Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gulfport Trial - Sept 2010

Michele and Maxie, Sunday
Proof photo by Michael Loftis
Legs Earned:  Maxie: 4 Q's out of 6 runs,
OJ2, OJ3, XS1, XS2; 3 1st places and 1 3rd place.

Just got back from a 3-day Gulfport trial (actually in Long Beach).  Stayed at the Ramada Inn in Gulfport, about a 20 minute drive from motel to arena. Roomed with Sheryl Mc and Charlie.

NOTES:  Brought too much luggage.  Continental breakfast provided an extra banana during the day.  I don't need to bring so much food or extra clothes.

Brought Maxie to compete and Lucky to get used to the trialing environment.  Both did fine, but 3 days on a sandy, dusty surface with horrible rain storms beating down on a hot tin roof was taxing on all our nerves. 

Trial Site Summary:  See link, upper right corner of this blog.

Lilly and Linda, from Pensacola
"Poetry In Motion"
Photo proof by Michael Loftis
Performance notes: Maxie and I earned 4 Q's out of 6 runs, 3 1st places and 1 3rd place.  At X level, I became interested in filming Maxie's 8"competitors, and discovered that 4 out of 8 of them are Papillons.  One, Lily, a black and white, is extremely fast.  We'll never beat her on time unless we start training for speed.  Lilly is also very accurate in her performance.  Very focused.  A seasoned 5 year old.  Puts her all into every run. A joy to watch.  I met with her trainer, Linda Walters, from Pensacola.  Very friendly, easy to talk to.  We exchanged emails, and she shared that Lily is her first agility dog.  They have been competing together since 2007.

I met my goal of earning our Open Jumpers title.  We did this on Fri and Sat, then moved up into Excellent Jumpers.  On Sunday, our first XJ run, we NQ'd.  Maxie popped out at the 5th weave, skipped a few poles then entered again.  He got distracted by something.  The weaves were alongside the bleachers and people were milling about.

Maxie In The Weaves, Sunday
Proof photo by Michael Loftis
 A bit harder for us, we NQ'd in our first XS run of the day.  So far, 2 XS runs, no Q's, same problem both runs. Maxie has a penchant for taking the dog walk even if I am pulling him hard towards another obstacle.  He is fascinated with the dog walk.  Head checks for it before we start our run, which shows up on the videos. Lesson learned:  BLOCK THE DOG WALK if it isn't the next obstacle I want him to take.  Also, say HERE very loud.  Our Friday run was good but for that wee tiny flaw.  He did pop out of the chute going backwards, but the judge didn't count that against us.

Our 2nd XS run, we Q'd with a 1st place, 65.2 sec.  It was crunchy, sloppy, and slow, but all the other 8" dogs were eliminated! I thought Maxie would never come off the table or exit the chute. Seconds seemed like minutes.

On Sunday we Q'd again in XS-A and won 1st place, 54.23 sec.

Videos: All of our performances for this weekend are posted  here. It's interesting to compare the different dogs, handler styles, and what can go wrong.  It's very hard to get a "clean run", though it looks almost effortless when you do.  Viewers learn a lot more about agility from watching the mistakes.

1. for the first time I didn't feel nervous before or during a run.  No stage fright. It felt no different than practicing at home. WHEW!  What a tremendous hurdle that has been to cross.
2. I have finally learned the routine.  Get my arm band first thing in the morning.  Check the running order for the day, know when I'll run, when I intend to film people, and when I can volunteer to work (when none of my teammates are entered).
3. I proved to myself I can get up early and get to the arena on time.
4. Lucky is proving herself to be comfortable in the trialing environment.
5. For the first time, I filled out my Agility Competition Recordbook using the scribe's notebooks.  Now I can keep track of the other 8" dog's performances, especially their times, and have some standard to train Maxie towards.  Maxie's 3rd place ribbon was because 2 other 8" papillons beat him on time, one by 3 seconds, the other by 1.5 seconds.  We just need to practice tighter turns, less pausing on the table and see saw, and running a little faster.

Maxie in the air, looking straight at the
photographer instead of at me!
Proof shot by Michael Loftis
New Goals:

1 more XS Q to earn our XS title; 3 more XJ Qs to earn XJ title.  That's my goal for 2010 -- 2 Excellent Titles. After that we will be competing for our Masters titles.  Oh, and more blue ribbons if possible.  It takes 10 Q's to earn a Master's title, so that will probably be my goal for Maxie in 2011.

Kiln Trial coming up Oct 24.  I've entered Fri and Sat only.  Goal: XS title for Max (need to Q on 1 out of 2 runs).  2 legs on XJ, then on to Lake Charles trial. 

Fun Match, Kiln, Thurs Oct 23.  I've entered Lucky in 4 runs and Maxie in 2, for practice.  My goal for Lucky is to get her ready to compete at novice level and enter her in the LCCOC's trial next April in Port Allen.

Stamina: I hope by then I have built up enough stamina to run 2 dogs in one day, a total of 4 runs per day.

I'm bringing my pop-up camper to Kiln for 3 nights, 4 days.  Flat terrain I'm told.  $15/night.  Still trying to get the camper gig right.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Waking Up Early

It's Sunday.  For the last 2 days I've been practicing again how to wake up early.  The Gulfport trial is in 2 weeks. I only get about 5 hours of sleep per night these days. I can't fall off to sleep, then I can't stay asleep. I never feel fully rested.

Our alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. for John to get up and off to work by 6.  It should be easy for me to arise with him, but it's not much easier than waking the dead.  I'm not exactly asleep, but my whole body is sluggish, my brain turned off except for the most basic routine matters.  I can find my slippers, walk to the bathroom, drift into the kitchen to heat up a cup of coffee (if made the night before).   I manage to uncrate Lucky and sleepwalk out to the back yard to potty the dogs.  I sit, stare into the distance, taking note of where they pooped so I can pick it up later.  I really don't dare try going down the 3 steps to ground level at this point.  So I sit there and smoke 1 cigarette until I feel my nature call coming, then take care of that, then go back outside while the dogs finish their business.  By then I feel the urge for a second nature call.  Then I'm ready to throw on some clothes. 30 minutes has gone by.

While dressing, brushing my teeth and combing my hair, images begin to drift slowly into my mind of how I want to shape my day.  Appointments.  What I need to do. If no appointments, what I want to accomplish. Where do I need to be, how to get there, what to bring, etc.  I check my emails to see if there's any direction/inspiration there.  As I throw on a load of laundry, tidy up the kitchen, feed the dogs, do my stretches, grab some breakfast, take something out of the freezer to thaw for the evening meal, I begin waking up more and more, and begin to make little piles of stuff needed for each different project I'll be working on later today, sometimes making lists.  I usually double check my thinking on everything, make sure I've got it right. Respond to a few emails.  Next thing you know it's 2, sometimes 3 hours later, I'm finally awake, organized and ready. I am finally beginning to feel like I could walk fast or run a few steps without tripping over myself.  (I am always afraid of falling, torquing my back, twisting an ankle or spraining a knee again.)  But by this time it's 8 o'clock, sometimes 9!  The sun is up in the yard and it's too hot to do agility practice.  At a trial, it's time I drive to the arena and settle in, by which point it will be at least 8:30, the Excellent dogs will have already competed, and I'll have missed my run. 

RIDDLE:  Why do Excellent dogs always run first in the morning?  They just do, that's why. 
It seems to me to give an unfair advantage to early risers. Dogs belonging to later risers can also be very good at agility.

Oh Lordie, what's the use complaining. I HAVE GOT TO SHORTEN MY ROUTINE!  I have to condition my body to get moving faster in the morning.  Maybe a shower first thing out of bed?  No morning cigarette?  Breakfast in the car? Sleep in my clothes?  I don't know what I will have to do.  Whatever, I need to spring up and be ready for action.

Some people thrive on early mornings.  Believe me, I adore the dawn too.  It's beautiful, fresh, the energy so calm, the earth bathed in soft cool light.  I have nothing at all against early mornings.  Sometimes when there is a bad storm in the night, we get up before dawn and watch the spectacle of lightning, wind and rain from the front porch until traffic picks up from people going to work and the magic dissipates.   It's just that there is also magic in late nights after everyone else goes to sleep.  So cozy, quiet, motivating.  I can tunnel my vision, focus, concentrate and do my most complex work late at night. Midnight to 4 a.m. is the greatest time slot to build websites.  That's how I make my living. But then I need to sleep in til 10.
So now I am missing Sheryl, my training partner, who is out of town for a week.  For some reason, I am able to get up earlier and get moving by 8 a.m. when I know she's coming out to practice with me.  It seems I am more motivated to do something for someone else than only for myself.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

See Saw Training - "Around The Clock" Exercises

It's Wednesday.  Raining.  Hot.  Humid.  Nothing I can do outside. Great day to blog.

Sheryl and I went to the field Monday morning from 8:30-10:30 a.m. I spent some time formalizing my see saw training techniques, with Sheryl acting as my student, as follows:

The see saw presents many challenges:

Correct entries: Entry must be from the yellow zone of the down end.  Not much of a problem for small Ds, but large Ds can and do hop on nearer to the middle of the board, missing the contact zone altogether -- an automatic disqualification.  While side entries are not illegal, I don't allow my dogs to do them.  I train with wings on either side of the entry position, and they have to enter between the wings, i.e., from the bottom.  See short video here.

Correct exits: Exit must be from the far end, and the board must hit the ground before D looses contact.  No fly-offs allowed.  Little D's especially must be trained to run out to the far tip of the board so their weight will bring the board down quickly.  Little D's often run 2/3 or 3/4 out, stop or even back up a few steps, and wait what seems like an eternity for the board to hit the ground before running out to the end, or hopping off from where they are.  All big NO NOs. Large D's often exit by taking a giant leap over the contact zone, missing it altogether, another big NO NO.  D's HAVE TO STAY ON UNTIL THE BOARD HITS THE GROUND, AND GET AT LEAST 1 FOOT INTO THE YELLOW CONTACT ZONE.

Overcoming these issues from any handling angle is essential to "excellent" performance.  The diagram shows how I train this.

INSTRUCTIONS: Position D to your left at 8.  Send to see saw, saying "see saw". As D crosses board, move to 7, say "TOUCH" or ''GET IT".  Once they've eaten the treat, call D to you with your release word: "Off", "Here", "okay", treat, position D to your left side again, send, move to 6, etc. Later, send from 4, move against D's direction to 5, 6, etc.  Do the same from 10-2.

Commands: "SeeSaw, Get It, Off"
Treats: for small D's, encourage them to run to end of board by putting a sticky treat on board about 2" from the end. Put this on a piece of tape so you don't scent the board. Remove tape at end of practice. For large D's put treat on target on ground, a foot or 2 from where board hits ground if you want to encourage the 2 on-2 off behavior, or on the board if you want a 4 on behavior.


#1  D must be running over the see-saw, off leash, with H running alongside 5-6' away.

#2  D must have a reasonable 2 on-2 off, or 4 on behavior at the far end. (H must decide which behavior they want D to always perform, and train for that consistently).

#3  A "get it" or "touch" command, allowing D to eat the treat from the target plate.

#3  A release command, such as OFF, HERE or OKAY. Until given, D must stay on the see saw.

#4  Plenty of treats, a target (T) for large Ds, sticky treats for small Ds and some duck or masking tape.

#5 A clicker, if you do clicker training, which allows you to click at the end, and reward after releasing D from the end.

Make it fun. No need to do all positions at once, nor always treat. Maybe 8, 7, 6, then a different game on some other equipment. Later 6, 5, 4. Vary your positions throughout D's training, work both sides, and keep it up until no matter where you send from or run to, D succeeds.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Weekend Chores - Roof Sweeping

Yesterday I didn't have the time nor energy to work the U-turn exercises with my dogs.  Thursdays and Fridays are John's days off (our weekend), and we usually try to get one big job accomplished between watching reruns of TV series, streamed commercial-free from Netflix.  Right now we're addicted to McLeod's Daughters, an Australian cattle ranch series with 8 seasons and 22 1 hour episodes per season (we're in Season 3).  Before that, we streamed these series:  Weeds, Monarch Of The Glen, Dead Like Me, Little Men, Wildfire, and there are plenty more to choose from.  We may never watch commercial television again  again.  Goodbye CNN, CNBC, FOX, Hallmark, even Discovery and History (with all those twirling, whirling, flashing, scrolling screens and little figures walking across the bottom of the screen, advertising some other show).  We are sick of your glitz!  And especially your repetitive, loud, vulgar, fear-mongering, brain-washing commercials.  What kind of idiots do you think we are???

I thought we paid for cable so we wouldn't have to watch so many commercials! Wasn't that the original draw of cable? What happened?

If we're not careful, our bodies will atrophy sitting in our recliners, glued to the screen, in love with the characters, absorbed in the convolluted plots in each series.  So I made a rule, we have to get up between every episode and do a "useful chore" -- sweep, mop, vacuum, cook, dust, feed or groom the animals, cook, take out the trash, listen to phone messages, sharpen pencils -- something.   And every weekend, we have to accomplish at least one BIG PROJECT.

This weekend, John chose to get up on our roof and sweep off all the leaves.  , and trim all the tree limbs that brush the roof when the wind blows.  My job -- lay out 3 large tarps on the ground below to catch all the debris, and pass him up tools, water and lit cigarattes.  He finished his part in a few hours while I stacked limbs below.  I made 6 sleds out of the biggest widest branches and stacked the smaller limbs on top. 

That was yesterday, after which Audrey came over and we ate a sumptuous home cooked meal (crab stuffed catfish, eggplant casserole, corn, asparagus and baked potatoes), then we watched 5 episodes --  til midnight.

Today I dragged the sleds up to the front ditch, one at a time. They are heavy but that's OK!  Helps me build up my leg muscles for the next agility competition.  I also bagged the leaves, 16 bags in all - stretching those tendons, building up those back muscles.  The yard was dry enough for John to drive the truck to the wood pile, throw away the rotten stuff on the bottom and stack the newer stuff for this winter. He cut several limbs up for firewood, using his chain saw.  I picked all the dead twigs and branches around the whole yard and loaded piles of them into the truck, too.  We even raked!  That should take care of our little estate for awhile -- and improve my stamina for the next trial!  I'm doing it all for you, Maxie!  Thanks for the inspiration.

You know the lyric "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down"?  Well, our sugar is knowing the next episode awaits us, and McLeod's Daughters, being based on a cattle/sheep ranch in southern Australia, all the characters, including the 6 amazon woman ranchers, are always working their asses off trying to make a living.  Hard, physical farmers' work, with so many things going wrong from cattle poachers to foxes in the henhouse, to electrical problems, storms, equipment maintenance, sick or pregnant horses, not to mention the disfunctional families, star-crossed or jilted lovers, assorted village politics, etc.  It makes our work seem easy, our relationship sweet, our life calm, our troubles minor.  We both realize we are pretty much in hog heaven, enjoying the good life, etc.  And that ain't bad.

The "Flip" Handling Maneuver

What's a flip? It's not popular, that's the first thing.  But re my last post, maybe it's sometimes necessary.

The "flip" maneuver is when you use the same arm to indicate a change of direction, instead of a change of arms. Sometimes there just isn't time to change arms. You're running too fast, or there's not enough room/time to maneuver, whatever.

I'll try to illustrate the flip.  So you're running along with D to your right, your right arm pointing straight ahead, then you need D to do a U-turn away from you RIGHT NOW, so you instinctively fling your arm out and around, drawing kind of a wide upside down U to indicate a U-turn right. This is usually accompanied with holding your breath, crossing your ethereal fingers, hoping it works, and scrambling to get into a better position for the next obstacle.

To train the flip, I guess you'd do some flatwork (without obstacles).  If you put D in heel position right, and want D to make a right U-turn away from you, hold a treat in your right hand, by D's nose and have D follow the treat as you draw an upside down U, away from you. You would not actually turn your own body around (because if you could do this, you wouldn't need the flip).  Treat immediately when D's U-turn is completed.  Repeat both sides.  Use up a lot of treats.

This is different from RC training where H also makes a U-turn in the same direction while remaining on the nearest side of D, and H delivers the treat from the opposite hand, which gets D used to H crossing behind him.

It's hard to talk about this on paper.  Sometimes a thought experiment and diagram just won't work. You have to get out there and experience it for yourself.  All I know is, I have experienced many moments when a flip seems to be the only solution and if it's easy to teach it to my dogs, why not teach it?