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.