Monday, August 23, 2010

Back In The Saddle

Figuratively speaking, that is. This past weekend (Thursday-Sunday) was my first agility trial since May. I'm kind of surprised at myself for taking the whole summer off of trialing but I did it for a number of reasons. Mostly I did it because it's just too hot to be outside here from June-August and even into September. We do have indoor trials during that time but trialing indoors has its drawbacks. Crowded and nosiy crating for one thing, sitting around all day inside for another. I spend 40 hours a week inside at my job and once the weekend arrives, the last thing I want to do is spend it inside listening to dogs bark and squinting through the fluorescent lighting. So you might wonder why I chose to enter a 4 day indoor trial at all, much less as my first trial back after a long layoff.

For one reason, I saw it as a opportunity to give myself multiple days to get back in the groove of trialing and for another I thought it was in the type of arena that I'd been used to. It was held at the Greensboro Coliseum where I'd never been before and I had the (mistaken) idea that it was like the indoor stadiums where you see the large indoor trials in the Southeast. Places like Perry, GA and Concord, NC. But this was a smallish building, similar to an indoor soccer place but without the glass partitions between rings. It had nice footing, similar to running on a well padded carpet but with more grip but boy was it noisy.

We were all packed in there tightly and there was very little room between the crating area and the rings since people would stand in the aisles watching the dogs run or chatting with their friends. We also got some spectators from next door where there was a conformation show. It was a little frustrating if you were in a hurry to get somewhere, there was often only room for one dog to pass through at a time. But I didn't hear or see any altercations and people were generally very good trying to keep the aisles clear. But it was hard to see what was going in the rings without getting up and winding your way through all the people and dogs and did I mention it was noisy? Plus we had to pay $5.00 each day just to park which seemed really steep and I don't think was mentioned in the premium, only in the confirmation. But none of that really bothered me, I was just glad to be running my little buddy again.

And we had some good runs, although I was pretty rusty and am terribly out of shape from not getting any exercise for the past 8 weeks or so. It's been such a hot and humid summer--even more so than usual--that it was a real problem getting exercise for the dogs or myself. A lot of people around here have been buying pools for their dogs so they can swim them regularly in clean water. I love the idea and may do it next year. Here's one of the courses we ran:

And here's the video that goes with it:

Devon ran really well all weekend in every class and only did a couple of naughty things such as completely breaking his startline on one run, jumping over the contact on one A-frame when I did a front cross on the downside and barking on the table (although not nearly as much as he used to do). I, however, was pretty rusty and slow but not too bad for being so out of practice.
My goal for the fall trials are to be as consistent as possible without micromanaging the run. I'd like to get him qualified for AKC Nationals which means I'll need 5 more double Qs between now and November. I think it's definitely a reachable goal considering how he's running. Once we get there then I'll start worrying about getting the most speed out of him I can.

He was a lot slower this weekend than he was in the summer/fall of '09 but the courses were very twisty and technical unlike most of the ones I saw last fall. But one thing I know I can improve is the speed of his contacts. I started out by trying to teach him running contacts but quickly switched to teaching a 2on/2off when he proved to enjoy springing off the end of them so much. He is a naturally upright dog--he runs with his head up naturally--so it seemed much easier to teach him a stopped contact than to try to change his natural running style. However, I haven't seen another 12" dog with a stopped contact in, let me think... years, so I'm going to have change that behavior. Hopefully all the years of stopping on the contacts will work against his natural inclination to sproing off the end of the board and I can just stop stopping him rather than have to actually train another behavior. But as someone said to me this weekend, when you have a running (or a non-stopping) contact, you have to be prepared to have them miss it at least once in awhile. It's the trade-off you make for the extra speed and fluidity but it's something we'll have to work on if we're going to be anywhere near the competitive times.

So, I learned about some holes in our training this weekend that I'm working on this week and I can't wait until the new AKC table rule goes into effect (any position will be allowed on the table as long as they don't jump off it). He'll still have to do a down on the table in USDAA so I plan to continue to have him lie down, but the judge will start counting a lot sooner after September 15th. And in spite of the less than fabulous trial site, I'm really looking forward to our next trial in about 10 days. It's a USDAA trial so it means a lot more classes which I think will really challenge our stamina and skills but I'm still excited about getting out there with my best buddy and trying our best.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What's Happening at Cedarfield?

Some interesting things have been happening at Cedarfield over the last 6-8 months. It was about that time that I invited a friend and fellow agility person, Sue McKinney, to use my field to teach some of her classes. She had lost access to the place where she was teaching and I was hardly ever using my field so I thought at least I would get a little something from the field rental and also it might encourage me to get out there more frequently myself.

Sue teaches lots of classes and does a great job of putting the "fun" into fundamentals whether she's teaching agility, rally or pet obedience. Her students seem to love coming out to Cedarfield where there's a lot of room and green grass and trees. Consequently, she's gone form teaching just a couple of classes on one night a week to 4 or 5 classes on two nights a week.

As the field got more and more use, Sue and I decided we'd go ahead and invest in some lights for those dark winter nights that make it so hard to get any training done after 5:00. We bought four of these kind of lights: and even had an electrical box wired to the outside of the nearest building so we could switch them on and off easily.

It's been amazing having lights out there. Not only does it make training possible, it makes having classes possible all year long. Sure, sometimes it's cold and wet outside but our winters are pretty mild so there are relatively few nights when it's too cold to train or teach outside. The other good thing about holding clases outdoors is that during the good weather it's so nice to be outside to enjoy it after being cooped up inside all day. Not only that, teaching outside allows us to price our classes competitively which is so important in this economy.

And it's made it so much easier for me to train during the winter. Since I still work full-time at my "real" job. It used to be a race for me to see if I could get home, change my clothes and get the dogs outside to run around a little before it got dark. Now, I don't have to break the speed limit driving home and even have the time to set up a course and run it if I want to. And since there's little to no mowing in the winter, the amount of time I have to spend on upkeep is minimal.

In addition to the lights, I recently invited another trainer, Hannah Branigan, to join our association at Cedarfield. She mostly teaches Obedience and Rally in addition to doing behavior consults. I've been taking one of her Obedience classes with Zodi and really enjoying learning the new ways of doing things. I used to do Obedience with my first Dobe, Jemma and my second, Haven but have been away from it for many years. I used to think it was fairly tedious and boring to train compared to agility but Hannah has so many fun games to play that her classes are nothing like the ones I took many years ago. For one thing, they are taught with totally positive techniques--no collar pops!--and for another, she uses shaping for almost everything. Another plus is that it's something I can practice in the house during these really hot days of summer. Today it's suposed to feel like 109F with the humidity factored in. No way you can do agility in that heat!

So now that there are three instructors teaching at Cedarfield, it's inspired me to expand our classes even further. When the weather cools off a little, I'll be offering a tracking class (something you have to have a lot of property to do)and possibly regular agility and rally run-thrus in addition to Sue's and Hannah's classes.

I'm also hoping to host more seminars like the one recently with Sassie Joiris from NY. I'd like to offer more learning experiences that can be shared by people interested in more than one dog sport. After all, dog training is dog training. In other words, whatever kind of training we do with our dogs tends to increase our enjoyment of our dogs and isn't that what it's all about?

We're also in the process of planning our first open house at Cedarfield which is really exciting since it will offer lots of different activities and will also be a benefit for a good cause. I love the idea of pooling our resources as trainers and instructors. I think we can accomplish much more together than individually and we can also learn from each other as we go along. And, let's face it, when we stop learning and just focus on making money, all the fun goes right out of it.

Anyway, these are exciting times for me as I try to reach out into the dog training community around me. I love the feeling that I'm connecting lots of dots into a cohesive picture, hopefully a picture that includes lots of happy and satisfied people and their dogs.