Looking back at 2018

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a good winter holiday. We sure did, but my dogs are eager to get back to more training. Spy and I have spent a lot of time sheepdog training, but other than that, we’ve been quite lazy over the holidays. New Years was special – Bud’s sister Ale had six puppies on the morning of January 1st, and we waited all night for her to get started. We’re expecting another litter this week – mother is Nicks, the red bitch I bought from Scotland four years ago – so we’ll have lots of puppies around the house in the coming months. Today, I want to quickly wrap up 2018 with a look back at what we did. 

Squid (10 years old in September) qualified for Swedish National Championships and made it into the final, where we had an unfortunate refusal at the weaves. I think she ended on 9th place, which isn’t too bad for an almost 10-year-old dog, considering all the great dogs in Sweden. She was also quite competitive at HulaHopp – the biggest competition in Sweden last year. Since August, she’s been with a friend of mine where she’s begun a new career in rally obedience. Of course, she’s awesome at that too.

Epic (8 years old in August) had his worst year ever after rupturing the caudal cruciate ligament in his knee in February. He rested during spring, then started to get back in shape during summer and fall. We went for walks in the forest and spend the very hot summer swimming in the stream. He came back to agility competitions in November and has done great. He seems more consistent than ever and it’s really easy to run clean with him now, so I’m still hopeful that we’ll be able to qualify for nationals this year even though we’re very far behind.

Bud (4 years old in December) had a year that surpassed my expectations. With Epic injured, Bud had to step up and be my number one dog. He qualified for Swedish nationals and also got to run team at nationals with my friend Sabina. We did not do well in our individual runs, but Sabina and Bud had an amazing agility run in the team finals and won overall gold for team Hejjaklacken. I did not have any expectations for Bud at tryouts for the Swedish team (EO, AWC and Nordic Championships). On the second day, we had an agility run where everything worked great and he won the class, which was fantastic. To get a spot on the team, he needed a clean run with points in jumpers too. On the last day, we managed to get around Jan Egil’s jumpers course clean and actually got a spot in the Swedish team for EO and Nordic Championships. We had a lot of fun in Austria and Finland, although we were plagued by dropped bars in almost all runs. We’re already qualified for nationals next year and are now focusing on tryouts for both WAO and FCI championships.

Spy (2 years old in April) has really come into her own this year. She’s now such a confident, happy and loving dog. She loves agility training and she’s finally happy enough about food to be able to start her running contacts training. She’s also made huge strides in her sheepdog training and passed the Swedish sheepdog working test in December. I look forward to both agility and sheepdog trials with her this year. She’ll probably also have a litter of puppies in late summer, and I think I want to keep a puppy from her. I haven’t had a puppy in four years and even then I didn’t really know I had a puppy until he was 5 months old, so I’m really excited about it right now. We’ll see how I feel this summer.

I’ve had an interesting year, where the biggest thing that happened probably is that I became an agility judge. I love judging, and now I really wish I had more weekends so that I could fit in teaching, competing with my dogs, and judging. I hope that I can combine judging with teaching and competing at least some of the time. We had two litters of puppies this spring, they are 9 months old now and look really nice so far. At the AWC in Sweden in October, I had a great time as one of the commentators on the live stream. At the end of October, Thomas and I packed the car full of dogs and drove to England and Scotland for a much-needed vacation together. Of course, our vacation involved a lot of (sheep)dog training and walks with the dogs. We had a great time!

Thomas has had a successful year with field trials for his German pointers and sheepdog trials with Volt and Holly. He’s working a lot in Norway and Denmark – mostly gundog training, He got another german pointer in spring, a bitch pup closely related to both Alot and Paxa, called Bob. With Kafka at 16 months and Bob at 10 months + border collie puppy Rey at 9 months, he’s got his hands full.

So – what will happen in 2019? I feel like I’m not really sure. My weekends seem to have booked themselves and I don’t really feel in control. Working, competing, judging and taking care of puppies. Just like last year. This year, I’m going into tryouts and championships with much higher expectations, but I’m not sure if I really feel more confident in our performance. I still feel like we’re both very close and very far away from where I want our performance to be. I’m really excited about agility with Spy this year. She just learned to weave a few months ago but doesn’t get it right in new environments all the time, so we definitely need work on that. And we have a lot of work to do with contacts, which we just started training. And then – maybe a puppy if it feels right.

Jumping Gymnastics

My first introduction to jump grids was more than 10 years ago, when both Shejpa – my working cocker spaniel – and I were quite new to agility training. Since then, I have tried to learn more from different sources and develop my own understanding of jumping. In the beginning, I just followed instructions and tried to learn more about how dogs move and jump. It took some time to start seeing the nuances in movement, and even longer to begin to understand what is important and what it means for the dog’s performance. Jump grids have turned out to be an essential part of my agility training for dogs at all levels, especially during winter when we spend less time running sequences and more time building strength for next season.

It’s important to know why we do the jump grids that we do and what we want to achieve in the exercise. Just using the same setup for all dogs doesn’t make sense once you’re past the introductory phase, Jumping gymnastics and jump grids can be used for a variety of reasons, for example:

  • Teaching the young dog to use their body in jumping in a way that is both efficient and sound.
  • Reducing impact on back and front in landings.
  • Helping the dog to develop scope and confidence between jumps.
  • Building drive, independence, and confidence in the slower dog.
  • Teaching the crazier dog to be thoughtful while running fast.
  • Teaching the dog to be careful with bars.
  • Developing the dog’s footwork and ability to accelerate in collection.
  • Building sport-specific strength at any level – young dogs, elite dogs, dogs coming back to agility after an injury, or older dogs wanting to stay in the sport.
  • Teaching more efficient turning over jumps.

My plan for Spy is very different from what I do with Bud this winter, Spy needs to learn good jump mechanics – especially with speed and excitement. We’re gradually building good habits and adding excitement to the mix. Bud is working on maintaining and building sport-specific strength, and I’m also trying to teach him a more efficient turning style where he doesn’t slip as much without losing his amazing speed. He’s the first dog that I’ve had that has trouble on indoor surfaces like the turf most dog training arenas here use. He tries to turn on landing sometimes, which puts a lot of strain on his front legs or makes him slip and fall. Epic is also on a mission to start next season much stronger than he is now. Almost a year away from agility at age 8 means loss of speed and power, unfortunately.

Here’s an example of a Friday night jump training for Bud a few weeks ago:

I’ve taught online jumping classes in Swedish for several years and it’s one of my favorite online classes. I like to do seminars too, but working online gives the students a much better chance at learning to see for themselves since there’s video to look at. Online classes also allow for more development, since we’re working together for months and can tweak exercises to give each dog the exercises he needs most at the moment. This online class is now finally available in English. It’s run in a closed Facebook group where exercise files are posted and participants post their videos. You can start this class any month you like and you’ll have access for three months. If you sign up now, you can start on January 1st and work until March 31st.

Read more and sign up here!

Please leave a comment if you have any questions about jumping or the online class.

Epic is back in agility

Epic is finally back in agility trials, almost ten months after his caudal cruciate ligament tear at the beginning of February. His recovery has gone great, but I’ve progressed slowly through the summer and fall. He’s eight years old now and recovery and rehab can be slower than in a younger dog. We’ve mostly worked on walks in the woods, strengthening exercises and some jump grids. I’ve been afraid of letting him go back to “real” agility but finally decided that I just had to do it and entered him in a competition. We ran three jumping courses on Saturday and it felt so much better than I expected! After the first run, I could relax and just enjoy the moment. Epic was so incredibly happy to be back in competition – it was stunning to see how he really enjoyed everything about it.

The first run. He dropped a bar and then took an off-course jump.

The second run was my favorite. He took the wrong tunnel entry on #4 – I did suspect that what works for Bud doesn’t for Epic right now. He turned into me when I was behind instead of staying on the narrow, straight line to the left tunnel entry. The rest of the run was really nice. I love how he nailed the independent part into the weaves.

The third run was clean, but I think he lost some time in the last tunnel. It’s almost not discernible in the video, but in real life, I felt that he got stuck and I had time to think all kinds of terrible thoughts on how he would come out of it on three legs, or not come out at all…

Bud also competed and won the first class. We had so much fun and I’m looking forward to competing again on Sunday!


Course Design Trend #2: Tunnel/Backside Jump Discrimination

The second trend that we saw quite a lot of at Norwegian Open is the discrimination between a tunnel straight ahead and a backside jump close to the tunnel entry. It’s not the first time we’ve encountered this during 2018 and it’s been one of my focuses in training all year. If you’ve been to a handling seminar with me this year, you’ve probably seen it too. There were a few discriminations like this in Nicolas Renaud’s world championship courses for medium dogs. I couldn’t find the course maps from NO that I was thinking of, but here are Renaud’s courses from AWC.

This jumping course started with a discrimination between the backside jump of 3 and tunnel #11. More teams than I would have thought fell in that trap and were eliminated at the beginning of the run.

This epic final course for medium dogs had a difficult discrimination after the dogwalk. These types of discriminations are so much more difficult when you have to run fast as a handler and keep moving without showing deceleration. We saw some very impressive handling and verbal control in this course, but also a lot of dogs choosing to go straight into the tunnel. At Norwegian Open, we had a similar sequence in Vittorio Pappavero’s A3 course on Sunday. Unfortunately, I haven’t found the course map. Bud and I nailed the discrimination and handling, but unfortunately, he went back onto the dogwalk when he came out of the tunnel, like many other dogs.

Some examples from NO that I’ve tried to recreate:

This situation from a jumping course gave us some trouble. We were clean in this run but lost a lot of time around this discrimination. Bud was looking at the off-course tunnel and I got scared and slowed down to get him to the correct jump, which put me behind for the next obstacle where I had to pull him off another tunnel and into the weaves because I was behind and not clear. I think we’ve trained on this a lot, but obviously not enough. I tried to cue the backside before Bud even took off at 12, and told him even before that that he wouldn’t be going straight into the tunnel – he needs very early information – but he still looked at it. We’ve done a lot of training on verbal discrimination, but what I think is missing is me running fast towards the tunnel and him coming with more speed than when we’re training on just a few obstacles.

This start was tricky! Not so much because of the discrimination at 5 – although I saw quite a few dogs take the tunnel – but because it was difficult to make it to #5 at all as a handler. Rear crossing #4 is very difficult as it turns the dog to the wrong side of #5. Getting two blind crosses in between 2-3 and 3-4 was doable, but difficult to get right as the dog came so fast over the long jump. I decided to run this sequence with dog on left all the way from 1-5 and just stay ahead and be in serpentine position at the landing side of 3. I think it worked really well, but he touched the end of the long jump and was faulted as it fell down. We really need to train (soft) long jumps!

How do you feel about this challenge? How do you train it?  

Course Design Trend #1: Layering the dogwalk

One course design trend that kept popping up at Norwegian Open was the tunnel under the dogwalk leading to a jump that the dog had to find on his own. A surprising number of dogs had trouble with finding the jump and ran past it or took another jump. Here are some examples from NO:

Jocke Tangfelt’s open agility course for large dogs were one of my favorites to run. The ending was tricky for a lot of dogs. They’d either run past #20 or take the wall jump instead. I was confident that Bud would do it nicely, and he did. Partly because he is good at finding jumps and listening to his “jump” cue, and partly because I was placed well. Trusting the A-frame contact means that I could just run and be in a good position for the ending.

Petr Pupík’s open agility course for large dogs had two instances of layering the dogwalk that caused trouble for dogs and handlers. Many dogs ran past #12 or #21. I’m still very sad that we had so many mistakes in this run that I didn’t get to run it properly. We had a misunderstanding before the weaves (costing time) and then three bars down, which just made me give up at the end so that I sent Bud into the wrong tunnel. I wish I had another chance at it because I really loved the course. Number #12 was very nice though.

This third example is also from Petr Pupík, but for small dogs so I didn’t run it. It looks like #13 after the tunnel under the dogwalk is a big challenge and I’d love to run this course as well. Having an independent seesaw and being able to send the dog through the tunnels from a distance seems to be an advantage, as well as being able to handle 13-14 while staying on the exit side of the weaves. I’d love to see a video of someone executing this nicely! To me, it’s not so much about being able to run as it is a challenge in training and independence.

Teaching the dog a good jump cue and making sure it’s working at a distance is one big part of managing these kinds of courses. It’s also important that the dog knows when to come out of a tunnel looking ahead and when to come out looking for the handler. It’s good to get the dog used to that you’re sometimes on the other side of a dogwalk or set of weaves, but mostly it’s about that very basic training that you can do with one tunnel and one jump.

Norwegian Open 2018

We’re back from six days in Norway. It’s been rough finding energy for a huge trial like this right after AWC in Sweden, but I’m so happy that I went. NO is probably the best competition we enter in a year. The organizers go out of their way to find the best judges, use high-quality obstacles and get the best competitors to come. The arena is also one of the very best to run in. It fits four big rings and the footing is perfect for agility. This year we saw competitors from all over the world thanks to it being close to AWC in both time and space.

We kicked our week off on Wednesday by running in a workshop with agility superstars Tereza Kralova and Max Sprintz. We had a few sessions with each of them and although it’s a bit short time to really get to understand their way of training and handling, it’s a great way to get tuned up before an event like this. I felt like I hadn’t run Bud on courses in a long time, and the workshop really helped us get used to the footing, the obstacles and each other. Here are some clips from the training:

We got to sleep in on Thursday and went on a walk in the forest with our friends. It was a perfect fall day and we had the forest to ourselves, Much needed recovery time for us all. We didn’t have to be in the arena until evening, where we had two open runs. Open classes are unofficial and open to dogs of all levels. These are the classes where you collect points for the big final on Sunday, and there were six of them during NO. We also ran four official classes on Saturday and Sunday (J3 + A3). I’m very pleased with Bud’s and my performance on almost every course. The courses were generally hard and required independence, discrimination, obstacle skills and fast running. We nailed almost every difficult handling part and I felt like he really understood my cues and that I could just run as fast as I can without having to wait and help him.

Although we had some bars down – something that has been our big problem in the past 6 months – I felt like he really tried and he jumped some very difficult sequences without touching a single bar. He’s really making progress and I think this year has been a year where he’s been figuring out his jumping. He’s only three years old and has added speed considerably. It’s like we’ve been through every type of knocked bar there is this summer. Sometimes it’s been S-turns, sometimes wraps from the backside, sometimes fast and almost straight lines, sometimes the first jump… This weekend it was the long jump that caused us the most problems. I don’t think he’s been faulted on the long jump before, but he is mostly running in the Swedish large category, so it’s usually shorter. Didn’t have any problems at tryouts or championships before though. This weekend he did have problems. We had faults on the long jump in three runs. The long jump used was the Smart-99 soft long jump, and it’s the first time we’ve tried it. He has jumped the Galican version with no issues. Twice, he just touched the last section and dropped it. Once, he really took off too early and made a mess out of it. I wish I had a soft long jump to train on – partly to get him used to it, but even more to make training more safe for him.

We also had some weave entry issues. This is a hard nut to crack as he is usually very good on the second try but seems to get too frustrated/excited to do it right the first time. We’ve been focusing a lot on weaves this summer and it’s something that I’ll have to keep working on until he’s doing it as nicely in competition as he is in training. Generally, I feel like we’re so very close to being able to handle almost any course. But considering that there’s always that small mistake that keeps us away from the podium, I also feel like we’re very far from it. I’m excited about next season and I have a lot on my list of things to train better. Here’s a video from some of our runs:

I found some common threads in the courses set by some of the worlds most appreciated judges. I’ll get back to that topic later this week. Until then: Can you guess which two common challenges I noted and will write about?

7 Days Left Until Agility World Championships in Sweden

It’s so exciting that we’re finally just a week away from the event that we’ve been waiting for for so long. It’s the first FCI World Championships held in Sweden and I think it will be one of the best ever. Swedes are good at organizing and I know that the committee has put a lot of both thought and work into the event. I’m excited to once again see some of the best agility in the world, get inspired and find new challenges for my training, and to meet friends from near and far that have come together to experience the championship live.

I’ve visited many world championships. My first was in Norway in 2007 when I lived there, and it was such an amazing experience that I wanted to do it every year. My trips to the AWC has not only been an agility experience – it’s also been a way for me to discover Europe and get a few days of vacation with good food and friends. I’ve been to Finland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, and twice to the Czech Republic. One of the things that I really love about agility is that it is such an international sport. At the AWC, you’ll find competitors and fans from countries like Japan, China, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, South Africa, Canada, the US and this year even Australia. The championship is not only big and international when it comes to competitors, it also draws more spectators than championships in other sports. There’s something very special in watching your favorite sport in an arena with thousands of other fans.

There is, however, something that makes the decision to go harder every year. It’s both time-consuming and expensive to travel to another country to experience agility and you can actually experience the championship from home. Some years I’ve stayed home and watched the live stream instead. I still take the weekend off and immerse myself completely in the competition. But I can still hang out with my dogs and do some training with them or take a walk during course building and course walk. I think this is what I’ll do next year unless I get the honor of running in the Swedish team with one of my dogs.

This year, I’ll definitely be in Kristianstad for the big event. But I’ll still be part of the live stream. I will be one of four commentators on the live stream and work every other class. It’s an important job and I’m actually quite nervous about it. I’ll try to get all the facts right, not mispronounce names terribly, and give you a feeling of excitement and drama. So if you can’t make it to Sweden this time – make sure you purchase the live stream and hang out with me next week! Here’s the link to the live stream page. And if you are coming to Kristianstad next week – please say hi! I’m looking forward to seeing both old and new friends at the event.

Agility Handling Foundations Online – Video

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.


Bud – Swedish Team Champion

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.

Judging for the first time

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: