Monday, February 25, 2013

Running Contacts - Session 14

On Saturday (our 13th session), I tried raising the entrance of the board to 8" and then to 12" to see if that would keep Belle from running off the side so frequently.  She only jumped over the yellow once (1/20), but unfortunately she came off the side of the board ten times or 50% of the time.

I was pondering on what to do when I remembered that Silvia Trkman uses a wider board at this point, so I got Ed's help to dig out the other ramp of the dog walk and bungeed them together for Sunday's session.  It made quite a difference.  Our success rate was 75% and Belle came off the side only three times in 16 reps.  (I noticed in yesterday and today's video that Belle comes off on the left side regardless of which side I'm on.  Weird.)  Below is the video of yesterday's session.  I probably won't video any more sessions until I'm able to increase the height of the board and run with Belle.  But since another snowstorm is expected tomorrow, it will be awhile before I'm able to run.  Don't know about you, but I'm ready for spring!!!

(This morning I went out with enough cookies in my pocket for 12 reps, but only did 8 since Belle hit the yellow every time.  Now I really can't wait until the snow melts so we can move to the next step.)


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Running Contacts - Session 12

I've pretty much thrown out the guidelines I came up with last week with the exception of trying to cut down the number of reps we do in a session.  Yesterday, I was very bad, but today I was very good.  I was really surprised how much more energy I put into today's session knowing we'd only be doing 10-12 reps.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that I could indicate to the camera which of Belle's feet I saw hit.  (I did the same thing today.)  It was a very humbling experience.  I very obviously am much more in tune to her rear feet than I am to her front.  Yesterday's session was even more depressing for me since for the first time, I mis-called four reps--rewarding two misses and failing to reward two hits.  Made me wonder if Susan Garrett is right about being too old to see.  However, I've videoed every session except one, and I haven't made even close to that many miscalls before.  I don't usually catch it when the only foot in the contact zone is a front foot close to the edge of the board, but that's not a behavior I want to reward anyway.  (Nor is barely hitting the top of the yellow a behavior I want to mark.)

Even though yesterday didn't go all that well, I decided to add a hoop before the board so Belle would be really running before she got to the board.  I discovered that if I didn't throw the ball soon enough, she looked at me jumped over the yellow.  You'll see that happen on one of today's reps when I was late throwing the ball.  It went surprisingly well with the hoop yesterday, so I decided to use it again today.

I also used a NRM twice in today's session.  Belle ran off the side of the board five times.  Toward the end, she did it three consecutive times and I stopped her from getting the ball.  I also stopped her when she ran by the hoop and the board on our 7th rep.  Silvia Trkman says this is a problem that takes care of itself once the board is at a greater angle to the ground.  Hope she's correct.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sometimes Good Enough is Good Enough

We trialed on Saturday and hit 7 out of 8 contacts.  The one we missed was a dog walk and we missed it because I was racing Belle to the finish line.  She basically extended her stride so much that it carried her over the yellow.  From what I saw on the video, all of the A-frames were two strides on the descent which put Belle's front feet way closer to the top of the yellow than I would like.  I'm really hoping she will eventually change over to a one stride descent.  The dog walk contacts, on the other hand, all looked pretty good with the one exception.

Yesterday, we took a break from agility, and I laid a track for Belle.  She did really well, and followed a 500' track to its end in about two minutes flat.  This morning though, we did our 10th running contact session.  Our success rate was only 37%, but I was pleased anyway.  I think that Belle is very likely to miss the contact if I am standing too far back and am not far enough to the side to place a bit of pressure on her line.  Definitely one of the variables we will address once she is hitting the contact zone consistently.

I had the brilliant idea mid-way through this morning's session to record what I thought I saw Belle's feet do.  Guess Susan Garrett has a point.  I didn't do very well spotting which foot hit where.  On the other hand, I didn't reward any attempts I should have and I didn't fail to reward any that I should have.  (I did almost mistakenly say "yes" on one rep.)  Hopefully, my eye will get better at spotting each foot, but even if it doesn't, apparently I do how I want the contact performance to look.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Running Contacts - Session 9

I went out armed with 10 treats this morning to see how well I could follow the "rules" I laid out for myself yesterday.

I definitely followed the first rule - don't allow Belle to fail more than twice in a row.  We had only one back-to-back set of NR reps.

I didn't adhere to the second rule very well:  no increasing of distance until three sucessful reps.  However, I basically started Belle within a 1½ foot area on the board with each rep.  If I plan to follow this rule more closely, I can see where putting down a  marker would be helpful.

I created the third rule to keep myself from asking for too many reps.  Although I didn't follow it to the letter, I think I was faithful to its spirit.  We did 15 reps with a 60% reinforcement rate.

I was also pleased that I didn't miscall any of the reps.  However, there was one that should have been a JP which was only an R.  Which brings me to a Susan Garrett post that ruffled my feathers when I first read it yesterday.  Basically, what I took away on my first reading was that middle-aged and older people don't have the visual acumen to determine whether the dog is hitting or missing.  However, when I re-read the article, although she feels younger people have a distinct advantage, training the handler to see better is certainly possible, and indeed is one of the first things she works on in her running contacts course.

Silvia Trkman also stresses that you have to train your eye so that you make good decisions about which reps to reward, which to JP and which to ignore.  On her DVD, she demonstrates this skill by placing her hands on the contact zone where she saw her dog's feet hit.  She is very good at seeing where each paw hit!

I think I have a fairly good eye, but it is certainly not anywhere nearly as good as Silvia's.  However, the beauty of the criteria that Silvia sets is that you don't really have to make the hair-splitting calls a judge must make at a trial.  *With Silvia's method, there are three acceptable behaviors:

1.  One foot in the yellow toward the middle.
2.  Two rear feet in the yellow (ideally they will be well separated).
3.  Three feet in the yellow.

Hitting close to the top or bottom edge with one or two feet is not acceptable.  Even not being able to see each foot (especially the front ones from where I am standing at this point in our training), there is a gestalt or impression that the three acceptable criteria give that just isn't there for me when Belle brushes the top or bottom of the yellow with one or even two feet.

In the early stages of training on a thin plank or piece of carpeting, speed is what is being reinforced initially.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Running Contacts - Session 8

Much to my surprise, there was no nasty white stuff on the ground this morning despite the weather forecast.  Today's success rate was better than yesterday, 41% vs. 20%.  However, I still asked for too many reps with too many "failures."

I came up with a short list of rules to guide me in future sessions:

1.  Follow Patti Mah's rule of avoiding the third strike.  If Belle misses twice in a row, decrease the distance to make it more likely she will hit in the yellow.

2.  Don't increase distance until Belle is successful three times in a row.  And only increase it by 6-12 inches.

3Place ten treats in my pocket.  If Belle is hitting the yellow every time, use all 10.  If she is missing quite a bit, quit after dispensing 5 or 6 of them.

This afternoon, we went out and did 6 reps with Belle starting on the board, and 5 of them were successful.

Valentine's Day

Belle will be 7 in March, and since she started having lameness issues last spring, I decided wisdom would dictate it is time to start looking for a new agility partner.  No one who has lines related to Belle seems to have any intentions of breeding in the near future, so I expanded my search to include breedings that include a lot of working lines.  I found a wonderful cross last fall, but waited too long to make up my mind and the litter was all spoken for before it was even on the ground.  I also came very close with another working litter, but when I contacted the breeder, there were only two males left.

I started looking at a 14-week old puppy out west, and yesterday, I even went so far as to figure out the logistics of picking her up or having her transported.  I finally decided it was about 250 miles too far for me to drive and I wasn't wild about the thought of ground transport--just too long in a kennel for a dog not used to it.  Besides, what if I didn't like her when I actually met her???

Then today, I peeked at the Border Collie Rescue of Minnesota website, and found Chip.  His headshot melted my heart, and his video reeled me in, hook, line and sinker.  How appropriate that it is Valentine's Day.  He's not an 8-week old female puppy of known parentage, but sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants.

I put in an application.  I'll let you know how it turns out.  Happy Valentine's Day to you all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Running Contacts - Change in Strategy

Today was my 7th RC session with Belle, and the failure rate was very high.  (So high, I really didn't want to watch the video.  However, I did.  Only a 20% reinforcement rate, and way too many reps.Silvia Trkman's method would advocate getting a piece of carpet and working on that until Belle was consistently running over it and hitting in the "contact zone."  If I ever find a new puppy, I will indeed try that, and who knows, I might even give it a go with Belle if my latest strategy doesn't pan out.

Toward the end of this morning's session, I decided we were getting way too many reps where Belle jumped or over-extended over the contact zone and either missed it entirely or placed one front foot down too close to the edge of the board (either on it or just off of it).  I tried placing the standards in a different spot and I tried putting a hoop at the end of the board, with no success.  Then I decided to try back-chaining the behavior I wanted.  Instead of starting Belle on the ground, I had her sit on the board and released her to run after the ball was thrown.  It seemed to give her a much better chance of being "right."  I didn't film our first efforts with this technique, but I did film the final four tries of the morning.

I can see from the video that the biggest problem with starting on the board is that Belle doesn't have a chance to get up to top speed which results in her rear legs being too close together when she hits the yellow.  On the other hand, at least she is hitting the yellow.  I will move her back as quickly as possible, but I do like the idea of being able to reward her for hitting the yellow, and am grateful that this seems to work.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Running Contacts ala Trkman

A friend up in Minnesota brought in one of his dog walk ramps so his dog could work on his running contacts.  I've tried that before, but I just wasn't able to convince Belle to get up much of a head of steam in our basement.  So I did some trolling on YouTube and ran across a channel where there were a lot of videos loaded showing one dog's progress using Silvia Trkman's method.  I decided what the heck and went outdoors and just tossed a ball so that Belle would run in a straight line (Sunday).  Yesterday, I dug out the teeter plank and set it up on the ground with a set of jump standards next to both ends.  I didn't bother to film yesterday, but it was extremely disheartening.  Belle jumped over the yellow almost every time.  I came back in and ordered Silvia's DVD on running contacts so I could see what I had missed.

In the meantime, today I decided I would place a hoop at the exit of the board.  I doubt that it is something Silvia recommends since it is a prop that has to be faded, but what the heck.  At least it gave us something to do outside in the snow.  Today was much more successful.  Out of 18 tries, I felt 10 of them were good (56%).  Once we achieve an 80% success rate in both directions, I will rotate the board 90°Then I will see how we do without the hoop.

I don't know for sure what Silvia's method for reinforcing the good tries is since every try is rewarded with the ball.  However, luckily, Belle will return the ball to me quite readily, so I chose to not mark the tries where she jumped over the yellow (although a couple of times, I misjudged).  When she hit the yellow, I said "yes" and rewarded her with a tug and/or cookie.  I do look forward to viewing Silvia's video.

Last year, I tried Rachel Sander's method for teaching a running A-frame, and I think it is good method.  However, I overdid the number of reps (which Rachel clearly warns against), and Belle paid the price.  Silvia's method uses the dog walk to train a running contact, and I know she claims it also results in a nice running A-frame as a bonus.  That remains to be seen, but certainly there is less impact involved in doing reps on a dog walk than on an A-frame.