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!

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.    🙂

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

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.

Lil_Dogwalk_Champs_2013

Lil_Champs_Photo_cropped_1280x720

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.

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.

Focusing on distance and forward sends with my new fake “gate”

The following video is from a few different sessions.  Lately Jake and Lil have been racing around the backyard chasing a woodchuck and other wild life.  As a result, Jake is not looking quite right, nothing major but his running motion looks a little off, so I am not doing much training with him.   I think I’ll try to limit Jake’s running for a few days and see how he looks.   Of course that means not chasing the woodchuck…which means leash walks vs. just letting him out in the yard but I think it will be good for him.

My main focus in recent sessions has been to present different “pictures” of a very new and unusual looking obstacle, a NADAC Gate.  I don’t have a real gate, but my lattice wing jumps look very similar when set up side-by-side so I think they will do the trick.

The deal with gates is they look VERY different depending on their orientation.  I have heard some dogs will try to weave a gate if all they see is a side view, which looks like weave poles (if poles are set up completely straight).  Gates can also look like panel jumps to some dogs, including Jake who tried to jump a gate the first time he approached one head-on.  The gate tipped over and Jake was totally unaffected.  He proceeded to run around the gate without incident but I felt terrible about it and decided I needed to show my dogs a gate in as many different scenarios so there would be no confusion about “what to do” when this obstacle shows up on an agility course.

My other recent focus has been on Forward Sends because both of my dogs are not as confident about running ahead of me as they are with lateral distance.  Our biggest challenge seems to be forward sends from a straight tunnel.   If I am not visible (out in front of the tunnel) when they emerge,  both dogs tend to either slow down or head-check vs. continuing to drive forward even when I’ve clearly indicated the path continues forward (to the best of my abilities).

This might be something they will never feel 100% confident doing and I’m fine with that but its good to practice so I know what is reasonable to ask of them.    I think I pushed Lil almost past her limit the last 3 reps so the next time I will not attempt to send her forward 40 feet out beyond a gate to wrap around a barrel, both of which are newish obstacles to her.  She has a great work ethic but I could tell she was not confident running that far ahead of me towards those particular obstacles.

I’m having so much fun incorporating these new ground obstacles and love the speed both dogs are generating on their own, even when I’m just walking.  And even with Jake having a minor Ouchie, I thought he ran very well.. just a little slower compared to when he is feeling 100%, which I think he will be back to after taking a few days off from chasing that woodchuck!

Canine Color Vision

This topic came up on an agility forum, so I dug up my notes on Canine Color Vision, since as a visual artist, this topic interests me greatly!  For those of you interested in this topic, there is a lot to read here. For those of you not that interested, in general Canine color vision is similar to human Red/Green color blindness which translates into dogs seeing blue and yellow very well.  Red and green look rather brown-ish.  I make mental notes about the color of tunnels when walking courses as I believe yellow and blue tunnels are more likely to “suck in” a dog  🙂 than a red or green tunnel, especially if the tunnel is part of a contact/ tunnel discrimination.

http://www.colblindor.com/coblis-color-blindness-simulator/ upload images to this page to see what it would look like to color blind people or dogs

http://www.colour-blindness.com/colour-blindness-tests/ishihara-colour-test-plates/ Link to Ishihara Colour test (ut colored lenses on Yellow Purple and compare R and G

Color vision in the dog.
Dogs can see colors
Dogs not only see in shades of gray but also can see distinct colors contrary to what most people belief. About one hundred years ago some scientific tests were made to find out more about the color vision of dogs. But these tests weren’t that scientific as they thought and the researchers concluded only that color vision doesn’t play a part in the daily life of a dog.
Only about 90 years later distinct researches have shown that dogs can perceive colors. Neitz, Geist and Jacobs researched in 1989 the color vision of domestic dogs and found the following facts:
1.    Dogs have two different color receptors in their eyes and therefore are dichromats.
2.    One color receptor peaks at the blue-violet range, the other at the yellow-green range.
3.    Conclusion: Dogs are green-blind which is one form of red-green color blindness also called deuteranopia.
This results were support by later researches of Jacobs with colleagues in 1993 and Miller and Murphy in 1995.
Abstract
The color vision of three domestic dogs was examined in a series of behavioral discrimination experiments. Measurements of increment-threshold spectral sensitivity functions and direct tests of color matching indicate that the dog retina contains two classes of cone photopigment. These two pigments are computed to have spectral peaks of about 429 nm and 555 nm. The results of the color vision tests are all consistent with the conclusion that dogs have dichromatic color vision.

http://evolutionaryanthropology.duke.edu/dogs Duke U. Canine Cognition Center, Brian Hare, PhD
Dr. Brian Hare, an Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences.  Hare clinically observes dogs to understand how evolution changes cognition. He is attempting to document canine psychology — ‘dog thinking’ — that currently does not exist in the field of brain science.

http://psychlops.psy.uconn.edu/eric/class/dogvision.html
Includes a statement about: Visual acuity
Visual acuity is the ability to see the details of an object separately and clearly. Visual acuity depends on three factors: a) optical properties of the eye, b)retinal detection and processing of the image, and c) proper interpretation of the images by higher centers in the brain. Postretinal processing has not been extensively studied in dogs, and was beyond the scope of the article being reviewed.
Retinal factors in visual acuity:
It is felt that the retina is the principle limiting factor of visual acuity in dogs. To improve vision in dim light, a greater number of photoreceptors converge on a single ganglion cell (a nerve cell that gathers input from receptor cells and then transmits the information to higher nervous centers in the brain). The more photoreceptors converging on a single ganglion cell, the less detail is present in the image produced, just as high speed photographic film, designed for low light situations, produces a grainier image than lower speed (brighter light) photographic film. The more ganglion cells present, the more nerve fibers present in the optic nerve that relays visual information to the brain. The canine optic nerve contains approximately 167,000 nerve fibers, compared with the human optic nerve which contains 1.2 million nerve fibers.
Estimates of visual acuity:
The most commonly used indicator of visual acuity is the Snellen fraction, which relates the ability to distinguish objects or letters at a fixed distance with the standard response. Snellen fractions of 20/20, 20/40, 20/60 or 20/100 indicates that the test subject needs to be 20 feet away from an image to clearly visualize the details that a normal subject could discern at 20, 40, 60, and 100 feet away, respectively. A variety of studies have been done, using a number of different methodologies, to estimate the visual acuity of dogs. We can assume from these studies that the normal dog has a visual acuity of approximately 20/75. This means that a dog must be 20 feet away from an object to clearly visualize details of that object that a human with normal vision could clearly visualize from a distance of 75 feet. Again, this less acute vision in dogs is a trade-off for improved vision in dim light, and their life style does not require visual distinction of fine details as does our life style.
Color vision

A number of studies have been done to investigate the color vision of dogs, and the results have been conflicting. However, more recent, better controlled studies indicate that dogs do possess and use color vision, but not to the same degree that humans do. The photoreceptor used for color vision is the cone, and there are cones present in the canine retina. However, they are present in low numbers, comprising less than 10% of the total photoreceptor population in the central area of the retina, as opposed to the human retina which consists of nearly 100% cones in the fovea. Two distinct type of cones appear to be present in the canine retina. One type is maximally sensitive to light in the wavelength that appears violet to people, and the other type is maximally sensitive to light in the wavelength that appears yellow-green to people. Thus, it appears that the visual spectrum of color in dogs is divided into two hues; one in the violet and blue-violet range, probably appearing as blue, and the other in the greenish-yellow, yellow, and red range, which is probably seen as yellow. Light that appears blue-green to people probably appears as white or shades of gray to dogs. Dogs are unable to differentiate colors that appear as green, yellow-green, orange or red to people, and are unable to differentiate greenish-blue from gray. This is similar to people who are red-green color blind. However, one study indicates that dogs are better able to differentiate between subtle shades of gray than people, which would be advantageous in increasing visual discrimination in low light conditions, where insufficient light is available to stimulate cones.
Summary

The authors conclude by stating that although the canine visual system may be considered inferior to the human visual system in such aspects as degree of binocular overlap, color perception, accommodative range, and visual acuity, the canine visual system is superior to the human visual system in other aspects, such as functional ability in low light conditions, retinal response rate to another image (flicker fusion), field of view, ability to differentiate shades of gray, and possibly the ability to detect motion. The canine visual system is optimized to exploit a different environmental niche than our own, and hopefully by better understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the canine visual system we will be better able to understand our hunting companion’s capabilities. Let me conclude by encouraging those of you interested in this issue to read the complete article, which includes 68 references to other works. I wish to personally thank the authors for greatly improving my own understanding of the canine visual system.
http://agilitynet.co.uk/health/caninevision_markplonsky.html
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist
University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine

Owners who want to better understand their canine companions must recognise that dogs see the world from a different visual perspective. The differences begin with the structure of the eye. ‘We have a good idea what canines see because we know the make-up of the retina of a dog’s eye,’ says Dr. Ralph Hamor, a veterinarian and specialist in ophthalmology at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital.
The retina, which covers the back of the inside of the eyeball, contains cones and rods-two types of light-sensitive cells. Cones provide color perception and detailed sight, while rods detect motion and vision in dim light. Dogs, which have rod-dominated retinas, see better in the dark than humans do and have motion-oriented vision. However, because they have only about one-tenth the concentration of cones that humans have, dogs do not see colors as humans do.
‘I generally explain that dogs see like a color-blind human,’ says Dr. Hamor. ‘Many people think that a person who is red/green color blind cannot see any color, but there are variations of being color blind. Most people have vision that is trichromatic (three color variations). People who are red/green color blind are dichromatic (two color variations).
Dogs can pick out two colors-blue-violet and yellow-and they can differentiate among shades of gray.’ Dogs are unable to distinguish among green, yellow, orange, and red. They also have difficulty differentiating greens and grays.
Dogs use other cues (such as smell, texture, brightness, and position) rather than rely on color. Seeing-eye dogs, for example, may not distinguish whether a stoplight is green or red; they look at the brightness and position of the light. This and the flow and noise of traffic will tell the dog that it is the right time to cross the street.
The set of dog’s eyes determines the amount of field of view and depth perception. Prey species tend to have eyes set on the sides of their head because the increased field of view allows them to see approaching predators. Predator species, like humans and dogs, have eyes set closer together. ‘Human eyes are set straight forward while dog eyes, depending on the breed, are usually set at a 20 degree angle. This angle increases the field of view and therefore the peripheral vision of the dog.’
However, this increased peripheral vision compromises the amount of binocular vision. Where the field of view of each eye overlaps, we have binocular vision, which gives us depth perception. The wider-set eyes of dogs have less overlap and less binocular vision.
Dogs’ depth perception is best when they look straight ahead, but is blocked by their noses at certain angles. ‘Predators need binocular vision as a survival tool,’ Dr. Hamor says. Binocular vision aids in jumping, leaping, catching, and many other activities fundamental to predators.
In addition to having less binocular vision than humans, dogs also have less visual acuity. Humans with perfect eyesight are said to have 20/20 vision-we can distinguish letters or objects at a distance of 20 feet. Dogs typically have 20/75 vision-they must be 20 feet from an object to see it as well as a human standing 75 feet away. Certain breeds have better acuity. Labradors, commonly used as seeing-eye dogs, have been bred for better eyesight and may have closer to 20/20 vision.
Don’t expect your dog to recognize you across the field by sight. He’ll recognize you when you do some sort of motion particular to yourself or by smell or hearing. Because of the number of rods in the retina, dogs see moving objects much better than they do stationary objects. Motion sensitivity has been noted as the critical aspect of canine vision. ‘So much of dog behaviour deals with posture and appropriateness. Small changes in your body posture mean a lot to your dog,’ Dr. Hamor adds. Dog owners need to modify training based on this fact. If you want your dog to perform an action based on a silent cue from you, Dr. Hamor suggests using a wide sweeping motion to cue your dog.
When dogs go blind, owners often wonder if the dogs’ quality of life has diminished to the point where they are no longer happy. ‘We know that humans deal well with being blind, and humans are much more dependent on their eyes than are dogs,’ Dr. Hamor says. ‘Blind dogs lead happy lives if they are comfortable.’ The owner may need to make some adjustments in the pet’s environment, such as having a fenced yard, taking leashed walks, and not leaving unusual objects in normal pathways. ‘When blind dogs are in their normal environment, most people don’t know they are blind.’ When clients visit Dr. Hamor asking about quality of life for their newly blind dog, Dr. Hamor suggests that they take a month to see if they and their dog are happy. In the majority of cases, the owners never come back.

http://www.uwsp.edu/PSYCH/dog/LA/DrP4.htm
Canine Vision
by Mark Plonsky, Ph.D.
Summary
Dogs are red-green color blind. They see a brighter and less detailed world when compared to humans. Peripheral vision is better than humans (dogs see more of the world), but distance is not judged quite as well. Dogs excel at night vision and the detection of moving objects. Figure 1 is a rough guesstimate of what a dog and human might see when viewing a color band (the electromagnetic spectrum).

These differences in visual ability make sense in light of evolutionary theory. Good depth perception and visual acuity are necessary for a primate (from which humans evolved) jumping from tree limb to tree limb. Good color vision enabled this primate to choose the ripest and most nutritious fruit. The canine, on the other hand, is well adapted as a nocturnal hunter of camouflaged prey.
Particulars
1.    Color
Dogs see something like a human deuteranope, that is, they are red-green color blind (occurs in 4% of male humans). Simply put, this is due to having only 2 cone types rather than 3 (light sensitive cells include cones and rods).
2.    Detail or Acuity
Since dogs have no fovea (or area with 100% cones), their estimated eye for detail is (roughly) 6 times poorer than in an average human.
3.    Night Vision
Dogs have much better night vision for 2 reasons:
o    The have more rods (which enable night vision).
o    They have a structure called the Tapetum Lucidum
This is a reflective surface behind the retina (area including the light sensitive cells) that reflects light back through it (gives the eerie shine at night).
4.    Sensitivity to Movement
Dogs are better able to detect movement.
5.    Depth & Field
Figure 2 show the field of view of a human and a dog. Due to the placement of the eyes, humans have an overlap of the field of each eye of 140; in dogs, it is about 100.

This results in the dog having limited ability to accommodate (focus on items at different distances), but a wider overall field allowing them to see more of the world.

Thoughts about jump heights plus new videos from last weekends trial

For me agility is the most fun when my dogs are running courses super fast and like most dogs, my dogs can run faster with lower jumps.   I am not suggesting speed is what makes agility the most fun for other teams.  I also must admit that I enjoy getting Qs but I’d take a fast and fluid NQ over a jerky Q any day!

I recently learned that AKC is now allowing the transfer of points to Preferred so teams don’t have to start all over again in Novice if they want to lower their dog’s jump heights.  YEY for that!   I hope this results in more people moving their dogs to Preferred if they feel their dog’s current jump height is too high based on either structure or age.

I have given jump heights a great deal of thought over this past year and over the past 6 months, I have only been competing in NADAC, where my Australian Terriers can jump 4″.   I may never raise their jump heights back to 8″, even for Lil who looks quite good jumping 8″.  My thinking is that when Lil jumps 8″ she often does a little butt flipping action over jumps, which a lot of BCs, who barely skim over bars, also do.  Granted it looks a lot more elegant when a long-legged BC butt flips, compared to my long-backed Australian Terrier, but regardless I suspect any repetitive motion like butt flipping could cause discomfort or undue wear and tear if done repeatedly for many years.  This thought is based on what I learned from an orthopedic specialist, whom we took Jake to see in July for an on-again, off-again NQR issue.  The vet didn’t find anything wrong with Jake but said that he had a little arthritis in his lower back which was VERY NORMAL for an agility dog to have at the age of 7….and he sees a lot of performance dogs.


Here are a few of Lil’s runs at a NADAC trial, December 15-16, 2012

There are two reasons I may not raise Lil’s jump height back to 8″.  The first is because she can run agility courses faster jumping 4″ and appears to be having more fun as a result.  The second reason is that she rarely butt flips over 4″ bars and I’m guessing that will be better for her long-term well-being.   I am not suggesting that everyone should lower their dog’s jump heights.. but just hoping to bring awareness to the choice we all have to jump our dogs lower in the USA.  Plus as far as I know, dogs don’t care about titles or jump heights. 🙂

The reason I will not likely raise Jake’s jump height back to 8″ is because of his rather unorthodox style of jumping, which I suspect is caused by his tendency to run and jump with his head held high.   I think it will take many months for him to fully adjust to jumping lower bars but at home he is now able to jump 4″ bars with ease so I know it is possible for him. I anticipate that over time, he will jump with more and more ease and  consistency at trials too.


Here are a few of Jake’s runs at a NADAC trial, December 15-16, 2012.  Unfortunately, what may have been Jake’s best run of all times, Touch N Go on Saturday, was not video-taped.  😦  It was super fast and super fun with awesome NEW running contacts!

I suspect there are other obstacles like weave poles and contacts that could contribute to the development of lower back arthritis, as well as day-to-day activities, but it also seems logical to me that the arching of the lower back to flip rear legs up high enough to clear bars over hundreds of jumps every year could result in arthritis or perhaps soreness at times, since there are so many jumps on most agility courses.  ps– One of the many things I am loving about NADAC is that many classes don’t have jumps and even Standard courses have a combination of jumps and hoops, so by the end of a full day of trialing (even running 6 classes) my dogs have jumped far less than they would have in 2 classes in other agility venues.

Regardless of the validity of my previous statements, why would I not want to lower my dogs’ jump heights if I have the option to do so?  All of the Australian Terriers I know are great agility dogs but agility specs are not designed with this particular breed in mind… and why would they be?   That said, I know several great running ATs who jump 8″ with  ease.  All of these dogs have good ground speed and good handlers and they look totally fine jumping their current height.  I am certainly not trying to suggest all ATs jump 4″.  It’s just a choice I’m making for my particular dogs and who knows, I just might end up raising their jump heights back to 8″ over time.

I do think there is a reason so many BCs and Shelties compete and win major competitions with full-height jumps though.  I will go so far to say that I think obstacle specifications suit these two breeds particularly well.  YEY for most BCs and Shelties out there!  GO GO GO!  As far as dogs whose structures are not perfectly suited for current obstacle specifications or jump heights, why not jump your dogs lower for a while and see how they look (and feel) if you have the option to do so?

And how about this radical thought? Imagine what agility trials in the USA would look like if a huge number of people decided to lower the jump heights for their dogs.  I’m guessing YPS would grow exponentially and make agility far more exciting to run AND to watch.  And perhaps American agility enthusiasts would start to feel better about what the USA has to offer in terms of competitive agility vs. always comparing our courses to European style courses and feeling that we are falling short!

Bringing out your dog’s inner-Maserati through backyard training

Most agility competitors have heard the training analogy about learning to drive slowly in a parking lot, then a little faster on side roads, and then eventually driving faster yet on highways.  That analogy seemed so logical that I never questioned it… until recently. What made me question it was an observation I had made about my 3-year-old Australian Terrier, Lil.

Keeping with the driving analogy, Lil has always run agility like a Volvo XC.  She is solid, reliable, powerful, and comfortable on both winding mountain roads and highways.  But between the ages of 2 and 3, Lil’s inner Maserati started to kick in and she began to falter.  It looked to me like she did not know HOW to drive her new race car.

volvo_xc70_maseratiLil’s foundation training included a lot of backyard (and living room) training. We did a ton of shaping and trick training to teach her how to learn while also developing body awareness.  We played impulse control and recall games, did flat-work, banged on boards, ran over flat and slightly raised planks, did jump grids, and began developing distance skills.  Everything appeared to be going very well and by the time Lil was 2.5 years old, she was running Masters level courses in USDAA with good consistency and speed.  Getting back to the driving analogy, Lil was like a turbo charged Volvo XC– able to negotiate over a variety of terrains/ obstacles at speeds reasonably faster than the speed limit/ SCT.

This would have been perfectly fine if my goal was to have a consistent dog with good speed, since that is what I had (and appreciated). But when I watched videos of Lil’s runs, I could see that she did not look 100% confident and thus was not running nearly as fast as she did when we played fetch or when she chased chipmunks or ran in the woods.  I thought agility would be even more fun for her (and me) if she learned HOW to run agility courses as fast as she was able to run and jump over logs and branches in the woods.

Back to the driving analogy–I cannot imagine suddenly swapping out my Volvo XC for a Maserati and feeling confident driving 100+ MPH, even on a wide-open highway, without having to first learn how to drive this very different machine.  I can only imagine that I would take my foot off the gas, and perhaps even hit the brakes, and drive slower in general if I felt insecure about my driving abilities.   And that is exactly what I thought was going on with Lil.


(above) examples of Lil jumping from age 2 to age 3

In early 2011, I signed up for Silvia Trkman’s on-line Agility Foundations class (http://silvia.trkman.net) and began the process of retraining both of my dogs from the ground up.  I have continued to follow Silvia’s training methods for nearly a year now and both my dogs are running better and better as time goes by, with YPS often hovering around 5 YPS and sometimes even breaking 5 YPS.

A few days ago I was thinking about how well Silvia’s “Speed First” method worked for my dogs and a very different driving analogy came to mind that makes as much sense to me as the  “learning to drive in a parking lot” analogy.  Here it is:

Silvia’s training method is like sliding into the driver’s seat of a Maserati and pressing the pedal to the metal but doing so in a wide open and thus totally safe environment and then gradually adding various driving challenges within that open space.  That fun thought inspired me to write this post about backyard training because I did 90% of Silvia’s course work in my backyard with just 5 jumps and a tunnel!

One particular comment by Silvia made a lasting impression on me.  She said that she does not see many dogs trained using her methods with jumping issues. That really surprised me, because at any given trial, I tend to see at least a few dogs struggling with jumping, including my own at times!  On a side note, I can’t express how upsetting it was when I was watching a video playback of one of Lil’s runs, and heard a random bystander declare “That dog has ETS” after Lil crashed into a jump after flying off the A-Frame due to being startled by the judge’s sudden burst of energy close-by (not one of my favorite agility moments).   I wish I knew who it was so I could explain that misjudging an occasional jump does not constitute ETS.

Anyway, one of the most important things I learned in Silvia’s class was how to SEE what is really going on when dogs are running and jumping.  It was great to be able to watch various breeds progress through Silvia’s class and to see how structure affects jumping styles.  Over time, I was able to pinpoint Lil’s specific jumping issues, including a huge AH HAH moment when I finally noticed that Lil appeared to have developed a “preferred landing spot” that was approximately the same distance from every jump, regardless of her take-off spot.  Prior to noticing this, I assumed all trajectories that peaked before jumps were due to early take-off.  Needless to say, I was blown away.

Since that realization, I can now also see when other dogs appear to have “preferred landing spots” that are too close  OR too far from jumps…the later including some very high-ranking Border Collies.  I have heard people refer to dogs whose jumping arcs peak after bars as late jumpers. But are they really late jumpers?  Or are they late landers? 🙂  Their take-off spots tend to look similar to other Border Collies of comparable speed.  And if it is indeed a landing  issue, how do we know if these dogs would benefit from training them to land a bit closer to jumps?   Because it was beneficial for Lil to learn how to land further from jumps?  Not necessarily.  However, I could argue that it might be beneficial, assuming it is true that longer float times add fractions of seconds, or if landing long causes dogs to knock occasional bars due to having to flip their rear legs up higher and hold them up a fraction of a second longer than they would if their jumping arcs were perfectly centered over bars.

But I could also argue that perfectly centered jumping arcs may not be attainable or desirable for every dog and instead of trying to get all dogs to jump mechanically “perfect” or what we think of as perfect, why not allow dogs to choose their own styles of jumping, based on their particular structures, and then do our best to help our dogs perfect their particular styles so they can run agility with full confidence and speed.


(above) Lil running Masters/ P3 Jumpers at 2.5 years of age before Silvia’s class


(above) Lil one year later, running Masters/ P3 Jumpers after taking Silvia’s class and doing various jumping “experiments” for several months.   Lil looks so much more confident about jumping and is able to run faster as a result.   The knocked bar was caused by my deceleration to rear cross vs. continuing with fluid motion with a blind cross.

Silvia was totally open-minded about my experiments and was impressed by the results she was seeing with Lil and recommended that a few other people in the class do with their dogs what I was doing with Lil.  One of those teams continued with my jumping experiment after Silvia’s class ended and I’m pleased to say both Lil and the other dog are both jumping remarkably better today then they were a year ago!

Lil Jumping, fall 2012

The following video is from a recent backyard training session with my two Australian Terriers, Jake and Lil.  My intention was to practice forward-moving rear crosses and jumping in extension but Jake’s reps ended up being more about sends to the tunnel, which can be a bit iffy for him at times.   Lil’s session begins at 1:05 minutes.   I think she did a great job driving her inner-Maserati.

Here’s another backyard session with Lil from June 2012, after a few months of  jumping “experiments.”   This was before her first NADAC trial in a year and a half so I wanted to reintroduce her to NADAC spacing and to practice jumping in extension through turns.

All along the way, I had been sharing Lil’s progress with Dawn Weaver from the UK (http://www.dawnweaveragility.com), because an important part of my jumping experiment emerged from her contact training method.  Dawn tested it with two dogs who had jumping issues and both dogs responded as well as Lil did.  At that point, Dawn asked me if I’d like to partner up to develop a jump training program to help dogs with jumping issues.  I said yes and over the past 6 months, Dawn and I co-developed HGR.  The name “Hit the Ground Running” highlights the fact that HGR is not about dogs learning how to jump “pretty” or “perfectly” but rather it is about helping dogs learn how to run fast and navigate efficiently enough over jumps that they can Hit the Ground Running towards the next obstacle with full confidence and speed.

In early July, we began a test study of a diverse group of dogs with a diverse range of jumping issues.   The test study was free, so we had some early drop-outs, but all the dogs who progressed through the program showed remarkable improvements in overall confidence and developed more efficient jumping styles as well, which equated to faster course times and perhaps more importantly, equated to the game of agility being more fun to play…for both the dogs and humans!

The first official HGR class launched in mid-November.  Of the teams that have already posted videos, it looks like we have a great group of dogs and trainers. We decided to keep the HGR format as an on-line classroom so we could see how dogs are progressing and make suggestions along the way like we did with the test study group.  We also decided to break HGR into 4 separate modules so people could pay as they go and wouldn’t have to make a big time or financial commitment before they could determine if HGR is right for their dogs.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that most HGR games can be played in a backyard with just 3 jumps.  How cool is that?  🙂

This post was written for the Dog Agility Blog Action Day.  Check out other posts here.