A Commercial Clicker Board

Looks like someone is manufacturing electronic clicker boards in Japan.  I personally prefer my homemade, low-tech clicker boards that use ordinary clickers but this new electronic version has a very low profile and it shows up on your doorstep ready to go.. no assembly required.   Those are both very enticing features!

In the video above, you can see that a stride regulator was added for the smaller terrier at 2:43 minutes.  I think its important to note that regardless of the props used, this small dog did not hit very deep in the contact zone.  I personally would not have added that stride regulator  because it forced unnatural extension and looked uncomfortable for him to do.  Also based on this particular dog’s style of running, I would not have begun practicing full-out running on a dog walk until he understood the end behavior I was looking for… intentional targeting near the end of the contact zone.   The end result of back-chaining like this would likely be a bit slower due to more strides on the dog walk but I think that would be more than balanced out by safety, reliability, and independence.

You can also see some leaping (rear feet together) vs. running (rear feet separation) by other dogs in the video above.  Clicker boards are great for communicating to dogs WHERE their feet are supposed to hit, but not HOW their feet are supposed to hit.  So using a clicker board (electronic or low-tech)  can produce different styles of foot targeting than  Silvia Trkman’s method, which focuses on CAPTURING running/ rear feet separation first and SHAPING lower hits over time.

Like my low-tech Clicker Board, this new electronic version will not train Running Contacts.  It will however mark the moment a dog’s feet hit inside the contact zone, which releases the handler from the responsibility of having to see and then mark that behavior in a timely fashion.

Below are links to earlier posts on my low-tech clicker boards if you want to build one vs. buy one.

https://artanddogblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/the-clicker-board-makes-training-running-contacts-a-breeze-with-perfectly-timed-clicks-every-rep/

https://artanddogblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/clicker-board-using-button-clickers-vs-box-clickers/

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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!

Why my Australian Terriers don’t run all the way down the A-Frame

AT-dismount_loading_concequences_why_need_to_leap

(above) The top row of photos are rotated 32.5 % so the A-Frame is horizontal.  The photo on the upper right is the same photo as the large photo below, just cropped and rotated.

I sort of already knew this but it really sunk in after watching the video footage of my dogs running over a full-height A-frame yesterday.   You can watch the video I grabbed the screen shots from on yesterday’s post.

border_collie_AT_jump_arc_comparison

(above) Compare Lil’s jumping arc over a bar and jumping off the A-frame.  Incidentally, the Border Collie has a similar arc when jumping in extension but that is entirely different topic.
border_collie_loading

(above) Here is an example of how well many Border Collies (and other breeds) can collect and load well at top speeds, which makes it possible for them to jump UP at a steeper angle than an Australian Terrier.  The typical BC structure allows dogs to change the angle of their trajectories dramatically when jumping bars (running on flat ground, then UP and OVER jump, then back to flat ground) and also when running over A-frames (flat ground, then UP and OVER the A-Frame, then back to flat ground).  Longer legs also play an important role when running down the A-frame because like walking sticks, longer legs help dogs hold themselves back against the forces of gravity and momentum far better than shorter legs do.

Running_A-Frame_and_structure_2_13_11

(above) You can read more about this photo in a post I wrote in September 2012. https://artanddogblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/running-a-frames-and-the-long-backed-dog/

I think its fairly common for agility folks to attribute all “performance issues” to “training issues” but the more I observe dogs run agility, the more I see that structure can solve many riddles re: “why dogs do what they do” vs. assuming all performance riddles are caused by inadequate training.   In the case of my particular dogs, once it became clear to me that their longer backs do not allow them to load very well, I was able to see that its more natural for ATs to jump in extension vs. in collection (if they are running fast).  I also recognized that there is a limit to how high an AT can jump in extension with ease.   But that is a different topic.

Back to the topic of this post….I had a big AH HA yesterday…. drum roll please….

The structure of an AT influences how they jump on and off A-Frames the same way it influences how they jump over bars.  ATs jumping arcs are naturally longer and flatter when jumping on and off the A-frame because they don’t load as deeply as longer-legged dogs.  Duh.  🙂   As a result, their first stride on the A-frame is going to be lower than a dog who is able to load deeper and their dismount is going to be higher to avoid face planting due to their jumping arcs being flatter.

If my dogs were willing to move very slowly down the A-Frame, they would be able to crawl down, slat by slat, or crouch super low and grip the rubber with their toenails to slow their descent.  But this would mean slowing down A LOT, which would be difficult for them to do  and boring as well (for all concerned) so I have accepted that my dogs need to leave the A-frame from higher up than many other dogs.. and that is OK…. within reason.  🙂

This AH HA doesn’t mean I’m giving up trying to influence what they do on the A-Frame.  I’m going to continue to try to decrease Jake’s speed on the approach slightly to soften his first stride on.   I’ll also be continuing to experiment with various verbal cues to see how Jake and Lil respond to them in order to encourage the safest performances possible for each dog.

Why Lil does those funny little head bobs and nose touches while waiting to be released.

A while back I noticed that Lil was doing a little head bob or quick nose touch to the ground now and then at the start line when training. I also noticed that I often inadvertently rewarded those behaviors by releasing precisely at those moments. While that was unintentional on my part, I didn’t see any harm in those quirky little behaviors… until recently at our first trial in an active horse arena, a couple of times nose touches morphed to sniffing at the start line, which certainly caught my attention.

Once head bobs and nose touches were on my radar, I started noticing how often Lil “offered” quirky little head movements in her day-to-day life.

When I ask Lil “Where is Jake?” She whips her head quickly in Jake’s direction and then whips it back again (and I reward her for that). She also whips her head to the Right and Left in response to those verbal cues. She offers quick nose touches when she is waiting for me to put on my shoes and knows we are going for a walk. I suspect those nose touches are the equivalent of twiddling her thumbs in situations like this one. I also think the quick nose touches morphed from a slight lowering of her head when I added the duration to Forward Focus while Lil was looking out into space… at nothing in particular.. which I inadvertently rewarded her for doing.

So I had to ask myself: “Where did this come from?” My first thought was that they morphed out of Forward Focus games (examples in earlier blog posts).


(above) a little head bob at 0:46 but overall nice forward focus!

While I still believe those games contributed to her offering head movements more frequently over time, since I have been rewarding Forward Focus when she offers it on walks or when standing in front of agility obstacles, I never thought I needed to put Forward Focus, a seemingly benign behavior, on stimulus control.. until recently. And when I looked back even further… all the way to puppy hood, I realized Lil played a lot of “Look at That” games which create the ultimate foundation training for head whipping.

Once I recognized that head bobs can lead to nose touches which can lead to sniffing when a little trial stress is added to the mix, the next obvious question was how to remove them from Lil’s bag of tricks. My plan is to approach this training puzzle in terms of process… a long-term goal.. not an OMG I HAVE TO FIX THIS ASAP.” Afterall, for Lil, head movements have been part of her life since puppy hood and they are not an indicator of stress for her so I don’t feel a huge sense of urgency to get rid of them. Plus I think they will always be somewhere in her…lurking under the surface… and I’m OK with that. I also love her cute head whipping tricks like “Right,” “Left” and “Where is Jake” head whips.

My current plan is:

1) Reward only when Lil’s head is not moving in her day-to-day life. In other words, put all head movements on stimulus control….. if I don’t ask for it, I won’t reward for it.

2) Change Lil’s start line position from standing to sitting (at least for the time being).

3) Change Lil’s start line routine to avoid the behavior chains that currently include head bobs.

4) Make nose touches nearly impossible for her to do through the use of position and a perfect prop I happen to have (more on this prop below).

5) Maintain steady eye contact when leading out. Pause when Lil bobs her head when practicing. Start moving again and praise when her head is still. So far, this has been working very well because when I look at Lil, she looks right back at me which tends to keep her head still. My current plan is NOT to pause at trials because I do not want to cause any stress related to the start line since I think Lil’s head bobs are just a habit she has formed over time vs. an indication of stress.

6) Ask Lil to SIT a lot in day-to-day life (and reward sitting) since she has been heavily rewarded for standing (my personal preference to date but that may change) but not for sitting. Mark and reward SIT before she has a chance to move her head, then gradually add duration. This is working very well too!

7) Sometimes ask for a quick Sit Pretty (begging) when Lil is sitting then go back to another quick sit, which positions her front feet deeper under her body so her sitting position is more tucked vs. slouchy. Release quickly to start.

And now back to the PERFECT Prop. I personally love using props because learning takes place so fast with the right prop…. faded quickly (I’ve never had a problem fading a prop). The perfect prop which I happened to have on hand is a rubber feed bucket turned upside down, which Sharon Nelson uses for training foundation skills….brilliantly!

So why are feed buckets so perfect you might ask? When Lil places her front feet on a Mark bucket, the angle of her body is like a “standing sit” (HA HA but true) plus she is able to push off from her rear legs with a lot of power, due to her weight being shifted back, which is great for punchy/ fast releases. The other BIG benefit is that Lil’s head and nose are farther from the ground when she is standing on a Mark bucket. One more benefit is the behavior of front feet on a Mark bucket (or front feet on anything for that matter) is a new behavior for my dogs so they are both starting off with clean slates.

Lil standing on the Mark
Jake standing on the Mark
Lil sitting with front feet on the Mark
Lil sitting with front feet on the Mark

A couple of days ago, I decided to take the “Mark Show” on the road and took both dogs to an active livestock barn. We started off with some easy reps, sending the dogs back and forth between 2 Marks (like in my last post). Later in the session, I mixed in some SITs (in the dirt) and the first couple of reps were great.. head perfectly still and really nice punchy releases. After couple of reps she started doing a little head bob as soon as I took my first lead out step. I said a very happy WHOOPS and paused for a moment then continued leading out, praising as I walked or ran… and her head (and body) stayed perfectly still and then I released her. I ping ponged back and forth between starting her on the Mark and on the dirt (already starting to fade the prop). Her speed was best when we were both running. Her speed dropped to moderate but still respectable when I added 15′ or so of lateral distance or sent her to the far bucket which tells me something for sure.

Jake does not head bob or nose touch so his reps were all about focus in a new and highly distracting environment. He totally ROCKED.. running full speed ahead between 2 Mark buckets placed as far as 30+ ‘ away.

The following text is worthy of a separate post but since it is also about Mark buckets I decided to combine it with the text above.

The next day I found yet another amazing benefit to using Mark buckets when I met a friend at a local outdoor facility where she practices. $50 buys a 30 day unlimited pass (when classes are not in session) so I signed up for a month. Even if there are some snow days, it’s still a great bargain and only a few miles to drive. Thank you Julie!

The ring has a sandy dirt surface and SURPRISE SURPRISE there were sheep and horses in 2 adjacent pastures. Jake goes totally bonkers when he sees sheep and freaks out if a horse looks at him so I thought OK THEN this will be an opportunity to see what Jake can do surrounded by HUGE distractions. As it turned out, he never even glanced at the sheep or horses. I attribute a lot of his total focus on teamwork and a total lack of interest in the sheep and horses to my having the Mark buckets in my car, which I had brought primarily to use with Lil at the start line.

But once I saw the sheep and horses, I decided to start by warming up each dog’s brain by running them back and forth between 2 Marks (started 10′ apart and increased the distance to about 20’). Then we took a short break and started up again with a Mark, then 3 jumps followed by another Mark. I gradually increased the number of jumps in the sequences, while also expanding the area we were working in. Neither dog had ANY issues with distractions in any part of the ring. I think starting and ending most sequences on the Mark buckets worked incredibly well with Jake. It really kept his head in the game, even when driving straight towards the horses or sheep with me behind (and thus out of sight). His focus never wavered.

Then 2 BC teams showed up and I realized one handler was going to let his dog run around unleashed with a ball between reps. But after observing that dog interact with a less social dog who approached him, I felt this BC would be safe IF Jake ran up to him (Jake is not aggressive).. but I also asked the handler what his dog would do IF… and he said “nothing”. The other BC was being micro managed but I also asked his handler what her dog would do if approached by a YAHOO terrier and she said her dog would run away.

Now with 2 BCs off leash in the same ring, with pastures with sheep and horses on 2 sides of the ring, each of my dogs had one more very long turn consisting of a mixture of short and long sequences. Both dogs had unwavering focus, really nice drive and confidence, even when running straight towards the BC practicing running DWs. They drove hard and landed on the Mark buckets wherever I placed them… or came running back to me when I ended sequences without the Marks. YEY JAKE! YEY LIL!

For Jake in particular, finishing sequences on a Mark appeared to have a very positive influence. I think it was because he always had something visual to drive towards and he always knew where he was going next, even when working at a distance or driving ahead of me. I think it kept him from even thinking about looking to see what else might be going on. YEY Jake again!

The Marks were also great for practicing independent weaving. I placed one mark at each end of the weave poles and alternated sending, recalling, running along side close and with lateral distance and Lil ran fast and confident every rep. I didn’t get around to working on weaving with Jake but plan to do that next time.

Marks are incredibly versatile training props. One more advantage I’d like to share before signing off is that Mark buckets are helping Jake transition from 2o2o to 4on the dog walk naturally. No retraining needed! I can say with 100% certainty, the reason he is now often stopping with his front feet an inch from the bottom edge of the dog walk ramp is because of all the reps he has done with his front feet on the Mark.. while also learning how to drive fast and then shift his weight back enough to stop on the Mark bucket and not knock it over. These are important skills to have in terms of contact performance. The best thing about is, is he is learning all of this away from real contacts minimizing physical stress.

It’s amazing to me now much one training prop can do. Sharon Nelson is one smart cookie and very generous to share her training “magic” with all who are interested.

🙂

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

A few of Lil’s runs from last weekend’s trial

Its been 2 months since our last trial.  I missed two local trials in June due to my exhibition in Luxembourg and a schedule conflict with a family event.  Its funny,  in 2 months time I had sort of forgotten how much fun trials are in terms of the “whole” trial experience: hanging out with friends, watching other teams run, and of course running my own dog.

Jake is currently “on the bench” due to a slight limp earlier in the week after a particularly exciting hunting expedition in our backyard.   😦 So his “turns” consisted of Freestyle and Flatwork done at a run, which is similar to agility in terms of energy and teamwork so I think he was content “earning” his treats by doing this vs. running over agility obstacles.

Lil didn’t seem to mind the 90 degree temps plus soaring humidity.  She ran well all weekend long.   The trial was held at a campground in Dummerston, VT, which has huge pine trees to park under.  Between the shade and Ryobi fans, Jake and Lil were comfortable and cool all weekend long.  As for me, I must have eaten an entire watermelon and drank a gallon of water to stay cool… which worked very well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7m0tIAOsJA”  Link to video (since for some reason WordPress does not include video links in emailed posts).

Building value for hitting closer to the bottom of an A-Frame through natural enticement

Given the random nature of agility obstacle specifications,  some dogs are going to have a harder time than others when it comes to meeting the criteria to avoid point faults while also performing an obstacle safely.   One example of a random obstacle specification is the fact that most A-Frames ramps 9′ long, which for anyone who has ever built anything knows is not a practical size since standard plywood is 8′ long.  But that is a minor inconvenience compared to the difficulty many people face when training their dogs to perform the A-Frame safely and consistently.

Many things come into play but a dog’s size, body type, and stride length can be significant factors RE: A-Frame performances.  In the photos below, you can see that Lil is reaching forward as much as possible with her front legs, yet her front feet do not extend as far forward as the Border Collie’s feet.  I liken this to running down a very steep hill with too short walking sticks–and the faster Lil runs, the harder it is for her to maintain control in her descent due to the powerful forces of gravity and momentum.

Running_A-Frame_and_structure_2_13_11In addition to the Australian Terrier’s structure (longer back, shorter legs), size also comes into play.  Lil is a bit too small to be able to safely float over the top of an A-frame and then take just one more stride on the descent so she has to take an extra stride but here is the catch– the more strides a dog has to take on the descent of the A-Frame, the more gravity and momentum will cause them to become unbalanced.  I’ve seen a few fast small dogs almost do back flips on the descent due to their rears coming up too high.

Another influencing factor is how upright or slinky a dog’s natural posture is when running.  My other Australian Terrier, Jake holds his head higher and runs more upright than Lil, so he has to work even harder to hold himself back against the forces of gravity and momentum than Lil.

Below is a post I wrote about A-frames and long-backed dogs, in which I explain in more detail why I think it can difficult for them to run fast and hit low, especially on the highest (5’6″) A-frames.  One thing I did not mention in that post is that I think the rather extreme body proportions of Corgis may actually help them counter the effects of gravity and momentum by having such extremely low centers of gravity themselves.  As a result they do not appear to become as off balanced as moderately longed-back Australian Terriers do when descending an A-Frame. https://artanddogblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/running-a-frames-and-the-long-backed-dog/

NOW ONTO THE INSPIRATION FOR TODAY’S POST: Dawn Weaver posted an intriguing question in an on-line group discussion about jumping issues.   Her question was related to what agility courses would look like if they were based on canine vision vs. human vision.   Apparently this got me thinking about agility specifications in a much broader sense, so when I stumbled upon this video from 2010 of a method I experimented with in hopes of training my dogs to perform the A-frame as safely as  possible, I was inspired to write a post about it.

In a perfect world, I would have an A-frame with a bendable contact zone that I could use for early training, beginning with the contact zone bent at a significant angle and then gradually changing the angle until it was the same as the rest of the A-Frame.   Then once my dogs were trained, I could slightly bend the contact zone when practicing handling, similar to the way many people train with slightly open channel weaves when practicing weave poles to reduce the wear and tear on their dogs.  How cool would that be?  Below is a concept drawing of a bendable A-Frame.

Bendable A-Frame 12-10My initial inspiration for this idea was to devise a way to make the bottom of the A-Frame more enticing to my dogs.  My thinking was if my dogs had the option of striding over a contact zone that had less angle than the A-frame, that they would aim for it in the same way many dogs appear aim for the less angled/ flat ground just beyond the A-Frame.

As you can see in the video above, the angled ramps worked well.   Both dogs appeared to be aiming for the less angled ramp (Jake more than Lil), not due to training, but rather because the ramp eased the transition between A-frame and the ground.

One thing I did not like about the experiment was the issue of the ramp adding length to the A-Frame. I did not want my dogs to develop a specific striding pattern based on the overall longer length of the ramp and A-frame so I solved that issue at 0:28 by adding an 8′  long “runway” beyond the A-frame so the ramp and A-frame measured 9′ in total vs. the ramp adding additional length to the A-Frame.

Back to my perfect world: A bendable A-Frame, like seen in my concept drawings would solve that issue without having to add a “runway” like I did in the video.  Not that I actually NEED a bendable A-Frame for training, since both of my dogs are running over A-Frames in reasonably safe and consistent fashions at this point.

How is this for a totally crazy thought…  What if all A-Frames had contact zones that had a more moderate angle than the upper part?   It would reduce the impact of the first stride onto the A-frame and ease the transition back to flat ground.  Plus another benefit is that it would be much easier for judges to see if dogs hit the contact zone or not so they would not need to storm towards the A-Frame while the dog is running over it which freaks out some dogs and makes them leap!

How I trained a running dogwalk without having access to a “real” dogwalk

The following  train of thought popped up in an email conversation about running contacts with a friend who is in the process of training her amazingly fast and talented mini-poodle to do running contacts.   I’ve always heard that you need access to a real DW in order to train the final stages of  running contacts.  I didn’t intentionally set out to disprove that premise but since I don’t have access to a rubberized DW, I ended up training Lil’s entire running DW performance on a 12′ plank angled off my back porch, which is only 34″ high.   I eventually added a second 12′  plank on the porch that connected to the angled plank so I sort-of had 2/3 of a DW.  I think adding the second plank was important because Lil was able to practice a specific striding pattern over the apex to the down ramp. So far, it seems to be working out very well in practice and at trials! 🙂

Running contacts are so much fun to train, I figured I’d give it a shot with Jake.  With Lil, I used Dawn Weaver’s method but with Jake I modified it a bit so that it is more of a “moving contact” than a true “running contact.”  I really like the way this feels with Jake and I think it might be better for NADAC courses than true running contacts because it gives the handler a moment to connect and direct the dog to the next obstacle vs. having to rely on verbal cues such as GO ON, RIGHT, and LEFT if the handler is very far behind the dog. I believe this will come in handy as I add more and more distance skills to Jake’s tool box!   Since I had already trained Lil’s running contacts prior to switching over to NADAC (and she is doing so well with them), I’m leaving them as is.  I think it will be fine with Lil since she responds so well to verbals (most of the time).  🙂

Below is a 20 second video of the angled dogwalk ramp.

I leave the plank angling off the porch over one of two sets of stairs most of time.   I can close the gate at the top to block access if there is snow or ice on the plank.   Although since the rubberized surface is black, snow melts very quickly plus NADAC rubber is amazingly non-slippery, even when wet.

So now, instead of the dogs running up and down the stairs to and from the backyard, they now mostly run up and down the plank.   At first, if they saw a chipmunk or something, they would leap off before reaching the bottom of the plank.  But that was WAY BETTER than the way they used to  leap off the porch if they saw a chipmunk, bypassing the steps entirely, which always made me cringe re: the impact onto the blue stone slab below.

Surprisingly, training running contacts on a plank placed over the stairs helped both dogs generalize the behavior to the stairs as well and now they tend to run all the way to the bottom of the stairs too.  At this point, when they run all the way down in route to the backyard, I praise them and when they occasionally leap I say OOPs.   That is the extent of the feedback they get outside of “official” training sessions.  But I think it has had a significant impact over time and its rare that either dog leaps off the plank OR the stairs.

Thoughts about jump heights plus new videos from last weekends trial

For me agility is the most fun when my dogs are running courses super fast and like most dogs, my dogs can run faster with lower jumps.   I am not suggesting speed is what makes agility the most fun for other teams.  I also must admit that I enjoy getting Qs but I’d take a fast and fluid NQ over a jerky Q any day!

I recently learned that AKC is now allowing the transfer of points to Preferred so teams don’t have to start all over again in Novice if they want to lower their dog’s jump heights.  YEY for that!   I hope this results in more people moving their dogs to Preferred if they feel their dog’s current jump height is too high based on either structure or age.

I have given jump heights a great deal of thought over this past year and over the past 6 months, I have only been competing in NADAC, where my Australian Terriers can jump 4″.   I may never raise their jump heights back to 8″, even for Lil who looks quite good jumping 8″.  My thinking is that when Lil jumps 8″ she often does a little butt flipping action over jumps, which a lot of BCs, who barely skim over bars, also do.  Granted it looks a lot more elegant when a long-legged BC butt flips, compared to my long-backed Australian Terrier, but regardless I suspect any repetitive motion like butt flipping could cause discomfort or undue wear and tear if done repeatedly for many years.  This thought is based on what I learned from an orthopedic specialist, whom we took Jake to see in July for an on-again, off-again NQR issue.  The vet didn’t find anything wrong with Jake but said that he had a little arthritis in his lower back which was VERY NORMAL for an agility dog to have at the age of 7….and he sees a lot of performance dogs.


Here are a few of Lil’s runs at a NADAC trial, December 15-16, 2012

There are two reasons I may not raise Lil’s jump height back to 8″.  The first is because she can run agility courses faster jumping 4″ and appears to be having more fun as a result.  The second reason is that she rarely butt flips over 4″ bars and I’m guessing that will be better for her long-term well-being.   I am not suggesting that everyone should lower their dog’s jump heights.. but just hoping to bring awareness to the choice we all have to jump our dogs lower in the USA.  Plus as far as I know, dogs don’t care about titles or jump heights. 🙂

The reason I will not likely raise Jake’s jump height back to 8″ is because of his rather unorthodox style of jumping, which I suspect is caused by his tendency to run and jump with his head held high.   I think it will take many months for him to fully adjust to jumping lower bars but at home he is now able to jump 4″ bars with ease so I know it is possible for him. I anticipate that over time, he will jump with more and more ease and  consistency at trials too.


Here are a few of Jake’s runs at a NADAC trial, December 15-16, 2012.  Unfortunately, what may have been Jake’s best run of all times, Touch N Go on Saturday, was not video-taped.  😦  It was super fast and super fun with awesome NEW running contacts!

I suspect there are other obstacles like weave poles and contacts that could contribute to the development of lower back arthritis, as well as day-to-day activities, but it also seems logical to me that the arching of the lower back to flip rear legs up high enough to clear bars over hundreds of jumps every year could result in arthritis or perhaps soreness at times, since there are so many jumps on most agility courses.  ps– One of the many things I am loving about NADAC is that many classes don’t have jumps and even Standard courses have a combination of jumps and hoops, so by the end of a full day of trialing (even running 6 classes) my dogs have jumped far less than they would have in 2 classes in other agility venues.

Regardless of the validity of my previous statements, why would I not want to lower my dogs’ jump heights if I have the option to do so?  All of the Australian Terriers I know are great agility dogs but agility specs are not designed with this particular breed in mind… and why would they be?   That said, I know several great running ATs who jump 8″ with  ease.  All of these dogs have good ground speed and good handlers and they look totally fine jumping their current height.  I am certainly not trying to suggest all ATs jump 4″.  It’s just a choice I’m making for my particular dogs and who knows, I just might end up raising their jump heights back to 8″ over time.

I do think there is a reason so many BCs and Shelties compete and win major competitions with full-height jumps though.  I will go so far to say that I think obstacle specifications suit these two breeds particularly well.  YEY for most BCs and Shelties out there!  GO GO GO!  As far as dogs whose structures are not perfectly suited for current obstacle specifications or jump heights, why not jump your dogs lower for a while and see how they look (and feel) if you have the option to do so?

And how about this radical thought? Imagine what agility trials in the USA would look like if a huge number of people decided to lower the jump heights for their dogs.  I’m guessing YPS would grow exponentially and make agility far more exciting to run AND to watch.  And perhaps American agility enthusiasts would start to feel better about what the USA has to offer in terms of competitive agility vs. always comparing our courses to European style courses and feeling that we are falling short!

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: