Friday, November 3, 2017

We were asked to run an ultra marathon, not the 50 yard dash

If you have been in agility a while then you know that each dog we have, will have something in their personality that gives us a challenge.  My pack of 4 has been no exception.  The challenge that Tangle gave me however was the one that I was the most ill-equipped to deal with.

Tangle is a very Zen dog, has been since the moment I brought him home.  Very thoughtful, in tune with his environment and a deep desire to keep the peace and balance of life.  Tangle did not come to me as a happy-go-lucky puppy ready to play always.  It isn't that he didn't know how to play, his play was just calmer, thoughtful and never out of control.

I am the opposite of Tangle, in agility I am intense, obsessed, and wired up.  Exactly what Tangle felt he needed to "calm".  On the surface, it wasn't the match made in heaven, but we are exactly what each other needed.

Tangle was always able to learn and work.  We never went to a trial or had a practice where he couldn't work.  He just never worked with the intensity and speed I knew he had.  I would always see more intensity and speed from him at home (a comfortable environment) than at a trial.  He was also never able to tug (play) at a trial in the beginning, he was way too worried and honestly, I don't think he knew he could "play" in those environments.

This wasn't what I wanted for us!  I wanted him to have fun and selfishly, I wanted an intense partner.

The ultra marathon began (and thankfully I didn't know it was going to be one).  I will spare all the details along the way, just know that along the way I celebrated, cried, got frustrated, took breaks, doubted, had faith, and saw break-throughs.  One thing that never changed was the desire to have the partner I knew he could be and it kept me coming back to the goal.

4 years ago we went to Cynosport in Murfreeburo TN.  It was a 5 ring indoor circus.  Loud, crowded, full of energy, girls in heat, basically every distraction and energy source on the planet.  Tangle and I had a really hard time.  Just getting to the ring was a stressor, we never arrived relaxed, playful and ready to go.

Fast forward, Tangle is 7 years old and we competed at Cynosport in Murfreeburo, TN again.  I felt more armed with tools to help my dog work through the stress, but something was different this year.  Right from the beginning Tangle was super happy to be there, partner by my side and tugging when ever I asked him to play.  I cried, multiple time, tears of happiness!  It dawned on me that we had finally reached our goal.  Every time I stepped to the start line I had a happy, ready to go, ready to play, INTENSE, fast partner.

It took 7 years to reach this goal, but Tangle is everything I know he can be! 

To make the goal even sweeter, Tangle and I made Grand Prix and Team Finals.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Agility, what does it take?

I haven't posted in a while.  I suspect because my brain has been really busy with some deep learning this last year and I haven't processed all the great info and put it in it's place.  I am not there yet, but I think little thoughts are beginning to eek out anyway.

For my students I ponder this question a lot, "what does it take to accomplish your goals in agility?"

There are so many levels of desired achievement, from weekend warrior to National/World Champion, but they all probably have the same fundamentals as an ingredient.  Perhaps the thing that varies is the level of proficiency that you and your dog have in each of these areas.

Hoot doing what she loves

Foundation skills for the dog
Foundation skills for the human
Dog training skills
Handling skills
Fitness and coordination for you and your dog
Mental Management for you and your dog
Resilience, both you and the dog
And mileage as a team

So when my students say to me, "I want to improve my Q rate", we have to evaluate all of these things and decide which areas to focus on.  To Q, you have to at least bring all of these fundamental together for at least one very important minute of your life.  It doesn't mean that you have to go bat-shit-crazy becoming an expert on each of these things, but it does mean you have to focus slightly more than you have been on one or more areas to accomplish your goal.

I, on the other hand do work all of these skills, at one time or another intensely because I am bat-shit-crazy for agility.  I love agility, I love teaching, and I love the learning process.  I have purposefully worked with some of the best in the world to learn this art. 

My current obsession is Mental Management in Agility, which I will describe as "the art of bring all your team's skills to the table at the same time to create amazing results."  Sounds easy, not so easy!

This area sounds like one focused area of concentration, it's not.  There are so many aspects to it and so many variables that affect it.  I am working on my second year as a student of this topic and am just beginning to learn how to incorporate it into my classes. 

For my students my goal is to incorporate this into their learning process, make it incidental in some ways, but always keep it fun.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Verbals - running out of words

Verbals have become a big discussion lately.  In that people are feeling like they need more. 

I am probably in that camp.  Not as many as some people are contemplating, but I at least need a couple more. Here is a map on the situation that brought this question to mind.

Currently I use the following:

Black = Cik (wrap and head back to me)
Red = no verbal at this point, just body motion and perhaps a physical send on the second jump
Green = Her name and then “round” (backside word)

But, it was brought up to me that sending around the backside when the dog has to turn away from you should have a separate verbal than just your backside word ("round").  On a crowded course with multiple choices, this makes perfect sense to me.

But what do I name it?

Inventoring my current verbals so that I can make sure it sounds distinct:

go - keep going
hit it - hit the yellow and then go on
feet - 2o2o
switch - take the obstacle and then turn away from me (change leads)
out - take the far obstacle in a discrimination (usually used in combo with obstacle name)
ok - release
jump - take the front side of the jump (used when it make not be perfectly clear)
round - backside jump and come back to me
obstacle names (tunnel, weave, walk it, jump, table)
side - stay very close to me
Dog name - give me your attention for a moment
come - come towards me
Look back - used in Gamblers (usually when we mess up) and I want the dog to find the obstacle behind them and take it

And then I combine verbals:

jump - come - take the jump, wrap tight and come back to me (used in threadles for example)
cik - Hoot's threadle command
jump-switch - used in a whiskey where they have to go away from me
hit it - switch - hit the yellow and then turn away (likely to a tunnel)
hit it - round - hit the yellow and take the backside of the next obvious jump

Verbals that I am considering just have to think through the definition:
Big - used to give more info that it is a big jump broadjump, triple, double
(backside flip away) - don't have a word right now

Verbal I am teaching, but not sure if I will use it
right/left - still trying to determine when I need this in addition to my motion

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I am about to be a very vocal advocate for dog agility equipment safety

I will write more, but I wanted to get this picture public! I can't tell you how upset I was when I saw this.  It was my failure to not spot this, but I am not the only one who failed in this situation.

The top picture was taken by Ken Gee Photography and posted with permission.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

It was well worth a year of effort!

It was about a year ago that I said to my coach "I want to change my handling and timing for Tangle".  Of course I had no idea I was on a year journey, but really it didn't matter, I just wanted to do what it took for us to be the best team we could be. 

It was about 4 months ago that I said "I am going to try to love standard" (I hated standard). 

Not that we have "arrived", I don't think that you ever truly "arrive", but we are to a point where I believe that I have accomplished a significant portion of the goal.  My handling is better, my handling choices are SO MUCH BETTER, my cueing/timing for Tangle is much better, and I am now neutral on running a Standard course (I don't think I will get to the love part, but that is OK).

The work in the last year has involved so much focused work on:
  • My timing, trusting my training, cueing and going.
  • Learning better ways to cue
  • Hearing "your late" over and over
  • Timing tons of handling techniques to see what is the fastest for Tangle
  • Teaching Tangle greater commitment
  • Hearing "your late" over and over 
  • Learning how to cue lines, not obstacles
  • Increasing Tangle love to chasing me
  • Hearing "your late" over and over 
  • Focused retraining on contacts
  • Verbals
  • Proofing weaves
It feels like the list could go on and on, but I think those were the biggies for us.  I am proud that I am a better handler, better training, and I believe that it is making me a better teacher.

Here is our Standard run from today.

Also, so Hoot isn't left out, this clip shows how she has benefited from this hard work.  I trusted my training!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

European Open Tryouts 2016

I made it!  The decision to go was iffy for most of the month, but we made it!

Overall European Open Tryouts are great.  They are fun and your fellow competitors are cheering you on. Every run at this event was amazing, lots of great handlers and speedy dogs.  The courses were awesome and challenges are hard, really hard sometimes.  There was not a single large dog team that ran everything clean, and most had multiple E's.

I am super pleased that I had a 7th place clean run (round 4), and the other I was 23rd due to a fault. I had three runs that I E'ed, only one of those E's was from an off course. In this event you can get eliminated by:  1) by off course   2) over standard course time (which is VERY tight)   3) three or more faults.

I am posting all of my runs from EO Tryouts, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Why?  Because "the good" represents some really good work and prep, "the bad" just wasn't that often, and "the ugly" really isn't that ugly :).  It is really nice to look at these runs, compare them to past runs (or even my first runs) and know that I have put in a lot of hard, but good work to make this happen.

There were some many things that went right in this event for us, on and off the course.  My nerves were under control, I felt competent in walking the courses (never felt stumped), it didn't bother me at all that we didn't get course maps,  Tangle was relaxed and excited to run, and I felt like I had really good mental management the whole weekend.

Do we have a training list coming out of this event?  Sure!  But the skills on the list are skills that I need to hone, it is not made up of skills that I didn't have.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A beautiful weekend to train

If you read my last post then you have an idea how thankful I am right now EVERYTIME I get to play with my dogs.  It is stress relief, fun, takes me away from "real life".

This is a course that I ran this weekend with Tangle and Hoot (and Split but I didn't video him).  Very fun because there was lots of running involved.  Good exercise for me and the dogs enjoy courses where they can give me full on speed.

Fun to reflect on this course, since it really reflected some of the skills that we have been working on lately.  Also, I am a bit in awe of Hoot.  She is only 20 months!   She is talented, but really we have just worked hard on foundation.  We don't drill or put in a ton of time, we just really focus on doing it right.

A couple of things that I loved about this course with Tangle and Hoot.  The first two obstacles, start jump to backside.  I was able to give the backside cue when he/she landed from #1 and take off.  I didn't have to hang out to see if he/she was going to come to the backside, I just KNEW they would.  Trust in your dog, how wonderful is that?

The other element of the course was figuring out how to get the dog turned so that when they landed, the only thing they saw was the weave entry.  I had to manage the turn which meant they had to respond only to a verbal weave cue.  So proud of both of them doing that!

Hooty was a bit of a flyer (wide) on some of her turns but we have since worked that a bit.  All of them were my fault.  I was late in her cue, I thinking my timing was more for Tangle.  Even though she responds very fast, she really needs her cues very early.