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The perfectly imperfect puppy training blog, with Chispa and Daisy Peel

One year later

Fall Farm Dog

Going back and reviewing my videos, it seems that this time last year I was playing around with a mat as a foot target for the running dogwalk training. Here we are, a year later, doing some sequencing on the contacts. Nothing too fancy, other than working on dogwalk–>weaves, which is more of a weave pole problem than a dogwalk problem (although both have to be solid to pass muster!).

Timing obstacles doesn't really do much in the real world but it does provide a way to compare our progress to where we were at a past point in time, where we are compared to other dogs, etc. Having a 1.2 second dogwalk is kinda fun to brag on, but it doesn't really matter too much if we can't put it in sequence. Even so – brag: this first one clocked in at 1.18 even with a crummy approach by yours truly. Second one, best I can tell (based on head coming up at the end, it's pointed away): 1.18 again. Third, to the weaves: 1.84. Fourth: 1.82. Finally, 1.82. It's interesting to note the speed change when the weaves were put at the end of the dogwalk vs earlier, when it was just a jump, which she's more familiar with as an after-dw obstacle.

Bits and pieces, bits and pieces.

Age appropriate sequencing

Last Friday, before preparations for our first ever USDAA trial and 4th Oktoberfest trial went into hyperdrive, I managed to sneak some time in to finish up some pinwheel sequences with Chispa, as well as some contact training. No, she can't do fancy turns and such after the dogwalk or aframe yet. She can't even do those fancy turns and such PERIOD, let alone after a running contact. While I've started to work on landing side approaches with Chispa in bits and pieces, fancy stuff is nowhere near ready for sequencing. When I say “started to work on” I mean I've gone up to a jump set low, with some bacon and a clicker in hand, and have introduced the concept to her. I'm not keen on wild repetition with any behavior to start out with. I'd much rather teach it like a trick, let the dog think about it, puzzle it out, have fun solving a problem, get lots of cookies, and THEN when there is some fluency starting to develop, keep expanding the boundaries of the behavior. Crawl, walk, trot, run. There's an order to it.

As we leave the events of this past spring further and further behind (remember, surgery, all that?), and Chispa seems to be continuing normally, I *am* starting to think about long term agility. Maybe we will “make it” to those green green pastures someday. Maybe meaning, maybe *I* will be the limiting factor (well, more than usual). So, with that in mind, I've started to train some of the behaviors that I anticipate Chispa *may* need in a few YEARS. I'm still not in any hurry, because I don't anticipate her needing to employ these behaviors in a sequence for…years.

But, that doesn't mean I'm endlessly wrapping my 1.5 year old puppy (yes PUPPY) or working on crazy weave pole entries. Shoot, we're working on weaving twelve poles continuously at the moment. I just don't get the idea that young dogs MUST learn these things as young dogs or they won't learn them at all. There seems to be such a rush to skip over the basics. Nothing new, I suppose, it's kind of been that way for a while. I want understanding, not rote repetition. I want a teammate, not a robot. That takes time and understanding. I feel incredibly blessed to have Frodo to remind me of that even while Chispa and I are starting out. Frodo at this point knows so MUCH, and understands so much nuance that I never directly trained…and Chispa is very, very raw, but oh so fun.

Anyway, videos below. I'm shamelessly pleased with our pinwheels, and ecstatic with our contacts. It's a moment in time, a rung on the ladder, a step on the journey, and we're not settling in to or hunkering down to stay in this moment – we're moving on the moment we've mastered a thing, but it sure feels good to have mastered that thing as a step toward other things.

 

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Keeping it Novice

I'm a little bewildered at all of the people I see doing crazy 1000x wrap sequences with their young/Novice dogs, when I'm just working on pinwheels with Chispa. When I'm not feeling confident, I wonder that I'm behind, that I should be doing all that crazy spinning wrapping stuff with my 18 month old puppy (yes, still a puppy). But, that lasts about a nanosecond – there's really no need to do that with her when she still barely has the forward focus to get through a Novice AKC course. It's not like our learning as a team is going to stop and I need to cram that info in NOW OR NEVER. Crawl, then walk, then trot, then run. We'll get where we get, as my skill and her ability allow for.

So, with that in mind, here are some sequences we've been working on at home recently (you'll need to be logged in and a subscriber to view, because these sequences are part of the 2017 Agility Challenge September Handling Challenge).

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Labor Day Update

Chispa's best run of the weekend was on Monday, and she really had a fire lit under her little butt:

She presents challenge I've not had to deal with for a long time – the challenges unique to a young novice dog who really wants to go FAST 🙂 The last young dog I had like that was Solar, way back in 2008. Solar and I headed in to the ring in the Fall as well, and while I have some footage of our first foray in to the ring, there are a whole lot of runs I don't have on video – runs where I left the ring when he was too nuts to concentrate, runs where I stood still and watched him take all the obstacles in the ring without me, runs where I'd ask him to sit to see if his brain was still there, only to see that his eyes were spinning in his head.

Juno was a lot less confident as a youngster. Frodo was not a confident youngster. Chipper – not a confident youngster.

…and…Chispa. She doesn't lack for confidence, and her overarousal is hard to spot, because she doesn't dance around, or bark, or show many outward signs of being SUPER ready to rock and roll. In fact, in the run above, we'd just overcome (to her) a major disaster; she pooped, had a hanger-on, and decided she could in no way walk until I pulled it out for her. Then, the run above happened – it was like I lit a firecracker in her butt.

All in all, a good weekend, and this wasn't the only thrilling run – just the most entertaining!

Baby dog sequencing

I suppose I could be setting up sequences that are more novice in nature, but Chispa is going to get plenty of that in the actual novice ring, so I've been challenging myself to run her like the novice dog she is on the sequences I've been setting up to work on with Frodo. Here's what we worked on last night:

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Jump and Dogwalk training continues

Things are chugging along with Cheeseburger – we've taken a bit of a break from sequencing in the past week or so in order to devote our training time to contacts, weaves, and jump training. Here's a bit of where we're at:

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The Novice Cheeseburger

Last weekend, Chispa and I entered the Novice ring. It was AKC, Novice JWW, nothing too strenuous. Plus, it wouldn't have mattered what the courses were; our skills as a team are what they are – we're novices together. I was anxious all week leading up to the weekend. Did I make the right decision? Will this be a setback with Chispa physically? Are we ready? Is she ready?

Things went about how I expected in the ring – her obstacle focus was nonexistent compared to when at home, and her enthusiasm was doubled. Despite only taking a few obstacles on the first try, she was a lot of fun to run through our first flight:

And of course, there's the obligatory mash-up:

Well, in any case, Chispa came through the weekend A-ok. It was a good decision. I'd be lying if I said that the last few months weren't a punch to the gut (and the throat). I'm a competitor. I just am. And, a lot of my identity is wrapped up in being a competitor. So, having Frodo break *and* Chispa, in short order, has left me feeling like I am without identity. Hamstrung, really. Some will snort and some will minimize, others will probably lay shame down, but it is what it is, and I'm not ashamed to say it. It's who I am.

So, were we competitive? Heck to the no. I mean watch the video, we could hardly string two obstacles together. But it was so much FUN to be in the ring with that little nugget. Saturday's run earned us a sticker, thanks to the magic of AKC Novice rules, where you can qualify, and even place, with faults. Yes, my international friends, it's true. So, our little dirty Q in AKC Novice JWW, well, that meant an awful lot to me. Chispa didn't care, she had a blast in all three runs, and frankly, so did I. But the progress from run 1 to run 2…that was pure bliss. I felt better than in a long time.

Of course, Sunday, I pulled in to the fairgrounds, and when I hit gravel, Chispa got up from sleeping and started pacing the dogbox and staring at me as if to say she was ready for more. She's a pretty quick study, she acted like she knew where we were, and sure enough, she was pretty amped up. And, amped up Chispa is look-at-mom-a-lot Chispa.

This is all perfectly fine, perfectly normal, and perfectly awesome.

Best of all? None the worse for wear Monday morning. So, with that in mind, the next phase began…contact training!

Our next foray in to the ring is the beginning of September. I could go on and on, but really, all of THIS still applies 🙂

Trash Panda Update

I keep trying to start a blog post on Chispa – and I keep not being able to write anything. I don't really want to write about our difficulties, because in her mind, there is no difficulty worth spending any time on. She's still a happy-go-lucky puppy, although sometimes she is sad, but mostly, it's when I'm staring at her intently, wondering if I'm imagining lameness or if it's actually there. As you might guess, although she's had a few sore moments since her elbow arthroscopy ~9 weeks ago, it's mostly imagined. She wonders why I'm staring at her, why I'm treading as though on eggshells. Come play, she says!

And so, we have been playing. Knowing full well that this vessel will break, that really, at some point in the future, this vessel is already broken, I try my very hardest to treasure each and every moment with my little vessel of light and laughter. I make plans – fun matches, classes, Novice JWW. We train. We play. We hike. We swim.

Years ago, when I was training Solar, I was pretty motivated to be the best trainer I could possibly be. He motivated me, spurred me on – and my attendance at Bob Bailey's Chicken Camps was fresh on my mind. Every moment spent training together, I was on my best behavior. No repetition or attempt was wasted. I beat myself up for clicking at the wrong time with a behavior, or for missing something due to not paying attention. As a result, Solar and I accomplished some pretty amazing things, and enjoyed a lot of really special connected time together, in and out of the ring.

Cheeseburger (Trash Panda, Chispa, Cheepy, Cheeseburger, Rocket Raccoon) provides a somewhat different, but more important incentive to me to always be on my game. No jumping effort should be in vain. No training session should be attempted if I am not 100% in it, 100% aware and connected, all. the. time. With Solar, I was excited, I wanted to learn, I wanted to WIN, storm the world with my amazing Heart Dog.

Fast forward ten years – with Chispa…my challenges are numerous, but all within ME. She is good clay – she has the spark inside her. I can see it. I can feel it. It's there. I'm afraid to want to win with her, I'm afraid to even want to play with her. She's so special to me that I don't even want to share her anymore in a blog post, as though sharing my experiences with her will somehow diminish how much of Chispa I have for myself. With Solar, there really was no penalty for failure – we might not have been as successful a team if I wasn't motivated to be my best self as much of the time as possible, but even so, there was plenty of room for improvement on my part.

With Chispa, the penalties seem more severe. What if I ask her to do something, and she is willing, as always, and she gets hurt? Yes, this is possible with any dog, any time. But now it is on my mind constantly.

I probably will ease back in to writing about Chispa – I know there are people who are interested. I know that there will be people who have amazing puppies with similar issues, and it will be good for them to see a happier story, although who knows if this story will have a happy ending. She will likely leave this world before I do, and even though that's a long time off, probably, it makes me sad right now – and that's no way to spend my time around such a bright little creature. But, writing is therapeutic, and so here I am.

Thanks to those who wrote me privately over the past several weeks – your urging me to write is why this blog post exists, and why any future ones will exist 🙂

Chispa blog – full stop

This will very likely be my last post in this blog. It's difficult to even write this post, but I'll do my best.

Chispa is an incredible puppy. She is everything I could have wanted in a puppy. She is happy, she is bright, she is VERY into me, and of course I am crazy about her. She has all the makings of a talented jumper. Her running contacts are coming along spectacularly. Her weave poles look amazing. In my mind, we are already world champions together.

A few weeks ago I noticed some lameness that was worse after our training sessions. She'd had some slight lameness a few months ago that resolved with a few days of decreased activity, and so I didn't really think anything of it. But when it cropped up again, I got worried, and suspicious.

In short, Chispa has been diagnosed with elbow dysplasia. She is currently in a crate, where she's been spending her life for the past several days, and she is on mild sedation, because being in a crate so much is not something either she or I are accustomed to, and neither of us are dealing well with it. She is not wanting to eat, and is, like me, depressed. She has a CT scan this upcoming Saturday to determine the severity of the issue, and then some sort of surgery, in all likelihood. However, surgery for elbow dysplasia simply delays the onset of osteoarthritis and makes a dog comfortable as a pet. Even as a pet, Chispa will be hard on her body. She will very likely not be able to be an agility dog of any kind, barring some sort of miracle at Saturday's appointment.

This is not something that was on the radar with any of her family members. Maybe it's my fault for letting her have more freedom than any of my other puppies – she's always enjoyed jumping off everything.  The bed, the couch, me. Regardless, our very bright future together as a working team has now gone dark, and I am just absolutely devastated. I try hard not to collapse into a quivering pile – it freaks her out when I start crying halfway through any sort of interaction with her. She's right there, looking bright and happy, and confused, because she wants to jump and run and play, and now, I have to say no. It is a small death every time I have to tell her no, we can't play, we can't run, we can't bounce around.

I hope that the news on Saturday is good – I'm not even sure what good news would look like at this stage. Yes, Chispa will live. Yes, after months of rehab after surgery she will likely be comfortable and live a long happy life as a pet. But obviously, that is not why she came in to my life, and I certainly wasn't prepared to mourn the loss of a working partner before we'd even managed to stretch our fledgling wings properly. This, hot on the heels of Frodo suffering a traumatic CCL tear and a subsequent TPLO taking him out of commission for several months has got the wind knocked out of me, and frankly, I wake up most mornings not knowing how to proceed through my day without crying.

Clearly, this is not how I envisioned the end of this puppy blog turning out. I was all in on this one, and this loss has absolutely crushed me. Hug your agility puppies and enjoy every moment with them, because you never know when your agility journey will be cut short.

Chispa Training for the morning

Training has kicked in to high gear here at Clear Mind Agility with Frodo and Chispa. Both have a list of “to do” items, and although Frodo's are more time sensitive, with Tryouts just around the corner, Chispa's list is longer, and because I'm going through Foundation with her, I'm revisiting it with Frodo as well. Frodo really benefits from this, because when we first went through Foundation training, he lacked the confidence to really stick his neck out and try different things. Now, revisiting it with him (particularly after he's been barking in a crate for a few minutes watching me with Chispa) is paying off with respect to his knowledge, as well as his mechanics and his enthusiasm.

In any case, here's a bit of our training from this morning!

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