Friday, November 28, 2014

Project Dog Walk

Let me preface this post by saying that I am a big believer in Agility Evolution. Collectively as a sport, we are growing, learning, adjusting every day.  And so we rightfully should.  I have very little respect for trainers that get stuck in a rut due to prideful arrogance or ignorance.  Obviously I have training 'rules' and systems in place, not only when running my own dogs, but also when teaching students. All trainers should, having criteria (and being consistent within your criteria) is the basis of dog training after all. However it is of utmost importance that through careful analysis, observation, research and logic, we constantly ensure that our methods, criteria and systems are the most efficient and effective training and handling methods.

So for example, I at once stage encouraged and actively taught 'reverse pivots' as a method of doing a pull through sequence. It fit in with my handling criteria.  I depended on my shoulders as my main source of physical cueing.  By doing a reverse pivot, I was opening my shoulders, encouraging what was effectively a recall to the front, before redirecting.  Over the past few years I have improved/changed my training to greatly increase my dog's sensitivity to mere hand movements.  I now actively DISCOURAGE reverse pivots as a method of doing pull through's, my reasoning being that it sacrifices the handler's ability to get course position, risks off course due to movement timing (due to increased sensitivity of dogs to hand movement) and the recall to the front act may cause hesitation.  I don't just say these things willy nilly, I took video, analysed, timed splits, tried several different options that all support my current hypothesis. I never asked Chaos to compromise on his criteria.  To this day, he still knows a perfect reverse pivot.  When I made the 'change', I taught it as a brand new command, a brand new behaviour, with different criteria, different foundation. Similarly I at one stage discouraged blind crosses, back crosses, a down as a startline position etc. I have since learnt that all those things DO have their place.

I think trainers that evolve and admit their evolution (not try to pretend that they were always right, but package their 'new solutions' under false pretences) are the future of the sport.

So let's get back on track.  Those that know me will know that I have been the world's biggest doubter of running contacts.  The criteria attached to the available methods were just not clear enough in my mind.  I am very much a 'black and white' kind of girl and there was just too much grey out there for me. I have great respect for Silvia Trkman, Jenny Dam (this handler is on a pedestal for me even, I have endless respect and admiration for her and often turn to her writings and teachings as a guide and inspiration) , Daisy Peel etc etc, that have achieved great success with running contacts.  Their methods and input, while influencing my thought process, just didn't work 100% for my mind. That part hasn't changed.  Not quite.  But after a lot of observation, calculation (yup the actual mathematical kind, I LOVE math) and some calculated guesses, I determined that there was a way that I should be able to teach Volt running Dog Walks on top of his 2o2o (he already has a duel A-Frame).

Currently my process is still one giant experiment, but I am starting to feel a lot more comfortable in my experiment parameters.

Below you will find 5 videos of our recent Dog Walk training. The training process, however, has not been the most interesting part in this journey though.  Running contacts is one of those 'it' subjects. At the last few competitions, I have been running Not For Competition (NFC) with Volt, taking in his toy to try and bridge the 'training to competition' gap with minimum fuss using running Dog Walks.  Unfortunately they have all been 'national' competitions, so I cannot post those rounds for now, but I am VERY happy with the result. It HAS however gotten some tongues rolling...

First of all, without exception, most people have assumed that I am using Silvia Trkman's training method. Immediately offering input that applies to this method.  I always (try to) listen politely, thank the handlers and then inform them that I actually have not used the method at all.  This is generally met with great suspicion (as if they don't believe me) and then criticism. While I can see some of the things she uses in Volt when he is running, it is just a cross-over, not intentional training. I do appreciate input in general, but it seems that even people that have not USED this method are stuck in this manner of thinking, while the followers, trainers and believers in this method struggle to accept that there is another way.  Well maybe there is, maybe there is not, that is what my 'Project Dog Walk' is all about.

At this point in time, I don't know where this project will end for us, but as I always do with Volt, we are having a very (VERY, very, Very, very) large amount of fun with Volt. I assure you (because many people have confuse this issue), I have the greatest respect for 2o2o and will most probably never stop using it.  Running contacts are not better or more fun for me, I enjoy the process of training a dog to achieve success with great enthusiasm, regardless of what I am doing. I don't think that running dog walks will ever be a 'must' to achieve amazing things, which include winning World Champs and European Opens.  I am pretty convinced running dog walks will NOT be for all dogs (the same way I feel about 'four on the floor' or 'down' contacts). I am not nearly far enough along in the process to tell you whether what I am doing will work categorically.  But I am looking for some 'sucker' students for next year to further develop my thought process with other dogs and handlers.

It might be worth a mention, that after timing many, many, many splits at this year's AWC (as in many, you should SEE the spreadsheets), I will not be trying to teach super tight turns off my running dog walks, but rather use 2o2o off for that.  Even the best of dogs lost time in subsequent sequences to tight turn dog walks, where 2o2o were FASTER in total, despite the slower dog walks. But once again, let's see where we go with this.  

13 November 2014

20 November 2014

21 November

26 November

28 November

I will keep you updated in my little training experiment.  Until then happy training...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Overdue Post Travel Trivia

The team maketh the trip... that is a very sweeping statement, but also rather true.  I had the best trip ever this year.... of all holidays and overseas trips ever, that has ever existed.  I had the world's best travel companion, the ever relaxed and easy going Voltensteinenmeister dog. I had the world's most adventurous and hilarious team mates. We had an awesome team leader that truly understood the importance, the stress, the excitement, the meaning and the agility of the trip! We had an exciting and busy itinerary. Things to see and places to go. And German beer... lots and lots of German beer.  The world is not complete without German beer. I had friends for laughter. Training partners for advice and support. Beagles for amusement. A German bus for precision, A Nigerian bus for seeing the sights. A camera to capture the moments. Spectators offering to carry all the heavy stuff, help at every turn. My ever faithful video camera for AGILITY. We had a crazy supporter that was willing to paint his face. There was lots of hiking (my favourite). There were butterflies. And rivers. And pretty scenery. There were caves... or cavelike things. There was sparkling wine and barrels. There was a HUGE hill and a race. A pretty city. New friends made and old ones reunited. It really was an amazing trip! I won't go into a day by day recount, I will get lost in foreverness if I did that. I have already forgotten so many things... I will try and share a FEW select photos that is not included in my videos...

 But now I am guessing that if you are reading this, you care a little bit less about the beer and the views and the butterflies and a bit more about the Agility... Please be sure to read my previous post before I left before reading further (if you haven't yet of course... what is wrong with you, haha, are you not an addict of blogs like I am?) I went with very different ideas this year. Ideas of living and running and having fun and sharing an amazing time with my truly amazing dog Volt.

This I did. Volt absolutely loves being in Europe, not that surprising since he comes from there. He ran and partied and played his heart out all the time we were there. I was also privileged enough to meet Volt's breeder Jenny Vandenhole of Golden Fir Shelties.  She travelled all the way from Belgium in her motor home (I say all the way, since she is not even an Agility competitor) to support all her pups that were competing.  As far as breeders go, all I can say is wow!  A woman that really remembers each and every pup she ever bred and got tears in her eyes when meeting up with them again. She truly has a passion for the breed and her contribution to it.  She has a true interest in every dog she has ever produced.  Needless to say, I will no doubt get a puppy
 from her again.  In fact, I nearly stole one her current pups that she brought with and promptly attached herself to my sleeve for a huge tugging game! I want to thank Jenny AGAIN (I have done it in a few ways already) for coming and supporting us. I really do appreciate it!

Next up I would like to make some general comments about the AWC.  First of WOW and well done to the organisers this year!  By far the best organised AWC I have been to, to date and I can really say that I felt they had the competitors best interest at heart. The volunteers themselves were amazing and friendly, the surface was good, the equipment in general was brilliant (except for the TABLE), the logistics was thought through and accurate. The venue was beautiful with plenty of running space and nice crating space.  The arena itself was maybe not as ideal as previous years (being on ground level with the spectators and not 'below them' as many arenas in the past), but perfectly acceptable. All in all I was really impressed.
 But speaking of the table... me (and many other spectators and competitors), felt that it was really surprising (and not a 'nice one, wow' surprise, an 'argh WHY?' surprise) that the table was used in all three rounds of team Agility. First of all because we haven't seen the table in many years in the AWC, but mostly because it is, in my opinion, an outdated obstacle that doesn't quite belong in modern Agility.  A silly concept that breaks the beautiful fast flow and excitement of a good Agility run.  To add to this, the table this year was made of a very slippery plastic surface and the electronic programming of it was not accurate.  It put quite the damper on some rounds and cost good teams medals on the final podium. I hope that this obstacle gets reviewed and removed from FCI Agility.

Next up is a subject that has been very dear to my heart for many years, although it did not affect me at all this year (as I was only running my small dog).  This is the up contact of the dog walk, see saw and A-frame (particularly the dog walk). That small fault cost several large dogs very good placings in the Individual Agility round this year, because the approach was a nice fast +- 7m approach from a tunnel.
 None of these dogs came on at an angle, or compromised their own safety (the original reason for the contact points) or leaped it or jumped it. The reality is that we have all been training our dogs to run faster and faster and with bigger and bigger strides. Nothing wrong with that.  Realistically many handlers are teaching their dogs to hit the up contact straight on like a target/fly ball box which is much less safe and more harmful for the dogs.  I think we need to either increase the size of the up contact or think of another way to ensure a 'straight entry' onto the obstacle.  Just my opinion, but if you want, the firing squad may now commence... just my opinion, but you are always welcome to share yours.

Very unfortunately for me, Super Woman with Super Immunity that hardly ever gets sick... well the flu hit me BIG time the night before the competition started. I was man-down and had to be drugged by my local vet that doubled as a pharmacist. It was utterly heartbreaking actually. I know that it did affect me... but in this story there are only reasons, no excuses :)

Here is a video of some of our Agility adventures and training before the competition started. How much more heart can one little dog have?

Now we can get to the important stuff... the beyond awesome Super Sheltie Voltensteinendogenmeister... but before we get there, here are some random pictures of butterflies and stuff...

 The first round will always be the most nerve wrecking if you ask me. Especially since it is a team round. In team rounds you always have the added pressure of not disappointing your team mates. When we first got the course plan, I though that maybe it was rather on the easy side (you can find the courses on the website, or contact me if you can't find them and I will send them along. As I mentioned before, I was sick as a dog and drugged out of my skull, but I can super proudly say that my and the Bean Machine ATTACKED this course right out the start gates. We ran our hearts out until Volt came out tunnel 15 and I realised that I had NO clue where we were going... I actually had to search for the *insert swear word here* number. I eventually spotted number 16, but Volt was already wiiiiiide coming out of the tunnel and jumping in completely the wrong line for the line from 16 to 17, luckily he is such a super honest little dog and we could recover and come back with a clear, but that little mistake cost us a lot of time.  I don't know if the moment was too big or if my drug clouded brain just malfunctioned for a second... it is all irrelevant though, since Volt still had a ball and couldn't care about the 2 odd seconds we might have wasted.  He was my rockstar.

 On Saturday we were running 2 rounds, one team and one individual.  It is not always easy to switch your mind from one to the other, but being our 'third' (2013 was different) year at AWC, I really felt my and Volt's relationship was right up there and ready for what the world could throw at us.  The morning was Individual jumping and the course was AWESOME!  Tricky and fast and tested some nice skills.  I walked several options and I was ready to go. I was determined to maintain focus all the way around the course, unlike the previous day. Once again I was very happy with our start, especially the blind against the flow tunnel entry, which is not our strongest point. But as I sent Volt over the long jump, I realised that I had completely lost peripheral course positioning and I had to look around for the next obstacle. I was gutted, as this left me completely out of position for the very hard pole entry which I knew Volt could actually nail!  I scrambled for a few seconds, managed to recover and get him in and run the rest of the round, which was a bit wide and uncontrolled from my side (as always my dog was awesome), as I was still flustered.
 I walked off the course feeling proud of my dog, being happy that we at least had no course faults, but our time would be off pace.  As I turned around I saw 5 faults on the scoreboard.  I was completely rattled.  I turned to my friend that had walked to the start line with me and queried where I had gotten faults... he looked at me like I was crazy, and told me I was clear. He had also not seen my faults called. Turns out the judge had called me for handling before the weave poles. I will admit that I was quite devastated, I took Volt for a looooong walk.  And he played. And bounced. And smelled the flowers. And fetched me a leaf. And he just didn't care that we had some number written on a score sheet somewhere. And the less Volt cared, the less I cared.  I still got to go home with the best dog!  This got us back on track quickly.

The next round was team Agility.  Once again a super awesome, super technical, super skills, super lines, super duper course.  I really like it!  The only problem was... that again it had the table in it.  The table had already malfunctioned several times during Large and Medium and I was very surprised that the FCI commission and judges STILL decided to use it in our course.  Our team made a deal to slow down our dogs drastically before the obstacle to ensure that our dogs didn't have slips like the medium dogs the day before. The judging on the table was a bit inconsistent due to all the problems that it had been giving throughout the competition, but such is life... some calls go your way and others don't.  Volt had an all in all awesome round on this course, other than the refusal fault at the table that I caused with ridiculous mistrust and over-managing in my own dog (seriously, if I was Volt, I would have bitten me). His A-Frame was one of his random Crazy Super Sheltie A-Frames where he under-estimates his own power and then still desperately tries to meet his striding criteria.  Have to love this awesome honest dog!

Our last round was the individual Agility.  A very nice course again (I personally think the smalls had the very nicest courses at the AWC).  There were two sequences where I had two distinct choices where I knew we could do both, but I couldn't decide what was the best.  I often walk plan A, B, C, D and E... and kind of make up my mind on the spot.... so this part is nothing new for me, but somehow I managed to make the wrong choice at the weave poles... Volt was flying and my forced front cross was just too late, I physically pulled my dog into the wrong entry!  The other maybe not so good choice that I made was back crossing the dog walk.  Normally this is one of Volt's best 'moves' as he drives very hard, but at this big event, his dog walks slowed down when I tried this.  A lesson learned, don't worry and watch this space for my solution... heehee *she says rubbing hands together secretly in anticipation*.

Here is our official AWC videos:

All in all, I felt that Volt really held his own with the world class dogs this year.  Of course we have a lot of work to do, but that never stops in Agility.  We had an amazing time together and we did ourselves proud. I couldn't be more happy! Of course I cannot predict what our journey together will bring along next, but we are both ready for whatever the world may throw at us!

In my next post, I will write about more recent teaching travels and training projects of my own....