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.