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.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Universe is Cheering Me On

Before I left for the Quad Cities Tuesday night, I began setting up the mirror image of the Chances course posted on the Whatcom Agility Blog September 19th entry.  Since Belle and I are only five Chance Q's from our second NATCH, I thought this would be a good course to try.  (I did a mirror image of the course only because of where my dogwalk is currently situated.  No point in moving it any more often than I have to ;-)

I wasn't feeling very well due to a chronic lack of sleep--but I got a burst of energy after reading Cynthia Kennedy's article "NADAC:  What is the Distance Line?" in Dog Sport, August, 2010.  I don't subscribe to Dog Sport but this issue appeared in my mailbox Wednesday morning.  I think it was a thank you gift for my recent tunnel purchase from NTI.  (The sale price of the tunnel and the free shipping were really great.)

According to the article, one Q in a thousand is a bonus Q!  There is advice from three successful bonus line handlers regarding how to train for the bonus point distance.  For us, the most useful tip was to pick an arbitrary "bonus" line when trialing and practice handling at that distance.  As you become more adept at the distance thing, gradually move the line out until you get to the 15-point line.  (I kind of already knew that, but I've never done it at trial--only in training.)

The article energized me out of my sleep-deprived stupor, and I went outside to complete setting up the course.  Well, the bluebird of happiness was sitting on one of my jump standards singing his cheer, cheerful charmer song.  Then as I was completing my tweaking, a band began to play--I live down the street from the junior high.  Talk about getting a message from the universe to enjoy the day.

I was raring to run, but first I had to transport a rescue dog, so I was unable to try the course out until late afternoon.  I ran Dusty first, and he wasn't buying into playing Chances.  I put him back in the house and brought out Belle and gave the course a whirl.  The 1-4 sequence after the second tunnel proved to be quite a challenge for us.

Here are the clips of Belle running this course followed by clips of us working short segments of the course.

I gave my troubles with Dusty some thought, and decided to bring him out and just run this course as if it were a Regular course.  Just getting through a course without him barking at me is huge.  Since we were successful, I decided to try handling it as a Chances course.  Not too bad for a team that has only one Elite Chances Q.

P.S.  I was watching the video of Belle in slow motion today (03/20/11).   I can see that I failed to take smaller steps as I was moving toward the distance line on the viewer's left.  That left me with no option but to stop and depend upon the BIG ARM to push Belle out to the jumps.  Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn't.  A much better option is to plan your path with the intention of remaining in motion.  It results in a clearer signals to the dog, plus it makes timing of cues much easier (at least for me).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Time for a Re-Think

A few nights ago, I was clipping articles from back issues of Clean Run, and I found an article by Allison Bryant entitled "Going with the Flow" (Feb., 2006).  The flow Allison is referring to is the ability to deal with missed obstacles and off-courses so that your dog doesn't realize a mistake was made. 

Many handlers have difficulty coping when "their dog makes a mistake."  I put quotes around those five words because 99.9% of the time, the handler is responsible for any mistakes that are made.  But what about when the dog jumps a contact zone?  Knocks a bar?  Has the zoomies?  Yep, even then--chances are mistakes are either the result of handling errors or training shortfalls.  Believe me, I know.  Running my Airedale was usually an exercise in futility, and I dismissed him as being impossible to work with.  However, in moments of rationality, away from agility equipment, I realized even back then that I was responsible for his mistakes.  If I had been a better trainer, Max would have run agility with more focus and we would have been a much better team.

When a mistake is made on course, many handlers will just bring the run to a grinding halt and go back to where the mistake was made.  Patti Mah likens it to being taken to the principal's office.  In my distance training with Belle, I usually break off the exercise, call her to me and play for a second or two and then restart in a logical spot.  In trials, I try to ignore any course mistakes and just keep going.  Another way to handle mistakes, one advocated by both Patti Mah and Allison Bryant, is to loop back to a logical spot on the course, taking  a few obstacles along the way to maintain a sense of course flow, and try again.  The goal being that your dog never realizes a mistake was made.

Last night, I went to the Quad Cities to play Extreme Hoopers.  I thought I was being pretty good in training to not make Belle feel like she was being taken to the principal's office when I messed up.  However, last night caused me to re-think that big time.  The first course ran pretty well, except that I wanted to try handling the circle with significantly more distance than was needed and got some rather unexpected results.  I included an approximation of my line in the course map below.  (As indicated by the red dashed lines, the handler is not allowed to go on the other side of either wing of the circle .)
The second course though was a real bear for us. 

I had abandoned my attempts at extreme distance before we changed courses, so I really was expecting this to go smoothly, with the two biggest challenges being the send from #6 to #7 and making sure Belle didn't take the off-course #11 when she exited #7.  NOT!  The problem for us turned out to be the turn to #4.  After entering the circle Belle turned right toward #9 or worse stopped in the circle unsure of what to do.  

I didn't know what to think since I felt my handling was indicating I wanted a turn away from me, but obviously Belle was not getting the message.  So either I was not doing a good job handling or there is a major gap in Belle's training in regard to what my turn cues mean.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Live Feed for 2010 NADAC Championships

The Championships begin Thursday, Sept. 23, and run through Sunday.  Tuesday and Wednesday, the live feed will be running with pre-championship courses.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Extreme Games Challenge

This summer, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Sharon Nelson, the founder of NADAC, when she came to the Quad Cities Dog Center in Davenport, IA.  On Friday, August 8th, Belle and I attended a three hour seminar that introduced us to Extreme Games.  On Saturday and Sunday, August 9th and 10th, the first ever Extreme Games Trial was held at the QCDC.

I dislike Hoopers as a class—I enter only when it is part of a package deal.  But when hoops and gates combine to form Extreme Hoopers, wowy, kazowy, what a blast!  Twenty gates are used to form a circle.  At four spots in the circle’s circumference, a hoop is inserted to allow the dogs to enter or leave the circle.  On the outside of the circle are two wings made of two gates and a hoop.  Gates are made of PVC lattice and are four feet wide and about 35” tall.  There is a short lead-in sequence to the circle composed of hoops, and a short ending sequence that is also composed of hoops.

The first time I saw a course map for the Extreme Hoopers, I knew I wanted to play, so I made six gates for my dogs.  After actually playing Extreme Hoopers, I can’t wait to play again.  (I considered making enough gates so I could play at home, but my field is just too windy.  I would have to stake the gates, and even then they wouldn't necessarily stay up.  The wind is the reason I don't usually bother setting up my winged jumps.) 

There are two other extreme games:  Extreme Tunnelers and Extreme Chances.   Only gates and tunnels are found in Extreme Tunnelers, and in Extreme Chances, there are gates, hoops, tunnels and a distance line.
Extreme Games are designed to test your handling ability and your dog’s ability to follow your handling.  These games are about speed and distance.  With no jumps, contacts or weave poles,  there are no obstacle performance criterion to worry about—no dropped bars, missed contacts, etc.  If you remember to not correct the off-courses and just keep going, your dog will learn to trust your handling more and more.  Remember, chances are pretty good it’s your fault when your dog takes the wrong obstacle.  If you quibble over off-courses or missed obstacles, your dog will come to doubt your handling or his ability to figure out where you want him to go. 

Scoring is based on time plus faults.  You can have two faults and still qualify and earn from 10 to 1 points.  (03/20/11:  Scoring is done differently, but the same principles apply.)  This means if a team makes a mistake, it is best to ignore it and keep moving forward.  Mistakes can’t be fixed; trying to fix them just uses up precious seconds that could make the difference between a run that garners all available 10 points and one that earns only 5 points or less.

These games are wonderful for training distance and improving your handling and timing.  They should improve your timing on "real" courses where your dog will have to contend with obstacle performance.  Additionally, your dog's speed on "real" courses should increase as he develops more confidence in your handling.

My advice, if you ever have the chance, be sure to give the Extreme Games a try.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

May the Force be With You

Click on Course Map to Enlarge
My plan this morning was to run out and have Belle do a fast loop around the agility course I set up last week while I stayed behind the 20-point bonus line.  Should have been a piece of cake, but I failed to move far enough laterally to indicate that I wanted Belle to take jump #6 after she exited the tunnel (red handler). I decided that this would be a good opportunity to demonstrate the interaction of angles and distance.  Hoping to capture Belle's point of view of my handling, I set up the video camera two feet above the ground pointing toward me. The first clip shows what happens when I try to handle the tunnel to #6 from the red handler's position.  In the second clip, I demonstrate that at normal layering distance, I can be even more to Belle's left as she exits the tunnel and still put enough pressure on her line that she takes the correct jump.  (You'll notice there is a little loop in her line, but nothing drastic.) In the third and fourth clips, I'm handling from the 20-point bonus line.  To help you see what Belle sees coming out of the tunnel I have inserted two frame shots at the end of the video--one from each clip.  If you pause the video for each shot you can see how much the line extending from Belle to me changes the further I am to Belle's right.  I also inserted a frame shot in the first clip which shows how the line from Belle to me draws her to the off-course jump. I played around with the course map and came up with this visual explanation of why the red handler's position doesn't work. Yet for normal layering I can be even further to Belle's left and still direct her to #6 successfully.
This may or may not be a valid analogy, but to me it seems that the black triangle is more tangible or powerful "forcefield" than the red.  The length of the red triangle weakens the pressure being applied to the dog's line.  Even worse, the red forcefield brings the dog's attention to a very viable off-course line.  At normal layering distance, the black triangle shows more pressure being brought to bear on the correct line.  Additionally, only one off-course obstacle is within the black forcefield.  Actually, if the handler moves a little more to the dog's left, an even stronger push to #6 is created.  If you'd like to play with this effect, load the info below into your Course Designer 3.  You can manipulate the triangles just like you would any obstacle.
Begin Course Designer Version 3 For a free viewer, go to www.coursedesigner.com/viewer AAJheJxF0W9Ik0EcB/Dv77nN9LGmQwwXm7cXmkEWlC2NlGSYiEVEFqFSIGyE1Bw8 W0S+kt4LKSq9DITeRQRp5AvZ6zDKFwtMQs0QqZhzmT3V9lz3+Nzw7sXd5773jztG npH6x01QhQiyksagAxqIMYrw8d+xi2+WFqoQKtd6mOejrvHbFAE2Kj9U9+QGCw1y YSeNLs3stmuQkeR49VwtD34Lb34te5V/JiZr+pES4B47Gz70vca/cmF52z8lpJka 7nYtn0yvHFtcPBKFM2wQejHDOuoOZgF+neSFxrzHC6UHhHAbnz+tbYjz1q5otkzZ rotOy56SF/2+OveIPaV1PSReUlJs0VvxgsawAI24yz5qOlBVtio7jmYxqhfVi3qz 7V9RYaRzEztFHUbjn6mS/XWx8lbsaxiGs2e7rQc/vb4daiRb78SW9z0rimFWT+X3 JJ+wD5tfannmqXuVuG5z23/L1eKa0Pi8/R2meF1BOBVwdELr+kU4rZQqhLOEJqVr okJmZ5Sm810mIaTkz2bkQ59VmjOflBCalfosq5TQovQcYR/hXIBfBSZFovJvOgL+ CJcyok3cONp9P5EMdsSjiaGGZPBm3LgbAO3l+CHmieWuxI3YwL3g5YGHUWNw6I6T /gfbbrA4 End Course Designer
The next time you run, may the force be with you.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Of Otter Things - Hanover Bluff

Yesterday, Belle and I took a day off from agility, and went bumming with my DH.  We began our roadtrip by hitting two resale shops where I managed to snag a few items for one of my other hobbies--quilting.  Then we went to an Illinois DNR holding, Hanover Bluff.  My first visit to Hanover Bluff was almost four years ago.  Little did I know that two surprises were waiting for us today.

I am what my Wisconsin neighbors call a "Flatlander."  I spent most of my life in northeastern Illinois.  There are flatter sections in the state, but when I was growing up in Chicago, we considered the section of Foster Avenue just east of our grammar school to be a hill--the grade was somewhere between 5 to 10 degrees.

Anyway, now I live in northwestern Illinois, and the countryside is quite scenic and in many places not very flat.  Additionally, there is no extensive system of county forest preserves out here.  This makes finding a scenic place to hike for my poor aging body challenging to say the least.  The closest state park is the Mississippi Palisades.  It is a beautiful park with many scenic views of the Mississippi.  However, "Palisades" is part of the name for a reason.  I am just to old to find joy in hiking grades that approach 35 degrees in areas.  

There are a few flat trails along the Mississippi, but their layouts are a little lacking in imagination.  Flat, but depressingly straight.  (I'm starting to sound like Goldilocks, aren't I?)  Some of them are excellent places to find birds during migration or to let Belle run, but none are spots that I would be excited to visit week after week.

Hanover Bluff though is another story.  The total site is 300+ acres, some of it being extremely steep and heavily wooded.  However, entering from South Hanover Road, you avoid the steep section.  There is a single track into the site that leads to a 16-acre lake.

View Larger Map

Once or twice, Ed and I have tried taking one of the small trails that we encountered along the single-track, but we always ended up back on the single-track either because that is where the side trail lead or because it was just to wet to continue on.

Yesterday, I spotted a sign indicating a trail that lead to the North Dam or some such thing.  (Never did find anything we could call a dam.)  We took the trail and for the first time ever we were able to hike right along the northern and eastern shore of the lake.

We had a great time hiking, and Belle had a great time swimming.  It was about 75 degrees, low humidity, sunny with a breeze--in short a perfect day.  But the most wonderful part of this hike was our spotting of a river otter!!!  I have only seen a river otter in the wild once (while canoeing on the Flambeau in Wisconsin).

When I spotted this guy, I thought it was a muskrat or a beaver, but it was making grunting noises and although it saw us, it didn't disappear.  Ed made noises back at the otter and it swam toward us, coming quite close!  How cool.  I had my camera so here are a couple of pictures.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Agility in the Trees

I took Belle over to the local park this afternoon so that I could show you how we do tree agility.  Belle is four years old now, and we've been going to the park since she was about a year old so she could swim in the creek.  I started using the trees to teach her to send and to play with handling at a distance.  Here is a video of our playtime today.

The great thing about using trees for distance training is that you are much more likely to be playful about it.  If your handling is off or your dog fails to interpret your cue, no big deal.  Toss the toy or food tube and try again.  If the move you tried is too difficult make it easier to be successful:  break it down to simpler pieces, decrease the distance, whatever it takes.

Okay, stop reading, and go outside and play with your dog.

Our First "Successful" 15-Point Regular Run

This was an actual trial course that I set up two days ago in my yard.  I added the red jump to increase the number of variations I could work when sending Belle out away from me.  Because of the weave poles, it is actually easier to handle this course if you remain behind the 30 foot line.


I had a lot of fun working different sequences with all the Aussies on this course.  This morning it looked like rain, so I decided to get outside early and try running the reverse course with the bars up.  The only problem we encountered was coming out of the curved tunnel (#16) and going to the off-course jump, #6.  We were ultimately successful, and this is the very first time that Belle and I have been able to complete a Regular course with the 15-point bonus!!! 


Agility:  It's all about tricks and having fun.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Taking Care of Business

I started going through Jane Simmons-Moake’s Clean Run articles a couple of weeks ago looking for ideas I could use in my distance training program.  I ended up ordering her book, Unleashing the Velcro Dog, and found an exercise which involves sending your dog to the end of the dogwalk and wrapping him into a tunnel.  In order to best handle the closing, it is necessary to not pass the tunnel exit.  This means your dog must be able to perform the dogwalk without you holding her paw and you have to be able to turn her into the tunnel without being next to her.  It is painfully obvious that Belle doesn't quite understand where I want her to end up when she does her dogwalk.  In addition to the original purpose of Ms. Simmons-Moake's exercise, I became obsessed with the best way to handle the closing--front cross or rear.  With Belle, the front is best because I have to wait (stand still) in order to do the rear cross.

After running both Dusty and Belle, I decided to add a curved tunnel and an additional jump and devise some other sequences.  In the video below, I’m concentrating on the best way to handle the last three jumps.  I was really intent upon finding out whether a front cross before #7, a front cross between #7 and #8, or a rear cross at #8 was the most effective way to handle the closing.  In this instance, "most effective" means which cross got the fastest closing from my dog.  However, as I found out, you do have to handle all the obstacles if you hope to have a clean run.  (For Dusty, the rear cross was almost as effective as the front cross, and it was a lot easier to do.)

"Women and cats will do as they please and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea." Robert A. Heinlein

Butterfly Boxes

Monday, I worked all three Aussies on a series of jumps (with no bars) laid out similar to this:

The butterfly box is very versatile for working on distance.  The three distance lines are for gauging progress.  If your dog needs help to be successful, don't feel the line you have chosen is a barrier.  Step in and help your dog be successful.  The two jumps at the 10 foot line are basically there to accelerate the dog into the box.  In this configuration, you can work on sending, wrapping, turning your dog toward you or away from you.

A word about the "jumps."  When I’m working on handling, I usually put the bars on the ground.  I want my dogs to use all of their energy for playing distance and running.  Additionally, these exercises are about my handling and teaching the dog how to interpret it at a distance.  When my dogs jump, I expect the bars to stay up.  If a bar were to come down while I’m trying this distance stuff, I would either have to stop and address the dropped bar or abandon my criterion for jumping.  No bars; no dilemma.  Lastly, if I can handle the exercises with no bars, my timing should be a piece of cake when I decide it's time to add them.

Since Belle and I have been working on this type of distance for a while, she had a rocking good time.  Next up was Dusty.  Dusty was distinctly unhappy about this exercise, so I put him in the house and brought out Libby thinking I could demonstrate with a less-well trained dog how to gradually increase handling distance in a training exercise.  Well, Libby really surprised me—she cheerfully (if not necessarily correctly) went out and performed.  Here is the video in slow motion with a running commentary.

After having such a good time with Libby, I decided to try it again with Dusty.  He demonstrated nicely the need to simplify an exercise so the dog can be successful.  Libby has always taken the attitude that if there is an obstacle in front of her, it must be the obstacle that comes next.  Turning her off a straight line can be like trying to turn the Queen Mary.  Dusty, on the other hand, drops back into handler focus way too easy.  He has hit the occasional sandbag in Tunnelers when he feels he has to check in to make sure that this is indeed the tunnel he is to be taking.  In order to sell Dusty on the idea that he is indeed to take the second jump, I have to move into the box as you will see in this video.

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.  ~Roger Caras

Monday, September 13, 2010

Eight Years of Agility

Photo by Alissa of Pet Personalities
I've been doing agility for about 8 years.  I began with Cheryl Carter of Fundog in Antioch, Illinois.  Cheryl was running a very fast Border Collie in NADAC, so if you went to Cheryl, you were going to run your dog with distance.  Period.  End of discussion.  This turned out to be a very good start to my agility foundation training.  Unfortunately, for me, I was trying to train an Airedale.  "Biddable" is not in an Airedale's vocabulary.  After running Mr. Max for a year or so, I decided I wanted a dog who was a little easier to train.  I considered several breeds and finally chose an Australian Shepherd. 

My first Aussie was indeed more focused and willing to play with me.  Unfortunately, he didn't care for agility.  The only thing that really floated his boat as a reward for performing was water coming out of the garden hose.  Not exactly a portable reinforcer.  After 14 months, I returned him to his breeder at her request for reasons unrelated to agility.

My second Aussie was a precious little ball of fluff who was also the queen of her litter.  People just could not resist touching her--think The Trouble with Tribbles episode of Star Trek.  Libby has a congenital paralysis of her upper esophagus, and had several bouts of aspiration pneumonia in her second and third year of life.  Knock on wood, with proper management, we have kept her healthy since then.

Photo by Alissa of Pet Personalities
Libby ran agility because I asked; she never really was turned on by it.  She loves to bark while she runs, but she didn't enjoy going to class, and eventually she got to the point where she didn't really enjoy trialling, so she is basically retired to a life of leisure.

Dusty is my third Aussie.  I fell in love with his picture on the ARPH (Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline) website.  I met him in Lafayette, Indiana, at a gas station that was between my home in northern Illinois and his foster home in Indianapolis.  At our meeting, he was subdued and I figured I was taking on another pet as opposed to a high-energy agility prospect.  But that was okay with me because as I said, he was gorgeous.

Well, as it turned out, Dusty was recovering from the effects of being a feral dog plus Kennel Cough.  He was 20 inches tall, but weighed only 33 pounds.  Once Dusty began feeling at home with us and gaining some weight, I discovered I now had one very high-drive dog living with me.  Be careful what you wish for.  After almost six years, I still don't handle him very well.  David Bailey of the Quad City Dog Center in Davenport, Iowa, began running Dusty at some NADAC trials.  At most, David has run Dusty a couple of dozen times, but last week it all came together beautifully on a practice JWW course.  Additionally, it took Dusty and me three calendar years to complete his Elite Standard title; David and Dusty have two standard Q's this year!

That brings me to Belle.  She is a dream come true.  Her sire was Beth Wasielewski's (Ledoux Aussies) Unbelievable Rodeo Bronco Buster.  Buster passed on a desire to work to his off-spring and has many performance winners on the ground.  

I brought Belle home in May, 2006.  We had moved from NE Illinois, an agility hotbed, to NW Illinois, an agility desert.  Luckily, over the years I had trained with some pretty good people.  I was also extremely fortunate that Olga Chaiko began her virtual agility lessons in 2007, and I was able to use what I was setting up for Libby and Dusty to train Belle.  I just kept the jump bars on the ground and skipped the sequences that included weaves.

Belle turned out to be the perfect dog for me.  She wants to please and is eager to learn.  Her favorite things in the world are doing agility in the yard, swimming and tracking, and she squeals with joy when any of those activities is on offer.

Okay, that was a long preamble to the reason I decided to start a blog.  Belle completed her first NATCH in February, and we are five Chance Q's from her second NATCH.  We compete occasionally in AKC and Belle has her MX and MXJ.  If we never compete again in AKC, I'm content with those two accomplishments.  We also go once or thrice a year to USDAA and CPE trials.  But NADAC trials are held only 70 miles from the house so that is our primary venue.

Since NADAC is our primary venue, getting a 15 point bonus in every class is my next big goal.  Increasing Belle's yps's has been an on-going project for the last two years.  Belle is quick, but she also wants to be right.  We may run 10 seconds under Regular course time, but that's not fast enough to get a DRI over 1.00.  So far we have just two--both in Tunnelers.  In contrast, I think Dusty has six, and several of them are in Jumpers.  So if more speed comes I'll be ecstatic, but I'm not holding my breath.  The 15-point bonuses though, I think that's something we can eventually attain with the right training.

A dog can express more with his tail in minutes than his owner can express with his tongue in hours. - Anonymous

The 15-Point Bonus Line

I started keeping an agility diary of sorts back in 2007.  The entries were pretty sporadic until this spring when I started adding video entries to my diary.  My Aussie, Belle, completed her NATCH, in February of this year.  This was my first championship title from any venue after seven years or so of competing with four different dogs.  The difference:  Belle's innate desire to work and all the years of training I've had from many different instructors both face-to-face and through books, magazines and the Net.

I currently live where the closest agility training is 70 miles away.  Since I compete primarily in NADAC, I'm interested in speed and distance.  Extreme distance training is something that can be hard to find even when you live in an area where there are several training centers offering agility, so I thought I would share my experiences in training for the 15-point bonus line.  Not every post will be about extreme distance, but many will be.

I have made several unsuccessful attempts at the 15-point bonus in Regular since we are much more consistent in this class compared to Jumpers and Chances.  None of my attempts were successful and all resulted in an NQ or an E--I just wasn't quick enough to rush in and save the run.  We have great lateral distance skills, but bonus distance...not so much.

Last month, I attended one day of a two-day seminar given by Cynthia Ernat at the Quad City Dog Center, Davenport, Iowa.  When we had finished for the day, one of the other handlers and I were attempting the last exercise Cynthia had set up using an imaginary bonus line.  The OH had a fast, drivey, Border Collie who had no trouble making the run to the tunnel.  But trying to get the obstacle discrimination that was on the return run, that was another story.  Belle and I had no problem with the discrimination even though it was at a pretty far distance.  But sending Belle to the tunnel was a BIG problem.

This is an approximation of the course we were trying to do.  The cross-hatching 
represents a physical barrier made from gates--think ring barrier gating.

Lightbulb moment:   Send Distance is not the same thing as Lateral Distance.  When I'm laterally distant from Belle, she can see me and I can "run" a handling path that parallels the one I would literally "run" if I were closer to her.  

Another huge difference is that with normal lateral distance you may layer an obstacle here and there.  When attempting bonus line distance, you will sometimes have five or six obstacles between you and your dog.  The two obstacles closest to you may be a non-issue, but those back three make it decidedly harder to direct your dog to the correct obstacle.  At least, that's been my experience so far.

Run fast, run clean.