26 December 2013

Twenty Thirteen

2013 was generally a good year for me and my pack. We had a few ups and downs, especially with Kiba, but we are finishing out the year in a good place mentally.

I'm going to review the year briefly, chronologically, because that kind of order appeals to me :)
I don't really do a lot of specific "goal-setting" or "training journal" activities. The only records I keep are Strafe's AKC Record, because I'm supposed to do so for AKC World Team Tryouts.

I am going to omit the bits about traveling all over to teach, because I did that quite a lot of times this past year. I met knew people, had fun with old friends, and got to explores all kinds of different parts of the country. But this blog is about my dogs and their competition year!

In January and Feb 2013, we did just a local AKC trial and a USDAA trial, trying to get a head start on points and Q's for 2014 AKC Nationals and finishing up Strafe's last Q for USDAA. I had already absorbed what the new AKC qualifying rules would mean for me, and I planned my year out well in advance to make sure I could get both my dogs qualified. They each got a few Q's during these months. Seri got to run at USDAA and didn't do badly, earning a Steeplechase and Team Q.

March was one last local trial, then focusing on AKC Nationals. By this point in time I was worrying a bit about jumping for both Strafe and Kiba. I felt that Kiba's vision issues had gotten worse and wasn't sure how well we'd be able to keep running, and wondered if I should retire her. Strafe had spent the winter picking up speed, and was sometimes getting too close to his jumps and hitting the bar. March 2013 was the very first time I walked Strafe off a course (for knocking a bar). Then we had Nationals, where I despaired about Kiba's inability to track me on course, and she hit the triple as well. Strafe, however, did very well, and I was pretty happy with him.

April was one more AKC trial, and running some really hard courses to prep for Tryouts. I was feeling pretty confident with Strafe. I also had Kiba's eyes checked with a general "not too bad" report. Seri re-injured her wrist during this time as well, and got a nifty custom support to help prevent that from happening again.

In May we went to Tryouts and won 3 of the 5 rounds, giving us a paid spot on the EO Team (I declined to try out for AWC, but obviously would have won on if I had done so). 

June was the USDAA Regional, where Kiba ran surprisingly well, hitting no bars all weekend, and Strafe won just about everything he could win - Regional GP, STP, top individual 26" Team dog, and Biathlon combined winner.

In July I ran only Kiba in a few AKC trials, and she picked up a lot of single Q's, but we still hadn't found our full groove yet. Then Strafe and I traveled to the European Open, where we had a rough start in the first class but then turned in 4 clean rounds in a row culminating in 2nd place in the Large Final - Strafe was 2 years and 10 months old! A thrilling first trip to compete internationally!

In August we ran another local AKC trial, and I withdrew Kiba because of suspected arthritis in her front feet/wrists causing intermittent mild lameness. This was confirmed soon after, but the consensus among my veterinary and PT professionals was "as long as it doesn't hurt her, it's fine to keep running" so we've been keeping an eye on it, so to speak.

In September I ran both dogs at a couple AKC trials, and Kiba started picking up some Q's again including a QQ, and Strafe finished his necessary points and Q's for Nationals. 

October started with a local AKC trial where Kiba got her last QQ and points for Nationals too, and I felt like we were finally getting our groove back with some new handling choices. Then we had USDAA Nationals, where Kiba had some good runs, some bad runs, but I'm super happy with getting 2nd place in PGP Finals. She is almost certainly not going to be attending another USDAA National event. Strafe also did well, placing high in several individual classes and getting 2nd in Biathlon combined and 7th in Grand Prix with a borderline see-saw flyoff (would have been 3rd place without that call, but I don't hold grudges;).

November was local USDAA to begin qualifying for Cynosport 2014 - only Strafe running these Tournaments now. Seri got to play in a local class and stayed sound, running at P16", but basically the idea of running her seriously has been nixed by her healthcare professionals.

and in December we just did some stuff for fun. 
So Strafe met and exceeded all my competition goals for 2013 by far. I wanted to "test him out" a bit against some of the best, just to see where we stood, and we ended up going far beyond that. For 2014 I would like to continue building our skills and his speed and confidence, and "take it to another level" if possible. I do set "competition/performance" goals as in, I have little hopes for how we will perform at AKC Nationals, Tryouts, etc. But the key to having goals like "I want to place in the top 3 at XXXX event" is that you have to be able to accept and move on, if that goal does not happen, because much of what needs to happen is not under your control (footing, equipment, course design, the judge, how the other competitors do)! So yes, i would like to make AKC Finals, for example, but I won't be crying in the corner if we don't!

Kiba tried very hard in 2013 and I'm extremely proud of her for qualifying for AKC Nationals for the 6th time in a row. I was feeling pretty negative about her career after Nationals last spring but I'm pretty optimistic now, and looking forward to her last National event. As with Strafe, she has potential to do very well, but at 9 years old and with a jumping issue, I will take whatever she gives me! I would LOVE to get her to Finals one least time and do her justice by running clean.

Seri retired permanently, with the sole exception of the occasional P3 Jumpers class in USDAA, with no weaves or contacts allowed.

Drifter ran a couple runs last winter, and then I decided that I didn't care about finishing that MACH2 and he is now happily retired as well.

And now it is snowing big fat fluffy snowflakes, and we are hoping to try some sheep herding later today!
ETA: this morning's dusting of snow. Perfect flakes falling, perfect amount - just enough and it'll melt this afternoon ;)

25 December 2013

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Been using the new van to take all 4 dogs hiking at the state forest where they can legally be off lead

Kiba's Christmas hangover (presents include these toys, antlers, and the bed she's in)

As expected, I am enjoying some time off from teaching. I enjoy teaching, but it's still work and quite draining after a while. Same with the travel; I really like to travel, but it's nice to just stay home now and then. We have another week of basically nothing. We may get to try some herding tomorrow, if all works out.

23 December 2013

On Early Takeoffs.

I wanted to revisit early takeoffs. I see a lot of varying opinions in the agility world still about dogs with "ETS". ETS stands for Early Takeoff Syndrome, a term Linda Mecklenburg coined to refer to those dogs who consistently take off early despite thorough training, and with no definable physical cause.

Many of us who "believe in" this problem are actually beginning to drop the use of the acronym and refer to these dogs more simply. I just say a dog has "early takeoffs" or a "vision issue" (if that has been proven to be the case).

I wanted to talk, briefly, about what is, and what should not be, considered an "early takeoff problem".

On occasion, Strafe leaves a stride out, somewhat inappropriately, and hits the peak of his jumping arc significantly before the jump. I would say, for that jump, that he "took off early".

Every dog will take off early on occasion. This can be caused by any number of factors, but primarily it is caused by dogs being dogs - an animal with a finite limit to its ability to adjust its stride while running. Ideally, our dogs would be able to adjust their strides AND the length of their jumping arc, but the peak of the arc should always be over the jump, whether they are extending or collecting. But of course, as I mentioned, mistakes happen.

Below, a centered, collected jumping arc.

However, a dog with generally normal takeoffs will generally takeoff normally. Some dogs are better judges of the appropriate place to take off than others - these are dogs we might call a "natural jumper" (regardless of training). They almost always arc appropriately over the bar, and probably don't knock many bars down either. They probably don't find spread jumps to be extra challenging either.

A dog with an early takeoff problem probably finds spread jumps to be extra challenging. This seems to feed into the hypothesis that the issue is probably vision-related (especially with regards to binocular vision or depth perception). There is some great research currently being conducted on dog vision using infant testing methods (so there is no feedback needed), but so far there is no consistent result for dogs with problems versus those without.

Along with spread jumps, tires are often very challenging for these dogs. This is a picture of my first border collie, who had a really bad early takeoff problem. I like this picture because it shows her looking fairly relaxed, and with not a bad jumping arc, although she's clearly coming down already even though she's just beginning to break the plane of the tire. Most of the issues noticed with early takeoff dogs is on horizontal lines, so it is interesting that the tire is something they struggle with. Most of these dogs have normal weave entries, even though the weave poles are skinny bars that should be just as hard to see as horizontal jump poles. 

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And if you suspect your dog may have a jumping issue, I would urge you to look at as many pictures of the dog as possible. One picture does not present an accurate picture of the dog's habits, just as one early takeoff does not either. But something I see a lot in dogs with early takeoffs is that, as in the picture above, it almost seems as if they don't know exactly where the bar is in relation to depth perception. Kiba looks like she's jumping "extra high", and she is, but it looks to me also as if she doesn't have a good grasp of exactly where the bar is. She has her front feet all tucked up, as if the bar is right there, but it isn't. 

Now she's cleared it - she's also obviously on the landing part of her arc by now, and still isn't even close to "skimming" the bar. Interesting, for a dog whose primary fault is usually knocking bars!

Can you see the big difference here? Drifter has his head tucked down, his feet tucked up, but he's centering over the bar, and is going to clear it by just enough. He looks very confident about its location. 

And he is confident. Not to say Drifter never hit bars, or Strafe either. (or Seri, who could jump with a hugely long jumping arc, but was usually centered over the bar)! But their mistakes usually come in the form of taking off too late. This, I do not believe is a mystery at all; it is usually an indication of a dog who got too caught up in what it was doing (jumping! yay!) and forgot to look "down the line" at the spacing, and so adjusted his stride too late and took off too close to the jump, causing a jump that looks a bit silly, where the peak of the arc is too late, and after the bar.

So the point I am trying to convey is; all dogs who do agility will make the occasional jumping mistake. Excited dogs may even make them fairly often. The difference for a dog with an early takeoff issue is that they make this same, strange mistake on most of their jumps; a majority of their jumping arcs are too early and they are almost always landing by the time they clear the bar. We don't know exactly what is causing this issue; many of us suspect it is either a vision, or visual-processing issue. Whatever it is, it seems to pass down in families of dogs. This would make sense, as vision is a heritable trait. It is certainly not going to be something as simple as coat color; even in humans vision heritability is still a bit mysterious. 

Something else I want to emphasize is that, while some training may improve your dog's jumping, if he isn't sure where the bar is, you can't fix that. True early takeoff problems can be mildly improved with some training, but they won't magically disappear. So if you are a handler with such a dog, don't blame yourself! Another thing to note is that if your dog can't figure out where the bar is, and you correct him harshly for hitting it, YOU'RE NOT HELPING. Confidence should be the name of the game here. I've found adding some verbals for certain situations (especially for spread jumps!) has helped me tremendously with Kiba. Her issue is relatively mild, though.

Here is the video of my first BC, Freeze. She was incredibly intelligent and athletic, and tried very hard. I learned a lot from her about both jumping and about training a smart, sensitive dog. Please forgive the quality of the video - it is a video of a video playing on my laptop, but you should easily be able to see what I'm getting at. I had already been training dogs for agility for 7 years when I got this dog, we did jump grids, one jump work, tried jumping higher heights, jumping lower heights. All spreads, no spreads. We spent an entire winter once with tire set at 8" and a clicker and a bag of treats, just rewarding her for going near and through it (she was terrified of them due to a few horrible crashes). But in the end, I retired her from agility before she turned 7, and through some unusual circumstances not related at all to her agility career, ended up allowing her to live with a nice retired couple.

How anyone can believe this is a training problem is beyond me. How could I possibly train my dog to jump like this? Even if I tried, I could not formulate such a plan, because it isn't possible. It seems to be aggravated by the dog's confidence level being low, but a normal dog still doesn't respond by taking off too early on every jump (or nearly every one).

16 December 2013

OK so yeah

It's true, when I decide I am going to do something, I really suck at waiting. And since we are off from agility right now and not traveling for a bit, it was a pretty good time to do it.

I went down to the dealer to "look at" this particular van because it had the options I wanted, and lacked the ones I didn't. I'm not big on paying for things like a DVD player (for the dogs?) and other things I don't need. But I'm old enough and sore enough now that I do want things like a fully adjustable seat, and back seats that fold like magic into the floor (so I don't have to carry and store them).

It's not my favorite car color. It's not funky. It's not cool. But it was reasonably affordable. It's new. And it will fit ALL of my dogs in safe, strapped down crates, while still being kind of, sort of economical, at least on the highway. (I SO wish we had the European diesels!)

I still have to pick up a few accessories for it - some cheap rug scraps to line the floor and keep the original flooring somewhat cleaner. I need to buy 2 more Large Ruff Tough Kennels, and I might need a few more of the sturdy cargo straps to tie them down with. But by the time we go to a trial or a seminar, they should be all set up. I'll post pics of the finished set up when it all comes together, but I don't use a platform (I like the dogs being down low so they can't look out and tend to get more shade), so it's nothing really fancy.

I also took Drifter to the vet today to run a geriatric blood panel and a urinalysis. The blood panel I had planned to run anyway, just so I can make sure that, at 11 years old, everything is working properly and I will have something to look at and compare to if he starts to feel ill later on. And then twice this week he's started to pee in the house, which is highly unusual for him even when he drinks a lot, so we're checking that out too. He seems to be feeling perfectly normal and the quick check of his urine looks good too (no blood, pH is OK, etc). I was also really pleased that when the vet listened to his heart he had to work hard to find the murmur, and said he would have graded it a 2 at most, it was very localized. Previous workups at the specialist graded his murmur as 3/4. Clearly it is not getting any worse, which is great to hear!

Throwback: 2010, my first trip across the Atlantic and my first international team. Drifter and I reading the map in London, I think this was Kensington Park?

13 December 2013

I went south. Then I came back north. I want to go back south now.

I had originally planned to take the month of December off of EVERYTHING including teaching, but someone in VA who does not have great access to good training bugged me to come down and do a day or two of privates for them down by Richmond. So I finally agreed to do that December 3rd and 4th and figured after that I'd be finished.

hiking in VA

Then someone 2 hours away really wanted me back for privates too...
then I found out that a trainer who I'm pretty good friends with would be teaching seminars in GA at the lovely place where I stayed back in October before Cynosport, so I ended up sort of inviting myself down to hang out with them for a few days after I was done in North Carolina. Not having a teaching obligation while down there, I considered it to be my "dogs along with me" vacation of sorts. The weather wasn't the absolute best, but it wasn't awful either. Around 45 to 50F each day with rain on and off, but meanwhile at home in Maryland it SNOWED 6-8" of snow, melted a bit, then snowed some more. So by the time I got back yesterday it is COLD and there is nasty crunchy snow on the ground. So yeah. I miss Georgia now. I'm not one to really enjoy hot weather, so I really would not enjoy living down there in the summer very much, but I could see myself living down there in the winter for a while. And I may get a chance to say down there for a few weeks next winter... if you are located near northern GA and would like me to teach a seminar next winter (probably late Jan or sometime in Feb) let me know (this would be 2015). Nothing firmed up, just a fun thought.

no snow down here!
And then I came home and saw Drifter limping because the crunchy cold snow hurts his arthritic toes and thought "sheesh, I obviously need to bring ALL my dogs if I go that long" and that thought was followed by "oh my, I may need to get a bigger car".

The dogs are saying "WTF is this cold white crunchy crap?"
 My little Hyundai wagon has served me super well and is only 2 years old, but if I am going to be traveling with my entire clan (which is currently 4 dogs, and may be 5 dogs soon), I may need to go back to a minivan. I also admit, I switched to the car for both efficiency and comfort reasons. I do get better mpg which is great, but I also thought driving the lower car would be more comfortable on my bad shoulder and slightly wrecked various body parts, and it really hasn't seemed to be any different. So I may be switching back to the larger car sometime in the next year. Then I can get all of my dogs into Ruff Tough Kennels, not just 2 or 3, and have lots of cargo space besides.

my car, brand new, when I got it 2 years ago. has a few crate scratches here and there now ;)

Intermediate and Small Ruff Tough Kennels. Now it has a Large and Intermediate.

Edited to add: because I added teaching in at the beginning of Dec and Strafe did some agility for fun at the seminar in GA, I decided to take New Year's Weekend off. This was a hard decision because there are 2 AKC and 1 USDAA Trial all on soccer turf within a reasonable distance of me on that weekend. But I really wanted at LEAST 4 full weeks off of EVERYTHING other than walks and tricks and playing. So we don't have any trials till at least January 18th now.

28 November 2013

rain. cold. pictures. puppy.

The last two days were rainy and cold. We cancelled classes in case the roads got bad and because teaching in the cold damp the day before a holiday is just unpleasant.

Today was clear of rain but very cold. No one cooked here; we went out for dinner, which was fine. I'm not much of a holiday celebrater. Well, not much of a celebratory person in general. Holidays just are, for me. I know that seems like no fun, but it's just how I am, doesn't bother me.

Got the dogs out for several short walks and runs today (short due to the cold and wind) and we played in the agility ring with wrapping some jump wings and playing on the low see-saw and a couple dogwalks, just to get some good fun exercise in because.... tomorrow we are driving up to New York to pick up my mother's new puppy who is flying in from Poland. Someone is bringing her in cabin so we are meeting them at the airport to pick her up. Going to be a long afternoon/evening; we live 2.5 to 3 hours from that airport, I can only hope that Black Friday will attract people to the stores for mob shopping rather than traveling the highways too much.

Got my pictures from Cynosport. Here's a quick selection. The rest are on my FB page.

25 November 2013

Who's amazing?

Is it me?
Yes, Strafe. It is you.

I drove up to Barto PA to Orchard Hills for our 2nd USDAA trial at 22", hoping to maybe finish up our Tournament qualifications for 2014. Well, we didn't quite finish all of them; but we came pretty darn close. Strafe and I have already found our groove at the lower jump height, and the verdict is that we both love it. He is finding a whole new top speed and I am having a hell of a lot of fun running harder to stay ahead. I think that is perfect for both of us; we can both get a little too caught up in making perfect tight turns, and forget about pushing super hard. Well the lower jump height has forced us both to work harder and that is great! Strafe is even faster at 22" than he is at 26", and at 26" he is nothing to sneeze at!

On Friday we ran Steeplechase and Masters Challenge Jumpers. We had a total miscommunication moment in Steeplechase, on a pretty speedy straightforward course, and it showed me that we need to go back and revisit an issue we had back in May at Tryouts, where Strafe pays too much attention to my general line of travel and disregards my actual side cue once in a while. Oh well. So we still need one more Steeplechase Q for Nationals. Then we had a fabulous Masters Challenge Jumpers run for 1st place.

Saturday began the Team classes, and we won Team Jumpers, Snooker, and Standard with all very nice fast runs. Our Team was in 3rd place out of 21 teams at the end of the day which is great, as it gave us a little bit of room for small mistakes on Sunday and still be able to qualify. In  between the team runs we ran Masters Challenge Standard, and just like 2 weeks ago this class Q eluded us. Last time we had a miscue on the 2 jump, this time we made it 1 more obstacle in and went off course after number 3. Really?? OK so we have a bit more homework for the winter, apparently ;) And this is our only other Q we still need for USDAA Nationals 2014.

Sunday we finished the Team runs, Strafe won 22" Gamblers and then our Team got 2nd in Relay by only .05 seconds which was my fault as Strafe turned the wrong way on a jump and I had to lie him down and call him back before continuing on. We held our spot and finished 3rd place overall in the Team event so a solid Team Q out of the way, so no pressure at the Regional which is great! After that we ran Grand Prix, and it was a fun course with some decisions to be made about handling. I chose the easy turn in the beginning as I felt the time difference wasn't worth the huge effort I needed to make the turn the other way. Strafe turns so tightly with very little extra effort from me, so it's great to just cue the turn and then get ahead again, and boy do I have to run to beat him now, especially at 22"! We had a great run and got 1st place for our 2nd bye of 2014. After that was the fun class of Challenge Finals; this is a class Mary Ellen Barry made up especially for her trial. You pay $10 to enter it, and if you end up in the top half of your jump height and don't have 2 E's in the 2 Challenge classes, then you get to run in the Finals for a chance to win a gift certificate. The Final is just another Challenge Standard class; this one happened to be a really wide open one with several challenges related to "can you even GET THERE?" along with some other typical backsides and threadles. It was fun but boy it was hard as the 10th run of the weekend! Strafe and I nailed it and won the certificate, for a great finish to the weekend. What a good dog! Now we are off of trialing till mid-January. Nice to have a break, and important for the dogs and myself both, but I know I will be jonesing to run again by the time January rolls around. I'm addicted, after all ;)

19 November 2013


I was off in sunny, warm Colorado teaching this past weekend (yes, really, it was sunny and warm on Friday/Saturday, a bit colder Sunday but not bad). I taught at the same facility 2 years ago and was happy to go back; it's a nice heated agricultural arena, and a good group of people too. I was actually part of a 2-instructor weekend, I guess you could call it a mini-camp of sorts although people could sign up for whatever sessions they wanted, it wasn't a package deal.

This photo amused me, taken by an auditor.

pic by Katie Pladsen
And it occurred to me that I forgot to post Strafe's Cynosport video here on the blog:

Strafe Cynosport 2013 from Rosanne DeMascio on Vimeo.

And then also there's Strafe's winning Grand Prix run from the other weekend at High Octane.

We are off to the same facility (Orchard Hills, in Barto PA) this weekend for another USDAA trial, this time only Tournament classes. Crossing my fingers to finish up all of our qualifications we need for Cynosport 2014; would be nice to get those out of the way early.

10 November 2013

Kiba Cynosport 2013 from Rosanne DeMascio on Vimeo.

Kiba's Cynosport video above. Please watch it :) This was Kiba's last trip to USDAA Nationals and we had a great time. I will miss running her at that event next year. She still has at least one big event left to run - AKC Nationals in Harrisburg this spring - so this isn't a true retirement video. But it's definitely a bit of a mile marker on her journey towards retirement. I was really pleased with how she held up physically during this event, considering the arthritis in her front feet. So I've been sort of entertaining the idea of attending the UKI US Open next year and seeing if I can get Kiba to measure into 16" for that. Haven't made any decisions there.

This weekend I went to a USDAA trial. I ran Strafe in 22" for the first time, and he LOVED it. He also is measuring smaller than ever before, both days around 20" tall. I am now thinking when he gets older it won't be too hard for me to get him to measure into the 525mm class for WAO if I just teach him to relax under the wicket a bit.... interesting, as all of his 2 year old measurements were between 20.25" and 20.75". Sloucher!
I ran Strafe in 5 Advanced titling classes and he qualified in all of them. This means we have fulfilled all the requirements for his AAD title EXCEPT that you have to have 3 judges, not 2. So he has his Advanced Standard title, but not his AAD until we get one leg of any kind under a 3rd judge. RIDICULOUS rule, if you ask me, and seems designed to keep well-prepared dogs from completing the title in 2 weekends. I have no idea why this made sense to whoever made this rule. It's just plain stupid. Anyway. I also ran Strafe in both Masters Challenge classes, plus Steeplechase and Grand Prix. He won GP, Steeplechase Finals, and MC Jumpers. We had a pretty dumb off course in MC Standard so no Q there. But overall 9 Q's out of 10 runs this weekend, what an amazing young man he is!

Seri came along this weekend to stay out of trouble and I entered her in P3 Jumpers on each day. She probably won't ever be allowed to do weaves or contacts at a trial again due her chronic injury issues and complete and utter disregard for her own body, but I think she can handle running around over 16" jumps pretty well. Saturday someone filmed me, and below is the video (sound warning: she's loud), and on Sunday we actually qualified (no video)!

08 November 2013

Link: my favorite run from Cynosport.

on paper, not my favorite course, it didn't look like it had any flow at all. but when I got out there and ran it, I thought it went pretty well! Watching my own video, it doesn't look like I was working very hard, but I assure you I was! We won that one by .04 over Feature, with Solar in 3rd. Good company for sure!

I have most of my runs on video now but I'm leaving this evening for a USDAA trial so I'll compile Strafe's videos into something fun to watch next week. Kiba's video is processing on Vimeo so if you're on FB watch for the link soon. I'll post it here on Monday!

03 November 2013


Weekend off, that was nice. Yesterday I drove a rescue papillon to the airport so he could hitch a ride north. Arranged by my mother but she wasn't home that day so I got the driving duty. Was fun to see the small plane come in, and happy the tiny little dude is getting fixed up. That was the extent of my "work" for the weekend though. I haven't even finished all my laundry from Cynosport yet. Yep. Lazy. A 2 week trip up and down the eastern seaboard wears me out mentally. Although I really should finish my laundry...

I also managed to lose Strafe's brand new blue height card for USDAA. How, I have no idea, but I received it right before leaving for my trip, so there's the off chance it somehow got lost in a trash or recycle pile while I was gone, or fell off a table somewhere, or something. I wish they worked like AKC and just had new ones on site to use :( So I have printed our USDAA info for temporary use this weekend, since Strafe is now 3 years old and needs to be measured again. We are running some Advanced classes this weekend, if we qualify in literally everything we will finish our AAD title but I'm not counting on it. I'd really like to get some 2014 Tournament Q's out of the way. This trial has everything except Team. This is actually Strafe's FIRST trial running at 22". My reasons for dropping him are several: I feel that now he is 3 I have a handle on his jumping talent, which is pretty good, and I think he can go back and forth between 22 in USDAA and 26 in AKC fairly easily, and since 22 will be easier on his body and I have no interest in doing IFCS, that is what he will jump from now in USDAA. I also happen to really enjoy being in the biggest height class; I like the competition. And while in several classes at Cynosport this year, the 26" winning time was actually faster than the 22" winning time, the 22" is still the biggest class by far and generally has the largest amount of competitive dogs. I'd like to run Strafe there. I also admit that several dogs who can beat us in 26" are significantly larger than Strafe, so I'd like to lose that disadvantage ;)  26" is a big jump for Strafe, who measures 20.25 to 20.5" depending on how he stands, and he usually slouches which makes him look more like 20".

So this week we are back to normal; classes, a private or two, back to hiking in the cool fall weather. And it is finally cool like fall, after several weird days of warmth.

I like to bring 2 dogs, it's easier to walk them on leash and I like to think it makes them feel a bit more special to get more individual time with me :)

01 November 2013

it really isn't about quantity

I heard my first rumor about me in a while - that I train a lot/too much/all the time. I heard it second hand, through someone who thankfully defended me.

When I was giving a phone interview recently, I told the truth, that I train about 10min at a time, probably 2 or 3 times a week. The interviewer said something along the lines of "huh, all the big trainers are telling me the same thing, why do you think that is? while we smaller time competitors are going to long classes all the time..."
Well first off, I am betting even in a 90min class your particular dog is probably only working about 10min. Second off, well, we are "big name" trainers and handlers because we know exactly what to focus on when we train. I really focus on one skill at a time, for the most part. If I go out in my field, I may not have a written plan and a video camera and a notebook, but I am usually going to pick one weakness and spend 5 or 10 minutes working on making it a strength. I don't spend much time practicing strengths - things my dogs are already good at. I try really hard when I train to make sure my dogs not only practice something, but actually UNDERSTAND it. If they understand it, then they don't need to practice simply to do it over and over. I don't know about you, but when I was in school I HATED homework that asked me to do the same basic thing over and over just to practice it! I wanted to do just enough to understand it, then do something else. I try to do the same with my dogs. I seek to get them to understand the behavior, such as a weave entry, then I test their understanding in increasingly creative ways, in short sessions, and reward them for getting it right. I don't go out and rehearse the exact same entry 10 times in a row. I think my dogs and I would both get bored with that very quickly.

So no, I really don't "train every day" or "work my dogs so hard". My dogs have good conceptual understanding of what I want from them. We work hard in short sessions, we play hard in short sessions, and we mostly just hang out and go for walks together. When I teach, I try to tell people, at least 90% of your activity with your dog should NOT be agility, it should be "other stuff" - hiking, simple walks in the park, swimming, a little bit of play or fetch in the yard, romping with a tug toy, whatever. I follow that myself too! And my dogs are certainly trained, and well-trained at that, but it is not because I am out there for hours a day drilling them. I hate drilling! Why should they enjoy it?

Anyway, I hope this doesn't sound like a defensive post, as it really isn't intended to be. But when you are next thinking up your training plan, maybe put a little more emphasis on quality and understanding, rather than quantity of repetitions. And then go for a walk! Your dog will thank you!

Speaking of walks... my challenge to myself for the winter is to get me and Strafe back into tip top shape. We slacked off after the EO, and while we both got through Cynosport without issue (my PT still tells me my dogs are in good shape compared to quite a few out there), I was not happy with my level of physical tiredness on Sunday, and I still think Strafe needs a bit more strength in the rear.

not always the most stylish jumper...

30 October 2013

busy October, finished

So yes, haven't been on the blog much. After Kiba finished her AKC Nationals qualifications the first weekend in October (when it was SUPER HOT, by the way), I started my busy time. First I flew to Ottawa to teach for the weekend.

I had fun and we had fabulously nice weather for a seminar outside, but the travel on either side was not great - Friday on the way up there were delays and more delays, and my short commuter flight from Baltimore to Newark included a stop at Wilkes-Barre Scranton to get fuel because we'd been put in a holding pattern before being allowed to land in Newark. All of the delays were apparently caused by the rainstorm that had moved through that morning. Kind of a lame excuse, FAA!

I returned on Monday evening (this was the 14th), had Tuesday to do laundry and pack the car, and then off we went for our long trip. Wednesday I drove from here to Raleigh, NC, where I taught some private lessons Wed and Thurs morning, then left mid-day for Cumming, GA, arriving around evening at the gorgeous site of my seminar for the next 3 days. We had fun here too - it was good to be able to bring 3 of my dogs with me, and we did some walks and playing around and they seemed to like being a "pack" even while on the road.

Monday (the 21st) I had the day off, and was kindly allowed to stay at the same place so we could relax. So we went shopping for the few odd items I needed before Cynosport and then I took a nice walk with the dogs. Tuesday I packed up the rest of my stuff and made the 3.5 hour trek up to Murfreesboro, TN for Cynosport. Set up my stall, got Kiba and Strafe worked on, checked in, and then went back to the hotel.

My hotel was very dog friendly, and I got a bonus microwave/fridge I didn't know I would have, which made me happy. Kiba rather enjoyed the mirror.

Cynosport went very well. I am waiting on videos and pictures and will post when they come up, but in short summary:

Kiba ran clean in PSJ Quarterfinals to make it to Semi's. Unfortunate missed aframe contact in PSJ Semi's kept her from Finals but she would have been seeded 2nd going in if she had hit that stupid contact. Her only miss all weekend, of course! Clean in PGP Semi to make it into PGP Final, where she also ran clean, and although her slow dogwalk contact cost us some time she still finished 2nd. I'm very happy with this result even if I was sort of hoping to win - she has previously won PSJ and PVP Overall, so if she'd won this it would have been a Performance Triple Crown, but oh well, her decision to suddenly stop early on her dogwalks was nothing I could control (she does not do that at local trials anymore, so the excitement must have gotten the better of her). She had some good team runs but nothing clean and fast enough to get a placement. I didn't run her in the Challenge classes. So her only real ribbon was 2nd in PGP Final, but she came home with a big red ribbon and a huge trophy, and I was super pleased with how well she was running.

Strafe had no runs on Wed, and placed 3rd in his first run on Thurs which was Team Snooker. Once again I was the first group to run Snooker (happened last year too), so did not get the chance to watch anyone run to see how the time was playing out. No complaints - we ran great! Team Jumpers we had one little refusal but otherwise fabulous. Gamblers and Standard also went nice and clean and solid - so Strafe finished 2nd overall individual dog in the 26" class, behind only Tori and Rev. In Steeplechase Semifinals Strafe ALSO made a weird mistake, flying past a jump to go off course into a tunnel, an interesting thing to do in what I viewed as one of the absolute easiest courses of the weekend, and certainly the easiest one that I ran personally. Oh well. Strafe is only 3 years old + 1 month, after all, he does have "moments" every once in a while! Grand Prix Semi-finals ran much nicer and we got into the Finals there - my 8th GP Final, but Strafe's first red shirt run! Unfortunately that damn see-saw illusion got the better of us - I added a front cross but forgot to "yell" for him to slow down, and his sliding landing was just a bit too pushy for the judge. We had the 3rd fastest time, very close to the 2 running dogwalk runs that placed 1st and 2nd, and placed 7th with our 5 faults, so I'm pleased anyway. Strafe has only flown off 2 see-saws now, ever, in his trialing career. He really doesn't mean to do it :) 
And then of course we won Masters Challenge Jumpers with a fabulous run, I can't wait to get that on video. We were clean in Standard and I think 4th place? (or 5th? sorry I can't remember), but our combined time placed us 2nd overall for a podium appearance and a pretty (but small! for how hard it was to earn!) red ribbon.

After the event I stayed overnight Sun to rest, drove all the way home Mon. Then yesterday, Tues the 29th, I drove up to NJ because Sun night Strafe was a bit lame and I wanted that checked out. Today I have to teach class at 10 but then we are unpacking, doing laundry, resting, etc.