Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Lloydminister Flyball Tournament

The shelties and I went to a flyball tournament in Lloydminister this past weekend.   Both shelties had full time spots and ran 8 races each day with 3 heats per race.  It was a lot of racing and both Spryte and I gained a lot of experience at this tournament.  Spryte also earned enough points for her FDCH title.

 It was Spryte's second tournament and she improved tremendously from the last one. Our last tournament she kept stopping to watch the other dogs race and she was dropping her ball early and fumbling at the box. This time we hardly had any ball issues (mostly the last races because she was exhausted at that point) and she didn't stop once to watch the other dogs.  Her box turns were beautiful all weekend too.  Even without any props in front of the box she got up and did a four foot turn every time! 

Spryte's speed also improved tremendously at this tournament.  She was so distracted last time that she never really put out any effort to get to the box and back.  Her times were in the high 6's.  In Lloyd on Saturday morning Spryte started out very strong and fast and blew her old times out of the water.  Her fastest time this weekend was a 5.3 and we know she can be faster.  It was nice to see her really trying hard and running fast.  She was excited to play but this time she was better at dealing with her enthusiasm and showed way more self control.  She is improving so much and I'm sure next tournament she will be running consistently in the low 5's and will be catching the ball every time with very few bobbles.

Strider and I ran on an open team at this tournament.  Basically it's a team that is formed just for the one show and it can have dogs from any club on it.  I am on Go All Out and I was racing with people from Northern Power Paws and Rebel Racers.  The team was named "Go Rebel Paws" which I thought was cute and very clever :).  I didn't know any of these people and would be meeting them all for the first time this weekend.  Some people in flyball are a little "hard core" and want to have the fastest times and win all the races. I just go to have fun and put points on my dogs.  I was a little worried that my temporary teammates might take it a little too seriously for me. Well there really wasn't any reason for me to worry.  The people were all very nice and encouraging.  They loved Strider and cheered for him every race.   The team captains mentioned to me in the beginning that they are there to have fun with their dogs and at the end of the tournament they said that I am welcome to race with them anytime, they would love to have Strider and I back. It was a great experience and even though they are not my actual team, I still felt like I was apart of a team when I raced with them.

So all in all it was a very successful weekend. I had a great time playing with my dogs and seeing huge improvements in Spryte.  It was fun meeting new people and experiencing a different team.  And as always I had a great time with my teammates, racing together, chatting about dogs and life, going out for supper and witnessing some silly water slide shenanigans. It was a great weekend and I'm looking forward to Go All Out's tournament here in June.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Unconsciously incompetent

Currently I am reading Kathy Keats "Success from the Inside", it is a great book that talks about the psychological side of becoming successful in any given sport (or any goal for that matter).  In the book Kathy lists the four phases you pass through while learning a new skill. The very first step describes me to a tee in herding:

"First you are unconsciously incompetent.  You aren't very skilled and you don't even know it.  You have no idea what you are doing right or wrong".  That line pretty much sums up my herding lessons.  I am trying to get my dog to circle the sheep, change sides, move them at a slow pace, lie down on balance points, etc.  Half the time I have no idea why something went right or wrong. My instructor is busy telling me "yes stop there" or "move to your right" or "back up" and I am happily trying to obey but still not sure why I am doing it. I have brief moments of clarity where I think I have it figured out, and then I go and make the same mistake a few minutes later.  As frustrating as it can be sometimes, I am not discouraged at all.   I am really enjoying the challenge of learning a new dog sport and I am always eager for my next lesson.  I understand that the setbacks and frustrations are all part of learning a new skill and one day we will be at the fourth phase "unconsciously competent when you don't have to think about the skills." That day is a long way in the future, but for now I will celebrate every small success as it happens.

I think one of the biggest draws for sheep herding is watching my dog do something that is instinctive. I don't have to teach, bribe, coax or manipulate my dog to do anything. She wants to herd. Spryte gets into the pen and instantly goes to work. She is focused and confident, and an intense calm comes over her that I never see anywhere else.  Spryte knows what she needs to do to move the stock, all I have to do is channel it.

Each week I'm excited by our progress. Sometimes it's as little as stopping her at the top of the sheep and starting her again, other weeks I am able to send her around the sheep and when I back up she calmly brings them to me in a relatively straight line. This is a skill we both still struggle with, but each week it gets a little bit better.   I am doing my part by watching videos and reading what I can about herding. Spryte is doing her part by patiently putting up with my mistakes and never giving up. We are both learning what our jobs are and sheep herding is starting to happen.

One day soon I will have to get pictures of Spryte herding, or maybe another video. For now the pics on here are from our walk yesterday around the acreage.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Kathy Keats agility seminar

Spryte and I attended the Kathy Keats seminar last Friday.  I realised this is the 5th year in a row I have been at her workshops.  Kathy always sets up international courses with many challenges we wouldn't normally see in Canadian competition.  The first few times I went to one of her workshops I felt completely lost.  Strider always tried his best, but I just wasn't used to handling those type of challenges. Each time we attended a workshop we learnt more and were better able to handle the difficult elements on course. The last few years it has "clicked" for Strider and I, and we would often do very well.  We became a team and it was a great feeling. 

Well this year it was time to bring Spryte out.  She is young and still learning about self control and agility in general.  I was very pleased with her accuracy on many of the challenges like backsides of jumps and pull throughs.  When we broke exercises down into smaller pieces of 6 or so obstacles, Spryte could perform them perfectly.  However as soon as we did a full course her excitement level rose drastically and the errors began to occur.  What we mostly struggled with was holding our contacts and hitting weavepole entries with speed.  She just gets so excited that she doesn't want to slow down and stop on contacts or collect for those difficult weave poles. For her it is much more fun to blast past them and continue on.  These are the mistakes typical of a green dog and once she learns to control her excitement she will be a phenomenal agility dog.  But for now we will continue to work on the basics.

Kathy had many tips for us and offered lots of positive encouragement.  The biggest piece of advice she gave me was to stop all motion when Spryte makes a mistake.  Up until this point when practising if she misses her contacts or misses her weave poles I just turn her around and we do it again.  The problem with this is Spryte doesn't necessarily know that a mistake was made, it just becomes one continuous loop of agility.  She gets more and more excited by all the motion and then accuracy goes out the window.  So I need to consciously stop myself from continuing on.  It has become such a habit that I find myself forgetting to stop and instead winding her up even more.

When Kathy pointed this mistake out to me, it became so obvious, and now that I am aware of it, I can make the necessary changes.  That is the nice thing about having a coach.   They notice things that you can't because you are too busy being "in the game".  It is the reason I attend so many agility seminars.  When you train by yourself you tend to develop bad habits.  Seminars fix my mistakes and set us on the right path again.  So I look forward to our next agility seminar with Terry Simons in May and in the meantime Spryte and I will continue to train and work on improving self control and teamwork.