Friday, December 1, 2017

CAA November Remembrance Day Trial Review & Rant

At the beginning of the month was CAA's annual Remembrance Day Trial.

I haven't trialed a lot lately, with Lethbridge being the last big trial in September. This was such an awesome weekend, despite being part of the club putting on the trial and needing to be there from the very beginning to the very end. 2 x 12 hour days plus Friday night leads to being pretty wrung out come the end of the day on Sunday.

Baxter is not running full trials anymore and Spencer never has run full trials so it was pretty relaxed in terms of numbers of runs per day. I did enter Nike, but we're on a confidence building plan with her, so her runs don't "count."

Friends to trial and bench with make a world of difference in having a enjoyable weekend as well. This weekend was no exception. We benched with one of our training partners and having someone to video and chat with is awesome.

My boys rocked Friday night (their whole one run each) but it set me up to have a fantastic weekend. That connected feeling where your training pays off and you run as a team. It's the best feeling in the world!

All of the Masters level courses were under a judge I'd never actually trialed under before and being that she's a pretty standard fixture on various world teams, I didn't expect to love trialing under her as much as I did. Maybe it's a hold over from having the non-standard breeds, or from running my "slow" dogs. I really love it when people notice how good of a team the people in the ring are with their dogs - regardless of breed, or how fast/amazing a run was. What makes my heart happy is when a team is out having a great time and the dog is clearly understanding what the handler wants. Those pretty, fluid, connected runs.

Baxter was ON all weekend, running great except for a bobble in a Standard which was my fault, not his. He picked up 2 Jumpers, 1 Standard, 1 Snooker and ran 4/5. It felt like he wanted to do more during the day, but when we ran those last runs each day he felt a little tired/slower so I think that 2 runs a day is a good compromise for him.

With those Jumpers Q's we only need 3 more to earn his Gold Jumpers which is my big goal for him. I initially wanted to get that in 2017, but even if we hit all the Jumpers possible (locally anyway) that wouldn't be happening, so I guess it'll be in 2018 under the new "jump" heights. (And I call them "jumps" because my short, Special/Vet boys only have to jump 4" which really isn't even a jump for them.)

Spencer was on as well - he really does better with less trialing/training. He held it together for me for the weekend, minus melting in his Snooker run that might have been due to soreness. We had a bobble in his otherwise awesome Standard were he pulled off and refused the Frame right before the Snooker run, which is why I'm thinking he might have been sore. He doesn't usually pull off the Frame, just on jumps when he's feeling worried. He picked up 1 Standard, 1 Steeplechase and 1 Gamble running 3/5, but those 3 he was ON, driving to obstacles and responsive.

As much as Jumpers is Baxter's game - Standard and Gamble are Spencer's. He doesn't LOVE distance, but he understands what I want him to do and has the confidence to go out there and attempt it. It makes me so happy that my soft little margarine puddle of a dog has the confidence to try for me. His weaves and DW make those games so much easier with him than they were with Baxter.

Nike did well with our new goal of having a good time in the ring and not stressing out/disconnecting. First run was only 5 or 6 obstacles on the way to the exit to have a cookie party, and she got distracted by some smells in the back, but we got it back together and finished strong.

Our second run was a Standard, and we actually attempted everything but the table. She knows and likes the table, but the stops where she is not rewarded seem make her think she is wrong and result in her disconnecting - so right now, no stopping! I lost her worse to smells after the teeter again, but again, got her back (it was her idea to teeter again, not mine) and we finished nicely and had another cookie party.

Until I've got 100% of a dog wanting to play my game, she'll be running Specials. Right now we need confidence and happy more than anything and once those are there the skills (that we have in training) will be a *little* more apparent - because right now it looks like I have a completely untrained dog.

I'm also going to fully embrace the journey Nike and I are on here and learn the things that she's teaching me that will make me a better and stronger trainer.  It's about Nike and I. Period.

I love my dogs and I love the journey we are on together.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Stacking the Deck

There was some interesting, shareable discussion on one of the Fenzi FB groups this weekend. But, if you wanted to share one of the posts, the author requested that both were shared.

These really resonate with me.

Denise Fenzi
AdminNovember 12 at 3:43pm

Here is why I don't think anyone can ever tell another person that their dog is, or is not, suited for dog sports or a particular dog sport.
Because no one can know how good of a trainer another person is - or how good they might become.
No one can know how important it is to another person. Commitment and determination are a big deal. That is for the person to decide.
No one can know how happy/unhappy their dog can be before they decide it's time to throw in the towel for ethical reasons - also an individual decision.
No one can know what level of achievement they would need to attain before they can feel it was "worth it". My goals and expectations are mine - yours belong to you.
No one can know, for sure, what the future holds, based on better/different training options, the effects of maturity, changing sports, etc etc etc
So it must always remain up to the person - how far are they willing to go? Is their dog happy enough to keep at it? It's just not my place to make those determinations for another.
The only thing another person can do is tell you what route they would take. From there, the owner decides if/when/how much they can put into it.

Denise Fenzi
AdminNovember 12 at 9:50am
A meme here got me thinking. What have my current dogs taught me?
Well, a lot of dog training. But that's not what I want to talk about.
What have I learned from Lyra? I have learned that I don't enjoy training her because she has no passion for working - and that's okay. I didn't do something wrong - she comes with opinions and her own interests, and they don't happen to align with mine. If I stand back and consider the route that I think I would have to take to change that? It's way beyond my level of time, energy and commitment. She is a fantastic pet dog. That's fine. We are both much happier with this lack of expectation. If she indicates a desire to work - we do some stuff. Otherwise, no worries if she is happy to watch. Yeah, I can make her look good but it's a glass house - it would fall apart in the face of serious competition and I don't believe all of the best training in the world could fundamentally change her to the level that I would need to enjoy working with her
And Brito? I have learned that if my training is exceptionally good - we can make progress. That is intriguing to me and keeps me in the game for the sake of understanding, so I like to train him. He likes to work and frequently asks, so we train, and it's all good! He has also pushed me dramatically in a variety of training areas, and as a trainer, I truly value that. But if I had serious competition goals - to the level of expectation that I hold for competition readiness? Not fun then - our progress is way too slow and would be exceedingly frustrating. And that's fine.
I no longer beat my head on the wall trying to figure out what I need to do. I just accept that other beings have opinions. As long as I am entertained and the animal is willing - I will train and see what I can do. And if that changes - I'm not having fun or the dog is opting out - then I'm not going to push through. It's okay. I can move on. I don't believe that great training guarantees anything at all - animals come with innate qualities.
If I ever get serious about dog sports again, which isn't looking too promising at this time, then I will specifically look for a dog that will want to play my games without jumping through million of hoops to get us there. With that dog, I would work to create amazing behavior chains that can hold up under specific stressors and without a high ROR at a very high level of accuracy. I've done that before and that's cool too. But I would start with a dog that was just as eager to master this as I was to teach it.
In the meantime, I got the dogs I needed. Because what they taught me - what I wrote above? I could not have truly internalized that if I hadn't gone through it. I needed to learn about slow/forgetful learners, low drives, high environmental interests the end of the day....why I do dog sports. And what I found is that it only interests me if the dog and I are on the same page. And all of the best training in the world may, or may not, turn any given dog into a highly engaged and willing partner that can compete at the levels that would interest me.
And I guess I had to learn that so that I could better help other people. So that they could accept that maybe they weren't going to get there with their own dogs either and it's not just a matter of learning more or trying harder.
The animal has an opinion too. Great training can maximize a dog's potential, but it's not going to turn them into something that they are not because innate temperament is a real thing. Just like you can't "will" your human child into being a great football player when their heart lies with chess, there is no reason to believe our dogs are any different. There's no reason for guilt or self-doubt simply because the dog you haven't isn't quite right for what you had in mind.

Penny doesn't play dog sports because agility is my sport. I could potentially train her to play something else, but lets be realistic here. She's a Chihuahua with depth perception issues. They're not exactly known for drive, and she specifically doesn't have a lot of drive - except maybe to find another patch of sun, or cuddle on your lap. And that is fine. That is what and who she is. 

Spencer can have fun playing agility, but being around other dogs in a trial environment is incredibly stressful for him. So we play when he wants and train bits and pieces here and there. He's an amazing little dog. He's an awesome little agility partner on the days he feels comfortable, and on the days he doesn't - we don't need to prove anything. He's happiest chasing his frizzee in the field and running like a wild thing, or swimming in the lake retrieving his bumper, or even just hiking with his humans. And that is also fine.

Baxter is my rock. He is my first everything dog. First dog I've owned. First dog I competed in agility with. First dog I put a title on. This weekend we received the "Picture Perfect" veteran dog award at the CAA Remembrance Day Agility Trial for the photo of him I took @ Island Lake. I was pretty emotional. He's going to be 10 years old in a few months and his career is winding down.

He is so full of try. Yes, I wish I had done some things differently when we were starting out, but all in all it's been an amazing journey and he has been an amazing partner on it. We may not be in THE competitive height classes in AAC Agility, but we've done pretty well where we are at. 

Nike is a work in progress and while I won't quit working with her, I'm still working to find that key to unlock the drive to want to play my games with me. She's very smart and super sweet, but also so very soft and so very independent. 

Agility is my game. I wouldn't mind competing in some other sports, like Rally-O, but Agility is my game and I want a dog with the drive to WANT to play my game with me.

Baxter wants to play with me. Spencer wants to play in training. Nike does sometimes. But what could I do with a dog who really wants to work with me? It's a thought in the back of my mind for now, and I won't feel like a failure if my current young dog isn't quite right to be super competitive in the sport - she's got an opinion too. No amount of pressure is going to make that come if it isn't in her temperament, pressure will only suck the fun right out of training and trialing.

But for the next time... Next time I'm stacking the deck in my favor.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Insanity, or Is It?!

I've posted this quote before and I'm sure we've all heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Sometimes though, your journey brings you back to a point and maybe it isn't insanity to give that one more shot.

With Spencer, the first obstacle he learned was the weave poles - mainly because that was and is one of Baxter's weakest obstacles/skills.

Baxter was trained with channels and with Spencer we had just discovered Susan Garrett/Say Yes and the 2x2 method.

2x2's made sense to Spencer. Weaves are one of his strongest obstacles/skills. I'm certain that it helped that he REALLY wanted his toy, but teaching him 2x2s was super easy.

2x2 Weaves

Now fast forward to Nike. We didn't start doing much with the weaves until she was around 9 months and at that point in time I was just having her run down a wide channel to a target plate. I wasn't actually teaching weaves, just getting her accustomed to the pressure of the poles and teaching her it was nothing to be concerned about - so we didn't do it often at all.

After she turned 1 year old I started working on teaching the 2x2s ... but she was having none of it. She did not care what I had. Did not care about the poles at all. Just really wasn't getting it and VERY much wanted to flank the poles not run through them - even when we were just trying to build value for interacting with one 2x2 base.

So, rather than fight with it, I left that.

Channel weaves, open to closed

She'd already had exposure to channels, so I moved on to that method and started closing the channel. Problem is, when you have a herdy dog who already wants to flank things, she might or might not hit that entry, but she sure was not going to collect and get that second pole.

So, instead of fighting with that, I left that method as well.

Next we tried "windows." Windows are similar to guides but instead of not letting the dog leave, they are just a "window" that sticks out from the pole on the side the dog ISN'T supposed to be on. I love these because they help the dog understand the weaving motion, but the dog is choosing to stay in. It's also not as aversive as guides/xpens to those dogs who are touch sensitive.

Channels with plastic guides - not how I want to teach ...

Nike did like windows, and she figured how to hit the poles and stick in them even at speed. The problem comes when trying to fade the windows out of the picture. You slowly start removing windows in the middle, leaving the end windows (entry and exit) to help the dogs be correct.

Learning weaves with the "window" method
First time in the weaves using windows

However, as soon as I'd fade a window out, it was like she'd never seen the weaves before in her life and was not generalizing the motion through the poles with the windows to poles with no windows on them.

So now we're back to 2x2s. This time though, I've cleaned up my mechanics a little and my baby dog has grown up a little. We've also discovered the joys of chasing toys and playing fetch, which probably helps.

I've also gotten a little smarter in how I train. Spencer would keep trying even if he wasn't being rewarded because he really wanted that toy. He has pretty awesome resilience to disappointment - as long as you don't put any pressure on him. Nike has zero resilience to disappointment. If she gets something wrong (tries and is not rewarded) more than twice, she is probably going to leave work and go sniff/find something better to do. So sessions with her are very short and she is rewarded for coming back to me to try again.

So far this seems to be working, so I'm hopeful.

It is definitely a paradigm shift to take responsibility for EVERYTHING and not have any pressure on the dog. If nothing else, Nike is certainly greatly increasing my skills as a trainer.

Sayings evolve for a reason, so I guess even if I haven't gotten the dog I thought I wanted, I am getting the dog I needed - and sometimes it's evolution, not insanity if some time has passed!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Ups and downs

Nike and I have finished with the 6 week "confidence building agility class" and have had 3 brief experiences at agility trials.

It's been a bit of a roller coaster.

The nicest thing about the class is Nike already has these skills and it was a small class of only 3 dogs. So lots of working time. And we look like rockstars. Mostly because the other 2 people in the class are new to the sport and so are their dogs and also, because we already have these skills.

So often we get to demo the skill and go first in the working order - which is fine with me.

However, class is also helping uncover some things. Despite "knowing this" Nike is very, very soft and start lines are not happening right now. I resorted to putting down a mat to help her with the start line. Now she can do the "wait" behavior. Which I find interesting. Without a mat though, as soon as I leave, she leaves - either releasing over the jump or just wandering off and leaving work entirely.

Doesn't help that we usually have to set up that start line within a couple feet of a kenneled dog though - and then expect our dog not to have a problem with that, because Nike very much does have concerns with turning her back on the reactive dog and pretending it isn't there. I can't say that I blame her.

We're working on solidifying a start line routine and using that as a start button behavior. If I can't get it, then she isn't going to work well and I'll just end up skipping my turn - which hasn't happened yet since she is very good if I have rewards.

With the actual trials runs that she has done I've done many FEO runs, so I still have rewards, just not food - but it's a whole lot more difficult to get her to focus.

We're not "trialing" right now, but in small trials I am working on getting her ring exposure. Just one or 2 runs to work on confidence with no expectations.

The first trial felt so promising and her first run was a little out of control but still good. So it's a little disappointing that it feels like we're going backwards.

Agility training is going to take a bit of a back seat to some other classes I want to work on with her. Namely some relationship building Fenzi classes I have gathering dust in my library and possibly some group rally or trick classes taught at the facility I teach at.

Happiest little gang of dogs field running this summer. I find it interesting that they self sort into this arrangement since I didn't actually pose them.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Titles, Trial Review and Baby Dogs ... OH MY ...

Oh baby dog. But first, the good stuff.

This weekend we drove down to Lethbridge to support a new club hosting their first agility trial. The trial was well run and organized. Lots of awesome little perks that really make an event feel like it is well run. The venue was FABULOUS. Lots of benching under huge trees for shade made the 33°C day on Saturday bearable!

Baxter and Spencer ran in Dog Days of Summer (Nike's first trial.) Both boys did fantastic, especially considering the heat, but towards the end of the second day Baxter was slow. Usually he runs my speed and I could definitely feel that he was lagging a bit - which concerned me, because he only ran 2 things on Saturday and 4 on Sunday.

This trial though, both boys were on fire. 

Spencer loved it here - it helped that it was a small trial and they didn't have insane off leash rules. Basically use common sense and they didn't care if the dog was off leash - so before and after runs we played with his frizzie in the shade. He was entered in 5 runs and I had a dog in all 5 runs, even in the heat. He was a little off on Gamble 1, but my handling was a little off too. Standard and Snooker he rocked it and Q'd in 33°C heat!

Photo Credit: Rita Barrett

Day 2 he had a fantastic Standard and we were ON - except where I completely buggered up his weaves by stopping dead. Gamble 2 I didn't think we'd have a hope but he shocked the heck out of me and nailed it. Earning his Bronze Gamble and Versatility Bronze Award Titles. Such a good baby black dog.

Baxter obviously felt much better this trial (he was sore and had a limp tail issue 2 weeks prior to Dog Days and maybe he was just still a bit sore at that trial.) At 9.5 years he doesn't run full trials anymore, max 3 a day and no Gambles anymore. He had a perfect weekend going 6/6 and even in Jumpers on Saturday in the heat he ran pretty hard at 4.4 yps!

Photo Credit: Penny Norem

His career is winding down, but he still loves playing and on Sunday morning rocked his Standard coming in 2 seconds faster than the papillon in the class with us and at 4.2 yps (which is something, considering there are 12 weaves) Love my Fluff, so full of heart!

Then my baby... so bitter sweet. Saturday morning she NAILED Gamblers -  mini gamble twice, Aframe twice and held the contact. She did have DW worries, but that's due to the DW in class that has a LOT of bounce/flex. Connected and responsive. She was fantastic.

Then Jumpers I had no dog. Wouldn't take the first jump, couldn't sit for a start line and then left the ring to go bark at and freak out at the out of control dog shrieking at the warm up jumps. So we were excused from the run. Not good - the only silver lining is that she did come back to me and had zero intent on connecting with that dog. Just wanted to control the out of control barking.

Gamblers was next up on Sunday and I went FEO with a toy. Still no dog. No first jump, flanking obstacles and running past them. After she played tug for a AFrame contact I had slightly more dog and she got the final gamble with ease, but still VERY disconnected and I'll admit, disappointing. So we've got a lot to work on before I enter her in more trials - and I'm seriously considering pulling from the one we are entered this weekend.

Impulse control work, here we come!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

First Trial!

Nike & I

I'm very happy with Nike's first trial. We had fun and started and finished the courses together. I entered this trial to gather information and that was a success.

We only entered a Starters Jumpers run on the first day and a Starter Gamblers followed by Starters Jumpers on the second day.

Nerve wracking! First run she was AMPED. It was cool still in the morning and she just watched a dog run and very much wanted to chase the BC's at the warm-up jumps. Just taking the leash and collar off is hard sometimes.

Had a bit of a bobble/weirdness where she pushed behind the tunnel instead of taking it but she didn't realize she was wrong. The rest of the run was gorgeous and fast. 23 seconds. Speedy girl.

Gamblers was FEO. My goal there was to reward contacts on each new piece of equipment. She hit her contacts. Frame and Teeter were great! DW she was worried on. I need to run faster and figure out the sweet spot to support a jump but not push her off - but she did nail the main gamble and there was a good chance of carrying out past that second jump, so coming in on it and paying attention to me was fantastic.

After Gamble it was hot. We went for a swim in the canal after, but it was still HOT and little Miss does not like to work in the heat. I was also slow and tired, running on 3 hours of sleep. We didn't warm up at the jumps (they were put away) before our run. Whatever the reason we were more disconnected on her last jumpers. She wasn't precisely slow, but on a easy course that should have been fine she flanked out around 4 jumps and didn't really want to play. We started well, ended well but the middle was a bit of a miss.

I'm happy with how I dealt with it though and we just ran through and finished up. She stuck with me and didn't disappear off sniffing.

I could probably cheer lead less, but hey, I was happy!

She played the game for me and to do that in a super distracting environment for a baby who is still maturing and developing focus is awesome.

Pretty baby!
Looking back to Spencer's First Trial I find it somewhat amusing that these posts are very similar!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


One week to go until Nike's debut trial!

<3 my rotten red girl!

I'm not concerned about "the Q" - I do want her to have fun and not check out/stress out.

We've hit the location that this trial is going to be at a couple of times now to practice, just to get her as used to the venue as she can be.

When practicing agility at work now she is getting much more consistent with working and not checking out. I'm also making a point of actually working through the Fenzi Classes we are "taking" this month:
Jumping Gymnasics and Tapping the Hidden Potential

If that wasn't enough dog related goings on; Nike and I are also enrolling in a 6 week agility class at a new location to hopefully help generalize our agility behaviors to new places with new distractions. We aren't in a very high level class and I may or may not continue with classes, but right now I wanted to tone down the difficulty and make it easy for her to win to build confidence. Maybe I'll be bored to tears but hopefully not.

Class starts tonight! So exciting!