Monday, March 19, 2018

Our First Agility Trial (Recap)

At the beginning of the school year, Barley came to school with me to help me give a mini-lecture on the life lessons that we've learned in dog training. One of those lessons was the importance of challenging yourself even if you're scared of failure because that's part of how we grow and learn.

A couple weeks later, I saw that there was an agility trial a little over an hour away. It seemed like a good time to put this lesson to the test and enter Rye in our first agility trial. I printed off the premium, or the packet that has all of the trial information and the registration forms, and then had to decide what classes we wanted to run in.

In CPE trials, there are the standard courses, which include jumps and tunnels and the contact equipment like the dog walk or A-frame, and jumpers courses with just jumps, tunnels, and weaves depending on the level. Those are the types of courses we do in class regularly, so I knew we'd want to enter those. CPE trials also have a lot of different games, though. They have courses that test your handling skills, your strategy skills, and some that are just meant to be fun. I tried to read the rules in the CPE book to see what those games were like, but ended up doing a Google search to find recaps from people who had actually run those courses before. I decided we'd enter two of the handler games in addition to the standard and jumpers course, which is one of the fun games. 

A couple days after sending in our registration form, I got an email that the trial was already full but we'd be put on the wait list. The April trial premium was already available, so I went ahead and sent that one in for the same games we'd planned to try in March. A couple days later, I got an email that we were in the April trial, so I didn't think about the wait list again.

Until a week before the trial. I got a confirmation email saying that we were in and entered in 2 rounds of standard, one round of wild card, one of colors, and one of jumpers. I had no idea what to expect and our trainer was out with the flu the class before the trial, so I didn't get a chance to tell her we were entered in it. Our classmates were helpful, but there's still nothing like actually being at the trial to understand what a trial is like.

Since it was our first trial, Rye had to be measured for her jump height, which meant we had to be there at 7:05 a.m. We left the house at 5:30 and got to the trial location a little before 7. I went in to get the lay of the land first and set up Rye's crate. We got a great spot--right behind the one person we knew at the trial and near the side door for easy access to potty breaks.

As soon as I got Rye in the building, they called for dogs needing measured and we went over. Rye is super shy and doesn't like to be touched, so I was worried about her standing up straight while a stranger measured her. It wasn't the easiest moment of the trial weekend, but we got a successful measurement of 17 3/4 inches, so she was all set to jump 16 inches in the trial. Since she was under two years old (and only by 3 days!), she'll have to be measured again at the next CPE trial.

Then we waited.

For a long time.

They started with the Level 3, 4, and 5 dogs, so we had to wait until they worked their way down to Level 1 courses. We had almost 80 dogs ahead of us, plus course changes, so our first run wasn't until 10:42 a.m. Our standard run was first and I felt confident Rye and I could handle that course. There weren't really any traps where she'd want to go off course, so I didn't anticipate any problems. And I was right! She ran the course perfectly with no dropped bars, no off courses, and we got our very first Q (qualifying run) on our first run.

We weren't entered in another class until the Wildcard course, which was the very last course of the day. I spent time walking around the grounds with Rye--the facility had a great big field that was perfect for walking--and I watched one of the dogs that's been in class with Barley and I for years and spent some time setting bars for the courses. Even though I spent time with Rye and got her out of her crate many, many times, our next run wasn't until 5:58.

In the Wildcard game, you have a set course, but there are three places where you have options. Some of the options are considered more challenging and they're labeled the B options on the course map. The ones that are considered easier are labeled A. In Level 1, you have to choose 2 A obstacles and 1 B obstacle. I planned out our course and eventually it was our turn. Rye was wound up. I could tell before I even got her leash off that she was a ball of energy. I'd planned to lead out to our second jump to make sure she followed the path I wanted her to, but she took off before I even got past the first jump--and once the dog crosses the first jump, your time has started and you've got to just keep going. She did well sending to obstacles--until she shot out of a tunnel and ran through the weaves, so she had one off course. Then she didn't want to go over a jump and started jumping on me. When I tried to get her to stop that, she went for the cone beside the jump and when she gets something she isn't supposed to have, she usually goes wild. Thankfully, I got her back on track and we finished the course, but we had enough faults with the off course and the cone games that we got a No Time (NT) in that course.

The next day was a little shorter. Since we didn't have to be measured again, we got to leave the house a little closer to 6. Then we spent some time walking around before going in. I'd gotten a good feel for the trial atmosphere the day before, so it wasn't as important to watch the first few runs.

Our standard run was our first again, and Rye flew over the course and we got our second Q.

We were in three classes instead of two on Sunday, so that meant we didn't have as much waiting time between runs. I also decided to spend more time engaging Rye's crazy puppy brain, so we played lots of brain games.

Our second class of the day was the Colors game. This one has two different courses marked with different colored cones. They start the same and on the third obstacle they diverge and you have to pick a course (or go with the one your dog picks). I knew that one of the courses had a jump that we had to wrap and if we didn't do that well, Rye would run off course into the tunnel, so I picked the other course that didn't seem to have any traps for Rye. It was the perfect plan and we got our third Q of the weekend.

Our final class was the Jumpers class. I was a little worried because there were some long lines of jumps and when Rye gets freedom like that, she sometimes does her own thing. I like having the contact equipment so that we have a brief pause where she thinks about what she's doing and I can get her attention easily. My worries weren't necessary, though. Rye did great. She thought about going after a cone again, but got back on track before we got any faults.

We ended up with Qs in 4 out of 5 of our runs, which means we earned our Standard Level 1 title. We'll have to try some of the other games that we didn't try and get a Q in Wildcard to get the other Level 1 titles. Rye also got first place in each of the runs we qualified in. I don't put a lot of stock in that because in one of the runs, we were the only 16-inch dog running and in some of the others there were only two dogs, so I'm still very proud of her for getting those ribbons, too, but they're a little bit deceiving since we didn't beat out too many other dogs.

It was a really good weekend filled with so many supportive people. Everyone was so welcoming and helpful. It was the perfect way to start our agility career and we're looking forward to our next trial in April. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

To My Youngest on Her Second Birthday

Dear Sweet Potato Rye,

On your second birthday, I find myself struggling to find the words to express what you mean to me. That might be because I'm not sure you've sat still for more than 30 seconds at a time since your last birthday and it's hard to gather thoughts when you're in the middle of a tornado. You are the busiest little dog that I've met.

The past year has been such an adventure. We've moved on from obedience class to agility class and barn hunt lessons.

We've had to work through some issues--like reactions to Jeeps, off-leash dogs, political signs, and mail carriers.

You have found even weirder ways to sit on the furniture and you're even more certain that you're a cat.

We've gone on solo adventures and you've learned that exploring nature might not be so bad (even though you still prefer shopping).

This weekend, we celebrated your birthday by entering our first agility trial. I didn't know what to expect from you, so I expected nothing. My only goal was to make sure that we left together at the end the day. You blew me away, little pup. You were patient between runs. You were confident with other dogs and their people. You were focused and happy on the course. You kept me from being anxious and I had the very best time with you. I am so proud of you, my tiny terror.

Our adventures are just beginning and I can't wait to see where the next year takes us. Happy birthday, little Rye. I love you more than songs can say.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Training Mantras To Keep Training Positive and Fun

Barley and I have been training long enough that we've had a lot of positive outcomes, but we've had our fair share of struggles, too. Sometimes we need a training manta to help us get through those hard times. For the March Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, we're reflecting on training mantras: what's the one thing you repeat to yourself over and over when you're training to pump yourself up or keep yourself going?

My training mantra changes depending on which pet I'm working with. Most of the time, it seems like Barley can read my mind--in reality, we've just been working together long enough that I can anticipate her movements and reactions and she can read my body signals before I even have a chance to give verbal cues. On those rare occasions when things fall apart, I go back to one of the earliest mantras we embraced.

Failure is Ok.
I've told the story about a moment early in our training career when our trainer stopped me in the middle of our turn and said, "In agility, you'll fail more times than you'll succeed" many times before. Moments before that, Barley had decided she'd rather make up her own course--which involved jumping on a cart used to move sandbags and skateboarding across the room. We'd been training for a while and we were struggling with focus back then. Week after week, it seemed like we weren't making progress and I was starting to get frustrated. Agility was losing its fun for me, and that was transferring to Barley. The less fun I had, the less fun she had.

When our trainer gave us permission to fail, it was like a flip switched in my brain. We didn't have to be perfect. We were training. We were learning how not to fail and sometimes that requires failure.

The longer we've trained, the more we've seen the importance of embracing failure. If you get everything right the first time, you don't really learn much. When we fail, we get an opportunity to figure out what we can do differently to avoid failing in the future.

When we're not focused on perfection, training stays fun and we actually make more progress than we do when everything comes easily.

By the time Rye and I started training, I was comfortable with failure, and Rye requires a different training mantra. Rye is my independent little monster and she likes to make up her own rules. With Rye, I have to remind myself that she's still learning to read me and I'm still figuring her out. We can't anticipate each other's movements and expectations yet.

It's easier to train a new behavior than to erase an unwanted one.
About a month ago, Rye started getting really worked up after going over a couple jumps in agility class. When that happened, she'd start to pounce on me. When I tried to get her to stop pouncing, she'd get even more excited and start nipping. I'd try to get her to go into a down to regroup and then as soon as I released her over a jump, she'd start all over again. Barley had gone through a phase like this and putting her in an immediate down as soon as she nipped at my arm worked. She quickly caught on that when she jumped at my arm, the fun stopped and it didn't take long to erase the jumping and nipping. That approach wasn't working with Rye. The pouncing was too fun for her to see the value in calming down so she could do a course. We weren't getting anywhere.

When we got home from, I started thinking about how we could stop that behavior. Eventually, I realized that the best way to stop it was to prevent it from starting in the first place. Rye used to do this when we played fetch, but I got her to stop jumping for the toy on my hand by having her lay down before I'd throw it. She quickly caught on that if she wanted the toy thrown, she had to be in a down first. I don't even have to ask for the behavior now. She'll do this for her friend's parents, too. Her friends will be bouncing around waiting for the throw, and Rye will be in a down until it's tossed.

I thought we might be able to transfer this behavior to agility, too. We have one jump set up in the basement for the winter, so I took her down there and we got started. I had her go over the jump and then asked for a down. We did a couple jumps and then asked for another down. We did four jumps and then a down. We spent the week before our next class doing this for about 10 minutes at a time twice a day. 

When we got to class the next week, our trainer was amazed. We started with a quick warm up of one jump followed by a down, then two jumps and a down, and then started our first sequence. Rye didn't pounce once. When we finished the sequence and Rye started running towards me, I asked for a down. She didn't pounce once.

Instead of training Rye to stop pouncing, it was much easier to train her to do something new before she had a chance to pounce. Essentially, this is the same thing I did with all of Barley's reactive dog training. I had to figure out what behavior I wanted instead of lunging and snarling at other dogs and figure out how to get that behavior before she had a chance to react. Now, with Rye, I'm finding myself asking, "What behavior do I want instead and how can I get that first?"

These crazy girls keep me on my toes. Every time I think I've figured out this whole dog training thing, they remind me that I still have plenty of room to grow. Having a few training mantras to refocus us and motivate us makes the tough times a little easier.

This month, we're once again joining our co-hosts Tenacious Little Terrier and Wag 'n Woof Pets for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. Our theme this month is training mantras, but we welcome any positive training posts. Be sure to check out all of the other great blogs joining us this month and come back next month when we explore how we deal with frustration in a positive way.
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