Monday, March 31, 2014

Tessa's First Rally Trial

Yesterday I took Dean and Tessa to Kamp Kitty in Falling Waters, West Virginia, for a World Cynosport Rally competition.  It was actually the first time I have competed in this venue since it changed over from APDT to World Cynosport.  So far, other than the button in the center of the placement ribbons, all was the same.

I had Dean entered in Level 1, Level 2, and Veteran's.  All Tessa is eligible for is Level 1, so that's what she and I did.

Crating is very tight in this venue.  I had hoped to find a place to squeeze in my portable crate, but that was not possible.  They did offer me use of a large metal crate that was standing on its own (not in a row of crates) down at the end of the room.  I didn't think Tessa would go into it.  Not only has she never gotten into a metal crate, but the last time I tried to have her get into one, she very clearly refused.  To my surprise, when Dean went in, Tessa followed him and settled right down.  No issue!  As far as I was concerned, this was Tessa's biggest accomplishment of the day!

Level 1 was first and Dean ran before Tessa.  He did a really nice job.  It was actually one of the nicest runs he has ever done.  He was focused and comfortable, and he just did a really nice job.  He earned a 207 for the run.  I have a video.  It was a self-video and the beginning is cut off, but most of the run is visible.  This is best viewed maximized.

Tessa was up next - just three dogs later!  She did a fine job in her live competition Rally debut!!  She was a little laggy here and there, but even her weakest heeling was much improved!  And she had some moments of heeling brilliance!!

She did her sits!  She did stand up as I was feeding her on the sit of a sign that was married to a left pivot and I momentarily got confused about what to do.  I ended up doing a retry that I really didn't need to do, but it was still a good decision because what I should have done really wasn't in my mind!

Other than that, her run was flawless!!  She sat everywhere I needed her to.  She just did a really nice job!  She is always so much fun.  I truly enjoyed doing this with her.

Tessa earned a 204 and got 3rd Place!!  She got a really, really pretty yellow placement ribbon!

Dean did well in his first Veteran's run.  Another 207.  He was the only A dog, so he got first place.

Finally, Dean had his Level 2 run, but it didn't go very well.  He got very stressed part way through.  The pressure was dropping outside as a snowstorm was moving in and he responded like it was thunder.  Nothing we could do about it, we scratched the run about halfway through.  It was a good decision.  No need to stress him unnecessarily.

After that, I brought Tessa back in and the two of them snoozed away while Level 3 was run.

It was a really nice day.  I'd like to finish Dean's RL1X (just need 2 more Level 1 Q's) and get his Vet's title.  And I definitely want to get Tessa's Level 1 title and go on to play Level 2 with her.  Some Rally training is in order this summer to make that happen!

Good stuff!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tessa's Rally FrEe Weekend

Our Dandy Dogs Rally FrEe competition was a rousing success!  Everyone there was extremely supportive and a good time seemed to be had by all - qualifiers and non-qualifiers alike!

It was a fruitful weekend for Tessa and me, and on Sunday we really had a great time.

I noticed on Saturday that Tessa was not her usual sparkly self.  She actually perked up a lot in the ring, but seemed, uncharacteristically, worried out there.  I am not sure if she was unnerved because Dean wasn't there.  Maybe she was just feeling off kilter.  Not sure.

I had entered Dean in non-titling on Sunday, so we brought him along that day, and she was almost back to her normal self.

That said, we really did perform at the level of our training in the ring.  She did some really, really, really nice stuff and I see TONS of improvement in her overall performance.

Her return to position at the end of each exercise truly shines!!  Through the work with did for Precision Heeling, she has moving herself into heel or side and getting in there ramrod straight down pat!

She did back away from me on course several times, and she performed some behaviors without hand signals in competition for the first time.

Her Free Choice behaviors were all very good, and we got very high scores for every one of them.

That said, there are still things that we need to work on.  She didn't back through my legs once.  Didn't even come close!!  She did manage a back-around on Sunday, but on Saturday the back-around fell apart completely.  We need to build more confidence into basic leg weaves!  She actually got stuck on those several times!  And our bow really needs to get finished.

We missed qualifying by a mile on Saturday morning with a 115!!  We did better on her second run, with a 123, only missing the Q by two points!!  And on Sunday we finally pulled it off with a 128!

Of course, qualifying isn't everything and when I look at the overall picture, I see the whole weekend as a big success.  I knew going in that we really weren't at the level we needed to be at to do this comfortably.  And she surprised me in a lot of ways with her position work and the backing that she did.  Last Monday she still needed a platform to back away from me!

And given the fact that she was feeling "off" on Saturday, I was very proud of her for going out there and putting all she had into it!

Here is our second run from Saturday.  I have put some captions on it, so there is explanation of some of the good and some of the not-so-good!!

And here is our run from Sunday morning - the qualifying one.

I am very excited to keep working these exercises with Tessa to get them really good.  The next time we attempt Advanced - probably by video - I want to go in knowing that she can do it all!

Some other highlights of the weekend:  The wooden flowers that I painted for our "spring garden of awards" were well received.  There was a pistachio cake at lunch that was absolutely to die for!  It was great catching up with some Freestyle friends that I don't see very often.

It was just a really nice weekend!

A few ribbon photos!!

Tessa with her Saturday placements - a second and a third!

Tessa with her Q ribbon and placement for Sunday!

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Potential - latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.

As a dog trainer and handler, I am very attuned to potential.  Potential in a dog.  Potential in myself.  Potential in a given dog and myself as a team.  Potential in a sport.  Potential in competition.

Having worked with fearful dogs and dogs with temperament issues, I know well that potential can be a double edged sword.  It can be exciting, encouraging, and a source of great hope and anticipation to see potential in a canine sport partner.  And it can be upsetting, frustrating, and a source of much consternation when that potential is thwarted again and again by limitations grounded in the dog's own mental make-up.

Even in the case of a temperamentally sound dog, the capacity for the team to reach its potential can be thwarted by life circumstances, time and resources available to train, and the rather short lifespans, in the big picture, that our dogs are granted.

This is on my mind because of something that I read online recently.  A statement was made that a dog rarely, if ever, reaches his or her potential.  That made me think . . .

In retrospect, I don't believe that Maddie did reach her full potential.  I would say that, given my limitations as a new Agility trainer and handler, and her age when we started, we went very, very far together.  If I had it to do over and I knew what I know now and I had started her much earlier, she and I could have attained a much greater level of skill.

In a sense one might say that she did reach her potential, since the circumstances were what they were and we really did the best we could within those circumstances.  But, objectively speaking, Maddie had potential as a performance dog that we never achieved as a team.

On the other hand, I would say absolutely and unequivocally that Speedy reached his potential.  Although he did grow and improve throughout most of his life, he did peak as a performance dog around the age of 8 or 9 and then we hit walls that we never really could move past.  And not for lack of effort and excellent quality training on my part.  We got to a point where he really had given everything that he had in him.  After that we "rode the wave", enjoying the skills that he had, and dancing for the pure joy of it.

Had I known what I know now when he started there probably are little things he could have done.  Maybe we could have managed that last Intermediate Freestyle leg in WCFO if we had a bit longer at his true peak.  But I will never feel that our lack of Intermediate title was a failure.  Honestly, it was beyond his reach, and our reach as a team.  That we got two legs at all was almost a fluke.  Novice truly was his master level.  Given his early fear issues and extreme overstimulation issues, he needed the arm support that Novice allowed.  And, of course, he just thrived in the format of the Challenge.  I will always consider that the true development of his potential.  He did his best work in the Challenge format and it is right and just that he is a Dogs Can Dance Challenge Champion.

Dean is an interesting consideration.  In so many ways his life has been a struggle of striving toward untapped potential.  His anxiety and noise phobia are a far more severe handicap to him as a performance dog than Speedy's issues were.  Maybe Dean's true potential is in video work.  And I would do well to put my focus there with him.  Perhaps if I do that I will one day say, as I do with Speedy, that his real potential was met.

And, of course, Tessa is my sky is the limit dog.  I will never bring her to her full potential because I truly do believe it is limitless.  There will always be more that she could learn and could do.  I guess someday old age will take care of that, but as a young and vibrant dog in her prime, there really is no training challenge that we can't take on together.  It really is all about preference.

I believe that the balance that dog sport enthusiasts would do well to strike is between the dog's potential and our expectations.  In the past I have allowed what I perceive as my dog's potential to translate into expectations on my dog that are too high.  It has been important to learn to recognize and honor and work around limitations.  Sometimes even to adjust expectations accordingly.  On the other hand, there are times when recognition of potential is the impetus to keep working when things get difficult.  If we fail to see potential, why set goals?

In the end, I like to think of potential as something that I can view as a source of inspiration, but as something that I choose not to set my heart on.  When I look back on Maddie's life, I don't regret the fact that she didn't reach her potential as an Agility dog, but I am grateful to have had the chance to take her as far as I was able.  When I look back on Speedy's life, I think our performance journey together was perfect.  We shared the ride of a lifetime because he was exactly who he was.

I want that for all of my dogs - to look back and see potential as something that was an excellent servant, but never our master.  No regrets because of what we didn't do, but full appreciation of everything that we did.

Speedy's "graduation" from Basic Obedience photo.  The "stay" was a major accomplishment for young Speedy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"If Only . . ."

95% of the time I am content with the fact that my rescue dogs came to me with a background that shapes who they are today.  In fact, it is something that I appreciate.  What others call "baggage", I consider that dog's individual life experience.  Some of it is undesirable, but some of it is good.  In Tessa's case, I will always appreciate her resilience.  Having to survive on her own and rely on herself gave her the opportunity to develop a strength I have never witnessed in another dog, and I admire and appreciate it very deeply.  Of course, it's a double edged sword.  I also have to accept that she will probably never be a social butterfly with people and that there might be small spaces that she will struggle with entering throughout her life.

There are times when I find myself saying "if only" about my rescue dogs.  If only Maddie had been encouraged to play as a puppy.  If only Dean hadn't been flown in the cargo hold of a plane when he was only 6 weeks old.  If only Tessa had not known the man, or men, who did whatever they did to destroy her trust in anyone who happens to be male . . . These thoughts come and go on an infrequent, but fairly regular, basis.

It does not bother me to have these thoughts.  I think it is pretty natural when one did not have the opportunity to raise a dog the way he or she would have done it.  Thinking these kinds of thoughts is all well and good.  Generally speaking, however, dwelling on "if only" is useless.  Yes, there might be quirks and challenges that might not be there had the dog been raised differently.  But, when it comes down to it, the dog's background is what it is and all we really can do is move forward and change what we can change and accept and manage what we cannot.

As Tessa and I are starting to make progress with her Rally FrEe/Freestyle training, I have allowed myself some time to consider one little "if only".  Especially in light of the coming puppy, who brings with him all kinds of hopes and new possibilities.  I am very excited about the chance to start training very young and to be able to dive right in without having to un-do things in the way I had to with Maddie, Dean, and Tessa.

While I watch some of these lightbulbs going off in Tessa's head, it occurs to me that she could have been incredibly amazing in a very short amount of time had she had the opportunity to have been raised and trained well from the start.  It seems a shame that she had to invest so much of her young life into making the shift from survival mode to a happy companion and performance partner mindset.  In a perfect world, she could have spent that time learning tricks and behaviors and her focus could have been on a performance foundation and not so much on things like "I don't have to be afraid of your hand when it moves".

It is easy to look at the point where she is in her training and realize that this could all be happening a lot faster if there had not been significant challenges to overcome.

I have to stop and make myself remember a few things.

First, Tessa is who she is because she went through what she went through and survived it.  Had I known her and it had been in my power to spare her the bad experiences that she had in her early life, I most certainly would have.  But things being what they actually are, she inspires me every day with her strength and resilience.  Watching her find it within herself to love and trust and literally revel in the safety and security of her new life is a daily gift to me.  And it is more of a treasure than any title or performance achievement.

She is Tessa, in part, because she experienced loss and loneliness and fear out in the world on her own and she did survive and she is healing and moving beyond it.  And, really, I wouldn't change anything about who she is.

Also, Tessa still has the potential - the most potential of any dog I have ever worked with - to reach any and every performance goal that I could reasonably have.  She isn't ruined.  She isn't broken.  I have never known such a willing partner.  Maybe I need to have some patience.  Maybe I work a little harder as a trainer.  Maybe I need to put more time and effort into her training.  But there really isn't anything that she can't do just because of her background.

It is time to forget "if only".  It is time to remember how much I appreciate this girl and move forward, together with her, to enjoy every second of our training and performance journey together.

Really - she's perfect.  I would do well not to forget it.


Tessa is really improving!  Last night we got together with friends to practice for the competition this coming weekend and Tessa's skills are really coming along!  She actually backed up on her own at one point and waited for me to return to her, and then we did a lateral (her moving toward me) with her in right heel!

Tessa's best skill right now is finding position!  She is scooting herself right into heel or side and she clearly understands what I want and is happy to be able to do what I ask!

I love Tessa.  She has such an attitude of fun.  But it's more than that.  An attitude of fun can be frustrating if the dog has no focus or understanding of the task at hand.  Tessa is putting her whole mind into trying to figure out what I want her to do!  It is such a beautiful combination!

Something has changed with her recently.  Maybe my attitude toward her has changed since losing Speedy and she senses it and is rising to the occasion.  Or maybe the extra training that we have done these past few months is starting to bear good fruit.  Or maybe it's just a natural progression of her development.

Regardless, I am most pleased with the way she is coming along.  It means a lot to me right now.

I know we are going to enjoy our weekend, no matter what the result.  I can go into the ring knowing that our skills are a work in progress and that if they aren't quite ready right now, they will be very soon!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Crash Course Continues!!!

Yesterday evening we had Rally FrEe class.  I took Tessa by herself because Dean's hip hitch got aggravated over the weekend.  It was good, also, to focus on her alone at the class before our competition.

We did a Novice course in class, but I was still able to practice the Advanced level exercises that we are working on because I used them as my Free Choice behaviors!

Tessa is really improving in many ways.  Her focus during heeling is better.  I think all of the eye contact work and the pocket hand from Precision Heeling (although I am using it somewhat loosely) are starting to show up in her heeling skills!!  I notice that if I clearly indicate that I want her in heel, she is moving right in with a lot of confidence!!

We worked on the back thru 3X a couple of times.  I can see that the idea is starting to make sense to her, and that it is something that she is actually starting to like to do.  Fluency by the weekend?  Probably not.  But we really are well on our way to having it down, and I can see it eventually being one of Tessa's favorite exercises!

We also did some back-aways.  She can do it beautifully if I bring her up against the wall.  She still isn't sure if there are no barriers.  Again, we might not quite get there by the weekend, but we are making really nice progress.

I am looking forward to the event.  Even if we aren't really quite ready, I think I am really going to enjoy working her in the ring and seeing where the improvements she has made recently really shine.

And Tessa is fun.  At one Free Choice sign, I told her to just do something.  She thought for a few seconds and then went to spin, but instead of spinning all the way around to land in right side heel, she turned about 3/4 and ended up in position next to me, but with her nose toward my leg and her rear end straight out!!  Instant Alternate Position!!!  Voila!!  It was a really nice move creation for her!

We are going to practice at the building again this evening.  Maybe I'll get some video.

New Blog for the Puppy

In order to keep this blog focused on Tessa and training and performance and everyday life kind of things, I am starting a new blog where I will focus on matters relating to Puppy.

I might still talk about him here, but I thought it would be nice to have a separate place to write more about him.  Right now I will be writing about preparation and the experience of waiting.  When he comes home it will be all about our adventure together and pictures, pictures, pictures!!


Friday, March 7, 2014

Plan in Motion

I did, indeed, follow through with my plans to work on the exercises that Tessa didn't know yesterday evening.

I got out a wad of string cheese and we were off and running!

First we worked the back thru.  At first Tessa was very hesitant to get herself turned the way she needed to turn to back under my leg when I stepped back, but after a few tries (with tons of cheese), she actually started to get it!  By the last rep, she seemed quite willing!  This is something that I really hope to put into our upcoming Freestyle routine, so if she can master this skill, I will be quite happy.

Then I got out a barrier and a platform and we did backing.  She loves, loves, LOVES to back up to put her back paws on a platform!  This was something that Speedy hated, so it's a new experience for me.  I really worked having her wait with her feet on the platform for the treat since she will need to be "planted" at a distance in both exercises that she will do this for.

We also did back-arounds.  Those are what they always are.  I really need to get out my short gates to work on this with her.  She does better with those.

Her backing up is good, but she is trying to tuck her rear end behind me.  She is getting confused with back arounds.  Still, we can use that if need be.

That was about all we worked on last night.  Shortly after our training session we were off to Agility class.  We did the most interesting exercise at class.  Our instructor had a 2 X 2 but the poles where short.  We stood at a "neutral" position to the side of the 2 X 2 so the dog could choose to enter and "weave" through.  This was different from the way that we have done 2 X 2's before (the Susan Garrett method).  The idea of the short poles is to encourage the dog to lower his or her head.

I was shocked that Tessa actually did lower her head as she went through the short poles!!  She always holds her head up high as she weaves.  She enjoyed the exercise.  I want to make a set of PVC 2 X 2's with short poles to work on this with her at home.

Dean did it, too.  He didn't catch on as fast, but he did well with it.

Looking forward to getting out the cheese to continue our Advanced Rally FrEe intensive this evening . . .

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the first behaviors that I typically teach a dog.  First - what the click means.  Second - the concept that leaving the treat in my hand alone (by choice) results in the dog getting the treat.  Third - eye contact.

Of course, Tessa was different.  When she came to my home, she was in such a fearful state of being that I really had to dispense with any and all conventions and figure out what would work for her.

I figured out early on that offered eye contact during training/performance was not something that could be realistically expected of her.

As she came to trust me, Tessa did make casual eye contact.  I will never forget the hours that she spent on her chair watching everything.  Watching the dogs, watching me, watching life happen around her.  When I met her eyes with mine, she did not typically look away, but neither did she engage me with her eyes.  She took the fact that I was look at her in, as she took everything else in, but that was all.

Of course, as she came to know and trust me, and as she started to enjoy being in my presence, she often looked to me with a joyful expression.

But in training, eye contact did not happen.  She might look my way in an everyday way, but she never turned her visual focus to my eyes.

I decided long ago that this behavior was not something that I would ever ask of Tessa.

However, as I started to work on the exercises for Precision Heeling, I realized that it would be extremely handy if Tessa would offer that sort of eye contact.  Yes, I can get her to hold her head up as we move if I use a treat, but without her making a visual connection, that sort of head up is a behavior that is going to deteriorate quickly.

So, I backed off from the actual Precision Heeling exercises and began to wait for Tessa to offer eye contact and click/treat it.

At first it was extremely fleeting.  Tessa would do everything else but offer eye contact!  She would pivot, she would waggle her tail, she would look toward me, but not meet my eyes, she would lay down, she would sit, she would lift her paws.  Finally . . . there it was - the tiniest and quickest little eye flick up.  Click/treat.

Honestly, it didn't take long.  Within the first session she not only started to offer that eye contact, but she stopped offering everything else to lift her eyes to mine.

After a few sessions, it was clear that she had the idea and raising her head and meeting my eyes with hers not only became a "thing" to her, but it became a behavior that she clearly enjoyed and was very pleased with herself over!

A couple of days ago I was working with her on backing up to a toe board and instead of doing that, she planted herself firmly in front of me and offered eye contact!!  Not a fleeting glance, but a locked in, deliberate, and very focused eye contact!!  I actually reinforced that a few times before we went back to working the backing.

This one simple accomplishment fills me with profound amazement.  When Tessa offers me her eyes, her expression is soft and it is like I can see into the depth of her being.  She radiates joy and trust.  Trust.  There is nothing that this dog will ever give me that will mean more than her trust!

Back to the beginning again, Tessa had no trust for anyone human!  She trusted the dogs.  She would move herself to blend in with them so she would escape my notice, especially as she moved in and out of doors.  She used to lay on the furniture and carefully watch and, if you moved suddenly, or toward her even a little, she would suddenly spring, like a wild rabbit, from where she was to another piece of furniture!

There was no convincing her that I, or anyone, was worthy of her trust.  But, gradually . . . very gradually, she did start to trust.

When she lifts her gaze to meet my eyes with those beautiful soft brown eyes of hers, it is like we are sharing the world's most delightful secret, and there is nobody else in the world she would ever think of sharing it with.

Eye contact, after all, is not a "behavior" for Tessa.  It is a gift.  It is a rare glimpse into the Tessa that she keeps hidden down deep inside herself.

There is no title, there is no Q, there is no championship, there is no performance accomplishment that will ever mean as much to me as the gift of Tessa's trust.

I look forward to looking into those eyes more and more as we continue to train and develop and grow as a team.

Those eyes also convey a promise.  A promise that the best is yet to come.  And there is no dog I would rather take this ride with.

And I'd say that's mutual.

Upcoming: Rally FrEe

A week from this coming Saturday, we are hosting a Rally FrEe event at our home training facility.

I had hoped to have Tessa ready for Advanced by this point, and I entered her in Advanced three times.

But, we really aren't quite ready!

I have worked with her over the winter.  Quite a bit.  I can honestly say that I have at least started to introduce all of the exercises that she ought to know!  But few are fluent!

The courses came today and there are exercises in all three of the courses that we don't have quite near finished enough yet.

So, I am going to make this an experiment!  Why not?

Between now and the competition, I am going to take time to work with Tessa every single day on the behaviors that she does not yet know to fluency!  I am going to use a high rate of reinforcement and just make her as familiar with them as I possibly can!

Those exercises are:

  • Back Away in Center (she has to back 4 steps away from me and then wait while I return to her and get back into the approach position)
  • Back Thru Moving 3X (she backs under my legs from heel to side, side to heel, etc. three times as I move backwards)
  • Back Around Handler (yeah - we are still working on this one!)
  • Distance Behavior (she has to back step 4 steps away from me and then perform a behavior "out there")

Really, it's not a ton.  However, the following could also use some finishing touches . . .

  • Bow (from Novice, needed on every course - yikes!)
  • Back up in Left Heel 4X (her backing is fine, it's getting her into position properly to back that is hit or miss!)
  • Alternative Position (she knows to "scooch" behind me to stand perpendicular to me in "follow", but I need to make sure she understands the cue)
  • Sidepass Left 4X on my right (I think she can do this since she will be moving toward me, but I'd like to practice a bit)
So, it will be a challenge.  But, again . . . why not?  How else will these behaviors get learned?  I want to use some of them in our Freestyle, so there is no better time than the present to really start to get focused on finishing these.  If they aren't ready in time for the competition, that's fine.

There are a few things that I am pretty confident of.  Her pivots are super nice now.  We have Free Choices to use.  Her Thru to Front X3 Back is actually one of her favorite exercises!  Her Switch Backs are lovely.

So, we will work our rear ends off for the next week and then see what we see.  I'll bet that at least one of the behaviors really "clicks" for her!!

And I am kind of excited about this training challenge!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Never Had the Chance

Speedy was my go-to demo dog for my online classes.  There were things that I would have Dean and Tessa demo, but I almost always defaulted to Speedy, especially when I wanted to demonstrate a "finished product" behavior.

Of course, now I no longer have that option.

And I realize that in many ways I have never given Dean or Tessa the chance to become as fluent as they could be in many areas.  I know there were times I would try something with one of them and decide, "oh, I just need Speedy!"  Speedy was always willing and eager and he almost always did a perfect job.

Yesterday I needed to video a demo and Dean was leaping around as he did the demo.  I really wanted a more polished picture, but he was really my only option for what we were doing.  As we worked, he settled in and stopped leaping so much.  Had Speedy still been with me, Dean never would have had the chance to settle in and show that he really could do it.

Now, this isn't universal.  Obviously, there were times when I would have Dean or Tessa do the demo for me.

But one consolation about losing Speedy is that I will now work with both of them to improve on their training and performance ability.

Now they will both have the chance.  And we shall see where we go . . .

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Tessa has struggled with the concept of verbal cues.  She does just fine with hand signals, but when I try to put behaviors on verbal, she tends to start a frenzy of offering any behavior that comes to mind!  It's like most verbal cues mean "star doing everything you know!" to her.  And she is incredibly pleased with herself for doing this!!

I do not want to squelch her enthusiasm.  It took a very, very long time for Tessa to have the confidence to offer anything, much less be pleased about doing so!

A couple of days ago I was talking with a well known trainer and she ended up giving me a couple of "nuggets" that I think will help us with this issue.

The concept that really struck me was the idea of context.

Physical cues and body language provide context to a dog.  They tell the dog "this is when you . . . (insert behavior here)"  Verbals alone come out of nowhere.  Unless the dog has a natural ability to distinguish one verbal from another, as Dean does, this is presenting a situation to the dog that is void of context.

So, I am now thinking of ways that I can provide context to Tessa without using visual cues that we will get nailed for in Freestyle.  I have never really been a fan of creating physical cues that don't resemble the way the behavior was taught.  To me that is about as logical as using words that have no connection to the behavior as verbal cues.  But I think that if I really put some thought into this, I can come up with ways to provide Tessa with context without doing something like that.  I can give her "hints" as to what is coming by where I put my foot, or by standing up a little straighter, or by twisting a little.

We are going to need to explore this, but I wonder if Tessa and I would be able to almost develop our own cueing "language" that would be imperceptible or, at least, almost, that would help her to better recognize and respond correctly to verbal cues?

The other thing that really struck me is that for a dog who is not naturally verbal, the dog may need physical cue support for a longer time than a dog who does not.  But while this is happening, the dog is learning.  Actually, she did not out and say this, but I kind of gleaned it.  I remembered, though, that this really was the way Speedy learned most of what he knew.  I used hand signals liberally until it was obvious to me that he didn't need them anymore.  It was on his time schedule, not mine.  I think Tessa would benefit from that approach.

I mean to put together a little practice sequence to try this out on.  If I am able to get something going, maybe it is something we can apply to an entire routine . . .

Monday, March 3, 2014

Freestyle Plans

The time has come to really think about what Tessa and I are going to do in Freestyle this year.  We need to start putting together routines now so we can get any needed training complete on time to be ready for upcoming events.

I had pretty much made up my mind to hold off on Intermediate again and only prepare a Heelwork to Music routine (Novice) for the Star Spangled Swing at the end of June, and then try to get something together for Intermediate for Frackville in September.

But yesterday I got a facebook message from a Freestyle friend who said, "why don't we both get ready for Intermediate for June" and I was just like, "OK".  Why not?  Somehow it gives me extra motivation to know that two of us are kind of in this together.  We may try to get something ready and not have it there by that point, but what is the harm in trying?  If we need more time, we will really be set to be ready for September.

So, I am considering ideas.  I would like to put together both a Freestyle Intermediate routine for her, and a Novice Heelwork routine.  I think I have the Heelwork music chosen.  And maybe the Freestyle, too.

Last night in church an idea occurred to me.  Yeah, strange place to get an idea.  It is actually an idea that I came up with years ago for Dean, but never did with him.  I'm thinking that if I modify it a bit, it might work for Tessa.  And it might be just the thing for WCFO Intermediate . . .  And it might have been Divine guidance!!

Time to get this up and running . . .  Tessa and I are gonna DANCE!!!