Thursday, March 24, 2011

See Saw Fly-Offs

Dog springs off see-saw long before it hits the ground,
an automatic disqualification.
Photos by Michael Loftis

This weekend in Mobile, I witnessed several see-saw fly-offs, and tonight teaching my first Intermediate Beginners class, I witnessed 3 fly-offs in a row as all 3 of my students (Jen, Jerry and Judy) sent their 20" dogs running full throttle thru a curved tunnel then over a full-height see-saw!  It was their dogs' first fast run to the see-saw, and they didn't reach the end when their dogs did. The fly-offs surprised the heck out of all of us!

Witnessing all this has confirmed for me, more than ever, that the 4-feet-on-the-down-contact behavior on the see-saw is a must. In fact, according to Susan Garrett, there should also be a nose touch as well.

Not only does a leaping dog land with a thud from 2-4 times their height and is often stunned on contact, and could easily sprain a leg, but I've also seen a tightly spring-loaded see-saw return upright and bang the airborn dog in the stomach or catch their back feet and flip them over.  An improperly performed see-saw can scare the dog from doing see-saws, and can be dangerous.

Low and behold, Michael Loftis, the photographer in attendance at the Mobile trial last weekend, caught a few of these fly-offs on camera.  What luck!  I've never seen pictures of this before.  Since I doubt any of the handlers will order these photos of "oops" moments, I asked Michael for permission to use these thumbnails for "editorial use", to illustrate a serious point. He graciously agreed.  As each of these photos show, the handler was not at the end of the board when the dog got there and was unable to put a treat down, or a hand out, as in training, to slow the dog down.  Their only ammunition was to call "halt", "spot" or "stop", and this apparently was not enough for these novice dogs.

Lucky Lucy and Michele, Mobile, March 2011
Lucky had a bit of a fly-off too, not much and the judge didn't fault her, but she landed hard, stopped running for a few seconds and looked at me, somewhat stunned.  I wasn't sure she would continue the run.  But she did.  This shook her up, though, and a few obstacles later she leaped clean over the down contact on the A-frame and got eliminated. The next day, I made sure I reached the end of the contact zones before she did, made her stop, and she did perfect contacts on all 3 contact obstacles.

The only way I know to prevent this error is that dogs must NEVER be allowed, from the first day of agility training, to leave the see-saw until released from it.  It has to be totally ingrained into them that the only behavior they can do is run to the end, ride it down, stop, and wait for a release. They should learn to stay at the end for 5 minutes if necessary, until released. Training this is not hard, but requires absolute consistency throughout the life of the dog, and however great their training, you can count on the performance being a bit less reliable in the ring. I've already blogged about training the see-saw in these posts:

See Saw Training Around-The-Clock
See-Saw Issues
Fast Contacts

Now I'm more determined than ever to train and teach the contacts right.

Upwards and onward!

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