Takoda’s first exposure to pinwheels, May 18, 2015

Pinwheel Beginning Set up, May 18, 2015

Pinwheel Beginning Set up, May 18, 2015

Everyday I try to come up with something new to do with Takoda.  Today I decided to expose him to a pinwheel of hoops with props to help him be successful without me needing to babysit.

Pinwheel Set Up 2, May 18, 2015

Pinwheel Set Up 2, May 18, 2015

Over the course of one day, I gradually moved the Expens away from the left and right hoops but left them close to the OUT hoop.

Pinwheel Set Up 2, May 18, 2015

Pinwheel Set Up 2, May 18, 2015

(above) This video is of a couple of reps with Expens helping Takoda seek out all three hoops.  I used toys for some reps and mark buckets and food for other reps. 

(above) Over the course of one day, I gradually moved the Expens away from the left and right hoops but left them close to the OUT hoop.  By the last set of reps, there was just a sliver of an Expen near the OUT hoop.  I was very pleased with how well he drove through the hoops.  I also varied my position.  In this video I tested rear crosses, which he read very well.

The forecast is for RAIN, RAIN, RAIN, so it will be a while before Takoda sees any more hoops or pinwheels.  It will be interesting to see how much sunk in today but I am guessing he will remember what he experienced today because it looked like he was having fun and feeling really good about his success.

Lil practicing Forward Focus with choices.

I woke up wondering how “Forward Focus” might be useful beyond traditional Start Line Stays and Freestyle, so this morning I set up a couple of simple sequences that allowed me to ask my dogs the following questions:

1) Can you look where I’m looking…and pointing with my body language vs. look at the obstacle I’m standing closest to, or behind, even if that obstacle is a tunnel?

2) Can you perform 180 turns away from me and a tunnel, and run through a sequence of hoops behind you, with me standing next to or behind the tunnel?

Lil and Jake answered YES to all the challenges I presented them with.  I think Australian Terriers are exceptionally smart but I also think dogs naturally look where we are looking (and where we are pointing towards with body language) so it’s just a matter of rewarding their natural response to look where we are looking enough times to be able to then use Forward Focus to enhance the performance of what many would call “challenging” behaviors.

An added benefit of practicing Forward Focus with choices might be for dogs who like to decide for themselves what the opening sequence is vs. waiting for their handlers to show them the correct opener.  I suppose another benefit could be for dogs who self-release as soon as they focus on what they think is the first obstacle.  Regardless of those benefits, I see this game as another fun way to reinforce solid Start Line Stays while upping the ante in new and unexpected ways.

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!

Practicing GO ONs and turns off the dogwalk and on the flat.

I set this up to practice GO ONs, hard left turns, and soft left turns off my dog walk ramp this morning. No video but I did take a photo of the set up.

hoop_set_up_6_17_14But then I realized the set up was also great for GO ONs and turns through the hoops and it gave me an opportunity to practice taking a step or two backwards to indicate TURN vs. GO ON while layering the inner circle of hoops. I was surprised at how natural it felt to step back with Jake (to indicate a turn was coming).  Jake is not as verbally oriented as Lil plus he patterns quickly so all it takes is one GO ON through the back two hoops for him to think that is what we are going to do every time.  I needed to strongly indicate TURN when I wanted Jake to turn towards me to do a pin wheel vs. continue ahead while layering the inner circle of hoops and my backing up a step or two did the trick.

In the video below, at 1:50 I backed up a couple of steps to indicate its NOT the tunnel ahead but rather the hoop to the left of the tunnel.    Dogs seem to naturally respond to this type of motion.   I think it can be used in place of RFPs (reverse flow pivot) and I think I prefer it because the handler’s body rotation continues to face the path ahead vs. turning toward the dog and then rotating back.   Nothing wrong with RFPs!  I’m just testing the water with backing up since it seems to work as well from a distance as it does up close.. and I hope to continue exploring distance skills with Lil.

At some point in the future, I’d like to set up a 180 degree version of this morning’s set up with another layer of hoops radiating out from the 3 inner circle hoops

hoop set up expandedImagine all the possibilities and  “layering fun” to be had with this set up.

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!

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:


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.

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.   🙂