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 ;)

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