Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday: Open A and Rally Exc B

We showed in Tampa this past weekend with mixed results. As great as Scorch performed at the Orlando trial, he's not just not quite ready for Open yet. The behaviors are there but the foundation is a bit shaky.

Saturday was... interesting. The venue is REALLY small; there's only room for 2 rings. The entry numbers were low but it was still crowded and the tension among the dogs seemed to be running high. There were a couple of near-fights soon after we got there. Then, as we were waiting for our turn in Open, Scorch had an unpleasant encounter with a boxer. I noticed that we were standing close by another dog, but didn't think much of it. Scorch sniffed his butt briefly and then refocused on me... but then the dog turned around and Scorchie realized the breed. Without warning, he snarked at the dog. The scars from the attack in August do run deep; I should have anticipated it but I didn't.

Anyway, the snark was very brief and the woman was, thankfully, very nice (and understood when I said my dog had been bitten). It almost looked more like the correction Scorch gives to obnoxious puppies. Unfortunately, the boxer owner and I realized that we were in sequential order and we would be next to each other during groups. We spoke to the judge, but she said the order would stay. So we walked them around a bit together, and then it was time for me to go into the ring, under Rose Doan.

Heel free: The judge said "forward", I said "heel", and as if on cue, two dogs got into a fight right outside the ring. REALLY? It rattled me and I'm sure it didn't help Scorch's anxiety, but in the video, he handles it very well. A lot of handlers say they're envious of his attention, but it did wander somewhat. His turns were wide until the last about-turn. He felt barely restrained at times, but in the video, his prance looks very nice.

Figure 8: Scorch usually has this one in the bag, but he bumped me on the inside turn. I realized on Sunday (when he was way worse) that he figured out that the judge has THEDUMBBELL. Whoever has THEDUMBBELL controls the universe, or something.

Drop on Recall: The judge called this one a bit late on some of the fast dogs, but Scorch nailed it anyway. Crooked front, nice finish.

Retrieve on the flat: This was great (and I even did a great throw!) until the finish. I didn't put my dumbbell hand by my side, and he tried to grab it while finishing. This might have signaled the beginning of the end.

Retrieve over the high jump: Aaaaaand here's where the wheels came off. He had been quietly whining at times, and the vocalizations became more audible during set-up. Scorch anticipated the send and I think he knew that something wasn't right. So he reverted right back to his old "come back around the jump" trick. He also decided to tug on the dumbbell.

Broad jump: I think Scorch's anxiety/excitement was through the roof at this point. I stood farther back from the jump than I usually do (I think I was having a confused day, haha), so he pretty much just skipped it. Again, I got the feeling that he knew it wasn't right... he didn't quite front or finish, and he went back to the jump, like "Wait a minute, I was supposed to do something here...". Our broad jump foundation is definitely weak and I think it just fell apart under stress. The judge laughed and said, "Well THAT'S an interesting way to do the broad jump!" I replied with, "Yep, that's a new one to me!"

We asked to be excused from groups due to the issue with the boxer. We did groups on Sunday, which I'll write about later, and Scorch had no problem with the dog (even though the boxer got up and visited another dog)! I'm glad we skipped the tense day.

I've always sworn I wouldn't be a "frowny face" handler... you know, those handlers who get done with a less-than-stellar run, put their dog in the crate, and walk away, or complain about it. The best part about our performance is that Scorch was happy; his tail was wagging, he was bright, and his attention was on me. We need to take our show on the road MUCH more and proof MUCH more; I think that will bring down some of the hyperness. As I get more experienced too, hopefully I won't send so much anxiety right down the leash.

But I know one thing; I am not a "frowny face". We went right out of the ring, got his tug toy, and played. Then we heeled with some treats. And then it was time to play at Rally!

Our Rally Excellent B run was great. We got a 95/100, which is the same score we got last time. I sent him a little late on the jumps, and I could have backed him up a little better on the lefts, but overall it was very nice.

Bob Withers was the judge (yay!) and as always, he made the ring a pleasant place to be. It was a fun bunch of handlers too, so we started saying we were the "Rowdy ring". One of my instructors, Fran, placed 1st with a score of 100. We were 2nd! Fran was happy that SOTC was represented in the top placements. I'm proud to be running Rally with the "big dogs".

Love this dog. I'll write about Sunday later (and Orlando's Rally Q).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Open A debut

I think I have decided that I will never FEEL ready to show... but sometimes, you just gotta do it anyway. That was the case with our debut in the Open ring. At least with the Novice A ring I had *some* frame of reference, from showing Jack briefly in UKC. But Open is a whole different monster... or at least, that's what I'd made it up to be in my head.

But Scorch's work was brilliant. I started to feel better when we got there and he was the BEST behaved he's ever been at a trial. Getting to go to work with me has changed his behavior in dramatic ways, and allowed us a chance to really work training into our daily routine.

We debuted under my favorite judge, Robert Withers, and he told me later that we were working on a pretty good score. I didn't stay long enough for scores to be posted, but I heard it was in the low 190s... good enough for first place probably.

Alas... the 3 minute out-of-sight sit-stay got us. Part of me is beaming with pride that he made it to 2 minutes and 50 seconds before laying down, and part of me is going, "Reeeeaaallllllyyyy? Ten seconds, Scorch?"

So that's a big thing we'll be working on before the Tampa show. But considering how hectic the week leading up to the trial was, I'm pretty amazed he did so well.

Video posted below!

Heel Free:
It was a bit frenetic but generally was ok. His forging has gotten so much better; his heeling demons now mostly consist of wandering attention. Kudos to him though for returning well to heel position when he found himself in an unexpected position. He made the judge chuckle quite a few times with his quick, precise adjustments.

Figure 8: I wish we could start with the figure 8. That really seems to be when he pulls it together. I REALLY like the way this looks. All I need to do on my end is smooth out my footwork.

Drop on Recall: It's a running joke with the people I train with that as soon as you send in the check for a show, something breaks. That was the case with our drop on recall. Then, two days before the show, we had a breakthrough and it came back. I didn't even want to write about it... didn't want to jinx it. But it held and he did it under the pressure of the trial.

Retrieve on the Flat: You know what my favorite part of this is? How I was lined up with the mat line right down the middle, and Scorch retrieved the dumbbell and came STRAIGHT down on that line. I don't know if his perfect front would have been as obvious by video without that line. I really wish I had stayed to see the score breakdown, because I like to think we got full marks for this.

Retrieve over the Jump: My throwing is better than I thought. Scorch still had to make a decision about coming over the jump versus going around it, and you can see him consciously make the right one. The leashwork my boss suggested was a great solution.

Broad jump: From the video, it sort of looks like he cut the corner but from my view (and the judge's!), he actually did have plenty of room to spare. The glowing pride I felt seems obvious even with my back to the camera, as I spread my arms to Scorch and showered him with praise. I saw one dog skip the jump entirely and run directly to the handler (former problem of ours!), and another dog carefully stepped between each board in a perfect straight line, and finished with a perfect front. This exercise really is harder than I thought it would be, and I'm thrilled with our result.

And then, of course, we had our stays. We got to stay in the building due to the torrential rain outside, which made me feel better. I did have images of turning the corner and finding a steward hanging on to my dog for dear life... but I was careful to put the image of a perfectly seated dog into my head. It was not meant to be that day, and I put the blame squarely on my shoulders for lack of practice lately. Mr. Withers came over to tell me there had only been 10 seconds left. Oy! Scorch's down-stay was, of course, perfect. Open A was a bit of a blood bath. 23 dogs entered and present, 4 qualified.

Still, we had a beautiful day. :)

Post about our awesome Rally Excellent run will be next!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Beginner Utility, class 1

Quick overview of what I learned tonight:

1. Scorch is SO MUCH BETTER BEHAVED since I started bringing him to work and using the Easy Walk harness. We haven't been to SOTC since the spring (agility) and not inside the building since last year. This class had a lot of observing time and he wasn't jumping out of his skin like he used to.

2. Easy Cheese on the ring stanchion: Scorch tends to want to target the floor instead of paying attention to where I'm telling him to look. Good response to the "run away" though.

3. Glove: Scorch marked the glove well and was allowed to "get it" because he had such a nice look. We'll work on increasing the time of the look and working to reduce looking back at me. Lisa was having us use "spot" to mark the go-out, but Bev was using "look". So Bev encouraged me to use something other than "look" for the glove. I guess I'll use "mark" for that.

4. Signal drop: The biggest eye opener was that even quick drops had the dog creeping forward. Several handlers, including myself, had to redefine what they consider a drop. Even if the dog doesn't sit first, even if the elbows and back end go down simultaneously, if it's not a fold-back drop, the dog will have moved forward almost a full body length. The feet don't have to move forward for that to occur. So we did some drops behind a bar. I told Lisa that I could guess that Scorch would put his paws on the bar. She explained that I needed to claim the bar as mine and tap his feet if I had to. His first drop was solid, but his second had a paw on the bar. I stepped towards him and he immediately popped up; I stood on the bar, tapped it with my foot and said "MINE". Then I asked for a down while I was standing on it... PERFECT. Lisa also kept stressing that it was important to "feed the floor" by dropping the treat between their paws, to help enforce the fold-back down. I'm going to try the bar again to help with our broken drop-on-recall.

5. Attitude: I saw a surprising amount of negativity, frustration, sarcasm, etc from other handlers. It reminded me to keep a good attitude and to smile at my dog. Maybe it's partially because Scorch is my Novice A dog, but working with him generally makes me happier, not angrier! If I'm frustrated, we're not going to get anywhere and I usually stop training for the day. But I'm going to really make myself more accountable for my attitude.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Well, we're entered to debut in Open A this Sunday. We're also working in Rally Excellent B (had to do a move-up because I chose A for some reason...).

I just did a mini run-through with Scorch outside to see how he would do more amped up, with minimal treats. We were in the front yard, but it was still more intense than our play-training sessions have been. Everything is looking great (even better than I expected!) except for the drop on recall, which has suddenly broken. It was never fantastic to begin with... I'd say there's a 50/50 chance he'll drop in practice, probably less in the ring. I've been walking towards him and giving a hand signal as well as the verbal, but he can't seem to handle it well when it's just verbal... maybe I'll try switching to just the hand signal? I don't know.

I'm more anxious about the out of sight stays, namely the sit-stay, but it's been going well on practice. I'd rather NQ on the drop on recall rather than the stays... but whatever, I'd rather not NQ at all so let's just go with that. :)

His dumbbell retrieves today were spectacular. He soared over the jump and tore after it on the flat... no hesitation, no anticipation, just absolute glee. Broad jump is going well, although we still rarely do a completely formal one. When we do, it looks good. Heeling has been better, less forge-y.

I'm also trying to integrate more play with ME versus toys or treats... he's still anxious and amped when I do it, but I think he's finally HAPPY about it at least, not just looking for other reinforcement.

We also went to North Carolina.

Love my Easy-Walk harness... makes managing excited border collies so much better!

Scorch was amped and anxious at times, especially with all the changes. We spent every second together for 3 days straight... I even got to take him as a demo dog to one of my meetings. But I had an evening meeting at a mall and had to leave him behind. It was actually really difficult after relying on him so heavily for company during the trip... but we both survived the bout of separation anxiety.

I've decided to stop letting him bark at cows... because while we were in downtown Savannah, a horse drawn carriage came around the corner. WHOA did Scorch ever dislike that. Hoofed animals did NOT belong in the city according to Scorch and he felt like everyone needed to hear all about it.

Despite the stresses, he was good company, and I think it was a good experience to have him work through that stress. When we reached our hotel in Savannah for the second time, on the way home, he visibly relaxed in the familiar setting.

I also took him to Jacksonville's Dog Wood park for the first time. That is my favorite park and I hadn't gotten to take him yet. He had a blast splashing in the lake.

It's also nice to be able to relax about my dog... there was a minor dog fight while we were there. Jack would have instantly leaped in, and probably Wolfie too. I looked up at the scuffle, then back at Scorch, who was just happily staring at me and wagging his tail, waiting for me to throw the ball.


I don't know if we'll have a spot in the upcoming Utility class at our dog training club, but for now we're having a great time prepping for Open and hitting the road.