UKA Osberton – Judging

I judged for Agility Antics at Osberton in October, which turned out to be a gorgeous warm day with no rain at all, perfect! I had a big ring on lovely flat ground, mostly even, and the grass was cut! There were some very very old remnants of cowpats, but not a single dog stopped to sniff so wasn’t an issue. We were finished just after lunch, my Ring Manager was very efficient and we were pretty strict on course-walking etc.

Course plans are all below. Nursery and Casual ran over the same course as Beginners (with missing seesaw/weaves as appropriate!). The only real change I made was getting rid of the long-jump after 3 classes (Novice, Senior, Champ). It was a complete pain to change after every height level and I got fed up. The second tunnel (on the left of the course plans) in my Steeplechase courses was rotated slightly to allow a better entry/exit, but no other changes.

Unfortunately I forgot to make a note of all the course times! I can remember the Champ Steeplechase II because I set it a second or so faster than the matrix suggested (controversial, oh my!). All the clears were under by a few seconds, so I think it was fair. It was a very fast, very open course but I didn’t want to encourage anyone to go for a lazy, easy Q. Steeplechase should be about speed! The Novice II also ran well, with just a few unfortunate run-bys catching out the fastest dogs.

Mixed results for Agility; I didn’t mark many missed contacts, so that’s a plus! I wanted to set courses which challenged the handlers rather than the dogs, giving them optional paths depending on their dog’s strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know if it’s acceptable for me to comment, but I’ll do it anyway? By far the best at this were the Novice handlers! They tended to discuss the course with each other/their trainers (?) and really worked to find the best routes to give their dogs the clearest information. The Beginners handlers were the worst (sorry Beginner handlers). I think they were all caught out by 13-15 and forgot the start of the course! I anticipated the majority of Beginners running up the left-hand side of the Aframe, and then rear-crossing at the tunnel. Almost nobody did, and so tons of dogs got refusals at the tunnel, or picked up the wrong tunnel entrance. Everyone did great at 13-15 though, so I think it was a case of not seeing the more subtle challenges in the course. I will bear that in mind for the future.

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.

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!

Wilmslow 2014

I am so glad I entered this show. Dylan had a great time; he was so excited and enthusiastic to be running, I can’t imagine a better retirement show for him.

G6-7 Agility first thing was a nice course, nothing horribly challenging but some interesting handling options. I tried to flick Dylan away from me at the bottom of the Aframe, and Dylan interpreted this as … go take a jump 20ft away. Oh well! We had fun finishing up. His contacts were great, nice and confident. The difference between his performance on aluminium vs. plastic/wood is really amazingly different.

C6-7 Agility was ok. Not really my kind of course, although apparently lots of people loved it. We got E’d early on when Dylan bounded off to add in the jump after the weaves (he was all about offering jumps this weekend). I also didn’t like the tunnel-under-dogwalk discrimination, mainly because the course didn’t give me room to handle it appropriately. That’s a very specific Dylan problem though, he has a big “bubble” and to pull him off the tunnel I needed to be much further away than the course-design allowed. And the weave entry/weave-tunnel discrimination was something we’ve seen all over the place recently, so we’re getting pretty good at that.

Large C6-7 Jumping Wilmslow Jan 2014Got both those classes run by 10:30, and then had to wait until 3pm for the Jumping. Which was the most boring course ever (sorry, judge). I’m all for giving the dogs a nice blasty course occasionally, but there was a C1-7 Jumping on as well which I didn’t enter because I wanted something challenging. I did not get challenging with this course. Having said that, we got E’d, so … ! The E was a result of my being lazy however. Let that be a lesson to me, just because I don’t find a course interesting or inspiring, I shouldn’t be lazy about handling it. Dylan actually ran it fantastically, his jumping was smooth and free and he didn’t even stutter going into the double. Hasn’t managed that for years!

We had a good day; Dylan was happy and confident, and we got E’d in every class because he was feeling brave and offering obstacles. His jumping was fluid, his contacts were great, and his weaves were perfect. I can’t ask for more. He is now officially retired from KC competitions. He might do a few UKA shows here and there, depending on whether they’re using aluminium contacts or not.

A Lack of Direction

Rio and I were a bit hit and miss at training this week. I wasn’t really feeling motivated, and that showed. The only run I felt motivated to do was a sequence where I could try a blind cross. I have been reading a lot recently about blind crosses and decided I needed to at least try if this was something I should be using more often. I talked to my G1-3 group about how and why we might use a blind cross, and then borrowed super cute Bichon x Poodle Rosie to demonstrate. Rosie is a little speed demon and I had to run, but we nailed it and thankfully did a good demonstration! My group tried it and hated it though, everyone got too anxious to commit fully, and therefore felt it slowed them down too much. With time to get confident with it they thought it might be useful, but for now they aren’t really seeing the point.

Obviously I had to give it a go with Rio in the G3+ class. She’s never done a blind cross before, but it was fun and she got it perfectly. It’s something I do want to try and take advantage of whilst running Ri, she likes to race me and her jumping skills are good enough that I can trust her to get on with that whilst I move into position. Although you wouldn’t necessarily think her jumping was good, we had quite a lot of launching and throwing herself over jumps this week. I’m not entirely sure whether to work on this, or just to let her work on finding the take off points herself (and rewarding as we go). We’ll see if she makes any progress over the next few weeks, and then make a decision.

We also did a little bit more seesaw work. Another thing I’m not entirely sure how to tackle without regular access. If I had a seesaw at home and a couple of tables, we could do it by the book, but I have access to a seesaw once every few weeks in a class. It’s not ideal. Rio is not a fan, and although I think her confidence is growing, it’s not where I’d like her to be at this stage. The seesaw is my least favourite obstacle, have I mentioned that recently? It causes the most problems and I’ve never been exactly sure what it’s supposed to test. The dog’s bravery? Stupidity? Self-control? It’s a mystery.