Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Winter Training begins

Well we have now had 3 weeks back at winter training and I am so pleased with how it's going. We hire an indoor riding school to train in which is fantastic as we can train whatever the weather and we have plenty of space (even if it is bloomin' expensive!).

Each dog has individual things that we need to work on and then we are doing general box/power/speed training. I am basically in charge of boxwork and give ideas for the speed exercises which Louise actually makes happen as I am not very organised! I think our combination works well! We haven't done any full runs yet and won't until after Christmas. We've been working on power jumping over 6 jumps although they are still at a low height as we want to get the dogs going really fast over them before we increase the height (it also means we can train all the dogs together and don't have to worry about changing the height for the littlies). We also tried chase runbacks for the 1st time this week. This is where the 1st dog is released then the next dog is released as the 1st dog goes over the 2nd jump so that it is chasing the 1st dog down, then the next dog is released 2 jumps later etc. We started this with 3 dogs but managed to get 6 dogs in a chain by the end. I wasn't sure how much difference to speed it would make but was amazed by the effort the dogs were putting in. You could see their extension and drive improve and they looked faster. Dogs that jump high over the jumps such as Elliot and Jamie were noticeably flatter and driving forwards more.

I am really enjoying box training. Everyone is happy to try whatever I ask them and we are already getting some great results. The way I teach the turn is by having a jump infront of the box and asking the dog to jump over the jump and back. The jump is then inched back towards the box until the dogs are jumping on and off the box. Once the dog is confident with this I then introduce the ball. We reward the good turns, ignore the bad ones and if at any point the dog stops jumping on and off and tries to do a two footed turn we go back to turns with no ball. Last year all the dogs learnt to jump on and off with no ball, but we didn't have enough time to introduce the ball properly which I think is the main reason why the turns deteriorated in competition. What is really good is that most of the dogs remembered all the work jumping on and off which means with most of them we have been able to progress straight to doing work with the box loaded. I think with box training you have to be very open to trying new things and doing what works for each dog. Although each of our dogs began with the same method, each one now has various different props in different places and with me in different places to get the best turn. Obviously I know that you can't have props in competition and these will eventually have to be removed but for the time being they will remain to build muscle memory and hopefully make the turn second nature. I'd like to list all the dogs and the stages they are at/what we are going to do next but that could go on for a while (if you would really like to know please leave a comment and I may find the time!). At the moment I am really pleased with Sonny, Lacy, Jem and Elliot. They are doing the box totally independently with just the props. With them we are working on foot placement and drive off the box. Perry, Smartie and Jamie are making the most progress. With all of them we had the issue of the two-footed turn but they are now doing 4 feet turns with me and the props in place. We have retaught them to go round rather than jump on and off. I don't really like teaching this way as I think it is slower and can teach them to go wide but as I've already said you have to do what works for the dog. I am already backing away from the box and they are maintaining the turn so I don't think it will be long until i am completely out of the way and can start making the turn tighter and faster. Seeing Perry do a 4foot turn with the ball is a beautiful thing. He is a 26" Munsterlander cross and has been racing for 6yrs with a two foot turn, who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks!! Whether he will maintain it in competition is different but we will give it our best shot! We have a couple who are proving a little more tricky. Diefer is just a bit nutty so doesn't think about what he's doing, we are getting there and now he's realised what we want is catching up with the others, no rush though, we've got plenty of time and he had a decent 3foot turn anyway. Then their is Luna who after alot of analysis we have decided to retrain to turn left. This will be a slow process as she spent alot of time being taught her right turn so she thinks this is what we want from her. But everything about her movement suggests she should be a lefty, we've just got to convince her that it's ok! Finally Bunty who has got a beautiful fast turn anyway but she only uses 3 feet and pivots on the 4th so is not getting as much drive as she could. I think we found out this week what is going to work but it will be a very slow process!

Then we have our starters. Our 2 'in team' babies are looking very promising. They are both Collies. Piper is just fantastic, he is so fast over the jumps and is picking the box turn up very quickly. He is also 1 of the most handsome Collies I've seen. His father is Littlethorn Continental so he is the nephew of Darwin and half brother (I think?!) of Bentley, both of Molten Magnets so we have high hopes. I'd love a pup by Tally and I know Nat has a litter by him so I can't look at her website at the moment lol!! Next is Moss who is still a baby at coming up to 12months. He is from Waggerland lines and again is gorgeous. He has a very high chase drive and likes to herd the other dogs so is proving a bit of a challenge. He is also showing lots of promise and his box turn is looking good. I have taken over handling him for a while as I am currently a bit more exciting than his mum. Won't be long until his recall is sorted though and then I'll have to give him back! It's fun training a baby again even if he does knacker me out lol! Then we have the new people. We have a Collie cross who is picking things up really well, a Cocker who really reminds me of William if anyone remembers him?! Would be happy if Chez ends up as fast! At the moment he is a bit nervy and won't follow a 'dead' ball which is making box work a bit of a pain but we are making progress and a Border Terrier who is due to start next week who I've met and she is mental!!

Finally we've got the ballistic puppies who come along to training for a bit of socialisation and 'puppy races' lol! We've got Loki and Shani who are both 13ish weeks old. Loki is out of Piper from Hinckley Hooligans and Bray from Coventry Racers. He is such a good puppy, very focused and very cute. Shani is gorgeous and reminds me so much of Asher as a puppy it is actually spooky, I think everyone is praying she ends up like him! These 2 won't see any equipment until the summer when we will probably start a little bit of boxwork in the evenings at competitions. They will be over a year old when they start formal training. I don't see any need to start before this, all the foundations can be laid without drilling them up and down jumps!

I am now really looking forward to taking Asher back to training (hopefully 2wks time), I think he's missing it! I will try get someone to take some pics/video of training but it is difficult as everyone is either helping or running a dog!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Flyball 2009

I thought before I started talking about our winter training I had better round up our year of racing. The up's and down's and what we need to work on.

Well to be honest we had a slightly disappointing start to the year with regards to times and also to boxwork. We put in an awful lot of work over last winter and unfortunately partly due to us not having the new box until the beginning of March and partly due to me not pushing the dogs on quick enough, the last few weeks of training before competition were very rushed. This resulted in the dogs not doing enough repetitions with the props in so when we went in to competition alot of the dogs reverted back to their old turns in varying degrees. This wasn't exactly disasterous as none of the dogs had slammers turns anyway but it was disappointing. Times wise we hit 18.00secs at our 1st show at Easter which we were pleased with especially as Asher was barely hitting sub 4 back then, which I was gutted about (as he had been at 3.8-3.9 in 2008). But then we didn't beat this time for nearly 3months until Frimley when we finally went sub 18 with a 17.84secs.

The positives of the start of the season were bringing out all of our starters. We've had some real crackers come out this year. We had 6 dogs in starters at Easter and 5 of them debuted in May with them barely putting a foot wrong. Bonnie is cracking running 4.2s but I know there is more in her. The only disappointment we had with her is that she had to go start dog as she tried to nip the returning dog on her outrun although we are hoping to cure that this winter. Lacy is just a total star, she will run anywhere, she has a beautiful box turn and she runs consistent 4.3s after starting out around 4.6s. Jamie our little height dog looks like he has been running for years, there is definitely lots of room for improvement in his box which we are working on and will hopefully bring his times down from 5.3-5.4ish to closer to 5secs. Chelsey has also been so good, she has a lovely box and when we get some weight off of her I'm sure will be quicker next year. Then their is Fraggle, our crowd puller, he really is great to watch and he has improved so much over the year.

So after Easter the ballistics didn't have a full 1st team for a while due to various dogs being unavailable, we managed some good low/mid 18s times anyway but I think we all got a bit frustrated. I think Frimley was the turning point for us, running the 17.84 gave us a bit more belief and we won division 2, a win always lifts you up. After that we continued to get faster with 17.72 at Becketts and 17.71 at Chilterns, both without the full 1st team. It was at this point we changed the order, putting Asher 2nd. This gave me more space in the runback area to work him back properly and I was finally able to sort out his return drive. This is when Asher really kicked up a gear (although he did run fantastically at Cornbury Park in June). The real high came at Stockbridge in August when everything came together and we won division 1 with a fantastic time of 17.37secs. In some ways I was happier about this than winning our div at the champs. Just because we ran a faster time and also because we beat shooting stars and maple leafs in the process. Saying that, winning at the champs was fantastic, don't think you can beat that feeling of going up infront of anyone to get your plaque (apart from going up to get that gorgeous trophy ;-), thats the next target lol). The disappointing thing for me at champs was that Asher wasn't as fast, it was a shame because it was the only time alot of the people there would have got to see him run and it was probably one of the slowest he ran all year and I don't want people to think I lie about his times!!

After Champs we only had 4 competitions and although we didn't win anything I really enjoyed them as I felt Asher was at his best and was just a joy to run. Ending on a high at Becketts when he "officially" hit a 3.77secs running start dog. I say official as we don't record all of the dogs times particularly if we have to work them out from splits so I'd say it was very likely he had run under 3.8 before, we just hadn't recorded it.

At Shackerstone we had Luna debut dead on 18months. Unfortunately she had had little training over the summer months so her box requires a lot of work. However she was running 4.3-4.4secs which we were pleased with and also ecstatic about the fact she was measured as a 12" height dog. Alot of hope for her for next year.

Finally at Becketts in October we had our last debutee Elliot who was fab and will hopefully get faster with confidence and more work on return drive. We also tried Luna on the 1st team and will be working hard on this combination over winter.

Overall I think it has been a successful year beating our fastest ever time by 0.7secs (would be thrilled if we could do that again next year lol!). We got 3 1st places despite never being top seed. I had at the back of my mind that the target for this year was to qualify for division 1 at the champs (as i'm sure it was for alot of teams) and based on the seedings for last year we would of done but the quality this year just seems to have improved alot so to win division 2 was the next best thing.

Things to work on over winter are mainly boxwork and return speed although it does vary for each dog. We probably won't do any full runs until after christmas although as we are now planning to do Wimbledon we may do 1wk of team training before that! We have our new group of starters and only 2 full collies, how novel! I've got high hopes for them! Although a couple of them are looking like they are going to be hard work! So thats it, Asher is currently having a break, he's had 2 weeks of complete rest to give his muscles and soft tissue time to recover and he's now back to gentle (for Asher!) exercise. He'll probably start flyball again in a few wks and just work on power jumping and box work. The aim is to have him at the absolute peak of fitness for the European Champs.