a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: March 2006

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tika Did Pretty Good Actually

Well, there I was moaning about not whupping everyone's butts all weekend and how I wish I could've gotten more Qs, but actually I just now counted them up, and Tika Qed 7 out of 10 for the weekend, which really isn't bad at all. I'm pleased with that. And two of the non-Qs were single knocked bars on otherwise lovely courses. So I'm even more pleased with that.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tika's CADE Status

I mentioned that Tika's next CPE title is hundreds of legs away. That's not necessarily true. But let's go over that stuff.

The CATE (CPE Agility Team Extraordinaire) is the next big title--and the highest title in CPE. To earn it, a dog needs 20 Qs in each of Standard and the six games, plus an additional 2000 points in any combination of Qs, where 25-point Qs are in Standard, Snooker, and Jackpot; 20-point Qs are in Wildcard, Full House, and Jumpers; and 15-point Qs are in Colors. So, at an absolute minimum, after earning one's C-ATCH, one needs 220 legs (assuming that all the extra legs are in 25-point classes, which is unlikely).

There are individual Extraordinaire titles for each of the classes, which require 30 legs in that class. So one will undoubtedly acquire at least a couple of those on the way to the CADE (oops, sorry, CATE--they renamed it a couple of years ago and I still can't get it straight).

Tika's status:
Full House8

Probable *maximum* number of CPE trials for us for the rest of this year (since I definitely want to focus on USDAA while we struggle for our ADCH): 6 (you can see that I'm not going to be anywhere near my downward goal of only 12 trials for the year...).

Tika's average Qs per CPE weekend at 3 CPE trials this year: 6.

So that's another, oh, 36 Qs for this year. That leaves us short by only...ohhhhh...141 legs minimum. And if we keep up at this pace, it'll be another 3 years after that before we're even in range. Tika would be going on 10 by then. So it's likely that this will just never happen. Unless I get tired of USDAA for some reason and go to all the CPE trials in a year instead. (And I count 15 CPE trials in 2006 within about 2 hours of my house.)

Mixed-Bag CPE Weekend

It was Taj MudHall this weekend.

It was wet and muddy and cold on Saturday and just cold and somewhat muddy on Sunday, but overall I had a good time. The nice thing for me about CPE at the moment is that I'm competing to play, since the next big title possible for Tika is hundreds of legs away and Jake is playing only for something to do during his retirement. So I take my competition in the form of where I placed compared to all other dogs competing on the same course.

Aaaaaand we didn't do so well this weekend, even though I felt that Tika and Jake were both running quite nicely all weekend. There was a wild variety of factors going into it.

Tika Saturday

Standard: Oh, my, she ran a beautiful and fast course. She stuck one of her 3 contacts, came off the other 2 without waiting for approval but I was pushing it. Stayed at the start line for the release. All that good stuff. I thought we had a perfect run, but found out later when looking at the results that she had knocked the next-to-last bar on a sharp turn that I thought we had nailed. Sigh. So no Qualifying score, although we did place 1st of the 2 dogs in our height class. And Tika had the 2nd fastest time of about 80 dogs who ran the same course, so I was right about it being a really nice run. Only Cody Hasey beat us, by .14 of a second (she said something about how they aren't *supposed* to have running contacts...).

Full House: This is basically like a Gambler's opening--you design your course any way you want, and you can do each obstacle up to twice for points. High scores depend on your dog's speed, your dog's flexibility to be able to pick challenging obstacles or angles or turns, your course choice, and your ability to actually make it happen. I think we had a stellar course design, Tika handled beautifully, and we had the highest score of about a hundred dogs running the same course with 46 points; our favorite competitor Brenn Chandler had 43 and Tahoe Grubel, an outstanding dog with an outstanding handler, came in at 41. I didn't see either run, so I have no idea whether they missed points because of knocked bars or popped contacts or the like. This was the only time all weekend when we managed to beat everyone.

Just another reminder that Tika and I are only playing at being a top team in CPE and there's a whole world of USDAA competitors out there who can smoke us coming and going. Humbling. Sort of.

Colors: I missed my group's walkthrough. But, this being CPE and because I was both working in another ring and competing in a third ring, I was allowed all the walkthrough I needed, by myself--but it's only 10 obstacles and a pretty clear path, so I only needed a couple of minutes. Tika handled like a dream, and I held her on the Aframe down contact since she's been leaving them a bit light all weekend, and then blasted to the finish line. our time was 16.69, but half a dozen dogs (out of about 70 running the same course) beat our time. (With Colors, you don't know whether the dog ran the same half of the course that you did, so it's not necessarily a one-to-one comparison.) One of our regular comparison dogs, Ana the Catahoula, beat us by more than a second; Chance the usual Sheltie and Brandy the JRT beat us barely, and Cory whom I never manage to see run was just behind Ana this time around.

Jumpers: Well, I tried to do a tricky but cool layering thing as Tika was coming out of the tunnel, and as we are fond of saying in our Wednesday night class, how quickly The Cool Factor turns into The Fool Factor, as Tika came in over the jump that I was trying to keep *between* us, for an offcourse, and then after that of course all comparisons are really off. But she was fast and having a good time, and except for that silly handling thing, it was good--

And notice that, once again, she keep up all of her bars in any Jumpers course where *I* screw up.

Snooker: I decided that, although we had time to do three 7s in the opening, the 3rd seven would be really hard and this is, after all, CPE, not USDAA. Hmmm, on this particular course, I might even have decided on two 7s and a 6 in USDAA. We ran On The Edge the whole way, with Tika just a stride away from the wrong obstacle half a dozen times, but she responded well to my panicked calloffs and we blasted through our planned 50-point course in 39 seconds, well below the allowed time. Out of the 100 or so dogs who did the same course, one in fact tried and succeeded at the three-7 opening, for 51 points, and three other dogs got 50, but only one of those beat our time (Jagger Glantz the amazing rehomed Sheltie)--by four seconds! They probably had nice neat little turns instead of Living On The Edge and racking up the extra yardage.

Tika Sunday

Jackpot: Well, I started off the morning with a snide comment about how this particular gamble was one designed to let people Q. I was proven wrong immediately. It was a pretty cool non traditional gamble, actually, after I got a chance to think about it. It was, at its essence, a circle of tunnels in the very middle of the course with a jump in the middle. The jump was number 1 and then you had to do the tunnels in flow around the circle for 2-3-4. My original comment was based on the fact that you could run in with the dog, there was no gamble line.

But people found many creative ways to not get the gamble. In the first two levels, more than half missed it, and almost all of them in a different way. And the pattern went on as the day went on:
  • One went past the #1 jump and backjumped it.
  • One went into one of the tunnels on the way to the #1 jump (a fairly common problem)
  • One went past the #1 jump and into a tunnel.
  • One tried to take just one tunnel in the opening but couldn't call the dog off the 2nd tunnel, which invalidated the gamble.
  • One thought she had put her dog into the correct end of the tunnel, but he popped out as she ran on, and ended up going in the wrong end of the tunnel.
  • Jake and I weren't as close as I'd have liked to the beginning of the gamble when the whistle blew, and when I sent him over an approach jump, he kept on going and going and going away from me and, by the time I got him back to do the gamble the whole way correctly, we were over time.
  • Tika did the gamble beautifully and under time, but only after knocking the #1 bar.

(She also popped out of her weaves in the opening, which startled me while I was trying to convince myself to stick with my original plan and thinking about what to do next simultaneously. So it was pretty clearly something stupid that I did, since she virtally never pops out of the weaves any more.) Sigh. And because of the missed 5 points for the weaves and 1 point for a dropped bar in the opening as well, we weren't even in the running for top number of opening points among 100 or so dogs on this course. Well--I'm guessing we were probably in the top 10-20% but I didn't check.

Wildcard: A tricky, tight little course that didn't handle at all the way I thought it would. Right off the bat, Tika didn't catch my cue to come to choice A and instead took choice B, which was legal, but she was FLYING and I had to rearrange the rest of my course plan on the FLY to make that not be a non-Q. Well, somehow I managed to pull it off without even slowing Tika down and it was beautiful--and the stopwatch didn't get our time for some reason. We were given a chance to rerun it for time only, so all we had to do was to get through the course in a reasonable fashion--and man, we were offcourse in twelve directions at once. I don't know how I even managed that. So it was still a Q, but we had no way of comparing our times against anyone else.

Colors: Once again, Tika handled beautifully, including a very fast teeter for her (we've been working on making it faster), and we did the course in 14.37 seconds, about a second faster than anyone else (again, about 80 dogs on the same course, I believe)--except Cayenne, whom we hardly ever even SEE in competition and I had forgotten who they were (looking just at the dog's name) until I saw them again later, a really nice fast Aussie who came in at 14.09, wow, I'd have liked to have seen their run, because Tika's was super.

Jumpers: A very nice fast smooth run EXCEPT that as I sent Tika blasting straight into a straight tunnel, I started calling her name loudly to get her to turn sharply as she came out--but apparently she did a U-turn in the tunnel at full speed and blasted out in the other direction. I managed to get her back into the tunnel without an offcourse, and in CPE that's a Q for us, AND she kept all her bars up!--but of course quite a few fast dogs beat our time. Even so, I'm not sure how we'd have done--our usual complement of Really Fast Dogs were between 23 and 24 seconds (Tika came in at 27.37 with the bobble)--and the young upstart, Savanna Tatsuno the baby Border Collie, did it in 21 something! Yow!

Snooker: And, as our playing field sank slowly into the west, we were on another tricky, tight little course in which it was feasible to get three 7s in the opening BUT you had to be quick and your timing had to be impeccable. Wellllllll...our timing wasn't impeccable and Tika ended up going over a 3 instead of one fo the 7-point weaves in the opening, but once again somehow, unusual for me, I was able to think on my feet enough to recover and get her through the rest of the course without an offcourse, which was good enough for a Q, but even in our own height class of 6 level-C dogs, that was good enough only for 5th!


Jake ran fairly fast all weekend, but nowhere near fast enough to be placing worth mentioning. He did VERY nicely in his Jumpers run saturday, but the scribe sheet says that he knocked a bar, which I never saw go down (and he used to never knock bars, so this was unusual). And I picked a fairly simple course for him in Snooker, which he did with aplomb and Qed, but it was only 5th of 6 in his little C-level height group.

He did pretty good in his Jackpot opening Sunday, but (as I described above) was over time for the gamble. And in Sunday's Jumpers run, I assumed that he was going to carry out over a particular jump, but instead he came past it, and in the process of getting him turned around, he took an offcourse for an NQ. So he was again fairly fast for Jake, but to no avail.

So, oddly enough, the Jakester who almost always Qs on almost everything in CPE was only 1 for 4 this weekend, even though I felt that, overall, he ran well. Go figure.

So the dogs seemed to enjoy themselves, and they were both a pleasure to run, so really what more could I ask for? (Except more blue ribbons... and more Qs...will we NEVER get that perfect-weekend award?... maybe less chocolate--boy those choc-covered raisins at the score table were TASTY) )

Friday, March 24, 2006


  • Better Living Through Adrenaline: I did a wee bit of agility equipment rearranging in my back yard this morning, in between doing about 5 minutes of agility work with Jake, another 5 with Tika, and another 5 with Boost, all of course involving excitement and tugs of wars and such. As I was collecting the assorted toys from the assorted dogs to put them away, I noticed that my right index knuckle was drenched in blood. Have a half-inch gaping slice, to which I ended up applying a butterfly closure. What a mess. Where did I get it? I have no clue at all.
  • Steelechase rule changes: USDAA recently announced that they're changing the qualifying rules for Steeplechase to make it to the Nationals. (They've tweaked them before, too.) Now, to qualify, you must be within "125% of the simple average of the top three placement winners in the height class, provided at least five competitors compete in the class and receive a score". Used to be that the top 30% qualified, period (well, with some caveats for small groups of dogs...). In theory, this means that if all dogs are fast and clean, they could all qualify. It also means, in theory, that only the top 3 dogs could qualify.

    Let's say there are 20 dogs competing and the top 3 dogs run at 29, 30, and 31 seconds, averaging 30 seconds. 125% would be 37.5 seconds. Let's say that the next 2 dogs run at 33 seconds, well within competitive speed range, but each knocks a bar, for a total of 38, and the next dog is clean but has a time of 38.5. Under the old rules, all 6 would qualify. Under the new rules, only the top 3 qualify.

    Conversely, let's take the same top 3 dogs and say that the next 6 dgs ran at 32,33,34,35,36, and 37 seconds. Under the new rules, all 9 would qualify; under the old rules, only the top 6 would qualify.

    And one more trick, as the 12" dogs discovered this last weekend--five 12" dogs competed, but 3 of them were offcourse for Eliminations, which means they did not receive a score--so the 2 top 12" dogs were lumped in with the 16" dogs, which makes it much harder for them to compete on time, and neither ended up qualifying. Now, in this case it's hard to argue too much--one of them knocked a bar but probably would've qualified even with the 16" if clean, and the other dog went on a detour to investigate the judge (not a fault) before deciding the return to the handler and complete the course clean but enough slower than the 16" that she didn't Q.

    Next year, dogs will be required to Q in *TWO* steeplechases to make it to the Nationals, just as they now must Q twice in Grand Prix. Argh. Tika has barely squeaked out two GPs a year, but has yet to do two Steeplechases in a year. At least we're in for this year, and future nationals will probably be far enough out of state that we won't be going anyway. But it's nice to know that we could if we wanted to!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

And We Were Having Such A Good Weekend, Too!

I carpooled with Arlene and her two Little Black Dog(tm)s to Madera. This time, we left Friday evening. It was a mix of good and bad. The whole (shortened) weekend, in fact, was the same way.

Friday evening

I originally thought I'd have to work late Friday to finish some things for work, so we were thinking that Arlene would get here at 7:30 and we'd then load up the car and be on the road by 8, which would mean a late arrival at the motel in Madera. However, it was apparent by midday that some moderate reorganization and research for part of my document was just not going to get done and it would have to wait for the next go-around, so we decided to meet at 6:30 instead.

Well--Arlene didn't expect the southbound traffic to be as thick as it was, and she arrived a bit later than expected (which was good because I was able to finish up work stuff without her sitting and waiting for me, but bad because it delayed our start a bit). We loaded everything into the car--yes, like a jigsaw puzzle or more accurately like those 3-dimensional puzzles shaped like eggs or cubes where every piece wedges into one place exactly.

Then she pulled out of the driveway to get out of my way...and my van wouldn't start. Best guess: battery is reaching the end of its useful life and I had the interior lights on most of the day. That was bad news because my jumper cables were now buried under dozens of heavy, exactly fitting jigsaw pieces. But Arlene cleverly had her own jumper cables (surprising to me how many people do NOT carry them), and we were able to successfully jump the battery. All of that plus handwashing and such probably delayed us another 10 minutes, maybe a bit more.

We had already agreed that we needed to stop at the local shopping center to (a) drop off my bills at Postal Annex and (b) pick up ice at Safeway. Well, the double bad news was that (i) we missed Postal Annex's closing by about 10 minutes, and (ii) because we didn't want to turn off the car while it continued to charge, one person had to attempt both errands.

We were finally on the road--about 8:00! So the good news was that we had tried to start earlier but if we had gone with the original plan, who knows how late we'd have actually been on the road! The other good news was that Arlene's sweetie of a spouse made us sandwiches to eat on the road, so we wouldn't have to make an extra stop for dinner. This turned out to be good news shortly--

Because the good news was that we got past the 152/156 nightmare backup because there *was* no backup at that time of the evening (a bonus for leaving later), but the bad news was that slightly after Casa da Fruta, traffic came to a near standstill. We turned on the radio and KCBS conveniently told us that there was a major injury accident in the clearing stages near Dinosaur Point (wayyyy at the top of the ridge, and we were still at the bottom), but apparently it had been closed completely for a while and now traffic was starting to get through. So, if we had gotten there earlier, we'd have simply been sitting, not moving, instead of creeping along at 5 mph. So the good news was that we hadn't eaten our sandwiches earlier, and this turned out to be an excellent and safe time to consume them. It took us almost half an hour to get to the accident site--I think it's about a 5-mile drive--and the rest of the trip passed without incident.

Saturday morning

Arlene took her dogs out for a quick potty and reported that the weather was cool (not cold) but quite nice, actually. So I stepped outside with 3 wild things on leashes, and it was raining! The nice thing was that there was a complete rainbow (I don't often see complete ones), and I managed to grab my cheap digital camera and get the whole thing in 2 photos. Not great photos, but it's there--by the time Arlene came out again a couple of minutes later, it had already faded to just a partial. I left my bill payments in stamped envelopes on the unoccupied Motel 6 (used to be Liberty Inn) desk, hoping they'd figure out to mail them, and we headed to the trial site.

Rainbow Saturday morning

At The Races

It stopped drizzling long enough for us to set up, and since it was quite a small trial for a USDAA event, we were able to set up near the middle of activity but in an out-of-the-way spot. The BAD news was that, as I was unpacking and setting up, I realized that I had completely forgotten that the zipper on Boost's crate had given up the entire ghost last weekend--totally damaged enough (after failing slowly for the last 4 months or so) that I simply could not zip the bottom closed at all. I had meant to get it replaced last week. But--out of sight, out of mind. The GOOD news was that, at this particular trial on this particular day, my van was parked three feet behind our canopy, with boost's and tika's crates easily available facing out the back. So I turned off all the interior lights and just used those crates for them. Next week's trial I won't be able to park anywhere near, so I'd better remember to get that crate cover replaced.

If I'm lucky, Doggone Good will have it in stock (they're just up the road a piece) and I can pick it up immediately.

Tika's first run of the day was Pairs Relay, and she was teamed with The Booster's mom (Tala). It was a gnarly course, particuarly the first part. I thought that we could handle both, but the first part had a dogwalk, so I suggested that Tala do that part. Turns out that Tala had an offcourse early on, so then it didn't matter that Tika knocked *two* bars on her part of the course, but we moved around the course itself very nicely.

Next class was Gamblers, with a send out over a jump to a set of weaves, then a slight push out over a jump and then in to a final jump. *I* thought it was going to be a piece of cake that I could mess up only by one of my usual stupid moves on "piece of cake" gambles and that everyone would be getting it. Well, turns out that (and of course I know this) (1) not everyone's dog has excellent weave pole entries, (2) not everyone's dog will send out, let alone to weave poles, (3) not everyone's dog will weave solidly through a set of 12 that's 15 feet away from the handler. And although in the opening we had one knocked bar (costing us a point) and a slight pause for disagreement and confusion when she didn't stick the Aframe contact (probably costing us a 3-point tunnel at the end that we didn't have time for), overall the opening was beautiful and we couldn't have been in a more perfect position for the gamble when the whistle blew and she did the whole gamble without a blink of doubt AND kept all 3 bars in the gamble up, and, wahoo, not only a Q, but we placed *3rd*--we hardly ever place in USDAA even when we Q.

Then came Standard. We don't have a lot of Masters Standard legs--only 3--because you must be completely clean and usually we have either a knocked bar, OR a missed up on the dogwalk, OR our other bugaboo, a refusal going to a table after a contact. Well, this course had a table after the dogwalk. I asked Arlene to videotape that portion in particular for us so I could see what the problem was. Tika kept all her bars up, but it looked like she blew over the up-contact on the dogwalk--although I couldn't see the judge's arm go up, I can't always see it when the judge is off to the side/behind like she was. So I really, really drove the entrance to the table from the dogwalk like I've never driven a table approach before--and she went right on and dropped to a down. Handling on the course overall was just lovely--she's running SO nicely!--and turns out that the judge didn't call the dogwalk up contact, so ANOTHER Q and ANOTHER 3rd place!


The last event for the day was Steeplechase. We ran our standard run about noon and then we were done except for the Steeplechase. Now, the judge who was judging it had to finish the Novice ring first. Nowwwww, the judge who was judging the Novice ring for some reason didn't fly in on Friday night like she was supposed to (I never heard the story) but instead arrived in Fresno about 8:30 Saturday morning. So, instead of the novice ring starting at 8:00, it started about 10:00. Which meant that, instead of the Steeplechase starting at about 1:30, it didn't start until 3:30.

Which meant that the Steeplechase course was open for walk through for three and a half hours. Now, there were two potentially difficult places on the course (maybe more for others but overall I thought it would be a straightforward course for me and Tika). And there were two or three schools of thought on each of those two spots. The 3.5 hours were enough for many of us to rewalk and rewalk and rewalk and obsess endlessly and change our minds repeatedly. By the time the class began, I knew every inch of that course in and out and every possibility for handling every which was but Sunday.

Then I had the advantage of watching the entire 22" class and most of the 26" class run the course. The opening was one of the two problem areas. I had finally decided that we could get it no matter what we did and that I was obsessing needlessly--it was three jumps around a curve to the weave poles, and the choices were to push to the weaves or pull to the weaves. I had decided that the pull was what we were going to use, and it was interesting to see that by far most handlers used the push. Basically--it worked if you and your dog knew how to do it, and it didn't if you didn't. Seems obvious in retrospect, but this was just one of those places. I decided that Tika and I knew how to do it either way and she has great weave entrances, so I stopped worrying about it.

But I watched team after team blow the entrance or pop out of the weaves early. No faults, but lots of time wasted as they had to retreat to redo the poles. Now, remember, Steeplechase is time plus faults scoring. AND it's worth money! I became convinced that we'd beat most teams simply by having excellent weave poles. Our issue would be whether she could keep all her poles up, especially on that fast 3-pole lead-out curve.

The 2nd problem area was after the 2nd set of weave poles, when you had to pull the dog into a right-angle left turn, then go *between* the Aframe and a jump to get to a double (triple?) jump, which was the start of the final 5 jumps. Everyone was worried about the dog not making a sharp enough turn and losing the dog over the wrong jump. I had decided to weave away from my dog, veering close to the aframe while she completed the weaves,and just giving a quick mini-RFP to pull her my way.

So I watched handler after handler overpull their dogs *around* the double, which was another big time waster, and/or knock the bars on that jump. Maybe because the handlers were so worried about it. I decided that I knew what I was doing and stopped worrying about that, too. I was primed to go in and win the Steeplechase. (Well, you know what happens when you get cocky--or do you?)

I went to get Tika out of her crate--and she stood up all hunched over, her little nubber tail down, looking hang-dog. She came out of the crate looking miserable and yet eager. I tried to get her to move around a little to stretch out, and she yelped a couple of times. But then she looked mostly OK. She wasn't limping. She took goodies eagerly,but did Left and Right turns *extremely* slowly. I walked her out to potty and jogged her a bit, and she looked OK, but she absolutely would not under any circumstances grab a toy and play tug of war. I put her over a practice jump and she took it ok, but not really fast, and her nubber tail was down again. Yikes. I trotted her around again, and she looked OK, tail came up.

They were calling our names. So I took her to the line, set her in a sit, led out. She stayed like a good girl. I released her, and she went across all three jumps--not blazing, but smoothly--and they all stayed up. And she made her weave pole entrance perfectly--and stopped almost dead, took one slow step to the next pole, one very slow step to the next pole, giving me the most hangdog look, and I knew that I had a dog with a major problem. I pulled her out of the poles immediately and took her off course.

So much for the money

We checked her out on the sideline as much as possible, some massaging (which she seemed to enjoy) and trying to move her legs and so on. She's not one to let that be done (my fault--I should work at it more), but because she was getting lavish "good dog"s, she pretty much put up with it. Did yelp once and we couldn't figure out what caused it. Decided it wasn't obvious.

So after about 10 minutes I put her away again so I could watch the last of the steeplechase. Then I got her out, and she looked OK at first, but when I grabbed the goodies and she started to look eager, she yelped again.

The good news was that there was a vet onsite competing, and she hadn't left the grounds, and she was willing to check Tika out for me since I couldn't figure out the problem. Managed to narrow it down to her lower back more on the right side, but whether muscle or something worse like disk couldn't be determined mostly because Tika was so stressed and stiff about having someone play with her backside (and occasionally cause pain).

She suggested aspirin and no agility on Sunday and, if it didn't get better by Monday, take her in for x-rays.

Jake not competing

So was this good news or bad news: This was the first trial in which I hadn't entered Jake in anything. So my worst fears were fulfilled--down from 2 dogs competing to none. I had carpooled with Arlene, so I couldn't really go home, and I DO enjoy hanging out with my friends, and I could just work full time all day Sunday (like Karey did Saturday with her dog scratched due to injury). But Arlene kept asking are you sure you want to stay? And then she came up with a plan whereby she could stay and I could go home alone if I wanted.

I will leave out the long story in how we implemented it, but in fact I packed my bags and was home last night by 9:30.

(When I let the dogs out for one last run about 6:30, Tika blasted across the field full-steam with no sign of injury. Same thing when we got home in the evening--out onto the porch, bound down the stairs, across the yard just like normal. And this morning she was wiggling and twisting and turning like nothing had ever happened. So I'm SO hoping that was a fluke, maybe she pulled something a little bit overreaching for a bad frisbee throw earlier, I dunno. But I was SO scared and worried yesterday afternoon...)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Teaching a Dog to Weave

Anyone who can teach a dog to weave through her legs while she's walking can teach that dog to do weave poles--but let me be clear that it's not the same trick at all. The experience just means that the dog is accustomed to learning moving tricks and the handler is willing to work on it. Don't expect to teach weave poles (at least not the really fun, exciting, driving kind) by luring a dog through with a goodie.
Equipment needed:
  • Buckle-type collar (that is, not slip-chain etc.)
  • Shortened weave poles (unless you and dog are tall)
  • Short tab lead
  • Really fun toy
Short tab lead.
Having taught dogs to do both (weave through legs and weave through poles), I know that I can teach an eager dog to weave through my legs in a day or two at most; I've now taught 4 dogs to do weave poles and have watched lots of people do it and seen tons of techniques over the last 11 years, and it's my belief that a very experienced person with a driven, responsive dog can probably teach weave poles in a minimum of one week with 2 15-minute sessions daily. If you've never taught weaves before, expect it to take longer. It took me an elapsed time of 2 weeks and 5 days :-) with at least a couple of days off for rain, and I started with only two 5-minute sessions daily, AND I took what might or might not have been an unproductive detour with a 4-or-5-day experiment with fencing guides.

Disclaimer: Note that I also spent time off and on over the past several months just practicing driving between 2 poles from different angles and distances, first just throwing a toy ahead of the dog after she went through, then gradually moving the toy toss to a spot next to the second pole so that she was already starting to turn right after going through the poles. I don't know how much that helped on having drive during the rest of our training, but I do expect it to help as she becomes more independent and I start reinforcing the entry.

Here's how I taught Tika (who has very nice weaves--won't ever be a 60-pole Challenge winner but she'll be up there in the fast crowd every time) and Boost: Hand-in-the-collar.
The grip.

The Grip

Snug the collar up around the dog's ears. Hold your hand palm up, fingers forward. Standing next to the dog, slip your hand up under the collar. This gives you control over the dog's head movement because your grip pulls the collar up towards the front of the head, allowing you to turn the dog's head left and right.

Getting Started

I started with 4 weave poles (take off the rest of the poles) the first day or two just to get me and the dog used to each other and the motion. (3 is just a single turn and, IMHO, doesn't convey the right-left or left-right weaving motion.) Walking next to the dog, guide her through the weaves, turning her head just enough left and right to get her around each pole.

It might help right at the beginning to use the favorite toy as a lure so that the dog learns to focus ahead instead of on what you're doing next to her. If you want to do this, practice first without the dog. Goal is to keep the toy at least one weave pole ahead of the dog, in the line of the poles (not out to the side), just dragging it around each pole barely enough to get the dog watching it move from side to side and drive forward towards it. I did this with Boost just a few times at the beginning. Some people use it all the way through, but my theory is that (a) the dog is learning the process WITH THE TOY THERE and taking it away changes the picture, and (b) I want the dog to be aware of as little external info as possible, just the weaves in front of her. (Hence I also want to get myself and my hand out of the picture ASAP, too.)

If the dog is pushing ahead with excitement, as Boost and Tika both did during training, the hard part is in getting their head turned and slightly pushed enough to go around the next pole as she drives forward.

Keeping Dog Motivated

Don't make the dog move backwards to get a pole. If you mess up and she gets way past one pole, just cheerfully swing her out of the poles, around you, and race back to the beginning with hand in the collar, making excited noises (this isn't a punishment--you screwed up), and start over again.

If you mess up more than 3 times (maybe only 2x if it's a dog who turns off easily), just break it off, do something else that the dog knows well (e.g., a trick), reward and play play play and keep her excited and happy. Take a deep breath, compose yourself, try again.

Every time you make it through those poles, reward immediately with the toy ahead of the poles and play play play and verbally enthuse.


Then go back and do it with the dog on your OTHER side! (If you used your left hand the first time, use your right hand the next time.)

Work both directions on both sides of the poles EVERY time. (That is, with dog on your left, go up, reward, come back down the same side of the poles with dog on your right. Then move yourself to the other side of the poles, go up with dog on your right, reward, come back down the same side with dog on your left.)

Move the poles every day. I moved them every day to a different orientation or location in the yard. I want the only constant thing in the picture to be the poles themselves, not the landscaping to the left or the right.

Next Step

As soon as you and the dog are used to the idea, move to 6 poles (I think this is really the minimum to understand the repetitious movement). Some people think you should start with 12 from the very beginning--same argument about wanting to have a consistent environment because 6 poles *is* different from 12. But I doubt my own energy, enthusiasm, and accuracy over that many poles and that many repetitions with my hand in her collar, and I want to be rewarding as fast as possible with small but meaningful successes--there are just so many more chances for YOU to mess up with 12 poles (remember at this point that it's never the dog's fault, never ever, don't even THINK about making negative sounds or actions!).

As soon as the dog is showing the slightest signs of understanding the idea of moving in and out of poles, switch to a tab lead to let the dog provide the head turning; your goal is to hold the dog back just enough to be sure she's making the turns and give a little pressure in the right direction as needed.

Note: If you find that you're dragging the dog through rather than letting her propel herself and you holding back and guiding from behind, go back to the hand in the collar and get a lot more fun and excitement into the process and reward like crazy each time you get through the poles.

You might need to go back to hand in the collar off and on as a reminder; I gradually did more and more tab work and less and less collar work; it wasn't a complete and abrupt switch.

My other theory is that you don't ever want to reward your dog for skipping poles. If you mess up and she manages to blast past a pole, swing her around outside the poles in a circle around your body, still holding the tab lead, fast and happy and excited --don't reward, but there's no punishment involved here--and start over. Same routine as before. Remember this all the way through your training.

More Independence

The dog will start showing signs of being able to do it on her own. (We're talking a week or 2 down the line, dozens and dozens of repetitions later.) Try relaxing the pressure on the tab lead gradually to give her space to succeed on her own.

This just takes time. I have trouble being patient, but patience is what it takes.

And then--breakthrough!--she'll do a whole series of 6 on her own! Reward like crazy, jump around, make a total fuss.

When she's doing 6 correctly 60-80% of the time on her own (that's 6 to 8 out of 10 times), add poles 2 at a time as fast as you possibly can. Add 2; as soon as she can do all 8 successfully 60-80% of the time, add 2 more. When doing 10 successfully most of the time, go to 12. Boost went from 6 to 12 in two sessions. It should be about that fast.

Now--on to true independence; at the moment I'm still running right exactly alongside her, can't move forward or hang back, not standing up completely straight, but all of that is going to change as quickly as I can change it, gradually moving further away from her, gradually moving ahead of her, gradually falling behind her, and on and on. And then there's reinforcing correct weave entries! There's still a long way to go to perfect weaves, but the hard part (for you) is done.

Final disclaimer: OK, I've taught Boost to weave using this method. Tika was only portions of this whole theory. I have no students to test this on. It's an accumulation of my experience in training my dogs to do many things, thousands of hours of class time with several talented instructors, many long seminars with many other talented instructors, lots of reading, lots of discussions, lots of observations of other students and their dogs. So there ya go.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Boostie the Weavin' Hound!

The little baby Booster is weaving sooooo nicely! We had no practice over the weekend. Yesterday she did several complete sets of 12, with a few bobbles; later, after a ton of other play and exercises, I tried to demonstrate for the housemate and she skipped poles several times before getting all the way through. I'm thinking she was just getting tired.

Today, first thing, she did 2 sets perfectly, one on my right and one on my left, then tried skipping the middle poles a couple of times, then did another 2 or maybe 4 perfectly. What a girlie! And she's FAST, too. I'm very delighted. And she seems excited about it; when she blasts out the end and gets her toy, she really gives it the heavy-duty, full-body shakedown, whereas she's normally more subdued in her (still enthusiastic) tugging. Maybe it's my level of excitement, too, but that's perfectly awesome that she responds that way.

In training I've always done both sides *every* time we did the weaves. Had a discussion with Bette's mom this weekend about how she's been doing dozens and dozens all on the same side because it's easier during hand-in-the-collar training--I told her NEVER again do 2 in a row on the same side, never ever ever. Sounds like they're on the verge of breaking through to actually doing independent weaves, too, but not quite there yet.

But, now, they're doing contacts and we haven't even started. Contact training makes me so nervous. Interestingly, they're OK on dogwalk and Aframe but not so hot on teeter; teeter's the only one of the three that I have an idea about how I might leap right in now and start working on.

Our Saturday morning classes have been very helpful--when there's been one and when I've been able to attend--but between my schedule and the instructor's schedule, I've had only maybe 4 or 5 classes in 5 months, if that. And the next one I could possibly make (if they have it) won't be until April. Power Paws has only one class for "puppies" going on (Bette's in it), but it's during a weekday again and I've been SOOO wanting to try to do weekends if possible. Still, I finally begged to be let in but it's all filled up and it's not clear that they'd want me in anyway since they've been working on their program for 5 months now. So I've signed up with Fortis Agility after a long talk about her training and handling methods. I don't exactly fit into their classes neatly, either; they're almost through their four 6-week beginners classes with the current class, and they're already doing contacts, and the next beginner beginner class won't start until April. Tania invited me to come to the class anyway and see whether we could make a go of it and then maybe, if needed, xfer to the beginning class. I'm looking forward to seeing her training strategies. No doubt at all that she's been successful with her dogs, but some things she's decided to pursue are different from what I've been getting other places. It'll be interesting, and, I hope, maybe even helpful.

Monday, March 13, 2006

CPE Agility in Turlock on a Cold Weekend

This weekend in Turlock was quite chilly, with occasional drizzles. I took my long down coat but never ended up wearing it; as long as I was up and moving around (OK--all weekend--sat down for lunch briefly both days), my body was warm enough with long underwear, jeans, henley shirt, fleece sweater, fleece jacket, lined thigh-length windbreaker. Wore a baseball cap a good portion of the weekend to keep the drizzle off my glasses and to keep the top of my head warm. There were times when my nose, ears, and fingers ached from the cold. Note to self: get cheap gloves that I can chop the fingers off and see whether those work better than full gloves (which I've pretty much given up wearing at agility trials because i have to take them off every few minutes to do whatever it is that I'm doing).

Some club members couldn't get here because they were snowed in--in parts of California that almost never get snow. There was a mongo 30-car pileup on 101 in wine country, I believe, due to ice and snow. Reports said that there was snow on the ground at Altamont Pass on Saturday morning, but when we went through about 5:30 it was too dark to see.

Jake Qed in all four of his runs, but never managed a first place. Barely Qed in Saturday's snooker, where I couldn't pull him off of a wrong jump, but he had just eked out enough points to earn that Q. Missed one weave-pole entry in his Colors run by a mile despite me trying to pull up short and give him plenty of room, but then in his Sunday Snooker run he blasted quite rapidly into a correct weave pole entry on his own and completed them nicely.

Tika, as usual, was fast and excited to be running. Saturday we Qed only 2 out of 5; knocked *2* bars in Jumpers and the last bar in Standard (which was probably me pulling up instead of pushing through) and I tried something tricky in Snooker that almost worked--she hesitated and slowed way down when I called her, but then I let up and she took the wrong obstacle. It probably served me right, because in that run, she did NOT stay at the start line and I let her go because I wanted to try out that snooker course. Fortunately, that's the only time she left the startline without permission all weekend; sometimes that slip on my part escalates. But I *was* more cautious and conservative with leadouts the rest of the weekend as a result.

Tika Qed 4 of 5 on Sunday, once again missing a Standard Q. Still had one of the fastest times of all dogs despite over-calling her on a couple of u-turns so that she turned before a jump instead of first going over it and then turning; knocked a bar again and went into an offcourse weave on one of those over-called turns.

She placed first in 9 of her 10 runs. I'll admit that wasn't hard this weekend because she was the only 24" C-level dog on Saturday and one of only two on Sunday, and the 2nd one is a veteran who's consistent and reasonably fast but slowing down. However, in CPE I always compare against all heights, all levels who ran the same course to get a better feel for how we're doing. There were between 60 and 100 dogs for each class running the same course. She was:
  • Tied in points with one other dog (Brenn the border collie) for 1st in Saturday's Jackpot, although Tika had fastest time, so she was top dog
  • 3rd highest in Full House and she had a spectacular run; I couldn't figure out how Chance the super sheltie (with 4 more points) and Elvis the super Boston (with 1 more point) could possibly have gotten those extra points, until my friend Arlene (who was trying to be patient with my incessant invented rivalries) pointed out that small dogs got 5 more seconds in which to accrue points.
  • 5th fastest overall in Jumpers despite the 2 knocked bars and one missed jump entirely that we had to turn around and come back for; Brenn was 2.5 seconds faster with a smooth run and Chance 1.5 faster.
  • 2nd fastestin Sundays' colors with a really lovely run; still, Brenn was.7 seconds faster, which just floors me. Maybe tika's turns weren't as fast and tight as I thought they were.
  • 2nd fastest in Sunday's Wildcard; there's some variation depending on which on-course options you choose, so not everyone is running the exact course, but I really thought we had the fastest possible flow and I came off the run totally delighted. I'm sure we couldn't have done better. And...Brenn was .13 seconds faster. The next-nearest times were almost 2 seconds slower.
  • 2nd fastest of all dogs who got the highest possible 51 points. For a change, we beat Brenn by .4 second--but little Keeper the BC snuck in and bested Tika's time by .7! Argh.
  • 4th highest points in Sunday's Jackpot (Gamblers); we had an oncourse miscommunication that ended up with me struggling to get her to turn and start moving again in the right direction. We probably missed between 3 and 6 additional points by doing that, although of course I can't be sure. Elvis and Chance beat us by 5 points, and Brandy by 3 points--all small dogs with 5 more seconds. Brenn's mom left the event early and didn't do Jackpot. Arlene pointed out with what *I* thought was quite an evil grin, "Look, you beat Brenn!"

At any rate, I'm just glad that Brenn agreed to have Tika on her DAM team for the April Haute Traks 5-class team qualifier and for the Bay Team's May team qualifier. And Arlene's Sparkle joins us as the 3rd for Bay Team, where she can keep an eye on my competitive excesses.

'''Boost''' got to play with her sister Bette on Saturday. This was after both had been playing fetch for a little while with their respective human Moms. They chased each other around and around and around and around and around and around...OK, you get the picture. We practiced some recalls and they did OK--better than the last time we tried this a couple of months ago. When we finally stopped them, they were still chasing each other but in slow motion with tongues dragging on the ground like you might see in a cartoon where a dog keeps chasing a cat but they're both so hot and exhausted that all they can do is drag themselves along. And then, when I put Boost's leash on, she wanted to play tug full force and chased the frisbee a few more times on the way back to the crate. Man, wish I had that kind of energy.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

We're Doing Weave Poles! We're Doing Weave Poles!

In class 3 weeks ago this coming Saturday, I found out that Boost's brother had just learned to weave, and he demonstrated them in class. I was bound and determined that I could teach my Booster to weave in one week if I worked at it, maybe 2 at the most. Well--I forgot that I had made commitments for Saturday mornings for at least the next 5 weeks and wouldn't be able to go to those Saturday classes (I didn't know when the classes were going to be starting up again) to show off, so there was alittle bit of a demotivator--no one to show off to. :-)

But I did work pretty persistently. After a week, I felt that we almost almost had them; she was doing weaves with my hand on a tab lead on her collar, but I was really hauling back on it to keep her from skipping and still guiding her through the weaves. She had wonderful drive, though, and I loved it. Wanted to keep that.

I started with 4 weave poles to get the motion down (3 wasn't enough to give the back-and-forth concept; that ended up looking more like a loop). Quickly decided that it needed to be at least 6, so I've just been working with six. Figured I would very quickly add 2 at a time to get up to 12 as soon as she showed signs of being independent.

Well--a week later, we were still almost there. Despite twice daily (most days) efforts, it wasn't clear to me that we were progressing.

So I experimented. Happened to have several of those little folding wire garden fences, about 12 inches tall and green, and they were perfect to set up channels on both sides of the 6-pole set. Her first inclination was to jump over them. Took a lot of effort to get her to still go through the poles even with my hand on her tab lead, but she finally figured it out.

My theory was that, if she could do the weaving motion without my hand on her, I could quickly fade the fencing and she'd be weaving. However, although she could indeed get through the poles on her own most times, she was suddenly very slow. And although I could move the fencing out to about 4 inches away from the poles, as soon as I bumped it even a bit more, she started squeezing between it and the poles.

I finally decided yesterday after several days of this that all the fencing was doing was giving her *more* things to look at and think about rather than *fewer*. I really missed seeing that drive that she had been exhibiting with the hand-in-the-collar method.

So yesterday afternoon and this morning and this afternoon we did really long sessions without the wires. Yesterday afternoon was exhausting and we just were really having a very high failure rate--me failing to get her into the right entry or not being able to control her to get her through every pole, and although once or twice i was able to let up on the tab lead a little and she'd complete them herself, as soon as I gave more ground, she started skipping like crazy. She finally got to where she was looking frustrated, so we did some fast tunnels and played a while and quit.

This morning I was finding that I could actually let up pressure on the tab lead and she actually managed to do about four in a row, skipping the last one, a few times, and maybe 2 or 3 times she in fact did ALL 6 WOW after I let go of her tab, but not twice in a row. Still, it was very exciting.

So, just now, we went out and hit it again, and after a few false starts--wow, she did the weave poles! Repeatedly! Not every times, but most times, all the way through, after I let go of the tab after the entry. Wahoo! So after several times of that and a break to do other stuff, I added two more poles for a total of 8, and it didn't faze her at all. 8 poles without my hand on! Not every time, but I think 4 or 5 out of 6--I was so excited I really couldn't keep track.

And I'm kind of still stooped over as if I had my hand on the tab, and I'm right next to her and she's a little herky jerky on the last couple while she remembers not to pop out too early, but she's definitely doing them on her own--and although not speed-demon fast, much faster that she ever did with the wire fencing on either side. Wahooooooooeeeeee!

We're doing weave poles! We're doing weave poles!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Getting Up-To-Date on The Booster

  • We've almost got the weave poles done! Have been doing about two 5-minute sessions a day, missing a couple of days because I was busy or it was pouring rain. As of Friday I was able to put her on a tab lead instead of having my hand in her collar, because she was starting to find her way through the poles. As of yesterday, she was largely leading through the poles, still pushing hard rather than letting up to think about it, but still if release the tab lead, she skips poles wildly. If only I had been doing THREE 5-minute sessions a day--or had the energy for a couple of 15-minute sessions a day--we could've been done in a week, I think.

  • Haven't had an accident in the house in just ages. Maybe it was just a matter of maturity for the last little bit of control. She did start waking up between 2 and 3 in the morning and making a fuss over the last couple of weeks, but I think what happened was that *I* woke up a couple of times and got up to get a hot drink, and let the puppy out at that point, about the same time that Jake had a couple of nights of diarrhea and had to be let out in the middle of the night, and so I decided that she had decided that that's something we're always doing now. So, 2 nights ago when she started making a fuss, I mostly ignored her and then told her to knock it off a couple of times, and she eventually settled down and lasted the whole rest of the night. Last night she was fine. (If she had continued to make a fuss and gotten louder, I was prepared to concede that perhaps she was having some bladder problems. But, no, it was just another case of Mom teaching something she hadn't meant to teach.)

  • I just looked at our list from class from 2 weeks ago; jeez, I haven't worked on ANYthing except the weave poles (not even an official assignment) and occasional practice on a moving Sit. For some reason she does it better on my left, but on my right goes into a Down on the Sit command. An indication that I've been practicing too much on my left, I suppose.

  • Food bowls--Boost finishes her meal and then thoroughly and determinedly licks out every nanoparticle of food or moisture from the other dogs' bowls. Doesn't end there, though. She constantly returns to Tika's bowl (not her own, much) to see what's going on with it. And she carries Tika's bowl around; I've occasionally found it out in the middle of the lawn. Not *her* bowl, ever. That, plus the obsession with Tika's poop, would get her labeled as a stalker in the human world. I wonder what dogs consider to be a stalker?

  • Rolling in poop--I don't want to tempt the gods, but (knock on dog toys), the puppy hasn't had a roll in poop in quite a long time, either. This is good. I hope it continues.