Archive for October, 2009

New camp plan for 2010, new weeknight classes

October 30, 2009

Bud and I talked on the way to and from Wisconsin about revising our camp program to answer the needs (both time-wise and money-wise) of agility enthusiasts.

Since 1999 we’ve done camps as “package deals.” Like seminars or workshops, the camper paid a flat fee and everyone got the same product. Four days of agility, 6 hours a day, plus a meal, accommodations extra whether campers stayed in a motel or stayed in our cottages.

I’m convinced that today’s agility exhibitor wants more flexibility. Our 2010 camps are going to be sold as components, with every camper getting to customize their training experience.

Instead of having 6-7 people check in on Sunday night for a Monday-through-Thursday camp, some people will arrive Sunday, some perhaps Monday, some may leave on Tuesday, some stay until Friday, etc.

Instead of having accommodations be a block fee it will be based on the number of nights you need a bed.

Instead of assuming everyone wants to attend a group dinner in the evening we’ll offer that as an option and let people opt in or out of group meals.

The biggest problem is probably going to be explaining this system to folks.

For example, in order to give Bud some sort of regular schedule during camps we’ll keep the morning (9am to noon) group session. If folks want to participate in that group training the cost is $35 per dog.

Beginning at 1pm we’ll have 1-hour blocks set aside for private lessons. Cost will be $65/hour. Friends training and traveling together may bundle their private lessons and turn them into a group event.

A camper may choose to arrive Monday, have a private lesson Monday evening, attend the group session Tuesday morning, have a private lesson Tuesday afternoon, attend a group dinner Tuesday evening, work 2 dogs in the group session Wednesday morning, have another private lesson Wednesday afternoon and depart for home.  This example would cost $290 ($40/night for bed x2, $35/group class x2, $65/private lesson x2, $10/meal x1).

Another camper might want to do the full package — 4-5 nights in a bed, all 4 morning sessions, 4 private lessons, 4 group meals, depart on Friday morning.  This example would cost $640 ($40/night for bed x 5, $35/group class x 4, $65/private lesson x 4, $10/meal x 4).

Additionally, we’re rethinking the entire deposit process. We’ve gone from a $100 deposit in 1999 to a $200 deposit in 2009. We’re going to roll back the deposit to $100, and give a $25 bonus to early-bird registrants (before 12/15/09). We’ve offered this discount before, but the discount was always off the balance due rather than the deposit. Now, if you register early, your deposit is only $75.

Deposits will still be non-refundable, but transferrable (portable) once in the calendar year. So, if you put a deposit in early for a week in May and have to move it to June you’re not penalized.

This lower deposit will reflect the decrease in camp fees paid by folks wanting 2-3 days of vacation. Instead of making all our camps weekday camps we’ll also be doing some long weekend camps — Friday through Monday.

I’d really like to see a camp season where every day sees campers arriving and campers departing, and every one of them getting a customized vacation.

This will complicate my “chambermaid” duties a little, but there might be a time when your clean sheets are folded neatly on top of your mattress, rather than having every bed pre-made and sitting ready for you.

Most camps will become a bit “free-form.” No real roster, people coming and going, groups growing and shrinking.

However, we’re going to put our THEMED camps again, with topics including distance, foundation training, teacup, masters, and novice.

We’ll also be encouraging breed-specific camp registration … how fun to train with 4-5 others who share your love of your special breed!

While we’re rethinking the whole camp process we’re also instituting weeknight classes. When we moved here we swore off weeknight classes but they’ve gradually crept back into our schedule.

On Tuesday evenings we’re expecting a flexible and ever-changing group of people and dogs. We’ll start the evening with a 6-7pm foundation training class with homework from my 2-Minute Dog Trainer protocols. At 7pm we’ll break off to be briefed for the week’s game, walk and run the game. At 7:30pm Bud or I will teach a sequencing class, probably based on the league course and the challenges it presented. Cost per event, per class, per dog, is $5 — pay-as-you-play.

On Thursday evenings we’ve sold class slots in a 6-7 masters handling class, followed by a 7pm league play (same course as Tuesdays), followed by a 7:30 intermediates-to-advanced handling class. Cost is $35/month regardless on whether there are 4-or-5 Thursdays, with no make-ups for bad weather, and no prorating (that means, if you join for the last 2 weeks of the month the cost is still $35 to claim that slot).

We’re looking for students on Thursday nights who are serious about doing homework and seeing improvement.

We’re hoping that the Thursday night classes will take some of the pressure off the Sunday afternoon workshops. When Bud’s here we’re able to do split group work but his travel schedule has him gone for 1-2 workshops per quarter. By myself I’m hard-pressed to wear out 12 handlers and their dogs.

We going to adding THEMES as a training option for the Sunday workshops as well including, teacup, distance, masters, etc.

We’re eager to see how all these changes will play out with customers, campers, and students.

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2009 TDAA Petit Prix, semi-finals and finals

October 23, 2009

We were surprised and delighted to know our whole group from Houston’s Country Dream had made it into the semi-finals. Our goal was to maintain composure, do our best, and advance to the final round.

Our semi-final games were Quidditch and Steeplechase. We’d just played Quidditch a few days before, and have been playing the “all-dog” version since Becky Dean helped invent it 3-4 years ago.

I walked both courses with speed-building in mind.

For Quidditch I was confident that Hazard could manage the little sequences but she needed to run fast enough to get all the beaters and the golden snitch, and finish before the horn sounded, to move up in her class.

She’s also had issues with distance work when people and other dogs are present, so my strategy for the tire (aka “beater”) was to create lateral distance from her on the approach to the tire, and use that lateral distance to make Hazard believe the tire was just another obstacle on the course — without making it a big ole distance send.

As I was waiting my turn I noticed that some handlers were having trouble with the send to the tire from one sequence (the “jump-weave-teeter” sequence). They were handling it the same as I’d walked it. I also notice that handlers who switched sides in the way to the teeter were having much faster approaches to the tire and a straighter path to the next sequence (the “jump-jump-jump-tunnel” sequence).

I did what I tell students never to do — I changed my strategy as I stood and watched. I closed my eyes and visualized the new path I’d take, reminded myself to run my dog, not my plan. Over and over I mentally re-walked that course.

When Hazard’s turn arrived there was a delay with the scribe, so she and I ran back and forth along the ring gating to keep her engaged and happy. When folks were ready Hazard and I took off.

My new strategy worked like a charm, though I notice on our video that Hazard eyed the “bludger” pretty hard before being called to do the tire (the “beater”) and go to the next sequence. It wasn’t brilliant but my handling was sufficient for the task and Hazard seemed happy to run with me. On my video is Bud’s voice saying, “Good Girl!” as Hazard hit the last beater and made it to the finish line with time to spare, earning her golden snitch.

I had to walk both courses early and ran both courses just a few minutes apart. Fortunately both courses experienced slight delays in the early stages, so we all had plenty of time to watch the dogs ahead of us, note any problem areas on the course, and remind ourselves of handling options to deal with those problems.

In Steeplechase I walked looking for any place to build speed. The primary challenge on the course, other than the long straight line in the opening and the long curve around the end of the course, was the hard 180-degree turn back after the a-frame and jump.

Several handlers had off-course faults when their dogs back-jumped on their return to the a-frame. The back-jumping was a handler error we often see, where handlers neglect to put a tracking step to bring their dog around the jump standard.

I walked the course with a plan to pre-cue the 180-degree turn on Hazard’s approach to the jump, and video shows that Hazard completely understood, came around the standard, and accelerated to the second a-frame performance.

After the second a-frame I planned a blind cross to draw her off the a-frame and to the left, where she was headed to the closing path of the steeplechase. The video shows that Hazard floated forward off the a-frame, but understood my draw to handler focus and came to the side to finish smartly.

Now came the waiting game. Had my handling achieved the goal of coaxing speed out of my dog? Had she moved up in her class enough to be one of the dozen-or-so 8″ dogs advancing to the final round?

Frankly, I was pessimistic. I felt sure that the other, faster, dogs would take those top spots. I resolved to support our students’ in their run for the finals, and not to worry about Hazard and I.

In fact, while calculations were under way, Judge Paul Jensen did a general briefing for the game. I didn’t attend choosing, instead, to spend some time stepping off the course. Perhaps exhaustion was setting in. We’d been in Wisconsin, doing agility, for 5 days, and it was late afternoon Ohio time.

When Hazard’s name was called as earning a finals slot, Bud says my eyes went wide and he’d never seen me that thrilled. I think the surprise, anxiety, and exhaustion heightened my emotion in the situation.

I walked the course several more times to make an accurate guess about our rate of speed. There were several difficulties with the final round, Who Dares Wins.

First, the dividing ring gates were removed so that the course used the entire ring area, effectively doubling the size of the course and stretching out the course measurements. Second, it was now after 8pm our time after long days of agility, and I had no idea whether my dog would be interested in running with me. Third, the course had long lines followed by sharp turns and discriminations, and handlers were constantly taking the dog from obstacle focus to handler focus. Fourth, the course had 2 sets of weaves and 3 contacts.

My calculation of Hazard’s speed was based on all these elements. We ran the course four full seconds faster than my calculation. First, Hazard seemed to enjoy the wide-open feel of the expanded course. Second, who knew Hazard would build speed and motivation all day and into the evening? Third, Hazard was keen to my signals switching from handler-to-obstacle focus and back. Fourth, Hazard nailed all her contacts and weaves with speed and joy.

We finished sixth in a class of 85+ dogs and I’ve never been prouder of a dog than I was of Hazard. She not only held it together over 5 days, but actually improved her attitude over the three days.

Plus — I GOT A FINALIST SHIRT !!!

Days 2 and 3 of the TDAA Petit Prix

October 21, 2009

On the second day of the TDAA event in Racine, actually the first day of the Petit Prix, we looked forward to 4 opportunities to get good scores. With the background scoring in place, I wanted Hazard to be as fast as possible, but consistently Q-ing.

To quote Bud, “Run clean and you’ll beat a lot of dogs.” I didn’t play it over-safe, on the other hand, as this was the time for boldness. Our first runs were Standard and Dare to Double, running concurrently in two rings. Due to a logistical anomaly, with one ring starting with tall dogs and the other ring starting with small dogs, Hazard was always scheduled to run both rings at the same time. She was positioned right in the middle of both lists, but I guess that was better than having one run early and then waiting several hours for my next run.

Bud and I decided on this, the first day of qualifying for the Petit Prix, to take turns running Hazard. It’s impossible to tell ahead of time which handler she’ll enjoy most. Usually she works consistently but slowly for me. Her most brilliant runs are with Bud.

By taking turns we were enabling her to choose her handler for the remainder of the events. She had a nice Standard run with me, and a terrific Dare to Double with Bud.

Next we prepared for Jumpers and Nested Gamblers. Since Bud did all Hazard’s distance training we decided he should surely run that class. I took responsibility for Jumpers, and walked the course with SPEED in mind. I walked the course twice to check out the lines and traps.

During my third walk through I envisioned a slow, timid Hazard running with me. I tried to find long, straight lines of acceleration and put in as many blind crosses as possible.

In the meantime, Bud walked and ran nested gamblers with her. Her start line release was pitifully slow and timid. She sped up as she got out into the ring, safely away from all those serial killers acting as scribes and timekeepers. Our video showed us a little dog very concerned about her surroundings.

My heart sank as I watched, and I knew Bud felt bad about the fact that Hazard feels less safe running with him than with me. We preach to our students about placing all that responsibility on a little dog’s shoulders, but it’s easy for us to fall into the same trap. We wanted her to do well for for half a dozen reasons, none of which really had anything to do with her.

Hazard’s Jumpers run started a little slow but she loved my blind crosses and straight lines. At one point I did a tandem turn and sent her zipping out to a tire, she barked with excitement and ended the run with some of the old fire we remember from years ago.

The decision was made for us at this point, really. I’d be running Hazard on Sunday. I was exhausted, discouraged, and fairly certain we’d not make it into the semi-finals, let alone the final round of the Petit Prix.

I experienced a shift in perspective. Instead of thinking about doing well, I began thinking of what was going to be the best experience for Hazard. I decided we’d just do our best, support our friends, and make the weekend fun for Hazard.

Exhausted, we returned to our room. Bud prepared to walk to the TDAA Board of Directors dinner/meeting and I begged off, choosing to stay in the room and take a good nap. Bud returned from the meeting with my dinner, and we all got a good night’s rest.

On Sunday morning we had two runs before scoring would determine the dogs moving forward to the semi-finals. This was our last chance to do well and make some progress. We had a Standard run and Weakest Link.

Again our gate sheets had Hazard smack dab in the center, so both of her runs were close together. Her standard run had a weave entry straight off the a-frame and that missed entry was Hazard’s only performance fault for the 3 days.

We did okay in Weakest Link though the judge’s briefing introduced some rules we were unfamiliar with. Everyone coped with the change, though, and Hazard’s performance included lots of excited barking.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Hazard, as well as all three of our students’ dogs (Elmer and Quigley the Beagles, and Baxter the Min Pin), would play on in the Semi Finals !!

Semi Finals and Final round later ….

2009 TDAA Petit Prix results, new Country Dream classes

October 18, 2009

We’ve been home for nearly a week and have been catching up on indoor chores. Weather has been cold and rainy. It doesn’t seem right that we left for Wisconsin in late summer and returned home in mid-fall. Because of the cold and rain the leaf color is falling to the ground prematurely.

Autumn chores of winterizing haven’t gotten done and this morning there was frost on the dog ramp into their yard. We’re hoping that next week provides us with some dry days and higher temps, allowing us to get caught up with outdoor chores including:

Last mowing of the season … both cottages, the front yard, the dog yards, Bud’s garden area, the agility field, the training building surround, the pond and lower gate.

Cottage prep … getting propane furnaces lit, windows and doors shut tight, firewood for lower cottage woodburner, campfire logs stacked, deadwood picked up, cleaned and freshened.

Lawn hoses … last watering done (though it has rained for 2 weeks, so probably don’t need to do that), disconnect and drain hoses, allow drying time, store away for winter.

House tasks … fall cleaning of high surfaces, placing pest strips to capture the onslaught of asian beetles we know will be with us soon, laundering curtains, adding black-out fabric to backs of curtains (a project Mom and I planned about 6 months ago), and putting together our “extended bad weather emergency food-and-water kit.”

Regarding the 2009 TDAA Petit Prix — I don’t think I could have been more pleased with the results unless we’d actually won. I had personal victories on many fronts though walking and running courses with Bud’s sheltie, Hazard, was bittersweet. I was often reminded of my original plans to run Blue in the 12″ division, and I spent some time wondering how she was doing in the Cell Dog program.

On that front, I’ve had many supportive letters from people involved in the cell dog program telling of changed lives and the benefits to inmates — I know Blue’s being well cared for and that she’ll find a fabulous home. I miss her and wish things had worked out better for us as Blue’s family, but my continued sadness over the loss of Red keeps me from dwelling overlong on Blue’s departure.

So — the Petit Prix — what a fabulous time that was.

Day one of the warm-up workshops we had a fine crowd of participants and there was room for me to run Hazard. We had 2 participants use their state winner gift certificates from 2008 as part of their workshop fee, and about half of the folks there had trained with Bud in the past, so it was a bit of a meeting of old friends.

Day two of the warm-up workshops we had about 7 more people added to the mix so we spent the morning hours in split-group work. I did obstacle conditioning for table, teeter, tire and weaves, focusing more on table and teeter in the more novice group, table and weaves on the more advanced group. I doesn’t surprise me that folks don’t remember to continue obstacle conditioning with their “superior” dogs — I forget to do it myself — but conditioning can enhance  your performance in sequencing.

Day one of the Petit Prix weekend was a regular trial with 2 classes — one standard (all three levels) and a game (Chutes and Ladders. Hazard had a slow start on the weekend, running at half speed in standard and at quarter speed in Chutes and Ladders. She’s one of the few dogs I know that dislikes tunnels, and a corgi took a poop break in one of the tunnels first thing, so it was no surprise that her Chutes and Ladders run was less than stellar.

Highlight of day one was the opportunity to do Strategic Teams. Jackie (with Baxter, the Min Pin), Vicki (with Elmer, the Beagle) and I (with Hazard, the sheltie) had been practicing strategic teamwork for a few weeks.

Hazard would shut down if Vicki or Jackie yelled to get their dog’s attention, so she needed to run the outside or end of the course. Elmer tends to blow contacts and miss turns when excited, so he needed weavepoles and straight lines. Baxter misses contacts when Jackie gets excited, but he was assigned the a-frame and dogwalk.

We did a lot of chopping and would have had a marvelous run if we’d held it together. An interesting note for TDAA judges … try to remember the course and watch the obstacles in order, so you actually are watching the dog that is working. At one point we sent Vicki’s Elmer over the dogwalk as a transitional obstacle — it allowed her to fix her 2O2O performance and got her from point A to point B for her next sequence. The judge was confused by our strategy and ended up watching Elmer on his not-part-of-the-course-dogwalk instead of watching Baxter as he did the next 6 obstacles, but she quickly regained her sense of the course and we finished in a muddled mess at jump 30.

My proud moment that day came when Vicki — having come to Bud’s training 2-1/2 years ago with no agility other than AKC under her belt — designed a strategy for her OTHER team (with Quigley, her puppy) that beat all other teams by 40+ seconds. Her teammates were fast, accurate dogs and that helped alot, but they had NO bobbles and ran beautifully.

Our Petit Prix banquet was fun, motivational, and uplifting — exactly what a national event’s banquet is supposed to accomplish! Paul Jensen, TDAA President, gave us some terrific statistics — in 2007-8 there were TDAA trials scheduled every other weekend, somewhere in the country. In 2008-9 there were TWO TDAA trials scheduled for every weekend, somewhere in the country. What an achievement.

Bud and I kept reminiscing about the start of TDAA — our first trial had about a dozen dogs and 10 handlers. We were at a little park near Columbus. We had pizza for lunch every day and had a banquet at a nearby restaurant on Saturday night. To see the organization as vital and vigorous as it is today is very uplifting.

I truly remember when Bud began discussing TDAA … I was running aussies and was less than interested in a venue that excluded me and my dogs. But the first time I ran a teacup course with one of the shelties I was HOOKED on it. TDAA is more of a dance than a speed sprint. It’s that dance that I love.

Days 2 and 3 of the Petit Prix to follow.

One week to Petit Prix, new class schedule

October 18, 2009

I wrote this draft 2-3 weeks ago and neglected to finish and publish.  Though the dates are a bit misleading (“one week to Petit Prix” – which actually happened 7 days ago) I want to preserve the information on our preparation.

BLOG 10/2/09. After 2 weeks without a new blog entry I’m back!  It’s been a bit busy around here.

During the 2 weeks whent the YMCA pool was closed for cleaning and repairs I intended to visit another pool to keep my exercise regimen.

Instead I found myself digging into the list of projects I have, getting tons of miscellaneous tasks finished. Bud was on the road quite a bit so I was on my own most of the time. I also had the opportunity to judge 4H dog projects (obed, agility, rally) at a couple of local fairs.

Last week the pool opened again so I ramped up my swimming schedule. This week I’ve done about 8 miles in 5 days. I’m hoping the Racine Radisson’s pool will be open so I can do a little swimming next week.

Hazard and I have been working together this week at teacup camp. On day one she got very stressed with barking dogs — mostly Bud’s Kory.

We believe she doesn’t object to his barking. Instead, she objects to the shouting from us that follows the barking.

By the second day she was feeling better. On the third day I felt we were partnering better, and that she was getting my cues better.

Today Bud set up a course that required lots of front crosses and, for once, my handling didn’t slow Hazard down.

His second exercise focused on establishing our paces-per-second. It combined two of my favorite activities — stepping off the dog’s path and high school math. NOT

But I’ve had such good luck calculating Hazard’s paces-per-second and designing courses to fill the time allotted that I’m starting to enjoy the exercise a bit.

At Central Ohio Dog Sports’ trial a few weeks ago Hazard won her class by arriving at the pause table with all her points and exactly on time — she had 55 seconds and hit the table at 55:35 — and I always find that a  bit miraculous.

Today we struggled a bit on the first course. I didn’t feel overly connected. By the second course I guessed we’d collect 59 points in 55 seconds. Hazard hit the table with all 59 points at 55:12 seconds. Sheesh …. that’s cool.

In other news we’re contemplating adding weeknight classes. Here’s the plan I devised this morning while getting in my hour of swimming.

Tuesday evenings will be our flexible roster, to compete with the in-flexible local competition.

From 6-7pm we’ll offer a class on sport foundation training, following the protocols in my 2-minute dog training brochures for sport foundation. We’ll work on agility, obedience, and rally. There will be no guaranteed curriculum and we’ll be open to requests from the students.

This early evening class will also become my Women And Dogs club meeting place. WAD was an idea I had for a women’s social club. Folks were interested 2 years ago but I didn’t do anything with it, sadly.

[ … this is where my draft ended, so I’m going to publish this and then continue where I left off … ]