Fun—and choice—in Agility

“Fun” is a big word in agility. We frequently hear some version of “it is supposed to be fun, why otherwise should we be doing it”?

It does start as out fun, a novel and exciting challenge, a labyrinth of new concepts to learn, and ways to excuse spending excessive amounts of time with not only our dog but with our new, like-minded similarly agility obsessed friends.

Then the bug takes hold. We are IN it, all the way. We train and train, we start competing. And just by the nature of competitions, we are now comparing. Comparing our successes, comparing our Q rates, our YPS against that of others. And then the fear sets in. The “keeping up with the Joneses” mindset. “My next dog will be ______”; fill in the blank… faster/braver/smarter/tighter turning/better at contacts…. and on and on.

It is quite easy to get sucked into the vortex of what one of my personal gurus Gabby Bernstein calls the “when I haves”. “When I have that faster dog…,” “when I have more money to buy that online course with So And So,” “when I have more time to trial/train/study more….”

By nature, we agility people are more often than not driven, natural competitors. So we tend to be overly critical, overly-analytical, overly too easily worked up when the wheels come off.

Next time you find yourself after a disastrous run, or the unproductive lesson or practice, or the fifth time in the backyard when your dog does the “wrong” thing, try something new. Just stop. Stop and take a breath, and smile at your dog. And remind yourself that you made a choice to participate in this crazy, obsessive, addicting sport. Your dog did not, they are just along for the ride. Stop and thank your dog for being there with you, in that moment. Because, what else do we have than that?

You can choose, ALWAYS, to change your mindset. To change the way you react, and process, certain events. You can choose to be angry that you lost your Grand Prix bye to a bar, or you can choose to remember that playing agility is a privilege, not a right. To have gratitude for your dog’s and your ability to be in this space, together, surrounded by people on similar journeys, right now.

This is YOUR journey, no one else’s. Worry—aka fear—gets you nowhere. Love your dog, and your experience.

Happiness, and therein fun, is a choice. Choose to have a “fun” mindset, every time you step to the line or walk out the door to they yard to play with your dog.

You may be surprised how small of a shift can create massive results.

Read all of the FUN things here! It’s Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day. Rock on.

…From the Dead…

And we are still here. Ghosttown and all that.

My business has smashed my productive and long-form writing life to smithereens as has my horrific Facebook problem. Echk. Facebook.

But we are still here, plus one.

Diego is old, but still his stoic self. Forest, is getting older, and well… He is having some challenges. No agility for him these days. But he is enjoying nose work. And some experimental Prozac. Aging gracefully is not in his repertoire. But he is still the reason for all the things being as they are, and I try to please him. Though I seem to fall short on an almost daily basis.

Phineas. Still the love of my life. Still. Always. Perfect and amazing and if only his mom could afford to trial him more and show the world what a spectacular animal he is. But, our little glimpses of the limelight have been nice. And verifying. I have always known these things. We do have some silly goals ahead. We shall see if I make them reality. If not, then so be it. They are not important in the greater scheme of things. But he is, the most and the bestest. Almost five. Almost five years old! He continues to make my heart burst on a daily basis. I shrivel at the thought of existing on earth without this dog. So I live every day in love and in awe of him. We live on our own little island of mutual adoration, he and I.

And then there were four. The girl. She is a special one. My first “fancy dog”. I was so #blessed(!) to have got her. She is Hidden Valley’s Super Nova and she has big shoes to fill. Not just in this household but beyond. A Border Collie. Because, I mean, where do you go from the golden child?

But she is “it”, and lightning strikes twice. Somehow. I got a girl. A girl! A potentially horrifically drama-tastic sucky-uppy BC girl. She has her moments, but…. She is pretty much as darn near perfect as anyone could ask for. Pushy and insistent and driven and bossy and athletic and has all the boys wrapped around her finger. And me too. She is a love. So very incredibly lucky to have been gifted with this one.

I am sorry I missed documenting her puppyhood here. Its on the facebook in its disjointed way. Blogs are so 2010. But, the blog is still here, as are we.

If I can just get my act together and get our collective heads above water at work, we will have some great times ahead of us. Me and my amazing dogs. Well, and if not, I still have them to keep me afloat, regardless of what else is going on.

As always, onward.

DABAD Action Day; Of Puppies and Patience

This post is part of the quarterly Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day! Check out the awesomeness here.

Squeeee puppies! Every puppy is a blank slate, the chance to “start over” and fix all those things that were wrong with the last go around, whether it was nature or nurture that stuck the stick in our previous “future perfect agility dog’s” spokes.

In our headlong rush to create the ideal agility specimen, sometimes we forget that they are just puppies. Little balls of fur and brain matter that we should be nurturing, feeding, growing. And yet, those super stars of tomorrow find themselves flung at 30 mph down a flyball lane or slamming into a 2on2off off a set of stairs. Four months old. Four. Months. Old. Sixteen weeks on this earth and they are already performing for us.

A four month old should be learning the game of tug, that clicker equals awesomeness, how to bring the ball back or hold a sit, how to take cookies nicely, that car rides are fun. How to navigate the world interacting with dogs, people and environments. That the world, and in particular MY person, is a never-ending-game of FUN.

Oh yeah, and that oft-overlooked skill known as “recall”. Just because your dog is on leash or in a contained environment for the majority of its life doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to learn to come when called. I don’t want to hear it at the dog is 14 months old and bounding the opposite direction, wonderment, or even better, anger at why he isn’t coming back.

What about Leave It? 100 games of Its Yer Choice have no real life application if the dog doesn’t have a verbal cue for “dear god don’t eat that dead bird!”….

This race to get the dog into the ring, into the competition, into the titles… why? Your dog got his MACH at 2? ADCH at 3? That’s great. But is he still running and sound at 5? At 7? At 10?

I’ll admit, I rushed. I was so thrilled and tempted by the fact that my second agility dog was dying to work that I pushed it too. But I backed off, whether due to actual decision making or just financial limitations, I was forced to pace ourselves somewhat. My dogs are hardly super stars in the knocking out titles department, Phin has been blown by at a standstill by some friends’ dogs. And I’m not going to say I don’t grit my teeth and squelch something that very much feels like jealousy when goading results of similarly aged dogs are posted on facebook. But, I quickly get over it. Really. My dogs are sound—physically AND mentally—and I will bend over backwards to make it stay that way. Admittedly, a big part of that is luck, but another part is that I refuse to push too hard. I won’t do it. I want these silly dogs to be competing at age 10, if they so choose. Happily and effortlessly.

There is a lot of pressure in this sphere of competitive agility. Like I’ve written before, you don’t survive this sport if you are not driven and gritty. But you also have to gnash your teeth and bear down to maintain that balance. It is sooo easy to get sucked into the “but has your dog learned this yet?” game. At the end of the day, they are simply dogs, who are so generous as to play these ridiculous games with us. We owe it to them to take OUR time, to be ginger with their bodies and their minds. They lay it all out for us, why shouldn’t we do the same for them?

Take a deep breath. Plan, think, slow down. This dog will be with you, universe willing, for more than a decade. Hopefully well longer. Treat them gently and thoughtfully. The titles and Nationals and try outs and ribbons will still be there. Promise. Enjoy what you have NOW, and let them tell you when they are ready. You’ll know.

Goals – 2013 Review/2014 Planning

We had a good agility year. My personal life, not so good. I thank the universe every day for these silly dogs, they honestly are what kept me from going off the deep end over the past 12 months.

So, goals. I have learned that setting goals really works for me. I mostly enjoy doing it, and when I sit down and review what we’ve done and achieved, it makes me more positive about agility in general. This has a been a big year for me in learning how to organize myself and my life, and goal setting has been a big part of it.

A word of caution; This post won’t be very fun to read, so I’m telling you now—click away while you can and spend your time being better entertained elsewhere!!! 🙂

I’m reviewing where our goals for 2013 ended up and setting them for 2014.

Forest: 2013
– finish his AAD title. – Accomplished! We finally got that dastardly pairs leg out of the way. Since then we’ve done no USDAA titling stuff, but no biggie. USDAA isnt a priority for Forest. He’s definitely become more of an AKC kid. 2, maybe 3 runs per day, is perfect for him. Any more is pushing it, not to mention USDAA is more just mentally challenging overall. Forest prefers to keep things straightforward and predictable, thank you very much!
– continue to train his contacts, provide better and clearer criteria – mmmm yeah. I could say I did a half-assed job at this goal. He doesnt like to drill, and I dont like to beg him to do stuff. We did do some contacts training this year, but it was anything but consistent. I will give myself credit in one dept–the teeter is still slow, but, we played with it and it is getting slightly better. As I said last year, his contacts are what they are, and if he misses, he misses. Just part of what I accept with him. This year, it wasnt a huge issue, so I’m content with where we are.
– move him into AKC Preferred, work towards our MJP, MXP  – Accomplished! Yeah! Moving him into Preferred was one of the best decisions I’ve made for Forest agility-wise. He is happier and far more confident, aka much, much faster! He still only typically runs in 3rd gear (he HAS 6, but I’ve only gotten up to 4, occasionally, in agility), but he is much happier, and I love love love seeing him enjoy himself. And we achieved both MXP and MJP within only a few weeks of each other. Pretty cool!
get his CAA (Coursing Ability Advanced) title – this was the only major miss, as I honestly dont think I got him to a single titling coursing event, but… He doesnt know that. We did a couple of “fun” events, and he was happy so thats enough for him.
– Also a “sneaky goal” I had once we got going though I never made it official, was to qualify for 2014 AKC Nationals. We DID it. I was so proud. We won’t be going to Pennsylvania, which is fine–the point was simply that we could do it. Awesome.

Forest: 2014
– qualify for Cynosport 2014 – the caveat on this is only if its easy. We are not going to push it.
– our “reach” goal is to qualify for 2015 AKC Nationals. Not that I have any doubts about his ability to do it—its more our ability to trial consistently enough with the inevitable chaos of starting the business. Even if Forest does qualify for 2015, I am on the fence for whether or not I’d take him. If Phin makes it, I’d definitely consider it as I think that would make Forest more at ease. But…. We’ll see.
– continue keeping him happy and fit – can always do better with this, but its been a good year in general for him health-wise and we’ve had regular visits to the chiropractor who never finds anything out of the ordinary with him. He has been developing some benign skin bumps, so we are battling with that a bit but nothing that slows him down!
– train more tricks – Forest loves tricks. No stress, no equipment or freaky mom stuff, just training and doing silly stuff. I will train 5 NEW tricks and have them on cue by year end. (disclaimer–I dont really care for pointless tricks, but I should!!!)

Phin: 2013
– working on the basics —  Impulse control, stimulus control. – Yep. We did a LOT of basics work, and have a lot more to do. When I get lazy about dragging equipment out or driving to do contacts, we just go in the backyard and work on basics. Currently stimulus control is a focus. I am hunkering down and making it happen.
– continue to train and reinforce contacts and weaves – Yep. Weaves are fast enough and very reliable right now for the most part. Contacts… Ugh. Contacts are clearly my weakest point as anyone who had read this blog for any period of time knows. His teeter is good–a solid B. Aframe actually is getting pretty solid–I’d give it a B- at this point. He was missing the AF frequently earlier in the year in trials, but its gotten WAY better. Only a few misses in recent trial history. Dogwalk… In trials?? a C-. Fine in practice but in trials it could go any which way. He doesnt usually bail, but will just run through it. Contacts are the bane of my existence. But, I will say my dogs don’t creep!!! They run, with zeal. Whether they miss or not, well thats another story. 🙂
– get into all Masters AKC by year end. – Accomplished! Yeah! – We may have eeked this one out, but we did it! STD is going to be our tough road (see above notes on contacts), but his JWW has been phenomenal since we got into Masters. Really, really happy with that. Q rate has been really high, couldn’t be happier.
– USDAA Tournament classes – we played with this a bit. Success was not really there until late in the year, but, thats okay. We have many more years ahead. We have 1 Steeplechase Q and 1 MC Jumpers Q. And our DAM Q! So, if I can pick up a couple more we’ll be golden for Cynosport 2014. I’d love to get a GP Q or two, and we came really close a month or two ago. We can do it!

Phin: 2014
– contacts contacts contacts – more precise, more reliable. Thats enough about that.
– retrain his startline – His startline isnt horrible, in the fact that he doesnt self-release and go flying by me–he knows better than that. BUT, he creeps more often than not. Badly. All the way up to the first jump. He doesnt usually knock the bar, but it slows him down and we need every tenth and hundredth of a second we can get. So. Startline rehab has already begun. By year end I want it to be rock solid. I am not afraid to pull him for it–I did it earlier this week and got a bunch of people asking me why. They didnt see the scootching as an issue, but I do!!!
– qualify for 2014 Cynosport – we are halfway there. This is doable, even with my limited schedule. We got DAM out of the way and that was the biggie. Plus my kick ass team wants to team again at Regionals, so that is awesome!
– qualify for 2015 AKC Natls – this is going to be a reach, but I really, really want to go to Reno with Phin. How we’ll manage, not so sure, just due to the sheer volume of points needed and my time and $$$ shortage… We are off to a decent start, been knocking out points with our JWW Qs. If I can get him to settle down in Standard, and we can get to a decent amount of trials, maybe we’ll have a crack at it. I calculated our points so far–in the month of December we only trialed 4 days. We got 4 Qs (all in JWW—heh) and 64 points. If we can keep up that pace, we should make it. Problem is that pace will be very difficult to maintain. And I already more or less blew the month of January as I forgot to enter the mid-month trial! Gah. That’s okay, we can rest and work on other stuff. Like maybe our remaining USDAA Qs!

Diego: 2013/2014
– stay fit, happy and healthy — this basically remains D’s goal. He is finaly showing his age a bit. He has slowed down significantly on our hikes. I never used to have to wait for him, now he needs help, especially if its warm out. He freaked me out more than once this year–rushed him to the vet to find nothing… Augh. This dog is so hard on my bank account. He is a little bastard but we still love him. He looks good and still motors around and tells everyone what for with no problem, so I try not to worry about him too much.

– seminars — I did a better job this year of sticking with basically one key instructor, and man, did it work. The only place I really get instruction from is Daisy when I get the chance to see her, which is supplemented by “input” from my weekly and other training partners. But things really clicked this year, at least handling-wise, and I am really proud of how far we’ve progressed. We dabbled in a bit of International waters, but it was for fun and I try not to get too many ideas swirling around in my brain. I’ve picked a loose system and its working great. Just need help fine-tuning it!
– find more agility and performance training mentors/organize a monthly or bi-monthly gettogether of favorite handlers/friends – I did this! I found a wonderful group to practice with weekly as well as other friends to practice with relatively regularly and they are AWESOME! We do hard stuff and push each other and have a really great time. I have been proud to notice that at the last few trials–both USDAA and AKC that I have been at with my group that many of the top placements have been us! Pretty cool stuff. Going into 2014 I will have to force myself to schedule time to make it out to practice to keep things moving!
– stay positive, calm and collected, regardless of what is going on around me – I have to say again I feel like I did a pretty good job at this despite the amount of personal shit that hit the fan this year. Actually precisely because of that, I had no choice BUT to deal. It was either that or spiral down into the abyss. So, I chose the positive path. I have been working on some conditioned cues–both mental and physical–for when I start spiraling and I have been able to start to use some of those when I am stepping to the line as well. I took the Clear Mind online course and am so glad I did. It was hugely helpful in many ways. This years biggest challenge will be balancing my agility goals with working on my business. But, I can do it. 🙂

Jeez. That’s enough! Onward to 2014!!!

The Beast Turns Three: All In

Phin turned three last week. I planned to have something written then, more timely, but between the mayhem in my mind and in real life right now, I’ll just have to be okay with it being belated.


He really is who he IS now. And while he’s still perfect in every way (*wink*), we’ve been butting heads a bit lately. In small ways, never in agility ways, just more in living life in general. I have discovered that around the house I do more often than not have to ask him to do things more than once. “Down. Lie down. LIE DOWN.” And I don’t like that. But that’s not him, that’s me, and something I need to be more creative about. I am struggling a bit with going back and rewarding every little thing, he’s beyond that, but unless my negative punishment track works quickly, that will be what I will have to do. Random food rewards for compliance probably will solve that pretty quickly. I also have allowed the bad habit of “sometimes” playing toys in the house, and asking, half-assedly, for behaviors while not really paying attention. That’s eroded a lot of skills right there. But, now I’m aware and we’ll clean that up. Again, my fault and bad management skills, not his.

As he ages I have zero doubt he will be the alpha in the house, and it will be in the truest sense of the word–he won’t have to “work” for it. It just will happen. It already has mostly. In general he is VERY patient with the puppies we have had stay with us over the last few months, but he is not afraid to tell them in no uncertain terms to buzz off. I trust him to the nth degree around other dogs–he’s at the point now where I can leave him off leash in a stay while other dogs are flying around, no issues, no concerns. I always dreamed of having a dog that could do that.

As far as agility goes, he’s already met and exceeded  pretty much all of my expectations. Early this year he was still flying around like a maniac at times, and surely my handling wasn’t helping, but as of now it feels like we’ve just really started to find the groove. His only real issue at this point is just being so high at trials–many times our first day is a throwaway, only because he is SO GODDAMN EXCITED to be in the ring. But that’s okay, it’ll pass, and it’s not the worst problem to have. This dog LOVES to be watched. Loves it. Why and how a dog with stranger danger issues can be such an attention whore I dont know, but I swear he knows people are watching him, and the more there are the better. He feeds on it. So far, he handles pressure like a champ, and its pretty spectacular.

Our travels went very well, planes and automobiles. He handled it all in stride and be-bopped out of whatever box he’d been sequestered in, guns-a-blazing and ready to do agility. We got many, many wonderful days working with Daisy this year, and we are SO fortunate to have had her guidance. It has helped us immeasurably. Also had a blast working with Lisa Frick and especially Tereza Kralova, and proved we could do some pretty tricky stuff.

I feel like we’ve found our partnership. It’s always been there but its now solid. No questions from either of us. Now we just run. Happy birthday Phineas, my greatest gift.


Set Your Goals _AND_ Enjoy the Moment

This quarter’s DAB Action Day subject is the “Mental Game”. You can read all of the posts here.

The attitude that “Mental Management” is a bunch of hooha seems pretty common. Who wants to sit around and get all touchy-feely, spending time just thinking about agility? We agility participants are DO-ers, living in DO-land (heh), and any methodologies reeking of “self-help” can be construed as only for those that need “helping”, a sure sign of weakness.

I have to admit that Silvia Trkman’s recent post that was recently circulated around the interwebs really rubbed me the wrong way. She declared in a roundabout way that setting goals only sets you up for disappointment. That if you truly love your dogs and playing agility with them that you will just go out there and train, purely for the sheer joy of it and not ever worry about the results. That she is so unfathomably successful precisely because she doesn’t care.

Apologies in advance, and this is nothing against ST personally, but I call bullshit. The whole blog post, that so many people—including other big names in dog sport glommed onto—was basically a red herring. What I find particularly irksome is that she insinuates that setting and working towards goals AND appreciating the moments you spend training and trialing your dogs are mutually exclusive.

While I think Silvia has a talent for making people feel good about agility, and I applaud her willingness to embrace everyone and see their strengths, I feel that she is really manipulating people’s emotions here. Can SHE, Silvia Trkman of phenomenal physical and dog training abilities jaunt through the Alps with her dogs, do some supersonic dog walks just for kicks, sprinkle some fairy dust, wiggle her nose, and then go on to win World Championships? Clearly she can, and she has. However, I believe that she is one in a million, with her innate talents and abilities. The other 99% of us need a bit more structure to even consider accomplishing a portion of what she has done.

She goes on to say, “I try to train better and to get better because I love to learn, to progress, to improve.”

So here’s my question;

If you have no “yardstick” to measure your goals by, how do you know you are improving?

If you are in this sport, and you are competing, that means you have a competitive nature. Period. This sport chews up and spits out those who do not have the grit and the balls to endure brutal failures and come back for more. The backyard warriors out there do exist, and I think that’s fabulous. But they are not going to regionals or Nationals or World Championships. You don’t end up on that stage by accident, regardless of how talented you are.

To tell people that goal setting is a waste of time, to me, seems a bit flippant.

Having goals does not mean you are obsessed with winning. Through my growing education of mental management and goal-setting, I’ve learned that “winning XYZ event” is not a productive objective. Giving yourself yardsticks by which to measure your progress is how you do eventually “win” those events by way of working on the things you can control.

Just writing down what you want to accomplish, setting some general timelines and how you will get there, then checking back on those plans and adjusting accordingly can do wonders. It has for me.

I can go into what I’ve accomplished this year and who was very responsible for helping me along the way, but thats for another post. I will say that goal setting works. And it actually has allowed me to enjoy my dogs and my training more, because I know my plan, I know where we’re going, and that even if we don’t check off the box that says “Done”, that we have spent time working towards something. The dogs don’t care, all they know is that we are playing/working together and are having a good time doing it.

One thing I am sure Silvia and I would agree on is that you must always, always, always be positive, and you must love what you are doing. There are competitors who we all know who get overcome by results and it absolutely leeches the fun out of the relationship with the dog. There IS a balance there, and for most of us, just a bit of structure can help us focus on what is most important, and that is enjoying the journey with your dog.

In Limbo

While I’ve been keeping more than busy over the last few months, I’ve consciously tried to enjoy my “down” time as much as I could, knowing that the speed of life was going to pick up here eventually and that I should be resting while I had the chance. It has hardly been stress-free, in fact there have been many events over the last few months that I wish I could erase, but still I was able to give myself a bit of a physical and partially mental break. However, things now are starting to “move” with the business, though not as efficiently as I would like, and along with that of course we just so happen to be hitting the holidays along with everything else that comes with the end of a year. My head is spinning already and we haven’t even really started…

We–as in my business partner and I–*should* be opening our doors of our own dog boarding, daycare and training center around January 1st. We are still at the mercy of the city, and until we get that permit in our hands everything is in flux. But we are getting close, I think. I hope. This process has been “enlightening” to say the least. My uber-liberal tendencies have taken a fairly deep hit after this experience, but I hope once we are in there and functioning that I can get that government resentment behind me! Onward.

On the agility front things have been humming along. We have a one-day USDAA jaunt this weekend in an attempt to get some local tournament Qs, then 3 days of AKC on T-day weekend, then a local USDAA DAM trial in December. That could be all the trials we do for quite some time unfortunately. That makes me sad, but then again, agility will always be there. I do hope Phin and I can at least eek out the few Qs that we need to qualify for Cynosport here in CA. So close, and relatively doable. And we have two fabulous teams lined up for DAM in Dec, so I am really looking forward to that trial. AKC 2015 will be in the West too, but honestly I don’t know how I will pull off qualifying for that when I wont be able to trial every or every-other weekend. Even if you are doing well, it still takes some serious campaigning to make that happen. There has got to be a happy medium somewhere between qualifying for Nationals in the two big venues. Both are a bit ridiculous in their own ways.

We do also get some more serious seminar time before the year is out. I signed up for a spot with Lisa Frick and Tereza Králová almost a YEAR ago, paid half my deposit way back when and then more or less forgot about it. About a month ago I was asked to pony up the rest… I almost backed out as honestly I shouldn’t be spending ANY money right now, but decided to dig deep and scraped together the rest. Now I am glad I did as I saw the list of participants–there are some heavy-hitters coming from all over the world, literally, to participate, so I am pretty excited to watch some amazing agility handling and hopefully retain some instruction too! I hope Phin and I can keep up. Then we have Daisy back down again in late December right before the DAM trial so I hope she can help us polish everything up enough to make things happen that weekend.

We trialed last weekend. Things weren’t fabulous, but some good bits. Gonna blame at least some of our disconnectedness on the new and somewhat funky venue. It was our usual one-judge show and Forest had to run second, which not a single one of us cares for. When Phin runs in the AM he’s high as a kite and Forest is slow in the midday sun. Forest and I eeked out one more JWW Q and 13 points. I actually took him off JWW on Sun as he was crawling. Good decision on my part, apparently I hadn’t done a good job of walking him earlier that day and he had to poop. Luckily it was outside of the ring. Gah. Phin was a bit of a nut, so no AX legs–boo–but we got another MXJ leg. His contacts were decent, I think he only technically missed one Aframe though he didnt exactly STOP on his DWs either. His teeters are much better as I’ve been working on them. Someday I WILL have contacts in the backyard, driving somewhere just to work contacts drives me insane and I am hit-or-miss on motivating to do it. Maybe that will be on my goal list for 2014–get Aframe and/or a DW in the back yard.

Other than that, well, we’re just trying to survive. I’ve had a lovely year spending a lot of time with my dogs playing agility. However, I am ready to get back to work full-time, this time for myself! Hopefully that will lead over time to more time to play with less financial strain involved. Only time will tell. Patience is not my best virtue…