Friday, July 30, 2010

K9 Nose Work

I am always interested in learning new things with my dogs and while Vegas is not a hound dog nor is she overly prone to sniffing during completely inappropriate times (E.g. agility trials/runs), she does like to sniff and follow her nose. Sometimes, when we're not moving too fast such as the case for a walk or during rally exercises or when she's out at the park, she really seems focused on following a scent and more so now than ever I sometimes struggle to get her to realize I'm there and calling her - at least for a few seconds or a minute - so strong is her drive to follow what she smells. I am enrolled to receive emails through a couple of area groups including NW Dog Activities, a Yahoo Group. Every so often over the last couple of months notices have come across of Nose Work sessions being held at local dog training facilities, pet stores, etc.

Without knowing whether Vegas will take to it in a training situation and knowing I should watch my pennies until next year (so I can save to go to the invitational), I am not ready to enroll in a full class for her. However, a notice came across this week for an intro to nose work session that's an hour and a half and just $20. So, I registered her in the class to be held at Petutopia with Joyce Beithan of Joyce's Dogs. We'll check out this cool sport on August 18. Thankfully the class will be held in the evening so hopefully the heat won't melt Vegas' brain and distract her from what we're there for.

For more information on this sport, you can visit the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) website.


So, early in the spring I made the decision that Vegas and I would push for moving up in AKC agility and try to qualify for an invitational spot this year. There are a couple of reasons: 1) The invitationals are in Long Beach, CA this year; next year they are in Florida. 2) This is the last year our private trainer, Craig French, is going to go to invitationals. 3) Our friends Linda and Zena were working hard to earn their place, too, and it would be nice to be amongst friends. 4) Vegas will be four in October. She is in good enough health this year that I felt we were capable.

To qualify for the AKC Agility Invitationals, you must finish the year (July 1 - June 30) within the top five of your breed. This means those with the most MACH points (or other criteria if nobody is earning MACH points yet). May and June were our big months as far as trialing like crazy. It then took the AKC a couple of weeks to get their data entry complete so I knew exactly what the standings were. I knew we finished with nine MACH points. However, if others were trialing as hard, what they did would affect us.

As it turned out, we were earning our MACH points only on our JWW runs since we are not yet in Excellent B for Standard. By June 30, Vegas had earned five MXJ legs, two of which were right on time so did not earn any MACH points. Her second MXJ leg earned us our first MACH points (3); her third, two points; and her fourth, four points.

I am proud and excited to announce.......

Vegas and I finished #3 in AKC agility for 2010!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Here are the final standings and I cannot wait to meet some of these other Danes and their owners. I'm particularly in awe of the #1 Dane because she went from 277 points in April to finishing with 513. That's a ton of points in a short period of time for a Dane.

So now we have to continue practicing and training to a higher level and saving money at the same time to go to the Invitational. It's about a 20 hour drive for me and I have already requestd and been approved for the time off. So in December, Long Beach here we come!

Fleet Feet CPE Trial July 2010

Following our first attempt at rally on July 16, we had two days of CPE agility in beautiful Turner, Oregon. Barb White really has an amazing facility with a great indoor arena, comfortable crating areas, fenced yards for off-leash time and play, and a big pasture out back that offers extra romping room. Of course having horses nearby and being out in the country doesn't hurt for this country girl....

Saturday we had four runs. I had to miss the last one, Colors, because of a previously scheduled appointment. That was a big bummer since we needed just one more level three leg to complete that portion of our level three title. Oh well; we'll have a chance in August. Without further ado, here is how things shook out. Our judge for the weekend was Joanna Ambroz.

Jackpot, Level 3
Jackpot is one of those games that sounds simple but sometimes is just not. The biggest problem we had in this instance was that it was played in the traditional fashion which meant we had to keep going until the time went off before we could head for the jackpot. Not a huge deal usually but there was some distance that threw us off. We had plenty of points but ultimately went over time by just over a second which is why we didn't qualify. The send wasn't too bad even with the weaves in there. The biggest thing was to get enough momentum to send Vegas into the tunnel and then pull her back to hit the weaves with a nice entry. Voila! She did great at it and I can't fault her performance at all.
Standard, Level 4
Next up was Standard. I thought we already had a couple of legs in level four but it turns out we had none. Here was the course for Saturday.
All in all, the course was fairly straight-forward (and not altogether Joanna's normal style). There were some little stumbling blocks that made sure we were focused and in tune with our dog. For instance, the 5 through 7 sequence was a criss-cross with the potential for the dog to take the a-frame out of the tunnel. Further, 15 through 17 meant you had to be sure to pull your dog to the inside versus letting him or her head straight for the #7 jump. I believe the video will show I almost made that mistake of pulling too late. But, it was still a clean run and Vegas did well. SCT was 59; we completed the course in 51.47, finishing our first Level 4 Standard leg with second place.

Wildcard, Level 3
Wildcard is a fun game, too, where those in the higher levels must complete two 'b' obstacles and one 'a' obstacle (the wildcards). The successful completion of the entire sequence in addition to making the correct selections within the alotted time earns a qualifying run. I didn't want to send Vegas out to the 10b sequence which pretty much helped me make my decision as to what 'a' and 'b' wildcards I would choose. We selected 2b, 6b, and 10a. Vegas completely rocked it - including two sets of weaves - in 22.83 seconds; SCT was 39. Her YPS was 4.25. We got first place and finished that part of our remaining level three requirements.

The last run of the day would have been Colors but we had already headed out. Being one ring, indoors, and a premium facility, trials by Fleet Feet are always packed and tend to run late. All in all, a good day and a tired dog since the temperature was moving up toward the low 80s by the end of the day.

Sunday we ran small to tall and I didn't have any obligations at home (other than cleaning my house, packing to leave town in the morning, prepping all of the dogs' stuff for while I was gone....) so was able to stay the entire day. The order of runs was: Full House, Standard, Snooker, and Jumpers.

Full House, Level 4
Full House is another great game to start the day since it "gets the zoomies out" and any obstacle completed goes toward earning points. We needed one 5-point obstacle (weaves or contacts), two 3-point obstacles (circles), and three 1-point obstacles (single jumps) plus whatever else to total the points required for our level. We had a total of 35 seconds for the game and lost a point per second over time. Our point total 26 and our course time was 38 earning us a second place qualifying run. Yay, Vegas!

Standard, Level 4
So, one thing you might notice by now is how tunnel heavy the courses were this weekend. With every course it seemed I cringed on behalf of Miss V. The poor girl. On this course I did start her back as far as I could and ran her into the tunnel to give her momentum since a tunnel was the first obstacle. This course was similar to Saturday's standard course with some slight challenges that made sure that you didn't relax as a handler or your dog could easily veer off where s/he was not supposed to. It also ensures dogs who love certain obstacles have to work with their handler or end up taking what they like over what they may be asked to do. That said, the identified challenge areas included 3-4, 10-11 (and avoiding #16), 11-13 (not veering off to take the #14/#3 jump), and #14-15. All of these were obstacle discrimination which is something this judge has been known for in our area. However, they were a variation of what we used to see which was a contact and a tunnel much closer together. All in all, it went well. Vegas ran the course cleanly, pulling in a second place finish in 53.27 seconds (SCT was 59). Her YPS was just over 3.

One thing I noticed was how confident her weaves are. She never once missed an entry or pulled out. Go Vegas!

Snooker, Level 4
Snooker used to be our nemesis. We struggled with it over and over and over again when we were in level 1 and since then have never missed a Q opportunity. Since we're currently running level 4 Snooker, that means we've had 6 qualifying Snooker runs in a row. Well, this opportunity was not to be had. The funny thing is, we had the "snooker." I relaxed my guard or didn't give directions as I should have and ended up allowing Vegas to take the first sequence jump from the wrong direction. Oops. So, we got whistled and NQd. Oh well; we'll have a chance again in August. Here's the course.
Jumpers, Level 4
Vegas loves jumpers. Perhaps it's the simplicity of it. It was getting later on in the day but was a bit cooler Sunday than Saturday. The only oddity I find is that a knocked bar is okay in Jumpers for CPE but not in AKC. I really think it shouldn't be allowed in CPE to qualify, at least at this high of a level, but I don't make the rules. We rarely knock bars these days and I know the one knocked bar we had in this course was due to the sudden directional change (180 degrees), my queue, and the wall Vegas was going toward before turning. It happens....
Since we're currently competing in the Excellent B level in AKC for JWW and also train at a much higher level, I found this course mostly simplistic. Perhaps it's my increased focus on AKC as opposed to CPE. I wouldn't call them easy courses or consider getting a title is an instant accomplishment; however, there are distinct variations that up the ante with AKC.

Here are the challenges I identified: 3-4, 6-7 was where we knocked a bar (#6), and 11-12. It looks like on paper that coming out of the tunnel (#15) to the final jump would be difficult as they can't see where they are going. However, in reality, coming out of that tunnel almost all the dogs I watched seemed to instinctually go toward that jump right away leading me to believe it was well placed and obvious for the dogs.

Eleven to 12 wasn't an area we struggled with as Vegas has a great distance directional change queue to "flip" her. Others struggled somewhat significantly with this as dogs were prone to launching toward the #1 jump before turning to the tunnel. The proximity was relatively close - closer than the map looks. Otherwise we did well and ran the course in 33.39; SCT was 33. We earned a second place finish.

All in all, not too bad. Five out of seven qualifying runs - possibly would have had six had I been able to stay for Colors on Saturday. Our next CPE trial is August 21 & 22 at the Clark County Fairgrounds. After that I'm uncertain when we'll trial in CPE again. It's important for me to keep building momentum in AKC as well as grow as a team by working on difficult courses. There is one in October I am considering at this time.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our First Rally Trial

It's been a whirlwind of a month and as I look at the calendar I can hardly believe I haven't updated in three weeks! A lot happened mid month then I was out of town missing my girl for a week. Now that I've been back home, more is bound to happen so it's time to catch up! First and foremost and as a follow-up to my last post, Vegas and I did go to Albany on Friday the 16th of July for our very first rally trial. Our friends Jennifer (with her Australian Shepherd, Clue) and her friend and breeder, Lisa (with her Aussie, Mardi) joined us for their first runs, too. It was a small class with just the three of us entered in Novice A.

We were good and early and got a parking spot in the shade, too, just in case I had to leave Vegas in the truck while I walked the course. Unfortunately the parking lot was a short trek from the ring and there were so few of us in rally that it wasn't possible to leave her and go back in time to get her. Jen was nice enough to ask another competitor if she could hold Vegas who then volunteered her husband.

Since we had extra time before Novice A and a certain four-legger had excess energy I desperately needed to harness, we took off wandering at the park. At the outskirts and sort of out of sight was a wonderful, overgrown area used for frizbee golf. It was perfect for our purposes - I wanted to let Vegas off leash and that is not allowed on the show grounds at AKC shows. Plus it served as a great area for me to enjoy nature and my girl in relative peace and quiet. Here are a few pictures I took on my BlackBerry.
Okay, so zoomies out, tongue hanging down a little, we headed back toward the ring. We still had a while to wait so we practiced some of our moves, healing, etc. Vegas had a bit of water and it was time to walk the course. As I said, a gentleman very kindly held the reigns on my big girl. She was fairly good and he was wise enough to stand in front of her to try to shield her from watching me and getting over excited and anxious. Here is what our course looked like:
Our judge was Carl Lentz who was absolutely perfect for our first time. He was kind, patient, and explanatory. I was extremely nervous going in, feeling like we had no chance. He said the biggest problem and what would be most likely to NQ someone would be too tight of a leash. I know I felt like my leash was too tight throughout, that I had to repeat myself too much, and that Vegas was looking around a lot. In reality, I talked to her a ton (which is good - a sign of teamwork!), kept a steady pace, didn't have to retry any exercises, and only struggled to smoothly complete one or two stations. All in all, we did much better than I thought and our friend, Andrea, said it always feels like you do worse than you actually do in rally.

In the end, I could hardly believe it when Vegas and I scored 97 out of 100 and earned our very first Rally Novice (RN) leg! Whoohoo! I was super excited and proud of her and am determined to enter her again when convenient so we can complete at least her RN title. We'll see where we go from there as time and life allows. But whew, step one done and it was a success! What a great feeling. Jen and Lisa did great, too, and I know Jen is inspired now to continue with rally with her Clue even beyond the RN.
 And here are the results on AKC's site - another title in progress for my baby girl.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Weekday Practice & A New Venture

We haven't done any agility other than a time or two through the weaves and a few jumps at home since our last trial two weekends ago. Of course having a Monday off gave us a different opportunity. We went to the barn at 10am today and ran two courses. I didn't stick around for the third, but I had an interesting opportunity. I ran the barn owner's Australian Kelpie. It's an interesting breed, one I had never heard of prior to agility and taking lessons (when we began). Here is a picture - not Boomerang, but of a Kelpie.
Boomerang is almost eight years old and wow, what a dog. I have never run a dog in agility before except Vegas, mostly out of fear of embarrassment, lack of skill, and I don't know what. It was really fun! I have never had to run so fast in my life. I suppose a little distance work would have been effective. The cool thing was running a dog that is already trained and so well. I just had to make sure I gave the queues early enough and kept moving, just like Vegas - except maybe faster. It was a great experience and I hope to have a chance in the future again.

Okay, so that was that. Running Vegas....well, the first course was an "almost" JWW course. I say almost because the course had a tire and an AKC JWW course does not have a tire. The second course used the a-frame twice and the dog walk twice but otherwise was just jumps and tunnels, using portions of the previous course sequence. It was tricky, but fun, giving me an opportunity to try crosses versus "switch" maneuvers with Vegas to see what works best. There was one of the courses that I struggled to get her over one of the jumps. It was the fourth jump or so in a short sequence of jumps followed by an almost 180 degree turn and another run of jumps. Turns out it was showing me how responsive Vegas is to my body movements. I was dropping my shoulder and pulling back toward the second row of jumps. We did get it; I just had to push out a little farther and not retreat quite as quickly.

I left before we had run all the courses because the first two were quite tunnel heavy and Vegas was really slowing down. It didn't seem fair to keep pushing her when she was clearly done. There's a general rule that says you should always leave the dog wanting more and I hated to push her beyond where she already was. But it was fine - and what a nice change of pace from our typical Monday morning.

And now, for our news. Last summer Vegas and I had been practicing and training pretty intensely in rally-obedience. Vegas wasn't all that into it then - it seemed to be too slow a pace for my goofy, speedy girl. But, I've still worked on bits and pieces here and there, more so in the last few months as a focus exercise before our runs at agility trials. Also, about six months ago I started watching the AKC events schedule for a rally trial that I could enter. But, with our intense agility schedule, any local rally trials always conflicted with our agility schedule so no go. Well, I was sitting around twiddling my thumbs, debating whether to enter, hemming and hawing and trying to talk myself out of it - all the typical excuses: "We aren't ready," "Our heeling needs major work" etc. A friend posted to Facebook that she had just started teaching a class in rally and was entering her first trial and one thing led to another.... Our first rally trial will be Friday, July 16 in Albany. It's hosted by a Shetland Sheepdog club but the rally trial is open to all breeds. I'm not a 'little bit nervous;' I'm a whole shipload nervous. BUT, that just means I need to work really hard this week. My biggest concern is the heeling. The rest should be fine; we know the moves. Although I will be reviewing the novice level signs to make sure I've got them down. I'm excited, too. We worked very hard last year and I hated to see that go to waste. Plus, our heeling will come together. My friend Jennifer, a dog trainer, is going to be in our area next week (Monday, July 12) and we're going to get together for a training session. Her dogs are amazing and I have no doubt we will benefit from her expertise. Sooo, rally-o here we come!