Friday, March 30, 2007

The Dog Walk Debacle

It really is tedious sometimes, attempting to elicit a straight answer from debates on email lists. When the issue of the slats being removed came up at the last ANKC rules review I really had no feelings one way or the other. I figured if they were off or on, it really didn't matter to me. In 12 years of agility I had only heard of one toe injury that could be proved beyond doubt, that it was caused by hitting a slat in an ugly way. Needless to say none of us here in WA really had a lot of information on this, however, there was a strongly voiced minority who had heard that this rule change to remove slats in the USA had gone horribly wrong and that the slats were replaced fairly rapidly. Yet there were those that were strongly voiced to get rid of them. The travesty that is the ANKC voting system is that it does not use the 'one state one vote' system which means WA's vote counts for one whereas a state like Victoria or NSW counts for two. Seems unfair to me but that's what we've got. So the slats/cleats came off completely. A rather pain in the arse job to do but it got done. Anyway to cut a long drawn out debate short it has been noticed (and still noticed over a year on now) that dogs are mistaking the seesaw for the dog walk and vice versa. Personally I don't have an issue with it. Slats off the dog walk meant Raven sometimes 'slid' into the contact position, it didn't concern me as she quickly figured out how much braking she needed to do. What I did see and still do see is previously rock solid dogs who ran confidently up the dog walk now come to almost a complete halt as they hug the up plank virtually crawling thinking the plank is a seesaw. I also see dogs that had well trained and well proofed seesaws do hair raising fly offs off the end of the seesaw as they think they were on a dog walk. It happens fairly often, often enough for me to notice. I really think that the touch and visual picture of the slats gave some of our fast dogs a clue as to what they were climbing. I cannot find one other major agility organisation that does not have slats/cleats on their dog walks. IFCS, USDAA, AKC, KC, UKA, NZKC, FCI, CPE; they all have slats on their dogwalk. This to me says something.
So I want to train for fast dog walks. Raven has been known to do sub 1.6 second dog walks in trials, but apparently according to some suggestions from the lists I am on, to have a dog moving at that sort of speed across a dog walk is apparently unsafe and irresponsible. That I should slow my dog down. I had hoped Australia had moved on from this kind of regressive thinking but I see that it is still alive and well in some quarters. Literally hundreds of top level competitive dogs from around the world can train the dog walks to be around 1.5 to 1.6 second mark. This is unsafe according to these thinkers, they believe they see dogs coming off because handlers are pushing for speed. Handlers cannot push for that type of speed, handlers learn how to train a dog who has that innate drive to move at that speed naturally. Dogs do come off when handlers do not set the line nicely onto the up plank or when handlers have not trained their dog to independently set their own line when starting the dog walk. It's quite frustrating to read these types of statements such as "handlers do not need to have 1.4 second dog walks". Of course we don't 'need' them if we don't have any inclination to be competitive at all but then why acknowledge first, second or third place? It's called 'Let's settle for just enough to get us round a course and under time'. Agility is so much more than this. Like I've said before I have no issues at all with handlers who want to look at it like this, in fact I encourage them because we need them to keep our sport healthy, but by the same token those of that ilk should not presume to tell those of us who wish to aspire to achieve better in our chosen sport that we are being unsafe in doing so. First and foremost these dogs are our family and we take just as much care as anyone else in the sport to ensure their safety. It is a game we play; but we all know when we take up the sport that we will be exposing our dogs to more risks than your average stay at home pet dog. The enjoyment that our dogs and ourselves get out of it obviously makes it all worthwhile.

Getting Ready for Nationals

Took some photos today of some of the conditioning work I do with Raven and Cypher to get them at their peak fitness for the Nationals coming up in Adelaide, May 4th,5th and 6th.Raven can't swim quite as fast as Cypher but she gets a head start by doing a launch off the edge rather than the sedate push of Cypher.

Found this place around three weeks ago and I am very happy with it. I swim them three times a week for half an hour. Usually Cypher goes first for 15 minutes followed by Raven for 15 minutes. This last week or so I've upped it a bit so that they are swimming for closer to 30 minutes, both are in the pool at once.

My pink nostrilled boy!

Raven doing her stealthy shark impression
I stay up one end and just throw the frisbee to the other end whilst either one of them swims out and retrieves it back to me. The place is called The Dog Pool and is located about 5 minutes up the road from me. There is a crate available so that the dog not swimming doesn't debride it's pads running around the edge of the pool, plus a hose to hose off after swimming. It's reasonably priced too at $12 for half an hour. My guys have been going for about three weeks now and they are loving it, they are keen to get in as soon as we get there. I have to check Raven's pads afterwards as sometimes the skin gets soft and she rips them easily, I've been using good old methylated spirits to dry them out when this happens. Cypher doesn't have this issue but takes a while to dry even though he is out of coat and still losing it at the moment.
So this swimming is in addition to a couple nights a week agility training at Club and then about 10 minutes a day out in the backyard where I just work on whatever I think needs attention.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spryte at 8 Months

Spryte is growing up, albeit at her own pace, she is still quite small and is very possibly going to be a 400 height class agility dog. The photos below taken today after a bath, in the backyard.
From this at 11.5 weeks old to...
this at 8 months! Now I know where all that food went....

Starting to show the signs of complete tug addiction!

We are not doing too much agility equipment wise, but she is getting to love the Chase the Toy Around the Cone game which has the effect of teaching her to really dig in and flex her spine for turning tight.

She loves her fluffy fleecy tuggy!

Gozzy Trial March 2007

It was a good night all round for us with only one frustrating 3 seconds out of my 6 runs with my two BCs. I ran another Rhonabwy BC tonight, a boy called Dexter for his first time in Excellent Jumping and he ran beautifully for me right up until I got lost! We lost some momentum; he took a bar and came back out a chute tunnel. My fault entirely, we were going great guns up till then! Fun to run!
I ran the Sheltie Rumour in Open Jumping and she did a lovely cracker of a run for a clear round, she was light hearted and happy tonight and it was good to see.
For my two I was very pleased with how they ran and also pleased to note I was more on the ball with their handling. Raven did a blinder of a run in Masters Agility however I just about completely stuffed up a rear cross for her over a bar that was side by side with another bar. We dithered and faffed and I did copious amounts of yelling but eventually she figured out what I wanted (likely no thanks whatsoever to me!) and we carried on to finish strongly. She ended up with a 3rd place which was good as it's another leg towards that seemingly far away AgCh Title. Cypher’s run was before hers and this was the one with the frustrating 3 seconds in it, put it this way I yelled ‘Come’ and he went :P and sucked into a tunnel, his only saving grace was that I didn’t quite give him enough view of the jump before he tunnel sucked and the bar came down. Other than this hiccup it was a very nice run. My aim for training with him this week is to stop repeating myself when I say come on course (and keep having tug toy on me to reward him with a game) and say it once. Huge party if he responds immediately, turn my back on him and walk away if he doesn’t, show him the toy that he missed out on. Can’t hurt to try. Next up was Open Agility and he flew around this course quite tidily. I had told myself to work his contacts (ie insist on the lie down) as I had seen some pretty quick runs from our experienced dogs and knew he wasn’t in the hunt for a placing really. Of course I didn’t stick to this but I still managed to get him to waste time as he ran through the contact; kind of slowed right down in his strides; looked at me to see if I was going to insist and by that time we were right in front of the next obstacle so I just let him go. Bad handler! I was an idiot and I should have made him do the lie down, it *will* happen at the next trial!! He also lay down nice and fast on the seesaw but way too early and I had to move him up a bit to get it to drop. More time wasted. He did a running contact on the aframe and by that time I was just in the mood to keep on running! So I did and he did and we ran clear for about 7th out of 14 quallies. Oh well another leg towards ADO2. He was then up in Masters Jumping straight after this and he ran a clear round but really no thanks to me! I think I was too wrapped up in thinking about where I should be instead of letting him know which way we were going clearly enough. Just about every tunnel exit had him turning the wrong way mostly due to me not saying anything to let him know which way until *after* he was out of the tunnel. Bit late by then really! I had a plan that totally went awry when I ran to places I hadn’t even intended to run to when I walked it. It was just messy and not smooth and I felt like we could have run that much faster and smoother. Never the less he still managed a pass in the top 6 placings so I was happy with that.

Raven’s Open Agility run felt absolutely thrilling, She was blasting through her running contacts, had the first 5 obstacles done before I could say much at all really as it was a fairly straight line. We were on track for a win when she slammed down that seesaw so quick and was off it before I had the chance to realise she had no chance of seeing the next jump which was perpendicular to the end of the seesaw and visible by one thin upright. She curved into me (because I didn’t say anything helpful like ‘Get Out’!) and ended up copping a refusal on the jump as she had passed the plane. Even with the time it took to bring her back round and get her to do the jump she was no more than half a second or so off the first place time. In Masters Jumping I made an assumption that was just simply wrong, I didn’t think she had much of a choice and thought I had turned my body enough to indicate clearly to take a tunnel, she took a jump. Then she came in on me when I layered the tunnel because my arm signal and verbal wasn’t clear enough and then we just had quite a few other off courses after that because I had pretty much obliterated whatever plan we were going for! She had a ball though and got her jackpot for keeping all the bars up. It was a good night! What I was really proud of her for was that we had 3 fast, incredibly exciting runs and she kept every single bar up! We’ve been doing some extra jump work this week and I think we’ll maintain it! It feels good to finish courses even if we’ve had a blip along the way. So now we wait trials next weekend :-( but then we hit April with a trial every weekend and Adelaide at the end! I cannot believe how quickly the time is going...and still so much to do. Must admit it's certainly exciting to look forward to; so far 2100 runs planned for the weekend of the Nationals!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Greg Derrett Chapter 5…The Conclusion

So this is the final chapter in my Greg Derrett Seminar series. It will finish off the Friday night seminar that concluded with Weaving and weave training and go into a run down of what we did at the final seminar on Saturday morning. The weave poles had been set up as usual. First let me post a picture or two of what our weave poles look like.

They are all made of flexible light weight pvc piping and are either stick in the ground individual poles or as in the second picture with the Border Collie they are slipped onto a metal base that is secured to the ground via tent pegs. As you can see they do bend quite substantially. So Greg had us set up twelve of our weave poles and then just asked those with the working spots to run their dogs through calling out after each one whether they single strided the whole way, double footed them or had inconsistent style (ie they flicked between both ways of doing them). The majority of the dogs had an inconsistent stride pattern. Greg said that he strives to get a consistent pattern with his weaving, he doesn’t mind which stride pattern the dog chooses to do more comfortably (however he said the single stride pattern was known to be the quickest) however he does work to make sure the dog consistently sticks to that pattern whatever it ends up doing. Greg trains his weaves using weave-a-matics and V poles and they will be the last piece of equipment that he trains a dog to do. So he explained the structure and design of the weave-a-matics for the benefit of our equipment makes in the audience, I kind of got the picture of what they should look like but I leave it up to the engineering types to make a set. Hopefully our club will have a set in the not too distance future. So Greg has the weave-a-matics out at home and when he first puts a dog on them they are of course lying nearly flat on the ground. See pictures below for examples that I got off the net.

So anyway as you can see the weaves are on a slant and they can slant all the way down to the ground (or they should be able to put it that way). He simply starts off getting the dog to run through them with him running along side with food or a toy on either side, with another person holding as he goes up the other end with toy and gets the dog to release and run through the poles to him. At this time he watches very carefully to ensure the dog is using even striding patterned footwork through all the poles. As soon as he can he brings the poles up by a couple of inches each time, always reinforcing highly and watching to ensure the stride pattern remains consistent, The second the dog starts to do something different with its footwork he lowers it back down an inch and does more repetitions at the lower position before trying to raise it up again. Greg did say that the aim was to get those poles into an upright position as soon as possible. When queried on head positions in weave poles Greg acknowledged that lower head carriage is always going to be faster than head held high (however he also stated that there are some dogs who are still very competitive despite their head position being higher than others). He didn’t have too many suggestions for how you could change this or even if you should try, again weaves being one of those obstacles where you simply should work with what the dog is physically capable of giving you and aim to make of that the best you possibly can. One suggestion was to use very, very short weave poles (ie half the height of the dog) so that the dog has to duck its head down to actually weave the poles. Greg wasn’t too sure how effective this works as he has only seen it done once and it appeared to work for that dog at that session he saw. He also noted that the type of weave poles we used meant that the dogs did not have to weave as much because he observed many dogs just pushing them out of the way because of the flex in them. This in turn caused some fast dogs to get hung up in the poles because they hit them so fast. His advice? Train on solid poles only, that way the dogs get used to not being able to push through them using their bodies as solid poles have no give in them. That way they actually weave with their whole bodies and learn not to touch the weave poles at all or rather just brush by them lightly. He has a drill to train his entries shown in the below diagram;

He got us to show how well our dogs were proofed on weaving by having us run halfway up parallel and then stop whilst they kept weaving. We then veered off to the left about 10 meters as our dogs had to finish the poles. He also go us to run with our dogs halfway up and then quickly flick around and run backwards on the same line as our dogs continued in the weaves, there were a few more I think that I can't quite recall (didn't get to write them down as was running Raven). He got us to send our dogs into the poles at a 90 degree angle over a jump, he then got us to run with our dogs doing the same thing. Then the final challenge was the 90 degree entry from over a jump with us rear crossing very closely. That one caught Raven out! I rear cross on her weavers often however never at that angle I must admit.That concludes his talk on weaving, the most important to points is to get fluency on the stride pattern and to bring those poles up as soon as you can. Then once you have that start proofing them!
Moving on to Saturday’s workshop, this again was done with Novice/Excellent level dogs and was the final workshop for the weekend. Jumping was first up on the agenda. First thing Greg did was set up a 4 jump grid that meant the dogs touched the ground twice between each jump. He wanted to have a look at the style of jumping on the dogs. There were one or two who needed work on judging their take off points but by and large he was generally satisfied that our dogs were good jumpers and had a nice style. He brought us back to the whiteboard. First thing he told us is that he is not in anyway a full expert on jumping and that everything he knows about it was gleaned from other more knowledgeable sources than himself. However he did say one thing he has always taught before starting any jumping is hind end awareness and weight shifting. This is where teaching your dog to go backwards and other basic tricks where they have to use their back feet is obviously one way of raising their awareness. He uses tugging as part of his method for teaching the dog to shift its weight back. He does many of the Susan Salo exercises as well as jump chute work but those things have never been a major part of any of his training although he has used them for many students who dogs with jumping issues. Greg believe that the double box work has helped to teach his dogs many of their jumping style skills and that by working double box regularly from the moment they are old enough to start jump training actually gets them well trained in jumping technique. He quickly drew up on the board some of the Susan Salo exercises which involve having bars on low to start with and placing them in a ‘W’shape using four bars with a bar at the bottom, so everything is very close together. There was also the use of a ‘V’ shape running from the uprights on one bar jump to help teach take off points. All these exercises I have seen and done before when one of our club members came back from a Greg Derrett/Susan Garrett Seminar in Queensland a few years ago. If anyone would like me to post the diagrams let me know and I’ll do so. Greg maintains that dogs (particularly Border Collie shaped/type dogs) jump better at the higher heights than the lower. He believes that Border Collies especially need to have the higher jumps to encourage that rounding of the jumping arc as they are so prone to jumping flat naturally. He said if he was competing here (where most BCs are in the 500 height class) he would be competing in the 600 height class. This was food for thought for quite a number of handlers.

Of course we brought the issue up of the bars being knocked what does he do? Greg ignores them. For two main reasons 1) He never wants that dog to slow down for any reason, it’s all about speed and if he starts trying to correct knocked bars this dog may start to slow down 2) He doesn’t believe you can ever really clearly, consistently punish for dropped bars. Out of the whole weekend or four days of seminars this is where I had the biggest difference of opinion with Greg. I knew it was a difference of opinion and knew if I said anything we’d probably just end up wasting a lot of time debating something that he is never going to change his mind on and I was never going to change my mind on. I must admit it was hard for me to fathom never ever letting a dog know that knocking a bar is *not* what I want. I should be clear here, when Greg says ‘punish’ for knocked bars I know that he would consider what I do to be a punishment. I stop running, I tell Raven to lie down (usually about three times), and I replace the bar and leave the course in a trial situation. In training I’ll stop running, tell her to lie down, replace the bar. Sometimes I will start again, sometimes I will continue on and sometimes I will leave and miss our turn. If I don’t do this and start ignoring her knocking bars she will start knocking bars more and more. Greg would probably say this isn’t working since she still drops bars. Yes she does, but she is dropping bars a hell of a lot *less* than she used to! I think to truly understand the importance of teaching your very fast, high drive, completely intense BC, to respect bars and not to touch them you have to actually own and handle a dog who really couldn’t care less if bars stay up or not (and yes I know this attitude was cultivated by when I started jumping her at around 12 months I didn’t take *any* notice of bars dropping). There are not many dogs like this, most of the ones I have seen or trained or instructed have a more careful jumping style or they just don’t have that flat out speed or they just don’t like the feel of hitting the bar. I don’t agree with any kind of negative punishment of knocked bars (ie electrifying bars, fishing line, threatening with dropped bars etc) however I do believe in the removal of the reward (for Raven it is getting to do the course or getting her treats if we are doing single bar work) if a bar is dropped, and I do believe in letting the dog think about why the fun stopped. Yes I know bars drop 9 times out of 10 due to handler error, and the majority of handlers and dogs will ignore their bars dropped in trials and training because the dog does not have a jumping issue. I will ignore most of Cypher’s dropped bars because I know he doesn’t have the same attitude and that he is a fairly clean jumper most of the time plus I need his speed up a bit more. However when you have a dog who purely knocks bars because she is just rushing her jumping too much (and this is only discerned after much soul searching) then you need to do something about it. I know I will never have Raven’s bar issue cured, there has been too many massive gaps in her foundation jump work (as in there wasn’t any…think I just went “Cool she goes fast and can jump over a bar….let’s trial!”) and her pure obsession with going as fast as she possibly can which often means leaving *no* room between her and the bar but I know I can make it better and that is what I work on. Now when we trial, more often that not I will see her try really hard (as in she will work hard to put that extra stride in to round her arc etc) to keep bars up and that is all I ask of her. Sure bars still come down and we still leave the ring but it is certainly not as often as it used to be. So coming back to Greg and his jump training philosophy I agreed with all the drills he recommended as I already do many of them. His approach to what to do with bars dropping will indeed work for most dogs, however having owned such a chronic bar issue dog from here on in I will never disregard a knocked bar. I will always stop what we are doing and put the bar up, no matter which dog I own or train in the future. I won’t have to say anything to them, they won’t have to lie down or anything I’ll just stop, pick up the bar and replace it and the game continues. This is not punishment in my book; it’s just letting the dog know that bar knocking has a consequence, if just for a few seconds.

Moving on….Greg then set up some great jumping drills that he works on at home. Unfortunately when I asked his permission to write all this up on the blog he asked me to leave out the drills from Saturday morning as they are quite new and they will indeed be on his next DVD due out soon apparently. So if you want to know what they are you may have to catch up with me at training one night when I set it up to work on or when I’m travelling around Australia to trial! Or it may be quicker to just wait for the DVD!

We then set up a jumping course that was brought to the seminar by an auditor and we discussed what way we would handle it if we were following Greg’s system for handling. It came back to the decision making again and this is something that makes perfect logical sense when it is broken down into tiny steps however to put it all together and apply to a full size course is another matter. Again we returned to the points system when looking at how to handle something. 1)Where are you going to? 2) What is the distance to the next obstacle? And 3) Where are you coming from? So when looking at a handling choice, such as in the two diagrams below (starting at #4):

There are decisions to be made about which way to take the dog over #5 and over #6. You can see the dog’s path shown by a red line in one diagram and a blue line in the other. We would have to consider where are coming from in terms of #4 to #5. If you ran it with your dog on your right the quickest line without any deviation for the dog would be for the dog to turn left over #5. So that is 1 point for left. We then look at the distance, clearly the shortest distance for the dog to take from #4 to #5 would be for the dog to be heading over #4 closest to the right upright and then wrap around to the right over #5. So that is 1 point for right. So then you go to your last handling consideration and that is looking at where you are going to according to where the last obstacle on the course is (not just where the next obstacle is). You can clearly see that the blue line from #6 to #7 places the dog on the best possible line for the run home, with that in mind looking at the decision you need to make about which way to turn the dog on #5 (remember we are at 1 point for left and 1 point for right so far) having the dog wrap LEFT around the #5 upright with you front crossing close to the upright so your dog is on your left as you head to #6 where you can do another tight front cross on the upright to wrap your dog to the right of #6 then adds 1 point to the wrapping your dog to the LEFT over #5 in the decision making. This makes it 1 point for turning your dog right based on distance but based on where you are coming from and where you are going to you get 2 points for wrapping your dog to the left. This then makes the decision about what to do over #6 no longer a decision. See diagram below with dog’s path in black.

Now this is just two obstacles on a very short sequence where we need to make a decision about which way to turn the dog. Greg’s points system is a logical way of working out the solution. It is something that I will try and use every course I walk from now on. Unfortunately it is still at the conscious steps phase for most of us, that is; we all need to literally step it through with each question and we don’t always get a clear cut answer straight away, or put it this way we don’t *see* the clear cut answer straight away. It can take us quite a while to work it through on something fairly simple like the above examples. We need to get far more proficient and natural at recognising very quickly the best path for the dog to take. As Greg said, he’s been playing this game since he was 12 years old so by now this sort of course decision making is as natural as breathing to him. The rest of us shall just have to work damn hard to get there! Another added advantage of using this system is you quickly identify what skills you need to train for or improve on. Sometimes handlers do not take the glaringly obvious quicker more efficient line for the simple reason of they don’t feel confident enough in their skills to ask this of the dog, they know their dog is not so good at it or they know they themselves are not so good at something (270s, pull throughs, rear crosses, front crosses, post turns, serpentine handling, lead out pivots etc etc) and so they end up taking a longer route, which may of course allow them to go clear, gain a qualification card and even move up a class. I have certainly been guilty of this when trying to gain titles (yet I do note what skills we need to work on and I never settle for baby sitter handling!). So this is one of the drawbacks of not using the win out system in our agility, it does allow handlers to move up even if they don’t have some of those skills at even a very primary level (ie barely proficient). This will in turn lead to some mediocre performing dogs attaining the top levels, it is inevitable. At the end of the day I don’t really have a problem with this as I know Australia will always have those handlers who will strive for perfection in every skill they need for agility and as long there are those I think the ‘must go clear’ system works very well for us.

I have one more additional diagram to include that after reading back through my GD posts I realised I have omitted in my Chapter 3 on front cross drills. I included this diagram here;

What I left out was another diagram that showed the next step up from this one. Initially we were all worried about cracked kneecaps and injured dogs when Greg first put this up.

As you can see the handler really has to move it from the #6 obstacle to well past #8 in order to pull this off. How well it was done depended on how much you had to babysit your dog over #7. However I am glad to report that there were no collisions , perhaps a few near misses but in the end just about everyone achieved it without too much trouble. Our biggest issues was that we were thinking about getting to #8 before ensuring our dogs had committed to #7. It was a very fine line to judge!

So that is the conclusion of this series on Greg Derrett's training seminars. There was an enormous amount to take in and I certainly will be going back to these notes time and again no doubt, for many of my training needs. It will be fascinating to see his next DVD and I look forward to his long term project one day; that of taking his young pup Detox all the way from 8 weeks old to what he hopes, will be a future World Champion. Any questions, suggestions, comments or feedback greatly appreciated, it may be a long time now till our next presenter!

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Atopic Question

Having a dog that is atopic is not a light hearted matter. Raven was diagnosed around the age of 2 years old by Murdoch's dermatology department. She has been 'managed' all her life. I found this website today which gives a very complete and detailed analysis and coverage of treatments available. It's always good to read up on other possible ways to make her itchy life a little less itchy.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Cool website

After rereading my post about Greg's thoughts on contacts I went and looked up Silvia Trkman's site again. I discovered she has uploaded quite a number of videos since the last time I visited and I was thoroughly entertained and mesmerised by them all. Especially the one of her 11 month old Border Collie Bu doing repeated perfect running contacts. This dog is 54.5cm at the shoulder and the fact that Silvia has got this kind consistency already with a large dog proves to me that running contacts are possible. It has inspired me to want to retrain Cypher's contacts (after the Nationals mind you!) and to start doing small sessions with a down plank everyday with Spryte. Spryte has been over a full dogwalk and a lowered aframe already with me doing nothing except running with her encouraging her to run through the bottom by throwing a well placed treat. Which is what Silvia describes but just that with the dogwalk it should be on a flat plank initially maybe very slightly raised. I've decided I need a longer plank! Off to Bunnings today! Also inspiring were the videos of tricks that she teaches, it's fairly obvious why she doesn't have bar issues, her dogs are very aware of their two back feet! Her article about Agility is Good for dogs is also interesting reading. And if anyone can translate Slovenian I'd love to read her training articles for a Slovenian magazine!

Saturday, March 17, 2007


No, not for me....for the blog. That Green was starting to invoke some feelings in me, none of them good....I guess it was a green colour that loses its appeal after a while. So here we are with a new layout. By the way I deleted my last post re subscribing via email (I discovered that whole posts get delivered to the inbox of subscribers so I removed it) however you can also subscribe via RSS (this will just give you headlines of new posts) which is easily added as a live bookmark in your Firefox browser. So should all use Firefox as your browser not crappy Internet Explorer.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Greg Derrett...Chapter 4

Contacts! So this session was always going to be interesting to find out Greg's method for his contact training. Before he started in on it he tested all of us who had working spots to see what we were doing. There were 12 of us again and most of us had a form of two on two off, some forms more precise than others. I was the only one who had the four on the floor method with Cypher (he runs through the contact and lies down with chin touching the ground). We started with the dogwalk, moved to the A Frame and finished with the seesaw. Greg put the stopwatch on all of us initially and we just ran our contacts like we would normally do in a trial. After timing us and calling the times out he then put in place several "proofing" type tests. The first one being you could only run halfway parallel with the dogwalk and your dog had to complete the contact. I think three of us managed this one, Cypher, Sage (who does two on two off) and one other, the next test was to peel off to the left of the dogwalk so laterally you were at least 12 meters away by the time the dog hit the contact. Again Cypher and Sage managed this along with 3 or 4 others this time. The next test was that you charged straight past the dog once it hit its contact position and the dog had to hold it. Next up was the A Frame and this time the last test was slightly different, you had to run past the a frame, if your dog held it's position you went back and rewarded, then you moved away again without releasing the dog, you had to face away from your dog, have your hands clasped in front of you (this is about 5 meters away) head facing forward. You had to give your release word. This was interesting as it tested how well we had taught our release words. I think only 2 of us managed to get our dogs to release on our release word. The next obstacle was the seesaw and there was no proofing tests on this one he just simply timed how long it took our dogs to complete it.

Greg then had us all move back to the whiteboard so he could go through his method in detail. He started off by stating that the two biggest mistakes people make with their contact training is that they don’t do the Foundation work properly, and that they go into competition too early. He basically said point blank that he wouldn’t be trialling with any of those dogs he saw tonight apart from one (that was Sage who does two on two off and is close to the top level times). He went through the list of things he was seeing that he would fix – dogs not understanding what the actual two on two off position was, dogs relying on body cues entirely, dogs not being reinforced properly, dogs not understanding the release word, dogs offering other behaviours, dogs not sticking to the same criteria and handlers letting them not stick to the criteria. The only comment he made about the four on the floor one that Cypher did was that he felt it was still not clear exactly where he is supposed to lie down. He was lying real close to the ends of contacts in some points, in others he was further away. I must admit I’ve never demanded that he must lie down 0.5 of a meter away from the contact every time because I believe that it depends on what speed he is going at as to what he feels comfortable doing. Generally Cy will lie down anywhere from half a meter up to 4 or 5 meters away from the contact depending on how flat out he is going and what obstacles are in front of him. Either way I’m happy with it because it means he’s missed one dogwalk contact in his entire trialling career so far. As I’ve said earlier, the system dictates the training, far more importance is placed on accuracy in our current agility climate than on speed simply due to the limited population we have competing. Will I train four on the floor again? I don’t think so. I came into four on the floor by accident really; when I was training his a frame getting that two on two off contact at full height was creating a lot of issues with impacting on his front; he tries to do the frame as fast as he can and getting his body into that two on two off position was putting a heap of visible stress on his body, he did hand stands trying to stick it and all sorts of other weird and not so wonderful things with his spine. We worked with it lower for ages moving it up inch by inch so that he learnt to rock his weight back, which worked up to a certain height (this dog is a tug-aholic so he knows how to shift his weight to his rear very well) and then at full height it just didn’t work with him running flat out over it. He was fine if we did a standing start on the upside, his momentum was slow enough for him to manage two on two off. So in the end I trained for four on the floor which kept his speed over it but didn’t tax his joints so much. I’m still not a fan of it though for all its accuracy, he will still, if hitting the frame at max speed, end up lying on the ground with his front legs sometimes tucked or folded under him because he’s done it in such a rush. It’s been known as the SPLAT! contact method as well and I also doubt that it is faster or as fast as a quick release two on two off.

Back to Greg, in his run down of the methods Greg mentioned that it doesn’t matter what you choose to train as long as it has the following four things: 1) Clear criteria 2) High Reinforcement when criteria is met 3) Must be able to be independent 4) Should use a verbal release. Obviously this last one completely eliminates the “running contact” from list of possible methods to teach! As far as Greg was concerned after travelling all over the world and competing against all types of dogs and trainers from many different countries he is still of the opinion that there is no reliable, foolproof method for training and *maintaining* a running contact. All those brilliant running contacts we see on the Worlds and other big events are more often just fast releases of 2o2o or if they are running contacts there is no discernible method that he could see when these teams were warming up or training. Sylvia Trkman’s Simply The Best is the most consistent running contact performer as far as he’d seen but he was not confident that there was any kind of logical, rational method to that contact. So that was interesting! Greg teaches the Susan Garrett nose touch method. The main reason behind his decision to use this contact method was simply because he was very impressed when travelling round North America how quick the breeds that were not your typical agility breeds were doing their contacts and inevitably they’d used the nose touch method. He saw Dobes, Mastiffs, Rotties, Bernese , Danes really large dogs doing fast dogwalk times because of this method and he was impressed by that. Another reason was because the reinforcement level was so high for this method as well. Obviously this involves target training which evolves from the simple hand touch he taught the dogs as youngsters. He uses a 1 inch square (yes it was asked 1inch?? Yes it really is that small) clear piece of plastic. There are no verbals used at all (this is where he differs to Susan) so this is where he may use the clicker. He might hold the plastic to start off with if he needs to but then it will go on the ground pretty quick. Most dogs will tend to sit when targeting this plastic, he moves 360 degrees around the dog constantly rewarding every time that nose hits that target. By hitting the target he means he wants to see that nose wrinkle as it mashes into the target. The nose touch is crucial for giving that weight shift you need at the end of the contact. Once that dog is hitting that target on the ground with its nose constantly over and over in all situations then he will transfer the target to a set of stairs. Yes stairs. Our first thoughts were – where the hell do you find stairs of the right size and shape and amount? He told us they use the wooden packing pallets in the UK. They get a bunch of them and stack them up on each other until you have a podium like effect with four stairs going up on one side and four stairs going down on the other. He places the target so that the dog has to have its front two paws on the floor and its back two paws on the first step. The dogs head should be pointing down in such a way that its nose is poking through its front two legs to hit the target on the floor. He gradually back chains the dog moving forward into position, ie starts the dog on stair two on the down side so it takes one step to get into position, then he’ll move it back to stair three and then stair four so the dog is now at the top of the pallets and so on and so forth until the dog is climbing up and over the stairs and down the stairs into the position. Once the dog is consistently charging over the stairs and hitting the target with its nose and releasing to a game of tug he will then transfer the target to a down plank. He sets the target so that the stop point for the dog is always the same, he demands of his dogs that they stop with their front feet just off, stopper pads in touch with the wood. The down plank will be worked for 6 to 7 weeks and then he moves straight to the complete dogwalk. He will play tug with the dog in position on the down plank as well as it helps give duration and weight shifting. And that is the way Greg trains his contacts. He also said that he will travel all over for the opportunity to run in trial situations and just reward the contact behaviour (ie dog does perfect contact position in middle of run Greg says thanks very much and runs out to play tug with dog) and that the only quick releases he does are at the two or three big events he does each year. This he did admit would be quite demotivating for your average trialler, even for many competitive triallers; to drive all that way, to enter a trial and simply go in the ring to reward that contact behaviour, he claims that it is what you have to do if you want to be the best in the world. Who knows? This could be quite true, I can’t say I’ve interviewed enough gold or silver world championship medallists to find out if this what they do all year round. It would be pretty darn disappointing for me I think if this is what I had to do all year round. It is hard enough for me to stick to my one criteria of a bar being knocked we leave, and at least that means I can’t qualify anyway! For me to pull Raven (the 7 yr old who does running contacts in trials; 2on2off in training) out of a run just because she doesn’t hold a two on two off would be just too against the grain for me, especially if she has just executed an amazing running contact. Usually if she misses it in a trial I’ll just stop her and put her back on and ask her to hold the position for a few seconds. I say usually because I do it based on the judges call, if she gets called for it I’ll put her back, if she doesn’t and I still think she may have missed it I don’t say anything funnily enough! This is all incredibly inconsistent I know but as a general rule it works for me. As long as I maintain the two on two off criteria in training and make sure I do enough repetitions during the weeks between trials and highly reward that position (and I mean highly…I don’t just stuff one or two treats down her, she will get rewarded with up to ten or twelve small treats for one great two on two off in training…it keeps her in the spot for quite a while and always with her thinking this is the greatest spot in the world to get to!) I tend to find they hold up. It’s probably just this sort of thing Greg was talking about when he says he doesn’t believe there is a real, reliable and consistent method for teaching running contacts. I’m inclined at this stage to agree but that doesn’t mean I still can’t have them at trials!

With the A Frame Greg teaches it after the dogwalk or around the same time (so that targeting stuff is all there already) and basically just starts the a frame at 12 inches high and gradually raises it up. Nothing too secret or mysterious there. Now the seesaw. That one shocked me I must admit. Greg’s criteria on the seesaw is that the dog must run to the end of the seesaw hang its two front paws off the end and ride it down whilst trying to nose touch. I had visions of what might happen to some of our really fast dogs if we insisted on that sort of criteria and they were scary! They start with just a normal sized seesaw at full height and then they stack up the pallets again until they sit right underneath the end of the down side of the seesaw so that it can’t move at all. They get the dogs to run to the end and nose touch onto the pallets. Slowly they remove the pallets, very gradually so the seesaw only moves a few inches initially. And that’s how they work it, eventually all the pallets are removed (this can take many weeks or months I’d imagine) and the seesaw is slamming down at full height. The dog is still offering the nose touch all the time. He did mention that it was important that all seesaws are made to the same specs, so the tipping point and weight are all the same from one to the next. We don’t have that here in Australia yet which is another reason why I would shy away from using this method. We also don’t have a clear way for the dogs to always discern if it is a seesaw or dogwalk (no slats) they’re climbing and they do rely on us using verbals. The main reason is why i wouldn’t lean towards this method; that I can see; is accidents with noses mashing into the ground too hard, toes getting stuck under the ends, wrist joints being unduly impacted upon, neck issues etc etc. As far as I can see there is no reason to go fiddling with what most fast dogs do here which is run nearly to the end, ride it down (most commonly in the dropped or half dropped position) and take off when it hits the ground. Our seesaw times are competitive so not sure I’d mess with the seesaw training just yet. So that’s about it for contacts. I should have asked about the chin touch target training, I think the biggest complaint he would’ve had about that would be that you don’t always know if the dogs’ actual chin is hitting the target. Cypher very easily placed his chin on the target and you could see it because he rested his head as opposed to his head slightly raised which you could also detect pretty quick. The nose touch to me seems quite a risky behaviour to teach especially to the high drive, really intense BCs that often do stuff without regard at all to their own self preservation, these are dogs that will run courses with toe nails ripped half off, or severe ligament injuries or even if they suffered from acute pain if we don’t stop them. It makes me think that running flat out to a spot so they can mash their nose into the ground over and over may not be the best plan…Susan Garrett had to change her tack with Buzz because he used to give himself nose bleeds in his full on bid to do as she asked. Nobody has really taught it or insisted on it here to the extent that you will be able to easily say ok that dog uses the nose touch method when you see it compete. I think some people have taught it but have lessened off the criteria to the point where you just see the head duck down repeatedly as though they are going to nose touch. I will remain open minded about this and I hope to maybe see some well trained nose touch methods at the Nationals this year. The weaves will have to wait for my next entry! Along with his jumping thoughts.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Featherweight Vs Heavyweight

So in a bid to sound the population out about their feelings on the matter I have placed a survey up at Zoomerang:
that addresses some of the more pressing questions about the direction of agility trial formats in the future in this state. Please feel free to participate, particularly if you have an affinity towards seeing a more even playing ground for the non-medium sized dogs. Even if you are an owner of medium sized dogs (especially those black and white herding types) please have your say because it certainly does not preclude you from having strong opinions on the subject.
Currently 95% of our trials are run with overall awards for the classes, i.e the corgis and the paps compete against the BCs and the GSPs for places. It's a bit like the title of this entry. Doesn't mean they cannot qualify but it does tend to mean that in general most won't get a look in for a ribbon if there are many qualifiers.
How do you feel about that? There are various options presented in the survey for you to express exactly how you feel about it, be sure to add your opinion!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Raven turns 7!

Well my girl is 7 years old today. She doesn't look a day over 4 I swear! I will post a recent photo of her later (the one above is from last year)...will she have cake? I doubt it...might she get a beefy flavoured chewy raw hide treat...definitely. Now just need to find one that lasts her jaws of death more than 10 seconds. If only I could be as agile as her at the age of 49!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cypher's Health Stats Update

Good news received today, Cypher’s TNS test results came through on the email. Turns out he’s clear and not a carrier, so that’s good to know. TNS stands for Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome and it is a fatal disease for those affected. Now the test is available breeders will be able to start to eliminate the disease from their lines as it can cause much heartbreak. The following is an extract taken from the Border Collie Health website
TNS stands for Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome, an hereditary disease where the bone marrow produces neutrophils (white cells) but is unable to effectively release them into the bloodstream. Affected puppies have an impaired immune system and will eventually die from infections they cannot fight. Once thought to be rare, it is now believed that the disease goes undiagnosed for several reasons. First, not very many veterinarians know about the disease to look for it. Second, even when looking, blood counts do not always show lower than normal neutrophil (white blood cell) counts. Finally, because it is an autoimmune-deficiency disease, young puppies present a variety of symptoms depending upon what infections they fall prone to. Thus many cases are not properly diagnosed and have just been thought to be "fading puppies". Making the diagnosis even more difficult is the fact that age of onset varies depending on which infection is involved at the time. Most puppies become ill before leaving the breeder but some do not have symptoms until later. The oldest known survivor was 2 years 8 months. Most affected puppies die or are euthanized by about 4 months of age. TNS cases have been identified in New Zealand, Australia, United States and Great Britain. The most recent case positively diagnosed as TNS was born in the US, but the pedigree contained lines from the US, NZ, Australia and Great Britain. Research now suggests that the gene is widespread throughout the Border Collie breed. It is autosomal recessive, which means that both parents have to be carriers to produce an affected puppy. "
To read more about TNS click on this link.
So it was good news to read his far his health tests have all come back positively: Hips 1:4 - Elbows 0:0, DNA CEA/CH - Clear/Normal, CL - Clear/Normal and now TNS - Clear/Normal. This is good to know for any future puppy plans!

Western Classic Wrap Up

Well it was a mixed bag for my two furballs this weekend. This is Cypher’s first ever Western Classic and I am really pleased and satisfied with how he ran, his runs have been improving every time we stepped into the ring. He went clear in Masters Agility for his 5th pass and he just had a couple of unlucky bars down one in Open Agility and one in Masters Jumping. In Open Jumping I *think* (I didn’t actually see him move) he may have got up at the start and moved closer to the first bar and then sat down again because he knocked the first bar. C’est la vie as they say. He ran very well for me apart from that and I was pleased with his focus which is definitely increasing each time.

Raven did not manage a single clean run the whole two nights apart from her Strategic Pairs run which we did with usual partners Sue and Nifty. That said though I have still been extremely proud of how she worked for me this weekend. Open Agility was a tough one (see post below) and for some unknown reason she ducked behind me on a relatively simple lead out and headed off for the aframe. She didn’t do it but she caused a refusal call on the 3rd jump. We then had an off course after the aframe (I realised afterwards I should have taken the cross behind on the aframe option) and her striding took her over the down dogwalk contact. Then in Masters Agility she was brilliant absolutely flying, did the most spectacular running dogwalk contact I have ever seen her do had to then do a sharp right turn which I cued a bit late for her she still dug in and really fought to do the next jump, amazingly cleared it but by the time I realised what an impossible angle it put her on for the next jump it was too late and she took it from the wrong side. Not her fault at all and I was extremely pleased with what she had done. Masters Jumping I just wasn’t quite in the right mindset with her, she also became extremely hypersensitive to my body position and pulled off the #4 jump probably due to the fact that I had my mind on the next tunnel move and didn’t really give her the usual commitment position to go do a jump. We had a few those hiccups on the Masters Jumping course. It was a nice course though and Cypher ran it very well we just took one bar down on the way home. In Open Jumping we were going great guns till on a slightly pinwheel type turn she face planted on landing from one jump and just didn’t have enough room or time to get up over the next jump though she tried as hard as she could. I couldn’t fault her for that so we kept going and finished the course. Again a lovely flowing course that we just had some bad luck on.

Sunday night was the teams event and I ran 3 out of the 4 dogs on our team, my two plus Rumour the Sheltie. The conditions were not the best in terms of the sun hitting the course badly, if you looked back at your dog on the lead out all you saw was them squinting their eyes badly and trying to sight you. I ran Rumour first and she didn’t want to go near the judge on course which caused a few distractions issues, she popped the 2nd last weaver and also had a couple of off courses. Cypher ran next and did a nice solid clear round, Tag was after him and Robyn ran him for a steady but one bar down (handler error of course! *g*) and then Raven came out. Well she was feeling a bit frisky and feral at this point, so for the second time this year she broke her start, flew by me and then I had to use seat of pants handling which caused her to drop a bar. But other than that she ran a rather uncontrolled but clear course. Onto jumping and Rumour was a bit more improved although again her start was slow due to us running towards the judge, but when I took off on her she came with me!! She ran pretty well after that apart from one off course where I just took my eyes off her for a split second to sight the line home and she was off over another jump! I was happier with her this time though. Cypher again was the team anchor putting in another solid clear round no hiccups, then Raven came out and she was listening well I just didn’t get my line exactly right on the way home and she copped a refusal. Robyn had to run from the showring to the agility ring last night and was the last person to run with Tag. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be a repeat of his clear round in Open Jumping the night before and Robyn got a bit lost! He had a good time anyway finishing off with her. It does suck majorly though when these events clash all the time, you’d think the organisers might think about the fact that Border Collies (the most prominent breed in agility) might be involved with both disciplines and perhaps it would be a good idea to schedule them on different nights! I know I would have entered the show with Cypher and Spryte had they not been on the same night!

Next it was Novice Strategic Pairs and I ran Rumour again for Andrea while she ran Rosie. We had a very smooth run but unfortunately rumour ran under her first jump on her first sequence which cost us a few seconds, we still ended up with 2nd place so that was nice. Then onto Excellent, I ran the gorgeous GSP Emmy for Lisa, who ran Sabra, again it was a nice round; we got an unlucky call on the dogwalk contact so Sabra had to come over and do it however the girls were still fast enough to make the time and there were no other hiccups. Then it was Raven and Nifty’s turn, Raven was more than just feral by now it was like trying to control a severely ADHD/ADD child with high levels of caffeine consumption!! We’d considered this in our strategy I believe which is why Nifty did most of the course and I just tried to hold on to Raven who was dancing around like a jack in the box waiting for our 2nd part! I think Nifty may have had a couple of spins round jumps and Raven was trying to do much more than her share however for the most part it was pretty smooth and we went clear but oddly not in the top three placings which is very unusual for those two to say the least. Nevermind a pass is a pass!! Cypher and Sage were next up and despite me having a blank and not remembering my team mate was the one who started we flew around that course and went clear for third place and our third pass so that was cool. Strategic Pairs is great fun and probably one of the best spectator events there are!

So the last night (Monday night) is the Obedience and I had Cypher in his first Novice trial ever! Raven was also in UD for about her 5th or 6th attempt. As I have been working Cypher's heelwork over the last few weeks I have noticed that he heels well when first grabbed out of the car and straight into work. I went with this strategy at the obedience trial....let's just say the "No Warm Up" approach is not for him! He was happy and up and doing heelwork in some parts but in others he was just away with the fairies. So I just asked to finish with the recall which he did very nicely and we left. We shall aim to be ready for the Novice Obedience at the Royal I think instead! Raven worked very well for me last night and passed most of her UD exercises. Seek back was good (apart from the dropping of the seek back article which she promptly picked up), directed jumping was nice and very enthusiastic as the judge noted, passed her scent discrimination without dropping a single article and we then went into the signals exercise. She actually passed the signals part but failed the heelwork as I had to call her back to heel when we heeled off and she trotted off to the box (for some reason she thought we were working on her box!). She also passed the directed retrieve with the gloves. So all in all she didn't do too badly and that is the furthest we have gotten with the UD round. So there is still hope we may get there one day! So that was it for another Western Classic, not a huge success but some very nice performances by Cy and Rave. We now have to wait till the 24th for our next trial which I have to say is not good!!! We only have about 5 trials left before we head over to Adelaide! ARGH!!!! So much to do and so little time....damn this thing called work!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Western Classic Open Agility

This course ran quite well, amazingly enough out of 42 dogs that ran it only 1 went clear! I had a badly timed bar come down when I ran Cypher (handler needed sock for mouth) and Raven.....well you'd have thought I did frequent blind cross moves on her because she copped a refusal at #3 due to heading straight for the a frame....weird!
Other faults included pushing dog's off the a frame, forgetting the course, bars down after the weaves, off courses after the weaves,broad jump refusals/faults and various other things. I thought it noticeable because when I actually ran it it didn't feel like a very hard course, just one that needed very precise handling.

Greg Derrett...Chapter 3

Ok onto the next part. Finishing off the Thursday night seminar Greg showed us a basic jumping sequence that illustrated one of the strongest proofs for testing your dog’s understanding of front cross cues. Below is the sequence; (Again don't forget that all these diagrams below can be enlarged by clicking on them)

If you can lead out to where the asterisk is and guide the dog’s path to you simply by raising and changing your arms your dog has a solid understanding of the front cross cue. We didn’t put it up but it is definitely one I will try in the future. Oh and by the way Greg doesn’t walk the line around the jumps he wants the dog to take when he leads out he just takes the shortest, straightest path to his lead out position, because (as he said) he is confident his dog understands his body cues well enough that when he gets out there the dog is going to be responding to his signals not trying to take his path that he just walked out with. Next was the discussion of pull throughs. He drew a diagram for us like the one below;

This sequence could work either as a 270 or as a pull through. I had never even conceived of there being a 270 like manoeuvre in this one yet when the path was drawn and you imagined the typical 270 but just flatter it most certainly does use the 270 cues. The pull through enters the picture when the 3 is on the bottom side of that jump. This is where you become aware of that blind cross line you carry with you, can visualise the refusal plane of the obstacle and can see your active line rotating with your own body positional cues. The three key aspects of the pull through are that 1) It is more static than a serpentine (ie you will plant yourself or stand still at one point even if just for a millisecond) 2) You turn your feet 3) The picture you see through the uprights is different from that of a Serpentine situation. For 270’s Greg would use his verbals to get the nice tight turn and he said he’s seen it work equally well when handlers teach their dog to ‘dig in’ on the turn (ie take more shorter strides and fight to get in close on the turn). I think this ‘dig in’ cue is well worth some attention even if like me, you may have to cop some refusals due to your body positioning not being absolutely perfect, I use the verbals of “get in, get in, get in” when I want Raven to get close to me on a turn, the issue I’ve had with it is if I am not right next to the upright she ‘gets in’ brilliantly to the point where if she sees a gap between me and the jump upright she’ll get in on my leg beautifully without doing the jump! Can’t not reward because she did as I asked too perfectly!

A nice quick drill for working the pull through is shown below;

It is interesting when Greg talks about his most basic foundation drills for handling, most of the skills you are working on are only performed once in the short sequence. I think this comes from having the goal of perfecting such a move at flat out speed first before trying to combine more than one skill or one repetition of the skill into the one sequence. It is perfected by endless repetitions. I get the impression that this box work really is like having to practice your scales for piano, having your dog’s full attention for duration on heelwork patterns for obedience, or knowing your times table for maths; they are basic skills that need to be perfected at the simplest level before you try to test those skills under more complex situations. This is discipline I have a healthy respect for and certainly aspire to but by the same token I don’t know a single competitor in Australia who enters their dog in its very first trial and has these basic cues perfected to the highest degree. This would also seem to correlate with Greg’s summation that agility dogs (particularly high drive ones) don’t really peak until 4 or 5 and sometimes later. It is also not so much as just the dog’s peaking at this age but a combination of dog and handler finally coming into their own in terms of their timing and strength of partnership.

Finally for that Thursday night workshop Greg spoke about rear crosses and how you must have them well trained if you are to be successful in agility. He mentioned how so often evil arms come into play and verbals interfere with the smooth, good performances of the rear cross. If your dog has been trained well in the rear cross then all it should require of you as a handler is just to step across the dog’s path as you run behind it. That in itself, should be enough to let the dog know we are turning. He trains the recognition of this positional cue from a very early age by simply having the dog sit in front of you. You have the maximum amount of treats in both hands, as you step across the dogs line behind it the dogs head will turn to follow you, you feed as soon as you see that response with the hand nearest to the dogs head. Then go the other way. Repeat that for two 5 minute sessions each day and you will have put a strong foundation down for the understanding of the rear cross. A very simple, basic exercise that relies only on the dog being able to sit and being food motivated. Before the night ended someone asked about his directional verbal cues for left and right. He placed the following diagram on the board very quickly;

Greg said if the handler can stay in one spot to the right side of jump 1 and turn in a full circle three times in a row yet on the third time give the verbal cue for the dog to go left and the dog does it then your dog is fully proofed on his directionals. As far as Greg is concerned directionals are only there to get him out of a ‘deep shit’ situation on course where he has been unable to get to where he needs to be and they should be so well trained that they over ride the physical body cues for the dog (why else would he use them if they are only there to get him out of trouble). In other words the dog should on a verbal direction cue, follow it regardless of what your body cue is telling it to do. Can’t say I’ve seen too many of those dogs! So that, in as big a nutshell as you’ll ever find, is that for the Thursday workshop one. My only criticism so far was that for the working spot owners, you felt like you wanted some more individual feedback on your performance and what you needed to do to fix up your particular issues, most of us had footwork, timing and poor diagonals on the front crosses.

Seminar 2 – Friday morning Advanced masters handling, again we had 12 working spots with just about all dogs there having their Masters titles or nearly there. Greg started us off this morning with a quick assessment of our serpentine handling which he didn’t think was too bad although there was definite room for improvement with just about all of us. See the diagram below;

Greg defined serpentine handling as needed whenever you had to perform two theoretical front crosses on both sides of the obstacle eg Fx – Obstacle – Fx. Our biggest issues in our serpentine handling was that we turned our feet too much in our footwork (you should be running a very smooth straight forward line), we’d bring our opposite arm up too early causing the dog to pull through or we’d bring it up too late causing the dog to go very wide or to go past the jump altogether. Also our motion needed to be sped up yet still maintain a nice smooth flow. Key aspect of good serpentine performance is keeping that movement flowing. Again (this has come up for me on other seminars I’ve done) for me serpentine handling brought up the issue of having the dog comfortable with jumping almost into you at speed to get the tightest line. Of course you should always be moving so the dog never does make contact with you but if you want the tightest line you need to be very close to those jumps when you’re handling and it was evident that not many of our dogs are too comfortable with this and also not many of us as handlers feel too comfortable about getting so close into the jump uprights, we see just about every trial some poor handler come a cropper on jump equipment so I think most of us have this inbuilt aversion towards getting too close to the jump equipment, I know I’m often concerned I’ll bump into it!! This is definitely an art that should be practiced! The below exercise had us all really thinking about what a serpentine consists of and where on the course serpentine handling might help our times on course.

The red dashed line is the handlers’ path and the red asterisks represents where we needed to bring up our serpentine arm signals. There are two serpentines in the above diagram – jumps 3 to 5 and then jumps 6 to 8. It was good to work these skills as done well; the line for the dog was significantly smoother and shorter.

Here are some further drills;

The following one is actually a pullthrough drill;

Greg also introduced us to his method of course walking very briefly stating that he would elaborate further on. To work out the fastest way around a course Greg asks himself 3 questions (well not anymore since he has been walking courses since he was 12 years old it’s kind of like breathing to him now….if only I had started back then!). 1) Where are we coming from? 2) What is the distance to the next obstacle? 3) Where are we going to? More on this one later.

Referring back to the ‘dig in’ stride he asks dogs to do on tight turns Greg demonstrated it on the board what it should look like.

To train the dog to understand this cue they need to recognise your deceleration plus the verbals you give them. This little exercise is one Greg does to help with this;

Greg patterns the dog on both sides to extension first indicated by the blue handler path and it shows him running straight on. Then to work on recognition of the body cue of decelerating he works the three jumps again obviously slowing down and turning tightly on the spot. Again he does this both sides. Obviously there is huge reward and tug play in the reinforcement zone when the dog adds that extra stride in which they must do if they are to turn tight. It can also be practiced (and perhaps you’d do this drill first for dogs unfamiliar to the placing in an extra stride) with a static lead out situation (for example if there was an obstacle #4 right in line with #2 on either side of #2) Your body position which should be turned facing the upright should also cue the dog to put that extra stride in. It is a skill that the majority of dogs can certainly improve on given plenty of repetitions.

To finish the morning off Greg gave us a couple of front cross drills that really tested our footwork and the dogs understanding of our positional cues.

By far the one above was the most challenging as how well you performed it depended on a number of factors. First if a handler had to really babysit the 270 from 4 to 5 you were in trouble. This really showed how good your dog’s 270 training was….turns out all of us can afford to work on them! Secondly if you were able to get the smooth FC in from 6 to 7 and thus made the dog’s turn over 6 very tight you needed to really move to get in the Fx from 7 to 8. Many handlers obviously had their mind on this Fx and their dogs refused 7 coming with them as they had not ensured the dog had committed to 7 before moving into the Fx position. Everyone got there in the end with some advice from Greg. A great exercise though, thoroughly recommend everyone try it. You could do a before and after drill….before refreshing 270s and after you’ve refreshed 270s!

Phew! Ok that’s it for Chapter 3…this session I found to be the most challenging in terms of handling as a working spot owner and the best in terms of feedback for individuals. Next chapter Contacts and Weaves!