Training The Baby Dog – The Chronicles of River

under_constructionNot having a dog to run in agility has been a test of patience. It has been 5 months since Merlin started rehabbing his knees and River is still too young to do a lot of the training that needs to be addressed eventually.

River has been 19″ tall since June (11 months old) so last month I decided to take her for X-rays to check her growth plates. She was just over 14 months old at the time the images were shot. The vet we normally see took the X-rays and gave me the all clear that her plates had closed. Inside my head I let out a quiet “woohoo!” which was quickly followed up with “are they really closed?” I emailed them over to Dr. Woodside for a second opinion and while they are almost closed they’re in fact still open. I guess the small hole in her tibia wasn’t all that obvious. I really love our vet, but the important take away here is to work with a specialist when dealing with your k9 athletes. Having someone that understands exactly what the dogs put themselves through with any sport is paramount. I don’t want to imagine the possible damage that could have been caused from starting to ramp up her training with plates still open.

As she turns 15 months with her growth plates still open I’m pretty sure this is part of a larger conspiracy of the agility gods. Running a jumpers sequences with bars set to 12″ with what appears to be a fully grown BC who is full of piss and vinegar has forced me way out of my comfort zone. My attention to our training has shifted to areas I may not have focused on nearly as much if her growth plates were already closed.

Video: Unleashing the beast on a jumpers sequence.

The Twitch Effect – Going slower to go faster.
Improving my movements has probably been my largest area of focus, and a lot of it I’ve worked on without having a dog present. If the neighbors are watching I’m quite sure they’re wondering “WTF is he doing out there?!?”

Handling River is much different than handling Merlin. The boy is in need of constant cheer leading and exciting movements. The girl wants to go as fast as possible all of the time. The extra twitchy movements just confuse the daylights out of River and nothing good comes of it for either of us. We’re still learning each other’s timings, but I can consciously feel my cues and motion being more precise and direct. I’m excited to see how Merlin responds to this whenever we are able to get him back up and running. I was been able to guest handle a few dogs at a recent trial and none of them had any issues reading my motion. I hadn’t run a full course in five months and it feels like I’m headed in the right direction. I’m conscious of when I revert back to “Twitch Mode” which is a big mental victory. Being able to run a full course at a trial has tempered my “need” to get either of the BC’s out running before they’re ready. Thank you Steve, Dave and Lori Sue.

Commitment Issues
Early on it was very apparent even with my speed, there would be no outrunning the Little Bits on a course. Consequently we have spent a considerable amount of time working obstacle commitment. I’m really happy where we are at this point in time. The speed bump jump heights have really forced my hand of cueing the obstacle and getting out of there as quickly as possible.

Impulse Control – The Start Line Unlocks The Game
Merlin has a number of confidence and stress issues. Start lines can shut him down as he starts to overthink what is about to happen. With River the game has become the reward and from early on the game didn’t start until she offered up a sit or a down on her own without me cueing it. In the beginning this meant we would spend our entire time in class waiting for the behavior to be offered. I needed her in an exciting environment and this became class time well spent. This has developed into a single hand single that send her between my legs to get her placed where I want her and right into a down position. With as amped as she gets, I smile every time she patiently waits with excitement for the game to begin. The little firecracker has some impulse control. We continue to proof this on a daily basis.

Understanding Your Most Valuable Commodity – Time
I’ve set goals for Team River. We’ve got a number of short term goals to work towards as well as some specific medium and long term goals. I work two jobs and over the last year and a half I’ve seen more doctors than any individual should have to see during their life time. I never see the wifey as much as I’d like to and free time for training becomes a very precious commodity.

We work multiple skills at once to maximize what we can fit in. A simple game of fetch is transformed to combine start line proofing, blind crosses on the flat and recalling to heel. You can get very creative with what else you can work while focusing on a specific skill. I try to remain aware of what we need to focus on and what we actually have time to work on.

I’m very excited to see where all of the work we’re putting in now away from equipment gets us when we start working on weaves, contacts and raising the jump heights. For now we’ll continue to launch out of puppy cannons and fly around sequences with short jumps all while smiling and enjoying the moments of a young dog learning and loving the game.

Happy Training!

Bonus Video: Running Flyer USDAA Masters Standard

Drive It Like You Stole It (Running Sequences With River)

River is nearly 9 months old and this past weekend we had some time to work short jump sequences with the bars on the ground in a 50′ x 60′ area. We had another handler out with their 5 month old puppy working on the other side of the ring. It was a great way for both of us to test our focus with the pups. River and I had done some work with two jumps and a tunnel, but the majority of our playing had been with just one jump. We kicked it up a notch and went with four jumps and a tunnel, giving us 6 to 7 obstacles to run in sequence. Thank you one jump foundation work…

Merlin had to deal with me having high expectations and wanting him to be perfect. He had to deal with my upbringing as the son of an Army 1st Lieutenant / Accountant – where things were either right or they were wrong. There was very little grey area when it came to dealing with my father. There was a spreadsheet for everything and diabetics don’t get cookies. Thankfully Merlin’s a very forgiving boy, and we continue to work on fixing my mistakes.

River is a very different dog and thankfully I’ve grown as a trainer. I can only imagine the disaster that would be our house if Merlin wasn’t here first. From an agility perspective we took a much different approach to our foundations. One jump work became her love, and we celebrated everything. Daddy’s little girl could do no wrong. Sorry Merlin, it sucks being the first one.

While playing with different sequences we worked for a total of maybe 3 minutes over the course of 15 minutes. She was absolutely brilliant. While working she had zero interest in the other puppy and it was all about running with me. She was reliably sending to jumps (fronts and backsides) from 12′ away and from all sorts of different angles. The more we played, the happier she was. Our foundation work had paid off.

More Please!

More Please!

It became very clear to me that I had done such a good job reinforcing her jump work that she only knows one speed when it comes to playing the game – OVERDRIVE! She has figured out how to work and keep focused on me while amped up out of her skull. Without realizing it I had been sprinting with her the entire time, which left me hands on knees exhausted by the end of it. I felt slow and out of shape. It’s a feeling I can’t stand and will need to adjust my own workout programming to keep up with her – who would have guessed that?!?

I couldn’t be happier with the way we are progressing as a team. As I change my approach with handling River, it helps me make better adjustments to my training with Merlin. They will never run the same way, and I’m ok with that. When I push Merlin too hard for speed, bars tend to fall or off courses are taken – our connection gets lost. He doesn’t enjoy the extra push. River seems to thrive off going as fast as f’ng possible all of the f’ng time. Running her reminds me of watching chase scenes out of movies like Transporter, Fast & The Furious, Days of Thunder & Gone In 60 Seconds. It’s pedal to the metal and you better hang on to the oh shit handle.

As I continue to focus on making clear motion based cues I know I will make mistakes along the way, but she can do no wrong and will reap the glory of the tug, cookies and hugs as a reward. My mental focus & physical conditioning are both going to need some extra training to keep up with her. Each session we work will push me, and I couldn’t be more excited.