Thursday, March 24, 2011

Clicker Training Ideas

Teach students how dogs feel about clicker training, by clicker training the students.  Also a great party game.

Play the Guessing Game with small puppies up thru old dogs, marking the desired behavior with Click/Yes/Treat.  The easiest way I know to teach the clicker.

See Saw Fly-Offs

Dog springs off see-saw long before it hits the ground,
an automatic disqualification.
Photos by Michael Loftis

This weekend in Mobile, I witnessed several see-saw fly-offs, and tonight teaching my first Intermediate Beginners class, I witnessed 3 fly-offs in a row as all 3 of my students (Jen, Jerry and Judy) sent their 20" dogs running full throttle thru a curved tunnel then over a full-height see-saw!  It was their dogs' first fast run to the see-saw, and they didn't reach the end when their dogs did. The fly-offs surprised the heck out of all of us!

Witnessing all this has confirmed for me, more than ever, that the 4-feet-on-the-down-contact behavior on the see-saw is a must. In fact, according to Susan Garrett, there should also be a nose touch as well.

Not only does a leaping dog land with a thud from 2-4 times their height and is often stunned on contact, and could easily sprain a leg, but I've also seen a tightly spring-loaded see-saw return upright and bang the airborn dog in the stomach or catch their back feet and flip them over.  An improperly performed see-saw can scare the dog from doing see-saws, and can be dangerous.

Low and behold, Michael Loftis, the photographer in attendance at the Mobile trial last weekend, caught a few of these fly-offs on camera.  What luck!  I've never seen pictures of this before.  Since I doubt any of the handlers will order these photos of "oops" moments, I asked Michael for permission to use these thumbnails for "editorial use", to illustrate a serious point. He graciously agreed.  As each of these photos show, the handler was not at the end of the board when the dog got there and was unable to put a treat down, or a hand out, as in training, to slow the dog down.  Their only ammunition was to call "halt", "spot" or "stop", and this apparently was not enough for these novice dogs.

Lucky Lucy and Michele, Mobile, March 2011
Lucky had a bit of a fly-off too, not much and the judge didn't fault her, but she landed hard, stopped running for a few seconds and looked at me, somewhat stunned.  I wasn't sure she would continue the run.  But she did.  This shook her up, though, and a few obstacles later she leaped clean over the down contact on the A-frame and got eliminated. The next day, I made sure I reached the end of the contact zones before she did, made her stop, and she did perfect contacts on all 3 contact obstacles.

The only way I know to prevent this error is that dogs must NEVER be allowed, from the first day of agility training, to leave the see-saw until released from it.  It has to be totally ingrained into them that the only behavior they can do is run to the end, ride it down, stop, and wait for a release. They should learn to stay at the end for 5 minutes if necessary, until released. Training this is not hard, but requires absolute consistency throughout the life of the dog, and however great their training, you can count on the performance being a bit less reliable in the ring. I've already blogged about training the see-saw in these posts:

See Saw Training Around-The-Clock
See-Saw Issues
Fast Contacts

Now I'm more determined than ever to train and teach the contacts right.

Upwards and onward!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mobile Agility Trial - Maxie and Lucky

Maxie 6 runs, 2 XJ Q's, one 4th place
Lucky  6 runs, 4Q's 2 NJ, 2 NS, 4 1st places
Videos posted here.

This was Lucky's first AKC trial, and Maxie's 2nd Excellent B trial. Each dog did 2 runs each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, meaning I did 4 runs per day for the first time, 12 in the whole weekend, plus a match run with Maxie on Thursday. Dogs ran small to tall all weekend, Maxie ran first thing in Excellent, and Lucky was the very last dog to run each day in Novice. So 3 long days for us.

Poor Lucky, such a sweetheart, endured without complaint 4 days of either being crated, on leash, controlled in the ring,  confined to hotel room at night, with only about 15 minutes of playing fetch with me in the grassy areas if no other dogs were around.  As soon as we got home she cavorted her muscular self around the back yard for 2 hours, wildly running, leaping, chasing imaginary squirrels, shaking her toys.  I have to figure out a better outlet for her to enjoy some personal freedom at trials.

I had Lucky (a 20.25" height dog weighing 40 lbs.) jumping at 26", which she cleared with a several inches to spare, but I caught a lot of flack from people concerned for her shoulders and ruining her career with long-term injury. This concerns me too, of course, except that she's been jumping 2 foot fences since she was 10 weeks old and jumps 5' fences now, several times a week. The arguments that impressed me the most, though, were Susan K, with her boxers, who said that just because Lucky "can" jump high, doesn't mean that's the best competitive style for her. This was further confirmed when Lucky NQ'd on an otherwise qualifying jumpers run, due to the extra time it takes to jump higher. She missed qualifying by 3 seconds. She could have made the time but for a run by at the first tunnel, and a stop before taking one of the final jumps, but there was no time cushion for such mistakes.  These considerations decided me to jump her 20" in Amite in 2 weeks and see how that goes. Tracey calls 20" an "unfortunate class" due to so many entries at 20" and only 4 chances to place. Lucky was the only dog entered at 26", so naturally if she Q'd, she won 1st place!!! And everyone knows how much I love those placement ribbons!  Susan K, on the other hand, says "placement" means nothing toward titling.  All that matters to the seasoned competitor is the Q's - accuracy + time.

Maxie's performance was less than stellar! 2 Q's out of 6 runs. The NQ's were mostly small errors, only one screwup per run. He nailed 5 of 6 of his weaves, but ran behind me to the A-frame I was blocking on one run, on another I called tunnel and he was going straight for it, almost in it, when I mysteriously blurted "OUT", and he obliged by swerving around the entrance! Why I did that I have no idea!  On another he ran past a jump then turned back and took it backwards.  His videos are posted here.  At least he didn't sniff the ground, visit the bar setters, or pee on the tunnel this trial -- a huge improvement.  Lucky, in fact, was amazinging focused on me most of the time, which was clear in the videos.  She had one "stare-out-the-window" moment while in the weaves, but finally completed them.

Trial Site Summary:
 (I've decided not to clutter up this blog with this detailed information.   I'm starting to keep a separate page called Trial Site Summaries (see link on upper right hand column) on all the sites I've been to, including photos and videos.)

Suffice it to say, I stayed alone at the Red Roof Inn, and find staying alone much more restful than having a roommate.  I need down time to rest, reflect, and process.

Michael and Maxie
Michael Loftis' photography booth was right next to me and and did a brisk business all weekend.  I myself could hardly wait to see the photos of Max and Lucky, and will certainly purchase a few. Besides which, they were wonderful neighbors. It was my first trial with Maxie and Lucky together and I thought they would keep each other sufficient company in side by side crates, but when I took Lucky away to compete, Maxie went into fits of howling.  Of course I was away and didn't hear it so Michael and his wife, who own a papillon, ended up babysitting Maxie quite a bit. In fact, Maxie and Michael took quite a shine to each other and I often found him holding Maxie on his breaks, Maxie slobbering him with kisses, etc.  They make a striking pair.  Took this snapshot with my 2G iPhone.  No flash.  Not bad!

Friday: Michele Fletcher, nice courses, not too difficult. She was very pleasant, very fair.
Saturday and Sunday: Blair Kelly, impecably dressed in white starched pants, white shirt and tie, blue jacket. I liked his loud voice and whistle so we didn't miss our cues or briefings (some judges barely whisper), always positioned himself in the middle of the ring so he was often in video camera range. Nice curvy courses, not too difficult yet sufficiently interesting.

Lessons Learned:
  1. My running and stretching exercises have definitely improved my ability to run faster and stagger around less.
  2. Maxie needs Willow as a crate mate. It appears Maxie won't tolerate being left alone. No problem, as Willow loves coming along, isn't much trouble, and does fine if left alone in the crate while Maxie runs.
  3. Lucky needs practice with jump chutes to lower her trajectory and lengthen her stride.
  4. Solid down contacts are an absolute MUST, and must be trained for from the very beginning. No dog, even Maxie size, should ever be trained to do a running contact. I saw too many dogs, including Lucky, NQ due to a contact fault. Michael Loftis photoed many spectacular see-saw fly-offs at this trial. Here is only one example.
  5. I tried doing Sat and Sun videos in SP instead of HQ format. Didn't seem to make a bit of difference in upload speed or quality. It's all still crappy. I'm asking Santa for a better video camera.
  6. Maxie will not sit or down on the rubber topped table. Thank goodness they changed the rule to a 4-on about the same time those rubber tops came along. Anyone who thinks dogs can't feel the surfaces under their feet, think again!
  7. The popular notion that "it's ALWAYS the handler's fault", is wrong. Sometimes the dog gets it wrong, as witnessed this weekend by some perfect handler executions that the dog misinterpreted or wasn't paying attention.
After uploading and watching so many agility videos, I have begun seeing a pattern that I had not noticed before -- elusive movements, a certain cadence, the invisible cord holding a team together or, if broken, causing it to fall apart. I began to realize why I have been bothering to do all the fricking work involved to take, upload and label all these videos. It isn't because the people I video will ever appreciate it. The truth is, it isn't primarily for them.  The truth is, money simply can't buy enough lessons and seminars to teach me what watching these videos over and over has given me. It's like art or music appreciation lessons. The untrained eye or ear simply can't see the subtlties, the nuances. It takes thousands of repititions to begin to understand, on an intuitive level, to internalize, what makes a team work well.  I see an accelerated improvement in my own performance because of internalizing this information.

I sometimes get Chinese Takeout when too busy to cook, and I always grab the fortune cookies and save for opportune moments like coming home from trials and trying to assess what happened.

"Failure is the path of least persistence."
"Failure is a dress rehearsal for success."

So appropo, and so odd how we both got messages about failure, in light of all the NQ's Maxie and I have gotten so far in 2011 (9 out of 12) and witnessed this weekend. One thing, these agility folk don't let their failures stop them, so I feel I'm in excellent company.

Upwards and onward!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Perfecting My Packing

With all these trials coming up, weekend after weekend, I'm perfecting my packing routine.  I've got it broken down into manageable chunks now (from the confusion of last year), as follows (all this presupposes one has entered the trial a month before, secured a place to stay, and received confirmation notices!):

Monday:  Do laundry, pack all my trialing clothes and shoes into 1 small suitcase. Freeze my ice bottles. Charge my camera batteries.
Tuesday:  Check the dogs' bag for food, first aide, toys, leashes, bowls, paperwork, etc. Print out map to trialing site and hotel.
Wednesday:  Gas up the car, check tires, oil, shop for food and load up food box, get cash, and wash the car windows (it's hell driving east into the morning sun, or heading home west into the sunset with a dirty windshield). Load the trunk with just about everything.  Thursday morning:  Load the cooler with drinks, cold food, and fresh Baton Rouge water.  Pack up the computer. Fold up Maxie's crate, put all in trunk. Be sure sunglasses are in the car.  Put paperwork on the front seat. Take off.

This leaves me most of my days to do regular stuff, mostly confident that I won't forget anything.  At last, not stressing out over packing for trials, and not packing more than I need. What a relief!

Upwards and onward!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lucky's Monday Night Class Surprise!

The new Monday night Competitive Handling agility class started last night.  As usual I brought Maxie for his 7 p.m. "small dog" class, and Lucky tagged along.  If I get there half an hour early I can usually take Lucky for a practice run on the Excellent course, and staying late after class, I can usually work her on some equipment off the main course.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, she's only had 4 formal lessons, way back in Beginners. Whether she runs or not, it's educational to watch the more seasoned "big dog" teams run, because big dogs pose a different set of handling problems than small dogs like Maxie.

Surprise! Last night, Nedra invited Lucky to join the 8 p.m. class as a substitute if any of the other 5 enrolled students don't show up.  Since only 3 showed up, Lucky got a spot and ran the course about as well as the more advanced dogs.  I even attempted layering the A-frame and weaves, and she did it.  I was thrilled.  We must work on her wide turns, though.  She's not much at "collecting" on course, though she can turn on a dime at full speed at home.

Since we're in our first AKC trial this weekend, in Mobile, then Amite two weeks later, then Port Allen the weekend after that, we need all the practice we can get.  I figure, if she's practicing on Excellent courses, she should be able to nail the Novice courses, which as I recall are pretty straightforward figure 8's.  Can't wait to see if she matches Maxie's novice record of 6 for 6 for NA and NAJ.  I believe she can exceed it (Maxie got one 90), because I'm so much more experienced now and comfortable in the ring.  Actually, she could conceivably earn her OA and OAJ titles within a months' time if she just Q's 6 out of 9 times in each venue. On the other hand, as Kay advises, "never assume!"

So, without assuming, I can still dream, and my heart races when I think of it.

Now, on to the Agility field this morning to tackle the burrs (they are back with a vengeance this Spring) and help Nedra set up a course for the Wednesday night class.  Busy, busy, busy.  This agility stuff is filling my days with activity.  Good!  Less time to eat, or think about the Tsunami that just hit Japan, killing thousands.  John and I make our monthly donation to Doctors Without Borders and know they are over there representing us. There is not much more we can do except hold them in our hearts, pray, and be grateful we live inland.

Upwards and onward,

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tracking Trial/Test

The "food court/gathering place".
Last Sunday I attended my first Tracking Trial/Test, at McKowen's farm in Jackson, LA., about an hour from home.  I didn't have a dog entered, but our club sponsored the test and several members were entered or at least there to help out, and I went to observe and get a feel for the sport, see if maybe it is something I might like to do with Lucky.  I enjoyed the country air and scenery, the merry band of participants, being in charge of the food, and ferrying track-layers and other folk up and down the country roads.  But I found that tracking is not a spectator sport.

Here's my description of tracking:  One harnessed dog at a time, at the end of a 40' lead, nose to the ground, walking too and fro in tall grass in an expansive open field, looking for/following an invisible track for 20 minutes or so, far in the distance and sometimes disappearing over a rise or into a gully, and nobody but the judge knows if D is tracking the track or is following other scents, since nobody can see where the track is.  We're watching the sport from the back of a pick-up truck on the side of the road, or tromping across the field a great distance behind.  And since that track can only be used once, the entire crew in several cars is then transported to another field, sometimes miles down the road, where someone has gone and laid a track, and sometimes a cross track, hours before.

Cheryl and Grace try for their TDX.
I was asked to photograph what I could, even tried to video Tracey with Spirit from the Start flag to finish, but used up a whole lot of video and didn't get much worth keeping.  Comparing that with agility runs, where you can always see both dog and handler, runs only last a minute, and screwups as well as victories are obvious, trying to video tracking is tedious. As to photos, my little Sony Cybershot just didn't cut it.  One needs a powerful telephoto lens for distance shots.  So I borrowed this one from Cheryl's web gallery.

I had envisioned more excitement, like on TV where a dog bounds through the marsh grasses to find a duck his owner has just shot out of the sky, finds bodies in the rubble after a building collapse, or tracks a criminal with unwavering certainty. But then, I only watched 2 dogs track (Spirit and Grace) because the tracks were so spread out, and I didn't see the titling performances -- the two teams that got their TD or TDX.  Plus, the weeds were tall, the briars aplenty, there were logs to trip over, soggy mud, my boots were not as comfortable as my tennies, it was growing hot, and I was on the lookout for snakes the whole time.

No doubt the performing teams found it exhilirating, but as a spectator, I found it painfully slow-moving. Maybe if they ran all-out, and pointed or howled at the articles, the action would seem more intriguing.  So as for me, for now, I'm thinking that I have plenty enough other opportunities to be outdoors and work with my dogs, and Agility is right where I am supposed to be putting my efforts right now.

Still, I'm glad the sport exists, glad our club puts on a trial each year, and glad to help, but I wish there was some other way to test my dogs' tracking abilities.  How are their noses compared to other dogs?  And I still intend, someday, to give lure-coursing a crack.  I would do so next weekend except that we have the Mobile Agility trial on the same weekend.  Bummer!

Upwards and onward,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Brownie Scout Agility Demo

8 Brownie Scouts, 6 moms, 3 dogs:
Maxie (left), Willow (hidden), Lucky (right) with me.
8 Brownie Scouts and 6 moms came over Saturday, from 2-4 p.m, to work on their Animal Care badge.  This came about because my friends' daughter is a Brownie scout, and their troop is always looking for ways to educate/inspire/entertain the girls.  I was a girl scout from elementary thru high school, I know a lot about the value of scouting, so I was glad to help.

This gave John and me the needed impetus to mow and rake our agility yard for the first time since winter, and that alone was worth the effort of volunteering.  It's so darn hard to find inspiration to sweat just for ourselves, but we couldn't have the Brownie Scouts sitting in ant piles or dog poop, piles of wet leaves or tall grass.

I talked to them about the responsibility of caring for a dog, different ways to get a dog, and how important it is to "educate" a dog and not merely feed and pet it.  I told them that dogs were like children -- they need to go to school or they become very mischevious.  I demoed the wabble board, the guessing game, and a bit of Clicker Training, put Maxie thru his parlor tricks, then I paired everyone up and had them play the Clicker Game.

Ms. Laura on wabble board, trying to please a
picky trainer.
Clicker Game:  Two people, one's the dog/one's the handler.  Teams spread around the yard, handler clicks when dog does something good, then continues to click that same behavior.  I set the timer for 3 minutes.  I saw Mom's hopping like bunnies, jumping over bars, kids scooping, leaping, scratching, bending over, etc.  Clickers were going off clickety clack, non-stop.  Then I scrambled up the pairs, all the "dogs" became handlers and vice versa, and we did it again.  Some handlers were too liberal with their clicks, a few were quite strict.  In this photo, the mom had to get on the wabble board and hold her hands "just so" to get a click.  All the girls went home with a PetSmart clicker of their own, provided by Ms Laura.

Brownies in the weaves
As a finale, I ran Maxie thru a rather difficult Standard Course.  When he raced through the weaves and over the A-frame, there were actual oohs and aahs.    When Lucky did the same, more oohs and aahs.   I was rather amazed myself, since the course was extremely difficult, I had just set it up, and we had not practiced in a week.  The weave poles were so popular that afterwards, the girls insisted on running the weaves themselves, and posing for this photo.

Lucky performs the tire jump for Portia from a
side-sitting position, something I've never tried with her.
A few girls got so excited about the dogs that when the troop disbanded for juice and cookies, two in particular began spontaneously training Lucky and kept it up for 20 minutes without the slightest encouragement. They used their arms and bodies to guide her thru the obstacles, and she miraculously complied with their every command as they lured her along with Goldfish for treats, or carrying her tug toy.

The day ended very well, with all the girls very happy, and 4 of the Moms took LCCOC brochures with an eye towards summer Puppy Camp.  In a few years these girls will make great bar setters at our trials.

Lucky goes thru the tunnel then runs alongside her junior trianer.

Wonders never cease. Upwards and onward!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I Request AKC To Add A MACH Class

I sent the below e-letter to AKC on 3/8/2011 offering them an idea, and the next day received the response below.

To Whom It May Concern:

My Papillon and I recently attended our first trial competing at the Excellent B level. It took us 30 Excellent A runs in 7 trials over 7.5 months to Q 18 times and get our AX and AXJ titles in 2010. Not bad. Then suddenly, promoted to Excellent B, I found we were competing for our Masters titles in the same class, for the same placement, with dogs/handlers who have multiple MACH titles and years of experience, hundreds if not thousands of runs under their belt. This seems totally disproportionate. Very discouraging. Looks like no ribbons for us for a good long while, even if we Q.

My request is that AKC create a new class so pre-MACH dogs don't have to vie for placement with MACH dogs who routinely Double Q. It wouldn't cause much trouble. We'd still all run the same courses. Same run orders. Just one more category in the computer, like “preferred”. So you'd have newer, greener pre-MACH Excellent B dogs and MACH dogs as separate classes. Seems much more fair to me for champions to compete against each other, leave us lesser experienced pip-squeeks competing in a category of our own.

With more and more teams coming into the sport, more and more entries at every trial, and so many entries in the 20” category in particular, it would level the playing field considerably. I have friends with 20” dogs, even MACH dogs, who have competed for years and rarely if ever gotten a placement ribbon, no matter how often they Q. With too many dogs in one category, there are too few ribbons to win.

I shared this idea with some other exhibitors, and all advised that the likelihood of this happening is slim-to-none because “that’s the way it’s always been”, and “AKC will never listen”. But my take on it is that the sport is still new and evolving, the AKC has listened to many concerns (24” weaves, lower tire and A-frame heights, inclusion of mixed breeds, etc.) and maybe the AKC would consider this suggestion as well. It certainly would be a more fair evaluation of the teams, and another way to inspire us. More carrots, on more sticks and all us donkeys chasing after them, paying more fees to AKC, trying our darnedest to get one.

In fact, though a bit more trouble, it would add interest to the sport if MACH dogs had an exra level of difficulty thrown in to emphasize their CHAMPION status! Shorter SCT, a few more obstacles, steeper angles, etc. It would certainly add more prestige to that MACH title.

I hope you will consider these ideas, and appreciate all you have done already to promote this wonderful sport that I totally love.


Michele Fry
Baton Rouge, LA
Ace Maximillion von Fry, Papillon, AX AXJ CGC
Lucky Lucy Lu-Lu von Fry, All-American Dog, about to begin competing

Today I received the following response from AKC Director of Agility, Carrie DeYoung, very encouraging.  I was pleased.

Hi Michele -

You are right the AKC Agility program is always growing and changing. It is only 16 years old at this point ...still a teenager!. The idea you meantion has been discussed by past advisory committees, but due to the size of classes at that time and the MACH multipliers there were concerns that the concept you propose would cause unfairness for other reasons.

This idea will be looked at again with the next Advisory Committee. We are about 2 years out form the next committee - I would expect that would be when it is discussed again due to the way the AKC makes regulation changes.

This idea is not dead by any stretch, it is one that we will continue to review & evaluate. As you noted the AKC program has changed a lot over the past 16 years and will continue to do so.

Thank you for letting us know your thoughts.

Very encouraging.  I was pleased, though for such a young, dynamic sport I should think they'd meet to discuss it more often than every 2 years.

Upwards and onward,

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Trial Entry Process

RANT:  I'm always into streamlining processes, making jobs easier to save time and energy, and this Trial Entry process is a real time sucker.  When you are doing 10-20 trials a year, countless hours are wasted filling in the same info over and over on each entry form, when about the only thing that changes per dog are the classes entered.

So after getting the OK from our Trial Secretary, yesterday I filled out one AKC entry form for Maxie and another for Lucky, made 10 copies of each, and for the rest of this year I'll just staple a copy to the specific Trial Entry Form in question, select classes, sign, write check and send.  I even put stamps and return addresses on 10 envelopes.

 I intend to try online registration next.  Pray that they keep the info on file for each dog, and take online payments without a surcharge.

ANOTHER RANT: Then I tackled which hotel room to reserve in Mobile.  Whew, huge price ranges.  LaQuinta was $90 with AARP discount plus tax.  Another one was $79.  Finally located Red Roof Inn Mobile North for $60.  That's reasonable.  But there are 3 Red Roof Inns, and I had a devil of a time studying online maps and addresses to find which one was closest to the arena.  Why doesn't someone in the agility world do this ONE TIME and share it with everybody else????????  Oh yeah, that IS WHAT I AM DOING!  But I mean, someone with the trial, so 100 exhibitors don't have to research it individually. Such a duplication of effort seems such a waste.

The rest of my day I sorta moped around with a hole in my heart. No puppy energy pumping me up. Dusted a bit.  Watched a little TV. Ate dry crackers.   Even the dogs are just laying around, quiet as church mice.  And it's raining outside.  Good moping weather.

Empty Nest - Puppies Sold!

Roku (left) and Jitsu (right),
at 12 weeks.
Roku and Jitsu have both been sold as of Friday night, and I embarassed myself by bursting into tears as the last pup was going out the door.  I could not understand my reaction.  It came as a complete surprise.  I am still processing this "empty nest" feeling I have, kinda like sadness, grief, loneliness -- but I'm neither sad nor grieving nor lonely.  In truth, I'm overjoyed and relieved!

Roku's Mom, Kathy, wants to begin agility training and Mike, her husband, belongs to a dog club and already competes with his big dogs in agility, so that's a good start. She saw Roku (now named Winston) last weekend at the USDAA trial and was instantly smitten with his adorableness, quickness of mind, and beautiful markings.  She came and got him on Tuesday, and sends me news of his progress and photos every few days.

Madalyn and Jitsu saying goodbye
at my door. Turra in background.
Jitsu's new mom, Madalyn, already trains vigorously in Obedience and travels all over the country competing with her Papillon, Merlin.  She came wearing a beautiful gold OTCH pendant around her neck earned with her Yorkie, now retired. Madalyn was impressed with Jitsu's bone structure, symmetrical markings, coat, sure-footedness, and speed, plus her enthusiasm, eagerness, friendliness, fearlessness, sociability, cuddliness and obvious intelligence.  I can't remember what all else she was looking for, but she found it in Jitsu.  She left after an hour's visit to "think about it", and within an hour had called and was back to fetch her dog.

Both of these owners found me thru dog channels, not by me placing an ad in the paper, which was about to be my next move.

So I cried, and the next morning almost cried again, and realized it is mostly for relief.  What a burden lifted that these puppies made it from a necessarily impersonal breeder situation to the warmth of my foster home, and are now placed in high-quality permanent homes where they will be challenged and trained by day, and scurry around the house by night, smothered in treats and kisses, and sleep cuddled up in Mommy's arms.  They both made it into "the good life"! To top that off, both dogs will remain here locally so I'll probably see them once in awhile.

I hadn't realized what a responsibility I had taken on when accepting these puppies into my care at 8 weeks of age.  Feed them, clean up after them, keep them safe, socialize them.  Time consuming, but easy enough.  Add to that, beginning to shape them for performance careers. Crate training, pottie training, car travel, tugging, reinforcement, guessing games, desensitizing them to various stimuli, developing handler focus, building trust and loyalty, teaching tricks, hand signal recognition, verbal cues. That was enormous fun for me because, as they say, "a beautiful mind is a terrible thing to waste", and they learned fast.

And now suddenly it's over. I have to adjust and let go, again. 

Winston's new carrying case.
Kathy and Madalyn both called the next day to say their pups had a pleasant first night, got clean bills of health from their vets, rode in the car without complaint, held their pottie business for outdoors, are well behaved, and seem to be adjusting fine to their new surroundings.  Kathy sent photos from her iPhone and emails regularly.   Madalyn said I could call anytime to check up on Jitsu (now Mikki), which was incredibly thoughtful. Since Madalyn doesn't have a camera or a computer, I will not be able to keep in touch in my usual way, sharing photos and anecdotes via email, so I will have to print up a portfolio of Mikki's puppy photos and get them to her.

Winston captures his Mommy's
heart with every pose.
Today (Sunday) I woke up again, not about to cry but missing Winston's kaola bear face and precious antics, and Mikki's pointy little nose burrowing through the leaf piles outside, her bullet shaped body tearing across the yard at MACH speed, her high jumping trying to get out of the X-pen to where I am. She's a natural for agility, on her last day going fearlessly over the full-height see saw in pursuit of a treat.

Did I make a mistake letting these puppies go? How can 2 lbs of fluff get so deep under your skin in 5 weeks and you not even realize it until they are gone? OMG I can't imagine if something would happen to any of my dogs. I never want to find out how deep under my skin they are!!!!!!!!!!

I hadn't realized what a responsibility breeders have in placing their litters, how they have to maintain some distance from the puppies, or cry often.  I would never make it as a breeder, much less a foster parent.  Okay, another factoid learned about myself.  But before I move on, I am taking in how much I enjoyed conducting my first "puppy finishing school".  There is not much that compares with the scampering enthusiasm, reckless abandon, and total openness of a puppy, not to mention soft fur, warm puppy breath and a tiny heart beating in your hands.  My house seems empty now, with 4 contented adult dogs lying around my feet, waiting for me to say what's next.

So now that I've got that bit blogged about, what's next is mopping and sterilizing the kitchen floor, shampooing the den carpet, picking up toys, bits of paper and a few dead lizards the puppies managed to find, fixing lawn mower and replacing an oven element, getting my room reserved for our upcoming Mobile trial, and streamlining the trial entry process.

Upwards and onward!

Friday, March 4, 2011

USDAA Trial - Lucky's First Trial

Lucky jumps 26" with room to spare.
She is a jumping maniac.
Lucky Lucy
4 runs, 3 Q's, 4 1st places
Videos posted here

Last weekend was Lucky's first ever trial, and my first entry in a USDAA trial.  I entered her as Lucky Lucy (to distinguish her from another dog named Lucky that runs in just about every trial), running twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday.  She earned one leg each in SStandard, SSnooker, and SJumpers, that's 3 Q's.  But she got 4 1st places!  I found this very confusing, even picked up a 4th Q Ribbon because I got a sticker and assumed that meant a Q, but apparently in USDAA, one can "place" and get a sticker without Qing.  One can also knock a bar, as she did in her 4th run, and still Q.  Exceed course time, though, it's an automatic NQ. So different from AKC.

Her NQ in our first run, Starters Standard, was due to being 4 seconds over SCT, but her run was clean.  By Sunday I figured out how to make her go faster by locating the straight sequences, getting further ahead and running them faster myself.  By her last run she was 8 seconds under SCT.  Also by Sunday she was more used to being in the ring, running on sand.  By reviewing the videos I can see she needs a lot more speed.  How can she run like a border collie at home, and lope along like an old nag in the ring?????????

Here are her scores:

Starters Standard - 26 Inch - Judge: Jelinda Pepper
Distance: 137 yards SCT: 63.00 seconds
Score: 4.08 (NQ) Time: 67.08 seconds 1st Place

Starters Snooker - 26 Inch - Judge: Jelinda Pepper
Score: 40 (Q) Time: 37.75 seconds 1st Place

Starters Jumpers - 26 Inch - Judge: Jelinda Pepper
Distance: 119 yards SCT: 33.00 seconds
Score: 0.00 (Q) Time: 31.91 seconds 1st Place

Starters Standard - 26 Inch - Judge: Jelinda Pepper
Distance: 145 yards SCT: 67.00 seconds
Score: 0.00 (Q) Time: 58.85 seconds 1st Place

It was a very laid back trial, at Parker Coliseum in Baton Rouge, with only about 50 dogs entered.  The ring stewards and staff were very attentive, helpful and supportive, which I appreciated.  Due to so many teenage volunteers, I didn't ring crew.  I got to relax between runs, go home and sleep each night, all way relaxing.  The RV spaces, though, are flat, nearby, and suitable for my pop-up camper.  No nighttime bathroom facilities though.  No showers. No freezer.

I ran into a handler with a dingo.  Third dingo I've ever seen, second one at an agility trial.  Another stab of guilt that I never did agility with FoohFooh, except at home.  He would have been so awesome in the ring!

Roku (left) and Jitsu (right), at 12 weeks old.
I brought the two Papillon puppies I have for sale, and they got a lot of attention. Teenagers and college students held them all day, both days. Both puppies seemed perfectly relaxed, no whining, barking, etc. They weren't as playful as usual, no doubt a bit of stress, but after the trial ended we closed the arena doors let them out and they tore all over the place. I was afraid for awhile we would not be able to catch them.

Roku caught the eye of a local couple who came to my house a few days later and bought him. They renamed him Winston. He is going to a wonderful home, with people who train in agility, and who live nearby so I will get to watch him grow up. All this makes me very happy.

I had time to video all the newbie dogs, including Lucky, and got inspired to put up a new web album on Red Stick's photo gallery, called Doggie Debuts.  It will feature Red Stick Agility students who are running their first trial, also seasoned trialers who are running a new dog.  This weekend, these included Alyce and Ro, Bonnie and Luna, Kay and Toozie, Michele and Lucky.  As time permits, I will go back to videos I've taken from previous trials and see if I can transfer the "first runs" of other students, too.  That should be fun and inspiring for them to watch.

Our crate space, behind the raffle table.
I crated us along the wall, in the arena fartherest from the ring, behind the raffle table.  There was very little traffic so it was less stressful on the dogs. Lucky behaved beautifully when crated -- no barking, whining, or wiggling around.  She seemed to enjoy her crate time.

My red wagon came in handy again.  I was able to pack my entire crate space, including the wire X-pen for the puppies, in one load.  Afterwards, I was able to help Meg, the trial secretary, load up all her office stuff in one load, and then Tracey's crate space in one load.  They were impressed with the wagon, too, especially since it folds up small and fits in the trunk.

I tried to encourage Tracey, Trial Chairman with the sponsoring local club, OverCome Agility, to put on a second trial in Baton Rouge each year, but she said there is too little help. They don't actually solicit members to join, but I'd agree to spiff up their website to attract more members and/or volunteers in exchange for a second local trial and free runs. It would be well worth my time and effort not to have to travel to the next nearest USDAA trials.

Lessons Learned:
  • In USDAA, dogs run without their collars.  Thanks Tracey for stopping me at the start line from running our debut run with Lucky's collar still on, and keeping us from getting whistled off.
  • It's less taxing to video the runs from a hand held position in the crowd, and other people are more willing to help out, but the videos are a lot more shakey.
Lucky and her first ribbons
Unfortunately, I didn't get a good picture of Lucky with her ribbons.  But here's the best I've got and it will have to do until I can stage a better one.  And I'm so darn busy these days, that may never happen.

Meanwhile, upwards and onward!