Greg Derrett…Chapter 1

We’ve had the benefit of the teachings of Greg Derrett here this past weekend and it has certainly been an eye opener for many of us. To be honest I was surprised more Perth agility people did not take advantage of the unlimited auditing. Everyone has their own ideas I suppose. Anyway the four seminars started on Thursday evening and ran through to Saturday morning. Thursday, Friday evening and Saturday morning all dealt with the younger dogs who were just ready to start competing or had been competing not too long. Then Friday morning was for the Advanced Masters dogs.

Before I launch into a blow by blow account of the four workshops I must make comment upon context. I truly believe that the type of agility competition a country has, the equipment that is used and the rules that are in place has a major impact on the training priorities of your average competitor. Australia is not a hugely populated country like the UK, the sport, whilst it is growing fast has nowhere near the numbers competing that it has in Europe. The rule that you must win in order to advance to the next level brings a whole different perspective into your approach to the sport. I can honestly say that I am glad that here in Australia you do not have to win to advance in the sport. For our sport I believe that would certainly mean we would lose motivation for many of our weekend warriors who set personal goals to progress higher and I think we would see the growth in our sport stagnate.

Should every handler expect to be able to put an Agility Champion on their dog or to win a National final? No, absolutely not. Should every handler be allowed to progress if they have trained and practiced enough to become proficient in running a course clear? Definitely. Agility, ultimately, is a way of having fun, spending time with your dogs and friends and challenging yourself to be a good trainer and handler. Do I want to win? Absolutely, not many people out there who have competitive dogs would say no to that question no matter how much it is not openly talked about! The question becomes then how far am I prepared to go to win? Do I want to go into 98% of my trials in a year and train my contacts so for those 2% of trials of big events I know that I have trained everything to the nth degree and have a much better chance of winning. Let’s face it no matter how much you train (even if I reinforced my contacts for 54 out of 55 trials in the year and do a quick release on that all important big event at the 55th trial) there can only be one winner and we are talking about dogs here, they may just take an extra unnecessary stride somewhere, they might tip a bar etc. I think it would be incredibly demotivating for the handler to approach their trialling career in this way. What makes running agility so much fun and addictive? That feeling you get when you have run a course in the smoothest way possible and you go clear. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it’s like a tonic that keeps you aspiring for more.

99% of most errors on course are handler caused; a simple fact that will hold up under strenuous analysis I’m sure, not forgetting that not only mistakes whilst running the course are handlers’ fault but if their dog is unable to perform a particular skill then there is a gap in the dog’s training therefore handler caused! There are times here when long term, committed handlers go into the ring and have a very specific goal in mind for that run that has nothing to do with running clear and more to do with a specific issue they’ve had in training or trialling. I admit to doing it myself on several occasions when something has become enough of a torture for me to blow off the entry fee and chance of a card and/or win and purely concentrate on reaching that goal of a reinforcing the rock solid start, or that goal of holding contact position, or that goal of independent weaves etc etc. Would I enjoy doing that almost all year round just so I improved my odds when it came to Nationals time? Would that one win in a National final be enough of a reward for me to keep my motivation and enthusiasm in tact for the rest of the year till the next National? The answer is of course a resounding no.

Our Nationals have been running since 2001 and whilst it certainly is the most prestigious event on the agility calendar year in terms of the best dogs in the country run there, it doesn’t determine who goes to a World Championships, it doesn’t lead to a chance to compete at Crufts or at the IFCS Nationals or even the USDAA Worlds Grand Prix. The following weekend or two weekends later you’ll still be back at your local grounds competing with the same dogs and same handlers weekend in and weekend out….and you will still be striving for that nice smooth clean run. So why lessen your overall enjoyment of your chosen sport just to ensure that you have the best possible chance to win a National. It would seem somewhat self defeating to have this attitude. I try and make sure that I budget so that I can enter as many runs as possible at each trial, then if I think I need to, I can use a couple of runs to focus on a particular skill. The rest of my runs I try for that rare, smooth, clean run. I have tried using an entire trial as training runs, and whilst I felt some satisfaction by the end of the night that the skill I was working on is more proficient because of it I still felt somewhat hollowed by it all, like I was depriving myself (and therefore no doubt, my dogs, who always are a reflection of their handler, felt something similar).

What has all this got to do with Greg Derrett you may be wondering if you have hung on this far. Well I think like all presenters you must examine the context they come from and make careful decisions about what aspects of that context apply to you. If speed is the number 1 priority because you have to ‘win out’ of a class, everything you do from day 1 of bringing that puppy home is geared towards that. If you have non-typical agility breed and you don’t have to win out but you would still like to progress through the ranks then maybe speed is an equal priority to other things like teaching weaves or contacts, you might be teaching obstacles in that case a little earlier than the trainer who has a dog who is likely to have the drive and intensity to work plus the structure to be a top world competitor. Maybe you have spent 18 months training your dog and whilst they are not at their maximum speed yet or perhaps not got the perfect contact behaviour happening yet you know they are proficient enough to get round a course with you without any problems. I don’t see any harm in competing in Novice even though your dog is not trained up to a Masters level. It becomes an issue if you do more trial runs than training runs and so therefore you are not reinforcing behaviours on the ring since you are trying to run clear (no tug toy or food). That is when your behaviours will start to fall apart. As long as your non-reinforced runs are severely outweighed by the reinforced runs there should not be a problem with competing early. This of course means more than a one night a week commitment to training then and that’s where the pet dog (ie they had a pet dog and decided to take up agility with it) weekend warriors may come unstuck in the higher levels.

Well this post has turned into a lengthy one. I will write more on the content of his workshops in the next post.

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Albany

Well from now on Cypher is going to come to every country trial. We went to Albany on the weekend – an 800km round trip. Yes, quite simply agility addicts are insane but quite frankly we like our insanity and we nurture it with great aplomb. We had 8 runs – four for Raven and four for Cypher. Initially I made the decision to do country trials this year because I am aiming for Agility Champ cards for Raven, I decided to bring Cypher mainly to get more runs in for that length of travel I need to do. Cypher did me proud again gaining 3rd place in Masters Jumping and 3rd place in Open Agility. In Masters Agility he had a moment of temporary deafness closely followed by a dash of tunnel suck, and in Open Jumping it was down to good old frustratingly consistent handler error. Said handler for once unable to get the verbals out quick enough….usually my problem is the other way around (ie not knowing when to shut up!). I was really pleased with our two clear runs as not once did he lose focus for a second. Raven well…what can I say she was having a bad bar day and my handling wasn’t helping. In Masters Agility we were great up until the table when I let her pressure me and said the wrong thing, she then went off course by placing some paws on the dogwalk, sucked into the obvious tunnel entry. But she kept her bars up in that run at least. In Open Agility she had two not very difficult bars down one after the other so we stopped and left. In Open Jumping the same thing occurred and in Masters Jumping we were going great guns until I thought I should try for that front cross into a serpentine which was a very stupid idea as she brought the bar down in her rush to try and catch up with me. When I thought about it afterwards I didn’t actually need that front cross as she would have handled that serpentine quite nicely if I had just stayed on the nearest side of it. Grrrrrr….stoopid handler!!
Oh well two weeks till the Classic! Lots to train as usual…and Greg Derrett to look forward to next week!

Training Bits N Pieces

Our Agility Club started back for the year a couple of weeks ago now. I put this jumping course up after making it up off the top of my head. When I create things like this I tend to have an issue in mind that I want to train for. In this case it’s transitioning for the dog from extension to collection in their striding and working a semi-difficult weaver entry. I always have to keep in mind this level of class is aimed at Novice trialling dogs so I can’t make it too challenging although our goal in the club is of course to have our dogs trained up to the highest level possible even if they are only competing in Novice. Also applied to this course is the ability to send your dog out to go and do the jumps without you having to be by their side. It was a good little sequence that blended nicely into the contact sequence later on to make one big course.
Another issue that I mentioned in my last post was getting me up to speed with my handling of Raven. There have been several suggestions and so far they sound good and I will be trying them out over the next few weeks. It will be absolutely awesome to be able to ask Greg Derrett in a couple of weeks time what to do about it. I know what I should do (and lets be honest I know how to do it if I really put my mind to it) physically and that is lose some weight and get fitter myself so I can give her faster directions with my body cues. However I think mentally there is a lot more I can do too. I am going to give more time and effort to really thoroughly memorise every miniscule move I need to make on the course. As in I should remember, without any glitches or pauses, with my back to the course and in my minds eye exactly what moves/cues I am giving and where. Also I need to work on her one bar exercises again and quickly move it up to two bars with a tunnel to generate the speed so I can then practice my cues more. I remember when we retrained her jumping that I had to really focus on my own body and verbal cues so that I was truly proofing her jumping skills. So I will be going back to that and refreshing her on those skills whilst at the same time getting in some valuable timing practice for me. With Cypher I have been working hard on his Obedience – his first novice obedience trial is coming up fast, I am happy with everything apart from his Stand stay for exam and his 1 minute sit stay. At the moment he is still fidgeting in the stand, he’ll move one foot slightly as I walk away or he’ll move a foot as I return around him, so we are working on this, and in the 1 minute sit stay we are simply combating his tendency to lie down. However there are still things I want to perfect in our agility runs. He still can tend to not read my body cues and go wide around my front crosses, and I am working him every week to try and improve his weaver trialling speed. He does them nice and fast in training I am just aiming to get that in the trial ring. It’s hard though when he hits them so fast he gets hung up in them and then understandably slows down. We are still proofing his distraction training with his tug toy though, he’s not always convinced that we haven’t finished a course sometimes and that he should continue to run rather than gaze hopefully in what he thinks is the direction of his tug toy. We’ll get over that one day I’m sure!

A Spot of Geraldton

Raven, Cypher and I did a spot of Geraldton on the weekend, popped up there for an agility and jumping trial. It is a fairly long 5 hour drive but it was worthwhile in the end. Cypher is one card closer to his ADM title now and Raven is one card closer to her Agility Champion title, the fur kids did good. Cypher did really well with his only two faults being completely and utterly handler error. This is becoming disturbingly common and whilst I know one is not supposed to beat oneself up about these things it is becoming more and more annoying and frustrating. Anyway I was really impressed with his first run of the night in Open Agility, he was flying and actually felt really fast. It was all good till I had brain blank on the course and left him wondering what the hell he was supposed to be doing. He didn’t think anything of it though by the time we ran out and had a great game of tug. Raven was next up and was caught out by the heavier seesaw and then dropped a bar so we withdrew. Masters Agility up next, determined not to confuse the boy again I ran Cypher exactly according to plan, he momentarily thought he had a better plan in the middle of a three jump pinwheel but I was able to convince him it was a bad plan! He ran clear for 3rd place and his fourth leg of ADM. I helped out with stewarding for a while till Open Jumping came up. I ran Cypher again and he was great and this was despite getting really stuck and hung up in the weavers, he still gave me his best and I was so proud of him, he went clear for 3rd place out of 6 qualifiers. Raven decided that my lead out was just a bit too far and broke it which ended up with me having do a spectacular vault over the top of her which in turn led to us getting a refusal or a DQ on the distance challenge. She then also got hung up in the weavers as well (most unlike her, I think they were quite a lot less flexible than the weavers we use in Perth) which caused her to miss one. We carried on and she knocked, I think the second last bar so we withdrew. Masters Jumping up next and despite me getting my act together for Cypher for the previous two runs I managed to cause a refusal on the last run home by completing a very poor front cross on him. He didn’t notice though and we carried on and had a good game of tug at the end. I decided for Raven to keep quiet most of the time and to make a deliberate conscious effort to be extremely clear and purposeful about my commands and cues. It worked! We had a slight wobble on a 180 degree two jump sequence which cost us some time but we still ended up in 3rd place less than one second behind first place. That card got us one closer to her Agility Champion title. To be honest I don’t know if we will achieve this title but with her speed at the current time I figure there is no harm in setting such a high goal. I figure if we just aim to go clear then her speed will take care of the rest; my only issue at the moment is my lack of consistency with giving her direction fast enough. We have been competing for nearly 5 years now and she has never been as fast as she is right now, I just feel like I am so behind her on course in reacting and directing her and I am not sure how I can work on this to improve it as I never see this speed from her in training. I need one of those Matrix upload programs that I just plug in and automatically then have the ability to keep up with her speed. Any suggestions anyone???

Only the Good…

It’s taken me a while to get this entry written and there is a reason for this. On the Thursday following young Mo’s death the WA agility world was dealt another cruel blow with the death of another even younger, up and coming agility boy. Pam Scurlock tragically lost her young Dash at 18 months old – an energetic and switched on young smoothcoat working bred Border Collie. Even now there is still mystery about the cause of his death and results are still being waited upon and whilst these results will not heal the pain caused by his loss there is an element of importance about it due to Dash being one of three siblings here in our Agility Club.

Pam had Dash from around 4 months of age and his complete and utter enthusiasm for life always left her with a smile on her face and the motivation to be for Dash the best trainer she could be. Undergoing knee surgeries and treatments, not so she could keep up with him (not even an Olympic sprinter could keep up with the Dash) but just so that she could enjoy her chosen sport with this young boy seemed a minor inconvenience in anticipation of the fun ahead. I took my time writing the entry because it was so hard to accept such another tragic loss so close to Mo’s and also because it took time as we searched through many of Tim’s galleries to try and find a photo of him (Dash wasn’t at competition level yet so this meant there are no photos of him trialling). We at last found 2 and here they are. Dash went through a lot in his final days and whilst Pam is still finding her way through this tragedy there is a small solace to be taken in the thought that he is at peace now. Rest in peace Dash, gone much too soon, you shall not be forgotten.