Well here comes the end of 2012, time to pause and reflect before the New Year. It has been an immensely busy year for me on many levels. However, the purpose of this blog concerns my dogs, who continue to amaze, inspire and bring great joy into my life, we are having the best time. I feel that there is a probably the biggest surge of evolution on the agility front that I have ever experienced, it may take some time for me to assimulate and perfect all the changes, but I think long term it will be worthwhile, I guess we will see. I am experiencing new (to us) types of handling and training, and both myself and my dogs are loving it. I am looking forward to 2013!
Here is a snippet of the 'European style' handling training day I attended last weekend. This is Zazzy and I learning how to do blind turns.
And this is a bit of training with Deece.
May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy and peaceful New Year.
My feet seem to have hardly had time to touch the ground this year, I am working harder than ever and for longer hours... most weekdays the alarm goes off just before six, I get up, leave home, and am rarely back before at least 10:30pm. Bit gutted that despite this I am about to spend a second winter without heating in my house as I can't afford to get it fixed. Apart from having more work in my day job than ever, I have also taken on some evening agility teaching. After some initial teething troubles and stress, things have settled down and I feel very lucky to have such a lovely group of people and dogs to work with. As the summer competitions are drawing to a close, I am now asking lots of questions to prepare my training over the winter. The kind of questions I am asking myself now are, are my foundations strong enough? From Susan Garrett's blog:
'The Three Crucial Keys to Agility Greatness'
She says: 'So you want to know what I view as the three most important things in creating a great agility dog? Foundation, foundation, foundation.'
Similarly, from Dave Munnings: 'The more I learn and the more I teach, the more I realise the importance of foundation.'
And from the Olympic British Cycling coaches: 'the ethos has been to make small gains in all areas, which result in major gains in performance... the devilishly fast times are in the detail.'
I already have quite a list of agility related things to work on, but I will also be revisiting many other things over the winter. Apart from working on agility performance, my dogs will be getting at least six weeks away from agility completely, and during this time I will be looking at general fitness, body awareness, focus (espceially working on counter-conditioning Zazzy to situations that she finds testing), drive, and self control.
There has not been much for me to post about shows, this is partly because I have entered much fewer shows this year (I can't afford to go to as many as I would like, and my work load has increased enormously leaving me with very little time or energy), plus the monsoon style season we have had in GB this year has resulted in the cancellation of quite a number of the shows that I did enter (or I have decided not to run in them, especially if the mud/ lakes were in combination with wooden rather than rubber contacts.). It is also because I had planned the season around taking Deece to novice qualifiers, and as he won out in April (bigger ooops than I realised at the time!), that kinda left us a bit adrift (or is that up a stream without a paddle)! I ought to write about my judging experiences when I have time though, I have learnt a lot from that.
I have very much enjoyed the shows that we have gone to, as I made them into holidays, the dogs and I love our walks in the hills, as the previous blog pictures show! Zazzy and Deece have both been pretty good in the competitions that we have been to, to my amazement Deece got his four wins within a few days of going into grade 6 to get to grade 7, and he also won his first grade 7 class. Although Zazzy is not as fast as him over the ground, she has had a few wins at grade 7 too. I am pleased that Zazzy's running A-frame is getting better all the time. I am starting to think I might be able to get her to run her dog walk using the same principles and training methods, but that project should probably wait until the winter. She seems to be enjoying her training more and more, although she is still much flatter training in a group, and still feels much, much slower at shows. She will still occasionally go very flat and start missing out equipment/not doing all the weaves/not doing her contacts very well if she is not feeling on full form. I still have plenty of work to do with Deece's contacts as we have a bit of a problem with him hesitating at the moment. Never-the-less, I am really pleased with his championship debut, he got to the final at the Agility Club show and clocked a time very close to the winning one, despite coming to a complete stop on the A-frame. He has also coped extremely well with some very testing courses, for example some put up at the KC International Agility Festival, where he qualified for the British Open final. He is a brilliant boy, and more important the loviest dog to have around and my best pal. We are nearly at the end of the show season, so I am already starting to look forward to winter training .... lots of ideas and hopes!
I love Scotland, what a beautiful place! We had the most wonderful time walking in the hills and paddling in the lochs. On the journey back down south we stopped off at the Hare 'n' Hounds show. Deece had just moved up to grade 6 and was amazing, he won three agility and one jumping grade 6 class which means he has moved straight up to grade 7!
We had a lot of rain, the occasional hailstorm, and some thunder at times. The showground has a fantastic well drained surface though, and after a judges meeting on Saturday morning, the show went ahead. The ground for the agility rings was amazing and remained in good condition all weekend. However, around the outside of the enclosures the paths turned to liquid mud, and I was pleased to get home after a cold weekend where everything got soaked and muddy! Fiberglass caravans with lots of air vents are not the best thing to camp in when it is cold and wet!!
I judged Saturday.This was the original course I had designed:
I altered it to take into account the conditions; I decided to redesign the section from 8-12 to take out sharp turns and make the long fast run to the dog walk a bit more controllable. So I moved the tunnel #10 closer to jump #11 so that the approach to the dog walk had a shorter and more controllable approach, and made the course a bit shorter and took out the sharp turns to and from jump#9 out so the course went straight from the weaves to the tunnel instead. This made it safer while still keeping most of the elements in that I set the course up to test. Once on the ground I also added another jump #17 as the back of 13 wasn't quite as I wanted, and as it was very close to #13 but at a slight angle to it, this worked well in creating a need for a little more control in the run off the dog walk #12-#13 as well as on the run home from the A frame. I really enjoyed judging this course, and there were some fabulous runs round it. Only one dog slipped and that was only because it jumped off the A frame from a height. I had lots of good feedback about it, so thank you everyone for that, I hope everyone did enjoy running it. When I was designing it I really enjoyed running it.
It was a very long wet and cold day! I judged small, medium and large over this course before setting up a large g4,5 jumping course:
Again I really enjoyed judging this course, the first on the line, Pat Brown handling her lovely youngster beautifully, stayed in the lead until the last dog ran, which was Dave Munning's Boss, who absolutely stormed round to take the lead.
Sunday, I was pleased to be competing, and my dogs were glad to be out of the van! I do feel terribly bad and guilty that they are stuck in there so long when I judge. Zazzy did some good work, and I enjoyed the courses that I ran. Deece had a couple of poles and came out the weaves once. I was happy with my weekend and ready to go home and get clean and dry, I was hitched up and ready to leave, when I got chatting... and then I noticed that Deece's last agility course was ready. I thought, if they let me run early, I will take him round and use the opportunity to praise him on his contacts, then go home. If they don't let me in I will just leave now (it's along drive home from there!) Well, they did let me in, I did praise him for a long time on each of his contacts, and I do remember thinking on the last contact, hmm he hasn't knocked a pole of come out of the weaves.... but I have spent as much time on praising these contacts as is polite, without taking the p. I didn't want Deece to win out because the only thing I have planned this year is to enter him in lots of novice qualifiers, and the next couple of months have been planned completely with this in mind. So I looked back over at the ring while I was getting ready to leave, and felt slightly uneasy when I saw that not many people were going clear. I went over to the tickets and saw Deece on top of the pile. Feeling very sick and uneasy I started hanging around willing someone to beat him, then nervously going back to look at the tickets. We didn't get to leave for another couple of hours, clever Deece, but stupid me, he stayed in the lead and is now grade 6. I'm a bit shocked and gutted that he won out so easily, but I think there is a problem with our grading system as I know lots of people in grade 5 are taking precautionary measures to not let their dog win out too quickly! I hope introducing the proposed new requirement to win more classes to move up will help by making g5 more competitive and larger. Meanwhile, I have lots of grade changes to sort out, and am cursing the 25 day move-up rule which means shows that I cannot change a number of shows that I would change if I could, but have already closed.
I originally trained Zazzy to have a running A frame, but had all sorts of problems when Zazzy had her terrible hormone problems. She was so flat and depressed that she did not 'attack' the A frame with any 'oomph', so her stride got shorter and therefore she was not striding into the contact area. If I did not reward her and asked her to try again she went flatter and her stride got even shorter. If I tried to get her to run faster, she leapt from higher (leaping off is the easiest way for the dog to go faster). I learnt a lot, but her A frame performance deteriorated!! I decided to teach her a two on, two off (stop) contact, this suited her better because the criteria was clearer, and she could be rewarded (and have a rest!) at the bottom, just like on her dog walk or see-saw. I wish I had had her spayed sooner, but I had no idea at that time that a dog could suffer so terribly with hormones. It was like the worst PMT I have ever suffered, but it lasted not only through her season, but all through her following phantom pregnancys (so 10 weeks or so). She was depressed and couldn't cope with the slightest problems. She only got a few weeks where she started to 'come back up' before the whole cycle started again. Poor Zazzy. Since the op she gradually got happier and happier, even though it took the best part of a year (my vet said it might take that long). So we had a good year last year, Zazzy was happy which made me happy, which made her happy.... so we had a lovely positive feedback loop. By the end of last year I had a happy, more 'robust' dog, and decided that after her post-agility competition season rest, during the 6 weeks of getting her back to fitness before Olympia, I would see if I could get a running A frame again. So here we are at the beginning of this season with a running or stop A frame on cue. In this clip you can see that I first told her to 'go' which she did perfectly, although I had actually meant 'go left'! (I have been working on verbal cues recently, especially on 'go' meaning go in a straight line!) My mistake, we carried straight on, and you can see that mistakes don't knock her any more, horray! I was also trying out a front cross to see if that would affect her running A frame.
Deece qualified for the Novice Cup final at the KC Festival last year. This meant that he was invited to the final at Crufts, where there was one agility and one jumping run, with the results to be combined. Because Deece has such long legs, I did want to go to Stoneleigh to do some training on carpet beforehand, however the long journey, cost of fuel and other commitments made it unfeasible in the end. We would just have to wing it. On the Big Day there was a strip of carpet in the collecting ring to warm up on, and I was really grateful that Deece at least got to have a little try on that. The first round in the morning was the agility, and Deece did struggle, he was so out of kilter that nothing about the run felt particularly good. However, bless his cotton socks, he managed to go clear and ended up in third place. I was so pleased that he seemed happy and confident despite the intense atmosphere; he took it all in his stride. In the afternoon we had part two, the jumping round, we ran in reverse order so he ran third from the end. I really liked the course. I tried to run it sympathetically to the conditions, just trying to give him the best lines and minimise slipping. He seemed to have found his feet, and was an absolute star. (Thank goodness for all that co-ordination and balance foundation work!) These fantastic photos were taken by Ian Watts. The official coverage is here: and thanks to Lorna Peachy for videoing from the stand, but for some reason it won't load (will try again later). Thanks also to Duessa for being a fab groom and Matt and Natasha for their support :-)) I felt for Matthew Goodliffe, who had two stonking runs but Quincy just clipped a couple of poles. However, he did win the novice finals at Olympia! Not too shabby for the start of Quincy's agility career! They are looking fab and I'm sure there are great things ahead for them. Back to the Crufts ring, and we were called back for the presentation, although not told where we had ended up..... I couldn’t believe it when I realised that Deece had won both the jumping round and the overall competition, I am so proud of my special little guy. Clever Deece.
Well I have a bit of catching up to do! No sooner had I written , ‘I hope the weather stays good enough so that I can do some training’, then of course, it snowed. LOL.
The beginning of the year has been very, very busy. Lots and lots of work trying to earn enough to make ends meet, so I am looking forward to a couple of holidays, I feel I have really earned them this year! One will be in the north east of England, with my very good and fabulous friend Karen Cole. I stayed there last year and LOVED it. It is a good place to stay with dogs, there is an onsite dog walking field, and the most beautiful walking areas all around. They carried out loads of refurbishment last year so everything is new and clean. Quite a handy location for some shows too! The couple who took over Hillcrest Park last year http://www.hillcrestpark.co.uk/ are really lovely, so helpful and really nice. Can’t wait! I have been very lucky to have had a couple of training sessions with Natasha Wise, Matt Goodliffe and Toni Dawkins, and one with Dawn Weaver. There are a couple of things I need to work on (OK OK, a lot of things, and some major work!), but I am really enjoying spending time with my dogs, I think they are amazing, and just such good fun to be with. Since losing Becky I realised that the time we have with them is so very short, and I just want to treasure and make the most of every moment. I have had problems with my shoulder for a long time now, I even had to go to the doctor about it as it got so bad the pain was keeping me awake at night (I was put on a course of anti-inflammatory painkillers, which of course helped while I was on them, but didn’t fix the problem). It was only when I took Zazzy and Deece to Stuart McGregor http://www.mcgregor-ba.com/McGregor_Body_Adjustment for one of their regular check-ups, and had him look at my shoulder while I was there, that it was finally set on the road to recovery. I really am so very impressed with the work that he does, a while back he sorted out my Achilles tendons too. Funny how I can find the time and money to have my dogs checked out, but not myself, and it was me that needed it most! I have been told not to lift anything while it is healing, not easy when there is equipment etc. to me moved around!
Well the razzmatazz, glitz and noise of Olympia has faded into a distant memory, and it is time to look forward to the summer season. Time to get back to training! I feel very lucky to have such a lot of good trainers available down here in south east England, although venues are hard to come by and very expensive (I really do wish I could afford to have some space and equipment of my own for training). December and January have both been incredibly hectic months, I have a lot of change going on at work (yes, I’m now even more over-worked and under-paid!), plus new ventures in other parts of my life (all very good and exciting!). We had quite a long break from training over Christmas, and only started back in the second half of January. I would like to thank Shaun Young, Amanda Rogers and Matthew Goodliffe who are my main trainers at North Downs DTC (and also to congratulate all North Downs members for winning the premier league in the Agility Club points league. How fantastic is that?!) I also feel very lucky to have got some training with Toni Dawkins and Natasha Wise this winter. Thanks to them and all my friends for all your help! I really appreciate it. I have been hoping to get some video of how the training is going but have not yet found a willing volunteer to hold the camera! Now is the time to really have a think about what I can improve, in readiness for the start of the season. I have a very long list! But I find it all exciting and am feeling very motivated. We have had a very kind winter (weather wise) so far, I hope it continues long enough to work through my list! (Our first deadline is Crufts....) I have started with some weave training. The new weave width, standardising the gaps between poles to 600mm, came into force Jan 1st 2012. I am really pleased about this, the wider weave spacing seems much kinder to our dogs, especially when they are trying to get those difficult flat weave entries. However, the weaves are noticeably longer as a piece of equipment now, both for transportation and as part of a course! I have agreed to a number of judging appointments this year, and am getting down to some serious course designing. I hate watching dogs stutter round tight, cramped courses, especially the younger dogs, and want to design courses that are a pleasure to watch dogs run round, as well as courses that are interesting for the handler to work. I do have one short bit of video of Zazzy doing some weave training, here it is.