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.

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