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Friday, 27 January 2012

Contemplating Grade 7?

I did say that I would do a blog a week and before the show season really starts, a blog per dog, and on my last blog I said the next one would be for Twiggy. Well its for Lily instead.
Twiggys will come, but last weekend I had a whole day training booked with Jo Tristram, and it was all about building partnerships with your dogs, basic handling and exercises to strengthen both your own and your dogs understanding of different manoeuvres in agility. 

Fern was on it with Cove & I took all 4 of mine, as there would be plenty of chances to change dog, and maybe use a dog on a specific exercise that I knew would benefit that individual.
Jo is a very inspiring trainer, and also straight talking, so you know what's good and what's rubbish! I really enjoy her style of teaching and always come away feeling like I have learnt something.
The first exercise was understanding start lines, and getting yourself in the best possible position as far on the course as you could, with your dog still understanding to take the obstacles before driving into you. From where we were leading out to, there was a risk of the dog taking a jump behind you, and it also needed tightness to wings so I took Lily in. It was her first group training workshop for 2 months and she was fizzing over with excitement! She has always been a genuine wonderful dog, and has done me proud as my first agility dog, but naughty habits and her wide turns had left me thinking that we would stick in Grade 6. I also stand by my comments of last year, that she owes me nothing at all as she got me to Olympia and got me to grade 6, and surpassed all my expectations, so I am happy having fun with her without any pressure. However she worked incredibly well over the first half hour, and started to tighten her turns, and her speed and drive was awesome! She had a new freshness about her. I then swapped her for Olli, who was mad and hilarious but worked really well and most of all didn't knock any poles. Then I gave George a go on a simple jump to tunnel exercise, just to give him another experience of a new environment, new training, and he was fab! Then brought Twiggy in for the half hour before lunch, and she too worked brilliantly showing no signs of the nervous girl of last season, so I have high hopes for her. 
After lunch it was trickier work, the weaves and contacts were brought in and it was course work. I decided to bring Lily back in, and push her round the turns, try new things and utilise what we had learnt in the morning. She was stunning! I made a few errors as usual,(until I had a word with myself,) but Lily was on fire. Her weaves were amazing and independent and her contacts were brilliant and rock solid. She has obviously benefited from her 6 weeks off over Christmas and was back with a vengeance, and reminding me just what a trier she is. I was on a high all afternoon and although she was not the tightest dog there, if I trust her and her knowledge more, and leave her to do things whilst I leg it to get in position, her speed in-between makes up for her slightly wide turns. The feeling of working a dog who you know is giving their absolute all for you, and loving every minute of it, is like no feeling in the world. Me & my girl had a blast, and it made me think that perhaps Grade 7 is not such a mountain to climb after all. Last year I didn't feel ready in myself as a handler for Grade 7 and Champ classes, but as this year is starting to pan out I am feeling a lot more confident and I am handling a lot better. Lily may not have started as a pup, but she is a bright dog and lets face it, if I give her the right signals at the right time, and continue to improve she is more than capable of reaching that goal. She is a dog in a million to me :-)
Its actually quite interesting watching dogs move, whether in agility or just on a run around the fields at home. Lily is very muscular and solid, and although she exudes power she is not overly flexible. She is 100% fit, and was seen by a chiropractor when she had a slight shoulder injury, who said how level and in line she was, but when you watch her she doesn't have a lot of lateral flexibility. Its just her make up, and it obviously has something to do with her struggling with tight turns. Some people can touch their toes easily, others don't come close. Watching Cove & George move, they are elastic! Bendy, flowing dogs who can turn on a sixpence with ease, and Twiggy is a light framed girl, who is not quite so flowing as the boys, but is very agile. Lily is just built differently and I will be doing a lot more warm up exercises now with her, flexing her neck & back gently, just to keep her as supple as possible. After all, she is an athlete :-)

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