Thursday, 22 October 2009

Pond makeover

Our pond has been getting murkier and murkier and even though we bought a new filter it just wasn't coping and Andy was having to de-clog the filter every week which is quite a big task. I felt sorry for the poor fish swimming around in such horrible conditions.

We got a local company Aqua Techniques to quote to sort it out and although it was quite expensive we decided to go ahead and last week they came and sorted it for us. They are a really good company and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them. They have a structured approach and do exactly what they say they will when they come to appraise the job.

They erected a huge fish tank to transfer the fish whilst they completely emptied and dredged the pond. Sadly most of our goldfish had disappeared and we think they were taken by the heron. There were only three large goldfish left (there used to be at least twenty) and our Koi Carp 'Sharkey'. There were also about a dozen small goldfish still black in colour and very tiny, it's 50/50 whether they'll get to grow up as the larger fish will eat them given the chance.

The pond was full of silt, about a foot deep so all of that had to be removed and spread onto the borders in the garden. All the plants were taken out because they had over grown and the guys split them down and re-planted sections of the pond. At the moment it is totally bare as all the plants have been cut right back but they will grow again in the spring but it will be much more structured. They put a net on the pond for us which will serve two purposes: one to stop the leaves filling up the pond as we head into the main falling period and also to stop the heron from stealing any more fish. I feel a bit sorry for the fish as they've nowhere to hide at the moment but I'm told this isn't a problem and that they will just go to the deepest part of the pond when they want to rest.

It was a big task but they completed it by 6.00 pm and it's such a relief that it's done.

Here are some pictures of before, during and after!

Too many overgrown plants - you can't see the fish!

Looks pretty but might as well be a bog garden!

Emtpied out and all the silt removed by hand. This took a lot of time to do carefully so as not to damage the liner

Fish back home and starting to re-fill the pond. You can see slimmed down planting!

Back up and running with netting in place. It does look a little bare but it's nice to see the fish

Sharkey and his three friends!

Hopefully we will have some more fish soon as a friend who comes to me for some training has too many fish and so we're going to 'rescue' some!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Zeki and the dog walk!

Gosh it's a long time since I did an update on Zeki's training. It's all been about her competition debut.

As well as having fun and thoroughly enjoying her first few shows, a great benefit from these few weeks of competition is that I have a clear idea of what I need to train and/or train better. The list is quite long!

First of all, as is apparent from our various videos, we have had a bit of a problem with the dog walk so that's really what this post is all about. I'll do a separate post about other areas of her training and development ... gosh that sounds like I'm back in the world of management!

The weak dog walk performance is completely my fault because I rushed the process of teaching her to stop. I couldn't make that final decision to give up on the running contact and then before I knew it the time had come for Zeki to be spayed. That meant a good five weeks out of training and then just two weeks to train before her first competition. In that short space of time I kept changing my mind about final position and ended up going for a four-on option. I chose this because Zeki was stopping naturally in a four-on position and then I was asking her to nose target the ground but it was happening in two distinct stages and costing time, I didn't like this.

I will never again teach this. The end result was her four-on gradually getting further and further back until she was targeting the middle of the down plank. Yuk, what had I done? You can see a good example of this in the first run of this video.

I know a lot of people would not have run agility classes until the problem was sorted, normally I would have gone down this route but I wanted as much ring experience as I could possibly get with Zeki. So, rightly or wrongly, I decided that we would have to make do until the end of the season and then work on this over the winter. But I couldn't wait that long as it was bugging me so much. I thought long and hard and took some advice and set about improving Zeki's dog walk. I tried first of all with a toy and had varying degrees of success but no real consistency. Then one morning I woke up and decided that I would go right back to basics, if necessary with a plank on a step but the most important decision was that I would go back to using clicker and food. I had become very stubborn about this because I worked hard to get Zeki into her toy and didn't want to lose that but I decided the toy drive was now strong enough that I could do separate sessions for food-reward training.

As it happened I didn't need to go back to the plank because as usual she was prancing around and offering behaviours once she clocked the clicker so I put her straight over the full dog walk and she ran to a two on two off position and I clicked and rewarded her. I had cooked some chicken (yuk) as I wanted really high value food to cure this problem and also it's very visible on the ground. She was very happy to receive such a tasty morsel.

I decided to stick with her offered position which was a sort of crouch with her two front paws clearly on the floor. In the past I had tried to insist on a down with a nose touch. I really didn't want to make too much fuss about the position and although I didn't want a 'stand' the crouch was a good compromise and it meant I could mark and reward her instantly rather than waiting to encourage her into a different position. I felt if I insisted on a down then I would be back to the two-staged performance and I wanted to reward her for running to the bottom without hesitation. That was and still is my aim!

Next stage was to start varying my position and rewarding her after one, two and then more obstacles, still clicking the moment she reached position. Occasionally she self-releases but I'm not making too much of that for now as I just want the confidence to keep coming. If she self-releases I simply don't reward and have another go (well that's the theory but sometimes I get carried away and forget and she still gets her reward!) The idea with moving the reward further and further out is to build value into the obstacles after the dog walk so that they become the reward. If we do a sequence with two dog walks then I will just verbally praise the first one and release and then click and reward the second one. Each time I do something new such as holding back or running by or some extreme position then I go back to first of all clicking and rewarding immediately and then build into the above pattern of moving the reward out and sometimes just verbally marking before release.

Zeki carried this behaviour well into our training school and also at Leah's where she trains on a Monday evening. Leah has been away in Wales and Mac and Wendy have been training us. Wendy has been very supportive of my efforts and has helped to keep me on track in another environment.

Our first attempt at this new dog walk was last weekend at Weald and as I mentioned in my earlier posting Zeki was brilliant. Obviously I couldn't click and reward with food but I made sure to mark her finished position verbally before releasing and carrying on with the round.

My plan is to continue with the food for some time but still moving out the reward further and further from the dog walk and then eventually, hopefully replacing the food with her toy. Once I feel the behaviour is fully trained only then will I become more rigorous about release and who instigates it!

At home I split my training into dog walk drills using my clicker and food and then separate sessions where she works for her toy. So far I've been lucky at training club as we've worked on jumping and weave sequences first so I've been able to use the toy (thrown in perfectly every time by Elspeth!) and then finished our lesson with contact sequences. Perfect!

Interestingly the more we progress the lower Zeki's position is becoming. She is almost back in a down and if I ask her to hold position for a couple of seconds before release then she is offering a nose touch. I'm not specifically asking for it but she is starting to offer. What I won't do is wait for that to happen before I click/mark, if it happens naturally then that will be a bonus.

I am lucky to have good friends who have helped me, one in particular who has the eye of an eagle in terms of what I'm doing during this re-training process. I am grateful for the constant support, advice and encouragement to make sure I keep moving the process forward and don't get stuck in a rut!

Once again the clicker has helped me out of a spot. I know lots of people don't get on with clickers but I still find it the best and fastest way to teach and importantly re-teach behaviours.

Onwards and sideways as the saying goes (well in my world anyways!)

Very strange and a bit scary!

Yesterday afternoon I was working in the office. I thought I heard some kind of bang and went out to the kitchen to investigate. One of the plastic dog beds was sitting in the middle of the floor where Niamh had lept out of it and it slid away from its normal spot. I thought that this had been the source of the noise and left it at that. I had no idea why she had leapt out of the bed but sometimes if a fly lands on her she panics so I didn't think much more about it.

Before I went out to training I emptied the dishwasher and was putting away all the clean stuff. I opened the cupboard where I keep the mugs to put some clean ones back and saw that the whole shelf was covered in shattered glass. I do stack the glass mugs one on top of another but even if one had fallen down it would only be by a drop the height of one other mug. I could understand if it fell and broke in half or something but this was totally shattered (bit like a windscreen) and the shelf was covered in a browney/black dust. It was almost as if the cup had imploded or exploded and obviously it was this noise that I had heard earlier in the day and what had frightened Niamh.

I showed Andy when he came home, he was just as amazed and puzzled as me. He thinks some kind of chemical reaction must have occurred hence the strange dust particles.


From this:

To this:

As well as the shattered glass you can see the brown particles of dust laying on the newspaper.

Weald Show at Golden Cross

Zeki's fifth and last KC show of 2009. I'm disappointed it's all over but glad I got the opportunity to do some KC shows with her this year. Above all else it has given me confidence that she is focused and not going to run out of the ring to chase other dogs. On top of that she has done really well and I'm very proud of her. It's a shame I hadn't got the dog walk properly trained before we started competing but we have been working hard on this and have made lots of progress.

The funniest thing was when I arrived at the venue and wandered in to see if my course was soon to be set up, I didn't know anyone! The show is for G1-5 small/medium (a new world for me) and G1 large. Luckily soon after Amanda and Kodak and Anne and Roxie arrived so at least I had someone to have a coffee with. Then I saw Tamara and Erin and we got chatting so much so that Tamara forgot to remind Erin to walk her course - oops, my fault I think!

All my girls came with me and were wrapped up in their lovely Hurtta coats as it was quite cold sat out in the car. My plan was to walk them on Ashdown Forest on the way home but we didn't do that in the end because my first run was at 10.30 am and my last run at 4.30 pm. It was a long and at times slightly boring day but I'm still glad that I went.

Our first round was G1-5 jumping and we came 2nd by a tiny margin. Zeki worked really well in this and I was pleased with her turn after #2 where a lot of dogs and handlers went wrong and took the back of the next jump. I wasn't pleased to see my handling, I was stooping too much (damn it why do I do that); my arms were totally wrong in one of the front crosses (doing exactly what I suggest others don't do) and I did an arm flick after the weaves. Video is good for spotting the errors. It's funny, though, how sometimes you feel as if you've done a really awful round and when you watch it back it wasn't so bad and conversely you do a round which feels great at the time but when you watch back it wasn't so good. This one was definitely an example of the latter (handler, not dog I hasten to add!)

Thank you to Colin and Lian for videoing Zeki's round for me. After her little shake on the start line she looks so much like Zen it's unbelievable! She is still not driving quite as she does at training but I know that it will come, most of it is transmitting from me as I'm still not trusting her and over-handling in a lot of places.

Then it was time, fault and out. We started off well but there was a tunnel to collapsible tunnel combination and I had told myself when I walked the pattern to make sure of the collapsible as I haven't trained it enough and Zeki had run past it twice in previous competitions. What did I do, yep I ran past like a headless chicken and she ran along the far side of the tunnel barking at me! Homework on that needed!

Our last round was G1-5 agility. I was glad that they'd taken the dog walk out of the time, fault and out as it meant we had just one crack at the dog walk and I was determined it would be a good one. I am pleased to say it was perfect. I ran wide of the contact and there was no stutter, Zeki went straight to finished position. A short hold in position and release. Yay Ha! The only glitch was that she got caught up in the pipe tunnel. It was set at quite a sharp right angle, not even a curve and I think she hit that part and bounced back. She took an age to come out and I actually thought she was going to reappear from the entrance but she didn't. Other than that the round was great and we ended up 2nd. Beaten by the same dog as in the jumping by almost exactly the same margin (a couple of 100ths of a second.) After I came out of the ring several people mentioned about her being stuck in the pipe tunnel including the judge. Someone said she somersaulted - poor little thing!

This was our best result at a show and I was delighted with our performance. A nice way to end the KC season for Zeki. I kind of wish I had won her into G4 though, not because I especially want to progress at speed but it would have meant she had a couple of runs at North Downs show in November and I just want to keep going as we're enjoying ourselves. Never mind, I think Niamh is very happy that this will be a day out just for the two of us!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Birthdays, old friends, beautiful autumn sunshine

Andy has taken some time off today so we could go for a long walk with the dogs and have lunch. This is really to celebrate his birthday (and no, I'm not going to say which birthday but it's the wrong side of something for sure!) but also time for me to reflect on the passing of a very old friend and someone who meant a lot to me a very long time ago. I wanted to mark his passing on my blog and I hope that he finds peace and meets up with old friends on the other side, including Lizzie, Bess and Daisy the beautiful dogs and cat we shared.

So, off we went for a lovely Autumn walk which was a good thing to do on this beautiful but sad day.

Here are some pictures of our doglets enjoying themselves. Happy Birthday to Andy and I'm sorry that I'm not the best company today on your birthday.

I'm not sure how much energy Kizzy will have for training this evening!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Our little visitor has gone home

We had Zaz to stay for a week recently whilst Bernadette and Dennis visited family over the pond.

She has gone home now and we really miss her. This was her second stay with us in a short space of time and it was so sweet to watch how easily she fitted back in on her second visit. Her confidence had grown and she was part of the family. I did tell Bernadette that she couldn't take her back but for some strange reason she ignored me!

I loved having her to stay as she is such a good little girl. She adored Niamh and followed her on walks. Our sheltie playtime became even more over the top with three of them racing round and climbing on each other.

Here are some photos taken during her visit:

The bone box full of bones

Someone paying the first of many visits to the bone box

All the bones have now gone, I wonder where?

That's easy, here they all are and they're all mine!

Three-way sheltie play time (interestingly Zaz didn't join in with this ritual on her first visit but was well up for it second time round!)

More sheltie play time - there's that damn Croc again!

Here is Zaz playing with Fred the Frog, Susie Spider watches in the background!
(I know, I am sad!)

Niamh wants to join in but this is only for shelties!

So she gives up and retires to the sofa, hurt and offended

But not for long as home comforts are much better than playing stupid sheltie games!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Naughty Niamh at Norfolk by Grace

Grace took some really good pictures of Niamh at Norfolk last weekend. Here they are, thanks Grace.

Like a little arrow

I love the way her little mouth is open on this shot, I wonder what she's saying to me?

I think I can safely assume she got this seesaw contact?

Turning in the air

Looking for the next cue from me

A lovely shot of Niamh going into her contact position, nice and low

Through the tyre

This one makes me laugh as she seems to be doing something funny with her right front leg!

I love this shot as it shows how nice and deep she runs into the seesaw contact and then stays low whilst it tips. She's such a good girl!

Norfolk 2009

I've had a change of scene for the blog. I decided it would be nice to have a warmer colour for autumn/winter. I'm not sure if I like it yet so it could well revert!

The last weekend show of the year, for me anyway. I drove up on the Friday with my two girls and Zaz who came to stay with us again whilst Bernadette and Dennis visited family in New York. I had to leave Poppy at home with Andy which I hated but she had a lovely weekend with nice walks and lots of time in the garden.

I decided to drive up quite early so that we could stop for a walk on the way. I wanted to walk in Thetford Forest but it was massive and the gates where you parked were quite isolated so I was a bit worried about leaving my car there. Instead I saw signs for Brandon Park which is part of Thetford Forest (I think) and decided to stop there. I'm glad I did as there was a proper car park and other facilities and we had a lovely walk. The pictures are not very good as they were taken on my Blackberry and it doesn't take very good photos, nowhere near as good as my previous phone.

After our nice walk we drove onto the venue which was different from last year. The show was being held at the World Horse Welfare centre, Snetterton. I was meeting Terry and Jackie there so I could help do a bit of setting up and as it happened filling of holes in the ground. The ground wasn't very good as it has been so dry and the horses' hooves had made lots of deep holes in the ground which needed filling. It was quite cold at the venue as it is situated on top of a hill. Once we had finished setting up the rings and built our course we headed off to Terry and Jackie's.

I had a lovely time and we watched some telly and nattered and then all the girls came in my bedroom with me. We had a routine for getting all the dogs sorted in the morning and this worked well as we were on our way to the show each morning by 6.45 am.

Here are my girls enjoying the run of the kitchen while Jackie cooks our supper!

Zaz and Zeki with my croc in the corner of the picture. I always do this, I a a very poor photographer!

Zaz was a very good little house guest as were NN and Zeki. I am pleased to say they behaved very well. Niamh has become a very good girl, it has only taken five years for this to happen!

I am so glad I took coats for all the girls. Saturday was really cold at the venue and very windy. We were lucky that it didn't rain as we ring partied all day and it would have been much worse if it was wet. As it was Niamh got blown off the dog walk which really scared me. She actually chose to bail out as the wind caught her which was the sensible thing to do as it mean she went with the flow and landed on her feet rather than fighting it and falling on her back or something awful. I was very glad that Zeki's agility classes were both in indoor rings.

Zeki in her nice warm Hurtta coat - you can just about see Niamh in hers next door

Zaz in her borrowed coat - she wasn't too keen to begin with but I think she was grateful for the warmth!

Agility-wise I was thrilled with both my girls. They ran really well and as usual I loved running them both. I am so lucky they are such lovely dogs to train and run.

Niamh did some great runs at her first G7 show and we got 2nd in the G7 jumping and 8th in G6/7 agility on Saturday. She did good runs in both her other classes but just had one pole down in each. On Sunday we had some good runs but I made silly errors including one lovely run where I completely missed out a jump. I had actually walked the course missing out the jump. Stupid person. It was a shame as she ran well.

Zeki was a little star and came 3rd in G1-7 jumping and 9th in G1-7 agility on Saturday. Her dog walk was much better so I hope we can get this properly fixed by next season! On Sunday she ran well again but I made two silly mistakes which got us eliminated. She was quite a handful in the indoor school and I was very grateful to Leah and Jay for helping me in my last run as you had to queue along a wall closed in by a barrier and she was manic! She got very interested in the ring next door but she didn't go off chasing so that was another good thing. I was very proud of her placings on the Saturday as all her classes included grade 7 dogs with some very fast border collies. Go the Beek!

On Saturday evening we forced Terry to watch Strictly Come Dancing. As expected he played up by trying to distract us and doing stupid things like deliberately opening the door across the t.v. and leaving it open so I couldn't see. The usual stuff. However we ignored these behaviours and he realised that he wasn't going to win so he gave in and sat relatively quietly through most of the programme. He got a bit hysterical when we watched X-Factor and at times I think, a bit tearful as people were thrown off the show. He is so emotional, it gets quite embarrassing! Here is Terry after his favourite person is voted off.

Bless him, he just can't deal with the disappointment. His favourite act is the twins and he really wants them to win. The worst thing is that he seems to get the two programmes confused and keeps saying that the Twins will undoubtedly do the best quick step and that Anton is the definite favourite for X-Factor. Never mind.

I had a really lovely weekend, a lovely time at Terry and Jackie's and I really hope they hold a show again next year. There was talk that this would be the last one but then I heard them put out a call for judges for next year so maybe they've had a change of heart.

Grace took some lovely pictures of Niamh at Norfolk which I'll put in a separate posting.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Suffolk Five Rivers 2009

Off we trundled for our last caravanning show of the season. We'd never been to SFR before and it seemed very strange to be at the show ground which we relate only to Dogs in Need. We were very lucky and had a nice camping spot saved for us by Lisa and Caroline (thanks girls!)

It was also the first tow with our new vehicle. Yes, I did say new vehicle. At last I have aqueised to Andy's desire for a van. Well it's not really a van, it's a VW Transporter with a row of seats and windows, so it's really a large car. That is my opinion and I am entitled to it ..... translated: I am a sad car snob and I can't help it. The good thing is that it's the 4-motion version so it does have a degree of four-wheel drive which will hopefully get us off wet ground should the need arise - one of the reasons we have stuck with the four wheel drive vehicles over the years. I realise it won't tow other vehicles off as Andy has done many times in the past but hopefully it will get us out of a sticky spot better than the average two wheel drive.

I was unhappy with the lack of space for the dogs in the jeep and it was really getting to me. Although our dogs don't spend much time in the vehicle once we arrive at shows I was still not a happy person. So we decided we would look for a VW or a Mercedes over the winter. Then this one came up on Piston Heads and was just too good to miss so off we went to Dorset to view it and of course we bought it.

We haven't got it caged yet but we managed to use if for the show by setting up various soft crates and indoor kennels. The dogs travelled in comfort and I was in awe of the amount of space we had. Our few belongings looked lost inside the cavernous space. Normally we are stuffing things in anywhere we can find a gap so this was luxury.

The vehicle towed like a dream and you really were unaware that there was a rather large caravan on the back of it. It's the best tow vehicle I think we've had since our old red Shogun and Andy thinks it's possibly better than that! I might even have a go myself, maybe ....

Anyway here is a picture of our new dogmobile:

I enjoyed the show as it was well organised but the exercise area was not good. It was difficult to find much space to give the dogs a run. It is ok for Andy and his three as they mill around him but my three are another matter. I have the two ballistic missiles: Zeki and Niamh and then Poppy who now has to investigate the perimeter of every place I take her. The trouble with the Suffolk showground is that it has roads running all through it and the people who work at the showground don't adhere to their own speed limit. In addition that this was the worst ever show I have been to for speeding agility vehicles. It was bad. The show don't hire as much of the ground as DIN so it is pretty limited as to where you can take the dogs.

Agility-wise, pretty good with Zeki. The dog walk was a bit better but we had a few glitches: popping out of the last weave; pulling off a tunnel (both my fault) and then we had a bit of a distraction in one agility round. It was unfortunate that the rings shared a common boundary albeit orange netting. As Zeki was descending her dog walk a large dog in the ring beside ours was approaching the seesaw right in Zeki's eye line. She did lose concentration and for a moment I thought she was going to chase, however she stayed with me so I think that is a good thing! In the same round we were marked on our A-Frame. I was very disappointed that this should happen so soon but when I look back on the video, although it wasn't one of her better attempts, I think it is quite clear that she didn't miss the contact. This is not meant in any way as a dig at the judge because I know it's a difficult thing to get right 100% of the time and as a competitor you have to take the rough with the smooth. It's just comforting for me to be able to see the video afterwards.

I was very pleased with her jumping win on the Saturday as it was quite a tricky little course and she ran it really well even though I forgot to put in my front cross at the finish. That could have saved me another second or so ..... although we did win the class by a rather embarrassing margin which I am not going to mention in exact terms but it was in double figures!

We also achieved 1st in a helter skelter jumping which was really more a jumping class (suits me as I hate helter skelters) and got 4th with Andy and Kizzy in the pairs.

I am a bit frustrated with myself that I have yet to get a clear round in an agility class. It isn't the agility equipment that's stopping the clear round but other little handling errors on my part. The best round we have done was the one in David Isbister's class where we popped out of the last pole before the collapsible tunnel. It was nice of David to find me after to say that despite the error it was one of the best rounds. He also mentioned that he'd had quite a few dogs make the same error in the weaves so I guess the tunnel must have been on view early for the dogs as they got towards the end of the weaves.

The Naughty Niamh ran well and we got some top five places. On Saturday I loved Niamh's courses but wasn't so keen on Sunday and it showed in my lack of results with her.

Andy and Kizzy have work to do on their contacts over the winter. Kizzy was full of herself this weekend and running really well, just the small matter of the contacts to sort out.

We finished soon after lunch on Sunday and were home indoors by 4.00 p.m. Now I just need to clean out the caravan ready to put it to bed for the winter!

Meantime, here's a little film of Zeki at Suffolk Five Rivers.