Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Back to Agility

Well, it's good to be back, as nice as the vacation was.  In the first few days I was back at home, I wasn't very good about making real plans before going out to practice with Jonah, so we largely just did obstacle performance.  His weaves look good, fast and enthusiastic.  His dogwalk contacts are solid, and I can even rev him up so he races into 2o2o before I can catch up.  He's dropping instantly on the table.  His teeter is not particularly fast but he looks happy and confident on it, and he can do it at a reasonable (about 10') distance.

Yesterday I tried to do some distance work, and I met mixed success.  I set up a curved tunnel with a jump outside it, something like this:
        / /         ___
\ \      .  

That probably makes no sense at all, but if you imagine a circle, the tunnel took up about half the circle and the jump was set up so the dog could take it opposite the tunnel on the same, circular path.

Jonah was pretty good if I stayed at the top or bottom of the circle, sent him to the jump and then the far tunnel opening.  

What was more difficult was if I was on the far side of the jump.  He got a little jump-happy and would just jump it back and forth rather than driving out to the tunnel.  We need work on that.  I kind of ran out of ideas, took the jump away completely and just worked on sends to the tunnel.  At one point I would give a verbal 'yes' when he got to the correct entry, and then he would turn around and come back out looking for a cookie.  Then he started jumping on top of the tunnel.  He hasn't done those behaviors in a while, but it was clear to me how difficult the distance really is for him.  He was running through his list of possibilities because he was perceiving it as a new thing.  

Today I set up three jumps.  First they were in line with the second offset a few feet.  The offset was actually a challenge for him and if I wasn't ahead on landing of the first, he would go straight to the third, or recognize my 'out' command too late, turn, and take the second jump backwards.  Once we did it a few times, though, he was cruising.  It looked like this:



Next I moved the middle jump so it was perpendicular to the other two, like this:



I worked on pushing to the backside (so he would jump the middle jump toward me) and the opposite (so he would jump the middle jump away from me).  This was a breeze.  No trouble at all either way.

Then I moved all the jumps parallel again, but this time as a serpentine (as in, I moved the two end jumps in line with the middle jump from above).  We worked on regular serpentines, threadles and pushbacks.  With the threadles, Jonah was backing off a bit, so we took a long break to chase squirrels and practice our other equipment in the back.

The last thing we did was to put the jumps back in line as with the first exercise but with the middle jump only offset by about three feet.  Now he would always take the middle jump unless I pulled hard, which I didn't ever do, as I want him to go find jumps at this point.  I worked on handling the line from as much distance as I could and keeping his speed super high (which it was).  I got to as much as about 20', which is as much as our yard allows.  He was looking great.  

I tried a few lead-outs, and I was pleasantly impressed.  It has always been a challenge to get him excited and fast out of a lead out, but that was not the case today.  Today he actually broke the stay a few times and started leaping through the line of jumps.  Not our usual problem.  He would only break the stay when I tried to rev him from a distance.  I would bend down as if I were about to sprint away, and I would verbally say, "Ready?  Ready?"  That was a little too much at first, so I toned it down a little, but even just the body positioning and one ready made him explode out of the stay.  

So, in conclusion, I have two things I'd like to focus on in the near future:
1.  Distance.  I'll talk with Grace about this tomorrow.  I need to balance enthusiasm and speed with this new skill that often slows him down.

2.  Start line lead outs.  That seems elementary, but it's time to revisit it.  I had abandoned it because he would always be so slow out of a lead-out, but that may no longer be the case.  It may still be a while before we can use it in a trial where he's more stressed out, but we might as well start practicing it some more.

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