Thursday, September 27, 2007

Next Venue in Agility

I have been thinking a lot about what venue to pursue next in agility after (and if) Wyatt gets his CPE championship (C-ATCH). With a toddler and with Wyatt being 5, we need to focus our limited time on one venue. I would like to pursue another championship with Wyatt. These views apply only to us as a team. I respect other people's choices on what venue they choose for their dog. Each venue has something to offer and we are blessed to have so many choices in agility.

One choice is to go for the next level of CPE Championship, the C-ATE. He might be the first whippet to do so, which would be cool. However, you have to go to tons of trials and it would not be any harder in terms of courses. Technically, the C-ATE requires all clean runs in Level C but Wyatt either gets a clean run or a NQ so for us, it would be the same courses and times. So I thinking that I would like to pursue something more challenging that would force me to improve my handling skills.

While AKC is popular for whippets, I just don't get the appeal myself. Runs cost twice as much as other venues ($25/run compared to $10 to $14 per run for other venues). Until the FAST class was created (which still is not offered much), there were no games and only 2 runs per day compared to 4-6 for other venues. Wyatt typically needs the first run of the day for "nerves". I don't like refusals. We don't usually get them on a qualifying run in other venues but it seems like double penalizing the dog since you lose time. I don't like the table in standard and the courses tend to be very tight and twisty which is not good for a long striding dog. In my experience, the atmosphere is one of the least friendly compared to other venues (even though there are many wonderful AKC competitors). I also never liked the fact that there are weaves in jumpers. I love jumpers because it only has jumps and tunnels. Why put a obstacle that slows the dog down in a jumpers course. Only AKC puts weaves in the jumpers game. Also, it can be very formal in terms of rules and I think it is silly that the judges were ties. The only advantages I see is that the Excellent courses are challenging and other whippet people have some knowledge of AKC titles and what they mean.

DOCNA seems cool but there are very few trials in our area right now.

USDAA is a good venue but I have a problem with their jump heights. Wyatt would have to jump 26 inches to be in the Championship program. I do not believe this is a safe height for my dog. That is a full 6 inches higher than he would have to jump in any other venue. This appears to be a problem for many dogs who are close to the cutoff. Wyatt is about 21 3/4 and the cutoff is 21 inches. As soon as I express this concern, folks suggest I do performance but I don't feel that I should have to be in the second tier program to perform safely. While I am not suggested performance is easy by any means, I want to pursue the championship for the best dogs as Wyatt is an exceptional agility dog. Many USDAA people don't agree that Performance is second tier or a veterans type class but there are reasons I think that way.

From the USDAA web site:

The Championship Program jumping height classes were developed to be congruous with international standards demonstrating the highest standard in training and performance, fully revealing the dynamics of canine performance capabilities. Time has proven that these jump heights provide both a fair and safe competitive environment when a dog is trained properly.

The Performance Program was developed for recreational competition purposes, placing less emphasis on demonstrating the agility of the dog. This program offers lower jumping heights for dogs, more generous time constraints on course, and a lower A-frame for all height classes that requires less strength and muscular control to perform.

I do not believe that the championship heights are safe as they claim and the wording about Performance being "recreational" is off putting to me. Also the equivalent of a championship for a Perfomance Dog is called "Accomplished Agility Dog". The word champion is nowhere in the title.

That leaves NADAC. I like a lot of things about NADAC. The courses are open and flowing which is good for dogs, especially long striding dogs. There is no table in standard. The distance challenge in regular (standard) force the handler to be good at distance work. Chances and tunnellers also force you to be good at distance. The times are very tough in the proficient class. Any bobble and you don't make time in elite. Times in Elite are harder than USDAA. (I calculated this using a typical course length and including 5 second for the table in USDAA). There are 5 or 6 runs per day and many trials have 2 regular classes a day. Someone I know claimed NADAC was easy because you could get a regular title in a weekend. While it may be possible at Novice, it would be very difficult in Elite and just because there are 4 runs in weekend in regular, that does not make the title easier to get. You still have to get 3 qualifying runs. NADAC is the only venue (DOCNA may as well) that allows training in the ring. While you don't qualify, this allows you to correct problems in the trial setting. Wyatt has had many trial only issues (most notably contacts) so this is a huge plus for us. We still don't have reliable trial contacts so NADAC is really the ideal venue for us as we can develop reliable trial contacts. I finally figured out how to steer him really well and avoid off courses so he will be unstopable with reliable contacts. NADAC seems to be the best venue for us in many ways.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

OB Update

Wyatt is now showing rock solid sits for one minute out of sight.

He is really motivated for obedience right now. I think Open will be easy if the stays hold (famous last words no doubt).

Last night, he was whining and barking to start scent discrim. He can't wait to get that article. How many dogs would do that?

Gloves are looking real good though I am still working on the left turn for one of the far gloves.

We are entered in CPE this weekend for 2 standards a day only. Still need 5 standard Q's for his C-ATCH.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Vexing Contacts

We had a pretty good weekend at the CATS CPE trial but we are still having some vexing contact issues at trials. The good news is that we had great weaves and no off courses. I seem to have finally figured out how to steer Wyatt so he does not go off course. It seems to be a matter of anticipating the off courses, planning for them, and giving cues in time so he knows where to go. There were tons of weaves (including 3 in Wildcard yesterday) and also a set of 12 yesterday in standard. I had to restart weaves only once and he did not pop out once. However, the dogwalk contacts were vexing us. We had a great standard run Saturday be missed the dogwalk contact. I had thought after last weekend (we had a perfect day Sunday with 5 Q's and no missed contacts) that looking at him and maintaining eye contact would cause him to stop but, while this seemed to help, it was not the magic bullet that I thought it would be. He seems to be wound tightly at trials so that any little thing will cause a premature contact release. Also, he got way ahead of me on the dogwalk at times so I was not there to give eye contact. At home and at class, he does a totally independent 2 on 2 off no matter what I do or where I am and I do not even have to look at him. Sunday, I used jackpot to do 2 dogwalks and got both of them but he still missing the contact in standard. We had a great jackpot run and he was one of very few dogs to even get to a dogwalk some 15 feet from the tape but he stalled up there above the yellow zone and I had to move in to get him moving again. The good news is when everything is working for us, he is fantastic. We got 2 level C Q's Saturday and 2 firsts in Snooker and Colors and 3 level Qs Sunday in Snooker, Wildcard, and Jumpers with 2 firsts and a 3rd in Snookers. See the link below for a video of our jumpers run.

I am thinking of trying some more creative ways to put some stress on him at class such as having the instructor act crazy and standing near the contact, putting crated dogs near the contact, or scattering toys around the contact. We are 5 Q's from our CPE C-ATCH and will probably focus on NADAC next where I can redo contacts but if anyone has any advice I would appreciate it.

-- John Heffernan

Whippet Wyatt of Dodge City, CD, RE, SC, NA, NAJ, OAC, EJC, OCC, TN-O, TG-N, WV-N, CL4-R, CL5-HSF, CGC “Wyatt”
Whippet AWC Triathlon Winner C-ATCH Ch Seaspell’s Concord Point, CAV, CD, SC, OA, OAJ, RN, CR, OTR, NJC, NAC, TG-N, CGC “Patriot”

Friday, September 14, 2007

Wyatt Wins Big Buck in Obedience

Wyatt did great at Tibby Chase's open/utility drop in class last night. He actually won a dollar.

Tibby has tons of great ideas I have never seen from anyone else. She put a dollar down on the floor and the person who dropped their dog (as in the open drop on recall) closest to the dollar won the dollar. Wyatt was second to last and before that, the closest dog was about a foot away. When our turn came, I made sure the dollar was in the direct line between me and Wyatt. He was doing very ncie drops all night and I had a good sense of how far he was moving forward before dropping (not very far). Anyway, I dropped him right on the dollar. We beat a cattle dog, a golden, and an Aussie, and bunch of other dogs. That was fun. He also sat solidly for 3 minutes with me across the ring. Next step is start working out of sight. I also did some good proofing with scent discrim. He is having trouble sometimes with one dumbell on an outside corner, which was not part of the Around the Clock method. We did a lot of proofing with drop on recall. Wyatt was not distracted except when offered food by someone close to where he dropped, which was not too surprising. Tibby said we have to get that sit problem fixed because he is very ready to earn his CDX. That was good to hear. Wyatt has become such a good boy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Whipet Results from CPE This Weekend

Whippets Shine at Connecticut CPE Agility Trial
November 8-9 2007 – John Heffernan

Whippets shined this weekend at the SCAT CPE agility trial in Southington, CT despite the record temperatures and humidity. Sharon Dunston and Gypsy finished their level 1 CPE title. They make a nice team with good speed and focus. Paula Milnes and Mini-Me (love that name) also did well at their first ever agility trial and received at least one level 1 qualifying score (Q) that I saw. Mini-Me also showed good speed in the Colors run I witnessed. Danielle Gregoire and Webster also had a good weekend and had at least one Q in Jackpot Friday night. I was amazed at the improvement Webster showed this weekend. It does take some of our whippets quite a while to get used to the stimulating environment at an agility trial. Webster stayed very focused during the entire standard run I had the pleasure of observing.

Veteran CPE whippets Wyatt and Patriot were run by John Heffernan, while wife Dawn vacationed on Cape Cod with their son Aidan. Dawn usually runs Patriot who earned his CPE agility championship last February. Wyatt did very well in the heat Saturday, staying fast and motivated all day. He got a first and Q in level C (Championship) jumpers, a 2nd place and Q in level C Snooker, and a first and Q in Level C Colors but had contact issues all day. Patriot had a Q and a 4th in Level C jumpers and a Q in level C colors before succumbing to the heat.

Wyatt, Patriot, and John had a perfect day on Sunday having clean, qualifying runs in 9 classes they entered. Wyatt received 5 Qs earning 2 firsts and 2 seconds while Patriot earned a second, 2 thirds, and a fourth place. They ran in the championship level in all classes except for Wyatt’s standard classes. His level 5 standard Q means that he has earned 5 level 5 Qs and needs only 5 more for his CPE Agility Championship. John reports that he had a breakthrough day - finally figuring out how to get reliable contacts at trials. While Wyatt does a perfect, independent 2 on, 2 off contact at home, John finally figured out that Wyatt needs more support at trials. He requires eye contact at trials during the contacts even though John does not look at him during the contacts at home. In combination with increased ability to steer this very fast and motivated dog, getting reliable contacts resulted in Wyatt’s first perfect day in agility. Patriot also qualified with in his 4 runs. John was thrilled to have perfect days with both his whippets.

[I will write another post about Wyatt's progress next.]

Friday, September 07, 2007

Proofing Jump on Retrieve

We had a really good class with Tibby Chase last night. It is a open/utility drop in class. Wyatt did great. He had a few problems during heeling run through. I beleive there was cheese on the floor in a few places. But he caught back up and did well besides that. After that, Tibby has the idea of putting leashes, white, small paper plates, and chalk marks all over the mats. The dogs had a hard time with the first try but really adjusted quickly. I think Wyatt thought maybe it was some kind of weird scent disrimination first. The second and third times, he cruised right over the jump and cruised right back. His speed is great right now. Broad jump as also great as was drop on recall. Tibby had us practice coming into the ring. Great idea. So we figured out when and where to put our dumbbell and practised maintaing contact with your dog as you take off the leash and set up. This was really good for me as I sometimes get frazzled and lose contact and start even when we are not ready! I proofed some scent discrim after class and Wyatt was flawless and did about 10 in a row. This is good because he tends to get the wrong article sometimes "on the road". He also sat for 3 minutes rock solid with other dog and with me 6 feet away off leash so that was great too.

A very inspiring class. Tibby also sees the good and the progress in what happens even though she is also realistic and not a pollyanna...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Scent Discrimination Retry

I noticed something interesting with Wyatt last week. We were practicing scent discrimination. Wyatt picked up the incorrect article. He came about 1/2 way back to me, then decided to go back and get the correct article. I could swear that I did not move or utter a sound. Did I somehow cue him that he had the wrong article? Or did he change his mind and decide to go back on his own? In either case, I am amazed...