New and Super Deep Doggie Luge…..sigh

(above) Jake: Round One

Jake started off offering Paw and Shake which was so cute, I left it in the video.  The snow is so deep, it’s the equivalent of running through a very long tunnel since Jake cannot see me while running along the far side of the track.  A year ago, I don’t think he would have been willing to run all the way around with me out of sight for so long.  What a fun little guy he is!

(above) Jake: Round Two

(above) Lil: Round One

Lil will work with enough distance for me to stand on the porch to get a better view of the luge track.. but the snow is so deep, you still cannot see her half the time.  If it was not for the luge track, I don’t think Lil would venture off the porch at all.  She is a total “princess” when it comes to deep snow… so the Doggie Luge is the first thing I dig out after every snow fall…. did I mention this has been almost a daily occurrence lately? BIG SIGH!

(above) Lil: Round Two

I’ll end this post with a Funny Story.  I shoveled the luge track and the front path to our house 5-6 times yesterday but this morning I needed to deal with a huge amount of overnight snow in stages.  I had the front 2/3 of the luge shoveled when I let the dogs out this morning and they were very YAHOO and both took off running…. and I remember thinking…..hmmmmm what will happen with they hit “the wall of snow”…..

Jake jumped right over it… and bounded through the snow following the slight indentation where the previous luge track had been and then did another lap around the entire luge  for good measure. Lil followed Jake for a few strides in the deep snow and then turned around and came back to the porch.

Both were somewhat predictable “performances.”  🙂

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

Improving my handling mechanics for GET OUTS and TURNS

The snow finally melted on my doggie luge, so I got to see how well Jake and Lil understand my new ways of handling GET OUTS and TURNS.

Above is a video from Day 1.

This following text is from an email I sent to a friend who has been helping me understand how and why NADAC-style handling and training differs from USDAA / AKC-style handling.  I’m finding it all very interesting and fun to incorporate.  Plus  Jake and Lil are responding beautifully and quickly to my new way of doing things, which makes me think this style of handling is easy and natural for dogs to follow.

I am starting to get the feel for using more dramatic body movements, like stepping forward to push my dog’s line, or pulling my dog towards me by rotating my body and  shoulders away and stepping away from the line to increase the strength of the pull when necessary for discriminations.   Its starting to feel a lot more natural and I can see how well it works for pre-cueing TURNs and GET OUTs when my dogs are out in front of me with forward sends.

Lil seems to have totally figured out when I  pre-cue a turn before she gets to the obstacle, it no longer means to turn NOW but rather to turn after taking the next obstacle.. and to not necessarily turn tight.. but to base the tightness of the turn on my motion…. and to look for the next obstacle in the direction I am supporting.   Jake is also figuring all of this out… but not quite as fast as Lil is, which is totally fine with me.  The biggest improvements I’ve seen with Jake since adding hoops to the Doggie Luge this season, is that he is driving well though hoops and rarely  jumps them like they are 8″ jumps anymore.   GO JAKE!

Above is a video from Day 2:  I think both dogs are doing a super job running through various hoop sequences without snow barriers to help them stay on course.

In my opinion, the biggest difference between NADAC-style handling and USDAA / AKC style handling (and training) is that in NADAC you want to be able to pre-cue much earlier, especially when working at a distance. And earlier cues appear to increase a dog’s speed and fluidity of motion since the dog know where he/she is going with enough time to take more gradual turns, which has to be easier on a dog’s body.  I think it was pretty clear when I was late with a couple of cues, that my dogs changed directions abruptly rather than turning in a natural and fluid manner.

I think this year’s addition of hoops to the doggie luge really helped with training both dogs (and the human) by allowing me to pre-cue earlier than I knew I could without pulling my dogs off the next obstacle…while the dogs continued running on the grass path towards the next hoop.  It didn’t take long for them to begin to shift from what they were originally trained to do, which was when I cue a turn, to turn NOW.  That was a necessary skill to have for USDAA and AKC courses, since what looks to be the next logical obstacle to the dog is often NOT the correct obstacle. Plus the ability of a dog to turn NOW comes in very handy for playing Snooker, since success is often based on a dog’s ability to bypass numerous obstacles while running fast.

Below is a link to the January 19 post with a video of Jake and Lil running the 2013 Doggie Luge:

A note to subscribers: WordPress emails no longer contain links to videos for some strange reason.  Click on the Title to go to the blog site if you want to watch the videos.

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:

Things are really starting to fall into place!

I couldn’t resist any longer and set up Silvia Trkman’s Lesson 5 sequence this morning. The video includes every repetition and a lot of mistakes, plus some late verbal cues (one was so late, I think Lil had already taking the jump when I said WRAP… big OOPS on my part) but I was SO happy with Lil’s energy and speed that I just kept going.

An extension jump after a tunnel is a difficult jumping scenario for Lil so the fact that she jumped #7 so beautifully once and pretty well some other times made my day!

I don’t think you can see how YAHOO Lil was in the video, which I think caused some early knocked bars, but she seemed to figure things out without losing her YAHOO-ness or speed. I feel like everything is starting to fall into place and that Lil’s confidence and jumping skills have improved enough that she can now jump while running super fast!!! I am not sure the angle of the camera accurately conveys her ground speed but she was really running! :)

More on “Cik and Cap” and jump training

Silvia Trkman uses shaping and back chaining to train tight turns (Cik & Cap).  She starts by shaping tight turns around an object.  Once the dog has learned how to turn tightly around an object, she starts adding speed and distance.  I think it is brilliant to add speed and distance before introducing even a bar on the ground because as the dog runs faster and faster around various objects, it is learning how to bend and control its body while turning, building strength and flexibility even before a bar on the ground is introduced.  I also think it is brilliant to integrate Cik & Cap into sequences early on to help the dog generalize the behaviors.

By the time Silvia adds a bar on the ground, the dog has already learned how to approach a turn running both fast and in collection, how to turn tightly with full independence and with speed, and how to power out of the turn, so adding the bar is simply back chaining one more behavior: adjusting striding over the bar.

By the time she starts raising the bar, the dog can just focus on the one new challenge that is being presented: how to jump over higher and higher bars.  Silvia’s method of waiting to increase the height of the jumps until after the dog has mastered everything else makes perfect “back chaining” sense to me.

Since this post was inspired by a question asked by fellow agility enthusiast in response to my post on “powering out of tight turns,” I included it below.   The question forced me to really think about why I believe Cik & Cap will help Lil become a better jumper when running fast.

Question: Laura, Lance, and Vito says:

I followed your link to your blog on Silvia’s facebook and have really enjoyed reading it! My corgi also has jumping issues (stutter steps a lot, flings back end out) and I look forward to seeing how you progress with your terrier. I love Silvia’s philosophy and training methods but I guess I’m confused as to how it could help with jumping issues? although I totally get how it would get awesome power out of the tight turns!

Dev says:

My Answer:  I am hoping Lil’s jumping will improve as a side benefit of training Cik & Cap. My thinking is that powering out of tight turns AND fast running over bars on the ground, will help Lil learn how to easily stride over bars on the ground when she is running fast, which then will translate into easy, extended jumping over straight jumps when I gradually raise the jumps back to Lil’s jump height of 8″.

This is based on what I think fast and efficient jumpers do when jumping over widely spaced, straight jumps. They take long strides approaching the jump and then power over the jumps, landing well beyond the jumps and continue to drive forward with long strides (vs. running and jumping in collection). I think if Lil learns to really power out of tight turns that it will transfer to powering out after straight jumps too and the only way a dog can do that is by landing well beyond the jump, which means jumping long and low.

I think Silvia’s focus on speed in foundation training will be good for Lil is because Lil’s jumping can be affected by a lack of confidence, being distracted by my movement, or not liking to knock bars. For example, if she misjudges the distance and hits a jump bar hard, she will then over-jump, butt flip, jump early, or add a little step before jumping for the rest of the course to to avoid hitting another bar. So I’m hoping that by giving her a lot of experience running fast over bars on the ground, which will include her hitting a bar now and then, that it will help her be OK when she occasionally knocks a bar on course.

Structure also comes into play because Australian Terriers (and Corgis) are such powerful dogs, I think they can develop all sorts of inefficient ways to get over jumps (without hitting bars) so I am trying to do whatever I can to help Lil find a comfortable and efficient way to jump when running fast.

Plus I have done a ton of Susan Salo’s and Chris Zink’s jump grids in the past and Lil is still able to do them with ease, so at this point I don’t think doing more jump grids (where we are dictating the dog’s stride length) will help her learn how to jump well when running fast. I think the thing Lil needs to learn is how to jump while taking long strides (vs. running and jumping in collection), and so I’m hoping that by giving her a ton of experience running fast over bars on the ground through a variety of sequences, that she will eventually be able to do the same thing over 8″ jumps.

ps- I think structure also plays a role in jumping style, so I’m not expecting Lil to skim over jumps like a lot of Border Collies do. Given the structure of Australian Terriers (long-backed and heavy-boned), I believe they need to jump a little higher in order to clear bars with ease, when running and jumping in full extension. But they don’t need to butt flip or fling themselves extremely high over jumps to avoid hitting bars either, if they have enough forward momentum to land far enough away from the jump to easily clear it with their back legs, which also make is easy for them continue to power out with the first stride after the jump.

Of course, I would be wrong about all of this! :)

A Fresh Start

I love fresh starts! There is nothing more exhilarating than letting go of the past and starting with a clean slate.  I’ve been feeling that way in my studio about my new series of work.  And I can now say I’m feeling that way about Lil and jumping too.

I  bought Silvia Trkman’s “Cik & Cap” DVD over the weekend and watched it uninterrupted from beginning to end.  The objective appears to be training tight turns and maximum speed coming out of the turns.

When I trained Lil to run around various objects when she was a puppy, I did not focus at all on speed coming out of turns.  Recently, I have noticed that Lil sometimes stalls out when jumping and wrapping tightly back towards me.  I thought I needed to train her to NOT turn so tightly, but after watching Silvia’s DVD, I now think the hole in Lil’s training is that I have never trained her to power-out of tight turns.  This insight alone was worth the $60 I paid for that video.

Over the past few days, I’ve been doing a couple of short sessions a day with my dogs turning tightly around a cone and powering out of the turns.  Since both dogs already know how to spin fast in both directions, they had no problem staying tight when turning.  But I felt my mechanics weren’t quite right in terms of how, when, and where I tossed the ball, so I watched parts of the DVD again, this time focusing on Silvia’s movement vs. her dogs’ movement.

My goal is not to try to replicate Silvia’s movements, but rather to modify my own movements in a way that gives the clearest message to my dogs.  While watching the DVD the second time, I noticed that Silvia often, but not always, uses an “early arm” to cue her dogs to turn in a certain direction (“early arm” is a term used to describe when a handler changing arms before they actually change sides, so the dog knows a turn and side change are coming).  I’ve gone back and forth about which arm to use for various cues and for the past couple of years, I have not been using an early arm to pre-cue turns or a change of side.  Of course, after watching Silvia’s video, I feel compelled to re-think that again (SIGH) along with the thought that if I start using an early arm to pre-cue turns, then to be consistent, I’ll also need to switch the arm I am currently using to indicate a change of lead is coming (which some people call “switch”).  Darn.  I thought I had this all figured out.  I am going to think a lot more about it before I change what I’m doing to make sure I really think it is worth while, since my dogs would need to relearn my “arm language.”

The other thing I noticed was that Silvia uses a great toy.  It functions as both a ball and a tug toy.  It is a “Hol-ee Roller,” which is an open-mesh rubber sphere that rolls when you throw it and stretches then you tug with it.  So it turns out that you can have it all, at least when it comes to dog toys!

I ordered a 5 inch  “JW Pet Company Hol-ee Roller Dog Toy” on for $6.53.  I hope it is not too big for my dogs.  The smallest sized Hol-ee Rollers looked like the rubber mesh would be too thick to stretch well enough for maximum tugging fun. I think Silvia uses a 6.5″ ball with her Border Collie.

On the topic of playing fetch vs. tugging, some agility people have strong opinions about why they think tugging is much better for motivation and relationship building than playing fetch.  Here is why I think playing fetch is great for motivation and relationship building.  As far as motivation goes, a ball that is thrown low to the ground will keep on rolling so the dog needs to run super fast to overtake the speed of the ball in order to grab it.  Compare that to a tug toy that is thrown and just plops down on the ground.  Dogs are smart enough to know it is not necessary to out-run the tug toy, since they know it will stop on its own.  Of course, some dogs naturally love to tug so much that they race ahead to get the toy in order to bring it back to play tug.  It took me a while to build enough value for tugging for my dogs to really get into playing tug, but based on my experience with my particular dogs, which happen to be terriers, they run super fast when chasing any moving object like a chipmunk, each other, or me, so getting them to run really fast in pursuit of a moving ball was effortless.  As far as relationship building and playing fetch,  I am fairly certain my dogs know that the ball is not throwing itself :).

So in keeping with Silvia’s thinking of agility as just another game, once I knew my dogs loved to chase balls, added a tight turn around a cone before throwing the ball was all I needed to do to encourage maximum speed out of the turns.

One more note about playing fetch with a ball. Jake plays fetch in a conventional way.  But with Lil, I have always used two balls so that she doesn’t stop in front of me with the ball.  She races around me, dropping the ball she has while I throw a second ball (like the way a lot of competitive disc dogs play with multiple Frisbees).  This way the fun and action never stop. The other game I mix in is to sometimes ask her to drop the ball, mid-way back to me.  And when she does, I throw the other ball, low to the ground, in her direction.  She gets very intense, crouches low, and gets very spiral eyed waiting for me to throw the second ball. I use this game to test her state of arousal and reflexes at trials, especially after she has been napping. She has to be very alert to catch a fast-moving ball that I am throwing directly at her.  This crazy game seems to reboot her brain if she is sluggish.  As fun as these games are, using two balls is not ideal for rewarding  tight turn around a cone, because it takes so long to go through the two ball routine, so I am hoping to transition Lil to chasing the Hol-ee Roller and fetching it in the traditional way, so I don’t have to change the current way we play with two balls.

So what does any of this have to do with helping Lil learn how to jump well when running fast?  In my opinion, everything!  This morning I transitioned to wrapping around two cones with a bar on the ground in between them and Lil looked great.  She had more drive with this set up than she did with a single cone.  I plan to switch back and forth between cones, wings, and jump standards in the coming weeks and to gradually increase the height of the bars when I feel Lil is ready.  I also plan to start integrating tight turns and powering out of them in sequences during agility practice (with bars on the ground to start).

I believe the main benefit for my small dogs will not be the tightness of their turns, but  rather that they are learning how to power-out of turns.  I think this will translate into better jumping in all situations because if they learn to power-out after all jumps, that should translate into a flat, extended arc over straight jumps, causing them to land further away from the jumps, which in turn will eliminate the need to over-jump, butt flip or jump early to make sure they clear the bar.

Of course, I know I could be entirely wrong about this.  But we are all having fun with these new games.  Time will tell if it ends up helping Lil learn to jump well when running fast.