Saturday, February 23, 2013

Attitude is Everything!

Today was a very fun day showing my three girls in obedience and rally!  I have spent months of not being able to do agility due to my sore knee and then eventually recovering from a total knee replacement.  I did a lot of obedience training (except heeling) with my three of my girls: Carmine, Sinco and Feisty.  I have watched others run my dogs in training and in trials in agility and today for the first time in months I was able to get out there with my dogs and have fun!

Yes I am an obedience geek and always have been.  But I was lucky enough to have awesome trainers when I started obedience in the early 1990s and I learned to train it very positively and to have fun with it.  I have never found it boring but then again I get creative in my training.  That is where positive proofing comes in and where it really paid off in spades today.

I love to do proofing exercises which build confidence, encourage problem solving and independent thinking and usually in the end builds speed and accuracy.  One exercise I did a lot of these last few months is "find the dumbbell".  I hid it in many hard places for both Feisty who is very experienced at retrieving the dumbbell and for Sinco who is just starting out.  They love the game.  When at the school I would hide it behind ring gates, on bottom shelves, under shelves, on top of low lying objects and sometimes even inside low lying objects.  Feisty especially loved the game and she would not give up until she found it.  We also "hid" the dumbbell at people's feet which could be very hard for her too.  

Today in Open A at the trial I threw the dumbbell for the retrieve on the flat and the small white thing landed right near the white leg of a ring gate and two thirds of the way between me and the far edge of the ring.  Feisty went charging out and past it and then proceeded to hunt for it - she scanned the far edge, she stuck her head under the ring gate and looked and thought she saw it but it was another foot for a ring gate and she looked and looked.  She started to give up and run back and as she came back she saw it in the corner of her eye and whipped around and proudly picked it up and brought it to me.  I could not have been prouder and happier for her problem solving and her confidence to keep looking.  She never shut down and ultimately she never gave up!  The crowd gasped with amazement when she retrieved it and I know Feisty had to have felt that positive energy toward her.  Her confidence enabled her to pass the exercise.  If we had not ever played those games there is a good chance she would not have had the confidence to keep looking for it when it blended it with the ring gates.  This is the kind of thing "positive proofing" does for dogs and I just love it.

While in the ring with both Sinco and Feisty today I was so happy - the teamwork we had was great.  Even when Sinco came on my right side in the on leash heeling exercise and was so happy heeling on my right (because we do practice it on both sides and she just missed the cue for which side she should be on when we did an about turn) I kept smiling at her and when we did another about turn I used my leash handling skills from doing Rally and we did an opposite left about turn and she got on the correct side and was fine.  Her off leash heeling was great.   Sinco never knew there was a mistake and there was no need for her to know.  She was so happy out in the ring with me and that was all that mattered - she was trying so hard and having fun at the same time.

In Feisty's run I was beaming the whole time and she was there with me focused and having fun.  Because my attitude was so positive in and out of the ring someone said to me that it looked like a "First place run" and I really believe that is because we had the attitude out there that made it look like we were having fun and therefore things must be going perfectly!  It was actually an NQ run but Feisty did not need to know that and I never let her know that and in fact people were confused by my positive attitude that they double checked with me about whether we Q'd or not.  Ironically the judge's score book even said we had Q'd and I had to go to the judge to have her double check the results because I knew we had NQ'd (and I knew AKC would see it too that we had NQ'd).  I said I would take that positive attitude of our run any day Q or NQ - it was so much fun to have Feisty trying her best in public.  Today was a HUGE PQ run for Feisty and me.  I will be able to review that run in my mind for weeks and months to come even if the video didn't turn out for it.  The problem solving she did there was phenomenal - it was also right along the edge of the ring by the crowd which is more impressive for her.

Carmine made her debut in Rally Novice.  I entered her to see how she would do in an obedience environment.  When she is "on" she is so intense but if she is not she can be so easily distracted.  I was not sure if I could turn her "on" in this setting but I did.  Once we were alone in the ring she never lost focus and I could feel her tight turns and moving her rear on the inside turns and I just kept smiling.  I only had to cue her to "get it in" for the many inside turns and she did everything perfectly.  I was so happy with her and we celebrated outside the ring and a number of people came up to me asking about her - she showed once again that in a competitive environment she can step up to the plate and turn it "on".  Another huge "personal Q" for us!

Very often in agility people think I Q more than I do because I will often come off a course just as happy with an NQ run because it was a PQ - "personal Q" run. I want the same feeling in obedience and today I felt like I had it.  It was the most fun I have had showing obedience in years - in part because I have not been able to do anything competitive with my dogs, in part because I have done a lot of positive proofing exercises with them to build their confidence and in part because I had a positive attitude with each one of them and I felt confident with each one of them.  Attitude is Everything!!!!

Monday, February 11, 2013

What is agility?

So a few days ago I found out that the video of Sinco and me from NADAC Championships 2011 Extreme Games World Challenge was being posted on Facebook as a means to criticize what NADAC is doing in the form of agility.

According to the online definition from Merriam Webster agility is:

the quality or state of being agile : nimblenessdexterity

I don't see anything in there that includes obstacles.  Now I know I am being facetious here but really isn't dog agility called that because the dogs are being nimble and agile in performing the sport?  I really think if you look at any Extreme Games Challenge run you will see nimbleness and dexterity in its finest - even more so than on traditional agility courses.

I understand everyone has their favorite agility organization and their legitimate reasons for liking that organization.  I understand very often new and different things are easy to criticize.  I also know that I am the kind of person that likes to try new things.  I played my first EGC games without having seen so much as a photo or video of it beforehand.  It was being offered on Friday night before a trial I was attending.  I had first thought I would watch but I saw it laid out and just had to "try it".  I never ask my dogs to do more than I think they can and I knew I could go and help or bail as needed.  My dogs loved it so much and got faster and faster with each run that I was absolutely hooked.  It was pure adrenaline and about handling and distance training and timing.

I love training and handling challenges even if I am not successful always at executing them.  I also went to the 2012 AKC World Team Tryouts.  That is about as opposite of the spectrum as NADAC Championships gets.  I went with the same dog.  We were not as successful at the Tryouts in part because my dog really did not enjoy those tight challenging courses.  I enjoy the mental challenge but she was not the right dog for that challenge even though we had spent months training and preparing for it.  I didn't take into account that an entire weekend of courses like that would take its toll on her mentally like it did.  I tried to make it fun and keep her up and happy as much as possible and I didn't care how we did.  Now I know that is not the place for her.  Sinco does fine in AKC and USDAA and even a little UKI but I know I won't ask her to do too much tight collected courses.  Now her daughter on the other hand was born to do tight challenging courses and can turn on a dime and stay barking for joy as she does it.  She will be the dog I do more international courses and training with in the future.

I am fortunate to be able to have multiple dogs and I can choose what organizations to do with each of them.  I do not need to make everyone one of my dogs do all of them.  Feisty is retired from doing AKC low tables and being in that environment.  She is entered at nationals because sometimes she gets into the crowd and sometimes not.  Feisty is in training for bonus lines in NADAC because she loves to work distances.  We are not often accurate as she gets "high" working at a distance.  But she is having fun so then I am having fun.  It is a training challenge to work that level of distance.

Tay has had two biceps tendon surgeries so I do not want her jumping her full height 16/20 so she is doing organizations where she can jump 12 and she is 7 in April.  She has had a lot of stress issues in the ring partly due to the amount of pain she endured while we were trying to figure out a diagnosis.  Pain would come and go for her and adrenaline would block a lot of it.  She loves agility in training and more and more she is loving it again at trials.  She can be very fast when she feels good.  

Carmine is Sinco's daughter and her initial training has been for tighter and technical courses which is her strong suit.  She does not respond to pressure well and I am working on that through Amanda Nelson's online course.  She is young and has lots of potential for any sport.

All of my dogs have done EGC and all of them seem to love it.  They love to just all out run and turn on the ground and I have a hard time handling them sometimes.  It is very rewarding to have a clean run in this game.

All of the organizations have their niche, they offer different things for different people.  Few dog and handler teams can actually do all of the organizations at all of the levels of each organization.  It is alright to have your favorite organization but please do not berate another organization and certainly do not do it when you have not even tried it.  You can say what you like or do not like about an organization but when it crosses the line of making fun of it and belittling those who participate in it then it becomes akin to bullying.  Each organization has its issues - there is no perfect agility organization out there just as there are no perfect agility dog and handler teams and no perfect dog agility trainers.  We are all flawed but none deserve to be bullied, belittled or berated.  It is all agility - the state of being agile and nimble.