Archive for November, 2012

I’m feeling much better about our contact game progress. Jagger has gotten much more comfortable being up on the horizontal plank of the dogwalk and has been clowning around quite a bit during training:

He makes me smile.

The hits from starting spots on the down ramp are looking much better. We are currently working on some tricky spots we found on the horizontal plank and also working on improving consistency across all spots up there. I still throw in some turn & go starts rather than starts from restraint when Jag starts feeling a bit tense to me. Not sure if it’s excitement or stress, but either way getting a little break from my fussing over his start spot too much seems to help him relax. Overall, I’m really pleased with how he’s doing. We certainly have a lot of work to do, but I am really excited that I am now seeing Jagger experimenting with adjusting his stride on these GTCG drills.

We also did our first attempts at an extension/collection drill… it was ugly! We started with our current cik/cap training height of the bars set at 14 inches, and after more time than I would have liked (sorry, Jagger) I did finally realize that there were just too many elements for Jagger to handle right from the get-go. He was having a hard time both collecting and organizing his jumping effort at the same time. He also continues to have some confusion about what exactly that outside arm turning cue means. After I put the bars on the ground, I did try adjust my cues some to give him more on an inside arm forward cue; we’ll have to work on that some more. I’ll be really glad when I can work this drill and not be 8 months pregnant.

Slow-motion version of the above video, cut down to a few key examples. I think it’s easier to see how Jagger’s having a hard time slowing down and also getting his weight back to jump, which results in bars coming down, turning wide, or him adding that funny extra little stride.

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Work continues on Get the Contact Game – the videos contain the commentary this time. I very much feel that I’m fumbling a bit and figuring this all out as I go along, but Jagger is a very good sport and I’m lucky in that.

I’ve also been working Jagger on channel weaves. The two videos below are of his second and third sessions on the channels with a thrown toy. I had been using a static toy, but I didn’t like the result I was getting in terms of lack of drive through the poles and understanding what was being rewarded (hitting the entry). Thrown toy is much more exciting! We are working entries right now; the channel is fully open. From past experience with Copper, I find there is absolutely no rush to close the channel, because at some point you are just going to have to open it back up to teach entries anyway. Plus, Jagger is just 13 months old this week and still too young in my opinion to be doing “real” weaving.

Finally, I have a bunch of videos to share of Jagger and I working on a new sequence for wraps and handling. We are hard at work breaking the pieces of this sequence down, working on my timing, and making sure Jagger learns to turn nice & tightly around the jumps. There was one session in there of work on the landing side turn at 2 which was giving us so much trouble that I did not film.

And I always like to share a comparison of Copper versus Jagger running the same sequence:

I find it interesting to see how differently my two dogs run.  Being the trained agility dog, Copper killed this sequence on our second try (after I remembered I can’t send him like Jagger and need to run to every obstacle because his commitment point is much closer). Jagger, as I mentioned above, had to have a lot of background work before we could put it all together, and I still don’t have the bars up all the way. But wow, he’s fast! It’s going to be a wild ride when we start running longer sequences – I can’t wait!

Jagger had been doing well enough with his last few sessions on the 36″ high dogwalk that I decided to increase the height. Unfortunately, on my dogwalk this means going  up a full foot to 48″ competition height (definitely a downside of the DIY dogwalk). Not ideal, and while Jagger has bravely run across it, he has been leaping the contact area more often than not. I believe it’s a confidence issue with his striding not being extended fully.

To bridge the gap and ease this height transition, I have been playing Silvia Trkman’s “Get the Contact Game” with Jagger. I had introduced this game before at 36″ when we were working on soft turns on exit for our online class. At this point, I also want to start to teach Jagger to understand that he needs to adjust his stride to get paws in the yellow regardless of where he finds himself on the planks. From my earlier posts, you may remember an issue where as Jagger has gained confidence he prefers to do the dogwalk in fewer strides (like, three, yikes!) and can end up missing the contact if he doesn’t have a speedy approach that supports that much extension.

Here are two videos from our recent sessions. It’s a little ugly, and I’m sorry to say my eyeballs need some training on the starting spots. Seeing the video really does help me learn from these sessions, and I hope to make some improvements in my spot selection in the future.

Spot 1 appears to be a good/easy spot for him to hit with his natural striding, whereas spots 2 and 3 are in between. I need to work spot 1 some more, and then pick a “new” spot 2 that is further back from spot 3 so that it matches up with his natural striding. In the long run, I want him to hit well from the intermediate, harder spots too, but right now they appear to be too challenging because I see him hitting or not mostly by chance rather than making a stride adjustment like he did on spot 1.

This was my effort to work on spot 1 after three warm up trials on a closer spot. I had a few issues, but did finally get it together there at the end. Poor Jagger… he’s a good kid.

One big improvement I’ve made to this round of GTCG is finally breaking down and teaching Jagger to get himself on the dogwalk and make a u-turn to set up for this game. So, unlike last time I am not lifting him which means he is not jumping into my arms of his own accord when I’m not ready yet and doing things like this to my arms with his dewclaws (which, in his defense were overdue for a trim that day):

cut on my arm from Jagger's dew claws

Progress is measured in small steps, sometimes. No blood is always a good step.

One aspect of training running contacts is that it does require regular access to a full size dogwalk. I retrained Copper from 2-on/2-off without regular access to a dogwalk and it was more difficult – I couldn’t get a stable setup with a plank and a table taller than about 16 inches, and then had to go right to full height dogwalk in classes. I’ve never been completely happy with Copper’s dogwalk performance. There are several reasons for that, but one of them is probably the training setup we used. Copper at least had been on a competition height dogwalk plenty of times before, but as Jagger was starting with a blank slate, I knew I wanted to have a better setup, and I wanted a different end result in terms of obstacle performance. I also live too far away from any of the area training fields to make rental a feasible option.

View of the down ramp on my dogwalk

Dog’s eye view

Originally, I had an order in for a commercially made, aluminum framed, rubber surface dogwalk. But, right around the time I came up on the waiting list I also found out I was pregnant with my first child (yay!). Given that news and all the baby stuff we were going to have to buy in the not-too-distant future along with an urgent need to move to a bigger house, dropping a couple grand on a new dogwalk suddenly wasn’t in the budget. Fortunately, there are other options for the economy-minded. After some research, I decided to buy a PVC frame kit from Affordable Agility which could be built at 36″ or 48″ heights. This would also require me to furnish my own planks, which I decided to surface with a rubber pellet kit from Contact-A-Coat. It took me a few weekends, mostly in waiting for paint to dry and resin to cure, but it was pretty easy with a garage to work in out of the weather and some basic tools (screwdriver, drill, hammer, paint roller and tray, containers for staging rubber pellets, nitrile gloves to protect my hands, old sheets to protect the floor). Here are the materials:

  • PVC base kit (http://www.affordableagility.com/dogwalkbases.htm) – $344.75 including shipping
  • 12′ x 12″ x 1″ wood dimensional lumber board (not pressure treated, those are too heavy) from Lowe’s Home Improvement, 3 @ ~$18/ea- ~$60
  • Valspar exterior latex primer, 1 gallon – ~$15 (the sales guy really tried to convince me that the paint/primer combo was the way to go but I wanted as much protection for the wood as possible from rot, and while it’s affordable paint, I don’t find the coverage from Valspar paint at Lowe’s to be that great without several coats)
  • Valspar exterior semi-gloss latex paint, 1 gallon – ~$30 (you could probably go even cheaper by buying a “oops” color, but none were available the day I went)
  • Dogwalk combo kit (http://www.contactacoat.com/contactacoat-kits/combo-kits/) – $190.20 including shipping
  • Finishing nails to hold gum rubber slats in place during curing – ~$1.50
  • CMU blocks for heights lower than 36″, 12 @ $1.50/ea – ~$20

Total cost: $661.45

Let’s call that roughly $675 compared to the roughly $2,000 I was looking at for an aluminum dogwalk with a pre-made rubber skin, which doesn’t even include shipping. It’s not going to last forever, and you have to be a little creative to do height adjustments and make sure the equipment is stable on the CMU blocks, but I am really happy with how the equipment turned out.

Here’s what the assembly process looked like:

wood planks

Bare wood planks, ready for work to start in my garage

wood planks with primer

Primed

painted planks with rubber kit

Painted planks with the rubber kit. I could have painted the planks to match the rubber chips for improved appearance, but taping seemed like too much work.

slat positions marked on the planks

Layout of slats on planks – measure twice, glue once!

rubber applied to planks and curing

Rubber just after application with the resin. Note finishing nails used to temporarily tack down the slats; they had a tendency to slide all over while the resin was wet. My back was killing me after I finished! In retrospect, saw horses would have been a worthwhile side project.

lowest training height with CMU blocks

Here is one example of the finished dogwalk (sans hardware) set at 8-inches training height on CMU blocks. Note the small sand bags I used to stabilize the planks on the blocks. The setup worked much better once I had the hinge hardware attached to hold the planks together as it helped get the slight warp out of the boards. Ideally I would have had the hardware installed from the beginning.

the finished, full dogwalk

Finished dogwalk at 48-inch competition height. The set screws that come with the kit to attach the plank to the PVC frame are *not* long enough and the washers rust, so plan on buying some 3 1/2″ long deck screws and stainless steel washers to finish the project and ensure that the planks are stable. There is about an inch and a half of play on either side of the planks within the PVC supports, and there is a chance it could slip while in use without the screws. Downside of screws is a dog could catch a toe, so also consider covering them with some foam.

This is the Most Favorite Toy.

Red ball onna string

The precious.

It has magic powers. It makes Copper do hilarious stuff like this:

Copper playing with the red ball onna string

One man party!

And it lets Jagger do all kinds of things like this:

Foundations class has been a TON of fun. So many things to work on!

The A-frame is looking a little squirrely on the down ramp. We’re going to take a break from this obstacle until the dogwalk is more solid; I think there is some confusion here, and really there is no rush.

Our wraps to the left are a little wide; since the video was taken we’ve been working on tightening those up. It’s kind of ironic, because the week before the wraps to the right were looking wide and we worked on those a lot. Now they look better but the ones to the left need more attention. Just a quick aside, I found this comparison of my two dogs running the same sequence pretty interesting:

There’s about a four second difference between Copper and Jagger, and Copper is actually moving very quickly for him through all these wraps. No wonder I am having some trouble with my timing!

Finally, as you can see toward the end of the first video, I have Jagger back on the dogwalk. This was the first time he’d seen the dogwalk in about a month, and I was very, very pleased with how he did. He seems to have figured out his legs again, and I have been making a point of waiting for him to calm down a little bit between runs. I think he gets a big adrenaline hit from all that running, and I have noticed that he can’t always get himself unlocked out of the “border collie crouch” and into a heel or side position. The NR attempt on the video was the time he had the most trouble getting into a thinking mode. We’re going to continue to work on this and emphasize quality over quantity… this will take much self-control on my part, too, because running contacts are so darn fun!