19 August 2011

Agility is FUN

For me.................. Agility is FUN...YES!

BUT.... I don't do it "for fun". The serious aspect will always overrule the "playing around" aspect.

A lot of people use the excuse FOR FUN, and I must say.. it is starting to bug me!

Why is it that when you go to an event, club or training session, and someone is faffing around, half-heartedly sending their dog to random obstacles, jogging up and down slowly, and seemingly not that into the whole thing... do they say "Ag, I'm just doing it for fun". Or when the dog cocks up chronically, they shrug, ag well, I am just doing it for fun...
So far, not a real issue for me, because I can turn away, as my goals are not the same as these people's goals. I don't have to draw their philosophy into my training ideals at all. Each to his own, you do your thing, and I do mine! (Although neither they nor their dog look like they are having fun!)

What I say is: what you put in, is what you get out.

Now the bit that bugs me is that you get some people, just like those mentioned above, that compete. And here is where it mingles within my realms of Agility. They compete without the forethought of what they are trying to achieve. What is success to them? Getting a prize, rosette or a placing?? Getting their dog around the course.. whatever it is, they are doing it on the level of COMPETITION and not JUST FOR FUN.

I saw this on the net:
What is your definition of success? Before you can achieve success, you need to define what success means to you. Unless you have a clear vision of what success is to you, you cannot work towards it.

I like this because it sort of describes what I am trying to say. And the below is MY FEELING on ME competing in Agility, with MY dogs.. (again I remind you all, each to his own)

Success for me is having FUN with my dog on an Agility course (my dog who WANTS to be there with me), and running the best we can according to the work I have put in. I find that I have the most fun after knowing what I have trained, and, having a clear plan in my head for a round, then just knowing that my dog and I will run well together. And the feeling continues until the end of the run.

Success is not about winning the round with the fastest time, clear, if I am not happy with something. (Yes, it sure can be - if I have enjoyed the round as well!) Success is a great feeling after a round, regardless of the faults or mistakes, it is just the feeling of achievement in one or more areas of the performance. And through the enjoyment, and the knowledge that you are doing something well, often comes the kind of success that the general population wants: WINNING!

If I have not trained something that I am presented with on a course, I formulate a plan of action in order to make it a success somehow - either by changing the route according to my dog's training (and then train that aspect in the next training session), or I decide how to attack that area with my dog so that she is asked, fairly, to attempt it. The success part comes in with a performance that is of the level of our training, or above.

I have come to a time in my Agility career when I can quite easily see problems and shortcomings while competing. Every single one is either lack of training in a specific area, unclear handling (and errors in handling), or external conditions (venue/ people/ etc). Knowing and being in control of the first 2 items, I believe, is making the chance of success much greater while competing.

Now, back to those "just for fun" people that decide to compete. More than half of them are the ones guilty of "losing it" in, or next to, the ring, the ones screaming and shouting orders at their dogs, the ones that have not trained the necessary skill and done the proofing to ensure that their dogs are ready to compete... the same ones that aim to win a prize or rosette!
Unfortunately it is also these ones that want to be given lower jumps, more time, easier angles etc etc.. why? Because their chance at success is so much lower because their training level and Agility outlook is "just for fun" rather than "for fun and success".

For me, I believe that doing something correctly is worth more than any prize or placing, and I will always aim to set my dog up for success and walk off with my dog knowing that she still loves me and still wants to work with me, and more importantly, still wants to learn more!

05 August 2011

How LUCKY am I???

Okay so this blog was inspired by a post on Facebook recently by Shannen Jacoby, a poster that read:
Most people NEVER
see the hard work and effort you have put in
all they see is the END RESULT
and think its EASY

Well, I just loved this as it reminded me of things people say to me, regarding my dogs... I mean silly things that I think are supposed to be compliments or something... but in actual fact arent!

I went out of town to a weekend of Agility events last year, with a brand new dog that my out of town buddies had not met yet. I arrived on the grounds and set up camp, and although everyone greeted me and waved, chatted etc, I was left to my own devices. My dog went by very unnoticed as she is a private-type dog, not very social. In addition she was not looking very pretty at all as she had lost her entire coat and looked a bit like a brak. So to all intents and purposes, she wasn't even there! 

We went on about our merry way and everyone was busy doing their own things until there was a lull in the events and some handlers moved across to the other side for some special events. There was a break in the agility, and the morning's courses were left up in the rings. I took the opportunity to have a little run and to proof some things. So off we chugged into the deserted arena, and I decided on a short little route that would end in the dogwalk so that I could try a few things. Little did I know.. I was being watched by one of the top grade handlers.... Well, I played around and had some lovely successful contacts on the dogwalk, then moved to the frame on my way off the course. This too, was done very nicely and we played on the "course" with her favourite frisbee, and she really enjoyed it.

Well, when we were done, the handler came across and asked me the most bizarre question: "How do you get such good contacts?" Um.... I  t-r-a-i-n  them...??!! "Ja, but HOW? My dogs don't do such nice contacts!"  You are so LUCKY...........
ok................. So what do I say..? It will take me 45 minutes to give the OUTLINE!

Later someone else came up to me and said "you are so LUCKY! Your dog works beautifully!"

You are so LUCKY: your dog plays tug
You are so LUCKY: your dog brings the ball back
You are so LUCKY: your dog doesn't bite your hand when you feed treats
You are so LUCKY that your dog runs ahead of you
You are so LUCKY that your dog lets you back cross
You are so LUCKY that your dog listens (?)
You are so LUCKY that your dog waits at the start............

Lucky, lucky, lucky (well maybe I should go buy a lotto ticket!)

PFffffff lucky my ASS

When I got this specific dog, she came out of the box all sweet and cuddly and beautiful..... BUT...
balls - tugs - toys - food......... NOTHING aahhhhh I wanted to CRY! In fact I think I DID cry!
What did I do then?? I had to THINK...!

It took months, but I had to clicker train her to WANT a toy! Ever tried that with a dog that doesn't like treats? Not even the BEST treats! What a mission! Hardest I have ever worked with a dog! Train train train with the dog!! PHEW. It's NOT LUCK! Then I had to train her HOW to play... all before I could TRAIN... sigh (saddest thing is a dog with natural drive that is suppressed - so doesn't know what to do with it for reasons beyond your control).

But we got there!

I am LUCKY to have such beautiful and clever dogs that love me.
I am LUCKY to have my health that allows me to run and train my dogs.
I am LUCKY to have people who will share their knowledge with me so that I can train new methods.....

I am not lucky to have dogs that are trained - because that was HARD work, and not luck.

If my dog can do something that yours can't, I probably trained it and you didnt... simple as that :)

03 August 2011

Bean Soup and Carrots

So we all use toys while training Agility, right??? Okay well, if you don't, then I don't know what you're training... but I do!

So this blog is all about the sheltie, right? .....Q! So I thought to write about her a little bit... about all the interesting toys that we use while training in Agility...

The first week after she arrived she fell in love with her little baby tuggie... grabbing, pulling, tossing, you name it.. the tug was IT. We could recall to the tuggie, send her to fetch the tuggie, the works. SUPER.

Then..... she spied the little mini flexible frisbee! OOh wasn't this fantastic, because as mum throws it, it glides and I can run and it lands as I get there!! And lekker flexible too! Like a nice tuggie that flies. This was a good day!

Next came little plush toys - a bit bigger than we were used to, but she liked them noneltheless... as long as a leg could fit in her little beak and we could tug, it was great! A duckie, a puppy, a giraffe, a frog, and then a monkey... yes, these were all nice. The best of these... a white ducky with a long neck.. so she could pretend it was a tug.

But still the favourites for training Agility were the tuggie and the little frisbee, even though the little puppy tuggie was replaced by a more appropriate tug.

Meanwhile her big sis had a litter of fluffy border collie puppies.. and these were included in her pile of favourites, especially the biggest boy whose head made the perfect sheltie-seat! The ears were also pretty nice to chew on and yank around, as were the wagging tails! But alas.. these fluffies grew fast and eventually got to the same size as her, and the kind hearted baby that she was.. she shared her beloved toys with them and helped teach them what each item was, and how it was used!

As big sister got back into training with HER favourite flying squirrel frisbee, this became the object of Q's fascination.... watching Chak charge after the bright orange flying toy excited her to no end, but the toy was just too big for her. But as good luck (for her) would have it, the squirrel got worn out pretty fast and it tore in half and lucky Chak got a new one. This left 2x little mini squirrel bits for someone to claim as her own.... So.... happiness and her squirrel pieces were firm friends, and she added these to the top of the favourite toys list (with the tug and the mini frisbee).

Little did we know it, but the tug was soon to drop drastically down the list..! One day a friend arrived with a toy that was given to her staffy years ago by me, that he no longer played with. She thought one of the Aussies would like to play with it, but once the Q-bean spied this, it was TICKETS to the Aussies' new toy! A long, thick, massive, ropey TUG.. and I mean a HUGE TUG - one that would actually be appropriate for a Bernese Mountain Dog! Day in and day out she would beg for the TUG.

During training her eyes lit up when presented with the TUG.... she would come harder, faster, teeth bared to chomp this monster TUG, yank it roughly and even lift herself off her own feet to keep control of the thing. On winning the game, she would drag it around her like a crocodile attached to her face (that's how big it was compared to her!).

While training, I always try and keep a toy/ toys on me somehow.. most often tucked into my clothing...... now picture this....... Me, Nadine, running this little Miss Q-bean, all sweet and delicate, with enough rope tucked down the back of my pants to tug with the whole CLASS of dogs at once! Not a pretty sight, and quite hampering on the occasions when it slid down a pants leg! BUT... that's what she wanted... that's what she got...

I always try and vary the rewards, so we try loads of different things. After the TUG came a series of plastic coffee tin lids (disposable frisbees).. not so easy to tug with, but nice for chasing....

A Rogz toy, a faceless hedgehog, and a stuffed fake toy were next in the string of toys, but none graduated to the top of the list. A wubba toy seemed to peak her interest for its flying and tugging qualities... and this was a little better for mum to tuck in a waistband (although the drool DID stick more loosely to this toy, and often sloshed off and drenched my outer-and-under-wear!) 

Then came a tennis ball (yes, late in her little puppy life!) The ballie, used mainly for contact releases grew extremely popular, and was sometimes replaced with a rubber ball.
So........ Bean-soup LOVE LOVE LOVED this contact release game because the ballie is her first toy to shoot off, and bounce off things, and change direction fast. Yes, the ballie definately made it to the "list".

So essentially, we have a TOP 5 list of Bean-Soup's favourite toys: (in this order)
1. The doebis TUG
2. Flexible frisbee/ frisbee squirrel bits
3. Ball
4. Long necked duckie
5. Wubba

So there we have it. A nice selection of interesting and lovable goodies to work (play) with!

So the other day I was making supper and I dropped a carrot..... by the time I bent down to get it.. it was gone! I followed the crunching sounds, and lo and behold, Bean-soup was eating the carrot on her dogbed! Cute, I thought, and left it at that. Somehow it just did not occur to me to use "what she likes" for TRAINING... but she was up in a tic.... bouncing around me with her cute little play growl as if to say "take it... take it... I dare you!" So I did, and what a nice game we had with a CARROT.... haha I thought, CUTE.. Tug tug... crunch!

A week later I wanted to play with her, and went to get a toy and remembered the carrot... so I got one out of the fridge. Once I got outside, her eyes lit up and she raced onto the bottom of the A-frame and offered me the position for the CARROT!!

So... we have a new training tool.... and it's pocket-sized!!! Woohoo! And best of all.. on the way to the trainaing area, I can have a little snack (only before the first throw, of course!)

Bean soup and carrots..... who knew!

02 August 2011

When to speak up

Okay, so you are at an Agility (or Dog jumping) event, and you notice that there is someting wrong with the course, or the ring or whatever.... it is fairly obvious that you shouldn't yell at the top of your lungs for all and sundry to hear - it is possible that the judge has made an error. If you really feel the need to have it corrected, then go over to the judge quietly and ask diplomatically if it is correct, and  you can even reason that you think it says otherwize in the rules. If the judge is unsure, offer to obtain a copy of the rules and go through that rule together. Most judges, after being 'caught out' in this way, will quickly make amendments, and thank you for pointing out what he/ she had missed.

As a judge, I know it is easy to make a mistake, and would never ever crap a competitor out for coming to me with a query. Of course, don't take advantage and come to me with something silly like you don't like the design because you can't do it........ I will send you packing :)

So when is it okay to say something?? Well... each to his own, but this is how I feel.
When I see something not 'to the rules', I ask myself 3 things:

1. Can my dog *do* what is on the field?
2. Is it unfair to me and my dog? (in the context of what I m trying to achieve in that round) 
3. Is it dangerous?

Providing that it is not dangrous, and that we can handle it, I say nothing!

Recently there have been a few instances where I have asked myself these questions:

A few weeks ago the distances between obstacles on a course were far less than minimum, and it was impossible to get the appropriate side changes in the small spaces while my dog was negotiating the obstacles - she would surely have had to crash through at least 3 hurdles if we were to take them in the correct sequence. So I said something.

Then in another event, the judge started the course with the tyre. This is illegal in our new rules. People were milling around complaining to each other, trying to rally up support and looking for a scape-goat to go and moan to the judge. I simply asked myself the 3 questions.. and my answers were:
YES, my dog can wait at the start while I do a lead-out, and then do the tyre on cue.
NO, it is not unfair as there were 6m at the start for me to place my dog perfectly in line, and at whatever distance I desired from the tyre.
NO it is not dangerous.
So I never said anything.

In that same event, the judged numbered the course, and there were 4 contact obstacles on the field. Again, handlers were walking around muttering... trying to convince the judge that he was not allowed to put 4 contacts in the intermediate grade... but for no reason -other than people HATE extra contacts because there is more chance of getting faults - and the reason... not the judge or the course.. but lack of training! Here I decided to remove myself from the mutterings and went to sit down until it was confirmed that 4 contacts are allowed in this grade (which of course I already knew). But no need to say anything. I have trained contacts and welcome the training opportunity! Even if this was illegal I would have kept quiet.

Looking back further I recall a certain judge's funny habit of talking to the competitors while they were running his courses! Um... a little strange, yes, and he didn't mean any harm by it, but it was a little off-putting to say the least. I am not talking about a conversation on course here, but rather little comments regardling handling techniques in certain areas... comments like "niice"  and "brilliant cross" etc. Needless to say I never said anything because I had NO clue what to say!

My point is this: why make it unpleasant for all, plus the judge by moaning. Either speak up correctly and appropriately, or shut up. We are all adults and we should be able to distingush what is right and what is wrong in this regard.

As a judge I encourage handlers to approach me - while I am busy if I have made an error, or afterwards to discuss training or handling for a sequence. I am always happy to get input regarding course design, especially, and always glad to be asked for the course plan for handlers to use later in training.  I am a handler too, and I understand what it is like to get onto a course and really want to sink my teeth into it because it is "lekker"! So I always try to put up something interesting and unique, not to mention enjoyable, for the people that have paid money to compete unde me. I see it as unfair to give them less than my best. Then again, we are all human and can make mistakes, and I would appreciate a quiet word from anyone that can point out a mistake to me!

01 August 2011

I train Agility

YES: Agility is similar to Dog Jumping
YES: The dog should enjoy both
YES there is handling involved in both
Does the dog know the difference between the two on it's way to the line?? NOPE, probably not...

But regarding MY training - I do not train for Dog Jumping. I train Agility. I train smooth fast concise handling with correct foundation. When I take my dogs on a course I WILL handle the Dog Jumping as I would the Aglity to ENSURE that my dogs do NOT know the difference.
Ever noticed a handler's jerky and odd handling in the DJ compared to when they handle in Agility? That's because the sport has a run-off and people reckon that they can slow their dogs down because they will get anbother chance.... now HOW do the dogs know the difference then? All of a sudden mum is acting odd and shouting and running differently.... Hmmm

In addition the course design requirements in the rules for Dog Jumping is different, often pulling people into the trap of training specifically for untidy scenarios - which I won't do.

At least my dogs know that they can count on me for good training and consistent handling to ensure great rounds, no matter what they label them. So YES I train in AGILITY! And I try my best to HANDLE in Agility, even while on a Dog Jumping course.

To sum up this hasty blog post: I do not train Dog Jumping. I train Agility.
Please feel free to disagree with me, but this is MY blog and how I train.

Big mouthed sideliners and OLD YELLERS

Ai Ai Ai..........

I have often wondered where the people are that should be doing agility with their dogs, because it is such fun, and the dogs love it, and it's exciting - but most people... are at home!

Where are the new people? Where are the YOUNG people? And why have some people left after starting the sport?

So this weekend I took it upon myself to ask someone why they aren't coming anymore. A nice girl, young, enthusiastic, with dogs that have started agility. Well....... to be honest I was NOT surprised at the answer! "I don't like some of the people". Well ja, I guess that we have that everyhere, don't we, and we should all get over it.... but geez, I could actually see her point when I took a moment to look around me.

Of course there are groups of positive people, and there are smiling faces and helpful people.. but then there are those that just won't SHUT UP at the grounds. They are rude and mean and inconsiderate, and LOUD... and I suppose I will offend here - but they are all old and crotchety with no reason to grow the sport. They don't like change, they are not interested in keeping with the times, don't keep up with training methods, yet are the ones with the LOUDEST opinions!

This poor 15 year old would rather go and sit alone than face these battle axes and have fun with  her dog on the field. I think that is a real shame, because she is not the only one!

Not only that, but there are constantly comments and remarks from other rings regarding the NOISE we make at the Agility side (and by that I don't mean excited barking dogs!) These are the handlers that reckon their dogs are deaf and naughty, and are convinced that blood curdling SCREAMS are in order to make them obey! GOOD GRIEF MAN what about the rest of us that are there to enjoy ourselves, not to mention our poor scared animals!

I had the opportunity to walk a course with a student on Sunday, and there was a puzzling area that we discussed at great length. It was decided that a quick run-through at one end was in order to give a great line for the next 3 obstacles if executed correctly. The student decided to try it, and went off happily to fetch her dog.

Now I am all for others giving input to my students, and for them to learn from others because "my way" is by no means the only way to do things.... but REALLY, I draw the line at what followed!

She is brand new in the ring and her dog is still being proofed in many aspects, and she knows that there is a lot to learn still. She was running well, but at the beginning of the manoeuvre, she fell behind and was a step short to give the line, when her dog caught up, it veered off her line and took an incorrect obstacle. Immediately, while she was trying to get her dog back to try and recover the line to complete the course (although eliminated), a screetching voice-from-hell thundered across the arena "It's because you're on the wrong side, you stupid...!!"

Now although I was steaming with annoyance, I had to keep my cool. Flustered, the student finished and left the course - hopefully not with a feeling of despondency.

PLEASE people if you have to give advice, WAIT until the round is completely over, and even longer until the person has recovered and gathered their thoughts and PLEASE make it CONSTRUCTIVE! And not at the top of your lungs - approach the person if they haven't asked you first, and offer your advice quietly!

And what makes me MORE angry was that the idea of the line was superb (and brilliant) if executed flawlessly... and the IDIOT that yelled did not even know what she was talking about! The following obstacle was placed to the one side and the side she was on was perfect!


We surely need to do something about people's conduct and ethics at shows (and training) or else our numbers will be dwindling at a rate of knots.. and when the old yellers peg, there will be none left at all!