Monday, January 28, 2019

Be brave, be strong, be free

Saturday 29th December started like most other weekends.  I was still tired from a busy Christmas plus I'd worked Thursday and Friday so I was looking forward to a sleep in.  I got up at 5am to walk the big dogs followed by our usual all in play session before breakfast and back to sleep.  Everyone was happy to chill but as the morning went on they were getting a bit restless, Cassie winding everyone up as she likes to do.  She kept yapping at me which was getting the others over excited so I finally decided to get up.  The pappy pants was right at my feet giving me a merry move along when I clapped my hands at her and told her to shush.  Before I knew what was happening, Veto flew in and went for her.  Because I was right there I was able to step in and grab him straight away.  He bit me but as soon as he realized it was me, he let go.  Cassie was understandably shaken so I got him outside and Cassie and I had a cuddle on the lounge while our heart rates returned to normal.  I was so relieved that she was OK.  I had come out of it worse than her but I would much rather that any day.  I was pissed off at myself for forgetting that I can never treat Ve like a normal dog.

Mid morning Rain had a physio appointment so I took her, Cassie and Ve out for a drive and to hang out while Rain got treated.  Colin and I were going out for lunch and I knew a trip out would help to settle them all before we went.  While we were there I was keeping a close eye on Ve.  Once he's had a reactive episode the likelihood it will happen again is much higher and there is always lots of food around during a physio session.  He was fine but looking back there did seem something a bit not right with him.  He was distant and unsure of himself.  At the time I just put it down to me being extra paranoid after what had happened earlier and I was watching him like a hawk.  All went well, the dogs were fine and we headed home so Colin and I could head out to lunch.  Ve got his usual lunchtime dose of Trazodone which he gets every day as part of his anxiety treatment before we left.  The Trazodone had been working really well to keep him much more calm and relaxed.

We were only gone a couple of hours but the dogs are always crazy with excitement when we get home, like all normal dogs.  Everyone went outside to toilet and settle which is our usual routine.  I wanted to make sure they were all OK so I went outside to see what they were doing.  I am always mindful of being on the ground because Ve can resource guard me so I was leaning back against a table while they wandered around.  Ve lay down on the ground a few feet away and Rain went over to him to see if he wanted to play.  She wasn't over the top or in his face, it was a very gentle, playful nudge.  Something she had done countless times since she has joined us.  Normally he can't resist and off they go for a play.  But whatever issue was simmering under the surface in Ve's head that day went off with a bang.  He went for Rain with a vengeance and full on attacked her.  Rain was as shocked as I was and she started screaming.  In a couple of steps I was able to grab him and pull him off.  I got bitten again but I didn't care.  Colin came rushing out and helped Rain while I got Ve away where he could calm down away from the others.  Poor Rain just wanted me.  She was so upset and there was blood everywhere.  With the ferocity of the attack and amount of blood I was panicking and thought he had seriously hurt her.  Once I had cleaned her up I was very relieved to see that the damage was only to her ear and then quite minimal.  The mental scarring is another thing all together so I tried to support and comfort her as best as I could while she calmed down.  

It was at that point that Colin and I realized that this could not go on any longer.  We could not continue to put the other dogs at risk, never knowing when he was likely to snap.  Veto's fate was sealed, there was no turning back.  I am fortunate to have very supportive friends who assisted me to make arrangements to have him put to sleep the next day.  I had to do everything by text because I couldn't bring myself to actually say the words.  It had to happen the next day otherwise I knew I would have backed out even though I knew there was no other option.  That night was horrendous.  I didn't get any sleep at all.  I took him for his normal walk early in the morning.  I felt like I needed to spend some time with him.  But at the same time I was so angry with him for what he'd done.  He didn't feel right that morning.  There was a reservedness about him that I don't normally see at home.  Whether there was something else going on I will never know. To say goodbye to my old dogs when their time has come has been sad and emotional, but they have been old and lived a long and wonderful life.  To say goodbye to a physically healthy not quite four year old dog is another thing entirely.  It broke my heart and I don't think I'll ever be the same.

I hear people say "you don't always get the dog you want, but you get the dog you need".  I don't agree with that on any level.  I wouldn't wish this experience on my worst enemy.  To bring a puppy into your life, to love and cherish them with everything you have.  Then watch things fall apart, totally out of your control, piece by piece destroying them has been soul destroying.  I worked so hard with him and spent so much time trying to work through all the things that made him worry and be scared but I still failed him.  I admit that I learned more than I ever could have imagined.  I thought I was an OK dog trainer before Veto.  I can certainly teach a dog any trick you can think of.  But there is a whole other side of dog training, knowing when they need you to step in and support them, how to read them and be their advocate.  But the cost of what I learned, the price Veto had to pay just isn't worth it.  I would rather never own another dog than ever go through this ever again.

Living with a dog like Veto was like living with a ticking time bomb.  He was so volatile all of the time.  We spent most of our time feeling like we walking on egg shells to keep him happy.  The house was run with military precision.  There was an order to how everything had to be done to keep the peace.  The order they went in and out of the house, the order they could go into crates, have meals, get walked etc, etc.  My goal every single day was for Ve to have no reactive episodes.  Sometimes we managed it and other days we didn't.  It might have been something so simple like one of the dogs walking past the glass sliding doors when he was outside which would cause him to rush at the doors and react.  It might have been me brushing one of the dogs which would cause him to go for one of the others who happened to be standing nearby.  I had to rush Rain and Cassie to bed every evening past the doors in case he saw them from outside while he was toileting.  Never being able to have Rain lose in the house when he was around was sad.  The only time we could allow it was when Ve had his evening crate time.  I could never let any of the other dogs come up to me while I was sitting down for fear that he would go for them.  You could never leave anything lying around that he might go for one of the other dogs to get.  The list just went on.  But when he played with Rain outside I had never seen him happier.  Which is why this has been so hard to get my head around.  My greatest fear was always for Cassie. I knew that if he really went for her he could easily kill her.  I'd long had a sense of foreboding about that. There was so many things that I saw Cassie do herself because she was worried about him.  We did everything we could to protect her and make sure that she was safe but it only takes one moment or lapse and that could have been it. But we suffered through it because that is what you do.  Even with all that we loved him and he was part of the family. The one comfort I get from all of this is that now all the other dogs are safe. They don't have to worry about him hurting and scaring them anymore.

I've pulled out of most agility things for the time being.  I have three or four agility judging appointments in April and May but I won't be accepting anymore for the time being.  I am also taking a break from teaching.  I can't stand there and teach other people and their puppies with a smile on my face. Rain and I are focusing on doing other things that are just fun and simple with nothing to do with agility. It helps me forget for a while and remember that dog ownership can be fun.  I feel so disillusioned with the sport and where it has taken me.  This experience has really changed everything. I'm sure I will be back.  I am still doing seminars with the two European handlers we have coming out.  But taking a step back for now is what I need.  If Rain wants to do agility then we will see how it goes.  If not we'll continue to do all the fun stuff that we have already started.  The choice will be hers.

I'm sure I will be judged by people for the decision I made with Ve.  But I can't regret it.  I can't feel bad that my other four dogs ae safe and that they now get a chance to live normally.  There is a peace at home now that we haven't felt for a long time.  But we will always miss him and it doesn't change how much we loved him.  I just hope now that he is finally at peace in a place where he doesn't have to feel fear any longer.  Goodbye my beautiful boy 💔

Monday, December 3, 2018

Kerodan Here Comes The Sun

I'm still waiting for confirmation but I'm hoping that Rain's kennel name will be Kerodan Here Comes The Sun. It is perfectly fitting for her because she is my little ray of sunshine. Rain is four and a half months of age now and has been with us for 10 weeks. I always chuckle when I'm referring to her as the "perfect puppy" but right now she really kind of is. She is very much "Mummy's girl" and I'm always number one on her list. She chooses to play tug with me rather than chasing the other dogs who are tearing after their own toy, and wouldn't even consider sniffing and checking out her environment when there are games to be played with me. I'd love to give myself a pat on the back for this but this and pretend it was all my awesome dog training skills but at the end of the day this is just her lovely personality. So really I just feel lucky. I know she hasn't reached adolescence yet and that can see the appearance of the furry finger, but to be honest even if she does have a few teenager moments I can't see her personality changing.

It's been fun watching her quirky little character develop over the last couple of months. She is great with the others dogs and absolutely loves playing with Veto. They have formed a really lovely friendship and I've been encouraging them to play because its so good for him as well. Rain can get too much for Cassie so I have to keep an eye on that and I rarely leave them together if I'm not around. Rain thinks its great fun, Cassie not so much. Rain loves to carry things in her mouth. This started right from when she joined us. On our daily walks she generally carries the udder tuggy with her the whole way. If that isn't in her mouth then it will be her leash or a stick or banksia cone that she has found. I don't mind at all because if her mouth isn't occupied it often means that my shoes or pants cop it.

Training wise it's all very basic. Her food drive has only really kicked in over the last few weeks where she is pushing me to work for food. Up until then she was much more interested in a toy. We've been working through some of the Fenzi Engagement course and now she is pushing me all the time to do something. She has learnt a start button is and is happy to use it all the time when she wants to do something. At this stage we've been mucking around with body awareness, recalls, retrieves and single wraps. She shot up really fast and has these lovely long legs which she has had no control over what so ever. She was quite reluctant to really engage her back end at all. It has been fun watching her figure it out and now is getting on the Fitbone with all four paws without falling straight off again! Rear end pivoting has also not been easy for her but she is getting the idea. Her recalls are awesome. Retrieve is OK, she was keen on a game for one initially as are most puppies but she is now racing off to get her toy and come back to me, often with a little growl thrown in as she gets to it. It's just the giving it to me that isn't quite there yet. She tends to want to bring it back but then lie down on the ground and chew it as is often the way. I've taken the opportunity to take a play course through Fenzi this term. I'd like to learn more about being a better play partner for my dogs. I'd already figured out that tugging for very brief periods with Rain before letting go means that she is more likely to bring it back for more but I'm keen to learn more skills in that space. 

She is really confident away from home. People are a no brainer for her and we've had to start working on her asking permission before she launches herself at anyone who might be passing by. She's not overly confident with dogs she doesn't know and tends to be on the cautious side, rolling over onto her back. I actually don't think she really cares about meeting the other dogs too much and hasn't shown a lot of interest in going up to dogs at all. She is far more interested in cuddles from people. I'm really not bothered if she's not interested in other dogs as long as she's not worried about them. Veto (to my untrained eye) appeared confident with other dogs as a puppy too, but the other extreme where I could never let him off leash because he'd shoot off to the closest dog. Rain definitely does not have that same interest. 

Managing Veto is hard. After about three or four weeks of the puppy being here I had no choice but to medicate him. Living with him was a nightmare. He was this volatile ticking time bomb and you had no idea when he was going to go off, just that it was going to happen at some point. The stress and emotional rollercoaster we were on was just awful. I didn't realise just how much I could dislike one of my dogs but when he's at his worst he is an absolute nightmare to live with. He's been on the medication for almost two months and it has definitely helped. More often than not he is OK and he is able to relax and keep a lid on his over arousal. But every now and again we still get a few days where he is unpredictable and frustrating as hell. I am trying to find a pattern so we can manage those times better but at the moment they seem really random. There must be triggers that get him to that point but I don't know what they are at the moment. He is very, very hard to love when it happens. Right now I'm just thankful that these periods don't seem to last long. On the other side of the chaos he is a lovely dog. There is a part of me that struggles with having to medicate a dog to it's eyeballs in order for it to function. But if there is an alternative I have no idea what it is. It means agility is completely off the table, I would never do agility with him while he is on this amount of meds but at the end of the day we have to live with him. It's another frustration as we have a couple of top European handlers coming to Perth this year that I really wanted to work under. But that's life and agility just has to become very secondary. 

I am letting him and Rain play as much as they want to. I think it has been great for both of them. Considering what an arsehole he can be he is incredibly appropriate with her and lets her jump all over him. I keep an eye on them but from what I can see he is doing all the right things. To see him relaxing and de-stressing while he is playing is wonderful to see. I've got all these photos of him where he just has this huge happy grin on his face. Things that would stress him out normally he doesn't even notice when he is playing with her. And she has an outlet for her youthful exuberance!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Introducing Rain

We welcomed Rain into the Xanthis/Phillips household on 20th September.  Rain comes from Kelly Gill of Kerodan Kennels in NSW and is a little bit extra special because she is Murphy's great, great, great granddaughter.  Murphy being my very first border collie who was just such a wonderful dog.  When Kelly told me that she was breeding from her lovely girl Dart it seemed like it was meant to be.  Rain's markings are so similar to Murphy and she also shares his start button on the top of her head.  She is a mixture of sweet, confident, cheeky, naughty and basically a happy go lucky little creature and we just adore her.  Temperament wise she is awesome and has already played through a thunderstorm and slept through another.   

I took a week off work and then worked from home for another week to help her settle in.  Was well worth the effort as by the time I went back to work she was already happy to be left in her puppy pen and was sleeping through the night in a crate in our bedroom.  I have no interest in launching into full scale training of any kind with her just yet.  The only thing we do at the moment is loads of going for walks with all the dogs, rewarding for her name/recalls and lots of play.  Right now I want to get to know her, hang out and have fun.  All this "don't let them play with other dogs only you, all fun must come from you etc" feels very blah, blah, blah, whatever.  I just can't bring myself to care.  I am confident that I can have an amazing relationship with her without restricting what she does.  I'm feeling spectacularly disillusioned with agility at the moment and what it means to me so it's not a priority for us at all.  We’ll worry about agility training later when she is older and mentally ready.

I'm not even sure that there will be much agility at all for us in 2019.  Competing is certainly looking unlikely given where Veto's head is at the moment and I feel like I need a break.  It really hasn't been fun for a while now.  I've been doing a lot of reading, watching and listening on different methods of dog training.  It probably has a lot to do with how I'm feeling about agility.  What I'm being drawn to is zero coercion, consent only training of any kind.  I feel like for so long all I've wanted is to get back to the elite level of agility.  And all I've done is fail at it over and over again.  I think I've put way to much pressure on my dogs because of it with stupid expectations that shouldn't have been there.  Now my dogs tell me if they want to do something and I listen when they say no.  I am also well aware that my last two border collie selections have been poor decisions on my behalf and are risks I would never take again.  Veto was always a risk that could have gone either way.  I was well aware of that at the time and decided I was prepared to take the risk.  So the blame lies squarely with me.  I will certainly never take those sorts of risks again.  There are never any guarantees when you get a puppy but by going to Kelly I knew that every box that could be had been ticked with regards to health, structure and temperament and I had stacked the odds in my favour as much as I could.  Rain may or may not end up being an agility dog, but she has everything going for her thanks to wonderful breeding and nurturing.

Veto has struggled with the new puppy.  When they are outside during the day it is all sunshine and rainbows but he doesn’t always cope when he is inside with her, especially at night.  The ophthalmologist said his eyesight was fine but I'm not convinced so I'll get him to have another look when we go back for our next appointment.  During the day they play like long lost best friends.  He rolls over on the ground, lies on his back and she launches herself all over him.  She can do all the things that he hates including staring at him and stalking him and it is just one big happy game.  In many ways she is really good for him.  I suspect inside he looses confidence because he can't predict what she is going to do and she is too young to read his body language well and give him the space that he needs.  She ends up being in places that clearly make him uncomfortable.  So we have a no Rain and Veto loose together in the house policy.  During the day if they are both inside she is in her puppy pen and if she is loose he's in his crate.  At night time I keep them completely separate.  It's household management gone to a level I never imagined and its not fun.  But I won't risk Rain and I don't want to see Veto feeling like that.  So you do what you do.  But there is no denying that it sucks.

Rain and Cassie are getting on really well and have a nice little friendship going.  Rain can get a little rough during play so we have to keep an eye on things, but she is also fairly respectful if Cassie lets her know that it's too much.  They are a really sweet little pair.  Sonic isn't interested in any part of it so just makes himself scarce and Fizz is very much the same although she occasionally wags her tail if the puppy heads her way.  So overall she has fitted in exceptionally well and I couldn't be happier with her.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Enjoying Winter

So I'm currently reading a book called "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck".  Its an interesting read and not at all what I expected.  As long as you aren't easily offended by the very generous use of the 'F' word I can totally recommend it.  "We can be truly successful only at something we are willing to fail at.  If we're unwilling to fail, then we're unwilling to succeed".  Much food for thought.

Dog utopia

It's been another busy couple of months.  I had an awesome time judging at the Queensland State Agility Titles.  I was a little bit nervous leading up to it.  I take a lot of pride in my courses and I wanted them to be really good. My goal is always to test peoples skills but at the same time keep them fun, flowing and most importantly safe for the dogs.  My awesome mentor Jan Eigl Eide continually pushes me with my course design to make it better and better and I wanted to make sure my courses for this event ticked all the boxes.  I got to see some incredibly fast dogs while I was there.  In some cases possibly a bit too much speed and not enough actual skills but they were a lot of fun to watch no matter what the outcome.  Afterwards I thought that my Novice Jumping was a little bit too hard.  I think if I had of turned one jump slightly more it would have been perfect.  But to ease my concern when the same class were presented with a racetrack one of the other judges set up we went from one Q in the 500 height on my course to three Q's on the racetrack course.  So I'm not sure making mine different would have made much difference.  When things went right I saw some stunning runs.  The dog and handler combination that won my Masters Jumping class were poetry in motion and it was such an amazing run.  Watching those special runs is one of the things I enjoy most about judging.


There have been a lot of conversations about judges recently both on main Facebook groups and also Judge only FB groups.  Australia wide quite a few are getting pretty fed up with the social media bashing that happens on a disappointingly regular basis.  There is a lady from over east who is currently travelling around Europe with her dog while training and competing.  She wrote an interesting blog about the differences between Australia and Europe.  Australia didn't come off so well in her opinion although it wasn't all bad.  I understand what she is saying and I agreed with plenty of it given that I compete as well.  I do think there are Australian judges who do not get the concept of flow, how important a dogs line is and think that constantly pulling a dog off its line is how a course should be.  They also think that European courses are dangerous and simply promote dogs running flat out with no skill required whatsoever.  I have so far avoided getting drawn into those conversations.  People will believe what they want to believe and I know that arguing on FB is not going to change anyone's opinion because everyone thinks they are right.  But I do regularly feel my own frustrations when I walk a Masters course for Veto and the course barely takes up half the ring.  But I know who's courses suit Veto and who's don't and now I just don't enter under the judges who's style will be detrimental for Veto.  If I had a different dog then it probably wouldn't be an issue.  I think we do place too much emphasis on the almighty Q card in Australia.  I would rather challenge myself on an amazing course and have a penalty than run some horrible unpleasant course where my dog can barely take two strides in a straight line before another turn, yet go clear.  But I'm not sure that I'm in the majority there.  I probably average about 10% to 20% Q rate  on my courses and I sometimes wonder if people would rather have something different and just get loads of Q's.  Of course if every judge designed the same style of course it would get boring pretty quickly.


As a judge I believe in what I do.  I get a significant amount of satisfaction watching dogs run my courses when they are handled well.  There are times when you have multiple dogs run your course badly and you question what you have set up.  But then someone will come in and run it exactly  how you thought it should be run and it will look amazing.  Then you breathe a big sigh of relief!  I think my style is developing, especially after having Jan's influence and input.  I love building big courses with loads of room that let dogs run.  I've been following the course design of a handful of European judges and using them to influence and inspire my own design.  I don't think I've quite developed my own style yet.  I'm still figuring out what that is.  But I'm a lot closer than what I was before.

Veto's agility down time over winter is continuing.  We've done a few trials but I haven't entered much.  I've been focusing on exercises from the Fenzi Empowerment course that I signed up for.  It's been fun creating challenges for him and watching him work through them and get more confident and brave.  I've joined ADAA again after letting my membership lapse a few years ago.  I don't have the capacity to trial every single weekend so had been no point being with ANKC and ADAA.  Ve has made big leaps forward in his confidence in the ring but I know what I see when he is somewhere that he feels safe and we are still a long way from that at a trial.  Veto enjoys agility which I see all the time at home.  I really want to use ADAA to get a heap of training rounds under his belt where I break the course into pieces and reward him with his tuggy the whole way around.  I can see really big benefits to that if he is going to have an agility future.

Doggle boy

We've had a bit of a blip with Veto's health.  When he was at physio a few weeks ago I noticed what looked like an ulcer on one side of his eye.  On further investigation (i.e. numerous vet trips) an ophthalmologist diagnosed him with a condition called Pannus (also known as Chronic Superficial Keratitis).  It's an autoimmune disease that affects the cornea part of the eye and if left untreated can eventually scar the eye so badly it can cause serious vision impairment or blindness.  There is no real cause of this condition but scientists think that exposure to UV light can be a factor.  Apparently it is very common in German Shepherd Dogs and Greyhounds.  Veto will be fine as it was picked up early.  It will require lifelong twice daily treatment of a immunosuppressant eye ointment.  Yay ...but he does get to wear these super cool Doggles eyewear on bright sunny days.

The old man of the house Sonic turned eleven this month.  He's doing pretty well and enjoying life.  My goal is to keep him as pain free as possible with his hips.  He's become Veto's wing man at trials to help Ve feel more confident.  Sonic has no real love for dogs he doesn't know but he's not frightened, just doesn't like them.  And of course he loves agility so he's happy to be there, although I'm sure he'd rather be doing agility than watching Veto get to have all the fun.  And it's always nice to have him around.  

Winter rays

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Moving Forward

I was watching TV the other day and I heard the saying "comparison is the thief of joy".  It is so true.  In agility I find it so easy to constantly compare myself to others especially those that are often successful.  Then the obligatory thoughts of "I wish my dog was that fast/accurate/focused/[add comparison] follow.  It puts so much pressure on yourself which in turn gets directed to your dog.  It is so pointless and no one knows the individual struggles that the person you are comparing yourself to has had themselves because we only see the good bits.  I choose to not compare.

I really have no cause for complaint of where Ve and I currently are.  He has come on in leaps and bounds since the Nationals.  Every time I think about how far there still is to go I remind myself that  six months ago he could barely cope with being at Dogs West at all let alone doing agility.  Training nights he is getting really confident.  Sonic comes with us to training now and helps Ve feel confident just by being there.  We've got a little routine that we do were I take them both for a walk and then we play tug games together.  The difference I've seen in Veto's confidence at Dogs West since I've been doing that is huge.  It seems to put him in a happy relaxed frame of mind right from the beginning and he way more receptive for the rest of the night.  If he starts off worried  it is really hard to get him out of that mind set.  Veto is also getting much more used to the dogs at training.  When he knows what is around him and it is constant it seems much easier for him to relax and stop worrying.  He still needs to look sometimes but he can usual dismiss and move on pretty quickly.

The trialling environment continues to be such a huge challenge with so many more dogs around plus the dogs going off in the back of cars and sometimes at each other at ring side.  There has been more than one occasion when Ve has been tugging happily near a ring until other dogs nearby have had a go at each other.  You can literally watch Ve shut down as soon as it happens.  It is so hard to get him back from once that happens.  I think he has become a little more resilient thanks to the Reactivity Management course I did and being able to protect him from other dogs for well over six months now.

I often think back to where it all started.  Puppy Culture posted on their Facebook page a few months ago about the impact of attacks on dogs under twelve months of age.  When I think about the dogs that upset Ve the most I can trace the colour and shape back to the red heeler that attacked him when he was only four or five months old.  It came at him from behind so he didn't even see it coming.  At the time he seemed OK but after that he had more than one dog rush him and also a dog down the road who came out from its property and attacked him.  The suspicion that Ve has and the worry that consumes him when he is unsure what another dog is going to do.  I see so many times that Ve will be fine when he knows where a dog is but as soon as they are off leash and on the move his whole demeanor changes and he goes on the alert.  I can't change what happened to Ve but I will do everything I can to help him overcome it.

We had an OK State Trial this year.  Easily the best I've had in quite a few years.  Last year was such a massive disaster so it wasn't going to take much to beat it.  But we went the other extreme this time and Veto won the Excellent Agility Final for the 500 height.  We had our ups and downs over the two days.  He had moments of confidence and then another dog would upset him and he'd shut down.  He only managed two Q's out of the six runs he did in the heats but they were solid runs and other than being cautious his performance was great.  I was so proud of him.  He really does try so hard for me.

Right now we are taking it easy.  We'll do a few trials but they will be spread out.  I tried to do some Masters Jumping classes with him at the States and realized what a mistake that was.  He is in no way ready for Masters level.  So we'll do NFC Excellent Jumping until he is feeling at trials the way he feels at training.  I have a heap of judging appointments coming up as well including judging at the Queensland State Agility Trial at the end of this month.  I love winter at home and we are spending most of our time enjoying the property.  The dogs are having a great time.  I love nothing more than watching Veto running flat out gunning down the fire break.  He is so relaxed and happy.  It's really what its all about. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

When Optimism Goes Bad

Nationals was hard.  Way harder than I could have imagined.  I felt no nerves or stress in the ring when I was competing but the stress of getting Ve to and from the ring was nothing short of awful.  There were dogs everywhere, no surprises there, but just no way of avoiding them.  He shouldn't have been there and all I could think of was that it was all my fault and that I should never have taken him.  To his credit Veto was amazing.  Despite his fears he kept going like a true star.  His only faults on course were mine from bad handling choices.  Unsurprisingly he was cautious but I can't blame him for that.  The fact that even though he was worried he still did everything I asked of him was amazing and I can't ask for more than that.  At the end of the first three days he had a 6th place in Novice Agility in a class of 140.  The following day he came 10th in Excellent Jumping and then on the third day a second in Excellent Jumping out of 86 dogs.  His placings qualified him for finals in both classes.  I never imagined he would make one final let alone both of them.

On our way
Finals day was plagued with crappy Melbourne weather.  The day before which was the scheduled Open day had to be cancelled because destructive winds made it dangerous to run the dogs.  After a delay of a couple of hours events kicked off but it was cold, wet and unpleasant.  I tried to watch as many finals as I could but for much of the time you were just trying to stay warm.  A decision was made to remove dog walks from all agility rings for safety reasons.  I can understand that call being made but when you have spent the last six months working on your running dog walk skills because you know you need it to have any sort of advantage and then it gets removed from the finals of all things.  Well it summed up my Nationals nicely... In the end Veto had probably his best run out of the whole competition and went round clear finishing in 5th place.  The Excellent Jumping final took forever to start.  It was about 5pm by the time it was run.  By this point we were all freezing and pretty over it.  Unfortunately things didn't go so well.  I had an assembly steward on a power trip screaming at me to get in line as he was determined to have us all run in number order.  Even though there were other dogs there in front of him ready to go.  There were a lot of dogs around and I really didn't want to bring him through and line him up but I had no choice.  My biggest concern was a blue merle Australian Shepherd lining next to us that was really upsetting Veto and I had no way of avoiding it.  If I had my time again I would have asked the owner to give us space but I was so frazzled at this point that I was just trying to get him to the start line.  But I was stressed, Veto was stressed and he just couldn't keep his eyes off the other dog.  In the end I had no choice but to excuse myself from the ring.  It was too risky and I couldn't jeopardise either Veto or the other dog.  What a way to finish our Nationals.  All because a ring steward (and also a judge a might add) was on a momentous power trip and felt the need to be a bully.  

Our Nationals accommodation
One of the things I enjoy most about Nationals is getting watch all the other dogs.  And wow, there are some phenomenally fast dogs out there, mostly in the 500 height class.  Each time we have a Nationals they just get faster and faster.  Of course the downside to that is there is also a significant amount of bar knocking going on that goes with the speed.  Some of them were dropping three or four bars per run.  So it had me asking myself the question of how much speed is too much speed.  Or are we just not good enough trainers here in Australia yet to manage that speed and make sure we teach the dogs to jump properly.  I'm sure our dogs here are as fast as the dogs we see at the top levels overseas.  Watching the superfast dogs they are so low when they jump that there is no way on earth those bars are going to stay up.  I find myself torn between the desire to have a dog going those speeds (lets face it, that sort of drive is mind blowing and pretty awesome) and having a dog that is fast but has the ability to think while doing agility and take some sort of care.  I don't want my dog's clear runs to be flukes and then have them still in Novice and Excellent classes at six or seven years old because we can't string enough clears together to finish a title.  Seems a bit pointless.  And of course then you have the injury side of things.  Either way I will certainly never tire of watching them!

Veto the farm dog
Cassie's Nationals was a bit of a non-event.  The courses were utterly disgraceful for the 200 height.  Many of them had obstacles two and a half/three meters apart and barely took up half the ring.  I've never seen anything like it (and hope never to again...).  I had to scratch her from three of her six runs because there was a real risk of her hurting herself should she have decided to run.  For a dog who only ever trains on five or six meter set ups she could have really damaged herself.  And why on earth would I want her to spend her run having to slow right down and collect the entire way.  There was not one course that she would have been able to extend on.  So that was a total waste of my time not to mention the money I spent on taking her over there and entering her.  I will never take a 200 height dog to an interstate Nationals again unless there is a rule change and the minimum distance increased to 4 meters.  I'll do everything in my power to prevent it from happening at our Perth Nationals in 2020 and we will be extremely selective about our choice of judges to ensure that common sense prevails.

So that was pretty much the end of Cassie's agility career.  I am not going to make her compete anymore.  We may still do some training because she does enjoy doing agility, but she can't handle the stress of the ring environment.  And I'm not going to force her, she has to want to.  I will always have regrets and what ifs about her agility career.  I'm angry at myself for letting it happen.  But of course you don't know what you don't know.  I made the mistake of treating her like a border collie because when doing agility she acted like one.  And I just never recognized the signs of stress when they started to appear.  Thinking she was being naughty when she was actually worried.  I will certainly never make that mistake again.  Papillons are not working dogs.  They are a toy breed bred to sit on your lap all day.  They don't see the world the way a border collie does.  But being gifted with a papillon with Cassie's drive and speed I had no concept of that.  I have learned so much though and I have become  a much more empathetic dog trainer and become a much better teacher of others as well because I am better equipped to give advise to people struggling with non-working dog breeds.  So while I regret that Cassie never got to fulfill her potential I will always be grateful for who I have become because of it.  I will always remember just how much fun it was to run her.

Remembering Cassie's awesomeness 😍

So we are back home now and I am extremely relieved that it is all over and things can get back to normal.  I really would like to finish Veto's Novice Agility title off and now that his running dog walk is significantly improved I hope that won't take too long.  He finished his Excellent Jumping title off while at Nationals so he is now in Masters Jumping.  I am confident he has the skills to run Masters courses but my only worry is that depending on the course design they may be a bit demotivating.  We'll continue to work on building his confidence around other dogs outside the ring and hopefully that will mean his confidence will improve inside the ring as well.  I've ordered a bright fluro vest with "Give Me Space" written on it.  So when it arrives he can wear it at trials and I would hope that those who don't know him will give us a wide berth.  It can only help I'm sure.  

My clever boy

Friday, April 6, 2018

No Turning Back

"Pain is temporary, it may last for a minute, or an hour or a day or even a year.  But eventually it will subside and something else will take it's place.  If you quit however, it will last forever".

It's almost here.  Nationals are in four days, we fly out early tomorrow morning.  I think everyone I have spoken to feels under prepared.  To add some extra tension to the build up Veto ended up with a canine tooth hole in his side (courtesy of Fizz) so he had to have a couple of stitches putting him out of action for ten days.  Not real helpful considering how little time we had in the first place!  We definitely could have used more time but I'm OK with where we are at considering and it's probably further along than I thought we would be.

Getting Ve back into the ring has been a very slow journey.  I entered the Albany trial back in February not really knowing if he'd be ready or not.  My goal was to create as much as space as I could and see if he could play.  As it happened, over the two days I think I got maybe two seconds of play on the last day.  The constant environmental changes was just too much for him.  Every time I thought he was about to engage a new dog would appear and he had to look.  So I withdrew from all his runs.  There was a part of me that felt like the weekend was bit fat waste of time because we couldn't compete but the sensible part of my brain knew that just getting through a weekend with no blow ups and lots of good experiences was only going to help us move forward.

The crew at Albany
The next trial was the Western Classic and I went there with the same mind set.  If he couldn't play he wasn't running and sure enough he gave me more of the same.  Too many dogs and he couldn't dismiss what was going on anywhere near the rings because it was too much to look at.  I did get him playing right up the back away from everything but as soon as we were around the rings he just didn't have the mental space to get there.  So we didn't run there either.  I had entered Cassie and she was not happy anywhere near the rings so we just made some space off by ourselves and had a play.

Next up was the Dobe Club trial two weeks later.  I kind of decided that no matter what I had to run him in something.  Otherwise the Nationals was truly going to become a non event.  His first class was a Not for Competition run in Novice Jumping.  He wasn't particularly happy outside of the ring.  He was definitely bothered by the proximity of other dogs.  So I gave him as much distance as I could and made sure he was safe both in the ring and going in and out.  He ended up doing OK, I handled him averagely but we got through it.  Later in the evening we ran in Novice Agility and I was super surprised that he almost went clear, just missing a jump that I didn't push him enough to.  Again he was worried outside the ring but I made sure he had heaps of space and we got in and out without incident.  He was pretty steady and reserved in the ring but I was happy that he had a good experience.

Our last trial before Nationals was a couple of weeks ago.  I was judging so I only entered him in Novice Agility.  Fortunately our class was first up so I could run it before judging my classes.  The entry was only small so not as many dogs as normal which was a bonus.  I felt like he was the best he has been so far outside the ring while we waited our turn.  I'm sure it had something to do with the less dogs around but either way I don't care as long as he has a good experience.  The best news is that he actually went clear.  He wasn't anywhere near his fastest but he was with me, didn't seem worried and ran really nicely.  In saying that he was still overall first out of eight dogs that went clear.  Running contacts probably helped...  It was such a relief and well needed confidence boost before Nationals.  So for now my goal is to keep building his confidence in the ring so it becomes a safe place.

Cassie has been training pretty well.  Her skills are far from perfect but we've made reasonable progress from where we were.  I pretty much just focus on making things happy for her with lots of reinforcement.  We use loads of nose touches and "woofs" to make sure she is consenting and happy to work.  My plan is to treat the Nationals in exactly the same way as we did last time.  If she wants to run we will, if she doesn't then we won't.  No expectations and no pressure.  I'll do my best to keep her away from big groups of dogs and people before we go in the ring as that seems to make her uncomfortable.

So here we are, everything is pretty much organized, packed and ready to go.  I'm going to first and foremost go over and enjoy it.  I don't care about winning anything or trying to be competitive.  I just want my dogs to enjoy themselves and for me to enjoy the atmosphere and watching some amazing dogs in action.

Riot 2013.  Photo's courtesy of Robyn Evans