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Archive for the ‘training’ Category

Happy New Year!

I’ll be ringing in the new year home, with my husband and the three dogs.  Perfect way, in my opinion, to ring in the new year.  While there are lots of people posting about their new year resolutions I wanted to take a minute and look back over this last year.  Sometimes I don’t feel I’ve accomplished enough.  I’m not a good enough trainer.  I’m not progressing fast enough.  I left a training session frustrated today.  Part of the frustration is due to me trying to figure out my training philosophy – where my lines are.  There has been a lot on Facebook these last two days about training methodologies and labels — pure positive, balanced, force-free, “Have to” vs “Want to” — and I’ll be honest I haven’t read much of it, but what I do know is I have to figure out what is right for me and my dogs, and I’m having some difficulty with that.  Hopefully I’ll find more answers in the new year.  For the moment I’m just glad to be sitting here at home with the pups.

I know I want to stop comparing myself to other people.  I want to be able to appreciate and celebrate their accomplishments, while not feeling like I’m not keeping up.  I need to remind myself that that we don’t travel for trials, and yet the Labrador and I earned five new agility titles this year!  Considering I was someone who knew nothing about competition until the Labrador came into my life four years ago, that’s not too bad.

The Beagle earned her Novice Trick Dog title this year!  This was a lot of fun.  She loved getting to train!  And the Golden earned two legs of his Rally Novice title.  I should probably stop telling this story, but the second leg when the judge told me I qualified I replied with, “Really?  Are you sure?”  Probably not the best thing to blurt out to the judge!!

We’ve done a lot this year.  Maybe not by some people’s standards, but I’ll take it.  I’ve learned a lot this year.  Played a lot of games with my dogs.  And as frustrated as I may get I am enjoying the journey.  What more can I ask for?

Happy New Year!

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I learned a hard lesson this past weekend at a NADAC trial. I thought the Labrador was done with visiting folks. I thought we’d over come that, but it was cropping up more and more in practice. She would bounce over to visit the instructor and I’d call her, usually more than once. She always came back to me, but not always on the first call. And I let this continue. I’m sure you see where this is going.

In practice if she blew a contact I made her go back. We train two on two off. In the trial setting as long as she got one paw in the contact zone I didn’t care. We kept going. We were qualifying! It was new and exciting! We earned titles! And then there was this last trial.

Friday we entered two classes — Touch N Go and Open Tunnelers. We rocked. We were together and a team and she ran a fantastic 5.85 yards per second! Nothing could stop us! Two first place Q’s!

And then Saturday things started to fall apart. We started the day with a beautiful Chances run. She got the distance. We were flowing and graceful and then she leapt off the dog walk. The photographer even got a wonderful sequences of photos of this. Isn’t that the memory you just want to keep? Actually…just maybe it is.

Our next few courses were all over the place. Some almost good, but not good enough. Our teamwork was off. Something wasn’t clicking.

Then Sunday it all fell apart. Or at least that’s how it felt. Our Regular run I felt like I had an untrained dog. She was all over the place. She went to say hi to the photographer. She ignored my recall. She acted like she had no idea what contacts were. And lucky for me I have wonderful friends. It was all my fault. As the judge said in the briefing, “Everything out there that happens right is your dog. Everything that goes wrong, is your fault.”

But instead of blame, they reminded me things that I’d been told before, but let slide. Things I’d ignored to my out detriment. The next course she left me. I called her. Once. She didn’t come so I walked over to and without a word took her by the scruff, signaling for my leash. I leashed her up, walked her to her crate and put her up without a word. Then I walked away.

The next course she stayed with me, but blew a contact. I called her back and put her back on the contact and then praised profusely. Then we finished the course. Not a Q, but second place and only a 10 point fault.

What I had trained — what I had allowed was exactly what I was getting. It was time to remember my criteria, hold the line and take my ego out of it. When I called her to come, she must come or the game ends. This isn’t just a because I say so, but it in the end is a safety issue. If there is someone across the street she wants to see, but a car is coming, she must return to me if I tell her to. A contact must be a two on two off. This is the criteria I have trained. This is the standard I must hold her to even if it means we NQ a few courses as I insist upon this. That is one thing I love about NADAC is the ability to train in the ring. So, take my ego which wants us to win NOW out of it, strengthen the criteria so that in the future she knows this is the way to play the game she loves, and how to keep playing.

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The Golden is now a Canine Good Citizen! He has his very first title! And I’m a bit torn.

Three years ago when the Labrador came into my life, the CGC was the only goal I had. I knew nothing of obedience, rally or agility. We went to training because the Labrador was going to be a big dog (Ha!) and she had to behave. It took us five tries to earn the CGC. Each and every time, my evaluator looked at me and said something along the lines of “Will you relax?” Each time I was so nervous that the Labrador didn’t pass due to reacting to my nerves. When we finally passed I was so excited!

And then I heard all the depreciating comments about the CGC when it became a title. Sometimes list serves are not your friend. “The AKC will do anything for money.” “The CGC is a joke.” They talked about it not being a real test, and that anyone could pass.

The consensus seemed to be a CGC was nothing to be proud of. And then another person that list spoke out, reminding them how earlier they were declaring Obedience and Rally a dying sport because they couldn’t attract new people. And with attitudes like this, she suggested, no wonder! She was proud of her CGC, and worked hard for it and it lead her into those other sports. I wrote to her privately and thanked her for her words.

Now, the reason I am torn is I think I understand just a little more what some of those other people were seeing. Had the evaluator who passed the Labrador been there the other night, the Golden may not have passed. This evaluator was more lenient. She allowed retries. While one retry is allowed, she allowed people several. Technically, with a retry he would have passed, but it doesn’t feel the same.

Even so, I am proud of the Golden. Proud of the work we have done. I’ve enjoyed our time training, and the games we’ve played, and in the end that is what matters. And I do still love the fact he gets CGC added to his name!

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The AKC Rally National Championship was overwhelming! It was a lot of fun, but wow what an environment. Our first run I lost the Labrador. She got distracted, left my side and when she didn’t immediately return, we were excused. I don’t blame the judge, they had a lot of dogs to go through! Outside the ring I had perfect attention. I get inside, I get nervous and well, then we have an issue. I was so nervous my mouth even wet dry.

Our second run would have giving us a qualifying leg at a regular trial, so I’m very proud of her for that. Our very last sign though was a halt-pivot-halt. We stopped, she sat. We pivoted. And then she stood there. I asked her to sit. She didn’t. I asked again. And again. I realized I was begging, took a breathe, and tried again in a calmer voice. I almost reached down to tap her on the head, but instead, decided to call it. She’d stayed with me through the course, and now it was time to eat the points. We moved out, did our sit/stay and left with what would have been a qualifying score even with eating 10 points for the sign.

So, I’ve learned I’ve got to get a handle on my nerves. I’ve known that, and thought I was doing better, but in that environment it all flared back up! But we still got our nice participating certificate! Dog in need of a better handler!

We went from Rally to Agility, returning to Agility classes in March. The Labrador has repeated Intermediate, and the Golden has now down Foundations, and Beginner. In April we trialed. On Saturday we attempted Jumpers, Regular 1 and Regular 2. The good things about those runs is the Labrador stayed with me. She didn’t visit ring crew, or get distracted, she ran with me, just not necessarily over the obstacles. Actually our Jumpers run went very well, we were just over time by .2 seconds! So, though we didn’t Q I was pleased with her runs. There were vast improvements from our last agility trial to be proud of. Of course, Saturday when we had no Q’s is the day everyone came to watch including the Labrador’s breeder. Isn’t that just how it goes??

The next day we registered for Jumpers, Regular 1 and Tunnelers. This time I screwed up the Jumpers course by sending her shooting past a jump, then calling her back and making the mistake of calling her back over the jump. You can clearly hear the crowd in the video trying to tell me not to do what I was doing! Ooops! Regular 1 we missed a discrimination, but for the first time the Labrador got her weaves in the ring!! I finished the course cheering her on with “You got you weaves!” Sometimes you have to set smaller goals. Tunnelers though, tunnelers was nothing but awesome! With seconds to spar we shot around that course, not missing a beat, and moving as the most awesome tunneler team in history! And with the completion of that crazy figure eight tunnelers course little Ms. Labrador earned her very first Agility title the TN-N!!

So now we are moving on and working on building up to 12 weaves. One more session and I think we’ll have it. The Golden is doing some private agility lessons, as well as starting his CGC class. Our sit to greet is terrible. He wants to hug everyone, and has a very bad trainer. The Labrador is also doing some private agility training, and we are starting another Advanced Obedience class. I’m not sure when we’ll get back into the Obedience ring, or if it will be Open, or Graduate Novice, but either way we’ve lots to train. We’ll also be back in the agility ring this summer, and fall. I’m hoping to have the Golden’s CGC by the end of summer. After that, well I’ll need to make some more goals and plans.

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This weekend the Labrador (who turned 3 this month) earned her Rally Excellent title!

This weekend we traveled to a huge 6 day Cluster show! We only competed for two of those days, but the main point was to expose both the Labrador and me to something close to what we’ll be facing at the RNC. Normally we compete only locally at two ring trials of just obedience and rally. This Cluster had 15 rings all going at once! Confirmation, Obedience and Rally were going on all around us. Grooming was happening inside the same building near the rings and I had no idea how loud those dryers got! It was more commotion and noise, dogs and people than we’d ever had to deal with before.

Our main goals for this were:

  1. Expose ourselves to the crazy atmosphere
  2. Try a new feeding schedule for competing
  3. See how we handled competing twice in one day

I have to say I think I was more affected by the noise, commotion and stress than she was. I was more nervous than I’d been before. Though I’m always nervous I’ve never gotten quite so dry mouthed before. We arrived the day before and set up our crate, and since some confirmation judging was still going on as well as grooming and such we went into the building and played a little, letting us both adjust to the noise while we heeled and practiced a few Rally maneuvers.

The Labrador got her breakfast on Friday as normal, but then Friday night only got half rations. We’ve had issues with her eliminating in the ring and wanted to prevent this while making sure she still had the energy to get through the day. Saturday morning we arrived at the show grounds early and went for a walk, making sure she got all her morning business done well before we had to be in the ring! We showed Saturday morning, qualifying with a 97! It should have been a 100, but I had this minor moment of forgetting left and right and had to redo a sign!

After everyone was done (friends were also competing), I got a light lunch and we went back to our room to rest. We headed back to the show grounds around 4:00 expecting the next trial to begin around 4:00 or 5:00. It was scheduled to begin a half hour after the end of the previous show, but other issues caused it to be delayed even longer and we didn’t finish with our class until 11:30 pm! We qualified with a 77, which while not great, I’m satisfied with based on how long the day was, the strange environment and being so late! While the trial still had two more classes to go, we left and went back to our room where the Labrador again got half rations (and then fell asleep even before I was in bed!). I’m also pleased because the last time we tried to show twice in one day it didn’t go well. The second time in the ring the Labrador left me, said hi to the judges, and ring stewards and nothing I did could reclaim her attention. We were excused, and I wondered if perhaps showing twice in one day was going to be too much for her. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Perhaps it was maturity, or training or just that day she wanted to make new friends. But now I know we can como

The next morning we didn’t go over quite as early, but still gave ourselves plenty of time before our earliest possible start time. A nice walk made sure the call of nature was answered, and a wonderfully organized club not only had the Rally course set up early, but the efficient and friendly judge got us done earlier than Saturday. Again we qualified, this time with a 85! It should have been a 95, but I screwed up a sign and decided not to retry it. I think we were both a bit worn out and frazzled and I wasn’t sure I’d get her attention back enough to complete it properly (it was the last sign!).

Our biggest concerns were eliminating in the ring (we have a plan!), handing the leash to the stewart (no problems!) and though we’d trained I still dreaded getting an offset figure eight. We didn’t have a single one! I still am expecting one for the RNC. And our Sit/Stay was excellent.

We had a few attention issues that we need to work on, though I suspect there are due more to my nerves than anything. While warming up I tried a combination of having treats on me (security blanket) and not having treats on me. It made very little difference outside the ring. She was awesome! But the moment we’d approach the ring, I would tense. My throat got dry. I’m certain the way I said sit outside the ring verse how I said it inside was different. I need to work on this.

All in all it was a great weekend!

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Played

She played me. The Labradork has been playing me. I am a sucker. For three years we’ve worked spin. Some days were better than others (faster, tighter spins). But then there were the days the command didn’t seem enough and I’d have to get a hand signal as well. Those days the spin was half hearted, slow, and not very tight, and I would just cheer her on, encourage her, or sometimes bring the treat out to lure her into a better spin.

Because of course the problem had to be my training right? If she wasn’t doing it correct, even after all that time, I must not have trained it right. She must not understand. So I’d take a few steps back. I’d work it again. Bring out the treat (read bribe). And then one day something inside me questioned. She’s almost three years old. This is a simple behavior. Could I seriously be that bad of a trainer that she really didn’t understand what I was asking? That had been my assumption. It had to be me. And it was, just not like I thought.

The other night I filled up her food bowl with dinner. I held it in my hand and without a signal said, “Spin.” It was like a fan had turned on as she whipped around in tight circle almost nose to tail. This sweet, innocent little Labradork had been playing me! She’d figured out the least amount of effort she could put into this behavior and still get the treat! Why put in effort if mom will just bring out the treat and lead me around by the nose and then still give me the treat? Mom’s a sucker!

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Today I received my entry confirmation for the 2014 AKC Rally National Championship.

I don’t recall when we realized we qualified. Or when I realized it was going to be on this coast, and only a few hours drive from me. I do recall my immediate determination to submit my entry! I’d gone from a woman who knew nothing about dog sports to a woman who’d qualified for the first ever AKC Rally National Championship! We’d qualified! I knew there were limits on the number of entries that would accepted out of those that qualified, but I had no doubt I would send it in. A friend asked what was my strategy to make sure I got in and I told her, overnight it and hope! We were both certain that everyone would overnight their entries and it would fill up that first day. We were determined to get ours in!

But then time passed. And I started getting nervous. I started having doubts. Yes we qualified, but…. Fears, doubts, excuses started slipping in. We qualified at small shows, and this was going to be a great, big National! We didn’t qualify with all scores 95 and above. Surely those who belonged at the National qualified with all 100s. Those would be the ones to overnight their entries and get in. So many doubts swirling in my head.

And then the day that entries opened came closer. I made the decision to just snail mail my entry. The explanation I told myself was that I couldn’t afford the cost to overnight it. Nonsense. I was letting my fear win. Letting my doubt win. I put it in the mail and told myself that if we made it, fine, and if we didn’t that was fine too. I even worked out a plan to go and watch, already assuming we wouldn’t get in.

Shows what I know! It didn’t fill up the first day. And my entry did make it and we are entered. So, now that even in spite of my own attempts to sabotage myself we are in, I have a new plan.

Step One: Remind myself daily that we QUALIFIED just like everyone else who will be there.

Step Two: Train. Practice. Improve on our weaknesses, and build on our strengths. Visualize success!

Step Three: Breathe.

Step Four: HAVE FUN!

And of course — most important HUG THE LABRADORK!

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I couldn’t have done this without her. She is my best friend, my partner and the sweetest dog I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my life with.

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