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

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Extreme Game Challenge Workshop with Lynn Smitley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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