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.

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.

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7m0tIAOsJA”  Link to video (since for some reason WordPress does not include video links in emailed posts).

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.