Thursday, September 13, 2012

Whoops. I have been quite lax in updating this. 

Did the trial in June, and I considered it a success. As usual, I fell back on my horse-show mindset of setting personal goals rather than focusing on a ribbon. I wanted Kes to have a good time, low stress, and finish the trial a better dog that she entered. 

I learned quite a bit about my dog, really. I discovered that her obedience is beautiful under distraction. I learned that, underneath all of her bravado, she can brush off being charged/snarled/lunged at with a dignity and grace that puts even the most genteel Golden Retriever to shame. I learned that she considers the rope around the ring an obstacle, and will gladly jump it if my body language is telling her to do just that; I also learned that she will whip past all her friends (canine and non) and re-enter the ring to finish the course as though nothing strange just happened. I learned that some spectators were referring to her as a "badass." I learned that if I can get my shit together, she will be wicked fast at Tunnelers. :)

Did DAPPR's NADAC trial last weekend, and a lot of the hard work we've been doing really paid off. What I really wanted from this weekend was to get the obstacle discrimination questions, and we nailed 3 of the 4 we faced! I couldn't have been more pleased. That has been a struggle for us, and we have been working on it almost nightly for quite some time, now. We also did 2 days of the trial, instead of just 1, and I think she handled it well.


1. Novice Weavers: Started off with a bobble, as I couldn't tell whether she went through the opening hoop, or if she squeezed between the hoop and the timer. I hesitated, but decided to kick on, and just complete the course for a good experience. We were more or less in sync, with a few weird moments - she skidded across the wet grass and missed a tunnel entrance, and blew both 1st presentations to the weaves. Still, not only did we Q, we also placed first! 

2. Novice Touch-N-Go: First obstacle discrimination of the day, and boy did she listen! It looked deceptively easy, but if you got down and looked at the dog's view from the exit of the tunnel, all they could see was the second tunnel. They had to bend their line to the right in order to get the A-Frame. I was so proud I almost started crying! Unfortunately, I blew it, and pulled her off of the first hoop by bending over like an idiot. Then, on the second hoop, I switched hands while she was turning, which pulled her gorgeously tight, but she whacked the hoop with her tail and demolished it. Around the turn to the A-Frame, I'm not sure what happened .... I think I assumed she would take the A-Frame and I dropped my arm/hand, because she whipped completely around it! She knocked down another hoop, and I stupidly rear-crossed the following hoop, which pulled her way too tight and off the line to the hoop following it. Ooops! Like a good girl, she took the tunnel. Fantastic running contacts on this course. 


1. Novice Hoopers: This was our first time ever doing a hoopers course. My gut told me that it was either going to be great ... or awful! With her speed, we should be able to have a blistering run. However, my handling skills leave things to be desired. The run started out great! She slipped on the wet grass, again, though, which sent her flying past the 4th hoop. Her frustration with me just built and built throughout the course. Definitely need to make a bunch of hoops and go run them so we can get used to this class, because she sometimes seems to not understand the question(s). 

2. Novice Chances: This class surprised me! Our distance work is quite good, for a young/novice dog and green handler, so I thought we had a good shot at doing well in this class. I failed to notice a subtle trap because I was too focused on the obvious one! While I was concerned about her flying off course to take the dogwalk or tunnel outside of the line, I didn't notice the fact that there was a hoop at an angle to a jump that would very easily call her to me if I did not actively keep pushing her down the line. I really thought that she would focus on the line of fences, as she is usually so good about that. This was another course where she went completely around the A-Frame! Finished with good drive, though. 

3. Novice Tunnelers: I walked this course with 3 different options from tunnel 5 to 6. I finally decided to just go with what felt the most natural during the run, because
I was overthinking the entire thing. Our bobble from tunnel 3 to 4 was my fault, as I turned away from her instead of helping her get to tunnel 4 - oops! But, man - that rear cross from tunnel 5 to 6 was AMAZING! I was so happy with her for that. What an improvement from even 3 months ago! Another handler mistake from 8 to 9, as I turned too soon and she listened to me super well. Another Q and 1st! 

4. Novice Regular 1: Well, I managed to ruin our discrimination weekend! Not sure what possessed me to crouch over like that, but oh well. Loved her contact coming off the dogwalk, as it was controlled but quick. Also very pleased with our rollback through the hoops heading towards the vertical/tunnel. I deliberately hung back on the weaves, to try to ensure a good entry, but I think her blown entry was just overexcitement. I didn't walk the course with a rear cross as early as I did it, for the very reason shown in the video - the rear on the yellow vertical pulled her off the hoop. Ugh! Wish I could get my head on straight, sometimes! Another nice contact off the A-Frame. Even with our mistakes, I still really felt a good connection with her, on this run. 

5. Novice Regular 2: Less than pleased with this A-Frame contact. Like a moron, I opened my fat mouth and talked to her during the rear cross, which gave us that dropped bar. Also pulled her off the hoop, I think. But! AWESOME WEAVE ENTRY! And perfect obstacle discrimination. Thanks to NADAC's new change, we Q'd with 5 points and came in 3rd.

6. Novice Jumpers: Not sure what happened. I was so confident about this course. Kessel seemed so frustrated and cranky. Watching the video makes me cringe. Plus, I think the judge was asking us to leave the ring, but I honestly did NOT hear her during my run. I need to figure out why she was excusing us - were we over course time? Was I not allowed to re-present her to a fence after her going around it? I am really confused. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Used Kessel as a demo dog for an Officer Safety/Canine Behaviour class that we put on for some of the Park Rangers. She was fan-freakin-tastic! She befriended everyone, and proceeded to do several "herd-enclosing" laps around the group, as well as follow individuals if they left the group to do something, then escort them back to the fold. Her herding mannerisms are so subtle, and few/far between, that it cracks me up when I notice them.

She was friendly, but not excessively so, and very polite with all the Rangers. I used her to demonstrate how to put a muzzle on a dog, and then safely lift that dog to load it onto a truck. Of course, that was kind of cheating, considering I taught her to wear a tight nylon muzzle when she was just a wee munchkin. I taught her to muzzle on command just in case I ever pursued French Ring, and because I think it's a valuable skill for any dog to have. doG forbid anything ever happen where she either has to wear one, such as a serious injury, or some natural disaster situation where I would feel better with her wearing one at an evacuation shelter, etc. I started working with the close-fitting nylon muzzle because they are more uncomfortable than the basket-style, and because they are what you'll find at veterinary clinics.

Still, I haven't worked on that behaviour in over a year (I busted the clasp on my muzzle by slamming it in a car door, and I never replaced it). I'm used to dogs/horses that have trouble recalling behaviours if I don't work on them regularly. I constantly forget that is not the case, with Kessel. I put the muzzle in front of her, said muzzle, and she shoved her face into it with gusto. Sat quietly while I took ages to adjust it, as the nylon was super-stiff and didn't want to budge. Then, she stood calmly while I talked about muzzles, picked her up, and put her back down. She acted as though she wore one every single day. She amazes me.

I also used her to demonstrate using a catchpole. She's never seen one in her life, but tolerated being "caught" and then led around on one, and even led up the ramp to one of my kennels. I say "tolerated" because she didn't think it was awesome, but she accepted it. She also let a few of the Rangers walk up and put her on the pole, too, which I thought was great!

There were 3 other dogs there she had never met, and she was (of course) very good with them, too.

I got lots of compliments on her general behaviour and her obedience. Also stirred up some interest in Mondioring, which is always cool.

So very pleased with the Wild Child. Never thought the psychopuppy would grow into such a lovely dog.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Things are going well. Trainer said we are ready for our first real trial! We're doing the NADAC trial the first weekend of June. Very excited about this, would never have thought we'd be this far along, in this short of time. Not saying we're perfect, but we've come so very far. I plan on doing Tunnelers, Touch-N-Go, and maybe Jumpers.

Went and practised with Ginny and Jess, today. We've decided to kennel them during each others training sessions, which is such a simple solution that I'm not sure why it's taken us this long to do it. Anyway, we worked with Ginny first, as Jess wants to increase her drive and speed on course. Ginny is very content to settle into a comfortable trot, and Jess ends up stuck - if Jess moves too far ahead of her, Ginny will sometimes wander off course, but if Jess hangs back, she reinforces the slow speed. I suggested restrained recalls over a line of jumps, then restrained lead-outs to build frustration. It worked VERY well for her! Also worked on engaging her before placement at the start line, by having Jess move backwards and mark the behaviour of Ginny coming in to her, and then asking for positions once Ginny is engaged. There was a very clear difference between the engaged Ginny and the happy, but not-quite-engaged Ginny. Definitely going to do a few more sessions with the restrained lead-outs and see how it goes.

With Kessel, I just worked on the sequences that gave us trouble at class, Monday night.
First was just a sequence of jumps we had trouble with. Went like this, starting down the long side:
Oxer - 5 strides - vertical - 2 strides bending line - vertical - dogleg turn - vertical - rollback - vertical - rear cross - vertical

Now, on the dogleg turn, I could either rear cross after that to the other vertical, or do a "badass pass." Since I would probably lose her on the rear cross and have her end up taking the tire that was on the same plane, I did the badass pass. Took a little work, but we ended up doing it very nicely.

Second issue we had was a simple rear cross to a serpentine to a tunnel. Not sure why this caused us so much trouble, but Kessel was very focused for that tunnel and very much wanted to blow past the second vertical and head straight for the tunnel. Worked it several times, ended well.

Worked on send-outs from a tunnel exit to weaves. Did great, but as usual, as she got tired she got fizzy, but I know the send-out is there. Ended on vertical-vertical serpentine to a tunnel, to the send-out to the weaves, back to the vertical-vertical serpentine.

Did some send-out work to the teeter with me hanging a little back. Surprised how well she did with the contact. Very pleased.

Coming along well! She's still kind of an airhead during obedience, which is frustrating because she's such a dependable dog in any other environment, in terms of obedience. Nina and Shelly were really pleased with her hurdle, and I think we will always have a really nice, solid hurdle that I won't have to worry about. I know she can handle the height, and the pattern gets more solid each day.

Did her first palisade! Last week, we started her on it, but she seemed a little confused, so we went to the A-Frame and made it quite steep to help bridge the exercise. This week, we did a few A-Frames, then moved straight to the palisade. It's just a baby one, but she didn't need any assistance from me to get over. I so wish this was something I could work on, at home, but I don't really have a random palisade in my backyard! 

Position work is so-so. Once again - not sure why she gets so weird on this field. Put her on a touch pad to work positions, and Nina had me using her interim word (good) for each position, feeding her, returning to my position, and then asking for the next one. Just frustrating to have to return to back-chaining when she is so solid on positions anywhere else.

Heeling is getting there. Did about 5-7 steps, marked/rewarded, etc. etc. Used her interim word a lot to keep building the focus. Shelly said she looks good, now it's just a matter of building on what is there.

Showed Nina and Shelly the send-away problem, and we worked on that. Nina had me go back to a shorter distance, and then marking/rewarding while she's on the touch pad, so that it builds her drive to get there faster. Will do this at home, too.

Still an asshole if she gets a hold of her tug. Takes off, does a few laps. Getting tired of this. Will probably use the e-collar to end this behaviour, because it's getting hold.

Working on hold at home, even though I can tell she doesn't really like it. If I push too hard, she gets stressed and looks away, licks her lips, eyes get hard. Still, she's now holding stuffed animals, shoes, her antler toy, a riding crop, a slipper, a DVD box, and a book. Last night, I had her hold her Crystal Lite tube, and I walked around the room while she held it. GOOD GIRL! :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Practised agility with Jess/Ginny...Kessel rushed Ginny several times, and although she did return on a recall, this didn't happen until after the disobedience (that is, she didn't come to me until after rushing Ginny, etc.).

Worked heavily on the pause table, doing lots of drive-bys. She is doing MUCH better. I am thinking about not using coucher and instead using down or just shaping the table to an auto-down. I don't want to risk ruining coucher, even if the possibility is slim.

Did some layering, especially with the weaves. She did quite well, though she slows down the further I am away from her. Still, no popping out of them - stays committed to the end! Also layered the teeter with the A-Frame/Tunnel combo, between.

Started the concept of an independent A-Frame by using the remote treat trainer, and it worked really, really well.

Put her in the crate and played with Ginny, and she remained really calm. Also helped Ginny learn "stand."

We've been going back to Mondioring, which I am just thrilled about. I ordered a jump from Christine, and just got it in, which is fantastic. It's a simple vertical, with only one pole, so it's quite airy. However, Kessel never once offered to go under or around the jump, which amazes me. She has such a wonderful work ethic. I worked her up to 3'6", just to see if the scope is there, and my goodness - is it, ever! Great, solid pattern with the touch pads. Started having her sit on the touch pad, but I am hesitant to continue doing, so soon.

Worked on send-aways, but didn't have my whistle. She is grasping the concept, but arcs wide to hit the touch pad so she's facing me at the end. Ended that work by placing a tennis ball on the touch pad and sending her. Will need to talk to Shelly/Nina/Ann, about this.

She definitely understands hold, now. In addition to the rigid plastic tube, she held:
1. An empty, 20 oz. soda bottle
2. An empty Crystal Lite tube
3. A flat, rubber cell phone case

Ended by placing her in a sit, at heel, and tossing the rigid tube, releasing her and marking the behaviour of approaching the object, quickly. I don't want to move towards shaping the actual retrieve without help from Shelly/Nina/Ann.

Need to work on food refusal with a helper to reward her.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Well, a lot has happened since my last post, as you can see in the video! I know it's a bit old, but I like the difference in focus and drive compared to the November video. Plus, it starts out with gridwork, and considering how much I use grids with horses...well, let's just say I adore them. 

Kessel is now doing everything at full height, and we have increased her jump height to 24". Our trainer is really pleased with the progress that we've made, so quickly. I am, too.  We're running full courses, and Kessel has a really, really nice rear cross on her, now. She's doing 12 weaves, and she never pops out. The only problems we have are my fault - once in a while she'll enter at the wrong pole, but I know it's because of my crap handling skills. 

We did our first schooling show, and I was so pleased. I wanted three things, from her:
1. Don't blow past contacts
2. Don't lose focus on me during a run
3. Don't act like you don't have a recall/don't leave the ring

We accomplished all 3 of those things! She didn't blow a single contact, and with the exception of a drive-by "grab some horse shit while running" moment,  she didn't lose concentration on course. She came right to me at the end of every run. I was beyond happy.

I'm not saying that we looked like experts (she knocked over a hoop, got a little wild a few times, dropped a rail and did a few doughnuts), but we had some great moments. There were a few really amazing distance moments (I sent her on a rear cross from a jump to a tunnel that was an even further distance than some of the exercises we've done in class - it was so far that the videographer couldn't keep me in frame), I was able to lead-out to an insane distance, and overall she was just lovely. Especially considering she hadn't been to the dog park, slept in a strange place the night before, and has never been to a trial. I couldn't have been happier with her.

She just gets better and better, each week. :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Video time!

Even though she totally blows me off a few times, in the video, Kessel is coming along very nicely! Her contacts are more or less solid, and we are now doing 6 weave poles. We used the 2x2 method to introduce her to weaving, and I do feel like that is a great system to teaching the dog the concept of the weave poles. Kessel seems to really enjoy weaving, and is starting to put some serious speed into the set of 6. I can't wait until she graduates to the full 12. I have a feeling she is going to be lightning fast.

I still find it hard, sometimes, to direct and train from a distance, over fences, instead of doing so in the saddle. When she takes off long, jumps flat, or runs out, I often wish I on her back directing her. Learning to train "over fences on foot" is a new experience for me, to say the least, but it's enlightening and I do think that it makes me an even more well-rounded horse person, in terms of the big picture.

She is now doing the dogwalk and A-frame at full height. The teeter has been raised and we're only one "hole" lower than full height. Raising the dogwalk actually slowed and focused her, surprisingly. As you can see, in the video, she often chooses to execute the dogwalk on her own. I think she enjoys the contact obstacles.

I recently took her to an AKC trial just to observe, and felt incredibly ignorant for not remembering that they do not allow "pinch" (prong) collars on competition grounds. It does amuse me that they fully allow "choke chains" but not prongs....apparently, it is acceptable to potentially strangle your dog and possibly cause damage, but not okay to use a collar that actually does offer exceptional control with little to no  harm to the dog. Same equine adage applies, of course - "you can break a jaw with a snaffle or create poetry with a double bridle," I suppose, but I still feel that choke chains are severely antiquated and of zero use, especially when compared to the prong. Personal opinion, of course. So, I ordered a delightfully obnoxious (fluorescent yellow with black, green, and blue weaving) slip lead from the fantastic Ella's Lead and cannot wait for it to arrive. Their leads are super heavy-duty, feel great in the hand, and I was able to order one with a control tab to keep the lead from opening too far. Of course, Kessel wears one of their vegan collars, too, so maybe I'm a little biased to that lovely company. Please check out their website and drool over their incredible products!

Now that we are a real agility team, our trainer has allowed us to purchase a membership to the agility building. It's a great concept and well worth the small monthly fee. We're issued a building code so we may access the building and equipment at any time when there are not classes being held. It reminds me of renting an arena, or cross-country course. A great way to work on sequences and small stuff outside of class.

Obedience is coming along, too. Her emergency down is getting more reliable, and she really is a dream, off leash. With every session, her "watch" command gets stronger and stronger. She is still occasionally overstimulated by watching other dogs run courses, but my trainer assures me that it isn't much to worry about. I still do, though.... :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A month's progress...

I need to preface this post by saying that I have more or less found the trick to exorcising Kessel's inner Agility demons....

...1-2 hours of Chuckit! ball chasing at the dog park prior to class.

Think I'm exaggerating? I'm not. If neither of her boyfriends (Buck and Rebel, both 100 lb. + GSDs...) are there, then we spend 2 hours. Usually the boys can wear her out in 1 hour, which is nice. This plan of attack has actually worked with exceptional success. We haven't had a zoomies episode since. The worst thing she's done has been taking off mid-course to get a drink of water.

Oh, and also she tried to run through a tunnel while another dog was in it. That wasn't so great. We were warming up, and I had just sent her over a jump. Well, at the same exact time, right in her flight path, another handler was sending his Rottweiler through the tunnel. Before I could call Kessel off, she flew forward and entered the tunnel.

Somehow, she exited the tunnel before the Rottweiler did. Malinois superiority, of course. The only problem was that the Rottweiler was an intact bitch. An intact bitch who does not care for other bitches, and also does not like having her space invaded. What Kessel thought would be a fun game suddenly turned into a nightmare. She sprinted forward several strides, clearly thinking the Rottweiler would chase her, as that's her favourite game. However, as soon as the Rottweiler tried to get a mouthful of her spine, Kessel seemed to realise she made a bad decision. Her stupid, toothy grin morphed into an expression of sheer panic. She was outmaneuvering the Rottweiler (naturally!), but the problem was that if she stopped running she'd be up Shit Creek. Long story short, I took a chance and as soon as the Rottweiler's owner got close, I gave Kessel the down command (from a good 20 feet away, too), and she dropped down fast. I was proud of her for listening, but felt like an ass for letting my dog get away from me. Ironically, Kessel was a superstar for the rest of that class.

It's humorous to read my  last post where our "course" was simply a sequence of 3 obstacles. Let's see...our first course, last night, was: jump, tunnel, same jump, table, dogwalk, jump, a-frame, jump-front cross-jump. Whew! Kessel did very well. She understands the command "easy!" in relation to the contact obstacles, and she's getting better at slowing down when I say that. Contacts are getting more consistent - not perfect, by any means, but she's doing them. The only reason she broke course last night was to run to the water bowl....not sure why she was so water-obsessed, last night, but she was.

Overall, she's a different dog than a month ago. Her off-leash heeling is coming along beautifully, as we're now able to work on it under heavy distraction at class, and in public. "Watch" is getting better and better, and she's holding that under heavy distraction, too. Still need to work on engagement, as it's easy to lose her on small exercises that she doesn't think are all that exciting.

She's doing the teeter, now, although not at competition height. None of the contact obstacles are at competition height, actually. I think she could handle the A-Frame at regulation height, but I don't want her on the dogwalk yet. She still gets a little too speedy and I worry that she'll go flying off of it. The teeter - same thing. She's a little too spastic and I could see her losing her balance.

Another thing she has no trouble with is the chute/closed tunnel. I REALLY expected that to be a gigantic problem, but it hasn't been. She has no problem with it, although she does like to run at an angle, through it. Still, that's better than being scared of it.