Monday, May 18, 2009

Scheduling Flyball Practices

The question was asked how we manage to work all our puppies and still get the veterans their practice time. We have about eight puppies training at most practices and about a dozen veterans. Of the veteran dogs, about four of them are young veterans that are still learning to pass or still working on some issues, and haven't been racing for a year. We also have some old geezers that know what they are doing but they aren't particularly fast any more. In all we probably have twenty to twenty five dogs at any practice.

We strongly believe in training dogs to race and be part of a team, and this means they must learn to work with other dogs. Every time we bring a puppy or young dog out, we'll bring at least one veteran out as well, sometimes two, depending on what we are doing. The veterans show the puppies the way. We feel this is very important. We also seldom run team lineups, but we will run two on two so we can work on our passing. We just don't have enough people to run two full team lineups and still pay attention to the little things like boxturns and striding.

Every week, we make out a schedule before practice. We try to schedule each dog to get out two times. We'll try to work on something different each time. In general, we'll put the geezers with the littlest babies, since they are still fast enough to work with the babies. The geezers are also very tolerant in case a puppy decides to try to play with them. The dogs that are learning their box turns and learning to do full runs will work with our main racing dogs. Fortunately, these young dogs are all really fast, so it brings a little spark to them as well. It's sometimes interesting to see one of our A team veterans go out there and run with a puppy that they've grown up with, and one day the puppy just smokes them and they say "Oh Crap!". They really start to kick it in then! By working multiple dogs at a time, our practices move very fast.

It's really fun to have a mix of young and old dogs. At times we do wish we had more veterans. Occasionally we have to focus on some of our fastest dogs, we might notice their boxturn is a little sloppy or their striding is off. Having vigilant teammates really helps. We always have a couple people assigned to watching the dogs, counting their strides, watching their foot placement on the box, people running stopwatches, people videotaping, etc, so hopefully we can stay on top of it when a dog starts doing something that is out of character. It really does take a village to train a puppy. We feel very lucky to have such dedicated teammates.

What is the Limit?

Wow, the amazing guys at Touch-N-Go just broke into the 14s this weekend with a 14.96. These guys have been chasing this for a long time and I know it will be a long time before anyone joins them. But the question is, when will someone break into the 13s?

Sure, that sounds impossible, but Rocket Relay broke into the 15s in 2001 and Instant Replay broke into the 16s in 1995. So roughly every seven years someone breaks into a new realm that we probably all thought was impossible. So why should the 13s be any different?

There may be a limit to the individual dog's speeds. To run a 13.99, the four dogs would have to average slightly less that 3.50. Jack Jack holds the current world record at 3.62, but not all of the fastest dogs run singles. I've heard that Touch-N-Go's start dog, Chef, ran a 3.61. Personally, I have seen several dogs run a high 3.5. I've even heard a report of a dog that ran a 3.53 in practice. Is it possible then for a dog to run a 3.49? I believe the answer is Absolutely. So in theory, a 13.99 is possible if you can get four of them together on the same team.

There are other factors that led to Touch-N-Go's Milestone. Looking back at the Flyball records, and I wish I had all the lineups, take a look at the breed makeup. Early on, Flyball records were being set by Goldens and Labs. Then the Border Collie came along and dominated the sport. Then Height Dogs were introduced, which lowered the height for the Border Collies. You've had some Malinois and Whippets mixed in. The improvements in dogs obviously was a huge factor. Now look at Touch-N-Go's lineup. Chef, Warrant, Urgent and Raptor are all Border Staffies. The Border Staffie has changed the game. When the first 15 was run, I doubt anyone thought that the first 14 second run would not include a single Border Collie. What's next? Border-Whippets? Border-Coyotes? Who knows, but there is no reason to believe that there will never be another pure bred or hybrid that can de-throne the Border Staffie.

Then we must look at the advances in training. It's amazing to watch Touch-N-Go run, but what is really amazing is that they have so many dogs of that caliber. They utilize six dogs on their A team. Their mainstay, Reflex, wasn't even in the lineup during the record run, and I've seen her run 3.71 about a hundred times. Because of the consistent training for all the dogs, they are able to interchange these dogs. They look the same, they are the same size and build, they run the same, they have similar box turns, they drive like hell and they are tough as nails. Whoever is running good that day will get to run. It's very impressive to see teams like Instant Replay and Spring Loaded who live spread out across the country. Sometimes they don't even practice together. They bring a variety of dogs, Whippets, Mals, Border Staffies, Border Collies, each with different box turns. Somehow they are able to come together at a tournament and run amazing times. Obviously though, they are at a disadvantage. I suspect we'll see more top teams breeding a hybrid litter of dogs, keeping all the dogs, raising them as a team, training them as a team and running them together as a team.

You may think I'm nuts, but in ten years when the first 13.99 is run, remember I told you so!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Puppy Training is in full swing

We've had some great practices lately. It's been especially exciting since we have
a tremendous batch of puppies in various stages of training.

Sly, Shay and Crank are signed up to make their debut in Singles in Memphis this month.
All three have been doing very competitive head to head racing and they are having a
lot of fun and running like veterans. They are just starting to learn to pass as well.
All three of these dogs have A team potential. Sly and Crank are Border Collies and
Shay is a Boinderdoodle (don't ask, she's a Border Collie mix that looks a lot like a Pointer).

Little Jack Jack, a Border Collie Mix, is learning his box turn and should be ready for
full runs this summer. Jack Jack measured a seven inches in U-Fli, so it's great to have another
height dog to help bring down the jump heights for everyone, especially a fast one.

Next up are Elle and Porsche, two amazing little puppies are learning their box turns
and are very fast over the jumps. Elle is a Border Collie and Porsche is a Whippet/BC mix.
Both of these dogs have been way ahead on their training. They've matured so fast and
have taken to Flyball so naturally. Porsche was the fastest puppy we've ever experienced,
at six months old she was chasing down our A team dogs, and we hope her box turn will
match. Both of these kids have serious A team potential.

And now we have our two little baby Border Collies, Piver and Myles, imported from Canada.
We hope they develop like their big sister Sly. So far they've both shown the same quickness,
speed and desire to work. They are both gorgeous as well. Soon they will be joined by another
awesome little boy who is just a couple weeks old now. This terrible threesome will be
graduating in 2010 and we are very excited about them.

So that's nine puppies (six BCs and three BC mixes) in training, enough for two teams,
so you can imagine our practices have been very puppy intensive. It has been great,
it has allowed us to refine out training regiment. These kids all have special needs,
but we're able to work that into the same program so all have remained on track and
moving forward with predictable results. We're not having to re-invent with each dog.
Each dog has done the same set of drills in the same order at about the same age.
Our A and B team dogs are getting plenty of work as well, mostly coming out to work
in the other lane with the puppies. These puppies are pushing the older dogs, so it's
working out both ways. Even our ten year old vets are having fun doing recalls with
the little babies. It'll be a very busy summer for the Sure Shots.

And we never forget our long term project, the training of our Shelty, Skye, who
makes great strides forward every other week, and the rest of the time she reminds
us just how wonderful Border Collies are.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Meeker is Home!

Good new! After a week on the run, Meeker has returned home to Jenn and Joe. All the Sure Shots are very thankful that this little titan has been returned. Thanks to the person that posted Jenn's email to the proper bulletin board that finally led to her return.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Art of Calling Passes

Originally Posted on Sept. 21, 2008

When joining a Flyball club there are many roles to choose from to pitch in. The glory seekers jump in the lane with both feet handling and training the dogs. We heap praise on others who are doing the heavy lifting hauling mats, lugging the box and setting up jumps. The social coordinators are most content to make tasty snacks for all to partake at tournaments. My niche seems to be in information technology so to speak.

That's where the scribes, schedule and record keepers and pass callers are found. In this blog entry, I'll do what I can to share some techniques that work for me as Sure Shots club pass caller. By no means is this an end all, be all directive. If you have other techniques that work for you, please let me know. I'm always looking for new ways to improve what I do too. My email is:

* Find a camera that you can work with: pass calling by the naked eye has never come easily for me. The dogs are running way too fast to make an accurate pass length determination. That's why I depend on my digital camera. I spent over an hour and a half at my local chain electronics store testing out cameras one day. I am absolutely sure they were ready to kick me out the door by the time I was done. I was oh, in a word, picky. Not because I was looking for the finest in optical quality or I was counting the number of Megapixels. I was testing for three things:

What do the movies look like, how quickly could I go from recording to playing mode, how easily was it to stop the action, then move the images forwards/backwards. I finally settled on the Olympus FE-340 because it did all of the above and also fit into my pocket neatly with room to spare. If you have a camera that works well for you, please let me know.

* Make sure you have a large, empty memory card a charged battery and a battery charger. An extra memory card and back up battery is highly advisable. These little cameras use memory and batteries like it's nobody's business. Have the extra memory card and battery on your person just in case you need to make a quick change between heats.

* I line up at the 1 foot line and shoot over the head of the line judge. The camera is set as wide angle as possible to be able to view the line calling hash marks as well as a couple of feet on the "early" side of the start/finish line. I found if I line up right on the start/finish line, the photoelectric equipment obscures the camera's view of the line itself making it more difficult to accurately measure the pass.

* I make a short movie of every heat, but because my information is extremely time sensitive, not every part of every heat. For example, most times, I just shoot the passes, not the start or the finish of each heat. I usually hit the record button either when the start dog hits the box or has already made his turn and is headed for his first jump. The more time you record, the more time you have to sift through to get to the passes. If you time this one right, you will be able to get your first pass measured almost immediately after shooting.

* Stop the recording just after the last pass has taken place. Go into play mode immediately and check the first pass by pausing the action and slowly moving the image forwards and backwards until you can clearly see where both dogs are at the time the dog's nose coming back from the box crosses the start/finish line. To save time, this means you need to start the process while the last dog is still racing. The more time you save, the more time the handlers have to make pass corrections or adjustments. Commit this length to memory and do not forget it.

* After you have the first pass called, start walking up the lane towards the handlers as soon as the heat has finished. As you are walking, keep playing your recording and measure the second and third passes for the heat that just took place. By the time you reach the handlers, you'll have all three passes called and the information at the ready. This technique also saves a lot of time. (I sure hope you can walk and chew gum at the same time...) Did you remember the length of the first pass while you were doing all this walking/viewing multitasking? I sure hope so!

* There is usually handler/canine bedlam in the lane after the heat. Handlers tugging and rewarding dogs; incessant barking; the race official is trying to reset the lanes for the next heat, etc. As pass caller you need to get the handlers' attentions quickly and make sure everyone has the pass length information they need. You could either tell the team captain the pass call lengths to relay to the team or loudly announce the lengths at once to the entire team. The latter is most efficient and the one I use most, even though it forces me to yell to be heard above the din. Make sure the handlers acknowledge that they have received the information. It does them no good if they didn't hear/understand/internalize it.

* If the pass is so wide that the camera couldn't see it all, just call it "wide". If the pass was early, hopefully you were in a position to estimate how early it was. Was it more than a couple of feet or was it a matter of inches?

* After you're done giving pass lengths to the handlers, tell your scribe the pass lengths for your team records. It's a good idea to position the scribe fairly close you for this.

* Did you just buy a new camera and you're learning how to use it? Great! Practice all you can to familiarize yourself with its operation prior to the tournament. Do not wait for the tournament itself or you will be all thumbs your first several heats.

* In the course of pass calling the last few tournaments, I've started to develop my own set of slang terms based on the combination of pass lengths:

1-1-1 "Aces High"

2-1-2 "Manhattan" (NYC Area Code is 212)

2-1-4 "Dallas" (Dallas Area Code is 214)

2-2-2 "Deuces Wild"

2-W-W "Redneck Couple" (Two in a double wide)

3-1-2 "Chicago" (Chicago Area Code is 312)

3-W-W "Redneck Threesome" (Three in a double wide)

4-1-1 "Information"

6-6-6 "Satan's Passes"

Warning! You might want to stick to just giving out the numbers as these terms can be obscure and confusing.