Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pictures of Deece at last!

Deece at 71/2 weeks when he came home with me: known as 'Little Munchkin', best known for 'munchin' everything he could, and humping everything else! Thankfully the humping phase soon passed.
Will he have a beardie coat, or a collie coat?
Deece at 8 weeks, the age where you are supposed to be able to get the best idea of the physique he will have as an adult. Note lack of naughty spots.

Deece starts going to puppy classes at Sue White's, here seen with his best mate 'Squiffy'. Now known as 'Monster Munch', the naughty spots are starting to appear! Christmas! The legs are growing! Who knows what the ears are doing!

My garden in the snow.
Most recent photo (Doing his 'Mr Perfect' impression!), 4 months old and weighing 12.6kg. Although you can't see the naughty spots they most definately are still there! Deece goes off playing with me, and has a phase of ignoring me when I call! His 'big dog' front teeth are through, but he still has baby canines.For comparison, Zazzy is my biggest girl, 16.5kg.

Poor Zazzy!

Zazzy has been spayed, and is not coping very well at all. She came away from the vets fine, but had a very bad night the first night, crying out then leaping up and violently biting at herself. I spent all that night making sure she didn't rip her stitches out, and took her back to the vets where I was given rimadyl and a bucket collar, however her nights in particular are still horrible for us both. I moved my mattress downstairs and put it in place of the sofa, so that she cannot do any jumping onto sofas or climbing stairs until the stitches are out. Poor Zazzy!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thaw at last!

Woohoo at last! We have been able to get out to go walking properly (rather than just to my local park), and there is agility again! Horrah! Zazzy has had her first goes at stopping on the A-frame, the majority successfully! Now I feel back in familiar territory, and can see that indeed, there is a great deal of work to be done, lots of rewarding, and then lots of proofing! I am looking forward to it! Also there is an issue with reward to sort out, as she is creeping down the contacts if I use a toy reward, no matter how it is deployed at the end. HOwever, she is getting over her latest phantom which means she is happy and getting more playful (double horrah!) In fact all four dogs have had a play at something this weekend, and we have all had a fantastically enjoyable time. As I suspected, on the A-frame Zazzy is very aware of where I am, if I try to leave her to go ahead on her own, as that is hard (actually impossible) to do on your own with a running contact. Everyone is talking about entering shows, but as she is being speyed on Thursday, I cannot think about anything but that at the moment.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Notes on running A-frame training

I wanted to add my thoughts on what I have learned in teaching Zazzy to run the A-frame, as I think the technique can certainly work. But regular access to an AF for short training sessions would be necessary. The method I used was to teach Zazzy to target a mat with her paws, then transfer that to between the first two slats of the contact zone (as the dog runs down). I think we did thorough foundation work, she had high drive to target the mat with her paws, and could target the mat coming out of tunnels, going to tunnels, with distractions either side, after a jump or circuit of jumps with variable stride lengths so that she could regulate her stride length (from the sofa, from around the corner etc as well!!). However, without much access to a lowered A-frame (only at her 'puppy' agility class), I think the transition to a full height A-frame may have been too fast. There were also some Zazzy-specific circumstances that affected her performance; she lost 12 weeks of training last winter (a relatively large chunk of time in between her starting agility and starting to compete in the spring) due to cut feet followed by hurting her back by slipping over, when she returned to training she immediately came into season and this was followed by terrible depression for 10 weeks due to a phantom pregnancy. She also had a couple of incidents with other dogs which led to her completely shutting down at one venue, and I stopped training there as it was likely that similar incidents would keep happening. From that point, until quite recently, Zazzy could only go for a very short time before going completely flat, this meant that she only did half a class a week (no more than 3 or 4 exercises). I think during this time Zazzy learned to do agility slowly, but with hindsight, would I have not done agility with her for six months? Hmmm. So possibly she started competing too soon. I have seen people claim they train their dogs up to world class agility standard in 15 minutes a week, but sorry I just don't believe that's true! Specific to running A-frames, I think (again with Zazzy particularly), trying to teach two 'opposite' behaviors on contacts (that is, a stop on the dog walk, and to run the A-frame) requires more dedicated time, and could possibly lead to a bit less certainty, when compared to stopping on (or running) all the contacts, so that the dog continually gets rewarded for the same behavior. Maybe a higher drive dog would be fine, I don't know. Since her phantom pregnancy, Zazzy shuts down if she feels she got something wrong, this makes correcting her AF quite difficult. Toni Dawkings suggested always having a toy after a following jump and always running to it, but only play with her if I am happy with her AF performance. This is the best method of reward (thanks Toni!), although Zazzy won't actually even pick up the toy without me telling her 'yes' (again, this only started afer her phantom). Another problem is that the foot placement on a running A-frame is more of a grey area than teaching a 2o2o stop. (A diagram would help here!) A foot below the strut is a yes, no feet below the strut is a no, sounds simple doesn't it? But there was a time when three of us were watching and none of us knew if it was a yes or no, and if it's that grey to us, how clear is it to the dog? Althoug my eye did get better 'trained' the more I did it. Back to specific running A-frame training, my opinion now is that a split-stride run is better than a pounce (unfortunately I initially taught Z to pounce on the mat); I think pouncing behavior may encourage leaping rather than striding fluidly down the ramp. I think the Trkman method has a lot of value, but because the AF is so steep the dog cannot run all the way to the bottom, so it cannot be used if you are only training a running AF. You also need to get your method of reward right, and that will vary depending on your dog. The dog needs to be looking forward, not at the handler. I have found this hard, training on my own, and can see the value of the various gadgets available that can overcome this (wish I had chosen a better paid career now!) Again, a problem that I was never able to overcome is that I always have to see the contact so that I know whether to reward it... this means that I am always looking at her (= some degree of intimidation and not cueing the next obstacle) and also resulting in never being able to train a fully independent running AF.
Well I hope these bits of information are helpful to someone!
I have opted to re-train Z to stop on the AF (2o2o), I have done a couple of sessions with her in my living room so far, rewarding her stop position on wide plank (another useful thing - if all contacts are stopped you can teach the dog to generalise the position on bits of wood at home! So lots of opportunities to reward) If the weather would only improve! (there has been no agility training for weeks now).

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Starts!

Well I haven't blogged for a long time, partly because I haven't done much agility to speak of since August, partly because I have not been able to get my videos onto my computer and my 'camera'phone refuses to have anything more to do with images, partly because of feeling a massive failure. I am hoping to be able to post some begged/borrowed/stolen puppy pictures soon! Deece (now aka Monster Munch) has done a good deal of growing! He is gorgeous and I love him.
Olympia has been and gone, and from what I saw on the tele it looked very exciting (I was disappointed not to see more - for example Zazzy's brother was cut!!! How could they?!!) I was gutted for Karen as Todd went lame for exactly the wrong few days. Most likely due to knocking his foot on one of those wretched metal tunnel holders, surely enough dogs have been injured by them to get them banned by now?

It's that time of year to have an honest look at yourself (ouch, harsh), and gather some resolve (over a nice glass of port... or two... and possibly a glass of that Glayva liquer I got for Christmas too... but put those chocolates DOWN!!! Oh no, too late...) There are a couple of major things that really have to be addressed. Now that the festivities are over (I LOVE Christmas!) I need to find a way to reject chocolates, and embrace a healthier diet. (Here I am on day 4 though and I can't say I've done very well so far, I'm telling myself I'll just gently ease into it ....)
Poor Zazzy should be spayed this month, but I'm already getting upset at the prospect of it. I can't bear the thought of anything horrible happening to her, let alone being responsible for inflicting it on her. Also, here it comes, A-frames. After a week at Dogs in Need, where Z qualified for the grade 3 final, I was pleased with her running A-frame


1 2232 HANNAH BANKS ZAZZ MA GIRL B/C C 35.34secs
I was pleased with her running A-frame (wish I had that on video!), but after this her foot placement started getting higher. The next show, she won her agility on the first day, and on the second day had the Alpha Agility final.
1 Sian Powell with Midsummer Llangwn Blodyn C 32.11 secs

2 Sue Stock with Lucy Longsocks C 33.30 secs

3 Kate Wheeler with Would He Be Clear C 35.11 secs

4 Martin Reid with Marts Magical Moss C 35.40 secs

5 Susan Carroll with Brillo of Cocksford C 35.99 secs

6 Jacky Motts with Hexagon Sense C 38.80secs

7 Hannah Banks with Zazz Ma Girl 5 30.99 secs

Her A-frame was marked. If my job is to train her to hit low enough so that the judge never has a decision to make, then I have failed. It is certainly true that some judges will mark running contacts more harshly than slower ones! I then stopped competing and just trained for two months. I went to one indoor show, where I had no doubt, she missed her A-frame. I was very disappointed. We trained as much as we could. However, I do not have my own equipment, and really only got to concentrate on A-frames about once every third week. Zazzy was invited to run at Discover Dogs which I thought would be a great experience, OMG how wrong could I be?! There Zazzy completely shut down. She didn't want to step on the carpet, she didn't want to play, but 'the show must go on' and unfortunately that meant two of the most painfully awful rounds of agility I can remember. I tried to make it a good experience for her, but the next day I can remember thinking, I don't want to ever do that again! However, after training with Toni Dawkins and Amanda Pigg, I had re-newed energy and enthusiasm, and new ideas and confidence about how to train and reward her, and determination to continue with a running A-frame. Well training has gone well for a couple of months, and yesterday I took her to a simulated indoor show, where you can take in toys and food and reward your dog. She LEAPT off the A-frame. LEAPT. I'm still horrified, she could hurt herself. SO this is it, officially, the end of my running contact experiment!

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