02 August 2010

An interview in which Nancy Gyes gives us the Secrets of the Dog Agility Universe.

Nancy Gyes is one hard working dog agility lady.

She trains. She competes. She coaches. She practices. She flies on airplanes a lot. She's trial chair for the biggest USDAA trial in the country other than the Nationals, the upcoming Bay Team Southwest USDAA Regionals. And still finds time to clean the oven.

It can be pretty hard to find time to hang out with Nancy. However, she is an extremely nice dog agility lady. And didn't freak out when I invited myself over and showed up with Team Small Dog. If you practice with her, you can try to swivel your hips just like her when she front crosses. And she is very tactful in suggesting that maybe, perhaps, you could somewhat improve some of your dog training tactics. Which of course, you will listen to very carefully, because, duh, Nancy Gyes. Super famous champion of our dog agility universe.

Nancy probably needs very little introduction to most Bay Teamers. Nancy, and her husband, Jim Basic, are founding members of Bay Team. The very first Bay Team meeting was held at Nancy's house in 1992. People were probably wearing tie dye shirts. Which actually, Bay Teamers still do now, except maybe they were genuine hippies then? This was a LONG time ago.

Nancy and Jim's house is also known as Power Paws, their training facility with the VERY nice grass and a stunning view in the foothills of San Jose. Nancy and Jim are two of North America's best agility handler's and trainers, and they coach some of the best trainers and handlers in Northern California. As well as others. People like me.

Nancy and Jim live with 7 border collies. Each one of them are snuggly, adorable family pets besides being accomplished agility stars. Or future stars. When they're all out in the yard together, oh my goodness. The border collieness of it all.

LH: Nancy, 5 of your dogs are yours. Can you go through the dogs for me?

Riot, age 15- Dog of my dreams! She has a toy named for her, the Riot Tug. World Team Member three times, won USDAA Nationals twice, AKC Nationals twice, got a first and a second in the Agility Class at the World Agility Championships, 500 Platinum USDAA legs and lots of other trophies like Jumpers Champion at the Nationals two times. My shadow, my best friend, she is going to live forever I hope.

Wicked, age 13- The naughtiest name for the sweetest dog I have ever owned. USDAA National Champion, 500 platinum legs, just the cutest, silliest most honest little agility dog there ever was. She has cancer and I don’t expect her to be with us much longer, our lives will be lonely and sad when she leaves.

Panic, age 9- The most obstacle focused dog I have ever ran in agility. He loves agility, and specifically tunnels more than life which makes his retirement from agility that much sadder. Panic has epilepsy and is retired from agility training but not from tunnels! He is a steeplechase champion many times over cuz there are lots of weaves, tunnels and frames in those classes, all his favorites.

Ace, age 6- A little agility machine, anytime he does not qualify is my fault. My only competition dog for the last 3 years. Multi time Nationals finalist, DAM Nationals winner, European Open bronze medal 2009 and the list goes on. He is small but mighty and my best buddy.

Scoop, age 16 months- BIG BIG BIG. My baby border collie that I can’t wait to compete with. He is cuddly, and playful and will work all day, what more could I ask?

(LH's note-Jim's dogs are Spy and Sweep. Do not let Spy near your soccer ball. Beloved Swift, Riot's brother, just passed away in July.)

LH: Nancy, what are some of your favorite agility achievements?

I won the USDAA Nationals 4 years in a row, Scud, Riot, Wicked and then Riot again. (LH's note-Nancy was the first competitor ever to do this!) Scud took 6th place at the World championships even though he had lymphoma and was on chemotherapy, no dog had that much heart or worked any harder for a handler, EVER. 7 times on the World Team, 4 with Scud, 3 with Riot. Ace’s bronze medal at the EO in 2009 was pretty cool. I am the first American, and one of the first non-Europeans to medal at the European Open.

I am honored to coach the AKC World Team, and have been rewarded with lots of team and individual medals. Three gold, four silver, and one bronze since starting as Assistant Coach in 2005, and moving to Head Coach in 2006. I miss competing at the World Championships, but have competed at the European Open the last three years and won bronze in 2009 with Ace.

LH: How do you think the US compares to other countries in their training and handling?

The US has the talent; great dogs, great handlers. What we don't have is exposure at local trials to European gnarly courses and intense competition to win, not just go clean on those courses.

LH: I know in the international competition videos that I see, there are a lot of different handling styles and a lot of courses in Europe are quite different than what we usually see here.

Europeans look at times to be messier in their handling, they are all over the place, no rules it seems, just get'er done! The Americans generally have a cleaner handling style, not quite as much intensity. It has served us well as we have brought home many medals. If we ran head to head with the Europeans more often it would give us a different, but maybe not better, perspective.

LH: When you and the competitors that you coach for the World Team get ready to compete in Europe, do you try to build sequences that reflect these courses and start working on really tight turns? Because this is what I've been doing, just in case someone invites me to be on a world team or something. Hint hint.

We work both European courses and drills which are focused on teaching skills we need to get through those courses fast and clean. Balanced work is best, straight line or arcs of go-on's, big runs with the dogs leaving out strides, and then tight and collected work to get through the really tight bits. If you focus on too much collection, you get a tighter but sometimes slower working dog. If you just do the speed work, you are toast in the technical sequences. You need both!

LH: You have been doing agility and teaching agility since the early '90's. Besides the obvious changes in the equipment, what do you think about the evolution of the sport?

Sometimes I like the changes, sometimes I don't. Horrid angles to contacts, sequences that jerk the dog around too much are not fun. Some of the judges know how to design courses with threadles, serps and lots of challenge that still give some logical flow to a course. I love that. But there are plenty of courses that are very technical and have no flow. I want to run with my dog, that is the fun part, and I want most of the course to be at least somewhat logical!

LH: Aside from the equipment changes (right now we're going through the changes of wider pole spacing and rubber contact surfaces), where do you think agility is headed right now? Any predictions?

I really dislike all the equipment differences from organization to organization. As an instructor it means I need to have 2 sets of contacts with both rubber and sand surface. We need to provide weave poles with bases that are 21, 22 and 24 inches. Jump heights are also all over the place. I feel sorry for our dogs never getting to really know a piece of equipment well and just stick with it. I hate all the metal equipment, too many places for a dog to be injured. I wish it could all be wood and plastic and rubber.

I think agility in the US is going to keep getting more challenging, and we are going to need to adapt to new rules and equipment changes for a while.

LH: Your students range from first time puppy foundation class students to World Team members. Between you and Jim, how many classes do you guys teach every week? I know you both also travel to teach seminars fairly frequently-where are some of the cool places you go? And you spend a lot of time taking care of your agility ranch and your dogs. Do you get enough time to practice?

There is NEVER enough time to practice!! We have 2 to 5 classes each weekday at Power Paws. Jim teaches most of the group classes, I end up traveling more and teaching a fair amount of seminars. This past year I taught in the hills of Carolina, at the Clean Run building in Massachusetts, in both Kona and Honolulu, at the Rogue River in Oregon, and along the beautiful California coast in Santa Barbara just to name a few of them. I am lucky to teach for some wonderful clubs and instructors, and in some beautiful locations.

LH: What's your favorite way to spend time with your dogs?

Going for a walk around the property or taking them for a swim. I love the winters here as the grass is green, and our pond fills up. We all get wet and muddy and take lots of walks in the hills. And I love getting together with friends to train agility when I am not teaching, just playing.

LH: What's your good advice for everybody that wants to get better at agility?

Dump the attitude, get rid of corrections, make your teammate your best friend with lots of play. If your dog will play with you in some way, engage and look you in the eye with a smile on her face then you are half way there. Play does not need to be tugging with a toy, that's an easy way to play but there are lots of others as well. You should be able to get down on the ground and roll around with your dog and just have fun making physical contact with each other.

LH: How about me and Gustavo, Nancy? We sure do want to get better!

Gustavo is a challenge, some dogs have A.D.D. and that is all there is to it. Gustavo may be one of them. You have made great progress setting criteria while having fun and playing with him. You can't let the games end when he decides he can't tug or retrieve. You need to be willing to change if you want him to change. It is very easy to slide into creating stress when we think we are working on getting our dogs to play. You need to keep up the detective work on finding what turns him on and keeps his attention and attitude in high gear. That might be chasing you, that might be getting a hundred liver treats, some days it will be tugging. It is all ok.

LH: Nancy, what is the Secret to the agility universe?

Run straight, turn, repeat as necessary.

You heard it here first. Thanks Nancy, and Jim!


vici whisner said...

Super wonderful secret interview. As usual Laura, your interviews show the underbelly of the agility universe.

team small dog said...

Wait! I was trying to keep underbellies OUT of the photos. Although Nancy doesn't even have to wear a shaper to hold hers in. So I guess it's ok if it shows somewhere.

kiwichick said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the interview :-)

Amanda said...

Great interview! And if Nancy can actually run a course in those heels, more power to her, I say.

agilityfoot said...

The things you can get people to do. Love it!

Anonymous said...

I loved the interview and the photos of Nancy and Jim with the insightful captions! The best piece of advice from the article was to keep your dogs on the couch to keep hair off the floor. Now why didn't I think of that?

team small dog said...

Because Nancy is the one that knows the secrets to the dog agility universe. But now everyone knows and floors everywhere will be free from dog hair!

Unknown said...

great interview- LOVED the photos! Can Nancy come teach classes closer to me in Walnut Creek please!!!
Maura Warnecke

Elf said...

I am stunned into almost not laughing out loud with delight at the sight of nancy in skirt & heels and Jim in a button-down shirt and tie! Best photos ever!

Jen Voelkel said...

Puts agility into perspective for me. I'm much too serious. Maybe I need more hops in my life.

Katie said...

Hilarious! It's an instant agility classic. I think you've outdone yourself.

Ellen said...

Great interview and the photos are fabulous. The heels and the facemask just make the whole agility outfit work.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm wondering if I should buy a new outfit specifically for contact training.

Anonymous said...

Well done Laura!! You seem to have captured everyday life at Powerpaws very well. Yes, there are some closely guarded secrets of dog agility. But the heels and facemasks really caught me by surprise. Are they available from Cleanrun?

team small dog said...

I am guessing at some point now, Clean Run would start carrying an array of high heels and respirators. Because if Nancy's wearing it now, it's probably just a matter of time before it catches on in the rest of the agility world.