Agility Trial in Torsby

Squid did her first trial of 2012, and her first since September, yesterday. It was a long day in a cold riding facility, and a long drive, but it was worth it. I realize that I have a lot to work on, her performance is far from how it is at home where she doesn’t get aroused by other dogs running agility. Last season, I felt that all the training i put in made a big difference and that it got better, but we’re back where we started at the beginning of this season. She’s acting like a different dog and the biggest thing is that she is ignoring decel and looking for tunnels and weave entries. It’s really boring training, but I realize it has to be done. I want to trial with the dog I have in training. Crazy Squid still managed to win both her runs and is now qualified for class 3 in jumpers. Exciting!

18 – Jump Grid or Handling Exercise?

It looks like we’re getting a green Christmas this year. Last year we had -23°C and a lot of snow this time of year. Right now it’s just around 0°C. We’ve had some snow, but most of it is gone now. I don’t mind green fields for Christmas at all, we’ve spent many hours herding in our big field last week and it’s just wonderful to still be able to do that. Agility training is done indoors now, my field is too muddy and icy. We’ve spent quite a lot of time in the riding facility the past week, training contacts, weaves, jump grids and handling.

Epic took some bars down at the handling seminar last week, so I’m going to work on some jumping with him. He jumps well, but seems to struggle a bit with his striding at times. I set up an exercise last night that was really challenging for him. As the dog gets better at jumping, the exercises look more and more like “real” agility. This exercise looks really easy – it’s just a straight line and a pinwheel, but you could really see the dogs struggle. It makes me realize that what we think is easy really isn’t for the dogs. What we require of them in a simple class 1 course can be really challenging when it comes to jumping. When Squid did her first trial in class 1, the distance between jump 2 and 3 was 3,5 meters and a lot of dogs crashed into the bar at jump 3.

This exercise was easier for Squid that has more experience, but she had to work hard. Epic struggled a bit with the straight line and dropped some bars in the beginning – but never made the same mistake twice. I started with just running the straight line in both directions and then worked on the pinwheel, where I want one steady stride between each jump and a tight line. The jumps were 55, 60 and 65 centimeters high. All the jumps in the pinwheel were 55 cm high.

I ended with some handling where the dog did both the straight one stride line and the pinwheel. 1-10 (light circles) were run with rear cross at 8 and I also tried starting the dog on my right, rear crossing 4. With number 1-11 (dark squares), I worked on leaving the dog as soon as they took off on 6 – having them chase me down the line to the finish. Great training! Can’t wait to get back to a similar exercise next week and see if the dogs have improved, I’m sure they have.

15 – Training Sequences

Tonight, I had a handling class in our riding facility. I ran my dogs after class and Squid got to go agility for the first time since her little accident nearly three weeks ago. She was just crazy fast and I had to spend some time working on her turns… I wouldn’t have thought that a few years ago. Epic felt really slow in comparison, but I don’t doubt that he’ll be even faster in the end. There is no need to rush that, I’m happy as long as he does everything with full focus and enthusiasm. Here are the sequences we ran, you might want to try them.

10 – More Fun and Clear Agility Training

I’m sorry that I didn’t write anything yesterday. I spent the day driving home in rain and wind after a great herding session in the morning. Came home to snow and ice. I hope it’ll go away soon. I have posted an entry from yesterday now, it’s just a little video of Epic and his third talent (apart from agility and herding). Today, I thought I would share with you some important points that makes agility training much more fun and clear for the dog.

  • Quick transitions. Make sure that it takes a minimum of time to get the dog set up to run a sequence. It’s worth training getting the dog off his toy and into position fast. Some people prefer to set the dog up with their hands when the dog is still on the toy. I like to se the dog swing into position at my side as soon as the toy is out of his mouth. Anyway, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of seconds between the dog letting go of his toy and you leading out. If you take long, or if you have to nag the dog to get him into position, you will loose a lot of the great drive built up while tugging. This transition is excellent to train while warming up or on days like these when there is snow all over my agility field.
  • Use “screw up cookies”. When ever there is a mistake on course and you want to start over, make sure that you keep your dog under control and set him up for success in the next repetition. You definitely don’t want your dog to rehearse flanking, blind crossing, taking tunnels on his own or other unwanted behaviors while you’re walking back, but this often happens if you’re not paying attention. The best way to avoid this is to let the dog hang off his toy while walking back to the start. You’ll have your dog under control while building value for interacting with you. If the mistake was made by the dog, make sure that you ask him for some behavior that he will be successful with before giving him the toy. It might be a hand touch, a sit or a down. If you made a mistake and the dog responding correctly (like missing a jump because of an early front cross) you should of course reward him right away.
  • Reward when the dog gets it right! Unfortunately, a lot of dogs only get rewarded when things go wrong. If your dog makes a mistake, make sure to reward when he gets it right! Never ever just continue running the sequence. How will he know what you wanted him to do if you don’t give him that information when he gets it right. If you keep running, you risk something else going wrong on and the dog not getting rewarded at all. I often make sure to reward the dog with his toy in trials if there is something I need to do over again, I keep a small toy in my pocket for instances like that. Of course, don’t just reward the dog when he gets it right the second time. Note what your dog was failing on and be ready to reward him when he get’s that same thing right in your next training session.

I hope you don’t have snow like us, unless you like it – but I don’t get people who do. Have a great weekend!

Cecilia and Ninja playing

8 – Second Day with Advanced Handling

Epic has been such a good sport these three days. He came here and had done very little sequencing. We started with double box on tuesday, moved on to more challenging sequences yesterday and today we ran courses the whole day. We were only five handlers running dogs in the advanced handling seminar, so we got to run a lot. Epic has never done a full course and he was of course not really ready for these advanced courses, so we had some mistakes and also stopped to reward often. I’m very happy with how well he has been working all three days, and he sure loved a lot running agility. I have so much to work on when we get home, but I think we have a pretty good foundation. Here is a video with some of the work we did today:

We’re staying one more night in the south of Sweden, doing some herding tomorrow morning. Then we’re heading back home. They say that there is a lot of snow and wind coming, I hope it will be alright to drive.

7 – Advanced Handling with Greg Derrett

We’re exhausted after two days of handling with Greg Derrett. Epic did advanced handling today and sometimes it was a bit too advanced for him, considering he just started to run sequences and jumping high jumps. But he did a lot of nice things too and I’m glad that he is behaving nicely and relaxing between runs. He did drop more bars than I’m happy with. He seems to take off to late and takes the bars down with front feet. It’s probably just his inexperience, but I will work more on his jumping. We have a lot of things to work on this winter and I’m looking forward to it.

6 – Double Box Seminar

I’m in the south of Sweden this week, enjoying a seminar on agility handling with Greg Derrett. Epic got to work at a seminar for the first time and did really well. He seemed to take it very seriously and tried his best, even though he got tired in the evening. I really like that he is so enthusiastic, focused and thoughtful at the same time. Squid unfortunately hurt her self last week and had to get stitches on her shoulder, so she can’t run this time. And Shejpa got spayed a few weeks ago, so she’s on a break from agility too. This means that Epic will have to do the advanced stuff tomorrow and on Thursday. It’ll be interesting. Here’s a video from today:

We’re having a lot of fun, but not much time for blogging.

5 – Seesaw Basics

I teach my dogs nose touches as the end behavior on the seesaw. This is a pretty long process for me (and I don’t hurry, I don’t think my puppies are ready for a full seesaw before they are grown) and I do most of it on stairs, away from agility equipment. Parallel to teaching the end behavior, I work on weight shift and confidence. I start by just tugging with the dog in 2 on 2 off, teaching him to keep back feet on the contact. I then let him drive the last step into 2o2o and grab the toy and then gradually increase the distance he has to run before the weight shift. Eventually, I will add a bang to this game and with time increase it. Epic always had a bit of problem with this since he likes to put all of his weight into the toy instead of shifting his weight back in the grip. It’s better, but not perfect. You can see what I mean here:

4 – And the winner is…

The winner of the e-book Picking Your Performance Puppy is AnnaKarin Nordangård! I used an online random number generator to pick a winner. AnnaKarin is getting a new puppy in a few weeks, so I hope she’ll have some use for the book. This is the video that AnnaKarin picked as her favorite is this one:

I can’t believe it’s almost four years ago. Pi was just a puppy and we lived in another house in another country.

Talking about different countries, there is a lot of discussion in both Norway (Where Thomas is from, and where we used to live) and Sweden (where I’m from and where we live now) about how to best organize the sport of agility. I think that both countries need agility organizations that are associated with the Kennel Club, but still does it’s own thing and has a strong democracy where the agility handlers make the calls. There are a lot of decisions made about agility that I’m sure that most agility handlers don’t agree on. One of those decisions is that you from this year has to be a Norwegian citizen to compete in the Norwegian Championships (which, incidentally was won by a Finn living in Norway two years ago…). I’m glad that I’m not still living there. Another is that the Norwegian Championships are held at Norway’s biggest dog show – indoors on a carpet so bad that a lot of people chose not to come.

Things are not quite as bad in Sweden, but there is still a great need for more democracy here. Agility is run by the Swedish Working Dog Association (SBK), an organization that has a long and proud history of educating Swedes about dogs, breeding working dogs and organizing working trials and obedience trials. The Swedish Working Dog Association (SBK) is a part of the Swedish Kennel Club (SKK). I have been a member of SBK for over 15 years and have always been proud of the incredible tradition we have in this country. Every town has it’s own club with big green fields and nice house. But SBK and agility is not a good match. An organization that also deals with breeding certain breeds, organizing working trials, evaluating mentality in dogs and educating dogs for the military is just too big to rule over agility. We need more democracy and we need people concerned with agility making the decisions. I hope both Norway and Sweden will come to this solution soon.

If you read Scandinavian or if you’re good with translating texts online, here are some blog posts that talk about both problems and solutions: