Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Blind Truth

First- some romantic nostalgic background fun!
Once upon a time, 20 or so years ago, people around the country began gravitating towards the sport of dog agility.  Some of them got their start by going home to dust off the family dog after watching a demonstration. Others found their way to it via horse events or other dog sports like obedience, as was the case for us.

This might sound familiar, but trust me- agility was a different world then. When my mom started with her Utility Dog- a golden retriever- there was no such thing as a running contact, except maybe on accident. Border Collies were not the norm, and those that did run were more stock dog than anything, with handlers that could barely move without sending the dog ricocheting two miles off course.  Agility trials were something you traveled hours and hours for in order to show even a few weekends a year, and on very little practice. Less than 20 faults got you a Grand Prix Q. And, can you say "Crossover?" Training methods did not yet exist. In fact, training amounted to teaching your dog the obstacles, never mind worrying about handling. The best dogs were converted obedience dogs, like ours, that you could keep with you while you jogged about from obstacle to obstacle, sometimes pointing, but mostly just calling commands for. This wouldn’t last long.

Agility proved addicting, and like any sport worth anything, began to get competitive and evolve. Hooked as we were by the sport, we decided we wanted to be better and evolve too, which meant we would have to step up beyond the rest of the field. First we got AGILITY dogs.  Then we not only taught them the equipment, but we incorporated some handling. Only some; mostly I ran my Sheltie with rear crosses, meaning he learned a send to go on ahead, and then to follow me left or right as I cross behind him. Literally, “go” and “turn” were his only commands besides the names of the equipment. And for awhile, we were ahead of the game.

But then other people started improving their handling too, catching on about working with Border Collies and realizing that you could have fast Shelties, not just breed Shelties. So to stay ahead, we needed to improve our game even more. We went to our first seminar, where we learned about front crosses from Nancy Gyes. It was the 90’s and this was a new science. I admit, at that time it was hard! And it wasn’t even until my Sheltie was about 12 that I was even comfortable using the front cross at all. But we trudged on in the name of awesomeness everywhere.

For several years, trends flipped around a lot- rear cross versus front, outside arm, inside arm, 2 on/2 off or 4 on the floor… you never quite knew what was ‘best’ and at the time, you certainly didn’t know that there wasn’t a ‘best-‘ except for what is best for you and your dog. But the one thing everyone agreed on: DO NOT TAKE YOUR EYES OFF YOUR DOG! Meaning, if you do a blind cross, someone will throw a rock at you.  We've all heard the stories (or spend 10 minutes ringside and you will hear them):

"So-and-so does blind crosses all the time and her dog is always popping up on the wrong side when she doesn't want him to and going off course..."

"You-know-who did a blind cross in front of a tunnel and they didn't get out of the way in time and the dog broke their leg on the way out..."

It has been ingrained in most of us (at least those who have done agility for more than 2 years) by every trainer, from day one, that you never, ever do a blind cross. You do not take your eyes off your dog for any reason. If you take your eyes off your dog, they might disappear forever into the Blind Cross Vortex.  And then a bystander will throw the rock at you.

But here is the thing- there is no vortex.  The idea that you can never take your eyes off your dog is a mere urban legend. In the course of my own personal evolution I have realized that the base idea has been interpreted incorrectly from the start- the important takeaway is that you must always be aware of your dog at all times. They have been utilizing the Blind Cross across the pond and in secret pockets in the USA for a few years now- and as far as I know, none of their dogs have vanished, and there are very few agility-related stonings.  Like any other agility superpower, the key is to wield them wisely.  Oh, and train it first. The problem comes when people just start bandying the blinds about without teaching their dogs to respect what side they are trying to hold them on, or using them without a proper cue.  Of course there is inherent danger in using a power without understanding it.

And not only are they not scary dog-eating maneuvers, they are actually kind of useful.  Using a Blind can often cut down on steps for the handler, as well as allow motion to carry without a slow down or stride break for the dog.  Plus, the dog can always see you, which is really better then having them running in front with no visual cue potential. No, I don't think it takes the place of a Front Cross when you need an actute change in directions, but as far as soft lead changes and maintaining speed and momentum I see the value over other crosses.

But to use them, you must be brave. You must train. You must understand where they fit in a course before you use them on a course.

Do not be afraid- this part is crucial.  If you say you can't do it, then you never will.

What if Superman had just said, "No, I could never fly?" Then he would just be bouncing over buildings wishing he were as cool Batman.

I'm evolving. Call me Batman.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We're not in Kansas anymore...

Because we are home!

So Go Dog and I followed the yellow brick road and what did we find? Well. I got some COURAGE and the Dog found what she had inside all along: the ability to GO!

This was a very eye-opening weekend for me. Lesson filled and very good for the whole Project. And I don't think I've ever enjoyed running The Dog so much in a show, but not necessarily because we qualified or had some amounts of glory or anything like that. 

I have been struggling for awhile now to let go and stop playing it safe when showing. I admit it-GUILTY! I heart clean runs (Especially now that I pay my own entry fees!) and titles and enjoy those milestones, and since joining Masters I have fallen into the trap of running conservatively in order to accomplish those things.  But running that way is not nearly as fun to me or the Dog, nor is it fair to her- I know that besides the fact that I have been like a body-snatched alien handler it shows that I wasn't trusting her or being confident in her skills. And MY lack of confidence was showing in HER times and attitude, causing all sorts of frustration. The trialing break we've had has been wonderful and helped me realize that this was happening- she runs really well in practice! Enthusiasm AND attention abound. So I went into the weekend resolved- handle like we practice- not like the body-snatching show handling alien. Be daring. Go for it. After all, that is the ESSENCE of Project Go Dog!!

We started on Friday- Team Tournament Day. Up first- Team Gamblers. I planned my usual 9 obstacle opening and a close.  Lesson One: it turns out, when one runs a dog how they are accustomed to running in training, they do really well. They also run a lot faster than you are used to them running in a show. We sort of ran out of stuff to do. Oops! 
Team Snooker
Next run- Team Snooker. Most everyone did some combination of 1-5-1-5-1-6-1-7 for the opening. Looks pretty straightforward (key word: looks)- however this ran in some very unexpected lines for most dogs, resulting in spin outs all over the place. It proved to be the 'herd thinner' for the team classes. The Dog had a marvelous run though- smooth and fast, with one spin in front of a red (MY fault!), but otherwise not a paw out of line, for second place. 
Team Standard
 Team Standard was probably my favorite class of the weekend. Slightly hairy from 5-6 (not quite laid out like on paper) but the Dog was simply amazing. I did my job of setting the lines for her, but it was all her after that. I held off the urge to over-handle and manipulate every maneuver (that's what body snatchers do...) and we worked it mostly with distance, only meeting at crucial turn points. She ran every step (from the start line even!), had an awesome time and if we can be only slightly bested by an awesome world team dog I consider that a high point!

Jumpers ran very well also. There was a super fun five jump line at the end which was the perfect reward for the Dog- the making of a Go Dog lies in jumps chutes because they spawn flying!  After that we ran Relay, which was slightly scary (pipe tunnel- the spawner of Evil Flying Go Dog!). Our Team survived though, and won relay with just two teeny (ok, terrifying) refusals. And wouldn't you know, our awesome team took the whole tournament too! Black Dog and Brother Dog had amazing days of their own, with Brother looking strong at 26".  They both ended MVPs in their heights, with Go Dog just slightly behind Black Dog  in 22." Top three dogs of the day? Cool.  

Saturday started with Gamblers and Snookers, both Qs. In Snookers, we attempted our first ever Blind Cross off the Aframe in competition. It worked! Solid hit! Much better than the other Aframe we attempted, which was a pull off to the side and much more questionable. And she read the next obstacle perfectly- there were several inviting obstacles she had to bypass, so I was thrilled that she both read the side change (no sneaking behind me!), and followed the line I indicated. 

We followed that up with Standard, Steeple and Grand Prix.  While those were big fat NQs for us, they were nonetheless valuable. 
Steeplechase Round 1
Steeple involved the Dog running like I've never seen in a show from 7 to 12, then continuing on to back jump #2. Oops. Reminder: Standing and calling is pointless. Movement required! If no movement occurs, dogs will make decisions on their own accord. It was SO (soooo) apparent after her off-course how much impact I can have on her line by moving into her, and how little impact I have by trying to pull her (I was on the left of the A trying to pull her back into the tunnel). Excellent lesson! 
Master Standard
As for Standard- we had a marvelous run going; she ran an independent dogwalk and came in over 4 for a push through the tire to teeter; then I met her for a cross into the poles. After an awesome fast auto-drop on the table (first ever in a show!) I sent her through the tunnel and intended to shoot her out over the jumps while I made a straight line to the Aframe, where we would meet again for another cross.  Unfortunately, she tripped over the tunnel bag on exit and that threw her off enough to cause a run out on 15. So we scurried back and grabbed the jump, and then went on to throw in another blind in front of the Aframe to pull her into the chute, which was possibly our best move of the weekend. Standard's valuable lesson : Sh*t happens! 

Grand Prix
The next lesson was... trust your dog, stupid! I know she will always pick the dogwalk. As far as she is concerned, the tunnel in a contact-tunnel discrimination does not exist unless I take her up to it and hand deliver her into it. YET I somehow decided she was heading for the tunnel over #2 and called (no, wait, screeched like a banshee demon monster from hell, complete with flailing limbs) her off the tunnel she wasn't really going to. She smashed the jump because of my verbal beating, landed on the dogwalk and froze in fear.  Ice Dog then melted off the dogwalk, and slithered into a puddle in the tunnel. She was then very reluctant to run the dogwalk and was very sticky (wouldn't you have been if you had just melted??) on the downside. After we moved away from the scene of the crime, she resumed running and we finished up beautifully with, you guessed it, another blind cross off of the Aframe. I thought for sure trying to put one in there would result in a China trip after the jump, but the constant movement from the A through the 180 turn kept her super tight.  Bonus lesson: We have a new super power- Ultra Blind Cross Action!!! 
Sunday was a perfect day for the Dog- Qs in all three classes: Standard, Jumpers and Pairs with Black Dog. Nice runs, courses weren't quite as fun though so not worth posting the maps. She was a bit tired (as was I) so things were a little less GOish, but still much better (faster, happier, tighter) than most shows. 

I think that Black Dog only missed one Q this weekend- she decided her birthday present to her mom would be being a Perfect Pup, since the White Dog was not running (much needed R&R!). Black Dog is an honorary Go Dog for sure! 

And if you get the chance to get to Lawrence, KS sometime... Go! The club is awesome and the arena is very nice (not dirty or dusty- no Black Lung!).  They do a great job offering lots of classes and getting through things very quickly. One ring show and we were done by 1 on Sunday. And who knows, maybe you too can have epiphanies.  How circle of life- earlier this year, this show busted my confidence, and now it has restored it!

PLUS. Home in plenty of time to see Harry Potter, so it really was the best weekend. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Going, Going... GONE!

We are outta here! A mere 8 hour journey ahead of us.  (Yes, I say mere. You weren’t in the RV/mobile prison during the trip to the Nationals for…*shudder*… 30 hours.)

And the best news is- no snow on the horizon! Kansas is expecting near 70 degree weather over the weekend. Even Iowa is begrudgingly throwing out temps in the 50s for us. THANKS IOWA! What you lack in professional sports teams and hills you make up for in your semi-agreeable nature.

This week I have had a terrifying amount of spare time on my hands. Loathsome of boredom as I am (only boring people get bored!) I set out into the vast expanse of Google to settle a few questions regarding the canine world that have been plaguing me lately. It has been exhausting trying to feign recognition and comprehension when these topics arise and catch me off guard. (“Oh! Yes! THAT thing.  It is, um… bad? What? Oh, by bad I mean, GOOD of course...” nuts.) Just in case anyone else out there is as woefully and embarrassingly behind the times on these trendy topics, I am going to help you and share what I didn’t know and now am a genius regarding! (Ha!)
1.)     This is the most embarrassing one. I know of course (I don't live under a rock), that USDAA and AKC each send teams to compete in world events. What I can never keep straight- who sends to which one? EASY. AKC will send a team to the FCI World Agility Championships and USDAA will send teams to the IFCS World Agility Championship. (Is it any wonder I was confused? All those Fs, Is and Cs!) AKC/FCI does not accept mixed breeds at the WAC, however the USDAA/IFCS WAC does. This event occurs once every 2 years (next up… USA!), whereas the FCI WAC takes place every year.  
2.)     In line with this… what the HECK is the World Agility Open then? This one sounds pretty awesome. It’s a ‘non-denominational’ (What, who says agility isn’t a religion??) world event, where countries represent as a whole, rather than by the organizations within the country. This means that everyone has to play nice together! It’s sort of like an invitational for the best of the best- winners of major events at the FCI and IFCS get automatic entry, everyone else has to meet the selection criteria for their country. The USA’s criteria is on the site, and I am impressed by the equal consideration given to competitors from both AKC and USDAA:

3.)   Silas Boogk- why haven’t I heard of this person? And WHAT is that little dog he runs? Well, he seems to be a bit of an international phenom- very high end competitor. He was in town recently for a seminar. He does blind crosses (which is why he was off my radar) like they are in short supply, but from videos (which are extremely exciting- he is all over the place and yet…not?), it seems to really work for him and his dogs. Speaking of, the little dog… is a Sheltie. A shaved Sheltie. You had me until this, Silas.  
4.)    Lastly. Schutzhund. (Dog says Gesundheit?) No, Schutzhund! I kept hearing that word and finally had to know- what is it? Do I need one? Well, turns out it’s not really an “it” but another dog sport.  It has three parts: obedience, tracking and protection. I guess it was originally made to be a breed test for German Shepherds, but then everyone wanted a piece of it since it looks fun, so now it is a sport, with Nationals and Worlds (under the FCI) and all that.  Cool! Here is a site that I found that does it much more justice than I did.
Hm… Go Dog = future Schutzhund star? Maybe! She is pretty good in obedience, likes to sniff the carpet by where we eat to find noms, and barks savagely at the neighbors kids (from the safety of our house, of course).  

I feel better now, having shared, and regained my status as genius (again, ha!). Now I don’t have to worry about being socially awkward and unaware... until the next new topic comes up. Curse you, trends!

I Love My Dog More Than Harry Potter.

I know, I can't believe it either. Especially since I forgot to feed her on more than on occasion because I was either re-reading or re-viewing the series.

But my preference rings apparent now! I have chosen to go to a dog show with my little Go Dog and skip the midnight movie opening. Hopefully this weekend will make up for those empty belly nights (past, present and future).

But that doesn't mean I am not slightly devastated. The misfortune that the two events should coincide could only be designed by the Devil himself, and the "Sophie's Choice" position this puts me in has nearly broken me.  But I love my dog. This I can do- but only for her. 

However. Every spare thought will be of you, Harry. I will be looking forward to Monday, when I can see you again at last. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

All together now! It’s beginning to look a lot like…

Mass exodus to the South?
Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Yeah, any way you look at it, it doesn’t look good.  Winter is officially here.  I admired the snow storm for about one hour on Saturday and then it wore out its welcome.  After all, it’s all sparkling diamonds of frost and fluffy blankets of flakes until someone drives into a ditch.  (No, I did not- but many a driver did, which seriously inconveniences my commutes. I’m late enough as it is people! Let’s try to keep it together on those main transit ways.)

And the worst part is- my meager holding of agility equipment is banished to the sub-basement for at least 5 months.  Save for ONE solitary jump which I’ve been promised is ‘all I need’ to train agility indoors this winter.  I’m hoping it will *poof* into an indoor facility with a full ring of equipment when I pull it out tonight. ..

The Dog is inconsolable.  She used to explode into the yard and run loops through her tunnel and then make a few weave pole circuits.  Now when she goes outside… nothingness.  Her world is bleak.  Last night she stood in the yard, staring at me.  The burning gaze told me what she missed, and that she blamed me for the absence.

Sorry little Go Dog. How about a new table for Christmas?
My offer is met with hostile silence.   
I am ashamed for thinking this would make things right.

Five months… it’s not so long, is it? Maybe March will be uncharacteristically Lamb-ish the whole way through (none of this “in like a Lion” crap), and we will be back outside in the natural element of the agility dog before we know it.  At least there is plenty of time to ponder what next year’s season will focus on.   We have one last USDAA show this year, and then one more as well for AKC.  After that, it’s time to reflect on 2010 and lay out some goals for 2011 (NOT to be confused with New Year’s Resolutions… I can’t remember them past New Year’s Eve, let alone stick to them.).   For now though, going to try and make the most of these final shows (as we should with every show, I suppose).  Minor goals: Finish Tournament Bronze title (2 tournament Qs- in anything), and get that last Open Standard leg. Major goal: Have FUN (nervous about returning to the scene of the Lawrence, Kansas Confidence Slaughter of February 2010- A.K.A. the worst show ever- and always a struggle to do this in AKC, especially a one-ring show). Further, I am curious to see if this little showing break and cooler weather will boost both the Go Dog and I back into good ‘timezones.’  Also hoping- not a goal, just a prayer- that Iowa will not try to kill us on the way home from Kansas again. We are bringing a chauffeur (dad) to drive just in case the ice storm tries to do us in though, as we are wussy about snow.  Perhaps I will sacrifice a Gopher’s Jersey or something to appease the state. Or eat some corn in its honor. 
Pet a pig? 
Not really sure. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Aw man, I am either a "Stage Mom" or a "Crazy Dog Lady..."


So a few days ago I was enjoying the "Next Blog" feature and perusing some 'neighbor' blogs. I thought it was funny how many were about the 'Smith Family,' or 'Johnson Family,' or 'Moschkowitz Family...' etc.  Being me, I was making fun at the lameness of these blogs; I mean how boring can you get? Pages and pages of "Look, here's my kid- see the cute thing it did? Now here is another shot of it doing the exact same thing from a slightly different angle! Aw, look, now it is taking a poo!" (Did I just call a child "it?" Reason 1,001- at least- why I am unfit for parenthood, for anyone still wondering why I only have dogs...)

Then my friend said, "Isn't that what your blog is? Except instead of kids, it's just your dog?"

I opened my mouth, prepared to launch a full on defensive on how of COURSE it's not the same thing, MY blog has a point! I have a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan)- it is a PROJECT!! I am sharing my experience for the betterment of the agility community! This is giving me accountability in my training and helping me to be a better handler with clear goals!! Then I realized...

She was sort of right. Dang.

Time to embrace the truth. Sooo...

Look, here's my dog! See the cute thing she did?

 Here she is, doing the exact same thing from a slightly different angle!

Aw, look, now she's going to take a poo! 
A little privacy, please?

Yep, I am just as weird as those family bloggers, maybe even a little worse since my 'kid' is four legged and kind of furry, therefore less socially acceptable (though it depends on who you ask...). But at least we have each other, fellow dog-centric weirdos. YOU know I have a point, etc.

Maybe next time I will actually talk about training though. I'm not a complete Crazy Dog Stage Mom. Yet.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Extreme Home Take Over: Border Collie Edition

A.K.A. How I was held hostage for three days by three BCs, A.K.A. The reason we have just one dog.

Because I am a kind and loving, dutiful daughter (ha!), I somewhat unwittingly agreed to board Mother Dearest's dogs for the weekend so that the parents might actually take a regular person vacation (e.g. NOT just go to an agility show).  After all, why wouldn't I? I know and love those girls.  True, I know they are um, spirited and uh, vocal at times, but I have always been able to handle them with no problems. Well. Things change.

My mistake was probably the idea of having them sleepover at my house instead of puppy-sitting at their home. It wasn't so much a sleepover as a home invasion. And me without a panic room.

Sad = Quiet

It started out ok. White Dog was sad and stared longingly at the front door wishing her mom would come rescue her.   Black Dog and BIG Black Dog (Lacey!) enjoyed sniffing about quietly.  

This would not last long.

The boyfriend came home.

Turns out, Black Dog thinks that the boyfriend is evil incarnate.  If he moved, she tried to bark him into oblivion. Each bark was the dog equivalent of that part from The Exorcist where the Priest is trying to banish the demon and is yelling "the power of Christ compels ye!!!" Ugh.  Cheese bites helped, but she kept forgetting about the cheese bites when he moved from room to room. 
Demons don't give cheese bites... or DO they??
Eventually she got used to him in a few parts of the house, so as long as he didn't leave the living room or kitchen, he was fine.  Sure made using the bathroom hard though...

 Just when we tamed one bit of crazy dog, another popped up.  By Day 2, White Dog was feeling less sad. Downright happy even. And when White Dog feels happy, you are going to hear about it. A lot. (This is the vocal part I mentioned.)  If I stood up, she barked. If I walked towards the stairs, she barked. If I said "don't bark" she barked. Blinking- you better believe she barked. Don't even ask what happened when the other dogs barked.  The only way to stave off the barks was to shove a large muffling toy in her mouth. Unfortunately, the large toy was also a squeaky.  Sigh!

White Dog Containment Unit
I think the girls were also on a vacation. From manners and general domesticity.  I mean, White Dog "forgot" how to sit, stay, and how to not bite her sisters.  She also attempted to commandeer every plate of food in the house. It was so bad that she was placed in the lockdown unit of solitary confinement so that we might attempt to eat some of our meals (though half probably was stolen off the plates by BIG Black Dog anyways...).

But they were pretty cute when they weren't being loud, naughty, eating, biting machines. White and Black Dog had cute morning romps of play time which were darling. Unless they were actually fighting? In that case, not quite as darling.

Oh wait, definitely playing. The Fun Police only shows up to kill the good times. And Black Dog thought that boyfriend was possessed...  
Moral of the story? I need a panic room if we are going to do this again. And...Border Collies are nuts. But if we had Basset Hounds, we might not know that there were demons possessing us and that squeaky red balls NEVER STOP SQUEAKING!

In other news THE Dog (who by the way was a very good hostess) is on a diet. I think recently she has been getting more people food than dog food and it shows. So no more sweets! (Dog says Well, good thing Candy Corn is corn and not a sweet... what?? It's not?? NOOOoooo!)
In honor of the season, we are doing the old reliable Pumpkin Diet. Orange in, orange out. Ew. But she likes it and by coupling this with extra mega walks she looks less like the aforementioned Basset Hound and more like a Border Collie.
Wait, you're NOT supposed to get the pie-ready type? Dang.

She is only mildly starving. Can you spot the massive drool bubble forming on her lip?

T-minus 5 seconds til the drool starts to flood the couch and my pants leg.
 ALSO I did the unthinkable (for me). We've been working blind crosses (ugh, dark side, dark side! Help me Obi-Wan!) off of the Aframe. This is to combat our problem of me throwing her stride off when I crossed in front, resulting in missed zones. She is responding well so far, as long as I don't look back at her, and if I cross at the next obstacle, not at the base of the Aframe. She missed wildly the first time but was pretty good after that- she got at least a paw in and always picked up on the right obstacle after. The side changes aren't throwing her at all. Next step is to pick her speed up to normal again, since she hesitates slightly still and we need her going full board to really get down into the zone. I  think I like it, even though it feels wrong. But maybe, like Darth Vader, it will end up good. 

LOTS of practices, including a fun match, this week. We actually get to show in a few weeks (going all the way to Kansas) in USDAA so we'd better step up training to make the drive worth it.  The last time we went to Lawrence it was The Dog's worst show EVER so I'm thinking we couldn't do any worse (really, so bad), but I want to ensure we don't have a repeat. But if we do, at least then I will know that the show itself is cursed and its not our fault.

Time to go vacuum now. White Dog left miniature White Dogs all over the place...