Saturday, December 20, 2014

Finding our Confidence

Three weeks into our ring confidence course and a week out from Christmas...where on earth did the last couple of months go??  In fact where has 2014 gone...

So I did manage to get a gold spot in the Ring Confidence course.  It really is a serious adrenaline rush waiting for the clock to hit the course opening time and then banging away on the refresh button!  Just unfortunately that it's always some ridiculous hour of the morning.  The course has been a lot of fun so far and everything is broken into itty bitty pieces that are really easy to manage.  In three weeks Cassie has gone from seeing ring ropes and shutting down/trying to avoid, to seeing ring ropes and dragging me into the ring.  It's hard to believe that she's the same dog.  I'm very fortunate that Cassie is so high drive and will do a lot of things for food and toys.  It has made it much less challenging.  But being given the right exercises broken down into the right pieces and then putting together is making all the difference.  With how well she is going, getting her back into the ring actually feels like it might happen. 
What I find even more exciting is that after working through the I'm Just Little and now the Confidence Building course Cassie is just different in general.  It's a bit hard to describe, but it's like she's lost the suspicion about what is about to happen.  Because the pressure is off she obviously feels less concerned and is far keener to engage.  She still takes her toy into the tunnel from time to time but as she learns that it doesn't matter and I'm not going to make her do anything she wants to come back and she wants to engage me.  She is now more often than not the one who is initiating the work.  I've had nights after work when I hadn't planned on doing any training with her and she has hassled me constantly until I've caved in and taken her out to do something.  I feel like I finally "get" my dog.
I can't imagine not doing more courses after this.  The whole thing becomes a bit addictive.  Having someone there at any time who you can ask questions of is just brilliant.  I'm learning so much I don't really want to stop.  I might not always do gold level but I think I'd like to find something at bronze that might be interesting.  I can't rave enough about Denise Fenzi.  She is like a miracle worker!  If she lived in Australia I'd find her and give her a bit kiss.   

I took Sonic to Murdoch last week for x-rays and a full going over.  Fortunately nothing we didn't already know about was found and it is still his hips that are causing all the problems.  The specialist basically told me that all I can do is modify my expectations and accept that he is going to get sore.  Doing the odd trial isn't out of the question but some level of discomfort is unavoidable so medication will become a way of life.  I guess it's about deciding for him how much he is allowed to do.  I want to give him the opportunity to do agility when he is feeling good but it will be a trial to trial proposition.  At least I can give him meds to make his day to day life more comfortable.  I'm glad I took him in to be fully checked out.  I feel a lot happier now that I know more about what I'm dealing with and how to look after him the right way.  With a lounge room that has become a fitness centre I'm certainly well prepared to keep him in the best possible physical condition.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Kitchen Sink

Getting back in the ring is so close I can almost taste it!  I did enter Cassie in a trial last weekend, but I don't want to ruin things by jumping the gun so we are sitting tight for now.  We are coming to the end of the "I'm Just Little" course and Cassie has been a total superstar.  I am literally throwing the kitchen sink at her and she is blitzing it.  Probably because now I'm finally listening to her and giving her what she needs.  Feedback from Denise has been great and understanding when to push and when to give invaluable.  I thought I was an OK dog trainer before but now I feel like someone has turned the light on.  That was the biggest issue when the ring stress first appeared.  I had no idea what to do to give her the confidence she needed.  Instead I treated her like a border collie.  Big mistake...

Phase C of Cassie's ring rehab will hopefully begin in December.  After showing Denise some video of Cassie working at home with ring ropes up Denise is convinced she can help me fix it because Cassie becomes a different dog very quickly when the ropes are present.  So I'm going to try very, very hard to get a Gold Level spot in Denise's Ring Confidence course that starts on 1st December.  Registration is 3.30am WST.  Won't that be fun... This course is great timing and gives us something structured to work on over Christmas and into the New Year.  So the plan is that Cassie might be ready to be back in the ring at the first trial of 2015!  How awesome that would be.

Back in October we did the Shape Up Dogs seminar with Justine Davenport and Jessica Patterson.  To be honest I was really worried leading up to it.  I thought that it would be way too much for Cassie and that Sonic (aka Mr Lame) would have to stand in, somehow.  Not to mention the forecast of warm weather.  As it happened the weather was OK.  Warmish on one day but not too bad.  Cassie went above and beyond my expectations.  Lots to work on but it gave me more direction on putting my handling into practice, something that has been sorely neglected since I have had to put all my focus on Cassie's confidence.  Cassie was the only non-working breed in the Advanced session and she was amazing.  Worked her butt off every time I got her out no matter what I asked of her.  When I go to training now I just combine the confidence and proofing work with handling skills.  It's been a long time since I have really felt happy with a handling system but this one is great.

So poor Sonic is lame again.  No more trialling for him this year.  I think he my have slipped in the house and then after running around outside was quite obviously really sore.  He is due an acupuncture treatment next week and then I've got him a specialist appointment the week after for a thorough going over to see what I can do to help him.  Hard to know what the future holds in store for him agility wise.  I hope he can do something, just not sure what yet.  I don't think he's quite ready to do nothing.

For this summer I decided to purchase a treadmill for the dogs.  I almost got one last year but at the last minute went with the pool because I thought it would be better conditioning for Sonic.  Although the pool was great exercise I really struggled with the upkeep of maintaining the water quality, filtering etc.  So this time year the treadmill came out on top.  Not much to choose from by way of dog treadmills in Australia.  Only two that I could find anyway.  One fancy but very expensive.  The other much cheaper but still had all the things that I wanted and reviews were all good so that is what I went with.  The dogs responses to using the treadmill have been very predictable.  Cassie no problem as long as there is food involved.  Riot is quite happy to use it but really doesn't seem to see the point and when he has decided he wants to stop, he does, whether it's going or not.  Sonic total maniac.  Jumps on, flails around for a minute or so then launches off it like it's about to self destruct underneath him.  You can't push him or give him a hard time about it, he just gets worse.  Problem solved by putting the Manners Minder on a stool in front and letting him work it out for himself.  You get on it, the MM gives you a treat.  Even very silly boys can figure that out...Fizzy was slowly and quietly but she's got the idea.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Getting Closer

Well I managed to get my Gold spot for the "I'm Just Little" course!  It felt like I was buying tickets for a rock concert.  Course registration opened at 10am Pacific Standard Time which was 1am our time.  Rather than wait up I went to bed and set the alarm for 12.45am.  So up I got bleary eyed and half asleep.  As it got close to 1am I started hitting the refresh button.  I'd heard that Denise Fenzi courses sell out in about one minute so it was serious stuff going on.  Luck was with me and within seconds of it hitting 1am the Gold spot came up for purchase.  I can't believe how excited I was that I got one!  Unfortunately so excited that when I went back to bed I couldn't

Fizzy Bear
We are three weeks in and I'm really enjoying it.  The stuff I worked on in the Bridging the Gap course has certainly put us in good stead to be progressing really well.  I love some of the little games we are doing including a game called "doggy toss" that Cassie really loves.  Not sure a lot of the other little dogs are very impressed but it's right up her alley!  Cassie has come such a long way in the last few months and I'm so pleased with where she is at.

On the weekend I took her to a Show and Go held at the Dogs West grounds just to see what might happen in a simulated trial environment.  Unfortunately the weather was crap so not as many people there but with four rings set up it at least looked like the real deal.  It's challenging that her interest in personal play really lowers we are in a trial situation.  Things that would arc her right up at home don't get her engaged at all.  Movement works well though so I was able to get her chasing me and then tugging on her lead.  But, as soon as I go up to the start line you can see her arousal take a serious nose dive back to terra firma. 
A distinguished older gent...Riot
The first couple of runs I honestly thought she wasn't going to come with me, but she did.  I couldn't get her to nose touch at all on the start line.  Looking back at the video I probably shouldn't have bothered because then I was faffing around with her for ages and it didn't help at all.  Good lesson learned there.  No problems with her speed when she did take off, she was flying.  I rewarded her mid course on the first one and then second time around did the course and rewarded her at the end like we would at a trial.  To finish off I worked on a jumping course.  I decided to focus on the first couple of obstacles rather than the course.  Again she started off a bit hesitantly.  We did two obstacle to her tuggy.  Second start line again a bit of avoidance creeping in so I did the first two obstacles and then let her jump into my arms.  The third one was the by far the best take off.  I just put her down gave her a pat and we were off.  No hesitation from her at all.  Yay!

The many faces of a pappy
So although my work isn't finished just yet, the show and go did give me an idea of where she is at and where to from here.  I've entered her in a trial in about three weeks.  One class is NFC and one normal.  I was in two minds earlier today but after watching the runs back I think we'll give it a go.  I have a better idea of how to manage her and even if she is not happy in the normal class I'm prepared to blow it off and get her to jump in my arms if I think it will help her.  I feel like a have a lot of tools in the toolbox now to deal with whatever comes up.

This week is pretty exciting with the Justine Davenport and Jessica Patterson seminar here in Perth.  These girls are at the top of their game in world agility at the moment.  I love their handling style and it's the direction I want to take as I move forward in agility.  I haven't done nearly as much work on handling for a while as I would like to have.  Working through Cassie's issues has taken priority and Sonic isn't up to a huge amount of training.  The seminar is three full days.  I have no idea how Cassie is going to handle it and the weather forecast keeps changing.  But no matter what hopefully we will learn heaps, have a lot of fun and get through it!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

But I'm Only Little!

And so the FCI World Agility Championship's for 2014 has been run and won.  Last weekend was full of late nights so I could watch the live stream from Luxembourg.  We probably shouldn't support the FCI event as much as we do given that it's the only world agility event that only allows registered purebreds.  So out-dated and really unacceptable in this day and age.  But they are the Worlds that everyone aspires to win and watching it inevitably fills you with a suitably big dose of inspiration to run hard and run fast and be the very best you can be.  What sort of legends are Lisa Frick and Hoss!  To win Worlds four times is just mind blowing.  I swear they get better and better each year.  Not to forget Jenny Damm and Lilli who I'm sure we'll be seeing a whole lot of over the next few years.

Sonic and I have been hitting the trial ring a little bit of late.  Still just doing the Masters Jumping class but really enjoying it.  I do miss Masters Agility but I'd rather jumping than nothing at all.  He's doing super and has had some really great runs including a very close third behind Liryk and Rosi two of our fastest Masters dogs.  It was a perfect Sonic course that suited him to the ground and he showed how much he loved it by running such a great time.  He knocks the odd bar but really, who cares.  His next trial is the Royal Show.  He's only entered in teams this year because I don't think his body will cope with two full days of trialling.  So hopefully the team has a good one for 2014.  Last years Royal was total crap!  I haven't even entered Cassie this year after last years melt down.

The pap with the attitude is doing OK.  We've worked our way through most of the Bridging the Gap course and I'm pleased to say that we probably achieved more than I thought we would.  She is now jumping into my arms which I never thought I'd be able to teach her and is consistently doing courses with minimal rewards.  Even more exciting is that it no longer terrifies me to not have food in my pocket when I'm training her...  I think we are pretty close to going back in the ring again.  But we've come so far I don't want to rush it (OK I'm shit scared that it will go wrong!).  There is a Show and Go scheduled for mid October so my plan is to run her in that.  I'll do something like do half a course and then surprise her with her fav tuggy.  Then if that goes well we'll do a full course and do our set up of to her lead and to her treat bag at the end.  If nothing else I'm really keen to see if what I've been doing has made an impact when she's faced with the trial environment.  If that goes well then we will attempt an NFC run at a trial.  That will be the ultimate test.

Before that happens I'm going to attempt to get a Gold spot in another upcoming course that Denise Fenzi is running.  The course is called "But I'm Only Little".  It looks like it works through all the play stuff a lot of which I'm pretty comfortable with after doing BTG.  But there are parts of it where she looks at dealing with pressure in little dogs and I think that will be invaluable to us.  I still feel that there are times when Cassie is really susceptible to pressure and I'm not confident that I deal with it in the right way.  Fingers, toes and eyes crossed that I can score a working spot as I really want to get Denise's feedback to what I'm doing.  That is probably the thing I've missed most from doing the online courses and sometimes it's really hard to know if I'm making the right choices.  But I am really pleased with mine and Cassie's progress and I think we are a long way down the road from all the ring stress in the first half of the year. 

And I'm finally back into my fitness regime.  After being a depressed slob for about six weeks I snapped out my stupor, pulled on my running shoes and got my arse back pounding the pavement.  After about three weeks I already feel significantly better, trimmer and able to breath normally after working my dogs.  I've had to tone down the work out a little bit so it's just a run and Jacob's ladder now.  For some reason running up Mount Street aggravates a muscle in my hip.  If I don't do Mount Street it is fine.  And I purchased a Fit Bit Flex which is great in that it keeps track of what I do all day (or rather what I don't do).  But I find it's supposed "messages of encouragement" such as "you only have 2,000 steps left to make your daily target" the equivalent of "get off your fat lazy arse and do some exercise"!!!  It works...

Jacob's Ladder...going down!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Agility Mission

So I've officially turned into the crazy dog training lady. I'm in the middle of not one but two online courses with Cassie.  OK, so I'm slightly obsessed about getting her back in the ring....  And for the first time ever I'm keeping a training journal (one for each course no less in case you didn't truly believe I'm obsessed) just to prove how determined I am!  I have never done that before.  I had already signed up for Susan Garrett's Recallers and then I also signed up as an auditor for Denise Fenzi's Bridging the Gap.  I would love to have gotten a working spot for BTG but I missed the early intake.  Recallers is great.  I've done it before and takes only a couple of minutes each day.  The exercises are simple but so effective.  Even doing the core skills where you work on rewarding something as basic as your dogs response to their name or the collar grab game is worthwhile.  As soon as I started working on those things I saw an improvement in Cassie's behaviour.

I'm really loving BTG.  It is geared towards transitioning from obedience training to the obedience ring but all the principles it uses are relevant for any competition ring.  It's just that obviously most dogs are far less likely to have these problems for agility.  I've learned so much already and seeing massive improvements in everything Cassie does.  I think the biggest lesson though has been to not skip the little things.  I look back now to some annoying little behavioural habits that Cassie has developed that I have just "let go".  Things like only working if she knows I have food (even though she only got rewarded after doing something), not always coming when she's called, doing stuff when she feels like doing it, disappearing under furniture when she decides she doesn't want to do something, not coming inside when asked if she knows we are going out and not coming in the morning when I'm going to work.  All things that drive me nuts but I just let it go.  Seems stupid now.  So I am systematically working through fixing all of them.  And the consequence of not doing it is that she misses out.  And Cassie hates missing out...  A couple of times I have actually seen her about to bunk off and very obviously change her mind and do the right thing.
I will not be tempted!
It's all small steps and replacing classic rewards with things like personal play and other games.  And what I love, no more (as Denise Fenzi calls them) "turn up cookies".  I never believed I could reward a dog too much.  But somehow I've managed it with Cassie.  We've managed pretty good play skills with nothing else going on but I moved onto playing with toys on the ground.  Of course Cassie's idea of fun when there are toys around is grabbing one and doing celebratory laps with it...inside at home is fine but outside not so great.  Needless to say we are still working on that skill and she has to be on lead.  On the really positive I have her weaving with an open container of treats on the ground next to the poles.  Nothing shabby about that!  I've also taught her to jump up for me to catch her.  A trick I've always wanted to teach her but doing agility seemed more important. 
I'm also working on our set up and finish when doing equipment.  So apart from no more "turn up cookies" at the start line which has now been replaced with personal play, we have a finish routine where she puts her head in her slip lead, followed by a game of personal play and then off to her treats.  Next will be incorporating someone walking up and taking her leash so that is no longer just a trialling thing.  I need to be careful though as I don't want to overdo it and overwhelm her.  It's a lot of changes to what she knew and this is about the journey for both of us.  I know it's easy to say not to sweat the small stuff, but in this case ignoring the small stuff is the biggest mistake I've made.  I have no doubt I would have gotten away with it if I was training a border collie.  Only having border collies previously has definitely limited my learning.  Never in a million years would I have envisaged experiencing the training challenges I have had with Cassie after having my bcs.
Pretty in Blue
On a lighter note, I picked up my lovely new car a couple of weeks ago.  Although unfortunately even that presented it's own challenges.  I went to Holden specifically to purchase a new VF Storm SV6 Ute.  I was pretty clear with them about that.  Yet somehow the Sales Manager ordered me a straight SV6.  If he had of stopped and taken a breath instead of trying to convince me to buy the car I'd gone there to buy maybe he would have paid more attention.  Don't get me wrong, I love my new car.  The Carry Boy canopy is so far superior to the one on my last ute.  I just never thought I would experience going to buy something and having the salesperson make a royal f**k up and not sell me what I asked for.  I haven't received my Holden Customer Feedback Survey as yet.  Won't I be having some fun with that when I get it...and no Rockingham Holden, throwing in free car mats and a free rental car that I have no need for when I get the car serviced does not make up for the royal screw up that was made.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Post Nationals 2014

Where to start.  The Nationals were amazing.  The Queensland Nationals Committee did a great job in how they planned it and ran it.  The hotel was fantastic and super dog friendly and we had great weather.  But best of all I got to watch some truly amazing dog and handler combinations from around Australia and New Zealand push themselves to the limit. 

The competition started really well for Western Australia when the WA State Team totally kicked butt and won the teams competition beating NZ into second place.  Our best result ever.  We've come second a couple of time before including back in 2004 when Soda and I were on the team.  But we'd never managed that elusive first place.  The new team selection process where dogs are selected based on consistency rather than wins is definitely a much better way of picking our team.

Day one for me was also a great start.  Cassie came out in her first run and easily won her Excellent Agility class.  She was almost 10 seconds clear of second place even with a very tentative first two obstacles.  Cassie also ran happily in Masters Jumping but lacked focus for the first half so we DQ'd.  I had thought perhaps we would be OK but on Day 2 when we didn't have any classes I took her to the practice ring and she did not want to do agility at all!  And that was pretty much the way it played for the rest of the Nationals.  I could get her over the first couple of jumps but then she would shut down and either try and hide in the tunnel or completely disengage from me and wander off.  Fortunately I did manage to get her around the Strategic Pairs Excellent course with Ashleigh and Spirit.  I was so worried that we would let them down but Cassie although not at full strength handled the bits she had to do.  So we ended up in second place.  Pretty great all things considered.

Sonic on the other hand was a very happy boy.  I ran him in all the Masters Jumping classes and just the one Masters Agility class and his body held up beautifully.  Unfortunately he had a bar down in two of his JDM runs and the little bugger missed his dog walk contact in agility.  Which was a huge shame as in each of them he would easily have qualified for finals.  I was really excited by the times he was running.  He was about two seconds off first place in all of them.  Given that he can't turn and power out of his corners like the other fast dogs he did a great job.  It was the first Nationals that I hadn't made a final with him.  I don't know what I would have done without him.  He appears to still be OK so I'll give him a couple of weeks break from everything but his normal exercise.  Then we'll get back into the body strengthening work and hopefully do some Masters Jumping runs over the rest of the year.  I think the mistake I made after Albany was getting straight back into training but I want to make sure that this time his body has a proper break.

Aside from my own runs it was exciting and inspiring watching some of the other dogs run.  WA is certainly top of the agility game in Australia.  On the whole the handling and skills of the dogs was so impressive.  I was feeling very proud.  For the most part the courses were lovely.  I enjoyed every one I ran with Sonic.  This was the first time I'd run completely separate courses for Cassie.  At home the 200's run the same courses as every other height.  But at Nationals they are designing and setting courses for the individual heights.  I have to say I was a little surprised to see how tiny and tight some of the courses were.  If Cassie was in the mood to run I'm sure she would have handled them OK but I found them cramped and claustrophobic.  If I had a 200 height dog that trotted around the course I may have felt differently but I have to say I love seeing Cassie stretch out.  Something she would have struggled to do on those courses.  I personally don't think that a 200 course should be like that and I'm relieved that I don't have to experience them on a regular basis when I trial at home. 

It was also great to  check out some of the other dogs.  Given that I'm looking for a new border collie pup it was interesting to see the dogs that are winning. In most cases the same dogs/kennels who were winning in NSW 2012.  Looks like there may be a few litters coming up over the next 12 months so hopefully I'll find what I'm looking for.

There is a part of me that is very relieved that the Nationals are over.  With everything that has gone wrong with Cassie in the ring I was finding it really stressful not knowing what was going to happen.  Not to mention that I didn't actually want to trial her.  But it seemed crazy to not at least try.  Now I can pull her out of the ring and just focus on working through it without the pressure of big events.  I honestly don't care if she's not in the ring for the rest of year.  I just want to get through it.  So I've signed up for the latest Susan Garrett's Recallers.  I did Recallers a couple of years ago but I think it will be a great opportunity to have a structured course to follow.  That will take me through the next month and then I'll decide what's next.  I've also decided that I need to be way stricter.  Ok yes, I admit that I spoil her.  She gets attention when she wants, treats just because she's cute and the run of the house.  That has all stopped.  I'm making her earn everything she gets and for stuff around the home it's a biscuit if she's lucky.  More often than not its a pat and "good girl".  No more something for nothing....  Fizz is being subject to the same new rules.  It's our own fault.  We've let them run amok for too long and it has to stop.  Fizz gives the boys a really hard time including running and snapping at their faces when they are quietly minding their own business in their crates.  But no more.  Time to engage her brain and stop letting her rehearse shitty behaviour.  I've seen an improvement in some things already but it's going to be a long road I suspect and I'm going to have to work very hard with Cassie.  Hopefully at some point in the future I'll be able to trial her again and recreate the joy for agility that I know she has.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Life on the Line

A couple of weeks ago I almost lost Sonic.  Like dead lost, as opposed to can't find him lost.  He actually was dead but somehow we saved him.  Sonic has always been a terrible eater who gutses his food.  For that reason I'm always really careful and keep a close eye on what he's doing at meal times.  But a couple of weeks ago I dropped the ball and I took my eye off him.  That was all it took.  Like an unsupervised child and a swimming pool, it happened in seconds.  The whole thing is a bit of a blur and I can't even remember what I was doing before it happened.  All I know is I looked out the back doors and he had collapsed.  I can't explain how it felt seeing Sonic on the ground, his tongue blue, not breathing.  I put my hand down his throat to try and grab the obstruction but it was too far down.  Colin got behind him and somehow managed to massage this throat to push the bone back up so I could grab it and get it out.  Once his airway was clear we launched into CPR.  I gave him chest compressions and Colin managed to get some breaths in.  I couldn't even tell you how long it took but by some miracle he came back to us.  Slowly at first but he started breathing.  He's OK, as normal and silly as ever.  Situations conspired that night for me to break all the rules I normally stick to with my dogs and I almost paid the price.  One thing I do know is that I'm one of the luckiest people around that I still have Sonic with me and a partner who pretty much saved Sonic's life.

Agility Nationals fever has officially hit.  It's what most of us are thinking and talking about, particularly as panic sets in about how much work our dogs still need and making sure we don't break them before we get there.  Last weekends trial, my last before we leave was not good.  I had thought Cassie was going OK.  We had been improving.  But the trial saw a startling leap backwards and I'm where I started with a dog who won't go over the first obstacle.  For someone who has spent the last two years working towards the Nationals it's a hard pill to swallow.  It's very difficult not to feel the massive weight of failure.  I've taken one of the most talented papillons I've seen in agility and created a dog that won't even go over the first jump.  A monumental f**k up of magnificent proportions.  What will happen at the Nationals is anyone's guess.  I may get one or two runs out of her with it being a strange ground and no history.  Until she realises she's not getting rewarded in the ring and then the same pattern will probably follow.  I am working madly at doing some equipment at home with her and then running to her treats outside of the agility area.  I have to get the rewards away from me so she stops cluing onto the fact that when she's in the ring she's not getting anything.   She has a great history of "It's Yer Choice" games so getting her to work around food is the easy bit.  It really is very, very hard to fail at something you want so much to succeed in.  I know there will be a point where I do get to the other side of this and she is running like she used to.  I will no doubt be a vastly better dog trainer and perhaps that is Cassie's gift to me.  I have always been a pretty optimistic person by nature.  But when you are in the middle of a training issue that may prevent you from competing a week out from a National event it's hard to feel great about it.        

I may have inadvertently almost killed Sonic with food recently but on the positive side his back is looking and feeling pretty good.  It's amazing how well he does after not doing agility for two months...   I imagine running agility at the Nationals is out of the question and just not worth it considering that after one set of weavers he'll probably be sore again but I recon I should be able to at least do the jumping classes.  Bearing in mind he has literally done no agility training at all since April so control may be an issue.  I'll love running him no matter what the outcome and he'll be a great support for Cassie in a strange environment.  It will be a wonderful thing to have a dog who I know will run in the ring for me!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Turning Corners

Last weekend was the latest road trip for Kriszty and I up to Geraldton with Sonic, Cassie, Red Dog and little Tex tagging along for fun.  It was my first trip to Geraldton in a couple of years after having a few very bleak trials in Geraldton with Sonic where we had come away with no Q's after two days of trialling.  Which makes for a very long and depressing drive home!  Fortunately this time we had a very successful weekend and Cassie and I came home with 3 Q's out of 4 runs which way exceeded my expectations.

Prior to Geraldton we did a day road trip to Bunbury which is about two hours south of Perth.  I was kind of nervous given that at our previous trial I had completely abandoned running classes and chose to play nose touches at the start line before whoohooing back to a reward.  She had come out of that trial quite happy so I felt that I wanted to try competing to see if things had started to improve but still had no real idea what I would get.  I had also changed my start line release from "ready, steady, go" to "1, 2, 3, run" just in case I had poisoned our old release by association with the stress.  For our agility run with great relief Cassie released off the start line and came straight after me.  Half way round I handled her badly which lost her focus and she went out of the ring to sniff.  I went and got her and she continued quite happily to finish the course.  For her jumping run I decided to abandon running it properly.  Instead I asked the judge if she would be OK with me running only six jumps to a tunnel and then straight back out.  The judge was happy with that and I was thrilled that Cassie again released and chased me up and back.  Maybe she would have run the whole course, maybe she wouldn't have.  But I was happy because my dog was happy.

All in all I *think* things are getting back on track with Cassie.  At Geraldotn there was one yawn on one start line and one class where she wouldn't initially come off the start line (until she couldn't resist coming to me for a nose touch).  She is without a doubt slower and more cautious but the fact that she got both her weavers in both agility classes showed that she was focused and confident.  The weavers seem to be what goes first when she is worried about what is going on.  The fact that she was slower and more cautious probably worried me less because she was competing at a grounds she has never been to before after travelling in a car for quite a few hours and staying in a strange house.  All her runs were also quite late in the day so she had been at the grounds and in a crate for a significant amount of time before all of her runs.  She has always been better when she's fresh.  So all things considered I think I can fairly safely say that we have turned a corner and are hopefully on our way back.   

I'm not sure which part of what I'm doing is helping.  I've learned to pay particular attention to her body language and what it might be telling me.  I also allow her time and space to absorb what is going on no matter where we are.  I've restricted the amount of "fun stuff" she has free access to when we are at home, training or a trial to make sure that the focus is on fun when she is with me and all her energy is going towards that.  I've been working on a lot more games at training and less actual agility.  We work on random nose touches and tricks all the time with intermittent rewards so they are really high value and can be thrown in at any time.  She is getting much better at tugging on her lead and just playing with me without relying on food and toys.  I've also had the ring ropes up at training to work around them and reward her for crossing the rope and onto the start line.  I do still wonder if a lot of the problem is the lack of reward that she gets when she is competing.  She is a very bright little girl and is very aware of what earns her something and more importantly what doesn't.  So again, my job is to make sure the agility is rewarding enough to carry her past the no food or toys at the start line.  I think I'm achieving that at training but having a problem "bridging the gap" to the competition ring.  But I have hope after what we have achieved in only a few weeks, considering that it was just over a month ago that I couldn't get her over the first jump and she was leaving the ring.  I still have moments of doubt and times when I feel like I have totally screwed her up.  "How the hell did I get here?" is a fairly regular thought that wafts through my head.  But at the end of the day you just have to suck it up, get on with it, be patient, patient, patient and believe that you can do it...  Kayl McCann who I think is an awesome agility competitor from Canada posted the following quote on FB the other day; "When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal, you don't change your decision to get there".  How relevant for me right now.  Thanks Kayl!

Sonic from what I can tell, seems to be reasonably sound at the moment.  So much so that I was too petrified to run him at Geraldton in case I broke him again.  Pretty sad isn't it...  I think he enjoyed the trip anyway and he is always no problem to travel with.  All good practice for the Nationals, which are only a month away.  Yikes!!!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Outside the Square

Agility isn't going so great for me right now.  I think I will have to shortly admit defeat with Sonic and his soreness.  No matter what I do his body will not hold up for agility.   I tried to run him at the States but after his first run in Masters Jumping (which was lovely I might add!) he wasn't able to run in much else.  Well I could have run him and he would have tried his heart out as he always does but I wouldn't do that to him.  I have too much respect for him to cause him pain just to fulfil my need to do agility.  He won't run in anything else until the Nationals and then if I take him at all he will likely only run in the Masters Jumping classes.  Then I think retirement from agility will be my only option for him.

Then things have gotten even worse in the ring with Cassie.  I managed to get her to run two courses at the States out of six classes I attempted.  She is warming up fairly happily but as soon as I try and enter the ring she shuts down and does not want to be there at all.  I tricked her into the two runs she did do by incorporating hand touches at one start line and spins on the other.  But my Miss Smarty Pappy Pants wouldn't fall for it any subsequent tries as right now they behaviours aren't enough to out way the stress she is feeling.  I was pretty emotional about it.  People just assume that you get upset about failure because you didn't win or qualify.  I got upset because it's crushing to think that my dog doesn't want to do agility with me or is too stressed.  The Q's and winning means nothing if my dog doesn't want to be there.  I'll admit to a bit of a pity party for a few days while I wallowed in sorrow of how things had gone.  But enough of feeling sorry for myself, that's not going to fix anything.  Time for action and becoming a better dog trainer!  I know that trying to figure out why is pointless.  I can clearly see the stress when I take her into the ring so all I can do is try and address what I see. 

I've been doing heaps of research and watching and reading like a crazy person to find information that might help me to come up with a plan.  The Denise Fenzi stuff is really interesting and I'm liking what I'm reading.  As always I'm eternally grateful to dog training friends who have ideas on what I can try.  I value their opinions so much.  I now have a strategy in place which includes a lot of different things including setting up a mock ring at training and at home, more games, higher arousal level at trials, lower value treats at home and making training at home look a lot more like it might at a trial.  I had entered her in a trial last Saturday a week after the States and instead of trying to run courses with her my only goal was to get her to the start line, play games and make sure she is happy and comfortable.  I was able to have a great game of tug before we went in the Masters Jumping ring.  She did quieten down when we entered the ring but I let her settle and simply played nose touches with her.  Once she was happily doing those I gave her a big cheer and we ran out of the ring to a reward.  I did the same thing in the Excellent Agility class and I feel pretty confident that I achieved what I set out to do and she seemed a lot more happy and relaxed without the stress of running a course.

Our next two trials are on the road.  Firstly we have a day trip to Bunbury and the week after we have a longer road trip to Geraldton for two days of trialling.  Really good timing considering I need to feel a lot more confident that Cassie will be comfortable running in strange places.   And it gives me another couple of weeks to get some more start line work done.  To be honest I'm not really sure if the Nationals this year are lost.  I had high hopes of showing Australia my beautiful pappy pants but I may have to let it go for now because I'm just not sure if I have enough time to work through this and have a real impact on the stress.  But I will give it my best shot.  One thing for sure is that I'll appreciate every success I have with Cassie and never take anything for granted.

At the States Cassie did give me a great highlight with a win in the first Masters Jumping heat.  She is an amazing little dog that's for sure.

The one success at our house right now has been Colin and Fizz.  After their very first foray into the agility ring at the States they achieved their very first Novice Jumping pass at last weekends trial.  Pretty impressive to get your first pass at only your second weekend of trialling!  And third place no less.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Training Quandaries

March has been pretty busy agility wise. We've had three agility competitions including Cassie's very first attempts at the Masters Jumping class plus a games trial.  I still can't believe she's in Masters already.  Agility on the other hand is an entirely different story!

Papillons really are hard work.  And I have been blessed with a very driven one, so I can't even begin to imagine trying to train one that isn't that way inclined.  I'm probably more frustrated than normal because she was going so well at the end of last year in agility and I just can't seem to find our groove since getting back into it this year.  Handling wise I'm really happy.  I definitely can't complain at all about her first two efforts in Masters Jumping.  Her first was a very minor error caused by a poor handling choice on my behalf, then last week she ran beautifully for her first Q and a win.  She was about 4 seconds ahead of the lovely pap Spirit who came in at second place and she wasn't at top speed for the first third of the course.

Then we have agility... She has been coming off high on the down contact of every dog walk in a trial this year (although has only actually missed once that I'm aware of).  She isn't always getting her weaver entries and worst of all she is often bunking off at the start line.  Her high dog walk is not going well in training either and I have been experimenting with a few things to see what responses I get.  Some sessions are good, others not so.  I just want her to put one more stride in but it's not happening right now.  My brain is in overdrive trying to come up with strategies on working through it.  I've even considered teaching her a two on two off to provide her with more reinforcement right on the end.  I'm still not convinced that it is the answer though.  Even more frustrating than that is the going backwards on the start line.  Over the last twelve months I have slowly seen her evolve.  She would be crazy at my friends place to train but not so much at the Dogs West training grounds, put back further by a couple of bad experiences with ant bites.  Over time I'm now seeing that same crazy excitement when she is training at Dogs West yet when trialling at those grounds she really lacks that same confidence.  When she runs she always goes like the clappers as is her way but I wish I could make her feel happier about the environment that she's in.  It's not that I want her to be perfect tomorrow, I just get frustrated with problems that I can't solve and more than anything I want her to be happy and confident. As her owner, trainer and protector, that's my job and it feels a bit like I'm letting her down by not having the answers.

But it's not the first time I've been through this with her.  It's not that long ago that I was having huge confidence issues with her at training especially after the ant bites and I even thought I had totally ruined her at one overly emotional point.  OK, so it was over dramatic on my behalf but after being blessed with one of the most gifted small dogs I've ever had the pleasure to come across the thought of being responsible for wrecking her does cause me some mental anguish.  I am trying very hard to "just chill out" but right now it is really challenging me more than anything I have come across in dog training.

Poor Sonic is still broken.  He was OK until the Classic where he actually did pretty well with a strong run in Masters Jumping but although he had a nice Q in Masters Agility he was no way near 100% and I could see he was holding back.  After the Classic we did some more swimming but shortly after I found he was even worse.  I'm not sure if it was the swimming or the agility but basically I gave him two weeks off from everything.  This week I have put him back in the pool for very gentle exercise.  I just can't see any way that he will be able to continue agility beyond this year.  Or alternatively he literally competes twice or three times a year when he is feeling OK.  It's just getting ridiculous.

Some exciting news is that Colin has started working with Fizz.  For whatever reason Fizz is not really excited by agility.  I take my hat off to those who can turn less enthused dogs into agility champions but I honestly do believe that they either have it or they don't.  I think Fizz likes agility a lot more than she used to and to some degree even enjoys it but unlike Sonic or Cassie she doesn't have that real drive to want to do it.  And quite frankly I have no intention of not letting her run with other dogs etc to make her want to do agility.  Colin and Fizz have always had a lovely bond and she has always much preferred hanging out with him than with me.  So we had a chat about it and Colin has decided he would really like to give it a go with her.  I personally think she is much happier running with him.  Obviously there isn't the same pressure with Colin than I put on her (even if I don't mean to) and her speed matches him really well.  So hopefully we'll see Colin and Fizz in the ring together very soon.

To that end I have started searching for a new puppy.  I was actually looking at getting one of Kriszty's Red Dog's puppies when she bred from her.  For personal reasons Kriszty has decided to put that off for a couple of years and I don't want to wait that long to bring on another young dog.  So I have begun a bit of a search and have my eye on a few up and coming litters happening in the second half of this year.  Two in particular are top of my list however the bitches have to get pregnant and have puppies first!  So at this stage I just have to sit back and be patient.  Certainly plenty to keep me occupied in the meantime, like fixing Cassie's dog walk and getting Colin in the ring with Fizzy bear.  The prospect of a new puppy is pretty exciting though and I'm really looking forward to it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Road Trip

Last weekend was the scheduled road trip to Albany to test the waters for Cassie's first trial away from home.  I'm also happy to admit to looking forward to getting away from Perth for a few days.  I took the Friday and Monday off work to make it a bit more of a holiday.  We stayed at Coraki Cottages which we really enjoyed especially being able to have the dogs inside with us.  Accommodation that is so dog friendly is not so easy to find.  Cassie moved in like she owned the place with a very big pappy tick of approval.  Sonic's first reaction on entering his weekend digs was to turn tail and take himself back to the car.  I'm pretty sure the message was "looks great but I'm ready to head home now"... he got over it and travelled well as he always seems to.  They make a nice travelling pair.  They are great friends and co-exist so happily together.

My agility area 2014!
The big test was, could Sonic make it through a trialling weekend without me breaking him??  I'm very please to say that not only was he still sound by the time we left he also went clear in Masters Agility and Masters Jumping with a win in agility and second in jumping.  Both were really sweet runs and he seemed awfully happy.  His other two runs were hardly bad but he knocked a bar in the second Masters Jumping (my fault for getting in his way) and missed a weaver entry in the second Masters Agility class.  His success far exceeded my expectations.  He has another acupuncture session this weekend so if there are any tweaks there hopefully we can sort them out.  Bring on the Western Classic I say.
Colin & Riot
 To make the weekend even better little muppet pappy pants went clear in both of her Excellent Jumping classes finishing off her Excellent Jumping title.  Not bad for a two and a half year old who has been trialling for just under 12 months!  I had quietly thought to myself it would be cool if she could get the last two legs but I didn't actually think it would happen.  I'm very excited that I'll be able to run her in Masters Jumping not only at the Nationals but also our State Trial which is awesome.  Our Sunday agility classes didn't go quite so well.  When I was warming her up for her classes she would switch on but then I could not keep her focus no matter what I did.  I was pulling out the special treats and iSqueak but to no avail.  She still ran fast, I don't imagine she would ever do anything else, but she was unfocused and not with me at all.  I *think* it may be because she was tired.  We had been out for dinner with some of the other triallers on Saturday night and the car was parked on the main street of Albany with the dogs inside.  We could see that she wasn't really settling from the restaurant.  We didn't have a late night but it certainly wouldn't have helped the situation.  Great lesson for me when we go to the Nationals in that we have early nights to make sure she is as rested up as possible for each day's events.  I'm considering travelling to the weekend trial in Geraldton in May to test my theory.  But we'll see how things unfold after the States.

The kids!
I'm slowly getting back into my regular fitness routine.  The plan is to build up to three workouts a week as we get closer to the Nationals.  I have come up with a "400 calorie" workout which entails a 1.3km run from my office to Jacobs Ladder (Lorna Jane and pony tail compulsory, sweating optional...), up and down Jacob's a couple of times, around to the hill of pain (Mount Street) for a couple of circuits, then back to Jacob's for another couple of sets and the 1.3km run back to work.  I already feel like I've trimmed up since I got back into it after Christmas.  It makes such a difference when trying to run the dogs and of course I feel fitter and healthier.

Next up is the Western Classic in a fortnight.  Then the States in April which is what I guess we are all looking to in the lead up to the Nationals.  I'm mainly keen to see how she copes in finals (provided we make one of course!) when there are people sitting around the outside of the rings.  After how she freaked out at the Royal it's at the back of my mind that she may not like it.  That is something she has to cope with for the Nats.  If she reacts badly then I'll have to do some serious work.  Lots of tests for the pappy pants in the near future and of course keeping Sonic in one piece!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Looking Ahead

I am so glad that Christmas is over.  I feel like I have done nothing but eat for the last couple of weeks.  I actually looked forward to going back to work and getting into my normal routine, such as not eating all day.  Plus getting back into my lunchtime running is probably a really good idea for my waist line...

As we begin the New Year it's exciting to think about goals for 2014.  It is the year of our next ANKC Nationals, to be held in Brisbane for the first time.  Nationals are undoubtedly the biggest agility event for Australian agility competitors and I love being a part of them.  My plan is to take Sonic and Cassie.  Of course I have to get Sonic sound first, which is going to be a challenge, but try I will.  I'm really determined to have at least one more Nationals with him as it will likely be his last.  I can't imagine that his hips will hold out for another two years of agility. 

Loving his new pool.  The cheer squad is never far away!
 To that end our house currently resembles a doggy rehab centre.  The lounge room is full of egg balls, fit balls, paw pods, balance disks etc.  Sonic now also has his own wading pool so I can work on water therapy and resistance muscle building.  Hopefully that will cover off strengthening of all muscles whereas all the reversing work was only targeting some areas.  The biggest issue seems to be his lower back.  He is still getting regular acupuncture and has just had his first Bowen Therapy session to see if that helps as well.  I know that I won't be able to run him at every trial but even if I can do the big ones or even one a month would be awesome.  I'm sure he'll be pretty happy about it too.  Sucks to love something but not be able to do it.

Pretty girl Fizz
Cassie of course is awesome.  I still can't believe I'm lucky enough to have such a special little dog in my life.  She has taught me so much and no doubt will continue to do so as she challenges every part of my dog training skills.  I'm working on being a better handler for her and I think we are making progress.  It's been really interesting working on handling specifically for her and focusing on what allows her to stretch out rather than using the same handling that I would use for a border collie.  It's going to be really exciting to run her at the Nationals.  I hope she copes with things like the flight and travel.  We are doing a weekend away to Albany in February which will essentially be a trial run of being away from home and competing in a strange place.  So that should give me a pretty good idea of how she will manage.  But she is a papillon and she still often surprises me with what she does and doesn't like.  I am never really sure what I am going to get with her.  I would expect she will be in Masters Jumping by the Nationals given that she already has three passes in Excellent.  I'm not pushing her to get to Masters but I would love for her to title at least in Jumping so she's against the best.  I know she's fast but until we actually get to compete against the top 200 height dogs in Australia I really have no idea.  It will certainly be exciting to see what happens.  I'm not so sure we'll make Masters Agility but that's OK.  She's only a baby dog and plenty of agility years in front of her.  It may be better for her to still be in Excellent at such a big event.

Not so happy when it's her turn...
Then we have young Fizz.  Fizzy Bear is now almost twenty months old.  To say she is challenging me is the understatement of the century.  She is really not driven to do agility at all.  She seems to enjoy the contacts to a degree and surprisingly seems to enjoy the weavers but has no interest in jumping what so ever and even tunnels she is very lack lustre about.  Not such a great thing for an agility dog! She tests my patience to the enth degree as I try and look for ways to get her motivated.  I find myself chanting "try to be like Sylvia Trkman" over and over as I look for inspiration to be patient with her and above all else make it fun.  Initially I would get maybe one really good training session every two or three weeks.  The rest were like pulling teeth.  Fortunately the better ones have been enough to keep me motivated to keep trying.  Thankfully over the last few weeks they have been better a little more regularly and there is some small hope in the back of my mind that I may actually get her into the agility competition ring in 2014.  Firstly I have to see if we can put it all together over a course which I am hoping to do once training kicks off again.  I have decided Nationals are out of the question for her.  I don't believe she would cope with the flight, travel and strange surroundings.  She is too much of a worrier like her father.  Maybe 2016!

My Cassie Highlights 2013