Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Geometry Lesson

I wrote this post back in October, but never published it because I was unable to retrieve the video of Dusty.

Belle opened up one of her pads Saturday while out playing, so I just had Dusty to run today.  Last week I set up the "Backyard Dogs" exercises from Clean Run, June '11.  I ran one or two a day, concentrating on giving timely turn signals to the dogs.  This is the exercise that Dusty and I worked on today.  I thought this exercise would be good for trying different handling options.  One of those options was to lead out on Dusty's left and attempt a Ketschker at #3.  He just wouldn't buy it and tried coming around the jump and running between me and the jump.  (I accidentally deleted the video, and am trying to recover it.)  Anyway, the long and the short of it is that whether I lead out on Dusty's right or his left or to the landing side of #3, he had a strong preference for turning right.

When I came inside and took a more thoughtful look at the course map, the light bulb went on.  I viewed 1-3 as a straight line.  Just as I viewed 9-11 as a straight line in Saturday's Standard course.  Well, they are straight lines, but they are straight lines that are at a very definite angle to the obstacle that follows.  In the BYD exercise, the line converging with the desired obstacle--the tunnel entrance; in the Standard course, the line is diverging from the desired obstacle, the table.

Today, I thought I could wrap Dusty to the left to avoid the off-course tunnel opening, and it wouldn't be that hard to accomplish.  Saturday, I thought I could wrap Belle right at #11 with a post turn.  In both cases, I failed to see the very basic fact that the dog's line of movement was most definitely favoring a turn in the opposite direction.

Long Time, No Write

I can't believe how long it's been since I last posted regarding agility.  As some of you know, Belle has been experiencing slight lameness in her fore.  I put away all the agility equipment except the hoops a couple of months ago, and switched to working Belle on the hoops just three or four times a week instead of daily.  I've been keeping her busy mentally with more freestyle training.  I decided to see if resting her made a difference, so I journeyed to the QCDC a couple of weeks ago for a JWW run thru.

I got carried away, and we ended up running the course three times, but Belle showed no lameness the next day!!! 

I wanted to share this section of the course with you.  There is a decision to be made at the wingless bar in the lower left corner.  Wrap right or wrap left?  My decision (and that of most of the handlers) was to wrap right.  However, a consequence of doing so was that the dog lands long after the winged jump and has an ugly line to the following jumps.  Notice how much nicer the line is if the dog wraps left.  One dog had a distinct preference for doing just that (much to the surprise of her handler).

On our second attempt, I wrapped Belle to the left, but she then back-jumped the wingless jump.  Hmmm?  Okay, let's analyze this.  The dog will tend to wrap right because that is the lead she is on.  A verbal cue to wrap left would cause her to change leads, as will the handler moving toward the left upright.  Unfortunately, if the handler moves toward the left upright of the winged jump that follows too soon, she risks pulling her dog into a back-jump of the wingless jump.

Notice on the video that when Belle and I go back to try wrapping the wingless jump left the second time, her wrap is not very tight.  But that is fine since she is still in a much better position after the winged jump to take the following two jumps.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Split Screen - A Quick How To

Several people have asked me how I do the split screen comparisons, so I thought I would post a simple tutorial for those who are interested.

I use PowerDirector 10, but the general techniques should be applicable to any software editing software that provides two or more tracks for video.  First prepare your video as you normally would in the first track.  Load the clip you want to compare in the second track.

In the screen shot above, I have selected the clip in the top track to work with first.  In order to make it easier to see the position changes I want to make with the top clip, I deselect the second video track.

Notice there is a plus sign within a circle on the viewing screen in the first photo.  (If you can't see it, double click on the photo for a larger image.)  Place your cursor on the plus sign and move the clip toward the top of the frame.

Now to work on the second clip.  Check the video box so that it reappears on your editing screen, and click on the clip itself so that you can move it. 

In the screen shot below, the video of the second clip is pretty much obscuring the top clip which I have already moved.  Now all I have to do is place my cursor on the plus sign and drag the second track toward the bottom of the viewing screen.

And voila!  You now have both video tracks visible on the same screen.  Magnify the tracks and move the second clip right or left until you have a common starting point in the two clips.

If you want to add a little more work to your project, you can crop the second clip to remove some of the sky.  Unfortunately, in PD10 this isn't as easy as it could be since there is no pre-set template that allows for one step horizontal cropping.  (Oddly enough, there are three templates for vertical cropping.)  I don't know how easy it is to crop the view in other software, so I leave that for you to explore.

Here is a shot of the finished project.  I have cropped the bottom clip and moved it so that Belle and Dusty are both just breaking the plane of the first jump.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Time to Work on Our Dog Walk

Yesterday at the Ready Steady Go NADAC trial, Dusty went 3 for 4, which for him is absolutely awesome.  Additionally, one of the Q's was in Elite Chances.  His last Elite Chance Q was in February, 2010.

Belle and I didn't do quite so well.  She missed two of the three dog walk contacts in her runs.  However, our Touch n Go was awesome, and I savored it despite the missed contact.  On our Jumpers run, I remembered that I outran her twice last weekend, so I took a conservative lead out, thinking I'd easily beat her to the spot where I wanted to do a front cross.  Wrong.  I ended up doing a rear cross and got the first serpentine, but I wasn't were I planned to be for the second and pulled her off the third jump.  Then I managed to pull Belle off a second jump later in the course, and finally for the final blow, I managed to get her to drop a bar.  When it was Dusty's turn, I lead out to where I wanted to do my front cross, and things went much better.

Since Belle did a little stress scratching at the start line on almost all of our runs, I decided to leave not line her up between my legs for Tunnelers and see if she found that less stressful.  I ran away from her and when I turned to face her from the exit of the second tunnel.  I received the shock of my life when I realized she was half way through the tunnel.  Belle never breaks her start lines!  I was so flustered I momentarily forgot the course and omitted the first loop.

I was a little bummed that Belle and I did so poorly in terms of Q's, but when I thought about it, the Regular run was pretty good and the TnG was really nice except for the missed dog walk contacts.  And both the Jumpers and Tunnelers NQ's were due to handler error.  So I need to work on my handling--nothing new there and it's time to tackle the dog walk contacts again.

I don't particularly want a running dog walk contact.  However, I seem to absolutely suck at teaching fast 2o2o contacts.  So, my plan is to work on a running dog walk contact with Belle.  It will be good practice for my next dog.  For now, I'm going to prop one ramp of the dog walk on a milk crate and use the table as a starting point.  I tried it this morning, and decided to also place a hoop at the end of the ramp.  I simply tossed a ball and released Belle to get it, clicking when she hit the yellow and saying nothing if she missed.  Actually, the only problem we encountered this morning was that initially Belle did a 2o2o.  However, she quickly got the idea that I wasn't looking for a stop.

Here's wonderful video of a woman in France using Silvia Trkman's method to train a running dog walk.  It makes me wish I had a set of stairs.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Scott County Kennel Club Trial - Part 2

Saturday was the day I had been practicing for and I knew that the challenges on Craig Josling's courses might be quite subtle.  First up was JWW.  Because I wanted Belle to run her fastest, I started out with her on my right.  Unfortunately, I got ahead and my timing at the tunnel was very poor and almost forced her into the wrong end.  I should have just lead out to the landing side of 2 and run to the tunnel with Belle on my right.  Much less chance of me messing that up.

Having cued too early once on this course and getting away with it, I lost total presence of mind and out ran Belle by what seemed an eternity to the weave exit.  I turned and faced her and ended up pulling her out.  Bad handler; poor trainer :(

Now for the subtleties of the course.  If the handler goes in deep to the tunnel and fails to get ahead of his dog, he will be forced to move in the direction of the unnumbered jump between 8 and 9 in order to not run into the wing of 9.  Next, if the handler is not far enough ahead of his dog going through the box for 11 to 12, his line into the box will drive his dog off-course to 19.  Lastly, tunnel 14 caused handlers problems both coming and going.

By comparison with the JWW course, the Standard course was pretty straightforward with no cleverly hidden potential off-courses.  My plan for the opening was to send Belle over 3 to the tunnel and pick her up from the landing side of 5.  However, after watching the runs before me, I realized that there was no good reason to use distance handling here, so I ran with her.

Almost everyone, including me, did a front cross or a blind cross between 9 and 10.  Most did a second front cross between 11 and the table.  I was hoping to achieve a tight wrap by cuing it with deceleration and a verbal "wrap."  I should have also thrown in an offside arm to grab Belle as she took off.  Something went wrong and Belle turned left upon landing.  I think it may be because I moved back and a little bit to the left to signal the turn.  Also if you look at the line from the 9/10 gap to where I ran for the post turn, it is trending left.  This is a sequence I want to set up and try to run in as many different ways as I can think of.

Surprisingly, very few dogs took the wrong end of the tunnel after the A-frame.  However, several did not pick the weaves as their next obstacle upon exiting the tunnel ;-)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What Did You Learn Today?

In addition to working on Silvia Trkman's Handling I class, I also decided to try out Dawn Weaver's monthly online instruction series.  Dawn has two different sets of exercises available, one for novice teams and one for more experienced teams.  I took the plunge and sent my $26 across the seas for the first set of experienced exercises.  The first set of exercises required a set of 12 weaves, two tunnels (actually one tunnel and a chute), and six jumps.  (Each exercise includes four sequences.)  You videotape your efforts and submit up to five minutes of you and your dog working on them by posting them to YouTube and sending Dawn the link.  Dawn will then review your video and email you feedback plus a link to video of her running the sequences with her dog(s).  (A terrific option is that if you are having a problem in training or in the ring, you can submit video of that instead of your efforts on that month's exercises and Dawn will give you feedback.)

The feedback I received was awesome.  Since I train on my own, I can only improve or change what I realize needs improvement or changing.  That can be a rather huge Catch 22.  For instance, I didn't realize how many times I am late in completing my front crosses.  I thought I was supposed to finish my rotation as Belle was in the air.  Oops.  That actually makes it late.  I also never realized that I often backhand Belle into a rear cross while facing the wrong direction.  Additionally, Dawn gave me some advice about my lead outs and my positioning relative to a jump that is to be wrapped.  Very interesting stuff that took my several hours to digest

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Silvia Trkman

Last February, I enrolled as an auditor in one of Silvia Trkman's online classes, Handling I.  After waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the snow to melt, I was able to set up the first course and run the two exercises.  Keep in mind, I had watched at least a dozen people tackle these courses before I had a chance to run them, and I was really excited.  Unfortunately, I discovered I was not fast enough to get where I had to be for a couple of the moves, and Belle's distance skills did not include being sent to the back of a jump from 30 feet away.  After knocking my head against a wall for a week or so, I put the course aside.

Last week, I was looking for something different after working on several of Craig Josling's AKC courses.  I took a peek at the second set of exercises in Silvia's class and decided we could probably do those, so I set it up.  I was thrilled that we did a fairly credible job with the two courses, but I decided it really would be nice to get some feedback.  I contacted Silvia and she allowed me to pay the difference and become an online participant.

Silvia has a fantastic eye and does not try to make one solution fit every team.  She is also fantastically prompt in responding to her students' posts!  (I'll go out on a limb here and say that I suspect Silvia enjoys teaching almost as much as she loves training and running her dogs.)

This is my final video submission to Silvia for the second set of exercises.  I wanted to share it with you because of the song I used for backing.  (I almost never mute the original voice track in my videos, but today was excessively windy, and the voice track is useless.)  "Without You" expresses so well how I feel about my wonderful little red dog.  Unfortunately, the rights to the song that I dubbed in preclude YouTube from allowing the video to be shown in just about every country in the world.  I swapped in one of YouTube's lame offerings which should allow my video to be seen.  However, if you would like to hear the song I originally wanted to back this video, simply click on both videos below and mute mine.  It isn't the Usher version, but these two guys do a very nice job of it.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Course Designer 4

A few days ago, I downloaded Course Designer 4 from the Clean Run website.  I finally had a chance to play with it a little today.  Below are images of the course I last blogged about in CRCD3 format, a frame shot from the video, and in CRCD4 format:

I really like the ability to change the angle of view in CRCD4.  It helps to point out tricky spots that I have difficulty visualizing in two dimensions.  On the down side, if the course isn't already in CRCD3 or 4, I have to manually input it before I can manipulate it.  (The only reason I had already rendered the two Josling's courses in CRCD3 was because the original course map had the dog walk running at a slight angle, and it is much easier for me to set a course when the dog walk is either parallel or perpendicular to my fence.)

When doing an analysis, I can easily use a frame from the video to illustrate my point.  Using Photo Shop, I can even alter the angle of view to some extent.  However, if I want the course numbered in the photo, it involves a fair amount of extra work.

As with CRCD3, the viewer is a free download which you can use forever.  After downloading the viewer, you have 30 days to play with the software before deciding whether you want or need the extra bells and whistles it provides for rendering your courses.

Another AKC Course and Problems with the Running A-Frame

On Tuesday, I set up another course designed by Craig Josling.  Here's how I thought I might run the course before I had set it up.

After walking the course, I decided going into the box from 6 to 7 would probably push Belle into the off-course tunnel (which it did), and a better choice was to move laterally away from the dog walk while maintaining pressure on Belle's line to ensure that she went all the way to the end of the dog walk and didn't cut corners and come off the side.

Even on my walk-thru, I completely overlooked the effect the positioning of #8 would have on the dog's path to the teeter.  I failed to collect Belle before the jump and her path to the teeter was longer than it had to be.

I ended up doing a rear cross between 10 and 11 because I didn't get there in time to do a blind cross.  After I watched the video of our first two attempts, I thought I'd try to do a front cross between the teeter and #10.  Yeah, right.  Bringing Belle into collection at #8, meant for sure there would be no way I could get into a position for a front cross after the teeter.  I noticed that the dismount from the teeter got progressively more sloppy (off the side).  One more thing to remember while running.

The rear cross worked fine as long as I didn't say "come table."  "Come table" resulted in an off-course to the tunnel both times I used it.  "Belle" or "right table" seemed to work, but not "come."  The reason for this is because I normally use "come" when Belle is moving toward me or at least perpendicular to me.  In that context, I normally link it to an obstacle name and it serves as either a cue to turn or an aid in an obstacle discrimination.  (I also use "come" in snooker openings when I want Belle to take the jump in front of her if there is one and then come directly to me without taking any obstacles along the way.  In addition, I stand very erect, facing her with my hands low and in front of my body to indicate I want her to come to my hands.)

We ran the course a couple more times today, but never did achieve a qualifying run :(  Belle's A-frame performance left a whole lot to be desired, and when I watched the A-frame clips in slow-motion, I discovered she was putting in a stride between the bumper and the apex.  I tried fiddling with the placement of the bumper and I tried taking it off, but no luck.  I finally, removed the bumper and placed a piece of yellow 1" PVC pipe at the top of the yellow.  That seemed to work, so I guess that's what we will be doing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Makings of a Good Instructor/Coach

I missed the last two dog blog action days, so I decided to prepare ahead for this one.  For me, these are some of the most important things I look for in a good coach:

1.  A good eye.  In order to help you with the rough spots, your instructor/coach has to be able to see what is going on with both you and your dog.  Are you mis-handling?  Are you asking for something the dog can't yet do?  Was your timing off?  Is something wrong with your dog today?

2.  Flexibility.  Can your instructor suggest alternate ways of handling that will work for you and your dog, or does she only know one way.  Is she okay with you working differently than the rest of her students.  For example:  A fast handler running a fast little sheltie may prefer to run with her dog using distance only as needed.  A person who is not fleet of foot running a fast BC will require a good distance foundation so that she can get to the critical handling points on a course.

3.  Possesses people skills.  An agility instructor/coach's is job is to teach people, not train dogs.  Unfortunately, just because someone can train and run their dogs very well, doesn't automatically make them great teachers.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Working on the Send

When I first started working on bonus lines, Belle didn't drive away from me very well.  I thought we had overcome that problem, but apparently not.  I used hoops on this course and compressed the 16-19 serpentine and tweaked everything else accordingly because I thought the serpentine would be almost impossible if the hoops were placed as indicated on the course map.  (Using jumps would have been a better choice, but they are already being used in another course at the moment.)

Well, when Belle and I had a go at it, I quickly discovered that driving down the line to the #4 tunnel was not in the cards.  Belle expected a turn after #2, and no amount of shouting "go" or "tunnel" could convince her otherwise.  Once we finally managed to get to the tunnel, the next problem was getting from 6 to 7.  Even with jumps, I think the dog's natural line would be over the off-course #2 jump.  We finally stumbled our way to the second half of the course, but Belle's confidence and energy were ebbing.  For once, I'm glad that operator error kept me from preserving this fiasco on video.

For sure we will be working driving to the tunnel over the next few days!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Practicing Some AKC

After a lot of deliberation, I sent off entries to two upcoming AKC agility trials.  The first is at the end of the month, and hopefully I can still get in.  The judge at that trial will be Craig Josling.  Since I haven't run any AKC courses in a long time, I decided to set up some recent courses designed by Mr. Josling.  This is the first:
I knew I need a long lead out in order to handle the sequence after the dog walk.  Unfortunately, I got so wound up in what followed the dog walk that I pulled Belle off the side of the dog walk.  She was in the yellow, but since both dogs came off the side of the dog walk at last Saturday's NADAC trial, it is definitely something I want to be aware of and avoid encouraging.

My plan was to remain in the gap between #3 and #5 and run with Belle on my left to the teeter.  On our first attempt, I neglected to get Belle's full attention as she came over #5 and she took the dog walk.  Whoops!  The second time, I made sure to bring Belle into handler focus, but when I watched the video, I saw that I was standing around waiting for Belle to clear #5 and make the turn to the teeter before moving.  On the third and last attempt, I made sure I was in motion and found myself putting in a front cross on the landing side of #5 and rear crossing the teeter.

The rest of the course was pretty straightforward.  The only mistake I made was moving toward the gap between #15 and #16 while Belle was still in the weaves.  The way I set up the course, that left #15 a little too much to chance for my tastes.  (I caught the mistake and corrected my path while Belle was still in the weaves.  The second time, I made a point of not making the same mistake.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Biting Off More Than We Can Chew?

This is the same Jumpers course that I blogged about in my previous post, except now I want to talk about it from the bonus line.

As I already mentioned, the spacing between some of the jumps is huge.  It is particularly noticeable in the serpentine.  Additionally, Belle and I had a very difficult time coping with all the switches involved in getting from 3 to 6.  The serpentine became extremely loopy, and toward the end of this morning's session, poor Belle had no idea of which way to turn when I called out "switch."

I originally opted to try this from the 20-pt line so I would have more freedom of movement.  But realistically, I think that was just too far for Belle to feel comfortable shifting into the obstacle focus required in the wide open pinwheel after the handler-controlled serpentine.  By the time, I finally moved up to the 15-pt line, Belle's brain was frazzled.

Also, I caught myself repeating "switch" commands between jumps.  Logical from my point of view since I knew where the course was going.  But to a dog without the map, quite confusing.  As in "I already changed directions and she wants me to change again?  I must have made a mistake."

Eight Hours Later:   Belle and I had one last go at this course this evening.  I decided I would forget about the 20-pt bonus line and try it from the 15-pt line.  I usually rev Belle up and release her from behind the start line when we are attempting a bonus line.  However, from the 15-pt line on this course, it made more sense to take a slight lead out so I could be in position for the serpentine.  Much to my surprise, we made it through the entire course the first time, and I think I remained behind the 20-pt line for the whole thing.  Obviously our bonus line problems are mine and not Belle's.

The Lead Out Edge

There are some courses that I never could begin to tackle without a lead out.  Then there are times when having the ability to lead out isn't really necessary, but it does give me an edge.  This course is one of those.
I was really struck by how widely spaced the jumps in the 3,4,5 serpentine are, and the awkwardness of the approach to #6.  I tried running on the right side of the serpentine, but that made for some very clunky rear crosses.  Additionally, I discovered that for Dusty, I couldn't slow down and send him to #6 very easily.  He just has too much handler focus and it made for a very crummy approach to #6.  Additionally, if I showed the rear cross too soon, Dusty missed #6 entirely.

I finally decided to try handling the serpentine from the left.  On my first attempt, I only lead out to about (45,60) and when I turned to do my front cross, I discovered I was in the gap between 3 and 4 and Dusty went sailing by me.  The next time, I lead out to about (50,55) so that I could more easily get to my spot on the takeoff side of #4.  It worked like a charm.  Plus, without any conscious thought on my part, I kept moving with Dusty toward #6 and didn't do my rear cross until he was committed to the jump.

Belle and I spent most of our time working on the bonus line, which didn't go all that well for us.  Since I wanted to end on a successful note with her, I decided to run with her.  Since she was tired from all her running, I decided to more or less start with her, which meant I had to handle the serpentine from the right side.  In the video, you can see that Belle loses ground to Dusty in the serpentine and doesn't quite manage to make it up by the end of the course.  (Since she doesn't suffer from excessive handler focus, the rear cross at #6 was basically a non-factor for her.)

Of Ketschkers and Closing Sequences

In July, Steve Schwarz posted this course on his blog.  I set it up Tuesday and worked on it for a couple of days.

The interesting parts of this course for Belle and me were the turns at #9 and #14 and the closing sequence, 14-16.

I quickly discovered that unlike Steve, I was not quite quick enough to handle 9-11 if I chose to stay on the outside of the angle formed by 9 and 10.

Running on the inside, I had my choice of sending Belle to #11 around either upright of the jump.  I thought sending her around the right would be faster, but since the path was shorter going around the left upright, it was a wash as far as time was concerned.  Wrapping around the left upright seemed more comfortable for me as handler.

I decided I would try tightening up the turns at #9 and #11 with a Ketschker.  We had several miscommunications before we managed to get it right at both jumps on the same run :-)  I was surprised that it didn't seem to tighten up Belle's turn at #9, so I re-watched Steve's video and discovered two things.  First, I was not cuing the turn until the stride before the jump.  It was like "run, run, run, boom TURN."  The other handling flaw I spotted was that I was running up to or even slightly beyond the plane of the jump.  It looks like hanging back a couple of feet might produce a tighter turn.

We had one nice closing sequence using a blind cross, and I thought that was the way to go until I tried to duplicate it.  I lost sight of Belle as I did the cross and didn't realize she had failed to pick up on cue.  The front cross was a sure thing and certainly not that hard for me to get in.

I also tried using a rear cross, but it was counterproductive since I had to wait for Belle to pass me before I could resume running.  It worked, but it wasted time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I Remember

Usually I forget a course within hours of running it.  This one, which we encountered nearly a year ago, is an exception.  I can still see Belle coming out of the #6 tunnel at warp speed and taking the off-course jump.

I set up this course this morning to have a go at it with Dusty.  Much to my surprise, he nailed it.  Unfortunately, he lost concentration in the weaves and skipped a pole.  But he got the hard stuff!

I also tried running Belle from an imaginary bonus line.  Once again, she took the off-course jump due to my poor choice of position.  Guess I'll have to design a short sequence to work on that skill.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Freestyle Update

It's been a little more than a month since I posted the video of Belle and me doing some freestyle moves.  I've joined a couple of different on-line groups and ordered one DVD about choreography.  I also discovered that Dusty has a lot of FS potential and is very flashy when he moves.  Unfortunately, he alternates between being wrapped around my leg and having his nose stuck to the ground investigating some interesting scent.

Routines at the novice level in MDSA have to be between 1:15 to 2:15 minutes in length.  There aren't a whole lot of songs that are that short, so I have been editing our music with Audacity.  It's been a very intense and frustrating learning process, and I am now totally in awe of the people who do the sound mixing for tv and movies.

The video I did last month was composed of different clips joined together and the music was added after the fact.  This time, the video is in real time and we are working to the music.  (Since my video camera didn't pick it up, I had to dub it in.)


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Problem Solving

It really bugged me that Dusty could not achieve a smooth turn from #9 to #10 on yesterday's course.  So this morning, I tried doing a rear cross with Belle.  My initial impression was that she had no problem with it, but as you will see in the video, she did let me know the turn was rather unexpected!

Next, I tried running Dusty with a front cross.  Because I had to support his path to #7, I didn't really do a very good job of getting in a timely front cross between #8 and #9.  (Beware:  Most dogs who do a 2o2o A-frame will need support to get to #7.)  I also ended up so far ahead of Dusty after the front cross that I ran up against the line.  Next, I tried a blind cross.  It was much better from Dusty's viewpoint since I didn't get in his way doing the cross, but unfortunately, it brought me to the line even quicker than the front cross did.  Finally, I used lateral distance to commit Dusty to #7.  That put me at the left standard of #8 and I was able to do a nice front cross that kept me out of Dusty's way or didn't put me so far ahead that I arrived at the line too soon and had no way to support the #10 hoop if necessary.

Okay.  So now I know the rear cross was a bad handling choice.  (And not because I faded to the right before crossing, either.)  The blue line represents the handler's path for a rear cross.  The path must veer slightly right until the dog is committed to #9.  Since #9 is a hoop, the point of commitment for Dusty is when he is about 3/4's of the way through the hoop ;-).  The handler's timing in completing the rear cross becomes crucial.  Cross too soon, and the dog will probably do a 180.  Cross too late, and the tunnel becomes the obvious choice.  But even crossing just right means your dog has to change leads immediately to make a smooth turn to the hoop.  No lag time allowed.

The purple line represents the handler's path when doing a front cross at the left side of the #8 jump.  As soon as you've completed that cross, your dog knows he will be traveling left and will change leads after #8.  The same holds true if you perform a front cross or a blind cross between #8 and #9.  You just have to pay particular attention to not out-running your dog to the line if you choose one of those options.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Chances Practice

Since Dusty needs 9 Chances Q's for a NATCH, I decided I will try to put up one or two Chances courses a week to work on the skills he needs to develop.  I thought this course would offer several different options for running, plus it included an A-frame for Belle to practice on. Although this course is from a trial in April, I apparently never analyzed it, so I am including a brief analysis.

The first challenge is the tunnel/A-frame discrimination which is complicated by the #7 jump in Elite.  I chose to lead out to about (50,50), and encountered no problem with either Belle (at trial) or Dusty (at home).  However, woe to any handler that doesn't at least lead out laterally to about the 55' line because the line will force you left and you will pull your dog to the A-frame.

In Open, it was easy for the handler to get sucked into the space between the #7 jump and the line.  However, if you look closely, you will see that unless the handler manages her own path very carefully, she will be forced to move away from the A-frame before her dog is in the tunnel.  In Novice, the handler can run between the #7 jump and the line and not get pushed left by the line.

The other area of concern is the #10 hoop.  When I ran this at trial, I played it safe and did a front cross after the #8 jump.  At home, I wanted to do a rear cross with Dusty, and it didn't work very well.  Out of eleven tries, Dusty took the off-course tunnel six times, did a 180 four times, and took the #10 hoop twice.  I watched all of the video footage I shot this morning over and over, and for the most part, I thought my handling was pretty good.  Except for the nasty habit I have of fading in the opposite direction before moving into a rear cross.  With Belle, I can get away with it.  With Dusty, not so much since he watches my every little move with such intensity.  My hunch is that this bad habit is what is preventing Dusty from getting from #9 to #10.  If you see something I missed when you watch the video, please, please let me know.

Here's Dusty:


Here's Belle and me trying it with bonus line distance.  Notice how nice her running A-frame is with the bumper in place.


Last Sunday, Belle and I went to a CPE trial, and I was struck by how differently she runs the bigger, slatted A-frame.  I decided I would start using one stride regulator in practice to pattern train Belle into taking a longer stride over the apex.

Belle had been coming up slightly lame on her left fore since early spring.  Six weeks ago, I took her to a vet who specializes in rehab, and it looks like Belle's issues have been resolved.  She had no problems after five runs and 30-minutes of swimming followed by a short hike at a lake we pass one our way home from Davenport.  Here's a short video of Belle at one of her favorite spots.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Upping the Ante

Since the course from Germany was well beyond the capabilities of Dusty and me as a team, I set up this Elite Jumpers course.  I used hoops because I only have so many jumps and because I wanted to work on distance.

On Thursday, I tried to stay behind the 65' line with Dusty, and we did a pretty nice job of it.  Today, I wanted to increase the distance and try to stay below the 50' line.

When Belle and I tried this out from the real bonus line last night, we encountered lots of problems in the upper right hand corner of the course.  With Dusty, the major problem we encountered was getting from #3 to #4.  Even after watching the video several times, I thought this was a training issue.  However, it finally dawned on me that I was walking along a curve as Dusty went from #2 to #3 and I failed to alter my direction soon enough to indicate the #4 hoop.  The gray line shows the path I took.  No wonder poor Dusty kept going to the off-course hoop.  The green line shows a much better choice for my handling path.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Connecting the Dots

Sabine Westhauser posted a video of a course she ran with her dog, Shorty, which you can see here.  She does a handling maneuver at :47 seconds that I thought was just so cool that I decided I have to set up the entire course as soon as it cools off enough that I'm willing to go outside.

I converted Sabine's course map from meters to feet.  (Here's a link to Sabine's original course map.)  

Sabine and Shorty make this look so easy in the video.  When I studied the course map, I thought OMG there's no way Belle and I can get through this course.  Then I decided I would break the course up into smaller sections and decide what my best handling options were.  By making wise choices about which way to turn your dog after 2, 4, 9, 10, and 17, you can instill a fair amount of flow into the course.

For those of you interested in an excruciatingly long description of how I decided to run this course, that information follows in the next few paragraphs.  (If your eyes start to glaze over, just scroll down to the video.)   The regular text indicates how I thought I might run the course from looking at the course map.  The italicized text indicates any changes I made based on actually walking the course.  The bold purple text indicates adjustments I made after working on the course with Belle.

I decided I would lead out to #2 and wrap Belle to the left while doing a front cross so that she is on my left going to #3.  Post turn at #4 and wrap Belle to the left and rear cross on landing side.  It should be easy to layer #4 while doing the rear cross.  This will put me in a good position to do a front cross on the landing side of #6.  Leading out from Belle's left side allowed me to give her a more vivid indication of her path to #2.  A blind cross between #6 and #7 is sufficient.  
Take Belle over #6 on my right and do a rear cross at #7 and a blind cross between #8 and #9.  Post turn at #10 followed by an immediate rear cross and a push so that Belle will wrap to the right.  Take Belle over #7 on my left, do a post turn to #8 and a rear cross between #8 and #9.  (A better way to handle the turn from #10 to the dog walk might be to blend the post turn into a blind cross so that I wrap around the right wing with Belle on my left side.  That would take the off-course #1 jump out of the picture.  No way that's going to work.  Being too close to the landing side lead to all sorts of problems at #10.)
From the dog walk to the A-frame is pretty straightforward.  (I failed to remember that Belle won't drive to the end of the dog walk unless I'm moving.  I also didn't appreciate how difficult the weave entry is.  We worked on it, but before running the course in its entirety, I moved the weaves about three feet to the right to make the entry less difficult.)  The only difficult part will be getting into position quickly enough to handle #15 to #16.   This is the turn that sparked my initial interest in this course.  Sabine positioned herself at the left wing of #15 facing toward #16.  She called Shorty over jump #15 and then wrapped him around both the wing and herself so he would approach #16 from the proper side.  I'm hoping I can do the same thing, but I'm not sure I can get there before Belle completes the A-frame.  (Getting there proved to be no problem.)

I have indicated the path I would like Belle to take from #15 to #20 in red.  It seems to me (at least on paper) that there are several different handling options I could use here, and I will have to walk the course to figure out which will be the smoothest for us.  For example, wrap around handler at the left wing of #15, post turn at #16, post turn into blind cross on landing side of #17, dog on left over #18, push to #19, rear cross, and dog on right to tunnel.  (That is how I finally chose to do it.)

Here's the video of our first two attempts to put the whole course together.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Dusty and I went to the 4RK9's NADAC trial today, and I learned a lot from our runs.  We started the day with a long and very spread out Tunneler's course.  Over the years, Dusty and I have argued our way through many a Tunneler's course.  I don't know if the disagreements were provoked by poor timing on my part or a sincere belief on Dusty's part that I might completely disappear while he is in one of the tunnels.  I would have preferred  to do a front cross at the entrance to #10, but I knew there was no way I could get there before Dusty.  My only alternative was to layer the #10 tunnel and hope I could get Dusty to turn away to #11.  I could have given my "switch" command a little sooner, but Dusty made the turn without comment.

Both Dusty and Belle need a little more training in making a 90° turn out of a tunnel (e.g., #3 and #9).  I want to try Stuart Mah's concept of using a quieter voice to grab their attention and shift them from obstacle to handler focus, and see if I can improve our ability to make a tight turn out of a tunnel when I am behind the exit.

Chances was a heart breaker for me, but it was also our best run of the day.  We managed all the difficult stuff and made it all the way to the end of the dog walk.  Unfortunately, when I released Dusty to the final hoop, I failed to put enough pressure on his line and he came running across the line toward me instead of running forward to the hoop :-(

Dusty finished his Open Chances title back in 2007 when there was a distance challenge included in Regular.  To date, he has only four Q's in Elite Chances.  Of those four, three were earned with David and only one with me.  On the other hand, the wonderful way that Dusty did the hard parts today gives me hope that we've finally at a point where Chance Q's will start to come our way.

There was only one Regular course offered today.  As in Touch n Go, Dusty blew the dog walk contact.  Unfortunately, instead of calling him back for the contact as I did in Touch n Go, I hoped the judge didn't perceive it as missed, and I was running with one eye on the judge.  Not good.

My plan for 10-12 was to stay on the outside of the box so I could run with the A-frame on my left and rear cross #16.  Unfortunately, I didn't remain far enough for 8-10 and my path was very flat if not veering ever so slightly right as I approached #14.  So despite my saying "switch," Dusty turned toward the weaves after #11.  After a bit of micro-managing, I ended up with the A-frame on my right.  Because the tunnel was sticking out, I was forced to move left to avoid it, and then I must have moved every so slight right to indicate #14.  This time, despite my saying "come," Dusty turned away from me.  (This was a very common error on this course ;-)

Our Jumpers run was clean, but there were two spots that could have been better.  Dusty failed to collect before the 180 at 9/10 and slips making the turn to #10.  I thought my pre-cue was timely, but apparently Dusty requires it to be earlier and/or more obvious.

Dusty jumped #13 in extension.  This one was definitely my fault.  I was moving forward to get into position for my front cross.  I needed to get there sooner.  A quiet "Dusty" might have also helped to bring him into handler focus between #12 and #13, so that he jumped with less extension over #13.

Things to Work on In Training
  1. Handling Dusty with a minimum of "excitement."  Staying smooth and fluid, and using my voice only as needed.
  2. Remembering to use my off-arm when it is appropriate.
  3. Make sure Dusty is picking up on collection cues when I give them.
  4. Teaching Dusty that a quiet voice means he should check in with me; a louder voice means he should drive on.
  5. Coming straight off the dog walk and not jumping off the side.

Exercise 4

This exercise is very similar to the one Belle and I worked on Saturday.  Although it was awkward, I did try running with Belle on my right from #6 to #7 and then doing a rear cross.  Belle's nicest running A-frame is the first one on the video where I do a decent rear cross.

It seems much more intuitive to handle #6 to #7 with the dog on the handler's left.  The only problem I encountered was when I angled away from the A-frame way too soon  and way too far (dashed line).  It caused Belle to come off the corner of the A-frame just a little more than I would care to see.  Running to the "X" before angling  away to indicate #9 (solid line) is a better handling choice for Belle.  (This can be viewed as a training issue, but at this point, I don't really think it's wise to do any more intensive running A-frame work with Belle, especially for something like this that can easily be resolved with more thoughtful handling choices.)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Exercise Two

This is my adaptation of the second exercise from "Backyard Dogs," Clean Run July, 201.  I added the A-frame because I wanted to see how Belle would do when I was trailing behind her.  I was quite surprised that I didn't end up further behind her than I actually did.

Luckily, I used a second camera to determine whether or not Belle managed to get into the yellow because when we were running, I would have sworn she missed the first two by quite a bit.

I was also pleasantly surprised that I was able to rear cross the A-frame.  It wasn't pretty, and it added a second or two to Belle's A-frame time, but at least she did it.  (I did an entire post about my inability to rear cross the A-frame in February.)


Friday, July 27, 2012

By-Passing Obstacles - Exercise One

At the left is a sequence I adapted from Clean Run's July, 2011 "Backyard Dogs" article.  (The original course called for two jumps instead of a tunnel.)  Each exercise offered a chance to see if your dog could by-pass an obvious obstacle when the course called for it.

With the first exercise, I wanted to determine which was faster wrapping right or left at #3.  I quickly discovered that although I could wrap Dusty in either direction at #3, getting him from #5 to #6 was only possible when I did a landing side front cross at #5, and it was much easier for me to do that when Dusty wrapped left at #3.

After I watched the video, I gave myself a dope slap for not trying an off-side arm to hold Dusty's attention when I tried running with him on my left past the tunnel.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Elite Chances Practice

It was fairly cool, but exceptionally muggy when the dogs and I went out this morning.  I spent a little time working Dusty over cavaletti in an effort to get him to trot instead of pace.  Apparently, getting your dog to do a slow trot while you walk at a fast past for 20 minutes three times a week is a very good way to build up their endurance.  Unfortunately, Dusty much prefers to pace, so I am working on getting him to trot on command.

After warming up over the cavaletti, we then worked on the Chances course I set up Saturday.  I did a little tweaking to soften the line to the A-frame and we ran it in reverse.  Belle was up first and we tried it from the "bonus line."  On our first attempt, I released her and said "A-frame," but since I failed to turn her, she ended up taking the tunnel.  The second time, I waited to say "A-frame" until she had taken the second hoop.  Unfortunately, I kept moving to my left and pulled her off-course when she completed the A-frame.  The third time, I caught myself, but not before Belle had already started moving in the wrong direction after the A-frame.

One of the reasons, I chose this particular course is that I knew Dusty would have a difficult time getting from the A-frame to the #5 hoop.  There are basically three different options I could try with him.
  1. Hang back and let him creep down the A-frame into a 2o2o.  That way, I would have room to move toward the #5 hoop without crossing the line.
  2. Go with Dusty and try to send him from the line.
  3. Take small steps and try to reserve some room for myself to move forward after Dusty completes the A-frame.
I felt the second option had the lowest likelihood of success.  Being up against the line would remove all my options for movement forward.  Additionally, Dusty is too handler focused and is not very likely to move forward just because I fling out an arm.

I like the third option, but didn't try it.  I don't think it would work with Dusty simply because his A-frame performance is highly dependent upon my motion :-(  This is a major training issue, and at this point in Dusty's life, I really don't want to take it on.

I went with the first option.  Since what goes up must come down, once Dusty is on the A-frame, I can be reasonably sure that sooner or later he will get to the bottom.  Once he's there, I can release him and move forward toward #5 without crossing the line.  At least that's the plan.  However, even this will take some work as you can see in the video.  One good thing about the 2o2o is that I could practice on just the release to the hoop without having Dusty do the complete A-frame, which is a real plus in my book.  I also tried starting with him to see if that would give him more momentum than if I took a lead out.  It might ultimately help, but it didn't seem to make much difference right now.

Note the red hoop on the course map above.  By simply adding one obstacle to this course, I increased the number of sequences that could be worked using the box embedded in this course.  I devoted yesterday's training session with Dusty to working the box and introducing the cavaletti.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Pandora's Box

Belle can begin working a limited number of contacts so I decided to set up the mirror image of an Elite Chances course from last August:

I picked this course because running it in reverse will allow me to work with Dusty on moving forward after stopping on the A-frame.  Also, I can devise several other sequences on this course with a minimal amount of equipment moving.  (I chose to set up the mirror image of the original only because it seems like the A-frame has been on the left side of the ring at the last two or three trials.)

I thought this course was pretty straightforward.  However, I quickly discovered that getting through the box was a challenge.  (An analysis of the original course can be found here.)  Belle and I finally managed it without too much work, but Dusty and I never did get it.  


Since this blog is my agility training journal, below are my observations from watching the video in slow motion.  In Dusty's case, it might well be that once we tried getting through the box unsuccessfully a few times, there was no way we were going to get through it without giving it a rest for at least several hours.

Belle  :19  I veered slightly left to avoid running into a hoop.  Also, I used "over" with no directional and there are to logical "over" choices.

:37  This time I moved in a little and the hoop is not in my way so I can keep moving without veering away from the first jump in the pinwheel.  Also, I used "go."

:40  Not a clue.  I would think an off-side arm would cause Belle to turn left if anything.

:53  I pulled away to indicate #6 before Belle was committed to #5, the first jump in the pinwheel.

1:00  Timing and positioning much better

1:06  This time the off-side arm worked perfectly.

1:10  Lost presence of mind watching the running A-frame and forgot to turn to the closing line.

Dusty  1:36  I stopped moving.

1:56  Perhaps an off-side arm would have helped.

2:04  In my efforts to concentrate on our problems with the box, I decided to reduce Dusty's approach speed and just start at the first hoop.  Since Dusty and I started together, I quickly fell behind and he looked back.  This caused him to curl in toward me and take the off-course jump.

2:13  Dusty is looking at the off-course hoop before he takes the first hoop.  "Dusty" might have turned his head and brought the correct obstacle into his line of sight.  On the other hand, "Dusty" might have caused him to turn his head to the off-course jump as it did at 2:21.

2:28  Looking at off-course hoop before he starts.

2:39  I'm too far behind and Dusty turns left.

2:48  "Over" saves the day.

2:51  I stopped at the line.  Dusty turned away, possibly reading my left arm as a flip away.

3:06  Perhaps my BIG arm signal pushed him away.

3:28  I turned ever so slightly left.  Also since Dusty had just done a pinwheel, perhaps he interpreted "go" to mean "keep going along the curve you're on."

The Scoop

June 20, 2012.  This morning was absolutely beautiful.  I set up a four jump opening sequence so I could try out a handling maneuver that Dawn Weaver refers to as the scoop.  She uses the scoop as an alternative to a lead out pivot with her bigger and faster dogs.  After reading about the scoop, I had my doubts as to whether or not it was something we could use, but I decided to give it a try before dismissing it.  After all, the more tricks you have in your handling bag, the better prepared you are for new challenges.

I was working without benefit of seeing the move done--I had only Dawn's description and a few photos.  As I suspected neither Belle nor Dusty got it.  However, after I reviewed our video I discovered they didn't get it because my feet were pointed at an off-course jump instead of the jump I wanted them to take.  Once I corrected the position of my feet, the dogs didn't seem to have any trouble understanding which jump I wanted them to take.

Because the handler's lower body must be committed to the jump she wants her dog to take, she has to turn at the waist to communicate with her dog at the start line.  I found this to be a little awkward and would have probably decided the scoop wasn't really a move I ever needed to use.  However, for the opening we were working on, there are only two other options:  a post turn (with pre-curving) or a lead out pivot.  My choice would be a post turn since I don't do lead out pivots unless it is the only way I can communicate what I want and still get downstream to handle an upcoming tricky sequence.

However, as you will see in the video, the post turn option really didn't work all that well with Dusty.  Dusty is not fully committed to a jump until he is in the air, and I forgot to take that into account several times when using the post turn opening.  With a scoop, I was 45° closer to the direction I needed to be facing in order to finish the sequence before I released Dusty from the start line.  This meant I could concentrate on supporting his path in the 180 and not have to fret about getting myself turned in the direction of the final jump.

With Belle, I felt the scoop was a little demotivating, but when I timed the sequence, there really wasn't any difference time wise.  All I really have to do is to learn to set up the lower part of my body faster.  As long as I run from the start line to my set up point, Belle will get fired up.  Remembering to lead out on the appropriate side helps too ;-)


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sometimes Two Hands are Better than One

We received some much needed rain last night, and I was able to get out early this morning and set up a basic little exercise to test the effect of pre-curving a dog's line on a post turn.

In our area, giving your dog a signal that there is a relatively sharp turn or wrap after a jump is known as a "pre-cue."  Most commonly, pre-cues are associated with front crosses.  In her book, Knowledge Equals Speed, Dawn Weaver outlines how to pre-cue a turn when you are using a post turn.  She calls it "pre-curving" the dog's path, and in her illustrations, she shows the effect it has on shortening up the dog's path, which is a major consideration for those who want to be competitive.  However, pre-curving the dog's path is about more than just speed--it is also helps reduce wear and tear on our dogs' joints. 

When you use a pre-cue to start your dog turning before take-off, the stress upon landing is minimized because your dog doesn't have to jam on his brakes in order to achieve a tight turn.  I was very pleased with how well Belle and Dusty responded to an off-arm cue to pre-curve their paths before taking a jump.  (Olga Chaiko uses a similar method which her students call "the claw.")  In fact, it felt so natural that I had to look at some older video to see if it wasn't something I was already doing without realizing it.  It wasn't, and it wasn't too very hard to find a couple of clips that showed the consequences of not pre-curving a turn.

Note:  In narrating the video, I used "pre-cuing" instead of "pre-curving" since "pre-cuing" is the term I'm more familiar with.  Actually, I think I like Olga Chaiko's term the best since it denotes a specific handling option.  "Pre-cuing" in general is just letting your dog know as soon as possible what's coming up.  "Pre-curving" or starting the dog's turn on the take-off side of the jump is really something we want to do no matter how we choose to handle a specific jump (front cross, rear cross, post turn, etc.)