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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!!

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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!!!