'/> The PR Gang: 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Holidays

The end of 2007 has come barreling to a close. Way too fast for all of us and I have been negligent about keeping up. Note to self: keep blog updated in 2008.
That said, we would like to wish
all of you a Happy, Healthy and Successful New Year. Bring it on 2008!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Excel Bleau's Rock Star RN

Roxy has her first title!! The RN after her name stands for Rally Novice. Novice is the first level of Rally Obedience and 3 qualifying runs(legs) are necessary for the title.
We got our second and third qualifying legs at the Ponce Kennel Club show on first weekend of December. We're thrilled to say the least!
The first day I was feeling quite nervous on the way to the show. We got there quite early as I wasn't sure where the parking would be and where I was going to set up. I ended up going in to the ring nearly 4 hours later! Roxy was not a happy camper. She was tired, hot and bored. I had done a bit of warm up several times during the lead up to our class and in between let her lie down in her kennel or on a blanket near the car. Even though this is theoretically resting, it's really not since a show environment is still quite new to Roxy.
I helped set up several of the Rally courses and was even permitted to walk the Advanced course just to get a feel for what's to come. After walking the novice course, I felt ready and Roxy was paying attention to me although still on high alert for anything "scary". We were the last to go in our class.
The course started with the serpentine which I thought was great for us. Interesting, because you're moving but not in a straight line. Everything was going fine until we got to the "call front, 1,2,3 steps back". She came to the front but was more interested in the dogs sitting behind us so she was not well prepared for the steps. I decided to take a re-try which she flubbed and on my second re-try she decided, after I called her name quite sternly, that I must have REALLY wanted her attention so she stood up and put her paws on my shoulders. UHG! I thought that was it. I looked at the judge because I thought I was going to be excused. All she said was, "Continue on", so on we went. We finished the rest of the course with no major incidents but Roxy's mind was not on the job. She was extremely slow to respond but I kept at it and tried to smile and encourage her. We ended up qualifying with a score of 83. I was happy for a "Q" but I knew she could do much better.
The following day I wanted to arrive later so we didn't have to hang around so long. It was a photo-finish in all senses. They were already on my class when I arrived and went to the ring to check on the progress of the day. I ran back to the car to change clothes really fast. I grabbed a few treats, slipped Roxy's leash on and we ran over to the ring. We were up next!! I tried to be calm as I did a few quick sits and finishes, quickly looked at a few numbers on the stations and dumped the rest of my treats on the ground next to some spare jumps. We qualified again with a score of 85. It was not a beautiful run but Roxy was paying attention much better than the day before and she did seem to be thinking.
That was it, three qualifying scores, we had our first title!! I certainly won't arrive that late again but I have learned that Roxy is a "Get it done" kind of dog.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Three Dane Household

For the past couple of weeks we've been working hard and playing harder! Our friend Huey was staying with us for a week. Roxy and Lilly are quite besotted with him. Easy to see why, he's a handsome guy!

Huey is very gregarious and a good influence on Roxy who tends to be fear aggressive in new situations. We did a lot of walking around town and had a good amount of play time on the grounds of El Morro and San Cristobal. Whenever people wanted to meet the dogs, which is all the time, I let them say "Hi" to Huey first and then Roxy could see that there was nothing to fear and she warmed right up to the new person. Thanks Huey!

Not being wary of new things enables Roxy to pay more attention to me instead of worrying about what some person or another dog is going to do. Today we had a major breakthrough in this department. As we were running through the park another dog about 50 feet away started barking like crazy at us. Roxy looked, I said her name and she looked back at me straight away!!! Hallelujah! I gave her one a piece of hot dog(big favorite) and we ran on with me telling her how good she was and acting really silly. She loves the silliness so she keeps looking at me to see what I'll do next. I'm sure we look crazy but who cares.

Recently I've started to think about getting ready for a 10K run/walk which is in February. I walked last year but I want to improve my time so I've slowly started running more. What the point of doing it if you're not going to do better, right?! The dogs love this. I guess it's just more interesting plus I make all sorts of changes of directions and circles so they have to pay attention. I play a heeling game which is fun. Every so often I drop a treat on the ground. The dog goes for the treat and looks for more. Since they know I have the treats they come back to me. When they get to heel position, or at least near, I give another treat. This shows them it's OK to look around but they have to check in with me, so to speak. Easy and fun.

This weekend we have another show. It's the last show of the season. Things may go differently as this is an outdoor show. Hopefully that means all the people and dogs will not be quite so close to the ring which is extremely distracting. We have checked out the show site and are as ready as we can be. A couple more days to practice and a little praying to the Attention Gods will wrap up the week.

Until then....Train, don't complain!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Out and About

Since our amazingly fabulous and at the same time disappointing debut at our first competition we've gone back some some basics in our training. Because of Roxy's trepidation in performing with lots of people and dogs around the ring as well as reactive issues, I decided we needed to do some more socializing, sloooowly. Besides our usual walks around Old San Juan, we've been to a new park, a couple of mall parking lots and to Ponce, on the south side of the island, to check out the grounds for the next show. I need to have Roxy's attention on ME no matter what the circumstances.
Practicing maneuvers with various distractions is called proofing. I had fallen in to a false sense of security in my training because the majority was done in my house and at a park near my house. These are comfortable places for us. We know the surroundings, the people and the dogs that may show up and it's easy to ignore what we see everyday. When we get to a new place, Roxy's head goes up, the ears are pricked and attentive, eyes wide and alert and her brain is going at hyperspeed. WOW!!! JUST LOOK AT ALL THIS! I'm obviously not nearly as exciting as that smell over there, those people having a picnic, that person in the big scary hat or that disgusting piece of trash. So what am I, the handler, supposed to do? And how do I compete with all this? Luckily Roxy is food and toy motivated, although not so much that if something is really freaking her out that she'll look to me for advice. We've had to work slowly on this and at quite some distance. I use really yummy(for her)treats and toys. She loves a good game of fetch and jumping up to catch things. If I whip out a toy that she loves and get very excited about it, it's contagious. She then focuses on me and what I have in my hand rather than whatever else has caught her attention.
I've read a couple of good books lately of which one in particular has been very helpful. It's called Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt. Leslie is a behaviorist and the book is aimed at agility dogs but the principle can be used with any type of reactive dog. Some of the stuff at the beginning is a little New-Age-y for me but hey, whatever works.
As far as actual Rally moves, of which there are 31 signs for Novice, we've been working mostly on heeling skills, tighter turns(especially left) and the Down-walk around dog. Roxy tends to sit up when I get behind her. I 'm guessing this is because she can see me easier and also really wants that treat! I'd say we've got about a 50% success rate right now. I started out telling her to stay in the down position and putting a few treats right in front of her. Then each time I walk a little further around her. Sometimes I stop by her hindquarters and come back, other times I move out away from her. I continue to change it around because she tends to get bored. YO! Mom, I did it twice already. What MORE do you want?!
After a long, very exciting weekend on the other side of the island we had a couple of rest days in our own comfortable surroundings and are ready for more adventure in the next couple of weeks leading up to a show on the first weekend of December.
So that's what's happening on my little island. Until next time, Train, don't complain!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

First Time Out

It’s been 10 days since I've given you an update and since then we've also been to our first show. I'm not going to tell you what happened yet so keep reading all the way to the end. Have to have a build up you know!
After the fun match we went back to some basics and worked quite a bit on distractions. I live in the historic district of Old San Juan so we've always got a lot going on in the city. There are always lots of tourists as well as locals and of course plenty of dogs, some with homes and some without. I decided to do more training around town instead of just at the park. We walked around town doing sits, about turns, 360's, recalls and all sorts of stuff. Must have been a site to see! I probably looked like a crazy woman not knowing where she was going. I started out with some really good treats, Roxy loves chicken, and off we went. Simple sits were really easy but I did them a lot just to make sure she was always paying attention to me. Changes of direction are helpful too since your dog really doesn't want to bump in to you and it keeps things interesting. If it gets dull, Roxy completely shuts down, there are many more exciting things to see, sniff, eat etc. She finished up the week really well and I was much more confident about her attention span with more people around.
An important detail in Rally is footwork, the handlers’ footwork. I found it helpful to practice moves at home without the dog. Danes are so big you can give a lot of clues to your next move by your body language as well. For example, it you're going to turn left, look to the left and start to turn your shoulders as well. This gives your dog a cue before you actually make the turn. Your hands are important too. Where am I going to put my hands for the finish left or right? It's something you have to experiment with on your own dog to see what works for you both.
During the lead up to the show, which started on a Thursday, we also went to an actual Rally class run by a trainer friend of mine. We got to run through a whole course several times which was great practice. Roxy had never been to a show before and hadn’t been back to school since puppy class so I was anxious to see her reaction to lots of dogs and people milling around. She was a little edgy at first and really wanted to always be in sight of her good friend Huey, a brindle Dane. Once she got used to the surroundings she was Ok and I was really pleased with her performance on the course. I used treats since this was just a practice run and I wanted her to have fun. In actual competition you can’t bring anything like food or toys in to the ring but you can talk all you want to your dog. Some people actually promise “cookies!” to the dog. Whatever works!
The first day of the show, we arrived fairly early so Roxy could have a chance to check out the whole scene. It was a small basketball coliseum and it was packed. We headed upstairs to the second level to set up our crate and the rest of the gear. This is one disadvantage of having such a large dog; I could have put several smaller dogs and their crates in to the space it took for just us! However, saying that, it turned out advantageous because we were looking out over all three rings and also had room to warm up without bumping in to people and their dogs.
Since this was our first show and I have never put an AKC obedience title on another dog, we were entered in Novice A. Novice A and B were the same course so all the competitors walked the course at the same time. I was fairly confident that we were ready and I knew that Roxy knew how to do everything. We were the first team to go in Novice A. The judge asked if we were ready and then said, “Forward”. We were on our own now to negotiate 14 stations. Roxy was paying attention nicely although I did have a retry at the third station. A retry is a deduction of 3 points and you’re allowed two retries per station. I didn’t get flustered and she did it perfectly on the retry. She was really looking at me and doing so great I’m sure my heart was pounding. I kept telling her she was doing great and we finished with what I thought was a very solid first run. Guess what? It was good enough for a score of 95 out of a possible 100 and we won first place. Our first qualifying leg to the title and I was over the moon. Roxy’s friend Huey finished a very decent round also and was second. We had our picture taken with the judge and he congratulated us on our first ever Rally run. We had three more days to show and we needed two more qualifying scored to receive the title of RN, Rally Novice. I was so psyched!

Sadly, it was not to be. Each successive day, there were more people and more dogs. Roxy seemed to take it all in stride and warmed up each day doing exactly as we had practiced. Every day we entered the ring she was so distracted by what was going on outside the ring she just couldn’t pay attention. After Saturday, which was the second day we did not qualify, I was almost in tears. Why had she performed so well the first day and then totally spaced out the next two days?
On Sunday night after another non-qualifying day, I received an email with two photos from the first day. They were our winning photos. Proudly I showed them to my husband and son who were not there to see the win. It was only when my son commented, “Look Mom, there’s no one around the ring”, that I realized however much we had trained; none of it had been in such a busy atmosphere as a show. Roxy simply could not concentrate with so much going on.
We’re headed back to Rally class this week and will continue to work with distractions so I can learn to be a better handler and Roxy can learn that Mom is best!
So that’s what’s happening on our little island. Until next week, Train, don’t complain.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Getting Started

Rally, also called RallyO or Rally Obedience is a relatively new sport. It was officially accepted by the AKC and competitions began in January 2005. According to the AKC, it's their stepping stone from the CGC(Canine Good Citizen) to traditional Obedience and Agility.
In Rally classes(competition)the team of dog and handler move continuously and perform the exercises indicated by a sign at each location. After the judges "Forward" command, the team is on its own to complete the entire sequence correctly. Unlimited communication from the handler to the dog is encouraged and not to be penalized. So, you see, there's a difference right there from traditional obedience. You can TALK to your dog. Isn't this something we all do with our dogs? It's the most common way of teaching your dog.

There are 3 levels of of Rally: Novice, Advanced and Excellent. Novice is done on leash and includes 10-15 stations, while Advanced and Excellent are off leash and involve more difficult exercises as well as more stations including a vertical and/or broad jump.
You can read more about Rally, including regulations and search for shows here:
Getting started in AKC Rally
The reason I'm talking to you about Rally is because I'm just getting started and thought it would be fun to let you all see, firsthand, how my preparations are going. Could be more of a laugh but we're having fun.
At a friend of mines insistence(you're gonna pay S.)I've entered my first Rally trial to be held next week. I've been keeping a log for the past 3 weeks of what I've worked on every day and how Roxy(my 2 yr old Great Dane)is progressing. Since we've had no formal training in Rally and only basic obedience, I've been doing a LOT of reading, internet searching and forum chatting with Rally people to get myself informed and hopefully, adequately prepared.

Last night we attended a fun match put on by a local club. Now, for Mr. No Dog Experience Spectator, you would have seen my round as a disaster. But for me and Roxy it was a great learning experience. She has a big strike against her in that she is not at all used to being around lots of people and dogs, so EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING, was very new and exciting. She did very well warming up outside the ring but decided that once in the ring it was much more interesting elsewhere and was very unfocused on me. No problem, the judge knew we were inexperienced and was very nice. This was an obedience class, not rally, but I talked Roxy through it anyway. It's only practice, right?! On a high note, I ran in to a trainer friend of mine who offered to let me do a run through of a real Rally class on Monday night. YIPPEE!

So that's what's happening on my little island. I'll be keeping you updated weekly on our progress. Until then, Train, don't complain.