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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Puppies Warm the Heart

Tonight was the first session for Puppy Class, or as I fondly call it - Owner Sanity Class.

Owners come to this class for all kinds of reasons. Some for socialization for their dogs, some because they're feeling overwhelmed with puppy antics and others because they want to start their life long commitment on the right foot.

What all of the owners have in common is that they LOVE their dogs!

I'm really impressed with my current group because each of them bought a puppy for the right reasons. They entered into puppyhood understanding the commitment a puppy is and how keeping that commitment is going to impact their lives.

Each of the puppies is absolutely adorable and each has a wonderful personality. Their owners did a great job picking out mentally & physically sound puppies.

I expect it's going to be an absolute BLAST to work with these dogs over the next 5 weeks.

Stay tuned for more details and more pictures of these adorable pups.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Pied Piper

I'm currently working a wonderful young dog who has taken to running off of her 5 acre property.

Since I was given a heads up that she generally heads off to play with the dogs in her area, today we roamed the neighborhood together in search of playmates. The main goal was to work on desensitizing my client's dog to the neighboring dog "calls" which claim more fun off of the property vs. on!

I didn't have to go far before I found not one, not two, but three local playmates and also learned that the dogs in the area aren't fenced and left to roam. No wonder my client's dogs think this is normal!

I successfully encouraged my client's dog to remember how much better things were at home vs. out on the road and in the process, I had 2 additional dogs follow me to the property for some fun. In other words, I made my client's place much more enticing than the outside world. I apparently did it so well, that the neighborhood was following me.

So you might be wondering what that has to do with the picture on the horses? Well, not only were the neighboring dogs following me to the home, but the client's horses were checking in on the fun as well! Honestly, I felt like the pied piper working my client's dog while surrounded by two of the neighborhood dogs and 2 of the client's horses as well!

I can't imagine the picture we must have made with the horses and all of the dogs following me around the 5 acre property. At some point, the neighboring dogs were too much for the horses and they chased the visiting pups off of the property - literally CHASED them away! I couldn't help but laugh at the image we made and I really enjoyed the free distractions to train the dog with.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Course Analysis - Phili Area 4-26-2009

Today was a HOT, HOT, HOT day in the sun and on the agility course.

Many dogs were clearly dumbfounded by the intense weather that came out of the blue and tongues were hanging low and the pace was barely a trot.

Luckily, Excellent Standard (my largest class today), was first thing this morning and we started promptly at 7:45 a.m.

Teams rarely had problems with the beginning of the course (#1-4), although a couple of handlers gave a command early which made the dog's turn and go up the a-frame.  

The Open Standard course was similar and a few dogs turned on their own and went into the tunnel on the left.

Most handlers in this area chose to handle the majority of the courses utilizing rear crosses. Front crosses were pretty rare and almost non-existent on this course except after the dog walk. 

Although Open JWW ran earlier in the day (the course was similar to yesterday's Excellent JWW - see yesterday's blog), the last course of the day was the Novice JWW.

It was about 1:30 in the afternoon when we started to run and the temperatures certainly hadn't gone down. By this time I smelled like I'd spent the day on the beach as the club nicely kept someone slathering me up with sunscreen at every possible moment possible.

The Novice class ran very well and like yesterday, they were an impressive group.

Several Novice dogs went straight into the tunnel after the #2 jump when handlers attempted to work this sequence on the left side (with the dog on their right). The other problem area was the #11 jump. If dogs came directly from the weaves and took the #10 jump at an angle (from right to left), they sometimes missed the #11 jump and ended up on the left side of that jump and incurred a runout.

As for some final notes about the weekend, the club did a terrific job and were very, very hospitable. They worked hard and it was a great weekend for everyone.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Course Analysis - Phili, PA 4-25-09

Saturday's courses here in the Philadelphia area ran well and I had an opportunity to hang out in the sunshine and turn myself into a well-roasted marshmallow.

While I should have been a bit quicker with the sun screen, that's the only thing I can complain about today.

We started off with an impressive Novice Standard class. Great contacts, awesome weave poles and wonderful attention from these dogs.

I had a Novice handler who was running for the very first time and he asked a lot of good questions like 'if it was mandatory to put his crosses in at specific places' and he had no idea about not having any tags or hanging things off of his collar. Imagine my pleasure when he began the course and looked like a real pro! I think he was pulling my leg about this being his very first run - they were really, really good for a Novice A team.


The next course map is Excellent FAST.

Since Open & Excellent FAST were very similar, I thought I'd share a few comparisons.

The biggest difference was that in Open FAST, the majority of handlers opted for the 3 point dog walk vs. the 6 point a-frame and then went straight into the Bonus. In comparison, in Excellent FAST, I don't recall one dog & handler team who intentionally went up the dog walk - instead, they all aimed for the higher pointed a-frame.

If I had to guess why that is, I think the majority of Open folks want to get the Bonus & points and then get off of the course. While Excellent handlers seem to focus more on strategy and getting in practice on specific obstacles.


Next was Excellent JWW.  

Since it's common for handlers who don't have a Double Q on the line to pull their dogs and head home. I wasn't sure how many dogs were going to scratch due to the hot 87 degree temperatures that unexpectedly came into the area.  After looking at the numbers, folks stayed to play.

The course was pretty straight forward with the usual side-switches, straight lines, handling portions, etc. 

My favorite part of the course was #11 to the #12 weaves. Since most dogs landed well past the first pole, turning toward the weaves made for an easy entry. Some handlers chose to push their dogs straight ahead at #11, use the open area on the right corner and then turn their dog back toward the weaves to give them more of a notice for this obstacle.

I'd love to set this course up for my own practice with Rouge, who is a very young and inexperienced dog. It has some basic maneuvers that all teams should be able to maneuver and work through. Sounds like a great course to set up in my yard this week : )

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Going off to Judge Agility...

I judge AKC Agility often and am sometimes gone 2-3 weekends a month. This weekend I'm in Philadelphia (picture courtesy of my airplane seat).

When going off to judge, there are always good parts to each assignment. I get to visit another destination, experience the culture, visit with the people, note the handling styles & teamwork and much, much more. 

I love traveling, I love getting out to experience new things and I love the different areas of our country. 

While there are so many good things about judging, there are times just prior to heading off to a trial that I can't help but think about how I'm going to miss my home, my husband and my dogs. I feel that way now, but I think I mostly feel jet lagged & tired! After getting up at 3:30 a.m. to catch a 6:05 a.m. flight, it wasn't until 4:30 p.m. that I landed on the opposite coast. Yeah, I'm a little tired.

What I am looking forward to is the sunshine, the warmth and posting some courses for you tomorrow evening.

Until then, sleep well and give your dogs a big hug.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Day In the Sun for Me & the Dogs

When the telecommunications industry first came up with the camera phone, I thought it was a real waste. But lately, I'm finding that I'm using it more than I ever thought possible!

My camera phone has brought you pictures of animal babies (check back to last week's blog if you missed it), Pillow Talk (i.e. pillow covers that tell you if the enclosed fluff is 'firm' or 'soft') and today's picture which was taken on the water in Gig Harbor, WA.

You may be asking yourself what the HECK does this have to do with dog training? Well, it got me thinking about mental health - both mine & my dogs.

I definitely subscribe to the theory that team work is not only about the physical and the mental, but also about the in-between times. You know, the times where you just 'are' and there's no highs, no lows, there just 'is'.  

As I think about it, I'm certain I take a few cues from my married life and the successful relationship I have with my husband. The reality is that marriage isn't about the full-blown romance and it isn't all about the dramatic (or traumatic) events. It's more about getting through the every day mundane stuff like grocery shopping, vacuuming, feeding the dogs, etc.

The relationship we have with our dogs is similar. It's not about the winning highs one might experience in an event or how one supports the other when they're sick. Instead, it's mainly about the daily time that exists in every day life. 

In my case, it's about the times my dogs are laying with me while I work on my laptop or how they cruise the yard as I sit here typing & sipping on a glass of wine. It's about appreciating the other's personal quirks and characteristics and about allowing me (or them) to just be who we/they are. 

The lesson I embraced today is that there's a time for training and there's a time to be a trainer, but there are also the other moments in life. 

For example, right now I'm watching as Ru & Burton play a game of stalk & chase through our forest area. I get to watch Pinky, my now old girl, just watch, listen and sniff her way around while Spot moves easily between both groups. I feel that I can watch, learn & appreciate their actions better because I took some time today that was just for me - dogs weren't involved. I had a nice lunch with one of my dearest friends along a beautiful part of the Puget Sounds and then we did a little bit of creative shopping. In other words, I took a few hours to recognize & appreciate the non-doggy part of who I am and in return, I can come back and appreciated my dogs so much more.

I believe that allowing my dogs the same type of opportunities makes them appreciate me more as well. After all, if they're allowed to play in the pond, run through the mud and chase each other in the forest area of our home, I believe they come back happier and more willing & able to work with me as well.

So while today I took time for me, tonight I'm giving my dogs the same enjoyable opportunity that I had - which is to just be themselves, to allow them time to get back to basic enjoyments and to let them run and play in a way that they like. 

Sometimes just letting go brings you closer and today was a perfect example of that. So, if you'd like to strengthen the bond between you and your dog, why not just let things 'be' and temporarily forget the notion of control. It's very refreshing, freeing & enjoyable to all!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

AKC Invites Mixed Breeds to Join in on the Fun

Submitted to Clean Run Magazine for their Editorial Page:

This past week, the American Kennel Club (AKC), took a brave & bold step in creating a class where mixed breeds would also be able to participate in AKC Obedience, Rally & Agility events. In listening to some of the feedback, some folks weren't as impressed with this step as I was. I was initially very surprised by some of the lack of enthusiasm from mixed breed folks, but in thinking about it I can understand why.

As a bit of history, the AKC's mission (which was created 125 years ago) was to be a registry for Pure Bred dogs. Back then, I'm sure Pure Bred Dogs weren't necessarily the norm and the AKC was created as a means to solidify and bring order to the dogs who were being bred for specific purposes. Think of this as a bench mark, a standardization or consistency in breeding. For many, this was the start of record keeping, health statistics, temperament testing and so on.

Today, many of us benefit from that consistency - both pure & mixed breeds a like. After all, there is a bench mark for which a specific breeds' structure, temperament, characteristics and usefulness (i.e. their job) is being drawn upon.  This can only be done with decades & generations worth of data and for that, the AKC & Breed Clubs should be applauded.

Now for the negative part. During the last 125 years, the elitism that some AKC members have fostered and built their kennels on has turned off many mixed breed owners. It's true, some breeders have looked down their nose at a mixed breeds and it's also true that other breeders have looked at all dogs as...well dogs!

It wouldn't be fair to label all mixed breeds as mere "mutts" and it's also not fair to label all breeders & participants who partake in the AKC as snobs - especially those who focus mainly on the Performance Classes. I say this because the Performance Classes weren't created 125 years ago, but rather in the current times. For example, Agility has been in the AKC for approximately 15 years and Rally a mere 3-4 years. For the most part, Performance folks have come in with a much more modern & inclusive belief system.

However, even those of us who partake mainly in the Performance Classes have often joked that we we're once thought of as the "step child" in the AKC family. While times are changing and a ton of progress has been made, there are still some from the traditional days of the AKC who just don't understand or care about Performance Events. After 15 years, we realize that we're not going to change their attitudes by acting disgruntled. Instead, we move on, continue to grow, act in a sportsman-like fashion and have quietly moved our chair closer to the adult table each time the AKC Family has come together. It took awhile, but I think we're finally there! In summary, change doesn't happen over night, but change does happen.

Some mixed breed folks are resentful that they're having to join the AKC family at the kid's table. I can understand that. However, we've ALL been inducted the very same way. We all started out with paper plates & plastic ware and as we 'grew up', we were handed the china & silver utensils at the big table. 

Is it right? Who knows, but from the AKC's point of view, it seems to be the prudent thing to do and the best way to move forward and still keep the base of the organization intact. Think of it this way, it's the AKC family culture and just like my personal family, we don't always make sense to those looking in from the outside.

I think the mixed breed folks can learn some valuable lessons from those of us that have come before them.  
  • The first being that NOBODY goes straight from kindergarten to Harvard - there are the in-between steps that help to acclimate newcomers to the environment. 
  • Second, even long lost family members need time to get to know each other. The AKC has extended an invitation to dinner and now mixed breed folks have an opportunity to either acted graciously and accept or decline the invite - it's as simple as that. 
  • Third, every relationship has to START somewhere. We've all heard stories of happily married couples who met under not so perfect circumstances and years later they laugh together about that initial awkward moment. This could be one of those times!
  • Fourth, it is the Performance Event participants who are WELCOMING the mixed breeds. We're the ones who have opened the door, greeted mixed breeds with a smile and invited mixed breeds to come and play. We're part of the modern, hip and new way of thinking, so don't shun us because our AKC parents have some older beliefs that you don't agree with.
  • Fifth, just like an older brother or sister, Performance Event participants have helped pave the way for this new & exciting change. Why not come out and get to know us and let us be your friend & mentor when it comes to AKC matters.
In the meantime all agility participants, regardless of what branch of the family tree their dog comes from, can come out and play together.  Heck, I'll even arrange for this family event to serve finger food - no paper or china plates allowed!

Class Course - April 15, 2009

This course is courtesy of someone, unfortunately I don't know who! Except for a few minor details, this was the setup when I arrived on Wednesday evening, so I used it. : )

While the course wasn't hard, it did point out a few training holes for some of my students. Most notably was the serpentine at the start. I think part of the challenge was the lack of momentum starting this sequence and the handler's urge to move & run prematurely.

Several handlers attempted to start this sequence on the landing side of #1, but facing the #2 jump. They were surprised when their dog failed to take the first jump and moved in between #1 & #2. This was easily resolved by having the handler shift their hips so they were facing #1 and drawing the dog onto the correct path.

Another issue that occurred was that handlers began to move too soon and the dog's came over the first jump, but went between jump #1 & 2 as the handler turned toward their left to run down the line and get to the landing side of #3. This was another easy fix where the handler's shoulders stayed facing the 3 jumps.

Several handlers were stuck in a pattern of repeating the same mistakes mentioned above and so that signaled me it was time to change things up a bit to get them thinking differently. These handlers needed assistance to understand how their body language cues their dog and so, I had each handler run #1 - 7 with either their hands to their side or behind their back.  It's amazing how taking away the swinging arms forced handlers to concentrate on their shoulders and hips to relay information to their dogs.

This worked out beautifully and also made the teams successful. For the heck of it, why not try this yourself? It's and eye opener!

On a personal note, I ran Ru for a few minutes last night and was VERY pleased with her enthusiasm.  As she gets more confident, her speed is increasing and last night I finally got a glimpse at what I'll be working with. As hoped, she's going to be a fast little thing and I'm going to have to start working a bit of distance now. I also need to go back and work my contacts. While she wasn't blowing them, I'm hell bent to be very specific about my criteria and that's what I need to hold myself accountable to.

The next few days are supposed to be nice out so I'm hoping to get some more practice time in with her.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spring is in the Air & Baby Animals are EVERYWHERE!

Tonight's agility classes were seriously derailed by nature. For once, I'm not talking about snow, hail, floods, avalanche or heat....nope, tonight it was all about animal babies!

The arena where I teach agility is on a working ranch and in the Spring, we're surrounded by the cute, the cuddly & the amazingly photogenic! It's a perk we all enjoy and look forward to each year.

The evening started off with everyone -dogs & people - being overly giddy thanks to the rare & sacred sunshine. When you add in the Spring ranch life surroundings, their brains quickly went to mush.

I feverishly tried to keep classes on track, but with competition like those featured in the pictures attached, it was a loosing battle right from the get-go. I finally gave in and admitted that the animal babies were easily up-staging me and were far more interesting than some plain old agility exercises. So, I stopped pretending to teach and let my students gaulk, cooo, awwwww and take videos and pictures to their heart's delight. 

Those that have been with me for the long-term know the routine, which is that each Spring babies of all types join the ranch life. My students come prepared with their digital devices and even bring their grand-kids, friend's kids and a list of questions for the owners. After all, the babies are enthralling!

As a recap to the evening, first there was the 1 week old lambs (Borox the white lamb is pictured).

Next came the turkey's who combined their nests for a grand total of 19 eggs (picture attached)! Of course that meant that the Tom Turkey was also around strutting his stuff (sorry, no picture - he's very big and I wasn't going near him!).  Then, for some reason the turkey's came OUT of their nesting area and paraded around on the agility course! Luckily the dogs were only mildly curious as they'd seen the turkey's almost weekly now for the last 3 years.

Then there were the kittens (pictures also attached) found in the horse trailer where the extra hay is stored. Apparently a rogue cat commandeered the shelter for warmth and nesting for her new babies.

Last, but certainly not the least, several of us stayed around to watch a lamb being born.  Attached is a picture of the cute little baby within seconds of her birth. It was amazing to watch her work to a successful stand within 10 minutes of entering the world.

This event was particularly meaningful to one of my dear friends & student. She is a vet tech and one of her duties for the day was to ease a little Pug by the name of Daisy over the rainbow bridge after being hit by a car. To go from death to watching a birth all in one day was healing for her.

Another added bonus was that the little lamb was a girl and so the owners of the ranch named her honor of the little Pug she had cared for earlier that day.

While we're all serious about our Agility, it's nice to know that the beauty of the natural things around us take precedence. It really was an unexpected and enjoyable evening for all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Competition Courses - Spot 4-12-2009

The courses today continued to have some unique challenges and were fun to run.

First is the Exc JWW course. The biggest challenge on this course was embracing patience! With the two pin wheels starting at #7 through #14, handlers didn't have to run to get places and keeping it simple was by far, the best way to handle this sequence.

Next is the Exc Standard course. The first subtle challenge the #5 tunnel to the #6 jump. Dogs tended to curl in and handlers had to be sure to push forward toward the #6 jump.

On the approach to the weaves, this was a place to let the dog land a bit wide to give them a nice approach to the obstacle. This also gave the handlers plenty of time to get a front cross in. Another note on the front cross, those handlers who stopped their movement until the dogs loaded were generally more successful than those who continued moving since it allowed the dogs to enter on the 2nd or 3rd pole.

The approach from the #9 chute to the #10 teeter was tough. On paper it looks ideal, however it somehow didn't translate the same in reality. No fault of the judge's and it could easily have been the way I chose to handle it (with a front cross after the chute). Remember, it's the handler's responsibility to ensure the safety of their dogs and this was one of those times. 

The next really fun part was #13 - #17, the double serpentine. This is where a stay at the table really comes in handy as I was able to lead out to just before #13. As Spot was approaching the #13 jump, I was sure to say his name so that he was collecting over the jump and turning into me on the landing side. I worked the rest of the sequence on the landing side of #13 and made sure my movement was the cue Spot used to know which obstacle and which direction we would be heading in once he landed.

Check out his videos below. We had a great weekend with 5 out of 6 qualifying runs : )

Pug Power! Client Dogs Succeeding

There is nothing better than watching your students succeed. Watching them maneuver through an Agility course, tackling the challenges, working their strengths & weaknesses and ultimately earning that well deserved clean run.

Sharlie & her wonderful Pug, Chubby are featured in the first video on the Exc. Standard course. Great job!! Thank you to Cheri for allowing me to rope her into filming since I was just about to run in the Exc. JWW ring.

Next we have Jill & Amos (a Corgi) running in Novice JWW.  This clean run gave them their title so now they move up to compete in the Open JWW class. Check out their nice run!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Competition Courses - Spot 4-11-2009 and Junior Handler Kady & Shelbie Exc JWW

Today was another great day of trialing with some fun courses. Spot and I had a great time and I felt we were VERY successful.

Unfortunately we did not qualify in Standard due to an invisible force field around the table that prevented Spot from seeing it...yeah, that's it! But, the run was incredible and since we only need Double Q's for a MACH2, that gave me the freedom to play around in JWW - which I really enjoyed!

Back to Standard, my goal again today was to stay ahead of Spot which meant pushing myself to create efficient lines for both of us, to trust my dog & the training I've done and to RUN!

My two favorite parts on the course were:
1) #2 thru #6. I chose to keep Spot on my left from #1 thru #4 and was sure to beat him down to the end of the a-frame so he would know the direction we were heading next and I pushed up to #4 so that I could peel off and get a front cross in on the landing side of #5. I was sure to keep my arms in close to my body so as not to inadvertently signal a "get out" with flailing arms!

Because I was ahead of Spot, I was able to easily get down to the chute and was pulling toward the end so the direction I needed him to move toward was very clear. This allowed me to easily be down by the end of the chute and moving toward the tire as he came out and I continued the running/pulling motion all the way down the dog walk and into the correct side of the tunnel.

2) My second favorite part was from #14 thru #19. After watching the 4 - 20" dogs run the course, it was clear that the triple jump angle was recking havoc with the dogs.  If a handler tried to work the entire sequence with the dog on their left, they found themselves in a foot race down the last line and then had to unexpectedly push into the dog's path to get the last jump. That's usually when the triple jump would come down.

My My objective was to put Spot on my left at the weaves, push out to the #15 jump and once Spot's head turned to the right over the #15 jump (so that I knew he'd be wrapping the wing), I kept an arm out to support his path, but left so that I could get in an easy front cross before the triple. It was a fun line and my plan worked great. If we hadn't incurred a refusal, Spot would have taken 2nd place...oh well : )  At any rate, check out the video attached.was to put Spot on my left at the weaves, push out to the #15 jump and once Spot's head turned to the right over the #15 jump (so that I knew he'd be wrapping the wing), I kept an arm out to support his path, but left so that I could get in an easy front cross before the triple. It was a fun line and my plan worked great. If we hadn't incurred a refusal, Spot would have taken 2nd place...oh well : )  At any rate, check out the video attached.

Next was the Excellent JWW course. 

Since Spot only needs Double Q's for his MACH2, this run was completely for training - mainly for me! It was a great course to have some fun on and gave me another opportunity to work some distance, leave Spot (i.e. trust him to do his job) and for me to practice timely front crosses at speed.

My favorite line in this sequence was from #11 thru #19. I was able to easily get ahead on this line, more so than I thought and ended up having to slow up from #15 to #16, which actually put me behind for the way I had wanted to handle #17 to #18. I thought this would be a great opportunity to pull Spot over the #17 jump, keeping him on my left and then pushing him into the tunnel. The plan wasn't so perfect in its execution, but will make for a great training opportunity!

Check out Spot's JWW video below. I'm very happy with how he did and how I tried new things : )

OK, I wasn't the only one facing the challenging Excellent course. One of our favorite Junior handlers, Kady, was back on the competition front with Shelby the Sheltie. You may remember they had an incredible Exc JWW run yesterday and today they were back for more!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Juniors are Amazing!

Jill is a great sport and handed her Sheltie named Shelby off to Kady, a junior handler who takes lessons from me.

It started last night at Agility Class when Jill was running her young dog and mentioned in passing how Kady should run her more experienced dog, Shelby.  Well, one thing lead to another and Kady took her over and ran her...quite well I may add!  From there, Jill handled Shelby over to Kady to run in Exc. JWW.

Seriously, the team did AMAZING! First, Kady's not in Excellent so the course level was a unique challenge, second, this was only the second time she ran Shelby! Attached is the video of the run - the team was absolutely incredible and we look forward to seeing their runs together tomorrow. 

Competition Courses - Spot 4-10-2009

Today's Trial was Excellent only with one of my favorite judge's, Kurt Matushek. I've known Kurt from Chicago when I first started running agility 13 years ago. He and his wife Jean are wonderful, wonderful people.

Kurt's courses were a lot of fun and I ran them with my Border Collie, Spot. Spot and I haven't been training or trialing for several months, regardless, I've worked hard to train Spot so that both of us can pick up right where we left off and run a good race.

It was great to see Spot's eyes when we entered the building as they were as big as saucers and he was so excited to be getting back to Agility and to be working together again.

On the Excellent Standard Course, one of my favorite challenges was to get a TIMELY front cross in between jumps #5 & #6. To do this, I started my cross well before the #5 jump, made sure I had my dog's attention & didn't drive in to the landing side of the #5 jump. Instead I allowed my dog to curl into me and made sure my path moved toward #6 and not the off-course tire.

My next favorite challenge was to do a front cross between #12 & #13, the a-frame. By using the table to accomplish a lead out and by keeping a very efficient line which allowed me to stay ahead of my dog, I was able to get a front cross in before the a-frame which took out the off course jump at the end of the a-frame. 

A very fun course! Attached is a copy of Spot's Exc Std Run.

Next was the Excellent JWW course. It too provided a couple of really nice challenges while still providing a fast, fun and flowing course.

My first favorite challenge was between jumps #5 thru #9.  The challenge of handling the 270 and not sending the dog into the off-course tunnel was a great way to work the power of a handler's movement. If a handler pointed or pushed in the wrong direction, the dog was sure to shoot off in the wrong direction.

The next challenge was to get a timely front cross in after the tunnel to work the ending. Quite a few handlers chose to hang back and do a rear cross over the #18 jump. In contrast, I chose to keep driving forward and do a front cross before #18. I started my front cross very early, as Spot was coming over #17.  I stayed in the cross and continued moving backward. I stayed facing Spot's line so that I could que the #18 with my left hand AND pick him up on my left as he landed after #18 and already rounding to #19.

Over all, I was pleased with the maneuver, but in hindsight would have taken one less step backward to tighten up Spot's turn around #18.

Below is Spot's JWW video, enjoy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Crazy Dog Quirk - Ball + Mud = Fun

Spring in Seattle means rain, more rain, moss removal and spring clean-up. Did I mention the rain? Have I also mentioned the guaranteed puddles that develop as well? Often times we'll see ducks using our pasture as a swamp area and other times our dogs put their personal watering holes to good use. That's what my Border Collie, Spot did today while I was out doing yard work. 

While out working in the forest area of our property, I found Spot's long lost and favorite toy - a 10' hard plastic ball. Spot can entertain himself for hours with that toy and today was no exception.

Once found, I tossed the toy up toward the house. Later, I heard him playing and then much later I happened to look up and there was my VERY muddy and goofy dog splattering himself silly while playing with his ball!

I let him play all day, but was sure to get a few pictures & video for my own private laughing session. He's clearly having so much fun and enjoying the nice day just as much as I was.

Enjoy the video and picture!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I Failed the "Are You a True Pacific Northwesterner"

The picture attached was taken in Gig Harbor, WA where my friend Jill & I had lunch on Monday. It was such a beautiful day! We walked w/ Ru on the beach, had a seafood lunch and more - I felt like a tourist!

However, a few days ago was my '5 year' anniversary for moving to the Pacific Northwest from the Chicagoland area.

I have to laugh because Facebook has a test called "Are You a True Pacific Northwesterner" and my score indicated I was exactly how I felt yesterday - like a Tourist! In a lot of ways I don't think that's ever going to change.

Pacific Northwesterners (PNW's) are unique. For example:
  • They don't wear bright colors, instead they tend to go for the colors of nature - browns, greens, blues, etc. I have embraced that part of living here!
  • PNW's rarely notice the mountains. On the other hand, I never get tired of seeing them and the photographic opportunity.
  • PNW's really do like their Birkenstock sandals...with socks. You will NEVER catch me wearing that combination!!!!
  • PNW's think of moss as their state flower. The state flower is really a rhododendron.  Since I have about 15 of them on my property and had none in Illinois, I really like them : )
  • Now how can I not be a PNW when I'm one of the few that knows the native fern needs to be trimmed back in early spring in order to promote fuller growth? Many native PNWs don't even know that one
  • Now here's one against me...I own a snow shovel and understand why one should shovel if the snow isn't going to melt in a few days. None of my neighbors have a snow shovel, none know how or what road salt is and my neighbor asked me "now why should you shovel your driveway?" I was told it doesn't snow in Seattle, but for the last few years, that hasn't been true...
  • PNW's don't generally have A/C - at least not on the west side of the mountains.  I did bring two A/C units with me when I moved from Chicago - better safe than sorry!
  • Most Seattle folks loose their sunglasses since we only tend to need them about 4 times a year. I always keep my sunglasses in my car in the sunglass case provided. But, I used to have quite a few more pairs and now can't seem to find any of them...
I hope I never become bored of the PNW, it really is beautiful country and I love the mountains, the water and everything in between.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Course Analysis - 4-5-2009 Casper, WY

Today's trial ran great! Our FAST timing difficulties from yesterday were history, course changes were almost immediate and we finished 2 hours earlier with almost the same amount of dogs - thanks to everyone for jumping in to make it a great day!

Okay, so here are the courses.  The first I'll talk about was the Exc. JWW course. There were were two areas that really caused teams a problem. 

The first was between jump #4 through #6 and I have to say that I'm not surprised.  The sequence wasn't tough, but I'm beginning to think that one of the main mistakes handlers across the country tend to fall victim to is NOT supporting an obstacle. In this case, several handling teams failed to support jump #5 as they were focused on achieving a front cross between #6 & #7 and so they pulled away before the dog was committed.

Another part that played a role in dogs not seeing jump #5 was where the handlers did their front cross between the #3 tunnel and the #4 WINGED jump. If a handler went down to meet the dog at the tunnel exit, the wings extending the #4 jump prevented them from providing a clear path for their dog to show the number #5 in the sequence.  I've got the handler's path marked in green and the dog's path marked in red.

Now for the surprise challenge for today's teams! The turn from the #13 to #14 jump dashed many a teams' hope for a Q on this course. Surprisingly, there were quite a few dogs who ran wide and ended up moving past the #14 jump and curling in toward the handler between the #5 & #6 jump. Several factors played a role in this.

First, dogs were moving FAST and handlers never gave a collection cue which resulted in dogs not being able to turn & pull up to take the jump safely. Second (and probably most important), handlers didn't realize until it was too late, that they were moving parallel to the dog in an attempt to get a front cross in at the landing side of #14. The handler path is in red and most dogs were ahead so the front cross cue had almost no impact. 

Bottom line, handler motion continued to push most dogs past this jump and only those handlers that recognized early enough and stopped their movement, were able to pull their dog over the #14 jump before the runout line came into play.


Next is the Exc. Std course. Today's teams really stepped up to the plate and put in some incredible runs. It was a nice, fast flowing course (my favorites to judge) and there were just two things to comment on.

First is the handler path in green going from obstacle #6 through to the #9 teeter.  Most folks went up and did a front cross between #8 and before the #9 teeter. Some of the dog paths weren't as 'efficient' or tights as they could have been, but this option certainly worked.

For those looking to save some yardage, I really liked the path were the handler pushed up to the #8 jump and then pulled down to the teeter and executed a front cross at the END of the teeter. I think the 'landing side' front cross is a skill that is often overlooked, but could have tremendous benefits when used in the right sequence.

The only place on this course that caught me by surprise was the number of missed dog walk contacts on the down side. After doing a full sprint up to that point, quite a few handlers changed tactics and were stopping or slowing down during the dog walk while their dog continued to blast forward. Those with solid contact expectations had no problems and continued to move forward with their dogs to the end.

I'd be interested to look at this more closely to determine if handlers and/or dogs were treating this area differently because it was heading toward the ring barrier and there was no obstacle ahead to aim for....


Last, but not least, is the Excellent FAST course. 

On a personal level, I'm not too keen on judging AKC's FAST, although I readily do it. My beef is that the AKC rules for this class are inconsistent with the Standard & Jumpers rules and quite simply, the AKC has made it a habit to change the FAST class rules every few months depending on the issue of the day.  This is frustrating for someone like me who likes to provide a consistent, fair and intuitive competition experience for those teams who compete under me.

Regardless of my personal feelings, I REALLY enjoyed watching the teams run this course. There were a ton of options for teams to take to get around the course and the Bonus itself moved along very fast and smooth.  I also liked that teams had a choice as to which side they could handle this challenge on.  As expected, most teams handled it on the left so that they were able to pull their dog into the correct side of the tunnel.

Thanks go everyone for allowing me to live through your experience on this course - it was a great way to start the day!

Course Analysis - 4-4-2009 Casper, WY

Today's trial started off very, very slow. As is typical of the first day, we had a few issues to work through. The first was the FAST class timing issues.

Since we'd started small to tall, we had to move some preferred dogs around in order to get them into the correct FAST time slot. Next, nobody knew how to adjust the times for FAST.

We started about 30 minutes late and the timing challenge slowed us up in every class and at every time switch. Kudos to my ring crew for figuring it out on the fly, but it made for a very slow start...and there was a blizzard outside!

Okay, let me comment on the Exc. Standard course pictured here. First, teams ran this wonderfully and it was a fast course (perfect for making up a little bit during the day). I really liked when teams met their dogs down at the end of the teeter, keeping them on their right for a clear path to the tunnel for their dogs.

Most handlers did a front cross prior to the teeter and then were forced to do either a hard pull or another front cross at the end of the teeter to get their dog into the correct end of the #11 tunnel.

Honestly, this was the only item on this course - everyone did such a nice job running it!


Last in the day was Exc. Jumpers (but not last in this editorial, the Exc. FAST course is below). Some handlers started off with a refusal/runout because they failed to support jump #2 prior to pulling off and heading toward the landing side of #3 where they planned to do a front cross.

All I can say is, remember that in the beginning of a course, dogs have less momentum and teams haven't yet established a rhythm for the course. Dogs are looking to their handlers for direction and if handlers pull away, their dogs tend to go with them.

The next section was between #13 & #14. Handlers were able to pull away and be ahead of their dogs thanks to the #12 weave poles. What surprised me, was the number of handlers that held back and kept themselves between the #13 & #14 jump vs. choosing to be ahead and 'pull' the dog over the #14 jump. By handing back, handlers were now behind the dog as they entered the closing sequence and this cost several teams when the handler was too far back and their dog drove forward to the #2 jump or took the off-course jump between #16 & #17.


In this Exc. FAST class, those who had a 'get-out' or change of direction command easily got this Send. For those who didn't, even calling their dog in and then attempting to push them out to the tunnel just wasn't going to happen.

Regardless, there were some teams who made this look effortless!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Junior Handlers & Their Dogs

Those that are close to me know I have a special place in my heart for Junior Handlers. 

Why? Well, just like a lot of other people out there, I didn't have a great childhood. I am certain that if it weren't for some wonderful influences along the way, I would have been dreaming up and partaking in a ton of trouble in my spare time!

Not having kids of my own and teaching them creates a few unique challenges. To keep in touch, I've had to learn about Facebook, text messaging lingo and that the use of the word 'Cool' is way out of date.  When explaining to a 9 year old boy the appropriate size treats to give a dog as a reward, I've come up with the term "booger size" as a descriptive. You'd be amazed how well that worked!

Just like in dog training, I work hard to focus on the positives and to reward, praise, reward and praise more. See, my dog training experience has helped prepare me for kids!

Stay tuned, next time I'm going to share a true and very entertaining story about one of my Junior Handlers first time in the agility ring : )

Why Not the World Team?

While living in the Pacific Northwest, I've often been ridiculed and put down because I have no desire to be an agility World Team Member (apparently that's the 'in' thing here). I don't think less of those that dream of being members and in fact, I admire those who have dreams and work hard to make those desires come true. I just know it's not the right decision for ME. I made that decision almost a decade ago and have been happy with it ever since.

What folks in the Pacific Northwest don't realize is that I've been around agility for a long, long time. In fact, far before the inception of the World Team. Long ago I competed with the best, traveled across the country with the best and knew the "who's-who" before they became the "who's-who". Over the decades, I've watched people emotionally fall to pieces, crash under pressure and act in a way that even they weren't proud of. It happens to most of them at one time or another and I've seen it all.

What most people don't realize is that for those working to be at the top, there is a lot of pressure from spectators constantly watching, from those who are judging every move and even more expectations for them self that go unnoticed. Given these conditions, it is inevitable that people will crack.

I feel that I've been very smart in my decisions as they pertain to the dog world. For one, I don't feel the need to prove to myself or to anyone else what I can and have accomplished. Second, I don't feel the need to be in the spot-light. Every time I walk out onto the Agility field or engage one of my dogs, I do it strictly for personal reasons.

Those going for WT status must make them self #1 or they'll never get to where they want to go. Another reason I wouldn't make a good WT member is that I do fully commit myself to my students, heart, mind & energy. When I'm teaching, the moment is about my students and NOT about me. I'll admit that I harbor a secret desire to guide my students further than they thought possible - there's nothing like seeing the light glow in their eyes the moment they accomplish something they never thought possible. I'm not saying WT folks aren't great instructors, but they're much smarter about their emotional investment and smartly keep the best for them self.

I had an old boss once tell me that not everyone in a group could be a go-getter and that every group needed their steady-eddies. For those who are World Team bound, it requires a great deal of self-preparation, training (both mentally & physically) and an intense inner drive and focus. Those bound for WT make immense sacrifices and work hard to stay focused on their task. 

Personally, I know I'm just as driven and intense (just ask my husband), the difference is that instead of focusing on a singular item, I desire more of a balance in my life and chose to focus my time and energy on multiple items that bring me joy. It doesn't mean that one is right or one decision is wrong, it simply means we all have free will and can do whatever we chose with our given lives.

It's a pretty neat concept when you think of it because it guarantees that none of us will be exactly a like. It adds variety to our world and it also gives us the chance to appreciate each person for their individual desires and choices.

Whatever your choice is, just be sure you're true to yourself. If you don't want to be a WT member, that's Okay! If you do, get a plan together and make it happen. Whichever path it is, I would caution that you don't loose yourself in the process. Make a list of things that are important in the whole of your life and be sure you're giving care to those items as well as living your dream.

From someone who has been there/done that and seen a whole lot more than I let on, take my free advice and remember that ultimately only YOU can make you happy.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Pork Steak War - Human vs. Dog

Some days things just don't go along as planned and then snowball from there. 

You know what I'm talking about, you wake up, have certain expectations on what the day is going to look like or what you're going to get done....and then're swept off in a different direction and can only watch as your plans for the day disappear in the flood behind you.

Yesterday started off like that when I realized my freezer plug had somehow come undone. Luckily the food was still very cold, just fully thawed. As I began my massive meal preparation undertaking so that I could save my loot, the dogs were sniffing around like buzzards on a not yet dead meal. That should have been my first clue, but trusting me was sure they'd know their boundaries.

Later, in the midst of a meal baking in the oven, 2 full pots stewing on the stove and several already prepared items heading back to frozenland, I begin unwrapping packages of pork steak from the butcher. Beth, my mum-in-law, came over to claim a few potentials for her kitchen (thank goodness or that would have meant more cooking for me!) and we took a moment to sit and catch up. 

Within a few moments we spot Ru, my young Dalmatian, chewing on something and quickly realized it was one of the pork steaks! I scurry over and as I am just about to take it out of her mouth, Burton, our young Lab, spies her treasure, takes advantage of her submission, comes in like a parana on a fresh kill, grabs it and begins a gulp in hopes of capturing the prize for himself.

Unlucky for him, I'm not a good looser and am hell bent on getting that undeserved treat back! In true Selthofer fashion (read the Great Tumbleweed Adventure if you need a refresher), I tackle Burton and shove my hand down his throat, retrieving the bone-in pork steak before he has a chance to suck in another breath and attempt a second gulp. I promptly proceeded to toss that steak in the garbage having felt like a winning warrior in a battle to the death. After all, I showed him! who was boss!

Silly me to think it was over! A few hours later, I have to run out to teach a class and after putting away what I thought was all of the dogs, left with little Ru for some practice time. It wasn't until my return home a few hours later and found the garbage can knocked over, did I remember that Burton had been sleeping quietly on our bed and his stealthiness earned him some unsupervised time around the home.

You guessed it, that pork steak I'd fought so valiantly for earlier was gone! Not only that, but Burton had taken several pans used to make lasagna, brought them onto our bed (his apparent place of comfort) and licked them clean. Of course there were now tomato stains on our comforter as well as those sparkling pans!

Yeah, he showed me who was boss! LOL - resourceful little demon dogs, aren't they?!?!