Monday, January 30, 2012

Distraction Proofing

How well have you trained your dog to deal with distractions?  I'm pretty sure I haven't done as good a job as this handler.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Running A-Frame - 11

Saturday, I went through a couple of long threads on Linda Mecklenburg's forum site regarding training a running A-frame.  On Sunday, Belle and I went to a CPE trial.  My primary concern  was how the running contacts would go.  Well, they didn't go all that well.  Belle missed the yellow five out of six times, although we only got called for one missed contact.  On the bright side, she did come over the apex of the A-frame without tentatively putting down one front foot at a time.  She  just didn't come over the apex with enough conviction to carry her far enough down so that her next stride would be in the yellow.  I gave her a big "Yes!" on each of her A-frame attempts so that she would realize I do indeed want her to just keep moving on the A-frame.

From the information I was able to gather on Saturday, the time has come to discard the props and see if the A-frame behavior will hold up without them in training.  It is also time to start running sequences that mimic an actual course leading into the A-frame.  I was quite shocked yesterday when I ventured out toward the field.  Despite the snow, the A-frame was clear and the snow was only 3-4 inches deep around it.  I gave Belle one pass at the A-frame with the stride regulator and no PVC box.  Then I removed the SR, and we tried again.  Imagine my joy when she nailed the contact!  We tried a couple more times, and she nailed it each time.  I finally had to get my camera and record the moment.

Upon until now, we've been practicing with a straight approach to the A-frame.  I can't run in the snow, so there's no point in trying to set up a partial course.  So I did the next best thing and set up four hoops as shown in red.  The footing was a little deep for Belle, but on her second try on each side of me, she managed a two-stride descent.

Since it is not safe to work on the dogwalk outside, I'm planning to use a TOTO for the dogwalk at our up-coming trials.  Once spring arrives, we'll work on it some more.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday Night Run-Thrus at the QCDC

Despite the cold temps last night, we made the trip to Davenport for the QCDC's Thursday night run-thru.  Belle was nailed the running A-frame before and after the run-thrus, but not during them :-(  This morning I raised the A-frame to 5'3" in the field and Belle nailed the apex stride 5 out of 5 times and placed all four paws in the yellow 4 out of 5 times.

The first run on the video is how I would run this course in a trial.  I was very pleased at how well Belle did the running dogwalk on the first run despite the position of the next obstacle.  The approach to the A-frame isn't one I really feel Belle is ready for, but since I do plan to trial while we're re-working Belle's A-frame, I decided I'd run the course the way is was set at least once.  When re-training to a running A-frame, it is important to never, ever ask for a TOTO.  You have to commit to the re-train and accept that if you trial during the re-train period, your dog may miss the A-frame contact.

On our second run, I decided to devise my own opening so that Belle would have a straight shot at the A-frame.  (It didn't really help all that much.)  I also wanted to try running on the left side of the teeter and pushing Belle to the weaves.  For this old handler, that turned out to be a poor choice since it made it harder for me to get to the landing side of #20 for a front or blind cross.

One last thing that I wish I would have tried on this course:  I normally do not go into a pinwheel so that I can stay ahead of Belle.  However, the way the closing was set, it was possible to go into the pinwheel and get around to the right upright of the panel jump in plenty of time to run toward #20 and finish the course.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Running A-Frame - 10

The snow has been keeping us out of the agility field.  Sunday, Belle and I went to a practice afternoon hosted by an instructor from Moline at the QCDC.  She set up a jumpers course and managed to give us five different courses without having to move a single obstacle.  This gave me a chance to try some of Linda Mecklenburg's handling techniques, and it was pretty cool.  By handling smart, I was able to get down field of Belle and use motion to cue her as to what was coming up next.  I wish Ed had come along to video.  The run and decelerate that I was using Sunday was just so different from what I normally do, yet Belle understood what I wanted.  It's a different style than I would use on a NADAC course, but I'm hoping to do as many USDAA trials as I can this year, and these skills should come in handy. 
The contact equipment was set up off to the side for people to practice with their dogs while waiting to run.  Belle did fine on the A-frame which was set at about 5'.  Monday, I stopped by a friend's agility facility to do a few A-frames and dogwalks.  Her A-frame is slatted and was set at 5'6".  It turned out to be the worst A-frame session Belle and I have had.  (It was so bad, I couldn't bear to edit the clips into a video.)  She kept putting down one or more feet above the stride regulator.  I even tried moving the SR closer to the apex and removing the PVC box so we could concentrate on the stride after the apex and not worry about the contact zone, with no luck.  I don't know if she was tired from Sunday or if it was the height of the A-frame, but it was disheartening.

This morning, I took a broom and cleared off the A-frame as best I could.  First, we did two passes with just the stride regulator.  Belle floated over the apex like a butterfly and landed below the SR.  Since her rear foot/feet were hitting above the yellow, we then did two passes with the SR and PVC box in place, and they were perfect.  As soon as the snow melts, I'll try raising the A-frame to 5'3" and find out if Belle can still nail it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Running A-Frame - 9

Yesterday, I tried placing the PVC box about an inch below the top of the yellow.  Belle hit deeper in the yellow to clear the box, but at the same time, she placed one fore paw above the box almost every time.  The criteria of Rachel Sanders' method is one stride in the blue after the apex and followed by all four feet in the yellow.

In response to "Running A-Frame - 8," Karissa asked why I had abandoned the stride regulator since Belle is hitting close to the apex on her first stride.  I stopped using it because it was one more prop to fade, and it didn't seem to make that much difference.  However, I decided I'd give it another go this morning.

I also made a couple of other changes:

1.  I had started to fade the top piece of the PVC box.  I replaced the two pieces with a singe length of pipe so there is no gap.

2.  One end of the box has regular 90° elbows; the other has 3-way elbows.  (I mistakenly called them "tees" in the video.)  I've been placing the regular elbows at the top of the box.  Today, I turned the box and placed the 3-way elbows at the top.  This raises the top of the
box about 1" above the surface of the A-frame and makes it more visible.

The top pipe of the box remains about one inch below the start of the yellow.

Here's the video showing yesterday's efforts and today's.  I cannot believe how well Belle did today.  Today's A-frames were from a stay without much handler motion.  I will gradually add handler motion and a moving start, remembering to focus on the criteria set forth by Rachel Sanders.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Front Cross Drill

Last night I spent some time trolling YouTube looking for some front cross drills and found this easy-to-set-up-drill.

After trying it, I think it is one I will be using every week or so to improve my front crosses.  I noticed that I was concentrating so hard on moving laterally that I kept both arms extended, like some big bird about to take flight.  Next time, I'll try to relax and go with the flow and see if I can get my arms and legs to work together.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Linda Mecklenburg

I thought I more or less followed Linda Mecklenburg's system of handling, so when her book, Developing Handling Skills, came out, I quickly ordered a copy.  I must confess I found myself glazing over while trying to read it.  I had more or less set the book aside when an agility friend told me how great she thought the book was and what an asset it was in developing her handling skills.  So much so that she had ordered some of Linda's DVD's.

I found that Clean Run had posted a lengthy video clip from Linda's 8-disc series, Balancing Cues in Agility.  I was intrigued by what I saw and ordered the series.  The videos are from a two-day seminar and include Linda's explanations and actual seminar attendees running the sequences.  Even if I don't follow Linda's system to the letter, watching the effect relatively minor changes in handling make on the dog's path is proving to be very illuminating.  I plan to set each of  the exercises and try them out to see if it Linda's method will enhance my ability to communicate with the Aussies.  If her cues don't work for us, then at least I will have given some thought to what cues I actually do use to communicate.


The first exercise consists of three different sequences and emphasizes the proper application of lateral motion and forward motion cues.  I was very surprised that we only had one miscommunication out of all our runs.  (However, I did have to have a start line stay discussion with each of the dogs.  I left those out of the video in the interests of brevity.)

The hardest thing for me to remember was to keep my shoulders facing forward as I moved laterally.  All three of my dogs understood what I wanted despite that short-coming on my part.  However, in Exercise 1B (Drill 2 on Linda's DVD), it complicates the execution of my front cross.  The more I turn toward jump #3 before executing the front cross, the more degrees of rotation I add to the move.  Some of the front crosses in the video were pretty icky.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wraps and the Running Dogwalk

Bud Houston posted a sequence yesterday that includes the dogwalk and some opportunities for jump wrapping.  I decided I would set it up and see how well Belle and I could handle the wraps.  It also gave us an opportunity to test Belle's running dogwalk.  I thought she did a good job with the running dogwalk and a great job with the wraps.  However, the camera showed a slightly different picture of the running dogwalk.  From the angle I shot the sequence from, the dogwalk contacts look mighty iffy.

Running A-Frame - 8

I've continued to work almost every day with Belle on her running A-frame.  The PVC box is completely in the yellow, and I have removed an eight inch section from the top piece of it as I begin to fade it.  The A-frame is still at about 4'6".  I'm not doing as many reps since Belle has the basic idea.  I'm also doing at least one pass beginning from the side with the box and ending with the side without.  I'm having Belle do that one from a stay position, and she's getting better and better about hitting the yellow without the box.  (Note:  This is most definitely not part of Rachel Sander's method.)


Well, I set up the video camera so I could make sure we're still on track.  Unfortunately, I found that Belle is hitting high in the yellow and she is not hitting with all four feet.  You'll notice on the video, I thought she hit the yellow with all four feet every time.  Shows how important it is to video each practice session.

Friday, January 6, 2012

More Wraps

Well, I put up a four-hoop box and tried some more wrap work with Belle and Dusty.  Then I re-tried yesterday's exercise.  Finally, I changed the position of one of the hoops so that I could work on running toward the hoop to be wrapped from both directions.  There were still mistakes made, and I'm rather at a loss to explain them.  For the most part, I thought my handling was pretty good.  So perhaps it's a training issue.  I came up with a slightly more elaborate set-up to continue working on wraps over the next few days.

In addition to wrapping, this set-up will allow us to work on pinwheels and off-set straight lines.


Although it is not quite as warm today as it was yesterday, there is hardly any breeze so getting out for a bit of garden maintenance seemed like the thing to do.  Imagine my surprise when I found snowdrop leaves poking through the ground.  As I continued tidying the bed by the pond, I even found one almost ready to bloom.  (Normally, snowdrops bloom around the end of February or beginning of March in our area.)

Here's hoping that the rest of the winter of 2011-12 continues to remain so uncharacteristically mild.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

But It Looked So Simple

Here it is January 5th, and it's 51° degrees!  Love it!  Love it!  Love it!  My plan for today was to work one of the easier exercises from Kathy Keats' January Exercise of the Month with Dusty so I could work on my timing with him.  Then I was going to use one of the more complex exercises and work it as many ways as I could think of with Belle.  However.  I quickly discovered that this simple exercise wasn't quite as simple as I thought.

This is exercise #6 from Kathy's series for January, 2012.  It was pretty straightforward until we got to #9 and I wanted Dusty to wrap right around the hoop.  After working on it with him, I decided to try it with Belle just to make sure she could wrap #9 in either direction.  I got a real shock when I discovered that she also ignored my signals to wrap right.  Once she finally got it, I tried wrapping her left and she surprised me by wrapping right.

I watched the video over and over, and I still don't know exactly what is going wrong.  I suspect the dogs are taking their wrap cue from my left arm.  Tomorrow, I'll set up a simple box of hoops and place the video camera on the "landing" side of the hoop being wrapped.


One of the downfalls of training on your own is not having someone to encourage you to try different ways of handling.  Since the weather was so very nice today and is expected to be pretty nice for the next few days, I decided to set up Kathy Keats' Exercise of the Month for January, 2012, and try to run each exercise with as many variations that I could think of.

This is the first of Kathy's sequences.  I mapped out four major different ways to handle it.  The first, in the upper left, is the way I'd normally handle it.  The upper right figure shows how I'd handle it from a "bonus line."  The lower left represents a way that would not really be favored by me under normal circumstances.  The final figure shows another way I thought of to run the course after I did the editing of today's video.  Perhaps, I'll give it a try tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chances Analysis - New Year's Day, 2012

First, a little disclaimer:  I do my best to be accurate in my commentary on the video.  However, it is easy to misspeak and not catch the error.  I may also miss seeing something while commenting on the video.  If you spot an error or omission, let me know, and I can insert a caption into the video.  Now for the good stuff.
 This Chances course involves the dogwalk so the very first challenge at every level is the dogwalk contact.  For the majority of dogs that missed the contact, it was basically a training issue and not a handling issue.

In Elite, the first handler line parallels the dog's path from the hoop 1 to jump 3, so a lateral lead out is not really necessary, and many, if not most, of the handlers did not take one.  In Open, the line parallels the dog's path even more closely due to the change in angle.  However, in Novice, if the handler starts out running along the line, she is forced away from the contact zone much more sharply and may either pull the dog off the side of the dogwalk or off of his line from the dogwalk to jump 3.

At all levels, it is important that the handler not get ahead of her dog while he is on the dogwalk.  If she does, there is an excellent chance she will arrive at the back handler line and have no room to move forward and support her dog's path out to jump 3.  Also, notice that on the Novice course, once the handler is up against that line, she can only move away from #4.  The Elite and Open courses allow the handler a little bit of movement toward #4 even if the handler is up against the line.

In Elite, the hardest challenge was sending the dog out to hoop 7.  There were two main ways to accomplish this:  1. Call your dog over #5 and run him over your feet to #6 and then send to the hoop.  2.  Do a front cross on the landing side of #5 and turn and send over #6 to the hoop.  Running the dog over your feet seemed to work a little better, but both got the job done.  A bigger consideration was to make sure you moved far enough away from the line between #5 and #6 so that you didn't have to come to an abrupt halt before your dog was committed to the hoop.  For those of us who failed to move back far enough in anticipation of the send, training came to the rescue, and we were able to successfully redirect our dogs with verbals and/or arm signals.

Theoretically, the send to hoop #7 should be much of a problem on the Open course.  However, the handler still had to make a decision on how to handle the 180° turn, and not run up against the line before her dog is committed to the hoop.

In Novice, four dogs missed the #5 jump.  Three of the handlers were late in indicating the turn; the fourth dog was momentarily distracted by something and lost focus just long enough to end up in the gap between the two jumps.

I don't recall any of the Novice teams having a problem carrying out to hoop 8 if they made it through 7, but at least one Novice team had a problem making it to #7 due to handler anticipation of the send to the #8 hoop.

Here's the video.  My thanks to all who ran.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Day

Belle and I celebrated New Year's Day at the QCDC NADAC trial.  This is our first trial since we started working on a running A-frame.  I was really pleased with the result.