Clicker board using button clickers vs. box clickers

It has been a long time since I have used a clicker board on my DW ramp.  Over the past year, Lil’s drive has increased while running agility and as a result she is taking longer strides while running on the ground and on the dog walk.  She is still hitting the contact zone consistently but it no longer looks intentional… so I wanted to see if she could still intentionally target the last 24″ of the DW ramp.   I had a couple of button clickers at home and duct taped them to a thin strip of wood and rubber-banded some packing foam to hold the clicker board up between reps.

It took all of five minutes to MFG and it works great…PLUS the button clickers are not breaking due to the foam offering some resistance and maybe also because the duct tape flexes a little when the clicker board hits the buttons.   It certainly is not going to win any awards for aesthetics but it was so fast and easy to make and works so well,  I took a couple of photographs of it.

clicker board with button clickers (top view)(above) top view of clicker set up under clicker board

photo 2 (above) side view of clickers under the board.

See Oct 16, 3013 for a detailed description for how to build a clicker board for an A-frame or Dog Walk using ordinary clickers.  I also uploaded a couple of short videos of a clicker board “in action.”

Using body motion as pre-cues for tunnels and barrels.

Jake, Lil, and I snuck in one last outdoor trial and weekend in the RV before I need to winterize it.  The brisk fall weather was great for dogs but I’m not so sure about the strong and gusty wind on Saturday.  Jake and Lil didn’t seem too bothered by it though.  And all in all,  it was decent weather for late October in New York.

My personal objective when running agility is to see how well I can communicate the path ahead so my dogs don’t look at off course obstacles or have to slow down due to uncertainty about where to go next.  Many handlers use body and motion to pre-cue turns after jumps and contacts but based on my observations watching teams running NADAC, AKC, and USDAA courses, I am surprised by how few handlers pre-cue tunnels (with body motion) to show their dogs the path AFTER the tunnel BEFORE their dogs enter the tunnel.   IMO, this causes many dogs to slow down a little while in the tunnel and to exit the tunnel looking for their handlers.  Other dogs come blasting out of the tunnel running towards the first obstacle they see and as we all know, once a dog has locked onto an obstacle,  if it is not the correct obstacle, the handler will need to call off her dog.  IMO, if this happens more than once in a blue moon,  it will begin to erode a dog’s trust in her handler and as a result the dog will learn to slow down over time in anticipation of the next call off.

Lil’s Elite Weaver’s course on Sunday had two great opportunities to practice pre-cueing tunnels, which you can see in the video below.  Both of them happened to be front crosses but the same concept can be applied to post turns/ shoulder pulls.

turn_after_tunnel_pre_cue_2(above) photo of Lil exiting the tunnel after pre-cue #2.   Fantastic to see it from this angle.

NADAC is now using barrels in place of C-shaped tunnels (for safety purposes if you were wondering).  I have done a fair amount of training with barrels and have come to see them like tunnels in that they both have an entrance and exit and both cause the handler to disappear from a dog’s sight for a moment.  The HUGE difference between tunnels and barrels is that a tunnel has one entrance and one exit.  A barrel, on the other hand, has one entrance and 180+ exits  🙂 so dogs really need to know BEFORE a barrel, which exit to take to AFTER the barrel… Is the exit a 270, 180, 90 degree turn or is it barely a turn at all.

In Lil’s first Touch N Go course she ran around a barrel twice:  the first time at 0:45 and the second time at 1:00.    I think the video clearly shows that Lil knew exactly which “exit” to take both times.   My intent in pointing this out is not to brag but rather to show the benefit of pre-cueing tunnels…and barrels if you run in NADAC.

On another note, my new pop-up Quechua tent debuted this weekend and I love it.  Even with huge wind gusts, it barely swayed while other tents were flapping like crazy.  It was so convenient to have a ringside tent, especially on Saturday when the trial was running small to tall!  I think I know why the designers made this tent green… because it makes people turn green with envy when they find out this tent in not available in the United States. 🙂

Quechua Base Seconds pop up tent

The Clicker Board makes training running contacts a breeze with perfectly timed clicks every rep!

Since I didn’t ever get around to manufacturing a commercial version of my “Clicker Board” which I invented in the winter of 2012, I figured I might as well make it public so other people can make their own Clicker Boards if they are motivated to do so.

The Clicker Board solves the inevitable issue of late clicks when training running contacts.  Unless you are able to recognize in advance when your dog is going to meet the criteria you have set, your CLICK will be late and you will end up clicking / marking the behavior of dog in air vs. dog running through the contact zone.  Needless to say, late clicks can cause a lot of confusion!

(above) A video of Lil running over a Clicker Board on an A-Frame

(above) A video of Lil running over a Clicker Board on a dog walk ramp

(above) A video of Lil’s typical running Dog Walk at NADAC Champs 2013

If you want to build your own Clicker Board, its best to use a hinge to attach the top edge of the board to the A-Frame. I didn’t have a hinge on the board seen in the video but I later added a hinge and it worked better than tape, which worked well enough for indoor use but I had to keep messing with it.   Gaffers tape (same color as the board if possible) can also be used to conceal the top edge so it is less visible to the dog.

I eventually covered the entire A-Frame with a durable, non-slip rubberized surface , the rubber belting commonly used in NADAC.  This hides the seam entirely so the dog cannot see where the Clicker Board begins.

Here comes the tricky part:   Box clickers work a lot better than button clickers and they last longer too.   Buy a dozen!  They don’t last long when used like this.

You will need to find something that will function like a button and will stick up higher than the box part of the clicker.  This is what the board will rest on.  I used 1/2″ diameter plastic tubing (cut into 3/4″ or so lengths) which I purchased at my local hardware store but wooden dowels would work too.  I taped the tubing to the top of the box clicker with regular masking tape and then tested it by pressing down on the tubing.  If the clicker clicks when you press on the “button” you have created, it will click when placed under the board.

Attach a bunch of box clickers near the lower edge of the board using 2-sided tape.  I used 4 or 5 clickers along the lower edge and 3 more about half way up.  This way, the lower my dog hit in the contact zone, the more clickers were activated.   In a sense the board was able to differentiate between good hits and great hits based on the number of clickers that were activated.  This also allowed me to jackpot for the best hits without having to watch my dog.

If you have a very large or heavy dog, you’ll want to put some wood strips (the same height as the box portion of the clickers) to keep the board from banging too hard on the box clickers (I’m guessing this might be a problem with heavier dogs).  It’s also good to put some soft packing foam under the Clicker Board between the clickers, to help hold up the board so it is not resting entirely on the clicker buttons.   I figured out what was the right amount of foam by trial and error.  Too much foam and the clickers didn’t click, too little and the buttons didn’t release after my dog dismounted.

A-Frame_Clicker_Board_IMG_1039(above) Clicker Board and A-Frame covered with a seamless non-slip rubber belting surface.

A-Frame_Clicker_Board_detail_IMG_1038(above) Detail view of Clicker Board under rubber belting surface

This may sound a bit confusing about how to manufacture a Clicker Board but if you stick with it and make one that works, I am certain you will find it well worth your effort.  As soon as I started using the Clicker Board, I could see the light bulb go off for both of my dogs.   They totally GOT what I wanted them to do and what they were being rewarded for.

One advantage to using a clicker sound vs a beeping sound is that you can easily transition between using a hand-held clicker and the Clicker Board which comes in handy when training on different equipment.  Plus you can also use a hand-held clicker in conjunction with the Clicker Board to help improve your timing.

Another potential use for a Clicker Board is for dogs who miss the UP contact.  Just run them over the A-Frame in the opposite direction!

Perfectly timed clicks offer consistent feedback to dogs so they understand exactly what they are being rewarded for:  running vs. leaping.    And if you don’t want the board to CLICK during some sessions, you can place a few small blocks of wood (slightly taller than the clickers) under the Clicker Board.

I also made a Clicker Board for my half-length Dog Walk, which is also covered with NADAC style rubber belting.

DW_IMG_1105(above) Clicker Board and half-length Dog Walk covered with a seamless non-slip rubber belting surface.

DW_clicker_board_detail_IMG_1041(above) Detail view of Clicker Board under rubber belting surface

DW_top_view_IMG_1104(above)  Top view of Dog Walk.  You can see that the Clicker Board is not visible to the dog.

Feel free to make your own Clicker Boards but please don’t patent or copyright the idea.  Consider this like Open Source or Free Ware for agility training.     Thanks!  Devorah

Lil’s Runs at NADAC Championships

Lil and I attended our first BIG EVENT last week, NADAC Championships.  Jake came along for the ride and to keep Lil company.  I think the highlight for Jake was riding in the golf cart.   He looked so cute with his hair blowing in the breeze… like one of the Bee Gees.  🙂

Running Lil at Champs was the MOST FUN I’ve ever had playing agility and Lil ran great!  Every course had a distance challenge (a line of tape the handler could not cross over).  Lil aced every one of them with 100% confidence and ease!  I could not have been more proud of my little red dog!

(above) Videos of Lil’s runs at Champs.

Round One felt a tiny bit hesitant which I think was due to Lil not being used to the loud cheering and clapping for other teams while we were preparing to run but by Round Two she appeared to have gotten over it.   And as the week progressed,  Lil ran faster and more confidently with each run.  She appeared to be having a total blast.



My goal (and motto) for the week was “Fast, Fluid, and Fun.”  And we succeeded.. even with two handler errors, which Lil didn’t seem to mind, so neither did I.

Lil_Champs_Photo_officialThank you Sharon Nelson for a week of super fun courses, super fun challenges, and for providing us with a super fun venue to play agility in!  Thank you to all my friends (new and old) who helped make the entire NADAC Champs experience fun both in and out of the ring.  OH.. and I almost forgot to mention… Lil took 3rd Place Overall in the 4″/ 8″ Standard Class.

USDAA decides NOT to fix the A-Frame height discrepancy for small dogs

Instead of correcting the A-Frame height discrepancy for small dogs, USDAA opted to quietly change the description of the Performance Program.

Original wording: “The Performance program offers lower jumping heights for dogs, more generous time constraints on course, and a lower A-frame for all height classes.”

The discrepancy was that “all height classes” only applied to Performance dogs jumping 16″ and 22″ and not for dogs jumping 8″ and 12″.  Small dogs had the same height A-Frame as they would have in the Championship Program.  Many “small dog” people supported lowering the A-frame on USDAA Sounding Board but instead of fixing the discrepancy, USDAA changed the wording.

New wording:  “The angle of the ramps beneath the apex determines the power of ascent and skill required to scale the ramp, as well as the impact on the ramp as the dog engages it. The angle for large dogs is 98° and the angle for small dogs is 104°. All dogs in the “Performance Program” use 104° angle of ascent and descent.”

How does one come to terms with USDAA allowing small Championship dogs to run over a lower A-frame than big Championship dogs.. yet not allowing small Performance dogs to run over a lower A-frame than big Performance dogs.  Perhaps the forces of gravity and momentum “magically” change at 5’6″?   Snark. Snark.

Example of Lil running over a 5′ A-Frame with minimal impact on her front end during the descent and dismount

I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with the fact that gravity and momentum play greater roles on higher A-Frames.   Heck, USDAA lowered the A-Frame from 6’3″ A-Frame to 5’10” for large dogs and 5’6″ for small dogs in their Championship Program and acknowledges “the impact on the ramp as the dog engages it” in the new wording regarding the A-Frame.

Although many people wrote emails to the president of USDAA supporting the lowering of the A-Frame for small Performance dogs, the president emailed me privately stating he saw no need to lower the A-frame for small dogs but if he saw evidence that higher A-Frames were detrimental, he would “of course” act on it.

Too bad A-Frame related injuries are not visible like gashes caused by metal jump cups.  How would one go about showing evidence of increased “wear and tear” over higher A-Frames?  Time lapsed X-rays?  I suppose the very small 8″ class size in USDAA might be viewed as a form of “evidence” that people do not feel USDAA is an appropriate venue for small dogs.  My dogs were often the only 8″ dogs at local USDAA trials.

Regardless, I’m sticking with my decision to only run Lil over 5′ A-frames, which I believe  is in her long-term best interest.

On a related note, a fellow 8″ dog competitor started a petition which I am cross-posting below:

Greetings Small Dog Friends,

Please sign and share this petition as affirmative action to both play and keep
our dogs safer!

Blessings and thanks,

Diann and Tinkerbell

A few of Lil’s runs from last weekend’s trial

Its been 2 months since our last trial.  I missed two local trials in June due to my exhibition in Luxembourg and a schedule conflict with a family event.  Its funny,  in 2 months time I had sort of forgotten how much fun trials are in terms of the “whole” trial experience: hanging out with friends, watching other teams run, and of course running my own dog.

Jake is currently “on the bench” due to a slight limp earlier in the week after a particularly exciting hunting expedition in our backyard.   😦 So his “turns” consisted of Freestyle and Flatwork done at a run, which is similar to agility in terms of energy and teamwork so I think he was content “earning” his treats by doing this vs. running over agility obstacles.

Lil didn’t seem to mind the 90 degree temps plus soaring humidity.  She ran well all weekend long.   The trial was held at a campground in Dummerston, VT, which has huge pine trees to park under.  Between the shade and Ryobi fans, Jake and Lil were comfortable and cool all weekend long.  As for me, I must have eaten an entire watermelon and drank a gallon of water to stay cool… which worked very well.”  Link to video (since for some reason WordPress does not include video links in emailed posts).

Building value for hitting closer to the bottom of an A-Frame through natural enticement

Given the random nature of agility obstacle specifications,  some dogs are going to have a harder time than others when it comes to meeting the criteria to avoid point faults while also performing an obstacle safely.   One example of a random obstacle specification is the fact that most A-Frames ramps 9′ long, which for anyone who has ever built anything knows is not a practical size since standard plywood is 8′ long.  But that is a minor inconvenience compared to the difficulty many people face when training their dogs to perform the A-Frame safely and consistently.

Many things come into play but a dog’s size, body type, and stride length can be significant factors RE: A-Frame performances.  In the photos below, you can see that Lil is reaching forward as much as possible with her front legs, yet her front feet do not extend as far forward as the Border Collie’s feet.  I liken this to running down a very steep hill with too short walking sticks–and the faster Lil runs, the harder it is for her to maintain control in her descent due to the powerful forces of gravity and momentum.

Running_A-Frame_and_structure_2_13_11In addition to the Australian Terrier’s structure (longer back, shorter legs), size also comes into play.  Lil is a bit too small to be able to safely float over the top of an A-frame and then take just one more stride on the descent so she has to take an extra stride but here is the catch– the more strides a dog has to take on the descent of the A-Frame, the more gravity and momentum will cause them to become unbalanced.  I’ve seen a few fast small dogs almost do back flips on the descent due to their rears coming up too high.

Another influencing factor is how upright or slinky a dog’s natural posture is when running.  My other Australian Terrier, Jake holds his head higher and runs more upright than Lil, so he has to work even harder to hold himself back against the forces of gravity and momentum than Lil.

Below is a post I wrote about A-frames and long-backed dogs, in which I explain in more detail why I think it can difficult for them to run fast and hit low, especially on the highest (5’6″) A-frames.  One thing I did not mention in that post is that I think the rather extreme body proportions of Corgis may actually help them counter the effects of gravity and momentum by having such extremely low centers of gravity themselves.  As a result they do not appear to become as off balanced as moderately longed-back Australian Terriers do when descending an A-Frame.

NOW ONTO THE INSPIRATION FOR TODAY’S POST: Dawn Weaver posted an intriguing question in an on-line group discussion about jumping issues.   Her question was related to what agility courses would look like if they were based on canine vision vs. human vision.   Apparently this got me thinking about agility specifications in a much broader sense, so when I stumbled upon this video from 2010 of a method I experimented with in hopes of training my dogs to perform the A-frame as safely as  possible, I was inspired to write a post about it.

In a perfect world, I would have an A-frame with a bendable contact zone that I could use for early training, beginning with the contact zone bent at a significant angle and then gradually changing the angle until it was the same as the rest of the A-Frame.   Then once my dogs were trained, I could slightly bend the contact zone when practicing handling, similar to the way many people train with slightly open channel weaves when practicing weave poles to reduce the wear and tear on their dogs.  How cool would that be?  Below is a concept drawing of a bendable A-Frame.

Bendable A-Frame 12-10My initial inspiration for this idea was to devise a way to make the bottom of the A-Frame more enticing to my dogs.  My thinking was if my dogs had the option of striding over a contact zone that had less angle than the A-frame, that they would aim for it in the same way many dogs appear aim for the less angled/ flat ground just beyond the A-Frame.

As you can see in the video above, the angled ramps worked well.   Both dogs appeared to be aiming for the less angled ramp (Jake more than Lil), not due to training, but rather because the ramp eased the transition between A-frame and the ground.

One thing I did not like about the experiment was the issue of the ramp adding length to the A-Frame. I did not want my dogs to develop a specific striding pattern based on the overall longer length of the ramp and A-frame so I solved that issue at 0:28 by adding an 8′  long “runway” beyond the A-frame so the ramp and A-frame measured 9′ in total vs. the ramp adding additional length to the A-Frame.

Back to my perfect world: A bendable A-Frame, like seen in my concept drawings would solve that issue without having to add a “runway” like I did in the video.  Not that I actually NEED a bendable A-Frame for training, since both of my dogs are running over A-Frames in reasonably safe and consistent fashions at this point.

How is this for a totally crazy thought…  What if all A-Frames had contact zones that had a more moderate angle than the upper part?   It would reduce the impact of the first stride onto the A-frame and ease the transition back to flat ground.  Plus another benefit is that it would be much easier for judges to see if dogs hit the contact zone or not so they would not need to storm towards the A-Frame while the dog is running over it which freaks out some dogs and makes them leap!

Three runs from Skyline’s NADAC trial on May 19, 2013

Jake stumbled on the up ramp of the A-Frame at a NADAC trial a week ago, so I decided that it would be in his best interest to take a break the A-Frame for a while just to be on the safe side.   He seems totally fine in his day-to-day life but I am fairly certain his on-again, off-again issue over the past couple of years has likely been his right wrist.  Looking back, I can recall seeing him stumble like he did on the A-frame when running or jumping a few times over the past couple of years.

Since I had already signed up for one day of Skyline’s NADAC trial, I scratched Jake’s Touch N Go run and just ran him in Tunnelers and Chances.  His Tunnelers run was fantastic. He is running better than ever with a perfect combination of speed and focus.  He beat Lil by over 2 seconds in Elite Tunnelers (my notation on Lil’s Tunnelers video is incorrect).  He also did a great job running Open Chances.  I have that run on video but unfortunately he was the second dog on the line for Tunnelers which ran first thing in the morning, so I did not have time to ask someone to video tape Jake’s run.

Lil earned 4 Qs and her running contacts were absolutely perfect.  Even though she is running well under Standard Course Times in Elite,  she continues to feel less than 100% confident.  It was not too apparent in Tunnelers but it became more obvious in her Standard runs.  I don’t know if it is psychological or physical but I suspect there is at the very least, a psychological component because Lil has been acting a little strange for the past few months.   So my plan for the next couple of weeks is to take a little break from agility and see how she looks and feels after a little time off.

Overall, I feel so good about how well both dogs are running yet I know that nothing ever stays the same when it comes to dogs and agility… and life in general… so I’m trying to enjoy this experience as much as possible.

Camped out at an agility trial last weekend. What fun!

jake_and_lil_ribbons from last weekend's trialI just returned from a weekend of camping at an agility trial in my -75 VW Bus.
Jake had his best weekend ever: 100% Q rate for 4 runs on Friday and 100% Q rate for 4 runs on Saturday. Plus he earned 2 new titles (Chances and Weavers). He ran with incredible pizazz and speed all weekend long. Every run was between 4.4+ and 4.7+ YPS.  GO JAKE!

A few of Lil’s highlights: She had her fastest time ever on an Elite Standard course @ 4.65 YPS and 4.4 YPS on the other 3 Elite Standard courses.  Her running contacts were 100% all weekend and she had her fastest time to date on a Touch N Go course @ 5.16, which was also the fastest time of any dog (all sizes).  Plus 4.0 YPS and 4.2 on Elite Weavers (3 sets of 12 poles). Lil also earned 2 titles (Elite Touch N Go and her Elite Regular Superior title). GO LIL!

Other highlights: My 38 year old VW Bus started up every time and ran super well…just like Jake and Lil (HA HA). It was so fun and relaxing to camp at Sugarbush farm vs. commuting back and forth.

"Home Sweet Home" 1975 VW camper at a NADAC TrialPhoto above is not from this trial but this is a typical camping set up.

Besides all the run we had in the agility ring, I also had a great time hanging out with friends. I am starting my week feeling relaxed, then entirely ready to tackle the big project of packing the art work shipping to Luxembourg for my solo exhibition in June.

A few of Lil’s runs at her first outdoor trial of the season

Here are a few of Lil’s runs from our first outdoor trial of the season.  I could not have asked for better weather, which makes outdoor trialing even more fun than usual.    Not much to say about the video other than I think well Lil ran very well!  On day one, she felt a bit scattered but surprisingly it was not visible on the video.  By day two, we were back in “the zone” and she felt super confident.  Her running contacts looked either good or great all weekend long.  There was just one A-Frame I didn’t like but she hit the contact zone so I shouldn’t complain.

Over the winter, I focused a lot of attention on forward sends and increasing distance with both dogs.  I am so pleased to see how well the training translated to the trial environment.  Both dogs ran really nice clean lines all weekend, including Lil’s Elite Chances run and Jake’s Novice Chances run, which they both aced.

I will be uploading a few of Jake’s runs too.   I just have a few pressing deadlines for my “real work” that I’m focusing on lately (like the last 8 months).  🙂

I stumbled upon this video of Lil running her very first agility course (Tunnelers) at Camp Gone to the Dogs.  She was only 7 months old, but I think she was already exhibiting what makes Lil a great agility partner and family member.  GO LIL!