12′ spacing = sweet spot for my dog Lil

A member of the Canine Jumping Forum, who is very knowledgeable about  Susan Salo jump grids, described a grid on the Forum yesterday in response to a video I posted about 12′ spacing = sweet spot for my dogs.  If you want to see that video, I posted in on my Facebook page.

Below is a video of a grid I set up as per Katarina’s suggestion.   The first 3 bars had 4′ spacing between them and the last bar was either spaced 10′ or 9′ away.  While I didn’t plan on stopping in my tracks and sending Lil through the grid, both of my dogs are trained to GO ON (forward sends), a necessary skill for NADAC distance challenges so I don’t think it affected the outcome.

I know my “handling” is not in keeping with SS’s method.. but my dogs have done a lot of  grids and I like to mix things up by adding various things before grids, in this case a few hoops that happened to be in the vicinity or sending my dogs around an out-of view-tree at the end of the video so Lil was approaching the grid with a lot of speed. I  like this particular set up as it encouraged Lil to take a longer than typical stride before jumping the final bar.


If you watch the video a second time and focus on Lil’s landing spots, I think you can see why I think she has a “preferred landing spot” that she is aiming for.. and hitting.   As the session progressed, her take-off spots became closer to the final bar and she landed a bit longer those last few fast reps BUT you can see that her jumping arc length also decreased compared to earlier reps vs floating long.

I think most dogs are aiming for the spots they land on… and some dogs naturally land long (many BCs for example), and other dogs naturally land closer than what we humans think of as “ideal.”

My conclusion, based on 2+ years of obsessive observations, while sometimes using a “landing side” mat to extend my dog’s landing spots, is that I can influence where my dogs land but they will still tend to land closer than some dogs if left to their own devices.  As long as my dogs motion is fluid and confident, which it appears to be, I can accept that this is just the way my dogs jump.  End of story! …. but not the last post on this topic.  HA HA

Jake has something in common with world-class platform divers

Check out the dives beginning at 4:35 and 6:36 and notice how very deliberate, yet unusual each diver’s “pre-striding” looks.  I think it is reasonable to assume these world-class divers were trained to stride towards the end of the platform in very specific ways to help them launch with consistency and power.

Now watch the following slo-mo video and  notice how very deliberate, yet unusual my dog Jake’s “pre-striding” looks.   I can’t be sure if jump training played a role or if Jake figured this out on his own but it looks to me like his pre-jump head bobs may be a way of physically preparing to jump– a canine version of what those two divers did before launching off the platform.  The video also shows a couple of early take-offs  due to him leaving out that final stride after the head bob (a break in his pre-striding pattern).

I think this might shed light on the mystery of why some dogs drop their heads the stride before taking-off when jumping?  ps–I’m not referring to dogs who crouch low and then jump from that position but rather to dogs who do a little pre-jump head bob like my dog Jake.

A note about the two crashes.  While they are difficult to watch,  I think both crashes were caused by the same underlying issue… that Jake needs time to perform his “pre-striding” pattern in order to jump 8″ bars with relative ease.  RE: the first crash, he was going to run around that jump but at the last-minute decided to jump it and as a result of this “change of plans,” he could not perform his usual pre-striding pattern, which may have caused his “failure to launch.”  A couple of people who saw the first crash from a different angle thought it looked like Jake’s rear legs slipped out from under him when he tried to take-off for that jump which could be another explanation for that crash.

In the second crash, it looks to me like it was caused by a combination of a difficult set up spot and the “sling shot start.”  If you pause the video during that crash, you can see that he took-off early and then realized mid-air that the jump was too far away, so he aborted that initial jump but he was unable to regroup fast enough to jump that first bar so he sort of just barreled through it.

Based on my personal observations of Jake’s jumping style and his response to jump training (this trial took place after months of playing HGR jumping games which helped Jake learn HOW to run fast and jump in extension), my personal conclusion is that Jake’s unorthodox jumping style is likely caused by a structural issue, an orthopedic issue, or a combination of both which make jumping more challenging for him.  I also think his unusual pre-striding pattern helps him prepare for jumping like the two divers’ pre-striding” patterns helps them prepare for jumping off the platform.

Because of those two crashes at that trial, I took Jake for an orthopedic evaluation by a specialist who sees a lot of agility dogs.  X-rays and a physical examination of his joints while under anesthesia showed that his knees and hips were fine but that he had minor arthritis in his lower back, which the vet said is typical to find in agility dogs at 7 years old.  I don’t know what, if anything caused Jake’s rear legs to slip out from under him.  Regardless, after that trial I dropped Jake’s jump height to 4″.

Here are a few connections I see between platform diving and agility-style jumping:

1) They both involve intentional striding in order to hit a specific take-off spot.  In this regard, platform diving is easier than agility jumping because the diver always starts at the same stationary set point.  Whereas agility dogs need to jump 18-20 times in a row with many variables like spacing, angles, and types of jumps.

2)  They both involve unnatural activities.   Granted, most humans are capable of running and then jumping off the end of a platform into water and most dogs are capable of running and then jumping over random logs in the woods.  I think most people would agree that not every human being could learn how to do what those divers did, even with advanced training.  Yet I find it so strange that many agility people think every dog should be able to jump 18-20 jumps (set up in random configurations and at heights determined by human beings) as well as every other dog, and if a dog struggles with jumping, then there must be something must be wrong with the dog.

3)  Structure plays a role.   I think it is safe to say regardless of training, not every person will become a gifted diver and not every dog will become a gifted jumper.  If you take into consideration the wide range of canine structures, I don’t understand why anyone would think all dogs should be able to jump agility-style jumps with the same level of ease.

I believe some people and some dogs are built particularly well for particular sports.  My sister Nancy is a perfect example of a person built well for a particular sport.  She started running competitively at the age of 50.  She quickly rose through the ranks and at the age of 53, she is competing at a world-class level and winning BIG races!


Nancy_running_the_dipseaHer most recent accomplishment was winning a coveted black shirt in the grueling Dipsea race.

Nancy_black_shirtI can say with 100% certainty that I am not built to be a world-class runner.   Even if I trained as hard as my sister trains, which is highly unlikely  🙂  I would never be able to compete at that level.  That doesn’t mean I can’t run, but rather that I’m just not built to be a great runner like my sister Nancy is.

Lil Jumping at USDAA Trial in Florida, February 25, 2011

Lil Jumping at USDAA Trial in Florida, February 25, 2011

Moving on to the topic of dogs and agility-style jumping…. I think most people would agree that Australian Terriers’  longer backs are not ideal for the type of repetitive jumping found on agility courses.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t be great agility dogs.  Both of my Australian Terriers appear to have a total blast running agility and at the end of day, isn’t that what truly matters?  Well… coming home with a bunch of ribbons is also kind of fun! 🙂

jake_and_lil_ribbons from last weekend's trial So why does Jake jump the way he does?  Maybe because it is the easiest way for him to jump for reasons known only to him!

Jake_agility_tire_barry_rosen_photographer…and the same goes for Lil!

Lil Jumping, fall 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lil Jumping, fall 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HGR: a new approach to jump training

Hit the Ground Running!
Click on the link above to learn about a radically new approach to jump training.

Here is the new URL to sign up for HGR:  http://www.dawnweaveragility.com/hitthegroundrunning

Jake and Lil’s NADAC trial last weekend at Sugarbush Farm

Jake is back! 🙂  after taking a few months off due to a soft tissue injury.  He ran incredibly well and his focus was unwavering the entire weekend.  I could not be more proud of him.   His jumping style started off looking a bit YAHOO 🙂  but by the time his Standard run rolled around on day 2 (the 3rd run on the video) he had settled into a nice rhythm  and was jumping efficiently (like he does at home).

A few of Jake’s runs:

Lil had another spectacular weekend.   She is in Elite in most classes now and her YPS are continuing to increase so its more fun than ever to run with her.   Her Elite Standard run on Saturday was 4.46 YPS (with 2 A-Frames) and on Sunday it was a whopping 4.78 YPS.  Too bad I didn’t walk the closing on Sunday and thus did not support the last hoop.  I don’t think I’ll make that mistake again!

A few of Lil’s runs:

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.

Great progress with extension jumping!

For the past four months, I’ve been focusing most of my attention on Jake and Lil’s  jumping.   I have seen very good progress in the backyard so I felt it was time for the ultimate test… a NADAC trial.   NADAC is a great venue for testing jumping skills because the courses are fast and the jumps are spaced at a whopping 21′ which is five full strides between every jump for my dogs.  It has been a long time since I have gone to a NADAC trial, so I had forgotten how much fun they are for dogs and people.  We all had such a great time, I’m going to another NADAC trial this coming weekend!

Jake has always dropped his head and shoulders before jumping, but his jumping at this trial looked comfortable for him and his striding between jumps looked nice and even.  BTW, my sweetie-pie Jake has come a long ways in terms of staying in the game.  I was very proud of him!   I didn’t get a video of his Open Tunnelers run but he Q-ed it and he can get very WHOO HOO running Tunnelers, especially first thing in the morning.

OK. This was NOT my best handing on either video! 🙂  NADAC courses are so different from USDAA courses, that it took me most of the day to get my timing down and to stop calling Lil into handler focus when I didn’t need to….most apparent in Tunnelers.

Lil and Jake both felt very confident when jumping!   The person video taping zoomed in a lot for their jumpers runs, but you can get the general idea of how fast they were running and how well they were jumping!   All in all, there were just a few earlier-than-ideal take offs throughout the day and no dramatic launches by either dog! Oh and Lil got 4 of 4 Qs and 4 blue ribbons,  Jake got 2 or 4 Qs and 2 red ribbons and I wasn’t really trying to Q.

A couple of days before the trial, it occurred to me that I should run my dogs over a few 21′ spaced jumps since that is much wider than what we usually practice. This video is just of Lil, but Jake managed the spacing very easily too.

Yet another reason to love Silvia Trkman….like anyone needs one!

My recent post for Silvia’s Agility Foundations class:  Here is a short video of Lil’s current serpentines plus a few reps jumping over angled jumps. We have not practiced serps for a long time due to focusing on straight jumping and cip&cap.

Lil will normally seek out and take serpentine jumps with very little support from me. I wonder if the reason she ran past some jumps was because I was not in my usual position (which is typically further ahead).  It felt good to feel rushed by Lil’s increased speed and drive over the jumps.  I definitely felt more comfortable when I took more of a head start and was a bit further ahead of Lil.  I’m not sure any of this is visible due to the camera angle though.

Lil’s speed has picked up considerably since starting this course and as a result I am having so much fun running with her….not that it wasn’t fun before! It’s just more fun now!

Now I just need to be disciplined enough to do very little jump training between now and next weekend since we have another trial. Jumping has become so much fun its like eating ice cream… hard to stop until the bowl is empty! But I want Lil’s “jumping bowl” to be over-flowing for the trial!

LoLaBu’s avatarLoLaBu

That sure was fast! Great job! She is really flying, so… – who cares about a couple of missed jumps :) You do want to be ahead for a serpentine yes and you can help some with the arm too, you just don’t want to do any extreme turning as you want to keep running.

Lil’s jumping is getting better and better!

I finally got to practice the Week 4 sequence for the first time yesterday, but when I got to the training facility, it was raining so I had to set it up indoors with limited video positions but I think it was good enough to get the general idea of things. I threw in some extra straight jumping, since that is what we’ve been mostly working on, and I also rewarded mostly after straight jumps (vs. wraps) for the same reason.

I thought Lil jumped the back sides of jumps better when I said AROUND vs. WRAP. ps–AROUND is the word I’ve been using since Lil was a puppy so I think I’ll continue to use that word for the back-side of jumps.

It stopped raining so we moved outdoors and finished the session with some extension jumping. Lil’s speed and confidence over straight jumps feels so much better than when we started Silvia’s on-line class.

I started with 8′, one-stride spacing then tried 16′ spacing and I thought Lil managed it pretty well. She still tends to launch a bit over the first jump but I think that is slowly improving too (and she didn’t even do it every time today).

This was the first full session of jumping we’ve done in a while and I don’t intend to do more than one session like this per week but Lil seemed totally fine throughout the session and is currently racing around the house, so I don’t think I overdid it.

I am hoping the improvement I wrote about is visible on the video vs. only existing in my mind due to wishful thinking.


LoLaBu’s avatar

LoLaBu on May 3, 2012 at 12:24

Yes, her jumping sure looks great now! Really fast and smooth, with no real launches!

And really nice wraps too! I don’t think she wraps better with around though, I just think your body language was better than as you were moving towards 7 sooner. First time, you’re not telling her at all where you are going next and then do that sudden front cross when she is in the air what of course makes her knock the bar. Compare my position and direction of the feet when Le is going to 6 – that’s my secret of being fast :) If I wait until the dog is in the air to start circling my feet, all bars come down because of lack of information on where to go next – and I end way behind…

Anyway, we’ll get to “around” in the next lesson, but around doesn’t necessarily mean collection, so you certainly still need a collection word on 6. In some situations, I’ll say both, around + cik/cap, but I wouldn’t say around at all at 6 because the dog is already on the right side of the jump, so they need collection info much more as “push out and jump toward me” info.

More valuable feeback from Silvia

For the record, I do NOT think Lil has ETS (Early Take-Off Syndrome).  The reason I am focusing so much attention on Lil and jumping is because all dogs occasionally misjudge the distance or height of a jump and knock a bar.  Some dogs don’t seem to care, but I know with my dogs, if they knock a bar, they both tend to “try harder” not to knock additional bars.

There are many ways dogs can “try harder” not to knock bars.   They can over-jump, fling themselves over jumps, flip their rears up in an exaggerated way, tuck their back legs in tightly vs. extend them, drop their heads and shoulders before jumping, slow down, or any combination of the above.  Because Australian Terriers are such powerful little dogs,  I think it is fairly easy for them to jump inefficiently and if repeated enough times, an inefficient style of jumping can become habitual.

Here is my most recent post on Silvia’s Agility Foundation Class Site:

Dev: We had a typical practice session on Sunday, and included a lot of A-Frames, since I normally only have access to the one in my studio. Lil’s A-Frame striding was not consistent, but she mostly hit well within the contact zone (a couple near the line, which I didn’t like very much but definitely in). The A-Frame was set at 56″ which was 3″ higher than it was the last session at the studio.

The other reason I included footage from this practice session is to show how Lil is jumping.  I’m wondering if perhaps I should take a break from straight extension grids and just focus on cip&cap. Or perhaps change the spacing of the straight grids to force a little more collection?

Based on the practice session, Lil’s jumping was on my mind so I watched a few of her USDAA runs from a year ago where she had some faster and slower runs. I think overall Lil takes better set up steps when she is running slower (taking shorter strides vs. longer full-out running strides).

At this point I don’t know which style of running and jumping I should be encouraging?  Do I set up jump grids to encourage shorter strides and prettier jumping? But if I do that, will Lil lose speed?…. Speed is way more fun for me and I assume for Lil too????

Or do you think it will be a trade off with a dog built like Lil… that she will either run fast and jump early or run slower and jump prettier/better? 99% of the time, when she jumps early, it looks like it is easy enough for her to do.

I have been doing single cip&cap at 8″ recently, as seen at the end of the video.

Silvia: Cool, the AF looks nice and smooth – always in is good enough.  Jackpot the lower hits and keep going for higher ones. I would stay on this height for some more sessions. Cik&cap look good with the mat too, so I would keep working like that. Extension grids would be good too if you could find a distance that gives you good take off, but I wouldn’t go for slow and nice take off no. It’s normal she jumps later when going slowly, but she needs to measure the distance right even when coming with more speed. – Maybe she will learn that with speedy approaches to cik&cap, so yes, maybe focus on that for now, giving her a really speedy approach. Maybe she will still jump too early in extension, but yes, I guess I would take that over less speed…