Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Difficult 15-Point Bonus Challenge

Yesterday, I set up a Regular course from the February NADAC trial at the QCDC. 

This is not a course I would try from the 15-point line in competition because it is a too complex for us above the 70' line.  However, I felt it would be a good course to practice increasing our distance skills.  Part of the problem we encountered with this course was due to the fact that I have never been able to train Belle to drive to the end of her dogwalk and A-frame. Since my handling area was limited by the bonus line, I was unable to keep moving forward while Belle was on the dogwalk and she lost momentum.

When I try this course from the 15-point bonus line again, I am going to do a lateral lead-out to about (8,-8) and see if I can't keep pressure on Belle's line while she is on the dogwalk.

I also ran Dusty last night, but didn't have the camera rolling.  I was amazed at how intently he attacked the course and how well we did.  He got his contacts and left all the bars up; no barking at his handler; an almost perfect run.  He was really flying by the time he hit the weaves and ended up single-footing them.  Unfortunately, he was moving with such extension that he ended up popping out at #10 because he had run out of room for his body in the poles.

July Parcours from Germany

Tanja from Scotti's Seite on YouTube invited me to run the monthly exercises she puts together.  I tried the July exercises last Friday and was rathered bummed out by our inability to handle them.  Basically, many of the challenges of the German courses are just things we never see here in the States, and therefore, Belle and I are tackling them from scratch.  In essence the courses demand that either you run with your dog (for the young and the fast) or you can work distance and extremely close to your dog as needed.

Here is the video of the first two exercises--successes and failures included.  We worked on the third exercise also, but it was sprinkling so I had to put the camera away.  For some reason, I had a very difficult time remembering the third sequence.  Probably the heat and humidity.  This is definitely a project I would be better off tackling on a cool spring or autumn day.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

There's a Heat Wave Coming

After I ran Dusty on the Euro Puzzle this morning, I decided to set up another of Nancy Gyes Alphabet Drills.  This one is the letter C from the April, 2005 issue of Clean Run.  Since it is going to be really hot and muggy for the next few days, I thought these drills should be short enough to go out and work once or twice a day.  Additionally, setting up the jumps doesn't require the surveyor's tape and wheel.  Approximate is good enough.

This morning, I decided to tackle the figure 8 drills.  Instead of running a separate set for each type of "cross,"* I decided to blend them into one long sequence and end with a Ketschker.  By far the easiest way for me to run the figure 8 was with the front cross--since I can send Belle to do the 180's, it minimizes the steps I have to take and getting the front cross in is a piece of cake.  However, the concentration involved in remembering which set of crosses I'm using each time through is a great mental exercise for me.

I spent a lot of time working on the Ketschker turn on the mirror image drill, and we never did get it right.  Unfortunately, it was getting too warm to stay out any longer or I would have also worked the figure 8 using a different "cross" every time a turn was called for .  I'll post the videos as we do more of these exercises during the week.

* I put cross in quotes because a post turn was also used in this exercise.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Euro Puzzle

Thursday, my DH surprised me by bringing home a piece of exterior plywood so we could repair the A-frame.  After working the twisty, turny, technical courses of The Agility Coach, I decided it was time for a change of pace.  On June 17th, Bud Houston posted a European-style course from one of his readers.  Click here to read Bud's post and view the course map.

I usually use course maps to memorize the order of the obstacles and form some tenative ideas on how to handle.  Unfortunately, even after eight years of building courses from course maps, I really don't have a good eye for relative distance, traps, and difficult approaches.  Such was the case with this course.  This course is 120 feet wide.  The distance from the #11 jump to the #12 tunnel is fifty feet!!!  That is a huge distance even by NADAC standards.

I chose this course because the original question was how to achieve a pull-through from #16 to #17.  When I commented on Bud's post, I didn't think I'd be able to get close enough to manage a pull-through.  However, provided #16 was not too close to the ring wall, I felt I could try wrapping Belle right around #16 and bring her through the box to #17.

I also had a half-brained idea that if wrapping right was not an option, I might be able to handle 5-17 from the back end of the course so I could do a threadle from 16 to 17.  However, after looking at the path from the weave poles to the #10 jump, I don't think it will work.  The dog leaves the weaves on an angle that would cause him to run by the jump unless the handler does something to alter his path.  But for giggles and grins, I will give it a try.


Well, it's dusk and the A-frame side is still not quite dry.  Since I may not get a chance to work with Belle tomorrow due to other commitments, I decided to try the first part of the course.  Running with the dogwalk on my right (I don't know what I was thinking when I drew the handler's path on the course above--no way I'm going to be able to get to the other side of the dogwalk and run with it on my left.), we made over jump #10 and then Belle went off-course to jump #3--don't know why I didn't realize that was a very viable option after the depressed angle over #10.  Started over and made sure to get Belle's attention and direct her to #11.  However, the send to the distant tunnel was derailed by an off-course to jump #19.  I have to remember to not turn toward the back of the course until Belle is past #19.  

Now I was really on a roll and decided to try the 16-17 part.  I discovered that even gimping along on a bad ankle, I easily made it into position to do a threadle by running between the dogwalk and A-frame.  


Saturday evening.  Ed put the A-frame together for me while I was gone this morning, so all I had to do was wait for it to cool down a little so I could tackle the whole course with Belle.  Having learned from my mistakes yesterday, we nailed the course the first time through this evening.  Since that went so well, I decided I would at least try my suggestion for handling 5-17 from the back of the course.  Not surprisingly, once again Belle took the off-course jump after #10.  I just kept going until she knocked a bar at #17.  I started her over from the dogwalk and this time, she nailed the sequence from the weave poles to the tunnel.

The last thing I tried was getting Belle to wrap right at #17 when I was at a distance.  It worked, but by layering the A-frame while the dog is doing the tunnel, teeter, jump, even a slow handler has enough time to get to #17 for a threadle, and the threadle produces a faster, shorter line to the A-frame.

One last comment on this course, the last jump is really off-set from the jump after the A-frame.  A rear cross at the A-frame or a blind cross allow the handler to make it much clearer to dog where the course is going.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Twisty, Turny Courses

Just before I broke my ankle, I downloaded The Agility Coach Notebook Large Spaces Vol. 1 written by Kathy Keats.  I spent weeks looking at the exercises wishing I could start working on them.  Last week, I finally set up the fourth set of exercises so I could give it a go. Since it's been so hot and I'm still limited in the amount of turning I can do, we've only worked on two of the four sequences.  Here's how we did Tuesday:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Power of a Click

I have used a clicker for teaching certain behaviors for several years.  The most complicated trick I’ve taught so far was skateboarding.  The most amazing thing I’ve done with a clicker (so far) is convincing an adult Aussie male foster that the place to pee is outside, not indoors.

My sister-in-law, Karen, has been training dogs since the 70’s.  Around 1990, she became interested in reviving one of the hunting lines of the American Cocker Spaniel that had nearly died out.  She was the driving force in the formation of GLACSHE (Great Lakes American Cocker Spaniel Hunting Enthusiasts) and has a formidable background in training Cockers for hunt tests.

Enter Lacie, a one-year-old, rescue female Cocker with drive and endurance that could really take her a long way.  One problem.  Although Lacie would willingly retrieve her favorite stuffed toy, she wanted no part of picking up a dead bird or even a field dummy.  After butting heads with Lacie over the issue for almost a year, Karen happened upon this video which shows how to clicker train a retrieve.

A week or two later, Karen shot this video which shows Lacie enthusiastically grabbing, holding and delivering her field dummy to hand.

The power of the click lies in several things:

1.  First and foremost, it is a distinct sound that the dog doesn’t hear in any other context.  As such it is an unequivocal way to indicate to the dog she has done the correct thing. Like telepathically telling the dog, “That’s it!  That’s what I want!”

2.  It forces the trainer to think about what she wants to train in new ways.  If the trainer is to be successful using a clicker to train a trick or behavior, she  will be forced to break the behavior down and analyze the steps involved in a way they might never have considered doing before.

3.  Your dog learns that she can make something good (the C/T) happen by her actions.  For some (perhaps most) dogs this is a very powerful and awakening concept.  They become active participants in their training.

4.  As a direct consequence of #3, behaviors are “owned” by the dog not imposed by the trainer.  Belle and Libby both were shaped to skateboard.  At most, I drag the board out once or twice a year.  But because they “figured out” how to skateboard for themselves, the behavior is still intact.  I’m not suggesting you can shape a behavior and then expect the dog to remember it forever, but I do think it becomes more firmly established than a behavior that was taught by leading the dog by the collar and getting her to perform.

5.  In agility, without timing your runs are doomed.  Using a clicker to mark a behavior will will give you a whole new appreciation for timing ;-)  Hopefully, as your timing improves while clicker training, there will be some spillover of that improvement into your agility handling.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Scotti's Seite

I have been a big fan of ScottisSeite on YouTube for several months.  I don't speak German, but I gather from watching the videos that Tanja and Claudia started their agility careers about three years ago and now conduct agility seminars on a fairly regular basis.  I am fascinated by how different Tanja’s handling is from what we see in America.  Her hands are extremely important in her handling--much more important in the hierarchy of communication than is the case in this country.  Additionally, at times her body becomes another obstacle on the agility course—one she uses to shape her dogs’ path, not block off-course choices.  Tanja also has the option to send her dogs when it is appropriate.

If you watch some of her trial videos, you will see why Tanja needs these tools.  German courses are quite different than the ones we see in this country regardless of venue.   Unfortunately, I'm not articulate enough to describe the difference.  To me the courses are more complex and require a lot of 180's and by-passing of obstacles.  Yet the good handlers make them look like there is an organizing principle in their design that allows both handler and dog to really get it into gear.

Now that my ankle has begun to become more flexible, I'm looking forward to working on Belle's speed.  I based my current course on one that Tanja posted on June27th.  Since I really, really wanted to work on the Ketschker turn, I made the course symmetrical and replaced the weaves with a long, straight tunnel. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Chances Analysis

Here is the Chances course from Saturday's trial with the handler lines for all three levels shown:

For Elite and Open, the most difficult challenge is getting the dog into the #7 tunnel.  Unfortunately, the majority of the handlers were almost to the line or actually at it as their dog was turning from #4 to #5.  This meant that the only way they could move toward the path from #6 to the tunnel without crossing the line was by moving southeast.  The obvious line is 5-6-7.  However, moving south pulls the dog off that line and right to the A-frame.  If you look at the video of Belle and me, you will see that I step away from the line as she is going through #5.  Either she was oblivious to that step back or else my subsequent push toward the line more than compensated for it.  (I was concerned about the possibility of an off-course from #4 to #9, so I was closer to the line than I should have been.  Having made that error, I then compounded it by moving too quickly to support Belle's path from #4 to #5--I should have taken smaller steps.)

The other challenge was the weave pole entry.  It is an off-side entry and most of the dogs were moving at a goodly clip.  It was really impressive to see how well some of them made their entry after over-shooting the plane of the weave poles by three feet or more.

For the Novice class, the A-frame proved to be a very attractive off-course in the opening, with perhaps as many as half the dogs taking it.  (I don't know for sure, but I don't think a single Open or Elite dog went 1, 2, A-frame.)  I think the basic problem was that many of the handlers chose to lead out on the dog's right (not an option in Open or Elite).  Part of their decision was probably prompted by the idea they would be better able to keep their dog off the A-frame.  Another factor that influenced their choice was it removed the necessity to rear cross between #4 and #5 (or as at least a couple of handlers did, front cross at that point). Unfortunately, being on the dog's right after he takes the #4 puts the handler too close to the handling line for the tunnel/A-frame discrimination, and as a result, the percentage of dogs choosing the A-frame over the tunnel was quite high.

Back to Trialing

On Saturday, Belle, Dusty and I went to the QCDC in Davenport for our first trial in more than 10 weeks.  I had hoped to trial on both Saturday and Sunday, but a summer cold took me down for the count Saturday evening and all of Sunday.

I was a little anxious to see if all the distance work Belle and I have been doing would hold up in a trial setting.  Belle performed wonderfully for three of our four runs.  Our fourth run, jumpers, was under SCT by just a hair.  I realized during the run that Belle was running slow, so I did my best to move a little more to encourage her to move faster.  Needless to say, we will go back to working on speed as well as distance.

I was very pleased to see that I'm not really limping all that much in the video.  Sports turf is just so foot-friendly.

Here's video of Chances and both Regular runs: