Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lights, camera, action

Last year we got a little present in the form of a Canon PowerShot G11... not the uber fancy stuff that real dog photographers used, but decent little camera.  Until recently I have not taken much interest in it, other than posed shots using that wonderful button that says 'auto'...  A couple of weeks ago I decided to experiment a bit and try to take some decent action shots of the dogs... here are some of my first attempts...

 Ball, ball, ball, ball, throw ball woman!
 This one came out a little bit blurry, which is a shame, it would have been a nice shot of monster man.

 Note Sheltie going in for the kill... Echo's mane = best tug toy ever
 Sheltie going in for the kill, Quake throwing in a sidestep
 I like running, I want to run the whole day.  Lets run run run!
 F@$k off Sheltie... you scare the crap out of me...
 Got ya!
 Oh crap, the tiny terror is catching up... Have to run faster!
 I bring back, you throw again, right?
 This one is just funny because Quake is nomming grass in the background...
 I know this is actually a terrible picture, because of the shade, but impressed with myself that I caught the 'catching action'
 Prick ear Sheltie
 Volt hassling Echo
Run, run, run, want to run more!

I am not getting the lighting quite right... Our grass seems terribly green... but its getting better than the first complete blurs that I took...

Friday, February 18, 2011

When Loki meets Thor...

Well, it's actually when Loki meets Volt, but I wanted to do the whole mythological thing, okay?

We have this cat, well we know he is a cat and in fact he was quite happy with being a cat for the first few months in his life.  Then he tragically lost his leg in 2008 and to compensate for the loss of a limb, he developed some psychological issues.  Loki know thinks he is a human crossed with a cat crossed with a dog.  Volt of course thinks this is awesome, what could possibly be more fun to play with than a 'Sheltie sized schizophrenic cat toy' who always acts like he has smoke weed, right?

Come on please dude... play with me... pretty please...  I will play super nice, promise!

Please, please please,please,please!!!

Oh fine, I am getting up already, give me a second. Just behave...

See, I play nice, I grab your ear with my very sharp teeth...

Oi, little dog thing, can you not see mean evil scary look???

Your scary look does not intimidate me... play play play play PLAY (here sounds of Volt's brain roasting as it goes into play overdrive)

I am warning you dude!

Hijaaaa!  Take that little Sheltie monster!!!

Shame the hard life of Loki, tiring Sheltie puppies out...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A sentimental moment...

WARNING:  The content of this post is very sentimental and NOT within the normal range of subjects posted on this blog.  Continue at own risk.

For those of you that read my blog, but do not live in South Africa, this might be hard to understand...  Let me try to explain.

One of the biggest challenges pet owners face in South Africa is that a large percentage of the cultures represented in our country, in general do not see animals in the same way we do.  They are terrified of dogs, superstitious about cats and in general do not understand any affection towards animals.  The majority of South African citizens would not remotely understand why I allow my animals in the house, or spend money on them even.  Through many of the cultures, the tradition is that animals get fed left-overs, they stay outside to catch vermin and protect us.  That is IT.  There is no relationship, no bond and no care.  It is no-one's fault really, the animal awareness in South Africa is close to zero.  Opportunities to be educated are few and far between.  I can debate for hours on the reasons, but today, that is not my point.  Today I stopped at the garage (petrol station) to pick up some cigarettes from the convenience store, I had Echo and Chaos and Volt with me.  From the corner of my eye I saw a petrol attendant (we do not have self service stations in South Africa at all), storming my car, but assuming that he just wanted to wash the windscreen for a tip (normal practice), I headed in to the shop.  Returning to my car, he was waiting for me:

'Hi ma'am, my name is Brian' He held out his hand politely, which I shook...  this as such was not in this man's culture,  he was really trying to be polite.

'Hi Brian, how are you today?'

'I am well ma'am.  Ma'am do you work with dogs?'

'Yes, I have been training dogs for many years.'

'Ma'am, I used to volunteer at the SAPS (South African Police Service) dog unit, I just washed the dogs and cleaned up after them, but I loved it.  I love animals, at home I have three dogs, a cat and two white mouse.  I wash all of them every week.  The cat too, I even made her like it too.'  This is said with a sense of pride, that no author can describe in words.  'It is very difficult for me, because my people don't like animals Ma'am, I have to look after them very well to make sure no harm comes to them.  When me or my family is not at home, they have to stay in the house, otherwise something might happen to them.'

'I understand, Brian, but you love your animals then?'

'Yes Ma'am, I love all animals.  I like snakes too, but they are expensive and expensive to keep.  I am saving my money, maybe one day I can afford to have one.  A big one.'

'I like all animals too, but I only have dogs and cats.'

'Ma'am, I would really like to work with animals.  If you ever need any help, please let me know.  I will wash them or clean up after them, I don't mind.  And I don't want any money for it.  I like my job here.' Points back at the petrol pumps. 'I just want to be involved with animals, please let me know.'

'I will definitely keep an ear on the ground, I live just around the corner.  You see that little dog.' I point at Volt. 'I bought him from overseas, he flew all the way from Belgium.'

'From Belgium?  That is in Europe isn't it Ma'am'.

He stares so intently through my car window, that I open the door.  Immediately he is petting both Echo and Volt.  'They are beautiful Ma'am.  Really I want to work with animals, I am going to remind you every time you stop here.'

'Thank you, I love them to bits.  I am going to remember you Brian, if I find anything I will stop here.'

'Thank you so much Ma'am.  Please remember, I don't need any money for it, I just want to work with animals.'

This is not quite verbatim, but close enough...

To most of you, this may not mean anything at all.  But for me... if I had the money (yes, everything costs money), I would help this guy out any day.  You have to understand, this guy probably does not own a TV or a computer or a phone, he has never seen dog-training of ANY kind, he probably does not have access to any veterinary care or even proper nutrition.  Just because he does not KNOW and has no opportunities to learn.  His love for his animals, the care he takes of them, is truly just from his own instinct.   I would get him into agility and he would appreciate working with his dogs more than any of us, because he has grown up on the opposite end of the spectrum.  I will keep my ear on the ground and I will have a chat to him every time I stop at the garage, but my heart goes out to him.  Imagine any of our lives without our dogs and agility and the knowledge that we are so privileged to have?

I am NOT NOT NOT a sentimental person, those who know me, will know that I am not very patriotic about this country.  I don't normally feel empathy or sympathy with people (with dogs, yes, any day), but today, that man's unadulterated enthusiasm did move me a little bit.  I hope things work out for him....  Oh Zues's hat, I sound like some or other sob... not the plan, I don't have these moments very often...  I guess that is why I appreciate it even more when I do...

You have been disconnected... beep beep beep

Picture courtesy of Sharleen Olsen
Okay, so we ran the second trial this past weekend, I cannot say too much, as some provinces have not run the trial yet and will only be able to upload the videos in a couple of weeks, but for now I will say this:

I have been going on and on about how well me and Chaos has been doing, but then, on Sunday, we had one of those terrible moments, where we just disconnected.  He decided that the left hand tunnel entry was definitely right, despite my verbals and obvious body language that it was in fact not...  I don't blame my dogs for mistakes, yes it is mostly me.  But in moments like these, where my dog is not intending to do the wrong thing, but just feels that he is right, I actually want to cry.  For some or other reason, we just completely disconnected, I have been looking for the reason, but I cannot find it.  I guess that is just life.  The rest of the course he did perfectly, what a round it would have been... Arg, hate 'would have beens'.  This was in the contact round, which was actually a decent course.

On the non-contact course I will comment at a later stage, but lets just say that from both a handler and judges point of view, I really do not agree with this course.  Anyhow,  we got around the course miraculously, as disconnected he had been in that one moment an hour before, he had gotten the line back... the signal was full again (maybe my and Chaos's reception tower had just been down with technical problems earlier).  As terribly as I had to handle, as much as the course was not my cup of tea, we got around...  not in a good time mind you, but at least I have some points on the board.  It is not like I played it safe, but the course just didn't allow for decent handling.  Two more trials left and my resolve is the same.  I will attack every course, I am NOT playing it safe, because in competitive agility 'playing safe' gets you nowhere.  Chaos has the skills, we are doing the training.  I want to go to France this year, if I make it I make it, if not, well then we will just have to work at it again next year.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hmmmm... on running contacts...

Just an fyi... if you are wondering why you see 'hmmmm...' in so many of my posts and titles, it is because I think... about agility... way too much... Just ask my husband.

I have mentioned a million times before and I probably will mention another million times, I come from a country with a very small agility following.  Unfortunately I also come from a country where contact training in general is attrocious.  I can probably count the dogs in South Africa that has good, consistent and more importantly WELL TRAINED contacts on two hands...  Yes, that is through the whole country.  And now since running contacts are the in thing, all of a sudden most of the uneducated handlers want to run before they can walk.  People who have never trained successful contacts just want to jump on the bandwagon.  Scary but true... oh there are many methods that would amuse most of the agility world...

1.  Give dog command for dogwalk/A-frame.  As soon as dogs first paw hits the up ramp, start screaming WAAAAAIT (please note this has to be a drawn out, loud scream with a high pitch).  Handler runs towards dog (nearly climbing on dogwalk/Aframe themselves) as soon as dog hits down ramp.  Dog stops dead half way down, then starts creeping.  Right before contact, dog gets frustrated (probably because its little brain is going 'WTF do you want dude?'), dog leaps off and finds next obstacle while handler tries to disengage themselves from said contact obstacle.

2.  This group of handlers claims they have trained a 2o2o.  Give dog command for dogwalk/A-Frame.  Let dog run full speed until dog puts first paw on down ramp.  Handler screams at top of lungs 'touch it' or 'wait' or 'you will not jump off' (yes I promise, people actually say that last one).  Dog starts creeping, throwing worried looks between the down ramp, the handler and the next obstacle.  Dog miraculously reaches 2o2o position.  Handler stops as soon as dog has reached position.  Handler moves and dog shoots off toward next obstacle, with handler lagging 7m behind.

3.  The ones that claimed they have a running contact.  This involves the handler sprinting at full speed with the dog, their shoulder brushing the dogwalk/A-frame (you recognise these people by the bruises on their arms and shoulders).  Handler gets to down contact and points at it, finger in dogs face (dog has to be able to feel finger up their nostril, otherwise method does note work), commands normally involve 'watch it', 'hit it', 'get it' or 'touch it'.  Dog jumps over handler's finger (and the contact).

One thing that a lot of handlers don't get is criteria.  What is your criteria for the dog and have you trained it?  This brings me to my actual point by the way... sorry lots of rambling again.  The new 'in thing' is running contacts.  Every Joe Soap and his mate wants to have a running contact, because apparently you can't win or be the best without a running contact...  Erm, beep, wrong, you're out!!!  But I will get back to that later...  Now you all know the nerd in me reads... a lot.  So yes, I have read all about (insert famous running contact trainer/handler here, which I will not name in fear of agility wrath), the different methods.  I have also watched their dogs run absolutely spectacular rounds with brilliant contacts.  However I have, in this country and all over the world watched many a dog 'run a contact' then put it on a frame by frame just to see the dog happily stride over that bit of different coloured paint. 

The reason I am writing all of this, is because a million and a half people have asked me if I am going to do running contacts with my Sheltie...  Now in all theory it would be easier with a Sheltie, smaller stride and all... but the answer is no.  And befor even start... let me answer all your questions about why not.

As I said, criteria is very super uber fundamentally important to me.  For every behaviour and command I teach in agility, there are very definable criteria.  Doggy you take jump, oh look, bar on floor, sorry no reward, lets try again.  I say 'come', that means you come toward me stat, don't pass go, don't collect your R200, straight to me (that means avoiding all obstacles), until I give you a further command.  I say 'go round', you go towards the back of which ever obstacle I am indicating.  Those are just a few examples, but they are simple and easy to define.  My dog is NOT thinking... erm wtf, I have no clue.  Now to teach a dog to run at full speed and hit those magic odd 90cm, please tell me what your criteria is???  I mean take Chaos, at full tilt that dog has a stride WELL over 90cm.  Wait before you start, yes I know, I know.... it is all supposed to be about acceleration and deceleration, but now I challenge you, yes YOU (imagine finger pointing out of computer screen) to run full speed, then decelerate to hit the same spot 50 times in a row.  That is you, as a human being, that actually knows and understands the whole concept.  Have you as a handler not run into agility obstacles a million times before???  How do you explain deceleration AS WELL AS performing that deceleration at the ideal point?  Oh wait and for those of you that use any form of targeting at a full speed run, please go and ask any professional long jumper, exactly how many times he has missed his mark because it is bloody hard to hit a target at full speed.  And this from professional athletes that get to mark their ideal distance with a very accurate tape measure... not dogs that will be coming onto the contact from a different spot every time. 

My next objection to running contacts is this, at least everyone agrees on it though.  The time spent teaching a running contact is insane.  A running contact is muscle memory, this means it is repetition, repetition, repetition and some more repetition.  Maybe this becomes boring for me or my dogs, it does not matter.  In my eyes (and that is only in mine of course) is that this is just a repetition exercise and not one of learning or understanding... which I prefer.  Some people might differ there, but hey this is MY blog.

In modern agility a running contact is actually NOT always ideal, because some nasty judges out there actually like people with running contacts (that is not me btw, if you don't believe me go and check my courses), and often if you take splits, those with stopped contacts will GAIN time on certain sequences.  Now I know the newest most discussed subject in agility is teaching turns off a RDW (yes, this famous goal has now even got its own abbreviation), but once again, without using props like poles next  the down contact etc, exactly how are you setting your criteria?  How far past the down ramp is the dog allowed to accelerate before turning?  And just by the by, I HATE props on an agility course, I don't believe in props, I don't bring any props close when I start training on proper agility equipment.  Props are for foundation and basic training end of story.  And no, I don't even bring a target or any other prop near a full contact when training my 2o2o.  Of course, toys don't count as props.

For those that argue the health and safety factor... Well, first of all have you watched your dogs run and play, all on their own, without your interference...  Maybe you have calmer dogs than me, but mine are bloody wacked in the head!  The things they do are a lot more unhealthy than me teaching them a PROPER 2o2o.  and ask any marathon runner, downhills kill you.  

And for those of you that whine about 'not being able to win without running contacts'... let me put this to you.  At the last 5 years of the FCI World Champs, lets divide the gold medalists into running and stopped contacts.  I am counting the dogwalks btw.

Stopped:  Hoss (Large 2009+2010), Dizzy (Medium 2009+2010), Kerttu (Small 2009), Juice (Large 2008), Witch (2007+2008 Medium), Wave (Small 2008), Seven (2007 Large), Rupione-baby (Small 2007), Simic (Large 2006), Frodo (Medium 2006)

Running:  Dice (2010 Small), Pebbles (2006 Small)

Shall we not let the results speak for themselves?

Lets get one thing clear, I am all for dogs running at full speed, I loooooove speed, I am the first one on the list that is voting that up contacts should no longer be judged, since it is unnatural for our dogs to try and hit an up contact, terrible impact and completely slows them down...  But when it comes to running contacts, I am just not convinced.

Everyone that has trained with me has heard my story, I advise them against it, but for those pupils who chose to do this method, I helped to the best of my ability.  Maybe consistent running contacts is not impossible, maybe someone will still discover a method that has viable criteria in my books and convince me otherwise.  If you want to give running contacts a try, go for it, I will still be the one in the crowd that admires you and cheers you on (if your dog hits it ofc).  But by my way of doing things, it is just not for me.  I like black and white when it comes to training (haha, not referring to my BC's of... okay well them too, but you know what I mean).  So if you are getting it right (and smirking cos this stupid cow doesn't get it), I am happy for you...

But for now, for me, there is just no way.   The low consistency rate and the abstract criteria just doesn't do it for me.  I feel passionately about this, but who knows what will happen next year or the year after.  Make no mistake, my 2o2o training through the years have been far from perfect and I still don't have the perfect contacts, but I have learnt and I will hopefully improve with little Volt... each to his own though...

Special dogs and skills

The show on Sunday went well enough... well for Chaos in anyway...

I entered Quake in the jumping, and he started off well... and then all of a sudden...

Do not worry, no dogs were hurt in the taking of this picture...  Seriously, he is okay.  I just wish I knew what was going through his head.  I mean his eyes have been tested, they are A Okay...  I actually do train this dog, contrary to popular belief...  This is typical Quake, he will be doing so well and all of a sudden he will get a 'moment'.  This dog really is... well special (needs).  Love him to bits though!

Chaos had a clear in the non-contact, but my cameraman just got a beautiful 3 second video of his shoes...  So here is his contact round...

I know it was a dq... But I am happy with him (not with me)...  His contacts have gone to the birds though...  So I am working on it...  trust me you will hear ALL about it later...

Thing is, Chaos actually does have the skills to get around anything.  I am not talking about me managing him all the way around, I shouldn't be doing that.  I have taught him pretty well, now if only I can catch up...

Anyhow some of us (looks down guiltily), has discovered Movie Maker and it is rather addictive!  Here is my first attempt...

Man I suck...  my dogs should SO start putting in classified for a better handler...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Happy 'Five-Month Day' Jonas, Jull and Jasmina of the Golden Fir

Yesterday (4 February 2011), the three pups turned 5 months.  In December, Jenny sent me some pics of Jasmina (ESP) and Jull (Ronald Vleminxc - BEL) and I am sure they are doing well.

Jonas, no known as Volt, is definitely doing well, in fact he is awesome!  Except for that time that he made me change him through the garden for 15 minutes with a dead mouse in his mouth... oh, yes and his obsession with our dirty underwear and 'fetching' said dirty underwear (from the closed laundry basket) at the worst times possible.  Anyway still trying to figure out how to take decent stacked pics, but here are a few of the little boy.  He measures at 31.9cm at the moment, so he might be a little bit smaller than I had hoped for, but still the best Sheltie ever!  Even if he has no coat and all legs at the moment!

Nice pic, bad background

Okay background, okay picture

Asleep with his fave toy, fondly named Mr. Blue Man

Perfecting 'The Look'

Hanging out with Ants

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Training and Stuff

I am busy doing flatwork and waits with the Voltage...  Of course I think he is super awesome, but I might be a little biased...

I am going to have to watch his 'popping behind me' move...  But the little dude is only 5 months old, so we will get there...

Also doing waits

And of course a little bit of training with the Spaz

Love my boys.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Old Man Update

Echo is good.  Growth removed, completely benign little fatty growth.  Other than the slight heart murmur, he is in perfect health.

He is still getting old, and THAT day will still come.  But for now everything is fine...