Jumping Puzzle

Asher is just not a graceful, coordinated dog – though he has no end of enthusiasm, he’s kind of like a bull in a china shop. Jumping has not been particularly natural or easy for him, and in fact he can have downright terrible jump form sometimes (especially if he’s feeling less confident). So I haven’t pushed it, we’ve been keeping the jumps low, working on one jump exercises and letting him grow up. Last week I tried raising up the bars to 16 in some sequence work and, good lord, he just looked awful. And it was discouraging, and also puzzling as we’ve DONE some sequencing work at 16 inches and he didn’t look like that at all!

So I sat down and logically made a plan to work on his jumping, breaking it down and just focusing on confidence and jump form. I knew he COULD jump, well, at least decently – it was just finding a way to help him do it consistently. Once again, the one jump exercises looked pretty good, even adding in speed and going in and out of a tunnel. Optimistic, we moved to more multiple jump exercises … and, good lord, could not seem to get him to NOT jump like a weirdo. So broke it down more, tried different approaches – but was not happy at all with what he was doing.

That was discouraging and disappointing, all dogs have issues, but jumping is kind of an important one for agility. If Asher can’t jump comfortably agility is kind of a non-starter. So I moped for a bit and took a break from our jump training and worked on contacts and weaves – which always need work! We got our training mojo back and, just for fun and to get some video of his jumping so I could devise a better way to approach it, I ran him through some wide open sequencing at 20 inches. And his jumping looked totally fine. Not perfect, but he WASN’T jumping like a total spaz.

So, huh. While we have done plenty of one jump work at 20 inches, we had never sequenced at 20 inches before. We’d barely done 16 and that was months ago. So I was amazed he was making such good jumping decisions, his jump form looked fairly good, he looked pretty confident and happy – and he kept almost all his bars up. Huh. Apparently the right way to train jumping is to just suddenly throw your dog into sequencing with full height jumps.

As to WHY this worked, I can only think that he was not really THINKING about jumping when we just started doing some sequencing. Everything I had been doing had been microfocusing on jumping, and maybe that was just making him think TOO much about it. With sequencing he’s just thinking about ‘agility’ and he could finally just run without having to worry about doing it ‘right’ – as at that point I just wanted to study the video to see what he was doing, so I EXPECTED him to jump like a weirdo and didn’t really care what he did.

I don’t know entirely know what the reasoning, I’m taking it. And we’ll continue to look at jump training, but I think with more jump grids where he’s driving ahead – and with height. And someday we should probably, uh, work on collection. It was really fun to run Asher in the sequences, we actually got to put things together (you know, eventually)! But, yeah, he’s a freight train like Navarre, turning and collection is not his thing. I never expected it to be though, just look at that dog, he just wants to GO. Let it be said, his sister collects very nicely. And jumps like a gazelle. Asher is definitely the red headed step child of the family!

So that was a bit of an emotional roller coaster of a week, we went from my puppy that can’t jump anything to my puppy looking remarkably grown up and actually being able to sequence things (eventually). Asher does have very similar issues to Navarre, he tends to run around jumps and not very good at coming in or collecting. Luckily I’m used to that. We’ll still work on the collecting though, I haven’t given up. I don’t think he’s as drifty as Navarre though. At least, not yet.

And after getting to put that together, and having him suddenly jumping 20 inches, I feel like we can put that away and focus on the Justine stuff. We’ll be working on sequencing forever, but his obstacles are looking good, even jumping … sometimes. And if we work at it, we can string things together. My baby dog is officially a baby agility dog. It is kind of a magical moment when you actually put ALL then things together – and it felt really good to get there.

As for what I’d like to focus on now – it’s get out to new places on different equipment. He’s definitely showed me gets insecure in new places and his obstacle performance definitely weakens (and sometimes breaks!). We need a chance to see if he can actually give me the same performance on his contacts in other places. And, of course, can he actually jump like a normal dog in a new place. We are ready to take this show on the road. If only there was somewhere to go …

Oh, speaking of taking shows on the road – Asher is entering his first USBCHA herding trial when we go out to Idaho in October. Assuming we get in we’ll give it a go. I don’t expect anything, but hopefully a positive experience and it gives us something to shoot for. We definitely need to look at lifting off other people, and, of course, finding sheep in new places. In addition to the actual herding skills. I have his whistles practiced, just need to actually train them to Asher. So the hope is to have those started by the time we head out. With everything being on fire and the aftermath we haven’t done any herding at all, and the little sheep camp was cancelled as well. So not the herding October I had anticipated, but I’m just happy everyone is okay and eventually we’ll hopefully get back to practicing regularly.

Heidi is going with to Idaho and we’ll get to road trip with her new puppy, Asher’s little sister! Really like that little pup. We got to see Asher’s new siblings last weekend when they were five weeks – their first time outside because of all the fire and smoke. They did great, so fun to see their little personalities. And I was really curious, yes, Navarre has the same reaction to this litter that he did to Asher’s litter – my dog that is nuts about puppies of all sorts barely gave them the time of day. So weird! Asher just scared the hell out of them. The puppies were totally relaxed with Navarre, but they all ran in hid as soon as Asher entered the enclosure – Asher is just, well, a lot. And this was him just on a downstay – he has a quality to him …. He was really happy to see his mom and Heidi though.

Still hoping to find a girl puppy to add to our household, no litters on the ground yet though. I have a few options I’m looking at, but it all depends on who actually gets bred, does it take, are there enough girls, and is there the right girl for us. We shall see. We may do some puppy raising in the meantime, see what the boys think of that. We need some more girl energy around here, I’m outnumbered six to one. Still can’t believe Bright is gone, I still expect to see her, still miss her every night. She was such a big part of all our lives.

Haku continues to age into a completely adorable old dog. I wish that he could be one of those that didn’t really start to age until later, but he’s getting cloudy eyes, slowing down, arthritis and all the signs of aging. He’s just the happiest little soul ever though, always has been. Still doesn’t want to give up the toy, still is right there with me and continues to be my perfect boy. Life has been so much better with Haku in it, and continues every day. We try to do lots of ‘Special Haku Time’ things, and he loves that. He loves running around with the other boys too though.

Now Navarre’s mohawk came back in full force during the smoke lockdown. I have no idea what that means but he now has more of a mohawk than he ever has had before. Sigh. I do think it’s a little calmer then it was last week, but I don’t know what brought it on and what I can really do about it at this point. He is peeing longer again, and his back is ‘twitchy’, the inflammation is back. Now, if you ask HIM he says he’s perfectly fine. He’s not acting at all reluctant do anything, I ran him in agility at 20 and he looked normal. He’s stretching equally front to back, I don’t see any sort of obvious injury or imbalance – but clearly something is going on. So, yeah, as we’ve already seen all sorts of experts across the spectrum, I’m a bit at a loss. Basically just going to let him live his life and wait and see what happens at this point. Either he’ll get worse and we’ll have something to point to, or he won’t in which case he can just keep doing his thing. Other than on the flat running and some agility we haven’t done anything particularly strenuous, no hiking until I find somewhere new to go. Still looking to find our routines again.

Fire

Oregon is on fire – one more reason to really dislike summer, now I’m adding wildfires to the list. Which I never liked before, but didn’t have a lot of personal experience with them. Now that I have, let me say I’m not a fan. This has been unlike anything I have ever experienced, 2020 has been nothing but devastating once in a lifetime events. I’m rather afraid what else could happen at this point.

We had some very hot temperatures and a freak windstorm – and by September Oregon is incredibly dry as it doesn’t rain in the summer. The combination has just been lethal and heartbreaking. It was so weird to go off to teach in Sherwood, where things were windy, but sunny and uneventful – then check my phone and see devastation everywhere. The drive home was crazy, going from blue skies into apocalyptic conditions with the smoke from the fires both from the East and to the South. That first day Hubbard was just on the border, by the next day we woke up to this:

That was at 9am, earlier it was so dark even though the sun had been up for hours all you could see was a dark red purple glow. You’d go outside for a few minutes and it was so red when you came back inside the normal lights looked unnaturally blue. Ash fell like rain and the air quality was so poor it was off the charts.

We are probably 15 miles from the fires, but have, thankfully, never been in any danger. The surrounding farmland acts as a fire break and the winds finally died down as well. Knock on wood, never ended up with any level of evacuation – just the smoke, and a lot of it. Everyday it was a different color and feel, but thankfully it’s getting better – though still not something you should be out in. The dogs were SUPER BORED, but they are good sports about it all. You have to wonder what they think about it, but maybe being border collies they don’t really notice – they don’t seem to, anyway. Big boy dorks.

Know a lot of people that have were evacuated, one terrible loss down south in the fires in Southern Oregon, but so far up north no one has lost their home here. Just breaks my heart, I can’t imagine. Maddy was evacuated and had to leave the sheep and chickens – there was no time. Thankfully the locals in her area are fighting fires and saving homes out there – and, so far, her place has been spared. I went up to help get the sheep out right before the evacuated the whole of Molalla. Way more people were still in their homes with all their livestock still, I was surprised to see so many. Thankfully Maddy’s sheep and chickens were quite happy to get out of there and seemed none the worse for wear. Now it’s just hoping her place makes it, there are multiple fires right near there – and it’s hard to get any information about what’s happening.

The first few days I just spent a lot of time trying to get fire reports and following local groups that seemed to have more information. There is no one one place you can go for information, the counties seem to be all on their own and Oregon itself doesn’t seem to have any organization at all. Most of the fire and rescue efforts seem to be volunteer, not with any overall organization. The lack of communication and information has caused crazy conspiracy theories to run rampant, as well as so many people going on wild goose chases trying to help people. So, yeah, in terms of government response to a widespread crisis, pretty discouraging to think this is it.

So Molalla, where I spend so much time these days … I don’t know how much of it will be left in the end. Pretty sure my hiking trails burned down, but even then, I doubt they’ll let anyone in to that area for quite some time. I’m hoping for the best and my heart goes out to everyone affectd, 500,000 people evacuated and so many homes lost.

It’s been really hard to focus or get anything done, and the dogs have been mostly patient with chewies and playing in the living room. We’ve done a little training with conditioning exercises and working on putting rings on cones and matching colors. Somehow Asher apparently never learned some basic conditioning stuff like individual leg lifts and elevated squats, so we we’ve been working on that too. They are good sports. This has not been a good year for dogs, it seems like as soon as we finally get back into things the world goes to pot again.

After what seemed like an eternity, the winds changed and rains washed away the smoke. The fires won’t be under control for a long time, but the big danger appears to be over with. It is so weird to suddenly be back to normal life and normal weather. Certainly makes you appreciate it. I am not at all sad to say goodbye to fires and summer, definitely not a fan.

Always Enough

Been a bit of a discouraging week at classes, while for the most part teaching agility is just about having fun with dogs, there have been a lot of people unhappy with their dogs this week. Unhappy with their progress, unhappy with dogs that struggle in trials, unhappy that their young dog is not as far along as they’d like, just a lot of negativity that I don’t normally see. There were folks that talked about quitting agility completely because if their dog isn’t going to trial well they didn’t see the point of doing it at all. I can see it if the dog just didn’t like agility, but if your dog loves agility, but doesn’t like trialing – quitting agility seems like a weird choice in my mind.

I do often feel like I’m in the minority that I just like agility … for agility. And trialing CAN be fun because it’s a way to test our skills and try to do it right the FIRST time – but it’s not the end goal for me. Even if we never had trials again I would still love agility, it’s really fun to set up your own courses and try to solve the puzzle. I love the connection, I love the communication, the relationship, the challenge, the fun, the teamwork – there is nothing like agility in my mind. Unlike any other sport, to me it’s about having pure fun with your dog while you work together to solve a puzzle. No pressure, the dog just gets to be a dog in the most fun way possible – and you get to interact them naturally and joyfully.

Other sports have their benefits, but there is no other sport in my mind that requires the same level of teamwork and cooperation while still maintaining a balanced relationship and lets the dog be a dog. There are other sports where the dog is having a gleeful good time, flyball, dock diving, lure coursing, barn hunt – but they have very little to do with the handler and dog working together by comparison. Most sports of that nature are the dog doing their thing while the handler drives them around – which is fun, and it’s not like there aren’t things to train to a high degree in these types of sports, but still, it’s mostly just getting to watch them do their thing.

There are some sports that are more of a team sport you do together, but they involve a lot of pressure on the dog, it’s not the joyful play you get in agility. Obedience and herding (and probably Schutzhund, though I’ve never done it) are very interesting training puzzles, and obviously you want to try to make sure the dog is having a good time – but, by nature, these are activities that require the dog to have a lot of self control and are more handler dominated as opposed to a true partnership like agility.

The point being, I love agility and it’s never gotten boring for me, so the concept of ‘if my dog doesn’t trial well I’m retiring him from agility’ is an odd one for me. Obviously everyone is different though, it just kind of breaks my heart to see a dog have so much fun and try so hard in practice, but it not be enough. Which I guess was the theme of the week, people thinking their dogs weren’t ‘enough’. How incredibly sad and what a heavy burden to put on a dog. To talk about getting a puppy and if the current dog doesn’t ‘shape up’ they’re going to get left at home and just go work with the new dog. Just … ouch.

Anyway, I can tell you how to train weavepoles, but I don’t know how to fix these kinds of issues. And for some reason this kind of thing was coming out of the woodwork this week. Maybe people are getting COVID crazy, maybe it’s the heat, but it hurts my heart and I wish I could wave a magic wand and fix it. We all get frustrated sometimes, but for the most part I feel people love their dogs for who they are and celebrate the success without getting caught up with negativity. Just not this week, apparently. I think sometimes it’s harder to be objective when it’s your own dog, when you feel like you’ve put in all the work and still not seeing the results – it happens, but I hope I can stay positive and love my dog for who they are when it does.

So to my dogs, I will try to make sure agility is always fun for you and that I set you up for success. When we have a set back or an issue I will break it down and create a plan to help you understand what I’m asking for without thinking there is something wrong with you for not understanding. I won’t blame you when things go wrong, I’ll listen when something is making you feel uncomfortable and I’ll give you as much time as you need to feel confident in new situations. I hope that you trust me to make sure you are safe and that playing agility with me is always a fantastic time. I want you to always feel like you are enough, no matter what level or ability – and that I’ll appreciate you for playing this game with me.

Summer is holding on with its fingernails for dear life and the forecast is nothing but mid-nineties into the foreseeable future. In any other year I would not be teaching, I’ve learned my lesson years ago about September – it might SOUND like the end of summer, but it is not. But usually if you can just get to middle of September you are finally free of the 90s at least … until next July. In just a few months it will be the COLDEST part of the year, it’s coming … wait for me, fleeces, you will soon be used for the next nine months.

So not doing much with dogs this week. Went back to working on some herding flatwork with a toy, and, low and behold, Asher had the same issues walking up to a toy straight away from me that he does with sheep. So worked through that, we’ll see if it makes a difference on stock or not. The dogs LOVE playing herding toy games, so we had fun either way. And it’s theoretically less intense way to play with the dogs when it’s hot. Though Asher always looks like he ran a marathon no matter what we do.

We had an interesting aframe issue in classes this week. Very simple set up, straight approach, straight exit right into a tunnel and dogs with running contacts were just looking terrible left and right. No idea why, but even NAVARRE jumped off and he NEVER does that. No surprise that Asher struggled with it as well, though I was surprised at the time! But he DID work through it, so that made me happy to see. The dogwalk has been out for repair, but that will be back next week, so we’ll get back to working on that.

What we COULDN’T do was run any sort of coursework to save our lives. Asher is really good at small things, but trying to put things together he does the WEIRDEST shit. Like I don’t even know where he comes up with it, and he’s DETERMINED to keep doing them. So, yeah, good reminder not to get frustrated, just break it down. But it is kind of odd that we can’t actually put anything together, especially things we used to be able to do no problem.

Maybe working on the Justine stuff is the issue? All that complicated stuff he looks great with, but perhaps not super helpful for more straightforward coursework. Big red dork, we’ll get there eventually – and we’re having fun with the Justine stuff, so we’ll just stick to that – though admittedly it’s not helpful for american style courses at all. He did do some fabulous distance teeters, no stopping short or hesitation. So looking more confident there again … for now.

Saw Dave this week, and with dogs that haven’t been herding, and didn’t do much at all this week after resting from seeing Patricia, they were rather amped. Well, quite frankly, Navarre was TERRIBLE. Dave had to take over it was such a mess. So unfortunately Navarre feeling better seems to coincide with him fighting with me every step of the way. However, what I found the most interesting is that not once did he even glance down or attempt to eat any sheep poop whatsoever. So, huh, was that behavior connected to discomfort rather than pressure/stress? Because he got a LOT of pressure today, and he was just happy as a clam doing his own herding thing. Or, I’ve seen it before, he seems to do BETTER when there is more pressure …

Naturally, he was mostly very good with Dave, and made me remember why I didn’t work Navarre for quite some time. We are not a good team in herding, but it was good to see Navarre with his normal, uh, unhelpful enthusiasm. We started with sheep that liked to run, and, boy, did they. We had to trade them in for some heavier sheep because there was no way in hell Navarre was going to be able to work them appropriately. Navarre and herding … always a challenge. But I’m still happy to see HIM happy. As for what he’ll get to do in herding … who knows, but he’ll still get to play. Even if I just have to hand him off to someone else.

As for Asher (who got much more time than Navarre today!), he was also feeling pretty pushy also, and I have been warned many times by Dave that I can make Asher into Navarre if I let him get away with things. I’m a big softy with that red boy, I’ll admit. And he does have some bad habits that I kind of let slide, hence why he still has them. We did find that on heavier sheep, yes, he is pushing too hard on the drive. He just really hasn’t had a chance to work on that pace with driving as the sheep at Maddy’s just tend to run, so he never actually has to push. The good news, he’s feeling much more confident pushing – especially straight away from me like we practiced on toys this week. The bad news, he’s pushing too hard, splitting sheep, and he doesn’t drive straight AT ALL. I’m reluctant to correct for the push though, since we HAVE been working on that, so just been lying him down instead to get him to back off. We’ll see how it goes, just need to work on driving into infinity and getting him to understand the concept of driving straight though.

Another good news/bad news situation was finding sheep for his outrun. We went out to the big field again and the sheep had gone way off under the trees. So he didn’t know where they were, he doesn’t know the field or the are they were in at all when I sent him (which is very visually confusing with fences, a ditch, trees, etc). With some redirects, he found them and believed me – hurrah! The bad news, he then busted them up and scattered them, which he can do when he gets uncertain and comes in too hot. He did eventually fix the situation and bring them though.

So there are things that he does incorrectly that I just haven’t been that strict about … that I probably should be. One being that habit of rushing his lift, another would be how he consistently goes past balance on his outruns. I think I figured he would fix the latter on his own eventually – but as he’s always done it, and he still does it, I guess that’s probably unlikely. Also, because he’s not super tight at the top I’m always just so happy about that part that the rest of it doesn’t bug me. So the plan is just to lie him down at balance every time, which gets tricky as, yes, he’s become less responsive the farther away he is because I get less confident I can make it happen. Pretty predictable. But he’s a good boy, we can break this down and make sure he knows what he’s actually supposed to do closer up and then gradually add more distance. Expecting it to magically fix itself is not, uh, a great plan.

Practiced on Maddy’s lambs this weekend, which was really fun. Well, really fun with Asher anyway. Poor Navarre, more and more I see how he just doesn’t know how to actually move sheep. The lambs haven’t been worked much and were unpredictable and needed to actually be WORKED and he immediately started eating shit and disconnecting – this blew his brain. So … yeah, interesting. When I sent him on an outrun and he just jumped into the stocktank instead I just took him out and worked Asher. When he came back out he did work through it and did okay, but he is just a puzzle in herding these days. And a puzzle I’m not at all certain how to solve, especially as it seems to the more I try to be quiet and help him the more that seems to stress him out!

So, yeah, Asher to the rescue! Was super happy with how well he worked on the lambs, he has such a better feel for sheep than Navarre and was very gentle but took control of them. He actually enjoyed working them and make some great decisions when they would split or one would run off (which, to be fair, he would sometimes cause!). He problem solved through what he needed to do to work them and made it happen. The hard one was doing some walkabouts with the sheep that had a heavy draw back to the other sheep/pen and he did pretty well until his brain kind of exploded at the end of the session. He did a great job reading his stock, responding to me and staying calm and in control both driving and fetching. Good puppy!

The issue that I have with him on sheep, which he does in agility too, is that it still freaks me out how he’s entirely too easy to disengage from his work. And sometimes when driving or doing inside flanks he’s looking at ME and not the sheep – not helpful! And of course he still will look back at me when he’s not sure about things. He will do it in agility too, and in both cases he is very much enthusiastic about what he’s doing, but thinks way too much about me when he’s doing it. I definitely worry in any context about accidentally turning him off the activity, because I think he would, if that’s what he thought I wanted. I definitely got the biddable dog I wanted, but it has its scary side too! It still cracks me up when you tell him ‘that’ll do’ he comes charging back full speed like a fricken freight train – probably his favorite cue in herding …

Haku got to herd some chickens this weekend, which he hasn’t gotten to do for years! He got a little too excited about it, and was snapping a bit to get them to move – which, to be fair, Maddy’s chickens are entirely too fearless, so, yeah they are not easily moved. He also got worked on by Maddy, and will be back next week. He really needs to be worked on regularly at this point, I think. Time does sneak up on you. Been working on massaging and stretching his feet/wrists at night – and giving him lots of love. My bestest boy, I love him so! Well, except when he won’t stop barking his head off when we’re not even doing anything in the arena – he gets ejected for excessive pointless barking quite a bit. Still love him though!