Monthly Archives: July 2013
Ruby’s back was fine after 5 minutes of agility on Thursday, so I decided to do a little bit on Friday as well, but this time something went wrong. He looked uncomfortable walking up the stairs when we came home. Luckily after a little massage he looked OK again, but I don’t know what was bothering him. His toe? Biceps? Back? Time to call the physio to make sure everything is allright…
We ran a sequence from homework 4 of Agility Foundations since it was already set up, this time with low bars. It’s amazing how well he remembers some things that we haven’t trained in two years, like the cue for the back side of the jump. I am able to cue it and pretty much continue running while he does his job. I love this dog!
Lately I haven’t been writing much about Ruby. The reason is that I wasn’t sure about how well he was so we rarely trained. Ruby has been getting sore muscles in his back without any obvious cause (though it could be due to protecting that rear toe that he sprained in October).
I massaged him, gave him warm compresses and arnica and was careful about the kind of exercise he got. It got better for a while, but then his back would get stiff again, so his activity was on and off, on and off. Last week I realized that obviously what I’m doing wasn’t going to fix the problem, so we scheduled an appointment with canine physiotherapist.
Had an extra short session of running contacts with Java. 5 perfect hits in 5 trials.
I train running contacts using Silvia Trkman’s method which is in a nutshell “make the dog run full speed over a plank on the ground, gradually angle it more and more and mark when dog hits the contact”.
When training RC with Ruby there was no special class for it. Every two weeks we would go to LoLaBu Land for our Agility Foundations lesson and I would pester Silvia with questions about RC. We trained them at home and it seems like I made every possible mistake.
I thought that for sure before we can start focusing on hitting the contact the dog should know that he needs to run over the plank. At first I tried to keep him on by clicking for walking on it, then I put thin poles at the end of the plank to make it a bit more obvious. My plank was of the same width as dog walk (30cm) and the sand on it (to prevent skidding) was actually small pebbles. Ruby did not like the feeling of those pebbles under his feet so keeping him on the plank was quite a project. This is one of our early sessions:
As you can see he was quite bouncy and I spent all my energy on keeping him on the plank instead of getting him to run fast. I was even clicking his bounces because I didn’t see them from my vantage point… I only saw them on video. So for a whole month I was teaching him how to leap instead of how to run.
Compare this to Java’s training. This is her second session:
She is running on a carpet that is 1m wide – that is 3x the width of Ruby’s plank. I was using a carpet because I wanted to minimize the risk that she would be leaping to get off the plank. As you can see she prefers to run on grass, but we handle this in a way that still allows her to run fast and it’s not a big problem because running on a carpet is not that different from running on the grass.
We did a few sessions on the carpet and Java was not leaping at all. Ever. Just happy, fast runs. So now came the time when we should transfer this to a plank, but I wanted to have a GREAT plank for learning RC. A plank that would be 50cm wide so she would feel she has enough space that she won’t fall off, 4m long so that she can fit in two strides and as thin as possible so that she won’t hurt her toes if she steps on the edge. Getting such a plank was quite a project so our RC training was put on hold.
When my SuperPlank was ready for a test Java ran beautifully. She tried running beside the plank a few times, but then we agreed on running on the plank and again there was no leaping, just fast running.
We did about five sessions on this setup, not because she would have problems, but to get many successful repetitions before I make things more difficult for her.
Today I raised the SuperPlank for the first time and Java didn’t even seem to notice! Sure it was a small raise (about 7cm), but I just can’t believe how EASY it is to train running contacts with the right equipment and with the right training mechanics (though my ball throwing skills still have a lot to be desired)! In fact it’s so easy that I was wondering whether I should blog about training RC at all. I just expect it to work and it does. Magic.
Silvia has a wonderful DVD that details all aspects of her method including turns after dog walk / A frame that you can get here. You can also enroll in her online class on running contacts at LoLaBuLand site.
In a recent post on weave entrance training I described how I teach from 0 to 90 degree entrances (from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock on image below) in my living room.
I must admit that I have slacked in training weaves lately as there were other behaviors that were more important to me and we have limited training time. Our weave channel had 12 poles, was 20cm wide and we were working on mild distractions such as me stopping or turning in the other direction while she is running through. I thought I would add this post even though we haven’t done that much in terms of the points below. I plan to make a video once we start training weaves again.
Transferring knowledge to new equipment
If you did initial training on different equipment than your regular channel, spend a couple sessions building entrances on new equipment. I like to start with 4-6 poles in a 50cm wide channel so that the dog gets rewarded soon after the entrance. With Ruby and Java I got to 45-degree entrances in the first session and to 90-degree entrances in the second.
After that I quickly add two poles at a time to get to 12 and start closing the channel so that the dog needs to work more to stay in the channel after entrances.
Closing the channel
Difficulty of entrances increases when the channel gets more narrow. The dog might start coming out of the side of the channel. The solution is to move the two rows closer together slowly while practicing other stuff (distractions and distance) at all angles.
The last few centimeters of closing can take quite a while because the dog is developing muscle memory for weaving and in the end also learning that a straight line of poles is in essence the same as the channel, which is quite an “a-ha” moment for some dogs.
Up until now I wasn’t concerned with distance from the weaves too much, but at some point this needs to be addressed, too. I try to add a little distance during each new session while working on other things. Distance can make entrances quite a bit harder because as you restrain the dog you might think he’s pulling in the correct entrance even when he’s not. Also the added speed might mean that they will not turn sharply enough when entering the weaves. A miss here and there is not a problem, but if that happens a few times in a row the dog can pattern to enter incorrectly, so it’s better to make it easier or take a break than to repeat mistakes.
Up until now I have only regularly practiced up to 90-degree entrances as I was catching up on closing the channel and distance, even though Java was doing up to 180 degrees in the living room. I didn’t want her to practice those too much because at 50cm width she saw a very different visual pattern from what she will see on closed weaves. As I am closing the channel it’s time to reintroduce tougher entrances which are now doubly challenging: the dog must know which pole to wrap and needs to wrap it fairly tightly to stay in the channel.
The most important distraction to work on is handler’s movement: staying still, running with the dog, accelerating and decelerating, moving laterally away from the weaves, running backwards, falling, rear crossing before weaves, blind crossing and front crossing after the weaves etc. Then there are other distractions like throwing toys and treats while the dog is weaving. Silvia recommends to start working on distractions as soon as possible while teaching entrances and closing the weaves.