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Sunday, 28 November 2010

21 days to go!

Freezing cold weather, a lot of snow and lots to do. Went shooting yesterday with Olli, but even with my thermals and 98 layers of clothing it was bitterly cold! Olli was too hyper, and after 2 drives of nothing for him to retrieve he was becoming very frustrated. I had a headache, Ferns toes were numb so for the first time ever we gave up and came home lunchtime. Not a good day.
While Fern and I were still wrapped up we decided to take the other dogs for a run, and I decided to take Twiggy with the others for the first time in weeks. I just felt that she had turned a corner so we would see what happened. Cove. Lily Dave & Twiggy, got to the field and we just let them go. I didn't even bother with the harness on Twigs, just hoping that I was right about her. They played and played in the snow, ran like nutters and then I noticed the first difference. Twigs was not chasing Lily and nipping as she always had before, but was just running around having a ball so I called her. She instantly turned and came to me!!! Played tuggy with real enthusiasm, even though the other 3 were charging around the field! I then got hold of her collar, (and she didn't flinch) and started to wind her up to go with our 3, ....2,.....1 routine. As soon as I released her she she ran in a big circle back to me and the tuggy! We all played various games, some toy rewarded and others food rewarded, and she suddenly looked so grown up. I was thrilled yet again with my little girl. I am now more fun to her than chasing and nipping the other dogs. It has been quite a week for Twiggy. :-)
Lily and I have an amazing relationship, and if I can get half as good a partnership with Twiggy, the world will be our oyster. Lily is in full season now, but this time is staying fit and well, and will be finished in perfect time for Olympia finals. Our magazine article came out this week too and my Lily was in there twice! Huge photo of her leading the page too, and a lovely write up. Can not believe Lily & me alongside the likes of Dawn Weaver in the same article!! Its surreal to me, and I am so looking forward to the whole experience now and intend to enjoy every second.

21 days and counting..................

Thursday, 25 November 2010

We have turned a corner

I have heard people say that it takes up to 6 months for a rescue dog with baggage, to really settle into a new home. I always thought that seemed a long time, but I now believe they have a point. 
Although Twiggy latched on to me from day 1, she has continued to have her issues. Fear of going through doorways if anyone near it, fear of collars, harnesses and leads, clicking noises, and a real wariness of people. I have trained her since she arrived, and she is obviously extremely bright, but would learn tricks and behaviours that were close to me ie: hand touches, lefts, rights but as soon as we tried any distance work, ie: waits, recalls she would go into panic mode. For a month or so now I have been doing a lot more work with her alone, walking her alone, and also having her work for her food so I have every coat pocket bearing liver or chicken. It is all the stuff that we do with puppies from the start, and that is how I have had to treat Twiggy. She is about 14 months now but in her behaviour and attitude more like 6 - 8 months. I feel quite silly sometimes telling people the new thing she has just learned, and then realising their dogs did that much younger, but Twiggy lost the first 6 months of her life.
 Twiggy has been with me 6 months this week, and whether its true what they say about settling in period, or whether its the way I changed some training methods, or a combination of both, she has suddenly started to blossom. Small successes have become a regular occurrence over the past couple of weeks.
When the other dogs are off doing things in the field, or at a show, she has started to turn to me, grab the tuggy and want me to play with her. She then went up a gear in the new behaviours stakes and has learnt to offer 2 on 2 off position on various boxes, washing basket, stairs etc. I introduced the contact trainer and not only did she get straight into position, she now runs straight to it when I let her out, and when all my Agility nuts are screaming from their crates, or kennels she still focuses on me and the job. Today for the first time ever, I took her out to our favourite 15 acre field, and let her off, but to work. Armed with a good toy and her favourite toy, plus a lot of sausages I started. First we did circle work, fast and slow, both ways and she was with me all the way. 
Then we did send ahead to dead toy, from restrain and from a wait and she was like a rocket! Straight back to me every time. I then did some wait to recall, actually now getting about 10 yards from her and again perfect. Not once did she go off focus, or worry about me getting hold of her to do the restrains. We finished with a 5 min chill out wander along the field before she sat for me to put her lead on. She sat for me to put her lead on!!!! Without flinching!!! That brought tears to me eyes!!!
That all may seem like nothing special for a 14 month old collie to people who have trained for years and had their dogs from puppies, but to me it is bloody incredible! I skipped back home this morning, with a very happy Twiggy by my side. I have a feeling my Irish Secret has settled in.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Great weekend and now the countdown begins!

Saturday shooting with Olli was a bit slow. Not his fault but it was the "estate" meet, so basically not our usual guns but the "toffs" and their children shooting for a day. Actually they were all extremely polite and with real manners which is always a pleasant change, but all their tweed, flash cars, personalised number plates and private education didn't improve their ability to hit a cows arse with a banjo!! Poor Olli was frustrated as he watched bird after bird sail overhead and keep flying, even though 50 shots went off!! It was a giggle tho, and he ended up with a bag of 9. 
Sunday we took part in our first agility club match. It was my last chance to run Lily indoors and with a crowd before Olympia, and another chance for Fern to run Dave. Lily was awesome, but is so fit, focused and fast now I had a job to be in the right place at the right time! However she won the jumping class by over a second, and was fastest in 2 other classes, but spectacularly took a pole in each as she tried too hard, and I wasn't quick enough with my cues. Olli had some great runs, and was 4th and 6th over the day. Dave was totally too hyped up on his first run, and Fern became very tense, so he didn't even take the first jump, just ran around the ring, so Fern picked him up and took him straight out. Its the only way. Thanks to Sarah, I did ask the show organiser if we could run Dave in 1 of the later classes, with the other ring on pause, and she was happy to do that. This time, fern brought him straight in, and he managed an almost perfect round, just 5 faults on Daves part. Its never going to be easy but we know we will get there.

So now that's it. Working this weekend, works party the following weekend, Cheltenham races the weekend after that and then Olympia. I am now more excited than nervous, because I have an amazing dog who may actually be capable of an upset, especially if I can keep focused too!! Don't discount my £50 farm collie. She has set her sights high :-)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bit of a week.

Well this week, Dave became an agility dog, Lily got a 4th in a Grade 6 jumping, Olli went lame, Becki has slowed down a bit more, Stan has been Stan, Cove has  grown a bit more in maturity, and Twiggy has developed more twitches again. I have decided to get her an appointment with a specialist now as its nearly 6 months since she arrived, and although she has grown, and developed into a fit young dog, she obviously has something wrong. Whether its something that she will just have all her life or whether its something we can fix, now is the time to find out. She will hate being prodded about but I will have to be there for her and make it as bearable an experience as possible. It may mean that she wont be able to compete at agility, and until I know for sure what is causing her problems I will keep her training to just basic targets, recalls, etc and continue to build our relationship. I love her so much and hate seeing her worrying with her legs so I have to do whats best for her.
Twiggy......Look into my eyes!!.....
This weekend is our last comp before Olympia, so Lily and me will then be chilling and training just our fitness for the big day. Walking, jogging and shutting out everything else so we have that bond which has taken us this far. I adore my Lily Fudge Cake. Olli is sound again so shooting Sat and comp Sunday for him, and Dave is competing again too!! Exciting but worrying times. Hopefully Twiggy will be fine, and as long as she is not in pain I will be happy, regardless of her future career! 

Monday, 15 November 2010

Dave has become an agility dog!!

Well the day arrived, Dartmoor show and Ferns first attempt at running Dave.  She couldn't sleep the night before, and I must admit I was nervous for her. I gathered all my friends to stand along the orange net fence, ready to catch him if he ran out the ring, and Fern went to the start line. First obstacle was a tyre, and we suddenly realised Dave has never done a tyre!!! Having never been in a training class, he has only trained at home and we don't have a tyre. I think the fact that it was at the beginning of the course helped, and off he went. Through the tyre, under the next jump, then jumped the 3rd, over the A frame, tunnel, next jump, seesaw..........I was holding my breath. Around 1 jump then jumped a few more over the dog walk and over the finish!!! Not once did he even falter from the task. He stayed focused, happy and I could not believe it. 2 years of hard work and dedication from Fern, and the almost deemed un trainable, unsociable terrierist completed his first course. Strangely, Dave strutted very proudly back to the van, blanking other dogs he passed. He was a big boy now, and has far more important things to think about other than chasing other dogs. Still a long way to go, but he has proved us all wrong and I couldn't be happier.
Now just to practice those tyres!!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Psychology, a dogs brain, interesting............

Well, it is always a challenge training a dog, especially a rescue dog with unknown worries, strange behaviours, and I so wish they could talk! However, I have Twiggy, who I love to bits, we all do, and she has become a very special member of our family, so I have that challenge.
She has bonded with me from day 1, is my shadow all day every day, and the most loving loyal dog, but sometimes she still gets spooked and almost goes autistic. Wont look at me in the eye, or come close to me but will keep me in her sights, and this was worrying me out on a walk. Recall was 90% perfect but if she goes into 1 of her moments, she just wouldn't come back. She wouldn't run away, but she would stay just out of reach. 
At first I thought it was just naughtiness, and a phase she was going through like most young dogs, but the more it went on the more I tried to get inside her head. I know she has a real problem having her collar or harness put on, and she often has twitches in her neck and shoulders, although these have become more infrequent, so I reverted to leaving her harness on with a short handle attached. This meant i could grab that without touching her, but still I had the problem of her coming within 6 feet of me. I had tried all the basics, all the obvious methods of training a recall, and when Twiggy went into "that" zone, nothing worked. I cleared my mind of training ways, and just observed her for a few days...... Then Eureeka!!!!! 
The one thing that would make Twiggy excited and wiggly and want nothing but cuddles was the word "HELLO". When we come in from outside, from work, when visitors arrive and we all say "Hello Twiggy" she leaps up, smiling & talking and will jump into your arms with sheer joy, so I took her out for a walk, let her off for a run, and after a short time as she went a bit zoned out, I just said "Hello Twiggy". She ran over as if she had just realised I was there!! It was like a trigger. She snapped out of spooked, unsure rescue girl and became Twiggy, Twigster the happy loving bright gorgeous collie who has enriched our lives.  A week has gone past, and every time she starts to spook, a quick "Hello" brings her straight to me smiling. Still early days, but in every other way she is so intelligent and amazing to train I just had to solve this problem. Who cares what word it took. If that's my recall it suits me just fine! So next season at Agility competitions, and you hear some woman shouting Hello, it will be me, the blonde with the gorgeous collie running towards me! :-)))

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Paparazzi & Olympia trial run! with real bits!

Saturday I went shooting in the morning with Olli, and it was a quiet day. Although every bird that did fall his way he picked up beautifully, the weather was too nice, and the guns were not on form so he didn't have a lot to do. I left at lunchtime as we had a reporter and photographer coming to interview me for a feature about Olympia! I was so excited, and even more so when she asked if they could do a brief story on Olli and take a photo of him with a pheasant to use as a front page shot!! My boy is a "Cover boy" :-) They then took loads of photos of Lily & me in action, and I am looking forward to seeing us in print in a few weeks time.
Sunday we had a training workshop at a new indoor venue, and it was also a chance to catch up with some friends that we have been missing recently. People have changed clubs, the main season is over, so we haven't had our usual weekly get togethers and Fern & I were looking forward to it. Was amazed to be shut out of the arena when we arrived, and told that me & Sarah were not allowed in to look at the course! Seems Toni had decided that as we were both off to Olympia next month, she would give us a taste of the real thing. So we sat and looked at the course plan for 10 mins, then were allowed 2 mins to walk the course. The whole thing spooked me completely! God knows what I will be like at Earls Court, but the nerves where there and I completely buggered up the turn from fence 3 to 4, then didnt really work the whole dogwalk/tunnel trap, obstacle 9 the weaves and totally didnt give Lily a clue so she missed her entry (unheard of!!) and then the rest of the course was lovely. Lily is so  keen and so genuine, she tried her best, and if i can sort my nerves and my head out, who knows, maybe we will get a clear on 19th December! I was thrilled with her nailed contacts, all afternoon and I just love her to bits for her natural ability, and determination to do her best.
Pleased to say, all the rest of my mates messed up too and they had 10 mins to walk the course!!! It was great fun and a lovely atmosphere.
Then it was Fern & Coves turn, and his first time in a new venue. He worked really well and although he made a few mistakes, they were a combination of in experience and a strong eyed collie who kept lunging at him, nothing that wont be a distant memory to him soon. Fern was also a bit shaky to start with, as she is normally the trainer not the trainee!, but a thoroughly enjoyable time was had by all. I didn't work Twiggy, but took her in to watch for a few minutes, and she was fine. Keen to watch Cove but also managed to do a bit with me on the sidelines, so another new environment conquered. Had puppy cuddles with the gorgeous Phaze, met an amazing young working cocker, who will give medium dogs a run for their money next season, and had a lot of giggles.

This Saturday we are off to Dartmoor for our first indoor winter comp, and Daves first ever attempt! I have 100% faith in Ferns ability to work him, and 90% faith in Dave :-) There wont be a dry eye in our house if he manages to stay focused!

Friday, 5 November 2010

If you cant beat them?.........

I read quite a few blogs, mostly agility people, and a few are training people, and this months topic seems to be training and trainers, so I may as well have my 2 penneth worth, as my Gran would say!
3 years ago when I started this addictive sport of agility, I saw an advert in my local country store, made a phone call and booked to start lessons. I had never heard of the person but she offered some good advice and I had to start somewhere. Over 2 years and with 2 dogs I learnt a huge amount about positive reward based training, which has got me to Grade 6 and Olympia this year. As I am in the privileged position to have a daughter who is a natural with dogs, and is training to be a "Trainer" and now have my own agility field, I decided I would have a break from weekly lessons, save some money and train a lot more at home. I also decided to try a different trainer or 2, and have thoroughly enjoyed working with different people and trying some different methods, although I tend to only go to people that I know have similar ideas to how I want to train my dogs, and take the best bits from them all. Some of these trainers are maybe more fun than others, some are tougher than others but they are all handlers of Grade 7 dogs, and proven to be successful handlers/competitors who I admire.
I admit that some are "people" people and some are "dog" people, but if they are good at what they do and I feel like I get something out of it for me & my dogs that's what counts. Its my choice who I go to, not anyone elses. I have never been much of a follower of the in crowd, always been a bit independent, which is why some people have taken me the wrong way over the years, but my real friends know exactly the real me, and I appreciate their friendship and the support and fun we have at all the competitions through the season.
In my honest opinion, I think everyone should try a few different trainers and be willing to keep learning. If you or your favourite trainer move hundreds of miles apart for whatever reason, are you really going to travel for hours every week for a 1 hour lesson?, or just curl up in a corner and cry because you have never been to anyone else?
 I get a lot now from Fern, who seems to be a never ending supply of tips and advice, and I have to admit, her 2 dogs are trained a whole lot better than mine! She will be and already is a consistent fun trainer, and I have no doubt in years to come she will also be a top handler, but I bet there will still be people who slag her off, don't want to be trained by her, don't agree with some of her methods or just plain don't like her. I am sure people of an already good competitive standard would not expect to be trained by a young person who has yet to make her mark on the agility circuit, and is in fact a grade 1 handler, but Fern realises that, and knows she will need to prove her worth and earn peoples respect. I know she will and people will be lucky to be trained by her. I am, but then I am biased :-)
There are an awful lot of good trainers out there, and more coming through the ranks every year, so just keep an open mind, enjoy what you do and most of all enjoy working your dogs. It is fun!!!