Saturday, December 15, 2012

Moving Forward

After a couple of very emotional weeks and saying goodbye to Soda it's been nice to immerse myself back into training with Cassie and Fizz.  Cassie is now just over 17 months of age and it's hard to believe that she is old enough to trial in less than a month.  I had her measured a couple of weeks ago and she is a strapping 26.5cms so into the 200 height she goes.  There is a part of me that would have liked to have seen her make 300 given that there are a lot more dogs competing in that height but hopefully we'll get that opportunity at ADAA trials.

Cassie's dog walk is looking pretty good, although when there is a tunnel in front of it she's not quite so careful as to where her last stride might be.  But generally speaking it's consistently nice and fast and there is no doubt that it's one of her favourite obstacles.  She's more than capable of running a novice jumping course now and she is reading my body and handling really well.  While I'm waiting for my new AF to be build I've started working with a half size AF that I have.  She understands how the mat game works and picked it up really quickly so hopefully the full size one won't take long.  We've also worked our way to twelve weavers and have started see-saw training.

Over summer I'll be working on novice sequences and tying all the bits of equipment together.  Of course our biggest issues is still Cassie visiting everyone.  Although we had a few weeks there were it looked like we'd worked through it her disappearing mid sequence has reappeared.  What can I say, there is such massive value for her in other people and dogs and it's going to take me a lot of work to get through it.  I do have a plan.  How long it will take and how successful I may be is yet to be seen but we have to start somewhere.  I have no doubt we will have some ups and downs for a while yet.  I'm probably feeling a little more frustrated than normal given how much natural ability she has.  I did want her first trial to be the Western Classic in March but I'm not optimistic that she'll be ready and if I have even a sceric of doubt that she won't stay in the ring with me then I won't run her.  Failing that I'll aim for the State Agility Trial in April.  I can't wait to trial her as she's going to be a blast but I'm sure that patience will pay off.  And I have to be even more determined than she is!


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Goodbye Beautiful Girl

Soda came to me quite unexpectedly in October 1997.  I had realised that my then five month old border collie Murphy needed a companion while I was at work which I happened to mention to his breeder.  She offered me a seven month old black and white border collie female that she was looking to re-home.  And so the legend of Miss Soda-Pop was born.

Her superstar beginnings were rather humble.  I joined a local dog club to start obedience classes with Murphy and my then housemate Felicia came along and joined one of the classes with Soda.  Murphy was a bit of a natural and picked it up pretty quickly.  I was enjoying it so much I wanted to get more involved in obedience so I ventured down to Southern River and the Collie and Shetland Sheepdog Club to join in obedience classes.  It was at the Canine Grounds that I started to meet other border collie people that were into obedience and from there I became involved in the wonderful sport of agility.
Our first team win 2001 Western Classic Agility Teams.  The BC Bandits with Helen & Dee, Rod & Bundy.
Again Murphy was the one who I jumped in with, Soda coming along for the ride.  I had no idea what I was doing and was just trying to learn what I could from those who'd been around a lot longer than me. Both of them learnt about the same speed but because it was Murphy who I'd gotten for obedience and agility I always focused on him not realising the untapped potential that was lurking inside Soda.  So I went through and got Murphy's CD title following on with Soda shortly after.  Then it was onto CDX once again getting the title with Murphy and then Soda.  When we got to UD I started training both of them but found that Soda picked up the scent work so much quicker than Murphy.  With the amount of training required for UD I decided to continue with Soda only.  I have limited memories of Soda doing CDX but bountiful ones of UD.  She just loved it.  I can remember her charging off to get the seek back article and throwing it over her head in the excitement and having to look for it again before charging back to me at full speed.  She'd jump the directed jumping jumps with the same gusto as if it was an agility course.  She would heel all day if you asked her to and my biggest issue was her rushing me and trying to get in front.  I can never remember a time when she'd lag behind.

Western Classic 2003 Masters Jumping winner
When I began agility it was Murphy who led the way.  He wasn't super fast but was extremely consistent and very sensible.  Although Soda showed lots of potential as a young dog it wasn't until Soda was about five that her star started to really shine in agility.  It took me that long to get the hang of handling her properly and when that happened things started falling into place and the wins started to come.  She shone brightest in jumping.  Although if it wasn't for my poor training and subsequently her inconsistent contacts I'm sure she would have achieved far more in agility.  As it was she won over 40 Masters Jumping classes over the course of her career.  Not a bad feat for the early 2000's when there were about half the amount of agility events on that there are now.  She won multiple State Titles, Royal Shows, Western Classics and made the WA National Agility State Team twice, in 2004 being the top point scoring in making the team.  We never managed to win a National final but in 2004 in Canberra she never placed lower than fifth in all the clear rounds she completed.  One of my favourite wins was at the State Agility Trial in 2005 where she won the Masters Jumping class beating not only the local dogs but all the eastern stater's that had come over for the Nationals being held the week later.

ANKC National Agility Trial 2003 - Victoria 
I find that I can't help but think her agility success had a lot to do with all the UD training I did with her.  With all the hours we put in together it seemed to change our relationship.  We developed a very deep bond and understanding of each other.  When we were running a course it sometimes felt that she was reading my mind.
Never happier than at the beach!
In 2004 I started to notice some changes in the way she was running agility with me.  We were getting massive over runs and off courses.  At first I thought it was her just not listening and doing her own thing but then after watching videos back it became quite clear that she wasn't ignoring me rather she couldn't hear me.  Basically over that period her hearing seemed to disappear quite quickly and I ended up retiring her when she was nine.  Apart from the fact that her body was starting to show serious signs of wear and tear the slats had come off the dog walk giving me no way to let her know if she was running up a see-saw or a dog walk.  Obviously there was no question I was going to risk her flying off the see-saw and seriously hurting herself so we called it quits.

Soda enjoyed a long and healthy retirement until probably the last year of her life when she slowed right down.  Her arthritis had made walking slow and uncomfortable for her but being the tough individual that she was she never stopped trying.  In the end at the age of fifteen years and nine months of age it was clear that she'd had enough and it was time to let her go.  A decision I'd been dreading for the few months prior.  But as I'd been told by friends who had gone through the same thing, when it was time there was no doubt in my mind that I had to be brave and let her go.  With one last weekend to spend with her I plugged the very dusty VCR in and sat down and watched hours of old agility video footage with Murphy and Soda asleep by my side. It brought such a smile to my face seeing her in her prime, black coat shining in the sun and such joy on her face.  Such joy on my face.  Soda was without a doubt my one in a million.  She was special and I'll never see another like her.  I'll certainly never forget her.  Rest in peace Soda.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Papillon Panic

Cassie and I are doing a lot of training right now.  It feels like getting this running dog walk done is taking a very LONG time.  I'm sure not many will appreciate it though!  I think most just assume that it's easy to teach a little dog running contacts but to get the drive to a nice low position on the dog walk at high speed with high arousal is hard work.  I know that running contacts take a lot of repetitions but I never quite realised that would mean sessions almost everyday.  Thankfully after four months of work we are almost at full height and I'm seeing her start to launch onto the down ramp and run deep through the contact zone.  I'd like to think we'll be full height in another week or so and then I guess we'll see how it holds.  Suppose I'd better start teaching the a-frame after that!  I haven't been brave enough to do any running contact work at the Dogs West grounds so that will also be another test.

Cassie on the twelve month anniversary of joining our family - 21/10/2012
Speaking of doing things at training we have finally turned a corner with her "visiting" everyone when she's off lead.  The last time she did it she was unceremoniously carried back to the car where she was deposited to watch in shame as I trained Fizzy instead.  Cassie never likes being taken back to the car so I was optimistic that it would have an impact.  I'm not a big believer in time outs but given that it was happening every time I trained her down at the Dogs West grounds I felt that she needed a consequence to her actions.  When I got her back out I put on a brave face and pretended to feel confident about letting her off lead again.  It was a now or never moment.  But to my surprise she didn't even look like running off.  We worked the sequence multiple times and she was totally with me every step of the way.  Since then we have had about four sessions with perfect focus when we start work.  In between she still loves to say hi to her minions but it's only if she gives me what I want first so essentially saying hi becomes a reward for her working.  Last week she blew me away when she ran a sequence surrounded by lots of little fluffies, including shelties, a breed that she adores.  Now she can manage that then hitting the trial ring is starting to become a realistic and increasingly exciting prospect.

Today's after work session at home saw a momentous moment when she did twelve weavers for the very first time.  I had her doing six straight last week so today brought in the second set with a gap.  She did so well that we kept going until we had all twelve in a row.  It's hard not to laugh because she was concentrating so hard to get every opening.  She has a typical little dog style and bounces between them.  Once she stops having to concentrate so hard I have no doubt she will be powering through them.  I'm looking forward to trying weavers with her down at training away from her comfort zone of home.  Or is that my comfort zone...??

Murphy - looking good for a 15 year old!

Best friends - Cassie & Fizzy
We had the Perth Royal Show back at the beginning of October.  Sonic is running so well for me at the moment and it's nice to have that team work going.  It really feels like right now he just knows what I want him to do.  The Royal is never a great trial for him with the agility area being half the size of normal which doesn't suit his stride or running style at all however he tried his heart out and we came away with a third place in Masters Agility and second place in Masters Jumping.  I even got Cassie out in the lunch break and did some work with her in preparation for next year!  Then the weekend just gone in 35 degree heat he managed a win in Masters Jumping on a course that most got caught on.  I wilted rather stunningly in the heat but he didn't care at all.  Not much trialling left for him this year but I will be running him in the WAO try-outs in an attempt to realise my goal of running a border collie at the event.  If he keep going the way he is hopefully we'll have a good chance.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Just call me Naughty

I think that at this point in time I can say that I am no longer officially "obsessed" with running contacts. Probably because Cassie and I appear to have them more or less under control (did I really just say that??).  As I well know this is a week by week proposition and if I happen to be updating my blog when things are going badly I may type something significantly different.  However I think I should just enjoy the feeling of training success while it has been known to be a fleeting sensation.

I've decided that Cassie is a true "Gen Y".  That being that she will always try the easiest option first.  Doesn't matter how many times we've done something before, if there is a possible short cut, she's your girl.  Initially she managed to get away with this.  Mostly because I was so surprised by what she would try, I didn't have time to react.  My border collies wouldn't dream of being so cheeky.  Cassie a.k.a. "Naughty Pants" apparently has no aspirations to be compared to a border collie or be that well behaved.

We still alternate our training sessions between 2 x 2's and dog walk.  I'm pretty happy with how quickly she's progressed with 2 x 2's and is super close to having them straight.  I tried to straighten the back ones yesterday but she hasn't quite got the hang of finding the entry when they are straight.  I feel confident that after another few sessions we'll get there.  I also need to start doing some sessions away from home to generalise the behaviour.

This week I made a concerted effort to take Miss Personality down to training for further exposure to the distractions that she thus far can't resist.  We started off OK, just doing a jump table combination, but when she spied her Sheltie friend Benny in the distance (who she adores) it was more than she can handle and off she went at warp speed to go visit.  She did come back when I called her but when she repeated the game two more times I was panicking that going to visit while doing agility is going to get built into her agility.  So Cassie went to spend some time in the car while I got Miss Fizzy out.  Then I had a reminder in the difference between a border collie and a papillon as I played with a five and a half month old Fizz off lead without her being even vaguely interested in the other dogs let alone running off.  Something that almost fifteen month old Cassie still can't manage!  Not that I have any right to complain.  She's made agility and dog training more fun than I could ever have imagined!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Weaving, running and jumping

Miss Fuzzy Bear - aka Crazy Ears
As Cassie approaches fourteen months of age things are starting to heat up on the training front.  We are finally starting to get to the “big” dog stuff.  The 2 x 2’s have been dusted off and put out in my training area and after a bit of searching through the bookshelves I’ve relocated Susan Garrett's DVD on how to teach them.  The double box jump grid has been resurrected something I haven’t done in a long time and of course I probably need to re-watch “Great Dog Shame About the Handler” so I can remember more than the one front cross exercise…

Mostly August has been all about obsessing over running contacts.  Today I feel good about them because Cassie and I have just worked through a bit of a “training struggle” however last week I wasn’t feeling so warm and fuzzy.  After I train her tonight I may again feel differently!  But we are getting there which is the main thing even with the ups and downs.  The thing that probably annoys me most is the amount of time I’m spending doing them when I could be doing other things.  And to think that all I’m really trying to achieve is my dog running on a plank of wood!  She has progressed further in a week learning 2 x 2’s than the last six weeks on running contacts.  Anyway I’m determined to see this mission out.

My Miss Personality- aka Cassie
2 x 2’s as always are a joy to teach.  Cassie is learning just as quickly as any of my border collies have and we’re already starting to straighten the poles after only six sessions.  But then she really gets the whole shaping thing so I didn’t really expect any less from her.  Thanks to the time sucking nature of running contacts we are only doing a session every two days but I guess at least it breaks things up a bit.

Although I can currently only remember one jumping exercise on the double box grid that one exercise is going well.  I'm jumping her on a mixture of 200 & 250 heights.  I will do some 300 later but I don't want to do too much on 300 until I know for sure if she will measure in to that height.  She only has to jump 250 for ADAA thank goodness.  Although she'll be able to jump 300 when you see how little she is compared to some of the shelties in 300 I really hope that doesn't happen as it will be a huge disadvantage.  I bit like all the poor shelties who end up in 400 height and having to compete against border collies that although small for bc's are substantially bigger than they are.

Probably our biggest training issue is Cassie down at the Canine grounds.  Through no ones fault but my own I'm way down the list of fun things to do when she's down there.  There are lots of bonus's to having Miss Personality but when she wants to personally say hello to every man, woman, child and dog on the Canine grounds it can be a little frustrating.  So we'll be spending some time over the next few months working on how much fun it is to be with me.  Otherwise it won't matter how quickly she learns to weave because she'll never be allowed off lead...

Fizz still isn't doing a great deal of anything, other than growing.  She's really starting to enjoy going to training and getting cuddles from everyone.  She's pretty blase about other dogs.  She really just doesn't seem to care.  Not a bad thing as long as she's indifferent as opposed to worried.  We did our first restrained recalls at training which was fun.  She is so unco.  Cassie is doing her best to teach Fizz to become more nimble during their games of "you can't catch me".  As Fizzy still can't catch her obviously there is a lot of room for improvement!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hard Runnings

Another month has passed, Fizzy's legs have tripled in length and Cassie's training continues in earnest.  Most of the work I'm doing on equipment with Cassie is at home.  When we go to Dog's West it's all about distraction training.  She is really good probably 90% of the time but my faith in my decision not to let her off lead at training for a while was totally justified the other day as she sped around me in crazy circles trying to get to the border collies that were charging past us over the agility courses.  Not surprising really given that chasing border collies at home is one of her favourite things to do.

Running contacts are hard work and a huge learning experience being the first time I've trained it with any of my dogs.  Although we have definitely turned a corner over the last week.  I had been using a toy for all the rewarding but I couldn't get any more than a 50% success rate with Cassie.  She would literally hit one then miss one over and over again.  It was totally doing my head in.  Then I remembered that I had a perfectly good Manners Minder that I'd purchased over twelve months ago sitting in the house that had yet to make it out of it's box.  Cassie took a little while to warm to it.  Given that it's about the same size as her and made a loud beeping noise I guess that wasn't unreasonable that she was a bit intimidated by it.  However once she realised that food came out of it she quickly changed her mind.  She started running down to the MM and after she got her first treat sat in front of it offering it behaviours in the vain hope it would give her some more.  The good new is that since I started using it our success rate has increased to about 90%.  The MM has just made it so much clearer to her in what I want.  Finally we are progressing and have just  started adding in turns.  I have to say though that if I was training a border collie rather than a papillon I probably would have thrown my hands up in the air and gone back to 2o2o contacts quite some time ago.  So much easier to train!

We've also started doing some very simple single box jump grids.  I'm mainly focused on building her understanding of 270's, 180's etc and of course her drive around me.  Cassie loves her tunnels so that has been an easy piece of equipment to introduce.  At some point I'll have to teach her the broad jump and tyre but I figure that can wait for now.  If her running contact training continues to improve over the next month I will hopefully get her weaver training started in September.  I'm still hoping her first trial will be the Western Classic in March next year.  It's nice to have an event that I can aim for although I won't run her unless I'm absolutely happy with how she's going and bunking off after border collies has been completely eliminated!

Fizz's education is pretty basic right now.  I feel certain that she will be a very late maturer like her father and going slowly won't do her any harm at all.  What I am doing with her she is enjoying very much.  She is very clever and almost logical the way she seems to think things through.  I had some initial concerns about getting her to retrieve but then all of a sudden she just got it when I was playing with her.  Pretty happy about that as it took me ages to convince Cassie to bring toys back especially if it had a squeaky in it.  Other than that it's all about reinforcement zone and recalls.  She has officially reached the age were she thinks coming back is optional so plenty of work to do there!
Fizz vs sprinklers
Sonic's trialling has been on the quiet side.  I am only scheduling in a couple of trials a month and that will probably stay the same until next year.  He's running very nicely and recently at our Cloverdale trial came second in both Masters Agility and Masters Jumping with steady but not particularly fast runs on courses that were pretty challenging.  I do really enjoy running him these days.  It's so nice when they know their job and he loves doing it but these days I just need to spread my time more wisely and I really can't spend every weekend doing agility trials.  I've entered the Royal Show again this year.  It will be pretty quiet with so many WAers heading to Tamworth for the ADAA Grand Prix.  But too good an opportunity to take Cassie along and give her some time in an environment of that nature.  Hopefully next year I'll be heading to Tamworth myself!
Fizz and Sonic

Friday, June 29, 2012

2012 ANKC Nationals

It’s hard to believe that the first half of this year is gone.  Our Europe trip, WAO and the ANKC Nationals all done.  Next on the list is Cassie just days away from her first birthday! Goodness time flies.

I really enjoyed the Nationals this year although I kind of knew I would.  At almost five years old Sonic has the experience under his belt and for the last eight or nine months he has been giving me pretty solid performances at a local level.  Plus we know each other now which makes a massive difference when you’re on course with each other.  My biggest frustration was his lack of fitness and I had ongoing soreness issues with him leading up to it.  Unfortunately that was a risk I took with going to Europe just prior.

The venue of the Sydney International Equestrian Centre for the Nationals was fantastic.  I really loved running in the indoor arena although the surface was pretty hard.  Sonic handled the surface reasonably well but I noticed when I watched the videos back that he was taking more strides between jumps. Not sure if that was because of the different surface or if he was feeling sore.  One of the things top of my list to do with him now that we’re back home is to significantly improve both his and my own fitness!  As far as the Nationals go we faired pretty well, making it into both the Masters Agility and Open Jumping finals.  I had really wanted to make the Masters Jumping final too but on the more difficult courses where we had the best opportunity to be up there on time either myself or Sonic made mistakes.  But all in all I was thrilled with my boy.

Now that I’m back home chaos has once again resumed.  I have to say that I do not recommend to anyone having two dogs less than 12 months of age at home at once.  It is exhausting!  If Cassie isn’t pestering Fizz to play, Fizz is using Cassie’s tail as a tug toy or they are leaping all over the furniture.  I don’t know what I’d do without the puppy pen.  It’s the only reason I’m still sane…  In saying that I’m very thankful for the hard yards I’ve already put into Cassie as it has certainly helped me to keep control of her with such a big distraction around.  The pair of them really do enjoy each other.  No doubt they’ll be best of friends throughout their lives which is pretty sweet.

Double trouble!
Cassie’s training continues in earnest.  I’m definitely putting more work into her right now than the puppy.  I still spend most of my time working on recalls with her and now the weather has cooled and the snake threat is on hold again until spring we get to practice loads of them when I take all the dogs for a run.  I’ve put most jump work on hold other than specific one jump exercises.  She drives hard after me when she’s gone over a jump but I haven’t been happy with her drive to a jump so I've been focusing on building value for going to a jump without me belting along beside her.  I've started her running contacts work but that will be pretty slow going.  At the moment it’s all foundation work.  I've decided to wait until Cassie is about fourteen months before I start her 2x2 training.  With the running contact work just beginning I don’t want to have two big things on the go at once.  Plus it won’t hurt for her to be a little older and more physically aware.  I’m really looking forward to teaching a non-border collie 2x2’s to see how she picks it up in comparison to how Riot, Sonic and Lexi did.

It’s actually been quite fascinating for me having a papillon and a border collie puppy at the same time.  The differences in them are substantial.  Cassie is no less clever than Fizz and has taken to all her shaping training like a duck to water.  Once she understood the concept she picks up everything I teach her very quickly.  It’s more about the difference in attitude.  I’ve not even made it to crate games with Fizz as yet but she practically forces her way through crate doors in order to get in there and get the treat she’s certain I’m going to give her.  That desire took about one week of her being with us to develop.  Cassie at almost twelve months of age after having been with us for eight months and having much more reinforcement for being in a crate still does a runner if she thinks there is even a remote chance I’m thinking of putting her in either the bed time crate or the puppy pen.  She loves doing crate games though.  She was about ten months old by the time she would offer to go into the puppy pen to eat her dinner even though she was fed in there twice a day for the six months prior.  With recalls, you call Fizz and she just blindly charges over to you when at least 50% of the time Cassie will look at you as if to say “why" or "sorry, I'm busy”.  But to be honest I wouldn’t have her any other way.  I adore every last piece of fur on her body and she has taught me so much.  She is such a character and I know she is going to make a fabulous agility dog.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Introducing Fizz

After being home from Belgium for a week it was time to turn the house upside down again with the addition of little Fizz.

Miss Fizzy 
Fizz has been a long time coming.  I have wanted a Lexi pup for a very long time but through one thing and another it took over eighteen months to eventuate.  We had picked a particular stud dog but with her coming in season at an unexpected time it was decided to mate her to my boy Riot.  There actually isn't a big different between Riot's blood lines and the other male dog that we'd picked out but as Riot is a little "different" he wasn't my first choice as the sire.  In saying that both Riot and his sister have produced some really nice offspring including very nice agility dogs so I'm sure it will be OK.  Just me being paranoid really and so far Fizz is absolutely nothing like her father was when he was a puppy.  She's a total cuddle bunny who can't get enough of us.

I'm sure there are plenty of people wondering why I've gone for show lines and not working lines as it's mostly the working lines that are leading the way in WA.  For me it was a very personal choice.  These blood lines go back to my beautiful girl Soda Pop where it all started for me and then subsequently produced Lexi who was a lovely little agility dog and her litter sister Sage who has won every major event in Australia during her career including an Ag Champion title.  If little Fizz is anything like Soda and Sage I'll be a very happy girl.

She has settled in really well.  To begin with she was a little cautious but now she has well and truly come out of herself.  I've done nothing with her other than play tug since she got here.  When I get back from the Nationals I'll start to introduce the usual stuff.  Its Yer Choice being pretty high on the list as she's starting to get a bit cheeky and has started trying to steal food out of the pantry if we leave the door open for more than two seconds.  But how can you tell her off when she's just so darn cute :) Fizz and Cassie get on like a house on fire.  If they had their way they would play 24/7.  They are affectionately known as double trouble...

The elder statesman and the youngster, Murphy & Fizz
This week also saw the Murphster turn fifteen years old.  He's still doing really well.  He has regular acupuncture to try and keep things from seizing up.  He has totally mellowed in his old age.  Cassie is his regular snuggle partner on the dog bed which just so cute.  I feel so lucky to still have both Murphy and Soda with me.
My beautiful old boy

Monday, June 4, 2012

WAO Belgium 2012

After finishing our tour of Europe it was time to head up to Aberdeen in Scotland to meet Laura and her dog Cody who was to be my competition dog for the World Agility Open.  It was pretty exciting now that the time had finally arrived and I was really hanging out to get back into agility.  I was certainly starting to really miss my own dogs.

Laura and her sister Pauline were awesome.  I just can't thank them enough.  They couldn't do enough for Colin and I while we were in Scotland and absolutely bent over backwards.  Cody stayed with us at our hotel so I could spend as much time as possible getting to know him.  He was such a happy little chappy and other than being food obsessed was a delight to have around.

We did attempt a trial in Scotland the weekend before WAO however we were a bit unfortunate with the weather which caused the trial to be cancelled by lunchtime.  The wind was so strong that a full size marquee was picked up and flung across the trial ground!  So in the end I was only able to get one agility run in with Cody.  That went pretty well.  He did an off course tunnel and he was somewhat over enthusiastic on his contacts but he was more than happy to run with me.   Over the next couple of days we got in as much training as we could and by the time we needed to head to Belgium we were starting to get a pretty good handle on each other.

All the Scottish team drove through the Euro Tunnel and down to Belgium but Colin and I decided to fly to Brussels via London as it seemed a long way to drive on unfamiliar roads and in a hire car.  Once we landed in Brussels we picked a hire car up from the airport.  Driving in mainland Europe was definitely not one of my most favourite memories.  The car was a manual and everything is on the opposite side.  Changing gear with your right hand just does not seem normal when it's always been the other way around!  Driving on the wrong side of the road just added insult to injury really.  There was more than one occasion when I had to yell "get on the other side of the road"...

Unfortunately Cody and I had no success at the event.  I think the occasion might have been a bit much for Cody to handle without having his real mum with him.  He certainly got better with every run that we had together but not enough for us to manage a clear round.  I can't pretend that I wasn't disappointed that things didn't go well for us.  The Friday was really hard as it seemed that nothing I did helped to make things better.  There was certainly a part of me that wanted to scream "if only you could see me with my own dog".  But by Saturday I just changed my perspective on it and I determined that I should just make the most of being at an international agility event and enjoy watching some of the best dog and handlers in the world strut their stuff.  I was also pretty proud of the Aussie team and it was thrilling to be able to applaud some fantastic runs by them all.

One of the best things about being able to go to an international event is to really see the difference between over there and agility back in Australia.  I've been watching World Champ events on DVD and internet live streams for years but there is no comparison between actually sitting there watching it live.  There were a couple of things that really stood out in the difference between us firstly being how hard they run with their dogs.  I look at video's of me running Sonic and I think that I'm running as fast as I can, but that aint running!  Some of the women I saw were not even vaguely built to run fast but they  were flying around those courses making sure they were in front of their extremely fast dogs.  It was incredibly inspirational to me and I've started running again myself in an attempt to get fit so I'm able to run a lot faster than I can now.  The second thing that stood out to me was the sheer intensity of the dogs.  It's hard to explain but it's just different than what I see here.  The dogs are just so highly driven, they aren't just running agility, they are breathing agility.  We have lots of really nice agility dogs here in Perth but there are probably only two dogs that I've ever seen that I would consider to have that much drive to do agility. It was just thrilling to watch. All of it has just given me so much inspiration to be better and push the limits in both dog training and handling.  Quite a few people there had brought young puppies with them to the event and what I found interesting was that not one of them was screaming and carrying on.  They were all just happy easy going puppies.  Not what I expected at all.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Our Europe Cavalcade

There's something special about experiencing something for the first time.  No expectations are floating around in your mind, just a blank canvas of possibilities.  So we found ourselves  tired and dazed in London after about twenty four hours of travel to start a seventeen day tour of Europe.

There were forty nine of us booked on the trip, about two thirds of the group starting from London and the rest joining us in Amsterdam our first night stop.  Those first few days were pretty quiet.  Most couples and family groups sticking together with just perfunctory politeness but as the week progressed people would start to chat with the people sitting near them on the bus and then most made an effort to sit with different people at breakfasts and dinners. By the second week some great friendships were starting to form and we were becoming a family of forty nine. I think we were pretty lucky in having a really great group with easy going personalities most of which were Aussies, a few NZer's, a few South African's, two Philippino families and two sisters from Bahrain. The majority of the group enjoyed a few drinks and we had some brilliant nights out with plenty of alcohol and lots of laughs.

All of us
Every day was full on with wake up calls generally at 6am, breakfast at 6.30am then on the bus by 7.30am. I think we were covering on average about 400kms per day.  Days were broken up into sections of travelling on our tour bus with stops on the motorway for snacks and bathroom breaks, lunches and of course various designated sightseeing locations. We all got pretty good at trouping on and off the bus in a fairly orderly fashion but my knees didn't always enjoy going from being bent for two hours to functioning well. But I loved it. I also got really good at sleeping while sitting upright something I've never been able to do.  But somehow that bus would just lull me to sleep.
Our Travel Directer Jon was pretty amazing.  While we whinged and moaned about how long we'd been on the bus for the day he worked non stop, checking luggage on and off the bus making it seem like magic as bags went from the bus to our rooms and back again with not a glitch.  He spoke the language of every country we went to, gave us a thorough education on how to navigate each city and what to expect, gave us directions to every even vaguely interesting spot to check out, took us to fantastic restaurants, made sure we all made it on and off the bus at every stop and knew more about the history of pretty much everything we went past than I could ever hope to remember. He even took in good humour many of us nodding off in the middle of it. 

Our bus driver Enzo was nicknamed Enzo Ferrari. This was because he drove the bus like he was Schumaker driving at a Formula One Grand Prix. Each day we had to move two seats forward on the bus and I think most looked forward to hitting those front seats and having the best view.  That was of course until you'd sat up the front and got to experience first hand just how close Enzo would sit behind the car in front and how fast he drove. In saying that I felt totally safe and I still marvel at some of the places he maneuvered that bus.

Home sweet home

Our travel route

At the end of the tour we were all asking each other what our favourite place was or what our own personal highlight was.  Most were hard pressed to pick just one place because we just saw and experienced so much.  When I look back at the photo's I have multiple great memories of each place we went to and what we did while we were there. For some places it felt like we needed a lot more time but the tour gave us a great snapshot of what was there and whether we'll make an effort to get back there one day.

Yep it was cold
My fav photo of Amsterdam
The first day of our tour took us through southern England, France, Belgium and onto Amsterdam.  We only had one night there so we went straight into the city and onto a glass window boat to do a tour of the canals.  Not sure I loved Amsterdam but of course hard to tell in that short period.  My main memory was that is was ridiculously cold, very wet and there were bikes everywhere.  Why have a fence when you can have a body of water between your paddocks.  Our Travel Director thought a wander through the red light district was in order. It was an eye opener that's for sure. Amsterdam kind of struck me as a bit of a dodgy place.  Lots of dark alley ways and dodgy characters around every corner.
From Amsterdam we headed east and into Germany stopping in Cologne on our way to Rhineland. We spent the afternoon on a river cruise down the Rhine River. Hard work but someones gotta do it...
From Rhineland we continued south through Freiburg and the Black Forrest ending the day in Lucerne Switzerland.

Rhine Valley
Lucerne was amazing. One of the most picturesque places I've ever been. Hard to beat a city on a stunningly blue lake that has a back drop of the Swiss Alps. We did a lake cruise and a trip up to the top of snow covered Mount Pilatus. Lucerne had a real energy and vibrance to it and definitely a place I would like to try and get back to one day.
Black Forrest

We spent two nights in Lucerne and then continued on to Innsbruck Austria. The drive was incredible as we wound our way through the Swiss Alps and then the Austrian Alps via Liechtenstein. 

Innsbruck was beautiful. We stayed in a winter ski resort nestled in the mountains. We were in the front seat of the bus on our way there and I had to close my eyes on several occasions as Enzo screamed down narrow winding streets in the tour bus. Actually that's how he drove the bus all the time but it's not quite as scary when your on a big motorway. While in Innsbruck we also got to visit the Swarovski Outlet. Apparently it's where it originated. So I had no choice but to buy some crystal jewellery to celebrate. 

From Innsbruck we crossed over the Italian border with a quick stop in Verona and then onto magical Venice. Jon warned us about the chaos that is Italy before we hit our first motorway shop once we'd crossed the border. 

I wasn't sure what to expect as we headed to Venice. I'd heard different things about it. It was actually pretty amazing. We did all the touristy things, a taxi ride down the Grand Canal, a ride in a gondola and standing in St Mark's Square. It was absolutely packed with tourists which wasn't surprising but it makes it so much harder to get in to see things. 

St Peter's Basilica

To get away from the beaten track a bit Jon took us to another island Burano which is one of the many islands that are in the lagoon where the locals still live like they used to (before tourism took over and made Venice too expensive for them to live).  It was gorgeous and we went to an amazing seafood restaurant where they gave us more food and booze than we could ever hope to consume. Although we gave it our best shot. 

After a couple of nights in Venice we jumped back in the bus and made our way to Rome through the rolling hills of Tuscany. It's hard to say what my favourite part of Rome was in a city with so much history and so much to see. I think it's hard to go past the Sistine Chapel for sheer jaw dropping ability. I'm one of those people who has about a two hour limit on museums before I need to escape but the Sistine Chapel was spectacular. We did all the big stuff, Trevy Fountain, the Forum, Colosseum, Pantheon, St Peter's Basilica, the Vatican and of course the Sistine Chapel.

On the last night we all went to dinner at an Italian Restaurant where the waiters put on quite a show. With more unlimited booze we were all feeling pretty happy by the time we left. The bus was looking a bit like a disco on the way home. Kind of embarrassing when I think back on it now but at the time we all thought it was hilarious.

From Rome we headed south to Naples and Sorrento with a stop at Pompei. Pompei was way cool and a place I've always wanted to go to. It's hard to describe the awe of standing in the middle of the ruins with Mount Vesuvius quietly looming in the distance. Sorrento was beautiful but unfortunately as close to the Amalfi Coast as we could get with a landslide the previous day knocking out the road. This was somewhere I could have spent a lot more time.

After a night in Naples with the best view we'd had yet overlooking the bay and in the distance Mount Vesuvius we hit the road again to head north, this time to the city of Florence.

Florence was magic but we only had a few hours in the main part of the city. I did however manage to find the time to purchase a lovely leather handbag from one of the many leather shops. I was also aiming for some gold from one of the many gold shops but after how much I spent on the bag it was time to put the credit card away.
Lamborghini in Monaco

After our night in Florence we stopped in to see the Leaning Tower of Piza (way better than I expected), then it was time to bid Italy good bye and say hello to France.  We did it in style as we traveled along the Italian Riviera and onto the French Riviera through the one hundred and sixty something mountain tunnels.  It was breathtaking.

We stopped for an hour or so to check out Monaco. I'm a bit of a petrol head so I spent most of that time drooling at the expensive cars that were showing off as they did a lap of honour down the main city drag. When I wasn't drooling over the cars I was dreaming about the multi million dollar boats moored in the harbour.  People who live in Monaco have way too much money.

Saint Paul de Vence

Lyon, France
Then it was off to Nice which I think was probably my most favourite place that we went to. For some reason when I was younger Nice was somewhere that I wanted to go. I hadn't given it much thought for a long time but after going there I know why. It's just a special place. We had a great night out with some of the other couples that we had made friends with on the tour and then the second night was a dinner with the group. More unlimited booze and a fine time was had by all. We also had our first free morning for the whole tour so a very rare sleep in was had so perhaps that made it seem even shinier! While we were there we also visited the steeped village of Saint Paul de Vence once of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera and bought some truffle vinegar which was divine. We went for a drive along the southern coast just outside of Nice which was nothing less than stunning.  Apparently one of the properties along that stretch of coast was sold for $136 million. Just slightly out of my league...

On our way out of Nice we popped in at Cannes and checked out the preparations for the Cannes Film Festival which was on the week after. Cannes was a bit plain and not a patch on Nice but it was nice to check it out. Then we continued on our way to the city of Lyon via Avignon another picturesque spot.


We only had one night in Lyon before continuing up to Paris. On our way we stopped at the Palace of Versailles somewhere we hadn't made it to last year when we were in Paris. Our tour guide marched us through the entire place in an hour and a half. I'm lucky if I can remember even half of what she told us. Too many kings and too many wives and children. The place is magnificent though and I'm really glad we checked it out. The gardens alone are sensational.

Paris at night
From Versailles we headed up to Paris.  This time we were staying west of the city. The first night we went out for dinner and then we went on a night river cruise on the Seine which I enjoyed more than I thought I would. Then we hung around to watch the sparkly lights on the Eiffel Tower which I also enjoyed more than I thought. The evening was finished off with a couple of drinks back at the hotel. We had chosen not to do the listed tour of the city with the rest of the group as we'd done all the major sites the previous year. Instead we set ourselves the challenge of catching the Metro rail into the Champs-Elysees for lunch, then a wander around the shops and back to the hotel.  That night we were off to see the Cabaret. I can't say I really enjoyed the topless ladies doing the singing and dancing thing. Perhaps if the men were similarly attired would have seemed more fair but the couple of comedy routines that they had on were hilarious and I was in stitches. Tears streaming down my face laughter. 

Last day of the tour with Jon and Enzo
And so we came to the end of our tour.  The bus dropped some of us off at our London hotel that afternoon. After travelling with forty nine other people for two and a half weeks there was a real sense of aloneness once the bus had driven off. Six of us went out for dinner that night which helped a little. It  seriously didn't seem right being by ourselves. The following day it was time to head to Scotland to finally meet Laura and Cody and get ready for the World Agility Open our next adventure! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Will I or Won't I?

Take one very handsome boy

and one very pretty girl

and what do you get?

this little cutie...

Probably a good thing I'm going away. Less time to agonize over whether she will be mine!