The co-ordination and balance workshop was really good fun. Due to the snow it did appear on Friday that four travelling from the worst affected western side of the country might not be able to get there, but happily everyone did make it there and back safely. I was happy to be in a nice warm dry hall, very civilised! All the dogs on the course were lovely, and flew through all the various exercises easily. Usually there will be a dog that finds it hard to accurately place its back feet to start with, or one that hates the rocker or wobble boards, but no one had any such problems last Saturday; everyone made particularly fast progress. It was really lovely to have very positive feedback from it too, I was lucky to have a really great bunch of people coming on the course. I have now written a booklet that covers everything on the course, and more, but I am not sure at the moment how to produce it.
There was no agility at all last week because of the snow. I love the snow, and I don't remember ever seeing so much snow in London, or it lasting so long. It's mostly been used to make rude snowmen. However, on the downside, the conditions outside have been too poor to try and train, and no one could get to the indoor venue at Bookham Lodge that I usually go to once a week. By yesterday I was getting a little frustrated, Zazzy has only had two weeks of agility, and I have a massive long list of things that she needs to know before the shows start! Two steps forward and one step back! I am feeling quite the fool for entering her in shows, she hasn't done an A-frame or full height jumps yet! Of course you can only work at a certain pace, so missed training at this stage is significant with the show season fast approaching. Such a waste that this talented dog is just not getting shown what to do. However, tonight is training night, so I rushed home and shrugged off all my work tensions, and set off in happy anticipation. Only to find at the end of my hours drive that the indoor menage had become an indoor lake. Curses, another week of no training. On the way back home, I stopped to walk the girls in the dark and pouring rain, but none of us was really enjoying it so we didn't stay out long. It was so wet that I was glad my dogs have long legs, a smaller dog would have needed water wings. In fact the weather is so bad that there were only two cars out dogging in the car park.
The more I see puppies that have been thoughtfully introduced to games that build up their co-ordination and balance, the more I am convinced of the massive value in making that investment. Take for example Karens 9 week old sheltie puppy, Yazoo. She has been boldy jumping onto little wobble boards etc. I am amazed at how co-ordinated and bold she is for such a young puppy. That is a huge advantage to a prospective agility dog. When Karen and Bernadette asked when the next co-ordination and balance workshop was (when the puppies are older - not the one tomorrow!!), I stopped to think about what their puppies would gain from it, bearing in mind they will already be doing plenty with their puppies. I realised that the beauty of the workshop is that there are many different types of exercises, all of which are safe for puppies; everything is done in a slow controlled way and there is no impact, stress or twisting. The amount you can do is controlled by attention span - and often the handler gets bored of it quicker than the dog does! The puppies might already have started doing many of the things that will be done on the course, but the new environment will offer many new challenges; different smells, sounds, the equipment will look and feel different, and of course there will be other dogs around (safely concentrating on their handlers). Everything is done for reward, lots of fun! So it offers a very positive experience, building up the working relationship with the puppy despite lots of distraction. All while improving proprioreception ('position sense'), correct movement, and especially engagment of the hind legs, which are the main source of power for accelerating, braking and turning (even though some dogs do not learn to use them to their full potential without a little help in learning how)! Of course, the workshop is not just for puppies, any dog needing that kind of help can benefit, and I have seen some dogs on the course completely change the way they move during the workshop, which has been amazing and very fulfilling for me. So I'm really looking forward to the workshop tomorrow- I just hope everyone can travel safely throught the snow!!
Update on the handling - wow I have been missing a trick here! Just a small change, but I think it will make the sharp turns towards me much smoother, and my handling much clearer. I think at best in the past I must have been half-halting my dogs to get tight turns, at worst my handling could have been ambiguous. Zazzy was fantastic today. My goodness she is a fantastic little dog. You show her something, she thinks about it for a while, then not only does she do it, but she makes it look easy! I have started her A-frame training again using half an AF lying flat on the ground. Yes I have gone the running AF route, even though there are many scary and as yet unknown future variables that have made me think about re-training her to a target now that I have the opportunity. Having weighed up the pros and cons, on balance I have decided to continue with trying to teach a running AF. It's the only way to make that progress of finding out if I can do it! The deciders for me are many-fold; firstly there's the problem of the strain on the dogs' shoulders when you ask them to stop at the bottom of the AF. Also, I have had to solve problems with the stopping method, so perhaps I will be able to sort out problems I get with the running method as well (???!!). With Becky I found that when she was taught the two on two off position, in competition she would target the ground with her front feet, and found that she could get into position perfectly well without hitting the contact first. So if she stopped dead, her back feet would land on the contact (some judges will eliminate for that), but if we carried on running the course, her back legs might get the contact or might miss it, either way some judges are only looking at the front feet. It was fixed by not releasing until she got to the bottom, or until she hit the contact if it was a class we need to run, of course this means taking longer to complete the obstacle. With Kaydee, she started her agility career flying over the top of the AF and landing in the contact zone with her second stride, but with repeated stopping at the bottom I found her putting more and more strides in, perhaps four or five on the down side, which is obviously much slower. I have seen dogs fly over the AF straight into a dead stop, but how much soft tissue damage does that do? Anyway, for better or for worse, the running AF is our chosen path. I also had great fun running Becky and Karens poodle Tikka round some low jumps, they were so joyful and enthusiastic it was brilliant. Kaydee had to settle for some tricks and learning to run to a mark, but she enjoyed that. Then we had a lovely long walk over Chobham common where the views from the hilltops were gorgeous in the weak winter sunshine, although there was a bitterly cold wind there were some pretty mini flurries of snow. I really want to mention Karens new sheltie puppy, Yazoo. She is astonishing! At eight weeks old she came trotting out today with real confidence, gumption and attitude, she is wonderful! She already has a brilliant attitude, shows great understanding (can a puppy be wise at 8 weeks old?) and aptitude for learning, and she is amazingly co-ordinated for her age, my goodness Bernadette has done a fantastic job with those puppies!
I love the weekends! Very interesting day yesterday. I went to Pollys field to do a little training with Zazzy, mostly focussing on building up her weaving. But an interesting thing did arise, following from starting to teach her some turns last weekend. Here's a question for you. Imagine you are standing in front of a jump with your dog on your left. If you wanted to send your dog over the jump to the left away from you on body language alone, what hand signals would you use? Now imagine that you are back in front of the jump, and sending your dog to the right, round the wing and then over your feet (a front cross). What are your hand signals? How different do they look to each other? I work on the 'send with the hand nearest the dog, and turn it with the other hand' system, and using both hands to send the dog both left away from you and right to do a front cross, looked very similar to Zazzy. This is interesting, because I have worked both Becky and Kaydee with this system very effectively, but Zazzy is right, there is room for improvement from me. So I have had a good think about a better way and from now on will endeavor to employ a much clearer hand signalling system. Dawn Weaver happened to be there yesterday, and I took the opportunity to ask her about her handling system, which is a bit different to mine. She has already sussed this problem! So it was very useful and interesting to discuss it with her. I will let you know if the changes I have made work better!