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.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Is it all about the journey?

Life events as of late have pulled me away from agility.  I am now taking care of my elderly Dad while he recovers in the hospital and the rehab center.  His care is fairly demanding and requiring a fair bit of my time.  The same time that I use to use for agility, exercising my dogs, and my own sanity.

This past year Tangle (and Hoot) and I have been on a journey to improve our teamwork, my handling, my fitness, my mental preparedness, and prepare for European Open US Tryouts. It has been intense, a lot of work, rewarding and frustrating at times.  The journey to most big goals are that way.  Most everyone around me have been very aware of this goal since I have taken a lot of time off of work and time away from my family to attend trials, camps, seminars etc... to help me prepare for the Tryouts.

I am less than a month away from Tryouts and had to make the decision yesterday that I just might not make it to tryouts.  Which brought the question to mind, "Is it ALL about the journey?" or is the destination sometimes important too?  I am a huge believer in journey's.  HUGE!.  But I can tell you now that sometimes the destination is important as well.

I don't regret all the work we have done this year toward my goal.  Not at all!  Every single ounce of it is being used to make us a better team and me a better handler.  I would not be able to handle Hoot without it!  So, yes, all the effort was still worth it.  But to be able to take the final "test" so da' speak to see how well all your work and efforts hold up to the challenge is important sometimes.

So, yes I will have other opportunities.  And yes I will get over this.  And yes helping my Dad is hugely important.  But I have learned that sometimes the destination is part of the journey.

Here is Tangle's and my jumpers run from this weekend.  Not a tremendously hard course, but there are lots of things in that run that we/I would not have done 8 months ago.  I wouldn't have taken the chances and known that I could get the job done.  I probably would not have won because my handling style didn't bring out as much speed in my dog!  We are a well oiled machine right now and I am proud of that!

Friday, October 16, 2015

What can I say?

I have been a slacker, I need to blog.  I blog to keep a record for myself and lately I have really been slacking.

So much learning, so much to say but yet no words on the page.  Hopefully this weekend I will be able to have some quality time with my blog to spew some of what I have been working on.

In the meantime, enjoy this picture of Hoot at one of her local trials.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Training Party Tricks

You ever had one of those training sessions where you really feel connected to your dogs, and they are responding to everything nicely?  Even though you were working hard skills, it seems like you are training party tricks?  It is pure joy.  It is those training sessions that keep me going.

Tangle and I have been working really hard on new skills.  Our practice sessions have been intense, I have stumbled more than I have handled perfectly.  It has been hard.  Is it worth it?  Sure it is.  But I do have to take some time out like we did today.

I love working individual skills.  It relaxes me and it feels like I am training party tricks rather than useful agility skills.  My dogs love it when I am relaxed as well :)

I didn't film everything we worked on, but here is a sampling of the work.  I worked a reverse spin off the running dog walk with Hoot.  A friend and I were talking about turns of a RDW and a reverse spin came to mind.  I think it worked really well.

Again, I was chatting with someone regarding proofing weaves.  It occurred to me that I had not worked weaves into fences in a while and probably should.  So, of course, I had to raise the bar a few more notches and work a discriminations at the same time.

Tangle and Hoot were rock stars!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Just a bit of diversity today

These are some quotes that struck me today and I wanted to keep them around.  I feel that I am constantly tweaking who I am and how I react to the world.  Not that I am unhappy, because I am not.  But I know that I can always be happier and react to the world in a better way.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Discriminations, tunnels, aframes, weaves in a small space

I put this course together this morning.  Actually my goal was to keep Hoot off the AFrame and I figured I would just work tunnels.  With Tangle, I ended up working tunnels and the AFrame.

For small spaces this course has a lot of skill work to offer.

White square - I worked come to hand, and discriminations.  It was very fun to work cueing for the AF vs the tunnel.  #4 I worked from the landing side so independent weaves are a great skill to have.

Black square - #3 was a bit challenging to get, my direction of motion needed to be perfect.  #6 I ran as basically a serp.

White Circle - #4 I ended up doing a lap turn.

Black Circle - Kind of straight forward

Have fun and let me know if you discover any other courses in this setup

Monday, July 13, 2015

Hoot's AKC Debut

I finally got to take Hoot out for a spin "officially".

I have a slightly different approach to the beginning of Hoot's trialing career than I have had with my other dogs. With Tangle, I trained him in the back yard, then signed him up for classes in one place, did some tours of different dog walks and AF's and then he went head first into trialing. All the classes. If you think about it and count up all the differences from a back yard to a trial, it really is a lot to ask of a dog. Tangle is a great dog. He never lost his head, but was careful and never wanted to make mistakes.

Hoot is a different dog. I have trained her from the very beginning as high as I can get her. It was clear that she would be that highly stimulated kind of a girl and I needed her to know how to deal with it. We went to several fun runs in the last six months, gradually asking her to do more and more. She did a UKI trial, but with toys in the ring and it was only jumpers. So, this past weekend we did AKC kind of "for reals". Although I have to admit I used the off course I was allowed in standard to reward good performance on the AF :)

I was really proud of her. She was way beyond my expectations in Jumpers and beyond my expectations in Standard.

I can't believe the challenges the judges gave novice dogs with the running dog walk. And Hoot was successful on her hits both days!! The first day was the DW to a table, she stuck it as best she could. The second day was broad jump to the DW (we talked to the judge and had her move it further away from the DW, ended up being 20 feet from landing to the DW and a slightly less nasty angle).

She got all of her contacts, weaves (only with a re-try), held startlines and her table performance was awesome. Really what more can I ask?

So, coming out of this trial, what is next?

I will work on her teeter a bit more, work the sequences that we had refusals, continue to work the tire with speed and continue to work my timing with her.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

You have to work hard for what you want

Agility is a blast, if it weren't, a lot of us would be doing something else!

But let's face it, when there is something that you really want in agility, it is a lot of hard work!  Really hard work!  Most goals in life are that way.  If it were easy, you would already have it right?

You have to really, really want it.  You have to keep your focus on it and your commitment toward that goal.  Some days it is easy because you make progress and some days are exhausting and hard and uphill!

The first such "project" that I had in agility was with Tip, when I finally realized that if I let her run a muck on the agility course I will never, ever accomplish anything.  So, the process of learning to handle and getting the mess under control was huge.  It was partially huge because I didn't know how to do it so the journey was a lot of uphill climbs.

The second project, getting Tangle JAZZED to play agility and not to worry was both physically demanding and mentally challenging.  I worked physically hard to get that boy to just love tug!  And to be honest, now I am a bit afraid each time I tug with him.  He is so strong and not gentle AT ALL!  Mentally, I had to stay engaged with him always, be cheerful, and be jazzed for him.  If you have ever had to do this, then you know, you are mentally exhausted by the process.  But, in the end, it is worth it and Tangle takes very little effort to get him jazzed.  I had to really want this transformation in our relationship.

My current project, changing my handling style is hard every day right now.  In the beginning, the project was driven by Hoot, who is a combo of a flying monkey and Ferrari.  I have to be on my game or it will not end well.  But now, the project has other drivers and Tangle is benefiting from it in spades.  I know all the hard work will be worth it.

This project take changes in how I physically and mentally run.  I watch video of myself EVERY DAY!  I am on a constant quest for exercises that will test and challenge what I am trying to do, I check my decisions every day to make sure they are in line with my goals.  I never take my eye off the ball.   This takes devotion and time.

Every day I am physically sore, I am mentally exhausted, but some days I get to be really proud of what I am accomplishing!  It will be worth it!

So, if you have something you really, really want--commit to it. Find those few people who will support you and be honest with you, and never let you settle even when you are down, sore, or discouraged.  It will be worth it!

Monday, May 18, 2015

The exact word you use matters

I had been thinking a lot (ok, I always am, that is who I am) about goals and objectives.  I am really trying to change my mental game.  I know that if I can get my mental game changed the physical part will follow!

I made a list of handling objectives that I really need to focus on for each run.  I suspect that I will continue to tweak this list, but for the moment I am ready to publish it.

I had to really think about this.  Part of my list is constant and part of my list can change with each run.

Party at the End

The constant part of my list
  • Be in charge of the run
  • Communicate through actions: showing lines, turns, collection etc..
  • Have calm and focused energy
  • Smile when you begin
  • Party at the end

The part that changes
  • What is the Performance objective for the run (hold contacts, trust at the weaves, cue and go).  All of these I want to do all the time, but if I am trying to improve on something, I pick that thing to really focus on.  I can't focus on 20 things to improve in one run or even a weekend.
I can't have too many things on my list so I worked on statements that really carry a lot of power for me.  "Be in charge of the run" is better for me than "run aggressively".  The word "aggressive" has a tense or uptight implication.  "In charge" is more fluid, conscientiously competent and consistent with who I am.

This past weekend I worked on getting better about "being in charge".  We weren't perfect, but I was really pleased with my improvements.  I want to say that I took chances, but I didn't.  I was just better at being in charge and showing my dogs what I wanted to happen. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

She has a heart of gold

I love this little dog.  She has a heart of gold and the work ethic that won't quit.  She always tries to please.

This was our practice today.  Our training agenda was based on things that we have worked on lately, but that weren't going as well as I like.  Also to work areas where I felt like my trust wasn't as strong as it needed to be.  This video has Hoot's whole practice on it, I didn't just edited it to show the good parts.   I need to post things like this for myself.  I want to be able to look back to see what we were doing when, and also to always remember that we have skill in spite of the days that seem bad.

The dog walk is in a position on the field so that one way she is running downhill (right to left) and the other running up hill (left to right).  Her hits were good but not as solid as I had been getting when it was level.  So I decided to see if we could get that improved.   Downhill was to a tunnel and uphill was to a jump upright.  The up hill is not as deep, but in all, I am very happy with this session.

Next is a sequence that we did yesterday.  There were a few knocked bars, and lots of really wide turns.  I had been getting a bit lax in rewarding and working really nice turns so that was my goal.  We handled with front crosses and blind crosses.  I felt like this practice helped me move along the continuum of trust as well.

The last item we worked on was weaves.  As I remember all the different ways I need to proof weaves we work on those.  I try never to do too many weaves in a single session.

Hoot was my little rock star today.  I love it when you put time between your bad practice and next practice and everything seems to sort itself out!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Combining methods--weaves revisited

Every dog is a different training experience and as I have already mentioned I am trying different things with Hoot.  I hate doing the same thing over and over again, even if it is successful.  I always want to at least tweak my process.  Optimist that I am, I know that even the most perfect process can be made better.

I decided to go back to the channel weaves with Hoot.  Tip and Split were both trained with channels and Tangle was trained with 2x2's.  I liked both methods.  I felt like the channels taught the dog foot work and speed a bit better, and 2x2's taught entries better.  Channels with Tip and Split were hell to get the last inch closed.  Seemed like I was working hard and it took at least a month or more.

With Hoot, because I was taking Silvia's foundation class I decided to start with her method, which is channels.

I started Hoot on channels.  They were wide open and she didn't wiggle her body at all in them.  We worked all the entries, speed, sequencing through the next several months or so and only about once a week (probably less).  I have to say, mentally I wasn't really serious about teaching them since I knew that I wouldn't start closing the weaves for a long, long time!  I am in no hurry with Hoot and weaves aren't the funnest thing we work on.

So about a month ago I started closing them figuring it would take months.  We did them only in sequences, never more than a couple of times per session.  Like I said I wasn't really into teaching them.

About 5 days ago I started teaching her 2x2's.  She was having trouble with really acute angle entries.  Figured 2x2's would be a nice tool to help with that and it lessens the amount of poles she has to do.  Again, what do I have to loose right?  Holy cow, she got 2x2's in a couple of days and we were up to 6 weaves.

On a whim I closed the channels (they were about 2 inches open) just to see.  Holy cow, she weaved!!

I don't think that it is because Hoot is super special smart, I really think that all the hard work was done with the channels still wide open and then the 2x2's bridged the gap for her.

I think that I am now sold on channels in the beginning.  I can teach all the harder skills without being hard on the dog's body and then use 2x2s just to teach the closed pole concept.

Never hurts to have more tools in the bag of tricks!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jumping Skills

I am no jumping expert, but I am a student of jumping.  By that I mean, I want my dogs to have good form and understand their job so I seek out knowledge in those areas.

Tangle is a great jumper.  I have been told my many that he is "gifted" or a natural.  But, what does that mean?  I am not really sure, but when contrasting him to Hoot, I didn't really have to teach him anything at all.  He takes off from his rear, he has an even arc over the bar, he turns over the bar, he judges distances between jumps very nicely, it is effortless and he doesn't knock a whole lot of bars.  He has always been that way.

In contrast, Hoot has been different.  She is not a bad jumper at all, in fact she is a fairly good jumper by that definition.  But, I have had to take moments and help her slow down, use her head and figure out what I need her to do. 

With Tangle I used purely Linda Mecklenburg's Developing Jumping Skills.  He jumped 4" bars but never anything higher until I was ready to move him up to full height.  Then I followed DJS's methodology.  Do I think this was the secret to Tangle's talent?  No, not really.  It is a great method, don't get me wrong, but I strongly believe that I was working with a natural jumper.

With Hoot I decided to do things a bit different.  Why?  The best answer I can give you is that I wanted to see if some other method worked.  I loved DJS and found nothing wrong with it.  The only thing that I thought I wanted to improve upon is giving the dog, from early on, the skills to judge take off distances from bars at speed.

I took Hoot through Silvia Trkman's Foundation Class.  In that class you gradually raise the bars as the dog ages.  The dog never really has to jump from it's rear until the bars are close to withers height.  In the beginning Hoot knocked a lot of bars--a lot!  So I started her on some DJS one jump work at 12".  I know, I know, I wasn't staying with the methodology, LM is probably reading this and silently berating me, but that is OK.  When we slowed things down, she had to think and got rewarded for not hitting the PVC, engaging as much rear as possible and turning on take off, she suddenly began to really understand what I needed her to do.  She also got valuable experience on the mechanics of what she needed to do.

Each time I raised the bars I did this.  She has had her moments when screaming around the course has become more important than anything else.  But, again, we slowed things down, worked together and it became clear again what I needed her to do.

So, now she is at 18" and almost 15 months.  Tangle was already jumping full height by now.  I am about to embark on going through the whole DJS book with her at 20/22" inches.  Her jump training won't be done, but this will be her most in-depth lesson to date.

She already understands all the foundation handling, she understands it is her job to keep bars up, so at this point I want to focus on turning, scoping out where the bar is and how she needs to take off.

Stay tuned, it will be a while before we know if my experiment worked. :)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Powering through a course

I think that there is a ton of value in teaching foundation, breaking down sequences and working all the pieces and parts of the exercise/course.  I also believe that there is tremendous value in just powering through a course, not giving up, and learning to improvise with what the dog gives you.  They aren't always going to do what you expect. :)

I am taking Silvia's Handling 1 class with Hoot.  This morning I set up one of the courses and decided that "powering through it" was my objective.  I ran the course with both Tangle and Hoot.  You can see that both dogs reacted slightly different on this course and we powered through.

When I was running this course with both dogs I was being a bit conservative.  I want to re-run it "balls to the wall" so da speak and see what kind of commitment and trust we have in each other.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ah, the happiness of training your puppy

This blog entry is a part of the dog agility blogging event, "Health and Happiness"

I got a BC puppy "Hoot" less than a year ago.  A very high drive, fearless, loves to work, agile, soft yet pushy kind of a girl.  I adore her and love to train her.  As with all my dogs, I want to keep her best interests in mind, but be able to train and play with her.

Hoot is my 4th agility dog and the 3rd I have started as a puppy (Tip was 18 months old before I discovered agility) and I navigated these waters with each pup.  In the past year I have been trying to research (daily) the right answers to the question "how much and what kind of agility/exercise is appropriate for my puppy".

There are a ton of diverse and strong opinions on what is good for agility puppies.  I believe in part, due to the fact that there aren't that many *FACTS* published in this area.  There are not many public studies** nor are there a ton of experts out there who are speaking up.  There is no data that says BC puppies that were jumping heights greater than 8 inches at the age of 7 months develop osteoarthritis at the age of 8.  This kind of quantitative data would help us all.

I am not one to base everything in life on scientific studies and fact, probably far from it.  But I do like to be presented with some logic and common sense to bit my teeth into when forming an opinion on anything.  This topic is hard.  It is hard partially because dogs are very diverse in size, weight, temperament, drive etc.. and one size fits all training rules don't apply.

Hoot on the Dog Walk

I think that most everyone has a puppy's health in mind and is trying to do what is right. So really my point is how do you know what is right?  This is how I navigate this topic and arrive at a plan that puts us somewhere between do no harm and put my puppy in bubble wrap.

The pack running in fields
The guidelines that I use to develop the plan and make my daily decisions.
  • I look for advice from people who's dogs are still healthy and active into their later life.  They have probably done something right!
  • We know that exercise is healthy for forming and maintaining joints, muscles and coordination which helps prevent injuries.
    • A good read is Agility is good for the dog.  Again, not based on studies but someone who has older dogs who are still very active and probably has done some things right.
    • If I am taking my puppy for walks/jogs I make it off leash.  They are free to pace themselves (and I can practice their recalls).
    • Only do longer walks on soft surfaces (not sidewalks)
    • I vary the terrain when possible, it helps them learn coordination.  There was a study done (wish I could find it) that puppies who ran and played in hilly terrain where less likely to get hip dysplasia.
  • We know too much repetition is not good.  It isn't good for the mind or the body.
  • Any of these factors combined with repetition is probably not good either. 
    • Height
    • High Impact 
    • Severe angles (like full height A-Frames)
  • Quit your training session when the puppy is still totally engaged or in Hoot's case 10 minutes (she would work for hours even as a young pup).  When anyone gets physically tired you begin to make mistakes, are not as engaged, and can be at risk of injury.  So, odds are in your favor, if you quit while the pup is still happy, they are physically in good shape.  The added bonus is that I am leaving that puppy wanting more and they are eager to play again.
  • Each dog is an individual, don't use the same plan for each.  I have 4 high drive border collies and each of them is so different in terms of their physical and mental exercise needs.

 I am not sure what the right answer is, nor do I believe that there is one right answer.  No matter your goal, always train smart, efficient and with health in mind.

**I am hard pressed to find great facts and public studies on this topic on the internet for children or K9.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The allure of the running contact

I have trained one dog on running contacts and didn't keep them, I have re-trained another dog to have running contacts (and kept them), and I am in the process of training baby Hoot to have running contacts.  So I have seen this process from a couple of different perspectives.

I will say that each time I go through the process I get more faith in it, and have more patience and appreciation for what the dogs have to learn.  I think that I also get more confident in knowing that one or two bad sessions isn't going to ruin my dog.  I also have complete faith that it is a journey.

But this is a reminder to myself...be patient with the process and don't rush it.

I can say that even though Silva's DVD on running contacts does a great job giving you an idea of the process, what she doesn't cover and probably can't is all the changes that you will see in your dog along the way.

The problem with training running contacts is that you have your eye on the prize.  That is a full height DW and the dog reliably hits the yellow.  So away we go, running the dog on the low contact, raising it frequently, putting an obstacle at both ends and before you know it we have a dog running a full height DW.  But when we do this we (and the dog) miss many of the lessons that journey would have provided us.  The allure of the running contact keeps us from fully experiencing the process.

Confidence is one of the gifts in the journey.  It doesn't matter,  my re-trained dog or my green dog, they are both the same.  They build confidence along the way and it is NOT worth rushing it.  I know that everyone wants to get to the end of the line and *have* a running contact, but if you rush it, it is going to be harder to fix when you have problems.  Why?  They don't have the physical confidence on the equipment (I dare you to run 6 YPS on a 12" board that changes elevation twice), and the mental confidence.  The mental confidence is the really important one.

It also takes a while to develop your own internal compass for what is best for the dog each day of the training (and it changes).  This I will say is different for each dog I have trained.   Yesterday I needed to not race Hoot on the DW, today I had too.  I saw a micro-moment (you know that 10,000 hours concept) in her performance that told me I needed to change.

So, if you don't give these things a chance to develop in a controlled environment, they will be changing in a trialing environment.  Many of us know what it is like to take a dog into trialing when they don't have the foundation that they should.  And, we know what it is like to re-train that once they have established a pattern of poor performance.

I am watching the progress of a number of people through out the world training running contacts right now.  So many seem like they are trying to get to the prize as quick as possible.   But trust me when I tell you (and myself), you have to let the lessons unfold until they are all done.   You can't rush the process.