Friday, October 24, 2008

Really Prepping for Nationals

SUMMARY: Trying to clean up the small list of things that it's good to review.

This week's training focus has been on things that I can work on in the yard, that review issues that we've had problems with lately, and just a broad spectrum of things that we might encounter at Scottsdale.

Because Tika was sore last week/weekend, I don't want to do much with her to jar her neck, but since she's enthusiastically running and playing tug with no signs of pain this week, I'm doing some training but being selective about it.

Last night I took only Boost to class. For the second week in a row, we've been doing only Jumpers work (by popular demand... how'd we get a class with no contact worries but lots of jumping issues?! Didn't the world used to be the other way around? Like Tika, for example...) And, wow, where did I get a dog who can DO JUMPERS COURSES?! We did not have a single refusal all evening, and the only runout was one where others had trouble, too. She's still knocking a lot of bars, but, man, she was flying! And even doing rear crosses! And serps! And wayyy lateral lead-outs! And everything! What fun!

  • Boost: Assorted exercises to get her to focus on obstacles ahead of her instead of on me.
  • Boost: Lots of jumping long rows of jumps (well... what I can fit in my yard). Thanks to a friendly reminder from an online friend, I dug out my Susan Salo notes from wayyyy back--which is how I worked with Boost when we first started-- and set up some sequences. It's very interesting to see how rough she really is over these things, but how very quickly she figures it out and starts bounce-jumping everything without knocking the bars. But every little change I make is almost like starting over. For example, on one sequence (about 6', 8', 10', 11', and 12' apart with various low heights on the bars), after she had run it smoothly 4 times, I went through and bumped the distance about 2 inches between everything--and she was back to double-striding and knocking bars the first couple of times. But she very quickly got back to bounce-jumping cleanly. Clearly I haven't done enough of this kind of work with her. Silly me. But based on class last night, I think that this plus the focus exercises are making a big difference. Keeping my fingers crossed!
  • Boost: Tires. I hauled the tire out from behind the shed, because at 2 of the last 3 trials she ran under a tire. Incorporating it into sequences, running ahead of her and behind her, approaching from different angles, turning afterwards, and so on.
  • Boost: Broad jump. Because we haven't done many of them (although there was one in class last night on a slight angle) and I know they're going to show up in a tough place again at Nationals.
  • Boost: Table. Still working on the staying down and not doing the hydraulic elbow-lift thing. Although I think the best solution is still to work on it right before we go into the ring.
  • Tika: Because her contacts have become so iffy, I'm just trying to do a ton of dogwalks and Aframes every day. More on the dogwalk, since it's not so hard on the neck and shoulders. I figure that if she has 100 good contacts in her memory when we get to Scottsdale, that she'll think more about doing them right while we're there.
  • Tika: Low-stress jumping, and not much of it. Using a couple of Susan Salo-type drills, with the bars mostly at 8" and 12" with some 16". Just so she stays in the groove and gets in a relaxed jumping mindset.
  • Tika: Snooker and Gamblers kind of moves, with tunnels, very low jumps, and occasional 6-pole weaves.
  • Boost: Start-line stays. Because she broke hers a couple of times last weekend. I used to try to be sure to reward staying at least 25-35% of the time, but I've slacked off because she's been so good. Never give up, never give up!

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Monday, February 11, 2008


SUMMARY: Tire chain, key chain, food chain, DNA chain, chain of thought, hair chainge

Tire Chain

At Sunday's practice, they set up last weekend's Grand Prix run. There's a sequence where the dog blasts through a chute, has to go out to take the tire at an oblique angle, and then pull in to hit the weaves, probably while the handler is behind them and/or working at a distance to set up for the next sequence. In competition, Boost handled this well. Sunday, she did the chute and the tire and then missed the weave entry completely. So I sent her back to the tire--and she ran under it. I sent her again, again she went under it, and I said "No!" I mean, she hasn't missed a tire entry in I don't know how long, certainly never in competition.

I started making the entry easier and easier for her (but the side of the tire was always what I saw), and every time she flew under it, I said "no!" and brought her back. It was on the 5th try where I put her in a sit directly facing the tire that I realized that the heavy (heavy!) tire chain was dangling down completely through the center of the tire. Curses on whoever set the tire! And curses on me for not noticing that my dog was trying not to kill herself. I felt terrible! After a break and some other activities, I put her back through the tire in both directions and she did fine, so I didn't break her permanently. Dogs are so resilient; handlers can be so stupid.

Chain of thought

Cirque du Soleil's Kooza had a fabulous juggler. For me, breathtakingly talented. However, the first thing that caught my eye when he walked out on stage was his breathtakingly glittery silver lame suit. When he took off the silver lame jacket to reveal a silver lame shirt, I was hooked. But he distracted me with 20 minutes of some of the finest juggling I've ever seen, and some of it was the sheer duration without ever missing. Ever. At the end of the act, my first reaction was, "Wow! What a spectacular juggler!" and my second reaction was--and I'm sure, as agility addicts, yours would be the same--"Where can I get an outfit like that to do agility in"? You can watch the first half minute of this video to see the suit, and if you're inclined, watch the rest for the first half of his act.

Key Chain

Agility friend #2 commented this weekend, wow! That's quite a key chain! I realized then that my keychain has gone beyond being a mere utilitarian ring--after all, I have only 3 keys--and has become sort of the Swiss Army/Smithsonian/Andy Warhol of keychains.

Besides the keys (my house key is tie-dyed blue/purple, although it's worn away mostly), I have a sturdy blue metal Maglite flashlight, handy for finding stray doggie deposits after dark, a green LED extremely bright spotlight, handy for blinding yourself if you're holding the wrong end, my Weight Watchers Lifetime Member keychain, a circlet that used to have an "E" attached", the lock/beeper for my car, an I Heart My Dog tag in case anyone doubted it and needed proof, and a dragon caribiner, reflecting my dragon collection, of which I have many more than I have dogs, by a factor of probably 200.

So now you know.

DNA Chain

Quick: Which is Boost? Which is her mom, Tala? Is there a slight resemblance?

And here's a token Tika photo with her favorite Tika Toy, so she won't feel left out:

Food Chain

I keep trying to get photos of the foxes that live in the field behind me. They come up close to the fence to taunt me into frenziedly finding my telephoto lens, only to fade into the distance. They are so CUTE when they leap into the air and plunge nose-first into a gopher hole. Here is the best I've done so far:

Think it's a little blurry? That's because it's enlarged from this original, which is the nearest I've gotten with my 300mm lens for crying out loud!

Hair Chain[ge]

Well, had to make this fit into the "chain" theme SOMEhow. The instructions warn that, if you let the chia grow for too long, they become embedded and you'll have to remove their roots with a WIRE BRUSH. Heaven forfend. So it is time for Mr. Chia Head to say a fond farewell to his copious tresses. Today, we have reduced him to a mohawk. It's pretty pathetic; he needs a better stylist.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Notes from This USDAA Weekend

SUMMARY: Tika Qed 4 of 8; Boost 1 of 8. No Steeplechase for you. Focus areas for both dogs. Really long post today--writing it all up after a nice soak in the hot tub Sunday night. Plus there's a supplemental post about the trip home, with photos.

Tika's successes: We're breaking new ground every weekend this year. From this weekend (talking only about USDAA trials):
  • Standard Qs: Tika has averaged only one Masters Standard qualifying score (Q) every 6 months since her first masters run in May 2004. (A more useful number: An average of 1 out of every 8 Standard runs.) She got two--TWO!--Standard Qs this weekend. Never before got two the same weekend. That makes three--THREE!--over two consecutive weekends.
  • Placements: This was a very small trial--only 10 to 20 dogs in the 26" masters class. Still, I'll take my top-4 placements: Tika earned a 3rd in Gamblers and 4th in both Standards, which means that in the last 3 consecutive trials, she has doubled her top-4 placements from the preceding almost 3 years of Masters.
  • Top Ten points: Because of the small trial size, that's a mere 3 Top Ten points for gamblers and only 1 for Standard--but, hey, what the heck. She now has 12 Gamblers Top Ten points for this year and it's only March. She equaled this once before with 12 in Standard for all of 2005. Next highest? 7 for one round of Snooker in 2004. And otherwise just little piddly bits here and there.
  • Weaves: My, she has lovely weave entries and execution! We did some tough ones this weekend without a flinch.

Tika's "rooms for improvement":
  • Dogwalk: WHERE did she learn to slow to a walk on the dogwalk and get slower and slower and then stop halfway into the yellow zone? We never, ever trained anything like that. We backchained with rapid drives to the end, 2on/2off. We always run full speed to the end in training, and if she's too slow, she gets a "good" but no big reward and we do it over, driving her harder. WHERE did she learn that? I hate self-teaching dogs. I believe that alone cost us 2nd or 3rd places in both our standards, although she did 3 seconds better today when I really drove her screaming & yelling instead of just assuming she'd drive herself.
  • Damn bars. Kept them up in Standard but not in Gamblers opening or Jumpers. And she was the 5th fastest of 21 dogs in the Steeplchase, plenty fast enough to have qualified easily with one bar down. But, yes, we had *two* bars down. I despair of ever earning two Steeplechases this year.
  • Bars, dogwalk, tires. In Gamblers, I tried a back-to-back tire, which I haven't done in ages. She ran under it on the reverse, costing us 2nd place. (That plus the bar she knocked plus the jump I pulled her past cost us first place... OR the sloooowwwwwwwwww danged dogwalk... either combo would have put us in 1st, as we were only 5 points out and her gamble time was excellent.)

Boost's successes:
  • Contacts: Fast and lovely 2 on/2 off and sticks them until released.
  • Start line: Beautiful start-line stay and waits until released.
  • Speed: She's just fast! Woohooo!
  • Gamblers: Took 2nd and Qed of 16 Advanced 22" dogs. Would have been first by a mile if she hadn't blown past her weave entry so that we had to go back for it (in the opening--we "had to" go back for it because I don't want her thinking it's OK to blow past the weaves). But the rest of the course was lovely and her teeter gamble done like a pro.

Boost's areas for improvement:
  • Weaves weaves weaves: Gosh, she hardly made any entries correctly the first time this weekend, although we always got in on the 2nd attempt. And now she's decided to pop out at #10 (of 12). Over. And over. And over. And over. Argh! Even when I'm pretending that there's nothing else on course except the weaves like we practice at home, pop! Dang, I hate self-teaching dogs! Of course I don't have it on video, so I don't know what I'm really doing. But I'll just keep working on her exercises for staying in even if the earth moves and a volcano explodes from the earth alongside. We want Tika-solid weaves! I wonder whether practicing with 14 poles would help, or cause some other weird problem?

  • Blind crosses on front crosses: Another thing that has suddenly appeared--for the first time in class this week, and then on at least 4 occasions this weekend: I do a front cross and she slips *behind* me. We've never done blind crosses and, according to the current fashion, I've not even taught her any tricks that take her around behind me, ever. Really--I had my video camera *right there* to remind me to find someone to tape, but I'm not thinking about that when I'm getting my dog out and ready.
  • Table problems: She has had a beautiful table and down forever. Again this started in in class this week, where she somehow hit the table on the way up. Looked like she was trying to Down simultaneously with jumping up. Then she refused several times in class, and refused a couple of times this weekend, too, although she finally did them. And THEN she wouldn't stay down when I started to move! Carnfoundit, I've *always* moved when she was on the table and it's been at least a year since I remember her ever moving until the release. WHERE do they LEARN these things?!
  • Bars: Bars bars bars. Not another bar-knocking dog! Arghhhhhhhh...
  • General confusion on course about taking obstacles in front of her. This is now only 1 Q in advanced out of two full trials. Maybe I should pull her again and not compete? Except that I'll be there anyway with Tika, and I *think* I can go back to concentrating on treating the rings as training exercises and not necessarily on attempting the posted courses. I have to remember my friend Nancy D's snooker experience from this weekend. Everyone trying for SuperQs (which is usually pretty much everyone) was wiping out. She just wanted a very simple, very flowing course without any attempt to do 4 reds or high obstacles because her dog needed practice on left-hand entries to the weaves so that's all she cared about. As a result, she got a super-Q.

Random notes from the weekend:
  • Judges: Had an oddly controlling judge. Courses were interesting and he seemed pleasant enough in general and no complaints about his judging that I heard, but he just barged in and did everything--made course builders listen to his instructions for really basic stuff and had to tweak *everything* no matter how it was set; took scribe sheets out of scribe's hands to figure out the running order himself; moved and set the timers himself; told the score table what to write and where; just lots of things like that that added up to teeth-gnashing from lots of experienced people.
  • Jake: Last weekend was much worse for me thinking "dang, I've not pottied Jake all morning--" and then suddenly remembering why. This weekend I was managing to mostly start setting him in the past instead of the present, until the very end as we were packing up and someone I hadn't seen in a while asked, "And how's Jake?" That question put the ton of bricks back in my stomach where it hadn't been all weekend, and after I managed an explanation and brief conversation, I went off and actually cried. That and right after picking up his ashes on Friday have been the most I've cried so far. I haven't cried a lot about him, just feeling oddly hit. Maybe I'm getting to where it can come out. Dunno.
  • More t-shirts: Back in January I asked my friend Wendy, of WendyWear tie dye, to do my Scottsdale shirt. It was white. I hate white t-shirts. She accosted me this weekend and said, well, I did it but I hate it. So I'm making you another tie dye shirt to make up for it. Ellen groaned inwardly--oh, yeah, I forgot about that t-shirt: another dog-related one! But Wendy handed it over and the colors are exactly what I wanted and the pattern's good. The logo's a little more hidden under the dark colors than ideal, but it shows up better on the back. It's a fine tie-dye for me, as I knew it would be.

  • I've been watching my van's odometer. 99,990 as I prepared to leave the Madera trial site where the club was just packing up the Steeplechase ring.

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