Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lots of Random Thoughts... mostly on puppies

Yup, all my good intentions and plans of updating the blog REGULARLY with some thoughts are out the window or the door or the cat flap again.  Honestly, I have started writing three posts in the last month, but they are all sitting cosy in my draft box. Maybe in the far future some edited versions of these will see the light of day, but for now I don't think they should be published.  So instead you get another of my trademark warbled messy thought shares and updates...

Let's start off with they Psycho Chicken, also known as Devil Dog...  Man, I am enjoying this bats@#! crazy pup, she is just awesome.  Now it doesn't matter what you say, but it is damn hard to compare your dogs as pups.  Because in short, you forget.  When I got Volt, I promised myself that I would record his puppyhood... every damn second of it.  I came close I guess... I was reviewing old puppy vids and journal entries and growth charts and photos... and there are BUCKET loads full, believe you me.  At the end of the day though, you forget... you forget the 'entireness' of the puppy-hood if I can put it that way.  The little things in between that string the whole thing together as a whole.  With Chaos and Quake, I wasn't in much of a position to record all of it, so records are sparse, but in all fairness, I probably remember pretty much the same amount of stuff as I do with Volt, which includes about 70GB worth of vids, photos and writings...

I know that Volt and Quake would play themselves into exhaustion and pass out, you know, kind of like puppies are supposed to.  Volt was especially annoying, because he would crawl into tiny little 'Sheltie Spots' where no-one else would fit in.  Chaos has always been like he is now... he would play when you wanted, then go and lie in a corner, watching me until I had recovered from MY exhaustion and was ready to play with him again.  Psycho?  No she really doesn't believe in sleep.  She will spend as much time as you allow her, shoving toys in your face, fetching and retrieving.  It literally never stops, unless you put her in her crate...  and even then, she lies there watching you, waiting for the door to magically spring open to the 'world of toys'.  Her motto is, if you can't find one, make one.  Last week she spent about 3 hours playing with an A4 plastic sleeve.  A green one.  It was big time fun and she retrieved it like a pro.  Her favourites are still rocks... of any shape, colour and especially size.  This annoyed my mom a slight bit, when during a visit, she basically emptied the whole rock garden, looking for some poor sucker to play a game of fetch.  This habit is proving hard to break.  Have you ever counted how many rocks are in your garden?  Trust me, its a lot.  And she is cool when you exchange her for another toy, but at the end of the day, there are many hours in her day, to go and find ANOTHER rock.  I generally run out of exchange toys, long before she runs out of rocks.

Which brings me to my next point, retrieving.  I have never had a puppy that was a 'natural' retriever.  I remember that it took me an hour of sitting on the passage floor getting Volt to bring back a toy.  And a month to translate 'inside' retrieve to 'outside' retrieve.  Not her.  She retrieves any time, anything, anywhere. This is one thing I am definitely not moaning about... yes, it is rather exhausting, especially by 02h00 on one of my insomniac mornings, but still a very nice attribute to have in a puppy.  As strong as her retrieve is, that is how strong her tug is.  She is a rough tugger, a fearless tugger, an undistractable tugger.  And once again, she will tug on anything you have to offer (or don't offer - including Delta's tail).  So I obviously have a toy dog here, no doubt.  Don't worry, in between all this demonic obsession with toys (hence the nickname Devil Dog), I do ensure she has enough rest, well lets put it this way, I ensure I have enough rest... and enough nutrition.  At the rate she is burning calories, I have to say she eats A LOT.

Her attention span for her age, IS something to write home about.  I am yet to see her attention on me broken by a distraction, which in my books is very impressive for a three month old puppy.  Having said that, it is even more impressive that I have been able to call her off everything so far, including huge games with Volt. She learns very quickly and I haven't seen her get frustrated, other than when she is REALLY trying to get me to throw the toy and I ignore her. A lot of people I have spoken to, claims this is because she is a girl, but since she is my first female dog in 21 years, I am far from ready to make sweeping statements like that.  Besides, I have never had any real issues with 'maleness' with any of my boys.  Although I have heard that Psych's litter brother has some 'attention issues'.

Now please understand, she is far from perfect.  Her herding instinct is intense.  Very intense.  Sometimes it overrides even the toy obsession.  Instead of chasing me (running around like a circus clown with a tug toy), she will choose to try and herd me, or they toy, or both.  This sounds like a stupid little thing, but it is a BIG thing that influences everything she does.  'Training' (which means running around like mad hatters with toys) is very hard, as she doesn't like being close to me, she would rather be a good 'herding distance' away.   We will work through this.  The funny thing is that her herding instinct developed the 'read, steady, go' game to a whole new level that I can definitely USE for Agility.We will be tugging like mad, but the moment I say 'ready' she drops down into herding position, facing in the same direction as me... she then won't move until I say go.  I can jump up and down, run around her, although I haven't tried it and I am not planning to, I am pretty sure I can jump on her head and she won't move.  Guess how I will be teaching my waits?  One thing I definitely need to improve from my other dogs, since both Volt and Chaos can at times have, shall we call it a questionable start-line wait.  The other problem I have just proves that it MUST be me.  She is not terribly into her food!  AGAIN!  She will eat anything if she is working for it, but putting down her meals and expecting her to eat it all at once is proving a challenge!  What the hell do I do to my dogs?!?!  Seriously need to figure this out.

Volt was the best socialised, most well developed puppy in all of existence (okay might be slight exaggeration, but you catch my drift).  His breeder really goes all out to ensure that her puppies are ready for life.  The box full of issues that is Chaos, however, came as he is, with endless fears and worries in tow.  He really is not the easiest dog, that is probably one of the reasons I like him so much.  Despite all of his 'every day' problems, he is a fantastic working dog, with fantastic work ethic and concentration and absolute honesty.  I am definitely not a pro on the whole sheep thing, just put some of my dogs to sheep once or twice, but personally I think Chaos would have been a fantastic herding dog.  Well if you are to judge by his wonderful 'outrun' to gather a 'herd of silly Border Collies' chasing after a ball.  The reason I mention this, is because him and Psych come from a very similar environment.  They are farm dogs.  Yes, they are whelped in the house and they grow up with love, but they grow up in a puppy pen, with toys and having to cope with the farm sounds and movements.  They don't leave the farm until they are 8 weeks old or get introduced to children or cats etc.  Since these are working sheep farms, the breeders don't tug with them or introduce them to a clicker (these are not tools the farmers themselves use, or quite frankly need to use judging by their success in their sport).  These are all things that Volt saw long before he met me. Psych's box of issues however, is completely empty, she is an open book.  Like Volt she loves all dogs, like Quake she loves all people.  She is not noise or movement sensitive and adapts to any environment you put her in within minutes.  She has not displayed any fear of anything up to date and her tail is always wagging.  She has not shown any stressed body language or worry.  She has never gotten car-sick.  I can definitely NOT say the same for Chaos, who in all essence came from the same environment. Please note I am now only comparing all my dogs up to 3 months of age, since that is how old she is now.

I also recognise that 'life happens', that I make mistakes and that there is bound to be (and have been with my other dogs) screw ups that will affect her.  Just  yesterday, I made the mistake of leaving her in the same room as Chaos alone for 5 minutes, while opening the gate for the OH and he nailed her, breaking some skin.  My mistake, since I know very well that Chaos didn't even like puppies when he WAS a puppy and age has made his grumpiness in this regard even worse.  While it didn't seem to affect her directly (she was up and ready to go, displaying no fear, just her normal respect of Chaos), every little thing in our puppy's lives make a difference.  Sorry ladies and gents, none of us are perfect, so things DO happen to our pups.  Life happens, it HAS to happen and our dogs's ability to cope with these things is very important.  Of course us as owners also have our own preferences, which influences the whole dynamic as well.  I ,for example, get supremely annoyed when people go all 'baby moggy' and pick up my puppies, fussing in cooing baby voices and not wanting to put them down.  Dogs have 4 legs to walk on.  There is a reason for that.  My dogs get plenty love and attention and cuddles, but I am NOT for picking puppies up the WHOLE time and definitely NOT into annoying baby voices.  I am also far from paranoid and while I try my bestest not to judge people that carry their own puppies everywhere for the first few months, I definitely don't agree with it.

So my whole train of thought was the whole 'nature vs nurture' debate.  No-one will ever be able to prove any argument here conclusively, since it is physically impossible (well until they solve the whole time-travel thing) to start over with exactly the same dog.  Dogs are individuals and even two dogs from the same litter can't be compared 100% in this regard.  So in essence you will NEVER know which factor contributed more.  But I do have a feeling that Psych's lines have a much more stable temperament than Chaos ever had, no way of proving it though.  However how this is a huge influence on our choice of puppies.

Now I am not judging and I don't know if there is a way that is more right than the other.  I have never raised a litter of puppies and to me, the proof is in the pudding. I am not going to make some grand statements here, when I don't have awesome puppies bred by me running around.  This however brings me to the actual point I wanted to get to from the beginning... yes after all that rambling, there was a subject I wanted to raise.

Not all dogs are suited to Agility, fact of life.  Which is why it does annoy me that some people are forever trying to lower course speeds/jump heights/championship requirements, so they can do Agility with THEIR dog (that is not actually suited), it is kind of like any other sport... if you are only 1.4m tall, it is unlikely you will ever be able to excel at the High Jumpther or if you weigh 100kg at your skinniest, I doubt you will ever be a jockey.  Even outside of sport, if you are tone deaf, you are never going to play in the New York Symphony Orchestra and if your brain is not good with 'numbery' things, then it is doubtful you will cope as an accountant.  But that is a whole different blog post.

Now if you have made the decision to get a Border Collie for the purpose of Agility (and keep in mind that a pup is a 15 year or longer commitment, regardless of their talent in Agility) and you have decided you can live with the breed, it doesn't end there AT ALL.  Depending on who you speak to, Border Collie breeding is a rather contentious issue.  I can only testify to the situation locally and of course the endless articles, books and forums that I have read. Border Collies are one of the breeds that have developed into distinct different categories.  Border Collies which you see in the breed ring and Border Collies you see winning herding titles and Border Collies that win the Agility World Championships, tend to be VERY different dogs.

I am not going to make sweeping statements about what is wrong or right.  Even the discussion of purpose bred dogs are becoming a bit moot, as yes, Border Collies were developed and bred (by US, humans) to herd, to have a herding instinct and there for one could insist that it is part of the breed and this instinct should be a requirement (and yes, this is actually my personal feeling too), however turn that argument to all your fighting breeds (yes, also developed and bred by US as humans) and you wouldn't exactly WANT that instinct to be dominant?  I have never owned or worked a breed other than a herding dog, hence my reluctance to make the statement of 'purpose bred' dogs.  I feel times have moved along.  Let's face it, there are less sheep farms and less farmers using working BC's, more and more people pursuing other hobbies with their dogs.  Dog-fighting is mostly illegal (thank goodness!).  Fewer people actively hunting with dogs.  The jobs of carriage dogs have disappeared. Does this mean these breeds should just disappear into oblivion?

Nope, I am not getting involved into that argument.  But when looking for a prospective Agility Border Collie, you have to realise that all breeders have a purpose for breeding. Whether it is to produce pets or breed dogs or pure herding dogs or agility dogs.  There are positive and negatives to all sides of this, many 'breed' breeders have disregarded work ethic because of the dogs' looks.  While some 'work-orientated' breeders may overlook some other fault because the dog is a good worker.  I know there are constant arguments between these two groups as to who is right and wrong.  I rather think the argument should be about WHERE their puppies go.

Many handlers that I know, go searching for their next 'champion Agility dog' amongst breed lines and then they are surprised (and worse FRUSTRATED) that the dog might not have the work ethic or stamina that they require.  Other 'weekend warriors' go looking for 'just another house dog that sometimes does Agility' from the strongest working lines they can find and then they are surprised (and worse FRUSTRATED) that the dog goes all Norman Bates on their house, garden and car and herds their kids.  Now of course with love, training and a lot of common sense, you can turn any of these around into a dog more acceptable to you, as long as you know what you are getting in for.  I have had my fair share of all of those categories and I can 100% attest to the difference in these dogs.  Believe me, don't believe me, but it is a fact.

If you do breed Border Collies, I am not going to judge your motives, as long as you can have sound motivations for all the breeding choices you make.

The secret is to be honest with yourself and the breeder in your requirements and not to jump on the next band-wagon, just because you want a puppy.  It is just as important that the breeder is honest with you in what they produce.  This part is a bit harder, because they are just as much attached to their dogs, as we are to ours.  They HAVE to believe in their dogs if they are breeding with them.  And unfortunately some might be a bit 'disillusioned' to the capabilities of their dogs, or purely want to 'sell puppies'.  So many aspects are important for an Agility dog (structure, temperament, workability, HEALTH), but more importantly this is a partner you will share the next FIFTEEN (or more) years with.  They have to live in your house, travel with you and be a companion.  So make the right decision for you.  The one thing that is NOT negotiable is health and if you support a breeder that insists on breeding with lines where there are known health problems, then I am sorry, but I WILL judge you.

While I am beyond ecstatic with my new girl, not everyone would be able to cope with a puppy like her. I am very biased on the matter, I will always prefer the structure, temperament and workability of the current 'working Border Collies', but I definitely wouldn't recommend them to all Agility handlers.  And while I might never cope with some of the popular 'breed' kennels's dogs, they might suit someone else's life perfectly.  When choosing a pup, be honest with yourself as to what you are getting yourself into, make sure you have done your research, but most importantly be honest.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I am Psyched!

No, I haven't forgotten about my AWC updates and I promise I will definitely finish them, but for now I have a completely different update I need to do.

For those that don't know, I have actually been planning a puppy for a very long time.  Volt definitely got me addicted to the whole 'small dog thing'... they are pretty cool once you get over the 'try not to squish their heads while you are running' concept.  And I am definitely planning to alternate my dogs in the future, but that ofc means that the next pup must be a large.  And Chaos is just over 6 now, so I really needed to start thinking about a pup (I was thinking 2013, but as per the usual life happens).  Regular readers will know I moan (let's be honest, it is really more like B!TCHING) about South African bred dogs and health and work ethic and build and bla-bla-bla.  The other problem we have is that many, many of the sheep farmers and active sheepdog trialers (who have nice imported stock that I like) are not willing to give puppies to Agility people.  And for a very long time I have been chatting to a few of these breeders. For a long time I have been chatting to European breeders and I craved a pup from one of these breeders, but after returning from the AWC trip and re-assessing finances etc, I realised that I would have to try locally.  As luck would have it, one of the afore mentioned sheepdog people just had a litter with two dogs that I really liked... and so a puppy was booked.

But the story doesn't end there!  By the time I booked a pup, I had a choice of 5 puppies (from a litter of 9) and I liked the looks of Pink Girl the most.  So on Friday I packed my little car and took on the 800km (almost 500 miles) roadtrip to the middle of nothing and nowhere to visit the breeder and pick up the pup.  The farm is STUNNING!  One day there felt like a week holiday.  I got to meet the dogs, help work some sheep and discuss training (particularly the difference between herding and Agility).  It was divine.

When I first arrived we spent a couple of hours with the puppies and I have to say that I was quite impressed by how spunky ALL the puppies were.  Honestly, I would have taken any of them to work!  Pink girl was for sure the prettiest puppy.  However watching them all, Orange Boy and Yellow Girl were the two that stuck in my mind (coincidentally the breeders also said, without me mentioning a thing, that those two were their favourites), however I was happy to take the pup I had booked.  But after long discussions, the breeder said he would really love for Yellow Girl to come home with me and he thinks she would be the best choice for me, so he spent hours convincing the other owners to swap puppies with me.  I really appreciate his interest in his puppies and my needs honestly.  And in the 5 days since she has joined our household, I could not be happier.  Thus far, she is MORE than I had hoped for.  And that is a lot coming from me, because I will be honest... normally I only REALLY starting liking my pups from 4 months onwards... puppy breath and cuddles are cool and all, but I like it when they start becoming DOG.

I love getting to know my new pups... I love picking up their little oddities and preferences... Psych prefers to play with rocks above all other toys... something which I will have to try and curb, you know the whole 'dogs kind of need teeth' thing.  She is very strong... strong enough to drag Delta (17kg/37 pounds) across the floor by his tail.  Psych does NOT like being picked up.  She sounds like a chicken when she screams... but seriously now, no jokes.... I will stop for now, because I am still going to drive you coockoo for coco puffs with all of these little observations... so for now, welcome to Psych!  And ofc no Alett welcome would be complete without a video!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Our Trip to the Czech Republic - Part 1 (of MANY)

I don't think I have ever had this many thoughts running through my head... at full speed... at fast forward...  And trust me, I have MANY thoughts under normal circumstances.  I also don't think I have ever been as inspired as I am after returning from this trip.  Not only inspired in Agility, but also inspired in life.  There is no way I can do a concise post of this amazing opportunity, so let's just start off with the first part.

For my non-South African followers and other random readers, I feel a short explanation is in order.  We live on a continent where only one country actively does Agility.  There are one or two guys doing it in Zimbabwe and Namibia, but rarely any cross-over, so we are completely isolated as far as the sport goes.  On top of that, we get no sponsorship worth mentioning for competing at the World Champs or the European Open.  I will be honest, my little two week excursion cost me roughly R38 000 (or 8 800 dollars or 3 300 euro or 2 700 pounds).  The only reason I mention this, is because you (as a non-South African), have to realise the difference in pressure and expectation this trip puts on us as handlers... and as people for that matter. You really do want to make the best of the whole experience and learn and grow and observe... all of this while doing your utter best and trying to remember all the valuable information to bring back and share, coming from nowhere, coming from a completely isolated Agility country.

Okay, all the dramatic nonsense aside, let's start with the blow by blow of our ACE (Amazing Czech Experience):

Day 1:  We were only flying at night, but the dogs had to be in Cargo by 16h00, seeing as how we live MILES (and miles and miles and miles) from the airport, my and The Nerd left very the house very early... well that and my itchy 'can't wait for the trip @ss', couldn't sit around here for much longer.  We had to go with my car (The Nerd's was way too small for airline crates and luggage), so at least driving to the airport gave me something else to do other than bounce around with ants in my pants... okay well driving AND giving the hubby instructions and reminders for my absence.  I dropped hubby, crates and luggage off at Cargo, before driving to the terminals to pick up a team mate that had just flown in from Cape Town.

Booking the dogs into Cargo was hard... but I mean very hard... not for them mind you... they both passed out in their crates while I got all teary eyed and emotional.  They were obviously both born with that natural 'international traveller instinct', which most people are not!  Lucky for me, I had the awesome Nerd and some good friends that came to see us off and take my mind off things.  The flight was uneventful (minus the sever turbulence that made several passengers scream) and fellow team-mate and travelling partner's entertainment monitor malfunctioning... repeatedly...  I have to say though, the service on the super-cool A380 we had from the KLM staff was superb!  Way to go KLM, you are definitely on my list of approved airlines!

There was a small logistical issue with the two rental vans that eventually got sorted, although it did add some time to getting the dogs from the Animal Lounge at Frankfurt... but my two awesome boys handled it all so well and travelled like stars!  Haha, well at least Stein was happy to see me... Chaos was all business, you know 'oh cool, new place, what do we get to do next?!?! Well... where we went next is trying to fit a crap-load of luggage and dog crates into two relatively small vans...  Well for NORMAL purposes they were not actually small.. but for 11 dogs, 13 people, airline crates and luggage... whole different story.  Anyhow, won't bore you (well any further in anyway) with silly details...

Two things I have to say though... first of all... when are they EVER going to get done with roadworks outside Frankfurt (I have had to drive through that a million times now, yes, exaggeration included in the package of reading this blog) and secondly... I LOVE the German Autobahn, when (and only when) there are NO roadworks... it is fantastic for making up time (according to SatNav lady anyway) and people are so considerate and polite in their driving, even at high speed (well considered by South African Standards in anyway).  Or maybe that is just my perception and some poor German working class drivers are still swearing at the crazy South African lady... who knows.  At least now FINALLY someone (well all my fellow travellers in 'the cool car') understanad why Chaos earned the nickname Spaz... nope, he can't just sleep like a normal dog... see if YOU can figure out these pics...

After a short night's sleep in our hotel in Usti nad Labem, we had to get up at cock's fart to attend a local show.  Now here comes my first official 'report' part of the whole Czech blog... I have SO many thoughts on it... one small little show, but still!

We were a bit late (GPS lady 2 (the one from the other car)) was a slight spot confused as to where exactly we were going and insisted on taking us to... well the wrong place... luckily for us another gps lady from a Czech competitor experienced the same confusion and her having a dog in the car allowed us to deduce that she was also going to the show.  She then phoned her Czech buddies and spoke in Czech to get us to the right place in... well Czech... and we could follow her!  This did mean that we didn't have much time in between parking, walking the course and actually running... and they started with Large Open Jumping!  So as you will see on the video, Chaos's round is rather dis-jointed and awkward and... well... all over the place.  I had a bit of time to settle and set up crates before Volt's Open Jumping... and who would have known, my little Stein managed to win against the other 34 small dogs (that is A LOT of small dogs by SA standards just btw), even with the wide turns and hesitations.

Next up was the graded Agility... Chaos knocked a bar and them somehow came off the side of the see saw... and speaking of see saws, Volt also had an issue with it... I am happy with both rounds though, I achieved a lot more than a 'clear round' with both boys.  Our last round of the day was Open Agility... a fantastic course (more on that later) that would have cause heart attacks in South Africa and FORCED me to USE skills I only train behind a dark curtain at home where no-one ever sees me... how cool is that?!?!?!?  I should have had better weave entries with both boys, but alas, not enough training to proof that whole 'go get the weaves concept'... Honestly, Volt was not ready for a course (awesome as it was) of this magnitude, all my fault of course!  So even though he wasn't going at full speed and I kind of (and by that I mean A LOT) sucked in my handling, I think he handled himself well.  Chaos's issue will be discussed in a later post...

Me and Bean accepting our first prize!

Now non-South Africans can probably stop reading, since the rest will just seem like gibberish to you, but I would like to comment on the following:

1.  The courses were fantastic and CLEVER and damn hard and technical... if I put that up in SA I would be crucified (considering the moaning I ALREADY get that my courses are too hard)... but be prepared ladies and gents, I am prepared to go through that crucifixion :D  On that note, I did not see one competitor moan or be upset or throw a tantrum or even be unhappy....
2.  You know this whole drama we have been going through about bitches in season competing (oh don't lie, we have ALL followed the insanity)... well in Czech bitches in season compete IN their running order, use the SAME warm-up ring, crate their dogs in between the others and only use a mat at the start... coincidentally both my ENTIRE males competed right after BIS and did not blink an eye or care or be affected at all (please look at the video, sure that will prove it).
3.  Everyone helped.  No questions asked, I can't say no moans, since I don't understand Czech and most of them didn't understand English, but I can say there were no dropped shoulders, loud comments about 'but I pay to enter the show'.
4.  We started at 8am and finished at 4pm, but it seemed that everyone stayed for prize-giving... prize-giving was awesome, with a podium and trophies and people laughing and cheering and shaking each other's hands.
5.  Their equipment was 'older and more worn and less FCI compliant' than our stuff here in Gauteng, yet no-one minded and the dogs sure as hell didn't.
6.  Even the Daxies ran at full speed (you know what I mean)...

So that whole spiel sounds like a reprimand... and well maybe it is.  Maybe I am a cynic, since I have to deal with all the crappy politics or maybe my perception is wrong... but I think around here, most of us have lost perspective... we get to share the most amazing sport ever, with the most amazing partners ever, we have all the potential and all the opportunity, we need to learn how to love it!

So that is it for part 1... haha, stay tuned if you are ready for more!

Our show in Czech Republic:

Friday, September 21, 2012

How ponies cause sleep deprivation... oh and the whole World Champs thing...

Yes, I am writing to you from a sleep deprived state, so if the ramblings are a bit dis-jointed... blame the cat.

A little over a month ago, The Nerd (for those that have only started reading the blog recently, we lovingly refer to hubby as The Nerd) discovered a small pony (disguised as a cat) on their campus (that is what the insiders call the massive office complex where he works).  I wouldn't call her a stray, strays don't come running full speed to anyone that calls her.  A stray doesn't go willingly into a travel crate.  I stray doesn't beg random passers by for a belly rub.  I am sure Madam V2.0 used to have a loving home, but she had no microchip (she now does, courtesy of the Reed household) and no-one responded to the adverts.  Now she has a new loving home.

So after inoculations, chipping, de-worming/ticking and fleeing and 3 weeks of 'quarantine' (which implies a room with a double bed, a sun spot for those late afternoons, and an all you can eat buffet), I started the slow and painful process of introducing a new adult cat into our household.  I won't bore you with the details, however there is one specific behavioural problem that we are struggling with a slight bit.  My Little Pony believes that all, all, all, all, all pillows in the whole, entire, wide world, belongs to HER.  I pretty much think I have figured her out:

Satyr's (all our cats have names that derive from mythology) Super Secret Plan to show Human People she owns ALL pillows in the world:

1.  Wait for human person to achieve REM sleep.  Position self next to head of human person (that is occupying my pillow property).  Lightly tap human person on the head with your foot (be careful to keep nails in at all times).
2.  If human person does not respond, start tapping harder, slowly build up the force of the attack, if necessary smack human person against head as hard as you possible can.  Be careful to keep nails in at all times.
3.  If human person STILL does not respond, lie on their face.  Asphyxia is a relatively reliable way of ensuring that human person wakes up.
4.  When human person sits up, gasping for breath, ensure that you assume position on pillow immediately.  Be sure to stretch out as big as you possible can, so their is no space for human person head.
5.  If step 3 fails, it is time for desperate measures... proceed to jump on nightstands, knocking off as many books and alarm clocks as you can.  If there is a glass of water, ensure that you knock it over in the direction of the human person and not on the floor.

In case you didn't get the memo... I know yesterday was supposed to be my birthday, but I really just don't have the time at the moment, so I have decided I will just age two years in 2013.  I WILL however enjoy my biggest birthday present EVER... a trip to the World Champs with my boys!

All jokes aside... this time next week, we will be on our way from Germany to Czech Republic.  But as in really now, no jokes!  As in me and the Stein and the Spaz will be driving around in Europe on our way to compete at the World Champs!  Going to the world champs is not easy... after you qualify for the team, you have to start training... that involves building lots and lots and lots of courses from the World Champ judges. You phone 23 different venues and beg to use their astroturf to do some training... get told NO a lot of times (sometimes quite rudely).  When you eventually find a place that will allow you to train, you have to drive far and pay some bucks to be able to train.  You have to keep dogs fit and conditioned, being very careful not to over-do or under-do anything.  You have to get a visa, which involves submitting your whole life history in the form of print-outs.  You have to drive FAR to hand in all these papers, then drive FAR again to pick up your passport (or get someone else to drive FAR for you).  You have to get titre tests done and then... when they make a mistake on those titre tests... you have to drive FAR to go and have it fixed!  You have to speak to a million vets/state vets/departments of agricultures in many countries to make sure you have the paper work in order for the dogs.  Then you have to drive FAR to hand in all that paperwork to the state vet (or get someone else to drive FAR) for you.  You have to find crates, water bowls, water bottles, crate liners (light weight ones mind you).  Of course there are travel arrangements with team leader and rest of the team.  You have to check the websites of the World Champ judges on a regular basis, to make sure you keep up with their trends.  You always have to try and do better.  And because we don't receive any real financial support, you have to work hard, take on lots of clients  and save lots of money in between as well!

Believe it or not, I am not moaning, I can't believe the culmination of all that hard work is so close now!  Next week Thursday we board the plane to Frankfurt.  I am of course a bit worried about the dogs flying, I KNOW they will be fine, but I will always worry about my boys.  We are competing at a 'normal' show in the Czech Republic on 30 September as well... really looking forward to that too.  I can't wait to meet new agility people, see new things, learn new moves, see amazing dogs.  And of course I can't wait to run with my awesome boys!

Of course with the time fast approaching, many a person has asked me what my goals are, how I feel about our chances, how I feel about our team.  All I can say is I feel ready, I feel I have really done all I could to prepare.  Whether I have the potential to 'win' is irrelevant, because I am going to RUN to win.  I just want to give it my all.  I want to give it my all for my boys, they deserve that.  I love those dudes!

It is a slightly bitter sweet moment... the last time I competed at the World Champs was with Echo in 2003... and I lost my amazing 'first born' child at the beginning of this year.  During all my preparation, I couldn't help but be nostalgic a few times.  But I am sure he will be cheering me on at the top of his lungs where ever he is.

I shouldn't actually be sitting here writing this post, I have WAY too much to do, but I just had to write this, to say thank you to the amazing super awesome of the fantasticness husband, who has done so much to make this possible.  Thanks to all my friends, who have supported me, who have been honest with, who have helped me and who is rooting for me.  Thanks to all the supporters that have been behind the South African Team.

I will try to update Facebook/the blog from Czech when I do get the chance, but no guarantees.

If you are going to the World Champs this year, please come and say hi!  Just rock up at the South African section, sure you won't be able to miss us!  Would love to meet all of you.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ain't no killin', just some livin' and vicious circles...

This subject has been whirling around my mind for a while now, Hurricane Alett busting away at my skull... maybe I am just a bit tired of the self-entitled feeling that buzzes around Agility, but here is the kicker ladies and gents, it is NOT just around Agility, it is in everything in life!

I have been reading a ton of forums and articles and FB status updates and basically a whole load of internet moaning and groaning about 'is ___________ (fill in current contentious issue here) killing agility?'.  Not only have I been reading this, but I have been hearing a lot about it too IRL.  I have heard it all... that measuring, jump heights, course speeds etc etc are 'killing Agility'.  I have bad news for these doomsday prophets... nothing is killing Agility!  It is alive and kicking, I promise... otherwise all us addicts wouldn't be getting up at cock's fart every weekend , driving thousands of kilometres (or miles, your choice), spending thousands of Rands (or dollars or pounds or euros) to DO Agility.

Unfortunately there will ALWAYS be cases of borderline dogs (height wise), some of these borderline dogs will struggle with the jump height, others won't, they will kick @$$.  I am a judge, I have measured tons of dogs, do you have ANY idea how hard it is?  No judge will intentionally 'measure a dog into a wrong height category', but I, myself have measured dogs to vary by 1 or 2cm depending on how they are stacked or the surface used to measure or five million other reasons.  This doesn't mean measuring is killing Agility.  There will always be dogs that just can't make the course time, the same way there will always be dogs/breeds that are just not suited to the sport.  If you create a fourth or fifth jump height there will STILL be borderline dogs, there will STILL be dogs that struggle with these new jump heights and there will STILL be people moaning.  If you lower course speeds, there will still be dogs that just can't cut it and then THESE people will still moan for lower speeds.  This does not mean speeds and jump heights area killing Agility.

There will always be those guys that just don't make the time for the Comrades marathon too.  There will always be that guy that finishes fourth in the Olympics, just out of the medals.  There will always be a goals awarded in soccer that should not have been.  There will always be controversy in sport, a woman's sexuality questioned, a man's prosthetics be accused of giving him an advantage against able-bodied athletes.

Controversy and sport go hand in hand, because sport is all about passion... that I can understand and accept.  It is the self-entitlement and downright blinkered selfishness that annoys me.  All of us don't feel that we HAVE to be able to win a medal or the Olympics, win the Boston Marathon or play International Football.  People are happy to accept their range in other sports and participate casually.  Unfortunately in Agility it seems many (obviously not all) handlers feel that everyone HAS to be able to achieve the highest accolades/titles and wins in our sport.  And if they can't achieve that, then something is 'killing the sport'.

Us, as Agility handlers are still so much luckier than any other sportsman... we always get to take the best dogs home!  I mean I have never seen Volt give a crap about getting time faults, he couldn't care less in fact.  Chaos has never caught a depro by getting a spectacular dq, okay wait maybe that once when I tripped over him and fell on my face he was a bit upset.... with concern for ME.  I mean how cool is that?  How many people get to enjoy a sport with a partner that really does not CARE about the outcome, as long as they get to slobber all over your face when you wake up (or more often slobber all over your face UNTIL you wake up).

Having said all that and confirming that nothing and no-one is killing/murdering/massacring Agility, I am ALL for trying to optimise the sport and making adjustments that truly benefits Agility as a whole (as opposed to for one or two dogs, don't laugh by the way, here an entire jump height was added for TWO dogs).  So if you truly believe in your cause (being it an additional jump height or different qualification procedures), fight the good fight... if you have honest motivations and factual evidence (tons of it) to back you up.  Just accept the fact that life is life and it will never be perfect.

In 21 days exactly (3 short weeks), we are flying to Germany... in 28 days (4 short weeks exactly), we will be competing at the World Champs.  Nervous, excited, stressed... running around, visas, dog flights, making sure I HAVE everything.  Training on astroturf, training on AWC judge courses, conditioning dogs, trying to get fit myself... ladies and gents, this is REALLY happening!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Judging some dogs...

So I have been terribly horrible about updating the blog... I just haven't done it.  So in between my last post and this one, we have had tons of shows, an indoor weekend at WODAC (World of Dogs and Cats), some training for AWC, a weekend in Bloemfontein, a ton of ups and downs... but that is not what I am going to be blogging about today...

I am going to be writing about judging... yes, remember, I am still an agility judge too, I also 'almost' forgot... since I haven't judged in a year!  But in the past three weeks, I had some judging appointments.  It is very hard being a competitor and a judge, I really do enjoy judging, but if I HAD to choose, I will always rather compete.  Can't do both at the same time now, can I?

Why do I judge?  Well definitely not for the fame... or the infamy.  Around here judges don't get paid, so it can't be that.  Agility judges has an absolutely unique role, compared to any other judge/adjudicator/referee/umpire in any other sport. In most sports, with the exception of Show Jumping (but I will get to that), the sole purpose of the judge is to... well do just that... JUDGE that all the players/competitors are following the rules.  In Agility, the judge has one (very HUGE) extra responsibility... the judge actually sets the challenge within which the rules need to be followed.  Unlike athletics, soccer, triathlon, rowing, fencing, weightlifting, where the competitors will always perform the same task.  And also unlike gymnastics, synchronised swimming, competitive dancing, freestyle dressage, where the competitor has guidelines, but still their choice of routine.  In Agility and Show Jumping, the judge sets the actual challenge and chooses the skills which they want to test.  And the complexity of this challenge in Agility is much higher than in Show Jumping, where striding (collection and extension) forms the major part of the test.

The options available to an Agility judge is basically infinite, which is why we don't have to wash/rinse/repeat courses week after week.  So back to the question of why I judge... I like being part of this unique relationship with Agility competitors, I like setting challenges and seeing handlers and dogs succeed.  I believe that judges have a huge responsibility to the growth and improvement of Agility.  How many times have you struggled with a section on a course and the very first thing you do when you train again is set that up?  How many new handlers have been discouraged to continue competing in Agility, because the courses are not level appropriate?  Why would we train proper contacts if contact faults were never called?

Judging and designing courses for smaller classes (in smaller countries, like South Africa especially) is especially challenging if you know anything about statistics... it comes down to the simple concept of the less dogs run, the less clear rounds you will get... so if your aim is to have 10% clear rounds... and you only have 10 dogs running, you are only aiming at 1 clear round?  This can be very discouraging for a judge let me tell you.  Having said that though, I also don't believe in 'giving' QC's (Qualifying Certificates or Champ Tickets away) JUST because there are less dogs.  I really believe in having a set standard and sticking to it.  Of course not unreasonable standards (Yes, I also hate walking courses and just going WTF at the end of it), but SOME form of standard.  But I also detest easy courses (with no challenge whatsoever) being set up because the judge just wants loads of clears.... after all Agility is a test of skill AND speed, not just one or the other.

Of course each judge (especially competing judges) have their own preferences and trademarks, regarding everything aspect of course design.  I know some judges that like designing from the start to the finish, others do it in reverse, some judges draw a doodle/course path first and then put in obstacles (I always find this one a bit odd).  Personally I normally have one specific sequence I want to test and design the rest of my course around that.  Some judges always have a hard weave pole entry or tunnels under the contact or a tunnel discrimination where all the tunnel entrances face in the same direction.

Now I have to have a little gripe though, which just by the way I actually try to never do, since I KNOW the challenges and hardships of judging.  In the last while, I have just noticed too many judges not taking their responsibility seriously and it bugs me... it bugs the JUDGE in me more than it bugs the competitor in me.  First of all, being the kind of judge that literally spends hours designing and tweaking my courses, I am very frustrated by judges that re-uses courses week in and week out.  Very sorry to say this, but if you don't have time to design a course, then rather not accept the judging appointment.  Re-using a course a couple of times in different parts of the country/world, that is not an issue, but not even bothering to design a new course for a judging appointment two weeks apart at the same show grounds?  Second issue I have is judges being too lazy to move one jump in between grade changes just moving a number here and there, often making it more difficult for lower grades.  While I do understand that for non-competing judges especially, it is hard to see what could be challenging for lower grades, this does not mean you have to be lazy.  Now given that I am sure it IS possible, I just have to point out that I have never, not once in the 12 years that I have been a judge, have I been able to design a course for grades1, 2 and 3, where I have not had to move at least 2 or 3 obstacles and keep the challenges fair to each grade.  The last while, I have to say the majority of the courses I have run with my grade 3 dogs, have been TOO easy.  That is just a personal issue of course, the judge's design is their design and while we can comment, it is STILL the judge's decision.  However... earning a title should be an achievement, NOT a given.  My next issues are all on the actual judging... number one, the lack of refusal and handling calls, of course all judges make mistakes and then you have to consistently judge the rest of the class in the same manner.  But seeing dog after dog pass every refusal plane on the course or spin 7 times right in front of an obstacle or dogs being shoved around the course with knees, arms and feet is very frustrating.  My last gripe for now involves contact judging.  I am very sorry (and yes I have tested this theory many times, using a video camera to test and prove it), if you live in a country, where you have to judge ALL 6 contact zones (A-Frame, Dogwalk, see-saw/teeter - Up and down), it is physically impossible to ACCURATELY judge all of that while standing dead still in the middle of the course.  And I am not budging on that one.  A friend of mine has very fast 4-on-the-floor contacts (I am talking about a 1.6 second dog walk here) and he constantly gets called on his contacts because the judge is standing a mile away at completely the wrong angle... while photos and videos prove that the dog doesn't just have one toe in, but 2 or 3 feet!  And please understand me, I KNOW how hard contact judging is, I really, really do.  But unless you are standing right there staring a hole into the contact zone, you cannot ASSUME that the dog touched or missed anything.  If you are not physically able to do this, then get yourself an up-contact judge or just don't accept a contact judging appointment.  I actually know of quite a few judges that just leave the dog walk out of a course, because the can't judge it?  Also not right if you ask me.

Okay gripe over and done with.  So just a note to all judges... yes, when judging you have to be strong, deal with a lot of crap and remember you are the JUDGE, but that doesn't mean you can't accept advise and input from people, it definitely doesn't mean you are out there to nail competitors.  It does mean you have a responsibility to the sport and the competitors to do your utter best in every aspect of the sport within the rules which you are judging.  Haha, yes, it really IS a thankless and hard job.

So on to my actual judging... finally.

In Bloemfontein I set up this course for Agility 3:

I am happy with how it ran, I think I handed out 2 QC's on this course, I think our results website is down at the moment, since I can't access it.  I had lots of handling faults between 10 and 11 and a lot of refusals between the dog walk and 18 (not one handler handled this section like I would have).  I also had a lot of screaming between 15 and the dog walk, but very few faults, so not really understanding the screaming.  Due to time constraints and the large entry, I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to run this course with my dogs, but I will definitely be setting it up for training at some stage.  I set the course at 4m/s which is higher than our minimum 3.5m/s speed limit... this DID cause some moans and groans, but I definitely don't think it was unfair.

A week later I was judging both Contact and Non-Contact (Jumping) back in Gauteng.  My contact courses:

This will henceforth be known as the day of 'almosts'... possibly one of the most disappointing judging appointment ever without being disappointed?  There were so many great rounds, that missed out on a signing due to one bar or one missed contact or one mis-calculation.  I got up at cock's fart to set up the course early, so I could run my own dogs on the grade 3 course.  Both of them ran clear well within my course time and I really enjoyed running it... haha and NOT because it is my own course, I promise!

Round of the day goes to Sassy on my grade 3 course with a fantastic round, but only bar 15 falling...  a heart-breaker, but still an awesome round!

On to the jumping, I did get comments that it was 'too much' for one course, while I didn't have the opportunity to run it myself, I really don't feel it was, but of course I can't fairly comment on that.  I DID finally manage to hand out one QC on this course though:

I will definitely be setting up these as well as soon as I have a chance.  On my grade 3 course, the biggest problem by far came from 12-14... either handlers not hanging on to their dogs long enough for the pull-through or handlers managing to pull their dogs through 13-14.  Round of the day goes to Stardust on my grade 1 course.  Super cool to see a handler that has been SO committed and worked SO hard to get it right and get a signing!

That is me over and out til next time ladies and gents.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Speedy Agility and Agility on Paper... (and some mention of Superheroes)

I am about to stick my head into a bee's nest... probably.  I read on of those funny picture thingies on the internet today, which is probably applicable to me... 'Now aren't you just a funfilled lollipop triple dipped in psycho'.  Or maybe I just liked it so much that I felt compelled to post it on my blog...

Anyhow, back to the matters and the bee's nests at hand. And where to start... I guess a good place is the event that re-ignited the idea for the post in my head (please note the RE-ignited part)...  Of late some of the UK Agility followers/competitors/addicts/players/handlers/judges/stalkers/critics/lovers etc, have had a slight spot of a debate regarding The Kennel Club's speed guidelines for the different agility grades.

Now this is not my first 'speed' party.  This discussion, debate and argument have come up many times before, both locally and internationally.  Now first of all, let's keep in mind that the only way to REALLY accurately measure your dog's speed would be to measure your dog's EXACT path for each round... if you are able to do that, it would pretty much make your Superman or Wonder Woman (whatever rocks your boat).  You would have to slow the world down to slow motion (or speed up until you are moving so fast that the dog appears to be moving in slow motion) and spray paint the route of your dog behind their tail.  I suppose you could attach some form of paint behind their tail?

Okay I am getting off topic again... so anyhow, judges all over the world have to measure the 'average path' of the dog.  So in modern agility, where there is better and faster and tighter and more super awesome dogs being born every single day, you tell me what the average path is please?  For example, I am one of the judges that can always hear taunts of 'too tight' and 'my dog is not Elastigirl' or 'no dog can turn that tight'... which ofc are not too true, since my dogs CAN really turn that tight... and so can a million other dogs I know.  BUT (and I have tested this theory)... I can measure a course, the SAME course) to differ by 20m (or more) within apparently 'acceptable' ranges for a majority handlers and judges... now if you take 20m and let's say I would set my course at 5m/s (which quite frankly is FAST and I would be crucified if I tried to set a course at that speed around here)... that would mean a FOUR second difference.  Do you know how much FOUR seconds is in Agility?

To illustrate the point:

So in this scenario with only THREE obstacles, I could potentially make a difference of 1.5m and there for a difference of 1.18 seconds to my Standard Course Time (SCT) if I set my course at 4m/s.  That is over THREE jumps... now imagine that over the whole course???  Sit there, close your eyes and imagine the exact path your dog/s would run on those three jumps...  I have personally seen a judge at the World Champs measure to the centre of a jump and then (instead of measuring the 180 around the wing) turn around right there and measure the path back (does that even make sense to you?).

Anyhow, so my point is, that your 'speed' (okay your DOG'S speed, if only we could run that fast right?), is relevant to the actual measuring.  Sometimes that measuring is pretty damn accurate in my opinion, according to my dogs... you, yes YOU behind the computer screen there, might completely disagree!

Does this mean I am AGAINST set speeds for courses?  Oh quite the contrary!  I am 100% for it... perhaps at this point I should explain (again - so if you have bee a regular reader of this blog for the last few years, you might want to skip this paragraph) our situation.  Agility-wise we are  a SMALL country, very small... so in the past it worked like this... to get a QC or Qualifying Certificate (Champ Ticket (well kind of), point towards your Championship Status, Qualification etc) you had to win with a clear round only if there was a minimum amount of dogs competing... yes, there were 'guideline speeds for judges' (which were hardly ever followed), but there had to be a certain amount of dogs competing.  Then the rules changed... now, even if you are the only dog in the class and you go clear you can win that QC... BUT the judge HAS to use a minimum speed set in the rules (3.5m/s for Agility and 4m/s for jumping... there are no maximum speeds).

Is this an unfair system?  In my opinion, not at ALL... I do feel our minimum speeds are WAY too low and not even close to international standards, but it is certainly not unfair.  We do generally have more than enough large dogs (well in the province where I live in anyway), the problems come in with the small and the medium dogs.... so since that is the case, let's use my own Voltenstein as the example... At the SA Champs, he won both jumping rounds and both times he was faster than the large or medium dogs... so he is not a Slow Sally... if we still had the 'minimum dog' rule in place, he would not have been a champion in Jumping yet... in fact, he would have had only 30% of the QC's that he HAS won this year.  I always run ALL OUT and never play it safe for a 'win', but that is a whole other aspect of the 'speed' argument that I will have to deal with in a separate post...

Is it an accurate system?  Hells NO!  Since there are so many judges and competitors out there that is against this system, measuring is seriously questionable sometimes.  That is for the judges to justify to themselves.

In fact to check out the erm... shall we call them 'differences' in my dogs' recorded speeds for this year, you are welcome to go to:

And type in Chaos (dog) and A. Reed (handler) or Volt (dog) and A. Reed (handler) in the search options... now ofc not all of them were 'good' clears, but you will certainly get an idea in the discrepancies in my boys' so-called 'speeds'...

My point is, that you can argue all you want and you can try to make the exact science from it all you want, but using the 'speeds' derived from running agility competitions is NOT an accurate way to judge YOURSELF and YOUR DOG.  Are these speeds necessary as a part of our sport? Oh definitely, we could not live without them!  But it is not the be-all and the end-all... so when you see your super duper awesomeness fast doggy running at 'apparently' 2.5m/s... don't have a heart attack or contemplate suicide (in both cases you would not be able to run your super duper awesomeness fast doggy again, which would really suck).  So ladies and gents, let's take it all into consideration and think of the bigger picture...

All pictures courtesy of Melissa Wilson.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Value of Little Things...

WTF Chaos, does your tongue not turn with your body?

Before I start, the theme of tonight's photos are WTF...

Life goes on... REALLY?  It is amazing how much I invested in one little weekend, one little dream of making the team.  The crash afterwards, before the preparation for the World Champs start, was not pleasant... well that is putting it mildly.  My dogs, just by the way, don't like breaks... and YOU try explaining to them they actually need a rest now and again.  They were driving me absolutely nuts and offering the most insane behaviours to try and get me to do something with them.  Apparently walks and playing with the ball is just not good enough.  Oops, I think I might have created workaholic dogs?

We have had a few shows since my last post, some ups and downs and good and bad... the boys are keeping their stats up, got some clears, but you could see that we had not been training.  I was sloppy, out of place, oh hat and the TIMING... *bows head in shame*.  I will make a compilation at some point in time, but I have other things on my mind first...  actually I have LOTS of other things on my mind.  It is one of those times that I could write 70 blog posts one after the other, but then I am pretty sure all of you would click the 'unsuscribe button' before I get to the 5th one.  So I will just start off with this one...

WTF are you looking at Stein?

I started Agility like most people... absolutely clueless.  I did what I was told to do.  Training was different then, I would say that you 'taught' your dog to do each obstacle, but I would be lying.  You basically put your dog on lead and by way of repetition, the poor dogs eventually got the idea of what they were supposed to be doing... well kind of and in most cases.  Once they had the basic idea, some dude or dudette that was the 'trainer' would stick up a course and off you go.  That was training.  So my first dogs all thought 'training=running full course'.  Also while my first dogs didn't do too badly and got around courses, I can honestly say 'my first dogs = sucky (actual) Agility skills.'

Now while I won't deny the obvious advantage of occasionally training full courses, and while I assure you that part of my preparation for the World Champs will definitely involve training some of the judges's courses, I do think that a very large percentage of Agility handlers under-estimate the value of training 'little (oh so big)' things. And definitely over-estimate the value of training full courses the wrong way.  Want to know when Volt ran a full course for the first time?  Erm, well at his first show... Want to know how many full courses Volt has run since then?  I don't know, how many shows have we had?  He has had one actual training session on a full course.

WTF is that expression Spaz?

I believe in training skills, as in one skill at a time.  That is after all what a course is... a load of small individual skills, stringed together.  I have witnessed so many training session on full courses, where said handler and dog, would 'get around' and keep going, but not get one actual part right (I am a bit of a perfectionist, when I say get it 'right').  I have seen handlers struggling and struggling with one small aspect (let's call it a pole entry), eventually get it right and then... *shakes head in frustration*, because there IS a 'rest of the course' they will go on, instead of rewarding.

Get those one or two jumps that you have at home out in the garden ladies and gents!  Absolutely endless skills you can teach, without running a full course!

WTF is up with all that drool Spaz?

Another example of a little thing that can make a HUGE difference is that of... you guessed it... the verbal marker!  And that one is pretty useful WHILE training a full course, just by the by.  Scenario:  Alett stands next to show ring, handler Thingamabob runs, Thingamabob's dog misses the pole entry... then misses the pole entry again... and again... and another time (by this point Thingamabob is normally whispering threats of starvation and 'free to good home' under their breath), each missed entry is followed by a 'naughty' or a 'are you stupid'... wait Thingamabob's dog misses the entry yet again (at this point Alett looks away, cos she can't take it anymore).  When Alett looks back, the dog misses ANOTHER entry... But then, all of a sudden, pigs fly and clouds are made of cotton candy and Thingamabob's dog actually GETS the entry... so what does Thingamabob say at this point in time... NOTHING and then to make it worse, they just continue running the course (or normally attempting to, since Thingamabob's dog's brain is fried from missing 13 pole entries in a row)... so poor Thingamabob's dog has no clue that it was now RIGHT, correcto mundo, successful, on the spot, got an A...

Verbal markers are absolutely wonderful things ladies and gents, it's something that dog's VERY quickly learn to understand if you just USE them...

My point being, look for the little things in Agility, they are what maketh the dog and the handler and the course and the game and the everything...  A little thing is what will win it or lose it!

WTF was I doing? Javelin?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We did it? Really?

I am back from my 'happy world place', where I have lived for the last two weeks... it involved lots of motivating conversations with myself, music and moments where I just tried to clear my mind.  So before I get into all the boring stuff, let me kill the suspense...  Both the Spaz AND the Stein will be travelling (and me too, I guess) to the Czech Republic in October as part of Team South Africa!  Yup, we made the team, the boys (as always) were awesome and I kept it together enough to secure my spot.

The weekend was one of ups and downs (well they FELT like downs, even though they weren't REALLY).  I left in the pitch darkness on Thursday morning to Pietermaritzburg... my favourite time to drive.  No I am not kidding, I am a bit weird, I really like driving in the dark.  The boys apparently too, since they just slept through the blaring music and my very tone-deaf attempt at singing along.  Soon it was clear what my 'power song' for the weekend would be... you know that feeling, when you just can't stop repeating a song?  Friend J tried to mess with this, by BBM'ing me another very catchy (and currently favourite song), but my song won in the end.  And no I am not going to tell you what the song is, because I made my SA Champs video to it, I would rather force you to watch that...

We were staying at a lovely guestfarm and I was lucky enough to stay with friends that understands the meaning of 'head space', and would cope with me being a raging b**** if need be (turned out it didn't 'need be', but was good to know regardless).  Took the dogs for a bit of a stroll and very glad that M took some pictures to prove that both boys were actually REALLY clean at the start of the weekend.

On the way to the practise session, I decided to test how well my fellow competitors could 'correct an almost off course' on the road.  I am happy to report that everyone aced the test (although I apparently DID give N hot flushes with that move).  I think they may have lost some faith in my navigational skills though.  One minute to practise seemed A LOT shorter than previous years.  This might have something to do with the fact that the see saw was REALLY REALLY heavy (especially for a 4.5kg Sheltie, who could finish a nice cup of tea waiting for it to drop).  So that took up like half your minute?  Or maybe my brain was just in fast forward mode, while my body was stuck in real time?

After the practise session we went home for a quiet and very civilized dinner, which for me is quite odd I suppose, normality is not something I see a lot of.  I guess the stakes were sinking in.  Friday morning started with another long walk for the boys.  They had an absolute ball, two farm dogs and a Sheltie tearing across the field like hooligans, they really couldn't give a damn about what was at stake, although sometimes we really expect them to, don't we?  They were more like 'Dude I am so going to run faster than you' 'No dude, you are so not going to beat me', followed by a Sheltie 'Wait up for me you buggers, my legs are like 3 times shorter than yours'.  Ah if only life could be that simple hey?

Most of the competition is a bit of a blur, probably because I spent a lot of time sleeping in my chair.  I am still not exactly sure how I managed to do that, but hey, who cares it worked.  See when you have friends that kind of deal with everything else for you (like results and draw orders and filming and all those pesky little things), it is pretty doable to get your head in the game so much that you can actually fall asleep at very noisy, very public showgrounds, pretty much right next to the speakers.  I am not going to go into each round in major detail, I mean if you think you are bored now, just imagine how bored you would be if I did that?

Chaos had some disappointing knocks.  I mean really?  The one thing I have not been worried about... in fact they kept him from being in the medals for the SA Champs too.  He clocked some phenomenal times I have to say.  However the bars just weren't staying up... well not as much as I would have liked anyway.  In fact, since I hadn't looked at the points once through the entire weekend, I walked off after the last round absolutely convinced that we just hadn't been good enough!  I was absolutely broken and couldn't understand why people came over to congratulate me. In fact I argued with the congratulators (Sorry, congratulators) and only when friend J went over to check the actual results and confirmed that YES, I HAD made the team would I stop pacing like an hysterical chicken on LSD.  I don't know what the other dogs did, because I didn't really watch any of the other dogs.  In fact, the whole weekend I can honestly say there are only two dogs that I DID watch.  Not because I am a super-sucky friend and not because I didn't WANT to watch, but I knew from the beginning if I was going to do this, the weekend would be all about me.

Now that it is all over and done with and I have watched myself about a million times over, I can definitely say I am proud of the fact that I RAN.  Oh hell yeah baby, I ran my little heart out.  There was no playing safe, no doubting my dogs, no doubting myself, I really did ATTACK.  It felt pretty damned good and I think I am going to try this whole attack thing on a permanent basis.

I am especially happy with the little Steiner Weiner.  Stein won both Non-Contact (Jumping) rounds, not only did he win the Small category, in both rounds he clocked the fastest time of all heights and all dogs... eat your heart out Border Collies, watch out for the Sheltie Machine.  Considering he is still 3 months away from his second birthday, I could not be more happy with how he handled his first real 'big event'.  Seriously, nothing can phase that dog.

So Chaos will be running in both individual and team and Volt will be running in the Small Team.  Go go Team South Africa!

The boys will be getting a two week break from training and then the slow build-up towards the AWC will start... me?  I will be getting no break.  As you may imagine, a trip like this, travelling halfway across the world to go and run some Agility courses, costs a pretty penny and other than a small discount on the dog flights, each handler has to cover their own costs.  So I will be working my pretty little behind off over the next few months.  I am sure it will be worth it though.

So there you go, we did it, we really did it!

All photographs courtesy of Melissa Wilson.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Where's YOUR head at?

Last weekend (what happened to this week?!?! ) we were off to Durban for a weekend of (very slow) agility shows.  This weekend has always been a big deal to some people, especially seeing as it is normally 2 weeks before SA Champs, so most of us use it as dress rehearsal.  You have to remember that our SA Champs is also our World Team Try Outs, so a pretty big deal you see.  The problem with this Durban weekend, is that it CAN be a maker or a breaker.  Well if your mind is not right.  If your head is not there.

At the end of the day, it is JUST a dress rehearsal, nothing more, nothing less.  If you happen to make a mistake somewhere in the weekend, the secret is not getting all hung up on it.  I have seen it time and time again.  People have a bad round or two and the whole machine just falls apart.  Luckily for me, there was falling, but no falling apart...

My weekend started of rather fun... with Chaos ankle-tapping me, see he was 100% convinced that we were on our way to the poles.  I was convinced we were going to the jump next to the poles.  And if you have any knowledge of physics, you will know that it is a physical impossibility for two objects to occupy the same space at the same time.  So I went flying.  My fall started at the beginning of the poles and almost made it right to the end.  It was friggin hilarious.  AND to make it even better, I managed to get up and clear the rest of the course.  Now I wasn't the only one to have a 'moment' over the weekend (although I DEFINITELY win the first prize), so I decided to make a video diary of the moments... please enjoy.  And I promise that I give you permission to laugh and other than a few bruises (including some bruised ribs), I am fine, so laughing is in order.

Now wipe the tears of laughter from your face and FOCUS again.  Do you know how good this was for me two weeks before the SA Champs?  It was BRILLIANT!  Because now I have confidence I can recover from anything, any mishap and still get it RIGHT.  Considering our qualifying system that definitely favours consistency over brilliance, this is the best confidence booster I could get.

All in all my dogs worked very well throughout the weekend.  I am in such a good place right now, where I can trust my dogs and I know I can walk out on any course out there and get around it.  I finally know what the words 'quiet confidence' means, how cool is that.  Of course SA Champs will be a completely different story, with added nerves, much bigger stakes and all of those wonderful things.  But I will be living in my own little happy place for the next 10 days, so until then, cheers!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Business, Bumper and Broken

I have to admit, I am a little bit broken at this point in time.  I know that it has been AGES since I blogged, but in my defense, I have been insanely busy as part of the organising committee of a HUGE Agility Weekend.  Well huge for South Africa.  All in all I think it went well enough, but that doesn't mean I am any less broken from the hard work this weekend.  Apparently it works for me though, because I did pretty well all things considering.  And by all things I mean the constant running around, building courses, organising food for judges, doing results, catalogues, catalogue numbers, answering queries, moving entries etc etc etc.  I do have some good news though, for the first time since Sunday I can move my legs without suppressing  screams of pain and I also don't think the back transplant is THAT urgent any more.

So now I will stop the b!tching and moaning and get on with writing about my dogs.  Stupidly I set down quite specific goals for the weekend, not THINKING how hard I would be working.  Lucky for me, I have pretty damn awesome dogs, that not only compensate for my stupidity, but actually exceed my set goals.

I wanted to up my consistency rate with Chaos, which I can safely say we did.  A few of the rounds were not our best, mainly because I rushed walking the course and had to walk for two dogs, which I am not used to.  His A-Frame is less solid than I would like, as in if I am ahead of him he self releases, I threw a couple of rounds to start correcting that, in fact, we will be throwing all our contact rounds until SA Champs if need be.  His dog walks and see saws looked quite good the whole weekend.  Chaos managed to win 6 QC's this weekend, with a few almost rounds as well.  As you can imagine, a lot of his rounds did not get video'd this weekend... with all of my normal camera people running around like mad.  In fact we are thinking of hiring a permanent camera person :)  Anyhow here is a short (and by short I mean long) compilation of Chaos's high's and lows this past weekend.

Now on Sir Volt of the Awesomeness as he is now known.  My goal with Volt this past weekend was NOT very well thought through.  First of all I wanted to make him up into a Dog Jumping Champion and I needed two QC's for that.  Clever monkey did that in his first two tries, by winning the first two Dog Jumping rounds.  Then he went on to win 3 more Dog Jumping Classes to take 5/6 Dog Jumping QC's available in his grade.  My other goal was to qualify him up into Grade 3 Agility and Non Contact.  Which is all cool and well and which of course Volt did at the beginning of the weekend too.  The problem with that goal, was that once he was in Grade 3... what now?  It didn't occur to me that Volt is not ready for Grade 3 courses yet (or this is what I thought).  I had to make some desperate handling plans, doing front crosses where I should have pulled, crossing behind in the weirdest places, occasionally jumping over Volt to avoid life-threatening collisions.  But we did it.  Not only did Volt meet my goals, but he also earned his first Contact Agility QC's AND earn three Non Contact Agility QC's to become a champion in just two days!  As you will see from the videos, it wasn't always pretty and me and Volt have TONS of training to do now, to prepare ourselves better for technical courses.  Oh yes and note to self, watch sales, need new pair of MUCH faster legs for small dog.  Here is a short (and by short I mean even longer than Chaos's video) compilation of Volt's rounds for the weekend:

Some notes on the weekend.  I liked the balance of courses of the weekend.  I think we could have done with some more technical courses, but all in all a good balance.  I think I should have been called on a lot more refusals, especially with Volt.  In fact I saw a lot of spins that I would have definitely called as a judge. My general rule is that if the dog was in the position to take the obstacle, and then spins it should be called.  All of these spins were my error of course, but should still have been refusals.  Contact judging was pretty good, but I should have been called for one fly-off which wasn't.  The refusal issue is one that have come up so many times amongst handlers and judges around here and it really does make me think it needs clarification.

All in all a good weekend and just four more weeks to go before SA Champs... bring on the finals baby!