Waiting on Winter

Dylan has been lame. No particular reason for his lameness, he just came up sore one day. Left fore, I think carpal, hence a slow recovery. He is bored. Tough cookies, old man, you rest. I miss having him around. Dylan and I have been embarking on all kinds of adventures this summer. Not super-exciting-jetset adventures, but normal-dog adventures. We explore new places. We go to Good Citizen Dog Scheme class. Dylan passed his Bronze and Silver on the same day, in September. We’re working toward Gold. We started class and I realised I’ve never taught Dylan normal-dog stuff like loose-lead walking. Or how to be normal in a class full of other, normal, dogs. Normality is new for us.

Hey Daise

Daisy is cheerful. I want to practise ball retrieves but we’re on our flyball break until the end of October, and I want to enforce that. We have been working on agility instead, but not as much as I had wanted to. Sheep, in our field, ruining plans. Weaving is next on the list, after minor things like getting her KC registered, and major things, like getting her measured. Measuring is the next big hurdle, since it combines Daisy’s biggest fear, strange people reaching over her and blocking all forms of escape. Hopefully I can minimise this to me reaching over her and offering her exits if she wants them, but we shall see how generous the measuring folks are feeling. She’s an obvious Small, which should help.

Squirrel Watcher

Kim is Kim. Increasingly deaf, and therefore both more and less noisy. She looks like an old dog now. Not so much muscle mass, gets a little bit confused by simple things like how to turn around. But she is still sound, still hungry, still demanding, still opinionated. She still does her normal walks, although it’s at a slightly slower pace. Sometimes she still wants to chase birds, and does so. This is not particularly good for her old bones. She’s getting a little wiser about squirrels, and just watches them with narrowed, thoughtful eyes.

Squirrel Hunter

The squirrels have it hard. Rio is a mighty huntress (in her mind).

UKA Osberton – Competing (etc)

Osberton

I elected to go NFC in Beginners Jumping just so I could reward Rio’s weaves, which have been awesome recently. We have no weave problems, but I thought it would be nice to let her know how good she is. Of course, she promptly blew her mind with excitement and broke her weaves. First run of the day and she was away, no waiting, all barking, too fast for weaving. All my baby dogs (in fact, all young dogs that have trained with us) go through a phase of overpowering the weaves, where they get too confident and too powerful and too fast, and inevitably either a) pop the last 2 poles or b) pop out at weave 2/3. Rio did both! Not concerned, I’ll reward when she’s right and she’ll learn how to control it.

Steeplechase was … really boring. Accel – decel – pinwheel and repeat. Minimum spacing straight lines, no curves, no tunnels (!). Not my kind of course and definitely not Rio’s kind of course. It didn’t start well anyway as I dropped her toy behind her, assuming someone would pick it up, and they did not. So Rio released to her toy, oops! That messed up our start and then we added in some extra jumps, missed a few others out, knocked a few poles off … eh. Steeplechase II was the same course but one straight line of 2 jumps had been replaced with a straight pipe tunnel. More boring! Sorry judge; I do feel extra bad when I criticise courses now, but this was not my idea of fast, flowing Steeplechase.

For the Agility class, I just did a ton of Aframes. I’m adding the stop back in and wanted to get some aluminium Aframe experience under our belt. Rio nailed it, beautiful drivey Aframes with a lovely low stop. No worries on the aluminium either! Maybe one day we will be able to do agility classes again.

DylanDylan got to play in the POTD Triple-A, he blew his first contact and we had a short discussion about contacts, so he got the others. He has decided that after eight years of being a good boy, he doesn’t need criteria anymore. He had fun, so it’s cool.

Daisy also got to play! For a few minutes, anyway. There was a practice ring set up after Power & Speed finished, so Daisy and I went to play on the Jumping section. She was very excited but did apply her agility skills to new equipment and in a new environment successfully, so it counts as a victory. She also did great with fake-queuing. We just need to work on control and timing. There will be no “small-dog-handling” with Daisy, I need to be cueing early, or she’s off, taking whatever she sees. (Maybe I should get on with teaching her to weave, then she can do proper shows.)

We were all done with agility by lunchtime! It was a small UKA show and the scheduling of Rio’s classes meant we were done and dusted pretty early. But Osberton had the Horse Trials running and Saturday was the 2* Cross Country day, so we took Rio and Dylan to watch the horses doing their stuff. I love my horses and the weather brightened up to lovely late September sunshine, so we had a good trek around the XC course. I’m going to have to do this show again just for the horses, it was great!

Dylan didn’t care at all for watching the XC, but Rio couldn’t get over it. If she could have had a jaw-drop moment for the first horse she saw jump the big XC fences, she would have done! She didn’t bark, lunge, or generally act inappropriately, but she was fascinated and would definitely have done a little chasing if allowed. (It wasn’t!)

Daisy did do some wandering around the show, but it was all a bit busy and overwhelming for her. She did much better on the XC course proper, where there was loads of room. She is a hooligan for barking and “chasing” horses on the TV, so was quite entertaining to see she is a bit wary of horses in the flesh. Sensible choice, especially coming from Daze.

XC

Agility Wrap: A Summer of Hope

I could have said A Summer of Despair, or A Summer of Frustration. A Summer of Hard Work and Lots of Training. A Summer of Going Nowhere. A Summer of Going Somewhere.

We started at Easter. Rio did not like competing. Competing was stressful, overwhelming, and pressurised. She could do a few obstacles at best, and then she would come unstuck. She went into classic avoidance; refocusing her attention to judges, spectators, anyone but me or the equipment. She did not want to engage with competing. Persistance, says I. This happens, we have never competed outdoors. It may take a while. Inside, I panic, because Rio was my confident, sassy puppy. I have broken her somehow.

We persisted. We don’t improve in any noticable way. Her jumping classes are very slightly better than her agility classes. Everyone nodded doubtfully when I told them that. And then she encountered the aluminium equipment at Wigton and very promptly said No More Agility. She said, I hate this with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. I hate seesaws and dogwalks, I can’t trust them any longer. Her last agility class at Wigton was jump > dogwalk, and she refused to break from her wait. Sat and looked at me patiently, and said, I don’t know what that is, and I’m not doing it.

(I don’t know how I create dogs who hate aluminium equipment, but so far I’m 2/2.)

Racing

So, by the end of Wigton show, I have a stressed Aussie who doesn’t want to know. There are small moments of brilliance; half a course, a short sequence, which is fluid and focused and fast. Small, tiny glimmers of hope, like sparks for a fire.

We started again after Wigton. New plan; dramatically lower expectations, quit agility classes, and reward. Reward reward reward. I finally started doing all the things I tell my complete beginner class to do. I went into the ring in July and aimed for 6 obstacles. If we did 6 obstacles with full focus and drive, it would be counted as a win, regardless of how the rest of the course went. I stuck, rigidly, to the plan. Next show, I wanted 8 obstacles, next show, 10-12. And so on. One day, I remembered what it was like with Kim when we started. She did this. We did this, the stress and pressure thing. We worked though it, and we can work through it again.

Posing

The plan worked. I entered Dog Vegas, a Monday in July. Nobody I knew was going. No distractions, just me and Rio. And Dylan. I entered Dylan in Anysize because a) he misses agility, but mostly b) I need to remember what it was like to like agility. Not necessarily love it, just like it for 30s whilst Dylan was easy and reliable and comfortable. He won the Anysize Agility and got a shiny rosette. First shiny rosette for over 12 months, and I needed that bit of positive reinforcement (thanks Dylan). This was our turning point show. Two runs for Rio, and we finished the course both times. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t clean but it was focused and driving and working.

And now we’re in October and Rio is catching fire. We have a two clear rounds under our belt (and two 5th places, respectively). Every course is a full course, focused and driving from start to finish. No more stressy Beans. I love running her, she loves to run. We’ve got the joy back.

It’s not all awesome, of course. We’re still only running jumping courses. Our wait has … diminished. I have a new theory that is germinating, about waits and seesaws, and the desensitising process begins this month. That’s for another day. Today you get a whole blog post reducing six months into 628 words.

 

May

Rio has the most potential of my agility dogs thus far, and we are going nowhere. And it’s so frustrating!

When she is on and focused, she is fast and wonderful and astonishing. When she is not, she is really, really, not.

At the moment, environment is playing a huge part in her ability to work. Hare’n’Hounds was a disaster, she literally looked as though she’d never done agility. She strung 4 obstacles together at best, otherwise she was ducking under jumps and around jumps and just all over the place. We left the ring early in every single run. Anything which wasn’t running in a straight line was too hard. There was too much going on, too much to take in. She was distracted by everything. Nightmare.

UKA Agility Antics was better, but not great. I trained 4/5 runs, and the one competitive run … she set off really well, until she saw the large group of spectators, when she reverted back to drifty, distracted Rio.

What is getting me through this? Her weaves. Oh, beautiful, wonderful weaves … she nailed her weaves in every single class. Hit the entry, drove all the way through, fast and powerful and beautiful. I’m not sure how I’ve trained my dog to have such wonderful weaves that she understands and loves even when she’s distracted and overwhelmed. Weaves are supposed to be the hard bit, the stressful bit, for baby dogs, aren’t they? But I’m dreaming of courses consisting entirely of weaves.

The other thing getting me through? When we have a good run, we fly. We’ve had one good run from 10 so far, and it was an NFC run, but it was a single shining moment where all the training and potential came together and there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Rio was driving down lines, working her turns, actively seeking obstacles to take, confident and fast. I know that eventually, every run will be like that, and I just need to be patient. And train more, because guess what? I’m shoveling UKA shows into my diary like it’s going out of fashion.

A Little Faith

I had a plan for training this week and it didn’t quite work out. Not in a negative way, I just had a short list of things to work on and … we worked on other things instead.

We worked on weaves in sequences for a while and that was nice! Rio is working for the entry now and driving right to the end … on the left, at least. She is finding the entry and weaving six poles on the right, but she isn’t quite going right through on 12. Not sure why but it will come, we’ve only practiced on 12 a few times.

We did some work on the dogwalk and I asked for the stop position again this week now that she’s driving over with confidence and speed. I’m so happy with how this has worked out, she’s moving into position with much more enthusiasm and with much less thought.

Thumbs up for Rio, she’s doing well. I really do need to work on her response to front crosses as well. On a tight turn it’s not so much of a problem, but the middle gears are hard. She can either turn tightly or not at all, apparently. Definitely need to get that worked out before we do any more competitions.

Goals for 2014?

I need goals for 2014. This is for me, because if I don’t, I get lazy. If I’m not improving my handling or training skills, I don’t really even maintain. I slip into bad habits. Lazy lazy lazy.

My goal for this year is simple: be as good as Rio needs me to be. That means running faster, handling with more clarity, and making the most of each training session to improve. In terms of tangible results, I want a clean clear round by the end of the summer season. I’ll take a scrappy clear round but I would like a good, connected, clear.

It’s hard to make flyball goals, but obviously I’d like Rio to be running clean, full runs by the beginning of summer, and finding some consistency by the end of the season. As a goal to push for, I want a sub-5s singles time on the board before we go back into winter training.

For Dylan … whatever he wants to do is fine. For Daisy, I’d like her to be focusing her energy appropriately and running sequences by summer. It’s really all about Beanie this year though.

Back

The blog is finally back online.

Dylan isn’t getting a lot of extra love now he’s officially retired; he isn’t coming to agility training any more, although hopefully I will have some new equipment to play with shortly so perhaps he can come and demo a few things for my outdoor classes. He is still doing flyball, and is finding his feet again, but disappointingly he won’t have a team to run with this year. We have only got one height dog now Daisy has been pulled from training, and we won’t run a team without a height dog. Dylan just isn’t fast enough for our first team, so I’ve pulled him from the lineups. Flyball is a team sport and our club was established on that premise, so it would be hypocritical of me to demand he gets to run just because I’m me! It is disappointing but it’s one of those things. I’m not holding out much hope for 2015 as Dylan will be 9, and should be starting to ease back from flyball competition anyway at that point. With what amounts to three years off, I’m a little doubtful he’ll even get on to the starting lineup at 9yrs old, but we’ll see!

We are going on a Working Trials day tomorrow though, although I’m not sure if I’m going to work Dylan or not. I already know that he will physically struggle with the Agility elements, but I’ll see if there is anything he does enjoy. One of the perks of working for a dog trainer, getting to crash seminars and workshops on a whim.

Daisy is both improving and … not. She has been doing very well with her agility training, but we had an unfortunate incident this week where she was “shut down” by another dog at training. It was an unfortunate circumstance where Daisy ran past a tunnel just as the other dog (let’s call her E) was turning off a jump. E is a little fear-reactive but as long as other dog’s respect her space, she is fine. Daisy ran up to E a few weeks ago and scared her, so E thought she was doing the same again and got in a pre-emptive strike. Neither dog was hurt but Daisy took a long time to stop hiding. She only really came back to normal-Daisy once the arena had cleared. Whilst I’m glad she didn’t react in any other way than to be scared, I’m a bit worried about how long it took her to bounce back. Another thing to work on.

All the dogs had a quick boxwork session this week (including Daisy!). Dylan is looking sharper, although he has a tendency to fall back into old habits and go wide, especially on full runs. It was nice to work on some close up stuff with him. Rio is looking excellent, we’re continuing to build on the Robbins’ Recalls and she’s slowly getting the hang of it. She’s swapping the ball for the tug fantastically though, I’m so proud of her! Daisy also did well, she stayed reasonably calm and worked hard. She always works hard, it’s the calm that’s tough! We’re chilling out this afternoon and watching some of the Winter Olympics.

February Kind of Day

Rio’s beautiful running Aframe has disappeared, and I’m pretty sure it’s because I’ve been rewarding the launches on the dogwalk. Oops! Still, time to test the theory and see if I can put the stop back in. So far so good, we only did a few reps this week at training but she’s getting the idea. Just hasn’t quite controlled the speed yet.

Which is the story of our training at the moment! Controlling the speed is tough, and I’m finding it hard to get the timing right. It’s also hard to get the “bubble” right; Dylan had a big personal space bubble and he didn’t like me up in his face, whereas Rio just doesn’t care. Her bubble is smaller than her body, judging by how willing she is to run into me.

12 weaves are looking good, and her entries are coming now as well. We need to do some more work on building her independence, I’m not sure she’ll stay in if I run ahead and leave her. No rush, the weaving plan is working well so far.

I’m also quite excited because I’ve got a training day spot provisionally booked! My first training day with Riobean! I haven’t really been confident enough to take her anywhere before now, because maintaining her focus for extended periods has been tough. But she’s been doing really well lately, and this isn’t until the summer. I’m also very picky about which trainers I want to learn from!

Rio Dig It Feb

No video, because I’ve misplaced my video camera. Really do need to find it for next time!

There is an option to run both the Agility and Jumping twice, but the format didn’t work for me last time. All the dogs at the jump height ran, and then ran immediately again before the height changed. Rio was just fine with this, but I wasn’t. I wanted time to think over the previous run and make appropriate adjustments in the next run to get the most from the training. I can’t do that when I come out of the ring and immediately start queuing again, when I need to focus on what’s happening in the queue and managing Rio’s space etc.

So I only entered one run in each class this time. My agility criteria was basic: dogwalks! Rio has only trained on the dogwalk 5-6 times in training now, but I need to start getting her on to new equipment. I’ve removed the stop criteria, all I want is for her to run over the equipment (she can jump the contact if she wants) and build her confidence. We ran 3 dogwalks in the agility class, and Rio increased in confidence each time. The last one was approaching speedy, and I’m pleased with her progress. I’m sure I looked very weird to anyone watching, as I rewarded my dog for launching off the dogwalk, but so far I’m much happier with this plan, and I’ll bring back the stop later.

Jumping was a nice course but without anywhere to really stop and reward. I decided to just run it and see what happened. What happened is that my timing is terrible, and Rio is a bit late in responding to front cross cues. She also has a tendency to drift as she gets faster, and this is something we need to work on as it came up in the Steeplechase as well. She can turn tightly or she can drive down a line of jumps, but sweeping pinwheels are tough. This is what I need to re-do and reward next time. She needs to work harder to jump,even when she isn’t getting the line quite right. I also need to think about her drive off the start; she isn’t slow out of her wait, but she isn’t really starting to motor until 3-4 obstacles in.

She’s definitely gone up a gear or two though, and her confidence and focus are improving dramatically. As we got on to the line in Steeplechase, there was a hold-up as the judge needed to speak to the previous competitor. Rio has never had to deal with that before, and I wasn’t sure if she could hold her focus. I broke her wait and we played some games until we got the OK, and then went back into a wait. Rio did great! She stayed focused and maintained her wait regardless.  Her waits were great all day and I felt … confident about it? It’s very weird to be able to turn my back and walk out on to a course and know she will be where I left her. Nice, though!

This is Where We Are

Rio has moved on to Robbins Recalls in flyball, which she finds really tough. We haven’t really got to proper RRs yet, since I can’t run in the opposite direction to her, I can only walk. Running is Rio’s favourite thing, she will always choose running over box turns and definitely over stupid tennis balls. She is spitting a little early but it’s coming together now.

Agility was fun this week too. Our Aframe has been out of action as the top bolts weren’t co-operating, but we’ve finally got some new pin bolts and so there will be lots of Aframes in the future! Rio couldn’t even remember what an Aframe was initially, and then she did, and she was awesome. I love having a dog with a running Aframe again. We tried a single tight turn and she still hit the contact, and that shouldn’t really come up at G3 anyway.

I don’t want to say Rio reminds me of Kim, because that’s not quite right. Rio is very different to Kim, but they share some of the same beliefs. Just like Kim, I know that if Rio’s not barking at me on the line, she’s not ready to roll. And the running. Both Kim and Rio get a lot of joy from just running.

We also did some driving lines and she was super, she’s going up a few gears now and really running on ahead. Her jumping is looking more consistently clean as well, although she does launch hilariously sometimes as well. After having seen Dyl stutter into the long jump for years, I can only smile when I see Rio clear it from 6ft out. Not the most economical, but she’s learning to adjust and find her take off points.

We need to work on turns at speed a bit more though. She can turn very tightly and very neatly, but sometimes its wide and messy. Quite often I’m just late with the cue, but sometimes she does a silly launching jump and can’t control it through the air. Definitely on the list of things to work on. Dogwalks are currently top of the list, and that’s this week’s plan!