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.