Tuesday, April 28, 2009


SUMMARY: OK! Time to get serious about agility training!

Bring it on, human trainer person!

After everyone seemed light on the concept of Correct Contact Performance this last weekend--how did I manage to ruin Boost's Perfect Contacts? Really, they were the best I've ever had on a dog!?--I have vowed that we're all going to do 50 contacts a day here in the yard all week so we'll be prepared for this coming weekend's USDAA trial.

Although I don't know what it's worth--does Boost EVER leave a contact early here in the yard before being released? Not in the memory of humankind.

But what the heck, maybe if I do it often enough then it will overwrite the neural pathways that she has developed that say it's ok to leave the contact as soon as you feel like it. Research has shown that you can do that. That's kind of how you develop habits in your brain--do it over and over and your brain rewires itself. That's what neuro-linguistic programming is all about. Can one do NLP if one is a canine and doesn't have so much of the same linguistic capabilities? Can dogs do daily affirmations? Look in the mirror and say "I will do contacts correctly this weekend"?

"Every day, in every way, I am doing contacts better and better."

"Touch! Touch! Touch! Yes I can!"

I think perhaps we can do the equivalent with lots of repetition and reward.

So I will be a dog-brain rewiring specialist this week.

Yesterday we first revisited nose touches to a target. Ah, indeed, it's ok to just brush your nose past the surface of the target? Or swipe it along the target? Really? Did I ever teach them that? So instead of 50 contacts, we did 50 attempts to get them to >>ponk!<< their nose straight down on the target, not swipe, not push, not lower to their elbows first, not put a paw on it also. Just >>ponk!<< straight down and up. It's really lovely as long as I hold it in my hand at ground level or lean it against the toe of my shoe. Do you suppose the judge would mind if I stood at the end of the contact with a clear plastic target leaning on my shoe?

But there is something evil about the target lying flat on the ground. Really, once upon a time I could swear that we all did this correctly.

Actually, here in the yard, even without the target, Boost will bob her head up and down as if she were thinking about maybe ponking the target if it were there. I tried that this weekend in the ring after many many, shall we say hundreds, of leaving the contact earlies. She just stared at me. Stared. Like, "'Touch?' What is this noise you make?"

OK, so we will also do 50 jumps a day to learn once and for all that knocking the bars isn't an OK thing. Yesterday we probably didn't do 50 each. Might have done 20 each. If I were a Four Star Trainer, I would be logging these things so I'd know exactly how many I actually do. We all seemed to be getting the idea. Until we'd throw in a sequence, then we'd go back to whack-a-bar.

I'm jumping them both at 28" or so this week because we have a USDAA trial this weekend. I think Tika can handle a week of that. And Boost usually jumps 22", so maybe if I get her used to thinking higher and working harder at it, she'll pay attention.

But I also know that I need to work on her just *doing the obstacles in front of her* for crying out loud instead of looking at me. Or, officially, doing obstacles between me and her. Like, say, on a straight line to a turn where I'm calling her and have done the front cross and she's still blasting straight ahead full speed, looking at me and not bothering looking to see whether there's an actual obstacle there to take.

Oh, yes, we have lots of info on how to fix these things.

I just have to do it.

Mwah ha ha haaa! TMH and the Merle Girls (Boost, Tika, and MooMoo) will take over the agility world!!

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Sunday, November 30, 2008


SUMMARY: Winter doesn't stop agility in California--but it might stop me.

I've heard people say how nice it is to have a break from training and trialing dogs during the off season. However, as I've noted here before, there is no off season for agility in my world.

We have a USDAA trail in two weeks, and it's an off-the-wall combination of events: all the Tournament classes (DAM Team, Steeplechase, Grand Prix) with also Jumpers, Gamblers, and Pairs. (No Standard, no Snooker.) AND--because some people really like the old games from back when trials were small and finished early in the day--Strategic Pairs.

I've decided that I need to refocus Tika's contacts on hitting her 2on/2off, and refocus Boost's contacts on STOPPING AND WAITING AND NOT TURNING TOWARDS ME. Boost's were so good for so long but have just started getting sloppy this summer.

So I've done a bit of nose-touch work to targets, on and off the dogwalk. Not a lot, just some, on days when I'm in the mood. And the mood is holding me back; maybe the rest of the world doesnt' take a break, but I feel like *I* need a break.

For instance, I haven't had jumps up in my yard since we came back from Scottsdale, and that's been almost a month, and I know that I need to practice lateral lead-outs and serpentines and keeping bars up. But I just don't wanna. The weather this year isn't encouraging an off season, either; it's supposed to be possibly into the mid-70s (F) today.

The dogs are going nuts because I've been ignoring them a bit while life goes on around me. Plus no class this week--for some reason the instructors didn't want to schedule classes on Thanksgiving day, go figure!

So, OK, I'll go do the agility trial but I might not shine because we're not practicing that things that we need to practice. And is that a waste of money and time? Torn. Conflicted. But it's a beautful day. Maybe I'll take the dogs hiking.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Move Tika to Performance?

SUMMARY: Do I need to move Tika to the lower jump height division? What are my criteria?

I've had the gut feeling that Tika has been slowing down on her courses. She'll be 8 in February, but really I don't think of 8 as being that old, and we've gained a comfortable working relationship that works fairly well in USDAA and very well in CPE (which we're not doing much of at the moment). Plus she still jumps nicely most of the time at 26".

(Fun note: In CPE, I jump her at the highest height, 24", to avoid messing up her 26" USDAA Jumping. But she's legal for 20" in CPE. Which means that I could eventually move her down to 16" in their Specialist category--like Performance in USDAA--or even to 12" in their Enthusiast category! Can you picture Tika running a course at 12"?!)

Then there's the issue of her coming up sore periodically. This weekend she did 6 runs Saturday and was fine, then Jumpers Sunday morning and was fine, then came out of her crate before Snooker saying "I'm sore, I'm hunched over, I don't want to play tug of war, I can't do anything." Fortunately there were about 8 dogs ahead of us, so I got her moving, got her stretching, massaged her neck and spine and shoulders, used treats to encourage her to stretch her neck and back in various ways (boy, she really perked up at the treats), and by the time we went into the ring, she looked perky and comfortable. Ran fine. Ran fine in Standard, too. Ran fine for frisbee later. Looks fine today. Maybe just a cramp? But I was inches away from scratching her because she looked so unhappy.

So there's that to consider.

To help decide how much she's slowed down, I took my useful database of info I've collected on my dogs' runs through the years, threw out Novice and Advanced classes, threw out classes where we had refusals or runouts (because they'd skew the picture of her true speed), chose only Grand Prix, Jumpers, and Standard as useful classes, and ended up with data from early 2004 through this weekend. For each of the 3 classes I plotted the following in Excel charts: Her yards per second (YPS), how far off the SCT (standard course time) her time was, and how far off the first-place dog's time she was.

I couldn't clearly tell from the plot of her YPS whether she's slowing, so I did a sort of a running average, and it showed a few interesting things.

1) Her YPS in Standard abruptly shot up starting in April 2007. (--about .2 YPS--which for her would be about 2.5 seconds faster on a Standard course.) What happened in April 2007? The Aframe height changed from 6'3" to 5'10". (Caveat: At some point last year I decided that it was OK for Tika to have running contacts because she was doing it anyway and we needed the extra speed. I can't find my blog post on that, but I was still trying to get the 2o2o behavior at that time.)

I can't quite tell whether it affected everyone equally; it looks like she picked up some time compared to the first-place dogs, but not a lot.

2) Her Standard YPS has indeed been drifting slowly downward since, from 3.9 then to 3.7 now, over a year and a half. So we've lost those couple of seconds again.

3) Her Jumpers YPS rose steadily from 2004 to 2006 as we learned how to work together, peaked at almost 6 YPS in early 2006, slid steadily to just over 5.5 YPS in mid-2007, and has very slightly drifted to below 5.5 YPS since. (In other words, she hasn't slowed much on Jumpers courses in the last year and a half.)

4) Oddly, her Grand Prix YPS average seems to have climbed slightly over time--but we don't have nearly as many good data points on that.

So I'm not sure what it tells me. She's still way below SCT and is by no measures a slow dog. But the numbers from this weekend tell me that we're still fighting a battle to ever earn placement ribbons: Note that in every class, she did very well as the Q rate seemed low--but in almost every case, she was the slowest of the dogs to Q or to get the highest points.

I don't know what moving her to Performance would do in that area; Performance is not an escape from experienced, top-quality competitors. Several dogs who've beaten her consistently in the past in Championship are now in Performance.

The other thing is--she's now getting so close to her ADCH-Silver that it would be nice to finish at least that, and if this weekend's any indication, she's very capable of doing it without hurting herself. To do that, she needs 25 legs in each of the 5 regular classes, and has:
* Standard: 22
* Relay: 26
* Gamblers: 22
* Snooker: 30
* Jumpers: 20

It's always those danged Jumpers, isn't it!

So I'm sticking with a wait and see strategy on her regular classes.

I can also decide on the tournament classes. All she needs for her Platinum Tournament Championship is one DAM Team Q and one additional Q of any kind (DAM, Steeplechase, Grand Prix). There are no higher awards in the Tournament area. So I could move her to Performance's lower jump height there if I wanted to. The question is just whether--if there's another Nationals out west--I'd want to qualify her in Championship or in Performance, and whether I'd really want to go anyway, with the fact (same as this year) that she just can't compete with the top dogs.

It's only Gamblers where we can really shine on opening poins, as usual.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

In Which Perfection Is Reversed

SUMMARY: Tika does contacts; Boost does weaves.

Tika, the consummate leaper-offer-of-contacts dog, ran her contact drills in class Thursday night as if the thought had never occurred to her. Every contact was very fast and ended in a crisp, eagerly poised 2-on-2-off position. Contacts of beauty! Grace! Poetry! The kind of contacts everyone wants to have (except those who want running contacts) but not everyone gets! The kind that *I* want to have but don't always get!

Boost, whose contacts are breathtakingly lovely, was the one whom I was able to easily entice to leave the contact early (not waiting for the release command). I have seen indications of this in competition lately, so we need to proof them more at home. So I've been doing them in the yard, just making her stick the end and going back to waiting for a nose touch. She's getting faster at offering that again; I'd let it slide because "she didn't seem to need it." Well! That'll learn me.

We do need work on left turns into the weaves again, though--confirmed in class and at home.

But Tika, the perfect weaving dog, was easy to make pop out of the weaves or go into the wrong entrance. And at home, where I've been doing distraction drills, she seems to be popping out MORE rather than less! Argh! But at the same time, she's getting faster on distractions when she DOESn'T pop out--like she's learning to not slow down to think about them.

This dog did not do 12 weaves in competition.
On the other hand, Boost--the dog who can't do more than 10 in competition--went all the way to the end in every danged set of weaves in class, and we were doing weave drills with 2 sets of poles and front and rear crosses and lag-behinds and run-aheads and all that. A joy to watch! World Team Coach had suggested that I always toss a toy for her right at the end, before her head turns to me. That was what Mo Strenfel also suggested in our weave pole seminar a year ago, and I've been doing it religiously ever since. Well, not every time. Sometimes we go on to the next obstacle.

The difference is that I used to throw the toy in a straight line forward of the weaves so that it rolled or bounced ahead, and Mo said that, to fix my popping out problem (yes! it has reappeared often!), that I should make the toy land right on the ground at the end of the last pole to keep her from thinking of running ahead. Now WTC suggests that I use something that rolls or bounces instead of just lying there to get her to learn to complete the weaves while thinking about running ahead.

WTC also said to never let the dog know that they popped out early in competition because then they'll start to think about it more and start looking at you when they get to that point and pop out more. My experience says that, with Boost, if I ignore it, it keeps happening, but if I make her lie down and then put her back in where she popped out, she stops popping out. So am I setting up for long-term failure? Or fixing my problem?

That's what I love about agility, the clear, consistent guidelines for improving obstacle skills given a specific problem.

Anyway, we're mostly working on contacts and weaves at home this week, plus rear crosses on straight tunnels, and I'm trying to pay more attention to my own body language differences for rear crosses versus pulls or straight-aheads. My timing is still so bad. Ah, well, give me another 13 years of practice and I might nail it.

This dog did not pick up its feet when going over the first jump.

Both dogs really need to do bar-knocking drills, too, but not now. Maybe next week.

(Photos borrowed from Pets and Their People Photography; there are a bunch of photos of both my dogs, some of which I'm buying, but these probably I won't and will just borrow low-rez bad copies of for this page.)

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Boring Notes To Self From Weekend

SUMMARY: What we did well on, but mostly what we screwed up. (This is my third post of the day. You'll probably more enjoy my previous posts about Weekend Courses or Haute TRACS is Almost Done.


  • Weaves: Hitting the correct entry and then skipping a pole. Several times. This cost us 14 points in Saturday's Snooker, time in the Steeplechase, I don't know where else as I didn't take good notes at the time. Popping out early. She did this almost 100% on Thursday, I think. I made her go back in and correct them on the theory that slowing her down is punishment enough. That didn't seem to help, so on Friday I made her lie down and THEN made her go back in and fix them. The next set of weaves she did the entry-skipping thing again; made her lie down, then go back in, and she finished them completely and I whooped and ran her quickly out of the ring over a couple of fast obstacles.

    That seems to have fixed it again, as she completed all of her weaves correctly on Saturday, I'm pretty sure, enough that I dared three sets in the gamble and she did great, made entries AND stayed in. Woo.
  • Contacts: Oh, bad dog, left the first two early in team standard and I didn't want to mess around in Team events. So later I made her lie down when she left a contact or two early, and that seems to have fixed it again. You really do have to stay on top of this stuff, don't you!
  • Start line stay: She is so good! Although in that same first team run, she left before I released her, and I let her get away with it because it was team. I feared for my life after that, but in fact she stuck all of her remaining start-line stays all weekend very nicely.
  • Bars and refusals: I just didn't count them well this weekend. There were many, many, many on Thursday but seemed to be better on Friday and even better on Saturday. I wonder, if I had stayed through Sunday, whether we'd have actually had a run or two with no refusals or knocked bars? We just don't practice enough running and jumping, I guess. Not enough room for it in my yard; class is so much more focused on handling.
  • Energy: So far she seems to maintain total drive and enthusiasm, although she was more easily distracted away from her tug toy while going to and from the ring. I hope that's just growing maturity and confidence, not a stress reaction. I'd hate to think that I'm slowing her down in the ring by my incompetent handling or stressing her out about doing well in the ring.


  • Contacts: Barely getting toenails into the Aframe down contacts and flying over most of the dogwalk downs. I don't believe that we were called for any dogwalk ups this weekend. Maybe I'm concentrating on the wrong part of the contact and Rachel's right about that being trivial! I need to just decide how she's supposed to do her contacts and what I'm willing to accept in the ring and go about fixing it again. She never used to have so many flyoffs. I don't think so, anyway.
  • Drive and enthusiasm: I've always had trouble getting her to play with a toy before a run, except the first run of the morning, where she really gets into it--until we get ringside, where she'd rather sniff the ground. Presumably that's mostly the chow-hound's food obsession, but the amount of time I spend dragging her around by the neck trying to do a little jogging to warm up or just to get from one side of the ring to the other is a little bit concerning. Is this a stress reaction more than mere food sniffing?

    She does seem to me to be tiring and flagging sooner and more often. Heat never seemed to matter to her, but this weekend she didn't leap immediately to her feet when I approached her crate saying, "Tika, you want to do some agility?" This is so unlike her. This just adds to the assorted things I have been noting about her getting tired so much faster than Boost, where not long ago she could completely keep up, or about being good for only a couple or three runs in class before her drive visibly drops.

    I mean, really, she's still a fast dog, but not drivey fast like she often used to be. Her Saturday Jumpers speed was 5.25 yards per second, which is good but not great (Boost's 5.96, winning dog 6.41).

    So I have all these questions running through my head: Is she sore? Is she getting old? Does she have something seriously wrong with her like Remington did that mystified me about his performance for so long? Is she out of condition, am I not doing enough with her? Should I be doing less with her? Argh, so hard to figure out.
  • Weaves: I keep relying too much on her being a "good weaving dog" and then don't work the weave entries or exits at ALL and then get errors or pop-outs. But she did make a couple of really beautiful and very difficult weave entries all on her own this weekend. I'm not always certain where I need to give a bit more info and where she's fine on her own. Should probably experiment.
  • Start-line stays: She has been so much better at staying since I started having her lie down at the start, which she wanted to do half the time anyway. She still sometimes gets up early and creeps up on the first obstacle, but I'll take it as long as she doesn't actually start doing the course on her own. It's not so much of a problem with electronic timing, so she's not creeping across the start line, but I have to make sure I give her plenty of room--just in case--for those classes (gamblers, snooker) where a traditional start line is still used.


  • Energy:I really felt droopy Thursday, which was not the hottest day, and all weekend I seemed to have trouble getting my feet to take me where I wanted to go. It might have been lack of sleep on Thursday. It might have been allergy drugs Thursday and Friday so I didn't take them Friday night, but didn't feel any better Saturday. I keep thinking I'm in reasonable condition. I sure wish I was in the right frame of mind to take these extra pounds off again! It's just not happening at the moment. I'm sure that contributes immensely to my perceived inability to move around the course.
  • Handling: I made SO many mistakes this weekend that I SO know better. The kind where the instant you make it you know you've just screwed up, usually even before the dog goes off course/knocks a bar/gets a refusal/etc. Where is my brain? I realize that everyone makes mistakes, but this weekend felt particularly bad for me.
  • Attitude: On the other hand, I felt less stress about any of my runs than I have in a long time. I enjoyed myself on course, I didn't feel like crawling into a corner and bawling when I messed up yet another course, I never felt the kind of self-pressure I feel for, say, the last leg for an ADCH or trying to get a needed Super-Q or such. Even though I wanted Tika's 2 jumpers for her ADCH-Bronze, I wasn't thinking about it at all during my runs, just concentrating on the runs themselves. So the question is--did I make more stupid errors because I *wasn't* stressed and running on adrenaline? My Q rate doesn't seem to be horribly different from other USDAA trials, so I'm not sure really what difference any of this really made.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Contact Consult and Commuting

SUMMARY: Went to Rachel's for contact work. Long drive, interesting touristing.

I set up an appointment with Rachel a couple of months in advanced, she's so booked up. Last Wednesday was the day. I groggily rose and was on the road with the beasts by 8:30 for our 11:30 appointment in Atascadero. Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day. Thursday was a beautiful sunny day. Here is what it did on Wednesday, at least within a 10 mile radius centered on Atascadero.

So we stood bravely in the drizzle for the better part of 3 hours to talk about contacts and how to use her box-training method to help Tika's dogwalk up and start her on a running Aframe.

Here is what the view from Rachel's yard looks like. Rough life, huh?

Here is what Rachel said about Tika's dogwalk up contacts. "You're missing only 10%? That's, what, one every 2 or 3 weekends, assuming that you're doing dogwalks in gambles?" She says that usually people looking for help are missing at least half the time, and mine is a minor problem. For me, though, it's just one more in a long line of one-fault runs that keep me from qualifying. More often it's knocked bars, or the Aframe down, sure, but if I can eliminate this problem--

But we worked on her technique, anyway, for getting two feet into a zone-sized box while running. I had already taught Tika to get into the box on a "Hit it" command, months ago, but stopped before Rachel's seminar in January because I wasn't sure where I needed to go with it. I told Rachel that Tika could already find the box on command (but I always have a lingering doubt on whether I really taught it or somehow my imagination was playing a trick on me)--and Tika saved my honor by showing that she could, indeed, go into the box no matter where I set her up and no matter where I was standing. The biggest issue is that she's not RUNNING, which is why I added (months and months and months ago) the treat-dispensing machine beyond the box, hoping that she'd speed up to get there. (She didn't.)

(Rachel suggests that the problem with "Hit it!" is that it makes the judges look more closely at the up contact because now they know that you have an issue with it.) But at the end of the session, we tried to get Tika to miss the dogwalk up to see whether we could detect a pattern, and she nailed it every time, over and over. And we were both running full out, too. So she's not missing when she's trying to catch up to me. Or maybe it was because we'd spent an hour and a half getting her to get her two feet into the box on the ground so she was more conscious of it. (We weren't using it on the dogwalk.) Rachel thought that Tika was, in fact, already adjusting her stride when I said "hit it!" on the dogwalk, even though we've never used the box on the actual equipment. Huh. Maybe.

We also worked on Tika's boxwork for the Aframe down contact as described in Rachel's seminar.

So, anyway, I have homework to do on getting her to do the boxes correctly at a full run (when she speeds up, she starts dropping just one foot in for the dogwalk box and only a couple of feet, not 4, in the Aframe box).

Boost's down contacts

I said that I wanted to tweak Boost's down contacts a bit because, although she's fast, she takes about 300 fast, tiny steps in the last part of the descent, and I thought she'd be faster if we could eliminate those. Rachel watched her do a couple. Boost did a couple of absolutely perfect Aframes, no slower steps, and Rachel said, you've got a genuine 2-second dogwalk, and there aren't many people who can really claim that. Why mess with it? So I guess I won't. So we did a little work on how I cause refusals with my handling of Boost.

Here is what I look like after several hours of rain and with knowledge hopefully soaking into my brain along with Atascadero water-fall-from-sky and a 3-hour drive home ahead of me.

Going home

I've been doing these Wednesday evening hikes starting at 6:00 to help me get ready for Havasu Falls. But, leaving from Atascadero around 3, there was no way I'd make a 3-or-more-hour trip plus drop off the dogs and change my clothes. So I suddenly realized that I had something I almost never have: A leisurely drive home with no deadline, where I could stop or do whatever I wanted. And since it wasn't a hot, sunny day, I could even leave the dogs in the van.

Driving out of the hills from Rachel's house, I took the time to stop for photos of the native fauna in their natural habitat, all within easy camera range of the vehicle:

A deer in its native woodland meadow:

A triceratops leaving its native gazebo:

My entire drive was along U.S. 101, following the route of old El Camino Real (or should that be "El old Camino Real"?), so I had to duck down a scenic frontage road to sneak up on this beauty in its native habitat, the side of the highway:

I'm glad that they're back, lining El Camino Real all up and down California. They used to be there, then idiots gradually stole them all, and now I guess they've found a way to attach the bells so that they aren't so easily removed.

This detour also gave me the opportunity to see this rarely viewed Santa Fe railroad fake engine in its native habitat, a front yard in rural California:

Then I stopped in San Miguel to see the mission. Right off the highway is a modern mission-like bell tower, connected to the ruins of the old adobe wall around a couple of acres of Mission land:

The mission itself is somewhat open for tours, although the church and cemetery are current closed to the public because the walls are about to fall on top of you and are propped up with giant props while they retrofit it to better withstand earthquakes. The arches on the extension next to the church are all of different sizes and shapes. They claim that this was done deliberately and that San Miguel was known far and wide for these interesting arches. Personally I suspect that the architect was known far and wide for having too many sangrias.

When I looked in Wikipedia for a link to the mission, I discovered that the article was sparse and had no modern photos, so I had to add some photos and more text. View the updated wikipedia article on Mission San Miguel Arcangel.

Across the street, I discovered that there's an old adobe that's also an historical monument, the Rios-Caledonia adobe. It originally served as a stage stop and inn on old El The Camino ancient historic Real until the train put a stop to that (perhaps the very Santa Fe rotting down the road a bit?), then it was used for an assortment of purposes until someone got the great idea of turning it into a tourist attraction back in the 1930s when it was still practically new (well, compared to now, anyway).

When I went to wikipedia for a link to THAT article, I discovered that there WAS no article, just links to it in various places, so I had to write it up and upload more photos, which you can see here. The mission and adobe are tied together somehow in a weird mass murder, if you're into that sort of history.

The adobe museum is open only Friday through Sunday, but the grounds were open, so I could browse the outside, admire the fact that they had doggie-pick-up bags readily available onsite, and get both eyes poked out simultaneously in the well-tended cactus garden.

On the trip, I passed The Old El Camp Roberts, which looks like it's falling apart, literally, although it's supposedly still in use by the National Guard.

Lastly, I had this disturbing encounter:

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

There Is Nothing Like A Frame

SUMMARY: Today's song lyrics

Update March 19: See end of post!
Sometimes I wander around the house singing to myself and to my dogs. This is what came out this morning (from the famous musical, South Pacific Dog Agility):

Apparently not doing 2-on/2-off today.
Photo by Sarah Hitzeman

Teddy the Beagle demonstrates the viewing potential of an elevated structure.
We miss contacts on our teeter,
We miss contacts on our 'walk,
We got weavepoles that are iffy,
We got bars that we can knock,
We got rules that can confuse us
In the tricky Snooker game.
What is the worst?
The darn A Frame!

We get runouts and refusals,
We get broken start-line stays,
We get lost on Jumpers courses
That are set up like a maze,
We get caught in chutes and tires,
Visit judges for a spell.
What is the worst?
You know darn well!

There is nothin' you can fly off so wide from...
There is nothin' else you can't really hide from...

There is nothin' like A Frame,
Nothin' in the ring,
There is nothin' you can blame
That is anything like A Frame!

[verses omitted to get to the grand finale--]

There are no flyoffs like A Frame,
And no creeping like A Frame.
You can perch on A Frame
And look around from A Frame,
Run around an A Frame,
Bail right off an A Frame.
There ain't a thing that's wrong with any obstacle
That can't be worse when you have to pull
To a big wide, steep-sided, slatted, faultable Frame!

NOTE: If anyone can successfully fill in the missing dadadas with an appropriate line, I'll add it here with credit! Update March 19: Thanks, Wishy the Writer, for this suggestion: We get caught in chutes and tires, Visit judges for a spell. (Read lyrics to original "There is Nothing Like a Dame." Oh, cool, YouTube has the scene with the song from the movie, so you can see and hear the original, too! Don't they look like a bunch of handlers walking a course? Sure they do!)

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rachel's Running A-Frame Part 2

SUMMARY: Sorry it took so long--a little busy.
Part 1
Brief note on up contacts

Advance note: This was supposed to be the same seminar delivered once in the morning for 3 hours and once in the afternoon for 3 hours. However, by the time I had to leave, about 4 hours into the day, it looked like it was going to be a sort of 7-hour seminar with some repeat of what was covered earlier. In other words, I didn't really see the dénouement, which would be how to fade the PVC frame (except for removing the little feet from the bottom as a first step).

Adding the A-frame

OK, you've worked the simulated A-frame on the ground and the dog can do it reliably (all 4 feet in the box every time, with you ahead, behind, left, right, moving, standing). And you've videotaped consistently enough to know that she really is getting all 4 feet in every time.

Now you can move to the Aframe. Notes:
  • Start at 4'6".
  • Only 2-3 times a week, half a dozen at a time. Don't want to fatigue the dog.
  • Don't add other obstacles in sequence after A-frame until they're pretty solid.
  • She won't work dog on running Aframe until over a year old because of muscle & power development.

Step 1 positioning
Step 3 positioning
Breaking 2on/2off part 1

Breaking 2on/2off optional part 3
Set up the box on the A-frame (see Part 1). Back chain the dog by placing the dog on the A-frame above the 2nd slat above the contact zone. Then you get into whatever position you're going to start from (remember to vary) and give the command (oh, yeah, did I mention adding a command way back when they've learned how to run into and out of the box?).

Second step is with the dog starting just beyond the apex (on the down side).

Third step is to get the dog to run the whole thing with a good running start.

Breaking the 2-On/2-Off

For dogs who've already been trained to the 2-on/2-off method of stopping at the bottom, you need to break that behavior. They might just avoid it naturally when you set them up as discussed above, but if they don't, you need 2 or 3 extra steps.

Important: DO NOT EVER give the 2o/2o command on the Aframe again. (If you keep the 2o/2o dogwalk, you'll want to intermingle some DWs and AFs to be sure dog understands the difference.)

First, put the box on the ground slightly in front of the Aframe and set the dog up in the 2o/2o position; you'll have to do this manually somehow because you DO NOT EVER give the 2o/2o command again. Move to your position, then give the "hit it" command. Dog should do it just like he's been doing it on the ground all along.

Second, set the dog on the Aframe in the contact zone so all 4 feet are there (since that's where he's going to be hitting, in theory). Move to your position and give the "hit it" command.

You shouldn't have to do these steps more than once or twice, I think she said. If the dog still wants to stop when you go back to the Aframe steps 1/2/3, you can just make it harder for the dog to stop by angling the box so it's partway off the Aframe a couple of times.

That's it! Now you have running A-frames!

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Nose Touches


Nose-touch demo video.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Rachel's Up Contacts

SUMMARY: summarytext

I asked Rachel about using this method for up contacts, because I know that she's done it and because that's (currently) my main interest with Tika. This seminar didn't cover it, but Rachel said that the criteria and the training are different--for example, the criteria is one foot in--and she has worked with multiple dogs on this, too.

I'm convinced enough that she's come far enough with this that I'm going to schedule a time to go down to Atascadero some day soon (I hope) to work with her.

She did say, though, that she's not sure that one could use this method to teach BOTH a solid up contact AND a running down contact, because the criteria are different for a similar set-up. I said I'd be interested in doing that, though. She wasn't encouraging.

For Tika, if that's the case, I'll have to decide whether the missed Qs from the up contact are more relevant than the missed Qs from time--but here I'm talking about Steeplechases and Grand Prixs. Sure, we've missed some Standard Qs from up contacts, but in fact she has more Standard Qs (16) than any regular class except Snooker (22), so that's not a major concern at the moment. BUT the number of times that we've missed a Steeplechase Q by less than a second or two when we've dropped a bar, or the number of times we've missed getting into Round 2 of the Grand Prix by a second or two when we've had some fault, says that if I increased the reliable speed of her Aframe, maybe I'd get more Qs in St and more 2nd rounds in GP even WITH the fault.

On the other hand, it's also true that, when I really push her, she pops off the Aframe anyway so isn't wasting a lot of time there--although it might still waste a little time because I'm taken by surprise and because she knows she's likely to get called on it so might hesitate.

So, anyway, I have to decide, but I think a couple of hours with Rachel will help me with that.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rachel's Running A-Frame

SUMMARY: Attended a half-day seminar with Rachel Sanders on running A-frames.

Disclaimer: This is a summary of what I heard. It is also my interpretation of what I thought was meant. Any errors are mine, not Rachel's. This is my first real exposure to this method. (Figured I had to say this before people start pointing out my mistakes!)
Jan 23: I've cut out a bunch from my original post, as it was too detailed to be fair to Rachel.


To get the dog to do the down ramp in two strides, hitting all four feet in the contact zone, and leave the A-frame without stopping. For dogs of any breed, any size.

Why? Rachel isn't doing this primarily for speed on the course; she's doing it because she believes that running contacts are much easier on the dogs physically than 2 on/2 off ("2o2o"). And she believes that this method will prove to be more reliable than several other methods of teaching running contacts, which she discussed. (She also discussed several of what she calls myths about running contacts, like dogs of only certain builds can do it, or dogs can learn to do it on only one height of A-frame, etc.)

She has now worked with more than 60 dogs with this method, quite a few of whom are competing. She's still refining it as she encounters more dogs with different responses to the method--which is, of course, completely typical for working out a new method.

After a 3-hour seminar, jam-packed with info, I am jazzed about the possibilities and realized very quickly that even the 3 hours could provide enough to get me started but not necessarily all trouble-shooting issues and a detailed training plan. I'm hoping to get some more work with Rachel in March.


The box will be centered over the contact zone.
A "box" made out of PVC.

The corners are just standard PVC ells with a third "leg" where a riser would screw in.

Corner detailHold in place with plastic tie and bungie to chain underneath Aframe.

Training the box

Click to mark all four feet in the box by tossing the reward away from you.

Before you get to the A-frame, you work with the box on the ground, first teaching the dog to go into it with all four feet. First, when the dog shows any interest in the box, click and reward inside the box, away from you. Then reward for all four feet in the box.

Continuing box training

To get the dog moving out of the box, reward by tossing treat outside the box. (This box is slightly raised to make it easier for this dog.)

Eventually, reward motion that carries the dog out of the box opposite the side on which he entered. Toss the treat away from you across the dog's path so the dog doesn't look at you for the reward. Replace the treat with a toy as soon as possible.
By now you should lose the chair, but try to find a way to stand where you're not tempted to move, lean, etc.

Gradually you work further away from the box, always rewarding only if all four feet land inside the box. (Rachel emphasizes that the only way that you can train your eye to recognize it is by videotaping and watching your actions.) Then you'd gradually add motion. Same sort of thing as teaching any other obstacle.

Flat A-frame

Flat representation of an A-frame.

Rachel also discusses how to practice doing the A-frame without actually having one, using jumps to emulate the layout of an A-frame as shown in the photo. The middle jump represents the apex of the A-frame. The PVC box goes right where it would go on the Aframe.

Then work with the dog in the same way you did with just the box--first standing still at different positions, then adding motion from different positions. Goal is always all four feet in the box.

(I'll have to post more tomorrow--on working the A-frame itself and on breaking a 2o2o contact to move to a running contact.)

Update: Feb 27 2008
"Tomorrow" eventually came: Part 2

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tika's Contacts

SUMMARY: #2 of several posts related to this weekend. Tika's contact speed looks good. Accuracy still needs work.

One reason that I've wanted to take time off from agility this winter is to work on Tika's contacts. We have a variety of issues:
  • Predictability: Doesn't always stop and wait for my release at the bottom. This means that she often gets ahead of me because I'm behaving as if she's going to stop, which leads to offcourses and refusals on the next obstacle.
  • Doesn't always even hit bottom, leaves earlier & earlier, lately resulting in flyoffs for faults (or zero points in point games).
  • Speed: When I make her stop or correct her, the result is that she slows way down on the descent. We just can't afford that time loss among the high-speed, high-drive dogs out there, if I want to try to get and stay near the top of the heap.
  • Dogwalk up contacts: Leaping over the up contact zone, resulting in faults in USDAA.

I believe that the first three are interrelated and that I can solve all of them with the same strategy. Since coming home from Scottsdale, I've been doing many, many contacts with this criteria to earn a reward: Tika must run as fast to the bottom as she runs up (which is always pretty fast) AND she must wait for me to release her.

I'm concentrating on high-energy rewards. She's a big food hog and loves her treats; it's been a challenge getting her to take a tug-toy as reward for her contacts, but I think that the treat rewards are one thing that has slowed her down. She's gotten much better about accepting a toy as reward recently. I'm still working on it, but there's improvement. And, very important now, I don't reward if she's slower than I want, rather than rewarding ONLY for the two-on, two-off position and waiting for me.

Sometimes I reward by letting her go into the next obstacle and then playing like crazy, but not too often; just want to keep reminding her that the contact is in a sequence and she doesn't get to slow down just because I'm not at the bottom to reward her. I'm trying to drive in and reward her within microseconds after she hits the contact, not to cruise over saying "goooood girl" before delivering the reward.

I'm concentrating on high-energy approaches to the contacts. I never just line her up and send her; I hold back on her collar (which she takes with high excitement), I play with the toy out of her reach, I beat the toy on the contact zone, I run to a tunnel before the obstacle and then send her. I'm trying to remember to mix up being behind her as she starts the contact, being ahead of her as she starts the contact, and running parallel. (I don't have much room in my yard for crossing in front of the contact, but I know that I need to work on that, too, to keep her from popping off as I cross.)

I've gone back to a lot of basic work, as well--driving to a nose-touch target on the ground; driving to a nose-touch target at the end of a contact training board; putting her on the contact on the down ramp, revving her up, and driving to the end of the contact to a nose-touch target. I'm trying to mix up standing still behind her, running with her, and running out in front of her. I think that this is helping because I can do many more of these than I can do full-length contacts.

I'm trying to be consistent with my command--"Climb! GO!! Touch!"--and not use my voice to try to build drive ("Go! Go! Go! Woohooo!") because I want my performance to be as consistent as possible so that I'm not giving extra cues in competition that it's OK to fly off or that it's OK to slow down.

I'm now trying to do high-energy corrections-- on the lie-down afterwards in competition (when she doesn't wait), rather than stop completely, assume a calm voice, make her lie down, walk past her, then release, I'm trying to do a drivey, high-energy down--so I yell "down" with as much excitement as I can, keep my own body and voice high-energy, run past her, release as quickly as possible. Because, in the past, I've noticed that, when I make her "down," this slows her down. So I want everything that she AND I do in relation to contacts to be high-energy and drivey at all times.

So, at home, I'm trying to make the corrections high-energy, too. No "oops" and just bringing her back around to touch. And I'm trying VERY hard not to ever let her back up a step to put her foot on the contact--if need be, I rush in and grab her before she can try it. I NEVER taught that, but I see her try it once in a while, and I've seen too many dogs lately get faulted for that.

I'm not bothering with 2-on/2-off on the teeter with her, and haven't for a long time, because the only times she's ever done flyoffs is when she doesn't realize that it's a teeter. But I have been working on speed and drive on that her WHOLE agility career, and she's doing very nicely. I almost never get sliding teeter contacts, but she does drive into the contact zone, and I release her quickly and this weekend her teeters were nice.

This weekend, every one of her contacts was fast. She didn't stick her 2-on/2-off dogwalks--ran through them without stopping--but she didn't fly off. I did make her lie down twice, and a couple of her Aframes were just lovely, driving to the bottom and waiting for me, eyes bright, poised to run, rather than simply trotting down and assuming the position, even after the drivey "Down" corrections.

I think we're making progress.

Up contacts? Pfah. I'm still not convinced how I want to do them, so I'm ignoring them yet again.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Training Me and the Dogs

SUMMARY: First day of boot camp for me. Working on Tika's drive, bars, future contact work.

So much to do, so little time. We've got a USDAA trial this weekend, a week off, another USDAA trial, another weekend off, then that following Monday or Tuesday heading for Scottsdale.

Boost's not competing at Scottsdale, so it's just the usual stuff. She's doing some fabulous weave entries in the yard now. So she WAS learning all that stuff, she just now got around to deciding to apply it!

With Tika, I need to focus on:
* Tika's drive to the end of the contacts, particularly the dogwalk and teeter
* Bar-knocking drills

Tika tends to blast fast through most of the dogwalk and then saunter to the end--or, as she's just started doing, leaping off before the contact. So I just keep rolling around to contact-drive work, revving her up, slapping the contact, driving her with my body, too, and not rewarding crappy slow sauntering ones. We never got our second Steeplechase qualifier--sigh--so it's just Grand Prix and Team.

I've been working on the ground in getting her and Boost to run through my PVC frame that's the size of the dogwalk contact and going to a target further ahead, so they get clicked for getting front feet into the box and the reward goes at the target. Tika's still mostly jogging through it, although I think she's picking up speed; Boost blasts into the box but in her short life we've done so much targeting work and stopping on the contacts that she wants to stop in the box. But, when she does get out again, she drives to the target.

That's in prep for working on Tika's up contact, which I just really don't think I want to deal with before Nationals. And I have a fantasy about retraining contacts to be running contacts, which I REALLY REALLY don't want to even think about before Nationals.

But I'm reserving the rest of November, all of December, and part of January to muck with contacts. Only one CPE trial over Thanksgiving weekend, and I had the guts to NOT sign Tika up for Standard so I could avoid putting her on the dogwalk while I'm (in theory) retraining.

For me--today was the first day of boot camp. As expected, my arms are my real weak link. They are SO tired, I don't even want to be at the computer. But here I am. With lots of Real Work to do, too. Jogged most of the laps we did; walked the rest as soon as I started to feel it in my knee. Knee held up pretty good, actually. Next session--Wednesday morning.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Master Dogs

SUMMARY: Sometimes you feel like a Master, sometimes you don't.

Master Gamblers Tika no Q. Did hard part of gamble but turned wrong way.
Boost No Q. Didn't stick start line, didn't stick her Aframes. Good: did DW in gamble.
Steeplechase Tika No Q. Bar and ran over broadjump. 28.86 with fastest at 26.94. SCT of 35.20, but our 10 faults gave us 38.86. Zut alors!
Boost No Q. Didn't stick start line and made her come back and sit. Followed by a flawless run but over time.
Saturday Standard Tika (Masters) Q and 2nd of 20
Boost (Advanced) Q and 3rd of 9. AAD!
Saturday Jumpers Tika (Masters) No Q. Smooth but one bar. 27.46 with winner at 26.67.
Boost (Advanced) E? Couple of bars plus bad handling for offcourse.
Pairs Relay Tika (Masters) No Q. Tika clean, partner offcourse
Boost (Advanced) Q and 1st place
Masters Snooker Tika Q and 8th of 21; popped one Aframe in opening which = superQ points
Boost Ha! 6 points! Tied for 37th of 39
Sunday Jumpers Tika (Masters) E; knocked 2 bars so tried risky layering = offcourse
Boost (Advanced) E; 20.55 seconds compared to winners (very fast) 22.00; beautiful but sent her into the wrong end of the tunnel twice, plus bar
Sunday Standard Tika (Masters) No Q; Knocked 1st bar, popped dogwalk AND aframe
Boost (Advanced) No Q; bar, refusal, handling mistake for offcource
Grand Prix Tika Q and 2nd of 21; only 3 clean, only 4 Qed; 13 Eed.
Boost Q and 11th of 46; only 15 Qed; 24 Eed.

Tika's Contacts

Well, the saga of "Tika has running contacts" continues. Flew off an A-frame in Gamblers and barely stuck the 2nd one and didn't try to fix 'em. Should have. Somehow she hit A-frame and Dogwalk in Saturday's Standard, a challenging course that only 5 of 20 dogs Qed on. But she didn't even pretend to hit bottom. Still, she placed 2nd! Only the second time she has placed higher than 3rd in 70 Masters Standard attempts. In Snooker, we did four A-frames and she popped one of them in the opening, which would have given us Super-Q points. In Sunday's Standard she flew off BOTH the dogwalk and the A-frame--and I made her come back and lie down each time.

So, after that, in the Grand Prix, she actually got feet into the contacts both times (but by slowling way down, and even so, not a hint of a two-on/two-off pretense) and not only Qed on a course where only 3 of 21 of the 26" dogs ran clean, but also placed 2nd! That's the first time she has placed higher than 6th out of her 38 Grand Prix attempts. And only her fourth clean Grand Prix ever.

She didn't get called on her dogwalk up contact all weekend; that's two weekends in a row. So we go from the up zone to the down zone, I guess. Sigh. REALLY need to retrain contacts over the winter and STICK WITH IT, DANGIT!

Tika Over All

So those two second-place finishes were to be proud of, and I'm pleased with them. But getting only 3 Qs out of 9 is low for us. Bars, contacts, and a couple of Stupid Handler Tricks. Back to bar-knocking drills, too-- I think she knocked 6 this weekend, 2 (?) being the first jump of a run, and one triple on a send/front-cross/pull in an otherwise beeeeyutiful Jumpers run.

And what about that Broad Jump in Steeplechase?! RAN across it! Never seen her do that before, and I don't think it was much of an angle, either. That's twice that a broad jump has taken us out in Steeplechase. Guess I gotta haul mine out from under the deck.

Boost's Weaves

Woohoo! Perfect weaves! Every time! Like she's been doing 'em for years! What a difference from Labor Day weekend. We did 5 sets of weaves, from all angles and directions, and she nailed every entry and stayed in even when I moved way away to get into position for the next obstacle. I am SOOOOOOO happy about that, as that has been our killer in plenty of runs in the last year where we were otherwise clean. Still, watching one video, I timed them at about 2.7 seconds, which is half a second slower than we've timed them in the yard and class. They looked pretty fast, but I guess there's still a little confidence issue in competition. Oh, well, that'll come!

Boost's Handling

Boost also seems to be almost over the runout or refusal problems that we've worked on over and over. Only one really bad jump refusal muckup on a badly done rear cross where I meant to do a front cross, and only one runout where I left her in the weaves and ran ahead but didn't give her any clues where to go after the weaves. She handled really smoothly in almost everything else, except Saturday's Standard--where we had a couple of jump refusals (not counted in Advanced) and held it together for a Q, which is all we needed to MOVE UP TO MASTERS in everything! Scary and also a relief to be in the same level as Tika.

Her Grand Prix run--again, a tough one where only 15 of 46 22" dogs Qed--was beautifully smooth. She knocked a bar on a very deeply angled serpentine, but at least she's doing the serps, which a couple of months ago we were still struggling with. She's now really starting to work to take the jumps instead of going around them or stopping.

Her Steeplechase was a thing of beauty. I could not have asked for a more gorgeous Steeplechase run. The run itself was flawless. But...

Boost's start line and contacts

So, my comfort through all those botched weaves and refusals and runouts was that my baby dog has rock-solid start line stays and 2 on/2 off contacts. Naturally, now that the other things seem fixed, BOOM! everything else breaks!

In the first run of the weekend (Masters Gamblers), while I was leading out, a little gray blur shot over the first jump and past me. I called her back and said "oh my goodness!" or something like that and told her to sit, whereupon the judge told me to continue immediately or leave the course. Of course, that would be training in the ring. I decided that that very brief sit was sufficient, didn't attempt to finish my leadout, and ended up behind her all the way through the opening, so we had lots of wasted time and space--PLUS she hit her A-frame bottom but did NOT wait for the release! So on the second A-frame, I really held her. So our opening pointage was low.

In the second run of the weekend, the Steeplechase, I again put her into a sit and confidently led out--and a little gray blur shot over the first jump and past me. I managed to scream her name a foot before she actually hit the A-frame, called her back to me, made her line up next to me, and put her into a sit again. This judge didn't give me any verbal warning, so I completed my lead-out, released her, and continued in that absolutely gorgeous flawless run. But, as a result, we were almost 4 seconds over time.

Still, that and the Grand Prix give me hope for our future in Masters. Plus--we had no more problems with the start line for the rest of our 7 runs, so if that fixed the problem permanently, it was well worth giving up the Steeplechase for.

But she was fighting her sticky contacts all weekend. In that smooth Grand Prix, she came off her dogwalk before I released her, so I made her come back and lie down. That was a 4.5 second delay; the rest was lovely including a teeter that she SLID down the last foot! And stuck it! Beautiful! Her time of 36.34, with that extra 4.5 seconds, was .15 slower than Tika (who was NOT holding her contacts) and 2.03 slower than the winning 22" dog. So she's moving!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Waiting on Tika's Up Contact

SUMMARY: Training plan for this winter.

I've decided that, with all the USDAA competitions going on between now and nationals, this isn't the time to give a serious effort at retraining Tika's dogwalk up contact. Maybe it's just an excuse, but it seems to me that the more successful retrainings keep the dog out of competition where they would only reinforce the old behavior. So--AFTER the Nationals, I'll have almost three months before our next USDAA--with a couple of CPE trials thrown in, but I'm less concerned about skipping our Standard runs there.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Blah Weekend Wrap-Up

SUMMARY: Not enthused, and results seem to show it.

This is my more detailed report on last weekend, mostly for my own purposes.

Last weekend, I woke up grumpy Saturday morning to the alarm. Usually I just accept the fact that it's another agility weekend and that's why I'm disturbing a perfectly lovely slumber to go traipsing across the countryside, but this time it just pissed me off. Why am I doing this to myself? I hate getting up in the middle of the night and staying on my feet all day and doing the same thing I've now done for (officially) 181 competition weekends, not to mention the camps and seminars and fun matches and classes.

I stayed grumpy all morning, especially after getting to the site and discovering that there was no room for me to set up near the score table I was scheduled to work all day, and at a 3-ring trial with dogs in 2 levels, that was important. I'm afraid I whined when a Person In Charge told me that I was trying to set up in a restricted area, but at least then he found me (and half a dozen other workers who showed up after me) a prime spot in the middle of the site. But I still felt badly about whining instead of expressing my dismay with good humor.

Then I just didn't feel like putting the effort into my runs. Every time I'd get a dog out, I'd think, "Why bother?" Maybe that's my confused middle-aged hormones acting out, or maybe I really am just burning myself out on agility. But then I think--When would I see all my agility friends? What would I do with my dogs? How would I keep my weight down?

Anyway, i did get enthused about a couple of runs on Sunday, finally, with some good-natured mutual ribbing among classmates. But my knee was also bothering me a bit, and whereas usually the adrenaline just kicks in and it doesn't matter, I wasn't excited enough for that to happen, so I started several runs in a half-limpy-trotty pace. I'm sure my Quasimodo imitation inspired the onlookers.

And Saturday really turned out to be a blah day. Boost Qed in two of 5 runs (although not, as I noted earlier, the ones I particularly wanted), and Tika in only 1 of 5. And that one was iffy.

The first two obstacles of Masters Standard were tire straight to the dogwalk. I led out a long way and started running along the dogwalk as I released her, and she somehow caught the tire and pulled the whole thing down on top of herself. She came over to me all abject, and it took me a few moments to realize that whatever she was feeling, it was emotional rather than physical. But, at that point, she had come all the way past the beginning of the dogwalk, so when I verbally revved her up and pulled her back around to get onto the dogwalk, I saw the judge's hand go up in a runout fault. So I ran the whole run thinking that we hadn't Qed, so I used it as a sort of calm training run, not going for the win or speed, and the rest was lovely.

After I came off the course, someone came over to tell me that the judge had removed the fault because the tire should have been nailed down and hadn't been. So it was a Q that, between the time wasted with the tire at the beginning and then not pushing it, was barely under time.

On Sunday, after staying until 7:30 for the last runs Saturday and not getting home until almost 9 p.m., I felt so tired and blase that I was inches away from leaving midday before Snooker and Jumpers rather than face another 7:00 end time, and just going home and relaxing. Maybe sleeping. Maybe puttering in the garden. But nooooo, there I was all day. And it ended up somewhat better; Tika Qed 4 of 5; Boost another 2 of 5.

Sunday's Snooker course discouraged me. The 7 was the weaves, and there were only 3 reds on the course, and my timing told me that I had plenty of time to do three sevens in the opening, which meant that all the other super dogs (looking over the top-10 list, several of them are there right now) also had time to do it. It wasn't completely straight forward--a dog with good weave entries like Tika's had an advantage over unreliable entries or entries that you had to manage, but still, it was shaping up to be a speed course and we can't win at speed courses. Tika was near the end, and before I went in, I saw that 1 dog had already earned 51 points and a whole bunch had just gone for 50. So, for us to get a Super-Q, I had to go for the 51.

We bobbled one of the three weave entries in the opening--the hardest one--but not by much, and I was revved by then and so Tika feeds off that. I thought that bobble would cost us too much time, but we finished all the way to the end and the buzzer never sounded. Woo hoo! And it turns out that we were the fastest of the 51s to that point--but the last dog who ran did 51 and faster. So we got our Super-Q and a second place of 21 dogs, so I felt good.

And it almost made up for Saturday's Snooker, where she blind crossed me on the first jump, putting me on her wrong side, so then she had to lunge and bark and snarf at my feet while I tried to get her turned around; then after the first set of weaves I was still on the wrong side and when I tried to push through her path, we ended up with a whole major dance of lunging and snarfing, and by the time we knocked the #2 bar at the beginning of the closing, we were already almost out of time. Sheesh.

But then, for a weirdly blase end to the weekend, we had our Jumpers run around 6:30. With everything else wrapped up, a bunch of us stood around and plotted strategy while watching the 22" dogs run it, then walked it together to pick our final methods. Tika had a smooth, although not spectacular, run, although right near the end she knocked a bar and then didn't like a front cross that I did and stopped for a moment to snarf at me about it for a refusal. So it wasn't a Q, but all in all, a decent run.

Imagine my surprise to see in the results that we had almost 4 seconds of time faults, and our time was listed as almost twice that of the fastest dog. Now, I know that a snarf wastes time, but not THAT much. The time they gave us had her at 3.78 yards per second. Now (because I have my database) I know that the slowest she's ever run a Masters Jumpers course is 4.6 yards per second with TWO runouts (running past a jump and having to bring her back around). It matters only to me, because I like to know how we're doing in general, but all I can think is that the scribe misheard the timer's call. And it was electronic timing, so there was no start line for her to go over early or finish line to not cross. Weird.

Anyway, I've given up on Steeplechase Qing for her for Nationals. We've tried 6 times and failed 5 of them for one reason or another, and I don't want to go chasing it for another 3 weekends because we just don't have the ground speed against today's competition to make it to the finals at Scottsdale. We just don't. Two and three years ago I thought we had a chance, but not no more. So I'm bailing out of the VAST trial in 2 weeks.

I mean, she ran nicely this weekend in Round 1, but knocked TWO bars--which is probably just as well, because her speed was a full 3 seconds slower than the first place dog (and that's *with* a running Aframe), so knocking even merely ONE bar would have had us .04 seconds over time to qualify anyway, which would really have plunged me into a funk.

And she knocked a lot of bars this weekend. We haven't been practicing our bar-knocking drills. So much to do!

We *had* been practicing gambles this week, to the far side of a U-shaped tunnel. Saturday's gamble involved getting out the the far side of a U-shaped tunnel, and I thought we had it made, but the situation was just too complex and I couldn't get her lined up as nicely as it required. So no gamble.

And I did TWO stupid things in my pairs run, resulting in a collision and then, two obstacles later, an offcourse, and I felt like a dweeb. I didn't run it the way I walked it and if only I had-- You know how that goes.

I also unofficially announced that Tika just plain has running contacts in competition and I'm not going to fight it any more, since we need the time and since she hasn't been called for a down contact on Aframe or dogwalk in ages. So, the first thing she does in gamblers is pop the dogwalk contact. So I guess I have to convince *her* that she still has 2on-2off (because it tricks her into thinking that she's tricking me by slowing down a little bit and then blasting off at the last moment--but that's enough to get her into the yellow zone).

And on to Boost. Her weaves are getting there but still unreliable. Her propensity for refusing jumps is getting there but still unreliable. And she's knocking bars, too. So we have quite a lovely arsenal for finding ways to avoid Qing.

In Saturday's Standard, she kept all her bars up, had NO jump refusals anywhere on course, handled smoothly and beautifully--but ran past the entry to the weaves. When I brought her back around and put her in, she flew out at #10 and over the next obstacle before I could react, for an offcourse.

The Steeplechase was much the same. No offcourses, no jump refusals (and there were plenty of opportunities that I had worried about), but ran past the weaves once and I had to bring her back, then popped out at #10 and I made her calm down and come back and do the last 2 poles. On the way back around, she nailed them! But we were over time.

In her Jumpers run, there were no weaves, and she again avoided refusals (what fun, getting to actually RUN with her ALL the way through a course for a change!), but knocked a bar.

In her Pairs run, she nailed the weaves like she'd been doing them all her life, but ran past 3 jumps (one of them twice) and knocked 2 bars.

In her Grand Prix, she nailed the weaves at full speed and kept her bars up, but had refusals at 3 jumps AND the Aframe.

In her Sunday Standard, she again did the weaves like a pro--BUT knocked 2 bars, ran past a jump, AND went off course. I'd almost rather have offcourses than the others, because I know that those are handling issues and can be fixed with better planning.

In her Saturday Snooker, she knocked a bar on #6 in the opening but got through the closing for a Q; in Sunday's Snooker, I planned two 7s and a 6 but she changed that to one 7 and two 6s, although I managed to recover and we maade it all the way through, DESPITE missing (I think) two weave entries and having to come back around for them--that made us 14 seconds slower than the fastest dog on the same course.

She also got both Gambles this weekends, although the openings were messy. On Saturday, we bobbled a back-to-back dogwalk--I need to practice those a bit more (have practiced plenty of b2b A-frames, weaves, and tunnels)--and a b2b weave. Also popped out of the weaves early once and had to put her back in. So we wasted a ton of time, but managed to get plenty of opening points. On Sunday, it took us three attempts to get her into the weaves in the opening, but she did then stick them through to the end, it's just that once again we wasted a lot of time. (And I was doing weaves deliberately in all of these classes exactly to practice in a competition setting, so that's OK intellectually--just, emotionally, I want to do better!)

So it was a weird mixed bag. So much to work on. (Where have we heard THAT before?)

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Retraining Tika's Dogwalk (continued)

SUMMARY: Having a plan

OK, I have a definite plan and I'm workin' it. The thing is, though, that I've got a trial this weekend and next weekend and then more than every other weekend from now through USDAA Nationals at the end of October. Do I blow off my dogwalks until I'm done retraining? That's the age-old question (well, in agility ages, anyway). I'll just have to decide before this weekend.

I experimented with stride adjustment using pool noodles as speed bumps, but that's going to take a tremendous amount of work to figure out what needs to be done. I'd find something that would look good for about 10 to 20 tries, and then she'd figure out a way to leap beyond the up contact again. And it's exhausting doing the videotaping and reviewing. And the suggestion of putting baby powder up the whole contact area to see where the feet hit is OK but takes work before every run and then some detective work after every attempt (it's not always obvious to me), plus it doesn't tell you where she's taking off *from*, which is useful info.

So I don't have time for that technique, and I'm not so convinced that it's a good one for an experienced dog, anyway, (1) because she already has "muscle memory" of how to do it another way, and (2) it's not a rewardable event.

I've not been enthused with hitting-the-target because, although it *is* a rewardable event, getting her to run to hit a small target (phone book, mouse pad, that sort of size) and keep running has been a tremendous challenge to me.

Then, last Thursday, another trainer/handler was working on running Aframe down contacts with a PVC box/frame around the contact zone, something she got from Rachel Sanders. The idea is that you train the dog to hop/step/stride into the box and then back out, using a clicker, and then put that around the contact zone. That way, the dog can pick her own stride to get through it, and it's a rewardable event. Eventually, you'd fade the PVC box. It looks like this on my reduced-size dogwalk:

I puzzled over how to get multiple repetitions on the dogwalk ramp without her having to do the whole dogwalk, and me being able to take her off it easily (lifting) if she misses, and have her concentrate on the box for a while rather than leaping onto the dogwalk. Finally occurred to me that I could just rest the planks on my table, and gradually raise the table to its full height--and since mine has PVC legs, I could actually make higher-than-normal legs, as long as it remains stable enough as the dog runs over it.

So we've had exactly 4 days of working in the PVC frame. I'm trying for 30 or more repetitions a day. She's slowly getting it, I think, but we're at a very slow speed at the moment, too. I'm trying to work quickly towards clicking when she hits the contact but rewarding at the down contact, to build an unbroken flow and speed back into the dogwalk performance.

Our classmate Ashley has made amazing progress with 5 weeks completely off the dogwalk, retraining a running *down* contact, and (he says) 30x a day. I screwed off all summer so I don't have 5 weeks. And now we're back to my original dilemma about what to do for upcoming competitions. Ah, well, that's my own decision for another day. I believe that I know all the pros and cons of doing it in competition while retraining. Just have to decide what I'm willing to sacrifice and when.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Retraining Dogwalk Up Contact

SUMMARY: Been busy and motivated

So, now, with only a week and a half to go until our next trial, followed by a zillion trials between now and USDAA Nationals, I've found the motivation (again) to work on Tika's dogwalk up contact. My instructor asked a few weeks ago how often she was missing it in competition, and I guessed 10%. That was bad enough. So I went home and checked my database for '06 and '07, and out of 11 Grand Prixs, she's been called for the dogwalk up contact 3 times. That's more than 25%. In Masters Standard, out of 30 runs, she's been called on it 4 times. That's 13%. So it's a real issue. I *knew* it was... it's just a pain trying to decide what to do about it.

My current working theory has been that I'd teach her to hit a target with her feet and keep running, and then move that target to the base of the dogwalk. Well--

I started earlier this year (or was it last year? time flies when you're procrastinating) with a beeper board. Then, when she was paying more attention to me and my clicker than to the board, I added a treat'n'train 10 feet beyond that, so if she beeped the board, I hit the remote for the TNT. She just wasn't being accurate about hitting the board, so I eventually lost interest (especially since I had to set things up every time, and I'm just too lazy for that much setup).

So last week I went back to just the beeper board and throwing a treat ahead of her on the patio. After 2 days, the beeper board stopped working. Crap. I bought it used from a friend, but it worked fine BEFORE and it still wasn't cheap.

So now I've reverted to just a small phone book wrapped in black duct tape. And I'm discovering that she *still* doesn't have the idea of hitting it while running. So I've gone back to a combination of having her just step onto it and then rewarding with treats right on the thing, between her feet, so she's really aware of where her feet are, and releasing fast to a thrown toy or treat.

Meanwhile, I disassembled my dogwalk and laid the two ramps flat on the ground end-to-end and started getting Tika used to the idea that she still had to run from where I put her on until the end and do the 2-on/2-off touch at the end. Confused her a bit at first, but now she seems to have that idea. Then I need to combine them with the target at the beginning of one end, have her hit it, reward, and then release to drive to the other end.

I didn't want to get into a mode of having her stop; wanted one smooth motion. If I were a better trainer, I'd have figured out how to do this more effectively. But there seems to be no standard way of training running UP contacts. I've also toyed with the idea of putting a low hoop over the dogwalk entry, like we did in training with the Aframe for Boost to keep the dog from slamming into the surface but rather running up it. But although I think that might work with a young dog in training, to build muscle memory, I'm less hopeful of my ability to fade that with a dog who's been competing for 4 years already.

Likewise with obstacles placed on the up ramp. We experimented with tika trying to find a good spot, but she always managed to adjust her stride to go wayyyy over them. I did go out and buy some pool noodles the other week, too, because they're easy to carry around and bungie onto the dogwalk.

If I had TWO dogwalks, I could be working the hit-the-target and the hoop-plus-pool-noodle angle simultaneously, but I've got only one, and it's currently disassembled.

And then I have to decide what I want to do in class for the next couple of weeks--be a good trainer and avoid the dogwalk? Or quickly reassemble the dogwalk here and try to figure out how & where to place the pool noodles to get her to shift her stride?


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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Weave Poles and Writing

SUMMARY: Boost good in class today, except dang weaves; my fiction-writing past intrudes

Today in class I felt as if Boost and I were really in synch, going around the courses. Not quite as much as Tika and I did on the same ones last night--Tika is running so nicely!--but better than at many other times. But today, ta-da, Boost was popping out at #10 in the weave again. Argh! We shall see what happens this weekend.

Last night in class, Ashley was avoiding putting Luka over the dogwalk because he's retraining for a running contact (which they already have on the Aframe). This made me feel SO lazy about STILL not having dealt with Tika's dogwalk-up problem that I went out and bought some pool noodles (to use as spacers), and this afternoon I set up my video camera to film her doing about a dozen dogwalks to see whether I can see a pattern. (Don't know where to try forcing her stride if I don't know what she's already doing.) Unfortunately, my battery died before I could look at more than just a couple. So...maybe next week.

For some reason, my writing past has been popping up in the last couple of weeks. I'm trying to ignore it. Too much to do. But I couldn't resist this indulgence.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Fun Match Gotchas

SUMMARY: I work on things that I didn't completely anticipate working on.

The two fun match rings this morning were set up for Gamblers and Snooker (I didn't stay for the afternoon Standard and Jumpers). I got two runs with each dog in each ring, for a total of 8 runs. That was enough for me and my knee.

Boost spent most of all four of her runs popping out of weave pole #10. Over and over. I said "oops" and restarted the first time or so in each ring, but that wasn't getting me anywhere, as she'd just pop out again at the end. In class not long ago we discussed never putting the dog back in where she popped out, and there was a good reason for that, I'm sure, which I can't at the moment recall. But my theory is that, if she's going to consistently pop out in the same place, starting over doesn't help, whereas making her stop and come back and actually do those last 2 poles will make her brain engage. And as soon as she did the last pole, she got to get her mouth on her toy for a moment, but not a big playtime until she actually did the whole set of 4. So we got maybe 4 or 5 or even 6 big celebrations about weave poles today and almost no practice on anything else.

She didn't get all of her weave entries, either, but I was trying challenging ones, and she got some. Did some contacts and the first Aframe she left as I was saying "Good!" instead of waiting for "Break!" so we redid that, and the next couple were good. Start-line stay remains solid.

Tika--omigoodness--wouldn't stay at the start line the first time, just kept standing up and wandering around sniffing, or actually stood and started forward. We spent more than half of our first run time working on that. Then she flew off the Aframe repeatedly. Legal Aframes (feet in the yellow), but she's SUPPOSED to stop 2-on-2-off, so we did a bunch of Aframes. And there went our first run. On the second run we had to repeat the Aframe only once, then she got them nicely, and I went on to the dogwalk, and she slowwwwed waaayyyyyy dowwwwwnnnn. Sigh. I haven't found the balance between getting her so excited that she'll drive to the end, and yet pays enough attention to the rules that she'll *wait* at the end. Seems to be slow & wait, or fast and not wait. (I'm not the only one in the universe with that problem, I know.)

Then I tried doing some runouts in Snooker--running over a large aread of land, past several obstacles, which often discombobulates her and this is where she often starts turning in front of me to bark or grab my feet. First pass, she went right out of the ring into the rough field outside and wasted a good portion of our run time sniffing some gorse or something; second pass she went out into the next ring and took a couple of obstacles there; third pass she kept turning in front of me and grabbing my feet. For that one, I took her back where we had come from and tried again, but now she knows where we're going and is fine with it, so the problem seems to be not knowing where we're going and I'm not good at conveying "stick with me, pal, trust me, we'll get someplace interesting fast."

I really do need to go up to Power Paws and rent the field on weekends to work on stuff like this. Really. I do. Any day now.

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