It's been a busy week since Maria Thiry and Tracey Wansbrough arrived and started training with our dogs ready for the World Agility Open this coming weekend. I'm just stealing a few moments before today unfolds, to record and reflect on the past few days since I last put pen to paper.
Last Thursday was a very busy day of agility indeed, but apart from being pretty tired out at the end of it, it was a great day. Our lesson with Shaun Hunt was really enjoyable and reminded me how much I love training my dogs, but also how much work Martin and I have left to do to bring our young dogs up to the standard of our beloved, and more experienced dogs, Ella & Spud. This week is not the week to come up with a plan, much less implement it, but the seeds have been sown and I predict they'll be flowering before too long knowing me! Maria & Ella continued building on the great work they'd already achieved since they'd met during the session, whilst Tracey had her first opportunity to train Spud. We had both treats and toys at the ready, and Spud explained that he really rather enjoyed food over his toy, so Tracey dutifully complied which was the start of a beautiful friendship :mrgreen:
Shaun and Maria use and teach the Greg Derrett handling system, which appears to be fairly similar to the way I handle Ella already judging by the way Maria was able to get such great results from Ella so quickly. It's had me pondering whether or not having such a defined method to work with would be of benefit to me and my dogs, so another seed to think about for the future. I can certainly see how it gives Maria confidence in what she's doing. which I'm sure contributes to how positive she is, even when handling a new dog like Ella.
What was evident during the session with Shaun, and shone through in all the training we've done, is the depth of knowledge I hold about Ella - information that I just take for granted, that is in the subconscious part of my brain and is just taken into account in everything we do together. Silly things like her self-releasing off a contact - a very un-Ella like thing to do, just automatically tells me that she must be in need to a wee. Reasonable when you think that the weight shift position she adopts to achieve her end position a contact must press on her bladder I guess! Never mind how, just as it would with us, affect our concentration when she's desperate for the loo. Another dog would probably leave work to relieve themselves, but not my girl - it'll just show up in mistakes and frustrated barking, but you wouldn't know that unless you knew her well. Mother Teresa says that we should "be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies". I feel that this amazing experience has given me renewed confidence in my training abilities and relationship with Ella, because it truly is the details which matter when competing at the highest level. I truly know this little girl inside out, and I'm even more in awe of her than I was before if that's possible. And you know what's great is that this includes having to explain her weaknesses to Maria, so that's she's aware of where she might have a problem.
A few areas to watch were highlighted in our evening session at Martin's on Thursday evening, as both Ella & Spud love training indoors with the other Dervish club dogs - it's pretty exciting, and for exciting read LOUD! :mrgreen: Though I think in fairness to the rest of Dervish, Spud was probably making up at least 90% of the noise all by himself ;-) Maria & Tracey were able to see the dogs working in a highly charged environment, where the dogs were excited and obviously more driven than they had been in individual sessions. Both worked really well despite some of Martin's more challenging exercises, and it was particularly helpful for Tracey to have Martin guide her about how Spud works and how best to handle him. Some really good work from both dogs, and the end of another long day for their handlers.
We had a quiet morning the following day to recover a bit, before some more training on the Friday afternoon prior to the weekend's competitions. Ella & Maria were heading off to compete at Tunbridge Wells on the Saturday, whilst Spud & Tracey were going to HJ UK Agility show for both Saturday & Sunday. Due to Martin needing to work it meant that Ella was travelling off with Maria without me so I could be with Spud on the Saturday. Fortunately in the few days that I've had to really get to know Maria, I've seen what a professional she is, and how the need's of the dog are at the forefront of her mind. Even so, I was very sad to see my girl heading off without me at the end of the day, so Martin distracted me with some training with Jade & her brother, Emma Melford's Stryder. Jade's skills are already approaching, and in some cases overtaking, her auntie's, so she was a welcome distraction and comfort. She's also a big cuddle monster, so she had some of those to share in the armchair once home too :-)
The weekend went really well for both Aussies, with Maria & Ella getting 2 out of 3 clear rounds, and a 20th place in the Olympia Qualifier with held contacts for one of them. Thank goodness she was holding contacts otherwise she might have needed to make another trip for the semi-finals! ;-)
Tracey & Spud were able to enter 5 runs each day, and as it was a UK Agility show, were able to treat some of the runs as NFC or 'Not for competition'. This meant that if Spud ran off his contacts, then Tracey could put him back over them and reward him in the ring with a toy if he did them well. This approach meant that after just one run, Spud's contacts were rock solid for Tracey, and she didn't have to correct a single one after that - a massive endorsement for UK Agility's system, and so helpful for Tracey & Spud before the WAO. And for those runs for competition - well Tracey has a very nice 1st place rosette to take home with her, at win by 3 seconds no less! :-)
Having spent a lot of time with Tracey over the weekend, I was blown away by what a great person she is and how lovely she must be to have as an instructor. She cares so much about Spud having a good time in all of this, and has taken on board lessons learnt from last year's competition and her previous host dog's experience, and incorporated them into improving things for the future. For our part, we know that Spud will be having a good time because he's running agility, so we're keen that Tracey enjoys herself! But for her, as with Maria, that's about the dog's enjoyment being paramount - they are both such excellent ambassadors for their country. Australia would be very proud of how they are conducting themselves.
The end of the show on Saturday saw the safe return of my Ella-bella, and I think it was clear to all that we were both very pleased to see each other! Maria had reported that in the first run of the day she had reached the ringside with her and Ella has stopped tugging for a bit (very unusual for her) and was searching the crowd for me to turn up. I was quickly forgotten when she stepped onto the startline, but I know how she felt - there were several times I pointed out dogs to Tracey that looked similar to Ella, including her sister Mimi who was there competing there with her handler Tim Marsh. As Maria headed out to Belgium on Sunday, it meant I had my girl back to play with again for a day, and judging by how fast she was going, I think she was pretty pleased we were back together :-) Martin's little miniature poodle Rizzo distracted him from not having Spud to run, by putting in a storming run in the Beginners Steeplechase qualifier - the big 1st place rosette and pint glass are bigger than she is! :mrgreen: But the experience has certainly highlighted to both of us how much work we have left to do in order to have future agility superstars in our youngsters - the positive for us is that they are all great dogs with massive potential. Being part of Maria & Tracey's grand adventure, might well be the encouragement we need to find the precious time that we found for Ella & Spud. Watch this space :-)
Today I'm grateful for my friend Emma Melford - who not only calmed me down yesterday by helping me get ready for my new classes that started last night, but is also coming to babysit our precious dogs who are remaining at home whilst we accompany their big brother and sister to Belgium.You're a star! :-)