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.)