A few of Jake and Lil’s runs at NADAC Trials in Arizona

What a nice break from winter we all had in Arizona attending 2 NADAC Trials and a 3-day distance workshop with Paula Goss, which I’ll be writing about in a separate post.

Here are a few of Jake and Lil’s runs.  They both ran so well on turf and stayed perfectly clean.  What a nice change of pace from running in horse arenas around Boulder.

(above) Lil Elite Jumpers Bonus Box

Lil ran a great Jumpers Bonus Box course on February 1, which happened to be her 6th Birthday. I could not be more proud of her.  She ran with full confidence and really nice speed. Feel free to MUTE the audio. I was a total blabber mouth but Lil is used to me doing that and ran really really well in spite of it….. or maybe because of it (GASP)!

Too bad I didn’t believe we’d make it through a couple of tricky turns when I walked the course because had I formulated a handling plan for that last turn away from me towards the closing line, I may not have been SO LATE and I think Lil might have gotten it.   In the future, when my handling fails, I hope I can resist the temptation to jump in and finish the course running with Lil.   I need to remember I can just take a few steps and continue working at a distance.  Regardless, I feel GREAT about this Bonus Box attempt and based on the huge round of applause and YAHOOing Lil earned, I think our fellow competitors agreed.  🙂

(above) Jake Open Touch N Go

Jake’s new 4-on contacts were stellar and he earned his Open Touch N Go Title.  The only time he didn’t stick a contact was when a disconnect occurred between us earlier on course.  He still hit within the contact zone but since stopping 4-on is now part of our criteria, I asked him to return to a 4-on once as a test.  It seemed to have a calming affect on him.  After a brief pause and praise, I released him and he appeared completely centered, reengaged, and I could tell he did not perceive it as punishment.  If I had to guess, he experienced it as a reset (physically and mentally) and he finished the course running beautifully.  I wish I had a video of that run.

(above) Lil Elite Touch N Go

I have been playing around with asking for 4-0n the A-frame with Lil but after seeing her response at this trial, or should I say lack of response over the first two A-frames at our first trial since training a 4-on, I decided I didn’t like it for her.  I think her long history of running over A-frames trumped her short history (under a month) of stopping 4-on and I really didn’t like how it caused her to shorten her striding down the A-frame which made her dismount higher.  So instead of trying to “make her stop” and potentially creating an issue with Lil and the A-frame, I decided to just say GO ON like I always have and she went back to her typical style of running over A-frames.

For the record, the only reason I had contemplated switching Lil from running to 4-on was because NADAC trials can have 8′ or 9′ A-frames and Lil doesn’t automatically adjust her striding when she goes from 9′ (at trials around Boulder) to 8′ (in Southwest Colorado and at Champs).   A stopped contact would have saved us the hassle of needing to train a few sessions on 8′ A-frames before we encounter those shorter A-frames in trials.. and at Champs, which is not convenient since I don’t have an 8′ A-frame.  Oh well.  Its not the worse thing in the world.

(above) Jake Open Weavers

I almost scratched Jake’s last two runs after he lost focus on a Chances course mid-day.  I thought he was mentally done but I’m glad I changed my mind because he finished up the day with two fantastic runs, including this Open Weaver’s course.  Jake has a bunch of Open Weaver’s Qs.  The reason I have not moved him up to Elite is because I don’t think he needs to weave three sets of 12 poles and Open Weavers has two sets of 6 and only one set of 12.

(above) Lil Elite Weavers

Too bad the video starts mid-course because Lil ran the opener super fast and weaved the first set of poles much faster than she has been weaving lately.  I have wondered why her weaving has slowed down this past year.  Is it mental?  physical?  emotional?  Or maybe its due to weave pole bases being a little wider than the poles we train on at home.  Regardless, I was very pleased with how well she ran this course.

(above) Jake Elite Tunnelers

Jake has been running so well lately, I ran him very similar to the way I ran Lil in Tunnelers and Weavers… just a few feet less in terms of distance but the same basic handling.  YEY Jake!

(above) Lil Elite Tunnelers

Lil ran this course beautifully with me mostly staying inside a self-imposed Handler’s Box.  I lost my nerve while leading out and released her before I got to my intended position but other than that, I stayed in my box, and Lil ran with full confidence. YEY Lil!

It was so much fun to run agility outdoors and to reconnect with friends from Champs and Yellowstone Dog Sports. Plus I love having Sarah Fix as a judge.  She always creates such a fun, upbeat vibe and this trial was no exception.  Also agility folks in Phoenix are very welcoming.  We’ll be back next winter for sure.

 

 

 

 

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!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Improving my handling mechanics for GET OUTS and TURNS

The snow finally melted on my doggie luge, so I got to see how well Jake and Lil understand my new ways of handling GET OUTS and TURNS.

Above is a video from Day 1.

This following text is from an email I sent to a friend who has been helping me understand how and why NADAC-style handling and training differs from USDAA / AKC-style handling.  I’m finding it all very interesting and fun to incorporate.  Plus  Jake and Lil are responding beautifully and quickly to my new way of doing things, which makes me think this style of handling is easy and natural for dogs to follow.

I am starting to get the feel for using more dramatic body movements, like stepping forward to push my dog’s line, or pulling my dog towards me by rotating my body and  shoulders away and stepping away from the line to increase the strength of the pull when necessary for discriminations.   Its starting to feel a lot more natural and I can see how well it works for pre-cueing TURNs and GET OUTs when my dogs are out in front of me with forward sends.

Lil seems to have totally figured out when I  pre-cue a turn before she gets to the obstacle, it no longer means to turn NOW but rather to turn after taking the next obstacle.. and to not necessarily turn tight.. but to base the tightness of the turn on my motion…. and to look for the next obstacle in the direction I am supporting.   Jake is also figuring all of this out… but not quite as fast as Lil is, which is totally fine with me.  The biggest improvements I’ve seen with Jake since adding hoops to the Doggie Luge this season, is that he is driving well though hoops and rarely  jumps them like they are 8″ jumps anymore.   GO JAKE!

Above is a video from Day 2:  I think both dogs are doing a super job running through various hoop sequences without snow barriers to help them stay on course.

In my opinion, the biggest difference between NADAC-style handling and USDAA / AKC style handling (and training) is that in NADAC you want to be able to pre-cue much earlier, especially when working at a distance. And earlier cues appear to increase a dog’s speed and fluidity of motion since the dog know where he/she is going with enough time to take more gradual turns, which has to be easier on a dog’s body.  I think it was pretty clear when I was late with a couple of cues, that my dogs changed directions abruptly rather than turning in a natural and fluid manner.

I think this year’s addition of hoops to the doggie luge really helped with training both dogs (and the human) by allowing me to pre-cue earlier than I knew I could without pulling my dogs off the next obstacle…while the dogs continued running on the grass path towards the next hoop.  It didn’t take long for them to begin to shift from what they were originally trained to do, which was when I cue a turn, to turn NOW.  That was a necessary skill to have for USDAA and AKC courses, since what looks to be the next logical obstacle to the dog is often NOT the correct obstacle. Plus the ability of a dog to turn NOW comes in very handy for playing Snooker, since success is often based on a dog’s ability to bypass numerous obstacles while running fast.

Below is a link to the January 19 post with a video of Jake and Lil running the 2013 Doggie Luge:

https://artanddogblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/jake-and-lil-running-the-doggie-luge-2013/

A note to subscribers: WordPress emails no longer contain links to videos for some strange reason.  Click on the Title to go to the blog site if you want to watch the videos.

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!

Lil’s first session playing a new game!

Apparently Lil knows something I didn’t know that she knew!  In her first session playing a new game that combines WAIT, RIGHT and LEFT, and GET OUT, she was able to translate the skill “about-face” that I trained for Freestyle 6 months ago and rarely practice.   Is she super smart or what?  I think so. 🙂

I used RIGHT and LEFT so she would see the correct obstacle first when turning.  This skill will come in handy for those distance challenges in NADAC when the correct obstacle is behind her and off to one side or the other.   What fun to watch Lil thinking and enjoying the game so much!    I am completely flabbergasted about how smart Australian Terriers are.   🙂

Some of Lil’s runs at NAE’s NADAC Trial last weekend in Dummerston, VT

The weather was less than ideal but we still had a great time.  Lots of rain on Friday and Saturday and then hot and sunny on Sunday but Lil ran beautifully all weekend long.  13 of 17 Qs and 4 new titles, impressive YPS and a nice consistent performance with her NEW running dog walk.  After just a few weeks of training on a plank, she did not miss a contact all weekend long and most of the hits were nice and low in the contact zone.

I also experimented with more rear crosses and Li really seemed to enjoy them.  I also see that I don’t need to rush and race her to the finish line as that causes her to feel rushed and her jumping becomes less efficient as a result.  As the weekend progressed, I felt I was handling more and more in a style that truly supported Lil’s ability to do her job well.