Sunday, March 27, 2011

Closing in on the Goal

I set up an Elite Jumpers course today and tried the 15-point bonus.  I was expecting the send down the line to #5 to be the most difficult part of the course.  However, Belle's ability to drive away from me has really come a long way since last July, and she fairly flew down the line of jumps.

Unfortunately, I habitually stop and send with the BIG ARM.  Most of the time, I can get away with this in Elite Chances.  However, from behind the 15-point line stopping wrecks havoc  with my ability to communicate the course to Belle.  Supposedly, it that it takes about six weeks to break a habit or develop a new one.  If I'm vigilant, hopefully by mid-May I won't have to think about continuing to move because it will have become as natural to me as stopping is now.

Since it's quite chilly outside, I went out for four short sessions, and during the third session, a couple of times, it felt as if I had bounced off an invisible wall when I came to a stop.  If I can maintain that level of awareness, it will make re-training myself much easier.  Of course, I also have Belle to keep me on the straight and narrow.  When I keep moving smoothly while sending her, her path is sure and smooth.  When I stop inappropriately, there is a hesitation or loop in her path or she goes in the wrong direction.

It came to me during the fourth session, that when practicing bonus-line handling, I should walk the course as if I were going to handle from behind the bonus line.  However, when it comes to actually running the course, my over-riding goal has to be remaining in motion.  If that means I go two feet or ten feet over the line, that's okay.  With practice I should be able to plan my path and gauge my speed and my stride with more and more accuracy and avoid crossing the bonus line.

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.  ~Author Unknown

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A JWW Course from Bud Houston's Blog

Bud Houston posted an interesting JWW course designed by Lisa Selthofer on his blog yesterday.  I was curious to see if Belle and I could do this one, and she performed like a trooper.

Bud's thinking was that a very big lead out would be necessary to handle the jump after the tunnel for anyone whose dog normally runs faster than the handler.  Once I set up the course and walked it, I had to agree.  No way I would get a decent turn over that jump without the benefit of distance handling for the opening.  Additionally, without the benefit of cutting the yardage I had to run, Ed would have been calling for the rescue squad by the time we finished the weaves.

I lead out to about (0,50) on Bud's course map.  My position was just a little off when I turned Belle to the double, so I used an off-arm to keep her on course to the jump.  After that everything else went exceptionally well.

Since the jump after the tunnel is taken from the back side, I used the transferring of hands that I used yesterday and this morning on Dana Pike's course.  Dusty didn't care for it here any more than he did on the Standard course.  Additionally, we had several off-courses just getting to that jump.  Interestingly, once we got beyond that point, Dusty was a happy camper and the rest of the course went as well as it did for Belle.

Bud talked about the gratuitous dummy jumps.  For Belle they were a complete non-issue.  For my wild child, Dusty, they were definitely an option.  If it is warm enough tomorrow, I will break this course down into small chunks for Dusty and see if I can teach an old dog some new tricks.

A Follow-Up to Yesterday's Post

I also ran Dusty on yesterday's course.  When we got to the threadles, it wasn't pretty.  I was unable to move fast enough to do it the way Steve did, and when I tried handling it as I did with Belle, it resulted in all kinds of ugliness.  Basically, it was as if Dusty thought I were trying to fake him out.

There are several reasons I handled the threadles the way I did with Belle:

1.  There's no way I could keep moving and get the sequence correct.  When I move fast, my brain disengages and becomes consumed with the need for speed.  Subtlety and precision are out the window.

2.  If I expend a lot of energy on this section, I very simply won't have it later in the course where I might need it.

3.  It is easier for me to push through for a threadle.  This is probably due to a hole in the training I have as a handler.

4.  Lastly, and most importantly, by staying within a very small area while doing this complex sequence, I communicate to Belle that we are doing something complex and we are doing it here.  There is no wasted movement on my part and hopefully none on hers.

I tried to get Belle to slice the jumps with just enough angle that she could get into the gap and take the next jump from the same side as the previous jump.  Actually, I treated the whole sequence like a serpentine where some of the jumps are imaginary.

As I discovered with Dusty though, this is definitely a matter of training.  Dusty first has to realize that even though I'm not moving very much, I'm drawing him a very clear path to follow through this sequence.  He has to realize that he is following my arm and when I hand off leadership to my other arm, he just has to go with the flow.  

Although my body movements are subtle (or at least rather minimal), they support what my arms are saying.  The purpose of this exercise is not to get Dusty to ignore body cues in favor of arm and hand cues.  I'm trying to show him that sometimes I can provide a lot of information with my hands and arms.  Because Dusty does not understand this, he spins, goes wide, stops, whatever, and then my body gets out of sync with what my hands are doing and it is game over.

Here is video from our second effort at the threadle section today.  A couple of times Dusty by-passed the second jump after the tunnel because I was unable to indicate he was to come in toward me by taking the jump.  Getting to the landing side of this jump in time to do a pull of some sort is the biggest timing issue for me as handler.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Video Response to an Agility Nerd Video

Steve Schwarz, a/k/a The Agility Nerd, is a tremendous resource to those of us who train on our own.  He blogs at least once a week about a course he has either run or created, and he provides video.  The video I posted here of Belle and me is in response to a video Steve made from his January 11, 2011 class with Dana Pike Chamberlain.  The course map and details on how Steve ran the course, they are available on his blog.

I am definitely not as fleet a foot as Steve, so my handling depended upon being able to send Belle while I moved in to position for the tricky threadles.  I thought we did a pretty good job of them.  I was truly amazed that Belle realized which tunnel I wanted her to take after jump #10.  I didn't bother to move the one that was set up under the dogwalk, so she really had several choices.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Extreme Games Coming to the Quad Cities

Memorial Day weekend, NADAC will be hosting two FUN raiser trials at the Quad Cities Dog Center in Davenport.  On Friday and Monday, there will be two runs each of Extreme Tunnelers, Extreme Hoopers and Extreme Chances.  On Saturday and Sunday, there will be a standard NADAC trial.

The QCDC is a wonderful venue that features sports turf and air-conditioning or heat and a really friendly bunch of people.

For entry information, visit the NADAC Calendar page and scroll down to Davenport, IA.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Turns and Wraps

I set up a small course this morning to demonstrate how to work on getting your dog to distinguish between going forward, turning and wrapping.  I used Libby as my demo dog.  Since Libby is less than obsessed with agility, I have to put a lot of myself into a run in order to keep her on track.  I also keep any training I do with her short, quick and fun.  If she makes a mistake (or more likely I make a mistake), I try to ignore it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Elite Regular 15-point Bonus Attempt - Part Three or With a Little Help From My Friends

I finally had the brilliant idea to post my problem with the first challenge on the NADAC Training List.  NADAC Becky (Becky Woodruff?) responded right away.  She suggested that I should not lead out at all.  I took it one step further and started with Belle on my left so that when she came out of the tunnel, I was more or less even with the plane of the dogwalk.  It worked like a charm.

I also tried starting with Belle on my right and crossing the path she took to the tunnel so that I ended up in line with the dogwalk.  That also worked.  To make sure Belle hadn't been pattern trained, I tried starting with her and moving to a position between the planes of the dogwalk and weave poles while she was in the tunnel.  Belle made it as far as jump #3, and then she stopped and turned to me for direction.


P.S.  After I finished this post, Sharon Nelson also responded to my question.  For her, the most important part of distance handling is that you keep moving, even if you have to take small steps in order to do so.  You remain in motion in order to draw the dog's path.  I looked back at the video footage of my bonus attempts and found that I have a tendency to stop and use the BIG ARM to send Belle on.  It results in very choppy and distracting handling.  I think Belle is close to pattern-trained on this course, so I will wait until Monday and see if she can execute the turn over #4 even when I am between the planes of the dogwalk and the weaves if I remain in motion.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Elite Regular 15-point Bonus Attempt - Part Two

I spent time yesterday and today working on the challenges of the course I posted a couple of days ago.

The turn from #4 to #5 remains the toughest part of the course for us.  Belle comes shooting out of the tunnel on her left lead and 80% of the time, I am unable to get her to turn right going over #4.

As long as Belle has momentum going away from me in the weaves, I can be pretty sure she will take the #11 jump and then take the #12 jump if I front cross at #9 and stay to the left of the weaves.  This was by far the easiest of the challenges for us (once I figured out how to handle it :-).

The final portion of the course turned out very difficult for us.  First it wasn't that easy for me to get Belle to turn off the line of jumps and take the tunnel under the A-frame.  What seemed to work best was to move with her toward #15 and then move right to the other side of the A-frame.  This produced a large enough motion for her to see (if I did it in a timely manner), plus I was in position to send her to the jump after the tunnel.

(I originally did have the tunnel under the A-frame pointing at #11.  Placing the exit correctly takes the off-course #11 out of the picture.)  However, Belle comes out of the tunnel looking for direction.  I will have to lower my A-frame to five feet and see if that will make me more visible to her.  Also, I have to wait until she is out of the tunnel before I start moving forward so that she can see my movement toward #17.

I originally thought getting Belle to turn left over #17 would be difficult, but if she took the jump after the tunnel, there was no problem in that regard.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Elite Regular 15-Point Bonus Attempt - First Challenge or I'm Late, I'm Late

At the trial last weekend, I tried to handle this course from the 15-point bonus line:

On the course map it looked very intimidating.  When I walked it, it looked possible. We pretty much made a total mess out of the attempt.

Analysis of Course Challenges:  For Belle and me there are three major challenges on this course.  First is the right turn from #4 to #5.  Momentum is carrying the dog left over #4, plus the #5 jump is not an obvious choice to the dog while she is jumping.  Second is the left turn over #11.  Unless you have a dog that really is willing to drive away from you through the weave polls, just getting to #11 can be a challenge.  Without a good response to a verbal command to turn left, achieving the left turn is problematic.  Lastly, getting from the #16 tunnel to the #17 jump was a problem.  Belle headed for the off-course #11 jump upon exiting the tunnel.  (However, I may need to tweak the tunnel exit a little to conform with how it appears on the course map.

Challenge One:  After I watched the video of Saturday's run, I thought perhaps if I had lead out further to the left (closer to the weave poles), I would have been able to do a more dramatic rear cross and Belle would have realized I wanted her to turn right after jumping #4.  For Belle and me, that turned out to be a less than perfect solution.  Mostly, I was too late with my rear cross.  Additionally, when I watched the first batch of video from this morning, I realized my lead out to the left was probably giving Belle the impression that she would be going in that direction.  

This afternoon, I changed my plan and lead out to closer to the dogwalk so that I would be able to move forward and to the left to support the drive to #4, but still have room to perform a rear cross.  As I discovered after watching everything over and over in slow motion, being timely with the rear cross cue was much more important than the position I chose to lead out to.  However, I think I would favor leading out closer to the dogwalk to hedge my bets.  No point in having Belle watch me walk out in a direction that I don't want her to go in.

Please don't be shy.  If you see something else in the videos that I can do to improve our chances of handling at a distance, please let me know.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Chances Analysis - March 13, 2011

Belle, Dusty and I went to the Quad Cities for a NADAC trial this weekend.  Sunday's Chances course turned out to be one Belle and I had run unsuccessfully last June.  (I only know that we ran it before because I checked my records.  Believe me, a week after I run a course, it's wiped from my memory.  Sometimes, it's wiped from my memory while I'm running it ;-)

Handler Lines: Elite-Green; Open-Black; Novice-Red
At all levels, getting the dog to the first hoop was a major challenge.  If the handler failed to face the dog's path from the tunnel exit to that first hoop, the dog would exit the tunnel and come toward the handler.

In open and novice, another major challenge was getting the dog to hoop #7.  Given the path and momentum of the dog coming out of the tunnel, this is really more of a training issue.  A step or two toward that hoop might have helped in some cases, but for the most part it was a question of the dog just not being comfortable that far away from the handler when it came out of the tunnel.  (Notice that with Dusty, David does not have to step forward to get Dusty out to the hoop.  Stepping forward might have even pushed Mr. D around the hoop.)

To gain that step or two, most of us had to step back while the dog is in the tunnel.  On yesterday's run, I stepped back just a nanosecond too soon and pulled Belle out of the tunnel.  Luckily, she hadn't gotten all four paws into it so it didn't count as a failure to perform.  On the June run I handled that section okay, but then failed to indicate the turn from #7 to #8.

To finish the course, the handler had to give a body cue to indicate the A-frame was the obstacle to take.  On yesterday's run, my cue was a little over-stated, but it got the job done. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

USDAA PII - Standard

Belle and I finally completed her PII Standard title with two qualifying runs this weekend.  Here is Saturday's course map:
As the course was actually set, the weaves were at more of a right angle to the tire.  I opted to take only a modest lead out since I decided to stay on the right side of the teeter and push to #5.  From the table, I once again just took a small lead out so I could push to #10 and support #11.  Then I took off running so I could get to the right side of the weaves as Belle was approaching the bottom of the dogwalk.  I decided the best way for me to handle the tire was to take Belle there on my left, making sure we approached it head on.  (Since Belle is relatively small, I often have her slice an AKC tire.  But the smaller diameter of the USDAA makes that a non-option.)


Here's the course map for Sunday's PIII Standard run.  This course ran a lot smoother and easier for me.  Possibly because we didn't need the Q :-)  Unfortunately, I was unable to get this one taped.  But I ran it pretty much as indicated.  In order to ensure a nice approach to the dogwalk, I traveled at least as far to the left as the tunnel exit.  At the table, I only lead out a stride or so in order to promote a straight line to the tire.  From then on it was pedal to the metal.

USDAA PIII Gamblers Runs - March 5 & 6, 2011

This is the course map for the first run on Saturday at RACE'S USDAA Trial in Davenport, Iowa, Master/PIII Gamblers.

This was a difficult gamble, as are most Masters/PIII gambles.  If the handler is not about even with the end of the A-frame as she sends her dog into the tunnel, it is basically game over because the dog will fail to take the first jump.  The jump was set slightly further to the right than indicated on the course map, so its position combined with a dog's tendency to move toward its handler, made it very easy for the dog to by-pass.  I even resort to an off-side arm to indicate the jump.

Next you are faced with having to turn your dog away from you over #3.  I knew I had to indicate the turn to that jump, but when I fell behind, I kept running forward and tried to push Belle over the jump with an on-side arm.  I should have slowed drastically where I was and used an off-side arm once again.  However, the thinking brain was no longer in charge at this point.


If your dog had a dependable TOTO on the A-frame, Sunday's gamble was practically in the bag.  Accordingly, there were a lot more Q's Sunday.  Interestingly, on both days, more of the Performance dogs Q'd in Masters/PIII Gamblers.  I really don't know if that is a fluke or something that is generally true. 

Even though Sunday's gamble was much easier, I had decided to play it really safe before even looking at the course map.  I blush to confess that I didn't see the best opening.  In fact, I never even glanced in its direction.  Instead I decided to practice a snooker-like opening as you will see in the video.

The numbers indicate my opening.  The letters indicate a much more flowing and logical way to open.  (Despite the fact that Masters/PIII ran first, when it came time for Advanced/PII, many of the handlers who started on the right side of the course opened with the far right jump to the chute--a truly ugly line.  I don't believe anyone in Masters/PIII made that choice.)

There is unfortunately no video of this run.  Belle was on the teeter when the whistle blew.  Once she finished, I was in such a hurry to get to the gamble, I failed to get her to my side and she took one or two jumps along the way, taking down the bars on at least one of them.  Bad, bad handler.  I felt like this one was a Q of shame.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Exercise 3 from Tracy Sklenar's Article

I'm nothing if not stubborn.  When I realized I hadn't walked the exercises as Ms. Sklenar* had created them, I was determined to do at least one of them correctly before the sun set.
Here is the course as designed.  Notice that it requires the dog be sent to the back side of jumps 4, 5, 6 and 7.

I was hung up on how fast the dog can travel from the #2 tunnel exit to the backside of #4 by wrapping left around #4 to get to there.  When I finally decided to front cross on the landing side of #3 and direct Belle through the gap between #4 and #5, the run went much smoother.

*Sept/Oct, 2010 Dog Sport Magazine, "Home Improvement - Which Side When?

Which Way to Wrap?

The weather today is great!  Warm enough to get outside and do a little agility.  I set up a seven obstacle course designed by Tracy Sklenar for the September/ October, 2010 issue of Dog Sport Magazine.  My DH made me a quick mount for my Kodak Playsport video camera so I was able to video each of our sessions without having to fuss with screwing the camera onto the tripod every time I went outside.  I have a lot of video to analyze, but I will be kind and post just a sampling.

I simplified the first two exercises which involved wrapping a jump and decided to find out which way was faster.  I must confess, I have a strong preference for wrapping my dog toward me, but after watching  video of Belle wrapping very tightly away from me, I will no longer be timid about asking her to wrap away from me.

Which produces a faster line to the tunnel?  Wrapping right or left over jump #5?

Which produces a faster line to the tunnel?  Wrapping right or left over #7?
I thought wrapping away from me would produce the fastest line to the tunnel in both exercises, but that was only true in the first exercise.  Wrapping toward me (right) in the second exercise produced the faster line.  The difference wasn't enormous, but making the correct handling decision at every point on a course adds up to a significant savings of time and yardage.

Last spring, I attended a one-day seminar with Ann Braue.  I remember her talking about two of considerations in deciding which way to wrap a jump:  Where is your dog coming from?  Where is he going?

Having Belle wrap (right) away from me in the first exercise produced an efficient path to the tunnel because jump #6 is to the right of #5 (when you're facing away from the camera).  But in the second exercise, the most efficient line from #7 to #8 is to come in through the gap, plus it is a straight line after the wrap to the tunnel.

Flicker Refresh Rate or Why a Dog Can Turn on a Dime

Much has been written about canine vision, but I encountered a new aspect yesterday while reading Alexandra Horowitz's Inside of a Dog, "flicker refresh rate."  Basically, it is the rate at which at new image forms on the retina of the eye.  For people, the rate is around 60 hertz, or if you equate it to motion picture film, 60 frames per second.  At that rate, we perceive a series of still frames as being in smooth, continuous motion.  Below that rate and we perceive a flickering of the images.

A dog has a flicker refresh rate of 70-80 hertz.  Ms Horowitz (and others) go on to discuss what this means in terms of what a dog sees on a non-digital tv and how it perceives fluorescent lights.  However, they fail to tell us why a higher refresh rate is of value to a dog.  I did a little Googling this morning, but everything I came up with concerned dogs and how a tv image appeared to them.

I finally happened upon an article by Don Glass describing the even higher refresh rate of birds, 100 hertz and more depending upon the species.  The higher refresh rate enables them to fly through the woods at high speed and not crash into branches.  It enables large flocks to change direction abruptly and in unison.  For hawks, it allows them to detect the motion of prey while they are flying.  

The higher refresh rate of my canine teammate helps to explain how she can process the change of direction cues I give even as she is running full speed ahead into a tunnel or over a jump.  The trick is learning to give these subtle cues at the right time, and training the dog that we want them to finish the current obstacle but we will be changing direction.  For me learning to give the cues soon enough is by far the harder task.