Goals vs Life

I am mightily trying to revamp my agility goals.  The biggest question that pops into my mind is how agility fits into my life mission.  Agility is important to me, but it can’t be as important as the bigger things in life: people, relationships, connections, teaching, learning, sharing, and compassion.  The problem is that when I start thinking about how to fit agility competitions into the bigger life mission thing and it’s like smashing a square peg into a round hole.

The scenario that keeps coming back to me is Grand Prix semi-finals at Cynosports last year.  I had the run of my life with my little dog and knocked the last bar; it doesn’t change the connection that my dog and I had on the course, the subconscious movements, the lines, the teamwork or the energy that was expended.  But the bar does mean that no placement happened on paper.  I want to feel proud about that run, but since there wasn’t a placement there is some incongruity to the whole predicament.  If I just want to feel connection and teamwork I can do that on the training field.  So why compete?  The mental torture playing that run over and over again in my mind was certainly a bad way to spend my time.  Yet, in reality that run was fucking awesome; best run ever!  And if you can feel that it was the best run ever even with the bar, what is the point of going up against others?  Why go to competitions if failure is acceptable?  At an agility trial am I trying to prove something?  Satisfy my ego?  Fill my time?  Competing at agility shows don’t meet my life mission to help people and have compassion for myself and others.  It costs a lot of money and takes a large expenditure of time and energy.  I am exploring these ideas.  Is there a way to go to competitions and enjoy my time there?  Reward myself for the awesome but not quite perfect runs?  Can I fit my life mission into trialing by whittling the corners down on the square peg?  

The absolute best thing about all of this is that my dog doesn’t care one iota about what I decide.  He is happy just to do stuff with me, he could care less what it is.  I am so thankful to have a training partner that brings 110% to everything we do together.  I want to honor that commitment.  I want to satisfy my goals without stepping on my bigger ideals.  I want to have my cake and eat it too.peep kiss

FUn. Because whether you win or lose, you still have to drive home.

by: ffluffy

for: Dog Agility Blog Action Day

Do we do dog sports because they are inherently fun?  Or for some other reason?  Fun (when used as a noun) is defined by the Oxford dictionary as – enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.  I am not sure I would describe the average dog sport venue in this way.  A better way to explain what is going on is to say dog sport X is a journey.  Journey (when used as a noun) can defined by the Oxford dictionary as – a long and often difficult process of personal change and development.

Dog training for me is inherently fun but competitions are another matter.  I feel the need to compete; I’m not sure I do it because it is fun.  And that might be a bad thing.  Am I searching for something that is lacking in my life when I step to the line?  Could I walk away from competitions and just do the training that I enjoy so much?  If there were no titles, would we still compete with our dogs?  I would, I think that would actually make dog sports better; competition for the sake of competition.

Competition should be about practicing what you know, learning about things you need to know, and teamwork with your dog. That might be fun; but it also might be a a long and  difficult process.

Getting in the car to drive home after a competition where you almost made the podium or exploded miserably is not fun. Getting in the car to drive home after winning definitely feels different. But in each case you still have to drive home.  And you better be ok with the process that got you there: the practice, the learning, the teamwork, the endeavor, THE JOURNEY.

Think about this – the first two letters of FUn are also an abbreviation for a common slang term that can be found in Urban Dictionary.  Journey on the other hand is a good, clean, G rated word that helps me get from here to there and keeps me company on the long drive home.

It's the Journey

It’s the Journey

Handling the Path

As published on USDAA.com at http://www.usdaa.com/article.cfm?newsID=2773

My students and I recently discussed how important it is to watch your dog vs. figuring out where you need to be as a handler. I am not going to tell you not to watch your dog, but, to be more successful, you do need to move the watching of your dog to your peripheral vision. I usually wear contacts instead of eye glasses for big events just for this reason.
How can you learn to watch what your dog is doing and where you are going at the same time? Watch the path where you want your dog to go next! You are still aware of where your dog is, but you are moving your eyes to where you want them to be next and moving your body to handle the next move. It is kind of like tracing the path you want the dog to go with your eyes.
When I run my dogs, I am looking to where I need them to be next and moving on; I am not waiting. My dogs are pretty fast so I don’t have time to stand around, plus standing around is not so much fun (for dogs or people).
If your dog starts to go off course, instead of watching them with your eyes and calling them, run to where you were going next and have a big party! And then start over and try again.
If your dog misses an obstacle, keep going! It was probably your handling mistake anyway. Then, go back and try the whole thing over again, focusing on that one spot where the mistake occurred. But, this time, handle the path, not the individual obstacle!
This might not work for all of you; we are all different and so are our dogs. But think about it, try it, and see if it helps get you moving. This might be just the thing you need to take your handling to the next level!
We are all learning all the time.  Don’t forget to ask questions and try to figure out what works for you and your dog and your team. That’s why it’s a journey!
handle the path

handle the path

Cattails

cattails

by:  ffluffy

for: dad

wrapped in newspaper

stuffed in a suitcase

delivered to the desert

no ponds to speak of

but that July it snowed white fuzz

the little pieces peeled from the light brown stalk

expand five times their original size

And fill the backyard with tiny white seeds

thanx for sharing

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Re-home?, RETRAIN

Bob

Bob

You have either had one or will have one in your future.  That one dog that just doesn’t fit, doesn’t want to do the dog sport of your choice, isn’t the high level prospect you were hoping for, and learns at a different rate or in a different way.

I have had two of these dogs and was told multiple times by multiple people to give back to the breeder, re-home, put down, or retire them.  The weird thing is I didn’t.  I didn’t listen to their voices or the voices in my head.  And it wasn’t just because I made the commitment to them as puppies.  I truly believe that there is a better home out there for every dog I own (stole that from an article in a Schutzhund magazine a few years back).  I don’t flatter myself that I am the best trainer, handler, owner, caretaker or partner; I have issues and so does everyone else who owns a dog!  That thought keeps me humble and probably makes me try a little harder when things are going awry.

Bob didn’t want to do agility.  He didn’t really want to do it from the start.  And I originally got him to be my competitive agility dog.  We were going to go to Nationals!  World Team Tryouts!  Competitions overseas!  Only Bob had a different plan for us.  It just took me 5 years to figure out.  And people would say Bob is the slow learner…

Bob would probably have been happier in a family with kids, or in a home that took him herding, or even with a handler who just wanted to do agility at the local level.  I considered re-homing him many times but somehow he stuck with me.  We are going to enter our first disc competition in less than a month!  My keyboard is sticky from the tears I just wiped!  Bob!  Competition!  Doing something that he dearly loves!  Yay!  I just had to open my eyes to his idea of a good time!  Learning a new sport is never easy and we have had our shares of ups and downs, crash and burns, laughter and head shaking along the way.  We certainly won’t be the best, but we aren’t trying to be.  It’s just me and my Bob A Lob, doing something together that we both enjoy.

Wad Frizz Club

Wad Frizz Club

Don’t Forget the Table!  (Or the Bacon!)

As an agility instructor, I have the best intentions for my students, I want them to succeed, grow, meet their goals, and have fun!  I have been doing agility for 15 years and sometimes I take things for granted; table criteria is an example.  If you train a dog through our program, we have done the table from the ground up and talked about the difference between USDAA and AKC and when to release your dog and how to keep your dog motivated on the table and how to keep them staying on the table and etc.  BUT in this situation it is a a junior handler who is learning handling on a seasoned dog.  I put her in a Novice Handling class, her dog was already trained on the equipment, and we just need to teach the junior handler some moves.  So she didn’t hear the spiels about the table.  And even though I am pretty sure we did the table once or twice  in her class, I am 100% sure we rewarded the dog on the table and we didn’t talk about the “rules” of the table in a competition.

After six months this junior handler entered her first real trial, AKC at the Masters level (the dog has her MACH and has been to the invitational.)  I know her goal was to have fun, and she loves her dogs, and her parents promote a good attitude in sports.  In her standard run, as the dog preformed the table, the junior handler stepped into pet and hug her dog; she had already NQ’d so the E didn’t really matter.  How cute is that?  How cool is it that the handler loves her dog so much it was a natural reaction to step in and reward?  As the coach and instructor I kicked myself for not thinking to explain the rules for the table.  I took it for granted!  Her parents never thought of it either, why would we?

It is a very cool testimony to this junior handler’s relationship with her dog and her attitude towards competition that she loved on her dog in the middle of the run.  The judge didn’t whistle her off; instead she met her at the finish line to explain the rules (which I WISH I had thought to do.)  Doing agility has an aspect of a learning curve!  Teaching beginners is tough, and I have a knack for teaching in general, but there are so many things that have to be learned out in the ring!

This junior handler and her dog went on to earn their first double Q the next day and I know they are destined for great things!  What a beautiful start to their career!

Double QQ by Scott Klar

Double QQ by Scott Klar

Let’s Go Fly a Kite

Dedicated to: my peeps and Chewy

Who’s to say where the wind will take you
Who’s to know what it is will break you
I don’t know which way the wind will blow ~ U2

P ran, his hair trailing behind him in the wind.  He looked over his shoulder and tripped a little on a jutting root; he picked himself up and sprinted for the field.  A bruise from the day before was tender on his shin but forward he went.

Everyone else followed, squinting into the sun and tasting the peanut butter on their lips from lunch.  They looked out from underneath their eyebrows to the open space filled with air and bugs and pollen and wind.  Past the tree with crispy winter leaves they ran.  Over dusty dirt and trash and weeds into the world they went.

P smelled like sweat and dirty socks, his clothes hung off his skinny frame with a flourish.  Pumping his arms, he could feel his heart beat harder and faster and his breathe came quick.  But his mind saw the plastic flitter in the sky, with a back drop of blue and white, specked with sun.  He could feel the twine between his fingers and the spool un-winding farther and longer until the inevitable dive bomb that meant untangling the line from the pear trees ringing the field and digging burs out of socks and shoes.

The kids behind him were a flailing mass of brown motion; screaming and yelling things P couldn’t hear.  P’s mind jutted out into conscious thought and the word Kite repeated itself over and over; he ran past the gopher skeleton without even seeing it, and ripe fruit on the trees was just a smell in the air.

Some days, P could just sit and drum his fingers on the bench, pick the dirt from under ragged nails, or bite the skin from a chapped lip.  Other days the kids wouldn’t leave him alone until a game of make believe took them to invisible lands. One time all the imaginary friends fought a brutal and bloody battle from which they did not return.  Today P would touch the air.

After it was over, the darkness sent them packing.  The cold took them slowly back to where they had come from.  A can ringing from a kick in the night and his toe aching from the impact, P trudged forward, nothing to show for the day and only a glimmer of thought for the next election.

What Not To Do At An Agility Trial

#1 Do NOT go anywhere without a poop bag. If you do, your dog will decide he has to poop two minutes before your gamblers run. Which is no biggie except some of the poop gets stuck in his butt because he ate grass and it is hanging off, dangling in mid-air.  So the choice:

A) Blow the run, there is no way you’ll get the gamble with a dog who has poo hanging off his butt.
B) Use your bare hands to pull the poo/grass mixture from your dog’s ass and go on to do the gamble, and actually get it, even though hardly anyone else did.

#2 Do NOT drink super good wine before your snooker run. If you do you will NOT remember your course and you will be left to making split decisions with a soggy head and clumsy feet. The only good thing about this tactic is that sometimes certain other people aren’t thinking clearly either so you might get a break in the calls and get a snooker Q anyway!

WhoChi Momma

WhoChi Momma

Ring Around The Tunnel; Pocket Full of Kibble

As published on USDAA.com at https://www.usdaa.com/article.cfm?newsID=2801

Here are some fun exercises to test your handling skills and your dog’s discrimination skills, as well as weave entries. There are two course layouts for these exercises: one involves two jumps and a 15′ tunnel and the other substitutes weave poles for the tunnel.
Exercise #1
The first exercise is to see how many jumps your dog can take while you run around the tunnel in 15 seconds. You would be surprised at the wide turns and off-course tunnels that may occur! If your dog is going wide, stop and reward him at your side a few times after each jump and then try again. If your dog takes the off-course tunnel, make sure you are clearly indicating the jump and saying jump. Then try the sequence in the other direction!
Try the same drill with weave poles (and, no you can’t run through the weaves!). Again, work in both directions.
Exercise #2
 
The second exercise is a bit more complicated.  This sequence includes a front cross (changing sides by turning in to your dog), send, blind cross (changing sides by turning away from your dog), and a rear cross (changing sides while behind your dog). The dog is doing a figure eight: jump, tunnel, jump, tunnel, and so on.
Handling Directions
  • Start with the dog on your left. 
  • Front cross the approach side of the #2 tunnel.
  • Send the dog to #4 tunnel.
  • Blind cross before the dog exits #4 tunnel.
  • Blind cross again at the entrance to #6 tunnel. 
  • Rear cross on the approach side of #8 tunnel.  
You can reverse this drill and go the other direction.
Try this second exercise with the weave poles. It is a great test of weave entries and exits!
Check out the video example: https://youtu.be/CYriNp5nO5k
If you struggle with the handling portion of this game, break it up and reward more frequently (that’s why you have a pocket full of kibble). Use a food or toy reward that you can toss on the ground along the path you want your dog to take. For example, if your dog isn’t getting the send to #4, start at jump #3 and toss the reward on a path towards #4 as your dog takes jump #3. This will encourage him to travel out and the motion of tossing the reward is the same as the handling movement for the send.
The weave pole portion of this game can be very challenging for young dogs! Break it up into smaller sections. Try getting the reward off the handler (give it to a helper), or use a Manners Minder/Treat N Train (a remote treat delivery device) to reward the dog for completing the weaves regardless of handler motion.

Bad Bird Moose 8.30.01 – 4.24.15

Bird's Words

I love you Bird.

At the agility trial last weekend I struggled to smile; I had just lost my old corgi Moose, aka Bird.  I’m not sure too many people noticed I was having a hard time but thanx to those of you who asked if I was ok.  I was not ok.  I was very sad.  Bird came into this world into my hands and left this world while I was holding him and God was it hard.  But I think it was even harder watching everyone complain and bitch and moan about this or that missed contact, or missed weaves, or knocked bar, or off course, or….  And I’m not gonna say I haven’t been there!  Agility is hard, there is a lot of failure, a lot of struggle, a lot of “wish I had” moments; but to put it in perspective, at least you have your dog!  Right there at your side, and they are doing stuff with you!  Cherish those moments!  We have had multiple retirement runs the last few weekends, and some dogs are out due to injury, and some dogs never even got to have a retirement run, agility just ended (Pickle).  You have to treat every run like it is your last!  Throw every ball or Frisbee like it is your last!  Make those moments count!  And while I was holding Bird at the end, I was not listing his titles in my mind, or adding up his accomplishments, I was thinking of those days on the beach, and hiking in the desert, and sleeping on the floor in his bed.  THOSE are the things I cherish and remember.  The titles mean nothing to me now.  They were just boxes in a list that I checked off.  His barking, and wagging, and bossing everybody around will be missed.  I would give back all his Q’s to have it end a different way, more peaceful and calm, but I guess that was part of the journey.  I miss you buddy!  May you rest peacefully under the beautiful mesquite we planted in your memory.

Bird Tree

Bird’s Tree

Moose and Hunda running!

Moose and Hunda running!

Bird On A Bench

Bird On A Bench