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....