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breathe

Hey readers. Long time no post.

These summer holidays were W.I.L.D. I mean, I was sleeping in till 10am, lying in the hammock, napping on the couch, eating icypoles and not having lunch until 4pm. Outta control.

Between all that, I’ve set up a new blog to document my travels with Loki given that I plan to move us to Europe for at least 1-2 years at the end of 2017 and thought it could be a nice way for other dog-lovers to follow our journey and learn a bit about travelling with their dogs. It’s funny because living in one of the least dog-friendly places ever, I’m inclined to find National Parks in Europe and then google “National Park Name – dogs?” and of course every time the results come back something like “well yeah, duh, of course dogs are allowed” and sometimes “Yeah, duh, but on lead.” It’s taking a bit of adjusting to realise that dogs are pretty much allowed anywhere. Weird.

If you want to follow along, you can find it here:

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In the meantime I’ll probably only document training goals and stuff here as a way to have it recorded. Way less interesting than pretty pictures of Europe with Loki.

Loki goals for the beginning of this year:

  • Add speed when approaching weaves, start to add more obstacles before the weaves to increase inertia and continue to work on his hardest entries in this kind of scenario.
  • Dogwalk. Consider pausing running him in agility trials while working on dogwalk behaviours. Look into a class because seriously we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Otherwise try and consistently go out and do 5 minutes a night. That’s all. Just something, consistently.
  • Collection. Begin with collection recalls, add distance (me and him), then motion. End goal: some kind of collection with landing-side front crosses (relative or true collection depending on situation)
  • Jumping. Work through LM’s advanced jumping drills class.
  • Verbals/relationship/handler focus stuff. Martina’s Special Games class.
  • Jumping/self control. Continue playing with Mark buckets in between jumps (especially in small sequences of 3-4 jumps), to see if this helps with jump mechanics and with ‘keeping a cool head’.

 

Lumen’s goals:

  • Well, really, the goal with this dog is to just run hard, run fast and run clean…
  • Collection: I probably should do some kind of work to teach her to collect, it’s just so tedious.
  • Turns off the dogwalk. Same sentiments as above.
  • Obstacle discriminations, especially weaves vs. anything and dogwalk vs. anything.
  • Japanese turn timing. Actually not bad with Lu but can still improve and I think this turn is a really good way to handle a lot of stuff with her.
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in the end

Well, the 2016 trialling and agility season has officially finished for us this weekend.

Thank. goodness.

Not that we haven’t had a good year. We’ve had an amazing year in terms of dogs and agility. But it has been non-stop weekends of trials or seminars for the last month and a half and all of us are ready to just stop, sleep, recover, rest. My hip-flexors are asking for a rest, my neck, my back, even my triceps, though I’m not sure what part they play in agility aside from maybe carrying the crate to and from the car. I imagine that if I have all these little niggles, that Loki is feeling exactly the same.

Some events, some seminars, have melded from last year into this year, but we have been busy. 2016 has been full. We’ve trained with some top Australian handlers, more than once. We competed in the Nationals and came so close to getting into the finals, with both dogs – at the fault of either one bar, or just not being quick enough. We’ve driven thousands of kilometers, trained with Jouni and Isabelle from Sweden, which was amazing. Trained with Dave Munnings – also amazing. I was told I could get a spot on the Australian Team for WAO but with everything else going on, didn’t apply this year. Lumen gained her Masters Jumping title, and her Excellent Agility title. Loki had no titles but started to knock less and less bars in his last few competitions, showing promise for what’s to come.

I feel like I’ve grown significantly as a handler through the second half of this year. I’ve improved my timing with both my dogs, but Lumen I think in particular, on certain handling moves, and have become more aggressive in the way I handle. I’ve learned how to work Loki through a course, and while we still have a long way to go, it’s the first time I’ve felt we’ve been a team.

My little training club on the side has grown, too, and I’ve been so enjoying seeing my couple of advanced students experience success, consistently, with their dogs.

The end of this year has opened up an idea in me, a potential for something exciting and scary in the future, for stepping WAY outside my comfort zone and embracing a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. If I can make the pieces fit, if I can pull together all the threads that need to be woven, if I can find some other metaphor for ‘getting my shit together’, then maybe… maybe on the horizon in 2017 will be a year even more full, of learning, of experiences, of agility, of mountains, of hikes, of rivers and lakes and new friends. We’ll just have to see if I can pull it all off.

For now, we’re going to charge toward the end of the school year, wind down my classes at home, pack away the equipment, get back into conditioning (all of us!), hit the beach for long walks, try and avoid snakes, and sleep in.

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a decision

This afternoon, for no specific reason, I made a decision.

I decided to train Loki to stop on the dogwalk. Sometimes.

I have to face the fact that Loki is very, very quick, and he likes to be very quick very much. It may be his favourite thing. He likes nothing more than to run, long and lean and as fast as he can. It’s the best. And with that comes an obvious dislike for slowing unless more or less forced to. Extreme collection? SURE! Easy. Lovely tight bendy turns. Perfection. Soft collection? Forget about it. Optional collection on front-cross type turns? Uhhhh…. nah. Collecting to hit an extreme weave entry? Sweeeeet. Collecting for a wider, more open, faster entry? Um… not so much. Collection when RUNNING a dogwalk? HA!!! Loki currently has quite a nice ‘go straight’ dogwalk exit in competitions. But as soon as he needs to turn, I’ve got nothin’. And I just don’t know if I’m ever going to get him THINKING and CARING enough to actually turn.

So… we might just stop for a little while. He actually has quite a nice stop. It’s not EXACTLY a 2o2o but his uncle does a similar behaviour and it works very nicely for him… it’s run very fast down to the coloured area then stop and look and wait for release. Sometimes 2o2o, sometimes not. Should I be more picky? Maybe. Am I feeling inclined to? Nope.

So anyhoo. Maybe a stop for now and one day down the track when we’ve grown out of ‘crazy competition baby brain’, I’ll consider my options.

Other things that are happening:

-using bells on jumps when training at home. I wouldn’t say this has fixed any problem yet but we’ve only done it 3 times. I’m just hoping that I can add a much more obvious marker (for me and him) that knocking/ticking/brushing the bar isn’t ok. I do see him try VERY hard if he knocks it once and I set him up to do that part of the sequence again. So, maybe that’s some progress.

-weaves are coming along. We had weaves in a comp the other day (but it was his favourite kind of entry – going in on the left with me rear crossing, so essentially, me standing still while he goes out and weaves) which was nice, but today in training I had to hang back so he could do a straight tunnel after and um, he didn’t feel like doing the last pole so we did some discrimination/drive to the end work, with toys scattered around the base of the poles and while at first this was VERY HARD OMG, he got the point after a couple of fails and would weave all the way to the end with me hanging back and not pounce on the random toys along the way. Good boy.

He also chewed on my student teacher’s laptop case the other day incase it was food. it wasn’t.

He might need some self-control training.

Though, speaking of that, his stays in competitions are IMPECCABLE. OMG. They’re the best. ❤

At home, he’s taken to standing up, walking a few steps forward, then stopping. It seems to work and he’s actually pretty good with it so I’m just leaving it be. We were stressing a lot for a long time about staying at home during training but… well… it’s working alright how it is so it’s fine.  Especially since his competition stays are so damn good now.

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things I learnt this weekend

It was our first trial back for a month and a half, maybe 2.

It was the first time in about a year that I entered Lumen in agility (not just jumping). My plan had been to use those two months to find a way to teach her how to do dogwalks, but then it got very wet and muddy and I trained it maybe 2 times. Still, I had a plan… though, we hadn’t trained weaves, a-frames or seesaws in those 12 months, either.

So, the learning bits.

Lumen:

  • Must train her what I’m on about if I do any kind of V-set. Once she decided that cos I was kind of in her way that maybe I meant go do the backside of the bar (but then not really so maybe just avoid the bar altogether???), another time she thought it maybe meant go out and do a tunnel somewhere???? So while I’m trying to be very helpful to her by shaping her line, she’s finding it very strange. Maybe I got in her way, I’m not sure, anyway, there’s work to be done.
  • Um…. practise on the A-frame. She missed 2/3 a-frame contacts and she’s my RELIABLE A-framer. Whoops. So, maybe actually work on an a-frame before the next competition. It’ll come back, she’s always been a beautiful A-frame hitter.
  • Maybe actually do some weave entries sometimes. Y’know. Even easy ones. Though I can’t fault her independence in them. A+
  • Holy moly dogwalks!!!! I only saw one of them, and I heard one of them and it sounded DEEP… I worked out, at home, during one of our two training sessions, that I just need to shut up. With both of them. No “go go go go go!!!”, just “GO!” as they get on, and that means go, unless I say turn. At home, Lu cottoned on to this beautifully and worked out all manners of ways to hit. Her turns of any degree still suck bigtime, but suddenly, even though she wasn’t going full speed, she always hit. What what?? So, having hardly trained dogwalks, and knowing how nervous she used to be on dogwalks, we went to this trial and I said “GO!” then shut up. One she didn’t get faulted for (I didn’t see it, too busy running) so it must have been in… one sounded deep, lots of feet right to the end (didn’t see it, too busy running), and one was a nice safe Lumen-y front foot hit. Confident and happy. Gone was my stressy high, no-separation hits that I used to get from trying to impose speed with yelling. Now she could work it out herself. And she wasn’t trotting, Lors no (been listening to “The Stand”), she was running – not full speed, but when does Lu ever do ‘full speed’? and she was happy!! So, lesson learnt. Shut up and just run, Em. She’ll make it work. She’s a good girl. Now if I can just figure out how to get her to understand turns. This is going to take some thinking, since she’s such a bouncy, non-forward-driving dog. Hmmmm….

 

And little crazy Loki-pants. Huh. Well, after 2 months of no trials he was a little high. Usually he settles by the 3rd run but no, there was no settling for my boy.

  • He has a very nice start-line stay. Good boy.
  • I have some ideas of some jumping grid type exercises to work on over the next few weeks that shouldn’t suck too bad or be too boring I hope. This was a weekend of many, many bars.
  • We should probably train weaves sometime. Maybe before a trial. I started walking him out if, after the 2nd attempt, he still had lost his brain and couldn’t do them even vaguely correctly. Boy’s gotta learn and he’s not gonna learn there’s anything wrong if he gets rewarded with more agility.
  • And dogwalks… well… they’ll come. He was just too excited.
  • I started working him with food outside the ring, doing heeling obedience-y type stuff, and this was actually lovely. He had fantastic focus on me and was able to ignore all the agility going on. No wrenching my arm off, no crazy-eyed whining as he watched, biting madly at his rope and getting my fingers in the process. Just a lovely, calm, focused dog. So, I’m hoping this helps. And I might start using food in training more, too. Let’s take Loki from OMG CRAZED NEED TO GET MY TOY AS FAST AS I CAN dog, to a bit more thinking, a bit more of a working dog. Yes. I think this is a good plan.
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we did jump grids and they were fun

Yep. I don’t post in 3 months, and I’m here to talk about jump grids.

Go figure.

I hate jump grids. I hate the formulaic approach. I guess because I can’t see the improvement from them. Never have I done a jump grid and then seen actual improvement in jumping ‘in the real world’. So what’s the point?

But I saw a nice video of Justine Davenport doing “power jumping” with her dogs as part of their ‘cross training’ and I thought it looked like a nice strength exercise while not technically ‘jumping’ since Loki is sort of on a break (though, easing back into it now). Basically, from what I could see, the dogs were coming down a line of jumps set maybe 30cm high and bouncing them.

I went out and set it up, focusing for once, not on compression, but more on extension, I guess. I also set up a compression grid but we never ended up doing it. Maybe those are the grids I hate. The compression ones.

Anyway, we did this nice grid and it was nice. Then I moved a jump so he had 4 to bounce, then put in a stride, then do the last one. Then I basically made up my own rules. I spit on the rules. I’m a trainer without a cause. I did varying combinations of bounce and stride, on a whim! And we enjoyed it, thoroughly. I also love Loki not only because he is just amazing in general but also because I could stand at one end of the grid, hold his collar, point him down the grid, go: “OK, go go go go!” and he would do the entire grid in one direction, wrap a pole, and do it blazingly fast back to me. Two for the price of one grids. Winner. So maybe there is my solution to hating grids. Throw out the rule book. Do your own damn thing. Surely practise in general won’t hurt, and if he has any indication that bars knocked = not as exciting party times rewards, then maybe he’ll try a bit harder to not knock.

I wish he wouldn’t eat everything all the time though. Today he ate some foil that had melted cheese on it. Like… he had jumped onto the kitchen counters while I was at work. Also I think he ate something from the compost. I swear to god I feed him enough, but he doesn’t think so. I used to think Mallei’s food raiding was bad. Loki takes it to another level. I feel like, in general, his self control is at a 2/10. If I subscribed to the gospel of SG I would prescribe crate games and it’s yer choice.

They’re about as fun as jump grids.

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agility: then and now

I was thinking, as I drove to the trial today, how I was looking forward to meeting the challenges of the courses I would run – maybe more with Lumen, in Masters, than Loki in Novice, but even with him there are challenges. I was looking forward to looking at the lines and the angles. I was looking forward to visualising where Loki would land based on the approach from the jump before. I was looking forward to making Lumen’s run as flowing and as smooth as I could, on the courses we would run.

And as I thought about all those things, I remembered how it used to be – at least with me. When I would run Mallei. I would drive there wondering what would go wrong, maybe, what he would do wrong (or right), with little thought to how my actions on a course would influence him. I was just steering the ship around in a fairly general and haphazard way and hoped he would understand what I meant. Didn’t we all? Relying on rear-crosses and big shoulder pulls and just yelling their name, a lot, when we didn’t want them to do an obstacle. We (or I, anyway) never looked at or considered the lines, only wanting to make our path easiest.

I quite enjoy the technical-ness of course walking now, in a way I never have. I enjoy looking at a part of the course from the perspective Loki would have upon landing a jump and consider the need to call him, to rotate my shoulders, to avoid the sneaky tunnel trap that didn’t seem obvious from MY perspective, but was like an inviting vortex from his. I really enjoyed walking the two Masters courses I got to run with Lu – the 2nd in particular, as there were multiple options for handling multiple sections of the course, and moved from somewhat technical, to big and open, and back again. A nice balance, I thought. Talking to the judge of that course later she told me that many competitors had complained about the first part of the course. It looked like this:

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There’s about 9 ways you could choose to handle that (in fact I worked out 9 just then, for fun)! Trying to think of the best way to run it with Lu (we did forced front-cross, Japanese and lateral motion, but I could have possibly done another Japanese or K-turn type thing after 3 to bring her in tighter) was fun! It should be fun! It should be fun to try and strike a balance between convenient running for the handler and what will work for the individual dog. I will always, if plausible, try and choose a route that keeps Lumen in extension, for example. But maybe most competitors don’t think this way. I watched one team – with a small dog, not quick. The handler ran up to a bar – well ahead of the dog, and came to a stop. Waited for the dog to catch up, and then she rear-crossed. For me, planning and running feels like such a fun little technical exercise now, and with Lu, getting to know her more and more, I try and make it as smooth and effortless as I can. I know it’s not like that for everyone, but it’s interesting that despite the increased technicality in courses, some people are stuck in the ‘drive the ship’ kind of mindset we used to have.
My camera went flat today so unfortunately I have no videos and Lumen and my cool runs together (she brought down a bar in each), nor Loki’s one-bar-only run. Next time!

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lessons from lumen

I feel as though Lumen and I are hitting our stride. It’s been such a wonky, unexpected journey.

This dog, as a puppy, wasn’t motivated. Hated drills. Still does. So trying to teach her a skill that requires some degree of repetition? Painful. I sort of gave up on her, especially once I got Loki. I thought she’s too slow, she’ll never be the dog I want to handle, I’ll never be able to do all the cool stuff with her. Plus she doesn’t really like agility, so whatever. She showed that she was pretty anxious about dogwalks in trials, so I stopped entering agility, only entered jumping. I’ve always liked jumping more anyway so it worked for me. I pulled us from all the trials over summer for this reason or that (too hot, too tired, too fluffy, too can’t be bothered). I stopped training her, for the most part. Sometimes if I had a course set up for Loki or for my Monday night class I would run her through it. Every time I ran her through I was surprised by how pleasant she was to run. How it was nice to have time. Time to think, time to catch her going wide, going to the wrong obstacle, time to redirect her if I needed.

I love running Loki, it’s the funnest. But he is like running while juggling chainsaws. Any slip, any accidental shoulder turn can result in disaster. In fact, I’ve had to tone it down with Loki, become a handler I never wanted to be. Rely on distance work over running, because running just makes him so frenetic and there’s no ways bars can stay up and he really needs to be able to THINK right now. So I’ve slowed down. I do rear crosses. I send him out out out and front cross him way over here.

And then I get to run Lu. Suddenly, Lu is so fun. So much fun. Never the dog I had expected, and it’s taken me 3 years with her to find this joy, but we have it, I think, it’s growing. Every competition, I come out laughing and loving her because I can be stupid and brave in my handling. I can look at a threadle and go: “Lumen HATES threadles!!! How can I handle this differently??” and put in a Japanese turn instead (on the course this weekend, there were 3 Japanese turns I put in because I know how much she sends out and didn’t want her thinking everything was to be serpentined and also call-offs from jumps are stupid and confusing for her, too. I need to be super obvious in my handling to keep her happy). I blind cross where nobody dares to blind cross. I race her, everywhere, all the time. I never stop moving. I shape every turn because she hates to turn so much. I trust her commitment so much that sometimes it’s too much and she runs over to me and goes; “You’re an idiot, what are you even trying to do right now?”. She will never be the winning dog, unless the winning dogs don’t make it around clear. Her jumps are HUGE, just because. She likes to get maximum height and minimum distance. Totally the most ineffective jumping style I’ve ever seen, but can you imagine me trying to do repetitions of jump grids with her? Ha! But she rarely knocks bars. And maybe with time and more experience, she’ll get more confident, get the hang of her striding, her jumping.

So I suppose Lu has taught me not to give up, to give things time, to enjoy a steadier pace, to not assume you have to have a fast dog to enjoy the run, that you can usually handle a setup in a multitude of ways, even if 90% of the handlers in the ring are all doing it the same. So today I am glad for Lu. I’m sorry to have given up on her for a little while there. I’m glad we’re a team, that we’re finding our ways to work together.

She is such a splodgy dork, after all.