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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.

trial weekend

A big weekend for a little border collie (and a Lumen). Our first overnight trial. It was a nice one because they started at 12.30 on Saturday which meant we didn’t have to get up at 5.30am to get there. Yay! It was super humid all weekend with thunder rumbling away in the distance for most of it. Luckily none of my guys mind thunder so it didn’t really affect them. Though, the heat absolutely killed Lu, she doesn’t do heat, nope.

Loki’s runs on Saturday were…. reasonable. He knocked about 4-5 bars per run. He looked like he tried to adjust on the DW, and he missed his weave entry but once we tried again he weaved beautifully.

Here is a video of him going very fast and knocking some bars down.

Lumen had a run in masters jumping because I like the judge and it was a very fun course. People were doing all sorts of things – threadle tunnels, layering things, forced front crosses… because I had Lumen I opted for our Go-To handling style which is for me to run as fast as I reasonably can, blind cross everything where practical, and keep her in extension at all times. I actually managed to do handling completely different to anyone else I saw walking the course because they all wanted to go “COOOOOMMMEEEE’ into a tunnel, and I looked at that and remembered how Lumen thinks tunnel threadles are just the stupidest thing invented, so I ran really fast instead, looked over my shoulder and did a blind cross, putting me where I needed to be. No need for threadles. Hey! Here’s a video.

Unfortunately I didn’t connect with her after that 2nd jump so she blew me off and went in the other end of the tunnel. Turning does NOT come easily to Lumen and she really, really needs my help in these situations. Other than that, not a bad run!

Then we camped near this big, big lake! It was excitingly big because Australia doesn’t really have big lakes. This lake could have been in Switzerland. It was cool. Except there’s a lot of water in this whole area which meant a lot of mosquitoes. We woke up in the morning to the sound of buzzing as layer between the tent and the fly was COVERED in them. Eww.

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So much lake. So many mosquitoes

Then we went back for day two. Loki had mixed results. As in, at one point I was questioning whether he was at all ready to trial. With bars down, and in both agility courses not being able to get his weave entries, hit dogwalk colours or actually do anything that resembled the course. Oh he likes going very fast, but this is a problem when I need him to ACTUALLY PAY ATTENTION. His agility runs were a mess.
But then the afternoon came and I decided to take a leaf out of Silvia’s book (explanation in a moment) and went in there calm and non-frazzled. His jumping run? 2 bars down. Not bad! His agility run? An acceptable dogwalk hit, still didn’t manage to get the weave entry, and only 2 bars. Otherwise a clear run. Of course, neither of these two-best-runs-of-the-weekend got filmed. But that’s ok.

I remember when Silvia started trialling To she said that she basically stopped running – she wanted to make sure To wouldn’t drop bars so she could get out of A1. Now, look, I’m not necessarily in any rush to get out of Novice – though to be honest I think  all the GO REALLY FAST IN STRAIGHT LINES AND DO WHATEVER IS DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF YOU!!!!!! is very much working against Loki in that whenever I DON’T want him to do whatever’s in front of him, he finds it very hard not to. But I did find that when it came to the home run of the jumping course, my instinct was RUN HARD, RUN HARD! But I told myself no, I was doing an experiment, don’t run hard. Take it easy. So I did, and the bars stayed up.

I had some advice, too, from an old-school competitor that I shouldn’t do long leadouts with him because then he focuses on me, not on the jumps (after he misjudged his takeoff and crashed into the first bar of the course (here’s that video)) to which… I was not overly convinced. I actually think setting him up far from the first bar doesn’t work for him – it’s not like he needs a big run-up after all. As soon as I started setting him up closer, he had no trouble with that bar. Plus on the course I had to do with literally 5 jumps in a straight line leadout (including the spread – an obstacle I think he hasn’t NOT knocked so far…) he didn’t knock a single bar there (even the spread! Verbal praise galore!) because I WASN’T RUNNING. I took it easy. So maybe this is something.

And I have to work on weave entries from stopped starts (tables, leadouts with a jump before, etc). These were very hard for us. Possibly any entries would be. But they were looking so so good at home.

Oh! And I nearly got a pass with Lu but temporarily forgot where I was going so then I tried to push her back onto the right line and the bar came down. DAMNIT! It would have been our first excellent agility pass.

Oh, and while I was waiting to run Loki, people started shouting “Loose dog! Loose dog!” so I looked around and there was a big orange bundling bundle of fluff. Apparently my senior citizen dog had done a jail-break when we weren’t there, smashed up his crate, broken out, avoided the people who tried to blockade and coral him (he’s too spry for them!!!) and found me all the way on the other side of the field. He was quite pleased. He got relegated to the boot (trunk?) of the car for the rest of the afternoon. Poor Malmal. Still, surely after so many years of competing, he knows how to be crated. I don’t know why he chose that precise moment to come find me. Weirdo. Maybe he wanted to relive his glory days.

And he didn't knock as many bars as I thought he might. LOTS of bars on Saturday when he was fully hyped to be there and we were doing little 3-bar 1-tunnel things... many less bars when shit got real. ;) (and real technical)

competition cherry

well, yesterday Loki popped his competition cherry. He is no longer a competition virgin.

And he really did awesome. Being Loki, I could get him out of the crate SUPER early, so he had a lovely warm-up, we focused with plenty of tricks and went into the ring without him screaming or obsessing over any of the dogs before him. Which, I think meant he was lovely and calm going in.

The first ring was novice agility but I knew his weaves weren’t ready and I still haven’t trained the table so I made up my own course – jump, LOOOOONG lead out, dogwalk, cap a bar, then run home. Well his stay for this run was pretty good… he didn’t hit his dogwalk but he seemed quite anxious running along it, and he missed the tyre on the run home. Oh well.

Then we had jumping in the afternoon. His stay fell apart so I went back and reset him. He still crept forward but I tried to ‘proof’ him a bit and when he proved he could be solid I released. This time we did the whole course as you’ll see below.

He felt much less frenetic than I had expected and although I rushed the spin after the tunnel, it felt VERY smooth and not at all as difficult as I was expecting. I don’t know why I was expecting difficult with him because he’s the funnest and easiest dog ever. Did I expect him to not push out as easily as he did? Did I expect him to knock way more bars? (yes) Did I expect him to feel out of control with increasing inertia as the course went on? (yes). And yet, none of those things happened. And it was lovely.

In two weeks time we’re running again – two agilities, two jumpings. I hope I can get his weaves ready by then, and run him on some unfamiliar dogwalks, too.

I’ve decided with Lu to just run her in agility for now, otherwise I have too many clashes (the next comp would have been 3 rings all at once. Two for Lu, one for Loki), her agility is where she needs the most practise, she gets tired and demotivated with too many runs anyway, and I don’t feel motivated to run HER once Loki is all finished up for the day. So 2 agility runs for her will be nice.

And he didn't knock as many bars as I thought he might. LOTS of bars on Saturday when he was fully hyped to be there and we were doing little 3-bar 1-tunnel things... many less bars when shit got real. ;) (and real technical)

OMD times

So, Loki’s first seminar. Gosh he’s a little champion. He ran his heart out, and only at the very end he refused a Jaako or two because he was all: “really? I have to?”

We both learnt a lot – possibly me more than him (isn’t that always the way?). I improved my techniques on a lot of the turns immeasurably and you can see it in some of the moves on the video – the first attempt often worked ok but the last attempt was way better. I didn’t include all the fails on the video of course.

The sequence was good too and showed some definite places for us to work on (*coureversespinsgh*) – as in those situations Loki gets patterned so quickly and so begins to predict that despite my spin we’re still actually going forward. He also found Forced Front Crosses really difficult even though we’ve done plenty that have included a Jaako – take away that 2nd part and he wouldn’t take the bar. Cheeky. And, any front cross where I was up near the bar & he’d bring it down – if I was far from the bar it was ok. Obviously need to get him ok with me ‘crowding’ him a bit and still keeping it up. I still need to work on his commitment in German turns, not for the push part, but for the ‘come back over the bar’ part. I had a lot more success once I started using my off arm like they do in OMD but I liked Justine & Jessica’s rule of keeping that for ‘take the non-obvious side of the obstacle and flick back’. We were discussing this the other day in our little group of friends and didn’t come to any conclusion – some of us thought it would “muddy the waters” and dull down the signal when used for a threadle, but we also wondered if the dogs weren’t smart enough to differentiate between one and the other cue given that the situations and the rest of your body language is going to be very different.

He got to run 3 dog walks – the first one he didn’t hit because he was looking for the wrong exit, and he doesn’t usually hit the first time on a “new” dog walk. The 2nd had a backfoot JUST in, and the 3rd one was picture perfect and got a big reward right away. He even did seesaws! And, we started the weekend with no stay behaviour really, and by the end I could pretty confidently leave him and he wouldn’t pop up. That was lovely, but obviously still requires some work. But I think I found a way to practise it and reward him that seemed to work over the weekend so I’ll keep that up at home.

The only bad part of the weekend wasn’t part of the weekend at all – a friend told me that a lady (who is a dog/horse/human physio-type person) said to her that she suspected Loki was sore in the rear end. So Loki is getting the week off – personally, I’m not so sure – he wasn’t knocking bars or showing any signs at all to me. In general he has a sort of weird gait sometimes but so do his brothers so I’m thinking that’s genetic. I’ve had him checked over by vets and muscle people multiple times about his back legs in the past but he was given the all clear, told he had great muscletone, etc… he was very tired by Sunday but that’s to be expected… I guess that put a damper on the weekend for me – I don’t know why I feel like I’ve taken it personally, even though I don’t think it’s any kind of reflection on me, but an observation… It’s just made me feel tense, I think.

The photos aren’t wanting to upload from school so here’s a video for now instead. 🙂

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learnings

Hey! So, to take a break from agility for like, 5 seconds… I’ve been teaching myself a language. And it’s completely impractical because it’s a language that like, 98% of people have never heard of, but some of my kids at school speak it and I think it’s really fun to be able to say little things to them in their own language and the more they teach me the more they open up to me so that’s really fun, plus I just find language fascinating. I find learning new sounds fascinating, and new letters, and new ways of pronouncing things. I find figuring out how to put words into sentences fascinating, and I love watching them teach me. One of the kids who’s in year 6 is becoming the most awesome teacher – he knows to speak nice and slowly and clearly when he’s teaching me new phrases so I can watch his mouth to get the sounds right and then he’s so stoked when I pick it up on the first or second try. I know how to call someone a dog as an insult, so that’s handy, and they’ve now told me how to tell someone to be quiet (which they then laughed and said it’s more like ‘shut up’. Yes, I have VERY easy-going relationships with my kids. I’m not strict AT ALL and that’s how I like it). I just taught myself a few ways of asking how they’re going (though, they told me the “cool” way of saying it already) so I’ll go in tomorrow and ask and see if they understand me or not, hahaha.

It’s difficult though because I’d like to continue learning, and actually work out how to make my own sentences rather than just getting sentences made for me, but I don’t know if I’ll be teaching there next year. I’m currently driving an hour each way to school and I love it there – I love the philosophy, I love the kids, the staff are cool, the Principal is great, we laugh in staff-meetings and have wine in the 1st grade room on Friday afternoons… but… I’m a teacher… one of the brilliant things about my job is my ability to work 5 or 10 minutes from home. Think what I could do with an extra 50 minutes a day!!! All the hiking I could do, maybe I could actually train Lumen sometimes! When we get another dog (in a couple of years) I could actually have time to train all 3! I could write books! I could actually do my own exercise, or go to a yoga class and not feel guilty because it’s a “one or the other” scenario (dogs or me). But it’ll be sad… I have such a nice little bunch of kid-friends at my school and I really have them trusting me… I don’t want to abandon them. And what if a different school is all strict? And what if they don’t like how I do things and they want me to do worksheets? And what if kids don’t walk around at yard duty chatting with you about things and teaching you how to count in another language? Sad times.

Speaking of learnings though (I can’t keep away from agility can I?) – Loki has his first seminar ever this weekend. A FULL WEEKEND OF AGILITY. His face is going to melt off. I can’t even… he’s going to explode by Sunday. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it. It’s OMD. It’ll be fun. I think I’ve mentioned it.

Lovely DW hits tonight. When we finished I took him for a walk around the paddock then we came back and worked on tight turns off the DW. Although he wasn’t targetting his target, he was hitting consistently every time, collecting up… so maybe it will all be ok.

And his weaves are nearly there. Entrances are BRILLIANT. I can hardly trick him with left entries now from what we’ve been doing (always work to do) and the middle poles are ALMOST closed. Oh, so close. I have them at an angle now as Silvia says in her DVD but as soon as I make them straight his little brain can’t compute. Not sure how to get to the next stage here apart from ‘keep trying!’. He can do the first 5, then misses 2, then does the last ones.. just those 4 in a row of straight poles are very hard for his brain. Maybe I just close one at a time instead of the 2 middle ones. That might be a better idea – then he’s still doing 3 closed poles in a row, then slightly closed. Yep. I’m going to do that. Thanks everyone for your input.

Everything else is super funtimes. A-frame/tunnel discriminations are good to go. Tunnel threadles are still a work in progress but usually ok. Bars without wings BAAADDDD NEWS but we’ll get there. Backside-y, wrapp-y jumps are looking lovely… did a sweet backlap to a far tunnel the other day… Oh here, have a video. Lots of learning going on!!!