Meet Jefferson

Meet Jefferson
This is Jefferson: Agility Dog

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Success Starts with Believing in Yourself

Today’s Dog Agility Blog is about “success” and what it means.  I gave this topic quite a bit of thought over the past couple of years of competing with my cocker spaniel, Jefferson, in the sport of agility.  At first, I felt “success” when my dog would blast through the tunnel, bound over the A-frame, race down the dogwalk and thrust confidently in the weave poles.  The thrill of teaching my dog these skills was exciting and I was a “success” in my early days of training agility.

 After a while taking beginning classes, we began to enter trials and I did not have the same feeling of “success” as I did prior to competing.  At first it was “cute” when my black and white cocker spaniel ran around the ring looking for morsels of food or got the wild “zoomies” racing with his ears flapping in the wind.   But then I started to doubt myself as a trainer and question whether or not Jefferson was or would ever be a “success” in the agility ring.  Or more to the point – would I be a “success?”

I was frustrated because we would do extremely well in practice – fast, confident and conquering the ever increasing difficult sequences.  But, whenever we competed, we were a different team and our “success” was few and far between.  I remember many trials with no ribbons, let alone any maroon colored Q’s.  As our doggie competitors progressed out of Starters to Advanced and then Masters, we were still competing in Starters.  

As my disappointment grew, our performance suffered.   My doubt and frustration was mimicked by my dog – he would stop and look at me, refusing to run – or run off – or sniff – or just get away from me….really FAST.  All of these actions were his avoidance behaviors.  So, I knew that it was time for me to make a decision about our future in agility. 

Once I learned that it was me and my definition of “success” that was the problem, I changed my attitude and mindset.  My goals no longer were to earn a blue ribbon or a maroon Q, but simply to have fun again and enjoy running with my partner.  At first our goals were simple, begin and end the course together.   There were many so-called “Jefferson” courses I made up on the fly just to get us in the ring and working as a team.  Yep, I “ate” quite a few entry fees but it was worth it to have my partner back and happy to be working and playing agility with me.

Slowly and surely, we began to celebrate our “success” with parties of treats and praises after every run – whether or not we Q’d was no longer of importance.  I learned to set small, attainable goals to build up our team’s “success.”  No, this did not happen overnight.  In fact, we probably set some kind of agility world record for being in Starters Standard the longest! 

A year ago, in July of 2013, my teammate and I finally earned our Agility Dog Title after running clean and getting our 3rd Starters Standard blue ribbon and maroon Q.  I sure was excited to be a “success” and having not given up on agility, myself or my dog.  We were having fun and running with gusto and enthusiasm.  
MAD Title (2014) Photo taken by Matt Drobnik

Now, in June of 2014, my teammate and I have earned our Master Agility Dog, Master Jumper, Master Snooker and Tournament Master titles.   We have attended our first Cynosport nationals last fall and are currently preparing for our 2nd Regionals – with our first Grand Prix Bye, and already, as the agility aficionados say “Q’d up” for Nationals.   I do not mention all these titles to be a braggart or to equate these titles with “success.”  Rather, I mention the journey my teammate and I have been on for the past three years to inspire other competitors who may want to quit because they do not attain a certain level of “success.” 

It has been a rocky, frustrating, disappointing and downright discouraging ride at times.  But, in the end, I have learned so much about my dog, but mostly, about myself.  Defining “success” by anyone else’s standards is not “success” and frankly, not much fun!  Agility is simply a game that I love to play with my sweet black and white cocker spaniel, Jefferson.  And I am keenly aware that there will come a day when I will not be able to play it anymore.  This thought makes me sad so I live in the present and have learned to savor every run – whether we are clean, “E’d” or missed it by a hair.  Agility has taught me that “success” starts with believing in yourself AND your dog!  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Practice, Practice and More Practice!

I am so lucky to be off work this week for Spring Break so I can practice agility with Jefferson (and get to sleep late the next day!)  We started off the weekend with running a Grand Prix course from Tim Verrelli.  

It was a nice course and provided Team J-Dawg with some challenges - particularly the opening serpentine.  Jefferson reads serpentines very well, but it is always a challenge with our running start.  (Note to self:  Next training goal is to work on a startline stay during trials so I have enough time to lead out!)  The first time we approached the startline tire, I showed too much forward motion and Jefferson was off to the weave poles.  But since we are allowed mulligans during run-throughs, I called him back and promptly started over.  I have learned that Jefferson is a very honest dog in that he takes whatever obstacle I am indicating, so it was my forward motion that caused him to veer straight to the weaves.  

Once we started over, he ran the entire course fast and clean!  Yay!  I was very proud of both of us for sticking to our plan and running hard and fast...yes, the temps were in the mid-70's so I was pleased that Jefferson remained enthusiastic during our run.  I handled the opening with Jefferson on the left through #'s 1-3 - I did not show forward motion; rather immediately pealing off to #3.  I rear-crossed Jefferson on the flat after #3 and moved laterally to front cross #5.  Worked like a charm and he read my lateral movement and did not run up the off-course dogwalk.  I kept Jefferson on my left through #8 and then supported a send to the #9 tunnel and moved laterally to front cross #10 to pick him up on my right.  Since Jefferson has nice weave pole entries, I sent him to #12 and kept him on my right and pushed/sent to #13 tunnel.   I elected to run on the left side of the weaves so I would be in a better position to front cross after the #14 jump.  I ran with Jefferson on my left from the #15 teeter until the #20 ending jump.  He ran so fast and even got his down dogwalk running contact.   The only improvement would be for me to decel earlier at jump #16 to get a tighter turn and more collection from Jefferson.  Otherwise, what a beautiful run!  I am pleased to announce that he ran it fast and clean the SECOND time we ran the course.  Double yay!!  Even in the heat....

This week we have also practiced some Clean Run exercises that gave us the opportunity to work on handling choices such as blind crosses, rear crosses, post-turns, etc.  And I discovered that Jefferson reads my post-turns really well:-)   What a good boy!  So looking forward to our trial next weekend but NOT looking forward to Spring Break being over...

"Cat" napping during the break!

"I count it as a certainty that in paradise, everyone naps."
 ~Tom Hodgkinson

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Isn't it About Time for Spring to Have "Sprung?"

I am absolutely THRILLED about having a week off for Spring Break.  Not only do I desperately need time away from work to recharge my batteries, but I am excited to have the extra time to train with Jefferson.  Yes, I have officially turned into an agility nerd!!  With our next trial fast approaching on April 13th, Team J-Dawg has plenty of work to complete.  

First off, I practiced some fancy handling moves last night at the field.  My favorite being the “backy-uppy.”  Jefferson “gets” it and reads it like a charm, it is ME that has trouble performing the “backy-uppy” without feeling like I am going to do a “falling downy!”  Seriously, with his increased speed and enthusiasm, I believe having a “backy-uppy” in our bag of tricks will really help us perform more complicated Grand Prix and Steeplechase courses that have an emphasis placed on accuracy and speed.  

We also practiced the “lap turn” which is another complicated handling maneuver.  It involves calling your dog to your “lap” in order to by-pass the front of a jump and allows you to call them around to take the backside.  Again, this is pretty difficult since Jefferson is so darn obstacle focused!  He will run around looking for an obstacle to take if I do not cue him fast enough where to go.  But, I set up a tunnel and jump to practice and Jefferson was by-passing the front of the jump and confidently taking the back side by the end of our training session.

Along with practicing these new skills, I decided to improvise some additional
snooker-type training by having him run around the field with me, by-passing obstacles until I gave him the cue to take an obstacle.  This was VERY difficult at first as he headed over jumps, weaves, dogwalk – you name it, and he was there faster than lightning!  But once I brought out the big guns (Baked Cheetos and his very own Chick-fil-a kid's meal) he stuck with me like glue.  We ran around the field and he did NOT take the obstacles until I released him to do so.  This was a great exercise for our team and I plan on incorporating this whenever we are practicing.  By the way, I did work on re-sending him into a tunnel (from a distance) once he exited it.  He still looked at me like I was a bit crazy for asking, but he did get the hang of it by the end of our practice session.   So, if we see this challenge again on a gamble, I feel more confident in our ability to be successful.

Jefferson was such a good boy this week and I am so VERY pleased with how hard he is working and willing to stay in the game with me.  We worked for nearly 40 minutes last night – he was not bored and wanted to play MORE.  Yay!  This is a huge accomplishment for Team J-Dawg.  Now, I am just praying for a heat wave next week so I can work on acclimating Jefferson (and me!) to running in the heat with the same enthusiasm as we show when the temperatures are in the 50s and 60s…

Ah...Spring Break cannot get here fast enough!

~"No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn."
Hal Borland

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Every Dog Has It's Day!

Every dog has it's day!  Not to be for the UK Wildcats this year...
This weekend we traveled to Orlando, Florida to participate in the Dog On It!  agility trial.  We had a great time and I was so very pleased with Team J-Dawg.  Although we were running on empty both days, we managed to have a pretty good Saturday - 4 runs.  First up was Advanced Gamblers and it was a tough gamble.  

I was fairly confident that Jefferson would NOT get the gamble considering we have never practiced nor trained this move from a distance.  The gamble was jump, tunnel, turn around and go back in the tunnel, then jump.  Jefferson is not too fond of going back in tunnels when I am close, let alone from a distance.  Some handlers recommended calling the dog over the gamble line and then re-sending them into the tunnel, but the judge had set-up a lovely off course jump to make that a very difficult proposition.  So, since I was "not feeling the love" for the gamble, I decided to go for it and get as many points as I could in the opening.  And we sure did!  Jefferson followed me like a real pro and we had the judge running really fast in order to keep up with us!!  We were going so fast that he accumulated 25 points in the opening - we only needed 15 points - AND we even accumulated MORE points than the "faster" Border Collies.  Yay!  I chose the dogwalk, A-Frame 2x, and weave poles 2x.   Since he performs these pretty fast whenever he is "on," I was thrilled with my boy!  So, when the buzzer went off, we were in perfect position for the gamble...jump - tunnel - and then I attempted to send him back in the tunnel.  Poor boy looked quizzically at me like I was nuts, so he ran over and took the chute instead.  LOL.  Oh, well....we had fun and ran together FAST as a team.

Our next run was Advanced Pairs and our original partner bailed on us so we were assigned an accommodating partner.  Unfortunately for us, she was "working" on her contacts, so we did not "Q" thanks to a couple of faults on her side.  Otherwise, Jefferson and I ran clean, with one little hiccup at the teeter before he took it.

Third up was Standard.  Oh, how I would LOVE a clean run!  It was not to be, and Jefferson would have no part of the teeter, but had a beautiful down on the table so I made up my own course to keep him running with me until the end.  This was our first "Elimination" of the weekend.  I knew I had to let this run go and put it behind us so we could prepare for Steeplechase.  

Steeplechase Q!

Steeplechase was our last run of the day and the heat was definitely on!  To be honest, I was the most anxious about this run since there were 71 competitors - ten in our 16" height class - the most we have ever competed against, including World Team members and really fast Masters doggies.  Not to mention, the walk through was just plain crazy with so many people on the course at the same time.  But, I had Jefferson resting in the shade and I was ready to handle the course in order to give Jefferson the most information he would need in order for us to be successful.  I was proud of my front cross after #4 so I could set-up the serpentine into the tunnel.  I got there spot on and he was following me very well.  Another area that was a bit of concern to me was the pinwheel of #9-10-11-12 to the A-Frame.  I had walked this a couple different ways, but watched a Performance Team about our speed run this and decided to run it differently that I had walked it.  I did a front cross after #11 to keep his speed going, having confidence that Jefferson would take the A-Frame with gusto and bring it on home with the 2nd pass through on the weave poles.  What a risk -  but with high risk, comes high reward!  Jefferson and I nailed it and we finished fast and clean and earned our first ever Steeplechase Q!  I was sooo excited to have finished with our strongest run of the day after our worse run of the day.  What a great run as a Team!  

The best I can do is to show the course map because my dad had technical difficulties in recording our run.  Here's the map:

So glad we had a great Saturday because our Sunday was pretty lousy!  Oh, well...every dog has it's day and our day was Saturday.   But after our complete meltdowns in Standard and Steeplechase finals (the temps were in the mid 80's and we were the only Starter Standard Team in Steeplechase finals and had to run back-to-back), I rested and cooled off Jefferson and we had a sweet Advanced Jumpers run.  We almost ran clean, but I did not decel and cued Jefferson to take the off-course tunnel rather than the jump.  I opted to not go back and correct him and get the missed jump because he was running with me and took the obstacle that I had cued him to take; albeit, the wrong one!  But, we started together and finished together.  More importantly, I am confident our Q's will come in due time.  

Team J-Dawg has a few training projects to work on over the next month.  These include distance work in having Jefferson learn to turn around and take an obstacle like a tunnel back-to-back; confidently taking the teeter every single time; decel cues vs. acceleration; and finally, building endurance to run agility in the heat.  What a great time at Dog On It!!  We hope to go back soon.

"Every dog has his day, unless he loses his tail, then he has a weak-end."
~June Carter 


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Honey, I Love...

First place Standard Q Finish!

During a literacy class I am taking, we read the poem, "Honey, I Love" by Eloise Greenfield.  It was such a cute poem, written from a little girl's perspective.  Our instructors had the participants write a list of 10 things that we love; and of course, agility topped my list.  We were prompted to share our top picks with the class, and I received many a strange looks, and lots of inquiries about agility.  (It can be soooo cumbersome to try to explain a running dogwalk, let alone a difficult weave entry to the non-agility person!)  We then were instructed to write a poem, modeled after the form of the "Honey, I Love" piece.  Here is my one stanza (we only had 5 minutes to complete this poem so give me a break!):

Honey, I love 

I love
I love a lot of things, a whole lot of things 
Racing through an agility course with Jefferson running fast
No worries about Q's, just about how our team will last
I like the way he nails those difficult entries to weaves,
But honey, let me tell you that I LOVE that he no longer leaves
I love the way my puppy now runs agility

"All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling."
Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Yeah, Baby, Yeah! International Courses (of Mystery...)

This week’s blog is part of the Dog Agility Blog Action Day on the new trend toward internationalization of agility.  Here is a link find out what others have to say:  Dog Agility Blog Action Day: Internationalization  What does this mean to a dog and handler who can barely move out of Starters? 

First off, the internationalization of agility courses has occurred in the USDAA with the introduction of the Masters Challenge Jumpers and Standard Biathlon.  These courses provide an extra challenge to the dogs and handlers alike.  The courses have tight turns that require the dog to have excellent collection skills as well as the handler being able to send the dog to take the backside of the jump.  It also requires the dog to switch from running full-out in extension to collecting to take the tight twists and turns of the course.  When I first tried to run one of these courses, the handling choices were intimidating, but once I understood how to give Jefferson the best information, we were able to run a Masters Challenge course successfully. 

By my practicing Masters Challenge courses with backside jumps, blind crosses and the like, I have learned how to become a better handler and give Jefferson the information he needs to be successful.  Also, I have increased my ability to work on my timing of the cues I give.  For instance, in an international-style course, I have to react very quickly to the course and readily give Jefferson the information far in advance.  While our goal is not to actually compete internationally, learning how to handle a more complex course makes running the Starters and Advanced levels much easier.  It also helps me deal with the stress of deciding how to handle a particular course.  The more techniques I have in my “handling” bag of tricks, the more options I have to use that my dog will be able to understand. 

During the past weekend’s trial, Team J-Dawg earned a 1st place and Starters Standard Q and a Team Q (crazy!!!).  I was very proud of our Standard run because Jefferson was MOVING and I was spot-on with my handling to provide him the important information.   

Here is our great run:

Still, our Team Q was very unexpected for me.  We did have 2 Masters level dogs on our team that did very well in the individual runs.  Jefferson and I got eliminated from Jumpers and Standard – did okay in Gamblers despite his running off – but the biggest surprise was how well we did in DAM Team Relay.  I was unaware that Team Relay counts for so much of the score.  Our Team decided that Jefferson and I would run in “clean up” position (#3) and not worry about Q'ing, but about having a fun time running our dogs.  The first dog ran clean, but a steady pace; the second dog ran clean, but slower; Jefferson was chomping at the bit to run and was so excited to run last!  So, in a mad dash, we ran 3rd, aced our very difficult weave pole entrance, serpentine jump to tunnel after the weaves to finish clean!  Our team earned a 2nd place, only missing 1st by a few seconds!  I was so proud of our run and how my boy came through for me in the clutch.  

So, if I had not been used to the added pressure of running a Masters Challenge course with success, who knows if I would have been able to come through for my team during our relay event. 

Overall, the internationalization of agility courses is good for Team J-Dawg because it pushes me out my comfort zone and helps me be better prepared for any difficult challenge I may face.  

"Actually, my name is Austin Powers. Danger is my middle name."  
~ Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Working Together is Success!

I am so lucky to have such a sweet dog!  Jefferson is such a joy and pleasure to train and I am thankful every day for the world of dog agility that he has opened up to me.  He is my first dog...EVER and I feel like I hit the doggie jackpot.  Over the past few months, our training relationship has gotten closer and the results are evident whenever we run an agility course.  I have learned how to better communicate with Jefferson and he has learned how to better trust me to tell him where we are going next on a course.  During our Sunday agility “marathon,” we practiced some difficult handling moves, including my blind crossing between jumps, on the flat and not at the exit of a tunnel (an easier move to say the least!)  I was so proud of my boy for reading the blind so well (and me for making it to position!) and feel comfortable having this in our handling “bag of tricks.”   I may just become the “blind cross queen!”  In order for me to get into position and better advance the course using the blind cross, I layered the weave poles and the teeter.  This advanced handling move allowed me to get into position and Jefferson read it like a dream!  So proud of my boy and how far we have progressed.

I have also learned to execute more post-turns, especially whenever I am choosing a handling move at the end of a running dogwalk.  Performing a front cross at the end of a running dogwalk is pretty tough, especially since Jefferson has gotten so much faster and I have not!   Again, dog agility is all about options and being able to recognize the various methods of handling your dog on a particular course.  I am getting better at doing this, but am still a work in progress and learning during every run.  But, I welcome the challenge and look forward to stretching my handling abilities.

Agility has taught me so much – how to train a dog, how to train a handler (ME!), how to be patient and calm, and most importantly, how to enjoy every minute both Jefferson and I are healthy enough to run an agility course together and connect as ONE team. 

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
~Henry Ford