Thursday, August 31, 2006

A bit of Raven History

I've been meaning to write a blog entry for Raven's background for a while now. Raven came to us at the age of 8 weeks, born on the 7th of March in the year 2000.

Raven at the age of 3 weeks
Raven at the age of 5 weeks
Raven at the age of 9 weeks
Raven was born in Southern River at Rhonabwy Kennels bred by Chris Fernando. I didn't purchase Raven as Chris used my dog Bear on one of her bitches to produce the litter. I got to pick from the three girls in the litter of 5 puppies. Bear was 8 years old by the time he had his first and only mating yet he still managed to get the job done!
Bear is pictured above and below. He was one of the friendliest, most laid back Border Collies I have ever had the privilege of meeting and he was the one responsible for me striking up a conversation with my now 9 year strong partner Tim. Bear was also born in Southern River - in Llanwnen Kennels. His fancy show name was Llanwnen Jac B Nimble CD ADM JDX ET. Bear was born on the 10th of November 1992 and he passed away on the 29th of August 2003 suddenly and without any warning.
Bear lives on in his daughter, Raven. Raven's fancy show name is Australian Champion Rhonabwy Raven Ov Bear CDX ADM JDM JDO ET. We have completed her show champion title, her Endurance Test title, her obedience title Companion Dog Excellent and we are working on her Utility Dog title. She has finished her Masters Agility and Masters Jumping titles and she is in the progress of finishing her Open and Games titles. Raven has alot of traits like her Dad, yet she retains her own very unique and individual character, she is very much a people person rather than a dog person. She has a few select Canine friends but generally she considers herself above most of her canine peers. Raven is now 6 and a half years old and still a maniac on the agility course albeit with a bit more control these days (most trials that is, she is always capable of making sure you don't get too comfortable and reverting back to her fresh 2 year old absolute lunatic feral BC). Raven has taught me a massive amount about dog training and in particular about the importance of jumping. Below are some photos from various stages of her career so far.

Cypher weave...

Cypher in the weave poles

Cypher sitting on the startline

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Cypher's Trialling record

Trialling started on the 8th of April 2006 when Cy was aged 18 months and 2 days, this table is updated to the weekend of August 27th 2006.


Clear Runs



Novice Agility


3 x 1st
1 x 3rd
1 x 5th

Werriwa 22/04, Southern River 30/04, Bunbury 14/05, Nationals 10/06, Nationals 11/06

Novice Jumping


4 x 1st
2 x 2nd

Cloverdale 08/04, Perth 15/04, Werriwa 22/04, BC Nationals 23/04, Southern River 30/04, Bunbury 14/05

Excellent Agility


2 x 1st

Bunbury 13/08, CAWA 26/08

Excellent Jumping


2 x 1st
1 x 3rd
1 x 4th
1 x 6th

Cloverdale 09/07, ACWA 15/07, ACWA 15/07, Bunbury 13/08, CAWA 26/08

Masters Agility

Masters Jumping

Open Agility


1 x 2nd

Werriwa 22/04, ACWA 15/07, CAWA 26/08

Open Jumping


2 x 1st

Cloverdale 08/04, Perth 15/04, ACWA 15/07, CAWA 26/08, CAWA 26/08




Nationals 10/06

Strategic Pairs Novice


Nationals 10/06

Snooker Novice

Intense weave focus!

Raven at the trials yesterday...insane weaving maniac!

CAWA Fundraisers Trials aka Cypher's Most Excellent Adventure!

Yesterday the Agility Committee put on a double header agility and jumping trial like they do every year to raise funds for our own Canine Association. It was well attended with nearly 500 runs throughout the day. I was there at gates opening - 7am as being on the committee I needed to help organise the equipment and set courses. It didn't help that on Thursday I came down with something and have felt pretty damn crook for the last 48 hours, maybe catching 3 hours sleep all night Friday night. So dosed up on Nurofen Plus (the one with the excellent somewhat weirdly effective Codeine in it) I arrived at the grounds with my brain in automatic pilot thinking only 1 step ahead. I had no idea how I would go today and really the way I was feeling at that point, running courses was the last thing on my mind.

So the morning trial rolled into a start and first cab off the ranks was Raven in Masters Agility. Given that I had no voice, and what vocal capacity I did have was saved for emergency calls on the course I'd decided that today they'd have to cue off my body just about the whole way. This didn't worry me as running silent with Raven is usually far more effective, I didn't know how it would go with Cypher but as I said one step at a time.
The Masters Agility course was really quite nice and flowing, unfortunately we didn't finish it as we left as soon as she dropped a bar. She dropped the one before the dogwalk. I stopped went back and replaced it and we left the ring. Illness really helps one stick to one's criteria like that!
Next up was Cypher in Excellent Jumping, again this was a really nice course that had some interesting handling challenges. Unfortunately I came to a complete halt in the middle of it, not because I got lost but because when I quickly glanced at a number to double check (whilst Cy was in a tunnel) it was facing the wrong way so I couldn't even see if it was the right number. We wasted a good 5 to 6 seconds there at least. In the end I just went with my instinct and it turned out to be the right way, then of course on the nice straight line home instead of just sticking to "Go on Go On" - idiot me yelled "Go on, go on, out go on" and what did he do? He went out of course like the good boy he is! Needless to say that course was not successful for us
but Cy was a good boy how got lots of play at the end of the course.
Soon the Open Jumping course was ready for running - there were a number of complaints about this course in terms of the distance control being virtually impossible to complete. I had a go with Raven and when I yelled out, she went out but still couldn't see the jump she had to go out to. They came through a fairly heavy collapsible tunnel then had to go out at quite an angle to jump a bar the was on quite an odd angle in relation to their position as they came out of the tunnel. Her speed and her moment taken to reorientate herself with the course meant that she whipped back to me and started barking wanting to know where to go. Needless to say we failed the distance challenge on this one :-)! Along with 53 other dogs so I didn't feel too bad. There was only one qualifier and after going up to the line with him still wondering how the hell I was going to get him through this distance challenge, Cypher was the only one that managed it. He managed it simply by NOT listening to me who had some sort of vague half assed plan that once he was in the tunnel I would call him back to the line bring him around my legs and shoot him out to the jump. When he came out the tunnel he had sudden deafness to my calls of Cypher Come, kind of trotted over towards the ring ropes (obviously thinking about Saffi - the red and white girl Robyn had brought down) and ended up right in front of the jump he was supposed to do. So I just gave up trying to get him to come and yelled "Out Over" and so he did it! The only one out of 55 dogs to do it. What a cack! Not even my experienced Masters dog who is a very
competent distance worker could do it. That was really his only major moment of 'boys brains' so to speak and probably the one time in his career where it will actually benefit him! So he achieved 1st Place Open Jumping!
Next on the agenda was Masters Jumping and judge Mel Rhoden put up another really smooth flowing yet challenging course. Raven again made it round half way before she knocked a bar. So again we stopped, replaced the bar and left the ring. Following Masters Jumping was Cypher in Excellent Agility. This course ran really well, it was smooth, flowing and we both ran it well, he was very responsive to me and working hard. There were only 2 qualifiers on this course and Cypher managed a good time to win 1st place by about 25 seconds from the 2nd qualifier. I was very happy with the way he was running despite the fact that I wasn't really energetic or vocal enough to show it!
Soon the Open Agility course was set and ready for running. The course really didn't need alot of distance handling on it and it would be likely to have lots of qualifiers. Raven again was going great guns until she knocked a bar at the start of the distance challenge, we stopped and left the ring again. Cypher was the last dog to run this course and again like in Excellent Agility we ran like clockwork, he was on the ball with every signal and command I gave and looked to be having such a good time he let out a bark at me at one stage - his very first on course bark. That made me smile as it was a bark through sheer excitement and enthusiasm for what we were playing at. He did a nice course and gained a clear round and came 9th out of 19 clear rounds so very happy with that. Only two more to go for his ADO title now.
Then it was lunchbreak and time to set the courses for the afternoon's trial. The first event we were to run in the afternoon was the Excellent Jumping course. Once again Cypher kept his form going and ran very smoothly for me, not only did we go clear and gain our JDX title we also won 1st place over 4 other clear runs. So for him he'd had 4 clear runs from 5 so far that day - I was starting to wonder when his fuse would overload! Next up was Masters Agility and Raven kept all her bars up this time, and ran clear. We only managed a 3rd place though because she decided to run the last four jumps according to her plan rather than mine which meant quite a bit of faffing about as I like to call it. It was good to go clear on a Masters Agility course for once though - the last time we did that was back in April!
Our next event was the Open Jumping course and I did a four jump lead out with Raven so that I could put her into a serpentine with me leading her from the front, she did this lead out really well and again we were going great guns till an odd angled bar was knocked about the 2nd obstacle into the distance challenge. We replaced the bar and left. The distance challenge whilst it didn't look all that difficult had dogs doing all sorts of faults - splicing the broad, extending over a jump so much it took them past the next jump and missing the weaver entry. Cypher I handled with a two jump lead out and he again ran as smooth as clockwork - he was really firing on all four cylinders today (in his case I think he's got 6!). There were no hiccups or wobbly bits for us and he ran clear for his JDO title today, not only that but he won 1st place again! Beating 4 other clear rounds, I was over the moon with him. I certainly didn't expect anything else from him that day.
After Open Jumping the Excellent Agility course was set and Cy must have had enough by then I think. He missed his A Frame contact and then vagued out on me going round a jump that was set near the side of the ring, I went to run off on him and he came with me straight away so I just got him to redo his A Frame contact and then we did a couple of jumps on the way out as we left the ring.
The last course of the day (and by this point I was definitely grateful for that!) was Open Agility. Now Raven still needed legs for this so I had thought of a couple of options of handling it. The best way to complete a three jump box was to front cross on the dog as it completed a 270 and came over the bar at you and typically this is something I always tend to shy away from because when just going for a clear I like to play it safe and give Raven as much room as possible to clear the bar. However I saw this successfully done with two much younger and just as fast dogs. So I decided what the hell I'll see if I can do it. And we did it! I was so impressed she kept the bar up but remembered not to stand around spectacting this wonderful event and we blitzed the rest of the course to win it. What a star she was! The 3 clear runs she had in the afternoon more than made up for the crappy morning trial we had. Cy again was the last dog to run and he was firing as well until I tried a "Raven" move on him that I haven't really practiced and he popped out the weavers as I did it. I took him back to redo the weavers and did a more gentle front cross on him closer to the weavers as he was doing them and he was fine, he stayed in them. But then as I yell "A Frame" he decided to just gallop across the up plank coming off sideways! I gave him an "oi!!" and he did it again properly, but I think I knew by then he was probably a bit switched off. We finished the course though because I'd brought his tuggy lead
and I'd wanted to finish really fast and play a stong game of tug with him. He did finish the course nicely and we did have a big game of tug afterwards. I didn't begrudge him this or any of his non-clear runs that day he'd performed well above my expectations that day - to say I was very proud of him would be an absolute understatement.
We have a trial next weekend (our first one with the games of Snooker and Strategic Pairs to be held in this State) and I've decided that until we've been trialling a bit longer I'll just put this weekend's trial to an amazing amount of luck. If he maintains his consistency next weekend on brand new trial grounds for him then I'll know we're getting somewhere.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Winter Wonderland

I've been scanning websites keenly lately in a bid to find our own personal ultimate dog sled holiday. Tim and I will be having a European Christmas this year and so far the best site that combines both the dog sled and the snowmobile fun in one tour is this one; Magic Lapland . It looks very picturesque and deliciously, whitely chilly. The very thought of being out there in the pristine, snowy wilderness with a pack of huskies running in front of you brings an excited sense of anticipation.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Stacy Peardot in Perth DAY TWO

Today Stacy indicated that she wanted us to work on various handling skills such as our shoulder movements, front crosses and rear crosses. First up though, she talked about an exercise that someone had enquired about the previous day to do with teaching dogs to flex from the middle of their spine leading to greater and more efficient turning capability over jumps and on the flat. We organised a witches hat or cone that was around knee height and we tried a couple of dogs on the exercise however Stacy needed a dog that wouldn’t care about where mum was and was a high toy drive, in particular willing to tug with her. I was asked to bring Cypher out (he apparently has a reputation for his somewhat insane addiction to playing tug, he’s not even 2 yet!) and although at the start he was watching me closely as soon as Stacy brought the tug out the game was on, she had him in the palm of her hand. Stacy would hold him by his collar (as an extra note here she spoke about making sure our dogs were completely unconcerned about being held by the collar, that we should be able to reach out and hold the dog by the collar without the dog feeling like it was being corrected or feeling uncomfortable). So she held him by his collar in her left hand, had the tug toy in her right hand (this was a half meter length ropey tug toy – I think this exercise would be better with a longer tuggy rather than a short one). She held Cy so that he was facing just to the left of the cone, then she brought her right hand and the tuggy round the other side of the cone (she herself was obviously positioned fairly close to the cone). When Cy could see the end of the toy on the left side of the cone and was raring to get at she let him go telling him to “Get it” in an urgent excited voice. As soon as he leapt for it she dragged it quickly round, nice and close to the cone, Cy chased it turning really tightly round the cone and he grabbed it and played when they were clear of the cone heading off at a 90 degree angle to the cone.

He turned so tight the cone got knocked over but Stacy repeatedly said that this did not matter at all, in fact it meant that he was turning as tightly as he could and so it was a good thing. I have tried to do a rough diagram in the image below to try and illustrate the dog’s path, it was important to remember to get that full turning body movement that you reward with the tug toy at the end of the dogs path here (indicated in red). Of course Stacy reminded us that we should be doing this both directions equally even though both we and our dogs will feel a lot more natural and smooth turning one way more than another.

Another aspect that Stacy really wanted us to become better observers of is identifying when a dog was bending or flexing and turning from the middle of his spine or was just trying to pull its body round the turn using its front. From watching when I did it with Cypher a few times myself the others were able to see the difference between the two. An obvious clue is how tight the turn was, every time he flexed from the middle of his spine the turn was tight, if he didn’t the turn was loose on the cone.

The next skill Stacy addressed was the See Saw performance (or teeter as it called in the US). The previous day she had mentioned that she was not inclined to be satisfied with the seesaw performances on the agility course and she felt that we could get them much better. So to get an idea of what approaches dogs were using she had us set up the adjustable seesaw so that it was on full height to begin with. Out of the 12 dogs I think she was satisfied that maybe one or two of them were doing them to the best of their ability. The rest were a mixture of either being very confident yet not understanding the bottom behaviour therefore were prone to fly offs and those that were still slowing down to look for that point at which the seesaw pivots and then moving off. So because the majority were of the latter type we adjusted the seesaw to it’s lowest height (about 10 inches off the ground at the end) and all we did to start with was just run our dogs across the plank encouraging them to just keep running instead of thinking about what they had to do. We did this a few times until the dogs were quite relaxed and running across the plank happily.

She then asked us to give our verbal cue to the dog that we used for the seesaw end behaviour, and if we needed to we were to quick release them with whatever our release word was. This is where Cy and I exposed our big gaps in our seesaw training. (I knew we would, I haven’t been happy with his seesaw training much at all, it relies very heavily on me saying down at just the right moment and it is something that is almost impossible to be consistently on the ball with due to the massive variation we have in our seesaws in this state when it comes to how fast they drop, I’ve been trying to nut out what to do with his seesaw for ages!). We ran at it again and I said “Down” just as he got to the end, he downed immediately however one side of his rear end was not lined up with the plank and he kind of half fell off it sideways as the plank hit the ground, then corrected himself and lay there on the end of the plank waiting for his release of “ok”. It looked awkward, ugly and dangerous, all the things that Stacy observed out loud and I agreed with.

The issue with him is not about flyoffs, he doesn’t really like doing fly offs at all, the issue is that I’m not sure about what exactly I want him to do on the seesaw. I’ve never had to actually think about the process or behaviour before. With Raven I just yell “Wait” she applies the brakes and then self releases as soon as the board hits the ground. Sometimes she slides it into the ground other times she rides it and as soon as it hits she’s gone. She has an absolutely fearless approach to the obstacle and it’s always done us ok in trials so I’ve never thought to refine it or demand anything more formal. I think she has picked up the idea somehow that she has to wait till it hits the ground before she leaves but I’m not sure how. We’ve had a few calls this year for seesaws but again they are rare enough that I’ve never been motivated enough to perfect her seesaw behaviour.

I know I want him to run straight up it, get near the end (not right on the edge or anything like that – a good 30cm from the end) lie down and then release on my “ok”. So Stacy recommended that I take him back to the lower sized seesaw (in training each week) and work on getting that down in a better place and trying to fade that verbal cue out by getting so many repetitions on the low seesaw that he just starts to recognise for himself the behaviour he is running to do. I know it is going to be a work in progress for sometime to come and it is clear that the more different seesaws I get to train him on the better.

She recommended that for quite a few others, the more older dogs though who have been competing in Masters she suggested a bit of gaffer tape on the end of the seesaw with a bit squeeze cheese on it to encourage them to run to the end of the plank and ride it. From an early puppy stage though Stacy uses a very basic shaping with the clicker on the end of an extremely low seesaw (2 to 3 inches off the ground at the most) and she’ll straddle the board at the end facing the pivot point. Then she just shapes and clicks the puppies for getting all four paws on the board (starting off with a click treat for one paw, then two and so on) until pup is virtually throwing their bodies onto the board to get the treat. Stacy went into more detail about what are her next steps but I’m afraid I didn’t take those notes down! I’ll have to see if someone else remembers what she said. Next Stacy set us up the Jumping sequence for the day. She didn’t have any numbers up on it to begin with and simply showed us the first exercise. See the image below;

Stacy then asked us all to run it just being aware of what our shoulders were doing and without ANY verbals apart from whatever word we use for the jumps (Hup, Over etc), but no names or comes. Just about every single dog managed this exercise without any trouble, a few handlers got caught up running into the uprights of the box in the middle but other than that I think maybe one dog out of the whole group actually went into a tunnel. Stacy was impressed with how we managed this exercise particularly after several of us had all voiced our doubts about how we would get around this circle!

We then repeated the exercise in the other direction without too much difficulty. Some of us tried to make sure we stayed off the inner box, however we were still aware of what our shoulders were doing and by being conscious of where they were turning we were still able to keep a hold of our dog. All this without a single yell of a dog’s name or of “Come” or “Here”. I said nothing with Cypher, I just ran since I don’t tend to say anything for jumps. It was a really good shoulder awareness raising exercise!

The next exercise was more of a challenge, especially since the dogs had been patterned at least 6 times by now on the previous exercise.

This one was tough, we were still not allowed to say anything other than the jumps and now we could say the word “tunnel” or whatever word we used for the tunnel. We were not allowed to say the word “out” ARGH!!!! I got round to #5 at least three times and then Cy would cut me off each time to do #14 instead of the tunnel. This was the ultimate exercise in teaching shoulder/body cue importance. The only way I succeeded in the end was when Stacy told me that I needed to turn my shoulders more inwards on #1 to #4 so that when I straightened up and virtually pushed my right shoulder out towards the tunnel as he committed to #5 then he could see a much different picture about our direction. Several of us also struggled to not use our “off arm” to indicate the tunnel, when your shoulder is pushing out there it was incredibly hard to keep the arm from following it out there! This exercise was very valuable and one that I will need to keep working on. We didn’t even get a chance to run it the other way I don’t think, because so many of us found this one such a challenge enough already. All that thinking hard, being so self conscious about what your shoulders were doing whilst still maintaining connection with your dog was a challenge to say the least!

After lunch we then looked at tightening up our front crosses with the following sequence.

Stacy broke this one down for us after we had all had a turn on this (some of us did it well, others not so well). I felt like I was leaving Cy behind on the turns from the box jump to the outside jump, but then I was all too aware that these front crosses were definitely not our strong point.

Stacy wanted to see dogs collect themselves nicely for the front cross turns into the box jumps and she showed us how to encourage this by just demonstrating jump #1 and #2. The handler would stand in line with the inside upright of #2, leg on either side of the bar facing out. Handler holds left hand up to indicate the #2 jump leaving the dog in a wait at #1. Handler releases dog and as dog comes over #1 and as he commits to #2 our right hand come up we step back with our left foot and using our right hand to indicate the turn we ‘collect’ our dog up from the turn and direct them over #3. For a few dogs (including Cypher) it took a few goes before we started to see them showing some real collection in a bid to turn tightly towards us.

Another issue a few handlers had was the dogs bypassing #4, #7 and #10 due to the handlers being so concerned about getting into the right spot to show the front cross turn to their dogs that they stayed close in to the box jumps, just kind of pointed quickly to #4 and then ran off expecting the dogs to do the jumps by themselves. This was a problem as the dogs were on such an angle coming off the inside box jump that the jump was hard to see let alone to try and jump. After several handlers were made aware of this they supported their dogs more by coming off the inside box jump with them and shaping their line a bit better to the jumps. It was interesting when I did a comparison of this exercise with both my dogs, Cypher did fairly tight turns off the inside box and fairly wide turns on the outside circle, yet when I did this with Raven she quickly tightened up her turns on the outside circle however just could not collect herself nicely over the inside box turns, and frequently flung herself over the next box jump. It was almost like with her she’d worked really hard to turn nice and tight towards me on the outside circle and then when I’d caught her after that she thought she was in extension mode again immediately.

Cypher just has no comprehension at the moment of any collection over jumps that are generously spaced apart, irrespective of where my body is. This was something that Stacy noticed and suggested that I do a lot more cone work with him. Again this is an exercise that should be repeated as many times again in the other direction.

The last challenge of the day was rear crosses on this course. See the next image;

This was a great course to run and one that felt as smooth as silk when I ran it with Raven on another day. Cypher and I managed to get around it but he felt slow and was turning like a Mack truck again. He was still switched on to me though so I had a few goes at the course. He managed to read the rear crosses well at #5 to #6 and #9 to #10 and #15 to #16. I felt the line he took over these jumps though could have been much more improved. The dog should not be jumping over #6 at an angle that points him directly at the end of the tunnel. He should be more centred over the bar and should also be on his left lead leg rather than his right, so that he can have an efficient line to #7. A few dogs had issues with handlers not turning their shoulders just at the right moment to get the dog to cross. Too late and the dogs went in the tunnel too early and you pulled the dog off the jump, we even had a few dogs run between the jump and the tunnel. Stacy got up and showed them what line they themselves should be running and she occasionally blocked a tunnel for dogs that had patterned themselves incorrectly to take the tunnel. They took the jump once correctly and then they were fine. Again this is an exercise you can (and should!) do in reverse.

And that was the end of our day and thus our time with Stacy. I really hope she comes back again, as once again I found myself picking up lots of good tips and giving more direction to my training. My goal after this seminar is to have a crystal clear picture of what I want Cy’s seesaw to look like, to walk courses aiming to use front crosses when needed rather than just thinking that it’s always going to be a rear cross, to teach Cypher to flex from his middle all the time. To reinforce my contact behaviour with both dogs – maintain criteria!! Thanks to Deb Kelly of Blue Moon Border Collies who helped make this experience possible and final thanks to Stacy for making the trek out down under!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bunbury Trial Sunday August 13th 2006

Last Sunday it was well worth the trip to the Bunbury trial (a 2 hour drive) as I came away with 4 qualification cards and 3 FIRST places! Cypher was a star, winning both Excellent Agility and Excellent Jumping. That puts him on 4 legs of his JDX title (1 to go) and it was his first leg of ADX. It was satisfying to note that the previous two weeks of having nothing but twelve weavers set up in my backyard (once they’re up nothing else fits LOL!) and me asking Cypher to weave everytime I went out in the backyard certainly paid off – in four runs he didn’t miss one set of weaves. It’s daunting to think though that he may be in Masters Jumping soon! His Open runs were very nice however my handling in a couple of sections meant no passes, but to see how focussed he was compared to a month ago at the ACWA trials was heartening to say the least! In Agility I simply didn’t give him a strong enough command and forgot what Stacy had told me about my overuse of his name. I am making him become less and less responsive to it if I say it too many times on a course. In Jumping I tried a handling move on him that had worked really well with Raven taking him from the weavers to the tunnel and then realised as he shot past me into the wrong end of the tunnel that it was a move that Raven was experienced in and that he was not! Valuable lesson learnt! Apart from that glitch his run was fantastic.
Raven – well I had some doubts about how day would be, first run up being Masters and she had the 2nd bar down which was only the #2 obstacle. Frustration plus – I dropped Raven and replaced the bar, agonised for a split second if we should walk and then asked the judge if I could continue. It was a really interesting course with some unique challenges and I really wanted to see how I handled the rest of it. So I continued and my handling was right on the ball as we negotiated all the tricky bits. Then 3 obstacles from the end Raven dropped another bar before the chute tunnel so I then stopped, replaced the bar and she left without finishing the course. I said nothing put her back in the car without any treats and then got Cypher out, hoping that she wasn’t going to set the tone for the rest of her runs that day. Open Agility she was brilliant, my handling fell down when I told her to turn after a tyre yelled “Walk it” for the dogwalk and then took off on her determined to get to the end of the dogwalk before she did. She completely and instantly responded to my body cues which did not even suggest the dogwalk was next. Proof once again that regardless of how clearly and firmly you yell your verbals sometimes they will always rely on your body cues first! She kept all her bars up so had a big jackpot at the end of her run. Then it was Masters Jumping. This time I kept my mouth shut apart from maybe 6 commands and we blitzed the course winning 1st place by over 4 seconds. Open Jumping her last run of the day was nearly perfect apart from a small wobble at a tyre which cost us 0.43 of a second to go clear and get 2nd place. It was a really smooth run though that felt really good. There were a number of us recalling the words of Stacy from the seminar the weekend before and the fact that 5 out of the 8 first places were taken by those who had attended the seminar certainly helped confirm the value of her instruction! Now we have another TWO whole weeks to wait till the next trial – thankfully a double one!

WA Dog of The Year Results

Just to let people in Western Australia who are interested know, this website here;
shows the Dog of The Year tally (being kept updated by Tom Weir - owner of Brynn *aka a really cool agility dog*) and this website here;
is keeping the points tally up to date on the dogs in the running for team selection at the Nationals next year.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Stacy Peardot in Perth DAY ONE

This two day seminar (Sat Aug 5th and Sun Aug 6th) was well worth the monetary and time investment. I was curious after seeing and working with Stacy nearly 2 and a half years ago now to know what she would present to us this time. It was a very useful and rich mix of foundation training skills and exercises combined with some high level handling skills.

On the Saturday we set up a fairly Masters level agility course containing all the contacts, the weavers and around 20 obstacles. At 8.30am Stacy asked us all to walk it and then run it how we would in a competition – no treats, no toys first run of the trial type scenario. This was used as an evaluating exercise really on her behalf so that she could see what level we were running at. After each run Stacy usually had a few questions for each of the handlers regarding their contact cues but other than that she waited till we had all run and then gave us her honest and frank assessment.

After observing to us that we all had some good handling skills, that we had trained our dogs well particularly on the weavers and that we all in general had very motivated dogs and also that it was great to see the progress from the last time she was here (I have to do a small brag here – Stacy remembered Raven from 2 and half years ago and her jumping issues – she asked me before we ran “Is this the dog with jumping issues?...So how are they now?” I gave the guarded reply of that Raven had improved adding that she might possibly still knock every bar down! Raven was fantastic the whole day – she only knocked about three bars in the afternoon’s exercises but all morning she kept every bar up!) Stacy then gave us her thoughts on our areas of weakness, the first one being that she was unable to clearly tell from our runs for most of us what our criteria was for contacts, they were all over the shop, some were clearly two on two off, some looked like they might be running contacts but she wasn’t sure and that we were not showing any consistency from one contact to another with the behaviours we wanted from our dogs. The second bigger issue she felt was our choices on course about where we cross and what cross we were using. It looked to her like we were not very logical or consistent in deciding where our crosses should be and of course she observed much room for improvement in terms of how our bodies were executing the crosses.

So the first thing she discussed with us was the contact training and criteria that we had. She picked on a couple of dogs to show exactly how ‘untrained’ their contacts were and she made it clear that by no means was this example limited to these two it was just that they were good for demonstrating what she was talking about. Independent contacts are not about being able to send your dog on up and over an a frame and have that dog hold that 2 on 2 off position until the handler catches up (although that is a tool you will use at some point) – independent contacts are about your dog absolutely knowing without a doubt what that bottom behaviour on a contact is and driving to that same point every single time irrespective of where you are standing or running to on a course. Not only that though – the dog must perform this behaviour to 200% in training because in trialling she knows that 95% is probably the best she is going to get. No matter what we will NEVER be able to duplicate the atmosphere and environment of a trial no matter how many Show N Goes we try and do. It’s simple – we are not the same at Show N Goes as we are at trials so why should we expect that a dog will not notice the difference and behave differently according to their environment. So she asked what the majority of people were using with their contacts – we replied with two on two off for most of us. Stacy said that from our performances just now she wasn’t sure what we were wanting and that in itself spoke volumes about how closely we were adhering to our criteria *not very close*! She broke her contact training down into bit by bit and explained all the baby steps she used along the way to get the behaviour. A discussion ensued about what the value was in using two verbal cues over just one cue (ie Go “Climb” and then “Touch” versus just “Climb”). Stacy explained that from her point of view the contact obstacles really have two actions – that is the dog has to negotiate the obstacle and then the dog has to complete the ‘bottom’ behaviour. She felt that the obstacle name (Climb, Walkon, Teeter, Seesaw, AFrame etc) was not as crucial as the cue for the bottom behaviour (Touch, Stop, Contact etc) however she herself still prefers to use the two verbals together. One reason she prefers it this way is because she feels that she should be giving the dog as much information as possible re the direction they’re going, as well as that was just what she felt comfortable with. It also helped delineate between obstacles when the contact behaviour contrast (ie dogwalk may be “touch” for two on two off and Seesaw could be “stop” for driving to the end and stopping with all four on.)

Above is the Masters course that Stacy asked us to do. It then got broken up into section by section. We did obstacles 1 through to 8 to start with. When I did this I did a lead out to the left hand side of the #3 upright, I called Raven over #1 and #2 with my left hand out pointing at the jumps as she committed to #2 I brought my right hand up to indicate a steady over #2 as we were doing a turn I wrapped her round my left leg and she took jump #3 immediately after the wrap. She then went straight in the weavers when I started to move directly towards them. I front crossed and met her at the exit of tunnel #6 got her in close to my right side so she spliced #7 and then basically rear crossed as she went up the a frame. See diagram below the red dotted line representing my path;

I thought we’d managed it quite well however there were other ways to do the start – some handlers did a lead out a meter or so past #3 but in between #2 and #3. They did a lead out pivot move here, some others did just a simple shoulder pull, some others did a full front cross. Stacy wanted us to shape the line from #1 to #2 in order to make the turn from #2 to #3 as efficient as possible as well as to encourage the speed off the start. By shaping the line and wrapping the dog around your left leg between #1 and #2 it had a sling shot effect on their speed. See the diagram below;

Only about 2 of the dogs had an issue with #2 to #3 – or rather the handler’s had to work on their shoulder movements a bit more to get that nice line without pulling their dogs in too early thus causing the dog to treat it as a threadle or pushing the dog off #3 too much causing the dog to go past the jump.

I decided I really didn’t need to do the front cross between 6 and 7 (I had the vague idea that it may tighten Raven’s line to #7 but when I did it the way most people handled it; a slight RFP and then let go, this was actually the smoothest and undoubtedly quickest line for her). Handling from #8 to #9 certainly made us appreciate those independent contact performances. This also brought up the observation by Stacy that we don’t practice our quick releases enough in training. I have recently been of the mindset; do a 150 contacts in training each week where you proof the hell out of the position and reward heavily. For example in training each week I will load up the pockets with treats and I will ask for the 2on2off position every contact Raven does while I fly by running at full tilt, then I’ll do send away contacts, I’ll do contacts where I run with her and then stop dead half way along the dogwalk while she carries on to the position, throw food on the ground, have toys lying nearby etc anything I can think of to proof her driving to that position and holding it until I release her I will do during the week. Every successful contact she does I will run in and reward her with multiple treats one after the other up to 6 times. I figure that by doing this I’ll get those contact behaviours to hold up for most of her runs if not all of her runs at trials on the weekends. By ‘hold up’ I don’t mean the full 2on 2off behaviour I mean enough to get me slight pauses in the contact area, sometimes running into the area, sometimes enough of a propping type movement for her to hit the contact. This is, *I know*, a very haphazard way of training and trialling her contact behaviour, therefore I accept the occasional missed contact. I’ve kept records her stats this year are that she hits her contacts 90% of her runs. I’m thinking 10% missed contacts is certainly acceptable given her handler’s training technique but not ideal. Hence my younger boy at 22 months has missed *one* A Frame contact and *one* Dogwalk contact since he started trialling at 18 months (51 runs). But I digress – having a dog that hits the contact area/position and holds it until released is always going to be the best option when it comes to trialling and desirable contact behaviours. However as Stacy said “How often do we practice quick releases in training?” Getting that timing right is crucial and ensuring that the dog recognises that release word straight away is vital. Stacy recommended that when we train our contacts that sure we should be proofing the position using distance and movement and everything else however we should also be training like we trial and part of that is getting those quick releases polished up to the point where the dog is in the colour and is gone. In training do several proofing the behaviour contacts but then throw in a quick release one as well. Don’t do them repetitively or too many times throughout a training sessions but definitely include them. We did have a couple of dogs feel that they were being tested and needed a few repeats of their verbal release before they would leave the obstacle. It also showed that sometimes people were not consistent with their release cue – sometimes the dogs were releasing on various cues (obstacle name, the cue to ‘jump’, the ‘go on’ cue etc etc).

This leads into what Stacy wanted us to do between obstacles #8, #9 and #10. The majority of us when we first handled this course stayed fairly close to the a frame, ran to #9 with our dogs on the left and pulled the dog’s into the #10 seesaw and rear crossed on this obstacle. Here we learnt that Stacy very rarely rear crosses on contact obstacles and she stated that she only does it when it is a last resort option or when she is forced to. Her reasoning for this was that these are control points on the course and the dogs momentum has to be slowed already for them to negotiate them successfully so why should we make these obstacle performances even slower by rear crossing on them? Good question and again it led me to reflect that so often when handlers run fast dogs they rarely think about the dogs speed and momentum. We really think it is one of those things we never have to think about because with fast dogs we never worry about making time – it is time to start really embracing this fairly new mindset for us – this concept of when you have a fast dog you should be out there to try and get the fastest time on that course and not just go clear. Take it to the next level – ok so you don’t have to worry about making time, irrespective of this you should always consider your handling from the viewpoint “Am I slowing my dog down *unnecessarily*?”. A rear cross on a seesaw is probably going to do that.

So that said she wanted us to trust our dogs to do their contacts on the a frame move laterally away from the a frame and get a front cross in between #9 jump and the #10 seesaw. Every single on of us got there without any problems at all. The only issues we had were a few missed contacts, some handlers moving their shoulders into the turn too early causing the dog to go on the inside of the jump and of course the old late signal causing the dog to take #9 in an extended style over the middle of the bar and wasting time covering the wide turn. After we all had a few goes at this though we were all handling this section to a very high level.

The diagram above shows where we did the front cross to get the dogs to turn over jump #9 and head towards the seesaw. Next a discussion about how to handle jumps #11 to #12 and to #13. Initially it was handled by us in several different ways. Some people pushed the dog out to take the #12 jump and the just rear crossed on #13, others did a front cross between #11 and #12, and a few did a front cross at #12 and did a shoulder pull to bring the dog into #14 and they rear crossed further up on the course. Stacy asked us for the front cross at #12 and then a front cross between #14 and #15. Most of us could do the front cross at #12 without any problems, a few of us (myself included) had a problem getting the cross between #14 and #15 to work. What was happening is we either left the cross too late and dogs were flying over #13 so extended they went over #20, or people were so intent on getting there for the cross they didn’t support the dog to take #13 and so the dogs pulled off #13 and came towards the handler. Another issue I had was I’d be trying to turn before I was in the right spot and I just have Raven whip past me on the wrong side of me as she knew there was another jump behind me and must have thought her line was far more efficient than the awkward S shape line I was trying to make her take LOL! This whole section between #13 and #15 felt quite uncoordinated for me. Really only a few handlers mastered this to a high level. It was a fine line between pushing too far to #13 (over supporting the dog) and not pushing enough. I felt that I wasn’t getting a very tight turn over #13 and also that it felt really odd to be right in the middle of her path over #14 doing a cross. I started doing this weird movement where I felt the she was so close to crashing into me that I had to do a quick shift of my weight onto my toes – don’t ask me what that was in aid of, it really made no sense! It was a handling choice though that done smoothly as a few of us managed to do, looked extremely efficient and quick. Definitely a sequence to work on and perfect.

Numbers 15 through to 18 were not an issue for me but several handlers had problems with their dogs finding the walk, some of them pushed too far and sent their dogs into the tunnel on the outside of the walk and others over compensated for the left turn and actually pulled their dogs into the tunnel at the other end. Really I did not see it as any push out needed at all – our body positions at that stage meant that the dogs would have been far enough away already due to their momentum over jumps #15 and #16. I think where you started to turn your shoulders definitely had an impact on whether they took the walk or the tunnel. In situations like this though I prefer to not even consider that a tunnel is there. After Stacy had given some handlers advice on where they should move and when they should be turning we were all handling this finding the dogwalk challenge with ease. Stacy interestingly enough wanted us to do a front cross at the end of the dogwalk to push the dogs into the #18 tunnel. I don’t think anyone did this the first time they ran the course, I’m not sure but I think there were a few off courses into the wrong end of the tunnel when we first ran it. I chose to shoulder pull and it worked fine. I’m guessing for those it didn’t work for either the dog had been focusing in on the wrong tunnel entry anyway coming down the dogwalk and would have taken it regardless of how good the shoulder pull was or the handler was a little less definite than they should have been when it came to the shoulder pull move. Either way the handler can fix this. However Stacy wanted the front cross and then another front cross before the final tunnel #21.

See the diagram below;

I think the trickiest part for us was A: Remembering to stand and wait for the dogs to come out of the tunnel ensuring that we grabbed their attention straight away – if we ran off on them too soon some would go up the dogwalk again and others would go straight past #19. and B: Getting that front cross smooth between #20 and #21. It was again a front cross that put you in the dog’s path (a very foreign feeling for that to happen on the move – quite different from when you shape the dogs path at a lead out). It took a few repetitions but most of us succeeded at this one.
So at the end of Saturday we ran the whole course using the handling approaches we had practiced. It was good to see how much progress we’d made from being completely uncomfortable with some moves to being quite proficient in executing them. Stacy finished with why she prefers the front cross to the rear cross the majority of the time on courses. Basically you have more chance to speed your dog up from in front than you do from behind and that front crosses whenever you need to turn a dog or change your side should be your first choice or handling options. Rear crosses are often performed below par and frequently rely on the handler slowing down to perform them. Stacy’s attitude when people ask about what if you are unsure if you can get to where you need to be is to be positive about doing your utmost to get there and then if you know at the last second that you are not going to make it – it will turn into the best rear cross you can do, because then you have that back up option. Whereas if you just make your mind up to do the rear cross only then if your’s dog’s momentum and drive or your position is out of place and doing a rear cross is not going to work you just end up, if you’re lucky, with a rear cross that just misses being called a fault with a lot of wasted time and at the worst a complete refusal call. I really warmed to this idea and I am going to endeavour to walk courses keeping that type of approach to handling foremost in my mind. Stay tuned...Day TWO coming soon!