Spring 2017 is upon us. I haven't written in quite some time. So much has changed. Max is now 4 1/2 years old and becoming "all that" and more. It has been a struggle learning to handle such a fast dog. At the last show, Max ran a 7.1 yps in jumpers and the fastest time of all heights. He went in the wrong end of the tunnel but it was the best NQ I ever had. We are a team now. I can feel it. Our relationship has become reborn like all of nature in the springtime. Max and I are like new buds on the trees just beginning to open and mature. The excitement is building in me thinking of all that is to come this year. We have shows planned and goals are written down. We are traveling our first overseas trip together since Sully has gone to the bridge. We are going to Denmark to compete in the Dania Cup 2017. This is a big step for us but the first step in a magnificent journey that can only exist if we indeed step forward.
Life is funny. It just happens. It rolls on like a river. You either flow with the current or fight against it struggling to make progress against the strong opposition of raging water. It isn't easy to let yourself float along but if you work on your thoughts and stay in the moment, it becomes automatic. I remind myself daily how precious and short life is. When life starts moving against the current, I just turn it around and know that down stream, further in my journey this situation will have long passed.
One foot in front of the other. Think always of the positive outcome and never the what if's. Those what if's will limit what can be and all the possibilities that can be yours. I have changed. Maybe it is the wisdom from old age and the many years of surviving the bumps in the road. I have learned to find the joy in the cold winter months or the solace of a rainy day. I have learned to be in the moment. This moment right now is all there is and I am going to make it my best moment ever.
It is said that each snowflake has a different unique pattern or design. Snowflakes are made of water molecules. People and dogs are made up of roughly 55% water. Therefore it makes sense that each of us as handlers and canine partners are different and unique from each other.
When we begin the dance of agility with our dog, we learn various techniques and styles or systems to communicate with our dog. Eventually the dog and handler become a team. They dance as one spirit, one soul. Although the dance may be of some other person's design, no two shall execute it the same way. Longer legs, less athletic, more athletic, old or young we all have our own unique style just like those snowflakes.
What to do? What to do? It is dark and cold. No agility equipment in the field. Let us run in the snow playing chase with each other. Woo Hoo! I will throw the Frisbee and you can leap in the air to catch it.
We walk in the silent woods that have transformed into magical winter wonderland of sun glistening off the barren tree branches. The creek is now frozen on the edges but flowing in the center as we watch in silence the doe drinking the cold water from the stream.
We miss the warmth of the sun on our faces but this time of year can be healing. It is a time of rest, of slowing down. This is the time of year we find comfort in the smell of cookies fresh out of the oven or homemade bread. We spend more time indoors snuggled under a blanket with our furry friends. More time can be used massaging, stretching and core strengthening without the lure of the agility field to distract us.
It is a "SNOW DAY!!" Off we go to build a snowman and make some snow angels. The coziness of the fire burning inside is welcoming to our frosty noses upon ending our play and now we settle in front of the fire with a cup of hot cocoa and good book to read.
Slow down, hug your dog and savor the moments. There are never enough of them.
As much as I miss what "was" and look at photos of a time now past, I know that the future is a blank slate ready to be written in any way I chose. This time around I am more seasoned. I have learned much from my losses. I have learned to appreciate today for everything it brings. I have learned to notice small simple pleasures like waking up to a Keurig coffee or a car that starts right up and even a job to go to.
A team is built not only by many hours of drills and skills but by the long walks in the woods, the interaction with new sites and sounds, tricks we teach during long winters, cuddle time and weekends spent traveling to shows together. We camp, we hotel, we play Frisbee or play in the water.
Max and I have known each other now for a little over 2 years. He has shown that he only wants to work with me, be with me and has to be touching me whether by my side on the couch or sitting on my foot under the computer table. We started competing this year and I have watched him grow in his confidence, less spinning and barking, slightly more patience . There is still so much more to come. What seminars will we attend? What shows? How will he like flying across the pond?
Our journey begins and it is finally nice to be thinking about what might "be" rather than what "was" and can be no more.
We just finished a 2 day seminar with the World Team Coach Nancy Gyes. It is a wonderful opportunity for those of us who live on the other side of the United States to work with Nancy. This is my fourth seminar with her not counting Power Paws Camp which was so much fun.
As I prepared myself for the seminar and planned which dog to work, I thought about each dog's skill level and how I would work with them in this setting. There are always some pretty terrific handlers at the seminar. Many run through the drills like it is just a walk in the park. they are balanced, smooth and totally in sync with their dog.
My dogs all have different skill levels, speed levels, commitment levels and different motivation or drive. I am glad that I possess the patience and flexibility to transition between the 4 dogs. Sully and I are going to Nationals so we needed time to work and get back as a team. Pippin is just plain fun to work with and every training session we have gets us further down the path of becoming a team. Lainie is smart and loves to please me. She is soft and shy around audiences or judges. I have to be very careful to keep her energy high and not redo too much. Max is a green dog with many skills but I am not always sure of his commitment to obstacles, timing is not down yet. I am supporting lines sometimes too long and sometimes not enough. That is part of the journey and I am very blessed to take this journey with not only one dog but 4.
In the past, when attending a seminar with some important person in agility, I would be nervous about how my dog would perform, how would I perform, the need to impress them, the need to overachieve and all those feelings would be more important than what my dog's capabilities actually were at the time.
Losing Angus last year and Sully's current diagnose of bladder cancer has taught me a valuable lesson. The relationship with me and my dogs is more important to me than any trial, any important agility person, any award or recognition you could ever bestow on us. The dog I have is the dog I have. Each dog is unique in its own way. When my turn is up in a seminar I perform the exercise to the best of our ability handling the way my dog needs me to not to impress anyone. We are who we are, no more no less.
Just stepping to the line with Sully makes me smile inside and out. There is nothing he can do wrong and it is a joy to see him having fun. Pippin is exuberant about life in general. He loves agility and he has a blast doing it. Sure bars come down but he is the most fun I have ever had running a dog. Pippin is living life on the edge!! Little Lainie is my little soft girl. She has amazing skills and can be fast. I never push her to do more than she is mentally capable to do and this has paid off big. she is finally gaining some confidence in herself and enjoying the game in public. Max, oh little bossy baby boy. We have just begun. All the dogs before you have prepared me for this moment. We are taking it slow with you my boy. There is not need to rush through. We have many years together Lord willing and we will cherish all the moments in between because those years are never enough time and we certainly do not want to speed that up one little bit.
So this year for seminar my attitude was very different. I was much more relaxed and patient with my dogs. I worked to our ability and did not compare us with other teams. It doesn't matter where we are in the hierarchy of great teams. All that matters is that we learn, we grow and we love who we are right now this minute, this second, this time.
I am looking forward to going to Nationals with Sully. No pressure, just do what we do best. We will have the time of our lives and cherish the memories. For the memories are forever.
January 1st is traditionally the time for us to reflect back on the previous year and use those experiences to plan for the new year. Most years I have set lofty outcome oriented goals for agility, promises to work out more, eat healthier and plan my trial schedule.
This year I am already eating healthy. I have learned that Yoga and stretching is just as important as my cardio and weight training. My hamstrings tell me so! So today I will work out a written schedule for myself and the dogs. This schedule will include trials, training, meal planning, indoor work outs, outdoor workouts and yoga for all of us.
Each year the dogs grow in different ways. Lainie is becoming more confident and speedy. Is she ready for tryouts or nationals for 2014-2015? If so then we need to work those international moves more and I need to train more with her. Pippin is gaining more core strength due to the stretching and exercises I am working with him. Continual work on collection, jumping, bars and arousal level is on his list of goals. It is my challenge as a dog trainer to figure out this exuberant boy. Sully, well life has made his goals change a bit. No matter what the circumstances in life, we must still have goals. My goals for Sully is to keep him in shape physically and mentally by providing whatever means needed to do that. He must trial to keep him happy and I must handle him as though nothing has changed. Yes, Sully will be happy in 2014, that is my goal. Little man Max is on the cusp of starting is agility career. My goals with Max are simple. I will pay attention to our teamwork together and make sure I address any issues right then and there. I will not gloss over training issues. I will provide to him what he needs to be successful and learn. I will remember to work lots of tricks and shaping behaviors this winter to keep him "thinking".
So there it is. Each dog has their own training booklet with goals in the front and a page for documenting our training sessions. What did we work on? What were the results? What do we need to focus on next session? In June, we look back at our progress and maybe modify the plan for the remainder of the year.
OK 2014, I am appreciative of our cold, long NY winters to allow life to slow down a bit and give me the time to set goals, work on all those things I never have time for in the summer. Here is to a happy, healthy and fun filled 2014. After all goals like life should be fun!!!
I look around my home and I feel comfort. The winter months bring urges to bake and create. This time of year is spent wearing comfortable pajamas and snuggling with shelties on the couch. It is warm and toasty inside and bitter cold outside. We think more in the winter. We have more time to ponder .
Life just "is". During the course of one's life we experience love and loss, birth and death, great successes and failures. Inspirational messages tell us to just appreciate the moment. This one present moment right now and right here. We can't change the past and the future has not yet happened.
A little over a year ago I was snuggling with a different pack of four shelties. There was Birth/Death with the birth of Max and the death of Angus. Now I find myself facing another life experience. A "what is" I think back on all of Sully's travels and successes while knowing that his time here is limited. Sure we know everything born must eventually die but it is a different thought in your head when the alarm clock is set to go off at some future time and life is quickly passing by tick tock tick tock.
If I never lost Angus, I would never have met Max, It is interesting how life happens. Cause and effect. Each relationship we experience something different and learn from it. These dogs are gifts to enjoy , to learn from, to love, to share and eventually return them.
With such musings, I know now to appreciate this moment. This moment in time with the little sheltie curled up in the fold of my legs. I savor the soft fur under my fingers while stroking his back. I store in my memories the smell of his furring fresh washed coat. The relationship we have can only be built and understood over time. The places we have gone, the experiences we have shared all contributed to the synchronicity we have with each other.
As comfortable and familiar it is right in this moment, I know we must take from this moment what is offered and realize change must occur to grow, to experience, to love, to succeed, to satisfy until that moment when the clock stops ticking. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.
On October 11, 2008 Bleu Springs Winter Solas got his first MACH in Syracuse at the Jones Rd soccer place. Exactly 5 years later, Sully earned his PACH title with 20 double Q's and over 1,400 speed points on October 11, 2013. I guess we have come full circle.
Sully and I enjoyed six years of international competitions and national events before making that decision to drop him to preferred classes. Traveling via air and following protocols for importing a dog to another country sometimes required way more frequent rabies shots than I would like to give. Sully is a small little guy with a very big heart. He always gives me 100% when we show. Sully will be sleeping one minute and growling through the poles the next. I guess that is how he reserves his energy for the runs.
Changing Sully's jump height 4 inches lower will hopefully extend his agility career so that we can play well into his teens. This past weekend he was running so fast I had trouble getting to my spots!! I hope this is just another spot along our journey and not the end of an era.
The runs we have together still exhilarate me and leave me wanting more. It isn't time yet to rest Sully, we have many more agility memories to come. I love you and I thank you buddy. Your the best friend a person could have.
This may be your first agility dog. This could be your second, third or fourth agility dog. When is it the right time to enter your dog for competition? Is it when Fido can perform each obstacle? Most of us can remember our first exposure to agility. We were eager to learn all the equipment and hurry to start competing with our friends. By the time you get to your 4th or 5th dog, you will realize that just being able to complete a string of obstacles in class or your yard is not the determining factor that your dog is ready to trial.
So when is your dog ready? Each dog is different just like each human being is unique in their own way. This is a team sport so both sides of the team must be ready to show. Have you ever had to get up in front of a crowd and either give a presentation or talk on a topic that you are relatively new to? Performing in a trial setting is much different than class. The energy is high, there are many barking dogs and your dog may have to wait a long period of time in between runs.
Preparing for the ring starts as soon as you get your puppy or dog. You socialize the dog. You may bring the dog to shows before they are entered and work with the dog outside the ring. I like to work heeling, attention and even playing with toys in the trial environment. My goal is to teach the dog to maintain control and focus before they ever enter the ring.
So now what? Your puppy / dog has been taking agility classes and maybe even performed in a match that you were able to use food or toys as rewards. Fido is now the magic age that he is allowed to start competition. At this point I would evaluate a number of things. I would want my dog to have a solid start line stay in many different locations and settings. Fido must be able to perform each piece of equipment from around the clock. I personally do not want to put my dog in a show for the first time unless I am 100% confident that Fido can do his contacts to the criteria I have determined with distractions and on many different equipment. The see saw is not exactly the same for each place you compete. I like to put a weight on my see saw at home and vary the position so the dog can learn that it doesn't matter how slow or quick the teeter drops, you must maintain the criteria. I want my dog to understand patterns like pinwheels, 180's, serpentines, 270's AND be able to take a line and understand what that is. I want Fido to be clear that when my hand comes to my side that it means come into me. I want collection and acceleration understanding. In other words I want Fido to be able to perform at the excellent level before I even enter him in a show.
OK, you think your dog has all the criteria? Now can your dog do this in front of a crowd? Maybe so. Some dogs stress up and some dogs stress down. If your dog is leaving you to sniff the ground or refusing obstacles to go visit the judge or maybe even alarm bark at the judge, most likely your dog is stressed out. Maybe your dog can't hold the start line in a show or flies off the contacts and crashes through jumps. Maybe your dog goes in the ring and gets the zoomies. These are all signs of stress in the ring and can be dealt with in a variety of methods.
Most new to agility or young dogs should not be entered all 3 days or 4 days of an agility show. I think it is better to start slowly with either one day of a couple of runs and use that ring time to maintain criteria. Some areas have ASCA or CPE where you can train in the ring or enter at a level with less obstacles and just work on ring behavior.
If I have learned anything about this sport, I know that it never should be about the Q or the ribbons. Do I love blue ribbons and titles? Of course I do. Do I have performance goals? Sure do. But I have found that my best runs are when I enter the ring with goals like contact performance, start line and in a case like the stress down dog, just having fun and running. This helps take the pressure off and relaxes the energy so both dog and handler can perform much like they do in their own back yard.
As a handler are you confident that your dog will stick with you and perform pretty close to the way he has in practice? Do you understand the rules for the venue you are competing in? Have you developed a pre-run ritual before entering the ring? Are you confident that you are able to memorize the course and show direction to your dog?
The last thing I like to teach my students is conditioning of the dog and handler. Your dog should not be overweight. You should be able to clearly feel rib with slight padding. Your dog should have daily exercise and not be expected to jump and run when they have been a couch potato all week. These same rules apply to the handler. You certainly don't need to be a Barbie doll to play agility but you should try to eat healthy, stretch before you run, and have some type of conditioning yourself . Lack of these things are the result of injuries to both dog and handler.
Regardless of whether you are just doing agility for fun or have more serious competition goals I guarantee you will have more success and lots more fun if you are prepared to enter the ring!
Transitions: 3rd person singular present, plural of tran·si·tion
There are the 3 young dogs in the pack waiting for their turn to lead. Each dog has some skills to learn and some team building to develop before we can ever get to that point in a team's relationship. As we work on confidence and distance work or remedial skills, we hope that soon "this" dog will be ready to shine in the ring. In the ring , we imagine those perfectly timed runs where no sound is heard in our head and each step or body positioning comes without even thinking. In the blink of an eye that run is over and our hearts are pounding from that exhilarating feeling of two minds that become one.
That "feeling" has happened so many times with Sully. The young ones..........not so much. So we train and we work for it. We are transitioning from our old worn comfy jeans to a new pair that needs mileage, history and lots of breaking in yet. So here is to new jeans, new beginnings and new journeys.
The payoff is like that feeling of sweet success after months and months of hard work. The payoff is what you get when you set a goal, make a plan on how to achieve that goal and then stay on task to reach that goal.
I think in my lifetime I have had many different goals and have succeeded in reaching some of them. It is strange that I cannot think of those in the past but of the most current successes. It seems that the accomplishments that mean the most are the one that were the hardest to attain. If it were easy then we probably would take it for granted.
For months now I have been dedicated to Pippin's performance in the ring. His start line, his bar knocking, his contacts. The start line could be better, the bar knocking can be fixed and the contacts are a must have if we want to go anywhere and be successful.
So we planned, we worked hard every night, we found expert help and we received the big payoff!! The contact performance was phenomenal, the start line was good and the bars stayed up! What a feeling. Did we qualify? No we did not but it wasn't because of bars or contacts. Pip slid right off the table.
Next goal............table work!!!
When I go out to my agility field to set up a course my dogs get a glint in their eye and bark in excitement of what is to come. They know that each will get alone time with me to work skills and feel brilliant. All 4 of my dogs love the sport of agility as it is a game to them no different than throwing the Frisbee or playing chase with each other.
Our sport is constantly evolving. The need for speed is ever increasing and with that the demand of safe equipment. When I started agility most of the equipment was hand made out of wood. Now we have rubber surfaces, aluminum or fiberglass, our weave spacing grew, our jump cups improved and many of the venues have gone to the break away tire.
I think we truly are working hard to make sure we are competing in safe conditions but injuries will continue regardless. Even those of us that properly stretch and condition have freak injuries that happen. It is an "accident". We certainly don't want bad things to happen but sometimes shit happens. Sometimes when my dogs are racing around the backyard not looking where they are going, I am fearful that they will run into something and hurt themselves.
I cannot truly live and enjoy life if I am constantly in fear of what might happen or what could happen. I try to make smart and reasonable choices for my pack but I also want my dogs to be happy and love their life.
Life is a journey and meant to be explored. My dogs like to hike off leash and drink out of streams. Life is meant to be enjoyed and savored. Like the Yin and Yang, one cannot experience excitement, love and satisfaction without sometimes experiencing sadness and loss.
My heart goes out to those that have loved and lost. I know the feeling all too well and it really makes me appreciate each and every moment.
Training dogs can be a humbling experience. What worked for your last dog doesn't always work for every dog. Each dog has their own "essence". Some dogs are shy and some dogs are so excited they just can't think straight. Sure there are all kinds of books on socialization for the shy dog that may include things like clicker training, control work, positive and negative reinforcement.But what do you do when you have tried "everything" and still are not finding success?
Puppies are a clean slate. We hope if we do everything "right" then we will have the perfect dog. Really? Diligence and hard work may give you the end results you are looking for but there is some truth to behaviors linking to a dogs lineage. Some dogs no matter how well you do your job as a dog trainer will still have their quirks and idiosyncrasies
Take my boy Pippin for example. As a puppy, he never ran all the way down the stairs. He always naturally wanted to leap from stair 4 or 5. An established dog trainer told me, "Oh, that is not a good sign, dogs that leap on stairs usually want to leap contacts!" I didn't know that but thought I would prove her wrong.
Pippin and I started out deciding to do running contacts. We started with one method and all the aids required to teach him to run down the a frame or dogwalk. No matter what I did Pip managed to stride right over the yellow more than in the yellow and without a visible aid, he would leap. We spent our first year with very little contact success in the ring due to his inconsistencies. Pippin obviously must have been successful at some point since he is competing in Masters now.
Now we have goals. Pippin and I cannot possibly attain these goals with an unreliable contact performance. So we decide that running contacts is not a clear cut behavior to teach and we will now make Pippin stop in 2 on 2 off. Seems clear, seems easy enough since I taught 2 other dogs how to do their 2 on 2 off position. Well it didn't exactly work the same way! Pippin gets so excited in the ring that he just flies off those contacts as if he had wings!!
So we are back to the drawing board. Time to stop trialing in standard so we can clearly reward the successful performances and correct the undesired behavior. In the agility field at home, we are increasing the pressure and excitement by whooping and hollering, running past, hanging back, throwing things and having friends over with their dogs to distract him. Once we can't make him fail at home then we will take it to the road and proof those same behaviors at new places.
Are you a weekend warrior? Do you sit at a desk all week and then when the weekend comes you are loading and unloading your car for a show? You are carrying X pens , tents, EZ Ups, chairs, coolers and more to be comfortable at the event?
Is your dog a couch potato while you are working your 8 hour day and then the weekend comes and he is expected to jump and climb as fast as he possibly can all while looking to you for direction?
Agility has the word Agile in it. We must be agile and so should our dogs. Athletes have training programs. You and your dog should have a similar program. This program should include diet, exercise, training, stretching and even scheduled rest. You cannot expect to perform to your best ability without paying some attention to these categories.
Diet: Your dog should have the appropriate food and supplements based on their level of activity and size. You as a competitor should plan your meals to eat fresh whole foods to nurture what you are requesting of your body. Drink lots of water.
Exercise: I walk the dogs a light mile walk in the morning on leash and typical evenings include either a hilly hike, swimming or training about 10 minutes each.
Stretching: Warming up muscles of you and your canine partner should take priority. Before running your dog you should develop a warm up routine with light stretches. It is just as important to have a post cool down routine. walk your dog around while your heart rate slows down and remember to stretch post activity too.
Preventative Measures: Me and my dogs see a chiropractor regularly as needed. You should be able to identify when you or your dog is out of alignment and needs an adjustment based on the dogs gait or your own. Are you favoring one side or another? I also like to use massage therapy as a way to keep muscles limber and flexible.
Thinking ahead while preparing you and your dog for competition will not only increase your speed and endurance but also strengthen those muscles needed when running. These steps will also help to eliminate injury.
When I think about Sully, I am amazed at how alike we are. I know what he needs, he anticipates what I want. Sully knows when I am sad or happy or excited. It wasn't always like this. When did this happen? How did it happen? Can I have this with my other dogs? I want those zone runs where my dog and I are one thought, one motion and time stands still.
I think this began when I realized that Sully was fast enough to go to World Team Try Outs. I started to track him times and yps. We were qualified for Nationals, qualified for World Team Try Outs and we had won a major overall event for international class at Springfield. Our first adventure was flying over the pond to Italy. Sully and I had our alone time with no other dogs. He knew when his airline bag came out of the basement that he and I were going on a trip. It was just me n' Sully. The special time is important in any relationship. Think about your human relationships. The more experiences you share, the closer you become.
Now Sully is semi retired. I want that special bond with Pippin. He is so different than Sully. It feels as though he comes with his own set of rules and his own needs. He barks at me, He has demands. He is loveable and friendly with everyone. He is easily aroused in agility or play. How do we get that respect for each other?
So we begin. I am spending a lot more training time with Pippin. If I go to a seminar or workshop, I bring Pip. All my focus and energy is going into this dog. We have taken a couple of airplane trips. Once we traveled to the West coast and once down south to Florida. I see little bits of progress toward that relationship I want. It is coming, I feel it.
They say agility is a journey. "Enjoy the journey". If we get so hung up on the final results the arrival of the place you want to be on your journey, then what? Don't be in such a hurry to get to where you are going. Enjoy the struggles and savor the awesome moments because someday, the young dog becomes your old dog and all you have left are those memories. Make them count, remember them and once day you realize it.........we have become a team!!!