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

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:

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.

Weave pole entries, sends to tunnels, and a lot of fast running

Below is a video of Lil’s 4th session working on Silvia’s weave pole challenges and I am amazed at how much she has improved!  Using channel weaves makes so much sense.  Lil did more reps in this one session than she normally does over a 6 month period with no strain on her body whatsoever.

We also did SENDs and GO ONs with a tunnel and mixed in some weave poles.  My matting is too slippery to work on tight turns to FCs or post turns but that is OK because GO ONs are just what both of my dogs need right now to find a better balance between handler and obstacle focus.

Throwing a ball as a reward has increased Lil’s speed and drive considerably.   Lil has always loved to chase balls and fetch.  I can’t believe I had this “speed tool” in my tool bag all along and wasn’t using it!

LoLaBu on March 8, 2012 at 13:08

Silvia’s response to my video: That’s sure really great progress already! Looks like she figured out what this game is about! And yes, I also think go is more important as come at this point. And she sure seems to like it! Really great distance skills with tunnel sends and some really cool entries!

ps–I am only uploading videos of Lil right now because I am posting them as part of Silvia’s Foundations class.   But I am also video taping and reviewing Jake’s performances.  He is not being neglected and is doing very well too!

An another note, I am I am taking a few days off from training “Loop and Wrap” since my yard is now thawing out and very wet.  Plus I think taking a few days off from working on any skill is good especially if a snag occurs.

A couple of days ago, I had a brilliant idea….or so I thought at the time.  I would do a short “Loop and Wrap” session in the bedroom to provide a new environment and I would rig up an impromptu jump with a tiny base so Lil wouldn’t have to hop over long support bars.  The new jump consisted of a 2′ tall PVC pipe that Lil would wrap around, a partially deconstructed wing on the far side, and a 2′ long PVC bar set at 4 inches.  I think the combination of a new environment and the strange mini-jump opened up a can of worms.  Lil started hitting the bar with her back legs so often that I wondered if she thought we were playing “touch that object with your back feet” game which she likes to play.  She even tried stopping while straddling the bar once and looked at me with an expression of “Is this what you want?”

OMG.  How did this happen?  Well, I have been saying YES when Lil approaches the wrap, thinking I was marking the commitment point and the set-up step.  But I think my timing contributed to Lil’s confusion because I was saying YES before she cleared the bar, so I was marking both clearing the bar and hitting the bar.  I play a lot of shaping games with my dogs and so when Lil happened to hit the bar a couple of times in a row and I had already said YES, I think that she thought she was supposed to touch this strange apparatus with her back feet and proceeded to do so consistently for a few more reps.

Bob Bailey is so right when he said: “What you click (or mark) is what you get!”  Of course, at the time I didn’t fully recognize what was going on so I ended the session and brought Jake in for his turn.  Jake had no trouble generalizing that this was a jump and that he was supposed to jump it.  Whew!  Anyway, I finished by taking Lil out to a dry spot in the yard and did a short “Loop and Wrap” session around a pole to end on a positive note.  I think  taking a few days off from “Loop and Wrap” will erase Lil’s memory of that strange little “shaping” session!

Lil’s progress with LOOP and WRAP and independent weave poles

Yesterday I shoveled out an area of snow in our backyard. It  is actually a layer of  ice on top of very dense, slushy snow.  The grassy area around the jump is slightly larger than 4 feet in diameter and the “runway” is about 3 feet wide.  The bar was set to 4 inches and I reversed the wing jump so the supports are not so close to the bar. I also varied the angle of the jump so Lil’s approach was easier at the beginning of the session.  After watching the video, I think my saying YES, when Lil was jumping, was distracting for her at times.  But I think it would be great for her to be able to stay focused on her job while I’m being my overly enthusiastic self.  I’ll be keeping my eye on it to see how it is working out….

Silvia’s Response: Looks good! Great distance already! I don’t think it was your yes that was making her knock, I saw it before your yes if she will clear it or not. She clears it nicely when she goes all the way to the base and wraps it, but sometimes takes off too early and just crashes into a jump, like at 0:52. Try to recognize this style in time to not say yes to those tries and not reward them. Also, try to find a pattern in when this happens – easier to fix it if you know why it happens…

My follow-up post: Silvia’s feedback is great news to me because I can see how training “Loop and Wrap” will give Lil many opportunities to develop an efficient and consistent pattern for approaching jumps. Plus it will give me many opportunities to see if I can pin point the specific scenarios that cause Lil to take off early.

My first thought is that early take offs happen when Lil is rushing and fails to take a set-up step before the jump. When she does set herself up well, she jumps the bar straight (vs. slicing it away from the turn) which makes it possible for her to continue with a tight wrap after landing. I’m not sure a long-backed dog like an Australian Terrier will be able to bend as tightly around a jump like a lot of Border Collies do, but as long as Lil takes a nice set up step and jumps the bar straight vs. slicing away from the turn, I think she will be able to clear the bar and power out of the turn.

The next time we practice “Loop and Wrap,” I plan to position the video camera perpendicular to the jump so I can see the angle of Lil’s set-up step and the direction her feet are facing when she lands so that I can mark and reward “better than average” performances.

Reply

LoLaBu’s avatar

LoLaBu on March 6, 2012 at 18:38

Exactly. Not every dog can wrap the jump as BCs or Kelpies can, BUT they can all learn a lot on appropriate take off and can find a different way to meet the criteria. La is also not nearly as flexible as my BCs, but she can turn really tight by adding an extra stride to get a good approach and then throws her hips in one direction to land on the right line.

Moving along…

Today was the first day Lil practiced Loop and Wrap with 2 widely spaced jumps (25-30′), with one additional straight jump between them.  Lil seemed to have more obstacle focus after I added the straight jump in the middle.  I think the vast distance between the two jumps was too much for her to grasp.  I will try it again in 5-7 days and see how she does with it.

I was very pleased with her energy and speed since she has never been 100% confident in this particular facility.  Not sure if it is the dirt or a scent but she has a great work ethic so even if she is not 100% confident, she gives it her all.

I added a soundtrack of “Jovial Jasper” performed by a friend’s percussion band, Nexus.   There was too much ambient noise….happy dogs eager for their turns plus my high-pitched GO GO GO when Lil was weaving.  I really should do something about that (my voice… not the happy dogs!)

Silvia’s Response: What a great commitment! But yes, maybe try a normal figure 8 first and then add the middle jump. Nice weaves too, just make those entries and challenges more&more extreme gradually.

Silvia Trkman’s long-distance Agility Foundations class begins

Agility Foundations began February 27, 2012 and will run for 15 weeks with new lessons added every 2-3 weeks.  The way it works is that Silvia posts a lesson and participants upload videos in order to get feedback.   In some ways it is better than being in a traditional workshop because we can work on things over time and get feedback as we progress.  Silvia has been responding to videos and questions within a few hours and I’ve already picked up some great training tips by watching other participants’ videos and reading Silvia’s comments about them.

The purpose of uploading videos is to present an accurate representation of whats going on so I am not editing out “failed attempts.”  Below is my first video upload with a description:

Lil’s first session doing cik & cap over a 4″ bar. Until now, we’ve been using a 2″ stride regulator.  I noticed on the video that I was sometimes setting up Lil so she had to jump over the wing support AND the bar when wrapping to the right. That didn’t work so well.. and caused her to hit a few bars. Next time I will start a little more forward so she doesn’t have to also hop over the support on the ground… unless this is something you think she needs to learn how to do?

RE: Weave poles:  My changing directions was way too distracting for Lil when weaving..as you will see on the video. I am thinking that I should start by just slightly turning my shoulders while standing stationary at various locations along the poles for our next session, and gradually add more turning, and later adding movement????

Silvia’s response: Cool, getting there! Slowly add more distance to cik&cap and try leaving earlier&earlier. And yes, use an angle that doesn’t make her jump the jump support! The weaves are going well, but yes, slowly add more&more extreme entries and more&more extreme distractions. I think a “soft” distraction you did at 2:16 was a very good start, so I would continue like that and only make it more extreme through several sessions. Running hard and turning around was too much for now, but you could try sudden stops, gentle turns and similar to slowly prepare her for everything.