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


Monday, January 29, 2018

Nationals Countdown

So Agility Nationals are apparently 71 days away...yikes!  Everything is booked and paid for.  We had a bit of a glitch with our accommodation falling through but we've ended up with a better property on 10 acres, so nothing to complain about there.  I have so much work to do if either of my dogs are going to be anywhere near ready.  Nothing like a bit of pressure to keep the excitement alive 😜

Veto and I have finished our latest Fenzi course "Dealing with the Bogeyman; Helping Fearful, Reactive and Stressed Dogs" with Amy Cook.  Amy is seriously amazing.  The commitment she gives you, the detail and information are second to none.  After finishing it I feel a bit like someone who has found divine intervention.  I just want to preach to everyone how amazing this method is and why anyone who is dealing with a fearful dog should try it.  It was a really great time for me to do the course.  I think being away from Dogs West over the Christmas period with the grounds being closed really allowed Ve the chance to decompress and have a break from things that would be regular stressors.  Stripping away the food and the toys which I now understand had been causing him internal conflict, gave him a chance to deal with it without masking the issue.  To sit back and give him the space to decide what his comfort level is, discard what is around him when he's ready, then choose me has been an amazing transformation to watch.  It has been utterly fascinating to experience and I think we have a really positive way forward using Amy's method.  There are so many different dog trainers out there and so many different thoughts and ideas for ways to work through fear and reactivity issues with your dogs.  You really have no idea which is going to be the right one for your own dog.  But seeing the results so far with Ve I am so very glad that this one is the one that we decided to go with.

Home arena 2018
I have a bit of a schedule going on.  Record keeping has never really been my thing.  The closest I've gotten is this blog but I've got a bit of a diary happening at the moment with milestones that I pretty much have to hit if we have any chance of being ready for Nationals.  And this is on top of the ongoing set ups that I need to work through with Ve.  I've also had to retrain Ve's running dog walk because it was just too sloppy.  If he was driving hard then he may get a high hit in but because he'd been worried in the ring he was missing because his drive across and down just wasn't there.  The Europeans seem to be at the forefront of running contacts right now so I signed up as an auditor for Tereza Kralova's running dog walk course.  We've been slowly making some headway through that.  Its actually not that different than what we had been doing but my criteria for a correct hit has gone from big to tiny.  So his hits are now much more specific.  I've also moved away from toy rewards to food so it means there is a lot more thought going into it from Ve.  He is slower to food but he is also a lot more careful which he needs to be in order to learn.


It's also been a bit of a battle with fitness.  Ve had some soreness late last year so I had to wait for that to come good before I could start doing anything overly physical with him.  He has the muscle mass just not the strength.  So now he is sound we have started interval training to strengthen up.  Which also means that I am doing interval training so perhaps I might actually be fit for Nationals too!  I'm relieved that Ve has such a great understanding of the handling because that is the one thing that I doubt we will get much time to work on.  And of course he's not in Masters so the courses we will be facing should not be as challenging.  Well I hope not anyway...


Cassie and I have started getting back out to do some training as well.  I've decided that this year will likely be our last try.  We have only been doing little things at home so far.  Everything we do is based on her giving me her consent signal and if I don't get it we don't work.  So far she has consented most of time I've asked her.  Sometimes the consent doesn't come straight away and she needs a bit of time to decide she is ready.  She also needs time to get fit, so over the next few weeks we will slowly increase her workload and see where it takes us.  I have no expectation and there is no pressure on her.  She has to want to do it and the decision is hers to make.  I don't want her to feel any pressure and choose to engage on her terms.  The other day she grabbed her leash and shoved it at me because she wanted to do something so much.  It made me really happy to see her so happy.  There is something really exciting to go to a competition and know that if your dog is at their best that they are a good chance to win.  I used to feel it all the time with Soda which was what made it such an awesome experience, but also put a lot of pressure on you to perform.  There is also a lot to be said for having no expectations and just enjoying wherever the journey may take you. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 I Wish Thee Well, But Now It's Time to Say Goodbye

2017 has mostly sucked.  It started off kind of OK, then went downhill fast.  There were some good bits like getting to judge agility in Singapore, getting my eyes done and not having to wear glasses anymore was pretty awesome and having Jan Egil Eide here to learn about better agility course design.  But overall I'll truly be glad to see the back of it.  I still find it hard to believe that we lost Riot this year.  Every part of this house was infused with his presence and even three months on the house feels empty.  We found a rose for him and planted it right next to where we walk the dogs.  It feels better to have something for him that I get to see everyday.  The rose is called “Remember Me”.


I did learn a lot in 2017.  I learned that my dogs are my teachers, not the other way around.  That I want my dogs to know that they have choices. If they don’t want to tug or play with me then that’s OK.  If they don’t want to do agility then that’s OK too.  If they feel stressed and uncomfortable then I’m going to give them as much time as they need to feel better about things.  If they don’t feel OK then they don’t have to do anything at all.  I don’t think that Veto and I have ever had a bad relationship, I just know that now it is much better.  I see it when we are playing together and I see it when we are just hanging out.  So maybe 2017 wasn't so bad.     
Christmas 2017
I have no idea what 2018 will bring.  But I have some new words that I will take with my as I start my 2018 journey.  Fall down, get up, don't quit, resiliency, bounce back, stay on course, feel no fear, hold the power, make a choice, how your gonna be, how your gonna do it, if you do what is easy your life will be hard, if you do what is hard your life will be easy.  I can do this.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Long and Winding Road


I think one of the hardest parts of feeling like everything is going wrong is that you have no idea if things will ever get better.  Maybe one day it will all make sense and I'll understand the reason why this has all gone so wrong.  But that is hard to keep sight of when your smack bang in the middle of it.  I read inspirational stories other people have written that say everything happens for a reason and you get the dog you need at the right time.  That is pretty hard to believe when you are constantly asking yourself why.  Is it my fault that he has all these issues? What did I do to cause this?  When you fail how do you stop yourself from feeling like your a failure?  Why do I need a dog in my life that challenges me constantly in every part of his training and who I can't compete with?  What lesson is it that I need to learn?  Watching everyone else compete from the sidelines is not so easy.   But somehow I have to grab onto that there must be a bigger picture and that one day I'll be able to look back and know this had to be my story at this time.  To have faith that I'm being sent down a certain path for a reason.  And ultimately to remind myself that I should never rely on success to determine my self worth.  Is there more to life than agility trials?  Of course there is, but that is what I love to do.  It's part of who I am.  


I've made a commitment to Veto.  I've realised that while I do know a lot about dog training my true understanding of applying it correctly is a work in progress.  Things that I thought to be a certain way are at a different point of consciousness now and have clicked into place in a totally different context.  Changing behavior is not about racing forward and making things harder all the time.  It is about creating a change in emotion so that whatever Veto is worried about becomes so boring and easy that he doesn't feel like he needs to worry about it anymore.  My dog training world is no longer about how fast he can go, how many backsides he can do or how perfect a contact behavior can be, its how he feels about where he is and what is around him.  It's about finding an okayness that makes him feel he can do anything.  Then hopefully one day Veto will feel that he and I can do anything together and the world won't be scary for him anymore.


In the papillon part of my world Cassie has strained a muscle in her neck so right now she is mostly resting with some rehab to help the muscle heal.  I want to do Sarah Stremming's Worked Up course with her which starts in December but I'm not sure how I'd go doing two courses at the same time and do them both justice.  So I may have to wait for the Hidden Potential course instead.  I have long wondered if some part of her ring issues have tied in with extreme over arousal when she's running.  I never really understood how she can run flat out around an agility course and look to all the world that she is having a great time.  But afterwards she will refuse to run in any other events which would indicate otherwise.  So is the over arousal so great that it is causing her distress?  I can't help but think yes.  I have accepted the likelihood of trialling her again is low and I'm OK with that, but I would like to understand her and know what she needs from me.  I believe that she has many lessons left for me also, just in her own crazy pappy way.  Never give up, never give in.


At the end of October we had Jan Eigl Eide a top European handler here to run a series of seminars.  What made it all the more special was that Jan is also a top European judge who's courses I was already a big fan of.  They are big and open and allow dogs to run fast, without compromising safety but with plenty of challenges.  The sorts of courses Jan designs is what I have aspired to and I think I was maybe some of the way there but as is me, I wanted to learn more and know that I can be much, much better.  So I asked him to present a course design lecture while he was here which he jumped at being super passionate about the topic.  The upside of not competing the weekend he was here was that I was able to spend time talking to him and observing his course design.  Although I would have loved to run one of my own dogs on his courses.  Jan has also kindly offered to have a look at future courses I design and provide advise and suggestions which is so cool!  Never did I believe that I may have a European judge as a mentor.  It has definitely given me a renewed passion to judge and design courses.  I think that confidence in what I design will go a long way to letting competitors comments and opinions slide right off.  It's amazing how easy it is to let doubt seep in when you are feeling unsure or uncertain.  So I'm feeling refreshed and ready to get back out there and see what I can do.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hotnote As Good As It Gets

Rest in peace my friend ❤❤❤

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tough Times

Amazing memories
Agility used to be very simple.  I had two border collies Murphy & Soda.  I actively searched for Murphy as an obedience and agility prospect.  Soda joined the family as a companion for Murphy.  I had no idea what constituted a good performance dog.  I just wanted a happy puppy from happy well adjusted parents.  It never even occurred to me that either dog would not enjoy performance activities and I assumed right as both dogs loved obedience and agility and I loved doing it with them.  Soda had some personal space issues with other dogs and didn't like dogs she didn't know getting into her space.  Murphy had some breeds that he had no love for.  But both dogs were happy and confident, loved the competition ring, gave it their all and agility was pure fun and adrenaline.  Lining up with Soda in particular was like taking an F1 Ferrari out for a spin.  Fast, fun and furious.  Fast forward eleven/twelve years (how long since I retired both dogs) and right now it is unlikely I could be having less fun doing agility than what I am right now.

Boys
Poor Veto is doing it tough.  As is the way of these things he has been getting worse with his ring confidence.  You always hope that they will get better with more exposure but I have found it is rarely ever the case.  His underlying anxiety caused by the proximity of other dogs prevents him from being able to relax and have focus on anything other than where other dogs are.  I knew he was struggling at the trials I did with him in August because I could feel how much he was holding back in the ring.  But the clincher came when I watched video of his runs from Geraldton and I could see just how worried he was.  It was really distressing to watch him constantly looking back at the other dogs and I felt like the most awful person in the world putting him through that and not recognizing how stressed he was.  The first thing I did after watching those runs was scratch him from all the upcoming trials I'd entered him in and he won't run again until I believe he is in a better place, assuming that I can get him there.

Veto's velodrome
So what's next...I've been working through the Hidden Potential course with Cassie and there are quite a few exercises in there that are good for Veto to do.  I've got a webinar coming up which is for Managing the Reactive Dog run by Amy Cook via Fenzi's Academy and then I'm hoping I can get a Gold spot for the course that starts with Amy in October.  I had wanted to put him on Prozac to take the edge off his triggers while we work through it but when he had bloods done his ALT enzymes were elevated.  So we have to get bloods redone before he can start to make sure they are normal.  Fingers crossed that they are because I think the meds will be important to help us work through this.  I want to believe.  Will he ever feel comfortable at an agility trial?  I really don't know.  But I have to try.  The only thing that is keeping me in agility at the moment is the joy I feel when I train him.  At home where he knows he is safe we have so much fun.  I can have the crappiest day but go home and train him and everything feels OK again.  That seems like it is worth fighting for.  But I won't compromise him again.  If after all this he still can't cope with the dogs at trials then we will stop.    

       
Expanding the agility area

Cassie and I have been busy working through the Hidden Potential course.  The most interesting part has been teaching her a consent and opt out signal.  I've often whinged that I never know what she is thinking but these games allow her to tell me just that.  So far I've ascertained that she loves training at home, loves training at the club at night time but has opted out every time at trials during the day.  Clearly she finds that environment so aversive that she doesn't want anything to do with it.  Hard to watch but at least now I can honour and accept the way she feels and not push her when she feels that way.  At this point I have accepted that trialling her is something that is unlikely to happen in the future.  Any work we do now is all for me to learn to be better for my dogs.  Even if I can't fix Cassie I don't want to waste the opportunity to grow.  There is another Hidden Potential course being offered in February next year so if I can I'm going to try and get a gold spot.  I would love to have the chance to actually work with Sarah Stremming for Cassie as I think Sarah is an amazing dog trainer and I love her thought process.

Spring
Just to top off all my agility failures of the last few months even judging is fast losing it's appeal.  I was really enjoying designing courses and having the opportunity to judge.  But after the last few trials that has really changed and I'm not enjoying it at all.  I guess my skin isn't as thick as I thought it was.  I only have Jumping classes for the remainder of the year at least which takes the pressure off slightly.  If I don't start enjoying it again next year I think I will have to reconsider if I should continue.  Hobbies are meant to be fun!