Monday, January 4, 2010

Always Makes Me Smile

So cool, we got in an extra training class today.

Yesterday was our official class, Intermediate and Advanced Rally. I actually drove down from Orford to Troy on Saturday morning so that I could be sure to make class on Sunday. The forecast was pretty wishy-washy as to how much snow there was going to be over the weekend, as well as where and when it was going to be, so I opted to drive the almost-two-hours Saturday morning, as that seemed to be the most likely snow-free window. It was a good call, we didn't get snowed in and we made it to class.

Both Bethena and Iggy did great yesterday, although I was lagging at the end of the hour and a half. Iggy made progress on his jumping, which is a Level 2 exercise. He and I still haven't figured out how I can be 6 feet away from the jump while he is going over it, but he seems to like to do it. Bethena and I worked on "stay" -- which is a pretty basic exercise, but it is what she got her two NQs on at the December 19 trial. She just doesn't see the point in keeping her little backside in one place when she could be moving on to something else.

The more difficult exercises are, in some ways, a lot easier for Bethena. She is very happy thinking about what to do next, trying to figure something out. She made lots of progress yesterday on "back up" from the heel position, but she's having trouble with "back up" from a "front." She thinks it makes a lot more sense to get into heel position and move forward with me than to simply back up in front of me. We'll have to work on that.

Today, we were able to sit in on another rally class that didn't have a big enrollment. I played hooky from work for 45 minutes or so and took both dogs over to the Training Center. The class was designed to focus on basic exercises, so it was perfect for working on some of Bethena's "stay" issues (she did much better) as well as on Iggy's pivots and a few of the other Level 2 exercises. Both dogs had fun, although they were very tired by the end of class. All the walks in the snow over the last few days and the two classes have finally worn them (and me!) out.

The best part was that, just like with our regularly scheduled classes, I left class feeling better than when I walked in. Smiles indeed.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Twists and Turns

Hmmmm. It's been awhile.

Things have changed. New job, new training class, new venues. We're now taking classes at the Monadnock Humane Society, a necessity now that I'm working on Thursdays, when our old class met. The class is great, lots of fun, wonderful people and dogs, a super teacher, and just concentrating on rally obedience.

We're doing APDT (the Association of Pet Dog Trainers) rally-o now. This is primarily because Bethena has some arthritis in her elbow and started refusing jumps. In APDT (unlike AKC rally), you can have the jumps lowered if you have a medical reason for doing so. APDT is not only willing to make accomodations for dogs (and handlers) with disabilities, but they also allow all dogs to compete -- not just purebred, AKC-recognized breeds.

Our first trial was last Saturday at MHS. Iggy and Bethena were both entered in three Level 1 trials, as A dogs, meaning they hadn't earned their Level 1 title yet. (After you earn your title, you can continue to compete in that level, but you do it in a separate class, as a B dog.) It was a long and tiring day, but they held up really well.

In the first trial, Bethena had a beautiful, beautiful run and got lots of compliments. She also got an NQ (non-qualifying) score, because she popped up out of a down. Although you can retry many things for not doing an exercise beautifully, not staying in a "sit" or a "down" after you've been in position is not one of them. Iggy, on the other hand, was tied for first after the run! He was in a run-off with two other dogs and ended up in third place because of a tight leash error by me.

In the second trial, Bethena was a little sloppier but garnered a pink fifth place rosette while Iggy qualified without placing.

By the time of the third trial, I was fading fast. Bethena had another great run, but another NQ from popping out of a sit. I have to admit I was disappointed -- it's all well and good to talk about having fun, but I know she can do all of these things and I want everyone else to know it too. She has so much fun and is so bright and happy, I'm glad that's an obvious quality about her (even if it can be an overwhelming sort of happiness at times....).

Iggy had another great run at the end too, he is such a good boy and will always do what I ask (as long as he understands what I'm asking). Not nearly as flashy as Bethena, his style is more deliberate. In some ways, they are kind of like the tortoise and the hare. As in that fable, the tortoise won out here, too -- Iggy got another third place, this time winning another three-way run-off! With his third qualifying run of the day, Iggy got his RL1 title.

Once we were done, I helped out for the last Level 2 trial, serving as the time keeper for those runs. (In all classes except 1-A, I believe, ties are settled by time. I don't know why Level 1-A is different.) Normally, runs are posted by competitor's number and dog name, so this was my first chance to see competitor's names. In the "small world" department of the day, it turned out that I had gone to school with one of the other people entered in the trial in Norwalk, Connecticut. Hunh.

Now we are entered at the end of January in the next trial at MHS. It will be just one trial that day, Iggy is entered in Level 2-A and Level 1-B and Bethena is entered in Level 1-A. I guess between now and then, we'll have to work on getting Iggy up to speed on the Level 2 exercises, like jumping!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Good News

The results from the lab today are pretty clear that Bethena's NOT Addisonian. While it's frustrating to know that it's fairly likely that she's got some sort of food intolerance (those can be very hard to pin down), it's good to know that I don't need to worry about things like obedience trials and heat stressing her out any more than they might any other dog. (The really interesting part of this is that we stim-tested another dog the same day. This other dog had fewer changes than Bethena (who had relatively mild changes) but came back as Addisonian. She did much better yesterday after getting some steroids and will start regular treatment next week.)

Bethena must have known that I was less stressed this afternoon; she was less stressed, too. We played lots of frisbee (in bursts -- while it was less hot, it was still wicked hot for this part of New Hampshire) and she really enjoyed herself. Iggy helped by pointing out to her that what he perceives as the boredom of continuously retrieving the same object can be alleviated by playing tug-of-war with said object. As far as self-actualization goes, you can't get much better than a Labrador playing so hard that collapse on a shady spot of lawn is more important than eating delicacies such as fermented-lawn-mower-grass-leavings and mushrooms.

Now they are both sacked out napping, Iggy on the couch and Bethena on the floor at my feet. They attended to my wounds when I came in from berry picking with layers of mosquito bites. While I suppose that some of their ministrations were due to sweat and salt, I'd like to think that some were due to them knowing how inflamed my skin was and how much I needed a good Labrador lick.

I'll see how the day goes tomorrow, but if they seem happy I might try some very informal fun rally-type stuff in the front yard. When Bethena's in that groove (as she was in Boston in June) and when Iggy's in a spot where he's not distracted, they have lots of fun with that -- and that's the whole point, having fun.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mini-Break, Kind Of

It's finally summer-like here, it has been hot and humid and nasty lately. We've done a little bit of work in the front yard and at class, but I haven't wanted to stress the dogs much. Neither one of them does well in the sun when it's that hot, their black coats absorb so much heat.

I did try to work a little bit with Iggy on the Haverhill common this morning. We tried heeling. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Most of what we did was Iggy paying attention to me only when he had a hope of a food reward soon (i.e. if he could see me holding a treat). He did, however, pay lots of attention to all the little whitish mushrooms that had popped up all over the place. He kept lunging after them while I tried to get his attention away from them. Obviously, not only was he supposed to be paying attention to me but I didn't want him eating the mushrooms, which he clearly thought were a wonderful delicacy. North Conway in September might be an unrealistic goal for the two of us.

Bethena's still had some focus issues, so taking a break will hopefully be good for her. She's had on and off diarrhea (which started about the same time as the stress of the Hopkinton shows) and her potassium is a little high and her sodium:potassium ratio is a little low, so she is having an ACTH stim test today to make sure she doesn't have Addison's disease. While it's pretty unlikely that she actually has that, we need to rule it out. So, Iggy and I are at home and Shana will call when she is done with the test (only takes an hour, but Bethena HATES restraint). Bethena is scared of needles so it takes people she trusts and who are strong to hold her; she might even need sedation. When I got the blood on Tuesday to do the basic bloodwork, she was OK for the first stick but when I went to try to do an ACTH stim myself (Shana was on vacation), she bucked like a bronco and was scared and nervous and (surprise) I was pretty stressed, which didn't help. She's better for Shana but I think she'll still be stressed enough that she might need a little sedation.

So, I'm thinking about making jam and Iggy is taking a nap and we are waiting for Bethena to be done. When it cools down a bit, we'll go back to doing a little more practicing.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Making Your Own Fun

Sometimes, if things aren't very interesting on their own, you have to make your own fun. Bethena (and her sister Ella) were all about that the past two days.

Wednesday morning was a nasty, nasty day weather-wise. It was oppressively humid and very hot (for New Hampshire standards; my flat-lander parents thought the heat wasn't as bad as we did). At least it wasn't sunny most of the time; the clouds were fairly thick and only rarely let a little sun shine through. I had my cooler full of ice water for the dogs, turned their crate fans on, and parked in our usual shady spot under the pine trees where Heide also parked with Ella and Cola. (Several other obedience competitors also parked up there, a little ways away from the action, but definitely the shadiest place to park on the fairgrounds.)

The judge Wednesday morning for rally went a little slowly. There was a delay in the Excellent class when one of the first competitors ate all of the treats from one of the off-set figure 8 bowls. The delay happened because the judge didn't have any more treats to put into the bowl so had to ask the people under the tent (i.e. the exhibitors) whether any of them had any treats she could use for the remainder of the trial. WHY the judge and the handler let the dog eat the treats is beyond me. As one of the other exhibitors commented, it's going to take MONTHS to break the dog of the habit of going to the food bowls now that she has learned that when you do the offset figure 8 you get treats.

Anyway, it was a little bit of a wait until time for the Advanced class, but that is not unusual. During the wait, Bethena and Ella barked back and forth to each other from their respective crates in their respective cars, both frustrated that they were isolated instead of playing. Both Heide and I got them out a couple of times to walk around, but we couldn't take them long or far because it was so hot and humid.

When showtime finally came around, Ella was immediately before Bethena because the dog who was supposed to be in between us was absent. Ella wasn't in the mood to pay a whole lot of attention to the course; there were much more interesting things in the offset figure 8 treat bowl and outside the ring. After she ran out of the ring (or tried to) twice, she was done for the day. Bethena didn't do any differently, she was panting and hot and knew Ella had just been there and pretty much made a cursory attempt at staying with me but really didn't want to be there. She also tried to make off with food from the treat bowl and we got excused. That was probably a good thing, as finishing would have been even more stressful for both of us.

I think the humidity (and the heat) really got to Bethena much more than I realized at the time, and if I had understood how bad she felt, I would have pulled her from the trial. She definitely felt sick after the trial for several hours, was drooling (and nauseous) and had some diarrhea. When we finally got home, she crashed and slept hard for most of the rest of the day and night. I felt awful that she didn't feel well, but Shana checked her out and didn't find anything too serious (no dehydration or anything).

Yesterday morning, Bethena definitely felt better. Everything was normal, the weather was much cooler and drier, and we hit the road. This time, I took them swimming first to help get some ya-yas out and to get her wet so she would stay a little cooler (hopefully). I stopped to see if Heide wanted to bring Ella and Cola too; we couldn't decide if they would be better off seeing each other and playing ahead of time (so they wouldn't be pining for each other) or whether they should not see each other at all (as opposed to the day before, when they saw each other a little bit). In the end, Heide wasn't ready to go anyway, so they ended up not seeing each other at all before going into the ring.

That might have been a mistake. OTOH, it might not have made any difference. Bottom line is that there wasn't any big difference in performances from either one of them between Wednesday and Thursday. In warm-up, Bethena was definitely paying more attention to me Thursday and was much brighter. Once we got under the tent, however, I lost her. I had thought about bringing her down much earlier and keeping her with me in the shade so she could get used to the situation and the other dogs, but that would have put her where Ella would see her ahead of time and I knew that Heide wanted to try to go in the ring without that happening. The situation under the tent, though, should not have been a big surprise to her -- she has been in that situation plenty of times before. The biggest differences were that she hadn't been out as much as usual and hadn't been hanging around the ring beforehand as much as usual.

I didn't see Ella's performance, but I hear that she immediately ran to where the food had been the day before and ran around the ring and basically had a grand old time without acknowledging Heide's presence at all. After they left the ring, there was one dog between her and Bethena. When Bethena got in the ring, she immediately ran off as well. We got through a very small portion of the course before I asked to be excused because I didn't want Bethena to get the idea that doing whatever she wants to in the ring was OK. Later, I asked the on-lookers if Bethena had gone where Ella had been and found out that she had basically tracked Ella's path. She is SO good at tracking, maybe we should switch to trying to get a tracking title for her!

Heide and I think that Bethena and Ella illustrated the past two days a combination of an "I'm too smart to care about stupid old rally when there's real life outside the ring" and "I've already shown you I can do that so why should I do it again?" attitude, perhaps combined with a little "What, me worry?" attitude on Ella's part. What made those days different from the days in Boston where Bethena just shone in the ring, I might not ever know.

We had fun though, and going to a show is always a good day. A lot of people from class were very successful not only fun-wise but also qualifying-wise. Cola got her first two RA legs and placed both days; Olivia got two RE legs; and Flash got a few legs toward her RAE. Congratulations!

In retrospect, I have decided that their love-of-life attitude is a genetically predetermined trait for Bethena and Ella so their behavior is not their fault or their handler/trainers' faults. Three years ago, when they were still not a year old, we had a reunion of sorts in Canada with Ella and Heide, Bethena and me, their littermate Woody and breeder Bev, and their mother Florence and breeder Jean-Louis.

Bethena is the black one, Woody has his eyes closed in the first picture, Ella is sitting directly in front of Heide, and Florence is the one acting up in both pictures. There are two other pictures from the same day that are similar. While the rest of us were able to look at the camera at least once, Jean-Louis had his hands full trying to get Florence to settle down.... Like mother, like daughters.

Heide is thinking that she won't continue to do rally with Ella, just with Cola (who is awesome and was HIT (high in trial) at the Potomac specialty a few years ago out of Novice B). I wish that they could be together, but I think it would take some work to figure out what the right conditions would be. In class, they can do it even when the other is there, but I think that is because they are able to see each other and visit more than they were able to at the show. We'll have to see how things go and I need to think about whether and who to enter at North Conway.

P.S. Iggy was there both days and was (mostly) a very good boy. He was very excited and wanted to play, but that was only to be expected.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Countdown to Showtime

The first trial at Hopkinton is tomorrow. Bethena and I have been able to do some practicing, but not a lot. Last week at class she did really well. We did two run-thrus; I could tell she was tired for the second one, but I was still able to keep her focus (most of the time). We were able to do our run-thrus right after Heide and Ella then Heide and Cola, which was nice because we are right after Heide and Cola both days at Hopkinton. Bethena is going to have to pay attention to me instead of to Auntie Heide, who she thinks is one of the best people in the world.

Part of the issue is that Bethena loves company and loves a new audience. She demonstrated that last night when my parents got her. I don't think she stopped moving for two and a half hours. The whole time they brought things in from the car, got settled, had dinner, and sat on the couch after dinner before bed, she was in constant motion -- toy in mouth, wiggling her butt, panting (with the toy still in her mouth) with excitement. Of course, she likes to share the joy, so much of the time she was trying to put the toy in your face (which usually meant running into your leg because she couldn't reach your face). When she gets focused on her audience, sometimes the show is more important than the script.

I did get my new scent articles. Bethena is great at tracking and can play the "where is it?" game with hidden biscuits really well. Trying to get her to understand that I want her to sniff an article and choose an article based on the way it smells is a whole different issue. I suspect there will be a break-through moment where all of a sudden she gets it and then we will be all set. Until then, it will be a matter of patience.

Iggy has been able to take it easy, too. We have done a little heeling in the front yard, but not a lot. It has been rainy and I have been on call,so we haven't had a lot of time. Once Hopkinton is done, I will have to start working and proofing him more.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Made It to Hanover

While I never get as much done on my "free" weekends as I expect to (or hope to), we did make it to Hanover yesterday and today to practice heeling on the green. Iggy did very well, all things considered, and was a little less tempted today to sniff and sight-see than he was yesterday. This morning there was another lab there and Iggy managed to keep his attention on me -- most of the time. Too bad it was in large part due to treats!! The attention with distractions and without treats will come, but it will be a slow process.

Bethena did some great free-form rally-o heeling. It has to be on-leash because it's a busy and unfenced place, but it's still good practice. Today, she even did a figure-8 around two treats that I used as posts without trying to eat the treat-posts! Yeah! (She did get to eat the treats as a reward for doing such a good job.) We have used our new jumps a little bit; it's so nice to have them in the front yard where I can incorporate them into her heeling/rally practices. I haven't used them yet to try to work on any open exercises, although it is on my to-do list.

I was very extravagant and did order official utility scent articles from J&J yesterday. Martha really likes Deborah Jones's book Click n Sniff for formal AKC utility scent training and she also has Roy Hunter's Fun Nosework for Dogs. Hunter's book isn't geared toward the utility exercises, but it has lots of cool things to do with your dog. Anyone interested in lots of information about all sorts of sites related to obedience should check out Dr. P's Dog Obedience web page.

We did manage to get in a swim at the pond this morning before doing a little training. They ran and ran and ran and Bethena swam a lot (tho she is reduced to retrieving the rope from the kong toy, as the toy itself sank after they played tug with it too much and several attempted rope/kong repairs left the float inside the kong inoperable). Iggy makes lots of noise running around, but his cowbell lets me know where he is. He is enough of a boy that he doesn't always think ahead to things like "what will happen if I get out of sight and can't find my way back?" After having one episode almost a year ago where we were in the woods and he decided he didn't need to come when called (for half an hour, during which I was crazy-insane screaming his name and Bethena was fretfully searching with me), it was a long time before I let him off-leash again. Only recently have I had him off-leash when I was by myself and didn't have a friend walking with me. His recall was rock-solid when he was a puppy, but as he got past 8 or 9 months old, it started falling apart. The day he pulled his disappearing act he was about 13 months old and he got neutered the next day. He has been better since then, but I have also been a lot less trusting since then.

Hopefully the weather will get a little better (it was about 60 degrees all day today and mostly cloudy) for training over the next two weeks before the next shows in Hopkinton (Wednesday and Thursday). Bethena is entered there in rally advanced b.