Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Socialisation - thinking inside the box

Wow how lucky am I.

Chic is turning out to be just what I wanted. She is stunningly beautiful, very cheeky and keen to learn. 

Initially I wondered if she was 'legally blonde' as sometimes she doesn't seem to take things in. Then I applied one of my own tips about training regarding timing. There are times when it's easier to learn i.e. with no distractions such as being hungry, some dogs learn in 30 seconds and other take 30 seconds to warm up to the idea and some times girls just want to have fun. I have enjoyed taking time to really know Chic and work out how and when she wants to learn and boy, when she's in the mood she would work forever if I let her. However, if its not on her agenda for that day then we just have to have a growing up day.

One of the first games I play with my puppies is getting in a cardboard box. From that game there is getting on a cardboard box, cutting an entrance and then finding a way into a higher box etc etc. I had collected many sizes of boxes for the fun of these games and with Xmas on the way I was sure to get more.
Chic took one look at the first box and did a perfect roll over but in no way was she interested in getting in it. The roll over was cute so that has stayed and the box was put away until today. This is the first time since that day that I have asked her to get in a box and I am glad I waited.

Having eight dogs means you have to plan your time carefully, so armed with the knowledge that Chic can learn things easily at the right time means I can take my time and teach her things when she is ready and not waste time if she's not.

Talking of ready, another game I love is the 'ready' game. This is where I have an active game of tug and then go totally still whilst saying the word ready. Usually my pups have dropped the very dead toy and as soon as they do that I say go and make the toy exciting. Chic's version was when then toy went dead she would fly at my upper arm to bite me. Although this was hilarious it also hurt so I tried to temper down the way I said the word and ask for a bit of control. I also left that game alone for a while. When I came back to it this is her new version.

One of the key things with young puppies is socialisation. Coming from a busy home with people coming and going visiting pups, other dogs and cats Chic had a great start in this department. Once at our home we had Christmas and New Year so lots of visitors, different people and noises, our own dogs of various sizes, other dogs staying in the house and my customers and their dogs to meet. She has done well and taken it in her stride but she has a spooky side. This is strikingly more noticeable when she is tired  

or needing the toilet.

Again it is a question of timing with her and I know not to try to introduce her to anything in those circumstances. In fact I left her first puppy class early as she had been confident and bold and then went a bit quiet. Reading the signs I excused her. She is now able to stay all evening without any worry. 

Rhyme as a puppy was concerned about a lot of things and I took him to a lot of different places and he met lots of different people. I encouraged people to give him treats so they were not scary. I think he did benefit from that and now when he 'spook barks' I can often see a reason why and it's usually something out of place - a non-agility person at a show for example or a dog in a yellow 'give me space' coat. Chic 'spook barks' if something has changed in her world - the first time we put a tunnel out in our field this year you would have thought we'd unleashed a fearless puppy eating beast. Luckily we have the space for me just to walk past it and ignore it and so she did too. I don't think it would be of help to her if I tried to entice her near it at that time. Given the choice to run was good for her and her curiosity got the better of her five minutes later. 

I will not be able to introduce her to every scenario that she may encounter and wonder if sometimes people are encouraged to do too much when they are still small and tire easily. As I mentioned, she behaves quite differently when tired so I will leave some things until she is older to ensure I'm not asking too much too soon from her. The main thing for me is that she trusts me and that she will then be willing to work in any place at any time. 

To ease her into being able to cope with change I put her food bowl down in a few different places, move her toy box and leave toys in unusual places round the field to surprise her with. When I remember I also get her to walk over different surfaces e.g matting, over hula hoops on the ground etc. The key for her is building her confidence and our relationship by introducing strange things in a familiar environment first. I'm lucky to have the space and facilities at home and I am happy she will develop into a confident dog out and about at shows this year too where I'll let her play some of her favourite games so if you see me carrying a cardboard box ..........

Just one more glimpse into her loveable and quirky character

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Written In The Stars

A few blogs ago I was focusing all my energy in helping Pikachu want to do agility competitions. I have worked on a few different things along those lines. However the more energy and heart I put into it, it seemed the less energy and heart she had for it.

I got great results on her wanting to work with me with the use of a tennis ball. 

Well one, then two and eventually even three. In fact all I had done was generate more and more obsession tennis balls. Once in her possession then she would run away from me in order to keep hold of it (and then them). It's amazing how she can get 3 balls in her mouth!!.

One of the questions we ask in our seminars is why do you do agility? I realised that what I love about agility is never going to be what Pikachu will want.

Pikachu was not got with the idea of being an agility dog. She just loved learning things and was not a bad shape for agility. She loves fooling around and hanging out.

Being able to have fun learning agility and enjoying competing at agility is not the same thing. 

In the past I have been critical of other people not understanding that. 

I can see now why sometimes it feels the right thing to try to change things to make it easier for your own dog. Even though I know Pikachu would love agility if I could give her treats in the ring I won't be petitioning the KC or starting another "the KC have things wrong" thread on FB to allow them to let me. It is a health and safety issue as it seriously effects mine and her mental health to not have treats every few obstacles :) Surely there would be no harm to up to about Grade 5ish, maybe 6 and then of course not in Champ classes, well not the final anyway........... 

So Pikachu is going to be what she was always going to be - our little dog.

Then there is Rhyme. He is very full of himself at the moment and enjoying daily physio exercises. We have started straight line low jump grids and have a full programme to be fit to compete by Derbyshire Champ at the end of January. 

Although he had hit most of the goals I'd had for last year before we stopped due to him not being sound, I won't make any plans for next year that would make me worry that I would push for those results. 

The thing that has motivated me and kept my love for agility for so long is planning and dreaming. 

Planning: training progression, which shows to go to and why, even where to stay, when to enter etc etc. With one dog that may want to play one day and one dog that should stay sound then it's more take each day as they come.

Then came the realisation that as Rhyme is now 6 I would be getting my next agility puppy anyway. Luckily Mark supported this. He thought that a puppy would also take any pressure off Pikachu and Rhyme.

A series of events meant that for once Joy Costello who breeds the Aviary line was going to be having a litter of puppies at the time I was ready for one.

Part of the Aviary line comes from our lovely Kodi (Ag Ch Bekkis Carbon Copy) and we had been hoping to have one of his offspring's puppies at one point.

In fact the Mum, Ebbie is one of his Granddaughters. The pedigree has a lot of dogs that I know and love, with Bekkis on both sides and a bit of Harrjak Tigger (Rhyme and Devo's uncle) thrown in for good measure. 

As usual I wanted a tri but this time I wanted to go back to having a girl. Poor Torro started out in the shadow of Flint so a change of sex would mean no recent comparison for me. 

On 26 October 4 pups were born - 2 bitches and 2 dogs. The bitches were a black & white and a tri. The boys were lilac and a red tri. 

26 October was Kodi's birthday........

Joy as always had a long list so it was a bit of a waiting game to see who fitted which puppy as their personalities developed.

Then the stars aligned and this beautiful little girl is coming to join the Laker family on 16 December.

Aviary Written in The Stars or as we'll call her Chic (pronounced as per Nile Rogers and Chic)

Meanwhile we had some very sad news a few weeks ago when we heard our old friend Jean had died. Jean was very special in Mark's life from when he lodged with her and her family as a teenager. She was like a second Mum to him and much loved. We will miss visits to her. We had always said we'd take care of her dogs and now are the proud owners of Eva and Lula a couple of Japanese Chins. They are 6 year old sisters and are a lot of fun. 

Consequently I am now virtually a full time dog carer, fitting in lessons around them all and planning for shows next year has just gone up another level.

Did I mention what I thought I really liked about agility was planning.........

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Scream if you want to go faster

Further from my last blog I really like this

The more I break it down the more for me it encompasses where I am going with my training both from a person and dog perspective.

Speed can appear to be of the essence but it is not just essence that makes the cake. If you don't put the right ingredients in then no amount of flavouring is going to make it right.

The correct mix and the right conditions are all important.

When we focus on speed too much accuracy is often undervalued. 

If early foundations are fixed purely on being as fast as possible and no value is given to learning the equipment then we loose opportunities to build strength and skills that we will call on later in high pressure situations.

Jumping is a valuable skill and jumps play a large part in any course. To create speed we can set up straight lines and wide gaps to encourage extension. Extension usually gives a flat trajectory. 

When we want our dogs to turn we want a curved trajectory. Young dogs that have learnt to value the bar and how to use it's body to jump can usually change easily from a flat to a curved style when required. 

Time spent learning jumping will build strength and identify any physical areas which could benefit from specific exercises to develop and improve muscles.

There are so many fun games, tricks etc out there which will give a dog a better understanding of how to use their bodies and we can spend this time understanding how our dogs like to learn without making any mistakes on agility equipment.

Teaching a dog to understand how to negotiate a jump by taking time to set up various jump grids to allow the dog to experience a myriad of scenarios will create a dog practiced in jumping that doesn't have to think on course. 

If the dog doesn't have to think about taking the bar then it will be able to drive at the bar at the appropriate speed to get round a course as efficiently as possible = no faults in quickest time.

Time spent with our dogs builds our relationships. All the best trainers look to use positive reinforcement in any training. This further builds a trusting positive relationship. 

Balancing our dogs training and experiences and the things it gets rewarded for makes agility easy for us both. 

When I talk about balance and training I expect this to always be within positive reinforcement. 

To me any form of punishment will ruin my relationship with my dog.

If we reward one thing (speed to handler) extensively for months in early training and rush through their jump skills training then the likelihood for knocking bars increases. The dog undervalues poles and/or mistimes jumps to get quickly to the handler. 

Within positive training if that dog is then run through that same sequence it will  probably work out for itself how to keep that pole up. Sometimes it may take a couple of times. If it is then given a great reward when the bar is kept up then a valuable lesson will have been learned. 

If a dog is punished for knocking a bar then next time it will be more thoughtful and take more time to avoid punishment. It will have learned to SLOW DOWN at the very least but in the worst scenario it may even choose to run past a jump (to avoid a negative situation) to run fast to it's owner (which more often earns a reward). Lets hope this isn't in a high pressure situation! 

I hopefully say that the punishers are in a minority but PLEASE let's focus on loads of positive training situations so we can all let our dogs be faster and have fun with confidence.

Overall we are all wanting to create the best partnership we can to give us the best results we can. 

Keep your ingredients to the right quantities, mix thoroughly and allow the right time to rise.

Run with your legs - train with high energy
Run with your mind - train thoughtfully looking at the overall picture
Run with your heart - train with love and kindness.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Making the Grade

There have been some great and interesting posts relating to how competing at KC Agility does or rather doesn't prepare Agility Team GB for the FCI AWC.

I thought I'd throw my thoughts in. These are MY thoughts and are not necessarily a reflection of people in the know who I know ;)

It's great we have the opportunity to discuss and consider how to ensure we are best prepared. 

My first point is whether the AWC is in fact a specific event that no other country has full preparation for amongst their own national competitions either.

Lets think about the number of spectators and the full focus of agility in one stadium. 

Cruft's is one of the biggest dog shows in the world. Having an opportunity to compete there under pressure must be one of the closest events to AWC. 

Yes the area is smaller but it is intense. There is a tight time scale and you need to be on the ball to perform at your best there. From a dog's point of view I would say that AWC gives the dogs more space to get to the start line.

Then there is Olympia which is not comparable to any other major agility event. The atmosphere is electric, loud and everything is rushed through. Walking courses as the equipment is put out and then being on the start line in a matter of minutes.

I am not aware of major large crowd events in other countries that can give their competitors such preparation for high pressured events. To me having these KC run events to compete at are a major advantage.

The majority of other countries do compete under FCI rules regularly. 

My thoughts are the judges will be setting courses to identify World Champions as opposed to their usual day to day competitions. I image that our Champ judges will have a different spec for their champ courses than judging normal classes. Some competitors from other countries have said the World Championship courses are different to what they compete on too.

Agility Team GB are given a lot of information about the current years judges trends and will set up and practice all they can. An example is the weave entry that featured in a few courses and all our dogs achieved without any problem this year.

We don't compete/train on carpet 

The Cruft's carpet used this year is the same as was used in the Czech Republic.

Many other countries have similar facilities to us in that they are mainly outside on grass but there are countries who have many indoor astro turf facilities. 

Astro turf will be a constant surface for the dogs to run on whereas grass can vary considerably. It will also effect the handlers performance as we will run differently too.  

So for me this is a big one and one that could be a factor in who were winning this year. 

We have been to an indoor competition in Germany a couple of years ago and throughly enjoyed it. It was over New Year so didn't eat into Mark's holiday too much either. It's on again this year and I'd recommend it to anyone as an experience to add to your knowledge of how you and your dog run competitively on FCI courses on that surface.

I think there is also a great Sheltie competition and happy to link anyone up to the people in the know about it.

Judges don't set up course that allow our dogs to open up and develop speed.

Wow this is major in many ways. 

From a new judge prospective this is yet another criticism being aimed at our judges who turn out in all weathers so we have competitions to go to. Why will this encourage me to continue to judge?

At a recent event in the UK where FCI judges were it was noted that they used a different course entirely for each class they judged even if they just did 2 classes. The ring party were a bit put out. 

Judging several classes in one ring in one day using the same layout does not lend itself to creating fast, flowing and technical courses easily.

Seven grades equals seven different levels of complicity.

As far as I know countries competing under FCI rules only have 3 levels A1, A2 and A3.

So for me if there is one area that definitely needs changing it is the grading system.

It is one of the major factors that stunts the development of the speed in our young dogs and the way we run them.

It cuts people off from seeing the really great dogs and handlers run until they are amongst them and it is demoralising instead of being inspirational. Watching a great performance should encourage you to:

  1. believe it can be done and 
  2. want to emulate it.
Talented young partnerships have to win so many classes to get to the top but the small number of dogs in the class creates a stronger need to be clear than to be fast. 

If success is determined by being in the top grade then in this country choosing the right shows means clear rounds will get you up the grades and speed is a secondary consideration.

Everyone will have their own anecdote of what has stopped them from being the best and we can all blame the system. 

We do have amazing dogs, handlers, judges and competitions in this country and our structure gives us many choices. 

Overall it is up to us to have the confidence of our own dreams and take action to achieve them. 

We can choose to run eye balls out on every run, choose speed first and foremost until the accuracy improves.

Back to this years AWC nobody can deny these deserve to be large World Champions

Sadly I can't find the medium or small runs as they were just as amazing - sometimes you just need to be there ;)

Next year it's Sweden - just saying.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Getting Together

A big change is about to happen at The Old Potting Shed.

We have fenced off an area to the right of the field to create a new and separate
agility field. Mainly this has been done with the thought of keeping our own dogs off of it when they are up the field. 

This along with a bit of pressure from a few people has also helped me consider my agility training in a more serious way. Up until now since we've moved up here I have done agility training mostly as one to one's with clients gained by word of mouth.

It has been great and I have some lovely clients who have accomplished
what they wanted to this year.

Something was missing though. For years I had been a club trainer or a guest trainer working with groups.

In regular groups there is a different dynamic that feeds off that competitiveness within us. We discuss this effect on our Sports Psychology Seminars. As the group develops a camaraderie grows and each person becomes involved in the others in the groups journey. This feeds the group and pulls it forward at a different rate than is possible in one to one's or one off training sessions.

In turn this added energy drives me to gain the best I can from each of them and ultimately me. We all have ownership and responsibility, even emotional involvement that makes every little success a shared success and therefore more rewarding.

I run a couple of groups that came about by accident which I really enjoy and those people enrich each others training so it is only a small step to develop this further.

My one to one's are still special and I will ensure I keep times available for them too. One to one's bring forward a different strength within my coaching skills and I am so proud of all of my students who have developed into very confident handlers who enjoy competing and are getting the best out of their partnership with their dogs.

The adverts are out now and a couple of groups are already full and I'm looking forward to a great "off" season with loads to work on getting ready for the new season next year.

I like to think of names for things and am known for my corny suggestions. As our house is called The Old Potting Shed I am thinking my group should be called TOPS or is that a bit presumptuous?

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Unplanned Learning

September is nearly here and summer nearly over.

This year started so well with Rhyme kicking off the year with brilliant performances in champ and Pikachu surprising me by winning her first out door competition.

Elsewhere in my agility world we had great Agility Team GB tryouts, training days and EO's we'e got the AWC still to come in October in The Czech Republic.

The EO Junior event in Luxembourg was every bit as good as Mark had lead me to believe and these youngsters were so inspiring.

Sadly all that inspiration as been lost for me and my dogs. 

Rhyme is not agility sound and Pikachu has delighted in exploring what fun she can have looking for treats in and around score tents and then laughing at my attempts to catch her.

Rhyme's unfitness is not likely to be life threatening but his X-rays may throw up something that may be life changing. I love agility and think that learning it and competing at it should be available to all but also appreciate that it is a physical sport. There is much to strive towards and so many aspects to improve on within your partnership with your dog not to mention your own physical and mental skills. Never a dull moment and always things to plan to do.

The only stopping factor for me is if my want to achieve could damage my dog. 

To an untrained eye Rhyme was fine but his movement was wrong. My various professional helpers sorted his presenting problem in his shoulders.

Next it was to be gently back to agility. Straight line low jumps were fine but on a low jump with a slight turn I heard him "humph" and knew that wasn't right. Further observations showed he wasn't engaging his rear legs just pulling himself over the jump with all his front end. A quick visit to our McTimoney Chiropractor identified heat in his shoulders again and she wasn't happy about his left hip. Is that his problem? I have him booked in for X-rays tomorrow as a starting point.

My hope is that there is nothing on the X-ray that suggests doing agility could cause him harm. 

Yes I may have missed a season and several competitions I was working towards but if he has something that we can work on then I have a whole winter  and a lot of help to learn what we need to do to get and keep him fit for next year.

If it's something that may mean a slip or sudden jolt might make him worse then its no agility for him. 

Then the learning will be finding another hobby for an active 7 year old collie. 

So the optimist in me has plans and won't allow any feeling of pessimism to get the better of me. Well maybe a little tear or two .......

I had also plans of getting a puppy this year but feel that whatever happens with Rhyme will take up any spare time I have. Too often we hear the phrase from people that they have too many dogs and know that although they give all to the dogs they have there is only a certain amount of hours in a day no matter how much love you have to give. I hope to have enough strength to not fall into that trap although know that sometimes puppies come along that can't be said no to ;) 

On that topic Pikachu has motivated me to change a few things. I've organised a monthly group training session with a top instructor in our field to train her with others around. A step in helping her understand that whatever distractions are around doing agility with me is the best thing.

We didn't get Pikachu as an agility dog yet she grew into a shape that would suit it and loves activity. Believe it or not at home she wants to be wherever I am and will walk round our field just tugging, she gets out of her bed and grabs her tuggy, a shoe or my even my trouser leg. She has no issues with playing. She wants to work and learn equally for a toy or a treat and can tug with a treat in my hand.

There is lots there to encourage me that she can learn to be a great agility dog.

The current challenge is that she has somehow decided that when I release her from the start line at a show she needs to check out behind the score tent or run off somewhere else on the course. This in turn is teaching me not to want to compete with her.

There are a few day to day routines that I would have done differently with Pikachu had we got her with agility in mind. I am not sure I can change her understanding of what is fun. Whether I ever get round to competing with her again I don't know.

I mentioned one reason I would not do competitive agility would be if it was potentially harmful to a dog, the other would be if my dog didn't enjoy the competition environment. Pikachu is displaying to me that somehow I am putting pressure on her at a show and that makes it more fun to run off than to run with me. 

I will put a lot of training into her this winter and see what happens next year. I have had loads of help and support from small dog handlers some of whom have had similar problems and overcome them. There are training in the ring shows close by in the winter that will help too.

I have learnt that I have a stubborn streak too so will not give up lightly and whatever we do I will learn lots about the best way to get the best out of Pikachu even if it just ends up being the best she can be on our field.