Thursday, March 29, 2012

European Course Challenges

Last week I set up an exercise I found in the the 2012 WAO USA Team book available at Clean Run.  The exercise set-up was adaptable to working many skills, but the skill the designer was emphasizing was sending the dog to the back of the jump, time after time after time.  I found the exercise quite frustrating since eventually I was too out of position on each exercise to handle the next obstacle.  I finally decided this was silly, so I looked for a real European course to set up.  This course is an actual course and in her video, Cik, Cak, Silvia Trkman shows how she ran the course at trial.

If memory serves correctly, I've only set up one other European course to try.  Like that European standard course, this jumpers course is actually pretty straightforward -- the only "tricky" maneuver is the threadle at 11/12.  However, like the standard course I set up last summer there are long runs involved in getting from one section to another.  Basically, if you have a dog with any kind of speed, you have to be able to employ some distance techniques unless you are an Olympic class sprinter.

1-3 will allow for a long lead out for those who need to conserve their breath for the rest of the course.  3-7 can be handled from a relatively small area by anyone who doesn't normally run stride for stride with their dog.  (However, this proved to be a bad handling choice for yours truly.)  The first running challenge for the handler is having to get from 8 to 11 in time to handle the threadle, a distance of about 60 feet if you have to go most of the way to 8.  You could manage the run from 8 to 11 and still direct your dog over 12 if 11/12 were a 180.  Unfortunately, it is a threadle, and most of us will have to be at least on the landing side of 10 to handle it.  Additionally, we have to get there before our dog does so that we can show some deceleration to help cue the wrap at 11.  (Any forward motion at this point will cue a 180.)

It took me a while to figure out how to best run this section of course.  Silvia Trkman simply remains near the (65,5) point and uses a verbal to send her dog on to wrap 8 on his/her own while she turns and runs to get into position for the threadle.  Unfortunately, Belle doesn't have a verbal that will allow me to do that.  I finally realized that if I moved back toward the exit of the #6 tunnel exit and paced myself moving toward 8, I could cut 10-15 feet off my path and have enough time to get into position for the threadle.  (It took me quite a while to figure this out since I was firmly wedded to the idea that I didn't want to move very far from (68,3) while Belle was performing 4-8.)

Another problem I had was my insistence on using "wrap" to send Belle to 8.  Her grasp of "wrap" ("take the jump before you and wrap around the standard toward me") is way less than perfect.  Additionally, 8 is not directly ahead of the dog; it is at a right angle to their path.  When I changed my command to "over," Belle had no problem figuring out what I wanted, and my hasty retreat up field created the wrap I wanted with no extra verbal.

In an effort to solve my difficulties with this section, I first tried running along the backside of the #6 tunnel, thinking that I could handle the threadle with lateral distance and be in a better position to get back down field for the closing.  However, there were problems with this tactic.  First, I had a difficult time remembering to get to the backside of the tunnel.  Next, I found myself moving up field before Belle took #8 and this was pulling her off the jump.  Lastly, the one time it worked, it did nothing to tighten up the threadle.  Running between the two tunnels gave me the best chance of getting where I had to be since it was the shorter path for me.

The next distance challenge for the handler is getting from the weave pole entrance to a spot between 15/16 in order to handle the closing.  This is a distance of about 65 feet.  I thought it might be problematic for me since it was coming toward the end of the run, but I left Belle in the weaves, supported the #14 jump with a verbal and an out-stretched arm and managed to do a blind cross between 15/16--yeehaw!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Running A-Frame - Rear Cross

I was going to work on the third sequence from Kathy Keats' March series this morning, but since I wanted to rear cross the A-frame, I decided to work on that first.  I've never been able to successfully rear cross the A-frame with Belle.  I am extremely envious of those who can cut across the heels of their dog and the dog doesn't waiver in its path.  When I cross Belle's path, she stalls out at the top of the A-frame.

As I worked through it this morning with Belle, she not only stalled out at the apex, she began stopping at the bottom.  You can see me working through these issues in the video.  After watching this morning's video, I decided the best way to work on teaching Belle to run the A-frame while I do a rear cross is to start very close to the line I want to cross and work on increasing my lateral distance from that line.  Whether or not I want to put the time and effort into teaching it is another matter.

Ironically, when I was working on getting Belle to run the A-frame without sticking, I discovered that a blind cross between the jump and the A-frame was probably a better choice for the sequence I was planning to run.  It has the advantage of keeping me in motion and ahead of Belle.  However, I still think that being able to rear cross the contacts is something that has its place in the handler's bag of tricks, and it is a skill I would definitely want to make sure my next dog and I have.  On the other hand, this is a skill that Belle and I have managed to do without for five years, so obviously there are ways to run successfully without it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Testing Our Running A-Frame: Exercise 1

Last week I devoted my time and energy to painting the dining room and doing spring clean up in my flower beds.  The dining room is finished, but the work continues in the garden.  However, I finally had a chance to set up a new course to work on.

I chose the March, 2012 set of exercises that Kathy Keats designed for Clean Run since it presents different options before and after the A-frame.  Exercise One calls for several wraps, but the one right before the A-frame presented a special challenge for Belle and me since I want her to do a running A-frame.  I'm not fast enough to stay at next to the jump for the wrap and handle the turn into the tunnel under the A-frame, so I decided we would work on getting the wrap with a minimal amount of handler help.  I thought Belle did a nice job on the A-frame into the tunnel.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chances Analysis - Tunnel Vision

"Tunnel vision" as defined in the online World English Dictionary:

1. a condition in which peripheral vision is greatly restricted
2. narrowness of viewpoint resulting from concentration on a single idea, opinion, etc, to the exclusion of others

Although the Q rate in Elite and Open on this Chances course was close to 50%, Belle and I were not among those teams who Q'ed because we feel victim to tunnel vision.  There are two meanings of the term "tunnel vision," and our run fell victim to both.

The tunnel in the upper left corner is about 35' away from the exit of the first tunnel, and it never occurred to me that it was a viable off-course.  I was focused on the turn to the #3 hoop, and I really thought was it was a given since I practically lead out to it.  I felt really bad for blaming Belle for failing to see the obvious, when it was I who had failed to see.  Thanks to Cynthia Ernat for pointing out to me how well the corner tunnel lined up with the start line.

Normally, I would have called Belle as she exited the tunnel. (I know, I know, I should actually call her when she's in the tunnel, but my reflexes suck.)  However, in light of how many verbal mistakes I made yesterday, I had resolved to use as few verbals as possible today.  This, unfortunately, was a spot that screamed for a verbal cue. 

As the dog sits at the start line waiting to be released, if he is looking straight ahead, he sees is the tunnel in the corner looming large and invitingly--especially since today, Chances followed Tunnelers.  Even for those dogs with no start line stay, the vision from within the first tunnel was most certainly "tunnel vision."

The other two "traps" on this course were obvious:  the dog has to turn from jump #6 to hoop #7, and then there is a dog walk/tunnel discrimination.  Unlike the problems we all encountered yesterday getting our dogs to carry out to a hoop after the tunnel, most of the dogs came out of the tunnel and took the jump.  Unfortunately, a fair number of them continued on to the off-course tunnel.  (This turn away from the tunnel was also tested on both Regular courses, so you had a chance to redeem yourself.)

When we were walking the course, I happened to overhear Cynthia Ernat discussing handling the line from #5 to #6:  Instead of turning the dog immediately as he exits the tunnel, it would be better to let him run out ten feet or more before turning indicating the turn.  Turning sharply to #6 puts the dog on a path to the off-course tunnel.  Allowing your dog to run out from the tunnel first, results in him heading more toward the #7 hoop as he takes the jump.

Chance Statistics
 Elite 7 Q's/18 runs
Open 4 Q's/9 runs
Novice 1 Q/13 runs

Chances Analysis - 03/10/2012

We ran this Chances course on Saturday at the QCDC trial.

 When I walked this course, I thought the hardest thing for Belle and me would be to turn from the #5 hoop to the #6 jump.  I felt she would build up so much momentum that the A-frame would be a very viable off-course.  The only other difficulty I foresaw was driving forward from the A-frame to hoop #10 for those dogs who had a stopped contact.

Oh, well, guess I won't be accepting a job as a course analyst any time soon.  The #1 challenge proved to be getting your dog to the #5 hoop.  By and large, at all levels, the dog came out of the tunnel looking for his handler and never made it to #5.

For those dogs that made it to #5 (whether on the first effort or the second), the next problem became turning from #7 to #8.  For the unwary handler, which was many of us, our handling path took our partner directly to the off-course tunnel.

Q Statistics
Elite 1 Q/17runs
Open 1 Q/12 runs
Novice 0 Q/15

Words, Words, Words

Belle and I ran this weekend at the QCDC NADAC trial.  Despite the time change, I think Sunday was our better day.  On Saturday, I just seemed to keep saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  The first run of the day was Chances, and I just totally blew that one in my walk-through analysis.  I'll be doing a separate post about the Chances course. In the two regular classes, our first A-frame was iffy and the second wasn't a two stride hit.  Belle's A-frames were much better in Touch n Go.

On the first Regular run, there was an A-frame/tunnel discrimination.  I wanted to make sure Belle was looking at the A-frame so I used her name.  Unfortunately, she was already headed right for it when I said "A-frame.....Belle" instead of "Belle, A-frame."  Additionally, I dropped my arm as I said "Belle" and like a good girl she went into handler focus and came straight to me.

On our jumpers run, I opened my mouth and said "out" when clearly, I should have just kept it shut.  In Hoopers, I thought I failed to save the run by saying "hoop" when I meant "tunnel."  After editing the video, Belle was pretty much on her way to that "hoop" and nothing I said would have stopped her at that point.  To get to the second tunnel, the handler had to indicate to her dog before she entered the first tunnel or while she was in there that a sharp turn was a-coming.

After these various misspeaks on Saturday, I resolved to keep my verbals to a minimum on Sunday.  Unfortunately, that decision bit me in the butt in Chances--I'll be doing a separate post on Sunday's Chances course, also.  I decided to use only "hit it" to indicate the A-frame on Sunday, and that seemed to make a difference.  I thought Belle's two A-frames in Regular were much closer to being true running A-frames.  I was also very pleased to see the improvement in her dog walk.  We haven't worked a whole lot on driving into the 2o2o because I was concentrating on the A-frame.  When we did work on it, I noticed it messed with Belle's mind in regard to what was expected on the A-frame--after working on the dog walk, she would offer a 2o2o on the A-frame.

Friday, March 9, 2012

One of Those Finer Points

I went out this morning to see how Dusty and Belle would do with yesterday's Chances course.  (We had the same kinds of problems with it this morning as we did yesterday.  Go figure.)  However, I specifically wanted to work on the "out" from tunnel #6 to jump #7.  It's essentially the same move that gave us trouble on the course from February 23rd.

Watching yesterday's video, I could see that even when Belle and I were successful, she still curved toward me before moving out to take the correct jump.  I thought it was because I was not saying "out" until she was emerging from the tunnel.  However, today I tried saying "out" earlier and earlier, and the result wasn't pretty.  

On one of today's attempts with Dusty, I inadvertently put pressure on the line from #7 to #8 as he exited the tunnel, and he did jumps #7 and #8 perfectly--no head check, no bobble in his line.  I realized what I did, but I had to give it some thought before I realized why it worked.

When I put pressure on the path from the tunnel to #7, I found myself moving toward "X" or standing still as the dogs exited the tunnel.  This resulted in the dogs seeing me in a more or less recall position, while from my viewpoint, I was concentrating my efforts on pushing the dogs out to the "X."  The direction in which I was moving was not really the direction I wanted them to take.  Additionally, I was looking almost directly at them as they came out of the tunnel, and direct eye contact is an innate signal for handler focus, which is what I was getting, much to my dismay.

When I changed the direction of my push toward the green "Y," the dogs did not see a recall image--they saw me moving in the direction of the course and were able to move to the correct jump with little or no bobble in their line.  I created a short video with Belle demonstrating the effect of facing the two different spots on the course.

I look forward to trying out this new technique on similar course challenges to see if it always works.

Chances - 03/08/2012

The winds have abated somewhat, so I was able to set up a Chances course in preparation for this weekend's NADAC trial.

The hardest part of this course is getting to the #7 jump.  On my first attempt with Dusty, I ended up against the back line after completing the serpentine, and was unable to move in the direction of #7 when he exited the tunnel.  The second time, I made sure I had the room to move.  Unfortunately, I failed to plan for handler movement toward the tunnel after #9.  However, to my surprise, Dusty continued on to the tunnel with verbal urging and a couple of arm pushes.

Since this course included a couple of bonus lines, I gave it a whirl with Belle.  I was expecting the turn from #3 to #4 to be difficult, and it was.  I didn't think #7 would be that much of a problem since I certainly had room to push forward.  However, sometimes timing is everything, and I was dismayed to see how late I was in my send to #7 with both dogs.

One last thing to look for in the video.  When Belle and I finally make it through the whole run successfully, notice that I am bending forward as she finishes the dog walk.  At the time, I wondered why she failed to stop.  However, now I know.  The best way to reinforce a stopped contact is to stand up straight.  Bending forward is an acceleration cue.  That's why sometimes it works when you run out of running room in Chances or Gamblers.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Don't Be Afraid to Ignore the Line

Finally, the snow has melted again, and I was able to set up a new Jumpers course for distance practice.  Here's the course I chose:

When I finished setting up the course, I decided it would be a long time before we could tackle a course like this in a trial setting--like probably never :-)  From the bonus line, it just looks like a sea of hoops, so I had to work extra hard to memorize the course from my vantage point behind the bonus line.  Then I had to look at the course from Belle's point of view.  I did a little bit of tweaking to make hoops 18/5 and 15 more visible to Belle.  I decided the hardest spot would be the turn from 7 to 8--I knew Belle would develop lot of speed before she got to 7 and the off-course hoop at 15 would be the next logical obstacle.

Because of the difficulty of the turn from 7 to 8, I decided to try handling the course from the 70-foot line first.  As I suspected, it took some thinking and some work to figure out how to best handle the turn.  What seemed to work best was a combination of Belle's name and "wrap" given as she approaches hoop 7 and my sharp movement toward my right.

I thought getting from 14 to 15 might also present a problem, since 15 really isn't in Belle's line of sight when I'm 40-50 feet away.  However, Belle had no problem finding that particular hoop.

This course lends itself beautifully to handling from a very small area in the vicinity of  (75,40) point.  I tried it with Dusty, and was very pleased with how well he did.  He even stopped head-checking when I started to urge him on with the "whishing" noise I use when Belle is weaving.