Monday, April 27, 2009

The real start of the journey

It's been a fortnight of trialling madness. I'm actually quite relieved that next weekend is a weekend away from the golden fields of agility. We were hit with temps over 25 degrees for both days this weekend which saw sensible investments in cool coats paying dividends. Sonic and I had some strong moments in the ring but I've also found plenty of gaps that need work. We ran in the Excellent Jumping class for the first time and managed two out of three passes.

I'm not really feeling up to deciphering every run that we did. I'm too tired. However the thing that stood out the most was probably that we need to do a lot more double box grid work. A couple of times he didn't come around with my shoulder which, if I remember correctly has been something that has been a weakness for a while. It just so happened that a couple of the courses that we ran showed that weakness up. He flicked away from me once too which mortified me a little but then that whole run was a disaster. All his start lines held up, his contacts were great (although a slower dog walk than at the States). All weavers were present and accounted for (except once when I didn't get him focused enough before we started and he went straight past the lot of them...) and no knocked bars.

I was talking to some friends over the weekend about the relationship that you have with your dog when your running agility. That feeling that you get when your dog knows exactly where your going and you know exactly where your dog is going. It's smooth, it's quick and it feels great. I'm actually there with Lexi at the moment, who is a dog that I run for a friend. I only have her twice a week to train and then on weekends when we have trials. It's taken a long time for us to get that feeling as she disappears from time to time to have puppies or when she comes in season. It does have a huge impact not having a dog with you all the time and it's a credit to Lexi that she's doing so well. This last weekend we've had round after round when her runs have been text book. I can remember a time when nothing I did with Lexi worked and every run was hit and miss. I guess that's a bit where I feel I'm at with Sonic right now. He's my baby and it's all new. We haven't figured each other out yet and we're not really comfortable with each other when we're going around the ring. Some bits feel OK and others feel messy and disjointed. Knowing how far Lexi had come has really helped me to look forward to the time that Sonic and I hit our straps and have that ultimate team combination going. As the courses get harder it feels like the reality of the trial ring has just started and my experience with Lexi has definitely served as a reminder to be patient while we're getting there.

Anyway, here are some of Sonic and mines better attempts over the course of the weekend.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ode to da very cool puppy

Being that I'm so proud of my lovely little boy and I think he's the most awesomest dog ever (not including my four other fine furkids of course), I put together clips of highlights of Sonic's passes on the fun journey to get his Novice Agility and Novice Jumping titles.

Here tis. Hope you enjoy watching as much as I enjoy running him.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

State Agility Trial 2009

This weekends State Agility trial definately had it's highs and lows for me and Sonic. The young fella has been going so well I did have pretty high expectations on having a successful States. I felt that if we had good clear runs we could very easily take out both Novice classes. Then we have reality...hahaha!

Our week prior at training was pretty good. The only groan moment being when for the first time Sonic ran up the dog walk and quite clearly thought it was the see saw. I immediately wanted to throw myself on the ground and bash my fists against it while screaming "PLEEEASE put the slats back on the dog walk". So my training strategy with the States imminent was that I didn't do the see saw all week while I worked on building his confidence up again on the dog walk. When training a novice dog for ANKC agility you have to expect that the dog walk/see saw issue will rear it's ugly head (that is if you want a fast dog walk), but it doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. However, we shall grit our teeth and work through it.

Now, back to the States. Friday night was the first lot of heats with the first seven dogs going through to the final on Saturday afternoon. My first event with Sonic was Novice Jumping and a fairly tricky course set by Mel Rhoden, but nothing that I thought would be a big problem. Unfortunately we did have problems which started before we started with Sonic getting up and coming with me when I went to leave him on the start line. I attempted to fix it but it was really just a big mess. He seemed rather overwhelmed by the occasion. So I tried to reassure him and we doddled around to see if I could give him some confidence back.

Next up was Novice Agility with a very nice course built by Jill Housten. I wasn't sure what was going to happen after our Jumping debacle, I was really just hoping that I could recover Sonic's confidence. But I needn't have worried as he ran a flawless course with his fastest dog walk yet in a competition. That gave us first place and a berth in the Novice Agility final on Saturday.

Saturday morning was day two and the second lot of heats with the top seven dogs also going through to the finals in the afternoon. First up again for me was Novice Jumping and I was looking for that clear round that would take us to a finals berth. Unfortunately it was not to be. The course was spread out with a long run up the back followed by a long run back to the other side. To control him into an off entry tunnel I needed to be where I had no hope of getting and I lost him into the off course. Looking back at the video I'm not sure how I could have cued him to let him know I needed him to slow down and pull off. I had to run up the first line to get the spread that was on a very hard angle for them to see if you didn't push them out to it. There was just no way I could get back. If I had a slower dog it wouldn't have been a problem but he was going like the clappers (which I'm not complaining about). He was quite clearly feeling confident and there'se nothing wrong with that!

Our last event from the heats was Novice Agility and as we had already qualified for the final I decided to push him a little to see if his behaviours would hold up. It was another lovely Novice Agility course, this time built by Judy Tsakalos. Once again it was a cracker of a run with a dog walk that was even faster than the day before, however unfortunately he dropped a bar following a front cross that I did. It would seem he is no longer a dropped bar virgin...

So my boy was in the Novice Agility final and I'm happy to admit was quite nervous! Mel Rhoden had built us a nice course but it was quite tight. I knew that if he went clear he should be fast enough to win so rather than push him I went for a calm, steady round that would be most likely to get me the clear that I wanted. Like the awesome dog that he is he worked beautifully and clear is what he gave me. It was the quietest round he'd run all weekend but it was clear and that's all I wanted and it was enough to claim first place and State Novice Agility winner for 2009. Whooohooo.

Congratulations to all the winners over the weekend. There was certainly many great rounds, the highlight for me being some scorching runs in the finals of Masters Jumping. Awesome stuff.

I'd like to say that the excitment of the States was enough for one weekend however I had more excitment (not the good sort though) when I got home. I had left both Soda and Angel home as it's not much fun being stuck in a car all day. I left the dog door open so they could go inside or outside as they pleased. Unfortunately it would appear that Soda couldn't wait for me to get home and give her dinner, so instead found and proceeded to inhale almost all of Colin and mines Easter egg stash (foil and all in some cases). We worked out that she would have eaten about 700g so after a panicked phone call to Kriszty and then Murdoch Vet Emergency Centre she was bundled into the car and taken to Murdoch for treatment. The vet told me that for a dog of her weight more than 100g is toxic so Soda had well and truly consumed the mother load. Following a dose of washing crystals, a massive vomit of chocolate (including wrappers), a dose of charcoal AND a large bill, Soda and I returned home. She looked briefly upset by the experience but by morning was back to her normal self, standing in the hallway at 7am this morning with her "where the hell is my breakfast" expression... Go Soda. Obviously I am grateful that it ended well. Quite clearly it could easily have killed her.

We have three trials coming up this weekend with Sonic in his first Excellent Jumping classes. Although he finished his Novice Agility title off at the States I am more than happy for him to stay in Novice for this weekend. And more time to train this damn see saw!

Friday, April 10, 2009

I thought I saw an easter bunny...

This week has been a "challenging" training week. Now that I am running Sonic on more difficult sequences we are both making a lot more mistakes. That could be quite depressing except that I know we are actually getting better...if that makes sense!! A couple of months ago if there was a particularly hard challenge in a sequence I would get to that bit, stop and reward Sonic, then continue, effectively bypassing the hard bit. Now we include the challenges (which we often stuff up) in our run, working through it and ultimately I think our skills are getting better. It can be somewhat demoralising though when you never actually make it through a sequence without making a mistake (or five)!

We've also been hitting the see saw pretty hard. Now that the Excellent Agility class is imminent and I would like to start doing the Open Agility class we really need to build on his understanding. I had been getting fly offs at least once a training session but I think he is starting to connect the verbal cue to the actual obstacle in front of him. It's just that sometimes, although he hears me, by the time he's put the anchors on he's flying off the end. I did see an improvement this week though so hopefully by the end of this month it will be solid enough for competitions. On another positive note, I think I may be on the way to having restored/fixed Sonic's dog walk. He had some good speed going down the ramp all this week. I will keep doing the remedial work for another month or so but hopefully the worst is behind us.

This next week is some time off for me. Easter is always a good excuse to tack some annual leave days onto the end and actually have a proper break from work. I have nothing much planned other than shopping (to find myself a nice new High Def Camcorder), relaxing and eating lots of easter eggs. Shouldn't be too taxing...

Now time for Sonic's first "official" agility photo's from last weeks Cloverdale trial. Courtesy of Tim Abidin and his fancy camera! Thanks Tim :-)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wild eyed boy

Today was a good day. Sonic had his first trial in a month since the Western Classic at Cloverdales 30th Anniversary Agility Trial. The young fella went clear in both agility and jumping classes taking out first place in both. Once again his agility was lovely. There is nothing he could have done that could have made me happier and his jumping round was the best one so far. We also ran in the Open Jumping class but I didn't really place myself very well so unfortunately he went into the wrong end of the tunnel. I thought the rest of the run was very solid though.

The last month of training has been a little less full on than the lead up to the Classic. Now that he has all the equipment down pat training sessions are more about building up his skill level (apart from his dog walk which I broke when I was proofing him and I still haven't gotten it back to where it was again...). His runs today showed me that he is really getting confident with the handling system I'm using. He is seeing the line that I'm setting him on and off he goes. He is still much faster in training but I have no doubt that with time and confidence the speed will come. We were actually having this conversation today about the speed of dogs when they start out compared to later on and whether it matters how fast they are when they start. I'm a big believer that the most important thing is to get the skill first, for example a dog that learns how to judge and execute it's jumps really well. I'm not worried about speed to begin with, just the skill itself. Once the dog has the skill then the speed should come and the dog should be able to handle the speed because the skill has already been built. All the speed in the world won't help you if your dog smacks down bars or goes off course because it doesn't understand how to turn.

Next up on the trialling calendar is the State Agility Trial. Although Sonic finished his Jumping Dog title today, the entries have closed for the State Trial so we can stay in Novice for it. There are two qualifying rounds and a final so with a bit of luck we'll get three more rounds in novice before having to move up to the Excellent Classes. It's not actually Excellent that I'm worried about, but I really don't want him in Masters too quickly. Plus I really enjoy Novice. The courses are normally really nice and it's great to give your dog the opportunity to stretch out around a course without having twists and turns every second. So heads down and bums up for the next two weeks of training. It would be great to do well at the State Trial. With a bit of luck I can fix his dog walk before then too!