I have always stayed up until midnight on New Year's Eve, but usually it is reading in my room with the dogs. However, this year I went over to a friend's house for a small gathering/party complete with sparkling apple cider for the midnight toast. We weren't sure what we thought of J-Lo's unitard, but the cider got 5 stars from everyone. Then once the festivities wound down I made my way home to let all the dogs out and give them each a biscuit (my mom's Terv bitch Dani has been known to slurp various drinks out of people's cups, but for the most part the dogs prefer biscuits and treats for celebrations). Though Queezle felt that 2 am was the perfect time to play frisbee in the snow, we all then went to bed.
I've tried convincing the dogs to make resolutions every year (trying to be less barky for Flash, better work ethic for Tia, being nice to the other girls for Queezle, etc), but they aren't buying it. From Tia I get things like, "I resolve to only eat steak on weekends," from Queezle I get, "I resolve to share my old toys with the other dogs once I get new ones," and Flash just plays the Champion Tracker and old dog cards and asks me if I have any questions. In the end, I'm better off playing New-Year-resolutions in a corner by myself and hoping that Flash doesn't come over to remind me about my success rate for resolutions in years gone by (let's just say the whole self-improvement thing isn't all it's cut out to be). To avoid the somewhat inevitable failure of grandiose resolutions, I generally go with some slightly less intimidating goals.
One of my constant goals for every year has always been to work the dogs more, be it honing our skills in agility or working on harder surfaces in tracking. This week was already quite successful, as we did a private agility lesson with Diane Eggleston on Wednesday and obedience class on Thursday at Dottie's Dog School. Queezle was the main dog I worked at agility. Diane had us doing several drills to work on tighter wraps and back crosses. This brought out a handling goal for me - stop waiting. Instead of trusting myself to give clear signals and the dog to take the obstacles I indicate, I end up waiting and looking back to make sure that they did it. My micromanaging is ultimately slowing Queezle down, as I'm not giving her information on the next obstacle or turn fast enough. She's fast enough that we don't have issues with making time at a trial, but we could be a lot faster.
At the end of the session I brought Flash in to do some contacts (obstacles such as the dogwalk, a-frame and teeter totter have a yellow section called a contact zone that the dog has to touch for safety reasons or else it will be disqualified). Flash is perfectly willing to sacrifice accuracy for speed, and leaping off or over contacts has been a problem for us for years. So I baited each contact with some cheese and also had her wait for me at each one to give her another treat. The theory is that by repeatedly having her stop in the contact zone and rewarding her for it she will get in the habit of stopping and so will hit the contact even at a trial where there is no food. As Flash is now 12 years old and our intervention came way too late, each run is hit or miss (literally). She only needs one more leg in Novice Standard (Standard is the class with the contact obstacles), and after she finishes that title I'm going to retire her from Standard. Though she doesn't act it, she is an older dog and the contact equipment puts unneccessary strain on her body. We will continue to do Jumpers as long as she is in shape though. The one good thing that has come out of our contact issues is that I am much better at training them.
Tia got to go to Open Obedience class. Open is the second level of competitive obedience, and as well as the basic sit, down and heeling stuff also includes fun exercises like jumping and retrieving. Obedience isn't my favorite dog sport, but I do enjoy training the upper level exercises. Tia is coming along quite well, though we are having some issues with the broadjump. Our class is excellent, as it is small and has several very experienced handlers who have been able to give me some good tips. One thing that really made a difference with Tia on the heeling was my arm and head placement - just like in agility, if I am looking back to make sure that she is doing her job I cause her to slow down and lag. I knew this from working Flash in obedience, and so am pretty good about keeping my left shoulder forward. What I didn't realize was that although my shoulder was forward, I kept dropping my elbow back, so I need to work on that. I also need to make sure that I am focusing my head forward, and trust Tia do keep up with me.
What it comes down to is that I need to keep refining my handling and training techniques to give clearer signals to the dogs. The more experience we have, especially with the help of knowledgeable people who can point out my mistakes, the better we will get.
Here's to another year of learning and (hopefully) improving!