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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.

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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.

set-up

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.

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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!

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Football and the art of the Forward Motion Front Cross

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:

 

Figure 1

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:

Figure 2

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.

Figure 3

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.

Exercises You Can Try

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.

 

Examples

For a video that shows some nice examples of the lower body moving independently of the upper body, here you go:

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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:

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How to make your own 2×2 weave poles

Make your own set of weave poles for training

This video will show you how to make your own set of 2×2 weave poles for training, which you’ll need for my WEAVE POLES 101 course. Quick, easy, and inexpensive, that’s the DIY way! Save your money for something more important, like…dog treats!
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Building Your Own Measuring Wicket

Your Very Own Sticky Wicket

Anna Hinze's May demonstrates the new measuring wicket!

Anna Hinze’s May demonstrates the new measuring wicket!

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.

Step One – Gather Your Supplies and Cut the PVC

You will need the following pieces:

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Snooker Rules Explained!

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!

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Let’s Pardon Some Turkeys

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Here in the USA, this time of year is often referred to as the season of remembrance.  Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season helps to remind us to be thankful for the things we have, be mindful of the many who go without and to send positive thoughts to those who cannot be with their families and friends because they’re busy protecting us so that we can enjoy our freedom.

With that and agility in mind, lately I’ve been thinking about how lucky we North Americans are for the agility opportunities we have in the United States (and Canada) and how I need to be mindful of that sort of thanksgiving as well.  As you look across this continent and think about the very basics (and beginnings) of training and shaping behaviors through the highest levels of complex competing (not to mention all the conditioning and advanced medical resources we have available), I genuinely believe that we have the best handlers and trainers in the WORLD right here in North America.

 

Current trends in seminars might seem shiny and brighter because they come from outside North America, but if you closely examine them, don’t they seem oddly familiar?

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Challenges build your training muscles

 

Recently, I listened to an interview on the radio with a Psychology Professor named Jim Stigler at UCLA. He was talking about how he’d watched anxiously as a fourth grader in a Japanese math classroom struggled at the front of the class to solve a problem.

Maybe you didn’t know this, but I used to be a high school chemistry teacher.  So although I don’t teach high school any longer, I’m still keenly interested in pedagogy (the study of teaching), and my ears always perk up when I hear things that relate to teaching, mental training, and that sort of thing, as I think those topics are applicable to agility.

Anyway, this guy was talking about how the teacher had called on a student who obviously DIDN’T know the answer to the problem at hand.  Now, as a teacher, I always tried to choose a student who I was pretty sure knew the answer 🙂 But in this case, the student didn’t know the answer, and was up at the front of the room for a LONG time, getting the problem WRONG, over and over again. Finally, they solved the problem, and the class applauded.

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