15 July 2013

What is a waste of time..?

I guess that I can exercise my right to freedom of speech here. So, a quick reminder that this is my blog, and my opinon.....

We were presented with a Dog Jumping course this weekend that I found utterly unfair to all competitors in the grade:

  • The above, in my opinion, showed a total lack of respect for handlers and their training.
  • There was absolutely no "test" of skill in this course.
  • The course was set to watch handlers and dogs FAIL, the time set was fast, and hardly achievable.
  • The course, instead of being a confidence-builder, and something positive and enjoyable, was the total opposite - demotivating and depressing.
  • Handlers were made to feel demoralized, cheated, angry, frustrated.. and the list goes on...
Two narrow distances on the course were barely a metre each through which to manoeuvre dog and handler. In the judge's briefing, it was stated: "Here is a nice flowing, fast course for you all to enjoy. If you have any complaints, bring them to me, please." Why would someone say this???

The judge clearly has NO CLUE as to what dogsports are about, about handling, and about training, and that is truly sad for our sport.

Only 1 dog between grades 1, 3 & 5 made it (and it wasn't a pretty sight)

In addition, this was the last opportunity for Eastern Province handlers to qualify for the Nationals (the final Bloem closing date is this week) - just another nail in the coffin of defeat :(

  [dih-mawr-uh-lahyz, -mor-]
verb (used with object), de·mor·al·ized, de·mor·al·iz·ing.
to deprive (a person or persons) of spirit, courage, discipline, etc.; destroy the morale of: The continuous barrage demoralized the infantry.
tothrow (a person) into disorder or confusion; bewilder: We were so demoralized by that one wrongturn that we were lost for hours.
to corrupt or undermine the morals of.

 I wish I had not entered... It was just a waste of time for me..!

12 July 2013

In the spirit of the sport

There is so much more to agility than people think! I mean, just running a course or teaching the dog how to negotiate the obstacles is not really what the sport's all about.

Accomplishment in competition depends greatly on the accuracy of communication between the handler and the dog, and on maintaining motivation through the clear use of cues and well timed reinforcers.

The hours and hours of time spent by dog and handler connecting in training, working towards a goal, enjoying the puzzle that is our sport.. is priceless

...and then not to mention the thrill of running in competition, the challenge of the dog's favourite obstacles, the games played in training... the REWARD.

In a recent meeting in Port Elizabeth it was suggested that NO rewards/toys be taken into a Dog Jumping arena when getting ready to compete. How ludicrous is that??? Firstly I cannot think of any possible motivation for the proposal... what harm is there in tugging your dog to the startline, a good and positive thing between dog and handler.

Now I understand that baiting or similar while doing the exercise should be penalised by elimination... but how can the powers that be think they can include the pre-run bond between handler and dog in the exercise that is about to be judged???

I guess those doing the proposing truly know nothing about working a dog :(

11 July 2013

Connect with your dog!

How many times have we seen handlers going one way and the dog going another... Handler stops and the dog runs behind her.... Handler runs at a jump, and the dog ducks in a tunnel... Handler calls the dog from the start and the dog is glued to the spot..

This, and plenty more happens at every Agility competition. I see it more and more now that I have actually decided to pay attention to minor details and stay technical in my training. People are just not one with their dogs a lot of the time!

Some of you may not know or be aware.. but there should be an invisible link between you and your dog - both in training and on course. I like to think of it as my "elastic"... it can stretch - be longer or shorter, but I can always feel when I am "attached" to my dogs.

When turning them on course, I feel like I am catching them right at the eyes, hooking them to the elastic and taking them by their faces, and scooping them in the right direction so that they follow the preset path of my fingers.... When I push them away from me on course, I use my arm to shake off the elastic in a fluid motion, cue at the next turn and re-attach the elastic in the turn to guide them smoothly back to me...... change of arms work in exactly the same way - smooth and fluid - I always tell my students: handle in slow motion, but fast :):)

OK... I know that all of the above sounds like a fantasy movie, but it really works. If your dog is going off course, you are not properly connected. Use your body, use both arms, manage footwork, get into position, accelerate in places, don't get caught waiting around...

Get less serious

Often I can see training and dogs break down - either at shows or on the training field. The handlers instinct is almost always the same - to try and encourage the dog, complete or redo an obstacle/ exercise - now I am not saying that this is right or wrong, and I am not talking about anything to do with fear.. been there done that... I am talking about real confusion and lack of understanding, leading to the dog eventually breaking down completely to the point of stopping dead, as does your training session(s)... and eventually the exasperated handler too! The handler, in this case may not be doing the right thing by trying to correct the exercise or redo the sequence...

The dog's behaviour can vary, and you may not even pick it up at first - maybe the dog keeps turning the wrong way when you (think) you specifically asked him to turn the other way.. or maybe he is not looking at you at the startline, but looking away or maybe it is really blatant - he leaves the course while you are working!

No matter how he shows you, your work will not be as you want it while this is happening. Often handlers blame the dog, get irritated or angry and will start demanding better work, and this is definitely not the way to go if you want to achieve and have great rounds with your dog!
At events I have seen stroppy, argumentative handlers, yelling at do-gooders on the sideline that were asking them to go easy on the dog "X KNOWS this", "X is being sooo naughty" and "X WILL get this right!!" I feel sorry for their dogs because those handlers will never get it :(

How to deal with it?

Take a time out - and I don't mean just from that round or event, but from some training sessions! Take more time to play with your dog. Get silly. Laugh. Wrestle on the ground.... create a fun game that doesn't involve right or wrong.. Get less serious!

I am one for being serious, I admit... I have been doing agility for 15 years, and I have been learning new stuff all the time.... but only recently did I get the whole picture.... What really matters??? Me and my dog(s) together, our relationship, enjoying our sport together. Don't get me wrong.. I am SERIOUS about the sport. If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing correctly. I even try and surpass that to learning new things, having faster rounds, training to higher levels to be able to compete against the best in the country...  but.... it's not everything.

So... train.. enjoy.... you and your dog need to have a mutual respect. Take a chill pill, a moment to smell the flowers :) Have fun with your dog!

And then when you start up again, build up his confidence by doing really easy tasks/ sequences that he can ONLY get right. Reward exuberantly! Use your voice, your hands and have a great game! Redo the basic exercises with enthusiasm after the first set of rewards and rev your dog up so that he is pushing you. Only then increase the level of difficulty or the complexity of the tasks.

I like to have sessions in between training to do clicker tricks with my dogs - there's no better way to get tons of behaviours thrown at you :) My dogs really enjoy this!

And when you get back to your 'real work' and running courses, REMEMBER: to avoid breakdowns, give CLEAR instructions to your dog. Keep your mood light, keep the energy fun. If he gets it wrong, clearly it wasn't CLEAR enough! Keep praising what you like, and keep remembering to keep any corrections in handling light, but firm.

Most of your time will be spent training (not competing), so make it count.

Stay less serious....