Monday, September 28, 2009

I Really Love This Dog

I really love agility. I really love my dog. I really do! What an agility weekend this was for Jazz and me. We love to trial at the Quad City Dog Center. It is climate controlled, completely enclosed, no horses or dust, and great people. I also love watching runs from the loft. The perspective is great for seeing how a course should "flow."

In spite of all that, it was a very strange weekend. Saturday was our usual wild first run on a standard course. Jazz was out of control and ran around barking. He came back to me and we did run the entire course eventually. I chalked it up to the first run zoomies and too much excitement in my voice. The second run was jumpers and it was a nice course, but a little challenging for me. I had to do two front crosses. (I had to do them because I needed to switch sides and because I am still unable to properly execute a rear cross! Practice, practice, practice.) Anyway - we did the jumpers course, front crosses and all, as if we knew what we were doing. I was completely thrilled. It felt smooth and happy. We finished the course with six plus seconds to spare and no faults. Jazz was very proud of himself and I could not stop grinning. I could hear my friends and teachers yelling in the loft when we finished. It was wonderful! The best part is that I have that run on film. From now on, when I get discouraged, I will watch that film and know that we can do it!

I was still grinning when we got to the trial on Sunday. Jazz was in fine form and seemed to be pretty full of himself. I was determined to stay calm, use my quiet voice and have a great day. We started with standard. The first obstacle was a tire followed by a dog walk. (After that things get a little blurry.) I told him to stay and began to walk past the tire. This is not a long walk and there is no reason why that dog can't stay for 10 seconds! He didn't stay. He went under the tire - apparently because I didn't have my hand up. My hand wasn't up because I didn't think we were starting yet. He went straight up the dog walk and then we reached an impasse. I think he was considering coming back down and I wasn't sure what to do. I finally decided to take him to the other side of the dog walk and continue the course. The judge then said I could take him back and start over. I should have cut my losses and kept going, but I am an optimistic woman. We went back to the start and Mr. Zoomie ran around barking a while before I convinced him to jump through that stinking tire! If you know my dog, you can predict the next part. He refused to walk the dog walk. You know - the one he just trotted over a few seconds ago? Barked some more, finally did the dog walk and I thought we were fine. He did a few more obstacles and then ran around for a while. He was having a wonderful time. I was not. We finally got to the middle of the course and faced the dreaded weave poles followed by the truly evil table. He barked about the weave poles and I just said WEAVE in a very firm, quiet voice. He considered running off, but decided I really meant it and did the silly poles. Then came the table and he was really throwing a fit. He barked, he trotted around sassing me, and he refused to get on that table. I finally convinced him to get on the table. At that point we were eye to eye and he was barking right in my face and refusing to sit. (This all sounds pretty bad huh? But wait - we're getting to the part where I finally felt like a dog trainer.) I calmly reached over, gently took hold of his ruff, looked him directly in the eye and said, "You sit." He jumped and yelped as if I had beaten him, but I am finally on to that little trick. That is not pain, that is a tantrum. I do not like tantrums. He sat. The judge blew his whistle and our fun was over for that run. I looked at that obnoxious dog and told him to come with me. He galloped around looking happy until he realized I was walking away from him. He then dropped into a fairly nice heel and came with me. I put his leash on him and put him in his crate. No treats, no party, no fun. Many people were telling me I should "forgive" him or not hold a grudge. I swear to everyone reading this - I really was not angry. I just don't think I am asking too much when I ask him to get on the table and sit for five seconds.

I have always laughed when people tell me that the dogs "know you can't touch them in the ring." Surprise! I can touch him in the ring any time I want. I understand the rules and I know that if I touch him I will be asked to leave, but sometimes a girl has to take a stand! I apologized to the judge for making a scene in his ring and he was wonderful. He laughed and said that he thought I did the right thing. He even suggested that he waited to blow his whistle until he was sure the dog was sitting on the table. What a great guy!

In case anyone is picturing my poor, abused Samoyed crying in his crate - hah! He was confused, but he is always up for new things. I came back after a few minutes and we went for a walk. He was still looking for the jackpot at the end of a run. He was disappointed there, but he is a very cheerful, forgiving dog. We ran a lovely jumpers course after the "showdown" in standard. I tried to do three front crosses and mistimed the last one. I got in his way and he dropped a bar trying to take the jump from a bad position. He was his usual happy, goofy self. I have no idea what will happen the next time we try standard, but I guarantee he will not get away with making his own course.

The problem I always have with him is that he makes me laugh. (I kept chuckling all the way home on Sunday.) He is such a brat and so silly that it is hard to stay annoyed long enough to make a point. I am very proud of myself for the way I handled his bad behavior. I just knew what I needed to do and I did it. I have often wondered what to do, or second guessed myself, but this was the right way to handle my dog at that particular moment. I wasn't angry, but I can't let him continue to do whatever he wants. I have made excuses for him because he is excited, or because he's a Samoyed, or because he really doesn't understand. I have been positive because I want a happy dog. I want a dog who does this because he is having fun. All of those ideas and approaches are fine, but there comes a time when he just needs to understand who's buying the kibble around here.

We learned a lot this weekend. We had a lot of fun. I really love that crazy dog! I really love agility.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Discouraged but Determined

Jazz and I competed last weekend at the Granger AKC agility trial. We drove up on Thursday evening and stayed in a motel for three nights. We have only stayed in motels a few times and never for three nights. I was a little worried about it, but he was such a gentleman! He was a much better traveling companion than my ex-husband - sorry David. He learned to ride nicely in the elevator and not to pop out as the door opened. We both learned that popping out of the elevator can startle little old ladies. OOPS. He never even considered jumping on the many people who stopped to pet him. He was even polite and reserved with the other dogs that were staying in the motel. It struck me as pretty funny that he walked beautifully in heel position while I lugged suitcase and dog stuff in and out of the motel. He walked placidly at my side when we went for our evening walks. Apparently, the only time he doesn't walk in heel position is in the obedience ring! What's up with that?

The agility part of the weekend was less successful. We did not qualify at all. I was very discouraged. I felt like everyone was zooming along, earning titles and being brilliant while Jazz and I are left in the dust. That was how I felt - the reality is much less dramatic. People learn and grow and try and fail and succeed and try some more. I don't know why I was so distressed by our performance. I need to summarize the good and the bad.

I already mentioned the motel behavior, which was really good. The other amazingly good thing was speed. Jazz is picking up speed with every trial. He ran in all six runs and seemed energetic and happy throughout. I had to remind myself that I have always had to beg him around the course by day two of a trial. This last weekend he ran and jumped and had a pretty good time. We had at least three runs that were very close to qualifying. He finished the weekend with no stiffness and seemed energetic the next day. This is great and I attribute it to better conditioning and Science Diet J/D dog food.

The things we are working on for the future are contacts, weaves and table. We have concentrated on jumpers courses all summer and neglected the other obstacles. Jazz jumped off the teeter before it hit the ground in standard the first day. I think he was surprised that it was a teeter. Some silly handler told him to "walk it" instead of saying "teeter" and the teeter itself had a solid base which looked different than any he has seen. He was very unhappy about the table all three days. He did progressively worse until the day three standard course went completely to pieces at the table. Worse yet - that course had a table and then weaves. Jazz thought he had died and gone straight to agility hell! He stood at the table and barked for quite some time. I was determined that he would not sass his way out of the whole deal. He complained, but he did get on the table, sit, get off the table and weave. By then we were way over time. He decided to help me make up time by blasting out of the tunnel, skipping the contact on the A frame and knocking the jumps down on the way to the finish line. Good heavens!

So there is work to do and I am still feeling a little discouraged, but I love the dog and the sport. What can I do? I will have to keep learning and help him learn also.

Scott County agility here we come!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sick and Bored

I am sick AGAIN!! I don't get sick that often, but I seem to have the virus from hell. We used to call this a summer cold, but I have now been told that this is the flu. When I was a kid, throwing up meant you had the flu and colds involved nose blowing and coughing. Now a cold is the flu - what is throwing up? Anyway - none of it is pleasant and I am very bored with coughing, sitting, sleeping and pretending that I am all better.

This is one of the things I did while coughing.
First I brushed the dog:

Then I used my beautiful new drum carder to prepare the fur for spinning:

Then I used my lovely Babe spinning wheel to make yarn:

Finally - I knitted a lovely coat for Jayne's rat terrier Bridgette (modeled by a friendly bear):

And in a final startling turn of events - the bear showed that I am indeed the alpha bear in my house:

I have got to get out of the house!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Last Obedience until Spring

Jazz and I entered the Des Moines trial last weekend both Saturday and Sunday. I promised myself and him, that qualify or not, we will rebuild our heeling between now and next spring. We will stick to agility in the mean time.

We went into the obedience ring for Novice A on Saturday morning. I felt very calm and relaxed because I decided that if we failed to qualify, I could sleep in on Sunday. If we qualified - yippee! Jazz was mediocre in all of the heeling patterns. He did stay more or less with me, but did his usual lag around the ring about four feet back when the leash came off. He did a great stand for exam. He ran right to me on the recall and I was so excited that I took my eyes off him. He went right on by and galloped over to the ring gate. Bless the judge for waiting a while, because Jazz came back to see why I was just standing there. He sat down on my right side and poked my hand with his nose. I remembered my class teaching and signaled for a finish. He popped right around to a nice finish on the left. He did a very nice long sit and long down. I have taken to staring at him and grinning like a fool while he looks at me. The judge told me this is legal and it seems to help him focus on me. We qualified with a whopping 171! The judge apologized to me for such a low score and I just laughed. I am certain we did not earn any higher than that. It was a fair score for a border line performance. The Des Moines club gives very nice prizes. We got a lovely, handmade, wooden leash hook for third place. How very generous of them!

So - up at 5AM for the drive back on Sunday morning. Sunday was not very good. Jazz did an OK job of heeling on leash and the other exercises were fine. He sat in front after a slow recall and did a very nice finish. Unfortunately, his heel free was dismal. He was fairly tired of the whole thing. He drifted around, stood gawking over the ring gate, and eventually caught up to me for the end of the pattern. The best thing I can say is that I continued heeling at a brisk pace. I am very well trained and can follow the judge's direction. I wish the dog had come with me. Oh well.

The thing that makes me laugh is that I think we have turned some kind of corner. I have been rewarding volunteered attention from him at home and around the show site in Des Moines. If he looked at me and got close, I gave him praise and a treat. He now follows me around the house in heel position. I tell him how smart he is, make him heel a little way and then treat him. Today, I started teaching a "Place" command so he sits down in heel. This is the very first time in his life that he has volunteered to sit in heel and if the treat is slow coming, he sits closer! Hurrah!! Such joy over such a little thing. He is a good boy and will really come along now that I have a training plan. (Or he won't and I'll try another plan!)

Either way - agility here we come and we will keep training.