Monday, January 30, 2012

Cone Video

I took some video yesterday of Tessa's cone training session.

The thing I love most about this (again!) is how much she works to try to figure out what we are doing.  She is a real team player!

She did get a freebie click/treat in there!

At the end we moved from the Agility training into Freestyle.  The "out", "leg", "out", "leg" sequence is from our routine.

Cones and Circles

Yesterday evening I worked with Tessa a bit on the lateral sends around cones, and circles for Freestyle.  I actually ended up reworking a piece of our routine because Tessa was sitting in front of me before circling when I cued the circle from heel.  I can work the sit in, and I think it will actually provide a nice point of contrast, so I changed the routine slightly.

We started off with the cone work.  She just LOVES working with cones!!  She wags her tail and preens around!  She totally understood what I wanted from her, and she only made one mistake.  That was pretty good, considering I hadn't done this with her before.  I already need more room to work on this, though.  There isn't much more space in my living room.

Next we did some work with a NADAC hoop, at first just building drive through the hoop.  After that I worked on the rear crosses on the flat into the hoop by doing what we were doing at the seminar.  That worked really well.  Tessa and I both found it to be much clearer and I can see how eventually it will be very fluid.  I actually need more room to work on that, too.  Come on, spring!!

Then we worked on scallops.  I am looking to build fluency as she loops to my side by feeding her waaaay back and then reinforcing her for coming into position straight.  She liked the exercise.  I am also working on it with her in a stand.  I'd like for her to start doing more standing work.

Then we worked on the circles and that was where I discovered that she needs the sit in front of me right now, so I tweaked the routine.

All in all it was an excellent little training session.  A little bit of Agility and a little bit of Freestyle for just the right balance!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Post from the Past

Just for fun I am copying my description (posted elsewhere) of Tessa's very first ever training class.  This class took place on January 6, 2011.


Tessa's First Day of Class

Tessa had her first day of training class today and it went well - really well!!  She really was ready to go it on her own!

Weeeeeellllll . . . she wasn't convinced of that when we first left.  She was NOT happy about being separated from her buddies to go off in the car on her own!  When I first sent her out the front door, Dean and Maddie slipped out!  I had them come back in and Tessa managed to slip back in!  Finally I got her out there alone and she proceeded to glue herself to the door and wait for her pals there!  I put a leash on her and led her to the car.  I had to go back to getting in the passenger side and crawling over to get her to follow me to get her in.  Once in the car, she settled, and once we got to the school, she was fine.

Yes, I could have brought Maddie or Dean along and left them in the car while we were inside, but I think it is best for Tessa to start getting the hang of going off by herself.  She will have to share with her brothers and sister soon enough.

I am smart to Tessa's tricks now, so I opened the window and slipped my keys and the mat onto the roof of the car before I got her out.  I have my old bait bag to use with her at first (the same one I used with Speedy, Maddie, and Dean) and it was tied around my waist.  I double leashed Tessa with Maddie's martingale before opening the car door, but we had no issue.  She got out, turned to wait for me while I got the mat and keys off the roof of the car, and she went right in the door without any problem.  Once in, she found a comfortable bench car seat that is in the midst of the crating area.  That became her immediate safe spot and I knew then that no matter what happens there, she will always be fine!

Tessa was happy there and we waited for class to start.  There were a few people out on the floor with dogs and Tessa watched with interest.   She grumbled at them a little - I think because they were "out of control", so I taught her LAT.  She learned the game in like two seconds!  Then a friend came in with one of her young dogs and we talked until it was time for class to start.

Once on the floor, the instructor had us do a "power walk" around the room.  We were to walk with purpose and just let the dog come along.  Tessa did really well.  In fact, that was the perfect exercise for her.  She walks along with me really well and she seemed to like it.  This gave her a chance to acclimate to the room and to the people and dogs in the room.  Even though the dogs were technically supposed to be on the left, she kept moving to the inside of the circle, which was on my right, but I didn't care.  I want the right-left balance in her that Dean has (that is one thing I did very much right with him!), so I let her choose where she was comfortable.  After about five laps around the room, we all went to a spot and the instructor talked to us about basic stuff.

That was when Tessa noticed the man!  There was a man sitting on the sidelines.  He was just watching - a spouse of one of the ladies in class.  She was cautious of him, but figured out pretty fast that he wasn't moving.  I took the opportunity to start to show her that he was of no consequence.  I tossed treats on her mat and let her do some other very basic things we've worked on.  She did relax considerably and by the time we started doing exercises again she was able to do them even with the man there.

After the talk, we did an exercise where the dog would sit, we would mark, reward, praise.  Tessa liked that.  We did that a few times.  Then we did a luring exercise.  Perfect for her!  We lured a sit, a down, a sit, a stand.  We moved slowly and Tessa did well.  The first time she was hesitant, like "whaaaaat are we doing?", but once she had done it once, she became almost eager and she seemed to like that game.

Then came a real challenge!  We started to learn to lure a move into heel and sit.  That was harder for Tessa.  She's not sure about being on my left.  But I got her there.  I could only lure her to within a foot of me, so I did that and then moved in to her and gave her a jackpot.  I'm going to use a sort of backchain to get that, I think.  I tried on my right, but she was finished with the game by then, so we will work that at home.

Next we started to introduce heel and a recall.  We moved forward with the dog in heel, called, and ran backwards (to do a comefore).  Tessa wasn't super thrilled about this, but she did well.  We were over by the dogwalk and she was a bit suspicious of it.  Once we moved away from it into the center of the room, she was happier.

Finally, we started to introduce the sit stay.  She didn't like me taking her collar, so I put her in a sit, put a treat down, covered it with my foot, and released her to it.  That worked well for her.  I know this really goes against her instinct which is a very strong, "see food grab!"  So, we will take this one kind of slow.

All in all I was SO proud of my girl!  She had her moments when she was nervous and had to mentally work through some things, but by and large, she seemed to enjoy herself.  She definitely found it very interesting.  And she is eager to work with me.  It is clear that she wants to learn - she often gave me those eyes that say, "what next?".  This was such a huge step for her.  I can't believe she got this far!  And I can't wait to get to our homework and then go back next week!

She was so ready for this!

Tessa one year ago:


Great memories, and I love to think about how far she has come in just over a year!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

First Agility Seminar

Today Tessa and I attended her first Agility seminar!  It was at Dandy Dog Training which is where we normally train.  The presenter was Bridget McKnight.  She was excellent and Tessa and I both enjoyed the seminar.

It was geared toward Novice dogs, so it was right at our level.  The first run was pretty straightforward.  A jump to a curved tunnel to the A-Frame and then another tunnel to two jumps, the second of which required a wrap.  Then two more jumps back to the original tunnel, which required an off-side send into the tunnel.  Tessa did awesome!!  She ran around the first jump the first time, but got it after that.  The suggestion that Bridget made was to start using a smaller target on her A-Frame contact and to start moving out away from her after rewarding and release after moving a bit.  That's a nice simple thing that we can start to focus on.

We got to run twice.  Tessa was excited.  She was starting to caper around and really show that she was loving being out on the floor!  I love seeing her so relaxed and intent on having her head in the game!!

The second run had a very complicated opening.  Well, complicated for us!  It required a lateral lead out into a front cross past the second jump.  Interestingly, our instructor had just introduced the lateral lead out to us in class on Thursday, so it fit right in with what we have been working on.  We had to try it a few times, and a few ways before we got it.  Mostly I just need to work with Tessa on that lateral concept.  I've done a lot of work, both with her and Dean, sending them out around cones and posts and things, but I've never set them up to take it when I am standing a distance away from both dog and cone/post.  That is something we can work on in the living room.  There isn't a lot of space, but enough to get started.

Another challenge that Tessa ran into on the second course was the double jump.  She has done the double jump before - many times.  But not since she actually started running her courses.  She wasn't sure how to handle it from a run!  By the end of the day she had the idea.  I was glad to have a chance to work on it.

The last course was my favorite.  The "Rally Move" was in it, and so was a rear cross.  It may seem strange to hear me say that having a rear cross in the course was one of my favorite parts of the day, but that also fit right in with what we have been working on, and it felt good to actually get it to work!  It was a rear cross on the flat just before the second to last jump.  We got it the first time (yay!), missed it the second time, and then got it again!!

So, I'm coming out of the seminar with several very concrete things to work on:
  • Start to move out from contacts before releasing
  • Work on lateral distance when sending to something (a cone, post, or hoop will work at home)
  • Continue rear cross work, starting to incorporate equipment into the picture
The presenter said that Tessa is a really nice jumper and that was a compliment that I really appreciated.  Maybe she learned a lot more in jump class last summer than I had realized.  She does love jumping and she does it beautifully.

I give Tessa an A+ for her first seminar.  I can't believe we are already going to things like this and spending our time working on Agility skills!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Great Agility Class

This isn't a dance related post, but not all of them are going to be.  Tessa is studying Agility, as well as dance, and at some point we will probably train and do some Rally, as well.

We had an excellent Agility class last night!  I switched Tessa into the earlier class, which used to be Maddie's class because she is weaving without wires and Dean can still benefit from them.  The second class uses wires on the weaves, the earlier class doesn't.  Technically, the earlier class is above Tessa's level, but really she is on par with a good many of the dogs in there.  She has less experience, but her skills are coming along quickly.

Last summer she got to run in Thursday night class because Maddie, and then Dean, were sidelined for injuries.  Back then all she did, pretty much, were jumps.  I would either throw food over the jump or use peanut butter on a spoon.  Now she is jumping beautifully and we are starting to work on handling skills!

One thing that is unique about Tessa (to me) is that she likes a little bit of space between her and the equipment.  Maddie liked to be as close to me as possible, so I would run as close to the equipment as I could.  I will crowd Tessa right past the jumps if I run like that, so I am working on developing an entirely new way of running.  I'm enjoying it.  I love that Tessa, as my partner, is starting to give me input like that.

At one point I did a front cross and she landed with a thud.  Our instructor pointed out that I need to cross sooner so she knows I'm going to do so before she takes off.  That is different!!  Again, Maddie and I were usually side by side.  I had to cross while she was in mid-air, and for her it worked.  Tessa needs the information before she gets in the air.  So I did that, and it was the coolest sensation!  It sounds silly, but it really was like telling her what she was going to do before she did it!  So, now I need to work on crossing earlier so she can get that information.

Another high point of our evening was one time when I sent her into a tunnel in a corner.  It wasn't a huge send, but it was definitely a send.  And once she was well on her way (but not in the tunnel), I moved off to set the line for the jump to the weaves that followed.  I had never experienced that, not in all the years that Maddie and I did this.  It was like, "you go do that and I'll get us ready for the next thing!"  And Tessa loves working with me like that.  She has a spark of independence that really adds a new dimension to the way we run together.  As that develops it is going to be very fun!

Finally, she is making great progress with her crate work.  After her class, I had her inside during Dean's class while he was in the car between turns.  She is to the point where I can go out on the floor and set a jump bar and she is OK being left.  We hadn't worked on crate stuff for a while, so I was glad that she has actually progressed with that.

Of course, her trick training is never far from her mind.  While she was waiting her turn at one point, she started to get antsy and she started offering me behaviors.  I went with it for a bit because she doesn't get at all frenetic.  She was in a sit offering me paw when she decided to take it a step further.  She lifted her front paw and then lifted her back paw at the same time!!  She was offering both paws at once!!  Smart girl!

This weekend I am hoping to work on some of her Freestyle moves in preparation for her upcoming demo and competition.  I need to get some fabric to make the prop.  Also, she is going to her very first Agility seminar tomorrow!  This is the good stuff!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

She LOVES it!!

Tessa LOVES working on her routine!  Yesterday we took some time to work on it, with the music, and she was just glowing!

The routine is complete - I think.  I still need to walk it out in a large space to be sure.  Also, I need to cut the music.  I am going to cut about 20 more seconds out of it, then it should be just about right!

I am so glad that I am going to keep my promise to her!  Back in November when I had her in Innovations and I set her up in a sit before we began, I felt like we were about to perform a choreographed routine.  But there was no routine!!  We were just "doodling" to see if she would like performing in that setting, which she very much did!  I promised her that the next time we stepped into the performance ring together, we would have a routine.  And we will!

The routine is planned, the moves are trained, now to rehearse!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

From Stray to Performance Partner

Had someone asked me two years ago if I would want to adopt a dog that had been a self sufficient stray as my next performance partner, I would have said a resounding "no"!  I think my qualms would have stemmed mostly from concern about the unknown.  Where had the dog come from?  What survival tactics had the dog learned?  Would the dog be able to move past those and become a good house dog?  Would the dog learn to trust me and be a real working partner?

Of course, Tessa was completely unplanned.  I took her as a short term foster, not as a dog that I intended to adopt.  And by the time we decided to adopt her, nothing mattered other than the fact that she belonged here and I simply could not let her go.

Tessa does have certain fears and quirks that come from her past.  Maybe from the time that she was on her own.  Maybe from the way she was treated by an owner in the past.  There is no way to know.  Some would see that as a major drawback, but I see it as part of what makes Tessa who she is.  When she steps into the Freestyle ring, she will be showing the audience who she is and the experiences that influenced her before she came into my life are just as much a part of her as those she has had since.

Tessa is a survivor.  She knows how to adapt.  She knows how to work through a fear and bounce back.  She recognizes what is good in life and she works to try to get it.  And for Tessa, working with me as a training and performance partner is something very, very good.

I would never intentionally turn a dog loose in the world to "build character", but I do recognize that a lot of what I love about Tessa was formed by the fact that she had to make it on her own or die.  A lot of it is temperament, too, of course.  But she certainly did learn how to make tough situations work for her.  I admire that in her.

Photo:  Tessa's first photo in our yard after her bath on the first day she was here as my foster

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What I Love About Tessa . . .

. . . as my training and performance partner!

We were doodling a bit today with our music and some prop work.  She literally learned the trick of putting her paws up on the prop this past week and she already loves it!

In this video, we were experimenting a bit with a possible opening using this move.  I actually decided against using this as an opening, but I plan to put this in the routine, probably just after the opening.

The thing I love is that she doesn't quit.  A lot of dogs would avoid the pedestal after slipping off of it.  Tessa worked to find her footing.  Of course that isn't her actual prop and I will make sure she has good footing on the prop.  But I love seeing her refuse to quit at times like this!

Tessa works as hard to do her part as I work to do mine.  A rare and admirable quality in a dog!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tessa's Gift

At the end of December, I took Tessa to her first Agility trial.  Technically, she wasn't ready, but I needed really needed to get my first trial without Maddie over and done with and I wanted to take Tessa.  So, I did.  My goal was not to qualify or to meet any particular standard, but just to go and enjoy an Agility day with my girl.

Tessa surprised the heck out of me.  She was far more ready than I had expected her to be.  She came very close to qualifying in all four runs, and this was in NADAC where times are super tight!

Since that trial, everything has been different with Tessa at Agility class.

Last winter, of course, Tessa was just getting started with her training.  We literally started, just a year ago, with her learning to follow a lure.  She had miles and miles and miles to go before Agility would even be on the radar.

And during that time I really came to appreciate Maddie as my Agility partner.  Here I had a dog that I could go out in the ring and try anything with.  She knew what she was supposed to do and we could just enjoy herself.  I will never forget, in particular, one day when there was a course of almost all jumps and she was just powering over them, having a blast.  She was so smooth, and strong, and in command of her jumping.

So, I really took the time to enjoy the slow ride with Tessa.  She struggled for the longest time with jumping simply because she lacked the confidence, but we took it one step at a time.  She was nervous about tunnels because she had to go into them, but we went slowly and she gradually became more comfortable with them.

Everything was perfect until Maddie died.  I really lost her on two levels.  First, of course, I lost her for who she was and for who she was in our household as a beloved companion.  To this day I miss her every time I walk in the door and she's not there thumping her tail like mad.  But I also lost my Agility partner.  We had a rapport, we understood each other out there, and running with her really was like a dance.

And suddenly, trying to run with Tessa seemed clunky and disjointed.  I felt like I was out there with a total stranger and it felt all wrong.

Now, I realize that was part of the mourning process.  Tessa literally started Beginner class (just out of foundation) the week we lost Maddie.  Really, her progress has been lightning fast.  But at that point, it felt like it was taking forever.

But we went on.  I made myself be patient and every class she made slow but very steady progress.  By December I started to notice something about Tessa - she was actually working just as hard as I was out there.  She was actively trying to figure out what the heck I wanted her to do and she was trying to do it!  And when I understood that, I began to really appreciate that about her.

We ended up getting something far better than Q's at that trial.  We finally became a team.  Since the trial, she has become my Agility partner.  I can't explain what the difference is, but now Tessa and I are in this together.  Yes, she still has skills to learn and she is very green.  And I still have a lot to learn about handling her.  But something changed in a big way.  I feel it every time I step into the ring with her.

It is like we have discovered our own language and we "speak" to each other out there.  It's still pretty basic right now, but we're "talking"!!  And it's only going to get better and better!!

Tessa gave me a tremendous gift that day - one that I will not fail to appreciate. 

I still miss Maddie and I know I always will.  Tessa does, too, I know.  But I feel better about Agility than I have since I lost her.  I am enjoying it more with Dean than I have since then, as well.

Giving Paw

When I was growing up, I considered a dog who knew how to give paw a "trained dog". Our family dog could do two things on cue - he could sit and give paw. That was it.  And that was my definition of "trained"!!

Sammie knew how to give paw when we adopted him. I was very pleased about that. His "high fives" are still his favorite trick. 

It took quite a bit of doing to get Speedy to give paw. He never liked having his paws touched. Whenever I would reach out a hand close to his paw, he would pull it away. I finally got around it by shaping him to touch a board on the ground with his paw and then I transferred the behavior to a dowel. Then I slowly raised the dowel and when he was offering the paw touch to that, I put a cue to it. Then I held out my hand and he learned to touch his paw to my hand. He does nice paw touches now to my hand or my leg.

Speedy with his paw on a the prop from our "Here Comes the Sun" routine:

Maddie learned to give paw in tricks class. It was pretty easy, but she had one quirk. When I put my hand out for her to give paw, she would almost always nose touch my hand first and then give paw!! It was a Maddie-ism. Eventually the nose touch faded out, somewhat, but she would still do it sometimes.   

Dean learned to give paw the fastest. I picked up his paw and gave him a treat. Did it again. The third time, he reached up and put his paw in my hand, I added a cue, and it was done. It literally took seconds, both paws! 

Tessa has been somewhat of a challenge with this. I started teaching her to give paw almost a year ago. It was something we would work on during down time in class or on the sidelines. I used the method with her where I held the treat over her head until one paw lifted slightly and then I would take her paw in my hand and treat. She did not get past this stage for ages. 

Then, we were in tricks class about a week ago and she just did it! I put my hand out, and she put her paw right in my hand!! Since then she has been experimenting with the behavior and having some fun with it. And she even did it for Ben when he was doling out treats over the weekend. It was funny because Sammie, Speedy, and Dean were all trying to get in on it! Paws were being offered left and right!! No pun intended!! 

This is more than just a dance move for Tessa. It is something that she will eventually be able to use to interface with new people! So, according to my former standards, Tessa is now a "trained dog"!! She sits and gives paw!! And considering where we started, I am extra proud of her progress!! 

Tessa sitting on the sidelines at her first Agility trial since I don't have any pictures of her giving paw yet!