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Subject:2012 In Review
Time:11:02 pm
2012 was big for us, very big.  Kinda startling to look back and think about all the changes.

Our Household Dynamics Changed

We lost Cole at 16 years old.  He was my first dog.  Helped me finish college.  Introduced me to the world of dog sports and especially agility.  I thought losing him would be the hardest thing I had ever done.  Making THAT decision was.  But as soon as I made it, he showed me that it was the right one, as he never got up again.  That last day was special and beautiful in a way that I didn't know was possible. And then to find out that afterwards, he was free once again to follow me everywhere, no longer hindered by a failing body...Cole taught me lessons to the very end.

We also made the decision, after years of discussion, to let Regan live with my parents.  I felt like it would be admitting failure, and that I should "never give up" on one of my dogs.  Well, the end result couldn't be more different.  Regan ADORES my mother.  Always has.  Where in my house she would keep to herself, often in a room all alone, she stays in the middle of things at their house. She is now "top dog", instead of one of many, often overshadowed by others.  She has a buddy, a little cavalier youngster named Lucy.  They play and snuggle and banter back and forth.  Dad plays frisbee with Regan, and Mom runs her through her repertoire of tricks.  She's so funny when we visit.  SOOO happy to see me, but anxiously goes to make sure she knows where Mom is.  She clearly says "it's great to see you, but please don't take me away."  She's got it good and she knows it.  :-)  I honestly believe in my heart now, that Regan was always Mom's dog, and she was just waiting for her forever home while living with me all of those years.

Smitty's Update

Smitty had her best year yet!  We introduced her new "paw" startline behavior in January to attempt to solve horrible scooting, and I'm pleased to say she has quite the reliable startline these days.  We took off to AKC Nationals in Reno, hoping to have a startline stay, and found ourselves the #1 16" dog headed into finals, with 3 clean runs!!  Next major event was World Team Tryouts, with again, our best showing to date, placing us on the Short List for making the team.  In USDAA, Smitty won 2 Regional Steeplechase Championships, took 2nd in Steeplechase Finals, and took 1st in Team Gamblers.  She is becoming quite consistent at trials this day, something I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to say.  Above all, she continues to weave herself more and more closely into my heart.  We are nearly inseparable these days.  She sleeps pressed against my side and watches me every waking moment that I am with her.

Austin's Update

Austin continues to defy any age barriers, and competed on a regular basis in both AKC and USDAA.  He is one QQ short of his PACH, and he has moved to Veterans in USDAA, where he is LOVING the 16" jump height.  He will be 12 this month, which is just so hard for me to believe.  He is now on medications for thyroid, heart and incontinence, but he is still quite fit and active, enjoying his regular swims and conditioning workouts to stay in shape.  I feel grateful for all of these "extra" runs that we have had to enjoy together, and every time in the ring, we are running for the pure joy of running (and the anticipation of MEATBALLS).  :-)  I'm pretty certain our runs are very limited, but we are just taking things one trial at a time.  

Grit's Update

Grit started the year out enrolled in her 1st running contacts class, and was just 9 months old.  She started competing at the end of July, and we are having a blast!  Grit has an unusual style of learning, and has been a challenge to train, but seeing her potential shine through has made it all worthwhile.  She is already showing signs of speed as fast as Smitty and we've come nowhere close to her potential.  I feel so fortunate to have such a physically talented young dog.  Grit finished the year with her AKC Novice and Open titles in Standard, JWW and FAST, as well as her USDAA Starters titles in Jumpers, Gamblers and Snooker.  I really feel like her confidence has started to shine these past couple of months, and I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for us.

Melanie's Update

It's possible that I've been through the most change this year of all of us.  :-)

I started the Clean Eating Diet at the end of July, stopping all soda, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, and white carbs.  The impact on my body has been amazing, and I look forward to continuing to fuel my body with healthy food in 2013.

I continued working out with my personal trainer, experiencing nearly exponential changes in my range of motion, strength, power and speed.  I think all of our work together had finally laid enough of a foundation for real changes to happen.  I look forward to continue to peel back this onion in 2013!

I made huge progress with my mental game.  I learned what goals were best for my runs (first with Smitty and later with Grit), and I learned how to stay true to those goals no matter what the environment or adversity.  It seems I rarely experience an "easy, straight forward" competition experience, so mastering a consistent mental program that's independent of my environment has been pivotal in my ability to perform.  I LOVE being able to walk to the line with my dog and be excited to run the course as fast as possible with my once in a lifetime dog.

I've also made some adjustments to my handling, with a more aggressive running style that keeps me in front of Smitty about 95% of the time (OMG, did I type that??).  I redoubled my efforts to get verbal information out to Smitty as I'm running all out, and the results have been pretty astounding, with Smitty sometimes winning by 3-7 seconds.  I think she is overjoyed to actually know where to go these days, and it's amazing how any bar issues have virtually been eliminated just by me telling her sooner where to go next.

We did get a fun new toy this year as well.  I finally took the RV plunge, and absolutely love my little RV.  Fits me perfectly, gets great gas mileage, and is easy to drive.  I really couldn't ask for more!!

So here's to a fabulous 2013!  I hope you all have a great year!!
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Subject:2012 Cynosport Games Report
Time:09:43 pm
Wow, what a week!  What a freakin' week!  But first, I must back up a bit....

I have spent the whole year preparing for USDAA Nationals, since the completion of last year's Nationals.  At the 2011 event, Smitty had virtually no startline behavior left (she scooted so far in one run that she started the timer).  I was on a mental rollercoaster....sometimes excited, sometimes nervous (largely due to how "important" the next run was).  My energy level ebbed and flowed, not always at convenient times.  And while Smitty had a lot of skills, she needed several skills improved upon.

Here are some of the things that we worked on this past year: 
  1) We stepped up Smitty's conditioning program.  I got another outside opinion of imbalances in Smitty's body and we worked to address those.  I increased the frequency of chiropractic care and massage therapy for Smitty.
  2) I took 3 months off from trialing and went back to foundation for Smitty, filling in holes.
        a) We improved her dogwalk behavior, addressing both gentle turns, tight turns, and more handling.
        b) We made her kit/kat turns both tighter and more independent from my location
        c) We made her weave pole entries and exits more independent of my location
        d) We increased the reliability of her seesaw behavior
  3) We built a brand new startline behavior, "Paw".  Most folks now recognize her "signature" position at the startline with one paw raised.
  4) I continued another solid year of working out with my personal trainer, continuing to peel back the onion for my physical development.  Every couple of months we change programs and focus as we incrementally improve my strength, range of motion, and speed.
  5) I researched dietary options and settled on the Clean Eating plan.
  6) I continued to incorporate consults with a mental coach, learning along the way what mental program works for me, and then learning to apply it consistently regardless of environment or outcome.
  7) I created a training group with likeminded people to foster positive energy, desire for continuous improvement, and support.
  8) I videoed nearly every step that Smitty made involving agility equipment and conditioning exercises, carefully reviewing slow motion footage.

I mention all of this simply to make the point that I PREPARED for this event.  If there was an aspect or idea that I thought would help make us a better team, I did it!  And things started to click.  We started nailing sequences in training on the 1st try (a new occurrence for us!)  Smitty and I looked stronger and faster than ever!  As Cynosports drew closer, I felt oddly detached, like I was almost avoiding thinking about it too much.  And then I realized that we were READY!!!  There was nothing left to obsess about!  So we packed our bags and flew out to Denver!  

I knew that there would be challenges at this event (there always are!)  I just wondered what they would be.  Well, I was right...we got challenges....in SPADES.

1) On Tuesday during our lovely hike around the neighborhood lake, Smitty got stung at least twice by yellow jackets.  Of course it was at our farthest distance from the house, so we had a 25 min walk back to the house to get the (thank goodness I packed it) Benedryl.  It was only once at the house that I realized that she still had a pulsing stinger in her thigh, poor thing!  She was VERY anxious after that...shaking and shivering and looking for more bees.  Then later that evening, I found a third yellow jacket in our room (probably why she was so anxious in the room).  She continued to look for bees all week long, even while waiting to enter the ring for Steeplechase Finals.

2) At this year's event, due to weather conditions, several schedule changes were made.  No big deal if one plans to just stay at the event all day long, but part of Smitty's and my rest plan involves getting away from all the action and chilling.  That's not easy to do if schedule modifications are being made daily and somewhat on the fly.

3) I was very optimistic about the turf, but all it took was one run with Smitty and I realized something was very, very off.  She was clearly uncomfortable with the surface.  Each run soon became more focused on how to support her and help her through the course (while going Smitty speed!), rather than running her how I'm used to.

4) Then on Friday, after Smitty's Gamblers run, she had a strange "passing out" incident.  We were on the way back to her crate and she was pulling on her leash.  Then she started hopping in more of a circle and collapsed on her side.  I rushed her to a baby pool in case it was heat induced, but she seemed fine by the time I got to the pool. We quickly decided it was altitude/dehydration induced, and began a new focus of getting her hydrated and properly supported with nutrition.

5) And finally, layered on top of these challenges, 22" weaves proved to be a bit much for Smitty.  While she has navigated them successfully at this event in the past, I think the altitude combined with the surface made for very tricky execution of the poles.

Whew, are you tired yet??  I was!  I really wasn't certain I could handle any more challenges.  I was definitely at my own low point on Friday night.  I really wasn't sure I was having fun anymore!  BUT, thanks to my incredible support team, and my preparation thus far, I just continued to take one hour at a time, and things started to turn around.

When the dust had settled, Smit had several accomplishments: 
  1) Winning Grand Prix Quarterfinals
  2) Winning Team Gamblers with the most points of any dog, any height
  3) 2nd Place in Steeplechase Finals

Oddly, on paper, our accomplishments were no more significant this year, than the year before, but it's only when you go beyond the paper that you see what the true accomplishment were:

1) Smitty nailed EVERY dogwalk that she attempted
2) All startlines were scoot-free, and all looked like she was at an everyday local event
3) I was mentally tough!  Despite all that was going on outside the ring, I held it together inside the ring.  And I stuck to my goals!
4) I figured out a strategy to make Smitty as successful as I could in Steeplechase Finals given her struggles with both the turf and the 22" weaves.
5) I nearly beat Smitty to the end of the dogwalk in her Team Gamblers run (W00T!!)

And I'm sure there are other successes that I will realize as I have more time to process!  :-)

Sometimes the most important accomplishments have nothing to do with the event itself.  Sometimes they are the things you learned.  Here are a few of the things that I learned:

1) Always travel with a first aid kit.  I will be beefing mine up....far too sparse.
2) There will always be new challenges that will test your ability to let go of things out of your control
3) There is a master plan.  Trust it.  I was stunned to watch the week unfold and see how all of my challenges were interrelated.  And there are reasons for failing.  Strive to understand and learn from them.
4) Never undervalue the power of proper nutrition, hydration and rest for myself and my teammate.  I did a much better job with these initially for myself than for Smitty.  We will be changing what she eats when we travel, and how seriously we treat rehydration and replenishment when at trials and when working out.
5) I have an environmentally sensitive dog.  Research where you are going ahead of time to understand what issues may arise.

And here are some areas that I want to train: 
1) Discriminations when the dogs path says take the wrong one
2) Weave entries at speed
3) Add more international skills back into our handling training...we are ready!

I also want to continue making progress in these areas:
1) My Nutrition: LOVE the results I'm seeing with Clean Eating.  I want to continue that commitment, and continue to learn about things I can make myself, gaining more control over what is going into my body.
2) My Fitness: Another area that I love the results I'm seeing.  It seems that each iteration, we find more potential within my body.  I want to keep those discoveries happening!
3) Mental Game: I'm feeling very solid here, but I want to continue to challenge myself to stay consistent regardless of environment or outcome.
4) Canine Nutrition: THIS is an area that I don't think I've done enough exploration.  I would like to add a Canine Nutritionist to our team, IF such a knowledgeable person exists???
5) Canine Conditioning: I want to become more scientific in our observations.  I would like to do regular assessments with the Gait Analysis Mat to make sure that our program is balanced and catch any changes early on.


I hope everyone is as excited about their next year as I am!  I can't wait to see what we learn next go round!!

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Subject:Just 5 months old....really?
Time:07:58 am
I've had lots to write about, but seem to struggle to find the time to do it.  We are in the middle of ramping up for USDAA Nationals for Smitty and Austin, and still in the throws of raising a puppy. Smitty and I are more in sync that we have ever been, and well, Austin and I are pretty connected on course too!

My current musings revolve around how amazing it is that my special little Grit is only 5 months old.  I thought at 5 months, pups didn't know much.  They were, well, still puppies!  But I have to keep reminding myself that Grit is still so young.  She is one of those pups that can be described as an "old soul".

We are still in Silvia's Puppy Class, working on our last assignment.  This class will finish up next week, and then we have 2 weeks off until Foundation starts (conveniently while we go to USDAA Nats!).  However, most of my focus with Grit as of late has been more around "life" or "relationship" skills.

Here are a few things that we have been working on:

1) RIding in the van: Grit is still having bouts of carsickness.  The biggest trend I've noticed is that it helps her to ride more frequently.  So with the cooler temps, we began operation "Grit goes everywhere".  She can produce more drool than one would think possible.  I'm still secretly hoping for the "grows out of it" that folks talk about, but will do all I can in the meantime to help her acclimate.  This has the incredible side benefit of exposing her to many, many environments, and getting little bits of tricks and play in all sorts of new places.

2) Group class: It's also my goal to keep Grit enrolled in one group class a week.  We are enjoying Senior Puppy at PBH right now, and I need to look for our next class after USDAA Nationals.  I think these classes are good for distraction training, as well as taking us both out of our comfort zones just a little.

3) Play, play, play: Something that we have certainly done, but that I'd like to see a higher percentage of our time devoted to.  I'm THRILLED with the progress that we have both made over the past week in this area.  Trials are wonderful for this.  She now has a couple of toys that she particularly likes, and I'm figuring out how she likes to play.  She's even turning into "obnoxious puppy" when I pull them out with excitement, which is what I'm really looking for!!!

4) Retrieve: Another skill that continues to improve!  I was particularly pleased with a session that we did at the trial last weekend, where all dogs but one were in the expen, and the dog that was out did a couple of retrieves with everyone else watching.  Grit is proving to be another amazing dog that learns by watching, and when it was her turn, she was like a bullet.  We are also getting more instances where she jumps up to give me the toy, which is awesome!!!

5) Connection/verbal responsiveness: This is an area where I've noticed we are really developing a bond.  I can already talk to Grit in a conversational way, and she responds to what I want to do.  We went through a little phase where she didn't want to go back inside several weeks ago, but now, an easygoing "come on Grit, let's go" has her charging to come in.  A quick "hey", catches her attention and she stops what she is doing.  She is just starting to feel "programmed" to my channel, knowing what I want almost immediately.

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Subject:Since there's lots of "puppy posts" going on...
Time:09:53 pm
For those that are currently active in dog sports, how do you spend your puppy's time at an agility trial, flyball event, or other sport?

I’ve been having fun thinking about this a bit. We have sooooo many choices with how we can spend our puppy’s time at a trial. There are lots of things for them to learn.

I’ve been working to balance Grit’s time between “learning the ropes” (hanging out in her crate or expen, learning that everyone gets their turn, going potty “in public”, it’s fun to get in/out of your crate, etc), socializing (meeting friendly people and dogs, keeping an eye out for anything that she finds scary so that we can see if we can change her opinion, learning to “hang out” at a trial), and then interacting with me (playing with toys, chasing me, shaping tricks she thinks are fun, etc).

The whole experience has been amazing to me. It’s startling to see your puppy too overwhelmed to do the simple things that come so easy in other places, but then it’s incredible to see them overcome little issues and grow confident and suddenly remember who you are and the fun games you play together! :-)

Of course, I found that between 16 year old Cole, my 3 active dogs in agility, and puppy Grit, I was very, very busy!!!

And here is Grit after a very full day at an agility trial!

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Subject:Nitty Gritty Update
Time:08:25 pm
Hard to believe that we are already on Lesson 5 of 6 in Silvia's class.  Although I must admit, I'm so excited about Silvia's Foundation class that starts soon afterwards, I can hardly stand it!  It's pretty amazing to think about what all Grit has learned.  I'm pretty sure I've never known this much about a dog that has only lived with me for 8 weeks.

Anyway, here's our 1st submission for Lesson 5.  All behaviors are in very early stages:

I'd also like to write a little about our experience at the agility trial today.  I'm disappointed to write that we've had a set back with Grit's carsickness issues.  We had a series of unfortunate events when traveling down to the Charlotte that seemed to have triggered some things, but I'm still confident that with time and experience, she will overcome those issues.  I have noticed that if she is tired, she's a lot less sensitive, and more likely to just curl up and go to sleep.

Anyway, I've noticed a definite pattern when taking Grit to a new environment (which could mean a pet store, an agility trial, a park or our driveway).  She just sort of zones out.  Now don't get me wrong.  She can interact with people and dogs and sniff around just fine.  But even then she's a little inhibited.  However, what's really noticeable is if I ask her to do one of her tricks, or even just plain eat a kibble.  No go.

But what I've learned is to just give her a little time to acclimate to the environment.  Let people pet her.  Let her meet and greet friendly dogs.  And just relax a bit.  Because she does come around.  By the end of today, we had several fun play sessions, stay session, and performed several tricks for kibbles (I never pulled out anything better).  I did often give her 3 kibbles in a row for her efforts...almost like I was intentionally rewarding her just for eating, if that makes sense.

We also made a couple of trips down to the pond, which she thought was AWESOME.  I've never seen a puppy get so much AIR just jumping into a pond!  WOW...baby went BIG!  :)  And I do think the refreshment of being wet, plus just being uninhibited in the water really helped her come around.

Once back home, we spent a little "family time" hanging in the backyard, and then did a couple of short shaping sessions (once inside, once outside), since she'd hardly eaten any of her kibbles all day.  These were both very productive and positive.  And her efforts in the driveway tonight were far better than those yesterday. I've just GOT to continue to make the effort to get her out and about rather than just gravitate to the comfort of my living room!
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Subject:Videos of Austin and Regan
Time:10:29 pm
This past weekend really was amazing, as all the pups did so very well.  It seems that a month off was good for everybody (and these two pups actually had almost 2 months off!).

Little Regan was but a table fault away from going a solid 8 for 8!!!  She picked up QQ's #58 and #59, so we have a victory lap in our near future!!!  :-)  She gave me lovely contacts all weekend as well.  This is a challenging environment for a lot of pups, but she handled it extremely well.  I think the last time we were here, she air scented my mother in the crowds.  ;-)

Oh and then Austie, my heart.  I could watch this video a hundred thousand times.  I don't need any more reminders that our time on course is finite.  His niece died at just 9 last week.  I learned of a sweet vizsla with lymphoma at the tender age of 5 just days ago.  Heck, his brother died of lymphoma at 4.  Seeing him THAT happy at the human equivalent of 75 years old.  WOW.  Makes my chest get all tight and my eyes blurry.  So very, very special.

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Subject:A couple of videos
Time:08:12 pm
Somehow I managed to put a couple of these together last night before crashing!

1) Grit's last submission for Lesson 4 in class.  I was pretty pleased with how far along she got! The "sitting up" for duration is very, very new.  My goodness, puppies doing tricks are just the cutest things!!!

2) Highlights of Smitty's runs from the weekend.  This was our 1st trial back after a self-imposed month off of trialing.  It took just 2 runs to get our groove back (seemingly better than ever!) and then her next EIGHT runs were clean.  HOLY CRAP!  She picked up QQ's #15 and #16, completing her requirements for Reno, plus 2 FAST, 1 T2B leg, and another JWW leg!

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Subject:A day of 1st's
Time:09:40 pm
Today was our 1st day at the CPA AKC trial, our 1st trial back after taking August off, and Grit's 1st trial period.  I'd like to attempt to list all of the awesome things we packed into one trial day!

1)  Hanging out in an expen - a 1st for Grit; what was amazing was to watch her just chill out in there....I just loved coming over and seeing all 4 pups sacked out.  Grit got MANY turns out...probably 10-15 throughout the day, so I don't think she ever really felt left out, and she was always in there with at least one other dog.

2) Getting measured - we got her at 17.5" today...I would consider that a more "official" measurement.  So funny, folks sure have different opinions.  She looked HUGE to some, TINY to others.  I do think it's safe to say that at 5 months, she ain't done growing just yet.

3) Tricks - It was very challenging to get Grit to focus in a trial environment enough to shape tricks.  Plus there were SOOOO many people and dogs that wanted to meet her.  However, I did discover that back in our far corner, she COULD focus, so we did most of our training there, and left our excursions to be more socialization in nature.

4) Scary metal stairs - the facility had a great set of metal stairs...1/2 with backing and 1/2 completely open.  Wow, was she brave and confident.  Nice to see her so comfortable.  So far, surfaces really haven't been an issue for her.

5) Met lots of cool new dogs and people - she's pretty much convinced that all dogs and people love her.  :-)

Back at Aunt Cathy's we had 3 major breakthroughs with tricks:
1) She balanced on her own in beg positiong while eating multiple cookies
2) She "hugged" a water bottle instead of a pole
3) She used the wall rather than her board to lift her same side feet

Super tired....gots to go to bed...
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Subject:Mid-day puppy training
Time:01:49 pm
Hooray, we did our training on the front porch!!

Stacking Bowls (small into slightly larger) - SHE GOT IT ON THE 1ST TRY!!!! WOOHOO! I think she understands enough that soon, I can withhold reward altogether if it doesn't make it in the 2nd bowl. For now, she gets 1 kibble if they clang, jackpot if it goes it, and no kibble if they don't touch.

Side Legs: Wow, the hard board makes SUCH a difference. (cool side note: I didn't have this stabilized very well on the front steps, and it was rocking AND banging at 1st....she didn't care!!! I think someone is going to LOVE the seesaw!!). She is now nicely standing and can do either side equally well. I think she's ready for me to increase the angle!

Heeling: I'm now putting my hands behind my back, just to make sure they are completely out of the picture. Heel is easier than side, but she's catching on. I'm still back to not moving much. Want her to really understand her position 1st.

Pole: I'm really tempted to switch to another object and see if she still does it. Very nice gripping with left paw.

Sit/Stay: Huge improvement. She's letting me lead out a good 10 feet now. I want to gradually add in more excitement and fun proofing.
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Subject:Another gangbuster day!
Time:10:30 pm
I keep thinking that we can't have super awesome things happen EVERY day, but well, it seems like we do!


1) Mega confidence in an environment that last week was lukewarm, at best. Blazing fast restrained recalls. Fun toy "chase me" games on flexi. Complex shaping on grass in the parking area. HUGE name = look away from exciting dog in ring for meatballs success.

2) Shaping breakthroughs - firm paw grip on pole; standing for 2 same side paws; 4 paws IN our challenging bowl (and this was in a tough environment); stacking bowls success (3 in a row in fact!) using a slightly larger bowl to stack into

3) 1st group stay - even stayed while Smitty tugged and retrieved a toy! VERY clear she understands her release!!

Add in a nice neighborhood walk, complete with a visit with 2 very nice standard poodles, and no barking when strangers came into the house, and I'd say we had another super awesome day!! :-)
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