Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Backyard Dogs Revisited

I decided to do a couple more of Nancy Gyes exercises from "Backyard Dogs," Clean Run, April '08, before I took everything down to mow.  Here's the video:

Chances Analysis - 08/27/2011

Belle, Dusty and I traveled to the Quad Cities for a NADAC trial this weekend.  Here is an analysis of Saturday's Chances courses. 

In Elite and Open the challenges are basically the same, the only difference is the distance from which they have to be performed.
Right off the bat, the handler is faced with a tunnel/A-frame discrimination.  The correct obstacle is further from the line.  In Novice, this challenge is minimized, but it definitely still exists.  If the handler is forced to move to the left before her dog is committed to the A-frame, it is almost certain her dog will take the tunnel.

One way to decide on how you would like to handle a discrimination, is to decide what you would do to direct your dog to the obstacle you don't want him to take.  If I wanted the tunnel and not the A-frame, I would be pulling away from the line and calling my dog's name.  If possible, I would also try to angle my dog at the start line so that he is looking through the hoop at the tunnel.

But the obstacle of choice is the A-frame, so I don't want to do any of the above.  If possible, I want to angle my dog at the start line so that he is looking at the A-frame.  I want to lead out to a position that will allow me to put pressure on my dog's line when I release him from the start line.  For some dogs, just being far enough to the side so that the line doesn't force you to move to the left as you move forward and a verbal "A-frame" with an outstretched arm may be enough.  For others, you may have to make certain you're far enough to the left that you can move toward the tunnel and A-frame as you move forward.

This is a very common challenge in NADAC.  However, tunnel/A-frame and tunnel/dogwalk discriminations exist in every venue.  If you can handle them with a little distance, it frees you up to get where you have to be in order to handle whatever may be coming up next.

The second challenge is sending your dog out to #4.  If you fail to slow your pace as your dog is performing the A-frame, you may reach the handler's line before your dog is committed to #4 and your dog will stop and/or spin as you come to a halt.  There were a couple of handlers who are able to successfully redirect their dogs after being forced to stop at the line.  This takes training--training which I think is worth the effort since miscalculations do occur and you may find yourself hugging the line.  However, although a verbal redirect may work here, if you're still up against the line and forced to rely on another verbal to turn your dog to the tunnel after #5, there is a very high probability of failure.

As I just mentioned, the next challenge is turning your dog away from you to the tunnel.  If you're up against the line, this is almost impossible to do.  And the more you use your arms to try and accomplish the turn away, the more your dog will look at you and not the tunnel.  At this point, most of the dogs whose handlers were stuck at the line decided the weaves must be the correct choice.

The final challenge is the off-course jump after the tunnel.  It was a real Q-killer in Elite.  The jump is very close to the tunnel.  I positioned myself even with the first pole of the weaves, but Belle was half way to the off-course jump before I called her.  The lone successful Elite handler positioned herself much further to the right and caught her dog's attention as she exited the tunnel.  As I was editing the clips for the video, I noticed that all the handlers who were successful did the same thing.  They moved to the right while their dogs were in the tunnel so that they could see them exiting and move toward the weaves, taking the off-course jump out of the picture for their dogs.

Here are the Q results:
15 Elite runs - 1 Q
17 Open Runs - 2 Q's
21 Novice Runs - 2 Q's

Monday, August 29, 2011

What's in a Name?

When I started my agility career with Max, my instructor stressed using our dog's name rather than "come" or "here."  I've only half-heeded that advice over the years, but this weekend I ran two courses that reinforced the importance of opting for "Belle" over "come."

Black line = handler's path; blue line=dog's path.
The first was Saturday's Jumpers course.  We had a beautiful run going.  I got in a nice front cross at 18 and took off for the home stretch.  I made two mistakes at this point.  First I didn't realize that Belle's momentum over 17-20 would very likely carry her to the #2 jump.  I assumed my change in direction would be sufficient to indicate where we were going after #20.  

However, I did realize #21 wasn't a given when I walked the course, so I remembered to say "come" as Belle went over #20.  She did come, but unfortunately it was after she took the off-course jump.  I don't know for sure, but I think if I had said "Belle," she would have looked at me and that would have brought the correct jump into her line of sight.

The other course was Sunday's tunnelers course.
I opted for a front cross from 3 to 4 so no verbal was really needed.  After that I very thoughtfully planned where I would be saying "Belle" to achieve the tightest lines we could.  As Belle came out of 4, I tried to say her name soon enough to achieve an efficient turn to 5.  Once Belle makes the curve in 6, she is staring at an inviting line of tunnels, so I used her name here to bring 7 into her line of sight.  I expected Belle to build up a full head of steam while running through 7, and I also thought the off-course red tunnel will be very, very inviting.  A sharp "Belle" as she exits helps to redirect her attention to the correct tunnel.  (Turns out it really didn't have to be all that sharp, but it would have been nice to be a stride earlier with it.)  Lastly, a quieter "Belle" to get from 9 to 10.  (Lots of dogs wouldn't need this many verbal cues to get through this course.  But this was our first tunnelers run since March, and I was hoping to have a fast and clean run.)

In all these examples, I wanted to bring the correct obstacle into Belle's line of sight, since like most dogs she tends to move in the direction she is looking.  I know some dogs are capable of looking back over their shoulder and running more or less forward, but by and large, dogs, like people, move in the direction they are facing.

But why use the Belle's name instead of "come" or "here"?  What happens when you are in a group of people and someone has the same name as yours?  My name is uncommon enough that I turn my head toward the speaker--no thought required.  It's my name.  I'm used to looking up when someone uses it.  But I suspect that even if your name is Tom or Sue, you have the same reaction.  Heck, it was years before I stopped looking around every time I heard some kid say "Mom." :-)

By using my dog's name instead of "come" or "here," I'm tapping into to a whole bunch of training that I've done without even thinking about it.  My dogs respond to their names because they have learned that there's a high probability that something (hopefully something good) is going to happen that concerns them--walks, meals, cookies, belly rubs, or just being let out the door for a potty break.  For most dogs, there is a long history of positive reinforcement connected to their name.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Backyard Dogs - April, 2008

Belle and I have a NADAC trial this weekend, so I decided to set up something simple.  I chose the Nancy Gyes' Backyard Dogs exercises from Clean Run, April, 2008.  I set up a couple of extra tunnels and the dogwalk and A-frame around the periphery so we could practice the occasional contact.

My goal with the first two exercises was to handle them as many different ways as I could think of.  Here's the result:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Spring Lake

My sister-in-law alerted me to the fact that the lotus are blooming at Spring Lake, which is part of the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge, located about 2 miles south of Savanna, Illinois.  After the rain this morning, the day turned out to be rather pleasant so Ed and I decided to go hiking at Spring Lake.  It's the first time I've walked on uneven ground for any distance since I broke my ankle, and my ankle did really well.

By the time we got to Spring Lake, the humidity was starting to climb and it was about 82 degrees and incredibly sunny.  Thankfully, there was a stiff breeze, which kept the mosquitoes at bay, as well as keeping us cool.  Here are a few photos I took today:

One of the many lotus beds at Spring Lake.

This lotus leaf is about 20" across.

Tundra Swans can almost always be found at Spring Lake.

Giving the Right Impression

Yesterday morning, I used the course I posted on Sunday to practice short sequences, trying to discover why Belle and I had so much trouble with the tunnel to tunnel sequence.  It finally occurred to me that this problem was very similar to the one I experienced with the turn from #4 to #5 in March on this course:

My first thought on handling the opening was to lead out to about (30,-5) so that I would have plenty of room to cue the turn by moving right as Belle took #4.  Great plan, but it just didn't work.  I decided to try more or less starting with Belle on my left and rear-crossing the #2 tunnel.  Even though I far less real estate to move in, that worked.  I decided leading out way left didn't work because it inadvertently gave Belle the impression we would be going LEFT!  By starting with her on my left, Belle didn't start with any preconceived idea about where the course was going.

On Sunday's course, the same issue of inadvertently giving the wrong impression arose with the send to the #20 tunnel.  When I walked this course, I thought the tunnel to tunnel sequence was a given.  After all, the dog comes out of #20 at a good clip and #21 is definitely the first thing they see.  The first time that we get that far (about 1:50 on the video), Belle responds to the "go tunnel" command, but I mess up by moving too soon and too quickly to the left and pull her to the #6 jump in front of the tunnel.

Since turning left was the wrong choice, Belle starts reacting to the last cues she receives before entering the #20 tunnel:
  • Handler is on her right
  • Handler is facing right
  • Handler is moving right
If we hadn't gotten off to such a rocky start with this course, Belle might have been willing to trust her ears a second time.  However, once things began going so badly, I think a better choice would have been to do a front cross at the #18 jump as shown below:

Red path - actual handler's path.  Black path - a better idea?

I would have to hustle to get the front cross in, and I would have to be sure to move laterally and support Belle's path to #17 while I'm moving to #18.  But hopefully, being on Belle's left as she enters the tunnel would make a right turn coming out of the tunnel less of option.

P.S.  I had a chance to try the front cross this evening.  It was not a viable option.  By the time I managed to move far enough to left of #18 (looking at the course map) to execute the front cross, I was up against the bonus line.


Getting the front cross in would call for some hustle on my part, and I blush to disclose that I've become complacent in my handling with Belle.  Yesterday evening, I ran the reverse of this course with all three dogs (no bonus line attempt), and even Libby did a better job of it than Belle.

I thought about that for a few moments, and realized there was an enormous difference in the way I handled Libby and Dusty as compared with how I handled Belle.  With Libby and Dusty, I know I have to really made an effort to ensure they stay on course. Therefore, I made sure to support Libby and Dusty at all these places:
  • The #4 jump between the A-frame and the #5 tunnel
  • The push to the #6 tunnel
  • Hustled to do a blind cross at exit of #6 so I'd be on the inside for 7-10
  • Made sure to support the #9 jump
  • Had to push out for the #12 jump, but be ready to grab the dog's attention in order to get to the weaves (the off-course tunnel was really, really tempting)
  • Support the pinwheel
  • Hustle down the dogwalk so I would be in position to push out to the #20 jump and #21 tunnel
  • At this point I was really far behind for the final two jumps, but I kept pressure on and both dogs completed the course.
I brought Belle out again, and handled her with the intensity that I used with Dusty and Libby, and what a difference it made.  This time, she nailed the course.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bonus Line Practice

I set this 25-obstacle regular course, which I believe was in the course example file on the NADAC list at one time.

This is actually Round 2 of this particular course.  I chose this version over Round 1 for our bonus attempt because Belle is coming toward me on the dogwalk and A-frame.  I think sending her away from me, not once, but twice on the dogwalk has a very low probability of success.

I really thought the 5-7 sequence was the hardest part of the course, especially the turn to the #7 jump.  However, as you will see in the video, I was so wrong about that it's pathetic.

Here are some short sequences Belle and I will be running on this course to practice our communication skills :-)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Advanced Course from the Agility Nerd - 08/03/2011

I put up Steve Schwarz's (the Agility Nerd) advanced course from August 3, 2011.  You can see the course map and Steve's handling comments on his blog.  Since Belle doesn't encounter a teeter all that often, I substituted the A-frame for the teeter and had her do a jump after the weaves to give her a straight line to the A-frame.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alphabet Drills - Letter "d"

Tuesday evening, I decided to take a break from the long 30-obstacle courses and set up the letter "d" from Nancy Gyes Alphabet Drills, Clean Run, June, 2005.  Here's a narrated video of three of the exercises we worked today.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A New Champs Practice Course

This practice course is loosely based on Round 4 of last year's Championships.

Note:  This course requires tweaking once it is set up to ensure flow.  1,2, 13/24, 28, 29, 30 are barless jumps or hoops

Unlike the course I set up Friday, this one is much more wide open and requires the handler (me) to cover a lot more ground to get the job done.  The first time through, when I got to #23, I lost presence of mind and re-ran 5-10 before realizing I had messed up.  So much for not taxing the little gray cells, n'est pas?

I attempted to correct my mistake after taking a rest, and then Belle started doing all sorts of squirrely things on the course.  It was a truly humbling experience.

This morning we went out and ran it once.  We did pretty well except  after tunnel #10 Belle ran to where the toys are kept instead of continuing on course.  I got her back and we finished, but I was gasping for breath : (

For those of you who want to set up this course, here is an alternate running:

Note:  This course will require tweaking once set up to ensure flow.  1, 2 and 5/15/27 are barless jumps or hoops. 


I went out this evening to run the second course and Ed videoed for me.  Belle ran much better.  Unfortunately, I was completely winded by the time we hit obstacle #29 and unable to finish.  Here's the video:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Preparing for Champs

NADAC Championships are only two months away, and I decided it was time to start memorizing and running some longer courses.  I found a suitable candidate in my files.  The original course is the one numbered on the course map below--there's even a distance line.  All of the unnumbered jumps were added by me.

My focus this week is going to be on memorizing 30-35 obstacles and hopefully being able to run them.  From watching video of last year's Champs, it seems that the course occupies significantly more area than this one.  However, in the interests of building up my endurance gradually, I decided to keep the spacing of this course like it would be at a regular trial.

Friday, I ran both Dusty and Belle on the course above, and both of them had off-courses--Dusty went from #16 to the wrong end of the #17 tunnel; Belle took the #16 jump instead of the dogwalk upon exiting the #18 tunnel.  I noticed that Belle was coming out of the tunnels at a reduced speed and checking in for directions.  So I removed the bars on jumps 3 and 4/16, and had Belle and Dusty run fast little sequences using those two jumps and the three tunnels.  That's a little game we will be playing for the next five or six days.

Today, Sunday, I decided to video our runs.  Much to my surprise, Dusty ran the regular course perfectly.  Next, Belle and I tried the 29-obstacle course I designed:

After a few false starts, I re-thought my handling plan and we were able to get through the entire course.  I was thrilled to discover that I could memorize a 29-obstacle course and that I had the stamina to run it.  

Due to my tweaking, this course calls for a lot of  handling of almost all of the sequences involving one or more of the tunnels.  I guess I have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a course that flows better and that will give me opportunities to work lateral distance in preparation for Champs.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Übung Monat August (Exercise for the Month of August)

I started corresponding with Tanja of Scotti's Seite from Germany in March when she contacted me for directions to construct some hoops. Unfortunately, Tanja only speaks German and the only other language I have some fluency in is Spanish, so we must depend upon Google Translator to communicate.  German has a very flexible grammatical structure and the translations from German to English are often obscure.  I can only imagine how mangled the English to German translations are.

Tanja and Claudia have been involved in agility for more more than 14 years and are agility seminar presenters who seem to be in great demand in Germany.  Tanja combines distance with the technical skills needed on a German course.  The send distance of her dogs is very impressive.

Anyway, Tanja asked me if I would like to join her group and share my running of the monthly exercises they do (Übungen des Monats). There is a new base course each month that features three different sequences.  Each sequence is to be handled in two different ways.  Everyone films from the same spot on the course so that we can compare ways of handling.

That much I understood.  However, I thought Tanja or her friend Claudia did all the course designing.  Imagine my surprise when I was asked to design this month's exercises.  I've designed practice courses before, but German practice courses involve threadles and lot's of really "weird stuff" that I only do occasionally, so I'm really working at a disadvantage in trying to design a course of sufficient complexity.  I decided to keep my course layout simple and used a three-jump serpentine, a pinwheel, two tunnels and a set of weave poles.  Here's the base course:

Now comes the hard part, dreaming up three sequences that defy the concept of "flow."  In addition to having to think out of the box to set up the sequences, I was faced with the additional problem of memorizing the courses so that I could run them and see if they were hard enough.  For me, flow equals a logical way to move through a course that doesn't require the full attention of all my little gray cells just to memorize the order of the obstacles.  "Non-flow" means I have to really memorize the sequence so I know where we're going and can let Belle know in time for her to do something about it.  (Sort of like going for all 7's in Snooker.)

I  worked on the hardest exercise first, which was Exercise 3.
The first way I chose to handle went pretty well, as you can see here.  (I decided to change #11 to the backside after filming.)

But then I had to come up with something different for my second run.  I decided to run with Belle for 1-3 and rear cross the weaves.  I quickly found that if I didn't run far enough beyond the first pole (to the left) with Belle before turning and sending her into the weaves, my motion to complete the turn and head in the right direction would either cause Belle to stop weaving or pop out.

Handler's path for a successful rear cross on the weaves.
Next I worked on the second exercise.  That one wasn't too bad.

Lastly, I tackled the first exercise.  Ugh!  This one was supposed to be the simplest of the bunch.  I tried filming it during three different sessions without getting it right.  (A lot of our aborted efforts were at the weave pole exit when I goofed and thought that Belle had popped out on the wrong side as I tried to execute a front cross.  Duh, dumb handler.)  Another spot where we had a problem was getting from 8 to 9.  My initial efforts to keep Belle away from the off-course 2/10 jump resulted in her taking #9 from the wrong side.
Actually, now that I posted the course map, I see that I forgot about the wrap to the #11 tunnel on our "successful" runs during our fourth session with this sequence.  Oh, well.  Such is life.  I've already taken down the course and mowed, so what you see is what you get.  On a much more positive note, at least this month I was able to do all three exercises.  In July, I never came close to getting the third one--largely because I just couldn't remember the sequence while running in the heat and humidity.

Here's the video of our most successful efforts on these three courses.  (I will add the videos of other people running these exercises as they become available.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Variations on a Theme

Whenever I set up a complete course, I try to keep it up until it is time to mow the field again.  Since I quickly tire of doing the same thing over and over, I try to come up with variations.  Sometimes the variations are complete courses; sometimes they are just short sequences designed to work on specific skills.

The Bud Houston course that I posted Saturday lent itself very well to creating other full courses.  I also added a dogwalk and A-frame along the sides so I could practice speeding up Belle's contacts.  I put the weave poles along a third side so I'd have a logical way to get to the A-frame.

Here are some of the variations I created on Bud's course.

Here are a couple of examples of sequences for working on contact speed.  The weaves could easily be replaced with a long, straight tunnel and the #7 tunnel could be moved closer to the A-frame in order to come up with some sequences that emphasize A-frame performance.

Once I walked Variation One, I realized the only way I could turn Belle into the serpentine at jump #5 was by taking a big lead out in the area of (70,10).  That put me in an ideal spot to push her out to tunnel #2, call her to jump #3 and then get in position for the serpentine.

The second variation contains some technical sequences.  For example how best to handle the turn from #4 to #5 and be in a position to perform the threadle from #5 to #6.  On our first run, I did a front cross at the left side of #4 and ran on the take-off side of #5 & #6.  On the next run, I sent Belle to #4 and ran on landing side of #5 & #6.  On our third run, I had Belle take #4 from the back side and ran along the take-off side of #5 & #6.

I had to watch my handling carefully when wrapping Belle to the right around #9.  If I moved in toward the jump as she was turning, it resulted in a back jump.

The long runs from 9 to 10, 12 to 13, and 16 to 17 all call for the dog to by-pass a tempting off-course obstacle at full speed.

The third variation offers several opportunities for distance and speed.  It also features several turns that require more control.  Notice there are two different endings for this course.  Little wrinkles I encountered with Belle:  1 to 2 is not a given.  Keeping the turn to #3 reasonably tight.  Jumping 5 from the correct side.  Moving quickly enough to reach the landing side of 16 before Belle exits the tunnel.  (I've only run this one ending at the tire so far.)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Of Wraps and Layering

While I was recovering from my broken ankle, I accumulated several courses that I wanted to try once I was able to run again.  On May 19th, Bud Houston blogged about this Masters/PIII Jumpers course he designed , and I finally got to set it up and run it yesterday.

Used with Permission

Note:  My jump bars are only four feet long, so there is lot's of empty space on the course as I have it set up in my yard.

Bud posed this question in his post:  If 100 handlers and dogs ran the jumpers course above… which would be the more successful turning direction at jump #9?  After running this course, wrapping left is not an option for me.  First of all, in order to achieve any kind of efficient line over 10 and 11 to the #12 tunnel, the handler would have to beat her dog to the far wing of #9 and do a front cross.  No way I'm going to beat Dusty or Belle to that spot.  Secondly, as long as the handler doesn't run right up to the wing of #9 when wrapping her dog to the right, the dog's line to the tunnel is pretty much a given.
However, if the handler gets too close to #9 (red line) in order to wrap her dog right and has to move left to avoid the wing of the #10 jump, that movement may disrupt the dog's line to the tunnel.

To see the effect wrapping in the "wrong" direction can have, watch the effect that wrapping to right around #17 has on Dusty's closing line in his first run.  It was truly ugly.

The first time through, I had trouble getting both Dusty and Belle  from the #12 tunnel to the #13 jump.  It completely escaped me on the course map and the walk-thru that layering the 4/16 jump will cause the handler to draw her dog to the off-course tunnel.  If I had set up a winged jump here, the effect would have been even more pronounced.

In order to send your dog from the tunnel to the triple, you have to apply pressure along the red arrow shown below.  Trying to do so while layering jump 4/16 is not easy--I did manage once with Belle, but keep in mind my jump is four to five feet narrower than the one called for on this course.  It is much easier to follow the green handler's line below and give a timely out signal and verbal just before your dog exits the #12 tunnel as I did on Dusty and Belle's second runs on the video.  

Arguably, you could do the same thing layering 4/16, but the winged jump will impede your dog's view of you.  And if you are too close to the plane of the jump, you will not be able to push in the direction of the red arrow very effectively.

I don't usually set up winged jumps in the field because they blow down.  (Also, I only have three of them.)  However, after running the course Friday, I decided to place wings at 9/19, 10/18 and 4/16, and run Belle one more time to see if they made any difference in our success or lack thereof.

Here's the video of Belle and Dusty running this course:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Chances Analysis - 07/31/11

Sunday, Belle and I went to Davenport for Ready, Steady, Go's NADAC trial.  I was a lot more mobile than I was at last month's trial and Belle's times were quite a bit better.  I was particularly pleased that Belle did no stress scratching at the start line as I lead out.  She was focused on Mom and the course.  Here is video of four of our five runs:

Here's my analysis of Elite and Open Chances in a video format: