Lil’s big weekend at TOPS!

Lils winningsLil had a perfect weekend in every sense of the word. QQQs both days at TOPS  (Terriers Only Performance Summit).  I was blown away by how much fun she had running every single course.  Not too shabby considering we have not done AKC for over 3 years.   Her course times were off the charts too!  SCT for Exc Standard was 81 seconds both days: Lil ran the course in 46.65 seconds on Saturday and 45. 20 seconds on Sunday.  In T2B her times were 33:32 on Saturday and 30:21 on Sunday.    I have always sensed that Jumpers courses are her least favorite but I think adding Weave Poles like they do in AKC helps break up the monotony of jump jump jump jump jump..YAWN… and maybe a tunnel before jump jump jump jump jump.  She ran both Exc JWW with good speed (15- 17 seconds under SCTs).  🙂    Following her 100% Q rate in Excellent, she is now in Masters Standard and JWW.

Other highlights were meeting all the Australian Terriers and their people.  What a lovely group of dogs and people (very friendly too)!  Icing on the cake was Lil earning the distinction of “Highest Scoring Australian Terrier.”   I could not be more thrilled to have a partner like Lil!   Her kennel name “Just for a Thrill” couldn’t be more perfect!  Here are videos from this weekend.

(above) Lil’s T2B Winning Run on Saturday, August 22

(above) Lil’s T2B Winning Run on Sunday, August 23

I loved both T2B courses.  The crowd gets into cheering everyone on, which makes it even more fun.

(above) Lil’s Excellent Standard Qualifying Run on Saturday, August 22

I love the variety of Standard Courses.  Lil had no issues performing obstacles she has rarely even seen the past three years, like the Table, Teeter, and Spread Jumps.

(above) Lil’s Excellent Standard Qualifying Run on Sunday, August 23

(above) Lil’s Excellent JWW Qualifying Run on Saturday, August 22

Its a bummer that the videographer lost Lil during the trickiest part of this course.  She ran that part beautifully!

(above) Lil’s Excellent JWW Qualifying Run on Sunday, August 23



Lil earned her NATCH2 this weekend

Lil's NATCH2 photo with cooler-than-cool Judge Sunny Williams

Lil’s NATCH2 photo with cooler-than-cool Judge Sunny Williams

(above) video of Lil’s NATCH 2 Jumpers Run.  This was our sixth run on Sunday at the end of a 3 day trial.  I was so thrilled at Lil’s enthusiasm and energy level.  She got the job done with great pizzazz.

(above)  Lil’s Tunnelers Run.   I loved this run.  Lil was fast and her turns were super tight.  Her YPS were over 5.50.   I think she loved this run too.

(above) one of Jake’s Touch N Go runs.  NQ due to crossing the plane of the barrel and then circling it in the other direction but I was beyond happy I didn’t lose him at that point.  This was his first outdoor trial of the season and something was clearly tempting him in the grass.  Good boy for staying in the game.

I’ll be uploading more videos of Jake and Lil’s runs.  There were so many really nice runs, I can’t decide which ones to post.

Lil and Takoda hanging out ringside at the trial.  Jake was in the RV with Bruce at this time.

Lil and Takoda hanging out ringside at the trial. Jake was in the RV with Bruce at this time.

IMG_3535 I was so blown away that Takoda was so relaxed and quiet at his first outdoor trial and you can see how close our doggie neighbors were.  He took it all in stride like he has always hung out at trials.  He also did some amazingly precise heeling through oodles of dogs and people waiting to run.  I was shocked he was able to remain focused in such a distracting environment.   By Sunday he was playing and tugging with me as well at the trial as he does at home.  This little puppy is so darned adaptable!  So are his litter mates who were also at the trial.



A New Scientific Study: Canine Jumping

There is a new scientific study re: Canine Jumping.  The last sentence in the Abstract below, regarding obstacle spacing, is of particular interest to me because it makes sense that obstacle spacing, relative to a dog’s size, will have an enormous impact on a dog’s jumping style, which in turn will affect how much wear and tear repetitive, agility-style jumping will have on a dog’s body.  Fantastic there is now REAL science to back that up.

Lil Jumping, fall 2012Highlights

• In contrast to equines, canine sport science has been poorly studied.

• As the distance between consecutive upright hurdles increases, so do the take-off and landing distances.

• Take-off and landing distances further alter with the dog’s skill level.

• There are greater differences in jump kinematics when the distances between consecutive hurdles are shorter.

• Apparent joint angles alter for level of skill, with beginner dogs showing greater differences than advanced dogs.


Canine agility is a rapidly growing sport in the UK. However, there is a paucity of scientific research examining jump kinematics and associated health and welfare implications of the discipline. The aim of this research was to examine differences in jump kinematics and apparent joint angulation of large (> 431 mm at the withers) agility dogs (n = 54), when the distance between hurdles was altered (3.6 m, 4 m and 5 m apart) and to determine how level of skill impacted upon jump kinematics.

Significant differences were observed for both the take-off (P < 0.001) and landing distances (P < 0.001) between the 3.6 m, 4 m and 5 m distances. Further differences were observed when level of skill was controlled for; take-off (F[3,55] = 5.686, P = 0.002) and landing (F[3,55] = 7.552, P < 0.001) distances differed at the 3.6 m distance, as did the take-off distance at the 4 m hurdle distance (F[3,50] = 6.168, P = 0.001). Take-off and landing speeds differed for hurdle distances (P < 0.001) and level of skill (P < 0.001). There were significant differences in apparent neck angle during take-off and landing (P < 0.001), lumbar spine angles during take-off, bascule and landing (P < 0.01), and in shoulder angles during the bascule phase (P < 0.05). The results indicate that agility dogs alter their jumping patterns to accommodate the spacing between hurdles, which ultimately may impact long term health and welfare due to altered kinematics.

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.

On your Mark. Get set. Go.

Its been cold and snowy this past week so we’ve been playing indoors.  I have to say, while it is not my favorite look, wall to wall carpet is GREAT for indoor training, and so are long hallways…. for those of us with small dogs.    🙂

Today I sent the dogs over the jump between two Marks (Sharon Nelson’s ingenious use of feed buckets).  In the past I would have either thrown a ball as a reward or used a Manner’s Minder.  While I like using both of those rewards, the Mark seems to create a different level of energy.   My dogs were totally READY (fully engaged) but not too high to think clearly.    Sometimes I led out and other times I hung back and sent the dogs over the jump to the distant Mark.  We all had a lot of fun plus I feel that this game could build more value for Jumpers Courses, which seem to be Lil’s least favorite class.

(above) Jake

(above) Lil

Jake and Lil’s first time running agility in an active horse barn…. fresh poop and all!

Mountain Dog Sports runs great trials.  The vibe is friendly and fun and they keep things moving along.    This weekend’s NADAC trial at the Adams County Regional Park was held in an active horse barn…. with mice, fresh horse poop and likely fresh horse pee too.

Although Jake checked into the very popular “mouse hotel” in the far corner of the ring a few times over the course of the weekend 🙂 , he didn’t stay overnight (HA HA) and came back when I called and then continued running courses with great focus and speed.  YEY JAKE!  I think the fact that Jake stresses UP vs. DOWN worked well for him in this challenging environment.   He had great drive all weekend long.

Jake was totally amped when entering the arena and ring but he had great start line stays (except the first one).  I attribute his success to playing all sorts of fun start line stay games away from agility over the past few months.


Jake earned his Open Chances Title and ran some beautiful Open Standard and Jumpers Courses.   If he keeps running this well,  I will continue to keep track of his qualifying runs for NADAC Championships.   Jake will turn 10 this year and if he qualifies it would be so much fun to run both dogs at Champs in 2015.   This is an exciting thought for me because a few years ago I thought his agility career was over due to an on-and-off again NQR (not quite right) but after three full days of trialing he is still looking great so I’m feeling optimistic about the upcoming year.

Now onto Lil……Lil is different from Jake in 2 ways…well there are more ways they are different but these are two ways that are significant in terms of this weekend’s trial:

1) Lil stresses DOWN vs. UP

2) Lil is not as confident as Jake.

As a result, Lil’s coping mechanisms in this challenging new environment were very different from Jake’s.   On Friday (day 1)  she acted concerned when entering the arena, and in the ring she looked insecure and lacked confidence which resulted in much lower drive than normal.  She even stopped to sniff (a rarity for Lil) and it was not happy “investigative” sniffing.  It looked more like “OMG!  WHAT IS THIS SMELL?” sniffing.  My best guess is the smell was horse urine since that area didn’t have any visible horse poop and a lot of dogs stopped to sniff the same spot.

So the question I asked myself was: “What should I do about Lil’s reaction to this new environment?  I didn’t think Lil was being a “bad dog.”   I felt she was doing her best but she was too concerned about the environment NOT to check it out.  I decided to sleep on it thinking she might work it out on her own overnight.  I also decided it couldn’t hurt to walk her through fresh horse poop in the parking lot (there was plenty to choose from) while asking for attention.  She quickly GOT that her job was to keep her head up vs.  sniff or take a nibble of horse poop.  Next I asked for some start line stay style WAITs while she was standing in the midst of horse poop and she quickly GOT that she should keep her head up in that situation too.

After a handful of super short sessions (each session 2 – 10 seconds long) Friday afternoon and Saturday AM, Lil was offering attention while walking through or standing in the midst of horse poop, so I figured it was fair for me to say NO if she dropped her nose to sniff in the ring.  And one firm NO is all it took to stop the sniffing but Lil still lacked confidence and drive when running courses.  So I decided to run with her far more than I usually do and to run in a style that was as dynamic, upbeat, and as much fun as possible.  It reminded me of how I used to run International style courses to keep her motivation and drive high.   That seemed to work well and Lil ended up running much better….although slower than usual.

Below is a video of  Lil’s Elite Jumpers run on Saturday.    It’s the only video we have from the weekend.  Thank you Heather for video-iPading this run and for emailing it to me.

(above)  Lil running Elite Jumpers on Saturday.

RE: speed and drive.  Lil usually takes 4 or 5 strides between jumps (20-21′ spacing).  In the video I counted as many as 7 strides between jumps but a couple of the jumps clearly had wider than usual spacing, which was consistent with the map (according to the course builders looking at the map).   I could feel Lil’s confidence rise and her striding opening up as we ran this course and as a result her speed picked up considerably.  This was her final run on Saturday and I think it was a real turning point.   She ran better and faster on Sunday and acted more like herself again in and out of the ring.


It was difficult for me to see Lil struggling so much with this new environment, especially because she is usually such a rock solid, trial dog but it was great to see her adapt over the course of the weekend.   And Jake rising to the occasion and running so well helped keep my spirits up for sure.  If the weather holds up, we are going to an outdoor trial near Durango, Colorado in 2 weeks.    I think Lil and Jake will enjoy running on grass and being outdoors… and I will enjoy one last weekend camping in the RV.    My fingers are crossed that this beautiful fall weather continues for a couple more weeks.

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.

I learned something new about my dogs this morning



I learned something new about my dogs this morning re: sends through a slightly open serpentine.

When I stayed back and sent Jake ahead over the four jumps, it was clear that he saw the four jumps as a series of turns / switches.  He would only take the jumps vs. turn back to me with a ? above his head or run through one of the hoops to the left  if I said OVER RIGHT, OVER LEFT…. while also supporting each turn with motion that indicated a change of lead.   He ran a nice line but was definitely dependent on my communicating each turn / switch.   Had there been no off-course options, I suspect he would have taken the four  jumps with less support.

With Lil, when I said OVER RIGHT, OVER LEFT… she took the jumps but did not run particularly fast and her ears were floppy which is what happens when she is not 100% certain of what I’m asking of her.  So then I thought…hmmmm Maybe Lil does not see these jumps as a series of turns and rather as a straight line of crooked jumps.  So I brought her out for another short session and just said GO ON and she took the four jumps with full confidence and speed…. and her ears were up!

Of course I then had to try that with Jake and GO ON totally confused him.  Apparently Jake and Lil are different in how they SEE a slightly open serpentine.  However, earlier, I had placed a very tempting tunnel off to the right (not visible in the photo) and Jake was very receptive to me sending him ahead through the serpentine and not taking the off-course tunnel.  Lil, on the other hand, took the tunnel a few times…. so I’m not saying Lil is better than Jake… but rather that they are different (and I love that!)

12′ spacing = sweet spot for my dog Lil

A member of the Canine Jumping Forum, who is very knowledgeable about  Susan Salo jump grids, described a grid on the Forum yesterday in response to a video I posted about 12′ spacing = sweet spot for my dogs.  If you want to see that video, I posted in on my Facebook page.

Below is a video of a grid I set up as per Katarina’s suggestion.   The first 3 bars had 4′ spacing between them and the last bar was either spaced 10′ or 9′ away.  While I didn’t plan on stopping in my tracks and sending Lil through the grid, both of my dogs are trained to GO ON (forward sends), a necessary skill for NADAC distance challenges so I don’t think it affected the outcome.

I know my “handling” is not in keeping with SS’s method.. but my dogs have done a lot of  grids and I like to mix things up by adding various things before grids, in this case a few hoops that happened to be in the vicinity or sending my dogs around an out-of view-tree at the end of the video so Lil was approaching the grid with a lot of speed. I  like this particular set up as it encouraged Lil to take a longer than typical stride before jumping the final bar.

If you watch the video a second time and focus on Lil’s landing spots, I think you can see why I think she has a “preferred landing spot” that she is aiming for.. and hitting.   As the session progressed, her take-off spots became closer to the final bar and she landed a bit longer those last few fast reps BUT you can see that her jumping arc length also decreased compared to earlier reps vs floating long.

I think most dogs are aiming for the spots they land on… and some dogs naturally land long (many BCs for example), and other dogs naturally land closer than what we humans think of as “ideal.”

My conclusion, based on 2+ years of obsessive observations, while sometimes using a “landing side” mat to extend my dog’s landing spots, is that I can influence where my dogs land but they will still tend to land closer than some dogs if left to their own devices.  As long as my dogs motion is fluid and confident, which it appears to be, I can accept that this is just the way my dogs jump.  End of story! …. but not the last post on this topic.  HA HA