Monday, November 5, 2007

measuring progress

Uma and Malcolm just turned two and a half years old. What this means is that Uma (not Mal, who took a long long break) has been competing in official trials for exactly a year. Her first official trial was and ASCA trial in November 2006. Looking back on our year in the rings, it's a bit difficult to evaluate progress, because of the multiple venues we've competed in. Since there's no ASCA here in Poland, obviously we stopped competing in ASCA once we moved back. We also did a bit of USDAA in the US and stopped one Standard leg short of her AD jusst a week before I moved back here. She has all her open and one elite title in ASCA and just recently moved up to A2 in FCI, which I consider to be the biggest achievement so far, because FCI courses are a lot more difficult than even the Elite ASCA courses. But all in all, it's hard for me to evaluate progress on the basis of titles.

What has really helped me to see the progress was watching a couple of our runs from about a year ago. I can see how handler-dependent her contacts were and how she'd slow down on the descent ramp. But what really really stands out is how fluent and able to work at a distance from me she has become. It's experience and trust and just A LOT of work that has gone into this.
Here are a couple of our runs from an unofficial trial in the "0" class in Poland, taken last July. We've come a long, long way since then.

I had the feeling recently that she has really sped up recently and, after watching these clips I think this is indeed the case. Admittedly, it has cost me a few off-courses here and there as she is not a forgiving dog and if I'm late with a cue, then we do get an off-course. But I think it's still worth it. I really feel like we're on our way now and ready to do anything.

Me adjusting my timing will now be the most important thing for me to work on, as that's were we lose most of the runs we lose. And we still have that weave pole technique issue to (hopefully) solve. And our dogwalk down contact which tends to break down after several runs in a row... But we're on our way.

Meanwhile, Malcolm is a different case and requires a post of his own :-)

And what's up with Eden?
Well, Eden is happy being a puppy. I am happy teaching her all the little puppy things which she should know, like sitting politely and waiting and not jumping up on me. Of course, there is a bit of agility stuff that I just cannot resist NOT doing when I'm in Pecice with all the dogs, but basically I just work on her attention and recalls while she's there. OK, and I couldn't resist doing some tunnels ;-)

Monday, October 22, 2007

film clip

very dark and you really can't see all that much, but well. Better than nothing. Uma's standard run on Sunday.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

a good weekend

Uma had a very nice agility weekend. On Saturday she had a clean A1 round for 1st place. It happened to be her third qualifying run in A1, so she is now officially in A2! I moved her up for today and she had an awesome run in A2, but the judge called a questionable dogwalk contact. I was pretty sure it was there, but then again. Oh well, next time. She was turning tight and I was handling nicely.

Malcolm was not getting his dogwalk today, so I guess it is back to basics, but he had very nice Jumpers runs. We actually had a pretty funny Jumpers situation. I first ran Malcolm, who knocked one bar (good enough for me to be satisfied with that run) and had a time of around 31 seconds. I then ran Uma who ran clean, but when I came back to check the results it turned out she had a time of 37.7. I was shocked - this was clearly a mistake, no way was she that slow, this may not have been our fastest run, but hey, she is ALWAYS at least 4 seconds faster than Mal, even if she slips, falls, whatever. It turned out that somebody had been videotaping that run and the entire movie was 27 seconds long. So I went to the office with that person's camera and showed them the film. I was granted a rerun and she turned in a 27 second run. I think she may have been a tiny bit slower the second time, but it was good enough for a second place after a WC competitor.

She got ALL her weave entries (5 out of 5) all weekend long as did Malcolm! Uma did not get her dogwalk contact on her last run, which was a bummer. However, the dogwalk was in the same spot all weekend long and it was followed by an open tunnel. So that last run... she just couldn't contain herself. The dogwalk contact has been our weakest one for a while, so now that will certainly have to be something I focus on. And there are no trials coming up for us until December (there's just nothing closer than 7 hours driving time). So that gives me 6 weeks of training before I actually have to use that contact again in competition.

Eden was being cuddled all weekend long by lots of aunties and uncles and she seemed to really enjoy it. She wasn't spooked by anything, was clearly relaxing, but was pretty responsive to me. So she was a perfect little puppy. There was a 4-month old Aussie puppy there and she was SO much bigger than Eden. It's unbelievable how quickly they grow!

It was an indoor trial on carpeting and it was pretty slippery. Malcolm seems to do a lot worse at indoor trials, because, for some strange reason, he get more excited and loses his head in a building and is a lot more laid back outdoors. Uma slows down a bit on the carpeting, which, in this case, was not such a bad thing.

Here's the A2 course we ran today:

Friday, October 19, 2007

Uma's teeter

I missed a few practice sessions with Uma because of her pad injury, but she's back to normal now. I'd been working on her independent teeter performance ever since August, when I noticed that she would wait for me at pivot point. I went back to plexi-targetting, then removed the plexi and proofed her performance by varying my position. The one thing I still need work on is the strong stop when there is HUGE speed. She will miss the position (barely, but still) if I am way ahead of her and she's coming at the teeter with increased speed (off a tunnel). Here's what it looks like at this point. I like it.

And Eden....
Well, like you guys said in the comments to my previous post, it is not particularly productive to obsess over the nature vs nurture thing, but I honestly cannot help doing it. Especially, since I own two littermates, who are as different from each other as can be in temperament, I just find myself looking for these little suggestions of what's to come. And definitely I'm negative about this - I obsess about the behaviors which may possibly turn into something bad a lot more easily than about those which might turn into something good.
It also seems that I tend to forget certain experiences very easily. I almost panicked a couple of days ago when Eden spooked on hearing dogs barking at the agility place. I complained to everybody I met that I'd broken my puppy and was doing a lousy job. And then Wanda, Jinx's owner, reminded me how all three of our pups (Uma, Malcolm, Jinx) panicked when they heard an airplane flying high high above their heads when they were about 3 months old. And this stage passed, they surely wouldn't sppok at this now.

Monday, October 15, 2007

eden's first week at home

Understandably, this was a very Eden-centered week for me. I was getting to know her better and instilling some basic household rules in the little pup, all the while trying not to neglect everybody else.

Eden is very, very nice. I guess the nicest thing about her is her almost total lack of fear for well... pretty much anything. She plays with the big dogs, she However, this very lack of fear is also something that I'm afraid may get her into trouble.

She is willing to please, she is both food and toy motivated, although, being the little puppy she is, she often loses focus. I'm doing a lot of play retrieving and just plain playing with her at this point to strengthen her drives and lengthen her focus. I am not obsessed with teaching her perfect heelwork by the time she's 6 months old or anything of the kind. Basically, I just want attention and the ability to play with me on my terms with any toy I provide.

And of course, she gets into trouble. One thing I know know very well by now. If you have the slightest suspicion that your puppy may need to go pee (but tell yourself "no way, she just peed 30 minutes ago").... your puppy NEEDS to go pee. Go with the ever so slightest suspicion or you'll be wiping dog pee off the floor. She gets her little puppy teeth on just about everything and has to either be confined or supervised. Supervising is tiring. Right now I am watching her meander between a row of binders on the lower shelf of the bookcase and her toy. And I have to get up to suggest the tug toy is a better idea...

I'm back and she's playing with the tug toy. Little puppies are cute but ..... oh so tiring. But now I'm starting to suspect she might need to go pee.

Yep, she did.

Eden had a lot of firsts (well, or so I think)this week. I took her for a tram ride and a bus ride to see how she'd cope. She did just fine. She met a very well-behaved horse and lots and lots of variously behaved dogs. We went to a pet store, several parks and visited a couple of friends' houses (for short periods of time).

The biggest mystery about having a puppy is not knowing what it will grow up to be like. I'm really not sure how much of my dogs is me, my work with them and how much is them. Even the two older sibs are total opposites of each other and, after all, they have the same genes and were basically treated the same way when they were pups. What's more, I did not guess correctly what they would be like as adults when they were pups, which is still a source of jokes among my friends and the owners of the other sibs. Maybe this is what's making me a bit apprehensive about Eden. I still have absolutely no feeling for what she'll be like as a grown up. Will the focus develop? Will the strong retrieve drive stay? Will she want to please? Will she be obnoxious? She's not now, of course, she's sweet and cuddly, but who knows. Will I catch certain bad habits in time to stop them from developing?

I remember with Uma I got this conviction that this is THE puppy who can achieve ANYTHING I want from her when she was about 4-5 months old. But then, I had Uma right from the time she was born, so maybe it will take longer with Eden. And, after all, why do I need to know this? I know she most certainly will be unique and I'll love her no matter what she's like. But I cannot stop looking for signs of things to come.

Here's a short vid of Eden targeting:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


There are some decisions which take years to make, which you ponder on for ages, carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each possibility. I've always prided myself on being that kind of person, the rational kind, who tries to do the right thing.
And then, there's a whole different breed of decisions. Decisions based on nothing more than a gut feeling. On pure instinct. Sometimes you end up regretting them, sometimes they turn out to be the best ones you made in your life. In this case, what can I say. We'll see.

Anyway, here's Eden.
Officially she's
Malpaso's To Die For at Myriad
If anything, this wasn't rational. I have two dogs under the age of three (heck, they're under the age of 30 months), should be focusing on finishing my dissertation and well, I just lost a dog that was my heart and soul. But when I saw Eden's 8-week-old pic, this one, to be precise:

I knew I was gone for good. As was Janusz, which was probably the final straw. I asked Mirjam, her breeder, to keep her for me until I was ready for a new dog. Like 6 months maybe.
She arrived in Amsterdam (thank you Anneke for chaperoning her on the plane trip) exactly one week ago and was supposed to stay with a wonderful friend, Silvia, in Germany however long I wanted. Well, I got in the car on Sunday and made the 1300 km (800 mile?) drive there and back in 30 hours.

So here she is.
I'm not quite sure what to do with her, but she most definitely has found a place in my heart.
I admit I am kind of scared, because she has found her way into my life at a tough moment. She'll never be another Mira and I am afraid there's nothing that can follow Uma with regards to ease of training and pure speed and biddability. But I think the best way to go about this is to just let her be Eden. Let her be a puppy and find out, in due time, what she's good at and what she'd like to do.

She's got an amazing personality, very bubbly and outgoing, social but not too easily distracted. I love her natural retrieve and love how easy-going and self-confident she is with my other dogs. It's like they know they were meant to be together :-)

On a side note - Uma cut her pad on some glass in the park :-( Very nasty. Thus, no agility for us this week.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Congrats Lisa & Dust!

Well, Carrie Jones didn't get an individual medals at the worlds, the Polish competitors didn't either (Magda with Mac had an absolutely awesome standard run in large with a 13th place and there were some steady but slow runs by the smaller dogs).

However.... I just got word that Lisa (whose blog is linked from links on the right-hand side of this page)WON the ASCA agility finals with Dust (Diamond Dust of Imagineer). Way to go and black dogs rule :-)

I met Lisa at the ASCA trials she put on in Ohio last year for the Buckeye Australian Shepherd Club, so basically, all the ASCA titles my dogs have are the result of Lisa's organizational skills, which are really impressive. Lisa wanted to trial in ASCA, but there were no ASCA trials in her area, so ... she organized some. And not just a couple, but I think she organizes 5 or 6 ASCA trials a year. Amazing! Our club here in Poland puts on one trial a year and I'm totally exhausted after that. So 5 or 6 is unimaginable for me.
I watched Lisa get Dust's final leg for her ATCH (a gamblers leg) and I am so glad they managed to get that darn gamble at the Nationals! (Well, I assume they did, they won the whole thing, so they must have gotten the gamble).

Saturday, September 29, 2007

big events elsewhere

I've been glued to my computer screen and bascially very unproductive since Friday watching the FCI Worlds in Norway. Well, watching the courses, results and some of the clips available on youtube and on Eric's site( discussing with friends and cheering on the various teams. I wanted to try out some of these challenges so badly that I set up the Large Individual Jumpers yesterday. Hmmm...... three off-courses on my first try with Uma :-) OK, so maybe we're not quite there yet... But now I have tons of motivation and lots of ideas for practice.
There's a little bit of a controversy surrounding the mysterious non-appearance of the Polish Large and Small teams. Two dogs which qualified, Christine, a terv from the Large team, and Scotty, a border terrier from the Small team, never made it to Norway, for reasons unknown to me. Apparantly, all this happened at the last moment, no alternates were called on and the Polish teams simply did NOT run. This is so very very very Polish. Only the medium team ran and placed 16th out of 23, the last teams with no off-courses.
Anyway, congrats to the American Large team for Second Place, their runs were awesome and I am still crossing my fingers for Carrie Jones and Jive who are in contention for the individual medals.

The second event, not so big, but very cool, is the ASCA Nationals. I can't wait for updates from New Jersey! Lisa and Dust are competing in the ASCA Agility finals, as is Adriana with Certik (who, I think, is also in the stock finals on ducks). Victoria, with Mira's sister Rosie and Mira's niece Sylvie, is in the Obedience finals. Mirjam with Twix are in the conformation invitational (and finished #1 conformation bitch for 2007), so I am keeping my fingers crossed for everyone.

Training-wise, this week I spent two sessions on weave pole drills and the easy command into the weave poles after a line of jumps, playing around with the spacing of the jumps to get her to slow down and not crash. In the first collection drill I did, she broke a wooden jump bar with her chest, so... maybe this IS indeed what we need. I've also been doing tons of general weave pole drills with Uma, less with Malcolm, who gets bored more easily. In the WC course I discovered the need for stronger call-offs on long lines of jumps, so that will be something I work on now.

I'll see if I can embed a youtubte video posted by someone else of Malcolm last week. This is Jumpers, if the clip works. The barking isn't him, it's some dog at ringside. Let's see:

Monday, September 24, 2007

Malcolm's big day

Yesterday I trialled at the same place (Bydgoszcz) where the National Championships took place two weeks ago, so the trial I sadly didn't make because of the tragic and and unexpected events that took place that night.

I really wanted to go to this trial, although it's a 4-hour drive, and I made it. This time the weather was sunny and warm, very unusual for late September in Poland. We ran in T-shirts.

I took both Uma and Malcolm, even though I wasn't sure he was ready yet, because well... I didn't feel like leaving him at home for the entire day. I trialled Mal in Pecice, but before that the last time he had been entered was in... I think March. In an ASCA trial in Ohio, where he lept off contacts, nosedived off the teeter and acted like a total horror. So we had issues to overcome. In Pecice he was decent, hitting his contacts, but missing weave pole entrances and popping out. OK, and barking.

And yesterday... well, somebody switched dogs on me. He didn't put a foot down wrong. There were three runs (exams, standard and jumpers) and he took a third and two seconds to go FIRST in the combined standings (as in - HIGH in TRIAL!). So this is now officially Uma and Malcolm's blog, because it looks like he's back in business.
There was a large crowd of spectators, as the trial was organized at a regional fair and Malcolm was just enjoying himself immensely. When he finished a run, people would applaud and he would just smile at everyone and look pretty :-)

The courses were a horror. The judge is a new judge who has just branched out from Schutzhund and Obedience into judging agility. I call this "the new judge syndrome." He does not have a feel for the sport, yet he wants to prove that he KNOWS all the difficult challenges. So he stacks them up in one course. The result is a mess and a course that is not fluent but very, very cut up and nasty. Uma was doing her best, but in each and every one of our runs there was a little bit of a problem, where I was just a tad second late with my command. And with those tight courses, that means an off-course. Mal is slower than Uma, who is possibly the fastest Aussie I've seen and definitely the fastest I've had, by approx. 4-5 seconds on a Jumpers course and 6-8 seconds on a standard course. That gives me exactly the time I need to be in the right place and gives me a bigger margin for error.

So what these courses told me was that with Uma I really, really, really need to focus on her turns and my timing on turns, because that was were we messed up. And weave poles still. She really needs to learn to collect herself before entering weaves and I think I'll use Lesley Olden's method for teaching "easy" for that. And I'll get started on it THIS week. Now.

Lesley sets up an exercise where the dog first extends her stride and then has to suddenly collect it. She puts in "steady" (my "easy") just before the dog had to collect. I think I'll do that and then add the weave poles as the next obstacle after the collection over the jumps. Then I'll take out the jumps and leave the "easy" command. This would be the exact opposite of what I'm doing now (trying to increase speed into the weaves), but I think it may help.

I have read comment's from Greg Derrett's seminars about the dog shifting her weight back onto the rear as a necessity for good weave pole entries and I'm sorry I've never seen him explain this in person. Because I can do that with Uma on contacts, while doiing tricks etc... but I don't think she gets this when entering weaves. This may also be one of the reasons why she can even hurt her face when hitting the weaves at full speed.

Anyway, here's a course that Malcolm ran clean and Uma had an off-course after the weaves. I still don't see how I could have handled this any differently, it was just a nasty course and I'm glad this was the only off-course we had.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

a week passes by

This is mostly a blog about Uma with whom I am currently doing the most agility and felt I needed a training blog to keep myself focused and to keep friends updated on what we're doing. But Uma is not my only dog and the stories of their lives are just as important to me. So Mira's story had to interfere.

For those of you who asked - Mira died of a ruptured brain aneurysm, which I didn't know she had. Brain aneurysms usually do not give any symptoms, sometimes they can cause headaches. But with dogs, it's a tough criteria to go on for diagnosis, as they usually don't complain. So I didn't know there was anything wrong. Now I am analyzing the minute changes in her behavior to see if there were perhaps any clues, but the truth is.... there just weren't. I really didn't even know what an aneurysm was up until last week.
So I was packing the car for the Polish agility championships, a trial I had really wanted to go to and do well at. It was 3 in the morning, it was dark, it was raining. As I was carrying the stuff to the car, the dogs were all running around me and suddenly Mira just fell. Just like that. No warning. I thought she had just stumbled, but she was unconscious and having what resembled a seizure and which stopped after a few seconds. I tried doing CPR on her, I woke up Janusz, we put her in the car and sped off to the nearest emergency clinic. She died in my arms. When we got to the clinic the vet only confirmed the death and kept the body for an autopsy. That's how I found out about the aneurysm.
The vets tried to cheer me up by saying that if a ruptured aneurysm doesn't cause instant death, then the dog ends up paralyzed or in a coma. I didn't feel particularly cheerful, I couldn't even drive I was crying so hard.

No need to add I didn't go to the nationals trial. They told me it rained all day long.

Understandably, it's been a very tough week. Possibly the worst one so far in my life. As they say, misfortunes never come single. When one thing in your life gets screwed up, then all others follow. We had 3 sheep mysteriously killed, I started a lousy and very stressful job (which I need to give up ASAP) and finally came down with the flu on Friday. Clearly, stress related. I'm usually pretty optimistic about life, sure I've been sad at times, but never, never like this. I still can't put into writing what I feel about Mira's death, so I won't. For now, at least.

Anyway, I guess I wanted to prove something to myself, so I took Uma to a trial today. My flu and all, driving alone, drinking warm tea from a thermos, all bundled up in a blanket, as pathetic as it gets. Come to think of it I'm not really sure what I wanted to prove. That I've survived? Anyway, two of the worst runs of my life, with off-courses in places where you'd never think an off-course was possible. Uma wasn't listening to me, I wasn't moving, it wasn't working and I didn't feel like chatting to anyone. All I proved is that when you've just lost a dog and have the flu, you should stay home.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


K-Aus Don't Be Fooled By Mira CDX ADC CCGC RV-E JV-E GV-E DNA-CP

I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and forever cry.
I am not there. I did not die.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pecice - a few film clips

I have a few random runs taped from last weekend's trial, thanks to Pawel. I HATE watching myself run my dogs, because the runs always look worse than I remember them. I can see LOTS more room for improvement. But I know it has to be done for educational purposes. And this to examine my weave pole handling. I am most disappointed about Uma's teeter in this one - she is clearly waiting for me. And about my very stupid handling of the dog-walk, tunnel sequence which almost made her go off course. And very wide there. And of course the entry into the serpentine. Anyway, here's Uma in the standard run:

And here's Malcolm in Jumpers. He actually got the weave entrance, but popped out, probably lack of committment on my part. Other than that, not bad and he's looking decent.

Here's part of Uma's Touch N GO run, Pawel didn't catch the first part.

And here's Mira's Jumpers run with the refusal at the number 3 tunnel. I know I had my back to her and started moving sideways a bit, but really, really, she SHOULD know better by now ;-)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Uma's weave poles and my handling

I had attributed Uma's hesitancy on weave poles to the change in the spacement of the poles from the American 20" to the European 23.7" But it has been pointed out to me that the fault may lie in my handling. I tend to get tense, cower over the dog and stay very close. In general, it would seem I don't trust the dog to do her/his job. The truth is that I had a weave pole entry issue with Mira for a long long time. It only went away after I started trialling in ASCA where refusals don't count, which would make the theory that it's my nerves causing my reactions and my dog picking up on that. I don't think I have a weave pole entry issue with Uma yet, but I may very well start having one if I don't find a way to comfortably handle her the same way as in training. The countdown is: this weekend: 1 missed weave pole (good entry though) out of 2 last weekend: 2 out of 2 clean entrances and weaves 2 weeks ago: 2 out of 4 OK, so maybe there is a problem. This weekend I know someone was taping my runs, so hopefully I'll have access to that and will be able to see what's happening there. Last weekend Karolina taped only Uma's weaves in the standard course, which were slowish but clean. I don't see myself messing up too much here at the entrance, I am letting her find it on her own. I get closer to her towards the end and she clearly slows down there.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

trial in Pecice Aug 25th

Yet another one-day trial, this time hosted by our very own club. What that means is A LOT of work for me, nights spent filling out score cards, days spent buying everything necessary for the trial and lots of nerves. Our biggest feat before this trial was filling in a huge pothole which appeared on the (unpaved) drive into the field. My back is still sore.

My biggest worry was that the entry was too large for the time we had (120 dogs) and we would end up running well into the night... And there's no lighting there. But you can always count on the "rule of 15%" (which I heard about from my best friend who's organizing her wedding. She said that she's inviting more people than she has room for, but she's been told that about 15% of guests never show up). Anyway, I'm back home and it's only 8 PM. Which means we finished ahead of time. Everything went great, the people fro mour club worked their butts off, there were volunteers from other clubs too.

I ran everybody in Jumpers and Standard (Uma, Mira, Malcolm) and Uma in the game class we had for fun - Touch N Go. Uma was clean in the Standard run and took a first place!!!

Here's the course:

We had a tiny hiccup after 12, probably with more of an arc than needed to go into the serpentine at 13-14-15. But it was nice.
Malcolm didn't get the weave pole entry (5 faults) and Mira had a refusal at 13 and I honestly don't remember what I messed up there, but clearly something went wrong.

The Jumpers course was NOT nice. Really, number 11 is where it should be - NOT on the other side of this jump. This made for a very hard weave pole entry which Uma did not miss. But I did the very same thing I did a few weeks ago, amazed by the fact she actually made the entry I kept back and she popped out. So we had to redo the weaves. Malcolm also missed a weave pole, but was clean otherwise (yes, I know, obvious weave pole issues) while Mira, who really has weave pole issues, got all her entrances. Here she had a refusal at the # 3 tunnel. Yeah. I know, a pretty lame place for a refusal. Otherwise, she was good.

In the Touch N Go class there was an entry of, I think, something like 60 dogs (altogether, no jump heights). I only ran Uma in this with the idea of holding her contacts and counting to 3 before releasing them with all but the last contact which I wanted to quick release. I did just that and she ended up second out of all dogs (of course, clean). Possibly my proudest moment :-)

Anyway, it was a very good day for all my dogs. Uma was the best, but Mal and Mira were doing nicely too. Since there were 8 Aussies entered in the trial, Ula, owner of Asti, donated a prize for the best Aussie and Uma took that home with her too.

HOWEVER - sending her ahead of me in weave poles until the very, very end. That's what I have to work on next. And I asked a friend to time our weave poles here and they were at exactly 3 seconds. She also timed them last week and they were at 2.6 there, so it was much much slower this week. Bummer. I still haven't figured out what to do to get her to single-step these 60-cm distances between the poles.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

trial in Vetrkovice Aug. 18th

I'm back home, we got back late last night after an eventful weekend of training and trialling and some other quite unexpected events.

On Thursday Wanda and I went swimming in the lake with the dogs and.... while we were playing with the dogs in the water somebody swiped my wallet (driver's license, credit cards and all) from the car. Of course, I know I shouldn't have left the damn thing in the car. Yes, I really do.... Anyway, all of Thursday afternoon was spent at the police station in Vitkov trying to convince the Czech police to issue me some form of document which would allow me to drive home without my license. Luckily, my English-speaking Aussie friend Martina was kind enough to go there with me, because the language barrier was insurmountable. Czech and Polish are similar but it seems official Czech (the kind used in police reports) is far removed from the spoken language. And I spent Friday searching the surrounding area for the wallet, hoping the thief dropped it somewhere after taking the cash. Anyway, not too much fun. I was so stressed I got a fever, headache and a stomachache all at once.

I still decided to trial on Saturday, practically dragging myself out of bed and definitely NOT running very fast. There were two runs - jumpers and standard. Uma WON the Jumpers (class of 36 dogs), being 4 seconds ahead of dog number 2. In standard she knocked two bars (both were my fault, she placed 4th), but it was still a beautiful performance. She had a time of 32 s and the next dog clocked in at 38 s. The Jumpers and the Standard results are always combined at the end and it turned out she also took a 1st place in the combined classification (nobody had 2 clean rounds). So all in all, it was a very nice showing, especially bearing in mind my state of mind....

trial in Ostrava and camp in Vetrkovice (Czech Republic)

We went to a trial in Ostrava before the camp in the Czech Republic - it was a tempting trial to enter for me, because all they had were two standard runs (so-called exams), so I got two tries at Uma's second leg for her A1 in one day.

However, it was raining very hard, the trial was outside, it was very slippery and on the first run Uma didn't hold her dogwalk and A-frame contacts. I think she was trying, It's just that I don't think I've ever trained in such conditions and on such equipment (the contacts were rubberized) She also dropped a bar in that run.

Her second run was much better, it looked like she learned what to do with those wet contacts, her dog walk was still very iffy, but it was a qualifying run with a first place and a time of 34.18.

Which doesn't change the fact that now I know I need to practice contacts also when it's raining, with particular attention to safety issues, she certainly needs an easy command before she goes on the teeter when it's that wet.

The Czechs are well.... so similar and yet so different. It's not my first time here in the Czech Republic, but each time I'm here for longer I have similar issues. It seems to me when training they rely more on instinct than on methodology, which is not exactly my strategy for doing anything. But then again since it's so clearly instinct and intuition which I lack as a handler, then maybe it was the right thing to do to come here and see what they have to offer. The camp starts tomorrow morning.

And an update after two days of agility camp. Sadly, in terms of the ideas our instructor has to offer, it is disappointing. Mainly, there's just a set up that everybody in the group (4 dogs, not a big group) has to do. If you do it correctly, there's a "vybornie" ("excellent") comment and if you don't, then you do it again until you get it. If you don't get it after some 4 or 5 tries, that's pretty much it. Our instructor, who will remain nameless here (but the instructor is a multiple WC participant), because I don't want to spread bad news about someone over the internet, rarely gets up from her chair. I honestly cannot understand the purpose of these exercises... Anyway, the only good thing is that the sequences are interesting, I can experiment with different handling strategies to see which one works for me and well... that's pretty much it. I get a good workout, Uma and Malcolm (who's in a different group) also get a good workout.

I've been spying on the less advanced classes to see how they teach certain beginning stuff and I am amazed. I am absolutely amazed at how it is possible that this country has had World Championship medalists, both in the individual and team categories.... It seems there is no theory whatsoever, there's just plain running. Contact zones are taught by physically placing the dog on the zone and yelling "zona" (zone), there's a variation used for running contacts which includes rolling a ball off the contact (and yelling "zona"), weave poles are taught by luring the dog with a ball. They begin agility with sequences, not individual obstacles. To be honest, I did not see many excellent weave pole performances at the trial in Ostrava and I did see A LOT of missed contacts, so the methods are well... not working. I don't know, maybe it's the fact that there are SO MANY people competing, that there have too be a few good ones in the bunch? It is true that for a country as small as the Czech Republic the sheer number of people practicing agility is overwhelming. There can be three FCI trials in the country (which is the size of well... maybe Massachusetts) on the same weekend and they all fill. Maybe it's the fact that they have so many dogs to choose from, there's just bound to be a few really good ones in the lot.

Update after 4 days...
The disappointment continues. There is absolutely no commentary whatsoever. Several of the sequences were well known setups (like serpentines, threadles, 270s), they also seem to love geometrical X-type openings. When people struggle with a particular handling sequence because they haven't taught it, they just struggle, that's it. There's a lady with a standard schnauzer in Uma's group who clearly cannot do serpentines if her life depended on it. She struggles with these serpentines each and every time they're set up and it would really have been such an easy thing for the instructor to get up and show her what to do.

I admit to having been a rebellious camper. When the instructor sets up long and twisted courses (and it's hot hot hot here - finally) I break them up into pieces and finish after some type of accomplishment. The good news is she has stopped yelling at me, but it's strange that I actually feel like I'm not being honest when I'm trying to teach my dog.

The Czechs also don't have startline stays, practically all of them run with their dogs from the startline. They also don't seem to be teaching jumping. When the dog knocks bars, the dogs knocks bars and that's it. There doesn't seem to be any method to teaching it. In general, I was thinking of going home early, but well... it's just one more day and maybe we can survive that. And there's a 1-day official trial on Saturday.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Lesley Olden seminar - part III

I was supposed to be trialling this weekend, far far away, but due to various interconnected reasons I wasn't :-(
Next weekend I'm leaving for a week-long agility camp in the Czech Republic with Jirina Strnadova who is a well known judge and retired competitor (she used to run Shelties and Belgian Sheepdogs).

But since I wasn't trialling this weekend, I had some time to write more about Lesley Olden's methods for contacts and jumping drills.

Her contact methods are basically the same ones I use, though I guess I first learned about them through Susan Garrett and I've always thought she was the original inventor of the 2on/2off taught through targeting of a plexi square. Lesley says she first trained a 2on/2off contact through targeting (of a clear plexi square) in 1991. That's years and years of experience in doing this! She starts off with a clear plexi square (VERY small, like 2 square inches, no more) and basically goes through all the stages Susan Garrett describes. She emphasizes the need to fade the target very quickly. It comes back in if the dog is having issues with something new. When I was recalling Uma over the dogwalk from a tunnel and she just couldn't put the brakes on hard enough, she had me put the plexi target back for a couple of repetitions. Amazingly, it worked. Two reps with a target and she was able to put the brakes on without one.
Lesley prefers to teach a down as her contact position and constant targeting (not pecking, but "put your nose down and keep it there") which differs from what I do. She says the down position is natural for most border collies (not Aussies though), so that's why she uses it. She doesn't use it for other breeds. On the other hand, I would think it might also encourage crouching in BCs.

There aren't many people in Poland who teach a stopped contact with a 2 on/2off, usually people, even the really top competitors, have some form of a running contact that's pretty much dependent on the position of the handler.

Obviously, Lesley puts a lot of emphasis on independent performance of a contact obstacle and does lots of work on independent angled entries onto the contacts (something I have to work on). She teaches the dog to go under a hoop on commaned or around a pole/cone and uses that skill when practicing angled entries. Somebody asked why she doesn't believe the hoops don't work for down contacts and work for up contacts and she said "just because" :-) I am still wondering what I should do with Uma's up dogwalk contact for which I have assumed the attitude of "don't fix it if it isn't broken" but I'm being more and more concerned that it might easily get broken. She sometimes misses it in practice, though she hasn't missed it in competition yet. If I'm worried about the approach, I'll do a quick RFP to shorten her stride a bit. But maybe I should actually teach her the damn thing...

Lesley has a horse background, so she knows a lot about jumping and showed us some jump grid exercises she uses with her own dogs. Basically, she admits to doing this more by instinct than by plan - analyzing what the dog is good at and what it needs work on and progressing on the basis of that. In general she set up grids of 4 jumps, experimenting with the spacing, the height of the jumps and finally offsetting them a bit. She does her jumps grid exercises as a send (different from Suzanne Clothier's Jump Chute method in which everything is done as a recall), especially if she's working on the early stages of collection exercises. And she does have a point there, a recall exercise certainly invites a dog to flatten out and extend, while in a sendaway the dog is not focused on getting to the handler. Of course, the same collection exercise should later be done as a recall as well, but she says it is easier for the dog as a send.

As she brings the jumps closer together, she never puts them at less than 2 meters apart for the big dogs (to quote her loosely: "not like them bloody Americans"). She also set up turning drills with three winged jumps set up in a U pattern with the wings touching. For this one she starts the dogs off from a standstill and then adds speed to the drill by adding jumps before the turn.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Lesley Olden seminar - part II

The exercises I really liked consisted of timing various handling options for one sequence and seeing which one was faster. The results were sometimes counter-intuitive for me, which is why I liked it so much, because of all the information these exercises provided.

What was very eye-opening for me was Lesley's concept of lines on turns. I'd heard about it before, I think it's something I really should have known about, but well... somehow I never gave it as much thought as Lesley did at this seminar. In general, Lesley said (rightly so) that it is always faster for a dog to turn in the direction it is moving in and looking at.

In this exercise it would seem that the shorter and thus faster route would be to shape the turn between the 1-2 jumps, wrap the wing of number 2 to the left and give the dog a straight on entrance into the weaves. Like this:

BUT.... it turned out that for all the dogs (one exception, a smaller slower dog) it was significantly faster to turn right after number 2 and wrap the wing from the other direction. Mostly because the 1-2 line was clearly suggesting to the dog that it would be turning right. Thus, the left turn in the first handling option took longer to register and wasn't as tight as the right turn. Here's the faster handling:

Same thing in the exercise below. It would seem logical to wrap the right wing of number 2, have the dog move between jumps 2 and 3 onto the A-frame, also giving the dog a straight on approach onto the A-frame. Like this:

But it turned out that giving the dogs an angled approach to the aframe, by turning the dog to the left after jump number 3, was the faster solution for everyone.

I also noticed that Lesley is a fan of long offset leadouts, especially when they help you get a tighter turn. And what she suggested here was a leadout way to the right of number 2, with the left shoulder turned towards the dog, left arm leading the dog to number 2 and switching to the right arm as soon as the dog commits. Again, something I'll have to practice, because it was a good idea in terms of the tighter turn it created.

Here's the faster handling option:

This one wasn't as clear cut and obvious. The concept that the faster turn will be in the direction the dog is looking in would apply, but the distance the dog travels after turning left is so much longer that it sometimes outweighs the time gained on the turn. Here are the two options:

EDIT: Come to think of it there actually isn't any distance losst on turning to the left here. Which means I have absolutely no idea why turning to the right worked faster for me. But it did.

And nothing counterintuitive about the sequence below. The faster way was with a front cross after number two. BUT... it was damn hard to get it in. For me it required sending the dog into the tunnel running to number 2 ASAP and giving her my turn cue to number 3 as she was coming towards number 2.
I also tried the second handlig with a post turn after number 2 and with a wrap and then a back cross. My post turns/pivots suck, so it was faster with a wrap and a rear cross.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lesley Olden seminar - part I

I just got back from a seminar with Lesley Olden and what an informative seminar it was!

In general I have to say I love Lesley's handling style, because it's so un-European. Lesley is not a "run with your dog as fast as you can" kind of person, she has knee problems herself, so she needs to look for ideas that allow her to maintain speed while handling from a larger distance than most European handlers.

On the other hand I'm not sure if she's got the personality of a seminar-giver, I think you really have to dig to get answers out of her, ask her questions and don't accept a "well done" type of comment. I'm also glad I was in the advanced group with Uma, because she seemed excellent when discussing the handling issues we faced and kind of bored with the basic (motivation, focus, startline stays) issues the less-advanced people had. So for handling strategies, she's an excellent choice and I highly recommend her.

She definitely revealed tons of holes in my training and motivated me to work on them. I'll write them down now (so I don't forget) and I'll later write about the specific exercises.

TURNS - I've been working on this a lot, but it seems like there's still a lot to be done. I have not worked on pivot turns (post turns) and that shows when I need to do one. And more work on wrapping wings tightly. It seems her best turns are turns out of rear crosses. That has to change ;-) Lesley also showed us some cool grid work jumping exercises, which I will want to work on in my neverending quest to improve Uma's jumping technique.

WEAVES - Lesley has totally impressive weave entries from a distance at weird angles and at tons of speed. I still need work on that, lots of work. I also need to work on entries when I'm on front of the dog and recalls through the weaves.

PULL THROUGHS (and threadles) - this seems to be one of Lesley's favorite moves. I need work on pull throughs when the dog is way in front of me, which can happen... Lesley suggested teaching a verball pull through command and I think I'll go for that. I had some issues doing the threadle in the course which follows below, there was no way I could get it from a distance. Especially since I'm used too handling threadles while walking backwards, I can only achieve this when I'm in front of the dog. If the dog is in front of me, there's no way I can do that.

TUNNELS - it seems Uma does not understand the concept of the possibility of exiting the pipe tunnel in the other direction than the arc the tunnel is curving in. And I can call her all I want, in the course below she still first turned to the indside of the tunnel after existing it. Lesley suggested directional commands, but I am not sure about that. I'll have to think it through.

CONTACTS - Uma has gorgeous contacts and fast as well, but she sometimes loses it when the speed is really outrageous - as in below 1.7 seconds. In the course below I tried sending her to the number 8 tunnel and recalling her over the dogwalk. The first time she did not get the contact, it was just too fast. I had to go back to a target and the next time she got it. So more work on this, getting really top notch speed (out of a tunnel) and recalling over a contact obstacle.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

more courses and photos

Here's yet another cute Uma pic from Lublin (two weekends ago):

The guy who took this picture, Szymon Regis, is one of the best agility photographers out there. Like most of the agility photographers in Poland he lets people use his photos for free as long as credit is given.

And two more courses from last weekend. This one was particularly nasty:

We died after the number 15 jump. I was too slow Uma took the dummy jump (number 8) instead of going to the tunnel. But it was a heck of a nasty course.

And a Jumpers course which I was particularly proud of running well:

The way FCI trials work in general is that there are three runs a day - one is the so-called "exam" That's a regular standard run divided into levels (A0, A1, A2, A3). You need three Qs from A1 to move up into A2, 3 Q with top 3 placements from A2 to get into A3 and 3 Qs with top three placements from A3 to earn the A3 title. Exams are not organized at each and every trial (unfortunately and for strange and complicated reasons). The two remaining runs, one Jumpers and one Standard, are so-called Open runs, which means any dog from any category can run in them. They don't count for titles.

And now we're off to a seminar with Lesley Olden. That should be fun!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Photos from Bialystok Trial

And some photos from the trial in Bialystok. All photos by Mokka (Hanna Bryzek).

Get that contact, girl!

Got it, mom!

Straight line, legs extended:

Maybe a little bit less extended here... Maybe not.


This one's my favorite:

And the A-Frame

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bialystok, July 20-21

We were in Bialystok at an official FCI trial this weekend. There were some highs and some lows, but we were running very smoothly and the only times anything happened was when I messed up.

BAD: calling her too early when she's in the tunnel, not turning her quick enough after she comes barelling out of a tunnel, me being nervious about weave entrances and thus Uma not getting them (on Sunday I relaxed and she got ALL her weave entrances). And more bad timing on my part....

GOOD: The dog :-) Uma holding her contacts (I'm tempted to start quick releases with her, but I don't think I'm there yet), fast weaves, awesome jump work, just 1 knocked bar all weekend long (my fault). Practically all of our runs were very nice and fluent, usually with one stupid handler mistake per run. Two were awesome - a qualifying Standard run on Sunday in A1 (this means she has 1 leg and needs 2 more to move up) and an awesome clean Open Standard run on Sunday (with a third place).

Saturday was a "bad handler day" for Uma and I really messed her up quite a few times. I pulled her out of the chute by calling too early (there was a tricky sequence following, I didn't want her to take the dummy jump, but it was obviously too early) and I put her over the wrong jump after exiting the tunnel.

I did the very same thing on Sunday which cost me an off course and a very nice trophy. Here's the course where this happened:

Here I off-coursed her after the number 18 tunnel onto the number 3 jump instead of doing the broad jump. I didn't turn her tight enough after the tunnel and it didn't help that I was on the right side of the broad jump. She jumped the jump when my back was turned to the tunnel. I did the same thing in Saturday's Open Jumpers class, which means this is something I need to work one. Both of these runs would have been awesome if it wasn't for that off course after the tunnel.

This is a course we ran clean and in 41.90 seconds. The best time was 38 seconds by a very fast Lithuanian border collie. However, I was holding Uma's contacts for at least half a second on each. I'm sure there's no way she would have been as fast as that dog, but I could technically shave at least 1.5 second off her time by quick relasing. But.... I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet. Anyway, here's the course:

In general I'm very pleased with her and of course disappointed in my handling skills or lack thereof. But next weekend we're going to a seminar with Lesley Olden (of Crufts fame) and I'm looking forward to that.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lubiln, July 14th

Yesterday we went to Lublin to a small and very informal trial with the goal of holding Uma's contacts and doing all in my power to try and break her stays. There were only 8 dogs in Uma's class, so the trial was absolutely no big deal, but we still did our thing - contacts were perfect as were her stays.

Her standard run was clean and in first place, her jumpers run was also nice, but I was so amazed she made the difficult weave pole entry I held back and pulled her out - so that was 5 faults for a missed weave pole. Still a first place though. Second went to Uma's mom Mira, who missed her weave antry (also 5 faults), but was slower. There's always a combined standard +jumpers classification in Poland and Uma took first in that as well. She also got the "best contacts" award - well, that's what we were there for. We got some very nice hand-made polar fleece tugs as our loot - I think they'll come in handy as tug toys.

And here are the courses from Yesterday. Here's the standard course (as I remember it):

And here's the Jumpers course:

Uma's two siblings (blue merle Asti and black Jinx) were there as well and did very nicely too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

and more problems

Of course, as always before a trial after a longish break, all kinds of problems have to pop up JUST before the trial.
On Monday I was working on speed on contacts with my club members and worked with Uma as well. It was drizzling and kind of slippery, but after the speed session she was not holding her contacts on the dog walk - trying, but clearly too much speed to stop.
The good news is her speed was decent - 1.6 to 1.9 on the dogwalk. But I cannot yet ask for that kind of speed in competition or this is what I'll get. She needs practice, practice, practice stopping in the 2on/2off position from FULL speed.

On a good note - Mira (Uma's mom) has received an invitation to the ASCA Agility Finals for this year! She qualified in last place of the qualifiers, but I am guessing she must have been the only one who went from Novice to qualifying for the finals in about 6 months.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

We worked on some weave entries on Wednesday and Friday and I have definitely found a hole in my training. But this is something that just needs to be worked on in terms of miles and, hopefully, it will come.

The bigger problem seems to be Uma's weave pole technique. In the US she was very nicely sinigle stepping the poles - BUT the poles in ASCA/USDAA are spaced at 20" - that is 50.8 cm. The poles here are spaced at 65 cm - that is 25.6". It's a HUGE difference, for some reason I hadn't noticed how huge the difference is. And it clearly impacts her technique.

Interestingly, both Mira and Malcolm (and Jinx and Asti - Uma's littermates) single step these weave poles very nicely. I'm trying to think very hard about what to do to get Uma to do this. If her siblings are capable of doing it, it should mean she can do it too. But it's kind of frustrating at this point...

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Training in July

Our first trial in Poland is on July 14-15th, it's an unofficial match in Lublin. The following week (21-22) there's an official trial in Bialystok. Then we're off to an agility seminar with Lesley Olden from the UK and then to agility camp in Vetrkovice.

The past week was devoted to enjoying the almost constant availability of agility equipment :-) We did some tunnel/contact obstacle discriminations and worked on handling for that, some jumping drills on offset lines of jumps and some weired entrances onto contacts.

Our dropped bar ratio has been pretty low, though not nonexistent - but mostly when I pulled too fast on tighter sequences or signalled miserably late.

A friend visited us with a camera yesterday and took some pics of the dogs playing agility and herding. Thanks for the pics, zakla! Here are a few pics of Uma:






Tuesday, June 19, 2007

training plans

Things to work on soon:

- weaving away from me and allowing me to drift to the left and right while Uma is weaving (to enable a front cross)
- cuing the correct entrance of a C-shaped tunnel with a slight RFP
- Uma's response to my cues for tunnel/dogwalk and tunnel/A-frame discriminations + my consistency with using cues
- two ways for handling serpentines

General and larger things:

Think of ideas for working on changing the bad habit of usinig her right lead while on a counterclockwise arc.

Carefully plan a progressive project for independent contacts, especially in two situations: (1) contact obstacle after a straight line of jumps (Uma way in front of me) and (2) when I am way in front of her (to allow front crosses not just next to the contact, but also from a greater distance). Also work on position on contacts with targeting.

Look for ideas for more jump work