Monday, December 22, 2014

Power of the People -- Hippie thoughts

Yes, it is that time of year where we all give thanks and I will do that (later).  But regardless of the time of year, what I really think is cool is that people are examining their own motives and practices for agility.  And, many are going public with those thoughts.  The people are speaking up.  I am thankful for that!

The future of agility should be driven from the ground up, by the participants, not by the few in the board room.

I have seen a lot of blogs, and FaceBook comments on the topic of how much is too much and what is right for their team (the dog and handler).  I believe that the impetus for these public thoughts, comments, remarks is the announcement by USDAA and AKC about the increasing qualifications for Nationals in the coming year.

Many, many people are reaffirming how much trialing is too much for their teams.  How much stress to qualify is too much for their team.  There are many factors that lead to this decision.  We are trying to balance our day jobs/careers, kids, family, money, stress, and the health of our dogs. 

Regardless of your motive for getting into the sport and what evolutionary path your motivations have taken, keeping a balance is apparently mandatory for many of us.

Me personally, I had already made the decision back in August to back off some.  I had to trail too much to get all my National qualifications (because I have to travel to many trials) and for several years now I was VERY tired heading into Nationals because of that.  For me, that sucked the fun out of the sport.  I don't want to participate like that.  I want to be excited, refreshed and looking forward to my next big competition. 

So, at this point, I am not going to the Nationals of any venue.  I am going to spend the year enjoying my experience and figuring out how to get the "big competition" experience that I love so much, but without all the stress and exhaustion. 

Right now, I think that USDAA Regionals are the way I am going to go.  Great competition, lower qualifications to participate, run by clubs (who do a better job than USDAA), and people are still relaxed and fun to be around.

So people, continue to speak up.  Help the organizations understand what the future of agility should look like.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Obstacle Commitment

I have been thinking a lot lately about obstacle commitment.  Teaching a young dog makes you re-think or just think about a lot of things! 

In my mind, obstacle commitment is closely related to "trust", "finding the line" and "proofing" obstacles.  The biggest reason to work on and perfect obstacle commitment for me is so I can get to where I need to be ON TIME!  The other very compelling reasons are that the dog is able to execute the course in a fluent and fast manner.  Fluent = easier on their body = faster times.

What is obstacle commitment to me?  The moment the dog sees the obstacle.  Not the moment it can no longer take another obstacle, nor the take off point of a jump, or many other popular definitions.  If it is the moment the dog sees the obstacle, then it is my job to show the dog the correct line so that it sees the intended obstacle (then I need to be there to show them the correct line, kind of circular thinking).

Once I have the dog on the correct line, cued the obstacle I need to be free to get out of there and get to the next place I need to be.  Easier said then done sometimes.  If I haven't taught my dog to stay committed to the obstacle, then I am stuck somewhat escorting the dog on their path.  Not what I want to do.

Consider the black circle sequence.  If I can't cue the weaves and then feel free to move laterally (because my dog doesn't stay committed) then I run a real risk of not being able to set the line to the backside of #2.  There is an off course jump on the dog's line.  This also illustrates why it is so closely related to proofing and trust.  Have you proofed your dog to stay in the weaves under many adverse conditions (you doing cart wheels for instance?).  Can you trust that your dog will stay in the weaves?

In the black square sequence, there are two places that I need commitment and for them to stay committed to the obstacle.  Say #1 is mid-course.  I need to be able to cue the backside of #2 from about 1/2 way in between 1 & 2, then move laterally to #3 to show the dog the backside.  Even more commitment is needed if I intend on doing a German turn on #3 for instance.  To do a lateral send  takes proofing your dog's backside commitment at a distance.

OK, let's talk young, very green dogs for a moment.  The first time I did a pin wheel with Hoot I had to go all the way in to the middle jump of a pin wheel.  Not too uncommon.  Eventually, with experience most dogs learn to take that middle jump without you going in to it.  Perfect example of commitment. 

Selfishly speaking, the reason I teach commitment and to stay committed is so that I can run with less panic, more trust, less wear-n-tear on my dog's body, and more confidence in my ability to get places.  The faster times don't hurt either :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

To be interested in learning, you must be challenged!

I was going to blog about something slightly different, but an email from a friend the other day really hit the core of this topic, Continuing Education.

Some friends and I were chatting about running really hard courses, both in competition and in practice.  It was mentioned that there are a number of people who are getting bored with agility.  Once you get a couple of MACH's/ADCH's that is not challenge enough anymore.  We were not trying to diminish that accomplishment (they are huge), but really expressing that we don't learn as much from the third MACH/ADCH as the first and that there has to be more challenges placed in front of us.

She said "People are not going to be interested in learning unless the test (agility test) gets harder"

I loved this statement.  When reflecting inwardly on this statement I find it to be very true or key to what keeps me motivated and learning.  For me personally, I always have to have challenges that are beyond my current capabilities.  This is what keeps me wanting to continue my education.  Think about it, why would you continue to learn calculus if you were only tested on multiplication flash cards?

Hoot pondering life

We as trainers and competitors are figuring how to train ourselves and our dogs with greater competency and efficiency than say even 5 years ago.  Our young novice dogs frequently have skills that our seasoned 7 year old dogs don't have.  Our teachers are presenting foundation classes that challenge the skills of my 10 year old agility dog.  Novice dogs are entering the ring with an intense love for the game.

I believe that we as trainers and competitors, have outpaced our agility organizations (USDAA, AKC, etc...).  We are learning, training, and adapting faster to harder challenges in our classes and daily training then these organizations can present courses to test those skills.  The gap has grown.  If the gap continues to grow, we are going to lose the innovators in our sport if we don't continue to challenge them intellectually.  People who need to be stimulated by the challenges will move on to new challenges. 

I will speak only for myself, I can get slightly bored.  Not because I can run every course clean, I don't.  But I want to come home from trials with a list of to-do items that inspire me to get better.  I want to see sequences that presented challenges.  Challenges that I had not thought about training until that day. Or perhaps caused me to think about my cues and feel the necessity to be even more clear for my dog.

How do you cue a tunnel entrance if it is two tunnels nested together?  How do you cue the dog walk when it is has a tunnel entrance on both sides?  What new skills do I need to develop to get the backside of a jump right after a straight tunnel?

For me the challenges don't always have to be physical (for me or my dog), but must always grab my intellect.

P.S. Training puppies keeps me interested, but I can't keep getting puppies

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hoot's Running Dog Walk

Hoot will be the second dog that I have trained on a running dog walk.  It is interesting to me how it is still a huge learning experience, but in different ways.

It seems the first time around you don't really know the process, but you have to have patience and faith in that process as it is revealed.  This second time, I know the process, but there are different twists and turns in the journey because of a different dog.

Split was my first dog that I trained.  He was 7 when I re-trained him from a 4 on.  Some things were easy for him because of his experiences and some things were hard because of his experiences.  For instance, proofing with motion was really easy.  He already knew to stay on task when I am running crazy next to him.  He understood that the yellow zone was really important already.  Getting him into a full stride was hard, really hard.  He wants to take one more stride than he needs on the dog walk.  But, that means that his turns off the dog walk are easier for him.

Hoot is my second walk down this path.  She is a puppy with no prior experience.

Hoot has been very easy to get her to adjust her stride, she totally loves the process (actually Split does too), and if she has epic failures it is really easy to take her back a step and get her back on track.  But she doesn't take to changes as easily as Split.

Last week I tried to see if I could get her to run to a dead toy.  This would allow me a bit more freedom to begin to introduce motion.  She runs to the dead toy like a champ, but she gives me 3.5 strides on the dog walk (4 being ideal).  3.5 strides leaves less time to adjust strides to hit the yellow.  So, back to tossing the toy I go.  I will just try to throw it earlier and earlier to see if I can ease into it.

Also, she can tolerate some faster starts (like from a tunnel), but I can't do a whole session of them.  She begins to give me less strides again.

The absolute nicest thing about doing a running dog walk with Hoot is she resets herself.  That is, after she has been rewarded she knows we will be doing it again.  She runs to the start, places herself where I have been starting her and she is ready to run again!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Helping your fellow competitor

I have pondered this topic for several years now.  Should we or should we not share how we train something in agility (for money or free).  Or even give advice (when asked) on what went wrong and how to fix it.

I guess my opinions have become very clear to me on this one.  Yes, we should help our fellow competitor!

In helping our fellow competitor I believe that we are increasing the body of knowledge in our sport and advancing the sport, we are helping to raise the competitive level of everyone, I an learning more about the topic myself, and we are paying forward for our own time in need.

Why should we add to the body of knowledge.  Just look at the history of agility.  When I started with Tip 8 years ago my first day of instruction with her was running an AKC Excellent course with the dog on leash.  If people had not shared how to train new dog we would still be doing that.  I believe our training methods are better and easier on the dog and human today.  Not to mention, more fun!

Why should we raise the level of competitiveness around us?  Personally and selfishly speaking it helps me be a better competitor.  I want there to be a ton of competition around me, I want competition to challenge me to improve, I want the bar HIGH!  I want to watch great agility all the time.  I want to be wowed by improvement and performance.  I can only achieve these things if I agree to help lift those in need up!


I think the concept of learning more when you have to teach it is not new.  I have a burning desire to always learn my topic better.  By helping others I help myself.

Paying forward in my mind speaks for itself.  If we are all helpful and giving to our community, doesn't that make a much better community?

Now the caveat!  I want to help, really I do.  But I have found that those who ask casually for help are not the best people to help sometimes.  Not because they aren't in need, but because they are not ready to receive.  I think that people have to be hungry for the help and knowledge.  They have to have that burning desire to improve, not just the weekend wish to improve.  You have to be willing to take risks, put yourself out there, and open your mind to new concepts even if they don't make complete sense at the time.

So pay it forward, share the skills you are good at, and open your mind to strengthen your weaknesses!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Be THE FUN for your dog

In a nut shell, you must be "the fun" for your dog! You must be the leader of the fun, the initiator of "it's time to play", and the one who can play through any kind of situation or stress (even if you can't).

 Also subtitled "Leave your baggage at the door".

If your dog won't play, it is your job to teach them.

This blog entry was really hard to write. Mostly because there is so much to say on this topic and it is so important and fundamental to our success as a team. All kinds of teams deal with issues around this topic. Daisy Peel eluded to this ( when saying that she had to be a certain person for Frodo, I have to be a certain person for all my dogs and different for all of them, but then again I have to be a certain person for my husband too.

They should adore you!
I am not being who I am not, I am recognizing that I have certain personality traits that should probably be kept in check (or come out) for this person or dog.

I have had a number of students lately that are having trouble with their dogs. Either the dog is shutting down or getting wound out of control, both can be stress behaviors. There is a reason we use dogs as therapy animals. They are very sensitive to our emotions and issues! We need to remember that.  We, as their human partners need to recognize, honor and respect that.

There are some dogs that can power through our stress and brush it off, but in my experience, the majority will react somehow.

If your dog wouldn't say that you are the funnest person on earth, you are missing HUGE opportunities with that dog. Why would they want to give everything they have (energy-wise) to someone who is boring, neutral, stressed, ie...not fun. So, the real trick for us is identifying what the stress is, admitting it, and letting it go (at least for the moments you are with your dog).

It doesn't matter what the stress is: are they going to weave, will they take all 18 obstacles twice (yes, I have had that happen), will they leave the ring, will they shut down at the startline, I hate need to leave it behind.

Find the method that works for you: write each problem on a piece of paper and put them into a Tupperware so that you can leave them behind, or breath deep and think of the beach, or run a mile.. I leave my troubles at the door by remembering how amazing my canine partners are, and what they do for me everyday.

I remember that every problem is a training challenge and I bring the ones that stress me to the top of list.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cynosport 2014

Well Cynosport 2014 is in the books and I can't decide how I feel about it!

I guess the easy things first, I liked the site, but I am still not a fan of turf outdoors.  It just gets too hot for the dogs.  I would much prefer grass if we are running outdoors (and I do prefer outdoors).  I think that USDAA did a great job getting things organized and keeping things running. For the most part I think the judges were great (I don't want their job, I know it is hard to stand and judge all day).  The courses were fairly nice as well.  Favorite courses were Team Jumpers and Fancy Standard.  Challenging, yet fast!

In terms of my own runs, I had a lot of great moments on course, but each run was plagued with "one (or two) little thing(s)".  I would also say for the most part the "one little thing" was almost always handler error.  I didn't execute something correctly.

I never felt like we encountered things on course that I didn't know how to handle, which is awesome.  There was only one instance where I would say that I would have handled something differently than I walked it.

So why can't I decide how I feel?  Well that is always the six million dollar question.

I have been struggling with the minor errors for a while now.  I think because I am tired, I went into the competition being tired and I am still tired.  Probably not a great state of mind for success.

So, whenever I get stuck on something I have to walk away from it.  Let the problem rest and come back to it when I am fresh.  So, it is time for a break. 

P.S. comments on Tangle's teeter call are for another blog post

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dangerous course designs, should we train them?

There has been a lot of conversation lately about what is safe on course and what isn't.  Approaches to contacts, exits from running dog walks, turns out of chutes.  Let's face it, our game is getting faster and faster and we must adjust the design of the course with it.  I would love every course to be fast, challenging and safe, but they aren't.

I am not going to debate if something is safe or not, I really just want to bring up some points that I think about when I spot something that isn't safe and hear "I am not going to train that" from my fellow competitors.

One scenario that I have run up against now three times in the last six months is a table directly after the DW.  If I have a 2o2o DW this probably wouldn't get my attention, however Split has a running DW.  The first time I saw this it was a USDAA Advance course and the table was 12 feet from the end of the DW (technically legal) with a tunnel directly after.  The second and third time, the table was a generous 18 feet after the DW.

12 feet was fairly dangerous in terms of distance, 18 feet isn't that great either.  Think about a 22" - 26" jumping dog and if they don't have time to prepare their take off to the table.  They will hit the table with their chest or shoulder or lower leg.  I don't want to think about the injuries that could happen.

So, people walk away from that and say "I am not going to train that, it is dangerous".  I walk away saying "I am going to train that, it is dangerous".  I don't train it so that I can endorse the dangerous design or so that we can conquer all courses.  I train it so that when there is a dangerous design I have a fair idea how my dog will execute it and if I should pull him from that course. I train it so that they can keep themselves safe if I ACCIDENTALLY cue something unsafe.  I train it because sometimes we can figure out how to do something in a safer manner.  I train it in a manner and scenario that I can keep my dog safe while we learn.

When I trained the table after the DW I can tell you I didn't set it 12 feet after the DW, that would be dangerous.  I set it about 18 feet and at a very low height (8 inches).  We started from a stop at the end of the DW, backchained and then ultimately ran the DW.  I wanted Split to see that set up and I wanted to know how he would negotiate it.  He was treated for ALL his reactions.  He was treated for choosing to run around the table, fly off the table and finally stopping on the table.  I want him to know that what ever option feels safe to him it isn't wrong.

This is just my way of trying to keep my dogs safe in an ever changing environment of dog agility.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What are your foundation "go to" resources?

I sat down at my desk this morning and had to laugh.  The desk is full of DVDs, books, and printed papers.   All of these materials are about something "foundation".  This happens every time I train a new puppy.  There is no room for my day job materials.

None of this reference material is new, it all has coffee stains on it, and pages bent over/marked.  The DVDs have been burned so that I can watch them/reference them on my Galaxy Note as I have 3 minutes to burn.

So you ask, what are my foundation "go to" resources?

  • Developing Jumping Skills, Linda Mecklenburg - it isn't just about jumping.
  • Foundations Fun!, Silvia Trkman
  • Running Contacts that Make you Smile, Silvia Trkman
  • A ton of material on building drive/impulse control, Tracy Sklenar
  • Many articles from OneMindDogs relating to teaching dogs/puppies

Each puppy, something else gets added to the list.

Tip, Tangle, Hoot and Split

Why do I keep referencing them?  As my brother once said to me "because I slept last night", referring to the fact that his memory was bad (I am sure mine is better).  But really, because each time I read/watch/refer to them I pick up something new.  Probably because I have grown wiser as a trainer, but also this puppy is different from the last.  I train them all a little differently.

 Some may worry that I am combining too many opinions, or too many 'systems'.  I am not worried at all.  The puppies understand motion (all of these handling materials are based on motion) and as long as I am consistent in my cues and my puppy understands them, isn't it all good?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Trying to hold on to what is good and human (or K9)

Sometimes life is just filled with "Too Much Information".

We find out too much about our "friends" on Facebook or we are exposed to things that we would rather not know exist.  I can take this kind of stuff in small doses, but I can't take it everyday.

I know that it is shocking, but I don't really want to know about Brad Pitt, nor am I interested in what NFL player beat his wife (happy with my head in the sand).  I don't want to know which Harry Potter character, insect, or gem stone you are.  I don't want to be invited to play games--ever!

I do want to know when my friends have had huge accomplishments, or interesting stores, or babies, or grand-babies, or new puppies.  I do want to know if you are struggling and need support.  I am interested in people and what makes them human. I am interested in the things that "connect" us as humans.

My Facebook feed has been filled with more things from the "I don't really want to know" category then the things that help me "connect" with humans.

So, I created a new Facebook account.  One that has no friends, no family, no personality, but one that I can get my agility information daily.  One that helps me obsess on the good and interesting in my sport.

I read this everyday.  I get news about OneMindDogs, FCI, USDAA, Clean Run, Agility Courses, etc...

Reading about things that help me learn and accomplish more in agility is what makes me happy.  Reading things that help me be a better human for my K9 is what makes me happy.

About twice a week, I put on my armour so that I can wade through all that is bad, in order to discover the little golden nuggets that my friends have posted.  I know I won't be the first to congratulate someone, or the first to console a friend.  But I will be happier and more "human" when I do connect.

P.S. Facebook can't stand it when you don't have "friends".

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Building Relationships and Living Life

This is part of the dog agility blog event day "Outside the Ring",  the non-agility training and activities we do to help our dogs and ourselves when we do enter the agility ring.

This is a hard topic for me!  I don't do much outside the agility ring or practice field that is explicitly in the name of agility to be honest.  Perhaps I spend a little bit of time watching video, reading blogs, and generally feeding my obsession of agility.  In general we just live life.  But it is how we live life that benefits us in the ring. And I do believe that all of these activities benefit us in the ring.

I do these things with my dogs, not in the name of agility, but because this is why I own dogs.  I just love spending time with them. 

My dogs and I run probably 4 times per week or we hike on weekends. I generally trail run so that all the dogs can go (without a leash), so that they can be dogs, chase prairie dogs, chase each other, run up hills, go splash in puddles, swim in the lake, and roll in the mud.  It makes me smile to watch them enjoying themselves. Before my pups can go on runs with the pack they must have safety skills.  They must know how to lie down at a distance, stay while I run ahead (is the coast clear?), keep me in their site, not greet if someone isn't ready for that, and recall to stay away from coyotes just to name a few skills used daily.

Benefits to agility: cardiovascular workout, build muscle and speed, cross-training, stress relief, relationship building, body awareness, self-control, recalls, and responsibility

Swimming in Rivers

Running in Fields

Running in Rocks

We roll around on the floor and play!  It makes me smile!

Benefits to agility: Stress relief, building relationships and knowing how to play with each other.

We have a great patio and the spring, summer, fall mornings are lovely in Colorado.   Frequently, we play fetch while I drink my morning coffee.  To keep order in the chaos, I call out the name of the dog that is allowed to chase the toy, the others can move around, they just can't steal the toy.

Benefits to agility: Cross-training, building toy drive, finding the toy, self-control, relationship building and the obvious, knowing their name :)

We spend time with my family and friends.  The dogs get used to babies, kids, other dogs, the elderly, other dog's houses.  When we camp they know how to stay close, play with all sorts of people, recall off of wild animals, sleep in strange places (4 dogs in a backpacking tent makes some close quarters).  They get the opportunity to climb on rocks, swim in lakes, and run up hills.

Benefits to agility:  Well socialized, body awareness, self-control, can be respectful of each others space, they love kids and are respectful of the elderly.

Playing in the snow

My husband and I lead an active life.  Our active lifestyle gives them the cross-training and diverse physical exercise to have a very sound mind and body.

So I guess in short, my dogs are built into my life.  Many of the skills that they need in order to live successfully in my pack are also basic skills that they must know for agility.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The price is right!

A dog will not change its behavior unless the alternative is more rewarding!  Think about that statement for a moment.  Now act of it and pay much better than the self-reward they are already receiving.

Hoot is an excellent example of this.  She is now 5.5 months old, very biddable, but also very independent.  There are certain things in life that she can give up very easily for a piece of kibble and there are things in life that are so self-rewarding that the pay check has to be huge.  Once I have the appropriate pay, she will do anything for me.

What is wrong with paying a high price to get the behavior you want?  You get what you want and they get what they want.  Every time you pay you transfer the value from that high priced reward to the task that you would like them to do.  The reward can be less over time because that activity now has value to them.

I once had a student who wanted the dog to work for them just for the love of working for them.  Interesting thought and in the end you can probably have that sometimes, but is it fair and equitable?  Probably not. 

Would you work as a store greeter for free just because you love hanging at that store.  I wouldn't.  If that store let me pick one item worth $300 for everyday I worked for them, I might.  If my manager came by and said she loved the way I interacted with the customers that would make me feel good.  So, after a year, if my manager said she needed me to work one day for free would I?  Probably because I liked that store, I know they pay well, I liked the experiences, and I liked my manager.  That goodwill did not come for free, it was earned. 

So, does it cost you anything to pay with a high value reward for what you want?  I don't think so.  I think it costs more in the end if you don't pay well.  You spend a lot of  training time establishing that your pay scale is crappy, and only getting mediocre behaviors back. 

I want every training moment I have to count toward getting the most awesome behavior I can!  I pay well above union wages.

P.S. Think outside the box to design your high paying rewards.  Spraying a hose, chasing you, chasing a ball, running out a door, helping vacuum, jumping into a pool.  What does your dog love more than life itself?  Use that as rewards!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why training puppies is great for big dogs!

Hoot is now 5+ months old and I am beginning to do a little more with her.

We are going around cones/uprights.  I am trying to lay down the foundation well, so we are taking our time.  I watch the path she takes, her commitment to what I have just cued, how soon she commits, response to motion, drive out of the curve etc...  Not really that I am choosing to perfect each one of these items now, but I take note and we will perfect them as well go along.

When I am training a puppy I automatically assume that the puppy doesn't know anything.  I introduce it, we take baby steps and I am very good about rewarding each step of progress in the right direction.

However, when I train my older dogs I get lulled into thinking that their foundation is done, we only have to review, they *know* all the steps along the way, and we are only working on those tweaks that will take our team work  from good to great.

I am sure I am not alone in this bad assumption.  I think many of us fall into this trap.

When I am training a puppy, because my head is in a different place, I am much quicker to recognize a lack of understanding in one of my adult dogs.  Because I am training the puppy and paying attention to all the micro steps along the way, it bleeds over to the adult dogs.

I LOVE THIS!  It improves the quality of the adult dog training as well.

Specifically, I was training Tangle.  We were working on a sequence that was hard.  But, we were having trouble with a spot that I didn't expect (1-2-3).  What should have been a simple backside of a jump.  One of those that should *almost* be a gimme.

So I isolated that particular sequence and it hit me.  He has a lack of commitment problem on a backside of a jump.  The moment got better!  I have been working this with Hoot (who comes by the problem out of ignorance) and I know how to solve this one!!  I know how to teach it, and how to reward it to get results quickly.

Split had his foundation issue (come to hand) from 3-4.  Again, I am working this with Hoot, I have my mechanics honed, and I can work through this issue quickly.

I love this synergy!  It makes it better for the dogs, it makes it better for me.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Happy (only) 4th Birthday Tangle

Could it be?  It seems like I have only had Tangle in my life for a short time. 

Those Eyes

Happy Birthday my Tangle-man!

All of my dogs have exceptional qualities and Tangle is no exception.  Tangle has done agility before, I am sure of it.  He also was born into this world knowing how to love.  He has such a playful and loving quality about him.  A true gentle giant.

Tangle got his ADCH at the age of three, has qualified for three USDAA Cynosport competitions, competed in two.  Attended many USDAA Regionals, always walking away with metals.  He has attended a World Team Tryout.  He has placed in "High in Trial" several times.  All of these competitions he has done with grace and a calm head.  He has traveled this road before.

Photo by Ken Gee

Tangle is a good teacher for me.  Patient and  forgiving.  Willing to let me struggle until I figure out what he needs. We are beginning to develop a common language and now our conversations go much more quickly.

Thanks Tangle for choosing me! 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

All things Split

We went to a USDAA trial this weekend (Wasatch Agility).  I ran both Split and Tangle, both were awesome and gave me a lot of things to be proud of.

Funny how sometimes you have a moment however that gets you thinking about where you are and where you have been.  A friend was commenting after Split's Standard run that he really doesn't want to get out of PII.  We have been trying to get out of PII for ever and now we are finally down to just one little thing always.  My perspective on the run was much different since I am VERY FAMILIAR with the road we have traveled.  Only having one issue on course is AMAZING to me!

It was my fault!  I didn't pull Split off the field soon enough when he was injured and he associated many obstacles with pain: teeter, weaves, AF, tight turns, etc...  So when he came back one of the reasons for the re-training was to let him start to have fun and rewards and begin to love the obstacles again.  Not an easy road.

So, I have re-trained a 2o2o to a running AF, a 4 on DW to a running DW, trained him to turn tight again, re-trained the weaves and am working on the teeter and the table.  I have a lot of experience re-training and should now write a book on what works and what doesn't.

These are Split's runs from this weekend.  Having traveled the road that we have, I would say this dog is fairly resilient and amazing!  We will make it, and he will get his Q.

This morning I was working Running Dog Walk turns.  This is the course that I set up.  I am trying to perfect my handling of the RDW.  I am trying to give Split the most information I can so that he can do his job correctly. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Competing for Your Next Personal Best

This is a part of Dog Agility Bloggers day, you can find more blogs here. The topic of choice is Success and it is a call to action.  I would challenge everyone to examine how they measure success.

Success, the process of constantly improving, competing against your personal best and winning.

What more can I say...that about sums it up for me.

So how do you achieve success and more importantly, how do you feel successful?

In the beginning it was very hard to not focus on the Q, or not to be disappointed in the off course/knocked bar.  I wrestled with this too often in the beginning.  Way too many times I came off course not happy with the outcome.  How can you always be happy when your expectation is perfection?  Perfection just doesn't happen that often. And for me, a Type-A personality my idea of perfection is always beyond my reach.

There are too many things in agility that are completely out of your control, at least in the short run.  You can't set goals and achieve success while including a majority of the things that are out of your control.

I reset my measurement of success and am a much happier competitor.  I have a list of things to work on for myself and each of the dogs.  These are the items that are incorporated into each practice or trial (yes, trial).  The list comes from several sources: what made me nervous in my last trial, what skills were we missing in order to handle the course aggressively (not just Q), or what skills do we need to acquire in order to meet a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), like trying out for world team.

This is the list that I use to measure success!  When I walk a course I always try to put at least one element of a challenge in it for us (some courses offer so many more).  I come off the course, reward my dog and reflect on how we performed our "challenges".  I don't come off course and ask "did we Q" or "what was our time".  It is what it is.   What I need to do to affect future performances is much more important.  Will I ask those two questions at Nationals, sure, but not at local trials.

I read a blog that Silvia Trkman wrote in April that struck me as something that contributes a great deal to her success...

You will NEVER see me ask a dog (to) do that or another obstacle without having an evil plan on how to proof their understanding more, without asking them to do it with a reason to take their understanding to another level. 

If you are constantly challenging yours and your dog's level of competency and increasing the competency, how can you not achieve greater goals?  Focus on what you can control.

There are so many ways that you could measure success in agility, but most are not within your control.  Can you really control if you win?  Yes, eventually you have a great influence on it, but you can't control it, you work toward it.

I am very mindful when I compete and practice, in their lifetime my dogs only have some many jumps in them, they only do this because they love playing with me.  So, I have to be the best teammate possible and make every moment of play count!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

She's a Hoot

I have been busy and forgot proper introductions!  Not because she is forgettable, but probably because I have been laughing so hard since I got her, it has been hard to focus on anything else.

We have added a new addition to the family.  Hoot!  And she is living up to her name.

Hoot is an amazing pup.  She has a rock solid personality, smart as a whip, is game for anything, and never met a person she didn't know.  She embraces everything in life with the same enthusiasm and zest.

I am expecting and hoping that Hoot and I travel a slightly different path than I have with my other dogs.  Yes, she will do agility, but I also expect to start herding with her. 

Since it will be a while until she begins anything agility related and I have things to say about her too, she has her own blog.

She's a Hoot

Welcome to the pack Ms. Hoot, Hoot-a-licious, Hoot-a-vicious.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rocky Mountain Regionals

Overall I was pleased with our results from RM Regionals.  We ended up with the Byes and Bling, how could I complain?
Tangle was the only one that I ran in Regional tournaments this year.  Tip is pretty much retired, Split could have run but I didn't enter him this time.  He only got to run titling classes.

This was one of those trials where there were magnificent things that happened in addition to winning Byes and Bling.

I can't even tell you how proud I am with Tangle's AFrame for one.  He ran 11 AFs this weekend and only missed one.  Also we had many deep hits.  Just thrilled!!  He only dropped one bar this weekend, bars are not a problem for us, but noteworthy for sure.  Also, I felt that his speed was improving.

In Regional GP round 2 he would have placed third if not for a teeter fault (guess what is on our training list) and in Steeple Chase Regional Round 2 he would have placed second but he knocked a bar (those silly two bar hillbilly spreads).  Proud of him for making it to round 2 in both Steeplechase and Grand Prix!!

Split had many moments of brilliance as well.  Q in Gamblers and Snooker--yeah Split.  He made all three of his running DWs.  Performed each of his teeters like a champ, and downed on the table.  All of which has been challenges.  Loved that what we have been training is improving in trials!!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reverse Spin

I have been watching a fair number of agility videos on YouTube lately.  Reverse spins are getting very popular.  I like them in the right situation.  Saves my knees and can give the dog more information about what is next in certain situations.

I compared two scenarios that are getting common for reverse spins (RS).

I set up a course to play with this concept some and then watched the video.  Most times I learn way more from the video then I do from actually running a sequence.

Here is the video of my session:

#1 with Tangle, he had a nice turn and understood where he needed to go.  I want a tight turn and I want to take off in the direction I am facing.  Standing still, and with my position into my dog tells them to collect.

#2 - The distance between the jumps is about 18 feet, standard for a trial. I don't want a tight turn, just a turn and I certainly don't want any collection since it isn't needed and I want a fast time.  In this situation I got a tighter turn than what is required and I felt like I was behind.

Here is a Coach's Eye comparison.  The RS is slower than the forward motion.

Split #2 - Split demonstrated nicely that he thought a tight turn was coming and to get the correct jump I had to correct his path.  He was correct, the RS for him is asking for a tighter turn.  Also, it is not giving any indication that we are going to continue motion forward, it told him a very opposite story.  If I continue to do RS's in this situation I believe that I would dilute my turning cues with Split.  Something I have fought hard to get :)

When I am walking a course I look at the course as a series of (dog's) lines.  I want to cue as much of a line as possible and give the dog as much advanced information about where we are going.  In the  case of using a reverse spin to go out to the far jump I am not giving them much information.  I believe there are better handling choices.

5 Strides!

Split and I have been working on a running dog walk for the past several months.  When it got up to full height he decided to start giving me 6 strides and collecting at the end.  I am sure that he knows to hit the yellow and this was his insurance policy.  I also think that it was influenced by teaching him the Rachel Sanders box method on the AFrame.

Silvia Trkman was worried that it wouldn't hold up in a trial when he was uber excited.  So, she encouraged me to see if I could get 5 strides out of him.

So, we lowered the DW, put a carpet on the end and set everything up to get extension out of him.  Super speedy entrances and exits, I was running ahead of him, etc...

A week of running like that, clicking when I got extension and not really worrying if he didn't hit the contact zone (which was covered with carpet).  I would jackpot however if he did hit it.

Finally!  I got 5 strides out of him.  This is his session from today, carpet is faded, not quiet full height.

There is one rep where I think something surprised him and he collecting on the top, but other than that, we have progress.  Huge progress!!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Great Running Contact Day!

I have been struggling with how to get Split to have 4 strides (5 hits) on the dog walk.  He seems to want to collect at the end and that gives him 5 strides.  Yes, he hits the yellow nicely, but we worry that it isn't maintainable once the trial excitement hits.  I have my theories as to why he is collecting, but don't really know.

So, most inspirational moments in life happen, one thought vocalized, lead to another thought, that lead to the "inspiration".  Tell Split where he is going when he is over the first apex of the dog walk.

You can visit my channel on YouTube if you want to see what he was doing.

So, just for good measure I ran him again this afternoon.  BEAUTIFUL!

Pushing my luck, as I always do, I decided to see what Tangle was going to do today.

Here is his running AF.  I have been working on USDAA height trying to get deeper hits.  FINALLY!  Yep, my golden day.  Really nice hits.

I should go buy a lottery ticket!!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Having The Guts To Change!

There is a ton of conversation about One Mind Dogs, both pro and con.  I guess the way that I look at it, they provide me more tools in my toolbox.  I have enough experience to recognize when something is conflicting with my handling style, and keep what enhances it.  I try on a lot of things to see what fits or doesn't.

OMD in principal is nothing different, but the details underneath the covers are what makes all the difference in the world.  It is not about the fancy moves.  Key details are where you look, and when you look.

I have had a ton of fun this week!  I took the OMD Course 2 and immersed myself in learning and challenging myself in the way I was running my dogs.  Really living with the details of this course, analyzing why things worked or why they didn't work.  Watching video of the experts running the course.

If I had not watched their video of how they ran this course, I never would have run it this way.  I never would have thought to put blinds where they did.  Best of all, I saw it could be done and it gave me the motivation and guts to do it!

Here is Tangle running the course.

To run the course this way took no extra training for Tangle.  But for me, it took the commitment to always be ahead which was no easy task on this course.  For Split, there was just a bit of coaching to come in to me, but really it was about me having better control of his head (more than I need to with Tangle).  Once again, once I get trained, my dogs are going to be fantastic!  :)

Here is my practice session with Split.  I guess I post this to show some of the challenges on this course.  Split is a great dog, but doesn't have the mileage and detail in the foundation that Tangle had.

Look forward to challenging myself more!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Agility Dog Champion (ADCH) Tangle

We did it.  We didn't stress it.  We made it.  He is only three.  I am impressed!

My good consistent boy Tangle got his Agility Dog Champion this weekend.  This boy amazes me how much he is able to accomplish in such a short time.  Perhaps he did agility in a past life?

Me, Tangle and Lyn Sigman

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ah puppies! Learning is a way of life!

There is always a difficult side to participating in Dog Agility Blog Day.  I always sit down, think about what I know on the topic and come to a similar realization.  "The more you know, the more you know you don't know" - Aristotle

I spend an amazing amount of time thinking about agility in general, and when the blog event is upon us, I spend an amazing amount of time thinking about that topic.  I have been around agility for a while, I am certain that I know more than I knew when I began, but I am also certain I have more questions as well.  Training puppies, at least when it comes to agility is no exception.  Training puppies for everyday life, I know exactly what I want and a pretty good idea how to train most of it.

Baby Split and Randy

Starting a puppy can be a very passionate topic for most.  We want to build these lean, mean running machines that can jump over a tall jump (without knocking the bar) in a single bound.  We want them to attend trials, love all people, dogs, children and noises.  We want them to wait at startlines, run full blast when asked, run by our sides at a critical moment and have independent weaves, and contacts.  Really we want nothing less than perfection.  How do we train that?

Well, only speaking for my life and my dogs, agility is about 2 percent of their existence on this earth and I am an avid agility person.  Most of my dog's time is spent being a great member of my everyday existence, and wonderful member of my greater Border Collie pack.  I keep that in mind when I am training my puppy, I try to focus on the perfect everyday puppy first.  I truly believe that this is the best foundation I can give my future agility star.

I focus on three things when training my puppies:
  • Life skills
  • Learning skills
  • Playing skills
I may change my methods with each puppy, but fundamentally these are my three goals for each of my puppies.

Life Skills - these are the skills that it takes to be a successful "pet" dog in my house.  The puppy must learn how to interact with his/her pack members, greet other dogs, warn other dogs that it is uncomfortable, not surf counter tops, rely on me to protect it, love people and children, walk through home depot without getting scared, jog with me, sit/stay, lay down, etc...  You get the idea.  Everything it takes to be a fantastic pet.

Learning skills - Just like children, puppies have to know how to learn.  They need to know that I am not going to show them everything, I want them to help think through the problem at hand.  I want them to offer solutions of their own.  I am mostly talking about shaping, yes.  If my dogs never stepped one foot on an agility field, they still need to know how to learn.  I have all sorts of "tricks" that I use in every day life and they need to be brilliant learners. What should you do when the ball goes over the fence?  Go around it and find the opening of course!  Great puzzle for dogs.

Playing skills - I use these skills to exercise and interact with the dogs, and on the agility field.  Simply put, I want my dogs to know how to play and be happy about playing anywhere and everywhere.  Not all dogs are born with this ability.  Some worry or get stressed in strange/different environments.  Play is a way to help release that stress or emotion and just PLAY.  My dog must know how to de-stress or channel his/her stress at trials and classes.  I want them to do this through play.  Also, in general life, I use this play to help keep them engaged. SQUIRREL!  We work on tug, fetch, chase, spinning, going around trees, hide and seek to name a few.

All of learning is incorporated into real life as much as possible.  I try not to have too many "training sessions", I want my dogs to be use to learning, thinking, and playing all day long.  Border collies pattern and if I only teach them one time of day, or in the same place they are very capable of drawing the conclusion that is the only place they need to "think".  All of these skills are a way of life around my house.

So how does this relate to agility?  I believe that perfecting  all of these basic skills helps when I start my basic agility training.  If my puppy can sit/stay when I open the backdoor to let him out, wait at the gate to the agility field before released, sit/stay before a meal, it makes training the startline that much easier.  I have already worked many situations where the puppy needs impulse control skills.  Does this make them perfect, heck no, but it is a great foundation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

5 Foot Jumps, why did I wait so long?

It is funny how suddenly some idea occurs to you and then you wonder "why didn't I think of that before"?

A couple of weeks ago I decided to convert most of my field over to winged jumps with 5 foot bars.  What made me decide this?  Well, while trying to do threadles with Tangle it suddenly dawned on me, he just doesn't fit over a 4 foot jump bar when taking it at an angle.  There just isn't that much room for my very long boy to maneuver between stanchions that are 4 foot apart.  And, as Rachel Sanders would say, he fights for the tightest line so that REALLY doesn't leave him much room!

5' Winged Jump

This started me wondering, Tangle's size isn't that unusual.  Why don't all venues that have backsides and threadles require a 5 foot bar?  Have you ever really WATCHED the effort it takes for a medium/big dog to do a backside with no wing?  New found respect for that dog!

I believe USDAA now requires a 5 foot bar.  If we are going to see a backside or two in AKC and UKI, why don't they require a wing and 5 foot bar?  UKI strongly encourages wings, but neither AKC or UKI require a 5 foot bar.

Monday, February 10, 2014

This is why I adore Tip

Let me preface this with saying that Tip is basically retired.  I don't have any goals for her, but I do run her in an occasional trial.  She still joins our practices several times a week. It keeps her connected and happy.

I am retraining Split's dog walk to a running dog walk.  It is kind of messed up anyway, so I decided that I might as well mess with it more :)


So, since one dog gets to do something, Tip must never be left out.  Especially if it involves a thrown ball!!  So, just to entertain her I was letting her do a couple of running dog walks each session as well.  She wasn't bad, but she did leap some.

About a month ago, for some reason I gave her the command "hit it" (curious what she would do with it).  I used "hit it"  for Rachel Sander's box method when I was retraining Split's 2o2o AF to a running AF.  Again, I had no intent to apply the box method on a contact for Tip, but it involved those two ingredients 1) another dog getting to do something 2) a ball being thrown. So, Tip ended up with a stupid pet trick where she can target a box on the run and I will reward it with a ball toss.

Just a side note, if I don't think it is going to hurt any current training I will always teach all three dogs the same thing.  You never know when it is going to come in handy :)

So, for a month now, a couple of times a week when I work Split I will let Tip run her dog walk with the "hit it" command.  Her version of a RDW has been amazingly reliable.  Most sessions she never misses even one contact. 

Now, would I do this with all my dogs--never in a million years.  Tip has some unique skills that make her a great candidate.  She is uber confident, she has a ton of forward motion, and she is amazingly smart.  So, she can actually slow down, hit the contact and then drive at full speed again to the next obstacle.  Split and Tangle would just end up confused.  They would slow at first, but if some slow is good they would slow more.  We would eventually end up with walking at the end.  They are both smart, but don't have the confidence that Tip has.

Here is video of her this weekend and again today.  Notice today I had carpet on the end of the contact.  That was there for Split, but somehow she still knew where she needed to slow down and she did.  She never stops amazing me!!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Agility, Colorado style

What more can I say, we have been snowed in with -12F (-22C) temps.  Today, it was sunny and hit 20F by 9:00am so we celebrated!  The field will be ready for practice this afternoon!

Snow blowing the agility field!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

So much thinking, so little to say

Well, it is winter.  The time of year that typically gets me thinking (because I can't be outside 'doing').

We haven't had a lot going on since last October.  I purposely take some time off and certainly plan a more relaxed schedule for myself and the dogs.  Everybody needs to heal and renew.

We have attended a couple of seminars, a couple of trials, taken some time off, did some what has me thinking? All of it!  There seems to be two common themes in my mind.  Reflecting on Tangle's career at the rip old age of 3 and some new ideas that have come from exposure to OneMindDogs (handle system?).

Baby Tangle
First, Tangle's some ways I feel that I have done too much with him.  By the age of 3 he has been to two Nationals, three Regionals, attended world team tryouts, countless trials, and is very close to getting his ADCH title (USDAA's Championship Title).  Now I repeat to myself "By three years old".  Why is it too much?  I guess in my heart I feel like it is too much mileage for such a young dog.  Too much mileage with pressure, that is.  He has held up to it all with flying colors.  I still don't spot holes in his foundation.  Not sure what conclusions I draw from this, I am not that far in my thinking yet.  Perhaps I will make changes, perhaps I won't. I just wonder, should the journey have had a different focus in the first three years of a dog's life? Of Tangle's life!


I know, there are great debates going on in the US.  Is it new?  Is it the same old, just renamed?  Not really interested in that.  For me, it is someone else saying something that I am hearing differently!  It is like getting a new teacher who has captured your attention.  Maybe it is the same old, but does that mean there isn't more to learn?  Certainly not!

A lot of people are focusing on the "moves".  OK, some are fancy and new (to me at least).  But what is more profound to me is where I should be looking! 

He is committed, I am gone, but connected!

Telling him where I want him to land!

I played with this concept some on Lori Michaels' Jacob's Ladder Drill.  I did these drills last summer and found some of them very hard.  After changing where/when I look I was shocked at how well the dog understood the cues.  Very cool!!  Most of the drills felt so much easier!  For me, that is profound!

More to come on this later, but I am going to go back to thinking again...

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Nothing really special to say, just thought I would post Split's Tunnelers runs from this weekend.

There are certain things that just make you smile and this is IT for me.

  • I love the almost startline. He is on the edge of blowing it but he doesn't.
  • I loved that he pulled me out to the startline, just couldn't wait to get started.
  • I love seeing him run his little heart out.
  • I love the foaming at the mouth and smile at the end.

I know, a lot of people try to avoid these overstimulated, not perfect, and well...obnoxious behaviors. I use to as well.  But..

  • Any living thing that has this level of elation, how can you not smile?
  • I have a dog that worries way too much and is never this eager. Puts this problem into a different perspective.
I no longer look at this as a problem, it is a blessing. I just love to see my dogs smile!

P.S. I got the best question at the trial. "Do you train your dog's to run that fast, or did they just come that way?" Answer: I teach them to love the game.