This has really been a fantastic month for Tessa and me! All of our summer training paid off in a big way - first with our Beginner HTM Q, then with our two Intermediate Rally FrEe Q's, and now finished off with a nearly flawless Agility day down at Periland!
I always remember Maddie in a special way at Periland. She and I earned our first Agility Q there, and then our first Agility title. We had brilliant days and dud days. I will never forget trying to run her there in pouring rain! Maddie would never have any of that! Yet, we had far more good days than poor ones at Periland. My memories of the outdoor trials will always belong to Maddie - and also to Dean and Stephanie and Harley and the old Jeep!
But yesterday, in the still-new building, on an absolutely stunning fall day, my Periland trial was all about Tessa!
We were signed up for Level 3 Jackpot, Level 4 Colors, and Level 3 Snooker. I wasn't sure what would happen in Jackpot, as we still have very little gamble line experience, but it turned out to be a non-traditional, so my concern was moot!
The Jackpot course looked like fun. All we had to do, other than accumulate the correct amount of points, was to complete all three tunnels that were out on the course. There was just one little trick to that. One tunnel had the table tucked into it's curve. Prior to the buzzer (which signifies the start of the "closing", the table is not "live". So, if the dog were to jump up on the table during that time, it was irrelevant. But, after the buzzer, the table becomes "live", and if the dog touches it, the game will end. Knowing that Tessa isn't always terribly reliable on discriminations, I knew it would be important to complete that particular tunnel in the opening.
Although it made for a bit of a choppy start, I elected to send her over a jump near that tunnel - the tunnel itself was not over the start line, so something else had to be taken first - go right back to the tunnel, and then fly across the ring to get to the next tunnel, run the perimeter to get to third tunnel, then take the A-Frame, complete a 5 point jump combo, and then get to the table.
The plan went off pretty much without a hitch! We even completed a rear cross - not very elegantly - in the process!
When the buzzer went off, we had 20 seconds to finish. I actually have no memory of completing the jump combo, but we did! Then she did the tunnel that had the table tucked into it one more time and then table!
We made time and got points to spare because the table was worth 8 points and I hadn't realized it! I do have a video (with narration!):
We needed 40 points to qualify and earned 47! And we had 3 seconds to spare! Up next was a milestone! Our very first Level 4 attempt in Colors! We chose the one that fewer people ran, but I actually felt it was the easier course. I really liked the straight shot - tire, jump, tunnel, at the end. Tessa flew through it! We qualified - 10 full seconds under course time!! First place for this run! Welcome to Level 4, Miss Tessa! Finally - at the end of a very long day - we ran Snooker. I was half tempted to scratch just because we were both tired, but the course looked like so much fun that I stuck around for it. We were not disappointed. Tessa has become an absolutely lovely Snooker dog! We had fun on this one! I believe this was also the first time we ever beat the buzzer on a Snooker run, although I believe were have been very close a couple of times.
Video (I have absolutely no idea where the words on the title screen of this video vanished to!): In addition to running Agility, Tessa and I enjoyed many walks on the beautiful grounds! I was particularly taken with some hay bales that were scattered around the fields and I photographed them!
Tried to get Tessa to pose with the hay bales, but she wasn't impressed!
Results for the Dogs Can Dance Challenge
Summer Fun event came in several days ago and I am super excited to be able to share
that my Dogs Can Dance Challenge team of Speedy, Dean Dog, Tessa, and Maddie earned our Championship!
This has really been a wonderful experience, ever since the day, back in September of 2010 when I received an email from Judy saying that she was considering starting a new Musical Freestyle titling venue and she wanted some input! I did, in fact, offer input. Some of my suggestions were actually incorporated into what would become the Dogs Can Dance Challenge, and some were not. But in the end, I was very happy with the whole concept that Judy came up with.
One thing that I wrote when I sent Judy my suggestions was this . . .
". . . I am hoping it happens! It will most likely be too late for Speedy, but I will always appreciate what would have been good for him".
As the different divisions were being developed, I created a routine with Speedy to use as a "sample" for Musical Interpretation. It was a routine to Waltz from Maskarade and it actually became one of our best routines and we performed it in several different contexts.
This is a video of a practice version of this routine. Oh, and I was not really this thin - for some reason the camera "squashed" the picture.
I honestly thought Speedy would not live to see this through and I was pleased beyond words when he and Dean both completed Entry Level and then Speedy performed the Waltz routine as our first Challenge submission in the Musical Interpretation Division!
The routine earned 129 points, so we completed the Opening Act category for Musical Interpretation, and Speedy was awarded the Le-La-Ru award for the highest scoring performance of the event. That was a HUGE deal!
I am particularly happy that Speedy not only took part in this, but he was able to see it through to the end! He had an entry in every single event that I entered. One time he even entered all three divisions himself!
Speedy earned most of the points for our team, taking care of
the entire Classical Freestyle division, all three levels! We started this with a performance to "Waltz of the Flowers" and then went into both Intermediate and Advanced with a modified version of his best routine, "Reunion".
Speedy also earned the points for our second Musical Interpretation category - Polish Polka - which fulfilled the requirement for an International
genre). This was also our personal ode to the Coal Region! And, with another Le-La-Ru award earning performance, Speedy and I revamped his old "Here Comes the Sun" routine to submit for Feature Presentation in Entertainment. Speedy officially holds the designation of MVP for this Challenge team! He did do the bulk of the work, and so I will always think of this Championship as his in a special way. Maddie was also on the team. Maddie most certainly was my Agility dog. We actually started taking Freestyle classes just for fitness and fun. I knew that it was highly unlikely that Maddie would ever go into a competition ring and compete without food. We actually tried and it lasted about 20 seconds before she said "see ya!" The next day we went to an Agility trial and Maddie's whole demeanor clearly stated, "THIS is what I do!" In spite of that, Maddie would have enjoyed the Honor Class in the Challenge. She did enjoy dancing - she just did it on her own terms. Maddie was a beautiful mover. Her movement showcased her power and elegance. We were actually working on a routine to perform for the Challenge. I was going to use it as Classical Freestyle Beginner. We never got to film it. I did video one practice performance of the routine, which I submitted as an Audition routine last year. I got good feedback on it, but, of course, Maddie and I will never perform it. She was gone before she was ready. Our practice . . .
However, I did have a video of Maddie that I was able to submit to the Challenge for points! In February of 2010, Maddie and Dean performed the brace routine that I had choreographed for Speedy and Dean at a fundraiser for canine cancer research. There just happened to be a video taken! Because there is no ring space requirement in the Entertainment class, it was eligible for submission. And because Maddie was a senior dog at the time the performance was filmed, I was able to submit it in the Honor Class! That submission didn't
quite earn the points needed - it wasn't
really done with Challenge guidelines in mind, but Maddie was able to earn points and officially become part of our Challenge team! Maddie will never have the CT-ATCH Title that I had hoped we would work our way up to, but she has a championship to her name now! She may not have contributed a whole lot points-wise, but she was absolutely a part of this team and it is right that she always be considered a part of it! Tessa came along as this whole thing was in progress. I debated quite a bit about whether to add her in as part of the team or to register her as an individual. I elected to make her part of the team. She hasn't done a lot of Challenge work yet. She really is more of a WCFO style dog right now. But I did have her finish off the Opening Act
level of Entertainment with one of her earliest performances of her
Scorchio routine. It was rough - she was definitely a very inexperienced beginner at the time. But I am pleased that she contributed as a member of the team! In addition, with Maddie and Dean starting off Opening Act, Tessa finishing Opening Act, and Speedy polishing off Feature Presentation in one fell swoop, all four of the dogs on the team contributed to the Entertainment title! That makes it extra special! And Dean. Dean, Dean, Dean! We have worked together for such a long time and his dance performance style has been tough to pin down! And then we struggled for years with his social anxiety that makes live Freestyle competition extremely difficult, and unpleasant, for him, and even made work in front of a camera a challenge that we had to work through. When I first started this, I thought that Speedy would start it and Dean would finish it. It didn't happen in exactly the way I had thought, but, indeed, Dean took this home for us. Dean did the loveliest performance of his Bolero routine that he has ever done. It was his performance of a lifetime! And, in so many ways, it was the culmination of all of the work that he and I have done together. He really showcased the best of himself in this performance. We earned the highest score I have ever gotten for a Challenge performance - 153 points!! Our Bolero . . .
The Dogs Can Dance Challenge was such a fantastic experience. It's like I have a video "portfolio"
now of some of my dog's best work, which is really cool.
There is a lot that I love about this particular
incarnation of Freestyle, but I think my absolute favorite part was
being able to work toward the title goals with my dogs as a team. Each
of them contributed in unique and fun ways.
Of course, Tessa went along to the Rally FrEe competition, as well. Tessa, my fun girl! We were not as technically prepared as I had hoped we would be. There are actually quite a few Intermediate exercises that she can barely fudge, much less carry out fluently! Also, we have a very, very long way to go with our work on verbal cues. Tessa really is still on hand signal for most of her behaviors. So, I didn't really expect to qualify. I just put her in for the ring time and for the enjoyment of it.
When we got the course just over a week before the competition, I was glad to see that there were only two exercises that she had really not mastered yet. There was a back up 4 steps in right heel, and a back around out of heel position. We had actually been working on the backing up along the kitchen counter at home, and I was very pleased to see that this exercise would happen just a couple of feet from a ring gate! Tessa likes a "bubble" when she works along a wall, and I knew that the distance from the wall in the competition would be about the distance we had been working at home.
The back around was another matter altogether! I had introduced it. If I lure Tessa out of heel about halfway around in front of me, she backs into heel. But she had no experience of starting the exercise from heel.
So, just for the sake of art, I decided to see how far we could get if we tried to crash train this in a week!
It was slow going! Tessa is a deliberate girl when it comes to learning. We got to where Tessa would back halfway around me from heel, with a guide. Without a guide, the best she would do was tuck in behind me and stand there!
It would do. In Rally FrEe, you start with no points and earn them for what you do. I knew we would get some "partial credit" for the tuck in behind me!
I decided not to worry about it at all - go have fun, do our best, and let whatever happened happen. I didn't mind at all if Tessa NQ'ed because I know we still have a lot of Intermediate skills to work on.
Tessa ended up doing better than I had anticipated. Her heel position wasn't terribly precise, but her attention was excellent. She did need hand signals, but she did most of the exercises nicely. There were a few big blips, but she worked with confidence and enthusiasm!
One moment really stands out for me and that was at the back around. At first she shot out in front of me, but I lined her back up and swung my shoulder back to cue her to tuck in behind me. She suddenly skittered behind me and backed halfway around!! I could have laughed out loud. She was like, "I GOT THIS!!!" When she does get the hang of the back around, I think she is going to absolutely adore it!
Of course, her pivot platform was gorgeous and we ended up getting some nice Free Choice scores! I was very, very happy with her performance. She has so much fun out there and when the technical precision begins to kick in, she is going to be phenomenal! I do see a ton of improvement over her work back in April.
Here is our video. If you want to enjoy this to it's fullest, watch her tail the entire time!!!
I was pleased and surprised that we qualified, and with a pretty nice score, considering the amount of hand cuing I still have to use with her! That was her first Intermediate Q! In the afternoon, we got to try for our second. I did not feel that she performed quite as well the second time, but our score was not a whole lot lower, and we qualified again! So, Tessa now has two legs in Intermediate! In November there is going to be a world wide video competition for Rally FrEe. I am hoping to video Speedy in Alt Novice to try to finish his title up. I was planning to video Dean to finish his Intermediate title, but now that is done, so I might try for that with Tessa. Even though I enjoy live events with her, this is kind of a special video event - to celebrate the one year anniversary of Rally FrEe - so it would be fun for her to be a part of it. Now Tessa and I are off and running in our training!
When I think of a ring performance that demonstrates a great dog and handler relationship, I usually think of a dog that is animated, performing with confidence and a nice level of attention, perhaps a wagging tail, and bright happy eyes.
This past weekend I learned that sometimes a performance that is a testament to an excellent dog and handler relationship can actually look very different.
Dean, Tessa, and I headed back up to Tyrone to compete in our second live Rally FrEe event. Tessa was signed up to compete in Intermediate for the first time, and Dean was signed up for one Intermediate run, to try for his third Intermediate leg.
It was a very dreary day. It was cloudy when we left and by the time we got to the turnpike, it was drizzling. Some time between our arrival at the event and lunch, it started to rain very heavily and that didn't really let up until late last night. With a threat of thunderstorms in the area, I wasn't sure if Dean would be able to perform or not, and so I was very grateful that his run was early.
Dean went out there and he gave it everything he had! He was a bit distracted. He was not entirely comfortable in a live competition setting. I could tell by his demeanor that he knew it was feeling potentially stormy. But he worked through it. He never quit! He did start moving toward the entrance at one point, but after watching the video I saw that he thought I had released him.
And he did some really nice stuff. There were some short stretches of beautiful heeling, he did a beautiful 360 left pivot, he did some very good Free Choice work. He tried his best on every single exercise, even on those where he missed the mark a bit.
When we came off the floor together, I honestly didn't care if the run qualified or not. It was a rousing success in my book. I know how much Dean struggles when competing live, and when working without food in the ring. And he did it!
And that was when I realized that a great dog and handler partnership is not always characterized by high animation and riveted focus. Dean stayed with me and did his best because he understood that was what we were doing out there together. He kept his head in the game as much as he possibly could, and he truly did the best work he could under the circumstances. I could never ask him for more.
He may not have been super animated on the floor, but the joy was apparent in his eyes afterward. He was glowing! It was clear that he understood that we had accomplished something important together and he was as pleased as he could be! Here is the video of our run. I have added a few captions. If you saw the video that I posted of him last April you will see that he has improved a lot. Even his comfort level in this situation is markedly better. To top it off, the run did qualify! We squeaked through with exactly the amount of points that we needed! And that earned Dean his Rally FrEe Excellent Title (for Intermediate level!)
Big congrats to Dean Dog, RFE-X !!!!! Now we really have our work cut out for us! Some of the Advanced exercises are super difficult! We will be busy this winter! And enjoying every minute of it!
A good measure of conflict has existed for some time now between those who train dogs as exclusively as possible using positive reinforcement (hereafter +R trainers) and those who hold that some incorporation of aversives/positive punishment/correction, is necessary to effectively train dogs (hereafter All Quad trainers). The points of debate between the two groups have included many long-enduring assertions and objections. But this past summer I came upon a new one that has left me quite astonished. The new rallying cry of a particularly vocal segment of the All Quad training community is "+R trainers are MEAN!!" Now, it is important to note that practitioners of all of the different training approaches include some individuals who are rude and disagreeable, just as there are many practitioners of all of the different training approaches who are polite, eager to engage in discussion in a true give and take, and strive to be objective. The fact of rude trainers is not strictly a +R training phenomenon. I do not deny that there are +R trainers who could use some work on their people-skills - but I would say just as firmly that All Quad trainers who could stand to work on the same people-skills exist in at least the same proportion. However, there is one extra little barb that is inserted into the objection directed at +R trainers, and it is often worded like this: "how can you say you are +R toward dogs when you don't use +R with people?" I give the All Quad folks a lot of credit for finding a slam that will really pack a good punch. This is actually a personal attack (you are a mean, rude, etc. person) veiled as a criticism of the training approach (the trainers use of +R with dogs). As such, it is very, very clever. Granted, I would maintain that choosing to use aversives in training does not give a person any more right to be rude to other people than +R trainers, but that really isn't where I'm going with this. The accusation boils down to, "there is no way you can actually do what you claim to do as a dog trainer because I don't like the way you treat me as a person". Frankly, that doesn't add up. But it does come off as if a valid point has been made. When it comes down to it, we should treat other people with respect because it is right to treat other people with respect, not because one chooses to train a dog in a certain way. Being a +R dog trainer does not somehow imply that an individual now has an obligation to be Mother Theresa but that those who incorporate aversives/positive punishment/correction can be as rude as they please! Choice of training approach has no bearing on this, actually. Now I am going to say something that might be very controversial, but I feel strongly that it needs to be said . . . I do not believe a prevalence of rude +R trainers is actually at the root of this particular accusation. I strongly suspect that something else is happening here. Sure there are rude +R trainers. But there are rude All Quad trainers out and about on the online forums, as well. Nobody is sending out a mass rallying cry against them. I believe this accusation is actually a response to the fact that there is something that the vast majority of +R trainers will not and cannot, in good conscience, do. It is a fact that no matter how much an individual All Quad trainer loves his or her dog, no matter how well he or she takes care of his or her dog, no matter what titles and accomplishments he or she achieves with his or her dog, most +R trainers will not and cannot say, "Even though I choose to train in a different way, I am perfectly fine with your personal training choices". I believe that for those who choose to train using aversives - even to the most minute degree - that stings a bit. The unspoken implication is there - "I would not choose to do what you do, therefore I am, on some level, not really perfectly OK with what you are doing". Ouch! When looking at things from that perspective, the over-exaggerated cry of "+R trainers are mean!" makes perfect sense. It does seem mean. Total approval from an entire population of dog trainers is being withheld and the reason why probably doesn't quite make sense. Many +R trainers and All Quad trainers share a lot in common. We train and compete side by side, harmoniously, in almost every dog sport. We use a lot of the same techniques, especially in the early stages of training a dog. We all want good things for our dogs. We all have goals and we are all looking for results. Many of us have put forth a lot of effort to try to understand those who make different training choices, even when we do not agree on this approach or that approach. I realize it must be utterly confounding that +R trainers will not just make nice and offer a complete and resounding endorsement of at least an All Quad training approach . . . But that doesn't make the "mean" designation accurate. It is actually not mean or rude to hold true to one's personal standards. There are training approaches that All Quad trainers use that +R trainers choose not to use because they do not consider them to be appropriate things to do to a dog. In doing this, and even in saying so, one is not being "mean" to those who consider such approaches acceptable. It's not really about them, actually . . . The fact is that the vast majority of +R trainers are out there training dogs, working with clients and client dogs, helping people learn how to help their dogs overcome behavior issues, coaching competition handlers, and preparing their own dogs for competition. Most promote +R training to those who come their way for training, many of whom have tried methods that incorporate aversives and have not gotten the results they hoped for. Of the ones who are on the internet forums, many engage in debate with All Quad trainers in an objective and helpful manner. If you aren't finding those +R trainers, I would suggest you explore some different groups. No, we aren't really big bad meanies. We are excited about +R training, we promote +R training, and we are committed to excellent use of +R training. Rude individuals best represent themselves as rude individuals, not the entire +R training population.
Dean, Tessa, and Speedy have all enjoyed some Cyber Rally fun in recent months. Speedy, of course, earned his CRO-I back in August.
Dean is now working on Level 2 and he actually did his best run ever for his second Level 2 leg. Here is a video of his run . . .
I really, really like some of the Level 2 exercises, especially those that cannot be found in any other type of Rally - the Figure 8 Jump, the spin, and, of course, the side transitions.
And, of course, I love his attitude during the run.
As Tessa and I were filming for Level 1, I realized that she is ready now to jump into Level 2. She does not know all of the Level 2 exercises, but she knows enough to do some of the courses. Everything on this particular course - 8P - was familiar to her, so I gave Tessa a turn, as well. She earned her first Level 2 leg on this run . . .
While she has now begun working toward her Level 2 title, I am also working with her toward her Level 1 Championship. This is broken up into smaller parts. We need 5 more Q's to get our CRO-I (2) and then 5 more for CRO-I (3) and then 5 more for CRO-1 (4) and then, finally, 5 more for CRO-LI-CH.
As of right this minute we have 3 Q's toward our CRO-I (2), but I have two to submit that might finish it up. Tessa's second leg toward her CRO-I(2) was a particularly nice run . . . Last night we filmed another Level 1 course and Tessa did some really, really beautiful movement.
A big part of the reason why I am doing this with her is for overall confidence building and ring experience. I think it is definitely helping with both! Also, we are having fun with it.
I am looking forward to doing more Level 2 work with both of them in the near future.
This past weekend, Tessa and I headed up to the Pennsylvania coal region to try for our second Beginner Heelwork to Music leg, and title.
This was a particularly meaningful event for me because it was held in the Schuylikll Mall in Frackville, which is just 10 minutes from Shenandoah (pronounced "Shendo"), where we used to live. Our first three dogs were all coal region dogs when they were young. We adopted Sammie from the Hillside SPCA near Pottsville. Speedy lived in the Shendo house from the time he was 12 weeks old until he was nearly 2. And Miss Maddie was there with us for a year before we moved down to our current home in the Cumberland Valley.
We have lots of memories in the coal region. Walks around the town of Shendo - back by the Shen-Penn pit with Sammie and Speedy, at block parties with Maddie, and all around town with all of them. Playing in the park behind Mrs. T's pierogies. Meeting Ben in the Schuylikill Mall parking lot and a parking spot we called "the stupid place". All three dogs were so young and they were always crazy when we went out and about in the car!
Ben and I still laugh when we remember one time when I went to meet him at the mall and when he pulled up in the truck, all three dogs were jumping around in the car! They always got so excited when a tractor trailer would show up and he would step out of it.
Speedy playing in the park behind Mrs. T's as a puppy:
Of course, Tessa never lived up there, but I was eager to take her up and create some new memories. And, at the last second, I decided to take Dean along, so both of our youngsters had the chance to hang out in Sammie, Speedy, and Maddie's old stomping ground.
Dean was most pleased to go. I decided that he could be our "service dog". Afterward, Ben dubbed him our "moral support dog" and that's exactly what he was throughout the entire day.
We had a nice ride up. The weather was perfect. Once at the competition site, I was able to squeeze into the crate area. Luckily, Tessa and Dean crate together so I only needed one spot! I actually wouldn't have taken Dean if he would have used an additional crate space.
I was grateful right from the start to have Dean along. When we arrived, we had to walk through a bit of a corridor to get to the performance area. Tessa balked even with Dean. When she hesitated, I told her, "follow your Dean Dog!" and she rushed right up to go with him! After briefing, I got changed because Tessa and I were fifth in the first group! Again, I was grateful for Dean. With Tessa and Dean in the crate together, she didn't fuss at all when I went away to change, use the restroom, or go anywhere. After watching the first few routines, I took our pedestal prop, and into the ring we went! Now, I typically try to get to a competition early enough to "walk" my routine, but I hadn't this time! The funny thing was - I didn't care. I didn't care about anything, really. Not in a bad way, but in a good enjoying each moment, being relaxed kind of way. If I could bottle that and use it before every competition, I would be in really good shape!! Tessa was really sniffy outside the ring. I didn't stress out about that, either, and I am glad because once we walked in, she was her normal focused and dependable self!
We had fun in the ring. Such a contrast to our Star Spangled Swing performance, which had fallen completely flat! Tessa had her usual "sparkle" and she improvised a good deal. She even got up on her hind legs at one point and I grabbed her paws and "danced" her backwards! It was super cute and it absolutely must be trained!
Our performance . . .
I was extremely happy with it. Tessa isn't a close working dog and we haven't worked a whole lot on precision. But she danced with enthusiasm and at this point that's what I want to see.
We did qualify and we earned our Beginner Heelwork to Music title!! We also got first place for our performance!
So, we got to sit back and enjoy the rest of the day. We watched the other performances. I did take Tessa and Dean out a few times, and during the break I took them into the little practice ring and gave Dean a "turn" (with food). Dean just had such a good time. I have never taken him to a competition before just to tag along and it suited him really well. With no competition stress, he seemed to like hanging out in the competition atmosphere. He made himself quite comfortable throughout the day . . . A "Tessa Pillow" . . .
A "Water Bowl Pillow" . . .
My big, goofy boy!! A lunch time I took them on a walk down memory lane. We drove into Shendo and I went by the old house. There have been some improvements on the street, but by and large the town is, sadly, dying out. After a drive through town, we took a ride out to Locust Lake State Park and took a walk in the woods. That was Dean's reward for being such good moral support to us all day long! Then we returned to enjoy watching the afternoon performances. In addition to our first place and Q, Tessa and I got an award for "Highest Scoring Border Collie"! That amazed the heck out of me. It isn't often that a dog in the Beginner class gets highest scoring anything! After the long day, I went to a local pizza shop and got a sub. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!! Coal region food is SO good! There were chunks of mozzarella cheese on the sandwich and the bread was the best I've had in ages! I will remember that day for a long, long time as a great one! Also, I am now excited about Freestyle again. I am planning to take the music we worked with this time and make our Intermediate routine to it! My goal is really to make it a fun routine! No more Heelwork for now! Tessa's Traditional Ribbon Photo: