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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!!

Patience is not my strong suit…

April 19, 2015 Leave a comment

..but it looks like I will have to learn…

Last Sunday Krypto and I went to our first fun match after 5 months of inactivity. I was quite excited to be running him again, and he was rather happy as well. I tried to run him without thinking “how will he jump?”, “will he stutter step?” and so on. I was also hoping not to loose it if someone was going to approach me, to tell me about his striding, had he stutter stepped. I was moderately successful on both accounts. Krypto did throw in his “funny” stepping here and there, and someone did approach me about it. And I did worry and almost lost it…almost.

The worry:

I try to remind myself that this is not a matter of national security, or global warming, or world peace. It is just a dog jumping at local trials and possibly at regional and national events. I did try to put things in perspective. And I think by the end of the fun match, or perhaps by the time I got home, I succeeded. I realized that I have done all what I could think of to correct a behaviour learnt and practiced for over one year, a bad habit, and that it may never go away. I will keep working on it. Every time I hit a wall, so to speak, I look back and think of something else to try. But, despite all what I have done and going to do, once in a while Krypto may still do his funny stepping. And so what? It’s not the end of the world. We may loose some time because of that, we may not get first place because of it at local trials, but at the end of the day is that so important? I am still thinking of an answer to this one…

The “loosing it”:

This is more difficult. Despite 18 years in Canada, I still have not learnt much of their famous diplomacy and tact…one day maybe…

The patience:

After so many months working on Krypto’s collection, the fun match was a total disaster as far as that aspect of his jumping is concerned. I may have been late with my cues a few times, but even when I was dead on, he still would not collect. He was in the “yahoo let’s go” mode, his famous launching mode. Funny stepping + launching. Not a good combination.

So, my plan of teaching him collection and that that would show him how to get closer to the jumps, and hopefully fix not only his launching/early takeoff, but also help his striding, seemed not to work. Or perhaps not 100%. Or maybe it is still in its infancy and it needs a lot more work. Which we’ll do. But since balance is everything, I realised that perhaps I had been focusing too much on collection, and perhaps I had disregarded if not extension, something about it that Suzanne Clothier had used many years ago in her jumping method to teach dogs how to jump: rhythm/momentum.

And I decided to try to add to our training sessions some “jump chutes” to create some muscle memory, some rhythm. Hoping to advance a little more in the right direction, to make Krypto’s striding a bit better. Another plan is to add stride regulators to force his stride where it should be.

This is a video of yesterday’s session (condensed).

It is clear that when Krypto has momentum, his striding when he needs to put in two strides, is much better. I would actually be ok with the type of striding he shows at the end of the jump chute. But at the very end of the video, where he is doing only the two last jumps, starting from a sit/stay, it is obvious that he is not as comfortable as when he is coming down a row of jumps and gaining momentum or getting comfortable with a certain rhythm in jumping. I think there he is thinking too much…maybe. As he seems to be loosing rhythm when he knocks bars, and then his striding worsens. That’s why perhaps stride regulators will help in that type of situation.

Interesting to note also the problems Krypto has with dark blue tunnels…this is already in my training plans for next week. Tunnel games with the very dark tunnel.

On the running A-frame front, I finally managed to unglue Krypto from the 2 on 2 off position. I did not take a video of that as the battery of my videocamera was running low. But it was really great progress since we had ended the previous training session with Krypto going back to holding his 2 on 2 off no matter what. Now I just need to find some kind soul to help me lower the A-frame for our next training sessions so that we can move forward with the backchaining.

Of course even in the running A-frame department I have doubts, I wonder whether I’ll be able to fade the prop I am using to teach Krypto to hit the contact area. I really wonder if this will ever work. Then other days I get hopeful and I even fantasize of having both the stopped and the running A-frame. It is feasible, as he already has a stopped one and the command for the running one is obviously different. But then I think I am becoming too ambitious and I better keep my feet on the ground.

So yeah, lot of patience, out of someone who has very little of it…I guess I am learning!

Collection

March 17, 2015 2 comments

Krypto and I have been working on collection. And I so wish I had known what “collection” really was way back in the days I started training Krypto. But way back when, I had no clue who Silvia Trkman & Co were. I did not know about the importance of tight turns. Or, I did not think about it. And so Krypto learnt to “go” full speed ahead. And then he started enjoying that so much that he started launching. Not that he did not need collection before, but now that we are way past his ATChC, we do need it badly.

I am not sure that collection will solve Krypto odd stepping issue. That has become almost a habit. So I will not worry too much about it as there is just so much I can do about it, and we’ll focus on learning to collect and to approach jumps appropriately.

I started teaching collection to Krypto just recently and we have been going through the Linda Mecklenburg foundation jumping exercises. But I soon felt we were not going where I wanted to go. The exercises are extremely boring for both the dog and the handler. Well…agility training may be tedious sometimes. But those exercises require too many repetitions at the dog’s jump height, and they are not too much to my taste. After a Saturday of not so successful training following that path, during my drive home I started pondering what I should do. Linda M., who had appeared like the solution to all my training issues, was “failing”. Perhaps it is me, but I felt Krypto and I were going nowhere. Apart from getting Krypto to jump with a very nice arc, head held down. That was great. Then there were my friend’s words that kept bugging me, about 16″ special…

That Saturday, during my drive home, my main thoughts were collection and jump height. And for some weird reason they made me think of Silvia Trkman and cik/cap. How she teaches collection having the dog do tight turns first around poles/trees/you name it. And then on single jumps and on fun jump-tunnel exercises. How she starts working on jumps at a low height, does all the exercises at that height and moves up by very small increments only when the dog is performing well at a given jump height. This sounded like a good plan. And it sounded like more fun than what we had been doing in the past couple of training session. Instead of working through the Linda M. foundation, we could go for Silvia Trkman cik/cap and use the single jump exercises by Linda M. to maintain a nice jumping form as typically border collies tend to flatten they jumping arc when going over low jumps.

The next days Krypto and I worked hard in my backyard and went through as much as we could of the early cik/cap exercises.

Then last Saturday we went training and we had a blast. Yes, on a few occasions I mixed up my clockwise (dedede) for my counterclockwise (lalala) cue. But I finally felt we were going somewhere. Perhaps I am too optimistic. I always get my hopes high then I get some very low moments when I feel like nothing is working. Because of that, I decided to shift completely my focus away from the stutter stepping issue, which may or may not go completely away. My main training goals are collection/tight turns and a running A-frame. With some time spent on reminding Krypto about distance work (!!), hard weave entries, stopped dog walk. With the clear intention of not going lower than 22″R as far as jump height is concerned. As for me, the list is endless: blinds, lap turns, ketschkers, reverse spins, TIMING…

I just hope I will not change plans again. This seems like a good one, and I need to stick to it.