Lil earned her Versatility NATCH at Mountain Dog Sports Trial, February 27, 2015

Lil's V-NATCH photo with Judge Ron Young.

Lil’s V-NATCH photo with Judge Ron Young.

(above) Lil’s Versatility NATCH photo with Judge Ron Young.   It was cool that Lil earned this Championship Title under a judge who knew us from the East Coast.

I didn’t feel any pressure about this run being for Lil’s V-NATCH, because Lil runs Weavers courses well.  The only reason we lacked Elite Weaver’s Qs is I tend not to enter this class when it is offered late in the day on Sundays, which seemed to be fairly common on the East Coast (this is not a complaint though). I just personally prefer to run Elite Weavers (3 sets of 12 poles) with a fresh dog.   But since moving to Colorado in July, I’ve found many trials offer Weavers on Fridays, so we were able to get 8 needed Elite Weavers Qs (for a total of 13) over the past 6 months.

(above) Lil’s Versatility NATCH run at Mountain Dog Sports on Friday.

Elite Weavers was the first class of the trial.   Lil was acting tentative outside the ring so I ran this course with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, thinking Lil would appreciate feeling that type of energy to avoid feeling bogged down by the soft, deep dirt or feeling concerned about the environment which smelled strongly of horse poop and pee (Yucko).  Lil got her Boogie On about half way through the first set of poles and finished well under SCT.  She ran incredibly well all weekend long, Q-ing 11 of 14 runs and as usual the few NQs were due to handler errors.  I was (and am) so happy because this was the first trial at this site where Lil felt like her confident little self.  🙂

(above) Lil running Elite Touch N Go on Saturday

By Day 2 of the trial, Lil felt entirely confident when entering the horse arena. The tentativeness I felt on Day 1 and at previous trials at this site was gone.  I loved how tightly she wrapped the hoop and barrel. If you watch her wrap the hoop, you can see she was so tight, she had to hop over the timer foot.  🙂

(above)  Lil running Elite Regular on Sunday

This is one of my favorite runs of the weekend BECAUSE we NQed early on.  The turn after the dog walk seemed so easy on Round 1, that I took it for granted on Round 2. I guess I forgot it was easy on Round 1 because I handled it vs. stood there facing the tunnel while watching Lil run into it. Duh!  But as a result of this early off-course tunnel, I decided to run the rest of the course from a self-imposed handling box. Lil aced it…and she looked like she LOVED the distance.  🙂

(above) Lil running Elite Chances Round 1 on Sunday

Having recently participated in Paula Goss’s Advanced Distance workshop, I knew exactly how I wanted to handle Chances courses this weekend.  I knew WHERE I wanted to be, and WHEN I wanted to be there to show my dog the correct path ahead.  I handled Round 1 and 2 the same way with Lil and Jake and both dogs ran the course beautifully.

(above) Lil running Elite Chances Round 1

(above) Lil running Elite Chances Round 2

(above) Jake running Open Chances Round 1

I made the same mistake with Jake both rounds and pulled him off a hoop but I was so happy with how well he ran this course both rounds.  This was a tough weekend for Jake.  He found the temptation of huge mounds of horse poop along the one side and the back of the arena to be too much to resist on about half of his runs.   But on Sunday, I only lost him to horse poop on one run.

(above) Jake running Open Chances Round 2

(above) Lil running Elite Chances on Friday

The Chances course on Friday was one of the most challenging courses I’ve encountered.  There was only one Q in the entire Elite class.   Lil didn’t Q due our only missed dog walk / tunnel discrimination of the weekend, but I loved how well she ran the uniquely challenging portions of this course.  The coolest thing for me was that I knew exactly WHERE I wanted to be to send her out to 2 jumps after the second tunnel….which was as far away as possible from the tunnel exit when she emerged.  My plan worked beautifully.

Another challenge I felt really good about was the left turn after the first tunnel.  Once again, I knew WHERE I needed to be.. and WHEN I needed to be there in order to pre-cue that left turn before Lil ran into that first tunnel.  Plus she totally aced running through the “box” in the center of the course twice.  The first time was straight through 2 hoops to the far entrance to the purple tunnel.  The second time was from the exit of the purple tunnel OUT to the jump.

(above) Jake’s Open Chances Q on Friday

Jake Q-ed this very challenging Chances course in Open, which was particularly challenging for him due to the proximity to huge mounds of horse poop in that area of the ring.   I almost lost him twice.  The Q was saved by the Open line having a narrow channel in which the handler could walk in front of the tunnel, which helped me coax him back into “working mode.”

Jake’s contacts were PERFECT all weekend long.  So were his tunnel/ contact discriminations.  There were many things to feel good about which helped balance out numerous Es due to Jake wolfing down huge mouthfuls of horse poop.   SIGH.  Good thing we don’t need no stinkin’ Qs.   HA HA and true!

Warming up with a barrel and 2 buckets then doing a few A-Frames

I am LOVING what I’m seeing on the A-frame from both dogs.   Stopping with four feet on (4-on) looks easy for them to do.

I can see that Jake knows his job and is preparing to stop the entire descent with no hesitation before reaching the bottom.  The way he is performing 4-on looks much easier on his body than jumping off from high in the contact zone (his natural MO) and I think 4-on might even be lessening the force in which he hits the up ramp due to early anticipation of the stop at the bottom.

This morning’s session focused on distance.  I wanted to test Jake and Lil’s understanding of WHERE to do 4-on.   I really LOVE this style of 4-on for Jake because he has to plan ahead and reduce his momentum all the way down vs. with 2o2o, he would sometimes descend too fast and land hard into 2o2o which made me cringe years ago when I used to ask for a 2o2o.

Jake’s videos:

Lil’s running A-frame has been fast and consistent for a few years now.  The reason I decided to mess with it is because in NADAC, A-Frame ramps can be 8′ or 9′ long and Lil was not able to transition from one to the other without training a fair amount in-between, so after thinking about it on and off for the past 6 months, I decided to see if I could train a performance that would allow her to transition back and forth without any extra training in-between the two different A-frame ramp lengths.

I’m not sure what Lil’s end performance will look like on the A-Frame but I loved what I saw today.  I find it amazing that she only started showing me she is able to stop 4-on a couple of days ago yet today she made it look easy.  At this point, Lil often pops into a last minute and super soft 2020 when I’m ahead.  Although I have never asked Lil to do a 2o2o on the A-Frame, she has been doing 2o2o since puppy hood on a variety of objects, so its not surprising that she is offering it on the A-Frame, especially because it requires less effort than stopping 4-on.   But when I said WAIT, she was able to stop 4-on at the very bottom of the A-frame which impressed me.  I guess this tells me she really doesn’t know what MARK means on the A-frame… yet.

Once I feel she is anticipating stopping with 4-on , I might early release her most of the time.  Actually I might early release Jake sometimes too.   But these will be future decisions.  Right now I’m just enjoying seeing how quickly my dogs learned HOW to shift their weight back enough to be able to stop withe ease on a full-height A-frame…and the dog walk too.

Lil’s videos:

The A-Frame is a Jumping Obstacle… for some dogs

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I put together a composite that seems to support the notion that the A-frame is a jumping obstacle…. for some dogs at least.

It also answers the question: “Why do my dogs hit the A-frame so low?”

Answer: “They are not hitting the A-frame low. They are hitting it at the peak of their natural jumping arc.”

(top row) Jumping ON the A-frame, (2nd and 3rd rows) Jumping a 9" bar with 2 images rotated to match the A-frame angle, (4th row) Jumping OFF the A-frame-- images rotated so the down ramp is horizontal

(top row) Jumping ON the A-frame, (2nd and 3rd rows) Jumping a 9″ bar with 2 images rotated to match the A-frame angle, (4th row) Jumping OFF the A-frame– images rotated so the down ramp is horizontal

Lil is already jumping the equivalent of a 14 or 16 inch bar in order to hit the A-frame as high as she is hitting it, so I don’t think I can do much if anything that will significantly increase the height of her first hit.   But I believe I can soften the hit by training Lil (and Jake) to collect and power down a little before jumping onto the A-Frame.

(above) video that I grabbed screen saves from to create the composite image of Lil running over an A-Frame at the top of this post

I have a plan and have done a few preliminary sessions and I have say it looks very  promising.

Why my Australian Terriers don’t run all the way down the A-Frame


(above) The top row of photos are rotated 32.5 % so the A-Frame is horizontal.  The photo on the upper right is the same photo as the large photo below, just cropped and rotated.

I sort of already knew this but it really sunk in after watching the video footage of my dogs running over a full-height A-frame yesterday.   You can watch the video I grabbed the screen shots from on yesterday’s post.


(above) Compare Lil’s jumping arc over a bar and jumping off the A-frame.  Incidentally, the Border Collie has a similar arc when jumping in extension but that is entirely different topic.

(above) Here is an example of how well many Border Collies (and other breeds) can collect and load well at top speeds, which makes it possible for them to jump UP at a steeper angle than an Australian Terrier.  The typical BC structure allows dogs to change the angle of their trajectories dramatically when jumping bars (running on flat ground, then UP and OVER jump, then back to flat ground) and also when running over A-frames (flat ground, then UP and OVER the A-Frame, then back to flat ground).  Longer legs also play an important role when running down the A-frame because like walking sticks, longer legs help dogs hold themselves back against the forces of gravity and momentum far better than shorter legs do.


(above) You can read more about this photo in a post I wrote in September 2012.

I think its fairly common for agility folks to attribute all “performance issues” to “training issues” but the more I observe dogs run agility, the more I see that structure can solve many riddles re: “why dogs do what they do” vs. assuming all performance riddles are caused by inadequate training.   In the case of my particular dogs, once it became clear to me that their longer backs do not allow them to load very well, I was able to see that its more natural for ATs to jump in extension vs. in collection (if they are running fast).  I also recognized that there is a limit to how high an AT can jump in extension with ease.   But that is a different topic.

Back to the topic of this post….I had a big AH HA yesterday…. drum roll please….

The structure of an AT influences how they jump on and off A-Frames the same way it influences how they jump over bars.  ATs jumping arcs are naturally longer and flatter when jumping on and off the A-frame because they don’t load as deeply as longer-legged dogs.  Duh.  🙂   As a result, their first stride on the A-frame is going to be lower than a dog who is able to load deeper and their dismount is going to be higher to avoid face planting due to their jumping arcs being flatter.

If my dogs were willing to move very slowly down the A-Frame, they would be able to crawl down, slat by slat, or crouch super low and grip the rubber with their toenails to slow their descent.  But this would mean slowing down A LOT, which would be difficult for them to do  and boring as well (for all concerned) so I have accepted that my dogs need to leave the A-frame from higher up than many other dogs.. and that is OK…. within reason.  🙂

This AH HA doesn’t mean I’m giving up trying to influence what they do on the A-Frame.  I’m going to continue to try to decrease Jake’s speed on the approach slightly to soften his first stride on.   I’ll also be continuing to experiment with various verbal cues to see how Jake and Lil respond to them in order to encourage the safest performances possible for each dog.

Day 1: Session 2 went so well I uploaded another video

I am so glad I decided to bring out my video camera this afternoon for Jake and Lil’s second session running and stopping 4-on a flat A-frame.   I spontaneously added a barrel at one end and a hoop at the other, thinking “Why not start sequencing a bit and see how that goes?”

(above) video of Day 1, Session 2

I also raised up one end of the A-frame by placing a board under it, since it was clear in this morning’s session that the slightly raised edge (the edge with wheels under it) was easier for Jake and Lil to be successful keeping all four feet on the A-frame vs. doing 2o2o.

Towards the end of the session, things were going so well (100% success rate) so I decided to work a bit on sending them ahead to target the end of the A-frame.  I knew this would be challenging for both dogs, especially for Jake, but he showed nice improvement.  Actually, I think both dogs did really well sending ahead for the first time on a flat A-Frame.

I love being able to work on skills, such as forward sends, on a flat A-frame to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on my dogs…so I guess I should feel lucky that I didn’t see a single person today who could help me raise the A-frame off the ground.

Running fast and collecting faster than fast!

After a few weeks of training Jake and Lil to target an upside down feed bucket with their front feet, we have started taking the show on the road.

Day 1: This session was their first time being asked to run and stop (4-on) on a flat A-frame.. or on any A-frame for that matter.  The reason the A-frame is resting on the ground is because it is too heavy for me to lift by myself without potentially tweaking my back.  But since I dragged it out to the yard this morning, I figured why not do one session with it flat on the ground to see what Jake and Lil do.

(above) video of Jake and Lil’s first session running on a flat A-frame and stopping 4-on

I was super impressed.  Both dogs ran with really nice speed and targeted the very end of the A-frame by collecting / putting on the brakes.  Most reps, they stuck the 4-on vs. reverting to 2o2o, a behavior both dogs have been practicing for years and years….on steps, rugs, you name it and they put their back feet on it so this was not surprising.

The reason I slowed down the video was to see HOW they were putting on the brakes.  Were they dropping their butts down or crouching?  I didn’t see much butt dropping but it might happen naturally once the A-Frame is raised… or maybe not.  One thing I’ve noticed recently was how much LESS angle a longer-backed dog has when sitting, compared to dogs with longer legs.  This translates into longer-backed dogs having less braking power when dropping their butts.  Here are 2 photos, including a quick and rather sloppy Photoshop of Lil showing how her SIT would look if she had longer legs.

Lil Sitting

Lil with photoshopped longer legs

Once I raise the A-frame, I’ll be carefully watching to see HOW Jake and Lil put the brakes on in order to do 4-on.  If it looks relatively easy for them to do, I’ll continue training 4-on.  If it  looks grossly unnatural or hard on their bodies, I will go back to running A-frames and find another way to deal with running consistently and safely over both 8′ and 9′ A-frames.

This morning’s session was such a blast.  Both dogs LOVED IT and so did I.   Can’t wait to nab some unsuspecting person who walks by our property to help me raise the A-Frame.  🙂

I Want a Do Over !

Jake, Lil and I attended our first trial in Colorado last weekend, hosted by “Dog Agility of the Pikes Peak Region” (DAPPR).  The site was gorgeous and everyone was so nice and  friendly, it made for a very fun weekend.

I think this might be the first time I attended a trial with “real” grass vs. what we call grass in the NE.. which is more like cut grass-like weeds.    Plus this was the thickest grass I’ve even seen.  Lil had to really work to plow through it, which slowed her down quite a bit (as evidenced by her YPS) but that didn’t seem to dampen her spirits too much.

Lil ran a whopping 14 courses, and attempted 4 bonus boxes.  No Bonus Qs but she ran very well all three days Q-ing 9 of 10 non-bonus runs.

Jake also had a great weekend.  He Q-ed 6 out of 9 runs but more importantly his start line stays were impeccable.    I had really let them slide over the past couple of years (for no good reason) and decided a few months ago to get Jake’s SLS back on track.

Sharon Nelson demonstrated a fantastic Start Line Stay game at her Distance Seminar at Yellowstone Dog Sports in July which I now play here and there at home and last weekend I played the game before each of Jake’s runs and it worked brilliantly.  I had no question that he would stay and when released he blasted off the start line.

Now onto the main topic of this post:  Why I want a do over.   I screwed up and said OVER LEFT when I should have said OVER GO ON and blew what might have been a successful Bonus Run with Lil.  Here is my excuse :)….  I was mentally and physically exhausted.  Its been a long time since I ran 2 dogs at a 3 day trial.. up to 9 runs a day to boot.  Plus the site was very large so all the treks to my tent, RV, bathrooms, ribbon tent, and 2 rings took its toll on me.

But actually the “do over” I wish I had was not related to the actual run… although I would love to run that course again someday to see if we could have gotten the bonus from behind that tunnel.  But my bigger wish for a do over was based on a short conversation I had immediately following that run.

A fellow competitor came up to tell me that her instructor encourages her students NOT to use verbal directionals (left and right) because people make mistakes with them.   My response (while having a post-run party with Lil) was “I rarely screw them up.”  What I wished I had said was:  “I rarely screw them up….but when I do, my dog doesn’t know I screwed up because I follow through as though everything went perfectly well.  Granted I was a total bumbling idiot with my directionals in the opening sequence of this particular run, but Lil didn’t seem bothered by even this extreme level of confusion on my part, as evidenced by her confidence and speed… and this was the 2nd to the last run on day 3 so I think we were both tired.

(above) the video that shows my bumbling idiot moment in the opener.  At 0:40 seconds, I redeem myself re: verbal skills and Lil does a great job with what I considered to be the trickiest part of the course.. an interesting serpentine-like distance challenge.

Even with an occasional mistake using LEFT and RIGHT, I think the benefits far outweigh the negatives for me and my dogs.. not that I’m suggesting everyone should use LEFT and RIGHT.   I personally love that there are as many different ways of handling as there are different types of handlers!


A single barrel can be more fun than a barrel of monkeys

barrel_7_2-14This morning I set up the following sequence starting with dogs on the porch:

1) Run down the DW ramp

2) Run through the correct hoop

3) Run around the barrel

4) Run through the other hoop back up the DW ramp to the Manner’s Minder

Other variations were dogs taking a sharp left off DW ramp through a hoop, then taking a right turn over two jumps, then OUT around the barrel, through the far hoop, and back up the DW ramp.  We also did this loop in the other direction.

I triggered the MM remote so the beep occurred when dogs were committed to running around the barrel since my main goal with this set up was to build a better understanding of barrel performance with me in various positions, including standing well beyond the barrel… way out in the woods.

The reason I wanted to practice with me standing so far beyond the barrel was because that scenario bit me in the butt at our last trial when Lil and I ran an Elite Regular course from a Bonus Box.   Granted, my timing was too early and I called her off the barrel, but when I tried the same set up in practice, she did not seem to understand what I wanted when I was 20′ beyond the barrel.  This brings up my next rather obvious point:

One great reason to trial, beyond how much fun trials are, is to see which skills (both dog’s and human’s) need to be trained or brushed up on.   So the issue Lil and I had with that distant barrel at our last trial made me think back to other courses we’ve run that had a  barrel and I realized I should be including a barrel regularly when we practice so it is not an oddity when we encounter one on a course.  Incidentally, in NADAC a judge can use a barrels in place of C-shaped tunnels and barrels can also be part of official courses so its important for me to practice handling and for my dogs to practice running around barrels so I can be less-than-perfect with my handling and timing yet my dogs will still seek out a barrel like they do other obstacle.

An added benefit for Jake was the last time he ran a Barrelers Course (which is kind of like barrel racing for horses), his line was perfect… it just didn’t include any barrels.  🙂  It was like we were practicing shadow handling.

On a side note,  Jake’s contacts were stellar today, regardless of my position.  The last time I tried standing 20′ away, he BOINGED.  But today, every rep was perfect, even when I was standing WAY out in the woods beyond the barrel.   Lil’s DW performance was also spectacular today and she had no trouble at all with me directing her through the correct hoop from every possible position in the yard.   Had either dog not been able to meet criteria on the DW ramp, I would have had to change the set up.  I’m so happy I didn’t need to because being able to leave the MM on the porch offered an added incentive for tight turns around the barrel and keeps the sessions moving quickly.

Jake and Lil are definitely more fun than a barrel of monkeys.



Thinking (and working) outside the box

Box set up, June 29, 2014What a fabulous early morning backyard training session we had this morning.  The weather was perfect and the grass was freshly mowed.  The set up included one more hoop to the left and I started some reps running my dogs down the DW ramp off the set of steps to the left of the out-of-frame hoop (if this makes sense) so they entered the box at full speed.

I tend to set up symmetrical sequences so I can work with dogs on my right and left without needing to reset any obstacles. I really liked this particular set up for testing how well my dogs respond to my body language (upper and lower body cues) for GO ONs, LEFT and RIGHT turns by using a box consisting of 4 jumps surrounded by hoops.  I stayed well outside of the box (at positions like the 2 red Xs) in order to test distance skills while layering other obstacles.  Boxes sure are great for proofing handling at a distance since they provide very tempting off course options.

Lil totally aced the GO ONs through the box…..super fast, 100% confident, and not even a tiny glance at the off course obstacles. Lil’s OUT skills (turning away from me) were also stellar.  The only skill we/ I did not ace the first rep was OVER RIGHT (turning towards me)  when I just used a dramatic shoulder pull.  So the next rep, as Lil approached the first jump in the box,  I took a couple of small steps backwards while rotating my upper body and feet to face the path ahead and she totally GOT that I wanted her to turn towards me…. and she did it at full speed and with 100% confidence.  No question about it.

I also did some reps sending her through the 4 hoops around the perimeter of the box while I took just a single step to push on her line when needed (along with appropriate body rotation). That was quite challenging since 3 of the hoops were quite close to the edges of the yard but Lil GOT all 4 of them after a couple of tries.

Jake was also super fast, confident, and aced the GO ONs but when I send him ahead, he tends to think he knows the course based on whatever he did the last rep.  He had a blast and so did I but since I don’t plan to do BIG distances with Jake at trials… I am not worried about his creativity 🙂  when I am not using motion (running with him) as my primary cue!   Jake is such a fun dog to run!

Compared to just one month ago, I feel so much clearer about how to best use physical body cues for distance handling thanks to the ongoing guidance and feedback from my good friend Lynn Smitley.   She showed me my NEW backing-up “dance move” at our last trial and it worked perfectly to turn Lil towards me off a beckoning tunnel straight ahead which was part of the distance challenge in an Elite Chances course, which Lil aced.  This cue is so effective it has to be a natural cue for dogs.  Today’s session seemed to confirm that.

Below is a link to a video of Lil’s 2nd and 3rd ever BONUS BOX attempts and the Elite Chances run I referred to.

Practicing GO ONs and turns off the dogwalk and on the flat.

I set this up to practice GO ONs, hard left turns, and soft left turns off my dog walk ramp this morning. No video but I did take a photo of the set up.

hoop_set_up_6_17_14But then I realized the set up was also great for GO ONs and turns through the hoops and it gave me an opportunity to practice taking a step or two backwards to indicate TURN vs. GO ON while layering the inner circle of hoops. I was surprised at how natural it felt to step back with Jake (to indicate a turn was coming).  Jake is not as verbally oriented as Lil plus he patterns quickly so all it takes is one GO ON through the back two hoops for him to think that is what we are going to do every time.  I needed to strongly indicate TURN when I wanted Jake to turn towards me to do a pin wheel vs. continue ahead while layering the inner circle of hoops and my backing up a step or two did the trick.

In the video below, at 1:50 I backed up a couple of steps to indicate its NOT the tunnel ahead but rather the hoop to the left of the tunnel.    Dogs seem to naturally respond to this type of motion.   I think it can be used in place of RFPs (reverse flow pivot) and I think I prefer it because the handler’s body rotation continues to face the path ahead vs. turning toward the dog and then rotating back.   Nothing wrong with RFPs!  I’m just testing the water with backing up since it seems to work as well from a distance as it does up close.. and I hope to continue exploring distance skills with Lil.

At some point in the future, I’d like to set up a 180 degree version of this morning’s set up with another layer of hoops radiating out from the 3 inner circle hoops

hoop set up expandedImagine all the possibilities and  “layering fun” to be had with this set up.