Sunday, December 29, 2013

An Interesting Drama on Trial Morning and Some GoPro Footage

Some interesting drama this morning while trying to leave for the USDAA trial this morning.  It was cold last night, about 18 degrees F, and we got about an inch of snow.  The roads looked o.k. though so I thought I'd be fine as long as I left early.  It was pitch black outside and when I opened the door Strummer refused to leave the house.  In fact he retreated farther into the house.  Which is beyond bizarre because Strummer loves agility mornings and is normally practically knocking me over to get to the garage.  I was worried - was he injured, had a bad experience yesterday that I didn't notice, had I stressed him out somehow?  We'd had a pretty good day and I always tell him he's awesome when he leaves the ring and he seemed happy yesterday.  But he's a weird dog, prone to strange inexplicable behavior like trashing the kitchen the other day because who knows why?  We were gone a whopping 20 minutes and I leave him alone all the time.

I finally managed to coax him into the yard and I proceeded into the garage and loaded a few things into the car then noticed he hadn't followed me.  In fact he'd remained frozen a few feet away from the door, utterly refusing to move.  I went over to him and tried to get him to move and he growled his unhappiness at me but finally followed me into the garage.

I worried throughout the day and watched for any sign of injury or stress but he seemed fine.  I made sure he got extra good warm-ups and cool downs and that I spent some extra time with him.  Totally normal agility day.  Even a little more calm and normal than yesterday.

When it was time to leave I checked my phone and there was a voice mail from Jonny for me to call him which is unusual and I worried something was wrong.  I called and called but he had his ringer off because, well, who knows.  I came home and found a business card from the police with a case number on it but nothing else and he was going to be gone for another 1 3/4 hours.  Super fun worrying what was going on and why there were cops involved.  His car looked fine so it wasn't an accident.

Finally he came home and it turned out someone had started a fire in a small sheltered space next to our garage and backyard fence.

Our psycho next door neighbor has big stacks of wood stored in her driveway and in fact she'd tried storing the piles on the piece of our land where I was standing to take this picture without asking me first and she completely blew her stack when I told her I wasn't comfortable with that arrangement.  I think she has some hoarding issues and I don't want her to start piling her crap in my yard, especially without asking me.  Anyway, the likely scenario is that some homeless people took the wood and started a fire to stay warm in that little sheltered area between our houses and Strummer smelled the fire and/or the people who might have been still sleeping there and it freaked him out.  Poor guy, I should trust his instincts more often.  I never noticed the people when I pulled out of the driveway but it was so dark and I was more worried out what was in the road and the icy street.  The cops said they'd drive by more in the next few days and we'll check the area.  I may put a motion detector light as well.  I don't want people lighting my fence and/or house on fire or leaving human waste.  Haven't checked for that yet.

Anyway, the trial was fun.  Courses were interesting and challenging.  Strum had some nice parts to his runs and some stuff we need to work on.  He won Round 1 of Steeplechase and I filmed his run with my new GoPro camera set to the superwide view setting.

It might not look the best on YouTube but on my big monitor at home it looks great.  I zoomed in a bit with editing software but still it's hard to see the back end of the course on YouTube.  Next trial is in an arena with bleachers and I think it'll look a lot better.  I've become obsessed with the idea of getting a remote controlled quadcopter to film aerial footage from above (not indoors obviously) but that may be going a bit far.  My friend has one on order and I'm going to wait to see how hers works, how hard it is to learn to fly, etc.  I know, just what I need, one more ultra geeky beyond nerdy hobby.

I'm thinking about moving Strummer to Performance so he can jump 16".  There was nothing about his performance at the trial that has me thinking that way, just had a few people at the trial put the idea in my head when I mentioned how old he was.  He's looking pretty grey in the muzzle these days too.  I know he's old in numbers but it's hard to think of him as old.  He's not struggling with the jumps or anything and hasn't slowed down as you can see from the video but I don't want to wait until he's struggling.  I've already entered trials in Jan. and Feb. but his 9th birthday is in March and I think his present will be to move down to P16 for the March USDAA trial.  I'll see how he does in practice at that height before I make a final decision but so far I think it's a good idea.

No trial stats for the moment, they all flew right out of my head but I know he missed 2/2 dogwalks, got almost all his weavepole entries but popped out of the weaves on an easy Steeplechase Finals course and took 6 tries to finally get them right.  Big Le Sigh.  Was an otherwise awesome run.

Ah well, this dog has been an interesting journey.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Strummervision! - Fun With GoPro

Finally got my new GoPro camera and shot some quick footage the other day.  Didn't spend a lot of time planning things, just set up a tripod and shot for not even 2 minutes.  Light was terrible and snow is always challenging.  Spent more time with the post editing software than I did shooting video but the preliminary results are pretty good.

Strummervision - Fun with GoPro from colliebrains on Vimeo.

The camera has an extra wide angle setting and that's what I used here because it's the default but the last clip is the only one showing the wide angle.  GoPro's editing software has a zoom/crop function and I used it on all the other clips.  The first and last clips are the only ones not edited except for slo-mo (and zoom/crop on the first clip).  I played around with different settings on all the other clips and you can see the difference in the color of the snow, sharpness, etc.  The original footage was atrocious as far as the lighting goes, couldn't see the expression on Strummer's face at all.  It's amazing how much it improved with some quick, simple editing.  I'm hoping this means the end of craptastic video from now on.

The camera is mostly meant to be a hands free camera for shooting action footage like while mountain biking, skiing, etc. and I can use it underwater to film myself swimming so it'll have a lot more use to me than agility.  Plus the good low light capability, super wide angle lens and remote control should make it easy for me to film myself at trials without having to pester other people to film me or leaving my camera running and having tons of footage to edit.  Looking forward to seeing how it'll work.

This thing is like a Barbie doll for grown ups because there are zillions of accessories you can buy for this thing.  All manner of mounts and hooks and clips and whatnot.  Very clever marketing.  I've got a couple few mounts on order, didn't go too crazy and found some made by companies other than GoPro at a big cost savings and they still got good reviews.  Not a big fan of having to figure out all this Stuff to buy but I think the camera's going to be a lot of fun and I have a few ideas for some fun video projects.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Arctic Cold, Hot Tamales and a Little DOCNA

I suppose the week and a half of single digit high temps. with -12 wind chill is news to no one so I wont' dwell too much on that.  In general the cold doesn't bother me that much but a week and a half?  And you know it's cold when your wattle bottle explodes in your hand as it did on Saturday morning while I had breakfast in the car before the DOCNA trial.

My first thought was, 'Wow, that was so cool.'  My second thought was, 'Darn it, my underwear is wet and I have to spend the day in a cold horse arena.'  As was my pants and my running tights underneath my pants.  Strangely enough this is not the first time I've had wet pants at an agility trial (went hiking in the rain at Devil's Tower during some down time at NADAC Champs) so I knew what to do.  Hit up the hand dryers in the bathroom and thankfully the hand dryers at Boulder County Fairgrounds are super sonic rocket powered, the kind that dry your hands in 3 seconds.  Also thankfully this was a small trial so I didn't have to explain to too many people why I was holding my undies under the hand dryer.  Crisis was averted and I spent the day being grateful for dry drawers.

Despite the single digit temps. outside the arena was heated and not too bad inside.  Not toasty warm but I was fine in my many warm layers, was even o.k. scribing with no gloves.  Strummer was very glad to have a place to stretch his legs out since the most we'd been able to manage in the past week of -12 wind chill were some short 40 minutes leash runs in his much hated coat and booties.  I was happy to get out of the house as well, I think we were all going a little stir crazy.

I only signed up for 3 runs per day - Gamblers, Standard and the NAC (Grand Prix type class) - so my days were short, done by noon both days which was perfect.  Enough to be fun but not so much that I was dragged out tired at the end of the weekend.

Lots of nice stuff from Strummer but every run but one seemed to have some small glitch - a knocked bar on one standard run, a missed dogwalk on another.  Some run-bys and refusals and another of the dreaded 'run across my feet after the A-frame' moments that were all caused by me being behind.  Not sure why I was behind, maybe Strum was going faster than normal due to the cold.  I got video of 2 runs, our one clean Standard run and the NAC which had an off course tunnel again due to me being behind and a knocked bar.

DOCNA Standard and NAC Runs Dec 7 2013 from colliebrains on Vimeo.

That 180 degree turn to the tunnel off the dogwalk was especially happy making for me.  That particular turn is often a challenge for us.

This should be the last of the crappy Flip video, my new GoPro camera came yesterday.  I shot some quick test footage of the dogs in the yard and it was awesome quality, can't wait to play around with it.  It was funny, I handed my Flip to someone to tape me at the trial and she said, 'A Flip camera?!'  I know, I'm so Old School but I'm finally moving on.

Chipping away at his Champ title,  just 2 Standard Q's left.  Mathematically it was possible to have gotten it this past weekend and I tried to use that as motivation to get myself a little wound up because I do better with a bit of pressure but I can't say I felt any different.  Can't get too excited about titles especially when I know we'll get it eventually.  I like running in DOCNA because Strummer loves to stretch out and run and there is some challenge in trying to keep up because I haven't trained any distance cues but the courses aren't very technically challenging.  Saturday's Standard and NAC courses were at least a little bit interesting but Sunday's Standards were back to the old pinwheels and tunnel flips.  Didn't enter any Jumpers runs and will continue not to enter them until I see some interesting courses start to pop up.

Best part of this trial though is the indoor Farmer's Market in an adjacent building.  Came home with red butter lettuce for me, goat bones for the dogs and the most awesomest tamales ever.  Got some extra for the freezer.  I'll need something to keep me warm if this winter is going to as long and cold as it's starting out.

Final Stats

Specialist Standard Saturday Q-1st place

1Q, 6 classes (2 Gamblers, 3 Standard, 1 NAC)


6/10 (60%)


7/7  (100%)


6/6- 100%

Weave pole entries

7/7? (100%), no pop-outs,  I don't think he missed a weave entry, maybe one in one of his Gamblers runs but I don't think so,  yee ha if I'm remembering it correctly because it'll be the first time ever with 100% and no pop-outs on the weave poles

Bars down = 2

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Horse Whispering - Mastering Your Mental Game

I love writing about the mental aspect of sports - it is my profession and my passion.  I specialize in sports hypnosis and I help a lot of people learn how to manage the mental side of their sport.  The mind is a powerful and fascinating enigma and I learn new things about it all the time.

I like the analogy of the conscious/subconscious parts of our minds being like a jockey and a horse (I fully admit this idea came from another hypnotist but I like it so much I'm going to use it here).  Our conscious mind is like a jockey, making rational, logical decisions about how to guide the horse around the race track.  We like to think that the jockey is in control but the reality is that not so much.  The horse of course is the subconscious part of our mind and it's the one who's really in control.  It goes around the track because it wants to not because the jockey tells it to.  The jockey may encourage and guide it and have the illusion of control but in the end the horse has the final say.  And sometimes the horse chooses to defy the jockey.  Maybe it develops a fear at a certain part of the racetrack, stopping in its tracks and rearing up, refusing to go any further and the jockey has no idea why because up until today the horse went around that corner of the track without batting an eye.  Maybe the jockey communicates poorly or is abusive and the horse decides it's had enough.  Or the jockey is afraid and passes his fears onto the horse.  Perhaps the jockey is doing everything right but the horse still won't perform for whatever unknown reason.  And while it's important to work on the jockey's skills, the key to it all is working with the horse.

There are interesting studies of elite professional baseball hitters that show that the key to their success is not their reflexes, which are average or in some cases below average, but rather their ability to anticipate where the ball will go.  They're subconsciously able to read the body language of the pitcher, anticipate where the ball will go and thus prepare for the hit well in advance of the ball reaching them.  The process is completely automatic, the hitters don't even realize they're doing it.  I suspect those handlers that move like poetry in motion with their dogs are doing the same thing.  And our dogs do this as well, sometimes not to our advantage when they anticipate the wrong thing.  But how do you build this automatic, subconscious skill if it doesn't come naturally?  It's all about working with the horse.

So how do we talk to the horse?  Well, there are lots of ways and it depends on the person but with practice it's easy to do.  It's all about getting your mind in a relaxed drifty state so that it's very open to suggestion, conscious defenses and self-limiting beliefs fade away, and we can go in and make suggestions to the horse, create some new, better self-beliefs, restore the horse's faith in the jockey, calm the horse's fears.  In a clinical office setting this is easy and once you've experienced it it becomes easier each time and you can learn to do it for yourself.  However there are some techniques you can do on your own.  One thing you can do is to focus on your breathing.  Close your eyes and start to pay attention to your breathing, no right way or wrong way to be breathing but rather just focusing your mind on the way your breathing feels.  Noticing the way it feels and sounds when the air enters your nostrils.  Noticing how it feels as the air fills your lungs, noticing that place where the breath turns around and the feeling of your lungs emptying out, the sound of the air leaving your nostrils.  After several breaths you probably notice your heart rate slowing a bit, your breathing becoming heavier and more relaxed and your mind starting to relax and letting go.  You feel yourself only in the present moment, thoughts of the past and future drifting away.  And then maybe you can start to imagine going through a particular sequence with your dog, every handling move perfectly timed and the dog responding easily, with plenty of time to react.  Or perhaps you imagine yourself stepping into the ring and up to the start line brimming with confidence, those chemicals that used to make you nervous and give you butterflies in your stomach now making you feel excited and energized instead.

Getting excited rather than nervous about the mass swim start at Xterra Off-Road Triathlon Nationals.

The Light Switch Technique is another method I use to teach my clients self-hypnosis .  The following is the handout I give to clients that explains the technique.  It's easier to do if you've already been formally hypnotized in a clinical setting but still you can get the idea.


Light Switch Technique

When you’re first learning self-hypnosis, do this 5 times a day for about a minute.  You can leave sticky notes around your house/work/school to remind you to practice.

1.  Place your finger up as if on a light switch in the ‘on’ position.
2.  Move you finger downward as if flicking off a light switch and close your eyes at the same time.
3.  Put yourself into hypnosis by counting yourself down a staircase of 10 stairs to a special place where you feel safe, comfortable and relaxed.
4.  When you’re first starting off you can spend the minute putting yourself in hypnosis and enjoying your special place.  Eventually you should be able to put yourself into a nice relaxed state more quickly and you can use the remaining time to give yourself positive suggestions.
5.  There are 2 rules for the suggestions.  They must be positive and they must be for something you want rather than for something you don’t want.
6.  At the end of the minute, move your finger up as if turning the light switch back on and open your eyes at the same time.

You can do longer sessions eventually if you like but when you’re first learning it’s better to do more short sessions rather than fewer longer sessions.


There are things that the jockey can do as well.  Telling the horse how awesome he is is perhaps the most important thing the jockey can do.  Smacking the horse with a whip and telling him how much he sucks is not going to help the horse have faith in the jockey.  So be mindful of the negative self talk.  Reframe it to positive self talk.  Fake and pretend if you have to.  Eventually the horse will start believing it and so will the jockey.  Look at failures as learning opportunities rather than reasons to smack the horse with the whip.

Another thing the jockey can do is not absorb other people's negative emotions at a trial.  Trials are full of all sorts of different people with different ideas of what is the best way to make it through the day.  They're not trying to irritate you or purposely screw up your day, they're just going through their day with their own version of the world and this will not always line up with yours.  Anybody who's been to more than 2 dog trials knows that at some point somebody is going to do something or say something that pisses you off.  Being angry or irritated at some stupid thing that someone did is not going to help the horse.  And if someone is having a bad day and intentionally spreading around their unpleasantness, well, it doesn't mean you have to buy into it.  Just because someone throws crap at you doesn't mean you have to catch it and put it in your pocket.

And perhaps most importantly of all, make sure to take time before your run to connect with your dog.  It's so easy to lose sight of our partner in the chaos of waiting our turn to go into the ring but it's so important to put all the other mental techniques aside and spend that mental energy on connecting with our bestest buddy before going into the ring.  It helps prepare your dog mentally because his mental preparation is important too but it also reminds us of that special bond we have and what is really important here.  In the grand scheme of things our time with our dogs is so fleeting and special, it's good to take those few moments to look into our dog's eyes and remember to savor every run.

If anybody has any questions about anything or would like to see more posts on this subject leave a note in the comments sections and I'll be happy to answer questions and entertain other posts.  And if anybody is interested in exploring sports hypnosis my website is:   I'm happy to answer more involved questions via phone and I do Skype sessions as well.

 This post is part of Dog Agility Blog Event Day.  Go here to read more posts on the topic.