I’m at home for a few days in between Norway trips. Last week, Bud flew with me to Tromsø to teach for a couple of days. We had a great time. From there, we flew to Oslo and traveled south to Fredrikstad, where there was a trial with some interesting judges. Bud won A3 on Saturday and became Norwegian Agility Trial Champion. He also qualified for finals but popped out of the weaves in the final run. Tomorrow, I head for Stavanger on the Norwegian west coast. No dog with me this time, so I’ve tried to spend a lot of time training and conditioning my dogs while I’ve been home. We made a video where you can see some of the skills taught in the Agility Handling Foundations Online class starting on September 3rd. Let me know if you have any questions about the class. And please leave a comment and tell me what you’d like to see a video on next.
I’m indoors, trying to stay out of the intense heat. This summer has been exceptionally hot and dry, with only a few drops of rain in many months. It started already in May, which is early for hot and dry weather. I try to train the dogs late at night, take them for swims in the stream and dream of more reasonable weather. It’s not easy when you also hate snow and cold. Very few temperatures are nice to me. One thing I do love about summer is that I can sleep in my car when we go to competitions or other activities. I have a big car where I can fit a real bed, big dog crates and lots of other stuff. And it’s nice and cool at night. I actually sleep in it on the hottest nights at home too.
Summer also means a lot of exciting competitions. It started with the Swedish Championships a week and a half ago. Squid and Bud were qualified for the individual competition but were also stand-ins in teams with a good friend of mine. Squid had a good weekend and her jumping was really good. I’ pleased with my preparations beforehand to get her in the best shape possible. Unfortunately, she had some faults in weave entries which cost us some placements. Weaves are obviously something a dog needs to be reminded of even at almost 10 years of age. She was clean in the first qualifying round and had a weave refusal in the second. This gave her a spot in the finals, where she ran great but missed the weaves again. We ended up in 9th place, which I’m pleased with considering how little we train agility these days.
Bud and I did not have any good runs in the qualifying rounds, but he was still the hero of the championship. My good friend Sabina lost her great friend and accomplished agility dog in a terrible accident this spring. When Sabina asked if Bud wanted to take Adna’s place in the team I was happy to let her. The team is a great one with friends from our local clubs. They won “team of the year” 2017 and also won a round in the Swedish Championships last year. The team competition was very exciting until the very end, where Sabina and Bud had the chance to win it all or go home with nothing, depending on that run. They ran the difficult agility course perfectly! Nailing every contact and every tricky turn. They were clean and faster than everybody else by a lot, which won the team gold overall! I’m so happy for Bud stepping up and being his most awesome when it matters the most. We’re still so sad about Adna’s passing and somehow it felt as if she was with us, guiding Bud to do his very best (like Adna always did).
We’re now looking forward to five days of competitions on the Swedish west coast. A big competition with international judges and participants. From there, we just go home to reload and then drive to Austria for the European Open. Two weeks later we take the ferry to Finland for the Nordic Championships. I can’t wait to experience all this with my great friend Bud. We’ve got so much more to learn, but it’s exciting to know that he has the capacity for great runs where few dogs can match his times.
I’m now not only an instructor, teacher (educating new instructors for our agility clubs), competitor and author – I’m also an agility judge. I had my first official judging assignment this weekend. Bud and I took a flight up north to Luleå, where I judged all standard agility classes on Saturday, and all jumping classes on Sunday. I had so much fun and I really love creating courses and watching people run them.
Judging is also scary because it’s a huge responsibility. As a judge, I’m responsible for setting safe courses with safe equipment. This is probably the most important thing. But I’m also responsible for a big part of how enjoyable the trial is for the competitors. A judge can make all the difference when you compete. People spend a lot of time and money to go to trials, and the judge can really make or break the experience. Sometimes it feels like you wasted both your time and money because the courses don’t feel right. The judge, the equipment, and the footing is really the most important thing when I decide where to compete. I want safe AND inspiring courses.
A good course in the lower levels gives me a fair chance to show that my dog and I have the skills to get around a course at that level, while we’re having fun doing it. A good course in class 3 makes me excited and gives me butterflies because I know that we can do it, but I really need to trust my dog and my training and just run and never hesitate. With a good course, you either win or you learn, and you’re almost as happy to learn as you are to win.
I take this responsibility very seriously and I’m still very much learning. I’m really happy with a lot of my courses and my judging from this weekend, but I also learned somethings that will allow me to do better next time. Here are some examples of courses from this first weekend:
This is a jumpers course for class 1 (lowest level). My goal was to make a fast and flowy course with good lines. I also wanted to give the young dogs a chance to enter the weaves without too much speed. This course was a lot of fun to judge, as there were many different handling options that worked well. (And some that didn’t work as well…) Many were struggling with refusals on jump #3 and #4. Some of the big dogs came with so much speed from 1-2 that they couldn’t turn in time to get #3. And some saw the tunnel and just passed #4. The dry grass made it harder for the dogs to get a good grip to turn. I would have tweaked this start somewhat if I could do it over. The rest of the course worked very well. It was fast, so rear crosses on tunnels was a very good skill to have.
I was very happy with this A2 course. It tested some handling without being too difficult. I liked that handlers chose different paths on #12 – both the wrap and the S-turn worked well (if you called your dog out of the tunnel for the S).
This J3 course was the most fun to judge. I was scared as I set it up – afraid that no one would manage to get to #7 and that people would be upset. I was wrong. Most people got to #7 just fine. Some made a blind cross 5-6 and some rear crossed 6, and both options were good. There were a lot of other difficulties in this course and most importantly – you had to really run and work hard all the way. Some dogs ran past the second to last jump, which was very painful to watch if they’d been clean up to then. But everybody seemed to really enjoy the challenge and running with their dogs! No one could take it easy on this course, which was fun to watch. I loved every minute of judging this. I only wish I had gotten the chance to run it myself.
Here are the other three courses from this weekend, if you want more to look at:
Two weeks ago, Squid, Bud and I went to the Swedish Team Tryouts. We have one weekend with eight runs that determine who gets a spot in the Swedish team for World Championships (four spots per size), Nordic Championships (ten spots) and European Open (twelve spots for large dogs). In order to get points, you need to run clean and not more than 4,99 seconds slower than the winner of the class. The winner is awarded 50 points and all other teams get one point deducted per 0.1 seconds that they are behind the winner. One second behind the winner gives you 40 points, two and a half seconds behind gives you 25 points, etc. In order to get on the team, you need points in both jumping and agility.
I did not feel in sync with Squid. She was picking up off-course tunnels, missing weave entries and dropping some bars. We had one clean jumpers run on the first day, and that was it. Bud and I had not had a good feeling in training leading up to the tryouts. He’d been dropping more bars than usual, and my expectations were really low. Bud is just three years old and this was his first tryouts, so I was fine with that. We were just there to learn and have a good time. Tryouts are always so much fun. You get to run great courses by great judges in really good conditions. The courses this year were challenging, and a lot of really good teams didn’t get points in both jumpers and agility.
I had no luck with Bud on the first day, where we ran three jumpers courses. On the second day, we ran three agility courses. The second course had a really challenging start where very few made it to the backside jump after the first tunnel in a good way. I walked it a few different ways and had time to decide later since I was running as one of the last dogs with Bud. Since so many struggled to make it, I decided to just take it easy and threadle-rear both jumps before the A-frame. Bud can get frustrated if I rush and I thought we had a better chance of getting through it using a more defensive approach. I was really calm and not rushing at all as I gave him the three first jumps. I trusted that he would take them nicely and just worked my way forward. I then realized that I had plenty of time to make that blind, and in a split second, I decided to run for it.
I made the blind and that difficult start just felt so easy. I ran the rest of the course as calmly as possible, just trying to get us around. All bars stayed up! And when the class was finished, I realized that we’d won it by almost a second and was the fastest dog overall. I was so happy and proud that we actually could set a time like that competing with the best Swedish teams. Many of them don’t run in the same height category as Bud normally. He jumps 50 cm in normal Swedish competitions, while most of the others in tryouts normally jumps 60 cm. Therefore, we rarely get to compete on equal terms against the best dogs in Sweden. Such a thrill! I was certain that we wouldn’t be able to run the Sunday jumping run clean since we’d been so inconsistent all weekend. That last jumping run was our only chance to get on any team if we also got enough points.
I woke up on Sunday morning with a cold and a very different voice. The jumping course was a really fun one by Jan Egil Eide, requiring both running fast and trusting your dog. I ended up not being able to do either. I didn’t trust Bud in the weaves, so I got behind and had to do a rear followed by a panicked threadle-rear. And then I couldn’t run, so Bud ran the wrong way and spun before finding the last tunnel. But we got around clean! And despite those mistakes, we were fast enough to get decent points.
Suddenly, we were one of the teams with points in both jumping and agility, and everything would be decided after the last run of the day – agility. We got eliminated at the end of this challenging course, but it was also challenging for others, so it ended up not affecting our placement. At the end of the day, two clean runs (with one win) was enough to get us on the team for European Open and Nordic Championships. I’m so happy to have three championships (Swedish, Nordic, and EO) to run with my awesome badger on speed this summer! We’re still figuring out a lot of things, but we’re having so much fun together on the way to consistency and perfection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.