Monday, August 20, 2012

A Two-Legged Dog

This past weekend was T.A.R.D.I.S.' first go at a Rally Obedience trial.

I have opted to start in Rally because I am the most familiar with it, having done a little with my old girl, Delilah, and my little old man, Cozmo.

Rally Obedience, sometimes just referred to as Rally or Rally-O, is a team sport done with your dog in which you go through a course set up by the judge. The judge simply tells you 'Forward!' and you move out on your own pace, while the judge takes notes based on your performance. You start with 100 points, and you begin losing them for various mistakes - 1 point for a tight leash, or 1 point for an out of position, or 10 points for an incorrect station. You must score 70 or higher to Qualify, and then the top 4 dogs are given placement ribbons. It is also timed, but time is used only as a way to break a tied score.

Unlike Obedience, you are allowed to talk to the dog. You can use multiple commands, praise, encourage them, but you can not touch them or correct them physically. If you yell or seem threatening, you can lose points as well.

I like Rally because it is done at my own pace, and it helps me learn some foundational items that will be used later on in Obedience. At the Novice level, where I am, everything is done on-leash - but at the Advanced and Excellent level, it is done off-leash.

When you receive a qualifying score of 70 or higher, you earn a 'Leg' towards your title. It takes 3 Legs to get a title, but must be earned under at least two different judges. After 3 Legs at the Novice level, your dog will have the Rally Novice (RN) title. Advanced level grants the Rally Advanced (RA), and Excellent grants the Rally Excellent (RE). Once you complete the RE, you can move on towards your Rally Advanced Excellent (RAE) - to earn the RAE, you must qualify ten times in both Advanced and Excellent at the same trial.

To enter a Rally trail, you first need to find one! You can use the AKC's website to search for events near you. Once you locate a trial, you'll need to fill out the entry form and mail it in prior to the close of entries. When entering, be sure you send it off with plenty of time - both so your entry gets there on time, and so that you don't overwhelm the Trial Secretary. You will receive a confirmation when your entry is received, and closer to the trial, you'll get a Schedule and your arm band number so you'll know when to be in the ring. I suggest showing up at least an hour before your scheduled time, so you have plenty of time to find a seat (these events are usually very crowded!), and you have plenty of time to take your dog out to do his business, get yourself checked in, and have time to observe the surroundings and watch a few other competitors, and how the judge works.

Dress comfortably when you go in. Make sure you have closed toe shoes that you can potentially jog in for a short distance, and that won't come off your feet. Although I see competitors in all types of dress - everything from a suit to jeans and a t-shirt - it goes without saying that dressing to impress can help. I always try to dress at least business casual for events to show that I am serious, and that I have respect for the judge. You certainly don't have to, but it's what I feel most comfortable doing. That said, I try to make sure my clothes are easy to move in and not restricting - so I go with nice trousers, Converse, and a nice top. Don't wear anything with your dog's name on it, or anything from a club you train with.

I showed up both days about an hour early, and it was CROWDED. On Saturday, the weather was just AWFUL. The rain was so bad we could barely see the road. My husband and I left the house 2 hours early for an hour long drive, knowing it was rain... and we were so grateful we did. When we got there, we had plenty of time to take T.A.R.D.I.S. out as well as dry him off a little bit before his debut in the ring.

After his first run, he scored a 91! I was impressed with him, despite the rain, he performed quite well. We had a few tight leashes, and a few out of positions, but nothing to bad, and nothing we can't improve on.

Here he is with his judge from Saturday, sporting his green qualifying ribbon.

On Sunday, he scored an 86 - but still managed to snag fourth place along with his qualifying ribbon.

I'm proud of him! I admit that I am not the world's best trainer, but I have been working hard with him, and this is a sure sign of success. My goal is simply the green ribbon - as long as we qualify, we did fantastic. Any placements are just icing on the cake!

He currently has two legs towards his RN, and hopefully, we can net the third one at the IPOC trial in October.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fighting The Zoomies

T.A.R.D.I.S. is being trained for Agility. I'm always working on it, and he's constantly enrolled in classes, since he was maybe 8 months old.

He is actually quite good on the equipment - he is pretty fearless for the most part and takes it all with pride. He's fast too - almost... too fast.

So fast in fact, that he finds running to be rewarding.

Now I am by no means a professional trainer - I am always learning new things and trying things to see what works best.

So one of things I've never had to deal with before has come up with this puppy - The Zoomies.

All of my other dogs are very old - and were that way when I got them. Because they were older, they were a bit more 'clingy' and less likely to leave my side, and they didn't move very fast. I've never experienced The Zoomies in my own dog before - although I have seen it in others.

I was always grateful that it wasn't my dog, and usually felt a twinge of embarrassment for the handler.

Now of course, it's my turn to deal with it.

T.A.R.D.I.S. loves to run, and he loves to run fast. When I take him to agility class, he goes with his happy fun tug leash, a bag full of toys, and a squeaky toy.

I made this leash out of fleece, some faux fur, and beautiful Tardis material.

He knows the drill - showing up for agility class is just going to be a fun time, and he's always eager to get started. 

Lately though, he has developed a habit of just running off, and once he gets going it's hard to call him back. And in his new class, he has a favorite dog - a beautiful blue Merle Australian Shepherd dog. When he sees that dog, he can't contain himself - he stays with me for a few obstacles, but usually, decides the Aussie is more fun, and so he darts off.

The past few classes have ended up with him timed out in a crate due to over obsessive Zoomies. In one case he squeezed out of the fence and ran into the other agility class even.

I've found this frustrating. I'm sure that's no surprise. My brilliant puppy who does so well in obedience, and has such lovely off-lead heeling - completely loses his brain in agility class.

After many weeks of frustration, last night we had a mild break through. His favorite dog was not in class. This gave me a better opportunity to work him without that added distraction, and I tried a few new tactics based on a variety of suggestions:
  • I practiced a few obstacles on lead. Like sending him over a jump, then calling him back to me. Or sending him over two jumps, then calling him back. Doing figure eights between jumps. Sending him back and forth through a tunnel. Making him take the teeter 20 times in a row.
  • I never let him look around bored. Every time he was just standing while I was listening to the teacher, I let him play tug with his special tug leash. Every so often, instead of always using food, I sometimes played tug instead.
  • After every few obstacles, I stopped what we were doing, and played random games. Sometimes tug, sometimes fetch, sometimes I gave him a squeaky toy, sometimes a jackpot of food, and sometimes just cuddles. I tried very hard to keep it constantly varied.
At the end of the class we set up our course... and he DID try to dart away from me once - he got nervous of the teeter and thought he'd rather bolt instead. I figure this was a clear case of it being stress related, so when I saw him put his ears back like he was ready to go - I threw his tug in front of him and dragged it back to me, and he chased it and engaged in play instead. After a few tugs, I skipped the teeter and moved to the next set of stuff. He finished the rest of the course with no problem.

It was almost miraculous that we made it, but my little guy did manage to stay with me for the rest of class. I hope next week is met with as much success.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dipping a Toe into Conformation

This past weekend, T.A.R.D.I.S. and I got our feet wet with the UKC Conformation trial at IPOC. I mentioned previously that I am a complete novice at this, and I had no idea what to expect.

Although I tried searching the web for details on what to really expect, I couldn't really what I was looking for. So, I'm attempting to fill that gap with this post. Here's what I learned, what I did, and what I wish I had known ahead of time.

For starters, my breeder has been an amazing, invaluable resource for me. Without her help, I don't know that I could have done as well, never mind the fact that without her, I wouldn't have my dog.

When I had asked her about grooming, she quickly told me to just bring him over to her house. I had no idea what to expect - my definition of grooming meant a bath, brushing, and a nail trim. That was NOT what she had in mind!

To her, grooming involved a bath - getting shampooed twice, with whitening shampoo, a blow dry, hair product and chalking, trimming the hair on his paws, and brushing him. He lost quite a bit of hair in the process! She put in product and chalk for me - with the understanding that I need to brush it out pre-show, to help him stay a little cleaner and fluffier as this was done Friday evening before the shows.

To better illustrate the difference - this is my dog, stacked, pre-grooming:

Handsome boy right here, but....

He's handsome enough, but compare it to this:

Holy cow Batman, where did my puppy go?!

And it's night and day. After my breeder was done wit him, he looked AMAZING - like one of those dogs who you know, win stuff.

If you want my advice - when you're going to show your dog? Learn how to groom them! Let your breeder help you - hence the emphasis on always being sure to select a GOOD breeder who knows her breed. If I had shown T.A.R.D.I.S. looking like the original photo compared to a dog who looked like the second? It should be obvious who would have won!

Once he was groomed, we took him home and were tasked with keeping him clean. Do you know how hard it is to keep a one year old puppy clean? One who wants to roll in fresh mud, and fresh cut grass? Poor guy had to stay on a leash, and was confined to being mostly indoors.

The next morning, I had to be sure to brush him again, deal with any cowlicks, and dust off some of the extra chalk. I showed up early - 8:45 AM for a show that didn't start until 9:30. I wanted to be sure I knew when to go in - I was basing this off what I know for an obedience or rally trial.

Which this was not! When I got there, I checked in, expecting a schedule. Knowing when I should report to ring side. I was given a number, but no schedule. They don't give you one. They put up on a board near each ring the order of groups - like Northern, Companion, Herding, Gun, etc. (I hope you know what group your dog is in, too!)

T.A.R.D.I.S. fell into the herding group both days - so even though day two reversed the order, his group was about the middle, so it was the same place both days.

Then I realized... he was... the only Corgi. The only Corgi. He was going to get first place no matter what he did! With a little bit of relief, I sat down with a group of fellow competitors and my husband and friends, and we chatted - until it was time to get T.A.R.D.I.S. ready. When I saw the group ahead of us moving through their Group - I told my husband to take T.A.R.D.I.S. out to the bathroom. When he came back, I brushed him out again, made sure he didn't have any pee on his undercoat or front paws (I realize this sounds gross. But he is a male dog that is low to the ground, and when he tries to pee, bless him, he sometimes gets it on his underbelly fur, or on the backs of his front paws.), and went to wait ring side for my turn.

I was extremely nervous going in. Although I had a team of friends cheering me on, I couldn't shake my nerves. Lesson to be learned about dogs right here - if you are nervous, your dog is too. Your leash transfers your emotions right into the dog.

We started out okay, although I had trouble gaiting him correctly. I should have practiced more, and I will be sure to do so before the next show. I also need to learn to free-stack him better. Currently, we mostly train for obedience, so his default action is a 'sit'.

The around the ring was okay. The judge checking out his teeth was okay. Although silly looking.

See his pearly whites?

Now, here's something I'll tell you that is a little secret of mine for getting over your nerves.

Imagine the worst thing that can happen to you. Something really embarrassing. Like, say your dog poops in the ring on your first go out.

Because that happened.

It happened and it was mortifying. My nerves transferred down my leash, into my dog, and ... and he pooped in the ring. Now, I've only shown in obedience before, and if you 'go' in the ring, you are automatically NQ'd (Not Qualifying). I almost broke down in tears, because I thought... he's the only dog in the ring, and he still lost!

Fortunately, my breeder was present and she swooped in to help me clean it up, assure me it was okay - and then the judge handed me my dog's leash again, and told me to take him around.

What's this? Still? Yes, still. Going in the ring in Conformation, apparently, does not NQ you.

And since he was the only dog present, he won First Place, Best Male, and Best in Breed! Not bad, right?

Since he took Best in Breed, this also meant he was going to advance to Group. So, repeat the nerves.

I did have to wait until the rest of the herding dogs showed, so that the Best in Breed could be determined for each one, and then each Best in Breed would be put together in Group. There were several dogs in our Group (I did not actually count them... I was nervous), and I was a nervous wreck showing him against other dogs.

So imagine my surprise when the judge flagged me as Third Place!

Happy boy with his Day 1 ribbons!

The second run of the day was similar - we took the exact same ribbons and got two of everything. Since we placed in group, I splurged and got us a professional photo, too.

One proud Corgi.

After the second run of the day, we left to go home and rest - but I still had to be sure I kept him clean for day two. Day two started out much like day one - however I learned another difference between Obedience and Conformation.

In Conformation? Keep your arm band! In Obedience,  you get a new band each day - but here, we were expected to hold onto it. I wish I had known this, as I ditched mine at the end of day one. They had to hand-write me one for day two.

On day two, he took the same placements in Breed as he was again the only Corgi - but this time he didn't place in Group. I suspect this had much more to do with my ability as a handler, as I could not figure out how to gait him correctly for the life of me. Although at one point, a judge had a moment where she seemed to struggle between selecting him for Fourth Place, or another dog, but she decided to go with the other dog. Oh well!

Day two's ribbons.

Overall, he came out of this with 4 first place ribbons, 4 Best Male, 4 Best of Breed, and 2 Group 3 ribbons. I'd say for a novice handler and dog, that isn't a bad haul.


In summation, I feel like I learned a lot from this experience. I'm compiling a short list for you all here at the end, things I'd wish I'd known ahead of time. Things you can remember going forward:
  • The embarrassing things that could happen aren't really that bad.
  • Listen to your friends.
  • Listen to your judge.
  • Listen to your breeder.
  • Show up early, and watch the pattern the judge wants you to use.
  • If the judge says No Bait, don't bring in bait.
  • If you can bring bait, don't throw it.
  • Dress to win. If you have a black dog, don't wear black pants. Don't think you can hide flaws by dressing to match your dog - the judges are aware of these tricks, and it may cause them to look extra closely at you.
  • Your dog is the best dog in the ring. Act like it, and show him like the champion s/he already is.
  • Not placing does not mean your dog isn't good enough.
  • Be a good sport. Do not be upset if you do not place, and congratulate the winner. It may be you one day!
  • Don't be a jerk to your competitors by intentionally trying to distract their dog. Do what you need to do keep your dog on you, but some of them might be just starting out too. How would you feel if you've nicely stacked your dog and while the judge is looking at him, a competitor starts squeaking a toy? I know not everyone plays fair - but you can only be in control of your own actions. Rise above it, play fair.
  • Get a photo.
  • Pay attention to your environment. Your dog may be a saint, but not everyone's is. While waiting to go into the ring at one point, a doberman started staring down T.A.R.D.I.S. hard and growling. If I wasn't observant, it could have escalated quickly. Rather than picking a fight with the owner and demanding he remove his dog, I simply moved further away to give the dog more space to avoid confrontation between the two animals and made a point to be aware of it the rest of the day. It's not worth the potential injury to my dog should something happen.
  • Above all, enjoy working your dog! Showing your dog and being involved with them will increase your bond in the long term. Talking with other people can help you make friends who are involved in dog sports too.
  • Dogs are awesome, duh.