28 April 2011

It's difficult figuring out what size car to rent in England, when you're travelling with a 500 size Vari-Kennel, 2 people, and 2 large suitcases. They don't have "SUV"s over there, and wagons are expensive. Hatchbacks are the rule, but only a few come in automatic (I drive stick quite well, but with my RIGHT hand, not left, so added to driving on the other side of the road, seems too distracting for a 5-day rental).

Aside from that i am mostly planned for the trip. We leave Monday night, May 9th, and don't return till Friday May 20th. I am still waiting to hear from a good friend whether she will be in the UK at the time and wanting to sight-see with us; that sounds like a lot of fun, but we'll fill our days either way. I just love driving through the countryside over there, it's just gorgeous.

27 April 2011

on Seri and World Teams

Seri is going to be 5 years old in June. I love her, she has a wonderful personality, she's very affectionate, a great lap dog, silly, happy, and gets along with everybody. She's also very talented physically - she could jump the moon and then some. However, at trials she allows her arousal level to overcome her. I am sure she is getting better with experience and training, however, she still has "brain farts" in the ring, and doesn't perform to the level she could. She is just an over-excited dog. I have been thinking on this a lot, and that combined with her other issues (prone to bar-knocking, hard to turn tight) and her recent shoulder and wrist issues, has led me to the idea of entering some AKC trials at 20" this summer. I had always thought with her physical talent and sheer speed that Seri would be my next World Team dog, but unless she learns to control her arousal level and perform to her mental abilities even when excited, then she really won't belong on that stage. This is a very difficult decision, and I've decided to give her the rest of the year before closing the door on any possibilities with her- she is already qualified for USDAA Nationals at 26", and I've sent in her Intent to Compete form and will run her in the necessary trials, but if she doesn't settle down by the end of the year and stop having brain farts in the ring, I will probably drop her down to 20/22" where the jumps are easier on her, and just stick it out till Strafe is ready for 26" competition. Now, Seri is PLENTY fast for the National stage, and my hope is that if she is more focused, and perhaps more easily able to turn tightly (relative term for Seri) on the lower jumps, that maybe she won't disconnect from me at random points on course, and we could probably cut down on NQ's due to bars as well. I certainly would like to take her to National events and be able to run her like she should be run, and not babysit bars.

I shall describe a brain fart for you, since you probably haven't seen it. It entails Seri, after a random obstacle such as a see-saw or tunnel, hooking a turn away from me (or simply running straight when I've turned), running forward, screaming at the top of her lungs while I yell back "lie down!" or "come!!!", and after about 30-50 feet of running/screaming, she stops and comes running back (still screaming). She often doesn't take any obstacles when she does this, just runs off yelling. I'm not sure exactly what she's thinking when this happens, but I suspect it's something like "WHEEEEEEEE!!!!!", and not much of "gee, I think this is where I'm supposed to go next". She's done this at quite a few trials - not all of them, and she often stays on course, so it's not an E, but I'd feel awfully silly if I went to Tryouts and she did that, and even sillier if we went to Europe and she did that.

So I will continue to work with her. She doesn't do that in training, although she still is not quite up to the level of coursework that Drifter can do - her "engine" is too large and she drives forward a little to easily sometimes, not to mention the restrictions on my handling due to her needing help with deceleration *before* the bar - but working her on difficult courses seems to keep her brain better engaged. This is partially why I'm thinking lower jumps may help - she really sails through the air at 26", so perhaps less airtime means less time to lose her marbles? I'm not sure. We shall see. By the time winter rolls around, after a complete year of trialing in Tournaments and Excellent B, I will have a better idea whether Seri's head is in the game or not. But she's a frustrating dog, and just goes to show no matter how talented the trainer or handler, a lot of success in agility depends on the right dog, not just physically, but also mentally.


Naughty baby Seri tugging on my couch cover


For now we continue to rehab her shoulder jam. Yesterday Ria said it is looking better, but considering she put that same shoulder out over the winter on the ice, and now has tweaked/jammed it, we will be concocting a regimen to strengthen the rotator cuff just in case.

25 April 2011

If you only attend one camp this summer...

MAKE IT THIS ONE!

It is being held outdoors at a great fairgrounds site in Chelsea MI. You can choose to attend one, two or all 3 days of fun with myself and Bridget McKnight teaching. Both of us are very easygoing instructors who've had a lot of success with multiple dogs at big events. One day is fully focused on contacts (specifically running though I'll address any questions that are thrown at me!), and the next 2 days are Masters/Exc handling skills. Please email Val Henry with any questions or to sign up!

PS I hear the camping there is great and has *showers*

(you can even learn this dance maneuver!)

23 April 2011

SMKC. Seri-less.

Yesterday and today i drove 2 hours down to Salisbury, Maryland to an indoor AKC trial. I like this site, it is in a nice big climate-controlled building, parking is not that far, lots of crating, and it's always a small trial. Like the 16/20/24/26" dogs ALL walk together. Boggles my mind, coming from an area where the 20" dogs usually take 2 walk-through's all by themselves. Becuase of Seri's soreness, I scratched her, and didn't even bring her so I wouldn't be tempted to run her. I did take my mother's dog Trig for her, so at least I had 2 dogs and not just one. Drifter did well yesterday, getting QQ #4 for the year, #28 overall. Today he knocked the last jump (panel jump) with a VERY late bar coming down after he crossed the finish line. Darn! I wasn't that upset as he had run very well. He then qualified in JWW with a nice run so he finished up 3/4 with just the late falling panel for a fault. He held his start lines reasonably well, hit all his contacts nice and deep, held his see-saw fairly well (it was on the ground when he left) without me baby-sitting either day. My real goal was to run fairly hard and get some blind crosses in so I wouldn't be afraid to use them at WAO. And I did. He's used to them out of tunnels, but aside from some basic groundwork and one day of training on courses with them, he hasn't seen them much before. Judging from how well he handled the groundwork I wasn't too worried though, and I was right. I did one in each class on Friday, and 2 in each class today, and he nailed them all. I am getting used to figuring out where to use a blind vs a front as well, as obviously in some situations turning your back on your dog *is* a bad idea, and in some situations I don't need the collection I get by turning towards him, so the pirhouette of a fast, forward driving front cross is eliminated by simply getting ahead, passing the plane of the jump as he approaches, and changing arms. Awesome. I'm not even worried about it anymore and I'm sure I'll add them to Kiba's repertoire as well.

I leave in just over 2 weeks for England. Wow. This week I need to get my vet work put together and call the Reception Centre at Heathrow and ask a couple questions regarding whether I need USDA approval on a certain form. I also need to book a rental car for the 5 days after the trial that we are spending seeing some castles in Wales and then taking some time in London to do more thorough sight-seeing then we had last year due to the volcano and paperwork mix-ups that lost us more than a day. I am not sure yet what to do with Drifter while we're in London though. Leave him at the hotel while we go in/out of the city? Bring him along - then I couldn't go into the museums/cathedrals/shops. Leave him in the car at the train station (doesn't seem secure!)?

I am glad I left 2 weekends clear before the trip though, as I've been so busy till now that I haven't really been able to focus on it, as just keeping my schedule straight and going where I am supposed to is a job in and of itself.


Seri in her Back on Track coat and wrist wraps, after being lasered and stretched yesterday.

Seri now allows me to gently stretch her shoulder, but there is still more resistance than her uninjured one has. She is normally VERY flexible, so the difference is quite obvious to me. Sigh. In other news, in a matter of a few minutes I taught Strafe a stop command for his dogwalk ramp. I have a single plank on a 16" table in our barn aisle (it's been rainy again) and he's been running it a bit here and there, which he's doing very nicely. I can send him to a toy, or lead out and run with him, and both get the same results. Perfect. So today I thought he is so smart and so tuned into sounds and verbal commands, that I could probably easily teach him a stop on the DW (or at least a pause) for those courses with really hard turns. So today I taught him a stop command. In about 3 minutes. Have I mentioned this is one SMART puppy??

20 April 2011

I attempted some gentle stretching of Seri's shoulder last night after lasering her, and she was twitchy and then cried. So no more stretching for 2 days and she's also on Rimidyl to reduce inflammation and pain for a couple days as well (both on order of our PT). She is definitely not running this weekend, sadly, unless she miraculously looks completely healed by Friday. Doubtful. So it looks like it's only Drifter I'll be running this weekend. Should be easy... been a while since I only ran him for anything. I will be running as hard as possible to practice for the WAO, since this is our last trial before-hand. I also do things like this in training:


19 April 2011

BARK

This past weekend I was up in New England, doing a bit of teaching on either side of the BARK USDAA trial. I only brought Seri and Strafe, because after 2 long weekends of agility I wanted to give Drifter and Kiba a weekend off. Seri did OK, she missed out on her AAD by 5 faults on both Friday and Saturday (table fault, then tire fault). I ran on Team with a couple of students on Sunday and got their first Team Q despite my "anchor" dog E'ing twice. Seri - sometimes I despair of her ever becoming fully reliable. She started the day with a very wild E in Team Jumpers, then ran quite well the next 3 Team classes despite a shoulder that I could see and feel was getting tight, then in Relay she once again randomly exploded. Sigh. She just gets SO excited at trials that she cannot think straight sometimes. She's not deliberately disobedient, but nonetheless it is a very frustrating situation when she just forgets to THINK out there. Not much for it but to keep trying though. She has so much sheer physical ability. However... as I mentioned her shoulder was tight, and I could see it was affecting her somewhat, so I stopped at Ria's on the way home and not only was her shoulder "tight", it seemed she somehow fully jammed it, jammed a toe on the opposite side, flared her pelvis, and was tight/sore in her flank. It took a while to unbind all her bits, and now it's not certain she'll be OK to run this weekend. She's not visibly lame, but I don't wish to aggravate issues and end up with long rehab for the 2nd year in a row. . .

ETA - on a somewhat unrelated note, I am considering adding a sheltie to the pack in a few years' time. (after Strafe is trained up and showing, and Kiba is getting ready to retire)

12 April 2011

I'm usually right about these things...

Sure enough, Seri was probably more of a wreck than she's been since she was coming off her injuries and spay over the summer. I'm not sure what caused it - perhaps the single dogwalk fall in training last week (although she fell slowly and landed on her feet), or simply she may have run more than usual with my mother's dogs while I was at Nationals. Anyway, her upper back between her shoulder blades was very sore and tight, her left shoulder was tight, and her flank area and one back leg were tight as well! That's a lot for her; despite her insanity and sheer recklessness, she has a very flexible and resilient body that so far has done well at taking the beatings she dishes out. Aside from the one wrist ligament issue, and some lingering core weakness after her spay (expected when having one's abdominal muscles cut down the middle) she hasn't really had any issues. Today I had to cancel classes due to the all day on-and-off rain. Sigh. Hopefully next year we'll be inside and I won't have to worry about it, but for now we shall have to deal with it.

11 April 2011

Pictures and a brief summary

Some pictures from AKC Nationals a week ago, from Stewart Event Images. I like the reasonably priced digital downloads they offer! Kiba in NAC Standard, turning nicely on a rear cross: Kiba looking manic, and demonstrating her "insane rabbit" style of agility kung fu. Or something! Also from NAC Standard:

Drifter wrapping the 2nd jump in the Finals. I like this pic because it shows good teamwork; I've cued the wrap and now I'm moving on, and he's clearly taken the cue and collected to turn, despite completely breaking his stay:

One of a very few cool shots of Drifter jumping. He does not have a flashy style; he skims, and he's more concerned with speed than airtime, but he arcs appropriately and has a nice tidy little front foot tuck on the way up. Check out the eyes!


Victory Lap! I love the ring crew politely clapping and smiling:) Oh, and the detail of the shoulder muscles! He IS strong!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



This past weekend we attended the Mid-Atlantic Agility Showcase. This is a Team event where the top dogs from Team Standard and Team Jumpers get to go on to the 3rd round of the "Triathlon" event and compete for cash prizes (more than Steeplechase!!). It was a lot of fun on a good surface (indoor soccer turf with rubber infill). I normally wouldn't enter something right after AKC Nationals but I wanted to get the practice in and hopefully win some cash. And we did. All 3 dogs' Teams qualified, Drifter got a GP Q (he's done for Nationals now), and Drifter won the 22" Triathlon Final for $250, Kiba got 2nd due to a missed aframe contact ($150!), and Seri actually ran the tough course really well with just a missed weave entry. She looked a bit stiff to me all weekend and I wonder if the weave entry issue (she did it more than once) is due to a shoulder being slightly out of whack, which she did over the winter once. We see Ria tomorrow; Drifter is seeing her once every week or two leading in to the WAO to keep him in top shape, so I will have Seri checked then. She has another 3-day trial this coming weekend, and then 3 days of AKC the following weekend. As a handler, I have FOUR 3-day trials in a row. Luckily for the dogs, none of them is entered in all of them, as that's just not fair to them. Kiba, in fact, is now done trialing till June.


Anyway, some random Showcase videos are on YouTube, as I mentioned previously; I'm not going to embed them all because this post is long enough!


Today is a rest day for my dogs, though we did take a 15 minute walk around in the warm sunshine. I also tried some ground work for blind crosses on the flat with Drifter in the house with treats, and he did surprisingly well. I was convinced I had trained the concept out of him, but when I called him towards me from behind, and switched arm/shoulder cues, he moved right over to the new side like he'd been doing it all his life. Interesting! I am going to try to use it on some "easy" situations on course in training and at the AKC trial in 2 weeks, as I may need it in England. No blind "behind me" wraps though; I would need several months training to overcome that ingrained tendency. Just goes to show that any trained cue can become instinctive to your dog with consistent training, I guess. If I stand in front of a jump and don't move my "wall", he will stop, look at me confusedly, and then backjump and look confused some more. If I'm moving forward and he's catching up to me, that particular "wall" doesn't apply, and he's willing to switch sides while coming up next to me. Food for thought!



10 April 2011

For those not paying attention to Facebook, I've posted some new videos from the weekend on my youtube account (link in the sidebar). Will post more about the Showcase tomorrow!

07 April 2011

More Blinds, and a note on Jealousy and Reactivity

Today I did some dogwalk reps with Seri in short sequences with the bars on the ground (we jumped yesterday and have a trial starting tomorrow so we are not jumping today). I did some blind crosses in brave places yesterday and today, before and after jumps, around corners and such. I am getting the hang of the timing with Seri, and she's starting to understand that an arm change still requires her to take the obstacle. For now we will avoid truly difficult ones, but it seems to be working well for her - a side change in a high speed situation where I *don't* put pressure on her should be a good solution for handling her without knocking bars. I may be brave enough to do them in public this weekend;) I will bring the camera! On Jealousy; I watched some of the 26" dogs at AKC Nationals, and it makes me jealous. I've been doing agility some 19 years, and been competitive at it with several dogs - some faster than others, but I first made Grand Prix Finals in 1997 with an "off-breed". I generally stay on course and if we fault it is minor. I have been a good handler for many years, and I am rather quiet on course. I don't tend to have large, sudden arm motions or loud sharp commands (except when trying to be heard over Seri's barking!). Why? Because I've always had what I call "reactive" dogs. i don't mean reactive to other dogs, or reactive to outside stimuli, I mean reactive to me. If I change arms while they are jumping, or call their name suddently, or stop suddenly, or start suddenly, they will knock the bar. I do NOT believe this is a training issue. Let me stress that - 19 years of agility, and I've watched MANY MANY dogs doing this, and I do NOT think this is a training issue. You can HELP a dog be less reactive, but you can't change their nature. A dog is either highly reactive to its handler, or it isn't. You will know if your dog is reactive - you must have very good timing on your crosses, and serpentines; your instructor may tell you things like "don't say that over the bar" or "cue that turn before he takes off" or "stop waving your arms about!". If you don't think about those things, and your dog still doesn't knock bars, you probably don't have a reactive dog. Anyway, watching the 26" dogs run, I was struck by how many of those dogs were very forgiving to their handlers. This does not mean their handlers are "bad" or "sloppy", it simply means they have never been given a reason (by the dog) to NOT watch their arms/mouth while the dog is jumping. My dogs, over the years, have drilled into my head "cue it before the jump, then let them do their job!". And I'm pretty convinced it has nothing to do with my handling or jump training, although I do want my dogs to respond immediately. i have tried to train my dogs to ignore things while jumping, but it's just in their nature to respond immediately. Many of those great 26" border collies out there are just better at saying "OK, I'll do that when I land!". My dogs say "OK got it right NOW!!!" as they sail through the air, and so they shift weight and flail legs and bars will fall. My mantra is "No surprises while the dog's in the air". So I don't need to be completely silent and motionless, but I should not be introducing NEW information while the dog is jumping. I give that before takeoff. It is also, of course, the most efficient course of action, considering that is impossible for a dog to truly alter trajectory after they have left the ground (no propellors or jet packs).


Drifter, responding IMMEDIATELY and hitting the jump wing. Kept us from a silver medal. Sigh.

Anyway, I am totally jealous of dogs that are super careful of bars no matter WHAT. I am truly hoping Strafe is my Mr. Perfect who will allow me to run like the aggressive maniac I am from the get-go without plowing through things.... we shall see!

06 April 2011

Old Dog, New Dog

This week I am back to training Seri again. My handling style with her is evolving into one that's markedly different from the others, although the basics are very similar. My choices are different for her. This week I am trying to do more blind crosses in non-wrap situations so that both she and I can become more comfortable with them. I have decided not to bother training Drifter and Kiba for these. Drifter becomes somewhat distressed if I do them, and Kiba is so fast at 16" that to be honest it's very difficult to be far enough ahead to do them most of the time on USA courses. She has very quick airtime with a flat trajectory, so changing sides as she approaches or jumps a jump will still do some weird things to her path. And if you haven't figured it out yet, I walk every course looking at the "lines", both the ones I am on, and the ones I want my dog on. I am still pondering whether to bring Drifter to AKC Nationals next year or not. He may decided for me, if he has any health issues by winter next year, but even if he doesn't, I am not sure I want to fly him that far. He will be 9 this September, and while he is obviously still competitive, I worry about his heart murmur and the small stiff or sore spots that pop up here and there. He felt pretty good in Lexington, although on Friday his hock was crackling and his pelvis was shifted slightly. After we fixed that he was fine, but it seems every big event there's some new strange thing he's never had before, and I don't want to be a person whose dog grows old on course, I'd rather let him retire with dignity before anything begins to cause pain for him. Anyway, we shall see. He is still attending the WAO next month, and USDAA Nationals in October, after his 9th birthday, but I am not planning to run Team with him so he will have fewer runs. I had my first day of classes at the new place yesterday. i have more today and tomorrow. It is very strange and nice to be able to just walk outside to the ring and teach, with no driving or rental required. I am getting used to being able to train that way now as well. Very cool stuff, and I truly hope that it can get Seri improved to where we need to be in order to do well at AKC Nationals and Tryouts next year. I counted the days of AKC trialing I have planned, and it is something in the nature of 32 days of trialing, which means she'd have to QQ 6/32 days. I'd like to say that's perfectly reasonable, but I'm not really sure yet with her. I have a feeling her consistency will improve as the year goes on and we settle into trialing seriously together, but I certainly cannot guarantee we will be able to qualify in that time period. I do believe the goal of 4 QQ's by next March, an entire year, is a perfectly attainable goal for her, but we all know that if you go to Tryouts without having done well at Nationals, you are not a serious contender.

04 April 2011

NAC2




I really did smile for most of the pics, but of course they picked one that makes me look all nasty or something. Oh well.

AKC NAC 2011

Of course going into Nationals this year, my great big giant goal was to defend our title, so to speak, or to add a "2" to our current title. And we did it! I was very concerned about a couple things going into the trial; Drifter's brain was a bit iffy on and off due to Trig being in heat at home, and also he missed a couple dogwalk contacts over the winter as he has suddenly decided that if I converge too strongly he may randomly switch up his striding. So I spent the last few weeks leading into the trial doing some simple driving over the dogwalk to a toy or an obvious obstacle to get him settled back down again, and doing some involved and difficult, but short, handling sequences to keep him in synch with me. Friday morning he actually was not really paying attention, and his ISTT Jumpers run was not a particularly nice one. He started out by refusing to stay (this trend continued all weekend, actually), then tried to skip the first jump, then knocked a bar. I was a bit tough on him for this run, as I really, REALLY wanted him to buckle down and focus for me, and he can be a bit of a hard-headed dog sometimes. But once this run was done, he did fine. I felt that he slipped a lot in the dirt in ISTT standard later in the day, but he ran a nice clean run for me, including a dogwalk into the corner followed by a turn, and he was actually 3rd place so couldn't have been too wide despite his sliding. Saturday he ran great in both rounds, and was 2nd in Standard and 3rd in Jumpers - I was thrilled with both runs, especially the JWW run since he often doesn't do as well in JWW as he does in Std (contact advantage!). And Sunday morning he gutted out a nice clean run in Round 3, and might have even placed except that as he went to enter the tunnel, his feet went out from under him and he sort of flipped over and fell in the middle of the tunnel and took a long time to come out. He came out running and looked fine though, so we continued on. He didn't place but his time was still fine, and overall after the 3 rounds he was sitting in 1st place, cumulatively FOUR entire seconds ahead of the 2nd place dog! I couldn't be more pleased with that.

This was the first year I did not have a dog in Challenger Round (only my 3rd year attending), and I found it fun and relaxing to sit in the stands for a change (and not because I didn't make Finals, which is not so fun!). i got to hang with my friends and put my feet up, and Drifter got a nice comfortable nap after Ria worked out the kinks from his tunnel acrobatics. The Final course was not one I was particularly comfortable with. It did not really play to our strengths. It gave an advantage to dogs with a good start line stay and an independent see-saw. I do not have those things with Drifter. In fact I had barely gotten past the first jump wing when he got up and left. Still, he took my wrap cue for #2 very nicely, hung onto the see-saw JUST long enough, and did the next sequence pretty nicely with double rear crosses instead of the fronts I might have used if his see-saw had been independent. After that I handled a bit differently than most, as my goal is to drive him forward and show him the next obstacle as quickly as possible, and it worked great. I should have video sometime soon, as I paid BowWowVideo to video my runs all weekend.

Kiba did OK over the weekend, but unfortunately had some bar troubles that prevented her from making Challengers or Finals. Friday she won 16" ISTT JWW with a fabulous run:



Saturday she actually ran into the wing of a jump in the first round, and just had an unfortunate bar on the panel jump in the 2nd round, and so sadly her weekend was really over then and there, since you have to run clean in 2 out of 3 rounds to make it into Challengers. Sunday morning she did fine in Hybrid/Round 3, and placed 2nd and that was the end of her weekend. I don't believe she'll be able to go next year, since she's a poor traveller and rumors all say "west", so she may not be doing much AKC. I will have to decide next year whether the 18 hour drive to Tulsa in 2013 is something she can do or not. I think if I take my time and split the drive into two 9-hour days she may be OK. Last year it was hell for her, but I had to be back by Monday night to be at work on Tuesday, and so it was a bit of a marathon drive.