Monday, July 23, 2012

Continueing my journey of learning...

       When talking to people new to dogs, I would give advice no tot go to a different trainer while learning all the ins and outs of how to work with your dog. However, for me, even though I am new getting into the ring for competition obedience, but have worked with several dog handlers and trainers the past 25 years, switching around now is ideal for me to get all the ideas. I also have an awesome dog that if I decide to change something, he will go with the flow and hang with me. I already have my basic foundation of my philosophy set, so anything I learn now is just adding to my toolbox, rather than creating a new one.

        I met a woman, Beth Andrews, who has been doing obedience for almost 40 years. She does both Shutzhund and AKC obedience. She has German Shepherds. I really enjoyed her teaching style. She mentioned she is a coach to help me. She's not there to tell me how to do it or give me a recipe. She is very open to work with what I feel comfortable within my personality and beliefs. Now that is the type of mentor I would love to be for others!  She saw that I know how to handle my dog, and noticed that I needed a little instruction of how to understand the ring. Her experience obviously was able to focus right in where I needed help the most because I did feel on many levels I was just winging it. You can crash learn at a trial, but it is nice to get some of the hints and tips from someone to help relieve the ring nerves and stress at a show.

       I haven't taken a competition obedience class for 20 years. A lot of what I was doing was relying on old 20 year memory. Which sometimes can be good, and sometimes, can cause problems. Especially when I went through a traditional choke chain obedience class. That was one of the reasons I quit the idea of ever competing, I just couldn't continue to yank on my dog to get a ribbon or title. I didn't feel it was wroth it to nag or drag my dog down like that.

      I have been to workshops on obedience handling here and there. The rest was me just trying to figure it all out. . Beth was incredibly gracious with her time and advice. She has established the El Cajon Shutzhund Club. She's not a clicker trainer and I didn't see how she works her dogs. I went strictly how she works with me. Because I'm strong and solid enough in how I want to train, I have the strength to use what I want and disregard what I do not want to use. I think this is healthy for both sides and I can tell Beth is very open to this concept. She understands people are different. Just as some other trainers I have worked with, they know I have a certain philosophy, but I'm not going to preach to them. My beliefs are for myself. My proof in how well I do with my dogs is what makes my philosophy shine, not how well I can argue my point. That usually only means you end up preaching to the choir. As my grandmother taught my mother, and as my mother taught me, "Actions speak louder than words."  I'm solid and secure enough to know in how I want to train. If someone shows me something I do not like, I learn, as that might either give me an idea to help someone else, or enable me to brainstorm to figure out a solution that works for me. I don't believe in shutting out a trainer because they do one thing I dislike. That shuts down learning for both sides. This is how secure I am in my own training. As time continues, it will be perfected even more and I will be able to demonstrate it. Training is a journey.

          In my short session with Beth, I told her I do have a hard time keeping a straight line since I'm completely blind in my right eye. When I look down at my dog with my head turned towards him, I have no field of vision to see where I'm walking. My head is turned left, looking at my dog to my left, you use the corner of your right eye to see where you are going. I have nothing there. Beth recommended that I go to a parking lot where they have lines Start walking on the lines to use as a guide to keep me straight. Practice without my dogs. She said continue to do this over and over again until I get muscle memory. She is very big on muscle memory. Ahhh, I hear a little Bob Bailey there, although she has never trained with him, but "Training is a mechanical Skill." Yes, working with your dog, walking with your dog, is a mechanical skill. Get that muscle memory in there by repetition. Repetition is learning as Bob Bailey would say.

          Beth walked me through the exercise, minus the Sit stay and down stay. Some pointers she gave:

-Put toy behind you, just before you go in that ring, pass it onto someone, but let the dog think you still have it.
-Have your dog center between the posts for the figure eight, not you. Stand across from the judge.
-Watch your footing on your about turns. Not too short, not too long. Left foot turn 45 degree angle, pivot 180 degrees, right foot facing forward in the opposite direction you came, left food continues walking.
-Use treats outside the ring just before going in. Keeps dog focused (I found this out at the show as well, when I didn't use any treats before he didn't do as well, when I did use treats, that's when Mickey got his 196 scare and he was more focused on me).

        To have this run through with someone else is good practice for me. I was nervous. I'm still caught up with how I look and how well I can impress. Not only was I learning some ring advice, I was also teaching myself that you are here to learn Christy. The mistakes or not-perfect run is a good thing because I can practice working on the not so perfect run now before I enter Novice A. My nerves were shifting from being nervous to I'm in learning mode. That kind of stress I would rather have, then nervous, "I'm going to freak out" nerves.

        Beth made me feel that she was more assessing me, as a mentor should and her style and laid back attitude enabled me to do a lot of thinking and learning on my own. Which is what a good mentor is all about.
        In my fixing a front blog entry, it was spending that warm Sunday morning with Beth that enabled me to see that the passing me by during a recall problem was different than I thought. What a learning experience. It is humbling and when I'm humble, I learn better, I'm more aware, I have gotten over myself and I see how quickly I am moving forward. What an awesome journey.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fixing a Front

       I had heard about a run through for the up coming show and took the opportunity. I now have moved up to Novice from Beginner Novice and will need to refine my skills even better. The practice is ON!

      In my second qualifying score, Mickey did an awesome front. One that just makes you cry. Maybe this emotion was too strong? The next day for qualifying score #3, during the recall he ran up, and went right past me. I thought he did this because I stared forward and didn't pay attention to him. But today, when I did the recall, he did it again, ran right past me while I was looking at him! WHAT? Wait a minute? Ok, we have a problem here. I realized that doing obedience is a journey. That you can practice something over and over, have it perfectly great for one show, then have if fall apart the next. What happened? I could spend hours to analyze it, but in the mean time, I need to practice. I did one more recall at this field and he passed me again.

        On the way home Mickey and I stopped by a restaurant and went grocery shopping. I could tell he was tired from the  practice. He was a tired hearing dog.

       When I finally got to my house, I got Mickey out and put him at one end of my yard, and I walked to the other. Yep, t hat's about the right distance. I called him. He went right past me! Whoa! Ok, we got something weird going on here. Again, I could spend all day analyzing this, but I'm going to train right now instead. I set him up, show him his Wubba, and left it right in the front of me, called him and he came straight on, dropped it in his mouth. YES! Ok, we are back on track and this won't be a long fix. I did it again, but I put the Wubba in my back, my hands to the side. I called and he stopped  4 feet from me. Hmmmmm, I thought, this is interesting. I put him back, called him and I had to coax him just a little. Set him up again, called him, perfect, pulled the Wubba from my back and gave it to him to play. Whew YES! Ok we are back on track with training.

        Life isn't over, he responded to a little bit of training and here we go. I found this all amazing since I practice fronts all the time. I do it in the kitchen, do it in practice, it isn't like we only did a handful of recalls. We have done a lot. Did something happen at that show? My emotions? Who knows and I could analyze this over and over, but the truth of the matter is, I have to change the behavior. Got busy with shaping back his correct behavior and we are back in business again.

        For anyone that says obedience competition is easy and they could title their dog, but don't want to show is just a bunch of talk and no action. Obedience is hard work and practice for both dog and human. It does humble you.

        A quote I have liked, "Life is a journey, not a destination" ---Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Our first title

        The night before my second and third showing for my Novice Rally A class and Beginner Novice A class, I was reading a book on "tips" that were sharing about reality. It shared that some of the best dogs and teams mess up. That I might not qualify at these two shows. I was humbled, but also nervous of the unknown. What will happen? But it gave me a sense of it is OK to not qualify. That alone reduced my stress.

         The morning of the show I woke up tired and dragged. I was trying to tell myself I had a show to attend and I better get moving. My body still dragged. I was cursing my fatigue and joint aches because I just couldn't move faster. I ended up leaving an hour later than I originally planned. I had enough time, but I wanted to be there extra early, since that is my nature. The extra early person to make sure everything is in place and ready to go. But with fatigue and health issues, this makes it much harder. I try my best. I left at 8:00AM. It was a Saturday morning. Driving north and through Los Angeles, from San Diego to Ventura was easy sailing.

          The three hour drive to Ventura County Fair Grounds gave me time to think of a lot of different things on my way.  My thoughts covered, what I read the night before on cloths to look respectful to a judge and how will I present myself, etc. I was driving nervously and with slight tension. Oh I know this is bad because any slight tension I have, goes right to Mickey. He's such a sensitive boy, that sometimes he doesn't know what to do. He will check out and go some where else. But in a truck it is hard for him to escape, he needs to stay there.

           As I drove north and passed the Ventura County line, it was overcast and cool. What a sigh of relief! When I arrived, I had 45 minutes before the printed time for my class to start. I looked at the map and started heading out towards where the map showed the obedience rings would be located. It was clear on the other side of the parking lot. As I hurried, I ended up in no man's land, going in circles, going right, going left, looking at the map. DANG! I need to find the rings to check in! Time is ticking away. It is now 30 minutes until my class starts. CRUD! Where are those rings!! I saw all the conformation rings and the concentration of people and dogs. I then went in buildings which had even more conformation rings. Wait a minute, I KNOW how to read a map! I really do! What is going on here. I ended up asking people. Turns out they had to move the rings to a different location. Ah HA! I knew I had map reading skills! So off I went into the direction the woman pointed. Turns out they were situated to the front by the parking lot!! I checked in about 20 minutes before the time for my class was suppose to start. As I checked in, turns out they were behind and I had some 20 more minutes to get my act together. Now to scout around for a spot to put my things. Another adventure!

       People crammed in tight. As I scanned around, I realized there is no way I am going to be able to set up my canopy. Ok, so I will just bring Mickey's crate. It was a nice overcast beach weather and I can roll down my windows of my truck for Divine. It had a constant sea breeze to keep her cool. I dragged out Mickey's wired crate, grabbed my suitcase on wheels and off Mickey and I went. A nice woman helped carry my crate part of the way, I thanked her several times and thought she was so kind to go out of her way to help me. When I got to the ring area, I couldn't find anywhere to put my crate. I asked one woman who tweaked her nose at me and did not want me to put a crate next to her tent. Not that I like to "run away" but who wants to be around a person like that? I found a palm tree in the back, a breed ring away from the obedience and rally. Well, its a spot! I pulled out my blanket to cover Mickey's crate and put him him. I then got lunch. two little soft tacos for $8.00. Yep, fair food. Always highly expensive. Thought the tacos were just right, light, some vegetables, chicken and a tortilla for sugar energy. Just what I needed. I ate 1 1/2 of them.

         Went back to the Rally ring and discovered that I didn't get to walk the course. The judge was exceptionally kind to allow me to walk it right after Rally Novice B. I walked it two times and out I went, right back to Mickey. I took one more bite of my taco, took some water, put Mickey's special obedience show ring leash and collar on and off we went. Got to the ring and they said you are UP! I'm like REALLY? Three people didn't show so I didn't realize it was my turn THAT SOON. OUCH! I was late! What a painful lesson, won't do that again! Mickey didn't even get to walk around to get use to the area, boom we went right into the ring. Mickey instantly started to sniff the ground. Not because I was all stressed, but this area reeked of urine all around the area. Even I could smell it and it was a strong smell too. Because they moved the rings to a different location, that previous area was a potty area. When you watched many dogs, most of them had this issue with the smelly ground in their own way. Some sniffed, some rolled, some had to leave their handler and check out an area. Dogs will be distracted, but this was more than usual.

           As I walked Mickey through the course, there wasn't a lot of attention. I got nicked for a lot of "tight leash." It is hard when you go one way and your dog goes the other to check out all the variety pee spots. With about 2,500 dogs entered at this show, who knows how many dogs peed in this area before it became a ring area. A good guesstimate would be 1,000!! Could be more. I call this the good distraction show. A good place to learn. For Rally Novice A, getting Mickey's attention is harder. But, we ended up on the first day with a score of 81 and the next day 83. I really wanted to do much better the second day, but the same issue with distractions, bumping into Mickey and his attention else where. But we still qualified. Honestly though, my focus has been on obedience and the scores reflect that. Rally has been just a fun side thing to get Mickey exposure and ring experience for obedience. I think Divine will shine better in Rally than obedience. I will practice a bit more before entering Rally Advance. I most likely will not enter Rally the next show, I want to concentrate on the Novice class. My goal is I really want to get a UD on Mickey. Rally can wait. Mickey is 7 1/2. I saw one age charge for his size of dog to be like 55-56 years old. Honestly, Mickey doesn't act or function this old. He's more like a late 30's or early 40's. I will continue with him, monitor him carefully.

           My obedience experience was a good one. I did some warm up exercises with food and a little play. This was to help Mickey get engaged. My last show I had no treat warm ups. I learned from the first time to best have some kind of warm up to get him to remember we are going to heel here.

          We walked in the ring. His heeling had some issues and we did have some attention issues, but then the last half of the heeling we did much better and he started to get in the game. We then went to the figure 8 beautiful! IT was nice, nice eye contact and nice pivoting. The stand for exam was good, and the sit stay was good. Then, the last exercise. The recall. I set Mickey up, called him to me and I was in shear delight! He did it perfect. What a gorgeous straight front! This is what you want to see in a Utility class!!! I just loved him for this and we ran out of the ring and ran to play with his Kong. He deserved it!

           We were called back in for the awards. Six people were in this class, only two of us went back in for qualifying. I was stunned when the other girl got second place and then when the judge handed me my ribbon and medallion, she said the score was 196. I was utterly shocked and said, NO WAY!!!! and the judge responded YES WAY!! in her dynamic fashion. The judge was Bonnie Lee from Las Vegas, NV. That evening I was just so happy. I just couldn't believe we could get such a score. Will it happen again? We are in beginner novice. Can I do this again in Novice? Open? Utility? To think! But I need to get there and work, work, and work! I don't want this to be a one time excitement, but it gives me hope that if I keep working, it can happen. I also have to be careful with emphasizing "work" as this also needs to be a FUN dance with Mickey and myself. Our love affair when we lock our eyes with each other and gaze like love birds. This magic is what I awlays want to keep. I don't always get it, but boy when I do, scores show it!

           The past week I had worked with Mickey and took him every place I could think of to get him out and exposed. I took him to two new parks. I took him shopping. I knew this would make a difference because before our debut show, I didn't do this. Mickey is no longer my 24/7 service dog. I forget that he's at my house A LOT. I have to really put conscious thought and effort that when I get home from work, I need to take him out and about. This method I think worked.

            Next show day at the Ventura County Fair grounds: the sun was out, but about an hour before my Beginner Novice A obedience class, the wind was really blowing. Score sheets flying every where and blowing all over the ring. Tarps and table covers flapping. Even I started to get cold. But, I thought, we could get a 200 score today. We could. Then I told myself, don't do that to yourself, you might not! Don't get cocky, just blend and work with Mickey. I had to really work on my frame of mind. This is about you and Mickey in your love affair with each other, not stinking POINTS! You go there and you will loose.

            We got in the ring, some goof ups on the heeling, the wind was blowing so hard the signs turned and fortunately I remembered what one sign said. I took two steps past that sign and because I walked the course several times prior, my memory kicked in and said, "YOU MISSED A SIGN!!!" I took another step and my brain remembered, "SLOW!" and I started the slow part of the heeling. Whew, that saved me! The figure 8 had a little bit of issues, and the recall he ran right past me. What happened! MICKEY! Wait, yesterday you did it as well as a Utility Dog and just now, you ran to the fence and sniffed, just like that German Shepherd did earlier in The Novice A class. We got a 188 1/2. Not that bad really. That is a score to be happy with, no it isn't highly competitive, but it is good.

            As I was driving home, I shifted that Mickey screwed up to realizing what "I" did. I turned into the stiff soldier and looked straight forward slightly above normal. What happened is I  didn't connect and look at Mickey. Mickey interpreted this as, "oh, you are not connecting or paying attention to me, I can wonder as pleased."  But what an awesome lesson to learn this early in the game. What an awesome thing I realized it was me, instead of blaming my dog. That was growth. Now I know how to get that gorgeous recall. Remember that Mickey is STILL THERE, this isn't about standing tall to over impress a judge, it is how well Mickey and I connect and work together.

           I have the most awesome dog. He is capable of doing it all,  its up to me how I work in our dance.