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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!!

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.