Friday, December 31, 2010

Finally, A Chance to Go Play

To say the dogs and I are suffering from cabin fever is an vast understatement.  The snow has been too deep to run any agility or even practice Treibball.  Thursday is open course night at the Quad Cities Dog Center, but unfortunately, the weather has gone to h.... every Thursday this month with the exception of the first one.

I have Belle entered in a NADAC trial this weekend at the QCDC, and Micky and David will be running Dusty on Sunday.  We've been socked in with fog for almost 48 hours; hopefully, it will dissipate this evening.  However, the warm temperatures and southerly winds that have brought the fog, have also melted much of the snow, and I was able to go out and run Belle and Dusty on the course that is still set up from last month.  Belle was her ever conscientious self and did the course like we hadn't had a four-week break from agility.  Dusty was pretty good, but he needed body support to not pull off obstacles.  He also was not listening as well as he normally does.  But for such an over-the-top dog, he did pretty well.

Since it is still foggy and my jump standards are white PVC, I didn't try any bonus line stuff with Belle.  Instead I decided to bring out some balls and practice Treibball with Dusty and Belle.  Dusty still doesn't caught on to the concept that the idea is to push the ball toward me and the goal, so I didn't do much work with him.  I decided to see if Belle could still be sent out and bring in the ball that I indicated.  She did a really good job of it.  Also, on the last ball that she brought back, it started to slip by the side of the goal and she cut it off and pushed it in. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Zen and The Snowplow

We are having our first snow of the season, and there is already about 8" of snow on the ground.  Luckily, my next door neighbor, Woody, has a plow.  As you can imagine, normally all bedlam breaks loose when he plows his yard since the drive lays along the north side of our backyard.  However, the relaxation work is paying off.  Dusty gave one wild bark which set the others off, but they all stopped when Ed told them to.

I got out my treats and played Leslie McDevitt's Look at That game with the dogs when Woody came over to plow our drive.  Only Dusty got the point of the game:  He had to look at Woody's truck and then look at me to get a treat.  The others just stared at me hoping for a treat.  The new, in-control Dusty is just so cool. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday Night Practice at QCDC

Tonight's course was a JWW course designed by Laura English for last weekend's trial at Camp Bandy.  Here is a rough approximation of the course.
When I walked this course, I thought the biggest challenge was getting the dog into the correct end of the tunnel at #9.  However, very few people had a problem with this.  Upon exiting the tunnel though several dogs took off-course #8.

The serpentine 13-15 proved to be an area where precious seconds could by lost on the run.  My plan was to run the black path, and I did so with both Dusty and Belle.  With Dusty, I failed to support him out to the second jump of the pinwheel, so on our next run I tried the red path which many of the other handlers had taken.  The biggest danger with this path was sending the dog into the wrong end of the #15 tunnel by showing too much forward motion.  A couple of dogs  failed to heed the front cross between #12 and #13 and either took a very loopy path or actually entered the weaves.  I found that I had much more control over the dogs' lines when I used the red handler's path.

Tonight was huge for Dusty and me.  I think all the relaxation work that I've been doing with him may be paying off.  Micky and David are in California for the AKC Invitationals with Micky's Westie, Woody, so I did all the running with Dusty this evening.  I was so proud of him.  He managed to go to the start line without barking, spinning or air-biting.  We experienced only one minor melt-down (when I failed to support him in the pinwheel and insisted on re-starting it instead of going with the flow), but there was only barking, no air-biting.  I think he only barked at me one other time on course (when I rear-crossed him going into a tunnel).

It's not that Dusty ever gave me attitude on course.  It's just that he gets higher than a kite and reverts to whirling dervish mode.  To have him run and not experience a meltdown, just makes me so happy, I could cry.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Communicating Clearly

Yesterday, I set up a jumpers course from a NADAC trial we went to in mid-October at the Quad Cities Dog Center in Davenport, Iowa.  When I saw where the bonus line was, my heart sank.  Too many turns to even consider the bonus line.  It was a fun course to run with Belle, but  I decided to set it up in my yard yesterday and work on trying to work it from the bonus line.

Here's the video I posted of Belle:

This is video of Dusty:

In running the course from the bonus line with Belle, it became very apparent that we have to work on "turn" some more.  With Dusty, I want to eliminate head checking that was so noticeable after the jump #11 in the four jump pinwheel.

I went out this morning without the camera and worked on the rough spots.  I finally came to the realization that I may not really want to train Dusty and Belle to go out a great distance as I stop moving.  Stopping with Belle has a tendency to produce wrap or a tight turn, or, worse, a very confused dog who proceeds to the next obstacle without conviction. 

Actually, this is similar to running up to the handler line in Chances and stopping.  You've just given a very strong collection cue, yet what you really want is for the dog to go out away from you.  You want obstacle focus and speed; not handler focus and collection.

This problem was much more noticeable when I was running the course with Belle and Dusty.  I wanted to be able to send them into that pinwheel and be ready for the tricky bits that followed.  Well, I can do that.  But I may have to pass the plane of the first jump and support their path out to the second and third if I want to be clear in my handling.  That still leaves me plenty of time to get in position to handle the tricky bit that's coming up.  The more laterally distant I was from them, the better I handled it.  But there was still room for improvement on my part even at a distance.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

O would some power the giftie gie us --Robert Burns

An invaluable tool for analyzing your handling is a video footage of your runs.  This is especially true for those of us that train alone.  Since I have moved to an area where the closest instruction is 70 miles away, video has become an extremely important part of my training.

It doesn't really make a difference if you use the video recorder available on your camera or a video camera.  You're not making an Academy Award contender; you're recording your runs so that you can view them to see:
  • what went right
  • what went wrong
  • if there is something you'd like to try handling differently
  • if there are any gaps in your dog's training
An important consideration while filming is keeping both yourself and your dog in frame as much as possible.  If your dog goes off-course, the video can't tell you why if you can't see what you did to send your dog off-course.  If you did nothing wrong, then maybe you've found a gap in your training.

If you don't have someone readily available to film you, then a tripod is invaluable.  Just make sure you set it up far enough away from your course that you capture everything of interest.  The jumps will seem small in the viewfinder, but on a TV or computer screen the video will be big enough for critiquing the run.

I find it extremely helpful to be able to view my videos in slow motion.  Many video cameras offer slow motion viewing as an option.  If yours doesn't, just download it to your computer and view it with VLC Media Player.  The minus key on the number keypad engages slow motion; the plus key increases play speed.  VLC Media Player can be downloaded for free here.

Happy filming. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

In the Blink of an Eye - Working on Calming the Pack

Back in October, I posted about my efforts to end the frenetic behavior that Dusty displays when my neighbors come home.  I still have never had a chance to joyously beat the fence, and amuse my neighbor--the one imitation I did of insanity at the bay window left its desired impression on the dogs.  (Probably left an undesirable impression on the neighbors though ;-)  Dusty (and the other three) will still bark at the fence when my neighbors come home, but not as insanely, and the moment I open my window or the patio door, he and the others come away from the fence.

Tuesday night, I was able to run him on an AKC JWW course, and we had what was possibly the best run we've ever had.  (I'm sure it didn't hurt that David and Micky had already run him three times.)  However, despite the excellent run, Dusty still did some air-biting as we lined up at the start line.  He does this with me in many situations; he does not air-bite when David or Micky runs him.

About a week ago, I started working Karen Overall's relaxation protocol with Dusty and Belle.  A few days later, I decided to work with Libby and Max also.  I will be so over-joyed if eventually we can answer the front door without all bedlam breaking loose.  Dusty is going to repeat Day 6; Belle is on Day 7; Max has progressed to Day 3; and Libby will be repeating Day 2.

I also started reading Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt.  That got me trying to shape an eye blink.  All four dogs have been exposed to shaping behavior with a clicker, and until now the hardest thing that I have ever tried to shape was getting them to strutt.  In fact, we never truly perfected that one, but at least we got a start on it.  I think shaping the eye blink is even harder.  I was very surprised that Max, my Airedale, seemed to get the idea more quickly than the Aussies.  He did have an advantage though since I tell him to lie down every time he gets up, but he responded quite quickly to my "eyes wide open, followed by a blink" clue.  The Aussies, didn't seem to get that clue at all.

This morning, I decided to give everyone a chance to work on eye-blink shaping before breakfast.  I had everyone go into the sunroom and then brought them out one at a time.  Dusty was first and as he came through the door, he gave his customary air-bite and leap in the air.  My clicker was in my hand and spoke to me:  You can make him come through that doorway again (and again), and when he does it calmly, click and treat.  Oh, duh!  Of course.  Why did I never think of that before?  It took several times before Dusty did it correctly, but he did do it.  From now on, he will not be allowed to proceed through a doorway or gate or to his dish unless he does it calmly.

Wish me luck on my winter project of bringing calmness to the pack.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

JWW Practice Course

This evening at the Quad Cities Dog Center, they set up a JWW course designed by Jacqueline Hoye from the 2008 Great St. Louis Agility Club’s Thanksgiving Weekend Trial.  What a treat.  A JWW course that allowed for distance handling.  I ran this course using three rear crosses and one front cross a couple of times.  Unfortunately, Belle is not quite fast enough to allow me to do the rear crosses unless I put an extra wide curve in my path.  If I would remember to go into pinwheels with her, I could probably take some of the curve out of my line, but staying out of a pinwheel is very, very ingrained into my psyche.

I also tried taking a lead-out and doing two front crosses, a rear and then a final front cross.  I must admit that I liked this way of handling the course better.  I wasn't standing around waiting to rear cross, and I didn't have to take a loopy line to allow Belle to pass me.  It was also resulted in a run that was about .8 of a second faster.

David and Micky took turns running Dusty this evening, but I got the final run with him.  He did some air-biting at the start line, but the only other static I got from him was a couple of barks--no spins, no coming back at me for being late.  Just full steam ahead.  I ran him with the three rear crosses and single front.  He moves so much faster than Belle that I almost didn't make it for the front cross despite the fact that I sent him just as I did Belle.  

Here is the footage of Belle and me.  Unfortunately, :( my videographer was too busy chatting to capture my run with Dusty.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tunnel a la Potts

Grabbing Belle's attention as she exits a tunnel is sometimes problematical, so I decided to create a little exercise course based on the tunnel set-up from Lisa Pott's standard course that we ran on Friday.  
My original thought was to replace the weave poles with a jump, but when we ran the course it seemed a little too easy.  I replaced the jump at (51,20) with a teeter hoping it would be a more enticing obstacle for Belle coming out of a tunnel than a wingless jump.


My main objective with this set-up is directing Belle to a variety of different obstacles upon exiting the tunnel. There are four logical possibilities in the first exercise.  The dog could also be brought back over #3 as a fifth option.

The course can also be used for jump/tunnel discrimination exercise.  There are also a couple of serpentines embedded in the course.

Here's some video of Belle and me working on the tunnel exit discriminations.  I have nestled this course within the space defined by the dogwalk, A-frame and weaves, which were already set up from a previous course.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

AKC Trial - Muscatine, Iowa

Yesterday, Belle and I went to Muscatine, Iowa for an AKC trial.  We don't do many AKC trials because there are only two runs a day, and if I'm going to get up before the sun, I really want it to be worth my while.  Currently, I normally am only willing to travel to Davenport (70 miles) for an AKC trial, but the trial in Muscatine didn't start until noon, and it's only 100 miles, so what the heck.

The judge was Lisa Potts.  I worked as a bar setter in both Standard and JWW and had a real opportunity to watch the little dogs run.  I was really surprised to see how many of the 8" handlers didn't really handle.  Instead they ran with their dogs and pointed.  It was really a contrast when an energetic woman with an eager and fast Bichon took the line.  They attacked the course with gusto and it was a joy to watch.

Even with the 12" and 16" dogs, a lot of handlers had a tendency to run as close as possible to manage the contacts and weaves.  With the A frame, this was somewhat unfortunate as the course took an 80 degree turn to the left.  A few dogs had a straight ahead off-course after the A-frame, but most just had a real big loop in their path as they realized they were turning and not going straight ahead.

When walking the course, I pegged the teeter as being the default obstacle after the tunnel.  I opted to layer the wingless jump while Belle took the teeter, and when it was time to go tunnel to the weaves, I opted to run close to the weaves yo avoid pushing her out to the dogwalk and also so I could hang back and handle the serpentine from the take-off side.

I did not expect the tunnel to the teeter to be a problem, but for quite a few of the large dogs it was.  Like Belle, they came shooting out of the tunnel locked on the weaves.  It was such a shock because in walking the course, I made sure to check out what the dog would see emerging from the tunnel.  Guess I forgot to take into account the angle of the last section of the tunnel.  

Our jumpers run was much smoother, but unfortunately, my videographer got caught up in the moment and forgot to press "record."  The JWW course left me even more impressed with Lisa's ability to embed challenges (without harsh angles) in a deceptively easy-looking course.  When there are 100-200 runs on a given course, it so much more interesting if there are many different strategies used in solving the puzzle the judge has created.  And I can truthfully say, I was not bored watching the runs yesterday.

Anatomy of a Snooker Run

Belle and I do one or two CPE trials a year, although we may be doing  more of them in the future.  Last weekend, I traveled to the Fundog CPE trial in Round Lake, Illinois.  I had hoped to have video of all our runs, but alas, we only have video of one standard run and a very, very short snooker run.

The standard run was uneventful, but the snooker run was a learning experience.  Although my Q rate in snooker is pathetically low, I really enjoy the game since it is a test of the handler's ability to think--both in the planning stage and during the actual execution of the run.  I try to go for 7's and 6's.  I try to keep some degree of fluidity in the run.  I don't succeed often, but it sure is fun to try. 

This was my opening plan.  The tunnel was not bi-directional. 

As you will see in the video, Belle back-jumped the second red.  I wanted her to change to her left lead going over the jump and wrap left.  However, she is clearly turning right upon landing.   If I had reacted faster or planned our run differently, we could have gone around the backside of the tunnel to the #7, which is what many teams did.  But I planned for her to turn left and was too attached to that idea to go right.  I think the run still could have been saved at this point, but I came to a stop on the take-off side of the jump.  When Belle  realizes I want her to turn left, she does so.  Unfortunately, since I have not moved any further to my left, she nicely comes over the jump again.  Good dog; handler not so much.

Here's the video of our standard run.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Strategy: The Lead Out - Part Two

I feel that Belle runs her fastest when I only take a short lead out or a lateral lead out.  However, we also compete in USDAA and AKC, and sometimes the end of a course can be particularly complex.  If it will save me enough energy that I will be able to do a better job with the complex finish, I will take a longer than needed lead out.  Perhaps Belle won't run the course as fast as she might if I took a shorter lead out, but at least I will still be able to breathe at the end when I'm going to really need it.


Sometimes a lead out be the easiest way to avoid a tricky off-course trap.  This is the opening from a Grand Prix course we ran last year.  I lead out making sure Belle and I could see each other.  I called and as she committed to #2, I began rotating so I could move toward the tunnel opening.

Many of the handlers who tried to run with their dog on their left ended up sending them to the wrong end of the tunnel, especially if they tried to get in a front cross between #3 and #4.  Those who trusted their dog and did a post turn fared better since they weren't driving to get into position for the front cross.


This weekend, I experimented with doing a moving lead out.  I leave Belle at the start line and jog away, releasing her as get far enough ahead.  If you watched the video from Sunday, I am releasing her with a verbal "Okay" while I'm moving.  She seems to find it pretty motivating.

Last Weekend's Trial

RACE held a NADAC trial at the Quad Cities Dog Center Saturday and Sunday.  I really, really want to get Chances Q's and the Touch n Go Q's.  Saturday's Chances course was not that difficult, but the wheels fell off our run so badly that I just called it quits and ran to the finish line with Belle--something we've never done before.  Normally, I just go with any mistake and keep running like that was the plan.  But the miscommunication we experienced threw me for such a loop that I just couldn't think of any way to keep running a course.

Chances was the first run of the day, and I was a little apprehensive about more miscommunication.  I decided I just had to be clear in my body movements about where Belle was going and forget about trying to do fancy work with my hands.  (Maybe we'll work on the move that messed us up some more in training or maybe we won't.  But I won't be using it in a trial setting again until I'm sure Belle understands what she is being asked to do.)

We ended up doing well in our other classes except for Weavers when I learned a very valuable lesson.  I had walked the course with the idea of handling most of it from a small area in the middle of the course.  Then when we ran, I decided to run with Belle.  Unfortunately, I ended up at the end of an arc knowing we were supposed to go somewhere, but not knowing where since I had never viewed the course from where I was standing.  I made a choice (not the correct one) on the fly and we went with it and finished the run.  It is embarrassing to lose your way on a 14-obstacle course.

I'm not above changing how I run a course if I see others run it more efficiently and think I can do the same.  Unfortunately, no thought really went into my game plan change on Saturday--I just decided to run with Belle because I didn't want to stand around like a lump in the middle while she was running and weaving.  

Sunday's Elite Weavers - Approximate
Sunday, I also changed my weavers game plan after watching other teams run.  It was a rather obnoxious weavers course, or at least the way I was going to run it, it was obnoxious.  I had decided to do a front cross before before the weaves at #8 and #10.  The the angle from hoop before was such that if my front cross wasn't spot on, Belle would have to get around me to enter the weaves.  The advantage was that I would be on the inside of the exit turn after the front crosses.

However, waiting to change sides until the weave pole exit made drawing the dog's path pretty much a no-brainer, and all it took was a push (instead of a pull) to send the dog in the correct direction at the exit of the weaves.  I decided to trust that I could communicate the direction I wanted and Belle would read it correctly, and this "obnoxious" course turned out to be one of the most satisfying ones that Belle and I have ever run.  Everything just clicked so nicely into place.

Here's the video from five of Sunday's runs:

The missing run is Tunnelers where I once again learned that Belle could outrun me.  The opening was two straight tunnels and I made the mistake of releasing her as I ran by space between them.  She went flying by and my game plan was out the window since there was no way I could get to the center of the course.  I ran valiantly, and we managed to snag a Q by .15 of a second.  (We had a major bit of confusion about whether Belle was to enter a tunnel or run by it.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bad Habits

I attended a Sharon Nelson seminar on Thursday and Friday and learned a lot about building a relationship with your dog and putting an end to undesirable behaviors.  My pack has one bad habit that if I can put an end to it would make Sharon's seminar a bargain at twice the price.  When my neighbors come home, the dogs charge the fence and bark.  Dusty absolutely loses his mind and goes into an altered state.  Belle barks mostly out of "fear."  Libby loves to shoot off her mouth.  Max barks because the others are barking, and sometimes I suspect he does it to get them going so he can sit back and watch the chaos he has instigated.

I had planned to go up to the fence and beat on it and myself with an empty pop bottle when Dusty loses his mine barking at the neighbors.  My voice will hopefully remain upbeat and I am just going to have a fence-beating party.  I warned my neighbors so they don't call the men in little white coats to come take me away.  I didn't get a chance to try it yesterday, and today is football gathering day at the man cave next door, so I'll probably have to wait until Monday to try it.

Yesterday, the dogs went bonkers at the front window when someone pulled into the drive of my other neighbor's home.  I grabbed my empty pop bottle and joined them at the window.  It didn't have quite the effect I was hoping for--I was hoping they would all scatter.  For a short time, they all barked more intensely.  Then Dusty and Belle left the window.  Max continued to woof in his deep voice, and Libby began to howl.  (Before we moved into town, I used to lead the dogs in howl fests.  They used to really carry on when the Bears scored a TD.  I don't do that anymore because my neighbors might think I'm crazy.)  Anyway, I was less than impressed with the results of my first effort to stop the barking.  Poor Ed, my husband, was outside getting the mail.  The guy who pulled into my neighbor's drive gave him a quizzical look, and all Ed could do was shrug his shoulders and say, "Beats me."

This morning I was checking my e-mails when my neighbor pulled in.  Only Dusty and Belle were outside at the time.  When the barking started, I got up as fast as I could and grabbed my trusty empty pop bottle.  I think they may have stopped barking before I even got to the patio door, and as soon as I opened it, they come trotting to me.  AWESOME!!!!  They have come away from the fence before, but not without being called.

I'll be sure to post again if this turns out to be a success.

P.S. August 23, 2012.  Yeah, well.  The dogs will still charge the fence when the neighbors come home.  On the other hand, if I realize my neighbors are pulling into their driveway before Dusty and Libby lose it, I can often keep them from launching into full scale hysteria with a simple "leave it" or "come."

P.P.S.  April 10, 2013.  There has been a considerable improvement in the dogs' behavior at the fence.  (It's about time!)  I instituted a zero tolerance policy last fall and tried to stick with it.  Dusty is so much improved, he's like a different dog.  Unfortunately, Libby still enjoys barking way too much, but being consistently crated for doing so has helped.  I try to say "quiet" just once.  If the dog doesn't comply, then it's off for some alone time in a crate.  The most important points of my current campaign are using only one command, remaining neutral when I go get the dog to crate him/her, and of course, never allowing the barking to go without consequences.

Pain is a Good Motivator

I came to the realization yesterday that I have settled for behaviors in my dogs, thinking it was good enough.  For example, Belle was in the habit of taking treats like a piranha.  I had worked on breaking her of the habit ever since she was a puppy--she's 4.5 years old now.  I finally settled for managing the way I presented the treats to her.  Then about three weeks ago, she jumped into the air to grab a frisbee from my hand.  Unfortunately, my forefinger was on the rim where she grabbed it.  It resulted in two deep puncture wounds which fortunately are healing nicely and never showed any signs of infection.

Needless to say, this incident motivated me to put an end to Belle's fishy ways.  No more grabbing toys; no touching with teeth when taking a treat.  I didn't have to get nasty about it, but I did have to become emphatic and consistent about it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Attractive Off-Course

I also ran Belle on the Whatcom jumpers course.  The first time through, I left the bars on the ground, and was really surprised at how far we got.  I decided to put the bars up so the challenge would be a little closer to an actual course.  Belle did really well, but I quickly found that the #15 jump was a very viable off-course both in the beginning and end of the course.

I learned that if you're going to layer a jump like this one, you have to consider how you're going to handle passing through a box where one of the side jumps is not very far from the dog's intended path.

1.  Standing in the red area seems to be the worst handling choice, but even that can be overcome by issuing a quiet "out" command.

2.  When handling from a distance, a good choice is to be to the right of the off-course jump as the dog comes through the box.

3.  If running closer to the dog, running close to the off-course jump (but still layering it) seems to be enough information for the dog to continue from #2 to #3.

4.  The absolute worst choice I made was to run toward the lower right of the course as Belle passed through the box for the closing.

Needed: More Front Cross Training

(P.S. 03/23/11.  In re-watching the video, it is clear I'm the one who needs more front cross training.  I'm a late with my pre-cue almost every time.  Once Dusty is in the air, he can do nothing about changing direction until he lands.  He MUST have the information before his take-off stride in order to achieve a tight turn.)
This morning, I set up the Whatcom jumpers course posted October 23rd and ran it with Dusty.  When David ran Dusty on a Regular course a week ago, he encountered the same problem that I had with Dusty this morning--Dusty failed to heed a front cross and turn off a straight line.  After viewing the footage from last Sunday in slow motion, I came to the conclusion that Dusty was clearly not heeding a timely front cross.  When I analyzed today's footage, I found the same thing to be true.

Below are four series of frames from today.  In the first series, I gave timely signals, but no verbal command, and Dusty takes the off-course jump.

Front cross pre-cue given.

Handler rotation begun.
Handler rotated 180 degrees.

Message ignored.

In the second series, I issued a "come" command, but Dusty lands and then turns, adding a couple of strides to his path.

In this third series, Dusty is coming around a circle of jumps, but despite the really early pre-cue and "come", he fails to start turning until after he lands.

The last two photos are from our effort to do this course from the 15-point bonus line.  Either Dusty has become pattern-trained, or the use of "wrap" instead of "come" combined with my lateral distance has resulted in what I would have like to have seen in our other efforts.  Dusty is already turning as he comes over the jump.  Notice how he has shaved a couple of yards off his path to the next jump.

Here is the video:

Luckily, there are a couple of sequences I can set up using this course to work with Dusty on his ability to read a front cross when there is layering involved.  But another thing to keep in mind is that "wrap" may be more effective in getting him to turn off a straight line than "come."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thursday Night Run-Thru

Thursday night's course was an Excellent Standard course designed by Siong Black.  I was really surprised when I walked it how flowing it was for an AKC course.  The only part that was iffy was the angle of approach to the dogwalk.  Either your dog's performance of the dogwalk included squaring himself up for the approach, or you managed it to make sure they didn't fall off.  Most of the handlers managed the approach to some degree (including me).  However, there were several dogs that had been trained very well and needed no help squaring up to the ramp.

I was able to run the first time through, but then my back muscles started to spasm, so I lead out and walked slowly through the course keeping as much lateral distance between Belle and me as possible.  It seemed like she was running so slow, but her run was only 4.5 or so seconds slower, and a lot of that was sucked up by slow contacts.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A New Sport Comes to the US - Treibballing

I found a reference to Treibball when looking at the schedule for the upcoming pet show in St. Charles, Illinois.  Since I didn't have a clue, I Googled the word and found it refers to a game played in Germany that involves herding exercise balls into a goalie's net.  There are numerous videos on YouTube--most in German.  However, Living with Dogs has several YouTube videos in English that show how to begin training.  They also offer a book translated from German, Treibballing Handbook 

From watching the German videos, treibballing looks like an excellent way to exercise your dog's body and mind and to increase the handler-dog working bond.

Dusty is a reactive, over-the-top dog who gets very excited in the presence of large balls.  I took him out and worked on sending him to a mat, which is step one.  I was really shocked that he was able to go to a mat and lie down.  I didn't think I had taught him that behavior, but apparently I did.  (Either that or he learned from watching me teach it to other dogs.)

The next step was to bring out the pig ball.  (It's a hard plastic ball about 18" in diameter that was designed to keep pigs from getting bored.)  Dusty goes ape over this ball, and I very rarely let him play with it.  While straddling the ball, I sent Dusty to his mat.  He was able to do it, but it was hard for him to ignore the ball.  When released to his reward, he lunged at the ball several times.  If Dusty can learn to do this new sport, it may prove to be transforming experience as far as his general reactivity and self-control are concerned. 

4RK9's NADAC Trial

Belle, Dusty and I went to the 4RK9's NADAC trial this past weekend.  I was really hoping to have a nice course to try for a bonus run, but none of the courses were similar to what we have been training.  We did try on Saturday's Touch n Go course, but Belle had a "deer in the headlights" look when I tried to send her out.  Our distance work payed off big time in Saturday's Chances run which involved sending the dog out 35 feet not once, but twice.  Ironically, Sunday's Chances course involved no great distances and only one Elite team Q'd.  Overall, Belle and I were 8 for 12.

Dusty and I were 1 for 4 on Saturday.  On Sunday, he ran with David Jerome of the Quad Cities Dog Center and went 3 for 6.  (Actually, they would have been 4 for 6, but Dusty ran out of the ring to me after one of his runs.)  Saturday's Q is the only Q I've gotten with Dusty this year, so he will be running exclusively with David in the future.

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. - John Wooden

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chances Sequence -- Snooker Skill

I originally designed this Chances sequence with the handler's line at an Elite distance.  However, once Belle started running it, we ran into a major snag, namely the send from #5 to #6.

When I tried sending Belle to #6 from the H1 position, she ended up taking the wrong end of the tunnel.  When I stood at the H2 position, Belle either took the wrong end or took the off-course red jump on her way to #6.  It was an interesting challenge.

I taught Belle to take obstacles that present themselves as a straight line in our foundation work.  This is a skill that is extremely useful in straightforward closings, but sometimes, I find other spots where I can use it as well.  If I can just run my fastest, trusting Belle to take the obstacles that are in front of her as she hurries to catch up with me, it allows us to get a nice burst of speed in some of our runs.

I looked carefully at the path from #5 to #6, and from my point of view, the off-course jump is definitely not in line with them.  If I wanted Belle to take that jump on her way to the tunnel, I would put pressure on her line and give her a specific verbal cue to take that jump.  I think Belle took the off-course jump because the distance from #5 to the tunnel was about 30 feet--a rather big spacing between obstacles.

Although, this is not a particularly NADAC-like challenge, it is one that we will re-visit since by-passing obstacles not in line with each other is a useful skill in Snooker. Belle has grabbed obstacles on her way to my lead out position at the back of a Snooker course in the past, so we always practice this skill before a USDAA or CPE trial.  This exercise ups the ante by requiring Belle to "bypass" an obstacle on a send; something I've never tried in trial.

Video of Yesterday's Course

It is absolutely beautiful outside today, so I decided to set up the camera and video a little bit of work using the course I shared yesterday.  Since the dogwalk was already there, I added it to my course as you will see in the video.

A word about my red merle, Dusty.  He is a rescue that I adopted almost six years ago.  He has always had a difficult time with head-checking.  Possibly because I lacked the skill and timing to get my commands out fast enough.  In the early days, this was noticeable even when he was jumping; now it shows up mostly when I send him to a tunnel.  He has collided with the occasional sandbag when continuing to run at full speed while looking over his shoulder at me.

It took Dusty and me three calendar years to earn our EAC, and to date, he has only one Elite Chances Q.  Partly this is because I no longer run him in trials very often.  However, I will be running him this Saturday, so wish us luck.  Sunday, he will run with his new best friend, David.  Unlike me, David can actually run fast enough to keep up with Dusty, and Dusty really, really likes it.  In fact, he was quite miffed the first time he heard David running his own dog at a trial.  (He's gotten over that.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tunnel Sends, Discriminations and Wraps

I designed the course below so I could work on turning Belle off a straight line to a tunnel and to work on sending Dusty into a tunnel without  head checking.
It can be used for speed laps as shown, with or without the bonus lines; for tunnel end discriminations (white #9 to black #1 or white #1); for tunnel/jump discriminations; and for wrap or tight work. 

A Visitor and Another Regular Course

I found this charming fellow waiting for me out on the agility field Sunday morning.

After finishing up with the last Regular course I set up, I searched through my files, and found another one that would allow me to keep the dogwalk where it was and just move the A-frame a little.   
I was very pleased with Belle's ability to handle this with me remaining behind the 15-point bonus line.  Her only weak spot was making the turn from #4 to #5.  More than half the time on her initial run, she took the off-course tunnel.

I was amazed when I ran Dusty on the reverse of this course.  He was able to run about 3/4's of it with me remaining behind the 15-point line.  He seemed to run out of motivation or confidence around #16.  But for a dog who only is worked with lateral distance, he did very well.

Dusty had a very difficult time with the weave pole entrance.  He insisted on wrapping the first pole and coming in on the left side of the weaves.  I finally resorted to putting up a gate so that wasn't an option, and we spent some time working on weave pole entries.

I was really surprised that a dog with so many years of agility behind him didn't have enough muscle memory to keep him from entering the poles on the wrong side.  We've had weave issues in the past, but they were mostly a matter of Dusty blowing by the entry (on the right side of the weaves) because he didn't want to collect himself.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More 15-Point Bonus Work

We have a NADAC trial coming up, so I decided to start putting up full courses and practicing the distance challenges.  I set this one up yesterday.

While walking it, I got the brilliant brainstorm to do the last half first, and to my amazement, Belle nailed it.  Then we tried the first half, which involves sending Belle away from me over the A-frame.

Unfortunately, Belle has a tendency to creep into the yellow on both the A-frame and the dogwalk unless I'm running a path parallel to hers.  I don't have to be close, but I have to be moving or calling her toward me.

I was very pleased when Belle managed to do the A-frame with a minimum of creeping.  When I released her from the A-frame though she made straight for the tunnel.  I decreased my distance and tried again, showing Belle that I wanted her to turn to the jump.  (Actually, from the bonus line, it would either be a "come over" or a "left over.")

Interestingly, when I ran this course in a trial earlier this year, I failed to Q with either Dusty or Belle.  I messed up by trying to do a front cross between #6 and #7 and ended up pulling both dogs off the #8 jump.  I managed to redirect Dusty to #8, but then he dropped the bar.  With Belle, I just kept going.

This morning (Wednesday) I went out with Belle and we ran the course in full.  Everything went great until she exited the weaves and took an off-course jump.  Once I analyzed the video, it was quite easy to see why.  By the time I issued my "go over" command she had turned out of the weaves and was facing the off-course jump.  The proper cue would have been "out over."

In order to practice getting Belle to take the correct jump upon exiting the weaves, I sent her into them several more times.  There was no weave issue involved originally, but after being sent to do the weaves several more times, Belle became confused about what I wanted and her weave pole performance suffered.  Moral:  Think carefully about how to work with you dog when trying to fix a handling problem, or you may end up creating a different problem.

Monday, October 4, 2010

More Distance Exercises

I set up another Jane Simmons-Moake course this morning and had a go with Belle and Dusty.  This is the exercise we worked on:

I started with Belle and quickly discovered that getting the correct end of the tunnel (white circle #4) was a very difficult thing.  The first time, Belle took the dogwalk, and on our other attempts, she took the wrong end of the tunnel (white square #4).  I brought out Dusty and figured we'd just mess around and do what we could do with this exercise.  To my amazement, he had absolutely no trouble getting the correct entrance. 

I decided to try this exercise with Belle again and tape it.  Maybe I could see what was going wrong.  I never did figure why it didn't work, but more importantly, we eventually got it right.  Here's the video:

My statement above brings to mind advice from Fred Brattain (The Art of Getting Out of Your Own Way).  When you analyze a run, don't think about what you did wrong; visualize what you should have done.  It is a subtle distinction; but one that is worth making.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Follow-Up on JSM Distance Exercise

I've been working on the distance exercises from Ms Simmons-Moake's May, 2008 article for several days now, and I've learned a lot.
Pushing out to #7 works about 2/3's of the time for Belle and me.

Going from #7 to #8 requires a verbal "wrap" from me as well as signaling the turn to #8 as soon as Belle has committed to #7 is not enough.  It requires a verbal "wrap" or it's either not going to happen or it's going to be a very wide turn.

I can't take #9 for granted even though it's close to me.

Belle responds nicely to the drop of my arm and turn of my body to take the inside jump after #4.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jane Simmons-Moake

Jane Simmons-Moake has been writing articles about distance handling for at least seven years.  Among my old Clean Run articles are many articles from her "Unleashing Velcro" and "Distance Challenge" series.  Recently, I purchased her book, Unleashing the Velcro Dog, and I certainly would recommend it to anyone who is interested in improving their distance skills.

Exercise One
A few evenings ago, I ran across this interesting set of exercises from Ms Simmons-Moake's May, 2008, "Distance Challenge."  I decided to set up the course and see if I might gain some insight on how to get Belle to turn at a distance.  The difficulties we encountered on the first Flying Squirrel Exercise certainly pounded home the fact that I'm pretty much at a loss on how to accomplish this on my own.  I set up this course and worked the first three exercises.
Exercise Two
Exercise Three
Being able to handle the exercises from behind the blue line is the ultimate goal.  However, you and your dog are not comfortable with that much distance, Ms Simmons-Moake recommends using the red line.  As you will see in the video of my efforts, when I need to work on a tough sequence, I move in even closer than that if I have to.

Exercise Four
The only change I've made to the course is the additional tunnel at the bottom of the course map.  It proved to be a great doggy accelerator.

In the video, Belle and I try the first four exercises.  Take note, I actually set the bars in the jumps for a change.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Postscript to the "Universe is Cheering Me On"

I was able to get a photo of my cheerful little agility bluebird this afternoon.  Looks like he hasn't completely blown his juvenile coat yet. Uh, I mean molted his juvenile plumage. 


The Flying Squirrel - Exercise 1

I set up the Flying Squirrel and started playing around with it.  I decided the first exercise I'd video would be the simple wrap exercise I shared in Saturday's post. My ultimate goal for Belle is to be able to send her to the tunnel while I remain behind the red distance line.
In the video below, I demonstrate some of the steps involved in increasing the distance from which you can handle the wrap to the tunnel.  I begin with Libby at the "good start" position.  Since she doesn't send to the tunnel the first time, I move in with her as needed.  With a less experienced dog, I would move in even closer to tunnel.  However, since I am working on sending to the tunnel, I would not get closer than  four or five feet to the tunnel entrance.  As the dog gains confidence, I can then work my way back to the black distance line.
When I began writing this post, I thought there were only two components involved in achieving the distance needed to successfully complete this exercise beginning from "the goal" without crossing the purple distance line:  send distance and lateral distance.  As I worked toward "the goal" with Belle, I discovered being able to send her from this spot also involves getting her over jumps A & B and then being able to turn her to the right after C/#1. 
(P.S.  03/21/11.  As you watch the video notice how much more successful we are when I remain in motion rather than coming to a standstill and depending upon arm movement to send the dogs.)

I was pleased with how well the dogs did.  Dusty did a nice job with a bit of increased send distance, and Belle was able to handle both the increased send and lateral distance challenges.  I think that if obstacles #1-#3 had been the only obstacles on the field, Belle and I could have completed this exercise from way out by "the goal."  (I wish I would have thought to try that before tearing down this course.)  When I set up this course again, I will work on the exercise below.  Once we can do that, I'll see if we can get that pesky wrap into the tunnel.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Meet the Flying Squirrel

I've been working on getting seven years worth of Clean Run articles put into binders so that they are more accessible.  I ran across a figure eight set of exercises that Kathy Keats prepared in "Which Way to Excellence?" (Oct., '04).  I'm always looking for courses that I can set up without having to haul out my surveyor's wheel and tape.  I adapted this basic exercise and came up with the Flying Squirrel.  The possibilities are endless.  (The tail on the flying squirrel is a gate.  If you don't have one, just use another jump.)

In this example, I was working on sending Dusty over the two jumps and wrapping him through the gap to the tunnel without passing the plane of the jumps.  Always work the mirror image of sequences like this since one way proves to be much move of a challenge than the other.  (For Dusty, the sequence on the right was like pulling teeth, and it had to be broken down into even smaller steps.)


Here is a longer sequence using the same set-up.  You can add your own distance line or bonus box if you want to work on distance skills.  

This is the Flying Squirrel on steroids.  By adding the jump below the tunnel, you can work on some pretty tough discriminations at speed.  The gate at the bottom can be replaced with the obstacle of your choice to increase the possibilities even more.

As with most of my training, I don't usually set any bars in the jumps when working sequences using this set-up.  I want my dogs to run fast, and I want to learn to be able to handle them when they're running at their fastest.

Wishing I Were There: 2010 NADAC Championsips - Round 4

Last night, I watched most of Round 4 of the NADAC Championships on Eric Larsen's live feed.  I've always had doubts that I would have the stamina to "run" the longer courses that are designed for the Championships, but I think with a little bit of conditioning on my part plus the distance skills Belle possesses, I just might be able to make it without collapsing at around obstacle #25.

I tried to create a course map using Eric's video.  It will probably need tweaking if I ever manage to find enough tunnels to set it up.  However, for my training purposes, it will enable me to set up exercises to practice the skills needed to handle the challenges presented by this course. 

The opening, #1-#5 is extremely fast and was handled in many different ways.  Those who started with their dogs had to have very solid distance skills to get their dog to #5.  Taking a modest lead out enabled the fleet of foot to run with their dogs through this section.  For those with good distance skills, a modest lead out provided the opportunity to handle #3-#5 either without layering the weaves or layering them.  #5 was not necessarily a gimme if you chose to layer the weaves.  Although many dogs committed to #5 upon exiting #4, many others took the off-course jump when their handlers failed to maintain pressure on their the line.

If the handler fell behind, coming out of the #7 tunnel provided many dogs with ample opportunity to spin and bark in frustration.  The smoothest handling of this area involved being ahead of the dog.  A few handlers were enough ahead that they were able to execute a front cross between #7 and #8.  This turned out to be a HUGE advantage since nearly half the dogs running took the off-course jump (#14) instead of turning left after #9 and taking the hoop.  For the few handlers that did the first front cross, a second between #10 and #11 made it pretty clear where the true path was.  #12 through #17 was pretty straightforward.

Using what I learned from watching 100+ dogs run this course, my virtual plan for running the first half with Belle is as follows: Lead out between the first tunnel and the dogwalk--keeping as far to the right as #16 will allow. Pace myself so that I don't pass the plane of the weaves and send Belle to #3. Layer the weaves being sure to put pressure on Belle's line from #4 to #5 while I continue sliding to my right so I can do a front or blind cross between #7 and #8. This puts me in an excellent position to do another front cross between #10 and #11, thus avoiding the very looming off-course jump after #9. Run with Belle on my left and send her to the tunnel under the dogwalk.
I think we could execute this handling plan if I kept my handling spot on.  However, the last half of the course would definitely require further training.

A rear cross between the weaves and jump #19 was the surest way to keep the dogs out of the off-course tunnel.  (However, even that didn't always work.)  Not layering the weaves was also the easiest way to handle the turn from tunnel #21 back to tunnel #22.  Unfortunately, once again the #5/#23 tunnel is not a gimme, and if you have to handle the entry, that puts you way behind your dog for the finish.  For many of the teams, the two tunnel finish ate up five or more seconds in spinning and/or redirecting!

(A spot that caused trouble for some of the less experienced teams was the tunnel/A frame/tunnel discrimination.  For the handlers that had to think about handling the discrimination, there was either a bobble in the dog's line or an off-course.  Those that ran as if there were no discrimination, usually had no problem--their dog took the A frame with conviction.)

This leads me to two different scenarios for my theoretical run with Belle, both of which require skills we don't currently possess.

First scenario: I work on improving Belle's response to the turn command so that I don't have to rear cross after the weaves. That would enable me to hang back and direct her on the tricky return to tunnel #22. But doing this while layering the weaves would also take additional training on turning sharply. I would run between #7 and the A-frame and send Belle on to finish the tunnels. This would require further "go on" training since I would be seriously falling behind once Belle hit the A-frame.

The second scenario begins similarly, but entails being able to handle Belle from further away and layering so that I can run the red line which would enable me to be a token presence at the last obstacle. To me this is the much better option. My yardage is shortened considerably, plus I can be a part of the finish. Handling #18 through #22still calls for additional training in executing sharp turns accurately, but the rest of the plan is more a matter of increasing the handling distance we're comfortable with.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Strategy: The Lead Out - Part One

Belle is a pretty quick little dog, and although I am capable of bursts of speed, I am not capable of running fast enough to keep up with her over the entire length of a course.  Lateral distance cuts down the yardage I have to cover considerably, but still in order for me to handle a course most effectively, I usually need to take some sort of lead out.  How far I lead out depends upon the course at hand.  

If the course has a fast opening, I have to take a long lead out so that my dog does not leave me in the dust.  For example, if we were running the Tunnelers course below, I would lead out to at least the exit of the second tunnel with Belle.  That way, I know I can beat her to the exit of the third tunnel and be in a position to direct her to the correct fourth tunnel (my prime consideration if I want to prevent an off-course).  Additionally, I'm not so far ahead that I can't run and thus encourage her to run as fast as she can to catch me (my prime consideration if I'm interested in achieving getting the fastest run we can possible get).

Dusty needs no encouragement to run fast--it's part of who he is.  If I were running this same course with Dusty, I would lead out to the exit of the third tunnel, face him and release him to the tunnels.  My distance from him is cuing extension; facing him is my signal that he will be changing directions when he gets to me.  (Sometimes this works; sometimes not so such.)

In my theoretical examples, my handling yardage for Belle is about 71 yards, and for Dusty it is about 10 yards less.  Without the luxury of a lengthy lead out, my yardage would be increased by 10 yards for Belle and 20 yards for Dusty.  More importantly in Dusty's case, I doubt very seriously I could get to a spot between the exit of #3 and the entrance of #4 in time to prevent the off-course because the faster you run, the faster your dog will run.