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

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.

Lil’s Running Dogwalk

What you cannot see on the video is that Lil is first running along a 12′ carpet runner on the back porch that connects to the 12′ plank that is slanting down from the 34″ high porch to the ground.

Lil had done one short session with this set-up the day before.  As typical of Lil, if I briefly expose her to something new and then let her sleep on it, she approaches additional sessions with increased confidence and understanding.  This video is of the three sessions we did yesterday.

I love watching Lil experiment with different striding patterns, trying to figure out the fastest/ best way to run down the plank while still being able to hit low with her final stride.  I think 4 strides is starting to look nice and comfortable, with some nice low hits and no leaping.  Of course Lil “tested” 3 strides once or twice but I don’t think that is going to work well, especially once she is running a full-height dog walk.

I’m going to let her continue to experiment and see if she figures out a way to take 3 strides down and get consistently low hits or if she ends up choosing to take 4 strides.  I am putting my money on 4 strides.  especially because we are not at full height yet.  But then again, 3 days ago, I thought 5 strides was the best choice for Lil and I was wrong about that!  I am having so much fun watching Lil learn this new skill.  I also love that the angle of a full-height dog walk is not nearly as steep as the A-Frame so gravity will not come into play nearly as much!

The following JUST HAPPENED and I had to post the video!


Lil’s Running Dog Walk After One Week of Training

After thinking about switching Lil from a 2o2o to a running dog walk for well over a year, I finally bit the bullet and made the decision to do it!  After just 3 sessions running Lil over various planks in my studio and over my half-sized dog walk, I ran her at a NADAC trial on Sunday.   My intention was to just see what she did. I didn’t have any expectations since she hadn’t even run over a full-sized dog walk yet but BOY OH BOY did she surprise me!   She ran over the dog walk 3 times at the trial and her striding was beautiful all three times.  I could see that she was aiming for and intentionally striding through the contact zone vs. looking like she just happened to hit it.

Only time will tell how much is beginners luck and how much was due to  months of training Dawn Weaver’s Running Contacts foundation skills away from real obstacles.  Dawn’s games are so much fun to play and useful for other purposes that if was easy to play them with Lil in my yard for months regardless of whether I decided to transfer the skills to a running dog walk or not!

Lil running on a flat board as part of Silvia Trkman’s Foundations Class

Lil currently has a solid 2o2o on the dog walk. She started running over a board when she was 12 months old for a running A-Frame.

My concern about training a running dog walk is that I cannot see if her legs are together or separated in “real time”. I have been standing directly behind or in front of Lil and I also can’t seem to see which hits are closer to the end either… it all seems to be happening too fast for my eyes and brain to grasp.

My question to Silvia: Its seems so clear in slo-mo, but how can I train myself to see the important details in “real time” so that I can jackpot Lil’s “better” performances?

ps– The board is 8′ long x 14″ wide.

LoLaBu on March 15, 2012 at 11:37

To me, the easiest to see is when I’m a bit behind and a bit to the side. For now, you would be focusing on a form of running ie. is she extending well forward instead of going up in the air. Once I get all running and start focusing on the hits, I just stare at the contact area and wait for the paws to fall (or not fall :) ) into it. You can then show where you saw feet to a camera and then check if you were right, to check your decisions. It does get easier&easier, but it’s definitely harder with short little legs as with longer legs!

But if she has nice DW, you can keep 2o2o there and just focus on running AF. OR, you can play some with a plank and decide later if you can see it well enough and how she is doing and if you want to proceed or not.

Devorah Sperber on March 15, 2012 at 12:59

Thanks Silvia, I like the idea of playing around with the plank to see if I can learn to SEE whats happening and then confirming it by playing back the video.

ps– I have seen professional photographs (shot continuously like stop frame animation) of Australian Terriers doing lure coursing and they all tend to flip their rears up a bit when running at full speed…. I assume it must be a structural thing. I hadn’t realized that Lil did that until watching the video in slo-mo. The last time I ran her over a board was a long time ago and she was not running as fast or taking as long strides back then.

ps–I can’t believe how much faster Lil is doing EVERYTHING after just a few weeks of starting this class. I’m thrilled.. and so is Lil.. whose official AKC name happens to be “Just for a Thrill” :) How perfect is that?

TIP FROM ANOTHER STUDENT: …when you think you got a leap, wave to the camera! that way you’ll know what you were thinking in full speed once you get to the slo mo

ST FEEDBACK:  Different breeds run differently, so I always recommend taping a dog when running full out on flat, studying it frame by frame and comparing to running over the board. And yes, some board running certainly can’t hurt her current performance on DW, so it’s no problem to play with it some – AND, it’s great for their overall speed too!

DEV: One more thing….What, if anything, should I be doing when Lil leaps ONTO the board? She does a similar thing sometimes on the A-Frame, which can’t be good for her body in the long term.

ST: I think you might be able to get rid of that if you started with a carpet, then go to a plank with a carpet on it etc. – to make it as “normal” and uneventful to run over something as possible. Ideally, they don’t even change their stride when getting on a plank – that’s why I promote carpet and very thin planks so much. Thick (or with some dogs even thin) planks often affect their stride some.