Anyone who has ever "seriously" competed in agility (or any sport, really... dog related or not) knows that being in good mental place has a lot to do with your success on the trial field.
This morning, I read an interesting article in the latest issue of Clean Run, titled "Agility Mind Gym: Passion, Excellence and Dreams," by Kathy Keats. This article is the first in a series that talks/will talk about ways in which visualization exercises can help to clarify goals, clear our minds of expectations and pressures, and be the best agility handlers we can be. As this year comes to a close, I've been thinking a lot about what I want to accomplish next year in agility. This past year, I've allowed pressures, nerves and other outside "stuff" to cause unneeded frustration for Cedar and I in agility. One of my main goals for next year is to work on my mental game.
The first exercise Keats' article talks about involves writing down five things that you enjoy about agility. Not five things you'd like to accomplish, but five things you enjoy about the sport. Here are mine:
1) The challenge. I love not knowing what challenges Cedar and I will face until the day of the trial.
2) The dogs. It still amazes me that we can train dogs to do something like agility. The complex skills we are able to teach them really do blow my mind. I am honored that my dogs feel I'm worthy of pointing the path.
3) The camaraderie. Having the opportunity to spend time with friends, working through challenges together, is half the fun.
4) The physicality of it. I love that agility pushes me, gives me a reason to be more fit without being judgmental.
5) The stuff. Let's face it... if you do agility, there is a lot of cool stuff out there to buy. Books, DVDs, equipment, lessons... there is always something cool or new out there to check out. I love shopping for new stuff and trying out new things. I'll blame my short attention span ;)
What are your five most favorite things about agility (or your dog sport of choice)?
With Cedar in heat and Joe and I lazing around on winter break, Moss has gotten really bored and stir crazy over the last few days. The kind of bored where a simple game of fetch just won't do. Damn Border Collies ;). Unlike a lot of breeds, physical exercise alone does little to temper or relax a BC. They crave mental stimulation... a job to do. So... with that in mind, I've made an effort to train him more over the past couple of days. It's amazing how much that helps him.
Yesterday, I taught him how to roll over, a trick he's always struggled with. I think the coordination required is hard for a dog of his bulk and mentality, LOL. Luckily, what he lacks in coordination, he makes up for in "try." Moss is the most enthusiastic dog ever... everything is his favorite thing, every day is a good day for him. I really do need to get a video of that trick.... it's super cute. He flings himself down and over with way more drama than necessary. Leave it to Moss to give a run-of-the-mill stupid pet trick some extra flair!
Today, I continued refining his roll over trick, but also worked on some basic agility foundation stuff as well. I have done a lot of the Linda Mecklenburg DJS drills with him in the past, and have started to expand our repertoire of skills with some of AgilityNerd's One Jump Drills. These are really fun and productive drills that you can do without a whole lot of time or equipment. Since I plan to trial Moss at 26", we spent most of our training time today at that height. He did really well! He is really starting to jump nicely, with good form, coordination and confidence. Much better than the flailing/uncoordinated/knock-every-bar style we started with! ;)
In addition to the "around the clock" stuff, I also made sure to reinforce start lines and begin training rear crosses. Because this was the first time I asked him for a "turn" command over a jump, I moved the bar down to 20" to make it a little easier for his body (and brain). Within the next several sessions, I plan on gradually bringing the bar up to 26".
I was so impressed with his focus and athleticism today. He's really learning from the foundation training. My boy might make an agility dog yet! :)
Our friends over at My life with flyball dogs were nice enough to give us the "Liebster Award," which is a blogger award intended to bring attention to up-and-coming bloggers, or blogs that you think deserve more attention. Thank you SO much for this honor!
Here are the "rules" for this award:
Liebster means “dearest” in German, and the award is intended to help up-and-coming blogs get the attention they deserve. As with any award, there is a bit of ceremony involved.
In order to accept the award, we must do the following:
1. Copy and paste the award on our blog
2. Link back to the blogger who gave us the award
3. Pick our five favorite blogs with less than 200 followers, and leave a comment on their blog to let them know they have received the award.
4. Hope that the five blogs chosen will keep spreading the love and pass it on to five more blogs
Well, I figure it's time to fill in some details :-P
My next puppy (Border Collie... obviously!) will be coming from a working breeder in Utah. I am on the list for a girl puppy.... which is a good thing, because the litter, which was born a little over two weeks ago (November 26th), is all girls!
The sire of the litter is Amanda Milliken's Monty: Monty had a very successful USBCHA Nursery career and is now running in Open trials. He is currently ranked in the top 10 Open dogs according to USBCHA standings.
Here is his pedigree (his pedigree is identical to Clive's, they have the same sire and their dams are littermates): http://www.canadianbordercollies.org/pedigrees/Clive4400.pdf
The dam of the litter is Kristin Sittner's Tag:
Tag is a very nice dog who has already begun to distinguish herself in herding and agility. She is currently competing in USBCHA Nursery trials and AKC and USDAA agility.
Tag's dam, Keli's photo and pedigree:
Tag's sire, Tok's photo and pedigree:
If you notice, Keli is a Riggs daughter, which makes her a half sister to Moss. So these puppies will be somewhat related to him, which is cool. I already know I like the lines, and it will be interesting and exciting to see what Monty's genes bring to the mix. Keli is running in Open and has competed at all the big trials in the west as well as the USBCHA finals. These puppies come from really great herding and performance lines. I'm so excited!!!
So... in six weeks, one of these little ladies will be coming home with me:
Aren't they adorable? I can't wait to know which one will be mine...
Today, I finished the last paper I will ever have to write in graduate school.
Today, for all intents and purposes, I finished my Masters Degree in English Literature.
It's been a long journey... sometimes arduous, sometimes fun, but always a learning experience. I've grown and changed a lot since I first started in the fall of 2009. I am a different person now, but I think a better one.
And the best part?
I'll have more time to spend with these jokers!
Boy, do I have some exciting plans for the future...
Man, "future"... what an exciting and terrifying word :D
Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend my second Pat Hastings seminar. About five or six years ago, I went to her Puppy Puzzle seminar at a dog show I attended in Utah. The one went to this past Saturday was her Structure in Action seminar and WOW, did I get a lot out of it. Although Pat is primarily a conformation person, much of what she said applies to performance dogs as well.
Pat is an AKC conformation judge and has been in dogs since 1959. She is mainly a conformation person (is a former professional handler), but understands and respects function and purpose as well. She believes that every judge should watch a breed do its original job before being certified to judge that breed. Additionally, she stated many times that breed standards are supposed to function as a blueprint for a dog that would be able to do its job (herding, hunting, coursing, etc). If it can't physically or mentally do the job it was designed for, it fatally lacks breed type (i.e. a Border Collie that can't or does not work is not a Border Collie).
Pat is famous for her "Puppy Puzzle" method of evaluating puppies. In a nutshell, she believes that evaluating puppies at 8 weeks of age provides breeders with the closest representation of what that dog will be like structurally at maturity. She has formally evaluated thousands of puppies, litters and adult dogs over a 22-year period to provide a pretty strong research base to back up this method.
The seminar was (surprise, LOL) about structure. In particular, it was about how certain faults impact the dog, health and performance-wise. Pat is a great teacher and has a lot of practical knowledge that helps her understand and explain this very technical subject. To make it even better, two vets were in attendance and provided some great insights on structure and health.
The first half of the seminar was a lecture about structure. Pat went through all different parts of the dog, showing skeletal examples of faults as well as photos of dogs of various breeds. After lunch, she examined two litters of puppies (Siberian Huskies and Parson Russell Terriers) and then went over adult dogs that people had brought with them to the seminar.
For me, the seminar was incredibly illuminating. Because I have been very involved in performance in the years since I went to my last seminar with her, I approached the information with a whole different perspective. Suddenly, it made sense why certain dogs I watch in agility are always knocking bars, jumping weird, or getting injured.
Pat stressed over and over that only well-built dogs should be doing sports such as agility. Because our dogs will do anything for us, they will run themselves into the ground trying to keep doing it. I know Cedar would do agility until she could no longer move... so this seminar made me much more concerned with watching her carefully for any problems. I have another post I'd like to write, going over Cedar's structure in detail, but I haven't thought it completely through, yet. But wait for it ;).
Below, I've written down some interesting things I learned at the seminar, taken from my notes.
Breeding and Evaluating Puppies: - at 8 weeks, bone size, substance and tail carriage mean nothing. What you CAN evaluate are front and rear angles, topline, balance and temperament. - Don't judge movement at 8 weeks, but do look at carriage and presence. -Busy puppies (the ones that are always moving) are usually built less soundly than calm puppies, because it's harder to stand still. Oftentimes the soundest puppy in the litter is missed because it doesn't move a lot. It doesn't have to because it's comfortable in its own skin ;). - A breeding program should be like a square: health, type, structure and temperament form the sides. If one thing is missing, the whole program will collapse. - A dog should be able to be identified as one of his breed, at the very basic level, by its head and silhouette. She was careful to state that this is for physical characteristics only and stress that working ability is also a part of this picture for most breeds. - It's important to look at littermates (maybe even more so than looking at dogs further back in the pedigree) when making breeding decisions about structure and health.
Balance: - To judge balance, draw three lines on your dog. The first is a line from the middle of the front leg up past the top of your dog's head. The head and neck should be in front of the line. The second line is from the point of the buttock to the ground. For moderate rear angulation, the front of your dog's rear toe should hit the line. The third line follows the back line forward from the tail out past the dog's head (horizontally). Your dog's chin should be above that line. If your dog passes these three tests, he's generally pretty balanced and has decent angles. - The ribcage should be long enough for the 9th rib to attach. - The sternum should be parallel to the ground and should go as close to the belly button as possible. A short sternum creates what is called a herring-gut, which is a shorter ribcage that leaves more of the organs exposed than is probably good. - Opposing force (in muscle, bone, gravity etc) creates stability. If one part is out of balance it effects the rest of the dog. - Toplines are not heritable. The topline is a result of structure elsewhere on the dog.
Fronts: - If the shoulder blades are the proper width apart, they will just touch when the dog puts his head down. Your dog can only lower his head until the shoulder blades touch, no further. - the straighter the shoulder, the less muscle they have to support the front and neck. - You know those show dogs with really long, pretty necks? That is BAD. dogs always have the same number of vertebrae. if they have a swan neck, that means that the vertebrae are longer or have more space between them, which creates weakness and increases the probability of neck injuries by a lot. - The only thing holding the neck in place are ligaments. Improper ligaments cause a ewe neck, and the upright neck carriage you see is compensating for that weakness. Ewe necked dogs have trouble swimming (they fight the water) and carrying heavy objects in their mouths. - If you can wrap your hand around the upper arm, it's set too far forward. The ribcage should stop you. - Having a short upper arm lifts the front feet up too high, creating the illusion of more reach but in actuality wasting motion and putting more stress on the dog's joints at the trot. - The prosternum is in a direct line w/ point of shoulder. Or, it should be. If it's in line, the dog does not have a short upper arm. - Pat has also noticed a correlation between true short upper arms and elbow dysplasia... interesting. - For a dog that toes in in front (pigeon-toed), the #1 cause is loose ligaments in the elbows. - A dip in the topline or a sway back indicates there is a problem somewhere in the front assembly.
Rears: - A dog's topline gets more extreme the longer an overangulated rear stands in a stacked position, which you see in ads and win photos. You can tell if an overangulated dog has been standing stacked for a long time on the podium if their topline looks really extreme. - The problem is, it's the patellas that take a real beating from those rears, because they aren't meant to take that kind of stress. People rarely think about that. - You can change the length of bones, but not the mechanics. If something is out of balance, it puts stress on a different part of the body than is meant to withstand that stress. - Slipped hocks cause knocked bars in agility because the dog tucks the "slipped" leg differently than a non-slipped leg. They also cause turning problems, because the dog pushes off harder with the non-slipped leg which torques them to one side in the air. It is also hard for dogs with slipped hocks to do the weave poles. One sign of slipped hocks is a roached topline, because the dog builds muscle in the back to compensate for weight-bearing problems in the hind leg(s). - You should never be able to see the outline/shadow of the stifle joint from the side or front. If you can, that means the dog has lost the weight-bearing ability of that joint. The knees should be tucked in so all you see is a smooth curve. If you see the outline of the patella/knee, the dog's hind feet probably toe out as well. - A low tailset, bad croup, or roached topline indicates there is something wrong with the rear assembly. - Problems with the rear can cause lower back problems in performance dogs because they are using their backs to compensate.
Movement: - "there's no room for error in square" .... a square dog must be built almost perfectly to move well. body length adds forgiveness - A dog can only reach as far with his front leg as the angle of his shoulder. Artificially extreme reach (common in show-bred dogs) is causes by an incorrectly-placed upper arm. - When evaluating puppies, don't judge movement at 8 weeks, but do look for puppies that prefer to trot rather than gallop. This indicates more balanced structure, generally.
I have so many notes that it would be dumb to try and include everything in one post, but this is a general look at some of the stuff I learned at the seminar this weekend. I hope you can learn something, too! Even if you don't do conformation, good structure is still important to the well-being and longevity of our performance dogs. Pat does not necessarily believe that only perfectly built dogs should do agility, but she did have some good advice that I think we should all pay attention to:
Listen to your dog.
Now, we all know that there is no perfect dog out there. They all have their faults, physically and temperamentally. It is important to not only know what our dogs' faults are, but to know what the possible side effects of those faults could be. Certain faults, such as improper rear angulation, can increase a dog's susceptibility to things like cruciate ligament injuries and the like. But if we know this information, it's easier to manage and avoid injuries. Pay attention to your dog's behavior and motivation. If a normally gung-ho agility dog suddenly starts refusing jumps or contact obstacles, there's probably a reason. If your hunting dog suddenly stops wanting to retrieve, there's probably a reason for that as well. Our dogs tell us a lot every day... but as they can't tell us with words, it's our job to listen by paying attention to their body language.
I'll leave you with this adorable photo of baby Moss :)