Thursday, September 29, 2011

Distance Work - The Send

September 24, 2011.  I modified yesterday's course and made it into a simple race track.

I tried handling Belle from behind line L1.  But once again, she ran much slower moving away from me than when coming toward me.  When I ran Dusty, I used L2 as my handler path because my goal with him is to eliminate head checking.  Since that went so smoothly with Dusty (relatively speaking), I tried it with Belle.  She was faster moving away from me when I worked along the red line, but still not as fast as when coming toward me.  What to do?

I decided to go back to square one for the send.  I set up a traffic cone and tried using treats to reinforce movement away from me around the cone.  There were a couple of problems with this approach.
  • My timing of the click wasn't consistent enough to let Belle know what I really wanted, i.e., a fast send to the cone.
  • In order to receive her reward, Belle had to return to me.  Not the best placement of a reinforcer for the behavior I wanted to work on.  (Note:  The treat could be tossed indoors to the appropriate spot to reward the behavior.  On grass, it's not really an option without a food tube.)
  • On some of the sends, Belle moves at a pretty nice speed, but the return is always much faster.  You can see her digging in after she makes the turn around the cone.
I finally brought out Belle's favorite toy, a Jolly Ball, and used it to reward the send behavior at a distance.  Since I was no longer going for a send and return, I substituted a hoop for the cone.  Then I added a second hoop, and finally ended the session with a send through multiple hoops to a distant tunnel.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Distance Training - 09/23/11

I set up Nancy Gyes' Power Paws Drill from the July issue of Clean Run.  My goal is to run the exercises from bonus line distance.  So far it's not going that well, but it is a great training opportunity for Belle, Dusty and me.  Here's the course as I set it up with hoops:

I added the two red hoops to make the exercise easier from behind the bonus lines.  I hope to eventually be able to remove the two hoops, but as you can see in the video, they are quite useful for improving the handler's timing and it makes the course more straightforward for the dog.  Belle was drawn to the hoop on the left with the red arrow, and I eventually moved it out a good 20 feet so that it was no longer in the picture.

This brings to mind a couple of guidelines for distance training:
  • Don't mark mistakes.  You want your dog to be comfortable working away from you.  Corrections will erode that comfort. 
  • If an exercise is not going as you hoped, simplify the exercise so that you and your dog can be successful.

After running the course, I decided to alter it so that I could concentrate increasing Belle's send speed.  Here is the course as I will be using it tomorrow, along with a couple of suggested sequences:

If need be, I will configure the outer two lines of hoops to form arcs to encourage more speed on the send.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

AKC Standard Practice

Belle and I have an AKC trial coming up at the beginning of October.  The judge is Daniel Dege.  I was unable to find any of his courses on-line, but I did find out that Clean Run featured one of his courses in their "What's My Plan?" series in April, 2010. 

I ran the course with all three dogs before reading the article.  After reading the it, I decided I will place a winged jump at 7/13 tomorrow since the extra width may alter the way I have to handle the sequence from the tire to the teeter.  (09/21/00:  I placed wings by the jump and they made no difference for a rear cross on the landing side.  However, they made the double a very, very viable off-course if the handler plans to do a front cross between 6 and 7.)

Here's today's video with commentary:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Working on Distance - A Tale of Three Aussies

I used a novice jumpers course map from 2000 and set up a course with hoops to work on handling and distance with the Aussies.  This is the course I wanted to set, but I was pressed for time, so I just eyeballed the placement of the hoops.

Although I've been working for years with each of the Aussies, when I train, I concentrate on different things with each dog.  With Belle, I'm primarily interested in increasing her speed and improving my ability to communicate with her at a distance.  With Dusty, just getting to the start line is part of the training process.  I want him to come to the line without barking and leaping and twirling.  When he's running, I want him to run without head-checking or barking at me, which means I have to really concentrate on my timing.  Despite appearances, Libby is a soft dog who has shut down in trial settings two or three times in her agility career.  The last time was three years ago, and I have not trialed with her since.  When I bring her out to "train," I'm interested in making agility fun and keeping her motivated.  Therefore, I usually don't react to mistakes, and I spend a lot of time playing tug with her.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Grand Prix

Today, I set up the Grand Prix course that was designed by Peggy Hammond.

I was really surprised at how easy this course seemed in comparison to the Masters Standard course.  This morning I ran Belle first, running her as I would run her at an actual trial; in the afternoon, I tried some distance handling to see how her speed and accuracy compared.  Our morning run was about two seconds faster than our afternoon run.  On the video you will get another demonstration of the power of using your dog's name.  (See my post, "What's In a Name?")

I was extremely pleased with Dusty's morning run.  I let him hold a toy in his mouth on our way out to the start line, and we got there with a minimum of barking and spinning.  Then he shocked me with a very beautiful run.  I gave quiet commands at strategic places and he listened!  (Stuart Mah maintains that to bring a dog into handler focus, you speak more quietly.  Unfortunately, a lot of us have a tendency to speak louder when we want our dog's attention.  At least I know I do.)  My handling was pretty much spot on except when I was late signalling the left turn over the #12 jump--that produced a very wide path to the tire.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You Gotta Know When to Run, You Gotta Know When to Wait

This morning, I set up Peggy Hammond's Masters/PIII course from March 13, 2010.

I ran Dusty first and we had several rough spots.  I turned toward the teeter before he was committed to the tunnel and pulled him on to the dogwalk.  Next, he overshot the weave pole entrance because he failed to collect.  Lastly, he self-released from the A-frame.  Ugh!  Then I ran Belle.  I thought it was an almost perfect run except that I almost pulled her to the dogwalk.  However, then I watched the video.  Much to my surprise, both dogs by-passed the #3 jump.  That I pulled them past it I can understand, but that I didn't even notice I did it. . . .  Yikes!

I changed the camera angle and took all three Aussies outside to work on my handling of the opening.  Despite the fact I knew it was a problem, I missed it the first two times I tried it with Libby.  Since I now knew it was a problem, I made sure to bid my time with Belle and Dusty until they committed to the jump.

I watched the Agility Nerd run Meeker after I ran this course, and it made me realize that leading out to (27, 68) to face and call the dogs was probably not the handling best choice.  A more modest lead out, keeping my back to the table, and releasing them to run on my left side to the tunnel still allowed me plenty of time to get into position for what followed.  Facing my dog indicates I want handler focus and collection.  Getting to the correct tunnel entrance doesn't call for handler focus or collection IF you run with the dog on your left as Steve did.

Introduction to Distance Training - Part Three

It's been two or three days since my first two sessions with Max, so I decided to set up three hoops and work a few minutes with him this morning.  Unlike my Aussies and Lacie, the Cocker Spaniel, Max does not have live to work with his people.  Additionally, he is easily distracted.  He no longer has a reliable recall, so I will never be able to take him out to the agility field to work since it is unfenced.  However, there is a fair amount of room in the backyard, and I should be able to set up some fairly interesting courses for him as time goes by.

For today's exercise, I set up a three hoop pinwheel.  Based on our short warm-up, I decided the second pinwheel was too far out, so I moved it in closer.  If Max had trouble with it at that distance, I could have moved the hoops closer together and/or moved a little more deeply into the pocket.  My goal when I do a pinwheel is to stay out of the pocket unless I want to do a front cross before the third jump or I'm need to run a longer path so my dog can get ahead of me before I do a rear cross.

Here's the video:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Gamble Analysis

Yesterday evening, I set up this USDAA Masters/PIII Gamblers course designed by Peggy Hammond.

Since the principles of distance handling are the same no matter what the venue, I decided to film the gamble portion of the course.  When I analyzed this course last night, I thought the only way to be successful was to begin the gamble with the dog on my left.  Then I would move up field and signal the turn into the correct end of the tunnel.  Next, I had to scurry back down field to the landing side of the jump, making sure to back away from the line so I had room to move back in and place pressure on the dog's line from c to d.  This worked every time with Belle, and it worked two out of three times with Dusty.

Then I decided to show what happened if you began this gamble with the dog on your right.  I really didn't expect it to work.  However, much to my surprise neither Belle nor Dusty had any trouble understanding what I wanted.  As they committed to a, I did a rear cross to pull them away from the incorrect tunnel entrance, and then I signaled a turn away from me to the correct entrance.  Because I was behind the dog at this point instead of even with him, I was able to get back into position for the push to d with less effort.  Although I got to the line too soon with Dusty when I did the push, it wasn't nearly as soon as I got there on my second effort with him.

Introduction to Distance Training - Part Two

I did a second session with Max.  This time I set up two hoops for him.  Here's the video:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Introduction to Distance Training - Part One B

I was able to persuade my sister-in-law to bring over her American Cocker Spaniel, Lacie, so that I could try working with a dog who has no previous agility training.  Lacie is being trained in field work and will be entering her first hunt test at the end of this month.  She has been taught to retrieve using a clicker.

Here's the video of Lacie:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Introduction to Distance Training - Part One

A question commonly heard is "How do I train my dog to work away from me?"  I thought I might try to answer that question with a series of videos.  For my first video, I used Max, my 10 year old Airedale.  Max has been retired from agility for many years because I was unable to get him to stay on track when we ran.  Max has several novice NADAC titles, but we were never able to earn a Q in open.  

Max is not totally unfamiliar with the concept of distance.  He is my first agility dog, and my first agility instructor taught her students to handle with distance, not necessarily extreme distance, but certainly you did not run by your dog's side.  Also, some layering was including in almost every lesson.

I finally bit the bullet and constructed a set of hoops, so I will be using hoops to work with Max.  (I'm also using them to work on increasing Belle and Dusty's distance skills.)  Since Max is not familiar with hoops, the first thing I do on the video is shape the behavior I'm looking for.  My criteria for Max's hoop performance were minimal:  I just wanted him to pass through the hoop.  Once he was doing that fairly well, I introduced the command, "hoop," and started working on increasing lateral distance.  Lateral distance is the easiest distance to obtain.  You simply move a little further away each time.  If your dog pulls off the obstacle, you've gone too far.  Move in a little closer and try again.

The last thing I am able to do in our short training session is introduce some send distance.  I would say this is a fairly novel concept for Max.  I think send distance is harder to train for many dogs.  Your dog has to be willing to move away from you.  A lot of our training involves getting our dog to pay attention to us.  Telling them to move forward without us flies in the face of all that training, especially for dogs that aren't particularly possessed of a ton of drive.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Holik Grand Prix

Written September 8, 2011.  I set up the mirror image of Frank Holik’s Grand Prix course this morning since it built off the Standard course I set up yesterday. My note on the course map indicated that I have already set this course up, but luckily I pretty much forget a course once I’ve run it. Additionally, since this is the mirror image of the original, in a way it is new. When I searched for the video, I found that I had also set this course in April, 2010. I wasn’t kidding when I said I run ’em and forget them ;-)

I’m waiting for the grass to dry a little more before running, so I decided to commit my handling plan to paper before I run. Here goes:

LO to left standard of #2; call Belle and send her to #3 and the A-frame while I run down the 20 foot line to get into position to handle the right turn over #6 to the tunnel. I view this as the first major handling challenge. The second major challenge follows right on its heels. Coming out of the chute, a dog will have a tendency to curl into her handler and see off-course #18 upon exiting. What I want to remember to do is to keep running toward (90,-13) until Belle is committed to the #10 jump. I will probably end up on the landing side of #18, but since Belle will be heading back in my direction upon exiting the tunnel, I don’t have to worry about falling behind.

I’ll send Belle over #12 off my right and rear cross her path between that jump and the weaves. I plan to move laterally away from the weave poles so I can do a front cross between the teeter and the tunnel. I’ll finish up the course with Belle on my right, and I hope to be running toward the dogwalk exit before Belle even starts the dogwalk in order to encourage her to run it as fast as possible.


I’ve run both Dusty and Belle, and much to my surprise, I handled the course pretty much the way I planned to. Dusty threw me a curve by going directly to the #7 tunnel from the A-frame—it never even occurred to me that could be an issue. Dusty had a small problem with the way I wanted to send him to the weaves, but he did do them. Yesterday when Dusty did the teeter the first time, he was running so fast that the board fell out from under him. Today, I reminded him with a soft “easy.”

Belle’s run was perfect until we got to the dogwalk exit. She missed the yellow completely. I did a few short runs to the dogwalk and we had the same problem until I told her “bottom.” I tried not to react to the missed contact because I have worked a long time to get Belle to do the dogwalk at a run.

I looked at the videos of our previous efforts on this course, and I was really struck at how much harder I worked the course and how crummy the runs were. On all of those previous runs, I placed a front cross at the take-off side of the jump before the weaves. Unfortunately, because I had a lot of ground to cover in order to get into position for the cross, I turned my shoulders too soon and ended up pulling Belle to the dogwalk on my first attempts on both dates. When I set this course up in July, 2010, I also put in a front cross between 5 and 6. It left no doubt in the dogs’ minds where they were going, but it called for a burst of speed on my part, and I really hate using up precious energy (mine) in the early part of a run. When I ran this course in April, I opted for a rear cross at this point, and it worked then just as it did today.

Masters/PIII Standard

Written September 7, 2010  I sent in my entry yesterday for a USDAA trial that closes today.  Hopefully, it will get there in time.  If not, I hope to be able to attend RACE’s USDAA trial in November.  I started looking at course maps and decided to set up the mirror image of this standard course designed by Frank Holik.  (I chose the mirror image only because my dogwalk and A-frame were already more or less in position for the mirror image.)

From looking at the course map last night, I expected to find three main areas of concern.  The 4-6 serpentine to the weaves; the teeter to the correct end of the tunnel and getting from 19 to 20.  Once I had the course set up and was able to walk it, the first concern disappeared.  Beating Belle to #6 wasn’t necessary or even desirable since the course veered left after the chute.  Rear crossing the chute put me in a good spot to handle the jump to the weaves.

I sent Belle to the table and ran to the landing side of the #13 jump so that I could direct her into the tunnel.  While she was in the tunnel, I moved back to the landing side of #13 so I could call her and then run toward the tire.  I initially considered waiting for her on the take-off side, but decided that would put me way too far behind for the final push to the finish.

I had hoped to get into position at the right upright of #19 and wrap Belle to the right.  However, I was several feet from the jump when she took it.  I still signaled for a wrap right, but I began moving toward #20, and Belle read it as a signal to wrap left.

I just ran the course once in the morning so I could study the video and look for spots where we could improve.  Here's the video:

Masters/PIII Jumpers Course

Written September 5, 2011.   Today I set up a Masters/PIII Jumpers course that the Agility Nerd posted on August 24, 2011.  You can see the course map and read Steve's comments about the course by clicking here.

Here's the video with narration:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Trying Different Options

Belle and I haven't run in an AKC trial since the end of January.  Since we have one coming up at the end of September, I decided it was time to start practicing some AKC skills.  I found a course on the Agility Nerd's blog and set it up Wednesday.  I ran it a couple of times and then reviewed the video and Steve's comments on handling the course.  It was hot and humid Wednesday evening when we ran, and my handling was sluggish.  Thursday morning, I went out while it was still relatively cool and re-ran the last half of the course using Steve's suggestion for handling the jump after the weaves.  Talk about mindset, it was an option that never even occurred to me.  Yet given the distance skills we have as a team, it was a very easy option to implement, and I felt it resulted in a faster and less stressful line for Belle.

When I ran the course on Wednesday, I had to send Belle to the jump after the A-frame and do a rear cross to turn her 180 degrees into the tunnel afterward.  I messed up the timing of my cross more often than not.   This morning (Sunday), it is a blessedly cool, so I was able to try several different ways of handling the first half of the course.  First, I tried running on the inside of the teeter and doing a blind cross between the tunnel and A-frame.  Not too bad, but the blind cross could be iffy in a trial setting.  Also, I used a post turn to direct Belle over the jump following the A-frame and then a rear cross to turn her to the tunnel.  (Actually, I could have done a front cross at the bottom of the A-frame, but I just didn't think of it.)

Next, I layered the teeter and did a front cross between the tunnel and the A-frame.  This worked, but was rather cumbersome.  Lastly, I took a minimal lead out and ran with Belle, keeping quite a bit of room between me and the teeter so I could step in for a push to the following jump.  Once Belle was committed to the tunnel, I ran to the bottom of the A-frame and did a blind cross which enabled me to pull Belle over the jump and do a post turn to the tunnel.  This was by far my favorite way to handle the opening.

The details that made the difference:
  • Taking only a modest lead out so I could run which encouraged Belle to run faster.
  • Staying way lateral to the teeter so I could step in and indicate the turn to the correct jump.
  • Being on the inside of the turn from the A-frame to the jump and jump to the tunnel.

Here's the video of our work with this course:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chances Analysis - 08/28/11

These are the Chances courses from Sunday's trial at the QCDC.

As in Saturday's Chances course, the first challenge is the tunnel/contact discrimination.  If the handler does not lead out far enough to the right, or if she moves too quickly toward the line, the line will force her to move away from the tunnel and pull her dog to the A-frame.

Additionally, the first two jumps were more in line with the A-frame than is indicated on the course maps.  Therefore, setting your dog up on an angle at the right end of the bar gives him a better view of the tunnel.  Setting him up in the middle, gives him a nice long look at the off-course A-frame while you are leading out.

The next challenge is sending your dog through the box from 4 to 5.  Although the line running right and left is moved closer to #5 in open and novice, this was very difficult for most of the open and novice teams.  Planning your path so that you don't run out of space is helpful, but if you've never practiced sending your dog through a box, there's a good chance that even perfect handling isn't going to get the job done.

Many of the novice and open handlers ran out of running room as their dogs went through the #4 hoop and their dogs ended up turning toward the off-course #7 jump.  A few handlers were able to re-direct their dogs through the box with a verbal.  However, when they ran out of running room going through the box the second time, most of the dogs turned right toward the #5 jump.  One dog managed to make it from 7 to 8 on a verbal, but with no handler movement to support his path, he was unable to carry out to the #9 hoop.  

Planning your path so that you could continue to move left until your dog went through the box the second time and is committed to #9 offers him the maximum amount of support.  In executing the plan, you have to remember to walk, not run--your dog is covering much more ground than you are.  If you move too quickly, you will run into the line.

Q Results
Elite Chances 15 runs/4 Q's
Open Chances 14 runs/0 Q's
Novice Chances 14 runs/0 Q's

Here is the video of our Chances run.  Be sure to notice:
  • Where I place Belle at the start line.
  • The lateral lead out.
  • My efforts to conserve running room along the back line.