Posts Tagged With: agility foundations

Training For Attitude

After a short bout of winter temperatures and frozen ground we have warm weather again so we used it for some agility training. And again I’m incredibly proud of my Java. Possibly too proud of her, like a parent who is proud that her toddler has learned how to walk – as if that was a special accomplishment and not something all healthy children learn in due time. But hey, it feels good to be proud of her so you’re stuck with this post 🙂

As you know we started working on Java’s teeter. We don’t train it much (usually just a few reps before we run a sequence), but at least now I remember to do it. I was avoiding it because I wasn’t confident that I can keep her confidence (screwed up, huh?) and kept postponing teeter work. But enough is enough, avoiding teeter isn’t going to help Java’s confidence either, so we dived in. I am happy to report that I have failed to scare Java so far! 🙂 Continue reading

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Awesomesauce

Thank goodness for videos! I just went through videos of Java’s training over the last ten days, thinking we haven’t really done much as we have been just mucking around with this and that. Ha! Who did all these awesome things then? Continue reading

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What Java Learned In Agility Foundations

Silvia’s Agility Foundations class was a lot of fun and as expected we have learned a lot. Java learned to love agility and I learned a lot about Java along the way. I hope my review two days ago didn’t come across as negative because I love Agility Foundations and would take it again in a heartbeat. It just seemed some people had wrong expectations about it.

As I knew this was going to be a fast paced class I planned to start basic training a couple of months earlier. I knew Java needed time to get really comfortable with curved tunnels and I didn’t want to push that. Oh she loved straight tunnels, she just wasn’t sure about curved ones. Also restrains were not her favorite thing and wraps take a while to build properly so we had our work cut out for us.
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Silvia Trkman’s Agility Foundations Class Review

Unrelated, but cute

Unrelated, but cute

I wrote a longish post about our experience with Silvia Trkman’s Agility Foundations class, but then figured it would be easier to read if I split it into two parts as I was really writing about two things. Today you can read a review of the class and next time I’ll tell you a bit about what we learned in it.

For those who don’t know, Silvia Trkman is a two-time FCI World Agility Champion and currently competes with four very successful dogs, so she obviously knows what she is doing when it comes to training dogs for agility. Agility Foundations is her online class which you attend by getting homework (instructions + video) and then sending in videos of your progress every week so Silvia can give you feedback. There are two ways to attend: Participant (sends videos and asks questions) and Auditor (can ask questions and see other people’s videos, but can’t post their own videos). This class is offered twice a year and lasts 4 months.
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Sequence From Agility Foundations Homework 3

Homework 2 sequence

Homework 2 sequence

Even though it might seem like all Java does these days is run down a plank, we have actually been doing a little bit of sequencing as well. I tried to build up to Agility Foundations homework 2 sequence on the left, but it’s all wraps and more wraps… and occasional tunnel. Not a great fit for Java right now. She needs more action 🙂
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Just Another Training Day

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!

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Weave Entrances On The Full Set

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.

Adding distance
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.

More entrances
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.

Distractions!
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.

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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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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 🙂

Weaves

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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Wraps And Tunnels

I love love love training agility with two dogs! Ruby and Java are both doing the same basic exercises at the moment, Java because she is still learning and Ruby as a conditioning exercise to develop muscles. We’re not doing any jumping yet so these are just muscles involved in acceleration/deceleration and turning.

I am very happy to see that Ruby remembers to collect for wraps and can also extend comfortably when the exercise calls for it. My plan is to go through all the Agility Foundation exercises and start jumping him on low height once his shoulder muscles are better able to absorb the impact. We will also do some Hit The Ground Running exercises to build jumping skills.

Also very proud of little Java for picking up speed in the last two training sessions. 🙂 I really like her 180 degree single wraps, and she seems to enjoy doing little sequences of wrap-tunnel-wraps. Now it’s just a matter of building more distance and commitment so I can handle the sequence properly and tighten those wraps.

We are having so much fun and I’m looking forward to running them on little sequences without jump bars so I can focus on handling and basic skills. Right now focusing on details feels like the right thing to do and makes me happy. I’m sure that will change after a while, so I’m enjoying the feeling while it lasts. You can never go wrong by investing in basics 🙂

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Agility Training At Full Speed

When doing Silvia Trkman’s Agility Foundation exercises with Java I am very particular about what kind of attitude I want to see and what kind of speed. I want her to learn early on the basic ingredients of a good agility run and am willing to postpone other training until I get them.

The ingredients are:

Focus
Of course, to train we first need dog’s focus. But there’s more to it than that in agility. The course requires the dog to switch from obstacle focus (looking at the obstacle, being drawn to the obstacle) to handler focus (looking at handler, passing obstacles in favor of handler) and back. Knowing how to do both and switching at the right times is what makes the run look smooth and flowing.

Sends
If the dog won’t send to an obstacle it befalls on the handler to take him all the way there, which means considerably more running for the human part of the team and less speed for the dog since he has to wait for the slow human legs to get there. Sometimes the dog will turn into the handler, barking and jumping so by the time they will get to the next obstacle the dog will miss it.

Java is getting better with sends to tunnels:

Commitment
If I can send the dog to an obstacle far away I should also be able to start moving to the next obstacle while letting the dog complete the one I sent him to. Without this, sends are of limited use since I will have to wait for the dog to take the obstacle before I can move again.

Speed
I want to do all training at similar speed as the dog will have in the end so that I can start solving all the problems that come with that speed early on. It’s easy to neglect training sends and commitment if the dog is running slow enough so I can be at every obstacle at the right time. Ruby taught me this lesson and I can’t wait to see if I learned it well enough 🙂

Speed changes many exercises in agility, but most of all wraps and running contacts. If doing RC training it is imperative to start with full speed. Java thinks that’s a great idea 🙂

Tightness of wraps
Tight turns are easy when the dog is coming to the jump with little speed and I’m right there to handle it, but things will fall apart when I need to send and the dog is coming with lots of speed. This is the major reason why I want to start with speed. There is no point in training wraps at half speed.

I can regulate how difficult or easy I make a wrap for Java by changing the distance from which I start her:

Even though Silvia has posted the first two sequences in Agility Foundations classroom already three weeks ago we haven’t tried them yet because I think we have more work to do on basics. First we had to work on drive for curved tunnels (done!) and now we’re working on tightness of 180-degree wraps (getting there). As much as I would love to just go and do it I know patience will pay off. Soon! 🙂

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Ruby’s Sprained Toe Recovery

As you know Ruby sprained a toe in October 2012. Despite rest and icing the toe just didn’t get better. Every time I let him run free (or even just let him play with Java in the apartment) he hurt the toe again.
Finally a friend recommended a vet who might be able to help us. He didn’t make any promises, but said we could try injecting Hyaluronic acid directly into joint.

This is an account of his recovery in case anyone needs it for reference (feel free to skip to the next paragraph):
Ruby got injections on February 20th, February 27th and March 6th. The vet said that we will see full benefits a week later, on March 13th. After that date we started going for longer leashed walks and I let him play inside without restrictions. Two weeks later I started letting him run a bit on 5m Flexi lead. I gave him a toy and he ran circles around me 🙂 Three weeks after that I let him run free occasionally and also threw toys for him sometimes.

For the last three weeks Ruby has been fetching toys on walks and has stayed sound so I decided he could do a little bit of Java’s Agility Foundations stuff. He loved it, of course 🙂 It’s a great way to get him back into agility after such a long hiatus and build some distance & commitment skills along the way.

There are so many emotions welling up as I think of all the things he will be able to do again… Stay sound, my brindle boy.

Follow your heart
Let your love lead through the darkness
Back to the place you once knew
I believe, I believe, I believe in you

Follow your dreams
Be yourself; an angel of kindness
There’s nothing that you cannot do
I believe, I believe, I believe in you

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Agility Foundations Homework

The class has finally begun! Unfortunately Java has injured the skin on her paws while running after balls. I think the ground is too rough at the moment as there is not much grass and her skin is not used to it. We won’t be training for a week while her skin heals, but here is what we did so far:

  • 2on2off: we progressed to the point when I can throw the treat ahead and she will stop in position (well, mostly… and sometimes she will get slow while watching the treat – who said stickiness is for BCs only 🙂 )
  • Multiwraps: she is quite tight and focusing on the cone much better than before.
  • Figure 8: I asked for more than she could do, then I tried correcting it with multiwraps, then she got slower 😦 But that first try had lovely speed! Need to have a better plan prepared for next time.
  • Single wrap sends: I used a bottle on a string so that I wouldn’t use thrown toys all the time and she didn’t drive into the turn quite as well, but turns were nice and tight.
  • Weaves: within a few repetitions she was running ahead into nothing and recalling through 🙂 Too bad we’ll have to stop using tennis balls for a while.
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Silvia Trkman’s Agility Foundations Class

I have just enrolled Java in Agility Foundations class! I can’t tell you how excited I am!!! Well, perhaps you can tell 😉

I love Silvia’s method of teaching agility because it emphasizes running fast and having fun (not to mention that she is very successful with it). What more could one want out of a sport where a human and a dog run as a team?

My crazy boy exiting the dog walk... Oh how I miss those days...

My crazy boy exiting the dog walk… Oh how I miss those days…

I also love that she got around to making a companion DVD, called Foundations Fun. You can order it even if you’re not participating in the course. If you don’t know her methods yet and feel that 200 EUR for a class is too big a commitment then those 50 EUR for a DVD will be well spent. (Java is watching it intently and softly whining – I think she wants in on the action!)

When I first went to Silvia’s Agility Foundations class with Ruby I didn’t care about how soon we are going to be able to run mini courses. Just doing a single piece of equipment was a very exciting prospect. But now that I got hooked and haven’t been able to run agility in such a long time I am extra happy that Silvia’s method encourages handlers to run their dogs on small courses almost from the start. I will get my fix soon! Very soon 🙂

Truth be told I tried to get some today, but shockingly someone forgot to teach Java to look for a jump when she comes out of a tunnel 😉 I should set up a tunnel course, that would be fun!

Ruby’s action photo was taken by Janja Erjavec.

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