So sick of this winter.  At least I finally have a yard to let the dogs blow off some steam.

Every time it snows we have to go out and try to find the paths we had made.  Now we're to the point where a wrong guess can leave my foot sinking a good 3-4ft downwards!  Even a good guess after the fresh snow this past week meant lots of sinking.

It's a good thing the Labradors love to go snow swimming!

The corgi not so much.
Oops. One of the few times Adam actually came with us. I don't think he's planning on it again!


The Non UDX Celebratory Weekend

We need 1 more double Q for the UDX title but it was not to be.

Saturday Open
Alright run.  He had some great heeling but wasn't really working his fronts and finishes as much as he has been.  Did TWO finishes on the judge's order.  Was a little bit distracted between exercises.

But held his sit!!!  The judge started the new regulations on group stays that will go into effect this coming spring.  Total of 4 feet BETWEEN dogs instead of 4 feet PER dog.  So maybe he liked the bigger space?  When coming back to the ring he looked eagerly at the exhibitor next to him like he was expecting a cookie :)  I have been having other people feed him treats during the stays for the past few weekly line ups.

Sunday Utility
Not so great.  Very distracted in between exercises.  Heeling had several moments where he wasn't making eye contact with me.
Go outs were awful.  On the first one he went out nicely but then sniffed the ground when I cued sit. I gave a second verbal which he did sit.  Then he went on the judges order to jump and was halfway to the wrong jump before I gave my cue, took a step, and redirected him to the correct jump.  Second go out was just as bad.  He went way right, (possibly avoiding the spot he was sniffing) and started to turn early.  At least he waited for my cue to jump.
Rest of the exercises were decent but he wasn't quite as ON as he usually is.

Sunday Open
Bit distacted in between exercises.  Did a decent job on the stuff itself, but not quite there.  Only 1 auto finish on the judge's command this time, so I guess that's an improvement?!

Did not make the sit stay :(  Lied down at 1 minute.

Sunday Utility
I don't think Lance has had such an awful run in a long time.  Super distracted in between exercises and even on the set ups.
Gloves were first and I couldn't even get him to look at me.  Awful pivot but managed to get him to the correct glove.  Then for some reason he was worried about Dick and arched away from him and spit out the glove.  Did pick it up and come to front eventually.  Dick is practically a mouse in the ring so I have no clue what that's about!
Signals started out distaracted but regained focus after the first about turn and was much improved over Saturday's.  But then on the recall he looked and continued staring away when I was to give the finish cue.
Go out sends were both good.  But on the first jump cue Lance took the wrong jump.  Avoiding where Dick was standing???  On the second jump cue I purposelly sent him out to the one that was supposed to be first and he did fine, but of course the judge wasn't standing there.
Looking away again on the moving stand, but only briefly as I left him and he didn't move at all.
Going to and setting up for articles he wasn't quite focused.  First article send was good but he dropped the article as he spun around and had to research for it.  Article 2 was better.

We have our next two attempts in two weeks.  Hopefully we will be more of a team and the sit will be held.



It's the Fi Fi!!!  
Move over Gracie.  You're in the presence of the Greatest Labrador Ever.  

I stole Fiona for a few days while her Momma needed some help.  And I'm immediately reminded while I'm SO glad she made it as a Diabetic Alert dog as she is such an amazing dog and I really don't want a Labrador of my own!
So much awesomeness.

I don't know if Fi Fi is allowed on the couch in her home, but figured now that she is no longer in the puppy raising program she could be invited onto mine :)  
Notice pissed off Kitty in the background.  The coach belongs to him and HIS Toller!
 I think Vito was initially thrilled to see the bestest labrador.  We had lots of Toller zoomies while showing her the yard.

It's also been interesting to directly compare her to Gracie.  
Both are super cuddly, high drive, love to jump.
But Fiona is definitely higher energy and pushier.  I also forgot about her shimmies!  Gracie is more sweet, more submissive, especially with other dogs, and while she doesn't do butt wiggles or shimmies she does cute head tilting.

Gracie is starting to really get the whole blood sugar scent game now and perhaps will follow in Fiona and Bubba's footsteps.  I've progressed to just the gauze pad and doing more "random" hides on my body instead of more obvious cues that we're playing the game.  But because she's progressed so quickly I wasn't prepared!  Instead I've let myself be lazy and put off teaching her the actual alert I want her to do!  I'm thinking because of her Meerkating that she always does to ask for attention I will need to teach her a strong nose nudge instead of a paw touch that she is wanting to do.


UKI Agility trial!!!

I was SO excited for the UKI trial this weekend!    The corgi can jump 4 inches!  I can bring a toy in for Vito and train!  The number of trials being held in the Twin Cities are increasing from 1 to 4!

His first agility trial of the year!  I did not know at all what to expect from him this weekend.  Having only competed in NADAC since 2010 and basically being in a NADAC style weekly class, I envisioned lots of super wide turns and ah, bonus obstacles.  

Saturday we had a pretty good day!!!  Our only NQ was in Gamblers of all places.  On our way to the gamble he took a bonus aframe and proudly stopped.  Then didn't send out the table at all.  I suppose he hasn't seen a table in a trial in years!  After that run I was told some dogs do better with wet paws on that turf so I dipped his little feet in water.  Much less slipping!  He did a bit of stuttering in jumpers and speed stakes but overall ran well and listened well.

On Sunday Lance seemed to miss NADAC and our teamwork was not so great.  I have no idea what he was thinking at all in his first run, speed stakes.  Speed stakes is practically a NADAC course, focus is on speed and straight forward handling.  Lance completely blew off a simple post turn and actually turned away from me to take 2 bonus jumps.  It wasn't even a tunnel calling his name!  Then in jumpers he blew off a front cross, pre cued I might add, to take a bonus jump.  And seconds later pulled off a jump I wanted to send him to.  By the third run he seemed to settle down and while I could feel him doing some visual shopping of obstacles he went where sent :)  Q in Agility and Q in Snookers.
The only videos actually recorded:

On Saturday I decided to use a toy for our first run of the day, gamblers.  I'm glad I did because he started very slow and especially had slow weaves poles.  I surprised him with the ball after that first set of weave poles and he immediately picked up speed when we got started again and redid them.  I left the ring a bit early after a total of 3 rewards.  Agility was next and Vito was much faster!  Happy Toller aced the difficult course.  Although distances were awfully close so that I opted to have Vito do his stopped dogwalk even though the next jump would have been an easy send.  It felt like it was Less than 10ft away...
  Snakes and Ladders I was excited for because a game that involves contacts and lots of running up and down is just designed for the Toller!  Sadly Vito had a zero point run.  Snaked?  My non tunnel sucking dog went straight into the wrong end of the tunnel on the first non-start obstacle instead of taking the jump I planned.  Speed stakes was last and the straight forward course was great for him.  It felt like Vito ran one of his fastest "jumpers" run in a trial!

On Sunday the day started with speed stakes and jumpers.  I was shocked to see a happy Toller on both runs, even with the weave poles 2nd on jumpers!  Vito did pull off 2 jumps on speed stakes.  The first time when I was trying to send him and run for a front cross, the 2nd I have no idea but he yelled at me as he came in and we just continued on.  In jumpers we NQed as Vito ran to the gate as I sent him to a tunnel facing the audience.  I think he was going for his ball???  It took a few seconds to get him back but he ran happy afterwards.  Vito's last run of the day was Agility and unfortunately I felt he was a Sad Toller.  He was slipping a lot more on day 2, even with the wet feet that seemed to help on Saturday.  3 such slips were in the beginning of the run so I'm guessing that's a big reason to some of the trotting he did :(

I am very excited for the added UKI trials this year, but I'm also sadly more hesitant on whether to enter the upcoming trials.  While the next trial is being held at Soccerblast and I will for sureenter, the following 2 are being held at this same facility.  I do not feel like my dogs handled the footing well, although day 1 was better than day 2 once I got their paws wet.  Maybe there's a product I can try?


Preparations for Obedience Trials

Several people have asked me to give more details on my training with Vito.  So this has been my long plan with The Toller to get him back in to the AKC obedience ring.  Written in a rough order of our progress, but often we are working on several at once.  My goal for Vito is joy.  "The utmost in 
willingness, enjoyment and precision."

1. Increase personal play
We've been working on this for quite a while now.  Vito has been difficult for me to figure out what type of play he likes.  Too much pressure can shut him down.  Chasing me games can be fun, but I have to be very careful not to get too far ahead as he doesn't recover well from lagging.

So far our play is a combination of building value for hand touches (not a natural motivator for Vito), me quickly stepping backwards and letting him jump on me (he loves the release in pressure), butt scratches, and his favorite trick the reverse chest vault.  Other options I'm working on building value for are very gentle pushes, releases to go out around a pole or other object and then catching up to me, and spins during heeling.  We didn't really make the progress I wanted to see with this focal point until I started to address point #3 below...

2. Self control around food and toys
My dogs have quite a bit of impulse control training from early on.  Vito has always done very well with leaving both food/toys/objects on the ground that he will never be released to and with leaving his eventual reward.  All of this training is done without using any sort of verbal cue such as leave it as I don't want my dogs thinking that something is fair game if they see it before I do.
More thoughts written here on focus around food.

The later is definitely harder which is why I tell my puppy students to do way more training of always handing a different reward from their hand versus letting the dog be released to it.  And while I consider Vito to have a low work ethic, he is a very obsessive dog.  Knowing he's not going to get it is one thing, but knowing the toy will be his reward is another.  Puppy Vito took months and months of work on not Toller Screaming for a ball.  Now days he's pretty good if I have the ball, but not so good with anyone else.
We are also making considerable practice on heeling with his ball on the ground.  We're to the point where eye flicks do not go un addressed and our biggest work is on maintaining focus between exercise set ups.

3. Choosing to work, and with full effort/ Ring entrances
The meat of our issue.  As readers know, this was something I didn't realize was a problem for us until it was pretty darn bad.  We also likely had the added difficulty of Vito's anxiety medications lowering his already poor work drive (at the time he was on Xanax which really was not a good fit for Vito) and his need to check out the environment for safety concerns.

The issue was Vito choosing to work with me with his full focus and effort.  Vito could/can be very slow to turn on and even slower to give me that intensity I want in our work together.  At the time I was skirting around that issue by using Vito's obsessiveness to my advantage.  Appearance of his favorite treats or a fun toy was absolutely needed to get him to focus on me instead of the environment.  At the time I didn't see it as much of an issue.  I was just getting him warmed up, heating the porridge.  But in the process not only was I expanding way more energy than my dog, but I was also lowering the value of our personal play, and teaching him that I would bring Disneyland to him versus him actually getting off the couch and walking in with me together.

Revolution on this point was almost 2 years ago thanks to a lesson with Nancy Little.  And a very, very, long road of figuring out how to apply it.  Mainly I started with Ring Entrances.  A combination of the idea that the ring was our Disney World, and the idea that he had to enter with full engagement.  We spent a lot of time entering that ring and immediately exiting if he didn't meet my criteria.  Of course criteria at the beginning was one step in the ring with full focus on me, then party.  Lots, and lots of exiting.  Seriously.  Now I'm happy to say that he really understands the criteria on entering the ring, setting up for that first exercise (usually heeling first as a way to gauge him), and now transitions to other exercises.  There are still times I need to leave the ring, especially when in a new place.  I will never force my dog to play with me, so if he doesn't want to then we just leave.  At this point I can usually try again immediately, but in the beginning I would wait outside the ring until he offered focus.  If he kept up engagement while I asked Vito if he was ready, we would try again.  Repeat.
This is pretty early on in our journey, but past the hardest initial work. I'm working on entrance, leash off (I now have eye contact criteria there too), and running to new setup spots:
Food was still on my body and I am still putting out a ton of energy.  That day I didn't need to do any immediate exits.  In the beginning I also used a low to moderate value reward (which for Vito was kibble or packaged dog treats) so that I could really focus on engagement first, reward second.

4. New locations
Going somewhere new and starting over.  This is something that I haven't put a lot of effort into doing and one I know that is highly important for him.  I was putting a higher priority on it this fall and we made a lot of progress very quickly.  Then winter hit and playing outside was no longer an option.  I do try and take advantage of Vito always coming with to Lance's trials by utilizing the warm up ring if there is one, or at least respectfully playing in any open space I can find.

The hard thing is still holding criteria high on what is important for Vito.  For us, that means no showing upfront the reward, and once we begin work his focus has to remain.  In the beginning rewards were plentiful.  And I also spent a lot of time just standing in one place outside of the ring, whether it was a real ring or just a predefined area of grass.  See the above notes on doing lots of nothing because he simply wasn't ready to work.

5. Jackpot training
Since Vito is no where near ready to work just for the sake of playing with me, we have started some jackpot style training.  Nothing real systematic and formal.  Once Vito decides he is ready to play with me, I show him his reward and place it on a chair or shelf right outside the ring.  Eventually the reward will be back at his crate.  Then we go the ring and play.  The hard part for Vito is his obsessive nature, but the work we have been doing above in part 2 laid most of the ground rules.  In many ways this training is WAY easier then our previous work on engagement from the start.  While I'm still asking Vito to work with me without getting him revved up with food and toys, he can see the reward he can get before we actually go in the ring.  Basically I'm just asking him for more and more work before I reward him, sometimes doing an easy rep.  Transitions are harder as of course he sometimes thinks my praise means he gets his toy.  But we're working on doing his personal play as a reward and I am trying hard to make sure that it's actually some what fun even if it pails in comparison to his jackpot.

Actual release to the jackpot is something I'm still figuring out with him.  Currently, I'm requiring Vito to move with me to the exit of the ring and he's not allowed to spring there on his own.  I put on the leash and at this point I'm leaving him in a sit while I grab the reward and bring it to him.  I'm still wanting to the actual jackpot to be done inside the ring at this point.

6. The exercises themselves
Other than some training with Vito's food inside the house, he has extremely little training on the obedience exercises themselves.  Seriously.  ALL of our work at the obedience club and in other locations has been on engagement with me and monitored through heeling.  I chose heeling because it is the staple of obedience, easiest to judge his focus level as it requires 100%, easiest to apply little games to and smoothly transition back, and I just love it.

Now Vito has had an introduction to every single obedience exercise since he was a puppy.  He has not been trained to proficiency, but at least knows what I'm asking for.  Utility exercises are the weakest as they require the most confidence.

It's only in the last month or so that I've actually been stepping up his obedience training at home and actually doing some at the club.  The reason that I wanted to wait until now to bring it back is because the root of our problem had nothing to do with the obedience exercises themselves.  Attitude first, precision second.  I also knew that re-focusing on the exercises is drastically increasing the number of rewards he is getting during his obedience training and I didn't want to fall back into the huge hole I dug earlier.  So now when we're away from home but in a well known location, I focus first on jackpot style training, and then fall back on bringing the rewards in the ring for the other exercises.  So much fun to get back to it!


Vito CDSP Obedience

Vito had a full weekend!  After doing agility Friday and Saturday we headed over to a CDSP obedience trial on Sunday.

I didn't pre enter the show since I was waiting to see what the setup would be like with the concurrent UKC obedience and rally trial going on.  The facility is always really crowded, the corner ring has 2 shared ring sides and often has a very crowded entrance.  I was happy to see that the CDSP runs were in the west ring, even though the warm up ring was sadly being used for UKC.  Gave it a shot and entered Open C with the Toller.

Really pleased that Vito did a fabulous ring entry!  It actually got very crowded as we were waiting to go in the ring and there was a bit of a delay as I forgot that the judge would need to brief the stewards on the change in order from the A dogs.  Vito did nice in his waiting pose and bursted right out of it for some small hand touches when asked.  He even did some little grumbly talk to me :)

Kept up attitude as we headed to the middle for the mini go out.  All transitions between exercises he kept focus and his only moments of looking at the judge were quick glances while waiting to start heeling.  Not wanting to jump for hand touches but he was still happy to jump on me as I backed up.  I gave him one treat after the 3rd exercise so that he wouldn't focus on the judge coming to grab the dumbbell.

So nice run, but NQ on the drop on recall.  I'm not sure why he suddenly stood up and walked a few steps towards me.  Awards were going on in the next ring but he didn't seem to be focusing on them.  I would love a little more energy on the exercises, but am still very pleased on what he gave me!

I have also taken the big step and actually entered Vito in an AKC obedience trial coming up early March!  Our re entry back since his novice title back in 2010.  Entered Pre-Open so I don't have to worry about the stays.  I don't think Vito would have an issue with them, but since 100% of any dog line ups I can do I shove Lance in, it would be nice to actually practice them with Vito before he has to do it in a show.  Plus it's just one less thing I have to worry about.  Send lots of good thoughts our way that the Toller is actually ready for the AKC environment.   

Flash back to earning his novice title :)



USDAA trial at On the Run.

Gamblers- NQ
Decent happy Toller.  We did a nice fun little loop, doing his happy aframe twice.  I blanked and threw in a bonus cross on my way to the gamble that put me on the wrong side and thus forced a rear cross wrap.  But Vito actually did it and kept up speed!  We did not make the wrap up the dogwalk from the distance line.  I think only 2 dogs actually turned tight enough out of the tunnel.

Standard- Q

What fun course!!!  A backside and several wraps, stuff that I love to practice with Vito in working on collection to extension.  But not one that I really see being Happy Making for the Toller in a trial.  Starting with the weaves as second obstacle really slowed him down.  But after the weaves he really did well!  Hard to judge his speed, but Vito certainly was trying hard and didn't stay in collection after the wraps.  And of course he just loved the ending. I wish the video actually recorded!

Pairs- Q
Vito went second and had some decent speed.  We got a refusal as he ran right by the first jump coming out of a tunnel to a serpentine, but he was happy to fix it and weaves were much faster than in standard.

Gamblers- NQ
Sad Toller.  Started a bit worried about a young boy who was busy straightening the chute as we entered.  Thankfully he didn't react at all and had no problem taking that chute as my second obstacle.  I hard a really hard time trying to find a nice opening for Vito and ended up doing weave poles twice.  Any life he had was sucked right out of him.  We really didn't even try the gamble as he pretty much was crawling to a stop on the teeter so I ran with him.

Standard- Q
Much happier Toller.  Weird course where I could keep him on my right for 90% of the course as long as I ran ahead and did some pushes.  I can't say he ran full speed but he was certainly happy and trying hard.  We made it through the course no problem.

Pairs- E
I was so excited to be paired with fellow toller, Quantum!  She can get really worried sometimes, and other times be be brilliant, so we both knew anything could happen between the two neurotic dogs! Sadly though Miss Quantum decided to be worried.  The big delay at the start did not help her at all.  Vito got to go second and actually did a nice job.

I was really happy with how the trial went.  Not the fastest running Vito, but he kept his attitude up despite all the wraps and backsides that showed up.  In the past that definitely would have shut him down.  Another plus was his dogwalk seemed to come back to fuller speed.  No little extra strides thrown in so all were pretty well extended, and his last run he even skipped a stride!  Of course it helped that all exits were straight.

Several nice people agreed to video tape his runs, but sadly we seemed to be cursed with operation issues.  We did manage to get his last two runs of the weekend taped, standard and pairs:

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