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!

A few of Lil’s runs at Paula Goss’s Advanced Distance Workshop in Phoenix, AZ

(above)  a few of Lil’s runs plus Jake’s run during a lunch break from Paula Goss’s Advanced Distance Workshop.

Paula Goss is a fantastic agility instructor.  She has a great eye and set up challenging courses that could be worked from a variety of distances so each team was challenged yet not over-faced.  She also shared some great tips for training and course analysis.  I left the workshop with fresh ideas for what I want to practice at home.

I really don’t know how she kept going and going and going….like the energizer bunny for 3 days straight…. especially because it was HOT and SUNNY.   Amazing!  Plus her vibe is so upbeat and fun AND her demos of handling moves are inspiring to see and then try to mimic.  Paula’s handling is precise and graceful, yet totally punchy and dramatic when it needs to be.  I have a long way to go before I will be capable of handling anywhere close to Paula’s level but I am totally jazzed about trying.

Enough about me!   Lil was a real trooper.  She approached every course with great energy and speed and gave it her all.   I was thrilled to see how much her distance skills have improved this past year.  What used to be a GET OUT is usually now a simple GO ON and she appeared to be 100% confident working at HUGE distances.   But as we all know, agility is a game of balance, and as Paula pointed out on numerous occasions, Lil’s COME INS/ Turns towards me, especially to the left are a bit weak right now.   I am confident we’ll regain our balance as a team and in the mean time I’m 100% fine having some off-courses when working at a distance since the benefit of having developed such a solid GO ON far outweighs a few lost Qs!    Qs…. Shmoos is what I say.  🙂

 

 

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:

Lil practicing Forward Focus with choices.

I woke up wondering how “Forward Focus” might be useful beyond traditional Start Line Stays and Freestyle, so this morning I set up a couple of simple sequences that allowed me to ask my dogs the following questions:

1) Can you look where I’m looking…and pointing with my body language vs. look at the obstacle I’m standing closest to, or behind, even if that obstacle is a tunnel?

2) Can you perform 180 turns away from me and a tunnel, and run through a sequence of hoops behind you, with me standing next to or behind the tunnel?

Lil and Jake answered YES to all the challenges I presented them with.  I think Australian Terriers are exceptionally smart but I also think dogs naturally look where we are looking (and where we are pointing towards with body language) so it’s just a matter of rewarding their natural response to look where we are looking enough times to be able to then use Forward Focus to enhance the performance of what many would call “challenging” behaviors.

An added benefit of practicing Forward Focus with choices might be for dogs who like to decide for themselves what the opening sequence is vs. waiting for their handlers to show them the correct opener.  I suppose another benefit could be for dogs who self-release as soon as they focus on what they think is the first obstacle.  Regardless of those benefits, I see this game as another fun way to reinforce solid Start Line Stays while upping the ante in new and unexpected ways.

Sometimes being WRONG is Fantastic!

At last weekend’s trial I was 100% certain Lil did NOT have the necessary skills for one Bonus Box run so I didn’t even attempt it… but lo and behold, when I set up a similar scenario on the yard this morning, she totally surprised me.

I included a rough drawing of the course map in the 1 minute video below:

Up until this point, I thought the best reason to try Bonus Boxes was to figure out which skills we are lacking so I know what skills we need to develop and that certainly holds true.   But until today, I had not considered that a Bonus Box attempt could also point out skills we have that I didn’t even know we had…. so maybe Lil and I should attempt all Bonus Boxes for a while and see what happens.    🙂

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!

 

Filling Holes

Video Link if video screen above is not visible: https://vimeo.com/104427017

At Sharon Nelson’s Distance Workshop last month, I realized Lil and I had a few holes to fill re: working at big distances.   One was sharp turns (pushes) away from me after the weave poles and contacts (with me at lateral distance and with a discrimination straight ahead).  With Champs coming up, I decided it would be fun…. and worthwhile to fill the  training holes I am aware of, knowing there are surely more holes that will appear as we attempt more and more bonus boxes down the road.   Since I don’t have access to contacts right now,  I decided to start by working on sharp turns away from me after the weave poles.

On a side note, my weave poles (Versa-Weaves) allow me to leave a slightly open channel so I can do more reps than I would with straight-up poles.  I also only used 6 vs. 12 poles because the focus of this session was on exits and not weaving itself.

I was (and am) very pleased with how well both dogs responded to pushes after the poles to the far hoops.  I can see room for improvement with my timing but one thing I noticed with Lil is I can say WEAVE RIGHT or LEFT before she enters the poles and she seems to know that I mean “weave ALL the poles and then turn right or left” and she does not pop out of the poles.   I repeated RIGHT or LEFT at the moment her nose crossed the plane of the last pole so I’m not sure if she is thinking about the verbal pre-cue while she is weaving but it certainly didn’t appear to hurt.. and who knows… it might actually help her anticipate an upcoming turn.  Time will tell.

Jake blew me away with his enthusiasm and I loved seeing how far he was willing to drive ahead of me. His confidence is so much higher than it was even a month ago and as a result, I am asking for more and more distance.  I think he is diggin’ it as much as Lil.  What a GOOD BOY!

One last thing…..I’m starting to do something new with both dogs when working at bigger distances.  I  will sometime ask for a WAIT and then redirect them to the correct path vs. always letting them run the path they are committed to running, even if it is not the path I had intended.   The reason I had previously let them continue on was to instill full confidence when working away from me but at this point I think both dogs are confident enough that I can ask for an occasional WAIT and redirect when practicing skills that are within the realm of what they know or just slightly more challenging.  I don’t have a strict rule about when I ask for a WAIT but I only do it occasionally since I think if I interrupted their flow too often they would become cautious when working at bigger distances.

So far, so good.   Both dogs appear to have great attitudes before, during, and after the occasional WAIT and redirect.

 

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.

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