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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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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.

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in moderation

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting. I’ve actually become really good at keeping hand-written notes after our training sessions but it means I don’t need to vent here as a way of solving problems. Plus we haven’t had a heap of problems lately. Bonus.

I’ve learnt a couple of really important dog-training self lessons over the last couple of months. It’s been sort of an interesting shift in thinking. I find it fascinating when this happens.

Firstly, I’ve learnt that even if some kind of training method doesn’t look perfect at first, doesn’t mean it won’t look better on the second session, and even better on the third. This happened with our running contacts retraining, where in the first few sessions he didn’t quite understand driving to the Manner’s Minder… We’re on full height now, taking things fairly slowly, and getting consistently deep rear-foot hits. Not at speed, but I’m confident it will come. It’s actually been a nice feeling to do a session of say, turns, and see it not work, and have faith that it will come good in the session after, or even the one after that. I think it’s something I’ve never had before, faith.

Secondly, I’ve become much better at not over-training. I’m still working on this, but it’s better than it was. I couldn’t fault Loki’s dogwalk today on his second session of full height, but didn’t want to make things more difficult than I had, so we just stopped. I think last year, I would have kept going, raised the criteria, changed something or other and then become all despondent when it fell apart. I’m trying to do the same thing with sequences – run it once as clean as I can… fix the mistake part/s if I can, and then not necessarily run it again. Otherwise, take away the mistake parts to train a different way later (we had a course with a straight line of 3 threadles at the club the other night and he couldn’t really do it, so I set it up at home but made it easier and worked on it there). It’s a work in progress but this part of my training is coming along.

 

We’ve been doing jump grid type things, but in general I’ve been ignoring his bars when running sequences, unless he gets a bit out of control and knocks a bunch, or knocks one I think he should know better on. Maybe this isn’t fair and I should be consistent – either care or not, but caring made him too stressed, and not caring doesn’t teach him much, so I’m trying to go for a happy medium. He still takes himself off out of the way after we run a sequence and he gets his toy, but I no longer think he’s avoiding doing agility, but more that he goes out there and gets ‘stuck’. I know how to get him back now, so we’re getting past that problem. Stays are still a big issue for us. Big issue! The other day I tried being stern with him and letting him know my displeasure for him standing up… All of a sudden, the 2nd jump in the sequence was haunted and he forgot how to do backsides. Oh poor little stress collie. That ended that experiment pretty quickly! But I’m going to try and have faith. Sometimes I see moments of brilliance and I can actually do a lead-out… Sometimes it’s a bit of a battle between him standing up and me stopping and waiting for him to sit again, and again, and again. Faith.

I'm gonna catch this one. For sure. I've got it in my sights, I'm ready... He demonstrates excellent pearseverance, my little collie... hopefully it doesn't all go pear-shaped...

running & visitors

So I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about Loki’s dogwalk. In the session below we worked on soft turns to the right to start with, then changed to straight exits. It was the first time we’d done soft turns and so his style changed a bit and he had more misses but I do think he was trying, and I do think that if I keep working on those turns he’ll get better at it.

Some of his hits in this video aren’t necessarily the prettiest but I’m working on understanding at the moment. So I’m doing a lot of ‘starting on the plank’ and close wrap starts and letting him choose the speed. So this isn’t Loki full speed, this is Loki thinking speed. I figure once he really understands what he has to do, he’ll add his own speed especially if I stop using the Manner’s Minder at the end, too. What I’m really enjoying seeing is the amount of effort he’s putting into… I think hitting the towel? I think that seems to be his goal… which is what my criteria has been – feet solidly on the towel. Those high probably-accidental foot hits? Reward. One foot solidly  a third of the way down the towel? Jackpot.  He’s never seemed to TRY to hit something before like this – not the target mat, not the contact area… It’s so interesting to see him shorten or lengthen his stride as he comes down in order to hit. I’m also getting front feet hits which he’s never done before (not since we first started RC training anyway)… And which although Silvia discourages, I don’t mind. I think one of his big things is not wanting to put an extra stride on the down plank because it would take him too close to the edge. If he feels confident putting in that last stride and getting close to the edge, he should be getting lovely deep hits!

I figure my plan is to keep this setup for a while longer, until turns are looking pretty solid.. then I’ll raise it up and do the same thing again.. up, up, up… once we’re on full height… work on adding speed… and then gradually fade the ‘ground’ end of the towel, and then fade it all together. By that point it should be a pretty ingrained behaviour, it’ll just be changing the picture of where the ‘end’ of the DW is (because right now the end is hidden by the towel, of course) so depending on what he uses as a marker of where to hit will depend on how removing the towel affects him.

We have a visiting dog in our house at the moment. Lumen’s breeder let me borrow a young dog to do some filming with for a class I’m going to be running. I needed an untrained dog and so I’ve welcomed Zuma home for a week or so.

It’s been an interesting few days with her… my little ‘pack’ has really banded together to keep her on the outside, and she’s used to bitches being bitches that she’s not pushy and so hasn’t really tried to get anyone to play or be her friend… Loki has been the most interesting one, showing a lot of teeth if she goes near his face, snarking once or twice at her for little things… She’s tried to play a game where she chases him and then bites him on the back. That’s gone down as well as a ton of bricks. Lu has squashed her pretty badly twice- once being possessive over Nic (I suspect Zuma pushed in when Lu was having cuddly time with Nic), and once for a reason I don’t know. I’d been training Loki in this DW session and Zuma had been trying to climb through the fence… and the next thing I know Lu was pinning her and yelling in her face, and she’s crying and trying to get out. I suspect Lu was telling her off for being naughty for trying to get through the fence. She’s sensitive about things like that (she loves it when dogs or cats get in trouble, and she goes over to help tell them off. Apparently her Mum does exactly the same thing).

But this morning Loki and Zuma were starting to play outside, though Loki was a bit rough for Z… and a bit of wrestling inside until Lu decided to be the fun police and tell them off. Gives me hope though that when it’s actually time to get a puppy that their world won’t fall apart, and they might all get along and be friends. Even my socially awkward border collie.

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running type learnings

So, I’ve been playing around some with Loki’s dogwalk again. I was using a target mat but as soon as there was any speed or turning he’d stop targetting. I don’t think he likes targetting so much. So recently I’ve started doing more like what Isabelle did with Finn (Fyn?) and Jenny did with Lili and letting him choose a speed to run down to a Manners Minder, and rewarding for low hits. I’ve put a towel over the end of the dogwalk to hide the edge a bit to try and desensitise him to it a little as I think he’s in a habit of hitting in certain ways at certain points…

Anyway, everything is looking pretty nice, I’m getting a variety of hits, a mix of quite low, and one paw near the middle, one near the top of the contact (still a good hit!). We’re working on a 60cm dogwalk, even though most people seem to do it with a plank from a table, we don’t have a table so I can’t do that.

I’ve also done one session with hard turns, using a pole at the end and that was really nice… and once I feel confident he’s understanding his job more, I’ll work on soft turns by moving the MM.

But like… I don’t know if I trust my own training skills… There’s a class that Martina Magnoli Klimesova recommended – a Portuguese trainer, and I was thinking of signing up… but I kind of like what we’re playing around with, I think we’re heading in the right direction… I don’t want to start something completely 100% different… So anyway, I emailed her with what we’re doing and if it’s kind of similar maybe I’ll join. An extra eye and more experienced expertise can’t hurt anyway. I just don’t want to spend a crapton of money to then not really get much out of the course/not like the method/whatever. Hmm…

 

We also played on our fancy new height see-saw today (90cm at the top end! Yes!!!) and Loki did so awesomely. He doesn’t do the big powerful SLIDE onto the contact, but he gets there quickly enough for a first session. I don’t know if he’ll ever slide… maybe he will with more confidence. He did very well on the new height. He’s a lovely friend.

Weaves are on hold during break, as is jumping… I’m working on stays and have a bit of a plan of attack, including a new ‘setup’ routine that will help him get ‘unstuck’, as he’s getting VERY sticky when training at home.

One thing I do need to work on is listening skills… Once he has it in his mind to do something and is committed to it, it’s so hard to get him to do something different. And his commitment point for most obstacles is like, 7 meters away. 😉 I’ll think of some games I can play for this kind of skill. LISTENING GAMES, LOKI. ❤

 

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seminaring

Loki and I went to a one day ‘course analysis’ seminar with Dave Munnings on Thursday.

We learnt a lot, I think. I learnt that Loki is so awesome for such a baby dog who has only had 3 competitions.

I learnt to trust him in places I wouldn’t normally trust him and just run.

I learnt a bit of a new way of doing K-turns that we need to work on.

I learnt that I need to proof Loki’s “GO VERY FAST THEN TURN” cue, as the turn bit gets a little lost and he tends to drift wide and ends up in weird places/on the wrong side of a bar etc and ends up with a slower line than a line with a 360 degree wrap and an awkward line..

I learnt a way of helping him with his weave problem that I’m going to try.

I learnt that he has the coolest independent tunnels regardless of my motion.

I learnt how to tidy up my threadle and make them a bit more reliable, sometimes.

I legitimately think his jumping class is helping! He knocked very few bars even when he was tired at the end.

I found that it was lovely after each of our turns to take him outside for a walk and to just calm down and reconnect. It wasn’t necessarily a cool down as we were having a turn every 20 minutes or so, but it was nice to just sit with him and get licked on the face.

I’m very very very much looking forward to the O/E seminar coming here next year… I think that’ll be super super fun.

Most of all, I just loved spending the day with my favourite guy because he’s the most fun and just the cutest little friend. He just makes agility super fun, even when we’re working hard and thinking a lot and feeling puffed and tired. I can’t wait till it all comes together for us even more and we know each other more as a team. Ooo it’ll be the best.

There will be video coming soon. 🙂

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breakthrough!!

Remember last week I said we were struggling with the weaves? Remember how I kind of asked for help but then solved my own problem by deciding to close up one pole instead of 2?

No? Then your memory is as good as mine!

Really though. I went and did that – I closed up the most middle pole so there were 3 straight ones in a row. The rest were at varying widths. First session and he struggled with those poles a lot. I went against Silvialosophy and slowed him right down. Close, angled entries, no speed on the approach, no rushing him, no hanging back or moving sideways, just jogging along with him while he worked it all out. By the end of that session it was looking shaky but he had it. The next session, he hardly missed those poles and was looking confident. I obviously do too much with me on the right of the poles to practise left entries because as soon as I went on the right-hand side he was missing those closed poles again. Slowed him down, and off we went.

Then we had Niki’s seminar and then I gave him a break until this afternoon – I took him for a nice hike so he was warmed up but not exhausted, warmed up his bendy spine and went to play weaves. He had no trouble with the middle 3 so I thought I’d test him by closing the next middle pole. That would make 5 closed. No problem! What?!!? I truly expected to go back to skipping poles and head explosions. Since he was doing so well, I closed another.

And another.

And another.

Until all 12 were closed….

And…. he just did them.

LIKE THE LITTLE CHAMPION HE IS.

He could cope with any entry though I didn’t push him on speed too much for this session, and he still found me being on the left a challenge so I obviously need to work on that but … I have closed poles!!! I have a reasonably consistent contact behaviour on both obstacles! I have turns! I have tunnels! I have going very very very fast!

I… have absolutely NO table behaviour (maybe I’ll just call him back before it, slingshot him around my legs and THEN get him on it, until we get out of Novice & the table goes away! No? Oh), and jumps without wings are questionable so… that’s something to work on. But I pretty much have all the required ingredients now to enter his first trial in August!!! YAY!!!!!

And we joined a stay class! So maybe we will have lovely start-lines too!! Everything’s coming up Roro.