2014: the year in review

Well, it’s been quite the year. Plenty of ups, plenty of downs.

We started the year with a beautiful camp-out on the beach, and soon after I was already wondering whether I should breed Lu or not,  whether I should get another dog or not, and that my handling needed improvement (themes that have carried on throughout the year it seems!). A week and a half into January saw Lu vomit up blood and get rushed to the vet where she ended up having her abdomen opened up to find ulcers and blood in her stomach. We brought home a very sad and sick pup a few days later.

She looks so little here…! She must have dropped all her coat recently or something…

Her recovery went well though she started getting cabin fever after a while. At one point I took her to visit a trial and wrote this:

I think – THINK – I’ll be able to trust her not to run off on me when we start competing – it’ll just be the very end of a run that’ll be risky

Isn’t it funny, this hasn’t been an issue for us at all? As soon as she’s in the ring, she’s with me. As soon as we finish the run she jumps all over me and is super happy. Only once did she leave the ring without me and it was so she could go get her toy!

And then at the end of January I posted this:

I really do wonder if I should just suck it up and get a border collie because maybe everything I want is a border collie? That intensity, speed, drive, absolute desire to work and please and work some more, and to play and that sharpness of motion in agility…

not knowing that my little Loki had been born only 12 days before!

In February, I nearly got a little Aussie puppy called Tink, but obviously that wasn’t meant to be. I started weaving with Lu in the back-yard as part of her rehab, and began slowly building up her fitness.

I feel like this year was really a huge year of self discovery. I began to look into why I think the way I do, why I stress over plans and possibilities, why I can’t function well when there’s too many options and none of them are a clear winner. It’s funny because reading back through agonising over Tink, a lot of my problems came from a head vs. heart debate, and that I hadn’t had a ‘heart’ moment. I don’t think I had one with Loki either as such (I didn’t even meet him until I picked him up and even then I wasn’t 100% sure it was the right thing), but I saw his picture and his description and thought he sounded great, talked to the breeder and he still sounded great and in the end, threw myself in, come what may. So maybe that’s as close to a ‘heart’ decision as I’ll get!

At the beginning of March I posted that I “might” be getting this puppy, by which I meant I was getting that puppy. I did a poll to get your ideas on names and by all accounts he should be called “Nero” or “Oreo”, and Loki wasn’t even an option. “Bustle” with “Buzz” for short still strikes me as cute, especially if the registered name was Hustle Bustle, but it’s probably a bit late for that now!

Remember this fluffy little guy??

And then of course, all my time was spent doing puppy things and continuing to try and get Lu ready for competitions. We were socialising and clicker-training and adventuring and getting Loki out in the world.  By the end of March, we’d signed the contracts for our house and Lu ran in a fun day where I got my first taste of the fact that she would love competitions much more than training!

In April Nic and I went to Sydney for the OMD seminar and I learnt a lot. I still haven’t done everything I set out to do but I do think I’ve become more conscious of my handling, of where my dog’s line is going to be and how I show them the line early enough to prepare them for the job they need to do. I think it’s made me more conscious of what I’m planning to do and what I’m doing and what that says to the dog. I also changed my mindset from “the dog did the wrong thing” to “the dog never/rarely does the wrong thing (on purpose)”, and that all/most errors are either a fault of my handling or of my training. For Loki, who loves rewards, this has been gold, as he always gets something (even a small thing) just for trying. Lu doesn’t care about the rewards so much but it’s taken the pressure off her to be right, and all her efforts are rewarded too. It’s been really interesting to walk courses toward the end of the year with this idea of showing the dog its next obstacle before it gets there. Sometimes I’ll be agonising over a jump with a turn, and a fellow competitor will chime in and ask if I have a (verbal) turning cue. To which I’ll reply, well yes, but I’d rather show her that she’ll be turning before she’s at the jump… to which they often look at me as if I’m daft.

We spent a lot of time this year getting an awesome dogwalk behaviour and then losing it for some reason… getting it back, losing it, getting it back, losing it. It seems like every time she got confident and fast on it, one of us would be injured, or we wouldn’t have anywhere to train, or something would happen that prevented us from training. Hopefully those days are over now – at least the days of loosing our training area are, so I’m hoping that having built the height back up again now is the last time we’ll have to do that.

Lu entered her first jumping comp and won one of her rings:

We were working through Polona’s Let’s Play! Class as well, so I was documenting how those processes were going, and I must say that Polona’s class has been one of the huge highlights of this year. The difference in Lumen since playing her games has been phenomenal. She is now pushy for food. and I have a good pre-run routine to help her be in the best frame of mind. She enjoys her toys way more than ever before. I’ve learnt so much about her and about how to train her so I can keep her interested that suddenly training is so much more fun. I’m still working on how to incorporate things like needing to proof multiple weave entries while keeping it fun and exciting, but maybe I just need to work this into a ‘typical’ fast and furious sequence run, or go back to doing the crazy balls game. I love that I have a bunch of new tools and games to play that work so, so much better than other games we’ve tried by other trainers. And, having been in her graduates class for much of the year has also meant I’ve had a fantastic sounding board for any and all problems or concerns that have come up with either of my dogs. This has helped with some of my obsessive agility-related anxiety things so much, I think.

In May, Lu was ready to compete- she had an A-frame, weaves and dogwalk behaviour that I was happy with and then… I strained my calf muscle, meaning no running for me for 2-3 weeks.

In June & July we had a few awesome snow-ventures.

Training started to look more like agility with Loki with doing cik/tok around bollards and starting to do curved tunnels and tunnel games. With Lu, I had begun working on soft turns off the dogwalk with varied levels of success. My calf was still injured but like a moron I was still training and going on morning hikes. I started doing recallers games with Lumen during June and I need to get back into this. We’ve fallen out of the habit of practising lots of recalls because I don’t tend to take them out unless she’s on lead, so she doesn’t get recalls there, and I don’t recall her in the backyard very often so… we just have been slack with this one. And I liked the changes I saw in her while we were playing the games so I need to refresh my memory, make a list of games we can play while out on a walk.

Loki kept on being cute and I fell more and more in love with him. He was, and still is, the easiest dog. He just loves to please and learns ‘good’ from ‘bad’ so quickly. He has so few ‘issues’ that having him seems like a dream. He’s a much easier dog to live with than Lu and I’ve only ever had one off-lead ‘incident’ where he spotted a wombat and took off, but has awesome recalls off everything else. He settles down easier and actually wants to be near you. He loves routines – you open the front door and he often runs to the gate of the agility paddock, and I break his little heart every time I say, “not now, mate”. Loki comes to school with me often and I unclip his lead while he walks with me on yard duty- usually carrying a stick that I throw into his mouth. I trust him so completely – like I used to trust Mal – and he doesn’t let me down. I want to use him next year to sit with kids when they need comforting, or as a reading buddy. That was my goal with Lu, too, but she can’t sit still or settle well enough. Loki – if I tie him up and there’s a bed nearby, will usually make himself comfortable and just keep an eye on me. He’s amazing.

August was a celebration of Mallei, even though I didn’t quite get to 30 days, Lumen got spayed and was then diagnosed with a sore illiopsoas, taking  us out of agility again. After being desexed, I saw Lu become happier and more focused, and we were still working through recallers and other focus games.

Loki was growing up!

At the end of August/beginning of September, we FINALLY moved into our property…

Lu turned 2, and was still going through rehab and beginning to build up her fitness, AGAIN. I started preparing for the Shape Up Dogs in October. I began Loki’s running contact training, and like everything else, he picked this up as if he’d been doing it for forever. For the last few months of the year however, I struggled to find out how to help him put this puzzle together. Although he understood “run very fast along the thing” at first, this all fell apart as the height went up and he became uncertain and was leaping off. We tried a few different things, and I don’t think they were detrimental at all, but in the end I decided it would be best to go back to a lower height and really focus on him having comfortable, natural running, starting from good starting spots for good hits (though I found that the placement of his hits changes every rep so having a good starting spot doesn’t seem to do much for him) and then gradually build up the height again. Seems like we’re finally getting this together now!

It has been such an interesting year. A huge year of learning – about myself, about dogs and dog training. A year of getting to know and love Loki, of learning to accept and grow with Lumen. It’s been a year of frustration, stress and tears at times, and laughter and joy at others. It’s seen us move house again, and being able to finally breathe a sigh of relief, walk outside and train whenever and however I want.

I can’t wait for next year – to begin to trial Lumen more and grow my handling skills with her. I’m looking forward to showing her more and more that agility is fun and that it’s ok to run fast! To debut Loki when he’s ready and to see what he’s really capable of. To do herding with Lumen and see where that takes us because she asks me to be allowed to herd – when we go there, she sees the sheep and she begins heeling, sitting up close at me side, on her best behaviour. She loves herding. Next year I’m teaching a new year level and, if allowed, have ideas of how to improve the wellbeing of my students by using Loki. I’m hoping that Mallei, as he enters his 11th year, continues to be as fit, happy and healthy as he is, constantly fooling people with his age. I’m looking forward to teaching agility to people and watching them begin to compete when they’re ready.

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