Follow up on EGC workshop and handling the path vs. the obstacles

I had so much fun, I forgot to video tape some runs at the EGC workshop as I had planned.  So all I have is a description.  What a great group of people and dogs.  It was so much fun to watch everyone run and to run my own dogs… and we all had some good some when I sent Lil out AROUND a barrel and instead of going around the barrel she raced out another 20 feet and ran through a yellow tunnel… 3 times in a row.  HA HA HA.   Apparently she did not recognize Lynn’s larger red and white barrels as being something to go AROUND.   Jake, on the other hand, saw the barrel as something to go AROUND and ran around it… the wrong way but WHO CARES!  🙂

We had  a very diverse group of dogs: 1 Border Collie, 1 Aussie Shep, 1 Pug,  1 Border Terrier, 1 Golden Retrieve, 2 Australian Terriers (mine), and 3 Mixed Breed dogs.  It was really fun to see dogs taking advantage of opportunities to let loose and RUN while also meeting the challenges Lynn presented us with.

Lynn saved the best for last… Extreme Hoopers.  Looking at the set up, you’d  think it would be extremely difficult but dogs seem to GET it without any formal training. Below is a video of Amanda Nelson running Extreme Hoopers since I can’t possibly describe this game with words.  🙂

Yesterday showed us all how great EGC obstacles can be for pointing out flaws in our handling.  This is because well-trained, experienced dogs will cut handlers quite a bit of slack if they KNOW the obstacles.  So by using new obstacles,  handlers had to be very clear in “showing the path” or their dogs did not seek out the new/ unfamiliar obstacles.

The two most popular 🙂 handling flaws were sending a dog towards an obstacle with an arm flick followed by a drop of that arm, and ceasing forward motion once the dog was out in front of the handler.   These techniques tend to work OK most of the time with experienced dogs and familiar obstacles but it was great to see how sensitive ALL the dogs were to what the handler was doing (or not doing).. .even when the handler was directly behind the dog.

I’ve been working on breaking both of those habits as part of the goal I set for myself in terms of handling which is: To speak to my dogs in the language they understand best …..MOTION and to use verbals as a secondary form of support.

The concept of handling “the path” vs. “the obstacles” can sound strange to people who are unfamiliar with the terminology… but I think this concept lies at the core of every handling system out there, and works equally well on every style of agility course yet it is often lacking in terms of actual handling.  I think we’ve all seen handlers doing all the right moves but if they are not also supporting their dogs’ path, their dogs lack fluidity, drop a bar or two, pull off an obstacle,  or run slower.  I find it so interesting  that the inventors of the most popular “systems” in the USA are great at supporting the path with their personal handling.  Perhaps this is something that needs to be learned from the “inside out,” or maybe it is just too difficult to communicate through videos and books in a way that people are able to implement it, or maybe it is because people cannot SEE how other people are or are not supporting the path until they know what they are looking for.

I think a great way to train your eye to SEE handling better is to watch videos.. but instead of focusing on the handler, focus on the dog and watch the video a couple of times.  Make a note of every time the dog looks at a WC obstacle, knocks a bar, adds an extra stride, or head checks.  Then go back and watch the handler in the moments leading up to each bobble.  I find this method of watching videos to be very enlightening in terms of SEEING what is really happening, including how well the handler is supporting her dog’s path.

On a final note, for the past year I’ve been focusing on letting my dogs know it is OK and even  GREAT for them to race ahead of me when I send them to GO ON.  Yesterday Jake and Lil definitely “won the race” every time I sent them ahead, while I continued to support their paths with motion even if I was just walking.

Extreme Game Challenge Workshop with Lynn Smitley

I joined Skyline Agility Club last week and at the meeting I learned that members can organize seminars.  The new Skyline facility is amazing.  The agility ring is in a HUGE horse barn that is only used for agility (so no horse poop) and the footing is great.  Both of my dogs run incredibly fast and confidently on it.

There happened to be an open weekend March 16-17, so I offered to organize a NADAC EGC workshop with Lynn Smitley followed by EGC run thrus.  The board acted swiftly and approved my proposal, which totally impressed me because I have worked with volunteer-based organizations (in the arts) in the past and there always seems to be at least one person on every board whose mission in life is to put a stop to all good things.  Apparently there is no such person on the board at Skyline.  WHOO HOO!

My experience interacting with Skyline board members has been spectacular and as a result of everyone’s ability to act swiftly, the morning workshop is already half full which is great since  information about the workshop was just posted on various dog agility sites yesterday afternoon.

If you’ve never heard of EGC, below is a video of one of Jake and Lil’s  first sessions running around a barrel, which is one of the obstacles found on EGC courses.  This session took place in my kitchen and living room since my backyard was covered with melting ice and snow.   

What I’ve learned about barrels so far is they can be handled like C-shaped tunnels in that there are 2 entrances/ directions.  However, barrels are different from tunnels in that there are an infinite number of exits 🙂 so barrels are great for practicing pre-cueing “the path” after the barrel, before the dog runs behind the barrel and   loses sight of the handler for a moment (like they do while in a tunnel).   Due to limited space in my house, I only worked on wraps in this session but once I am able to move the barrels outdoors, I will be mixing in GET OUTs, GO ONs, and WRAPS to practice the body language necessary to show my dogs the continuation of “the path” before they run behind the barrel.

The main reason I am using a manners minder (or a tossed toy in other sessions) instead of rewarding from my hand, is to encourage forward focus.  About a year ago, I realized I had spent way too much time training my dogs to come to my hand and not enough time balancing that with GO Ons.

ABOUT EGC: Contrary to popular belief, EGC is not about Extreme Distance…. although it can be.  I am finding EGC obstacles are great for practicing my timing and handling  without having to worry about contacts, weave poles, or jumping plus they seem ideal for increasing my dogs’ abilities to work at greater distances.

Basically, EGC tests the handler’s ability to give directional cues to the dog, and the dog’s ability to respond to those cues, while the dog is running at full speed.  Since EGC courses are comprised solely of ground obstacles, dogs get to run as fast as they want to, which makes EGC Extremely FUN for both dogs and humans!

EGC is comprised of four classes: Barrel Racing, Chances, Gaters, and Hoopers.  Handlers have the opportunity to test their skills on fast and flowing courses consisting of tunnels, barrels, hoops and gates.  Since no jumping is involved, EGC games are perfect for practicing handling skills and timing with minimal wear and tear on dogs.

Below is a video of Jake and Lil running through hoops, which are found on EGC courses as well as some NADAC courses.

It’s funny because I have overheard people complaining that “hoops are not fun for their dogs.”   I don’t think it is an issue with the inherent “fun factor”of hoops but rather that most dogs have not seen nearly as many hoops as they have seen jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and contact obstacles.   I used to think Jake didn’t like hoops, but that was before I started substituting hoops in place of jumps when practicing handling.  Jake appears to like hoops very much now that he has seen them a bit more.  Plus I love that I can practice handling without asking my dogs to JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP!  🙂

I can’t remember who said this, but it rang true for me:  “Dogs have only so many jumps in them so use them wisely.”