Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lafontaine Beach Park

Lafontaine Beach Park... It may not be beautiful in the traditional sense of how we may think of beaches... there are random weeds everywhere, there are different sized rocks scattered all around, the shoreline is irregular, and the sand is course, not fine. But, all I can tell you is that it is beautiful.... I loved it.

I was up in Lafontaine today, and since I was so close to the shores of Georgian Bay, I decided to drive down the winding, snaky road that hugs the shoreline. I was in Tiny Township, the site of much heated debates between land owners and public beach seekers. It would seem that much of the beautiful Georgian Bay shoreline in this township is privately owned. There are some public beaches there, but some of them are literally no wider than an in-town house lot... approximately 60 feet wide... with private land owners on both sides. Because these beaches have been in the news so much over the years, I had always wanted to see them for myself... see what all the fuss was about. I was lucky because it was a beautiful sunny day. The first beach I stopped at was Lafontaine Beach Park... a small public beach, but one of the "larger" ones in the area, much bigger than a single house lot. There were private homes on either side of the public beach, and once you walked out onto the shoreline, you could easily turn around and view some of the beautiful houses along the shore. Ah-h-h-h-h, to be the owner of a beach front property. There was no one else out there when I was there. It was early afternoon, and there was barely a breeze. The sun was bright, the sky blue, and the sun was sparkling off of the water. I could see almost the entire Georgian Bay shoreline off in the distance. It was utterly peaceful there, almost too beautiful and stunning for words. I was mesmerized by the calm, sparkling waters and the simple fact that no where along the shoreline was there any view of city buildings. This beach just gave me a sense of utter peace... I didn't want to leave! Unfortunately I did not have my good quality camera with me, but I did manage to get some decent photos with my cell phone. Although looking at these photos does take me back to that day, and reminds me of the feeling I got while standing on the shore... I'm not sure that they actually do the place justice to those who have not been there...

Looking out at the water from higher up the beach... you can see the other side of the shoreline off in the distance, albeit only faintly.

A piece of shoreline... here you can see the rocks... these rocks continue out into the water, so I'm not sure how nice this would be for swimming.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Urban Tracking 101

Today I was lucky to be able to join some very experienced trackers for some urban tracking coaching. It was not that long ago that I thought of urban tracking as being too difficult and the titles seemed too far out of reach. Although after passing the preliminary CKC tracking title, the TD with both dogs this year, I do have my sights set on the more advanced CKC tracking titles. So when I had the opportunity to get some first hand coaching from some experience urban trackers, I jumped on it. We did a couple of very short grass to pavement tracks for Eros today, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well he took to the pavement. I did a very short one for Arlo too, and he also did well. Arlo has already had an introduction to hard surface tracking. I also had the opportunity to watch a few experienced dogs do an urban track, two of them were "blind" tracks. Very interesting indeed!

Later on in the day we moved over to some open fields, and did some field tracking. I was lucky to have a "stranger" track laid for Arlo through varied terrain. He did very well, and only missed one article. He did have some trouble on corners, but finished the track, and indicated all of the other articles (GREAT for Arlo!).

Overall it was a great day, with beautiful weather that was unseasonably warm for November in Ontario.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vote For Len! TTL Photography

The Globe and Mail has a contest on right now which will award one photographer and one writer a guest ticket to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics to be a guest journalist for the Globe and Mail complete with a new camera, event tickets, flight, accommodations, and spending money. It would be the trip and opportunity of a lifetime!

For many agility enthusiasts here in Ontario, our favourite action photographer has been Len Sylvester of TTL Photography. He has been in attendance to many of the regional and national championships, as well as some local trials. His photos are simply amazing, and offer the competitors a chance at some stunning action shots that they otherwise would not have access to.

Please go to the Globe and Mail website and cast for vote for Len... You can vote daily and a one lucky voter will win a new laptop computer and a new DSLR camera. One vote per day per user is allowed!

Let's help Len get to the 2010 Winter Olympics!

Here is Len's submission:

Blaze in the weaves, as captured by TTL Photo.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

And Just Like That, They Were Gone...

Sunrise this morning.

View of some ominous looking clouds off of my front porch yesterday afternoon.

It was just last week that most of the trees still had most of their leaves. Then, with a powerful windstorm that rolled through here on the weekend, virtually all of the leaves are now off the trees. It was within a day or two that the majority of the leaves were blown off. Very dramatic transformation.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Daylight Savings Time Ends

This past weekend we switched back to standard time. The darkness will now come much more quickly in the evening, reducing our daylight for outdoor training. As winter approaches here in Ontario, we must deal with much shorter days and very long nights. The lack of light along with the cold and miserable weather significantly reduces our ability to work on many aspects of our training. It is when much of our training gears down and we work on what we can. Some of us are lucky to have indoor facilities in which to work. Agility skills can often be kept up quite well over the winter months, as many excellent indoor facilities are available. For schutzhund enthusiasts, many aspects of our training are put on hold until spring.

As the long, cold, dark winter months approach, many of us are simply dreaming of spring with its warmer days and longer daylight hours.

It will be another long winter *sigh*.

Handler Errors = Point Losses

Schutzhund trials are few and far between here in Ontario, so when one is being held, I always try and go out to watch. One can often learn a lot by watching trials, and I find the judges' critiques very helpful. I attended a trial this past weekend as a spectator. I have recently paid very close attention to the handlers in trials. I have found that there is a wide range of handling styles, but they can basically be broken down into 2 broad categories; Confident and Non-Confident handling. The handler's body language speaks volumes to the spectators, the judge, and of course, the dog. The handlers I admire the most are those with confident and smooth handling. Even when things start to fall apart on you out on the trial field, or when the unexpected happens, those who maintain their composure and smooth, confident handling present an overall excellent picture.

The other thing that I find astonishing is how many handlers make unnecessary handling errors that cost points. In this case, handlers are simply giving points away. It is a needless practice and, in my opinion, almost completely preventable. Certainly I will agree that trial nerves sometimes get the better of us as dog handlers, and due to nerves, we may forget things out there on the trial field. These mistakes should be rare occurrences, however, not frequent happenings. Perhaps it is my strong competitive agility background that is influencing me, but I simply feel that with just a little effort in trial preparation, handler mistakes can be minimal. In agility, handler errors are so extremely costly. It can cost you a clean run or a first place finish at a large competition. In agility the course is never the same. The handlers get 7 minutes to walk the course, choose their path, and decide on their handling strategy. In schutzhund, the obedience routine is always the same, it never changes. You know ahead of time what you must do at each level, which order you must perform the required exercises, and what commands to use. This should all be virtually automatic for the handlers. With having a solid, automatic handling system in place, it is one less thing the handler must think about while out on the trial field. And, because we all know ahead of time exactly what is expected, there is really no excuse for seemingly senseless handler errors. Except of course those that occur due to handler nerves or stress. What we should all be striving to achieve is what has long been common practice in the agility world; muscle memory. Many high level competitive sports require the participant to have muscle memory to be successful. Schutzhund should be no different. If you ever watch handlers at the world level in schutzhund, it is a very rare sight indeed to see a handler make an error. It would also be very counter productive to do so... when you are competing for a world championship, giving points away for things such as not taking enough steps in the buildup of your motion exercises or not assuming the basic position with your dog in between exercises will be catastrophic in term of your placement. I believe that all handlers can achieve this level of handling with some simple steps.

Because we all know the routine in advance, and it never changes, we should be out practicing the routine on the trial field without our dogs. Yes, that is correct, without the dog. Go out and walk the entire routine, and use all the commands you would use if your dog was there. Practice counting the paces in your head over and over again. The last thing you need on trial day is to try and remember how many paces are required for each part of the routine. This should be automatic. I also throw in there the exact moments when I plan to reward my dog with light praise, as it is allowed in the rules. This way it becomes automatic. I don't have to think about it. I practice throwing the dumbbell over the jumps, and all other aspects of the routine. If my rehearsed movements for each part of the routine are absolutely correct, the likelihood of me making handler errors out there is significantly diminished, as I have learned muscle memory for these required elements. This is a skill I have learned through many years of competitive agility. It is a skill that all of us can master with a little practice.

Below is the heeling pattern for all levels in schutzhund.