Sunday, December 30, 2012


For Christmas presents, I bought 3 books on Mental Management:  Freedom Flight, With Winning In Mind, and Finding Your Zone.  My son who is crazy about golf, my grandson who does cross country, and I who finally can say I "have a sport" after 60 years without one, will circulate these books among ourselves as a joint present, hopefully finding common ground by helping us all improve our games.

To help me remember the content of each one as I read it, I will blog my notes, starting with the one I read over the holidays:

Freedom Flight - The Origins Of Mental Power, by Lanny Bassham
This is a short book but carries a big punch.  Fictitious, it's also a composite of the wisdom of 3 real life people who influenced a real life Olympic champion (the author) to win Gold after many years of struggle to get there.

A soldier is captured and held as a Vietnam war prisoner for 6 years, plus spends several weeks in solitary in a 4'x4' bamboo box, without much food or water.  He pares life down to "what's important and what's not", and what he does to keep from going crazy is  to not worry about things he can't control, control what he can, and play golf in his head.  When he gets released back to the US and steps onto the golf course, he's rehearsed so many thousands of great shots in his mind, they come to pass!  He relates this story to the future Olympian on a plane flight, giving him the pearls of wisdom he needs to free himself of his self-limiting fears and attain his goal of Gold.


Here's the list of positive mental imaging tricks imparted:
  1. The Lesson Of The Box: Until you get out of the "prison" of your self-limiting concepts, you aren't free to reach your goals and dreams. How do you do that?
    Establish a Plan
    Learn to separate what is important from what is not important in reaching your goals, and let the unimportant things go.
    What you think about AFTER something happens to you shapes the fabric of your future. Don't dwell on unimportant things.
  2. It is unimportant what happens to you in life. What is important is what you do about it.  This is how you live a "purposeful" life, rather than be a "victim" of life.
  3. Adversity is an effective teacher. Tragedy causes us to separate what is important from what is not.  Shows us we can't control all events, but we can control how we react to them.
  4. Everything we experience in life is a preparation for our future.
  5.  "To he who has been given much, much shall be required." If you focus less on your personal achievement and more on the good you could do by achieving it, you are more likely to win.  Changing your Purpose this way changes your focus, relaxes you, makes for easier performances.
  6. The way you see things is reality.  Your actual environment is not reality. Perception is everything.
  7. Focus on solutions to problems, not on the problems themselves.  Change your thought pictures.  Can you control your thoughts?  Do you try?  If your mind starts down a negative path, can you pull it away?  When you are in a situation you can't control, try to replace worrying with thinking happy thoughts that bring you joy.
  8. Presets - We have many presets in our heads, like car radios where you press the button and it takes you to a particular station. Learn to identify your presets, and reset them to advantage.  For example, you can learn to step into the ring and all else fades but you and your dog running together beautifully. The mind cannot tell the difference between what you vividly imagine and what you actually do.  Replace "I can't run well" with "I run like a pro" and envision it, you can achieve it.
  9. Every life has a purpose.  Everything happens for a reason.  Learning to see the benefits of everything that happens to you is important.
  10. Every purposeful life has a God ordained plan. Once your goals are in sync with this plan, good things will begin to happen easily.
  11. Even if there are no doors currently open to you, continue to think about your plan.  Doors eventually open to those who are determined.
  12. The world tends to only measure accomplishment.  But you can also measure the state of your "becoming".
  13. The conscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time.  Focus on what you want to happen and not what you fear might happen.
  14. God endows us with weapons to fight through adversity.

For years after meeting the Vietnam Prisoner on this flight, the author could not afford to train for his sport.  He set up a room in his home as a shooting range, and every day practiced aiming and shooting perfect shots.  Years later the chance came up to join a team and qualify for the Olympics, he did, and won Gold.

Upwards and onward!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Daisy Peel Podcasts - My Notes

I've discovered online agility podcasts recently and begun listening to them.  I listen while sipping my morning coffee after I've fed and pottied the dogs, before I feel like doing much else.  Taking notes helps me pay attention.  Last week I discovered Daisy Peel's Podcast page on her website, and here are my notes. Some discuss concepts, others describe the content of her online training classes (#12 of which I'm really interested in taking):

Podcast #1 - What Is Consistency?
How to achieve consistent performances you are happy with?  First, define what you have right now (behavior, performance, feelings).  Define what you want.  The difference is where you train. Come up with a training plan to shift your pattern.  This may take you out of your comfort zone.  Allow for mistakes to happen as you experiment. You'll get there eventually.

Podcast #2 - Being In "The Moment"
Success is achieved by coming at it sideways.  You'll learn to recognize the feeling and be able to stay in "the moment" longer.  If you try to hold on to it, define it, celebrate it, it will disappear.  Learn not to analyze it at the time.  Eventually you'll be able to slip into "the moment" at will, and the moments will last longer.

Podcast #3 - Thoughts on Using Verbals On Course
As set out by Linda Mecklenberg, we communicate with our dogs thru 6 things: motion, shoulders, location, eye contact, arms, and verbals, in the order that the dogs best understand.  If motion cues are correct, dogs won't get so many incorrect forward motion cues.  There will be less need for verbal cues.  We are more verbal and upper body oriented, dogs prioritize lower body movements, and verbals least of all. To see if D is reading your body in practice, eliminate verbal turning cues.  Reserve verbal cues fo instances where your motion doesn't support the next obstacle D needs to take.  Use verbal forward cues - jump, weave, okay, table, tunnel, over, around, out - to confirm what the dog should do even while you are moving away.

Podcast #4 - How I Chose A Handling System
Linda M's 6 basic cues represent a scientific approach to handling, a good place to start.  You learn different things from different trainers. But after awhile, you will have to start learning from your dogs on your own and see what works.

Podcast #5 - Bang For Your Buck
How much should a working or auditing spot cost?  Lot of factors to consider:  experience of presenter, teaching style, venue, costs to put on the seminar.  Sometimes you could get more bang with private or online lessons.

Podcast #6 - Our Goals All Serve The Same Purpose
From the Daisy Peel Mental Management Class, Not satisfied with our current situation provides a source of frustration as well as motivation.  We set our sights a little higher, and the end result is self improvement whether our goals are international or local competitions.

Podcast #7 - BDA Mental Management
Bad Dog Agility's interview with Daisy Peel: Landy Bassham (With Winning In Mind) is Daisy's mentor on Mental Management.  Consistent performance under pressure, on demand. Applies to all sports, parenting, etc. Pressure to perform agility well is intense, but improves with less attention on Q'ing or winning, but on process and performance. Self image and fear of poor performance limit us.  You have to practice your mental game skills in daily life, not just when competing. Like a muscle, you have to work on strengthening the skill, which is very fatiguing until you get used to the process.  Worst mistake is "overtrying" -- making things happen rather than letting things happen. Whatever level you train at is the level you should exhibit in competition.  But the adrenalin at competitions can make you achieve things at a higher level than in practice, without trying. Good performances seem easy, slow motion, sub-conscious, mentally effortless. Visualization: Thinking about the trial before you get there: YouTube search will bring up videos of runs in any venue you are about to compete in.  You can see the environment before you get there.  Babe, Buck, Rocky are good movies to watch.
  • Anticipation phase: get your conscious brain to turn off at the gate, stop processing details, a conditioned response, a mantra, tune, or gesture that gets the ball rolling automatically.
  • After-the-event phase: to avoid let-down from winning or not, have a plan.
Podcast #8 - Equipment Safety
Competing all over the world, seeing how other countries design, purchasing and bringing home diverse equipment to practice on in preparation for international competitions. Dog eye injuries suffered by jump cups above the bar, recommends 1 moveable jump cup that is easily adjusted, which will be cheaper in the long run, no bottom bar so uprights can fall independently. No horizontal pickets on wings, looks to some dogs like panel jump. 

Podcast #9 - Watch Your Dog - Part 1
You have to watch your dog to know when to give your cues. This is a mechanical skill.  Doing that well is complex.  Static visual acquity (near and far sightededness) is less dramatic than dynamic visual acuity, improving
  • your visual motot skills -- focusing, tracking (following in smooth path) or psychotic pursuit (flicking eyes from one thing to another), convergence/divergence (judgng distances). 
  • your visual perception skills  (figure/groud)
  • peripheral awareness, making good use of the info that is coming in to you.
  • hand/eye and foot/eye coordination 

Podcast #10 - Watch Your Dog - Part 2
"Watch Your Dog" is an oversimplified request. Requires practice.  Dogs track the direction of your head which leads to many mis-cues, so learn to turn your eyes without moving your head, also enhance your perephrial vision by noticing what you can see to the sides without moving your eyes side to side.  You'd be amazed how much you can see.  Exercises provided.  When walking a course, pay attention to how you will watch your dog.  Where will your eyes be?  How you handle your eyes is important.

Podcast #11 - Interview with Helen Grinnell King
How canine structure relates to performance. What's Your Angle and  Picking Your Performance Puppy, and Based on equestrian knowledge. What allows dogs to accel/decel, turn, stride, etc.  Pelvic and shoulder angles are important.  Must learn to see these.  Books show you how.  Structure evaluation class. Hands on is best, but learning to read photos works too. Eweneck discussion - not bad on dogs as it is on horses.  Slipped hocks discussion. Online class thru Daisy Peel website - 6 step process how to see angles on dogs, submit and evaluate photos of your dog.

Podcast #12 - Interview with Kristin Rosenbach, ATC, Stott Pilates Certified Instructor
Functional Fitness #1 -  Training basic movements, rather than muscles. Balance exercises, mechanics of accel and decel, coordinated foot movement, posture, visual skills, strength work. 9 week class thru Daisy Peel's Online Courses. Forum, post video, exercise logs.  Balance is the first problem to tackle.  Pullers - Body Weight Back, must work harder.  Pushers - teaching people to lean forward and let gravity help them.  Lateral movement - stepping to the side is not normal, especially at speed, including visual changes. Balance affects confidence.
Functional Fitness #2 - Multi-Dimensional Movement, moving one way while looking another, spatial awareness, strength work.

Podcast #13 - Interview with Bobbie Lyons
Pawsitive Performance helps dogs know where their body is. Works with canine conditioning, structural issues.  Teaches private lessons and online classes, and private practice evaluating dogs muscle structure. Training dogs to go from a stand to a sit to a down without moving their feet at all, helps them use their core. Dogs with this training show improved speed and tighter turns on course.  Warm up and cool down routines are important, especially major joints, spine and tail.  Trotting around (medium speed) before taking the warm up jump very important - warmup should take about 10 minutes. Backing up, turning in a circle all very good, and don't take much room in the house.

As she posts more podcasts, I'll add more notes to this page.

Upwards and onward!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

RV Improvements

Reviewing my Page Views stats, the most visited pages on this blog have to do with RV Improvements!  Being as it's such a hot topic, I decided to catch the world up on my latest renovations on my Class C 27' Four Winds 5000, circa 1999.  Simple things that solve problems, make better use of limited space, and sometimes save money on far costlier solutions.

Low cargo door
High cargo door
Instant Outdoor Table:  "Mainstay Easy Hang Shower Rod" with non-skid rubber tips, very convenient for holding up the side compartment door, providing an instant table before unpacking any patio equipment.  The fact that the rod is adjustable from 36-60" and locks in any position makes it so the table can be leveled on very uneven terrain, and can prop up both the low or high cargo doors.  It gives me a place to put my coffee cup, cigs and ash tray, snacks, leashes, light tools, etc., while setting up my camp space. Cost: $6.95 (Walmart).  Why those RV engineers don't build in fold down legs for these compartment doors I can't figure. Not pictured, but I got some plastic mats to put on the surface to prevent scratches.

Leveling Boards: Whew! I priced those installable crank up leveling jacks, the yellow plastic locking leveling boards, and figured I could save myself a heap of money just making my own. After a bit of experimentation, I learned I could get all the leveling I will probably ever need with the pictured 3/4" thick 4" wide, 8" long and 16" long wood fencing boards. (I found a few of these boards on a scrap pile somewhere, and cut them the width of my tires.) I carry 2 sets. Cost: $0

I create a ramp behind the tires that need lifting, 2 boards thick, then 4, then 6, then 8 boards thick as needed, and easily drive the RV up onto them.

Both back tires rest on the long boards.

The longer boards provide a final resting place for both back tires to sit on, but the shorter boards are sufficient enough ramp to lift the unit using just the outer tire.

It surprised me how just a few inches thick makes a huge difference in leveling.  See how the unit is completely lopsided driven up onto those 8 boards pictured above?  And walking inside is difficult on this angle.  But if I wasn't on level ground already, you can see that I could make it level using my method.  Oh, and don't forget to chock your other tires so the unit doesn't blow off the boards.

Hanging closet conversion to shelves and bins.  I don't bring hanging clothes on trips, but if I did I have a second closet with a hanger bar.  So in the bigger closet I built 2 shelves to hold 3 16" x 22" Sterlite bins.  One is for my clean clothes, another for dirty clothes, another for a second person's gear, linens and pillows, or whatever.  I've stacked a 4th bin under the 3rd one, in case I need a large container to put wet stuff, wash a dog, store live fish caught in a nearby stream, or other useful purpose.  I built the shelves by lining the side walls with 3/8" plywood cut to fit, stained to match, and screwed in, then laying a 3/8" shelving board across the top, then repeat with another set of uprights and board.  Voila!  A much more useful space. Cost: $25 (Target for bins, Home Depot for wood)


Stained Glass Window:  I hate those curtains and flimsy curtain rods around the top bunk.  Romping up there, they are always bending, popping off, and the hardware sticks out and pokes/scratches you.  So I got rid of the long one and coated the interior window with a stained glass sheet (comes in a roll from Home Depot, several designs).  You clean the window immaculately clean, wet the precut sheet with soapy water, and position it on, then work out the bubbles with a credit card, per package instructions.  Once on, it stays there by suction. I've had one up on my art room door for years and it's still there.  But it comes off easy if you ever want it to.  It's pretty, creates ambiance, and filters out a good bit of sunlight. Cost $19

Windshield Privacy Shade:  My Class C unit came with a curtain you can velcro around the front of the drivers cab for privacy.  It hangs straight down (over the steering wheel), though, and blocks off a lot of valuable dash space and the cab seats can't be sat in with that curtain in your face.  Hated it.  Whose dumb idea was that?  I got rid of it and resolved the privacy issue with an oversize accordian style silver windshield shade (available at any auto parts store), held flat against the windshield by a flexible flat stick that contours to the windshield's curved shape.  It creates privacy, allows for maximum usable space, and also keeps the heat out.  When not in use, the screen folds up neatly and stores in the closet, and the stick stores nicely under the overhead mattress. 

3 tiers: open, filtered light, privacy
Picture Window Light Blockers/Insulation:
I love the double pull down window shades that came with my RV.  Very cleverly, they slide up and down and acordian fold into each other, providing a filtered light screen and a privacy screen.  But it does NOT block out heat/light sufficiently.  (Another bitch of mine, for I'm sure those engineers could solve this problem from the factory if the wanted to.) 

Meanwhile, I carry two more windshield screens with me, and can tuck the edges into any of my window boxes for a blackout feature.  They are the perfect size for my windows and their weight rests neatly on the back of the couch, or the basket on the table, or the bed.  I once made the mistake of setting up camp under a street light that would have beamed down in my face all night thru the back bedroom window, but I was able to block it completely with a windshield screen.  These also serve as great window insulators in freezing cold weather!  In my pop up camper, for example, they kept my feet and head from freezing while in bed, so near they were to the canvas sides. Cost: 3 x $10.

Cab Window Liners:  Once I X'd the wrap around privacy curtain, I needed to create something to block the driver and passenger windows.  Also block the sun. And cheap.  Using a small silver tarp from Harbor Freight, I cut out two pieces a wee bit taller than the windows.  To hold in place, I lower the window an inch or so, tuck the fabric over the glass, and roll up the window.  Presto!  Privacy and heat problems solved.  One can open and close the doors and the fabric stays in place.  Cost:  1 5x7 tarp $8

Later I ran across a large flat cardboard box, cut out two pieces the exact shape of the windows that tuck right into the upper and lower window grooves, and am now figuring out how to decorate them (contact paper, glued on reflective tarp, or maybe a laminated photo collage). 
I don't know whether I prefer the cardboard or the fabric.  Both work.  The loose fabric folds up and tucks away in the door pocket when not in use, and is the easiest to make.  The cardboard version stores flat under the overhead mattress or in a closet, but took more effort to build.  Cost:  $0

Sky Light cover
Shower Sky Light:  Man, this clear skylight lets in so much heat, you could toast bread up there in summer.  Had to buy or build a reflective cover!  The other sky lights came with a pillow to block them, but not the one in the shower.  Guess I could have spent a fortune buying one to fit, but nevermind.  I just whipped out some stiff cardboard, cut it to size, covered it with contact paper the same color as the shower walls, dotted transparent velcro strips around the edges, and built my own.  It works perfect, looks good, and stores flat when I want it down. Cost: $1.50

Shower Curtain held on track
by a tension rod.

Shower Curtain Repair: 4 of the top grommets on the flimsy built-in accordian shower curtain had ripped out, so when one opened the curtain it sagged into the shower in places. Bummer! Didn't think to open and check it out before purchasing the second-hand unit. I was faced with replacing the curtain, not cheap, reinstalling the grommets (tried that, but it was way too bitchy to fool with). Why those RV designers can't reinforce the top hem of the curtain so the grommets can't tear out, is baffling! Eventually I installed a little adjustable tension rod behind it near the top, and presto, problem resolved. When I open the accordian curtain, the loose parts just rest against the rod and don't fall in. Cost: $1.29 Walmart

Table basket: Can't leave pens, pencils, tape, scissors, rulers, salt and pepper shakers, post it note pads, and such stuff out on the table when in motion, but it's such a pain to take it out, put it away, take it out, put it away. I want to leave it out.  So I used a long thin bungie cord to affix a cute bread basket (that I picked up at a garage sale) to the wall end of my table where all that little stuff can stay while I bounce down the road. Works perfect. Easy, once I figured it out. Cost: $.75

Outdoor Thermometer:  I always want to know the outside temperature.  Glued a transparent velcro strip to the outside wall and the matching piece to the back end of the thermometer bracket.  I stick it up when I get to my campsite, and take it down when I leave.  Works perfect except in a very heavy wind it peels off.  Heavy wind, bring in the thermometer.  Forget to do that, it lands unharmed on the ground.  Cost: $3.50

Hooks, Hooks, Hooks:  For minimal expense, I've installed hooks galore all over the place.  This keeps my precious walkways, counters, tables, couches and bed clear of sweaters, coats, PJ's, bathrobes, leashes, damp ponchos, towels, pot holders, etc.    I despise clutter and having to move something out of the way every time I want to move into a space. Some hooks glue to the walls, some screw in, some hang over the doors. The factory provides some, but can you ever have enough hooks?

Exterior Cargo Bin Latches:  Horrible design.  To secure doors shut, these latches turn 90 degrees and catch behind a thin metal lip that sticks up about 1/2 inch.  The problem is that going down the road, if some piece of your cargo rattles up against the lip and pins the latch in place or blocks where it needs to turn to open, you are screwed!  No access to your cargo until you remove the whole door assembly.  Fixed that with some mason jar lid rings cut in half and edges smoothed with a dremmel, and glued to the cargo doors using E6000, such that they protect the latches as they turn.  So far they are holding up great!

I also ran some Rubber Foam Weatherseal Self Stick Tape (that I had lying around) along the bottom inside edge of the cargo bin to prevent anything pressing down along the bottom edge.  Of course I left a gap where the latches need to swing into place over the lip.  Cost:  $0.  Why can't those RV engineers eliminate this problem to begin with?

I still have more improvements in mind and will post them as I resolve them.  It's fun playing RV engineer, but extremely time consuming!

To see my earlier RV improvements, visit this page.  It is totally amazing to me how RV's are let out of the factory without these issues resolved! Just as amazing how each and every one of these problems can cost a fortune to resolve if you let the RV Repair people do them for you.  And they don't even have solutions for some of these problems!  We are pretty much on our own to resolve many issues.

Upwards and onward!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dog Club Holiday Party

Last Saturday night was our dog club's annual Christmas Party, now re-christened "Holiday Party" because there are so few open dates on our calendar (weekends that don't conflict with trials around here), that last year our party wasn't until mid-January.  This year it was on the 15th of December, though, and held at a club member's beautiful 2 story mansion on the Mississippi levee. I really enjoy visiting other people's houses, large or small, and seeing how they decorate and how they situate their dogs! Even her separate dog kennel/building, which houses 6 giant schnauzers each in a separate run, was decorated with wreathes for Christmas!  This was my 5th LCCOC holiday party in a row. I haven't missed one yet since becoming involved with the club.  It was the first one where the host's dogs were not in the thick of things.  How would a giant schnauzer do at a party with food all over the place?

Everyone brings side dishes or desserts, wine and beverages, the club provides the meats. People dress up and bring their spouses for a change. No dogs. We use this event to present members with their annual awards (a wall or crate plaque) for titles earned during the year, MACH and OTCH necklaces, too, then we play the "stealing game" with dog related items people bring in unmarked bags or wrapped packages.  Supposedly around $10 in value, but some are worth much more!

I usually take lots of pictures -- I forgot to this year.
Some of the gifts were disappointing to those who got stuck with them, but I think John and I wound up with the best presents of all, as pictured.  Of course we had to have a bit of luck and do a bit of stealing to get them.  I kept the coveted Nylabone DuraToy Happy Moppy toy by virtue of being a late number, as well as the third and last one who could steal it.  It was very popular -- a fantastically sturdy tug toy the likes of which no one had ever seen, with no stuffing, no squeaker, strong fabric, where all 3 of my tugging dogs can tug at once.

John drew the last number, so was able to steal and keep a pair of Auto Cool Solar Powered Auto Window Ventilation units.   I looked them up on the internet and they run about $15 apiece.  Here's what it says:
  • The AutoCool uses sunlight to keep your car cool while you're away. When you come back to your car, you'll find it comfortable and cool.
  • How it works -- AutoCool is a solar powered fan that keeps the interior of your car cool and fresh.
  • No batteries are needed. Just roll down your window, place the Auto Cool on it, and roll it back up.
  • The solar panels on the outside collect and use the sunlight to run the fan that's on the inside.
  • The fan in the AutoCool circulates the air that's inside and outside of your car.
  • It sucks out the hot air that's inside your car and replaces it with the cooler outside air
  • Great Environment-friendly Product Save!
  • Design to blow the hot air out of your parked car
  • Keep your car cool no matter how long it is left in the sun
  • It can reduce the use of air-condition
  • Solar-powered and no batteries neededIf
  • Fit any car windows
If they do what they're supposed to, they will solve my hot car problem and I can bring multiple dogs to class in summer. I can also try them in the motor home.

Altogether a real fun time!  I'm in the Christmas spirit now. 

Upwards and onward!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Backyard Training Takeaways

Reading through all the other bloggers posts on Backyard Training, my biggest discovery was all the resources on the Bad Dog Agility blog. I've visited the blog before but never explored the site except to read the current article.  Lots of informative Articles, a nice Visual Dictionary of the basic handling moves, but most of all I like the Podcasts--24 interviews with various agility experts.  Getting them to download to my iPhone thru iTunes was a 2.5 hour challenge!  You can read my notes on the podcasts I've listened to.

There were several other memorable posts, which can all be accessed here.  All agreed that most agility fundamentals can be taught in small spaces, without much equipment, and most everyone works on foundation skills in little ways, throughout the day.  Also that all agility handling skills can be taught with just a few jumps in a small space, lots of short reps rather than long sessions on full courses, with numerous examples and diagrams given.  Amen to that!

Marsha Houston, on her 2 Minute Dog Trainer Blog, put it most suscinctly:
"If I take my puppy to a weekly class I probably spend less than 10 minutes out of any hour actually training my puppy. I would have to attend a class for years to get in the same training time I achieve through daily training at mealtimes . . . . while my dog is in a highly aroused state."

I really enjoyed the 4th video on this post, setting up a great rear cross exercise, and am also intrigued by the Hit The Ground Running Online Classes discussed towards the bottom of the post, supposed to increase the dog's speed:

This one shows that the sport is still evolving, trainers are still experimenting.
"With Kory I’m doing new stuff. Right now I’m teaching him to do a Switch. I should define: The command “Switch” means that I want him to circle my body tightly in a counter-clockwise direction.  I know this seems like a curious objective. You’re just going to have to trust me. I expect in ten years everybody with a fast (and trainable) dog will have both the Switch and the ComeBy in their basic foundation training."

Only one post emphasized handler fitness, and that one stands out in my mind as it outlines a specific training routine. I needed that!

Upwards and onward!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Blog Action Day #4 - BACKYARD TRAINING

Today, December 5th, is our 4th Blog Action Day, sharing ideas with other agility trainers on things they do at home to train their dogs.  Links to all the other bloggers posts are listed here.  My favorite take-aways are here.

I didn't think I'd have much to say on this topic, but once I got going I couldn't stop. I've tried to cull my material to things new and different from what other handlers might have to say, except for some background introduction on how often I train. Here goes: 

I tell beginner students:  "You can't learn agility in one hour a week".  And that's the truth! 

Yet each of my dogs attends class only 1 hour a week, gets maybe 4 or 5 turns, and I attend 1 or 2 seminars a year, and go to 7 or 8 trials per year where Maxie and Lucky Lucy go in the ring two times per day, XS and XJ for less than a minute each time.  There are hardly any matches in our area. That's all the agility we would get unless we practice on our own.

Our dog club has a wonderful Field Use program where members can pay $50/year and have 24/7 access to our fenced field, which is lighted all night and 2-3 courses, plus practice drills, are usually set up with competition quality equipment. The club cuts the grass. It's an amazing bargain, but still you have to drive there, you're on 2 acres eeriely alone, and it's not as convenient as your own back yard.  Plus neither my dogs nor I like hot or cold weather (above 85, below 50), so we pretty much only get out in spring and fall. It's amazing how well we do with so little practice.

Finding The Right Class: I can't always find a class that fits my dog's needs. This was true with Lucky Lucy, and now with Pepper at Beginners level. In Intro class he had no hesitation doing the obstacles, but the instructor had us working off leash right away, thus Pepper would do the short sequence (jump-tunnel-jump, jump/see saw/jump, etc.) then he'd run away exploring, visiting, sniffing. Papillons are very spunky that way, and hard to catch. Before working off leash, I think he should have learned to stay with me and run alongside me taking obstacles in class the way Maxie did (same teacher, but 4 years ago). We got promoted out of the class without enough handler focus. Now I have to fix this myself at home.  No further agility training until we resolve this issue.

Resources:  At home, I follow a few agility blogs or journals.  I've read some agility books.   I watch numerous YouTube videos. I appreciate every piece of input and try out some of it. But when I step away from that material, I don't always remember it like they said it, and I end up doing things my own way.  In fact, I like making up my own exercises. To me, it's not all about training for the ring.  I like to play with my dogs, see what I can get them to do, explore their intelligence (and mine), work out performance issues, invent exercises, and track improvements. 

FOUNDATION SKILLS:  I've long said, there's a lot more to agility than performing obstacles. Most of us are woefully undertrained in foundation skills.  My newest puppy isn't fully bonded with me -- he's more independant than the others.  I have bond-building to do.

Indoor stuff:
I use feeding time, loading up in the car, sitting for leash attachments, crate games, no begging at mealtimes, jumping into my arms, standing for exam, sitting for grooming, waiting until their name is called before eating or leaving the room, etc., -- all good training opportunities that recur daily, sometimes hourly, that teach impulse control, focus, and discipline.  We do the routine "parlor tricks" that wow company, are fun, and earn the dogs several mid-day snacks.  They all apply to agility, but you have to keep this up.  If you go slack, the behavior weakens.  So we do it a lot.  My wardrobe has changed to shirts, dresses and pants with pockets.  I keep jars of treats and clickers everywhere I sit.

Outdoor stuff:
I have a large fenced yard, fully equipped, and set up some Backyard Dog exercises, boxes, double boxes, and pinwheels, and actually number and do them now and then.  I set up and practice some of Steve's Jump Wraps and other handling exercises.  I also run obstacles that are scattered about the yard, in un-numbered fashion, asking for tight wraps, sending, leaving, etc., whenever I see the dogs begging to do tricks.  I allow myself to be spontaneous sometimes.  It's exhilerating to interact freely with my pooches, without fear that I'll forget what comes next or that they will err.

Last year a truck ran down our old mailbox on the highway.  We replaced it, I banged out the dents in the old one and put it on a post in the middle of the agility yard -- a handy dry place to keep nested numbers away from ants, tug toys, balls, a plastic tub of dry treats so I don't have to run back inside for training aides every time I get a yen to train my dogs.  The dogs will go sit by it when they want to play. It's cute!

I use Clean Run's Course Designer to draw parts of courses I find challenging and exercises I make up. Keeping a record of exercises I've worked on is part of why I keep this blog. I'm still refining my labels (key words) so one day I can find them all under Training Exercises.  When I go back and read the problems I was working through 2 years ago, I can see how far I've come in my understanding. I find the process fascinating, and encouraging. And sometimes embarassing. If my blog was just about accuracy, I would delete or change these posts.  But I've decided my blog isn't just about accuracy.  It's the story of my development as a newbie handler, and all the struggles, heartaches and perseverance it takes to stay in the game.

I encourage handlers to go through some raw experiences of making up challenges from scratch, to identify one small problem and "think dog" to resolve it,  to "own" the training process, not just follow the finished material of other handlers. When someone else hands you a solution, you tend to take it for granted that the exercise they devised is "simple", "true", and "obvious", not realizing how many steps it took for them to work out the kinks. And their solution might not be a universal fix that applies to your dog.  If "guessing games" are good for our dogs, they are just as good for us, and for the same reasons.  They keep you agile, and engaged.


Distance Handling:  I've been injured so often (sciatica, hip bursitis, strained knee, pulled calf muscle) the past 4 years, I'm intrigued with the concept of training from a chair.  Also, I'm such a slow runner, I feel the need to build distance handling skills. There's a lady (Kathy somebody) who competes along the Gulf Coast area who can't run at all, walks in the ring with a cane, dragging one foot behind her, and directs her fast border collie around the course, moving her shoulders too and fro and taking a few steps along what I call the "Handler's Corridor".  It's amazing to watch her walk the course and plan her strategy so differently from the rest of us, and her dog often Q's.  She shows that extreme distance handling is possible.  I told her once, "I'd love to watch you train.  If you'd like, I'll help you write your story".  She looked at me like I was crazy then said "I haven't trained a puppy in years, but it starts out from the very beginning. I'm not sure I remember how I did it."  She did not refer me to a book, a system, or a trainer.  Apparently she invented her own system!

Handler's Corridor vs Game Of Chase:  I often look at course maps and try to identify the "Handler's Corridor", the minimal space a handler needs to move through to support every obstacle at a distance.  It's a real fun way to look at any sequence (not at a trial when a Q is on the line, but at home).  One day I'll blog about the Handler's Corridor.  It is the exact antithesis to my most recent understanding of agility being a "game of chase" where handler runs fast, supports each obstacle closely, and dog gleefully chases the handler along.  I got this latest insight from researching 2012's top ranked AKC agility dog, an 8" Papillon named Tigger with 35 MACHs and over 55,000 MACH points, and searching on YouTube for videos of his runs.  You can astound yourself by reading my Tigger report here. Watch the video links at the bottom.  I've since discovered from Susan Garrett's blog that today's world champion teams are playing agility as a game of chase.  View a few of these videos here, and gasp!

Jumping Practice From My Chair: I have a 25' x 25' vegetable garden in my training yard, with a 2' picket fence all around it.  I discovered I could toss a ball into the garden, Lucky jumps in to fetch it, then jumps out and brings it back to me.  Here's a short video of this exercise, showing her lovely extension and powerful, accurate jumping style, easy to see because of her short hair.

Oh my, how she loves this game, and it keeps her in shape!  This has come in handy when an injury has kept me from exercising her, or when my husband comes home from work too exhausted to tug with her.  I have a 30" high wrought iron fence dividing my front yard, too, and she jumps that back and forth several times a day as well.  She has a natural eye for judging height and distance, and at trials, she has only ever knocked one bar that I can remember.  The higher the jump, the better she likes it.

I train from my chair indoors too. Here's a recent blog post I did on Hassock Drills, which really taxes their brains and requires focus, coordination and cooperation. Great for developing body awareness.

Distance handling with tunnel:  My latest distance exercise is to send either Maxie, Lucky or Pepper to my 9' tunnel from my porch chair, starting about 6' away. My goal is to have the tunnel at least 40' away, and use minimal motion.  The learning process for them and me is unfolding slowly.  There are lots of issues to work out.  I'm documenting the steps on video to post someday on this blog.  I'm calling it: "Evolution Of A Training Exercise".

Relays:   I don't know anybody else who does relays, but they are loads of fun.  Here's a video I posted last year of Maxie and Lucky doing Weave Relays.  And another of Pepper at 4 months old doing his first Tunnel Relays.  (His nicknames back then were Winnie and Honey Bear).

Weave Poles:   Maxie did channel weaves in class but never got it.  He was actually banished from Advanced Beginners class for 3 months until he could do 6 weave poles successfully.  It wasn't until I put peanut butter on a long wooden spoon to lure him through at home, that he got it.  I did Susan Garrett's 2x2's with Lucky because she fetches and tugs, and she's got it.  But I'm trying a new way with Pepper - my own method. Here's the diagram I drew before I even tried it on him and so far my thought experiment is working pretty well, though it's hard to throw the treat in exactly the right place.  Another evolutionary process.

I don't claim this works better than any other method.  But it illustrates my point.  I like inventing my own exercises, observing the results.  I'm a pioneer at heart.

See Saw Entries:  I have my own method for that too.  I don't ever want my dogs entering the see saw from the side.  From the beginning, I put wings on either side of the low end.  Dog has to run around the wing and enter head on.  After awhile this becomes routine.  Wings turn into flower pots.  Pots disappear.  Max and Lucky both have great see saw entries - always straight on, from any angle.  They translate this skill to dog walk and A-frame entries too, all by themselves.

See Saw Exits:  I have my own method for that, too.  I am always surprised how many dogs fly off the see saw at trials. I never want to see that or a bail off.  Never.  They can be dangerous.  I also marvel at dogs who creep across the see-saw, or won't run out to the end.  From day one, I require a 4 on contact, a halt, and wait for release before leaving.  I encourage a lowered head to lower my little papillons' center of gravity in preparation for the bounce, and get it by delivering the treat at board level, 2" from the end of the board, never up in the air like most everyone else does.  Alas, treating like this requires bending over.  The only time I release from the see-saw immediately is at a trial, which they do with no problem.

Making up your own exercises is fun.  It becomes a necessity when nobody has a solution to your problem.  Following other people's exercises, or making up your own, either way, requires you to become a better observer.  Is it working?  If not, you must be willing to swallow your pride, abandon your bright idea, and try something else.  That gets your humility up, your brain cells jumping!

Treadmill Training:  I've long known that agility requires running, but long excused myself that I don't know how to run, don't even have the muscles in my legs for running, they attrophied in my 20's, and distance handling is possible.  I'm great at excuses.   At 66, I've never in my life had to run anywhere -- except maybe to the bathroom once in a blue moon.  I've prayed for a running coach, not yet forthcoming, not my fault.  I've yearned for long legs.  What I've not done until recently is pull my treadmill out of the corner, dust it off, and begun using it 30 minutes a day to walk at faster and faster speeds.  Get my heart rate up.  Increase my stride.  I was finally inspired to do this at a recent agility seminar where the instructor pointed out how poorly I run, then informed the whole class how poorly we all run (like old ladies), and that she treadmills at least 30 minutes a day, raising and lowering her speed to simulate the sprint of an agility run.  And then the next weekend, at a trial I was attending, she MACHIIed her dog!  She's not a thin gal, but moved along quite fast. Faster than her YouTube videos of yesteryear.  I was inspired by her increased skills! 

Training Partners/Students:  My biggest stumbling block in practicing is that I'm more motivated to train when someone trains with me. I'm more likely to spiff up the yard, set sequences, clean/repair equipment, think through problems, run well, when someone is coming over. I've never been able to acquire a steady training partner, though.

Videos: Of course, taking videos of trial runs and training sessions and studying them, is a must!  If you can't see yourself moving, it's like a ballet dancer trying to learn graceful postures without a mirror.  Agility is as much about training ourselves to handle as training our dogs.  I've heard people say they can't stand to watch themselves in videos.  I know, I've gotten almost sick watching my arms flap around like a wounded bird, me yelling the name of every obstacle as though my dogs were deaf, causing faults by my confusion, poor timing or clumsy actions.  But I learn more from watching my and other people's videos as from any other teacher or training tool.  Setting up and videoing lessons for this blog is almost as motivating as having a training partner -- I feel like I'm sharing the experience with someone else.  It pushes me toward improvement in a way nothing else can do.

Well, there are a hundred variations on each theme.  I've read all the other posts, and here are my favorite take-aways.

Upwards and onward!