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...