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Agility

Agility Year of 2017

We did our last agility trial for the year this Saturday. The arena is five hours away from where we live, but I don’t have many weekends to compete in the spring due to a lot of travelling and working. When we decided to pick up a new car in Gothenburg, it felt like a good idea to drive a couple of hours further south from there to do 3 x A3 with 3 dogs. Nine runs in five hours! And it went really well. Epic won his first run. Bud won his second and became Swedish Agility Trial Champion. Squid ran two clean runs and placed fourth in both.

This is a summary of our agility year:

Squid did one weekend of competition in January, but we didn’t get the result we were after even though she felt great. After that she had nine months off from agility. First, she had puppies. Then I probably let her run too much too early in the forest, and she showed some lameness and didn’t move well. It took some time to get an appointment with our physiotherapist, but we were back on track after two treatments in August and September. She hadn’t lost a lot of muscle as she was able to swim and walk on leash in the forest all summer, but I was nervous to start jumping and agility training again. It went well, and agility seems to only do her well. We entered our first competition in the beginning of November, and my dream goal for this year was to place top 5 once so that she would be eligible for Swedish Team Tryouts in May if she’s still fit then.

The first run was a bit weird with a few bars and miscommunication. The following two runs felt great and she ran both clean. Her times were not as good as I’m used to, and we were only fast enough to earn a leg for nationals in the last one. I had entered all dogs in a much bigger weekend trial two weeks later, but I had some trouble leaving the farm with Thomas working away that week. I went on Sunday afternoon and Squid had one standard run. I did not expect her to place since the classes were big, but she actually place fourth and our goal for the year was met! We did three runs the weekend after and Squid ran clean and won two of them. I had some handling errors in the first two runs in our next trial, but we ran the last one clean and placed fifth. And then this Saturday we had two clean runs with fourth place and one elimination. We’ve had 13 runs since she came back in November. Eight were clean, seven of them with a leg for Swedish Nationals (we need another jumping leg to be qualified for next years National Championships) and six top 5 placements (my dream was to get one).

Results are great considering we haven’t really trained agility (right now we’re focused on conditioning and jumping skills only, the rest seems to just work), but the most important thing is that Squid is back in business! I was so afraid that the lameness that came after her puppies would be the end of our agility career. Squid turned nine this September and every run with her is a gift! She’s so happy when she gets to come along to training and trials, and when I take her out of the car and she knows it’s her turn. I’m so incredibly happy to have the privilege to compete with her and feel that she does her very best at all times. All faults are mine. Squid would have had many more clean runs if I’d done my job as well as she does hers. We’re now focusing on strength and conditioning to come back even stronger and faster during next year. I’m sure that we’ve got more to do and Squid does not in any way think that she’s old.

 

Here’s a run from Saturday:

Epic has also had a great season. We’re a good team and our runs are often very smooth. Our problem has always been dropped bars, but I think we’ve improved this year and had more runs where all bars stay up than we’ve had before. We’ve collected eight legs for Swedish Nationals and need one more in standard agility to be qualified. We also finally earned our final agility certificate, making Epic champion of both jumping and agility. We’ve actually had even more success in bigger competitions than the normal ones. I did not have any big expectations on National Team Tryouts in May, but I worked hard in preparation for it. The feeling was amazing! We’ve never had such a good weekend of trialling and those bars stayed up until the very last run. We ran clean and fast enough to earn a spot in the Swedish team for European Open and the Nordic Championships.

We made team finals at European Open and we ran our part of the final course clean! We had a great time at the Nordic Championships. We had a bar in every run, but no other faults and we placed fairly well in total. Norwegian Open in October was another great competition for us with a lot of clean runs and a ticket to the final where we also ran clean! Epic (and I) seem to run best indoors on difficult, fast courses with big distances.

Here’s the run that qualified us for NO finals:

 

Bud did his first trial about a year ago and quickly progressed to class 2 in jumping. We started 2017 with a small injury and had to get some treatment and gradual build up before competing again. We started in standard agility in May and he earned his first leg with a clean run and a win. He quickly progressed to class 3 in both jumping and agility, even though that last leg in A2 took a few tries.

We’ve had some more luck in standard agility once we got to class 3. We’ve only run one J3 clean (and won it with a certificate), while we’ve ran three A3 clean and earned the Agility Trial Championship title this Saturday. Bud does a lot of great things, but there’s often something that goes wrong in a run. If we have a great flow on course he often drops one bar, which he doesn’t often do otherwise.

Bud is somewhat a different type of dog than Squid and Epic. He is very well trained and knows a lot, but he does get easily frustrated and doesn’t cope well when something goes wrong. It might just be a little hiccup in our communication that gets him frustrated. He forces me to become a better handler – I need to run fast and trust him while still maintaining communication and clarity. Bud is still very young (turning three this Christmas) and I think our communication will grow a lot during the coming year.

I’m very happy with my decision to have Bud run the large category in Sweden. This is the first year where we have five jump heights, and dogs from 43 to 49.99 centimeter can chose to compete in large and jump 40-50 cm jumps, or to compete in extra large (where Squid and Epic compete as they are about 53 cm tall) with 50-60 cm jumps. I like that I can take it easy with preparing him for 60 cm (which he has to jump internationally) and I haven’t seen any fallout from competing on lower jumps. I even like that I have to run faster to keep up with him. We now usually train on the same height as Epic (55-60). Another benefit is that I don’t have to run all my dogs in the same class since some trials are small with maybe 30 dogs or less in XL.

Bud’s clean run and win from this Saturday:

My only wish now is that I get to continue to train and compete with three sound dogs during 2018! It’s so important to really appreciate and enjoy every training session and every run with them. My thoughts are constantly with friends who lost their dogs too early, and with those that have to end their dog’s careers early because of injuries. I promise to not take anything for granted, to tell my dogs that I love them (which actually was what I did on the start line before the run with Bud above) and to take care of them in the best way possible.

Bud’s Agility Debut

The dogs and I went to Mora this weekend for agility competitions. I was just going to run Epic and Squid in class 3, but last week I asked if I could do a late entry and run Bud in jumping class 1 on Sunday morning. I feel that Bud is more than ready for class 1 handling, but he needs more work on some obstacles. My goal with him has been to be very well prepared for his first trial, so in that sense I failed. The first run of the day had both the tire and the flat tunnel in it, and I did not feel confident that he would do them on the first try if I was running normally. The tire was obstacle number two, so I could help him get that right and he did also do the flat tunnel on the first try (but with some hesitation). I guess we can consider it a good training session for the future. He dropped a bar on a tight turn out of a very fast line. I think I was a bit behind and maybe not as clear as I should have been.

The second run was with just tunnels, jumps and weaves, but with much more handling. It suited us better and I was very pleased to feel confident that I could handle him the way I would have with one of the older dogs. He was clean and fast enough to win the class! He behaved nicely before and after his runs and seemed to enjoy finally getting to run and not just watch others at a competition. Now we’ll train for another month before his next trial, where he’ll also get to try standard agility.

Training with Bud and raising puppies

It’s November already, and unfortunately winter came early this year. It’s snowing, so my agility equipment is covered in snow and sheep have had to move indoors for the winter. Winters in Sweden can be really depressing, but I’m a bit more optimistic this year as we’ve got a new indoor agility facility just 15 minutes from home. I do some training on my own there, teach class once a week and train with friends every two weeks. Here are some clips of Bud from training with friends yesterday. Things are starting to come together. He’s responsive to my handling, jumps nicely, weaves with confidence, and did his first A-frame in a sequence yesterday! It looks like he’s figured out how to run it without flying too far over the apex (another “let the dog tell you when he’s ready” situation). We still have a lot of things to work on (like that weave situation that he didn’t understand, and always jumping the tire/wall jump/spread, and consistently doing perfect seesaws, and…), but we’re having so much fun getting ready for his first competition in December.

Bud’s five little sisters were born 8 weeks ago. They are absolutely adorable and so much fun. Two of them will move to new homes this week, and three will stay with us – at least for a while until we know more about them. I’m very excited to see how they will turn out. Raising puppies is a lot of fun, and a lot of work. I believe the most important things in raising good puppies is good genes. No amount of socialisation or stimulation will make up for breeding from nervous dogs. And puppies with good genes generally turn out really good even if they are raised with just basic socialisation. I’m not afraid to buy puppies from working farms in the UK. If it’s a good dog, it will turn out just as good as any dog from a breeder here.

What I think is important, and what I make my priority with my puppies, is that they get a lot of time outdoors where they can move, play and explore without restrictions. Where they are not slipping on slick floors and where they develop balance, proprioception and confidence. My puppies spend most of their days from 4-8 weeks playing and exploring (and sleeping!) in our garden (yes, even in the snow). I also make sure to let them meet as many different people as possible, including children. They get to hang out with their mother a lot and also with the other friendly or neutral dogs in the house. They get fed mostly raw, but also tries different kinds of kibble and other types of food. I’m convinced that Early Neurological Stimulation and things similar is pseudoscience, and while it probably doesn’t hurt it’s weird how many people will value that kind of thing over other many much more reasonable criteria for picking a breeder.

Puppies

Let the dog tell you when he’s ready

Bud is now 19 months and we’re having a great summer where his agility skills are coming together. There are so many exciting first times. I think I start most things a bit later than other people. It’s easy to get stressed out by all the younger dogs running courses at full height when your young dog is still working on foundation skills.

Bud has been very keen to work and easily excited all his life. But he has also been immature and easily excited also means easily frustrated if he doesn’t understand. I’ve had to teach each skill to fluency before putting skills together in a sequence. Lumping doesn’t work well with Bud.

Bud and I

I’ve also been reminded of the importance of letting the dog direct the pace of training. If something is not working, it’s often a good idea to not push it, but rather work on other things for a while. There are so many things that just didn’t feel right – he didn’t like them, or he didn’t understand. So I waited for a while and when I came back to it a few weeks later he could just do it, and he wanted to do it.

Bud has been jumping 40-45 centimeters for quite a long time. He did not seem ready for higher jumps and I was getting a bit stressed by it, but didn’t push it at all. Then last week, he jumped 55 centimeters on his own a few times (when just running around on the field at home). I tried to ask him to do it, and he did! And then he was able to run a fairly complex sequence with jumps on 55 without hesitation. He is still figuring out his jumping, but I’m very pleased with that he is thinking and trying his very best.

I started his weave training a couple of months ago. We’re mostly using a channel method, with some 2×2 thrown in. Things were going well until I started to close the channel. He seemed frustrated and couldn’t really do it. I tried to use guide wires because I know a lot of people are successful with the combination of channel and wires. This was very entertaining to watch, but gave me more problems than I already had. So we just stopped weave training for a while instead. This week, we’ve started our weave training again. I started with a fairly open channel, reminding him of all kinds of entries and staying in the weaves with different handling and distractions. I’ve now started to close the channel again, and everything is different. He is much more happy, much more confident and his body seems to flow in a much better way.

A third example is our running contacts training. We started about five weeks ago with a plank on the ground and he has been a joy to train. He really seems to get it and we’re having a lot of fun with proofing and teaching turns now. The only thing that has been difficult was to get rid of the thin and broad plank I used on the down ramp to smoothen the edge for him. My dogwalk has a pretty high edge at the end of the contact, and it gets more pronounced when the dogwalk is low. When I tried to take the plank away he’d have one nice hit and then it would fall apart and he’d avoid the low hits. So I didn’t take it away any more. I kept it there for a few more weeks, and then I tried to take it away again a few days ago. Now he didn’t have any problems and I think I can put the extra plank away and not take it out again until I’m training a new dog.

I’m very happy that I’ve had the patience to wait until Bud has told me that he is ready. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t been training – we’ve just trained other things (and you can never get too much foundation training). I think that a lot of problems can be avoided if we’re not pushing dogs beyond their comfort zone and if we allow them to mature. Every dog has their own timeline. I love training with Bud and I’m very excited to see him transform from my little puppy to a skilled agility dog. I’m not in a hurry to compete with him and he still has a lot to learn.

Here’s a video of to “firsts” from this weekend. His first sequence on large height jumps, and his first session on full height dogwalk with no plank.

 

WAO Tryouts

Last weekend was the tryouts for the Swedish WAO (World Agility Open) team. We two jumping and two agility rounds on Saturday, and the two best results (points based on faults + time in relation to the winning round) counted in team selection. Squid and I started with a great jumping run, but unfortunately with one bar (all jumps on 65 cm which is higher than we usually compete on). Then we ran a great agility round – but with one bar again. No points for us, but we still had a chance if both afternoon runs were clean. We started with agility in the afternoon, and I opted for a very conservative run with some bigger turns to save the bars. It worked! We came second, but the dog that won was very fast (good lines, running dogwalk), so we only got 27,30 points. The winner gets 50 points, if you’re one second behind you’ll get 40 points, 2,5 seconds behind is 25 points etc. A fault added 5 seconds to your time, so there was a theoretical chance of points if you were more than 5 seconds faster than the winner. In the last run I had to go all in to set a better time, and we managed to do it! With 47,30 points in the last run, we actually won the tryouts and will be going to England in May to represent Sweden. I’m very happy that at last, luck was on our side.

On Sunday, there was a games competition just for fun. And it was a lot of fun. I love snooker, and we were the only 560 dogs that got 51 points! Squid managed to win the combined (snooker + gamblers) competition, which felt great considering we will be doing games at WAO.

I love England and hope to be able to be away for a couple of weeks so that we can combine WAO with herding and sightseeing.

Bud Update

Home again after another weekend at an agility trial. Squid won jumpers on Sunday. Epic had a really good jumpers run on Saturday, with one bar. Agility courses were not my favourite design, and the ground was muddy. Both dogs ran well on Sunday, but picked up (the same) extra jump after a tunnel. I got the chance to reward Squid for a good dogwalk performance, so I was just as happy. I really like the relaxed attitude in Sweden that allows you to reward your dog with a toy in the ring anytime you want. You can plan it, or just choose to do it when you know you’re not going to place. I keep a small toy in my pocket for those instances. I think it’s great for training, good for the dogs (instead of a disappointed handler, you can turn it to something positive), and good for Swedish agility internationally (difference between training and competing becomes less obvious for our dogs).

Wilco had two runs per day and I really felt that I figured out more on how he needs to be prepared and taken care of in that environment. He was a bit worried about other dogs (he is very friendly and seems to take it personally if other dogs are upset in any way) before our first run, and I didn’t feel connected to him. For our other runs, I made sure that he didn’t have to be as close to other dogs. I also had more exciting play with him before and after our runs. I think he ran faster than he has before. We had some really nice parts, but he didn’t have time to weave on the first try in any run… I trained weaves at home today and he was brilliant. It’ll soon come together in trials too!

We had long days at the competition, as they ran all classes and started with class 3 (Squid and Epic) and then ended with class 1 (Wilco) with class 2 in between. Bud got to come out and play/train and just hang out around the ring. He is very good at staying calm around the ring, and also very good at focusing on training with a lot of distractions. He just doesn’t seem to view it as distractions at all. I made a video of some of the training – it’s far from perfect, but some of the things we’re working on, like:

  • Self control around toys
  • Listening to cues
  • Basic handling without obstacles

I hope you enjoy it even though it’s a bit too long and things are far from perfect. If you want more clips from our training (and a nice blooper from this session, where he bites my leg, blind crosses as I scream out in pain and then steals the toy), you should check us out on Instagram (@fannyftw). Today, I posted a video from his first ever jumping session.

Squid and Wilco winning

August has been very busy for us! Thomas has been travelling around Denmark, Norway, and Sweden teaching (and last week hunting with Pax, Alot and Kat). I’ve been on a 10 day road trip around the south of Sweden with Squid, Epic, Wilco and Bud. We started in Kungsbacka with agility trials. It’s unusual to be able to compete at all levels in the same competition, so I combined visiting my parents with my first trial with all three dogs. Wilco did mostly well in his four runs. One jumpers class with just one bar. In agility class, he ran past the dogwalk on the first try in both runs. We also had some weave refusals. He needs much more training before he’ll be ready to perform consistently, but he seems to learn good things from every run, so I think it’s nice to let him play too. Epic ran well, but had bars fall in all four runs. Squid had a great weekend. She ran clean in both agility runs, placing first on Saturday and third on Sunday (very slow seesaw where she didn’t respond to my release). She had one bar in jumpers on Saturday, but set the fastest time. On Sunday she surprisingly missed the weave entry. Here’s a video of three of her runs:

We stayed on the road the next week – training agility and/or herding every day and meeting new and old friends on the way. The weather was great and we learned new things. On the weekend, Wilco was entered in four class 1 runs per day. The first day, he seemed very tired and slightly distracted. Maybe a week on the road had taken his toll on him? We decided to sleep in on Sunday and missed our first run. He ran great in the first agility run – nailed both weaves and the dogwalk on the first try. His seesaw is not that great yet, so he ran past it on the first try. He ended up fifth with a refusal. The jumpers course was easy and fast, and he did great! I did not expect him to win (there are so many very fast dogs in class 1!), but he did. First clean run and first win!

We really have a lot of training to do still, and I don’t expect him to be competitive right now. He’s still very much figuring things out and learning to use his body. The most important thing is that he is having fun when we go to trials, and that he is learning good things. I love that he is so friendly to everybody, and that he doesn’t get wound up by watching other dogs run. I was not happy about the runs where he seemed tired and distracted (the last run on Sunday was unfortunately a bit like that too – he didn’t want to play afterwards). This was a new experience for us, and I need to have a better plan if it happens again. Bringing a toy in the ring and rewarding something simple might be a better idea, but mostly I need to make sure that he is rested and ready.

Wilco’s Agility Debut

Wilco turned 18 months a week ago, and he is starting to become an agility dog. I have been moving very slowly with him, since he’s been very immature in both body and mind. I waited and waited for him to feel mature enough to do contacts and weaves, but then at 16 months I decided to just try it anyway. I was not planning to do any trials with him until next year, but then things went well and I felt like it might be fun and good for him to get out and do some trials. It was a little crazy, but I entered him in 8 class 1 runs on the weekend just after his 18 month birthday.

He does not know everything he needs to know to be successful and consistent in competition. He just learned how to weave, and needs a lot more confidence, understanding and experience on that. His seesaw wasn’t finished, and he hadn’t seen a flat tunnel more than twice in his life. I was not planning on winning any ribbons – just having fun and giving my young dog the best possible experience in a trial situation. And WOW – we did have a lot of fun! I can’t remember when I had so much fun at a trial before.

Wilco really tried his best. He seemed to learn things from every run and improved a lot. He was happy and I was happy. He is such an easy dog to manage outside the ring. Friendly with everybody, calm and not at all interested in other dogs running agility. He just wanted to have fun with me. He ran past the dogwalk on the first attempt on both days, but was happy to take it on the second run of the day. He hit all his down contacts on both dogwalk and a-frame. He did have trouble with weaves on the first day, but on the fourth run he got it right on the first try. On the second day, he surprised me by not making a single mistake in weaves. He even ran one standard agility run with only one mistake – a dropped bar between seesaw and weaves.

Bud came along and got to train and socialise around the agility ring. He was also very, very relaxed and well behaved. I love my boys!

Here’s a video with some clips from Wilco’s first weekend of competing:

All three dogs (Squid, Epic and Wilco) will be competing this weekend. Two runs each both days. It will be intense, but fun!

Wilco’s Seesaw Started

I started training Wilco’s seesaw just last week. My seesaw has been broken, but Thomas fixed it with some carpet. Like I mentioned before, I was planning on teaching a 2 on 2 off behavior, but it took more time than I had thought to get a good behavior. Thomas played around with Wilco on the end of the seesaw, and got nice 2o20 with a nose touch, so I decided to stick with that. I’m surprised how much drive Wilco has for the nose touch, considering we haven’t done much of it at all, and none since winter. I’ve worked on it for a few days and now added some height to the end behavior:

We also tried the end of the seesaw at the local club today, and that went just as well as at home. My club has a Smart99 dogwalk, so we tried that for Wilco’s first dogwalk away from the one at home. Once he figured out what we were doing, he was perfect!

RC Progression

Here’s another update on Wilco’s running contacts. Yesterday, we worked on turning to me and running straight to the tunnel in the same session:

I’m so excited about his progress with the dogwalk. I’m also very happy about his weaving. I need to control myself and train some handling tonight instead. And I started shaping a 2o2o for the seesaw today. Just shaping him to step down from a sofa cushion and face forward to get a reward. I will then transition it to a box outdoors and add some speed and handler motion. From there, I’ll transfer it to the end of the seesaw.