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 ;)

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Love(d) training weaves

I love training weaves and always look forward to when our dogs are around 14 months so I can crack on through the stages. Although I love it I don't want it to take months and loads of sessions. 

I generally start with a wide channel and lots of games before and after. Only a few run throughs then next time I go out I just kick the base in a fraction. After about 4 days of this I put them away for a week.

Then next time I do weaves I do the first part of 2x2s again loads of play before and after when they get it right.

Next I get the channels out for another week moving to close together with guides on to help understanding of staying in.  Lots of energy before and after and only a few run throughs.

Then guess - I leave the channels again and move on to a 4 play exercise. Basically 4 poles a gap the size of 4 poles and then another 4 poles across to another set of 4, followed by a gap and then another 4 poles. 

Maybe back to the channels until fully together and then on to the 12 poles and adding distractions.

This tends to work well and this is Moog a few months ago working through the toy distraction.

Lovely, fun and familiar. As I said I love training weaves.

Enter the Pikachu .............................:-

  • Maybe I rushed through the stages too much, 
  • Maybe she's a girl, 
  • Maybe she's a little dog or 
  • Maybe somewhere in her puppyhood I rewarded too much from my hand.

Whatever the reason I was not enjoying weaves with Pikachu. She knew what to do but had her head up which I don't like structurally and there is a different vibe to the love my other dogs have for them.

She wasn't obtained with agility in mind (tbh I have no idea what was in our minds). However she loves running, she loves interacting with things and loves training. She will make a great small agility dog if we can crack these weaves.

I left them for a while and questioned many small dog owners to see if it was just a small/large dog difference. Easy excuse and I was sure they would give me a magic pill to sort out why I am not enjoying my usual success and voila the weaves would be done.
People are lovely and gladly gave me many tips and the word Manners Minder was mentioned more than once. 

I don't have a Manners Minder so thought long and hard about why a Manners Minder would work and came up with a major short fall in Pikachu's understanding of reward.

Rewards ALWAYS came from me. In order to see if the reward was coming she needed to look up to me, move towards me etc etc. In the weaves this then brought her head up to see if I was going to produce the reward even if I then threw the reward forward.

Then this week Mark and I decided we needed to get on and do some rounds with our youngsters as we have started entering shows for this season. Pikachu had only previously done a maximum of 10 jumps and stalled at 11 looking for the toy which was in my hand. I gave Mark the toy and went to go again and she couldn't understand to leave Mark and come to me.

Another penny dropped. Not only did she think the rewards came from me but she thought she needed to be or going in the direction of the reward.
With these two pieces of information I have a plan to work through her understanding of reward gaining.

I have a velcro toy that I can hide treats in and open once I get there so she knows the treats are there but has to work out what she needs to do before I will open it. I put it on the floor and ask her to come to me - away from the toy, do a simple trick then praise and tell her to get it. It hasn't taken long and already we are now having good success on 4 poles. She had been able to do up to 12 weaves but with head up so I'm going back through all the stages and working on head down, forward drive.

Other areas that this training will help with is the start line. I've placed her velcro toy behind her and asked her to come to me over a jump or two and then back to the start and the reward. Previously she would either work like a dream or put her nose down and disappear into Pikachu land. I am sure that working through this distraction of have treats near her then I will help her deal with other distractions more confidently.

I don't generally like to do any training involving a dogs food time as I think they should be able to just enjoy their food. Over the last couple of evenings I have managed to put her food down and ask her to move away from it, perform a couple of tricks and then released her back to her food. I will only do this a couple of more times but it is a very strong lesson in reward coming from away from me.

The other area that this will help with is when I start doing her contacts and need forward drive to a reward.

Overall I'm glad I puzzled and wouldn't accept her weaving as it was because the work I now need to do with and away from the weaves will pay dividends with all her agility training.

Off to do some weaving with Pikachu - did I mention I LOVE weave training :)

Picture taken by Hound and About Photography

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Agility a sport for all?

A bit late with a blog after coming back from the FCI AWC in Spain last weekend.

Travelling back with Agility Team GB on the coach meant we didn't get home until late on Tuesday evening.

I had rearranged some lessons from Tuesday to Wednesday which followed by my usual Wag & Tone class meant I postponed catching up with unpacking until Thursday.

Thursday evening Mark had an awards evening to attend in relation to an award he had been put forward for in his day job. It was black tie and an overnight stay in Birmingham. He works for an Energy company and this was recognition for his driving project from an external body. There were quite a few nominations so we may have attended just to have a 'posh' evening with lovely food etc. Most of my readers will know Mark from agility and know about his commitment to GB and passion for our sport. He also enjoys his work and puts as much into delivering his projects. It was brilliant to see that external companies recognised this. The award was to him and ADT the company that worked with him to set up and maintain the data required. 


However great this was it had put a delay on recovering from our exciting week away.

No lie in the next day either as work to do. We also had the first step in a new adventure which I will blog about another time.

Back to the title of my blog. I am lucky to be involved in all levels of agility. On one hand I get to watch Agility Team GB and then at home I get to train some people new to the sport. There I go using that term sport again.

Looking the word sport up on the internet - "an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment."

Physical exertion - yes
Skill - yes
Individual or team - yes
Competes - yes
Entertainment - yes

The entertainment part does not mention if this is the people taking part or other people.

In many sports there are as many people (or maybe sometimes more) that enjoy going to watch their team play in their chosen sport. Football is a perfect answer.

Certainly at the Príncipe Felipe Pavilion in Zaragoza this year the atmosphere illustrated that the european agility followers find watching a big part of their agility experience. The French especially always have a huge following.

Agility Team GB have some loyal followers that come every year and many that watch life streaming but no where near as many as other countries.

I am relatively confident that it is no more expensive for people that come from Norway for example than for followers to come from the UK. 

What ever the reason for not coming I am confident in saying that there is nothing like watching the people at the top of their game from all over the World get together to compete at this professionally run event. 

One ring dedicated to agility, all heights treated equally and even organised dancing in the breaks to give those glued to their seats a chance to burn some calories. 

It is an emotional roller coaster at times 

and a chance to wave your flag. There is nothing quite like the feeling of being patriotic with a great team of people to support.

The other beauty of agility in the UK is that most of Agility Team GB are known to us personally. We know the training and dedication they have put in and have even watched them be successful around the circuit. There are not many football supporters that will have played Sunday league with the people they are cheering on.

There are many changes and challenges for agility to come and for many it is seen as a hobby and not a sport.

Looking up hobby on the internet "an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure".

A few differences to consider - physical exertion, skill, competes and entertainment are not mentioned. Not to say hobbies don't include that just that it is not within the definition as being important.

Agility as a hobby is a brilliant way to spend time with our dogs and our friends. 

For me - I have customers that agility will be a hobby for and they will enjoy as much as the ones for whom agility will be a sport. I have no problem with it being both or either. I do wonder if there would be a benefit from having divisions instead of all competing for the same prize after all Sunday afternoon footballers would not expect to compete in Division 1. That is another totally unanswerable blog probably even if written would not see daylight.

For now I applaud Agility Team GB sports men and women and dogs. They are professional, skilful and athletic and certainly entertaining to watch.

Role on the next squad day just before Olympia to start another journey towards the European Open and the FCI AWC for next year.

The word on the street is that more spectators are hoped for next year and maybe somebody organising a travel package for spectators so keep an eye open and a few days holiday aside for next years excitement.

There is usually time for a bit of sightseeing too.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Getting ready to go...

Don't worry this is not another post about toileting ;)

This weekend we are getting ready to go to the FCI AWC as it is officially known or the Worlds as it is often called here.

There is lots to get ready - dog sitters, packing clothes, flags, paperwork to name a few.

We have 2 days on a coach to look forward to and then the excitement of watching Agility Team GB competing.

As usual we have a great Team who are committed to doing the best they can.

It is available to watch on LiveStream

This year it is hoped to show information via Twitter - just look up #agilityteamgb.

There is not always time to give the full story and often just an E doesn't justify what happened. As you all know some of our best rounds are not always reflected in the score. In the case of speed of information getting out there we will be brief.

Remember the time difference - they are 1 hour ahead of us.

The running orders on the website currently include all listed competitors including reserves. The lists may change after registration on Thursday when all competitors have been declared. If not there will be gaps.

Hope you enjoy hearing about #agilityteamgb.

As usual a big thank you to the sponsors

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

What a load of old .... ;)

Many years ago I enjoyed doing those personality tests where you answered a load of questions and scored points for various answers, added them up and they told you something you already knew about yourself.

It left me with questions so that I wonder what kind of person usually picks the first empty seat they come to instead of looking for another, reads instructions before starting to build an item of furniture or even who picks the middle cubicle in the toilets!

Being a conscientious dog owner who picks up after their dogs I can't help but notice that they toilet differently and wonder if that reflects their personality.

Torro is an anxious pooer. He isn't selective in regards where he goes but always circles around. We call it asking for permission to land. He will then rush off or rush to you with a particular expression of glad to have gotten rid of that load.

Devo never has time to think about going to the toilet. He just suddenly needs to go, hardly squats, drops his little packages and is off again.

Rhyme is very private in his business. He will go in the farthest corner of the field or in the longest grass and turns his back. He sits very proud and low. His privacy is so important I won't spoil it with a picture ;)

Moog likes to go high on long grass or even a thistle. Many years ago we were told that a good collie will always go like this to keep the excrement away from the short sweet grass the sheep will eat.

Pikachu is not worried where she goes and makes a big performance of it. She also has a big zoomie either before, after or both.

I wonder what these different habits display about them?

Well Torro can be anxious about things and like reassurance. He is also likes to include us in any celebration of things done well.

Devo's only consuming passion is watching Mark (or me if Mark isn't around). You could even say he was one of those obsessional collie's. Mark or working with Mark is all he wants and needs. Basic functions are a nuisance as they get in the way of life.

Rhyme is always clean. He would have been what was called dapper years ago. Spit spot and Bristol fashion is his way. He likes to perform a task properly. You only need to see his joy of getting his contacts to see that.  If I get back into HTM training this winter and video him working, you'll see him step up to the rhythm.

Moog is all sheep dog. He is also a real boy. He grumbles at being dried, he flops about and knows how to switch on his goofy charm. He mucks in with what ever is going on yet can go and entertain himself too. 

Pikachu is busy. She rushes about everywhere and you always know she's about. She has a huge personality.

It would be interesting to know if anyone else notices toilet traits and how they suit your dog. Or is it just me? Just me then 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

An Agility Dog she is then

We're looking forward to Gillingham Show again this year. Last year we somehow found ourselves saying we would have this little girl.

Now a year on I am pushing on with her agility training. Getting a terrier cross to do agility with was not our thoughts. TBH we still have no idea what our thoughts were but hey ho sometimes what will be will be.

We don't generally do much training with our youngsters. Ideally that should be not much equipment training but realistically it somehow becomes no training.

Pikachu did go to a couple of puppy classes though and graduated from NTU too.

Other than that she has been working on waits and play and eating. Well mostly eating if she can.

Then her first birthday happened and as she is no way a lap dog she is going to be an agility dog.

I have done bits and pieces here and there but not any proper training sessions. Today I thought right lets get on with it.

The following clips are her definitely getting on with it. OMG she is amazing.

She works for tug, she works for treats and she works for tennis balls. What more can you ask for. She likes to go fast, she likes to perform a task, she likes to go fast, she likes to jump and did I mention she likes to go fast.

Small jumping sequence for a ball.

She has done a bit of just doing one jump either as a recall from a sit or a send on to and back to a toy. This is the first day I have done this set up. I did it twice on the other side and then this is the best clip and the first time we did it this way. 

Waiting is something I have done loads of with her. I believed she was very strong on it. Then I discovered in front of a jump that if I did it from a tug as soon I took the tug away she completely disengaged. I tried practicing taking the tug and rewarding quickly with a treat but would still get a off switch look. I tried just using treats and as soon as I passed the wing she would disappear off in the other direction. I thought it was something I was doing differently in front of a jump than I had been doing without one. Sure enough she will wait no problem with no obstacle in front of her but that's not much fun. 

Luckily I had discovered that she loved tennis balls. One tennis ball is pointless as it only has one use. Once it's thrown it is never coming back. Two tennis balls however are great fun and she will continue to play with me until I can gain procession of both balls again. Armed with two balls I can get her to sit on the start and she maintains concentration to enable me to do a start line like I want.

If I try to analyse then I think the tug option is going from tug to dead toy and it seems to annoy her that we have had great fun tugging and then I'm taking it away??

Food makes her think of more food and there is always food of some sort in the grass at our field - treats dropped by my students, by me, by Mark, pheasant droppings, hedgehog droppings etc etc. So why bother waiting to get some from me.

Balls however are in the hands of the beholder and whilst I am holding them I have the power.

She also loves the chase at the end. I say if you throw the toy you must run so I run towards her until she gets that ball then turn and run to throw the other ball for her when she catches me.

Seesaw to target for food.

This is the first time I have put a target at the end of the seesaw. I have done targeting to my hand and a disc indoors on a low step.
She has done the seesaw several times - usually when I am moving it and have hold of the up end. She loves running up it as fast as she can to get to my face or onto my shoulders. Not what I am generally wanting for a seesaw performance so best get on with it in a more controlled way.

Her attitude is perfect for agility. I think we will have to work on this a bit to ensure she can or wants to stay on while it tips but am more than happy as this for a starting point.


Pikachu loved running along on top of the tunnel especially when I was moving it about and could balance on it with amazing dexterity. I managed to avoid her being able to get into a situation that allowed her to do this for a while. 

I had a theory that if a dog didn't do tunnels it would not be any good at agility in the long term. This theory was supported by many a dog over the years of training that were not successful at the tunnel initially then dropping out of class. 

Basically it is usually such a simple piece of equipment then if your dog can't learn it (or you can't help them do it) then they/you aren't of the right mindset. 

Hence followed a few panic stricken sessions of trying to get her to go through the tunnel instead of climbing on it. Mark thought I was worrying about nothing. I left it for a while and then did a few recalls through it with Mark's help and hadn't done much since. 

I am very happy to have my theory dispelled and pleased she now understands the correct way to do pipe tunnels.

This clip also shows me using the tug as a reward. In this sequence I was asking her to come to me not drive away and I find tugging is great for that as opposed to throwing her ball which allows her to drive away from me. 

Running Contacts (blink and you'll miss them)

Well Rhyme had running contacts for one show before they scared the bejesus out of me and I decided to ask him to stop instead. He has a lovely stop so I am going to start teaching Pikachu running confident if a stop is then required I can add one. I am trying a different method though for a variety of reasons. 

This is her first time running a plank which was a few days ago. I haven't done any more yet.

A bit much all in one session but it totally confirms we have ourselves a small agility dog to have fun with next year :) :) 

Monday, 22 August 2016

One size fits all

As a few of you may know and hopefully a few more noticed ;) I have been focussing on losing weight this year. 

Rhyme reached Grade 7 this time last year and I knew that I would have to change something in order to be competitive in qualifiers and champ classes.

On individual sequences and on his skills, Rhyme's times are up there with the best of them. One thing that holds him back is my ground speed and mental quickness for giving commands.

I realised one thing to work on was my fitness and my fitness revolved around my weight. 

It is unbelievable how much better my running is with less body to cart around.

Luckily I have Zumba with my neighbour, my Wag & Tone class and a local cycle track to take advantage of over the winter to come out super fit in the new season.

On top of that and improving Rhyme's fitness I'm hopeful that we will be having a great year in 2017.

Then I look on social media and wonder if we will still have an understandable format to compete in :(

applauded the fact the KC were giving people options on what height to run their dog on so the dogs could run at appropriate heights not entirely governed by the dogs strict height. EG a large breed could run at LHO and so minimise compression on joints due to being well, -  large, whilst smaller dogs could continue to work at full height if that suited them, dogs near retirement could enjoy a slightly longer career, young dogs coming out could start at a lower height until they got stronger and muscled up etc. Well in my eyes a load of reasons where choosing a height that was good for your own dog was good. 

However the initial outcome is a bit chaotic at shows and people are being questioned for their motives of what height they jump including discussions about winning, being beaten by dogs jumping different heights. If you are doing a combined height class and feel a need to win then it is surely your prerogative to jump the lower and quicker height. If you have a reason to jump your dog at a larger height then you may need to accept that show is not the one you might win at.

It seems the more personal choice people have the more conflict and accusations exist. It would be great if we could all just respect each others choices.(Sorry any excuse to show a clip from The Blues Brothers is a good one imo) 

For my own reasons I will mainly run Rhyme at full height and Pikachu will start out jumping LHO until we are strong enough to be contenders in qualifiers. If Rhyme goes to a show that has no qualifiers then I may even run him at LHO. He is a big dog so I can't see a reason to jump him higher than required. That said we usually go to shows that have qualifiers anyway.

It seems like I am in favour of the changes for my dogs BUT..........

my ears and my brain do not like it one little bit. Classes being called all over the place, closing this class, walking this class, graded, combined, LHO, small, medium and large. I look across to see a class being walked and think it is the class before mine only to discover it is the LHO of the class before the class before mine. By the time mine is ready for walking I've lost the plot LOL.

Would it work to just have to go through the wings/cones like a slalom event in skiing or inline skating (I didn't even know this existed as a sport)?

Just queue up and go. Depending on class numbers awards are given as first overall then grade/height splits as appropriate. Would save all the different course walking and changing. Dogs are measured on the day they compete (going under a bar like at Alton Towers etc) This would avoid the difficulties of dogs heights changing as they mature, get more muscled with competing etc. When it comes to qualifiers of the different heights dog go in their average height category. 3 to 4 different slalom courses a day.

There are a million reason's why this wouldn't work in practice. I'm sure any system based on the height category of a living being is very hard to manage fairly. You only need to look at the huge variety of classes in the para-olympics to see the difficulties of matching like for like. Even in car sports like F1 there seems to be anomalies. If you can't even ensure machines are matching then it demonstrates how hard it is to split animals with something as simple a measure of their height at a given point.

I really have no answer and am like everyone else heart broken for how this is playing out in our sport at the moment. I hope our sport can recover from all these changes and come up with rules and the application of the rules so we can again feel we, our friends and most of all our beloved dogs are being treated as fairly as they can be, given so many variables.

Deep down I am saddened as I don't think agility can ever be totally fair to every individual, there will always be benefits for some and disadvantages for others In a search for that fairness, the fun and camaraderie will be lost as each person strives to make their own dog able to compete in a level playing field that doesn't exist.

Then I look around and I know that the agility community can pull through this and we will find the best way forward to enjoy our sport at our own level whilst helping or admiring those on a different level to us.