Rally Reflections…I think we’re over the hump!

Since February 2011, I’ve really been trying to change the way Bear and I ‘play’ the rally game. Our last successful run of trialing was back in 2009 and since then we have failed for Bear barking his head off in the ring, for Bear wandering around the ring like some sort of zombie dog (not a zombie rally dog) and once for taking the tunnel in a versatility run FOUR times.

*sigh*

If I were to see the silver lining in all this, I’d say at least these epic failures give me the right to tell competitors when I am judging that they likely won’t out do anything Bear and I have done – Judges are people too!

There’s another silver lining

Last February’s nonsense prompted me (with some poking and prodding by Renee Will of Two Brown Dogs Canine Consultants) to re-examine how I interact with Bear and focus on having a good time together. We’ve been working on having fun with tricks and tracking and we even went back to school to work on a few new games to help us have fun and keep it together long enough for to perform a rally run. The most interesting thing about our work in class is that Bear has made it painfully clear that in a contest between a good game of tug (with the right toy) and a bunch of liver, he would almost always prefer tug. He is a VERY, very food motivated dog but…playing tug really jazzes him up. This means I’ve had to change our pre-trial routine to one of some cookies but mostly playing tug and it also means that I needed to find a small, conceal-able tug toy for trials….and so I did some shopping and came home with a winner!

It's not big or manly in ANY way but it's pretty cool if you ask Bear. He's even nice enough to keep his teeth off my skin when we play with it.

 

I think all the work is …working!

A couple of weekends ago, Bear and I were entered in a rally trial hosted right here at home. Since I was judging on Sunday I could only enter one Advanced C event and one Versatility event on Saturday. At this stage I’m not so worried about the exercises but my main goal for us as a team was to be able to keep our cool, thinking brains working and not to let panic or anxiety (in my case) or stress and frantic racing and barking (in Bear’s case) take over.

Here are the details

Since I was trial secretary, Bear came in early with me and puttered around the building until it was time for competitors to come in and set up. Then, I decided to kennel Bear outdoors in car which was parked in the shade (it was cooler out there than indoors!) until about 5 minutes before our run. He comes to work regularly with me so this is his second home but I knew that he would relax better outdoors with less noise.

  • Our First run, in Advanced C was the first class of the day. I did my walkthrough and then brought Bear in as the dog before us went into the ring. We did a bit of “zen”, played some tug with our new favorite toy and practiced a few tricks because they always make me smile and they say that smiling is relaxing! We had a good tug and then the cookies and toys went ‘away’ and we set off on our run. Bear was focused on me while entering the ring and right up to the start line. Our run went quite smoothly with deductions for a slight pause and a double command on the moving down (-5) and for a crooked sits near a wall and a door (-2) and for a double command at a sit near a jump (-2). We squeaked by the C Stream requirement of a Score of 190 with a 191 but all in all, it was an excellent run and we played a big giant game of tug at the end.
  • Our Second run was in Versatility and took place in the middle of the trial day. This time, I brought Bear in before just our walkthrough and while the dog before us went into the ring, we practiced more tricks and played some more tug. This run went VERY well although it started out with a stress scratch at the second station (-2). We also lost points on another crooked sit near a wall (-2), a double command to get Bear to weave through my legs (-2) and for Bear moving out of position towards the gate as we passed it (-2). The deductions were minor so I was very happy with this run – lotsa tug was played and then Bear got to relax in his crate for the reminder of the day with some yummy chicken backs!

None of the legs earned that weekend earned us a title, but we are now only one leg short of a Versatility title. Unfortunately both of our Versatility legs are under Renee so I’ll have to travel or wait until our trial in June to qualify under a different judge.

Now what?

We are going to travel to Regina in a few months to attend the KAOS Dog Sports trial. My plan is to enter two Advanced Team runs and also one Excellent C run each day. My plan for the next couple of months is to keep up the training we’ve been doing to keep Bear ‘ready to work’ and to refresh our sits in tight spaces and moving downs. The sits and downs will be easy enough to fix with a clicker and a handful of cookies. We’ve been using the Give Me a Break Game from Leslie McDevitts book, Control Unleashed to get that ‘ready to work attitude’ using distractions such as other dogs and food bowls but I think I might start adding other things in like toys, balls and other things one sees at a trial like a stewards table with goodies on top and underneath in buckets, boxes and Rubbermaid containers.

CARO Working Stream – I think it could be fun!

A few weeks ago, as many of you know, we hosted a CARO rally trial. We offered most regular classes with the exception of Excellent Team and Versatility Excellent (not many folks working at this level yet). We also offered the new Working Level as a For Exhibition Only (FEO) run. 

What is the Working Level?

If you are not familiar with the working level you can read the working handbook at the CARO website. Essentially the working level is a series of 10 exercises, broken into two groups. All of the exercises involve distance work, directional work, object discrimination and scent discrimination. Many of the exercises are similar to CKC (or AKC) Open and Utility exercises.

Course Design

I designed a Working Level Novice I course (is attached below) because this is the current entry level for teams that have achieved their Canadian Rally Advanced (CRA) Title. In this instance it was not incredibly difficult to design the course because I had a 60′ x 70′ ring at my disposal but I think smaller venues will be challenged. I also have a feeling that we won’t see much variation in course design with this level because, there are only 5 stations and because competitors may complete exercises in any order they prefer. For a PDF version of the course above, click here.

Course Set Up

To say working level course set up is intensive is an understatement. It took us 30-40 minutes to set the course vs 20 minutes for a full course changeup in regular classes. I am sure part of this was because this was our first time but part was also because there was some confusion about exact measurements for the barrel racing exercise.

Course Runs

We had 3 teams participate. One team included a dog working at the Excellent level in CARO with a CKC OTCH, one team is working at the Excellent level and the other finished their Versatility title that weekend and is working in agility.

  • All of the runs were completed in under 5 minutes so think the current allowance of 10 minutes to complete the course is very generous.
  • All of the teams qualified in at least one exercise.
  • None of the dogs or handlers seemed disturbed by the change in set up from a directional course to a “handler’s choice” course

Judging

Judging the runs is fairly simple, once a person understands the rules – I found myself referring to the rule book a lot however I think as Bear and I train more for this event and as I see more teams competing it will become easier.

Overall Impressions

Good

I think the working level could be rather interesting, especially in an area where there are a lot of competitors working at the Excellent level or higher. There are certainly a lot of challenges, even for a dog that has attained an OTCH or a MACH.

Not so Good

I have a feeling trial offerings in the Working Stream will be rather slim for the following reasons

  • Working level takes longer, and given the set up time required I don’t think it will be possible to fit as many runs in a day as with other levels. Clubs are going to have to charge more for a working run in order to be able to pay their judges.
  • Less densely populated areas may have trouble drumming up entries based on the current entry point (after CRA title).
  • It could be difficult to add Working Levels into an already packed day of Rally.

Solutions

I think there are is one thing that might help make working level more accessible and therefore more feasible (financially) for trial hosts – another entry point for novice dogs and handlers. I have submitted a proposal to CARO executive and am looking forward to their feedback on this.

I think a lot of the foundation skills for the Working Level Novice exercises are great ‘thinking skills’ for dogs and I think owners will have a lot of fun teaching them. We’ve been successful locally with a class we call Canine Cross Training at Two Brown Dogs Canine Consultants which teaches dogs and handlers that works on a lot of skills that would be useful in in any dog sport – be it rally, obedience or agility. Typically I would say the dogs and owners in our Cross Training classes are great teams but not quite ready for the brain load that is Rally Obedience. For Some reason, a 5 exercise course (even with more difficult exercises) appeals to them more than a 20 exercise course.

Conclusions

I think the CARO Working Stream has a lot of potential and would love to “play” with my dog. We’re certainly going to stay up to date on developments here in Brandon, MB although I think we’re a while away from offering a trial.

Bear Tracks! Trouble in Paradise

If you’ve been following our tracking adventure you will have noticed by now that there hasn’t been a report for a few weeks. That’s because we’ve hit a few snags.

Snag One – Life

Business at Prairie Dog Daycare has been steadily ramping up. It’s that time of year when parents are busy getting kids ready for school and everyone is back from summer vacation. This means longer hours at work which means shorter hours at home. I’ve also been essentially working 6 days a week this month as we’ve had an event during 3 out of 4 weekends in August. I don’t see things slowing down any for some time as I’m also going back to teaching Canine Cross Training with Two Brown Dogs this month.

  •  Solution: I’m going to plan to get out at least twice a week. Once during the weekend and once during the week. I will also plan some glove games indoors once during the week when Bear comes to work with me.

Snag Two – Corners

In week five, the plan we are following says we should be able to do a track with two corners, regardless of the wind direction with no food drops. We’re working with 3 flags…one to start, one 30 meters out and one at the second corner. Bear has not been reading the plan and it does not appear that he can find the corners…he DOES appear to be working but I have a hard time believing he’s working the right track 40 feet pasty the corner. the other thing that has been happening is that he stops all together. Head comes up and he stands there looking around…not sniffing the air, just staring…that’s not a good thing.

  •  Solution: I can’t remember where I read it but I recall a trainer saying, “when in doubt, go back to kindergarten.” Basically this means, when you’re having training problems, go back to the basics – the problem you’re having now is likely the result of a less than solid foundation….I’m guessing this applies to tracking…Sooooo…we’re going to back up a week and work more on corners. I’m also going to get Sean to help us by videotaping our tracks to see if maybe bear IS giving signs that he’s found the track and I’m just not picking up on them. Videotape never lies!

 Final Thoughts

We were entered in a tracking test later in September but I withdrew us – I don’t see us getting over either snag n the next few weeks. I do want to keep tracking because I do think Bear enjoys it – at least that’s why I think he leaps into the air when the harness comes out! I also think tracking has had a positive effect on our Rally work and I’ll be posting about that shortly.

Rally Course of the Week – August 29, 2011

Course Details

Level: Novice (CARO)

Space Required: 50’x50′

Designer: Ayoka Bubar

Comments: Here is another course with a lot of sits (I count 14) and also three time-consuming exercises, the spiral, the weave and of course 1,2,3, steps forward. This means that even with 4 minutes to complete the course at the novice level, you and your dog need to be working at a reasonable pace. It also means that a dog with crooked sits could lose a significant amount of points for crooked sits. On the plus side, all the sits means you have 6 opportunities to reward your dog after an exercise and some dogs really perk up when they get a cookie part way through.

Download this Course: CARO 50′x 50′ Course – Novice (T11-09)

If you would like to have your course featured as a course of the week, just email it to me (prairiedogdaycare@yahoo.ca) and I’ll happily give you credit and provide your personal or business contact info and link.

Rally Course of the Week – August 22, 2011

Course Details

Level: Excellent (CARO)

Space Required: 50’x70′

Designer: Ayoka Bubar

Comments: At the Excellent level, there are always two obstacles for teams to perform. In this course the obstacles are weave poles and the tunnel. The main challenge of this course, aside from the excellent level exercises, is the fact that teams are working in close proximity to the obstacles. This means dogs  need the perfect balance of desire to move out to the obstacle and control and ability to stay with their handlers until asked to go out to an obstacle. For smaller spaces I would break the course down into smaller pieces trying stations 1-9 and then stations 10-16.

Download this Course: CARO 50′x 70′ Course – Excellent (T11-50)

If you would like to have your course featured as a course of the week, just email it to me (prairiedogdaycare@yahoo.ca) and I’ll happily give you credit and provide your personal or business contact info/links.

Rally Course of the Week – August 15, 2011

Course Details

Level: Advanced (CARO)

Space Required: 50’x50′

Designer: Ayoka Bubar

Comments: Distance work is one of the key differences between novice and advanced levels in CARO rally. This advanced course might appear easy (no food bowls!) however it does require a dog that is comfortable in a stay while you move about (moving down, stand for exam, call front while running).  This course is also fairly easy to break down into segments for practicing in smaller spaces – I would practice exercises 1-10 together and 11-19 together. The other challenge is positioning yourself (and your dog) properly for the jump. The station before the jump is not directly in front of the send point but there is plenty of room to move out into the “legal” send=point area, but you have to be paying attention.

Download this Course: CARO 50′x 50′ Course – Advanced (T10-55)

Bear Tracks! Week Four

This week was a week of distractions.

Our first distraction was a thunderstorm rolling in.  Bear isn’t afraid of thunder but he does bark at loud noises outside the house (when he’s inside) and this goes for motor bikes, loud trucks, fire works and…thunder. The great thing about prairie thunderstorms is you can see them miles away. I could see this one in the distance and we managed to finish tracking and make it home before rain, thunder and lightning were upon us. Bear stopped several times to listen to the distant thunder but was able to continue tracking.

Prairie Storm Rollin' In!

Our second major distraction is what we call prairie dogs (they are actually thirteen-lined ground squirrels) and this week I had one run over my foot! Luckily, Bear was 20 feet away at the time, and we made so much noise walking through the tall grass that he couldn’t hear it scamper away. I played it cool and tried to pretend like nothing happened hoping not to give it away. I think that’s going to be my plan when I see one of those little critters from now on.

Track Details

This week we worked through two tracks a day with two corners each. We also found a new patch of grass to track in and it has hills, actually they are more like berms, but they are great tracking challenges.

Body Language & Handling

The biggest challenge for me this week was that we have started fading the food
(for bear) and the flags on track (for me). Taking out the visual cues (flags) for me means that I really have to watch Bear and make sure he seems committed to a corner before we start down that leg of the track. In a CKC tracking trial, if you deviate too far from the track you could disqualify so knowing the difference between being on track and general sniffing around is important. Right now it’s easy to see Bear find corners as we are still working with food drops at corners to guide Bear’s nose left or right but eventually we won’t have that to help either. 

Article Indication

One day this week, while I was gardening, Bear stole my glove and paraded around the yard with it. So I told him what a good dog he was and tossed the other one for him to retrieve! I know this is technically NOT an indication but I could not help but reward that enthusiasm and initiative!

The glove game we have been playing involves:

  • filling a glove with kibble, and sealing the ends off so Bear cannot get the kibble himself.
  • Tossing the glove away or hiding it in random locations
  • Telling him to “find it”

What he’s been doing is finding it, grabbing it and flipping it with his nose and when he realizes there are no kibbles coming out – he lays down and I come to him and take some cookies out of the glove for him. We play this game until the glove is empty and my plan is to fade out the kibble entirely by starting with fewer and fewer cookies in the glove.

Meters tracked this week

3,570

Meters tracked since Week One

12,525

Next Week…

  • Only one track a day…but;
  • No food!
  • We start aging the track up to 25 minutes!

Rally Course of the Week – August 8, 2011

Course Details

Level: Novice Team (CARO)

Space Required: 50’x50′

Designer: Ayoka Bubar

Comments: This is a fairly basic team course which is set up so that each team has their own half of the course to work on. Some courses involve more path crossing or one dog working around the other but this one, as it happens, gives dogs lots of space while respecting the course requirement that dogs must pass within 10 feet of each other at some point. Stationary exercises are equally distributed so there’s no real difference in either half of the course. One thing I like about this course is that you could easily work on half of the course in a smaller (20×50) area.

Download this Course: CARO 50′x 50′ Course – Novice Team (T11-50)

Woodworking Weekend – Making a Cart (Part 1)

Ever since I attended a drafting seminar in New Brunswick way back in 2007 (put on by the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Canada I think), I have been meaning to make a cart for Bear…I mean how hard can it be right?

Bear hauling a cart back in 2007! He looks like such a pro you wouldn't know it was his first day!

I found some cart plans that made sense to me on-line  at http://www.bmdinfo.com and I have had these plans on one hard drive or another for a few years now.  Four years later, we’ve just booked Sue Ailsby for a seminar at Prairie Dog Daycare and Two Brown Dogs for the fall and drafting is on the schedule so I figured I should be ready!

I headed down to the local Home Depot this past Saturday morning with my blueprints in hand, hoping -no praying- that I wouldn’t have to wait forever to find someone who could cut a sheet of plywood for me. I did have to wait, but not forever. The guy that I accosted for help  was pretty good – I told him I needed a sheet of plywood cut and he went and got me a wood cart and then we hauled a piece down fr cutting which took all of 5 minutes on the coolest plywood saw you ever s did see. When he handed me my last piece of wood I said thanks and he said,

“I love helping women out here, they always know exactly what they want”

I laughed but did not tell him that I was extra prepared because I can not stand the condescending looks you get if you happen to go in without knowing what you need or want and are lucky enough to also get the one sexist jerk in the store.

Anyway, since you get five cuts for free, I got the 4′ x 8′ piece cut into manageable sizes (that would fit into the car) and then I headed to the other side of the store to pick up some wood stain. I had visions of doing some fancy stencil work but then I saw the basic black wood stain which I thought would look awesome – especially with the aluminum trim I’m going to need.

I brought all my supplies home, had some lunch and then set about trimming my pieces down to size. One sheet of plywood makes 2 carts so I’ll be making one for Bear and then one to sell which should at least cover the expenses of making the carts  – and maybe a bit extra to pay for a harness.

Plywood all trimmed to size.

One thing that is apparent is that this is going to be one heck of a big cart. I’m not so much worried about the weight – bear is rather strong – but it may be difficult to maneuver should we ever make it to a Draft Test.  For now I’m not going to worry – I can always adjust the plans and make another cart if need be.

I’m using minwax products to finish the cart and picked up a small can of both wood conditioner and the stain and finish 2 in 1 in classic black. In hind sight I should have purchased the larger cans of each.

Products for today...

Once the pieces were cut, I applied the wood conditioner to both sides and then the stain & finish product.

Cart pieces after first coat of stain.

I was hoping for a more transparent stain but I still like the look and texture of the classic black.

Bear acting as the woodworking supervisor....

Next Steps

  • Apply a water resistant finish (we could be working in wet weather)
  • Track down some aluminum angle for trim
  • Keep an eye out for 20″ wheels

Bear Tracks! Week Three

I learned two very important things this week that will help me on blind tracks. And both items relate to…

Body Language & Handling

  • Very Important Thing #1: Bear works better when the track is down wind. I accidentally set a track with a leg up wind and he did lots of drifting back and forth into the wind. I remember this being referred to as a ‘scent cone’ at the seminar last fall and it’s clear to me that there is a LOT to smell and that it’s been spread out!
  • Very Important Thing #2: As all the books say, I really do need to trust my dog. The first half of this week Bear was tracking way off track and so I planted my feet and reset him. At first I thought it was because all my subsequent tracks were up wind but when I fixed that error (on my part) I realized he’s just working scent that has blown down wind and apparently scent travels better than I thought. He was easily up to 20 feet off the track, but appeared to be working, so I just let him go…and he found the corners AND the end food drop.

The lesson here is to follow my dog and not the flags. Over time I am also better able to tell when he’s tracking animal scent or my track. Animal tracks get more active sniffing, circling and his body stiffens up like he’s winding up for a pounce – it’s subtle but rather obvious to me now.

Speaking of animals…

One thing that has really blown me over this week is how un-interesting prairie dog holes are to Bear now. This is something that previously I would be anxious about in a ring or near a ring but now it feels like we’ve been tracking over, I dunno – a million and they get a sniff and then Bear moves on. I’m okay with a perfunctory sniff because, quite frankly, if I have stepped over one, my scent has likely dropped into the hole. What does remain Bear’s kryptonite are actual prairie dogs and any other small thing in the grass like a bird – at least until it takes flight – and then it’s boring.

Track Details

This week we worked the same 3 day set of tracks with corners with 3 days of corners downwind and 3 days of corners up wind. As I mentioned above cross winds and wind have a huge effect on bear tracking and I need to pay close attention to his body language and not the flags.

This week was also a lengthy tracking week (3875 meters) and tracks had to be aged 15 minutes. It worked out that by the time I was finished laying 3 tracks, it was time to start again. I had hoped to get ahead one day by laying 6 tracks over 2 sessions however, just as I finished laying the final track, one of the base maintenance folks came along with what could be called a mower but was really more like a small hay bailer. *silent scream* I pulled up my flags and we resolved to only do one set of tracks that day. The upshot of the mowing is that now we get to practice in shorter grass which is another training and trial variable we’ll need to learn to handle.

Article Indication

This week we’ve been working on the indication separately.

Bear indicating the article....or is he taking a nap?

On the track, I have started cuing the article indication as Bear usually acknowledges the article and continues on tracking. I can see that this could be an issue if, in fact, I don’t see the article. I’m also not certain if I am allowed to cue the indication in a test setting. I think I might try a 2 pronged approach to this:

  1. Making sure that most of Bear’s meals appear in the track and in the glove. Up to now I have been using my finally perfected recipe for Lip Smack’n Trackin’ Treats. But now that the food drops are more spaced out, I am at a point where I need to add a larger reward at the final food drop.
  2. Teaching Bear Scent discrimination games to help him learn that this whole game is about finding the thing with the most scent.

Equipment

I finally found my other long line and tried it out. I love that it’s longer and lighter. I hate that it gives me rope burn and has at least 5 million knots in it – the kind that are not coming out. I think I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and get some biking gloves.

Next Week…

  • We start tracks with 2 (!!) corners.
  • We continue building the indication behavior.
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