Posts Tagged With: agility

Are Dogs Who Love To Train Born That Way?

Many people see my dogs perform tricks or see a video of them running agility and assume that they were just born that way. (My coworkers are convinced that whippets must be one of the smartest and most trainable breeds around.) That they were born loving tunnels, that they were born knowing how to focus on me and do tricks while there are a gazillion other tempting options around: other dogs and people, ground to sniff, birds to catch. They think their dogs could never do it because they are not like mine.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say “we tried agility one time, but she just didn’t like it”. Really? You tried one session and already concluded your dog doesn’t like it because she doesn’t run through tunnels when you ask her to?

Agility is something that dogs learn to love if you do it right. Sure, some dogs love obstacles from the get go, but not all of them. Most dogs start out liking some obstacles, but they only start liking the others once we build value for them. That means we find ways to make it lots of fun for the dog.

But not all humans want to do agility and that’s fine. Back to reasons why people think their dog wouldn’t like training. They say he doesn’t like to play so much or he takes the toy and runs away or he just can’t focus around other dogs or he doesn’t care about treats. Guess what? Ruby had all those problems (and then some). He loves training now.

My dogs like training so much because I take the time to observe what toys and treats they like, and what type of play. Imagine a special someone would observe your preferences for months so that they could arrange a perfect date for you, cooking the favorite meal for you, taking you to all the places and doing all the activities that you love the most… Would you be impressed? My dogs are, too.

Training in this way is not a duty for a dog, it’s a joy and a privilege. Something that they look forward to and they are disappointed when I don’t have the time to do it. I have never forced or begged my dogs to do agility. During first agility sessions my dog might work for 2 minutes and then have a break for 15 minutes or more. If they’re not interested in working, they don’t have to. Another dog will get their turn. Soon, they find out that I will not beg for their attention and that if they’re not ready when I am, they will loose the opportunity to have fun. However, if they do give me their attention, all their favorite treats, toys and games will rain from the sky and life will be AWESOME. We will go on that special date. Thus training becomes a privilege, not a chore.

Of course to prepare a perfect reward for my dog I have to do my homework before I ever show him agility equipment. I train tricks to see how he likes to learn, what treats he likes and what gets him excited during training sessions. I play with him several times per day. My favorite time to play is on a walk and just after the dog has come inside, which means that as I’m doing my homework we play at least four times per day. I teach him some toy games, such as tugging, Two Toy Game and retrieve. Now that we have some activities that my dogs loves to do with me we are ready to take that training in public, among other dogs.

I don’t start training agility until I know I have some reward that my dog will go ga-ga over. For many dogs that reward must be built through time, so the dog might start out just mildly interested in play, but as we play more and I learn to play better, it will become a better and better reward. So don’t worry if your dog isn’t already crazy about something. Just take what he likes the most and do short, fun session with it. Even treats can become more rewarding with time if used correctly.

After my homework is done we can start with agility, with no obligation for the dog to participate – but of course now they WANT to, because I know what makes them tick.

This is Aki. He likes jumps, absolutely loves the dog walk even though it’s narrow and high, but he says there is something sinister about those tunnels. And yet, from this video you would never guess it, because his owner took the time to bring out his playful side and to find the toy that is worth going through the tunnel for.

Does Aki love tunnels now? Not yet, but with patience and keeping it fun… he will 🙂

This is a wonderful read as well: http://stacywinklerblog.com/2014/11/02/take-a-good-look-in-the-mirror/

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Don’t Succeed In Spite Of Problems – Succeed Because Of Them!

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
– Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, 121 AD – 180 AD

I used to equate success with winning, but these days when I think about my personal success in agility I think of leading the hurricane that is Ruby over a course and not fear for his life. I think of Java learning to do her contacts. I think of the little things, which means I look forward to little things and am incredibly happy when those little things happen. I am not in competition with anyone and this brings me peace.

Success is a happy agility partner (c) Janja Erjavec

Success is a happy agility partner (c) Janja Erjavec


But even in my peaceful little world where there is no competition and only rainbows and unicorns there is Failure. You know, when you have tried oh so many ways to get your dog excited about working with you, but they look like the butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth. Or you are sure your handling was clear, but your dog still ran right past that jump. Or you have spent months and months training running contacts, working through numerous setbacks, only to realize that your dog is a maniac and there is no way running over a dog walk is ever going to be safe for him. No matter what your definition of Success is, Failure is always at the other end of the stick.

The other day I came across this little gem and was surprised by the difference between how entrepreneurs tend to look at failure and how the rest of us do:

Question: A lot of hardware companies have failed at manufacturing. How do you plan to succeed?

Grace Choi: I have failed a lot of times before. This isn’t my first rodeo. I’m a serial inventor and have been through the manufacturing ring before. I know all the pitfalls. We might fail at some things, but we just need to make sure we don’t fail where it counts.
(from http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/05/mink-is-a-3d-printer-for-makeup/)

Grace Choi has failed many times before and she wears that like a crown. She knows the reasons she has failed, and is not afraid to take another chance. She has learned from past attempts and because of this she is now in a better position to succeed.

What a freeing perspective, to regard failure not as something that is blocking you from success or as something that predicts more failure in the future, but as the very reason why you are going to succeed!

How would we look at our training or competition challenges if we had this mindset? Would we try more things? Would we have more fun? Would we ultimately succeed more? Food for thought.

This blog post is a part of Dog Agility Blog Events. You can see all the other blog posts on Success here: http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/success/

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Rally Obedience, Lure Coursing, Conditioning And Agility – Whew, We’ve Been Busy

Ruby... ready to go!

Ruby… ready to go!

Ruby started his Rally Obedience class last week and really showed off for the instructor. He kept his excitement up for the whole hour without me lifting a finger for it except for releasing him every few minutes so his brain got a break. I wasn’t even using toys, just food. Why do I never get such excitement for work when we’re practicing alone?

Really nice precision in heeling, matching my pace from slow to running and back and following direction of movement, without crowding that I usually see in agility. Backing around me – no problem, changing positions – no problem. Ignoring distractions like a pro. Lovely sends to the table even though he has never done that before. Down stay on the table was iffy – his elbows came up, anticipating recall to heel. In short, he loved Rally Obedience. It did help that we were doing all this around agility equipment. Maybe he thought this was just a long agility warmup 😉 I hope he will keep the attitude even after he figures out that this isn’t agility!

Speaking of warmups they have changed quite a bit since we started K9 Conditioning class. In addition to 15 minutes of walking and some tricks we now do a series of exercises to warm up the joints – even toes! I don’t yet know how much they’re helping, but this week Ruby had first two agility trainings after a month and he looked great in the evening, wasn’t sore at all. Of course I made sure that these trainings were easier on his body after such a long time off, but maybe also the new warmup and cooldown routines helped some. Continue reading

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Whippets on AKC Nationals

Very interesting stuff is happening in the USA right now. AKC is holding their National Agility Championship, so teams from all over USA (and Canada) who gathered enough points throughout the year are competing in one huge competition. To give you an idea of the size, there are 6 size divisions and in the biggest one (20″ height) there are 443 dogs competing. There are 8 whippets running, one in 16″ division, five in 20″ division and two in 24″ division.

Competitors run three to five rounds (there is one optional Time 2 Beat round and an extra Challengers round), then the top 7% of teams get a spot on the Finals. So here’s the reason why I’m explaining all this: 32 teams from the 20″ class are going to the Final Round. First there are 20 border collies. Then on #21 there’s a whippet! What are the odds, right? But wait, there is ANOTHER whippet on #23! Out of 443 dogs. Pretty. Freaking. Awesome!

Congratulations to Louise Hoelscher with Frisco and Mary Hope Schoenfeld with Shela for nerves of steel and great runs! We are eagerly awaiting results for the other height divisions and of course the Finals!

I’m so proud of Louise and Mary! No matter what happens tomorrow they have shown that whippets do have the ability to hold their own against more popular agility breeds and I think we will see more and more evidence of this every year.

EDIT: I posted it on Facebook, but forgot to post it here as well: Louise with Frisco ended up #12 in the Finals and Mary with Shela was #27. HUGE congratulations to both of them!!! So awesome to have two whippets in the finals. It was very inspiring to see a lineup of 13 border collies and one WHIPPET among the first 14!
AKC2014_Nationals_20in

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Warning, Warning: Early Takeoff Sighted

I noticed that since our winter break Java has started taking off a little earlier and landing closer after the bar, both on straight lines and for cik&cap. This raised a red flag and I’ve been wondering what caused her to jump this way. I already have one dog that takes off too early and would prefer not to have another one.

In the past I have been told that a certain exercise by Linda Mecklenburg encourages dogs to only focus on their landing spot, not take-off spot and thus could lead to taking off early when in fact the dog should add a stride before a jump. We have been doing that exercise all fall and Java continued jumping beautifully. Then after not doing the exercise for two months we got this. Huh?
Continue reading

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Training In The Sand

Yesterday I took Java to train in a new location – first time running on sand and in a covered arena with its tarp flapping in the wind and LOUD dogs (and she said she was not going to be outdone in the barking aspect 😉 ) So yeah, great generalization/distraction experience for her. I was pleasantly surprised that she not even once thought about doing zoomies on that sand. Well, she IS really good about not doing zoomies in training, but I thought sand would be a bit more tempting. Or at least she would be a little spaced out because she’s in heat. Nope, 100% focused on the job at hand. Love this girl 🙂
Continue reading

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Be Careful What You Wish For…

I have mentioned before that I didn’t do certain parts of Silvia’s Agility Foundations program with Java because too many wraps slowed her down. But her wraps out of speed were beautiful, so hey, it’s not like she didn’t know how to do it 🙂 I decided to wait until she matures a bit more before introducing more twisty turny courses. Now our winter break from agility got a lot longer due to that pesky thing called life interfering and we know that long breaks from agility often make dogs faster. I was not prepared for this. The girl was on fire! We did a sequence full of wraps and she maintained her speed throughout. She seemed as fast as Ruby. Continue reading

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Training Your Whippet In Agility – Part 2

I often wish there were more whippets playing agility. Why, you ask? It’s quite selfish, you see. 🙂 I like to watch them do a great job on equipment. The more whippets train in agility, the more great whippets we’ll see in competition and the more we will understand about the best way of training this wonderful breed.

Today’s post is a continuation of Training Your Whippet In Agility. Enjoy 🙂 Continue reading

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Training Your Whippet In Agility

From time to time I get an email asking how to start a whippet in agility. I always answer the best I can, but I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if they could get an answer not just from me, but from several different trainers”? So I asked a few friends to help me out and they wrote down what they think are the most important things a newbie should know and whether they think that training a whippet is different than training other (non-sighthound) breeds. Today is part 1. Enjoy 🙂 Continue reading

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Looking For Competition Zen… Have You Seen It?

When I competed with Ruby I dreaded those wide open courses in A1 (novice) level because he was very handler-focused, but had no intention of slowing down just because I was slow. Instead if I was late he would turn into me and at that point there was basically no way to get him focused on the next obstacle before getting a fault. I knew he needed more independence, but I thought I had a good reason not to train it: I was afraid that with his length of stride and over-the-top attitude he would become very difficult to turn so what would work for us in A1 would work against us in A2.

So I put this pressure on myself that I must get three clean runs in A1 as soon as humanly possible so that we can move up to A2 Continue reading

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Winter Is Coming

I love this winter! If every winter would be like this – dry, not really freezing, and sunny – I wouldn’t mind at all. Sure, the real cold is still coming, but I’m enjoying what we have right now. Plus, the shortest day of the year is almost here and then the days will start growing longer again. What’s not to like 🙂 Continue reading

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What We Trained This Week

Here are some of the things we trained in agility:

I can’t believe that Java can do short sequences so well! When did she learn that? 🙂

We went back to the ground zero with running contacts and we’re now adding height again. The good thing is she decided the contact zone isn’t going to eat her! Wooohooo!

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Agility Ruby :)

I have been asked whether Ruby does any agility these days. Well yes, he does 🙂

During the summer he looked mostly OK, but there were a few times when his back got tight after activity. Each time I made an appointment with physiotherapist, and he was good for another two weeks, then he got tight again. One month ago I took him to a chiropractor to see if he could find the source of this issue. I was amazed when Continue reading

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Cik & Cap On Verbal Cue

I can’t believe what just happened. And of course I have no video 😦

The dogs were restless so I decided to train a little to tire their brains and help them settle down (probably not a good idea if you have a working breed, but with whippets it works just fine 🙂 ).

For Ruby the exercise was cik & cap around a cone on verbal only, no help with body or arm cues. Not that this is important to me… the main reason he can’t tell cik from cap is that he has a handler that shouts out the first word that comes to her mind, and it’s usually the wrong one 😉 I thought it would be a good exercise to make him think. Continue reading

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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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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 🙂

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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Training Weave Entrances

Silvia Trkman teaches weaves using the “weave channel” method, which means you put a line of 6 poles on the left and a line of 6 poles on the right then send the dog through. With time you close the gap between lines until you get a set of 12 straight weave poles and the dog is still going through. There are of course other ways to teach the dog weave: 2×2 weaves, putting guide wires on the weave poles, weave-o-matic etc.

I taught Ruby to weave using the channel method and I really liked the result – a very happy and fast weave performance. Weaves are one of Ruby’s favorite obstacles, because in his head he is still just running straight through after a ball 😉

A very happy weaver

A very happy weaver

However, teaching the dog how to move through weaves is only a part of the process. Another important part is training the dog how to recognize and perform the entrance independently. This is where Silvia’s method didn’t work so well for me, so I researched the matter and came up with my own hybrid of methods that worked really well for Ruby and is working even better for Java. 🙂

I teach it in my living room using just 4 free standing “poles”. After just three sessions working on each side Java was nailing 60 degree entrances. Shortly after that she could do 90 degree entrances. I couldn’t believe we were able to progress this fast after trying Silvia’s instructions and not getting anywhere.

This image shows 45-degree entrances (blue line), 90-degree entrances (purple) and 180-degree entrances (red) – yep, Java can do those, too! 60-degree entrance would be starting the dog at number 8 (on the left) or 4 (on the right).

Weaves

Are you interested in finding out the details? Drop me a comment (or email).

This is Java’s second session transferring the knowledge from the living room to the club’s weave channel (which looks a LOT different from my homemade poles). It’s the entire session, including mistakes. What a smart girl! I’m so proud of her 🙂

EDIT:
The follow-up post describing the beginning of weave entrance training:
Weave Entrances On Four Poles

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Two Crazy Dogs

I’m so proud of little Java 🙂 She is determined to catch up on everything she has been missing out during this long, snowy winter.

This is a part of training we did yesterday:

What I like about this video:

  • She gets so excited about the two toy game, doesn’t matter what toys I have! I wanted to challenge her a bit by choosing two toys of unequal value – ball on a rope which she likes and ring on a rope which before this session she didn’t even recognize as a toy.
  • She switched from toys to food and back to toys without any problems. We have been working on this since the day she came home and it has paid off!
  • She continues to bop my hand even though I pretend I’m going to deliver food with the other hand.
  • She followed my body really nicely when I turned for 180 degrees (called “post turn” in agility or “follow the RZ in Recallers course)

We also did some restrained recalls with dogs barking less than 5m away and she was completely focused on me! In the past I would have used food in such situation, but yesterday I chose to play two toy game instead and I think she was more focused than she would have been with food. Toys are winning!

Today we went to play on agility equipment.

Java did some lightning fast jump wraps (Cik&Cap):

Then we played a tunnel game that I found on Silvia Trkman’s Foundations Fun DVD. Java looooooved it!

Ruby had an exciting day as well though not in the way I hoped. I took him to a really nice, wild place where he could romp around on a flexi (a luxury he didn’t get in months). I got him out of the car, taped his toes in case he would start runing, put his coat on. He was excited and I had to repeatedly ask him to calm down since I don’t want him to run just yet. Two minutes later he decided to jump over a stream, but flexi wasn’t long enough and he fell in the icy water. Huh, it seems I have forgotten what a crazy dog I have and not to let him near water in the winter because he always manages to fall in. So I took him back home to dry in the comfort of his crate…

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Number Eight Around Jump Wings

Since the weathermen predict all sorts of nasty weather in the future, we stopped by agility club again to sneak in another short session. Unfortunately the snow was a bit slippery today so we only did a few repetitions for the camera and then went for a walk.

This is the same exercise we did yesterday, figure eight around jump wings:

Only today it was a bit slower due to snow conditions. Still a lot of fun, though 🙂

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How I Fell In Love With Agility – Bonus Chapter

By now I was already in love with agility, so technically speaking this post is not part of the series, but I thought it would be good to document the rest of Ruby’s story. So here it goes…

We didn’t do just running contacts for those eight months of course (though it often felt like that). Once in a blue moon we also did a sequence or two, some Cik&Cap training and weaves. Ruby started loving agility more than anything else and developed a strong working ethic. He happily repeated exercises over and over to the point that it was hard to tell when we did too much.

Whenever we arrived at agility club he was shaking with excitement. Sometimes we had to burn this adrenaline with other exercises before doing any dogwalks because he was shaking so much that he would fall off. There was a period when he was absolutely unable to think around equipment, but since if he didn’t think he didn’t get to play, he eventually learned to think while overaroused. Or at least pretend he was thinking.

We had a great connection on agility field, but not so much during normal life. I decided it’s time to do something about his unreliable recall and signed him up for Susan Garrett’s Recallers course. We were working diligently and started getting some really good results. And then an accident happened. The boyfriend took Ruby for a walk and let him loose even though we supposedly agreed to keep him leashed. (Well, I suspected that he is letting him off leash, but had no way of proving it until that day.)

Ruby chased another dog and ran right into the oncoming car, then slid between front tires and his harness got stuck underneath the car. Luckily the driver saw him and was breaking, so the impact was not so great and since he got stuck he couldn’t run away in panic. He only required a few stitches on his forehead, but was in shock for two days. Afterwards he didn’t seem to remember that he was hit by a car, because he wasn’t afraid of them. Instead, he became suspicious of many, many things, but particularly afraid of dogs, presumably because that’s what he last remembered before getting hit.

This is the story of our recall:

Next few months were dedicated to getting Ruby comfortable around other dogs again. Like most things with Ruby this was quite challenging in everyday life, but easy near agility equipment, so we were able to continue training. This is one of our trainings just before the first trial. A very raw video, with mistakes and all and no music, so you can hear Ruby barking when he’s running 🙂 Skip to 0:37 (there’s RC training in the beginning). Video ends with another session of RC because he had problems with DW-tunnel combinations.

I signed us up for our first trial in August 2011, not because we were ready, but because I couldn’t wait any longer 🙂 It’s a good thing that this was a two-day trial so we got to run 4 times, otherwise all I would remember from that first competition would be Ruby clinging to me and running past jumps.

When our 4th run came around we had to go to the startline right past a spectator relaxing in the grass. Ruby usually alarm barked at people lying on the ground (well, who wouldn’t find THAT suspicious? 🙂 ) and I was thinking this run he is going to be even more clingy than on the previous runs or perhaps unable to run altogether. Well, he did break the startline, but then he was running like crazy!

That fall we went to a few more trials, me trying to shake my trial nerves and Ruby developing confidence to take obstacles away from me. However two times after comming back home from a trial he looked unsound for a few minutes, so I set out to investigate what was the matter. The two orthopeadists I took him to couldn’t agree on which shoulder was the tender one, but they both thought the issue might be bicipital tenosynovitis while a physiotherapist thought it was due to muscle tension.

I gave him two months of complete rest with some physiotherapy sessions and a gradual return to exercise. However, this second part was easier said than done. Ruby’s fears from the car accident came back with a vengeance. Without lots of exercise to release his tension he could not cope with walks and without coping with walks he could not get his exercise. He would freak out at normal sights, like a bag on the floor, a family enjoying nature or seeing our car from an unexpected angle. Not to mention dogs, though we were mostly able to avoid those. The BAT method from Grisha Steward helped a lot, but our progress was slow.

As soon as we progressed to the point where I could let him run free in a fenced area we started doing short agility exercises. It’s amazing how with even a little agility his problems started resolving much faster (and no, playing without equipment doesn’t have the same effect). Soon I was able to do it with other dogs present and then dogs on walks weren’t such a huge problem anymore.

I was determined to build up his fitness gradually and to not do any real agility until I would be confident that his shoulders can take it. Seven months after our ordeal started, when I was just about ready to let him do some agility, he badly bruised a shoulder while fetching a ball. After that healed we did a couple of easy agility trainings (no jumping or weaving) and then he slipped while running in the woods, pulling a muscle. Small injuries like this continued for the rest of 2012, most recently a sprained toe (and torn webbing) that just cannot seem to get well. He has been confined to leashed walks and at times complete rest since October. 😦

Here’s to the end of 2012 and to beginning of 2013, hopefully an injury-free year for my brindle boy!

Previous post: How I Fell In Love With Agility – Part 3

This is the last post from the “How I Fell In Love With Agility” series. Ruby finally started running agility courses again in September 2013: Agility Ruby

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How I Fell In Love With Agility – Part 3

As luck would have it Silvia Trkman opened LoLaBu Land 40km away and we signed up for Agility Foundations class. It was only scheduled once every two weeks, but I figured that’s fine, we’ll take it slow.

Even though we have improved by leaps and bounds since discovering frisbees we still had a few itty bitty problems:
– Couldn’t work off leash around other dogs (unless playing frisbee)
– Doing more than one behavior per reward was really hard (sequencing, anyone?)
– No access to agility equipment (except once every 14 days at LoLaBuLand)
– No access to a fenced-in area

I initially taught Cik&Cap to Ruby as direction of circling around a chair in the living room and even under the best conditions he was painfully slow. When I first used frisbees with Ciks and Caps and he went at a canter instead of a trot I thought he was lightning fast! It’s a good thing I was too excited to notice that in reality he was still quite slow.


Wheee! Cantering around boxes is so much faster than walking around chairs in the living room!

I thought every new thing he did was awesome. He did a figure eight? Wow! He went through a tunnel? Unbelievable! He did a Cik and THEN went through the tunnel? He’s a genius!
And weave poles: “It’s so magical! I just put a frisbee 1m after the channel, hold Ruby and say Where’s the frisbee?, then release him. Easy-peasy :)”

Oh, it took so little to make me happy those days 🙂

Every time I drove back from LoLaBu Land my heart was swelling with pride of my brindle boy who used to think that other dogs were the bestest thing ever invented and now found this agility gig more interesting than dogs. There were no fences at LoLaBu Land at the time so he was free to visit other dogs or go explore the countryside if he chose to.

One time he saw a cat and chased it into neighbour’s barn. Silvia’s comment was “And there goes Ruby…” He came back as soon as he made sure that the cat was secure and comfortable in its hiding spot 😛
But most of the time he chose to stick with me. Me! How did I ever get this lucky?

So with all that awesomeness I decided I could teach Ruby a running dog walk. Because that’s the logical thing to do when you’re a novice trainer with no throwing skills and a dog who most of the time acts like he never saw a clicker outdoors. And has no concept of training at full speed. And who still goes to check out other dogs while training. Which would be fine if you had a place to train with no other dogs present, but you don’t. And no access to equipment either.

I wasn’t really sure if whippets could be taught running contacts using Silvia’s method. Their running style looks a lot different from that of border collies and as far as I knew no whippet has been successfully taught with Silvia’s RC method. I knew of two whippets, Pan and Boing! who had running contacts, but were taught using a collection of methods, and Boing! was switched to stopped contacts eventually. Again, being the optimist that she is, Silvia didn’t try to dissuade me from trying.

I bought a plank, sand-painted it and couldn’t even wait until the paint was dry before testing it out. I took it to a small park between apartment buildings, with people, dogs, birds and occasional cat wandering around. Although Ruby had a lot of problems staying focused there, it proved to be a great environment because he practiced choosing playing with me over distractions many, many times over. I could always tell when one of the neighbour’s bitches were in heat because Ruby would get all brainless again, but with time he learned to work though those scents as well. (Fast forward a year later: he chose to leave a bitch in heat to play agility with me! Happydance!)


On the video above is our setup in a small park between apartment buildings.

The beginning videos of running contacts training are so painful to watch it hurts my eyes. I made every possible mistake in setting Ruby up. He was slow, bouncy and looked at me instead of focusing ahead. He avoided the plank if at all possible. I clicked him for jumping off the plank. I spent at least a month teaching poor fellow how to bounce on that plank before I found a way that made him run. I’m sure by then Silvia wasn’t feeling so optimistic anymore 🙂

Me? I was hooked. I thought that with just another training session or two I could get him to run consistently. Well, it took more than that, but I always had the feeling that success was just a session or two away. I recruited help from a second instructor (Daša Zakotnik) because I couldn’t see where Ruby’s paws hit and in the process gained access to dog walk and a fenced training area.

I thought I learned patience and perseverance during Ruby’s first year, but I had to upgrade it to 2.0 for running contacts. Still, after 8 long months we finally did it! When Ruby ran over the full-height dog walk for the first time – that was the most exhilarating feeling in the world. I was thinking about where to set him up when he ran over the dog walk all on his own and hit the contact. It was like magic 🙂

Previous post: How I Fell In Love With Agility – Part 2
Next post: How I Fell In Love With Agility – Bonus Chapter

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How I Fell In Love With Agility – Part 2

When Ruby turned eight months old I made this lofty goal: “to be able to work with him on loose leash with dogs 50m away, with ground to sniff, holes to dig, and birds to catch”. I didn’t write “off leash” – I could not imagine how I could motivate him enough to stay with me off leash when there were other dogs mere 50m away!

Over the winter we worked on building his desire to play with me outside and testing lots of little protocols, devised to keep him focused on me for short periods of time. He was intact and hitting the peak of adolescence so on some days he was brilliant, but most of the time he seemed to live in a sort of “brainless” state.

Jumping in cold sea in the winter

Jumping in cold sea in the winter


After one particularly embarrassing afternoon I wrote in my diary “It might be that Ruby is a really difficult dog. In that case I will learn a lot and it will make me a better trainer. Or perhaps I’m a really bad trainer. In that case I will also learn a lot and it will make me a better trainer.”
He spent more time in the air than on the ground

He spent more time in the air than on the ground


And two months later: “I am panicking. I’m thinking I don’t know how to train my dog and how could I get such a crazy dog to train. Doesn’t life KNOW I’m a novice at this?!” But I kept reading books, asking on forums and tweaking training protocols and Ruby kept getting better.

Around that time I discovered SHAgility group (can’t write that name without smiling :)) and agility sighthound blogs: One-Eyed Agility Supporter & Microfriend (crazy name, Penny!), Dog Blog! and Never Say Never Greyhounds where I got my weekly fix of sighthound awesomeness. Reading Clean Run and blogs made me feel like this agility thing could some day become a reality for us as well.
I pestered Frankie with my questions and she gave me some very useful pointers on keeping Ruby motivated, particularly when doing more than three repetitions in a row, which was a big problem for us.

Spring came and we were nowhere ready to join Agility class so we took a Disc Dog class to practice working around other dogs. Ruby was on 20m leash attached to a bungee attached to his harness, but I still felt uneasy when I threw that first frisbee. There was no need. Ruby was so hyped up from watching us practice throws earlier that he didn’t care about other dogs. All he could think about was how to hunt down a frisbee. It turned out that he was a natural talent… I, however, was not. 😀

In just a few sessions I got a frisbee maniac. I even took him to a 4fun match where he was being his usual obnoxious self until I pulled out that first frisbee. It was like someone turned a lightbulb on in his head – we didn’t come to play with dogs, we came to play with FRISBEES! Yeah, baby!

Catching a frisbee - click to enlarge!

Catching a frisbee – click to enlarge!


That summer as I was looking back at a year spent with Ruby I wrote in diary “We both had to work hard to build this relationship, because we didn’t have a natural affinity for each other. But a year later I am really grateful for him, for all that he is and for all that he will still become. I wouldn’t exchange him for any other puppy, no matter how obedient and bright. He taught me a lot more than a calmer & naturally obedient pup would. Now he is mine and I am his, without a question.”

We were finally ready for some agility!

To be continued… (and of course some more photos 🙂 )

Frolicking with pine cones

Frolicking with pine cones


He ran and ran and ran... all by himself

He ran and ran and ran… all by himself


Frisbee maniac

Frisbee maniac

All photos were taken by Mateja

Previous post: How I Fell In Love With Agility – Part 1
Next post: How I Fell In Love With Agility – Part 3

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How I Fell In Love With Agility – Part 1

Penny wrote a great post on the same topic. Penny, this one is for you 🙂

Holding 6 week old Ruby... ecstatic!

Holding 6 week old Ruby… ecstatic!


When I got Ruby I was not thinking of getting involved in any sports, dog or human. I was recovering from burnout and spent most of my day gathering the energy to get up, but somehow getting my first puppy at that time seemed like a smart idea. Whippets were supposed to be mellow fellows with modest exercise requirements and the boyfriend promised to help out as well.

I was looking forward to training the little guy, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity since my childhood. When researching the breed I found a piece of internet wisdom that went something like this: The good news is that whippets are the most trainable of the sighthounds. The bad news is that sighthounds are not very trainable. Ummm, ok, I better get educated then!

I promptly went to Amazon and bought Jane Killion’s book When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs. Then I looked for a puppy school that would have experience with “impossible dogs” and found Silvia Trkman. The first thing I read about her is that she went to agility world championships with her samoyed Aiken. I was beyond impressed! Agility looked waaaaay harder than obedience, and she did it with an “impossible breed”! I sent her an email asking if she has a spot left in her upcoming puppy class and in her optimistic style she wrote back that yes, we can join the group and that whippets are quick learners who love to work if they see work as a game. Well, I’m sure that after Aiken every dog seems easy to Silvia 😛

So we got this 8-week brindle pup and for the first three days he would not be still for even a second unless he was sleeping and even that was not for long. On the fourth evening he lay down on the sofa for the first time and we were wondering if he’s all right… he was too quiet so we were worried he got ill. As it turned out puppies are not supposed to run around every waking second, but we didn’t know that.

PuppyAttentionSpan

He didn’t care much for kibble, and would only eat it at home and only if really hungry. I tried feeding him all his food during training, but he wouldn’t even show that he heard the clicker if all I had was kibble. With time and since he never got food in his bowl he decided he could try working for kibble that was scented with salami over night. But if he got even a small amount of “good stuff” that day then kibble was not worth his time. And even if the conditions were perfect so he took the kibble he was not a fan of repetition. He would perform a behavior three times (and get rewarded each time), then just wander away looking for something else to do.

Cuteness that was Ruby

Cuteness that was Ruby


When we showed up for the first puppy class Ruby almost strangled himself on the leash from trying to get to other puppies. In the beginning I spent most of the time just standing on his leash, ignoring his whining and attempts to get other puppies to play and rewarding any and all attention he had to offer. It took us eight visits before he was able to focus on me more than on other dogs. But he was crazy about his bottle on the string and would play enthusiastically, so there was some hope for us.

Somehow I managed to teach Ruby some tricks and Silvia was very kind in making me feel like we were making fantastic progress. However, when not on school grounds Ruby could not focus at all. When Silvia asked us what we would like to do when the puppy class ends I sheepishly answered I would like to try agility. I reckoned she would be the only person who wouldn’t call me crazy if I said that out loud.

To be continued… (and some puppy photos for the end)

Pretending to be a good boy

Pretending to be a good boy

Inquisitive

Inquisitive

Puppy school: he was not always focused, but that boy could heel!

Puppy school: he was not always focused, but that boy could heel!

All photos were taken by Mateja

Next post: How I Fell In Love With Agility – Part 2

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Looking Back on 2012

2012 was a tough year. I knew Ruby’s first years have trained me in patience and perseverance, but I had no idea that my newfound skills would be used in this way. The 2012 was a year of injuries for Ruby. For the first half of the year his shoulder, then after he got back in form he had several silly injuries such as slipping on a branch and straining a muscle. And lastly a sprained toe and split webbing, which we’re still dealing with. Well, the good news of the year is that his shoulder seems to have healed very well and is doing great.

After every period of rest we increased activity very gradually so we only got to play agility a handful of times last year, but boy did we have fun when we did! His speed and enthusiasm always suprise me after we haven’t done agility for a while. I seem to forget just how fast he is and my reaction times get very poor 🙂 Ruby gets pumped up with adrenaline just watching other people walk the course. There is no doubt in his mind that he belongs there, running through tunnels, over jumps and dog walks…

In late spring of 2012 I started thinking about getting a second dog. I would have waited another year or two if it wasn’t for Ruby’s shoulder, but shoulder injuries are tricky and I wasn’t sure if he will be able to play agility again. I also wanted to focus on training another dog to stop obsessing so much about Ruby’s health.

I started looking for a border collie, because I wanted
a) a dog with suitable build for agility
b) a puppy who I will be able to trust off leash pretty soon
c) a dog who will not team up with Ruby for chasing rabbit and deer

I found planned mating that I liked. I talked to the breeder about visiting parents and made travel arrangements, reserved a hotel etc. And then I got myself a whippet puppy! Ha!

Even though it made perfect sense rationally to get a BC my heart wasn’t cooperating with my mind. When I stumbled upon a litter of whippets with all the health checks I wanted to see (but thought I would never find a breeder who would do them) and with a sire that competes in A3 (what are the odds???) I took that as a sign. I immediately looked up his videos and his enthusiasm for agility was obvious. Java’s pedigree

So even though I never met the parents and all I knew about them I found through email with their owners, I flew to Finland one August evening to pick up my Black Magic. She truly is a wonderful whippet. Always ready to work, willing to please, confident, loves people and has a nice, stable temperament with a dash of craziness. She is 6 months old and loving our agility games.

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