Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Motivating Lucky's Weave Performance

Lucky weaves at home, me with her Chuck-It in my hand.
Lucky's performance at the Port Allen Trial is perplexing.  Almost embarassing.  0 Q's, and all way over course time.  She was lethargic and would barely run all weekend. I couldn't get her attention in or out of the ring. She even ignored her favorite treats (shrimp and hot dogs). She wouldn't tug much. There were flies about, which she was focused on and snapped at.  She only had 1 clean run out of 6, but all of them were way over course time and once she missed so many obstacles I excused us from the ring. She knocked a bar, very rare for her. Tracey, who has run her successfully before, ran her Saturday afternoon as my hip was hurting, but Lucky would not focus. Kept looking for me. That was a disaster. Another run she saw Daddy videoing her from the sidelines and ran over to him. The rest of the weekend I got someone else to do Lucky's videos.

I was so miffed, I got home Sunday evening, took her in the back yard to see if maybe she was injured.  But no, she ran her weaves and sailed over jumps like a champion and didn't want to quit. Of course, I had her Chuck-It in my hand.  I am disappointed other competitors can't see her at her best, so full of enthusiasm and focus.

Next day, I videoed her doing her weaves the way she does them at home and in class, and post it here to PROVE that she can do them.  I want others to know I wouldn't DARE bring a dog into the competition ring that couldn't do all the obstacles, run and follow directions well, or didn't enjoy the activity.  She wouldn't have earned her AX and AXJ titles in a year if she was as incompetent as she was this weekend.

By comparison, here is the Port Allen Trial composite video below.

Very discouraging, but three different people came up and said they enjoyed watching her run and not to give up. I needed to hear that. I was most impressed at the applause Tracey got for not giving up on Lucky.  The big cheer was for her, not Lucky.  See, it's not just about the dog!

Lucky's speed is what concerns me. Yesterday I ran her at our training field through the same standard course that Tracey ran her at the trial, and she flew through it with only one mistake - knocked bars at the tripple.  SCT 64 seconds, she ran it in 53 seconds.  Plenty of time. 1st place winner ran it in 48.24, only 5 seconds faster!  And, since it wasn't a real trial run, I left her on the table an extra 6 seconds to catch my breath.  Subtracting that wasted time, her time would have been 47 seconds!  Here is that run:

I will continue to try to figure out how to motivate her in the ring.  SHE CAN DO THIS!

Upwards and onward!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Port Allen Agility Trial 2012

Maxie: 6 runs, 3 Q's, 1 QQ, 26 MACH points, 1 1st place, 1 2nd place, 1 3rd place
Lucky Lucy: 6 runs, no Q's
L to R.  John, John R, Ken
This was our club's annual agility trial.  It fell on Easter weekend so was a bit more sparsely attended than usual, but it was the best I've been to in terms of comradery and team spirit.  Lots of new club competitors in novice - Jerri, Sandy, Robbie, Nicole, Kimberly, a few Q's among them, and they were all really good sports!  We had lots of volunteers, even from club members who don't do agility. The atmosphere was jovial and helpful.  John took 2 days vacation to serve as chief truck packer/driver and first assistant to our chief course builder.  He left home at 5:45 every morning and never stopped until bed time. Lots of other people helped load and move the equipment around where it was needed, but John and John R. were always there with the judge's maps in hand, pacing out yardage and figuring out where to put each obstacle.  It was a major job and he learned a lot. Ken Lively, a new member whose dog doesn't even compete yet, was by their side every minute.  While one ring was running they were setting the other one.  All 3 worked their butts off. Our club could use about twice as many members to lighten this load. It is really too much to ask of one volunteer course building crew to keep up this pace for 3 days.

I worked mostly behind the scenes, setting up a publicity table with AKC info and easter candy, and several people learned about our club and picked up brochures.  That was satisfying, though with a bit more planning I could have put out flyers on our upcoming Obedience Trial and Match.  DUH!  Less satisfying that no reporters came out and only a brief mention in the Advocate, though I had submitted articles to both the Baton Rouge and Port Allen papers.  Our club was short a 15' tunnel so I brought mine, helped  repair equipment, load and unload the truck, and understudied the Trial Secretary job.  I tried to keep trash and poop picked up, and the bathrooms clean.  Enough little unnoticed things that kept me busy.

Maxie's weekend started out great.  First 3 runs were solid Q's, with placement each run, although he always walked his weaves and only once ran as fast as usual.  The 4th run was a nearly Q with a pop-out at the weaves, but the last 2 runs on Sunday were disappointing, not even nearly Q's, and both over course time - a first for him.  I don't know what happened.  There were lots of burrs in the grass.  Maybe he had a sore foot.  Only other things I can figure is that my right hip was hurting so I was slower myself.  Also I brought the new puppy to the trial, and Saturay and Sunday I left Willow at home, figuring the puppy would give Maxie enough company in the X-pen.  Maybe not having his usual crate mate with him, not being confined in his crate, threw his game. Composite video, with commentary, is below.

Lucky Lucy is a different story.  Her performance was so awful all weekend, I won't bog down this page talking about it.  Suffice it to say, it was her worst trial yet, and will get a separate post.  Will she EVER be a good agility dog?

My crate space, Portia and Laura,
Willow (far left, crated) Pepper, Maxie (in X-pen), Lucky
Visitors: My friend Laura and her daughter Portia came Friday, which ended in disaster when Portia fell in love with a frail little rescue dachshund puppy after holding it 5 minutes, someone told her "this puppy could be yours" without consulting the mom, and she cried unconsollably for over an hour when her mom said no.  Such is the mysterious effect of puppies.  Mom is holding out til summer for an agility dog.  Audrey came late Sunday to wish me Happy Easter.  I felt bad I didn't have more time to visit with her, and she witnessed Lucky's terrible last run.  Trials, taking videos, take up all my concentration.  I've about concluded it's best not to have visitors at trials.

This was Winnie's first visit to a trial venue, all 3 days.  He did great, travelled well in the car, didn't seem the least tense or upset at the noise or busy-ness, not the least intimidated by the big dogs, happy in the X-pen whether I was around or not, had little trouble on leash, and didn't mind various people holding/petting him.  I forgot to take pictures of him there with me, but got one of Laura and Portia in our crate space (above), and one with John holding him at the party, below.  It felt odd telling people his name was Winnie.  Honey Bear did't feel right either.  Someone suggested "Pistol Pete" and he answered to that.  I got home and toyed with Petie, then remembered Pepper, my first Papillon heartthrob

I decided to name him Pepper in memory of "the one that got away".  They look a lot alike, and the original Pepper was attacked by a big dog and subsequently died.  So it's possible we have a forever name for this puppy at last -- Pepper, Pepper Tu, Peter Pepper, Pepperoni. Lots of fun baby-talk variations to play with.  He answers to them all, if I can remember to say them.  More training now required, I'm so used to calling him Winnie Pooch, etc.

I took videos of over 200 runs.  Now that so many of our club members run each dog in Time2Beat as well as FAST, Standard and Jumpers, and some run 3 or more dogs, and we have so many newbies, that adds up to a lot.  It will take me about 2 weeks to upload them all to Picasa Web Albums, 5 at a time, sort and label them all.  I won't be able to keep up this pace. Not sure how I'll cut down the number, but I must.

Memorabelia:  Swamp Dog Agility (New Orleans Club) had a party at lunch time on Saturday to celebrate Julie Hill and Smartie's recent win at AKC Nationals, 24" category.  A video of her "speech" is posted on my YouTube channel.

The table was beautifully decorated, with an alligator cake, and a red velvet layer cake, champagne, OJ, gifts and speeches..  Both cakes were delicious.  New Orleans folk know how to throw a party. 

We had a party of our own Saturday evening for our club's 3 recent MACH champions -- Noel/Flash, Cheryl/Emily, and Loralie/Jenny.  3 cakes, jambalya, fruit salad.  No decorations, but so many people showed up that the food ran out too fast for all to get some.  Another club mate was taking pictures, so I didn't take any.  Still haven't seen them, though.  That's why I like to take the pictures, so I know they'll make it into our club's Photo Album.

Upwards and onward,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cataract Surgery - Part 1

I didn't want to say anything about my recent cataract surgery until I knew the outcome.  I went in calm and optimistic two weeks ago tomorrow, but it's been a scary and disappointing couple of weeks and I still don't know the outcome.  Meanwhile, I've missed all my classes, haven't practiced a bit, haven't trained the puppy, haven't exercised, couldn't teach my classes, and am just crossing my fingers that my depth perception will be back on track by this weekend for our club's annual Agility Trial.  I see 20/20 with the new eye (says the doctor), but it feels like someone else's eye in my body, there is considerable eye strain, and the ground swells up and the background spins when I try to run or turn fast.

I scheduled this surgery 3 weeks before our trial, on assurances that I'd be up and running within 3 days!  But I didn't even dare drive for the first week, and still don't go down stairs without holding on to the railing. I drive with extreme caution, checking and rechecking my spacing. I hope I can run my courses and help with the trial.  Far from hoping for Q's for Maxie and Lucky, I'm just hoping to complete my runs and not trip, fall, injure or embarass myself.

It's been a disorienting two weeks.  I'm jotting down a whirlwind of thoughts and tips but am not ready to share.  Meanwhile, I'm keeping busy doing things I can.  Like right now -- laundry and planning meals for the weekend when I'll be too tired to cook.  And I've probably killed 1,000 stinging caterpillars.

Upwards and onward!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The 180 Flip

I Googled "dog agility flip" before teaching my class yesterday, and was disappointed that my blog post from last August was the first entry and there wasn't much else out there.  It was a confusing read.  I had not remembered writing about it.  I didn't know much about it when I wrote it.  I'm leaving it up there, not as an April Fool's joke though I felt like a fool re-reading it, but because it has a sense of history.  It shows I'm making progress, and progress comes dropping slowly. It also has a very interesting course map I'd like to set up again.

Now I know more about flatwork, teach it to my dogs much better, and have more to share.  The main thing is that a 180 Flip is a PUSH away from you, and your paths are like 2 candy canes, both curving in the same direction.  It's more than a straight push -- your arm describes a big circle in the air, away from you.

Even puppies love this work and catch on quickly if your motions are precise and treats delicious.  You can do this in your kitchen or living room.  Not much space required.

On the flat, (i.e., no equipment), put 3 treats in each hand.  Stand your dog to your right.  Lead their nose out and away from you, enscribing a big circle, so they make a 180 right turn.  Just after they commit to their turn, you also turn tightly, 180 degrees right.  Do NOT cross the dog's path.  When you are both turned and your dog is now on your left, treat from the left hand.  Walk a few steps forward, luring the dog with the second treat in your left hand.  Lead their nose out and away from you so they make a 180 left turn.  As they turn, you also turn tightly,180 left. When you are both turned and your dog is now on your right, treat from your right hand. 

Repeat this sequence, left turn, right turn, until all your treats are gone.  Praise, tug, play.

Repeat this sequence every day (maybe 2 minutes), increasing the walking distance between turns, walking faster, running.  Lure/treat intermittantly, then quit luring.   Treat intermittantly from your pocket, after 3 or 4 turns.

Intersperse flip flatwork with post turn and pull through flatwork.  This teaches D to watch your body moves carefully.  3-5 minutes a day of this is all you ever need do.  They think it is so much fun.  It's also a great warm-up at trials, something more than just putting D over a jump a few times, and can be used to signal that "the game is on".

When the dog can flip out perfectly 90% of the time, take the skill to the agility equipment.

The most common "on course" flip is shown in the diagram above.  D has to turn away from you to make the tunnel entrance off the dog walk or A-frame.  The treat comes after they complete the tunnel.  First, teach the flip alongside the tunnel (see diagram), both sides.  Then increase the difficulty by adding a contact obstacle.

The 180 flip is also used in other ways by a few distance handlers.  Jane Simmons-Moake can send D ahead 2 jumps, flip them over a 3rd jump and get them coming back in her direction with confidence (see diagram).  Her flips are wild to watch.  She flings her arm out so hard it just about lifts her feet off the ground!  Her forward motion is minimal.

Some bloggers say the flip doesn't work for them.  Instead they cross the arm nearest the dog over across their chest, turn towards the turn. roll their shoulder, decelerate.  Others say this results in pulling the dog in towards them rather than a push away.  I suspect it depends on how the dog is trained to read your signals.

I believe a unique signal for a "flip" is important.  It should not look like anything else.

My dogs do the flatwork flip quite well, and today I taught the move in my Handling Fundamentals class.  All teams seemed to catch onto the flatwork fairly fast.  Taking it to the tunnel worked well.  Taking it to the equipment was quite a bit harder, but I was only demonstrating when the flip could be used on a competition course.  They hadn't practiced it for long enough to master it at a greater distance than a few inches.

The trick is getting the dog's head turning away from you.  The body follows.  The other trick is convincing students to do their flatwork at home.

P.S. Some people call the 180 Flip a rear cross, and use the above described flatwork to teach the rear cross. I do not. To me, a rear cross is NOT when the dog propels his backside from the handlers right to left, nor when the dog ends up on the other side of the handler, but when the handler crosses over the dog's path, behind the dog. Looking at the candy canes above, you can see the handler never crosses the dog's path. Likewise, some call a pull through a front cross. I do not. To my mind, to be a "cross", the dog's path must be crossed, and the cross must be made by the handler. A fine but important distinction, and it may look otherwise, but it should be firmly implanted that dogs are NEVER allowed to make crosses.  All crosses are made by the handler.  What might look like D crossing over in front of H, had better always be H crossing behind D! 

P.P.S.  There are other ways to get to the dog's other side besides crosses, most notably, the "180 flip", and the "pull through" (also a 180 turn).  I call each of these a "change of sides" rather than a "cross", and I hope this clears up a lot of confusion for my students, as it has for me.

P.P. S.  There is also a straight line flip over a jump (without a 180 turn and without any change of sides), but I'm not covering that here.

Upwards and onward!