Thursday, January 29, 2009

Off to Melbourne

The time has arrived to head off to a rather overly sunny and over heated Victoria. For some reason whenever Greg & Laura come to Perth the weather manages to be appalling. I'd say they were bringing it with them except that they are coming from a UK winter!

I'm my usual nervous self about putting dogs on a plane. It's going to be really hard to leave Sonic at air frieght tomorrow morning. I should be used to flying with dogs by now but I just hate the thought that he may get stressed and upset. Plus my other dogs have always flown with other dogs that they know where as Sonic has to do this by himself. To help him be a bit more comfortable I've packed one of his favourite stuffed toys plus a peanut butter kong to amuse himself with on the plane. Hopefully that will help to relieve a bit of his stress. Not sure what I'm going to do for my stress...I'd turn to alcohol if I didn't have a one and a half hour drive ahead of me when I get off the plane.

Aside from crap weather and my anxiety about flying Sonic for the first time I am really looking forward to the seminar. I've gone through all the course maps that I've been sent and I found it pretty easy to work through them to make my handling decisions. I think that after three GD seminars and watching his latest DVD has finally helped implant the understanding in my brain of how to make my course choices! I can actually walk any given sequence now and now within a minute of thinking about it where I should go based on GD's principles. I use to stand in the ring for about half an hour trying to figure it out and even after then I couldn't say that the choices I made were particularly good or helpful.

Anyway, time for bed. I have to be up at a rather ungodly hour to make sure that I get Sonic to air freight on time. Hopefully I will return full of insightful and stimulating agility training stories.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

We're a weaving!

Well we're doing it! It's been a really interesting last week as we've worked our way from six weavers to the full twelve. I completed a session using six poles on Saturday (Session 15) and Sonic made one mistake while completing some amazing entries and flying through them. I decided not to go down the path of putting two lots of six together with the space in between as per Susan's DVD as he has already successfully done twelve poles when I did the weave-a-matic training late last year. Sunday (Session 16) afternoon I set up twelve weavers using six 2 x 2’s with all the sets slightly open to help his single striding along. To start off with he was going beautifully and he did some great entries from the off side. However when we got to the near side, although initially successful, he seemed to lose all confidence in doing hard entries from that side and continued going in via the third or fourth poles. By this point he was really mentally and physically buggered so I gave him a couple of easy entries and called it quits as I felt the situation wasn’t going to improve. I’m not sure what the reason was for his loss of confidence. He had been down the beach that morning and was running around for most of the day so was he just tired, was seeing the twelve poles too much for him or is it just something he’s going through? I'm really not sure.

Monday evening after work (Session 17) I set up the same thing with twelve weavers using six 2 x 2’s with all the sets slightly open again. As with the day before his entries on the offside where solid. We did have a brief problem with Sonic going around the first pole and then missing the second entry, however this was quickly resolved by opening the first gate for about four repetitions then moving the gate back. Unfortunately we experienced the same issues as the day before with the near side entries. He was successful if I was close to the first entry but as soon as I moved away and made it in anyway challenging he would enter into the second or third pole. On the up side his single striding is really improving and when he gets his entry he is hammering through them.

Tuesday (Session 18) was back down to the Canine grounds. I felt that the best way to deal with his entry problems was to make things a little easier for him so I set up six poles and focused on near side entries. If it was the 12 poles that were overwhelming him I thought that bringing it back to six might help. I also made the first few entries nice and easy. He still made a few mistakes but by the end of the first session he was back to hitting the hard near side entries. Later on in the evening I set up 12 poles, this time with the first four as 2 x 2’s slightly open, the middle four straight and the last four as 2 x 2’s slightly open. Once again he made quite a few mistakes but he was full of confidence and came bouncing back after each one for another attempt. As generally happens when you change the weaver configuration on them I find their style goes a bit dodgy so I will set up the same four open, four straight, four open again on Wednesday just to help him figure out his footwork. He’s trying to single stride but as I keep changing things on him it’s obviously hard for him to settle into it properly. Am definitely feeling a bit more positive about it.

Wednesday (Session 19) was at the Canine grounds again and as with Tuesday I set up 12 poles, with the first four as 2 x 2’s slightly open, the middle four straight and the last four as 2 x 2’s slightly open. This session was great and his entries were back to being pretty fantastic. He stilled missed a few but came back to me full of confidence to give it another go and by the end of it was hitting some extremely impressive entries. His single striding is really coming on. The first few poles can start a bit messy with his footwork however he sorts himself out on his way through.

Thursday (Session 20) I moved on to first four as 2 x 2’s slightly open and the remaining eight poles straight. I incorporated a jump as well to add to the challenge. I only worked on the near side, as I really wanted to do some other sequences with him for a change. Initially we had some great work but I put a jump at a really hard angle (down near the 10th weaver…) and we hit a bit of a roadblock , as he just couldn’t quite get it. After numerous attempts I decided to give him a couple of easier ones and call it quits, as all the other work was great and I didn’t want to rattle his confidence. With the eight straight poles his stride has gone a bit muddled again and he was doing part single and part double striding through them. As per previous experience that should resolve itself once he has another session. Later on in the evening I decided to work on a challenging sequence that had been set up. The sequence had weavers in it with a very challenging angle on the near side (the jump before was sitting in line with weave pole 5 facing towards the entry). It was quite exciting as it was the first time I have asked Sonic to do the weavers as part of a sequence. The first couple of attempts he went straight between the first two poles and then blasted past all the rest. By the third try he hit them well and manoeuvred himself around to complete the rest. When I came back to have another go about half an hour later he managed them first go with no hesitation. This was a weaver entry, which even the experienced dogs where missing. Needless to say I was rather chuffed!

I'm giving him the next few days break as weaving is so taxing on their bodies. I'm doing some training at Brian's on Monday morning so I think I may do the four 2 x 2's followed by eight straight again and see how we go. If it is solid then I feel we'll be ready to go to 12 straight permanently. Of course we have plenty of proofing to do but at least we can start doing some more interesting sequences.

I have to say that after following through with Susan Garrett's 2 x 2 method I doubt I will ever use anything else. It's simple and easy for the dog to follow provided the dog understands the concept of offering behaviours. If you stick with Susan's principles it remains fun and exciting for the dog while achieving pretty speical results. For anyone contemplating giving it a try I fully recommend that you do!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More 2 x 2's

So the 2 x 2 training continues. I decided that Sonic's understanding of what he was doing after some weekend sessions was great enough for us to start rotating the poles around into a straight line. We did this progressively over an afternoon session (cooling off in his paddle pool inbetween me moving the poles). He did make a few mistakes, especially when we started, but you could see his understanding grow through the process. By Tuesday I had him running through straight 2 x 2's and then on Wednesday he was abley handling a set of 4 weaves on competition bases. He did so well that later that session I added a jump which he also managed easily with some pretty flashy entries on his behalf.

So the next plan is to introduce 6 poles. This will have to wait until the weekend as we are going through another couple of days worth of Perth's extreme heat. Once he can manage the 6 straight poles I will add in the other 6 as per Susan's DVD. All going well I think I can safely predict that Sonic will be doing 12 straight weavers WITH amazing entries by next weekend. How very awesome that will be :-)

The Canine (or should I say "Dog West" now) grounds have finally reopened so I can get a bit more training done under lights. I didn't do a lot of contact work over the last few days, but the couple of dog walks that Sonic did were very nice. Sonic appears to be generalising the running down the contact into two on two off at any location and on any dog walk which is great. His A-Frame isn't too bad right now. I would like to see a bit more speed however I feel certain that this will build when he gets more confident. At the moment you can see him being careful when he goes over the AF whereas he appears a lot more confident and surefooted when he does a dog walk.

His sequencing is going pretty well although some of the harder grids from Greg's "Great Dog, Great Handler" DVD are still really challenging us, particularly the serpentine grids. But we shall keep plugging away at them. He has improved so much on other grids in only a few weeks so I know that we will get there.

Friday, January 9, 2009

2 x 2 Update

Unfortunately there has been no let up in the really hot weather we've been getting in Perth over the last week. The only good place to be of an evening is either down the beach or in the lounge with the air conditioning on.

Sonic and I have only managed about 5 days worth of 2 x 2 training so far. We had a couple of days where we could fit in two sessions but mostly we can only do the one per day. At this stage I'm pretty happy with Sonic's progress. We seem to have some sessions where I can rarely get him to make a mistake and other sessions were we make loads of mistakes! I'm glad that he is making some mistakes as hopefully it will only help to increase his understanding of the game.

We now have the 2 x 2's at 4 feet apart but still at the 8 o'clock/2 o'clock angle. Sonic has had the last couple of days off so when we do a session tomorrow morning I'm hoping that we can start to rotate them around. Apparently next week is going to be cooler plus the Canine grounds are reopening so I should be able to get a bit more done and, all going well even have the 4 poles in a straight line by the end of the week. I must admit I am really looking forward to getting the whole weaving thing trained as I can't wait to be able to do proper sequences with him rather than having to do half of one and miss bits that he can't do yet. Mind you I still haven't trained the See Saw but thats a story for another day...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Time for 2 x 2's

Sonic 2009

Susan Garrett's DVD "2 x 2 Weave Training" has arrived in the mail. I hate to admit it but I was ridiculously excited...I think I've already watched it about 20 times!

The method itself is the same as when I first tried it out on Riot in 2005 but Susan has really simplified it. I think it's great and I find her philosophy regarding dogs learning to "blast" through weavers rather than understanding how to collect themselves and find the entry very relevant. We have some fabulously fast border collies here in Perth who although do really fast weavers, often have entry issues particularly on hard angles. The most likely reason being that they don't have an understanding of how to collect their bodies and make the entry and want to just hit the poles as fast as possible. Sonic was already able to do 12 weavers but I wasn't happy in the least in how he was approaching them or making his way through them. That was why I decided to stop and wait for this DVD to arrive.

So Sonic and I have made a start. I have set out to follow the method exactly as set out in the the DVD, as if he hasn't done any weaving yet at all. I shaped a lot of his early training so he picked up the idea very quickly of offering to go into the poles. Susan does three sessions per day on the DVD and I am not able to do that with both work and the current Perth heat slowing things down. However what we are doing he is picking up very quickly so I feel pretty confident that we will have great weavers by the end of this month. Complete proofing may take a little longer.

The best news is that Sonic loves it. He races out to find the entry no matter where I'm standing and then zooms through to get his toy. I have found the philosophy of encouraging your dog to make a mistake really interesting. I'm sure that I am one of many dog trainers who always try and set up training so that my dog only suceeds. If he makes a mistake I generally make it easier for him so he can get it right. Susan is basically saying that making it easier only teaches our dogs that if they struggle we will make it less challenging for them rather than encouraging them to work through it. It's actually been really hard at this stage to get Sonic to make many mistakes. If he does make a mistake he rarely makes the same one again. However I'm making a concious effort not to coddle him and to encourage him to try something whether he gets it right or wrong. If if he does fail he comes back full of enthusiasm to give it another go which is fantastic and shows a great attitude to his work. I'm videoing bits and pieces when I get the chance so hopefully when I'm done I can put it together and look back at our progression.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Beach

We've been down to the beach more or less everyday this week. I could spend hours down there. The dogs love it as much as I do. This week I took the video camera with me to take the opportunity to record some fun in the sun vision with my crew. Murphy and Soda are now in their 12th year and I have so many memories of summers spent with them playing on the beach. I wanted to make something that I could keep that epitomises a day well spent with them. It's not your average exciting agility video, but everytime I watch it I get tears in my eyes just seeing them so happy.

Just a quick note, I couldn't resist including Sonic giving me his joyous "I'm at the beach" scream so make sure you turn the volume up...