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.)


Friday, July 13, 2012

Handler vs Obstacle Focus

When I think of handler and obstacle focus, Stuart Mah immediately comes to mind.  I have read many of his articles, and I have had the pleasure of attending three of his seminars.  At the last seminar, he stressed the different ways a handler can indicate she wants her dog to be in handler focus or obstacle focus.  Among other things, he stressed that to bring a dog into obstacle focus the handler uses a (relatively) loud, driving voice.  To bring a dog into handler focus, the handler uses a quieter voice.  Unfortunately, when my adrenaline starts pumping, there's really no such thing as a quiet voice.

This morning, I set up the course below and made up my own bonus line.  I knew the hardest part would be getting the turn to #4.  There were plenty of timing issues today, but on our first attempt I also used a driving voice when I said "left" to indicate the turn.  Now, there are two problems with that loud "left."  First of all, it was a loud driving voice, which as Stuart Mah maintains is best used when you want your dog in obstacle focus.  Definitely, not what I wanted here.  Additionally, "left" by itself is ambiguous to Belle since the tunnel could also be viewed as being "left."  A quiet "left hoop" would provide ever so much more information.  Unfortunately, it will not make up for a failure to support Belle's line to the point where I want the turn.  ;-)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

And Now for Something Totally Different

I seldom do any venting or soul-baring on my blog, but today I want to come clean and say, "Hi, I'm Rose, and I tend to become obsessed with my hobbies."  Over the years, Belle has enabled me in my agility obsession, but it has caught up with us, and she has been battling a lameness issue since late March or early April.  The lameness has been very fleeting, and so I put off taking her to a vet figuring it was too subtle a problem for a general practitioner to diagnose.  At the last NADAC trial  (recall I only ran Dusty), a couple of friends told me about a Davenport vet who does chiro and acupuncture, and who is in the process of finishing up her courses in canine rehabilitation.

Belle had her first session with Dr. Taylor yesterday.  Luckily, the problems seem to be minor and with a little longer break from jumping and contacts, some stretches, and icing we should be back on track for agility with no holds barred.  However, I will be much more selective in what we work on and how often we work on it.  In the meantime, I decided it's time to tackle a canine sport that I have been interested in since Max was a youngster--canine freestyle.

Belle knows lots of tricks, including some freestyle moves.  However, I've never tried stringing any of them together until today.  I marked off an area in the field and gave it a whirl.  I was humming You're the One that I Want while we played, but next time I'll take the music out with us and play it while we practice.  Please don't laugh, but here is a very heavily edited video of our first practice.  Enjoy.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Collection Cues and Rear Crosses

This is the third exercise I built around Dawn Weaver's exercise (p.42, Knowledge Equals Speed).  Both the white course and the black call for a 180 before the tunnel.  On the white course, the easiest way to handle the 180 is with a post turn and then wrap the dog into the gap at #4.  However, as I quickly discovered with Belle, the collection cues before #3 must be timely and heeded.

My major collection cue was to slow or stop between 2 and 3.  However, it was much easier for Belle to catch the deceleration cue when I when I was running quickly before I decelerated.  I could have also reached across my body with my left hand to cue collection.  Then I could have smoothly pulled my left hand back across my body to indicate both the #4 hoop and the wrap.  When I was running with a toy in my left hand, I failed every time to reach across my body.  (I tried to refrain from using any verbals to indicate collection in this exercise.)

Way back in the day when I was a newbie, I learned to do a rear cross by first fading in the opposite direction as shown by the black line.  It worked, so I continued to do it that way.  However, thanks to Linda Mecklenburg and Dawn Weaver, I learned that fading in the opposite direction before executing the cross adds extra feet to the dog's path.  It is more efficient to follow the handling path indicated by the red dashed line.   Following that path, you are always moving in the direction your want your dog to go.  To be sure, if you want to use this more efficient path, you have to train your dog to recognize that you want a turn after the jump, and you have to make sure you give the proper cues.

The black course in my exercise above provides an opportunity to practice the mechanics of a good rear cross.  I thought Dusty would have a difficult time with this way of doing a rear cross, and he did.  However, I thought moving left without fading to the right first would cause him to turn before #3.  Instead, he totally missed the rear cross cue and went from #3 to the tunnel.

More Bang for the Buck

Here is one of the sequences from Dawn Weaver's book, Knowledge Equals Speed (p.42), and two of the additional sequences I created.  (Note: In the original sequence the hoops were winged jumps and there was no tunnel.)

Original Sequence

The point of the original sequence was to demonstrate how to communicate the 180 by your lead out positioning.  Dawn's suggestions will be familiar to those who follow Linda Mecklenburg's handling system.

My Exercise 1 - A variation on the original.

The exercise at the right is my first variation on the original sequence.  When I first worked on this one, I wanted to handle the 180 from the "take off" side of #2.  I wasn't pretty, especially with Dusty.  Since I wanted the dogs to wrap #3 to left, I couldn't get into the gap between 2 and 3 without drawing Dusty into a back "jump" of #3.  Handling the 180 from the "landing" side of #2, made the job a lot easier.

My Exercise 2 - Two Threadles
The sequence on the left features a fast opening followed by two threadles.  My original plan was to do a push for the first threadle, but that proved to be quite hard for us to execute correctly.  However, when we managed to do it, doing a push for the first threadle seemed to put me in a better position to handle the second threadle and the closing.  

Additionally, when I used a pull for the first threadle, I managed to mess it up more than once by failing to pull the dog into the gap with the correct arm :-(  Also, it made running a smooth line for the second threadle and the close quite difficult for me.  This is definitely a sequence the dogs and I will be trying again in a day or two.

Knowledge Equals Speed

I tripped across a top agility competitor/instructor in England a couple of weeks ago while browsing the web.  Her name is Dawn Weaver, and I thought she had a lot of interesting things to say, so I ordered her book, Knowledge Equals Speed.  Although not everything she has to say meshes with how I handle Dusty and Belle, there is a lot in Dawn's book to think about.

I took the title to mean that if you let your dog know where he is going on course in a timely manner, he will get there ever so much quicker.  Indeed, the book is largely about handling, but it also addresses obstacle training and attitude.  When I take a step back and look at the larger picture, I can see where knowledge also applies to obstacle performance.  A dog who knows how to perform an obstacle can do it a lot faster than one who has to look to his handler for input.  For example, does the dog know to drive to the end of his contacts, or does his handler have to be there and cue the 2o2o behavior?

Additionally, Dawn continually emphasizes that "no" has no place in training.  Better the dog make a mistake at speed than do everything correctly at a trot.

I plan to test out some of the sequences Dawn has in her book over the next few weeks, and see if I can incorporate some of her ideas into my handling.

Monday, July 2, 2012

One More Chance - Discriminations

Unlike Saturday's course, Sunday's Chances course was full of learning opportunities.  When I walked the course, my first concern was whether or not Dusty would make his A-frame contact.  Unfortunately, #4 is 20 feet from the line, and if you're concentrating on either the discrimination (which very few dogs in Elite or Open failed) or managing the contact, you don't have a lot of room to move forward toward #4.  In my case, I had enough room to move forward, but I indicated the gentle arc to #5 too soon for Mr. D, and he turned off the hoop.

The line angles in the direction the handler wants to go for obstacles 5-8.  However, as soon as the dog takes #7, any handler up against the line is in trouble.  There is no way to physically push the dog to #8 from the line.  Many of the dogs went from 7 to 9.  

Two other problems occurred after #6.  First, some of the dogs failed to turn at all and took the off-course #11 jump.  Second, some of the dogs turned left after #6, but failed to carry out to #7, and their handler was too close to the line to push on their line.  (I think that if we had made it smoothly to #6, Dusty and I would have encountered a problem when I asked for the left turn.)

The challenges in Open were as in Elite.  However, it is now easier to support the dog's path to #4 even if you have to manage the contact.  If memory serves, I don't think any of the Elite dogs took the tunnel.  In Open where the line isn't moving away from the A-frame as sharply, two dogs took the tunnel.  In Novice, the  tunnel sucked in a significant number of dogs.

When faced with a discrimination, one technique to try is figuring out what you would do to send your dog to the wrong obstacle.  Then when you plan your handling for the actual obstacle, if any of those elements is present in your handling plan, you know you probably should be doing it differently.  If I want the tunnel, I would either run close to my dog from the start line, or I would lead out, keeping enough lateral distance so that I could push toward the tunnel when I release my dog to run.

The line from 1 to 2 is already heading slightly left.  If you are close to your dog, there is a very good chance he will take the tunnel.  You either have to have some lateral distance at the start so you can run a straight line or one angling a little bit to the right (depends on the dog), or you have to move right after #2.  Unfortunately, if you move too far right after #2, you may pull your dog with you past both obstacles.  Certainly more than one team also did just that.

Chances - 06/30/2012

Last weekend Dusty and I went to the QCDC for a NADAC trial.  (Belle and I have been fighting a minor lameness issue for several months, and I decided I would not let her jump or do contact equipment for a month.  I also bought carpal splints for her, and I make sure to put them on when we go out and practice distance work with the hoops.)  I was really pleased with how well Dusty and I did together.

Saturday's Elite Chances course was fairly easy Chances course, and I thought we had an excellent chance of nailing it.  For the dog that weaves slowly, getting to #4 could be a challenge.  However, the course is really pretty straightforward until the dog exits the tunnel.  If the handler is standing still when her dog exits, he will be drawn over #5.  If the handler is moving too quickly left, she may end up sending her dog to the weaves.

Most of the Elite handlers chose to finish the course with their dog on their right side.  However, because of the nearness of the weaves and the slight curve of the 9-11 path, I decided to do a front cross at 9 and run with Dusty on my left to close.  Unfortunately, although I felt my front cross signals were timely (and you can judge that for yourself in the video), I still failed to bring Dusty into handler focus, and he carried out all the way to the weaves before turning.


On the Open course, if the handler hugs the line in the opening, she will be forced away from the weaves at a much sharper angle than in Elite.  Moral of the story:  The line is not your friend.  Additionally, hugging the line after your dog enters the tunnel, means you can't move left without also moving back from the #8 jump. Once again, the line is not where you should be--it merely marks the territory into which you may not venture and still Q.

The weaves are no longer an issue on the Novice course.  However, the closer the handler is to the line when her dog exits the weave, the less room she has to support him out to #4.  Notice that now the line more or less parallels the dogs path from the tunnel to #8.  However, if the handler is on top of the line and her dog drifts toward her, she has no way to move OUT toward #8 if she is already on the line.