Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cross Training

Sometimes I wonder if I am actually doing my dogs a disservice by training multiple sports with them instead of focusing in on one.  I have thought about this a great deal, and there are certain benefits and particular drawbacks to cross training multiple sports.

The Benefits

1.  Variety of Skills

Training in multiple sports produces a dog who has a wide variety of skills.  While many sport skills do transfer and overlap from one sport to another, some are particular to a certain discipline.  Where a dog will primarily build skills on the left side of the handler through Rally, the dog will become adept at working on the right through Freestyle.  Where a dog will learn to work close to the handler in Rally and Freestyle, the dog will learn to work more independently at a distance in Agility.

A dog who trains in 2 or more sports will be far more well-rounded in skill than a dog who trains exclusively in one.

2.  Overlap of Skills

Many skills transfer from one sport to another.  Pivots, which are a set exercise in Rally, can become a dance move in Freestyle, and can serve to build hind end awareness for Agility.  A Freestyle switch can serve as a foundation for switch in Agility.  Dean has actually done very little formal study of Rally.  Almost all of his Rally skills came through Freestyle.

I have often been surprised at the way that some skills can transfer from one sport to another.

3.  Physical Balance

When training in multiple sports, the dog is highly unlikely to get into a physical rut of the same repetitive movement.  I have heard that some dogs develop issues later in life after many years of training in Obedience due to always walking on the left side of the handler with eyes raised toward the handler.  In Agility, the dog gets the opportunity to run straight ahead, eyes on the equipment.  Freestyle balances heelwork between the left and the right, and incorporates physical twists and turns that break up the straight forward movement.  I started some Freestyle with Maddie later in her life to improve her physical conditioning for Agility and it was very beneficial to her.

4.  More Fun

I enjoy doing different things with my dogs, and my dogs seem to enjoy doing different things with me.  Tessa seems to like the variety that she experiences bouncing back and forth between Rally FrEe and Agility.  She loves trying out new tricks and learning new moves.  She also enjoys Agility skill drills.  If she doesn't like mixing her activities up, she is a very good little actress because it really seems that she revels in getting out in the ring to do different things.

5.  More Confidence and Relationship Building

This goes along with variety of skills, but I have found that the more I do with my dogs, the more confident they become, and we develop a closer bond through the experience.  I can't say that wouldn't happen if we were focused only on one sport, but it does seem that mastery of many skills, and different experiences in the ring, do seem to provide confidence building opportunities that a single sport might not.



The Drawbacks

1.  Jack of all Skills, Master of None . . . 

With a limited amount of training time, true mastery of higher level skills does seem to suffer when that time is distributed among many different behaviors and exercises instead of honing in on a more limited amount.  I know there are excellent trainers out there who do help their dogs achieve a high level of mastery of complex skills between different sports, but it does seem that the vast majority of "the greats" do tend to choose one sport to focus in on.

If I made a list of all of the skills that I would like to train Dean and Tessa to execute with a high level of competency, it would actually prove to be an impossible list to complete.  That often leaves me with the choice of training more skills to a lower level of capability, or letting some skills go to improve upon others.  And sometimes I decide one way and sometimes I decide the other, but the bottom line is that it will never all get done.  I will always have to make these kinds of choices.

2.  A Tough Mental Game

Sometimes I find it difficult to switch, mentally, between one sport and another.  Sometimes I get "in the zone" with Agility and that is pretty much all I want to do.  But a Freestyle competition is coming up and I need to break away mentally and prepare for that.  Or, I get into Freestyle mode, and switching over to Agility is difficult.

I know that part of the disconnected feeling that I experienced at Periland this weekend was caused by the fact that I have not yet mentally come back to earth after the Rally FrEe competition.  Tessa and I were able to muddle through the Agility trial on the skills that we have, but I couldn't conjure up the focus that I had at Westminster.

I'll get back there.  We have two more Agility trials coming up in May and I am fairly certain that I will get my brain back to where it needs to be.

I have to wonder if my dogs experience anything similar . . . 

3.  Limited Competition Resources

Competitions and trials cost money.  There are entry fees, travel costs, and only so many weekends that can be set aside for dog events.

When splitting those resources between two, or more, sports, and sometimes even between venues within those sports, icing can end up being spread think over a large cake.  With less opportunities to qualify, there is less opportunity to earn titles.

Maybe Maddie and I could have earned her CATCH had I not taken some of her potential Agility weekends to do Freestyle with Speedy, or Rally with Dean.  Who knows?  Maybe not, but we may well have gotten further along than we did.

Because I compete in multiple sports, I tend to minimize my participation on competition weekends to save time and money.  I will often enter only one day of a trial, as I did at Periland this weekend, and only run once or twice.  I almost never attend both days of a Freestyle competition, and I will probably only attend one day of future Rally FrEe events in Altoona.

To get to the higher levels, you need more than skill - you have to set aside the resources to attend enough events to climb up through the ranks.  Since I divide my competition time between several sports, I don't allow as much time for this as I would if I were focused in on one sport.

So, to some extent, I do trade the opportunity to get to the higher levels faster for the chance to enjoy different things.  I may be at the lower levels doing those different things, but I am able to enjoy more than one activity.  To me it is a worthwhile trade.


In Conclusion

Whether or not to cross train and compete in multiple sports across multiple venues is a highly individual choice.  I can understand why some people choose to focus in only one one competitive sport.  At the same time, I have come to the conclusion over and over that, in spite of the drawbacks, of which I am very, very aware, it is just way too much fun to participate in Freestyle and Agility, along with some Rally, and now in Rally FrEe, to cut any one out.

And so we will continue . . . .

 


Good Training Evening

Last night we had Rally FrEe class.  Dean and Tessa were both very eager to go!  Dean was practically plastered to the front door when I was getting ready to let them out to wait to get into the car!

We started out with a row of signs set down the diagonal of the room - just 3 in each direction.  This was to allow for more heeling in between each sign, which is something that all of us need to work with from time to time.

Tessa and Dean both did really, really well with it.  Both were very focused, did nice position work, and did a good job on the signs.  I am focusing on making hand cues more subtle and reinforcing in good places.

After that, we worked a bit on some Intermediate signs!  We worked on a Free Choice into behind, which is something I am really going to have to focus on with both of them. We worked on simultaneous spins and twirls, which is something both of them are actually pretty good at.  And we worked on backing in heel and side.  This was practically new to Tessa and it is something I have started, but never finished, with Dean.

Backing in heel/side has been a challenge of mine.  Speedy had issues with it.  He was bothered by backing from the first time I introduced it.  He did go on to learn to back away from me in front pretty nicely, although it was never his favorite.  He actually mastered backing in heel to some extent, but then I accidentally stepped on his foot and that was that.  He will do it when I have food visible to him, but he never really learned to do it well enough to bring it into competition.

Maddie liked to back in heel, but she needed a ton of food to convince her it was worth her while!

So, this is something that I have never trained to fluency, but have always wanted to.

I worked with Tessa to capture it.  I stood with her between a wall and myself, and I took a slow step backward.  At first she sat.  I had her stand and I held some food low and took only have a step.  When she shifted back, I clicked and gave her a treat.  From there we progressed to a whole step.  After a few reps she could go back two steps and did not sit anymore, and I was able to get the food out of the picture.  Oddly, she did better with this in side than in heel, but by the time we were finished, she was definitely getting the idea.

Dean remembered doing this before.  When I stand him between myself and a wall, he can back 3 - 4 steps.  One thing - he does turn crooked on the heel side.  I think that is physical and that is just the way it is going to be.  Although he does turn crooked, he does move, for the most part, backwards, so it works.

One of the best things about the training session with Dean was that there were 4 other dogs on the floor working and he didn't think anything of it!  He has been leary of working with other dogs on the floor before, worrying that something is going to bang or drop.  He was very obviously relaxed, and having a great time.

We also made a nice intro of Free Choice into behind.  Both of them backed through my legs to get into Follow position.  We also did simultaneous spins to land them into follow.  This is something I would really like to develop to the point where both dogs have several options.

It was a great training night and I am really looking forward to getting more into the Intermediate work with both of them.  I actually love that I am doing this with both of them at the same time.  Somehow it makes it more fun.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Periland

Yesterday Tessa and I switched back into Agility mode and went down to Periland to compete in CPE - Level 2 Standard, Level 3 Colors, and Level 2 Snooker.

On paper, the day was a rousing success.  We earned a Q and second place, in Standard, a Q and third place in Colors, and a Q and second place in Snooker.

But the fact is, we struggled throughout the day.  After the flawless dream that was Westminster, this trial served to bring me firmly back down to earth!  And while that is, objectively, a good thing, it does make for something of a long day!

First of all, when I pulled into the parking lot, I realized that I had forgotten treats!  I have never, in all my years competing in dog sports, forgotten to bring treats!  It's not that Tessa needs them to perform.  I don't even take treats when we go to wait our turn to go in.  But she appreciates a jackpot after her run, and I often use them when environmental things happen.  I knew it would be a long day for her without treats.

We were in luck, though.  There was a lady there selling good treats, and even though she wasn't open, she gave me a sample to tide us over until she opened up later.  She was very gracious, and I appreciated her help.  I could have gone down to Sheetz for cheese, but I preferred not to leave until I went to get lunch later on.

Standard was an adventure.  Tessa was NUTS!  I set her at the start line and went to the other side of the jump.  When I released her, she ran to the bar setter!  Tessa!  The dog who used to cower in fear when anyone was in her general vicinity!  Now she's visiting ring crew.  While I am happy about that one level, I don't want this to become a habit.  For the rest of the day I started with her, and we will be playing some GMAB to counter that tendency in a positive and enjoyable way.

To her credit, she did come right back to me when I called her, and then she proceeded to circle the jump once before taking it!  Thankfully, she did take it in the correct direction!  Then she was fantastic through a nice curve of 4 more jumps.

There was a bit of a handling challenge at the end of that curve.  The next piece of equipment was weave poles, which were sharply to the left of the last jump in that curve.  But right in front of Tessa, dead on and close, was a very inviting tunnel entrance!!  I tried having her do a rear on the flat at a bit of a strange angle, and that actually worked.  But when she got to the weave poles, she started to run parallel to them, instead of weaving them!  I called her back to start over and she immediately flew back into that stinkin' tunnel!!!!

Sheesh - I actually considered running her into the tunnel, off course, on purpose, to begin with.  You can have an off course in Level 2.  But I want to do better than that, so I did attempt something that I felt recognized good handling!  Tessa wasn't buying it, though!  She was getting into the tunnel by hook or by crook! 

While she was tunneling, I flipped around so she would approach the weaves on-side, and then she weaved them.  She did a nice A-Frame, and took a tire, double, and dog walk nicely.  After another jump was the teeter and she did it!!!  I am super proud of her for that!  I am still leary of teeters she isn't familiar with and she handled this one perfectly!! 

But I didn't handle quite right.  I was on the wrong side to get her into the next tunnel, so I just looped her around in a Freestyle swing, and off we went!

I knew that in spite of Tessa's shenanigans, that was a faultless run, but I wasn't sure if we made it on time.  We did - just barely!  Technically we were over by a few tenths, but they must round down on Standard because we got the Q!!

One thing I will say - Tessa had a blast on that run!  I have no video, but I will always remember what a wild child she was on that one!  She did get her zoomies out on that run, thankfully!!

It started to rain at that point, and I was so, so grateful for the new building!  Had Periland still been an outdoor trial, we would have left after Standard!  Although it got rather damp and chill throughout the day, we were dry inside and we had a safe surface to run on!

Since Level 1 had to run after Level 2, we took a break then and went to get lunch.  After we got back, Level 1 was about finishing up, so we got ready for Level 3 Colors.  I walked both courses and found that the one I liked best was the one I didn't think I was going to like!  The lighter color course was actually shorter and did not have a teeter, and it had on side weaves, which Tessa seemed to prefer yesterday, for some reason, but it also had a really nasty turn that pretty much required a rear cross, and I just didn't want to deal with that.  Also, I wanted Tessa to get more experience on the teeter.  What are we there for if not to try things?  I decided to risk the teeter in favor of the course that didn't have the rear cross.

All in all, it did go well.  We ran the first part pretty nicely, and the teeter went off without a hitch!  But then she missed those darn off-side weaves again!  I'm not quite sure what is going on with that.  Off-side has always been her stronger entry!  She just couldn't seem to see it yesterday!  So, again, I flipped myself to the on-side, and she weaved perfectly, but then I had to loop her around back into position and that threw off our timing!  She thought it was a great game, and she puppy bowed deep into the dirt!  LOL!!  Then we took off in the right direction, but I was flailing, and flopping my arms around like a nut!!  But Tessa finished the course perfectly!

We did qualify, and we were under time, but barely!  Having to re-situate the weaves cost us.

On one hand, I am grateful that Tessa is getting her teeters done.  I'd rather have weave pole problems than teeter problems any day of the week.  I know that Tessa knows her weaves, we just have to refresh them a bit.  I think part of the issue may have been angle of entry (straight on), but in any case a bit of retraining is in order.  We can make them better than they were before.

I do have a video of this run, but it is not yet uploaded.

Then we waited.  And waited, and waited!  Levels 1 and 2 Colors had to run, and then 3, 4, 5, and C Snooker.  And, during that class of Snooker, a woman fell and an ambulance had to come and get her!  Even Tessa was a little bothered when the big garage door down at the ring-end of the building rumbled open and the ambulance with the flashing lights came in.  She was OK when I got her out of the crate and hung around talking to people.  That showed her that what was happening was normal.  But some dogs really got freaked out.  There was even a skirmish between a couple of dogs in a crate down at one end.

Of course, my prayers are with the woman who fell, and I am hoping that she gets well soon.

Finally, it was time to run Snooker.  I had considered scratching the run hours before, but had resisted the urge.  I am glad now that I stayed even though I was not in the zone at all and we pretty much muddled through!

It was a pretty decent Snooker course.  I had a plan for opening that ended up working very well.  We went  into the closing and had no problems with 2 and 3 (both tunnels), 4 and 5 (both jumps), but when we approached 6, which was another tunnel, I could see that Tessa was starting to commit to the wrong end of the tunnel, which was correct because of my line.  I had a split second to push on her line to get her to the correct end and . . . I just stopped!  I stopped and watched her run into the wrong end.  It felt like I was standing there for 5 minutes, just watching her run into the wrong end!  I was pretty much thinking, "she went where I sent her and I think we have enough points", and then, as I anticipated her exit from the tunnel, I started for the table, knowing that we were about to get the whistle!

The good thing was that we did have enough points.  Up until that tunnel, that was too beautiful a run to throw away!  I guess I was just tired, and finished, but that was such an odd response!  I did have about a second to change Tessa's path - and I just didn't bother!

She was a good girl, though.  Flawless for her part!

So, it was an odd day of Q's that almost didn't happen!  But they did happen, and I am grateful for that.  I think my mind and heart were still someplace else, and maybe Tessa's were, too.  But we worked through it together, and were successful in the end.

I am hoping that by SuperPup in 2 weeks, we will be more in the Agility zone!


Photo by herefordogs.com, used with permission - Standard Run, final tunnel 


Photo by herefordogs.com, used with permission - Colors, teeter

Saturday, April 27, 2013

New Inspiration

Finally, after many, many months, I am finding myself inspired to create a routine with Tessa for WCFO competition again.

I didn't write about this, but, in spite of our rousing success on the Saturday at Barkaritaville in November, where Tessa had done her best performance up to that point and had earned her Novice title, the Sunday wasn't the greatest of experiences.  Not that it was an absolute disaster or anything.  Sometimes things just don't go the way you might want them to in competition.  I knew very well that our routine was not up to Intermediate standards - I was using hands galore and there were no moves behind me.  Add to that, Tessa simply performed better on the first day.  But something about the way things went that day left me walking away completely uninspired.

On one level, I was determined to go home and train to prepare our team to be at the Intermediate level.  But I found that the motivation was just not there, and we did not dive into more advanced training, as I had hoped to.

And then Rally FrEe came along.  Where it seemed that preparing for Intermediate Freestyle would be like trying to jump over a 20 foot high wall, Novice level Rally FrEe seemed to be within our reach.  I knew that it would serve to strengthen our Freestyle skills, and we had an opportunity to take an actual class with an instructor and a group, and so Tessa and I jumped right in.

And, at least for the time being, she and I jumped right out of Freestyle.

I've listened to some songs since then, and I have some general ideas for routines that we could choreograph for Intermediate, but nothing has really jumped out as something that I would go ahead and work on right now.  And so, We have been stuck at an impasse.

I am actually fairly certain that the fact that our training is not yet at Intermediate level is the main thing that is holding me back.  I can choreograph until the cows come home, but if we aren't performing at the level where we need to be, it won't do us a whole lot of good.

But I also don't want to completely sit out the three competitions that we have the opportunity to enter this year.  Maybe Tessa and I can get the necessary training done this summer, but I want to train well, not train in a hurry.  I am thinking that she will most likely be ready to try Intermediate sometime next year if we take the time to do this right.

And that left us pretty much nowhere, as far as competition this year was concerned.  I had almost made up my mind to skip the Star Spangled Swing in Beltsville entirely for this year.

And then, around Wednesday of this past week, I was thinking about Tessa's performance at the Rally FrEe competition.  Her heelwork is getting much, much better, and it occurred to me that she and I could do some Beginner Heelwork to Music.  Tessa isn't a super close working dog, but she maintains a pretty consistent proximity, which really is what you need, at least at the lower levels in Heelwork.  If I handle her well, she doesn't lag behind me at all anymore.

I started listening to some music and I believe I have found inspiration again!  I found one piece that really struck me and I plan to let Tessa try it out sometime soon.  If she likes it, I believe I will enter the Swing and Tessa and I will give Heelwork to Music a bit of a whirl!

I would love, at this point, to put something together for her that really showcases her beauty.  And I believe that we can develop a routine that will show her to be a beautiful mover and a beautiful girl.

Perhaps that is all we will do this year, but in the meantime we can begin the training that we need to accomplish before we can move on to Intermediate.  Maybe by mid-summer I will change my mind and put something together for November, but I think the plan, as of right now, will be to choreograph some Heelwork for this year's events, and plan on competing in Intermediate Freestyle next year.

In any case, I am glad to have some motivation and inspiration back!  Tessa has far too much potential for me to just let this go.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

First Rally FrEe Competition - Reflections on the Sport

My final reflections on our big competition weekend are on the sport of Rally FrEe itself.

When I first heard of this new sport, I thought it was an excellent concept that would appeal mainly to a niche group of dog sport enthusiasts.  A group that might include: Freestylers who are looking for something new to do with their Freestyle skills, or who are seeking to build their skills in a structured format; Obedience participants who want to try something more "relaxed" that still requires a high level of precision; Rally participants who are interested in expanding their Rally skills and experiences.

I still believe that it will appeal to that particular niche, but after competing, I would say that this sport deserves to be considered as a fun and unique sport in its own right, and that its appeal may go well beyond those particular groups of handlers.  While it is a hybrid of Freestyle and Rally, it comes together to make something that is actually quite different from either, complete with its own goals and challenges.

I was surprised to find that the most difficult part of Rally FrEe competition was remembering which Free Choice behaviors I had planned at the Free Choice signs on each course.  Of course, if I used a prop at a particular Free Choice station, that became a non-issue, but except in those few cases, I did have to work very hard to remember some of the behaviors that I had planned at the Free Choice signs.

This was made even more challenging by the fact that I was working two dogs on each course and there actually isn't a great deal of overlap on the Free Choice behaviors that the two of them do best.  Tessa doesn't pivot with all feet on the floor yet, but Dean's pivots are so beautiful that I would be a fool not to use them as a Free Choice exercise for him.  Tessa's simultaneous spin looks so nice that I used it on every course, but I don't typically do those with Dean, so I didn't plan any at all.  Granted, I did end up doing one with him at a Free Choice sign where I completely forgot what I had planned, and he performed it just fine, but that isn't something that he and I do in Freestyle.  So, I had to remember 6 - 8 Free Choice behaviors per course, and then remember which one I was doing with each dog, and at which sign.

I wasn't the only one who found this difficult.  I spoke with some other competitors - all of whom were experienced Freestylers - and all agreed that they found remembering Free Choice behaviors to be difficult, as well.  One fellow Freestyler and I discussed this at length, considering why this might be.  After all, we remember entire routines of moves that aren't spelled out for us on signs in our Freestyle performances.

Freestyle is different, though.  Most of us create our own routines, and we are very familiar with them.  Also, we practice our routines for months on end.  When I am preparing to compete in Freestyle, I take time daily to listen to our performance song and speak the correct cues as I listen to the music, I visualize the routine over and over, and I practice with the dog as  many times as I can manage.

In contrast, we had these particular Rally FrEe courses in our possession for just 10 days, and I was only able to practice two of them twice with each dog.  Not exactly enough to have the Free Choices memorized like a Freestyle routine would be.

And, of course, in Rally there is no such thing as a Free Choice behavior.  The team does what the signs say and that's it!

This is a very worthy challenge, and I appreciate this particular aspect of Rally FrEe.  I love being able to incorporate behaviors that my dogs execute well, enjoy the heck out of doing, or simply look good doing.

Perhaps with experience, this will get easier.  I actually expect that it will.  I will be considering Free Choice signs, and how they work into practice courses, with a good deal more thought now that I have seen them in competition.

In comparison to Freestyle, which is my personal favorite dog sport, I found Rally FrEe to be delightfully low-key.  My dog and I were able to go out on the floor, move to music, enjoy working on the floor together, and test some of our Freestyle skills, but the pressure of performance was not there.  And while I like the pressure of performance - if I didn't enjoy performance I wouldn't choose to do Freestyle - this was a very refreshing and fun change.

To my surprise, I found that, aside from the concept of the course and moving from sign to sign, Rally FrEe isn't a whole lot like traditional Rally.  One of the most obvious differences is the fact that the dog works on both the right and the left, but the differences really did go far beyond that.  The vast majority of the individual exercises in Rally FrEe are not Rally exercises.  There are a few, such as 270 degree turns and the sit-stand, but most of the Rally FrEe behaviors are Freestyle moves, or hybrids of Rally Exercises and Freestyle moves, such as the call front-three steps back.  Furthermore, in traditional Rally, sits are emphasized, but there are very few sits in Rally FrEe.  The dog remains standing through most of the exercises, even when the team stops.

That said, the potential benefits to the dog and handler team that can be gained through Rally are available through Rally FrEe.  Rally can help a team develop synchronized movement, Rally can foster excellent attention and focus, Rally builds the give and take of teamwork between dog and handler, Rally helps develop precision, Rally helps develop versatility of behaviors.  Rally FrEe has the exact same benefits, with a few additional.  For example, the dog has the opportunity to develop confidence, comfort level, and skills on both the right and the left.  In addition, the dreaded default sit is not likely to develop since most of the dog remains standing through most of the stopped exercises.

Finally, and much to my surprise, in some ways Rally FrEe is similar to Agility.  I was as mentally relaxed going through the Rally FrEe courses in competition as I am when I am running Agility.  It seemed more like a fun game than a performance or obedience-type assessment, and when things didn't go perfectly I didn't really think anything of it, except maybe to laugh at what my crazy dog came up with.  From there we simply went on to enjoy the rest of the game.  A good friend of mine always says that Agility is the most fun sport to NQ in because the game is self-rewarding (to the handler).  I would say that the same it true of Rally FrEe - it is self-rewarding in the sense that the game itself is fun enough to enjoy regardless of the qualification results.  I found that I was very much "in the moment" with my dog at each station, as I am always "in the moment" with my dog when running Agility.

Overall, I am absolutely delighted with this fun new sport.  I love the exercises in both the fun and the challenge that they provide, I love the teamwork aspect of Rally FrEe, I really, really like the scoring system.  I believe that in creating Rally FrEe, Julie Flannery has given a true gift to dog sport enthusiasts, and I hope this takes off and becomes wildly successful.

One final note - I want to give a shout out to Diane of Happy Tails, who hosted the first eastern Rally FrEe event.  She was accommodating, welcoming, and supportive, and a better job of hosting could not be done!  And to Gay, who has been always been one of my favorite WCFO Freestyle judges.  She was supportive, helpful, and encouraging to all of us as we pioneered this brand new event together.  Last but absolutely not least, kudos to all of the volunteers and participants.  Everyone was friendly, cooperative, and supportive.

I will always count the experience of this first Rally FrEe competition as one of my all time favorite dog sport memories.



Wednesday, April 24, 2013

First Rally FrEe Competition - Reflections - Dean Dog

I may have started training Rally FrEe for Tessa, and I may have gone to the competition more focused on her, but in a way Dean stole the show, from my perspective.  Tessa basically went, she saw, she titled, and she had fun doing it.  Dean and I ended up taking a bit of a journey together.

Unlike Tessa, Dean is completely fluent on every exercise in the Novice level, save one.  He still needs a good bit of help with counter clockwise circles around me.  But he twirls, he spins, he heels, he circles, he sits, he downs, he stands, he lifts his paw - all on verbal alone when he is in the right frame of mind.  Dean knows tricks galore that we can use for Free Choice.  His "twizzles" (360 degree+ left pivots), backing under my legs, sit pretty, laterals, paws up on a cane, leg weaves of different sorts, going around a cane, dive under my leg, etc.

I trained the heck out of Dean in our first two years together and he knows most of the basic Freestyle behaviors.  He enjoys doing them in training.

And Dean knows, and loves, Rally.  He had no trouble earning his ARCH - never had a single NQ in all those competitions.

But live Freestyle competition did not go as well for Dean.  He gets quite unnerved in front of a live audience.  This was a problem in Agility, as well.  When we would be running toward the end of the course, if it snaked around with the last jump toward the crowd, he would get a "deer in the headlights" kind of look in his eyes, and he would really struggle.  Even when my friend handled him this happened.

I tried to make a performer of him.  He is beautiful and I thought he might learn to enjoy putting on a show.  He does enjoy demonstrations - if I have food or a toy.  But if he doesn't have the assistance of a primary reinforcer like that present, he tends to shrink into himself.

So, we quit WCFO Freestyle.  He does dance in the Challenge, by video, but I can't say it is a major part of his life right now.

I did not know, going into this competition, if he would respond to the situation as he responded to Rally or if he would view it more as live Freestyle competition.



Based on his first run, I was convinced that he didn't like it.  I didn't see the animation, the focus, and the relaxed presence of mind that I see in him when we do Rally.

I was ready to move him right to non-titling for the rest of the weekend so he could just enjoy himself out there with food.  But when he qualified on his first run, I chose not to do that.  I knew he could, at the very least, muddle through the courses.  I knew it wasn't going to be detrimental to him in any way.

With a little bit of effort on my part to help him get into a better frame of mind, he was able to enjoy himself a bit more.

I did get some comments from some people, all of whom were incredibly supportive, that he did, in fact, seem a bit uncomfortable out there.  But our competition host told me that she actually didn't see as much stress as I thought I was seeing.  She characterized his state of mind more as "tuned into the environment" than stressed.  When I watched the one video that I have of Dean's first run, I was inclined to agree with that.  Her comments about Dean made me think.

And then, to add even more food to that thought, Dean and I won the award for the team having the most fun.  At first I thought "how the heck?"  But then I realized that we were having fun out there.  No, he wasn't having the same kind of fun that he has when he's playing ball in the yard or swimming, but we were having a good time in the ring together, as a team.  I started to see a bigger picture.  Both the trial host and the judge saw something that I had completely missed.

At the end of his final run of the weekend, I had left the ring fully intending never to ask Dean to compete in this sport again.  I have every intention of continuing training - he does love that - but was planning to treat it like Agility - we would go to class, have fun, and that would be it.

But then I thought about it more.  And I thought about it again.  I thought about it a lot, actually.  I thought about it on much of the 2 hour drive home on Sunday.  I literally thought about it all the way to work on Monday!

And this is what I thought . . . .

I am very proud of Dean's performance this weekend.  He worked his tail off on every course.  Yes, he needed some help from me, but with that help, he was able to do something that I consider to be quite extraordinary.  I am actually as proud of him for earning this Rally FrEe title as I am of him for earning his ARCH.  That is saying quite a lot.

I asked a lot of Dean.  I took him to a strange place and then took him into an unfamiliar ring in a brand new place with no reinforcer on my person and then asked him to perform in front of a bunch of people sitting in chairs watching him.  And where that would have been absolutely nothing to Speedy or Tessa, for Dean that is incredibly difficult.  Add in to that the fact that I actually haven't done a whole lot of formal training with him since he earned his ARCH in November.  Five Rally FrEe classes and one training walk don't exactly constitute sufficient preparation for competition, but that's the only preparation he had gotten.

In spite of that, Dean never quit on me.  Yes, he got slightly distracted and wandered a bit, but my handling probably had something to do with that, as much as anything.  He never tried to leave the ring.  He never flat out refused to do anything he knew I was asking him to do.  True, I needed to use more hand signals with him than usual, but he performed on those signals.

Dean gave me his best out there.  I know he gave me everything he had, and in the ring itself I gave him everything I had, too.  We were a real team - a few moments of distraction are nothing next to that.

The big question that I walked away from the competition with, regarding Dean, was this, "why should I continue to compete with him when it is obvious that he doesn't just naturally love it?"  Which led me to the question that I always ask about any dog sport, whether for training or titling, "will doing this do him any good in his overall life?"

I couldn't answer that question, but I realized that I could answer the opposite question.  "Will doing this do him any harm in his overall life?"  The answer to that is a definitive "no".

See, if I am going to prepare Dean to compete in this sport again, we are going to have to do some work together.

Dean loves it when we work together.  He is game for that, as long as I keep it fun for him, which I absolutely will.

We will have to play motivational training games.

He eats that up.

We will have to do training walks, and spend time solidifying the behaviors that he knows so he knows them really, really well.

He will think that's the best party ever!

And we will have to work on some new behaviors because the Intermediate level exercises are difficult, and there are some that he does not know.

Dean is always up for learning.

Will any of that be harmful to him in any way?  Absolutely not.  Will it benefit his life overall?  Absolutely.

That's it.  We're in.

And then I realized something.  Dean may need help that Tessa doesn't need in order to enjoy competing in Rally FrEe, but that doesn't mean he can't.  And I know I can give him that help if I commit to it.

Whether or not we compete again remains to be seen.  I don't know, honestly, whether we will or not - and it actually doesn't matter.  But we are going to prepare to do so.  We are going to prepare to do so because it will be a very good thing to do.

Finally, I realized something that I am not exactly proud of.  I have gotten so swept up in my excitement over Tessa - which she absolutely deserves - that in a way I forgot about Dean.  Not in everyday life, of course, but when it comes to training.

Dean may not be a "performance dog" in the strictest sense, but he is a working bred Border Collie who thrives on working with his handler.  He and I need something to work toward together.  In spite of all of his challenges, we had that before Tessa came along.  Dean is very well trained, he is eager to work with me, and he has a lot to offer.

So, in some very strange way, Dean and I got back something we had lost - something that I know he and I would both love to have back again.

And, right along with that, now we have a beginning . . . .  A beginning with all of the excitement, newness, potential, and joy that beginnings come with!  A beginning with my big goofy boy - it's perfect!





Tuesday, April 23, 2013

First Rally FrEe Competition - Reflections - Tessa

Tessa has loved Rally FrEe since her first class in December.  Tessa loves competition.  I knew that Tessa was going to love this particular competition - and she did.

Tessa is a delight.  She wants to be out in the ring, working and performing, and that is something that I have come to rely on and enjoy.  She truly is the perfect canine performance partner.

A big part of the reason why I decided to get into this was to give Tessa "her own" sport.  Every one of my dogs has gotten to be the first at something.  Speedy got to be the first dog I've ever competed with in anything.  He got to pioneer Rally and Freestyle.  I had the honor of Miss Maddie as my first competition Agility partner.  Dean was the first to title in NADAC Agility and Cyber Rally.  Even Sammie earned the first Tricks Title in our household!  When Rally FrEe came along, I saw it as something that Tessa could be first at.  And even though Dean ended up going along for the ride, technically Tessa was the first that I competed with, and the first that I titled with.  Important - no - but a fact that I like - yes.

But then it turned out to be more than that.  I am starting to see Tessa gain more confidence through this sport.  I am starting to see her relax into her natural gait and move very beautifully.  I am seeing her right work improve notably.  And I am seeing her enthusiasm increase even more!

This truly is something that she loves.

And while I am starting to take Tessa's love for competition sports for granted, I have to pause and think about how much she had to overcome to be able to have that love.  She had to learn to trust me even the tiniest bit.  She had to learn how to follow a lure.  She had to learn how to offer a behavior.  She had to learn that it is safe and good when I move my hand or arm toward her.  She had to learn to stop hiding and try things that she was afraid to try.  She had to learn to be comfortable riding in a car.  She had to learn that a crate is not an utterly terrifying place to avoid at all cost.  She had to learn to work with other people in her general vicinity.  She had to learn how to shift out of survival mode to relax and have fun - and I think that might have been the most difficult lesson of all for her.

When I watch videos of Tessa bouncing along, tail waggling, eyes sparkling, doing this and that, and then eagerly moving on for more, I marvel at the fact that she was the dog to whom I said, "it would not be fair for me to ask you to live the life I would ask you to live".  I've never been happier to be wrong about something.  She savors every second of the life that I've had the honor and privilege of being able to share with her.

Tessa and I have work to do!  She performed exactly at the level to which she has been trained to perform and I am 100% proud of her for that!  And now it is time to start to gradually raise the bar.
  • We need to build more fluency into a good many of the Novice exercises - the paw raises, the stands, the duration leg weaves, etc.
  • We also need to begin to diminish hand cues for the Novice exercises.  According to the rules, subtle hand cues are acceptable, although verbal is preferred.  Right now verbal is a bit beyond Tessa's reach, but subtle hand cues are a very reasonable goal.  From there we can consider moving to verbals.
  • We need a few more nice looking Free Choice behaviors.  I don't want to try to do anything super fancy right now, but more varied simple tricks would be a nice way to round out our Free Choice options.
  • And, of course, we now need to start training (the extraordinarily difficult) Intermediate exercises.
It is my goal to try to go all the way through this with Tessa.  I believe she has the potential and the desire.  It will be quite a lot of work, but it is very good work that she and I will enjoy together.  It will have the added benefit of building our Freestyle skills, but I also consider Rally FrEe to be a worthy sport in its own right.  Tessa and I will enjoy it for its own sake, and consider any help to our Freestyle to be a bonus.

Tessa's Traditional Ribbon Photo with her first Rally FrEe Q ribbons . . . 


And a second shot.  I actually prefer this one, even though it's not as stylish.  I like her expression in this photo.


That's my girl!

Now on to Agility at Periland next weekend for Miss Tessa and me!

First Rally FrEe Competition - Third Trial (Second Day)

Aside from having her own double bed to sprawl out on, Tessa didn't think a whole lot of the hotel.  She distinctly disapproved of the fact that she could hear people moving above us!

One thing she and Dean absolutely loved, however, was walking up and down the hotel corridor.  I don't know why they thought this was so cool, but every time I leashed them up to go out, they trotted down that hallway like it was the most fun ever!  They did the same every time we came back in.

They seemed very happy when I put them in the car and was packing it up.  They have traveled enough to know that means we are leaving and that idea was clearly a good one to them.

I don't usually stay overnight for competitions.  When Ben was an over the road trucker, I could never count on him getting home for the weekend 100%, so traveling overnight required backup arrangements.  There is enough Agility, Freestyle, and Rally within a 1 - 2 hour drive of here that I don't technically have to travel to participate in dog sports, as long as I am willing to drive a lot.  Even when I competed in Freestyle with Speedy, Dean, and Maddie in Pittsburgh, I drove there and home all in the same day - a three hour drive each way!

But right now Ben is working a night driving job and he's home every day, so I knew that he would definitely be home on Saturday to take care of Sammie and Speedy.  I wanted to have the full experience of this very first eastern Rally FrEe event, so I entered both days and got the hotel.  I am very glad that I did - it made this an even more unique experience.

Because we don't usually compete two days in a row, and the dogs never stay in hotels before competing, I wasn't sure what state of mind the dogs would be in.  But when we pulled in to the trial site, they recognized it and were clearly happy to be there.  They eagerly went back into the building to hang out in the crates for a bit while I got situated.  We were able to pick right back up where we left off.

The third course was one that I had the chance to practice because our instructor had set it up at class that week.  It felt familiar and comfortable and I was looking forward to having fun out there.  Also - no stands in this course!

Tessa went out and had a great time again, and this third run was definitely our best.  Here is a partial video:



There were just a few minor blips.  On her second Free Choice, she was supposed to give paw when she sat in front of me, but she sat pretty.  That was actually OK, but I forgot (at that point) that I had a sit pretty planned for the final Free Choice at the end of the course.  When we were approaching that one, a split second before we began to perform the sign, I realized that she had already done a sit pretty as a Free Choice and that I should have had her do something else.  But it was too late.  I was mentally committed.  Her second sit pretty was certainly quite pretty!

I figured it would be OK.  The first one was a call front sit-pretty, this was a sit on right sit-pretty.  And, in the end it was.  But it did make me wonder how it would play out.

She struggled a bit on her Figure 8 Weave.  This has never been a strength of hers.  Something to work on.

But by and large, I was thrilled with the run.

Again, I put her in the car and went back in to watch some of the event.

Finally, it was Dean's turn, and he did it!  He wasn't as focused as he had been in his second run the day before, but he was far better than he was on his first run.  He even did his fancy dive under my leg again and enjoyed it!

He and Tessa both earned their highest scores of the weekend on the third course, and Dean was only one point lower than Tessa!

I was pleased beyond belief at earning the Novice Title with both of them!  It was truly a challenge that I feel my whole "team" rose to.

But there was one big surprise in store.  Special awards were given out, and I got one of them.  For the Team Having the Most Fun.  And the winner was . . . 

Dean Dog!!!!

That was a big surprise, but a most excellent one!

Dean's award basket . . . 


A bag of treats came in the basket that fit perfectly into the cookie jar, and all of the dogs are enjoying those.

Ben commented that the cookie jar, which is a ceramic purse, kind of looks like Dean!!  In some odd way I actually see what he means - it's black gold and white like he is.

After awards, I finished packing up and we drove home on a perfect day for travel.  I was sorry that it was all over, but it had been an almost perfect experience in every way.

Congrats to . . . 

ARCH Dean Dog, RFE-N, DCD-Ent, DCD-CF, WFD-MF, RL2, CRO-1, CL1-R, CL1-F, CL2-H, CTL1-R, CTL1-H, TN-N, ITD

and 

Tessa, RFE-N, DCD-Ent, DCD-CF, WFDX-MF, CRO-1, CL1, CL2-H, CL2-F, ITD


 Purple Q ribbons!  The best color!

First Rally FrEe Competition - Second Trial

The scoring for this sport is very interesting.  There are 15 exercises.  All 15 are listed on the scoresheet, and as you go through, the judge assigns a score for every exercise.  The scoring for each exercise is from zero to ten.  So, if the first exercise is a circle around the handler, the judge will assign a number for that exercise.  Criteria taken into account are dog's performance, and cues given.  If large hand cues are used, for instance, less points will be earned than if a very subtle hand cue, or verbal only, is used.  Also, points are earned.  There are no deductions.

In addition to that, there are up to 5 additional points that can be earned for each of the Free Choice exercises.  These points are given based on creativity and difficulty for the move or trick chosen.  The interesting thing about this is that you can actually earn more points total for doing something simple very well than for attempting something very difficult and not doing it well.  It is not necessarily a disadvantage to choose simple Free Choice behaviors, although if the dog can do something creative or difficult very well, it can be very helpful.  I like that the scoring rewards good execution of simple behaviors, while encouraging the development of more complex ones.

Finally, a score of 0 - 10 is assessed for three categories, including heelwork, teamwork/attention, and something else that I can't remember at the moment!

This can all equal 200.  You need 125 to qualify.  That may not sound like much at all, but believe me - you have to work to earn those points, and it wouldn't really be all that hard to fall short.

Now that I have done this in competition, I really, really, really like the scoring system.

So, we went into the second trial of the day with a better idea of how things would go.  I was less nervous about Tessa, but a bit apprehensive about Dean.  How would he be the second time around?  More comfortable since he had been in this ring before, or more shut down because he found it stressful?  I would see . . . 

Tessa was second again, so I brought her in and left Dean out in the car (where he would really rather be!).  Unfortunately, as I was walking toward the building, I tripped a little and stumbled and completely freaked Tessa out.  She was walking on my left.  After that, she wanted to walk on my right.  I was hoping that this would not carry into the ring.

I was able to give her a bit of time in her crate with a Kong, and then a quick potty break outside, before she needed to go in for her next run, and she seemed to settle pretty well.

This run was . . . interesting!  It was definitely the weakest of the three, earning her lowest score of the weekend.  She started off very well, but at the fourth sign on the course - a down stand - she got confused!  Instead of lying down, she sat.  Then she stood and bowed!  Then she finally downed.  But when I cued her to stand, she sat again.  Then she stood, but immediately moved forward.  I wasn't sure if that was going to be a total wash or if we would get some points out of it (technically she did down and she did stand, but not as she should have).  On we went, and she did some things nicely.  Later in the course, however, there was a sit-stand.  The sit was fine, but when I cued her to stand, she sat pretty and then stood up, but on her hind legs, and she just hung there!!!  HooooBoy!!  Off we went!

The rest of the run went fine, other than the fact that she didn't even bow at all before sinking into a down at the very end.

I honestly wasn't sure if it would qualify, but I appreciated Tessa's enthusiasm and creativity.  I have to hand it to her.  She tries!  She is actively trying to figure out what I want.  Her attitude is, "Is it this?  Is it this?".  When she knows what each cue means, she is going to be dead on every time!

After she had a chance to enjoy her Kong some more, she got to go out to the car with Dean while I, again, watched some others on the course.  I enjoyed watching others.  I enjoyed seeing what people had chosen to do for Free Choice signs.  I was glad to see that, for the most part, our skill level on those was on par with most of the other competitors.

With a few dogs ahead of us, I went to the car and got Dean.  I got his tug and we played tug outside.  I really got him going.  Then we came in and he got his Kong in the crate.  Just before our turn, I had him do some heeling and spins and twirls and things.  He seemed very focused.

This run was much better.  I can't say he was at his best, nor that his attitude equaled his attitude in Rally.  He still "wandered" a few times, but he stayed with me much, much more.  He even showed off a little on one of his Free Choices!  There is one move that he does where I kneel down and then he dives under my leg into a bow.  I had planned this one so we would face both the judge and the audience perfectly when he did it.  As he went into the bow, he really stretched forward and the audience clapped enthusiastically for him!  He sunk into it even more, obviously enjoying that response.  That was very out of character for Dean, and I'm glad it was something that he got to experience!

Both dog qualified again!  I was thrilled!  This time Dean even scored higher than Tessa!

After the whole day wrapped up, we went and checked into our hotel.  I was going to join a group of participants for dinner at a local restaurant, but we had about an hour and a half to relax before going.  Tessa sprawled out on one of the double beds as if she owned it and slept for a good half hour or so!  Dean slept on the floor.

I knew that no matter how things would go on Sunday, I was perfectly satisfied with our performance at this competition.  Of course, I was very much looking forward to seeing what the rest of the event would bring. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

First Rally FrEe Competition - First Trial

Over the weekend, Tessa, Dean, and I attended the first ever eastern Rally FrEe competition.  Being at the first one on this side of the country was a really special experience.  I love that both Dean and Tessa got to be a part of it.

Rally FrEe, for anyone who does not know, is a new sport that has been developed as a hybrid of Rally Obedience and Canine Musical Freestyle.  As in Rally, there is a course of signs, and each exercise must be performed within a certain proximity to the sign according to specific guidelines.  The similarities to Rally really end there.  There are very few actual exercises that are taken from Rally - 270 degree turns, a sit-stand, and pieces of other exercises, such as the call front.  Most of the actual skills required are taken from Musical Freestyle - spins, circles around the handler, etc.  One of the biggest pieces taken from Freestyle is that the dog must work on both the left and the right side.  There are places on every course where the dog transitions from one side to the other.  There is only one type of Rally (Cyber Rally) that I know of that incorporates this.  Other similarities to Freestyle:  music is played, festive attire can be worn (including decorative collars for the dogs), and Freestyle moves, and/or tricks, can be performed at the four "Free Choice" stations that are included on every course.

It was a strange thing for me to go in feeling "blind" in a sense.  Of course I knew the exercises that would be required, thanks to being in class since December, but I was almost completely in the dark about the scoring.  And I didn't know the answers to many of the "what do I do if . . ." questions that always come up when preparing to compete in a dog sport.  The last time I felt this way going into a competition event was when Maddie and I went to our first Agility trial in 2007!

But I was very excited to go.  I felt that Tessa was ready enough to possibly qualify at the Novice level, and that Dean could do well if he was comfortable.  I was also looking forward to seeing some of the other people run their dogs to see how they had interpreted the guidelines for this brand new sport.

Saturday morning I packed up the car, and off we went.  It was just about a 2 hour trip up to the Altoona area and it was a sunny, although cold, day.  Perfect for traveling.

I did get just a little lost very near the trial site, but I managed to find it and I got there in plenty of time to set up my crate, turn in music, attend the judges briefing, walk through, attend the judges meeting, and prepare Tessa to be the second dog in the ring!

I was very glad that Tessa and Dean share a crate nicely.  There was just enough room left to set up one crate for the two of them!

Tessa, as always, was very happy to go into the ring.  She pranced right in with me, behaved impeccably as I set my prop for one of her Free Choice signs, and then sat at the start line.  After the judge greeted us ans asked if we were ready, we were off on our first run!

By and large it went well.  Tessa was very excited and happy to be out there doing this.  There were some blips.  She did a full sit pretty - paws high in the air - when she was supposed to lift a single right paw, she bowed as we started a 270 degree turn, and she sat before she bowed at the end.  Also, for some inscrutable reason, she schootched her rump on the ground at one point!  She never does that in the ring.  She didn't blow her sacs or anything - I thinking it was displacement of excitement.  I wasn't sure if that would incur any penalty or not.

Beyond that, she was awesome!  Of course I had to use hand signals as much as I normally use them - one thing that she and I will be working on now is making those much more subtle.

This is our video of our first run ever!  I am hoping to actually edit out the butt schooching part at some point, but for now it's still in there!  LOL!!!



I had no idea, coming out of that, whether it would qualify or not.  I was thrilled that she had a blast, and I was pleased with her performance, especially after I went back and watched the video.  But I had no clue how it would score.

I was able to watch some of the other competitors for a while, and then it was Dean's turn.

Dean came into the building happily and he enjoyed a Kong in the crate while I was waiting to take him over to the "on deck" area.  While he was "on deck", we warmed up with some heeling, sits, etc.

Finally, it was our turn to go in, and he ate the last of the meatball, and in we went.

He was very clearly aware of everything around him.  I guess it was somewhat overwhelming to him.  He had never been in this building before - I didn't get there early enough to take him into the ring before the whole thing started.  There was a judge in there, there were people watching, and music was playing.  There were mirrors on the wall and stuff on shelves back in the corner.

He started off well - stayed right with me - until the first sign.  Then he ran to greet the judge!  He came back and sat, but then did exactly what Tessa had done - he sat pretty instead of giving paw!

Next sign was a Free Choice and I had set out a pole for him to go around.  He did, although he checked himself out in the mirror as he went around!  I knew he needed some help, so I picked my pace way up for the 270 ahead.  He ran out ahead of me at the next sign, but came right back and did his leg weaves!  Had to check out the stuff in the corner before circling around me for the next turning sign!  His next Free Choice was supposed to be a twizzle, but he didn't twizzle.  We ended up making a large inside circle turn together.  That worked, though.  It looked nice and the judge didn't know what it was supposed to be!  Sometimes it pays to use odd words like "twizzle"!

The rest of the course went much as the earlier part did.  Some things he did well, some he struggled with.

I didn't see the level of enjoyment that I've seen from him when he does Rally, though.

Even though we got through the course, I was sure he hadn't qualified and I decided to move him into non-titling for the rest of the event, so he could go out with food and have fun.

Dean was close to last, so it wasn't long before it was time for awards.  I was pleased, and not too surprised, when Tessa qualified.  I was absolutely floored when I found out that Dean qualified!  Tessa had a 144 out of 200 and Dean had a 130.  You need a minimum of 125 to qualify.

When it was announced that he had qualified, I decided not to move him to non-titling.  I knew there were things I could do to help him enjoy himself more, and I was pretty sure he could get through the rest of them.

To help him reset, I put him and Tessa in the car while we had lunch inside.  It was the perfect day for it with temperatures in the 40's. 

Lunch was good - pizza and caesar salad.  I enjoyed having that time to talk to some of the other people.  I knew a good many of them from Freestyle.  Afterward I started to gear up for the afternoon . . . .


Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Work in Progress

Yesterday I took Tessa to the vet.  I found a tick on her on Sunday.  It was engorged, and after I removed it, a red ring appeared around the bite.  When she was my foster, I had her tested for lyme and she tested positive.  We treated her for a month with doxy as a precaution since there was no information about where she had come from, or her medical history.  Since that time, she has tested positive for lyme every time she is tested.  Because of that, I keep a close eye on her for signs of lameness, etc.

Since there is no way to detect the disease, I wanted to treat her with antibiotics as a precaution, so she had to go to the vet.

The vets office is probably the one place where Tessa has made the least progress with confidence, for the simple reason that she rarely goes.  She has gone in once a hear for her annual exam and heartworm/lyme test, and she went in the time she was bit by a groundhog.  She has been healthy as an ox.  One of the fleeting joys of a young dog!

Anyway, a trip to the vet is always interesting with her.  We manage it, for the most part.

In the waiting room, she was decently confident.  A little clingy, but she stood on her own four feet and looked around with some level of interest.  She did get on the scale willingly this time.  In the past that has been a bit of a challenge, but she got right on and stayed nicely this time.

She did not want to go into the exam room.  This was new, actually.  She has never liked going into small rooms, but she has always gone into the exam rooms there.  I'm not sure if it was because she remembers those rooms and doesn't like them, or if it was because this was the corner room and it would have looked to her to have a smaller "opening" to get into it.

I actually had to pick her up and carry her in there.  But - that, in itself, was big progress.  She trusted me enough to let me do that with no objection.  I had to get some of her tail fur out from under my foot, but that was my own problem.  Once in the room, she was fine on her own feet again.

When it came time for the tech to see the bite - which was on the left side of her face, just past her jaw a bit - she did lie down and try to shimmy back into me a bit.  The tech joked to her, "Tessa, you can't go into your mom's pocket!"  It did seem like her back end was going there.  But she tolerated being handled and looked over.

And then she tolerated the same with the vet.  She even let me lift her so he could see her underside.

Really, we need to do some work with this.  The day may come when she might need a surgery or senior blood work or an x-ray or something.

In a lot of ways she is better off than Speedy started out.  At one time we actually had to muzzle him at the vets.  She tolerates things much better than that.  Speedy started out diving under chairs and cowering behind me when the vet even looked at him, and he went on to be able to be x-rayed without sedation and to be able to go into the back without me to get blood drawn.

Tessa has quite a way to go.

This whole thing really serves to remind me that a dog with any kind of fear issues is always a work in progress.  The dog can overcome quite a lot, but there is always some area where there is room for improvement and growth.

At one time I would have found that thought burdensome, but at this point it is just a fact of life.  I love the "he or she has come so far" moments, but you don't have those without first having the "we have quite a lot to work on" moments.

I also marvel at these times at the amount of confidence that Tessa does have at Agility trials and in training.  She really is a remarkable dog.  She might try to hide in my pocket at the vets office, but put her in a ring to compete and she will preen and prance and shine like a star.

Two weeks of amoxicillin.  Hopefully no more ticks after this!