Monday, May 26, 2008


A picture of the 2008 Regionals at the Ilderton Fairgrounds. This is the Standard course on the Sunday.

Blaze, with his Steeplechase "Q" ribbon, and his 9th place Jumpers ribbon. Blaze competed in the Steeplechase run on the Friday and qualified and placed 10th out of 24 dogs. He placed 9th in the Jumpers run on the Saturday, out of a group of 48 dogs.

Blaze, and I, and his 2008 Nationals Qualifier ribbon.


Blaze competed at the Ontario Regionals this past weekend. We competed in the Steeplechase run on the Friday. I use the Steeplechase as an opportunity to warm up and set the tone for the weekend's events. Blaze ran fast, clean, and was motivated. It was a great run.

At regionals, you must complete 6 runs, 2 Standard, 2 Jumpers, and 2 Gamblers. You participate in 3 runs per day. This was our third regional event, and these were the most challenging regionals courses I have seen. Blaze did great in both Jumpers events, running clean and under time. The Jumpers course on the Sunday was particularly challenging, with many seasoned competitors getting lost on course. Our first Standard run had a minor error, with Blaze running wide around a jump, giving us a refusal. We had an incident with a couple other dogs just seconds before we were due to set up on the start line, so I was not sure how much this affected his ability to focus. Normally he does not miss cues from me to take a jump. The rest of the run was good, with Blaze getting his weave entry with no difficulty. That made me very happy! Our course time was great for that run, but because of the refusal, no bonus points for us. Our second Standard run was just awesome, with Blaze running 27 seconds under the standard course time. Unfortunately, I messed up his approach to the weaves (it was an ugly weave entry, no matter how you did it!), and caused him to get a refusal. This was a disappointment, as the error was not his, but mine. So, once again, no bonus points for that run.

Now, what happened in the Gamble rings is a bit of a mystery to me! It was as if someone replaced my happy, driven, motivated dog with another one who did not know what agility equipment is... During our Saturday run, Blaze actually left the ring, to go and get his toy... there was no getting him back at that point. I was devastated. He has never, ever done that before. What a sad thing to happen... I really couldn't explain it. On Sunday, he would not stay with me, and acted as though I was speaking another language and he did not understand one single word or body movement from me.. What a stark contrast to how he ran in the Jumpers and Standard rings!!! After many conversations with fellow competitors, it is now clear to me that there is something I am doing in the Gamble event that Blaze does not like, and hence he does not want to work for me. The challenge I face now, is to try and figure out what I am doing, and to stop doing it! We have some work to do. I know he is capable of fast, confident runs, so I must try and keep that consistent.

We will soon be off to Sussex, New Brunswick for the 2008 AAC Agility National Championships in August. This will be a fun time for all, and a chance to compete along side the best agility handlers and dogs in Canada. I was not certain that Blaze would qualify this year for Nationals, as the number of points needed to qualify was increased, and we had 8 months off in the fall and winter due to my demanding school schedule. Even once we were at the event, I was not certain until we ran our last run that we were going to Sussex. I always keep the words of one of my fellow Schutzhund club mates in my head... "Anything can happen in trial..". And it is true, it is so true.

I am thrilled that Blaze qualified and that we are going to Sussex. I am so happy and thankful that I have a great dog who wants to play agility with me. Congrats Blaze, you did an awesome job!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Agile Canines Regional Fun Match

Blaze and I had one more chance to practice handling outdoors in a trial-like setting before regionals next week. We went to a fun match in Barrie today, and got a chance to do 2 standard runs and one jumpers run. I always use fun matches as trial practice sessions, so I do everything just as I would in a trail. Today I had a plan to reward any correct weave entry, which is different than any other time I've been to a fun match. At previous fun matches, I would act just like I do in trial, go back and fix the mistake, and then move on. I also wanted to try a different approach to the weaves today. I decided I would give Blaze more space, and that I would not micro-manage the entry at all. I would just say "weave" on our approach, and then trust he would get the entry. Both standard runs had weave poles set up as two sets of six, at different points on the course. This meant two entries per run. Our first run, Blaze missed the entry on both sets... we continued on, and because we have 2 minutes in the ring (if we want to use it), I went back and re-attempted the weaves. I rewarded him for each correct entry. Otherwise, he ran great, and we are "back on track" as far as working as a team goes. Good news.

There was a separate ring set up with practice gambles. I went in this ring, and again practiced weaves, rewarding each correct entry. I also got out a squeaky ball, along with Blaze's usual tug toy. Although he loves his tug toy, it had been such a long time since I played ball with him, and he loves balls. Well, squeaky ball was a huge hit, and it seemed to really improve his drive for the weave entry. In our next standard run, I took squeaky ball in the ring with me, but did not let Blaze know I had it. My plan was to whip the ball out if he got his entry to the weaves, and really surprise him. He got his first weave entry, and out came the ball. He got the second weave entry, and again, out came the ball. There were parts on this course where my handling went to hell because of stopping to reward the weaves... it messed up my flow, but that was no big deal. Blaze getting the weave entry and getting rewarded unexpectedly on course was a great motivator for him.

We then did our jumpers run (Blaze's favourite event), which was clean. Then, back to the gamble ring to practice some of the gambles. We worked on the rear cross at a distance, "get out" to a far jump, and again, on rewarding weave entries.

We now have a week to practice our crosses, weave entries, and some distance work. I feel a lot better about going to regionals now, but I have resolved myself to being content with whatever happens there. Stressing about our lack of skill in certain aspects of agility because of not being able to train for 8 months will do nothing to enhance our enjoyment of the event. I should simply be thankful that I am able to attend this event and spend some quality time with a dear friend who is only in the sport for the sheer joy of running a course with me.

And I am. I truly, truly am.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tamsu Trial...Weave Pole Woes

Blaze and I were at the Tamsu agility trial today, with high hopes of having another amazing day of agility trialling. Well, when things go wrong, they go very, very wrong. It is amazing how much my mood can affect my ability to focus. I am unfortunately extremely sleep deprived due to working long hours coupled with a long commute. And, I had an extremely horrible day at work yesterday, which put me in quite a foul mood. I tried my best this morning to re-focus, and to be the clear-headed handler my dog needs me to be, but I could not pull it together. Our first three runs went from bad to worse, with Blaze not responding to my cues. There was a feeling of complete lack of chemistry, although some of my agility friends could not tell from the sidelines, as Blaze appeared to be working nicely except for the weave issues. A comment at the end of the day from our current coach made it clear to me that she could tell I was off... very observant... Blaze got his first weave entry today, and then refused all the rest. I did manage to get him into the weaves in our very last run of the day, but I had to micro-manage the entry. This is not how I like to run a course. On one of our breaks, I got out some treats, went to the practice jump, and did some drills similar to what we have been doing in class, with lots of reward. I did some flatwork as well, hoping that Blaze and I could "regroup", and once again capture the chemistry we have been able to achieve recently. In our jumpers run, we did great. We were on, working great again together, it appeared I was able to refocus, and get myself back on track. There are no weaves in jumpers, so I'm sure this was a factor. This was our only Q for the day. Next came our gamble... we had a brilliant opening, but did not get the gamble, as there were weaves in the closing sequence, and Blaze refused the entry. I was happy though that we seemed to be back on track. Finally, came our team run. It wasn't my best work, but it was clean. We were 1.4 seconds over time. We lost at least 3 seconds at the exchange due to some poor communication.

This is a huge confidence buster for me, and regionals are only two weeks away. I somehow need to find some balance in my life. Having a challenging job just doesn't seem worth it if it interferes significantly with my training goals.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Box Classes Extraordinaire!

Blaze and I had our second Box Class last Thursday. I am simply amazed and extremely impressed at the level of thought and care that goes into these classes. The lessons are pre-planned, with several stations set up so the students can work on separate things simultaneously. Everything we do is thoroughly discussed using proven theories, and we are encouraged to analyze the sequences and the reasons behind why we would choose a certain path for our dog. Several options are usually discussed, and everyone has a clear understanding of why certain crosses will work best at particular points on course. I am learning new ways to analyze courses. Also, I continue to be impressed by how great Blaze does when my signals are clear to him. We all get individual attention, and it feels like we are getting so much accomplished in just one session! I feel so lucky to have gotten a spot in the class....
Now we must practice, practice, practice!

Big Dog, Little Dog...

Yesterday while leaving work in downtown Toronto, I was walking along the city streets with Arlo to my van. We had two separate incidents of small breed dogs barking furiously at the end of their leash at Arlo. One was a toy poodle, the other a Yorkshire terrier. The Yorkie's owner even continued to come closer to us. Arlo paid little, if any, attention to these dogs, as he knows he must behave while on leash. Left to his own devices, I don't know how much of that he would have put up with before he decided it was enough. My mind was boggled as to why these owners allowed their 5 to 10 lb dogs to behave this way, especially since a 92 lb dog could have easily been within their reach. Working in the veterinary business, I have seen many incidents of small breed dogs having been bitten by larger, more powerful dogs. I now wonder how many of these incidents were instigated by the small breed dog harassing the larger breed? I do know of a few incidents where for sure the small breed dog was the instigator. The large breed could have simply been giving a doggie version of a "correction" to the small breed, one that if it had been given to another large breed would have not caused injury. However, a correction from a large, powerful breed to a toy breed could easily result in serious injury or death. How many times have small breed dogs been inadvertently "corrected" by larger breeds for being irritating little pests because their owners refused to stop the behaviour? In hindsight, it is not the small breed dog at fault, but the owner who was oblivious to the danger of allowing their dog to behave in a way that could easily irritate other dogs. These two owners I encountered were lucky I am in control of my dog. Small breed dog owners should be more diligent about their dogs' behaviour, as some small breeds are known to behave as if they were large breeds. This behaviour has landed many small breeds in the emergency veterinary clinic for serious injuries.