December 12, 2015
Picture says it all. Scoop got one of these fancy pages when he won the ‘Pixie Prix’ last weekend, what us locals call the Performance Grand Prix. And his performance team with my friend Mia Grant & Vic won the Team event winning every single one of the 5 classes in overall points. Yep. The PERFORMANCE classes.
This was the first time 6 year old Scoop and I competed in Performance. He measures into the 26 inch division and has been competing there since he was 18 months old. Over the years I would say he has been competitive locally at 26 inches. He’s won many local GP’s and a Regional GP and our share of DAM Tournaments as well as local and Regional Steeplechases- when we are lucky and the bars stay up, and of course- if I handle him correctly. 🙂 In March this year we finished second at the AKC Nationals at 24 inches, just .02 seconds off the winner. But at 24, not 26.
Scoop takes off early, especially on spread jumps and the table. This past year he has had some spectacular table crashes in both USDAA and AKC. I dreaded the 24 inch table. At least when he creams through a spread jump the bars are displaceable- not so those big unmovable metal tables. The feeling in the pit of my stomach when he hit those obstacles is horrible and frightening and at some point I know he could be seriously hurt. It was hard to finish a course after those crashes with tears filling my eyes and a knife in the pit of my gut.
I have talked about retiring Scoop or doing performance now for a couple years, but then I would come home from a trial with some impressive wins and I’d be buoyed to keep on keeping on. Deciding to move to performance has been something I have done with my 10 to 12 year old dogs- not one in the prime of his life. It felt like giving up and giving in to a less competitive form of agility. But Scoop and I want to do stuff together, and what we like to do besides tricks, and hiking and swimming is agility. He likes agility, a LOT! Maybe I was waiting for a ‘bigger sign’ that it was time to move on. We are in the beginning of the qualifying season for Cynosport and I needed to make a decision. Stay the road, retire from USDAA or move to Performance. I am a Libra, the scale sign- and I can tell you that I went back and forth way too many sleepless nights making the decision. However, I had no time left to contemplate things if I wanted to compete with him at Cynosport this year. And the answer was that “I do!”
My stress over the decision was all to naught. Last weekend was so freeing, so much fun to let him jump lower with no spreads to crash, and I know the decision was the right one. It was wonderful to walk a course without worrying about how to help him over those gigantic spreads, and not even giving a second glance at the low table. Anyone whose dog struggles with jumping has these concerns and worries over balancing up what we WANT to do with our dogs, and what we SHOULD do with our dogs. For me, last weekend I knew I made the right decision for Scoop’s mental and physical well-being, and certainly for MY mental health as well.
And to top off the joy of the moment, Scoop got re-measured two weeks ago at an AKC show and easily got two measurements that moved him from 24 to the 20 inch class. I was sitting with friends on day two of a three day show, whining (yep, sometimes I do that) about how he had crashed almost every triple two weekends in a row and I had tried everything in my arsenal to help him to no avail. A friend suggested I get him re-measured. Scoop’s AKC measurement at 18 months got him just over 22 inches and at the time I was fine with that: 24 inches in AKC (as well as Nationals) and 26 inches in USDAA. No problem- until it became one. I had never measured Scoop again, and I believed he was just over 22 inches tall. Moments after this conversation I walked over to a measuring judge who just happened to be available, and she got him at 21.3/4. 20 minutes later I asked another judge to measure him and she had him right at 22. Within a half hour our competitive life was changed. No more 24 inch spreads and tables for Doobie!
I believe Scoop jumps early because he is somewhat cross eyed. His strabismus has been noticeable since he was a puppy. He has always struggled with jumping but for some years I believed it due to other kinds of health issues. Maybe there are other unknown factors as well as strabismus, but I think the biggest factor is that his binocular vision is off because of his eye placement. I can only guess that his depth perception is inaccurate and that is the biggest underlying cause of his Early Take Offs.
I am working on an article right now to update everyone where we are in researching the causes for Early Take Off. Not all dogs that take off early for jumps have strabismus.There are likely at least a few causes for ETO. You will notice I am referring to this problem as "ETO" not "ETS". We do not know if there is even a syndrome to be found- so Linda Mecklenburg, the ETO researchers and myself have begun using the acronym that actually describes the problem. So ironic that I started that project long before I suspected my own dog to be affected. But I'll save that story for another day.
My long post is over, but happily not Scoops’ agility career and all the fun times ahead for both of us playing at our favorite game.
October 31, 2013Are you FULLY ENGAGED every time you train or compete with your dog? A few weeks ago at an AKC trial I had the opportunity to watch many of the runs in both the novice and the masters’ rings. I watched students and I watched strangers and I left shaking my head at how many handlers had no engagement with their dogs at all as they walked into the ring and to the start line. That lack of engagement was immediately obvious with some of the dogs showing displacement behaviors like sniffing, sight-seeing, scratching, getting up from start line positions, not releasing from stays and generally showing a total lack of enthusiasm or desire to get out there and play with their handlers.
Pie at the recent AKC trial
This lack of engagement was at times followed by non-qualifying and lack luster runs with a distracted dog and a distracted handler. I know handlers are nervous at times before a run, it happened to me that weekend running my young border collie Pie in AKC for the first time. But I knew I had to override my novice dog ring nerves and take care of my dog. The start line is the last place handlers should be distracted and looking around the ring to see where the course goes, but that is what they seemed to be doing. The dog follows them on leash into the ring obediently, the handler makes no eye contact as they are distractedly looking around to find the first few jumps and remind themselves of the course flow. Then they rip off the leash and leave the dog with a look on its face as if they have never met this stranger who took them into the ring.
What does it mean to be totally engaged? It could be lots of things, but overall there should be an obvious emotional and physical connection between handler and dog that could be visible to anyone watching. The handler could be engaging the dog by doing little tricks or games or just making some direct eye contact and verbal engagement, "are you READY to run? " or possibly asking the dog to be attentive and obedient with quiet heelwork with a nice smile on her face, or physically prompting the dog by their own playful posture that the dog reads as time to go do something fun.
Pie at the recent AKC trial
While thinking about these distracted handlers, I started looking at my own start line with Pie. She tugged enthusiastically with me to the start line, and we had lots of connection there, but a few times I led out like I was running Scoop or Ace, I just turned my back and walked to my lead-out spot. I deserved the distracted look my youngster gave me one time when I turned to call her off the line, as well as the start line sit-stay that turned to a stand while my back was turned. The rest of the weekend I made sure I kept eye contact and praised her when I led out. I decided after that weekend that I really had to help my students learn how to stay engaged with their dogs at the line.
Tomorrow is day one of Power Paws Camp, our 14th year of teaching summer and winter camps. I wrote an article for the Camp Workbook on staying “Fully Engaged” and wanted to share it with all of you and all of my students who don’t get to attend camp this weekend. It is written to our Campers, but of course it applies to any kind of training or competition scenario. I hope it will help you remember to stay fully engaged with your dog if you want your dog to stay engaged with you!
Fully and extremely engaged!
(A letter to Campers from the 2013 Camp workbook)
Scoop and I share a moment
My goal instructing you at camp this year is not just to help you learn how to train and handle your agility dog more effectively; I want to help both you and your dog have more fun and stay more connected to each other. Success in our sport requires focus/connection and what I call engagement. You need to be fully engaged with the training and what you plan on doing with your dog on the course and you want your dog fully engaged in the process.
I have a goal for you at Camp this year. A goal of staying connected to your dog and him to you. From the moment you get your dog out of its crate to begin an exercise you need to have 100% of your dogs’ attention and you want to bring your dog to the correct state of arousal for the job before you get to the start line.
A dog that is distracted needs to be focused back to the handler with tugging/tricks/or focus games. Try hand targeting, high five, figure-8 between your legs or other handler focus games before you run.
When tugging with your dog, YOU get to disengage/end the tugging, not the dog. The goal for tugging is that YOU have to ask your dog to stop tugging and get the toy back from them not vice-versa. Try not to let your dog disengage from the tug game until YOU are finished and they were solidly tugging with you before you ended the game.
EYE contact. Give it and ask for it and don’t start a run without it.
A dog that is half asleep needs to be woken up and mentally and physically prepared to go play/work. AFTER you wake up and arouse your dog, you need tugging or silly tricks or some animated ground running work to engage them. Try scratch/rubbing your dog excitedly through their rib cage area to get their blood flowing and hope the brain follows!
A dog that is over the top excited needs to be helped to have calm focus before the handler attempts a drill. Soft eye contact and quiet talk may help to calm them. If you are tugging keep it low key, the toy down at your knee or ground level, and don’t encourage growling.
A dog that is stressed by the surroundings needs some fun/happy/silly talk from the handler so they forget to be worried. Look them in the eyes, give ‘em a kiss and ask them to trust that you will do the right thing to help them play through their fear.
A suspicious dog that comes out of its crate and is immediately looking for a dog to warn away or chase needs some very special focus work on the handler and they need to be in motion WITH the handler and prevented from staring at other dogs through focus games and possibly control head halters on their way from crating to start line. If your dog will stay focused on you while tugging that is likely your best offense.
In order to do any of the above things to get your dog engaged, YOU need to be fully engaged.
Scoop at the startline
Don’t turn your back on your dog or mentally “drop” them. This goes for the start line and in between obstacles if you have a whoopsie and need to start over. When you walk to the start line keep your dogs’ attention by making eye contact, tugging, praising or saying silly stuff so that your dog knows that you are being attentive to them.
If you have a momentary mental lapse on course, or you or your dog have a screw up and you need to get restarted on the course or talk to the instructor about your handling:
Call your dog to you immediately, don’t let them wander.
Don’t talk to the instructor until you get control of your dog!
Tug if possible, or give them a treat if appropriate to the situation and if they responded to the recall immediately.
You could also ask them to lie down or sit and praise them for doing so.
If you have called your dog to you, gently hold them by the collar, or kneel down next to them. You could put your arm around them and cuddle them to your side to gently confine them so they can’t nick off or get distracted by dogs, people or surroundings.
Small dogs could be picked up, but don’t grab at them, and try often to keep your small dogs feet on the ground where they play and work.
Always take a few moments to re-engage or play with your dog before you start the drill again.
ALWAYS re-engage and reward your dog at the end of every run. Throw your toy, or have a game of tug. If you can’t tug or play retrieve then stay engaged with extremely lavish praise and some kind of physical play or a bit of rough housing one-on-one connection and of course eye contact. Don’t dis-engage from your dog until he is off the course and back at the crate area.
If you need to talk to the instructor or repeat some part of the drill, reward and play momentarily, THEN go get the info from your instructor.
Stay fully engaged with your dog and it is likely your dog will stay fully engaged with you!NJG
PS:Thank you Erika Mauer for the Pie photos from the trial!
September 5, 2013
On the subject of aging for the dog agility blog event I realized I have rules to share about competing with older dogs....
Old Dog Rules
Your old dog is going to cost you at least $10,000 before they leave you. Start saving now.
Once in a while you will get a free ride with a dog that has few health issues and leaves you too soon, that will make up for the dog that costs you twice $10,000.
If your old dog is a pain in the butt he is going to live a really long time.
Your heart dogs are never, ever, ever, going to live long enough. Never.
I find nothing more enjoyable than running my older well trained dogs in agility. I know them and they know me and we can just hit cruise control together.
It is more important to keep your old dog fit than it is to keep them trained. Daily aerobic exercise is a necessity not a once a week treat. The catch is that agility can help keep them fit, train your older dog at home if they are still having fun and they are in shape for the job.
Every time you train your youngster you should feel a twinge of guilt if you don’t do something fun with your old ones as well. A few minutes of tugging and some trick training go a long ways in making your old dog still feel special.
It is never fair to have a titling goal with an older dog. Once they hit an “age” throw out the goal for another MACh or a Silver whatchamacallit and compete only for the joy of it. Titling legs should be a pleasant surprise not a week in-week out mission.
Only compete with your old dog if she still gets excited on the way to the ring.
Weave poles, tight turns and extreme deceleration skills can fade with old age as your dog learns to be sensible and protect her body, or does not have the flexibility she once had. Adjust your handling and know those days are coming instead of being frustrated when your older dog fails a challenge.
Get your old dogs’ eyes checked often and be aware of their vision limitations.
Retire your old dog from agility when people are still saying, “She is HOW old? She still looks so great!”
Never say “my (old) dog deserves to have such and such title”, or go to one more National event. Dogs only deserve love, attention, exercise, play and delicious food.
If you have ever felt like you have to “drag” your old dog around the agility course you are probably right. Know when it is time to hang up the agility leash.
It may be the hardest thing you will ever do but you must be brave enough to help your old dog leave your side with dignity when the time comes and to keep them from another moment of pain or misery.
Don’t be tempted by the latest technological, surgical, or chemical advances in keeping your dog here on earth a moment longer than they should be. It is never ok to make your best friend uncomfortable in order to spend a few more days or weeks with them.
Sing your old friend a song and give them a kiss every day.
Old dogs will rule your life, they will give you countless sleepless nights, and bring you tears too many to count. They will torture you at times with ailments small and large.
When you think you can’t go on, refer to rule #20.
Enjoy every moment you get to spend with your old dog and remember all they have done for your life, your career and your sanity.
Read many other blogs on aging here...
My oldest dog Panic is in the photos, he was about 3 in these shots and is almost 13 now. He retired at 7 years of age after epilepsy ended his career. He loved agility more than anything else he ever played at; so much so that the agility is what brought his arousal state so high it triggered his seizures. He still loves to do tunnels and and the occasional set of weaves, and even after 4 years without a seizure, and one year off all medications, I am still very careful not to get him too excited when we play at his favorite pastime for a few minutes. I treasure every memory of running him full out as fast as he could go, especially in the center ring at Scottsdale in the Steeplechase Finals where he took a second and a third. NJG
October 31, 2012
It is just a few weeks since I was standing with Team USA in closing ceremonies at the FCI Agility World Championships. The arena was packed with teams and FCI delegates. What is normally an exciting and uplifting ceremony was for me extremely sad. We watched the FCI flag be passed from the Czech Republic back to the FCI and subsequently be passed in a traditional ritual to next years’ hosts of the Agility World Championships. At this point in the event we are usually very excited in anticipation of the discovery process about the next country we hope to visit, wondering what the host city and environment will be like, and curious about the judges we will study for the next year.
The passing of the flag to the South African representative was emotional for me and I assume was for many others as well. For 17 years I have heard discussions about holding the event off the continent. I heard it from our first agility director who always hoped the USA could host the event at some point, and I have always been opposed to the idea. I am a realist. I know that many if not most of the European handlers would not be able to afford the trip to the USA, just like they will struggle to go to South Africa. Without a strong and large European contingent of handlers the event would not be what it is, the most competitive international agility event in the world. It is not that I WANT to trek to Europe every year, but I DO want to go where the largest number of countries and handlers are able to participate.
The trip to SA is a long, grueling and expensive trip for dogs and humans, and for some of the countries it is unreachable. It is unreachable not because of the global disadvantage and the cost, but because quarantine laws exist in South Africa and 9 of this years’ participating countries would need to quarantine their dogs for two weeks on arrival in that country.
Since returning from the 2012 Agility World Championships in the Czech Republic we have discovered the reality of which countries are actually eligible to travel to South Africa for the Agility World Championships 2013 without going through a 2 week Quarantine process. There are only 45 countries in the entire world that are eligible to enter South Africa without quarantine. Of those 45 countries only about 27 of them actively participate in the Agility World Championships. This year many of the teams that were at the 2012 AWC will either need to go through quarantine or skip the 2013 AWC. Those countries are Belarus, Brazil, Chile, China, Columbia, Croatia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and San Marino. There are some agility power-houses on that list, as well as countries that only sent one competitor like San Marino and Mexico.
There are at last count approximately 195 countries in the world, and less than 30 active agility countries qualify to travel freely to South Africa. The South African World Championships excludes the real possibility of participation for the majority of the world and many of our friends. It is of course doubtful any handler would be willing to put their dog through the torture of quarantine and unless the requirements are lifted, those countries will obviously not attend. Japan is one of those countries. They have already informed organizers that they will stay home.
The South African agility organizers are working to have the quarantine lifted, maybe it will happen. But many countries have already begun the qualification and competition process to win a place on a team for 2013, so even if quarantine rules are lifted for some countries, it may be too late to prepare to attend the event. In hindsight of course it would have been a good idea to have that kind of South African governmental assistance guaranteed before applying to hold the competition.
Most European handlers are totally unaware of what kind of extreme difficulty and expense it is to travel overseas with a dog. It is something Americans must do in order to be able to participate, but not one we take lightly and not without great difficulty in preparation. It is of course financially challenging, and the paperwork seems like a nightmare at times, but more importantly, there is a risk of your dog’s health. There are many who would never hand their dogs to a cargo department of an airline for a 20 hour ride in a box, but that is just what will need to happen in order to travel to South Africa. A 15 hour flight from the USA to Johannesburg translates to a dog being handed to a cargo department 2 or 3 hours prior, and possibly collecting the dog up to a couple hours after landing and vet checks. That could easily turn a trip into 20 plus hours. This is a very personal decision each handler will need to make with their dogs only after doing all the special research into viability and safety.
Dogs traveling to South Africa must undergo 5 special blood tests in the months before departing for the country, and most dogs will also need rabies titer testing in order to come back to their home country after visiting South Africa. In the USA those blood tests cost approximately $500. The estimates for dog shipping are $2000 to 3000, and even the small and medium dogs that usually travel safely in cabin with their handlers must travel via cargo as South Africa travel requirements do not allow small dogs as excess baggage. It is still unclear if this also might be waived, the fees certainly won’t be waived, but the cabin travel might be a slight possibility. Pair the fees of thousands of dollars for dog shipping, passenger travel, & hotels, and the event costs add up to an astronomical amount.
The event is a year away but most countries need to make decisions NOW on whether to have their tryouts events, whether they can afford to send a team, if anyone is willing to personally pay the funds to go, and many more unanswered questions. The organizers are asking which countries are coming and the countries are asking to know ahead of time about the costs.
If more agility handlers and their country’s delegates had known of the quarantine restrictions in advance would the outcome be different? Does it really make sense to have the event in a location where so few countries in the world are free from quarantine restrictions? Is it possible that many of the supporters of the Agility World Championships being held in South Africa were uninformed and made decisions without hard facts and specific details?
For at least few years we have known that the event was scheduled for South Africa, it is just that none of us believed it would really happen. Throughout the month prior to the 2012 Championships I looked forward with trepidation to the final announcement of the locale of AWC 2013. My thoughts were that I would feel sorry for the South African organizers that have gone through so much effort to bring the event to their country if the FCI decided to take it from them. At the same time that is just what I hoped would happen; that the organization would really take into consideration all the problems involved and that South Africa would gracefully withdraw.
Since 1996 I have made 16 trips across the Atlantic to the Agility World Championships and 5 to the European Open. 11 of those trips I traveled with my own competition dog. I understand way too well many of the difficulties that the teams face in preparing to attend the event in South Africa, but as complicated as it is to travel to Europe from North or South America or the far east, it will be that and much more to prepare for a trip with a dog to South Africa. As much as I would love to have a holiday in the beautiful city of Johannesburg on the exotic continent of Africa, I do not relish the effort it would be to travel with a team of dogs to that continent and that country.
I truly don’t believe anything will stop the Agility World Championships now from being held in South Africa. I fervently hope that in the future much greater consideration is given to where the event is held so that it is at least reachable by a majority of the World’s agility handlers and dogs. Yes, we do want the event to be a WORLD Championship, and I hope that it can eventually be held at times out of Central Europe, but there are other countries around the world that would have been willing to host that do not have such stringent quarantine laws, and that are more easily accessible to more of the worlds' agility handlers.
My history with the AKC Agility World Team
Early in 1996 I received a call Sharon Anderson the AKC Agility Director. She invited me to be on the AKC/FCI Agility World team with my border collie Scud. I said “YES!” on the spot, and 17 years later AKC Agility and participating in the FCI Agility World Championships, and the FCI European Open as well as local and Nationals events is a huge part of my life each year.
I was on the AKC/USA team for 4 years with Scud, finishing 6th in 1999 in Dortmund. In 2000 I took a year off of competing, but still traveled with the team as a supporter. My border collie Riot made the team the next three years (2001, 2, 3) and we had some spectacular runs and I have many incredible memories. Riot and I won the Individual Agility class in 2002 at the Agility World Championships, and were second in 2001.
In 2005 I assisted AKC /USA Coach Dan Dege, and in 2006 I took over as head coach. This year, 2012, was my 7th year coaching the team. In 17 years I only missed traveling with the team one time (2003). For 5 of the last 6 years I have also traveled to the European Open and competed with my border collie Ace. That is 22 European trips and lots of familiarity with overseas dog travel for both myself and my dogs.
October 18, 2012
Ten days is not long enough to really experience the Czech Republic, especially when you consider that the focus of the trip is agility and not sight seeing! Four of those days I spent indoors at the World Championship,and 3 more were spent partially on training and checking in at the event. But it was beautiful nonetheless and I hope I am lucky enough to be able to visit Prague again some time. The food, the colors of the city, the architecture and the history cannot be adequately enjoyed in just the three days I spent there prior to the World Championships. Some notable site are the Charles Bridge, Old Town, John Lennon's wall, the Jewish Cemetery and the Castle. And the easiest way to see lots of it is by Segway tour. This was my 3rd or 4th segway tour, and while the tour guide was not the sharpest, I still had a great time zooming around town with my travel-mates Daisy and her husband David and we saw many of the city's sites during the two hour adventure.
After the too short Prague adventure we headed to the Team's home base hotel a 90 minute drive north of the City. We hooked up with the rest of the team and got ready to begin our week of preparation and competition. Our crazy busy week went like this: Monday morning team meeting then practice. Tuesday practice, Wednesday vet checks at the site, Thursday...what a day! Team practice on site at 7:30 AM, Thursday afternoon Opening Ceremonies, Thursday evening Large dog team jumpers runs, and Thursday night standing on the podium! Friday/Saturday/Sunday more competing and then by 9 AM back on a bus to the Prague airport. It was an exciting week with a great group of handlers and the wonderful supporters that traveled with us.
This years team was a special one. A great group of individuals that clicked as a team at the first practice and that continued the camaraderie throughout the months leading up to the event. Team dynamics are so important. We spend a lot of time together and nothing can be more stressful than traveling unless it is traveling with 15 individuals and 12 dogs on the road to the most important event of the year, or possibly your entire career. This team did it all with a smile on their face and some stress relieving fun during break times. I look forward to many more years of working with this incredible group of handlers.
I wanted to share some of my favorite photos from our trip to the Czech Republic and a highlight of some of the Team's incredible accomplishments.
A hearty congratulations to Team 2012!
Large dogs, gold in team jumpers- WAY TO GO! Silvina Bruera, Channan Fosty, Daisy Peel and & Tori Self. There is nothing more exciting for an agility handler or a coach than to stand on the podium at the World Championships and listen to your National Anthem being played. Just an emotional, exciting and happy WOW!
Daisy Peel, highest overall individual placement for a USA handler, 5th in the world. Yahoo and well done Daisy! Your last run was incredible and had us holding our breath to see where you would finish.
Silvina Bruera had a phenomenol event finishing 3rd in team jumpers, with 3 of 4 clean runs and helping the team take Gold in jumping and tying Tori for 15th place in Individual jumpers. This was Silvina and TCam's first time on the Team, but not her first time to attend the World Championships. Before becoming a US Citizen Silvina represented her home country of Argentina with her Doberman Aira and her border collie Maja.
Channan Fosty, best overall team member performance with 4 out of 4 fast exciting clear rounds and finishing 16th in the World and helping the team take Gold in jumping. I am so proud of my students Channan & Silvina, all the commitment to training and conditioning your dogs paid off and I can't say how exciting it was to watch you perform at your best at the event we have been training for all year.
Tori Self, Another great performance for our youngest team member with a 5th in Team jumping and tying for 15th place with Silvina in Individual jumpers and helping get the team to the podium for the Jumpers gold medal!
Congratulations to Medium team members John Nys and Laurene Galgano for their two clean team runs and getting the team close to earning a silver medal. John finished 8th in team jumpers and 15th in individual jumpers and showed his usual kick butt attitude that took him so close to one of the individual medals this year.
Well done Small Dog Team for earning a bronze medal in team jumpers! This was Dee Gamels' Kelsi's international retirement event and they had 3 out of 4 clean runs. A great event for Dee Anna and Kelsi and a wonderful way to end an outstanding international career. Laura Dolan & Race were 2 for 2 in team and Laura kicked butt in small dog team agility earning an 8th place.
Congratulations to the entire team, it is never just about an individual at the Agility World Championships. Without the entire team's participation we would not have had such a great event and such outstanding results.
Next year the event is in South Africa, and no doubt it will be an interesting one, but that is an entire other post!