January 27th, 2019

There it is! Alice’s first AKC Championship point! I skipped Saturday because of the weather and ironically the weather on Sunday was SUPPOSED to be ok, but instead Erie got a huge snowstorm and getting home was terrifying and Jim needed to give me on-the-fly navigation instructions to get around closed stretches of I-90. But we got home safely, met Kat Klein, who is awesome, and spent some time with Ruth, Jim and Orbit! So proud of my baby girl, she showed so well!

Some Thoughts About Novice Dogs

January 19th, 2019

We all have to do what we feel is right for our dogs. We base our decisions about this on experience, education, research, opinions of those we trust, and (I would hope) science.

An agility dog, in addition to being a loved family member and pet, is a long-term project. You are never “done”, there are always tweaks and improvements and changes throughout a dog’s life.

I elected to start Alice using the OneMind Dogs methods. I have used many of their ideas and skills over the last few years, but she was the first dog I used their methods with from the start. I followed their puppy training methods in addition to my own things and (my training partner and friend) Sue’s suggestions.

One thing Sue suggested, which I did, was to start running Alice on modified courses from a VERY early age. I think she was sequencing at something like 3 months of age. No contacts, no bars or bars on the ground, no weaves. The real benefit of this is that sequencing and running with me and adapting to my changes in direction and speed are things she’s been doing for over a year now. It’s nothing new to her.

Now some folks feel quite strongly that you should wait to start trialing (and in some cases even training for agility) until the dog is older, fully mature, trained through Masters level, etc.

Again, we all have to do what feels right. For me, I like to get a dog out at a trial pretty early. Nothing replicates a trial environment. And nothing shows up the holes in your training like a trial. And even though my dogs start coming with me to trials as young puppies, and don’t find the environment AT a trial anything unusual, actually RUNNING is a different story. So Zhora started competing shortly after she turned 15 months, and now so has Alice (she’s three days shy of 16 months).

The important factors for me are:

  • keeping my expectations reasonable and limited (I am not looking for a Q or perfect performance, I am looking for the dog to get her feet wet and have a wonderful, exciting experience, and leave the ring wanting more)
  • keeping the dog safe (do a few simple obstacles and see where we’re at). I didn’t ask Alice to do the teeter (even though she has a very solid teeter performance in practice) or the weaves, just jumps, aframe (which she loves) and tunnels. Remember, the goal isn’t a Q or even a whole course, the goal is short, successful, and FUN.
  • keeping the experience high energy and fun (I want a dog who is screaming to go at the start line, who wants to go right back into the ring at the end of a run, who thinks playing agility with me is the Best. Thing. Ever.). So I didn’t ask Alice for a start line stay (I held her collar and then released her), I did only a few obstacles, I praised her the whole way around (“look at you! what a good dog! you’re a rock star!”). I really believe in that Linda Mecklenburg quote about how if you want a dog to be a champion you must treat him like he already is one.
  • do a proper warm-up and focus work beforehand (I do this with all my dogs before a run, and even a short baby run is still a run). So some brisk walking, a few practice jumps, leg weaving, chasing the Lotus Ball, motivational downs (repeated high energy down, release, reward), shadow handling, short on-leash recalls, nose touches, tugging.
  • set her up for success: I no longer say “jump” in practice, for example, but in a markedly different environment like a trial, I want to help as much as possible
  • DON’T FIX ANYTHING!!! When Sue and I were course building and thus having to stay until the end of the trial, we watched a lot of Novice and Open teams run. We noticed how you could tell the difference between Novice handlers with Novice dogs, and experienced handlers with Novice dogs. Most of the experienced (and successful) handlers didn’t fix anything, or fixed only one thing. Whereas the Novice handlers tended to try to fix EVERYTHING. One thing Melanie Miller told us at the seminar last summer is so very true: the fastest way to slow a green dog down is to fix everything. Fixing things too early erodes a dog’s confidence and makes agility a stop and start sport instead of a keep going sport. Fixing things may have a place, but the first few runs for a green dog is not that place.
  • MAKE IT MEMORABLE IN A POSITIVE WAY. My dogs’ special treat after a run is a few bites of a plain donut, or baby food, or canned puppy food (the Royal Canin starter mousse is their favorite). Alice had only had crumbs of these things before yesterday, but yesterday, for the first time, she got the same as the “real” agility dogs get. We did my usual post-run routine of leaving the ring, HUGE praise all the way back to the crate (“You’re amazing! What a rock star! Go get your cookie! You earned it! Go get it!”), and then the reward given in tiny bites by hand with huge praise with each bite (“oh my goodness you’re so smart! Look what you did! How awesome are you! Yeah eat that cookie! That’s your cookie! You’re amazing!”). I have a special extra-stupid voice I use for this reward-feeding routine, but it makes my dogs crazy-happy and that’s what it’s all about. Remember that one big bite is one opportunity for reward, whereas five or six little bites is five or six opportunities for reward!

I was thrilled with how Alice handled her first run. She was happy and focused and this was by far the best first run I’ve had with a dog!

Admiral Perry AKC Agility Trial

January 18th, 2019

With severe storm warnings for Saturday/Sunday, I decided to make the drive today for just one day. Sure was worth it! Zhora Triple Q’d (she is so awesome) and her daughter Alice made her trial debut (I had a sentimental/superstitious need to have Alice make her debut under our dear friend and favorite judge Sherry Jefferson). My goal was simply to have her get her feet wet, maybe do some obstacles, hopefully mostly stay with me, so I came up with a simple FAST course, just jumps and tunnel and the aframe (which she loves), I didn’t ask for a startline stay, just wanted to keep it up and high energy and fun. HOLY MOLY! She was a ROCK STAR, ran amazingly well, COMPLETELY ignored Judge Sherry (who is also her beloved Aunt Sherry, and even Zhora had to give Sherry the “hey Aunt Sherry!” eye), stayed focused and happy and completely unfazed and the icing on the cake was that she QUALIFIED! She’s never run on turf, she’s never run in a match or a trial…no worries. I had zero expectations of her (and I still don’t, my only goal at this stage is for her to learn how fun and exciting this is), but holy moly was I impressed. She’s the first dog I did OneMind Dogs methods with from the start, and I do think it made a huge difference, she understands so much more at this stage than I ever hoped she would, plus she has that awesome temperament, she doesn’t worry, she doesn’t fret, she takes her job seriously, she is a working dog and exactly what I hoped for from this litter. Zhora and Bert, you did good!

Zhora Standard (part 1 of QQ # 93/TQ, 32 points, 4.097 YPS):

Zhora FAST (QQQ, first place):

Alice Novice FAST (FIRST RUN, FIRST Q!):

Zhora Jumpers (part 2 of QQ #93/TQ, 19 points, 4.769 YPS):

Erie Kennel Club

January 6th, 2019

The first trial of 2019 is in the books under judge Laura English. Nina’s bout of pancreatitis that started at the Alkemi reunion and kept her out of the Invitational flared up acutely the weekend before New Year’s and culminated in three days of hospitalization over New Year’s at Orchard Park Veterinary Medical Center. I genuinely thought we could lose her for a bit but she’s home now and doing very well. I am cautiously optimistic.

So Zhora ran alone this weekend. I could tell that my stress levels have affected things so I wasn’t thrilled with my handling but I was thrilled with her performance.

Saturday Jumpers (second place, 17 points, 4.675 YPS, love this run):

Saturday FAST (first place, 71 points):

Saturday Standard (NQ):

Sunday Jumpers (NQ, I didn’t get the cross in I wanted before the jump before the weave poles and it cost us a Q):

Sunday Standard (second place, 30 points, 3.879 YPS):

2018 Invitational Videos

December 24th, 2018

Here are the official videos. That first jumpers run really shows just how costly a moment of disconnect can be, she looks to me for reassurance, I wasn’t looking at her, so even though she made a valiant attempt to get back into the poles, she was too far along.

Time 2 Beat:

Round 1 Jumpers:

Round 2 Standard:

Round 3 Hybrid:

Round 4 Jumpers:

Alice Training

December 23rd, 2018

Alice’s first trial will be next month under Sherry Jefferson (Aunt Sherry). I am THRILLED with how Alice is doing at this point. She is amazing me every time we practice.

2018 AKC Agility Invitational

December 19th, 2018

The Invitational is a strange beast. Exciting, disappointing, emotional, fun, exhausting, thrilling. It’s an experience.

This year was extra emotional, because Nina’s pancreatitis flare-up in November was just improving and then flared again the day before I left. So I left her home with Jim rather than subject her to all that driving, crate time, strange places, etc.

She qualified this year for the fifth year in a row, and I know that, at 11 1/2, this could easily have been her last year to go (plus the official color this year was purple, Nina’s color!), but leaving her behind was the right choice for her.

I had high hopes for Zhora this year (last year, the Invitational was her first trial back after the puppies, so I knew we wouldn’t be competitive). She’s been within shouting distance of the finals twice now and I thought this year (her fourth consecutive) could be her year. She’s been fast and accurate and laying down perfect weekend after perfect weekend. She came out on Friday and dropped a 7 point Time 2 Beat run, which is excellent when running with some of the fastest dogs in the country.

Then Saturday was hot and muggy, I think Nina’s absence really started to get to her, and in our Round 1 Jumpers she bobbled in the weaves, looking at me while I was looking ahead, and that moment of disconnect caused her to pop. Right off the bat we were out.

Round 2 Standard was a Q. Slow, but a Q.

On Sunday, Round 3 Hybrid started to feel more like running with Zhora.

And then Round 4 Jumpers was my favorite – three blind crosses, two misread turns but no big deal, she ran fast and happy and I cried at the end, so thankful to this awesome little teammate for coming through for me once again. 

HUGE crowd pressure this year.

So Zhora finished 3/4 plus Time 2 Beat, not bad at all!

Then we made the traditional stop at American Beach on Amelia Island for some much-needed R&R:

Alice on American Beach
Thank you Zhora!

Alice Training

December 1st, 2018


November 26th, 2018

Cricket’s owner Jennifer Corbin says:
“Great weekend of agility with friends!
3 q’s for Cricket, 2 steeplechase and 1 starter jumpers which earned her title Starter Games Dog of Canada! We are out of starters!”

Cricket is now Alkemi Braveheart ST ADC SGDC!



November 18th, 2018

Yesterday Lobo (Alkemi Beowulf del Roble LS) has become the first Swedish Vallhund to earn the Draft Dog title, and just the second small dog of ANY breed to earn this title through the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America. What an amazing accomplishment for Lobo and his owner Jan Robles!! (Lobo was also the first Vallhund to earn the Novice Draft Dog title).

And then today Lobo earned his Advanced Novice Draft Dog title! Jan has made Lobo an incredible ambassador for the breed.