Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 I Wish Thee Well, But Now It's Time to Say Goodbye

2017 has mostly sucked.  It started off kind of OK, then went downhill fast.  There were some good bits like getting to judge agility in Singapore, getting my eyes done and not having to wear glasses anymore was pretty awesome and having Jan Egil Eide here to learn about better agility course design.  But overall I'll truly be glad to see the back of it.  I still find it hard to believe that we lost Riot this year.  Every part of this house was infused with his presence and even three months on the house feels empty.  We found a rose for him and planted it right next to where we walk the dogs.  It feels better to have something for him that I get to see everyday.  The rose is called “Remember Me”.

I did learn a lot in 2017.  I learned that my dogs are my teachers, not the other way around.  That I want my dogs to know that they have choices. If they don’t want to tug or play with me then that’s OK.  If they don’t want to do agility then that’s OK too.  If they feel stressed and uncomfortable then I’m going to give them as much time as they need to feel better about things.  If they don’t feel OK then they don’t have to do anything at all.  I don’t think that Veto and I have ever had a bad relationship, I just know that now it is much better.  I see it when we are playing together and I see it when we are just hanging out.  So maybe 2017 wasn't so bad.     
Christmas 2017
I have no idea what 2018 will bring.  But I have some new words that I will take with my as I start my 2018 journey.  Fall down, get up, don't quit, resiliency, bounce back, stay on course, feel no fear, hold the power, make a choice, how your gonna be, how your gonna do it, if you do what is easy your life will be hard, if you do what is hard your life will be easy.  I can do this.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Long and Winding Road

I think one of the hardest parts of feeling like everything is going wrong is that you have no idea if things will ever get better.  Maybe one day it will all make sense and I'll understand the reason why this has all gone so wrong.  But that is hard to keep sight of when your smack bang in the middle of it.  I read inspirational stories other people have written that say everything happens for a reason and you get the dog you need at the right time.  That is pretty hard to believe when you are constantly asking yourself why.  Is it my fault that he has all these issues? What did I do to cause this?  When you fail how do you stop yourself from feeling like your a failure?  Why do I need a dog in my life that challenges me constantly in every part of his training and who I can't compete with?  What lesson is it that I need to learn?  Watching everyone else compete from the sidelines is not so easy.   But somehow I have to grab onto that there must be a bigger picture and that one day I'll be able to look back and know this had to be my story at this time.  To have faith that I'm being sent down a certain path for a reason.  And ultimately to remind myself that I should never rely on success to determine my self worth.  Is there more to life than agility trials?  Of course there is, but that is what I love to do.  It's part of who I am.  

I've made a commitment to Veto.  I've realised that while I do know a lot about dog training my true understanding of applying it correctly is a work in progress.  Things that I thought to be a certain way are at a different point of consciousness now and have clicked into place in a totally different context.  Changing behavior is not about racing forward and making things harder all the time.  It is about creating a change in emotion so that whatever Veto is worried about becomes so boring and easy that he doesn't feel like he needs to worry about it anymore.  My dog training world is no longer about how fast he can go, how many backsides he can do or how perfect a contact behavior can be, its how he feels about where he is and what is around him.  It's about finding an okayness that makes him feel he can do anything.  Then hopefully one day Veto will feel that he and I can do anything together and the world won't be scary for him anymore.

In the papillon part of my world Cassie has strained a muscle in her neck so right now she is mostly resting with some rehab to help the muscle heal.  I want to do Sarah Stremming's Worked Up course with her which starts in December but I'm not sure how I'd go doing two courses at the same time and do them both justice.  So I may have to wait for the Hidden Potential course instead.  I have long wondered if some part of her ring issues have tied in with extreme over arousal when she's running.  I never really understood how she can run flat out around an agility course and look to all the world that she is having a great time.  But afterwards she will refuse to run in any other events which would indicate otherwise.  So is the over arousal so great that it is causing her distress?  I can't help but think yes.  I have accepted the likelihood of trialling her again is low and I'm OK with that, but I would like to understand her and know what she needs from me.  I believe that she has many lessons left for me also, just in her own crazy pappy way.  Never give up, never give in.

At the end of October we had Jan Eigl Eide a top European handler here to run a series of seminars.  What made it all the more special was that Jan is also a top European judge who's courses I was already a big fan of.  They are big and open and allow dogs to run fast, without compromising safety but with plenty of challenges.  The sorts of courses Jan designs is what I have aspired to and I think I was maybe some of the way there but as is me, I wanted to learn more and know that I can be much, much better.  So I asked him to present a course design lecture while he was here which he jumped at being super passionate about the topic.  The upside of not competing the weekend he was here was that I was able to spend time talking to him and observing his course design.  Although I would have loved to run one of my own dogs on his courses.  Jan has also kindly offered to have a look at future courses I design and provide advise and suggestions which is so cool!  Never did I believe that I may have a European judge as a mentor.  It has definitely given me a renewed passion to judge and design courses.  I think that confidence in what I design will go a long way to letting competitors comments and opinions slide right off.  It's amazing how easy it is to let doubt seep in when you are feeling unsure or uncertain.  So I'm feeling refreshed and ready to get back out there and see what I can do.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hotnote As Good As It Gets

Rest in peace my friend ❤❤❤

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tough Times

Amazing memories
Agility used to be very simple.  I had two border collies Murphy & Soda.  I actively searched for Murphy as an obedience and agility prospect.  Soda joined the family as a companion for Murphy.  I had no idea what constituted a good performance dog.  I just wanted a happy puppy from happy well adjusted parents.  It never even occurred to me that either dog would not enjoy performance activities and I assumed right as both dogs loved obedience and agility and I loved doing it with them.  Soda had some personal space issues with other dogs and didn't like dogs she didn't know getting into her space.  Murphy had some breeds that he had no love for.  But both dogs were happy and confident, loved the competition ring, gave it their all and agility was pure fun and adrenaline.  Lining up with Soda in particular was like taking an F1 Ferrari out for a spin.  Fast, fun and furious.  Fast forward eleven/twelve years (how long since I retired both dogs) and right now it is unlikely I could be having less fun doing agility than what I am right now.

Poor Veto is doing it tough.  As is the way of these things he has been getting worse with his ring confidence.  You always hope that they will get better with more exposure but I have found it is rarely ever the case.  His underlying anxiety caused by the proximity of other dogs prevents him from being able to relax and have focus on anything other than where other dogs are.  I knew he was struggling at the trials I did with him in August because I could feel how much he was holding back in the ring.  But the clincher came when I watched video of his runs from Geraldton and I could see just how worried he was.  It was really distressing to watch him constantly looking back at the other dogs and I felt like the most awful person in the world putting him through that and not recognizing how stressed he was.  The first thing I did after watching those runs was scratch him from all the upcoming trials I'd entered him in and he won't run again until I believe he is in a better place, assuming that I can get him there.

Veto's velodrome
So what's next...I've been working through the Hidden Potential course with Cassie and there are quite a few exercises in there that are good for Veto to do.  I've got a webinar coming up which is for Managing the Reactive Dog run by Amy Cook via Fenzi's Academy and then I'm hoping I can get a Gold spot for the course that starts with Amy in October.  I had wanted to put him on Prozac to take the edge off his triggers while we work through it but when he had bloods done his ALT enzymes were elevated.  So we have to get bloods redone before he can start to make sure they are normal.  Fingers crossed that they are because I think the meds will be important to help us work through this.  I want to believe.  Will he ever feel comfortable at an agility trial?  I really don't know.  But I have to try.  The only thing that is keeping me in agility at the moment is the joy I feel when I train him.  At home where he knows he is safe we have so much fun.  I can have the crappiest day but go home and train him and everything feels OK again.  That seems like it is worth fighting for.  But I won't compromise him again.  If after all this he still can't cope with the dogs at trials then we will stop.    

Expanding the agility area

Cassie and I have been busy working through the Hidden Potential course.  The most interesting part has been teaching her a consent and opt out signal.  I've often whinged that I never know what she is thinking but these games allow her to tell me just that.  So far I've ascertained that she loves training at home, loves training at the club at night time but has opted out every time at trials during the day.  Clearly she finds that environment so aversive that she doesn't want anything to do with it.  Hard to watch but at least now I can honour and accept the way she feels and not push her when she feels that way.  At this point I have accepted that trialling her is something that is unlikely to happen in the future.  Any work we do now is all for me to learn to be better for my dogs.  Even if I can't fix Cassie I don't want to waste the opportunity to grow.  There is another Hidden Potential course being offered in February next year so if I can I'm going to try and get a gold spot.  I would love to have the chance to actually work with Sarah Stremming for Cassie as I think Sarah is an amazing dog trainer and I love her thought process.

Just to top off all my agility failures of the last few months even judging is fast losing it's appeal.  I was really enjoying designing courses and having the opportunity to judge.  But after the last few trials that has really changed and I'm not enjoying it at all.  I guess my skin isn't as thick as I thought it was.  I only have Jumping classes for the remainder of the year at least which takes the pressure off slightly.  If I don't start enjoying it again next year I think I will have to reconsider if I should continue.  Hobbies are meant to be fun!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


This last month has been all about building motivation for Ve and enjoyment for the obstacles. His understanding of the handling is amazing and I couldn't be happier with what he knows and how well he responds. But now I want to see him feel confident enough to start letting loose out there on course. At the beginning of July we had a trial at Cloverdale, our first in what felt like forever. Perfect weather for once which was awesome. He was a really good boy and went clear in his first attempt at Excellent Jumping and also his first attempt at Open Jumping. So close in Novice Agility with just a fumble on the dog walk costing us a Q. But it was so slow for at least the first half of each course which was a bit frustrating. He is so much faster than that and it felt like pulling teeth.  I'm not really sure if it was lack of confidence (he's been to those grounds only a couple of time before) or he's just trying so hard to be correct.  On the positive side he was only two seconds behind first in XJ and one second behind first in OJ. If he can go that slow and still be within range then there is hope, I hope! What it did though was make me realise that it's time to let him know he can let his hair down out there. His skill work is awesome so time to learn to run and love what we he is doing. So I needed a plan to let the boy stretch his wings. I threw out the complex sequences with fifty backsides and turn, turn, turn. In its place I have built a tunnel and contact racecourse which is all about running fast and stretching out. There are still rules, like hitting contacts and driving straight lines, no shifting in. But other than that its all about how fast can you go. I only put wings in, no actual jumps so the work we are doing on wings is about wrapping and driving out fast without having to worry about bars.

Speed Circuit

We had a couple of weeks to play with the speed circuit at home before we headed to our next trial which was in Geraldton.  Unfortunately Kriszty's Red had injured herself so I had to suffer the long and very boring drive by myself for this trip.  But we had a good time and came away with two more Excellent Jumping passes, a "so close" Open Jumping pass and two very close Novice Agility runs.  The last few novice agility classes we've competed in has had a turn after the dog walk.  There is nothing wrong with that but it would be so nice to have some straight exits for a change!  I think I've seen more straight lines in Masters than Novice of late.  I would just like Veto to have the opportunity to develop some confidence in the ring before things get hard and that is really what Novice is meant to be.  I'll keep working on his turns off the dog walk, quite clearly they need improvement.  But I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we might get some straight exits in upcoming trials.  That is when I'm actually competing and not judging of course.  The most promising thing about Geraldton though was that Ve was much, much faster.  Still not back to the speed he was showing in March but the improvement was definitely noticeable.  I figure that as long as they are improving then you have to be happy.  I still want to see more from him yet and I know he is much faster than that.  But it's a step in the right direction.  

The plan for him now is to continue with some more work on the speed circuit at home.  I'm going to keep working on building drive away from me and build increasing value for the obstacles.  I would also like to build excitement before he goes into the competition ring so he starts to find it a more interesting and less formal place to be.  Because he can be really reactive I have to be really careful that the excitement isn't redirected to reacting at other dogs.  So I'll be choosing my timing and make sure we have plenty of space around us.  I do have a couple of sequences that I'd like to try with him over the next few weeks but I'll be avoiding any dull repetitions and focusing on drive between a couple of jumps at a time with loads of rewards and maintaining excitement.  I've also re-started work on the see-saw because I think it will be quite valuable to enter him in some Open Agility runs to give him more experience in the agility classes.  It's the contacts that he needs the experience on and he's not going to get that in Open Jumping.  His see-saw is going reasonably well but probably needs another few weeks work before I consider him ready to do one in a trial.

I feel like I'm making some progress with Cassie.  She came up to Geraldton and rather than try and run the full courses with her I decided to run them all as NFC.  She had four runs so I started out doing only three obastcles and built up to about twelve or so over the two days.  She was much better than last time and I think out of the four runs she engaged happily in about three of them when I was warming her up although it sometimes took a few minutes to convince her that I wasn't going to torture her.  She had a couple of hesitations on course when coming out of tunnels but she worked through it and then I would make sure that her jackpot was only a couple of jumps after.  So we'll keep moving forward with small steps at a time.  I've also signed up for another Fenzi Dog Sport Academy course called Hidden Potential.  It's designed for dogs who train really well but don't cope in the competition ring.  It's been a while since I've done one of these courses so I'm looking forward to building on what I've already learned around this stuff and seeing if it might give me and Cassie some other strategies to help her in the agility ring.

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Agility with Veto seems to be finally getting back to where we were in March, before things went pear shaped.  The Suprelorin implant is working its magic and I have my lovely relaxed boy back.  He still has his moments but I know him pretty well these days and provided he gets what he needs he is a lovely dog to have around.  It is a huge relief to be able to have him out with other dogs at agility without him being offended if any dogs so much as look at him.  I will always need to be aware of what is around us, there are always potentially going to be dogs that stare at him around, then do my best to get him out of the way if I need to.  But I am optimistic that those times will be significantly less now.  He will be visiting the vet in September to make it a permanent arrangement.

No trials for us since Geraldton and I'm starting to get withdrawls!  The Sheltie Club trial was scheduled last weekend which actually would have been twelve months since Ve ran his very first class (and also means twelve months since that awful day when he hurt himself).  But the trial got cancelled thanks to a very, very wet day and unsafe conditions for the dogs.  This weekends forecast is looking much better so I'm hoping we finally get to be back in the ring.

Veto's training is going well.  He was doing some really, really nice stuff before we went away to Singapore but I feel like since we got back we aren't quite back there again.  I know we were only gone for a couple of weeks but it's amazing how the baby dogs don't seem to retain the skills if you aren't working on them all the time.  I've never been one to train my dogs on agility equipment everyday but for whatever reason Veto really thrives on it.  If I don't train him he gets fidgety, unsettled and kind of annoying.  Monday to Friday I normally do a session on equipment with him every day after work.  We mix it up so he's not doing jumping drills every day and we will alternate with some work on the contacts.  Physically his body is holding up really well but these days I am anally retentive about his warm up and cool downs before and after every single session.  We have a no warm up no train rule.

This week Veto and I got to work with Dave Munnings at a seminar that was hosted here in Perth.  I had been looking forward to it for ages as it's the first opportunity I've had to work Ve in a seminar with an international trainer.  I was so pleased with how hard Ve worked for me.  If they are trying their hardest you really can't ask for anymore.  I need to work a lot on my timing with my handling, particularly with things like blind crosses.  Also my position when I'm cuing a turn.  I'm so focused on getting into position I'm not taking enough notice of where I'm turning and the impact of that on where Veto turns.  So I'll have to set up some of those sequences and work on those things.  When I got it right Veto was paw perfect.  I am really happy with how he is stretching out and powering out of straight lines but I really hate his turns at the moment.  Nowhere near enough power and drive and he bleeds off way too much speed.  I had been working on turns before we went away and I think they had improved so will have to put that back on the list of things to focus on.

Singapore - High Tea @ the Raffles

Not forgetting my little birthday munchkin Cassie, I ended up giving her a total break from training before we went away.  She was so not into anything I was doing that I figured there was no point pushing it.  I took all the pressure off (again) and then of course we went away for a couple of weeks as well.  On a positive note, last week at training she was on fire.  Totally in to it and for the first time in ages she chose to engage with me, rather than me begging her to do something which I really, really hate doing. I'm keeping her sessions very short and not doing any courses.  I had hoped to do some Not for Competitions runs at the Sheltie Club trial but after it was rained out that didn't happen.  She is entered at the next Geraldton trial but I'm not sure what to do with that trial yet as I'd hoped to do an NFC trial first. 

Singapore Agility

Our Singapore trip was really fun.  Judging was a bit nerve wracking to begin with and I wasn't sure how my courses would be received  And I had no idea what their skill level would be like.  Because the ring was a very unusual 40m x 17m it made designing the courses really interesting.  Probably the thing that made it doable was that I could use three tunnels in the course design which helped to send dogs back on a line into the course.  I kept all the courses as open and flowing as I could to allow the dogs to stretch out with plenty of handling choices that could be used.  They had some lovely fast border collies who ate the courses up but some of their small dogs struggled a bit making course time.  That happened even when I was pretty generous and set times for the course level below.  But I think some of that could be improved with more efficient handling.  The agility crew there are only small in number but so passionate, not to mention lovely and welcoming.  We had a great time and it was really interesting to get to experience agility elsewhere in the world and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity.  


Monday, May 29, 2017

Getting Back to Normal....Kind of....

Last weekend Kriszty and I headed off to Geraldton for a girls (and one boy) weekend of agility.  It's been three years since I was last in our Mid West and it was fun being on the road again even if it is a five hour drive of pretty uninteresting road.  Fortunately Kriszty and I are quite capable of talking non-stop for five hours and then some.  I was optimistic that a country trial would be a great opportunity for Veto to get in the competition ring without the hustle and bustle of a city trial with one ring running and a lot less dogs to deal with in much smaller classes.  And more practice traveling and being away from home.
The last couple of weeks at training he has been getting progressively better and less likely to be reactive.  Strangely his behaviour has morphed from looking for other dogs to arc up about and react to, to being worried about other dogs looking at him and avoiding them.  Or maybe it's not strange but it wasn't really a behaviour change I was expecting to see.  I guess when you think about what he's doing it's kind of a move from active to passive but for the same reasons.  Bottom line he is insecure around other male dogs and thinks he needs to protect himself.  And naturally when you are trying to spend all your time protecting your dog from bad experiences they seem to search you out and find you.  But overall he is hugely improved from where he was a month ago.

As is often the way with nested courses in one ring at country trials our Novice Agility courses were pretty challenging.  The angles onto weavers and the dog walk were harder than in Masters.  Fortunately for me Veto has always been trained at that level but I felt sorry for the real novices who were entered.  In any case no clears for us in either agility class but Ve managed all the hard bits really well and he had a good stab at it.  We had a bit more joy in the Novice Jumping courses with nice lines and plenty of space for him to stretch out.  The boy did a super job on both going clear and finally finishing off his Novice Jumping title with his first NJ passes for 2017.  The best bit though was with plenty of space at the entries and exits I could see his confidence growing over the two days.  He was stretching out really nicely for me and we are getting closer to being back to before the wheels fell off.  When I see him throw some bounce strides back in I'll be even happier!

Cassie on the other hand is not in her agility happy place right now.  She really enjoys the trips away were she gets to be the center of my world for a few days.  But she was a total misery guts at the trial and didn't want a bar of any part of it.  She had no interest in engaging with me at all whether food or toys.  She made a couple of attempts to run but you could see that she was totally unimpressed.  The only thing I can think of is that she is still unhappy with trialling after the hot days I attempted to trial her in April.  Up until that happened she had been very happy.  I can't think of any other reason that would have impacted her this way.  There is a part of me that is getting to the point of giving up.  It is really getting ridiculous when it is this hard to get her to be happy in the ring more than once every six months.  This far along I can't help but question what the point is.   I don't have any more trials until the beginning of July so I'll spend the next few weeks just going back to seeing if I can get her to engage when she's training at the Dogs West grounds.  If she gets her spark back then we'll see what happens.  I would really love to be able to take her to the Nationals next year but I don't know right now if that is realistic or not. 

My next adventure is a trip to Singapore to judge at one of their agility weekends.  The invitation came out of the blue and I'm really looking forward to it.  Singapore are now using the FCI rules so I'll be designing international courses just like we see in Europe.  The rules aren't significantly different than ANKC but I've had to do a bit of reading to make sure I get my course design right.  Like remembering things like putting weavers in jumping classes.  Then we are going to stay on for about five days afterwards for a bit of a holiday.  It will be very pleasant to be warm again now that winter is here.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Coming Down

I am not a naive person and while I like to think of myself as an optimist, I am a realist.  Even so I would have been hard pressed to have predicted just how crappy my 2017 State Agility Trial would be.  It was a warm weekend, just shy of 30 degrees on Saturday.  So it wasn't a huge surprise that Cassie didn't want to do agility.  To her credit she came off the start line like a cracker in all of her events but on the first day it was just too hot for her and she only managed a few jumps before running and hiding in the tunnels.  The second day it was the same for her first run but thankfully she was happy to run in her last event.  It wasn't a pretty run and I didn't handle her that well but she was happy and running fast.  It was a nice way to finish her weekend and while I'm disappointed that we seem to never have a great State Trial the most important thing is that overall she is going really well and no signs of ring stress.

All photos by Brett Sandells
 Veto was average at best on Saturday and progressively got worse over the weekend.  His Suprelorin implant was due to wear off in March.  In my "wisdom" I had decided to not re-implant him and see how things went with him as an intact dog.  Big, huge, stupid mistake.  I'd noticed at the end of March that some of the gross boy behaviours such as marking EVERYTHING, amongst other things had returned.  Then at the Cloverdale Agility trial at the beginning of April he was extremely distracted, wanted to pee on everything and really struggled to give me any focus because he was so busy keeping an eye on all the other dogs.  Cloverdale can be a challenging trial anyway just because it is held on a suburban oval so a strange ground coupled with a lot of different smells.  But his hyper-vigilance to all the other dogs (especially boys) and then reactivity if they stared at him made it a pretty unpleasant day.  With the State Agility Trial two weeks later I had a big dilemma on my hands.  There was no doubt in my mind that the testicles have to go.  Getting surgery done before the States was out of the question but I knew I had to do something immediately.  In the end I decided to go with another six month implant for now and then look at castration mid year.   As things transpired I should have just had him castrated and not worried about the States but I didn't realise just how bad he would be.

Unfortunately the implants take up to four weeks to work.  I had thought it was only two weeks but no, it's four...  Because I had allowed the last one to wear off it was pretty much like starting all over again.  The two week mark is normally when the testosterone levels are at their highest and guess what, that was the weekend of the States.  Because we were at Dogs West, a grounds that he is very familiar with, I had thought he might not be as bad as he was at Cloverdale but he was a nightmare.  His first day was the better of the two.  First run was pretty average, but the next three events were not bad with just one mistake in each.  But he was not with me at all.  I had zero focus because he was so concerned about the other dogs around us.  Every time I tried to warm him up he was constantly looking around for other dogs worried that they would be staring at him so he could amp up.  It was not my idea of fun.  To make matters worse his reactivity in the back of the car was off the scales.  He isn't a dog who likes strange dogs to come near his crate as a general rule but he was going off at anything that came anywhere near the back of the car.  We did our best to keep him covered up most of the time but it was incredibly painful to deal with.  I know he's only doing all of this because he's worried and he think he needs to protect himself but seriously.....

So whether I like it or not I have to put a plan in place and get this sorted.  Firstly I need to see the implant start to take effect which will be fairly obvious even from his behaviour around at home.  I had already entered him in the trial this weekend.  I'm judging in the morning but my intention is to spend some time walking him around to see what his responses to other dogs is like.  At this stage trialling him isn't an option at least for a few weeks so I might as well start working on creating distance and rewarding calmness around other dogs.  Then working towards him relaxing around other dogs again and being comfortable enough to refocus on me.  And of course deal with his reactivity in the back of the car.  I'm currently teaching him to love the Manners Minder which I never bothered to use with him before.  I didn't use it for his running contacts like I did with Cassie.  He initially thought it was an alien which had arrived from out of space but with chicken added is slowly coming around to realise that maybe its kind of OK.  Then I'll be able to put it in the back of the car with him so when dogs come past pair that with the food coming out of the MM and see if we can turn it around from a negative thing to a positive thing.

On the positive side out of this debacle at least I can move forward with his agility training at home.  He really loves his agility training here in his nice safe, no scary dogs he doesn't know environment.  This morning I took him for a walk around the property thinking he would enjoy some new smells and stretching his legs but when we got back he grabbed his toy and ran out to the training area.  He was most annoyed when he realised that I wasn't going to train him.  So I can continue to work on his agility skills at home and when I'm at the club grounds can purely focus on him being around other dogs, remaining calm and rebuilding his confidence *sigh*...  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Riding High

It was pretty exciting for me late last year when for the first time in a long time I had two sound, happy dogs out in the agility ring.  Cassie was only running Not for Competition and I was still rebuilding skills and strength with Veto but when you have been unable to compete to the level you wanted for so long it was still a thrill to be back out there.  Imagine then how totally blown away I was when last weekend Cassie won both Masters Agility and Masters Jumping and Veto won Novice Agility and was extremely unlucky to not win Novice Jumping, just clipping the very edge of the broad jump in an otherwise flawless round.

Proud pappy :)

I had become somewhat of an agility pessimist given that not a lot has gone right for me in a while with my dogs.  When Veto went clear in Novice Agility for our first run of the night and then Cassie went clear in Masters Jumping I actually felt greedy.  Like I didn't deserve to have both dogs go clear.  For Cassie to then go clear in Masters Agility was crazy.  To win all three classes, insanity.  I'm sure lots of people think that I'm being over dramatic but I've worked so long and so hard and I thought that maybe I was just never going to get back there.  It's only early days and so much more work to do.  Cassie went the wrong way on 9 out of 10 wraps, I lost her behind me on both courses and was just fortunate that she didn't go off course.  One of the funniest things is listening to the commentary outside the ring as people gasps and shriek watching Cassie and I all over the place!  She was also very hesitant to come off the line.  I don't believe she was stressed.  The normal signs of her being stressed weren't there but it looks like I need to make sure I keep that balance at training where by we do as much skill work as we do jackpots for doing a couple of jumps.  It was a good reminder for me not to let the small things go.

Veto was pretty much paw-perfect on both of his runs.  He was powerful, graceful, focused and 100% with me.  Watching him finally starting to drive out of this turns was a relief.  I know how powerful he is but you never really know if you will be able to draw it out of them on an agility course.  So much improvement yet to go but it's there and I can see it.  I can't wait to continue watching him grow and mature into the dog I know he will be.  The only glitch is his 'dislike' of a few dogs at agility.  Border collies who are quite "starey" and on the intimidating side are not on his list of happy things.  If they stare and growl at him he will not think twice about going back at them.  I do my best to avoid these dogs at trials and I know which dogs they are but as is they way, no matter where I go I always seem to get caught by one of them appearing when I least expect it.  To be on the safe side I am using his halti again when we are at trials.  I need to be able to have better control of his head should we have an encounter so I can create distance pronto.  I am going to have to do some specific work with him learning to be less reactive and feel less threatened by those dogs.  That will be a major priority at the next few trials until I can get him to relax and realise that he doesn't need to protect himself from them.

Next on our path is the State Agility Trial which is only about three weeks away.  I would dearly love for Cassie to do well.  Other than the first State Trial she ever did they all have been a disaster.  She's had a couple of wins in the qualifying trials but for the most part has been times when she hasn't wanted to run and it's been a frustrating and depressing weekend of feeling like a total failure.  She's in a good place though now and I'm hoping I can keep her there.  Having Veto there as well this year in Novice will be so much fun and I guess anything that Cassie does will be a bonus.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Competitions begin

The last six weeks has not just been about getting the dogs back into the ring, it has also been about me getting back into competition condition.  The downside of having a reputation as a massive sweet tooth meant that I got more boxes of chocolates for Christmas presents than any normal person should ever need.  Naturally I ate them all but then realised that my waist line had expanded to accommodate my bodies new found sugar supply.  Drastic action had to be taken and I logged back into the My Fitness Pal app for the first time in a couple of years. Without the opportunity to get out and run at lunchtimes as much as I'd like it was time to cut the calories so I cut back to a daily max of 1200 calories per day.  I log everything that makes it past my mouth in the app to make sure I know exactly what I'm eating each day.  Otherwise it's too easy to lose track.  Sweet snacks are allowed but at no point am I to go over my calorie max.  They say that losing weight is 80% what you put in your mouth and 20% exercise and sure enough within five weeks I've lost three and a half kgs.  And feeling much better!  I'm back to doing at least one 3km run a week to Jacobs Ladder but ideally I want to add in an extra day once things calm down at work.  But we'll get there.  Getting those few kilos off has already made a big difference to the way I feel.       

We've had our first trial of the year, the 2017 Western Classic.  It was a horrible hot weekend but fortunately the evenings weren't too bad once it got to 6pm.  Pretty exciting lining up with Veto.  I was hanging out to see if all our training was paying off.  His first run was Novice Jumping.  The course was OK with some challenging angles.  Unfortunately we didn't go clear with Veto running past a jump.  He was driving down a line really well but when I needed him to turn he just didn't turn soon enough to make the corner.  What was positive was that there was no slipping and sliding, his foot placement was great and he was totally focused.  His speed was a big improvement on last year and he was about three seconds faster than the winner even with a big bobble where I got in his way and he had to go around me.  His agility run was only so-so and I was a bit disappointed with it.  He totally lost focus half way through and we made a total mess of the handling section.  With how well he has been doing in training I really had hoped for a better performance.  The positives were that his weavers, A-Frame and dog walk were perfect. 

I was a bit worried that Cassie would find it too hot and not want to do anything because she doesn't cope that well in the heat. The Masters Agility class was on first and the course was hard.  Lots of obstacle discrimination and minimal flow between obstacles for a dog that is lacking in skills.  In the end I made the call to scratch her.  She just isn't ready for that sort of challenge yet and I didn't want to risk ruining all the progress we've made when she was never going to get around it.  Masters Jumping was on later and the course was the total opposite.  It was huge with lots of room and a flow I could work with.  Cassie seemed happy when we were warming up and was merrily playing outside of the ring.  Then when we got started and she was off like the clappers.  Our team work needs a lot of work as does the skill work but she was flying.  So happy and so awesome to see.  It is hard to care about Q's when she is running like that.  It really is so much fun and for me what agility is all about.

The next night we had teams.  There was no real plan for the team to do anything special, it was really just a chance to put our dogs in the ring.  And I'm glad we did because Veto was much, much better.  His focus was improved and it showed in his runs.  He went clear in agility minus the last jump where the lead steward was putting the leads just to the right of the last jump.  So he went straight past it to his lead.  I watched more than one experienced dog also do this so he was in good company.  But everything else was great.  Jumping he also ran clear on what was at least an excellent level course.  Cassie didn't want to run in the agility round.  I have a feeling it was because we were waiting too long.  The 200's were on first and when the judge realised that he didn't actually know all the team rules we were waiting around for ages before we got started.  So when Cassie got into the ring she only did a couple of jumps before she went and hid in the tunnel.  I did the usual and we ran out to her jackpot with no pressure.  We only had about 15 minutes before our next run.  This time I revved her up more and played some chasey games before we went in.  She was much happier this time and while I mucked her up a bit with bad handling she did a great job on course and was fast and happy.  Good lesson for me with her future ring prep.

So a bit of a break until our next trial.  I'm judging this weekend and I won't normally run my dogs if I'm judging because I find it way too stressful.  We haven't done a lot since the Classic because the weather stayed warm but thankfully now it's cooled off again.  So I should be able to get back out and do some more training.  Still mainly focusing on improving handling skills and continue with exercises to build speed off the ground.  Veto got the tick of approval from physio with some new exercises to build his hamstrings up more.  I'm also continuing with physio work for Cassie.  Leigh keeps telling me that Cassie will get faster once we build up her muscles in certain areas.  I'm not sure how I feel about that because I can't get anywhere near her now!  I'll have to employ a sprint the moment when I watch my runs with her I feel like I'm sprinting but when I watch it back it looks like I've barely gotten out of a jog!  

Monday, January 30, 2017

A New Year Begins

Bodies have been rested, muscled and tuned up and now I think we are pretty much ready to take on 2017.  The plyometric work was an unknown as far as what the result would be so I was pretty excited when Leigh who is Veto's physio told me that three weeks on he now has the muscle density of a three or four year old dog.  The first week he was back in training after the post plyometric rest I didn't think it had made any difference but now seeing him work I can see the change in him.  There is a power there that he didn't have before and the slipping and sliding when he turns after a jump finally disappearing because he's digging into his turns and driving out of them with confidence.  Even when he's running around out the back with the other dogs he is handling his body so much better.  Definitely worth taking the time out to work through it.  At this stage we'll do the program every three to four months.  Something amazing about having a strong dog to work with.  It almost makes his accident worth it as if not for that I never would have meet Leigh and working with her has been a turning point for my dogs in agility.

Veto 2017
So now we are happily getting on with skill training, what I love best.  I'm still working him back through the H360 Blueprint exercises.  It's really nice doing them a second time because now it's just a refresher for him and its like a double check to make sure he actually understands the different verbals and what everything means.  In the last three or four months I've seen such an overall change in him attitude wise.  He's always worked for me but there were plenty of "struggle" days when I had to compete for his attention with other distractions and there were days when I felt like I was coming a fairly distant second in his preferences.  But now he goes out to train with a maturity and purpose and I love how hard he tries for me.  He brings the toy back and shoves it at me if I don't grab it right away.  Finally all the relationship work is paying off and I feel like he wants to be out there with me instead of having to.  Makes the hard yards worth it, even if you wonder if you'll ever get there at the time.  Each week I'm mixing up what he does to try and keep some balance in his training.  So one day we'll work on handling skills then the next day we'll do running dog walk or A-frame.  As of this week I'll put weavers back on the list too.  I held off on those until he'd had the all clear from Leigh and I wanted to make sure his shoulders were in good shape but now it's time to get on with it.

The old gents -  Riot and Sonic  2017

Cassie has been on a break from agility and has just been doing fitness work.  But it's time to start doing some agility with her as well.  I'm doing a bit of work with building up her hindquarters.  I got so caught up working on her shoulders and psoas that I neglected her hamstrings and glutes so they need a bit of work to build them up to give her more power.  Although I'm not sure how much more power she needs, I struggle to keep up with her as it is... This year is all about developing her confidence and attitude in the trial ring.  My goal is having her in the best mental place that I can for the 2018 Nationals and see if we can go that one step better and not only make a Masters final but win one of them.  She finished last year off so strongly that I'm hoping we can just keep continuing to improve from there.

Veto and Cassie - My agility team 2017
Both Veto and Cassie are entered in the Classic and that will be their first trial for the year which gives us a month to get ready.  Veto is already further ahead skill wise than he was when trialling at the end of last year so by the time we get to March he should be spot on.  A much nicer place to be that's for sure!  It is incredibly exciting for me to have two dogs going into the ring this year.  It's the first time in years that I've had two sound prepared dogs that I'm able to compete with properly.  I am so looking forward to what the year brings and watching them both grow as agility dogs.