A sampling of Jake and Lil’s runs at last weekend’s trial

Mountain Dog Sports hosts GREAT trials.  The vibe is always positive and fun and last weekend’s trial was no exception.

I had one goal coming into this trial and it was that my dogs run with their usual gusto and focus in what I consider to be a very challenging environment for Terriers…. an active horse arena.   A little background……. Lil struggled the first time we trialed at this site  in October.    She lacked confidence and even lost focus a couple of times which is rare for her.  Surprisingly Jake ran pretty well in October.  He only checked into the Mouse Hotel in one corner of the arena once.. and gratefully he checked right back out after one or two JAAAAAAKE  HEREs!

So with the sole goal that my dogs run fast and focused, I decided to run with them a lot more than I usually do.  Not sure how they would have done had I used more distance (maybe just as well) but I was very pleased with how well they both ran… AND for all the Qs they racked up!

Lil ran 13 courses and Qed 10 of them.  Jake ran 10 courses and Qed 5 of them.   Jake also earned High in Trial for Open dogs.  I could not be more proud of how well both dogs ran.

What a fun way to spend a weekend!

The A-Frame is a Jumping Obstacle… for some dogs

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I put together a composite that seems to support the notion that the A-frame is a jumping obstacle…. for some dogs at least.

It also answers the question: “Why do my dogs hit the A-frame so low?”

Answer: “They are not hitting the A-frame low. They are hitting it at the peak of their natural jumping arc.”

(top row) Jumping ON the A-frame, (2nd and 3rd rows) Jumping a 9" bar with 2 images rotated to match the A-frame angle, (4th row) Jumping OFF the A-frame-- images rotated so the down ramp is horizontal

(top row) Jumping ON the A-frame, (2nd and 3rd rows) Jumping a 9″ bar with 2 images rotated to match the A-frame angle, (4th row) Jumping OFF the A-frame– images rotated so the down ramp is horizontal

Lil is already jumping the equivalent of a 14 or 16 inch bar in order to hit the A-frame as high as she is hitting it, so I don’t think I can do much if anything that will significantly increase the height of her first hit.   But I believe I can soften the hit by training Lil (and Jake) to collect and power down a little before jumping onto the A-Frame.

(above) video that I grabbed screen saves from to create the composite image of Lil running over an A-Frame at the top of this post

I have a plan and have done a few preliminary sessions and I have say it looks very  promising.

Jake and Lil’s first time running agility in an active horse barn…. fresh poop and all!

Mountain Dog Sports runs great trials.  The vibe is friendly and fun and they keep things moving along.    This weekend’s NADAC trial at the Adams County Regional Park was held in an active horse barn…. with mice, fresh horse poop and likely fresh horse pee too.

Although Jake checked into the very popular “mouse hotel” in the far corner of the ring a few times over the course of the weekend 🙂 , he didn’t stay overnight (HA HA) and came back when I called and then continued running courses with great focus and speed.  YEY JAKE!  I think the fact that Jake stresses UP vs. DOWN worked well for him in this challenging environment.   He had great drive all weekend long.

Jake was totally amped when entering the arena and ring but he had great start line stays (except the first one).  I attribute his success to playing all sorts of fun start line stay games away from agility over the past few months.

Jake_ribbons_10-26-14

Jake earned his Open Chances Title and ran some beautiful Open Standard and Jumpers Courses.   If he keeps running this well,  I will continue to keep track of his qualifying runs for NADAC Championships.   Jake will turn 10 this year and if he qualifies it would be so much fun to run both dogs at Champs in 2015.   This is an exciting thought for me because a few years ago I thought his agility career was over due to an on-and-off again NQR (not quite right) but after three full days of trialing he is still looking great so I’m feeling optimistic about the upcoming year.

Now onto Lil……Lil is different from Jake in 2 ways…well there are more ways they are different but these are two ways that are significant in terms of this weekend’s trial:

1) Lil stresses DOWN vs. UP

2) Lil is not as confident as Jake.

As a result, Lil’s coping mechanisms in this challenging new environment were very different from Jake’s.   On Friday (day 1)  she acted concerned when entering the arena, and in the ring she looked insecure and lacked confidence which resulted in much lower drive than normal.  She even stopped to sniff (a rarity for Lil) and it was not happy “investigative” sniffing.  It looked more like “OMG!  WHAT IS THIS SMELL?” sniffing.  My best guess is the smell was horse urine since that area didn’t have any visible horse poop and a lot of dogs stopped to sniff the same spot.

So the question I asked myself was: “What should I do about Lil’s reaction to this new environment?  I didn’t think Lil was being a “bad dog.”   I felt she was doing her best but she was too concerned about the environment NOT to check it out.  I decided to sleep on it thinking she might work it out on her own overnight.  I also decided it couldn’t hurt to walk her through fresh horse poop in the parking lot (there was plenty to choose from) while asking for attention.  She quickly GOT that her job was to keep her head up vs.  sniff or take a nibble of horse poop.  Next I asked for some start line stay style WAITs while she was standing in the midst of horse poop and she quickly GOT that she should keep her head up in that situation too.

After a handful of super short sessions (each session 2 – 10 seconds long) Friday afternoon and Saturday AM, Lil was offering attention while walking through or standing in the midst of horse poop, so I figured it was fair for me to say NO if she dropped her nose to sniff in the ring.  And one firm NO is all it took to stop the sniffing but Lil still lacked confidence and drive when running courses.  So I decided to run with her far more than I usually do and to run in a style that was as dynamic, upbeat, and as much fun as possible.  It reminded me of how I used to run International style courses to keep her motivation and drive high.   That seemed to work well and Lil ended up running much better….although slower than usual.

Below is a video of  Lil’s Elite Jumpers run on Saturday.    It’s the only video we have from the weekend.  Thank you Heather for video-iPading this run and for emailing it to me.

(above)  Lil running Elite Jumpers on Saturday.

RE: speed and drive.  Lil usually takes 4 or 5 strides between jumps (20-21′ spacing).  In the video I counted as many as 7 strides between jumps but a couple of the jumps clearly had wider than usual spacing, which was consistent with the map (according to the course builders looking at the map).   I could feel Lil’s confidence rise and her striding opening up as we ran this course and as a result her speed picked up considerably.  This was her final run on Saturday and I think it was a real turning point.   She ran better and faster on Sunday and acted more like herself again in and out of the ring.

Lil-ribbons_10_26_14

It was difficult for me to see Lil struggling so much with this new environment, especially because she is usually such a rock solid, trial dog but it was great to see her adapt over the course of the weekend.   And Jake rising to the occasion and running so well helped keep my spirits up for sure.  If the weather holds up, we are going to an outdoor trial near Durango, Colorado in 2 weeks.    I think Lil and Jake will enjoy running on grass and being outdoors… and I will enjoy one last weekend camping in the RV.    My fingers are crossed that this beautiful fall weather continues for a couple more weeks.

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.

https://vimeo.com/92292006

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

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

New “before” video of HGR dog

Helen Swan was kind enough to upload a “before” video of her lovely dog Jaz before they began HGR. It’s the 4th video down on my previous post (May 1, 2013). The before video I uploaded (3rd down) was after a month or so of playing HGR games.

Helen and Jaz have a great relationship and they have been so fun to work with in the HGR classroom. I could not be happier for them!

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:

Awesome hike this morning!

For the first time in months, I took both dogs for a hike in the woods early this morning.  I had been avoiding the woods due to so many ticks earlier in the summer but yesterday, I ran into a “tree guy” and he had not seen ANY ticks lately so I figured I should take advantage of the timing as I’m sure the ticks will be back in full swing any day now.  I don’t know if it was the crisp fall air, or the fact that my dogs have not been for a hike in the woods for a few months, but they had such a blast, racing full speed ahead and back to me, again and again.  It was truly magical to see them so alive and happy!

I kept Jake on a long line, but Lil continues to have such a great recall, even with a bunch chipmunks chirping their heads off :),  that she got to run off leash.  I made a concerted effort to run as fast as I could whenever Lil was running ahead, so Jake was able to run with quite a bit of freedom and speed but I definitely could not keep up with Lil.  🙂  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lil run as fast as she ran today, and I was stunned to see how effortless her jumping looked over various-sized logs, gulleys, and other natural “agility” obstacles.  Since I didn’t have a camera with me on the hike, I inserted a series of photos of Lil jumping at camp last week.

I cannot imagine a better way to start off a beautiful, crisp, fall day!  It was totally exhilarating for all three of us!  Now, I’m hunkering down to work for the next few days in order to meet a pressing deadline.

Lil’s running dog walk at NADAC trial last weekend

I couldn’t be more pleased with how good Lil’s running dog walk is looking!  Just one high hit (but still in the contact zone) and many very nice low hits.  She clearly understands the criteria. YEY!

I’ll be posting some of her runs in a day or two.  She ran fast and confidently all three days  and earned 4 new titles and 13 Qs!

A day of USDAA

Yesterday I went to a USDAA trial but only entered  Lil in 2 classes: Jumpers and Snooker because I have decided to stop running my dogs over different height A-Frames and the USDAA A-Frame is higher than the other venues we compete in.   I was taking a risk entering Snooker because the A-Frame can be included but I figured if I’m driving 1:30 hours anyway I might as well take my chances since the only real risk is losing my $13 entry fee for that class.

It turned out that the A-Frame was the #4 obstacle in the Snooker closing so my only option to earn enough points to qualify (and not run Lil over that higher A-Frame) was to go for four #7s in the opener and get through #3 in closing.  Lil aced it and we Q-ed.

Here is why I stopped running my dogs over the higher USDAA A-Frame:

Jake has a 2o2o and so running over different height A-Frames is not a huge issue with him, although he looks better running up and down a lower one.   Lil has a running A-Frame.  Once the A-frame got a few inches above 5′, her striding really started to change.  She has only been called twice on a 5’6″ A-Frame but the issue I have is that her descent looks off-balance to me on 5’6″ A-Frames.   I believe the structure of an Australian Terrier comes into play in a much greater way when the A-Frame is raised to 5’6″.  Lil’s striding starts to change a bit at  4′ 8″ but it still looks good and more importantly, it looks like she is in control during the descent on 5′ A-Frames.

Here is my analysis: 🙂   An AT’s short-ish legs make it difficult for them to shift their centers of gravity back far enough when running 3 strides down a steeper A-Frame to stay in control as momentum builds during the descent because their shorter legs don’t offer the same “breaking power” as longer legs (like Border Collies have) which extend further forward.  I liken a dog having longer legs when running down an A-Frame to a person having walking sticks when hiking quickly down a very steep hill.  So I now think that last leaping stride that ATs like to take off an A-Frame is not due to an eagerness to get off the A-Frame, but rather it’s a reaction to the powerful forces of gravity and momentum that have built up by the time an AT takes that third necessary stride down.

I think it takes an incredible amount of effort and strength for ATs to hold themselves back against forward momentum and gravity when they drive hard over an A-Frame (like Lil does).   I have compared photos of Border Collies and Lil descending an A-Frame and Lil’s overall body position, shoulder angle, forward reach, and tucking under of back legs looked similar.  The big difference is that Lil’s legs are significantly shorter so her nose extends beyond her front feet.   I can see why she looks off-balance when running fast down a steeper A-Frame.

Since I stopped training on both 5’6″ and 5′ A-Frames, Lil is striding comfortably up, over, and down the A-Frame and her 3rd stride lands well inside the contact zone of 5′ high A-Frame.  It looks easy and natural vs. WHOA!  This is what prompted me to stop training both heights and to stop running both heights in trials.