Since I’m taking a couple of months off from trialing, I’ve been looking for new games to play with my dogs that will strengthen their agility foundation skills. And I keep finding my thoughts drifting towards Silvia Trkman, who first focuses on training young agility dogs to run super fast and then gradually adds obstacles. Her approach is the complete opposite of another great agility trainer, who compares a young dog learning agility to a 16 year old learning to drive a car. She believes that in both cases, speed should be added only after basic skills are well rehearsed at slow and moderate speeds. Oddly, both approaches make perfect sense to me!
When I first started training Lil when she was a puppy, we spent months and months developing strong foundations skills away from agility obstacles and she developed good ground speed, nice tight turns and excellent distance skills. But she didn’t start out running agility as fast as she was capable of, which helped her get to where she is today. At the age of three, Lil is very consistent, with a 75% Q Rate (% of runs that are qualifying runs). So given the “learning to drive” analogy, I guess Lil learned to drive on quiet side roads (vs. in a parking lot or on a highway) and it worked out well for her.
But lately Lil’s natural drive has really started to kick in when running agility, which it great! She is running faster by elongating her stride when there is a lot of space between obstacles or jumps. ps–If you think about the amount of time an agility dog spends running vs. taking obstacles, having good ground speed is important. It might be even more important for small dogs because of the number of strides they need to take between obstacles in standard agility venues. So I want to continue to encourage Lil to run/ drive as fast as she is able to.
But increased speed has its downside. It is much harder for dogs to jump efficiently when running fast and over the past 4-6 months, I can see Lil is having trouble figuring out the best way to jump while running super fast. As a result, I can feel her slowing down before jumping. See my post “Lil and Jumping” on Feb 5, 2012 for a brief history of Lil’s foundation jump training.
The video above shows examples of Jake, Lil and another Aussie, Ben Matlock, jumping at a recent USDAA trial. Ben Matlock is a nice little jumper and is very consistent in his style of jumping. If you watch his striding, he stays in relative collection the entire run and he does not need to adjust his stride much, if at all, before jumping. Jake’s jumping looked pretty good. But this was the first time I could feel Lil slowing down before jumping. It is also the first time Lil lowered her head and shoulders before jumping and also the first time Lil regularly added an extra short stride before jumping.
At this point, I could continue to let Lil try to figure it out on her own. After all, she is a smart and athletic dog. But my concern is that Aussies are such powerful little dogs that Lil could develop a pattern of inefficient jumping (without knocking any bars) that would be hard to unlearn.
There are many different ways dogs can jump inefficiently:
- Dogs can take-off too far away from the jump. Linda Mecklenburg has written a couple of articles for Clean Run Magazine about what she calls ETS or Early Take-Off Syndrome. I highly recommend NOT reading about her theory if you think your dog takes off too early before jumps. Linda thinks it is genetic and there is nothing you can do to help an ETS dog jump better. Yet my dog Jake has shown dramatic improvement in his jumping abilities over the past year and he used to take off early most of the time. Today, he is not what I’d call a beautiful jumper but he jumps well enough and with ease so I’m totally fine with it. ps–I’ve seen videos on YouTube of a few very nice running Aussies who tend to jump early yet are able to jump with relative ease.
- Dogs can jump much higher than necessary to clear the jump. This is very easy for a Aussie to do. At a workshop, Lil cleared a 20″ jump without a problem (It was an off course jump so it was not lowered to 8″).
- Dogs can flip up their rear ends when floating over the jump to insure their back legs clear the bar if they jumped too early. I think this is more common with long-backed breeds.
- Dogs can take an extra short stride or two before the jump and then lower their heads and fling themselves over the jump bar using their shoulders vs. hind legs. Jake does this to varying degrees and Lil did it rather dramatically for the first time at our last trial in December.
There are a couple of reasons I want to do whatever I can to help Lil learn to jump efficiently when running fast. Due to the high number of jumps in most agility courses, inefficient jumping can slow a dog’s course time down significantly but more importantly it uses up a lot energy so an inefficient jumper will get tired much faster than an efficient jumper.
So what am I going to do? I suppose I have three choices.
- I could do nothing and just wait and see if Lil develops a significant jumping issue. But this would make me crazy!
- I could encourage Lil to run agility at a moderate speed. But this would also make me crazy since I love running agility as fast as possible with my dogs and I love watching them run super fast, even if just around the back yard. It makes me feel so good, I suspect I’m getting an endorphin rush.
- I could continue to encourage maximum speed and have the maximum amount of fun with my dogs and also try to help Lil learn how to jump well at high speeds. This will NOT make me crazy or at the very least not any crazier than I already am 🙂
So I am starting fresh with Lil and following Silvia Trkman’s methods to encourage fast running away from jumping (either without bars or bars on the ground for a while). Then I will slowly increase the height of the jumps as Lil is able to run fast and jump well at the same time. And I don’t plan to do any more jump grids at this point because Lil is still able to jump well and consistently when she is running at a moderate speed with a collected stride, which is what a lot of jump grid drills tend to focus on.
While agility is just a hobby for me, it is a hobby that I am ridiculously passionate about. I don’t have lofty goals or aspirations and my dogs already have more than enough speed to come in under SCT (standard course time) and they often win their classes. So perhaps it comes down to the fact that there is nothing quite like the thrill of a fluid, top-speed run when I feel entirely connected to my dogs.
As Silvia Trkman would say: GO GO GO!