In mid April, just two weeks prior to the AKC USA AWC Team Tryouts, Frodo and I went from being super prepared and ready to rock and roll to…rehab. Frodo suffered a traumatic tear of his CCL on a Thursday, April 13, and had a TPLO Friday, April 14. In the flurry of activity that followed, as well as me being shell shocked about the injury, the surgery, the rehab, and being knocked off that high place of being ready to rock and roll at tryouts, Chispa didn't poop for nearly a week and ended up at the emergency clinic herself. During this time, she had a persistent lameness that was troubling me. Xrays revealed it was not shoulder OCD – something nobody wants, but in the grand scheme of things is fixable. Further digging, and a CT scan revealed fragmented medial coronoid processes on both elbows. So, a month after Frodo's TPLO, Chispa had bilateral arthroscopy on her elbows, and fragment removal on the left elbow. The fragments were in situ on both elbows, and it took some prying to get the clinical (left) fragment out. Because of the difficulty on the left, and given that the right fragment, also in situ, did not seem to want to budge, the right elbow was left alone. No joint incongruency was detected in either elbow. I have no idea if she'll be able to do agility, but I suppose I will give it a go, and see where we end up. Frodo's prognosis is much clearer; he'll probably be back in action in just a few months, more energized than he's ever been before, and certainly, I'll be more eager than I've ever been to get back in the ring with him.
In the meantime, I have two dogs who need rehab. I live way out in the country, and have access to a lot of great information, so the only thing beyond that is to just do it. I'm not in to driving in to downtown anywhere to get dogs to an underwater treadmill, but I do recognize the importance and benefits to hydrotherapy, whether it be ice packs, heat packs, swimming, or walking in water (cold or warm). I have an appointment with a rehab specialist in Seattle mid-June, but until then, I'll be DIY-ing it with the information I've got.
If your'e curious as to the rehab protocol I'm following with Frodo (who is at the 6-week mark this week and has his follow up Xrays!!), it's a combination of these two:
Top Dog Health – TPLO Guide – This guide is a free download, and I also get weekly emails with videos of each exercise. I'm pretty impressed with how thorough it is. It's fairly conservative, and I've been moving a little faster than this guide spells out, but then again, Frodo was in top condition prior to the injury, not overweight, and I have access to a lot of fitness equipment and information – this guide as well as the next one is clearly aimed at a pet audience. I'm sure that veterinary professionals and rehab professionals are cringing right now, but I'm ok with that – and for sure you can reserve the right to blame my use of this and other DIY resources on any rehab failures we may encounter 🙂
MedVetForPets – TPLO Guide – I can't remember how I found this one, but it's also pretty thorough, and includes more exercises with a little faster progression. I like that I can look at the two together and get a rough idea of how to proceed.
Now, I recognize that these PDF files are not a substitute for an individualized rehab plan, and so, like I mentioned before, Frodo, Chispa, and myself will be heading up to Seattle in mid-June to spend some time with a rehab certified veterinarian who also does agility to get some plans for moving forward.
That brings us to Hillbilly Hydrotherapy. With Frodo, since there was no previous ligament disease, and it was a traumatic event, his prognosis for healing is excellent. Getting back to full activity is mostly a matter of building back muscle, once the Tibia has healed. And, building back muscle to the point we were at prior to the incident will be determined by how much muscle wasting occurs while that Tibia is healing. So, I knew I wanted to get him walking in the water as soon as I could. I knew I wanted to be able to do it without driving an hour each way multiple times a week, daily if possible. With Solar, who had a soft tissue injury in 2014, I just used an inflatable above ground pool and walked in circles with him, but I didn't like how he could swing his rear out and pivot, rather than tracking with front and rear together.
When I saw this set up posted by somebody on FB, I knew I wanted to build something like it myself, with a few modifications. Here's my setup (click the image to enlarge):
[st_custom_image image=”17996″ size=”medium” position=”center” link_type=”lightbox” link=”” link_target=”_self” caption=”” custom_class=””] Two concentric stock tanks with padding on the top, and a heater, pump, and filter on the right.
First, I purchased two stock tanks at my local feed store. One is an 8′ tank, and one is a 6′ tank. When these tanks are shipped from the manufacturer to the store, they're nested. So, not all 8′ tanks are actually 8′ in diameter, and not all 6′ tanks are actually 6′ in diameter. I asked for a large 8′ tank, and a small 6′ tank, and had both delivered to the house. The two together, plus shipping, set me back ~$580USD. I purchased some pipe insulation at Home Depot to put on the rims of both tanks, so that nobody would whack themselves (me or the dogs) on the edges.
I drilled two holes in the tank, using a Milwaukie Hole Dozer, 2-3/8″ in size.
Then, I fitted the holes with bulkhead fittings, purchased at Amazon. The fittings were also caulked with marine sealant, purchased at Home Depot.
Once the holes were drilled in the outer tank, I made sure that the inner tank was centered nicely, leaving a ring about 15″ wide, all the way around. I weighted the inner tank down with some pavers I had laying around, and then caulked the junction of the inner and outer tank with marine caulk & sealant.
Once the caulk cured, I poured two gallons of a substance called FlexSeal in the ring where the dogs would walk. This not only provided a rubber surface to help keep them from slipping, but it also further served to seal the junction between the inner and the outer tanks. I don't want water seeping under the inner tank, which might make it pop up and float! All the water should be contained to the ring where the dogs will walk, leaving the inner tank dry for ME to walk in!
It took a few days for the FlexSeal to cure, but by then, I had my two tanks ready to be plumbed and connected to the filter/pump assembly, and the heater.
For a heater, I am using a spa heater that a friend sold to me, but you could easily use something like this:
We didn't have a dedicated circuit for a 220V heater, so we're using a 110V heater for now, til we bring out an electrician to update the circuit in the garage (yes, this is in my garage). It doesn't get the water HOT, just 65-70 degrees, which is still pretty good, and frankly, as the weather gets warmer, I don't think the dogs will mind cool water.
The pump I'm using is for an Intex pool – it's a pump/sand filter combination. Also purchased off Amazon.
Intex pumps come with their own flexible tubing, which is stupid. The piece of tubing connecting the pump and the filter I left, but since I wanted to use 1.5″ PVC for the connection from the tank to the pump, and then from the filter to the heater, and then from the heater back to the tank, I had to do a little converting to get the intex pipe converted over to 1.5″ pipe. Thank you, internet:
I love YouTube for stuff like this. So, the water gets sucked out of the tank, travels to the pump via 1.5″ pipe, travels to the filter from the pump using the existing flexible tubing, then from the filter to the heater using 1.5″ pipe, and then from the heater back to the tank.
There are ball valve joints on the outside of each of the bulkhead fittings, so I can close things off if I need to drain the tank or disconnect anything. There's also a 90-degree elbow on the inside of the bulkhead where the water comes back in to the tank, and it's not glued – this way I can rotate it to change the direction of the current in the tank, depending on which direction the dogs are walking:
So, there you have it, Hillbilly Hydrotherapy. Since my tank is against a wall in my garage, there's a backsplash between it and the wall to keep water out of the outlet on said wall. It's just a 4×8′ piece of material from Home Depot that's flexible and designed for bathrooms or something like that. I just wandered til I found what I wanted. Nope, that's a lie. George had it laying around for another project, and I appropriated it.
I do have to lift Frodo in and out of the tank, but he doesn't really seem to mind so much. I suppose I could get even fancier and make a ramp of some sort, or even a door, if I wanted to pump all the water out and in each time. Lifting isn't too bad, though. Here it is, Hillbilly Hydrotherapy in action:
The water level right now is higher, for Frodo, but when Chispa is ready to get in (this weekend!!) I'll lower the water level a bit by draining some of the water out. It'll be lower for Frodo, who is ready for more weight bearing, and higher for Chispa, who is further behind in her own rehab. I'll probably put the other dogs in as well, it'll be good for exercise, particularly when it's nasty out this upcoming winter. For now, I'm planning on leaving it set up in my garage indefinitely. It doesn't take up any usable space, really, and it's a heck of a lot better than driving anywhere.
Altogether, this cost me less than $1000. And, you know, if I do take it apart, I've got a couple of tanks that I can turn in to ponds, or flower pots or something…
This past weekend, Frodo and I headed to Perry, Georgia for the 2017 AKC Agility National Championships. As in the past when I've gone to Crufts, the NAC follows almost immediately after. This year, NAC marked the end of a 2.5 week stay in Germany, followed by Crufts, and then, Perry, GA. Frodo and I have come a long way since our first AKC Nationals together, in Reno, NV, back in 2015. We weren't much of a team, although we did manage to have a good run in I think Jumpers with Weaves. We didn't know each other very well, and I was still deeply disappointed to have lost Solar as my running mate when he was still arguably in his prime.
I didn't go to AKC NAC in 2016, for various reasons, but I'd been looking forward to the event this past weekend, because at this point, Frodo and I are a good working team. We still have places to go with respect to our development, we're not finished growing yet as a team, but we're a pretty smoothly functioning team at this point nonetheless.
I'm fairly objective about our odds most of the time, and in my mind, our odds this year were pretty good, given the data that I had going in to the event. And at the event, in the International Sweepstakes Round, we put down a great run, coming in third by just a few fractions of a second. I'd wanted to do well, although winning would have meant turning down a spot to go to the European Open in Italy. Why turn it down? Last year at the European Open, Frodo had a hard time with the crowds ringside – he's much better at big stadium style events where there's more distance between the noisy crowd and the ring. So, while it's possible he'd be better this year, I didn't feel like it was in line with my goals. In any case, ISC was perfect – we did really well, but we didn't win, and so I didn't have to say no, which is chronically difficult for me.
In our first NAC run, jumpers, we had a solid run, and came in first place. I probably could have cleaned up a corner here or there, but it was a solid run. In round two, we had a solid run going, and Frodo slipped trying to take off for a jump. I felt pretty bad for him, he really does try very hard to keep the bars up, and I can't even remember when the last one he dropped was. But, mistakes happen. The rest of the run was a little wobbly, as I was thrown off by the dropped bar. In any case, that ended my plans for making it to the Finals by just having three clear rounds.
By Sunday morning, before round 3, I was a little angry, and a little disappointed. Not in Frodo, just disappointed with myself, and for not having done better. I tend to run a bit better when I'm a little fired up, so it worked out well for us in the third round, and Frodo and I got first again, which meant we made it to a special Challenger's Round. Winning that round meant another shot at the Finals, and again, I knew the odds were in our favor. That's not the same as saying I think I've got something in the bag, obviously. But if you know the times that you and your dog are capable of, and the times that your competition is capable of, you know if you have a shot or not.
Nothing is in the bag, though, and a miscalculation in Challengers, a mistake on my part, cost us what was a pretty nice run up to that point. Again, disappointed.
After that run, several people came up to me and said “nice run!”, which really was kind of annoying, because it was not a nice run. It was an elimination. It was a nice TRY, but it was not a nice run. And that's ok. But please, don't tell me I had a nice run when it was an elimination. Tell me it was a valiant effort, or a great try, or that it was a great run UP TO THAT POINT, but not just…nice run. I don't want to be soothed in to thinking that an elimination was a nice run, because my personal goals and standards demand more of me than that.
I debated writing about that, or about disappointment in general, because I'm not sure how it would be received amongst the USA agility population in general. I'm disappointed about the weekend, no doubt about that. Over and over, I heard people saying that they were “just happy to be here”. That's fine, and I don't begrudge people that, they SHOULD be happy to just be at NAC. But, that is not how I roll. It just isn't. I'm not *just* happy to be there. I'm there because I want to compete, and I want to try to end up on the top of the heap. Finals is not “just gravy” for me. It's what I'm aiming for. It's the meat at the end of the HUNT. And, this past weekend, Frodo and I came home from the hunt empty handed. Yes, we placed at the top of the heap in a couple rounds leading up to the Finals, but with respect to the BIG hunt, we fell short.
Now, don't get me wrong. Our performances were really good, and I am happy with them. After sleeping off the disappointment of mucking up the Challenger Round, I'm even happy with how THAT run went, ultimately. I messed it up and chose to immediately take Frodo to his leash, and his treats, and his toy, rather than finishing up the run in a fog of disappointment. Frodo never knew anything was wrong all weekend, and historically, hiding my disappointment from my dogs is not something I've always been successful at doing. I can be happy with parts of how the weekend went and still be disappointed, though!
There's nothing inherently wrong with disappointment. To gloss disappointment over in a Pollyanna “well I'm just happy to be here” way, or a “this is just gravy” way, or “this is just a game I play with my dog” way can be limiting, though, in my mind. Of course, this IS a game, but it's not JUST a game. Saying something is “only” a game or “just” a game limits its importance in our lives. There's no doubt about it that this game is basically my life. I eat, drink, sleep, and dream this game. Basketball is “just a game” as well, but my guess is that after a big loss, NBA players aren't shrugging off their loss as an “oh well, it's just a game” moment. Minimizing disappointment, or pretending that disappointment in an outcome is inappropriate because “it's just a game” prevents self-reflection. It prevents rumbling with the uncomfortable feelings of not being good enough, not being able to make it happen when it counted, wondering how things could have been prevented or improved.
So, on the two hour or so drive back to the airport, I rumbled a lot with disappointment. Again, not disappointed with Frodo. He did really well, and I couldn't have been more pleased with him. Disappointed in a couple of my handling choices. And just, disappointed in general that I didn't meet my objective. It's Monday morning, and I'm still disappointed. Last night, while deep in that stage of rumbling with my disappointment, I was questioning whether or not I should go to Tryouts at the end of April. I'm far less certain about the odds being in my favor at Tryouts than I was for NAC, and look how NAC turned out? If I couldn't ‘get ‘er done' at NAC, what makes me think I'm good enough to get the job done at Tryouts? These were the thoughts rumbling through my head while I drove and listened to music.
One of the things I am NOT disappointed in over the past weekend was that I played to win. I was pretty sure, given the data, that I could have “just run clean” in most of the rounds, and that those clean rounds would have been good enough for the Finals. But, I didn't want to play to not lose, I wanted to play to win. I watched several competitors this past weekend play to not lose, instead of playing to win. I don't want to do that any more. I really enjoyed playing to win in Germany, and at Crufts. It's what I enjoy about the bigger competitions. However, if I'm playing not to lose at smaller shows, shifting to a ‘playing to win' mindset at bigger shows is going to be that much more difficult. Sure, there's more risk involved in playing to win, or at least it feels that way, but at this point, I'd rather take the risk and fail than just play not to lose. These ideas are talked about at length in a book I read recently called Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing. You can click on the link to read about it if you're interested, and I highly recommend it.
Anyway, so, what makes me think I'm good enough for Tryouts? That's kind of where I left it last night. This morning, I'm still very unsure about the odds. It feels risky. It feels like a lot of money and time for maybe no reward at all other than having taken a risk. I'd like to play to win, despite not knowing the odds. The reward, after all, is a big one. World Championships has always been my dream, my goal, ever since I started agility in 1999 and found out about it. It's not about the notoriety, and it's clearly not about the money (what money?). It's not my dream because it's easy. This dream has put me in front of more disappointment and heartache than I could have ever dreamed a passion would make possible, and yet, I persist at it.
I'm not religious, and I don't believe in karma, but for whatever reason, agility, and THIS type of agility in particular, it's in every cell of my body to want to be a part of it. I've been fortunate enough to be able to participate not one, or two, or three, but five times on that stage. Sadly, just about every time I've gotten there, I've played to not lose. Even now, holding on to the idea of playing to win is tricky for me. Our system of agility in the USA does not promote playing to win, on the whole. It promotes caution, and playing not to lose. Trying to hold on to a mindset of playing to win requires thinking outside the ring gates to some extent. Every time I've spent any amount of time in Europe or Scandinavia, it doesn't take long to get in to the playing to win mindset, and after the latest excursion, I am trying hard to hold on to that mindset with all I've got.
Back to disappointment. I am disappointed by this past weekend. But, I spent some time rumbling with it, accepting it for what it is, and looking at it. Not discounting it, not discarding it, and not plastering over it with trite and happy sayings. I'm still deeply unsure about the odds being in my favor in any way at Tryouts next month. But I can't not go. I will not accept defeat, and my bruised ego will survive. I will get up, and I will go out to my amazing arena and beat my head against those things that I know are weaknesses for Frodo and I for the next month. I will go out and work on precisely the things that make me feel uncomfortable, in an effort to knock some of those things off of that list. And I'll head to Tryouts with a foolish sense of gumption, trying my hardest to ignore the odds and focus on the rewards, because the risk, ultimately, is worth the effort.
The hunt is on.
Here's the setup, course map, and analysis for the course that we ran in class at Clear Mind Agility this week. Enjoy!
Here's the setup, course map, and analysis for the course that we ran in class at Clear Mind Agility this week. Enjoy!
Here's the set up, course map, and analysis for the course that we ran in class at Clear Mind Agility this week. Enjoy!
Here's the set up, course map, and analysis for the course that we ran in class at Clear Mind Agility last week. Enjoy!
Here's the set up, course map, and analysis for the course that we ran in class at Clear Mind Agility last week of 2016. Enjoy!
Here's the set up, course map, and analysis for the course that we ran in class at Clear Mind Agility the week of December 15, 2016. Enjoy!
I've been thinking a lot about threadles lately. It's something that historically, I've handled my way out of, rather than training, for the most part. I love training. I went to ALL of the Bob Bailey Chicken Camps, and I loved all of them. But for some reason, I just never viewed threadles as a training challenge. Insert maniacal laughter here.
I'm also thinking a lot about running contacts right now. Way back in 2008, when I started training Solar's running contacts, before the days of online classes, and when NObody had thought to use FOOD or a remote controlled treat dispenser to get going, I figured it out largely by myself, along with Silvia Trkman's writeup of the process she followed on her website. Her writeup was largely conceptual, and frankly, I think that was better for me to have read than a step by step process.
The concept of the process to be followed, along with my mind spinning with ideas, fresh out of Chicken Camp, meant that I really tried hard not only to be a good trainer, but also, to fully understand the concept of what I was training, as well as the ramifications of any ripples that might affect other training I was doing (there are, and JUMP training ripples in to running contacts, but, more on that later).
So, with my puppy, I expect that when she is old enough to step in to the arena to tackle an FCI style course, she will need a thorough understanding of landing side approaches.
First off, I think we would be wise to discontinue use of the term ‘threadle', and instead, adopt a term that more accurately describes the type of challenge a threadle represents. So, I'm no longer going to use that word (plus my autocorrect hates it). Instead, I'm going to use the term landing side approach.
You're already familiar with landing side approaches as a challenge. You probably already have alternate names for each challenge as an individual challenge. BUT, consider that each of the individual scenarios below has in common the challenge of a landing side approach.
Let's look at each one of the above examples.
In the upper left example, the handler is in a location relative to the dog such that a pull to the takeoff side is required. Both the handler and the dog are moving directly toward the jump, but the dog needs information early on that she is moving toward the landing side of the obstacle.
In the upper right example, the handler is again in a location relative to the dog such that a pull to the takeoff side is required. Both the handler and dog are moving directly toward the tunnel, but they are moving toward the “landing side”, or exit of the tunnel (I call them landing sides now too, so I can get the concept in my brain and in the brain of students). The dog needs information that despite the handler's motion, they should bypass the landing side of the tunnel and head to the takeoff side. This example can be expanded on – in the diagram below, the tunnel at left is easier than the tunnel at right, because the takeoff side requires less distance to get to for the dog. In the diagram at right, the dog may stall out before getting to the takeoff side of the tunnel, and, lacking an obvious entrance to get to, revert back to the landing side entrance.
Moving through the examples further above, the lower left is a push or send to the takeoff side, with a landing side approach. Although a send to the takeoff side may be a bit easier to handle, because the handler can use their body to control the dog's approach and force them off of their path to the landing side of the obstacle, it's not always possible to be close enough to the obstacle to accomplish this. And, the mechanical skill required on the part of the dog is essentially the same as a pull to the takeoff side, as I'll get in to more as you read on.
Finally the lower right example…the weave poles. Yes, the weave poles as well can be thought of as having a “landing side” and a “takeoff side” (exit and entry). If you for any reason have to pull your dog to the takeoff side of the weave poles, you'll see right away that this requires some solid training; the dog has multiple opportunities to slip in to the poles incorrectly, and must really know in advance that you are cuing one end or the other. A jump or a tunnel have only two options; front and back, entrance and exit, takeoff and landing side. But the weave poles have multiple spaces – one between each pair of poles!
Below are a few more examples of a situation where the dog is approaching a jump from the landing side, and needs to be pulled to the takeoff side.
Until now, I've shown examples of landing side approaches that, for some reason, must be handled as a pull. Something previous in the course has forced the handler to be in a location where they cannot handle the landing side approach as a push. Typically, a push or send to the takeoff side is easier than a pull, because the handler can use their motion and body to more effectively push the dog off their path to the landing side of the obstacle. And so, here are the same examples from above, shown with the handler in a location where they can execute the landing side approach as a push or send.
We can also change up the weave pole scenario from above to be a push or send (click the image to enlarge):
Ultimately, it doesn't really matter what you call these things. However, I do think that using better terminology to describe this particular category of challenges will help us in the following ways, to name a few:
The mechanical skill required for your dog to successfully navigate a landing side approach, whether it be to a jump, a tunnel, or a set of weave poles, is complicated. And, when a landing side approach presents itself, it's sort of a make or break proposition – not having the skill has more dramatic ramifications than other, “tamer” situations, where there is more room for error. In order to smoothly and comfortably (and quickly!) navigate a landing side approach, training and conditioning are required on the part of both the human and canine part of the team.
Now that I've got you thinking about landing side approaches, you should check out my online course, called ALL ABOUT LANDING SIDE APPROACHES! It's on its own website here: http://landingsideapproaches.com – there is a ton of great content and price points for every wallet, so go check it out!