Monday, December 3, 2012

Pico & the Clean Run!

Pico and I attended a Teacup Dog Agility Trial (TDAA) at Medina Swarm on 11/18 and it was a disaster! Not because he didn't Q; it was a disaster because he looked scared to death in each of 3 runs and he ran out of the ring twice... something he had never done.

I wasn't sure if it was the crate I used, the whistles he wasn't used to, a new dog?? It's hard to tell with dogs. After talking about it all with our instructor, Jessica, Pico had a very good class on Wednesday. We both worked together to make it fun and happy with lots of reinforcement. He ran fast and happy with no signs of stress (other than leashing and crating which are, for now, his baseline).

On December 1, 2012, we entered our third CPE trial at Medina Swarm and we were scheduled to run in 4 events. CPE trial days start early! We arrived at 7:00am, full of caffeine (me) and friskiness (morning Pico). When I discovered that all of the course maps were already taken, I nearly had a nervous breakdown! "You don't need a map!" exclaimed a friend. Technically she was right. Emotionally, she was very wrong... Luckily a higher-level competitor realized that she had a Level 1/2 map that she wouldn't need! Dog people are so very helpful!

Now under control, I settled in to study and plot my plan for Full House. I needed to do 3 Jumps, 2 Circles (Tunnels, Chute, or Tire) and 1 Contact (Dog Walk, Teeter, or A Frame) and get to at least 19 points before the judge blew the whistle. If we were still running when the whistle blew, we would need to get to the Table ASAP to stop the clock.
The course looked like this:

I planned to start close to the exit and take Jump (1), Jump (1), Tunnel (3), A-Frame (5), Jump (1), Tunnel (3) (at this point, my obstacle requirements were met and I would have 14 points). I could then take the Dogwalk for 5 points and work our way to the Table to stop the clock.

Here is how the run went:
Judge: "Go when ready"
Me (leading out): "Okay. Jump!"
Pico: Yay! Table!
Judge: "Thank You."

And so our Fullhouse ended before it even began! I laughed it off and made sure Pico knew that it was okay. Now I know not to start him near the Table!

118 runs later, it was our turn to run our Level 1 Standard Course:

If I remember correctly, we did okay up until the Double Jump (10).  I Rear Crossed Pico over #10 and he jumped and then kept right on running toward the start line. I called him back and tried more than once before he took #11 and ran off again. He did eventually do all of the obstacles but we NQ'd for being over time. I was so happy that he didn't leave the ring and I rewarded him with his favorite trial treat, Chicken Baby Food! He was a happy guy.

We do not run Jackpot yet but most everyone else in the place went out for the Jackpot briefing  It was very quiet in the crating area when suddenly, a dog started howling. Sitting on my lap, Pico very slowly tilted his head all the way back, drew his ears in tight and out came the smallest, cutest howl I have ever heard! A trialer nearby tried to capture it on video but wasn't able to! Who knew that even tiny dogs channel the wolf when need be!

After Jackpot, we all met in the ring to pose for a group picture for 'Team Brandt' , a young boy who is undergoing treatment for Wilm's Tumor. I haven't see the group shot yet but we posted this on his Face Book wall:

Next up, Wildcard. For Level 1, we needed to do 2As and 1B. The course looked like this:

My plan was to take 4A (single Jump), 6A (Tunnel), and 8B (Tunnel). I was trying to play to Pico's love of Tunnels here. Pico, had other ideas however. With him on my right, we took Tunnel, Jump, Jump. As I was running between 4B and 4A, he chose a Blind Cross and took the Double Jump. There went my plan! Trying to think quickly (not my Forte), I got him through the Tunnel and sent him over the A Frame (yay me! I thought). Over Jump 7 and through Tunnel 8A (this is where I thought I erred). Turns out, We did 3B's and thus NQ'd!
Pico however, completed his course so he got another big helping of Baby Food!

Last up was Jumpers. I memorized the course and felt good about my plan when I walked it:

I am still having trouble completing a front cross as Pico is a quick little bug. I planned to Rear Cross him over the Double Jump (5) and Rear Cross him into the Tunnel (10). We started with a Start Line Stay with him on my right and he did Jump, Tunnel, Jump, Jump. He was running well and paying attention to me. I RC'd him over the Double and I think it was sheer luck that he had nowhere to go but into the Tunnel because he looked as though he was lost and ready to zoom off. He came out of Tunnel (6) on my left and took Tunnel, Jump, Jump, and I RC'd him into Tunnel (10). He came out on my right and took Jump, Jump!!!!

PICO'S FIRST CLEAN RUN was on the books! He ran 12 obstacles in 22 seconds for a Q and a Blue! (Okay, out of 2 but still)

I was thrilled with him. Friends reported that not only was he running fast, but he was running happy with those big ears up!

For me, this is progress and I am thrilled.  A year ago, I never would have thought that I'd be trialing with a small dog. Pico was just happy to finish that jar of Baby Food and head on home to see Gilda!

We are considering trying another TDAA trial this weekend at at new venue... stay tuned for more details!

Monday, October 22, 2012


Pico attended his second-ever CPE trial this weekend at Medina Swarm Agility AND he earned his very first Qualifying Score (Q) ever!

I decided to run a Colors course for the first time. The course map showed a 'circles' course and a 'squares' course. Diane (Karma's mom) and I decided that we liked the 'circles' course and we studied it like crazy!

When we got out there to walk the course, it was labeled with orange pumpkins and yellow pumpkins! I was nervous and overwhelmed already and could not figure out if the circle course was the orange pumpkins or the yellow pumpkins! And so it began...

During the briefing, Judge Becky Dean, advised us to walk both of the courses so that if our dogs took a different #4 than our original plan, we could then take the other course. I was still stuck on trying to figure out which course was the circle course but decided to go ahead and walk both. I didn't really want to but I followed her advice and tried both. I actually ended up choosing the yellow pumpkin course which was the squares course).

We all left the ring to get our dogs ready and there was an announcement: Apparently the yellow pumpkin course was mis-numbered and we'd all have to put our dogs away and re-walk the course. Being our first run of the day, my nerves were up and this, combined with the pumpkins and the shapes... Gaaaaaaa!

So I re-walked the course, still choosing yellow pumpkins and I went to get Pico who was second in the running order.

Pico had a perfect start line stay. I released him with an "okay. jump!" and off we went. Jump, Tunnel, Jump, Jump... and then, I was lost! Pico, running fast, made his own decision and took the tunnel (off course) which gave me enough time to collect my thoughts. I called Pico out of the tunnel and we took Jump, Jump, Tunnel, Jump, Tunnel, Jump !

I was sure I had blown it! BUT, in CPE Level 1, some faults are allowed. Pico had 5 faults for the off-course but finished within time and so we QUALIFIED and got First Place for all 4 of the 8" jumpers!

I was surprised when my friend Diane (Karma) said, "Go up and get your ribbons" and even more surprised when Julie (Blitz) said, "Take a green ribbon for your Q and a blue for your place".  At this point, I was still sure I had blown it by getting lost.

My friend Megan (Joey & Lily) who was in the ring during our run, said, "Remember? I told you that you Qd!" but what I had to explain to her was that I don't hear anything from 5 minutes before we go in to 5 minutes after we come outof the ring!

It really was exciting to get a Q because it gives me the feeling that we are making progress. Pico doesn't care about ribbons or Qs, he just wants to run and eat chicken baby food when he's done!

Our second run was Jumpers Level 1. I had plenty of time to study the course map and felt really good about it once we walked it. My initial concern was the angle of Jump 1 to Jump 2.

Pico once again had a solid start line stay. When I told him "Okay, jump", he jumped #1 and then sailed around the far side of #2. He also bypassed #3 and then took off straight for the starting gate! This was the first time he has ever zoomed off.  I was able to reel him in but I wasn't sure if CPE rules allowed me to go back and redo 2 jumps so I just circled him around, did Jump 3 and we were on our way. We may have had another issue or two... it's all a blur now but the fact that he didn't take Jump 2 gave us an NQ. His time put him in 2nd place among three 8" dogs. I did find out later that we could have circled around and taken #2 and #3. Live and Learn!

Standard Level 1 was our final run of the day and I loved the course on paper!

I also loved the course when we walked it. I felt like it was very appropriate for our level of ability.

For this event, Pico was the only 8" jumper in Level 1. Once again, my little friend had a solid Start Line Stay. He is so cute just sitting there like a serious little soldier.

Apparently he'd been drinking some jet fuel because the minute I released him, he took off at full speed! He took Jump 1, climbed the A Frame and shot through Tunnel 3! I was attempting a Front Cross at the exit of the tunnel when he blasted through. He apparently knew what I was trying to tell him because he blew past me and into tunnel 4! I was sort of able to harness his speed a bit and got him over Jump 5 and Jump 6 but he just kept running a straight line. I called him back and got him around the pinwheel of Jumps 7, 8 and 9 and onto the Dog walk. I needed to stay close in order to keep him on the Dog walk until the end but I also needed to Front Cross at the end. He was moving fast and barely watching me! We did manage to get the last 3 jumps and Pico earned another Q and of course First Place since he was the only dog in his class!

Our classmate Karma ran the same three events and also had great results. They were both exhausted by the end of the day:

{Karma & Pico with some of their winnings
and Diane's foot again!}

Also, our friend Brodie stopped by with her Aunt Melinda to show us her Howl-O-Ween costume! She looked great and seemed to really love wearing a dress!

{Scottish Terrier Brodie modeling}

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Barn Hunt Illustrated

Here are the official results of the 10/06/2012 Fun Test and Barn Hunt:

Congratulations to our Top Four RATN Small dogs 
(these are dogs that measure 13" and under):

1. Buster, Jack Russell Terrier, Time: 14.53 seconds
2. Maggie, Miniature Dachshund, Time: 15.31 seconds
3. Buzz, Dachshund, Time: 18.98 seconds
4. Emma, Miniature Dachshund, Time: 19.13 seconds

Out of the 53 large dogs entered in RATN, we had 32 dogs find the rat and pass the test

Congratulations to our Top Four RATN Medium dogs 
(these are dogs that measure over 13.1" and under 18"):

1. Wishbone, Parson Russell Terrier, Time: 10.12 seconds
2. Fawnrun Mandolin Raine, Parson Russell Terrier, Time: 15.03 seconds
3. Baxter, JRT-Beagle, Time: 23.24 seconds
4. Gilda, All-American, Time: 26.85 seconds

Out of the 30 medium dogs entered in RATN, we had 19 dogs find the rat and pass the test!

Congratulations to our Top Four RATN Large dogs 
(these are dogs that measure 18" and over):

1. Duke, Australian Shepherd, Time: 14.13 seconds
2. Sassy, All-American, Time: 16.43 seconds
3. Shammie, All-American, Time: 23.57 seconds
4. Levi, All-American, Time: 27.00 seconds

Out of the 24 large dogs entered in RATN, we had 15 dogs find the rat and pass the test!

{Buster, the #1 small dog, finding his quarry!}

This is a video of Brenda and her dog Comet, a Norwegian Buhund, performing his Instinct Test (RATI) at the GLRTC Barn Hunt!

Comet successfully performs the Tunnel element, sniffs around a bit, and performs the Climbing element. Once in the back area, he seems very interested in the first tube he finds (possibly the litter tube). His handler, Brenda, helps him to find the other 2 tubes and he clearly marks the tube containing the live rat by bowing! WTG Comet on passing your test!

A Border Terrier carefully inspects the tubes...

Petey, a Jack Russell Terrier, clearly marks that he has found the rat!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Barn Hunt Anyone?

Barn Hunts are sort of new...
Until very recently, Barn Hunts have been an informal game at Earthdog events. Now, thanks to the Barn Hunt Association , lots of folks around the country are working to make this a Sanctioned event! Now, those of us with non-earthdogs can play along too!

Gilda and I have been very fortunate in our Dog Sports endeavors. We just happen to live near The Agility Underground , an excellent training facility;  we just happened to get in on some Treibball lessons which are not easy to find; and now, we are just lucky enough to have friends who started the Great Lakes Rat Terriers Club !
This newly formed group recently held their very first event:

{Rat Cookies for the Dogs!}

The Great Lakes Rat Terrier Club

Join us on Saturday, October 6, 2012 for the
Intro Clinic and Fun Test
From 10am to 4pm

Any dog, of any breed may 
participate in Barn Hunt Trials.
Help us get Barn Hunt off to a good start 
by participating in a fun test. 
We want your input and opinions as we work toward 
making Barn Hunt a titling sport in 2013!
This event will allow you to introduce your 
dog to the fun of barn hunt and let the dog
use its natural instincts to identify prey. 
Come help us make Barn Hunt a success!
[Note: I was unable to capture the brochure as a photo file... trust me, it was much nicer than the above!]

I was excited to sign up with Gilda even though I knew very little about what a Barn Hunt entailed or even whether or not Gilda would be good at it.  The GLRTC was offering 2 events:  an Instinct Test (RATI) and a Novice Course (RATN). Here are their descriptions of each:

Rat Instinct Class (RATI): The Instinct course will be a 
simple, straight chute with one tunneling and one climbing 
element.  There will be one PVC tube with a rat. The dog 
has one minute to find the rat. This class is judged 

Novice Barn Hunt: (RATN): The Novice test is a future 
titling event. The course will be designed by the judge and 
will have both climbing and tunneling elements. There will 
be three PVC tubes on the course, one “dry,” one with litter 
but no rat, and one with a rat. The dog has two minutes 
from time of release to complete the tunnel effort and 
climbing effort and find the correct PVC tube.

I signed Gilda up for the Instinct Test and one run of the Novice course. Many, many other people did just the same! The turnout was incredible and I'm looking forward to hearing the final numbers from the day.

Gilda was the 11th dog to run the Instinct Test in the medium/large dog ring. To successfully pass the Instinct test, the dog had to perform one tunnel element, one climbing element, and mark the tube containing the rat! 
Despite handling the environment very well for the first 2 hours of the day,  Gilda was very skittish about entering the ring. I did my best to remain neutral as if we were just walking somewhere new. I removed her slip lead and told her "Tunnel!" and off she went through the hay bale tunnel. Next, I told her "Over!" and there she went right over the hay bale. There were 3 perforated PVC tubes with hay scattered over them. One tube was empty, one tube contained some 'previously used' rat litter, and one tube held the rat itself. I told Gilda to "Find it!" (even though that has little meaning to her). She dutifully followed my pointing finger and sniffed each tube. When she got to the third tube, she was visibly more interested with much more sniffing. She started quivering all over which I assumed was her 'mark'. I did exactly what the Judge told us not to do and blurted out, "I think that's it". [The handler is to raise a hand and say, "Mark it" to stop the clock].
Somehow, with no training whatsoever, Gilda managed to pass her Instinct Test with flying colors!


It was so exciting just watching her find the rat using her natural abilities. I don't know about Gilda but I was so ready to try the Novice Course!

The Novice Course was set up similar to the Instinct test but the three tubes could be hidden anywhere on the course. The dogs were grouped in sets of 5. After each group, the tube containing the rat was moved to a new location. After 3 groups had run, a new rat was brought out to decrease the stress to the rats.

Gilda was the first dog to run in the 3rd medium-dog group. We took our seats in the blind (a tent that prevented handlers (and dogs!) from seeing the rat's location.) When we were called by the gate steward, Gilda was once again a little nervous entering the ring. As soon as her lead was off though, she was ready to roll again!

Through the tunnel she went, sniffing along the way, and then right over the hay bale!  I'm not sure I even gave her any instruction up to this point. Once over the hay bale, she zeroed in on a tube and started quivering. This time, I raised my hand and loudly proclaimed, "Mark it!" (just like in Agility, it just takes me a few reminders!)

The judge suggested that maybe I should have spent some time having her find and inspect the other tubes. However, I was pretty sure that her mark was clear. Some dogs mark by raising a lip (as if disgusted by the smell of the stinky critter), some dogs raise a paw, and others attempt to get at the rat. A challenge to the handler is correctly reading their dog. A big thanks to Gilda for making this easy on me!  I heard a rumor later that she may well have placed 4th for all the medium dogs! I will update this post when I have the hard facts! She did in fact earn a ribbon for completing the required obstacles and finding the rat during her Novice run!

{First ribbon ever for the Gildz!}

{A Gilda's-Eye view}

It really was a great day with tons and tons of dogs and dog people! Please be sure and visit GLRTC on their website and on Facebook !

I am so excited to have found something that Gilda loves and can hopefully participate in more! Thanks a million to Mary, Sue, and Linda for all of the work they put into this fantastic event and to all of the volunteers, judges and Rat Wranglers without whom so much fun could not have been had by dogs and handlers alike! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dr. Yin Touched my Dog!

I was asked by The Behavior Clinic to bring Gilda to participate in this event:

"Sophia Yin Presents: Fear and Aggression in the Vet Clinic; A Seminar and Workshop!"

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. I only knew that a) I was super stoked to see Dr. Yin in action as I have read (and love) her book, 'How to Behave so Your Dog Behaves' and b) I'm always up for taking Gilda to new adventures in public.

As it turned out, Gilda was one of the demo dogs used by the veterinarians and veterinary technicians that were attending the seminar. Dr. Yin was teaching safe,  low-stress handling techniques as the workshop portion of her seminar.

{Demonstrating the towel technique!}

Gilda was surprisingly good right out of the car, heeling and accepting treats despite lots of people and dogs. She had a short wait in the portable crate where she ignored her stuffed Kong and she was very eager to come back out!

She was mesmerized by the bowls and bowls of sliced hot dogs (something she never gets at home) and wasn't distressed in the least about being left with 2 strangers! She was stressed with the handling and especially with being put up on a table but she kept on accepting treats and did very well.

[I am very happy that I didn't choose Pico because hot dogs or not, he would have snapped, no doubt!]

{Dr. Yin (center) Handling Gilda!}

It really was a thrill to see Dr. Yin in action. She is every bit as calm, kind, and caring as I expected after reading her book!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What About Gilda?

With Pico trialing now and taking Agility lessons, I haven't posted much about my beloved Gilda...

{Gilda happily unaware of the tiny demon behind her!}

Well, she's doing great! She is now under the care of Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Elizabeth Feltes at The Behavior Clinic. Dr. Feltes is trying some pharmacologic therapy to help Gilda with her stress and obsessive behavior. Her KPA certified veterinary technician Amanda, is helping us on the training end.

So for now, Gilda gets lots of walks (13 miles yesterday!) and lots of pond swimming and clicker training sessions in an effort to keep her stress lower so that we can better assess how the medications are working. They seem to be helping her a bit. She is sweeter with us giving more tail wags and licks and letting us pet her for longer than usual. The meds have not helped at all with her obsessive behaviors so we are still working on that!

Occasionally I take her along with us to Pico's agility class. She usually seems content in the safety of the crate. This week however, she completely ignored her peanut butter stuffed Kong and protested the fact that I was out there playing with Pico. At the end of class, I got her out and asked for a couple jumps just to see if that's why she was vocalizing.

As I was walking both dogs (Gilda off leash) to the door to go outside, Gilda performed the Teeter on her own!!! This is huge so of course I made a fuss. When the class after ours cancelled, Jessica suggested I just see what she'd do out there.

Gilda happily ran a course with me twice! And she was fabulous. I was so happy that I nearly cried.

{Cutest Demo Dog Ever!}

Today we are headed to The Behavior Clinic so that Gilda can be a demo dog for none other than Dr. Sophia Yin! You might say I'm little excited about it all!!!!!!!!!

Monday, September 10, 2012

TDAA Champ! (In my eyes at least...)

{Proud Pico!}

Pico had his first Teacup Dogs Agility Association (TDAA) trial at Four Seasons K9 Athlete Center yesterday!

I was somewhat leery about entering in a completely new venue (having just started in CPE) and I talked to many dog friends to get their opinions. My goal at this point is to enjoy Agility while I can and with that in mind, I entered... I'm so glad I did! Teacup, it turns out, is as relaxed and fun as CPE.

It was also good to get Pico into an Agility Center that was completely new to him. Four Seasons is a beautiful (hard to find!) 14,000 sq foot building which is much more open than he's used to. Apparently, if I'm with him and there's Agility to be done, he can pretty much ignore most distractions!

It's hard to tell from this blurry video still, but even the equipment is scaled to small dogs! Teacup trials offer a brief 'equipment familiarization' period before the trial starts. I was able to get Pico out and onto the equipment prior to his runs. He even did well with the Teeter which is much lower and shorter than a regulation Teeter. Brave boy!

Our first run was in Beginner Standard 1:

This was a nice, flowing S-shaped course. As judge Margaret Hendershot explained: "Beginner courses should be very easy and fun because they are designed to get you out there working with your dog". I couldn't agree more and really appreciated her thoughtfulness.

During the briefing, the judge said that the table behavior would be a 5-second stand. Pico does not have a cued stand behavior so I knew right away that we would get a fault. Many people offered solutions ("if I run in place, my dog stays standing", "don't cue him and maybe he'll stand"). My opinion though is that he has been taught to hit the table and lay down and he does it very well. I sure didn't want to stress him by saying, "No buddy.  In this one instance, I want something different". I'm not going for Qs at this point, I'm looking for experience. He did a beautiful table down and he held it for 5 whole seconds. It was great!!

Pico, as in his first trial seemed initially wild and unfocused but quickly seemed to realize what we were doing out there. We had many faults and received an 'E' because Pico jumped off the teeter at the pivot point. I made a mental note that I'd need to stay right by him if another teeter popped up.

Our second run was a game, Heinz 57:

'Heinz 57 is a point accumulation game that goal of which is to earn exactly 57 points. Points will be awarded as follows:
Jumps: 1
Tunnels and Tire: 2
Contacts and Weaves: 3
The chute is a special obstacle. It will double all of the points earned up to that point. The chute may be taken twice, but may not be taken back-to-back.

Time stops on the table which is live at all times. If the team scores more than 57 points, the excess points will be subtracted from 57 to arrive at the team's final score. Placements will be by points. Time is a tie-breaker.' 

[Qualifying times are based on level and jump height. Pico, a beginner 8" jumper,  needed to get 57 points in 53 seconds to qualify]

Lucky for us, we have good friends who are also accomplished Agility performers (Thanks Marilyn and Melinda!) They helped me to map out a course which, if followed, would give us 57 points.

We chose: Jump (1), A-Frame (3), Tunnel (2), Tunnel (2), Dogwalk (3), Tunnel (2) for a total of 13 points. Next, we would go through the chute to double to 26 points, Take a tunnel (2) to make 28 points, take the chute to double that to 56 points, take a Jump (1) to get to 57 points and hit the table to stop the clock!

Pico, not in on the plan from the beginning, sat at the start line and when I cued him to jump, he turned around and jumped on the table! I thought that he had just ended the game before we even began but the judge said it was fine since he hadn't crossed the start line! Phew! We quickly restarted with the first jump and then Pico  skipped right on past the A-Frame! I had to double him back over the A-Frame  because I couldn't do math while I was out there running around like a madwoman! Luckily, he followed right along after that. Unfortunately, he slipped on the entrance to the dog walk and it ate up time getting him back on. We were over time by 12 seconds so we did not qualify but we still got 1st place for our division! Woohoo! As Mike said, "And so the dynasty begins!"

It was here that I discovered that you can get place ribbons even if you don't qualify! Who knew?! Turns out we could have received a ribbon at our first trial too. Live and learn...

Our final run of the day was another Beginner Standard:

[I love how the judge includes happy cartoons!]
Another nice, flowy course with an interesting 5-6-7-8 combo. Pico had a great start line stay (yay Pico!) and walked the entire length of the teeter since I stayed right near him (yay Pico!) He then perfomed the tire and sent to the tunnel beautifully (yay and yay!). He took the jump and then entered the left side of the tunnel. I, for some reason, thought that he was to enter the right side of the tunnel so I proceeded to send him back through the right side. I learned later that in TDAA, if the numbered cone is at the center of the tunnel, then entrance is optional! Again, live and learn. We had some additional stumbles but he stayed right there with me watching for cues all the time and coming right back after off-courses! In the video (which isn't good enough to post), he hits the table, drops right to a down, and his tail wags furiously for the entire count of 5. So stinking cute!

In TDAA, no faults are allowed for a qualifying score even at the beginner level so once again, we did not Q but we did place 2nd (out of 2 dogs!)

It was a really fun day and I got to meet so many new dog friends! I am looking forward to entering into more trials with my tiny teammate!

Friday, September 7, 2012

What Makes a Great Instructor? [Dog Agility Blog Action Day]

"We need to learn and embrace patience. Patience is a holy key that will unlock the door to a more fulfilling life. Behind the blessed door of patience are found better parents, powerful teachers, great businessmen, wise masters, and a more compassionate world." ~S. Maraboli

While experience is paramount, I believe that Patience is at the heart of all great Agility instructors.

A great Agility instructor practices patience with us as students (some of us more than others!) and they also teach us how to become patient handlers and trainers for our dogs. It's a tough bill to fill for sure!
If you think about it, people come to Agility with all different levels of experience, different personalities and different styles of learning. On top of that, students bring their dogs with them... Dogs will all different levels of experience, different personalities and different learning styles. Only instructors with some serious patience can deal with this crowd effectively!

As I've written many times, I came into Agility knowing literally nothing about it or about dog training in general. Of all the lessons I've learned over the past 3 years, Patience is by far the most important one.

Patience has helped me learn about our dogs and their differences.

Gilda needs all the patience I can muster as she lives her every waking moment teetering on the very edge of stressing either up on down depending on the situation! Stress impedes learning for all living things so it's important to find ways to avoid it.

Gilda is a quick study but requires time and space to feel confident in performing what she's learned. She can perform a teeter for example but will only willingly do so if she's the only dog around for miles. Frustrating? Yes. Very!
Frustration however, (on either my part or hers) drastically decreases learning.
Linda, in her calm, patient way, took the stress out of the teeter by changing it from an exercise to a fun game with great rewards! Without Linda's patience and understanding, Gilda would still be quivering in a corner at the mere sight of a teeter. Lord only knows where I'd be!

Pico, on the other hand is 'Mr. Operant'. He generally loves to train and loves to work. He requires the most patience from me when new things don't come easily to him because that generally means that I need to change my teaching technique.

I was determined to train Pico to weave using channel weaves because we have a set of 6 of them sitting in our basement. As we started our weave training, it became quickly apparent that Pico didn't understand the exercise at all. It was clear that he didn't understand why he was getting a click/treat sometimes and not others. The ever-patient Jessica made every training adjustment she could think of before recommending that we try using the 2x2 method to train the weaves. One session with the 2x2s and Pico's little light bulb came on!

I know for a fact that Jessica prefers the 2x2 method and has for some time now. I'm even more certain that she wanted to switch Pico's method after our first session. In the end, it was Jessica's experience that led us to try the 2x2s but it was her patience that enabled her to wait until I was ready to try it!

In our fast-paced world of 24/7 ATMs, instant pics and fast food, it's often hard to wait... to really wait. Dogs love instant gratification as much as we humans do. It's up to us to teach them patience through our actions. The rewards are great I'm sure... I'm still working patiently toward them!

Thanks Linda and Jessica. Without your patience for myself and my dogs, I'm quite sure we wouldn't be where we are today.

* For more posts on 'What Makes a Great Agility Instructor', please link to Dog Agility Blog Events: Instructors

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Pico and I made our trial debut at a CPE trial held at Medina Swarm in Wadsworth, OH!

{We are official!}

Pico did very well being measured, not once, but twice and now has his official CPE measurement of 11.75" which means that his jumps are set at 8". This is a good thing for Pico right now and should decrease the chances that he'll knock a bar (he would probably jump 16 if we asked him to!)  We need all the help we can get at this stage!

I was really touched by all the moral and technical support I received both from my Agility Underground friends and from people I had just met (Especially Melinda, my crate neighbor, who taught me so much during the day!)  Sue and Toni both gave me great pep talks on the importance of keeping it fun for Pico above all else. I was a little concerned about Pico since it was his first day in this atmosphere so I stayed close to him most of the day. I hope when he's more comfortable to be able to repay the kindness I was shown!

Our first run was in Novice Standard and the course was a nice, flowy, seemingly easy, 13 obstacle run:

I purposely planned to send Pico into the tunnel (6) off of my right and run behind the tunnel keeping him off of my right, so that I wouldn't have to RC him into the tunnel as RCs are new to him. [Running behind the tunnel is not technically correct] My theory was that we'd have more success this way by...

As it turns out, when you are a novice, the easy course on paper, doesn't always translate to an easy course in real life with adrenalin flowing and a real, live dog!

I crated Pico for the briefing and walk-through. To my surprise, as soon as the walk-through was over, I heard the gate-steward say, "As soon as Pico gets here, we can start"! Poor Pico got no warm-up time and to make matters worse, I managed to step on his tiny paw as we made our way to the start. I think Pico was very unsure of what exactly we were doing out there and he wasn't sure why there was people sitting around inside the ring! We stumbled through the first 3 obstacles and then were able to string a few together once the light popped on for Pico (it was as if he said, "oh! agility! let's go!")
It wasn't pretty but my little teammate was willing to try really hard to stay with me through the entire course. We ended with a good time but had 30 faults so we NQ'd.
[I now know that Running Order is available online prior to the trial! Learning, Learning!]

I was shocked to find so many friends at the finish! I honestly didn't expect anyone to watch us except for Sally who graciously offered to film our debut! I am telling you, their support and encouragement made it a great experience! (For Pico,  the baby food jackpot that made it great)

Our second run was Jumpers Level 1:

When I first looked at this course, I thought, "There is no way I can memorize this!" No one else seems to struggle with this fear so I channeled Jessica and Linda, and was able to! I even impressed Marilyn when I was able to recite the course without looking at the paper! (Thanks Jessica!). This time, I planned to RC Pico into the Tunnel (4) so that he'd be on my left for 5,6,7 and 8. My plan was to 'book it' (as Jessica says) after sending him to 7 so that I could FC and send him to 9 off of my right. He would then take the rest of the course off of my right. Easy right?! Theoretically, yes. In practice, Notsomuch...

After the walk-through, I felt pretty good about my plan. I was able to get Pico out for a few jumps and some good attention work since we were fourth this time. I would say that this was a big improvement over our first run but we stumbled right where I thought we would. My FC somehow ended up at the right side upright of jump 9 and I think that's the jump that Pico totally missed. Hey, at least he did his RC beautifully! We ended up with good time and 15 faults so we NQ'd again.

I think that we could have also entered Colors Level 1 but I didn't realize this when I entered the trial. I am looking forward to adding this at the next CPE trial.

Overall, I was thrilled! Pico handled being crated very well and was nice to lots of people. He struggles a bit with dogs near his crate but settles quickly. I am most excited about the fact that he really seems to love running and jumping with me. He is a really great dog and I think we have lots of fun to look forward to!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Good Dog/Bad Dog...

After a rough start to Agility practice last night (think tasmanian devil), Pico had a fantastic Agility lesson this morning!
Jessica helped us work on our Rear Crosses on the Flat and then we worked a 13 obstacle Jumpers course in preparation for our first trial this weekend.

{demon dog}

Except for some handling issues (of course), Pico was quite willing to run fast and perform the obstacles that I did cue correctly without treats! At this point, he seems to find running a course very reinforcing which is fantastic and fun for me as well.
I talked to Jessica about how to 'jackpot' a dog who is just starting to trial since no treats are allowed in or near the ring. Jessica recommended stashing a jar of baby food near the exit and I think that's a great idea. Jarred chicken baby food, unlike traditional dog treats, is safe from other pups who are in the area and is a high-value reward. Always good to have a plan!

I am excited about finally busting onto the trial scene! I'm slightly concerned about memorizing the course and slightly concerned about my handling... now I am hugely concerned about Pico's inner devil rearing its ugly head! It seems there's always something we're working on...

{Blowing Bubbles!}

Since Gilda is no longer involved in Dog School Day, I took her for a nice, long pond swim today (without the spotted satan) and she was thrilled!
Swimming is extremely reinforcing to Gilda and I tried to use that to my advantage in working on some impulse control with her.
On hot days, Mike lets Gilda swim during walks as a way to keep her cool. He reports that lately she is refusing to come out to continue the walk. We theorized that each time he calls her out, her swim time ends and since she'd much rather swim than walk at heel, she stays swimming and ignores his request. After all, dogs do nothing out of spite. They do everything out of what works best for them!
To help with this, I insisted that she walk at heel to the pond. Please note that this was neither fast nor fun for either of us!!! Once at the pond, Gilda had to sit before being released to 'go swim'. (She will not take treats when near the pond so I use 'go swim' as her reward).
Frequently, I'd call her out of the pond and to me (not easy) and then reward her by letting her swim. Sometimes I'd call her to me and hold her collar before releasing her. Other times I'd hook her leash on before releasing her, and sometimes I'd hook her leash on, take a few steps toward the car and then release her to swim.
The more we work on this, the more she'll be willing to come to us I'm hoping. This is the closest we've come to the Premack Principle with Gilda as nothing else is quite so valuable to her.
The pond is where I was able to teach Gilda that she must bring the ball to us (okay, near us) in order to fetch it again. Her 'drop' was non-existent before this!
When we got home from swimming, the UPS guy arrived instantly reminding me that there truly is always something to work on with dogs! IF only UPS delivered to the pond...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Go Pico

Pico continues to love Agility. Even with blazing hot days and long courses he is a little trouper!

Last night in class, we worked on a 17-obstacle modified (low teeter, no weaves) Novice Standard course and I'd say he did pretty well!

I was thrilled that I was able to memorize the course and picture it (for the most part) while running. This is definitely progress for our little green team. I am still not very confident about doing this without Jessica's guidance but that day is coming!

With Pico progressing so nicely, I have decided to join the Agility club that is hosting what will be his first CPE trail in August. This way I can get him working in the building before the trial and hopefully eliminate that part of the stress for him. We will see how my plan works out!

The hot weather is definitely hard on Gilda as she doesn't tolerate heat well at all. Otherwise I think she is enjoying her hiatus from Agility. We are doing much more clicker training and she seems to like that in her own Gilda way!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

For Those Who 'Don't Get' Agility

This post is especially for my Dad who recently rolled his eyes when I told him that Pico would hopefully be trialing soon...

{Me & Dad c. 1972}

Many Agility bloggers have tackled this topic including some of my dog friends. Like most enjoyable pastimes, Agility is a very individual endeavor. Here is my take on it...

Dad, remember those once-a-month poker games with your teacher friends? You all got together and sat around the table enjoying some laughs and stories about students and teaching in general. When it came to the game though, it was just you and the cards you were dealt. It was up to you to play your best hand and to do that you needed your best poker face as well as the intuition to read your friends' thoughts.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How a Tiny Dog Changed my Agility Attitude

The first time I watched an Agility trial I thought, "Oh! How much flipping fun is that?!"

The first 2 years of Agility with my girl, Gilda, completely changed my tune. Agility, it seemed was hardly fun at all! When Gilda wasn't running off, she was shutting down. At home, training sessions were a balancing act of keeping her attention AND keeping her happily working.

The mere thought of giving up my weekends to trial was horrible! I was actually relieved to accept the fact that my beloved Gilda would probably never trial....

{Gilda sittin' pretty}

Then along came Pico... all 8 pounds of him. Our second dog was supposed to be a lap dog and companion. Our second dog was also supposed to be a female...

I had no idea that little dogs were trainable but Pico made that clear from the start. I started taking him to Gilda's classes to give her the frequent breaks she needs and to work on his crate training and distraction skills. I was shocked when he started quickly picking up shadow handling, obstacles, and handler focus. It was really as though he was teaching himself!

It was very apparent that, unlike Gilda, he was really enjoying Agility class and training, and, I was finding class much more enjoyable!

The true change came when I took Pico to his first run-through just 8 weeks into his formal training. I had no idea how he would react to other dogs and handlers being around. In the past, the run-throughs I took Gilda to were disastrous!

Pico, however, acted as though he was in just another Agility lesson! He was willing and able to work through a 10 obstacle Novice Jumpers course a total of 5 times! The runs weren't clean or even pretty but I suddenly had the feeling that "This is so much fun!!"

{Tiny Dog Agility}

I think the Agility bug finally bit me and I'm so proud of my little dog. And don't worry about Gilda... I'll make sure she's doing what makes her happy too.

Sometimes it's the little things that make all the difference!

This post is part of a Dog Agility Blog Action Event. If you'd like to read more posts on "Attitude" click here

Monday, May 28, 2012

First Ever Run-Through!

I am so excited!
Our home turf, The Agility Underground,
hosted a Run-Through on 5/27 and I took Pico along to see how he would do...

... He was great! Other than a little crate barking, he was thrilled to be there, happy to perform, and relaxed enough to hang out with me on the sidelines performing simple attention exercises! Having no idea what to expect, I was thrilled.

I think it was ideal to have our first Run-Through on familiar ground. Pico has been going there with Gilda and me since September 2011. He started his own lessons there in February 2012. To him, the place is all fun and games!

There were 4 courses to choose from which was really awesome. We chose the Novice Jumper course which had 10 obstacles, no weaves and no teeter:

We bought 2 runs for $4 each. During our first 2 minute run, we were able to run the course 3 times. Afterwards, Jessica was kind enough to offer some handling tips which we used on our second 2 minute run. During our second attempt, we ran the course 2 times.

I thought it was of utmost importance to make sure that this was a positive experience so that's where we ended. I would have loved to have stayed all day but I felt it was better for Pico to end on a good note. He did seem exhausted once we were home so I think it was a good thought!

Run-Throughs are great because they give teams great practice at memorizing new courses, trying out different handling techniques, and exposing dogs to a trial environment all without the stress of a real judged trial.

I couldn't be happier with my tiny dog!