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.


  • 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.

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:

Heather's course

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!

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.

first trial for the year

Yesterday was our first trial back since New Years Eve. People kept asking if Loki was entered but no, not yet. I hadn’t entered anything up to this point because Lu is pretty unhappy if the temperature is mildly warm so anything in January, Feb or March is usually pretty risky in Australia! 

But Lu had a pretty good day. I accidentally entered an open agility instead of novice which was Ok because she leapt off every single contact. I don’t know what I’m going to do about her dogwalks. She’s trained on 3 different ones recently with the most recent 2 being very leapy. It was weird because she was looking very confident & happy & was adjusting to hit but would bail at the last moment. Can’t decide if: a. She’s scared of those contacts being yellow (mine is purple) so I’m going to start putting a yellow towel over mine in training, b. Her adjustments in training set her up for rear-feet hits. At home I typically get front-feet or one front one rear but rarely 2 rear feet- was she setting herself up but realised she didn’t like hitting with RF/doesn’t know she can, so bails instead? In which case I have to try and retrain for RF hits (which I’ll do as I build up the DW with loki again). C. Is she still just nervous about dogwalks in trials for some reason? In which case I just need to trial more. 😉 

I decided after that first run that I really just wanted a pass in Novice so I could get out of there as it was the last pass we needed.  I don’t care if we’re in Excellent for a while. It’s usually nice there- not too hard but with some challenges, and the class sizes are small. So in her novice run I just got her to trot calmly over the DW cos I knew for sure she’d just trot all the way down and sure enough we got a pass (and won the ring, ha). Interestingly, even though she’d RUN that dogwalk earlier in the day, she got to the top plank & started to freak out, convinced she was going to die. Gaaaaahhhhhhh. I guess she had more time to think about the height when she wasn’t running. 

Nic also made his agility debut and actually ended up running 3 rings with Lu! He did both Excellent jumping rings and managed to pass them both & come 3rd despite making it very obvious that I need to teach him emergency rear-crosses. And he ran my last novice agility cos I’d already passed the other one. He was doing awesome until he got out of position after the table. I’m looking forward to ‘handing her over’ to him when Loki starts competing. In the meantime it’s a nice way to ease them both in to working together. 

Lu must have been very tired when we got home as she was randomly getting angry at the other 2. When we went to bed, she positioned herself so that if Mal wanted to go to one of the other beds he had to go past her. A lip curl & intense stare from her when he tried was enough to freak him right out and he ended up hiding on our bed. Dunno what she was getting possessive over- her space I guess. Just shows how tired she was! 

competition dogwalks.

Lu has bad dogwalks in competitions. More strides, not full-speed running, no separation at the end and I’m lucky if a back toe gets in the contact zone. NOT the kind of contacts I want. This weekend we hit 0/3 nicely. The judges let 2 of them be ‘in’ and I told her she was good for those 2 but they weren’t, really.
So why?
Maybe confidence in different locations/trial environment? I don’t think the arousal level is a factor because when we play the crazy balls game she’s super excited and fast but still hits. So maybe confidence at being on unfamiliar dogwalks? That should be solved easily enough: just do more dogwalks. Enter ‘not for competition’ runs with her and bring in a toy to play with if she hits them… Do a loop and put her on again if she doesn’t. Enter ‘gamblers’ runs and just do loops with the dogwalk involved.
One other factor is that all 3 of the exits this weekend were to the side. 2 of them were into empty space then turn (which we’ve worked on a little bit at home) and the other was to a bar about 7-8 meters ahead but In fact you wanted to pull her to the left & do the broad. Ok, so then maybe running into empty space is also a problem. I can fix that too- just go to a thrown ball into the empty space to get her in the habit of just running forward. I suppose I could do the same thing with discriminations, sometimes throw ahead, sometimes pull to the side and throw.
I just really wanted to be a bit of a running-contact pioneer, y’know, but she makes it look so dodgy and untrained at a trial!!!

We did have an awesome jumping run though where i threw in a risky blind cross cos I didn’t want to do a rear cross and it just worked so nicely and one lady after was raving to me about how smooth it looked which was lovely. And I know this judge planned it as a rear cross cos he doesn’t believe in blinds but I showed him! 😉