Sunday, March 29, 2009

Riot's world

Never again will I hassle Riot about not trying hard enough or be disappointed with him not being the agility dog that I'd hoped for. Yesterday we spent twelve hours filming the new commercial for BP&G's and he worked his butt off all day. I made sure we were more prepared this year after our previous experiences. I was very clear with the advertising agency beforehand what I required from them to make sure that Riot wasn't pushed excessively or silly demands made on him. They can get a little caught up in getting the perfect shot regardless of what they are asking the dog to do. These guys were pretty good and they all treated Riot with a lot of respect and genuine affection. Everyone lavished him with attention and most referred to him by name as opposed to "the dog" (which always annoys me...).

We spent the first couple of hours filming in front of a green screen. So there was Riot sitting on his mark in front of this massive green background, a huge lighting screen in front with lights, a camera, a photographer and another ten other people running around and he just did his thing. I don't know of many dogs who could have dealt with all that for ten minutes let alone all day. He had the odd moment where you could see that he had had enough and zoned out into his own little world. So I'd take him out and give him a break and he would come back ready to go. The director said to me that he kept forgetting that Riot was a dog with all the things he was doing and coping with!

Everyone seemed thrilled with what they got from the day. Some of the stuff I saw on the monitor looked amazing. Unfortunately when I was working with Riot during filming I couldn't see the monitor so you couldn't appreciate just what they are capturing. This time round they attempted to get lots of different footage to use over the whole year for various advertising campaigns.

I'm really glad that Riot has found his niche. Agility's not his his forte and I get that but it's great that he's found something that he seems to really enjoy. Mind you I don't know many border collies who don't want to be the centre of attention! Hopefully we'll see the fruits of his labour in a month or so when the new commercials hit the screen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Photo opportunity

Lucky Riot spent this morning at Debbie Hyde's grooming salon in Midland getting a makeover in preparation for tomorrows commercial shoot with Better Pets and Gardens. I have to say that thanks to Deb my normally scuffy, curly coated, grubby boy has been transformed into a clean, shiney coated handsome man. Just like having a new dog! Now the pressure is on to keep him that way for at least the next 24 hours. Sonic may need to be otherwise entertained...

Naturally I had to get some photo's of Riot while looking so ravishing. Then I got inspired enough to capture some of the other furkids giving me their best expressions.

Miss Noodle in her favourite snoozin' spot

It wasn't me... Yeah sure Sonic

My little B girl - Angel...

...who really hates her photo being taken

Murphy - my grumpy old man. He's 11 going on 100

Riot showing how good you can look after a bit of spit and polish

Who's really just a big dork at heart

Pre spit and polish

If all else fails - suck on your blankie. It will always make you feel better!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lights, camera, action?

I have now experienced my first time in front of the camera filming three episodes worth of TV for Channel Nine’s “Garden Gurus”. It was something that I accidentally fell into thanks to Riot’s association with Better Pets & Gardens as the company’s mascot. Most of the filming was actually of Riot but the main presenter interviewed me as to my thoughts on dogs digging in the backyard. I actually didn’t have a lot to say in the end. When I was first asked to do it I thought it was a great opportunity to get the positive reinforcement word out to the general public. I get sick of watching all these other “dog gurus” on TV who give very little attention to advising people to actually reward their dog for doing the right thing. As it happened it was so flowery and based around selling product for Better Pets and Gardens that it wasn’t really an appropriate forum for my passionate ramblings on dog training. I did have a couple of disagreements with them regarding some of the content that they were spouting. Just cause you read something on the internet doesn’t mean it’s the most appropriate way of doing something (or works for that matter…) and I was a bit disappointed that they got their information from the internet in the first place when they had asked me to be on the show as a dog trainer. I obviously wrongly assumed that they’d ask me! My dogs didn’t learn what they know by themselves.

Riot was great for the duration of the day. As usual he worked his arse off and even surprised me with some of the things he was willing to have a go at. Twice I told them that I doubted he would do something when he was actually more than happy to oblige the masses. It bodes well for the new commercial that we are filming next Friday. He did crack the shits at me a couple of times and I received the “talk to the paw, lady” expression when he’d had enough of having a heap of ridiculous dog coats taken on and off of him. I do think he revels in the attention though and when I had to get him to run into shot to be with Trevor I had to hold him back in his haste to get in there. It’s nice to do some stuff with Riot in any case. Since I pulled him from the agility ring due to his apparent disregard for the sport he has kind of languished in the background. The tricks that I’m teaching him for the commercial means that every day we hang out and do some work together. He can frustrate the hell out of me but ultimately he just needs to get there in his own time and when he does it’s always worth waiting for.

For anyone who’s interested in watching my appearances on the “Garden Gurus” the shows will be aired on Channel Nine, Saturday 28th March (puppy episode which I don’t think I’m in – Riot’s 9 week old son got all the attention in that one), Saturday 11th April (which should feature my in depth interview (well three sentences anyway) with Trevor on digging…) and Saturday 2nd May (which is on dog fashion and has an unimpressed Riot parading a variety of mostly unattractive dog jackets). Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be giving up my day job anytime soon!

Now on to what young Sonic and I have been up to of late. The last couple of weeks I have taken it pretty easy with him. I’ve mainly been focusing on breaking all of his performances down and rewarding after a couple of well executed obstacles rather than trying to do whole sequences. I’ve been providing him with lots of high level reinforcement on contacts and even whipped out a tin of sardines as big reward after one dog walk that he did. He’d never had sardines before but the way he scoffed them down, almost choking in the process leads me to believe that he quite enjoyed the experience. He’s now doing the full height seesaw however we’ve already had quite a few fly offs. These don’t appear to bother him in the slightest. I’ve been giving him a loud seesaw then bang command with the hope that after a few fly offs he will start to understand that seesaw means that it’s going to tip. It doesn’t appear to have affected his confidence in belting up the dog walk, which was one of my concerns. I’m still convinced that the “bang game” is one of the better ways to teach the seesaw. My version is a combination of what Rob Mickalski and Susan Garrett do. I love that it turns the potentially scary drop of the seesaw into a game for them and ultimately they love the fact that the seesaw bangs down rather than worry about it. Plus you are teaching them to control their bodies as it happens instead of clinging on and hoping for the best!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Western Classic - continued

Last Sunday night was Agility and Jumping Teams, which wrapped up the Classic for 2009. Our team “The Masters & The Apprentices” was made up of Kriszty with Jess and Terra and myself with Riot, Lexi and Sonic as Reserve. Our other regular team member Simone with Cypher was over in Canberra winning everything at the BC Nationals!

The jumping course was lovely and flowing although quite tight with a couple of off course traps. With Sonic running as the reserve there was no pressure on us and he ran a stunning clear round that was tight, controlled and hard to fault in any way. Certainly a much better run than Saturday in the Novice Jumping class.

Agility was another matter entirely though… It was the total opposite of the jumping course in that although not particularly technical it was spread over the entire ring with close to maximum distance between each obstacle. Not a hard course by any means, just a damn long way to run! Sonic managed most of it however in between some of the bigger gaps he was a bit lost and I have to say my handling of it was sloppy and inaccurate. The positives were that his contacts were solid. He missed his first weave entry from the A-Frame but picked them up again no worries on the second attempt.

I now have another month before he is entered in any more trials so it gives me a bit of time to improve some of our skills in a few different areas. Firstly our circle work needs to be revisited. I was mainly concerned about our inside circles and the effect it’s having on rear crosses however last night showed that our outside circle work could also improve. He was drifting all over the place in between the agility obstacles, which shouldn’t happen if his circle work was better. We also need to continue working on our entries into the weavers from different obstacles. He’s never done weaves from an A-Frame before and last night it showed. Another issue was he started going from a sit to a down on the start line. He has done it before in training but I’ve always gone back and reset him. Although he’s not actually breaking forward he is breaking criteria going from a sit to a down so we will do some start line revision.

On a more positive note his jump work over the weekend was flawless. I can’t say 100% if he’s just a natural or if the Susan Salo grids have played some part. Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Whatever it is it’s a great relief, as bar knocking seems to plague many working border collies here in Perth. Over the next month I also need to finish off teaching the see saw so I can have the choice of entering Open classes with him.

In the end our Jumping team placed second but the agility team was a bit of a disaster. Between Kriszty and me, we managed to make a pretty big mess (except for Jess who was a star as usual). Lexi decided that the judge was scary and spent the entire agility run having an anxiety attack about it. She is normally Miss Casual about everything. I had to DQ us and take her over to the judge to say hello. Go figure!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What a super young Sonic

Last night was the individual agility classes at the Western Classic for 2009. We had three interstate judges who had come over plus Richard Barville our local representative. It was pretty warm initally but cooled down somewhat when the sun finally went down.

My first class for the evening was Novice Agility with Sonic. Michael Vigor from South Australia built a lovely course which was basically a figure of eight (hooray!!). After walking it I felt pretty happy that Sonic should manage it easily. The lack of anything particularly technical also meant I could concentrate on keeping criteria for contacts and getting a good weaver entry. I hung around to help keep Sonic relaxed and had the chance to watch most of the dogs before me. Unfortunately most made a bit of a mess of it which diminished my confidence a little... When I got to the start line I made myself stop thinking about it and focus on the job at hand.

First up we had a line of five jumps and into a flexi tunnel. I was a little concerned about such a long row of jumps in that he may rush and knock a bar. I led out a little less than what I could have done to get him to steady up a bit. I shouldn't have worried as his timing and striding between were perfect. The flexi tunnel took as around the first corner then over another jump then the broad then over the A-Frame. His AF was great, nice and fast with a stopped two on two off plus a tail wag to show me how much he was enjoying himself. Then onto the table for our five second count. I held him for another second after Michael said "go" just for safe keeping. Then onto the dog walk which although not as fast as he's done was solid with another lovely two on two off. I held his position for about a second and then we crossed back through the middle of the figure eight, over a jump and into a flexi tunnel, onto the weavers and the run home. He powered out of the tunnel quite fast and actually hit the weavers pretty hard. His wonderful understanding of collect then weave fast kicked in and for a novice dog it was pretty impressive. A great advertisment for Susan Garrett's 2 x 2 method. Then we had two jumps to finish. I don't think there is anything that Sonic could have done better for his first run. I just couldn't fault him on attitude or understanding of his job.

Later on we had Novice Jumping and quite a tricky course. It required quite a bit of handling to get around although the up side being that it was much more open than last week so the dogs could stretch out and get some speed up. It started with three jumps on a hard diagonal and onto a tyre (same as the masters jumping course) then a pull through into a tunnel. Sonic handled this without any problems however I had to sprint to catch up after my pull through. Then it was straight out onto a three jump serpentine. Once again Sonic handled this no problem. The tricky bit came up next in that the last of the serpentine and the following three jumps were in a diagonal line which required a pull through after they'd gone over the serpentine to straighten them up for the next two jumps. I didn't quite manage this as well as I'd like and although we got through it, it wasn't pretty. In saying that the last jump in that line was a flick away for us due to my bad position and he didn't take the jump. So all kudos to Sonic that he understands my handling system. I had to pull him back and continue. We avoided getting a refusal as he didn't actually go past the jump. Then it was another pull through then across a broad jump into a tunnel and two jumps home for another clear round. One other note to self moment was his last exit out of the tunnel. I forgot to give him a big enough cue and he came flying out like the clappers not realising that I'd turned. We lost at least two seconds there.

So naturally I'm really happy with our night. You put so many hours of work into them and to have it pay off on the night was a great feeling. Sonic is loving every minute of it and feels like he is getting faster with every competition. The other thing that impresses me is that he is really concentrating and trying so hard for me. And you can't ask for more than that.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The old girl

My old girl Soda (Lucratif Barbwire Babe UD ADM JDM SPD ET), affectionately known at home as “Noodle”, turned 12 yesterday. She seems to be enjoying her old age. She’s as deaf as a post and I think her eyesight is a bit dodgy, but nothing appears to worry her too much. She spends most of her time happily living in her own little world. We have an interesting hand waving system developed for communicating with her. Calling her up to the house looks a little like directing a Boeing 747 into a parking bay at the airport. She’s not really interested in going out much anymore. Given a choice between a chewy strip and a car ride the chewy strip will win every time. The only exception to this is a trip with the furry family down to the beach. Without fail when we get about 10 minutes from the beach she starts barking. Being deaf all the telling off in the world from us does nothing to shut her up so we turn the radio up and try to ignore the racket instead.

Soda was an amazing agility dog. She had this ridiculous jumping style where she would launch herself from miles away over a jump that always elicited ooohs and gasps from anyone watching. Together we won over 40 Masters Jumping events including Royal Shows, Western Classics and State Titles. We never did quite as well in agility thanks to my dodgy training of her contacts however we did collect enough wins/places to easily have achieved her Agility Champion title if it had been introduced pre 2006. By 2006 when the Ag CH title was finally created she was already 9 years old and her hearing was well and truly on the way out. The slats coming off the dog walk put paid to any ideas of me continuing agility with her as she no longer had any way of knowing whether she was on a dog walk or a see saw. In the years that Soda ran at the Nationals, if she went clear we never finished lower than fifth place. We qualified for National Agility finals in 2003 and 2004 and made state team selection in 2004 and 2005. I officially retired her in 2006 after winding down her career with some Open Jumping classes. Although her mind was willing I felt that her body was no longer able and her long-term health is more important to me than more agility cards.

She also loved obedience and I was able to take her through to her UD title in 2005. An incredibly clever dog she learnt the UD behaviours easily and never got sick of heelwork. I never had to worry about her lagging, instead I had to work on stopping her from forging ahead of me. My desire to do obedience is fairly poor in comparison to my desire to do agility so I couldn’t get myself motivated enough to bother attempting an Obedience Champion title.

Soda was my superstar. A feisty girl who would shoot another dog at twenty paces just for looking at her in a way she deemed offensive. An “Energiser Bunny” to the core who loved nothing more than to work her heart out for me. I owe all my handling skills to Soda as her speed forced me to run hard to stay with her to get her around the course. If my timing was off she would do about five off course jumps before I’d had time to blink.

So now my beautiful girl, enjoy your continuing retirement and old age with lots of sleeping, eating and being loved for as long as I have the pleasure of you being with me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sonic's Debut

Well the big event has come and gone. I have to say I was really rather embarrasingly nervous. This wasn't helped by every second person I walked past asking me if I was nervous/excited! Luckily I didn't have to wait long for my first run which was Novice Jumping. I wasn't sure how Sonic would handle the course as for Novice it was quite technical. There were three pull throughs and three rear crosses that I'd identified during the walk through and it was relatively tight. I had secretly been hoping for a figure eight or something simple... We were the third dog in the ring in the first set of classes so there wasn't much time for standing around and thinking about it too much.

As I walked into the ring I just blocked everything out (quite a lot of people had come up to watch the big debut, so no pressure!) and tried to focus on keeping nice and calm. Sonic seemed relaxed which was great. He held his start line perfectly. There was an off entry tunnel after the first three jumps which he managed well then another pull through when he came out of the tunnel to miss the off course jump that was right in front of him on exit. Then we had a straight line then around into a tunnel that I rear crossed. This was followed by another rear cross when he came out of the tunnel onto the next jump. This was followed by a tight loop around that I actually did another pull through on but shouldn't have (a moment of nerves) then back down through the tunnel for another rear cross. I put in another pull through before the rear cross as when he came out of the tunnel he was heading too far down to make the jump. The pull through straightened his line up. Then it was a straight line home for a wonderful clear round and a first place. The standard course time was 49secs and he did it in 21secs which was 5secs clear of the second placegetter.

Later on we did the Open Jumping which was technically much easier and more spread out than the Novice course being that there was only one front cross required in the whole thing. However the distance challenge required a flick away to be able to get your dog out there to find the jump (unless you went over the distance line). That was never going to happen as I have no intention of compromising my handling system for one Open pass. His start line was perfect again and he handled the first two jumps and weaver entry with no problems. Unfortunately as I was moving away from the weavers he pulled out at about the tenth one so we went back and redid them. This time no problems. As we went around the back to the first part of the distance challenge I started to move away laterally and he actually missed the first jump which I was a bit surprised about. I turned him around and sent him back out. When we came out of the tunnel I actually stopped him and realined him for the "flick away" jump although in hindsight I should have just run straight over the line out to it. Then he came around and did a lovely section to finish with one interesting development where he ran between the uprights of the first and last jump that had been set quite close together. It wouldn't have been the first time he's seen two jumps close together but with the electronic start gates set up I think he's gotten a bit confused about what was in front of him. He stretched out nicely for the run and seemed quite relaxed and comfortable.

So all in all I'm really pleased with our first attempts. You certainly wouldn't have thought it was his first competition as he handled himself like a pro. Things to work on for me will be revisiting some inside circle work to help tighten up his rear crosses. I think he's swinging out too wide from me when he does them so the circle work should help things along. I need to do some more weaver proofing on twelve weavers so we can prevent anymore occurances of him coming out at the tenth pole. Then I think I might get some wings out to put next to some uprights to manage the problem we had with him missing that last jump. I must admit I'd forgotten to proof his view of uprights with my obsession over weavers and contacts!

I feel really confident now about putting him in both Novice Agility and Jumping at the Classic next weekend. We will have another month break after that before I will enter any trials again in April when there are quite a lot for us to enter.

Lastly, thanks to everyone last night for their good wishes and support for Sonic's debut. Once again showing what a great agility community we have in WA. It's so nice to have people genuinely wanting to see you do well :-)