Friday, September 2, 2011

Flyball Practice (IE: When Things Fall Apart)

I will be getting back to the next installment of the flyball training series shortly.

Last night I took the dogs to flyball practice. I had a wedding to go to earlier in the day, meaning the dogs got to come to the wedding, wait in the car (in full shade, in the wind, in a wire crate, both windows and the hatch open full, checked on often), then drive really fast when the reception was over to get to flyball only a few minutes late but very overdressed. I changed, potty walked the dogs (with nothing to show for it) and got to some practicing.

I used Koira's new coursing slip to release her for flyball for the first time in practice. She seemed much faster than last time we ran, either because she was super excited after missing a week, or possibly because she equates the slip with running-full-speed-away-from-mom. She was fumbling the ball at the box quite a bit in the first round, possibly because her increased speed on the way in messed her up, possibly because she knew I forgot her tug in the car and only had cheese (which she runs for, but is less enthusiastic about receiving as a reward).

Then I potty walked the dogs again. Pallo's habit of pooping in the building at practice or in the ring at tournaments, while not super often, is way to often to make me pleased by it. But, nothing.

Pallo came in, did his warm ups, then ran really nicely. He was running start against our super fast border collie Trix (who is currently working on running on the right side of the lane) with Raff, a Keeshond, passing into him. He had really nice starts, giving me a good crouch, then a spring-loaded release at the command "Go!" but then failed to carry his ball across the finish line 3/5 runs. Sometimes he drops early because of needing to potty, so we went out again. Finally, he pooped outside. I had to take him off his leash and let him wander away from me a bit before he would go, though. Kind of driving me nuts...

Pallo's second session in the building was very similar to the first, right on down to the great starts and horrible ball spitting issue, giving me a 3/5 drop rate. Not good, Pallo, not good.

Koira's second turn in the building resulted in a first for her: Crossing over. This is one of the nightmares in flyball, as a cross over can easily result in injury to one or more dogs. We practice running on the right and left lanes, switching during practice to get the dogs used to it. Sometimes, dogs will cross over to the other team's lane to chase another dog, get a ball from over there, or because they want to run to that box instead. This is super dangerous as it can cause a collision with the dog in the other lane. It is very important that any dogs about to run are NOT released, as additional dogs can cause additional chaos and injury (in a tournament, a very distinct whistle sound is blown loud, clear, and repeating, along with gestures from the judge, to stop additional dogs from being released). A dog that crosses over twice in a race (generally 4-5 heats per race, remember) is asked to leave. If they do it again that day, they can and often are dismissed from the tournament. Serious problem, serious response.

Anyway, after all that technical talk, Koira crossed over for the first time ever today in practice. She has never, ever crossed in practice or tournament, so we aren't sure why she decided to this time. Luckily she was going for the box in the other lane, rather than chasing the other dogs and backed off to give the dog running there room, so no collisions or injuries, or even really close calls. After crossing twice in a row, I moved her up right in front of her correct jump, and she did the course correctly. I moved her back to her customary position. She crossed again. (Our instructor was standing by the other lane, along with other people, to make sure if this happened that the other dog was not in danger of colliding with Koira.) I moved her back up right to the jump again and ran her from that position for our other 3 heats, moving only a few feet back with each successful run.

We're hoping this was a one-off thing, a bizarre day, and that it won't happen again. But, we discussed what to do next week if it does happen again. We need to be able to correct the crossing immediately without turning Koira off running. She has been so hesitant in the past to really run to the box that having someone stamp their feet, wave their arms, and yell at her for running to the box will really turn her off. She was moving much slower by the end of that session, either from being turned off, being tired, or from not having the room to get up to speed. If it happens even once next week, we will stretch a gate between Jump 1 of each lane all the way across, blocking her path to the box (she just took a beeline straight over there each time). It should correct the behavior in a non-threatening way, redirecting her to be able to succeed and be rewarded.

Why is it that problems always arise just before tournaments? We have a demo next week, then a tournament the week after that. Not exactly the time I want to be discovering and trying to correct problems with my dogs.

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  1. Sorry to hear practice didn't go so well. I hope it was just an off day!

    Cross overs really are my worst nightmare. In our 2 years of lesson and competing, Sophie has crossed over twice. Of course it was never in a lesson or practice but at a tournament. Thankfully both times she responded to her recall and there was no collisions. Still nightmare!!

  2. Hope everything works out before tournaments :)

  3. I can see how that could be really scary. I hope it was just a weird day for her!

  4. Crossing is so scary. Steve crossed 4 out of 5 times in single dog racing the night before he ran in his first tournament, and I was freaking TERRIFIED. He was chasing the other dog (not with any ill intent, just to chase). (This was a dog/handler my team captain knew who was just there to practice starts with the new lights, so it wasn't the end of the world that he crossed, but I was still embarrassed and felt bad about it.)

    He crossed once in practice to chase the most dog-aggressive dog on our team. Gah! Fortunately, that came to nothing.

    It's crazy how problems can just pop up out of nowhere. Steve randomly started spitting balls several months ago, an issue he had never have, and after a couple practices, it completely went away just as suddenly as it showed up. Weird.

    I hope things straighten out quickly with Koira!

  5. I think it's kind of funny that there's a huge disclaimer after mentioning the dogs were left in the car. I usually leave my GSD, Addie, in the car with it running. It's one of the few times I am thankful that she is wary of strangers and has a very intimidating look.

  6. Hopefully the crossing over is just because of the unusual day.

    I'm such a nervous nellie, I'd hate seeing the crossover.

  7. I hope you get Koira's crossing over sorted out quickly and easily. I can imagine how frustrating it is for you not knowing why she's all of a sudden started doing this. Good luck and good luck for the tournament.

  8. Whoops! It's possible (and the best situation) that she was just having an off day - everyone has bad days, after all.

    Hopefully she doesn't carry on with crossing over. Even as a non-flyball person, I can easily see the problems with her getting into the habit of doing that.

  9. Oh no! It sounds like you have a good plan in place, hopefully Koira just needs a gentle reminder that there is only one way to play the game. Good luck!