Monthly Archives: May 2014

Contact Whispering

Debbie has a saying: the louder you shout at the dog, the faster the dog goes off course. A shrieking call-off only serves to send the dog faster. Her advice is to whisper the dog’s name when you need a turn, in addition to setting the line appropriately by the way you move. I have found this advice to work very well indeed.

I have spent years training and retraining and retraining Dancer’s contacts. It’s definitely entirely my fault that her contacts are so unreliable. I really can’t blame her; the criteria have been so unclear for so many years. Five or six years ago, Susan Perry asked me at a seminar “what exactly are your contact criteria?”; it was a question I quite literally found myself unable to answer, stammering through a vague and apologetic “getting a foot in the yellow” and then going silent as Susan asked follow-up questions: Which foot? How far into the yellow? What about the next step after that?

I started by trying to train a running contact, using hoops. I switched to a stopped contact but wasn’t clear on my standards and let her jump off without marking it in competition. I tried a nose target. I tried a foot contact. I tried running contacts again.

About two years ago, I noticed that Dancer’s anxiety levels at trials were sky-high. She was nervous, unhappy, running slowly, not having fun, except in jumpers-without-weaves (the CPE and NADAC versions), where she seemingly enjoyed herself. I started running her differently in practice and in trials. I never corrected her. I rewarded heavily after every run, no matter what happened, just for coming out and playing with me. In practice, I did little tiny sequences (jump-tunnel! tunnel-jump-jump!) and then rewarded.

I started working toward building game playing, using her rules, not mine. Her rules included playing keep-away with the toy; I decided that her enjoyment meant that was just fine. I started playing chase while she had the toy, then tossing her a treat to get her to drop the toy so I could throw it again. Eventually we built to a game of tug. She always always wins at tug and then I chase her to get the toy back; she loves that game.

As part of building her enjoyment, I ignored her contacts. For a while, she just leapt over them routinely, but sometimes she’d run through them, and then we might Q. We got the occasional Q if she happened to run through all her contacts.

Meanwhile, in practice, I was throwing the toy at the end of the contacts and she was stopping to grab the toy; after a while, she started offering the stop so I would throw the toy. But she wasn’t stopping at trials reliably.

Two trials ago, I was thinking about Debbie’s advice about yelling at the dog, and I thought about the number of times I’ve yelled “wait!” at Dancer to get her to stop on the contacts–after which she’s leapt over the yellow as if it were electrified. When she was on the dogwalk in the next run, I tried something different.

I whispered her name–Dancer!–as softly as I could, just as she trotted onto the down ramp. Her ears lifted slightly, her head didn’t turn, and she trotted nicely down the ramp and through the contact zone. Next, the a-frame. She stopped briefly to look around at the top–as she has done so often–and I whispered her name again, and watched her focus shift again, with a lovely run through the yellow. At the teeter, where she often hesitates and sometimes (much less than previously) jumps sideways, she walked calmly off the end after I whispered her name again.

It seemed to me then, and it seemed to me in subsequent runs, and it seems to me now, that whispering her name refocuses Dancer; she momentarily forgets her worries and cares and is able to remember what she wants to do. Instead of scanning for more information from the top of the a-frame, she can continue on. Shouting a cue at her didn’t work; whispering her name re-connects the bond between us.

Four runs so far with contact whispering; four straight Qs.

Obsession and the World’s Smallest Agility Field

I refer to our front lawn, which is 20 feet by 40 feet, as the World’s Smallest Agility Field. I’m quite sure it’s not, actually, the smallest agility practice area, although it’s definitely smaller than the “small area practice” area defined by Clean Run in a series a few years back.

BUT… the WSAF is certainly big enough to practice a few things. I no longer use it for practicing jumping skills with Rush–I just didn’t feel it was safe, and I sold my jumps. I do have four hoops, and they’re very useful for practicing handling maneuvers–crosses of various types–and for occasionally just running Rush in a circle, a kind of lungeing without a lunge line… I have a teeter, an bangy, noisy, light-weight aluminum one from the days when Dancer wouldn’t do the teeter. I have a set of 2×2 weaves and a straight set of six.

I use the weaves a lot. When I can’t do anything else–not enough time to get to a barn, not feeling well enough, whatever–I work weave entries with Rush, using the hoops to set a path. Sometimes I use six weave poles, sometimes four, sometimes eight, sometimes two sets of six with a hoop between to set the entry, sometimes all twelve (on the diagonal). When Rush was just learning his weaves at fourteen months, I did a lot of work with just four poles. It let me practice all kind of crosses without him having to be perfect at 12 poles. I’m convinced that four-pole work in one reason he has such awesome weave skills.

I am obsessed with keeping the grass of the WSAF in the best possible condition. I fertilize with massive amounts of organic fertilizer. I mow with a hand-powered rotary mower a few times a week, keeping the grass nice and high and soft. I hand-weed with a weeding knife that I refer to as the “knife of destruction.”

When I’m not playing agility on the WSAF, I do let the dogs play on it. Here’s Rush, with his tennis ball, pausing in the midst of a rousing game of chase-the-ball.

rush lawn may 2014

Photos by Joe Camp

Here in NW Oregon and SW Washington, we are fortunate that Joe Camp loves to come to agility trial and photograph the dogs. He took this photo of Rush at the Fleet Feet trial last weekend; I love how it shows off his intensity!

Photo by Joe Camp

Photo by Joe Camp

Official results, Fleet Feet

Jackpot L5, Q, 1st, 46 points, 40.86 sec
Standard L5, Q, 2nd (to Rush), 178 yds, SCT 65, 57.35 sec
FullHouse L5, Q, 1st, 27.45 sec, 27 points
Standard L5, Q, 2nd (to Rush), 172 yds, SCT 63, 58.18 sec
NOTE: Dancer is now 2 Standard Qs away from her C-ATCH.

Colors L5, Q, 1st, 71 yds, SCT 26, 13.51 sec (fastest time in the class)
FullHouse Level C, Q, 1st, 29 points, 35.61 sec
Standard L5, Q, 1st, 172 yds, SCT 63, 37.32 sec
Jumpers L5, Q, 1st, 126 yds, SCT 34, 20.05 sec (fastest time in the class)
Standard L5, Q, 1st, 178 yds, SCT 65, 38.86 sec
Jackpot Level C, Q, 1st, 65 points, 46.55 sec

Conditioning, Warmups, Fitness

This is something of a rambling commentary….

Just before New Year’s, I decided to start running again. At the time, that meant trotting very slowly for a minute and then walking (and gasping for breath) for a few minutes before trotting some more. But I had decided I would do it, and so I did it, although I hated it. I took Rush with me, mostly for the company. Initially, I was trotting so slowly that he was walking. Walking fast, but walking. He looked bored, too.

Over time, I’ve built up some stamina and a little speed (not much, honestly–I’m still trotting at about 12 minutes/mile) so that I’m trotting most of the time we’re out; now Rush trots slowly most of the time. This is an improvement. I’ve noticed huge improvements in my stamina; at the end of an agility day, I don’t feel draggy and exhausted, and the last run of the day isn’t a slog.

Before I fell and bruised my ribs–almost completely healed now, just an occasional twinge–I planned to start doing some sprints. There’s a program called Sprint 8 that I’ve used in the past to spice things up. So today I started doing that again. Hopefully, I’ll get some speed out of it; I need to be faster to run with Rush!

I’ve been trotting with Dancer for a mile–she has a lovely trot-with-me speed that makes it a pleasure to go out with her–before starting my run with Rush. I’ve noticed that her muscles are hardening and strengthening and that she is running better as a result. Conditioning at both ends of the leash!

Both programs that I’m using as my guides for running (Couch to 5K and Sprint 8) call for five minutes of walking as a warmup. Initially, five minutes was not enough; at the end of five minutes I still felt cold and stiff. As I’ve been doing more of a workout, five minutes of fast walking does loosen my muscles and I’m usually sweating lightly by the time I start running. I notice that five minutes is also about when the dog I’m with is getting eager to get moving! (I can see steam starting to come out of Rush’s ears as he waits for me to get going.)

Over time, I’ve noticed that regular running is improving both dogs’ behavior on leash, too. It’s an unexpected bonus.

Finally, warmups.

Daisy Peel recently posted a podcast about the need for warmups for the person and for the dogs; you can find it here. Since she establishes the need for warmups but doesn’t talk about what makes for an effective warmup, I did a little googling to find out what short-distance hurdlers do, since that seems to be the closest to agility. (Soccer also qualifies.) I found this delightful video of an Australian woman dancing (huge smile) as she waits to run her race (which she won, gracefully). And all of it things I can do while I’m waiting to run!

For the human warmup, there seem to be a lot of routines out there. Most seem to involve a mixture of jogging slowly, straight-ahead lunges, high-knee walking, lateral (side) lunges, and backward walking. The goal is to be sweating lightly and feeling loose before you run. Twenty minutes is recommended. I can’t imagine doing twenty minutes of warmup before every run, but I do try for around ten. I get the dog out and trot for a bit; I walk for a bit; I walk and raise my knees high as I walk. I stretch once my muscles feel warm. I ask the dog for stretches–I like to let the dog stretch him/her self with bows and putting paws on my chest.

Official results–RAT CPE

Standard L5: 159 yds, SCT 60, 40.62 sec, 1st
Standard L5: 159 yds, SCT 60, 38.30 sec, 1st
Standard L5, 155 yds, SCT 55, 34.60 sec, 1st
Wildcard L5: 90 yds, SCT 33, 21.83 sec, 1st
Jackpot L5: 71 pts, 45.27 sec (game time 48 sec), 1st
Snooker L5: 41 pts, 28.63 sec, 1st

Standard L5: 164 yds, SCT 60, 50.12 sec, 1st
Standard L5: 159 yds, SCT 60, 51.48 sec, 2nd
Colors L5: 72 yds, 24.19 sec, SCT 27, 1st

A fantasy about the perfect agility facility

Last night, when I came home from a weekend of trialing in yet another dirt horse arena and spent twenty minutes in a hot shower trying to get a) clean and b) warm, I found myself day-dreaming about the perfect agility facility. I started by imagining a long, wide building, big enough for two 100×100 rings and floored with clean Sprinturf. I expanded my imagining to include a printed-in-the-turf course-setting grid for each ring and comfortable viewing stands all down one side of the arena, maybe even down both sides. Two permanent fences, five feet apart down the center, to divide the rings–with entrances and exits at the far ends of the rings, so that dogs couldn’t move from one ring to the other without their human. Offices at the ends for trial secretaries and the facilities manager. Of course there would have to be a facilities manager.

I added a retractable roof for nice weather, or at least generous windows that could be moved back when appropriate.

Nice bathrooms, with hot water and real toilets.

I continued my ideas. Heating and cooling to maintain the facility in the 60-75 degree (F) range at all times, through in-floor heating/cooling so that no heat would be wasted and no blowers would be needed. Generous climate-controlled crating areas, some of it under the stands and accessible from the rings so that they could be used during training sessions.

Covered parking and covered walkways from the parking. Lots of parking, with water and electricity, for RVs. A campground, flat and comfortable, with a fire ring, for campers, and a shower room for each sex. I decided money was no object and added a kitchen, a laundry room and a grooming room, with dog baths, blow dryers, and an easy-to-clean floor. And why not open a small and comfortable dormitory next door?

The facility would include generous and beautifully mowed outdoor fields. As long as I’m dreaming, I think I’d hire someone with baseball park experience–or golf-course experience–to manage the fields. Organically, with non-toxic materials, of course. Besides the fields for trials, there would be cross-fenced corrals for loose-leash exercise for the dogs, of different sizes, all with terrier-proof fencing, of course.

Finally, I imagined the winning lottery ticket that would pay for all of this.

Official results

I am behind a few trials here:

Poodle Sound Poodle Club trial (Argus):
Open JWW: 24.3 sec, one refusal, 2nd, SCT 42 sec, 139 yards
Time-to-Beat: SCT: 31.08 sec, 38.75 sec, 7 points
Time-to-Beat: SCT: 31.09 sec, RUSH WAS FIRST: 31.09 sec, 10 points

Dancer did not Q in either T2B run.

CAT NADAC (Longview):
Open Weavers, 140 yards, SCT 40 sec, 27.65 sec, 1st
Novice TNG, 136 yards, 29.86 sec, SCT 41.54 sec, 1st (and his Nov TNG title)
Open Reg, 154 yards, SCT 47.38 sec, 35.92 sec, 1st

Elite Regular, 59.34 sec, SCT 58.24 sec, 182 yards, Q–5points
Elite Tunnelers, SCT 30.14 sec, 137 yards, 24.97 sec, 2nd