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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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:

Jake and Tunnels

Last summer, the first obstacle of the standard course at an AKC trial was a C-shaped tunnel.  I set Jake up about 5′ away, facing straight-on and directly in front of the correct tunnel entrance, which happened to be on the right side.  I positioned myself on the inside curve and Jake was looking at the correct tunnel entrance when I released him but much to my surprise he ran around the tunnel and when he came back around the other side, I tried again to send him to the correct entrance.  Yet he chose to take the off-course entrance, even though I thought I was clearly indicating the other entrance.

At the time, I thought the problem was that Jake had never seen a C-shaped tunnel as the first obstacle on a course so I figured all I needed to do was to expose him to that scenario.  So I set up a short sequence starting with a C-shaped tunnel.  I was surprised to see what Jake did the first time I sent him to the right-side entrance (the same entrance he avoided at the trial).  He ducked behind me and dashed into the left entrance.   Yet when I sent him to the left entrance, he took it fast and without any hesitation every time.   It became apparent that Jake had developed a strong preference for left-side tunnel entrances.  Once I thought about it for a while, it made sense because Jake also has a preference for running on his right lead which is the lead dogs use when running through the left side of a curved tunnel.

Once I knew what was going on, I wanted to make it very easy for Jake to be right/ hard to be wrong so that I could heavily reinforce right-side entries to build value.  I started by setting him close to the right-side tunnel entrance and rewarded a bunch of successful repetitions. I slowly added distance and different angles over the course of many short sessions.  After a few days, I could see him getting the idea that both sides of the tunnel were worth taking, not just the left one.   I will continue to keep my eye on Jake’s speed and drive towards both tunnel entrances to make sure I am reinforcing enough right-side entrances to keep the value balanced with the left side.

Jake running through a curved tunnel on his left lead. photo by Barry Rosen

Jake Running Through a Curved Tunnel, photo by Barry Rosen