Running A-Frames and the long-backed dog

RE: a recent post on CleanRun’s yahoo group:  A friend and I are both using Rachel Sanders’ running A-frame method to train  our dogs. I have a medium-sized BC and am following the method as close to the  video as I can.

My friend, though, has a dachshund/rat terrier(?) mix, and she isn’t entirely comfortable with how her long-backed dog looks doing a two-hit a-frame. Basically, when doing two hits, the dog is hitting too high in the yellow and comes down hard on her landing. It just doesn’t look like it would be good for her shoulders/back long-term.  Any guidance would be appreciated!

MY REPLY: Some dogs natural striding take them nicely into the contact zone with very little training but not my long-backed Australian Terriers.  I believe the long-backed dog’s structure plays a significant role in how they are able to perform a running A-Frame.  While I am not addressing the question about 2 vs. 3 strides, I thought your friend would be interested in what I have learned about running A-Frames and long-backed dogs.  🙂

I trained my 3-year-old, Australian Terrier (AT) a running A-Frame using another method but I believe what I learned applies to any method.  Once I raised the A-frame  above 5′, my dog’s descent started to look off-balance.   I believe the structure of a long-backed dog comes into play is a significant way when the A-Frame is raised above  5′.  My particular dog’s striding started to change at about 4′ 8″ but it still looked  safe and like she was in control during the descent on 5′ A-Frames.

Here is what I think is going on:  Australian Terriers’ shorter legs and muscular builds make it difficult for them to maintain control when running down steeper A-Frames due to powerful forces of gravity and momentum, which build during the descent.  Their shorter legs don’t offer the same “breaking power” as longer legs (like Border Collies have) which extend further forward during the descent (see images below).  I liken a dog having longer legs when running down an A-Frame to a person having walking sticks when running down a  steep hill.  I believe that last “leaping stride” is not due to poor training, but rather it’s a reaction to the powerful forces of gravity and momentum that have built up by the time an AT takes a third necessary stride down.

I think it takes an incredible amount of intention and strength for ATs to hold themselves back against gravity and momentum when they drive hard over an A-Frame like my dog does.   I have compared photos of BCs and my dog descending an A-Frame and my dog’s overall body position, shoulder angle, forward reach, and tucking under of back legs looks similar.  The big difference is that my dog’s legs are significantly shorter so her nose extends beyond her front feet.   I can see why she looks off-balance when running fast down a steeper A-Frame.

Once I realized how different running over a 5′ and 5’6″ A-Frame was for my dog,  I stopped training on both 5’6″ and 5′ A-Frames, and my dog is now taking 3 nice strides down the A-Frame and her 3rd stride lands well inside the contact zone of 5′ high A-Frames.  I believe this is due to consistency of the angle, that she now knows exactly how hard to drive over the A-Frame running fast but in control.  Her A-Frame now looks safe and natural vs. WHOOOOOAA!  This is what prompted me to stop training both heights and to stop running 5’6″ A-Frames in USDAA.

On a side note, the USDAA board will be discussing lowering the A-Frame for mini Performance dogs in early 2013.    Reducing the height of the A-Frame to 5′ for mini Performance dogs would mean that they would have the same benefit as the big Performance dogs re: the A-Frame being lower than it would be if they were running Championship. So if you support the idea that mini dogs should be afforded the same lower A-frame in Performance as the big dogs currently enjoy, please drop Ken an email:  ktatsch@usdaa.com

7 thoughts on “Running A-Frames and the long-backed dog

  1. Super interesting. I love the analogy to walking sticks going down a hill and can see that now in the difference between my toller’s running aframe and Lance’s struggles.

    As you already know, with Lance I’ve struggled greatly on teaching him a safe aframe performance. With his 4 on the floor his little corgi legs still wanted to leap from just barely in the yellow to land right at the bottom. Trying to switch to a running was also a failure which I think was partly due to his structure and partly due to his lack of confidence and little stutter steps just like his jumping. So now we are trying a 4 ON and it still is so hard for him to stop his momentum. But bless his little heart he always tries so hard! I am glad that NADAC only has a 5ft aframe for him.

    • The A-Frame is my least favorite obstacle. It puts so much wear and tear on dogs too, that I don’t want to train it anymore than I need to. And with a running A-Frame the dog really needs to drive hard over it, yet if I were a long-backed dog, I’d likely be thinking “NO WAY am I running head first down that super steep piece of wood!” The thing that helped my other AT wit his 2o2o, is playing games on a 3 x 3 foot slanted plank (the angle of an A-Frame), as seen at the beginning of the following video:

  2. Hi Dev! Thank you for replying to Danielle’s email and for pointing out this blog to her. I’m the “friend with the long-backed dog”, and it was really nice to find someone else who is thinking about safe Aframe performance for differently-proportioned dogs. I’ve been thinking about adopting a slightly-altered version of the Rachel Sanders’ method (training 3 hits on the down side instead of 2), but I have hesitated to start re-training with this method because I STILL dislike the idea of Chiqui jumping off the Aframe (from any height). I have recently started to research Silvia Trkman’s method of teaching running contacts. She teaches her dogs to actually RUN THROUGH the contacts (instead of jumping off of them). Running down the AFrame (with hind foot separation as the dog leaves the contact zone) looks to be the least physically jarring way for Chiquita to perform the obstacle. I’m interested to hear your thoughts about this tentative conclusion? As I’ve been thinking more and more about the Aframe, I have come to appreciate the amount of strength, coordination, and (shoulder) flexibility that the Aframe demands (especially for a long-backed dog like Chiqui). I have started daily endurance/conditioning and power exercises with Chiqui, and I think I need to add daily stretching exercises (for her back, neck, and shoulders) so that she can extend her stride as much as possible during the descent. If you have any additional musings about the Aframe, I’d love to hear them. 🙂

    • PS. I’m taking videos of Chiqui’s current Aframe performance this weekend so that I can see exactly how comfortable and in-control she currently looks while on the Aframe (especially during the descent). She does have a long back and short-ish legs for her size, but she isn’t as stocky as Australian Terriers. (She’s a very mix-y mix.) I’m very interested to see how the reach of my girl’s front legs compares with the photos that you posted of a BC and an AT on the downside of the Aframe.

  3. Pingback: Building value for hitting closer to the bottom of an A-Frame through natural enticement | ArtAndDogBlog

  4. Pingback: Why my Australian Terriers don’t run all the way down the A-Frame | ArtAndDogBlog

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