Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Second Trial, The Year and Almost Agility Time

The second trial for our SA Champs/AWC Try-Outs has come and gone.  And even though I am biased (But like REALLY REALLY biased), I have to say Chaos did it in style.  Each trial consists of a Contact round (Agility) and a Non-Contact round (Jumping) and Spaz Sticks gave me two decent clears... well one iffy moment in the jumping round, which as per the usual was completely my fault... Forward motion from handler = Forward motion from dog... hello stupid Alett, that is Agility 101.... anyhow, I managed to correct it with only about a 0.7 second time loss and despite that still managed to win that round nationally in the AWC Try Out section.  Pretty friggin cool if you ask me.  To make it even awesome-er, Chaos is now lying second (out of 90 dogs) in the SA Champs qualification, he is also second in the AWC Try-Out Category (Small, Medium and Large Combined)... Okay I will stop this bragging bullShi*%& now...  Especially considering that in my personal opinion our qualifying system is really a bit ridiculous.  And there is still a looooong way to go.  Third regional trial this coming weekend, fourth regional trial on 18 March and then of course *drumroll* the finals in June.  Quite frankly I just wish we were running the two remaining regional trials tomorrow so I could get it over with and start preparing for the finals.  If you feel like looking at the results, you can go to http://gauteng-agility.co.za/php/results.php.  The SA Champ/AWC Try Out results are at the bottom of the page.

Of course we also had Dog Jumping at this show, but after his good performance in the Agility side of things, I had a joking chat to Chaos that he could do what he wanted in the Dog Jumping... Eish, unfortunately he took me up on that and for the first time in his life... he BROKE his wait... oi, not so good.  I did manage to save the moment though AND get a clear and in the end win the class.  But you just have to laugh.  I mean Chaos has always been a bit of a creeper, but never has he solidly broken his wait.

Here is the video of the run-off:

In the last while so many people in the last while has said to me that 'this will be Chaos's year' and while I understand what they are saying and appreciate their support and interest in the Spaz-a-monius, that is not 'how it is for me'.  Me and Chaos have reached that fantastic point in our competing career where we just gel.  We know what to expect from each other and we both try as hard as we can without having to worry about little things.  Of course I am hoping to achieve my goals this year, but the biggest thing that it is just fun and fantastic and enjoyable and GOOD to run Chaos.  And THAT is the thing that I would like to maintain throughout the year.

Now on to young Mr. Steinen Meister, the Sheltie dog.  What a super awesome little guy.  Except for the whole tire thing of course... at his previous show, he decided it was a super cool idea to jump through the side of the tire.  So he has been on Tire Boot Camp for the last week... Sigh except that he made the same decision on Sunday.  Guess who's boot camp has been renewed for another week?  Other than that though I think he had quite a nice round... despite for some reason crashing into the side of the tunnel a bit (since I can't quite see inside the tunnel I am not able to tell you what happened) which slowed him down... In another two weeks he can compete in Agility too.  FINALLY!  I can't wait... especially after this morning... Up to now, he has been doing the see saw on lower height (woohoo for adjustable see saws!), but this morning I put it up to full height.  And of course Super Sheltie just nailed it.  NERD!  I do have a problem though, my see saw has WAY too much bounce, which is okay for a large dog, but not for a little half pint weighing in at 4.8kg.  I am looking into ways to fix that, but for now I have one of two solutions... I release if I see it is going to bounce back to badly or I put my foot on it to stop the bounce.  Neither ideal, but I will fix it soon.  Now I can start working on independent performance (which the nerd already has on the dog walk and A-frame) and tadaa, we will be ready for Agility!  Well baby dog Agility, but who cares, at least he will get more than one run a day and I can start proofing contacts and things.

*All pictures courtesy of Melissa Wilson

Friday, February 17, 2012

Course Design, Learning from Failure and Hooligan Dogs

I completed my judges course in 2000... no I am not that old, I just had the opportunity to attend the course at the age of 16.  Of course in this backwards country I was only allowed to judge at the age of 18 in 2002, but I have been judging since the first day I could.  On top of that it is common knowledge that I have this little thing called insomnia, often during these restless (well that is supposed to sound mysterious and deep, but actually it should read BORED) hours I design courses.  I have literally designed thousands of courses, 90% of which has never been run and might never see the light of day.  In the beginning I bought books and books of graph paper from my pocket money and used a loaned agility stencil and pieces of thread (to measure accurate of distances of course), eventually, once I was over the whole 'poor student' phase I EVENTUALLY bought one of these clever course designer program thingies...  Now take on top of that, that I have run a million courses in my life with a very wide variety of dogs for the last 15 years.  So needless to say I am pretty opinionated about courses.  Funny enough NOT about Grade 3 courses (FCI, so Grade 6/7 KC, Excellent AKC etc).  While I will tell you that I can be a bit whiny as some courses suit me and others don't, it is Grade 1 (entry level courses) that can bug the living craps out of me.  As long as it is not dangerous, I kind of feel that an advanced dog should negotiate (or try to) anything that is thrown in his path... you do of course get slightly unreasonable challenges (an of course jump 1m after a straight tunnel for example) but so be it.  But for entry level dogs...  I have a firm belief that you should only test obstacle performance and pure basic handling.  That means no tunnels under contacts, no off course jumps staring dogs right in the face, no hard pole entries, no pull through's, no go rounds... you get the idea.

The problem here is that because we are a rather small community, one judge will ALWAYS judge all the grades (and height categories), which of course means nested courses (which are not that easy to design)... well actually that part is not a problem.  The problem is lazy judges that will not even move one single jump or change one angle.  Okay but now I am veering off the original point I wanted to make again... Well not a point really, but two observations.  The first is that I find non-competing judges tend to struggle designing Grade 1 courses.  What appears very easy to them is in actual fact NOT... us competitors know this, because we actually run dogs and get caught in a million 'traps'.  My second observation comes from several discussions with A LOT of judges that dare make the comment... 'in grade 1 I wouldn't give that fault'.... erm, excuse me ladies and gents but rules are rules.  If it is a refusal in Grade 3, I promise you it should be a refusal in Grade 1 too.  And in general those comments are made about those exact sequences that shouldn't be in grade 1....

Moving on, I have noticed again and again that very few people in this world share their failures (with regards to Agility).  So few agility bloggers and agility addicts post their 'bad rounds'.  I try to share all my rounds, although I won't deny that I LOVE making super pretty videos of my dogs doing super fantastic things, to awesome inspiring music...  I guess you all knew that already with the amount of videos on my youtube channel....  But I DO share my bad rounds as well, because not only do I learn from it, get feedback from others, but maybe, just maybe someone can learn from my mistakes as well!  I would really like it if others would do the same.  The one thing I repeat to my students SO many times is that 'training is not training without failure'.  Partly it is because actually, physically training people I think.  I REALLY miss it a lot... but then that would mean an entire set of equipment (= lots and lots of money, since I am not prepared to move my own equipment to another venue) and seminars by fellow South Africans are not even remotely popular here...  It is something I am looking into, but not getting my hopes up.

The next subject is related to both the other topics of my post.  I am the first person to stress safety for dogs, however regardless of how safe we make life for our dogs... they are dogs and if your dogs are anything like mine, they are complete hooligans.  Life happens.  Sometimes they get hurt from these hooligan moments, most of the time they don't.  Sometimes they get hurt doing something completely safe and normal, mostly the don't.  SO many people are too afraid to make these 'bad, unsafe' habits public, even when it is obvious that it is not due to trainer fault etc.  I don't baby my dogs, but I don't risk their lives either.  I am working hard on Volt's contacts at the moment.  He is a super high drive enthusiastic dog, sometimes his mind and his striding don't agree on the terms before the sign the contract.  From the below video you will see that Volt's slightly over-enthusiastic A-Frames lead to... hmmmm... some stressful moments, but that is part of him being a young dog.  By the time we get out there and compete for the Big Time, this will all be sorted, but I am not afraid to tell you all that this happens.  I know Volt is smashing down on his front quarters a bit too much coming off that A-Frame at the moment (since I increased to full height), but isn't that all the more reason to improve it and fix it?  Yes, if you knowingly allow your dogs to continually do wild child, dangerous moves without improving it, you deserve a big time smack and to be banned from owning dogs.... but a little bit more reality would be appreciated in the dog world.

By the way, this video was made with a super cool nice song, but even though I never intend to infringe coprights... Youtube has to do their job.  So enjoy the silence.  It is golden.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

First Trial, Stress and Wild Child

So this past weekend we had our first qualifying trial for the South African Championships and AWC Try-Outs.  Spazzel was super-awesome as always... me, well I am a lot better than before, while my shaking, stressing, sweaty, panicking, jittery demeanour still lead to two very sh!t handling errors, but I did end up with high points nationally, so I am happy enough.  This coming weekend we have our next trial.

Now I have never been too good with the mental game although I have been getting slightly better (due to very hard damn work, I might add) over the last year.  Stress affects people differently.  Me?  I used to get all 'bedonnerd' (which I will very 'modestly' translate to grumpy) with everyone around me.  Like the worst pms you have ever seen.  And I would get super clingy with my dogs and 'over-cuddle' them into the ground before a round.  This of course leads to Chaos's WTF? face, while he thinks my feet belong to him and will lie on them whenever he has a chance, he does NOT like the whole cuddle thing.  This would also put Chaos in panicky 'I have to do something RIGHT NOW mode', which often saw him shooting off in one direction taking whatever was in his path.  I have worked hard on those issues and I think I now appear pretty normal when I am under Agility stress.  Chaos now definitely appears 100% normal under stress.

Which should be normal.  I believe that as dogs mature and gain experience they learn better to deal with YOUR stress as well.  The first time you place a dog at the start line under serious pressure, they are confused and struggle dealing with your change in attitude/voice pitch/jerky arms etc.  This is just another experience they need to get used to.  Well that is for those of us that actually DO get nervous I guess.

This year my plan was a bit different from previous years.  In the past it always use to be (uses zombie voice) *must get points*.  This year I just wanted to step on the line and continue Chaos's streak of nice rounds, responsiveness and well... fun.  Undeniably I was still a bit more nervous than normal, which can be witnessed in my two stupid handling mistakes that cost me some points.  Shame poor Spaz dog, such a shame that he has to compensate for me the whole time.  But by the second round we had settled and he had a pretty nice round. So we actually managed to get some points.  If I get more points on Sunday I do, if I don't, so be it.  I want my nice rounds rather.  Video will only follow next week, as one of the other provinces still have to run Trial 1.

Volt was a super wild child on Sunday... FINALLY his 'young dogness' comes out, haha, it is about time.  The mad, shooting off in all direction, rushing poles and missing them, going through the side of the tire wildness came to light and I am actually glad.  I want my young dogs to work through these things, before it causes major issues later on.  My little Stein was moving his little arse though, so his enthusiasm was definitely not affected... Only 2 and a half more weeks and the boy can do Agility.

*All pictures courtesy of Melissa Wilson of K9 Action Shots (http://www.facebook.com/pages/K9-action-shots/128027793894798?sk=photos)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Moving on, Methods and Training Ability

No, I am still not ready to write about Echo.  I miss him SO much, but he was such a significant part of my life for so long, he deserves a true tribute, one that will come with time and only when I am ready.

Instead I will write about two other thoughts that have been a repetitive theme in my agility life the last while.

Photo by Lucy Osborne

I love foundation, foundation is just of the friggin awesomeness.  My competing adults dogs do tons of foundation. BUT one must be very careful with young dogs not to get stuck in the 'Comfort Zone Foundation Trap'.  There are a ton of varying opinions out there about what dogs should/can do at certain ages.  I am not getting involved in that rats nest argument right now, thank you very much.  I have however, seen many people, regardless of their dog's age, get stuck in the above said trap.  These people can build there dog up to a certain point, but as soon as they run into a challenge or a 'lower consistency' they revert AND stick to that foundation point... forever.

Training is a process and you cannot see a result until you have completed each step of the process.  You cannot afford to get stuck on or stutter on step 7 for months on end.  It is detrimental.  You are patterning the FOUNDATION behaviour instead of patterning and teaching the end result!  Trainers need to THINK (the whole uncommon common sense argument) to resolve the steps towards end results to overcome obstacles.  It is a super hard one, as you don't want to accept unwanted behaviour, while looking for something to reward.  I have just seen SO many dogs getting 'halfway' into their agility training using proper foundation, getting stuck and reverting to pure luring/forcing/correcting training methods, because they lack the ability to actually think for themselves.... 'if the step is not on the dvd/in the book/recommended by my trainer... I REALLY can't do it.

To take a stupid silly example... me and another unnamed agility handler started teaching poles round about the same time.  When getting to the 2cm gap in our channel poles we both had problems and issues and aches and pains and tears.  Me, I made a plan and worked through it and within 10 days of me running into problems, Stein was weaving 12 closed poles.  After that I have had the opportunity to play around, open the channel again, work on really hard entries and striding and body position.  The other unnamed handler is still sitting with 2cm poles, no progress... three months later.  By this time she has PATTERNED open poles and increases the difficulty of doing closed poles by every repetition of open poles that she does.

Photo by Lucy Osborne

The second thing on my mind is just a quick one...  I love training people and in order to train OTHERS, I do a lot of research into 'training methods'.  BUT a way of training only becomes a METHOD once it can be recreated by others.  I have certain ways of training things that will never work for the majority.  Maybe it is because I spend an endless amount of time training it (that others will not be able/willing to), maybe it is because I have a phenomenal affinity to dogs, that another person cannot copy.  Who knows what it is, but through years of teaching and trying and experimentation, I can assess a person and say 'yes this will work for you' or 'no it won't'.  Now when you buy a dvd and the person demonstrating looks all confident and it all just 'works' it is very hard to judge, especially if you are on your first dog.  Agility has become a business for many people (myself included) and of course we market ourselves!  But just remember when researching a 'method' to make it your own.  And never ever believe a 'quick fix'... there is no such thing in the training of any animal!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dog Walks and Videos

I am still playing around with my new video editor and this morning I specifically took training videos just to edit them.... oi I am such nerd....