Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trial and error and titles!

The boyz treated me to a great day of agility yesterday! They were primed and ready for what is our last trial of the year.

Mick decided to end things in style, and went 2 for 2 with a 1st place Q to earn his AAC Agility Dog of Canada (ADC) title, and then a 3rd place Q in his first every Steeplechase run! I should also note that Mick actually had to do the Steeplechase course twice... We got to the 10th obstacle and there was a problem with the timer on the first time through... We were the last dog at that height so we had to go right away again. The judge turned to me and said, "Oh! He was doing SO well!!!! :-("... I said, "No sweat, we'll do it again" :-)... And we did :-)... Even got Mick's 1st Start Line Stay EVER at a trial!!!

Bryce also brought his very best game face and stuck with me through a very twisty Masters Jumpers run :-). We're starting to get more comfortable with each other, and more work is needed on my handing. Bryce's super responsive attitude is forcing me to step up, because instead of driving us on to a smooth path sometimes, I run us into the ditch instead :-).

There were "technical difficulties" with the camera during the first part of the jumpers run, but you can see about half :-).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Trial the way you train...

… or train the way you trial :-)… Either way, it’s got to be the same. This is a mystery I’m trying to unravel with regards to Bryce’s weaves, and trial performance in general.

Location: Red Gate Arena (our regular training facility)
Time: 12:30pm
Temps: 6◦C, indoors, windy outside

Mick is pretty much the same boy in practice/training as he is at a trial – the good and the adventurous ;-). Bryce, however, tends lose a tiny bit of confidence at a trial – almost like stage fright, if I were to anthropomorphize. I’m never quite sure which “Bryce” is coming to the startline with me :-). I think, with time, as well as consistency and awareness on my part, this will resolve itself, so I’m trying not to adjust MY behavior at trials, but I know I do… If he’s “needy” at the startline, I babysit and he I can see from watching video that he gets a bit worse. This became measurably worse when we moved up to Masters… I think my lack of experience at this level, coupled with tighter courses has caused him to slow down and watch me like a hawk during a trial.

So the criteria for our training session at Red Gate Arena yesterday was based on getting him to drive the line and maintain confidence. To recap the video (dark, need to adjust the settings), we started with speed circles in both directions, no crosses initially. I did add crosses later.

We then moved on to weaves which were just what we want (independent, confident) from many directions -- off of contacts, with rear cross etc. As with all training sessions, we added some SLS work and self-control. I finished up with some tunnel-DW discriminations that I didn’t tape but that he had 100% success with…

Mick’s driving ahead pretty nicely during trials so we’re adding more front and rear crosses to his speed circles to get used to each other’s preferred timing :-)…

Mick needs constant contact work to remind him that there is a yellow part to consider. At almost 8 yrs old, he’s decided that running contacts are the way to go. He gets them consistently, so now I’m working to build some lateral distance and more independence so that I can move to another position in a trial.

This is the first time in a month that Mick’s seen 12 weaves… Got his entry on the onside, but still struggles a bit with the offside. Got it after the second try so it’s coming :-). You’ve come a LONG way baby ;-).

It occurred to me yesterday, that there have been some progress milestones, but that I’m not tracking them as well as I am the things we need to work on. I think it’s important so I know what to not to take for granted, and to maintain :-)…So I’m going to start recording “attaboyz” to celebrate the fun ways we’ve moved the yardstick forward :-).

· 6 months ago, Mick wouldn’t walk into the building we were training in as he was afraid of the dome. Now he owns the place ;-)!
· 6 months ago, Mick wouldn’t stay with me for more than a second during training or at a trial… Now I can’t shake him (although one is never positive at a trial with Mick as he likes to add his own flavour to an event, I’ve chosen to celebrate the moment) :-).
· 6 months ago, Bryce wouldn’t even attempt the weaves… now he’s looking for them and powering through in practice, and getting the entries at trials.
· 6 months ago, Mick had no contact behavior, now he’s doing smooth, consistent running contacts including the teeter.
· 6 months ago, Bryce didn’t know about discriminations, now he’s got some understanding :-).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Checkpoint (aka Trial)

Last Sunday Bryce and I entered an AAC Masters mini trial. The goal, for each run, was for me to hold my ground and not give in to arguments around tunnels and weaves. Trials are very relaxing for us as the outcomes are not figured into the plan :-).

The tricky part of our weave entry, is that if Bryce is going to argue, it's going to be AFTER he's made a correct entry -- between the first and second pole... Clearly I don't want this as a weave behaviour and we're retraining for that.

I should note, that after his last run (Jumpers), I had Bryce see the onsite EMT for a massage. She said that his rear hip area, quads and psoas were VERY tight, likely resulting in his throwing himself over jumps in the Jumpers run. We're treating with additional full massages, chiro and stretching.

This is Bryce's Standard run. You can see the tunnel refusals, but my response is what is new :-).

This is the Jumpers run...He started of VERY slowly which could be caused by a) his tightness in the rear, and/or b) my hesitation at the start as I was preparing for a tunnel refusal that didn't happen...

This was our second trial at the Masters level, and a great time to check on how our training is progressing and what things we'd like to tweak or add. After watching several excellent teams, I've tweaked our goals slightly:

1. confident, independent weaves (nothing new)
2. tunnels -- from a send AND from close proximity
3. driving toward the next obstacle with confidence

Time to get busy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Weave on!

Criteria for the session: Encourage the boyz to take a more independent approach to the weaves by seeking entries and driving to the exit.
Environment: 18 degrees, Sunny, very windy. Moved to the obedience yard.
Time: Sessions 1 and 2 at 12:30pm, Remaining sessions at 4:45pm...10 minutes to warm up but want them to still be eager to play.
Reminders: For me to BE QUIET... both in voice and body... Minimal to no cues.

After reviewing the videos from yesterday's sessions, several experienced sets of eyes raised the question as to whether the boyz are actually looking for, and driving to the weaves on their own.... Because when performed in the face of distractions, it can fall apart... To sum up, as one expert put it so well:

"It's like the dog starts saying, "MUST do weaves. MUST do weaves... let me at 'em!"... instead of, "HAVE TO do weaves. Oh, but look there is a butterfly...."

The consistent message is that the boyz need to have their weaves to the point where they can look for them, find them and drive through them as the introduction of distractions at a trial will throw them.

So we broke them right down yestererday... Right back to 2 poles. I even moved the session out of our regular agility yard to another spot which causes an unexpected variable that shows up more in Mick's sesssions :-).

I set up Bryce's first session with us positioned at the 12 o'clock position and ~8ft (2.4m). He's a bit confused about whether I'm out in that yard to throw the toy or to do the poles :-). He had no trouble finding the poles, but I did use a bit of body language to help him for the first throw. Not the second one, though.... ;-)

Bryce's second session... I stayed at 8-10 ft(2-3m)... I can see that I unintentionally confused him by swinging the toy around and making him think it was a retrieve, but otherwise, I think he's getting the weave entry on his own.

Bryce's third and fourth sessions... increased the distance a bit so I went back to start at 12 o'clock. We're now at 15+ feet. I moved position around the clock and maintained the same distance... We had a bit of a "Mexican standoff" but I held my ground :-). After one bobble, things go smoothly. For the last session, I'm our of camera range, but I remained statuesque in my response to Bryce's chatter ;-).

Now for Mick... The only guarantee when working with Mick is that I can expect the unexpected, unusally caused by his following something I've told him to do to a tee! He didn't fail me in his first session with 2 pole entries :-).

This is the yard I use to practice obedience with the boyz... So when I release Mick ("OK") he waits for me to move and then joins me in heel position... I was very compliant with his plan and kept my body straight and even stepped with deliberation into my heel position for him :-). I thought it might be the "flippin' Frisbee" so I changed up the toys, but then it dawned on me that he was totally set up for obedience!

I used a bit of body language to get him going too...

Mick's second session... I tried to remember to use a more animated posture, and then drew him back a couple times to play and get him going... I also switched ends after a break to keep him from getting stuck.

For the last session fo the day with Mick, I wanted to really get him going before we started (you can see it doesn't take much:-)... I kept moving closer but then realized I needed to break completely so that he didn't think I was setting up for obedience :-).

Thank to all the support and suggestions! We're listening :-). I can feel the "click" when I get it right, and appreciate the prod when I get off the path.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Weaves again!

While we have indeed been training, the recording and blogging were NOT kept up :-). The learning from this is that video is an invaluable tool to us when we're training alone. A picture truly does paint a thousand words.

After our abysmal trial experience this weekend, I started the day feeling quite discouraged by our progress with getting weave entries, and heck, the weaves in general in a trial situation. Takes all the fun out of a run for everyone when it's clear that something isn't working.

Criteria for the session: Take the first steps to changing up the weaves to make things a bit more challenging. Also, to reinforce the down of the dog who's not working.
Environment: 18 degrees, Sunny, no wind.
Time: 3:45 p.m. Immediately after work, played ball/Frisbee in the front field for about 10 minutes to warm up but maintain energy levels.
Reminders: Just observe what's going on with each of their performances on the weaves.

That lead me to haul the video camera out and really start to look at what I am doing in training vs what I'm doing in a trial.

It was a warm, but not hot day and I set up a small sequence in the side yard. I took the boyz out and warmed them up immediately after coming home from work. They were still full of themselves after a day of lounging and I wanted to capture that initial energy.

For the first session, I set things up to send Bryce through 12 weaves to see what was going on. The idea was to send him over three jumps (he's on my right) to a tunnel, then for him to find and drive through the weaves. I can also see in the video that I look like a seagull about to take flight... what's with all that arm waving?!?! Poor Bryce has a right to be frustrated!!! I need to be clear with my cues, even to the point of it feeling artificial to me, I think.

Now for Mick's turn :-). Mick is obsessed with his Frisbee and cannot focus if it is in sight. So it's out of sight for the first set... Encouraging Mick to do independent weaves is the goal. The first couple of attempts he's checking back which isn't what I want to see. If I reward Mick for doing just one pole, he gets stuck there very easily so I've found that doing fewer poles but doing them all works much better in the long run :-).

Then, just for fun, I pushed the limits a bit and carried the toy... He hesitated but then did them! Good boy!!!

For Bryce's second session, I positioned the weaves at a 90 degree angle to the preceding jump with me on his right. When I could see the frustration building, I cut and sent him through the tunnel. I moved the weaves to a 90 degree angle from the tunnel, but at a softer angle from the jump and he was fine. Out of the frame of the video, to the left, there are two jumps and the second set of 6 poles at a 45 degree angle. He drove to, and then right through them. Good boy!!!

Lastly, I tried Mick through all 12 weaves just to see what's going on... Previously, Mick would charge the weaves and then get higher and higher as he progressed through the poles, even to the point where he scales the last pole :-). He got did fairly well on those counts, but I can see by his fancy footwork that he's not really comfortable yet. I think we need to go right back to the basics with offset weaves to get some consistency in stride. One session after dinner with the offsets had him flying through on a recall SINGLE STEPPING! I'm going to stick to this plan with Mick.

When I went back to pick up Mick's Frisbee, I looked back at the setup and wondered what Bryce would do if I did the same sequence with the weaves at a 90 degree angle from the preceding jump, but this time stayed on his left... Again, the video doesn't lie :-)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When it's hot, we're NOT

Yesterday was the first really warm day of Spring here in Eastern Ontario... Some might not think that 15 celcius degrees is THAT warm, but a certain brown beardie boy just wilted after a short play! Sorry buddy, but you better get used to it! :-)

Interesting that Mick doesn't seem to have the same heat sensitivity. Both are quite sensible and will stop playing when they're too hot, so watching for overheating isn't a problem. We take frequent water breaks and the boyz are both quick to seek their special shady spots in the yard when they've had enough. I generally stop whatever we're doing when I see the first signs of slowing down so that they're keen to play next time.

That said, the sessions were very short yesterday :-).
Criteria for the session: Take the first steps to changing up the weaves to make things a bit more challenging. Also, to reinforce the down of the dog who's not working.
Environment: 15 degrees, Sunny, no wind
Time: 4:45 p.m. Immediately after work, played ball/frisbee in the front field for about 20 minutes to warm up and release some energy.
Reminders: Hold my ground! Get a bit more animated.

So let's see how we did! For the first session, I just wanted to get Bryce into his comfort zone with the weaves by picking up where we left off the previous day.
Observations: He was fast -- got 100% of his entries from all angles. When I brought myself into the picture and ran beside him, he got the entry but popped at pole 10. I rewarded with food (the "thanks for coming out" reward) instead of his toy (the "OMG!!! I adore that thing!!!"). He was suspicious the next set, but went through on his own.

During the second session, we set up 2 sets of 6 in a speed circle thanks to a wonderful suggestion (thanks, Sue!).
Observations: Bryce got all his entries and was driving harder with each successive circle. I'll run with him next time to add a bit of challenge. I noticed him starting to slow in the second round because he was getting hot. I cut the session off after one, as I don't want to reward slow weaves! :-) I'll start with this tomorrow...

The third and final session for the day involved moving the weaves to a more challenging position. I'm also adding a little more lateral distance with each set just to see how far we can get.
Observations: I'm still not animated enough and should remember to get a bit more amped myself :-). Bryce was getting hot again, even after a fairly good break, so I'm curious to see what he'd do if this was first and he was fresh. Hmmmm..... We ended on a positive with a simple send through that he did with vigor and enthusiasm!

Poor Mick! He managed to keep his down, with play breaks between each session, but serenaded us with his squeaky frisbee and even managed to bark WITH the it in his MOUTH! :-)

We ended the day with dinner and a nice 5k walk on our quiet country road to watch the sun set. Gorgeous!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Day 1: Weaves, Table and Obedience

Criteria for the session: Fast, independent weaves with Bryce driving for the poles from different entry angles.
Enironment: 5 degrees, Sunny
Time: 4:30 p.m. Came home from work, played some ball/frisbee with both boyz, then started immediately while they're still pretty amped.
Reminders: At no time will I engage in a verbal battle. I will stand my ground and offer the cue.

The first session started with running off side weaves from a 90 degree jump entry.

Observations: I'm pretty sedate compared to what he sees at a trial. I think I need to push harder and build up to running faster to simulate MY behaviour at a trial. I suppose I wanted him to succeed after such a step backwards at the last trial :-).

In the second session, I introduced a second jump and a rear cross before the weaves. I also briefly worked Mick on the table as he's not ready for 12 weaves and I didn't have the second set of 6 in the yard at this point.

Observations: What the heck was that with Bryce shooting out in front of Mick!? The rules are that when one is working, the other is in a down out of the way, in their spot. Hmmm... Looks like I was too focussed on the working dog and I need to either take a session or two and rework the down of the non-working dog or put them up. I was also facing the table when I sent him-- should remember to turn to avoid confrontation.

The rear cross threw Bryce, but not enough for him to bail and not finish the job! We need to increase this, as this is a skill I want to have in my pocket :-). Again, I need to jazz it up a bit to push and not worry about mistakes. I think I'll move back to 6 poles for this in the next session.

The last session was just a quick obedience session with Mick. It reminded me just how much he LOVES obedience. I suspect it's because the rules are clear. This was the first outdoor practice with no snow and the distractions are HUGE :-). I'll move to the obedience yard and work them separately tonight :-)

The power of intention

Well, I've made the committment to fill the foundation holes in Bryce and Mick's agility training before we move much further along with any goals for competition. My intention is to continue to gather as much information as I can and then apply it in the context of each of the boyz. This information comes from seminars, expert eyes in training sessions, and feedback from video training sessions.

Training with both boyz is a big part of our lives.... It's such a joy as they're highly motivated just playing the game itself -- it's completely infectious! So what I need to do now is focus less on the outcomes and examine the actual experience from their perspective.

Bryce, for the most part, has a fairly good set of foundation skills, and learns extremely quickly! He's a hard worker and such a wonderful mixture of sugar and spice :-). So wouldn't it be nice if we could both relax and feel confident going in to the ring at a trial? These are the things that are preventing that from happening:
  1. Confident, independent weave poles.

  2. Solid obstacle recognition.
  3. Performing at a distance.
Mick likes to make sure things are going to be fun. He'll invent the fun if I don't keep things rolling. The environment can be overwhelming for him at times, but he can operate on "auto pilot" long enough at a trial to relax and enjoy the game. At seven years, he's had a LOT of experience rehearsing behaviours that are detrimental to moving forward.... Of course he's had a LOT of help in that respect from me :-). So here's the laundry list of items that I would like to change to help us "team up" and maybe achieve our potential (whatever that is):
  1. Staying clear about what teamwork means in the ring and at practice.

  2. Reinforcing consistent contact behaviour.

  3. Confident, independent weave poles.
It's not going to happen overnight, but I'm hoping that recording our progress will help keep the human half of the team honest :-).Away we go!