Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rally FrEe Freestyle Class with Bandit

Bandit has officially completed his first online class through the Fenzi Academy.  We too Rally FrEe Freestyle.  It was a great way to get him started.  I actually took it at gold because I wanted to make sure that we would follow through and actually work on the exercises.

I'd like to share some of his work!

Here he is working on putting circles on verbal cue . . .

Here we are working on some spins and twirls with a target stick.  This is still a work in progress!

In this video we are working on more verbal cues with the gates open a bit.

And, our grand finale . . . some bows!!

It was a perfect class for him.  I think we are off to a great start on a very solid foundation.  There is a lot of work to do, but it will certainly pay off in the long run.  I know that when he is proficient at these behaviors, I will look back on this experience as a very sweet memory that I will always treasure.

We are going to do the Advanced level, but at bronze.  A class on Freestyle sequencing is being offered in February and I want to try to snag a gold spot in that class.  By then I hope that Bandit will be ready to start to dance!!!

I am grateful to Denise Fenzi for bringing Julie Flanery on board to offer these classes!!  And perfect timing for Bandit!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Back On Track

Don't ever underestimate the effect that losing a dog can have.  I have found that every time I think I have accepted Speedy's loss and am moving forward, I was completely wrong!

Last night I felt very bad about the fact that I was leaving Bandit in his crate while I took Tessa and Dean to Rally FrEe class, so I took him along, planning to leave him in the crate in the car.  Yes, it was crate vs. crate, but at least if he went with us he would not have been alone for the same amount of time.

When we got to the school, he started to scream and he sat in the crate and screamed.  I couldn't leave him out there screaming and I really didn't want to try having him inside while I worked Dean and Tessa, so we all went home.

It was not a good moment for me.  I was very disappointed in myself because Bandit is an excellent dog and I have not done right by him with his training.  When I think back to the commitment that I had to Dean's early training, the lack of training I have provided Bandit is shameful.

I quickly came to a decision to start working with him 3 - 4 times a week on basic skills and impulse control.  When we got home, I put Dean and Tessa into rooms with the Kongs they would have had at class, and Bandit and I got to work.

We started with sit at the door.  I am not a big stickler for a sit at the door, but it is a relatively easy impulse control skill to train and it is a skill that I like my dogs to have for the rare instances where it is necessary.

Bandit did well with the exercise, and his eyes were lit up with interest and fun.  He is certainly a willing training partner!!

Next we went to the fireplace room and I let him play a bit on a wobbly board - this isn't all impulse control skills!!  Then we did spins and twirls, position work, and finally some leg weaves with a target stick.  He enjoyed every minute of all of it!

Then he got put up in a room while Dean and Tessa each got a turn to train.

So, a good time was had by all and we started to make some progress toward Bandit being the dog he can be.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with Bandit - he has a phenomenal temperament, he has excellent self control when he sees fit to exercise it, and he is super smart.  If he has few manners right now it is because I have not trained them.

That is changing.

Of course, I kick myself for not doing this sooner.

But I also have to recognize that there is a reason why I did not.

I simply did not have the heart to do much training with him.

I guess when it came to training, Speedy took a lot of the heart that I had for it with him.  He was the first dog I trained.  He was the one I experienced the magic with as I discovered this amazing discipline.  He was the one who transformed from fearful, reactive, and out of control, into a fantastic citizen of the world who met every experience as an adventure.  That was an amazing ride.  And one I guess I want to replicate . . . in a way, but would never really want to try to re-live.

I had very little desire to work with Bandit.  What I did do with him seemed tedious, cumbersome, and there was no . . . spark . . . to it, if that makes any sense!

But something has changed.  Something changed before my epiphany last night.

The change happened because of the Freestyle competition.  Somehow creating that routine for Tessa was a breakthrough.  In some way that I cannot explain coming up with that (which almost happened in spite of me) and then performing it, and that performance being successful changed something.

I got something back.  I don't know what it is exactly.  But since that competition I don't miss Speedy in quite the same way.  I don't feel stuck anymore.  I feel like we can all move forward - Dean, Tessa, Bandit, and me.

I didn't realize that grief was holding me back as much as it was, but now that something has changed, it is clear.

I can honestly say that when I worked with Bandit last night (and with Dean and Tessa), I enjoyed training for the first time since losing Speedy last January.  There was a connection there with each dog.

Now we can do this.  Now Bandit can learn his manners!  Now Dean can get back into condition to perform routines for the Challenge.  Now Tessa and I can get on with her training.

Something is different, and it is very, very good!  We can go forward from here . . .

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bark-a-Ritaville 2014

This past weekend was the Bark-a-Ritaville Freestyle competition.  It was Tessa's last Freestyle competition for the "season" and I was very much looking forward to it being over with!

Freestyle has not been the same since I lost Speedy last January.  He was my Freestyle dog.  He may have been retired from competition for quite some time, but he was still the dog I thought of as my dance partner.  The ease and elegance with which he would glide along, beating his paws to the music, always eager to move to music . . . none of my other dogs are anything like that!

But, at least until last year, Tessa enjoyed Freestyle and I had hope that I would eventually find her style and we would excel together.  She has the temperament.  She has always loved going into the ring with me.

But we reached the Intermediate level and we ended up crashing our heads into a very solid brick wall over the need for everything to be on verbal cue.

And then, starting this past spring, our work on verbal cues started to demotivate her - seriously!  The girl who had always bounced into the ring with me, happy to do just about anything, suddenly began to be stressed and wanted to avoid the ring any time there was music playing.  For the most part we still did fine in Agility, but both Rally FrEe and Freestyle went right into the toilet for us!

It was a rough year.

At the Star Spangled Swing in late June, Tessa managed to qualify for the first time in the Intermediate division.  She did do work behind me, we did pace changes, and I guess I managed just enough without obvious hand cues (although there were still more than there really should be at that level).  We bombed in Frackville in September, but at that event I pretty much led her around by the hand!  That was really the high point of her demotivation and I just wanted her to enjoy herself as much as possible.  The judge in Frackville was not strict, and we didn't even come close!  Tessa sort of had fun . . . but she was still very far from her former level of enjoyment.

I did have a blast with both Bandit and Dean at that competition.  However, Bandit's Freestyle career is in the future, and Dean is retired other than having fun to music with a tug.

So, from a present time competition perspective, it was a low

And I realized about then that all of that success that I had in Freestyle . . . it was 99% Speedy!  HE was the reason why our performances looked good, even when he was hardly doing a thing he was supposed to!  He truly had a talent for putting on a great show - he drew people in and they just loved to watch him.  And I could choreograph for him in my sleep!

And that realization left me . . . just about nowhere!!  Tessa and I had trained and worked all summer and things just seemed to get worse.  I really started to think that maybe I simply cannot do this anymore.  Maybe I never could, and I just lucked out with a really special dog in Speedy.

Tessa and I were already signed up for Bark-a-Ritaville and I did want to take Bandit down to play in Innovations.  So, I left Tessa entered, but I did nothing . . . absolutely NOTHING to prepare!  I had absolutely no hope of doing anything other than to take Tessa out and have her follow my hand around.

But three things happened that seem to have turned everything around . . .

First, we had our Rally FrEe competition a couple of weeks ago.  After a disastrous video event in August, I entered Tessa in our live event in the Alternate Novice class.  I just wanted to go back to the beginning and see if we could build some confidence and enjoyment back.  In Alt Novice there would be all Novice level signs, plus we only needed 100 points, so I could use hands galore.

It was a very fun weekend.  It was relaxing and I enjoyed spending the time with the other competitors in that environment, as well as the time with Tessa and Dean (the first day) and Tessa and Bandit (the second day).  Tessa enjoyed all three runs, especially the last, and she qualified in all three runs and we earned our Alternate Novice title.

It felt good to accomplish something again.  It left me feeling better about things.

Second, I decided to play with Tessa a bit with a target stick to see if we could get some verbal twirls.  It was just a simple little exercise where I drew the path of the twirl with the spin and click/treated her for each one, then I said "twirl" and drew the path and click/treated her for each one.  Finally I said "twirl" without drawing the path, and she did it!!!

But even more than that . . . she was enjoying the heck out of herself!  Her tail was waggling, her eyes were shining!  THAT was my old Tessa, right there!!!

I even have video!

This past Saturday, on the morning of the competition, I edited Tessa's music.  We were scheduled very late in the afternoon, so I had quite a lot of time to get ready.

After I edited the music, I took a shower.  While in the shower, I thought up a routine.  Just like that.  I wasn't even really trying - I just did it.

Honestly, I wish that could have happened two months ago, but at this point I'll take what I can get.

After I got out of the shower, I wrote the routine down on a piece of paper and on the way to the event, I played her music and memorized it.

I had never performed it, never walked through it, but I knew Tessa could do everything that was in it.  I could tell it would work well for her and it would allow her strengths to shine, even though it was not technically complex at all!

So, we went, we got to the event at lunch time, we visited with people, a lot of people got to see Bandit.

Finally, it was time for Tessa and I to take our turn.

It went well.  She did almost everything I asked of her.  I did have to use some hand cues, but not as many as usual.  It went better, I thought, than any attempt we have made since last year!

And Tessa had fun.  Her tail was waggling, she was comfortable and fluid, and she very clearly enjoyed showing off her best moves!  She got a kick out of the ending, in particular!

The people enjoyed it.  We got tons of very positive feedback!  And . . . it qualified!!!!!  That shocked me beyond belief.  I thought we would NQ with at least one 8.4 because of too many hands.  The judge did comment on too many hands, but I guess I didn't use so many that it couldn't qualify.

I have no video because we were strictly forbidden to take any, but I plan to make a video of it sometime in the near future to share.

There are three things about this whole thing that make me extremely happy.

First, that Tessa had so much fun.  I can do this with her if she can go out there and enjoy herself like that.  Q or NQ does not matter at all!  The return of the shining eyes and the wagging tail were the biggest accomplishment of the year for Tessa and me.

Second, Tessa, in earning this Q, has gotten as far as Speedy got in WCFO Freestyle!  I realized that after she qualified.  And to me that is a big deal.  Granted, he struggled with different issues that prevented him from going further, but getting as far as he did was a huge accomplishment.  Tessa has now matched it.

I can't ask for any more of her than that!  To me that's kind of like she earned her own little Championship title!  She may not be the dancer he was, but she got herself to the level where he finished!

Finally . . . I feel like maybe I can actually do this.  Creating that routine, even under very, very odd circumstances, was like some kind of breakthrough.  Like the ability was still there all along, but I just couldn't access it.  But now I did.  That is the first good routine I have actually created, from start to finish, since losing Speedy.  It took almost a year, but it finally happened.  And - it was a great routine for Tessa - perfect for her, actually.  I kept the paper I wrote it down on and I mean to practice it with her, tweak it just a bit to smooth a few pieces out, and perform it with her at the Swing next summer.  I honestly don't care if she ever gets that last Q to earn the title.  I really want to perform her routine to enjoy it with her.  She and I have a routine now and that feels great!

So, we came away from Bark-a-Ritaville much better off than we went into it!  I am actually looking forward to getting ready for next year!  Bandit had a great experience, too, but I'll write about him in his own post another time!

Congrats, Miss Tessa, on a truly great achievement!!