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!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Funny 'interesting', not funny 'haha'

I am rather immune... to erm.. 'everyone else'.  I read A LOT, I watch EVERY Agility DVD available.  I have a select (not so few) friends that I know comment honestly.  I have spent the last 16 years learning how to 'keep the good, leave the bad and not go homicidal or insane' in my own mind.  I always have space for more information.  I always try to share the good information.

I hate handlers/colleagues (talking RL job now)/friends/family that try to be 'all-knowing' and 'superior'.  LOVE people that can determine, recognise and BETTER their own mistakes.  The best handlers in the world (ie my absolute idols) have made certain mistakes that me (or someone else) could recognise, recognise and bettered baby!... I have made the same amount of mistakes exponentially and I will live the rest of my life compensating :D

Only by recognising your weaknesses can you improve... even if your weaknesses are still the strongest in the game.

1.  I don't like cheating.  I have more respect for the 'big names' that publish their whole spectrum than the 'big names' that publish only their success.  Honey, we do AGILITY, everyone makes mistakes!!! As for my current self?... on my videos A. I don't have a video camera, not even a crappy one, so the vids of the last week was taken in insanely BAD quality on my still camera.  Without decent quality vid it feels rather pointless to edit.

2.  I honestly didn't expect my puppy Psycho Chicken Child Dog to have such another spectacular session so soon.  I am a lazy bitch.  Different song and different vid is a lot of effort to me.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Time to go nuts, time to go Psycho

I know, I know, it has been ages again.

Much has happened, but I am not in the muchness of the mood to get into most of that.  I will say that Chaos's rehab for a bilateral iliopsoas strain is going better than anyone expected or predicted and he is surprising everyone with his quick recovery.  This is of course good news for both my and his sanity.  It means we can go on longer runs, he can swim, we can go on 'normal' off lead walks, controlled walks, not 'running around like a headless chicken on LSD' walks.  He is definitely less grumpy now, thank goodness.  And if all goes well we will be back to Agility courses very soon too.

Volt is excelling at the challenges I have been setting.  Me and him have very much immersed ourselves in 'our world' and 'our goals'.  I am very happy with the results so far.  We are very much working on very specific skills through the use of foundation work.  Despite this (more likely because of it), his performance on full courses in competition has been very good.  The two of us are off to PE this weekend to present some workshops, I will be playing the part  of trainer and Volt that of demo dog.  I am really looking forward to it, a great group of students attending.

What I WOULD like to talk about tonight is the Psycho Child.  This puppy is just so friggin cool. Challenging, VERY challenging, but 100% compatible to me.  I fall more in love with her with every minute that passes ( I say this while she is targetting my shin with her back foot... a very cute trick that has turned into her call for attention).

Conformation-wise she has turned out as close as damn-it to my 'dream dog'.  I wouldn't mind a slight bit more height (although at 49cm she is already rather tall for a BC female).  And too boot she is pretty too.  Who would have thought my farm mutt would be quite the beauty queen.  Her work ethic is to die for, she is all about getting it right and having fun while doing it.  This has created an issue or two, her almost unhealthy desire to understand her job (she is a perfectionist) combined with her toughness makes for her being rather hard on herself.  That might sound bizarre, but when I abandon an exercise because we are 'not getting it right' (I don't even have a neutral or negative verbal marker), she will go and reset herself for the next try.  It is so bad that I started attempting to release her onto a toy at this point, but she wouldn't even take the reward.  She is not negative about it at all, she doesn't show signs of stress, she doesn't lose enthusiasm, she doesn't even worry.... she just wants to go do it again...  Her detection of my body language is thus better than my OWN detection of my OWN body language... this is as close as a dog has ever come to reading my mind. Disturbing if you ask me.  I would rather not have her knowing my homicidal thoughts when the neighbours kids scream around the yard at 07h00 on a Saturday morning.

This pup has more eye than most people have seen.  I have had sheep trialling okes tell me that they have never seen so much eye??? Let's be honest, this is NOT actually the number 1 quality we want in our Agility dogs. Her insanely strong herding instinct also prompted her to try and 'conserve' herself as much as possible.  It took quite some convincing to let her know I wanted her to sprint with her whole little heart.  We are not on a sheep farm, she does not have to last for ten hours non-stop.  Her movement however is to die for.  She is a real sweetheart too.  And blissfully quiet, I have only heard her bark once.

She is rather non-stop.  If she is not trying to balance a toy (or what she defines as a toy) on my knee, she is targetting me with one or all of her feet, or playing with a cat, or trying to get my attention by climbing trees like a monkey.  She is not destructive, she never steals shoes, or chews anything she is not supposed to.  She is clever and innovative.

All in all, the pros and the cons, the good and the bad, the funny and the serious... everything in this little dog is just fine by me!  I adore her.