Friday, December 21, 2012

The Stump Kids View the Southern Lights

It's hard to imagine that Christmas is now less than a week away. It's been hard to get into the Christmas spirit because of the uncommonly warm weather, events such as Connecticut, and M's stress of waiting on a phone call on a job interview he had last week.

Dally and I at the Christmas lights display at Buffalo Trace
But Tuesday night we took the dogs to go so the Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park, a cool drive-through Christmas light show that ends with different booths and activities in the International Museum of the Horse (if you're in the area, I totally recommend going). Yes, that's right...most families take their children to go see the lights, but we take our "fur-children". When M and I were first dating, we took Dally to see the lights at the Horse Park and all around Lexington. She was enamored with Christmas lights.

Dally looking out the window of the
truck while going through the
Southern Lights this year. (I couldn't
get a photo of LaMesa because she
wouldn't stay still in the back seat.)
I know dogs are color blind, but I think they can captivated by the movement of the twinkling lights. And Dally is definitely one of those that loves it. When she sees the lights, she stands up at the window in the back seat and stares at it until we roll the window down. She'll then hang her head out and just watch the lights. Last night I brought her up to the front seat and she laid on my lap and rested her chin at the window and just watched.

LaMesa seems to have learned to love the lights, too, because last night she would run across the back seat of the truck between the two windows, as if to try to get in as much of the lights as possible.

We finished off the evening with a late dinner and finishing up some shopping. I think the evening relieved some of the tension and stress we've been feeling, plus got us both into the holiday spirit.

How are you getting you and your fur-kids into the holiday spirit?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Weaves at Harrods Hill

Yesterday I enjoyed a nice lunch break during a cloudy, cold day when I met up with Matt and the Stump Kids at Harrods Hill Park, a park near my old apartment. Matt brought the weave poles and we set them up by the walking trail (and, yes, there were people actually walking/running along the trail at this time). LaMesa was fired up to see me when he pulled up next to the car.

It was hard to get LaMesa to focus on me at the beginning. She was still revved up when I got the weave poles set up and Matt had a tennis ball for Dally, which meant she wasn't focused. Matt immediately started throwing the ball for Dally when we weren't ready for those distractions. It took a little bit of time, but I did eventually get her to come back to me and weave.

After a few minutes of weaves, we took a short break to walk over to the nearby creek so she could get a drink and relax. When we got back to the weave poles, she was ready to work.

This time Matt was able to video us with my phone:

And here are a couple more videos from our session:

It's interesting that this time she struggled with what were usually her easy weave entrances, which were the 90* left hand turn wrap-around entrances. I wanted to try a few things yesterday, which included running hard and fast towards the 90* entrance--which you can see she struggled with.

The last session we had, we made huge progress towards me not having to run alongside her--I could send her into the weaves and then hang back after the first couple and she'd finish all 12! So this time, I wanted to simulate if I had to speed up to get to the end of the poles for the next obstacle, so I'd take off in a sprint as she was weaving. She stayed in all 12 and maybe even sped up a little more! Nice!

So we had an interesting session, but it was good. I enjoyed my lunchtime weave session with the pups, so I'm hoping we can squeeze in a few more before Matt hopefully starts a new job.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Weave Boot Camp Week 1

Last week I mentioned that I was taking a new approach to LaMesa and her weave pole issues at trials by starting a "boot camp" of sorts in which we did more training than practicing.

So it's been a week and here's our update:

Day 1 - Sunday: (Herding trial in Versailles) Matt and I took the girls to go watch Merinda and Porter compete at a herding trial. After watching Porter do his thing, we set up the weave poles a ways away from where the sheep were (I didn't want to disrupt anything), so we were in a completely different place, with LaMesa already seeing the sheep. Under Merinda's watchful eye (and Stout's cheering from his crate in her car) we did some weaves with Matt as a distraction. Matt would toss his football in the air, walk the opposite way that we were weaving, and he even set his football at the last weave pole. I would also run through the weaves behind her. She wasn't perfect, but she showed improvement and she showed me where we needed to work

Day 2 - Monday, Dec. 3: (Wellington Dog Park) I rushed home from work so we could load up the dogs and poles and headed to Wellington Dog Park where we set the poles up near the parking lot with dogs and people coming in and out. Matt held Dally nearby, at first, then used her as part of the distractions as he'd walk her by the poles going the opposite direction, and barking. At one point Dally was standing on one side of the poles with Matt on the other (he had his arm stretch out so he was still holding her leash) while we weaved and I had to layer Matt along the weaves. She nailed them. I was quite impressed with how she handled the addition of Dally.

I also introduced the tennis ball as a distraction, tossing it in the air as I ran alongside LaMesa. At first that caught her eye, but after the second run-through she didn't care, as long as I threw the ball after she finished. Again not 100%, but I'd say 70-75%.

Day 3 - Wednesday, Dec. 5: (Shillito Park Playground) Another evening I rushed home from work to go do weaves. Unfortunately we couldn't get anywhere before dark, so we just headed over to Shillito Park where we went to the playground in hopes there were still some kids playing. There were a couple, so that was good enough. Matt took Dally to the side while we started our work, Again I was running through the poles after her, throwing in front crosses, and starting to hang back near the start as she drove through all 12.

Then we decided to start upping the distractions by having Matt play tennie with Dally while LaMesa weaved. That was hard for her--tennie is her ultimate reward, and she loves to get the ball from Dally. She would leave me to try to get the tennis ball from Dally. At one point I couldn't get her to focus on me, until I took out my tennis ball and showed her I had one, but that she'd only get it if she weaved. I think with this distraction she was about 50%, because there were times she'd stick with me, and others she'd run off to get Dally, but when I'd say "Mesa, WEAVE!" she'd come running towards me and the weaves and start weaving. So maybe 50-60%? But we definitely know this is something we really need to work on more together. Overall, I think she was at 65-70%.

Day 4 - Saturday, Dec. 8: (Shillito Park bike lane/"Squirrel Alley") After a day of cleaning and then doing some stuff with Matt we came home with enough time for Matt to do some homework and me to squeeze in a quick weave session. I took LaMesa, by herself, to what we call "Squirrel Alley" on the bike path of Shillito Park. I had hoped there'd be people riding their bikes and people still walking since it was so warm, plus this is an area LaMesa always thinks is inhabited by tons of squirrels.

I set up the weave poles and we set to work. This time I was able to do more maneuvering through the poles before and after and it definitely didn't bother her--100%. When a biker went past, she barked at him once then hit all 12 weaves. Other dogs showing up? She didn't care. I'd even get her revved up asking, "Where's the squirrel? Can you find the squirrel, Mesa??" to the point where she was barking and looking above us. Then I'd face her to the weaves and tell her to "WEAVE!" and off she'd go--nailing the entrance from straight-ahead and weaving all 12! That definitely deserved a tennie ball throw or 3! I was proud of her!

Another big accomplishment of the day was her ability to drive through all 12 poles with me still standing by the first pole! I'd send her in the weaves and run along for the first 1 or 2, then stop. As long as I continued to say "Go, go, go!" she'd weave--albeit a little slower than normal, but she never looked back until after the last pole (which I was already throwing the ball by the time she hit the last pole to reward her and keep her driving forward). If I can have her weave all 12 without me babysitting the last pole, it will be a huge thing for us in some of those tough Excellent/Masters courses!

I was very proud of her. She didn't even care that Dally was no where to be found (once she saw I had the weave poles, all she could think about was weaving--she practically drug me to the park to set up the poles!). After playing tennie a little, we packed up the poles and headed back home where we dropped off the poles and grabbed Dally for a walk around the park.

One weave entrance I know we need to work on are the off-sides one where she has to go between the two poles (no wrap around). Those tend to be the hardest for her--she's at about 33-40%. (It takes her about 2-3 tries to hit the entrance without me opening the entrance some.) I'm not sure why she's struggling--she'll drive towards the first pole and be so tight to the poles, then she just slightly pulls off that entrance and goes in after pole 2. (She's really tight to the poles, so tight she moves the pole.) I don't know why she is doing this, so any advice would be appreciated. I just stand back and say "Uh oh" and she pulls off, comes back around and tries again. I've now had to reinforce her entrances with a "Yes! GO!" every time she nails it (I wonder if this will have to be an every day thing).

So, we're not perfect yet...and I don't expect us to be perfect already. I'm seeing improvement, and that's what counts. I know it'll still take some time, and we won't know where we stand until we go to a trial (which isn't until the end of January...a LONG time away!), but for now, I'm happy with her drive and improvement.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Backyard Training

I've been intrigued by the Dog Agility Blogger events lately, and I just found out that today's event is "Backyard Training."

Matt and I moved into our house about 2.5 years ago. When we were looking for a house to rent, we knew we had to have a fenced in backyard so we could let the girls run around, and also so I could have room to work them in agility when I could. We weren't able to find a house with a big yard, but it's sufficient for a little bit of foundation work.

Our backyard is shaped like a thin U, but one side is basically useless (it does have a Rubbermaid container that can at least hold my stick-in-the-ground weave poles and a few other smaller items), so we basically have an L. With the way it is set up, I'm at least able to set up my weaves in a couple of different ways, which is good. I'm also able to use the wider corner to set up a small pinwheel, as well as 180s with my two jumps.

I have two jumps--one that I have to be careful with how I set up the bar because after about 10-inches, one little tick (or slight breeze) can cause the bar to drop. The second I was able to get at the AKC National Agility Championships with a gift certificate to Max 200 from my aunt. It's super nice, so I'm lucky.

I don't work Dally much in the backyard--she's not a big fan of some of the grass in the backyard (we say she has "tender toes") and it's hard to get her to do much. So LaMesa's the only one really who has the backyard training.

I do my best to try to set up some things like 180s of varying distances, maybe even have her work a serpentine into the weaves. One negative for backyard training is that it's hard to get her to get her up to the speed she's at in trials. Also, I've learned that you can control the environment if it's your backyard--unless you're working something totally different, it's not really training to do the same thing over and over again in a controlled environment. If we were scored on how we run in my backyard, LaMesa could basically be earning QQs by now! But, we're, like you read in our last post about tackling the weaves again, we're starting to train outside of our backyard in as many different places and environments as possible.

I've learned from my friend Merinda that you have to think outside of the box, and right now, I'm having to train outside of the "safe confines" of our little backyard, at least when it comes to the weaves. But I do plan to work on some more distance sends with pinwheels and 90* corners this winter and into the spring.

I'm looking forward to thinking outside of the box with my backyard training in 2013!

Monday, December 3, 2012

LaMesa & The Weaves...Again

If you've been reading my blog, you know that LaMesa has been progressing in agility, but there's always been one thing holding us back from finally getting that elusive Excellent Q...the weaves.

It's hard for me to really pinpoint exactly what it is, but she doesn't focus on the weaves at trials. When we're practicing at Sandra's, she can nail them. Back yard? Nails them. But at trials, even when the weave entrance is almost tailor-made for her, she doesn't focus on the entrance--most times running past the weave poles. I've been told she's "handler-focused", but even if I'm perfectly in the spot I need to be in, doing everything I need to be doing, she'll run past them. I'll call her back, and she'll dive into the poles. Once she ever nails the entrance, she speeds through them. It's not that she hates the weaves--she just drives through them, bending them like a big dog can. It's baffling!!

Once she gets that entrance and is focused on the weaves, there's no
stopping LaMesa. If only we can harness all of that.
So after finally deciding enough was enough, I started looking at some articles online and looking for videos to help. That's when I called in the big guns and asked for the opinions of my friends Merinda and Melanie. (Merinda has worked with Porter to overcome the weave pole deamons and is very knowledgeable when it comes to training a difficult dog. Melanie has trained multiple dogs and very knowledgeable in all things dog agility. I look up to both of them when it comes to agility.)

Merinda gave me a virtual kick in the pants via a 4-page long email of what I needed to do: Quit practicing and start training. Get her out and train everywhere. Throw in distractions. Don't stop improvising and testing her.

What does she mean by "stop practicing"? She means to stop working LaMesa in circumstances I know she'll succeed in--she's not learning anything new. Train in new environments, because I don't do agility trials in my back yard or in Sandra's building. Separate her from Dally (she's very attached)--she doesn't run a course with Dally within sight.

Getting her out: Pack up my stick-in-the-ground weave poles and hit the road with LaMesa. Go to as many different places as possible with different distractions. This is going to be difficult as the sun has set by the time I get home from work (that is, if I don't go to the gym immediately after like I do most nights), but Merinda challenged me to think outside the box and find places with lights so I can work in the evenings, and not just on the weekends during the day (no more excuses).

Throw in distractions: I'm having Matt come with me to be a distraction--he's been tossing his football in the air, walking past her while she's working the weaves, etc. I'm running next to her, then thru the weaves behind her, etc. I'm trying to not add too much at first--we want her to succeed at least 80% of the time, and succeeding is the best praise.

She's getting big rewards of her tennis ball, extra cheerleading from me, and extra attention. "Tennie" is her ultimate reward (though my mom says attention from me is her ultimate reward--she is a momma's girl), so when she accomplishes a hard entrance or weaved all 12 during a hard distraction, I'll throw it forward to get her to drive forward after the weaves. I'll mix it up with treats, vocal/physical praise, and tennie.

So, this December we're tackling the ultimate Weave Pole Boot Camp. My goal is to try to get LaMesa's weave poles more solid by the time we go to the Dawn Weaver Foundations Seminar the first part of January, and definitely have a fighting chance to nail the weaves (all 12, the FIRST time) at our first trial of 2013 in Nashville at the end of January. I'll do my best to keep a journal on here so everyone can track her progress. Too bad I have to use Matt as a distraction, because it'd be great to have some video to watch, but hey...we can't have everything.

To steal from Merinda's blog post on Zig Ziglar: "If you learn from defeat, you haven't really lost." & "Success is dependent on the glands--the sweat glands."