poniedziałek, 31 lipca 2017

EO 2017 - Salice Terme

First of all, I think there should be new FCI rule that EO has to be organized next to a swimming pool 😊. Actually the whole place in Salice Terme was perfect: the rings were even and with good grass, there were lots of trees around them, so one could wait in shadow for their turn, there was a small river nearby to cool the dogs – and the swimming pool for humans as well, and then lots of restaurants nearby to hang out in the evenings. My next request would be that whenever there is some big agility event, the Italians should take care of the food and especially bring the lemon ice cream.

The swimming pool and the food were sort of enough to make this EO good, even though of course there were some organizational fuck-ups, like for instance initially they didn’t think it would be necessary to provide any toilets for the campers’ camp  (they said it’s campers… so people have it… but didn’t think that a/ even if you do have a toilet in your camper, you still need to empty is somewhere b/ most people are really not so keen on using them in above 30 degrees temperatures, considering they are sleeping right next to it in a space of a few square meters). Eventually we got some portable toilets, but then no one thought it was necessary to clean them regularly :P so they became UNUSABLE pretty soon. The other sanitary facilities were not much better I would say…

There were some problems which occur in pretty much every EO I’ve ever attended like some mistakes in the results, problems with changing your running order if you ran with more than one dog and so on, but nothing really serious, so I actually think contrary to what lots of people feared, the organizers did a great job (although after France last year pretty much everything would have been better :P). I also really liked the courses and mostly the judging as well. And the speaker was the best ever, I don’t think I will ever be able to get rid of my new Italian accent when English speaking (Get out of the ringE, pleaSE!).

I’m pretty happy with my runs, even though Brava seemed to have a bit of bad luck with an odd knocked bar and two really weird refusals. We managed to qualify for both team and individual finals (from 5th place in jumping, so pretty cool). Brego was also really good, this time his handler was not and twice I forgot to use any command, causing us elimination. I’m really proud of Brava’s team final run and quite happy with myself for it. The team finals look a bit overbearing and I had my moment of panic about whether I would be able to even remember the sequence among so many obstacles and for a moment doubted if I can leave Brava at the startline when the other dog would be running, but then I realized, well, it’s actually no different than any other run, except the timing is a bit more tight (you need to start immediately after the previous dog finishes and the judge whistles, because the time is still going). So I just led out as I would do in any other run and waited patiently for the judge to whistle, everything worked perfectly and I think it was actually my best run in this EO. I’m not a big fun of the team finals formula, but it was sure fun to run it for the first time ever – maybe we’ll do it better as a team next time, if we ever get the chance.  

In the individual medium final Brava was the only dog that turned so tightly on the jump number 3 that she missed the long jump after, so we got a refusal and lost tons of time, then managed to somehow continue with pretty decent second part of the course. But I had another reason for joy this year as Zookie and Laura finished third place, winning another podium in EO final year after year. They are a great team and Zookie is maturing and getting faster and more consistent (she also won agility team run in the individual ranking and won a medal in individual jumping) – I’m really proud of them <3.
Roman and Evo had three clean runs and pretty decent times, so it looks like Evo is getting back in shape and actually runs better and better on every competition.

Of course, meeting lots of friends from different countries is another awesome thing about EO and it was great to see our friends from Norway, Spain, Luxembourg, Austria, Great Britain and Slovenia and spend some time with them. We’re on our way for short vacation in Slovenia and then B.A.S.E.  – pyrshep competition in Germany, where we’ll meet some more of the best people in the world.

Speaking of which – I used to think about agility people as some sort of family – of course not everybody loves everybody, but so far, agility competitions, even the huge ones, were really safe and it was absolutely customary that people left their possessions pretty much anywhere, cars were left open, dogs in crates unattended and so on. Well, that weekend at least two cars were broken into and one of Polish competitors was robbed, losing a backpack containing her wallet, mobile phone, all the documents, car keys, dog’s passports… Can you imagine being left in a foreign country without anything, without an option to go home with your car (the other set of keys was left at closed home back in Poland, so someone would have to break into it to get them and then ship it to Italy)? It turned out someone was trying to withdraw the money from the credit card the very same evening… Fortunately the next day at least the backpack with car keys and dog’s documents was returned, which solved the biggest problem, but she still needs to go to the embassy to get some kinds of temporary documents and so on. That is just such a mean and evil thing to do to somebody and we suspect it was not an entirely random crime, but that it was actually one of the “dog people” that did it (especially that the dog’s documents were returned) and that makes me so sad, like it’s some kind of end of an era…

And another not so pleasant thing, I don’t really even know how to tackle it properly… and of course it’s my subjective feeling, but it’s also something that didn’t start of this EO, but much earlier.
I watched Werner Goltz congratulating Laura Reinhalter, who “pushed him out of the podium” as he was third and ended on fourth place after her run and I saw that he was genuinely happy for her success and for the best teams to win and I thought that was fantastic and this is the true sportsmanship and something we should look up to. But I missed a little bit of that in our Polish team. We had some successes this year – for the first time ever we qualified for the team finals in all three height categories (we didn’t do particularly well in either of them, but I really think the team final is such a peculiar run that it’s kinda difficult to rock it the first time you do it), we had three medium dogs in the individual finals (Iwona Kalisz and Pepe qualified from 13th place in agility run, Magda Domańska with Mora from 10th place in jumping and me with Brava from the 5th) and we had “best of the country” dogs in small (Basia Członkowska with Łata) and large (Magda Ziółkowska with Mawr) categories that both ran very nice clean runs in the finals (and Magda ended up on 10th place in large, which I think is awesome result). So I would say there was something to celebrate and to be proud of. Yes, we did have really good dogs especially in large category that didn’t qualify for the finals and I can understand the disappointment of knowing you have a great dog and than not getting a chance to fight for the highest podium, but still… It’s not even sometimes you win, sometimes you learn, it’s just sometimes you don’t win and that’s it, we all have bad days, bad runs or sometimes a bit of bad luck. At the same time someone else might be having a run of their life, that bit of luck in just the ideal moment, and we should be there to celebrate it with them and congratulate them. I don’t think we had a team at this EO, I think we had a bunch of individuals with their own plans and agendas. We weren't there for each other. Some of us didn't even come for the closing ceremony and I don't mean the people who actually turned up and then had to run save their tents / campers as the storm was coming. Something is not right and I think we should all work to change it. 

sobota, 17 czerwca 2017

AWC qualis

Polish AWC qualis have finished. This year we had three qualis weekends, starting middle of May and then roughly every two weeks, with three excellent judges: Esa Muottka from Finland, Petr Dostal from Czech Republic and finally Alen Marekovic from Croatia. I think they really built perfect courses for the qualis: difficult enough to require independence and good obstacle understanding, but at the same time fluent and fast. So usually there was enough experienced and fast dogs who managed to run clean for the speed to count too (I really hate when some judges build the courses which are pretty much impossible to run with a fast dog, no matter how good and well-trained... but that was not the case here) and I really enjoyed running them. The competition was awesome this year: already after first two qualis there were many dogs who fulfilled most of the qualifying criteria, so everybody had to fight till the very last run. 

I couldn't be happier with my dogs (and actually a bit with myself as well) - Brava did 11 clean runs out of 12 (just one run with an unfortunate bar), winning both the individual ranking and teams and setting time of reference for medium class in 9 of her runs. Brego was incredible - thanks to our greatest physiotherapist Aneta Bocheńska he was in top shape, did 9 clean runs out of 12, one with a bar and one with a refusal plus an elimination in the very last run :D, thus winning the team large ranking amongst really really great large dogs - I don't think we ever had so many awesome large dogs before. It is a dream come true for me to qualify with two dogs again (I only did it once in 2011, Sunday's last and Brava's first AWC...) and especially with Brego. I really hope we can mantain this consistency for the AWC and as artificial grass is the best surface for him I hope he will be even faster there :). 

Evo also qualified for team medium - he is still not in perfect shape after his finger injury, but seems he is actually getting better and better and was running faster on the last quali than on first. We also must find a way for him to lose a bit of weight, but since he is the type of dog who gets fatter just breathing near the food plus he manages to steal something at least once a week, that's not gonna be easy :P. 

So, videos from the second and third qualis (sorry, no videos from the first one):




wtorek, 13 czerwca 2017

Love your dogs

Fot. Reni Janicka Rene Studio

Today I've read a story about someone I don't know and I don't even know the name of, who lost yet another young dog in suspicious circumstances, in a sense people know that this person has not been satisfied with that dog as an agility prospect and some time later, that dog is gone. Gone as in put to sleep, not gone as in rehomed. I guess all of us have heard rumours of that kind about this or that succesful agility competitor / trainer etc. - they they "went through" many dogs before they actually found the one that was good enough. Now, I know from experience that rumours can be vicious and they can also be totally untrue and I am fortunate enough not to know personally any person who actually did that - so, without finger pointing, because it's not about that. 

I've been thinking for a while about how much pressure and expectations we're placing on our dogs. A student of mine recently wrote a blog post about internet pressure to be perfect, which basically causes people to hide their problems or lie about them. We are creating a virtual version of ourselves and our dogs, hiding behind a couple of minutes videos with last radio hit for soundtrack, picking out carefully the good moments to present to the world. Our dogs need to be perfect, we need to be perfect, as there are evil tongues just waiting to babble about how horrible our new puppy is (totally freaking out / aggressive / lacking drive / unfocused), how horrible we are to our dogs, how we ruin our dogs health by doing things too early or how we fail to train them the right things at the right time or how we overtrain or... That's one side of this story and it might somehow contribute to this phenomenon of dogs changing homes or worse, dogs being put to sleep, just because they didn't rise to expectations as performance tools. 

But hear me out. The thing is, the succesful dogs might give you those 5-minutes of fame in our small and not so important agility (or other canine performance sports) world. I can tell you firsthand that even the biggest success is overshadowed and forgotten sooner or later. 

It is not that which defines you. It is not that that teaches you the most. 

It is those difficult dogs, it is you not rising to the occasion, it is you failing your dog that teaches you the most if your eyes and mind are open wide enough to see  and accept that. 

People who remember me running with Vigo can attest to the fact how badly trained he was, that he was not ready for competing when I actually started competing with him, that sometimes I looked as if I might kill him, that it took us YEARS and four dozens of crappy runs before we managed to progress from A2 to A3 and that was only because back then you could progress from A1 to A2 with runs with one fault and also, I swear, because the judge had a leg injury, so couldn't put a dogwalk in a course, hence we didn't get that dammed jumped dogwalk contact fault, the other time it was raining cats and dogs and the judge actually didn't see the jumped contact and that last one was just pure luck with our luck-or-no-luck flying running contacts :D. 

Vigo is the dog that I failed to train to reach his full potential. It is a fact, but I'm not really hard on myself about that, because well, he was not an easy dog, I had much less knowledge that I have now (but I only have it because of him), there was really noone who could help me with his kind of problems back then. I did what I could and what I knew. 

And yet, I cried because of him, I was mad at him more times that I could count, I was so helpless I did things I wouldn't do today (fortunately that was nothing so bad that would damage our relationship forever... but nothing to be proud of either).

Our success story is not about making an agility champion out of unlikely prospect. Maybe because it was more because of my shortcomings than his, so they were more difficult to overcome. Some things you can never never undo - I failed to train properly from the beginning so he was never reliable, running with him was pretty stresful for me for a long time, since I never knew what I could expect. Oh yes, we did our share of succeses eventually, but truth is, he could have been much better and could have achieved more if he had more experienced and better trainer. But he doesn't give a crap about that, so that's not important either (although we could have both been happier if that wasn't for my expectations and wanting him to be a succesful agility dog - and that matters...). 

But we do have our own bigger success story nevertheless. That I love him goes without saying, but I also like him and he likes me, and more importantly even, he trusts me. After all those years we have lots of things we enjoy together. Cuddles. Tricks. Long walks. He is able to relax now. He is not nearly as reactive as he used to be. He is the easiest dog during the walks you can imagine. We have good life together now. We've come a long way. Because of that, we have special bond that words can't really express, bond that you can only have with an old dog, as much as lovable and special all my youngs dogs are. 

So what I would like to tell people who get rid of their dogs because those dogs are not good enough... I think they deprive themselves of something really beautiful and really powerful. They damage a part of their soul beyond repair. And the only thing I wish for them is that one day they realise that and become heartbroken over what they have done to those dogs and to themselves. 

What I would like to tell everybody else, who has dogs as friends first and as agility/ sport / performance dogs second: cherish every moment. Love your dogs, especially the old ones, who have been at your side in good and bad, who taught you a great deal and yet the lesson is not over. Admit your failures - painful as it is, they are the stepping stone to anything you might be able to achieve later. Oh, and did I say it already? Love your dogs. 

 Fot. Natalia Matłosz


poniedziałek, 12 czerwca 2017

WCS seminar and meeting :)


I really love giving seminars, travelling, meeting new people and dogs - but some seminars are even more special. Like for instance, I can't hide that I like some breeds more than the others ;). Last weekend I taught at seminar for Runrunrun wockers - and a couple of other cockers. So, after more than I year I had the chance to meet all Mojo's sisters as well as a couple of her cousins and other relatives. It is really rare that you meet so many cool dogs in one place :D. And because wockers are lovely, so are the people who live with them, so we really had the nicest possible time. 

(of course, Mojo is the only serious one :D)

It is really funny how similar all Mojo's sisters are - the same body language, movement, lots of similar behaviours and faces :). Especially Yora is like a slighly bigger and a bit more hairy clone, but she screams on agility course even more than Mojo, so Mojo has to try harder. It was hillarious how they had exactly the same problems on same course :D.
It was also quite illuminating to see so many wockers together. I used to think that working strain of a cocker spaniel is pretty much the same as show line of cocker spaniel, only in a bit more sporty version, but now I think it is not so. Already with Mojo I was quite suprised with how different she is from Sunday, my first dog ever (show line ECS), but seeing more wockers and show ECS together made me realise that they are actually not like two strains of one breed but rather as two different breeds. It's still hard for me to actually express it in words and I definetely still don't know enough to write anything in stone about it, but for instance I can see that while wockers are definetely more high energy, they also actually relax better even in busy environment, are more reserved towards people (not fearful, but actually not so much interested in interaction with everybody), but more focused on their owner etc. So if you have or had a show cocker before and are thinking of getting a WCS, it is a great idea, but make sure you meet as many of them as possible, as you're getting into something new and other that you know :).

And then there was the double icing on the cake: one was meeting Brego's half brother Filou, who is also lovely, although even worse mama's boy than Brego, so wouldn't like to go with us :/




 and the other is that we had the very best photographer for the event, so let me delight you with Aart van Laar photos <3 



(my little beauty, only lacking a bit in the neck department)

wtorek, 14 marca 2017

On importance of mental preparation

The video of little Jack Russell Olly on Crufts went viral recently and as my friend Maria observed, it is met with three different kinds of reactions: some people find it hillarious (as the commentator on Crufts), some people despair that the dog is clearly stressed and some claim that dog sports as such are evil / cruel / stressful/ unnecessary. With the last group I'm not even going  into discussion, as I don't believe fanatics can be persuaded, also usually those people know next to nothing about dog training and dog sports in general. However, I didn't find the video hillarious either, and not just because Olly's fall after the jump is really nasty and personally I would have him checked by a physiotherapist. The dog actually is stressed. Dogs can stress high or low: low stressing dogs are easy to recognize, because they actually look stressed or afraid and their body language clearly shows it. We feel for dogs stressing low, we understand we need to take them out of the situation or teach them how to deal with it. Dog stressing high is slightly different matter and it's easily mistook for naughtiness / happiness / zoomies etc. Olly appears to be seeking exit of the ring at some point, which is a bit easier to recognize as a sign of his discomfort, but his awful miscalculation of the take off point for the jump, his inability to complete the weaves or his flying over the A-frame are also signs that he is not really able to think clearly under these circumstances. 

Let me clarify certain things: I don't blame the handler here - I've been there, done that, had such runs with Vigo, Considering that it was rescue novice I think it might have been really difficult to predict that awesome little dog would react in that way - possibly he never behaved like that before. I don't even think it was really such a terrible experience for him or that he should have never been exposed to it. But I do think Olly could have been prepared better for this, for his stress results not from fear for his life, but from the inability to deal with his emotions and excitement. 

Agility is stressful up to a point, both for us and for our dogs. I'm not saying it's bad - I actually believe that certain amount of stress is beneficial (some people believe otherwise, but there is enough scientific evidence proving that moderate stress can motivate us, challenge us and even make us healthier... or maybe it's just for us, the adreanaline junkies 😜). The crucial point here is that stress is only beneficial if we know how to deal with it, if we feel that in the end we can control it. These are the skills Olly was lacking - good thing is they can be taught and this is something that I really focus on with my puppies. The reason for that is that I want my dogs to be able to deal even with potentially as difficult environment as Crufts (lots of spectators, lots of lights and sounds, handler most probably being more stressed than normally during training or competition). I want them to be able to think clearly, I want them to be able to perform the obstacles safely, I want them to actually have the time of their lives whenever we step into the ring together. I would say that this is as important a skill as actually teaching them to perform the obstacles correctly. Without that, you can never have a dog that is consistently happy and cool in the competition environment or one that is consistently performing his or her best. Key elements of this mental preparation are socialisation, self-control and ability to "switch off" or relax after really high-charged, motivating play. It also helps to have certain rituals for warming up and coolind the dog down after the run. 

Just give it some thought. Prepare your dog. Don't forget mental preparation is key to your future success and most importantly, to your dog's well-being.


(Photo for attention and because they are so pretty). 

czwartek, 23 lutego 2017

Try harder

It's funny how the internet works sometimes. There is lots and lots of valuable resources there, lots of crap obviously as well and sometimes for some reason one or the other is dug up and commented upon and shared and then you get this avalanche of responses and shares. A couple of months ago someone posted a short video shot from a drone about dog weaving, accompanied by a couple of wise terms like "sidewise flexion" and suddenly everybody was sharing the video and giving those words of caution: "don't start too early with slalom, don't train it more than... (totally arbitrary number of repetitions) in a session" etc. And I was like, geez, seriously, you needed a video from a drone to know that the dog is bending when doing slalom? Or you really didn't know that ANY repetitive kind of movement if you do it over and over again is not healthy? Or why you say no more than let's say 4 repetitions of the slalom and not 3 or 5? 
Sure, drilling is stupid and unnecessary, think before you train, plan your sessions, but always, always, be critical to what you read or watch. 

Today another articles gets shared on Facebook a lot - here's the link - and it's actually not a bad one.
I do agree with the main thesis of this post, that is that confusion as such is an aversive as well and that if the dog learns to expect it in certain situation, this situation would become conditioned negative stimulus. And yes, more often than not when you see a dog that "shuts down" or looks not motivated, it is the case of the handler not being able to teach the dog properly how to perform the tasks ahead, not splitting it into easy enough parts for the dog to understand it, keeping the reinforcement level too low or being just totally unclear and confusing so the dog is not able to  know what is required of them. 
That being said I'm still a little puzzled by this paragraph in particular:

"There are a lot of falsehoods in dog training, and agility holds its own special mythology. That our dogs must be resilient to failure, that they must work through frustration, that they should experience disappointment and confusion in training in order to withstand these things in life, are just some such fables."

Think of a shaping session. Every time you withhold the reward, the dog experiences some level of frustration. And this frustration causes the dog to try something else, which might bring the reward. This is how I understand teaching the dog to cope with frustration: it's not a "mistake", it's not the end of the world, it just means "try something else". I do think it's essential part of the learning process. Sport apart, teaching a dog to be a well-behaved companion is also about "this brings you the reward, this doesn't, so it's simply not worth doing". 
There are two extremes on this continuum: one would be to present a dog with a task that is too complicated, too complex and too difficult for the dog to grasp right away - and then we get a confused dog that would "shut down". The other extreme is that you feel you need to reward EVERYTHING and every repetition has to be "succesful" for the fear that the dog would "shut down". Now, dogs are really really smart creatures and the latter attitude sometimes leads to a situation where it is the dog training the handler  😏. You see this when someone tries to raise the difficulty of the task a bit, for instance asks the dog to perform slightly more difficult weave poles entry and the dog doesn't do it correctly the first time. Some people will immediately make the task easier again, thus actually rewarding the dog and eventually teaching the dog NOT to try harder. Another example: you're using a particular toy, which the dog is enjoying for the first or second repetition. And then the dog decides the toy is no longer that attractive and again some people would immediately REWARD that by switching to another toy or using food etc. In both scenarios the handler's response could be different - they could ask the dog to try again and if the dog is familiar with the notion of "try something else if you didn't get the reward" there is a high chance they would nail the weaves entry the second time, thus earning the reward. Or the handler might insist that the dog actually plays with the toy the handler offered and THEN reward with something the dog likes even more - thus using the Premack principle and consequently rising the value of the first reward. And so on, and so on.
There is a really fine line here - we should avoid our dogs being confused. We should split the tasks into small enough bits that it's VERY likely for the dog to succeed MOST of the time. But I feel it's equally important to teach the dog that not getting the reward each and every time is okay too. That it's safe to try different things and "make mistakes", as the only thing that would happen is that you don't get the reward this time, but might very well get it the next time. And I think every dog is able to learn this, if you introduce this gradually. When I start shaping with my puppies I would help them a lot in the begining. Things like how you present the dog with the object you want them to interact with can make a huge difference. For instance, if you just place the object somewhere in the room and then let the dog in, it will take them a long time to actually find it and this may be frustrating. But if you put the object in front of your dog, most dogs would naturally investigate what you just brought and click! you have the first thing you can reward. Similarly, where and how you reward can really help and speed up the learning process. And yet still, I would give my puppies the opportunity to do something else and NOT get rewarded from time to time and I would avoid luring in general for the same reason. 

niedziela, 19 lutego 2017

Adult stuff :).

It is an old cliche that time flies, but somehow Mojo is one year old already!


I definitely couldn't wish for a better dog and she is lots of fun each and every day :). Mostly she is also really easy dog to live with. I'm really pleased with all the foundation stuff I did with her, so now that we're starting a little bit more technical training it goes really easy.
I started some weaves training and it was literally three sessions on two and four poles and she was ready to progress to a whole channel, since she was doing so well with understanding various entries even with my movement and one or two obstacles before. Same goes for see-saw training - we're still mostly playing bang games plus some 2o2o position outside the obstacle, but she is such a brave little girl that I have the impression that she is going to master it really quickly. She thinks bang game is hillarious :). 

RC are work in progress and after the winter break (we actually had snow for over a month, which is not so common in this city) the first couple of trainings were not so awesome, but now it looks like we're on the right track again. 


Now actually running sequences is a bit more tricky, but than again, she is so much fun that with all the bloopers you just have to love her <3. 

Yesterday we went for training with Polona Bonac. I really like Polona's training philosophy and great ideas for different games for different dogs, so she is definetely one of my favourite trainers to work with and the one that I really like to observe when working with various dogs. I worked Mojo and Brego in handling and Zelda participated in the puppy training. Brego was awesome, Polona suggested an exercise to help with his collection problem on S-turns, Mojo was totally funny and a bit of a tunnel junkie (I guess it's genetic with spaniels, LOL), but all in all I think she did great, considering that it was her first ever agility seminar and actually first time she ran this kind of sequences. With Zelda we mainly wanted to provide her with positive socialisation opportunity, since obviously she doesn't do any obstacles yet and she did really well as well. No problems with playing in new environment and even less with focusing on a sausage :D. We did little shaping session on puppy sea-saw and a bit of cavaletti work.