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.