Drina, my little agility star

Drina, my little agility star
Drina did everything with flair...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

PDCH Brag!!

I had a very happy Sunday at the CACM USDAA Agility Trial this past weekend in St. Cloud. 

We went up just one day since I had to work at my real job on Saturday AM and after the previous weekend of failing at Sunday's gamble, last run of the day and weekend, I really put it out of my head there would be another chance ever in our lifetime (not that I'm overly dramatic or anything).  I really didn't want this one last Gamblers leg that we needed for our championship to turn into the 40th double Q drama of 2011 where I received QQ's 21-39 in about 6 months and took an entire 6 months earning the last one because of anxiety, nerves and pressure. 

However the day before, upon examining the running order I realized that there was Gamblers Sunday but I tried to push the thought away and just go up for a day of fun USDAA runs with no pressure or expectations.  I didn't even have an idea of when Gamblers was and was determined to just take it as it came...didn't even look at the course map in advance of the course build.  Once I did look at the map I couldn't help but feel hopeful since there was a teeter in the gamble and for some odd reason, we seem to excel at gambles that have teeters as the focus.

So, I began my walk through of gamblers in a fairly chill state (which was great) and planned a safe route (no dog walk) that would allow me to get plenty of opening points so I wouldn't need to panic about points when I should really be thinking about the smoothest approach to the gamble.  I had a small quandry on what to do to get enough points since weaves were the high point obstacle and as a rule with Brag since he's gotten older, I really try to minimize the number of weave poles he performs in the day.  But, I wasn't in Speed Jumping since I didn't attend Saturday and we only had Jumpers and Snooker left and I didn't need to do weaves in either of those so I decided to go for it since he enjoys doing weaves.  Surprisingly my plan went perfect and I was totally in the spot I wanted to be when the horn blew (*wow*) and I actually backed us up a little in order to get some momentum going into the teeter send and ran for it.  As I sent him, it seemed like he was thinking hard about turning his head to look at me and see if I was sure and that would be the kiss of death so thankfully he just trusted me and carried out and did it.  There was a small amount of challenge in the exit of the teeter getting them to pass the first tunnel exit and opt for the second one but with my dog, that wasn't a big deal since I knew he'd be eager to get closer to me which would work to our advantage.  The final part (and most difficult as far as I was concerned), was getting them to exit the tunnel and send back out to the final jump.  I really didn't get myself in the right position for that but I had just been working him on the practice jumps sending to the jump with almost no movement from me.  It worked and he went right out there and jumped (and kept bar up!).  I acted like an idiot in our victory lap because I was genuinely surprised we got it.  Though there wasn't much of a distance challenge, there was a bunch of starting and stopping which doesn't generally treat us well.

I'm totally in awe of Brag.  We've been messing around in USDAA for a couple years without much for goals and working hard for our AKC MACHs.  Last August he was still running at 26" Championship and I thought long and hard about what I wanted and decided to knock him down to 22" Performance and think about trying for the Championship title but it seemed so far off and earning Super Q's and gamblers Q's seemed next to impossible.  Even after we met our Super Q requirements (and then of course the next few trials we got them without even trying - that is always the way it works), the Gamblers Q's seemed like they'd never happen.  Then I thought I'd resort to doing something radical, and actually trying to train a little distance.  We attended a short seminar by distance pro, Carol Lemche and got a little perspective and thought a little harder about how "the line is not your friend!)"  Eventually I learned to stop panicking when the horn blew and things started getting a little better.  Even courses where we did not succeed at the gamble, there was less flailing on my part and less looks of confusion from Brag.  Unfortunately we had a rather large set back in February when Brag became suddenly and terribly ill. That sickness took a huge toll on his body and he lost even more weight (already had a tough time keeping it on him) and he lost much of his muscle seemingly overnight. In a few weeks after that, all of his coat came out and he was down to bare skin on most of his body. His attitude was the only thing about him that was still bright.  I'm truly grateful he is still with me most importantly and also that he still wants to play the game.

There are so many things I haven't trained Brag to do at distance such as the a frame, dog walk, weave poles...definitely things I plan to do better with my younger dogs.  I guess I used to think it was all about the "send" training but I've changed my opinion of that since working with my youngest, Swift.  Now I believe that if you teach them to have value for something and perform it independently of you (so much so that they LOVE it), they will go to it enthusiastically whether it is 4 feet away or 25 feet away.  I discovered that one day when I was able to send her to the table that was clear across the yard basically just standing still.  She loves the table and will drive to it happily.  Now I need to be able to get all the obstacles to have similar value.  Of course, there is still skill involved in training distance and redirection and all that but obstacle value is half the battle!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Past Regrets??

I've played around with this blog theme only briefly in my head on a couple occasions.  A topic was suggested for group blog day and I'm taking a stab at it.  Please visit  http://dog-agility-blog-events.posterous.com/pages/2012-march-if-i-knew-then-what-i-know-now to see more views on the subject.

My first spin on "If I knew then what I know now" was pondering how much more of a "team" my dogs and I could have been had we done x, y and z foundation work/conditioning work/trick work.  Perhaps I could have had a World Champion on my hands by now!  My dogs would run tricky international courses with their eyes closed and we'd be smooth as silk performing the ugliest of threadles into 270s to crazy-hard backside pushes.

After mulling that over, I thought okay, that is all well and good to have the benefit of hindsight, but realistically, it doesn't matter what I knew then, because I didn't know it then...

Isn't that what growing and evolving is all about?  Many of us start off knowing nothing and doing everything the hard way.  There is beauty in that though.  The old saying is that anything worth having in life is worth working for.  When I was 14 years old I began working at the Country Kitchen as a dishwasher.  It was an incredibly retched, putrid, disgusting job and I got sick just thinking about going in for my shift.  But, I worked my butt off for some precious spending cash which for me, translated into CDs (they were brand new then!), gas money, insurance money which then equated to some really priceless memories in my teenage years.  Had I been born in a different situation where I didn't need to earn money to have the privilege of driving and buying my precious music, maybe I wouldn't have cared so much about that stuff and would have taken it for granted.  You can see where I am going with this comparison. 

Arguably, I did a lot of things "wrong" with Drina, my first agility dog that I began training in 2000.  In fact, I may have done everything "wrong" with what we now consider to be basics of dog training.  Foundation?  What is that?  We just jumped right in with obstacle training!  Contact criteria?  What is that?  We just ran and hoped for the best!  Circle work/shadow handling/working on the flat?  Huh!?!?  Drina and I spent years battling problems that could have been addressed by some basic concepts that we know about now.  Our first experiences in Novice were absolute torture.  I was beyond frustrated and my dog was beyond stressed.  Besides not knowing anything, I was a very different person than I am today.  I was actually shy (probably no one would believe that now) and introverted and I was mortified when my instructors wanted to me excitedly praise my dog.  I didn't want to look silly and cause a scene!  It makes me laugh now how reluctant I was to make a fool of myself since now it doesn't even cross my mind that anyone might think twice about how I look when I'm training my dog.  I'm now a loud dog trainer (and proud of it!).

But, as awful as our early days were, I wouldn't change a thing.  If I had started off doing all the right things and practicing perfect foundation, maybe I wouldn't be the trainer I am today.  I might not appreciate that MACH title that Drina and I received out of the Novice A class as much perhaps.  Maybe I wouldn't have gotten to experience the exhiliration I felt when Drina did weaves in Excellent the first time in nearly two years.  Going to Nationals with her and having her run all rounds clean might not have held the same magic as it did.  Had I trained contacts properly with Brag I might not have the drive to do them better now.  If I would have recognized Dare's reactivity and motion sensitivity when she was a young dog and done all the right things I wouldn't have had the triumphs of working through those things in an older dog and the knowledge to recognize them in my puppy.  In my mind I'm doing a good job of covering all the necessities with Swift's early training but I'm sure 5 years down the road I could make a long list of everything "I wish I knew then." 

I ran across a quote that really said it all for me.  "What's Past is Prologue."  It is from Shakespeare's The Tempest and I really like one interpretation I've seen that says what's happened in the past merely sets the scene for the really important stuff.  To me, that means the past has shaped me to be who I am now but also in my mind, it says that today is the important day.  Not yesterday or tomorrow, but today.  One of my biggest goals is to focus on the journey (today) rather than lamenting the past (yesterday) or blindly scrambling to the destination (tomorrow).  If I obsess over the things that I didn't do, or didn't do correctly, or only drive to my goal, I'll miss all the magic happening in the here and now.  This goal can have so many applications for my life and dog training specifically.  From things as simple as trying not to burden yourself with a "timeline" of when your puppy should be doing this that and the other thing to not letting yourself go so crazy trying to get a title or some such achievement that you don't enjoy the runs with your dog.  I've done those things and learned it isn't worth it. 

So, in closing, I guess I'd conclude that "if I knew then what I know now", I wouldn't change anything for the world.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Where is the love?

The agility community really is a "small world" despite the fact the sport has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.  Most of us that want to be "in the know" of all the newest training techniques, cool moves and new trends follow quite closely at least 5 or 6 of the world's best known trainers whether it be via their blogs, facebook, books, DVDs, etc.  A top competitor pulls out a move unique to America in a final Grand Prix round winning the competition and the next day we are playing around with that move in our backyards with our own dogs.  The availability of information is truly overwhelming.

Recently one of those top trainers introduced a unique opportunity for very focused individual instruction for 5 individuals for $5K per person which has resulted in quite the buzz (ha ha pun originally not intended!).  Though this has proven controversial, I really couldn't care less for the purposes of this blog entry.  It isn't my place to judge anyone in how they choose to spend their money and people could argue this topic until their faces turn blue but for me it is nothing more than personal choice.

What does interest me in the fallout of all the discussion surrounding the $5K opportunity is the recurring theme harkening back to the 'olden' days of agility where everyone supported each other and all breeds were accepted.  I've seen this topic come up on various blog sites and cooresponding comments very frequently especially recently.  What am I missing??  Are we so lucky here in Minnesota that none of this so called desire to win no matter the consequences attitude can invade our MN nice veneers?  Is veneer a real word or did I just make it up?  It is late and I'm sleepy but I digress. 

I know there are ruthless people out there.  They exist in every walk of life.  Unfortunately I'm sure a few of them have found their way into agility and are probably working their dogs on jump grids with spiked bars right now but I believe they are the very small minority.  I don't wax fondly on the good ol' days.  We have awesome people that care about their dogs whether they are Border Collies or so called 'off breeds.'  People that I trial with care about each other.  We cheer each other on and celebrate small victories whether it is a friend's stressed dog having fun in the ring or a world team prospective team smokin' a tough course.  The people I trial with are considerate to the novices of the sport and are good teammates.

A while back when Brag and I earned our MACH 2, we were lucky enough to be among many friends that also received their MACHs on that day.  The vibe in the air at the trial was incredibly positive that day and you could feel it.  It wasn't because numerous people received a random number of double Q's or points that day, it was because everyone was genuinely happy for their fellow competitors.  A few weeks ago at a USDAA trial that was well attended by lots of folks from Iowa/Omaha and I remember thinking at one point that I was so lucky because literally everywhere I looked, I saw a friend.  Whether it was a close friend, a newly made friend or a friendly aquaintance, they were all friends and we all share the love of playing with our wonderful dogs -- the most important thing.

It is so fitting that as I was mentally arguing with some of the negative comments I read about how things aren't the way they used to be, I saw on facebook a video featuring Gary Herber who was making his trial debut after recovering from a stroke.  It was awesome that he and his Stephanie got a QQ but what was the best part of the video was all the overheard conversation from those talking excitedly about how this was Gary's first time back.  That is what I see when I look around and I'm very proud to be a part of such an amazing sport.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Let the lazy come out

I was thinking this morning about hobbies.  Most people have at least one, some have several all along the same lines and some even have many that are completely different from each other.  Being the somewhat hyper person I am, my guess is that I tend to gravitate towards similar people.  I have recently discovered an alarming fact about myself that I don't think is necessarily healthy.  In the very rare event that I happen to have a free Sunday (we are talking maybe 1x per month, if that), I become very uncomfortable if the day remains unscheduled.  If I wake up that day and still have nothing planned, I get edgy and somewhat bummed out.  It never feels "right" to sleep in and I completely fail at those attempts.  Obviously sleeping in is further complicated by the presence of my precious and always moving 9 1/2 month old Swifter girl.  But, even before she was around to bounce on my head while I was tucked in my warm and comfy bed, sleeping in just doesn't happen for me.  Therefore, I find myself avoiding this situation by making sure to schedule something, anything, on my hard-to-come-by days off. 

Back when I shared living space with my ex boyfriend, we did have frequent 'lazy Sundays' where we spent most of the day on the couch watching some flicks and chowing on some food (and drinking some mimosas and beer most likely).  There would be breaks in the laziness for some sort of doggie exercise but then it would be back to the grind sloth like behavior.  But, now, I just can't do that by myself.  I can't justify it.  In fact, it is sad to say, I really don't ever sit down at home...well, only to eat my cereal at dinnertime. 

The fact is, I am tired.  Like really tired.  So tired I was actually thinking of skipping an agility trial this Sunday where I'm entered with both Brag and Dare.  No, I won't actually skip it, that would be earth shattering but I may just go find a Sunday sometime in February maybe that I will let myself just hang out for the day and lie horizontal on the couch a little bit.  Anyone want to doggie sit that day?? 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Swifterpop update

Hard to believe but Swift is approaching her 6 month birthday.  I can't believe I'm saying this but I think of her in the time before 4 months old as "Swift light."  She has always kept me jumping but the past month has been beyond "active puppy" and more like covert, terrorist special agent.  Among the senseless destruction she leaves in her wake (shoes, bedding, pillows, floors, trim), her energy level has shot up beyond comprehension (I thought she was insane before!) and she now "notices" stuff.  I wish I would have known that my impending doom was coming so I could have made sure to enjoy the "easy" first few months.  Our first few agility trials were so lovely.  Swift sat quietly and sweetly in her kennel watching with interest everything around her.  She seemed oblivious to the balistic Border Collies that were racing around the course and was instead interested in playing tug ringside with me.  When Dare would lose her mind over the wacko squirrels running around the parkway on our walks she would just watch with mild curiousity.  At puppy school, she gave me her complete attention and focus on leash or off leash. 

Things have changed...

Here we come 'Control Unleashed' and 'Crate Games!'

Now when Swifter sees a squirrel it begins a long moaning and barking tirade with a little lunging for good measure.  I have reached the point where I have no idea how to better 'Swift-proof' my house and every surface above 5 feet tall is totally full of shoes, pillows, throw blankets and toys that Swift enjoys destroying.  All the pillows and sheets on my bed have tell tale holes in them from when she outsmarts me and gets into my room.  I have not found the key for getting her to take a nap.  We exercise constantly, and instead of tiring her out, she develops more endurance...it is a vicious circle!!!  I play games with her and teach her tricks and she wants more and more!  Going to puppy class has become a hot mess of late and now anytime she gets near a contact, she has to bark at it out of love and adoration.  If I allow her leash to get too long she will take the opportunity to hop on the contacts and give me a heart attack that she'll fall off.  Having Swift ringside is a very loud experience now.  Apparently she also has xray vision because if you take her out of sight, the noise doesn't stop...

Sigh...I'm so exhausted...

Now for the positive side of Swift...

-She loves people
-She is good with other dogs
-She loves kids
-She is the cutest Dingo dog ever!
-She has great focus and control in certain settings (it is bound to transfer to exciting environments sooner or later!)
-She is game for any adventure (see latest river venture below)!

I'm Swift!  Life is so EXCITING I just can't stand it!!
Barking is SUPER cool!

I've learned how to run REALLY fast!

...but sometimes I go so fast I can't put on the brakes without going ass over tea kettle

I come with rear-wheel drive standard!
Stalking things is SWEET!

I'm not a hunting dog that is just going to hang around for the humans to throw the bumper!

But if I get it, those suckers won't be getting it back!!
Unless Brag wants it back...he is SCARY!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Contact HIGH!!!

As the new owner of a herding breed (and also someone that has made lots of mistakes with her reactive dog, Dare) I have been pretty vigilant in looking for undesirable behavior from Swift and ensuring I address those immediately.  It is one of my grave fears that I'll be *that* person with the brilliant Border Collie that has lots of potential if only the ignorant owner would get a clue.  Really, I know that won't be me though I may make some mistakes I have a pretty good handle on raising crazy little Swiftie and am a pretty decent agility handler too. 

I've been really pleased with Swift's behavior in classes and how she interacts with other dogs and people.  She hasn't met a person/dog she didn't like and kids are the best!  Her ability to focus on me in the face of distractions has really impressed me.  I want to work hard to keep these great traits. 

That said, though...we have met the object that causes Swift's little brain to melt out her ears.  Said object = RAMP!  Long ago, at least a month, we did a few baby ramps with the puppies in class.  Of course they were on leash and while she was maybe a little faster than I would have liked for a little puppy, she did it very appropriately (keeping all body parts on the obstacle).  Last night, the ramp was again pulled out in class and again, her first ramp was good - actually stunning.  She cleared the apex  resulting in a picture perfect running ramp all the way down.  (No, I'm not actually intending to train her running contacts this way but it is fun to play and see where she is at from time to time.)  By the time our second turn came around, Swift had gotten herself good and lathered up by watching all the other puppies perform the obstacle.  I couldn't get her to focus on me very well and when I asked for a "down" (usually one of her favorites) I got a half crouch with her staring at the object of her affection rather than me.  That is probably where I should have picked her up, moved to a farther, less exciting location and worked on some attention.  But no, I got her set up to do the ramp again and first of all she took off so fast I had to run as fast as I possibly could to avoid her getting pulled back on her leash.  Second of all, she caught so much air at the top that she touched about the last inch of yellow on the bottom of the ramp before hitting the ground.  SCARY!  She was not concerned and in fact thought it was SUPER AWESOME.  That is the point in which my good sense prevailed and I decided to leave before she got even more out of control. 

And it really wasn't that she was being a complete freak or anything but in my quest for a "thinking" dog, I think it would be in our best interest to avoid the ramp before she can exhibit a little more self-control in the face of excitement.  Also, from what I have read about running contacts, the dogwalk is really the "money" obstacle and the one on which to focus your training while the ramp is more of a "gimme" that may just require some fine tuning.

So, just one more lesson learned with my sweet Swifter.  I'm sure there are lots to learn along the way!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Villainous, Vain, Vigilant, Vagrant, Virtuous or Virtuoso Volunteers!

I was just sitting in my own little world (recovering from my lovely agility weekend which DID include lots of volunteering), totally ignorant to the fact that the topic of volunteering has become apparently quite heated. 

My question is what is there to get upset about - either you do or you don't and everyone probably has their reasons and life goes on...does it not?

Upon further thought, however, I think my attitude comes from the fact that I hail from the incredibly generous and civic minded state of Minnesota.  Many folks I'm sure would volunteer regardless of monetary contribution, regardless of guarantees of entry in a random draw trial and regardless of a yummy free lunch.  That attitude seems to run rampant around these parts but for those of us who aren't quite as giving with our time, there are obvious things clubs can do to "encourage" participation:

*Kind and organized club and/or trial committee are key!  My past few agility trials have been of the wonderful type of volunteer experience -- appropriately scheduled jobs that agree with my running schedule, not an overwhelming amount of jobs, fun and friendly club members who are eager to help with questions and explanations for newbies, good lunch choices (don't forget your vegetarian helpers!), beverages available, proximity of kenneling area close to ring so you can just jump in an set bars if you are hanging out, easy-going yet efficient judges.  These things all make for a pleasant experience.

*Worker exemption for random draw trials!  This is a no-brainer.  If you are having trouble getting enough volunteers, do a random draw with some guaranteed spots for workers. 

*Vouchers are nice...however, not necessary.  It is unusual nowadays to receive vouchers for work for the most part.  They are great, but realistically, I tend to lose them or forget to turn them in with my entries, etc.  That said, still a great perk.

*Non-heinous judges.  I already mentioned nice judges, but it bears repeating.  No, I haven't had much experience with nasty judges but it really sticks in your mind.  Even if I love their courses, I'm certainly not going to push to work where they are judging.  Just silly things for example, as a scribe a few weeks ago, I had a judge actually give me a "test" of calling out the right thing when she stuck her hand up for a refusal, wrong course, table fault or what have you.  It was not really in a funny way and left me in a sort of pissy mood.  Yes, I probably overreacted, but simply ask the scribe if they are comfortable with all the calls and go from there - no need to put people on the spot.  Later in the day when I was bar setting, she made a big production of resetting a double I had put back up and said "this is how I want it done!"  Okay, one of the cross bars on the ground was seriously half an inch from where I put it.  Really??  Picky much??  That said, most judges are perfectly wonderful to work with and very appreciative.

Likewise, things that put me off are pretty much the oppostive of what I listed that I like.  I was at a trial a few weeks ago where two members were constantly bickering and yelling at each other the entire day.  It wasn't directed at me but it creates a very unpleasant atmosphere.  Remember why we are out there - the love of running your dog.  It is supposed to be a fun thing.  If I want to hear yelling and complaining, I'll go back to my day job! 

Clubs that are terribly disorganized (despite being full of nice people), are very exhausting to try and work with...not much you can try and do in those situations aside from trying to give some tactful advice and see if they'll take it.  No, I won't jump to volunteer for them and will take my chances of not getting into the trial.

Overscheduling - the worst offense!!  I'm not one of those sane people who only trial with one dog.  I have multiple dogs to exercise and I need to occasionally go to the bathroom and eat and drink and it would be nice to be able to chat a little with friends.  There was a trial years ago that literally scheduled my mom every second of the day that she wasn't running and even tried to schedule her when she was running!  Do you think she hurried to work for them again in the future - no!!  I've heard some trials hesitate to only schedule people for a few things during the day, preferring to load them up on individual days so they don't have to buy so much lunch.  Okay, not doing yourself any favors by pissing off your volunteer base - rethink your strategy!  Obviously I'm more than willing to do multiple jobs during the day but please use some common sense.  Yes, I'll stay late to work in Novice/Open when I finish running my own courses early in the day but don't do that to me every day of the trial.

Here are some situations that prevent me from volunteering:

*Out of town trial - things are already a little more stressful and I may be traveling with an entire van of dogs that need exercise or I don't know what to expect as far as lay out of the land.  Generally after the first time I go, I'll likely volunteer for the next time.

*Multiple ring trial when I'm running dogs in all different levels.  You know you will have conflicts, you know you will miss walk throughs and be short on time for walking dogs and it is sometimes tough to pitch in during these situation.  Usually though I'll get that Novice or Started dog into the upper level soon enough and will be back on the volunteering train.  Yes, I should sign up for setting up or tearing down in those situations...I'll work on that!

*Higher stress events - Nationals, Regionals, Invitational.  I need to concentrate on me and my dog and suck it up if the trial runs slower due to lack of volunteers.

That about says it.  My feeling on chronic non-volunteerism is that people are people and they will do what they do.  If I can't control it, I'll ignore it and worry about myself.  I've met people that are such stressballs they think they can't do anything but sit and obsess about their runs for hours on end.  Obviously, those people would do better to settle down and set some bars but they may need a few years under their belt before they reach that conclusion!