Lori Michaels

Author Archives: Lori Michaels

An avid dog training enthusiast since childhood, Lori has been dedicated to the sport of agility over the last 13 years by competing at national and international events, as well as instructing classes and seminars throughout the US.

Class Courses

I really enjoyed the set-up I designed for classes this week.  It offered a lot of opportunities for different challenges I used in all of my competition handling classes (from Beginning Comp to Extreme Agility).

Here is the basic set-up:

The first course I set for the Advanced Comp Class (the Beginning Comp class had the same course, but did straight from 6-8, not taking the #7 jump before the A-Frame).

My Advanced Comp students tended to run very tentative the first time getting the dogs from the #5 weaves to the backside of #7.  Once I told them they *had* to be more intent on working  the line, they found they could easily push to the right side around #7 (dog on their right).


Another option was to execute a blind cross while the dogs were in the weaves and push to the left side around #7.  These ways were much more successful than trying to front cross on the landing side of #6 or pull and rear cross the dog to #7.

I also liked the option of then running on the right side of the A-frame (dog on left) and then rear crossing the next jump to tighten up the turn to the weaves.

At the end of this course, we worked on pre-cuing a tight turn out of the tunnel, setting the proper line on the 270 and different ways to handle the 270 to the end of the course.

Next, students had to think about running the first course in reverse flow (which was a challenge in itself!)

For the Extreme Agility Class, everybody first ran 1-12.  After they finished, I then added 13-20 and they ran the entire course.  I followed that by numbering another 10 obstacle sequence so their 3rd turn was running a 30 obstacle course.  We tend to all have enough stamina to get us through 20 obstacles, but it became clear that adding the yardage for another 10 was taxing to humans and dogs (especially by the 4th turn!).  Compound that by a few students who ran 2 dogs in the class (Oh yeah, one was me running Bizi and Skylar for Ann Zarr who is resting a leg injury) and it was quite a work out!  I think everybody could see the benefit to working longer courses and pushing ourselves to be able to dig deep to get through them.

Handling Comparisons

I have had a great time with my Online Coursework Facebook group!  Every 2 weeks I post a set-up with 10 exercises, ranging in skill level so there is something for everybody, in addition to gambler and snooker challenges.  I usually share demo video focusing on a few sequences and handling options (not all of the options, I love having others comment that they tried something different and post their own video!), while subscribers share video for me to analyze and everybody discusses what worked for them, what was difficult and advice to help each other improve.  What a fun, sharing and learning environment!

This cycle, the video focused on the opening line of two exercises and different handling option I chose to try with C-ya. I also noted differences in times, mistakes we made and how I could have improved my own timing and execution (Hey, nobody is perfect!).  My hope is that it helps others learn to scrutinize their own training session more closely and be bold applying different cue combinations to optimize their performance.   We also tend to focus so much on the big picture that we lose sight of the details.  When we improve upon the details, the picture becomes much clearer. 🙂

Here are the video and maps:

Here are maps of the 2 exercises I demonstrated.

Happy Training!

P-push it Real Good!

I really enjoyed all the “Fancy” classes this weekend presented by judge Leslie Bickel.  Casa de Canine offered both the MC Biathlon and individual classes over the last 3 days, so there were challenges a'plenty!  Today's MC Standard course had a fun opening that led to multiple handling options:


Opening to MC Standard Course Designed by Leslie Bickel

The initial decision the handler had to make was what path they wanted the dog to take from 1-4. As I stepped out both paths and looked at the natural line my dog would take  (she was jumping 26″, so make your own individual conclusions with your dogs and their natural tendencies),  I personally felt one was the best choice to have a very fast, efficient line from 1-3, but did not result in a great approach to the #4 A-frame.  The other choice did require a full 360-degree turn for the dog, but did allow the dog to land #2 and immediately transition into a straighter (safer), and faster approach to #4.   While I normally will always choose the more flowing path for my 26″ jumping dog, in this instance I felt it would be both faster and safer to go with the latter option.  Here are the paths I drew out in my mind and the differences in distance:

The downside of the latter option was the proximity of the tunnel opening facing the dog as they were being pushed to the backside of  the left wing of #2.  There were several handlers who tried this path, but lost their dogs in the tunnel.  This is one of the reason so many handlers decided to take the alternate path.   I heard more than once while walking the course, “I can't push my dog on that side, he/she will for sure take the tunnel!”

In these scenarios, the dogs who do take the off-course tunnel do so not because they are being naughty, but because they don't know the jump even exists!  Think about how you trained your dog to send to the backside of a jump.  Where are you usually located?  Are you physically taking your dog to the backside of the jump versus pushing/sending them more on their own from the landing side?   Here is what handling that way would look like to the dog on today's course:

push11Of course these dogs are going to look at the tunnel- the handler is blocking the jump so the dog doesn't really see it.  In addition, the handler isn't connecting with the dog- the focus is all forward (eye contact, hands, etc). There is no reason for the dog the think he/she isn't getting a send cue to the tunnel.

Instead, one of my big rules for backside sends is always letting my dog see part of the obstacle I want her to take, even if it is a piece of the wing, at least she knows there is something with which we are going to interact.  Also, this is a skill where the dog can't just assume he/she knows what comes next. It required connection in cuing. Here is how I positioned myself:

push2 Here, I shift to the right so that my dog sees the wing (but does not have access to the jump). I begin by giving a recall cue, so my dog is immediately coming to me, instead of defaulting into obstacle focus, which could lead to her taking the tunnel.  My eyes are focused on my dog, insisting she remain connected with me so she receives the send cue to go to the backside of the jump.  Also, I teach pushes as a 2-part skill.  1) push to the backside 2) take the jump.  Once my dog owns both of those responsibilities fairly independently, I am free in my handling to leave as soon as I see my dog is committed to going to the backside of the jump.  In today's sequence, as soon as I gave Solei her “back” cue and saw she was going, instead of post turning all the way around to my right as she was taking the jump, I was able to immediately move to my left towards #3 and picked her up on my left as she landed.

Just as they say football is a game of inches, so is agility!  Just a slight shift in your initial positioning can be the difference between a clean run and an E! 🙂

Backyard Training – Keep it Simple!

Many of us have some amount of usable space to practice small exercises at home with our dogs.  Even with a number of indoor agility training facilities in our area, I can't emphasize enough how supplementing your “formal” training time with practice at home is so important.  The more you can focus on small things (isolating and reinforcing individual skills such as stays, call to heel/hand, timing and placement of cues, etc), the stronger your teamwork will be with your dog.  The shorter the exercise, the more often your dog will get reinforced, too!  Also, I enjoy the challenge of working small sequences and practicing every single handling option.

It isn't about quantity, but quality.  Too often I see a small area just jam-packed with equipment.  Is it really necessary to have every single piece of equipment out at once?  Even though it is not a backyard, there is a small training facility where I often teach lessons and I have to get there to take off half of the equipment in order to have some breathing room.  If you are setting up a training exercise, keep it more realistic to what you might have in competition, even if that means you only have space for 3-4 obstacles.   This last weekend at a USDAA trial, we frequently had up to 30′ between some obstacles.  Not something we normally practiced in training, but need to.

With that in mind, here is a little drill that fits nicely into a pretty small space.  Look at each sequence and figure out how you can work it with all front crosses, all rear crosses or a combination thereof with serps and blind crosses.  Also, mirror the sequence so you are balancing the skills off both your left and right side.  Even if you have the luxury of a lot more space, don't be tempted to add to this drill.  Enjoy the simplicity of it!

serpdrill1 serpdrill2 serpdrill3 serpdrill4 serpdrill5


Serps, Threadles and Push-throughs. Oh My!

Last night I taught a workshop on handling serpentines, threadles and push-throughs.   The participants had already attended a class on the introduction of these skills, where we worked one or two skills at a time, so everybody was ready to be pushed a bit more!

The drill I devised was a spin-off of the traditional straight line of jumps.   By curving the line, it varies the challenge a bit and offers an increase in difficulty when the handler has to work the jumps from the “outside” of the curve.  It doesn't matter if you use wing or wingless jumps (a variety is great).  I also recommend playing with expanding or decreasing the distance between jumps.


The Set-up

The first objective is to serpentine the jumps, ideally down and back along the line.  Keep in mind that this should be a “no-brainer” to you and your dog.  Yes, you cue the line, but shouldn't overly have to work or hold to get your dog to come into you over a jump or push out to take one away from you.
Next, try threadling between the jumps. This means your dog is going to take each jump away from you.  Things can get a little tricky at this point, especially when you are trying to get down the line.  The best advice is DO NOT rush sending your dog back to the jump.  If you make the dog's line too effecient, then you risk getting too far behind and threadles are mostly successful when you stay ahead of your dog's path.  This is an example of a place you might have your dog take a little longer line if it allows you to remain proactive and keep them on course further along the line.  I am showing the path in black going one direction and red coming back.

Now tackle the push-through, where your dog takes each jump coming towards you.  This can also be pretty daunting, so don't strive for too many reps at once.  The more confident you are with your cue to send your dog to the back-side of the next jump, and the better your dog reads that cue, the more successful you will be.  Note that the dog starts on the “outside” of the line.

Once you feel confident with each of those handling skills and doing them repeatedly, we can up the ante!  All I have done in the set-up below is rotate each jump slightly on it's axis.  It changes the character of the skills significantly!  Now try each exercise with the jump angles changed.  You can also see how reversing the direction changes the challenge

Ready for more?  Try mixing up the different skills into one sequence.  The more confident you get, the longer you can make it.

I would strive to remember and get through a 25-30 obstacle sequences doing all three skills on just these 5 jumps. Enjoy!


Games Drills

Last week I posted this set-up for the Competition classes I teach in Kansas City. Normally, I will use set-ups I have had in class when I teach seminars.  This time, I decided to bring some game drills I used in recent seminars back to my classes since we had so much fun with them!

The Setup

The Setup


The basis of this drill uses the ladder set-up from my previous blog which can be seen HERE.
Warning! These games are not just for those who compete in USDAA or similar organizations offering snooker-type games classes!  I wanted these exercises to emphasize the importance of balance in respect to the dog being in handler vs. obstacle focus.  Also, it teaches the handlers to create smooth, efficient paths for the dog when given the task of  planning their own courses.   Think of it as brain games to improve our agility neuroplasticity!  Enjoy!

The first exercise is fairly basic and focuses only on the jumps and tunnels:


Jump Gap Drill #1


This next one is a fun game I call “Gaps and Jumpers”.  How can you most efficiently get your dog through the gaps?

Now, to add the AF and Weaves for more challenges.  Please give your dogs a “nice” approach to the AF!

Lastly, here is a fun timed-gamble game:


Fun Timed Gamble Game


Have fun coming up with your own game rules!

My New Favorite Drill – Jacob’s Ladder

A while ago, Alen Marekovic from Croatia posted a recent training exercise on facebook.  His course was the base for the following exercises and I give him full credit for the design inspiration!  I immediately saw the 5 parallel jumps at the top as a unique challenge that would make for an interesting drill.  So, with a little simplification to focus on that part of his original design, I was able to come up with a fun adaptation that resulted in a fresh new challenge which I introduced to my classes this last week.  Here is the basic set-up:


With the bottom 5 jumps used to build momentum and allow the dog to open up and run, the top part then focused on getting through the “teeth” of the exercises.  This was a great drill for those dogs who are terribly space conscious as the handler was quite restricted by the proximity of the other jumps (those 4 jumps were only spaced 6′ apart!).  These exercises also called for precision in timing and placement of handling cues as being a bit early or too late often resulted in an off course.  The tunnel was a very tricky off course option, especially for dogs who don't easily stay in handler focus and tend to take off on their own when pressured.  I mostly loved teaching with these drills as the handler couldn't dawdle watching the dog and had to keep moving to get to those critical handling points.

First, I want to point out the top portion (which I think resembles a Jacob's Ladder, don't you?). The possibilities are endless.  You could isolate those 4 jumps and practice several variations of the “ladder” (keeping in mind that you never take 2 jumps consecutively due to the closeness of them).  This first exercises shows a sequence in the ladder and how it could be executed several different ways (or a combination of both).  Also, imagine the various handling skills that can be used within each option!



Here are a few additional ladder exercises. How many ways could you handle them?

Keeping in mind all of the handling options in the ladder, below are a few ways I incorporated it in class sequences with increasing difficulty.  Another fun facet was the symmetry of the drill.  Several times, I had students run the numbered exercise, then they had to run the “mirror” of it.  Yes, I let them re-walk it, but it would also be a great exercise to run it with only mentally walking it!







This last one was great for snooker practice!  To add difficulty, I required students to go through the ladder instead of around the outside of it when going to and from the tunnels.


I hope you enjoy these drills!