Saturday, 22 November 2014

First Proper Competitive Outing for Finn

I'm still struggling with my health, so this was a short outing to do one round of Jumping.

We arrived in good time, and Finn and I did a few warm up jumps in the practice ring.  We also worked on "ignoring other dogs - while being fed treats" - which went well, although he still finds other dogs approaching the scooter a bit stressful.

So after "walking" the course, we were the 2nd competitor into the ring... & yes it was that wet!!  The mud you see was produced just from folk walking the course!!

Anyway, Finn's first round in competition resulted in an elimination, but I came out of the ring on an absolute high because of how attentive he was, and the fact that we "got" that complicated wee combination of jumps after the first black tunnel.

Watching this however, I can see two times where I've obviously used the wrong arm to signal.

Now that I don't spin on the spot (as runners can do when doing a front cross), I should use the "other" arm (ie away from the side the dog is on) to push his line on, so he doesn't curve back towards me ....

For example after the last tunnel: I think I should have used my right arm to signal onwards, not my left which made him sweep round to his right....

Lots to learn.  Such fun.  Can't wait til next Winter League session!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Weaves from a Distance

Finn's weave training is progressing well.  My previous post describes the work I did using the Two by Two training method.  Finn quickly learned to weave a set of four poles this way.

I continued with this approach,also sending him from awkward angles.

Some days however, he would repeatedly try out other behaviours - such as just running alongside the four poles with his nose down - to see if I would reward that.  Anyway, I consistently brought him back to where he was comfortable and repeated what he could achieve, before once again challenging him.

Soon I was able to add two more poles and have him do six poles.

Once he was comfortable with that, I set up TWO sets of six about 5 metres apart. After doing each of these singly, I then sent him through both sets one after the other.

In only a few sessions I was then able to bring the two sets of six together and suddenly he was doing twelve weave poles in sequence!!!

WOW... I have to admit I'm a convert to this method of teaching weaves.  He really got the idea very quickly.

However he seemed to be taking the poles very slowly and not learning that rhythm that fast dogs develop through the poles.  So I re-introduced channels.  (The fact that our club now train here and they'd left the channel weaves set up in the field was also irresistible!)

This time channels were much more successful.  Instead of just bashing through he was now weaving, and also gathering some speed.  On top of that he is getting (mostly) good remote entries.

I took this video the other day - the weaves are open in a channel.  I sat on my scooter facing the middle of the set of channel weaves, and sent him through them first one way the the other.  He misses one entry, but got it the next time for his reward.

I'm really pleased with how this is coming on.  

Friday, 26 September 2014

Two by Two Weave Training for Finn

So we started with Channel Weaves and he got the idea of a dash through the length of the channel very quickly.

However as we started to bring the poles more in line, Finn still just dashed (or bashed) in a straight line down the length of the poles. This led to a couple of problems:
  1. If I was using the home poles, which are the stick in the ground variety, they just flew everywhere like so many matchsticks!
  2. If we were at club training, using the more solid channel weaves, he bashed through hitting his face and sides, and not really thinking it was much fun.
So either way weave training was not progressing well, and certainly not to the point where he got the idea he should actually weave!

In his mind it was all about running in straight lines.

So I came across the Two by Two idea originally put forward by Susan Garrett of teaching weaves by introducing only two poles first, and then adding more.  The idea is to make the dogs look for each pair of poles.

I started this about 10 days ago.  First by just rewarding him for going between two poles.
Then by adding a second pair off-set as shown in the section labelled 1.

Over time the second pair is gradually moved into line with the first pair (2 &3) and then brought closer so that all poles are at the correct distance apart.

At the moment Finn can achieve 4 poles in a straight line at the end of a practice session, however I still usually start with the poles spaced as they are in step 3 when we first go out.  I'm doing about ten repetitions each time, and then doing something else.

My aim this week is to have him reliably running 4 poles from where ever I ask.

Next post on Weaves:  Weaves from a Distance

Monday, 8 September 2014

Last of the Summer Shine Fun Day at Cooperhill

Great Fun Day at Cooperhill today!

Nearly all our agility class were there and testing out new skills.

I was pleased with Finn, as he did nice "waits" at the start of each round, and then willingly ran on for the distant lines I attempted.

Amy took a video:

We still need to refine some of our turn commands, but this was a huge leap forward from the last Fun Day at Cooperhill where he just ran over random obstacles - only sometimes listening to my directions.

Anyway, it was a lovely day and some of the barley had been cut up behind the grounds so we got a wee spin up there too: 

Finn's sister, Pixie, had a really successful day with Amy getting a clear round in the Jumps and Tunnels round, and picking up a Judge's Special Rosette.

Here's a video of her round:

  Wee Patsy was flying today too

And she and Shona won a class...

And were also videoed: 

All in all a great day out:

For me, my friends and my favourite pup!

PS His earlier round at Cooperhill can be seen here: Not a Velcro Dog

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Outside the Ring - Gamblers and Addicts!

"Outside the Ring" is the theme for this Dog Agility Blogger Event. Other posts on the same theme can be found here:


As soon as think about my "outside the ring" activities, my brain immediately swings to the reasons I do that stuff, and it is all to do with what goes on "inside the ring"!

Even now, as I think about an agility round, I start to feel that wonderful thrum of excitement in my heart and a slightly wide-eyed, "in the moment" focus.

Every time we enter the ring we hold out hope for that perfect round - one of those moments of understanding between dog and handler that transcends all our real world concerns.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course, and every competition has champions taking falls and novices celebrating surprise wins.  It is all part of what brings us out to compete again and again: the gamble of each and every round.

The "outside the ring" stuff just helps us to load the dice in our favour.

We all have our pet training routines, queuing tips, and health advice for dogs and handlers. And we also have that "other stuff" that goes on outside the ring: perhaps those bills to be paid, work worries, emotional entanglements and so on.

Yet inside the ring, we can leave all that behind, and take another gamble on finding that perfect moment.  It's like a drug, and we keep going back for more.  And so much of what goes on outside the ring is to feed that habit.

"Hello, my name is Sally, and I am addicted to Gambling - Agility Gambling."  

Somehow, I suspect I am not the only Agility Gambling Addict!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Poor Finn!

Well Finn has finally had his wee operation.  I debated for sometime whether to neuter him - there are strong views both for and against.  Finally, went with the vet's recommendation and booked him in.  

He is recovering well but not one bit impressed to have to stay on the lead for all his exercise for a whole week!  Nor by the collar that he must wear  - licking a certain area is just too irresistible!

On a more cheerful note, at our last training session before "that" day, Finn was jumping full height and going really well.

Just watch his tail!  Makes me laugh...

Monday, 4 August 2014

"Mind to Win" Beginners Course

Kathrine McAleese runs an agility fun day each year after her "Mind to Win" training camp.

This year she introduced a course of jumps and tunnels especially for dogs who had not yet competed in KC competitions.

Ronnie McAleese designed a flowing course with just a couple of little challenges:

So Finn and I attempted the course as a training round at medium height.  It didn't go entirely to plan.... the purple arrows show where we messed up.  (And Ronnie, I'm really sorry Finn lifted his leg on your tunnel.)

However despite the bungle in the middle, I was very pleased with Finn this time.  The last sequence felt totally exhilarating!

Thanks for a fun day Kathrine and co.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Video of Training Sequence.

Video taken at training.  We had practiced shorter sequences during the session.  Then put them altogether at the end.

Understandably I was very pleased with how this went - it felt really good that he understood what I was asking and responded with enthusiasm.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Finn's Training: Index of Posts

A couple of people have asked about how I started working Finn from the scooter, and about the work I've done with him to encourage distance handling. So these are links to posts I wrote at the time, with a few comments added from today's perspective.

July 2012
Introducing Finn, My Collie Pup
Finn -Checking out his new world

Sept 2013

Throughout his puppyhood, I obviously did a lot of just playing with Finn.  Things like encouraging him to chase a ball, and bring it back.  And to put the ball back in my hand rather than just drop it at my feet.  I also wanted a reliable wait, so started introducing a wait into our play sessions.

December 2013:
Finn's Lessons
Finn Scooter Training
Finn on Video. Wait! Go! & Back!
Some Finn Special?
Starting a few Jumps with Finn
Photo series: Wait and Jump

Really, I was just keeping up with a few short minutes most days.  At this stage Finn still hadn't started formal classes, but I thought that a little bit of work in advance of the class would help us cope, because obviously I'll not be able to run along side him like everyone else.

I didn't keep repeating the same stuff all the time either.  For example although he mastered the tunnel as quite a small puppy, it was put away for sometime while working on other little things.  "Wait" however I kept reinforcing and practicing in new environments.

February 2014:
Patsy and Finn on Video
Finn doing some Distance Work
Just 5 Minutes Most Days

March 2014: 
Now some Channel Weaves for Finn

A Note on Weaves: I thought I'd teach him using the channel weave method.  He learned very quickly to run down the channel.  However, I have currently had to stop, because our weave poles are only stuck into the ground, and trying to bring them into a straighter line has resulted in him ploughing through them.  So although we made this excellent start, I am now only working his weaves on the club training set that cannot be sent flying!!!

April 2014:
First Agility Class for Finn
Pictures from Puppy Agility Class
Contacts? "Touch" or Running?
Thinking about Right and Left commands.
Training Round for Finn

May 2014:
Training Sequence - Feeling Proud!
Why do I use Wheels?

June 2014: 
Finn - Training Update
Not a Velcro Dog!
Finn Learning See-Saw

November 2014
First Competitive Outing for Finn

I'll try to update this sequence periodically to show Finn's progress.  

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Patsy's First Clear Round Win!!

Great day out today!  And Patsy surprised us all, by gettting a lovely clear round win with Shona!

The setting was beautiful.  Indeed this is the pond that Patsy ran off to last year when she jilted me and left me in the ring while she went and chased ducks!!

I even managed to get a wee video clip of the round too.

Go Patsy!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Finn Learning See-Saw

Recently we have been working on contacts.  I started with a bit of wood in the garden...

I called this position "see-saw", and kept putting the wood in different places and asking for the behaviour, before throwing the ball for reward.

The video shows what happened as we transferred this "see-saw" command from the wood to our training see-saw in the garden.  (It was made for terriers, so narrower than ideal for Finn.)

I have a barrel under the end of the down slope, to make a more distinct difference to the end of the contact.  I am aiming here for all 4 paws to remain on the see-saw before releasing him.

Anyway, he learns quickly and subsequent sessions have resulted in the correct behaviour almost every time - and also with me in a variety of positions away from him.

Very pleased with my boy.

...and doesn't he know it!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Agility for ALL - Dogs for Disabled Demo

Philippa Armstrong has been an inspiration to many who have had to deal with challenges affecting their ability to do agility in the conventional sense.

Recently Philippa ran an agility demonstration ring at the Dogs for Disabled Show.  She produced this video of the dog and handler combinations who took part.

I was very flattered to have been invited to take part in this, but the dates fell right in the middle of Shona's A2 exams so a trip to England was not going to work.  Perhaps next year Philippa?

In the mean time plenty of inspiration here for all of us, no matter how we handle our dogs.  Thank you Philippa.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Not a Velcro Dog!

Today there was a Fun Day at our training grounds.  The first class was just jumps and tunnels so most of the beginner class entered.

I entered Finn for medium height, and told the judge that we weren't going to attempt the whole course, as we don't yet have the skills to follow the correct route.

However - I am SO proud of him because, although we did a totally random course:
- he did a fantastic "wait" at the start for me
- he was really enjoying the course
- he wasn't distracted by the spectators in tents all up one side, nor the judge in the ring, nor the big wide open barley field beyond
- he was thinking about what I was asking him to do - we just haven't perfected a common language yet.

We attempted two equally hectic rounds...

.... but I was so pleased with him, just for trying so hard to please!  

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Success? What is it anyway?

It's easy to recognise the outright success of champions... 

..... but in my view "success" is much less tangible than simply winning, and considerably more widespread than ribbons for places.

So what IS success? 

Perhaps it is simply a moment where some part of our dream is realised?

This is Patsy completing our first ever NOT ELIMINATED round!  A moment of success I will always cherish.

So it seems "success", is actually more to do with context, than with winning.  

In training, we aim to keep our dogs succeeding so that they are not discouraged. And, when a task is too difficult, we help them succeed by making the task simpler. Parents do the same for their children.

As handlers, I think we should be equally considerate to ourselves.

So, just like we do for our puppies, we need to set ourselves up for success.

This includes ensuring that, no matter what our dreams, our interim goals are attainable, achievable and constantly re-evaluated.

Viewed this way, "success" becomes a journey of many, ever-changing little successes, and not an ultimate destination!

Every dog, every show, every judge, presents different challenges - and the challenges we each face, to get our moment in the ring, are not equal either.

Likewise our perception of success is coloured by our own personal expectations and aspirations.

So whilst my "success" - as traditionally measured by ribbons - is confined to a few rare, and surprising, moments . . .

. . . I regard my agility journey as an adventure of many small achievements.

And success, however we define it, is born of all the little things that we do every time we play with our dogs . . .


Note: This post has been written as part of  the 

Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day on the topic of "Success".

Links to other posts on the same topic can be found here:

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Finn - Training Update

Training sessions have now been moved to Tuesday nights, which means that the "puppy" class no longer has the training grounds to itself.

Of course for Finn this meant a whole new level of excitement!

Louise started us off with the soft tunnel, gradually lowering the fabric with each turn, and then a little bit of work on contacts at the end of the see-saw followed by a few jump and tunnel exercises, culminating in the sequence below.

Finn's first attempt was all over the place.  He managed the first four jumps in a line before heading off on a large circuit of the grounds doing random tunnels and jumps as he pleased.... ooooppps!

However when it came to doing the whole series at the end, things came together.

I set him in a wait and parked the scooter up at the first corner (facing as shown by the arrow) and then I gave arm signals and verbal instructions.

And JOY of JOYS... he seemed to understand every word and to complete the sequence perfectly!

This time, I used the word steady as he was taking off for the fourth jump.  I had only ever used this when walking him on the lead before, and so was delighted when he slowed on landing.  He then came to his name and was easily sent on over the next two jumps and into the tunnel.

All in all, I'm feeling pretty chuffed tonight!

Sunday, 18 May 2014


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Monday, 12 May 2014

Why do I use Wheels?

Today, 12th May, is ME Awareness Day.  So I thought it would be a good time to explain why I use wheels to do agility.

I have not always been ill.  Prior to the onset of ME I was very active, and enjoyed many outdoor hobbies such as riding, cycling, gardening, swimming, walking and....

Well, you get the picture - I led a normal busy, active life.

This is me on my daughter's horse with some junior Pony Club members - probably around 2010:

Unfortunately Myalgic Encephalomyelitis stole my active life in March 2012.

Suddenly I was unable to work, or to function normally.  I kept expecting to "get back to normal" but every day I felt drained!  I just couldn't bounce back and kept asking "Why?"

Sadly there are few medical answers for ME and no realistic treatment options, so I was just left to get on with things.

And, this is how I still am!  I run out of ooommmphfff very quickly.  I also make myself permanently worse every time I try to push my boundaries!

For the first year of ME I was still able to walk enough to train my terrier Patsy. It was our first competitive year, and I attempted to send her away from me on course, so that I could take short cuts!

I even used this rather loud fleece, with the idea that dogs see blue and yellow best, and maybe she'd understand me better!  It was a marginally successful tactic!

As the year went on, I recovered less and less quickly after each competitive round, and with my abilities declining, I faced the very real thought that I might have to give up agility altogether!

That's when I thought of using wheels.

At last, I could move quickly again, and I could once again "walk" the dogs each day.

Psychologically, this was an incredibly scary move, yet the scooter gave me back a sense of freedom - one that I thought I'd lost forever!

To be honest, using wheels has opened my world back up again!

Don't get me wrong I can still walk.  Yet I've found, if I walk more than about 600 paces each day that I make myself very ill.  So, I use a wee gadget called a Fitbit to monitor what I do.  This seems nerdy, but it has helped me to stabilise my health.

Now, when it comes to wheels,  I've discovered that there are various types of wheels, and that really a little red granny scooter does not feature highly in the wheels credibility league!  

So....  after much debate, and with the realisation that my health was still not improving... 

... I finally got some SERIOUS WHEELS earlier this year!  

My new Aztec Scooter can go places that the wee red Rascal never could.  At last I can get out through our trees again.  I used to walk the dogs here each morning before work, but since becoming ill, I had been unable to do so.

The dogs love this too and I often pack coffee, nibbles and a book when I head out to the trees. 

I guess there are parts of my new life that I've come to love.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

More links to blog posts written for #May12BlogBomb can be found at:

PS... And a more recent video of me doing agility with Finn can be found in this post:
First Proper Competitive Outing for Finn.

PPS - Check here for another update at the end of 2016.  An improvement in my health means that after 3+ years using wheels, I am now on my feet again. Not quite recovered, but doing better:
More than a year!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

New Agility Training Field!

Castlereagh DTC are moving their agility training field - and they are going to move here!  

We are lucky to have space around us, and I was delighted when the club took us up on the offer to use our "wee field".  Part of the ground was a bit damp, and the surface a bit lumpy in places, so a bit of work needed done first.

So here are a few snapshots of the work getting done.

The area has now been re-seeded. 

and I imagine it will be autumn before it is ready for use.  Roll on the autumn!!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Training Sequence - Feeling Proud!

Today's session at our puppy agility class gave me some real encouragement for the future.

Louise set up a course of jumps and tunnels for us all. The others were doing a front cross after the first tunnel, but obviously with me using wheels, this sort of waltz-like dance move wasn't possible! 

So first time through, I started with Finn on my left and just sent him away to the first tunnel and back towards me and on to the second:

This worked, except the first attempt he ran past the last two jumps looking for his ball!  Second attempt worked a dream!

Later the rest of the class were trying a different technique, so Finn and I also tried something new.

To my delight he achieved a nice wait and then did exactly as he was instructed.  

I've got to admit I felt very pleased with this achievement.    Of course, the route was always the obvious one straight ahead, but it felt wonderful that he understood what I was asking of him, and confidently dashed off to do it!

Actually, everybody did well at this exercise, and we all left with our confidence boosted.  

Chilling in the Trees

Two quick pictures:

MY new wheels now allow me to head out round the trees at home.  The company is good, and "Yup!" that's a mug of coffee hanging off the handles!   I've also my Kindle packed too.  ;)

Earlier this week, it was also a certain pup's 1st Birthday on 29th April, and Amy arranged for Finn to get a card from his sister Pixie.

The Bonios were delicious!