Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Straight Lines

Two or three years ago, I attended a evening seminar given by Dana Pike.  The most valuable lesson I came away with was how to train my dog to run a straight line.  Here is the exercise Dana showed us:

Set up a tunnel and the first three jumps as shown on the left.  (The jumps are spaced 15-20 feet apart.)  Send your dog into the curved tunnel and start running as indicated by the line.  His job is to take the two jumps in his path and catch up with you.  Don't forget to reward him handsomely for a job well done.  Once your dog understands the game, add two or three more jumps one at a time, and repeat the exercise.

Now we're going to make the exercise a little more difficult.  Slide the second and fourth jumps about six inches out of line with the other three jumps as shown in the second figure.  Run the exercise.  If your dog still understands his job, wonderful.  If he doesn't, try off-setting jumps two and four by only three inches.  Once your dog is taking the jumps and catching up to you, you will want to send him to the tunnel from further back as indicated in the middle figure so you can beat him to at least the fourth jump.

When you run be sure not to look back at your dog.  If necessary, have someone watch while you train so you know your dog is taking the jumps.  Your job is to pick your arms up and run to the finish line.  Looking back at your dog delivers mixed signals to him.  According to Stuart Mah, looking at your dog is a signal for handler focus and collection; looking at the obstacles is a signal for your dog to be in obstacle focus and extension.  This is most definitely a training exercise in obstacle focus.

Once you dog is comfortable with the jumps being off-set at six inches, start angling the jumps.  Then gradually introduce more off-set and a greater amount of angling.

Once you dog understands the exercise, you can try handling it from the other side of the red line I have included in the course at the far right.  If you run along the red line, I can just about guarantee you that your dog will not make it down the line of jumps.  Remember:  The Line is not your friend.  It isn't there to show you where to run; it's there to show you where you may not go.

If you are using wingless jumps, make sure there is an inch of two of overlap from one jump to the next.  If you are using jumps with wings, I'd work toward having my dog understand the exercise with the wing of the proceeding jump in line with the wing of the next jump.  Be sure the jumps are spaced far enough apart that your dog can run a fairly straight line when they are off-set from each other.

I have found this to be an invaluable skill with Belle.  I can turn my back on her and run as fast as I am able and be confident that she will take the obstacles in her path when they are arranged more or less in a straight line.  In addition to using this skill to drive for the finish line whenever possible, sometimes I can use it to allow me to get to places I might not otherwise be able to get to in order to handle more complicated sequences.

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