Thursday, September 3, 2015

Some more about this dog walk thing

For now I am not going into my training methods or ideas or plans. I will start sharing general ideas that I had:

1. I don't like training ten million repetitions of anything or training anything every single day. I train contacts once, MAYBE twice a week, and really not even every week. The video in this post is 4 minutes long, has a title and a slow motion replay of every single running contact... and that is two FULL sessions which include the running and 2o2o. That is how little I train. I like varying my dog's time with me and keeping things interesting. I also don't like parrot learning or just teaching muscle memory. I like it when my dogs have an understanding of what they should be doing (and should not be doing). I wanted to devise ways where Hex (and Volt) could figure out what was wrong and right. This meant that speed should definitely NOT be a priority or a required criteria in the initial stages of training. Hex does generally offer speed with anything he does though, so I had to accept this. 

2. My job is made slightly easier by the fact that I am not planning to do any turns for the forseeable future. This is where my 2o2o comes in. It also does mean that I have to spend a lot of time making sure Hex understands the difference and even more time making sure my 2o2o is fast and reliable. It really annoys me to no end when people try to condescend 2o2o training, when it should require just as much fun, hard work and satisfaction as a running contact. My 2o2o is NOT a fail safe, it is NOT a back up, it is NOT a plan B. It is a skill that I am teaching with specific goals and scenarios. Again I believe in my dogs fully understanding the behaviour. I believe in throwing in as many scenarios as possible from day 1. We are adding jumps at the end, straight and angled. Throwing in different approaches and have lots of other obstacles in the vicinity and we are still only on a plank. I am also changing the height and angle of the plank slightly with each session (up AND down) to ensure understanding. He does still struggle with the entries and sometimes comes off to the side, but we will work through that too.

3. Those that have attended my training seminars will appreciate this point. I hate BOF trainers and the behaviours they train... 'But Only If'... as in 'my dog has running contacts But Only If I am ahead/behind/standing on my head'. This was never an option for me. This meant that I needed to remove placement and nature of reward as a requirement very early on in the game. This was achieved very easily with my multiple reward system. We are now on a system where his tug toy or ball or food (whatever I choose to use on the day), can be anywhere from in my hand or pocket to behind or in front or offset or in the car or on a table 30m away, it doesn't matter. Jumps are always at different distances or angles and I never put the plank in the same place twice. I will also change it in the middle of a session, even 3 or 4 times.

Those are just a few of the 10 million thoughts I have related to contacts... here is this week's session. It might look like we have not done much in the last month (which is when I posted the last video), but we have seriously upped the variables... also he is just under 10 months old, so I have no plans of doing much more in the next few months.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Project Dog Walk 2.0

For someone who, for years, was very anti-running contacts, I have sure made an about turn. I am very honest about that. I believe that we should all be evolving in our training and just as importantly we need to admit our evolution and change heart or mind.

To me training is a process. A journey. We should always be observing and adjusting to maximise the potential, rather than try and force or package our dogs into little boxes.

Hex has started his contact journey. I am training it quite differently from all the recognised methods that I know about, while using aspects and snippets from many. I started off on a similar road to Volt but since I have amended, adjusted an evolved through experimentation and observation. I don't know where the journey will take us, but maybe one day I can use it to help others.

I am definitely sticking to teaching dual stopped and running contacts though. And I really do find equal enjoyment in both and especially teaching the understanding in differentiating between the two and performing both with enthusiasm.

Monday, May 18, 2015

National Champion!!!!

While I still can't quite believe it, apparently it is true... Volt is the South African Agility Champion 2015 in Small.  On top of that we have qualified to represent South Africa at the FCI Agility World Championships for the 4th year in a row!

Honestly it is quite a dream come true for me! In the past I have a history... every single year... 2 rounds I will be brilliant and win or be on the podium for that round, in the other two rounds, I would not be able to keep it together and disqualify myself (and by association my poor dog....)

This  year we ran an additional fifth round to qualify for the Agility World Championship. This round was on the Friday.  Honestly still my favourite of the weekend!  A very nice course to start off the weekend, enough speed and skills tested to get everyone in the game and ready to go.  Volt was a rockstar in this round, putting some good points and a win in the bag.

Saturday morning started off with another contact Agility course.  Again, awesome course. This was also the first round of the SA Champs, so I was running both Psych and Chaos too, we started with the large dogs, Chaos had knock on the wall, but otherwise brilliant round, which of course gave me a bit more confidence for the other two dogs.  Psych however proceeded to disqualify into an off course tunnel, which is not surprising really :) She had a ball though and her increase in confidence and speed this weekend, was heart-warming. Volt went ahead and ACED the course, with perhaps a slight bit of over-management on my part... this is my first SA Champs where I have both a running dog walk and a stopped dog walk available to use.  In the practice session, I had only done running (ran out of time for 2o2o2) and in round 1 I had used the running option.  This course was definitely more suited to a 2o2o and for some reason, I doubted that he would stop... a bit stupid since he has literally NEVER missed a cue...  he did a great job, for another win!

Saturday afternoon we ran our first Non-Contact Agility round. Another nice fast course that tested enough skill to be perfect :) Again I ran my large dogs first... Chaos had a rather fun disqualification and Psych surprised me with a clear round (heehee, if I had been judging myself, I might have called her for a refusal), but nevertheless, she worked so nicely! I then proceeded to very nearly lose Volt on this course before the weave poles, but a recovery saved us and we ended up with another clear and a win.

The Sunday morning started off with another non-contact/jumping course.  When the course plans were handed out, it was clear that THIS would be the one to separate the men from the boys... and unfortunately I failed the test.  Volt made a really hard pole entry and I then pulled him out of it? I ask you with tears in my baby blue eyes, bright spark I am.  We managed to get through the course HORRENDOUSLY and I was feeling some serious de ja vu... my own personal SA Champs curse was rearing it's head again.  Some additional triggers whisked in with the mixture and my head space was SHATTERED. Going into the last round I actually doubted whether I could do it, handle the pressure.  Something I haven't experienced for a while.

My last round was not my best, it was not as aggressive or reckless as I normally run.  I have very mixed feelings now that it is all said and done... on the one hand, very proud of myself that I kept it together and maybe that required me to be more reserved in this instance? On the other hand I feel that maybe I could have run just a little bit harder... I love 'all or nothing' rounds, pushing it, going for it....  Regardless, we ran CLEAR and third and with that, we became South African Agility Champions 2015!  Just as a side note, I at this point completely forgot that I had large dogs.... or that I was first on the line with one of them... which resulted in me sprinting full speed to get poor Chaos and back to the startline to run him... he rewarded me with a super clear round finishing fourth in the round!

Chaos and Psych realistically took a bit of a back seat to Volt this weekend, but they had fun in each round and I enjoyed every second with them as well!

Volt is truly a special dog, a one in a million in so many ways and SO much more than just an Agility dog. While I realise that his new title means nothing to him, he just enjoys every run, every opportunity to spend time with me, run some Agility or after a ball, the title is just another HUGE gift that he has given me! He always gives me everything he has, never fails to amaze me or amuse me or be there when I need him!  Love my special dog X

I guess it is inevitable that there will always be some tantrums, incidences of bad sportsmanship, unhappiness and some form of negativity here and there... and this weekend was no exception.... but I have to say that in general it was the most amazing, supportive competition I have experienced in a long time in South Africa!  Handlers really wanted the best for each other, the cheering and laughing and general happiness was contagious!  It made it much easier not to let the stupid little negative things get to me!

Thank you so much to everyone that has been part of this journey, this dream!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Happy Dances and Cheerleader Moves!

So after all my bitching and moaning in the previous post, I only have happy place thoughts for tonight's share... well two happy place thoughts and both rather overdue...

First off, I am very excited to announce that all 3 my dogs have qualified for Nationals (South African Agility Championships)... the top 60 dogs in the country (all heights combined) qualify for the event, with the next 10 dogs being reserve.  Psych did qualify in a reserve spot, but since some peeps won't be able to attend, the Girly Whirly Slinky Malinky Chicken Licken dog will be attending her first SA Champs.

A couple of months ago when we ran the try-outs, Volt was having issues, me and Psych were WAY out of our depth, but I could always depend on my Spaz... since then things have all turned around, but nevermind, with no further delay.... my Trials Video for 2015:

And then a couple of weekends ago, a group of friends travelled to Eastern Province (1000km roughly), for a weekend of awesome laughs, jokes, support, competition, wins, losses, tears, happiness and a general fantastic time!

Volt took Saturday off with a shoulder injury, but I cannot actually in written words describe how happy I am with his weekend... He RAN, he played with his ball, he barked, he screamed, he was permanently ready to go, he interacted, he was BACK!  Of our 8 Agility rounds, he ran 7 clear with 5 or 6 wins. He rocked it and came back wanting more!

Chaos had a ball as always, despite me scrutinizing him and watching and considering and imagining and seeing into things... For the first time in my eyes, Chaos was off the pace... quite acceptably from a 9-year old... but if there is one thing I know for certain is that Chaos needs to retire before 'too late'... the poor dog is bound to be scrutinized for the rest of his career, but there are only two rules: Are you still having fun?  Are you still capable of having fun safely and pain free?  On the Sunday he made my weekend by clocking some of the fastest times (with a fault here and there), settling my doubts.

But the real and true super duper star of the weekend, was my Girly Whirly Chicken Licken Psych Malycho Slinky Malinky dog!  Hex has been a blessing for her, having a super duper bestest friends apparently works.  He has built her confidence exponentially and all of that exponentialness exploded on the PE weekend.... she ROCKED... not a little bit, but as in full on, live show, smash the guitar, rip your shirt off, bra's on the stage ROCKED it!  In reality she just qualified into Grade 3 Contact Agility and Grade 3 Non Contact Agility... in my mind, she won 17 QC's, flew to the moon and back, won South Africa's got talent, started a non-profit and then opened a coffee shop... THAT is how well she did.  The reward is just so great when the journey has been so hard...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Be the Judge

Tonight unfortunately, my thoughts are not very positive. With increasing frequency I have been experiencing very disrespectful or ignorant judging.

I have been competing in Agility (Dog Jumping) for just about 22 years. I qualified as a judge 15 years ago, due to our Kennel Club rules only allowing individuals to judge at 18 years of age, I have been judging for the last 13 years. I thoroughly enjoy both the competing and judging side of things and have many ideas of how things 'should be'.

Due to our small numbers here in South Africa, you will often hear judges defending themselves or being defended by 'weekend warriors' or non-competitors and at some point the statement will come out 'but we can't lose him/her as a judge, so just leave it/let it be'. A statement to which I COMPLETELY disagree.  If a judge cannot fulfil their duties, due to a lack of interest, ignorance, laziness, bias intentions, inability to understand the sport, refusal to admit shortcomings or any other fixable reason, then I would rather have one less judge.

Yes, more often it is competitors disrespecting judges, but tonight I need to vent with regards to judging.

I realise that judging Agility is generally a thankless, hot, unpaid job.  I do it often enough myself to remember this.  However, handlers spend hours and a small fortune on training and preparing for competition, as a judge you owe the competitors some time and commitment. Designing appropriate courses and studying them takes time, if you do not have a good few hours in the weeks preceding your appointment, don't accept it.  On several occasions this year, I have 'assisted' judges in setting up courses, except there is no course plan and they are making it up as they go along? This goes hand in hand with laziness, where a judge will change a course from Grade 3 to the lower grades, but be unwilling to move one jump, change one angle, often making it more difficult for younger, inexperienced dogs.

Some judges spend so little time thinking about their courses that they are completely unjudgable (my own made up word).  Can I effectively judge all my contacts? See all tunnel entries and exits?  Will I be in the handler's way? Will I be standing at the correct angle for important obstacles like the tyre, long jump and wall jump? Can I judge all dogs/handlers equally on this course?  Surely these are questions that any judge should not only be taught to answer when being qualified, but should realise very quickly when they start to judge?  Design grade appropriate courses, think about what you are testing at every single obstacle or turn.  Right it down and ensure you are not testing the same thing 3 or 4 times over and that you are not testing too little or too much.

Contact obstacles cannot be effectively judged from 20m away... or even 10m away really.  Not at the speed dogs are moving in modern Agility.  A dog walk cannot be judged accurately with a judge standing still, there has to be SOME movement.  Or ask for an up contact judge!  This is not admitting defeat, it is respecting competitors enough that you try to judge as accurately as possible. Try and design your courses so that the majority of the handlers will NOT be between you and the contact zone.

When measuring a distance between obstacles, use a measuring wheel to ensure that the distance IS in fact legal, pacing it out just will not do at the end of the day.  If you measure it too short, you cannot just 'measure wider' to try and justify the distance. The dog's natural path is not the 'dog's adjusting to judge's measuring path'. While judges might differ dog's natural path, you cannot adjust measuring to justify yourself.  On that note, use distances greater than 5m (much greater like 6m and 7m), this will avoid having this problem. Don't depend on software to dictate the distance, measure it on the day to be SURE you are happy.  If your ring is suddenly smaller than expected, rather adjust your course to what it is on paper, don't 'squash' things!

If it is suggested in guidelines or rules that you have a 'straight approach' this means that it is for safety reasons. Saying 'but there is enough space to straighten your dog out', is NOT valid.  The approach should be straight. The end. This also does not mean that the obstacle is necessarily 'straight on' from the previous obstacle, but that the dog's natural path will be straight on. It is a good idea to study dogs running on a regular basis to understand the natural path and straight approaches.

I think most importantly KNOW your rules, make sure that you read them each time the night before you judge.  Look at the guidelines for refusals.  Jumping over a tunnel if it is the next obstacles is NOT a refusal, handlers jumping over dog walks is an elimination, the long jump maximum distance is not 1.9 meters, you can only get 1 standard fault in the weave poles, touching the dog is faults, repeating the see saw after a fly off is a disqualification, you are allowed an up contact judge on the dog walk only, you cannot change timekeepers or scribes in the middle of a class... to name just a FEW I have seen this year!

Yes, the benefit of the doubt should always go to the dog, just remember that for each mistake you make in not calling a fault, another dog is losing out on a placing or a qualification or a win or a prize or just the knowledge that they finished in a top 10 or 5 or 20 for that matter. ALL judges will inevitably make mistakes, going both to the advantage and the detriment of the dog, but if you can say you made an honest mistake while being aware, having the knowledge, giving your best effort, that is okay.  If it is due to bias against the handler, because you were busy on your phone, because you were looking away, because you were too lazy to move, because you didn't know your rules... then I think you should reconsider why you are judging!

I have all the time in the world for judges that TRY, I will continue to help them build courses, scribe for them, discuss judging with them and enter under them, despite any shortcomings.  But for those that have shortcomings due to ignorance, bias, superiority... I think I will rather spend the time playing with my dogs, thank you.

Friday, March 27, 2015


But actually we will start with the Volt news...  we are not out of the woods yet, but HUGE improvement.  Last weekend Volt had the fastest ever disqualifications, making me the world's happiest handler... happy dances were a thing....

With most of our SA Champs Qualifying trials completed, Chaos and Volt are guaranteed qualification (Chaos will be at his 7th SA Champs and Volt at his 4th) and at this point in time, Psych is lying in the reserves, so there is even a chance for her....

I was asked to do a promotional video for our SA Champs:

But more importantly... puppy update:

Hex will be 4 months old on Sunday, how time flies!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hex 13 Weeks

I often get asked what you can do with your baby puppy... here are some ideas. Hex has been with me for 2 weeks now (He only arrived when he was 11 weeks). In my experience he has learned quicker than most dogs,except maybe Volt, but there are not limits, be creative, think of new things.

I have to say, that I am so grateful for Hex and Psych's breeders for really only introducing dogs with a SOLID temperament into their lines.  It makes the world of difference not to have to struggle with issues.

On a different note, I am really having heartbreaking problems with Volt.  He has developed a very big problem with our regular show grounds.  The problem seems to be that he has gotten a fright of any people or dogs that are even remotely close to the ring.  Training or competitions at any other grounds are not a problem and even if I train at these show grounds outside of a show environment he is still my mad, crazy, loving, barking Sheltie.  Seeing him shut down in the ring is heartbreaking.  We have cut down on competition a lot (doing maybe one round a day, maybe none), while I am trying to find ways to make it all a positive experience again.  It seems it might be a very long Agility year ahead for me... and no AWC and maybe not even any big events.  His welfare is a lot more important to me.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Erm.... Oops... Introducing Hex...

I have an incredibly unplanned puppy... That is the long and the short of it.  Basically I saw this picture on the Monday:

And by Thursday I had a puppy!

He is from Psych's breeder, in fact he is a half brother. So many things in his favour that brought him here.  I absolutely LOVE his mother, in fact my next Border Collie was planned from her or a grandchild of hers... of course this was supposed to be in a few years time.  A good few years! Anyhow Tula (dam) is a bit of a noisy, crazy, nutso, hard as nails, non-stop looney tune!  Explains why I like her right?  He shares his father with Psych, a dog that I also adore. A tall, lanky, easy-going, workaholic boy from the UK (Astra Lad).  Most of the other puppies had left (some of these pups in the background are from another litter), but the breeder had kept this little guy back for a bit, thinking he would rather keep him for a bit and look for the right serious working home...

Of course there are several factors that contributed to Hex coming home, but being a tri-colour with a left blue eye really did help his cause...

A few people have asked, why I would get a related dog, after stating several times that Psych has been the most difficult Agility dog I have trained to date. First and foremost I live with my dogs, Agility is a big second.  I LOVE living with Psych, when she is not being a ultra serious, perfectionist, confidence lacking Agility dog, she is the most fun, amusing, intelligent and easy going dog to live with!  I did, after all, take the pup with the strongest herding instinct when I chose her, so not completely unexpected.  I love the confidence, character and intelligence of the Chrisri Dogs...

Today Hex has been here a week, but looking at it, you would more guess that he has been living here for the last century.  Luckily for me, we hit it off from the word go and he fits in like a dream.  I look forward to many years together!

Without further a due:

Having an unplanned pup means a lot of crash planning for training and thinking of what one wants to do differently and the same from previous dogs.  I am very busy with work at the moment, but really hoping to catalogue Hex's youth and training and my thoughts and some more videos on the blog.  I am also hoping to fully catalogue his story growing up, but once again, we will see how things go with regards to work.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The contact debate becomes the contact comparison...

My, my, it would appear that my previous post made the Facebook rounds in a moderate way... I kind of followed some of the threads around it, so here are some of my additional comments to add to the comments that have already been commented on comments I commented...

- Dave Munnings made a comment that was misinterpreted by some (he was referring to his own stress when training and I get that one!). Anyhow this interpretation led to several comments being made that handlers felt 2o2o training was 'stressful for their dogs'. Personally I have never been in a situation where I have not managed to make any form of training fun and carefree for a dog.  I can't categorically state that in all eternity there will be a 100% guarantee of this, but I really believe that if any training is stressful for your dog, you can be doing something different.  I don't think this is a valid argument for not training 2o2o, a nice excuse if you are looking for one, but not really a reason.

- There were a few references to the fact that people were teaching running contacts to 'lower drive'/'less confident' dogs because it was 'better'/'easier'/'more motivating' for them.  I have seen the complete opposite side of this.  With less confident dogs completely breaking down, because running contact criteria wasn't clear enough for them or the pressure and excitement was too much for them.  I mean it when I say that I don't think there is ANY set of rules to determine which method is best for your dog. There are just too many factors (and combinations there of) that come into play: Confidence, work ethic, ability to handle failure, build, size, drive, weight, stride size, angulation, speed, intelligence... just to mention a FEW. No-one can categorically state that either running contacts or 2o2o WILL work for a dog because of XYZ... I still believe that each dog needs to be analysed individually. Remember, failures are hardly ever published, don't judge by the amount of success stories you see on the internet. The one big secret is KNOW YOUR DOG.

- One very important factor that was highlighted was the importance of course design. Several good examples of the AWC 2014, EO 2014 and EO 2012 was brought up. And if you watched this year's AWC you can also appreciate the different exits. Please remember these examples, as I will use them in the next comment I want to make:

Small Agility courses both had  very severe turns off the dog walk:

Individual Agility:

1. Primadonna (Stopped)
2. Amiga (Running)
3. Jet (Stopped)

Team Agility:

1. Coopy (Running)
2. Inna (Stopped)
3. Eyleen (Stopped)

Medium Agility Courses, Individual had a straight-ish go round and team once again had a severe turn:

Individual Agility:

1. Kiki (Stopped)
2. Esmerelda (Running)
3. Olli (Stopped)

Team Agility:

1. Dizzy (Stopped)
2. Esmerelda (Running)
3. Curly (Stopped)

Large Agility Courses, Individual had a straight go round and team once again had a severe turn:

Individual Agility:

1. Lilli (Running)
2. Hoss (Stopped)
3. Chica (Running)

Team Agility:

1. Reav (Stopped)
2. Hoss (Stopped)
3. Elium (Stopped)

So this is only one competition and one set of results, but to me still proves that often, a course with a sharp turn after the DW will still favour stopped contacts.

-It also brings me to my next comment, with a lot of people saying that A. it is easier to teach a running contact to a Small dog and B. It is more necessary to have a running contact with a small and a medium dog.  I strongly disagree with both.  Once again it depends on a load of other factors, but I don't think the size or jump height category of your dog makes such a big difference, or more accurately the only difference. While it remains to be seen and I will take on a few students next year to test my methods, I think my way of teaching the running DW should be effective on any height dog, provided they meet a load of other criteria.  Volt is purely the only one of my current dogs that it will work on, because he is self-propelled, forward driven and confident.

Now back to my own training:

Here is the next in my series of comparison videos:

Things that I learnt today:

1.  If I have forward motion, regardless of my position with regards to Volt, he has much better running hits.

2. A badly executed turn from a running contact is pretty useless and can be beaten by a 2o2o.

3. On a straight exit, a running contact is (quite logically) pretty unbeatable (1.18 seconds in my case). However even on slight turns the margin does become less (0.56 and 0.71 for today).  You DO have to consider though, that the average difference in dog walks was only 0.451, so the actual exit increased the time gained.  It DID encourage me to work on the timing of my quick releases (WAY too late still) as well as the speed and drive off my releases for 2o2o.  I am sure I can significantly decrease this margin.

4. My dog is awesome... oh wait, I already knew that, didn't learn that today... still feel the need to share it though.

Those that follow this blog, will know that back in 2012, there was a Project A-Frame too... I started with a stopped A-Frame only. After AWC 2012, I decided to teach a running A-Frame... erm for straight exits only...

At the moment my plan is only to teach running exits in this range:

But then, that was my plan with Project A-Frame too... and I ended up teaching all turns in all directions.  In all fairness teaching turns of the A-Frame is MUCH, much, MUCH easier.

Today's experiment however DID confirm my current way of thinking that dog walk exits in that range WILL be quicker, so all is good for now.

This experiment continues (think I will do some go-rounds next), but one thing I DO wish is that people would stop being blind, blind-folded, blinkered and stupid.  By this I mean that I really want handlers and trainers to stop knocking one method OR the other and accept that both have merit. The proof is ALWAYS in the pudding and since both 2o2o and running dog walks still feature on local, national and international scenes. I don't think anyone has the right to be horrible, nasty, derogatory, evil, bitchy, negative or aggressive towards either method.

Much more importantly than 'having' running or stopped contacts, your dog (and you for that matter), should 100% understand and enjoy what they are doing.

Heehee (insert evil laugh here)... best solution is to have it all.... muhahaha, have both!  Many brilliant trainers have proven it is possible and now so has Volt... just another tool in your toolbox right...

Happy, happy, happy New year and happy training!