Sunday, December 30, 2012

What About Poppy?

What about Poppy? I haven't said too much about her as of late. True, I've been training her to become a nosework superstar and she absolutely loves it. But, as far as agility goes,  between her stressing in the ring at trials, a sudden issue with the teeter that appeared early last spring, and then her injury in July, her agility career has been put on hold while I focused on achieving my 2012 agility goals for Ollie and worked on Hokey's foundation training. But I've really missed running my crazy girl. This is a video I made back in the fall of 2011, when we'd been struggling, but I was still holding on to the hope that the worst was behind us.

Poppy with her ribbons from her first trial

Despite her multiple issues, I LOVE running this dog in agility. She started out with such potential and I really thought she was going to surpass Ollie in superstardom. She has a lot of drive and learned everything so fast. I entered her in her first trial (USDAA) at 19 months of age as a 22" championship dog. She Q'd in 4 out of 4 runs.

Results of her 2nd trial: Poppy AD

The following month, I entered her in her second trial. She Q'd in 5 out of 5 classes AND because that gave us all the Qs we needed, plus the 3 judge minimum, she finished her AD title. At 20 months old and in only 2 trials!! I couldn't be more proud of my crazy little shelter mutt. 


Then everything fell apart. I had brought her to the Mid-Atlantic Agility Showcase and, I don't know what - the intensity in the atmosphere? Certain sounds? A combination of factors? Who knows? But her sensitivity to something turned on big time. She melted down in some form of doggy panic attack. This carried through to smaller local trials. Suddenly this dog who was still fast and focused in class, could barely manage to do more than an obstacle or two at a trial. Once, after I'd decided to do an arc of 4 jumps from the start to the finish and leave in the hopes of giving her a relatively stress-free & positive experience in the ring, she did 2 jumps and ran out of the ring. After less than a handful of trials, I tried dropping her down to Performance 16" to see if that would have any effect on her stress levels. Nope.

Then I decided to try doing a little CPE (easier courses, more laid back environment) in the same building where we were taking weekly agility classes, starting at level 3. I started off slow, only entering a couple of classes/trial at first. It was better. Not perfect. There was still some stressing. But it was better. A few months later, after I fully entered a couple of trials, she even managed a couple of perfect weekends.
Poppy's first CPE perfect weekend

A new CPE title

Then there are my handling issues and the holes in her foundation training. I've always known those issues were there and tried to seek help, but didn't get far. Some of the things I've been working on with Hokey have given me ideas for plugging the holes in Poppy's foundation.
Poppy Jan 2010 - the day after I adopted her (6 months old)

After several months of no agility, during a break from nosework class, I signed her up 4-week mini agility class. The experience provided me with the opportunity to "take her temperature" when it came to agility and gave me some very useful feedback:

  1.  Ring-stress. She still stresses when it comes to agility. There is a huge difference in stress level and focus between when she does nosework and when she does agility. However, she still worked very well and, after the first couple of classes as she started to feel more relaxed, I did start to see more of her true personality coming out. It will continue to be a work in progress.
  2. Handling. I really learned a lot about how I need to handle her in this class! I felt like for the first time, I finally got the type of feedback I needed. Poppy handles quite differently from the two little ones. With those long legs of hers, she's faster, bigger striding, bigger jumping and doesn't respond as quickly. I've found it very difficult to get my timing just right with her. Ollie has spoiled me in that my handling can be so-so and he'll still do just about anything I ask. No so with Poppy. She requires much more precision. I need to communicate my cues sooner and remember to always keep moving. After this class, I have a much better idea of where I'm headed with her and what I need to work on. And for that, I am so thankful.
  3. "knuckling over" behavior

  4. Physical soundness: This remains an open question as far as Poppy's future agility career goes. I'm still not sure what caused the severe lameness back in July. I will say that she has an odd quirk of standing knuckled over on the toes of that same leg. This is nothing new; she's always done it. It hasn't gotten any worse over the past 2 1/2 years and has never seemed to bother her or affected her ability to run like a fiend, careen off the walls of my house, launch herself down the stairs, or do agility. However, since she only displays this behavior on her left rear leg, which was the same one she came up lame on, it does make me a little suspicious. I did mention it to the vet back in July and, off the top of her head, she didn't seem to think it was related. I've also noticed that sometimes when I'm holding her and put her down, as soon as she touches the ground she has a tendency to poke her nose or bite at one of her hips --- not always the same one. Is it just another one of her weird quirks, or is she indicating that something is bothering her? 
Wild and Crazy Girl
Anyway, the agility class gave me more food for thought and has me wondering even more about her teeter-fear issue. The first week, at the end of class, I wanted to see where she stood with the teeter since it had been many months since she'd seen one. It was obvious she'd forgotten her fear at first as she tackled it with a little too much gusto before realizing what the obstacle was. Not exactly what I was going for. She was a little more reluctant after that, but I did manage to coax her across a couple more times. After each class, I massage her before turning in for the night. That night, when I went to massage the upper part of that particular leg, her hackles went up and she growled. NOT typical Poppy behavior! Obviously it hurt her and she didn't want me touching it. She had had the same reaction back in the summer when she was lame on it and we were trying to pinpoint the issue. The last 3 weeks of class I did not put her on the teeter, but she did all the other equipment, including the usual suspects that might cause a problem: jumps, A-frame, and weaves. I had no problem with her reacting to my massaging the leg on those nights. So might her teeter issue primarily be a reaction to pain that it might be causing her with the noise and/or motion only being secondary fears due to their association with physical pain? I don't know. But it warrants further investigation.
So, as it stands now, I do not have any plans to trial her in the near future. I want to spend some time really working on my handling with her, continuing to work on her ring-stress, explore her physical issues --- and then see. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Laying More Bricks in the Foundation

Sometimes I feel like I'm in training overload. There are so many things I'm working on right now. but so little daylight for me to be able to train outside. I never feel like there are enough hours in the day and that I can't do it all justice. Here are just a few of the things I've been working on as far as Hokey's foundation training goes, in no particular order:

1. Running Contacts. The dogwalk training has kind of been put on the backburner simply because by the time I get home from work, there just isn't enough daylight for me to set up and work on it. In the meantime, I've been questioning if a running dogwalk is going to be the right behavior for Hokey. Being that consistency in striding is key, I'm not so sure if her habit of naturally adding an occasional leaping motion into the middle of her full out run might interfere. However, I will continue to train the foundation for a running until I'm ready to make a decision because, no matter what contact behavior I decide on, I still want her learning to drive with speed to the end of the walk.

With the dogwalk on hold, I have, however, gone back to work harder on the foundation for the Aframe running contact. Hokey is working the box on the ground consistently well. Here is a video showing me setting her up so there is a direct line between her and I, with the box offset from that line. She shows that she understands what she's supposed to do by leaving the line in order to bounce through the box instead of coming directly to me when I release her. Also shown is that she is able to drive ahead of me independently (although I'd still like to see little more forward drive in her behavior) when I'm well behind and several feet lateral from the box.

I've also started to apply the grid to the box. She's working it pretty well although it's not a ingrained behavior yet (we just started, so that's expected). Sometimes when I first set it up, she loses sight of the box behavior and does the 2 jumps and then comes to me instead of driving forward through the entire grid. I've found that if I start off relatively close to the box and then increase my distance, it seems to help remind her that she needs to bounce through the box. I noticed in reviewing the video below that when I added the grid, she is also looking at me a little more instead of driving forward into her reward zone. I may need to be just a little quicker with throwing my reward. Right now I'm only working the first (forward) position on both sides in conjunction with the grid. Once she's moving forward consistently and seems to understand her job, I'll start working the other positions. Here she is doing a nice job with the grid:

2. Line Setting. I started working on some foundational "line" exercises to teach her to stay in her lane/path while I'm in mine. Here we set up on two parallel paths both heading forward. I have a dish set up in the middle of her path that contains one very small treat. I do a restrained release so that she drives ahead of me to the dish, staying in her lane. When I catch up and pass her, I get her attention with a toy so that she breaks from the dish ASAP and chases me while both of us stay in our individual lanes. I do need to be a little more aware of not veering into her lane or pulling her off into mine. It's harder to keep track of in my yard than it is in the training building where we go for lessons. In the building, there are mats to help clearly define our separate lanes. We'll be adding challenges to this exercise as we move forward with our training.

3. One Jump Exercises. I started doing some one jump work with Hokey to teach her to use her body properly when jumping. It is used to teach her proper form when turning tightly over a jump by training her to keep her head down into the turn. I am also teaching her to keep her feet up so that she doesn't tick or knock the bar. Sometimes my timing isn't the best and sometimes my treat placement isn't great, mostly because they bounce, but for the most part, she's doing well with this.

4. J-turn for a change of direction. I'm training a turning cue so that, when she's facing me, Hokey passes my side and turns away from me to change direction so that we are then on parallel paths. Here we are working on the flat, around an obstacle, and over a jump. Note that, because I just started training this, my arm movement is highly exaggerated at this point. As her understanding of the cue increases, I should gradually be able to keep my arm much closer to my body.

5. Pinwheel. Starting with a close-set pinwheel of jumps, I'm am training Hokey to drive into a pinwheel and carry through all 3 jumps independently. My path is to run up the middle on a straight line toward the standard of the center jump. As soon as I see her commit to the 2nd jump, I move back down the center line in the opposite direction (I am not happy with the last example in the follow clip as I paused instead of moving when I should have).

6. Sends. Because deaf dogs have a tendency to be velcro and not easily amenable to working at a distance, I wanted to make sure I was working on sends right from the very start. As mentioned in my "Living Room Agility Training" blog post, I often use the dining room table to practice sends with all my dogs. I just trained Hokey on dining room sends a few days ago. Here we are having a blast with it. This will come in handy when it's 20 degrees outside with a foot of snow on the ground.

We can use patio furniture in the yard to do something similar:

 Since she tends to like to drive into my tunnel, I also put that to use in working sends:

7. Backside Cues. If we end up running in USDAA trials, Hokey is going to have to learn how to read my cues to do a backside approach. We just started this and she's already picking up on it really well. I mix it up with front approaches so that she doesn't get locked into a particular pattern. The key is my foot position - notice the difference in where my sending foot is pointing when I send her to the backside as opposed to the times when I'm sending her for a front approach and asking her to wrap back to me. As for my arm movement - it's too exaggerated and distracting. I need to work on that.

8. Tunnel Rear Cross. This is something I'm really struggling with. I have had some trouble with Hokey pulling off the tunnel, entering and then turning around to come back out, or showing hesitation/drop in drive when I work on this. Putting a toy several feet from the far end of the tunnel for her to drive to usually helps with that aspect of things. However, as shown in the 2nd half of the following clip, she still has a long way to go as far as learning to read the rear cross. It is simply not clicking thus far. Her deafness doesn't help because I can't help her with a verbal clue to let her know where I am once we've lost visual contact. I've been thinking about how I can use the placement of the toy to help her learn to read the cross. I also need to think about my own timing and placement of the cross to, hopefully, make it more clear to her where I'm going. It's hard, because if her head is already in the tunnel and, especially if she's driving to the toy, she might not notice my cross at all. If I cross too soon, it might cause her to pull off or turn around and come back out  of the the same way she went in. I'll have to play with it and try to come up with a solution.

So that's the update. I can't wait for the daylight to lengthen again in order to give me more training time during the week. However, with January and February on the horizon, even with enough daylight, there may be snowy and cold weather ahead. I sure am looking forward to spring!

On the way?
Wake me when winter is over!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Backyardless ADCH: Apartment Training for the Agility Dog

ADCH Ollie: title earned in 2009 during 4 years of apartment living with no place to train or practice "real" agility

This is my first time participating in a Dog Agility Blog Action Day event and it just so happens the topic is on something I know a lot about! The topic is backyard training, including the logistics of training in a small space. Or even, as was the case during my first 4 years of participation in the sport, no yard whatsoever.

That's right. Those were the apartment years. I had no place to train or practice. None. Not even a postage stamp sized yard. My "practice" was my weekly group agility class, which, usually consisted of running 2 or 3 courses. That's all the "real" agility I got. I didn't own any agility equipment because I had no yard to set anything up and, with Ollie's dog reactivity and his crazy critter prey drive, I never felt comfortable taking him to a park or other open space to practice off-leash. Looking back on it now, I wonder how my first agility dogs, Wave and Ollie, managed to learn such complex behaviors like weaving without me having a place to regularly train them on equipment. On rare occasions, I would rent a place with equipment, but, as I also find it necessary to practice agility-on-a-frayed-shoestring-budget, those were supplemental treats that were few and far between.
Ollie in our first and littlest apartment - dreaming of the day he could have a yard

Yet, somehow during a time when I had no place to train or practice any "real" agility other than a weekly group class, I managed to take a dog from adoption all the way to finishing an ADCH.

So if you take anything away from this post, let it be this: Do not let a lack of training space discourage you from becoming involved in the sport and do not let anyone tell you that you shouldn't even bother to attempt becoming involved in agility unless you have a large, fully equipped yard, field or building in which to practice. Not having space or equipment may be far from the ideal situation, but if you have a passion for agility you CAN still participate. You just need to be a little inventive.
Ollie AD, 2007 - that space in the background was all we had for training.

I spent my first four years in the sport doing apartment agility training.  What does that entail? Basically building a relationship between you and your dog while playing games together that incorporate some of the skills used in agility. Below is a list of a few of the things I did while living in a small space without access to a place to train.

1. Shaping Games: There is no better way for you and your dog to learn how to become a team than playing shaping games together. They learn how to think through situations and become better problem solvers and you both learn how to effectively communicate with each other. How you play is only limited by your imagination. I've done everything from 101 Things To Do With A Box (or chair or some other random object) to training tricks such as the Put the Ball in the Bucket game, the end product of which is shown here, but was trained through pure shaping with a clicker:

2. Body Awareness: This dovetails onto the 101 Things To Do With A Box shaping exercises which help a dog learn body awareness. Other things that can be done:
  • Place a row of boxes with low sides across the floor (or a small ladder or slightly raised jump bars) and ask your dog to move straight through so that s/he learns to lift up all 4 of his or her feet while in motion.
  • Have your dog place its front feet on some sort of object - a short stool, a sturdy square box, or even, as I've been using due to my ongoing household projects, a paint can - then teach them to pivot on their front legs while moving their hind legs in either direction around the perimeter of the object.
  • Build your own makeshift wobble board. Take a large box, crate pan or some other suitable object and put a rolled up towel, a ball or some other small object underneath it and go to town having your dog move around on top, including having them have to sit up and balance on their hind end while reaching for a treat. With my little Hokey, I've found I'm even able to get the desired effect using a large square throw pillow.
  • Teach your dog to move backwards onto objects. Refer to my past post, Back Up That Booty, on how I train that.
3. Crate Games: Always great for a variety of reasons. Since I recently wrote a post on the subject, I won't go into the details here, but here is the link to that entry - Playing Crate Games.

4. Target Training: My dogs were all taught how to target objects (my hand, plastic lids, a target stick, alley-oop style targets, or random objects) with their noses and individual feet. It's a big game that they absolutely love!

Hokey targeting the alley-oop
Ollie targeting the alley-oop

Poppy demonstrating targeting with a back foot
(and also how to target an eye with a tongue)

Ollie hand targeting
Ollie nose targeting a flat target

5. Sends: Even in a very limited space, you can work on distance skills. I used my alley-oop style target to teach my dogs to send outs. I also used furniture to practice straight and lateral sends. Any object that you can send your dog around will suffice. I was fortunate that the last apartment in which I was living had a large enough living room that I was able to configure the loveseat and sofa in such a way that I could work a figure-8 pattern. Even without that kind of space, I've been able to at least use the dining room table or pull a chair out to practice sending my dogs out and around from different positions.

6. Directionals: I don't use verbal right/left directionals, but I do teach my dogs various non-verbal turning cues. This can mean some as simple as having the dog facing me then spin either left or right in response to my hand signal. I also teach them to change direction by either turning into me or away from me while at my side in a heel position, depending on what cue I give. Another thing I've done is set up a couple of cones for the dog to go out around and practice different cues and crosses. I've also worked the J-cues for distance redirectionals and a modified version for closer "flick away" turns.

7. One Jump Exercises: Even the smallest apartment space usually has enough room to work on your dog's jumping skills using one jump exercises. You can also work on recall-to-heel positions with or without a jump.

8. 2o/2o Contacts: Although I've recently been training running contacts, Wave and Ollie were both trained to perform a 2 on/2 off contact behavior on all contact obstacles. I was fortunate enough that the apartments I lived in during the first 3 years of my involvement in agility both had a set of carpeted stairs. If you choose to train 2o/2o contact behavior, stairs can be an invaluable tools for both training the behavior and maintaining the 2o/2o criteria.

Ollie demonstrating a 2o/2o using the stairs

9. "Table": My dogs were trained to do "table" as a behavior, not an obstacle. Since USDAA is my primary venue, this means when I give the verbal cue "table" they are to jump up on whatever object I am directing them to and immediately drop into the down position. (Because of Hokey's deafness, I will need to come up with some other kind of signal in lieu of the verbal command when I train this). Beds, sofas and arm chairs have been my most convenient "tables" over the years. If your dog is small enough, you could also use a large, sturdy, reinforced cardboard box covered with a non-slip surface, such as a non-skid mat, placed on top.

10: Tricks, Tricks, Tricks: Nothing builds and reinforces the bond between you and your dog like trick training does. Teach many and have them perform a few every day. Enjoy every minute of it!


10: Play!: Have fun together. It's all about you and your dog experiencing joy together while interacting in a fun and positive way. My dogs love it when I hide and they have to find me. And, no matter the size of your abode, there is always enough room for playing retrieving games or having a good round of tug. Just make sure to move that vase or lamp out of the way first!

Our first spring in our own fenced yard
Three years ago I was finally able to purchase a house of my own. However, all I could afford was a row house in the city. I actually selected the house I live in now based partially on the size of the yard; it's a little larger than the average city backyard (although the house itself is smaller than my last apartment). Although sizable in comparison to the majority of city yards, it is still far from the ideal size for practicing agility at 40' in length with 2/3rds of the yard having about 15' of usable space across and the remaining 1/3, about 20'.

Compared to the years spent with no yard to practice in, having my own fenced in space is a welcomed luxury. However, because the space is relatively small, I'm still constrained in what I can set up and what I can train and practice. (Note: on this Blog Action Day I expect there will be several posts on exercises that can be done in a small yard, so I will leave that up to others).  I have no space for contact equipment, so am limited to setting up exercises involving jumps, weaves and my canvas practice tunnel. It's better than nothing though, and Hokey and Poppy are reaping the benefits of "real" training space that Ollie never had.
Yard set up with jumps and weaves

Finally a little bit of room for some training

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Running Dog Walk Training: Modification One

I still have other material on other subjects related our foundation training to write about, but, in the meantime, I added a modification to my running dog walk training set-up in order to help with one of the problems I've been having that wrote about in my last post. The issue is that Hokey often comes off the side of the plank as she runs toward a remote controlled treat dispenser placed several feet from the end. A friend of mine (thanks Ivette!) suggested using a hoop at the contact end that could act as a visual aid to keep her running straight on the plank all the way to the end. I do have a hoop, but thought that maybe just a couple of upright posts connected by a short stabilization bar (in this case, roughly 16") might be enough to do the trick.

First, I needed to introduce her to the concept of running through the uprights. I shaped this simply by strolling by the obstacle and rewarding her for taking the initiative of going through the uprights. We've done this when introducing other obstacles in the past, so it's a familiar drill to her. The only "new" concept was the narrowness of the uprights. Here I am shaping the behavior. As you can see, as Hokey gradually becomes more confident about performing the behavior, her speed and drive increase. By the way, that soft click you might hear is a flashlight that I'm using as a substitute clicker. More about that later.

Once Hokey clearly understood the concept of running through the uprights, I placed the remote controlled treat dispenser on the ground for her to drive to. She would get a treat released for a "hit" - running through the uprights, but, in theory, wouldn't get one for a "miss" - running by the uprights without going through them. She never did get a miss during this phase though.

Then it was time to put it all together by putting my foam tiles down with the uprights placed at the contact end and the treat dispenser placed several feet from the end.

I have decided it is easiest to see a contact hit if I have 3 foam tiles of all the same color linked together at each end of the "plank" (recall from the last post that 3 tiles are equal to the USDAA contact zone measurement). Here I have red on one end, yellow on the other.

The modification with the uprights worked really well. It seemed to do its job of acting as a visual guide to help her stay on the plank all the way to the end the majority of the time. She had a couple of instances where she came off and then swung back on to run through the uprights, but those misses were not nearly as numerous as those during the training session a few days ago when I wasn't using the uprights. Here is Hokey getting some nice "hits":

As for the other main problem mentioned in my last post - that of the absence of a good clicker substitute to mark the desired behavior - that is something I'm still working on.

 As you can see from these stills from videos taken during today's session, she still has times where she is leaping over the contact area rather than hitting it.
There is a slight possibility that the uprights will encourage this behavior since she might interpret them as a cue to jump, but because she had several instances of just running through the uprights rather than jumping, I do not think this is the case.

Here is the video showing her leaping over the contact zone:

Without a proper aid to give her instant feedback, there is really no good way for me to communicate what I'm looking for her to do. I'm sure it's frustrating to her. Not having the ability to communicate my criteria to her properly is frustrating to me.

However, I do think I may have a workable solution. I bought a little push button LED flashlight a couple of days ago to try to use as a substitute clicker (as an alternative to my hand flash). It's relatively bright, so as long as Hokey is looking at it, she should be able to see the light flash on even when outside during the day. It also has a relatively quick reaction without much of a delay, which is a huge bonus as this is something I have struggled with when trying to find devices that will work well in our training.

The downside to using the flashlight is that Hokey needs to be facing it in order to get the information. In training the running dog walk, if I'm restraining her or holding a stationary position at any location other than right at the end of the plank facing toward her, I can't provide her with the information contained in that flash of light. Even with me standing at the end like that, things don't work out so well. Having to release her, watch the contact, decide to click the flashlight followed by clicking the remote for the treat dispenser all within quick succession did not prove to be very workable in practice. Therefore, I think it would be best at this time to have a second person stationed at the contact end of the plank watching the contact area for "hits" and clicking the flashlight, while I concentrate on releasing her and operating the treat dispenser.

In the short time I've introduced her to the concept of the flashlight as a substitute clicker (I picked it up on Friday and today is Sunday), Hokey has grasped the concept very well. Here we are today demonstrating how it can be used to shape a sit/stay. Notice that she is definitely glancing at the flashlight in anticipation of getting information/feedback from it.


So that's the update! Running dog walk contacts are still a work in progress, but with improvements!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Foundations: Running Contacts

I finally have time to report on the progress I've been making with Hokey's agility foundation training. In fact, I have so much material, I'm going to have to split it into more than one post. This post will be dedicated to our attempts to develop solid running contact behaviors for both the A-frame and the dog walk. 

But first, let me report that we all survived "Superstorm Sandy" (I still prefer the pre-storm moniker "Frankenstorm") without any hardship. However, Hokey begs to differ with that assessment. She was convinced she'd melt by getting rain in her face. Is this not the most pathetic sight ever?

Hokey "suffering" the effects of Superstorm Sandy

So back to running contact training starting with the A-frame. I have introduced Hokey to the PVC box. The introductory step involved me sitting in a chair while shaping her moment into the box (i.e. first moving toward it, then a foot in, two feet in, etc) by building value for it with lots of tossed treats. She moved through those steps very quickly. Then I ran into some trouble at what would ordinarily be the next couple of steps - me still sitting in a chair off to the side of the box with her moving straight through without looking at me while getting a nice pounce into the box then bouncing straight out. Because of her deafness, I had trouble imparting this concept to her and actually ended up jumping ahead a couple of steps. The main problem is that I have yet to come up with a good alternative marker to use in lieu of a clicker.  Such a marker would need to be visual, yet not require her to look at me for information (i.e. some remote device that she would look at to get her information regardless of my position relative to her). It would also have to have very little delay so that the feedback would be virtually instantaneous. I've experimented with a couple of things, but none of them have worked out quite to my specifications. SO, I decided to jump ahead and see how she would respond to me working the 3 positions around either side of the box (front corner, side, back corner) with me tossing a treat or toy to keep her focused on driving forward. Being a bouncy jack, she naturally picked up on the one bounce into the box with a bounce straight out. She really gets some nice pouncing action, as seen in this still from the video that follows:

Hokey "pouncing" into the PVC box

And here is the video of us working the 3 positions around the box at full speed followed by half speed:

We've also started to work on the foundation for a running dog walk contact. I want to try to train this and see how it goes. So far, it's proving to be challenging and sometimes frustrating. I may need to rethink how I go about certain things, but I figure if it doesn't work out, I can always switch to a 2o/2o instead. I think it would be an easier transition to retrain a running to a 2o/2o contact behavior than the other way around. Currently I am using interlocking foam tiles as a portable substitute for a plank. They are 12" x 12", so 12 tiles represents a DW ramp and the last 3 tiles are equal to the USDAA contact zone specifications.
One of the interlocking foam tiles

When training a running DW contact, you want to teach your dog to drive forward with speed while remaining completely independent of handler motion. Therefore, in these early stages of training, I remain stationary and position myself at either end of the "plank". I have a remote controlled treat dispenser placed several feet from the end of the plank that acts as the "goal" for Hokey to drive to. I've also used a tug toy stuffed with hot dogs placed or thrown at the contact end of the plank. However, if I use the toy, I give up the control of rewarding her for a correct vs. incorrect performance since she's often driving forward far ahead of me. In other words, the toy reward is indiscriminate; it rewards her for performing both correct and incorrect contact behaviors. Therefore, I prefer to use the treat dispenser so that I can reward her only when she runs all the way across the plank without leaping off the end or stepping off the side. The downside to using the remote dispenser is that it has a little bit of a delay, so that sometimes in my eagerness to deliver the reward to her at the correct moment, I anticipate her performing correct behavior and instead end up rewarding her for an undesirable behavior.

Remote controlled treat dispenser
Unfortunately, as mentioned before, I haven't come up with a good clicker substitute with which to provide her with instant feedback for performing the correct behavior without her having to look at me, so, right now, Hokey is stuck with the imprecision of trying to learn what gets her a reward and what doesn't and trying to tease out what she did right from the wide range of possible behaviors. This is a currently source of frustration for the both of us and something I need to give more thought to in order to come up with a better solution.

Below are video examples of our hits and misses.

In this clip, I stand stationary at the "contact" end of of the plank near the treat dispenser and release her toward me:

I have found that she tends to show a little more speed and drive if I am at the opposite end with her and do a restrained release, sending her across the plank toward the dispenser, as shown here:

As I mentioned before, Hokey is a bouncy jack russell and has a tendency to add an occasional leap amid her strides as she runs. Sometimes these leaps carry her right into the contact zone, such as here:

However, this is not the most desirable behavior as it can easily turn into a leap that has her sailing completely over the contact zone:

A frequent problem I'm having with her is that she has a tendency to run off the side of the plank as she's heading toward the treat dispenser.

This is happening more often lately and I need to fix it now before it drifts into habit. My thought is that I either need to take some steps back and build high value for staying on the plank before running the entire length at full speed OR get a helper so that one person can be available to give some sort of visual "click" for the desired behavior. Or maybe some kind of combination of the two.

Like I said, it's a work in progress with some kinks to be worked out. We'll see how it goes as we move forward.

Another post on our progress focusing on other skills should be up within the next few days. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Extension & Collection: A Photo Study

As I've been editing videos for my next post (which I hope to get up tomorrow night), I thought it would be interesting to analyze the different responses Hokey has when reading my cues telling her to jump with either extension or collection.

First extension:

Exiting tunnel at full speed
Approaching jump at full extended run

Preparing for take off at full run. Hind legs extended in front of forelegs.

Pushing off fully extended

Lift off with hind legs fully extended

Extension over jump. Tail and rear legs extended.

More extension over jump

Landing. Looking forward.

Landing. Hind legs coming forward.

Landing Complete. Rear legs again coming in front of forelegs to push off into full run.

Then, jumping with collection:

Exiting tunnel at full run, as before

Responding to my collection cue by starting to check her stride. Notice how the back legs are not as far forward as when she is approaching in extension

Preparing for take off with collection. Shifting weight to hind end.

Take off with collection

Starting to turn. Notice the hind legs are much more tucked than when she jumps with extension. The tail comes down to help her steer into the turn.

Landing under collection while turning

Landing complete. Following through to complete turn.

Rear tucked in tight turn

Turn complete. Notice position of hind legs, collected under body with weight shifted onto them.
One more look at jumping with collection from another angle:
Approaching extended, but just preparing to check stride

Checking stride on approach

Checking stride again, preparing for take off

Starting to take off with collection. Notice the position of the rear legs and how her weight is shifted back.

A collected take off. Starting to turn.

Collected and turning in the air. Notice how the rear legs are tucked and the tail is down.

Following through with a tight, collected turn in the air.

Landed and completing turn on the ground.