Thursday, December 27, 2012

Running AFrames!

I will start with a quote that I stole from anne stocum's blog and will probably put on a t-shirt at some point!

"running contact heaven is worth spending some time in running contact hell"

Specifically her post on running contact training

I thought she did a really great job describing some of the feelings that you go through while training running contacts :)

This blog entry has been in the making for quiet some time.  It is a hard one to write.  Why?  Because I am almost always somewhere between heaven and hell on this topic.  My thoughts and what I am learning is constantly evolving on this topic.  What I know for sure this morning, is not what I will know for sure this afternoon.

What I do know for sure (almost always)
  1. Training running contacts is more of an art than a science
  2. What works for one dog does not always work for the other
  3. You have to be diligent and committed to not let the frustration affect your relationship with your dog
  4. Explore what EVERYONE has to say about teaching running contacts.  You may need the nugget of advice later on.
  5. Have a running contacts support group.  This process can make you Bipolar.

Why the journey?  I love having a reliable running contact.  For me, it adds better flow to running the course.  For the dog, I know they love it more than a stop.  I will admit, also it is about the challenge of learning how to train this!

This is our latest footage on the running AF.  Fairly typical, one thing goes great, other aspects need work.  Tangle had a fairly consistent day.  Split was technically in the yellow, however he was hitting much higher than usual.  My goal is to have them hit between the first and second slate in the yellow.

From this point, I am slowly introducing handling around the AF and trying to get both dogs to have a consistently deep stride.

But today, we will work on other skills that are packed with fun for both the dogs and I.  Again, it is the commitment to maintaining a strong and happy relationship with my dogs.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I have trained in some crazy places!

Bloggers unite to talk about Backyard Training

When I think of backyard training what typically comes to mind is: training alone, working on very targeted skills, and working in smaller spaces in my backyard.  What kinds of courses and skills can you train in small places?

Then I really started to think about my "training program" (I will call it that so it sounds really official) and it occurred to me that I have done some things that people might perceive as crazy and I have trained my dog in places (and people probably did perceive me as crazy).  Really the whole world is your backyard and you can use it to learn/train/proof fundamental skills.  You just have to have a little crazy in you :)

First, let me say, I am an introvert.  Not just a little bit introverted, but a lot!!  But the thing that I have going for myself is I get possessed by my goals.  That possession/obsession tends to carry me through some things that I would otherwise find painful--like training in crazy places.

I find that the thing that drives me to do crazy things is proofing some kind of skill with my dogs.  Tangle has been the victim of this most often, but all three of my dogs are not strangers to the oddity of my ways.  With all of my dogs I am trying to bridge the gap between "he does it perfect in the backyard" and "he can do it perfectly in a trial".  Right?  The holy grail of agility dog training.

Does your dogs have a brilliant stay at the start line, but could not, for even a second stay in the kitchen? The skill hasn't been proofed in all sorts of placed or in all sorts of ways.

When I was trying to get Tip to have more independent weave poles I loaded a set of six in the car (now I would probably load 2 sets of 2x2's).  We went to a quiet park, to a noisy park with lots of people (where we gathered a nice audience), to a horse barn at the fairgrounds (while throwing tug toys at her), etc..You get the idea.  Tip does have very independent weave poles now, BTW.

I have a plank (not painted or anything fancy).  Tangle I practiced his 2o2o in many different places.  In the front yard, back yard, at a trial, at a construction site.  You get the idea.  He can do his 2o2o with amazing distractions now.  And really, distractions are what is going on at a trial.

Tangle Tug Tour #3
One of my more recent "tours" was in the name of getting Tangle comfortable playing in strange places.  He was very good at playing at home (you know because you just play in your backyard and don't get the dog out).  He would NOT tug any place but home.  Tugging is essential to getting him warmed up and ready to drive through an agility course. So, I loaded my dog and a few of his favorite tug toys into the car.  We tugged at a quiet park, at the bank and Starbucks, at REI, and at 13,000 on top of a mountain.  Any place I don't normally play with my dog.  I wanted him to know that playing is important.

I proof start line stays on a soccer field.  No equipment, just me and the dogs.  I train it in a pack.  All three dogs are in a sit/stay, I start running, I call one of their names and give the release word "OK". The others must stay until their name is called.  There is motion, I throw toys, I use the other dogs as distractions.  Yes, I must ultimately proof in the agility ring, but if I can get close before I get there I am happy.  Agility rings at trials aren't frequent enough, are expensive, and you only get a few shots!  (Tip can do this skill hands down, but can't stay in the ring--why, because I didn't proof it there--ops).

So, really my point is that we are only limited by how we define "backyard".  Don't be confined by what is simply behind your house.  It is probably better for the dog in the long run anyway.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Equipment Safety!

There has been a ton of talk recently about metal jumps and their safety.  Several blogs have popped up recently about this topic.

Daisy Peel on Equipment Safety,

Linda Mecklenburg on Equipment Safety Concerns,

Steve Schwarz of AgilityNerd, Banning Metal Jumps,

I would encourage you to read/listen to these statements.  They all make excellent and strong points why we need to evolve and improve equipment safety! 

Make up your own mind!  If you believe that this is an issue I encourage you to get involved in your local community to bring about the changes that will keep our dogs safe!

This is a picture of a dog just last week that was seriously injured on a metal jump.  The dogs eye was cut and was WAY to close for comfort to the actual eye.  She could have lost her sight had it been any closer. If the jump had only one cup (none above the bar), this dog would have been safe!

How many times do we have to cringe when a dog gets hurt on equipment before we do something about the safety?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Rubberizing Contacts - Part I

I have been saving my pennies for a while now with the goal of getting at least my dog walk and A-frame rubberized.  I looked into all sorts of rubbers and solutions, including having someone do it for me.

Well, in the interest of money, I decided to do the rubberizing (yep, it is really a word) myself.

My current contacts are steel with wood and sand coating (no slates).  The steel is still in great shape but I did want to get the decking replaced with something that wouldn't rot. 

After much research, google didn't produce much, actually looking at equipment was the best information, I found that most people put on an Aluminum Composite board (DiBond, Alumicore, e-Panel).  The board is used in the "real world" by sign makers so that was the best source.  If you buy it from the sign maker I found they marked it up 100%, so I finally tracked down a wholesaler who would sell it to my business. (

We found, as advertised, that the Dibond does cut with common wood-working tools.  We got a metal cutting blade for the jig saw, but other than that no other "special" equipment was used to make the cuts.
guide for cutting length of the board

guide and setup for cutting smaller boards

We marked our cuts with the chalk, secured a 2x4x8 as a guide onto the decking, and the cuts went very smoothly.  Just to be extra safe I sanded the cut edges with emery cloth to be sure that there was no metal shards left on the material.

The composite board comes with a protective plastic layer.  You will need to peel this off, at least on the side that you will be applying the rubber.

Next we drilled holes for the rivets.  You can apply the rivets on top of the rubber, but we choose to put them on before the rubber.  I think this is the easiest since it would be hard to keep track of the holes or cleanly drill holes after the rubber is applied.

Drilling holes

The last part of this particular board was to mix and apply the rubber.  I ordered my rubber from Circle S Agility.   Gary provided the entire kit of rubber, binder, gloves, great instructions, etc.. that I needed. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Question the differences!

I know that anyone who teaches agility can relate to what I am about to say...

I know that all of us are guilty of this at some point...

I am being asked more and more how I trained something or wondering how to fix some undesired behavior.  I don't mind these questions at all and as a matter of fact I love to talk about dog training.  There is always more to learn about the theory of it, and always more to learn about the practical side of it.

I assume that they are asking me because they saw something in my dog's performance that was a behavior they would like to have in their own dog, or somehow along the way I have made enough of an impression that they believe I might have the answer they are seeking.

I find it interesting however, that in most cases I hear rather quickly "but I have done that", or "it doesn't happen at home (or class)".  I believe everyone who says it, truly I do!  But what I doubt is that their attention to detail or that their self critique skills on this issue are up to par.  And, those things are OK.  Learning is a life long process and WE ALL are getting better and better as we spend time doing it.

What I rarely hear in my conversations are the questions from that same person trying to determine the differences in my method and theirs.  There is truth in the saying "The devil is in the details".  And the details are what really matters in dog training, and even more in retraining. 

At first this type of interaction frustrated me.  But slowly I am teaching myself how to react positively to these interactions and also how to thoughtfully question the person before any advice or information is handed out.  I am learning that if I can put the information in a better context, perhaps I can prevent the wrong conclusion, such as "I have already done that".

So, as we all try to be better students and teachers we need to remember to question the differences.  When you ask how to train something, generally you are problem solving.  When problem solving the general assumption is accurate, "There is a difference between our methods, we just need to figure out what it is".  It is those differences that lead us to our greatest incites on how to solve the problem.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

USDAA Nationals 2012 (aka Cynosport)

Well, another USDAA Nationals has come and gone.  I love these events.  It gives me an opportunity to spend 5 days around nothing but my dogs and agility and an opportunity to watch at lot of FANTASTIC teams.  But, by the end of the event, I am tired.  Bone tired and need a vacation!  :)

I ended up pulling Tip from Nationals.  She pulled a thigh muscle a week before Nationals and I didn't want to run her on drugs or risk making the injury worse.  Hopefully she has another Nationals in her at 9.5 years old!  If so, we will try again next year.

So, Tangle got all the attention at this Nationals.  He loved it!

I had to remind myself this morning.  Tangle is 26 months old, just barely 2 years old.  When I decided to try and qualify him for Nationals I knew I was asking a lot of this very young dog.  He did way more than what I asked him to do and I am very proud of what we have accomplished as a team in the 9 months of trialing to get to Nationals.

Tangle ran Team (Jumpers, Snooker, Gamblers, and Standard) and Grand Prix (Semi-Finals) in Nationals.

It wouldn't be fair to the young dog, nor do I typically measure things in wins and placements.  So I won't.

I change the way I measure things from time to time, but in general I am the most proud of improvements that we have made and training accomplishment.  The ribbons and podiums will happen if those come together.

So, here is our inventory of accomplishments!
  1. Tangle kept his head the entire 4 days, no wild BC behavior.  I swear this dog has done agility in another life.
  2. His course times where outstanding--placing him several times among the top of the pack (if you take away the handler induced fault)
  3. His foundation training is solid
  4. Only one bar dropped the entire event (handler induced)
  5. No start lines broken
  6. No 2o2o contact faults called
  7. We worked together to get through some very, very tough courses
  8. Always proud of myself when I make it all the way through Snooker :)
  9. I stayed organized, eat well and had a good mental game for the majority of the trial
What we learned and/or have to work on
  1. Running AF contacts (got called twice)
  2. Continue exposure to large energetic trials and working through the stress
  3. My mental stamina over 4 days of Nationals.  The last day it was really hard for me to pull out my mental game.
  4. Very minor, but set up a couple of sequences that we saw at Nationals and work them.  We got the job done, but I want to be more comfortable with the quality of the work.  Threadles are included in this.
Did you notice, most of the work items are training the handler?

So, we had a great time, met a lot of great people and my dog and I had a ton of fun playing together!!

p.s. Special thanks to my husband for coming as much as he could and just being there to support me, potting dogs, gettomg me food, and having the beer ready at the end of the day :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Artificial Turf for Agility

Artificial turf is becoming very popular in the US with dog agility.  Really who can blame us?  It isn't as dusty as the dirt arena's and the surface in terms of the smooth factor can be much more predictable.  After my foot injury last year it was certainly easier on my foot to have that predictable surface.

But, is this surface an improvement over other dog agility surfaces?

I was in a conversation the other day with a non-agility person.  We were talking about a recent trial and I was commenting that I was surprised that my dogs slipped on the artificial turf.  This person mentioned that artificial turf for human sports has not been without controversy in regard to injury.

For human sports such as American Football and Soccer, the risk of injury is much higher than on natural grass.  Also, specifically the risk of ACL injury was higher. 

The following article states why the risk of injury is higher.  again, just mentioning the same information,
Here is video of two of my runs where a slip was caught on film.  Tip had the worse slip of the two.  Slips happen from time to time on every surface, but if I ran my dog on this every day the chances are good that they would get hurt at some point.

 I am not saying that I think this surface is evil.  I am not saying that I will never run my dogs on this surface.  I am simply trying to bring to light the possibility that this surface isn't nirvana and isn't "better" than the other choices.  It is simple different and brings risks of it's own.

For me, it makes me more aware that I should vary the surfaces that the dogs run on (cross training as part of the argument) and be aware to not exclusively run on artificial turf.
In general I do feel like my dogs run better (faster) on these surfaces, but is that a good thing?

I would love to hear people's comments on their experiences.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What makes the perfect coach/instructor?

Joining dog agility bloggers in writing about the topic of "What makes the perfect coach/instructor".  To see other blogs,

I have been doing agility for about 6 years now and I think my answer to this question probably would have changed several times.  Also, I think that this answer changes depending on where my dog is in his/her career and me in my agility career.

There are a couple of traits that I think are essential to the perfect coach/instructor no matter where you are in your career.
  • Trust - You have to trust your coach.  Trust is the foundation of the relationship. 
  • Flexibility - The coach needs to be able to adapt to the team's needs. 
  • Patience - Everyone learns at a different pace
  • Listen - The coach is able to hear what you are trying to say
  • Bring out the best in you
  • Lead by example

An average coach will make you feel his or her greatness.
A perfect coach will make you feel yours!

I also believe that you should probably have several coaches or instructors in your agility career.  Not everyone has a diverse enough skill set to teach everything you need to know from the basics of dog training to handling international courses.  The attributes of the perfect instructor are always the same, it is just the name that changes from time to time.
At different times I have needed help in the mechanics of dog training, the mechanics of movement on course, motivating my dog, better strategies for handling my dog, believing in myself,  course analysis, and mental management, just to name a few.  There has been no one coach who could do all of that, at least for me.  Seek out the coach that you need at that time.  Seek out the instructor who brings out the best in you.

Lately my perfect coach/instructor is my dogs and my favorite tool is my video camera. 

  • Trust  - Dogs are so honest.  Their feedback is always honest and without bias
  • Flexibility - The dogs are very flexible in doing what I need as long as the pay is fair
  • Patient - They keep playing with me, they don't care what the game is.  They are always quick to forgive my lack of skills and try again.
  • Listen - Well some would debate this, but my dogs do listen when the pay is fair.
  • Bring out the best in me - They keep me smiling, and show me that pleasure is in the simple things.
  • Lead - They lead by example.  They live in the moment, always have fun, enjoy the simple things in life and know the value of a good belly rub :)

My dogs have made me feel my greatness!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Taking a moment to appreciate my agility life

I am not an old timer in agility, but I have been in it long enough to have a lot of ups and downs.  So, when I have an "up" time I certainly know enough to take a moment and fully appreciate an accomplishment.  It keeps me driving through to the next opportunity to appreciate our accomplishments.

We had a USDAA trial this weekend.  I entered two out of the three dogs (Tangle and Tip).  It was the very last weekend to qualify for Team at Cynosport and we were honored to help another team qualify.

The icing on the cake was that both dogs ran great and had several notable accomplishments.  Some can even be measured in terms of wins or titles :)

I don't enter Tip in all the events.  At 8 years old, I am conservative about the mileage I put on her.  She ran 2 Standards, Gamblers and a Jumpers.  She ran beautifully, listened really well, and just generally seems to be feeling great.  She got a 1st in Jumpers and set the fastest time on course of all dogs/all jump heights, Performance and Championship.  I think that constitutes feeling great, for which I am thankful!

Tangle had an awesome weekend as well.  Huge accomplishments for the weekend, but what really gave me pause was looking back on his last 8 months (since he started USDAA).  My initial goal with Tangle this year was get him mileage, running with confidence, and qualified in at least one USDAA Cynosport event since it was going to be in Denver.  I would say that we more than met that goal.

(Pinch me now)

Tangle has:
4 Team qualifications
3 Grand Prix qualifications (2-2nd places)
A Semi-Final Grand Prix bye at Cynosport
1 Steeplechase local qualification at Regionals (3rd Place)
Starters Dog, and Advanced Dog Titles and is now running everything at the Master's level in USDAA

But, really, best of all.  The speed and confidence that he has picked up in 8 months is AMAZING to me.  And, best, best of all....he barks in his crate and comes out ready to play at trials.  Seriously, yes, this is the best to me.  Speed, titles, etc...come if the dog loves the game.  Well, this dog LOVES THE GAME!

So, as Tangle's handler, he put me on notice this weekend.  I was in his way several times so I better get my ass moving faster :)  What an AWESOME problem to have!!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Agility has evolved

You know, yesterday it stuck me yet again how much agility has evolved in the US since I started.  The training methods certainly have changed, but also the course and expectations of skills have changed.

Starting Tangle out, I would walk a novice course and think I never would have seen this kind of a course when Tip started out.  I was probably oblivious to some things, but really I don't think we needed the skill that we do today.

Also, I have been running so many courses that have an international flare that when I go back to a standard US course, it seems easy to get to where I need to be :)

This morning I found myself training something that 1) I am not sure I would have thought of to train 6 years ago 2) I probably would have decided not to train it because it was asking too much of the dog (or perhaps dangerous).

These days however, my attitude is "better to train it then see it on course and handle it un-trained (that is dangerous)".   I am teaching my dogs to turn tight on all of the obstacles (triples, broad jumps, tires, AFs). 

The dogs did a great job on this exercise and really already knew how to handle it.  Again, the training is really for me :)   I am learning more deeply about when each dog needs to be cued in order to perform the obstacle safely and tightly?

On the white circle course I also gave some extra challenges for the dogs.  They needed to come out of the tunnel and judge the jumping effort in a short amount of distance (also not take the weaves which are truly loved by all my dogs).  The dark circe sequence the objective was to keep the dogs from curling back on the DW and then wrap the tire tightly.  I handled #2 from the landing side and did a recall over the jump.  Nice little sequences to work on.

P.S. the tire in this exercise is breakway.  I want my dogs to know how to execute it without needing it to breakaway, but nice to have the safety net!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

USDAA Central Regionals

I found myself wishing all year that I could go to multiple regionals.  After the fact, I am glad that I only went to one regional.  It was all on the line, I had to get the job done and I found myself probably more focused than I would have been if I knew I had several chances at several goals.

Mostly I want to focus on what "I" did differrently in this regional that made things work better for me.  But I will take a moment to talk about the dogs and how AWESOME they were (hum...maybe related to what I did differently)  :)

Tangle, Steeplechase, 3rd Place

My goal this year for Cynosport was to run both dogs in Team, Tip in Steeplechase and Tangle in Grand Prix.  I am finding that we all have a better time if I don't run myself ragged trying to run all classes with all the dogs. 

I took Tip and Tangle to regionals.  Tip was fully qualified for what I needed for Cynosport going into Regionals, and Tangle needed at least one more cue in Grand Prix.

Tip, Team Standard, 2nd Place
My accomplishments that can be measured in brag moments were: Tip took 2nd in Team Standard, and 2nd in Team Jumpers.  Tangle took 3rd in local Steeplechase, 11th in Regional GP earning a Bye into Semi-Finals and a lot of clean runs by both dogs.  Tangle's team, consisting of all dogs under the age of three, took 7th in the Team event.

My accomplishments that I am actually proud of:  Tangle kept his head and was hugely motivated to run (we have been working on this with Tracy Sklenar.  We had only one bar per dog all weekend.  Tip has been known to clear the field of bars when she gets excited (again, work I learned for Tracy), Tangle's times were very competitive for a 2 year old who hasn't put on his full speed yet, and lastly, yes, it was nice not to come in last :)

For my accomplishments, I am really proud of my mental game!  I only had one moment the whole weekend where I was not in total control of my nerves.   I was trying to stay calm, focused and just work each obstacle at a time!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Understanding a Border Collie

Playing with Tangle on Argentine Pass

I was sent this article today and thought that it was worth sharing.  There is a lot of wisdom in this article.

Somehow, I also felt compelled to share my "two cents".  I am not the expert on border collies, no one will ever be.  But, I know them fairly well and have worked my way through many of the issues outlined in the article.  Also, I wanted to comment specifically on a couple of points in the article.

"Without intensive and sensitive socialisation as puppies, they are often wary of people, intolerant of unfamiliar dogs and anxious about anything new or changing"

All puppies regardless of breed should be socialized and in a sensitive manner.  If dogs were left to live in packs in the wild I am going to guess they would all have brilliant social skills in their pack.  When dogs are asked to live in the human world with many strange things being introduced, they need exposure and help figuring out how to navigate those things in the polite and proper way. 

Take a leash for instance.  If human's walked around on leashes and were constantly asked to just deal with people coming into our faces  and into our bubbles (the leash is keeping us from keeping our bubble intact) we would all be very grumpy and probably biting each other.  :)

Dogs are the same way.

I have a contract with all my dogs. " I will always protect you, guard your space, and listen/watch your signals to make sure that you are comfortable in the situation I am putting you in.  If you are not comfortable, I immediately resolve the situation"

Here is a great article by Turid Rugaas,  I would also highly recommend her DVD so you can get a good visual of the behaviors.

Learning your puppy/dog's language so that you can learn what he is saying.  If he is uncomfortable, it is your job to get him out of the situation and then help him learn those skills in a gradual and gentle way.

"Border Collies are prone to being affected by a single bad experience and have poor 'bounce back' when something goes wrong for them."

I have learned through the years that shaping of tricks is a great way to help the dog learn to be resilient and bounce back.  In shaping, they are constantly failing (in a gentle way) and are asked to try again.  My dogs gradually get better and better about bouncing back and trying again.  Now they are ridiculously insane when they see a clicker :)

"When a working sheepdog is not working alongside the shepherd he is shut away in a quiet, non-stimulating place to rest and recover and to keep him out of mischief!"

I agree that the dogs need their downtime.  Caution to those new to the breed.  This does not mean play with them for 30 minutes and then kennel them for the remainder of the day.  You will get exactly what you don't want (a wild and crazy BC). 

Border collies need a good work/rest balance in their day, every day.  You are much better off working them for 10 minutes 3 times a day then a single 30 minute session once a day.  Take them for a walk, do a quick "stupid pet trick" training session, take them to home depot, have them ride in the car when you go get the kids from school, play fetch with them while you drink your morning coffee.  Find something that works for both of you.  They need exercise and stimulation, with quality rest in between.  Sleeping under your desk while you are working, resting on the coach in a calm room, or even in a kennel for reasonable amounts of time all work well.

Enjoy your border collie.  They are amazing dogs!!

BTW, I was playing with Tangle on Argentine pass to help him learn that he can play anywhere, not just the agility field! 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Looking back on Teaching 2o2o

A couple of friends have asked me recently how I trained Tangle's 2o2o contacts.  I decided to take the opportunity to put in "on paper", consolidating my thoughts and methods.

In general, when I was training Tangle I broke everything down into the lowest common denominator, training many small skills and then combined them together into the "big" skill.  When I taught things this way most all of the skills could be taught while he was still too young to begin the "real" training.

In general for contacts I needed
  • A solid stay regardless of motion or lack there of (ideas from Mary Ellen Barry)
  • An understanding of feet position
  • The desire to blaze to the end of the contact (ideas taken from Tracy Sklenar)
In order to train Tangle the true meaning of "stay' I did a ton of proofing on the flat.  Proofing start lines have a direct correlation in my mind to how well they can stay on a contact. 

I would release Tangle from a stationary position in the middle of a dead run, front cross him then release, rear cross, etc…  He knew that no matter what I did, the only thing that released him is the work "OK".  In trials I still take the opportunity to run from the startline and release from a dead run some point when ever possible.

In general I did a lot of rear-end awareness types of tricks with him. Here is a sample him learning to back up the stairs when he was just a baby.  

Rear-end awareness

Learning to walk backwards, going backwards up stairs putting his rear feet on anything and everything,  All of this was to help him be aware of where his rear feet where placed and when it came to contacts that would matter.

When Tangle was about 7 months old I started him on running dog walk training as well.  Yes, I wanted to see if I could get a running DW, but it was also in preparation for a running AF which was a solid goal.  He had such solid rear feet skills by this time that I knew I could put a 2o2o on the DW if I decided to give up a running DW.  Also, I wanted to just get Tangle comfortable running on the contacts.

Running DW

A running DW is something that I would train every dog I have from this point forward.  I found so many benefits to teaching it aside from the objective of a running DW (RDW).  I really learned a lot about how Tangle learns, his abilities to focus, how my dog moved, he learned shaping in an environment other than clicker and food, etc.  I would HIGHLY recommend it  Just a fabulous way to learning more in-depth about your dog.

Tangle and I spent the next 5 months running the DW.  We got up to full height, worked on turns, obstacles off the DW etc..  I wanted to keep it going until Tangle had his final body structure and I could really tell how his long stride would affect his performance.

I was still working solid stays, start lines, and table performance.

During this time the teeter was actually the first obstacle that Tangle learned a 2o2o on.  In preparation we taught the "bang" game.  This game was designed to keep him comfortable with the noise, motion,  and slamming of the teeter.  I started with the teeter about 6 inches high and we just played on the plank, moving side to side  He was rewarded for staying on the teeter or jumping onto the teeter.  Once we started focusing on the end behavior the reward was a huge game of tug at the end.  If he kept his feet on the teeter we would continue to play, the moment they came off the game would stop until he got his feet back on. (BTW, this is how I taught the table as well, table on the ground and we tugged).  I finally put the whole performance together when Tangle was about 11 months old (not full height).  I started him from 6 feet before the teeter, called him onto the teeter, have him his "feet" command.  It took all of 10 minutes for him to put all the basic mechanics together and perform the teeter.  We worked from there to get it more passionate.

I decided to put a 2o2o on the DW at about a year old.  During this time I didn't do any other contacts.  I didn't want him confusing the AF, Teeter or DW.  Again, it took about 10 minutes to convert him to the 2o2o.  His foundation skills for "feet" were so strong that his ability to generalize that behavior was already a skill.

I then proofed the DW with the very same skills that I use for the startline.  Running full speed past the contact and expecting him to stay, rear crosses at the start, front crosses/blind crosses at the end.  Tunnels at the end.  Throwing toys.  Basically anything that I could think of to challenge his skills.  I did not hold back!

The last stage of proofing his contacts was to take it on the road.  I went to several agility fields and friends houses to proofing his skills (Thanks everyone).

Very frequently I will stop in practice and tug with him at the end of the contact to keep that spot a highly rewarding place for him. In practice who cares if you loose 30 seconds on a run the reward is better pay for the dog.

Maintenance of the skill.  I won't lie Tangle tries to cheat every now and again and only "pause" on his contacts.  But it only takes one time calling him on that performance and he is back on track.  I won't quick release him at this point there is no reason.  When we are in finals at a Champoinship then I will consider it :)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Tangle

Well, it is official, Tangle is now two years old.  Hard to believe that this amazing boy is just turning two.

Every day that I run him or practice with him I forget to give him credit (or cut him slack) for his age.  Yes, we still have plenty of things to perfect, but this boy is off to an amazing start.

Tangle is running at the Excellent level in AKC, and Master's level is USDAA.  He has qualified for USDAA Nationals in 2012.

Tangle's biggest accomplishment has been to make me a much better trainer.  Of course he had a ton of help from his two pack mates, Tip and Split.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's Your Choice in the Real World

When I got Tangle I decided that I would be very committed to foundation skills with him. Teaching them from the beginning and reviewing often. Tangle and I worked on the It's Your Choice (IYC) game again today. I have to admit this was part of a class assignment and at the beginning of today I didn't really understand how it completely applied to agility. But, being the good student and wanting to participate fully in the learning process we did IYC today. Last week we did the traditional food in hand IYC that is so famous (Susan Garrett and Mary Ellen Barry). Then we did IYC with food on the ground and walking past it on leash so that I could control his access should he decide to be naughty. He did great. I break up the self-control with bouts of tug to help get his stimulated and happy again. Having control all the time isn't much fun is it and is easier if you aren't very stimulated.

Let me note that the only videos that I have seen on IYC involved the food in hand, food on the paw, food on the nose, food in a bowl, they all kind of fit into the pet trick category to me. Makes you wonder what does this have to do with agility. Sure, it teaches self control, but how do the dog generalize this skill to the agility field. Read on... Today's session was out on the agility field with toys and distractions. Our assignment was to continue to progress with this game and make it real world. So, I gathered all the toys from the toy box, stuffed them in a bag. Brought the other two dogs into the yard just beyond the agility field (Tangle has trouble ignoring them). My objective was to walk back and forth, drop toys, have Tangle ignore the toys and dog and when he did he would get rewarded. Again, how does this relate to the real world?

For some odd reason it suddenly hit me. The assignment is to make it more and more real world. That is, bring the distractions and choices into his working life. For instance, we have been working on a very short sequence where Tangle has to follow me and ignore his favorite obstacle the A-Frame. THAT is the real work of IYC. Choose to follow me because the reward is greater in the long run, or self gratify with the AF (and no reward from me). Or, a Tunnel/Dog Walk discrimination, choice the obstacle that is cued rather than the favorite obstacle. Or, proofing weaves by throwing toys at the dog while he weaves. He chooses to continue the weaves for the big reward rather than self-graitfy with various toys. I went back and reviewed our standard run from this weekend. Just in off courses alone Tangle had 5 opportunities to make choices. It was his choice to stay on course or follow me :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why is Attitude Important?

There have been so many things written and spoken about attitude and how it affects your performance in sports.  There has been less written about your dog's attitude and how it affects their performance!

I believe that the same principals apply.
  • A positive attitude can give you a higher level of performance
  • Negative emotions (such as worry) adversely affect your performance
  • The act of laughing and play relaxes you and increases your level of performance
  • Hanging around positive people (or dogs) can give you a more optimistic perspective


    (Chasing Prairie Dogs)
I have been focusing on my dogs attitude lately.  I will be the first to admit, I have great material to work with (my dogs that is).  Yes, they are border collies, yes they love to work, but my boys are also very concerned with doing it right.  The concerns with doing it right often affect how well they can perform.

Split, for instance will not send to a tunnel unless he has confirmed twice that it is the right obstacle to do.  Tangle won't run at full speed if he doesn't have all the information two days in advance.  (Tip, well she really doesn't have a confidence problem and is FULL of attitude.)

So, with the two boys I am working very hard at PLAY.  The more they play, the happier they are, the more confidence they are building.  This increases their drive, speed and desire to play with me.  It is a win/win for all involved.

So, tips to improve your dogs attitude or excitement level.  Use these right before you go into the ring or start your agility practice.
  1. Put behaviors such as jumping on command.  Any activity where the dog has to get some feet off the ground , raises the heart beat and gets them excited.  Spinning is another great one.
  2. Dogs bark when they are excited.  Put it on command, use it to your advance.
  3. Put a a word to an explosive start.  My dogs LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it when I open the agility gate in the morning.  When I release them I am amazed at how fast they can go from 0 - 60mph.  I am put a word on that so I can evoke that same behavior when needed.  When do you get an explosive start?  Chasing a squirrel, another dog, restrained recalls. 
  4. Tug, tug, tug!  I use to have a "drop it" command as a part of my tug with my dogs, but I noticed that Tangle wouldn't put all his effort into a tug.  So, I put different rules on the game for him.  He has a command to "get it" (I get an explosive run to me) and that is it.  Once I stopped asking for a release, started trying to pry the toy from his mouth, played keep away when he released it I got a tugging fool!  Those little things made all the difference.  I believe that Susan Garrett has a YouTube about building drive as a bad dog trainer. :)
  5. Play chase with your dog, increases their prey drive and heart rate.  They will go to the start line very excited and ready to chase.
  6. Race your dog to toys
  7. Observe your dog, anything they get excited about in everyday life can be used to get them excited and focused before they go into the ring.  For instance, Split loves to catch dirt when I flick it.  This gets him going, and it is a great warm up for his hind end.
Think about it.  A controlled and calm dog is great (when you are eating dinner), but a happy, confident, and excited dog is gonna be an awesome partner in the agility ring. 

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony - Gandhi

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Working on Discriminations (and other tough stuff)

I set up this course the other day to help work on discrimination's with the dogs. Tip and Split are fairly good with them, but I really haven't worked enough with Tangle. Tangle is really good in following my motion, so if my motion is perfect he doesn't need specific training right?

This course ended up having several challenges that were really fun to work out.  The opening 1-5 is fairly straight forward, however there is bar knocking opportunity.  I led out to #3 and found that I had to leave almost upon release in order to keep all the bars up.  6 was not a problem if I drove straight in, but if I wanted to leave earlier, I found that I needed more than just motion to get the tunnel.  #7!  I really want to have the skill to just drive hard and look at that tunnel and the dog follow, not there yet.  However, it was fairly easy to get with an outside hand so the dogs would not pass my plane until I released them to the tunnel.  Blind cross between 7-8, rear-crossed at 9.  13-14 just be careful to give the dog a good approach t the AF.


Only had to move one jump (#12) for this course.  The opening although it seemed kind of dicey when I was setting it up ended up being fairly doable (1-6).  I ran with the dog on my left for the entire opening.  7-8 I decided that I wanted to RC #8 and run the outside of the dog walk just to add some additional challenge (and trying to show the dogs different things at the end of the DW).   First I tried just scooping the dogs up at the end of the DW, paused after 9 to get them turned into me to hit the #11 tunnel.  Turns out they are committed to the #13 tunnel right at #9 and it is very hard to get them turned.  Living life with too much uncertainty there!   I put a blind cross in between the end of the DW and #9 and drove right into #9, I then peeled out to #11.  This got the dog turned and following my motion much better.  However to get the #11 tunnel and not the AF proved challenging.  Something I need to practice for sure.

11-12-13 was a great moment of learning.  I put the restriction ahead of time on #12 that I would have to blind in between 12 and 13.  Turns out you would NEVER want to do that.  There is NO WAY to cue the dog to take the back side of 12 (even though I used my back side verbal), your motion is just too strong and they run around the jump.  You can't turn fast enough to get the side cue done before the dog has to commit.  Basically you are twirling and the dog twirls with you--good dog!

As I write this up, it seems that what I learned while running the course were things I should have already known.  I strive to get better at recognizing these challenging in advance and making the right choices before I run.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Deposits in the Agility Bank

I was on a trip back east with my son recently and had a chance to catch up on a fair amount of agility reading--Clean run, reviewing foundation articles, and a few small books.

One of the books that made an impression on me was "Click and Play Agility", by Angelica Sneinker.  She had a lot of really good information in there in general, but one concept hit home.  Now, I don't remember if it was something very specific that was said, or just one of those concepts that rang other bells in my head. Or if it was a combo of all the things that I read on the trip.

 It was the concept of 50% of your trials should be training trials.  That is, you are true to your criteria (startlines, contacts, dropped bars) and don't let things slide.  You take the opportunity to proof what you train (huge lateral motion away from the weaves).  You make "deposits" into the agility bank and a solid foundation.

I have been practicing this concept for a couple of weeks now.  I was at a trial this past weekend where I did just this all weekend.  Let me tell you, it actually feels great to walk a course, plan ahead exactly where you are going to test your training and do just that.  It feels even better when your dog holds up his/her end of the deal :)  But if they don't you are perfectly prepared to handle it well. 

Startlines - At the trial I worked several start lines.  1) put my dog into a sit-stay, started running away and then released  2)  sit-stay, walk out and then walk back and reward (only with praise in the ring)  3) stand-stay, lead out a fair distance, turn around, smile and talk to my dog, then release.  You never know when all of these skills come in handy and one thing I have learned in agility is you want to be confident that you have the skill when you need it.  This is by far the most challenging skill for Tip and Split (startline stays).  I didn't push either one to the point where I KNEW they would fail, I just took it to the edge.  Tangle, who has a solid stay, got tested much more.

Weaves - I sent to the weaves, I charged full speed (that is, I didn't collect even though my dog had too), moved away laterally, and rear crossed weaves.

Dogwalk - All my dogs have a 2o2o contact performance.  I ran past the end while they stayed, I let them get ahead and arrived late (testing Independence).

It is amazing the pride that you feel as your dog begins to show you that your training has held up!  The one item that was a challenge for all three dogs was a dogwalk with a tunnel as the next obstacle.  Of course they can resist the tunnel in the backyard, but not at the trail.  All three dogs broke once and I had the opportunity to take them back and train the criteria (NADAC).  The next dogwalk and then tunnel, all three stayed!  Good dogs.

Just as a side note to all of this, I once took a seminar from Carry Jones who said that she proofs the weaves in all sorts of ways, however in competition if it is a tough entry, she always helps her dog get the entry.  This made sense at the time, but now I am not sure that I agree.  If the dog knows that you are always helping under difficult situations, isn't that training the dog that you will always help?  Don't you want your dog to be independent no matter what?  That way, when you really need the skill you can depend on it being there?

As another side note to this topic, I worked this idea in class last night.  I found that I needed the work, not the dogs.  There were certain things that I didn't have a solid skill or muscle memory to depend on when working these skills.  One in particular was leaving the dog in the weaves and recalling laterally over an odd angle jump.  Not hard to learn, but I had to think too much about it.  My point being, proofing builds skills in the dog and YOU! 

Just do it!  Put deposits into the agility bank, you WILL need to make a withdrawl later when it really counts!

Monday, April 23, 2012

A week of learning

Last week was a week!  Every single day of it was filled with learning experiences both personally and professionally. 

The agility aspect of the week has been awesome.  I watched inspiring video, took a class that was just FULL of nuggets, and did exercises that were super challenging.

First, Mary Ellen Barry Video, a friend sent me this video of Mary Ellen Barry running Maizy and E-Z in Steeplechase.  It hit me almost immediately this is by far the best example I have seen of a couple of different things 1) Cue and Go  2) The value of independent performance of obstacles.  I am not a stranger to either of these concepts, but it is so valuable to me to have these visual examples of what I can achieve when I push the envelope of both of these concepts.  Inspired to once again to push the envelope. I think that my dogs have these skills, but since I rarely test it to this extreme I am going to work on it this week.

Second, Tangle and I took a class last week that was full of nuggets. Several things that I already knew, but it was great to hear again. New reasoning put to proven concepts, ingrains the concepts that much more. And lastly, new ideas. What I realized last week, Tangle is getting to a transition point. That point where agility is beginning to seep into his bones. It seems that when they just start out in agility, all the behaviors are fresh and the pups try really hard to keep doing the right thing. Then, sometimes fast and sometimes slowly, agility seeps into their bones and the behaviors begin to change. The beautiful startline is corrupted with anticipation, the contact behavior lines begin to blur because they know what is next, and the speed and confidence begin to change the picture. Tangle has arrived and I am thrilled. It is time to "Train to Maintain". The little nuggets and reminders that we picked up this week are:

  • Always mark behaviors good and bad.  Contrast them well, party when they are perfect, and mark when they are not desired.  I will be setting up really short (3 obstacle drills) to mark dropped bars, this doesn't apply to Tangle, but to Tip.  Although Tangle will do the same drill to maintain his beautiful performance.  Low confident dogs almost need this more because of the parties when they do the right thing, this applies to Split.
  • A better strategy of cue and go to get the tight turn that I want, but loose any babysitting behavior. Mark the spot of the bar that you want the dog to turn on and get the heck out of there. This works beautifully, although it is hard to appreciate because you are not there to spectate :)
  • Push and trust your dog in class. It is the perfect time. You have teachers and students who will tell you when something happened. A great example of this is, blind crossing the end of the weaves. I can't see that my dog finished them, but others can and quickly so the behavior can be marked.
Lastly, we did an exercise from the World Agility Open (WAO) E-Book, I won't post the exercise, but the E-Book, well worth the money. But, it was an International Drills exercise by Blake Stafford, page 119. Great exercises to twist your mind and figure out how to get the job done!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Just Because!

Sometimes I have to step back and be a proud mama of my dogs.  I am not proud because they just won some huge national competition, I am proud because they have done something that was hard for them or overcome some obstacle that has been in our way.
I went to drop-in last night with Split and Tangle.  Both of the dogs did really great and it was nice to sit back and just love being their mom!

If you have read about Split on my blog then you probably know that he is a very driven, focused, yet an issue filled boy.  Sometimes life is a little too much for him and he develops a fear to something.  Sometimes I have no idea why that fear developed.

Lately Split and I have been working through his teeter issues.  He decided that he would be afraid of some (not all) teeters and would refuse to get on them.  Also, he is "Border Collie" stuck when it comes to downing on the table.  He just can NOT lie down quickly on the table and I have yet to work through that with him.  But, I love this dog and he has taught me so much about training!  He is my hero!

Split's run last night at drop-in was amazing for him.  Lately he has been taking 15 extra obstacles (can't keep his head), running (quiet nicely) his 2o2o dog walk contact and running around the teeter.  I was really happy with how he kept his head in this run, took the teeter willingly (twice), and downed fairly well on the table.  These are all things that we have been working on and making some progress.

Tangle did well last night too!  I am super proud of him and how he is transitioning from a baby dog to a confident dog. There are things on this course that would have been very challenging for him 2 months ago. He is picking up speed and breezing right through them.  His stand on the table made me laugh. His trained behavior is an automatic down, which until last night had never been questioned. A green dog has to try it all on and see what sticks, don't they?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Retraining an AFrame

More than anything I wanted to put these thoughts down for myself.  One, to remember what I have done, and two, it helps me solidify my thoughts on this topic.

I decided about a year and a half ago (maybe more) that I needed to retrain Split from a 2o2o AFrame (AF) to a running AF.  He clearly didn't like the pressure on his shoulders and after 5 or so reps he would start limping on the front-end.  Plus, I just really like the fluidity that it gives my runs.

I tried many things and some I believe contributed to the solution and some didn't.

Split is a boy that wants to do the right thing, is very sensitive, and is a little (a lot) Velcro.   His personality is key in how I trained things.  It is hard to work with sometimes and almost always I have to adjust my plan.

The first thing I needed to do was "break" the 2o2o and have him run his AF.  I put the AF  down low so that it would appear different to him.  It took me about a week of practice every day to get him to start running it without hesitation (see doesn't take long to ruin criteria does it?).  When it was down low he would run it without a leap.  Once I started to move it up, he began to leap (it was probably less than 5 feet high).  I tried marking the correct behavior, but things didn't really improve.  He enjoyed leaping and sometimes would creep to make me happy.  He just didn't get it.

Frustration and many weeks later...

OK, so now he is leaping.  I decided to train him to hit a box on the ground, similar to Rachel Sanders box method.  I trained Split so he would run away from me, intentionally hit the box and keep running (to catch a ball or something).  Although I don't remember exactly, I think this probably took several weeks to get the behavior that I was happy with.  Once I had this I put the box on the AF. 

Fast forward many months...

When the box was on the AF he would hit it.  Trying to fade the box was murder!  Also, a gnawing feeling in me just knew he didn't really "understand" the criteria.  After all, how do you explain that to a dog.  Really, this is about muscle memory to a degree.

Frustration again, and a break from training this (after all, I wasn't getting a reward)...

While re-training Split on the AFI began to train Tangle on a running DW .  Let me just say, everyone should train a running dogwalk.  Not to get the end behavior, but because it teaches you and your dog so many valuable things (maybe I will blog on this some day).  Seriously, this is a fabulous experience but it does take diligence.

The training of the running dogwalk gave me a much deeper understanding of how to teach a dog to run a contact.  I learned details on how to progress through the process that I never would have learned retraining Splitty.  So, I put Split through running AF 101 school which Tangle was doing running DW 101.  I didn't want to retrain Split's dogwalk, just too much.  But, fundamentally all the principals that I learned with Tangle applied to Split and his AF.

AF went down low again, clicker came out, and the treat-n-train.  Another obstacle to overcome with Split!  Some days he would be afraid of the clicker sound and almost always the treat-n-train.  Back to the tennis ball!

In order to not make this a novel, basically I followed many of the steps that Sylvia uses for training a running DW.  Low obstacle, very little stimulation, low motion, lots of repetition, gradually increase all of those.  Always, jackpot and high reward for getting it right.  Training the AF was now Split's favorite game!

Again, once I raised it to about 5 feet he began to leap.  Frustration set in!  This is when I began to put a stride regulator on AF between the change of color.  There are two things that this did   1) Split's stride would ALWAYS hit the yellow 2) it allowed me to get his performance on a higher AF to the point of frequent reward--key!!!  I ran the AF this way for probably a month.  Slowly adding more motion and other obstacles.

When I took the stride regulator off I had leaping back again.  Another round of frustration! 

But once I sat back and thought of everything I learned with Tangle and running DW the emotion wained and some constructive thoughts set in (I learned this process from training Tangle's running DW).  I removed my motion, stimulation and obstacles and left the AF high.  I began to reward Split for successes and not reward for failure.  Presto, I was beginning to get different results!

To me, the key was teaching him what success was (the look, sound, and my reaction).  That is, when he did something right what would happen and when he did something wrong what DIDN'T happen.  When Split got his AF right I would throw a huge party (not too much happy sounds because he is emotion sensitive I had to increment into this), throw the ball, and give a boat load of praise.  When he didn't get it right, there was no reaction, just walk back and try it again.

Within days I began to see Split adjust his stride to "get it right"! 

So, we are now several months into this break through.  We have done a couple of trials without any AF calls.  I still work the AF 4-5 times a week in a training mode.  Each session starts with little motion and increments into full motion and obstacles.

Can I call him "retrained"?  Nope, not yet!  But have we hit a major success milestone? Yep, we have!

P.S. There are a ton of thoughts out there on what the "proper" running AF performance looks like.  Leaping over the apex, almost touching their belly over the apex, only one stride on the downside, two strides on the downside and on and on.  I now have three dogs with a running AF.  Each performance is slightly different.  The answer is "it depends" and ultimately what can your dog do confidently and reliably matters!

Split's progress to date,

Split and Tangle with stride regulator,

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Updated USDAA Nationals page

Everybody has to eat right?  Once of my challenges while on the road with my dogs is finding a great place to eat.  I will probably update this info as I remember all the great little restaurants we have tried.  I have also included comments about the availability of shade parking for the pups.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reaching a Milestone

My family and I went down to New Mexico for SWAT's USDAA trial. It was a fun trial. Nice and relaxed, great courses, and the weather was perfect.

One of the reasons to do the trial was to get Tip and/or Split more tournament Q's for Nationals. I was running Tangle too, but at this point it is about experience and mileage.

This trial was Tangle's first outdoor trial and one of the few times he had done agility outside other than my yard. I had to chuckle a little when I thought about this since Tip and Split had rarely practiced inside by the time they started to trial. Kind of a testimony on how much agility has changed and grown.

So, since this was one of his first outdoor trials I was ready for almost any reaction thrown my way. I had no idea if the environment would be more or less stimulating, if wind or heat would be a problem. Or if Tangle would just go with the flow and run well.

Tangle's first run of the weekend was Gamblers. Always a plus for me since almost anything goes and I can run a course that will warm him up for the day. He did a great job, didn't seem too stressed by the change of environment or even by the fact that the rest of the family was there.

Next we had Grand Prix.
It always seems like a fine idea at sign up time to sign all three dogs up for the same Tournament class. Then when I start looking at reality of the runs I begin to pick up on a couple of flaws in my thinking. I have to walk the course for three very different dogs, warm up the dogs, align people to hold the dogs while I run one--since, of course there is only about 8 dogs in-between my runs sometimes. The main problem really is that I find it really hard to be "present" for each dog and run. Anyway, made my bed…

Although I ran the other two dogs in Grand Prix, the real milestone was in Tangle's Grand Prix run. This course had some great sections and some subtle nasty spots. The one advantage about running multiple dogs on the same course is that you have multiple chances to beat the same course.  If you don't like the way that you hangled a section you can elect to change it with the next dog.
Tangle ran the course like a champ. Although we encountered several things on the course that either we had only practiced a couple of times (discrimination's) or had not worked at all. Because Tangle's foundation
is so strong I had more confidence in how he would handle the course.
Tangle came in second place in Grand Prix. The milestone was not the placement for us, and not the Q, but was that his speed and confidence had improved so much in such a little time that he was fast enough to get
second place. That is something we have been working on a ton. It was great affirmation that the speed and confidence training that we have been working on was effective!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

If I knew then...nuggets along the way


As a part of the agility blog day we are all reflecting on "If I knew then what I know now"! I have had a month or so to think about this topic and all sorts of thoughts have gone through my head.   What should I focus on: handling, training tips, trialing, the journey, attitude. Really I could go so many places with this topic. 

For me, no matter which topic I choose, many of the nuggets that I cherish can only be acquired on the journey.  That is, they don't have the deep meaning if someone just tells you.  You have to live and experience the issue, problem, or the success.  So I will tell you "If I knew then what I know now",... knowing that perhaps the "tip" reminds you of something you have already learned or perhaps just holds a place in your mind, that when you encounter an experience it rings true as something you should remember.

Train every skill in small increments, break it down as far as you can. Then break it down more.  You will get to the final behavior  so much faster.  This goes for young and experienced dogs.  It is especially true when you are retraining (fixing) a skill.
Learn to drive your dog, you are in charge, be ahead.  Train the skills that allow you to get to where you need to be.
Be kind to those just starting out in agility.  The sport is very humbling, we all need support to get through the first several years (and longer).  
  • Never sacrifice what you love. Remember always what drew you to agility and be true to that love
  • Success can and should be measured in ways other than a "Q".
  • Never let success get to your head, and never let failure get to your heart
  • Laughter is the best medicine for stress.

Most of all, don't forget to enjoy the journey! 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

All-In-One Course Setup

After our recent trials I have collected several things that have made it on the training list.  It seems, particularly in USDAA that the course designs are changing and beginning to include some new elements.  USDAA has announced that this was going to happen, but in general regardless of the venue we tend to see trends in course design.

This setup came about in a very organic way.  I just set up "work stations" to practice a particular skill or obstacle.  As I have practiced this week this design kept growing on me because it was so versatile.

I have setup several numbered exercises, but there are so much more to be discovered.

Skills this design has allowed us to freshen up:

  • Sending to backsides of tunnels (turns out of tunnels)
  • Discriminations
  • Tunnel / Weave - short collection distances, rear crosses, opposite ends of the tunnel, front crosses, and if you move the tunnels out a little you can do blind crosses out of the weaves, "not" the tunnel after the weaves
  • Off set line of jumps. Irregular distances between jumps (scoping skills for the dog)
  • Serps with obstacles other than jumps.  For example, dogwalk-jump-weaves, backside of tunnel-jump-dogwalk**
  • AFrame in a fast line, backside of tunnel-Aframe
  • Triple-turns, and at the end of a fast line, or alone 
  • Very fast long lines of jumps
  • Turns across the broad jump
  • Slight angles onto contacts and manged (safety) dog walk entrances
  • Send to weaves from the opposite end of the dog walk through the tunnel (yes, I saw this (actually AFrame) on a USDAA Starters course with Tangle)

I am sure there is so much more that I have not seen!  I think that this setup will be around for a couple of weeks since I have not explored all of the possibilities yet.

**I have seen several courses setup lately that have less than friendly contact entrances (several on novice courses).  In general I try to assist the dog by managing/shaping their entrance.  However sometimes either you don't see the bad entrance or it happens accidentally so I train my dogs to straighten themselves before entering a contact.  Post from Amanda Shyne seminar

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Tangle (the baby) and Tip had a big weekend.  We packed up, drove 9 hours and did a USDAA trial in Lawrence Kansas with good friends and team mates.  And, let me just say wind, 20 degrees, 75% humitity is NOT my favorite weather combination!  For those of you who deal with that on a regular basis I am sorry.  My recommendations is Colorado.

(An exhausted Tangle after Team)

We decided to do that road trip to do USDAA Team.  There is only one team event here locally before Nationals (ironic since Nationals are here) and I really didn't want the pressure of having to Q in Team with just one try. 

Tip did a great job with team for the most part.  Sometimes she can be a really hard dog to run.   She has a strong mind, able body and sometimes just needs to run her own course (which doesn't end in Q's).  Other times she is a speedy little race car with tight turns and precision steering. 

Tangle also did a great job.  A 19 month old border collie running Master's courses, he did awesome.  None of the runs were his personal best, weaves were an issue for some odd reason, but at the end of the day his head was still in the game!  I am grateful to his two team mates who knew going into the day he was a baby dog and all that brings.  They did a great job carrying the team and we got a Q.

Although Team can be fun because it is a team event--multiple people running your dogs, working together, combining your results all for the common goal of Q'ing.  We decided that the problem with Team is that you don't always trust your training.  Above all you don't want to have an off course in Team.  Knocked bars, missed contacts, refusals are just points against you.  An off course is an elimination and very costly to the team's goal. So we were all running our dogs very conservatively, handling to ensure no off courses, and making decisions to take a refusal or missed contact instead of get an off course.  The saying for the day was "Why train your dog when you can just micro-manage them".  :)  T-shirts might be made.
Tip and her team mate both did a great job. Our runs might not have been our best, but got the job done in the end with a Q.  Again, we are both more than capable of absolutely beautiful runs under normal conditions.  Team doesn't bring out the best in the handler/dog team and at the end of the day just be happy you get the job done!

Although we met our goal, running the dogs on Saturday (not Team runs) was awesome.  I could go back to trusting my training, running the course how it needed to be run.  After all, I was the only one with a Q at stake :)

Snippets from Tangle's runs

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Beautiful Day in Colorado

It seems the more you get into agility the more certain things start to happen:

  • You drive by an expansive field with beautiful green grass and you think "that field needs agility equipment"
  • You see a huge barn in the winter and want to move your equipment in
  • Your backyard gets filled with your "toys"
  • You pay attention to exactly how long your dogs legs or torso are
  • You can describe in detail how your dog moves
  • You learn more than you wanted to know about K9 rehab
  • You have tried every treat or toy ever made for a dog
  • You have more film footage of your dog than your child or spouse

Today was a BEAUTIFUL day here in Colorado, high of 62.  Deciding that we needed to be outside I took the dogs for a run.  Light warm breeze, light layer of clothes and three border collies all racing nowhere really fast to see who could win not sure what.

Not really wanting to go back inside to work, I decided to get some slow motion video of the dogs.  

I have been intensely curious how my dogs move.  I am trying to understand the mechanics about how each of them runs a little better.  I want to glean a little more about what they do well physically and where they need work.  So, today I started with ground speed.

I overlaid the three dogs and then showed them individually, first Tangle, Split and then Tip.  

Things that were interesting to me:
  • Tip uses a ton of energy when she is running, watch how her head moves
  • Tangle, of all the dogs has the smoothest top line when running
  • Split won the race, today he was faster.  This surprised me since Tangle usually does.
  • Tip and Tangle both have uneven reach when comparing their right and left front legs.  Need to stretch and help them with that.
Yep, took video of myself as well, but that isn't going public :)  I have a few things to fix in my stride as well.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Obstacle colors on agility equipment

Warning...short rant

I was at a USDAA trial this weekend.  The club had a break away tire--good for them.  However, the tire was striped, dark red and dark blue, with a dark red frame. 

The design of the tire started to get my attention when I noticed a large number of dogs faulting the tire.  So, I watched the ring that had the tire in it.  Depending on where the tire was placed, the faults would rise.  When the dogs were jumping through the tire and the tire blended with the background colors, the faults were even higher.

From a dog's point of view red is seen as brown'ish, blue can be seen in a truer form. So, next to the indoor arena dirt, is this tire really standing out enough for dogs to be able to judge what they need to judge?

Now, I am not a trouble maker if I can avoid it, nor do I want to get involved in political battles, but this became very important to me when one of my dogs head planted into the bottom of the tire (when it was against a non-contrasting background).  He saw it too late!!  He has never crashed a tire in his life.

I do believe that it is the handlers job to train the tire, and I have done that with all my dogs.  None of my dogs typically fault the tire and I tend to handle very conservatively around the tire.  That is to say, no blind crosses, no front crosses if I can avoid it.  So, this commentary isn't about handling the tire.

I am trying to bring this issue to the club's attention!  Put contrasting colors on your tire!

In researching (to make sure my facts were straight) dog's vision I came across several articles which you may find interesting. 

Interesting articles on what dogs see…
Several articles in Clean Run, Jan 2009 and Feb 2009 on dogs and their vision.

What I also discovered and found a little disturbing is that at least in the "bigger" venues (USDAA and AKC), none of them have color or contrasting color requirements on the tire (or any other obstacle).  Really?  Interesting and to their credit, DOCNA did

 Now most clubs and tires that I have seen tend to be contrasting colors, but there is no regulation to govern contrasting color hence making this tire illegal.  Are we confortable with dangerous?

"It should be wrapped in several contrasting colors to make it very visible to the dog"