Friday, April 6, 2018

No Turning Back

"Pain is temporary, it may last for a minute, or an hour or a day or even a year.  But eventually it will subside and something else will take it's place.  If you quit however, it will last forever".

It's almost here.  Nationals are in four days, we fly out early tomorrow morning.  I think everyone I have spoken to feels under prepared.  To add some extra tension to the build up Veto ended up with a canine tooth hole in his side (courtesy of Fizz) so he had to have a couple of stitches putting him out of action for ten days.  Not real helpful considering how little time we had in the first place!  We definitely could have used more time but I'm OK with where we are at considering and it's probably further along than I thought we would be.

Getting Ve back into the ring has been a very slow journey.  I entered the Albany trial back in February not really knowing if he'd be ready or not.  My goal was to create as much as space as I could and see if he could play.  As it happened, over the two days I think I got maybe two seconds of play on the last day.  The constant environmental changes was just too much for him.  Every time I thought he was about to engage a new dog would appear and he had to look.  So I withdrew from all his runs.  There was a part of me that felt like the weekend was bit fat waste of time because we couldn't compete but the sensible part of my brain knew that just getting through a weekend with no blow ups and lots of good experiences was only going to help us move forward.

The crew at Albany
The next trial was the Western Classic and I went there with the same mind set.  If he couldn't play he wasn't running and sure enough he gave me more of the same.  Too many dogs and he couldn't dismiss what was going on anywhere near the rings because it was too much to look at.  I did get him playing right up the back away from everything but as soon as we were around the rings he just didn't have the mental space to get there.  So we didn't run there either.  I had entered Cassie and she was not happy anywhere near the rings so we just made some space off by ourselves and had a play.

Next up was the Dobe Club trial two weeks later.  I kind of decided that no matter what I had to run him in something.  Otherwise the Nationals was truly going to become a non event.  His first class was a Not for Competition run in Novice Jumping.  He wasn't particularly happy outside of the ring.  He was definitely bothered by the proximity of other dogs.  So I gave him as much distance as I could and made sure he was safe both in the ring and going in and out.  He ended up doing OK, I handled him averagely but we got through it.  Later in the evening we ran in Novice Agility and I was super surprised that he almost went clear, just missing a jump that I didn't push him enough to.  Again he was worried outside the ring but I made sure he had heaps of space and we got in and out without incident.  He was pretty steady and reserved in the ring but I was happy that he had a good experience.

Our last trial before Nationals was a couple of weeks ago.  I was judging so I only entered him in Novice Agility.  Fortunately our class was first up so I could run it before judging my classes.  The entry was only small so not as many dogs as normal which was a bonus.  I felt like he was the best he has been so far outside the ring while we waited our turn.  I'm sure it had something to do with the less dogs around but either way I don't care as long as he has a good experience.  The best news is that he actually went clear.  He wasn't anywhere near his fastest but he was with me, didn't seem worried and ran really nicely.  In saying that he was still overall first out of eight dogs that went clear.  Running contacts probably helped...  It was such a relief and well needed confidence boost before Nationals.  So for now my goal is to keep building his confidence in the ring so it becomes a safe place.

Cassie has been training pretty well.  Her skills are far from perfect but we've made reasonable progress from where we were.  I pretty much just focus on making things happy for her with lots of reinforcement.  We use loads of nose touches and "woofs" to make sure she is consenting and happy to work.  My plan is to treat the Nationals in exactly the same way as we did last time.  If she wants to run we will, if she doesn't then we won't.  No expectations and no pressure.  I'll do my best to keep her away from big groups of dogs and people before we go in the ring as that seems to make her uncomfortable.

So here we are, everything is pretty much organized, packed and ready to go.  I'm going to first and foremost go over and enjoy it.  I don't care about winning anything or trying to be competitive.  I just want my dogs to enjoy themselves and for me to enjoy the atmosphere and watching some amazing dogs in action.

Riot 2013.  Photo's courtesy of Robyn Evans

Monday, January 29, 2018

Nationals Countdown

So Agility Nationals are apparently 71 days away...yikes!  Everything is booked and paid for.  We had a bit of a glitch with our accommodation falling through but we've ended up with a better property on 10 acres, so nothing to complain about there.  I have so much work to do if either of my dogs are going to be anywhere near ready.  Nothing like a bit of pressure to keep the excitement alive 😜

Veto and I have finished our latest Fenzi course "Dealing with the Bogeyman; Helping Fearful, Reactive and Stressed Dogs" with Amy Cook.  Amy is seriously amazing.  The commitment she gives you, the detail and information are second to none.  After finishing it I feel a bit like someone who has found divine intervention.  I just want to preach to everyone how amazing this method is and why anyone who is dealing with a fearful dog should try it.  It was a really great time for me to do the course.  I think being away from Dogs West over the Christmas period with the grounds being closed really allowed Ve the chance to decompress and have a break from things that would be regular stressors.  Stripping away the food and the toys which I now understand had been causing him internal conflict, gave him a chance to deal with it without masking the issue.  To sit back and give him the space to decide what his comfort level is, discard what is around him when he's ready, then choose me has been an amazing transformation to watch.  It has been utterly fascinating to experience and I think we have a really positive way forward using Amy's method.  There are so many different dog trainers out there and so many different thoughts and ideas for ways to work through fear and reactivity issues with your dogs.  You really have no idea which is going to be the right one for your own dog.  But seeing the results so far with Ve I am so very glad that this one is the one that we decided to go with.

Home arena 2018
I have a bit of a schedule going on.  Record keeping has never really been my thing.  The closest I've gotten is this blog but I've got a bit of a diary happening at the moment with milestones that I pretty much have to hit if we have any chance of being ready for Nationals.  And this is on top of the ongoing set ups that I need to work through with Ve.  I've also had to retrain Ve's running dog walk because it was just too sloppy.  If he was driving hard then he may get a high hit in but because he'd been worried in the ring he was missing because his drive across and down just wasn't there.  The Europeans seem to be at the forefront of running contacts right now so I signed up as an auditor for Tereza Kralova's running dog walk course.  We've been slowly making some headway through that.  Its actually not that different than what we had been doing but my criteria for a correct hit has gone from big to tiny.  So his hits are now much more specific.  I've also moved away from toy rewards to food so it means there is a lot more thought going into it from Ve.  He is slower to food but he is also a lot more careful which he needs to be in order to learn.

It's also been a bit of a battle with fitness.  Ve had some soreness late last year so I had to wait for that to come good before I could start doing anything overly physical with him.  He has the muscle mass just not the strength.  So now he is sound we have started interval training to strengthen up.  Which also means that I am doing interval training so perhaps I might actually be fit for Nationals too!  I'm relieved that Ve has such a great understanding of the handling because that is the one thing that I doubt we will get much time to work on.  And of course he's not in Masters so the courses we will be facing should not be as challenging.  Well I hope not anyway...

Cassie and I have started getting back out to do some training as well.  I've decided that this year will likely be our last try.  We have only been doing little things at home so far.  Everything we do is based on her giving me her consent signal and if I don't get it we don't work.  So far she has consented most of time I've asked her.  Sometimes the consent doesn't come straight away and she needs a bit of time to decide she is ready.  She also needs time to get fit, so over the next few weeks we will slowly increase her workload and see where it takes us.  I have no expectation and there is no pressure on her.  She has to want to do it and the decision is hers to make.  I don't want her to feel any pressure and choose to engage on her terms.  The other day she grabbed her leash and shoved it at me because she wanted to do something so much.  It made me really happy to see her so happy.  There is something really exciting to go to a competition and know that if your dog is at their best that they are a good chance to win.  I used to feel it all the time with Soda which was what made it such an awesome experience, but also put a lot of pressure on you to perform.  There is also a lot to be said for having no expectations and just enjoying wherever the journey may take you.