Both Halves of Rain Do Great at Agility: Weekly Agility Report

Rain recently became an AKC registered dog, so she’s now technically co-owned by my mom and me. We’ve decided that I own Rain’s front half (the noisy half)…

Whereas my mom owns this half…

That’s the half that recently had some trouble when Rain was gassy, having bathroom problems, and wasn’t very hungry for a few days. (When Rain doesn’t know if she wants food, you KNOW there’s something wrong!)

Fortunately Rain was right as herself by agility day though, so both halves went to class and had a swell time. A swell time kicking around the gigantic, chest-high puddle in the park, for one.

(Why does she choose to go swimming when we’re just about to get back in the car? Beats me.)

She had a swell time in class too, and was far less barky than last week. Our course was relatively simple but there were a couple of challenges that had tripped up the class before ours. Rain and I went first. I think there was one time when Rain didn’t do a jump but came running to me instead—but the other few trip-ups were all me.

Apparently Molly was trying to get us to do the “go on” command more. Our most successful run, I thought, was when she suggested I never say “over” at all (that’s Rain’s cue for taking jumps straight on). I’m not certain, but it may have helped to verbalize less—perhaps because fewer parts of my brain needed to be firing at once? We all know that I’m the weakest link in our team but wouldn’t it be interesting if my brain didn’t short circuit as much if I could stay more silent when we run?

When we weren’t working I also started doing another mat activity/game with Rain, one that I think is a better choice than playing quarters on her back. Molly suggested I read about the protocol for relaxation and use it for Rain. I hadn’t read it yet, but knew some general concepts from a one-on-one we did with an Oregon Humane Society trainer a couple of years ago when I was originally looking for classes to take with Rain.

The concept goes like this: the dog sits quietly—treat. The dog lies down—treat. The dog kicks her hip to the side—treat. And so on. You’re rewarding the dog as they learn to chill out. During our one-on-one session, this game took Rain from being a pushy, interrupting mess to quietly waiting so we could talk within minutes.

So I guess that’s what I’ll be working on now—instead of making treats magically fall from heaven (NOT) I’ll start working on the relaxation game. Guess that means I’d better read more about it first!

We wrapped up class with some weave pole practice. Rain’s first run was pretty impressive—the channel was tight enough that Rain was starting to do a little wiggle as she passed through. This was huge! This was progress!

Before you know it, Rain’s going to be so adept at weaving that she’ll be making baskets.

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Playing Quarters on Rain’s Back: Weekly Agility Report

Agility resumed again after our holiday break, and this year it resumed a lot faster than last winter. (You may recall that weather both cancelled our reindeer games session and kept us from coming back until late January.) We did have some winter weather leading up to Christmas, but the weather has been pretty pleasant this year in comparison.

Naturally I had been working diligently on Rain’s car fear, right? NOPE! Much of the two weeks away from class we had some below-freezing temperatures with a lot of wind and I kept saying “um, maybe tomorrow” on standing outside in the wind while Rain ate her dinner until it was the day of class. Whoopsie!

Fortunately though, we’ve got a new routine which seems to be helping. It involves Rain wearing Uncle AtticusThundershirt (which is too big for her and I should replace), using some calming spray, and putting all our class materials in the car before I even bring Rain over from next door, where she stays when I’m at work.

We made it to the park for a few minutes of fun before class. Rain hadn’t had the chance to run like that in a couple of weeks, so she was a bit winded before we got to the arena. Even so, it was clear she was happy to be back to some of her favorite places.

Whether Rain was just excited to be back at class or she got a little overly tired from running at the park, I don’t know—but during our turns in class she seemed far more interested in barking at me than doing agility. So much that I don’t entirely remember what our exercises consisted of. I just remember Rain doing a lot of barking.

You’re late! This post should have been up Tuesday! No wonder you don’t remember!
Yeah, I know. It was a really busy week and until I got a chance to sit down and write I was certain I’d remember what we did in class. Sorry!

The good news is that when Rain comes back from a class break, she tends to be extra unruly for just one class. Then it’s back to work. So my suspicion is that she was just happy and excited to be back to class after mostly sitting around the house for two weeks.

During class this week I also discovered a new way of amusing myself: by playing a modified version of the game of quarters using Rain’s back.

Rain tends to be fussy in class when it’s not her turn to work. Early in our agility classes when Molly was teaching our dogs how to stay in their place/on their mat, she introduced the idea that when the dog is on their mat treats could magically appear from heaven. In other words, when the dog is on her mat food is given. (Let’s be honest—there’s no way Rain doesn’t know it’s coming from me.)

So now Rain basically expects regular treat distribution when she’s on her mat. Attempting to make treats magically appear from heaven is difficult, but I started throwing them on her so there might be a chance they’d land more randomly.

Before I knew it, there was a specific spot on her back where the treats were getting stuck. Rain would see my hand move, but when there was no treat ker-plinking down on her mat, she was mystified. O_O

It was an amusing way for me to spend the hour, anyway. 😀

After class we showed Molly our new cool weave pole set, as it was easy to bring along thanks to the travel-friendly design and carrying bag. Rain looked at me sternly—I knew she was expecting a little more fetch in the back pens before we headed home. Even though it was already dark. Rain got even more barking out of her system while playing fetch and soon we were on our way home.

Rain’s Christmas Haul

Rain got a rockin’ set of practice agility weaves for Christmas, so we can start working at home on her weave pole skillz!

It was my intention to get her some weave poles soon because we really, really need to be able to practice at home. In December I found out about a woman selling some weaves near us, but after a consult with Molly I learned the distance between the poles was pretty important, but the ones up for grabs just wouldn’t cut it.

After that I decided to get the traveling set I had seen on the Clean Run website: Handler’s Choice Training Weave Poles. Cue Murphy’s Law: the next time I visited the site there was a big red notice saying the product was currently unavailable from the manufacturer. D’oh!

So opening a long box for Rain on Christmas morning, it was great to see a set of weave poles that looked identical to the ones I had my eye on for so long. We eventually pieced together that it was indeed the same product.

Now that we can practice weave pole work at home, I’m also likely to start trying to do what’s called the 2×2 method. In class Molly has taught us using the channel weave method. I’ve heard elsewhere that the 2×2 method is much faster. Molly has confirmed this when asked, noting that it’s nearly impossible to do the 2×2 method in a class setting.

Molly has also been curious about the set of weaves I had my eye on, so now we’ll get to make some fun discoveries together! The set collapses into a travel bag, so we can even take it to class sometime. There’s also a set of stakes for us to anchor it into the ground once the weather outside is nice enough to consider practicing out there.

Of course Rain got some other fun Christmas presents too—an upcycled fleece toy made in Portland, a squeaky latex chicken named Henrietta, and lots of time with her people. (Let’s be honest—she’ll probably also try to steal Roy’s new catnip toys too.)

Now that the holidays are almost in the rear view mirror, we’ll start getting to work on our weave pole skills. Rain’s a lucky dog to have gotten such a cool gift!

Mindy: A Year Later

If you’re a regular RitF reader, you may remember meeting Mindy last December. Her “gotcha” day was December 19, 2016. Perhaps you’ve been wondering whatever became of Mindy, and why she has barely had a mention on Rain in the Forecast since her introduction.

Mindy has a good life—she loves both my parents and even gets to go to work with my mom most days.

Oh—and her hair has been cut from the maintenance-heavy coat she had when she first joined the family. Her long coat was stained, and other evidence suggested that she wasn’t taken care of ideally before we adopted her. Chopping off much of her hair was the better choice at the time. My mom has had a challenge learning how to maintain a new kind of dog coat (we’ve had Aussies almost exclusively since I was born) so Mindy’s coat remains fairly short.

Mindy and my parents are quite enthralled with each other but it turns out that outside her immediate family Mindy is pretty timid. In her world, I’m not in her immediate family! Even though I make several appearances a day, I’m a stranger to Mindy so she has barely warmed up to me in the year she has been living in her new home. Rain does a lot of “yay, it’s time to go home” barking when I show up too, which probably doesn’t help.

Recently my parents decided to leave Mindy with me when they went out for about an hour. Not long after they left, she did a nervous poop on my living room floor and looked at me disapprovingly for several minutes after they left:

She eventually relaxed a little and started enjoying the warmth of my lap. She normally shirks from me at any sign I might be reaching for her, but by the end of this doggysitting session she was willing to jump on my lap a couple times after plenty of coaxing. She looked more relaxed too.

Of course once my parents took her home she started shirking from me again, but I’ve noticed that she’s now more willing to put her paws on my legs or grab a toy out of my hand.

Even though I bought Mindy her own toys for Christmas, Mindy was having fun trying to steal Rain’s toys. They were having fun together, and it’s progress.

So even though Mindy doesn’t make a lot of appearances on Rain in the Forecast, she’s doing well in her own timid lap-dog sort of way.

Reindeer Games: Weekly Agility Report

It was the class we had been looking forward to for weeks: time to play reindeer games before the holidays!

Our last agility class before winter break each year is dedicated to reindeer games rather than the usual agility fare. This year Rain and I got the full reindeer games experience, since last December our class was cancelled due to some amazing weather and the December before that I was asked to join a different class (with a slightly different format) because neither of our then-classmates would be able to make it.

We paired up into teams at the beginning of class and came up with a team name. Rain and I were paired with the new person and her blue merle Australian cattle dog, so we decided we were Blue Christmas. Linda and Jackie were paired up and decided they were AriAngels.

THE BACK-UP CHALLENGE

The contest was to see whose dog could back up the furthest away from their person, and a line was drawn on the arena floor where the person’s feet could not pass for this exercise.

In the weeks leading up to this class, I had a feeling Molly would use this one again! We had done this one two years ago when we sat in with the other class. This time I tried Molly’s suggestion of backing the dog up well before the line, so they’d sort of get a running start.

This challenge tends to be won by bigger dogs—when we last did this challenge, one of the Bernese mountain dogs in that class won. In our class, Poppy won, who is also the biggest dog in our class.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE RELAY

Our dog’s leash had to be in the same hand as the “Christmas tree” (a small cone with a tennis ball balanced on top, above), and we had to serpentine our way down to the end weaving through some jump wings. At the end we were supposed to put our “Christmas tree” down, have our dog stay on a piece of carpet, pick up a total of three poop bags filled with sand and toss them into a tire on the ground. Then we’d get our dog off the mat and serpentine back with our “Christmas tree” in the same hand as our leash.

Since this was the first group event of the session, I made a serious error by forgetting that “relay” means the teammate is waiting and ready to go when their teammate completes their portion! Not only was I not ready and waiting, but Rain was secured to the wall and I was probably doing the equivalent of staring off into space.

Fortunately we still won the race despite my cluelessness. Once we were ready Rain and I trucked through the course. We were allowed to use treats, so I used one to keep Rain steady as we walked steadily through the serpentine section, and all the other bits fell together without incident, including the poop bag toss. One, two, three, right into the tire.

THE TAIL WAG CHALLENGE

When Molly announced this one, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “NO FAIR!” half-jokingly. Aussies don’t have tails, after all! But we still had a stub to watch wiggle, and Aussies are known as wigglebutts. We had 30 seconds to get our dog to wag his/her tail as much as possible, and our teammate would count the number of wags.

(This is still pretty tough, as Rain moves around a lot and so a good vantage point on her stub can be fleeting.)

I decided to have Rain start by kissing my face as much as she wanted, which I know makes her happy and wiggly. Once that excitement started wearing off, I don’t remember what I did but we still had enough counted wags to win the match-up against Aria.

TUNNELS AND JUMPS 

This game was held in a part of the arena that held a group of tunnels and jumps in the vicinity of each other. We were given a start point and had to guide our dog to do as many tunnels and jumps as we could in 20 seconds. The only rules were, a specific tunnel was one-way only and we couldn’t do two tunnels or two jumps in a row. If we did one of those, we’d be disqualified.

Rain got really barky during this game (which usually hurts her focus/time), but between us we still won the round. 🙂

REINDEER AGILITY RELAY

A short pair of courses would be run as a relay in the same area that we had done the tunnels and jumps game. We all walked the course and determined among our team who would do the blue cones (first) and who would do the yellow (second).

One detail: the handler running would sport a pair of reindeer antlers while running, and would need to hand them off to their teammate in order to pass the metaphorical baton.

Before we started I reminded the group—clearly for my own benefit—that a relay means that the teammate should be right there ready to go when the first one is done. AHEM. Rain and I did the blue cones though, so we were the very first team up.

The course was short, only about six obstacles that were all jumps and tunnels. Even so, there was an opportunity for a little fancy handlin’ (I’m not entirely sure if it was a rear cross or front cross) and that’s how I did it. When we were done, Molly and some others remarked about how smooth we looked. 😎

PAUSE TABLE CHALLENGE

This was our final game, and the level of fun seemed largely dependent on how well the dog was at staying on the pause table. That is to say, those of us on Blue Christmas thought it was a fun, easy game, while the team members of AriAngels weren’t as into it. (See a video compilation here—Rain and I are at the very end!)

We began by sending our dog to the pause table where they could sit, lie, or stand, as long as they stayed put. The handler walked to a series of three stations, each further away from the table with their dog, and completed a task. At the first station, only about ten feet from the dog, the handler sang the first line of “Jingle Bells.” At the second station (another teh feet away) the handler mimed putting three ornaments up on their invisible Christmas tree. Then the handler was to run quickly to the third station, another ten feet away.

None of the dogs could last when their handler was running away so far from them, but each of the stations provided excellent “proofing” activities. Can a dog continue his stay when his handler is vocalizing? Can he stay when the handler’s arms are up in the air in a strange way? I’m proud to say that Rain held out the longest, but finally broke when I ran away from her.

After the reindeer games were over we all got a prize to take home: a roll of poop bags with a festive holiday ribbon! We were also invited to take one of the jingle bell collars Molly had ordered to give out to her students, but they were sized more for cats than large dogs and Rain was already wearing her jingle bell collar for class. We took the collar home and put it on Roy, who did not seem to be amused.

We’re now on holiday break until January 5th, assuming the weather cooperates better than it did last year. I have hopes of working on some things with Rain at home over the break, but we’ll see how things pan out.

Focusing on Rear Cross Basics: Weekly Agility Report

We were running behind even before we left the house for agility this week. I had left work a little later than usual, and then when it was time to put Rain in the car a man walking down our street decided that I was talking to him when I was clearly not, and Rain’s barks were all in good fun instead of a sign to keep moving. It took several minutes after that to get Rain loaded back up to get on the road.

Arriving at the park before class, a group of people stood socializing in the field. Their dogs, which included a couple of Aussies, were running around and kept Rain and I from maximizing the few minutes we had before it would be time to proceed to class. One Aussie, a black tri named Dancer (as in “Dancer, NOOOO!”) ran right for Rain who was fetching a ball, and body slammed her. Nobody was hurt, but I suspect Dancer didn’t realize she’d bounce off Rain quite that soundly.

At any rate, it was a bit of a gauntlet getting to class.

Once we were at class, Rain and I walked around and got acclimated. Molly had realized that our class had been incorporating rear crosses without actually having done more basic rear cross work.

In other words…it was rear cross day at agility!

What’s a Rear Cross?

In its basic form, it means you cross your dog’s line of motion behind them.

We started with sending our dog into a tunnel and traveling in a diagonal behind them so we’d be on their opposite side when they re-emerged from the other end. The dogs can hear where we are, so they are aware of our movement even when their sight may be impaired a bit from being inside the tunnel.

Rain runs into an agility tunnel, her tailfeathers a blur

Of course we practiced both sides, switching from left to right and right to left, during our turn. One time I crossed behind Rain without any problem before she even made it into the tunnel.

We did another basic rear cross exercise once we cycled through everyone’s turn, this one involving jumps.

As we traveled to/from the platform to the part of the arena where exercises were set up, I used the opportunity to work Rain on her “feet” command. We’re working on getting her in the right spot regardless of whether I’m standing right next to her or not. She’s getting better at it! Slowly…

We also had the honor of having a visitor in class! You may recall seeing Flute, a cute little red merle, when she was a puppy. She’s now almost a year old and tearing it up in the agility ring! You may recall that Rain gets distracted and puts on a show when there’s an unusual dog in class, and cute little Flute was no exception. Fortunately I was able to warn Flute’s person before Rain ran over to them, barking loudly, as she got distracted during an exercise.

After class Flute and Marvel played in the pen next to us. Rain barked at them at first, but I could soon tell she wanted to go meet them and maybe join their puppy play. Since Rain had scared the bejeezus out of Flute’s person, I decided that we’d wait until the next opportunity with the puppies presented itself. Next time, Rain—next time.

And speaking of next time, next week we’ll be doing reindeer games in class! This is our last session before a holiday break, when Molly preempts our usual class fare and sets up fun challenges for us. I’ve got just the thing for Rain to wear during our last class before 2018!