Tuesday, January 15, 2013

End On a Positive Note... People!

We had a pick-up Agility lesson which ended with my worst nightmare (besides running a course with a spider on me) : Public singing. We were working on our handling planning for a 12 obstacle course.  We planned and ran the first 4 obstacles, then the 2nd set,  the 3rd set, and then the entire course.

The instructor then announced that she was going to throw in a twist. She explained that we needed to move our 'handling thoughts' to our subconscious so that we were thinking less about our handling out there on the course. One way to do this, she said, was to sing 'Row Row Row Your Boat' while you ran the course only stopping your singing to give verbal cues to the dog. I was instantly horrified. I don't sing and I should be paid in gold and silver not to sing. But, in the spirit of getting  out of my Comfort Zone to let learning happen, I gave it the ole college try... and it was disastrous. Pico was skittering about wondering what the heck I was doing and what in the world I wanted him to do. The instructor was yelling, "Sing! Sing" and I just wanted it to all be over... and that's how the class ended. I left the class feeling foolish, wondering why I spent money to feel foolish, and thinking of all of the other things I may have accomplished on a Sunday afternoon.

One of the most important rules at The Agility Underground is to always be sure that your dog ends on a Positive Note. For example, Pico is working on his 2x2s. If we close the first set  too soon and he starts missing his entries, we change the scenario so that he ends the session by successfully completing an entry. If he is overly frustrated by the 2x2s, we may change the scenario altogether and ask him for something he knows well like a jump or something that is highly reinforcing to him like a tunnel. That way he ends the session with some sort of success.

When I first heard about this rule, I'll be honest, it sounded silly. At that time, I didn't understand much at all about dog behavior or dog training. It became apparent very quickly with Gilda, that ending on a Positive note was very instrumental in her ability and willingness to go forward in Agility. Gilda sold me on the concept's importance!

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I consistently end training sessions with Jessica feeling positive and feeling like I have learned something. Our most recent session involved learning a brand new skill for me, the Forward Motion Front Cross (FMFC). [ Here is an interesting take on FMFC by Daisy Peel]
The cross itself is a bit tricky to learn at first (okay, ALL crosses are hard to learn for me!) In essence, the lower half of your body is signaling forward cues to the dog. The upper half of your body is balancing those cues to signal a turn to the dog. The real tricky part for me is the timing of it all. Jessica demonstrated in slow motion exactly which moves to make at each point in the sequence so that I would be giving Pico  information early enough that he could interpret the cues clearly.

{Hines Ward: hips and legs show forward motion
while upper body shows turning}

I didn't realize it until after we had gone home, but the minute I executed the sequence fairly well, we moved on to some Weave Pole practice! I'm guessing she does this consciously but either way,  Jessica understands  intrinsically that it is of utmost importance for the human side of the team to end on a Positive Note as well!

Lesson Learned!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Out of the Comfort Zone

I was so excited to join League Play this year! I have to say, I wasn't sure I'd ever get to the point where I'd be able to. And I'm actually not quite sure we're able to now! Wiser folks than myself have said, "Stepping outside your comfort zone provides learning opportunities". Believe me, League Play is entirely outside of my Comfort Zone!

What is League Play? Think 'Bowling League' except with dogs (but not tossing them down shiny wooden lanes). During our winter break from Agility Classes, Our instructors organize a 6 week Agility League for fun and practice.
Our team consists of Marilyn & Henry, Diane & Karma, and Me & Pico. I am thrilled to be on a team with 2 true friends who are in it for the same reasons I am... to have fun and to learn from experience.

During the first week, we all got to run a Gamblers course. We had practiced a similar CPE game, Jackpot, in class, but this was our first-ever Gamblers course to plan and run on our own. It didn't go so well but we did have fun and Pico gave it his all.

This week, we ran Jumpers. I *love* jumpers which, at our level, usually consists of jumps and tunnels. I was excited for this week. I got Pico semi- settled in (which is as good as it gets at this point) and got a course map:

I immediately began worrying... 18 obstacles?! We've never done 18 obstacles!  I've never memorized 18 obstacles! I saw people drawing lines on their course maps so I did too... but, I don't know why as I've never found it helpful! This was way out of our league! (pun intended). Why didn't I go to the Cavs game with April and Mike instead of subjecting myself to what was sure to be a horrific public humiliation?! Panic set in. I was going to be the only one of all the people there to lose my way on the course, I was sure of it! How was I supposed to get Pico from jump 1 to jump 2? Had we ever done that in class?? And the serpentines! Dear God, there were 2 serpentines! Pico and I don't do serpentines...

And then it came time to walk the course. All 200 of us (at least that's what it seemed like) were out there tromping out our plans. Turning and spinning, imagining our dogs running gleefully alongside us while bumping into each other and getting in each other's way! "Dear Sweet Jesus", I thought. "How is this fun again?

And then my Agility angel appeared out of nowhere! It was Jessica! Calm, caring, handling-is-a-blast, Jessica. "For Pico," she said, "you may want to front cross here and keep him on your left here" she said. Jessica, who was also running her own dog and had already mapped out her own plan, my plan and probably 6 other peoples plans! I don't know how she does it but I felt a gazillion times better after she was kind enough to walk the course with me!

From the sidelines, I watched my fellow league players run and I cheered them on. I went over the course again and again in my mind: jump-front cross-jump-jump-tunnel-front cross-jump-jump-red tunnel-keep pico on my right-jump-jump-jump-rear cross-jump-jump-rear cross-jump-jump-run fast-jump-double jump-tunnel-double jump!

{The Picolator!}

I started to think, "We could possibly do this, little Pico and I!"   When it was our turn, and Pico took his first jump, I instantly remembered just how much fun it is to run with your dog! And Pico was having just as much fun as I was. We got the first 7 obstacles and then Pico missed a jump. We kept right on going. The rest is a blur. I know there were other errors and that he missed the last double jump. I was thrilled that I didn't get lost on the course and even more thrilled that Pico is still willing to try as hard as he can to follow along! I can't ask for more than that from him at this stage of the game!

I was also happy with Pico's crate training tonight and I spent a lot of time treating for relaxed, quiet crate behavior. It frustrates me that I can't walk away from his crate without loud, shrieking protests from him until I remember where we started from! He is really starting to feel much more comfortable in the crate and is starting to get the idea that calm and quiet wins him treats. Like me, he is learning more and is expanding his Comfort Zone!