Training Lead Changes

Recently Takoda and I have been playing around with lead changes on the approach to a jump in my tiny yard.  I wanted to see if I could help Takoda add a new skill to his repertoire of jumping skills.   He already knows how to jump in extension, jump in collection, slice, and do backsides, so I figured why not give him another type of jumping skill that could help him solve a riddle that can emerge on courses that contain a “mostly straight” row of jumps that are not quite straight enough to be run on a single lead yet not offset enough for the dog to read as a turn.

The training set up that worked best was to start with Takoda facing me.  First I cued him to turn away from me on his left lead, then cued him to wrap the jump to his right, which caused a last minute lead change to the right.  I did the same thing in reverse and also mixed in some reps with no lead changes. Its hard to see what he is doing on the video but you can see a little hitch in his motion when he changes leads in real time.  If you change the speed of the video to 0.25 (click on the gear icon below the video which will appear when you start the video), you can actually see the lead changes.

Here is a description of the 5 reps on the video: L= Left lead.  R= Right lead.

  1.  L – R
  2.  L – L (no lead change)
  3.  L – R
  4.  R – R (no lead change)
  5.  R- L (lead change in the air)

I didn’t know if  low speed, collected jumping in my yard would transfer to “real” courses, but at last Sunday’s class Takoda did his first ever mid-air lead change over a jump within a “mostly straight” row of obstacles.  The coolest part for me is he did it on his own when he saw the path ahead was to an offset curved tunnel.  The lead change was entirely self-generated.  He never went into handler focus and was thus able to continue focusing on the path ahead and see that he needed to change leads to get to the offset tunnel.  This resulted in stride efficiency and fluidity of motion, which are my ultimate goals when running agility with my dogs.

The reason running in extension on straight-ish lines matters to me is because Takoda’s best and fastest runs occur when he can take advantage of his naturally long strides on straight-ish sections of courses.  He is not one of those super fast pedaling Border Collies that increase their YPS by running the tightest lines possible.   Takoda’s YPS increase with every stride he doesn’t add (when appropriate of course).

I think playing around with low-speed lead changes might also help dogs that run around jumps when approaching too fast on the wrong lead or dogs that crash into jumps for the same reason.  I don’t plan to do any advanced training of lead changes (like adding speed) but I’m glad we played around with it.  I think it gave Takoda a new way to solve the riddle presented by an offset jump on a fast section of a course without adding a stride or causing a hitch in his giddy up.

After thought:  I never thought to train last minute lead changes… and I’m not sure I would have needed to train this as a skill if I ran international style courses because the handler can usually be ‘right there’ to shape the dog’s path (due to so many turns that allow the handler to run a much shorter path then the dog). But in NADAC, 21′ spacing, lower jump heights, and less turns make it impossible for a handler to always be ‘right there’ at all key points on a course.  Dogs either need to be trained to solve course riddles on their own, or they learn to wait for the handler as she catches up (by running slower, spinning, barking, or whatever) which is not the point of NADAC.  I am guessing many dogs learn this skill on their own through trial and error while running courses but I think there is something to be said for training difficult “tricks” like last minute lead changes at slow speeds. 




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