Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Moments, Expectations and Freak-Outs...

Well in less than 48 hours I will be leaving for SA Champs.  I am sticking to my normal training routine, well trying to anyway.  Today it is COLD... as in very ridiculously nut freezing, toe falling off cold.  Now since I am really looking to prevent last minute pulling of muscles (I am the most likely to suffer from this, quite frankly my dogs are much better conditioned than me), I just did some basic conditioning work with the Spaz.  Of course I am also trying to act all normal, while a million and a half thoughts are going through my head.  I wouldn't say that I am freaking out, but I am definitely in a 'heightened' state of mind.

Now I am not an SA Champs virgin by any means.  This is my seventh one and I have competed with four different dogs.  This is Chaos's third time around, but this year is different in many aspects.  First of all, me and Chaos have evolved quite a bit over the last year.  This is the first year that I feel we can be competitive.  He is not my baby dog any more.  Of  course there is the even more important factor that it is the first time since 2003 that I am trying out for the World Team.  In 2003 however, it was a very last minute decision, I had had no time to think about it, it all just happened so fast.  This time around, I have been preparing for this moment for a very long time.  Honestly  as far as agility cycles go, I think I am in a pretty good place.  I think Chaos is very close to a peak in his cycle.

Of course the US, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Hungary, Canada and a few others have already chosen their teams (yes, yes NERD, you may say it).  And this coming weekend it is our turn.  By Saturday evening I will know whether we are going to France this year or not.  If I don't make it, I will inevitably be disappointed, but then there is always Czech Republic next year or the European Open.  For now I have to rest my mind in the fact that I have trained hard and we are ready.  My mental state is what will make the difference now.

My goal is to have fun this weekend, but it will be isolated fun.  I am committing myself to this mentally, so I will be on my own mission and probably quite bad company to everyone else.  But I am determined that me and Chaos will enjoy the weekend tremendously.  It is going to be one to remember, you mark my words.  Right now I am actually really looking forward to the drive.  I love driving and I love driving alone.  Some good music and the open road is definitely the best way to get my mind ready!

To everyone travelling to the Royal Show, travel safe and enjoy!

But at the end of the day, it is all up to this weekend.

All photos courtesy of Melissa Wilson of K9 Action  Shots.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Okay I MIGHT have made some of these videos to prove a point, to all those that pipe up and frown at me when I argue.  Oh and just fair warning, if you are not REALLY into agility, as in at least borderline addict, then don't bother watching these videos or even letting them buffer.  They are pure training videos with a lot of repetition.

Let me not get distracted.  My point is that to me, obstacle performance and handling are two completely different things in Agility.  I believe in independent obstacle performance, I TRAIN this, I don't just expect my poor pooches to figure it out on their own.  I spend months and months and months and more months training my young dogs the obstacles properly before very slowly adding distance and 'proofs'.  This applies to EVERYTHING, jumps, tunnels, weaves, contacts...  To me, handling is only there to get the shortest, best lines IN BETWEEN obstacles.  This past weekend, after having a knock on one Dog Jumping round, I was approached by another handler that told me I caused my dog's knock with my front cross.  My reply was that, yes, it might have been the cause, but it is no excuse, since I TRAIN my dogs regardless of circumstances.  Now it was a friendly conversation and I really appreciate it when other handlers offer advice and tips.  But the response to my comment was a look that said 'erm, fine you stupid, crazy, insane person'.  Now if you please look at the video below:

This is some of my specific jump training (well that is what I call it anyway).  When I train like this, I reward for one jump and trust me I do everything in my power to 'throw' the dog odd verbals, bad crosses, standing right in front of my dog, long leads outs with HUGE speed etc etc etc.  And as you can see Chaos does it brilliantly.  My point was proven when I saw Lee Windeatt's weave proof video... of course you will (theoretically) never really run full speed in the opposite direction while your dog is in the poles on an agility course, but that is not the point.  the point is that our dogs should be UNDERSTAND their job and to make sure they do... well we proof.  I have a friend who always argues about this, see I also trained Chaos's weaves to the extent that I can run in the opposite direction... and I get snarled at that it is ridiculous and there is no reason for this, but these people don't get the point.  Well to my way of training anyway.

Normally independent obstacle performance is applied to weave poles and contacts in agility, but to me, it is just as valid for jumping.

I was quite gobsmacked the other day, when R was b%tching and moaning about a course where the dog walk went into nothing.  He trains four on the floor, but he openly predicted that his dog would come off the side (which she did).  His argument against this in a course is that he has 'never seen that at the AWC'.  Erm... dude so not the point.  If your dog comes off the side she doesn't actually understand THE BEHAVIOUR, she is working solely off your body language for obstacle behaviour...

I have dogs at very different stages in their training.  I mean take Quake, he is just a slight bit younger than Chaos, yet he has never even competed.  Well that is about to change, but my point is he is a very novice dog.  However, from an early age I train towards that independence...   Hopefully you can see that in this video where I train his poles.

You may also note that his contacts are a bit crap... and it is all me.  I tried some different things with him when he was a pup and messed him up.  However we are getting better every day and he will NOT compete in contact until I am completely happy with what he is doing...

Now on to some recent training with the Voltenstein... man this dog is awesome, let's hope I don't screw him up... I have already taken more video of him and cannot wait to edit his NEXT video, but lets start with this one.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekends, States of Mind, Disasters and Retrospectives

What a weekend it has been...

First of all, before anything else, I would like to give a quick update on the victims of the accident.  They are all doing well, obviously in pain and there will be a long road to recovery, but they are all out of the woods.  The support from the dog community has been AMAZING.  A fund going to assist in medical bills, some of the clubs that hosted the shows this weekend have donated ALL their profit towards expenses and amazing anonymous donors, offering to cover VAST medical costs in private hospitals with the best specialists available.  So much support that it even makes ME sound soppy...

So then I have to move on to my agility weekend. I feel like a big fat horrible arse atm... I owe Spaz the biggest apology in the world.  Let's put it this way, by Saturday eve I was in a state, I was doubting him and I was doubting myself A LOT...I was wondering WHAT THE HELL my business in the sport was.  I was feeling like a hypocrite for lecturing others on their ways...  I was in a deep dark hole with no little beam of light.  On Sunday I decided to just have fun and couldn't care less about my end result and even after all that mental lecturing I was disappointed with the day.  I drove back to Jo'burg in one hell of a funk...

So tonight I sat down with all the videos I took... I actually didn't even WANT to look at them.  Guess what I discovered... we DIDN'T have a crap weekend.  Nope, we really didn't.  Chaos gave me his heart and soul (as always) and yes, I DID let him down in a few rounds, but not as badly as I thought.  JackASS...  And the worst part is, is that it is all my idiotic doing...  I sat down with myself long before this weekend and said that I didn't expect anything from this weekend... reason being, that we were competing over the equipment that will be used for SA Champs in the same province.  I WANTED to proof my training (which I did) and my contacts (which I did) and my poles (which I never needed to because Spaz was awesome), I WANTED to try some challenging handling (which I did)... the only thing that I didn't want to do is let Chaos down... WHICH I DID.  But all in all we actually had a GOOD weekend.  And I looked at a lot of the dogs we will be competing against for a spot on the team and they made worse mistakes on some rounds... Not that THAT part matters at all.  I generally don't give a crap what anyone else does in comparison to me when it comes to agility... I mean of course I support my friends in THEIR agility, they just have nothing to do with MY agility.  Thing is that mistakes happen in agility, it is a VERY HARD and VERY unforgiving sport.  The best dogs have a bad weekend and there is such a fine line between a brilliant round and a big fat E.

My point is that the weekend is EXACTLY what I wanted it to be, so why didn't I keep a level head?  Erm, sorry cannot answer that one.  Guess it is just the Hyde side of me that was coming out this weekend while Jekyll took a snooze.  But me and him had a long chat today, he accepted my apology for all the bitching and moaning this weekend and we are all good.

Here is the video of this weekend,  I didn't edit anything out, gave you all that I got :)  I want to make another one of all the other dogs too this weekend... just to give you an idea.

I had SUCH good training with Chaos today, so I am back to being positive.  And I just have to mention that I had the most amazing training with the Voltenstein this afternoon, videos to follow later in the week.  What an awesome little boy he is.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Durban update

Well I am doing a quick update from the KZN May Extravaganza... The weekend started out bad, as in really bad... Never mind that I (yes, me, Miss Insomniac, never get bloody decent sleep EVER) overslept... which meant I was late to leave... now those that know me know how much I HATE HATE HATE HATE F#$^%$#^ HATE being late... cannot stand it.   And ofc my stupid mind and body decides to do this to me the ONE morning we cannot afford to be late...   we were supposed to leave at 03h00 for the 5 hour drive that would take us to the show that started at 09h00...  That however is nothing compared to what was to come...

Since we were running late I phoned friend C to ask her to collect numbers etc... she phoned me back very shortly with terrible news, three of our fellow agility competitors had been in a very serious accident... in a spot that we were still to pass.  As we drew closer, the roads were closed in order to airlift our friends to nearby hospitals... Since R was driving, I jumped out and walked the 1km to the accident scene.  First of all, thank you to the paramedics for not only taking care of the people at the scene, but also actually caring about the dogs.  To L and R for driving there to see their closest friends in that condition... how many wonderful people helping out.  From what we have heard, all three our fellow dogdom people are in very serious condition, but they will live, all the dogs are physically fine.  For all the people that was in constant communication with us from the showgrounds... thank you... For the ENTIRE show waiting for me and R thank you so very much.

After that agility didn't matter very much, I am SUPER happy with the Spaz and full updates will follow, but for now I ask all of you to have faith in whatever you believe in for Kay, Stefanie and Judith.  They are all alive and breathing and I will try and update you on a regular basis... for now the reports are that Kay's badly shattered leg and arm (elbow) CAN heal with the correct procedures.  Judith's bruised lungs and thorax will heal (possible broken hip) and Stefanie is out of ICU and all the blood on her head was mostly superficial, but the broken bones were very real.  Right now all I remember is that there was a lot of blood, broken glass, leaking fuel and wreckage.  I know the update is sketchy for now, but they will live and the dogs are fine.

Huge compliments to the South African agility community who have pulled together and is helping out in all aspects.

But most of all... EVERY single paramedic present on that scene (and there were A LOT)... you were amazing.

Sorry for the VERY unlike 'me-post' but it was a hard day...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Changing your perspective on competition....

With SA Champs and AWC Try-Outs a mere 23 days away, me and some of the friends also going out for the team this year have been chatting away, discussing various mental aspects of Agility...  Yup, there are other people around that is ALMOST as nerdy as me (SCAREEEEEEEEE)...

Now, I know that my biggest stumbling block will be my mental game, it has been pointed out to me repeatedly, that half the time I stand on that start-line my mind is not all the way there.  Okay arguably I am slightly insane so my mind is NEVER all the way the way there, but you know what I mean.  So I am reading a load of material, listening to my cd's and I am really hoping to fix this problem in time for the finals... okay but that is not actually what that this post is about, my thinking got me to quite another place on the mental game of agility...

So often I meet people who's mental state is not on the same level as their commitment or expectation of agility.  Many ways for this to happen, I will give you a few examples...

There are some handlers that want to compete at a certain level and they think what they do is 'good enough' and refuse to evolve as the sport does.  There are people that want to go to the AWC,  yet they refuse to teach their dog a contact method (other than the lovely scream of WAIT' when the dog reaches the downramp of course), because the don't think it is necessary.  They then try and justify there lacking performances and speeds by other means... like saying that another dog has longer legs or other wonderfully colourful stories...  I have spoken to said people, gently tried to nudge them, but apparently I am not as convincing as I think...  Their mental state is that of mediocrity while their expectation is that of exceptional performance.

In that same class is the people that have dogs with so much raw talent it is dripping out of their ears.  Dogs that has it ALL and even though the handlers can see this potential and there for want to be competitive on an international level... BUT since these handlers have not yet acquired the skill to train and handle their dogs, they consciously want to slow them down, you know break the edge off instead of adjusting their own mental state to get the best out of their dogs.

Of course there is the CLASSIC, the crowd that wants to be competitive, but they are not willing to put in the work, these handlers produce dog after dog that breaks their waits, leaps off contacts, demolishes courses...  this one is actually quite funny (not funny haha), because generally these dogs come in moulds, the same handler will produce the same mistake over and over and over and over and over again.  I don't know if this group don't have the sense to realise where the mistakes lie, or if they are just not willing to adjust their mental state, but regardless the problem is their mental game.

There is another example, and please note I am wearing my bullet proof vest on this one, as I am sure I will be taking shots, but lets face the facts.  On an international level, as in at the World Champs, there are breeds that will always have the advantage.  In the large dogs, Border Collies are bred for working, speed, their build, their work ethic, every single aspect OF the breed gives them an advantage.  Of course there are other breeds that can hold their own... Belgium Shepherds, Kelpies... in the smalls and mediums, there are ofc Shelties, Mudi's, Poodles, JRT's, Paps etc.  Dogs that have a scientific advantage.  But there are people, who want to prove a point, they get 'not normally worked breeds' or 'rare breeds', now I am all for this, but you will always HAVE to know that your goals will differ from Border Collie handlers.  So if you favour a certain breed and this is the dog you want to do agility with, that is cool.  However accept the fact that the chances of a Spaniel, or a ACD, or a Lab or a GSD, you HAVE to realise, that even though it IS possible, statistically you have a very low chance of winning the World Champs.  In this case, you can make the absolute best of the dog in question and achieve A LOT of things.  But if you have the thought in your head BEFORE getting a puppy that you want to be WORLD CHAMPION, then you should get yourself to a mental state that you have to optimize your chances.

I could name five million more examples, but my point is, your mental commitment should be equal to your goals in agility, otherwise you are doomed to disappointment.  The hardest part is that you have to be willing to continually adjust and evolve mentally to match the evolution of agility.  And by this I am not saying that everyone HAS to WANT to be competitive on the same level, but those that are not competitive cannot expect the rest of the world to aim for mediocrity, just so they can be competitive...  If you are doing agility just for fun, well then no aspect of competition should bother you after all....

Monday, May 9, 2011

Contacts, fixing things and ideals

Oke dokes, so the truth is, that even though I did train Chaos's correctly, but then my butt got lazy...  I didn't spend enough time on basics.  Then to make it even worse I didn't re-enforce his contacts when I started competing and THE worst thing ever, was that I did quick releases in shows... and needles to say that equalled FAIL...

It was not that he was missing contacts, he just no longer knew what was required and his performances were slow and well... a  bit crappy by my standards.  So when I got back from the AWC last year I decided to do something about it...

Eish, now as you all may know, trying to fix or improve behaviours is the pits instead of just doing it right the first time.  Luckily the Spaz, awesome boy that he is, worked with me for three months and we came into 2011 with contacts that I am proud of... not PERFECT by far, please understand me, a huge improvement...  A few people have been asking me exactly how I did it... Now the kicker is that I video'd all my sessions of improvement, BUT with my pc blowing up (okay so I am exaggerating, but you get the idea) and me frantically transferring data before the insurance company came to pick it up... well I lost the damn videos somewhere.  I am sure they are floating around in the cyberspace we call the Reed Household Computer Network, but I cannot find them... sure I will find them in 10 years when I really couldn't care any more.  But for now, what I did, was do a quick movie session with Chaos this morning, outlining the basics of my 4-step program... So here goes:

Now just to clarify, I only had to work on certain problems:

1.  Chaos always drove up the contacts, I have only had a problem with the down ramp.
2.  Video was taken on the dog walk, but I I followed exactly the same steps on the A-frame.
3.  I never had problems with my see-saw.
4.  I only work the end of the contacts in my four step program.  It solved my entire down-ramp problem.
5.  I always work on full height contacts.  Even when I initially trained the contacts, I used competition spec equipment in training (except the see-saw, where I use my adjustable see-saw).
6.  I hate props... I really really really really really really hate props... If I can avoid working with props that will have to be removed when in competition, I am a happy camper.
7.  I NEVER train for longer than 5min at a time, BUT I do a little bit of maintenance on my contacts every single day.
8.  I never let my dog 'get away' with self releasing in a competition or any other place for that matter... no, I don't beat him with a stick, but I just ask him to redo it and if he gets it right cool, we go on with the course.  If he fails a second time, I remove him from the ring and we go back home and train a little bit more.  If you are the type of person that allows your dog to go ballistic in the ring, fail on a contact and just go on.... sorry, but I don't have time for you.

Erm... okay I think that is all I wanted to say on the subject...  maybe my fixing can help someone, or maybe you completely disagree with my methods... it really has worked for me.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eish, long update incoming...

Yeah, yeah... you can b%tch and moan all you want... I have been TERRIBLE at updating... Dunno, I don't think it was me being lazy... life just seems NOT to have stopped in the past few weeks...

Erm...   Now I have to actually really rack my memory... oh yes, we will rewind to 17 April... National Agility League round 1 and National Dog Jumping League Round 1...  Can't comment about the courses or post videos, seeing as the rest of the country have not run these... I will say this... 'LIFT your damn feet Spaz-moid'... Eish he managed to knock FIVE bars (count them, one, two, three, four, FIVE) on one day... in three rounds.  I was not particularly impressed I have to be honest.  He was motoring, setting the fastest time in two rounds and the 3rd fastest time in the other, which helps STUFF all when he knocks a million bars.

Soooo what we did for the next week is tons of jumping training... well when I had the time, since I was one of the organisers of our Easter event, so for that week I was kind of, little bit, running around like a mad hatter.  We had 57 dogs entered.  That is impressive for South Africa, kay.  Anyhow, so despite the running around, stress, bla bla bla, etc... it turned out to be a really nice event.  And by all accounts everyone really enjoyed it... Now since this blog is about me, me, me.... Let's get back to me.  First event was the Contact Agility Qualifier, on the Friday... I only had about 1 minute to walk the course and... I walked it WRONG... so I had a spectacular round, only to walk off and hear I had been dq'd because I missed a jump.  Boohoo for me, but then sh%t happens...  So Non-Contact Qualifier, I put my all into it and really gave it go.  I had one wide turn, but ended up first or second in this round, which miraculously qualified Spaz for the final (haha, in last spot, but still).

The Saturday we had the Dog Jumping Qualifier, Chaos ran clear in the first round, first or second place.  He had a really lekker round.  In the jump-off however, he somehow managed to go through the side of the tire (which in all fairness was a bit low).  But who cares... I was still a happy camper, since we qualified for the Dog Jumping Final too!  This final was on the Monday.  Chaos had an uber round, except for the fact that he pulled his old tricks and turned too tightly, bringing the wing of the first jump down.  At least it wasn't a bar.

Wednesday we started off with Knock-Out pairs, I just organised this event, first of all, we needed someone there that really knew how the whole thing worked.  Secondly, I am not always into the whole 'fun event thing'... so I save Spaz's energy for the Agility Final.  We had an awesome course and I was looking forward to it.  Chaos went straight over the up-contact of the see-saw... shame, my poor tall boy.  I lost him a little bit halfway around the course and had a super crap turn, but still a very nice round.  Five faults, second fastest time over-all the whole day put Chaos in second place in the large category.  All in all, I was really happy with the weekend over-all... so here are the rounds... please not the crappy taping and missing of half of my rounds can be blamed on the (W)right men... eish.

On a completely different subject, there is a HUGE issue which has been discussed fervently among the agility crowd the last while.  Breeding.  Now I KNOW I am full of crap when it comes to this subject, but I have 4 dogs that give me a reason to be... Initially I was whimsical in getting dogs and never really did my research... Echo and Delta are from pure breed lines and the huge advantage is that they come from lines that have been extensively health tested.  And that they are, clear hips, elbows and eyes.  And with Echo I was even luckier, even though non of his family ever competed in Agility, he turned out to have amazing work ethic and drive, but his heavy structure (which is perfectly acceptable in the breed ring), meant that he retired when he was 8, this way I managed to restrict the arthritis as much as possible, but still, his build is just not ideal for Agility.  Delta has the drive, but no work ethic to speak of. He is an awesome pet, healthy, amusing, mad and always happy, but for not really meant for working.  When deciding to get Chaos, I got a little bit more with the program and I researched the working side of things into the ground.  And he truly does come from brilliant working lines, a good few herding champions in his lines, his build is brilliant for agility and despite the fact that not many of his ancestors were health tested, I was once again lucky and Spaz is healthy and clear in all aspects.  But Chaos is beyond sensitive when not working, especially sound sensitive.  It might have something to do with the fact that his breeder does not socialise her puppies at all, doesn't introduce them to anything, or it might be genetic, as I know his brother from another litter has the same sensitivities.  Regardless, it is not ideal.  Quake was a bit of a last minute decision, but I knew his parents and some other family.  The problem is that I knew that there were a lot of throw back puppies work-wise in these lines but I conveniently ignored this.  Quake, of all my dogs is structurally the most perfect of all my dogs for Agility, but his funny working streak or non-working streak (seen many times in other relatives) hampers the training somewhat.

None of these aspects are technically huge issues and all my dogs do/did agility and loved it and generally do it to the best of their ability, but  I know of various factors that I should not have taken these dogs.  More importantly I personally believe that some of Chaos and Quake's relatives should have never been bred.  Now I am only referring to breeding dogs for working purposes from here on, but this is what conclusion I have come to.  Not all dogs are meant to bred, the select few that should be bred need to be tested and 100% sound health-wise... hips, eyes, elbows, skin conditions, epilepsy etc etc... there should be NONE of this in the lines at all.  Now first of all, I realise that genetically this is not so easy to determine, sometimes a problem will pop up somewhere in the progeny.... at which point you STOP breeding with all POSSIBLE sources.  End of story. To me physical soundness includes aiming for (thus using) builds that are suitable for working.  But this is only one part of it.  Next up is temperament.  Temperament is very much related to environment, I KNOW this, but there is also a genetic factor and then of course the question of genetic memory.  My opinion, if a dog does not have a completely solid temperament , DON'T breed with it. Thirdly of course is the drive factor.  If you are going to work, you WANT a dog with drive. End of story.  Now I realise you can work on drive and teach dogs to play and have drive, but if you are consciously breeding a litter for working purposes you should not be using a dog that does not have instinctual drive. And lastly, drive is not all of working... you need work ethic.  You want a dog that prefers screaming around a course to screaming after birds, other dogs, or random distractions.  A dog that knows when it is time to work and not distracted by other factors.  If you want to breed working dogs and you don't have that complete four in one package, DON'T breed for WORKING purposes and advertise the dogs as such.  Ideally both parents (or at least one) will be proven in the working ring as well!  Often people are willing to compromise on some of those factors and I guess I cannot fault them, but there are a few things that are NOT okay... you DO not breed with dogs that have not been hip and elbow scored or eye-tested.  You do NOT breed with dogs that have HD, elbow dysplasia, CEA, Epilipsy, heart problems, or any breed specific problems etc.  Really guys, health problems in our dogs are NOT to be messed with. EVER, kay?

Okay serious stuff done... thought I would share a day in Volt's training... I am taking my sweet time training him and he is completely mad, which I love... so here goes.