Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Agility Jump Skills Task: Set Point Exercise

I am so bummed, I had done this task with the new slow motion feature on my iPad with the idea I would use the video clips in this blog post. But something odd happened because I'm still getting used to how things work with features like that...and the videos were uploaded to my computer without the slow motion intact. I have just regular speed clips of what the boys did with this exercise. I'm sorry about that. The next time I do this exercise, I'll upload the slow motion videos directly to YouTube from my iPad. Ugh.

The set point exercise is a simplified jump grid for agility dogs. I also am a firm believer that competitive obedience dogs who are preparing for Open and Utility would also really benefit from doing this sort of jump training. If you are seasoned in agility, then you might recognize this jumping exercise from Susan Salo and her jump grids materials. This is found on her Foundation Jumping DVD and her new book Jumping Grid Workbook . Both resources are available on Clean Run's website and I do recommend any of Salo's material. This agility task is part of our Agility Jumping Skills Task Pack and is available on our website:

The set point exercise is pretty much the only grid that will teach your dog the proper mechanics of getting themselves to lift off of the ground  and over a jump. There is no speed, there is no distance, and there is no influence from the handler on this's just the dog jumping one jump. This grid really should be often as a dog is learning how to jump so they get used to how jumping correctly feels.

With the set point exercise there are two jumps, one's called the facilitator jump and the set point jump your dog is be jumping over. The facilitator jump can be a jump bump or a non-winged jump set at the height of about 4 - 6" depending on the height of your dog. This facilitator jump is never set higher than 6" or else the whole purpose of the set point exercise is lost. All the facilitator jump is defines the space that is available to the dog and more of less put them in the right place for take off. That space will cause your dog to step in, rock back on to it's rear, spring into the air and drop it's head while it's over the jump. The distance the facilitator jump is from the set point jump and the distance your dog is from the facilitator jump is dependent on how long your dog's back is.

The set point jump can be any agility jump you choose with the exception the broad jump. The height of the jump can be anywhere from low to your dog's competition height. Salo does recommend that when working with the set point exercise to change the height of the jump often so the dog will pay better attention to what the job at hand is.

On the other side of the set point jump is a target (that is easily seen by the dog) with a reward. It needs to be far enough away from the set point jump that the dog can finish it's stride after it's landed. This can be anywhere from 6 - 10' depending on the size of your dog.

And so what are you doing while your dog is working the grid? Not a whole lot to be honest. Where you stand is one step ahead of where the target is and one step away off to the side. This way your dog can get to the target and not charge ahead of you. (In the videos I'm going to be posting...I am not in the position because I wanted to show you what my dogs were doing from the side.) Make sure you switch sides of the target at your body is facing the same directions as your dog is heading.

Lars working the set point exercise:


Ocean working the set point exercise:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jaakk-O Turn Task

Wow... it's been ages since I've made a blog post in here. I think I tend to write in bursts so, hopefully, this is the start of a blog post burst. :)

Yesterday, I pulled the Jaakko Turn task card from my agility grab bag. For those of you guys who aren't familiar with what a Jaakko turn is, it's a fairly new agility handling move from the One Mind Dog (OMD) crew. The Jaakko is sort of replacing the Ketschker as the go to move to cue a tight turn like you would need to wrap a jump. I am actually starting to seriously embrace the One Mind Dog handling system because Ocean really reads these cues that I've been using well. I decided to use part of a Masters USDAA course to practice our Jaakko turns. Coming from the landing side of jump #2 with Ocean wrapping #3 to the right (coming through 2 and 3) and heading to 4 was my handling game plan. The Jaakko cue would happen right in front of 3.

What exactly is a Jaakko turn? With the Jaakko, Ocean is on my left side heading to jump 3 and I start to position myself near the front of that jump and on the side that I want him to turn. My body is facing forward and I stoop down with that left arm across my body cueing him to take that jump. My body language should tell him this is strong deceleration and for him to chip in and turn tight to the side that I am standing (and to not take #2 again.) There's also a blind cross element to this turn! I intend to pick Ocean up again with my left hand as I move towards jump #4. So, as Ocean is in the air and wrapping the jump upright, he and I are more or less doing a blind cross. This is one of the few times you'll see me do something like a blind cross with him. LOL So, that's the Jaakko...and what separates that from the Ketschker is that you do stoop down low to cue that strong deceleration. The Ketschker, you stay more upright...and you don't get as hard as a deceleration cue.

Here's some video from yesterday...complete with weird music. ;) You'll see that our jump backsides still need some work. My instructor and I decided that I really should start handling backsides on the take off side because when I'm on the landing side, I can't get myself out of the way enough for me not to get hit by him. So....that take off backside handling is something new to our agility handling toolbox.

So you guys...'til next time! I have some rally tutorials I have to edit and I'm hoping to get those up relatively soon. :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Train 'Em Tutorials - AKC Rally Sign #9: 270 Right

FINALLY!!!! The videos are back! Over the summer, my tripod I used to take these videos vanished. I have no idea where it it was stashed in a place in this house that it will never see the light of day again. I've looked and looked all over the place and could not find it. I eventually resigned to the fact that it is buried someplace in the basement or maybe got left outside in a place that I just haven't thought of. But, I broke down and got a new one and the tutorials are back in business.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Expectations versus maturity - Part 2

Since I made that blog post last week about online acquaintances struggling with younger dogs in performance sports...I've done some more thinking while off showing in agility over the weekend and have more thoughts on this.

The more I think about this notion of pushing the maturity issue with younger dogs and the parallel idea of people. (I'm not going down the Anthropomorphism rabbit hole here.)  None of us would expect a 12 - 14 year old kid to go and work successfully on Wall Street as a banker...or as an tax accountant...or a police or fireman. We don't expect 12 - 14 year old kids to be able to work college level calculus. Yes, there are some exceptional kids who could take on college level courses or actual jobs like scientists or law enforcement....but they are exceptional and few and far between. Why do we expect that same level of maturity of our younger dogs for them to work at the same level as a 5 - 7 year old dog??

I was joking with an agility friend earlier this summer that Ocean at 3 was like a 21 year old college guy. A 21 year old old college guy is a mix of great choices and not so great choices. And that in a nutshell, was Ocean this past year...a mix or good choices in the ring and a mix of not so great choices. At turning 4 years old in a couple of weeks, Ocean is more or less equivalent to a 28 year old guy and 28 year old men can be successful at holding down an actual job and making a whole bunch of great choice with maybe a not so great one thrown in for fun. I'm really looking forward to this upcoming year with my true adult dog in agility.

I think there's something to be said about being honest with where your young dogs are in their mental maturity. Yes, a 12 month old large breed dog looks like a grown up dog. But their brain is still in puppy land. So, if you have the 4 legged equivalent of a 12 - 14 year old kid, try to allow them to stay in middle school where they belong instead of trying to shove them into post doctorate work.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Is your dog training fluid? Or is it written in stone?

I was just on a dog message board discussing with dog agility with a couple of members. The core discussion was someone was struggling with their young 18 - 24 month old dog's behavior when training. He's a Cattle Dog/Rat Terrier mix and as she put it, he was going through some sort of teenage boy jerk-face stage. His behavior was becoming combative, not listening, brain falling out of his ears, and just being a jerk for the sake of being a jerk. She had a training session that left her in tears earlier this week. She said that there has been a lot of regression in their training as of lately. She admitted that she felt like giving up and wasn't sure where to in her training or how to get his brain back into some sort of thinking mode. I'll post some of my responses below (bold and in italics) and actually build a blog post out of them and some comments that will help that happen.

I do hate to say it, can't rush or train maturity in dogs. It will come on their own schedule. Ocean is just now turning into the agility dog I have been waiting for him to be this the age of 3. Next 4, that will be the year it all comes together with Ocean. I started trialing him at 15 months old. We had a couple of rough years of NQ's after NQ's after NQ's.

Just keep at building experience and mileage with him. That's why I just kept trialing and training with O. All of that mileage does add up. Do the best you can...but keep in the back of your mind you have a young dog who needs to mentally grow up (and there's not anything you can do to speed that up.) Take your training day by day and you'll see small improvements over time.

I've been seeing this trend online a bit with message boards, on facebook, and in real life with friends who are struggling with younger dogs. Younger dogs who are living in the shadow of expectation of these peoples other dogs....both past and present. Or, they are living in the shadow friends' dogs of similar age who are consistently performing in classes, practice, or at trials.

On the dog message board another poster had commented that her dogs matured well at the ages of 3 to 3.5 years old. My final thoughts from the message board discussion are posted below and will close out this quick, impromptu blog post. I really would like people to really take this sentence to heart and think about this when they are working and training with their dogs:

"You need to be able to adjust your training plan to the dog that is in front of you at that moment....not adjust your dog to your training plan."

^^^ In my humble opinion, that skill right there, is what separates the masterful and great dog trainers from all of the other dog trainers.

This totally supports that saying in dog training - "You really don't have a dog until 3." In my experience, 3 years old is when the dog settles into itself and they have the mental maturity to handle the stress that working them causes. I started to trial Lars in agility until he was about 2 months shy of 3 and in obedience for his CD when he was a couple of months over 3. If I had started to trial him in either before 3....both sports would have been a hot mess. Lars really settled into himself between the ages of 4 and 5.

I do know there are dogs out there who are out there who are consistent and awesome at younger ages. But you absolutely cannot compare your dogs to other dogs....including your own. You're going to do nothing but get frustrated over why isn't my dog like so and so's dog or my other dogs. Because they aren't those other dogs....they are who they are. You just have to embrace who they are....and all of who they are, good and bad. You have work and train the dog in front of you. Some days you may only be able to work on simple, foundation things because your young dog can't think their way out of a paper bag. The next day, you might be able to do a sequence. You need to be able to adjust your training plan to the dog that is in front of you at that moment....not adjust your dog to your training plan.

Last night, Ocean was a little crazy practicing at home because it was cooler outside. He was forgetting the concept of collecting if I'm holding my place on the course and not go blowing by me. We went back to something that we haven't had to revisit in months - Calling him into heel after one jump. He needed that exercise at that moment...and we did it a bunch of times until he got his head together. I didn't get mad, upset, or frustrated because my dog who is a P2, Open/Excellent agility dog was blowing by me and we needed to go back to basic agility foundation 101. I did recognize that at that moment we needed to go a bunch of steps back in order to go forward last night. Training dogs is's not always onward and upwards every training session. Sometimes it needs to flow backwards or stay stagnant because the dog in front of you needs that.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dog training life lessons from the yoga mat.

I think life is full of lessons for us to learn. Most of them are subtle lessons that are easy to overlook or miss if you're not open to them. I actually had one of those lessons this week. Or, maybe it was more of a reminder than a real lesson. But I'll get to that lesson in a moment after a little bit of backstory.

Earlier this winter, I had seen my doctor and she suggested that I do some sort of physical activity every day. This was when I was just starting my self improvement journey and I was having some problems with getting some emotions under control. She felt that moving around would help with that. I dabbled with yoga with a couple of DVD's I had kicking around and playing around with the wii fit we had gotten years ago. Spring came and then I got busy with agility and going more outside. I had dropped the yoga stuff until this July and I really understood the idea of self care better. I found GaiamTV online, set up my subscription to it, and uncovered my yoga mat. I started out with doing a yoga practice a couple of times a week. Then that morphed into 4 - 5 times a week. Now the yoga practice has become the first thing in the morning ritual that I do at least 6 days a week now.

from bradleypjohnson

I have never been a flexible person...I was never a little girl who could do a handstand or a split. So, doing yoga has been a slow going progression of me being able to do different poses. Slowly over these weeks of my morning practice, I have noticed that I have gotten stronger in plank position and I can drop myself into chaturanga position to upward dog with control instead of plopping my stomach onto the floor. I can move from one pose to another without feeling like I'm going to fall on my head. I don't shake as much and I can do forward folds deeper without my hamstrings screaming in agony. Every day I step on to that yoga mat, I am 1% better than I was yesterday. So, let's get back to that lesson I started with.

"Keep looking for ways to keep improving that 1% each day."

There is a parallel between learning yoga and dog training (especially performance sports.) When you're starting out in yoga, most likely your body will not let you bust out some crazy advanced stuff like flying pigeon pose right out of the gate. Trust me, after 2 months of yoga, there are things I can do better...but there's a lot that I still struggle with at the beginner and low intermediate level. It's going to take me a long time for my body to be able to master the intermediate and advanced levels of yoga. And you know what, I'm okay with that because that is something I cannot control. That's not on my ego's time frame, that's on my body's time frame. So, for the mean time, I will just keep looking for ways to improve that 1% each day. (Just for clarity's sake....this blog post explains what I mean by the word "ego.")

Looking at dog training through this same lens...our ego's put a lot of dog training results on a time frame. You hear it all the time."I want to get ______ titles on my dog this year." "By the time my dog is ____ years old, they will have their _______ titles." "This dog will be my (OMG title) dog!" I will even admit that I have been guilty of letting my ego run rampant with prophecies of greatness Lars. Who's time frame is it really?? It's not really yours at's really your dog's time frame. There's plenty of things in dog training that we cannot rush as trainers. If you do rush somethings, your performance will fall apart in the ring. I've seen that happen to people too and then they get angry at their dog they rushed instead of admitting they didn't take the time the dog really needed to be solid. It's those people who want to be at advanced levels of stuff before their dog's skill sets are ready to do it. My agility journey with Ocean has been very different this time around....especially this year. I celebrate being 1% better than we were yesterday or last week, or the last trial. Rottweilers tend to be a slow to mentally mature breed and being an intact boy doesn't help his cause. Sure, there are dogs who are younger than Ocean working in Masters level agility. But....their time frame is different than Ocean's time frame that is currently being controlled by his level of mental maturity. I have zero control of that....there's nothing I can do to make him mentally grow up faster. All I can do is keep training, keep building experience and mileage, and keep trialing and NQ'ing with him. But, everyday we get a little bit better just like me with my yoga poses. Instead of getting frustrated with what poses I can't do....I celebrate what I can do that I couldn't do 2 weeks ago. 
My journey with dogs is becoming very much like this. Instead of getting all bent out of shape about what we can't do....I celebrate what we did better, especially if it was something that we struggled with before. I would like to challenge everyone who is training their dogs (and this includes pet dog people too working on basic manners or tricks or whatever) to celebrate that 1% improvement you see every time you train your dogs....let go of your ego driven time frames because they will bring you as much disappointment as you think they will bring you happiness.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Now I have my task packs....where do I find stuff to do (Part 1)

I decided to make a small series of blog posts that talk about how and where to find things to work on for the various cards that make up the task packs. I get asked "How will I know what to train?" a bunch from people who are thinking about purchasing tasks or that are new to their Train 'Em Tasks task packs. This is probably the second most popular question Train 'Em Tasks gets asked after "Are there any description exercises on the back of the cards?" I'm going to share my resources I pull my training plans from when I pull my own task cards from their grab bags. I'll also share where to find these resources for your own library of training resources.

I do have a fairly vast library of training references - books, DVD's, magazines, agility course maps from trials, seminar notes, and websites that I regularly pull ideas from that will match the task cards I pull myself. I have never, ever intended the task cards to replace working with an instructor or attending a class for the various things the task card packs are based on. I do understand that there are areas of the world where training facilities, classes, and instructors are hours away from my customers. I live in New England and I'm very fortunate I have numerous dog training facilities/instructors within an hour to an hour and a half drive. I tend to forget that isn't the case for everyone. But, that being said, the task cards aren't going to help anyone who has no idea what the exercise is on the task card. They are not meant to teach the exercise...just help you choose what to work on that day. Eventually, I will be producing products that offer basic exercise descriptions much like the Rally Prep Packs for the various dog training avenues we have products for. (I can hear the cheers from Task Nation over that news. **grin**)

The first reference book for Task Cards I'm going to chat about is for Competitive Obedience...mostly because it was sitting right here next to my laptop. I have two other Competitive Obedience books I'll discuss over the next week or two. The Art of Proofing  by Adele Yunck is one of my go to books for coming up for new ways to change up my obedience training routine with Lars. Yunck is also the co-author of one of the other books I'm going to be talking about soon. I'll quote the back of the book:

"Many exhibitors skip the crucial step of proofing when preparing to show their dogs in obedience trials. During proofing, you expose your dog to more and more difficult distractions to teach him to maintain his concentration and complete the obedience exercises. This book will help you explore proofing, whether by training by yourself, with a helper, or in a group. Author Adele Yunck draws on her extensive teaching and trialing background as she explores this fascinating subject."

This is a book that I wouldn't really use for a dog that is just learning competitive obedience exercises. Proofing is meant to test a dog's understanding on an exercise. Proofing a dog who doesn't have a good sense of the what you are asking of it isn't that fair. It's fair to ask a dog it's understanding when it is no longer learning but practicing what you've taught it. Proofing, when done correctly, builds confidence instead of destroying it. This is why I tend to do a lot of proofing exercises with Lars in obedience and Ocean gets more in the way of games in new things he's learning. I'm testing if Lars truly knows his job and I'm building his confidence for when things may go weird in the obedience show environment. It's not fair for me to ask Ocean to work through a hard distraction when he is just learning the game. I'll destroy Ocean's trust in me and his confidence in obedience if I push too hard, too fast.

One other little caveat about this book...Yunck does discuss the use of verbal and physical corrections with proofing. The idea of corrections has become a taboo to some dog trainers. My view on corrections is when used appropriately and fairly, they are an invaluable way to communicate information to the dog. Yunck does discuss how she uses corrections fairly in the book and I feel that it does a great job of explaining the correct and fair way to use corrections (verbal and physical.) If the idea of using corrections in your dog training makes you uncomfortable, please do not discount this book. You can still find this book incredibly helpful for ideas to challenge you and your dog in your training.

What I really like about this little book is that she has it all broken down by each competitive obedience exercise from Novice to Utility. So, if you pull any Train 'Em Tasks competitive obedience task card...this book has you covered with a slew of different things to add to your training. The first part of the book, Yunck discusses basic proofing concepts...things like timing proofs, if your dog anticipates, proofing attention, adding people, and other things like that. She has suggestions for proofing exercises when you're training alone at home, if you're training with a friend, or if your training with a group of people. Yunck makes it easy to tell what proof is appropriate by using a graphic of 1, 2 or 3 people. For example, a proof you can do yourself - use large stuffed toys either on the ground or in chairs for your Figure 8 Exercise. (Believe me, this book is LOADED with single person proofs you can do yourself.) A type of proof you can do with a friend - have someone repeat "Finish!" to make sure your dog waits for YOUR command rather than moving on the judge's command. A sample of one of the group proofs - have several people  clap and cheer after your dog responds to each of your utility signals as this will mimic the happy and astounded crowd of non obedience people watching your run.

Along with the proofing for each exercises and their various pieces, Yunck also has a small overview of what the exercise is and what is expected of you in the obedience ring when doing those exercises. I like this information for people who may be new to the sport itself or who have never gone to Open or Utility before. She helps take away some of the mystery of what the ring procedure is for each exercise. It also helps so people can practice the exercises in a way they will happen in the ring as well.

If competitive obedience is the game you want to play with your dogs...this book is a must have in my opinion. I pull my task cards in the morning and then I thumb through this book looking for things to try as proofs. Lars gets bored with obedience exercises if they are done the same way every time we do them in the backyard. He's a dog who likes to think and use his brain...using this book accomplishes that. Some of the proofs, he sails through with flying colors. Other proofs, he really has to think about the job at hand and sometimes he does falter and gets something wrong. But faltering is honestly a good thing because then we get to work on something and build both my knowledge and his confidence and knowledge.

So....where to get this wonderful little reference book?? Click on the links below and it will take you to the different merchants who carry it. :)


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