Saturday, December 24, 2011

Speed, Control and Perfection

First of all I really hope you weren't expecting a xmassy type post from me.  I am not a very festive person, yeah yeah I can hear the chants of Scrooge and Grinch, whatever...  So at the risk of incurring the wrath of many bloggers and dog-people in general, I don't 'get' dressing dogs up in Christmas paraphernalia, taking pretty pictures and sending them to all your friends with festive messages.  Well this might partly be due to the fact that I don't own anything christmassy, it might also have to do with the fact that if I tried to dress up my dogs they would think I have gone insane or it might have to do with the fact that I am pretty sure The Nerd would finally have me institutionalised if I do something like that...  Regardless, I hope all of you are having a jolly time over the holidays.  Me?  I would much rather talk about agility.

Let's look at the equation:

Each dog is an individual, with a temperament and structure unique to them.  So let's call dogs X, where X = infinity .

Each person is an individual, there for we can derive that each agility handler/trainer is an individual.  So let's call handler/trainer Y, where Y = infinity.

The number of training methods available to train one behaviour already are at least double figures, and every day new training methods and tools are discovered.  Add to that the fact that there are endless behaviours that will aid our dogs in agility, whether it will be directly or indirectly.  So for the purpose of my argument let's simplify Training to:  Training (Z) = behaviours + methods, there for Z = infinity.

So the end product is  ways to get it right in Agility (well HOPEFULLY getting it right in Agility) and let's call that P (for perfection).

(X) x (Y) x (Z) = P

And seeing that X=infinity, Y=infinity, Z=infinity then P=infinity³

No wonder agility is so bloody addictive.

Anyhow, within all these infinites we can (and sometimes have to) generalise.

In the last while I  have been thinking a lot about some of these generalisations.

Now before I go on, I will state categorically state that I am not saying there is a wrong or a right and success can be reached either way, this is just my opinion.

I think it is fair to say that we all aim to train for perfection.  And by that I am not implying that we want to replace our dog's brain with a circuit board and get a remote.  I am just saying that obviously we want to get it right.  While our ideas of perfection might differ, I think somewhere in all of our definitions we will find the words 'fast' and 'reliable'.  How we reach these goals differ.  Specifically I have come across people that put the emphasis on perfection, right from the word go.  People that will not reward unless the behaviour is performed 100% correctly.  That is what they aim for.

I am very different on this subject, enthusiasm and speed is a lot more important to me and I will rather build towards that perfection.  To use a recent example, when Volt started doing his first full dog walks, I was not fussed at all that he overshot some of them.  He was happy and enthusiastic and doing them with speed (well enough speed for me to be happy, considering it was the first time he did them).  My foundation was 100% and he knew his job, if he overshot because he was a little over-enthusiastic, cool.  If he overshot because he had no clue what I was asking, it would have been a different story.  I am the same with turns.  Yes my foundation, with flatwork or just on wings I train 100%, but when I start stringing things together, I don't expect perfection immediately.  If my young dogs take a few wide turns, but they are running full speed and with enthusiasm, cool.  Personally I feel that if you only reward for perfection, you will sacrifice speed and enthusiasm.  It is at this point, I suppose that I have to duck for bullets.

Some will argue that if you don't expect perfection from the word go, you will never be able to achieve it.  I beg to differ.  As long as your foundation is in place, you can definitely achieve perfection.  Those that saw Chaos when he first started, will remember the wide turns on our first courses.  Now I can turn him as tight as I want.  The most important part is that he does it with enthusiasm and never slows down.  I have just seen too many dogs lose some of there core speed, because they are too busy thinking of perfection.  Not that these dogs slow down to a snail's pace, not at all.  But some of that pure instinctual 'drive forward' speed is lost forever.  I know of a lot of dogs trained according to this 'perfection' recipe that have done very well, so once again, it is not the WRONG way necessarily.

Personally I also think this takes away some of the value of whatever reward you are using.  I am not a huge fan of food based training, yes I use it for some initial behaviours etc, but I much prefer toy training.  And I play very rough with my dogs, from the word go.  We have wrestling matches, I push them away from there toys and encourage them to come back with gusto.  Not only to create a higher value reward, but also to encourage confidence and prepare them for the 'big loud outside world'.  My dogs KNOW that they will get rewarded at some point.  When training for perfection, you inevitably lower your behaviour to reward ratio, since your dog is bound to 'get it almost right' a lot more than 'getting it perfectly right'.

How many discussions have there been about 'high value vs. low value' rewards.  The advantage of the way I do things, is that the value of the reward is NOT up to the toy that I use, it is up to me.  I can 'just throw the ball' and my dogs will be happy, or 'just tug' and this counts as low value.  The more involved I (ME, as a trainer and handler) get involved, the higher the value of the reward.  Of course this means that the neighbours, the family and The Nerd think I have lost my mind, since I get very involved when playing with my dogs and I am pretty sure I must look like a clown on happy pills, but so be it.  I can do this with any toy.  I did a little experiment yesterday, I alternated between two kinds of tug-toys, two squeaky toys and two different kinds of balls.  The three dogs I was training (Chaos, Quake and Volt), did not bat an eyelid when I switched toys and each toy was met with equal enthusiasm.  I honestly believe my 'forgiving' way of training youngsters have something to do with this.

A huge part of perfection training of course is handler mistakes.  When training for perfection you are not compensating for your mistakes.  Let's say my young dogs pull of a jump, because I got too far behind, or I tapered, I will still reward or continue the exercise.  The perfectionist trainers, will re-do it.  Obviously, I start expecting more from my older dogs, I slowly but surely build the criteria and teach them to recognise lines.  I compensate for my own weaknesses when training my young dogs and over time I will teach THEM to compensate for my weaknesses.  Sigh, yes, I have many of those.  And let's face it, we ALL forget the challenges of baby dogs, we get into a comfort zone with our older, reliable, well-trained dogs and by the time a new pup comes along... eish.

Okay well the whole 'handler mistakes' issue is a different story on its own, I am thinking of 'The Blamers' of course.  You know the ones I am talking about, it is ALWAYS the dog's fault... even when you show them a freeze frame of them clearly showing the dog the off-course obstacle there is STILL a 'yeah, but...'.  I am pretty sure you are all thinking of names now.  Anyhow that is a different blog post on it's own.

Just on a different (but actually slightly related) subject.  I could never train one of my dogs with the others running loose.  I would say 'tunnel' and have five dogs competing to go in there first.  My dogs get... erm, very enthusiastic while I am running another dog, I love this.  The Nerd doesn't agree with me on this, since most of this enthusiasm is very vocal.  I know of people that do full training sessions with their other dogs in down stays.  And while I have to admire the self-control of the poor dogs, I just cannot agree with it.  I want my dogs to be TOO excited to exercise THAT amount of self-control.  By this I am NOT saying that I don't proof my own stays and expect self-control from my dogs, but only when it is THEIR time with me.  I love it when my dogs go nutter-butters for me, that is part of the game isn't it?

Anyhow, I will now await the rain of criticism... which by the way is not a bad thing.  A lot can be learnt from constructive criticism.  For now I will smile contently and be happy about the fact that my dogs (if only them) at least think I am the super-most exciting thing in all of everness.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Analysis, Videos and Technology

My statement a few posts ago that 'small dogs are easier to train than large dogs' caused some ructions let me tell you.  It was also very apparent that most people chose to ignore the added 'but both are equally hard to perfect' part of the argument.  I am just para-phrasing by the way, too lazy to go back and get direct quotes right now.  The small vs. large argument is NOT the theme of this post by the way, but it did get the train of thought rolling though.  Oh and by the way, I was also told, that 'large dog trainers can train small dogs, but small dog trainers can not train large dogs'.  Erm, really now?  Some people just really don't WANT to learn hey?

But let's start from the beginning (of my argument anyway).  I personally believe that the ability to analyse agility is one of the biggest tools to success.  Now 'analysing agility' is a very broad term.  There is the ability to analyse the causes of your training problems and coming up with a solution.  The ability to analyse a course and handle it optimally.  The ability to analyse your GOOD rounds and GOOD training and find the places where there is still room for improvement.  Yes, having a good trainer/coach around that can tell you all these nice analytical things is nice and handy and will get you far, but it is not a full solution.  See like me, most coaches are very opinionated and their analysis will be just that... THEIR analysis.  They don't live with your dog or train him every day, come up with those 'on the spot aha moments'.

Picture Courtesy of Melissa Wilson

Now that analytical part of my agility brain is what started my whole small dog/large dog comparison to begin with.  Please note, I am not fooling myself, I KNOW that what I am comparing is ONE large dog with ONE small dog.  I know they are completely different dogs, I am not trying to amalgamate them into some 'Alett Agility Recipe Dog'.  But comparing their strengths and weaknesses helps me WORK on their weaknesses.

I did a quick 3 minute speed circle exercise again yesterday.  Chaos really has to work harder to get over his jump height, but then he has never had the best jump style (although it has improved dramatically with a lot of work).  Volt has a lovely natural jump style, but then he jumps only 106% of his height, compared to Chaos that jumps 116% of his height.  Volt's ability to find good lines still suck, lots of work to do their.  Volt and Chaos generally use the same amount of strides in between jumps (on the uphill Volt still struggles a slight bit to catch Chaos).  Volt is a drive dog, he is happy running full speed away from me.  Chaos is a drag dog, he will always be faster when I am ahead.  Oh fun, fun, fun, I have so much I can work on.  I am serious about that by the way... I am insanely happy when I have plans and things to train.

My first instinct when watching any youtube video, round, show, performance relating to agility, is to start analysing, but then that is how we learn... That is the cool thing about agility and technology.  Back when I started, agility and the internet weren't really interested in each other yet, but these days, all this amazing information is at your fingertips! I love using it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Videos, Dog Walks and The Cat

Okay I have been doing a shizer load of video editing in the last while, so I will start off with the vids I made for other people and myself:

Friends and Training Partners' videos:

Helena and Chili:

Wayne with Bella and Roxy... very impressive for someone that started competing in August (and only a few months of training before that)

Jason and Jag... the Croatian BC.

Then of course my own little monster... just a November update:

And then my superstar, my heart and soul, Chaos... eish, I had to spend hours to select my REALLY favourite rounds of 2011...

Now, just on a catty note... if you watch the videos of Volt (all the videos of Volt I have ever made) I challenge you to 'spot the cat'.  It is very funny, but Volt's bestest friend in the world, his three legged tjommie (friend), Loki, can be spotted in almost all his videos.  Why do you ask?  Well every time I train the little man, the tripod joins in.  He goes over jumps, runs through tunnels, blocks the dog walk and generally tries to distract Volt, with no luck.  Oh my hat, the cat!

Today was a big day for Volt (and there for Loki too)... we did our first full Dog Walks.  A lot of work to be done still, but I am content with his first ever dog walks.  Yes there is some over-shooting (much rather that than creeping), yes, still a bit slow, but that is just confidence and it was his first ever session, yes his striding is not ideal yet.  Tons to work on, but still SO exciting.  I love this age (around 15-18 months), the progress is jaw dropping, they learn so quickly and so much LEKKER (good, nice, fun) fine-tuning to do...

I will leave you with that for tonight...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Risk, Pink and Evolution

Soon, oh hopefully very soon, the new PINK laptop will arrive.  Trust me, I had NO choice in the colour, good price, good specs and NEEDING a laptop meant that I actually don't even care that is pink.  The new pink laptop, already nicknamed Pinkie and the Brain by the hubby (I prefer that he is implicating ME as the brain in that equation, but somehow I think I might be wrong), means VIDEO EDITING.  I have four and a half million videos to catch up with for my online students... and the blog of course.  I will be honest, I have become a bit of a spoilt brat to a certain extent.  Before I met The Nerd (think that will be the hubby's new blog nickname), I had a pc ja, but it was out of date and quite useless and I couldn't care actually.  If you don't know what you are missing out on right?  Internet connection?  If I could check my mail once a week I was happy.  He introduced me to the full extent of technology.  I am sure he wouldn't have done it if had realised exactly how much agility was on the internet.  It is not all spoilt brat though, honestly the blogs, videos, websites, e-books and ten million other agility tools on the internet has really helped me improved.  It has enabled me to start on-line training courses.  I love how much internet agility has evolved.  Well I love how much agility in general always evolves.

Just a shame some get left behind with this evolution.  The stragglers that just keep on living in the cave, because they can.  I was 'internet agility trolling' tonight.  It is kind of like on-line dating, except I don't look at hot topless pictures of who dudes claim they are.  Haha, just joking there, me and The Nerd met on a dating site, so it would be REALLY hypocritical of me if I judged.  Anyhow, back to agility trolling.  Every once in a while me and Google hook up for an evening to find some new websites/blogs/other random interesting s%$^ relating to agility.  Sometimes I find interesting/amusing/good/life-changing information, other times I just have to shake my head and laugh.  It is kind of like watching a movie where some nerdy, but cute hacker, with designer horn-rimmed glasses sit in front of an impressive flashy and very expensive computer monitor, types in 'UPLOAD VIRUS' and proceeds to cause a continental black-out.  That is the bane of The Nerd's world.  I feel the same about agility.  Sometimes it is like a B-grade, low budget movie, not only does it look stupid, but it really is stupid.  Other times it is a box-office hit, where some  famous director invested millions into a scene that looks impressive, but really is just bulls@#$%.

I am not (necessarily) judging these people, unfortunately in a world where there is no real international recognition body for training, people get duped easily.  And not everyone is as fortunate as me to have good internet access.  Or common sense.  Wait, this is coming across wrong, I am NOT sitting on a high horse (although training horses gave me a different perspective on dog training, completely different subject), I am not pointing fingers at any bad training or stupid ideas (although let's face it, there are some pretty silly ones out there).  Let's get to my actual point.  I have been in agility since 1997 and it is phenomenal how the sport has grown.  Yet there are still people that are stuck in the 90's (wearing 80's fashion by the way) with their training methods.  NOT because they don't have access to the information, but because they used to have success and work on the equation of past success (by past standards) equals good training (by past standards), therefor current success (by current standards) MUST equal good training (by past standards).  In the last month I have 'come across' four handlers, that publicly admit they want to be competitive, but their poles are about 1 second off the pace.  Why?  Well they still use the whole 'step into your dog, step out of your dog' back and forth training method.  Does it work to teach your dog to weave?  Yes, it does, my first dogs were taught like that, so I know it works.  But are there (a million)  more effective ways that have been developed by very intelligent and knowledgeable people?  Yeah pretty much.  And these methods are widely known to the people I am referring to.

That is one stupid little example, but judging by the improvement of dogs at every single major international competition on an annual basis, I think we all need to realise that there is NO perfect in the near future.  Innovative, creative and dedicated agility training leads to more spectacular competition every day.  Every day we have to try and grow in our training.  Especially when it comes to our pups.  I actually had a long conversation with a student recently.  She is taking one of my on-line courses and was asking if I would be training Volt exactly the same as I trained Spaz five years ago.  She was taken aback when I said that I often adapt to/add to my training program and therefor HER training program.  My fundamental principles in training are solid and set in stone (for now), but I think every trainer should strive to adding that 'little bit more towards perfection' every day.  I am not talk about change, just evolution.  Hopefully if you have common sense  you will know what I mean by that confusing statement???

Okay I tried to think of a nice flowing 'switch over' to the last topic of my post, but I failed, so I will just take a flying leap to the next topic.  I risky flying leap.  Getting ANY puppy, from ANY brilliant line, after a TON of research, after EVERY aptitude and health test in the book, is still a risk.  You never know what happens, you never know what the outcome (or the influences towards that) will be.  Even if you do everything right, something can still go wrong.  This risk is not a problem for me.  I commit to my dogs regardless, whether they will turn out to have issues (health or behavioural), they can live happy lives with me and we will deal with it.  It doesn't make the risk any less.  I think most agility people have the hope that their new puppy will be a 'little better' than their previous dog.  It is natural.  But 99.99% of use couldn't care less after the first week with our new addition.  Our boys (and girls) just crawl into our hearts and stay there.  Oh please, still do your research and your tests!  VERY important to try and minimize the risk as much as we can.

Arg, I still had this whole thing I wanted to write about people that just DON'T think and I mean in every day life and agility, but it is getting late, so think I will save that one for the new PINK laptop.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Achievements, Inspiration and Proofing

Well the Year End Function is all over and done with, it was hard work, but hopefully worth it.  It at least seemed like everyone had a good time... even J despite the fact that she could not get the damn bottle cap in the shooter glass.  Me and Spazo even came away with some lekker awards.  Chaos shared the Handler Voted Most Improved Award with H and Chili (whom coincidentally I voted for and felt deserved it more), we also shared best Show Attendance with two other agility nerds.... and speaking of nerds, yours truly was voted Agility Year of the Nerd... again... I  heftily protest that award by the way.... I am not a nerd, I am just very special and slightly too dedicated.  All these were fun awards, but nevertheless gives me that 'special warm feeling in my heart' for Spaz.  Did we actually achieve anything this year?  Yes, we did, he exceeded my expectations on some fronts, other goals we missed solidly.  Because of me, not because of him.  It is that time of year when I set my goals for the following year, but this time around I have to include the little man, the Voltenstein.  I love setting goals and I hate setting goals.  Actually achieving them is one of the most spectacular feelings in the world, like that moment today when I went to the post box and Chaos's Championship Certificate had arrived.  I did a very awkward but enthusiastic victory dance, much to the amusement of other unsuspecting people collecting their mail.  Oh but the disappointment in myself when I fail to reach those goals, THAT is hard to deal with.  I have honestly never been disappointed with my dogs.  The are all of the super awesomeness.  Yes occasionally they get a bee in their bonnet and make a mistake, but that is because they are dogs and not futuristic machines of mass success (or mass destruction).  I can live with that, but when I have a near perfect round (thanks to some good handling advice from a training partner) and 3 jumps from the end I lose it?  I have said it a million times before and I will say it a million times more... my mental game is my weakness.  It has been a New Year's resolution for three years running and a fourth incoming.  I am WAY too stubborn to give up.

Achievement is a relevant thing though isn't it?  I know many people for example in breaking new ground breed wise.  Those individuals that obviously have two truck loads more patience than I do, to train 'non-working/rare/non-agility' breeds and achieve great things in that context.  Those handlers with 'not so speedy' dogs, that set different goals related to consistency.  The very un-athletic amongst us, that 'just want to get there for THAT bit'.  The very courageous that take on rescue dogs with devastating histories, that actually get their dogs to function normally AND do agility.  These achievements mean as much to those handlers as a World Championship means to the competitive among us.  There are those handlers that have all the potential (as handlers) that just cannot find their dogs, or those amazing one in a million dogs that just cannot find their handlers.  But, boy, when it comes together it is a thing of beauty.  A different kind of achievement.  The despair and disappointment that hit us each in the nuts (male or female you know what I am talking about) is just the same for all of us.  Lisa Frick, with double World Champion, Hoss, stole our hearts this year for her amazing attitude and true enjoyment of the sport.  But those people exist at our local trials and training schools too.  Each to his own and please accept them for that.

My very bestest on-line student up to date sent me this inspirational video this week:

This is NOT my video and I do NOT intend any copyright violations.

Just a good principle.  Even though my dogs are my BOYS first and foremost and will always be, even I sometimes lose perspective and whether we like it or not (whether we consider ourselves THE humblest handler on the planet, or whether we tend to let our pride rule), we all need some perspective and inspiration every now and again.  A lot of people I know try to (or pretend to) not be affected by the amazing stories our dogs generate, but this is NOT the right attitude.  Everyone can do with some humility.

I know I am repeating myself, but since this is my blog... that is your problem.  I am loving my on-line students.  M and her Chaos that works SO hard and are so determined.  C and my god-child BC that understand that foundation is everything.  T and her SA Champ that will sacrifice many wins to get it right.  H and the Hungarian that think so carefully about everything.  I do have some slackers of course, that is normal.  But thus far my on-line students work so much harder than the normal 'weekly lesson' bunch, I suppose you have to really commit to on-line training or just lose your money.  Joining a class or a private lesson you get time on equipment, regardless of whether you listen to a coach or not.  Whether they like it or not, my good students inspired my new project.  Analysing Agility.  We all have our strengths in Agility.  We have to recognise those.  It is not pride.   It is reality.  Together with this we have to recognise our weaknesses.

Analysing Agility, the Analytical Solution to your Agility Handling System and Problems, including workbook, will be available in 2012 in e-format.  How exciting is that?  I will also be presenting another on-line course with the release of the e-book. Please contact me if you would like more information.

Proofing... oh hat, proofing.  The small little things we forget from one young dog to the next.  Messages to my dogs 2012 (from youngest to oldest):

Voltenstein, it is public, I am sorry.  You are so phenomenal, and I just forget to proof  the small things.  Just know, I will be focusing on building a relationship with you in the ring just as we have at home.  Sometimes I am bound to be a retard and expect unrealistic things of you, I ask you very nicely not to bite me (even though I deserve it), I know you will try to work with me, but just know sometimes I will fail.  Sometimes we might just not understand each other.  Sh%t happens, but I will try my best for you.

Quake, I know you don't see the world the same way I do.  I will try harder to see your (very warped and WEIRD ASS) perspective as well.

Spaz,  I know you give everything, so do I.  Your everything is just more than mine.

Delta, I will try my best not to get super annoyed when you chase the pizza delivery guy.  He is very friendly, I promise, and I am tired of giving him a 40% tip because of your antics.  And those birds in the garden?  I like having them there, rather chase the rats in the garage, just don't EAT the rats like you do the empty toilet paper rolls.

Echo, my first born boy.  You have not been doing well, I have spent days crying about you.  I hope you see 2012 with me, but I will understand if you can't.  You need to tell me baby boy.  At the moment I am here for you, you don't need to be here for me, you have done that your entire life, it is my turn now.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Amusing Hubby, TV Programs and Diversity

I started writing a very serious and long post about breeding and common sense (or lack there of), but then I decided I am not in the mood for controversy right now.  I will save that one for a rainy day.  Instead I am going to bore you with a load of nonsense.  What I actually SHOULD be doing is finishing the various slide shows for tomorrow night's Agility Year End Function.  While it is a lot of organising (A LOT, really, I promise), it is bound to be fun... All our annual awards will be handed out at this event, I will tell you all about that next time.

The other thing we are busy organising is our training day.  Basically we get trainers from different schools that will be hosting training on two courses (1 sourced from one of the judges for next year's AWC and 1 beginners course) at an insanely low rate (just to cover costs, all the trainers are donating their time for free), as well as open course time on these courses.  Apparently people loved the idea and most training sessions are already booked.  What was interesting to me, is that there are three definite groups of people when it comes to choosing trainers for an initiative like this:

1.  Some will only train with their regular coaches.  And to a certain extent I understand this.  Once you trust someone... hmmm, whether they actually LISTEN to these instructors is a different story.

2.  The people that want to train with EVERYONE.  I like this concept, provided people have the sense to take out of it what will actually work for them and leave the rest.  It is always good to get some diversity in your training, but you cannot use it all.

3.  The people that specifically want to train with trainers other than their normal coaches, just because they want some new input.  Also not a bad thing, maybe you find something new you can use.

Diversity in training is good.  As long as you don't try everything at once, without following through.  It is like trying to watch 9 different TV programs on 9 different monitors... there is no way in hell you are going follow the plot of all of them.  Oh wait this is actually a good metaphor... I don't like romantic dramas, I just don't.  I have tried watching them and I just don't cope.  In the same way, some training methods will never work for you, you can try them, but they just won't work for you.  But don't just try and watch ONE romantic drama and then refuse to watch any more, for all you know that could just be the worst romantic drama of all time.  Always finish watching the movie, there is no point in skipping to the last scene, you are missing the plot.  If you have watched the movie 5 times, because you like, that is GOOD.  If you watched the movie 5 times and you still don't understand, then don't bother.  Find something you DO understand.  This is a really good metaphor, I like it, I should write it down... oh wait I AM writing it down.

I am being silly, because my hubby entertained me tonight.  Well me and the dogs, wish I had remembered to get it on camera.  See the hubby is not exactly what you would call an 'out-doorsy kind of person'.  He is a computer nerd, he doesn't REALLY know what sunshine looks like and he has calluses on his finger tips... NOT from holding a dog lead.  But he has really wanted to exercise more, so he decided to (try and) kill two birds with one stone... Jog around the yard with a ball, thus play with the dogs and run at the same time.  I don't think he completely thought it through.  As I could have predicted he didn't run quite that well with dogs milling around under his feet trying to grab the ball from his hand.  In the end, the dogs won and he decided to stand still and play with them.  I think it was safer for all parties involved.  I don't have time to look after a hubby with a broken leg, I need to train Agility!

*All photos courtesy of Melissa Wilson

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Right Stuff, The Debate and The Small Dog

Hmmm, be prepared for a controversial post and be warned I have put on a bullet-proof vest!

As I have mentioned before, we have started a training group.  Just a few friends that meet, have a couple of drinks (and Sprite), run short courses, laugh and discuss tons of agility.  What more do you want in life?  Honestly it has been the best influence on my personal agility that I have had in years... Chaos will agree, but basically only because if it involves work he is happy.  Quake agrees, cos he loves the stress free environment.  Volt doesn't know it yet, but he WILL agree, it has helped him bridge that gap between comfort zone training (home) and the real world.  And trust me 'the real world' with Volt is hard.  First of all, when you import a dog, people watch, they really do.  They watch your every move, it is a little bit stalker-ish.  Second of all, you put pressure on yourself, since you spent so much research and time and money and effort, you feel the NEED to prove yourself.  It might sound stupid to you, but it is the truth.  I am NOT saying I need to JUSTIFY my choice.  I will love any dog I get, regardless of how they perform, I get dogs because I love them and I love having a relationship with them (of any kind).  But it is an inexplicable need  to prove to yourself that it was the right decision.  All the more so, when you take a risk like me and get a whole new breed!  But our little training group has provided me with The Right Stuff and I have never felt better about agility.  It has given me AND my dogs a new-found confidence.  Thanks guys!  On top of that, I have two agility friends out of province, that have dogs at similar ages and the information that we share is invaluable!  I have been involved with many clubs and training arrangements, but I have really found 'my magic' now... how corny is that!  No disrespect against any of my previous trainers or training partners, but you have to find what works for you, that is just the way it is.

Now I have to rave about the small dog again.  Everyday I thank Jenny Vandenhole of Golden Fir Shelties ( for sending me this spectacular boy.  Not only is he everything that I wanted (which I depicted in a 5 page document), but he is more.  Tonight was the first time we did 12 weave poles away from the comfort of home, so what does he do?  He gives me a 10/12 success rate and one of the failures was me very obviously handling like my big fat arse....  Point is for a 14 month old dog he is going like a Boeing AND having fun doing it.  Now I consider myself to be very lucky and have had very successful and talented agility dogs, but the Stein is in a league of his own.

Which brings me to my next point... THE most controversial point....  First a bit of history, my agility history consists of 6 Border Collies and 3 small dogs.  One of my first dogs was our pet maltese, Roxan, she was slow as molasses and honestly only did it for me, so I don't really count her.  Then I assisted in the training of and eventually ran and competed with my mother's 'brak' (that was supposed to be a pure-bred schnauzer, but then life happened).  Quite a talented dog, that placed in the National Dog Jumping Champs.  While I am not proclaiming to be a small/medium expert, I have a little bit of experience.  Now the numbers in small and medium in South Africa are a bit atrocious, locally a maximum of 5 dogs is normal, so when getting a small dog I KNEW that I would have to 'compete' against the large dogs (time wise), which is a bit unfair... BUT it is unfair both ways.  A 50cm BC jumping 65cm jumps giving two strides in between obstacles, compared to a 33.5cm Sheltie jumping 35cm giving 4 strides in between jumps....  Honestly though, the small dogs I have trained have been easier to train.  They just have.  PERFECTING that training is a whole different story, that is equally hard, but pure training?  Easier on small dogs, because I have so many more strides to correct my bad training and crappy timing on.  Therefor Small dogs are a lot more forgiving.  While it will be much harder to perfect Volt's training, since he IS faster than Chaos (proven by the stopwatch), he is capable of being a lot more perceptive, purely because of his size.

I am out of my league on this statement I suppose, looking at phenomenal dogs like Hoss winning the large AWC at age 2 (and again at 3) or La, winning the medium AWC at round about 2 (a very special moment for me, seeing as it was the first year I competed at the AWC) or Bernadette Bay and Zaz winning a bronze this year this year in small AWC before that amazing Sheltie even turned 3.  Another special moment for me, seeing as watching all Bernadette's puppies convinced me to get a Sheltie in the first place.  And here I go comparing my first 'real agility small dog' to my talented, but not World Champ large dogs.  Some audacity I have hey?  Now please understand, I give those best of the best small/medium dogs all the credit in the world, they are phenomenal, but in MY experience (and only in mine) it IS easier to train a small dog.  Whether I will get it 'right' with the Stein still remains to be seen though.  Definitely time to up my game as a handler.

Now it is time to give Spaz his credit as well.  He performed like a star at training tonight and I am always amazed by how hard that little (huge) BC tries.

Tonight, let's all love our dogs and appreciate them for what they are.... our whiny neurotic old guys (Echo, my first born), our insane, selectively deaf mad things (Delta, the motor-bike chaser), our hard-working honest tryer-harders (Chaos, my heart and soul), our weird, autistic miss-fits (Quake, my special needs boy) and our put-no-foot-wrong Golden Boys (My Sheltie man, Jonas of the Golden Fir).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Foundation Pays, Young Dogs and When the Time is Right

Not only is my Sheltie awesome, but foundation pays off big time.  Yes, this post is going to be about the little Steiner Meister.  First I will answer a question that someone asked me this week... How many years do I like to have in between getting a new dog.  Honestly years or time for that matter has nothing to do with it. Which is probably a good thing, since remembering things like that is a HUGE weakness and I would probably just forget to get a puppy.  I can't even remember how long me and the hubby have been together...  I will start considering a new pup, when my current working dog starts to succeed.  Success is a very wide term in this case, but when I can confidently step up to the line, every single time and say 'may dog is capable of going clear' (ja, it is ME who lacks the capability most of the time, I know), when I know my dog can perform each obstacle to my satisfaction, when training turns into fine-tuning and maintenance, then I will start thinking about a new dog.  Some people prefer only having one working dog and will only get a new pup when their current dog is about to retire.  I am WAY too addicted to agility for that, although I have to admit I don't think I will be able to run more than two (MAYBE three) competitive dogs at a time. It is hard work.  I have to say that I often see people get one pup on the other, thinking that they will 'solve the previous problem on the next dog', instead of solving it in the FIRST dog to start off with.  This doesn't really work.  It's kind of like buying a new bicycle instead of learning how to fix a flat tire.  And I have to say, I feel my timing between Chaos and Volt has been very good.  However, I might get another puppy in a shorter time period now, since Volt seems to be a quick learner.  Haha, but lets not get two or three years ahead of myself.

It is always interesting to me how people 'handle' their young dogs in general.  Training and socially and what they expose the dogs to.  While I try not to overwhelm my dogs, I am of the opinion that they have to learn to fit into my lifestyle and this has always worked for me.  Training wise I am a lot more fussy and particular.  I know what I want to do and I stick to it, I am not inflexible at all, but I have a plan.  I can also be very critical of others, lets be honest.  It is probably a bad quality on my part, but I promise I will work on it.  My biggest problem is with people just doing TOO much with their young dogs...

1.  Too much of nothing:  People that completely leave their young dogs with no foundation and no boundaries.  Mostly these trainers let their dog reach the magical age of 1 year and all of a sudden expect the dog to just LEARN everything, normally they expect this within two months.
2.  Too much Shaping:  While I use shaping as a training technique for certain things, I honestly believe that it has its place.  Even shaping should have an off switch.  I have just seen dogs go completely ADD. I am now waiting for the hail of bullets from all the shapers to hit *ducks*.
3.  Too much training:  The worst kind of 'too muchers'.  By 6 months old their dogs are doing full agility courses, are running contacts 13 times over and can weave.  This is wrong on so many levels I don't even know where to start.
4.  Too much coddling: The paranoids and baby-talkers.  While we have to protect our puppies from injury and disease and getting mauled and all of these nasty things, we cannot wrap them in little pieces of cotton wool and cover them in bubble wrap.  And 'coochie poochie baby bear dog', has four legs to walk on and I assure you they understand when you speak in a normal tone of voice.

One of my rules when training a puppy and now I am talking AGILITY SPECIFIC training, is that I will never teach more than on fundamental aspect at a time.  I will use my current example:  Weave Poles is a fundamental concept (with many secondary issues, like entries, drive forward, striding etc), Contact Behaviour is also a fundamental concept.  While I was teaching Volt to weave, I didn't expect him to wrap his poor little brain (I am not implying he is stupid, but he really IS very little) around stopping in a 2o2o at the same time.  Now Volt is weaving at about a 90% consistency rate, while we still have tons to work on, like crosses, entries, speed, tapering, I can now stagger the next fundamental concept.  I can hear the screams of protest from across the world of people that have had success in teaching multiple things at the same time and I am not denying that.  This is my rule and I stick to it.

Anyhow, I did a ton of foundation contact training with Volt between 8 and 11 months, but when I started teaching the poles I stopped that.  So for just over three months, Volt has done no contact training.  Today I stuck down the plank expecting anything, but foundation definitely paid off.  Here is a short clip from his first training session back at contacts:

Still a ton of work to be done, but at least I know the foundation stuck.  I don't know if Volt will be ready to compete at 18 months, too much left to do and I let my dogs determine the pace of their training.  I am happy with him and I already recognise one or two little mistakes that I have made which I need to rectify, but all in all I am happy with his progress.  I am even happier with his enthusiasm.

Unfortunately no Sheltie pics, seeing as they are on my still broken laptop, sigh.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Respect, Finding the Problem and Catch-Up

*all agility photos courtesy of Melissa Wilson (

First of all let me update you on the whole disgusting eye situation... on Friday last week, the went ahead and cut the Meibomian Cyst ( out of my eye. I will spare you the absolute disgusting details of how it is done, but all in all minor 'surgery' (if you can even call it that).  I managed to get through it with only a minor emotional break-down, outside in the parking lot, because I refused to let the doctor, who had the bedside manner of a warthog on PCP, see me freak out.  At this point I phoned the hubby and I am pretty sure he seriously considered the padded room, but I managed to drive myself home in one piece (with one eye) and I was on the road to recovery.  Just to disgust you a little bit, this is what my eye looked like on Friday.

Now for a little story and a little gossip.  Every day we have 'agility politics' in this country, it seems a bit stupid since the sport is already so small, but the wars rage.  Now last year at the AWC, I met P.  P is from Zimbabwe and as you all know, the country has gone through so much in the last few years.  P was starting up Agility in Zim and he wanted some advice/input/help from us as his neighbours.  Me being a complete agility nerd AND always keen on growing agility everywhere (I believe Agility is the answer to World Peace), my and P started communicating every now and again wrt agility.  To  make a long story short, I have received a TON of positive emails from P in the last while and it seems the sport is growing in our neighbour country.  Woohoo, soon we will ALSO be able to do 'across the border' agility competitions.  I LIKE it.  I have to say I have great respect that their group is persevering and getting the sport going, here we are, we have so many advantages in our agility world and we fight, while they are fighting the RIGHT fight to grow the sport.  Haha, it is a bonus that I know my blog is getting read there.

Problem solving in agility is no small task.  First of all, let me say that I completely support the concept of having a 'handling system', but I feel that each handler and dog combination has to find their own, using all available information as well as their strengths and weaknesses.  I personally advise my students to WRITE IT DOWN and I have a template for it.  After all, agility handling consist of:

1.  Body positioning/body cues - These include your hands, feet, back (how low you go to the ground with each move), neck and head, shoulders, arms... you get the idea.
2.  Verbal cues
3.  Course position
4.  Timing

While all of these will be included as part of your handling system, the TRICK in agility is to realise that there are variables due to course design.  So in other words, YES there are rules (your handling system), but you have to apply these rules within variable systems (different courses).  It is hard to say 'I have a problem', it is even harder to say 'THIS is my problem', but this hardest part is analysing all the variables and coming up with a solution.

You guessed it, I am back to pointing out that so many handlers repeat problems or struggle to solve it.  Whether you are problem solving as a coach/trainer/training partner or handler, you have to learn to analyse agility first... that part others can help you with, but they can't solve your problem FOR you.  So feel free to ask, but accept responsibility (which includes LEARNING analysis) to solve  your own problems.  Also a good time to mention to watch out for my new project on analysing problems in Agility!

Anyhow, so I still don't have my laptop back, so NO video editing software, boohoo... so I decided to post some raw training clips of the boys.  I 'stole' the idea for this exercise from another blogger (my humble apologies, but it was such a good idea I couldn't resist).  I have different aims and therefor different analysis with all three dogs, but enjoy!

Volt is just over 14 months old now and next year he will start competing... REALLY? Already?  Hard to believe, where the hell did the time go?  He is looking good on 12 poles, I will try to catch some video of that tomorrow.  So time to resume contact training.  I LOVE contact training, to me that is possibly the most satisfying part of agility training, lucky for me, my dogs feel the same, what a bonus.

I know I have been a slight spot lazy with the blogging thing, but my dogs have had some time off and I am starting my pre-AWC trial program now, so there will be WAY too much blogging in the next few months.  Watch this space.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Again, Training and Dogs

Hmmmm, first I take ages to blog and now I am writing two posts in one day.  Sorry for the schizophrenia, but think the boys deserve a mention tonight.  Oh what the hell am I talking about, they always deserve a mention, this whole blogging depends on my laziness.... or if you want to be more positive.... on my motivation.  And I promise this is a short one.

Recently a group of friends decided to get together on a semi-regular basis and just train some agility.  Various reasons, all good ones and all of us are insane enough to offer up even more time on weekends to dedicate to this strangely addictive sport.  We have had good results, the training has helped, but more importantly it has been fun for all humans and dogs involved.  I think the dogs REALLY enjoy tireless W's antics.  I (and I think I can speak for the hubby on this one too) appreciate the silence and peace after coming home, created by content tired dogs.

While I spend most of my time being proud of my dogs, you know not including those moments where Quake jumps into someone else's Koi Pond or where Volt tries to hump my parents's cat or when Chaos pees on other people's dogs's noses.... you have those moments where everything just comes together and all you can do is stare at  your dogs with this silly (severely psychotic) grin and be happy.  Not necessarily with the dog or with the training or with the performance, but just how everything came together with you and your dog as a team.  Tonight I have THAT exact ridiculously soppy feeling with all my dogs.

Spaz, which just normally bathes in awesomeness, was just even more awesome.  Spectacularly enough I managed to kind of keep up for once.  Now if only I could translate this into shows hey?  /kick the handler. Quake-e-star.... hell how he has gained confidence.  In actual fact, his renewed agility training only happened by accident, as me and him are concentrating on flyball at the moment.  A little while ago, Volt developed a limp on training day, so I figured I might just as well take Quake to have two dogs there.  He already amazed me in that first session, running with other handlers, speeding along with a smile on his face and doing decent poles, so he got to go with again and keeps surprising me.  Today he was flying and displaying a largely reduced amount of environmental stress behaviour.  We are not out of the woods yet, but he did 'big dog things' like REALISING he had missed pole entry and immediately coming back and offering the correct behaviour without me moving a muscle.  And the Stein Wine, what an awesome uber Sheltie-ness.  First of all, he did some more than decent poles in a strange venue, which was pretty cool.  He DID struggle with the poles when there were distractions around, which I feel is more than fair enough from a 14 month old dog.  I ran fairly long sequences/courses with him (up to about 17 obstacles) and he was.... well brilliant.  Brilliant enough for me in anyway.  He is responding very late to turn cues, mostly because he is motoring away at full speed, so I am not concerned about this.  I am sure the training will kick in in different environments soon (as he nails these kinds of things at home).  I suppose for me the best part is, is that he is displaying that EXACT combination of raw talent and training that I wanted (well for his age).  After spending more than a year selecting his breeder and lines and training methods and training plans and all of those REAL nerdy agility things, I am very satisfied with his progress.

Sadly no video.... no excuse, I purely forgot to ask anyone to tape anyone.  Eish, useless Alett I would say, but we will live and will make sure all the important rounds are recorded at the show tomorrow.  Now before you point fingers and tell me that I am turning into one of those EGOTISTIC bloggers (read previous post), I will make a comment on (yet another very corny) aspect.  As kids, we all get introduced to the concept of sports, both team and individual.  No-one can prepare you for the dynamic of Agility.  It is classified as a something of everything.  The team-work  and bonds and frustrations and absolute contentment and pure disappointment and elation and bla bla bla, you know I cannot describe all the mixed emotions.  And the absolute roller-coaster of enjoyment that all of these emotions leads to.  I am not really (well not JUST) bragging about my dogs, I am just trying to share one of those super high and exciting peaks on the roller-coaster with all of you.

PS. Thanks for all the personal feedback (emails, FB comments etc) on my previous post.  Much appreciated.

Eyes, Blogs and... well Agility I guess

It is the first time I notice all that bird poop on the dog walk... hmmmm.

I have to blog quietly this morning, the hubby is still sleeping....  Pretty sure he would not appreciate me having a loud conversation with myself (pretending I am speaking to the dogs) about random agility matters.  That is what normally happens when I blog.  I also have to blog on my old desktop this morning, my precious beloved laptop is in for repairs *wipes a way a tear*.  You know how 'They' (yes the famous, infamous,villainous and legendary THEY) say you don't know what you have until you lose it?  They are actually right on that one.... I miss Windows 7, I really do.

Something you may not know about me, is that I have issues with eyes, BIG ones.  I mean I have big issues, I don't have particularly big eyes.  I am not a squeamish person, no sir.  Blood, guts, gore, bones sticking out of torn flesh, decomposing bodies, that yukky stuff that accumulates at the bottom of the dishwasher... no problems with those.  But I cannot physically handle ANYTHING happen to an eye, I can't even watch people put in contact lenses without going nuts.  I don't feel nauseated or anything, I just freak out.  I need to be locked in a tiny little padded room.  So if we watch a movie where anything happens to someones eyes (you know the normal horror movie stuff, needles straight through the eyeball, acid being poured in eyes, laser surgery gone wrong), I close my eyes, put my fingers in my ears, chant 'lalalalalalalalalalalala' until the hubby notifies me that it is safe to watch again and even then I wait 30 seconds, just to be sure.

On Tuesday, my left eye started swelling and I got these odd looking bruises at the bottom of it.  By Wednesday morning, it would appear to any uninformed by-stander that either my teddy bear of a hubby had punched me in the face or I had walked into a door.  Needless to say I don't mess around with eyes, so off to the doc I went.  I have an abscess behind my bottom eye-lid!  How utterly disgusting and vile is that?  Luckily I caught it early and no cutting and draining is necessary, a good thing I would say, because at that point the padded room and the white jacket with the funny sleeves would have become a reality.  I know that whole story had nothing to do with agility, but it traumatised me, so deal with it!

But now I will get back to agility.  It is amazing to me what people do with their agility blogs.  So unique to each person.  Some uses it as a pure training diary.  I like those, I read all the ones I can find.  So much free training information available, how cool is that?  Some of the more, erm, egotistic? bloggers, just brag.... brag brag brag.  Cool for a while, but these tend to bore me in the end.  Oh, hat, then there are the bloggers that 'write as their dog' generally accompanied with questionable spelling and sentence construction (I eeez retardz), like their poor dogs are illiterate russians with an IQ of 3.  These tend to annoy me and if their dogs knew what they were doing, it would annoy them too.  There are the moaners that basically use their blogs to list how crap life is.  I avoid these.  I like blogs where people record their random thoughts on life and agility and just stuff, these are interesting and these make me think.  Generally not a fan of Jerry Springer - The Agility episode blogs, ja, they are sometimes amusing when I am in a more scandalous mood, but not really my thing.  My favourite blogs are the humorous (slightly dark) rantings of insane and addicted agility people.  This has to make me wonder why people read my blog?

Anyhow, I guess it is time to catch you up agility wise....  We had a show last weekend, but unfortunately no video, first of all because I don't have a video editor on the desk top, but mostly because we ran National League courses.  Basically we have these national competitions, courses are set up in different provinces (using an Baseline Coordinate system), we all run them and I get to work out the results.  What fun.  So in the interest of not compromising the courses, I can't post the videos.  It went well enough, some good clears, an unfortunate knock (when are knocks NOT unfortunate I ask you?) and some placings.  All in all, I am relatively happy, except for that completely naughty moment, where Spaz decided that the course finished on 19 and it is perfectly acceptable to just run around 20.  Eish my boy, eish.  In fact Chaos wasn't the only one of my dogs that had bright spark ideas this week.  Quake went swimming in the Koi pond... not mine and not at my house.  Luckily he managed not to crush or eat any. Volt buried some bones.  Once again, not my bones, not in my garden.

In other news, Volt is weaving 6 closed poles with a VERY high consistency rate.  Woohoo!  Time to move this game to other locations!  Volt is looking SO good, well that is how I feel personally.  Technically he can start competing in Dog Jumping now, but that won't be happening until next year.  I really don't see why I should push it, we have all the time in the world.  Getting it right is a lot more important to me than just getting in the ring.

We have another show tomorrow, hopefully I won't be such a slacker in updating my blog again....

Friday, October 28, 2011

Something New, Students and Analysing

Let's actually start off with the students thing...  I am very proud of M and her awesome BC (coincidentally also name Chaos), for working so hard.  In just seven weeks, she has made such progress and the program is not even finished!  Well done!

The on-line training has been a lot of fun, but also an eye-opener.  When you are teaching a class in person, you have everything at your finger tips, you get to know dogs, you get to know people.  When you have are working on-line with students (often people I have never met), you have to ask a lot more questions, you have to force students to analyse themselves and to think creatively.  It has been a good experience and I am definitely planning on expanding the initiative if the interest is out there.

Speaking of analysing,  I read about and hear of and speak to and get asked about agility problems.  That is normal, but the question is why so few handlers successfully solve their problems.  My personal opinion is that people lack the ability to analyse their problems properly.  Wait that didn't come out right.  What I mean is that when people learn agility/are taught agility, they are taught the steps and the obstacles and the names and the turns etc.  But they never learn to really think about it.  Of course I am generalising, but I just don't think that very many handlers have good analytical skills.  Not an easy task mind you, but once you can properly analyse agility, nothing can get you under.  Tied in with this, is a lack of planning and a lack of procedure.  I am not saying that you should be some anal fishwife that is as inflexible as an iron rod planted in cement.  But if you have no plan, you have no goal and then you can't have results.

Enough moaning.  I haven't trained contacts in ages, so decided to do a quick A-Frame session with Spaz before the show this weekend, I also wanted to test my quick releases.  I have to say, that after that test, I am REALLY not ready to give running contacts a try.  If you look at Chaos's second quick release (the one where he didn't slip), he has a good running action through it.  Now I KNOW the difference of running contacts is the actual acceleration into it, but then I will always be able to get a tighter turn off there.  Oh well so many arguments on both sides I guess.... haha and I am not in an argumentative mood today.

A friend of mine also has a young dog that is busy learning the poles and the two of us are collaborating to come up with the best way/combination of ways to teach small and medium dogs the poles.  Not ready to make conclusive statements yet or even post videos, but let's just say I am very happy with the progress.  Here is a super quick video of some training I did with Volt early this week.

Sorry, this was the most uncreative and boring post in all of everness... it is the HEAT that is still affecting me.  I am about to go insane or rip my hair out or sue the sun or something.  Oh well, lets just hope it cools down before our shows this weekend.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Excuses, Universal Issues and HEAT

It is hot, VERY hot, PAINFULLY hot.  I don't like heat and I am certainly NOT a summer person.  Yes, I know this makes me even more odd.  I don't like feeling like a radiator in a furnace, it just doesn't do it for me. Chaos and Delta also does not like heat either.  They are sensible dogs, no wait, I am lying, we all know Delta is not sensible, Delta is JUST mad, but at least he shares my aversion to heat.  At 07h00 this morning it was already to hot to train, so I had to fool the dogs into thinking they have trained.  So I took them out individually, made them each do one jump, three the ball three times.  It worked on the others, but Chaos is more intelligent than that.  He KNEW he hadn't been trained and has been staring at me accusingly since this morning.  I don't like summer, the ONLY aspect I like is the spectacular thunderstorms we get here in South Africa.  There Chaos and Delta don't agree with me, they definitely don't like thunderstorms, so summer is a real no-no for them.  Volt couldn't care less about thunderstorms.  Quake, I don't know any more...

Sigh, when I get a puppy, to avoid all future problems, I crate them during their first thunderstorms.  This crating goes along with huge rewards, and yummy chews (well the dogs think they are yummy, I think they are vile) and lots of praise for chilling.  So when the first thunder can be heard in the distance, my dogs get in their crates (on their own) and I just close the doors, they then go to sleep.  Perfect solution right?  Well it used to be.  Last week, I had to go out in the evening, I could see a storm (a very puny one by our standards) in the distance, so I left the dogs napping in their crates.  By the time the hubby got home an hour later, Quake had ripped up a very sturdy crate and his face.  He gave me a heart attack, luckily there is no lasting damage (no broken teeth or injured eyes), but there will be scars on his pretty face :(  AND I feel terrible AND stressed about what to do with him next time.  There will be a next time.  It is inevitable that our dogs have to stay home alone at some stage and statistically he will have to get through another storm.  Then a few evenings later, there was a MUCH MUCH worse storm, I was home, so I decided to test it.  I crated him, set up the video camera and left the room.  And he went to SLEEP, through the entire storm.  So maybe it was a one time thing, maybe a spider or a bee bugged him in the crate.  Who KNOWS?

It is still hot, VERY hot, but let me get on with the rest of the post.  I made some progress with Chaos last year, well if you can call 'sometimes kind of getting a clear round' progress.  I started off on exactly that note this year.  The I changed some things and that changed my agility.  For the first time, I go to the start line with confidence, knowing that I can BE the competition.  His clear round rate improve by a whopping 63 %, his knock rate was reduced to 19% and still dropping (from about 39%) and he started placing consistently.  The first change involved a lot of analysis and making agility 'my own', this subject alone is enough to write an entire book about (and I might just do that).  The second was dedicated and PLANNED training.  The third might be the smallest, but let me tell you what a difference it made.  I promised myself that there would be no more excuses.  AT ALL.

See actually there are sometimes valid excuses in agility, but where do you draw the line?  If you make one excuse and believe it, it is bound to give you such a sense of comfort, that next time around, you might go a little bit out of your way to look for an excuse.  Before you know it, you will be searching under every rock in every tree for an excuse of why you failed.  And that is detrimental to your agility career.  So while I realise dogs are just human, they knock or miss a weave entry or get distracted, sometimes the surface we jump on is slippery, weather affects dogs, however I would have no more of that.  If it was not dangerous for my dog, then there was no excuse  If Chaos knocked, it was because I did not train something in particular, it was not because of the pigeon that pooped on the course or a dog outside barking like a lunatic.  If I dq'd, it was not because the scorer wore a pink shirt or the course was too difficult.  You get the idea right? I took full responsibility for every fault on every course, even when it might not have been my fault.  I went back and TRAINED to try and ensure that mistake never happened again.  Of course there are still 'those moments'  like Chaos just being WEIRD and MAD on AM's non-contact course a few weeks ago, but I accepted those as well.  It has made a difference to my state of mind, if nothing else.

Now this is where it ties in with universal problems.  Week in and week out, there are complaints about course design and judging.  And according to the forums/blogs/media I follow, this problem occurs world wide.  Perhaps if we all stopped complaining about this, we would achieve greater success?  Now there are a TON of these universal problems that I could discuss, but there is just one more I want to mention in this post.

The other universal problem, seems to be the matter of qualifying/winning.  There are two points of view to consider here.  There will always be dogs that are consistent and good in their own right, but not the fastest, dogs that go out there every week and do their thing (and very well too), but are not capable of winning the world champs or even national champs.  These dogs and handlers deserve some form of recognition, that is for sure.  But then you have the other dogs, those that have the capability to be the best, to go out their and not only do their thing, but WIN.  These dogs also want recognition and generally they feel that the recognition they receive should not be obtainable by ALL dogs.  Now some countries have a good solution, but around here, these two groups are fighting for recognition of the SAME title.  I am hoping that our sport will find ways to recognise BOTH of these groups, rather than make one of the groups compromise.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Just doing it, getting it right and rhythm baby!

Since the shows of the year are drawing to an end, I have a ton of time on my hands to work on new dog projects... Always fun.  The bunch will all get a break in November, so I can prepare for the SA Champs and World Team Try-Outs trials that will start in January, but for now I want to work on rhythm baby!

First of all, I have to say that I am not biased.  I don't have a preference between two-step and sidestep actions.  They can be equally quick and efficient provided the dog has a proper posture, striding and rhythm throughout twelve weaves.

I see so many young dogs coming out that can DO 12 weave poles, but even though they are 'doing all 12' they are just not getting it right.  Some people like training weave poles and others (like me), just don't, but that is no excuse to neglect it or rush it.  I made the latter mistake with Chaos, well kind of.  The first part of weave pole training I spent a lot of time on, I had endless time on my hand, I was renting a cottage on a massive property, it was goooood. Then competition time started drawing near and me (=areshole) rushed through the last 4cm of channel training.  Now I have a dog, that will do poles and while he is not the slowest dog out there, his poles aer VERY lacking.  In straight poles he struggles finding decent rhythm, he doesn't extend his front quarters and shoulders and often ends up crossing his front paws while doing the poles.  That he hasn't tripped or crashed his nose head first into poles is a miracle.  His entries are pretty good and his independence is okay, although that could also be better.  Chaos has 3 second poles (well not quite, his average is between 2.8 and 3 seconds).  So he loses 0.4-0.6 seconds to world class dogs JUST in the poles, eish.  Since I am busy doing weave pole training with Volt, why don't I try to improve Chaos's poles?  I know it is a bit late in the game, but I have to try!  Personally, looking at Chaos, I think he would probably be most comfortable doing a sidestep through the poles, however with his lack of rhythm, he mixes it up between two-step and sidestep.  Shame I think the poor boy has two left feet.

Quake, as those who have seen him compete can agree with, does not do stellar poles in a show environment, in fact, Quake is not to fond of the show environment as a whole.  But here is the prove that this little dog (meaning huge giant Border Collie) really does enjoy his training at home, which is fine, I might give him another few tries to see if he starts coping with it, otherwise I am quite happy to have a dog that is a 'home only agility' dog.  Anyhow, I figured that I could work on some entries with him anyway, he has fun.  Quake has a phenomenal action through the poles,

Now you will also remember from a previous post that I said I would wait for Volt rhythm and striding to improve before closing the poles again and it happened.  You will see that he had started getting a weave action on 6cm, before I closed the poles another 2cm.  And, man, was it worth the wait, you will see that he had almost no problems adapting to the poles that are now 2cm closer together.  I train poles with a very easy step-by-step wash, rinse, repeat method.

1.  Channel consistency and rhythm, striding and posture.  Get the channel RIGHT.
2.  Channel independence.  Back crosses, front crosses, tapering and distractions.
3.  Entries.  Channel entries from different angles and obstacles.

Once those three are good and consistent, move channel closer, wash, rinse and repeat.

So me and Volt are officially at step 1 with a 4cm channel.  Woot.

I urge everyone training poles though NOT to neglect the actual performance on the poles, just doing 12 poles, doesn't mean you are getting it right.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chaos, 666 and Championship Status

I have tons to write.  Cannot wait to write about the AWC.  So many things to say and so glad I could watch it throughout the weekend, although my hubby wasn't too impressed with that, since that meant he had to eat takeaways the whole weekend.  Right now,  my Spaz boy Chaos deserves the attention though.  As I have said before we have three 'jumping disciplines' in South Africa.  Contact Agility, Non-Contact Agility and Dog Jumping.  Dog Jumping is based on horse jumping and started in the early 1980's.  There are a lot of differences between the rules of Dog Jumping and Agility, but the main difference is the jump-off.  You run a course and all the dogs that have a clear round, get to go through to the jump off, which is basically a shortened course and each dog starts with a clean slate.  The winner of the jump-off in the highest grades, wins a QC (Qualifying Certificate), provided there are at least three dogs with three different handlers competing.

To my non-South-African readers, this must seem like a silly thing.  But I cannot describe the fun and serious competition that makes this sport different from Agility.  And today Chaos got his third QC, making him a dog jumping champion.  He managed to get this status in 2 months and 4 days.  Not that it matters, what matters is how proud I am of that dog and how much he has given me and how hard he tries.  Love you my Spaz!  And considering my catalogue number was 666 today, it just proves there is no need to be superstitious.

And the full jump-off on the day:

As for the rest of the weekend, we had some a lot of good rounds and one or two bad rounds.  I am very happy with his progress in consistency (haha and mine).  On Saturday, he knocked a bar in the Non-Contact Agility and I chose to stop and put the bar back up, so an elimination.  He knocked another bar in the contact round, but had a lovely round otherwise to earn him a second place.  On Sunday he fell off the dog walk, as it was a bit of an awkward angle and I took the chance of not curving him before hand and just leaving him to find the dog walk himself, bad handler, the rest of his round was pretty good.  In Non-Contact Agility on Sunday, I messed up one bit of handling, but managed to (very messily) correct it, to earn another second place with a clear round.  And of course his win in Dog Jumping on Sunday.  NO knocked bars the entire day, woohoo, training is paying off!  And this result, was good enough to earn him the 'Best Large Dog' award of the day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

AWC, an Analysis and Actuality

So I will be honest and admit that I spent most of the day yesterday watching official team practise on live stream.  Work be damned.  It is that time of year again, the FCI Agility World Championships.  On the one hand it is driving me nuts, because I WANT TO BE THERE.  Kind of like I do every year, but on the other hand I do at least enjoy watching it live stream.  Some very impressive dogs out there and from today it seems like we will be a lot more running contacts this year.  Now those that read my blog will know I am not a fan of running contacts myself.  And some people seem to get it quite right, but the actuality of it is, is that it has created a huge demand for more advanced contact judging.  As you know I am slightly (okay a lot) obsessive when it comes to agility and I have often put running contacts on a frame-by-frame and watched dogs clearly miss the contact, but not being called on it.  Now I like the fact that we have a friendly sport, where the benefit of doubt always goes to the dog.  The Rugby World Cup is also on at the moment and it has happened a few times already, where they go to the TMO referee and he gives in 'inconclusive' call, which means NO try.  That is the difference in agility, COMPETITORS always get the benefit of the doubt.  Cool hey?  Well yes and no, in all these slow play videos I do, I don't blame the judges for not being able to make the call.  

Dogs are damn fast, a dog going at 5m/s will take less than 0.2 seconds to negotiate a dog walk contact.  Now consider this, the human visual system, can process 10 to 12 separate images per second, perceiving them individually. The visual cortex holds onto one image for about one-fifteenth of a second, so if another image is received during that period an illusion of continuity is created, allowing a sequence of still images to give the impression of smooth motion.  So quite frankly it is a super human task for any judge to correctly judge a fast running contact, even if you ARE using an up-contact judge.  Unfortunately the reality of it is, that handlers who work damn hard to teach contacts, whether it be 2o2o, 4 on the floor or even proper running contacts, are often pushed further down the placings.  I suppose it goes both ways, sometimes dogs do actually get a toe in the zone and get called for it.  Regardless, I know that some countries/equipment manufacturers are playing around with touch pads/electronic contacts, but I feel it should be something that is actively pursued by Agility everywhere.

Okay that moan out of the way, I cannot wait for the AWC to start now, needless to say I doubt I will get much work done today.  And this weekend, I will be carting my laptop, the 3G card and the mobile satellite tv decoder to our shows, the latter being to watch the rugby.  Judging my the practise, it will be an interesting year at the AWC.  I saw a lot of face plants yesterday, a lot of dogs slipping, I am really hoping that the dogs will adapt and kick arse.  It is a bit disappointing though, after last year's spectacular surface.

And for those of you that are very bored today and need something to do... I have done another Chaos vs. Volt comparison:

Well that is all I have to say for now, actually that is all I have time for this morning, seeing as how much I need to get done before the AWC opening ceremony...

Friday, September 30, 2011

'Stupid' Videos, Another Comparison and Google nearly broke my blog

Actually I will start off with the first one... Hatty of the hatness... This morning I decided to try out Google's new and improved blog lay-out.  All fine and well right? WRONG.  Widgets gone missing, previews not the same as real views.  Some of the concepts look very nice, but until Google sorts outs those bugs, I will just stick to my original look.  Haha, I suppose not even Google is perfect.  I like the new dashboard and post lay-outs though.

So I finally got off my lazy arse and went SOMEWHERE ELSE to train, can you believe it?  I was invited to train at another agility handler's (very nice) grounds and I actually made an effort.  He was very surprised when I set up the video camera.  And when I told him I video'd ALL my training sessions, he go the typical 'are you insane?' look.  Honestly though my 'stupid' videos has been the biggest influence on improving my show performance.  Ja, I am somewhat anal, analysing  all my vids, doing frame-by-frames, timing splits.  But if you train on your own, how else do you do it, I ask you with tears in my baby blue eyes?  This same person has been having some SEVERE issues and he doesn't know why or how to fix them?  So isn't that the solution?  I have also gotten many queries from students saying 'yes, but he does this/that/whatever when I train and I don't know why'.  My stupid videos that clog my hard drive (all our hard drives in fact) have been the key to solving so many of my issues.  As  you can see from the below video, a stationary camera on a tripod doesn't really suffice when you are trying to film training on a 30mx40m arena though... so we will call this 'training at a distance'.  Yes that little spec on the camera is Spaz, promise.  As for the Steiner-Meister, I am super impressed.  It was the very first time he went training 'somewhere else' and to top it all off, the other guy's bitch (just a few meters away in the kennel run) was in season.  I set up a very basic 2 jump tunnel exercise and Volt coped very well, he wasn't distracted, he didn't lack confidence.  Even though his turns weren't perfect, he was definitely in working mode, he called off the other dogs to come and work.  A good start and a good confidence booster.  My confidence of course.  He of course needs a TON more of this before he starts competing, but all in all I am a happy chappie.

And yet another example of my stupid videos... I always try and explain this to my students (and very few REALLY understand) obstacle performance is NOT, no NEVER just about the dog 'doing the obstacle'.  Yes your dog can 'do the dog walk' touching, both contacts... BUT is he doing it at full speed, is his striding ideal, is performing the criteria etc etc.  This is especially applicable to the poles... Yes a lot of dogs can do the poles, but a lot of dogs are NOT performing them at optimum level, because people do not bother to LOOK at what their dog is doing and try and do it correctly.  Volt is doing the channel... in fact he is 'getting his entries', he is driving ahead and doing the channel on his own and this is brilliant, but he is still figuring out his striding... now I know that he is 'doing the channel', but he is not performing anywhere near optimum, so what is the point in closing them more.  I am patient and from the video you can see that he is starting to have moments where he is getting the striding, I am more than happy to wait for some more consistency before I proceed with the ever frustrating process of Weave Pole Training.  But without my 'stupid videos' how the hell would I monitor this specific factor?  Seriously I am not superman with the whole x-ray vision thing and I don't have an eidetic memory (unfortunately).

I also did another comparison between Volt and Chaos... now given that Spaz has a ton more experience and training, I have ALWAYS had one problem with him.  He is a tall dog, no, in fact he is a giant at 57.5 cm (22.6 inches), which I like, I LOVE my tall BC's.  However, Chaos has a ton of ground speed, but struggles with acceleration, he is a 'front wheel drive' model.  So on a course, where jumps are set between 5m and 7m appart, he never gets to use his full speed.  Volt is a tiny little boy at 33.5cm (13 inches), but with a ton of acceleration, super all-wheel drive.  So today I set up an tight pin wheel.  Chaos has a ton of experience and familiarity with this set up and HAS to work damn hard to control his stride, which results in him appearing very slow in the exercise but very tight for a dog of his size.  Volt gets to use a lot more of his speed, but his inexperience causes him to be fast, but wide... wider than Chaos!  Not that I am unhappy with Volt, he is doing quite well for a 13 month old and the mistakes where I pull him through gaps are MINE, but it is interesting to note.  The other interesting thing was and you will see, that I kicked a wing on one of the pin wheels and Volt ran around the jump, very concerned about the noise.  Once again a confidence thing.

I actually have the weekend off shows, can you believe it?  I am really looking forward to it, but at the same time I KNOW that I will end up being bored out of my skull...  Wish me (and the hubby) luck... I am crabby when I am bored...