Sunday, June 15, 2014

Agility Dog

The journey with Sprout continues. So far, we've realized a lot of success, but are still working hard at becoming a true team. Sometimes we're in sync and it's poetry in motion. Other times, his overdrive is kicked on so high that it blinds him to my communication or I just can't quite manage to keep up so that things can get a bit hairy. Every trial experience gives me homework for us to work on. No matter what, I LOVE running this dog. The universe certainly bestowed me with a gift when he came into my life last summer.

As detailed in my last post, I started trialing Sprout in mid-March, beginning with a USDAA Intro Trial and then proceeding through a series of UKI trials, finishing his Beginner titles in that venue and now working toward completing his Novice titles. I like UKI for him for several reasons: he gets to jump 8" as his regular height and do a 5'3" AFrame; to keep things lite and fun, especially when first starting out, I could take a toy in the ring and run him NFC; I like the courses - they are international style and not as open as the lower levels in other venues.

We will continue with UKI, but having always been a USDAA person, I wanted to give that a try as well. In USDAA Sprout has to jump 12" in championship, which is what I normally jump him while training, but I was still on the fence about competing at that height. At the beginning of May I entered him in a USDAA trial for one day to see how he'd do. We ran 4 classes - jumpers, snooker, gamblers & standard - and Q'd in all except standard when he had a baby dog moment.

With that success under our belts, I decided to continue to pursue USDAA and run him 2 days each in a couple of trials in June. At the first trial, something was off with him during the first couple of runs as he was knocking bars - 3 in jumpers and then the 1st red in snooker, giving me my first ever 0 point snooker run experience. This had me rethinking jumping him at 12". But I gave him a long massage after our disastrous snooker run and didn't have any problems in the afternoon or the next day, so it was probably something muscular that needed to be worked out. I did feel like we were struggling as a team throughout this trial though; we just weren't in sync. The starters courses are so open, which can make running a tiny speed demon very challenging. We only came home with one Q, in standard, that first day. Things improved the next day where we Q'd in 3 of 4 runs. Here is our best run of the weekend - our first time running pairs where we ran the 2nd half. We purposely took a lot of time at the baton exchange since neither dog had ever run relay before, but I wasn't concerned with making time.

And here is our snooker run from Sunday. I was pretty pleased with this up until the off course jump after #5 in the close. And we hit 37 points right on the dot, so Q'd.

The following weekend I had entered him in the Friday and Saturday of a 3-day trial. This time we really felt like a team for the majority of our runs. We ended up Qing in 7 out of 8 and, on Saturday, finishing his Agility Dog title along with his Starters titles in Gamblers, Standard, Relay, and Snooker.  Here are a couple of his runs from Friday - a fast and pretty standard run and a speedy jumpers run.

And here is our last run of the day on Saturday (also our last run at the Starters level) - snooker.

Next weekend we have some UKI planned and then we'll have some time off to recoup and regroup. We definitely have some things to work on! Agility is always a journey in process.

Advanced classes here we come...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Springing into Action After the Winter of Our Discontent


It's been 4 1/2 months since my last post. The reason for that? I blame this past miserably cold and snowy winter - the worst in recent memory. All my energy was pretty much focused on picturing the light at the end of the tunnel, as that tunnel seemed to grow longer and longer, and trying to stay warm in the meantime. My ability to train ANYTHING was severely limited. Too cold to be outside. Too cold to go to the agility building. Even too cold in my basement.

Three of my four dogs didn't seem to mind the cold snowy days so much.

Hokey on the other hand...she and I are kindred spirits when it comes to the winter months. I'm convinced she suffers from a form of Canine Seasonal Affective Disorder. She was miserable for months. She didn't want to go outside AT ALL. Every time, I let the dogs out, it was an ordeal just to get her to take a couple of steps off the screen porch to do her business. She would go right there in front of the screen porch door and immediately turn around and ask to come back in. Inside the house, she spent the bulk of her time leaning up against the heat vents shivering or curled up somewhere glaring and grumping at all the other 4-leggeds. Sometime in late March, as spring FINALLY showed the occasional symptom of appearing, she turned into a different dog. Suddenly she was happy again, bringing me toys to play with and chasing Sprout around.
First storm of the season - I'm not going out there
Different storm - same scene playing out all winter. LET ME IN!!!

Spring is here at last! Time to play and celebrate!

The worst thing that happened this winter was that Sprout developed a case of demodex.
Hair growing back after a few treatments
He'd had something going on since late fall, but the way it presented at first was somewhat atypical for demodex and looked like allergies. For the first couple of months, it was confined to his armpit area, but then in mid-December it started to spread. He was finally diagnosed on New Year's Eve day. Then I ended up spending a good part of New Year's Eve night at the emergency clinic; I very nearly lost him after his first treatment. After that, we switched him to a different treatment, but I was still nervous with each successive one. He was never himself for about 24 hours after each one. His last scraping in early March revealed no more mites and his hair has grown back in most places. However, I still worry about it returning; his hair hasn't grown back in his armpits yet. So I continue to give him medicated baths once or twice a week and I apply Goodwinol ointment to his armpits every night. I watch him like a hawk for any evidence that he might be losing hair again. I'm also worried about an underlying immune issue that may have caused the outbreak in the first place. Skin issues aside, he's as active and happy as ever.

Speaking of which, Sprout has made his official trialing debut and is now a titled agility dog!
Loot from his first trial where he went 3 for 3

We just wrapped up a whirlwind debut tour of 4 trials in 5 weeks - 1 USDAA Intro trial and 3 UKI trials. Our first trial was a last minute decision on my part. I had read an article about USDAA intro only trials and decided to check the events calendar on the off chance there might be one coming up in this area - and there was! Soon. Luckily I had already registered him with USDAA. It's not really worth it for me to travel to a regular USDAA trial to run him in the 1 or 2 intro classes that might be offered in a day, but a trial dedicated to just intro classes is a different story. The only thing I wish was a little different is, unlike UKI where at any level you can decide right then and there to take a toy into the ring and announce that you are running "not for competition", in USDAA Intro you have to pre-enter as an FEO (For Exhibition Only). I wanted to enter at least one run, preferably, the 3rd or 4th, as an FEO so I could bring a toy in the ring and keep things lite and fun for him his first time out. Winter being what it was and having an effect on our contact training and maintenance as a consequence, I decided to pre-enter standard, the 3rd class of the day, as our FEO run. He had some really great runs for his first time out, including a smokin' 51 point snooker run, and Q'd and placed first in the 3 non-standard classes. Unfortunately, I don't have any video of any of those runs. But here we are practicing between this first trial and the UKI trial the following weekend.

The following weekend we started Sprout's UKI career. I really like UKI for him because he only has to jump 8" as his regular jump height (as opposed to 12" in USDAA) and the A-Frame is only 5'3" for the little guys. I also find the courses challenging from a handling perspective, which I really enjoy.

He did really awesome once again - Qing and winning all his beginner classes.  

Here is his jumpers run from that trial:

The following week, we did a small UKI trial on a Friday. Once again, he smoked the beginners courses, Qing and winning all 3 AND finishing his very first agility titles - the UKI beginner titles in both the Speedstakes and International programs.

Here are a couple of his runs from that trial:

And, after a week off, this past Saturday we completed our last UKI trial in this cluster. He's now moved up to the novice level. The courses are the same as beginners, but now refusals count. And in UKI runs have to be clean in order to earn a qualifying run. We Q'd and blued in jumpers, gamblers and standard. Sprout has always made some growly, whiny noises while running due to excitement, but at this trial he graduated to throwing in the occasional bark. Silly. Here is his gamblers run. You can hear one of his barks as he is landing off the jump between the 2nd set of weave poles and the dog walk.

In other news, I'd tried to enter Poppy in a nose work trial the first Saturday in April at the same site where Ollie's was held last September. I was particularly interested in trialing her at this site because of her aversion to golf carts; there aren't any in use at this Gettysburg site. I don't remember when the entries opened, it was months ago. After they closed, she was waitlisted. Since she ended up at number 19 on the waitlist, I'd given up hope for her doing any nose work trials anytime soon and hadn't been practicing much over the winter. Then 3 weeks before the trial, just as Sprout was making his agility debut, I got an email saying Poppy had been pulled off the waitlist and had a slot in the trial. YIKES! I had to cram a lot of practice in. Luckily, it was like riding a bike to her; she wasn't even rusty. So my one "free" weekend in the middle of Sprout's agility trial tour, turned into a nose work trial weekend for me (5 weeks of trialing in a row - I've never done that before!). This being my 3rd nose work trial, having already not passed once with Poppy, and having been to this particular site once before with Ollie, I was much more relaxed. Just like at Ollie's trial, the order was interior, container, vehicles, and exterior. She was insane during her interior search, which was in a less creepy area than Ollie's had been, but still involved A LOT of arcade game machines. I let her off leash this time, since I didn't have to worry about antique furniture, and she spent the first 40 seconds or so bouncing up in people's faces, trying to find a way back out of the search area, and generally running around like a nut. Most of her pictures from that search have some blur to them. And we won't mention the crazed look in her eyes. Finally she settled down and started to work. She found that hide in just over a minute. The first comment on her score sheet was "A LOT of energy". HAHAHA! Understatement! Later in the morning, we did our container search. She buzzed right through that and found it in 9 seconds, which earned her a 2nd place. Then came the heartbreak. Yes, it was SUPER windy out, but that wasn't the reason why we didn't pass vehicles. I am 100% responsible for her not passing. I was too quick to call it when she started lingering on an area and for the first time I heard "I'm sorry, no". Oh well. I pulled it together quick. I had to because we immediately had to move on to the exterior search. Well, apparently I DID really pull it together because she smoked that search - 6.46 seconds! Good enough for first place! So, although her title remained elusive, once again, we didn't go home empty handed. Poppy certainly has her moments of brilliance. I think we're trying for a record - the most placement ribbons at NW1 trials without actually finishing a title. We'll keep trying to get that title ribbon to add to the placements she's racking up. Gotta love that crazy gal!

Now What? I taking a little breather and figuring out the next steps for each dog. I have a
couple of demo days coming up. The first I just show up with a couple of dogs, and do agility with one and nose work with the other. At the second, I'm actually running the nose work station at a dog activity day event, so I'll be giving talks, demos and then offering a short intro to nose work session for anyone interested in trying it out with their dog.

I'm figuring out Sprout's agility trial schedule. I'd like to get in some USDAA here and there, so I think I'm going to enter one day of an upcoming trial at the beginning of May, then take the rest of the month off to focus on training. June looks like a very busy month for UKI and some USDAA and I need to figure out what trials/days, I'm going to be able to do. I probably won't do a lot of trialing in July or August due to the heat, but we'll see what comes up.
Hokey heeling along

I'm planning to train Hokey for rally/obedience in the hopes that she'll like it enough for
me to enter her in those classes at this year's JRTCA Nationals. She seems to like heel work and she's 100% food motivated and the rules will allow me to bring food into the ring in my pocket. So we'll see how that comes along. In the meantime, now that it's warm enough again, I'm starting to bring her along to the building with Sprout so she can do a little agility once again.
Hokey is loving nose work. I think mainly it's because she gets an instant payoff. I have her working on odor only now and think she'll be ready for an ORT sometime in the near future. Ollie and Poppy will continue to practice nose work. I'll be interested in seeing how the element specialty trials play out. I'm really interested in doing some of those. And, of course, I want Poppy to finally get that NW1 title! I got involved in nose work specifically for her sake and Ollie (AKA Mr. Perfect) swooped in late to the game and got his title first time out. Out of all my dogs, Poppy is the dog I've struggled with the most and I really want this title for her.

The warmth of Spring is finally here.  Time to get BUSY!!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Sniff Test

Poppy - 1st place container search with a time of 5.37 seconds
On October 26th, Poppy and I competed in her first nose work trial. It was a beautiful day in a gorgeous location - Welkinweir in Pottstown PA. Having been through the experience of a nose work trial with Ollie only a month before, I had a much better idea of how a nose work trial is run and what to expect. This time, my 2 fellow former classmates and their dogs were also entered, so it was nice to have the camaraderie and support. I was much more relaxed at this trial than I had been at Ollie's.

Linda with Kyra (who finished her NW1 title this day at age 13), Marilyn with Mia, and me with Poppy
We started with our morning with check-in followed by a walk-thru of all 4 elements. The searches would all take place around an estate house that is often used for wedding rentals.

Interior followed by exterior would take place in the morning and then, in the afternoon, it would be container followed by vehicle. I was a little perplexed about what to do with the interior search. I wanted to let Poppy do the search off-leash. However, after seeing the room, I had second thoughts. Not for the purposes of the search, but for the preservation of the room. This was a fancy room full of antique furniture. Poppy is an enthusiastic nose work dog. She puts her paws on on things and sometimes scratches at the hide. She jumps on furniture. I've trained her that there are no real boundaries - the hide could be ANYWHERE and it's up to her to go anywhere to find it. We were told our dogs shouldn't be allowed to jump on the furniture. I was thinking "UGH! How is that not going to happen?".
Part of the room where our interior search was held
Then it was our time to start the journey toward the house. There were several wait-stations from the in-gate to the house involving a lovely walk down a pretty trail. Unfortunately, Poppy did not have a lovely, relaxing time. The people running the trial were using several golf carts to move from here to there. Poppy has some weird fears and sound sensitivities and golf carts suddenly occupied the top of that list.

The most evil invention of mankind according to Poppy

She was having a series of mini-panic attacks during our journey through the various stations. What's more, it was turning out to be a pretty windy day, which only added to her anxiety and hyper-vigilance. The rustling of leaves had her bolting and jumping in terror thinking that there was a golf cart sneaking up behind her. I was relieved to get to the final wait station where the golf carts couldn't be encountered. To go from that into the fancy room of complete silence was a huge environmental adjustment for me. I can't imagine what it must of been like for Poppy. I decided, for the sake of the fancy room, to keep her on leash, although I was really disappointed that I didn't feel as though I had the kind of freedom I wished to just let her loose. (Turns out she ended jumping up on the most antique looking sofa in the room during the search anyway - I was momentarily mortified).

Fireplace where hide was located sans holiday flowers

The hide was located at the bottom of a stanchion at the fireplace. Poppy showed some interest in the area early on in the search and the thought crossed my mind to call it, but, whereas she's normally very bold about her indications leaving me with no doubt, this indication was luke-warm at best. I didn't feel the kind of confidence I normally feel with her and she moved on, which is not like her either. She typically exhibits pretty strong odor obedience and wouldn't generally move off an odor. However, I did notice that she seemed very cautious about the dark marble floor directly in front of the fireplace that she would have to step on to indicate the hide location. I'm not sure if it was a visual thing with the shiny surface or the slickness of the surface making her feel unsteady, but she definitely had a reaction to it and wasn't crazy about putting her paws on it. I worked the rest of the room with her with no other signs of indication and eventually was given the 30 second warning. I felt my best hope was to take her back to the fireplace to see if she would at least give me a weak indication again, but she really didn't want to get that close to it. Something was scaring her. Time was called and that was that. No title for us today. It was both disappointing and liberating. At least now I had nothing more to lose the rest of the day, although I would spend the next couple of days second-guessing myself and wishing I'd called the alert on her weak indication since I sort of thought maybe it was there. If nothing else, I've learned how she might react in a trial situation and that her normal alert behaviors may be much weaker than what I'm used to seeing in practice.
We went from the interior directly to the exterior search without any real waiting period in between, so Poppy and I needed to recover fast. The pictures below show the exterior search area which was in the front of the house. The picture on the right gives a better perspective of the area. The threshold was the doorway (since we were coming from inside the house) and extended from the foreground of this picture to the edge of the garden area in front of the windows in the background. It ran across the macadam to a stone wall bordering driveway directly across from the house (just off camera in this picture). LOTS of cracks and crevices for hides! The hide was actually up under the seat of the bench to the right of the doorway shown in the picture on the left, although it was pulled out a bit from the wall of the house.     

When Poppy and I crossed the threshold into the search area, she turned to the side of the door opposite where the hide was and worked that area for a short time. Then she moved to the side where the bench was and seemed to catch the odor pretty quickly. She worked the bench and went around the back side of it. This time she gave me a typical, strong indication including pawing at the bench seat and I immediately called the alert - 22.27 seconds and the 5th fastest exterior search of the day. I felt some sense of redemption.

After a lunch break, the afternoon searches got underway - container followed by vehicle. Again, we had to run the gauntlet of scary golf carts and swooshy wind noises. Poppy almost came unhinged during our walk down the driveway to the final waiting area as a golf cart came down the drive behind us. Argh! The container search was set up in a large tent area next to the house. I gather from many photos I've seen, this is often used for weddings that take place at this location.
 Of course, when we did our search, it was minus all the chairs and tables and the sides of the tent were closed. My biggest concern was how the already hyper-vigilant, hyper-sound sensitive Poppy would react to the wind noise inside the tent. The tent sat in a gorgeous location on a hill overlooking a lake, but that just meant an open area for the wind to pick up and slam into the side of the tent. It turns out, our search was so short that
it didn't become a factor at all. Whereas Ollie's container search had involved searching
Evidence of our proud triumph
boxes in the shape of a jack-o-lantern, Poppy's containers were in the shape of a pine tree with the startline facing the "tree trunk". If I remember correctly, the hide was on the exterior left hand side of the 3rd "bough" from the bottom. As soon as I released her from the startline, she was off and running. It just so happens that she chose to work the boxes on the outside left first. When she started to pass the box where the hide was located, she whipped around and showed interest. That was enough of an indication for me; I called the alert. Our time was 5.37 seconds!!! First place! And by far the fastest time - the 2nd place dog had a time of nearly 14 seconds. We got a nice pretty purple first place ribbon to take home, so even though we didn't get a title ribbon, at least we brought a reward home with us for our efforts.

Last came the vehicle search. The 3 vehicles were parked side-by-side in a staggered pattern with the startline face the drivers side of the first vehicle. It was VERY windy by this point and competitors were instructed to call the alert loudly so we could be heard over the noise of the wind. If I remember correctly, the hide was located on the inside of the wheel-well of the rear passenger side of the first vehicle, an SUV. Poppy worked the that vehicle a bit, as well as the drivers side of the second vehicle, which was parallel to the location of the hide. She then went around to the front and worked that a bit before coming back down and working the passenger side of the correct vehicle. She stopped and gave me a medium indication on the hide. I wasn't very disappointed in her indication behavior because normally she is too exhuberant in indicating vehicle hides and scratches like mad at the car. I'm quick to reward the find and stop any major damage, but scratching like that in a trial could be faulted, so I was almost relieved that her indication was just nose touch and some excitement. Here is a link to a picture of her indicating the hide. Having learned my lesson from the interior search that morning, I decided to call it. It was the right thing to do. Her time was 26.73 seconds, which was the 8th fastest vehicle search of the day.

So, while Poppy didn't end up with her NW1 title, we had 3 really good searches and I learned a lot about what I might expect from her in a trial situation. I plan on trying again in 2014. At this time, I don't have plans to pursue a NW2 title on any of my dogs, but that could change. I AM looking forward to the element specialty trials starting up next April. In the meantime, I'm going to start Ollie and Poppy on anise. And I've started training Hokey in nosework. She's absolutely MAD for it!!! I'm going to be starting her on birch odor TODAY, but here she is doing one of her first search sessions, looking for hotdogs in boxes. She caught on like she's been doing it her whole life.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Contact Zone

I am currently in the midst of training Sprout to have great performances on all three contact obstacles. I'm training running contacts for both the A-frame and dogwalk and a 4-on teeter. Because I live in a city home with only a small yard, I don't have space for my own contact equipment. In order to gain access to equipment, I rent an agility building once a week to train. Right now, this means those particular training sessions are very contact focused; basically, I work one contact obstacle then take a short short walk break and/or run a short jump-tunnel-weave sequence before moving on to the next contact. One hour per week, may not be ideal, but it's what I have to work with and I believe I'm making the most of it and being rewarded with good results for my effort.

A-Frame: This is the one contact obstacle where I was able to do the ground work at home. I am using Rachel Sanders box method, which I previously used to train both Poppy and Hokey's running contacts. I started Sprout by running him straight through the box laid out on the ground. I decided in order to get him a little deeper into the box and to get a better bounce, I needed to raise the back end a few inches. The cardboard insert from toilet paper or paper towel rolls works great for this, although you can also add some PVC extensions. I like cheap, quick, and readily handy myself. I worked all 3 of the stationary positions on both sides of the box:

Next I added the jump grid to the box. These are two low jumps that precede the box. The 2nd jump is placed exactly 9 feet from the back edge of the box. This simulates the down ramp of the frame. Running through the grid teaches the correct striding up over the apex of the frame then one bounce before the contact zone and then a 2nd bounce into the contact zone and off the frame. It's building muscle memory for the real thing. I did have a little bit of trouble getting the correct striding from Sprout early on; sometimes instead of the two bounces in 9', he was adding an extra stride - so two little strides then a bounce through the box or sometimes he was missing the box altogether. By messing around with the jump heights and their distances from each other, I was finally able to get a consistent 2-strided performance from him. Once the consistency came, I was able to set the jumps as I normally would have. The following clip shows us working the grid over a few different days. Again, I worked the 3 stationary positions on each side and then, once he was proficient and giving me a consistent performance, I added some motion and obstacles.

Then came time for the real deal. First, I set up the grid right next to the frame and ran him through it a few times. Then I set the A-frame pretty low and transferred the box to the down contact. I set a jump bar on the apex in case that helped him get the idea of leap over the apex; I had done this with Hokey and it had helped her. I'm not sure if it really helped Sprout or not. I didn't use one in subsequent sessions. If you look at the pictures above from our most recent A-frame session, you can see that he is now consistently leaping over the apex and catching a lot of air in the process - and getting a nice two bounce descent. For him, it seemed to come as a natural progression as his confidence increased and his drive accelerated. Here is his first session on the frame. I did raise it a little bit during this first session.

Here is Sprout's 2nd session a week later with the A-frame a little higher. As you can see, he's putting in some solid performances.

And here is Sprout's most recent A-Frame session on a still higher A-frame. Just look at him FLY! His confidence and drive are really starting to take off and he is sailing over the apex and putting in two solid hits. It can be hard to really see what's going on, but the pictures above are snapshots taken from this clip. He is catching some major air!

My plan from here is to continue to move to full height and to continue to get this kind of performance on a consistent basis, then fade the box. What is truly awesome is that NOT ONCE in any of these training sessions, has he missed bouncing through the box. He's 100% when it comes to hitting the contact on the frame so far. I am so pleased with his progress to date.

Teeter: In a previous post, I had shown a clip of the end behavior work I'd done in preparation for training the teeter. Finally, it was time to work the entire obstacle, starting with it set low, of course. Here is part of our first session (after training Hokey, I often forget that I can use a clicker with Sprout, even when it's in my hand!):

And here we are a couple of weeks later, with the teeter a bit higher:

So far, each teeter session goes like this: the first time, run like mad just past the fulcrum, then as it starts to drop suddenly panic and put on the brakes and look like a back-peddling cartoon character, end up in the contact zone, but not down close to the end. The 2nd and maybe the 3rd time through "Oh it's that scary thing that moves when I run across it. I need to be cautious." = a slow performance and a less than stellar contact performance (i.e. in the upper part of the yellow instead of down near the end of the teeter). Then the confidence builds and builds and by the end of the session he's got tons of teeter drive. My plan is to build his confidence while gradually raising the teeter to full height over several weeks. I also hope I can get him out and get him some exposure to other teeters.

Dogwalk: I'm still in the early stages of training Sprout's dogwalk. So far, I am planning a running contact performance. Unlike with Hokey and the foam tiles, I didn't do any ground work with Sprout. Instead, the last month or so, I've spent time each week letting him get used to the dogwalk by walking him on leash back and forth and letting him turn around. Then I've worked the down ramp by having my partner restrain him while I get him excited and then, when he's released, I throw a toy for him to run down the ramp and through a hoop I have set up at the end of the ramp. I had originally made the
hoop for Hokey's running dogwalk contact training and found it quite helpful since I was really at disadvantage trying to teach a solid running contact without the ability to use a clicker or any other sound to mark the correct behavior. I found the hoop taught her to run straight off the end of the ramp without leaping off while keeping her head low. She was able to retain the behavior after I faded the hoop. I'm hoping to have the same result with Sprout.

This past week was the first time I worked the entire length of the dogwalk with him (after the retrained ramp runs). Here is a clip of the result:

I'm pretty happy with this. I think his confidence will continue to build off this and his drive and speed with increase as a result. Once I feel satisfied with that, I'll start to fade the hoop and see if we retain the contact behavior I'm looking for.

Monday, October 21, 2013

JRTCA Nationals - AKA Mudfest 2013

Did you ever want to find out what it would be like to participate in a trial held in a bog? No. Neither did I. But that is precisely what this year's JRTCA National trial felt like. Let me back up and tell of my journey across the water from south-central PA to western MD.

This would have been a more practical mode of transportation than my Forester

The trial started on Friday, but I didn't have much planned for that day. Sprout was pre-entered in lure coursing and then I planned to run both terriers in the tunnelers agility warm-up, which is a pay-at-the-gate type class. Lure coursing ran until 3 and tunnelers normally starts around 3. The drive SHOULD take a little less than 2 1/2 hours, so I figured as long as we left town by 11 or so, we'd make it there in plenty of time for the lure coursing run and then we could do our tunnelers runs. Unfortunately, that day also happened to coincide with record rainfall for this area. Water and flooding everywhere - and the rain just wasn't letting up. York County was especially hard hit. As a consequence, traffic was horrible and travel was treacherous. At one point on Route 30, somewhere west of York, we came to an area where there was a lot of water on the road, but still passable. It just so happened that when I was driving across, an 18-wheeler was coming in the opposite direction. There was more water on that other side of the road than on mine and as the truck passed me, it sent a tsunami of water over and under my vehicle. I made it through fine, but my check engine and a couple other lights on my dash came on. It was running as normal, but it certainly made me nervous to continue driving it. I had no choice at that point. I wasn't about to turn around and drive through that water again.
Not my Forester, but a reenactment of exactly what I saw. Not good.

We ended up getting to the trial site a little after 3. I was disappointed since that meant I had missed my lure coursing run. As I got out to walk the dogs and get my bearings, I noticed that lure coursing was still running. I wasn't sure if I needed to check in first, but I figured it was worth a shot at trying to get my run in. Unfortunately, because of the chaos, I didn't get any pictures or video of Sprout's attempt at lure coursing, but it looked kind of like this:
Okay. Not really that bad. But the start of the course did involve running through some water and mud. The track was basically square around the perimeter of a field. It started at the lower corner, turned then went up a gradual incline where there was an agility tunnel to run through, turned again and ran along the top of the incline where there was another tunnel to pass through before turning again and heading down the slope to the finish. Sprout started out well. He chased the lure through the water and mud and up the slope. Then the momma's boy part of his brain kicked in as he got to the far side of the field; he realized I wasn't with him and how far away from me he was and panicked. He had two back-to-back runs. The first time he ran back to me as he got to the first tunnel. The second time he made it through the tunnel then panicked at he approached the far corner. He tried jumping over the temporary fencing to cut across to me. The people running the lure tried to get him to chase it again. He started to, but then gave up and came back around to me. So much for our adventures with lure coursing. I thought he'd really like it, but apparently he didn't like it as much as being with me. Hokey seemed interested seeing the lure running. However, she is kind of a princess when it comes to wet and muck and I didn't want to immediately turn off her interest by trying to run her in those conditions. Maybe another, drier, time.
The queen of speed. If I can get her to chase a lure, she'll be a force to be reckoned with.
I wandered around until I found the check in building and picked up my packet. There I ran into a friend who informed me that the tunnelers run was moved to the next day, so we left and headed for the hotel.

At least Saturday dawned a little brighter. It was nice to see the sun here and there throughout the day between the rain showers. I was kicking myself that I didn't enter Sprout in Agility I. Yes, he would have to do the A-Frame and DW, which I've only begun to train, but I think I could have easily "faked" an obstacle performance of each. I think he would have rocked. Instead, while I waited for the tunnelers course to open up and Hokey's Agility II class, I decided to try brush hunt with Sprout. He had no clue whatsoever about what he was supposed to be doing. He probably needs a proper introduction to rats. Who would have thunk he wouldn't just go out there and immediately hunt down a rat in a cage? Oh well. It was fun to try.
Sprout wandering aimlessly around the Brush Hunt area
Next came our tunnelers runs. I ran both dogs twice. I started with Hokey, who did pretty well, although about halfway through she paused for a little bit. I thought maybe because she was suddenly confused about why we were doing so many tunnels.

Then I ran Sprout twice. He did well with his first run. Excellent for his first time at a trial, especially with the multiple distractions such a excited dogs at the brush hunt area nearby and the less than idea footing due to the wet weather. He, too, seemed a little confused about why we were doing so many tunnels in a row, but took it in stride. He had one off course tunnel entry in that first run. His second run included a couple moments of distraction, but he worked well and was fast and this time got around without going off course. So proud of him!

Then I did a second run with Hokey. That's when things started to go awry. She stopped after the 1st tunnel and refused to go on as I encouraged her to continue. Then she took off back to the gate. She did come back and start working again, with a couple more weird glitchy things, like stopping to bark at the judge, but then she did finish strong. I'm still not sure what went wrong. Something freaked her out - the mushy footing, trialing outside for the first time, the general atmosphere? Maybe she was sore somewhere? Who knows? Being at the hotel was a new experience too and she became somewhat obsessed with the light and shadows under the door. So maybe the entire experience was just too much for her to handle at this point.

Things went even worse in our Agility II run. I got her to the line and released her. She ran around the 1st jump and over to the fence at the opposite side of the ring (where the gate was). I got her to come back to me a few times, but was unsuccessful at getting her to take any obstacles. She was definitely having a meltdown. Poor girl.

We ended the day by taking both dogs to the Thunder Tunnel area. Both dogs were introduced to the rat in the cage that would be at the end of the tunnel. Sprout, Mr. KILL ALL THE THINGS, completely surprised me by acting terrified of the rat. He's my highest prey drive dog at home, so that threw me for a loop. Hokey, Miss Nearly Zero Prey Drive, at least showed some vague interest (and Sprout got slightly more brave seeing her checking out the rat).

The women running Thunder Tunnel were SUPER super nice and encouraging. I can't say enough good things about them. Sprout went first. He did the entire tunnel with A LOT of encouragement. He'll do just about anything for me. What a brave boy!

Hokey made it clear she wanted no part of doing the entire tunnel, so we just had her do the short section from the ball pit to the end a couple of times. She was a good girl.

Sunday, the final day of the trial, started out gloomy and got worse - drizzle to rain - as the day progressed. Hokey was entered in Agility III in the morning and Colors in the afternoon, but I wasn't sure if I was going to attempt to run at all given the even mushier footing and her quirkiness the previous day. I walked the Agility III course and decided I had nothing to lose by at least attempting it. It did not go well. Again, when I released her from the startline, she ran to the fence on the other side of the ring. This time she wouldn't even come back to me. I wasn't going to push her anymore. It was disappointing since I know what she is capable of, but she'd made it clear something was bothering her and that she didn't want to work. I scratched her from the afternoon class, but did stick around to do a "fun run" in the rain with Sprout so I could at least end things on a good note. It was a game called Dare-to-Double, which I gathered comes from Teacup Agility. He did great. His greenness showed a little bit as he was reluctant to take the long tunnel that curved away from the inside of the ring when I handled it from the inside, but then he did take it when I went out and did a front cross and stayed to the outside. I was told that our score would have been a Q in a Teacup trial. So proud of my little man and how he handled everything. It's hard to believe he's only been with me and in training for 3 months!

Each dog got a placement ribbon in the tunnelers practice run, so at least they each got a memento to bring home. I think it's pretty cool that Sprout's first ribbon is from a national event. I got an expensive car repair bill that I have no idea how I'm going to afford. My take home from the trial is that Hokey needs a little break from agility, so we are working on some other things right now to build her confidence back up and cement our working bond again (watch for an upcoming blog post on that). But I'm already looking forward to going back next year and rocking agility with Sprout and potentially doing some other things with Hokey. I'm just hoping for much better weather and definitely better driving conditions.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sniffing Out Success

Ollie has a brand new title! We went to our first nose work trial on Sept 28th and were successful. Now, in addition to his plethora of agility titles, he has NW1 listed after his name. I'm nearly as proud of this title as I am of his ADCHs and LAA.

I've been trialing in the USDAA masters ring for the past several years, but I have to say, I found the experience of this nose work trial to be vastly more stressful than any agility competition. Why? I don't know. Maybe because EVERYTHING counts and if you miss one of the 4 elements there goes your chance at your title. Maybe the cost; compared to a day at an agility trial, a nose work trial is pretty expensive ($95 for NW1), so if you blow one element, there goes the entry fee, which for me is a good chunk of change I'd rather not lose without something to show for it. Maybe it's the fact that, in this area anyway, nose work trials are few and far between and when they do occur there is a long waitlist of teams who didn't manage to be selected through the random draw process, so, if you aren't successful, it could be a long time before you get the chance to try again. What didn't help my stress any was the fact that Ollie was dead last (#38) in the running order in both the morning and afternoon. Some trials will split the entries into two groups and while one group does 2 elements, the other group does the other 2 and then they switch in the afternoon. This particular trial didn't work that way. All dogs ran through the interior and container searches in the morning, then the vehicle and exterior searches in the afternoon. That meant the hides, especially the afternoon ones which were put out first thing in the morning, had been sitting there for hours before Ollie got a shot at them. Luckily I'd been putting out hides at home before I left for work in the morning and then letting him search for them when I arrived home, so he had been prepped for this. Still, waiting around for hours for my turn didn't do my anxiety any favors.

The trial was held at a sports/amusement complex near Gettysburg. The good news about
this location was that it didn't involve a lot of walking over long distances like some nose work trial sites do. The bad news was, because the locations of the search areas were so concentrated, I believe that is what contributed to the decision not to split the competitors into two working groups. Also, the site was a bit odd, even a little creepy, in places.

When I arrived, I parked in the "reactive dog" section. True, Ollie is a veteran when it comes to trialing and is used to being crated in my vehicle in close proximity to others with dogs, but with nose work being more sensitive to the needs of reactive dogs, I figured why not keep my reactive dog as calm as possible while waiting our turn by catering to his personal space issues. As with his ORT, he wore a red bandana to alert others that he is a reactive dog and to please keep their dogs at a distance.  There was a check-in and then a walk-through where we got a look at all 4 search areas and had the chance to ask questions. Then, after a period of time, the trial got underway.

When our turn came close, I took him over to the warm up/recovery area where there were 4 boxes set out, one of which contained birch odor. This let him know what we were about to do. Each search area had 3 or 4 stations that you move through where dogs are kept at a safe distance from each other while waiting their turn. We moved through those on our way to the interior search area. The interior search area was pretty creepy in my opinion, but the final staging area was even worse. It was in a room with black walls and glow-in-the-dark graffiti painted on them. The only lighting was from a single overhead black light. Needless to say, the atmosphere didn't alleviate my growing sense of dread. Pictures of the actual search area can be found here. Yes, with the dim lighting, black graffiti covered walls, weird panels and old banquet chairs and arcade games randomly strewn about, it was a like a creepy graveyard for amusements of the early 1990s.

Happy Sniffing - hope you make it out alive!

Like this, only about 20 years older
To fit the atmosphere, it turned out to be our most nail-biting search of the day. First, I opted to do the search on leash, which in hindsight may have been a mistake. The hide was up inside an old banquet chair in the middle of the room between one of those weird panels and an arcade game. We had 3 minutes to find it. Ollie opted to check the perimeter of the room first. Then he actually got near the hide. I suspected that it was the general location of the hide because it looked like he started to clean up some dropped food (! - why weren't those crumbs cleaned up??!!!!). It's hard to recall, but I *think* I may have pulled him away a bit to get him back on task. That's when he veered from the area of hide and started to focus on an arcade game, Sonic the Hedgehog, right across from the chair. He spent a lot of time and energy on that game. As a consequence, I now hate that game.

Most hated arcade game EVER!!

After spending a lot of time on the arcade game without alerting, I pulled him away for a sweep of other areas. Nothing. Then came the dreaded 30 second alert that no one wants to hear. I felt my stomach sink and panic rising. I took Ollie back to the area he was interested in and again he looked at the Sonic game, but then, thankfully, turned toward the chair, sniffed his way up the leg and alerted at the hide with just under 20 seconds to spare. PHEW!

Then it was immediately on to the container search. The containers were on the floor in part of a large gymnasium and had been arranged in the shape of a jack-o-lantern, i.e. a circle of boxes surrounding other boxes forming eyes, nose, and a mouth. I was surprised when I walked Ollie into the room to find many spectators seated in chairs watching. Very different from the ORT. I walked to the startline, took a deep breath and started the search. I let him go straight up the middle and then choose which half of the outer part of the circle to work first. He chose to go right, which turned out to be an excellent choice. About halfway down the arc he alerted on the correct box. The search lasted 11 seconds in all - the 5th fastest out of the 38 dogs - and it earned us a "pronounced" score and a round of applause from the spectators. It brought much relief after our less than steller interior search. Pictures of Ollie searching containers at the trial can be found starting here - go to the last two pages of the container search photos to see him.

After a very long wait for lunch break and the 37 dogs in front of us to search, it was our turn for vehicles and exterior. The vehicle search was set up like this, with the hide in the front of the driver's side wheel-well of the 3rd vehicle from the startline (starred):

We paused at the startline and then forged ahead toward the line of vehicles. Ollie bypassed vehicle 1 altogether. Then something in the miniature golf area behind the vehicles briefly caught his attention between vehicles 1 and 2. I got his focus back and he went to vehicle 3 and started searching. He found the hide in less than 14 seconds - the 4th fastest vehicle search of the 38 dogs! Since I don't get a chance to practice vehicles as much as the other elements, I was thrilled with how fast he found it, especially since he bypassed the other 2 vehicles to start his search on the correct one.

Three down, one to go! I felt pretty good about the exterior search, since that tends to be his strongest element. Even though we'd been practicing elevated hides, I was hoping it would be closer to ground level since his beagle nose is best at those. The final waiting area involved standing next to a weird life size giraffe statue that towered over us. Kind of like the picture on the right, only more weather-beaten and with more demonic eyes.

The exterior search area was only slightly less creepy than the interior one. At least there weren't any black walls and glow in the dark graffiti involved. But there was a lot of cement and some playground equipment that looked like it was designed to give children a sure case of tetanus. But, actually, the lack of plant life in the search area was a huge bonus for us because Ollie can be a quick and sneaky marker if he smells that another dog has peed  anywhere in the vicinity during previous century. Elimination equals elimination, so it was a relief to me to know that he would be much less likely to do that in this particular exterior search area.

As I approached the search area, the judge made some kind remarks about Ollie and his happy smile and wagging tail, which made me smile and helped to put me at ease. We crossed the start and Ollie started to work the left side of the perimeter of the search area. As he worked his way forward he came to the start of a wooden fence. He immediately honed in on a crack in the railing then followed it down to a crack in the cement and alerted. Afterward the judge jokingly commented that his head whipped up to look at me standing behind him so fast that he nearly gave himself whiplash. He completed the exterior search in 11 1/2 seconds - the 5th fastest exterior search of the day - and earned another "pronounced" score. You can see pictures of Ollie doing the exterior search starting here - go to the last two pages of the exterior search photos to see him.

WE HAD OUR TITLE! I was ecstatic and relieved. And so proud of Ollie. What a great little dog he is!

And now I get to put myself through all that terror and stress again next weekend with Poppy. At least the upcoming trial site looks very pretty and not intimidatingly creepy. Poppy CAN be a lightning fast searcher, but she is more erratic in her search patterns and not always as exact in her alert behavior, whereas Ollie is methodical and his alerts are very easy to read. So stay tuned for another nose work trial report. In the meantime, I've been prepping hard this past week. I'll leave you with a video of Poppy and Ollie working some interior searches.