Saturday, December 14, 2013

Selecting Trig

I have been planning to get a hunting dog to train for agility and obedience for a long time but I really got serious about it in the last year or so.  I originally thought I wanted a Vizsla but the more I thought about it and researched the breed I was concerned that one might be too big with all that energy for the small Shelties, terrier and Pyr Shep.  I was also concerned about finding one that would have the enthusiasm for non-hunting activities.

Then last year I went to Game Fair, a local event offering fun hunting/retrieving events for hunting dogs to see what I could learn there about different breeds.  I discovered the French Brittany there.  I read the description of the breed and immediately thought that was what I would like to have.  Their personality sounded a lot like Aussies in terms of being loyal family dogs and easy to train.  They are also athletic and the size of Aussies.  So then I set out to find a breeder who would talk to me about them and would be willing to sell me one if I didn't want to hunt with it.  That is no easy task and I understand that.  I also wanted a breeder close enough that I could easily visit the litter of puppies.  I know what I want in a puppy but I was not sure a hunter would understand what I am looking for in a dog.  Since I have 4 females now in my household I knew the next dog should be a male if peace were to continue in the house.

I found a knowledgeable breeder who really cared about the breed and was excited to have one of his dogs do some other performance activities.  He and I talked a lot about the dogs and what I was looking for in a dog and what litters would most likely produce what I wanted.  Now the compromise for me is that I had to do pick and puppy at 5 weeks of age and take it home at 7 to 8 weeks of age.  Both of those are much earlier than I am used to doing with herding breeds or most performance breeds.  I was very uncomfortable with this.  I was concerned that a 5 week old puppy would not be showing enough of its personality to me.  Starting at 3 weeks of age I visited the puppies once a week.  I played with them individually and would take different things for them to walk or crawl on.  

On week 5 I knew I could not do traditional 7 week old temperament testing but I thought I could so some pieces of it.  So at 5 weeks we took each puppy available to me (there were 2 males left of the three) alone to a place in the house they had not ever been to before.  I brought along a child's toy that makes lots of noises and rolls around on its own and a board that had rubber granules on it for walking on.  Neither puppy was at all bothered by the toy or the board.  I also had a friend who had never seen the puppies interact with them in the strange place.  Both puppies had no reservations about any of it.  One puppy stood out as being more interested in coming to the people.  The breeder said that puppy was also very active and was leaping over the other puppies in the pen.  He felt he had more energy than the other males.  He was very responsive to me when I played with him.  The previous week he was very energetic and was running around much more than the other.

So at week 5 I picked "Trig" - full name "Intrigue".  Then I went to see him at week 6.  He seem to recognize me and we played for 30 minutes.  His energy and curiosity were amazing.  It felt right.  On week 7 when I went to get him he showed me how he could climb over the 10" high base of the kennel door and keep on going.  He ran right up to me and squealed.  He then did zoomies.  I picked him up and carried him into the house to talk to the breeder.  While on my lap he was tugging on my shirt as if to say "hurry up - let's go!"  Then he let out two loud squealing barks right to the breeder who laughed and said "What's your deal?"  The breeder is convinced he knew me and was happy to be going home with me.  

So I have had over a dozen puppies - mostly herding breeds - and never had one this young before.  Trig is the one on the far right.  His white on his head is nearly gone now.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Jumping Foundations - extension versus collection

So I spent the day watching my own dog and my students at a trial yesterday and a long time acquaintance turned to one of my students who was sitting next to me.  She said "I love how your dog jumps!"  My student pointed to me and said it was thanks to me and all the exercises I gave them to do.  Of course the student is to be commended for doing all the homework.  She then asked if I could help her with her dog's jumping.  I said it is much easier to train it correctly first than to fix it later.  Then we discussed some of the foundation work she had done but it turned out she had missed a key piece.  It is a piece that many people miss for many reasons.

For good jumping foundations I believe the one jump exercises are extremely important.  However it is important to remember to add distance/speed to those one jump exercises.  Many people forget or miss this key step.  It is crucial to transferring the collection skills from one jump to sequences and to courses.

The other piece I try to do and wish I had time to do more of with students is grid work to teach dogs how to extend and jump.  Both collection and extension skills are important for jumping.  The piece many people miss here especially with fast dogs is teaching dogs how to jump fast and extended with handler racing them down the line.  How many times has someone said "I can't race my dog because the bars will come down."  I say that is a training issue.

My first true jump training experiment was back around 2000 when jump training was much less sophisticated than it is now.  I had a fast blue merle Border Collie named Tobie.  I was bound and determined to teach him how to jump well because so many fast BCs dropped bars and crashed jumps.  I spent a lot of time in my backyard with collected jump grids and working on turns.  I used what I had read in various sources, my horse background and some intuition in creating exercises for him.  I also did extended jump grids with him and I would run with him, send him ahead and recall him.  He was a great jumper and very rarely knocked a bar or crashed a jump.  

Since then I've watched hundreds of dogs jump and read and tried many jump exercises and have selected a number of exercises I feel are most important.  My students are often strapped for time for training so I have picked the ones I deem most important to emphasize in class.  I also evaluate the dog and handler team.  I look at the energy level of the team as a whole, the dog as an individual and the handler as an individual.  I watch them through foundations to see whether the dog is more likely to work away and become obstacle focused or whether they are more likely to be handler focused.  I look at how eagerly the dog seeks obstacles/targets versus seeking the handler.  I look at how much does the dog run collected versus extended.  

If I have a dog who likes to run all out extended, likes to seek out obstacles/training tools and has a lot of energy I will focus on collection skills and handler focus more than obstacle focus and extension.  If I have dog who tends to run collected with a shorter stride, tends to watch the handler more than look for obstacles/targets and needs more motivation to go faster then I will focus on extended jump grids and extended jumping.

With a dog prone to extension it will be much harder to train collection so I will emphasize that in foundation.  As long as confidence is maintained and a brief introduction to distance is done early it will be relatively easy to train distance in this dog at age 2-4 years old AFTER the dog has learned the joy of tighter turns and handler focus.  I will do four collection drills to one extension drill with a dog like this.  I still want them to extend when needed but they need fewer lessons in it.  Adding distance and extension in later is much easier with these dogs than trying to train collection after they have had 3 years of doing what they like and running extended.

With a dog prone to collected running I will emphasize extension in foundation training.  I will build confidence and work more distance and obstacle focus.  I will do four extension drills to one collection drill with a dog like this.  They still need to know how to collect once their confidence comes up and they start opening up to run.  If too much collection is done then these dogs may not ever learn to open up and run and not learn to work away from their handlers.  It is much harder to add distance training in later with these dogs if they have become comfortable running collected and focusing on the handler all the time.

With my own dogs after my BC Tobie I have had four dogs.  Sinco is one of those dogs needed a lot of extension work to build confidence because she collected easily in the beginning.  As her confidence grew so did the need for more collection work.  I gradually added more collection work in while continuing to build her confidence.  I did a lot of foundation work on distance with her.  Distance work came sporadically for her.  I had to do a lot of balancing distance with collection because her confidence and speed would increase and so would the wide turns.  I never wanted to take any speed or confidence out of her - instead I would just tweak the focus of my training and it was a give and take.  Now that I've been unable to really run with her for the last year and a half her confidence with distance work has soared and she was able to finish her first NATCH just recently.

Tay loves to run wide and do distance and interact with obstacles.  Collection work has always been a challenge for her.  Her training has been hampered by injuries and stressful events.  She does not get clingy when stressed but instead does large zooming runs usually with her nose on the ground sniffing.  For her I do not do a lot of collection with her at this point because our focus is to keep agility fun.  For her having been in pain for awhile doing agility and then having some scary things happen we mainly try to have fun.  

Feisty loves to work away and do distance.  I did a lot of collection work with her for a small dog.  Most small dogs do not need a ton of collection work because they have short small strides and plenty of time to turn.  But Feisty could run fast and wide when the mood hit her and it was hard to bring her in.  She has always been sensitive to my pressure so coming in needed lots of rewards.  She loves to do distance and will work hard to figure out what I want and rarely comes in for help.  I also try to never call her off of things so she does not lose that distance confidence.  Again she has had stress issues at trials and often around courses that require technical and tight handling.  It is not as fun for her to work in close to me but she will do it when she is not stressed.  When stressed she is going to default to working wide and away from me.  This is why leadouts are hard for her because she does not like to come into my pressure when there is the least bit of stress in her.  She has earned three different agility championship titles and now she gets to do the agility she finds fun for her and with the least amount of stress.

Carmine is the one I knew would love to be very independent and go seek obstacles and would have plenty of self confidence for distance work.  She also is the one I knew would not be stressed by trial environments.  She tends to get high at trials.  So I did foundation distance work with her and then spent two years focusing on jumping skills and collection skills.  Now that she is 3 years old I have been working more on distance with her.  The distance skills are coming very easily because of her innate self confidence and the initial foundation training that she remembers.  She has a very nice balance between handler and obstacle focus because of how I carefully prioritized her training in the first two years.  I feel confident that she will be the kind of dog who will be able to both enjoy and excel at international style courses as well as wide open NADAC courses without difficulty.  She is already showing this tendency.  It helps that she has so much self confidence that she is not at all prone to ring stress.  

This is one of the ways I individualize the training programs for my own dogs.  I try to apply these principles to my students' dogs when I see a dog that has strong tendencies in one direction or the other.  Many dogs are more middle of the road and need a continuing balance of skills. This is why I feel jump training can be such a critical part of agility training - jumps make up most of the courses and this is where the turns and extension skills are most necessary.  If dogs can learn to extend and turn on jumps it will be much easier to train the other obstacles.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Why a French Brittany?

A number of people have been asking me "Why a French Brittany?" when I mention that my next puppy will hopefully be one.  Most people who know me expect my next dog to be an Aussie, Sheltie or Border Collie because after all I teach, train and compete in agility, obedience and herding.  So why a hunting/sporting dog?  

I've had 5 Border Collies, 7 Aussies, 1 Pyr Shep, 1 1/2 JRTs, and 1 Sheltie.  I have had a lot of experience with herding breeds and some with Terriers (my Pyr Shep has terrier-like characteristics).  So I have decided I want a new training challenge.  I also wanted a breed that is not that common in agility and yet has the characteristics which should make a good agility dog.  

A lot of times when I come up with some new way to train something on my own or when I learn of a new way to train something I like to try it with my own dogs first to get a feel for how the method works.  It is similar with having a different breed of dog.  I like to experience first hand what many of my students may experience in training their own dog.  If I am only always training the same type of dog I may not push myself to learn more about training different types of dogs.  What training methods work for herding breeds may not work for other breeds.  I also like training dogs of different sizes for the same reasons. One can learn vicariously working with students who have dogs of different breed/type but to really experience it and appreciate what it is like, I think it is important to learn it firsthand.  My students have an assortment of breeds of dogs.  So if I want to become a better instructor and coach to my students I think I need to experience training different types of dogs and push myself out of my comfort zone as a trainer.  I also personally like to have a change of pace to keep me fresh in my training techniques.  I am confident I can train a herding breed in agility and obedience.  I have had different temperaments among my herding breeds and I have learned a lot from each and every one of them.  Having a hunting breed I am hoping will pose new training challenges for me.

I also seriously looked at my personal goals for this sport.  My first love is teaching/coaching students and my second love is training my own dogs.  My third love is competing.  So I feel to become a better coach and teacher I need to continue to broaden my own personal experience as a trainer and competitor.  With regard to competition I tend to compete with myself.  If I have a smooth and fast run then I will look at the scores but otherwise I am just comparing myself to my own standards and goals.  I enjoy competing in a variety of agility organizations.  I enjoy the challenge of training both distance for NADAC Chances and USDAA/ASCA Gamblers as well as training for tighter technical courses in AKC, UKI, USDAA and CPE. While I want to go to World Team Tryouts with one of my dogs, I am going more from my own personal growth and experience.  I enjoy technical challenges and I have a dog who enjoys it too.  I enjoy going to National competitions for the challenges they pose and the mental stamina they require.  I go to ones I enjoy because I want it to be fun for me and sometimes the environment of a national event is not that fun for me.  So with this in mind I do not feel I need to always have a dog who will be the most competitive in a local or national event.  Therefore I do not feel the pressure to have a Border Collie as my next dog.  It does not mean I will never have another one but for right now it is not something I am interested in having.

So for me to get a French Brittany is more for my own personal training challenge and goals and to help me grow as a teacher and coach.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Knowing when something is wrong...

At the Veterinarian's these past several months I heard a number of times how observant I am of my dogs and how it is amazing that we caught this or that so early.  It is good reinforcement for me to not dismiss when I think something is "off" with one of my dogs.  They cannot verbalize when they do not feel well so we have to be constantly on the look out for possible problems.  Now by that I do not mean to be always catastrophizing about things or becoming a hypochondriac nor do I mean we have to stare at them constantly.  But what I do mean is to not dismiss behavior changes by saying things like "he's finally growing up" when all of sudden he is less active than he has been the whole rest of his life.  When you are having trouble training something that requires some sort of physical skill and you have tried different approaches and the dog seems unable to grasp it then stop and look at what you are asking the dog to do and whether they feel well enough to do it.

Last Spring Carmine tested positive for Lymes in her routine spring wellness check.  I had not found any ticks on her the year before nor had I seen any red circles or signs of fever.  However the month or two before that test I had been commenting "she seems like she is growing up" because she was quieter in her crate and she was not so pushy in her training.  The other things that I did not consider a sign of illness because I attributed them to my lack of working with her since I had been laid up with a knee replacement - her running slower yards per second than she had the year before and her not having the stamina for training.  I dismissed it as lack of conditioning. Those were the only symptoms she had of the Lymes.  Within a few weeks of being on the antibiotics she ran with Pam in Duluth and had one of her fastest runs ever.  She was back to being pushy and naughty again.  So last week I trialed her and we thought she was running slowly because I am not back 100%.  Then I watched her run with Jen who she is used to running with and she was not as fast and she seemed to tire easily.  I then chalked it up to a recurrence of Lymes and she is on antibiotics again.  Even after just a few days of the antibiotics she is doing better.  She ran fast all weekend at the trial even with her gimpy handler.

Also this past Spring Feisty started to run slower and to avoid the teeter more and more.  She is very moody about agility trials so it is hard to tell physical from mental.  Then I was working her in obedience and she went from loving to retrieve to fumbling with the dumbbell in her mouth more and not wanting to pick up the metal scent articles.  So I took her in to the Veterinary Dentist and sure enough she needed four teeth pulled.  The outward signs were almost non-existent but the dental x-rays showed 4 teeth were infected.  Within a few weeks of that surgery she was happily picking up metal articles and happy about retrieving.  However her energy level was still fluctuating a lot and her interest in agility was going up and down.  At the end of July she had the third occurrence of a cough that sounds like kennel cough in six months.  I took her in for a chest x-ray and she has congestion in her bronchial tubes and an enlarged heart.  She is 7 1/2 years old.  So then I took her for an echocardigram and she has very early signs of mitral valve endocardiosis and cardiomyopathy.  So early there is no heart murmur to be heard.  She is on medication for it and her energy levels have gone up and stay up for longer periods of time.  She still has bouts where she is low energy but the up periods are back to that of a year or two ago.  She has not been so high energy in quite awhile.  Her stamina is still a bit of a problem and we are monitoring that.  

Lastly Sinco has had a hard time with her dumbbell and wanting to flip it with her front feet and having a hard time holding it still in her mouth.  I decided to take her into the dentist as well.  Again looking at her teeth and gums no outward signs of problems. The dental xrays showed four infected teeth.  She had four teeth removed.  She is now picking up her dumbbell textbook perfect and she is having a much easier time holding it still in her mouth.  All things she could not do before the teeth were removed.  She also has a lot more energy around the house and is running faster than she has in several months doing agility even at 16".   It is clear that having a sore mouth was affecting other things.  All things you don't notice when they happen gradually to a 7 year old dog.

Dental disease, tick diseases and heart disease have very subtle symptoms in the early stages.  Heart disease is called the "silent killer" for a reason.   Dogs are very stoic about tooth pain.  It is a survival instinct for them.  Dental xrays are really what is necessary to detect problems.  Things that might otherwise be considered training issues may actually be related to health problems.  The more you know what your dog is like normally, the easier it will be to notice when they are not feeling well.    A dog who is naturally high energy is not all of sudden going to become a quiet and subdued dog as part of maturity.  It just does not happen like that with a truly high energy dog.  They may be able to have a better "off" switch due to training but you should still experience their high energy if they are feeling good.  

So the next time you feel your dog is acting differently stop and consider whether a health problem could be the underlying cause.  You  want to go to a Veterinarian who will believe you when you say something is wrong with your dog.  Yes health screenings can be expensive and you want to work with your Vet to make sensible choices about what to look for.   I have several dogs so I cannot go crazy spending thousands of dollars on tests on each of them all the time but 9 out of 10 times when I think something is wrong with one my dogs - something really is wrong with them.  Trust your instincts. Again I don't want to be a hypochondriac where they are concerned but I do want them to be in the best physical shape possible for what I ask them to do as canine athletes.  I also rely on my "health team" of canine massage therapist and Veterinarian Chiropractor/Acupuncturist to let me know when they feel something unusual.  Being proactive and help your dog live longer and be athletic longer as well as save money in the long run.   

Also as a result of these things I had no problem moving Feisty down to 4" jumps in CPE and NADAC where that is possible.  Feisty no longer has to do the teeter or a stay on a table.  I will no longer trial her in stressful places.  She can do CDSP obedience.  Sinco is jumping lower where she can and while she can still do 16" and will for a few more titles this year I am willing to move her down when those are done or sooner if I feel it is physically necessary.  I am letting her take advantage of jumping lower in places where she can and I can earn the same titles.  I'm making an effort to finish off those 16" jumping titles sooner rather than later.  There is no need to wait for a physical reason to jump them lower - they can play longer if they jump lower sooner.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Obedience IS fun!!!

Life is what you make it...  a commonly heard truth.

It is also true that dog obedience is what you make it!

I have always loved training dog obedience.  I've also been lucky to have had inspirational instructors from the very beginning who never made it boring, helped break down each behavior/exercise into its pieces, never taught with corrections and never ever bored me with heeling around a room in circles.  And yes I learned obedience in 1990.  So there were inspirational trainers and instructors 20 years ago.  

While I am laid up yet again with another knee injury I am having fun training my dogs in obedience.  It is helping me think about different training problems to solve.  I love problem solving.  I love watching lightbulbs go on with my dogs.  My dogs know how to do agility and while there are some fine tuning of things we could do in agility and improving some skills here and there it is not as challenging for me as training for competing in open and utility. Just like in agility for me I get bored if I only trial in one organization because I like the training and handling challenges posed by different organizations the same is true of obedience.  The challenges in the different obedience organization pose interesting problems for me to solve.  I also have three very different dogs I am training.

So many people have negative feelings toward obedience and that is unfortunate.  Obedience is really a series of tricks chained together.  It can be just as fun to train those tricks as roll over, walking on hind legs, bowing etc.  It took almost a year to teach two of my dogs to retrieve.  I went slowly and always made it fun.  Now both dogs are nuts for their dumbbells and I have some of the same issues as people have with labs who want to play with their dumbbell rather than retrieve it.  It is a wonderful problem to have and one that I'm learning a lot as I problem solve it.  If I had force trained it I would not have this problem but I also would not have dogs who are so excited to go and train obedience and dogs who actually like the dumbbell so much I can use it as a reward for other behaviors.  I have dogs who do fast retrieves.  Just like in agility, speed can not be forced.  It has to be nurtured and rewarded and right now I'm working through the sloppiness that comes with happy fast retrieves.  Again a good problem to have.

To prepare for competition there is proofing to be done which helps build confidence in the dogs and helps the dogs solve problems too.  Dogs who have been trained using shaping are great problem solvers so it is not stressful for them.   Obedience requires a lot of independent and confident thinking and problem solving on the part of the dogs.  Dogs who love challenges will love proofing.  My dogs get so happy and silly when they work through a proofing situation or when they figure out what I wanted.  They are not stressed by the challenge because I try never to over face them.  We add distractions when we know a dog understands what we want in order to build their focus.  Obedience competition requires a lot of thinking and focus for a rather long period of time compared to agility.  To help build that focus and concentration we add distractions in training so the dog learns to stay focused on task.  Often the distraction becomes the reward which in turn can make it more distracting.  Dogs often work faster and more accurately when they learn to focus this way and they exude self confidence.

It is when we take on the responsibility for the dog for their performance that stress occurs because now the dog is heavily dependent on us to do something instead of having the self confidence to do it on their own.   I try to encourage my dogs to be independent thinkers and I relish it when they are creative thinkers.  I never expect perfection when learning new things. While we think we are helping a dog to succeed by showing them what we want or by using training aids/props too long or by using our body language to make a dog do what we want, what we are actually doing is enabling the dog to become a co-dependent.  In agility I see this a lot with weave poles.  Handlers use their body language such as hands or hip checks to help the dog stay in the weave poles and this keeps the dog from learning how to do the obstacle on their own.  I also see this when gates or wires or off sets or 2 x 2s are used too long.  It is ok for the dog to make mistakes when it is learning.  It helps the learning process.  Again I don't expect perfection.  Helping the dog be right becomes an unhealthy and stressful situation for the dog in the long run.  The problem is that if we train them to be dependent on us then we have to behave exactly the same way in training and competition for the dog to perform.  That is not realistic for us and then the dog becomes stressed because our behavior is different at a trial than in training.  Hence all of the body and verbal cues we have inadvertently taught the dog in training need to be present in the trial setting for the dog to perform.  When this happens handlers think their dogs understand the required behavior but in fact the dogs understand it only in the context of the handler aids.  So now we have a stressed dog in a trial setting because the handler aids are gone.

In obedience because of the requirements of the sport we have to remove the handler aids well before trialing.  This means that training has to really be done to encourage independent thinking and clear focus and we have to be careful how we train the dogs.  Agility is more lenient in terms of what handlers are allowed to do but obedience is not.  I do like this in terms of making training for obedience a challenge.  I like challenges.

For those who find AKC obedience trial settings stressful there are other organizations such as CDSP - Companion Dog Sports Program which are more laid back.  There are more options now than 20 years ago and that is good.  Obedience and Rally are good options for those of us who are not able to run in agility whether temporarily or permanently.

I participated in my second CDSP trial last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it.  My dogs liked it too.  The exercises are a bit different, praise is allowed and treats at the end of an exercise are allowed.  This goes a long way to relieving handler and dog stress when trialing.  

While my friends are at the agility trials this summer I will be doing obedience and having fun!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Attitude is Everything!

Today was a very fun day showing my three girls in obedience and rally!  I have spent months of not being able to do agility due to my sore knee and then eventually recovering from a total knee replacement.  I did a lot of obedience training (except heeling) with my three of my girls: Carmine, Sinco and Feisty.  I have watched others run my dogs in training and in trials in agility and today for the first time in months I was able to get out there with my dogs and have fun!

Yes I am an obedience geek and always have been.  But I was lucky enough to have awesome trainers when I started obedience in the early 1990s and I learned to train it very positively and to have fun with it.  I have never found it boring but then again I get creative in my training.  That is where positive proofing comes in and where it really paid off in spades today.

I love to do proofing exercises which build confidence, encourage problem solving and independent thinking and usually in the end builds speed and accuracy.  One exercise I did a lot of these last few months is "find the dumbbell".  I hid it in many hard places for both Feisty who is very experienced at retrieving the dumbbell and for Sinco who is just starting out.  They love the game.  When at the school I would hide it behind ring gates, on bottom shelves, under shelves, on top of low lying objects and sometimes even inside low lying objects.  Feisty especially loved the game and she would not give up until she found it.  We also "hid" the dumbbell at people's feet which could be very hard for her too.  

Today in Open A at the trial I threw the dumbbell for the retrieve on the flat and the small white thing landed right near the white leg of a ring gate and two thirds of the way between me and the far edge of the ring.  Feisty went charging out and past it and then proceeded to hunt for it - she scanned the far edge, she stuck her head under the ring gate and looked and thought she saw it but it was another foot for a ring gate and she looked and looked.  She started to give up and run back and as she came back she saw it in the corner of her eye and whipped around and proudly picked it up and brought it to me.  I could not have been prouder and happier for her problem solving and her confidence to keep looking.  She never shut down and ultimately she never gave up!  The crowd gasped with amazement when she retrieved it and I know Feisty had to have felt that positive energy toward her.  Her confidence enabled her to pass the exercise.  If we had not ever played those games there is a good chance she would not have had the confidence to keep looking for it when it blended it with the ring gates.  This is the kind of thing "positive proofing" does for dogs and I just love it.

While in the ring with both Sinco and Feisty today I was so happy - the teamwork we had was great.  Even when Sinco came on my right side in the on leash heeling exercise and was so happy heeling on my right (because we do practice it on both sides and she just missed the cue for which side she should be on when we did an about turn) I kept smiling at her and when we did another about turn I used my leash handling skills from doing Rally and we did an opposite left about turn and she got on the correct side and was fine.  Her off leash heeling was great.   Sinco never knew there was a mistake and there was no need for her to know.  She was so happy out in the ring with me and that was all that mattered - she was trying so hard and having fun at the same time.

In Feisty's run I was beaming the whole time and she was there with me focused and having fun.  Because my attitude was so positive in and out of the ring someone said to me that it looked like a "First place run" and I really believe that is because we had the attitude out there that made it look like we were having fun and therefore things must be going perfectly!  It was actually an NQ run but Feisty did not need to know that and I never let her know that and in fact people were confused by my positive attitude that they double checked with me about whether we Q'd or not.  Ironically the judge's score book even said we had Q'd and I had to go to the judge to have her double check the results because I knew we had NQ'd (and I knew AKC would see it too that we had NQ'd).  I said I would take that positive attitude of our run any day Q or NQ - it was so much fun to have Feisty trying her best in public.  Today was a HUGE PQ run for Feisty and me.  I will be able to review that run in my mind for weeks and months to come even if the video didn't turn out for it.  The problem solving she did there was phenomenal - it was also right along the edge of the ring by the crowd which is more impressive for her.

Carmine made her debut in Rally Novice.  I entered her to see how she would do in an obedience environment.  When she is "on" she is so intense but if she is not she can be so easily distracted.  I was not sure if I could turn her "on" in this setting but I did.  Once we were alone in the ring she never lost focus and I could feel her tight turns and moving her rear on the inside turns and I just kept smiling.  I only had to cue her to "get it in" for the many inside turns and she did everything perfectly.  I was so happy with her and we celebrated outside the ring and a number of people came up to me asking about her - she showed once again that in a competitive environment she can step up to the plate and turn it "on".  Another huge "personal Q" for us!

Very often in agility people think I Q more than I do because I will often come off a course just as happy with an NQ run because it was a PQ - "personal Q" run. I want the same feeling in obedience and today I felt like I had it.  It was the most fun I have had showing obedience in years - in part because I have not been able to do anything competitive with my dogs, in part because I have done a lot of positive proofing exercises with them to build their confidence and in part because I had a positive attitude with each one of them and I felt confident with each one of them.  Attitude is Everything!!!!

Monday, February 11, 2013

What is agility?

So a few days ago I found out that the video of Sinco and me from NADAC Championships 2011 Extreme Games World Challenge was being posted on Facebook as a means to criticize what NADAC is doing in the form of agility.

According to the online definition from Merriam Webster agility is:

the quality or state of being agile : nimblenessdexterity

I don't see anything in there that includes obstacles.  Now I know I am being facetious here but really isn't dog agility called that because the dogs are being nimble and agile in performing the sport?  I really think if you look at any Extreme Games Challenge run you will see nimbleness and dexterity in its finest - even more so than on traditional agility courses.

I understand everyone has their favorite agility organization and their legitimate reasons for liking that organization.  I understand very often new and different things are easy to criticize.  I also know that I am the kind of person that likes to try new things.  I played my first EGC games without having seen so much as a photo or video of it beforehand.  It was being offered on Friday night before a trial I was attending.  I had first thought I would watch but I saw it laid out and just had to "try it".  I never ask my dogs to do more than I think they can and I knew I could go and help or bail as needed.  My dogs loved it so much and got faster and faster with each run that I was absolutely hooked.  It was pure adrenaline and about handling and distance training and timing.

I love training and handling challenges even if I am not successful always at executing them.  I also went to the 2012 AKC World Team Tryouts.  That is about as opposite of the spectrum as NADAC Championships gets.  I went with the same dog.  We were not as successful at the Tryouts in part because my dog really did not enjoy those tight challenging courses.  I enjoy the mental challenge but she was not the right dog for that challenge even though we had spent months training and preparing for it.  I didn't take into account that an entire weekend of courses like that would take its toll on her mentally like it did.  I tried to make it fun and keep her up and happy as much as possible and I didn't care how we did.  Now I know that is not the place for her.  Sinco does fine in AKC and USDAA and even a little UKI but I know I won't ask her to do too much tight collected courses.  Now her daughter on the other hand was born to do tight challenging courses and can turn on a dime and stay barking for joy as she does it.  She will be the dog I do more international courses and training with in the future.

I am fortunate to be able to have multiple dogs and I can choose what organizations to do with each of them.  I do not need to make everyone one of my dogs do all of them.  Feisty is retired from doing AKC low tables and being in that environment.  She is entered at nationals because sometimes she gets into the crowd and sometimes not.  Feisty is in training for bonus lines in NADAC because she loves to work distances.  We are not often accurate as she gets "high" working at a distance.  But she is having fun so then I am having fun.  It is a training challenge to work that level of distance.

Tay has had two biceps tendon surgeries so I do not want her jumping her full height 16/20 so she is doing organizations where she can jump 12 and she is 7 in April.  She has had a lot of stress issues in the ring partly due to the amount of pain she endured while we were trying to figure out a diagnosis.  Pain would come and go for her and adrenaline would block a lot of it.  She loves agility in training and more and more she is loving it again at trials.  She can be very fast when she feels good.  

Carmine is Sinco's daughter and her initial training has been for tighter and technical courses which is her strong suit.  She does not respond to pressure well and I am working on that through Amanda Nelson's online course.  She is young and has lots of potential for any sport.

All of my dogs have done EGC and all of them seem to love it.  They love to just all out run and turn on the ground and I have a hard time handling them sometimes.  It is very rewarding to have a clean run in this game.

All of the organizations have their niche, they offer different things for different people.  Few dog and handler teams can actually do all of the organizations at all of the levels of each organization.  It is alright to have your favorite organization but please do not berate another organization and certainly do not do it when you have not even tried it.  You can say what you like or do not like about an organization but when it crosses the line of making fun of it and belittling those who participate in it then it becomes akin to bullying.  Each organization has its issues - there is no perfect agility organization out there just as there are no perfect agility dog and handler teams and no perfect dog agility trainers.  We are all flawed but none deserve to be bullied, belittled or berated.  It is all agility - the state of being agile and nimble.