Sunday, January 30, 2011

NADAC 2011 Championships

Sharon Nelson posted yesterday that the 2011 Championships will be held in Springfield, Illilnois.  How wonderful for all of us who live in the Midwest.  Even for those on the East Coast, since Illinois is a lot closer than Wyoming.  I'm very excited about the prospect of competing in my first national event.  I even went so far as booking my room in Springfield last night.

The dates are October 13-16, and the premium should be available soon.

A Cool Way to Work on Distance Indoors

I've been working with Belle on the basics of Treibball, and every few days, I do a youtube search for any new videos related to this new canine sport.  This morning I found this one which is also applicable to teaching a dog to work at a distance.

I don't understand German, but I assume the lady in the video is working on teaching her dog "away" and "come bye."  I've worked on lunging the dogs in a large circle outdoors and on sending them around trees, but I think the visual perimeter that the small cones provide would be a great aide in introducing and/or reinforcing the concepts of "away" and "come bye."

Additionally, for general distance work they provide a clearly defined line that the dog is to stay beyond.  You would begin with the cones forming a circle of perhaps ten feet in diameter and then expand it as your dog gets comfortable working at that distance.  The only thing I would do differently is throw the treat or toy outside the circle the majority of the time to reinforce how much fun it can be to work away from the handler.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

AKC Trial

Friday and Saturday, Belle and I went to Davenport, IA, for Scott County Kennel Club’s agility trial.  The judge was Scott Chamberlain, and he set up some interesting courses.  Friday we managed a double Q despite a rather large bobble on the JWW course.  Saturday, I failed to be clear in the opening run and Belle by-passed the second jump.  I only do a limited number of AKC trials each year since I’m unwilling to travel more than 70 miles or so for only two runs.  At several points, I vowed I would no longer pay to play on such hard courses, but Belle runs so nicely, that now I look forward to them as puzzles to be solved. 

Three of the four courses this weekend were full of subtle challenges, and a few that were very obvious.  An interesting feature of Friday’s JWW and today’s Standard course was a jump that required a tight wrap.  That’s were Belle and I had a major bobble on Friday.  I rehearsed decelerating and bringing up my off-side arm to cue the wrap, but it never occurred to me that Belle would fail to heed the deceleration cue.  When I realized she had kept going after the jump she was well on her way to an off-course jump.  Luckily, she responded to her name and I side-stepped away from the jump so she returned to me without back-jumping and on we went.

Interestingly, when I came home, Clean Run was waiting for me with an article by Daisy Peel, “Balance in Training,” that contained a similar example—a dog that didn’t understand the body cues for a front cross unless the handler first got its attention by calling his name.  Needless to say, until Belle and I have had an opportunity to work through this in training, I will be trying to remember to use her name.

Saturday’s wrap in Standard was more challenging, but I felt like we nailed it.  Unfortunately, the second jump in the two-jump, teeter opening was sufficient off-set that Belle ran past it.  She needed just a little more of an indication than I gave her to realize she was supposed to take that jump.  On the plus side, it gives me hope that some day we can really nail a snooker course at speed.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Since it's been either too cold or too snowy for almost six weeks, I started doing more trick work with the the pack.  We're working on pivots, marching, backing up straight, and today I started them on crossing their paws.  For anyone interested in teaching some tricks, Kikopup on youtube does a fantastic job of demonstrating how to train many different tricks.  Here is her video for a pivot, one of the foundation moves in freestyle.  She uses it to train rear end awareness.  I think it would also be useful in building rear end strength, stability and flexibility.  It can also form the basis of a startline routine. 

Shaping tricks has many fringe benefits.  Shaping tricks teaches a dog how to learn and to really enjoy the process.  The more they know, the easier it is to teach them something new.  And although many people don't realize it, it's all tricks--be it obedience, house manners or agility.  Teaching tricks helps build a stronger bond between you and your dog.  They're having fun, getting exercise, interacting with you, and getting cookies (or a toy).  Such a deal!  The mental exercise is more demanding than the physical exercise involved in training most tricks so you don't have to train for long periods of time to give your dog an outlet for his energy.  Teaching your dog tricks teaches him that working with you is fun.  Lastly, you can select tricks that will reinforce behaviors you would like your dog to be able to perform better.  For example, teaching your dog to back up straight teaches hind end awareness; is a strengthening exercise since it uses muscles in ways they are normally used; reinforces the concept of distance work if you have them back away from you and toss their reward to them.

I can work all four dogs on something new in about 15 minutes.  I usually work each dog twice in that time.  The three that aren't working are expected to lie quietly and just watch until it is their turn.  It's like a twofer.  I'm training them to do tricks, and I'm also training them to lie quietly.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Distance - The Basics

I am frequently asked how to train a dog to work at a distance.  The basic answer is that you start by adding one foot of distance at a time.  If that is too much, you try adding six inches at a time.  In order to do agility at a distance, your dog has to be able to do all the obstacles without help from you.  Independent weaves and contacts are a must.  However, you can work on creating distance using just jumps and tunnels.  In fact, you can start training distance before you teach any obstacles.

I use a clicker for shaping some behaviors, especially when working with a puppy or a dog who has had no real training.  A clicker is not a magic wand; it is simply a unique way of saying "you have done well and I'm going to give you a cookie."  Later I substitute "yes" and use it as a marker, reward and encouragement--definitely not something advocated by clicker purists.  Both Belle and Libby learned to skateboard purely through shaping.

In December, 2009, I had a rescue staying at my house who was a learning sponge.  I made a video of shaping her to go out to a mat.  This is an excellent first step for accustoming your dog to moving away from you.  Once your dog can go to the mat on command, you can tell them to sit, down, wave or do whatever tricks you have taught.  Gradually increase how far you and your dog are from the mat before the send.  Ultimately, you can send them 50 feet or more to the mat, down them, toss a ball and then release them to retrieve the ball.  Voila, your dog is working at a distance.

Here is the video of Sammy Jo's introduction to mat work.  Sammy already knows that offering behaviors can earn a click and a treat.  I start off quite close to the mat in order to make it easy for her to succeed,  and of the cookies are delivered on the mat.  However, I throw some of the treats on the floor so that she has to move away from the mat.  I also change which side of the mat I'm standing on.  Sammy doesn't quite know what I want at the end of the session, but within another session or two, she was making a beeline for the mat.

This video by Nancy Tanner demonstrates how you can send your dog to the mat at a greater distance and have them do a trick and then reward, making distance work fun, fun, fun.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Devil is In the Details - Especially at a Distance

It was warm enough to bring a short tunnel out of storage and set up the course I posted yesterday.  I had hoped to work on a bunch of different sequences, but I quickly discovered that getting Belle to run to the second tunnel using the numbers in the white circles was not that easy.  

The problem turned out to be my mistaken belief that standing parallel to Belle's path from #3 to #4 was the way to go.  Some of the runs were successful, but certainly there has to be a way to be more consistent.  I confess I was unable to spot the problem in the video I shot (mostly because I used a tripod and I'm so far away from the camera).  I figured out what I was doing wrong by accident when we later in the afternoon to try again.

Because of the constraint of the bonus line, I was stopping while Belle was in tunnel #3 or shortly after she exited.  This is something that happens when you are sending your dog 50 feet or more away from you.  Sooner or later you run out of real estate.  Coming smoothly and gradually to a stop after Belle exits the first tunnel is probably the best plan, but it's not always easy to execute.  In training, I'm trying to get Belle to realize that I want her to go on when I come to a stop with my feet in a wide stride, my hand out-stretched and my voice cuing her to continue.   What I failed to realize was that standing parallel to the path I wanted her to take wasn't supporting her line to the second tunnel.  Without that subtle pressure on her line, Belle had to guess what I wanted.  Since a dog tends to turn in toward her handler, much of the time, she turns left.  Even when she took the second tunnel, you can see she slows down and looks back at me.

Since getting to the second tunnel turned out to be difficult, I should have rewarded Belle upon exiting the tunnel when she made the right choice.  When we went out a second time, later in the afternoon, I made sure to reward the correct choice by tossing her ball for her as she exited the tunnel.  Hopefully, we'll be able to go out tomorrow and work on this some more.

I also took Dusty out to work.  We concentrated on the dark circle sequence, beginning at the straight tunnel.  Once he was successful with that, we backed up to the second jump and then to the first.  For Dusty, the bonus line was at the exit of the first tunnel.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Practice Course - Turning off a Straight Line

After the New Year's trial, I set up the course on the left to work on 1) sending Belle to a tunnel and 2) having her turn off a straight line to the tunnel to a jump.  Once it gets above freezing, I will bring out a short tunnel and set up the course more like this.

There are any number of sequences that can be run on this course.  Here are four to start you off.  Have fun, and if do set up this course, I'd love to see video of you and your dog running it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Analysis of a Standard Run - 01/06/2011

We were finally able to get to the QCDC for a Thursday evening run-through.  It was an AKC Standard course designed by Annette Narel.

This was a course with a lot of flow.  The only sequence I wasn't crazy about was #3-#5.  It just seemed a little risky for a fast dog.  However, it ran well. 

This is what I gleaned from watching the video of Belle run with me and Micky:

1.  Doing this again, I would take less of a lead out so I could do a rear cross at #4 (the jump before the A-frame)

2.  I'd hang back after doing the rear cross so I could run with Belle while she's on the A-frame and then run a line on the inside of the wingless yellow jump.  This would enable me to keep moving and get a faster A-frame.  (Belle's performance can be sticky even on a rubberized A-frame; on slats it's sure to be so unless she pumped up as she was when Micky ran her.)

3.  My timing was spot on going from the weaves to the table on this run.  On one of the others it wasn't so great, and Belle wasn't sure if we were going to the table or the chute.  By running inside the yellow jump as suggested above, it would be easier for me to get my timing on the run to the table correct.

4.  I chose to lead out to avoid having Belle take a wide looping path from the chute to jump #13.  As she approaches the chute entrance, I showed a tiny bit of movement toward #13 so there is no doubt in her mind where she is going upon exiting.  It worked as planned, but I should have moved away from the table more quickly.  My leisurely pace resulted in eight seconds on the table instead of five.  Additionally, running to my lead out position would jazz Belle up and encourage her to attack the course with more gusto.

5.  Although there was all the time in the world for me to do a front cross at the tunnel exit or after the teeter, I felt a rear cross would result in a faster line to the dogwalk.  Additionally, it put me in motion to be running for the dogwalk bottom as soon as I saw Belle make the turn for the dogwalk.

On the second run, Belle is running with Micky of the QCDC.  Belle is just absolutely pumped to be running with her.  She is even barking while she runs, which is something she almost never does running with me :(  Micky does the rear cross at #4 that I talked about above.  Belle missed the A-frame on the first attempt because Micky was standing closer to it than Belle  expects her handler to stand.  The second time, Micky does her turn and makes sure to call Belle to the A-frame.

You can see what a difference it makes in Belle's A-frame performance that Micky doesn't have to slow down since she is running on the inside of the off-course yellow jump.

From the table on, Micky manages the course in a way that I'm just physically not able to do.  It worked for them, and that part of the run was a second or two faster than my run with Belle.  But two other factors come into play.  First, Belle now knows the course; second, she is totally hyped to be running with  Micky.  Obviously, knowing the course before she runs is not an option at a trial.  Getting her a little more revved certainly is, and that is one of the reasons I have begun running away from her when I lead out at the start line.

Notice that when Micky does a front cross after the teeter, it takes her a fraction of a second to change direction to run for the finish line.  By using a rear cross, my natural momentum was already heading that way.

David and Dusty's run went pretty well until the dogwalk.  By running close to the dogwalk, David inadvertently pushed Dusty away from it.  Dusty then falls back into his old habits of spinning and barking as they go back to the tunnel, but David insists that he calm himself before starting again.  The rest of the run is smooth and quiet.

Dusty's contact performance is starting to erode a bit, so I ran him on his last run.  This gave me an opportunity to do a rear cross at #4, and I really liked the result.  Dusty failed to wait for a release on the A-frame and teeter, so we redid both of them, and I was impressed by how well he handled redoing them.  No Aussie meltdown; no horrible, whirling dervish.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Day Chances Strategy - Lead Out Required

The QCDC New Year's Day Chances course was a very difficult (if not nearly impossible) course to run successfully at any level if you were unable to lead out.  I believe there were three elite Q's, two open, and one novice.  There were two possible lead out options, but if you and your dog couldn't do one or the other, it was game over.  
With no lead out, the handler is forced to run toward the off-course jump along the path indicated by the dashed red line.  Two or three dogs were able to get to #4 with a verbal "get out" as their handler ran along this path.  HOWEVER, those dogs all went into the tunnel under the A-frame.

I have trained a little bit with Dana Pike and have been strongly influenced by Linda Mecklenberg's writings in Clean Run and by Jane Simmons-Moake writings on unleashing the velcro dog.  I don't want my dog to ignore my body language.  It's one thing to slide laterally while facing your dog and keeping pressure on his line.  It's quite another to have him do one thing while you do another simply on a verbal.  I think the dogs who took #4 only because of a verbal demonstrate the downside of diluting the importance of your body cues.

Of course, the problem is there are a lot of fast dogs who don't have a start line stay.  However, with a solid start line stay, there are two options.

First, you can just lead out to anywhere along or behind the red line.  Release your dog and support his line to #4.  Notice that the handler has enough room to move toward the dog's line if necessary.  This is how I chose to run this course.

The second option is to take enough of a lateral lead out to allow you to be angling toward #4 as you run.  I liked this idea a lot, and there were a few teams that used it.  I chickened out because I felt this option was a little riskier in that there was always a possibility of Belle misunderstanding what I wanted and going from opening hoop to the #11 jump.

15-Point Chances Attempt

One last post for today.  After our unexpected success with the 15-point bonus line in jumpers on Sunday, I decided to try for the bonus in Chances also.  It really was a much simpler challenge, but I underestimated the speed and momentum Belle would have after coming over the straight tunnel alongside the A-frame.  I think I could have been a tad quicker in issuing my "come" command.  Using "Belle" instead of "come" would probably been a more effective verbal, but I don't know if it would have gotten me the turn I wanted.  

I think my major mistake was failing to do a shoulder pull as Belle comes over the jump #4.  I am walking backwards, but at such a great distance, I think it was just too subtle a signal.  I look forward to warmer weather when I can set this one up in the yard.

The only other thing about this run that I wish I could have changed was to have really reinforced Belle's drive while she was out there running.  It was spectacular, and to me it's the kind of drive your dog needs to have in order to go out these extreme distances and perform.  It is also something that Belle was not naturally blessed with.  She is bright, biddable, fairly confident, and a great companion, but extremely driven she is not.  Once we left the ring though, I made an enormous fuss over how well she did.

A Lead Out Gone Wrong

I'm always happy when I have someone to video my trial runs since I don't have access to formal training anymore.  Making mistakes is a part of the learning process; but it's impossible to learn from your mistakes unless you have a good instructor or observer who can tell you what went wrong AND how to put it right.

I try to be my own observer/instructor, and I depend on video to help me out.  Sunday's tunneler run was such an unexpected fiasco.  Belle has proven herself to be capable of performing some pretty tricky sequences even when I had to take a fairly substantial lead out for one reason or another.  I watched the opening of Sunday's tunneler's run several times to find out why it went to badly wrong and what I could have done differently while still taking the long lead out that I wanted.  Here's what I discovered:

  • The lead out probably would have been more likely to have been successful if I had placed Belle closer to the first tunnel. (I purposely left her further back so that she would build up speed before crossing the start line.) 
  • I failed to notice where Belle was looking when I released her--she was looking a me, not at the entrance of the first tunnel.
  • I ran away from Belle at the start line giving a fairly wide berth to the first two tunnels.  This gave Belle really bad information about the path I wanted her to take when released.  I should have run closer to the right side of the first two tunnels and crossed Belle's intended path in the gap between the second and third tunnels.  This would have given Belle a head's up about where she was supposed to go when released. 
  • When we play snooker, my release word is "come." (I also whisper to her that we're going to play snooker while we're waiting for our turn.)  After leading out, I stand with my hands down and in front of my body inviting Belle to come to me.  I'm also careful to set her up so that she has a direct line to me.  Sometimes there is a red jump along that line; sometimes there isn't.  But the idea I've tried to convey to her is that she is to come to me on the straightest line possible, which is what Belle did on this tunnelers run.  Even though I did none of these things, running away from her on the path that I took was enough to convince her that snooker was the name of the game.  (This I feel is a training issue, but hey, I'm also the trainer.)
  • In this run, I released her with "okay."  "Tunnel" might have been a better choice.  But given all the strong body signals I gave Belle and the training we've done for Snooker, I don't think that would have saved the day. 
  • Lastly, from the standpoint of trying to be a good handler/trainer, I could really kick myself that I didn't just go with the flow and direct Belle into the third tunnel instead of running back to the first tunnel and trying to salvage the course.  In the split second I had to change my plan, I decided this was Belle's mistake and not mine, so I tried to start over.  After watching the tape, I can see that about 10% of the failure in communication was Belle's and a whopping 90% was mine.
Don't get me wrong.  I'm not beating myself up over my mistakes.  I am thrilled to have this opportunity to analyze what went wrong and how I could have handled it differently.  And I look forward to being able to set up sequences where we can work on honing our "extreme" lead out skills.

We Did It!

The first run of the day was jumpers and there was a 15-point bonus line.  It looked like it might be doable, so I decided to go for it.  I didn't know if Belle could get the turn from 3 to 4, but I felt I would be close enough to possibly salvage the run if she was not sure about what I wanted.  Turning back to take the line of jumps heading away from me was made easier by the fact that I wasn't under any bonus line constraints for the turn away.  Once Belle was headed away, I knew she'd build up a real head of steam and I was concerned about the possibility of her taking the off-course 14 after 10.  If I managed to get her to make the turn to 11 by using "wrap," then the last tricky bit was getting her to turn away from me again and not take the off-course jump (3).  It ended up being a beautiful run with a wide turn from 12 to 13 being the only bit that was not perfect.  

I apologize for my exuberant display at the end of this run, but it was such a rush to finally reach our goal of a 15-point bonus line Q.  And the fact that it was so unexpected to be able to attempt it after not doing any agility for almost a month, made it that much more exciting for me.  Thank you, Buster for giving me such a wonderful partner and companion.

Chances also had a 15-point bonus line that I felt we could do.  Belle took off like a heat-seeking missile.  Unfortunately, her guidance system, i.e., me, was not up to the task. 

We ended up going 4 for 6 on Sunday.  We failed to Q in tunnelers when Belle mistook by lead out to mean we were playing snooker and made a bee-line for me when I released her.

Here's the video from Sunday:

New Year's Day - A Perfect Day

Wow!  What a wonderful weekend we had.  Even more so since it comes after a month of inactivity.  We traveled to Davenport for the New Years NADAC trial at the Quad Cities Dog Center.  It was nice of Ed to come along since I knew it was going to be a long day.  The trial started at 10 a.m. and we were back on the road by 7:50 p.m.  But what a good time we had.  Belle and I went 6 for 6, something we've only done two or three times before, and never running in Elite in every class.  David and Dusty cued twice - weavers and jumpers.  The weavers Q was for Dusty's Elite Weavers title.  Way to go David.  It is really impressive the way David and Dusty pulled the two Q's off since Dusty hasn't trained in more than four weeks, and David hasn't run him in more than a month.

Here's the video footage of Belle and me.  I was really happy with all our runs.  The little red girl ran her heart out.  Our jumpers run was a little hinky, but it was late in the day and although it wasn't pretty, it was still a Q.