Sunday, December 27, 2015

Article Indication

Willie and I have worked on quite a lot of slopes since the last post, and I think he is finally getting the idea that sometimes the trail just disappears and if he casts about he can pick it up again.

He's doing pretty good at finding the articles I drop on our tracks, but he tends to acknowledge them and then return to tracking immediately.  I thought I'd do a little work today on increasing the value of indicating the articles a little more strongly.

This morning, the wind was out of the north, which made it ideal for working in the hay field to the south of our property.  The first track I laid was a straight 300-400 foot leg with 12-15 articles dropped on it.  Unfortunately, I didn't think to use a leash instead of a long line, so it was not a very effective training session.  Willie downed when I told him to for each article, but unfortunately since I had no tension on the line, he turned and faced me first, covering the articles with his butt!

Then, I laid a 50 foot track for Belle using six articles and no line.  She was a very good girl--downing at my command at each article with her front legs on either side of them.  I came back out with Willie and tried two shorter tracks using a six foot leash instead of a long line, and I was really pleased with the result.  This time, he downed facing the articles!  Also, instead of tossing his reward to restart him tracking, I simply delivered it at the source (i.e., the article he was indicating), and then told him to track again.

Since we're expecting a winter storm tomorrow with strong winds, we went out one more time in the afternoon.  The winds were a little stronger and more variable.  I laid a 100 foot track with eight articles for the dogs to find.  Here's the video.  Interestingly, Belle did a better job orienting to the articles when she was off-lead this morning.  I can't wait for another mild day to see if this results in Willie giving a stronger article indication on a "normal" training track.

P.S.  12/29/2015  I laid a 300' track on the snow with two white articles.  Willie did a great job of finding them and he also brought them to me.  Bringing the article to me interrupts the flow of Willie remaining on track, so I think we will repeat Sunday's exercise a few times and see if I can get Willie to switch to downing for his article indication.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dogs Don't Generalize

Winter is here and we're not doing a lot of agility.  I was hoping to actually not do any agility for a month or two, but so far the nice mild weather keeps me going back out to the field with Willie.  We are taking a two-month break from trialing though.

I enrolled as an auditor in an online nose work class, I've been spending time every day working with Belle and Willie on the foundamentals.  One thing I really like about this class is that it tackles the dog's alert behavior from the beginning.

I'm also doing some tracking with Willie.  We hadn't done any in ages and it's not like I really know what I'm doing.  We're just out there to have fun.  Monday, I set a difficult track around one of the buildings on an abandoned campus.  Willie was absolutely awesome.  So Tuesday, I had my husband set up an easy track in the agility field and discovered DOGS DON'T GENERALIZE!  Willie was pretty clueless that if he followed Ed's track there were goodies to be had.

Since my husband is a very unwilling participant in tracking activities, I enlisted the aid of my grandnephew.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, we laid short, straight tracks in the field so that Willie would get the idea that it was possible to track someone other than Mom.  I had to resort to having Dakota drop hot dogs on the ground, but Willie did get the idea.

It's real windy today so, I took Willie, Dakota and Dakota's cousin, Shane, to the park where there is some shelter from the wind.  We warmed up by having Willie track a new person, Shane, and he nailed it!  Next, we went up (and I do mean up) into the woods, and I had Dakota lay a track with three articles, plus the second glove, and no food.  Will did a pretty good job with this track also.  He found all three articles, and did a good job of remaining on track until the last leg.  For some reason he kept going off the trail on the last leg.  Perhaps, the track was a little too long for him at this stage.  Or perhaps, the combination of wind and a downhill slope made this leg more difficult.  I did observe on Monday that the only spot on our track that gave Will a problem was when the tract went down a steep slope.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Weave Pole Proofing

Although I know better, I took Willie's weaving skills for granted and have not periodically worked on difficult entries and exits.  Yesterday, my chickens came home to roost and Willie had WP problems on 3 out of 3 runs!  I did a web search last night and came up with two good videos.  The first is by Jenny Damm.  Not only is her proofing extreme, but she also demonstrates the phenomenal distance ability of her dogs.  The second is probably a little more practical for most of us.


Here are the drills from the second video:

When I'm working on WP proofing, I generally use 4-6 poles so that we can get in more reps working on entries.  However, I also decided we would do some limited work with a full set of weaves and I designed two sets of exercises inspired by the Terry Elger courses we ran yesterday.

Here is a set up I designed after having problems with a very difficult weave entry in class last December.

Here's a link to video of me working through these exercises with Willie.  (It will take you to directly to the exercises and skip the lengthy intro.)

Finally, here's a link to a reprint of an article Rachel Sanders wrote for Clean Run, "Nail Down Your Weave Entries."

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Anatomy of a Gamble

A FaceBook friend posted this gamble from a recent ASCA trial.  She and her dog were the only team to successfully complete the gamble.  When I looked at it, I thought getting the correct end of the tunnel had to be next to impossible.  However, she answered that several dogs got the correct end of the tunnel, but then either took the AF or failed to take the #4 jump.

I decided to set up the gamble and see how close we would come.  The big question is whether to approach the gamble DOR or DOL.  There are two major problems involved with starting DOR.  First, the handler will in all probability end up fairly close to the gamble line when she sends her dog over #1 to the tunnel.  Because the tunnel is only 15' and quite curved, there will be no opportunity for the handler to step back from the line since her dog will see her doing so and be drawn to the AF.  This means that the handler has no way to apply physical pressure to her dog's line when he exits the tunnel.  Additionally, because the handler is already so far down course, the AF will block her from her dog's view when she starts to move toward the finish.

By entering the gamble DOL these problems are neatly avoided.  The handler will be behind the tunnel exit and have the opportunity to move away from the gamble line without her dog seeing her.  When the dog exits the tunnel, she will be in a perfect spot to apply pressure on the dog's line so that he will move away from the AF and take the #3 jump.  Additionally, because the handler is behind, she can maintain pressure on her dog's line until he has taken #4.

So, did it work for us?  Willie carried it off beautifully.  His speed and stride took him to the correct tunnel entrance and he didn't have much trouble understanding what I wanted him to do after the tunnel.  Belle, on the other hand, ducked into the wrong end of the tunnel.  However, she had no difficulty with the last two jumps.


P.S.  An important aspect of the gamble is being in a good spot to begin the gamble when the horn sounds.  I didn't set up the entire course, but if I were running this at a trial, I would finish up my closing with the teeter, the jump at (68,40), and the weave poles back to back.  Hopefully, the horn would sound when we were doing the weaves for the second time.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Just a Little Hustle

Qualifying runs have been eluding Willie and me.  So far we have 10 Excellent/Master Standard runs and only 3 Q's.  Ex/Mas JWW is even worse.  Nine runs and no Q's!  Among other things, what was killing us in JWW was being unable to complete a long closing line without incurring a refusal due to a spin.

I was a participant in Tracy Sklenar's online Learn Your Dog Camp 2015 and she was quickly identified my problem with the long-line closings.  I was trying to send Willie on ahead of me with the big arm fling.  What I should have been doing was tucking up my arms and sprinting toward the finish albeit many feet or yards behind Willie.  Of course, I didn't get a chance to try this out last weekend because there was not a long-line closing on any of the seven courses we ran.  However, when it crops up again, I will be prepared.

After going 1/7 last weekend, I decided it was time to start setting up two or three JWW courses a week and seriously striving to get them right the first time.  So far we are 2/2.

This morning's course was designed by Dan Butcher, and I was very pleased that we nailed it the first time.  Additionally, I was very proud of the timing of my send and run at the tunnel and at #17 and Willie's ability to read the forced front cross on the run at #10.  My biggest handling error was failing to reconnect with Willie after my BC between 17 and 18.

One of the greatest downsides to training alone is trying to improve your handling.  Video helps me to see when something is going badly, but I may not be able to discern why or how to fix it.  Even when things go well, there are probably things I could do even better, but if I knew what those things were, I would have done them in the first place, n'est pas?  

I was fortunate enough to find video of someone running this course at trial, and she did a wonderful job of handling her dog.  Actually, that wasn't too surprising since it turns out she is a handler of world team caliber.  I tried not to get too carried away comparing our run and hers, but I did come away with several handling choices to ponder.  (Left to my own devices I probably never would have thought of any of them.)

1.  Right off the bat, the WT handler gained almost a full obstacle on us by sending her dog to the second obstacle and taking off for a FC on the landing side of #3 so she could handle DOL through the weaves.  (I stuck close to #2 and RC'd #4, a much more leisurely approach.)

2.  At #10, I did a forced front cross and then RC'ed 11.  This meant I had to handle 12-15 from behind.  The WT handler sent her dog to the backside at 10 and ran along the bar on the landing side, picking her dog up on her left.  She then made a beeline for a FC on the landing side of 12 and was able to tighten her dogs turns at 13-15 very nicely.  That savings in yardage put her dog another whole obstacle ahead of Willie.

3.  Additionally, the WT handler chose to handle the weave exit with a grab.  I used a FC close placed close to 6.  Her dog had a much tighter turn out of the weaves, but her dog is also a 16" Sheltie.  The only way to know if it would improve our time is to try it.

Both 1 and 2 demonstrate the advantage of getting ahead of your dog in terms of saving yardage.  However, whether or not it is always possible to get there is another matter altogether.

Willie and I went out in the afternoon and gave this another go.  The different opening and the weave exit grab presented no problem, and they definitely saved us a few yards.  I was able to easily push Willie to the back of #10 and pick him up on my right.  However, my FC before #13 was late and I was in Willie's way.  We ran the course one more time, and instead of trying for the FC on the take off side of #13, I merely got closer to the landing side and directed Willie from there.  (Interestingly, his turn from 14 to 15 was tighter when I was further away, although overall this section benefited from me being closer to the action.)  With just a little bit of hustle on my part, we shaved almost a whole second off of the run.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Very Challenging Course

Wow, I can't believe how long it's been since I've posted anything in my blog.  I've done most of my analysis in video format and posted it to YouTube.  However, a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of running some challenging courses designed by Richard Kurzawa.
Friday's JWW course was the most difficult of the courses we ran, and I had the chance to set it up today to see if I could improve my handling choices.

The first challenge for us was the widely spaced 4-jump serpentine in the opening.  Even indoors on sports turf I don't realistically think I can beat Willie down this line.  In heavy grass, I know absolutely it's not going to happen.  Additionally, there are places later in the course that I am going to need any energy I might expend trying to stay ahead of Willie in the opening.

Second Challenge:  The backside at #9.  This is pretty easy for us if I go through the gap between 8 and 10.  However, going through that gap makes it harder for me to get back to 10 in time to ask for collection with a timely FC.  So I opted to follow the green line after sending Willie into the tunnel.  I didn't get a chance to try this at the trial because our train derailed after #4.  The first time, I tried it today, I stopped one stride too soon and Willie came in toward me and took #9 from the wrong side.  After that, we had no trouble getting the backside.  However, despite having all the time I needed to execute a FC at #10, I was still late, and Willie’s path there was very wide!

Now, for the really evil part of this course.  12 to 13 calls for collection and a tight turn.  At the trial, it was amazing how many handlers opted to do a FC between 12 and 13.  For the most part, it was not a good option.  At the trial, I did a FC fairly close to #9 and ran DOL, hanging back so I could RC between 11 and 12.  Unfortunately, I was late with that RC and Willie took #13 from right to left and when I RC’ed #13, he knocked the bar.  My next RC was also late and Willie went over #1 before turning back to the weaves.  Clearly, I needed a better plan for 10-15.

Layering 10 and sending Willie to the backside at #9, allows me to do my FC on the landing side of #10 and to run DOR, which puts me ahead for the technical stuff that is coming up.  (Executing the FC on the LS of #9, pretty much prevents me from getting far enough ahead to do a second cross, so I'm stuck running DOL.  This puts me behind when I need to be as far ahead as I can manage.)

After working through 11-15 a couple of times, it dawned on me that if I could get far enough ahead at #13, I could reshape Willie’s line just enough to make the off-course jump (#1) a less viable option.  I finally decided to try using a reverse spin at #13.  This effectively communicated the turn and allowed me to keep moving.  It worked just fine and enable me to get to the landing side of #13 in time to alter Willie’s path just enough that a RC at #14 took him to the weaves.

Here's the video.  The first clip is our trial run.  The second clip is our successful run at home.  And after that, there are several short clips showing how we worked out the handling.