I made a squeaker mat for training a moving A-frame

I recently learned about home-made squeaker mats from Silvia Trkman and quickly ordered 100 small, flat-ish squeakers, a non-slip rug pad, and a yellow yoga mat.

My love of low-tech audible mats goes back to 2013, when I created a clicker mat that was built into my A-frame and dog walk ramp so it was invisible to my dogs.   But I left behind all my large agility equipment due to moving twice during the past 6 years.  Plus Lil’s contacts were so stellar (due to using my clicker mats) I didn’t need them.

https://artanddogblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/the-clicker-board-makes-training-running-contacts-a-breeze-with-perfectly-timed-clicks-every-rep/

Fast forward to 2019: Over the past year, I’ve been trying to figure out how to transition Takoda’s A-frame performance from 4on to something that is easier to do on the higher, slatted A-Frames used in USDAA and UKI, which we started competing in 10 months ago. Prior, we had only been doing NADAC where 4on worked well due to lower A-frames with no slats.

The trickiest part about transitioning him to a moving A-Frame has been his long history of NOT floating over the Apex, a necessary component of the 4on performance.  I tried to train a “true running” A-frame for a while, but I didn’t like the high hits, even though they were usually in.  The bigger issue for me was that his performance was not fully independent and I didn’t like being limited in my handling options.  So I stopped trying to train a true running A-Frame.

But recently I decided to see if I could get Takoda to understand “rear feet targeting.” During his running contact training, it was clear he was targeting with one front foot, which the rear feet followed BUT they were incidental to him and too high for me.  🙂

After working on rear feet targeting for a week or two, I feel like he understands that he is being rewarded for his rear feet hitting a mat, but he also thinks a front foot needs to hit the mat (based on him doing the same thing every single rep).  I’m hoping over time, with enough good rear feet separation and extension/ reach beyond his front feet, that he’ll realize only his rear feet need to hit the mat, which will be easier for him to do on an actual A-frame.  If I am not successful, he’ll continue to target with a front foot followed by both rear feet which will work, but the overlap will not be as significant so it likely won’t be quite as low as it could be without intentional front foot targeting.

Onto the squeaker mat which I made the width of an A-Frame.  The squeaker portion of the mat is 20 x 20 (the size of a FLOR tile I had on hand).

For our first session, I oriented the mat lengthwise, hoping his front foot would sometimes hit the non-squeaker part of the mat, and his rear feet would overlap and hit the squeaker part, which would help clarify its only his rear feet that need to hit the mat.

This video is an example of that perfect scenario.  Most of the time, he hit with one front foot followed by two rear feet but this was his first session so I’m staying openminded about what might transpire over time.

(below) squeaker grid. I used a hot glue gun to attach them to the bottom of a 20×20″ FLOR carpet tile.  IMG_4574(below) detail view of squeakers

IMG_4575(below) non-slip rug mat.  This mat has silicon embedded in it and it is the most non-slip surface imaginable, even on artificial turf.

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(below) yellow yoga mat glued to the anti-slip mat along the edges to form an envelope to encase the squeakers and FLOR tile.

IMG_4577This whole project took under 30 minutes to complete and it works perfectly.

Anticipating Loading vs. Diving During Jump Practice

jumping_and_stopping_w+wo_lines_on_mark_10-5-19 copyI overlaid screenshots of Takoda practicing jumping early in his career so jumps were set at 16″ vs. 20-22″.  I think these screenshots show how a dog starting with his front feet UP on a well-placed Mark and driving towards another well-placed Mark at the reward point creates a consistent jumping style over all three jumps.  Comparing the take-off spots for theh three jumps, you can see his rear feet are perfectly centered.   You can also see how he is loading to stop on the ending Mark and that his back is in a similar position as it would be if loading for another jump.    If I had used a placed toy instead of a Mark, his head would have reached forward and down during the last jumping arc, pivoting his body weight forward (like a see-saw) onto his shoulders as he dove like an arrow into the ground to grab the toy.   Previous posts show videos of this diving action for a toy.

I can’t think of any reason NOT to use Marks for jumping practice.

Structure. Structure. Structure.

Good example of how structure affects dogs jumping style as well as take-off and landing spots. These screenshots are from the Crufts video I posted earlier. You can see extremely different jumping styles. Not only is the Kelpie’s jumping arc longer, his speed was so much greater than I had to duplicate 5 screenshots of the kelpie to extend the airtime so the take-off and landing moments were similar to the Terv’s. Even though the Kelpie was running faster than the Terv, he was still able to load deeper to shift his momentum from forward to upward making it possible for him to take off closer to the jump than the Terv. His strong powerful momentum created a longer arc which peaked AFTER the jump. In comparison, the Terv looks like it took a lot more effort to lift UP his front legs and notice how he let them drop as soon as they cleared the bar. His rear legs were tucked throughout the jumping action and his neck looks quite short when his front feet hit the ground. I would call the Terv an early-landing dog due to structure.. and the Kelpie a natural jumper due to structure.

(below) video these screenshots were taken from.

2007 Crufts ABC. Interesting to see how dogs coped with super tight spacing back then….and a slippery surface. Check out the position of each dog’s rear legs over jumps. One kelpie around 7:20 does a little extra kick up when rear legs are extended. Oddly, I think this tight spacing made jumping easier for some dogs because they never had a chance to open up and really run so they never had to power down to really collect. 🙂

A dog jumping with a raised head? Look again.

Dots added to show the heights and moving paths of withers (WHITE), nose (RED) and base of the tail (BLUE).

Here is what’s most surprising to me. Even though the dog’s head LOOKS raised when his front feet hit the ground, the RED dots show the nose arc remains perfectly smooth and consistent. No abrupt raising of the head.  I think all three arcs look well balanced.

The other surprising thing is the nose dots are consistently lower than the withers dots even though it LOOKS like the dog is raising his head higher than his withers when lifting off and floating over the bar. Crazy illusions shattered by adding DOTS.  Who would think?

I hope to find videos of other dogs jumping in extension (side views) to compare jumping styles and arcs of withers, noses, and bases of tails.

I plan to do the same for jumping in collection.   Right now I am busy with other projects but stay tuned.   FYI-  The Facbook Group “Canine Jumping Forum” has some interesting conversations going on right now.   Ask to join and I’ll add you as a member.

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(above) illusion of a raised head.

(above)

Canine Jumping Gold Standard or Fool’s Gold?

I am not calling anyone a fool.  I just like catchy titles!

This blog post came about when I noticed something totally unexpected while watching videos of my dog jumping and driving to a placed toy or a mark bucket.   My premise is that dogs (and other animals such as horses) use their necks to help soften the blow on their shoulders/ front legs when landing after jumping.  I believe a lack of understanding about toy placement is creating repetitive diving by agility dogs where their necks are not moving naturally due to targeting toys.  I am not against using toys but I think the toy needs to be placed further away from jumps than the current norm so the toy doesn’t impact the dog’s ability to use his neck in a natural way when landing.

The videos and screenshots are from an experiment I set up to determine the best spacing to a stop behavior after a jump (or jump grid) taken at speed.  Toys were used for the purpose of comparison. I didn’t intend to have any insights about toy placement. In hindsight, had I thought about how much space a dog needs to comfortably stop on a table after a jump, I would have come to the same conclusion.  Dogs need a minimum of  2 full strides after landing for an upcoming stop not to influence how they jump and land.

jumping_comparison_no_lines_9-12-19

(above) Dog on right is driving towards a toy. Dog on left is driving towards a stopped behavior on a mark bucket.  The dog’s starting point was 15′ from the jump.  The toy and mark bucket were placed 15′ past the jump.  This was part of my experiment to determine optimal reward distances. 15′ was not enough distance for extension jumping.  

This link has a great description of canine jumping by a sports medicine vet: https://www.k9fitsolutions.com/…/how-does-your-dog-jump…

(below) The mark bucket was too close to the jump.  I would not place a mark bucket or toy this close for a dog with Takoda’s stride length.  He had to work super hard to get his body organized in that short distance between landing and the mark bucket.

(below) Dog’s topline on the right was copied to dog on left to accentuate what is different. His back looks nearly identical in both (no butt flipping in either due to relaxed rear tucked legs vs. legs fully extended/ straight back). The main difference is the position of his head relative to his body. Dogs don’t look at their landing spots or dive into the ground like an arrow when running agilitiy courses.  They tend to look ahead to what is coming next… if we are doing our jobs as handlers.

jumping_toy_mark_comparison_9-12-19

(below) Video comparison with the reward point at about 22′. The green dog is running to a static toy. The red dog is running towards a stopped behavior.

When the reward point was far away from the jump (22′), the toy did not create a lowered head because it was so far forward the dog could see it and aim for it with a level head. On a side note, the distant toy created consistently earlier take-offs and landings compared to a stopped behavior.. just by by a foot or so no big deal.

red_green_dog_22'

(below) Top two images are with a placed toy at 6-7’and a stopped behavior at about 9′. Bottom images are with the toy at 12′ and the stop at 15′.  I had to move the toy closer than the stop to get a similar collection.  You can see how moving the reward points closer exaggerates the body position differences between driving towards a toy and a stopped behavior. The video clips I used for these screenshots were synced over the bar so the landing timing is not exactly “apples to apples” but I think it’s clear that the dog is anticipating what comes next before taking off for the jump… just like when running a course. jumping_9-_top_15-bottom_toyR_markL_comparison_9-13-19

(below) Video comparison of relative collection driving to a closer stopped behavior (stopping necessitates loading as though for another jump) and driving to a static toy, which I needed to place closer in order to get similar relative collection. When I set the reward point at 22′, the differences in form were negligible due to the toy being so far ahead that it no longer created a lowered head. I think the photo (above) on the lower right shows how extreme the first stride needs to be after diving into the ground to grab a toy.  It looks kind of cool but I think it’s saving him from doing a face plant. Imagine what a longer-backed dog would need to do to change the direction of travel from diving to running.

(above) You might notice Takoda didn’t break into a full run on one approach (slo mo) in anticipation of stopping so close 9’.   I think it shows how much he is thinking about what comes next and how difficult it is to load and stop that close to a jump.

If a dog has done a lot of jump training and jump grids that end with diving to grab a static toy that is placed less than 18′ or 20′ for a border collie sized dog (and stride length), I think its possible the dog will learn to dive over the last bar on course.  Another factor that might influence a dog’s jumping style or ability to keep bars up is a visible toy is a lure.  Are dogs looking for the toy and when they don’t see one, not know how to jump that last jump?  I don’t know.   One reason I like my dogs to drive to a mark bucket is because they are driving to a high value “behavior” vs a lure.  I think this difference is significant in terms of what a dog is learning and thinking about when they are approaching, jumping, and landing.

(above) One of Takoda’s early jumping “experiences” including some GO ONs to a ball flung far and over his head.   I either send him to a mark bucket or throw a ball over his head.

Since horses seem to come up when discussing canine jumping, here is a link for more information on horses:  http://www.equinew.com/jumping.htm

(above) example of a horse free jumping that a couple of horse people thought was good natural form.  Notice how the horse raises his head when landing.

(above) cat jumping in slo-mo.  Notice how the cat uses his neck when landing.

(below) Watch slo-mo video comparison of my dog LANDING when driving towards a STOP (top) vs. a TOY (bottom).

(below) screen shot from video. Driving to a STOP (top) and TOY (bottom).

landing_with_lines

(below) Wrapping.  No dramatic difference in body position when using a toy or mark for wraps, except for head and neck position when landing.  The starting spots varied in terms of distance to the jump (sloppy on my part), but I don’t think it affected the overall test.  More speed on the approach would make it easier to see what is different due to a more forceful landing but that is not something I plan to do for obvious reasons.

(below) The toy and mark buckets were positioned 20-22 feet away. The field was sloping up to the right a bit.  The difference in landing position is negligable at this distance.

I encourage people to watch trial videos of their dogs and other dogs in slo-mo and focus on body positions when landing.  I watched a bunch of videos of some of the fastest agility dogs that don’t knock bars (and some that do).  They never land with their necks straight and heads diving into the ground.  Dogs use their necks to help soften the blow on their shoulders/ front legs when landing after jumping.   If toys are used, they need to be placed far enough away from jumps so the toy doesn’t impact the dog’s ability to use his or her neck ito help buffer their shoulders from the impact of landing.

 

 

Motion Parallax and Canine Agility

Last week, I tried handling a jumpers running closer to my border collie than I’m used to. This was a test to see if handling closer works better than handling from a distance.  The results of this test were surprising.  I couldn’t nail down the handling or timing for a simple soft turn off a straight line (which had a wrong course option straight ahead).   I was either too early or too late, too dramatic or not dramatic enough.  It was baffling until I realized the underlying issue was I could not see my dog well when running this close to him and he couldn’t see me well either.
I couldn’t remember the term that day but this morning it popped into mind: “Motion Parallax.”   It explains why its so much harder to see our dogs and for our dogs to see us when we are handling close to them.  The first 30 seconds of the video offers a great example of how closer objects appear to be moving faster than distant objects… which explains why its so much harder to see what our dogs are doing (and what they need from us to show them the path ahead)  when they are running close to us.
On a related note, I think Motion Parallax is the #1 contributing factor to the common handler experience/ excuse 🙂  “My dog is just too fast.”  In most cases (like 95%), its not that the dog is too fast or that the handler is too slow….. but rather that the handler is trying to give direction to her dog from a position that is “just too close.”
There you have it.  My random thought of the day.

NADAC course design from a dog’s perspective

This blog post contains my first and last thoughts on the topic of NADAC course design from the perspective of the dog:

First thoughts:

Both my dogs ran this NADAC Elite Jumpers Course in March. For clarity sake, several of my friends have run this same course at different trials but it was set up differently and ran differently as a result. This post only refers to the opening sequence seen on this map which I think matched the course we ran in March very well.

course_map_example_01

The opening sequence reminded me of the types of handling challenges I used to see on AKC courses back in 2012 when I still competed in multiple venues. But lately I’ve been seeing more and more NADAC course maps with this same type of challenge thrown into otherwise fast and flowing courses…. which IMO changes the challenge tremendously due to 21′ NADAC obstacle spacing which has a profound affect on the way dogs move through courses (I am referring to dogs that are really running vs. casually loping along).

My understanding has always been that NADAC courses were designed primarily for dogs. Courses were designed with the natural movement of dogs in mind. NADAC is unique in its encouragement of handlers who want to explore the exciting realm of big distance handling with their dogs which necessitates mutually respect and an equal partnership between handlers and dogs. There is no other venue that offers this level of support and encouragement. Distance is an integral part of NADAC… imo.

In other venues, jumpers courses are not designed to be run at a distance. My understanding as well as my personal experience running NADAC courses with three different dogs, is courses run smoother and faster at a distance (if dogs have the necessary foundation skills) even with mini-dogs. My personal opinion about the opening sequence above is that its a good example of a current common challenge I’m seeing that has a better chance of a dog running fluidly with close handling and a bit of micro-management to help fast and long-striding dogs get through illogical spots that necessitate collection and lead changes like seen at LC1 and LC2 if the handler is on the dog’s right side. I suppose one could eliminate LC1 by handling from the dog’s left side to start so the dog starts and starts off on the left lead but that is besides the point of this post.

My dogs are trained to work at a distance and they appear to enjoy the freedom that comes with distance. They get to use their intelligence to run the courses I’m showing them however they see fit (in collection or in extension). For for me, I would not choose to handle that opening sequence up close or want to micro-manage to force collection or an awkward lead change. My approach is to look at bonus boxes for handling clues…whether I plan to attempt a bonus or not. I learned this from my good friend Lynn Smitley who said something like “the bonus box is a clue about the course designer’s intended handling challenges.” When Lynn uttered these words years ago, she was 100% correct. Bonus boxes used to offer valuable information about handling options even when I expanded the box significantly which I often did. However, now when I look at bonus boxes, I often feel like they were added after the course was designed vs. being an integral part of the design. And when I walk some (not all) of the current courses, I wonder if the course designer took time to envision a full range of dogs running the course to see if the motion required of them was reasonable/ logical to dogs.

Takoda has been out of commission since a mid-March trial due to a sacrum injury. This has given me 6 weeks to think about what I want to do moving forward. I still love NADAC and sincerely hope the future of NADAC course design will incorporate some sort of review process that will ensure course challenges continue in the NADAC tradition of rewarding dogs that have been trained to run courses with intelligence, confidence, fluidity, and speed at reasonable to big distances from their handlers. IMO this is the core of NADAC. Its what sets NADAC apart from other venues.

Takoda running his first Elite Chances a year ago. Truth be told he had been running Chances courses from the Elite line from the beginning (six months prior when he turned 18 months old) so nothing felt different to him.  It was just another fun course!

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Last thoughts:

After receiving a fair amount of push back, I attempted to explain why I think what I think….. the thinking behind my thinking.  😉   Here is my final post on the topic of course design from a dog’s perspective…. as I see it:

I thought about posting more course maps to “make my case” / show examples of other sections that I feel would support my POV but the response will likely still be IT’S A HANDLING ISSUE or perhaps shift to IT’S A TRAINING ISSUE.  I think we all agree that running courses necessitates appropriate and timely handling and that handling is a whole lot easier if a dog has good foundation skills.

I was hoping for a broader conversation about THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF NADAC COURSE DESIGN which I used to think were heavily weighted towards the dog’s perspective and how dogs naturally move.  I  honestly always thought NADAC courses were designed first and foremost with dogs in mind which led me to  stop competing in other venues many years ago for the sake of my much beloved dogs.  Was my thinking misguided all along?  I don’t think so.  There have always been things I have not liked about NADAC like the 8′ A-frame at champs when most clubs use 9’ers, or the way dogs were divided into groups prior to 2016 (or whenever they changed grouping to be by wither height vs. jump height) but those issues have not stopped me from wanting to stay fully engaged.  But over the past year or so, I honestly think I’m seeing real changes in how dogs are navigating through what I call “choppy” or “illogical” sections of courses. This has stopped me in my tracks.

When I watch teams run courses, I naturally watch the dog vs. the handler unless I try really really hard to TRY TO WATCH the handler too but I’m still mostly watching the dog.  I can’t help myself.   I think watching a bunch of dogs run the same course shows course design from the dog’s perspective.  “Choppy” can be minimized and barely noticeable with PERFECT handling or when handlers run their “comfortable as an old shoe” dogs or when handlers run slower dogs that lope through courses.. or run mini-dogs that take 5 strides between most obstacles.  But inherent choppiness (of course design) can still be visible even with these groups of dogs in subtle ways if you look closely.

I love watching the details of a dog’s movement: where they are looking, where they add a stride or leave a stride out, where and when they change leads, where their footwork is funky (tripping over themselves, slipping, scrambling, or turning the wrong way) where less motivated dogs turn to sniffing, or high strung dogs turn to barking, jumping, nipping, or running off to take whatever obstacle, or just running.

I will offer details of the opening sequence (the way I see it from the dog’s perspective) but I don’t want to have a conversation about the minutiae of this opening sequence.   I could have easily picked another sequence with different minutiae.  The following description is not about handling… Its about canine motion.. what the long-striding or super fast dog is likely doing on this opening sequence.  This is my attempt to have a conversation about the guiding principles of NADAC course design.  I don’t know how else to say it.

To answer another NADAC competitor’s question: What would have made the opening sequence more NADACee comes from the dog’s perspective.  Modify jump #4 (and shift other jumps affected by the changes made to #4) (or change what happens after #4). The purpose of changing #4 is not to soften the path from #3 – #4 but rather to take into consideration the dog’s natural movement and lead changes from the start line to the #3 jump.  Dogs running in semi-collection and medium to slow speed dogs have plenty of opportunities (more strides and more time) to change to the left lead when pushed out to #3 and then change back to the right lead without also needing to power down (collect) before jumping #3.  A loping dog will have no trouble getting back on the right lead and then taking a stride on that right lead to jump #3.  This offers a nice turn to #4.. no choppiness.

Long-striding, enthusiastic, confident big dogs will power off the start line and jump #1 in extension, landing long, then take one full stride to a nice take off spot for jumping #2 in extension.  They will jump #2 in extension landing long again (dog still on the right lead which the subtle arc of my blue line on the map indicates). The handler can begin to push after the dog is committed to #2 and an experienced dog might switch leads in the air but more likely the dog will land on its right lead then switch to the left lead as he moves away from the handler towards #3.  Once the dog is committed to the lead change, the handler can release pressure and begin to cue collection… but it has to happen in a millesecond… because a long-striding dog running with strong forward momentum will need time to reorganize his body and legs to power down, add a stride, and switch leads again.  Up until the point of cuing collection the dog is planning on jumping #3 in extension.. because of the change to left lead and seeing the #6 jump as the next logical jump.

If indeed this type of sequence is so common in NADAC that experienced dogs come to recognize it and run it with some self-directed collection, I have to ask the question:  How did these dogs gain that experience? My answer is by earlier lessons such as hard landings… sometimes on the wrong lead, being called off WCs, running around jumps, tripping over themselves trying to make surprise turns, losing their flow.  What other types of lessons might some dogs learn as they gain “experience” running through what I call “choppy” sequences: I better slow down, I better leave start line cautiously, I better run in semi-collection, I better wait for my handler to show me the next obstacle.

The point I am trying to make is if a long-striding dog powers out of the start line, the combination of lead changes and collection necessary to get a nice turn from #3 to #4 will create unnatural movement for the dog.  This imo takes the wind (joy) out of many dog’s sails and adds wind (frustration) in other dog’s sails causing things to fall apart between #4 and #5.   One can watch teams run this sequence and say  “The handler was ‘late” but imo,  the underlying cause was the long striding confident dog didn’t have time to organize himself given the tasks at hand…2 lead changes combined with powering down from 2 strides to either 3 or 4 strides between #1 and #3.

Can long-striding dogs get through this sequence? Yes.  Can “old comfortable shoe” dogs make this sequence look nice? Yes… but that is not my point.   Are these the kinds of challenges the course designer intended for dogs to have?  I don’t think so.  I think they are just a byproduct of a sequence designed for the handler.. which is unNADACee to me.   There are so many different ways to challenge handlers while also keeping the dog’s perspective in mind.

On an ending note, every “old shoe” dog started off as a young dog with endless possibilities.   What types of “experiences” we want our dogs to have is up to us.   I have learned so much from my young, long-striding, totally biddable, intelligent BC Takoda who always gives me his best effort and shows me agility from a dog’s perspective.

THE END

 

 

 

 

Takoda found two lost gloves which had been dropped during a SAR mission a few weeks ago

2nd_glove

Takoda continues to amaze me with both his talent when it comes to using his nose and brain for Search and Rescue and his understanding that he needs to communicate to me when he has found something.

Two days ago, a fellow member of Front Range Rescue Dogs and I took Takoda to the area of a recent SAR mission to see if he would be able to find two gloves she dropped while providing field support for a dog team that day.  We both thought we had the GPS track of the dog handler to go by but when we arrived at the site, we realized neither of us had the track on our GPSs so we searched using a printed map which showed the dog handler’s track.  Without the GPS track to go by, we knew the deck was stacked against us since our accuracy with a map would not be nearly as good as with a GPS but it was a beautiful day for a hike and even though we came up empty handed we were able to narrow down the search area.  Afterwards,  we downloaded our tracks to see how well we did covering the area around the dog handler’s track.  The yellow track is the dog handler. The cyan and purple tracks are from the Friday search.  The pink track is from today’s search.

glove_serach_final

This morning the map above was the first thing I saw on my computer screen and after reviewing the tracks again, I spontaneously decided to give it another shot, this time having the benefit of the dog handler’s track on my GPS and a smaller search area.   An interesting side note (to me at least) is the southern drift of the pink track occurred when I let Takoda choose the direction of travel on our way back to the car.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was headed in a pretty straight line towards the car both times I let him “drive.”  Pretty cool.

My strategy today was to loosely follow the track of the dog handler but to choose the easiest path  up the hillside through a bunch of downed trees and dense areas of foliage.  My reasoning was the field member’s path would not have been identical to the dog handler’s path so I didn’t need to be super precise in following the dog handler’s track.  Also field support generally walks a parallel path to the dog handler off to one side or the other, so I picked whatever side looked more appealing…. where I’d have chosen to walk if I had been field support that day.

Based on Friday’s search, we put the highest POA as the steepest part of the hillside. This area had dense forest with a lot of downed trees, making the gloves unlikely to spot even if we walked close by.   Regardless of the odds against me spotting the gloves,  I took time to look around while walking through that area but my main focus was keeping an eye on Takoda.

The gloves turned out to be one tenth of a mile west of our highest POA.  On Friday, our tracks indicated we had been within 35 feet of the gloves, once on the way up (south of the gloves) and once on the way down (north of the gloves).  I wish I had put a  GPS collar on Takoda to see if he came close to the gloves on Friday.   I’m guessing he didn’t, based on the ease in which he found the gloves today, but I still wish I had the GPS collar on him.

IMG_5982

(above) The view from the approach to the first glove.  Takoda took a sharp left turn before hopping over this section of downed trees.  He had been heading for an easier route over the trees to the right and I was going to follow him.  His abrupt turn caught my attention and lucky for me I followed him because…..

IMG_5980

After Takoda hopped over the downed trees, he did an about-face and started trying to crawl under the tree to the left to get to the glove.   I didn’t see the glove at first but he kept trying to reach it with his paws which drew my attention to it.

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(above) detail view of the glove.  It was either dragged there by an animal or was wind blown into that crevice.    There is no way I would have found it without Takoda’s help.

I think I was stunned and couldn’t believe he found the glove in that crevice.  After rewarding him, I made my first mistake.  I said FIND ANOTHER and he took off immediately while I stayed with the first glove to take photographs.  URG.  I should have waited to say FIND ANOTHER so I could follow him.  By the time I looked up, he was standing about 75 feet away looking at me while I was packing up my gear.  This is when I made my 2nd mistake. I should have just left my gear, and gone up to where he was standing and come back for my stuff.   Instead I kept packing and he came running back to me before immediately turning around and returning to the same spot up the hillside.  He stood there looking at me again before running back to me again.   It appeared he had found the second glove but then came my 3rd mistake.  I said SHOW ME  and started following him up the hill.  He must have assumed by my different response and cue, that I wanted him to bring me the second glove because that is what he did with great enthusiasm.   At that point, he had run back and forth between the glove and me three times and maintained eye contact while standing over the glove, waiting for me to come up there (I assume) and when I said SHOW ME,  he tried something different.  I rewarded Takoda for finding the second glove and then said something like WHERE WAS IT? at which point he took off and returned to the spot where he found the second glove.   How smart is that?  Pretty smart I think.

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(above) the location of second glove

(above) second glove find

(above) going back to the spot where he found the second glove… which I was able to confirm by dog tracks in the snow.

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The gloves.   May they rest in peace.

Mark Training Demo Videos. I’ll be adding more videos to this page over time.

Marks and Contacts:

(above) December 24, 2016. The purpose of this video is to show how a dog’s weight shift back when stopping on a Mark bucket is nearly identical to the weight shift back that needs to happen for a dog to perform a safe 2o2o on an A-Frame. The video with a Mark bucket was slowed down to match the speed of video with the A-Frame to better show the comparison. Training a dog to stop on a Mark bucket is an easy way to train a dog to use his body correctly for safe stopped contacts (2o2o or 4on), without subjecting the dog to endless repetitions over full-height equipment.

(above)  Takoda doing 4on the A-frame.   Note his position when going over the apex.  He is in control and collecting in preparation for stopping at the bottom.   One foot came off the A-frame to help him stop at the bottom, which I’m totally fine with because it’s really hard for a dog to drive that deep and stay 4on.  I decided to train 4on vs. 2o2o because occasionally young dogs speed get the best of them and I was betting on the fact if I trained Takoda to do 4on, if he couldn’t completely stop 4on, he’d gently step into a 2o2o.  If he was trained to do 2o2o, he’d either hit the ground super hard or leave the A-frame when he over-shot.  I cringed when Jake, my first agility dog did that and I think it put a few years on his shoulders and elbows.  Anyway, I love how Takoda went all the way to the bottom of the A-frame even with me lagging behind.  I also loved how tempted he was to come off the A-frame as I kept walking by, but he stayed put.

(above) One final comparison.  A straight approach to the A-frame and a row of 16″ jumps.  It’s amazing to me how similar my dog’s jumping form is in both scenarios.  I’ve found the same to be true with Lil, my Australian Terrier. I don’t know why those little glitches in motion are showing up during slo-mo.  The motion is smooth until I render the final composite. URG.

Marks and Jumping:

The thing that is so profound about using a Mark at the end of a jump grid or any sequence for that matter is the dog is focusing on and running towards a “behavior” vs. a “reward.”  This keeps the dog in a thinking/ working state of mind all the way to the Mark… and beyond since the dog needs to wait on the Mark while the handler walks over to deliver the reward.

(above) December 24, 2106. Lil’s first time jumping after taking a few months off from agility.   The Mark should have been two strides away from the last jump vs. one stride away as seen in this video. You can see that Lil doesn’t have time to rock back before hitting the Mark at the end of the grid when the bucket is so close to the last jump.

(above) I set up this bounce grid to test Mark bucket spacing. Placing the starting Mark where I’d naturally position my dog for a jump grid worked well (obviously). The ending Mark seemed to work best when placed a couple of strides after the last jump (in Lil’s case about 8′ away).

(above) Lil, one stride between jumps.

(above) Although Takoda was exposed to SS puppy grids way back when, I don’t do much jump training with my dogs. The video above is of Takoda bouncing over 16″ jumps.   The spacing of the jumps in the first two reps was tight and awkward looking but it didn’t seem to faze Takoda’s enthusiasm. The thing I like best about using a Mark at the end of a jump grid is how the dog continues to weight shift back vs diving over the last bar to get to a toy or food target placed on the ground. I think its clear that starting with a “super sit” on a Mark works great for insuring a nice weight shift back from the start.  I think everything is easier to see with a long-legged dog like Takoda vs. a short-legged dog like Lil.  Although I find it useful to watch both dogs to see how different their jumping styles are.. due to radically different body types.

Mark Training Videos

(above)  Mark Demo using a single bucket. Very basic skills being practiced by both of us! For me this session was about trying to remember to reward in heel position.

(above)  Adding more fun stuff and handling variety to Mark training.  Once a dog is reliably running to the Mark, sticking his landings, and waiting to be released, you can start adding more handling variety by mixing in something for the dog to wrap, like a tree, a barrel or a cone.  Handle from every position and if your dog understands your handling from every position and continues to maintain criteria on the Mark, you can begin to increase distance / speed.   You can see how much fun this is for my dog (and me). This is how the two of us developed our shared handling language that worked beautifully when we started running full courses.

(above)  Once your dog enthusiastically runs to Marks, sticks his landings, and waits until releases, put the behavior under stimulus control.  Heeling in close proximity to a Mark bucket is challenging mental work for the dog, but worthwhile for sure.  I like to alternate between heeling by the Mark and sending my dog to the Mark at trials before we run, especially if my dog’s attention is wavering.   It doesn’t take much space and you can work your dog on-leash, right in front of his crate before heading towards the ring.

(above) More advanced Mark training.   This video was shot at the tail end of a long Demo so Takoda’s enthusiasm was not as great as usual.

(above)  Lil, a barrel, and 2 Marks, January 24, 2015

(above) Sitting on a Mark before releasing reminds a dog to push-off from the rear vs. pull from the front.

(above) Mark training translated seamlessly to a flattened A-Frame

(above)  Introducing Pinwheels using Marks.   Takoda was nearly 4 months old.

(above) Group Mark session.  Takoda had a hard time staying on his Mark when Jake moved.

(above) Takoda being introduced to hoops and a Mark.  He was 15 weeks old.

(above) another rep running through hoops to Marks

(above) Takoda’s confidence was growing rapidly that day!

(above)  Mark bucket on the end of a flat plank.  Takoda was 3 months old.

(above) Group Mark session.  Takoda was 10 weeks old.

(above) Takoda early Mark sessions.  He was 9 weeks old.

(above) First Group Feeding Session.  Takoda was just shy of 8 weeks old.