September 24, 2012

Goodbye Freilance

Last Thursday and Friday I had my last lessons at Freilance dog sports. What sad days! I have been taking lessons from Sharon regularly for a little over a year now, and it made all the difference in my life! It was THE thing I waited for every week! Having this community and these special people to train with really helped me adapt to my new life that is so very different from what I'm used to. I think, in part, the dog training made the connection between past and present life. For a long time, you see, I felt like I had life A in Finland being person A, and then I moved to life B being a person B. It's actually hard to explain why I felt so disconnected with my past at first. Now on the other hand, my life feels like my life and I feel like me. Like I said, partly thanks to agility training! That is the one thing I've done both in Finland and here, with the same dog, using the same language. And it's been wonderful! Sharon filled all my expectations! She is accurate, technical, knowledgeable and just all in all an amazing trainer!

During the past week Vanilla has really made good progress. It really makes a difference when you train twice a week plus weekend competition! Also, we had no problems with the teeter.. Sharon said it's most likely just difference in the equipment. I'm sure that also if  I'm less nervous and remember to tell her to slow down in time we'll get over our little teeter problem. Next thing we need to practice with her is staying on the contact even when I run way past. I've been doing the running past a little bit, but obviously not far enough. When I go further than 15 feet she gets off! (Note to self: when running by and she stays, throw the toy past her/close to her and then release, throwing itself is not the release!) I need to start practicing those contacts somehow. It's going to be a little tricky while cruising, but Sharon and I talked about using the ramps that go down on the docks in different marinas or basicly anything that would resemble a sloping down contact. I've tried it in Benicia, but since we also walk the same ramps constantly for other reasons it's hard to get Vanilla to do it only occasionally. But while cruising I guess we are going to change locations frequently so maybe I can just practice that in every marina, every time I take her in/out. I also need to practice more lateral distance with all obstacles. Obstacle discrimination seems to have gotten better and better and my handling at difficult courses with lots of turns; I can actually keep up with the dog! Rear crosses are getting better, but I need more practice on an individual obstacle while turning left. That's definitely Vanilla's 'bad side'.

Having to leave this place and these people makes me sad. But I feel very fortunate and happy to have had the opportunity to get to know everyone and be a part of this "dog-community". I will keep my lessons in mind when training Vanilla and I will definitely continue agility after our cruise (or even during if at all possible). So this is not the last you've seen about our agility career! I'm actually really excited to try to figure out how to do dog training while sailing or at achor or on some desolate beach somewhere south... Hmm.

September 18, 2012

First AKC Agility Trials!

Well I wouldn't say it was quite a success but it wasn't a waste of money either! We (at least Vanilla) had fun, got a lot of experience, and some good runs whether or not we qualified. First day I was a nervous wreck and could hardly communicate, thankfully my husband was taking care of all the necessities and I could just focus on focusing :). I survived though, and Vanilla ofcourse was perfectly herself, maybe a little bit more yappy. First run was a standard course, pretty nice otherwise but had a rear cross in the end that I dreaded. I thought our problems would be weaves and/or the rear cross or me forgetting the course, or Vanilla jumping the A-frame. Well. Not quite. Instead of any of these mistakes (these all went nicely), Vanilla ran through the teeter (for the first time in ages), then I forgot to wait for the go on the table (what an idiot!), and then I didn't get Vanilla in the tunnel on the first attempt: I turned towards the next obstacle too early, Vanilla caught it and pulled away from the tunnel. So there we go.

I was hoping for a little more success on the jumpers course, but I was babysitting Vanilla's weaves (2.nd obstacle) by stepping in and Vanilla pushed away and entered incorrectly. Well, another try and everything went well, only thing was that while redoing the weaves I blacked out on the course and ofcourse didn't find the right obstacle. After recovering we did the rest of the course beautifully and a lot of people commented how fast Vanilla was.

I was convinced that the second day would go better. Now I knew that Vanilla could do it, that I could do it, I wasn't quite as nervous, even though I still had shaky hands. We went on the standard course me having decided that this time the teeter will go well and I will wait on the table for the judge. The waiting part did go well ofcourse, but this time Vanilla did the thing I expected the first day -> ran so fast that she couldn't stop on the table. After that we also had problems entering the weaves again and she ran full speed through the teeter!! I just couldn't believe it. And I even told her more firmly this time to slow down. Ah, I guess it was my speed that made her run faster, I should have slowed down more myself, both for the table and the teeter.

Good parts were the nice contacts on dog walk and A-frame again today! We've definitely made progress on that part during the last year! She looked really good!

The last course of the weekend was the second Jumpers with weaves- course (JWW) and that went awesome! I even did two rear crosses, both to the easier and the harder side, Vanilla was watching me so well! I remembered the course and was running full speed towards the goal and then.... Vanilla dropped the second to last bar.. argh :) But she did SO well, I should've ran a little slower I guess. Maybe next time I can handle myself a little better, I'm sure most (if not all) our mistakes are due to my own errors in handling! Looking forward to our next time in the agility ring!

September 14, 2012

"Stop? What do you mean stop?" -Vanilla

Both today and yesterday I had agility lessons with Vanilla. This week our training has concentrated on lateral distance, weavepole entries and the basic 'how to cue your dog right when running the course'. Vanilla is getting really good about me going further away at the start (and she hasn't run the start line once in several weeks). We have been even practicing some obstacle discrimination with a dog walk as a 3rd obstacle on the course with a tunnel right next to it and me standing a little further back. Slowly we have been able to get more distance and still get the right obstacle.

I'm getting more lateral distance on jumps, tunnels etc. but I we still have problems with the contact obstacles. When I run past, she mostly takes the contacts really nicely, especially on the dog walk, but for some reason if I run lateral and not past her, she won't get on the contact straight or lies down before her two front paws are on the dirt (our goal is 2 on- 2 off). She does TAKE the contact though, which is really good, but I've quickly adopted the meticulous standards of my trainer Sharon and can't stand those little technical inaccuracies. Right now I feel the best thing to do would be to just go and practice those individual things by themselves before adding more difficulty to the courses we're running. Of course today we were running courses with a little more advanced dogs and that may have made me feel more this way. On the other hand I should be proud of Vanilla, she did really well and blended in nicely with the rest of the group. Oh how nice it would be if she worked this well every time.

We had trouble getting Vanilla to finish weavepoles yesterday towards a dark corner of the course and decided to reinforce already at pole 8-9 on the opposite side of the poles from where I was at. Did that a couple of times yesterday and today we had really nice weavepoles on that same spot. I should later on also keep in mind that the "placement of reward changes the behavior" as Sharon repeats over and over. So where ever I decide to reward Vanilla is what I'm reinforcing. And in our case on the weavepoles we should practice me running ahead and throwing the reward back into the weavepoles (using a release word there would also be a good idea).

Yesterday I also surprisingly had trouble on the A-frame contact. Vanilla was just running through. We practiced it a couple times yesterday after the lesson and seemed to have corrected the mistake, but today same happened again. Weird thing is that the contact has been really good, and still was really good on both dog walk and the teeter. So more A-frame practice I assume. She seems to be coming down with such a speed that even when she tries to stop she can't quite make herself stop in time. Good thing is that she tries and she hasn't jumped the contact.

Today we had a couple really hard courses with a lot of turns so handling became really important and that you are going towards the right jumps at the right time, and doing your front crosses at the right time. And not just going toward the right obstacle but the right stanchion of the right obstacle without being on the dogs path. We seemed to be doing really good on this considering our level so I'm really happy with where we are with this.

One more thing that needs some practice is our table. In Finland this obstacle was often just ignored, it was used in trials very seldom, so I have never really done the good basic training on that -> resulting in a pretty nice "fly over the table" by Vanilla. Not that she doesn't want to stop.. she's just going way too fast. If I slow her down before the table she might lie down before the table... well. My game plan now is to get some target practice under our belt and train her to stay even when I run past. I'm sure this is not one of our biggest problems.

Anyway, today I'm feeling really good about our cooperation with Vanilla and I'm looking forward to try out our skills at the trial tomorrow and Sunday. I'll keep you posted!

September 12, 2012

Agility, agility... I mean.. cruising, cruising :)

More than once this year I have thought about agility. The training has been wonderful and ever more addictive. Our plans for cruising have formed and I have only about a month left of "normal life" with my dogs. This has made me almost panic about losing my weekly lessons and practices. Not to mention all the people who have made my agility training such a fantastic experience. Don't get me wrong though, I'm SO excited about our plans to see the world, and what makes it even better, our black n' whites are coming with us. It's going to be a family cruise, a dog family cruise :).

I hope to achieve in agility what I made my goal so long ago. To enter my first competition in the United States before heading into new adventures. Speaking of which, my firts entry is going to be at the Sir Francis Drake Kennel Club trial in Vallejo this coming weekend. So exciting!! I really hope everything goes well. Vanilla and I have been doing some pretty good runs at practice but as everyone knows, trial situation can be totally different. I am feeling really good about the issues we previously had with weavepoles and contacts. She has been improving with her contacts tremendously and hardly ever misses the stop. It sure was a good thing we started from scratch and really taught the whole thing all over again. Also weavepole entries have been improving and she is now more independent. We still have tons of work to do on that part though. I'm slowly trying to get more ahead or be more behind and get lateral distance and front and rear crosses.It is a slow road but I can already see how practice is paying off. I'm so proud of little Vanilla. She is as fast as ever, as focused as ever and probably loves agility more than ever :).

This said I'm probably going to have more to say on agility front these following couple of days since I'll be practicing every day before trialing both next Saturday and Sunday. After this I'm going to go for a few more practice sessions before we leave. Then the following months I'm going to concentrate on different kinds of dog things, namely, how to cruise with dogs. I have a plan of water rescue training sessions for both Vanilla and Gin and a set of tricks I will teach while on the boat/sailing when other activities are more limited. We are also going to concentrate on exploring and hiking/camping and maybe visiting local dog training clubs for a random class here and there along the way. I'm sure the dogs are going to be the opposite of bored. Of course they also need to perform they active duties as guard dogs. Vanilla being noisy, and Gin looking scary is a pretty good combo :) Except in this photo: