New Multi-dimensional Doggie Luge Track

Jake and Lil are so confident running big loops with great speed and distance, I decided to try something new.  Instead of a digging out a simple circular luge track with a bisecting line, I designed a track that would allow us to practice GO ONs, GET OUTs, as well as a variety of tighter and wider TURNS.

On a side note, the A-frame can be incorporated if the grass is dry or barricaded if the grass or contacts are slippery.

There are 2 more loops in my grand design 🙂  but that part of the yard has a lot of heavy snow so digging will have to wait until the snow melts down a bit.  Plus there are plenty of fun options to explore with the current set-up.

(above) an overview of the track design

(above) one of Lil’s reps

(above) one of Jake’s reps

(above) another one of Lil’s reps

Running fast and collecting faster than fast!

After a few weeks of training Jake and Lil to target an upside down feed bucket with their front feet, we have started taking the show on the road.

Day 1: This session was their first time being asked to run and stop (4-on) on a flat A-frame.. or on any A-frame for that matter.  The reason the A-frame is resting on the ground is because it is too heavy for me to lift by myself without potentially tweaking my back.  But since I dragged it out to the yard this morning, I figured why not do one session with it flat on the ground to see what Jake and Lil do.

(above) video of Jake and Lil’s first session running on a flat A-frame and stopping 4-on

I was super impressed.  Both dogs ran with really nice speed and targeted the very end of the A-frame by collecting / putting on the brakes.  Most reps, they stuck the 4-on vs. reverting to 2o2o, a behavior both dogs have been practicing for years and years….on steps, rugs, you name it and they put their back feet on it so this was not surprising.

The reason I slowed down the video was to see HOW they were putting on the brakes.  Were they dropping their butts down or crouching?  I didn’t see much butt dropping but it might happen naturally once the A-Frame is raised… or maybe not.  One thing I’ve noticed recently was how much LESS angle a longer-backed dog has when sitting, compared to dogs with longer legs.  This translates into longer-backed dogs having less braking power when dropping their butts.  Here are 2 photos, including a quick and rather sloppy Photoshop of Lil showing how her SIT would look if she had longer legs.

Lil Sitting

Lil with photoshopped longer legs

Once I raise the A-frame, I’ll be carefully watching to see HOW Jake and Lil put the brakes on in order to do 4-on.  If it looks relatively easy for them to do, I’ll continue training 4-on.  If it  looks grossly unnatural or hard on their bodies, I will go back to running A-frames and find another way to deal with running consistently and safely over both 8′ and 9′ A-frames.

This morning’s session was such a blast.  Both dogs LOVED IT and so did I.   Can’t wait to nab some unsuspecting person who walks by our property to help me raise the A-Frame.  🙂

Filling Holes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Great New Game to Play with a Manner’s Minder

MM behind BarrelsThis morning, I set up an 80′ long loop of obstacles:  5 hoops, a short tunnel (because I only have 5 hoops) and a barrel at each end with a Manner’s Minder behind each barrel.   I drew a red line around the far barrel so it is visible in the photo).

I had 3 goals in mind.   The first was to create massive acceleration away from me (and back towards me) without the use of a visible lure.   The second was to build more value for seeking out and running around barrels.  The third was to have a massive amount of fun.  This set up worked splendidly for all three goals!

With Jake, I focused on him running a super fast line along a curved path vs. skipping obstacles and running straight towards the MM hidden behind each barrel (something he will do sometimes).  It was also great to practice Jake’s start line stays with him being totally amped up due to using a MM and him knowing the path ahead.   I also did some big sends and recalls with Jake and he aced them.

With Lil, after a few rounds of full-out running around the loop, I started mixing in WAITs, redirects, and 90 degree turns off the path with me in various positions.  She was also very amped up yet aced every challenge I presented her with.

The thing I like best about this set-up is even after I removed one Manner’s Minder early on (because it stopped working), both dogs continued to drive full speed ahead towards that barrel and continued driving hard back towards me… and this was after only a rep or two with a MM behind both barrels.

I am definitely going to use barrels and MMs like this in other types of sequences in the future.  What Fun!

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.

New and Super Deep Doggie Luge…..sigh

(above) Jake: Round One

Jake started off offering Paw and Shake which was so cute, I left it in the video.  The snow is so deep, it’s the equivalent of running through a very long tunnel since Jake cannot see me while running along the far side of the track.  A year ago, I don’t think he would have been willing to run all the way around with me out of sight for so long.  What a fun little guy he is!

(above) Jake: Round Two

(above) Lil: Round One

Lil will work with enough distance for me to stand on the porch to get a better view of the luge track.. but the snow is so deep, you still cannot see her half the time.  If it was not for the luge track, I don’t think Lil would venture off the porch at all.  She is a total “princess” when it comes to deep snow… so the Doggie Luge is the first thing I dig out after every snow fall…. did I mention this has been almost a daily occurrence lately? BIG SIGH!

(above) Lil: Round Two

I’ll end this post with a Funny Story.  I shoveled the luge track and the front path to our house 5-6 times yesterday but this morning I needed to deal with a huge amount of overnight snow in stages.  I had the front 2/3 of the luge shoveled when I let the dogs out this morning and they were very YAHOO and both took off running…. and I remember thinking…..hmmmmm what will happen with they hit “the wall of snow”…..

Jake jumped right over it… and bounded through the snow following the slight indentation where the previous luge track had been and then did another lap around the entire luge  for good measure. Lil followed Jake for a few strides in the deep snow and then turned around and came back to the porch.

Both were somewhat predictable “performances.”  🙂

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

When “the Emperor with no clothes” happens to be an agility fanatic

The post I published yesterday generated more hits than what is typical for my blog  so I decided to publish this complimentary post which pretty much covers everything I have been thinking about in terms of agility and jumping.  Please excuse any typos, funky grammar, and the length of this post.  This is as short as I could make it.  ps– There are photos that break up the text,  just not at the very beginning.

For those of you unfamiliar with “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it is a Danish fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837.  Here is a quick overview:

Many years ago there lived an emperor who cared only about his clothes and about showing them off.  One day he heard from two swindlers that they could make the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth.  This cloth, they said, also had the special capability that it was invisible to anyone who was either stupid or not fit for his position.  Being a bit nervous about whether he himself would be able to see the cloth, the emperor first sent two of his trusted men to see it.  Of course, neither would admit that they could not see the cloth and so praised it.  All the townspeople had also heard of the cloth and were interested to learn how stupid their neighbors were.  The emperor then allowed himself to be dressed in the clothes for a procession through town, never admitting that he was too unfit and stupid to see what he was wearing. For he was afraid that the other people would think that he was stupid.

Of course, all the townspeople wildly praised the magnificent clothes of the emperor, afraid to admit that they could not see them, until a small child said: “But he has nothing on”!  This was whispered from person to person until everyone in the crowd was shouting that the emperor had nothing on.  The emperor heard it and felt that they were correct, but held his head high and finished the procession.

The “Emperor” metaphor  is commonly used in medical literature when a scientist challenges a widely accepted “fact” that turns out to be based on a hunch rather than a scientific study.  If you go to the web site for NCBI (The National Center for Biotechnology Information) @  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/  and search for the words: “emperor + clothes” you will find 119 medical articles in which this metaphor was used.

The “Emperor” metaphor is also commonly used in a non-medical situations when an overwhelming majority of observers willingly share in a collective ignorance of an obvious fact, despite individually recognizing the absurdity.

So how does “The Emperor” metaphor apply to canine agility?   Here is a list of past and present examples of possible Emperor-style “facts” that a friend and I rattled off a few weeks ago just for fun.  I suspect there are a lot more:

  1. Blind crosses will teach your dog it is OK to cross behind you.
  2. Your dog should never cross the plane of your body.
  3. You must maintain eye contact with your dog at all times or you will break the “connection.”
  4. Verbal cues just distract your dog. Don’t use them.
  5. You should verbally cue every obstacle and directional.
  6. Never repeat a cue. Never repeat a cue. Never never repeat a cue. 🙂
  7. Never use your outside arm.
  8. Using false turns (reverse flow pivots) will make your dog less responsive to front cross cues.
  9. Never cue with both arms at once.
  10. Never flick your dog away.
  11. Never layer.
  12. You should be able to run your dog with your arms at your sides and your dog should know where to go.
  13. You should pump your arms wildly to make your dog think you are running faster than you are in order to get maximum amount of speed out of your dog.
  14. Take lots of fast, small steps to make your dog think you are running faster than you are (related to #13).
  15. If you want small dogs to run fast, you have to race them (related to 13 and 14).
  16. Long lead outs diminish speed and drive.
  17. USA handlers need look no further than USA instructors for handling and training advice.  A song comes to mind:  “You can get anything you want.. at X,Y, Zs restaurant.” 🙂
  18. Another way of saying #17 is the reason Europeans win so many world championships is because they are younger and faster.
  19. If your dog does not like to tug, it says something  about your relationship.
  20. A dog’s jumping arc should be centered over jump bars.  I’d like to add my 2 cents to this one.  Conceptually that statement makes sense but if you watch dogs jumping the type of repetitive jumping found on agility courses, you will see that ALL dogs have jumping arcs that peak before OR after jumps sometimes, even the top ranked dogs in the world.   So while I like the “idea” that a dog’s jumping arc should be centered over bars,  I’m not convinced it is attainable for every dog or even desirable based differences in structure and also differences in handling/ timing since dogs are reliant on handler information to know where they are supposed to go next…which affects their jumping arcs.
  21. If your dog’s jumping arc sometimes peaks before jump bars, your dog might have a “jumping issue” but if your dog’s jumping arc sometimes peaks after jump bars, your dog does not have a “jumping issue.”  See yesterday’s post for more on this topic.

On a somewhat related note, here is the current definition of ETS: a dog who takes-off early or stutter-steps before jumping, does not significantly improve with training, and has a normal CERF and Retinoscopy–meaning the dog’s eyes were checked by a canine ophthalmologist and no vision issues were found.  Contrary to what some ETS folks might  think that I think, 🙂 I actually think there could very well be “undiagnosable vision issues/ ETS” which cause dogs to consistently take-off early or stutter step dramatically before jumping.  However, based on what I have learned about canine vision so far, it appears that “normal”canine vision is not particularly well suited for the human-designed sport of agility to begin with so that is where I am choosing to focus my attention.   Of particular interest to me are dogs who appear to have developed effective ways of coping with the limitations of canine vision and are thus able to compete with reasonable to high levels of success in the sport of canine agility.  I personally think there is a great deal to be learned by focusing attention on this large and diverse group of dogs.

Here are some scientific facts that support my current thinking that “normal” canine vision is not particularly well suited for the sport of agility.  Please note my thoughts are, as always, subject to change based on new information :):

  • The average dog’s ability to see detail, their visual acuity, is far poorer than an average human. If it were possible to test a dog using an eye chart, an average dog would have between 20/50 and 20/100, making them nearsighted. Acuity is estimated by using retinoscope which measures the refractive ability of the eye.
  • Acuity is affected by the size of the pupil, the size of lens and cornea, and the arrangement of rods and cones on the retina. The pupil expands and contracts to let in different amounts of light.  Canine vision developed for the purpose of hunting in dim light, and thus dogs tend to have a larger pupil than humans.  A larger pupil decreases field depth.  Many dogs become highly aroused when running agility which can cause their pupils to become more dilated which can further decrease field depth, and thus could make it more difficult for a dog to accurately detect the locations of agility obstacles.
  • In humans, the location of highest acuity in the retina is a circular area called the fovea or area centralis. In contrast, most dogs have a “visual streak,” which means that the area of greatest acuity in their retina is not a single point (like the fovea), but rather an elongated “streak” running across the retina. This allows for better detection of movement in the periphery.
  • In Wolves “visual streak” is fairly constant and may have resulted from environmental pressures. In domesticated dogs “visual streak” is variable and may be the result of breeding programs that placed little “selective” pressure on maximizing visual performance.
  • In humans, the fovea is made up entirely of cones and therefore is an area that provides very detailed vision. Since most dogs do not have fovea (areas of concentrated cones), it makes sense that they have less visual acuity than humans.

So while humans have the ability to perceive a more colorful and detailed world than  dogs, it does not mean that the dogs are disadvantaged in a general sense. Evolutionarily, dogs developed the ability to see in dimmer light and to detect motion which aided them in their survival.

So what does this mean in terms of agility dogs?

canine_vision_composite2The image above is roughly based on a Border Collie’s field of view (based on head shape and nose length),  “normal” 20/75 visual acuity, canine color vision, and visual streak (the horizontal band of higher acuity– the area which has 20/75 acuity), and a dog’s larger pupil which lets in more light. The black lump at the bottom in the center is where a dog’s longer nose blocks its field of vision.  The handler is presented with more detail to represent how well dogs see motion.

It’s important to note that still images, like the one seen above, do not accurately reflect what dogs (or humans) really see because unless you are staring a blank wall, SEEING involves the processing of moving images (vs. a single static image) and moving images provide many depth perception clues which static images do not.

unaltered_photo_7_10_13Above is an unaltered photograph of the same scene

Given how poor acuity is in “normal” dogs, I think it is safe to say that agility dogs are employing other mechanisms to help them SEE agility obstacles well enough to interact with them while running fast.   Here are a few mechanisms dogs can use to increase their  depth perception:

Binocular Overlap: Depth perception is enhanced by how much both eyes overlap (binocular vision).  The average dog has a much wider visual field of vision than a human, but the degree of binocular overlap is much lower for dogs.  The area seen by a single eye (visual field) and binocular overlap vary between breeds due to different placement of the eyes in the skull as well as the length of the nose.

vision

Based on “binocular overlap,” depth perception is greatest when a dog is looking straight ahead vs. using peripheral vision.  This does not include the area blocked by the nose, in most breeds, when dogs look below horizontal.   I think this could explain why some dogs drop their heads when approaching a jump, especially if the bar is lower than horizontal.. to get their noses out-of-the-way.  🙂

binocular_overlap_FINALThe image above shows binocular overlap for a Border Collie type of dog as indicated by the center oval.  This image does not take into account “visual streak” or how a larger pupil takes in more light.

jumps_straight_rowAbove is the same image but unaltered

Binocular depth perception results when both eyes view the world from slightly different vantage points and the images are blended into a single image by the brain.   Since the area of binocular overlap is small in dogs to begin with, when you add the  fact that most dogs have “visual streak” (a horizontal band of higher acuity) vs. “fovea” (a central area of high acuity vision like humans do), dogs are likely also employing monocular vision depth perception “clues.”

Here are a few monocular depth perception “clues” a dog may use when running agility:

·      Relative Brightness: Closer objects appear brighter than distant objects.  Dogs may have an easier time judging the distances of objects in the middle values due to their ability to differentiate different shades of grey that are indistinguishable to the human eye.  Dogs may also have a harder time judging the distance of white objects, especially in bright sunlight, because their large pupils allow more light to enter the eye which could cause white objects to appear over-exposed / too bright for dogs to be able to detect how close or how far objects are (if they all appear to be the same brightness).lil_jumping_over-exposed_7_10_13The image above shows close and distant white jumps seen with 20/75 visual acuity and canine color vision

·       Contour: Although there have been only a few controlled studies regarding the abilities of dogs to perceive shapes, form perception in dogs is thought to be good.  One study found that dogs “learned” to discriminate between horizontal and vertical lines and were then able to generalize the distinctions independent of the size of the object.  Since the contours or shapes of jumps change based on the angle from which the dogs sees them, if the jumps are all identical, the shape of the jump and its relative size (projected onto the lens of the eye), offers good “monocular clues” to help dogs determining where  jumps are located “in space.

jumps_relative_size_over-exposeureTop image is unaltered, the 2nd image is roughly 20/75, and the 3rd and 4th images represent 20/75 with progressively greater refraction errors.  These images show how jumps that are identical in size and shape still offer monocular depth perception clues, even if what is seen is very blurry.

The fact that dogs “learn” to recognize horizontal and vertical lines (as well as other shapes) may explain why a dog with less than 20/75 acuity can “learn” to see jumps better.  In my opinion, as long as a dog can see something (within reason of course), he can “learn” to make better sense of it through a process called  “neurological priming” which I’ll explain in further detail later in this post since that is a topic I have researched extensively for my artwork.

·      Object Overlay and Parallax:  Closer objects which overlap distant objects offer good monocular depth perception clues. In addition to object overlay, Parallax offers additional clues re: the distance of objects.  Parallax is a term used to describe how objects appear to be moving at different speeds, depending on their distances.  For example, when you are driving a car, distant objects appear to be moving very slowly.  As a result, you can easily read street signs, see other cars, buildings, mountains, etc.  But the closer those objects become, the faster they appear to be moving (across the lens of your eye) so by the time you pass a road sign, it appears to be flying by.

Dogs can use object overlay and parallax to help determine the distances of obstacles when running agility but only if they know where they are going ahead of time so they focus their attention on the relevant obstacles.  However, I suspect there are some scenarios in agility where a dog’s ability to use object overlay and parallax as means to detect distances might be more difficult:

  • The first jump on a course if a dog does not have the opportunity to “scope out” the course while walking towards the start line and thus only sees the opening sequence from a static start line position, or if the handler takes a long lead out and the dog’s gaze follows her motion. Since dogs (and humans) can only focus on one thing at a time, when the dog is released after a long lead out by the handler, she may not be focusing on the jump directly in front of her and thus may knock the first bar.

binocular_visual_streakFIANLAbove is an example of what a straight row of jumps might look like from a static position like a start line stay along with a representation of “visual streak” (the horizontal band of higher acuity).    As I stated earlier, its important to remember that a single still image cannot represent SEEING accurately because in “real life,” dogs’ (and humans’) eyes are constantly in motion, so the area of the eyes with the highest acuity is shifting around the scene, taking in a constant stream of “raw data,” which is sent up to the brain for processing.  This results in a higher quality “composite” image… as long as the dog is focusing on the jumps vs. focusing on the handler in this particular scenario.

  • The last jump on a course can lack reliable depth perception clues if what is visible beyond the jump contains contradictory or meaningless visual clutter.
  • A jump in the middle of a course that faces “nothing” can be problematic for the same reason stated re: the last jump on a course.
  • Parallax might also play a role in why so many dogs have trouble judging the distance of the first jump after a tunnel.  Of course, pupil dilation might also play a role due to dogs being in a dark tunnel even if just for just a second or two.  But here is why I think parallax could play a role:  When a fast dog races out of a curved tunnel, he only has a split second to make sense of an entirely new scene—new to the dog, not the handler.  After all, the dog does not know the course ahead of time and must look to the handler for direction.  So if a dog does not know where he is going AFTER the tunnel, BEFORE he enters the tunnel (because his handler did not give him a pre-cue), a fast dog may not have enough time to determine the exact location of the first jump because he has to first make sense of an entirely “new” scene, which contains a slew of obstacles moving across the lens of the eye (parallax), figure out where the handler wants him to go, plus the overall “picture” might be too bright/ over-exposed due to pupil dilation.  That is a lot to take in and process in a split second  if you ask me.

Visual Perspective:  or why size matters 🙂  I think it is safe to say that the height of a dog’s eyes affects what she sees on an agility field.

So,  given the different methods dogs can employ to judge distances of objects/ obstacles,  does it really matter if a dog has 20/75 acuity or a modest refraction error, which 55% of dogs have?  Based on what I’ve learned about canine vision recently, I don’t think it matters much.   Yet I hear many people blaming their dogs’ jumping issues on refraction errors as small as 1 of -1 and talking about how they believe Veterinarians just don’t understand the “special” visual needs of agility dogs when they say their dog’s refraction error is inconsequential to the dog.

However, when I consider the many factors that come into play re: what “normal” dogs see,  I can understand why a Veterinarian would say that variations in visual acuity like 1. or -1, are not significant to dogs.   First because 20/75 is not very detailed to begin with; second because the area of highest visual acuity (binocular overlap) is very small in dogs (compared to humans), and third because most dogs have visual streak (vs. fovea)  which limits the area of highest visual acuity to a horizontal band within the already small region of binocular overlap.

In canine agility, all dogs occasionally knock bars, and many appear to struggle with jumping at times.  Some dogs take-off too early, some take-off too late, some do little stutter-steps before jumping, and others shorten their running strides or just run slower, which is not generally linked to “jumping issues”.. but I think running slower could be seen as yet another coping mechanism a dog might need to use at times when jumping 17-20 jumps per typical agility course.

A fair number of people believe undiagnosable vision issues are the sole cause of their dogs’ jumping issues and many of these people also believe that traditional jump training (which focuses solely on physical jumping skills) will not help their dogs.  I agree that traditional jump training will not “cure” every dog’s jumping issues.  I also think that if a dog has a significant vision issue then perhaps agility is not the best sport for that dog to compete in.  But for the majority of dogs, who do not have significant vision issues or injuries, I think these dogs can learn to jump with more confidence and ease if they are presented with a fresh start and new, positive experiences that teach them how to jump in ways that are appropriate for their structures and learn how to make better sense of whatever they are able to see (within reason).  I want to emphasize that the last sentence is NOT referring to dogs who clearly have severe vision defects or physical injuries.

My optimistic view is based on what Dawn Weaver and I have observed over the past year watching a handful of test study dogs (some with very significant jumping issues) progress through our on-line class “Hit the Ground Running!”

HGR games focus on two skills / abilities dogs need in order to  jump with confidence and ease. 1)  the ability to SEE where jumps are in space and 2) the ability to physically JUMP the height required of them.  Some HGR games focus on jumping skills and others focus on helping dogs “learn” to make better sense of whatever they are able to SEE, even if what they see is blurrier than what a “normal” dog sees.  In my opinion, as long as dogs are able to see something (within reason), they can learn to jump with more confidence and ease through”neurological priming” which I’ll explain in more detail later in this post.

In HGR, dogs are presented with a slew of new “pictures” and “experiences” responding to those pictures.  Over time, dogs build up a large enough database of “pictures” which they can then use to make better sense of what they are seeing when approaching jumps.   This is similar to how we train young dogs to recognize a chute (or tunnel) by presenting them with 360 degree views of the chute so they are able to recognize every “picture” the chute may present when approached from various angles.  In HGR games, pictures are linked to specific actions, so muscle memory is also taking place to some extent.   The thing I like  best about neurological priming is that it works regardless of what the “pictures” look like to each individual dog.

Here is an example of “neurological priming” in action:

After the Mona Lisa 1 is a life-sized rendering (21″ x 30″)  of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The work is constructed from only 425 spools of thread resulting in extremely low image resolution. Yet when seen through an optical device, the thread spools condense into a blurry yet recognizable image, conveying how little information the brain needs to make sense of visual imagery.  If you just look a the thread spools (and not at the sphere) you cannot make out any facial features, yet you can SEE the Mona Lisa’s face when looking at the image in the sphere.  The facial features are barely visible yet your brain is able to fill in “missing” information based on your past experiences of the Mona Lisa.

For more examples of neurological priming / how the brain makes sense of the visual world go to:

http://www.devorahsperber.com/thread_works_index_html_and_2x2s/warhol_soup_can.htm

and

http://www.devorahsperber.com/brooklyn_musuem/index.html

 mona

Here is an example of how one HGR game functions as a neurological primer:  The “Striding Game” begins with a single stabilized ground bar.  As the game progresses,  more bars are added along with wings or stanchions.  The spacing of bars is adjusted so that dogs can easily stride (and eventually jump) over them.  Here is where neurological priming comes into play:  Once a dog is comfortable and confident striding over the three ground bars, the center bar is removed for the last rep of each session, which essentially doubles the distance between the two remaining bars while leaving 2/3 of the original “jumping picture” in place.

By the time the centered bar is removed, the dog has “patterned” easy striding over all three bars and has developed some muscle memory, so it is easy for the dog to continue to do the same easy striding, but now with one stride between the two remaining bars.   The bars are gradually raised, but that falls under the category of physical jump training vs. neurological priming so I won’t get into how we recommend raising the bars in this post.

Eventually, another  jump is added in front of the first jump (same easy spacing) and once the dog is comfortable striding (or jumping) over theses three bars, the center bar is removed, which doubles the distance again.  This process of removing the center bar and  placing it in front of the first bar is repeated until jumps are VERY widely spaced.

I think the reason the striding game works so well is because it presents dogs with “pictures” of jumps and jump bars, with which they can interact with ease (due to easy spacing) so they don’t have to think too much about jumping and can focus their attention on seeing.   Plus by removing the center bar, while leaving the other bars in place, 2/3 of the original “picture” remains intact.  So not only has the dog already seen the first and last jumps in the same location, she has practiced a specific striding pattern in relation to those jumps, and thus can utilize muscle memory.  By ending early sessions with just a rep or two over double-spacing, the dog is given an opportunity to SEE a distance jump and STRIDE towards it with more confidence and ease than she might have before being exposed to these “jumping pictures.”  Over time, the dog learns to recognize the “picture” of widely spaced jumps and knows what to do based on the familiar “picture,” past experiences and muscle memory.   The final stage of the “Striding Game” is to randomize the spacing.  After months of practicing SEEING and STRIDING between widely spaced jumps, it is not as “big of a leap” as you might think (no pun intended) due to the dog having had so many positive experiences seeing jumping “pictures” and responding to them with confidence and ease.

Both of my dogs learned how to run fast and jump over widely spaced jumps in NADAC (18- 21′) by progressing though “Striding Games.”  I think the same has been true for other dogs who worked though HGR Modules 1, 2 and 3.

Other HGR  games focus on teaching dogs HOW to adjust their striding so they are able to aim for (and hit) a particular spot when running super fast, which is another necessary skill for jumping (and running contacts) but I’ll leave that topic for another post since this post is already ridiculously long.

I’ll end with two questions:

1) Given what dogs with “normal” vision are able to see and how dependent agility dogs are on their human partners providing them with timely information, is it reasonable to expect dogs who are running super fast to be able to take-off for every jump from “just the right” spot, and jump with a “perfectly “centered arc,  and with “perfect” form, and with “just the right amount” of collection or extension over every single jump?

2) Or might it be more reasonable to expect dogs to jump reasonably well most of the time and for us to feel grateful for all effort they put into doing the best job they can vs. focusing on the occasional early take-off, or late-take off , or an added step, or tucked rear legs, or dare I say… a knocked bar…..?

If this post resonated with you, please share it with your friends. https://artanddogblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/when-the-emperor-with-no-clothes-happens-to-be-an-agility-fanatic/  Thank you  for reading it! -Devorah

Frankie Joiris posted a link, in response to my article, to a fantastic article that I think is a “must read” for anyone interesting in the topic of agility-style jumping.  The article is written by Chris Ott and includes many great quotes by Dr. Chris Zink http://speedoggie.blogspot.com/2011/10/another-way-of-looking-at-early-take.html

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.