Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Hike Before the Storm

The forecast called for a storm to come through late Saturday that would last through late Sunday possibly into early Monday morning. But as of 11:00 am on Sunday we were not seeing any of the white stuff, except for a few very light flurries here and there. I decided a hike was in order. It was a little windy but the temps were decent so Reese and I headed out.

Shortly after we got home it started snowing. And snowed and snowed providing us with the 18th snowstorm of the year or something like that. Sorry lost count, oh, about last December sometime.
So while most of the snow at home was gone, at least it is now a pretty white again instead of the dirty white snow that is left after the melting starts.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

52 Week Catch-Up!

7/52 Weeks

7/52 Bella

7/52 Reese

7/52 Sophie

6/52 Weeks

6/52 Sophie

6/52 Reese

6/52 Bella

5/52 Weeks

5/52 Bella

5/52 Reese

5/52 Sophie

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Look Back

How many of you remember the book The Little Engine That Could!
"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can....."

That was my favorite book when I was little.  I read it constantly, and if anyone was reading it to me and tried to skip a page I would catch them on it.  "No!, No!, No! you aren't reading it right."  And they would have to start over.  From the beginning.  The book is about a little blue train engine that is not very big, not very strong, but saves the day by not giving up when an engine is needed to pull a huge train over a mountain to bring toys to the kids on the other side.  Yeah, kind of Rudolphy isn't it. 
The moral of course being "never give up, and believe you can."

I guess in a way when I think about that book that is how I have been with my dog.  We have had some struggles but I have not given up.  I have learned a ton from this dog.  I have had too.  And there is more to learn, because there is more work to do.  I have more goals for Reese and I, and "I think I can...." work hard and I will not give up until those goals become successes too.

Lets look back at some of the success Reese and I have had in the past year or so of training.  In no particular order:

Recall - off leash for agility training.  No fence with sheep very close by.  And she knows where they live!

Zoomies - went the way of the living dead back from whence they came.  When we are working she focuses on me.  No more worries of Nascar zoomies around the ring.  She might go visit a ring steward or catch a whiff of a tantalizing smell and try to follow it, but I call her and she is back with me!

Three successful fun runs.  Two outside, no fence in a low population area, but still there were lots of dogs milling around - no issues.

First Trial - whoo hoo!  I have trialed my dog.  It was a success for us on so many levels.  First, I am glad the first trial is done to get those first trial jitters out-of-the-way.  Also, both Reese and I have a better idea of what to expect and how the whole routine of a trial will go.  Reese stayed with me during the runs or came back when I called if she was off for a meet and greet with the ring steward.

BUT her biggest successes were out of the ring and for this I am so proud of her.  Reese has separation anxiety which has been improving in leaps and bounds in the last few months.  I can't wait to tell Dr. Duxbury, who is Reese's behaviorist, when we see her on Monday. 

Day 1 of the trial Reese drooled and licked her crate if I was there.  And it didn't matter if the crate was covered or not. But... NO barking, screaming or bouncing the crate around.  Reese has a very high pitch bark, if you hear it you immediately know it is her.  We are like wild animals, mother and baby separated in the dark of night.  I hear her call - and immediately know it is her - very annoying!  But by the same token if I hear another dog barking I know it is not her so all is good.

Day 2 of the trial Reese was quiet in her crate.  No drooling, no whimpering, no barking and no screaming.  She actually slept in her crate.  Whether I was there or not, whether the crate was covered or not.  She would lift her head to see who was there and then put it back down and close her eyes and sleep. Yea!  I realize that Reese was probably very tired from the first day of trialing but this was super huge for her.

Reese ran in a Pairs run at the trial.  Yep can you believe it!  It was one of our best runs too!

Reese has now tugged in two new places with me.  She used to only tug with me at home or the two locations that we train at.  Tugging is becoming more generalized for her which I am so happy about!

Reese tugged with me, and ran around with me on a course through tunnels with four, yep four other dogs, all around us tugging and playing with their handlers.  HUGE, HUGE, HUGE for Reese to keep her focus on me and not get distracted or want to control the other dogs movements.

Reese can stay at relatives now and she does not pace, pant or whine while I am gone.  She walks around a bit and lays down and waits for me to come back.  She will go for walks and eat while I am gone too.

Reese has graduated from being in her crate at home when I am gone.  Now she stays in one room, but is loose out of her crate while I am at work.  She just sleeps on the bed - my bed of course!  I am still crating her every now and then, both at night and for 1/2 days randomly so that she stays acclimated to being crated and so that she doesn't fixate on the routine being that she is out of the crate whenever I am gone.  I still make the rules and if I say today you crate - you crate!  But how nice to be able to leave her out.  Her crate is in the room she stays in so if she chooses she could use her crate if she wanted.

Reese has gotten much better at ignoring cars on walks.  She will even take treats when cars go by on walks now.  Previously if she zoned in on a car there was nothing that could distract her, not steak, chicken, raw or cooked, toys, nothing.  Tonight I took treats on our walk to work on recalls.  A car was going by when I was giving her a treat, she looked at the car and immediately looked back at me for a treat.  Hmmm! So I tried it out on the rest of the walk and there was only one time that we were too close to the car and she was too engaged in it to get out of her zone to focus on me or the treat.

So to all you doubters out there, "Behold the Power of a Zuke!" 

It seems like Reese is getting more confidence which is giving me more confidence and since we are the Pro-athletes of feed off of each others anxieties, which I am trying to be much better at NOT doing, in this case it is working very nicely.

I guess after five years together we are finally figuring each other out.  Okay so Reese had me figured out on day 1, I'll give her that - smarty pants.  But I have gotten wiser and the game has changed.  I expect certain things from her and most importantly I have learned to trust what I train.  I have learned that I have to test what I trained and give Reese the opportunity to show me if she can do it.  What I am finding is that - Yes She Can!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trumpeter Swans

A few of the trumpeter swan pictures I took last weekend!


 And a few Canadian Geese thrown in for good measure.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Key Points from Silvia

The Foundations seminar from Silvia Trkman was great. She covered aspects of teaching all the obstacles and explained what she believes are the most important parts of covering an agility course. 

Some key points:

Agility should be fun for both the handler but especially the dog. Agility is all about running, and most dogs love to run so teach the dog to run. Such an easy concept but one that is often forgotten. Most handlers are so antsy to get their dogs on the equipment and start teaching contacts and other obstacles, that they lose sight of what most of the course is - running.

Teaching obstacles is easy but the main focus for dogs from the time they are very little is that they should learn to run. A course is really just something the dog runs through and then there are a few obstacles they have to go over.

Reward your dog a lot. Silvia was a bit surprised how little we reward our dogs here. She said even if you forget the course you need to keep directing your dog to a few obstacles then reward and redo the course the right way. It isn't fair to the dog to just stop. The dog was following your directions and shouldn't suffer because the you, the handler, has memory lapse. 

Talk to your dog. Use both body language AND verbals, why not you can. Isn't it only fair to give the dog all the information you can. If you can tell them and show them with your body - do it.

Silvia starts her dogs on jumps early, but makes it a very long process. So the dog is just reaching their full jump height when they are 18 months.

Start training sequencing without contact obstacles even if you don't have a start line yet. Start the dog from a send so they can work on running.

You can never have too much handler focus or obstacle focus. Reward what the dog is not good at, as usually they will be better with one or the other.

Reward coming to had a lot, especially while you are moving, running etc.
Turns are taught separately and are usually the first thing she starts working on.

She trains all her contact obstacles and weaves separately from everything else. She will only add them to sequences when they are solid and the dog can perform them independently. Then she will place them at the beginning or end of a sequence so that it is always easy to reward the dog.

For weaves she does not like using guide wires, gates, hoops etc. It makes it difficult to know if the dog is really understanding what you want. The dog can do it with the guides there, but take them away and they don't know what you want. So basically you still haven't taught anything.

You should always look for the dogs understanding so that you know you can go on.
2on/2off is taught with a trick, as is the teeter.

Never ask your dog to do something scary. You need to be able to be trusted. The dog needs to decide if it wants to do something. Never lure a dog into something they are afraid of.

If things go wrong no worries, just do it again but always remember to have fun!

One of the best quotes she had was,"Of course it helps if you run to the right obstacle."  But she said not to worry about all the wrong obstacles, just run to the right one. There will always be many more wrong obstacles on the course you can't worry about avoiding all of those, just run to the right one.

It was a lot of fun to hear about her training methods and hear the critiques she had for those that had working spots.  Lots of good handling and lots of improvement made during the day with her suggestions.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Sweet Reese!

Five years ago you came into my life and changed it forever.

You make me laugh!

You remind me not to take life too seriously!

Taught me to have fun with silly games!

That the best things in life are round and bounce! 

But bones are a close second ... 

You make sure we get our daily exercise even when I don't want to, and afterwards I am always glad we did.

That no matter how much I train you will always be ready to go farther than me. Another 4 miles anyone!

You will always keep an eye out for strangers and warn me of intruders... 

But always have a back up plan. Keep the ball close by, in case there is not a lot of foot traffic about -
a game of fetch can be had.

Or a game of tug! 

Sometimes you don't always listen as well as you should.
Like when I warn you to stay out of the catnip!

Hmmm! So that was the catnip...

Keep your friends close!

And always get your rest!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Silvia Seminar Recap....

is coming. I need to put my notes together and then will get the highlights out. It was amazing I will say that. So glad I got to work with her on Wednesday. A bit nerve racking at times with how crazy amped Reese can get around other dogs. But with Silvia's help I got Reese working with me, while four other dogs were tugging and playing all around us.....very cool.  I wish I had it on video as I can hardly believe it happened, but I know that it did. Whoo hoo!

I also talked to Silvia a bit afterwards and she gave me some ideas of things to try to help Reese with that even more.  But got to get to bed now.  More this weekend.

4/52 Weeks

4/52 Sophie

4/52 Reese

4/52 Bella

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Processing the Information....

I am trying to process all the information I have heard, saw and learned at the Silvia Trkman seminars thus far. I have attended three sessions so far with three more to go. Yes, it is a bit overwhelming. Very refreshing as something has always drawn me to Silvia's techniques ever since I found her online a number of years ago. 

Her dogs are all so happy, and confident. Her methods are very straight forward and I really like that. Not a lot of rules and if something is done wrong, so what, just move on. It is not the end of the world, agility is just a game we play with our dogs after all.

I am processing everything into different sections and then will hit the high points, but it may take a few days to get it all organized. 

I really like Silvia's principals or her 10 Golden Rules as she puts it on her website and I try to follow them as much as I can. The need to walk your dog is nothing new. But walking your dog to increase the bond between the two of you is not often thought of. More that you walk your dog to give it exercise, which is true, but there is a bond that develops also. I walk my dog at least twice a day even if I don't get home until 9:00, we head out. Of course in MN in the middle of January sometimes the weather prevents it. And I will admit our walks are usually much shorter in the winter when our goal is at least a mile twice a day, longer if the weather permits. In the Spring, Summer and Fall we get in longer walks and try to get in about a hour twice a day.

But alas Reese is usually on leash for those walks or runs. Yes, I might run but Reese is trotting or she is on a long line and can run back and forth etc. I want to be able to find a place where she can run, really run!  That is a huge problem for us and for agility. Reese loves to run and agility is about running with a few obstacles thrown in the middle. I need to use running to motivate Reese on the agility field and if I can do that we will have it.

Zoomies on course are not an evil thing that need to be stopped and suppressed immediately, they can be used to our advantage so we will use them. Granted this is not such an issue anymore except for at new places, so we will see what happens tomorrow.

The thing that really struck me was when Silvia said, she can tell right away when she sees a dog who gets to run and one that doesn't. The dogs structure is different and the whole way they move is different.

I can see this with Reese as she bounces more up and down when she runs, instead of using smooth movements at least on courses. It is also one reason that I have trouble getting extension from her in her jumping. Granted I think I raised the jumps too fast for her, but I need to work stretching for her hips with her legs out behind her more, something a dog that runs free and fast is going to have more naturally.

And of course tricks is where it is at. Many people still scoff at the idea that it is all about tricks but that is what it is. Agility obstacles are just teaching the dog a behavior. Nothing hard about teaching the obstacles, it is the handling that makes agility hard. So why not teach the obstacles in a fun way through tricks. Makes sense to me.

Reese knows a lot of tricks and I have had a blast teaching them. Tricks also help to prevent injuries, another reason I teach them to Reese. Since she doesn't get to full out run a lot to develop those muscles we do the funny tricks like lifting her back legs up independently. Yes, she will throw this behavior onto the agility field too. Like coming down off the teeter or the dog walk if she is slightly to the edge at the down contact, she will still hold it with one back paw on and the other back paw much higher in the air. But it is a solid hold on the contact, not a paw flailing around in the air where she might pull a muscle.

By teaching these tricks you are able to strength train the dogs muscles that often don't get used as much if at all. Many people have heard if you have a backache do crunches. If you improve the strength of your stomach muscles your back muscles will improve too and they won't have to work as hard.

More strength = less chance of injury
More flexibility = less change of injury
More strange positions and movements the dog is used to = less chance of injury when stepping wrong.
An injury free dog makes me a happy handler!

Between spending more time walking with Reese and the time we have spent learning tricks we have developed a much tighter bond and working relationship. Sorry folks it hasn't been the time in a crate that she has spent away from me that made her want to work with me or be more focused on me. It has been the fun we have had while doing things together that improved our relationship. 

That being said the time Reese has spent in her crate has had its own value. So I won't discount that it hasn't helped her separation anxiety or helped her learn to comfort and rely on herself to cope when she is alone.

It is so nice to see someone like Silvia who truely wants the focus to be on fun not rules, and someone who is not as strict about criteria and still manages to get the end result she wants.