Let’s Go Fly a Kite

Dedicated to: my peeps and Chewy

Who’s to say where the wind will take you
Who’s to know what it is will break you
I don’t know which way the wind will blow ~ U2

P ran, his hair trailing behind him in the wind.  He looked over his shoulder and tripped a little on a jutting root; he picked himself up and sprinted for the field.  A bruise from the day before was tender on his shin but forward he went.

Everyone else followed, squinting into the sun and tasting the peanut butter on their lips from lunch.  They looked out from underneath their eyebrows to the open space filled with air and bugs and pollen and wind.  Past the tree with crispy winter leaves they ran.  Over dusty dirt and trash and weeds into the world they went.

P smelled like sweat and dirty socks, his clothes hung off his skinny frame with a flourish.  Pumping his arms, he could feel his heart beat harder and faster and his breathe came quick.  But his mind saw the plastic flitter in the sky, with a back drop of blue and white, specked with sun.  He could feel the twine between his fingers and the spool un-winding farther and longer until the inevitable dive bomb that meant untangling the line from the pear trees ringing the field and digging burs out of socks and shoes.

The kids behind him were a flailing mass of brown motion; screaming and yelling things P couldn’t hear.  P’s mind jutted out into conscious thought and the word Kite repeated itself over and over; he ran past the gopher skeleton without even seeing it, and ripe fruit on the trees was just a smell in the air.

Some days, P could just sit and drum his fingers on the bench, pick the dirt from under ragged nails, or bite the skin from a chapped lip.  Other days the kids wouldn’t leave him alone until a game of make believe took them to invisible lands. One time all the imaginary friends fought a brutal and bloody battle from which they did not return.  Today P would touch the air.

After it was over, the darkness sent them packing.  The cold took them slowly back to where they had come from.  A can ringing from a kick in the night and his toe aching from the impact, P trudged forward, nothing to show for the day and only a glimmer of thought for the next election.

What Not To Do At An Agility Trial

#1 Do NOT go anywhere without a poop bag. If you do, your dog will decide he has to poop two minutes before your gamblers run. Which is no biggie except some of the poop gets stuck in his butt because he ate grass and it is hanging off, dangling in mid-air.  So the choice:

A) Blow the run, there is no way you’ll get the gamble with a dog who has poo hanging off his butt.
B) Use your bare hands to pull the poo/grass mixture from your dog’s ass and go on to do the gamble, and actually get it, even though hardly anyone else did.

#2 Do NOT drink super good wine before your snooker run. If you do you will NOT remember your course and you will be left to making split decisions with a soggy head and clumsy feet. The only good thing about this tactic is that sometimes certain other people aren’t thinking clearly either so you might get a break in the calls and get a snooker Q anyway!

WhoChi Momma

WhoChi Momma

Ring Around The Tunnel; Pocket Full of Kibble

As published on USDAA.com at https://www.usdaa.com/article.cfm?newsID=2801

Here are some fun exercises to test your handling skills and your dog’s discrimination skills, as well as weave entries. There are two course layouts for these exercises: one involves two jumps and a 15′ tunnel and the other substitutes weave poles for the tunnel.
Exercise #1
The first exercise is to see how many jumps your dog can take while you run around the tunnel in 15 seconds. You would be surprised at the wide turns and off-course tunnels that may occur! If your dog is going wide, stop and reward him at your side a few times after each jump and then try again. If your dog takes the off-course tunnel, make sure you are clearly indicating the jump and saying jump. Then try the sequence in the other direction!
Try the same drill with weave poles (and, no you can’t run through the weaves!). Again, work in both directions.
Exercise #2
 
The second exercise is a bit more complicated.  This sequence includes a front cross (changing sides by turning in to your dog), send, blind cross (changing sides by turning away from your dog), and a rear cross (changing sides while behind your dog). The dog is doing a figure eight: jump, tunnel, jump, tunnel, and so on.
Handling Directions
  • Start with the dog on your left. 
  • Front cross the approach side of the #2 tunnel.
  • Send the dog to #4 tunnel.
  • Blind cross before the dog exits #4 tunnel.
  • Blind cross again at the entrance to #6 tunnel. 
  • Rear cross on the approach side of #8 tunnel.  
You can reverse this drill and go the other direction.
Try this second exercise with the weave poles. It is a great test of weave entries and exits!
Check out the video example: https://youtu.be/CYriNp5nO5k
If you struggle with the handling portion of this game, break it up and reward more frequently (that’s why you have a pocket full of kibble). Use a food or toy reward that you can toss on the ground along the path you want your dog to take. For example, if your dog isn’t getting the send to #4, start at jump #3 and toss the reward on a path towards #4 as your dog takes jump #3. This will encourage him to travel out and the motion of tossing the reward is the same as the handling movement for the send.
The weave pole portion of this game can be very challenging for young dogs! Break it up into smaller sections. Try getting the reward off the handler (give it to a helper), or use a Manners Minder/Treat N Train (a remote treat delivery device) to reward the dog for completing the weaves regardless of handler motion.

Bad Bird Moose 8.30.01 – 4.24.15

Bird's Words

I love you Bird.

At the agility trial last weekend I struggled to smile; I had just lost my old corgi Moose, aka Bird.  I’m not sure too many people noticed I was having a hard time but thanx to those of you who asked if I was ok.  I was not ok.  I was very sad.  Bird came into this world into my hands and left this world while I was holding him and God was it hard.  But I think it was even harder watching everyone complain and bitch and moan about this or that missed contact, or missed weaves, or knocked bar, or off course, or….  And I’m not gonna say I haven’t been there!  Agility is hard, there is a lot of failure, a lot of struggle, a lot of “wish I had” moments; but to put it in perspective, at least you have your dog!  Right there at your side, and they are doing stuff with you!  Cherish those moments!  We have had multiple retirement runs the last few weekends, and some dogs are out due to injury, and some dogs never even got to have a retirement run, agility just ended (Pickle).  You have to treat every run like it is your last!  Throw every ball or Frisbee like it is your last!  Make those moments count!  And while I was holding Bird at the end, I was not listing his titles in my mind, or adding up his accomplishments, I was thinking of those days on the beach, and hiking in the desert, and sleeping on the floor in his bed.  THOSE are the things I cherish and remember.  The titles mean nothing to me now.  They were just boxes in a list that I checked off.  His barking, and wagging, and bossing everybody around will be missed.  I would give back all his Q’s to have it end a different way, more peaceful and calm, but I guess that was part of the journey.  I miss you buddy!  May you rest peacefully under the beautiful mesquite we planted in your memory.

Bird Tree

Bird’s Tree

Moose and Hunda running!

Moose and Hunda running!

Bird On A Bench

Bird On A Bench

Stage Fright and Being Naked!

I was listening to Ted Talk the other day and Joe Kowan was discussing stage fright; the next day I was experiencing stage fright first hand as Bob and I did our first REAL disc demo.  I do agility every day, I run in a trial some weekends, I have trialed at the highest level in agility; I can do agility in my sleep.  Disc on the other hand, is new to me.  And even though I practice, I find it hard.  And even though Bob likes it, he is not perfect.  We have a looooong way to go.

Performing in front of other people causes anxiety and stress, for both the DOG and the HANDLER.  Don’t deny it!  Embrace it!  I knew that doing a Frisbee demo with Bob would be hard.  I had run through my routine a million times in my head, I had done it a few times in real time.  I like to visualize my disc performance or agility run from start to finish, including getting my dog from my crate, pottying them, warming up, doing the run, finishing, rewarding and cooling down.  While this set of steps can help you be successful, don’t get too caught up in the “routine”, you have to be prepared for the unexpected and be flexible with your habits.  Esteban Fernandezlopez discusses this in a Bad Dog Agility Podcast on Improving Mental Game.  I like to plan what I am doing before an agility run but I am not going to freak out if I don’t have my special toy or certain treats.  A routine is a great way to generate confidence at a trial!  Read my post on getting organized for your agility run called Crate to Crate.

The disc demo went well because I trusted Bob to do what we had already done!  And NO!  I didn’t have treats out there!  Just discs and my dog!  We had also trained for this, practicing disc with the treats over on the table (although most of the time the Frisbee is the reward, some tricks like roll over, were taught with treats).  It was hard to step out there in front of a crowd of people, my heart rate was elevated, and my breathing was faster, my thoughts were not clear; I couldn’t even remember all of the steps in our performance!!!  But I took a deep breath, threw the first disc, and FAKED it!!!  And I was naked!  And so was Bob!  No treats!  No collar!  Just trust and love for my dog and doing disc together!

Make sure you practice you AND your dog being naked!  Train like you show, show like you train!  Nothing is worse than your dog going through an extinction behavior (like not releasing from the dogwalk) because they are suddenly not getting treats at the rate they gets treats in training.  Set up your training so that it is similar to how you trial!

When you are new to agility, obedience, flyball, schutzhund, tracking, fill in the blank with your dog sport of choice, you need a list of steps (called steps to perform) that you are going to mostly follow from start to finish, you need a positive attitude and a smile, you need a love for your dog and a trust in what you have done during training and you need to remember that you are doing this because it is FUN!  Force yourself to smile if you have to!

If it isn’t fun, if it is too stressful, if your dog checks out and you can’t get them back, if you are vomiting in the bathroom (Cynosports 2009, not me but some unknown GP finalist), you should probably reassess your goals.  We are NOT curing cancer!!!  It is a dog sport!  It is a hobby!

Here is a worksheet to help you design your own list of steps to perform, .  This is just one of many worksheets that help my clients and I to be successful on our agility journey!

bob disc demo

bob disc demo

If Moose Were A Man or If Dreams Came True – A Doggy Fairy Tail

If Moose were a man, he would write me love letters and bring me breakfast in bed.  If Moose were a man, he would hold my hand and kiss me every chance he got.  If Moose were a man, he would love me for who I am, not for who he wanted me to be and not for who I wanted to be.   But….Moose is not a man.  He is my dog.

He is very soft.  He can curl up on my pillow in a single pile.  He can lick my hand until I fall asleep.   He can gulp raw chicken in one swallow.  These are all qualities love in my Moose but might not like so much in a man.  But the other things that my Moose has to offer would be invaluable in a man.

Moose and I share the same pillow.  He takes up most of it and I get a corner.  But he stays in his spot all night.  If he were a man, he would be capable of spooning for most of the night regardless of whether his arm fell asleep.

Moose is an agility dog, trained to the highest level.  If Moose were a man he would take directions from me and proceed to fulfill them with no questions asked. He does not argue with me when I tell him to ‘go tunnel’.  He doesn’t bark at me when I tell him to ‘down’ before he eats his dinner.

Moose goes everywhere with me.  He will go on walks, hang out at the coffee shop, visit my parents, and swim at the lake.  He doesn’t care about the destination, as long as he is with me.  If Moose were a man, he would go shopping with me, even to super Wal-Mart.  He would be on time and jump in the car with no questions asked.

Moose protects me from strangers; even if he is only 11” at the shoulder, and 28 pounds.  He can bark, whine, and snap as well as any Schutzhund-trained shepherd.  If Moose were a man he would stand between me and all evils.  He would fight tooth and nail if any harm were to come my way.

Moose can sense my mood at all times.  He can hang out and be quiet while I grade papers or he can jump around the room chasing flies while Metallica blares from the stereo.  If he were a man, he would know when to deliver chocolate, he would see my need for silence in the morning, and he would sing along when YMCA played on the radio.

Occasionally I kiss Moose on the nose and pause, waiting to see if he springs into a man.  He would be tall with brown hair and a goatee.  A twinkle in his eyes would tell me everything I need to know and we would be off, holding hands into the sunset.  But…Moose is not a man.  He is my dog.  So, I pat him on the head and he licks my hand.  Maybe he wishes I was a dog.

Moose playing

Moose playing

Agility Dog Punch Card!

Written as part of the Blog Agility Action Day on Health and Happiness

My friend and orthopedic vet, Dr. Jessica Waldman, VDM, of California Animal Rehabilitation, told me, “Your agility dog came with a punch card!”  Agility dogs are athletes, and as with any athlete, there are a finite number of years that they can compete.  There are a finite number of times your agility dog can do the a-frame, the weave poles, 26” jumps, etc.

Luckily if you lost your dog’s punch card, you can get another one!  Be thoughtful about how many times you do the a-frame every week.  Work weave entries and exits on less than 12 poles, train foundation and new skills on jumps with no bar or low bars.  Develop focus and relationship skills using fun tricks and body awareness activities.  Go for a hike!  Find as many ways as possible to keep your dog’s mind and body fresh for their agility job without doing agility.

Many handlers want that last QQ at the expense of an older dog’s body.  Their dog’s punch card is used up but they still enter every trial in search of that MACH/ADCH/NATCH/Etc.  I know a few people who have quit while they were only a few QQ’s or points, or whatever away from that last title.  I know many more handlers who are still out there, with dogs who shouldn’t be, still plugging away at another championship.  I’m pretty sure when the time comes; you aren’t going to remember your dog has 13 MACH’s.  You are going to remember the hikes! And your dog’s companionship, and having them next to you at night, and hugging them when you were sad, and how they kept your feet warm in winter, and, and.

If you use your dog’s punch card up doing agility they aren’t going to having anything left when it comes time for going up and down the stairs, or getting in or out of the car, or going to get the paper.  I miss doing agility with my retired dog Pickle, but I cherish walking around the block with him, looking for sticks and just hanging out!  Pickle’s punch card is worn and tattered.  I could have quit sooner; I’m glad I quit when I did!

Happy Pickle

Happy Pickle

Snooker 101: How To Play USDAA Snooker With FLOW & FUN!

***Disclaimer- I am teaching you how to play Snooker with your dog’s happiness as a priority and to get a Q.  If you want to learn Snooker strategy to win and get Super Q’s, please read Dave Hanson’s Snooker article at http://www.usdaa.com/binary/files/SnookerHanson.pdf

Snooker is a game played in USDAA agility.  It involves an opening of the handler’s choice and a closing of the judge’s choice.  Red jumps are taken, and IF completed successfully, allow the opportunity of taking a numbered/colored obstacle.  In the opening, numbered/colored obstacles, earn points if completed successfully.  If NOT complete successfully in the opening, you earn no points but can continue.  In the closing, if a numbered/colored obstacle is NOT completed successfully, the whistle blows.

ALWAYS read your Snooker course map and go to the briefing so you will know if it is 3 reds, 4 reds OR 3 or 4 reds, (or 4 of 5 reds, or…)!  You also need to know the time set for the course, as well as any other judge specific rules (#6A and #6B must be taken in flow, or combo #5 is any jump weaves, etc.)

It is best to look at designing your Snooker strategy by working BACKWARDS from the closing.  Always look at the closing, determine where number 2 is and how is the best way to get there from your opening.

Pick an opening sequence that utilizes FLOW.  Even a Super Q can happen with a course that runs smoothly.  In Advanced and Starters, FLOW should be the number one priority!  Get your minimum points on a course that allows your dog to work in extension, keep it safe and fun!

You only need 37 points to qualify in Snooker.  If you make it through the closing to number 7 you have earned 27 points; you only need 37 to qualify, so that makes a total of 10 points needed in the opening.  Or you could plan on getting through number 5 in the closing, and then you would need 23 points in the opening.  Or. Or. Or.  Get out a calculator!!

Red jumps are worth 1 point and if taken successfully, allow you to take a numbered/colored obstacle for points.  YOU CAN ONLY TAKE A RED JUMP ONCE IN THE OPENING.

Start with the hardest to get to red jump and end with the red jump that flows into the number 2 of the closing.

Your course needs to consist of the following: red jump, numbered/colored obstacle, red jump, numbered/colored obstacle, red jump, numbered/colored obstacle, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Think of the opening and the closing as a course!  Renumber it on your course map starting with 1 and ending with whatever number gets you to the last part of the closing.  I know you are allowed to “think on your feet” in snooker, but some dogs can’t handle the stress and will shut down.  I do not “think on my feet” with those dogs.  I run my course and leave if a whistle sounds!  I do not sacrifice my dog’s happiness and speed for anything!

Technically you can go to another red if your dog has performed a red incorrectly by knocking it.  I reserve this strategy for DAM/PVP.  Again, I run my course in flow and if the whistle blows, I leave!

**Try to plan a course that is do-able for your dog; don’t plan on 3 weave poles when your dog misses entries.  Make sure you can complete the course in the time allotted, weaves and contacts take longer than jumps and tunnels!

Refusals do not count in the opening, and do count in the closing.

If you fault a numbered/colored obstacle, you MUST complete it in the opening.

Snooker Checklist

  • Find hardest red jump, start your opening with that jump
  • Find #2 obstacle, plan to end your opening close to #2
  • Walk the closing
  • Plan an opening with flow
  • Re-number your course map
  • Memorize the opening and closing as one course
  • Plan a reasonable course for you and your dog’s skills
  • Leave when the whistle blows

Here is a fun course from cynosports 2014 to study and come up with a plan that has FLOW and is FUN for your dog!

Snooker Course

Snooker Course

Here is Eric’s briefing:

Start jump is bidirectional, must be taken to start your run and if taken again, ends your run!  The finish jump is live at all times and will end your run!

3 or 4 reds!

Combos are bidirectional in the opening!

Times:

  1. Champ 26/22 and P 20/16    45 secs
  2. Champ 18/16 and P 12         50 secs
  3. Champ  14/12 and P 8          55 secs

Agility Game called “It’s MY choice!”

The other day we played a game in class called, “It’s MY Choice!”.  It was designed to “mess” with my students heads a little bit, make them think on their feet, and keep things fun and sassy!  The way it worked was I numbered a course and the immediate obstacle after a contact was “my choice”.  In this photo, the jump after the teeter is “my choice”.  I called what they were going to do before the teeter.

Agility Game "It's MY choice"

For example, a tunnel  after a contact could be left side, right side, do it twice, front cross after, skip entirely, etc.  A jump could be backside, rear, front before, blind before, skip entirely, do it twice, etc.  It was fun and made for some quick thinking.  Handlers also had to walk all of these options during their walk through so they could be ready for what I called.  I do think accessing the mental image of the course as we are running in real time is hard for a lot of people.  The practice of memorizing multiple scenarios and executing “on the fly”, made the handlers use their brain in a meaningful way.

Here is the course we ran.  It’s in a small building, I recommend less obstacles for such a small space but I do not own the building.  Luckily you can use any course with contact obstacles!

"It's MY choice" course

Are You Nagging Your Dog?

I have been thinking about dog training lately; specifically about how we communicate with our dogs.
In the basic essence and over simplified philosophy of dog training you are rewarding what you like and ignoring what you don’t like.  Although negative reward markers MIGHT have their place in training occasionally, I do see them being over used.  Things like “eh”, “ah”, “no”, a heavy sigh, slouching of shoulders, blaming the dog for a mistake, etc can turn your dog off from their task.  And corrections certainly have no place in our made up “fun” sport of agility.  Instead, try ignoring what went wrong, or laugh like a silly goose as you say “let’s go try again” in a happy voice!
These two articles (links below) are great at describing how things we do as trainers can shut a dog down.  Nancy Tanner’s article says “Wanting or expecting a behavior from your dog that is perfect, and not allowing it to happen with time and maturity, will in fact shut your dog down.”  And the Dogwood article says “Imagine if every time you raised your hand and tried to answer a question in class your teacher screams at you “NO YOU ARE WRONG”. No matter how many ways or times you tried to answer the question, you were told that you were wrong and never told what the correct answer was.”
Anecdotal evidence from my experience training Bob tells me this is true (my friend Amber was present and can corroborate this story).  Bob is VERY soft, and doesn’t have inherent drive for agility.  When I was teaching his weave poles he started out awesome!  And then we had a session where things went south, I responded in a “eh” sort of way, put too much pressure on him, slouched and sighed, as I tried again and again, and he was done.  It took many sessions to regain what we had.  And I created even more worry for agility in his mind.  I re-experienced this with him training a Frisbee trick just the other day!  I was teaching a backwards circle through my legs.  He didn’t quite get it, and started to worry (I can see it in his eyes and body posture).  I decided to go all the way back to using food and going step by step because Bob was not having fun.  I took my time, NEVER marked anything with a negative, ignored when it went bad, and partied when it went well.  IT TOOK 2 WEEKS!  Which, in my mind is a really long time.  But that is Bob.  And now???? You can’t get him to not to the trick, and he slams through it like it is the funnest thing ever (ouch, my poor knees and calves).  But if I had made those “no” noises, I doubt if we would have gotten the trick to happen.  And we just did our trick in public, Bob was HAPPY to do it, no worries!!
Bob backwards circle through legs

Bob backwards circle through legs

In a Bad Dog Agility Podcast Denise Fenzi used a great example about negative reward markers by describing the of teaching of math to a little kid.  If you are going through the multiplication tables and you get to the sixes and the child starts having a hard time with 6 X 3, do you say “NO that is wrong?” and make them repeat it 5 times?  They probably aren’t going to get it right no matter how many times you do it.  Better to go back to the basics, talk about 6 X 1 and 6 X 2, do the three’s, show a number line using sixes, etc. And praise the child when they are correct, even if it is a small piece.  Those pieces add up over time!  Would you want to work for someone who only told you when you were wrong? Or verbally pointed it out every time you made a mistake?

Try it!  Go run a small sequence, and notice if you are correcting, using “no”, making the dog repeat, slouching, etc.  If you are, try to ignore the things you don’t like, just be quiet and focus on the things that are AWESOME, reward those things!  And then go back and break down the things your dog is struggling with, chances are you were causing the mistake anyway 🙂 so why would you correct or negatively mark something that was your fault?  Agility is a game we play with our dogs.  We are NOT curing cancer.  And no body died.
Here are the two articles:

http://nancytanner.com/2015/01/18/shutting-a-dog-down/

Hug your dogs!  Run EVERY run like it is your last, because you just never know. 🙂