Saturday, February 25, 2012

What a Difference A Day Makes

Hard to believe I was out in the field running courses on Thursday.  Here's what we awakened to on Friday.

Belle and I drove to Davenport for a trial, which thankfully didn't begin until 10 a.m.  On our Standard run, Belle left the table before the judge was done counting.  I used a hand signal when I left her at the table, but I failed to say "stay."  When I turned and faced her over the bar of the next jump, she came running.

The judge was very forgiving in his A-frame calls in T2B.  Belle missed the second one by about three inches, but still Q'd.  (In very slow motion, it looks like a toenail may have dragged across the top of the yellow on the first one.)  It's looking more and more like I may have to put temporary slats on my A-frame in order to finish re-training Belle's running A-frame.  On the positive side, she did seem to jump the apex and not skitter down in T2B.  She just didn't land far enough into the blue for her next stride to carry her into the yellow.  

In Standard, I did a front cross between the A-frame and the next jump, and Belle took three strides in her descent.  I really didn't want to do a front cross there for just that reason.  However, I didn't feel comfortable trying to execute a rear cross going into this particular pinwheel configuration, and I wasn't convinced a blind cross would give Belle a clear idea of where we were going next.
As an aside: There were many very poorly executed front crosses at this point.  At least two were so misplaced that the dog went to the chute instead of the jump.  In many other instances the handler was in the dog's way and the dog had to swerve around him.  This is not shaping the dog's line; this is getting in the dog's way.  When you use a front cross and your body to shape a dog's line, his reaction should be "Got it!" not "Oh, crap!"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Puzzlement

Yesterday, in addition to the USDAA course, I also set up the Olive Oil Elite Jumpers course using hoops.  (This is one of the courses from the VT sets in the NADAC Yahoo files.)  I didn't shot any video yesterday, but our major problem with this course was getting from the tunnel to the #10 hoop.

A dog naturally turns in to his handler unless the handler applies pressure to his line.  The less obvious the line and the less experienced the dog, the more the handler has to apply pressure to keep the dog on course.  On this course when the handler is 60 or more feet away from the tunnel, #10 is no longer the next logical obstacle from the dog's point of view.  The dog comes out of the tunnel looking for the handler--this immediately takes #10 out of the picture and makes #6 a good-looking candidate for the next obstacle.

My original plan was push out with my left arm toward #10 while moving toward #12.  I thought this would give Belle advance information as to where we were going next.  Unfortunately, from the video, it is quite obvious that doing this fails to give her information about where to go from the tunnel.

When I finally realized that I had to face the #10 hoop in order to get Belle to go through it, things went much better.  However, while editing the video, I realized that by facing #10 I was applying pressure to Belle's line.  I thought I was on to the key--face her line, and #10 will be a piece of cake.  I went out to try it one more time with this thought uppermost in my mind.  However, I was dismayed to find Belle was pausing for a split second when she emerged from the tunnel.  I tried calling "out" before she emerged from the tunnel, but that seemed to make matters even worse.  Waiting until she emerged and using an off-arm seemed to produce the smoothest line.

A heavy snow is predicted so it may be a few days before we can get back to this puzzle, but I'm looking forward to discovering how to get from the tunnel to #10 with no spins, head checks, or pauses.

Agility in Slow Motion

I was trolling the Net looking for agility exercises when I encountered this video.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Mind is Willing, But ....

I'm planning to enter a USDAA trial at the end of March, and I was fortunate enough to find a series of courses from 2009 designed by Allison Bryant who will be the Masters/PIII judge at the trial.  I set up the Standard course today.

The angles of approach to the teeter and the A-frame called for some management.  Belle corrects her approach to the teeter each time, but if I had lead out to just beyond #2 and faced Belle, I might have been able to engineer a smoother approach to the teeter.  Since I can leave Belle on the table and lead out to the landing side of the tire, managing the A-frame approach was simple.  For the handler who is unable to lead out, the turn from tire to A-frame could get ugly.

I failed to appreciate how much yardage the position of the weaves would add to my run.  The first two times we tried this course, I went into the box and ran around the #8 jump.  In addition to adding unnecessary yardage to my run, it also put me way behind Belle as she got to the #12 jump.  By the time Belle finished the weaves, I was too winded to finish the course.

After the first two attempts, I knew I'd have to figure out a way to run smarter.  Indoors in a temperature-controlled setting and on sports turf, I might be able to run the course this way.  But outdoors on grass at 40°, no way.  I toyed with layering the weaves and sending Belle to the chute, but when we ran it again, I found that just staying on the take-off side of #8 saved me enough steps that I was able to finish the course.

Monday, February 20, 2012

An Awesome Day

We traveled to Davenport on Sunday for another NADAC trial hosted by the QCDC.  Belle and I cued four out of five runs, and David and Dusty cued three out of five runs.  Best of all, on our second Regular run, Belle did an awesome running A-frame.  Even better, I knew it was a good A-frame in real time.  (It's hard to tell what happened on the first run since I'm between the camera and the A-frame, but my impression while we were running was that Belle put in skittering steps in the blue and missed the yellow.)

I had really wondered whether or not a dog could do a running A-frame on both a 9'-sided and an 8'-sided A-frame.  But when I watched Rachel Sander's DVD, I became convinced that it could be done by most dogs since Rachel's method requires that the dog figure out how to handle the ascent.  As long as a dog is still capable of thinking while running, the ascent should signal to him that he has to power down a little in order to make the descent on the 8'-sided A-frame.

A bigger problem for Belle is a slatted A-frame--I removed the slats from mine 8 or 9 years ago.  Belle has a rather poor opinion of slats since she didn't encounter any until well into her training.  I may have to just bite the bullet and install slats on our home A-frame temporarily once the weather turns nicer.

Here's the video of four of our runs:

A Frustrating Week

Despite the beautiful weather we've had last week, it was a rather frustrating week for me.   I "enrolled" in one of Silvia Trkman's handling classes a couple of weeks ago, and I was finally able to set up the first course last Tuesday.  To my dismay, I found myself unable to successfully handle one of the sequences in one of the two ways Silvia recommended.  After trying my best, I finally had to accept the fact that I am just not fast enough to get ahead of Belle in this particular sequence.  The best I could do was handle it from behind--a real time waster, but at least it enabled me to complete the sequence.

After struggling with a highly technical European style course, I decided it was time for a change of pace and set up a NADAC Jumpers course on Thursday.  Since I wanted to practice bonus lines with Belle, I opted to use hoops instead of jumps.  Here's the course:

On Thursday, we made three attempts at the bonus line, and I made mistakes at three different spots.  On our first attempt, I messed up at #10 to #11 by getting a little too far ahead of Belle and failing to maintain pressure on her line to #11.  On our second attempt, I was late turning Belle from #6 to #7.  I thought we had nailed it on our final effort, but I was way late in cueing the turn from #17 to #18.

On Friday, however, the big problem was turning Belle left from #5 to #6.  I spent hours studying and comparing video clips, trying to figure out why we were having so much trouble with something that gave us no problem the day before.  I finally decided that several different things were happening, and it was not necessarily the same thing every time that caused Belle to turn in the wrong direction.

My first thought from watching the clips was that I was dropping my right arm after calling for the switch from #4 to #5 and then pushing it out again to get the turn to #6.  But when I looked closely at Thursday's video, I found I did the same thing and Belle had no problem turning in the correct direction.  Another thing I noticed on the Friday morning video was that Belle was on her left lead (the lead that would naturally carry her to #6) coming to #5 and was actually changing leads when I gave my cues.

I also noticed that sometimes I was already moving left as Belle came through #5 and sometimes I was facing #6 and not really moving very much.  Unfortunately, that alone did not seem to determine whether or not Belle made the correct turn at #5.

I tried using different verbals:  "out," "get out," "left," and "switch."  "Switch" was most definitely a wrong choice since Belle immediately switched and turned right.  The one time I used "left," it worked, but then I erroneously said "left" two hoops later when I wanted Belle to turn right.  Since she turned in the correct direction despite my error, I'm going to assume that right and left don't really mean that much to her.  I even went out on the course and pretended to be Belle and tried to determine what combination of cues would make it clear to me that I was to turn left after #5.

When I went out Friday afternoon, I was able to consistently send Belle from #5 to #6 by making a conscious effort to not drop my arm after calling for the switch between #4 and #5.  Although other movements on my part may have been causing the miscue in the morning, the act of concentrating on keeping my arm out caused me to move more fluidly.  Now if I could just get my timing right.

Saturday afternoon I went out and tried running the course backward.  We weren't very successful with that either.  I was really discouraged when we tried the course as it was designed--once again I had trouble getting Belle from #5 to #6.  We did finally get through the entire course, but that was more due to Belle than to me.  I decided to end on a successful note (for my benefit), and just run the course without trying for the bonus.

Here's some of the video from Saturday.

Postscript:  I finally figured out what was going wrong in the opening.  It finally dawned on me that from Belle's point of view there was no "switch" involved going from #4 to #5.  It was really a "go" for her since there was no other logical obstacle in the vicinity.  Because Belle is very responsive to the "switch" command, using "switch" at #4 set her up to turn away from me after #5.  On most of our attempts, I was unable to over-ride the switch with an "out" or my body movement.  (I don't consider Belle to be linguistically gifted.  However, unlike many agility commands, "switch" is a word she basically only hears in a set context-namely when I want her to turn away from me-and she is very responsive to it.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sunday Night Practice

Kim Lindquist of Contented Canines (Moline, IL) rented the QCDC this afternoon and set up three different courses for us to work.  I concentrated on running as fast as I could, and I think I did a pretty good job.  There was room for improvement in these areas:
  1. Timing.  But for a change I was too early as opposed to too late especially when the further end of the curved tunnel was the correct entrance.
  2. Using a directional without an obstacle name or instead of an obstacle name.
  3. Failure to keep an indirect eye on Belle as I'm sprinting ahead of her.
On the first exercise I had a devil of a time trying to handle the closing.  I wanted to do a blind or front cross in the worst way.  However, the reality of the situation was there was no way I could get there.  Besides a push worked just fine.

On the third exercise, I chose to try the opening two different ways.  The first time, I lead out and indicated we were going to the tunnel a la Mecklenburg.  The second time, I started with Belle.  When I did the lead out, I felt like an eternity passed before I was free to move again, and  I thought for sure that running with Belle from the start line was probably the better way to handle this opening.  I was somewhat surprised when I did the slow-motion comparison for the video.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Follow-Up on Yesterday's Exercise 1

This morning I went out and re-ran Exercise 1 with Belle using a blind cross and a front cross.  Much to my surprise, today the front cross yielded the same time as the front and rear did yesterday, and the blind cross was a little itty bit faster today than the front--I think because I was very conscious of moving laterally as soon as I could after jump #4.  On the downside, when I used a blind cross, both Belle and Dusty ticked the bar of the jump before the weaves--probably because of my abrupt deceleration to signal the wrap to the weaves.

I guess what I've learned from this exercise is that if you can easily do a front cross and there is not a speed sequence coming up after the cross, then a front cross is probably a better choice than a blind cross.  Let me illustrate:

In the white sequence on the left, for most of us changing sides between 4 and 5 is the surest way to get the job done before the tunnel.  We're not really using the cross between 4 and 5 to signal a turn--we merely need to change sides before our dog gets to the tunnel.  Therefore, a blind cross is a very appropriate choice since it isn't going to slow the handler down in the middle of a fast sequence.

The black sequence on the right is similar to the one in Exercise 1 from yesterday.  A turn is needed at 5.  There are three options.   A rear cross will work if the dog has a good switch command and dependable weave entries.  However, the dog has to be ahead of you.  Given how the course loops back on itself, you have to work at it to make sure your dog is ahead of you so you can get in a rear cross.  On the other hand, if you know you're too late for a front cross, it is a viable alternative.  (If you are too late for a front cross, attempting a blind cross instead may end up bringing down the bar at 4.)

Obviously, a blind cross will work since I managed it with two different dogs.  However, a blind cross on the flat is really about speed.  I had to make a conscious effort to modify my path and my speed in two places in Exercise 1.  Apparently, I managed to fix my problem at the fourth jump in that exercise, but I didn't do quite as well at jump 7 since both dogs ticked the bar today.

Exercise 1 calls for an efficient, tight turn over the jump before the weaves.  It was easy enough to get into position for the front cross, plus knowing I needed to do a front cross kept me from lingering longer than necessary at #4 and inadvertently cuing Belle to jump long over #5.  (Even in the drawings above, you can see the effect that knowing I want to do a front cross has on my path :-)  Because I have to slow down to execute the front cross, Belle is more likely to collect over #7 and achieve a tight wrap to the weaves.

If you would like to learn more about blind crosses, Daisy Peel has put together a video demonstrating three types of blind crosses, how to train them and when they are appropriate.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Three Sequences Without an A-Frame ;-)

Bud Houston posted three new sequences this morning, so I thought I'd haul out the jumps and weave poles and give them a whirl.  In the first exercise, the main issue is how to handle the turn from jump #7 to the weaves.  I tried using a blind cross, a front cross, and finally a rear cross to achieve the turn with Belle.  The blind cross felt most comfortable, the rear cross the least.  When I did the front cross I felt it was clumsy because I had to stop moving to do it.  However, looking at the video I see it wasn’t as bad as I thought.  It would be nice to be able to do a moving front cross, but it just isn’t going to happen on grass.  However, when I timed the sequences, I was amazed to find that the sequence was nearly .7 seconds faster using the front cross.  (The time for the sequences was almost the same using the blind cross and the rear cross.)

I could understand why the rear cross was slower, I had to allow Belle to pass me before I could complete the rear cross.  Additionally, if you watch the comparison clips closely, you will see another consequence of the rear cross.  Because I indicate a rear cross by fading in the opposite direction first, Belle jumps over the middle of the bar.  She doesn’t land particularly long, but she isn’t in a position to do a clean wrap to the weaves.  Using the front cross and the blind cross results in her jumping close to the right standard and being able to execute a nice, tight wrap.

As an aside, if you follow Linda Mecklenburg’s handling system, you will realize that my cue for a rear cross is incorrect.  Her cue is to move laterally (shoulders facing forward) toward the side you want your dog to turn to.  It is a skill I’ll have to work on, but it will take conscious effort on my part to not revert to old habits.

I didn’t expect the rear cross to work all that well since I knew up front that I’d have to pace myself in order to use it.  But I really was really stymied as to why the blind cross wasn’t at least as fast as the front cross.  I had to compare the clips in slow motion to find out where we lost time.  I turns out it was at jump #5, the jump in the bottom right corner of the video.  I think I gave Belle more timely information about her direction after #5 when I was concerned with getting to the landing side of #6 in order to execute a front cross.  When I used the blind cross, I didn’t have any doubt that I could get into position so I waited a beat longer before moving laterally.

Also, notice that I still haven’t managed to break myself of the habit of using “go” without an obstacle name.  In this instance, just the obstacle name might have been a better choice, since I don’t really want Belle to go on ahead of me.  What I want is for her to remain committed to the jump in front of her while I move laterally to the next obstacle.

I went out and tried the blind cross one more time, remembering to move laterally sooner and use “over” instead of “go.”  However, this time, I found myself late decelerating for the jump before the weaves and this produced a wide turn.  Our time was about the same as the time for this morning’s blind cross run.  I didn’t think to try the sequence using the front cross—I’ll try that tomorrow if the weather permits and see if it was just a fluke that it was faster today.

As far as time is concerned, whichever way I chose to handle the other two exercises, the time was amazingly consistent.  The third exercise, however, did test my handling skills as you will see in the video.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Frame Fun - Variations on Exercise 7

Although we put in too much time working on the A-frame yesterday, I decided since Belle was eager to go out and play, we'd give Exercise 7 a go today.  It is almost as cold as yesterday and there is a stiff wind out of the north, but once again we have dodge the snow and/or freezing rain that was predicted.

In Exercise 7, the approach to the A-frame begins behind and to the right of the plane of the start of the A-frame.  The handler has two choices here:  1) She begin with a running start, using enough lateral distance to manage the push to the hoop after the A-frame.  I felt this gave Belle the most momentum.  2) The handler can lead out laterally and behind the dog and use a start line stay.  I felt Belle didn't develop quite enough momentum given the approach to the A-frame in this sequence.

I used Lisa Selthofer suggestions for Micro Training and you will see two of our three "one minute" sessions in the video.  Once again, I really liked the result.  Although I would have preferred a slightly lower hit in the yellow, given the angle of approach, Belle did a very nice job.  I notice that I could have kept up a higher energy level between sequences--it should be easier to do that when the weather is nice.

(Due to wind noise, I replaced the original audio track with music.)

Monday, February 6, 2012

When More is Less.

After yesterday's great success with our running A-frame, I was all set for a repeat performance today.  Not even remotely.  Worse, I kept at it until we finally got one perfect running A-frame.  I'm so ashamed of myself, I'm not about to put the video on YouTube.  The whole debacle was a perfect example of how NOT to work on any skill, let alone one as physically taxing as the A-frame.

As sometimes happens, the universe came knocking to reinforce the concept that more is often less.  Lisa Selthofer is offering a free e-book, Micro-Training in Agility, and I downloaded it after finishing up my disheartening session of video editing this afternoon.  Basically, the booklet stresses the value of training for one minute and then playing for one minute three times in a row, twice a day.  I had always considered my shaping and trick training sessions short, but I must confess they run 5-10 minutes and don't include periods of play.

I decided to go outside one more time with Belle and try out Lisa's advice.  I opted to increase the training time to two minutes since some of the training time is used up when Belle is retrieving the toy that I throw.  (After trying it, I think 80-90 seconds would have been quite adequate.)  Belle nailed the contacts, but more importantly I found myself putting my whole being into what I was doing--  something that isn't too difficult to do for a minute or two, but a level of effort that is well nigh impossible to sustain for five to ten minutes.


I gave some though to what went wrong with our practice session yesterday, and here's what I came up with:

1.  It was quite bitter outside, a real let down after the beautiful day we had Sunday.  Because of the cold, my heart wasn't really in our practice session.  (I considered the possibility that the cold bothered Belle, but since we had no problems when we went out the second time, it's not likely.)

2.  This was the first time I chose to reward the running A-frame using food instead of a toy.  Given how I was feeling about the cold, it was an ill-advised idea to be trying something so radically different.  Additionally, in training Belle loves being rewarded with a thrown toy or a game of tug--the occasional cookie is appreciated, but it doesn't provide a high.  (However, Belle has no interest in toys at a trial or run-thru unless I take her outside away from the action.  She prefers to be rewarded with cookies in those settings; perhaps just watching other dogs run is all the stimulation she can bare.)

3.  The opening of this particular sequence gave us some trouble, so we spent a minute or two working on just the hoops before we tried the first A-frame.  This is the first time this issue has popped up since we've started working on a running A-frame.

4.  The approach to the A-frame was preceded by a tight, momentum-sucking wrap.  So even though the approach angle wasn’t really off-set, it lacked momentum due to the wrap.

I think #3 and #4 would not have been a problem if I had put more of myself into the effort.  Regarding #2, I'm not quite so sure.  Certainly more drive on my part would have helped, but a toy supplies the same kind of stimulus being in the presence of other dogs at trial does.  For this dog and this handler, it is a very valuable asset.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Frame Fun - Variations on Exercise 6

What a beautiful day it is outside.  The sun is shining and there is no wind!!!  I worked on the sixth exercise from Nancy Gyes' "Frame Fun" with Belle and Libby.  Belle did really well today.  I noticed while editing the video that I didn't reinforce her A-frame performance with a "yes."  Although it didn't faze her in the least since I haven't used any NRM's while training the running A-frame, it still couldn't hurt to emphasize that she is doing a really good thing when she hits the yellow.

I also gave the sequence a go with Libby.  You'll notice she's not as motivated as Belle so I had to resort to carrying around her special toy--a soccer ball.  I haven't really done any serious running contact training with Libby, but she has had plenty of experience leaping over the yellow--she loves to fly.  When we tried it the first time, I assumed she put in three strides on the downside and missed the yellow.  However, the magic of slow-motion video showed me she clearly did the descent with one stride.  I'm glad that I placed the stride regulator a little higher for Libby than I did for Belle.  She came down exactly where she needed to in order to hit the yellow on her next stride.

I had decided last month to forgo working on a running dogwalk until the weather was warmer.  However, I've been working indoors with a travel board to increase Belle's drive into a 2o2o position, and it seems to be working.  Since a running dogwalk is much harder to train (IMHO) and because lots of USDAA courses really, really test the abilities of the handler whose dog does a running dogwalk, I may not re-attempt teaching Belle a running dogwalk.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Frame Fun - Part Two

The fog condensed on the contact equipment yesterday and froze, so Belle and I had a day of rest.  Today, it is quite windy and about 36°, so we had a go at exercises three and four from Nancy Gyes' Frame Fun.

I over-pushed on exercise three and had a devil of a time getting Belle to come through the hoop at the end of the exercise.  On exercise four, I could have easily relied on a push to the tunnel after the A-frame, but I wanted to see what Belle would do if I did a blind cross.

Looking at the A-frame performances, none were as deep as I would like.  However, each and every descent was done in two strides, and Belle did manage to at least nick the yellow every time.  Additionally, it looks like I'll have to put marks on the A-frame so I know exactly where to place the stride regulator, since even the frames done with the SR were not as deep into the yellow as I would have hoped.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Frame Fun

Enough snow has melted that I was able to set up a course designed by Nancy Gyes for her Clean Run "Power Paws Drills" series.  She named this particular set of sequences "Frame Fun."

In the exercise we did today, the major decision the handler must make is on which side of the A-frame to run when she sends her dog over the A-frame.  I tried it both ways, and I think that running on the right side of the A-frame gives the dog a more flowing (and faster) approach to the A-frame.  In another three months, that advantage might no longer matter to Belle, but for right now it seems to give her a better chance of hitting the yellow.

If the handler chooses to run on the left side of the A-frame, whether she does a front cross or a blind cross, her dog's path from #4 to the A-frame will tend to flatten out.  The handler who runs on the right side of the A-frame can hold her position (red handler) long enough to shape a straighter approach to the A-frame for her dog.

I discovered that it was easy to push to #6 too soon.  One of my early "switch" commands caused Belle to consider turning into the #3 tunnel!  On the other hand, I also messed up pulling Belle to #6 when I ran on the left side of the A-frame.  The original exercise called for jumps, not hoops, and the #6 hoop is not that easy for the dog to see from the A-frame.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Running A-Frame - 02/01/2012

Despite the snow, we've been going out almost every day to work on Belle's running A-frame.  We do four to six A-frames (without the stride regulator) and then spend 10 minutes or so playing--mostly find the tennis ball in the snow :-)  With the warm weather we've had over the last two or three days, the snow is about 90% gone.  So today I set up a short course around the A-frame to test Belle's ability to do a running A-frame when I do a front or blind cross right before it.  Since this is a skill we haven't worked on yet, I put the stride regulator on for the first few attempts.

Then came the moment to remove the training wheels and see what Belle would do.  I wasn't able to move fast enough to see if Belle did the descents in two strides when I did the front crosses, so I opted for a blind cross which enabled me to get far enough ahead to see what Belle did.