Tuesday, February 26, 2013

First Level 2 Title!!!

On Friday evening I took Tessa to Bella Vista to do CPE Agility.  We entered Day of Show since I had to miss the last two trials I had registered for, and I didn't want to chance weather again in February.

They were offering two rounds of Jumpers plus Fullhouse, and I elected just to enter the Jumpers.  If we were to qualify on both courses, we would earn our very first Level 2 Title - CL2-F!!

Tessa was excited to be there.  I love, love, LOVE her attitude!  She gets to a competition site, and she preens with her tail held high, eyes sparkling!  She was a little impatient - we had to wait quite a while for our turn since 3/4/5/C did both rounds of Jumpers first.

But finally it was our turn and Miss Tessa did not disappoint.  Her first run was flawless (alas, no video!).  I did find that I still babysit her just a little.  I really do need to develop more confidence running her.  But we have both come so far together.  A year ago we couldn't qualify to save our lives.  Now we are a team with a bit of experience!

She qualified and got first place!

Her second run went well - I felt that I handled her better.  But she did get tired about 2/3 of the way through. That was a lot of jumping in a short time.  Because of the rounds, and the fact that the 1/2 class was pretty small, there wasn't much of a break in between her runs.  She got distracted for a second by a ring crew member sitting on the side, but when I said her name, she snapped right back and finished nicely.

Another Q, another first place.  And our first ever Level 2 Title!!

She got the prettiest title ribbon ever!!!

Pink and purple - perfect for spring, and a very pretty girl!!

So, we now have:

Tessa CL1, CL2-F, WFDX - MF, ITD, CRO-1, and maybe DCD-Ent (still waiting on long overdue results)

I'm pretty darn proud of her.

I didn't take Dean, obviously.  I missed him in a way.  I would have liked to have run with him, and if he had been in the mood to run, he would have enjoyed those two courses.  

But I'll admit, it was nice not to be thinking of him out in the car all night.  Being able to share the whole experience with Tessa makes me realize that it's not worth bending over backwards to do this with Dean if he doesn't love it.

Maybe Rally FrEe will be different.  He got to try it last night!  He seemed slightly confused by it, but I do think he enjoyed it.  It didn't help that I have some experience and I'm used to a dog who is coming along.  I need to remember that he is just starting and he will need some things made more clear than Tessa does - for now.  He will catch up!

I am hopeful, though.  I think he really might enjoy it once he gets the hang of it.  Just two weeks until he starts for real!

I am very much looking forward to Westminster with Tessa in a month.  What a difference a year makes!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Circles Circles and Circles!

Last night at Rally FrEe class, we did a course that focused on circles.  It was especially good because Tessa was on the right for a good bit of the course, so most of the circles were counter clockwise around me, which is her weaker circle.

But she did well with it and by the end of our second run on the course, I believe she was really starting to get the idea.

Tessa really gets the idea of things quickly.

We started out, as our instructor was setting up the course, out on the floor practicing skills.  I worked on some of Tessa's bows and some leg weaves, but mostly we worked on paw lifts.  Tessa is great at paw lifts in front of me.  She can raise both paws on hand cue, and is getting there with verbal.  But we haven't done much at all with paw lifts in heel and side.

At first she was confused and kept offering sit pretties.  I decided to back up a step and work on paw touches to my hand in heel and side.  To make things clearer to her, I reached over her, very exaggerated, when I wanted her to paw touch with the paw farther from me, and I reached my hand under, toward her chest, when I wanted the closer paw.

She got that immediately.

From there it was easy to switch to paw raises, and she was offering the correct paw raise on hand cue (mostly!) within minutes.

I intend to keep working this, starting with the paw taps and moving to the paw raise, and then work on verbals.

I have a bit of an issue because I will flip the cues that I use when she is in front.  I am actually thinking of teaching one cue per paw per side!!!  That means I would end up with six paw raise cues, but I'm not sure it can be helped!!

The other thing that I am considering is teaching a cue for the paw that is closer to me and a different cue for the one that is farther.  I'm not sure if that would work.  I don't know if she would get it.  I might ask on some of the lists to see if anyone has tried that.

Afterward, we did the course.  At first Tessa was a little hesitant on the counter clockwise circles, and she really seemed confused on the sign where she circles me twice (although this was a clockwise, which is her stronger circle) as I pivot in the opposite direction.  That was a move that Speedy used to do well and love.  In fact, he still does it!!  By the second turn, she was doing much better with it.

So, we have some circle work and paw lifts to work on, and Tessa is all for it.  I love watching her at class.  Her eyes are lit up with fun.  She is interested and eager to do everything.

And I'm kind of looking forward to having Dean join us next session . . . .

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Better Outlook . . .

I had a very brief opportunity this evening to do just a tiny bit of dancing with Dean at the training building.

He had a great time.  It was a real contrast to Agility class last night where he was decidedly uncomfortable.

We had a lot of fun whirling and gliding and spinning and pivoting to baroque music.

Maybe the time has come for Dean to do more Freestyle.  One thing that I have learned about Freestyle is that it is an art that a dog can really mature into.  Even though Speedy was more "flashy" when he was younger, with his Speed Weaves, and fancy prop work, he has become far more beautiful as he has gotten older.  He is more of an artist now than he has ever been.  He's 11 now.  In comparison, Dean is only 7.  Just in time to be getting started taking Freestyle more seriously.

Freestyle is another area where I feel like I never really tapped Dean's true potential.  But the difference is - we can do much, much more with Freestyle than we ever could with Agility.  No teeters, no whistles, and we don't even have to have a live audience!!

I'm feeling much better about things after doing some dancing with Dean tonight.  We reconnected, and I can see that there can still be quite a lot ahead for us.

Endings Happen

Beginnings are exciting.  There is newness.  There is potential.  There is hope.  There is the joy in every tiny little step and progress and getting to know each other and everything good that comes with beginnings.

But endings happen.

Sometimes endings are satisfying.  The work has been long, the goals have been accomplished, and it is time to end.  Sometimes endings mean new beginnings.

But sometimes they are hard to take.  Sometimes the goals were never met.  Sometimes the potential never realized.  Sometimes, no matter how hard you worked, you never got anywhere near where you wanted to go.

Last night I may have looked an ending in the face.  And not one of those "yes, the time has come" satisfying endings.

Dean has been dealing with some kind of hip/leg issue since early December.  He went to the chiropractor, and that helped him a lot, but he has had issues, on and off, ever since.

In everyday life he is pretty much fine, but I believe his Agility career may be over.  He has a hitch in his gait when he runs, and he is not comfortable jumping repetitively - even at low heights.

I'm not 100% certain that this isn't something that can't be fixed, but as of right now I don't think it's looking good.  In any case, a good, long break is probably in order.

Agility has been quite a challenge for Dean and me.  When I started with him, he seemed to have all the potential in the world.  He was a strong, fast dog who enjoyed mental and physical challenges.

Then the noise phobia reared it's ugly head, along with some measure of social anxiety, and everything got turned upside-down.  His phobia was triggered by the slam of the teeter - more when other dogs slammed it than when he did.  He got nervous in front of people when he was running.  Thunder, gunshots, fireworks, slamming camper doors, etc. have derailed many a good effort.

But he has progressed really far with those things.  He has had just a few brilliant runs.  He has enjoyed a good many that weren't brilliant.  And we have come away from difficulties and moved forward.

He has learned to enjoy the game and he loves going to class.  I hate to see that end for him.

Maybe there is a way that he will be able to come back, but I'm not sure.  For today I have to look at what we have today.

I've already made arrangements to put him in Rally FrEe next session.  Tessa is not going to be a happy camper, as that has been hers, but she will deal.  She will still go, too, but she will have to share the class.  I think Dean will really enjoy it, and it is a chance for him to use his skills, get out and train, and maybe move on to something new.

I know I'm always going to look back at Agility with Dean as one big series of "could have been's", and honestly, I think that would be the case if we had 20 more years to run.

Still, I hate to see it end.

One thing for which I am deeply appreciative - Dean will always be my ARCH dog!!  Nothing will ever change that!  And yes, of course he and I can do more Rally, which he will absolutely love.

Once again, I am so very grateful for Tessa.  I don't know what I would do without her.  She and I are still very near the beginning of our ride together, and I will treasure that as long as I can!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fun Weekend - Freestyle Demonstrations!

It has been forever since I had a good "dog event" weekend, and this past Saturday did not disappoint!

Tessa and I started out at a teeter workshop.  Even though she is doing a full height teeter, I elected to put her in the foundation workshop.  It was a good move.  I am a firm believer that where there is an issue with a higher level behavior, going back to the foundation is going to help.  Of course there are times when other steps are necessary, but revisiting the foundation is almost always part of my approach.

Tessa got to fun across teeters that were resting on tables.  She liked that.  We also did an exercise where she could send ahead of me and that was very difficult for her!  She did well, though, and actually offered going ahead of me a few times!

We had to leave the workshop just a bit early to go to Kamp Kitty for the annual Freestyle demo at the fundraiser for canine cancer research.  I took Tessa and Speedy for that.  Speedy was SO happy to get out of the house and he was doubly happy to get a chance to perform in front of an audience.

Tessa went first.  She did a nice job.  I realized too late that I hadn't performed this routine since November, and I spent a lot of the performance remembering where I was going.  But Tessa did a lovely job!

Speedy and I improved the Polka!  He had a blast - he loves to beat those paws in time to the music!

The audience was appreciative.  We got quite a lot of good feedback.

I actually feel some desire now to do some more Freestyle with Tessa.  I need a new song for her.  Something she can "float above" and be beautiful to!  I am exploring several options right now.

Last night she and I had fun at Rally FrEe.  The course that we did featured right side work, and had quite a few counter clockwise circles around the handler.  That is definitely a weakness that she and I need to work on.  But the course was fun and she had a great time going through it - three times!

I am hoping to get some training in tonight . . . .

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Speedy and I have performed two Freestyle routines that I consider our "signature" routines.  Here Comes the Sun, which I posted about a couple of months ago, and Reunion.

Reunion is a piano piece by Steven Kravis.  The only reason I have even heard of him is because I got a link a good many years ago to an online game called "Bubble Bees".  Bubble Bees had this catchy piano music playing in the background and it was a piece called "Through the Kaleidoscope" by Steven Kravis.  Upon searching iTunes, I found a few other pieces of his that I liked, one of which was Reunion.

Speedy and I had been in Freestyle for three years and we were working on Intermediate.  It wasn't going well.  Speedy was becoming very overstimulated by his own movement and he was constantly going over threshold when he was performing, and he would end up grabbing my costume.  After banging my head against the wall for a year in Intermediate with only one Q, which we actually earned on our first fluke attempt at Intermediate, I knew it was time to come up with a new strategy.

Right at that time, Kamp Kitty offered their very first Rally trial and my friend asked me to enter Speedy.  Even though Speedy was retired, I entered him, and he did a fantastic job.  He even qualified on his Level 2 run - with a jump in the course.

This was his Level 2 run:

I was inspired by this Rally run.  There was something special about it - although it might not be evident from the video, he and I really connected during this run.  It had a certain "magical" feel to it.  I watched it over and over on the video, and I decided to create a Heelwork to Music routine based on some pieces of it (particularly the exercises in the back left corner!).

I chose Reunion as the music, and I sat down and created the routine - or at least the basic framework of it - in one sitting!

From there we went on to develop it a bit, and it was ready to perform for the first time at the Star Spangled Swing in June of 2009.

The performance was a hit!  We got some nice scores and excellent comments.  I had gone very simple on attire for this.  I chose a black skirt and a black top, and I glued some clear rhinestones around the collar of the shirt.  I made Speedy a black collar with clear rhinestones to match.  My intent was to match him, and it worked out really well.

Here we are doing our sidepasses . . .

And this was the closing pose.  The kisses were spontaneous!  He really, really enjoyed performing that routine!

That is one of my all time favorite dancing pictures of Speedy and me!!!  It really expresses what Freestyle has given to us.  It is a very special part of our bond and relationship.

We went on to earn our Beginner Heelwork title with the routine at the last ever Hershey competition, and we were selected for the invitational!  We had been to the invitational once before, with Here Comes the Sun, but this time was even better!  Speedy danced beautifully and we got a ton of applause!  We ended up getting third place and a trophy, earned by audience applause.  And we were in close competition with another participant!  Speedy and I broke out the leg weaves and that sealed the deal!

Speedy and his trophy, and his placement for the performance . . .

We weren't finished with the routine quite yet, though.  I modified it a bit, added more of the music back and took it into Novice Heelwork.  We earned our first two legs with it at Barkaritaville that November.

Then I really transformed it and we performed it in Pittsburgh to earn his second, and final, Intermediate leg.  Although we never finished that title, it is very special that he earned a leg with it.  The other leg was earned with Here Comes the Sun.  We attempted to earn the third leg with the routine, even once by video, but he was getting older and a lot of his technical skills were deteriorating due to age and arthritis.  We finally retired from WCFO competition, his last performance - Reunion.

But we still performed the routine demonstrations - many at Glen Highland Farm, including at a Control Unleashed camp, and at the fundraiser for canine cancer research.

We did take a break from it for while.  We developed a couple of other routines, and worked to other music.

But last summer I decided to break Reunion out again.  We were going for our Intermediate level of the Classical Freestyle title for the Challenge, and I just thought it would be fitting.  In many ways, our participation in the Challenge has been an opportunity to build a video portfolio of Speedy's best work.  Reunion had to be part of that.

So, back in the very room where we ran the Rally course that inspired this routine, we performed Reunion to submit to the Challenge by video.

And here it is . . . .

There was something kind of "magical" about that performance, as there had been with the initial Rally run, as there had been when we danced at the invitational, as there had been the very first time we performed it at the Swing.

And it was well received!  We earned our level with 128 points!  Some of the judge's comments . . . (good ones, of course!)

"A graceful routine, honoring dog, music, and dance"

"Scallops are soooooo beautiful and synchronized so well with the music phrases.  I think that might be my favorite part of the routine"

"Speedy's positions may not be the most precise ever, but they are beautiful" (I think that might be my favorite comment!!)

Now, I should have left well enough alone, but I ended up videoing this again and I submitted that to the Giving Thanks event in Advanced.  Those are part of the results that I am waiting for now.

In any case, I was very, very happy with the take that we submitted for Summer Fun.  I love this routine, and all of the memories that I have of Speedy with it.

And I'll bet we even perform it again someday . . . !!!

Good Training Week

This has been a really good training week - at least for Tessa.  Dean and Speedy haven't really gotten to do anything since our training session earlier in the week, but Tessa got to go to Rally Free class on Monday, and she went to do demo's for the classes that I taught last night.  All very fruitful for her!

I discovered at class on Monday that Tessa now understands, and is coming to love, the leg weave!  I am glad about this.  She decidedly did not like leg weaves and it is something that I wanted her to enjoy doing.

Several weeks ago, our Rally Free instructor showed us how Julie Flannery advises teaching the single leg weave on the Rally Free DVD.  I did this with Tessa on and off for several weeks and now she is like, "I got it!!"  She's really funny.  When she leg weaves, she is just delighted with her new skill!!

Her bows are also coming along nicely.  She still needs a big physical cue, but she is starting to hold the position a bit before breaking it.

She enjoyed herself so much at class on Monday that when we got home, she was racing around the house and running up to me to offer puppy bows!

Unfortunately, we have to miss Agility class this evening because I have a meeting for work.  Dean is not going to be pleased, as Tessa has gotten to go out training twice this week, and he is not going to go at all!

This coming weekend, Tessa is attending a teeter workshop, and then she and Speedy are going down to Kamp Kitty to do a Freestyle demo at the annual fundraiser for canine cancer research.

I don't know exactly what I am going to do for the demo.  I'm thinking I will do a version of Scorchio for Tessa, since we haven't worked on anything new.  Speedy and I will likely improv to the Polka.

No news yet on results from the Giving Thanks DCD Challenge event.  I am dying to hear how we scored, but for right now, we wait . . .!!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rally Free Preparation

So, Tessa and Dean are registered for the Rally Free competition in April!

I am very excited.  I am excited to be starting out in a brand new sport that will be brand new to everyone there.  I am excited to give Tessa a chance to have a sport that is as much of a first time for me as it will be for her.

I am also excited to have something to train for!  I haven't been this motivated to prepare in a very, very, very long time!

We began today.  Tessa, Dean, and Speedy each had a training session.  Even though Speedy is probably not going to do this, I am going to go ahead and work on some of the exercises with him since any of them can be Freestyle moves, and he will enjoy it.


Tessa went first today.  We worked on her single leg weave.  Tessa has never been terribly excited about leg weaving and I really want to build her understanding of the move.

As we learned in class a few weeks back, I set her up in heel, stepped forward, and had her do the single leg weave, with a c/t when she landed in side position.  I did elect not to use a cue today.  I'd like to see her offering the behavior a bit more solidly before I start working the cue with her.  I use "through" for a single weave.

After we did two of those on each side, I switched to paw lifts.  We had never tried those in heel or side, so I had her do some in front of me.  One thing we have to work on is her understanding of raising the correct paw on the correct cue.  As of now she knows she is supposed to lift a paw, but as often as not, she lifts the one I didn't cue!  This is one of those things she is going to figure out in her own good time.

Some work with her understanding of the name of each paw is in order, but for today we went ahead and practiced in heel and side.  She didn't do too badly.  She seemed to enjoy the exercise a lot.  I think she will do well with this once the name of each paw is solid for her.

We also did a few circles around me in each direction.  Her clockwise circle, on the cue "circle" is very solid.  Her counter-clockwise circle, on the cue "reverse" needs a bit of work, but is actually quite good for a behavior we haven't done all that much with.


Speedy also got to practice paw work.  He did really well with it, actually.  It figures, of all of my dogs, his understanding of which paw is which is solid.  We haven't done much with lifts in heel and side, but he seemed to enjoy the change.  This is a great behavior for him to work on since it provides a bit of a stretch to his front paws.

We also did some work with circles and reverses.  Circles were excellent, reverses needed a bit of help.

Finally, I tested his verbal recognition of position cues.  We need to work on that.


Dean's single leg weaves are awesome!!  I say "through" and he looks for the leg to dive under and through he goes!

His paw work is very good, but he tends to get excited and sit pretty to offer both paws at once!!!  This is something we will have to work on a bit.  The good thing was that in heel and side, he actually did better than he did in front.  Verbal games with "paw", "lift", and "pretty" are in order!!

He also did circles and reverse circles.  We definitely need to work verbals for this.  He is stellar on hand cues, but tends to loop into position instead of circling on verbal alone.

I really want to do what I did when I was first training Speedy to do Rally - print small versions of the signs, cut them out, and draw out three exercises to practice each time we train.  That way things will get changed up, but we will be able to focus on working out some of the weak areas.

I know we are all really going to enjoy this!

By the way, if anyone is wondering what on earth I am even talking about, here is the Rally Free website.  Check it out!


Friday, February 1, 2013

It's Been a While!

Yes, it has been a while since I've written.  I've been very busy with work obligations, teaching my online classes, going to training classes, etc.

So, a quick update on everyone!

I entered three routines in the Giving Thanks Event for the Dogs Can Dance Challenge in November.  Speedy was my MVP for the event, performing a Polka for Musical Interpretation, which we video'ed last summer, a version of Here Comes the Sun for Entertainment, which we video'ed in early fall, and a version of Reunion, which we video'ed the day after Thanksgiving.  That was a last minute entry.  Of the three, I liked Here Comes the Sun the best.  It was my first attempt at editing, and I think it went very well for a first try.  I also really liked the Polka.  It looks like Speedy is having a lot of fun.  I actually didn't care for this performance of Reuinion.  Speedy did a fantastic job, but I was a clodhopper.  I even dropped the leash a couple of times!  I submitted it because of Speedy's performance.  I doubt it will score 100, but I felt he should have the points for his efforts!!

Speedy also did his first ever Cyber Rally entry!  We had a lot of fun filming it, and he really seemed to enjoy the course.  We did about 4 takes, and ended up with one I could submit.  In spite of one little blip, it qualified!!!  Here is a video:

Speedy has been feeling pretty good.  His chiropractor recommended that I add some baking soda to his food because his kidney values had gone up quite a bit (still in the "early renal insufficiency" range, but getting close to the upper limits).  After two months of that, he is looking like a new dog.  His coat has regained it's shine, he has more energy, and his paws looking much, much better.

Here's hoping Speedy and I have lots and lots of time together!

Dean is, as always, an adorable goof!  He still loves to lay in the laundry basket!  He is really enjoying being one of my demo dogs for my online classes.  I haven't really gotten into preparing him for Level 3 Rally, and I really do need to get started on that.  He was signed up for two Agility trials this month, but I didn't make it to either (for non-dog reasons).

Tessa has a new venture that we are enjoying immensely!  We have started studying Rally Freestyle Elements (aka:  RallyFree).  It is a combination of Rally Obedience and Freestyle.  Tessa just thinks this is the most fun ever!

There is a trial here in Pennsylvania in late April and I am going to sign her (and Dean!) up!  I think that if we work really hard, which Tessa is always up for, we will be ready!

That's it in a nutshell!  I am hoping to get back to updating this blog more frequently now that the Christmas/Midterms craziness is over!