Monday, December 9, 2013

2013... A year in WOW

And by WOW I do NOT mean World of Warcraft, in fact I played very little of that this year.

I didn't quite realise... wait let me rephrase that, I STILL don't quite realise what a phenomenal ride my dogs took me on this year.

But let's talk about WHY this has been the year in WOW...

The round that changed my life.  Before you watch this unspectacular, yet momentous round, think about this... I live in a small country with a tiny little Agility community on the other side of the world of all the OTHER Agility countries.  So what means a lot to me, might not mean a lot to you... but honestly I am not really going to care.

In 2012 I by some miracle, support and, in my own personal opinion,dubious selections, won a spot in both the South African Large Team and Individual competitions for the AWC. I was also on the South African Small Team, but that is not quite relevant to this story yet.

From day 1, when I picked my pony puppy, I felt a connection to him, I saw a light that no-one else could see until many years later.  As the years went by, I learnt to really appreciate the small things with Chaos, as the ride was a roller-coaster... a bumpy roller-coaster in the middle of a thunderstorm at that.  But the fruit of our works slowly accumulated and I was fortunate to end up in a really supportive, understanding and motivated Large Team in 2012 (thank you Helena, Annaret and Julie for this experience).

Up until the SA Champs/AWC Team Selection weekend, I had quite a problem with mental management.  I am not afraid to admit that.  During that weekend I had a rather thoughtful friend that did all but crumple my toilet paper for me.  Embarrassing as that dependence might seem, it did lead to me making the team, which lead to me having a life-changing round, so it is all good up to here.

Being realistic and all, I knew I wasn't exactly aiming for an individual podium position... let's face it, maybe 10-20 dogs every year really have that potential, but it just wouldn't be the same if only those 10 or 20 dogs competed for the title.  But we had a team that we knew could do well enough to matter for us (which we did, finishing 9th... the best finish since the SA gold medals in 2004 and 2005).  This is where my head-space, my preparation, my thoughts and my dedication went in the months leading up to this event.  I managed to run a (albeit not so pretty) clear round in the team jumping even... the next event was the Individual Jumping... and it very suddenly, harshly and fantastically hit me while I was in the queue... I have nothing to lose??? How cool is that??? (and yes it actually took me 16 years of competing in Agility to FINALLY realise that).  I started with a smile on my face, Chaos started with a skip in his beat and we ran the best round ever (up to that time, remember this is more than a year ago)... I ended up with tons of faults due to one small miscalculation, but it didn't matter!  I remember taking Chaos out after that round for a long and private celebration that had lots of happy tears and tennis balls.

While that was far from perfect, it was as perfect as I will ever feel again.

From that moment Agility bumped up 10 levels of fun, enjoyment, go, love, investment, commitment, laughter and competition for me and my dogs (no, competition is NOT a bad thing, I think it is fantastic for a good relationship with one's dog... especially competition against yourself).

Of course we have still had our ups and our downs.  Frustration, pain, happiness, humour and pure ecstasy just like before. But everything went to a next level.  Things I never thought possible, wins and losses that I never even imagined became a reality.  An experience that I could never put into words.  This last year has been madness of good AND bad, but one thing remains... I have to be so thankful to my dogs for their continuous commitment to our journey in the sport I love so much.  I won't deny that the National League wins, the SA Champ medals, the QC's and the World Team isn't very friggen awesome, but also the fun, the laughs, the dq's, the training and the cuddles is something beyond explanation.

To my friends (I won't embarrass you by mentioning names), my training partners, my husband and my mother... I could never thank you enough for your continuous support and I look forward to many more years of just that.

My advice to Agility handlers everywhere and anywhere is to Love and Live YOUR game and let the rest of the world pass by.  We are all fortunate enough to already take the best partners home, so nothing else matters.

Just to end of my year, Chaos and Volt rewarded me by winning their respective categories in the National Agility League and Psycho Kiddie Winks decided to learn how to weave...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Agility is rewarding

Recently I was watching a large group of handlers 'mess around' before starting an Agility class.  I was rather gob smacked at some handlers' response to their dogs though.  Please note I am all for messing around, me and my dogs have learnt such valuable lessons while in a slightly chaotic, informal environment.  Although even a setting like that has to has its rules.  And most importantly handlers should know that it should NEVER change your feedback system. By this I mean your rewards and markers and reaction.

Controlled chaos is good for proofing and having fun too.  This doesn't mean you should have 3 of your own dogs running loose, all trying to please you at the same time.  Generally this leads to you screaming at one and affecting all.  Remember, our dogs understand body language and tone of voice, they don't ACTUALLY understand English.  If you don't believe me, ask my friend that accidentally taught her German Shepherd to lie down every time she said Damnit!  Even in craziness your dog should have your near sole attention and devotion.  I say near, because just like driving, Agility generally requires you to at least be a little bit aware.  And when I say a little bit, I mean A LOT.  While I will admit watching two people  send their dogs into the weaves from opposite sides could be amusing, it is a lot more detrimental than anything else.  Do that three or four times and instead of worrying about finding the next gate in the weave poles, Fido is going to be a lot more concerned about impending possibility of head-on collisions.  So be aware.  Of dogs, people, cars, equipment, squirrels, geese and raining meatballs.

Okay lets get to the important part though... rewarding.

Failing is training.  If you haven't failed you haven't trained.  It is important to push the boundaries and until you have not pushed it a little bit too far, you don't know where your limits are. Failing is also the difference in teaching our dogs to think and have some understanding of what they are doing and just teaching another parrot.  But at no time does this mean you should be holding your dog hostage to a reward.  Just because your dog 'failed', you shouldn't be bodily removing the reward from them, while flinging insults like a bully in the school yard.

A reward and a marker are two different things.  The reward is what the dog gets after you have marked it.  So in the dog's mind the process should be something like this: 'La-la-la, okay lets try to lie down, okay nothing, must be something different, let's try to sit,  OOOOOOH marker, yeah baby, NAILED it, now where is that damn squeaky rabbit'.  You can mark using a clicker, your voice or a French horn for all I care, but you mark immediately and then REWARD.  It is always rather amusing when I teach a class and a student comes sauntering over at leisure after doing a 15 jump sequence, just to be startled by my Boot Camp persona yelling at them to 'reward, reward, reward'.  Before listening to other people's input, before going to have a sip of coffee you really do need to reward.  Even in a class environment, well actually especially in a class environment.  Make sure you have engaged your dog in some fashion (with food, toys, cuddles), before listening to your instructor's analysis.  Honestly I would rather see handlers 'accidentally' reward (so reward to early and the dog actually made a mistake), than NOT reward immediately after the dog has done something correctly.

Pick your battles.  If you are struggling with three different sections of a 16 obstacle sequence and by some miracle, you happen to get one of these sections right.  Stop and REWARD immediately.  Don't be a hero and immediately try and run the rest.  Chances are (since you were already struggling) that you will get it wrong again at which point you are left with two options: Reward and your dog is most likely to connect it to what he last did, which was get a subsequent sequence wrong, or don't reward, leaving Fido confused as to what exactly was right and wrong.

Be in control.  People have their preferences, dogs have theirs, but sometimes people are just lazy.  You have to know the value, potential, limitations and implications of each reward you use.  For one, there are only a few instances where I choose to reward with a ball thrown ahead.  This is a very dis-connected reward, its value is higher further away from me (otherwise the fetch game wouldn't have much of a challenge now would it) and once it has left your hand, you don't have much control over it.  It is good for situations (especially with the lower confidence dog) where you want to teach dogs acceleration away from the handler.  Tug toys are in complete control of handlers, which is fantastic.  It should not be used to encourage 'velcro-ism'.  Dogs should only come into their tug toy reward once they have heard their marker.  The same goes for food.  Don't leave the reward lying on the ground if you are going to have control issues.  If your dog will shoot off in the middle of an exercise to go and find that reward.  If you were a moron and you DID do this, do not under any circumstances scream at the dog for going to get his reward.  You can't punish your dog for your stupidity and you do not want to connect any negativity to what is supposed to be your dog's reward.  Phone a Friend.  Ask someone else to help out and hold the reward and give it at the right moment.

Know your customer.  Dogs have different tolerances.  Some dogs will completely break down and phone the suicide hotline if a reward is withheld more than once.  With dogs like this, sometimes you need to offer the reward without using a marker, just to keep their confidence up.  You are basically saying 'okay you haven't gotten it right yet (no marker), but things will be okay and the world won't end today (have some food/a tug).  Other dogs don't need a confidence boost and will be happy to try and try again until kingdom come.  My Psycho Slinky for example, bless her nerdy little soul, will NOT take a reward if she feels she hasn't done something right, even when I am begging her to take it.  I also know that after a few tries of not getting it right, she will panic.  So if we fail a few times at any one thing, I will ask her to do something which she is almost guaranteed to get right (like a tunnel), mark THAT and reward.  But heaven help me if I tried a stunt like that with 'prom king' Volt, he would take advantage of me in so many ways it is not even true.  Volt was issued with 3 cc's of extra confidence when he was manufactured.  Volt KNOWS the world won't end, he doesn't need me to tell him that.

Be effective.  If you throw a ball as a reward, Fido kind of starts after it and then veers of 47 degrees North East to go and pee on a tree, your award wasn't effective.  It is fair and well to have all this theory about what toy is the best or what kind of treat, but if the reward holds no value for your dog, it is pointless.

Your feedback system is the only guidance your dog has to what is wrong or right.  So if they ARE getting something wrong, it is best you look at which part of your feedback is confusing them.

In conclusion: Reward your dogs!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

First response - A short explanation

After some feedback from handlers that read my previous post, I would like to clarify the following (sorry international followers, again it is a South African thing).

The SA Champs regional trials and the AWC regional trials are NOT the same thing (contrary to what many handlers believe).  They follow two completely different sets of rules (Schedule 5L Appendix C applies ONLY to AWC Trials and Schedule 5L Appendix D applies ONLY to SA Champs).  Historically these two competitions have been run in conjunction (in other words the same actual rounds have been used for both competitions, but the different rules applied for the different competitions).

The regional trials would therefore still go ahead exactly as it has in the past, but ONLY the SA Champs rules/results applied to determine who qualifies for the SA Champs event.  So the top 40 large dogs, top 10 medium dogs and top 10 small dogs would still qualify for the SA Champs.

The proposal that came from us and is currently being discussed applies ONLY to the AWC regional trials.  In other words, instead of what has been happening over the years, where dogs that did NOT qualify for SA Champs and has NO intention of making Team South Africa to Europe for the AWC, but entered the AWC regional trials are invited to the finals/SA Champ, ONLY the dogs that intend to MAKE the team will be able to compete at the finals/SA Champs.  Most of which already qualified for the SA Champs.

I am hoping this clarify matters.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Here are the facts...

This is a post for my South African friends... I will try to explain the ins and outs to my international followers as well, but this post is purely about the selection of the South African Agility team for the FCI AWC.

How it currently works:

The Point System

- Points are awarded as follows:
   0 faults - 10 points
                  In addition, bonus points are awarded as follows: SCT-Dog's Time = Bonus points
   Bonus points are awarded for clear rounds ONLY

(Prior to 2013 bonus points were awarded differently: 0-1.99 seconds under SCT = 1 bonus point, 2-.3.99 seconds under SCT = 2 bonus points, 4-5.99 seconds under SCT = 3 bonus points etc)

   0.01- 5 faults - 8 points
   5.01 - 10 faults - 6 points
   10.01 - 15 faults - 4 points
   15.01-20 faults - 2 points
   20.01 - 25 faults - 1 point

- The winner in each height category is awarded 1 bonus point

The Format

- Four regional trials are run, consisting out of a Contact (Agility) and Non Contact (Jumping) round each.

- Each dog drop their worst contact score and worst non-contact score.

- Adding each dog's best three contact scores and best 3 non-contact scores, you get the trials total for each dog.  The top 10 Small dogs, top 10 Medium dogs and top 40 Medium dogs are invited to the finals.

- At the finals each dog runs two contact rounds and two non-contact rounds.

- To determine the South African Agility squad, points are calculated as follows:

Finals points + 1/3 of the regional trials points = Total points

- All dogs (irrespective of height category) are placed onto one scoring table.  The top 9 dogs (provided not more than 6 are in the same height category) will be awarded spots in the Individual competition at the AWC, the top 4 dogs in each height category will be awarded spots in the Team competition at the AWC.

The logistics

- Each year a National Course Coordinator is appointed.  This person has to source courses, historically the majority of courses were designed by local judges (in 2010/2011 it was approved that competing judges could also submit courses), in 2013 courses were sourced from the Norwegian AWC judge.

- Courses are adapted by the National Course Coordinator and coordinates for each obstacle is determined, using an A/B Baseline system.  For hurdles and the tyre jump only a centre coordinate is determined.  For the contact obstacles, tunnels, weave poles and long jump a start coordinate and end coordinate is determined.

- Each province nominates a non-competing provincial course coordinator.  The National coordinator will send the courses to the provincial coordinators once they have been selected.  Provinces can then run the regional trials in the months of January, February and March.  It is not very often that provinces can manage to run the courses on the same day.

- Should there be a mistake on the course plan or a query, the provincial course coordinators should phone the national coordinator to seek clarification.  It is also the responsibility for the provincial course coordinator to set the angles of each jump, which has to be done using a course plan (since only a centre coordinate is given for the hurdles).

- Courses are supposed to be at a grade 3 level.  Speeds used are supposed to be an average of the speeds used at the previous year's AWC.

- The courses at the final are also supposed to be of a Grade 3 level, however the judges have the discretion to set the speeds to what they want.

That is the system in a nutshell.

Now for the last 3 years, I have been researching, studying, investigating and calculating the effectiveness and fairness of the trials.  Two and a half years ago, roughly, I submitted my preliminary findings to my provincial committee.  My research included the statistics of local results, photos, video, as well as extensive research into the qualifying systems of other countries, focussing on countries with the best medal histories at the AWC.  Our provincial committee then continued the research and eventually submitted a full report and presentation to the National Agility Committee in August 2012.  Response has been few and far between, it has come to my attention that the full information with regards to our findings have not reached all handlers and/or committees.  I am therefore going to present the evidence here, as this is the most public forum I have available.

Here are the facts as to why regional trials, as we know them, are NOT a fair or practical selection system:

Before I discuss all the aspects of the trials, I would like you to read and keep the following in mind.  Remember with our point system, 1 fault = AT LEAST 2 points, and points can be directly translated into time, 1.23 seconds = 1.23 points on a clear round.  In 2013, which provided to be our most competitive year, as the AWC was local, the difference in getting a spot or not was as follows:

Small Team: Point difference between 4th and 5th dog: 4.68 points
Medium Team: Point difference between 4th and 5th dog: 2.08 points
Large Team: Point difference between 4th and 5th dog: 2.25 points
Individual Spot: Point difference between 9th and 10th dog: 2.23 points
The closest point difference for a spot, was the 0.58 points that separated the 5th medium dog (which was awarded the reserve spot) from the 6th medium dog

Looking at this model, we have to keep in mind that the regional trials only account for 1/3 of these points.  So per round in the regional trials we are looking at the following equation:

To make up the points in a regional trial:  (points missed out) x 3 (since only a third of the points will count)/6 (since only your 6 best rounds out of 8 will count) = points per round that could have gotten dog a spot in the team.

Small Team: 4.68 points x 3/6 rounds = 2.34 seconds/points per round
Medium Team: 2.08 points x 3/6 rounds = 1.02 seconds/points per round
Large Team: 2.25 points x 3/6 rounds = 1.125 seconds/points per round
Individual Spot: 2.23 points x 3/6 rounds = 1.115 seconds/points per round

This is just some silly examples to try and demonstrate the impact each small aspect of the course can have.

- Ground Conditions and Weather:  The provinces that run regional trials, vary from coastal to inland cities, this affects humidity and temperature.  Average temperatures in January (as per the South African Weather Service) vary from 25 degrees Celcius to 31 degrees Celcius. We have a province that is a winter-rainfall area and a few provinces that is summer rainfall areas.  This will obviously affect the grass growth/hardness of grounds in said provinces. According to the South African Weather Service, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town battle continually for the 'windiest city' in South Africa, with Cape Town experiencing winds of 1.6m/s 95.6% of the time and Port Elizabeth 95.7% of the time.  Meanwhile here in Johannesburg, we can hardly spell wind and certainly don't know what it feels like on a regular basis.

- Differences in equipment.  Because there are parameters for various obstacles (instead of set measurements), equipment differ very much from province to province.  Here in Johannesburg, our cross bars are 30mm pvc, some with wood-filling and others without.  Our older hurdles have angled jump cups as pictured below, while our newer hurdles have rounded, shallower cups, all metal.  From my travels, there are variations of angles cups, round rubber cups, round metal cups.

Some provinces have wood cross bars, others have pvc, varying from 30mm-50mm (all within the rules of course).  This of course will affect the statistical probably of a cross bar falling, even if hit with the same trajectory at the same force.  I will work out an average example for you of how one knock can affect a dog's final points:

The course is 150m, set at 4.1m/s (the speed used for contact agility in 2012) which puts the SCT at 36.58 seconds.  A dog running at 4.4m/s will run a time of 34.09.  If it is a clear round, he will be awarded 12.49 points, however with one knock, he will be awarded 8 points (so lose out on 4.49 points).  The dog will lose 1.49 points that it could have carried through.

The see-saw is especially important where equipment differences are concerned.  I used my own dog to compare various see-saws in the country:

For those that can't watch the videos, Gauteng's seesaw tipped in 1.11 seconds, FS in 1.51 seconds, EP in 1.79 and KZN in 1.99 seconds.

I also did a comparison of one of our lightest competitors in South Africa doing two different cloth tunnels.

Let's use the see-saw example, my dog gains 0.88 seconds on the see-saw each time.  So let's say I ran 3 clear rounds in contact agility in the regional trials that will count towards my final score, it will work out as follows:

0.88 seconds x 3 rounds = I would have gained 2.34 points in the regional trials on the see-saw ALONE.  Which will equate to 0.78 points towards my final score.  That added to all the other factors, could definitely mean getting a spot or not.  Not even taking into consideration that those 0.88 seconds I gain could very well earn me a winner's bonus point.

We also have Dog Walks lengths that differ, weave pole diameters, tunnel lengths, contact surfaces.

There is also the matter of timing equipment.  We were the last province to get electronic timing, so for years we had the advantage or disadvantage?  Now we have a timing device with multiple beams, which basically means that it is much more likely that the time will stop when the first part of the dog breaks the beams.  Other provinces have a single beam timer, which is generally set to the height where the chest of most dogs would pass over the obstacle, which means the timer would stop fractionally after the first part of the body has passed the plane of the last obstacle.

-  Judging calls.  First of all, in 2013, Johannesburg and Western Province used an up-contact judge for every single trial.  As far as my knowledge goes, no other province made use of an up-contact judge, but I could be corrected on this matter.  Once again having travelled through most of the Agility world in South Africa, I know that judges disagree very much on refusal calls.  It has recently come to light that one of the provinces in general deem it acceptable to run with a toy in the pocket, while it is a complete taboo in other provinces.

- Difficulty in setting up angles and courses.  Even with a course plan and a central coordinate, it is very hard to set up exact angles, and the smallest differences could influence a dog's time.  In the example below, you can see that (due to no fault of the people involved), a course was set up in two provinces with the tunnel two different sides of the dog walk frame.

If we once again look at it mathematically on a contact course, you needed 1.125 seconds in one round to be on or off the team, so 1 see saw and 4 spots where you could gain a mere 0.2 seconds, that would have made the difference!

Now that I have discussed some of the motivations against the regional trials, I would also like to point out certain scenarios that actually happened in the last few years, this is not aimed at anyone at all!  And sometimes things just happen, but that is the point, by sticking with a flawed system, we are opening up more opportunities for things to go wrong.

-  A video was accidentally published of a trial on social media before all provinces had completed the trial.
-  The coordinates on the first contact trial in 2013 did not work out, Gauteng and KZN was running this trial on the same day, both provinces set up the course on 'feel' from the course plan, using different coordinates.  Effectively we did not run the 'same' course
- There is a province that places second bars on all the hurdles that are jumped twice.  The reasoning is that the dog still has to 'jump' the second time if it dislodged a bar the first time.  This is not within the Agility rules, but is a regular occurrence.
- An official instructed a judge not to call faults on the break-away tyre if it broke because no other province was running with a break-away tyre.
-  A province replaced the cloth tunnel with a rigid tunnel and ran their round like this.  The national course coordinator was not informed and all other provinces ran with a cloth tunnel.
- After certain events, some provinces were instructed to not divulge any details or video of their trials at all, which to me is concerning, since surely we should be transparent in this matter.

Several solutions have been suggested for the regional trials:

I would like to start by pointing out that none of the below suggested solutions will solve the problem of equipment, grounds and environmental differences, but I will list the suggestions with my comments on them.

- Have a travelling coordinator or judge that can judge/observe and/or give input on course set up in all the provinces, in order to try and ensure that all provinces compete on the same terms.  This would be very costly first of all and is money that could rather be spent to develop Agility in South Africa.  This would also be a logistical problem, as there are 5 provinces that run the trials, so that is 5 provinces, 4 trials which would equate to 20 separate days that would have to be booked for running trials.
- Set two coordinates for each jump to determine the angle as well.  Which would mean double the work for our poor National course coordinator, but we would still sit with tons of problems.
- Standardise equipment across the country.  Well this is the dream of course, but honestly, most of the provinces don't have the money to upgrade all their equipment at once, this would take many, many years.  A person/body would have to be determined to oversee this project.

Why do we have trials?

The truth of the matter is, that even in 2013, when the amount of people to declare interest in being selected for the team almost DOUBLED, we only had 25 large dogs, 7 medium dogs and 7 small dogs paying their deposits to make Team South Africa.  In the last 5 years, ALL dogs that entered the AWC trials were invited to the finals.  Therefore the trials has NEVER been used to short list dogs or limit the numbers, as we just don't HAVE the amount of registered dogs.  In fact, MANY more dogs run in the trials than dogs that put down their deposits.  So why are we allowing more dogs to compete in the finals than are intending to go to the AWC?

The main motivation for the trials is ensuring 'consistency', which I am all for (the consistency that is).  But should dogs be penalised purely based on which province they live in?  As for finding other methods to ensure consistency is taken into consideration, please see some of my research below.

Having researched many qualifying systems and not including selection panels that some countries make use of, there are generally three qualifying methods that are followed:

- Handlers have to travel across the country and compete in different parts of the country.  This qualifying always leads to a final that is held over a weekend.

- Dogs have to meet certain requirements (a certain amount of clear rounds/wins/speeds) to be eligible and then travel to a selection weekend.

- A single weekend event where all dogs eligible (and only those dogs with intent to go) get together and have to run their rounds.

Now for many South African handlers, it would become much to expensive to travel across the country and then once they have made the team, pay a huge amount of money to travel to Europe.  So I don't think the first option is really viable for us.

The second option would be viable I think, determine a certain amount of clear rounds each dog has to run at certain speeds.  Example:  The requirement to go to the final is 6 clear rounds, 4 of which have to be contact agility, at a minimum of 4m/s in the year preceding the Finals.  The objections that was brought to this is that some provinces have fewer shows than others, as well as the difference in measuring from judge to judge.

The third option is our best option in the current environment, however I would suggest increasing the final from the current 4 rounds, to 5 or 6 rounds to increase the consistency requirement.  This option also most accurately simulates the actual AWC event, which tests the handler's ability to handle the pressures of such a big weekend event.

Please note that while the actual proposal is the work of many people, including input of team mates from various provinces.  I am open to actual, factual input.  I am open to good suggestions.  You are welcome to ask away if you may have any questions.  However if you are one of those that are just planning to say 'because' but can't counter-argue my facts, maybe you best rather not comment.

While I have the regional trials to thank for my spots on the team in both 2012 and 2013 (since I had rather terrible finals), I still feel it is not the way to go and doesn't make logical sense.  I really hope that this post serves to broaden the awareness of all South Africans that has AWC dreams in their future.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Expectations... The AWC Part 3 - Saturday

Saturday morning started off with Small Individual Jumping... And with me forgetting my brain at home... together with my cooler box and several other things... I had friends and husbands driving around and running to my car fetching stuff and generally just trying to mop together all my loose ends...

There is a big difference in the running of the team event and the individual event.  In the team event you have a whole load of other people depending on you not to mess it up... easier said than done of course, one thing to always remember is that our dogs don't understand 'running safe', all they know is what we teach them  and that is generally to 'run fast and all out'... so therefore it is always a good idea to run your team runs hard to get a good result, do what our dogs understand.  However in the individual event there is a little bit extra to that... it is the 'all or nothing' aspect.  In the individual runs, you really have nothing to lose and there are only 2 options: Be on fire or go out in flames...

The judge was Harald Schjelderup from Norway:

I liked the course, I felt it was a good match for the surface (even if it was on the easier side).  I was the only Small dog from South Africa to run for competition... oh for those that do not know quite how it works... each country is only allowed to enter 9 dogs for the individual competition with a maximum of 6 dogs in any height category.  However due to the low entry numbers this year, they were allowing the 'team only' dogs to run as NFC (Not For Competition) at the beginning of the class (actually this was also a huge confusion, since the draw orders were initially published with these dogs running in the middle of the actual competition, which I was NOT happy about... and of course we then prepared ourselves for this draw, just to be told that these dogs would now run at the beginning)... I had some good advice from a friend walking the course.

I think this was the run I was the calmest about.  The favourite to win the event (and an awesome person that I had trained with the week before) was running right before me and I was rooting for him big time.  It was very saddening when he made one small mistake, it really did bring that little bit of 'extra awareness' to my mind.  If I had to choose, I would say this was our best round of the weekend.  He was VERY wide coming out of tunnel number 4, much more so than it seems on the video and my front crosses after the wall and 15 were rather late, but all in all not a bad round.  Our biggest downfall was that by this time Volt slowed down to a near walk in the weavepoles...  This cost us some serious time.  He had been checked out on the Monday before the event, but subsequent to this round I had the team physio take a look at him and his right shoulder was really stiff and taking some strain.  Regardless, this round left us with 0.42 time faults (which could have been avoided with tighter turns after the tunnel, 14 and 15... stupid handler) and in 8th place over-all.

Next up was Medium Individual Agility with judge Gawie Faul:

Less than a handful of dogs managed a good turn out of tunnel 6, but other than that it was a nice course with some good rounds.

And then of course Large Individual Jumping with judge Harald Schjelderup again:

They did however move the tyre to jump 12 though, which I felt was much worse actually due to a TURN after they tyre... AGAIN.  And always for large dogs which makes it so much worse.  It was an interesting course with many different options in the opening sequence.  After the event we actually set up this opening sequence to train and I subsequently timed the splits.  The most economical option, for those that would like to know, was a left turn after 2 and another left turn after 4.

It was finally time for the first 'world champion' rounds of the weekend, starting off with Team Medium Agility by judge Gawie Faul:

There were four teams in this competition, with the team lying in 4th already carrying a DQ from the first round, so as long as none of the other teams had 2 DQ's, their podium places were guaranteed.  The end result was 1st Switzerland, 2nd Germany and 3rd South Africa.

Next up was the Small Team Agility, judged by Gawie Faul:

There were 5 teams in this event and it was the only of the team events where no teams were carrying any DQ's... which at least made for some exciting competition.

Running first was Austria, carrying 20.48 faults through from the jumping round. They had a total of 10 Course faults on the Agility course, so could still be in contention of the other teams had huge problems...

Next up was Switzerland, they were only bringing in 5 faults from the jumping round, so were nipping at our heels.  They managed to run 3/4 course clears in the team to give them 0 faults for the Agility round... and to our knowledge at that point 5 faults in total.

South Africa ran next, with Hilary and Euro leading us off with a nice course clear and according to the score board and announcer 0.37 faults, Nan and Noodle were up next and ran a lovely course clear (it was announced as clear and a clear was shown on the board).  Things were looking good.  Gaby and Scoobie was up next, she had a very unfortunate fly-off on the See-Saw, followed by another contact fault on the Dog Walk.  So by my calculation at this point, to ensure our spot on the podium, I HAD to run clear, there were still two good teams to follow us that was very likely to pull off all clear rounds.  This was my first time running in the last spot and I was half laughing walking up to the start and telling our coach that I hoped I had what it takes to be in this position.  I did it.  I ran a course clear.  It was NOT our prettiest round, all I remembered after the round was Volt's bad faceplant after the long jump and the crowd gasping at his seesaw (don't worry peeps, I know he will stop, he just likes living on the edge :) ), the rest was a bit blurry, super proud of Volt for coping with my retardedness!

So at this point, by my calculation (and the scoreboard's), we were lying in the lead with two teams to come, technically (once again according to the scoreboard) we had 0.37 faults in total with they USA on the start line.  When they had 1 clear, 1 x 5 faulter, 1 x time faulter and 1 x dq this meant we had moved in one spot above them!

Last up was the German Team, a very good team indeed and it surprised no-one that they had 4 very good clears to, without a doubt, win the gold!  While they were celebrating 3 other teams were standing by the marshalling gate waiting for the official results.  I was pretty convinced we had silver and either USA or Switzerland was lying 3rd.  After about 10 minutes they announced the results... but Switzerland was 2nd and we were 3rd.  Please understand that I am not unhappy with the placing, but I was totally confused, so after some celebration, we called over an official and was just repeatedly told that 'they results announced ARE right', but it is only after about 20 minutes that someone bothered to tell us WHY... they had captured the SCT wrong???  The majority of the dogs that we thought was clear and had been announced as clear, actually had time faults.  I feel like a bit of an @ss going on at everyone that they had the results wrong, but in my defence, if you had gone by the display, I kind of was right.

Anyhow, well done the the German and Swiss teams for good performances, well deserved :)

And well done to my Super Sheltie for being... well Super :)

And thank you to fantastic team mates that really supported one another and did their best.

I am going to share my AWC compilation in this post and I will write one last post about the final day of competition:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Getting it done... The AWC Part 2 - The first couple of rounds...

After the completion of the KUSA cup, the 'real business' started.  Opening ceremony went without any real drama.

First up was the Team Large Jumping, designed and judged by the South African, Gawie Faul (Click on the picture to see a bigger version):

Now if you ask me, the AWC does have one very big flaw in the fact that scrutiny and approval of courses for the event take place without any knowledge (and by the looks of it sometimes consideration) of the surface.  This has been a factor in the AWC many times before.  There could be many different solutions for this.   Judges could submit two possible options for each class, one for a 'good surface' and one for a 'bad surface' and only once the official practice has been completed does the judge choose.  Perhaps judges should be allowed to make changes on the floor if they realise that the course is appropriate for the footing.

I attended the AWC in 2010 (as a spectator), 2012 and 2013 (as a competitor) and watched every second of livestream in 2011.  I assure you that the effect of the surface could be confirmed in each of the official practice sessions.

The large team jumping was my least favourite course of the weekend, because I felt it was inappropriate to test the exact same thing 6 times in one course and of course the dreaded HORRIBLE turn after the tyre. This last part really annoys me, because it seems judges will never learn.  Yes, I know it is a break-away tyre, but I think the European Open amongst others proved that a breaking away is not a guarantee. The course was most definitely not suited to the surface, especially not this early in the weekend before dogs adapted to the footing.   Regardless, some lovely rounds, especially from Helmut Paulik and Lane (that also won the round).

Next up was Medium Team Jumping designed and judged by Norwegian judge, Harald Schjelderup:

This was definitely a much better course and produced some really enjoyable rounds.  I do have to say I was a bit disappointed in the lack of pole entries though, many handlers had to manage terribly.

My first AWC round was the last round of the day (just another note, I was not too impressed with the program for the AWC, as it saw the Smalls running either first or last or both 3/4 rounds available to us).  Gawie Faul was the judge again and while we were all dreading the course after the Large course, it turned out that we had a very easy (almost grade 1 or 2) course waiting for us.  Regardless you still have to go out there and do your thing:

Our running order for Team South Africa Small was 6/7 with only Switzerland running after us.  Me and Volt were running last for our team.  There was some controversy regarding the Small competition which I really don't even want to get into.

The first dog for our team had a very unfortunate disqualification jumping through the side of the tyre, followed by two nice clears from my other team mates.  This meant that in order to give us a chance for a podium finish, I had to run a course clear.  This was my first time running in the last spot in the team event and it does have a different dynamic to it (a dynamic which it turns out I really enjoy).  This round was not exactly my best round ever, but I did manage to get around (coincidentally with my best individual finish of the weekend in 6th place).  I did thoroughly enjoy running this round and pretty sure Volt did too. And these rounds managed a third place on the team podium as well.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dealing with it all... The AWC 2013 Part 1 - The KUSA Cup

Going into this year's AWC was not an easy feat at all for any of the South African team... some statistics...

Of the 14 dogs/13 handlers on the team:

- We had 4 brand new handlers (with new dogs obviously)... a large dog that had both a team and individual spot, a large dog handler with only an individual spot and a small and medium dog each with only a team spot.  These were handlers that never had the opportunity to try out in the past.

- 2 new team dogs, with repeat handles, one medium and one large, both with individual and team spots.

- 8 repeat dogs and handlers, 2 large, 1 small, 1 medium with team and individual spots, 1 large with an individual spot only, 2 small and 1 medium with team spots only.

The dynamics of a team always contributes towards the entire event experience.  You have a responsibility to your team members to give it your all and try your very best for them.

Before I continue I would like to mention one thing, regardless of whether there was 10 dogs or 400, every handler still had to go out there and do it.  Run the clear round, make the right choices.  Our dogs still had to keep the bars up, touch the contacts.  You still had to beat the competition.  So well done to all the winners!!!

This year presented itself with a very unique set of challenges.

-  With so few countries and dogs attending, it actually added to the pressure in many ways.  Where one could often go anonymous in the masses at previous AWC's with hundreds of other dogs competing (if you were not a 'household name' of course), this was far less likely in 2013.  With only 13 dogs in medium individual, 12 mediums in team , 16 smalls in individual, 19 smalls in team, 23 in large individual and 19 in large team, people were bound to remember every dog that ran.  At one of our team events earlier in the week, one of the organisers jokingly said to a team mate (with regards to the medium team competition) that all they had to do was 'not finish last' and they would be on the podium???  I don't know if this was supposed to be a 'comforting thought' but all it did was disturb me.

-  The statistical probability of ending up with a medal also increased greatly of course... mentally this was one of the hardest things for me.  While it has always been my dream to be on an AWC podium, I wanted it to be a more 'rightful' place and less of a 'default' placing. More than once I had the thought that I would actually prefer NOT winning a medal this year, but rather do it at a representative AWC (yes, I know, what a horrible thought to have), while at the same time thinking that I wanted to run the full on, hardest, most intense, best rounds of Agility I ever have in my life!  Oh the contradiction.  At the end of the day I chose to look at it as just another competition and forget what they were calling it. And please understand the individual placings were all well-deserved brilliant dogs and handlers that deserve their achievements.  This DID however also add much more additional pressure to all the participants I think.

- For our team, we had a decent contingent of supporters for the first time ever.  This made for noisier support (awesome), but also more scrutiny (stressful).  The new team members of course didn't know anything else, so I think this would not have affected them as much as repeat team members.

- The controversy surrounding the competition.  It was hard to avoid all the negativity and drama flying around in cyberspace.  As per my previous post I, myself, had a ton of objections regarding the matter too.  I had to deal with this, I owed my team mates and supporters the best I could give, despite my personal feelings, or those of others all around the world.

There were many other aspects that influenced me mentally and physically, but at the end of the day my goals were:

- To run the utter best rounds I possibly could.
- To appreciate every course I could run with my awesome dogs
- To enjoy every second

Due to the lack of numbers, the organisers arranged for an additional event starting on Friday morning called the KUSA Cup.  This was open to all AWC participants, reserves, white dogs and South African Grade 3 Agility dogs up to 100 dogs (on a first come, first serve basis).  I have to admit that I was rather happy about this turn of events, as it meant that I would have a chance to run Chaos against the international competitors.  I was rather gutted that he wouldn't be able to compete.  He has been on such form coming back from his injury, that it was a rather hard pill to swallow.  I also made the decision to run Volt and if he was faulted in the first round, I would not run him in the second to save him for the AWC.

First off... jumping... this is my own drawing of the course (click on the picture to see a bigger version):

We had an official practice the previous day, but only AWC dogs were allowed on the surface.  The surface wasn't ideal at all, with no cushioning.  Volt had slipped a lot the previous day and adjusted his pace accordingly... he also banged his head into the weave poles rather badly and then proceeded to weave rather slowly, choosing to go around each weave pole instead of touching them.  I had warmed up Chaos before his run, but the warm up area was rather small and I don't think it gave the dogs a true feel of the surface...

Order was large, medium then small.  Chaos was draw number 19 (of 45 dogs).  He landed on his face after number 1, not expecting the slippery surface on a turn, but he recovered well to run a course clear with some time faults (only two dogs ran in the course time I THINK, since these results were never published) finishing 8th in the jumping round.  I have to admit that if the bars weren't so insanely heavy (I estimated at least 3kg-4kg), he might actually have had a knock, but who knows.

Steinermeister was draw 2, which is not ideal for him, as his excitement builds with each dog that runs. Volt landed on his face after jump 1 as well, had several bad slips before jump 8 (luckily no face plants, but you could hear his nails dig in to the surface badly) and then adjusted his pace even more... this left me out of position for my actual plan from 15-19 so it turned into a wide mess... Course clear, with time faults.  He still gave me everything he could and for that, I am very proud!  He also finished 8th in the jumping round (out of 23 dogs I think). Eight seemed to be my haunted position of the weekend... unbeknownst to me at this point, 208 was my catalogue number for the weekend too.

They immediately set up the contact Agility course:

Sorry a rather bad picture I found on the internet...  As you will see from the video, 11 - 12 was quite different and 16-20 was VERY different.

Draws were in reverse order of merit, so both my dogs would be running towards the end of their classes.  Smalls were running first this time around.  Volt started off rather slowly, not extending his stride, putting my timing off by miles, eish, I really need to learn to adapt better on my feet.  Another bad slip before the poles.  I am very happy with his contact performance though, especially the see-saw which I have been working hard on.  His dog walk was on the slow side, but got better as the weekend went along.  He ran a wide slower clear round, to finish 9th in Agility and 5th over-all.  All in all, despite the slipping and pace adjusting, I think this competition was good for our confidence, just getting out there and getting around the courses.

With Chaos this was his 'all or nothing' round of the weekend... These are my favourite kind of rounds.  Having nothing to lose.  We had a ball out there.  He managed to get a 7th in the Agility round, finishing 4th over-all.  Honestly, super proud of the dude and happy with the result, but finishing forth sucks a$$!  That 'almost on the podium' spot...

Starting off with 4/4 course clears did give me a lot of confidence for the competition, while it could have gone the other way.  It DID make me wish even more that Chaos was on the team (since he finished the highest of all SA dogs)... more about the AWC in a next post...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

About the Controversy...

Please note what I am about to write is not 'new' to me, however earlier this year a general letter was sent out advising Agility handlers in South Africa that if we were not 'positive' about the upcoming South African AWC, there would be consequences.

First of all I would like to say from the word go, that even though I am a South African and I am on the team and I live in the city where it was hosted and I am involved in many aspects of Agility... I can still not answer any questions you might have, as the answers were never shared with me.  However I would like to share some facts with the rest of the world.

1.  Many South Africans were actually not in full support of this event being held in our country (yes many were for it too).  The concerns included:
1. 1 Shipping of dogs - Yes, we fly our dogs to Europe annually.  However it is a much smaller amount of dogs.  We know how South Africa 'works' (yes, Africa certainly has its own way of doing things).  I was as surprised as the next person when I saw pictures posted on Facebook of how dogs were received in Johannesburg, seeing as our dogs have never been received like this for the 10 years I have been involved in our world teams. Despite promises of arrangements for 'non-listed' to be able to attend (The Department of Agriculture List that determines quarantine), I would have bet a rather large amount of money 5 years ago already that our government would never allow for this (once again this is an African thing...). There are only 3 options for direct flights into Johannesburg from mainland Europe (Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris), these flights are generally limited to 5 dogs per flight, however we have in the past been able to make special arrangements to accommodate more dogs per flight.

1.2 Money, money, money -  This was my main concern.  First of all, our sport (and this is world wide) does NOT have the money to spend 3000 - 5000 euro PER dog and handler to send them to an AWC.  Most teams don't even have decent sponsorship for a European AWC, never mind flying to the other side of the world.  In fact our own South African team has barely ever had semi-decent sponsorship.  Shouldn't the powers that be have tried to clean our own house first?  Even if the whole world WANTED this championship to be in our country, the money would never be there for a representative event. Not being able to try out myself for many years because I could not afford the trip (and I am one of MAYBE 20 handlers in South Africa that aspire to go), I could sympathise with the 300 odd handlers that would not be able to afford the trip to South Africa. My monetary concern included the lack of a sponsor.  Having been involved for many years, I knew that we suffered a serious lack of sponsors.

1.3  Lack of experience - For those that have been attending the AWC for many years, have you ever seen a decent sized contingent of South African supporters?  I think the most we have had at one time is 10?  All the little things that we take for granted at the AWC, is foreign to 99% of South Africa's Agility community.  Start line protocol at AWC is something that the volunteers that worked at the event have NEVER EVEN HEARD of or seen. Replacing bars, queues (here in SA we don't queue to compete), microchip scanning, vet checks, measuring of dogs (we don't even have proper rules regarding this matter), watching up-contact judges, electronic scoring systems... these are things that almost NONE of the volunteers would be familiar with.  Never mind the small traditions, like the 'elimination song', dancing, slow claps.  99% of Agility South Africa is not even willing to travel to Europe to experience this, but now we have to bring it all the way to them?  I can count our FCI judges on one hand... and of these FCI judges only one has judged ONE event in Europe.  Unlike me, hardly any of these judges even follow international trend.  How can we expect a judge that has never judged more than 60 Grade 3 dogs at a time (outdoors, without an up-contact judge) to deal with the pressures of such a major event.

1.4  South Africa's 'Non-Pet-Friendliness' - Unfortunately the majority of South Africa is NOT pet friendly to the same extent as Europe and North America (I can only testify to those continents I have visited).  There is very limited (in my neighbourhood for example there is none) public transport available and there is absolutely no pets allowed at all on the public transport that IS available.  Pet-friendly accommodation is also not that readily available. Animals are not allowed in any shopping centre, shop, restaurant or any other public area that I know of (well there is a dedicated dog park where the dogs are allowed in the restaurant, but not much else).

These concerns were voiced to the organising committee on several occasions... I know this is true, because I was the person voicing them.

Now the event has come and gone.  I was there.  I've got the t-shirt (a few actually).  Every year people do have problems or issues or concerns with random matters regarding the AWC or things that were said or done, this year will be no different.  I have tried to think of a way to categorise my thoughts, but I find it very  difficult, as some thoughts are bittersweet and don't actually belong with the positive or the negative.  I will also try to share some facts that you might not know.  I will not comment on any judging or course design, as I have many personal feelings, but that is Agility ladies and gentleman, that is part of the game we play and at the end of the day it is our choice to run a course or not.

-  Of course comments have been flying through cyberspace for nearly 2 years within the Agility community regarding this event.  Some just being ridiculous and others with valid concerns.  It does feel to me (like it does to many others), that the FCI actively ignored this commentary.  I think the FCI could have gone a long way to resolve the issue(s) instead of just keeping quiet and make quiet statements of 'this will happen'.  This of course was my experience, perhaps I don't visit the right websites.

- I have to admit that I DO resent those that immediately judged every handler on this earth that is willing to fly their dogs in the cargo hold.  This implies that, not only is our entire South African Agility Team, cruel, but so is every person that has ever imported a dog to South Africa, or every non-European country that attends the AWC or EO (USA, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, China, Mexico etc).  I assure you my dogs's health and safety are my first concern.  I categorically do not think there is anything wrong with shipping dogs in the cargo hold provided you have made the correct arrangements and you know what you are doing.  Especially our dogs, that are subject to loud, noisy and strange environments on a regular basis.  Agility handlers crate their dogs in these environment on a regular basis.  I also have to leave my dogs in crates at home on their own on a regular basis to work.  My dogs love their crates and I have never had a dog that stressed excessively flying.  Those dogs of mine that ARE nervous, will never ever fly.If you choose not to fly your dogs, I respect that choice completely, however I also don't appreciate you judging me for my choices.

- What also annoys me to no end, are the South African handlers, spectators and supporters that had their mouths full about countries not attending.  Firstly because it is each handler's choice and each spectators choice and you cannot judge people for this.  But mostly because the people moaning the most had never even bothered or could not afford to attend a European AWC themselves, yet they somehow expect the reverse?

- In September last year an 'Events Manager' was appointed by the organisers to run the event.  This company had no connection to Agility in the past and none of its employees were known to the Agility community.  The notice read:


Dear Karene

Please will you place the following message on the KUSA website.



The Kennel Union has pleasure in confirming that it has appointed FULL
STRIDE MEDIA as our Events Manager for the above which will be held in
Johannesburg at the Dome during October, 9th-13th 2013.  FULL STRIDE MEDIA
will be responsible for arranging the event in conjunction with our Agility
people and they have assumed full responsibility for the financial liability

This is a tremendous step forward for South Africa and we feel sure that all
members of the Kennel Union will want to support it in one way or another.

Full details will be available from time to time in the coming weeks.


Greg Eva


P O Box 2659

-  I did experience a bit of a 'black hole' where information was concerned and would have appreciated more regular updates.  This was so much more important in light of the controversy surrounding this event.  Even if it was just a message of reassurance on a bi-weekly basis, that things were still happening.  The silence invited the start of rumours.

- The 'Meet and Greet' - While it didn't interrupt the proceedings much, I still feel that a generator should have been at hand.  Power failures are not a 'new thing' to us South Africans, more of a given.

-  The surface - Yes, it wasn't ideal, I ran on it too.  However let me remind handlers that the surface is one of the most controversial issues at the AWC and it has been 'wrong' many times in the past in many countries.  The lack of funds to test a surface for extensive periods prior to the event is NOT own to South Africa.  My personal opinion on this surface is that there was nothing wrong with the actual 'top layer' surface if I can call it that, but rather a lack of decent soft under-surface.  By the end of the weekend, as they always do, most dogs however had already adapted to it.  The complaints regarding surface was just as bad after the 2011 Lievin AWC.

-  Incorrect results announced - This annoyed me to no end and in actual fact cause massive confusion for the celebration of a few rounds.  The timing equipment and results were out-contracted to an Austrian company that does this on a regular basis.  We had two gentlemen fly in to take care of this matter for the weekend.  I don't know where the communication error was, but several times the SCT was either left out or incorrectly captured, which led to results being miscalculated for the KUSA cup and also incorrect time faults being announced in the AWC.  In one of the events four teams were mulling around in the marshalling area convinced the placings had been announced incorrectly.  This is a matter where more careful attention should have been paid.

-  Bibs - The bibs were also out-contracted to a company that very obviously has never had anything to do with Agility.  They ended up being a dress-size to too big for me (yes, it was literally longer than the skirt I ran in).  They had to make a special exception where handlers could run without bibs.  Was a sample never checked before confirming the order?  Even if the events company took charge of these arrangements, a member of the organising committee should have followed up.

-  Lack of music - HUGE gap in communication.  For those that were not there, we spent the first two days in dead silence.  Somewhere along the way, someone forgot to apply for a 'public music license', seeing as the venue themselves do not have one.  This is really something that should have been checked, double checked, triple checked and then maybe checked once more.

-  False starts - There were two of these (and two almosts) that I saw over the weekend.  The person that was responsible for marshalling the start had never attended an AWC and never seen a video.  There were several volunteers that had actually been to the event and had fulfilled a similar duty before.  I would have perhaps considered rather using them.

-  The general lack of public updates - It was only discovered close to the event that they would not be able to publish live results.  I have no idea what the reason for this was.  This is something that should have been on a 'to do' list months ago.  It should have been followed up by an Agility person, as we are the ones that know how important it is for our small community to follow the event 'live'.  The fact that the German Facebook page was more regularly updated than the official page confirms that this was a rather big oversight.

-  Livestream - This point is particularly close to my heart, especially seeing as the organisers insisted from the beginning to take responsibility for this themselves (initially this was because they believed this would be a huge fundraising scheme).  At an open meeting held more than a year ago, I personally raised several concerns regarding livestream.  These included very slow South African data speeds (at that point the fastest lines available was 4mb/s... and this on paper, no speed test that I ever ran at that stage could reach those speeds), unreliability of connections (due to the layout of Johannesburg, where everything is very far spread out, wireless connections rely on the infrastructure of a widely spread network of towers, which regularly buckle under the strain of high usage.  Fixed lines are regularly subject to cable theft).  Satellite would have been way too expensive for any Agility event to make use of.  And while I understand that this task was out-contracted to a company that claimed they knew what they were doing, it should have still been followed up by the organisers.  It is THEIR name that is tied to it, it was THEIR choice to have it linked to the actual FCI2013 Agility pages.  Blame was being thrown around like nobody's business, however since I pointed these concerns more than a year ago, I actually don't have much sympathy.

-  While there were few dogs, I personally still feel that at least there was some competition and excitement in the individual event..  I appreciate the handlers that DID attend.  The atmosphere was quite good (mostly), very supportive.  I do hope that the South African supporters realise that while they saw some awesome rounds and good handling, this was not an AWC like they normally are.  I would love to see all these supporters travel with the team next year!

- Stickers for record cards - We do not have these.  They were never arranged.  Another one of the aspects that the organising committee blames on Full Stride media, but that I feel an actual Agility person should have followed up on.

- There were several other issues, I don't feel it is my place to share, but then I guess there always is.

My one hope is that the FCI realises that our sport is not ready for an off-continent AWC (as much as I loved not spending a fortune this year), whether it is North America, South America, Asia or Africa, I don't believe that our sport is financially ready for this specific event to be hosted on another continent.  I hope that the FCI delegates start listening to their handlers.  I hope that the handlers believe the FCI the next time they decide on something.

As always, the AWC has left me motivated and fired up to train.  More about my own experiences and runs in a next post.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A list...

Okay once again I have started seven (yes literally seven) blog posts with various thoughts, ideas, facts, randomness and stuff, which I never had time to finish.  So now I am going to try a different approach.  I am going to VERY concisely try an list all the thoughts, ideas, facts, randomness and stuff JUST to catch everyone up and then maybe from there I can start REAL blog posts again.

1.  I just came back from a two week dog-less (and Agility-less) European holiday... so who is going to offer me a job in Europe, so me, The Nerd and The Boys can move?  Germany is preferable, Netherlands a close second, but honestly, I am not fussy... anything will do.  I had a fantastic time and would like to thank my crazy Finnish and German friends for their hospitality!

2.  Happy VERY belated 3rd Birthday to the SuperSheltie.  The amazing merly Belgian boy that has never ceases to amaze me.  Here is to many, many, many, many, many more!

3.  Another VERY belated 1st Birthday to the Slinky Psycho Girly Whirly dog.  I am having SO much fun with her already that I can't wait for the years to come.

4.  Running with a toy in your pocket is baiting.  And if you don't NEED to run with it, then why do you do it?  So people like me who believe is baiting can bitch about it?  Why take the risk of the toy falling out of your pocket while running?   Baiting is defined as: 'To entice, especially by trickery or strategy.'    I don't know about yours, but my dogs are not stupid, they know when I have a toy/food in my pocket and when I don't. I ,in fact, had an interesting discussion with a fellow-handler (who was trying to convince me that this is NOT baiting) that said if she doesn't have the toy on her body, her dogs would run off looking for their toy, even if it was being held by a steward or out of reach.  I am pretty sure that this then categorically proves my point?  In fact the effect of having a toy or food in your pocket has been proved multiple times. When I am judging, I will disqualify you.  Please understand me, my dogs are all for being rewarded, however they will complete the course happily before shooting off to their lead or toy outside the ring and even then, I can (and do) get them under control before leaving the ring and rewarding.  Maybe some venues allow it, but having followed every major FCI championship for more than 10 years and reading the guidelines and the rules and the forums and talking to people... yup, I am sure ours doesn't.

5.  I had my first judging appointment of the year.  I worked on my courses for almost a month.  I really liked them.  Tested them with my own dogs and got clears all the way around.  Just to have the most disappointing day with people make small (and big) mistakes and... interesting handling choices.  Not one single clear in Grade 3. Mostly my courses were enjoyed, one handler that reacted in a rather rude, annoying, aggressive and generally unacceptable way.  This is one of the subjects I would like to write more on at some stage... about upping the standard and how to do it.  My grade 3 courses (Click on the course to see a bigger version):

6.  Next week is the AWC 2013.  Hmmmm... many, many, many, many, many thoughts on this matter.  But I will only be able to share my thoughts after the event.  For now we are preparing to go out there and give it our all, regardless, despite and not considering anything else.

7.  South African Agility is about to enter yet another year with blinkers on, kicking with four feet against change.  This decision is of course made by a body that consists of only 40% competitors and 60% of people that have NEVER EVER done Agility.  The proposed changes are supported by pages and pages of research, videos, photos, examples and arguments.  They have been successfully proven across the world.  However the powers that be, when asked why they won't support it, is allowed to just answer 'because'? Because of personal agendas?  Because of spite?  Because you don't understand?  Mostly because we are so afraid of change I guess.

8.  As a judge you are generally not allowed to make up rules as you go along.  For those rules that DO have grey areas, you should surely be looking at the world trend and getting guidance from your umbrella bodies... in our case the FCI.  Instead lets invent an interpretation and then randomly fling faults at it.  We have had a serious plague of judges not keeping up to date with rules/discussions/interpretations/techniques or downright common sense.

9.  I have said it before and I will say it again.  If you do Agility 'Just For Fun' (I will now call you the JFF's), the only difference between you and me should be that you don't care about placings, gradings, leagues, logs, clear round stats and speed.  Your dog should still be trained to the best of your ability.  Why?  Because running an untrained dog around an Agility course screaming at them or attempting the weave poles 17 times with no success is actually NOT fun for your dog (or for me, since I want to clobber you).

So that is the list for now.  Hopefully I will have another blogpost out very shortly.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Birthdays, Wins and Tongue in the Cheek - Part 1 of Bloemfontein 2013

Happy 7th Birthday to my amazing Spaz!  Chaos has never done anything other than give me his all,  he might be weird, he might be strange, he might be baffling, but he is my heart and my soul and us two weirdos 'get' each other! I really love this boy with all my heart and look forward to spending many more birthdays with him.

Having just returned from our annual excursion to Bloemfontein, I have to admit that I am feeling a slight spot broken!  Running 44 rounds on terrible grounds (the adjective 'cement-like' comes to mind) is hard on one's body, excuse the pun.  The boys are thus resting big time too!

I have tons to say about this weekend, which will probably come out in quite a few posts, the good, the bad and the ugly.  I have to emphasise that I had such an enjoyable weekend!  The best away weekend in a very long time, thanks to good friends, good jokes (even if some belonged in the gutter) and good support.

Say hi to the new South African Dog Jumping Champion 2013 - Chaos!

This is a bitter sweet victory... lets start with the sweet part.  Chaos managed to come back from an injury, after 3 months of rehabilitation and win the SA Champs.  He poured his heart into the weekend and ran a wopping 15/22 clear round rate, that is a 68% consistency rate.  This trophy (which by the way is a year older than me!!!) is actually the main reason I became involved in dog sport in the first place.  Watching the SA Dog Jumping Champs in the early 90's is what lead to me the sport, back then it was my dream to win this trophy and now it is in my house!  How is that for a 7th Birthday present?

The other side of the story though is not as nice as I might want it to be... despite objections, this event (which being a National Championship and all, should really be prestigious) was held in conjunction with regular shows, where entries were open to all dogs, while only certain dogs would qualify for the championships.  Thus in two of our three height categories, the South African Champions did not actually win the class.  The class in fact was won by a friend with his brilliant young dog (and rightfully so)... so I think both myself and him should feel cheated, luckily we kept it in the family and in my mind he is the REAL SA Champ :)  The other disappointing thing was that the results ceremony was completely neglected (mainly because we had to wait 3 hours for the this), with hardly any handlers left by this point (thank you so much to my friends that insisted on staying, even though I don't blame those that left, as I wanted to leave myself).  When they did eventually get around to it, they managed to get the results wrong (twice) and even when they did get it right, there was no ceremony (even the judge had left at this stage), so I basically picked up my trophy and left.  For a normal event this would be fine, but for a National Championships?  I have to say I am not too impressed... 

Regardless of all of that, my boy is SA Champ (kind of)!!!!  Very proud of him!  Thanks to all my friends for their support! 

I did however comeback rearing to train and since the boys are resting, the girl gets to work...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

If Only's, Have To's and What Not's

I have just been having the dandiest time training my dogs the last while... Not because I have been having a 100% consistency rate or anything silly like that... In fact the REASON I have been having such a jolly time, is because I have been making those 'fine line' mistakes and as awesome as my dogs are they have done precisely what I asked them, hence making mistakes I asked for!  On the edge, that is how I roll baby... AND I have some loo paper to show for it! But I am getting ahead of myself.

If you haven't pulled of your dog too early, how do you know that you are going as tight as you can?  How hard can you really push down a straight line without risking your dogs striding?  How quick is a quick release?  If you are not CROSSING these boundaries in training, you cannot push them in competition.  I made the video to this specific song, because every Agility nut and his mate seems to be doing it... which got this song stuck my head for 3 weeks, so I thought I would pay it forward.... take this suckers.

Maybe I am just so 'training happy' since I have been jumping The Spaz again!  Yup, he is back baby!  Well mostly, obviously we are a slight spot rusty, but that just gives a good excuse to train some more.  I made the decision to jump him at WODAC (an indoor event which is really not my cup of tea), since Chaos just has more brains and less slip on horrible surfaces.  And you ask why I call him Spaz?  He didn't disappoint though, if certain morons *points finger at self* didn't maybe kind of sort of forget to cue 'tunnel', he would have even run clear.  Volt however managed to win and what a prize it was... not single ply, but DOUBLE ply loo paper... which in all fairness, is expensive these days so I shouldn't moan.... and of course the sash, medal and a small cash prize.  How Volt won we won't really talk about... bad surfaces is NOT for him, traction was a major problem.

Back to the point  linked to a recent post, I have sadly seen many many victims of PTC... yup you guessed it, Pressure To Compete.  I have seen two specific strains of PTC recently: A. Handlers that have done well with past dogs, trying to recreate their glory or prove a point, in their rush to do this, they forget their previous steps to success, they forget that the importance of the small things.  B. Handlers that are blessed with those 'X-factor' dogs, that want to fast track into mainstream success, they rush development and turn a blind eye to small niggly problems (that will soon turn into huge gaping flaws).  I can write a book on this subject... but today I only want to remind myself that I should appreciate each unique relationship with each unique canine Agility partner I may be fortunate enough to have.  The only pressure I should ever feel is the pressure not to fail my dogs.

This weekend brings what many are calling the 'unofficial world championships', the European Open Agility.  I have been receiving updates from our team members and I admit that I am truly jealous!  To say that 'if I knew then what I know now', would be lying, but if I had known how I would FEEL about what I know, I might have made a plan to be there with many of my Agility friends.  But I do look forward spending the weekend with my feet up, watching 700 odd dogs competing for the title. Good luck to all!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The winner of NonCntact and the Wet T-Shirt

Yesterday we had a championship show... it was great fun... well the rugby tackle (worthy of Springbok standards) and the soaking not so much?  However it does make for fantastic revenge plotting... watch out boys, Bloem is coming up!

Now I am privileged (NOT) enough to be involved in administration and organisation levels of Agility that could easily corrupt one's soul.  Now I don't know whether my skin callused to the point of near impenetrable resistance or whether  my last few sanities have flown out the window and none of my friends have realised that I should ACTUALLY be committed at this point... I might even be living in Narnia by now, who knows.  It could mostly be because I have such friggin awesome dogs that the world could end I wouldn't take notice.  I suspect that it is largely because locally a small fleck of positivity was born and inevitably more and more latched onto it and it ended up in a pretty nutball, goofy, madhatter Agility province that has tons more good than bad.  So instead of corruption, I have honestly had fun in Agility this year.  Yes, of course I am still entitled to the occasional emotional break-down, rant or public assault, but honestly that has been few and far between.

So this has meant that I have laughed about courses that should have required intense screaming matches, maybe even attempted murder... but what I know now it is still my choice to run the course.  My dogs couldn't give a crap if I withdrew them or ran a course of my own making, after all I love my own course design.  I have had a toast on questionable judging calls, even if a judge made more 'mistakes' in one day than I could if I TRIED for the rest of my judging career.  Cheers to you, I hope you enjoyed it!  I have laughed until choking point when I made some very visible arb ridiculous mistakes that someone of my experience should not be making (often leading to spectacular dq's and even a faceplant or two).  I have helped people I really don't like.  I have run around in the rain building courses with a smile on my face.  I have taught students it is okay to make an @ss of yourself if it is for the benefit of your dog.  I have made spelling mistakes in videos.

At the end of the day, anything can happen at any moment, in life as it can in Agility.  The only difference is the statistical probability.  The choice to run is still ours.  The choice to have fun is still ours.  The choice to withdraw is still ours.  The choice to go is still ours.  The choice to stay is still ours.  The choice to embrace is still ours.  The choice to do right is always ours.

Here's to us and our dogs and our sport and making the best of it all.  *raises not-so-imaginary glass*

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ready, Steady, Go

It seems that the entire South Africa is suffering from serious puppy fever.

For as long as I can remember, puppies came along few and far between.  With handlers getting new additions at a very slow and steady pace.

The last two or three years however, has seen a baby boom in the Agility World like never before.  Where ever you look you see puppies and young dogs of all ages, colours, builds and breeds.  Old handlers with new dogs are streaming in at an exponential rate (not considering new handlers with new dogs).  With this comes different training principles, methods and rates. Nothing wrong with that.  Whatever floats your boat, rocks your world, creams your Tinkie and all of that.  After all in Agility there are many rights, but there are also many wrongs.

With my increased exposure to young dogs at their first competitions, two things have become very clear.  Definitions of 'show ready' and 'meeting criteria' differ vastly across the board.

So many handlers are okay with 'just getting it right' and not 'really getting it right'.  They are happy if their dogs can negotiate the weave poles, miraculously with each pole on the correct side.  Dogs sauntering along in 2nd gear, with no real confidence or clarity as to their task.  Horrid, unsure, untrained jumping styles or just purely crashing every bar with no consequence.  Creeping or leaping contacts.  Dogs that I am pretty sure has never seen a tyre jump and has to be stopped dead (normally achieved by panicked handler leaping in their dog's path causing a head-leg collision) and pointed through the tyre.  Some handlers go so far as to enter and run past the multitude of obstacles they cannot do (this almost always includes the weaving poles and often the see saw).

Regardless whether you are tooth grinding competitive or 'doing it just for fun', surely your should be comfortable enough in your training that you can tackle ANY task, especially something so simple as basic obstacle training?  Saying you are doing it 'just for fun' should only mean that you honestly don't care about placings or even whether it is competition or training.  It doesn't give you a license to be a moron and expect more from your dog that you have given him.  Dogs that have competitive handler and dogs that have 'for fun only' handlers should have exactly the same skills, only their goals should differ.  I am pretty sure the dogs that have to worry about their handlers collision path through out the whole round because they have no understanding of their job is not having any fun.

And surely if you are competitive, common sense should have kicked in somewhere between only being able to do the weave poles on the left and your screams of 'wait, wait' on the contact obstacles right before watching Fido take a leap of faith that would scare the saints.  If you intend on being on being competitive you should be much more concerned with the big picture than the 'golden date', that date that Fluffy magically goes from being referred to as a puppy to being called 'that stupid dog', The Date, the date that they can start competing.  If you intend to achieve some titles, then that date should be meaningless. Your criteria is much more important.

By this I am not implying that if you are properly prepared before you start competing, clear rounds will start raining from the skies and cause floods on your record books.  What I am saying is that competing is hard enough.  Forming a partnership with your dog is hard enough. Travelling and new environments are hard enough.  So we, as handlers better be sure that we have given all our dogs the correct tools and skills and support and information that they might need to have fun doing Agility.

For those that have that wonderful skill of interpreting anything they way they want to see it (instead of accepting the actual intent), I would like to clearly state that by writing this I am NOT under any circumstances saying that you can start training your 13 week old puppy 12 closed weave poles so you can be properly prepared by the 'golden date'.  If you are stupid enough to be doing full contacts and weave poles by the time your poor Rover is 7 months old, make no mistake I WILL be judging you.  Knowing myself I might probably even run my mouth off at you.

I am ALSO not saying that it is impossible to have your dog wonderfully and properly prepared by the time they can start officially competing.  I have seen many a good, responsible trainer and handler have their clever pups ready and going and happy and skilled.

In fact I have been inspired by many young dogs and their old handlers lately.  I am not talking about the results on paper, but just about some fantastic moments, some wonderful skills and budding partnerships.

This is a very personal matter and people tend to take very serious offence if you mention anything in the realm of this subject, so unless you really go over the top (that would idiots dragging 5 month old puppies over contact equipment on lead), unless asked, I will keep my mouth shut and try to control my eyebrows and judgemental scowls. All I can do is hope that we all do the best we can by our dogs.  That I can also have the common sense that my all my future dogs are ready AND steady before I go.

Now I have saved the BEST news to last.  Chaos has been cleared to JUMP.  We officially started 25cm straight lines yesterday... both myself and Spaz were dancing!  Watch out world, in a few weeks Chaos will be hitting the Agility rings hard again!