Saturday, October 29, 2011

We Identify Lucky's Breed!

Eurika!  After 2 years of speculating, we finally identified Lucky Lucy's breed!  I can't explain why this is so exciting, to know your dog is something more than just a "mixed breed dog".  She is, in fact, 100% or very close to 100%, a


A male version of Lucky
Yep, and the breed is recognized by United Kennel Club, National Kennel Club, Continental Kennel Club, and several others, not yet including the AKC, where she is not even listed in their Foundation Stock.  Here's a web page full of supposedly Blackmouth Cur photos, and while Lucky's ears don't droop as much as some, and she's more lanky than others, some have longer, narrower snouts, and they come in different colors than her "red", but for the most part she fits the profile.  In fact, this Dog MaMa thinks my dog is just a tad more beautiful than the majority of these other curs precisely because her ears are more perky, her body type more square than long, and her snout less tapered, and she's a solid color.  There are quite a few pictured that look pretty much like her, like this photo (left).

They say the black mouth doesn't refer to the black mask, but to the black pigmented lips and inner mouth.  Some BMC's don't have black on their faces. Well shuckins, why don't the breeders select for that distinctive black mask and develop a specific breed that looks exactly like Lucky?  Everyone think's she's gorgeous.

Lucky's long legs, sitting beside Maxie on our
backyard A-frame, checking out the birds.
Many have speculated that Lucky is part Pit Bull, part Rhodesian Ridgeback, part Boxer, part this, part that -- like all dogs are mixes of other dogs, but now we KNOW she's also an established breed with established traits: a sheep and cattle herding dog, a boar/bear/raccoon hunting dog that fearlessly and relentlessly attacks and kills medium size game, a useful tracking dog, gentle and fiercely loyal to humans, good guard dog, needs daily exercise and a firm handler, is very biddable, lives 12-16 years on average, few health problems, medium size (40-60 lbs), requires no grooming and little bathing (natural oils protect coat and skin), bays and yodels (I've heard her do that a time or two, including when she dreams), can climb trees, and is a jumping fool.  She fits into the Herding class, the Tracking class, and the Hunting class.  The breed is known for excellent eyesight, which she also has.  Here's a writeup on her traits from the American Blackmouth Cur Association.  She fits this perfectly.

Lucky's very distinctive spike.
They didn't mention BMC's having a spike on their heads, which Lucky has.  I haven't run across ANY breed that has a spike, only the Rhodesian which has the reverse flow of hair on the ridge along their backbone, and she has the Rhodesian's somewhat lanky legs and gambling gate as well.  So maybe there's a spot of Rhodesian somewhere in her lineage.

They didn't mention BMC's being expert armadillo killers, either, which she certainly is, having killed several who dared to nest under our house.  But they did say BMC's are popular in Texas, and from reading the book Texas, I know the settlers there had a terrible armadillo problem and her skills would have been noticed and widely prized.

The "southern" aspect comes from the short single layer coat, medium size, and long legs suited to running on flatter terrain, supposedly originating in either Tennessee or Mississippi.  "Northern" curs evolved or were bred to have thicker, longer coats to protect them from the cold, stocker bodies for hunting larger prey (like bears) and thicker bones and bigger feet to handle the mountainous terrain, the most famous example being Old Yeller from the Walt Disney movie.  I well remember loving that movie and that dog.

Lucky at 1 year old, 40 lbs.
Cur has come to mean "mutt" or "mix" from the British royalty's attempt to distinguish their fancy bred pets and sporting dogs from the working farm dog.  But that was not the word's original meaning.  Leave it to the Brits to be uppity!  I can't tell you how many people I've run across that have told me "If Lucky isn't a breed, she should be."  She is so lithe, solid, sure footed, smart, loyal.  It's beautiful to watch her move.  The BMC is a hound that has been selectively bred, just like other cur breeds - Bluetick, Catahoula, etc.  They are all "working dogs" -- used for herding, hunting, protection.

BMC Folk Art Dog
Here are a few websites of BMC breeders, with more photos:

These breeders need to get on the ball and get the BMC listed in the AKC's Foundation Stock, Miscellaneous Class, which is the first step towards getting a breed recognized by AKC.

And, in keeping with the Papillon Paraphranalia I love to collect, there seems to be a bit of BMC Paraphranalia out there as well.  Here's what I've seen so far:

So, now that I know who/what she is, will I be taking a new training tack, involving Lucky in herding, tracking and lure coursing?  We barely have our feet wet in agility and barely enough time for that.  Lure coursing, is not much of a challenge for me in that it doesn't require much of the handler -- just set her there and turn her loose.  The tracking book I bought once turned me off immediately, saying one has to lay track EVERY DAY to properly train a tracking dog.  I can't make that commitment (but some of my tracking friends say they just do it spring and fall, and not every day, and still get titles). And I don't know any cattle farmers.  So now, what shall I do with her?  I must admit, it's exciting when Lucky  takes off after a lure or bosses some goats around.  But can she compete and get these titles with AKC, enrolled only as a "mixed breed"? I'll have to check that out.

In a few hours we go for our CGC test.  I'll report on that later.

Upwards and onward!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Weave Pole Performance

Studying the still shots taken by professional photographer Michael Loftis from last weekend's trial in Kiln, MS, I've discovered that many dogs have inconsistent stride thru the weaves.  Since the poles are all spaced at 24", you would think over time an experienced dog would establish a stride and maintain it.  But the photos indicate otherwise. 

Here are a group of thumbnails of my own Lucky Lucy, posted with Michael's permission, to illustrate my points.  Lucky is a fairly green dog  who just earned her AX and AXJ titles from AKC in 7.5 months, who can two-step the weaves beautifully in practice but at trials generally slows down to a walk.  Below, she is running, doing a single pass with 3 different ways of maneuvering, all caught by Michael's camera:

Here's a few more dogs with inconsistent stride in a single pass:

Obviously, dogs that can't maintain a consistent stride are slowed down, must often get confused, give up trying to re-balance, pop out, etc.

Now here are 4 shots from a single pass thru those same weaves by my little Papillon, Maxie, who, when he runs instead of walks the weaves, has very consistent "two step" weave pole performance with a "single bounce" stride that is very fast.

On the last photo, it's clear that Maxie completes each pole in a single stride by extending his body.  With these photos confirming his consistency (same degree of lean, same head and tail position, same gaze forward, same shoulder distance from the poles, front feet landing right the same distance back from the pole, outside foot landing first), I now wonder if what makes him walk the weaves sometimes is when he doesn't hit the entry just right and can't hit a consistent stride, and if that's true, how do I train his entry to be at an exact spot?

Here are more examples of the "two-step" stride with different size dogs. Notice their back feet are close together and pushing off simultaneously.

Here are a some examples of dogs using their inside leg to lead in, pushing off with their outside leg, which sometimes (not always) resulting in the coveted behavior known as "one-stepping the weaves":

And shots of dogs using their outside leg to lead in, which has to slow them down and sometimes trip them up as they struggle to cross the new outside leg back in (last photo):

A few trials back, I attempted to video the back ends of a few dogs going thru the weaves, to find out how the back feet are moving.  Viewing each run in slo-mo (50%), turned out the back feet push off mostly simultaneously then hop into the space right behind where the front feet were, even while the front feet are varying as described above.  All the dogs take each pole in a single stride. The larger dogs have to "collect" and land their rear feet farther away from the line of poles, the smaller dogs have to "extend" and work closer to the line of poles to cover the distance. One dog, running with the lady in pink, was "one stepping" on one side of the weaves, and "two stepping" on the other side and mixing up leads, but the back feet were doing just about the same thing all the time.  Watch for that:

(Correction: dogs tend to take each weave in 1 stride, not 2 as stated in the video.)

As to training stride, my hunch now is this: I think we rush to closed weaves.  If we open the channels a bit then give our dogs a lot more time to figure out and develop the muscle memory of a consistent stride, they will eventually be able to do fast and reliable closed weaves.  Problem with that, our club has no 24" channel weaves.  I'll have to use my stick in the ground poles at home, but straight weaves at class.

We should also spend a lot more time doing "around the clock" weave pole entries.

Anyone with other weave stride training suggestions, ideas or comments, please feel free to share.

Upwards and onward!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Kiln Agility Trial - Swamp Dog Agility Club

Maxie:  6 runs, 2Q's, 2 1st places, MX TITLE, 38 MACH Points - Videos posted
Lucky Lucy: 6 runs, 2Q's, 1 1st place, AXJ TITLE, 1 MACH Point (our first) - Videos posted
Judge:  Scott W. Stock

Diorama made by some Swamp Dog members,
an agility course with a Halloween theme. 
It was widely admired and created a festive atmosphere.
All of our 2011 goals have now been met, excepting the 6th QQ for Maxie and 400 MACH points by November 1st.  It's been a long row to hoe, with a much poorer Q'ing rate this year (about 33%) compared to last year's 66%.  Some of that is running 2 dogs at different heights, and on different courses while bringing Lucky up through Novice.  Obviously, the split focus didn't help my performance.  With both Maxie and Lucky in Excellent this weekend, I had no trouble memorizing 2 courses per day, and didn't have any personal off courses.  Maxie's MACH points after this weekend tally 305, but we would have 363 if AKC hadn't changed the rules in June, no longer giving double points for 1st place. Only 37 points off my goal (on the original system).  Close, very close.

We would have had that 6th QQ this past Sunday had I not pushed Maxie off the second to last jump.  But even if I hadn't, he ran out the gate and got eliminated.  Now we must go to Lake Charles trial over Thanksgiving, or give up the goal.

Maxie runs like the wind.
Maxie's speed was incredible all weekend (always among the top 3 in time even when eliminated), and mine was improved some as well.  The mini-running drills I've been putting myself through seem to be paying off, though the progress would be hard for anyone else to notice. Here's a thumbnail of a photo I'm purchasing, and a video of Maxie's MX TITLE RUN, where he was 1st place, 23 seconds under course time, and 9 seconds faster than the 2nd place dog.  I was so afraid he'd take the tunnel instead of the dog walk and the A-frame instead of curving to the jump, I was calling him harder than usual.  Next year I hope to replace my yelling with more confidence in our teamwork.

Lucky leading with the
wrong foot.
Lucky's speed was improved as well -- she NEVER ONCE exceeded course time!  And on her title run, she was 9 seconds UNDER course time, and was listed as 'HIGH IN CLASS", whatever that is.  Also, she never missed her weaves, though she walked them 4 out of 6 times.

Looking at the Michael Loftis professional photos, he caught a strange thing.  It looks like Lucky sometimes steps thru the weaves with her outside foot leading in, which I've never noticed before, and which would certainly slow her down.  I'll research that further real soon by studying her photos and re-watching her videos in slow-mo, and in any case will retrain the weaves this winter by opening the channel a bit.  (See next post on Weave Pole Performance).

KT Tape on my calf.
The KT Sports Tape I wore on my calf worked miracles.  I had no muscle problems whatever.  I got home and took the tape off (it lasted 4 days with no problem), and today the calf has twinges again!  I am totally baffled how this stuff works as there is no stretching when applying and it isn't medicated, but all the top athletes wear it over sprains and torn ligaments, so it must be doing something!  I also sat on one of my new instant ice packs for about 30 minutes on Saturday to soothe my aching sciatic nerve.  It stayed very cold for 30 minutes, and the sciatic never bothered me again.

It was a 3 day trial, with a match on Thursday.  I brought my pop-up, so we were on-site for 4 days.  40's at night but we were cozy inside.  I decided to run Lucky once in the match, the last dog on Thursday evening, around 6:45 p.m.  A great decision, it turned out.  It was quiet in the arena.  We had the place almost to ourselves.  We ran around helter-skelter with her tug toy in my hand, I threw it several times after she did fast weaves or contact equipment, and she ran her heart out and had an obvious blast.  They let us play longer than 2 minutes.  We both loved the spontaneity, not following course numbers.  Then during the trial, before and after each run, I bribed her with steamed shrimp, which I discovered motivates her more than the usual hot dogs and string cheese.  She is a shrimp fiend.  I show her I'm putting one in my mouth just before we enter the ring.  She thinks it's there during the run but of course I've swallowed it (no treats allowed in the ring).  I have another one stored just outside the ring and immediately after the run I fetch her tug toy, tug a bit, then toss her the other shrimp which I've slipped into my mouth.  The same for Maxie, minus the tugging.  I think I've got them both fooled for now.  They both ran faster than ever before.

This was a really good crate space, near everything.
It was breezy and chilly in the mornings,
so I covered my crates with the blue sheet
seen here.
Swamp Dog trials are always fun.  They are run efficiently, the club members seem to really like each other and work well together, the atmosphere is festive, everyone is friendly, competitors are personally invited to help and thanked profusely, they call you by name and praise your dog, the food is plentiful and delicious, and the placement and titling rosettes are nice.  They let me wait until all my runs were done for the day, then I helped with the novice and open classes and tearing down the rings after the last dog has run.  My red wagon came in handy moving those heavy sandbags.  I love my ringside crate space, close to everything.

Coolaroo bed, just Lucky's size
Swamp Dog's raffle had awesome items. To my surprise, I won 2 prizes-- a large Coolaroo raised dog bed stretched on metal legs selling on Amazon for $30, and a bleacher seat, both exactly the kind I've been wanting to get.  I bought 14 tickets for $10, mostly just to support the club, so winning $50 worth of loot was a totally unexpected bonus.  I rarely win anything in the raffles, and as my crate space was right next to the raffle table, I watched many people plunk down $20 and $40 -- a lot more than I did.

The bleacher seat has no brand name showing, but it's the identical one I bought at Wal-Mart last year for $18, then went back for another one for John and they were out.  It's wide, light, has great cushioning and support, arm rests, clips firmly to the bleacher, lots of storage pockets both front and back, and stores really flat.  It's the best one I've ever sat in.

Pumpkin Carving with Swamp Dog RV'ers.  I did a witch flying
over a jump, held up by 2 ghosts.
The Swamp Dog RV'ers outdid themselves with a Halloween pumpkin carving party on Friday night, and a birthday cake and outdoor gumbo dinner for the judge on Saturday night.

Judge Scott Stock was very engaging, and regaled us with stories of football, his travels, and other trials.  He said we had "the slowest dogs and the worst Q'ing rate he's ever seen, but we were more fun to be with."  He said up north he can attend 35 trials a year without ever driving more than an hour from home.  He said those Yankees take their agility seriously and get agitated quickly with anything they don't like.  His courses were interesting, challenging but not impossible, he judged fairly and cheerfully, and he watched each and every dog intently.  During the breaks he pumped disco music into the arena.  Everyone was dancing around to Thriller and such. That was a first for us, but he says he's not the only judge who does this.  During Sunday's Excellent briefing he told how last year at a Halloween trial he came "costumed" as AKC Judge Scott Chamberlain -- white pants and jacket, white shoes, blue tie!  We had the impecably dressed Judge Chamberlain at a Kiln trial earlier this year so we knew what he was talking about! Everyone roared with laughter.

I'm still streamlining my camper set up and take down routines, eliminating, adding or changing items for efficiency and comfort.  Every movement counts. I'm getting better at it.  Still, it takes me two hours to set up, and I was by far the last one to leave even though I started packing up in the early morning and more between runs.  Sharon Mc stayed in the park until I pulled out, which I really appreciated.

The excitement is hard to explain, since a run
lasts less than a minute
John took this i-photo of Lucky and me at a trial, rare
since I'm almost never in a photo.
After all that comradery, excitement and hard work, coming home was a let-down.  Two hours behind the wheel and I was stiff as a board and really tired.  There were no bands playing, no champagne, no dinner prepared, no cake to celebrate our titles.  The house was dark, nobody came to greet me at the door, and the porch light wasn't even on.  When my husband finally heard the dogs barking and roused from his TV chair, his first comment was about a new TV series he's watching.  This totally burst my bubble and led to a less than stellar evening.  After helping me unpack and set up the new doggie bed, John resumed his TV viewing while I disappeared into a hot bath with a stiff drink, gave Willow a shampoo and blow dry, ate my boiled crabs, and slunk off to sleep in the guest room.  Amazingly, I slept like a baby, and had sweet dreams.

Now I've got to figure out how to photograph Maxie with all his ribbons thru MX and MXJ titles, and Lucky with her AX and AXJ's.  I've got a box full of them for each dog, all in a jumble, which need sorting out and displaying somehow.

And I've got to decide whether to sign up for more trials this year, or just concentrate on training "back to basics" skills 'til January.  If all that counts now are QQ's for Maxie to reach MACH status next year, and Lucky has to run faster to attain Masters titles next year, we'll have to improve our speed and accuracy considerably.  On the other hand, with 15 more QQ's to acquire Maxie's MACH status by the end of 2012 (is that a realistic goal?????????), maybe I'd better get started as soon as possible.  We only got 5 QQ's this year!  But most of the misses were near misses (only one teensy weensy mistake), so we almost QQ'd several times.

Today I tallied all our runs to date on that Competition Records Sheet I designed earlier this year in Excel, and here's the summary:

Maxie: 82 runs in 17.5 months, 15 trials, 40 Q's, 35 placements (23 1st, 5 2nd, 4 3rd, 3 4th), MXJ Title, MX Title, 5 QQ, 305 MACH Points
Lucky: 46 runs in 7.5 months, 8 trials, 22 Q's, 17 placements (9 1st, 6 2nd, 2 3rd), AX Title, AXJ Title, 1 MACH point
Michele:  128 runs, 62 Q's (not quite 50%, but this is misleading because there were about 66% Q's in Novice, Open, and Excellent A for Maxie).  Our Excellent B performance has been about 33%.

Our dog club is revising its Constitution and By-laws, in particular the membership requirements (I was on the Constitutional Revision Committee earlier this year).  Tonight it's being put before the membership for discussion, so I've been reviewing the document.  Not as fun as running dogs, but we must make progress, and updated governing documents are an important part of our 48 year old club's ability to grow and thrive.

Upwards and onward!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cross Country Races - Part II

A few weekends back I attended my first cross country race, and the very next weekend, I attended my second one, where my grandson was running again -- their last Baton Rouge race.  I brought my sister-in-law Audrey, and Lucky Lucy this time, and met up again with Nathan and Allison.  John, of course, was at work. Knowing more what to anticipate, I captured new and different aspects of the races on video, and succeeded in tracking Jonathan's run much better.  For example, I caught the first 50 or so kids crossing the finish line, including Jonathan coming in at 30 (out of 300), several of his team-mates likewise finishing in the top 30, then the runners being funneled into a cool-down chute and into a tent where they turned in their numbers.  Their tags were stacked in order, and that's how they knew each kid's placement!  No electronic eyes here!  Here's video snippets highlighting all that:

The kids ran a bit slower this weekend and were more exhausted at the end.  Nathan surmised it was because the air quality was worse than last weekend.  It was also not quite as cool.  But the turnout seemed even larger, and all had a "camptown races, doo dah" feel.

L to R:  Michele, Audrey, Nathan, Philippe (Jonathan's
school friend), Jonathan, Allison
We enjoyed hanging out as a family for a change, each of us too busy doing our own things most of the time. Nathan discussed his early running training (which I don't even remember being as how it happened mostly at school and I don't have any pictures) -- how the movement of the legs is dependant upon the way the arms swing!   I found that interesting!  I also enjoyed watching the boys warming up with their coaches, though I didn't get a video of that.  I meant to.

Nathan demoing "deep breathing"
L to R:  Michele, Nathan, Phillippe, Jonathan, Allison
Nathan also gave a demo on deep breathing, which Jonathan and his friend Phillippe tried.  It was entertaining, and Audrey caught this photo of my "ripped" grandson.  Where is my baby boy?  I'm glad he's in a good high school where his energies are channeled into constructive activities and self-improvement.

I found out Nathan is running 5 miles around University Lakes a few times a week these days.  Seems our end of the family is getting more into fitness now, lagging far behind my nieces and nephews (David's kids) who have been doing triathalons, karate, soccer, and lifting weights for years.

Lucky attracts admirers of all ages.
Lucky was a kid magnet, of course.  Kids and grownups came by to pet her, and at one point I put her thru some obedience paces -- heeling off leash, figure 8's, sit/stay/come from about 30' away, finish, and line up between my legs.  Nothing spectacular, except curious onlookers remarked that their dogs could never do that.  (Well, if they'd take them to a few obedience classes, they probably could!)  What I found spectacular was that despite crowds of people milling about close by us and even crossing our path, Lucky was totally calm and "all eyes on me".  I was a very proud mama!

Last weekend was the agility seminar. Tonight I teach class. Tomorrow I leave for the
Kiln trial, so today I'm packing, packing, packing.  Weekend after that, Lucky's CGC test.  Doggie stuff is increasingly taking over my life . . . . . . . my yard, my garden and my house might not agree with me, but . . . . . it's a good thing.

Upwards and onward!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Agility Seminar with Brittany Schaezler

Saturday morning introductions.
That's Lucky and me, bottom right.
I spent last weekend at our club's annual agility seminar, held at our field.  COST:  $100/day for a working spot, $30 to audit, including lunch at Don's.  Dr. Brittany Schaezler, a veteranarian out of Houston, TX who used to belong to our club while in vet school at LSU, was our instructor.  Post-trial, she has graciously reviewed, clairified and even extended my seminar notes below.

Brittany has tried out for World Team 3 times with her sheltie, Trip.  She also runs Ticket, another sheltie.  She follows Susan Garret and uses Greg Derrett's handling methods, summarized as follows:
  • Each handling cue means one thing only - very precise.
  • Body language trumps verbal commands any time.
  • A change of arms always means a change of direction.
  • Never let D cross over behind you.
Brittany uses minimal verbal commands (weave, A-frame, tunnel, chute, walk it, spot-- as needed), running courses largely on body language alone.  She never uses "left, right, out, around, over", uses "here" only in a tight spot, and does not give a verbal command for each jump. She just points with arms and shoulders.  She doesn't speak while D is going thru the weaves. She says dogs don't read your feet as much as your body.  Ds tend to run a straight line and take what's in front of them unless you signal a turn with arm and shoulder turns, or decellerate, and trains her dogs to recognize each body movement as a specific command.

SATURDAY: (Novice)

Race To Reward* (get D to focus away from you without head checks): 
  • Place reward on ground.  Sit D a few feet away.  Release.  Run to meet them.  Increase distance.  Interject 1 low jump, a straight tunnel. 
  • Hold collar, throw toy.  Release.  Run forward with D. Tug.  Increase distance.

*From Agility Right From The Start, by Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh.  I watched the video, read the first chapter online, then bought the book.  It sounds good, breaking every skill down into easy to accomplish parts, ending every session with success, building handler skills FIRST, not focusing so much on sequences as on independant, enthusiastic performance of small tasks, always having fun! I feel I have trained my dogs all wrong, and their enthusiasm for agility suffers for it.  I have to mend my training (and teaching) ways immediately, including no more trials (after next weekend), until my dogs are eager to run courses with me.

Accelleration/Decelleration: Saturday morning was devoted to accelleration and decelleration.  It was supposed to be a day for novice dogs, but most enrollees were our club's most advanced trainers.  Border collies especially need to decelerate, dogs like Lucky need accelleration.

Decel Flatwork:
  1. Stand ahead of D.  Call.  D decels as they approach your side. Reward.  Increase distance. Reward the decel.
Accel Flatwork:
  1. Stand ahead of D.  Call. Throw toy ahead.  D leaves you, accellerating to toy.  Meet D and tug.
  2. Same, but move forward as D passes you, meeting up at the toy. Tug
RULES: To Q accel, run to landing side of jump; to Q decel, run to the take off side of jump. To teach decel, start with 2 jumps, and stop when they commit to jump 2. When they wrap, treat.

Helper shakes toy as D approaches.
The course set up was a U shape: 3 winged jumps to a curved tunnel/3 winged jumps back, bars on the ground.  Can ask D to decellerate, wrap, etc., at any point. Don't need D to jump full height, just run between posts is fine. Cue decelleration by slowing down, stopping forward motion, even stepping backwards, and not moving past the wing of the jump.
Build accelleration by the promise of a great reward at the end (treat, tug, fetch), and passing the wing.  Never slack up on giving out rewards. If you don't have a training partner, place toy or treat beyond the last obstacle where D can see it or knows it's there.

Brittany says most dogs don't inherently "love" agility.  We have to transfer value to the obstacles with massive amounts of treats (food, toys, praise, play).  They will do what we want, to get what they want.  Eventually, most dogs will start to associate the VALUE of the reward to agility. 

Lucky exhibits stress going into the tunnel.  Needs lots of tunnel work. Brittany has seen videos of her going fast after the lure, and in the jump chute.  Says Lucky is no doubt stressed at trials, as many dogs are.  She says "never pass up an opportunity to attend a match".  In Houston, there are 6-8 matches per year, and she goes to all of them to build value for running courses.

Brittany and ?, training the "one rear toe on"
contact behavior.
Contacts:  2-on-2-off is falling out of favor on the A-frame.  Very bad for the dog's shoulders.  Brittany's preferred method is 1RTO (developed by Linda Mecklenburg)  "one rear toe on" about 1" up on dog walk, running contacts on A-frame using "jump bumps" to train it (see below), and 4-on on the seesaw for dogs under 20 lbs..

1RTO places emphasis on the dog's back legs rather than "sticking" the front legs. The way to train "1RTO" is with a 5' long x 12" wide rough-surfaced board, treats and a clicker.  Progression is:
  • Click/treat for any interaction with the board.  Off, or throw a treat back off the board to reset the Off position.
  • Click/treat for 4 feet on the board. Off
  • Click/treat for only 2 back feet touching.  Off
  • Click/treat for only 2 back feet touching at the end of the board.  Off
  • Click/treat for only 1 back foot touching.  Off
  • Click/treat for only 1 back foot touching at the end of the board.
Eventually, D might come off the board, then reach one back foot to touch the board, or even back up to touch the board.  This could result in a fault (wrong course), as D can't re-enter an obstacle, so be careful here.  Then begin to play the back foot touching game at the base of the dog walk, then the A-frame.

See-saw for small dogs should be 4-on at the end, and wait for touchdown before releasing.  Large dogs can leave the board just before it touches because their weight will push the board down before their back feet loose contact.

Here, Chance takes down side in 2 strides,
ensuring one stride hits in the yellow.
A-Frame Stride Regulators (Jump Bumps):  D (any size) should take the A-frame 2 strides up, 2 strides down, without touching the apex.  D will naturally learn to do this if you place jump bumps on the down side, one covering the top slat, another over the lowest blue slat.  For speed, place a target for D to drive to, several feet out. This training ensures they will ALWAYS hit the lower contact, which makes the running contact possible.  NOTE: May have to adjust slat positioning slightly.  Best to video your D to figure this out.  Jump bumps should remain on the A-frame forever, except at trials.  Start with the A-frame at about 3' high.  Progress in 2" increments to full height.  Height is less important than stride.  You train this to muscle memory.

Can make jump bumps out of 4" PVC, cut in half, 3.5' long, with a hole drilled near the bottom of each end for a bungee cord to wrap under A-frame and hold jump bump securely. Paint to match A-frame paint, but at first use white or reverse colors so D can see bumps more easily.

Start having D run over jump bumps placed on ground, then between jump posts, then add to A-frame, indicating you expect D to jump over them.

You can also add a jump bump on the up side, covering the top slat, or right over the apex, to encourage leaping over the apex, especially with small dogs.  Maxie had no problem taking the down side in 2 strides, even though his normal running stride is only 3.5 feet and the a-frame is 9'.  Go figure.

You can also make jump bumps out of pool noodles.  They are cheap and more flexible.

There are online Running Contact classes (and other agility classes), offered at

SUNDAY: Advanced (training 180's, 270's, Serpentines, Double Box, Point System, and Push Through/Back Side)

  • Step 1. Start with 2 winged jumps in a line, wings touching.  Start close. Stand in middle, D to outside, send D over 1 with arm closest to D, post turn and pull over 2.  Treat. Work both sides.  Work further and further back to 15'.  Do the same with front crosses (D ends on inside) and rear crosses (D starts on inside).
  • Step 2. Separate jumps 1' at a time to 15' apart, increasing when you get great performance.  Repeat PT, FC, RC, always using the same cues for each type of turn.
  •  If mistakes happen, backchain to previous distance.
  • NEVER go in between the wings -- this is babysitting the 180, and is actually a different cue (for a pinwheel).
The full course sequence we ran Sunday afternoon included a 180 out of the chute, which I discussed extensively in a previous blog post.  Brittany related one method of placing the chute within a tunnel so D can NOT run sideways and get tangled in the fabric.  If they are trained NEVER to run a curve in the chute, then you can call their name and they will know where you are, but won't run towards you while in the chute.  She also discussed rear crossing behind the chute -- make sure D sees your RC before they enter the chute.

270's beginning training
  • Step 1.  Start with winged jumps at right angles, touching.  H stands inside the 90 degree angle with D.  Send D over, around the 270, and pull  D back into H's space, with a post turn.  Treat.  Work both sides.
  • Add FC's and RC's
  • Work further and further back.  
  • Step 2. Separate by sliding 2nd jump along the line 1 foot, increasing to 15'
  • Never pass the plane of the wings.
  • Backchain as necessary for consistently good performance.
  • For D's who tend to run around 2nd jump, place a ground bar catecorner to where the wings meet.
  • Try not to use the "out" command.  Keep shoulders pointed in direction you want D to go.
Serpentines:  In correct serpentines, D must stay behind H.  To do this, H must stay right next to the jump and wing, leaving ONLY the space behind H for D to jump into.  If you leave an opening, D will take it and end up doing a threadle.  Treat immediately by the wing so D won't run behind you.  See diagram:

Many trainers found it difficult to hug the wing of the middle jump, but whenever they did, D performed perfectly.  So now I know how to do a serpentine without driving thru the line of jumps and front crossing at every turn. Yippee!

Start training this with D at 2, H holds right arm across chest, keeps left arm close to body or behind back, calls D, H steps forward one step and treats D behind or beside them (never past H), alternating hands to treat.  Do from both left and right approaches.  Then, start D at 1, left arm out pushing D away, then switch arm to pull D in across 2nd jump and in behind you, where they stay until you switch arms again to signal a jump over 3rd jump.  The timing of your arm change has to be just right to avoid pulling D in between jumps, or pushing D out between jumps (which would be a threadle).  Increase distance between jumps from about 4' to about 15'.

Double Box setup
Double Box:  The double box should be set up at all times and can be used to teach all handling skills.  It looks like the diagram below:

Point System:  To determine the best path to take and the best way to handle, Brittany uses a point system.  Is it better to handle from the left or right of a jump to the next obstacle?  Shortest distance for H = +1 point.  Which direction will D be facing coming out of the obstacle?  If facing the correct next obstacle = +1 point.  If a redirect is required = -1 point (because turns slow D down).  Highest point value generally means "best way".

Send to Back Side of Jump:

Stand close to the wing with arm outstretched, D to outside.  Give a verbal cue such as "back" or "out", until D catches on they are supposed to take the back side of the jump. Big party.  Repeat left and right wing.  Gradually increase H's distance from wing until 15' back.  Occasionally intermingle sends directly over the jump, making sure you point at the jump rather than beyond the wing.  Support the wing until D's nose clears the wing. 
Begin throwing in FC's, running off with the reward, and treating with other hand.  Gradually fade the verbal cue when the physical cue is well understood.

  • Never front cross on D's straight line path.  Use FC only to turn.
  • Rear crosses should take place as close behind D as possible.
  • What turns D is the cross, not arms, feet, or shoulders.
  • Rear cross flatwork.  D sits.  H goes from side to side behind D, at greater distances. D's head should snap in your direction only AFTER YOU RC.  Never reward for a head check (a flick) that occurs prior to the cross.
  • Trainers spend too much time running full courses, not enough time on skill building and handling cues.
  • Build accuracy with repetition on short sequences, offering reward only for correct performance.
  • When a green dog is running a full course or long sequence, DO NOT correct mistakes.(AMEN, I've been saying this for 2 years!).   D must learn to complete a sequence at full speed, without stopping.  If they miss a jump, a weave pole, or take a wrong course, keep going.  You will take all the fun out of agility for them if you are always stopping to correct, and you will slow them down. Stopping a desirable activity is a negative form of correction.  Once D is fast, enthusiastic and truly understands what you are asking them to do, then you can stop to correct, but, BIG POINT, be sure when they get it right you immediately stop and reward. 
  • Go for fast and happy more than accuracy.  If D gets slow, stop."The more likely your dog is to "slow down/be careful", the less you can afford to "correct" in a sequence.  You have to know your dog."
  • A still toy is a dead toy.  Must bring to life with movement.
  • Greg Derret never uses a flip to get a dog over a jump or into a tunnel.
  • Greg Derret's system has evolved.  Early DVD's no longer reflect his current system.
This was my best agility seminar ever.  Brittany was well prepared, organized, friendly, fielded questions well, treated everyone with equal favor. Everyone was in good mood.  The weather was just about perfect.  Air quality not bad.  LCCOC's old Radio Shack wireless microphone system which I resurrected from storage and John repaired for the club, worked very well.  Brittany's comments could be heard across the field, and she expressed much appreciation at not having to shout. We started out powering it from my car's cigarette lighter, until Ken (our newest member) brought out his portable inverter, which reached everywhere and lasted all day.  Turns out, our system draws very little power.  All very good.

Unfortunately, poor little Maxie got stung Saturday morning by a wasp that was hovering in the grass.  He yelped and wailed for 5 minutes, I treated immediately with Swedish Bitters, but he licked his paw incessantly for about 2 hours, and on Sunday was clearly off, and afraid of the grass.  He ran about half speed during his turns, and while not limping today, is still nursing his paw and seems tired.  Lucky just ran slow, as usual, and some kind of bugs in the grass were tickling her bare belly and making her scratch a lot.  Still, I got a lot from the seminar and plan to start my training over, from scratch, after the Kiln trial this upcoming weekend if I meet my 2011 goals.  Almost there.

The KT Sports Injury Tape I used on my calf seemed to work.  I had no problems whatsoever, though I can't fathom how it works.  It's a mystery, and my new best friend.

Upwards and onward!
P.S. Brittany invited us all to send videos of our training sessions, which she offered to analyze and comment upon.  Nice!  She also urged us to come to more trials in Texas, and said the Crosby arena is very good.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

180's Out Of The Chute

It's hard to get your agility dog to do 180's out of the chute, even more so than the tunnel, due to its flexibility.  If you call them left, for example, while they're still in there, they tend to veer towards your voice and risk getting tangled in the fabric, especially the little dogs.  If you drive forward and try to scoop them up after they shoot out (pretty fast), they tend to run around you, or into you.  I've been trying to figure out how to handle this maneuver elegantly and efficiently, and I'm asking other agility bloggers to offer suggestions. 

As it happens, I can illustrate this problem with snippets from several videos I took during an Excellent Standard competition at the Kiln trial last month.  The course was designed by Judge Scott Chamberlain.  I've never encountered this layout before. While most dogs made it, much time was lost as they ran wide or even behind their handlers before committing to the next jump.  First, here's the layout:

Now, here's video I managed to snip of just that segment of the course.  (me and my papillon, Maxie, are first, then Lucky Lucy is 6th).  There were other variations and some NQ's as dogs got sucked in by the dogwalk or the jump after 3, or skipped the chute to follow the handler to H1:

Many succeeded but all lost precious seconds with the wide turns.  Does someone have a solution for this?  I'm hoping to hear back.

Upwards and onward,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Maxie's Near Death Experience

Beware!  These bags can suffocate your dog!
 One of the first stories I heard when joining my dog club was from another member who tragically lost her Papillon one night when he didn't come to bed when called.  She found him dead in the kitchen with his head stuck in a doggie treat bag  -- suffocated!  Ever since, my husband and I have diligently cut the bottoms out of every potato chip, pretzel, treat or ziplock bag before we throw it in the trash.  We carefully secure every chip or cookie bag closed before sitting it down anywhere, push in every chair around every table and desk so the dogs can't get up there, plus I moved my kitchen trash can behind a closed door, and don't allow food trash to go in any other can.  I make sure there are no treats left in the pockets of my pants and jackets, turning them inside out if possible, and throwing them straight into the washing machine where the dogs can't smell the residue and stick their noses in there searching for crumbs.

I check on Maxie and Willow's whereabouts every minute or two.  It's pretty easy as they follow me everywhere, but even if they didn't I would do frequent checks.  I'm less worried about the big dogs, but I lay eyeballs on them too, very frequently.

Nevertheless . . . . . . .

I can't control every situation or other people's actions, and Maxie had a close brush with that same horrible suffocation death last night.  Were it not for somebody else noticing his predicament, I would have lost my dog.  Here's what happened:

On Wednesday nights, I bring Lucky Lucy as my demo dog, and Maxie to run the course after the class I teach is over.  I attach Maxie's 4' leash to the foot of my camp chair so he can jump on and off the chair, reach water, etc.  I can't leave him in the car because it's too hot in summer, and he whines relentlessly to be with me, but he is content to be on the sidelines and no trouble at all.  It's just me and my students on the field.

Unbeknownst to me, one of them tossed her duffle bag right next to my chair, unzipped, with an open bag of Bil-Jak Liver Treats inside.  I'm out on the field teaching, another of my students starts laughing saying "Aw, isn't that cute."  I say what, and she points to Maxie.  I'm far enough away, it's night,  I can't tell what I'm looking at, but as I approach closer I realize he's standing there, like a statue, with his head stuck all the way into the bag, confused and suffocating!  I race over and remove the bag.  Maxie stares ahead.  I find out later the bag was about 1/4 full of liver treats, and Maxie had his head in there long enough to eat them all.

People!  It only takes a minute for a 7 lb dog to suffocate!  What if Nicole hadn't noticed him? I doubt I would have gotten to him in time, though I check on him every few minutes.

Later, I called all my students together and told them, AS I'M TELLING EVERYONE WHO LANDS ON THIS PAGE, PLEASE keep your treats safely away from all other dogs, close all treat bags, zip up training bags, close your coolers, cars, trunks, etc.  Not every dog is crated or leashed every single second.  We all know dogs love food and toys and will grab whatever they can reach.  In fact, our Agility Director came over and commented that she started keeping all the treats in her car locked up in a crate after finding a little terrier rooting around in her open SUV, munching on a bag of treats.  But I know most people aren't that diligent.   People leave their SUV's open all the time. I see open treat bags laying on chairs and blankets, in class and at trials.  I recently witnessed a little potato chip bag being blown off the top of a large crate onto the ground, open and half full.  The owner was nowhere in sight, probably thought it was out of reach of most dogs. Instructors should take on the extra responsibility to teach this.

For my part, last year I began using a red Igloo Playmate after training with Charlie, a pesky little Boston Terrier, who could not resist snatching toys and treats out of my duffle bag.  The Playmate has hard sides, keeps things cold, holds everything, and is the easiest thing I've found to open and close.   No zipping and unzipping.  Just push a button/slide the top to one side.  I like that the lid stays attached. 

Still, despite this due diligence, one day Charlie managed to snatch a tube of string cheese that was sticking slightly out of my pants pocket while I was sitting in my chair, and while we chased him around the field trying to get it back, he gulped the whole thing down.  Miracle of miracles, he passed the plastic a few days later, with all the cheese gone, but he could just as easily have choked to death or sufffocated, as these stories illustrate:
  •  At a recent trial, we were sad to hear of one competitor's dog who killed himself rooting around under the seat of her van for a fallen treat, got his head or collar stuck, and broke his neck struggling to get out.  She had gone inside for "just a minute".
  •  An agility competitor with Rhodesians (big dogs), was unpacking her car into her motel room.  The dogs went in first, then the food box, then she went out for her luggage.  When she returned she found one of her dogs dead on the floor, choked on a piece of plastic out of the food box.  Can you imagine her horror?????
This morning I awoke to Maxie vomiting on our bed.  We later discovered he had vomited on both couch cushions in the night, on my knitted afghan, and my yellow sweatshirt was stained with bloody vomit.  I had to wash diarrhea off of Maxie's culottes this morning.  I'm still cleaning up the mess, and hope to god his digestive system isn't screwed up by too many rich liver treats.  I'll be watching him all day, and I'm very heavy hearted over our close call.  Too close.

Maxie posing as"Walnut Brain"
Let's face it.  Our dogs are basically dumb about lots of things.  We sometimes refer to Maxie as "Walnut Brain", not because he's stupid (no, he's really smart), but because of the size of his little skull.  I mean, how much brains can there be in there? No way can he comprehend all the dangers lurking about him.  Like a child, his safety is in my hands, and now I realize just how much I must rely on everyone else's due diligence to help me protect him.

The only way we can prevent more dog tragedies from happening, in public especially, is for each of us to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.  We each have to project, and predict, and work together, and vow to be responsible pet owners, including looking out for each other's pets.

So please, when you take your dog to a class, trial, or any public place, accept it as part of YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to make sure nothing you do jeopardizes any other dog's safety.  Store your treats safely away.  Secure all bags.  And don't hesitate to correct other handlers when they do something that jeopardizes another dog's safety.  It really does take a village . . . . .

Upwards and onward!