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On playing agility on outdoors artificial turf

November 24, 2015 Leave a comment

The 2016 AAC National Agility Championships will be held in Montreal.

Wow! When I heard the news, I was ecstatic! Just a couple of hours from home. Short trip. Cool!

When I heard we were going to be playing on the soccer field of Ecole Secondaire de la Ponte-aux-Trembles, on artificial turf, I was very happy. I thought it would be great to run on a nice, smooth, even surface, no matter the weather. I did not give the surface a second thought, but then my experience of running on artificial turf/grass has been limited to a couple of indoor trials and training sessions.

Then, last week, the organizing committee posted on Facebook more information about the soccer field we will be using:

“Finding a perfectly even and athletic quality field that could hold 6 rings was an important objective for the organizing committee. In addition, for those who were in Sussex in 2014, it is easy to understand the fear of seeing a field deteriorate from one competitor to another. In Sussex, they had a field that resisted very well to the atrocious weather conditions. However, Montreal Island is known for its clay type soil in many areas. This can be disastrous in wet conditions, to the point where an event would need to be cancelled. Renting a one time use venue (predicting the soil’s capability to resist in wet conditions) was deemed too risky.

The choice was obvious; it would be artificial turf (Synthetic grass).
The site chosen has an excellent quality field surface (recently replaced- approximately 2 years old). New enough to avoid being patted down or worn out, yet old enough to be broken in. Thanks to local government support, we obtained special permission to use it for a canine event.

Many worry about the heat from the turf on paw pads. On a bright and sunny day during summer, it is undeniable that artificial turf is hotter than natural grass. We tested by checking if we could leave an open palm hand easily over 10 seconds on a very hot day, with no clouds at high noon. There was no problem in doing so. There is no danger for burning pads due to the heat. However, the committee acknowledges needing to find ways to reduce the discomfort caused by the heat floating off the turf in the waiting areas and for the volunteers who will be there for hours.”

Reading the text I highlighted above, sent me some warning signs. I had not “clicked” until this post came up on Facebook.

Considering that the dogs will have to spend more than 10 seconds on that surface, and also not having any idea of exactly how hot such surface can become, I set out to find some answers.

The first things I found were journal articles about the 2015 Women FIFA World Cup held here in Canada, outdoors on artificial grass. Here in Ottawa, on a 25C day (air temperature) the artificial turf the soccer players had to play on was at 55C. The women at the FIFA World Cup kept their cleats on ice before going in the field. And developed blisters in their toes because of the heat of the surface. In June.

I then discovered that there isn’t much research done on the issue of artificial turf overheating and most of the research has been concerned with their toxicity. However, there is a reputable source of information: the Penn State University Center for Sport Surface Research:

http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/ssrc/research/synthetic-turf-research-penn-state

This year they studied the effect of irrigation on synthetic turf temperature:

http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/ssrc/documents/irrigationsynthetic.pdf

The study was conducted at Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research on June 24, 2015 on a FieldTurf Revolution plot that had been installed in 2012. Weather conditions were sunny, breezy, with clouds moving in at about 3:00 PM and lasting for the remainder of data collection.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I highly recommend having a look at Figure 1 on the above article, which clearly shows how the temperature of artificial turf (control – yellow) increases, how lower the temperature of “real” turf is (blue)  and how frequent water irrigation can help keeping the artificial turf temperature down. Also, one can see from table 1 that when the air temperature was 75F (23.8C), at 2:30 pm , the artificial turf had reached its highest temperature for that day, of 155.7F (68.7C). Already at 11:55 am the non watered artificial turf (control) temperature was 143.6F (62C), while the air temperature was only 70F (21C). It is also interesting to note that at 3:30 pm, 30 minutes after the cloud cover established itself over the field, the non watered artificial turf temperature had dropped significantly to 124.9F (51.6C) while the air temperature was higher than at 2:30 pm at 78F (25.6C).

The article also indicates that turf temperature is dependent on how the sun rays hit the surface. On a sunny but relatively cool day with no cloud cover the artificial turf will likely be hotter than on a warmer day where there is a cloud cover or a significant amount of haze.

The above may be misleading as one may think the day is sunny but not hot and not be prepared for a high artificial turf temperature.

Another good image can be found on this article and it shows clearly how between natural grass, sand, cement (pavement) and artificial turf, the latter reaches the highest temperature on a given day: http://turf.uark.edu/turfhelp/archives/021109.html

As for burns, according to AntiScald Inc., at 55C one can develop a second degree burn in 17 seconds and a third degree burn in 30 seconds, while those times go down to 2 seconds and 5 seconds respectively at a temperature of 60C (http://www.antiscald.com/prevention/general_info/table.php). They are referring to human skin and not dog paw pads. But it is still an indication of the potential danger of a hot surface.

Because of the above,  I wonder what the AAC Nationals organizing committee means by “no danger”.

Not only the scientific data indicate that outdoors artificial turf can overheat and become an issue. But the recommendations I received from fellow competitors who have experienced trialling or working with their dogs outdoors on artificial turf on a sunny day are not those one would get if there was “no danger”.

I asked questions on the Agility Europe Facebook group, as I know that in Europe they trial on many different surfaces and I sent a private message to a Facebook friend who is very active in agility and plays at a very competitive level.

My post on the Agility Europe Facebook group can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/383870845005713/permalink/976189345773857/

Kristýna Hrazdilová comments on my post on the Agility Europe Facebook group: “We had a third qualification competition (2 days) on artificial grass in conditions you describe (temperatures about 35°C) – Impossible to step on the grass barefoot, but during the 2 days just several dog paws were hurt. It was very important to keep dogs in shadow, wet and minimize the time spend on the grass. So it is possible (and possibly safe) to compete in such conditions, however not optimal”

Monika Rylska  comments: “plus remember to wet your dog but keep his paws dry – wet paws plus hot artificial surface will surely scratch skin off”

Susan Fallon Paulsen comments: “Yes, our nationals in the USA for USDAA was like that. It can get very hot so wet your dog down. Also, the turf can get very slick.”

My Facebook friend, in a private message, told me that he has done a 3 week-ends camp on 3rd generation astroturf. Air temperatures were 30-35C. They would do a maximum of 4 minutes on the turf, and only from early morning till 11 am. Then they would pause till 5 pm when the sun was starting to set. From 9 am on, they watered the field every hour to cool it down. They also wet the dogs every time they went on the field. With those precautions, a few dogs got minor burns, likely due to a combination of hot temperature of the turf and friction.

Because of all of the above, the statement “There is no danger for burning pads due to the heat.” by the AAC Nationals 2016 organizing committee appears to be a gross misrepresentation of what things could really be like at the 2016 Nationals on an outdoor artificial grass field, given “unfavourable” weather conditions like a bright sunny day. I was hoping the field was provided of an automatic irrigation system, but I just received confirmation from the organizing committee that there is none.

Had I not gone through this exercise, I would not think of the necessity of watering down my dog before a run on artificial turf when the air temperature is, for example, 25C, when the day is pleasantly sunny and not humid. I would not know that the artificial turf, if my run is at 2:30 pm, may be at a temperature close to 70C. I would not know of the need, in such conditions, to minimize contact of my dog’s paws with the artificial turf. And my dog would still risk burning his pads because of the turf temperature and the friction on that surface. Had I not gone through this exercise I would believe, because of the statement by the organizing committee, that everything is fine. Until stepping on that surface, for the first time, on a bright sunny 25C day. That would also likely be the last run my dog would run at that event. Because he would likely burn his pads.

I understand the attempt of the AAC Nationals organizing committee to have all competitors run on the same turf, not on a turf that deteriorates due to unfavourable weather conditions as more and more dogs run on it. However, I do not think they solved this problem. Between the first dog running an event at 8:30 am and a dog running that same event on that same turf at 11:00 am, the turf will still be the same in terms of evenness of the surface . However, the turf will be at a much higher temperature for the latter dog, potentially so hot as to cause burns due to heat + friction or heat alone, depending on the atmospheric conditions. How is this any better? And, how is this the same turf for all competitors?

What I really dislike, however, is the false sense of security that the AAC Nationals organizing committee is giving to competitors. I certainly hope nothing will happen, that the 4-7 of August 2016 will be all overcast breezy days and no sun rays will hit the artificial turf of the six agility rings.

And, I wonder which value would have a waiver signed by competitors under the misleading information publicly given by the organizing committee that “there is no danger of burning pads due to the heat”, if anything happened…

I have been criticized for spreading some of this information on my Facebook wall, I have been told that anything can be made look scary, that the 10 seconds hand test is a well accepted test, that if I can hold my hand for 10 seconds on pavement my dog can walk across it.

However, my Facebook wall is mine to do as I please. I did not offend anybody. I just stated my concerns and some of my early findings. One may take it or leave it. Or just read it and remain indifferent, or of course comment on it. Nobody is forced to read the stuff I post on my wall. Or to take it at face value.  As for making things look scary, I disagree. I am just putting together whatever I found out there. Both from scientific sources and from fellow competitors who answered my questions.

My job, that pays for my agility, consists on finding out information. Both from scientific sources, blogs, patents. Anything I can find about a certain topic, made available to the public in any possible form. And what I posted here is out there for anybody wanting to look and read it.

I am a chemist. I do understand what I have read. I may not get much about politics or economics, but I do understand heat, conductivity and temperature and polymers and so on, even if at first I had not paid much attention.

I also understand that my dog will not be trotting on cement. He will be running full speed ahead on a possibly very hot surface, a surface likely hotter than cement (see above article from Arkansas U). He will be weaving, doing tight turns, accelerating and decelerating. There will be significant friction with a surface that can already inflict friction burns when cool. And while the hand on a surface for 10 seconds may be considered as a good empirical way to see whether a dog can walk on a hot surface, I do not consider it a valid test to determine whether it can run and decelerate abruptly and turn sharply on the same hot surface.

I now have a much better idea of the potential dangers of outdoors astroturf on a sunny, not necessarily hot, summer day.

And I have also read carefully the recommendations of my fellow competitors.

As far as I am concerned, when I will decide whether to go to Nationals, I will have made an informed decision, not one based on what, so far, to me looks like a wrong and dismissive “no danger” statement, which does nothing more than spreading a false sense of security. Because us commoners, without looking into the issue, with just that statement, would only consider the usual precautions we take when running our dogs in conditions of extreme heat. We would not think that a surface we run on can be at 68.7C when the air temperature is a pleasant 23.8C as shown by the folks at the Centre for Sport Surface Research of Penn State University.

A last thought goes to the judges of the event, and to the volunteers, who may be faced with sitting or walking for several hours on a surface that can heat up to 70C on a nice ordinary sunny day. The organizing committee mentions that “the committee acknowledges needing to find ways to reduce the discomfort caused by the heat floating off the turf in the waiting areas and for the volunteers who will be there for hours.” I am looking forward to their solution, especially for the judges. As this type of event has been run on outdoors astroturf abroad, I am sure it can be done also here. I just cannot see everything stopping every single hour to water down the whole soccer field at an event where about 500 dogs need to run 2 courses every day, if the need arose. After all in Sussex they did not stop during the downpours unless, like during my gamblers run, the scribe was unable to hear the judge…

Regardless of what I will decide to do, hopefully all the stars will align in the universe and August 4-7 2016 will be 4 great overcast days in Montreal.

——-

As an aside, the city of Barcelona (Spain) public agility field is artificial turf. But there is an automatic irrigation system (according to the info I found online). This appears to be the best way to dissipate the heat and cool this type of surface.

——-

A short summary with recommendations from Penn State U:

http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/ssrc/documents/temperature.pdf

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Some thoughts – or should I say “ranting”?

November 11, 2015 Leave a comment

I subscribe to an agility related mailing list: “AgilCan”. This week a lady started a thread on the contact zone. She was having trouble with her dog leaping off the contact and missing the contact zone, and she suggested it would perhaps be better to just have a line who delimits the start of the contact zone, instead of a solid coloured zone. For example, a solid blue A-frame with a yellow line to indicate where the contact zone starts. That way, she thought there would be the possibility for a dog to jump over the line, as if it was jumping a jump, and land perfectly on the contact zone. And that would solve all her problems!

This is so wrong on so many levels!

I doubt this lady gave any thoughts of why her dog leaps off the contact. Did she analyze any of her training sessions/agility runs, to try and understand why her dog was leaping off the contact? She does not say, but it does not sound like it. Did she consider going back to square one? Do more training? Change training method? Due to the nature of her post, I seriously doubt it.

Some people in agility just go to trials, show clumsily to their dog the path through a run, and expect to succeed every single time. If they do not, it is of course the dog’s fault. Like in this case, it is the dog who is leaping off the contact. Far from them to understand that it is their job to help the dog. To teach it how to perform every single obstacle. To guide them through the meanders of an agility course. And to figure out why things are not working.

Changing the colour of the contact zone will not change the dog’s behaviour. That is just wishful thinking.

Dog agility is a complex sport. There are different obstacles who require great skill from the dog: single jump, double jump, spread, broad jump, tyre, tunnel (straight – U – S – etc.), chute, weaves (12 or 6 or two sets of 6), A-frame, teeter, dog walk, pause table. Then there is the variable of the approach to those obstacles, we have backsides of jumps, tight turns around one jump stanchion, collection parts, extension parts, slices, etc.And to all this we have to add our handling to direct the dog during an agility run. With body cues, verbal cues, or both. There is our dog’s physical shape. Is it well conditioned, is it sore, is it an anxious dog or a “working machine”? There is the trial venue. Have we been there before? Have we practiced there? Etc. The surface: grass, sand, astroturf, carpet, rubber. How deep is the sand? Is there dew on the grass? And so on. The weather (if outdoors): is it raining? Is it very hot and humid? Etc. There is our ability to memorize the course, make the right choices of handling for us and our dogs. And, last but not least, there is our own behaviour, e.g. whether we are “high”, “anxious”, “cool” and so on.  And I am sure I must have forgotten some important variables!

All of the above influences the outcome of every single agility run. To succeed we need to work on all those variables. We must train our dog so that it can perform every obstacle fluently. We must add to the obstacle performance our handling. If we can we should train on different surfaces to make our dog comfortable on all of them. We must work on our mental game so that when we are out there, at a trial, we are able to be on top of the game. And, we must be able to look at the outcome of a trial, dwell on it, and go back to training with some added knowledge on our strengths and weaknesses, to maintain/improve our strengths, and overcome our weaknesses.

So if our dog has issues with the A-frame and leaps off it before touching the contact zone, we must understand why, then we must go back and train the obstacle to solve the problem, eliminate the issue.

Suggesting re-painting of the contact zone to solve one’s, likely, training issue, shows a great deal of laziness, lack of understanding of this beautiful sport, and possibly lack of desire to work through some difficulties to achieve one’s goals.

Not only it is ludicrous. It is also sad.

Categories: Agility Tags: , ,

From a sticky A-frame to a running A-frame – where are we at?

October 17, 2015 1 comment

Krypto and I have been struggling with the 2 on 2 off A-frame contact for a long time. Probably since we began competing in 2012. Krypto would just come down the A-frame ramp very slowly, as if he was glued up there for some odd reason, then he would just leap off. Definitely not the obstacle performance I want. In the past I had tried several times to retrain it going back to basics, thinking that I must have made a mistake in doing so the first time. Perhaps I was not consistent enough, clear enough, rigorous enough in my criteria. I even changed the cue I used to ask him to drive down to the bottom in a 2 on 2 off position. We passed from “target” to “spot” to “touch” to even try not to use any specific cue for the behaviour but the A-frame cue. I brought out very tasty treats to reward driving down the A-frame, but, regardless of my efforts, Krypto’s performance would deteriorate at trials and the creeping down/sticky A-frame would resurface time and time again.

Finally I decided to drop the 2 on 2 off and to train a running A-frame. During the Winter of 2014-2015 we started working on the box method by Rachel Sanders. It seemed like a good idea to use a pipe box of the same size of the A-frame contact and train the striding on the flat, before moving on the A-frame, so as to avoid too many repetitions on the A-frame itself. The following is a video from March 2015, where Krypto is working on the striding and I had also added directionals to see whether I would be able to get a good hit on the box even when asking for left and right turns.

Once the striding on the flat was good, I started working on “unglueing” Krypto from the A-frame, following Rachel Sander’s method. However, we were not having much success. As I said many times, Krypto thinks a lot. And asking him to not stop in a 2 on 2 off position seemed too hard for him. He kept questioning my request.

After these first steps towards a running A-frame, we had to stop training because I had my second hip replacement, then Krypto had surgery to remove his tiny cancerous mass. That brought us to August. Then, for a few weeks, I contemplated going back to a stopped A-frame and I tried again using a plexy target and very tasty treats, unique treats, to get Krypto do drive down the A-frame at a fast pace. Our first trial at the beginning of September made me understand that my desire for a stopped A-frame without creeping down was not going to happen. Krypto started creeping down again. I do not know what I was doing wrong, in training and/or in competition, but definitely whatever it was did not help…

Then, in mid September, I went to a workshop by Canadian National Champion Teri O’Neill. Although the workshop was supposed to be on contacts only, the organizers decided to change its content at the last minute, without notice. The story of my life it seems… Nevertheless, we managed to get some time on the A-frame with Teri, and she helped me “unglue” Krypto from the down ramp, and get him to run the contact, of course without caring about hitting the contact zone since my first goal was to get him to just run the obstacle. She also suggested the use of stride regulators and not of a box a la Rachel Sanders. I was so happy about finally having Krypto run the contact without worry! Of course when we got back home and started training the running A-frame, we had a couple of sessions where at the beginning he questioned running the down ramp. To be expected as he had been asked to stop for so long. But after those sessions, Krypto was happily running down the A-frame. And I started adding stride regulators to get a nice performance when going over the A-frame peak and then hitting the contact zone (see video below).

The day after this session I went on vacation, and yesterday, the day after my return home, we went out to work some more on the A-frame. I did change a bit the position of the stride regulators to try to get Krypto’s paws more inside the contact zone. And I also tried to see what would happen if I run ahead of him and if I remove the lower stride regulator (see video below).

Observing the videos of September 24th and October 16th I realized that the position of the stride regulators of September 24th works best and that I need to do something to force Krypto to hit the contact zone even when I am far ahead of him. My movement is affecting his performance and when I am behind he slows down and hits the yellow, when I am ahead he launches to keep up with me and misses the yellow. I am reluctant to add a new prop like a hoop to get him hit the yellow as props have never worked well with him. I am thinking of adding a jump in front of the A-frame to force Krypto to hit the contact zone. A “pressure” jump like the one used by The Agility Nerd:

I will then move this jump farther and farther away to fade it into a typical trial situation jump. I will also keep changing my position relative to the A-frame and my movement, to get a performance as constant as possible.

Hopefully we will get to a reliable running A-frame contact reasonably soon. Winter is upon us and the opportunities to train are getting slim. I cancelled our trial commitments for the remainder of the year and I hope to be ready for the January trial in St. Eustache (Montreal). Fingers crossed!!

Getting back, up and running, can be scary…

August 27, 2015 1 comment

It has been a long time since Krypto and I have done any “serious” agility, that is trialling. We had stopped last November because of Krypto’s injury due to some scar tissue adhesion that had deteriorated his jumping. We had reached the point where he would refuse to jump the double, spread and tyre. And stutter step more and more frequently.

Then it was my turn. I was not injured, but I underwent surgery to get a second total hip replacement. This time I got a brand new left hip.

Then, at the very end of my convalescence, I discovered that a very small mass on Krypto’s chest (left-hand side), which I thought was gone since I had first seen it in February, had actually grown a bit. In February the vet that had seen him (unfortunately mine was on holiday) had sworn it was a histiocytoma (benign) and that it would normally reabsorb within 4-5 months. I brought Krypto to see my vet, to get her opinion on the mass, and decided to have it removed as it was growing, even if very slowly. That was a good call on my part as it turned out that mass was an early grade 2 mastocytoma, that is a cancer. Luckily we got it in time and my vet was able to remove it completely, so Krypto did not require any further surgeries or chemotherapy. But it was a huge scare for me, and of course we were off any type of activity for an additional couple of weeks.

After my surgery and before Krypto’s, we just had the time to do a couple of Gamblers runs at a small local trial. We did well, but Krypto popped the weaves in a very costly mini-gamble, which is very unusual. I did not think much about it, but after his surgery, he kept popping the weaves in training and at agility class. A visit to the chiropractor explained the issue as he was “a mess” and even his toes were out of alignment. He hasn’t popped them since.

Between Krypto’s surgery and his visit to the chiropractor, we managed to go for a One Mind Dog workshop held by OMD coach Jessica Ajoux in St-Lazare, to learn the techniques. It was mostly young dogs, and we were pretty much the only “old” team, and also the only one who did not know those fancy moves (I think…). It was an extremely hot day so even if we could have worked longer with the coach, if we got things right at the first attempt, we stopped there. It was fun, but I also got a bit self conscious watching these speedy handlers, with their young dogs, doing impressive handling, while I considered it a success when Krypto and I got the German turn or the double lap turn right!

And now this is it. Saturday we have our first trial in a long time.  If I do not consider those two Gamblers runs, it has been roughly ten months.

The one on Saturday is a small local trial at our club, More Dogz. Four runs: standard, challenge and two jumpers. It should not be a big deal but it is becoming a big deal for me. I am concerned about what we’ll be able to do. I am not really fast on my legs. I think I can get better once my left leg is stronger, but now I am so so as far as speed is concerned, and I lack endurance. Not that I will ever be fast…but…

And I see all these young people with legs that go up to their necks, run so that it looks so simple. And they are oh so coordinated. I was never an athlete (and never will be…), let alone coordinated!!

I think I need to get my act together and just trust that my adrenaline will keep me breathing till the end of each course. And go in the ring forgetting about young people with great legs and beautiful smooth “international” handling skills. Remembering the course and what I need to do both in terms of handling and in terms of verbal cues is what I must do. And I’ll be ok.

But,most of all, I must remember that I do not care about the Qs. I care about being as one with my amazing little border collie, to play and have fun together. Then everything will be ok, no matter what.

Ups and downs…

February 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Here we are, after a great 2014, beginning 2015 with some downs, and perhaps a few ups.

Krypto’s tissue adhesion has been taken care of and we are working on building/improving his hind legs muscular mass.

Two weeks ago we also went for a training session and a friend helped us video some grids and analyze them. I came home with a heavy heart and the realization that Krypto was using his front to power up for jumps, instead of his rear. And that his jumping arc was therefore inverted because of that. This jumping style also explains the stutter stepping and the getting lower and lower to the ground to then push up with head and neck to take the jump. This of course adds up to his propensity to take off early.

One of the things my friend mentioned  was that I should start considering the possibility of moving down to 16 specials if I do not succeed in resolving this issue.

I came home in a very blue mood, thinking of what I could do to work through this new challenge. I do not want to go to 16 specials. I like too much competing in 22 regular. And, going down to 16″ would not solve the issue.

I decided I had to put Krypto in situations that forced him to use his hind paws. And I realized that I had to go back to basics and that perhaps Linda Mecklenbourg’s book “Developing Jumping Skills” was just what we needed. And anyways, it would not hurt.

Unlike Susan Salo’s puppy and foundation work, where the take off position is always set up for the dog, and where the handler’s position is not taken into consideration both for collection and extension exercises, Linda’s foundation works through all that. How to teach the proper jumping style, how to teach to collect, how to evaluate take off position and landing position, how to read the handlers positional cues.

Reading Linda’s book helped me brighten up and think that perhaps we can make it. She underlines the fact that while a dog that has only and always jumped “inverted” will unlikely learn to jump with a proper rounded/curved style, there are dogs that may switch from one style to the other depending on the handler’s cues, the course, their mood, and so on. Those dogs can be taught/reminded to jump with a proper style. And looking back at Krypto’s videos, even the ones taken two weeks ago, he does jump both inverted and curved, although I have no idea why. That was reassuring.

Another issue we have, is the early take off. Krypto really enjoys “launching”.

This is what I found about early take off, among other thoughts, in http://speedoggie.blogspot.ca/2011/10/another-way-of-looking-at-early-take.html:
“We asked Dr. Zink whether she felt that it was possible that ETS was caused or exacerbated by certain training methods and she responded that,
I do think that this is the case. And I have only come to this belief recently. With my own dog, once she was mature and I lost a little weight, I started to push her for speed. Certainly we both were capable of moving faster over the ground. But that is when she started to take off earlier. I believe that this was because she was trying harder, running faster and as a result failing to realize that she still had to collect her strides before the jump. The harder she ran the sooner she took off. By retraining her to collect her stride, her jumping problem resolved. But it took about 3 months, and still requires ongoing training to remind her to collect. “”

I know very well that Krypto has a hard time collecting. Could this be the cause of his launching? Definitely worth exploring this possibility since teaching collection is also going to teach him a nice rounded jumping style. To this end, I have started re-training his jumping style following, albeit not literally, the Linda M. method.

This is a video of Krypto jumping a single at 22″, taken yesterday. I am supposed to invite him to the jump and he has to end in heel position. His distance from the jump has to be progressively increased to 15 feet and then my distance from the jump has to be varied as well. Unfortunately I had forgotten my treats and the reward placing is not as it should be. I will not forget the treats next time we go train!

This is his striding to the spread at 22″, from the same training session:

Meanwhile we have started working on the striding for our other project: running A-frame as per Rachel Sanders’ method. From the video (see below), I realize I have rewarded some wrong passes. I am definitely the weakest link as it is very hard to see live if he actually hits the box. Next time I will put coloured wraps around Krypto’s paws and I will bring my pipe box which is better than on the ground poles, placed there because I had forgotten the pipe box. I am quite happy of how this project is coming along though.

While we work on these two projects: jumping and running A-frame, we are not trialling. I am hoping that by the fall we’ll be back. I am not sure whether Krypto’s jumping will have improved by then. I hope so.

Our 2014, from when we left the blog to December’s “revelation” and more…

January 19, 2015 1 comment

Our agility year (2014) continued pretty well as Krypto succeeded beyond my expectations. We became a better team and brought home several titles, and finally one sunny day of July, at the Ottawa Valley Border Collie Club, Krypto and I succeeded in “conquering” the last Masters Jumpers Q we needed to obtain the ATChC! Not only that, but we also earned the Bronze Award of Merit (10 Masters Standard Qs + 25 Masters Games Qs)!!

with judge Wendy Beard, showing off our ribbons

with judge Wendy Beard, showing off our ribbons

Before that “epic” day (for me), we had competed at the Quebec Regionals and with 507.95 points and a 10th place in 22 regular we had qualified for Nationals. Again, something I had only dreamed of!!

However at Regionals one thing started haunting us again, after some time we hadn’t had that issue. Krypto was stutter stepping before jumps. But, it was not consistent. Outdoors things were going better and the stutter stepping was minor. Krypto also started taking off very early on for a jump, and I started worrying. However it was hard to work on this issue since it was not always present and I could not figure out its cause.

At the Quebec Regionals.  Photo by Jacques Beauvais.

At the Quebec Regionals. Photo by Jacques Beauvais.

Regardless, off we went to our greatest agility adventure: the AAC 2014 National Agility Championships, that were held in Sussex, NB. I still remember discussing things with our trainer/coach/instructor/friend J.L. and telling her the same thing I had told her about my strategy for Regionals. I was going to give it all and push our limit. We’ll go for it. Playing conservatively when there were other 96 dogs in our category was really not an option. And I remember her agreeing with me.

So off we went, with a friend and her dog. And we had the grandest of times! We ran our heart out, we rose to 11th place after day one, then an unfortunate run under the downpour and my mistake brought us down to 33rd place after day two, but we managed to keep our cool and to climb back 6 places to finish 27th out of 97 dogs! And we even brought home a 7th place ribbon in Gamblers. I was on cloud none, and thinking of it, I still am. That was the most amazing competition ever. Before our first run I could barely breath! I had so much adrenaline running in my system that I had a hard time sleeping even if we were waking up every day at the crack of dawn! I learnt so much and I am so so proud of what we accomplished for our first time playing with the “big” dogs!

7th place Gambler 1

7th place Gambler 1

Once back home, things started deteriorating. Krypto’s stutter stepping, almost absent at Nationals (although I think it cost us a clean Standard 1 and 5 points in Standard 2), came back with a vengeance. Not only that. After an accident with a small non-breakaway tire, Krypto started refusing this obstacle. I spent lots of time training him, reading jumping books by Linda Mecklenburg, Chris Zink, Susan Salo and Suzanne Clothier. I started thinking that what was gong on was due to lack of confidence. But our trainer convinced me to go see a canine rehab therapist. And what she found was amazing! 
Krypto’s neutering scar, which is a tad different and a bit bigger than a normal one as he had an undescended testicle, has adhered to the underlying tissues, e.g. the fasciae. This is exerting a pull on his muscles and is causing a lot of discomfort, and a tightness in Krypto’s left psoas. The pull has gotten worse over the years as has the tightness and the pain.
This could be the reason why Krypto takes lots of small steps instead of a couple of nice strides before jumping, why he has started tucking his back paws under his back when jumping while he used to extend his paws backwards, and also why he tries to avoid certain obstacles…He may be trying to protect his leg while still doing what he loves to do.
Of course this is not necessarily the only cause of what he does, but may certainly be a contributing factor.

Krypto underwent therapy, the adhesion is almost completely gone, and last Saturday we went for the first training session since we have found out about this injury. I must admit that I was very concerned about not seeing any improvement, especially since after over a year of jumping the way he did, he may have created a habit that may be difficult to break.

We did extension grids, set points and speed circles. Krypto was extending beautifully doing grid work, but he kept tucking his back paws under while doing the speed circle…until we were almost done and he started extending his back paws back while jumping! Now, this may not mean much, but I am really hopeful that he may have understood that his muscles do not hurt anymore and it is ok to kick his paws back!

And this is it, in short, what we have done since our last post. In the next months we’ll keep working on Krypto’s jumping skills and try to break his bad habits. Until then, no trials for us…

Two to go!

March 29, 2014 1 comment

Last night Krypto and I went to Dream Fields for a “self-serve” evening trial. Which means that the volunteers are the competitors. So we build, we run our dog, then we do ring steward duties and so on. It was games night, 2 Masters Gamblers, 2 Masters Snookers, and 2 Masters Jumpers. While I wanted to do well in all classes, my main goal was to succeed in jumpers, since we needed 4 Qs to get our MJDC (Masters Jumpers Dog of Canada) and also our ATChC (Agility Trial Champion of Canada).

While jumpers used to be easy peasy for us in starters and not that hard in advanced, as we hit masters we started having to cope with much more handling, a lot less straight lines, and a lot more movement required to me. And we had a lot of difficulty, until we started getting better at it, and we had the odd jump bar down. And then of course we had the big debacle of last Sunday’s trial, when Krypto messed up even the easiest of lead outs, one that he can normally do blindfolded, so to speak – it turns out he needed to pee and of course he could not both hold the pee and think (I had brought him out to pee before our run and he had repeatedly refused)…

Friday night was our night. After a successful Gamblers run, a nQ in the other Gambler caused by my inability to blurt out a “mememe” at a very critical moment, and a nQ in the first snooker due to some missed weaves in the opening, we got a shot at Masters Snookers 2, which led to the two jumpers runs. There we did not Q because the judge called a refusal at #6 in the closing. How he could possible see Krypto’s back paws from where he stood is a mystery to me, and some people that were watching us did not understand why we were whistled out…Truth is Krypto turned his head to look at me, but I believe he did not move his back paws. But, I am not 100% sure because he is so fast, and I am running him, and it is hard to be certain about such a detail. Anyways, we had a little conversation with the judge, who had no clue why he called us out, and we did not have a chance to get a re-run on that (I think we deserved it but…), which is probably better because I then had time to focus on our jumpers runs. They were two relatively flowy courses, with quite a bit of handling, but definitely feasible. So when I went in to run the first one, I just focused on it, and on Krypto. And we nailed it! As we nailed the second one!

Wow! Before last night we were so far from the ATChC. And now we are so close it is scary!! I never would have thought I could get a ATChC with one of my dogs. It has always looked like something so far away and unattainable, and I have always watched in awe the people and dogs that succeeded in earning it! And now, we are there. Almost!!!

That is all the positive. Let’s talk about the negative.

I am far too late too many times with my commands. And sometimes I do not say them clearly enough.  This is why Krypto sometimes turns to look at me. Every time that he turns his head and he stutter steps because he needs direction and I am late, we not only loose time. We also risk a refusal.

And, we have once more the creeping down the A-frame. This issue has been plaguing us since the very beginning. Whatever I did, or did not do, has definitely left a mark on Krypto. However, I had already decided to go back, once more, to square one, and start over again. I have an idea of what to do, I read books and watched DVDs, and I have observed Krypto. And I have a plan. I will take it easy. Slow and easy (the approach, not the A-frame performance!). What really worries me is that at the last two trials (5 days apart) Krypto’s A-frame was terrible. He would just stop above the contact zone, and not come down. He has never stopped there, that high, before. Also, before he would not be consistent in his creeping. He would have some good ones, and some bad ones. And just the week before, in training, his A-frame was very good, he had stopped creeping down. He was not the fastest, but he was definitely coming down easily. I am now wondering whether he is hurting. This is definitely the first thing I need to rule out before doing some more training. The plan is to get him to see a massage therapist or his chiropractor to see if there is anything wrong. At the next trial things will depend on whether he is ok or not. Sure thing is that there is no point in me trying to have him repeat the obstacle if he is hurting. And even if he is ok, then it is clear that he doesn’t understand what I want. So why asking him to repeat it? So perhaps the best course of action is just avoid that obstacle and burn some runs…at least for the trials runs I cannot get out of…And start over once more!!!