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.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Timing is Everything

Wow the season has definitely started here in the Laker household.

After a couple of back to back seminars my own Sports Psychology skills have certainly been revised.

Our own dogs have started the season looking amazing. Even though Crufts didn't go to plan the boys looked very fit. (Searched 'looking fit' on google and thought yes this will do 😉)

Mark and I both have young dogs at the same time which is something we haven't done before. Plus with one in a different height there is loads of learning to do.

On top of that I started judging last year and have had a couple of judging appointments this year already. 

I know the rules and keep abreast of any changes for myself as a competitor. It is a different ball game for me to focus on these rules whilst watching 100's of dogs for a whole day.

Becoming a judge involves a couple of days training to earn your certificate. With quite a few others attending there is no way to practice or test the mental stamina that is required.

And then there is the things that you couldn't anticipate happening and how to deal with them. 

Lastly there is nothing to prepare you for the slating that you will receive on social media if you do happen to make a mistake.

Luckily I had two appointments back to back and was able to experience a more normal judging day with good decisions this weekend. That has strengthened my resolve to become a good judge.

I have spoken to a senior, experienced, long standing judge about my decision at Wyre to restart the class due to a timing issue and allow the first few competitors to re-run from scratch. Once I explained the situation she totally agreed with my decision. 

Whether the decision was right or not matters a lot to me - I would not deliberately do anything to give any competitors an unfair advantage.

To be fair in the grand scheme of life if the decision had been wrong bleating about it on Facebook is not the way forward. Any judges walking the course could have easily approached me about the timing gates BEFORE the class had started or somebody could have recorded it in the incident book for future learning.

An Honest Mistake

I would rather it hadn't happened but I am trying my best and learning with every appointment. The worst that happened was one person qualified for an event that their first run might not have. (I say might not as they only had 5 faults the first run and a dog with 5 faults did qualify anyway) 

What a lovely bonus for them to have a second chance after doing a near perfect round with one jump down on the first attempt. 

What a bonus for a few people to have another go at the course. Who can begrudge a few G1-3 handlers having another chance? 

Hats off to the ring party who dealt with it all so well too.

Those capable of qualifying will no doubt have other qualifiers this season and if not I do apologise as I would have to your faces had you spoken directly to me.

This weekend we had the opposite where a lovely lady and her happy dog did a beautiful clear only to find out the timing didn't work. On her re-run the dog had the first pole down. She was disappointed as anyone would be. We're hoping her bad luck with that will turn around for good luck next week in a qualifier she's going to. Meanwhile they did another beautiful run in a later class gaining a high place and I'm confident we'll see more of that partnership.

My forte in judging is my course design. I love setting a course that will assess a dog's key skills and the handlers understanding of the dogs path to get the fastest route.

Wyre was a real challenge as the rings are quite a bit smaller. I spent hours setting up our own equipment in our field, moving it around and running various dogs around it or parts of it to get it right.

I needed a course that met the new distances, all the other KC rules and was of course safe. 

On top of that minimum movement of equipment to keep the different classes running through smoothly. 

Ring party, show organisers and least of all competitors do not really want to be at a show past 6:00pm at the latest. 

Those that thought I should have rebuilt the course and got everyone to re-walk it may not have appreciated that I simply did not have another planned G1-3 course ready to fit all the above criteria and it would add 
at least another hour  to the end of the day. 

As one of our friends likes to say - 300 million people didn't die. However if I was not such a determined person then my judging career could have.

Luckily for me this weekend at Agility Nuts Show my courses ran as I'd designed them and I received many compliments on my courses. I felt I kept my focus for over 90% of the time and am confident my contact calls were right. 

I had 2 scribes that were also judges that if I had any blips of confidence were there smiling and encouraging - thank you Natalie and Anne. 

We had a dog walking over the long jump that we looked in the book to clarify our decision on and I know that one for next time too.

I've still got 2 judges appointments to do this year and I'm looking forward to them.

How our dogs did will need to wait for another post now but I'm very happy to report Torro got 3rd in Veterans, Rhyme got a 2nd & a 3rd in G7, Devo got 3rd (when I was 2nd oh yes!!) and a 2nd (when I was 3rd normal business resumed), Moog got more and more experience and oh yes, Pikachu went clear and won the class.

She's smashed my targets for the year though so I now need to sit down and write some more or sit back and let the rest of the season drift about to see where it gets us ;)