Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Four Paws Up for Full Moon Jerky

I've spent so much time with Rye at agility trials late that it's seemed like Barley was a little depressed. She wasn't her normal smiley self on walks until we took one without Rye. When Rye walked with us, she walked a couple paces behind me instead of right at my side. She quit hanging out on the couch beside me. I decided that Barley needed a little more one-on-one time. Part of that involved me telling her that she could do both of our Chewy Influencer reviews this month with no help from Rye. Since they were both treats, she thought this was a much better deal than the role she got to play in our waterless shampoo review last month.

I held out both packages of treats for Barley to pick which one she wanted to start with. After much deliberation, she decided she wanted to go for the Full Moon Artisanal Black Cherry BBQ Beef Jerky. We've tried other Full Moon treats before, but this was a new flavor for us.

The first thing I noticed was the packaging. It's really cute. There's a little cow shaped window that lets you see the treats inside the package, which is always a plus for me. The package is also a cheerful pink with lots of little images of cows, cherries, and grills with steaks on them.


On the back of the packaging, they highlight the benefits of these treats. The ingredients, which includes glucosamine and chondroiton, are good for hips and joints. From our experience with supplements, I know those are ingredients that dogs to have consistently to have them for the ingredients to be effective, but Barley has had strange reactions to joint supplements, so any time she can get a little extra joint support in a treat is a good thing in my opinion. The treats are also made in the USA and they don't source any ingredients from China.


The jerky strips were mostly the same size when we opened the package. There were a few smaller pieces, but most of them were big enough to be broken up into many smaller bites, which is a good thing since they're pretty high calorie at 43 kcal/treat. 


Barley was so excited to dive into these treats. 


They immediately got her wag of approval. She gobbled one piece up, licked her lips, and gave me that border collie stare, so I knew they were high value! That meant they were perfect for our next training challenge. 

Part of Operation Bring Back Barley's Smile was signing her up for a C-WAGS scent league later this summer. She'll start working towards her Level 2 title in basically the dog equivalent of a bowing league. For 6 weeks, the same set of dogs will meet one night a week to compete. In Level 1, the only scents used were birch and cypress. In Level 2, they also use clove. Clove was the first scent Barley was trained on, but it's been a long time since we used it, so I needed to do a little refresher for Barley. 

Our Full Moon Jerky was perfect for pairing because it was something Barley really wanted to work for. I ripped up a couple slices and paired a piece with our scent vessel. 


It didn't take long for Barley to find them. We did four paired searches and then Barley had no problem searching for the scent all on its own. She was really happy to still get a few pieces of jerky for rewards each time, too.


There are only a couple downsides for me for these treats (Barley says they're perfect). In at least three spots on the packaging, it reminds you to refrigerate them after opening for maximum freshness. I've mentioned before that I tend to forget about treats if I have to put them in the fridge instead of in our treat drawer. Since jerky is a classic road trip food, I'm sure we'd go through the quickly enough that they'd still be fine even if we didn't put them in the fridge, but once "refrigerate after opening" is printed on the packaging, I get nervous about breaking that rule! 

The other downside for me is that making them cold changes them in a bit. They were much harder to break apart when they were straight out of the fridge. A few pieces also had that gross congealed fat that beef gets when you stick it in the fridge and that just kind of freaks me out a bit--and it makes it not very appealing to stick a few pieces in my pocket before heading out the door for a walk.


Those were not concerns to Barley, though. She will never complain about getting a bigger bite if I can't tear treats apart and she loves beef fat.

So will we get them again? Absolutely. I'll be adding a bag of these to our monthly Chewy order before Barley's scent league begins so that she can get a special reward for using her nose!


Disclaimer: We were provided one bag of Full Moon Artisanal Black Cherry BBQ Beef Jerky in exchange for our honest review as part of the #ChewyInfluencer program through Chewy.com

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This weekend, we entered our third CPE trial. After the April trial, I was a little nervous to go back to the scene of failure. Rye's been doing really well in agility since then, but I was worried that she'd remember the fun she had being wild the last time we were at this location and go back to being naughty.

We started with a short day on Friday. They only had two different games and only a little over 100 runs for the day (usually, it's 350 or so). Since it was a shortened day, check-in didn't start until 11:15 and the first run started at noon. That meant that we could sleep in and I could get a nice walk in with Barley before we left instead of the usual chaos of waking up early and getting on the road before the sun is up.

Our first course was a game that we haven't played before: Jackpot. In Jackpot courses, the goal is to test how well handlers do when it comes to planning a course and test how well the dogs work at a distance. The game is a two part game. In the first part, you make up your own course to get as many points as possible. Obstacles are worth different amounts of points; for example, a single bar jump is worth one point, tunnels are worth 3, and contacts are worth 5. You try to accumulate as many points as you can until you hear the whistle. Then the second part is the gamble. In a traditional jackpot, this is distance work. There's a line on the floor and the handler has to send the dog over a a series of obstacles without crossing the line to show how well the dog can work at a distance. The gamble is worth 20 points and that's added into your points from the first part and if you have enough, you Q.

In our course, we had 30 seconds to get as many points as possible in the opening. Then we had to send to a tunnel, over a jump, over the A-frame, and end on the table. The best part of starting with this course is that the only cones on the course are the ones for the gamble at the end, so Rye and I stayed away from that side of the course and had a chance to get into a rhythm before any cones came into play. I walked the course and had a plan for how we'd run the opening--and some of those things happened, but Rye also chose a few things on her own. In Jackpot, though, that's ok--you get points for any obstacle the dog successfully completes, so when she took a tunnel I didn't ask her to take, we still got points. After the whistle blew, we had 18 seconds to get over to the gamble and complete it before the second whistle blew. To qualify in level 1, you have to complete the gamble and you have to have at least 32 points. Rye did a good job with the distance in the gamble and we ended up with 43 points, so we qualified. I don't think Rye actually got her contact at the end of the A-Frame, but the judge didn't call it, so we still qualified.


Our second course was our Standard course, so jumps, tunnels, contacts, and weaves. We had moved up to level 2 in Standard before the April trial, so this was our third attempt to get our first level 2 Standard Q. This course felt so good and I was positive we'd qualified, but when I checked the score book, we had 15 faults. When I watched our video, I saw the judge call a major fault after the dog walk, which means that Rye missed her contact at the end of the dog walk (a dog has to get all four feet through the yellow at the end of the contact equipment). Rye didn't do her normal contact behavior in any of our courses this weekend--which is her front paws on the floor and her back two in the yellow, or 2-on-2-off--but I was pretty sure she got all four feet in the yellow. You can't tell from the video, though, and I guess this just evens out from not having the missed contact called in our first course. Minus one little blooper with a cone at the last tunnel, Rye did a great job and I really couldn't be prouder of this course. If we're not going to Q, I'd much rather it be on a course we ran like this than for it to happen because of the silliness we had in April. 


Little cutie pie with her Jackpot ribbons and her winning biscuit.

In our first trial, one of the other competitors gave me a really good tip. He said that if he's not entering his dog in every class, he doesn't enter in the last class of the first day or the first class of the second day. If you aren't entered in the last class, you can leave at least an hour earlier and if you aren't entered in the first class (and you don't need measured), you can come a little later. We didn't enter the first class on Saturday, so we didn't have to be there at 8 on the dot for the start of the first class. It's a bit of a guessing game for when you need to get there, but they sent out the number of dogs running in each class with the trial confirmation, so I knew there were 78 dogs running in the first class (if everyone showed up) and then we still had to get through the level 3, 4, 5, and C (which is the highest level) in the second class before our turn came up, which meant we had at least an hour and a half before we needed to be there. I didn't have to get up at 4:45 and I got another quick walk in with Barley before leaving and still had time to make lunch to take along.

The one downside to getting there a little later this time was that all of the paper copies of the course maps were gone by the time we got there, so I had to just take a picture of the maps that were on the wall and study them on my phone.


Before our first course, Rye and I did a little bit of focus work and then I went to watch a couple of the higher level dogs run their courses.



Then it was time for our next attempt in Standard level 2. This course was a mess. She did a little bounce move off the A-frame, took an off course tunnel, and then flew off the end of the dog walk. I tried to calm her down because when she gets excited she sometimes goes for cones because she gets confused about what I'm asking her to do, but she didn't want to down. We've really been working on making her listen, though, because if I give in and let her win, she knows she doesn't have to follow my cues, so we kept working through it until she listened. Eventually, I got her into a down and she did the next jump well, but struggled to get through the weaves. The more we attempted the weaves, the more wound up she got and she nipped me! Once she finally got through the weaves, we were back on track and the last 6 obstacles were beautiful. You can hear some of the other competitors in the video--whose dogs are in levels 4 and 5--talking about the difficulty of the section after the weaves. The second jump after the weaves didn't give the dog a clear line to one single obstacle--they could have gone to the teeter or either tunnel, but Rye read me perfectly. I was also so proud of that little dog for her teeters all weekend. I was worried she'd spook herself again because this teeter is especially bouncy at the end, but she was great.


This course was such a mess that I was sure we hadn't Q'd. We took a little walk and then we sat in the car while I ate lunch and called my mom so she could give Rye a pep talk before our next course.

She listened very carefully to her grandma's pep talk.

When we went back inside, imagine my surprise when I went to check the scorebook to see how many faults we'd gotten and found that we'd actually Q'd! We'd only gotten a fault for the off course tunnel she'd taken after bouncing the A-frame. The Standard Course Time (SCT) for the course was 70 seconds and we squeaked in just under the limit at 69.29 seconds--the very slowest we have ever finished any course.

Our first 2nd place ribbon.

We didn't enter the third class of the day, which was Wildcard. I like Wildcard courses, but they're the only one we've tried but haven't qualified in, so I decided we'd take a little break. Rye and I spent some more time doing a little more focus work.


And we took a nice walk where we worked on some sit-stays and some come to side, and we had a little pep talk of our own. 

She doesn't take pep talks from me as seriously as she takes ones from her grandma.

Our second course of the day was Colors where there are two different courses where the paths overlap a couple times. I was really confident in the course I chose. Then Rye did something she's never ever done before. She dropped a bar. And she didn't just drop it. She belly flopped on it. She was unfazed and we finished the course with one off course tunnel (those darn tunnels are just too much fun!). Unfortunately, in Colors you aren't allowed any dropped bars, so we'd already NQ'd by the second jump. I was still proud of her, though, because she read the last two jumps so well and it felt like we are really starting to know how to communicate with each other (even if we occasionally have some miscommunication).


Our last course of the day was Jumpers. Rye really loves Jumpers courses. In CPE, Jumpers courses are just jumps and tunnels, so there's no slowing down like there is with contacts and weaves on the course. I was a little worried because the first seven obstacles were identical to our Colors course. I'd watched our video of Colors three times and I couldn't figure out why Rye crashed into the double--I still can't (so anyone with more agility expertise that has some video analysis, please chime in!). I couldn't think of a better way to start the course, though. If I was on the other side, there was no way she was going to the tunnel. If I started with her, I'd never make it to where I needed to be after the second tunnel. So, we started the same way and I just hoped that Rye would jump big. She broke her start-line stay and took off a little early, but other than that, she was fantastic and we Q'd in 20.15 seconds (the SCT was 57 seconds).


This weekend was such a positive experience. We did some really great things together and also identified a few things we can keep working on. I'd highly recommend checking out a CPE trial for anyone just beginning in agility. It's been a great place for Rye to work on her confidence and focus, and for me, too. Everyone is so supportive--if you listen to the people in our videos, they celebrate our successes (like leaving the cones) and they offer support when things aren't going well--and these are people we only met in March and have only seen 3 times. It's been such a welcoming environment with a little less pressure than the AKC trials (which we've still enjoyed, but CPE is really more about just having fun). We're really loving this venue and can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Blanket Wars

Every March, I bring 300 or so middle schoolers to our campus for an English Festival. In the weeks before the festival, I have to stuff folders for each of the students. It's not a hard task, but it is a tedious process as it involves giving each kid a schedule, a scantron form, 6 bookmarks, and a pencil. This year, I decided I'd try out an audiobook to help pass the time. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones had just become available through my library and a co-worker had mentioned how much she had enjoyed the book, so it seemed like the perfect choice.

This book was amazing. I listened to about three hours of the book while putting together folders and then I got home and didn't want to stop listening. My problem with audiobooks, though, is that I can't just sit and listen to them. I need to be doing something, but usually that something distracts me and I realize that I've listened to 30 minutes of the book without actually listening to the book. Putting together the folders is a mindless task, so I could do something productive while still listening to the book. I needed something similar that I could do at home.

It was time to brush off the old crochet hooks that I hadn't touched since I adopted Soth.


My project started out as just a way to feel productive while listening to my book. I started with some old yarn that had been in my closet for years and no real plan for what I was going to make. 


My little cat dog learned about the fun of yarn balls from her brother. Between the two of them, starting the project was a challenge.




As the project got bigger, Soth and Rye really wanted to snuggle. Soth couldn't fight the urge to grab the yard even when he was snuggling, so I had to work with what little bit of yarn he let me have and then stop to fight him for a little more before starting back to work.



Eventually, I had to go to the store and find more yarn. That's when Barley decided she should get in on the snuggling, too.



Rye made it very clear that this was her blanket long before I finished it.



Soth wasn't giving up that easily, though. Yarn has always been his world.





Finishing the last row was probably our biggest fight. The blanket was big enough that Soth could really snuggle up on top of it and every time I needed to turn the blanket a little bit, I had to move him. He'd turn into dead weight while digging his claws into the blanket, which usually also meant into my legs beneath the blanket. 


Now that it's done, we're all fighting over who it belongs to. This is the biggest crochet project I've every made, so I feel like it should me mine. I made sure it was wide enough and long enough that I could snuggle up under it while watching tv. 

Sometimes, I can convince Rye and Soth to share with me.


Most of the time, though, one of the little pets will claim the blanket all for themselves.




Or they'll claim the whole thing to share without me.



Even Barley, who usually doesn't snuggle up with blankets, has been spending more time on the couch than usual now that the blanket is done.


I guess the only way this war will be won is if I let the pets have it and start working on another project for myself.

Monday, May 7, 2018

It's Your Choice

When Tenacious Little Terrier, Wag 'n Woof Pets, and I were discussing themes for upcoming months of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, I was so excited for impulse control to show up on the list! Of all of the training we've done, impulse control is my very favorite to train and the most important skill my dogs have learned.

When I first got Rye, impulse control was the first thing we worked on. I knew that she couldn't meet Barley until she'd developed some impulse control--and since we had a two week quarantine for kennel cough when I brought her home, we had some time to practice.

For us, impulse control is all about making choices. We play many, many, many varieties of the "It's Your Choice" game. For this month's blog hop, I thought we'd take a look at a few of the ways that we work impulse control into our daily lives.

Leashes
The very first thing Rye learned is that if she wants her leash on, she has to sit. When we first started training this, I'd ask for a sit. If she sat and didn't start to get up when I reached for her collar, I'd clip on her leash and we'd be ready to go. If she got up before I got her leash on, I'd stand back up and wait for her to sit. I didn't say anything; she had to make the choice to sit on her own. Once she did, she'd get verbal praise and the leash would go on. Eventually, I quit having to ask for a sit. I get the leashes and both dogs sit and wait for them to go on. We also repeat this at the end of our walks. The dogs have to sit until I get the leash off and release them. If I unclip them and they sit until they hear ok, they get to chase a treat that I toss for them.

This helps us start all of our walks with some degree of control. There are still some factors that cause Rye to lose her mind (like the darn squirrels that insist on sitting right outside the front door), but we at least start every walk with the dogs' brains engaged, which gives me a better chance of keeping them engaged after we get out the door. This also helps Rye at agility trials. She knows that she has to sit, let me take her leash off, and then wait to be released to go over the first obstacle. She also knows at the end that she needs to sit and let me put the leash back on.


Doors
After getting a leash on, our next round of "It's Your Choice" starts. Doors--house doors, car doors, crate doors, store doors--don't open unless butts are on the ground (or seat). We start this the same way. The first few times, I ask for a sit once. Then I start to open the door. If the butts come off the ground, the door shuts. Just like with the leash, I don't say anything. When they make the choice to sit, I open the door again. We keep repeating this until they stay sitting with the door all the way open and don't budge until I say "okay." Just like with the leash, we repeat this when we get home from a walk, too. I won't even start to open the door until the dogs are sitting and if they get up when I open it, the door closes again.


This is one of our most important uses of "It's Your Choice." This is what keeps the dogs from darting out the door when I am struggling to get a huge Chewy box with 40-lbs. of cat litter in the door. This is what keeps the dogs from darting into the parking lot after I unclip their harnesses in the car. This is what gives me a chance to make sure that another dog isn't coming out of the training facility door while we're trying to come in. In other words, teaching the dogs this little game keeps them safe.

Treat Art
I first learned the "It's Your Choice" game when Barley and I went for our first private lesson with our first trainer. We started playing this game with treats. First, I'd hold a treat in my hand about nose level in front of Barley's face. If she tried to get it, I closed my hand without saying anything. When she settled down, I'd open my hand again. If she didn't go for the treat, she got to have it. Then we progressed to putting a treat on the floor in front of her paw. If she went for it, I covered it with my hand. Then I'd uncover it and we'd try again. Eventually, we moved on to putting treats all the way up Barley's legs. 

We can play quick versions of this game between turns in agility class.

Rye spent a lot of time learning this game in the two weeks before she met Barley. Rye is weird about having her feet touched, so she won't let me balance treats on her legs. Instead, we've started making treat art and spelling out words.

Watching Fixer Upper means we build treat houses.

We used to do this every single day after Rye met Barley. At the end of the day, we'd use this game to calm down before bedtime. Now, I use it any time I need the girls to relax and focus. If I'm watching tv, I'll sit on the floor and we'll spell out words like sisters or good dogs. Sometimes we'll make pictures--hearts, flowers, smiley faces. I'll make one letter or put down a few treats in our picture and if the girls make eye contact with me instead of staring at the treats, I'll give them both a treat before moving on to the next letter or the rest of the picture. This version of "It's Your Choice" really works the dogs' brains and wears them out. It also gets them to focus on me--since they have to make the choice to look at me to get the treat, I become more valuable to them. Rye and I play this game at every agility trial when we're waiting between turns. Plus, it's a really cool party trick ;)

Other Uses
We really use this game all the time. We use it at dinner: they lay down and I'll put food in the bowl, look at me and they're released to eat. We use it for fetch: Rye lays down and I throw the toy. Even introducing Barley and Rye was one big "It's Your Choice" game: be calm and quiet while looking at your new sister and you get food; if you freak out, I'll sit and wait and hold onto the food until you stop. It's also been a part of how we're working on our cone troubles in agility. 


The secret to "It's Your Choice" is that you don't tell the dog what to do with the exception of a sit or a down at the beginning of the game. There's no "leave it" when I set a treat on the ground. There's no "nope" if they get up when I start to open the door. The game is all about the dog thinking. The dog learns to make the choices that get them what they want. Barley and Rye know that sitting gets their leash clipped on which gets them out for a walk. Rye knows that laying down gets me to throw her toy. They both know that looking at me instead of whatever treats are on the ground gets them a treat. The dogs love learning this way because it's all a game. 

Eventually, these behaviors just become engrained in the dogs. Occasionally, we'll have little refreshers--especially if there are squirrels in the yard when we get home from a walk because Rye hates having to sit at the door and go inside then; she'd much rather stay outside and watch the squirrels, which she knows will end when the door opens--but for the most part, they know this game immediately when we start these different behaviors. 

This month, our theme for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is Impulse Control, but we welcome any positive training posts! Be sure to check out our co-hosts, Tenacious Little Terrier and Wag 'n Woof Pets, and all of the other great blogs linking up with us to see all the different ways people train impulse control with their pets and join us next month when our theme is Transportation. The blog hop opens on the first Monday of each month and stays open all week.
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Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Art of Failure

My alternate title for this post was The Curse of the Cones, but our trainer regularly reminds us to focus on the things we do well in addition to recognizing the things we could do better, so I'm trying to do that.

I've written about the lessons we've learned about failure many times (like here, here, and here). We've had a lot of positive training experiences because of failure. I've become a better trainer because of failure. The dogs have become better athletes because of failure. I've embraced failure.

Or at least I thought I had.

The truth is, though, we haven't failed a lot outside of class. Barley's been in two C-WAGS scentwork trials and she's qualified in all four rounds she's been entered in. In Rye's first agility trial, she qualified in 4 out of the 5 classes she was entered in, so I was pretty sure that she was following in her sister's footsteps.

And then, we got to our second CPE agility trial.

I wasn't nervous at all when we got to the start line for our first run in Standard. I knew the course. Rye seemed to like the trial atmosphere--and we had eight ribbons to prove it. I was confident that we would Q with no problems.

Rye had other ideas. She took the wrong end of the tunnel for our third obstacle. Then she spooked herself on the teeter--even though she'd gone over it successfully. We got back on track and she did some really nice things on the course, but then we got to the weaves and she was so wound up that she missed one. You get three tries, but when I took her back to start over, she went back into the tunnel. With two off-course tunnels, we didn't qualify. That failure I was ok with, though. They were all beginning dog mistakes and we had clear things to work on: the teeter, providing clearer cues, really getting Rye under control before sending her into the weaves.


In our second course, things started out beautifully. This was the Wildcard course--the only one we hadn't Q'd in at the first trial. I'd been worried that she would go to the wrong end of the tunnel, but she read my cues perfectly. Then I got a beautiful cross a couple jumps later that I was really proud of. But she went for the cones with three obstacles left to go. I thought I could get her back on track and still Q, but she went for a second cone and we earned a no time for the course. I was a little more frustrated by that failure. Mostly because everything up until that point had been beautiful. We were really in sync and everything felt really good and to lose all of that to a cone was disappointing. Rye, of course, had had the time of her life and had no idea there had been any failure at all.


Our next three classes were on the second day of the trial. I was hopeful that a good night's sleep would reset us for the next day.

But it didn't.

On our first course of the day, we made it through four obstacles and then she went for the cone. And this time, she really went for it. It took me a long time to be able to watch the video because I wanted to crawl into the tunnel and just stay there until everyone had gone home. But I didn't actually die of embarrassment like I thought I was going to, so I'll share it with you. If you're not Rye's teammate, it might be kind of funny ;)


The next two courses were even worse. We made it through one and a half (she jumped off the teeter again) obstacles in the second course before she went for a cone and only made it over one jump before she went after a cone in the last course. I never wanted her to have another free for all like she'd had earlier, so I'd already decided that if she went for cones again, we'd be leaving the course instead of practicing that wild behavior. I picked her up and carried her off the course.

We were 0 for 5 in our second trail. We'd gone from an 80% success rate to a 40% success rate in no time at all.

Those last three failures were the worst. They were embarrassing. They were frustrating. She'd gone for the cones before we'd even really had a chance to do agility. We didn't get to have the kind of failure that we could learn from.

Or so I thought.

After this trial, I knew there was a lot we needed to work on. I also knew I needed to find some of the good things we did before I could show our trainer the videos so we could make our training list. When I thought back on the last three runs, I realized that Rye's start-line-stay was excellent in all three courses. We'd struggled with that in our first trial and she really did a nice job holding that stay while I led out.

Once I was able to identify something positive about our really ugly runs, I emailed our trainer. She had us come in to class early (which felt a little like being called to the principal's office at first, but was actually really kind of her) so we could watch the videos together. Then we got to work making a training list for Rye.

So what did I learn?

  1. When we have weaves after a tunnel--or after anything else where she comes out faster than a speeding a bullet--I need to take a second, slow her down, and give her a clean entrance into the weaves. We won't have to worry about her taking whatever obstacle is behind the weaves if I don't have to turn her around and start over.
  2. Rye starts going for cones when she gets confused. On the first day during our second run, I could have taken one more step into her path to set a clearer line to the third jump in the serpentine (where she grabbed the cone). The best way to keep her from going for cones is to set clear lines, give clear cues, and give cues early. When Rye knows what she's supposed to do, she runs beautifully, so I need to do my part.
  3. The teeter is scary and Rye needs more support from me--and more practice--to feel comfortable with it.
  4. We have the most amazing trainer who will take time out of her day to meet with us early and help us problem solve. We also have pretty amazing classmates who will tolerate us putting cones all willy nilly around the gym to challenge Rye.
  5. Embracing failure doesn't mean you have to enjoy it. There may have been some tears on the drive home from this trial. I may have considered never entering a trial again. (Except I was already entered in two AKC trials for April and another CPE trial for May.) It's ok to be disappointed when you've trained hard and you feel confident and things don't work out. Failure stinks. But it's what you do after the failure that matters. 
Our second trial was rough. I spent a lot of time wondering if Rye and I were really ready to compete. We picked ourselves up, though, and identified specific skills we could develop. I ordered a cheap set of cones on Amazon and we've spent a lot of time working on avoiding cones at home.


We've asked for help on the areas we needed to work on, too. There are still moments when things start to fall apart, but we've had successful runs in two separate trials since then and we're in a good place.


Ultimately, agility is about fun--and I've known for years that failure is a part of agility, so now the trick is to figure out how to make failure a part of that fun. The more experience we get and the more we learn, the easier that is going to be.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Our First AKC Agility Trials

In late April, Rye and I entered our third and fourth agility trials (I haven't written about the second trial yet because it was UGLY and I'm still processing). Our first trials were CPE trials, which were fun days, filled with positivity, encouragement, and lots of games. I really loved the atmosphere at those trials because everyone we met was so welcoming. When they found out it was our first trial, they took me under their wings and showed me around the facility, explained the rules, introduced me to other handlers.

The one thing that was missing, though, was our friends. Most of our classmates and trainers who compete do AKC trials. While everyone at the CPE trials was amazingly friendly (and this is coming from an introvert who hates talking to strangers), they also had clear groups and friendships and talked to each other about approaches for courses and their other dogs and their other friends who weren't at the trial. I missed that.

One of our trainers mentioned that the other training club where she teaches classes was holding a one-day Novice/Open AKC trial in April and encouraged us to sign up. Novice and Open are the first two levels of AKC competition (unlike CPE which just uses level 1, 2, 3, etc.), so everyone competing would be beginners. Two of our classmates signed up with us and our regular trainer and another classmate were signed up to work at the trial, so I was excited to try out AKC trials.

I was also nervous, though. At our second CPE trial, measuring did not go well--and thankfully Rye was somehow left off of the official needs measuring list, so it was ok--but we needed to be measured by an AKC Volunteer Measuring Official (VMO) to get an official height for AKC. Our trainer suggested breaking out the big guns--steak and roast beef--to help Rye out during measuring, so at 10 p.m. the night before the trial, I was cooking up a steak for my dog. 


Measuring wasn't pretty. Rye was terrified and shaking the whole time--and refused to take the meat out of my hand until after she was safely off the measuring table. But we got it done (she measured at 17 and 1/2 inches, so comfortably within the 16-inch jump height) and she only needs one more official measurement to get her permanent height card for AKC trials.

After that, we had a lot of waiting. I expected that from CPE, but this trial venue doesn't have much viewing room, so I didn't spend much time watching the other teams run unless it was one of our classmates. This venue is in an industrial complex, too, so there isn't wide open space to walk and enjoy being outside like there is at our CPE venue.

Instead, Rye and I spent plenty of time working on self-control. We've had some problems with that lately, so we tried to do a little spelling to remind her what agility is all about.


Our first class was Jumpers with Weaves (JWW). Rye loves jumpers courses because they are big and wide open with nothing to slow you down. In theory, I like jumpers courses because there are lots of great patterns to follow, so it's easy to get into a flow. But Rye is really, really fast and I can never keep up with her on a JWW course, so they intimidate me a little bit. When I'm way behind her, there are lots of opportunities for her to make her own course because she's still new to agility and I'm still new to handling a dog that's faster than I am (Bless Barley's heart, she only runs courses as fast as I do even though she's perfectly capable of out running me). 


She did so well! We had a brief moment going into the weaves where we struggled--but in Novice, you get three attempts at the weaves, so once I got her to quit focusing on the cone by the weaves, we were able to get through them and finish the course. I was pretty sure we'd Q'd, but I was shocked to find out that she got first place, too! I was sure after we spent so much time fighting at the weaves that we wouldn't place, so that was an exciting surprise.


Then we were back to waiting. Our second class was the Standard course, which has everything: jumps of various styles, an A-frame, a dogwalk, tunnels, a table, a teeter, weaves. These are the courses I tend to prefer with Rye because she usually has a really strong contact behavior and pauses at the end of the contact equipment. That gives me a chance to catch up and get into a good spot to send her to the next obstacle. It also gets her brain in gear a little more because she has to stop and think for that brief second. 

This course wasn't quite as good. We started out confused. The course started at a tunnel--which I didn't think would be a problem, but we'd never seen timers next to a tunnel before since you don't use timers in class. After watching the video of our run, it was very clear to me that Rye was 100% positive that the timers were jump stanchions and that she was was supposed to jump the tunnel. Rye doesn't like to be wrong, so after starting out confused, she got really wound up trying to decide what she was supposed to do next. We regrouped for a while, but she was scared of the teeter and that added to her excitement and by the time we got over the A-Frame there was no getting back on track. She grabbed a cone and that's something we've been struggling with, so we excused ourselves from the course.


Our other friend and classmate also had some struggles on this course, so our trainer told us to make a list of the things we wanted to work on and she'd design some exercises that focused on those skills for the next week.

We worked really hard on the teeter and on giving clear commands in class a few days later and Rye was all set for her second AKC trial the following Saturday.

One thing I've found with all of the rule books in CPE and AKC is that they are not written clearly. Maybe this is my English professor editing eye speaking, but I have had so many questions after reading the rule books. One of the most confusing for our second AKC trial was the measuring. I knew we needed two measurements, and I'd figured out that only the measurements by VMOs count as official measurements towards the permanent jump height card, but all of the materials we had said that dogs who were under two and only had one official measurement didn't need to be measured by the judge of record before a course. To me, that suggests that dogs over two that only have one official measurement do need to be measured. Rye turned two in March, so I assumed she needed to be measured and we got to the trial early--we're talking 7:20 a.m.--to make sure that could be done. 

When I asked the judge, though, she said that as long as Rye had her first official measurement, she didn't need to be measured again until a VMO was present. On the tentative schedule for the day, our first class wouldn't start until about 2:45 p.m. Our house is about an hour from the facility, so going back home and coming back later would have meant over 4 hours of car time for the day. I'd planned to go hiking after our measurement, but it was raining. So, Rye and I did the next best thing--we found a couple dog-friendly breweries nearby. We hung out for a couple hours and did some self-control work, watched a few of the dogs in the excellent and masters classes, and then we went to Railroad Brewing Company and Sibling Revelry Brewing. 



We had some really good beer and then still made it back to the trial facility with a couple hours to go before our first class. 

We spent more time working on self-control and then studying the course maps.

Super relaxed after brunch beers.


This time, standard was first. After a day of doing a lot of mental exercise, but not much physical exercise, Rye was wound up and I was afraid we were in trouble. We had a couple little snafus. She jumped off the table and we were given a refusal at the tunnel because Rye bypassed the tunnel, thought about grabbing the cone, and then turned back to go into the tunnel. But we only lost 10 points to those two faults, so we had a score of 90 and you only need an 85 to Q in novice standard. My little girl earned another first place ribbon, too!


We ended the day with our JWW course. I was especially worried about this one because Rye was really tired. When she gets tired, she's like a toddler who refuses to go to bed and gets crazier and crazier. She'd already dragged her mat out of her crate and started humping it when I tried to take it away from her (which is the sure sign she's overtired), so I was sure when I combined that craziness with the wide openness of a JWW course, she'd have a heyday.

I was partially right. She was fast and she jumped big. But she listened and read almost all of my cues well. We had a clean run and got our second Q in JWW. She also finished this course 18.49 seconds faster than the next fastest novice dog in her jump height, which just blows my mind. When we really start to click on the course and she starts jumping more efficiently, she's going to be faster than I can even imagine.



Here's a little secret. They had a cute photo booth at the trial and you could add in the class you Q'd in and put a little arrow next to that or next to a new title. After our first course, I wanted to get Rye's picture in the photo booth, so I spelled out JWW and found the little Q and the little arrow and took a few pictures. When we got back to our crate, I realized that we hadn't even run our JWW course yet! We'd gotten our first Q in standard. I was so hoping that we'd still get our JWW Q so that I could still share the picture!

In AKC, you need 3 Qs to title, so we're 2/3 of the way to our novice JWW title and 1/3 of the way to our standard title. We've got another AKC trial in about a month, so we'll be continuing on that journey.