Tuesday, April 29, 2008

demolition continues

The renovation project has reached new and unexpected heights. At this point we have no water and no heating and I'm staying with my mother until that changes. My four dogs and her two cats in a condo on the ninth story of a high-rise. Cool, huh?
Well, there's even more cool stuff. The drywall people who started work last week did not show up for work this Monday. They dodged Janusz's phone calls and we finally called from my cell, because they don't know the number. So well.. no good explanation, just: "something came up, we won't make it this week at all." We panicked for some thirty minutes, discussed our options (what guarantee do we have that they'll actually show up next week?) and decided to search for a new team for drywalling and floors, since we're so short on time. And amazingly, we did manage to find a team willing to start next Monday. That still adds another week-long delay to the schedule, but these guys seems a lot more responsible.

Agilitywise, not that much going on, I'm doing some simple sequencing with Eden and she's doing not bad at all. I'd like her to be faster, but it's not that she's not trying, she's just who she is. However, her front crosses are coming along nicely, we're doing some back crosses on tunnels (nothing yet on jumps), working on turns etc. I did a couple of sessions on the dogwalk and yhm... I have to figure out the bumper thing. Either she slows down before the stop, or she keeps her stride (as the bumpers suggest), but doesn't get the stop. I would like for her to jump into position and freeze, just like Uma does.
I have a taped and timed session of Uma's dogwalks, where our average speed is about 1.7s. I know Silvia Trkman has 1.3-1.4 dogwalks, so that still leaves room for improvement for Uma. But I can't complain, I think what we have is pretty nice. That is unless I mess up in competition, which I sometimes do.

The recalls (which are first in the clip) are the slowest:

In general I have tons of clips with various stuff. Here's a bit of Eden doing sequencing:

Here's something really cool. Uma and Karolina have practiced disc-dogging for a total of three times so far and here's a clip (taken by me, posted by Karolina) of their third session. Yeah, it's still not what it could be, but it's so nice to see how they're becoming a team and having fun together:

And here's a bit of Eden disc-dogging. She takes off way too late on the overs and in general does not have a nice jumping style. However, my floaters for the overs are also pretty horrible in this video (and I had felt so confident about them!), so I guess we jusst need to get our act together. She won't be a star, but she's enjoying herself and I'm finding working with her quite pleasant. So why not:

I also have sheepherding clips for all the dogs, but I'll save the for another update :-)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


A friend of mine offered to take Uma to a frisbee competition in June, which is a very cool thing, because a) Uma loves frisbee and b) June won't be a good month for frisbee competitions for me. Uma already has some experience with disc-dogging, but since I'm left-handed and Karolina is right-handed they need to practice a bit too get their act together. I have a couple of pics from last week's session, taken by Lukasz Kowa. As you can see, I'm also playing around with Eden.

So far it looks like she does NOT have Uma catching abilities and she clearly is not as powerful a jumper. I am not asking her to jump higher than just over my leg, like in this pic (so some 10 inches maybe), but she is still consistently taking off way too late, no matter when the disc is released. I am going to try to think of some ideas for getting her to take off earlier, but what I'll also do is get her preliminarily x-rayed as soon as she turns a year old, for the sake of making sure that it's not a physical problem. Maybe she's just not a bouncy Aussie and that's it.

Mostly we do a lot of rollers:

And here's Uma, I really like this pic:

especially the fact that you can see her slobber as she's opening her mouth to catch the disc. Dammit, she's a cool dog.

Meanwhile I've started Eden on the A-frame with stride regulators, hoping for a running contact. I still have to experiment with the placement of the bumpers a little bit, since I at first placed them too high, but it is looking promising. I do need to get this flimed, since it's important info for my training. She's actually pretty nice on the downside and the problem seems to be a lack of good drive on the upside, for which I guess I need to practice the "ready, steady, go" game, which is not something I've done with her yet (though I should have). Same goes for dogwalk, stride regulators on the descent ramp seem to be doing the trick, she is cantering over the center plank and I want more speed on the ascent ramp now.

What I do have filmed is parts of a nice herding session with Eden. She's overflanking, especially on the come-bye side, but she's covering nicely and not getting in their butts too much. The barking is driving me crazy, but supposedly it will go away. We'll see. Her breeder told me to work her on some less dog-broke sheep and I am planning to do just that, very soon :-)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

congrats to myself and Uma :-)

OK, this is kind of funny. The rules for qualifying for the WC in Poland are somewhat complicated and involve a series of three two-day trials. The trial this weekend in Plock was one of them. The only one I am attending this year and only for one day (we're taking childbirth classes on Saturdays).
And, if I'm not mistaken (the rules are very complicated), it turns out Uma's Open Agility run was the fastest run of all the jump heights (34.41s), which means she earned herself 5 points towards qualifying for the Worlds. And admittedly, it is kind of ironic that she earned those points based on speed with an almost immobile handler, who is 7 months pregnant :-)

Monday, April 7, 2008

trial in Plock

We spent one day a-trialling in Plock. It was cold, rainy, I didn't get was I was looking for (a clean run in standard A2), but it was a good day all in all. I got to have some fun with my dog, socialize with friends and turned in decent runs, though it's really hard to call them runs, maybe something closer to walks, or wobbles.

Here are two of Uma's runs. This is A2 standard, where she popped out of the weaves (yes, I know I could have avoided that back cross on the weaves):

And her Agility Open run where she missed a contact zone. In our defense, it was raining hard, I did some stupid things, I was slipping, she was slipping and well, shit happens. But other than that I think it's a decent run, though a couple of wide turns in the opening:

The runs were filmed by Toska, who is the owner of this awesome blue merle pup, who quickly became Eden's best friend (actually, Eden has tons of best friends):

And here's a cleaner version of Eden playing ball with me during the trial:

These pics were taken by Marysia Pajzderska, owner of Una, who turned in a beautiful and very fast clean run in A1. The blue merle Aussie is Aquilonis Livin' La Vida Loca, who is half Mistretta and on the other side if a Jack (War Drum of Imagineer) granddaughter.

There was also a third run, Jumpers, which I don't have a video of yet, but which was the most eventful run of the trial for me, since on the home stretch, just beforoe the last obstacle, I slipped and fell in a rather spectacular manner. Well, it was wet, the grass was practically non-existent after a weekend of running in the rain and well.... my balance ain't so good either. So as I fell I heard a gasp of horror in the stands and everyone came up to me and started asking if I was ok. Well, I was OK, but it might have been a sign that it's time for a break. I was really hoping on doing one more trial in late April, but it looks like it may not be meant to be.
Which is why I appreciate this one even more :-)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

some updates

I've been neglecting the blog again, mostly because I haven't been doing much agility. I have been doing a lot of herding with Eden and Malcolm, some obedience with Eden and Uma and some disc-dogging too. The downside of agility is that there is always a lot of lifting that has to happen before you can actually do anything ;-) I have set up some weaves in my backyard for Eden and have started her using slightly offset weaves + some luring. She's looking pretty good at this point and seems to be developing nice footwork. Footwork was what I was worried about the most after messing up Uma's. Uma is fast as lightning but she double-foots with 24" spacing. She single-foots nicely with tighter spacing, but here in Europe it's always 24" ;-)
I finally put Eden on the low dogwalk with a target on the ground, which she nouse touches for a 2on/2off. I had been practicing the nouse touching behavior for quite a while on stairs etc. and felt it was strong enough to use on the dogwalk now. Well, it is, but unfortunately the problem I was afraid of has popped up - that is she slows down on the descent ramp before stopping. I've been recalling her over the dogwalk to get her to lengthen her striding, but it isn't working. I think I'll try try using stride regulators (not for a running contact, but for lengthening her stride on the descent before the 2 on/2off. I don't want a running contact on the dogwalk, because I'm terrified if how easy this is to mess up with a fast dog. She's not that fast, but even now when I run alongside her she outruns me easily - that is until she gets to the descent ramp where she slows down. I would like to have the stop there (if I need it), but to have nice long striding on the descent.

I'm toying around with the idea of doing a running contact on the A-Frame, well, because it's not as long as the dogwalk, so I feel it's easier to get it done.
I've been doing a bit of sequencing on low jumps (and with tunnels). And, honestly, I'm a bit disappointed with the speed I'm getting from Eden. I'm afraid this might turn out to be a larger issue and, honestly, the think I like doing least is trying to push a dog for speed. She's a bit strange, because she really does want her ball/tug, but she doesn't get the idea that she has to go faster to get it. It's not like she's hopeless, but I would like to have a bit more going on there. She is, however, very flexible and seems to be careful with her feet, so I don't foresee many knocked bars in her future.

All in all, I think she's more into herding than anything else. Will do. Maybe she'll be a good teacher for me.
I've also beein doing some obedience work with her and she's coming along nicely, though of course, there's still a lot to be done. But I like her attitude for obedience. Here's a bit of us working on heeling together:

And she's got such a sweet smile :-)

Aussies & Agility

I've been following the results of the AKC Agility Nationals and it's been a very good year for Aussies! There were 4 Aussies in the finals of the 20" category and a few that missed it by the skin of their teeth. Lisa and Dust, my favorite team, finished 23rd out of approx. 200 dogs and deserve a huge round of applause. Lisa has some film clips on her blog and they are impressive!

Nonetheless, I have to rant a little bit about a topic I feel strongly about, that is Aussies and agility, and well... this is an agility blog so what better place ;-) And I know it's a political topic, but what the heck
The reason is that friend after friend and acquaintance after acquaintance who started out in the agility/performance world with Aussies or with something else and expressed the desire to get an Aussie as a second dog at some point is getting a border collie instead. Conversely, I also know of a few people who got Aussies for agility and are somewhat disappointed with what they have. Not that they don't love their dogs, of course, we all love our dogs to pieces. Yes, it's hard not to agree that there is a higher likelihood of getting a dog that can be highly competitive when comparing the average border collie to the average Aussie and I've been reading my Aussie and agility lists ever since I got hooked up to the internet (1998?), so I've witnessed all these arguments being rehashed, but here's my biased tak on this anyway.

I really think hardly anyone breeds Aussies for performance events like agility/frisbee/flyball. Breeders are divided into three main camps, the strictly conformation breeders (who, of course, will claim that temperament is also of primary importance for them, but suffice to say the various definitions of good temperament are not necessarily compatible), the strictly working breeders (as in working stock) and the versatility breeders (breeding for what they call "the total package"). My observations of strictly working bred dogs are non-conclusive. I've seen some that were awesome and I've seen some that basically just trotted along the course without much enthusiasm. Yes, they have been bred with emphasis on cooperating with a human, but well... chasing balls and tugging with passion are not required traits for stockdogs. So I've seen quite a few who simply run to please their owners, but would much rather be working cattle than waiting for their hot-dog tug at the end of the run. Nonetheless, I still think their structure and physical attributes are usually better for performance events than those of the typically show-bred dogs. I've seen some really enthusiastic show-bred Aussies in agility that simply lack this little edge which they would have if they had a bit less bone, a few pounds less, a bit more length of back and a bit more angulation in the rear.

So-called versatility breeders would seem to be the ones to fill the gap, but I don't think they always do. At least not most. Aiming for a balancing act between working ability and good looks and an outgoing temperament does not necessarily lead to fast and driven dogs. Plus, I have the sneaky feeling that many so-called versatility breeders are really interested in conformation, but they understand it differently than the typical show-breeders and aim for getting an Aussie that looks more like the old-style Aussies. BTW I love this type of dog, I just don't think these selection criteria for breeding dogs are necessarily going to produce a good performance line. Of course, sometimes they do!

And then there's the perennial question of WHY would anyone want to focus on performance events requiring drive nad speed. Wouldn't that be in some way unethical? Aren't breeders supposed to be breeding dogs that look and behave according to the breed standard? How can you choose to reproduce an Aussie that wants her frisbee more than her sheep and claim to be preserving the breed? And the breed standard has nothing to say about weaving, catching frisbees or doing swimmer's turns on flyball boxes. It describes appearance, temperament and working ability. In fact, I've heard the accusation (many times) that the really nice agility dogs have ATYPICAL temperaments for Aussies. They're hyper, hard to live with and generally nuts. Actually, I have not found this to be true regarding the best agility Aussies I've met (or owned). Usually, if they're hyper and over the top, they're not going to be biddable enough to get the control required by sports like agility.

And then the question of is it possible to breed for traits that are required in events invented by bored middle-class city slickers? Working instinct and style are clearly inherited, as are nice heads and fluffy coats. But are speed and drive inherited traits? Not to mention things like weaving style or catch-ratio in disc-dogging ;-)
Maybe they're not, but I still think that if you breed fast and biddable to fast and biddable, you're bound too end up with more dogs that are fast and biddable than if you breed nice head to fluffy coat.
And in a way the split between conformation lines and working lines shows how differently people can understand "breeding for the standard." I'm sure responsible conformation breeders and responsible working breeders are absolutely certain that they're both working for the good of the breed and yet they end up with such totally different "products."

But because hardly anyone breeds Aussies strictly for performance events it's VERY hard to find a good one. Yes, I'm sure many pop up in all kinds of breedings, but if someone is looking specifically for an agility dog (intense toy drive, food drive, good structure, focus and biddability), then it is a lottery. And because no one breeds with non-stock performance events in mind, people looking for an Aussie for such events turn to border collies.