Friday, 30 December 2011

Rally Obedience Stats

I had to add a quick brag.  Canuck Dogs has their yearly statistics all finished and according to their records Strider was the #1 Sheltie in CKC Rally Obedience in Alberta and the #6 Sheltie in Canada, and #8 all breed in Alberta. Spryte finished off #2 Sheltie in Alberta.  Not bad for very limited showing!

I had to add this picture of Spryte that I took yesterday out on our walk. What a beautiful girl :)

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Lost my love for obedience

Yesterday I went into Calgary to work on obedience with a few people.  I really didn't want to go and it took all my will power to resist making an excuse and staying home.  I find I'm doing this a lot lately with obedience.  I could potentially practise every Wednesday with these ladies, but I might go to one practise a month.  I just can't find the motivation to do obedience anymore.  I don't know what it is, or how it happened, but I am completely fed up with obedience.

I've been trying to solve my little mystery and I keep coming back to the fact that my dogs just don't seem to enjoy it as much as the other things we do together.  I think one of the biggest turn offs for me in obedience is that my dogs are not allowed to bark.  This might seem like a pretty minor thing to most people, but I own shelties and when shelties are excited they bark.  So for me I love seeing my dogs bark and bounce as we are approaching the agility startline. Or bark in their lineup for flyball or scent hurdle racing.  I hate that if my dogs bark with enthusiasm in rally or obedience I am penalised for this!  It just seems so unfair. If my dogs aren't barking, too me they are just not having that much fun.

If I am practising and my dogs are heeling beside me, or retrieving an object and start barking,   I then have to tell them "no" or "quiet" or "that's enough" because I can't let the habit start.  Then we both feel deflated.  I hate walking into the rally or obedience ring wondering if my dogs are going to bark.  Most people worry that their dogs wont heel, or wont stay, etc, I worry about barking.  Even between exercises in formal obedience, most people can play with their dogs, do some spins, but I can't.  If I do these things it will get my dogs excited and of course they will bark.  So we stay cool, quiet and in control.  How boring for me and my shelties.

 I often visit websites of top agility handlers and I always check out their dog's pages.  It's funny how often I see the handler's first dog or two have obedience titles, then as they progress their last several dogs only have agility titles.  Do they also find that the dogs don't have as much fun in obedience?  Maybe they also find it a little too slow and methodical, like I do.  I often wonder if I will end up like these handlers.  Giving up on obedience altogether.

So I have lost my love for obedience, and I don't know how to get it back.  I wonder if I even want to get it back...

Friday, 23 December 2011

Finally a 2 on 2 off

I am absolutely loving this warm weather.   One reason being I have taken several long walks with the dogs in the fields by our house.  But the biggest reason I'm loving this weather is it allows me to use my outdoor agility equipment.  Most of the time it's too cold or there is just too much snow to use it, but this last week has been absolutely perfect for training outside. And its a good thing since Spryte's contact performance needs a major overhaul!

So every day for a week I have been going outside in the morning to work on our 2 on 2 off contacts in a sequence.  Like I mentioned before, I am not treating every contact, I am trying to keep the energy up and keep the course flowing.  Well our first several sessions were a disaster!  She was jumping off the Aframe frequently and just as unreliable on the teeter and dogwalk.  She would jump and I would give a shocked "ahhhhh" and we would start again.  This went on for most of the training sessions each day.  She just wants to go fast!

Well yesterday we finally had a breakthrough. She stuck every contact! I was so happy, I was really beginning to think my training plan wasn't working and really starting to hate stopped contacts.  I started dreaming about how wonderful a running Aframe would be :)  But then she goes and has a perfect training session and I'm feeling a little more confident for our next trial. 

Today's training session was the same, no missed contacts.  What a good girl.  So now its time to proof them again.  One of the things that always needs work are contacts at a distance for the gamblers class. When you are not up there to support and drive the dog forward, they tend to stop midway on the down ramp and stare at you.  Spryte is no different.  Dogs just have a hard time driving to their position without any body language from us to help.  And you really don't want to re cue the "bottom" command because then the dogs will stop and wait for the re cue, and you end up having to re cue a number of times to get that perfect position. So the solution for us is that if Spryte stops in any other position than her 2 on 2 off I will pick her up off the equipment and we will start again.

I'm happy to say she has a better understanding of this game.  I add distance, she stops short, I pick her up and start again and then the next time she continues all the way to the correct position.  With more repetition she should do that the first time without having to start again.  She also is still slow at it, I would really prefer her to drive hard into the position and not slow down. Right now she does more of an uncertain slow creep into position.  But I really believe the speed will come with understanding.  So in time I should get what I want.  Oh and because I am working on an individual skill here, I am rewarding her with food in position when she hits the correct spot. Reinforcement builds behaviour!  Eventually when she gets it the reinforcement will be continuing on in the course and the occasional reward in position.  Well that's the plan anyway :)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Odd Quirks

My shelties are quirky.  They have these odd little behaviours that make us laugh daily.  For instance both shelties love to rub on things.  Anything with a new smell or different texture and they are up on it rubbing vigorously.  The leather couch is a favourite.  Both shelties will rub their head along it, and then their whole body. Spryte will start at one side of the couch and rub her body while walking, until she has circled the entire couch.  They do this on our bath towels, clothes, if we are packing for a trip Spryte will be right in the suitcase rubbing her face.  It really is funny to watch.  Odd thing is Leanne and Cheryl have said they're dogs do the same thing.  Maybe its a Dynstar trait.

The shelties also bark at us when we sneeze (and again the other Dynstar dogs do this too).  Strider usually only does this when I sneeze.  Then Spryte came along and she started to do it too. But she takes it to the next level.  She will bark at me, Paul and even the OTHER dogs when they sneeze.  It's pretty funny to see her run up to Strider barking in his face while he is in the middle of a sneezing fit.  He doesn't think its so funny and usually shows her a few pearly whites, until she gets the message and leaves him alone.

If the phone rings or the timer on the stove goes off, or something beeps, Spryte will run to it barking.  I keep saying she would make a great service dog for the hearing impaired.  I think I know how this quirk came about.  Spryte being a typical sheltie loves to chase things that are moving (and chasing always involves barking).  When the phone rings or something beeps we usually have to run to get it as we are often in another room.  Well she thought that this was a great game just for her, and would chase us barking the whole way.  So now she hears the beep and assumes we will go running, so she is up and ready to beat us to the source.

Spryte also thinks fetch is the dumbest game humans came up with.  At night when the witching hour hits she will start to bring us every toy in the room.  She loves tug so she is looking to start a game with Paul or I.  But balls do not make great tug toys, so of course we throw it away.  When we throw it she will stand there and watch it land. Then she will turn to us as if to say "now why the hell did you go and do that!"  The look on her face is one of pure disgust!  She'll stand there for a while waiting, and when she figures out that no one else is going to get it, she trots off to retrieve it.  She'll bring it back, often flinging it at us, and then the cycle starts again. 

I love my shelties and their odd quirks.  They make me laugh and provide hours of entertainment.  Who needs T.V when you live with two shelties :)

The shelties rubbing on the new area rug when we brought it home.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

New ADC and new training plan!

It's amazing how much I have missed agility.  My last agility trial was in August, I had decided that until Spryte was old enough to run, there wasn't much point in entering a trial just for Strider. I wanted to do stuff that both dogs could do together. So our fall has been full of Rally Obedience, Seminars and formal obedience. It has been fun, but it is nothing compared to the thrill of running agility. These last two weekends have left me with the Agility bug again. There is no dog sport that compares to agility. The challenge of remembering and handling different courses , controlling the dog at top speed, anticipating the dog's next move so you can time your crosses just right, seeing the extreme joy and enthusiasm on your dog's face, there is absolutely no other sport that provides all of this in one great package!  So I am officially hooked once again :)

So onto the results of our weekend.  Spryte was a dream again.  She amazes me with her ability to listen to my handling.  She doesn't "blow me off" like many starters dogs would do. She genuinely wants to get it right. She watches me, and goes exactly where I tell her to go.  She has wonderful obstacle commitment and I can send her to an obstacle and get into position for the next handling move, and not worry about her pulling off.  She is such a thrill to run.  Spryte ran clean 7/8 runs and earned her ADC title. She is also just one snooker leg away from her starters gamers title.  The highlights where an advanced jumpers run where she ran 5.76 yps. And a starters gamble where she got 98 points!

My only complaint was that she was just so excited to run that we pretty much didn't have any 2 on 2 off contacts all weekend.  Lucky for me she still hit the contact zone each time she lept off the equipment, but since that is not what I want for my contact criteria, it was a little annoying.  So there I am at the trial trying to make a decision.  Do I blow my run and make her redue the contacts, do I let her go on and get the Q but then she learns that my expectations at a trial are completely different from practise, or do I find a way to add a consequence without sacrificing the run.

 Well let me tell you it's not easy to blow a run when you know you can get that Q! But at the same time I didn't want to let her get away with it either.  So my compromise was to ask for a sit if she blew her contact criteria.  Seems pretty mundane to us, but to a dog that just wants to RUN, it was a clear message that she had done something wrong.  So that is what we did, she blew a contact, I told her to sit, then we moved on to the rest of the course. I was hoping that she would figure out that if she doesn't stop, I will still make her stop, so better to stop on the contact and continue with the course as quickly as possible.

Well the first few rounds found her a little confused.  Then we had a round where she stopped on her Aframe, so I'm thinking at this point that maybe she is starting to clue in. But then she missed the teeter.  Well our last round was Snooker. I made a course of 3 six's that involved tunnels and jumps. The dogwalk was number 7 and we would only have to do it if she made it to the end.  Well she did her sixes perfectly and did in fact make it to the end of the dogwalk 7.  She was accelerating ahead of me and I thought for sure she was going to leap again as I called out "bottom". But to my utter surprise and pleasure she stopped in a perfect 2 on 2 off position and looked back at me catching up. She got a really loud "yes" and a run to her tug toy. So I have hopes that this might be the answer to our contact issues.

So now the plan is to make training the same as practise.  Because as you can imagine she is perfect in practise, but a trial is a whole other ball game.  So I began thinking that in practise I always reward her stopped contacts, and I am not doing that in a trial. So when she figured out that no reward was coming she thought she might as well keep on going.  Clever little girl :)  So now I need to change how I train.  Now I will no longer feed the bottoms, the reward for correct bottoms will be to continue on with the course, which is rewarding in itself, but the completion of the course will be highly rewarded too.  If she misses a contact I will do the sit and we will go back and try again.  Hopefully this will teach her more impulse control when the food is not there to slow her down or calm her down.  And if she misses I now have a way to make it clear in both practise and trials that a mistake was made, without shutting her down or turning her off the sport.  So lets hope this new training plan works.  Problem is I am done at the barn until mid January. So I will only have one practise with the new plan before her next trail that weekend in January. I hope she can figure it out quickly!!!
Our Jumpers run where she ran 5.76 yps

An Advanced standard run where we had to stop and sit when she blew her contacts. There was lots of barking as she really didn't want to sit! but she had beautiful weaves :)

Friday, 9 December 2011

Walk in the Field

What a beautiful day today! My computer is saying it's plus 7 outside, not bad for December 9th.  I just had to take advantage of the warm weather and get outside with the dogs and the camera.   Here are some pics from our walk in the field behind our house:

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Spryte's first agility trial

Last weekend was Spryte's very first agility trial and I am pleased to say that it went very well.  She Q'd in 6/8 runs and handled all the distractions like a pro. 

As always in agility the mistakes were mostly mine.  I forgot to tell her "bottom" on her dogwalk and teeter and that resulted in some pretty impresive flyoffs.  Snooker was a challenge and I didn't keep her focused enough on me, a dog like that just HAS to take equipment.  Keeping her off of stuff is practically impossible.

It is such an adjustment going back and forth between Strider and Spryte.  On the Saturday I was in sync with Spryte and we passed 4 out of 4 runs, while Strider and I were not in sync and only passed one out of 4.  Spryte I can trust to take stuff, she has wonderful commitment to obstacles and great distance.  Strider has better handler focus and will easily pull off of equipment if I dont support it and drive him right to it. So remembering which dog I have, who I need to stop on contacts, who I need to drive to obstacles, who needs closer handling, was my biggest challenge of the weekend. 

Sunday I had Strider figured out again and we passed 4/4, but then Spryte and I where not as connected and only passed 2.  The balance is coming and hopefully a few more trials and I'll have them both figured out.  This coming weekend Spryte and I will be at the 2x4 trial.  Just her, so it should be a bit easier for me. I'm looking forward to it and maybe she'll even get that last leg for her ADC title.

On another note, I had a phone call yesterday from a lady with a sheltie bitch who does agility.  She is looking to breed her girl but hasn't settled on a stud dog yet.  Asking around she had several people tell her to find out who Spryte's sire was.  What a great compliment!  I'm so excited that at only 18 months and limited showing in performance sports she has already impressed several people with her ability and athletisism.  I love the Dynstar shelties and I have been impressed with so many of Leane's dogs, and I think it's great that other people are discovering her dogs too. It would be so wonderful to see more Dynstar dogs in the performance sports. They really are natural atheletes.

Friday, 2 December 2011

RAEx2 for Strider

wahoo we did it! Strider finished his RAEx2 today in awesome style. He took two first place finishes and two scores of 100. (Spryte also got a second leg in Excellent with a score of 100 and second place to Strider's faster time).  It feels great to be done and the decision feels right. Although he still may be accurate, I just don't feel like he loves the sport anymore. It takes a lot more cheerleading from me now, something I never needed to do with him before.  So it is done and I couldn't be happier with his retirement legs!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

the old and the new

Tomorrow I will be at the Calgary dog show doing rally with Spryte and Strider.  Spryte is in Rally Excellent and Strider is in Advanced and Excellent.  I need one more double Q on Strider for his RAE2 title.  If he gets it, he is officially retired from rally obedience.

  I admit I am sad thinking that this could be the last time we compete in rally together.  He has been my teammate since rally began. I remember bringing him to an "intro to rally" seminar with Lisa Wright when he was 10 weeks old.  He was just an observer then, but that is how long we have been playing this sport together.  Since then he has earned a CARO rally bronze award, APDT rally champion and soon CKC RAE x2.  That is a lot of rally for one little sheltie!  We could continue but I just don't see what the point is anymore.  He has done so much and worked like a real trooper for so long that I feel its time to retire him from the obedience sports and let him focus on the fun and fast sports.  He LOVES agility, its fun, fast, he can bark like crazy and it's ok.  Rally involves so much focus, and yes he still works hard but I have just felt lately like he is bored with it. I want to respect that and listen to what he is telling me.  So here's hoping we go out with a bang tomorrow.

As Strider begins to retire from many sports, Spryte is taking the lead and debuting in many rings.  Last Sunday she was in CKC Novice B for the first time.  The venue was dark, the windstorm outside caused many distractions including flickering lights and banging doors, and the aisles crowded with dogs and people. I had entered thinking it would be a quiet first trial for Spryte, but the venue was more challening than I could have imagined. 

Her first round was decent, I had a few bumps on heeling  and a crooked front and finish.  The stays were especially stressful as several dogs got up and tried to leave the ring, and utility go backs were taking place in the next ring.  She was hypervigilant, watching every little detail that was happening around me. I was really stressing about her stays, but she pulled them off.  She finished with a score of 197 and second place.  Mentally I made some notes about our first round, one that she lost focus on the figure eight when I headed to the left first, so I was thinking next round I would start to the right.  I also promised myself I would breath, and focus on my handling and footwork a little more.  Well we went in more of a team for the second round.  I kept her up entering the ring and had more "presence of mind" than the first  round.  The heeling was good, my handling was much better, starting to the right for the figure eight made a world of differerence.  The recall was awesome too. I left the ring thinking that round felt amazing.  True teamwork from such a young dog. I was thrilled with my run.  Stays were still stressful, but again me made it through.  When we came in for ribbons there were three survivors from Novice B.  The springer took third, Jackie and her male golden took second with a 198.  At that point I was thinking, wow we must have gotten a great score!  Well I was blown away when the judge announced that team 203 had won first place with a perfect 200!! Oh my god I was speachless and very emotional!  What a huge shock.  This was a career first for me and something I never ever expected to get.  I still can hardly believe it happened to me and my very green sheltie.  It was an eye opener and has made me realize that my "agility" dog is an "obedience" dog too. I will have to give equal time to training both sports.
Spryte HIT and first & second place ribbons
scores of 200 & 197

This weekend is also Spryte agility debut. She turned 18 months last week and we were lucky enough to get into two AAC agility trials on back to back weekends. Tomorrow we head up to Edmonton for the DAL trial and next weekend the 2x4 trial in Calgary. I am so excited to compete with Spryte in agility. We have worked so hard together and she really challenges me as a handler. She is much faster than Strider and loves distance.  I can't wait to see how she handles a real trial environment. I have goals for myself this weekend, mostly to stick to my criteria.  I want a stopped contact on all the equipment and she still likes to jump the Aframe. So I need to make sure I insist on her stopping, even if it means losing a Q.  I am thinking long term and the short term gains must be ignored.  It will be hard in the moment, but hopefully by writting it out and telling people it will make me more accountable to my goals.  I also don't want to "babysit" her. I have trained her like a masters dog and I dont want to handle her like a starters dog.  So I need to trust the training and let her do her stuff. If something goes wrong it is simply a hole in our training that needs work. 
So that is the plan and we'll see how it all plays out.