Monday, June 22, 2009

Reason - The First Ten Years

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." Anais Nin
Reason came into my life on June 22nd, 1999 and has been a source of joy and inspiration for me throughout the years. It's hard to believe that ten years can pass so quickly, but they did. Time flies when you're having fun.
Happy Birthday Reason! Here's hoping our journey continues for many years to come.
Also Happy Birthday to Reason's littermates, Surf, Quip, Summit, Storm, Splice, & Cinch.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Test Driving the Weaves

I've been meaning to update the blog with Reason's weave entry results from last weekend's trial. We had a two day local AKC agility trial here in Minnesota and it's been a couple weeks since I started Reason's weave retraining with Susan Garrett's 2x2 method. I realized that it was a very short time between our retraining and the real thing, but I've also seen a huge improvement in Reason's thoughfulness as well as true understanding of entries as I have been doing a lot of proofing and pushing in our twice a day training sessions. During these sessions, I usually use only four or six weave poles to minimize all the weaving he is doing during the week in these sessions (afterall, he will be 10 years old on Monday).
I can't tell you how pleased I was with his weave entry performances during those four classes. The grass in the rings was very dry from the extreme lack of rain we have had this spring (and from the use of it for trials and classes) and it was quite slippery for the dogs and that added to the complexity of the weave entries.
Reason succeeded with three out of the four weave entries and he never jammed his right shoulder onto the second pole as he had previously done. Since he has a history of many years of driving hard into the weaves, I knew that I was never going to change the fact that he doesn't slow down and collect himself. But as I watched the videos from the trials and stepped through the frames on his entries, he has definitely made a change in that he is ever so slightly rocking back as he enters. He is making his own physical changes becaue of his mental changes as he figures this out for himself. And that is a huge step in the right direction.
The one entry that he missed was a very difficult entry - and the slippery grass only added to it. It was a very fast start from the double to the Aframe and then over a wing jump to the weaves. That wing jump blocked the view of the weaves and Reason drove very hard over that jump, which carried his momentum to the left side of the weaves. He had to drive hard to the right to get to the poles and by then, he was past the first pole and entered incorrectly.
This incorrect entry led me to a lot of very creative exercises this week trying to drive Reason hard past that first pole on the left side of the weaves to get him to have to work hard to pull back to the right to get the entry.
I know that if I would not have done the retraining with the 2x2 method, that Reason would have probably missed three out of those four entries and possibly all of them, due to the slippery surface. For those that he actually made, he probably would have still slammed his shoulder hard into the second pole.
I made a short video of Reason's weave entries from this past weekend. Good luck to all of you that get to go to the ACTS USDAA trial this coming weekend. I wish I could be in two places at the same time as there is local herding trial that we will be competing in this weekend.
Here's the video of Reason's weaves (thanks Jacque for video taping us).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reason and Schema's 2x2 Training continues

I'm making great progress with both Reason and Schema in their 2x2 weave training. And to top it off, it's been very rewarding for me. 
Schema is now at stage 7 (2 sets of poles, 4 feet apart, poles at 1 o'clock and 7 o' clock). In her first session today (June 12th), she was making a lot of mistakes and it was taking too much time, and I ran out of battery on my camera. So, there is only video of Reason from the morning session. Schema had another session later on this evening and it went incredibly well - missing only a few and figuring out immediately on the second attempt how to be successful. My throws are getting better for her, as I'm starting to be able to read her better and I have a clear marker on the ground (I have to have something on the ground - I don't seem to be able to hit the "line" if it's a marker, like a tree or an object that's not on the ground). I just love this little girl - everything about her continues to amaze me. With Reason, I have been proofing his entries by gradually adding more distance, speed, drive, and now an occasional jump. He is at 6 pole (3 sets of the 2). In the video, I didn't have enough stakes for the poles, so the last set of 2 poles were moving a bit after each of his attempts. I am really trying to test his self control at the entries and this morning I was able to get him to fail twice (he was able to get the entry successfully on his second attempt).  Two weeks ago, he would have never been successful at any of these entries - even if he was closer to the weaves and without as much speed. This is definitely a work in progress, but now I feel I have the tools and the communication with him, to help him continue to improve.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reason can see weave entries!!!

I am just so thrilled with the change that I'm seeing in Reason as he is progressing in with his 2x2 weave sessions. I have been diligently doing 2 or 3 sessions a day and working him on very difficult entries.  I videotaped a session this morning and he missed on entry from the left side of the weaves where he actually wrapped the first and second pole. In the past, he would have never even tried to wrap that pole.  And he even succeeded on the second attempt at that angle. He is consistently getting very difficult entries from the right where he has to collect himself and get around the second pole. I added a little more drive and distance into this session and he still understood what he was doing. 
In session that I did later on in the day, I added even more distance and drive and I could not get him to fail.  I think it's time to move on and challenge him more, so I need to review the DVD and the transcript to see what is next. 
So, in Schema's session, I've been struggling with the throw and I am late, many times which causes her to turn her head back at me. I'm late because it's been harder for me to react to her mistakes or successes with only two poles. In some of the sessions that I don't have on video, I ended up rewarding her for going around both poles instead of wrapping the first pole. I'm improving gradually, but it will continue to get better as I learn how to read her better. I am confident that both of us will improve.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Reason and Schema - 2x2 Training

I'm having so much fun training (and in Reason's case, retraining) the weaves with Susan Garrett's 2x2 method of training.  In particular, I am just thrilled with Reason's progress.  He is now at the 4 poles in a straight line stage.  Yesterday he was making mistakes a various places in the entry arc outside of the low challenge area. Today, when I videotaped our session, he was 100% accurate. 
Here is a video of our session today.  Don't you just love his face when he is waiting for me to send him to his 'beloved' weaves?  That is the same face that I see at when I am sending him from my side on an outrun to pick up sheep, at the start line in an agility trial, and on retrieves (gloves, articles, and the dumbbell) in obedience.  I LOVE that expression as he reminds me to enjoy life.
And then there is Schema...I am finding it so much easier to toss the toy to Reason because I can read him better. Knowing that Schema is going to miss her entries more often, I am very late in throwing the toy and it's not always hitting the reward line.  Both she and I will improve as we go through this process. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Can an old dog learn new weave entries?

After watching Susan Garrett's "2x2 Weave Training - 12 poles in 12 days" DVD and following the discussions and questions on her blog, I have long planned on using this method to teach Schema her weaves. It was just a matter of waiting for the right time during the summer months when the training could be done outdoors.
At the same time, I've been thinking about Reason and the issues he has had over the years with weave poles. He is absolutely crazy about weave poles - to the point where they cause more off courses (or at least draw him enough to cause a refusal) than any other obstacle. When he runs into the agility field, he seeks the weave poles out and will stand or lay down near them as I set something up. When he knows that I am going to send him to the weaves, his eyes glaze over in anticipation. Once he is in the weaves, he powers through them. But the problem is and always has been - the entry.
Looking back at many of his runs from over the years, Reason, has had many errors on weave entrances. He powers into the weaves without slowing down and slams his right side into the second pole. While he tries to hang on and then wrap around that pole (and many times he is successful doing that), there are many times that the force and speed is so great that he ends up skipping the third pole. This is worse if there is a very speedy sequence prior to the weaves or if he is entering the weaves from the right side and at close to 90 degrees. With Reason's tenth birthday approaching in less than ten days and with him still in great physical shape, I want to keep his body from this type of obvious stress. The other weave issue for him is when he has to make the entrance from the left side of the weaves and wrap the first pole. I've know for a very long time that Reason's weave entries were not good, but I never realized how little he knew about these entries until I actually tested him on them a few days ago. I decided to set up a simple set of 4 poles to test his entrances. If you imagine the first pole at the center of the clock and the fourth pole at 12 o'clock, Reason could make the entry ONLY if he started anywhere between 7 o'clock and 4 o'clock. He was much better on the 6-4 o'clock range and he started to get less accurate between 6 and 7 o'clock. The more distance I added and the more speed he got, the more mistakes he made - even in this small and very easy range. If I moved to 8 o'clock, I could see that Reason was not "seeing" the entrance. He had that glazed over look and was just looking at the weaves as a whole. When I would send him into the poles, he would just go into them on the left side (wrong side) between the first and second poles, instead of wrapping the first pole and entering on the right side. 
So, I have been pondering these last few days as I get ready to start Schema's 2x2 weave training. I have some time off between trials with Reason. Should I just give it a try and see if I can retrain his weave entrances with this method? Well, it certainly isn't going to hurt anything. And it could only help him see things more clearly. So, the training began a few days ago with both dogs. But first with Reason and 2 poles. I knew that I could skip the first 2 steps because the value of these poles is HUGE with Reason. So we started at Stage 3 - with the 2 poles at 2/8 o'clock. I already knew where his mistakes would start to happen. But what I didn't expect was his high failure rate without being able to figure out the solution. I give this dog credit as he definitely kept trying, but he continued to fail over and over without figuring it out. I had to finally make it easier and go from there. It was after this first session that I felt pretty sad about how difficult these entries are for an obstacle that he loves so much. So after a fairly high rate of failure, during the first session I made the second session more successful. I stayed within the low challenge area and he had a better success rate during that session. With the third session, we started in the low challenge area to set the reward line and stayed there for about 5 successful entries in various places in that area. Then I started moving outside of that area and into the more difficult entries on what would be the left side of the poles (which would involve a wrap around the first pole to make the entry) and he started to make mistakes. I marked the mistake and this time the difference was that when he came back and retried it, he got it the second time. This was a HUGE change in his mental state to be able to focus on the task of finding his entry. I tried one more place on the high challenge area on that same side of the poles and he missed it again, but - again - on the second attempt, he figured it out. I then switched to the other side of the poles so we were starting on the left side in the high challenge area and he got that entry the first time. The second high challenge entry on that side was deeper and he made that one as well. I felt pretty good about his progress after this third session with Reason. So, I'm actually having a lot of fun reteaching weave entries to Reason and at the same time starting Schema from the ground up. Even early in the process, I'm seeing fairly impressive changes in Reason's ability to see the weave entry. While I'm not sure where this project will take us, I know that it is long overdo and it will be something that we can continue to work on and have fun with over the next few months. Here is a video of Reason missing out on a double Q because of missing the weave entrance after a fast sequence.  He couldn't hang onto the entry.  You can't see the crash into the second pole (because of the ceiling posts in this room), but you can see the weave poles getting pulled up from the hard hit (and they were taped down extremely well - I taped them as a course builder). This kind of pounding on a dog can't be good for them.