Friday, December 30, 2011

Running A-Frame - 7

After I wrote my last post, I re-watched the "problem-solving" section of Rachel Sanders' DVD.  Belle and I are about a month into our re-training, and she is doing really well, but she still doesn't realize that I want her to come flying over the apex and hit once in the blue and then hit the yellow with all four paws.  She can do it if the box is there, but remove the box and the behavior chain breaks down and she will most likely jump from just above the yellow.

The solution for that particular problem is that the box must be faded, which is what I began to do in my last post.  However, giving the whole process further thought, I have to accept the fact that I began the whole re-training process with unrealistic expectations.  I was hoping Belle would have a consistent running A-frame contact with just one month's work.  I can see she is improving from week to week, but I also can see it will take at least another month or two of training for a running A-frame to become second nature to Belle.  Since that is the case, I decided, I would try one more time to train Belle to hit a little lower in the box before fading it.  Rachel addresses this issue by moving the box closer to the apex and then gradually moving it back until it is completely in the  contact zone.

So yesterday, I moved the box up the A-frame about 20".  I think 12" would have been a better choice, but hindsight is 20/20.  I also lowered the A-frame back to about 4'6".  By the time we finished our afternoon session, the top of the PVC box was about 5" above the yellow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Running A-Frame - 6

It's been about a month since I began working on a running A-frame with Belle.  She is consistently hitting inside the box with all four feet.  I have been unable to get her to hit two or three inches lower in the box by using a stride regulator, so I decided to not use it for the time being.  Since Belle hits the yellow even when the A-frame is in the middle of a sequence, I decided to start fading the PVC box.  This morning I replaced the top pipe of the PVC box with two shorter lengths so that there is a gap in the middle.

I ran Belle once over the A-frame with a whole box, and then replaced it with the one with the gap at the top.  The first time, I had her do the A-frame from a sit stay and just sent her to a hoop afterward.  Since that worked, I started sequencing work.  Unfortunately, I didn't press the button hard enough with my gloved thumb, and the video camera wasn't running.  I'm pretty sure she got four feet in the yellow each time though.

I also had Belle run across the dogwalk once and it was beautiful.  I have decided to use "easy" as she approaches the down ramp to remind her to run through the yellow and not jump.  I realize this makes Belle's dogwalk not truly independent, but it is a vast improvement over her TOTO dogwalk.

I ran two more A-frames with Belle so I would have some video to analyze.  Here are our efforts.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Running A-Frame & Running Dogwalk - 5

Last night we went to the Quad Cities for Thursday night run-thrus.  I think this was the third or fourth time I had the opportunity to try out Belle's running A-frame on an A-frame that has slats.  I was discouraged last night because I didn't think she did all that well.  Luckily, Ed came along and videoed so I was able to study Belle's performance in slow motion.  

Before the run-thrus started, I was able to run Belle over the A-frame several times.  She actually did quite well with just the PVC box in place.  However, she did dismally with just the bumper because I placed it about four inches too low, forcing her to put in a stride before it and one or two after it before hitting the yellow.  (I guess if I wanted Belle to run down the A-frame instead of doing it in two jumping strides, I stumbled upon a good place to put the stride regulator.)

After the run-thrus, I tried again with just the stride regulator and she did quite well.  Unfortunately, my videographer was busy chatting, and there is no video.

During the run-thrus, I didn't use either the PVC box or the stride regulator.  Belle hit the yellow every time, but took  extra strides in the blue.  I also discovered that I have not been putting in enough effort on the running dogwalk.  After Belle leaped over the yellow three times, I had to place a hoop at the end to ensure that she would hit the yellow.

This morning, I set up a course that would allow us to practice both the A-frame and the dogwalk.  I placed a stride regulator on the A-frame and added a hoop about three feet out from the bottom.  I decided that if Belle would truly prefer to run down the A-frame, I was willing to go that route.  She surprised me with three perfect two-hits-on-the-down-side.  Unfortunately, the dogwalk was not nearly as good.  Hopefully, if I move the exit hoop closer the next time we practice, Belle will run through the yellow instead of jumping from it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reality Check - Running A-Frame Training - 4

After Thursday night's disappointing performance on the A-frame, I reviewed the "Case Studies" section of Rachel Sander's DVD.  As counter-intuitive as it seems to me, her recommendation for a dog who hits too high is to move the box up on the A-frame and then gradually move it down.  I decided to give that a go as soon as the A-frame is free of ice.  I also think I'll see if we can do without the stride regulator, since it will be an additional prop to fade.

Saturday, 12/17/11:  The weather didn't really clear enough to try out the course I set up on Friday.

Sunday, 12/18/11, morning:  There is hoar frost this morning, but I  went out to the field to see if the A-frame was clear of ice.  Since it wasn't slippery, I ran Belle across it a couple of times without the stride regulator.  Then I moved the PVC box up about 9 inches. And did a couple more passes.  She nailed it, so I raised the A-frame one link and move the box down a couple of inches.  Belle was still hitting squarely in the box, so I moved it down another couple of inches.  The top edge is now about four inches above the yellow.  This afternoon, we'll go out again and I'll set up the video camera.  If it warms up enough, we may even be able to use the dogwalk.

Sunday, 12/18/11, afternoon:  I videoed our efforts this afternoon.  After watching the video, I had to face the fact that Belle is not ready for the addition of a sequence before the A-frame.  She must first become consistent in where she hits after clearing the apex.  Included in Rachel Sanders' DVD are 13 pages of notes.  This paragraph in particular is one that I will have keep in mind when we are training:

Once the dog can successfully perform the A-frame with a front cross and a push past, you can do some minor sequencing FROM the A-frame to other obstacles. When the dog is successfully performing these sequences and you have raised the A-frame to full height, you can start sequencing TO the A-frame. Sequencing to the A-frame is more difficult for the dog because he must learn how to negotiate being off balance as he enters the A-frame and how to regain his
balance for the apex stride.

Friday, December 16, 2011

One Out of Two Isn't Bad

Last night, Belle and I went to the Quad Cities for a run-thru.  I wanted to see how her running contacts were coming along, but  I only have video from the first run.  I was quite pleased with her running dogwalk.  There was a split second of hesitation on Belle's part, but she ran completely through the yellow--she didn't jump off at the end.

The A-frame was an entirely different matter.  Belle failed to run over the apex and she missed the yellow completely.  I don't know if the problem was height (5'6" vs 4'8"), slats, or the presence of 16" jumps on the course.  I also made the really bad handling choice of trying to call Belle over the A-frame and failing to support her path to the jump before it.

I was surprised when we had several off-courses on this basically simple course.  Since I can work on the handling glitches at home, I used the bulk of our course time last night practicing the two running contacts.  I think the A-frame improved, but it still was not the flow over the apex and two strides on the down side that I'm hoping to eventually achieve with Belle.

I designed a short course based on this one that will allow us to practice lines as well as running contacts.  Here's the map with several opening sequences indicated.  I want to give Belle a day or two of rest, so hopefully, the weather will hold and we can try this out Saturday or Sunday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Running A-Frame Training - 4

Belle and I are continuing to work on the running A-frame, and we're progressing very quickly, as you'll see in the first video.  Today, I really pushed it and set up a course around the A-frame.  I also tried taking the box off the A-frame to see how well the behavior would hold up.

I decided I really want Belle to hit a few inches lower in the yellow.  I added a stride regulator below the apex, hoping to train Belle to land further down the A-frame after cresting the apex.  This is really the most critical stride in Rachel Sander's running A-frame method.  The dog has to land far enough down and in control of its landing so that both rear feet hit the A-frame and the dog can use them to push off for its bounce into the yellow.  If the dog lands too close to the apex, it will be difficult for him to make it to the yellow in one leap.  If the dog lands too far down the A-frame, he may leap over the yellow.  Also, if the dog doesn't have his body under control as he comes over the A-frame, his rear legs may very well fly up higher than his top line--not a very safe behavior.

I had the brainstorm today to decrease the length of the boxes sides.  This gives Belle a smaller target to hit and I can place it further down in the yellow.  I also lowered the A-frame back to about 4'8".  Belle was hitting close to the top of the box, but she didn't touch it and she was driving further into the yellow.  When we practice again, I'll probably try moving the bumper down an inch and see what effect it has on where she lands in the yellow.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Can You Memorize This?

A couple of days ago, Bud Houston posted this USDAA Masters Jumpers course designed by Tom Kula:

Although it may be a course builder's dream, this course presents a real challenge to the competitor's course memorization skills.  On USDAA (especially if you run in the Performance division) and NADAC jumpers courses, there are not many landmarks.  With this particular course, there are no readily apparent patterns, so the only way I can try to get it down solid is to concentrate on where I have to execute my crosses.

1.  I originally chose to lead out to the "landing side" of the #2 hoop and face my dog.  After running it a few times, I opted to just take enough of a lead out so that I could do a front cross between 2 and 3.  This worked well with Belle, but with Dusty, it resulted in me being left behind for the lateral move from 5 to 6.

2.  I planned to do a front cross between 6 and 7.  Unfortunately, I lost track of the location of #8 several times and messed up the run with both Dusty and Belle.

3.  When I studied the course map, I thought getting the turn from 10 to 11 would be the most challenging part of the course.  I really wanted to do a front cross between 9 and 10, but I knew there wasn't much chance of being able to do so.  However, when I walked the course, I realized that a rear cross would do nicely, and going from 10 to 11 proved to be no problem at all.

4.  One last front cross between 13 and 14, and we were home free.

I didn't anticipate having any problem with the wraps at 8 and 13, but Dusty kept me humble.  Because he requires more support than Belle  and because he is so intense and fast, I found myself giving him collection cues for the two wraps a stride too late.

Here is video of someone running this course very nicely at trial:


A fun memory exercise is to try to run a course in reverse without re-numbering it either on paper or with cones.  Since I didn't do all that well at remembering where the #8 hoop was, I thought I'd give myself a second chance and try running this course in reverse.  

A straight reversal of this course would have called for sending the dogs to the backside of three hoops.  I decided to not do that at #8.  I did a pretty good job reversing the course in my head until I got to #17.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Champs 2011

At long last, I have the video of all my runs from Champs.  Luckily, I made some notes and wrote them up when I returned home from Springfield.

Wednesday:  I left for Champs just before noon.  It turned out to be about a three and a half hour drive--about half of it on two lane roads.  The Fairgrounds were easy to find, but the motel proved to be a little harder.  Especially in the dark. 

Thursday:  Round 1 was 40 obstacles long!!!  Belle and I ran about 169th and didn't run until about 2pm, five hours after the walk through.  On the walk through, I planned for a long lead out and as much distance and as little running on my part as possible.  When I watched some of the taller 12" dogs run, I realized my only chance of making it across the finish line would be to ignore any mistakes and just keep moving.  I did a pretty good job with my handling.  Belle head checked coming out of the tunnel after the A-frame, but she had no problem carrying out to the outer arc of hoops and I was able to layer the dogwalk saving myself many, many steps.  I had to remember to not move fast and end up too deep when Belle was in the weaves to once again save myself from running any more than I had to.  I also had to remember to check myself when I her into the tunnel before the tunnel under the A-frame so that she could see me push out to the tunnel under the A-frame.  The run was flawless until (like many a handler) I turned too soon at the hoop before the dogwalk and incurred an off-course.  I could have fixed it if I were more fit, but as it was I barely made it to the finish line.  Belle's Time = 61.08s; Course Faults = 30. 

Round 2:  Hooray!!!  This course was just 20 obstacles long and very fast!!!!  We didn't run until about 8:15pm.  I had a difficult time deciding when I was going to release Belle from the start line, but I ended up picking the ideal moment.  I forgot to slow down and use Belle's name to turn her head toward the correct tunnel before the A-frame and drove her into the off-course tunnel.  She came flying out of that tunnel and ran around the backside of the correct one.  I wasn't going to correct the off-course, but decided a 10-point fault was better than 30.   Belle's Time = 39.49; Course Faults = 10.

Friday:  Round 3 was also 20 obstacles.  We were the 18th team to run on Friday.  Sweet.  I chose to lead out to the take-off side of the serpentine, but I wonder if leading out to the landing side would have produced a tighter and faster run, or if the way I handled it with its wides on the serpentine and at the jump after the dogwalk was the fastest way for Belle?  I think the turn from the jump to the weaves was fairly tight.  Belle's Time = 37.28; 4th Place.

Round 4:  This was our best run.  I felt like we were perfectly in sync, with no bobbles or wides.  Belle's Time = 38.00 sec; 4th Place.

I watched a little bit of the first round of Silverstakes Thursday afternoon, but it wasn't pretty, so I left.  Friday, I watched both rounds of Silverstakes and Superstakes, and WOW!  The 20 obstacle courses were much more reasonable.  Two or three of the teams had nearly flawless runs.  One was an older Border Collie who approached her job more slowly and methodically, checking in for direction at strategic spots on course.

Someone stopped me in the afternoon to say how much she enjoyed watching Belle and me run.  It was so nice to hear.

I was very impressed with the crowd.  They applauded for every run and cheered loudly for many.  Matt and Martha did a great job with their commentary during the runs.  It definitely would have been awkwardly quiet without their commentary.  During Stakes there is no commentary so that the dogs are not distracted.  Those of us watching were on the edge of our seats, breathless and hoping for successful runs for each Stakes team.  The silence was intense.

Someone shared the winning sequence of turns for returning to the hotel from the Fairgrounds--2R3L1R.  It was really nice to be able to get back there without taking a scenic drive through Springfield in the dark :-) 

Saturday.  Round 5.  OMG!  Drastically underestimated the speed my running start would produce and totally under-handled the course.  This was the worst run Belle and I have ever had.  However, I was not alone.  The wheels came off the bus for many a team on this course.  Belle's Time:  57.06s; Course Faults: 20.

Round 6:  The walk-through for this one was brutal.  It was very congested in the back corner where the distance line was located as the course went through there twice.  Additionally, the sun was in our eyes looking into that corner.  It was so crowded that I didn't even realize the 8,9,10 serpentine wasn't a straight line of jumps until  I sat down to watch the teams before us run.  Luckily, I was able to modify my running plan and still execute it well.  Belle's Time = 34.65s; 4th Place.

Sunday.  Round 7:  There was some talk that this would be a simple U-shaped course run just for fun and speed.  Since I was not running until the end of the order and I knew Belle and I would not be running in the final round, I was very pleased to see it was a regular course.  I quickly decided how I was going to run most of the course, but I couldn't make up my mind how best to start.  Belle on right?  Belle on left?  Release her while I was still moving?  Lead out, stop and release?  I finally decided to open with her on my right and to release her while I was running.  I wanted to generate as much speed as possible on this one.  I was a little slow getting into position in a couple of spots and was basically in Belle's way, so I really pushed for a fast finish, running behind her while she was on the dogwalk, yelling "GO!"  Go she did, missing the yellow by a couple of inches.  Oops!  Bad handler.  Should have yelled "Touch!"  Belle's Time = 36.00s; Course Faults = 10.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Running A-frame Training - 3

I took the video camera out to see how Dusty and Belle were progressing.  I have added handler motion to Dusty's grid work.  I was very disappointed to see that he was not getting all four feet into the box.  Unfortunately, I didn't catch it until I watched the video in slow motion.  I will have to go back to no handler motion until he understands he is to collect his stride for this grid exercise.  If need be, I will place a gate about 10 feet from the PVC box and see if that gets Dusty to think about what he is doing with his legs.

I started Belle on the A-frame Saturday.  After sitting down and re-watching the section on Rachel Sander's DVD demonstrating to introduce the actual A-frame to a dog that has been taught TOTO, I decided to back up a couple of steps and make sure that Belle was confidently hitting the box without needing a release command to exit the A-frame.  Thanks to my lack of consistency in using a TOTO, she didn't have much trouble with this.

After trying that exercise from different positions on the downside of the A-frame, I placed Belle in a stay and had her perform the entire A-frame.  After I viewed the video, I realized she was hitting quite high in the box, and sometimes she was even hitting the top of it.  Rachel Sanders explains this is due to not landing far enough from the apex on the downside of the A-frame.  Her suggestion is to try a stride regulator, which is what I did.  It seems to work.  The next time we work on this, I will probably move it another inch or two lower.

One thing that really impresses me about training Belle to do a running A-frame is how it eliminates all the extra steps she was taking as she approached the apex and when she was on the downside of the A-frame.  She just comes smoothly over the top, something I don't think she was ever able to do before.  Here's a compilation of video clips which demonstrates how Belle's A-frame performance was deteriorating.  I also included one clip from today's work to show how much smoother Belle's performance of the A-frame is already.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Running A-Frame Training - 2

Today, I moved the grid out into the field and set up several hoops before it and and one on each side after it.  I filmed my back chaining work with Dusty.  I can see I'll have to remember to always release him with "Okay."  He's so over-eager, I don't want him to have to wonder if he can go NOW.  He definitely needs a clear cut release word.

I forgot to set up the two jump standards at the end of the grid when I moved it.  As you'll see in the video, I don't realize it until I started working with Belle.  In addition to adding a short sequence before the grid, I also placed a front cross between the grid and the last obstacle on our final three runs.  On our second attempt, Belle does not seem to pick up on the front cross cue and fades to her left.

A word about Rachel Sander's method:  The grid we're working with right now is the foundation for a running A-frame.  For most dogs the end goal is to hit once after the second jump and then to hit the box with all four paws on the next stride.  (A few small dogs may require two bounce strides before the box.)  With Belle, I'll work with the grid for another week or two until I have proofed every contingency I can think up and she is able to come straight through the box without the guidance of the two uprights most of the time.  Then we will start back chaining on the A-frame itself.

I anticipate the same process with the grid will take at least twice as long with Dusty.  Once I begin adding handler motion and other obstacles, his excitement level will go up dramatically.  So I will be breaking the training process down into much smaller increments for him.

Running A-Frame Training - 1

Wednesday, I added some handler motion to the jump grid.  Belle did quite well.  In the afternoon, I introduced some speed into our approach to the grid.  Tomorrow, I plan to move the grid out into the field so I can set up hoops around it so we can begin working on the grid as if it were an A-frame in the mid of a sequence.  Here's a short video from our work Wednesday morning.

After giving it some thought, I decided I'd see if Dusty could control himself enough to hit the box in the jump grid.  The first time, he soared over it, so I worked on back-chaining it.  I began with him mid-way between the second jump and the box, and worked our way back to setting up before the first jump.  I can tell that it will take longer to train Dusty since I could hear his nails ticking against the PVC box.  There will be no introduction of handler movement for Mr. D until he can get through the box.