In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, we’re going to have some fun with weave poles. I’m going to assume that your dog already knows how to weave, and that, in your 10-minutes today, you’d like to spend some time working on weave poles in a way that’s quick, fun, and productive! So, here are a couple of weaving games you can play, alone, or with a training partner.
This is a weave pole game that you can play with a training partner. If you have more time, you can get even more people and dogs involved and have a really fun time! This game is based off of a basketball came called H.O.R.S.E., in which the first person with the basketball attempts to make a basket. If that person is successful, every other person has to try to make a basket while using the same technique, stance, and location as the first person. As long as you make the basket, there’s no penalty. But, if you miss, you earn an H, or an O, etc. The last person to spell out H.O.R.S.E. is the winner! Applied to the weave poles, you can do the same thing. We’ll spell out W.E.A.V.E. instead of H.O.R.S.E!
Since you’re just working on entries for this game, stick to a set of six weave poles. Whoever goes first determines the approach angle in to, and handling of, the weave poles. So if that person is standing on one foot in a particular spot, asking their dog to weave from a particular spot, so must everybody else. If the dog makes the weave entry and completes all six poles, no penalty is applied. But if the dog misses the weave entry or fails to complete the poles, that handler is assessed a letter (starting with W, and then E, A, V, etc.). When each person has had his or her turn, the round starts over, with the next handler determining the starting location.
This is a fun game because it will force you to attempt the weave poles in ways you might not have thought up! Of course, if you and your dog have trouble with a particular entry, you can put it on your list of things to work on for another time.
With this game, you’ll want to make sure that you keep the environment safe for all people and dogs, since you’ll be using the motion of other dogs as a distraction. So, you may need to start with more distance between sets of weave poles, or a fence or other temporary barrier.
You’ll need two dog/handler teams for this one – or, if you’re feeling ambitious, two of your own dogs! You’ll also need two sets of six weave poles.
Two dogs will be weaving at the same time. To start with, have both dogs weaving in the same direction, but then, to make it more difficult, have the dogs weaving in opposite directions, to really test your dog’s ability to stay in the poles even with lots of moving distractions. See the figures below for more variations on this game. Figures are shown in increasing level of difficulty, although you may find a different order to be the case for your dog!
If you have two of your own dogs, you can work on weave pole passing on your own; it will be a test of your dogs’ ability to weave, and of your ability to keep your eye on multiple dogs at one time, as you’ll have two dogs you’ll be needing to reward or repeat with! I do this with my own dogs periodically, and it’s great fun.
There’s one more variation on this that I do with my own dogs, that requires twelve weave poles, which is the most fun of all, and is highly motivating for my dogs. Check out Figure 6!
For this one, you’ll have to figure out which dog should go in front – is your dog more distracted knowing there is a dog behind, or in front of him? And, you’ll need to make sure that you space the dogs out so that the dog in the rear doesn’t overtake the dog in front. I have to hold on to my dogs’ collars tightly for this one, as they’re usually screaming to get to the poles, one after another.
If you’ve only got one dog (or only one dog that can weave), here are some games you can play that will challenge your dog to stay in the poles despite your distractions. Most of these capitalize on unusual handler movement and/or location, so be creative and don’t limit yourself here!
Hopefully, you’ve come away with a few fun games that you can play with multiple dogs, or with a training partner or friend, as well as some silly variations on what you might be doing to pose as a distraction to your dog while he is weaving.
As always, if your dog makes a mistake, make sure that you back off with the level of distraction, and reward him when he gets it right, and then increase the level of distraction again. Make sure you’re having fun!
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In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, we’re going to spend our ten minutes working on a cue combination that is often overlooked, if not just plain avoided. Love it or hate it (or even if you’re feeling ambivalent), the post turn is one of those things that sooner or later, you’re going to wish you’d spent a little time on! Even though I do incorporate blind crosses and some of the “fancier” cue combinations in my handling, they are not a substitute for the simple and effective cue combinations I keep in my handling toolbox.
Post turns may seem boring, and I don’t much like standing like a post myself while on course, but, they can also be tricky with respect to proper timing. The problem with the timing of a post turn is that if you turn your shoulders away from your dog while doing it, you can actually send your dog forward in an unexpected way, rather than cuing a turn. Rotating your shoulders away from your dog is a forward cue, and not a turning cue – so if your dog is turning toward you as you’re rotating away from him, it’s likely that you’re also decelerating, and that the deceleration is in fact cuing the turn, and not any shoulder rotation away from your dog. See Figure 1.
In a post turn, because you need to rotate in the same direction as the dog, this can present a problem, as your rotation creates multiple opportunities to inadvertently give your dog a cue to go forward rather than turn. See Figure 2a and 2b.
Many people view a post turn as something to pull their dog through with their inside shoulder. However, when there is a jump involved, this means your dog is always reading the cue of you turning your back on him, which is likely to send him further forward as you execute this maneuver, rather than to wrap the jump as tightly as you had expected or hoped for.
Rather than moving your shoulders ahead of your dog through a post turn, try imagining that you are staying slightly rotated toward your dog, asking him to continually bump up against your outside shoulder, which you’ll then continually rotate away from him, so he can continue to move through the turn. See Figure 3a and 3b.
This month’s 10-minute trainer exercise is more of an experiment than an exercise – as long as your dog keeps the bar up on the jump you’re going to be using, you can feel free to reward him, as it will be you who will be finding out just how much (or how little) shoulder rotation away from your dog your dog can cope with. What you will be doing in this exercise is exploring the timing of your post turns, so that you can do all sorts of different kinds of post turns, depending on the situation.
You’ll need two jumps for this exercise, and some small markers that you can put on the ground to mark the widest point of your dog’s turn (pieces of colored paper, or large coins, or similar objects, will suffice). Make sure you know which marker corresponds to which figure you’ve attempted. You may also want a video camera for this exercise so you can review your session later.
The set up for this exercise is shown in Figure 4. This will be the set up for a post turn, where your dog will start on your left, and you will be turning clockwise. For a counter-clockwise post turn, flip the set up horizontally.
In each case, for the set up shown in Figure 4, we will be doing a post turn with our dog on our left, where we are rotating clockwise. Be sure to do this in both directions, though! And, although I’ve got the jump shown at 4’ away in Figure 4, if your dog is extremely keen to take obstacles, you may want to expand your set up to a distance of 5-7’.
You are going to perform a series of post turns as shown in Figures 5a-5d. Each time, set your dog up at exactly the same distance from the jump, and stand in exactly the same location yourself. You may want to use the markers to help keep track of these locations. Each time you perform this post turn, as shown in Figures 5a-5d, use a marker to note the widest point of your dog’s turn, and note whether or not the dog takes the nearby off course jump.
Do your best to keep the presentation of your body the same to your dog throughout the post turn. This means that you will have to rotate as your dog proceeds through the turn, so that your dog stays parallel to the exact same point on your body – you may need to move slower or faster to accomplish this. For example, in Figure 5a, you will likely need to move your shoulders quickly away from your dog, but in Figure 5d, you will find that you will be rotating more slowly.
Do you notice any difference between these four different shoulder presentations to your dog with respect to the quality of the turn? With little speed, and a perpendicular approach to the jump, you may not! However, repeat the experiment with these two variations (Figures 6 and 7), and you may start to see a difference!
For the variation in Figure 6, locate yourself neither on the takeoff side of the jump, or the landing side of the jump, but rather, right on the plane of the jump, as shown. And again, make sure to set your dog up in the same location each time, as well as yourself. Use your markers to note the width of the dog’s turn for each attempt, and don’t forget to reward your dog, just as long as he keeps the bar up!
Finally, since you won’t often have the luxury of doing a post turn from a stationary location, add some speed and motion on the part of both you and your dog. Start off easy for yourself, by adding speed on the part of the dog first, while you remain stationary. If you have a tunnel, use the set ups shown in Figure 7a-b to repeat the above scenarios with your dog coming in to the set up with more speed. And, if you don’t have a tunnel, simply set your dog up further back (15-20’). Again, be sure to start your dog from the same location each time, and start in the same location yourself! Note that in these scenarios, I’ve removed the off course jump– you can remove it altogether, or move it to a more reasonable distance from the first jump, but you should still use your markers to keep track of differences in the widest point of your dog’s turn around the jump as you vary the presentation of your shoulders to your dog throughout the post turn. With these new set ups, repeat the procedure outlined in Figures 5a-d and 6b-e.
At the end of this short exercise, you should have a little bit better understanding of how the presentation of your shoulders relative to your dog can affect your ability to execute a great good old-fashioned post turn. And, because you’ve been rewarding your dog for every single one of these post turns (as long as the bar stayed up), your dog has also been reinforced for doing post turns!
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT POST TURNS AND SHOULDER PULLS?
Watch this video, which was a weekly webinar presented to my Agility Challenge group recently! Weekly webinars are just part of The Agility Challenge, my year long program that includes training, handling, league play, courses, and more!
In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, 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!
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 series of articles, 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!
In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, I’d like to share with you a few of the short exercises that I use with my dogs to make sure that we’re both on the same page with our understanding of location cues.
My dog’s understanding of location cues, and my understanding of location cues, are critical to both of our understanding of motion and how it is relevant to each obstacle on course. After all, if my dog does not understand what my location on the takeoff side of an obstacle implies, and if he does not understand what my location on the landing side of an obstacle implies, it may be even more difficult for him to interpret what a change from one of those locations to another on my part is indicating to him.
My location on the takeoff side of a turning obstacle, (a jump, straight tunnel, or chute) and my intent not to cross the plane of that obstacle should indicate to my dog that the next obstacle, if there is one, is likely to be behind him, and I expect my dog to take that turning obstacle with the intent to turn and come back toward me. Figure 1 shows a couple of examples.
In Figure 1a, my takeoff side location indicates only obstacle A. In Figure 1b, my takeoff side location relative to A, and some motion to the right, indicates A and C, but not B. Contrast Figures 1a and 1b to Figure 1c, where I am on the landing side of obstacle A, and the takeoff side of obstacle B. In Figure 1c, my location relative to A indicates A and B – but note that my takeoff side location relative to B indicates only A and B, and not C, unless I move from this location.
Often, our dogs’ understanding of location cues goes awry without our even noticing it. As I like to say, we make agreements with our dogs on course that we’re not aware that we’ve made with them, until eventually, things progress to a point where a real problem has developed that needs to be corrected. Location cues are often such a problem.
One example of where location cues get confusing between the dog and handler, is when a handler begins to cue a pinwheel and a 180-degree configuration of jumps similarly. If a handler wants a dog to execute a pinwheel of jumps, forward cues are typically given for the first jump of the pinwheel, and turning cues are given for the second jump of the pinwheel. Compare that to how the first jump of a 180-degree configuration is typically cued; turning cues for the first jump are typically given, so that the dog does not consider a jump that may be present. If a handler begins to cue a pinwheel as shown in Figure 1b, then the dog will eventually learn that despite the handler’s takeoff side location relative to obstacle A, which cues obstacle C and not obstacle B, the handler wants obstacle B. And, the dog will also learn that the handler’s takeoff side location relative to a jump does not cue a turn, at least not consistently.
The handler, through this process of slowly beginning to make the cues for a pinwheel look the same as the cues given for a 180, will lose the ability to cue a 180, because they are using 180 cues for pinwheels!
Another place where location cues get diminished is on the approach to tunnels. If a handler starts decelerating on the obstacle prior to a tunnel, never intending to cross the plane of that obstacle, and yet expects the dog to continue on and take a tunnel, very soon the handler will lose the ability to cue a turn at an obstacle prior to a tunnel with deceleration. See Figure 2.
Reinforcing in my dog’s mind, and in my own, that my takeoff side location relative to an obstacle implies that obstacle and no obstacle beyond it – as long as I’m not showing motion with intent to pass the plane of that obstacle – is a simple task.
You’ll need for this exercise, a jump (wings preferred), a short tunnel, some cookies or a toy, and around 10 minutes. See Figure 3 for the set up. In your set up, the jump should be around five feet from the mouth of the tunnel. If you find that you reach the end of this 10-minute session and your dog is still having trouble, then, in the next session, double the distance, and move the jump closer as your dog becomes more successful.
Position yourself behind the plane of the jump, as shown in Figure 3. You’ll be behind the wing, and not more than 6-12” from the jump. Position your dog as shown in Figure 3, not more than 5-6’ back from the jump.
Release your dog and cue your dog to take the obstacle with a verbal jump cue only. If your dog takes the jump and turns back to you after the jump, then praise and reward your dog, and move on to the next step!
In all likelihood, your dog will take the jump and the tunnel. In this case, do not praise or reward your dog. Instead, reset your dog, and yourself, and try again. Typically, I’ll repeat this 5-6 times to give the dog an opportunity to change his behavior, before changing mine.
If my dog was successful in the previous step, or if my dog has made the same error several times, then I will change my location to show my dog where I would be if I wanted the tunnel. See Figure 4. I will repeat this a few times, perhaps 3-4, so that my dog gets to take both the jump and the tunnel, and then I’ll go back to a takeoff side location and repeat a few times, so that my dog is rewarded for taking only the jump.
If I’ve tried the first step (Figure 3) several times and my dog does not seem to be understanding that my takeoff side location implies only the jump, and if I’ve tried letting my dog take the jump with a location as shown in Figure 4, and then going back to Figure 3, then there are a few things that I can do to make the tunnel less enticing to my dog.
Once you’ve gotten this exercise down, so that your dog understands that your takeoff side location implies a turn, and your landing side location implies going forward, you can begin introducing motion, so that your dog also understands that motion from the takeoff to the landing side of the jump implies going forward, and deceleration on the approach to the takeoff side of the jump, with no intent to cross the plane of the jump, implies a turn, and not the next obstacle that may lay beyond the jump.
Beyond this, it is your job as a handler to maintain this understanding, through consistent application of your location and motion cues on a course, and perhaps by revisiting this exercise periodically. It’s one that I revisit every few months, just to be sure that I have been consistent with my own location cues! Be patient, have fun, and you can get a lot of mileage out of this simple exercise. Happy Training!
Chispa and I just got back from Turku, Finland, here we competed at the World Agility Championship for Team USA. It was an amazing competition, and although we didn’t come home with a handful of trophies and ribbons (or even one!), we did learn a lot and had a lot of fun. She did amazingly well for such a youngster; at only three, she’s just a bit older than Solar was at his first World Championship back in 2010, and the courses and training required are far more complicated now than they were back then!
Below you’ll find the course maps from the event, as well as my video analysis for each run, including my thoughts about the course as I watched it being built, and after I walked it, as well as my thoughts on how each run went with Chispa, and how I’d do things differently or better! Each video is 15-20 minutes long, and you can watch it here OR download it to watch later (or both!).
Feel free to leave a comment or ask questions using the comment form at the bottom of this page!
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So, you’d like to build your own PVC wing jumps, and you’d like them to look a little bit fancier than the standard rectangular or square design? Several years ago, I built an entire set of PVC wing jumps – I wanted them to look like European style wing jumps. I made one for each country I’ve been to in the course of my dog agility travels, which was more than enough for a complete set! Over the years I’ve seen many others adopt my design and build some gorgeous wing jumps. If you’d like to build your own, here’s how!
I got all of my fittings at flexpvc.com:
All the pieces are 1.25″ in diameter/size
I suggest you make a spreadsheet so you can calculate how many fittings you’ll need, and how much PVC you’ll need. Each piece of PVC I got was 10′, so I wanted to figure out how to use as much of a 10′ piece as possible with as little waste as possible, even if it meant mixing and matching what pieces I cut out of each 10′ length. Again, spreadsheets are your friend here. Once I realized I could dye the fittings as well as the pipe, and that there were colored jump cup strips…I went a little crazy. But it’s fun!
You’re also going to want to figure out what colors of jumps you want, fittings you want, and jump cup strips you want. Yep, you can get jump cup strips in colors to, CHECK IT OUT.
You’ll also need a way to attach the jump cup strips to your wings. I used these handy little fasteners:
You’re going to want to clean the writing off the PVC. Acetone (a nasty solvent that you should take the necessary precautions with) works best, along with some steel wool. Use clean steel wool or you’ll end up just getting ink all over a clean piece of PVC. Make sure you do this in a well ventilated area and don’t let the acetone get on anything other than the PVC!
Measure and cut the PVC – it’s much much easier to clean small pieces of PVC than long ones. AND, you may find you don’t care to clean it at all – if there’s writing on a foot piece, just rotate that piece so the writing faces the ground. If there’s writing on an upright piece and you’re going to put a jump cup strip there anyway, just rotate it so the strip covers the writing.
Be ready to work quickly here as PVC cement bonds FAST. Carefully swab a bit of PVC cement (another nasty chemical) on the inside of one fitting at a time, and fit the pipe in to the PVC the way you want it to sit. Be careful – PVC Cement will start to lift the dye out of the PVC you just so carefully stained, so you don’t want drips!
Keep working til you’ve got your jump all assembled:
Before you drill the holes to push the fasteners through your jump cup strips and in to the uprights, make sure that a jump bar of your chosen diameter sits at the right height! Then, drill and fasten your jump cup strips in.
I wanted something pretty, and paintable to fill my wings with.
I settled on a PVC mesh material. It’s a screen mesh, and comes in different colors and widths. Perfect! I ordered it HERE.
I figured that with mesh in these colors, along with some spray paint (that sticks to PVC!), I’d be set for my flag/country jumps. I used a piece of cardboard as a template, and cut out the wing shapes. Once I cut out the wing shapes, I used a lighter to burn the edges just slightly, to keep them from fraying.
Paint whatever design you want on your pieces of mesh fabric. After the paint dries, put grommets in at each corner, and drilled holes in the PVC strategically so you can thread a zip tie through and attach the wings. Each wing has four grommets in it, and for each grommet, a hole was drilled in to the PVC fitting so a zip tie could hold the wing mesh in place – with the exception of the zip tie that is underneath the bottom of the jump cup strip (look at Colombia below, you’ll see what I mean).
Below are some images of the jumps I made. I hope you enjoy them, and that you can come up with your own creative ideas! All in all, the costs were a little tricky to track, but I’m pretty sure that each jump cost me less than $50 all told. I like to putter, so the distraction the building of them has provided me has been well worth it. They’re sturdy enough that they don’t tip over as easily as my other jumps, BUT, if the dogs hit them they WILL fall away, which is an important plus in my mind.
Have you built wing jumps using this design? Send me photos of your wing jumps to include on this page!
This content originally appeared in The Agility Challenge as one of my weekly newsletters – but it’s an important enough topic that I wanted to share it with everybody!Download this audio file for later
When I started the Agility Challenge this year, I wanted to center the philosophy and approach around K. Anders Ericsson’s ideas presented in Peak: The New Science of Expertise, with respect to mindfulness and purposeful practice. Another great book I’ve enjoyed in the past year or so is called Top Dog: The Science of Winning And Losing. One of the topics that I enjoyed from that book was the concept of playing to win, vs. playing not to lose.
When you go to a competition, are you playing to win, or are you playing not to lose?
Now, some of you are going to say, “oh, I just want to have fun with my dog,” and to that, I say, 95% of the time, nonsense. Not that I don’t think you want to have fun with your dog – that’s IMPLIED. Without the fun, your dog isn’t going to want to play the game with you. But, we all know you can “just have fun with your dog” in your backyard. We ALSO all know that the SOCIAL aspect of the game can be met without paying the money to step in to the ring. If you just wanted to play with your dog, you probably wouldn’t enter it in competitions, which can be a pretty costly enterprise, once you add everything up. If you just wanted to socialize, you could just go and volunteer; much less expensive and arguably just as satisfying, socially.
So, let’s just get that out of the way right up front. Everybody wants to have fun with their dog, but I’ll wager that just about NOBODY who is at a competition JUST wants to have fun with their dog (of course there are always exceptions, but fewer than we’d like to imagine). If you’re stepping in to the ring at a competition, or a trial, or a test, or whatever you want to call it, you’re there for something more. It’s totally ok to admit that, and I’m going to argue that it’s a bit unhealthy to DENY that. I’m going to go even further out on my limb and say that I’m pretty sure that the reason that some of us say “oh, I just want to have FUN with my dog” is that we’re putting up a safeguard in case of failure. “Oh, I didn’t really care about that Q, I just want to have fun with my dog.” Poppycock, I say!
So, you’re at a competition. You’ve paid the money – for the entry, the fuel, maybe a hotel. This is a big deal. You could do well (fun!), or you could crash and burn (fun?). Your dog could win it all (fun!) or poop in the ring (fun?). You’re there for MORE than JUST fun – enjoyment being a necessary part of the equation. Or, maybe, satisfaction, or getting closer to a goal…similar to “fun” but not quite the same, but even so, worth chasing AND implied in all of those is that you’re doing your best to make sure your dog enjoys the endeavor as a game, even if you’re deadly serious about it (or wanting to get a title, or qualify for a big event, etc.). Now, are you going to play to win, or play not to lose?
Depending on where you are in the world, or where you’re at in your agility journey, your answer may differ. If you’re in the USA, it’s more likely that you’re going to play not to lose. You go in to the ring with a Q (qualifying score), and your goal is to keep that qualifying score, for a clean round. If you’re in a European country, it’s more likely that you’re playing to win. You go in to the ring aware of who else is at the competition, and there’s no prize for clean rounds. There are no titles. Bear in mind, this is a generality; the rules differ slightly from country to country, but on the whole, there is far less emphasis on clear rounds, and on their accumulation resulting in titles earned, than there is on winning rounds, and on their accumulation resulting in advancement to the next level.
In Germany, for example, where I’ve competed several times at local shows, including at the A1 level with Chispa (their novice level), there’s no official recognition for anything other than winning; winning counts toward advancement. Further, at A1, only agility runs count. Jumping is often an ‘open’ jumping class, combining levels A1 and A2. You might get a prize for winning, but it’s not as fancy as the prize for winning agility (with contacts) and it doesn’t count for anything other than personal satisfaction (and experience).
Sit back and think on those differences for a few minutes.
For those of you in a European country doing FCI agility, how would your handling and mindset change if you moved to the USA, where winning was of no consequence most of the time, and instead, keeping a clean round that you started off with was the goal? Are you currently looking at standard course time as your goal, or are you looking at how close you can get to the top time on any given day as a goal? Do you think you would feel more or less free to “just have fun” with your dog on course if you didn’t have to think about winning to advance? Is it truly hopeless if you know your dog isn’t as fast as the top dogs?
For those of you in the USA, how would your handling and mindset change if you moved to Europe, where you were faced with the notion that you HAD to win to advance, and that there are plenty of handler/dog teams who never advance beyond level A2? No MACH, or ADCH, or C-ATCH. Are you currently looking at standard course time as your goal, or are you looking at how close you can get to the top time on any given day as a goal? Do you think you would feel more or less free to “just have fun” with your dog on course if you didn’t have to think about running clean to advance?
The authors of Top Dog discuss the idea of playing to win vs. playing not to lose throughout their book. Here are some of the points they make:
Merryman goes on to say that the difference is that playing to win means focusing on success, whereas playing not to lose focuses on preventing mistakes. “I think it’s easy to switch into that playing-not-to-lose mentality,” Merryman says, “but if you want to grow, if you want to challenge yourself, if you want to innovate, you have to force yourself to be playing to win.”
OK, well, that’s all pretty interesting, isn’t it? But, at the end of the day, let’s be honest, although we are at a competition and we might be ubercompetitive, there are plenty of us who AREN’T. Even in Europe, where winning is much more heavily emphasized, not everybody is interested in making it to the top. That’s totally fine! One of the big takeaways should be the last line in the above paragraph. If you want to challenge yourself, you have to force yourself to be playing to win.
Even MORE important, I think, is to consider which mindset might be more fun for your DOG, and which mindset might therefore be more fun for YOU as well. What are the ramifications for how you interact with your dog during training, during class, and during a competition, at all stages, if you’re “playing to win” vs. “playing not to lose”? If you’re operating under the assumptions that your dog is more likely to go faster if:
How does that factor in to a mindset of “playing to win”? If you take a good hard look and decide that yea, you are at least, some of the time, “playing not to lose,” how is that affecting your training, your creativity, your handling, your strategy, and the FUN you are having (or not) with your dog?
Have you had runs where you’re aware that you’re playing to win? Have you had runs where you’re aware that you’re playing not to lose? What were the differences you noticed in your own mindset, ability to execute, overall performances? What were the differences you may have noticed in your dog’s enjoyment, or efficiency, or overall performance?
This content originally appeared as a weekly newsletter in The Agility Challenge – but it’s important enough, especially at this time of year, that I wanted to share it with everybody! You won’t be able to comment as directed (that was only for Agility Challenge Members), but, I hope that it gets you thinking about what you envision for yourself and for your dogs for 2019!
In mid April, just two weeks prior to the AKC USA AWC Team Tryouts, Frodo and I went from being super prepared and ready to rock and roll to…rehab. Frodo suffered a traumatic tear of his CCL on a Thursday, April 13, and had a TPLO Friday, April 14.
I live way out in the country, and I’m not in to driving in to downtown anywhere to get dogs to an underwater treadmill, but I do recognize the importance and benefits to hydrotherapy, whether it be ice packs, heat packs, swimming, or walking in water (cold or warm).
If you’re curious as to the rehab protocol I followed with Frodo, it’s a combination of these two:
Top Dog Health – TPLO Guide – This guide is a free download, and I also get weekly emails with videos of each exercise. I’m pretty impressed with how thorough it is. It’s fairly conservative, and I’ve been moving a little faster than this guide spells out, but then again, Frodo was in top condition prior to the injury, not overweight, and I have access to a lot of fitness equipment and information – this guide as well as the next one is clearly aimed at a pet audience. I’m sure that veterinary professionals and rehab professionals are cringing right now, but I’m ok with that – and for sure you can reserve the right to blame my use of this and other DIY resources on any rehab failures we may encounter 🙂
MedVetForPets – TPLO Guide – I can’t remember how I found this one, but it’s also pretty thorough, and includes more exercises with a little faster progression. I like that I can look at the two together and get a rough idea of how to proceed.
That brings us to Hillbilly Hydrotherapy. With Frodo, since there was no previous ligament disease, and it was a traumatic event, his prognosis for healing is excellent. Getting back to full activity is mostly a matter of building back muscle, once the Tibia has healed. And, building back muscle to the point we were at prior to the incident will be determined by how much muscle wasting occurs while that Tibia is healing. So, I knew I wanted to get him walking in the water as soon as I could. I knew I wanted to be able to do it without driving an hour each way multiple times a week, daily if possible. With Solar, who had a soft tissue injury in 2014, I just used an inflatable above ground pool and walked in circles with him, but I didn’t like how he could swing his rear out and pivot, rather than tracking with front and rear together.
When I saw this set up posted by somebody on FB, I knew I wanted to build something like it myself, with a few modifications. Here’s my setup:
First, I purchased two stock tanks at my local feed store. One is an 8′ tank, and one is a 6′ tank. When these tanks are shipped from the manufacturer to the store, they’re nested. So, not all 8′ tanks are actually 8′ in diameter, and not all 6′ tanks are actually 6′ in diameter. I asked for a large 8′ tank, and a small 6′ tank, and had both delivered to the house. The two together, plus shipping, set me back ~$580USD. I purchased some pipe insulation at Home Depot to put on the rims of both tanks, so that nobody would whack themselves (me or the dogs) on the edges.
I drilled two holes in the tank, using a Milwaukie Hole Dozer, 2-3/8″ in size.
Then, I fitted the holes with bulkhead fittings, purchased at Amazon. The fittings were also caulked with marine sealant, purchased at Home Depot.
Once the holes were drilled in the outer tank, I made sure that the inner tank was centered nicely, leaving a ring about 15″ wide, all the way around. I weighted the inner tank down with some pavers I had laying around, and then caulked the junction of the inner and outer tank with marine caulk & sealant.
Once the caulk cured, I poured two gallons of a substance called FlexSeal in the ring where the dogs would walk. This not only provided a rubber surface to help keep them from slipping, but it also further served to seal the junction between the inner and the outer tanks. I don’t want water seeping under the inner tank, which might make it pop up and float! All the water should be contained to the ring where the dogs will walk, leaving the inner tank dry for ME to walk in!
It took a few days for the FlexSeal to cure, but by then, I had my two tanks ready to be plumbed and connected to the filter/pump assembly, and the heater.
For a heater, I am using a spa heater that a friend sold to me, but you could easily use something like this:
We didn’t have a dedicated circuit for a 220V heater, so we’re using a 110V heater for now, til we bring out an electrician to update the circuit in the garage (yes, this is in my garage). It doesn’t get the water HOT, just 65-70 degrees, which is still pretty good, and frankly, as the weather gets warmer, I don’t think the dogs will mind cool water.
The pump I’m using is for an Intex pool – it’s a pump/sand filter combination. Also purchased off Amazon.
Intex pumps come with their own flexible tubing, which is stupid. The piece of tubing connecting the pump and the filter I left, but since I wanted to use 1.5″ PVC for the connection from the tank to the pump, and then from the filter to the heater, and then from the heater back to the tank, I had to do a little converting to get the intex pipe converted over to 1.5″ pipe. Thank you, internet:
I love YouTube for stuff like this. So, the water gets sucked out of the tank, travels to the pump via 1.5″ pipe, travels to the filter from the pump using the existing flexible tubing, then from the filter to the heater using 1.5″ pipe, and then from the heater back to the tank.
There are ball valve joints on the outside of each of the bulkhead fittings, so I can close things off if I need to drain the tank or disconnect anything. There’s also a 90-degree elbow on the inside of the bulkhead where the water comes back in to the tank, and it’s not glued – this way I can rotate it to change the direction of the current in the tank, depending on which direction the dogs are walking:
So, there you have it, Hillbilly Hydrotherapy. Since my tank is against a wall in my garage, there’s a backsplash between it and the wall to keep water out of the outlet on said wall. It’s just a 4×8′ piece of material from Home Depot that’s flexible and designed for bathrooms or something like that. I just wandered til I found what I wanted. Nope, that’s a lie. George had it laying around for another project, and I appropriated it.
I do have to lift Frodo in and out of the tank, but he doesn’t really seem to mind so much. I suppose I could get even fancier and make a ramp of some sort, or even a door, if I wanted to pump all the water out and in each time. Lifting isn’t too bad, though. Here it is, Hillbilly Hydrotherapy in action:
For now, I’m planning on leaving it set up in my garage indefinitely. It doesn’t take up any usable space, really, and it’s a heck of a lot better than driving anywhere. (UPDATE: As of now, 2019, my stock tanks are sitting outside as defunct raincatchers, and I hope I never need them again!).
Altogether, this cost me less than $1000. And, you know, if I do take it apart, I’ve got a couple of tanks that I can turn in to ponds, or flower pots or something…
This past weekend, Frodo and I headed to Perry, Georgia for the 2017 AKC Agility National Championships. As in the past when I’ve gone to Crufts, the NAC follows almost immediately after. This year, NAC marked the end of a 2.5 week stay in Germany, followed by Crufts, and then, Perry, GA. Frodo and I have come a long way since our first AKC Nationals together, in Reno, NV, back in 2015. We weren’t much of a team, although we did manage to have a good run in I think Jumpers with Weaves. We didn’t know each other very well, and I was still deeply disappointed to have lost Solar as my running mate when he was still arguably in his prime.
I didn’t go to AKC NAC in 2016, for various reasons, but I’d been looking forward to the event this past weekend, because at this point, Frodo and I are a good working team. We still have places to go with respect to our development, we’re not finished growing yet as a team, but we’re a pretty smoothly functioning team at this point nonetheless.
I’m fairly objective about our odds most of the time, and in my mind, our odds this year were pretty good, given the data that I had going in to the event. And at the event, in the International Sweepstakes Round, we put down a great run, coming in third by just a few fractions of a second. I’d wanted to do well, although winning would have meant turning down a spot to go to the European Open in Italy. Why turn it down? Last year at the European Open, Frodo had a hard time with the crowds ringside – he’s much better at big stadium style events where there’s more distance between the noisy crowd and the ring. So, while it’s possible he’d be better this year, I didn’t feel like it was in line with my goals. In any case, ISC was perfect – we did really well, but we didn’t win, and so I didn’t have to say no, which is chronically difficult for me.
In our first NAC run, jumpers, we had a solid run, and came in first place. I probably could have cleaned up a corner here or there, but it was a solid run. In round two, we had a solid run going, and Frodo slipped trying to take off for a jump. I felt pretty bad for him, he really does try very hard to keep the bars up, and I can’t even remember when the last one he dropped was. But, mistakes happen. The rest of the run was a little wobbly, as I was thrown off by the dropped bar. In any case, that ended my plans for making it to the Finals by just having three clear rounds.
By Sunday morning, before round 3, I was a little angry, and a little disappointed. Not in Frodo, just disappointed with myself, and for not having done better. I tend to run a bit better when I’m a little fired up, so it worked out well for us in the third round, and Frodo and I got first again, which meant we made it to a special Challenger’s Round. Winning that round meant another shot at the Finals, and again, I knew the odds were in our favor. That’s not the same as saying I think I’ve got something in the bag, obviously. But if you know the times that you and your dog are capable of, and the times that your competition is capable of, you know if you have a shot or not.
Nothing is in the bag, though, and a miscalculation in Challengers, a mistake on my part, cost us what was a pretty nice run up to that point. Again, disappointed.
After that run, several people came up to me and said “nice run!”, which really was kind of annoying, because it was not a nice run. It was an elimination. It was a nice TRY, but it was not a nice run. And that’s ok. But please, don’t tell me I had a nice run when it was an elimination. Tell me it was a valiant effort, or a great try, or that it was a great run UP TO THAT POINT, but not just…nice run. I don’t want to be soothed in to thinking that an elimination was a nice run, because my personal goals and standards demand more of me than that.
I debated writing about that, or about disappointment in general, because I’m not sure how it would be received amongst the USA agility population in general. I’m disappointed about the weekend, no doubt about that. Over and over, I heard people saying that they were “just happy to be here”. That’s fine, and I don’t begrudge people that, they SHOULD be happy to just be at NAC. But, that is not how I roll. It just isn’t. I’m not *just* happy to be there. I’m there because I want to compete, and I want to try to end up on the top of the heap. Finals is not “just gravy” for me. It’s what I’m aiming for. It’s the meat at the end of the HUNT. And, this past weekend, Frodo and I came home from the hunt empty handed. Yes, we placed at the top of the heap in a couple rounds leading up to the Finals, but with respect to the BIG hunt, we fell short.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Our performances were really good, and I am happy with them. After sleeping off the disappointment of mucking up the Challenger Round, I’m even happy with how THAT run went, ultimately. I messed it up and chose to immediately take Frodo to his leash, and his treats, and his toy, rather than finishing up the run in a fog of disappointment. Frodo never knew anything was wrong all weekend, and historically, hiding my disappointment from my dogs is not something I’ve always been successful at doing. I can be happy with parts of how the weekend went and still be disappointed, though!
There’s nothing inherently wrong with disappointment. To gloss disappointment over in a Pollyanna “well I’m just happy to be here” way, or a “this is just gravy” way, or “this is just a game I play with my dog” way can be limiting, though, in my mind. Of course, this IS a game, but it’s not JUST a game. Saying something is “only” a game or “just” a game limits its importance in our lives. There’s no doubt about it that this game is basically my life. I eat, drink, sleep, and dream this game. Basketball is “just a game” as well, but my guess is that after a big loss, NBA players aren’t shrugging off their loss as an “oh well, it’s just a game” moment. Minimizing disappointment, or pretending that disappointment in an outcome is inappropriate because “it’s just a game” prevents self-reflection. It prevents rumbling with the uncomfortable feelings of not being good enough, not being able to make it happen when it counted, wondering how things could have been prevented or improved.
So, on the two hour or so drive back to the airport, I rumbled a lot with disappointment. Again, not disappointed with Frodo. He did really well, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with him. Disappointed in a couple of my handling choices. And just, disappointed in general that I didn’t meet my objective. It’s Monday morning, and I’m still disappointed. Last night, while deep in that stage of rumbling with my disappointment, I was questioning whether or not I should go to Tryouts at the end of April. I’m far less certain about the odds being in my favor at Tryouts than I was for NAC, and look how NAC turned out? If I couldn’t ‘get ‘er done’ at NAC, what makes me think I’m good enough to get the job done at Tryouts? These were the thoughts rumbling through my head while I drove and listened to music.
One of the things I am NOT disappointed in over the past weekend was that I played to win. I was pretty sure, given the data, that I could have “just run clean” in most of the rounds, and that those clean rounds would have been good enough for the Finals. But, I didn’t want to play to not lose, I wanted to play to win. I watched several competitors this past weekend play to not lose, instead of playing to win. I don’t want to do that any more. I really enjoyed playing to win in Germany, and at Crufts. It’s what I enjoy about the bigger competitions. However, if I’m playing not to lose at smaller shows, shifting to a ‘playing to win’ mindset at bigger shows is going to be that much more difficult. Sure, there’s more risk involved in playing to win, or at least it feels that way, but at this point, I’d rather take the risk and fail than just play not to lose. These ideas are talked about at length in a book I read recently called Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing. You can click on the link to read about it if you’re interested, and I highly recommend it.
Anyway, so, what makes me think I’m good enough for Tryouts? That’s kind of where I left it last night. This morning, I’m still very unsure about the odds. It feels risky. It feels like a lot of money and time for maybe no reward at all other than having taken a risk. I’d like to play to win, despite not knowing the odds. The reward, after all, is a big one. World Championships has always been my dream, my goal, ever since I started agility in 1999 and found out about it. It’s not about the notoriety, and it’s clearly not about the money (what money?). It’s not my dream because it’s easy. This dream has put me in front of more disappointment and heartache than I could have ever dreamed a passion would make possible, and yet, I persist at it.
I’m not religious, and I don’t believe in karma, but for whatever reason, agility, and THIS type of agility in particular, it’s in every cell of my body to want to be a part of it. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to participate not one, or two, or three, but five times on that stage. Sadly, just about every time I’ve gotten there, I’ve played to not lose. Even now, holding on to the idea of playing to win is tricky for me. Our system of agility in the USA does not promote playing to win, on the whole. It promotes caution, and playing not to lose. Trying to hold on to a mindset of playing to win requires thinking outside the ring gates to some extent. Every time I’ve spent any amount of time in Europe or Scandinavia, it doesn’t take long to get in to the playing to win mindset, and after the latest excursion, I am trying hard to hold on to that mindset with all I’ve got.
Back to disappointment. I am disappointed by this past weekend. But, I spent some time rumbling with it, accepting it for what it is, and looking at it. Not discounting it, not discarding it, and not plastering over it with trite and happy sayings. I’m still deeply unsure about the odds being in my favor in any way at Tryouts next month. But I can’t not go. I will not accept defeat, and my bruised ego will survive. I will get up, and I will go out to my amazing arena and beat my head against those things that I know are weaknesses for Frodo and I for the next month. I will go out and work on precisely the things that make me feel uncomfortable, in an effort to knock some of those things off of that list. And I’ll head to Tryouts with a foolish sense of gumption, trying my hardest to ignore the odds and focus on the rewards, because the risk, ultimately, is worth the effort.
The hunt is on.