Sunday, April 2, 2017

Riding High

It was pretty exciting for me late last year when for the first time in a long time I had two sound, happy dogs out in the agility ring.  Cassie was only running Not for Competition and I was still rebuilding skills and strength with Veto but when you have been unable to compete to the level you wanted for so long it was still a thrill to be back out there.  Imagine then how totally blown away I was when last weekend Cassie won both Masters Agility and Masters Jumping and Veto won Novice Agility and was extremely unlucky to not win Novice Jumping, just clipping the very edge of the broad jump in an otherwise flawless round.

Proud pappy :)

I had become somewhat of an agility pessimist given that not a lot has gone right for me in a while with my dogs.  When Veto went clear in Novice Agility for our first run of the night and then Cassie went clear in Masters Jumping I actually felt greedy.  Like I didn't deserve to have both dogs go clear.  For Cassie to then go clear in Masters Agility was crazy.  To win all three classes, insanity.  I'm sure lots of people think that I'm being over dramatic but I've worked so long and so hard and I thought that maybe I was just never going to get back there.  It's only early days and so much more work to do.  Cassie went the wrong way on 9 out of 10 wraps, I lost her behind me on both courses and was just fortunate that she didn't go off course.  One of the funniest things is listening to the commentary outside the ring as people gasps and shriek watching Cassie and I all over the place!  She was also very hesitant to come off the line.  I don't believe she was stressed.  The normal signs of her being stressed weren't there but it looks like I need to make sure I keep that balance at training where by we do as much skill work as we do jackpots for doing a couple of jumps.  It was a good reminder for me not to let the small things go.

Veto was pretty much paw-perfect on both of his runs.  He was powerful, graceful, focused and 100% with me.  Watching him finally starting to drive out of this turns was a relief.  I know how powerful he is but you never really know if you will be able to draw it out of them on an agility course.  So much improvement yet to go but it's there and I can see it.  I can't wait to continue watching him grow and mature into the dog I know he will be.  The only glitch is his 'dislike' of a few dogs at agility.  Border collies who are quite "starey" and on the intimidating side are not on his list of happy things.  If they stare and growl at him he will not think twice about going back at them.  I do my best to avoid these dogs at trials and I know which dogs they are but as is they way, no matter where I go I always seem to get caught by one of them appearing when I least expect it.  To be on the safe side I am using his halti again when we are at trials.  I need to be able to have better control of his head should we have an encounter so I can create distance pronto.  I am going to have to do some specific work with him learning to be less reactive and feel less threatened by those dogs.  That will be a major priority at the next few trials until I can get him to relax and realise that he doesn't need to protect himself from them.

Next on our path is the State Agility Trial which is only about three weeks away.  I would dearly love for Cassie to do well.  Other than the first State Trial she ever did they all have been a disaster.  She's had a couple of wins in the qualifying trials but for the most part has been times when she hasn't wanted to run and it's been a frustrating and depressing weekend of feeling like a total failure.  She's in a good place though now and I'm hoping I can keep her there.  Having Veto there as well this year in Novice will be so much fun and I guess anything that Cassie does will be a bonus.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Competitions begin

The last six weeks has not just been about getting the dogs back into the ring, it has also been about me getting back into competition condition.  The downside of having a reputation as a massive sweet tooth meant that I got more boxes of chocolates for Christmas presents than any normal person should ever need.  Naturally I ate them all but then realised that my waist line had expanded to accommodate my bodies new found sugar supply.  Drastic action had to be taken and I logged back into the My Fitness Pal app for the first time in a couple of years. Without the opportunity to get out and run at lunchtimes as much as I'd like it was time to cut the calories so I cut back to a daily max of 1200 calories per day.  I log everything that makes it past my mouth in the app to make sure I know exactly what I'm eating each day.  Otherwise it's too easy to lose track.  Sweet snacks are allowed but at no point am I to go over my calorie max.  They say that losing weight is 80% what you put in your mouth and 20% exercise and sure enough within five weeks I've lost three and a half kgs.  And feeling much better!  I'm back to doing at least one 3km run a week to Jacobs Ladder but ideally I want to add in an extra day once things calm down at work.  But we'll get there.  Getting those few kilos off has already made a big difference to the way I feel.       

We've had our first trial of the year, the 2017 Western Classic.  It was a horrible hot weekend but fortunately the evenings weren't too bad once it got to 6pm.  Pretty exciting lining up with Veto.  I was hanging out to see if all our training was paying off.  His first run was Novice Jumping.  The course was OK with some challenging angles.  Unfortunately we didn't go clear with Veto running past a jump.  He was driving down a line really well but when I needed him to turn he just didn't turn soon enough to make the corner.  What was positive was that there was no slipping and sliding, his foot placement was great and he was totally focused.  His speed was a big improvement on last year and he was about three seconds faster than the winner even with a big bobble where I got in his way and he had to go around me.  His agility run was only so-so and I was a bit disappointed with it.  He totally lost focus half way through and we made a total mess of the handling section.  With how well he has been doing in training I really had hoped for a better performance.  The positives were that his weavers, A-Frame and dog walk were perfect. 

I was a bit worried that Cassie would find it too hot and not want to do anything because she doesn't cope that well in the heat. The Masters Agility class was on first and the course was hard.  Lots of obstacle discrimination and minimal flow between obstacles for a dog that is lacking in skills.  In the end I made the call to scratch her.  She just isn't ready for that sort of challenge yet and I didn't want to risk ruining all the progress we've made when she was never going to get around it.  Masters Jumping was on later and the course was the total opposite.  It was huge with lots of room and a flow I could work with.  Cassie seemed happy when we were warming up and was merrily playing outside of the ring.  Then when we got started and she was off like the clappers.  Our team work needs a lot of work as does the skill work but she was flying.  So happy and so awesome to see.  It is hard to care about Q's when she is running like that.  It really is so much fun and for me what agility is all about.

The next night we had teams.  There was no real plan for the team to do anything special, it was really just a chance to put our dogs in the ring.  And I'm glad we did because Veto was much, much better.  His focus was improved and it showed in his runs.  He went clear in agility minus the last jump where the lead steward was putting the leads just to the right of the last jump.  So he went straight past it to his lead.  I watched more than one experienced dog also do this so he was in good company.  But everything else was great.  Jumping he also ran clear on what was at least an excellent level course.  Cassie didn't want to run in the agility round.  I have a feeling it was because we were waiting too long.  The 200's were on first and when the judge realised that he didn't actually know all the team rules we were waiting around for ages before we got started.  So when Cassie got into the ring she only did a couple of jumps before she went and hid in the tunnel.  I did the usual and we ran out to her jackpot with no pressure.  We only had about 15 minutes before our next run.  This time I revved her up more and played some chasey games before we went in.  She was much happier this time and while I mucked her up a bit with bad handling she did a great job on course and was fast and happy.  Good lesson for me with her future ring prep.

So a bit of a break until our next trial.  I'm judging this weekend and I won't normally run my dogs if I'm judging because I find it way too stressful.  We haven't done a lot since the Classic because the weather stayed warm but thankfully now it's cooled off again.  So I should be able to get back out and do some more training.  Still mainly focusing on improving handling skills and continue with exercises to build speed off the ground.  Veto got the tick of approval from physio with some new exercises to build his hamstrings up more.  I'm also continuing with physio work for Cassie.  Leigh keeps telling me that Cassie will get faster once we build up her muscles in certain areas.  I'm not sure how I feel about that because I can't get anywhere near her now!  I'll have to employ a sprint the moment when I watch my runs with her I feel like I'm sprinting but when I watch it back it looks like I've barely gotten out of a jog!  

Monday, January 30, 2017

A New Year Begins

Bodies have been rested, muscled and tuned up and now I think we are pretty much ready to take on 2017.  The plyometric work was an unknown as far as what the result would be so I was pretty excited when Leigh who is Veto's physio told me that three weeks on he now has the muscle density of a three or four year old dog.  The first week he was back in training after the post plyometric rest I didn't think it had made any difference but now seeing him work I can see the change in him.  There is a power there that he didn't have before and the slipping and sliding when he turns after a jump finally disappearing because he's digging into his turns and driving out of them with confidence.  Even when he's running around out the back with the other dogs he is handling his body so much better.  Definitely worth taking the time out to work through it.  At this stage we'll do the program every three to four months.  Something amazing about having a strong dog to work with.  It almost makes his accident worth it as if not for that I never would have meet Leigh and working with her has been a turning point for my dogs in agility.

Veto 2017
So now we are happily getting on with skill training, what I love best.  I'm still working him back through the H360 Blueprint exercises.  It's really nice doing them a second time because now it's just a refresher for him and its like a double check to make sure he actually understands the different verbals and what everything means.  In the last three or four months I've seen such an overall change in him attitude wise.  He's always worked for me but there were plenty of "struggle" days when I had to compete for his attention with other distractions and there were days when I felt like I was coming a fairly distant second in his preferences.  But now he goes out to train with a maturity and purpose and I love how hard he tries for me.  He brings the toy back and shoves it at me if I don't grab it right away.  Finally all the relationship work is paying off and I feel like he wants to be out there with me instead of having to.  Makes the hard yards worth it, even if you wonder if you'll ever get there at the time.  Each week I'm mixing up what he does to try and keep some balance in his training.  So one day we'll work on handling skills then the next day we'll do running dog walk or A-frame.  As of this week I'll put weavers back on the list too.  I held off on those until he'd had the all clear from Leigh and I wanted to make sure his shoulders were in good shape but now it's time to get on with it.

The old gents -  Riot and Sonic  2017

Cassie has been on a break from agility and has just been doing fitness work.  But it's time to start doing some agility with her as well.  I'm doing a bit of work with building up her hindquarters.  I got so caught up working on her shoulders and psoas that I neglected her hamstrings and glutes so they need a bit of work to build them up to give her more power.  Although I'm not sure how much more power she needs, I struggle to keep up with her as it is... This year is all about developing her confidence and attitude in the trial ring.  My goal is having her in the best mental place that I can for the 2018 Nationals and see if we can go that one step better and not only make a Masters final but win one of them.  She finished last year off so strongly that I'm hoping we can just keep continuing to improve from there.

Veto and Cassie - My agility team 2017
Both Veto and Cassie are entered in the Classic and that will be their first trial for the year which gives us a month to get ready.  Veto is already further ahead skill wise than he was when trialling at the end of last year so by the time we get to March he should be spot on.  A much nicer place to be that's for sure!  It is incredibly exciting for me to have two dogs going into the ring this year.  It's the first time in years that I've had two sound prepared dogs that I'm able to compete with properly.  I am so looking forward to what the year brings and watching them both grow as agility dogs.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

End of Year Wrap Up

The last five or six weeks have been really busy with weekends filled up by competitions, shopping, physio visits and Christmas functions. I am hanging out to have a Saturday night at home! We had a really exciting and positive end to our trialling year with both Cassie and Veto doing really well at the last few trials so I am going to really look forward to getting back out there in 2017. But I am also looking forward to a break from pretty much everything for the next few weeks once we get through Christmas. 

Pappy on a mission
Flying pappy butt

We all had an awesome weekend away in Albany. Cassie has travelled so many times now that she handles it like a pro. Veto was just a little overwhelmed by his new surroundings and every time I did a lap with him at the competition grounds on the first day he’d have a heap of foam on his chin from salivating his way around the oval. He was very distracted in most of his runs and for the first time left the weavers to sniff the ground in one of his agility runs. He was still hyper-vigilant on the second day but because it was jumping classes much easier to keep his mind on the job and even managed a Q in his second Novice Jumping run. His wow moment on the weekend was when he lost a leg off the edge of the dog walk at full speed but managed to stay on and still get the contact. I was thanking my lucky stars for all the core strength training that we do. Cassie was pretty good for the most part. Day one was the best which wasn’t a surprise. I entered her in Masters so the courses were much harder than she has been doing. She tore her way around both agility runs but had off courses in both.

Three on one off...
The second day she didn’t want to run in the first jumping class but was happy enough to run in the second event. So no quallies for her but I was impressed with how she managed. The best part of Albany though was heading down to the beaches with the dogs. It is just such a beautiful place and I love spending time down there. We only had another two trials in Perth after Albany. Cassie was back to not for competition runs in Novice along with Ve who was doing them for real. Cassie was pretty amazing at both trials and in one Novice Jumping run was only about a second slower than Veto. Pretty impressive when he is over twice her size! I was watching some of her runs from earlier in the year and while there were some good ones there she was often hesitant at the first jump and took a little while to “wind up”. These last couple of months there has definitely been a new sense of confidence in her around both her warm up before going in the ring, the actual run itself and then the jackpot at the end. It feels good to have no gap between what she experiences at training and what she experiences at a trial. For her now it is a seamless concept and that I believe is what has made all the difference. I will have to be careful not to overdo it with her as I think there is the potential for her to get sick of it if we do too much so next year I will plan her trials with that in mind. The Western Classic in March and the State Agility Trial in April will certainly be my priorities with her in the New Year. 

 Veto finished the year with four Novice Jumping passes which exceeded my expectations. I would have been happy with just a couple. Lots to work on, but he was improving with each run as he grows in confidence. He came second every time to Erika’s lovely little Bee who incidentally is Veto’s half-sister with Munn’s Jock being their sire. I am really happy with his times so far especially when he is not even close to full speed on course with his average course time about 17 seconds. His agility runs have been progressively getting better. He lost a heap of confidence on the dog walk after his three feet on effort in Albany and then we have been training on some very dodgy overly bouncy dog walks that haven’t helped. At his last agility run for the year he had a fantastic run but I got a bit overzealous in trying to make sure he had a good weaver entry and instead ended up pushing him to the wrong side of the first pole. Very dumb on my behalf but it was a lovely run. His body is very much all over the place and there is a lot of work to do in strengthening his back end. He is losing all his speed going into and out of turns and doesn’t use his rear end well at all, in fact at the last trial his back end bottomed out completely on a tight turn. He has this terrible habit of sticking his back feet out when he sits (picture Donald Duck) so we’ve been working on creating better habits and holding that form when he’s doing strengthening work to make sure right muscles are developing. We are also about to start a plyometric program that has been developed by Veto’s physio that is designed to get muscles to exert maximum force in short intervals of time with the goal of increasing power and speed. So I’m really looking forward to seeing the outcome of that training on his overall agility performance.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Return of the Super Pappy

Last weekends trial would easily have to be the most successful agility trial I have had in a really, really long time.  While I am extremely pleased with Veto's progress what has me beyond excited is Miss Pappy Pants.  She had been on an agility holiday after the Nationals and then the holiday got extended when Ve hurt himself.  I've done some small bits and pieces with her but it's been very light and non-intensive.  I decided to enter her in an NFC class just to see how she was feeling about the competition ring and get some sort of idea on her head space in the trial environment.  We'd had two super training sessions the week leading up to it where she was confidence plus so I was quietly optimistic but let's face it, you never know what goes on in the mysterious mind of the papillon...  But at the trial on Saturday night she far exceeded any expectations that I had.  We did both Excellent classes and I modified the course so there were no major challenges and she could just run.  And run she did.  I would struggle to find a time when she has run faster, she was insane.  Watching her go into the ring you would not believe for a second that she'd ever had an issue.  She strutted in there like she owned the place and then blasted around like a mini sized demon.

I'm trying to temper my enthusiasm as I know how quickly it can all go tits up.  But this time around I am so much better prepared.  I will never put any pressure on her and I feel very confident now with what to do if she shows any signs of being uncomfortable or stressed.  With that in mind I'm hoping that those times will be further and further behind us.  She is entered at Albany in her normal competition classes.  Seemed silly to do NFC when we are travelling all the way down there but if she shows any stress at all we will be straight out of the ring.  Then we'll finish the year off with a couple more NFC classes.  I just wish I could bottle what I had on the weekend because it was pretty damn special.

Veto was also amazing.  He managed his first two Novice Jumping qualifiers which I was a little surprised about.  I thought it might take a bit longer to get our first passes!  What is really exciting is that he's running really good times already even though he is far from producing the sorts of speeds that I know he will be capable of.  He is trying so very hard for me and improving every run which is all I can really ask.  Lots of work to do on his turns and he's not reading them all that well just yet.  I don't think anyone would call him a natural turner but I'm sure we can make them better with more skill work.  His first ever agility run wasn't too bad at all.  He pulled out of the last half of his weavers but I'm not worried about that and I don't believe that will be an issue.  His running dog walk was really, really good for his first one in the ring.  He didn't have the greatest approach and tried very hard to adjust himself accordingly which exactly what I'd hoped to see even though it wasn't perfect.  He was driving so hard that he completely missed a 90 degree turn shortly after.  His running a-frame was lovely as was the rest of the course.  So I'm feeling very excited about his agility future and to have the two of them going so well feels like I'm being spoilt!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Return to the Ring

Sunday was the auspicious occasion of Veto and I returning to the trial ring.  Probably the most excited I've been about going to an agility trial for a while.  But of course I haven't been to a trial other than to judge for ages anyway...  Absence has most definitely made my heart grow fonder.  It was a bit of a race against time to get him ready and I would have to say that he is still very underdone as far as skills go.  If he hadn't already been out for four months then I wouldn't have trialled him but I kind of felt that even with our skills not quite there, the ring experience won't hurt him.  He is a cautious guy in new situations and it's going to take time for him to be confident out there competing.  Funnily enough it ended up not just being his lack of skills that was the biggest problem and I made more mistakes than he did.

The weather was crap. It always is for our last day trial of the year.  Even though it's been really cool so far this spring naturally it was the hottest day it had been all October and of course dropped ten degrees the following day.  As I've learned previously Ve is not a fan of standing in the sun.  His CoolBuddy Cool Coat certainly got a good workout.  His first run was about lunchtime when I would say it was at it's hottest.  I struggled to get him focused and warmed up because I was so busy trying to keep him in the shade.  It really didn't work well, not to mention half of his very good doggy friends were entered and he really wanted to catch up with his buddies.  The course was not hard at all but a couple of 90 degree turns.  The first turn, even though I did give him a nice early cue, he totally slid over onto his left shoulder.  He very obviously lost his balance but settled for the next few jumps.  Then I gave him a stupid cue for a jump out of the tunnel which caused him to run past the next jump.  After that he had a lovely run home and he very carefully lined himself up for the tyre to make sure he got right dead centre.  Love it when he is concentrating so hard.  No bars down but I wasn't happy about his shoulder slide.  Number one, I don't know if that means he is not quite right, secondly I don't want him to injure himself again and lastly, it's like his brain and body are still way out of sync.  When I give him a verbal for a turn he just can't correlate the cue to what he needs to do to turn.

His second run was better.  I made an even bigger stuff up with his verbals.  He started off really nicely, I didn't cue him as I should have for a turn (although I don't think his skills are strong enough to have read that well anyway) and then I told him to jump when I should have given him a turn cue. So he did exactly what I asked and extended forward.  Good boy Ve.  The next jump was a spread which he didn't really want to do.  I thought at the time that it was just because he had lost momentum and was unsure but it worries me that he was sore as he was turning to the left which is the shoulder side that he slipped on earlier.  Once we got past that bit he was fine and he finished off strongly.

Overall I am so pleased with what he did, annoyed with myself for crappy handling and paranoid that he's still not quite right.  There are massive holes in our skills and we are both majorly behind in where we were pre-accident.  It feels like I've lost twelve months, not four.  But I have a plan and we'll chip away at things over the rest of the year.  I've booked him into physio this week just in case which I hadn't planned on.  Interestingly he doesn't seem to be showing any discomfort in the shoulder that he slipped on but the one that coped the tear from his accident is tighter than it should be.  We most definitely haven't worked this hard to blow it all because there is still an issue there.  So very frustrating for me and him!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Almost there

Three months on and we are getting very close to finally having Veto back to normal.  Once we arrived home from our trip away we visited Deb Nook and while things were looking overall pretty good the shoulder muscle that was torn was only extending about half way.  I suspected that scar tissue was the likely culprit and sure enough Leigh confirmed that was the issue when we visited her for Ve's physio appointment a few days later.  She worked pretty hard on the shoulder and by the end of the session there was a big improvement in his range of motion.  Still no jumping or sprinting just yet but we can at least start revisiting some foundation work from H360 and see what he remembers!  Then we go back to physio in a week to see if we can get the all clear.

Princess Pappy
In the meantime I've signed up for the "Get In Shape! Iliopsoas and Shoulder Strengthening" online course which is run by Leslie Eide from Seattle USA.  Leslie is a vet who specialises in rehab and sports medicine.  It was perfect timing for me to start Veto when we got back from holidays and to make sure he is as strong as he can be as we get back into agility.  We've made a good start with the physio work we've been doing but I'll feel a lot more confident about doing agility with him knowing that he is muscled up in all the right places.

Sonic & Veto
The time out for Veto has definitely made a difference to our relationship and makes the last three months of no agility actually worth it.  Now that he's allowed off lead again he is a very different dog to what he was before.  He checks in all the time when we are walking and comes back when he's called when I need him to go back on lead.  Before he was too busy obsessing over what Sonic was doing to even think about listening to anything I had to say.  He's a lot more relaxed in general as well which is no doubt helped by the fact that he can do a lot more exercise now so is feeling calmer and more mentally satisfied.  I'm sure that there is an element of maturity that is helping, he's 21 months now so a little bit older and wiser.  Colin has also been working really hard with Fizz and getting her to tune in when she's off lead and not just blindly racing around.  Because she is more settled and spends her time checking in with Colin I'm sure helps Veto to be calmer.  He's always been easily our daily walks around the property are becoming almost civilised!

We had a great holiday and one of the more relaxing breaks I've had.  Singapore we were busy because we were doing a lot of sight seeing and hitting the tourist trail.  But Ko Samui was another story entirely and some days all we did was read our books, go for a swim and have a cocktail.  It felt strangely weird to not do anything but we enjoyed it while it lasted because you are always keenly aware that it's over so quickly.  Not to mention how nice it was to be warm.  Once we arrived the jeans went away and it was bathers, shorts and singlets every day.  But I'm glad to be back even though that also means I'm back at work.  I'm so ready to get back into agility with the dogs and really, really looking forward to trialling again.  This time I will try very hard not to break him though...