“But I said Tunnel!!”

Over the last few weeks I have learned a lot about animal psychology. The DVD I watched and book I have read confirmed to me what I have been teaching for years. Dogs will respond to your body language before your words.

Many times through the years my students have said to me “I said Tunnel, why did he take the dog walk?!!”. My answer is that probably your body language was yelling “DOG WALK”.  When we practise agility we need to take special care that we accurately rehearse our body language. We also need to understand what your dog takes the most notice of in that body language. e.g. Many little dogs follow their person’s feet. No matter what system you use while running your team-mate you need to present consistent body language for the action you require. You must also follow through to ensure that your dog responds appropriately each time in order to maintain the strength of that command.

According to the information I have been reading recently dogs are amazingly responsive to very minute, very quick body language messages. Dogs depend largely on body language to communicate amongst themselves. While they do vocalise it is by far the least form of communication used by canines. We on the other hand depend on vocal communication combined with body language.

So do verbal commands work. Yes they do when presented with appropriate body language. Verbals will strengthen your body language. But in most cases if you present conflicting verbal commands and body language your dog will go for your body language. 

So what does this teach us. It is very important to have someone who knows what they are doing watch you periodically and give you feed back on your body language and positioning. Video your runs if you need. If mistakes happen, always assess your body position and movement to see if in someway you caused the error.  Don’t assume you dog is being bad. Most of the time (but not all the time) it is a human miscommunication. Don’t let your dog rehearse incorrect responses to your commands as this will weaken that particular command. Practise your agility body language so that the right movements are second nature.

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“Do dogs really get allergies?”

Peoples lacks of understanding of canine health never fails to amaze me. “Do dogs really get allergies?” – I am asked questions like this all the time. It truly amazes me and makes me wonder what people think is under that beautiful canine fur – stuffing????? Dogs have physiology just as complex as we humans do, and, yes, they do get allergies, and epilespy and diabetes and sore muscles and injuries just like we do.

That said I have learned so much about dog health over the last few years that it makes me wonder how my first dogs kept competing in agility as long as they did. Over the last 2 years I have learned the value of rehabilitation vet services, accupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic treatment. Kes never had the benefit of all these health interventions until very late in her life and I wonder if she would have avoided much of the pain and stiffness she experienced at the end of her life had I been aware how helpful these medical interventions could have been. I also wonder how many times she ran for me while being in pain.

I have noticed that over the last few years that there have been an increasing availablity of these medical services to the canine population. At this time I have established a team of practitioners who help me with the care of my dogs. To me each one is invaluable to my ability to care for my dogs. I have my general vet who cares for my dogs overall health. Then I have my rehabilitation vet who deals more with muscle and skeletal injury care and also provides massage treatment. And I have my ever patient chiropractor who we dragged along to Regional and National Championships because we could not do without her. These people know my dogs well they have all taken time to learn about agility and what stresses and strains the dogs are subject to so that they could better treat dogs. Better still they all understand me and my acute understanding of my dogs. They take my concerns seriously and respect my opinions and observations.

I highly recommend that all dog owners, especially those who compete with agility athletes, gather a team of animal health practitioners who can assist with the maintenance of your dogs health.

As we become more in touch with the canine body and health needs many other treatment modalities have become available. Things such as nutritional suppliments, balance balls and discs, magnetic beds and coats and the Back on track technology and the list goes on. It is useful to familiarize your self with all these products as they can be very helpful.

So the point is. Know that your dogs health is complex and in order for your dog to be able to meet your demands they need to be well and painfree. There are many tools and professionals who can assist you in keeping your dog comfortable.  We own it to our friends for all the joy they give us.

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As I sit here contemplating my day or weekend I am watching a report on the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan. I had many moments of joy this weekend. My girls, Swift and Furai, ran brilliantly at the trial we ran. Swift was her normal reliable self  and Furai stayed focused the whole weekend for the very first time. No incidents of crazy running around at all and a good number of clean runs (pretty good for a 21 month old). I had moments of pain trying to convince Zoom that her not running was for her own good. She slipped on the ice and hurt her back and is off all agility for 3 weeks – another week to go. She was very frustrated. I had moments of annoyance – watching people running dogs who are obviously sore, or watching people who would blame their dogs when it was the handler who caused an error, or just the simple ever present politics. Depending on the moment and the people I was talking to the emotion was ever changing.

As I ponder the weekend though my tired brain I listen to the news of the disaster in Japan. One of the scenes is one I have seen before. Masses of water and debris and mud moving across the beautifully cultivated land and just ahead of the water, if you look really close, there is a field filled with agility equipment. It is painful to me to know that that equipment is going to be destroyed. But I guess that it is a picture of painful reality. While I love agility and spend much of my time, energy, and money in the pursuit of excellence in this sport, it is still just a sport. In the light of what thousands of people are going through in Japan the fact that Furai popped her weave poles in the Steeplechase seems pretty paultry. That said I know that the next time Furia pops her weave poles I will still be frustrated just the same but for a moment we need to realise that we play a sport. I have seen relationships destroyed, dogs abused and people hurt in the name of the Almighty Q or over which system is the ONLY way to handle. We need to approach our chosen sport with perspective. It is good to have goals, and to strive for perfection. But does it really matter if I use one system and you use another. Does it really matter if I run Labradors and you run Border Collies.  Perspective!!!

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Is it go or out?

Verbal directionals in agility. They are invaluable. But there is some confusion as to when to use what.  In many ways it is really up to what we teach our dogs and what makes sense to us.

Now I teach my dogs that “Go” means keep driving and taking obstacles in the same direction as my shoulders are pointed if I am moving or not ( gambles skills require the non-moving skill). So if I am running down a straight line of jumps at the end of a course I tell my dog “Go” while I run that line – frequently they are way ahead of me.  If I am on the gamble line and I need to send my dog straight out to a jump it is a ‘Go’.

If I want my dog to move laterally from me but move in the same direction I ask them to “Out”. Now what if I need my dog to run a number of jumps at a lateral distance from me.  The dog is running a straight line and the same direction as I am moving do I ask for a “Go” or an “Out”. The way I see it I will ask for an “Out” .

Why? Many trainers I know would say that is a “Go” because the dog is running a straight line. What I see happening here is there are a number of forces working on the dog. One is dogs momentum forward. Another is the handlers movement. Now if these where the only forces working then the dog should simply drive forward in a straight line and maintain the distance from the handler running parallel. But there is one other force working. That is the force that for most dogs will draw it toward its handler – thus off the straight line.  It is the same force that causes a dog in a chute to frequently move towards its handler as it pushes through the chute (this was especially obvious in the older longer chutes) and in some cases taking the surprised handler out at the knees. Thus when I am negotiating a line where I need my dog to run on a line at a lateral distance from me my verbal cue will be “Out” because I want to remind my dog to stay at that lateral distance and not give to the force that will push them back to me. I don’t want to teach my dog just to take a straight line and ignore where I am or my movement. I want my dog to be willing to move toward me and not flank around me.

So when you are trying a new gamble and you need to figure out if it is an ‘Out’ or a ‘Go’, don’t forget that force that makes your dog draw toward you. Just because you got them out there does not mean they will stay there.. remind them.

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CKC Trial March 2011

Busy weekend.. We where at a CKC trial in Edmonton. I judged one day and ran Swift and Furai the second day.

I had the privelege of helping Chase, the Spanish Water Dog, get the first Agility Title for the breed in Canada. I also got my picture taken with China the Shiba Inu who finished their CKC Agility Championship on one of my courses. It is always fun to watch Spur the long and lanky Ibithan Hound run the course with legs that are almost as tall as the wings of the jumps. His celebratory dance at the end of a good run made the crowd hoot. It is so fun to see these different and new breeds come and play agility.

Judging is another side of agility that I enjoy. I get so much enjoyment out of watching the dogs run. Most of them really enjoy the game. There is nothing more pleasant than watching a nice coordinated flowing run. I must say that it is frustrating watching some of the handling, there are days the instructor in me wants to just yell but of course I can’t.

This weekend was a small comfortable trial where everyone watched the ring and we all celebrated with the clean runs and felt the pain with the mistakes. It was a great time despite the fact that we seem to be in an endless winter here in Alberta. March already and absolutely no sign of Spring.

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Who am I?

Who am I? I am Kiersten Lloyd of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  I have been training  and competing with my dogs in Obedience and Agility since 1994. I have taught Obedience and Agility since 1997.  I have had 8 dogs over my career. Archer – Kuvasc; Quiggly, male, yellow Labrador; Kes, female yellow Labrador; Q, black, female Labrador; Repeat, black,

The shining Angel with the devil dogs.

male, Labrador ( 11 yrs old); Zoom, black, female, Labrador ( 9 yrs); Swift, black, female, Labrador ( 4 yrs) and Furai, black, female Labrador. My dogs and I have had some success over the years. In Obedience Kes was the top Labrador for 5 years and in the Top 10 All Breed in Canada 1999 and 2000. She was the first dog in Alberta to earn her MOTCh.  My dogs have earned multiple High in Trial and High Aggregate awards over the years. Between my earlier dogs we earned 4 CD titles, 4CDX titles, 2 OTCh and one MOTCh titles.

Then I discovered Agility and the challenge, variation and speed grabbed my attention and has never let go.

In Agility my dogs have earned many awards and acknowledgements. Kes won the AAC National Championships in 2003 and 2005. She finished in the top 9 for all the AAC National events until 2007. She was in the Top 3 for all but 2001. She earned her Lifetime Award and was only a few runs from her second Lifetime award when she retired. She also competed in NADAC, USDAA and CKC.

 Zoom has earned her AAC Lifetime award, her Grand Masters Title in CKC, her MAD  and Bronze Tournament title in USDAA. She has also run in AKC and UKI events. She won the 26″ Division at the 2008 AAC National Championships. She competed at 4 Cynosport World games in the US. We had the privelege of competing for Canada at the 2009 FCI World championships in Dornbern, Austria. While she went off course in the Jumpers round she ran clean and finished 18th of 87 dogs in the Standard round. Pretty good for one of 2 Labradors at the whole event. We were also members of the 2008 IFCS Canadian Team but as alternates did not have a chance to compete.

Swift who is a sweet 4 year old was 6th in the competitive 26 in Division at the 2010 AAC Nationals. She has her Silver Award of Merit in AAC. She is close to her Grand Masters title in CKC and has run USDAA, UKI and AKC events.

Furai is 21 months old ( Niece to Zoom) she is my evil pixie Lab at 47lbs. She has run AAC and AKC and UKI in the last few months and gets better and better. She always gets a laugh.

Please don’t think that I am all about titles. I am not. I look at titles as markers of the wonderful relationships I have with my dogs. I think that all those who want to compete with their dogs in any event need to endeavour to understand their dogs and understand what they are capable of. While I am all for pushing our dogs to be their best I think it is also very important to realise their limits. For example Kes ran in Specials, jumping a height lower than necessary, all her life. She was heavier in the chest and jumping the initial 26 inches that she should have jumped was too much for her. I never expected her to be a World level dog but I knew with her consistency and good steady speed she could do well. We have to enjoy the process of training and learning about our dogs. If we don’t then why play.

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