Thursday, May 26, 2011

Which is Worse... Tornado Sirens or Rear Crosses?

We had both for our last class of the session. The Tornado sirens were courtesy of Mother Nature and the Rear Crosses were thanks to our Guest Teacher, Jeanne!

We started off class with a neat little drill that is apparently similar to a Rally course. Jeanne set up some signs with numbered cones and then we followed the course:

1. 180 degree push
2. Sit for 5 seconds
3. Down for 5 seconds
4. Sit and walk around
5. Down and walk around
6. Front Cross on the Flat
7 Jog then walk at Heel
8. Rear Cross on the Flat

It was a great way to warm up and as Jeanne pointed out, it makes clear the areas that need some brushing up. It was apparent that we all had become somewhat comfortable doing our Rear Crosses with 180 degree turns so Jeanne showed us how to do a Rear Cross with a 90 degree turn. [I remember Jessica attempting to teach us this when I had no idea what we were doing!] has a similar exercise called the "Zig Zag Exercise" and it's well worth practicing:

Next we did some sequence work with jumps, tunnels and turns and then added in Front and Rear Crosses. Despite the Thunder and Lightning, all 3 dogs did well staying focused and active.

We followed this with some Contact Obstacle work using the Dog Walk and the A-Frame. Much to my surprise, Gilda was willing to perform the Dog Walk that she so recently refused! She can be quite the enigma!

Jeanne announced that our last exercise would be performing the Rear Cross between 2 jumps that were set at a 90 degree angle. Gilda and I had 2 attempts before it dawned on someone that the wailing Siren in the distance was the Tornado alert!

I think I can speak for Melanie and myself when I say that we almost welcomed the threat of a Tornado just to end the frustration of practicing the Rear Cross!

Jeanne did a great job as our Substitute Instructor especially since she only had experience with one of our 3 teams. Thanks Jeanne for leading a great (and exciting!) last class.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Busy As a... Dog

Just a quick update as Gilda has been very busy already this week...
Sunday Gilda had a 7 mile walk with Mike.
Monday Gilda walked 6 miles, swam across a large pond (at an undisclosed location) and then had a very successful hour at Akron Children's doing hospital visits. While still vigilant and slightly stressy, she is already showing signs that she is getting more comfortable with her surroundings. She is always happy to see kids and get attention from the nurses. She seems amazed that all the nurses know her name! (I wonder how that could be?) This was Gilda's final mentoring session so she is now officially a Doggie Brigade member!
Tuesday Gilda walked 3.5 miles in the rain and then had a very good Attention at Heel class. This was week 3 and she is already entering the building with more confidence and is extremely happy when 'Work Time' begins. She still likes to give the ole BC stare to the only reactive dog in the class, a young GSD, which inevitably sets off poor Dana and leaves Gilda looking bewildered about why a dog is barking its head off at her!
Today we may pond swim (legally this time) before going to our beloved Agility class tonight.
Happy Wednesday everyone... Arf!

{Spring = Swim}

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Self Confidence = Dog Confidence

We practiced Agility yesterday for about an hour working on short sequences and the blasted Jungle Gym Teeter (JGT).
We didn't have a high completion rate on sequences and made minimal progress on the JGT and yet, it was a very valuable practice session...

{Tunnel Cuteness}
I have been aware for awhile that my negative expressions have a negative effect on Gilda: If I drop my shoulders, stomp my foot, mutter 'dang' (the clean version) etc, she instantly stresses down as evidenced by her slowing down, hanging her head, running off. (It took me a long time to make the connection between what I viewed as 'bad dog' behavior and my own actions.)

Today, I realized that the opposite is also true: if I am confident, energetic, and upbeat, then Gilda is more likely to follow the correct path, stay with me, and trust me more.

The problem that this poses for me is that I am not at all confident in my handling skills or my dog training skills! It's the old Catch-22 if you will.

This was very evident on the JGT. I have no idea why Gilda has regressed so far on this obstacle but I can only suppose that I am somehow at the center of it all! I know full well that Gilda is capable of getting onto the Teeter and walking the length of it however, the moment she hesitates or quivers, I have a tendency to stop pushing her and this hesitancy on my part apparently feeds right into her insecurities. Clearly, what Gilda needs is for me to be more a cheerleader and less of a coddler. (Agility is also part psycho-analysis apparently...) When I stopped hesitating and kept moving quickly forward with my shoulders up, she was able to move around on the Teeter. It was a subtle but powerful lesson for me.

Another area I need to really work on is having confidence that Gilda will run her line even if I stay on my line. This is an untested theory as I have an overwhelming tendency to be able to both define my line verbally and by demonstration when walking the line without my dog after which I proceed to run a completely different line (ie right up against the jumps and obstacles) thinking that this is what Gilda needs! It's as if there is a mystical, gravitational pull that compels me to fling my arms directly over the jump bars and run directly at the tunnel openings but I'm getting a sense that this is  my coddling nature overriding my lack of confidence in my own handling and is not a true psychic phenomenon...

At least I know that Gilda will still be here by my side as I sort through all of this bit by bit! Hang in there, Gilds... We can do this!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I'm Not a Perfectionist...Or Am I?

Apparently I'm having a little trouble a) heeding my own advice and b) remembering the Golden Rule of Agility. In case you've forgotten, the Golden Rule of Dog Agility (or really dog anything) is "Keep it Fun"! The advice I've given is not to compare your dog or yourself to other Agility Teams. Here's the back story...

Last night after Heeling class (in which we both had fun), I was talking with Delta the Dalmatian's owner about how her Agility classes were going. She said that they recently competed in their first trial. Delta is 2 like Gilda. I asked  how long they've been doing Agility and she replied, "since May". And that's how it all began.

To be perfectly honest, I'm fine if we never trial (I hear everyone saying, "that's what I used to say").  My purpose for starting Agility was to help my dog become a good dog and to bond with her. Gilda has come so far due in large part to her Agility and Clicker training. With all of that said, I couldn't help thinking that I must be doing something wrong! Meanwhile, I don't know how long this person has worked with dogs, how many dogs she's had, if Delta was a well-adjusted pup, when she started training, etc. Egads!

{WTG Gilda!}

Linda said that we had a good class tonight and that we should all be happy. I was thrilled that Gilda seemed happy again and was jumping well and running fast for the first time in a long time. Why then did I find myself  acting disappointed about making handling errors, sighing out loud, announcing my mistakes (which as Linda said, everyone was already aware!) The worst part of all of this is that it truly affects Gilda. Her body droops, her head hangs down, and if she's going to race off mid-sequence this is when she does it.

My attitude with Gilda's Hospital visits is that if it's not fun for her, it won't be fun for anyone. I am very conscious of her stress levels and I work not to push her too far, too fast. I'm thinking this might be a good attitude for Agility too...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rear Crosses (and how they trouble me)

Agility truly makes me feel like I'm in a foreign place and everyone is speaking a language that I don't know but 2 words of ('okay' and 'hup'). I feel like everyone else is "getting it" and I'm just struggling along thinking, "will this ever get any easier?"

A prime example is the Rear Cross (RC). It's a seemingly simple move whereby you step laterally behind your dog while he continues forward  to complete a change of sides.

The Rear Cross is a handling maneuver that, like all crosses, is used to allow the handler to change from one side of the dog to the other or to initiate/maintain a turn in the dog's path. The Rear Cross has the following properties:

  • The dog must move ahead of the handler in order for the handler to cross behind the dog
  • The handler remains behind the dog immediately afterwards
  • The dog is visible to the handler throughout the cross
  • When used close to the dog, it can strongly effect the dog's path (for better or worse)
  • When the handler doesn't yield position to the dog a collision can occur

I learned quickly that things that seem simple, often aren't and the RC is one of those things (for me at least). I also learned that when it comes to a RC, timing is truly everything.

Here's the thing though... there's not just one RC, there are 2. Of course there are...

First, there's the Rear Cross On The Flat (RCOTF). All this time, I thought OTF referred to shadow handling or training exercises. Wrong again! OTF also refers to the space between obstacles. (Again, it sounds simple but to me it's not that clear when we're running a sequence!) Therefore, a RCOTF is performed after the dog completes one obstacle turning the dog to face the next obstacle.

RC On the Flat courtesy of :

[The pictures below show the handler position after each step for Rear Crosses starting on the handler's left and right. Imagine the dog is moving forward and his nose is right where the finger of my lead arm is pointing (obviously my lead arm changes as I change the dog from one side to the other).]
StepRear Cross Without Dog
Dog On Handler's Left
Rear Cross Without Dog
Dog On Handler's Right
Rear Cross Left Step 0Rear Cross Right Step 0
Step 1Rear Cross Left Step 1Rear Cross Right Step 1
Step 2Rear Cross Left Step 2Rear Cross Right Step 2
Step 3Rear Cross Left Step 3Rear Cross Right Step 3
CompleteRear Cross Left Step 4Rear Cross Right Step 4

The second type of RC can be done on the takeoff side OR the landing side of an obstacle. This RC turns the dog while he is performing the obstacle.

If you are thoroughly confused, Here are links to some Agility Nerd Videos and more videos! which are very helpful for the eternally confused...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Attention At Heel

Last night was our first Attention at Heel class at Fortunate Fido with our teacher Ginger and 5 other dog/handler teams (a mixed bag: an Australian Shepherd mix, a Sheltie, a pit bull rescue, a Dalmation, a GSD, and Gilda). The class description reads:

6 weeks- 1 hour each week(dogs come every week) You and your dog must complete Beginner or puppy class before taking this class. We work on attention and proper heel position.
  • Heel position
  • Find heel games
  • Back up in heel position
  • Attention games
  • Canine freestyle moves
My main goal in taking the class is to help Gilda become more comfortable and confident working in facilities other than Agility Underground. I'm hoping that this class will help Gilda in both Agility and with hospital visits.

Gilda was very nervous as we entered the building and she put herself into a 'down' and pretty much stuck there at my feet as we waited for class to start. I rewarded her for attention and she was able to take treats for the most part. She was visibly nervous about noises and I was a little concerned to learn that metal folding chairs would be used as she cringed at the sight of them and each time one was moved even an iota.

Gilda in the 'down' watching dogs and people enter the room is not a picture I am used to seeing! She faked some folks out looking like the dutiful and calm dog but clearly this was a stress response.

We started class with some heel exercises and Gilda quickly reverted to her old self trying hard to do what was asked of her (and getting ahead of herself at times by offering non-related behaviors). She was willing and able to work even as the metal chairs were moved around and props were added and taken away. 

I think it was a great start and I look forward to the next 5 weeks of class!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Recalls to Heel

Last week in class, Linda asked us to demonstrate any or all of the 6 Recalls to heel. Some of us were slightly rusty. Here is a primer:

1. Foundation Recall - To start, the dog is perpendicular to the jump on the take-off side. The handler is on the landing side of the jump facing the dog. [The handler's location will affect the dog's jump: Generally speaking, closer to the jump = collection; far from the jump = extension]. When the handler recalls the dog over the jump, the dog should turn and land parallel to the bar with a 90 degree change of direction.

2. Serpentine Recall - to start, the dog is set on an angled approach to the jump nearly parallel to the bar on the take-off side. The handler is on the landing side facing forward (or away from the dog). When the handler recalls the dog diagonally over the jump, the dog should land parallel to the bar with no change in direction.

3. Directed-Jump Recall - To start, the dog is again set on an angled approach to the jump. The handler is on the landing side of the jump facing the dog. When the handler recalls the dog, the dog should turn and land parallel to the bar with a complete change of direction.

4. 270 Recall - To start, the dog is set on a parallel, end-on approach to the jump. The handler is is on the landing side, perpendicular to the jump, facing the dog. When the dog is recalled over the jump, the dog should turn and land perpendicular to the bar with a 90 degree change of direction.

5. Backy-Uppy Recall - To start, the dog is set perpendicular to the jump on the takeoff side. The handler is  also on the takeoff side of the jump, perpendicular to the bar, facing the dog. When the dog is recalled over the jump, the dog should jump, turn, and come to the handler's side perpendicular to the bar, with a complete change in direction.

6. Extension Recall - To start, the dog is set perpendicular to the jump. The handler is on the landing side facing forward. [The handler needs to be far enough away from the bar  for the dog to jump in extension.] When recalled over the jump, the dog should come to the handler's side with no change in direction.

Here is a YouTube video which shows Foundation Recall to Heel, Extension Recall to Heel, and Backy-Uppy Recall to Heel:

Here is a video showing Serpentine Recall to Heel:

This video demonstrates 270 Recall to Heel:

Here is Directed Jump Recall to Heel:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Working Outside

Our second class of this session was held in the outdoor agility area. Gilda met her new classmate, Cooper, a beautiful 3 year old Australian Shepherd, and was able to work very well in close proximity with him.

We did more work on turning obstacles and 7-obstacle sequencing using Backchaining. We also worked on Obstacle Discrimination using the the A-Frame and a Tunnel entrance right next to the A-Frame. I was astounded at Gilda's accuracy as it didn't even seem like she was looking at me but somehow knew which Obstacle to take! Linda assures me that she was following my handling cues but I prefer to think she's just a genius!

All was going very well until... Cooper voluntarily took the Teeter instead of a jump. As I saw it happening, I had a treat ready for Gilda for the moment the Teeter hit the ground but it didn't help much. From that point on, Gilda stressed down anytime anyone approached the Teeter! Part of the issue was that Cooper is a big fan of the Teeter and prefers it to the Tunnel! Around the same time Gilda started reacting to the Teeter, Cooper started refusing to take the Tunnel any way, shape, or form. These 2 were quite a pair!!

Somehow, this week has gone by with no practice at the building! Our goals going forward are going to be stress-free practices with Jungle Gym Teeter and Weave Poles...

Happy Spring!