Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last post

I've made the leap and integrated all of Lucy and Walter's blogs into one single blog. So from now on, updates on Walter's agility fun will be at Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Going back to school!

A certain blogosphere friend (I won't name any names, coughELFcough) planted a seed in my mind a few months ago, and this week the sprout burst through the soil. I had written that I haven't taken agility lessons in years and that the one school I'd really like to take lessons with is out of town. The suggestion was made to perhaps consider taking occasional private lessons there.

Well, I finally decided that Yes! I want to do that! I will do that! Now! I was going to wait until getting my future third dog, but I owe it to my current dogs to try to become the handler they deserve.

I'm pretty excited about it. Many of my favourite agility teams train out of this school. The dogs are happy; the handlers are quiet and smooth with good attitudes; the communication between dog and handler is a thing of beauty. Plus their handling system seems to have a number of things in common with whatever mishmash system I've ended up with over the years, so hopefully it won't be too much of a confusing retrain for the dogs.

So the plan is to head out there with both dogs for a private lesson every three or four weeks or so. It won't be cheap, but is anything in agility cheap?

It's been so long since I've taken lessons, and I've never taken lessons with a place whose handling style I really and truly admired. I'm going to have to remind myself to keep a wide open mind and be ready for lots and LOTS of constructive criticism, especially since I've been set in my ways for so long and have developed tons of bad habits.

Looking forward to it!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tips for teaching a dog how to beg

How to teach your dog to beg in five easy steps.

1. Get a good amount of your dog's favourite snack. Probably something like hot dog or steak works best.

2. Sit down on your comfiest chair.

3. Start eating the snack.

4. Make it clear to your dog how delicious the snack is, being sure to include many verbal indications such as "Mmmmmmm" and "This is soooooooo good".

5. Voila! By now your dog should be staring at you, a stream of drool hanging down to the floor -- an expert at begging, after only five easy steps.

Ok ok sorry, that was my sad attempt at humour.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been an utter failure at teaching my dogs to beg / sit pretty. I used the luring technique, holding a treat over their head. They'd either stand up, or paw at my hand holding the lure, or both.

At the seminar this weekend we got a few pointers and now both my dogs are on their way to becoming expert beggers. The tips were basic common sense, no earth shattering rocket science involved, but really did the "trick". Using the same luring technique (surely it can be taught by shaping, but the less patient/skilled should feel no shame in luring IMO):
  • If the dog stands up to reach the treat, hold the treat lower, closer to their head.

  • If the dog puts their front paws on your hand or arm to balance, hold your hand/arm more vertical so that they can't. Also, make sure you're holding the lure far enough toward the back of their head so that they won't be tilted forward when reaching for the treat.

  • At first, reward even very short-duration attempts. It will take time for the dog to develop the core strenth required for holding the position for a longer time.
Oh, and probably a good idea to use soft treats rather than something crunchy to prevent the treat getting caught in their throat thanks to gravity.

You can bet I'll post a photo of Lucy and Walter here if when they finally manage to hold a nice beg!

BTW if anyone has any alternative trick names for this, I'd love to hear them. Neither "beg" nor "sit pretty" particularly appeal to me but I'm not creative enough to come up with anything better :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chris Zink seminar - day 2

Wow, another full day.

Some of the topics discussed included strength training, endurance training, proprioception training, stretching, and a variety of injuries such as medial shoulder instability, iliopsoas strains, biceps tenosynovitis, and jump down syndrome. The afternoon was spent working dogs over jumping exercises.

Chris strongly recommends teaching dogs to "beg" because of the benefits it has for the dog in terms of developing core strength. I tried teaching this to L&W a while ago but for whatever reason (okay okay I know I'm a pathetic trainer!) had no success whatsoever. She had a few suggestions for some of the problems I've had, and bingo! Both Lucy and Walter are now on their way to learning this basic but valuable trick. I will be very excited to see their progress with this considering I once thought I'd never be able to teach it to them, especially Walter. Once they've got the beg down pat, next will be the difficult but great-for-the-leg-muscles beg > stand on two legs > beg!

Lucy was my working dog for today. She was part of the Level 2 group, working an exercise on bounce jumping. The jumps started far apart and gradually came closer and closer (4 or 5 feet). For a few of the close ones I ran when I should have walked so she was going too fast and had to do some crazy/scary maneouvre by the time she got to the last jump. Sorry Lucy!

So yeah, it was certainly a full weekend. Many topics other than the ones I've mentioned were also discussed. Also it's entirely possible I've misunderstood some things so please take what I wrote with a grain of salt. One last thing I have to comment on is how well the seminar stayed on time. It was really nice to know that when Chris said we'd start up again in 15 minutes, we really would start up again in exactly 15 minutes, whether or not some people hadn't returned from their break yet. Punctuality is a very good thing :)

I would definitely recommend this seminar to anyone else doing agility and would go again if she comes back in a few years, both as a refresher and to see what new material gets added.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chris Zink seminar - day 1

I've been really interested in learning something about dog structure lately, so no way could I pass up the chance to attend Chris Zink's "Coaching the Canine Athlete" seminar, less than an hour's drive away. Originally had an auditing spot but figured what the heck, upgraded to a working spot. Oh, and it's held at a new place we'll be trialing at this winter, so a side bonus is being able to give Lucy and Walter treats all over the arena :) Walter got to be the worker today and I'll probably work Lucy tomorrow.

Though the entry fee wasn't cheap, I feel like I got my money's worth after only today.

We received a packet of several articles she's written, which will be neat to read later. Took 10 pages of notes today alone. There were lots of videos and photos as part of the presentation.

Here are some of the topics she discussed: ectomorphic vs endomorphic vs mesomorphic; effects of spaying/neutering before puberty; weight to height ratio; rear angulation; front angulation; dewclaws; a bunch of stuff about all the gaits; exercises to teach a dog to trot instead of pace; effect of different body types and performances on the dogwalk, a-frame, weaves, teeter, and jumps.

My favourite part was learning about front and rear angulation. I'd heard these terms before and tried googling about it once or twice but couldn't really find anything that helped explain it. If I understood correctly, more rear angulation means less stability, less ability to turn efficiently, whereas less rear angulation leads to more stability, better ability to turn efficiently, but also more stress on the legs, increased chance of CCL rupture. Something in the moderate range is good for agility dogs. As for shoulder angulation, I can't remember what effects it has, but crappy rear angulation is much preferred over crappy front angulation. Like most GSDs, Walter has "wonderful" shoulder angulation, woo hoo! His rear angulation is maybe the high side of moderate (from what I saw comparing him with today's other canine participants), but nothing too exagerated. Of the dogs in our little working group (which included a golden, sheltie, JRT, malinois, and ACD), Walter had the most shoulder angulation (good) and the second most rear angulation (not so good). I had a look at Lucy afterward and was surprised to see that it looks to me (not that I'm any expert after just one day of learning about it) like she has quite a straight shoulder, at least compared to Walter. But her rear angulation is nicely moderate.

Another interesting bit was the discussion about the weight to height ratio. Walter's is 2.5, Lucy's is 2.2. A general rule of thumb is that anything greater than 3.5 is in the danger zone; 2.0-3.5 means you should be careful, take care to run on only good footing, limit how many full height jumps they do, and so on; <2.0 is easy street. I'm glad both dogs are toward the low side of the middle range, especially since I thought Walter would be higher up on the scale.

Chris is a big proponent of not spaying or neutering before puberty. Lucy wasn't spayed until after her first heat, but only because the shelter didn't know if she had been spayed or not. The day after I brought her home, she went into heat. Walter on the other hand was neutered right around 6 months. That was just The Way Things Are Done as far as I knew back then. Food for thought about what to do for a future dog, although probably s/he won't be a puppy, so someone else will have made that decision.

Learned today that pacing is neither a natural nor a healthy gait for dogs. Just my luck that both my current dogs and my old childhood dog are/were all pacers. Actually, not luck so much as me inadvertently teaching them to do that, which she suggests is the main reason why some / a lot of dogs pace. Learned an exercise using pvc poles as cavaletti to teach the dog to trot instead of pace. Also she showed a neat way involving footwork (by the human) to encourage dogs to trot instead of pace. A very handsome big dobie did a great job of demonstrating these.

My least favourite part of the day was where we had to get our dog to trot by our side for about 70 feet while everyone else watched. Sounds easy? Well, it wasn't so easy for many of us, and she seemed a bit impatient with our shortcomings as handlers. We had to get our dog to trot as fast as they can without breaking into a canter, all the while not looking at the dog, but also at the same time looking at them out of the corner of our eye so we could sort of see what they were doing. I was first up on this exercise and Walter was being goofy, kept jumping up at me and biting at his leash. Anyway eventually he settled down and got the job done. Lots of others had problems too - handler looking at dog, dog pacing, dog cantering, dog giving too much heads-up attention, handler not keeping up with dog, and so on. If I had one suggestion for improving the seminar, it would be for her to be a bit easier on us for this exercise. She seemed to be a bit impatient, and her impatience seemed to be stressing some of the people out. I was glad to have gone first, otherwise watching everyone else getting stressed out may have resulted in me dreading my turn and wishing I had audited instead ;)

But the rest was great!

Looking forward to more information overload tomorrow.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Morning Star trial: Walter's farewell to 22" specials!

Our last trial of 2009!

The weather outside was relatively warm and the inside of the building was crazy warm. So much for a nice cold trial for Walter. Hopefully it will be good and cold at their January trial, but after that, next year I'll probably just do one day instead of two since it's basically a summer weather trial. Save some money and spend it on the (very few) venues that don't feel like summer in the middle of fall or winter. Anyway, enough whining! I'm sure the wee little short-haired dogs appreciated the warmth, and it made for comfortable hanging-out-between-runs-in-a-t-shirt time.


Three Standards: One run was a Q, one was botched by weave issues, and the other I can't remember what the goofs were.

Three Gamblers: One run was a Q, two weren't. Tough gambles today for sure but always fun to give them a try. Our Q rate in Snooker is much higher, but I'll take a Gamblers run over a Snooker run any day!

Speaking of trying, tried a new dish for my Kingston trial tradition of take-out from Lotus Heart Blossoms Vegetarian Restaurant: Pasta Mediterranea - delicious! Will definitely get this again.


Three Standards: Weaves botched in all three runs, some other miscellaneous goofs too here and there in two of the runs.

Walter hanging out in hot summer-like temps.

One Snooker: A decent Q.

One Jumpers: A fun Q. I love nice, flowy courses that don't present off course options at every turn.

And last but not least: One Steeplechase. I hadn't originally signed up for this, but in the morning decided to add it on since it was a gorgeous, fast, fun, flowing course, exactly what a Steeplechase is supposed to be, and it had two frames instead of two weaves. So, it looked like a fantastic way to end our day and to celebrate the end of Walter's time as part of 22" specials. However, when the time came around late in the afternoon Walter was getting tired and in his previous course (Standard) had big trouble with the weaves, so I was second guessing about my decision to add it on. Anyway, the worry was for naught as we had a blast over Walter's last ever 22" jumps. He ran wonderfully, no weave issues at all, Qd with 8 seconds to spare, and took first (though in an admittedly very small height class :) )

I could not have asked for a better run with which to say farewell to 22" specials!

I admit I shed a few quiet tears back at his crate after that run. I'm just a really sentimental person when it comes to goodbyes, and in a way that run was a goodbye to... oh no, here come the tears again... I guess, to the innocence with which I started on the agility journey with Walter four years ago this coming January. I found myself thinking ahead to the day Walter and I will have our last ever run together. I just feel so grateful to Walter for all he has given me and the experiences I've had and friends I've met, all thanks to his willingness to play the game of agility with me.

I love my dog! 16" vets here we come!!!

For posterity's sake, here's our last ever 22" Jumpers run and the last part of our Steeplechase run (the first part didn't make it on video):