Wednesday, December 3, 2014

To Seminar, or Not to Seminar, That is the Question

As a kid, I liked going to school.  I was the nerdy kid who took extra classes instead of study hall in high school, had even nerdier extra-curriculars in college, and still gets excited when there's conferences and symposiums to attend in my professional field.  And I enjoy training classes.  I'm in that category of people who get more of a rush training than trialing... and I get a pretty big rush trialing.   I'm also "that girl" who gets a little bit starstruck in life.  Which can be difficult when you live in big cities where a C-list celebrity may be sitting alongside you at a restaurant.   So, I would be naturally pre-disposed to wanting to attend seminars.  Because, (a) they're essentially classes on steroids and (b) there may be an agility star teaching them!  

Yet I find myself being incredibly selective about which seminars I will enroll in.

This started shortly after I began training in agility with Murray.  We were an incredibly novice team, but were already slightly addicted. Jon and I were going to my in-laws for Christmas break.  In years past, I would get a little stir-crazy in the days following Christmas.  So when I found out that a star-studded agility person (OMG they have DVDs!  and books!) was hosting a seminar, advertised as a novice class, and a mere hour from my in-laws I got excited.  I did my due diligence to make sure that it was really okay for a newbie like myself.  After I got that confirmation, several times over, I enrolled.  It was going to be the highlight of my Christmas break.
Murray completing an exercise at the awesome Nancy Gyes/Jim Basic Seminar
at Happy Dog (photo credit: Mia Grant)

Rather than feeling excited and motivated following the seminar, as I had going into it, I left feeling defeated - almost second guessing whether I should bother continuing in the sport.  

Why did I feel that way?
  • I was not physically nor mentally prepared for the seminar.  Although it was billed as a novice/foundations class, in reality, most of the students in it were very experienced handlers with Masters-level dogs.  The instructor also had a relationship with almost every other student present, and so the seminar was taught to their level, leaving me in the dust, since several concepts went over my head. 
  • We did not receive our "fair-share" of one-on-one instruction.  This seminar had 12 students over the course of two days, which is pretty standard.  The facility was large, so we were divided into smaller working groups for some drills.  My group was never visited by the instructor, so the instructor did not realize that I was struggling until partway through Day 2, when a group member finally called her over for help.  
  • The instructor did not adjust any training to apply to the different skill levels present. When it became apparent that my dog was not able to do most of the exercises, rather than break down some of the exercises into more digestible portions, we instead were given a jump stanchion and a jump bump and I was instructed to just have my dog go back and forth over that jump bump for the remainder of the seminar.
  • There was not a diverse group of dogs participating.  One nice thing about classes and seminars is when you have others that you can really learn from by observing.  I personally learn a lot by watching dogs that stride similarly to mine but are a little drivier.  I don't learn as much by watching a performance-bred border collie jumping 22".  I love watching them run, but I don't learn as much from that team as it will never resemble my own.  In this particular seminar, almost the entire class consisted of high drive border collies (it's never a good thing when someone actually asks you "is eight inches really a jump height?")
There are things that I would have done differently, in hindsight, to have made the most of an otherwise disappointing situation.  I could not have controlled the students, and had done my due diligence to ensure that he was okay for the class (even though he clearly was not!), so I don't feel guilty about being in the wrong class for our level at the time.  I do wish, however, that instead of feeling intimidated by being in the presence of some big-name agility person, that I had spoken up for myself on day one, identified my shortcomings, and insisted on a more appropriate lesson plan. While that may sound pushy, any seminar is an investment - in time and money - and if that wasn't being volunteered to me, I could have advocated for my dog and kept him happy by seeking out help, rather than relying on the two individuals who were randomly selected for my group.

Not at a seminar! Photo credit: Clark Kranz
Although this was my first seminar as an active participant, I have attended subsequent seminars with other instructors, and have had very positive experiences in those.  The sting from the first one, however, have made me very picky about the subsequent seminars I have chosen to enroll in.  Having spoken to other friends who have "less-than-flashy" dogs (and further confirmed by the responses to a recent post on Daisy Peel's Facebook page regarding seminars), I get the sense that I am not alone in struggling with enrolling in seminars.  Now, when considering enrolling in seminars, these are the questions I try to answer:
  • Why does this seminar appeal to me? What is the seminar subject?  Does it address my needs? If the seminar was about Gamblers skills, and I only competed in AKC Standard and JWW, I might pass (Jim Basic - can you please come back and teach your gamblers course again?).  If it's about a brand new & improved handling SYSTEM, and I'm happy with mine, I will pass.  If it's about a more specific issue, one which I am looking to improve upon, then my interest has been piqued.  Just because the seminar exists, doesn't mean that I must attend it.  I will get more out of a seminar that's addressing one of my training gaps, or building on something that I'm looking to build on, than a catch-all foundations seminar for a totally different system or a very specific seminar on something that does not apply to my team.
  • Who is teaching the seminar?  Does s/he have experience teaching/running dogs similar to mine?  What kind of style does s/he have?  Some instructors have brand names, while others are more locally or regionally known.  In Southern California, we can enroll in seminars instructed by our regular, local instructors, in addition to nationally or internationally renown coaches and competitors (not that the two are mutually exclusive - we have lots of talent in this area!)  Rather than getting jazzed by someone's competitive track record, I'm more interested to know about their system or style and who they instruct.  I usually ask my instructors, or other friends with dogs similar to mine.  If it sounds like the style may conflict with ours, then I'll pass. Likewise, if 99% of their students run dogs that are vastly different from mine, I'll pass. There's probably a reason why they aren't teaching medium-speed doxie mixes.
  • Who is in my class?  Unlike a lesson, in a seminar you are generally observing more than you are working.  Are there going to be students in there who have the same issues that I have?  Are there going to be students who run dogs similar to mine?  I usually ask the seminar host about the other dogs enrolled to make sure that it's not 11 border collies and my guy.  Likewise, sometimes the "steady eddie" dogs are grouped with the "young and the restless" dogs.  In this case, I will ask the seminar host why they are being grouped together.  If there's a good reason (i.e. we are doing short sequences to keep the steadies motivated and the young'ns brains from exploding) I may still participate... but if there isn't a thoughtful reason for grouping these two dog types, I'll turn down the opportunity, to avoid the risk of my dog getting a disproportionate amount of time. 
  • Am I ready for this class?  This is where I must be honest with myself.  Last year, there were two seminars being offered at one facility - "Almost Masters" and "High Drive Masters."  The seminar host did not know me nor my dog, albeit my instructor trains with her.  So when I expressed interest in the class, I was very honest about our abilities - that we "met the criteria" for the latter one (we had our Masters titles) but that we were not a "high drive" team.  I also tipped her off to my instructor.  She determined that the "Almost Masters" class was the better fit for us, and it was.  Rather than trying to get into the most advanced class, we were in the best class for our needs at the time, and we got a lot of value out of the instruction.  I believe that we would have struggled and not learned as much in the more advanced class.  I would rather be honest and not get an answer that I like - whether it means excluding myself from a seminar entirely, or being told to be in a class that I don't want to take - and not take the seminar, than take one and regret it because we were over- or under- prepared.
  • Do I know anyone who has taken a seminar with this person before?  What is their structure?  Any other feedback?  Each instructor has a different "sweet spot."  Some are amazing teaching in a private lesson setting, but have difficulty keeping control of a larger group.  Some excel at shorter, half-day seminars while others are better spreading their instruction over two days.  Some may be best teaching via online courses.  I like to get opinions from friends about the structure of the seminars and whether they felt that it was conducive for learning before enrolling myself.  I also like to find out the seminar size (I'd rather do fewer hours with fewer students than a longer day with double the students) and format (instruction then everyone getting a turn?  small groups with instructor circulating?).
After establishing these questions to determine whether or not to enroll in a seminar, I have had several very positive seminar experiences.  Some of them are with our regular instructors, where we have the benefit of them knowing our team and teaching to our needs.  Some have been instructors who have traveled in, who have some household name for something in the agility world, and have bestowed on us some new skills, or at the very least, a new set of eyes.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to immerse myself in seminars with my amazing little teammate, and to come away with more fun homework.

Murray and the other small dog participants from Melissa Henning's wonderful handling seminar, also at Happy Dog.

I think that it is necessary for students to do their due diligence before trying to enroll in a seminar, so that they can get the maximum benefit and also focus on seminars that are most appropriate to their teams.  However, I also think that some responsibility falls on the instructors to help students get the most out of their experience.

So, seminar presenters, think about your students - before, during, and after - as individuals being pieced together.  You likely won't remember many of us months down the road - especially if we aren't local to you or don't work with you regularly.  But every student can both add value and gain value at a seminar.  Most people without the "flashy" dogs don't have delusions of grandeur - they love the game and want to improve their team.  Recognize that and appreciate that said students are willing to invest time and money to go from being a B to a B+ team - not everyone can be on the A team.  Likewise, appreciate the stellar dogs, or the "high potential" dogs.

Instructors: it's okay to be honest about your preferences.  If there's a particular sub-set of potential students that you really just don't like or feel comfortable working with - admit it!  If you only want to work with dogs of a certain size or speed, or ones that have particular sets of foundations, own up to it.  If you wind up showing some preference at a seminar, it will be noticeable (agility folks are perceptive!) and if you continuously return to the area, over time there will be a de facto student type attending your seminars... and then another type who does not talk so positively about you.  I think that most would prefer being told they're "not right" to participate in a particular seminar over showing up and feeling like they're the lesser one in the group.

Focus on giving each student their "fair-share" - if there are eight students in four hours, no one expects to have the exact. same. amount. of. time.  That would be silly.  But if one student is getting through the courses fairly clean, find the points of weakness and revisit those during their turn. Because that student didn't sign up just to show that they could be accurate - they came to learn. And be thoughtful of who you are grouping together, as - quite likely - the person with the flashy young pup isn't aspiring to have a medium-speed adult dog.

And, sometimes, things will not go according to plan.  You may have thought you had a Novice class, and then all these Masters students show up.  Tailor accordingly - stick with your original lesson plan, and add some new challenges for the dogs that are "above and beyond."  But don't just leave the one team who's "not like the other" hanging and feeling lost.

Most importantly - both instructor and students - enjoy yourselves!  Because agility is fun, and learning is fun.  And being in an agility seminar sure beats being in a statistics recitation or chemistry lab.

This post is part of the Dog Agility Blog Events Blog Event on Continuing Education.  For more posts on the subject, click here

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dogwalk Re-Training - ~4 weeks in

We've been working on the dogwalk for nearly 4 weeks now. A few observations.  Again, all of the videos are being posted here - Dogwalk Re-Train.

1. I'm going to do a 2on/2off.  I had initially planned to do running, but I don't know if I'll ever fully trust the criteria, and as a result may ultimately slow Murray down.  So I think 2on/2off may be faster for him, even though I can almost always beat him to the bottom of the dogwalk.

2. Training is fun!  It definitely helps getting me to not hit the snooze button multiple times, as I usually try to do.  And gets me excited to do something productive with the little man when I get home after a day of work.

3.  Don't piss off the neighbors.  Apparently they are not a big fan of early morning training sessions.  So we're working on foundations indoors in the morning, and ramp work in the evening.

4.  Love your dog, enjoy the process.  I love how hard The Murr tries, and he is more and more accepting of my imperfections.  Such a fun set of games we get to play with one another and I love watching his problem solving ability flourish and his enthusiasm grow.

5. Record keeping is great, but shouldn't get you down.  I thought I saw improvement and went with it.  Then I watched a week's worth of video to see that we were hovering around the 40% success rate for a week... followed by a spike to over 80%.  By keeping track of statistics without calculating them, I was able to stay motivated about our training without feeling discouraged by a low success rate.

Friday, November 7, 2014

You Know You're A Crazy Dog Lady When...

On Halloween, a mere few days into our new training regime, my in-laws came to our house for dinner. My husband's family has a Pizza Friday tradition - one that only resurrects itself while in the auspices of his parents.  If we go visit them, I know that we will be eating pizza come Friday.  Likewise, Jon insisted that we order pizza.

We moved only a few months ago, so our normal go-tos have shifted.  Since we live in a big city, the 3 mile move changes our restaurant radius quite staggeringly.  And pizza is one of those things that we have not found a replacement for (yet).  We don't have the same pizza options as my New York hometown, where we could sneeze and find a great slice, but we can also do better than Domino's.  

I knew that Blaze Pizza was nearby and passable, so I opted to go there.  That way everyone could get whatever permutation of pizza they wanted without having to satisfy another person's dietary restrictions or aversions.  

So why am I writing about getting pizza?

Because of this:

As we all sat around the table eating pizza, I looked at the two-piece box.  Or, more specifically, the lid.  It's low-lipped - perfect for my lowriding pup.  So while everyone else was chowing down, I was grabbing the lids to stockpile for our training exercises.

Yes, I believe this defines me as the crazy dog lady.  Apparently I'm not the only one who's repurposing food packaging for dog uses - I have since learned that El Pollo Loco tortilla bags are great for dog waste!


There are other little details that I had to work out while figuring out our training regime.  Namely how to honestly assess where I was at, and what to feed The Murr.  Because I'm doing contact training for the first time, I was not confident in my eye.  So I needed to figure out when we are actually meeting criteria versus when I think we are - and also keep record.  Hello tripod.

Being able to tape our sessions is extremely helpful.  I can watch each session and then keep track of hits versus misses.  It also makes me accountable for sticking to my schedule.  Even better, a friend of mine is also planning to start a re-train, so she's watching the videos too to see the process.  I made a playlist of our training (here), and set my YouTube Capture to automatically load our daily videos into the training playlist.  

And then there's the food.  Murray is a mere 10 pounds, and eats about 4 ounces of food per day.  Plus, he eats a raw diet since his teeth get all yucky on kibble.  Given the number of repetitions necessary, I was concerned that we would have to go to really low value treats so as to not overfeed.  Then, while perusing my local pet store, I found this food - OC Raw Dog.

Their "meaty rox" are pretty small and (when frozen or semi-frozen) can break into smaller pieces.  Easy to use for a full training session with The Murr despite his low food intake.  I liked the ingredients in here, and it's made pretty close to here.  Yes, it's more expensive than my normal combination of chicken necks & Small Batch, but it's high value to the Murr and can be used as both a treat and a meal.  


So that's where we're at.  We have the supplies, and I'm a crazy dog lady.  Undisputed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Picking the Right Method for Human and Dog

I last left off with my decision to complete a re-train Murr's dogwalk, and had come to a good "trial stopping point" to commit to the training.  Next, was finding the right method for our team.   Way back before I started agility, I'm sure that the method you trained was the one that your instructor knew.  Now, with the interwebz, online courses, books, DVDs, and instructors who have become household names, there are more decisions.  I feel like if I'm committing to a training method I need to be on-board with it from day one.

The first major split in the decision tree is stopped versus running.  I don't think that a stopped contact is necessarily the slower of the two - a true 2on/2off is incredibly fast and drivey into that bottom position.  But I can usually get ahead of Murray, and had no compelling reason to switch from a "non-stopped dogwalk" to a stopped 2o/2o.  So running it is.

Next, has been deciding on the method of instruction.  There are plenty of big names in the agility world offering their contact training instruction - some of which can be conducted through online classrooms.  The "big 3" I've been made aware of are Silvia Trkman, Dawn Weaver, and Daisy Peel.  I quickly wrote off Silvia's because (a) my friend warned me about the amount of repetitions required and (b) after watching "Ready, Steady, Go" I had a hard time digesting her information in small fragments.  That seems to be the "catch" to me - I need little building blocks, but ones that are clear in direction; an amorphous approach was not going to cut it for me.  My instructor generally teaches Daisy's method, and walked me through the steps.  I have several friends who have developed great running dogwalks with their dogs through Daisy's method - and at Cynosport the best dogwalk I saw was from one of Daisy's students... I mean, it was literally jaw-dropping amazing.  However, the more I got to understand the process, the less I felt like it was the right approach for me.  I don't think my eye is trained enough to see the split-stride, and my personality is such that I am soft - I'm more likely to over-reward my dog and with something like the SS, I thought I'd wind up frustrated when I couldn't train my eye to see a black-and-white criterion.

The criteria for Dawn's method, on the other hand, seemed more black-and-white in the manner it was presented to me.  I enjoyed learning the A-frame through the "bounce box" method (Rachel Sanders) because there was a physical piece of criterion in play (dog goes into PVC box, dog comes out of PVC box).  Starting with foot targets, to me, seemed less abstract, and was therefore the better fit.

I'm not far along enough to know if this truly is the best method for Murray & me.  Likewise, I am doing this training locally, rather than directly from Dawn through her online classsroom, so it's more likely that I'm going to be training based on an application of Dawn's method (which I prefer, since my instructor knows me well and can therefore help adjust to our team).  Finally, it's very likely that various approaches would work for us, and that the other methods that I mentioned are just as effective - there are several exhibitors I know who have used any permutation of the above training methods with great success.  This method, when the various options were presented, just felt like the one that I could comprehend best and could most clearly communicate to my dog.

I started the re-train on October 25, and got a tri-pod to start recording our training sessions on October 29.  We are doing two short sessions (for breakfast & dinner) daily.  In my next post I'll give a Week 1 summary and provide some videos.

Monday, November 3, 2014

If It Ain't Broke...

Like most other novice (or rather any) handlers out there, I have training gaps with The Murr.  Some training gaps are easy to plug, others more difficult.  Sometimes a band-aid will suffice, other times major surgery needs to be performed.  And it's up to the handler if they want to deal with the training issue in the first place.  Sometimes it's a combination of cost versus benefit.  For example, if one's goal is to make the world team, the dog is fast enough to be competitive at that level, and the gap is that he's a bar knocker, most people will put in the effort to improving the dog's jumping to clear the bars.  On the other hand, if one's goal is to earn a MACH, the dog is fairly slow, and the gap is that the dog doesn't have a super-drivey teeter, not as many people would spend the time and effort to retrain the contact.

To an extent, I'm in the latter of those two scenarios with Murray's dogwalk.

I never trained a dogwalk with Murray.  His criteria, to date, has been "go up, go across, go down."  When we started in class, he was very slow.  And when you are literally walking across the dogwalk and are about 13 or 14" long, it's difficult to miss the yellow.  His A-frame was taught from the ground up, and is the contact that I'm most proud of with him.  The teeter was his archnemesis for a while, and he's been reinforced so heavily on it, that he is starting to show drive towards it.  Meanwhile, he's always *liked* the dogwalk, he just doesn't know what the judges think he should be doing on it!  So we do get the occasional launch.

I may not have criteria, but I sure love the dogwalk!

Occasional is the imperative, here.  His "hit" rate in trials is well above 90%.  I feel confident in saying that he's NQ'd more frequently for missing a weave pole than he has for missing a dogwalk contact.  His lack of a perfect dogwalk is not the one thing keeping him from being a Nationals finalist, or winning his class at an AKC show, or any other competitive check-marks; with a perfect dogwalk, he still lacks the speed to be a truly competitive dog.  So in many regards we could get through the rest of his agility career with his current dogwalk (and the babysitting that comes along with it) and he'd likely retire with the same accolades as he would with a stellar, trained dogwalk.

But there's also the emotional element to it.  The two times that Murray has been called on his A-frame, I shook it off like it was no big deal.  In fact, I had no idea he missed his contact until someone informed me that they saw a judge's hand go up.  When Murr misses a weave pole, or pops out at 10, it doesn't bother me in the slightest.  I know that he knows how to do them; I trust him enough to let him find his entries, run ahead, cross or whatever else may need to be done, so the occasional missed pole is just that.  But when he misses a dogwalk contact I shudder.  Because I know that it's a training gap rearing its ugly head, and that - in reality - it's destined to happen.  It's not some freak occurance like an off-stride on the occasional A-frame, but rather the consequence of not teaching my dog how to properly run the contact.

The dogwalk issue came to a head at the USDAA Regionals in April, when Murr missed 3 of his 4 dogwalks over the course of the weekend.  Granted, the first one was the result of my manic behavior in Team Gamblers, and the subsequent ones were due to me being so worried that I was essentially pushing him off of the contacts.  But it was the first time that it seemed like a real problem, and something that needed to be addressed.  Not for any true extrinsic reasons, but more to keep the stress away from the handler.

After Regionals, I spoke with my instructor about training his dogwalk contact.  I'm fortunate in that I train with people who respect me enough to be honest and upfront. And the honest truth was that in order to retrain the dogwalk, I would need to withdraw from trialing for at least a few months.  At the same time, both my instructor and I acknowledged that in order to be able to qualify for AKC Nationals - one of my goals for the year - starting a re-train in May would create a direct conflict.  So I held off, putting band-aids on the dogwalk to get through the NAC qualifying, with few "major issues" flaring up.

With any extrinsic goals that I had set now complete, post-Cynosport was the time to start the re-train.  I've committed to reducing the trialing substantially (only doing a few dogwalks in USDAA Tourney classes to finish the Qs we'll need for next year), and have committed to putting in the time - and patience - it truly takes to train a polished behavior.  That's the tougher part... I'm not the most patient individual and I'm treading new water with this type of training.  The first thing I asked of my instructor, though, was to identify the different methods to training a dogwalk - from Step 1 to the end - so that we could determine the best approach for our little team...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Murr is Not Impressed

Hey, McKayla...

source: ABC15

The Murr is not impressed either.

After several years of living in crap apartments with literal slumlords and loud neighbors and no outdoor space we got our own little matchbox, and moved in last month.

The new sheruff in town.

It had everything on our not-so-extensive wish list.  There was only one thing I didn't like about it...

As a kid, I was envious of anyone with a swimming pool.  But as an old lady trapped in a not-yet-30 yr old's body adult it seemed like an awful expense with a lot of maintenance to boot.  And, when you live in a major city, having a pool in your backyard means that your pool IS your backyard.  So no A-frame for us.  

Our realtor (someone we met through agility) had walked us through many an open house - some with perfectly square (albeit still small lot) yards.  "Oh, this is where the teeter could go!" "You could fit a full set of weaves here."  But the realistic part of me knew that it's better to pick the house you love with the yard you're meh about over a house that needs work... or is too expensive... or in a not great location.  Because, heck, we could just get rid of the pool.

That is, until my husband jumped for in the first time and declared that there was no way in hell that we were going to dig this pool up because it was oh-so-wonderful.  Chance of future A-frame?  Shot.

When I told my agility friends that we bought our first house, they'd ask about the future agility yard, to which I responded that no, no yard because we have a pool.  And they all understand that where we live it's yard or pool - not both.  But instead of them joining in the "woe is me for not having an agility yard first-world-problems pity party" they'd exclaim "you have a pool?!?!"  To which I again would reiterate that yes, our backyard IS a pool.  

And then they'd pause.  And it would be...

"Can I bring my dog to swim in it?"

Half joking sometimes.  Not joking others.

Because, yeah, low-impact conditioning.  Sometimes better than having an A-frame out back.  

Except that The Murr is not that dog who thinks that dock diving is the best thing ever.  It took months and boatloads of treats for him to do this by his own wanting.

So, the mission of the past month has been to get The Murr to swim.  Because if we're not using our backyard for explicit agility training, let's have one well conditioned dog... and put this money pit pool to good use.  And no, no adorable videos of him with the look of determination in his eyes, because I'm too busy in the water with him, holding up a piece of hamburger for him to swim to.  Really high value treats are the only things worth swimming to.  But he's getting the hang of it.  

Our approach has generally been this: 
1. Get on our swimsuits and put some super-high-value treats into Tupperware.
2. Bring the Murr into the water with us (can't say he loves step 2).
3. Line ourselves up on the short sides of the pool.  One of us holds up treats, and the other one releases him.
4.  As my husband says, "the look of determination in his eyes is creeping me out."  
5.  Rinse and repeat for about a 5 minute session.  By the end of the time, Murray is excited.  With some restrained recall he is just as excited as when we do start line restraints - barking, motoring, actually having a good time.

And the little bugger can move - he's getting the hang of it.  He doesn't love swimming yet, but is liking the treats more than he's disliking swimming.  He probably just doesn't love it because he truly looks like a drowned sewer rat when wet. 

But maybe that's okay that he doesn't love it, because this is what he did on move-in day.

**This post is part of Dog Agility Blog Action Day.  To read other posts about what agility addicts are doing outside of the ring, click here.**

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

MACH Murray!

MACH Paved With Good Intentions!

Pictured here with some of his fan club!

When we decided to try to qualify for AKC Nationals, I realized that there was only about 100 MACH points difference between what he needed for Nationals and for a MACH.  Since he was picking up QQs fairly consistently, might as well finish off the title.  It wasn't until after we cleared the last bar, however, that I realized just how big his fan club was!  For a little sewer rat, the boy has lots of folks who love him.

In honor of his MACH I put together a video of us from his early days until now.  It's amazing to me watching his improvement over the course of the past year and a half - and especially the past several months. Good little bugger!