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.