Monthly Archives: June 2013

Java’s Birthday Video

As Java turned 1 year old last week I’ve been going through all her videos.

Finally the birthday video is done, showing some of my favorite memories from when she was a puppy and some of the tricks she has learned in this time. There is her last day at breeder’s house, her first days in new home, first tricks we worked on, start of agility training, one of her first swimming sessions… great, great memories. I’m happy I have so many of them on video, but it was difficult choosing only the few that would fit into the length of Java’s birthday song – Incredible by Timomatic.

Luckily Java is a fast girl so clips are very short 😉

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Happy Birthday Java!

PuppyJava1Java is one year old today. Phew, that went by fast! I am not a puppy person. I never thought I would miss Java as a puppy, but I do – she was the sweetest pup ever and good as gold. That girl tried so hard to please. Except for eating every inedible thing she found and screaming her head off if I left her for a minute… but who can hold that against those big puppy eyes and wagging tail?
So happy birthday my Black Magic 🙂 Thank you for showing me that puppies can be easy and whippets can love food. It was a fun year and there is much more fun to be had in the days ahead!

I hope to put together a video of Java’s first year soon. Until then enjoy her puppy photos 😉

Sweetest puppy ever

Sweetest puppy ever

With a dash of craziness

With a dash of craziness

Who could resist those puppy eyes?

Who could resist those puppy eyes?

All photos were taken by Mateja

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Training Adventures

There was a time a few months ago when I had two voices in my head, one telling me it’s time to start training Java in agility and the other saying it doesn’t feel right yet. I couldn’t figure out whether this second voice was a reasonable one or a product of fear. Fear that I would mess things up, that I would teach her wrong. Since we had such long winter I didn’t really have a choice to start training sooner, but I still wondered about my attitude.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to get Java ready for competition in the shortest time possible. She will be ready when she will be ready. Still, somehow I felt like I was slacking off.

I think that the problem was that I was afraid I would mess things up. There was no way around that fear but to dive right in and start training. I feel so different now, not afraid to do my own thing, to follow wherever Java leads. It’s liberating! Yes, we’re working on Silvia’s Agility Foundations, but we’ve turned them upside-down. What I like the most about Silvia is that she doesn’t believe that each dog should be learning agility (or anything else, really) in the same way and she is very helpful with ideas of how to do things differently.

We’re doing some speed loops and some wraps, but not many and we rarely do wraps in sequences, which is very different from the “original” AF plan which says to first do lots of sequences with wraps, then add a little bit of extension (extension to collection exercises) and only then move on to full extension (straight lines). This is the plan that I followed with Ruby and in the end he did turn out to be fast and knew how to wrap tightly.

This video is from last week. Ruby is running a sequence from Agility Foundations Homework 4 without bars as I’m not letting him jump yet. He hasn’t been doing extension to collection exercises in two years and yet he remembers that tightness is a priority. (You might want to turn the volume down unless you like hearing Java complaining…)

Java is similar to Ruby, I think the same plan would work quite nicely for her as well. However, I think this is not the best plan for a whippet and I can’t learn anything new by doing things the same way. All plans can be improved upon. 🙂

What seemed scary during winter now feels like an adventure. I have no idea what we’ll be training one month from now and that is exciting! It might be serpentines from homework 4. It might be collection sequence from homework 2. Or simply more extension to collection exercises from homework 3. Now I feel like I can’t really mess it up too badly, so I’m free to experiment.

This is what our experiments look like right now:

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Create A Problem To Solve A Problem

“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” – Albert Einstein

I love solving problems. It’s what I do for work and I’m quite good at it. Well, at my specific subset of problems, of course. Not very good at being modest, though 😛 I think my love for dog training also comes from the same place: there is a behavioral puzzle to solve. If I do this, this happens, and if I do that… wait, why did that happen?

So let’s talk about solving problems today 🙂Ruby_Tunel

A common approach to solving math problems is to reduce them to something that is easier to solve or that we already know how to solve. As it turns out this is useful in agility as well.

When Ruby and I started in agility he only saw a tunnel once every two weeks and though he didn’t hate them, he also didn’t love them. I had to run with him right to the tunnel until his head was almost inside or he would pull away. His speed was not the greatest, either. I said to Silvia that I think I should be rewarding him for tunnels more, but she disagreed. She said she never rewards dogs for taking tunnels because they love them enough anyway and it creates a dog who will be hard to pull off the tunnel. Some call this the tunnel-suck, the magical power of tunnels to suck in any dog who comes close or even looks in their direction.

Well, I couldn’t see Ruby loving tunnels if we continued working the way we did, so as soon as I had an opportunity to train tunnels I sent him through, threw a frisbee, sent him through again… We had a blast. We probably did two or three sessions just sending him through that tunnel.

Sure enough, next time at LoLaBuLand the magic power of tunnels sucked Ruby in no matter what I did. It was weird but it meant my plan worked! Silvia was amused of course 🙂 I have a lovely video of this session somewhere, but I can’t be bothered to find it right now… maybe tomorrow 🙂

There was nothing to worry about, though. Because it was the rewards that created the tunnel-suck it was reasonable to assume that when there would be no reward Ruby would figure out the rules quickly. The tunnel was not self-rewarding for him. And so it was – the next time we were at LoLaBuLand Ruby was happy to run into tunnels, but didn’t run into them if I didn’t cue them. His overall speed increased because the tunnels were now FUN! Also, he didn’t pull off them so easily so I was able to leave him earlier and move to the next position. Mission accomplished 🙂

Another interesting part of this story came two years later when Silvia published her Foundations Fun DVD. On the DVD she advocates games that reward the dog for running through a tunnel. She also says not to worry that dogs would love tunnels so much that you couldn’t call them off and that you can have a dog who loves tunnels but also does tunnel discriminations perfectly. Hmm… sounds pretty different to me from the advice I got!

During those two years she was training little Le who wasn’t born liking tunnels. It’s funny how different dogs can change our perspective 😉

The photo in this post is (c) Monika Pl

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Weave Entrances On Four Poles

A.K.A. the Living Room Weave Entrance Training 🙂

It took me a while to publish this blog post because it didn’t seem like I did a good job describing the method. In the end I decided that poorly written post is still better than none at all – at least the information is out there and someone might find it useful. I decided to describe the full method rather than just my changes, so that people who haven’t yet started training weave entrances could benefit from it as well.

This post describes using a weave channel to train both entrances and actual weaving. Please refer to previous post Training Weave Entrances to understand why I chose this method and see an example.

A weave channel could be simply a set of stick-in-the-ground poles. It doesn’t need to be fancy.

Teach the dog to run straight through the channel

Start by setting up the weave channel like the blue dots on the diagram below. Note that the left line of dots always starts before the right line. This is very important. It is how the dog eventually learns to enter weaves with the first pole on his left side.

The weave poles should be something like 80cm apart in the beginning. Set a reward 2-3m after the end and restrain the dog 2-3m before the weave channel (at number 6), so all he has to do is run straight to the reward. Have a party! Repeat.

After a successful session at 80cm you can next time close the channel by 10cm and continue like this until you get to 50cm. Then it makes sense to start working on entrances.

Training entrances

I train entrances in my living room using 4 poles.
I would prefer to do this training somewhere with more space and would ideally use 6 poles, but there’s no room for them. I do it in my living room because I have no backyard and it’s hard to get motivated to do several short sessions per day if I need to go to a place and set everything up each time. And in the living room I don’t care if it’s raining or snowing! Training is happening anyway 🙂


Basic description of the method is the same as Silvia’s: start with straight entries and then move a little to the right/left every few successful repetitions. The magic is in the details:

  • Train left side and right side entrances in separate sessions at first. This really made a big difference for Ruby and Java. Don’t worry, you will mix them up later. In the mean time, mix up the side on which you stand. So if you’re working entrances from 5 o’clock, sometimes stand on dog’s left side and sometimes on the right side. In the case of 5 o’clock entrance, the left side will be more difficult for the dog, so start with standing on the right side and once the dog can do it, try standing on the left as well.
  • Don’t be afraid to start the session with a couple of easier entrances and then make them harder. But do make them harder as soon as possible. If there are no mistakes I usually make every repetition a bit harder.
  • Since my living room is small the max starting distance to the weaves is 2m, and often only 1,5m. I think this helps because I can feel whether they are pulling toward correct entrance, but it can also be tricky. If the dog is too close then the weave channel will look very distorted compared to how it looks from 5m. Some distance building is needed once I take it outside.
  • Establish a reward line, i.e. rewards should always appear in the same place (I used Manners Minder with Java, thrown toys with Ruby). Do the channel in one direction only (no running back through until the dog understands entrances). With only four poles which are widely spread out it’s easy for the dog to get confused about which way the channel is going and establishing a reward line lessens the confusion.
  • Train in short sessions of 5-8 repetitions, first one side, a break from training, then the other side. I start with the side that caused more problems the last time and sometimes I will do two sessions on the “difficult” side to catch up with the “easy” side.
  • Work on it every day at first, preferably 2 times per day. Since training is really short (only 20 repetitions in a day) and you’re in your living room that shouldn’t be a problem 😉 If we’re not actively training I find it useful to refresh the knowledge 1-2 times per week.
  • In the beginning keep the channel open enough that the dog will stay in easily. When doing entrances from 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock it’s easy for dog to turn too wide when entering. Good footing is important as well (don’t do it on hardwood floor). My living room channel is 50cm wide to help Java from going out. I want her to focus on entrances first apart from staying in the channel. Reward line also helps to keep her in the channel because once she gets in it’s just a straight line to Manners Minder!
  • When the dog can confidently do fairly difficult entrances (lets say more difficult than 8 o 4 o’clock) start mixing up left side and right side entrances. By confidently I mean he will nail every entrance in a session, even if the first one you do is already at 4 o’clock.
    Perhaps do two entrances from 5 o’clock, two from 7 o’clock, two from 4 o’clock and two from 8 o’clock. If the dog is not successful, make the entrances easier and work more on the side that gives him more problems. Sometimes you will find that the dog is not yet confident with entrances on one side, so you will need to go back to work only that side.

The rest is just common stuff:

  • Don’t let the dog pattern by repeating mistakes. If dog makes two mistakes in a row make it easier (and then even easier) until they succeed. Keep the success rate high.
  • Do restrain and feel where the dog is pulling. Let go when they’re pulling toward the correct entrance. Don’t help the dog with motion (unless he’s really stuck).
  • It often takes the most work to get from straight entrances to 7 o’clock and 5 o’clock and again around 9 o’clock / 3 o’clock. Be patient, move in small increments and set up for success. If the dog is stuck you can help them by shaping their path a little: as you release move with your dog for one step so that he nails the entrance. Do this twice, then check if he can do it on his own, without your movement.
  • After a difficult session end with an easy entrance. This is a common psychology trick that works on humans, too. It makes the student feel like this stuff is easy, like they know how to do it. Success is good for confidence and confidence is good for learning.

Have a question? Don’t be afraid to ask! I’m sure I haven’t covered everything.

Next time we’ll look at transferring this knowledge to a set of 12 weave poles.

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