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 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:
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:
Have fun coming up with your own game rules!
I'm not interested in discussing the “why, what, where, when” of the forward motion front cross; your timing is something you'll need to perfect with your dog. What I'm interested in discussing is the how of the forward motion front cross. After all, if you can't get your body to do the correct things at the correct time, it's not going to matter one tiny bit how perfect your timing is; you might know exactly when to do something, but if you can't do move your body in the required fashion, your knowledge is useless.
A forward motion front cross is one where your motion (think, from the hips down) is telling your dog to go forward, but your upper body (hips up) is telling the dog to turn. In this fashion, you can balance cues so that you let the dog know there is a turn after a jump or chute or straight tunnel, even as you are moving forward to the completion side of the obstacle.
Consider this sequence:
Let's say that you would like to be able to handle #4 from the take-off side, so that you can already be moving toward #5 to cue the turn required to get your dog to #6. You're going to need to get on the landing side of #3, and it's likely that your dog is going to see you moving toward the landing side of #3. Your motion and your changing location (evermore toward the landing side of the plane of the jump) are going to tell the dog to go forward after the jump, to that tunnel that is looming just beyond.
All is not lost, though – you can balance out the cues your lower body is giving, and your changing location with some upper body cues that will let the dog know that despite your motion, you do want a turn after #3. The trick to this is that your dog has to see you initiate these cues as he's getting ready to commit to #3. If you initiate your cues too early, your dog may discard the information as irrelevant to the #3 obstacle, because your location relative to it was too distant when you began your cue combination. If you initiate your cues too late, your dog will almost certainly head toward and go in to the tunnel; after all, if you're just running forward, and facing forward, and you're moving to a landing side location, all cues say full steam ahead to the dog.
Many people get this, at least in theory. In practice, it's another matter. I'm not interested in discussing the “why, what, where, when” of the forward motion front cross; your timing is something you'll need to perfect with your dog. What I'm interested in discussing is the how of the forward motion front cross. After all, if you can't get your body to do the correct things at the correct time, it's not going to matter one tiny bit how perfect your timing is; you might know exactly when to do something, but if you can't do move your body in the required fashion, your knowledge is useless.
Most of the time, it's helpful to think of your upper and lower body as two different parts that can balance one another out. In this case, the lower half of the body is giving forward cues, and the upper half of the body is balancing it out. If both the upper and lower half of your body are aligned, then the cues they give will be additive (ie forward + forward = FORWARD!), but you can easily change that balance by shifting either your upper body or your lower body to give fewer forward cues.
If you're not sure what I'm talking about, take a look at this picture:
You can see that the wide receiver, who has the ball, has his lower half going forward, but his upper half is turned. Imagine that the football player in the white uniform is a dog; from his perspective the wide receiver's outside arm can clearly be seen as well as the inside arm. The wide receiver is also looking over his shoulder making direct eye contact with the “dog” in the photo.
Of course, in this photo, you can anticipate that the next frame is either going to be the wide receiver rotating clockwise so he can run a bit faster, or getting sacked by the opponent. But, in dog agility, seeing a handler moving like this has a pretty clear meaning to the dog; watch out, a turn is coming – the dog will anticipate that the wide receiver is going to continue rotating counterclockwise, particularly if the handler has developed a history of following through with such a rotation, say, in foundation work (think, recalls to heel).
I used to be in the marching band in high school and college, and to be honest, I've had my fill of football. But, a couple of months ago, when I was on a plane and somebody had left a football special edition of Sports Illustrated in the seat back pocket, I was intrigued by all the photos like the one above. Each photo like this so clearly shows how to properly rotate your upper half independent of your lower half. In football, the wide receiver is trying to turn back to find and catch a ball coming from above. He's also trying to avoid getting sacked. He can't just run forward, or he'll never catch the ball. And, he can't run backward, or he'll get sacked immediately as he'll have no speed. So the compromise is what you see above; lower half going forward as best it can, and upper half turned as best it can.
Even if you're not built like a wide receiver (I'm certainly not!), you do have some ability to do this. Figure 3 shows an exaggerated version of what I'm talking about – this is what it might look like if you as the handler were fully extended and still trying to cue a turn for your dog. This is what rotating on the run looks like, and even if you're not doing a forward motion front cross, learning how to rotate on the run is a very useful skill, because you can rotate your upper body in toward your dog (the football) and still cover ground quickly, cuing a turn while also staying ahead of your dog.
In the sequence above, you should be doing something like this before you pass the plane of #3. You don't want to be so far ahead of your dog that you complete the rotation and end up standing still on the landing side of the jump; you only need to be as far ahead of your dog as the wide receiver is ahead of his opponent in Figure 2, provided that your dog has not already committed to the obstacle. And, since you'll be rotating your upper body but continuing to move forward with your lower body, your rotation might start before you cross the plane of #3, but it won't end until a stride or two later (your strides), when you are on the landing side of the obstacle and can then work on cuing #4 properly.
We don't have to worry about moving quite as quickly as the football players do, and most of us don't have to worry about getting sacked by our dogs. Phew! Here are a couple of videos from Youtube – in each one, there are at least a couple of forward motion front crosses being performed.
For some reason, holding a jump bar or weave pole at shoulder height tends to help people get a feel for what it's like to move the top and bottom halves of their bodies separately. The video below shows you a couple of different exercises that you can do to help feel out moving your top and bottom halves independently of one another.
The slideshow below is an example of a forward motion front cross; you'll note that while my feet are travelling in one direction, my shoulders have already started to rotate toward my dog, who doesn't even show up in the frame til later. Once my upper body has started rotating, my lower body then turns to meet my upper body, but then, my upper body STAYS rotated in to my dog as my lower body rotates forward again in the new direction.
For a video that shows some nice examples of the lower body moving independently of the upper body, here you go:
If you liked this article, leave a comment!
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!
The height of your dog determines what height they will need to jump. The measuring process can be a stressful one for some dogs and “real” measuring wickets are $250, whew! Here's a simple version of a wicket that costs no more than $10 in materials. This project is very easy and can be adjusted depending on your needs. This wicket was made to use 1 length of 10 foot PVC pipe in order to maximize the use of it. I made the width quite wide (2 ft wide) so that I could accommodate fairly wide dogs, again you could easily alter the width in order to accommodate the dogs you are planning to measure.
When I first started agility, many years ago, one of the most alluring things about agility, other than the actual activity itself, was the PVC “stuff” I could build. It was like Tinkertoys, for big kids. All those fittings, angles, and even…chemicals! It appealed to the chemist in me, the engineer in me, and the kid in me.
My first full set of jumps was PVC. I built them all, spray painted them, and even found aluminum number stamped jump cups for them. Then, I got a little more notoriety in the agility world and figured I should upgrade and get more “professional”. I sold them all and got metal jumps.
Then, we moved to WA, and I sold all THOSE, and didn't get any more, as I wouldn't need them in WA. Well, then after a couple years I struck out on my own again, and had to buy more jumps, and I had these made for me based on a design I brought home from Australia:
I wanted something lightweight, NOT metal (safety trumps however “professional” the jumps may look), and different than the standard rectangular PVC wing design.
Well, although my time is limited, I do love a project. This year, with the Agility Hall expanding to include an outdoor grass arena (currently being watered by a lovely NW downpour), I need another set of jumps. And, instead of just red white and blue jumps, I want one jump from each country I've been to (or maybe plan to go to) to compete in agility. I had thought of purchasing a whole set of Launch The Dog jumps, but despite how cool they look, they're a little pricey for me *and* I just want a little more instant gratification – I want my jumps NOW! Plus, the contrarian in me wants them less and less the more and more other people have them 🙂
So, I've embarked on a project to build a whole new set of PVC wing jumps. Jumps that look a little flashier than the typical rectangular wing design.
I'm keeping a record of building this set of jumps, so that those who are interested can take the plans and use them for their own designs. So, I'll be including pictures, how-to, flub ups, and finished results, for all to see, in addition to the cost of each DIY jump. So, without further ado, here's my latest project!This content is free, but you'll need to sign up to access it first! Once you've signed up, you'll receive an email with your login credentials, and you can log in and return to this page to view! If you're already a student and know your password you can log in immediately 🙂
If you’re one of those people who, while at work all day, dreams about what you will do with your dogs when you get home, only to find that the time you had slips away from you between chores, children, spouses, and the other little necessities of life, then you’re not alone! In this article, following the Bob Bailey motto of “Think, Plan, Do”, I’ll outline plans for skills that you can train in ten minutes or less, so that you can find the time you didn’t think you had to train your dogs!
Originally posted in Clean Run Magazine as part of a series titled “The 10-minute Trainer”, this episode goes through the step by step process of teaching your dog how to love the table. Take a look, have a listen, enjoy, and…Happy Training!
In this post, we’re going to spend our ten minutes working on an obstacle that is often overlooked….the table. Personally, I find that spending my time working on fast sits and downs on the table is pretty boring, and of course, since I don’t find it exciting, my dogs don’t either! I do, however, want my dogs to perform any behavior that they can do on the ground on the table, and with equal zest and speed. So, I want to do a lot of fun things that revolve around the table. And, it turns out that the table can also be a great piece of conditioning equipment.
Just spending time doing a variety of activities with the table, even if it is in my living room, will help bring the table up in value in my dogs’ minds. Ask yourself – have you given your dog the same amount of cookies or toy play as reinforcement for activities revolving around the table as you have for the weave poles or the contacts?
For most of us, the answer is probably no. There’s a reason many of our dogs gravitate toward contacts and not the table – think of the ratio of cookies spent on the contacts vs. the table! The following exercises are just some suggestions of how you might spend 10-minutes with your dog building value for the agility pause table without ever even working on a sit or a down position on the table itself. Enjoy!
Your dog may have no hesitation in getting up on the table when he has a good amount of space and can run toward it with some speed. But, will your dog jump UP to get on the table if he is close to it, with no motion involved? This exercise can serve double duty: helping to eliminate refusals your dog might incur for failure to jump up on the table when he gets close to it, and helping to condition and strengthen those muscles needed to jump UP.
Jumping up on the table from a location close to the table itself is one thing. Jumping back DOWN is yet another. Of course I wouldn’t do this on any sort of slippery surface, and I will take care to make sure that my dog is safe. But, once my dog is up on the table, I can also place cookies close to the base of the table, on the ground, and release my dog off the table to get those cookies. This can be a useful activity for those with larger or more enthusiastic dogs that tend to push off the table horizontally when released, with such force that they knock the table back, causing it to slip out from under them.
In AKC, the dog must come off the table with all four feet in order to be faulted. On more than one occasion, I’ve been glad that I’ve played this game with my dogs on the table! Occasionally, my dogs have miscalculated their speed on approach to the table (or I’ve miscued how much speed they should have), and have hit the table only to slip off again. But, thanks in part to this game, they know how to avoid coming off entirely, and can actually back themselves up on to the table. Be advised, this is a great conditioning exercise, but it also requires a great deal of strength – so start with a low table to start, and go from there. It also requires that your dog have some experience with targeting objects with his rear legs, or that he know how to back up.
With this exercise, I purposefully don’t lure my dog forward in to a two on/two off position on the table, because I don’t really want him trying to drive forward to such a position. And of course, I’ll make sure that I’m not doing too much of this activity. As with all other exercises, moderation is the key. What I really want is for my dog to get as few cookies as possible with this exercise, until his whole body is on the table, and then, he will get a LOT of cookies.
At some point or another, probably sooner rather than later, your dog is going to have to be up on an agility table, at a trial, OUTSIDE the ring, in order to be measured. So, in anticipation of this, include some measuring games in your table training repertoire. For this game, use a hula hoop cut in half, or a homemade measuring wicket made out of three short pieces of PVC and a couple of 90-degree PVC elbows. With your dog on the table, do the following:
In each of the above cases, click for attention or movement toward the wicket, and then deliver your cookie such that the dog has to continue to move toward or duck his head under/through the wicket to get his cookie.
With your wicket, you can also reward your dog for:
In addition to the activities above, there are many tricks that I teach my dog on the ground that I might also do on the table. For some of these tricks, marked with an asterisk (*), performing them on the table adds an added element of strength and coordination, depending on the stability of your table. But for all of these tricks, teach your dog how to do them on the ground first!
You can make this list even longer with the tricks that you’ve taught your own dog. Some tricks, of course, are not appropriate to do on the table, such as backing up, or rolling over, for obvious reasons. And you can see that on my list, a simple “sit” and “down” aren’t really even included.
Of course, I do teach my dogs to maintain a down position on the table until I say my release word. And, I do a lot of exciting gyrations when they’re in a down stay on the table to see if, in a playful way, I can entice them to come off the table. When they do make the mistake of coming off of the table, however, because I have done all of the above activities on the table with them, they are typically quick to get back on the table. And, when they mistakenly come off, all of my gyrations stop suddenly, and I become far less interesting. Then, when they do hop back on the table, I’m quick to reinforce in their minds that the table is a really fun place to be! So much of the rest of an agility course can be so much fun for the dogs that some time spent specifically making the table a fun place to be is time well spent – and it takes very little time and space to do it.
Sit or down on a table should just be one of many things your dogs might do to earn a cookie while they’re up there. And, like any other behavior you might ask your dog to do as a trick on the table, sit and down should be viewed as a trick – cued with a smile on your face and praise at the ready!
Until next time,
Today was Chipper's very first USDAA trial! As I listened to the very thoughtful and thorough briefing that the judge gave to the Starter's Snooker competitors, I was surprised at the number of competitors that had no idea how the game was actually played! The judge was very patient explaining the rules – but oh, how I wanted to jump up and down and tell everybody, “hey, did you guys know that there is a CLASS you can take on this in my Online Classroom?!”.
Then, I realized that at the very least, I could make this 22 minute video, on the rules of snooker available to everybody! Lori Michaels put this video together as part of her Snooker 101 course. Judges, you can just play this video on your iPad during the briefing, and you'll never have to explain snooker again! OK, you probably will, but COMPETITORS and INSTRUCTORS, share this video with your students to help demystify the game! And, you can learn even MORE about the game, and the skills you need to play it, in Lori's SNOOKER 101 course!
It's been a while since I published a podcast, but I had more to say than my tennis elbow would let me type, so, here you go, thoughts on lifelong learning in agility!
One of my favorite topics to teach dog owners is “focus and self-control” and it goes hand in hand with K9 conditioning. Slow and controlled movements in specific positions cannot be obtained if your dog is over threshold. Learning to work with a dog under threshold is a puzzle. It is a truly rewarding experience to help a handler see that their dog is able to work under threshold by making a few adjustments to their own movements, props (such as food or toys) and tone of voice.
A few weeks ago while teaching a workshop and I saw a dog that was completely over threshold the minute he came into the room – not focused on the owner, completely focused on the other dogs, at the end of the leash and he wanted ACTION. The owner was being pulled here and there and was trying to get the dog’s attention. I am immediately drawn to this dog as I love a challenge. I continued to teach and watched the handler try to focus the dog without treats or toys with no success. I then went to the handler and asked if the dog liked toys or treats. The answer was “yes” – BINGO. I knew right then I could show this handler a different way to work with his dog. I had a tug in one hand and a few treats in the other. In just a few minutes I was able to get the dog to focus on me – reward alternating between treats and tugging. I got much calmer movement from the dog, a sit stay, and an offering of behavior. Now this isn’t a ‘fix all’ it was a brief moment in time and I used ONE puzzle piece and found a match. Could have easily gone the other way and then I would have had to look for a different clue fit the pieces together.
A more personal example:
I see many handlers (and I was one of them) trying to match their dog’s energy with their own. It is an important lesson to slow down with these dogs and teach them that life is not always full of “action”. When I got Riley at 5.5 mo old he was easily over threshold at the site of other dogs, a toy, or any sort of fun. It was a true challenge to get him to focus and have any ability to settle. I remember being in a “manners class” where I basically tugged with him the entire time to keep his focus on me….hmmm was he focused on me or focused on the tug? What I learned is that moving slow, talking quietly and a tug/release game was very effective in getting my dog to focus on me and what I was asking of him. These were the puzzle pieces I needed to make our training more effective and rewarding. I can now train almost anything with a tug in my hand, but it took work, understanding, and time to try different puzzle pieces until it all came together.
Telling students to SLOW DOWN, giving commands in a soft voice, no cheerleading and reward sparingly has become a daily request of those handlers with dogs who are easily over excited. That said, I truly believe that there is a time for a super happy voice, such as when working with a softer dog that needs more encouragement. But if your dog is easily over threshold, then they do not need that type of inspiration to work and learn. In fact it can hinder the process.
Whether working with my own dogs or a client dog it is truly rewarding to find those puzzle pieces that improve the training process. The examples above will not work for every dog but there are many other things to try. For some dogs food is a super high motivator, for others food will put them over threshold or the dog will not even want food if easily stressed. The same goes for a squeaky toy or a tug toy. For some these tools may work great for focus and for others it will impede or just not improve the process.
There is not a one size fits all answer, that is what makes finding the puzzle pieces so rewarding. My intention in writing this blog is to just encourage those of you that have highly excitable dogs to slow down, take a look and see where the puzzle pieces fit together. This step can teach you so much about your dog and it will improve the success rate of your training as well as improve the relationship between you and your dog.