Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Big Milestone for Tessa

On Sunday Tessa and I caught up to Maddie in our CPE Agility progression.

The farthest that Maddie and I got was one Level 5 Colors Q.  On Sunday Tessa and I earned our first Level 5 Q, also in Colors!

I am super proud of my girl!

I have always regretted that Maddie and I didn't have time to earn our C-ATCH title together.  Granted, hers would have been a CT-ATCH, but that's neither here nor there.

Now I understand why Maddie and I didn't do it.  This is for Tessa.  This is going to be something big and special that Tessa and I do together.

Maddie will always be a part of that.  I would not be the handler that I am right now if not for Maddie.  I wouldn't even have loved the sport of Agility if not for Maddie.  And I would not have been prepared to train Tessa as quickly and as well as I was able to if I hadn't had to work as hard as I did to learn how to train Maddie.

But this honor rightly belongs to Tessa.  My beautiful and fun girl who absolutely adores this game.

Just for fun, though, a look back at Maddie's one and only Level 5 Q:

And . . . the lovely Miss Tessa, as we officially reach the Level where Maddie and I, most unfortunately, had to leave off.

I am very proud of my girl.  She has come so far and amazing doesn't even describe what this has been!

I will be honored to earn a C-ATCH title with Tessa.

Granted, we have a ways to go!  3 more Level 3 Q's, 26 more Level 4 Q's, and 39 more Level 5 Q's!  And 19 of those are going to have to be Standard!!

But I am eager to take the rest of this ride with Tessa.  She truly is my perfect Agility partner.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Odd Morning

Tessa woke me up this morning, acting like there was thunder in the area.  She jumped up on the bed, was wiggling up against me, and was shaking.

To my knowledge there was no thunder, and Dean, the world's biggest thunder-phobe, appeared to be perfectly fine, so I got up and let them out for a few minutes.  It was about 4:00 AM.

I went back to bed, but she was no better.  I was about to get up and check the weather radar to see if there were storms it the area when I heard this "chirp" sound.  Right away, Tessa shivered harder, so I knew that was the culprit.

But I had no idea what the heck it was.

Finally I got up and walked out into the kitchen, and heard the "chirp" again.  I figured out that it was one of our fire alarms.  We have two, both built into the wall, and on one of them, the green light was flashing, which doesn't normally happen.  It chirped again, and I figured the unit was trying to tell me it was out of whack.  I hit the "reset" button and it went back to solid green, and all was well.

I'm not sure why it went berserk.  There was no fire or anything - the other one was fine.  I hope this isn't going to start to be an issue because it freaked Tessa out majorly!

After a while she figured out that the sound "chirp" had stopped and she went back to sleep.

Very strange morning . . .

Monday, April 21, 2014


I haven't blogged in several weeks because we have had quite a difficult time this month.

Several weeks ago Sammie, who had been doing a good deal better since the weather had started to get warmer, became suddenly ill.

I don't even have the heart to describe how it all went down right now, but maybe someday I will.

On Wednesday, April 9th I made the decision to let him go.  He was 14 and 1/2 years old - going on 15 in August.

I've had a very rough time with this one.  In some ways it has been more difficult than losing Speedy.  That is odd because Speedy and I were much, much closer, but in a lot of ways it makes sense, too.  Sammie was our first dog and he was with us the longest.  And Sammie was the last of our original crew - Sammie, Speedy, and Maddie Lynn.  In a way, losing him really means they are all gone now.  And losing him so soon after Speedy made it much, much more difficult.

I can't say he died too young - he really had lived out his life.  But I'm still very upset by the whole thing.

Yesterday was Easter and I found that I just couldn't help thinking about this past Christmas.  I really went all out to make it a nice Christmas for the dogs this last time.  I got them presents to open and it was all just very nice.  I did it up extra special for them because I knew Sammie and Speedy were getting older and I didn't know how many more Christmas's they would have left.  I had no idea they would both be gone by Easter.

Within just 4 months we lost half of our dogs.

I just kept wishing that everything could be the way it was before this horrible, horrible winter.

So, it was a sad Easter, in spite of being an absolutely gorgeous day.  I did take Tessa and Dean out to King's Gap and we had a really nice hike together.  They both got a little ham at dinner time.

Life moves on and I am excited over the news of my coming-soon-puppy.

But I'm missing my black and white boys something awful.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Quest for the Amazing Heeling Tessa!!

Sometimes goals are deliberate.  I know what I want, I make a plan to train it, I work with my dog, and we eventually master the skill.

But sometimes goals just kind of happen!  I am not really thinking that I want to do anything in particular and then suddenly I realize that I am working toward something and I want to continue and actually make it a goal.

That has happened with Tessa's heeling.

Tessa has never been a fantastic heeling dog.  She started out with so much aversion to coming in close to me that I pretty much decided from the get-go that heeling would never be a very strong skill of hers.

That was a good decision at the time.  Knowing her, I honestly do believe that if I had pressed the issue early on, I could have easily poisoned the behavior and sapped any desire to actually try right out of her.

So, at first I accepted her heeling flaws.  She lagged horribly.  She was tentative.  Heeling was just something that we had to do sometimes.  It was definitely not something that I would have thought about showcasing.  We focused more on tricks and other behaviors and I accepted mediocre movement in heel and side position.

This is changing.  Tessa is actually starting to become a very nice heeler.  She is starting to develop power, style, and clear desire, even just a little precision!

Even though I actually did not work through a whole lot of it, the Precision Heeling class that we took at the bronze level during the last session of Fenzi Academy classes did help.  Tessa's comfort level in position is definitely growing.  Her understanding of where she is supposed to be is starting to develop.  And when she drives up into correct position and moves there for any duration, she is really, really pretty!!  And pretty will always win me over!

This session we are taking an IPO heeling class!  +R based, of course!  It might seem completely strange to have a sheepdog work IPO style heeling, but I believe that study of this particular style of heeling will benefit our Freestyle and HTM heelwork.  The IPO style features power, precision, turns and pace changes, and - most of all - duration.  This is one area where studying Obedience heeling has fallen short for us - for musical dog sports we need duration.  And not just duration, but power, precision, and style over a considerable duration.

I am doing this at bronze level, so we will see how it goes.  But I've been watching some of the gold level videos and I am really excited to jump in and try some of what I see with her.

So, Tessa and I have a new goal now - the Quest for the Amazing Heeling Tessa.  I realize now that she can be quite good at heelwork.  And it is clear that she is ready for this!  and I'm ready!  So we shall run with it!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Give and Take

Performance with dogs is very much a give and take.  There are times when we handlers rightfully ask for high level criteria, precision, and top focus from a well trained dog under challenging competition conditions.  There are also times when the right call is to accept the best that the dog has to give, even when the dog's performance does not exactly meet the highest criteria, is not particularly precise, or when focus is "off" at best.  How do we know which standard is appropriate at any give time?  It really is part of the art of training and handling to correctly discern that in any given circumstance.  Being able to make that kind of judgment call comes from knowing the individual dog, balancing the dog's training, talents, and ability with his or her challenges and limitations, from having a decent amount of competition experience, and . . . sometimes . . . you just know!

One part of Tessa's Rally run this past weekend really illustrated this.  The only stationary exercises on the entire course, other than the bonus, were one set of three exercises married together.  There was a call front-finish left, left pivot, and a halt-stand.

This started off well for us.  Tessa did a lovely call front-sit, and then a beautiful finish left-sit.  I was so happy that she actually sat instead of standing there waggling her tail as if to say, "I know I don't really have to sit here!" as she often does in Cyber Rally-O where she is absolutely correct - she does not have to sit!  I gave her a treat and when I did, she stood.  That was perfectly OK, but it threw me off.

All I had to do there was take a step forward, have Tessa sit again, and do the pivot.  The signs are married, but may be performed separately.  I drew a blank!  I almost went on without asking for that sit again, but remember that I needed to, backed up and retired it.  That was OK.  We lost a few points for the retry, but it was all legitimate.

Immediately after that, Tessa made a blip!  In spite of her being the Princess of the Pivot, when I asked for the right pivot, she started to come front!  She did swing around into heel, but never did actually pivot!!  That was OK.  We actually didn't lose points off of the exercise.  But she could have done better.

Well, I could have done better, too!

Give and take.  We both blundered a bit.  No harm done - we managed to successfully complete everything and earned a good score.

But the whole thing really made the fact that handling requires a willingness to give and take.  How can I insist on perfect performance from my dog when I myself have "blips" on my handling?

I hold myself to a high standard as a handler.  When I go into the ring, I want to do the best that I can possibly do.  This used to make me extremely rigid and stiff in the ring, but I've learned to temper that by remembering that I am also there to enjoy time with my dog.  The preparation and training is done.  Now is the time to put the best we have out there, but I always want to enjoy the performance at the same time!  I want to have a healthy sense of humor about the whole endeavor at the same time that I strive to do my best.

And I apply that same attitude to my dog.  So, Tessa didn't exactly pivot.  My handling probably had something to do with that.  I appreciate her willingness to put herself out there and try her best!  And she is incredibly cute, no matter what she does!

Tessa has the potential to be excellent, but I always want to see that tail waggling, her eyes sparkling, and her feeling comfortable enough to let her best self shine.

Sometimes that means letting stuff go for the time being.  Knowing when to chalk it up to "things happen" is part of the game.  A part that Tessa, much to my surprise, is teaching me quite a lot about.