Wednesday, February 28, 2007

February 2007

(Backfilled in October 2009 due to impending closure of Geocities)

Tuesday February 27th - practice at Red Gate

Started with exercises 1 and 2 in the Oct 2006 CR article on pages 10/11, which he handled well aside from entering the weaves midway when they followed the tunnel. Did some work on 12-pole weaves including a 180 counterclockwise entry from a jump and he did well with the entry without any major babysitting. Well, that is until we put it as part of a course towards the end of the practice, by which point I think he had gotten tired and didn't even attempt the weaves unless I backed him up to give him a nice straight entry. His 2o2o were pretty good today and he's offering the bow more and more it seems.

Friday February 23rd 2007 - AAC Games course: Snooker

Snooker night!! Our group started with the advanced course in the big ring. Our first try, we got 39 points and an imaginary Q! The only problem was with the last obstacle in the closing, the 12-weaves. The weaves were directly facing the adjacent ring and when he was at pole 7 or 8, a big dog in the other ring went barking up the a-frame which couldn't have been any closer to the weaves in our ring. Talk about a distraction! Well, it was enough to make him pop so we tried again and completed them, yay! Our second try, we followed the exact same course but he kept popping near the end of the 12-weaves so we ended up with 32 points. Both times at the weaves he missed the entry on the first attempt so I had to take him back. Definitely need more practice (a) with weaves as part of a sequence and (b) with 12 weaves.

The starter's course was in the small ring. Our first try was a complete disaster! I'm not the sort of person who gets embarassed about typical goof-ups on course, either mine (which are plentiful) or Walter's, but what made this run embarassing (and I have never felt embarassed leaving the ring before!) and disappointing was that it felt like our agility partnership had totally, utterly vanished. You'd have thought it was the first time we had ever set foot in an agility ring! Walter had no focus whatsoever. Right from the start of the run he was totally scatter-brained, paid hardly any attention to me, kept sniffing a spot in the tunnel where a previous dog had peed, etc, etc. Also, he knocked the second red so my plan went down the drain which I'm sure didn't help the situation. Our second try, I slightly modified my plan (more on that below) and it went much better. We got 51 points and another imaginary Q, and the bonus is that he got the 6-weaves on the first attempt (but it was an easy head-on approach). He came close to being whistled off by taking the wrong end of a tunnel but he called off at the last minute for which I praised him heartily. The points were easy to rack up because the 7-point obstacle was the frame and it was practically surrounded by reds. Anyway, if I'm to give an excuse for our poor showing the first run, it's that the small ring has distractions that the big ring doesn't have: a noisy, rattling overhead heater, and two doors nearby frequently opening and closing. But, I don't really think those were the cause... Noteably, our third run last week was also problematic, focus-wise. I'll have to see if this becomes a trend.

In summary and lessons learned:
- Weaves need more work (no surprise there)
- I'm positive that I handle all crouched over, so I should add "keep back straight" to the loooong list of things I'm supposed to remember while running a course.
- In the starter's ring, our first run started with an awkward line and the whole run was terrible. For our second run, I modified it to start with an easy line, and the whole run was much better. Given that Walter's a dog who stresses at the start line, where possible I'll try to make the first line nice and easy.
- Except for the third run, Walter followed my plan so I didn't have to improvise. :-D

Friday February 16th 2007 - AAC Games course: Jumper's and Steeplechase

We started with the Jumper's course, which was at the Starter's level and in the smaller of the two rings. For our first try, we had one problem, which was when he ran past a jump right after a tunnel (refusal). Note to self, don't take for granted "easy" obstacles right after tunnels because they can come up fast before the dog is expecting it! For our second try, I took off his collar and he ran clean for an imaginary Q! (I guess technically the first run also got an imaginary Q since the refusal rule hasn't changed yet.) I was able to lead out past the first jump without any fussing from Walter. The SCT was 31 seconds, and Walter did it in 26 and 22 seconds respectively. At least one of the dogs in the class did it in 16 or 17 seconds, wow!

The Steeplechase course was in the large ring and had one set of 6-pole weaves done twice. For our first try, at the start line I didn't take my time to properly set up and focus myself or Walter and instead rushed off right away, and well, shall I say it wasn't exactly our prettiest run ever! Right off the bat after the first jump he took an offcourse frame, soon followed by an off-course jump. Then when he got back on track he took a wide turn and just generally wasn't paying the best attention to me. Then when we came to the weaves, it was awkward to start with because it was a difficult approach and we haven't had a lot of weave entry practice lately so I did some goofy/slow maneouvering to try to get him a better approach. This slowdown gave him a moment to notice the judges and become nervous about being watched, so he was hesitant to weave but eventually he did. The second time through the weaves, this time an easy head-on approach, he bypassed them the first time but got it the second. The rest of the course ran fine. Our second try on the course was much improved, thank goodness. I was able to lead out far enough to do a LOP and the only trouble with the course (aside from the sticky weave approach) was the second last jump which he ran past (refusal). Again, must remember not to take easy/obvious obstacles for granted! But, I was glad that every time that Walter actually entered the weaves rather than running past them or cutting through them, he got the right entry and didn't pop. The SCT was 40 seconds, and Walter did it in 112 (+20 for the off-course) and 58 seconds (clean) respectively. Ouch!! ;-)

Next time: The Dreaded Snooker!

February 10th 2007 - practice at Red Gate - all jumps at 16"

Ok, I hereby take back anything bad I might have ever thought about people who get up before the crack of dawn to go play a round of golf. Today I got up at 5:45 (yes, AM) to bring Lucy and Walter to an early morning agility practice in an unheated arena! How c-r-a-z-y is that! Like so many people who get into agility I must be on the road to becoming addicted.

Today's practice was mostly about handling, for which we used jumps, tunnels, and weaves only. Up until today, threadles (which I had never tried) and serpentines were "scary" to me because I really didn't understand how to handle them. After recently reading some articles on ways to handle threadles and serpentines, I was inspired to try out my newfound knowledge. WHAT a difference with the serpentines comparing today to any other practice we've had. The difference is I now understand what I'm doing (imagine that!) and can therefore give appropriate cues. Whereas in the past Walter wouldn't understand what my unclear, muddy cues meant and got frustrated, today he handled the serpentines and threadles wonderfully. I'm using the false turn method with the difference between threadles and serpentines being the timing/location of the FT. Some helpful videos and tips are at Agility Nerd.

We also did some of the sequences in Linda Mecklenburg's article in the Clean Run special issue on handling. Because my exposure to handling has been provided by a bunch of different instructors at several different schools, plus from watching Greg Derrett's and Susan Garrett's DVDs and reading various articles, all the various handling systems are all a jumbled up mish-mash in my head. But a lot of Linda's article makes intuitive sense to me and it seems the direction my handling has been leaning towards lately falls in line with her system. The article is definitely a keeper, full of diagrams and photos, and is deserving of multiple read-throughs. It really highlights the importance of being aware of all aspects of body language so that you're giving the correct cues to your dog. There is just SO MUCH to think about and keep in mind when walking and running a course!!

Lastly, I set up the opening sequence from the 2006 AAC Nationals Steeplechase Finals using 6 weaves instead of 12. I had seen some videos of it on Agility Vision and thought it looked like fun, which of course it was:

February 9th 2007 - AAC Games course: Gambler's

The first class of this fun and novel course was last week, theory only, for which the dogs stayed home while we went through the rules and some strategy tips pertaining to the AAC games classes. The course has the format of a fun match (two different courses, two tries at each), with the added bonus that everyone gets to judge and scribe four times every night! We get the course maps a week in advance so lots of time to figure out our action plan.

Tonight, it was Gambler's night!

Everyone had two goes at a Starter's level and an Advanced level course. Our group started with the Advanced Gambler's. Walter's generally pretty easy to run because he's not exactly Speedy Gonzalez and usually (key word) listens pretty well, and our first go at the Advanced went according to plan. And, to my surprise he actually got the gamble!! And within time, but just barely: 59 point something! From looking at the gamble on paper (see below) I thought it would be wayyy above our heads but except for a wide turn from 2 to 3 due to my late turning cue, Walter was spot on. The second time, the opening was fine (we did the exact same thing) but for the gamble he took jump 4 instead of tunnel 1, I bet because I must have turned my shoulders early. We got somewhere around 25 points in the openings.

It all went downhill in the Starter's! First off, the ring was about one third smaller than the one the Advanced was run in, and it was WAY more tight than what I had been expecting by looking at the course on paper all this week. I found myself running into obstacles it was so tight. I would probably have picked a different obstacle order if I had known how tight some places were, but having memorized my course all week I figured I'd just stick with the original plan. Over the course of our two runs, Walter blew a couple of contacts (well technically he did hit the yellow, but he didn't pause in 2o2o) so I made him redo them. And, he thought the staircase thingy that serves as a desk of sorts was there for him to climb, so I had to call him off that. Well technically I pulled him off since he wasn't responding to my call and he'd knock all kinds of things over if he climbed to the top. In the first try at the gamble, which compared to the Advanced one I thought would be a breeze, instead of taking jump 1 he went to the far side of the jumps to explore and sniff all the things that were being stored against the back wall. And he took his sweet time before finally heeding my request to leave the smells and get back on course. The second time at the gamble he did get it although we were over time because we were pretty far from the gamble when the whistle went. Of note, the classes we took in the fall were held in the larger ring so I bet the fact that he'd never been in the small ring before had something to do with his general kookiness.

Summary: Jumps were at 22" and no bars were knocked. We didn't attempt the weaves at all since we haven't had much practice with them lately. Got in some good rear crosses over jumps. Led out only on the last run of the night, just a few meters, and he held his sit-stay.

Judging was fun since there was no pressure. It was, however, a challenge to stay out of the running team's way since there was no way to know where they were going next. Scribing was easy so long as I didn't watch the running dog since what I saw sometimes conflicted with what the judge was calling out.

Next time: Jumper's and Steeplechase!

Saturday February 3rd 2007 - Home-made agility jump

After much driving from store to store and spending a heck of a lot more money than I expected, we finally have a home-made agility jump! The January 2007 Clean Run magazine has some nice detailed instructions that I used to make a jump out of PVC. The article claims that "this inexpensive, lightweight PVC practice jump is simple to construct and separates into four pieces for easy transport". I would agree with that statement except for the cost part but maybe I just shopped at the wrong stores. First I had trouble finding 1" and 3/4" PVC, then the store that did carry it didn't have the right size tees and end caps, d'oh! Some more driving and I finally tracked down all the required pieces. In hindsight I should have just called the stores in advance to see if they carried the stuff, but I had it in my head for whatever reason that any old construction-type store would have it. And the cost of all the pieces added up fast, close to $50 all told! I have no idea how much a "professionally made" jump costs but I wouldn't be surprised if it would have been cheaper! Plus the funny looks when store employees asked what it was for and I told them it was for a dog jump. Guess there haven't been hoards of other people going to the stores to buy PVC after receiving their Jan-07 mag. On the bright side, it was extremely easy to put together especially since the store had cut all the PVC for me so all I had to do was saw a few end caps in half, drill a few holes and fit it all together. I love how it's so lightweight and comes apart so easily for transport. The one downside of the design is that the jump cups are quite deep so it would take a hard knock to drop the bar so there could be some stung toes. That will be easily corrected by gluing some sponge or foam or something to the bottom of the cups to make them more shallow.

I rearranged the living room again so now there's more room for indoor training fun. In a recent Dog Sport magazine article, the author was saying how she basically clears out her living room every winter so that she has a convenient indoor training place. I was relieved to hear that I'm not the only crazy person around! Anyway, now that I have this one jump I'll watch the One Jump DVD again and play around with the exercises. Of course the jump will be kept on the lowest setting when used indoors since the living room carpet isn't exactly the best footing. In the spring it'll be fun setting up the jump and weaves in various places for a change of scenery!

Here are some photos. A few more end caps will finish it off.