30 March 2011

pics of the cabin


For the first time ever, i have brought along my full-size laptop to a trial. I rather enjoy it, it makes me feel "at home". I am already in Lexington in our adorable rented (not camping!) cabin. The others sharing the rental will be arriving rather late tonight, so I am sure I will lose a bit of sleep and come out and say hello when they arrive. The dogs are fairly settled but Kiba seems a bit concerned about checking out various small noises. Hopefully she settles and stops being on partial alert. She doesn't bark, but that alertness sometimes leads to weirdness.... we shall see.

29 March 2011

Lexington-bound tomorrow

This morning we went and saw Ria, and the dogs look pretty good. Twice daily walks has really built a nice base of muscle and kept them loosened up. Well, in Kiba's case, I think it's more that she's NOT staring at the ceiling all day. She's so weird.... but she is looking really, really good. She hits the occasional bar due to her tendency to take off and arc early, but when she's fit that's usually pretty minimal, and while neither of them are really as fit as I would prefer, they are both much fitter than they were a couple months ago. They should be fine for the 5-7 runs required over the 3-day weekend. If you want to keep up with how I'm doing, my opinion of the event, or even just my opinion of various runs I may witness, you can now follow me on Twitter (@AgileDauntless)! I think it will be easier than facebook for people who want immediate notification, and I am trying to hook the two accounts so posts will mirror anyway, but Twitter seems quick and easy. You can also follow AKC itself on Twitter for results @AKCNACResults i am leaving for VA tomorrow. It's about a 5-hour drive (I am loving this Nationals-nearby thing, but I don't think they will be next year). But i am sharing a rented cabin with 2 others, and it is rented from Wed night through till Mon morning, so I decided to go ahead and head down Wed so the dogs can relax and adjust and unwind after the drive. Drifter is not too bothered by the car, but he doesn't sleep either, and of course as always Kiba is strange - she is tense and panting the entire ride (the reason she won't be attending next year if it moves too far west). So Kiba does well with time to unwind. Thursday morning we will take a nice walk/hike with no hard hills, and then ISTT starts Friday. I am on Mid-Atlantic States Team this year! Although the last 2 years I haven't done amazingly on Friday; I usually have one good run and one not-so-good. This year i will be focusing on making sure contacts are solid, so I may not be gunning to win Standard. I will probably push in JWW though. I usually try to. See some of you there!

26 March 2011

Operation "Actually Train My Puppy Before I Enter Him in Trials" continues...

These 2 videos show off just about everything he knows. Don't get all concerned, I am super careful with my pups. We probably won't get on a dogwalk again for several weeks, or use a jump either. Mostly we just walk around the property, work some heeling, do stays and recalls, and play fetch and tug. I don't have any interest in doing full courses or high jumps till his growth plates are closed.

25 March 2011

Flying Blind

For about 6 months now, I've been trying to polish and improve my handling by watching a lot of video of talented and accomplished european handlers. In watching these handlers run balls to the wall around their wonderfully challenging courses, i have noticed that many do things differently than we do. This has led to small but significant changes in my handling, especially with Seri, who has been a bit of a challenge for me with her extreme acceleration and big jumping style, and tendency to knock bars when I put pressure on her by facing directly into her.

My handling is generally based on a couple concepts. One is that when I am moving forward, the dog should generally parallel my mine, and take obstacles that are in their path. This applies whether I am in front of or behind my dog, or directly next to them. It also applies no matter what speed or distance I am at from my dog. The exceptions to this are twofold - one is when I face towards my dog, and the other is when I send them out laterally from me. When I face towards my dog, she should respond my coming towards me, and seeking to avoid the "invisible wall" formed by my body. This is how I get collection and show the dog which direction to head next. This is the basis of front crosses and lead-outs with my dogs, and they should never go behind me when I face into them. I have taught Seri the exception to this being when i do a behind-the-back wrap over a jump, but she is not allowed to go behind me except when cued to wrap a jump wing by me standing in front of it and giving her the arm/shoulder cue.

Seri is very prone to knocking bars on front crosses as well. Generally when I bring the "wall" into play, she backs off and decelerates, but she is poor at timing it, and often does it in midair, knocking the bar. So i have been considering adding blind crosses, because it takes away the pressure and the "wall" element. I wanted to make sure I could do it without "eroding" my handling though. I did this first blind cross for the first time on Wed with Seri. It is a bit frightening at first (Seri is VERY fast), but it worked great...

First, how to use parallel driving and the wall to get the backside of a jump.

First, I use the parallel line of my motion to drive the dog past the wing.

Once the dog is committed to passing the wing, I turn in, using my "wall" show the dog to come in over the jump.

Once the dog is committed to jumping, I drive forward and reset my parallel line again.

The blind cross version starts out the same way - driving my dog forward past the wing.

Once the dog is committed to passing the wing, I drop my right shoulder and arm back dramatically and call my dog's name to draw attention to it. There is no wall involved, but I have enacted a side change, which moves my dog's line over to the other side of me...

and I can reset my line earlier and be farther ahead of my dog. I have only had to turn 90 degrees rather than the 270 degrees required by the front cross.

Next a "normal" front cross. First I use my line of motion to drive the dog toward the first jump.

Next I turn in towards the dog before the dog takes off, to show them the new direction using my wall. This tells the dog to decelerate and turn in front of me. I call this moment "putting pressure on the dog" because usually the handler is making eye contact and the dog is pressured to slow down before taking off.

Once the dog is committed to the turn, I set my new line and allow the dog to reaccelerate. Note that with a well-trained or experienced dog, the actual turn and moment of "pressure" can be very quick, and the handler can rotate right around and set the new line. With an inexperienced dog, or a sequence requiring a lot of collection, the "pressure" moment is extended.

The blind cross sequence again begins the same way, using my line to drive the dog forward to the jump.

Next I drop my right shoulder and arm and call the dog's name to draw attention to the side change again, immediately setting the new line for the dog on the new side of my body. No "pressure" moment here, no strong deceleration cues. Like a GOOD front cross, again you must be ahead of your dog. The side change cue SHOULD be given before the dog has committed to a trajectory on his jump so that he can alter his takeoff slightly to land on your right.

In sum, I may begin trying more of these with Seri. They are hard for me to wrap my head around at speed yet, but they do work, and if I am driving forward, my "wall" isn't in effect anyway, so I'm not convinced it will erode anything. My dog is bright enough to know the difference between a forward cue, and me facing into her... One thing to watch is that I must always give a strong side cue if I do anything that could be interpreted as a blind cross by the dog, such as a sharp post turn. We shall see, a whole new journey for me - I have been rather strongly opposed to blind crosses for a LONG long time. I remember them being in fashion, falling out of fashion, and now coming back again here in the States, and until now, in my 19 years of agility, I haven't been willing to try them because they've always seemed inconsistent. But many people in Europe have MADE them consistent, and if the cue is given quickly, there's no reason it shouldn't be...

21 March 2011


This past weekend was our last trial to practice at before AKC Nationals in less than 2 weeks. It was USDAA. I only entered 2 classes per day with each dog, as I wanted to be done early and our local USDAA trials (at this location anyway) tend to run really late. (we have about 100 Masters dogs and 50 P3 dogs, for reference!).
Let me back up a second though. On Friday, Drifter decided that 6 month old Strafe looks ridiculously sexy, and started obsessively attempting to, um, do the deed to him. Strafe is muy confused. So Saturday Drifter was whacko in Gamblers, but settled a bit and just hit a single bar in Jumpers. Saturday night I put 2 and 2 together and asked my mother to check to see if Trig (Drifter's daughter) was coming in heat. And sure enough, THAT was the cause of Drifter's horny behavior. So this is probably also the cause of him being pretty whacko. When he was younger, he didn't seem to care at all if a female was in heat in the household, but after I bred him once (even though the vet did the deed) and as he's gotten older, he's gotten more and more "dumb" as it happens. And now with us sharing the same household, I have cordoned him off to the bedroom. He has a ceiling fan, an air freshener, and he goes out front rather than in the communal dog yard to do his business.

Anyway, back on track with the trial - Saturday nothing extraordinary happened. Seri missed another Advanced Standard Q by one bar. Kiba absolutely rocked the Jumpers course but had one bar. Seriously, her time looked wrong it was so fast.

Sunday was Grand Prix first thing. I was not enthusiastic about Drifter's brain, as he really was out of his gourd. But Seri ran first, and despite my being a bit worried about the proximity of the chute to the bottom of the dogwalk, and some front crosses on a few bars, she really rocked it and won 26" by a whole second. Really, a lovely run. Gorgeous dogwalk, no bars, stuck her teeter long enough to be legal. I was thrillled. She is now fully qualified for Nationals! Drifter ran next, and sure enough when I took his leash off he bolted for the dog exiting the ring - he called off before getting anywhere close but he was unusually excited is the point.... well he hit a bar on a rear cross, then at the end of the course he ran around a very obvious jump, just having a brain fart. So I removed him. Kiba rocked the course even faster than Seri (and they were the 2 fastest times in the entire class, at least among dogs that ran clean), and picked up her first PGP and voucher. After that I ran Gamblers with them, and made up a threadley course that made their attention re-focus on me. Drifter did a couple dorky things but I treated it like training and overall I was happy with his responses.


On to a different topic. I am considering bringing in a semi-local seminar presenter or 2 this summer to bring in some people and money. But it's tough to figure since I'm not sure when the construction on our indoor will begin, and the ring up in that field is the best for agility. We can work down near the house but it's a little uneven. For next year I am hoping to persuade a big name international name to come over and visit....

i leave you with a video from 2009, of Strafe's grandmother Simic at the FCI World Championships. I got to meet Sarah while I was in Denmark, and also to watch her teach, and she is a very nice person with a very good eye.

16 March 2011

The other day I spent a couple hours mowing our old riding ring, and DJ helped me set up the dogwalk we just got back from refurbishing (it still had 10" planks! and now it's rubber). There's only a few jumps so far, but it looks like an agility field! Hurray! And it is flat and fenced so this is where classes will be till we begin work on the indoor, at which point I assume the entire field will be too messy for classes so we will have to move back to a less level spot by the house.

It's been nice to actually train my dogs several times in the past few weeks. Seri's dogwalk is still a bit inconsistent - she gets a little too enthusiastic and basically leaps from the middle of the top ramp to the middle of the bottom ramp, at which point she does not have enough room for another stride and just leaves. So we've been working on her understanding the need to control herself and not take a flying kamikaze leap, and just relax and run, and when she does that properly and puts a whole (2-hit) stride on the down ramp, she is very deep in the yellow. Even Drifter's been needing some fine tuning on it, as I haven't specifically *trained* the dogwalk with him in probably 6+ months, so all I did with him was work to re-extend him - too many tough courses and he begins to let up a bit. Some strategic sprinting and toy placement got great results every time and I'm not too worried about it. I also did some work slightly altering Kiba's behavior (she doesn't run, she "moves").

I've also been driving, a LOT, and the van's brakes starting making horrible grinding noises so i took it to the garage, and BAM it needed $1500 of work (brakes, rotors, fluids, wipers, lights, and tires all around). Oh well. Had to be done. Got my inspection certificate for Maryland so I can get it registered in the new state soon. Now it drives quite nicely again.

Strafe is doing very well but I haven't specifically been training him much lately. He gets to go for 15-20min walks around the property every day that I go (not too wet). And he's growing. I am not sure he's much taller than the 19" I last gave, but he's gotten longer lately for sure, and his hair is growing. He has a manly ruff around his neck now.

This weekend we have a USDAA trial, and it's only 2 weeks till I leave for AKC Nationals. i feel underprepared as far as conditioning goes, but my dogs are running pretty well other than that. Luckily AKC Nationals is not the marathon that USDAA is - I am not running in the match on Thursday, so my dogs have 2 runs each Fri and Sat, and between 1 and 3 runs on Sunday. Not too bad of a load; I think they will do fine. They are not fat and flabby, they are lean, a good weight, and they feel pretty good overall. Kiba's back is much looser since we moved and she stopped staring at the "mysterious ceiling noises".

Most of my travel plans for the WAO are set now. I don't really feel as excited about it as i did for IFCS - maybe because it's all familiar now? I am sure it will be exciting when I get there and run. And I'm looking forward to the competition for sure. As usual, I think the hassle of getting the dog into the UK sort of overcomes the excitement of competing until we land and get the dog cleared. At which point the "ohmygosh I'm in ENGLAND for DOG AGILITY" feeling finally kicks in.

12 March 2011

Actual training time

Thursday morning (early) I headed down to A Click Above in Leesburg VA. I have known these guys a while, in fact it is Drifter's birthplace! He always loves visiting "Nana" as he gets fussed over. I taught a mini-clinic, then did some privates in the afternoon. I found that my "Running contacts physics" talk goes pretty smoothly with white board illustrations (crude though they may be) to help show what I'm talking about. At night I got to run Seri in the Masters class, in which she did well, and then Friday morning I trained both Drifter and Seri on some full courses on their nice new turf for a while before heading home. We've been told "backsides of jumps are in fashion" overseas and so I am preparing for it. Drifter had some good moments. I was pleased to get on full equipment since 2 times now in the last month Drifter's had a bit of an odd striding on the DW, so we worked just a little bit on that (some old fashioned toy placement and driving forward was enough to work out the kink).

We ran 3 courses. The first 2 I hit a few very minor snags, mostly just Drifter reverting to his old tendency to move and look away from me when I drive forward, but with a few tries we did well. The 3rd course was the most difficult, and we nailed it on the first try, so i quit, happy. Tomorrow we have another chance to train on full equipment after I teach a couple privates, and while I don't normally train so much, i feel like it's needed, so we will do it.

Strafe is doing very well, and in fact has a short video showing off what he can do on tiny jumps already. He is very natural so far about following my handling around. I do like to do some short jumps with youngsters, because I feel that a bar on the ground doesn't make them think hard enough about actually centering their stride over it - they can step over it in any part of their galloping stride. I use 6" jumps right now. I feel that is high enough that he has to judge his takeoff spot a little bit, but low enough that it will do no harm to him to jump them once every week or two (he is about 19" tall now). I do like to work on handling with pups so that it becomes ingrained early on, and I am not trying to teach handling basics at the same time as the dog is figuring out how to get his body over full height jumps. Once he is over a year or 14 months i will begin to raise the jumps to full height and work on single jumps more often. You'll notice in the video we don't do many straight lines - I do not wish to encourage a flat, wild jumping style. I want him to work out to turn and drive and follow me while also lifting slightly over a bar.

08 March 2011

this and that

This winter has been horrible. First we had snow that stuck around. Then it sleeted and rained on top of the snow. Then it refroze into thick ice-crusted snow. It is impossible to hike or basically do anything at all on thick ice-crusted snow. As it melted and refroze, it was less ice-crusted, and more just crunchy, but still very hard on dogs' pads. So basically from late December till mid-February, my dogs got very little conditioning aside from some core work on the ball inside, and training once a week (which I did not do with Drifter because of his eye injury). Now, the snow is gone, and it rains every few days. So while we do not have crunchy paw-stinging footing, we do have sloppy slippery footing. This year I just can't win. I think i've been hiking twice since Christmas. Both times when the snow wasn't too bad.

Basically what I'm whining about is that my dogs, while in better shape than they were back in Febrary, are still not in the shape i'd like them to be in with a large event approaching. Today we are off to visit our physical therapist, and if they are all good to go (they should be), we will be working super extra hard over the next two weeks to build up what base muscle we can before it gets too close to AKC Nationals. Once it gets within about 10 days I will lessen up a bit and do maintenance work and skills only (short runs, short hikes, and short skill sessions on jumps). Then April will be beefing up time again for Drifter, with the WAO coming soon!

We did a local AKC trial Friday/Sat/Sun this past weekend. Drifter qualified all 3 days in JWW but only QQ on Sunday due to a couple stupid single-obstacle mistakes. Due at least partly to being rusty, and probably partly to not being in great shape. Kiba double NQ'ed on Friday, then QQ both Saturday and Sunday. Both Drifter and Kiba now have 3 QQ's towards 2011 Nationals already. Seri ended up 2/6 over the weekend, which sounds abysmal but really I was pleased with her on both Friday and Sunday, with Saturday ending up as sort of a training day in the middle. She got a Standard leg on Friday, and JWW on Sunday. So I think she now has 1 MX leg, and 3 MXJ legs. This is our last AKC trial till the end of April, and at that point it will be into Tryouts qualifying period, so I'm hoping some more conditioning and training will be able to bring our Q rate up a bit from 1/4 and 2/6, and more into the 3/4 and 4/6 realm. She is getting better, but it isn't easy for either of us!

I hear more and more rumors that AKC Nationals will be out west next year. This would mean I would not bring Kiba, since she is a horrible traveler and I refuse to fly her or drive her on long drives again. She arrives dehydrated, sore, and exhausted. So if it goes west (I'm hearing Nevada or the PNW), i will just fly Drifter and Seri, assuming Seri qualifies. If not, just Drifter - which would be the first time since 2005 that I would run only one dog at a National event of any venue. What would I do all day??

I used my SD card in my mother's camera to video some runs this weekend, but for some reason it only recorded 19 seconds of each run, so i didn't keep them. Sorry.

01 March 2011

Road Trip

There's something oddly calming to my psyche about a good road trip. Especially when I am visiting friends. Saturday I got up super early and headed down to NC, where I first stopped at one friend (and fellow WAO Team member)'s house to train some international courses for the afternoon, and afterwards headed to another friend's house to stay for a few days. It was largely a social visit to enjoy some good company and good weather (it was 80F!), but I did teach a few privates which probably covered my gas money and food on the way down/back.

I have found a local supplier of ground raw food for my dogs. A whole new frontier for me - I switched Drifter to raw for his heart (I can control the sodium levels and such), liked it, and switched the other dogs (except Strafe gets about half raw meals, and half kibble because the calcium is too high in some ground raw mixes). Bit of a new world for me, but I'm such an internet search junkie that I always feel pretty well researched before jumping into something. And one of my NC friends is a pretty educated raw feeder as well, and is happy to share her experience with me.

i discovered that Drifter is, indeed, a bit "out of tune". We are rusty, plain and simple. We have one month to get back into fighting form before AKC Nationals, and another month after that before we go to England. i don't think it will take that long. He is a very smart, educated dog, and I think he just gets a bit pushy and excited when not worked on things often. So we will be hoping the ground dries up the rest of the way so we can begin working skill sequences outside once or twice a week.

If you haven't bought your e-book yet, I advise you to do so. It is a GREAT book. I am actually excited to work on some of the things in it! And if you already bought one, THANK YOU!!!