Archive for the ‘agility foundations’ Category

Jagger and I did a couple more trials, both AKC and USDAA over the rest of the winter. I only got video of his AKC debut:

Yes, lots to work on still. We did another USDAA trial a few weeks after that, and I am very proud to say he held ALL his stays. We are currently working on the outrunning the jumps issue. Our problems still come down to Jagger learning to manage his excitement (JILITIES!). We continue to make progress, but we are still chipping away at a lot of the same issues. For example –

Exhibit A:

Who uses his face as a brake on the weave pole? This guy.

Who uses his face as a brake on the weave pole? This guy.

Exhibit B:

Who tics the bars so much he leaves mud trails? THIS GUY!

Who tics the bars so much he leaves mud trails? THIS GUY!

Exhibit C:

Who needs his very own breakaway tire so he can learn to jump through the aperture instead of literally through the tire? You'll never guess. Hint: It's not the yellow dog.

Who needs his very own breakaway tire so he can learn to jump through the aperture instead of literally through the tire? You’ll never guess. Hint: It’s not the yellow dog.

I do have days where I get discouraged that we aren’t further along in terms of being ring-ready. In that case, I buy more collars to make myself feel better. Here’s our nifty new tug leash combo:

Safety orange for Mister "Safety Third"

Safety orange for Mister “Safety Third”

In addition to the challenges of training a very high drive, fast dog for the first time, North Carolina weather never disappoints. All four seasons in the same week makes my yard a mud pit and cancels classes, seminars, and private lessons we had planned left and right from December through February. Sigh. Hoping for a better spring, soon.


"Speak for yourself. Snowjility now, human."

“Speak for yourself. Snowjility now, human.”


I haven’t updated this blog in quite a while. Some of that is because being a mom is a pretty busy experience and work has been busy, but a bigger part of it because I’ve experienced a lot of frustrations in Jagger’s training and I needed some space to just be and train, without video and without overanalyzing it.

We spent an entire summer trying to get better striding on the dogwalk, but as soon as I raised it a couple of inches, that striding was gone. I also don’t think he has any understanding of this importance of the contact area. I think he just runs, and I see no consistent effort at all to make stride adjustments. We have good sessions, we have bad sessions, but **overall** we don’t get much better than 50% success rate. Chance? This is extremely frustrating. One thing I have learned is that Jagger is actually quite smart, and if he’s not making any progress it’s because I need to find a different way to explain things to him. So, I’m going back to the beginning and working on teaching him to foot target a contact zone-like object. We’ll see where this takes us, but I am also seriously contemplating teaching him a stopped contact as I’m not sure I have it in me to also teach him turns after spending all this time on just straight exits.

I haven’t videoed running contact practice in a long time as it was just too upsetting to have to review footage of bad sessions later. Here is the last video I took, and no it’s not bad at all but my worry is we have been doing this for so long, and just not getting any significantly better success rate. I am positive that part of the problem is my clicker timing and my clicker ability. I do the best I can, but my timing doesn’t seem to be accurate enough; I think the click happens when he’s well past the contact area so what am I really marking? No wonder Jagger doesn’t understand.

Jagger is not really understanding some pretty fundamental handling cues, and we have gone back to basics on positional and motion cues. I’m sure a large part of this is my inexperience being only on my second agility dog and learning how to run & train a very fast dog. The good news is I think we are on the right track and I’ve got some excellent resources of experienced instructors right here in my home state.

We went to our first couple of USDAA trials back in the fall, just to get some ring experience and give Jagger some practice at managing his excitement level in the “big boy” ring. He was SO incredibly happy to get to play, it was really sweet.

Since then, we did one day at a CPE trial a few weeks ago, and two days at a big USDAA show here in Raleigh this past weekend. He’s gotten much better, and I like to think I am getting better, too. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get video at either trial. Here are the things that really have improved that I saw this past weekend:

  • Start lines: Jagger held them ALL!
  • Teeter: Jagger got right on every teeter, didn’t fly off, and held his 2o2o!
  • Dogwalk: None successful, but he was very sticky and needed management for the entry which put me behind on every single one. However, he did each dogwalk I asked in a brand new place without leaping off it like it was lava as he did at his first couple of trials. And, at the CPE trial he did have one *beautiful* dogwalk hit that was two feet in, nice and deep.
  • Table: All that start line work appears to have transferred nicely to his table. He did one perfectly with an auto-down and let me get a lead out. The other we had to reset, but he got right back on and downed and held it for a reaaaaallly slow 5-count.
  • Reading lines: He did *some* of this. There were moments of beauty.
  • Rear crosses: Not so good at this trial, but at the CPE trial we had a jumpers run where I felt like our handling really started to click, including him actually reading rear crosses and not just getting confused, outrunning the jump, and getting stuck in handler focus.

Here are the main things I see for our training list:

  • Dogwalk: Wow, yeah. See above. I am not sure where this journey is ultimately going to take us, but it is clear that I need to do something differently.
  • A-frame: He’s stopped being willing to add in an extra stride when necessary on the down ramp (unsurprisingly enough, this is the same problem we have with the dogwalk) so we will have to revisit this obstacle as well. He also ran past it like it was possessed by some evil sorcery and I had to re-start him each time. This didn’t exactly help our striding. His A-frames have been good in practice when I am ahead. Turns are going to be an issue, though, if he won’t add that stride.
  • Handler focus: This dog can be really, really sticky. It’s even worse at trials when the adrenaline is up and just a hot mess when he’s tired and his brain is fried. A friend observed that Jagger might be so focused on job 8 or 9 that he’s not paying attention to completing job one. I think this is pretty accurate. I really want to give Jagger more information and earlier on the course. It is really hard to do this when I can’t trust him to finish completing the previous obstacle. He’s very quick to pull off jumps and come with me (typical baby dog) and he damn near killed me by cutting me off while I was at a dead run to make sure I was far enough ahead execute a recall push in one of our Jumpers courses (needless to say, this dog doesn’t push well). Our last two runs of the trial, he shot off in the wrong direction and would NOT come in to heel so I could reset him. He just faced me in a crouch and kind of spazzed out. Imagine this conversation:
    • ME: Come here and I will show you.
    • Me: Dude, I need to point you in the right direction first.
    • Me: …
  • Jump bars: I know he can keep them up. He doesn’t drop that many in practice anymore. He just can’t always think about what I’m doing, what he should be doing AND keep the bars up. Ah, young boy dogs. We have a good plan to keep revisiting our jumping and handling foundations, and I think this will help his jumping a LOT. Over time it’ll become more second nature to him. Right now he’s still learning the language, and I am learning to speak it 3 times as fast.
  • Collection: This is related to the jumping and handling foundation above, and it’s also applicable to weave entries which we still struggle with. Jagger thinks collection is for chumps, and he ain’t no chump. He still uses his face as a brake on occasion to get into the weave poles rather than collect. Ugh.
  • Tire jump: I am happy Jagger did this correctly *once* during the weekend, but he also ran under it not bothering to duck and broke it open with his head. Going to get one for the house asap so we can practice.
  • I’m sure there are some things that I’m forgetting, but this feels like more than enough!

Well, trialing is above all to test your training. We’ve certainly got a good list. One great piece of news is that Jagger hasn’t injured himself enough to require rest in quite a while. I think all our conditioning work has paid off.

I haven’t done a blog update in a while, but I am pleased to say that for once this is because Jagger and I have been busy training! We have been (mostly) injury free, weather has been tolerable, and there is enough grass in the yard to practice agility most days if we haven’t gotten heavy rain.

I’ve got a pretty long training list, but my focus with Jagger has been on:

  • startline stay
  • proofing 2o2o for teeter
  • thoughtful jumping effort and striding
  • weave poles (the BANE of my agility existence)
  • running dogwalk
Jagger lying on the carpet

That’s a long list, little buddy. You’re lucky you’re handsome.

Jagger’s main issue with jumping is that he’s in a huge damn hurry. That’s kind of a high class problem, I know, I know. He’s all about getting from point A to B as quickly as possible, and as all geometry students and border collies know, the shortest (and thus fastest) path between two points is a line. A line through the jump bar. Jagger is able to do a regularly spaced jump grid with no problem. However, when you add the speed component of a more agility course-like setup, he feels the wind in his fur, the adrenaline starts going, he does a line of coke off the first bar as he creeps up on his start line and the next thing you know we have bars and jump standards down all over the place. Jagger also likes to run around jumps, which is a typical baby dog thing to do, but again, it’s so much faster! Mayhem, I tell you. Instead of more grid work, we did these types of irregularly spaced circular grids with a tunnel for speed:

jumps in a circle with eager border collie

I’m told speed circles are kind of old school. Jagger says he can be retro.

Here’s our summer training all summarized in a fun little video I made, complete with running dogwalk montage:

And here’s the obligatory mass download of all the running contact video in case you are a) a true RC nerd/afficionado b) in Silvia Trkman’s online RC class again like me or c) have been struck by a sudden, uncontrollable urge to watch border collies running in slow motion to combine your love of Baywatch reruns and dog agility.

There always seems to be a lot of discussion surrounding running contacts regarding how to decide whether or not you “should” train them. There’s somehow the implication that you “can’t” train running contacts unless you’ve completed a checklist that says you “should.” Personally, I have always thought that there’s nothing particularly special about them and that you don’t need a reason to train them other than that you like them. They are a labor of love, they take a long time, and you need to love them to go out and train them. Case in point, here’s what our dogwalk training looked like for the month of March:

I only train them 2 or 3 times a week, and I don’t tape every session, but this is a pretty good idea of what things look like. I probably spend 10-20 min total per session which includes warm up & cool down with plenty of time to play tug and rest in between efforts.

“… so I have.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

I’ve signed up for another round of Silvia Trkman’s most excellent Agility Foundations class. As preparation, I made a short video of how we are coming along with the early exercises:

I also revisited a sequence we worked on last summer, and it wasn’t so pretty.

I officially never want to see this sequence again, and I have definitely over-worked it. I will spend the next couple of weeks working on shorter, 3-4 obstacle sequences that don’t have so many tight turns.

I most look forward to her advice on how to proceed with weave pole training, because stuff like this keeps happening:

Jagger with fur scraped off his face :(

“That did NOT leave a mark. I totally meant to do that!”

Princess Bride reference source 😀

Only I don’t ride him like a horse. At any rate, with the move and the new baby, my training time has been pretty limited. My new house’s back yard is in that “has to get worse before it gets better stage” of being completely unusable as a training space until we stop getting torrential rain for several weeks and my landscaper can finish grading it to fix the drainage. Apparently North Carolina has decided to have a monsoon season this year, so it may well be May or June before this work gets done. The good news is that the trees are cleared and the debris is removed, and the fence installation got started before we were once again deluged by rain. I was able to do a little training with Jagger before the trees came down and the yard really got torn up:

Jagger’s slamming the weave poles pretty badly, so we are going to have to back up a few steps and work on that when I have a regular training space again. I’ve been trying to work on his running dogwalk once a week when I can get out to a training field. It’s not ideal, but after some messing around and refreshing both our memories I was able to get to the exciting milestone of seeing his first hits on the full height dogwalk:

It’s very inconsistent, however, and Jagger really wants to switch to four strides as soon as possible (good! faster!) but he’s not extending enough and comes up short on the contact (not so good!):

So I am back to working on no-speed approaches and Get The Contact Game as here in our last session:

I was pretty happy with how this session went; I think I’ve found a good spot to work on back at the first apex where I can keep working on helping Jagger understand not to leave the downramp early. I am seeing some funky striding going on at times, and am not totally sure what’s going on with that. Maybe he is just trying to figure things out, too. I have been jackpotting every attempt that is in the contact zone at all and have rear foot separation. I just wish we had more time to practice! Hopefully by late summer my yard will be useable again, and better than ever.

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.