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.

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.

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!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


This last month has been all about building motivation for Ve and enjoyment for the obstacles. His understanding of the handling is amazing and I couldn't be happier with what he knows and how well he responds. But now I want to see him feel confident enough to start letting loose out there on course. At the beginning of July we had a trial at Cloverdale, our first in what felt like forever. Perfect weather for once which was awesome. He was a really good boy and went clear in his first attempt at Excellent Jumping and also his first attempt at Open Jumping. So close in Novice Agility with just a fumble on the dog walk costing us a Q. But it was so slow for at least the first half of each course which was a bit frustrating. He is so much faster than that and it felt like pulling teeth.  I'm not really sure if it was lack of confidence (he's been to those grounds only a couple of time before) or he's just trying so hard to be correct.  On the positive side he was only two seconds behind first in XJ and one second behind first in OJ. If he can go that slow and still be within range then there is hope, I hope! What it did though was make me realise that it's time to let him know he can let his hair down out there. His skill work is awesome so time to learn to run and love what we he is doing. So I needed a plan to let the boy stretch his wings. I threw out the complex sequences with fifty backsides and turn, turn, turn. In its place I have built a tunnel and contact racecourse which is all about running fast and stretching out. There are still rules, like hitting contacts and driving straight lines, no shifting in. But other than that its all about how fast can you go. I only put wings in, no actual jumps so the work we are doing on wings is about wrapping and driving out fast without having to worry about bars.

Speed Circuit

We had a couple of weeks to play with the speed circuit at home before we headed to our next trial which was in Geraldton.  Unfortunately Kriszty's Red had injured herself so I had to suffer the long and very boring drive by myself for this trip.  But we had a good time and came away with two more Excellent Jumping passes, a "so close" Open Jumping pass and two very close Novice Agility runs.  The last few novice agility classes we've competed in has had a turn after the dog walk.  There is nothing wrong with that but it would be so nice to have some straight exits for a change!  I think I've seen more straight lines in Masters than Novice of late.  I would just like Veto to have the opportunity to develop some confidence in the ring before things get hard and that is really what Novice is meant to be.  I'll keep working on his turns off the dog walk, quite clearly they need improvement.  But I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we might get some straight exits in upcoming trials.  That is when I'm actually competing and not judging of course.  The most promising thing about Geraldton though was that Ve was much, much faster.  Still not back to the speed he was showing in March but the improvement was definitely noticeable.  I figure that as long as they are improving then you have to be happy.  I still want to see more from him yet and I know he is much faster than that.  But it's a step in the right direction.  

The plan for him now is to continue with some more work on the speed circuit at home.  I'm going to keep working on building drive away from me and build increasing value for the obstacles.  I would also like to build excitement before he goes into the competition ring so he starts to find it a more interesting and less formal place to be.  Because he can be really reactive I have to be really careful that the excitement isn't redirected to reacting at other dogs.  So I'll be choosing my timing and make sure we have plenty of space around us.  I do have a couple of sequences that I'd like to try with him over the next few weeks but I'll be avoiding any dull repetitions and focusing on drive between a couple of jumps at a time with loads of rewards and maintaining excitement.  I've also re-started work on the see-saw because I think it will be quite valuable to enter him in some Open Agility runs to give him more experience in the agility classes.  It's the contacts that he needs the experience on and he's not going to get that in Open Jumping.  His see-saw is going reasonably well but probably needs another few weeks work before I consider him ready to do one in a trial.

I feel like I'm making some progress with Cassie.  She came up to Geraldton and rather than try and run the full courses with her I decided to run them all as NFC.  She had four runs so I started out doing only three obastcles and built up to about twelve or so over the two days.  She was much better than last time and I think out of the four runs she engaged happily in about three of them when I was warming her up although it sometimes took a few minutes to convince her that I wasn't going to torture her.  She had a couple of hesitations on course when coming out of tunnels but she worked through it and then I would make sure that her jackpot was only a couple of jumps after.  So we'll keep moving forward with small steps at a time.  I've also signed up for another Fenzi Dog Sport Academy course called Hidden Potential.  It's designed for dogs who train really well but don't cope in the competition ring.  It's been a while since I've done one of these courses so I'm looking forward to building on what I've already learned around this stuff and seeing if it might give me and Cassie some other strategies to help her in the agility ring.