day agility trial in Murfreesboro, TN) and the judges were Scott Stock and Blair Kelly. To raise money for Canine Cancer, Scott Stock agreed to run the Standard course himself if they raised $500, if they raised $1000, he asked if Joel Lavalley would race him (Joel is a former member of the World Team). Then someone asked Blair Kelly if they raised $2000, would he run TOO, white pants and all! He is a formal person who always looks pristine in his white pants, blazer, dress shirt, and tie at an agility trial! Yesterday morning, Stacy announced that $2001 had been raised. THEN Scott said if Stacy would run, he would throw in another $100 - she agreed! Through the efforts of everyone at the trial, $4000 was raised for Canine Cancer.

    Sunday, March 07, 2010

    Southern Adirondack Agility Club trial

    Getting up at 4am is a shock to the system; getting into the car and driving at 4:30am is another shock to the system. Morning person I am not! This was our first trip to High Goal Farm - they have quite a few trials there over the last eighteen months or so, I thought it was so much further away and the lack of close and affordable motels has always prevented me from sending an entry. The trip was a piece of cake though at a little over two hours each way it was an easy day-trip. Yes that means nearly 5 hours in the car each day - but it saves cash on hotels and since we run in the first class of the day and then the 4th class of the day now (excellent STD and excellent JWW) it means we're home relatively early (always a plus).

    It's all back roads to get there and it was somewhat surreal to see so many dark houses early this morning - then light from the east as the sunrise approached (southbound) - and then as we moved into the heart of VT farmland the lights in the barns as farmers rose to feed and milk their cows. It's sad to see so much of old rural Vermont in deterioration though - 100+ year old barns on their last legs, farmhouses abandoned - many on the historic register left to fall down (if they fall down they can be built over - if they are still hanging on they cannot be demolished to make room for other structures). At this point some are too far gone to be saved even with bottomless resources. There's also the 55mph view of what farming is like in Vermont - and this weekend the MUD! Cows and horses now at least 6 months since their last bath standing, laying and frolicking in mud up to their fetlocks. The joys of springtime in Vermont!

    Standard: We were the first dog on the line. Yes we had a good amount of time to warm up and an obsessive walk-through starting at 7:15 - but Teller was wild and I didn't handle him well. Some mistakes I didn't expect him to make but some really brilliant bits too. He had a great a-frame today, I was pleased though off the a-frame he committed to the tunnel WAY sooner that I would have liked (as in he committed to the tunnel as soon as he cleared the apex of the a-frame). At least he committed to the correct entry! Then it was chute to the triple to the weaves, he came blasting out of the chute (ta-da!) and didn't see the triple, HOWEVER, I called him and he sliced the triple w/o a refusal. He nailed his weave entry but hit hard on pole #4 - I think he was expecting 24" weaves and these were 20" spacing. As he worked his way through them he skipped every other weave as he was figuring it out. I decided not to fix him in the weaves - it's excellent, any mistake is an NQ and I didn't want to penalize him for the right effort (getting the entry and then hitting that 4th pole so hard). I should have shown him the 20" weaves at waggles this week and I didn't - plus I loved what he have given me so far in that run. I also knew that after his cool-out and cookies he'd go back into his crate and think about it. I KNEW that he'd come back in the next class with the smaller spacing all figured out - and he did. Trust him.

    After the weaves it was a 90 degree right turn to the dogwalk - he didn't see it - I don't know why he didn't see it. But I didn't take him back for that either. JUST KEEP RUNNING.

    JWW:  It was a nice course - but I was a little concerned about the end of the course - it was a tunnel and then 5 jumps on a broken line more or less straight out. That's a long stretch of time where I can't get ahead of him to handle the series strategically. But!! TRUST YOUR DOG ERICA. I did and it paid off. Teller's willingness to do exactly what I ask of him is amazing. The number of times this dog has saved our runs - well, I won't go there! I rear-crossed the jump into the tunnel and before he was even in the tunnel I was able to move away and setup for the 5 jumps out. I was there for one and two (of the five) and then sent him to the broken line ahead of me. He committed to the entire line at the 2nd (of five) and just flew. Good enough for an Excellent B placement (4th) and 8 MACH points. That is our 4th MXJ leg and brings our total to 18 MACH points.

    Moment of the day: This club hands out a big bag of Eagle Holistic biscuits to all of the exhibitors - it's a really nice touch. They don't have to do it - most clubs don't (in fact SAAC is the only one I can recall in recent memory). I was handed my bag after Teller had run his standard course (1st dog on line Saturday AM) while we're sitting ringside getting ready to tape Lori's run. I put the bag next to my chair and Teller laid at my feet like a golden angel (he can be sometimes) while I videotaped the run. After I finished, I packed up the camera and asked him if he'd like to go back out to the car (for a drink and then cool-out walk). As soon as I stood he calmly walked over, picked up the bag of biscuits and looked at me as if he was saying "OK, I've got the cookies...let's roll".

    The morning started with JWW and ran little to big (4-8-12-16-20-24-26) so we technically could have made a later and more leisurely trip down this morning. Unfortunately, that's just not in my character. I have a really hard time knowing that the trial is running and that I'm not there in case something weird happens (like none of the 12" dogs show up). So I needed to be there around 9:30 (ended up being 10am that we walked) and we arrived at 7:15 (another 5am departure). 

    JWW: It was another flowing,course - well suited for Teller. I walked it one way and ended up running it completely differently - not making it to where I needed to be for a front cross and then rear-crossing and layering part of a pinwheel. It worked out like I had planned it that way - Teller read me so well and I'm quite pleased with the run, though he did have to "think" more about the weaves than I'd like him to. It was good enough for a 3rd placement (in Ex B!!!) and 7 MACH points. That's 15 points for the weekend. It's a drop in the bucket, but if we can get some consistency in our standard runs (and there's light at the end of that tunnel) it's going to come together and the points will happen. In the meantime we're happy for a Q and some points.

    Standard: For the most part I'm pleased with both my handling and Teller's response to my handling. I loved his a-frame contact. He wasn't called for a refusal on the table (though he probably should have) but I love how he found the correct tunnel entry (left) after the triple-single. He came around to that red non-wing and I'm not sure what he saw instead of the teeter - it was weird - he's generally not a table-suck. Loved his weave entry and his weaves. I was late in my call out of  the chute, but liked that I was able to layer that jump AND that he didn't see that off-course #12 tunnel between #19 and #20.

    Moment of the day: Teller finishes his second run of the day (standard) and it was a nice run - he's feeling a little high on himself. He spots his friend Tom (timer), but directly in front of Tom is the timer box. Teller clears the last jump, says hello to Tom (directly in front of the last jump) and in one motion picks up the timer box (attached to Tom) and walks away with it - squealing in delight - clearly proud of himself for finding what he perceived to be a dropped object. It was a crowd pleaser for sure - which only made it MORE fun for Teller!

    The venue: High Goal Farm is gorgeous. Clean (though muddy in the midst of a spring thaw), bright, airy and just beautiful facility. I'm totally envious of Wendy's wood paneled office - think high end stable's office/tack room. A neat row of dog crates, books, a large desk - just to die for. Knotty pine paneling in the restrooms, a full kitchen, lots of space to move around and crating for everyone who wanted to crate indoors (it was 50 degrees so I worked out of my car), two HUGE outdoor rings - one setup for herding and the other for agility). There was lots of space to walk the dogs - and no neighbors! It's what I'd love to build if I ever manage to win the lottery (or find a sponsor). I'll definitely keep my eyes out for future trials down there - particularly since I can make daytrips in good weather.

    The judge: Lavonda Herring. I don't think I've shown under Lavonda before - she's definitely going on my "look out for where/when she's judging and enter that show" list. Her calls were consistently fair across the board, she was kind and patient with the exhibitors, she did whistle a few people off-course but her calls were right on. Her courses were excellent all weekend. They asked some good questions of both the dogs and the handlers, without favoring little or big dogs. Teller got to move out quite a bit - particularly in JWW and even in STD where things felt tight, the course didn't run tight.

    The take-home: I feel like my startlines are suffering a little - nothing awful, but this is where it starts...I didn't need a startline in standard this afternoon, but he released himself a fraction of a second before I did in JWW this morning. I'm not freaking out about it - just going to make an effort this week to go back in and reinforce his startline waits between now and our next trial.

    A-frame is better - not there yet - I'm going to keep doing our 10 reps three times a week. High rate of success and high rate of reinforcement.

    The video from the weekend: