Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bad Dog Agility Podcasts - My Notes

The Bad Dog Agility blog includes links to 29 Podcasts as of now-- interviews with various agility experts on the latest agility techniques.  I can listen to them on my iPhone thru iTunes while lounging in the bathtub, driving, or at a trial with no internet connection!  They are so packed with useful information, unique perspectives, and training tips, I listen to them again at my computer, taking notes to stay focused.  The notes don't even begin to cover the content but at least provide me with reminders of where to find the information.  I encourage every dog agility trainer/competitor to visit the blog and listen to the podcasts.

Upwards and onward!

In these notes, D stands for Dog, H stands for Handler.

Podcast Summaries (in the order I listened to them):

#24 Interview with Sylvia Trkman - Running Contacts - Sylvia is a World Champion Competitor with 3 dogs, from Slovenia.  Trains and competes throughout Europe, and teaches online classes, sells DVD's, etc. Her concept for teaching running contacts is first to teach D to run across the dogwalk as fast as possible without regard for contact behavior.  First teach speed.  Then begin to reward with clicker and higher value treats when feet hit the down contact, preferably rear feet, then exclusively rear feet.  10 reps a day 5 days a week for newer dogs, 20 reps for advanced dogs.  No stride regulators. D should be in a high state of arousal for dog walk practice.  Show them their toy.  Even if they miss the contact, always reward for speed.  Throw it ahead, eventually past a jump after leaving the dog walk, timed so they don't get in the habit of head checking H.  Eventually they will figure out that hitting the down contact earns them a bigger prize.  When that light bulb goes off, they rarely miss again and H doesn't have to babysit the contact. Only if your dog is way faster than you should you train a stopped contact.  If you do teach a stopped contact, except to see your dog slow down on the approach to the contact and a significant loss of speed time. Once you teach dog walk contact behavior, you get the A-frame and see-saw for free!  Lots of good info on how they train/compete in Europe.

#7 Mental Management - Daisy Peel - Think about process and performance, not about winning. This alleviates a lot of pressure, not just in agility but in all of life. The mental game is a skill that needs development and takes conscious effort. It needs to be available on demand, and can be fatiguing. Biggest mistake agility competitors make is "overtrying"-- trying to make something happen rather than letting it happen. Recognize when the adrenalin is flowing and use your arousal state to your advantage. Start down the Mental Management road by asking these questions: what would you like to have accomplished with a particular dog by the time they retire? How do you want other competitors to think of you and your team? What qualities will you need to achieve this goal? What's causing your errors? You can't control events or the quality of those events but you can control the quality of your participation (attitude, behavior, focus). It's all in how you look at it. Video yourself: Splice all of the best parts of your best runs together and watch them. 
Buck (horse whisperer) movie.
With Winning In Mind, Lanny Bassham's mental management system.  Teaches the mechanics of having a plan how to switch off your conscious brain just before you enter the ring, get in the zone. This is a conditioned response you need to work on.
Clear Mind, a book on goal setting,
Freedom Flight - The Origins Of Mental Power, a story.
Mantra: I can do more than I think I can.

#15 Kathy Sdao - Part I, Animal trainer, marine mammals, then dogs. Clicker expert. Her book: Plenty in Life is Free, opposes the notion that dogs should never get a reward unless they do a performance. Don't take the joy out of living with your dog.
Science of operant conditioning. Clicker Expo teacher.
Classical conditioning works on a dogs reflexive emotional behaviors--barking, charging, cowering, etc.
Operant conditioning works on changing behavior--down contacts, weave entries. Cuing clearly, getting verbal and body cues to match up. Dogs read body cues far better than verbal cues. Humans, though, are largely verbal. It's a mismatch, humans have to take the responsibility to be more clear, more conscious of our bodies -- eye movement, foot placement, etc. -- fewer and clearer verbal cues. High drive dogs are going to make a choice, even a wrong choice. Low drive dogs will wait until they are sure, and may slow down, stop, become anxious.

#16 Kathy Sdao - Part II - Speed
Clicks stop work. Can't use a clicker to reward speed. Your reinforcement has to be a well timed cue. Hard to judge speed, so you have to visualize a bell curve and reinforce for "better than average speed" within an acceptable range, not "fastest speed". Don't poison your cues with positive punishment (lack of positive reinforcement). Dog should always get something. Differential rewards vs. no reward will get you much better performances, keep you engaged with D. Agility Right From The Start. Most dogs will learn that improved performance gets bigger rewards, but trying also gets a reward. Some dogs don't lose interest for non rewards, others shut down. Know your dog. Your power lies in your ability to give plenty of positive reinforcement. You should reward dogs for offering behaviors you don't even ask for. If D is lying quietly while you're on the phone, reward out of the blue. Look for opportunities to reward. You don't reward only for the dog obeying your cue. Don't use the filter of "did you earn it" for dispensing every reward.

#22 Secrets To Super Agility Performance - Part I Sarah & Estaban
Criteria of Reinforcement - Define your criteria - what does D need to do to earn a reward? H must be very clear on this.
Timing of reinforcement:  . E-book: Clicker Training - 4 Secrets Of Becoming A Supertrainer. Use a clicker or otherwise mark the correct behavior BEFORE giving a treat, or dog may come to feel he is being rewarded for coming back to you rather than performing the sequence. Release to the next obstacle is a reward for performing the previous obstacle. Behavior chain training encourages speed. Rewarding for speed means not stopping mid-sequence if D makes a mistake. Differential rewards - reserve higher value rewards for best performances. If D prefers toy to food, reward with food for attempts but toy for great performance. break down behaviors to a single thing. If teaching a 270, lower or remove the bar. Remove the need for D not to knock the bar. Teach one thing at a time, so you can reward one thing done well.

#25 Secrets To Super Agility Performance - Part II Sarah & Estaban
Rate of reinforcement: number of reinforcers D can earn in a certain amount of time.  Keep this high, especially at the beginning. Keeps D trying even when they make mistakes. Try hard to improve this, training not too far above D's current level so they can get it right and get rewarded more often.  Manipulate the environment, not your handling, to make D more successful but still challenged.  Backchain as necessary to keep an 80% success rate.  Hard to chew treats, tugging, takes more time, you can't get in as many reinforcers. Transitions (getting back to the start line) takes lots of time, too.  Tug on the way back.  Length of behavior affects rate of reinforcement, too.
Quality of reinforcement: What does your D love the most?  What puts them in the highest state of drive? Figure this out. Try lots of things. Develop a range, reserve the highest level treats for spectacular performances or long sequences that lower the rate of reinforcement, and deliver lower level treats for attempts, high frequency of delivery, or correct but slow performance.  Praise is also a reinforcer.
Interesting Article: What is "usable food drive", dogs who love treats even when they aren't hungry.   Do All Dogs Have Food Drive?
Placement of Reinforcement: Poor placement can cause head checks, extra strides, slower speed, especially in sequence training. H needs to consider where they want D to go -- toward you, away from you. If D prefers food, can get them a trick to fetch the toy to get the food.  Clicker training helps you deliver the reinforcer at the exact moment the correct behavior takes place without as much need to reinforce on D's line.

#10 - Training with Food, Training With A Clicker, Sarah & Estaban
Trainers forget to reward once their dog is into sequencing. Tugging has taken over as the best reward, but with dogs that don't tug, food is the motivator. Rewarding on D's line is harder with food unless you use big hunks of food that toss far. 1/4 hotdog, 1/3 string cheese, bisquit. Have food ready in hand, don't root for it in your pocket after the sequence is done. Timing of reward is essential to build drive, prevent D from curling into you for their food reward. Treating from your hand builds handler focus, not obstacle focus and encourages head checks. For little dogs who don't eat much or retrieve, can slather a toy with peanut butter, toss toy on line and deliver the food. Or, put target at end of sequence. Downside to this, they get the treat even if they make a mistake. Best to have a helper, or put treats in a container D can't get to treat until H takes off the lid. For big dogs, a big glass jar they can't run off with works.
Luring:  Dog thinks less, drives more.  Targets are lures. Agility Right From The Start.
Clicker Training: Marking a performance in a consistent way. Takes less reps for D to learn to do what you want. Sylvia Trkman clicks everything. Shaping obstacles with clicker gives better results, more confidence, less fear (dogs choose to do the behavior rather than being lured over it). Continue using the clicker with advanced dogs.

#11 - Rear Cross
Not too many rear crosses in international agility. Younger competitors there vs US.  RC important for less atheletic handlers. FC gives you more control over D, if you can get there. Walk courses with both RC's and FC's. Never know when you'll need that RC. Judges are now designing courses where the FC won't work. RC combined with other moves is now sometimes needed to complete a maneuver.
Cons: Not easy to teach D to be comfortable with RC. D has to be in front of you, needs obstacle focus. D looses eye connection with H for a moment. Hard to catch up from being behind D.
Pros: With fast dogs, H is often behind D, the RC is the only way to cross. Sometimes there is no time for a FC. RC gives H more wiggle room.
Read more RC articles at

#14 - What Makes A Good Coach/Instructor (Blog Action Day)
First, what knowledge does an instructor bring? Reinforcement theory? Problem solving? Specific skills training? Mental game? Don't need to be a top-notch handler to be a great coach. Needs a critical eye, be able to watch someone carefully, pinpoint problems. Great handler does not necessarily imply they can teach what they do. You get different things from different instructors, use multiple coaches. Good communications/student interaction is a must -- attitude, tone, level of criticism, articulation of concepts, two-way communications. Ability to inspire, keep students going through the rough patches.

#13 - Agility Calendar Girls, by Katie Long and Cat Clark
Fund raiser for cancer, Katie and Cat lined up volunteer agility competitor models to pose half-nude on agility equipment, one calendar with sexy Great Britian gals, another with US girls, 2013 calendar can be ordered online at, 2014 calendar will be men.

#17 - FCI World Agility Championship 2012 Preview
38 countries sending competitors.
Lisa Frick/Hoss (Watch her YouTube videos)
Linda Martin Hill
Croatian Shephard (Mulch Kennel) - watch this breed
Astonia has a Papillon
Laura Chudley/Rodney, UK Calendar Girl, great team
Nicola/Twister Lots of backwards and bent over running $19.99 to watch the whole thing, one year access.

#18 - FCI World Agility Championship Wrapup - Day 1
In Europe, Agility=Standard, Jumping=Jumpers.
USA Team Large Dog took 1st place, followed by Slovenia, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, France, Astonia, Italy, Hungary, Canada finishing 10th. Only 1.99 seconds difference between 1st and 4th place. Lower on the scale, 20 or more other countries, but some of their dogs ran very fast, and tomorrow these teams could move back up into 1st, especially if the top teams make mistakes. USA Team members: Daisy Peel and Solar, Solvena Burara? and Tecam, Tori Self and Rip, Tori and Icon. More familiar names: Susan Garrett, Greg Derrett, Sylvia Trkman & Boo (Slovenia). The best runs were all under 30 seconds. Individual dogs who came in under 29 sec: 1st place Austria/Hoss 28.51 sec; 2nd place Croatia/Tip 28.83 sec., 3rd America/Tecam 28.86; 4th Finland/Gia 28.91, 5th USA Tori/Revolution 28.96, 6th Zen 28.97

#19 - FCI World Agility Championship Wrapup - Day 2
Small Dog Teams Jumping. 1st place Hungarians 2nd Japan, 3rd US, all dogs had time faults. Won't run Standard/Agility until tomorrow.
Large Dog Team Standard Results: Gold-Switzerland, Silver-Germany; Bronze -Italy, only these 3 had 3 out of 4 clean runs, US 4th Daisy Peel's Solar fell off the top of the dogwalk. Another American dog jumped over the weaves, maybe thinking it was a broad jump pole. Lots of dogs missed the weave entry. Whenever anyone disqualifies, they play music and start clapping.
Martina Clemisova/KiKi, a Mudi, won gold in Medium Agility, Czech Republic

#20 - FCI World Agility Championship Wrapup - Day 3
Small Dog Team Standard - Gold, Silver (Czech Republic), Bronze
Dog Sports Video provides video overlays of 1st and 2nd place winners in each category, showing the small differences in handling that make the winners win. Also the similarities in handling.
Individual Small Dogs Jumpers - 60 dogs ran clean. 28.97 for 1st place, Tobial Wust and Peanut, 2nd Techna, runs on video, w overlays here.
Only US dog to Q ran 32.9.
Individual Medium Dogs - Natasha Wise/Dizzy 1st 28.98, DeeDee 2nd 29.09.  Video overlay here.
Individual Large Dogs - high Q's, very technical course, Susan Garrett/Feature off course, sometimes a wide turn made all the difference in placement. Daisy/Solar nice run 20th place, could still come up from behind. Lisa Frick and Hoss, amazing run, 1st place, ran backwards thru 3 obstacles, unusual BC's, unique handling style. Video here.

#21 - FCI World Agility Championship Wrapup - Day 4
Final day, both jumping and agility, all dogs. 
Agility: Difficult dog walk entry, tunnel wrapped around both sides, NQ'd a lot of dogs.  Exit was straight to next obstacle, an advantage for those with running contacts.  They run the lowest ranked dogs first.
Small, 1st and 2nd went to the same two small dogs.  Techna and Peanut, Peanut and Techna, with almost identical times.
Medium, Sylvia and Le, beautiful run 1st place agility round, raw speed, tight turns, running contacts. Video. Sylvia also took 8th place combined, with La.
Nathasha Wize and Dizzy (GB), got 3rd place, and combined with 1st in jumpers, gold overall. 3rd world championship with Gold in 4 years.
Large: US all ran 4 for 4 all weekend.
Sylvia and Bu, 9th place going in, ended up neck and neck with Daisy Peel and Solar for Gold and Silver (5th), but got bumped by Cayenne, Silver; and Heat, bronze run, Lisa Frick Hoss and last dog to run, bumps others out to 1st place in agility and 1st in jumpers, gets Gold Combined. 3rd world championship run, video here.

#1 - Using A Crate In Training
Putting dog in a crate, rather than on a leash in class, releases D to pay attention to other things than you, goof off, feel safe.  Gives H time to walk course with full focus, without checking where D is. Crate gives D permission to do other things.  D on leash, he should be paying attention to you.  Putting D in a down or stay becomes an Obedience exercise, which drains some of their energy.  Crated D is safe from interference from other D's.  Also, putting D in crate after their turn imitates the trial environment.
Discussion of conditions at AKC World Agility Team Tryouts, and advantages of attending - see latest handling techniques, only one ring so you get to see it all, lots of cheering. Available on the web at Video On Demand, also available on
Also some runs probably on YouTube.

#2 - AKC Worlds Agility Team Tryouts 2012, Sarah & Estaban with Brittany Schaezler
Discussion of each dog that made the team and why, plus performances by many teams who didn't, and teams to look for in the future. This competition is viewable by purchase from  Illustrates that some people are following agility teams as avidly as other people follow football players' careers.  Interesting! AKC's coverage of the competition was amazing, fast, and thorough, including course maps, running order, videos, and scores.

#29 - 2013 AKC National Agility Championship Preview
Crunching the numbers and stats on who will be competing in Tulsa in March 2013. Very detailed.  Powerscore was used to analyze the stats. Each dog's average YPS in both Jumpers and Standard over the past year is displayed in an Excel Spreadsheet for each height class, and ranked accordingly. Dogs' full name, and call name, are given, nice for doing your own research of YouTube videos of that dog's runs and following their career on  Great to see someone following agility dogs and handlers the way millions follow football/basketball/baseball/tennis players' careers.

#30 - Analyzing Your Mistakes In Dog Agility
3 basic types of mistakes:  execution, dog's understanding, handler's understanding. After running together several years, execution becomes the main type of mistake . . . forgetting the course, poorly timed cross, tripping, failing to create a line, etc.  Dogs also make errors in execution, yes they do.  Don't avoid a maneuver because you think you're bad at it. Crosses, threadles, serpentines, ketchkers, become easier as you train them.  "Practice like you compete, compete like you pactice."  Whatever criteria you use at home, use at the trial.  Proof your dog for the trial atmosphere.  D needs to understand your cues at speed, at a distance, with multiple distractions, with various spacing between obstacles.  Every cue needs to be distinctive, different from any other cue, so D can understand it at speed, at a distance.  Named handling systems can divide people up, but actually everybody develops their own system.  Can be a different system for each dog you run.  Whatever, H's set of cues should be consistent for each D. Even the most well-known systems evolve as their developers gain in their own understanding of how to execute, and students apply pressure.  Be adaptable, not rigid. Be open to commentary from fellow competitors you trust, who may see things you can't see.  When you change your system you have to go back and retrain your dog in that area.

#27 - "Off Breed" Dogs in Agility
Defines "off breed" dogs as anything other than Border Collies, Shelties, and Papillons, based on the preponderance of these breeds competing and winning at the highest levels worldwide. Useful distinction because it helps serious handlers choose an agility dog that is easy to train in agility and can win. AKC Invitational described, where only 5 dogs of each breed (and mixed breed) are invited, perfect for "off breed" dogs - grouped by both breed and group. There are also breed-only competitions, where off breed dogs don't have to compete with top agility breeds, and these dogs can earn recognition. Some breeds are harder to train, for example lots of Goldens are sensitive to sound and touch, resulting in not liking the see-saw, others mature late, some have little prey drive. Physical traits come into play based on stride length, stamina, heat sensitivity, focus.  Still, many run an off-breed dog for love of the breed.  Important to find an instructor with experience in your breed, or at least with many different breeds.  As an agility handler's agility goals rise, maybe aspiring to compete at worlds, they may choose a dog with a greater chance to win rather than their favorite breed.  Everyone's goals are valid.  Learn your dog's tendencies regardless of breed and train to that.

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