Monday, January 31, 2011

SLS Article

FYI... There is an article that sounds very interesting in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of DogSport Magazine:

'Teach Patience and Self Control not Stay' sounds like just the advice we need to help us with our Start Line Stay issues.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Family Fun Day at AU

We had a beautiful snowfall last night thanks to a clipper storm and the trees were all tipped in snow for our ride to Agility Underground. My plan was to work on Gilda's Start Line Stays, practice some Jump Recalls, and practice some Weave Poles. Mike came along to lend support and to video tape. He and Gilda walked 9 miles the day before and Gilda slept well so chances were good that we'd have a good practice.

Since we were the only ones in the building, we did our warm-up Shadow Handling off leash and Gilda did well. She is still sniffing the ground whenever she can but for the most part stayed with me and followed cues. And didn't pee on the floor!

She seemed excited to be there so we started off with some Weave Pole practice. She is definitely getting better and seems very happy to weave the 6 poles. After a few good SLSs, I was having trouble getting her to stay while I walked to the end of the poles so we did a few runs from a standing start with me running alongside the poles. We are closing the channels enough now that it's really starting to look like Weaving! [Despite using my new Christmas camera, I am still having major issues with video. The Weave videos from today need rotated so viewers don't get a stiff neck...]

Next we moved to Jump Recalls which required considerable SLS work. I already see an improvement though we are nowhere near solid yet. At least at this point I am able to get to the other side of the Jump! Here is video (unedited of course) of some Stay reinforcement followed by some Foundation Recalls to Heel [Notice that I am the one creating the issues here! On the first attempt, even though I have cued Gilda to jump, I am not ready and therefore Gilda is unclear about where to land. The second attempt is not as bad but I turned late. I should be turning as Gilda is mid-jump. On the third attempt, I cue her to my left and then move to the left! The fourth attempt is the best and therefore, that's where we ended the exercise. You can see that Gilda is really making a good attempt to stay and wait for her cue]:

It took quite awhile to convince Gilda to perform a Serpentine Recall and when she did, it looked like this:
Not a true 'slice' but I was just happy she went over the Jump and not around it!

Next, we set up the Plank to reinforce our 2on/2off. Gilda is still not 100% reliable when I'm running by but overall is doing well with this. I just get such a kick out of how proud she looks with her tail wagging when she 'sticks it'! [This video starts with me rewarding for her 2o/2o and then giving a release cue. I then cue her to walk and give her the 'two' command]:

Last, as a reward for all of her hard work, we set up a mini course that looked like this:
Jump, A-Frame, Jump, Dogwalk, Tunnel, 6 Weave Poles, Plank (2o/2o). Gilda did well until the Weaves and that was understandable as she is still learning this skill. I also noticed her creeping up the Dogwalk which according to Jessica, is a problem most likely created by the scary Teeter. It is difficult for dogs to distinguish between the Teeter and the Dog Walk especially when they are first learning. By using the Jungle Gym exercise, Gilda will learn that she is 'in control' of the Teeter and it's not so scary after all!  We will need lots more Jungle Gym Teeter to correct this issue.
Overall though, I am thrilled and think we had a very good practice! Good Girl Gilda!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Good Gilda Shows Up for Practice

We had our final Jess Session this morning and thankfully Gilda brought her good side along (mostly because there were no other dogs present). Gilda has been making great strides with her Rear Cross On the Flat (RCOTF) using my outside hand (with treat) held low. The RCOFT is a side-change maneuver which can be performed on the flat or on the Agility Course. Now that Gilda has high accuracy with a treat, I felt it was time to start moving her to a hand cue and fading the treat. I wanted to see what the 'final product' should look like and the beautiful Style was happy to show me:

Style starts in the heel position on Jessica's left side. When Jessica cues with her outside (right) hand, Style turns away from Jessica. As Style begins her turn, Jessica turns toward her dog and the change of side is complete with Style now in the heel position on Jessica's right side. Great Job Style!!

After Jessica and Style demoed some Jump Recalls for me, we brought Gilda out to perform some recalls.  We practiced Foundation Recall, Serpentine Recall, 270 Recall and Jessica introduced us to the Back Up Recall which we had previously only done On the Flat.

We also worked on Gilda's troublesome Start Line Stays (SLS).  Much to my relief, Jessica reports that SLS issues are very common and usually stem from the dog being eager to 'play the game' of Agility. This greatly eased my mind as it's one area that I never expected to have an issue with as her Stay has always been so solid when we are away from Agility School. Gilda was doing much better by the end of session. It's just going to take a lot of consistency and practice.

Next, we introduced Gilda to the Forward Send on the 2nd Jump of a 3-Jump Pinwheel. Gilda didn't quite understand this new cue which was consisted of me aiming my hand at the standard (side) of the second jump (usually my  hand cues are aimed more toward the bar). She also wanted to stop because I was stopping. Interesting how those dog brains work. During one Jump, she knocked the bar down and then refused to take the Jump at all. (See how the Patience and Humility is a running theme?) When she finally got a successful Jump in, we ended the Pinwheel session and moved to the Weave Poles.

Today Gilda really seemed to have a light bulb moment. Even with the Channels closed further than ever, she was willing and able to complete all 6 poles pretty reliably AND in both directions! It was very exciting. She is going to miss the 'Jessica Weave Pole' game terribly but will hopefully find another fun way to learn to Weave.

The Return of Reacto-Dog!

Agility has taught me many things. Among them are Patience and Humility...

On Tuesday, I took Gilda to the park to work on her 'On the Flat' (OTF) skills. We had a fantastic session and worked on Loose Leash Walking, Front and Rear Crosses and speed changes. We did this for over 1.5 miles... until I ran out of treats!  Still, I was thrilled and was mentally patting myself on the back for my wonderful training abilities.

On Wednesday, I decided that Gilda was getting better with her Heeling at the park but needed more practice in public. I was sure she was ready so we headed to the pet store. At the pet store, she proceeded to pull so hard on the jaeger leash I was sure she broke a rib or two (mine not hers!). She was so preoccupied that she wouldn't even take treats. It was all very frustrating.

"Oh well" I thought to myself. "School is tonight and she always does well there". Flash forward to 'school' and multiply the pet store pulling by 1,000! It turns out that 2 new classmates and their dogs, Maya and Wally were present. Suddenly, my little reactive dog was right back to her old tricks: tearing off to meet the dogs in the middle of an exercise, barking loudly at me for treats, unable to pay attention to cues that she knows well. She was chaotic to put it mildly. This is where the patience (however thin) and humility come in. I realized that I wasn't doing quite as well as I had thought a mere 24 hours earlier...

In class, we had a refresher of the Serpentine Recall over a Jump followed by the introduction of the 270 Recall. Next, we did an exercise in which we started the dog on the Table and did a straight 3-Jump series. After a few rounds like this, the 2nd Jump was moved laterally so that the 2nd jump was now staggered. Not only did Gilda struggle with her Start Line Stay, but she basically acted as though she had never seen a line of Jumps before in her life!

We introduced the dogs to the Manners Minder (MM) which is a device that remotely delivers a treat (

We then used the MM at the end of Dog Ramp exercise in an effort to keep the dogs running straight down the Dog Walk. All of the dogs (even Gilda) did well on this exercise.

Next we used the MM with the A-Frame. The dogs were then cued through the Tunnel. Upon exiting the tunnel,  they had a long run to the A-Frame. Gilda did well here which is good because there was lots of space between the obstacles giving lots of opportunity for her to veer off course.

To really put an extra little touch on the day, while Linda was wrapping up class, Gilda proceeded to pee right there on the floor...Serenity Now!

If history is a good indicator, Gilda will get used to Maya and Wally and will soon be able to work in their presence. Here's hoping...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cat Agility Part II

My 'Grandkitty' Daphne performing her 2on/2off as a kitten:
{The Prettiest 5-toed Tabby Ever!}

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gilda the Good Dog

{a little Agility at the Akron Children's Fun Run!}
We had another good practice session with Jessica today. I love the fact that Jessica was there on our very first day of Agility and she has been with us through our starts and stops and therefore can really see just how far Gilda has come. Jessica also intimately understands Gilda as she too rescued a timid Agility girl.

I am feeling like Gilda and I are really getting caught up and are almost where we should be as a novice handler/novice dog team in our currently weekly class. Here is what today's practice looked like:

After a Shadow Handling warm-up we worked on the Jungle Gym Teeter. Gilda seems to be most nervous about the noise of the Teeter so we did some click/treat work just for tolerating the noise of the Teeter slamming to the ground. I see much more Teeter work in our future!

We then did some Weave Pole work using the Channel Weaves and a treat placed on a Target. At this point in training, Jessica holds Gilda on one side of 6 Weave Poles while I give the 'Weave' command from the other side. We started to vary my position and movement as well as varying the Channels. It quickly became a fun game for Gilda to start with Jessica, Weave to me, get her treat if earned, and then run back to Jessica.
We can see that Gilda is starting to understand that she must weave ALL of the poles to get a reward. Like the Teeter, there is lots of Weave Pole practice ahead for us too!

Next we did a few Serpentine Jump Recalls which is a new skill for both of us. At this point, the hardest part is getting Gilda to hold her Stay so that we can begin the exercise! Otherwise, she seems remarkably in tune with my body position and is willing to slice the jump. [We also need to work on her stopping position on all of our Recalls now that I understand that all Recalls end with a stop at my side!]

Lastly, Jessica laid out a 7 Obstacle course and walked through once with me. After 2 walk throughs on my own, we brought Gilda out to try: Jump, Plank with 2o/2o (front cross), Jump, Tunnel (front cross), 6 Weave Poles, Jump, A-Frame.

There are of course areas to work on: Start Line Stay (!), walking the entire plank instead of jumping on mid-board, my Front Crosses, and my ability to judge Gilda's A-Frame to name a few. Jessica reports that our Sends to the Tunnel are looking good as well as Gilda's ability to follow a Forward Send over the Jump! Yay us!

 I just can't express how much fun it is to run along with your dog while they follow your lead all the while having just as much fun as you are!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mantra: 'Gilda is My Daughter'

No, I'm not one of 'those' people... Let me explain...
We worked with Jessica at practice today in (yet another) attempt to get my Handling Skills up to speed. We worked mainly on refining basics such as Shadow Handling and Recalls and worked on our problem areas: Start Line Stays and Weave Pole training.

I quickly came to realize that my suspicions were correct and I am indeed the root of 'our' problems!

During Shadow Handling for instance, I am rewarding Gilda for her Heel position while she jumps at and nibbles at my treat hand. I am therefore directly reinforcing this unwanted behavior. Jessica explained that I should leave my treat hand at my side (the side closest to the dog) and only treat when Gilda stops nibbling. She said that eventually, Gilda will learn that she only gets the treat when she is in the correct position and not nibbling. So simple, right?

During Recall exercises, I am inadvertently cueing Gilda with my bad body mechanics! For example, I had no idea that when trying to cue Gilda to my left side during a Foundation Recall, she was actually cueing from my right hand which I was unknowingly holding up. [Video can also help you see some habits that you may not even realize you're doing]

While working on Gilda's Stays, Jessica explained that I was using a verbal "Stay" and a hand signal too often. Ideally, I should give the command once and Gilda is to follow that command until she hears a Release Cue.  I will work on my consistency with this because Gilda learns very well when we are consistent.

It is so helpful to have someone so knowledgeable there to explain these things which seem so simple once you hear them! Gilda, being the bright little dog that she is, adapts very quickly to the new and improved handling while we are working.

What really got me though is when Jessica would ask, "Why did you reward that?" and my answer was something to the effect of, "I felt bad", "She was getting frustrated", or "She was really trying". I realized that I was acting like my patients' parents at work who ring their call-light to report that their 18-month old "Won't stop picking at her IV" or ask their 2-year-old, "Do you want to take your medicine?" Sometimes I think to myself, "Who is in charge in that room?"

It hit home that as cute and funny as Gilda can be, I really need to use my 'Parent Mode' and start acting like her Handler. Just as with humans, consistency is key, rules need to be followed and a little frustration is just part of learning something new!

Thanks Jessica for helping me see this!
{Jessica's awesome BC 'Style'}
{I apparently need a pic of Jessica & Gilda!}

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Just When You Think You've Got It...

After quite a hiatus, we finally returned to "Dog School" tonight and we had a fantastic class with Linda. I learned so much that I was afraid I'd forget it if I didn't type it up right away...

{Snow Fetch}

We first practiced some Jump Recalls to Heel including the Foundation Recall, the Extension Recall and the Serpentine Recall. The interesting thing here was that on the Foundation Recall, Gilda was fantastic when I recalled her to my right side and very weak when I recalled her to my left side. I can't say I was surprised as I favor my right side, but it was reinforcement of the need to work both sides during practice!

I had heard the term 'Jungle Gym Teeter' before but thought that it was just another name for the Teeter/Seesaw. In fact, Jungle Gym Teeter actually refers to a training exercise...who knew?

In Jungle Gym Teeter, the dog is encouraged to interact with the Teeter. Dogs can be encouraged to push the high side down with their paws or to pounce on the high side for a treat. Tonight, Gilda's goal was to walk up the Teeter until she pushed the high side down onto the Table. The interactions are designed to make the dog more comfortable with the scary, noisy Teeter and to make them feel more in control of the equipment. Pretty cool huh?

Next we did a Dogwalk exercise. I was confused because I thought that Gilda had a pretty good Dogwalk already. Turns out, she does but there's more to it...

For this exercise, Linda took one of the Dogwalk ramps and attached it to a Table. Gilda's goal here was to jump onto the table and run fast down the ramp to the end. Apparently, many dogs while training the Dogwalk, become very tenative about the down ramp because of their Contact training. Since you want good speed during an agility run, you don't want your dog slowing down to perform their 2o/2o or slowing down to make sure they hit the contact area. This also teaches the dog to run the entire ramp and discourages them from coming off the ramp too early. Amazing the things these Agility folks think up! Gilda cooperated and performed this very nicely.

Next we worked on Gilda's A-Frame. Again, even though her A-Frame is fairly solid at this point, there is more to A-Frame training...
Specifically we were aiming to get her to run straight down the backside and continue in a straight line with good speed. Gilda continues to have a beautiful natural A-Frame and we will continue to work on her running straight ahead.

Last we worked a few Pinwheel Jump exercises. We started with a simple 3 Jump Pinwheel ending with a Recall to Heel which Gilda performed well. Next we did 2 Jumps with a Front Cross on the Flat to get Gilda used to seeing the cue and to get me used to performing the Front Cross!

Gilda had a few distractions but overall I think she's really starting to 'get' the whole Agility thing and the fact that she needs to stay with me. There is no doubt in my mind that she loves performing the obstacles and that in itself is fun to witness!

Next practice is Friday morning and we have our work cut out for us!

Terrible Twos, Handler Error...Or Both?!

We took Gilda to the AU Building on Sunday for a practice session/video session. It was another cold, snowy day and she and Mike had walked 6 miles that morning so I thought she'd settle right in for some agility. Notsomuch...

It's always a challenge to 'loose leash walk' to the building so that was no surprise. Once inside, Gilda was hyper during the warm up repeatedly nipping my fingers while taking treats and more intent on sniffing the dirt than following directions!

We started with some low Teeter work. She will now enter the Teeter from the "high" side (only a few inches) which was a good thing. She seemed very hyper and scattered performing her 2o/2o sporadically at each end, leaving the Teeter from the center, holding her 2o/2o even after the release at times...

I thought that maybe she needed to move to something more high energy at this point. With Mike available, I decided to work on the Chute again to get her revved up. Mike held Gilda at the open end and I called her through from the partially opened chute side using her tug toy as a reward. She was willing to go through three times so we closed the chute, cued her through from the open side and got success a few times!

We then mapped out a course using the equipment that was already set up. I attempted a few Jump Recall exercises as a warm up but had a very difficult time getting Gilda to sit and stay on one side of the jump while I moved the short distance to the other side. Once I had a couple good recalls, we moved on...

After a few walk-throughs, we ran our course a few times: Jump (45 degree left turn), Jump, A-Frame, Tunnel, Jump, Jump, Jump. After a few miscues on my part and many start line issues on Gilda's part, she was willing and able to complete all 7 obstacles! (Still sniffing and distracted in between runs though)

Next, we attempted: Jump, Jump, Jump, Chute, Tunnel. The Chute was hit or miss as was the Tunnel when she did come out of the Chute. We ended that little run on a good note.

I was so happy with the success she had on the Channel Weaves during our last practice session and was excited for Mike to see her 'weave'. We pulled the Channel Weaves out to an open area and opened them wide. I attempted the same exercise we did solo at the last session: Gilda sits and stays at one end of the 6 Weave Poles, I walk to the other end of the Weave Poles and call her through and treat at the end if she is successful. Gilda was completely unable/unwilling to sit and or stay while I walked to the other side.

I had Mike stop filming so that he could hold her collar while I called her through. She was then able to go through the wide-open Weaves in both directions but completely fell apart when we closed them halfway!

I am sure that much of our issues were Handler Error! Needless to say, while I have learned a lot from the video of this day, there isn't any of it I'm willing to post on this little blog!

I am looking forward to class with Linda tonight and to our next practice on Friday morning...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Overjoyed and Overwhelmed...

Class was cancelled Wednesday night thanks to the most recent Lake Effect snow storm so I scheduled a practice session in the AU building this morning.

I am amazed at what my little dog friend is capable of retaining and performing each time we go. Don't get me wrong, we still have too many 'sniffy sessions' and occasional 'zoomies' but she also shows improvements each and every time.

Today after warming up, we did some Jump Recall exercises and then worked on Gilda's 2on/2off using the raised board. She stuck like glue from the first attempt! She jumps off the end of the board and then just plants her front feet and there she stays with her head up. It's all very cute. Gilda is now able to perform the 2o/2o as I'm running by. This was her major accomplishment for the session.

{Not agility related...just a favorite pic of Gilda and Jake, the biggest lab alive}
I laid out a 6 obstacle course ending with the Chute. Since she hadn't worked with the Chute in quite awhile, I decided to backchain the sequence... and she refused to go through. So much for that approach.

Our course was very straightforward: Jump, Jump, Jump, Tunnel (front cross), A-Frame, walk board with a 2o/2o (not a regulation obstacle but quite convenient). Gilda held her start line stay and performed this sequence 3 times! I find it hard to believe she is following my cues but I'm pretty certain that she couldn't run the mini-course without me so she's following something!

We also continued working on the (scary) Teeter on its lowest setting. Gilda was really eager to get on it today. She is willing and able to enter it on the low side, walk the entire distance pushing it to the ground (maybe 2") and then perform a 2o/2o. She will not do this from the high side! Once she pushes it down, she jumps off and then enters in the middle. Even so, we have made strides on the Teeter!

We then worked on the channel Weaves using 6 poles. I was able to recall Gilda through the fully opened Weaves from both directions. When I closed them halfway, she was inconsistent, sometimes 'weaving' all 6 poles and sometimes leaving 2 off of the starting end. It is really exciting to see her starting to weave. I'm wondering what style of weaver she'll be.

It is difficult as a novice to keep up with everything. Gilda is making gains on some equipment while losing on others (she also refused the tire jump). And then there is all of the work on the flat and the handling skills... I just keep focusing on our small gains and the fact that we are both having so much fun.

Monday, January 10, 2011

When in Doubt...Take Treats!

{Snow Dog}
It's cold here. Really cold. Like 22 degrees cold. It's all I can do to put on 4 layers, boots, hat, scarf, gloves, cellphone, iPod, collar, leash, dog coat... it's a wonder Gilda gets a walk at all in this weather. We were out the door before I realized that I had no dog treats. I figured I'd never be able to find them with my gloved hands and all the other stuff crammed in my pockets.

I also figured that we would be working mainly on heeling and loose leash walking since Gilda's Pet Partners test is quickly approaching.

Right now walking with manners is hit or miss. Gilda can't walk two steps with a loose leash on the way to Agility class but does great the whole way to the car after Agility class! She does well on daily walks until another dog approaches or passes.

We've both been using a Jaeger-style leash for walking (yes, more leashes). Mike and I both prefer hands-free walking and (if Gilda participates) it's much easier on my neck and shoulders.

Today, we were about 30 minutes into our walk with what seemed like corrections (stopping dead in my tracks when the leash goes taut) every other second when all of a sudden, Gilda just busts into the perfect heeling groove! I got very happy and told her, "Yessssssssss" (no clicker either!) and she immediately looked to my hand for a treat!  She nudged my hand a few times keeping her perfect heeling going and then seemed to  decide, "No treats? Well then, how about we go right back to sporadic heeling!"

It was great while it lasted and it let me know that a) Gilda is very capable of heeling and b) Food treats are more valuable than verbal praise.  Lesson learned.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cat Agility

Our daughter's cat, Max, performing his 2on/2off:

Practice Makes Progress

We had our second solo training session in the AU building today. Mike came along to video and act as technical support designing courses and adjusting equipment.

We started with our usual warm up and then worked on our 2o/2o. Today Gilda did great in both directions but is still working to understand that she needs to hold the position even when I'm running by.

Later, we mapped a course and attempted it. As always, Gilda did better (and ran faster) than me!

We mapped a second course which was better for both of us with just one sticking point. It wasn't until hours later that I realized what I was doing wrong. I so wish we could go back and try my new coreography!

Gilda truly seems to enjoy her part of Agility. I noticed that now when she is unsure of what to do, she turns and comes toward me looking for direction. In the not-so-distant past, she would run off as fast as she could and start sniffing. I'd say that's some progress!

To bring the activity level down, we did some Teeter work with the Teeter at its lowest setting. Using a clicker and treats, she was eager and willing to get on the teeter and we quickly had her walking across it making movement and noise! She really is a good dog.

It was a great session and I'm excited to report to Linda and Jessica about it.

Sloth Happens

Unfortunately, I let the excesses of the Holidays take over my life and not much was getting done by way of agility training!

I signed Gilda up for her first solo training session at AU to change my bad behavior...
On 12/30/10 we started off with a 3 minute warm-up session doing heeling, direction changes and recalls. Gilda seemed to get her "Agility Legs" quickly despite my sinful ways ;). Next, we did some single jumps with recalls and progressed to 2-jump exercises. I looked at the clock and only 10 minutes had elapsed!

With Gilda still in semi-calm mode, I decided to work on her 2on/2off skills using the elevated board that she was used to. I was shocked that 'remembered'! What I found interesting was that initally, she would only perform the 2o/2o in one direction. After a few attempts however, she was performing both ways.
Next, we tried the 2o/2o on the Dog Walk which went well as long as I stopped at the end of the obstacle with her.

I put Gilda in a crate and attempted to design my first obstacle course ever! Luckily, I benefitted from a recent run-through at the building and a beautiful course was all but laid out for me. (One thing I realized quickly was that I had no idea how to adjust any of the equipment except for the jumps!).

The course was: Jump, Dogwalk, tight turn back to the Tunnel, Jump, Jump, Jump, Table.

For some reason, I was unable to communicate the first jump so after 3 attempts, I left it out. Gilda was able to complete the remaining 6 obstacles three times in a row for me. At the end of of the last jump, she was way ahead of me racing for the table. I'm always behind her thinking, "how the heck did she know?".

Today will be our second solo practice with Mike taking some video (which I may or may not post!)

Happy New Year to all!!!