Monday, 13 March 2017

Starting Distance Handling for Agility

Why Distance Handle?

I wrote this recently after being asked to describe to club members how to make a start with distance handling.  I hope it's helpful.  Also worth checking out is the FaceBook group for Distance Handling here:

There are lots of reasons:
- Because it’s cool, and worth a try
- To add more flexibility to your handling
- Because you can’t run as fast as your dog
- Because you really can’t run at all!
The emphasis you place on building distance skills will depend on how many of the above apply to you. Handling at a distance will always be riskier than conventional methods, so handlers who can move fast, usually take that option. For the rest of us distance handling is worth the time investment, because it helps us to be competitive at all.

My Thoughts on Training Distance Handling:
1.     Confidence is key!  If your dog is to race away and take obstacles on command, without you there, he needs to know you will be pleased he did.  So, reward - reward - reward – even if he takes the wrong obstacle, or turns the wrong way, reward the attempt.  This always important, but it is especially so at the start of distance training.
2.    Start small and build up.  Distance does not happen quickly, nor does finer control at distance happen without the slow build-up of foundation skills.  Be aware that it is likely to take much longer to train a distance-dog to run agility courses, than it takes to train one that runs beside the handler.
3.    When the going gets tough, go back a step or three! Practice simple stuff a lot, as well as developing newer skills. So, if the dog starts slowing down, wondering what you want, it’s time to make it easier again ie shorter faster exercises, and more frequent rewards. Keep sessions short, and exciting. 5 mins daily, is better than 35 once a week.
4.   It’s a learning curve for the handler too. Often the dog interprets what we ask differently to how we intended.  So, when errors are made, be aware that it might be your error and not the dog’s.  Reward his efforts to do what you want.
5.    Video what you do often. Watch, evaluate and learn from mistakes.  Most of the eliminations I have in competition are because I have muddled my signals.  Even if I don’t think it at the time, watching the video often shows what I did. Be kind to yourself … errors are just going to be part of the learning curve! And both of you are learning.

Skills the Dog needs to Distance Handle:
1.     Confidence to leave your side – This is the biggest one.  Drive can be built with lots of exercises away from the agility equipment.  Eg Using the word “Go” every time your dog runs for a ball you throw - this builds up the fun of racing away on command. For dogs who have done obedience, rushing ahead of their handler may need to be taught.
2.    Attention to your Body language – Apparently, dogs have better all-round vision than we do. So even small body language gestures can be interpreted.  I wear blue to help me stand out from the background.  Yellow is also good. Dogs however don’t see red well, so reds and pinks give no advantage over greys. You can grow your dog’s attention to your physical cues by also using silent gestures at home for tricks etc.
3.    Listening Skills – Dogs pick up human language more than we think, and are quick to predict what is coming next. (Think of the word WALK.) This can be used to help with obstacle discrimination.  Eg Tunnel or Jump?  Left or Right?  Start using words for other skills, and see then if they can be understood without using a gesture as well.  Once the dog learns that your words really mean something, the skill is transferable to agility.
4.   Independent Obstacle Skills -  If your dog is to work away, then each of the obstacles needs to be taught so it can be completed without you near-by.  Weave entries can be taught with as few as 4 stick in the ground poles.  Contacts can be taught by using a touch target at the end of a plank of wood. A single jump can be used to teach wraps and backsides in a small space.  Sending your dog to his bed can also be a distance skill.
5.    Ability to Work It Out – Some breeds might find distance agility more difficult!  It is not by chance that agility folk often use collies – this breed has been herding sheep and listening to their shepherds (at huge distance) for generations!!  Whatever the breed, the dogs will need time & repetition to figure out what you want.  Just like driving a car: what is at first done with careful thought, should (with multiple repetitions) become second nature.

Early Exercises without equipment:
1.     Go Go GO!  Any time your dog is running after a ball, it is worth using the word GO so that he associates “Go” with running. Next try calling “Go!” just before you throw a ball.  After a while the dog will predict that “Go!” means that the ball is going to follow. Once he starts running on the word “Go!”, throw it over his head before he looks back for it.  This encourages him to look forwards as he runs.
2.    Going “Around” trees etc. Sit close to a tree or other upright and give treats from alternate hands.  Reward your dog each time he goes around the tree & back to you (alternate directions). See if he can work out why he gets the treat. Slide back a bit, and keep going.  When you try the next time, start close-up first before building distance again. Lots of praise with each loop around. Once he’s doing it well, you can add a word as a cue.  Maybe “Around”. Once you are further back it might be “Go!” then, “Around”.
3.    Running past you. Have someone hold the dog while you walk out ahead and call Go! (You face the way he is going & look over your shoulder to him, on the side you want him to pass you), reward by throwing the ball ahead of you as he goes by. Keep calling Go! til he gets the ball. Then lots of praise and treats.

Developing those Early Skills:
Your dog needs to start following cues from your hand, arm, and body language. In the early sessions, you will have thrown the ball from the hand nearest the dog, so he starts to associate that forward “throw” as applying to him as he chases the ball. This needs to be developed.
Your Signals:
·         Under arm throwing motion – propels dog from your side forwards
·         Arm low – curves your dog’s line inwards towards you
·         Arm raised higher – sends dog outwards away from you
·         Arm bent, body crouched  & motion slowing down – indicates you want the dog to collect
·         Arm straight, body tall & motion increased  – indicates extension
·         Think of your arm and hand pushing the dog forwards
·         Even from far back your acceleration or deceleration is noticeable to the dog

Exercises to Practice:
1)      Two cone exercise:
Develop the “Around” exercise to two cones.  Start with them so close together that they almost seem as one.  Then gradually spread them apart.  If you start with your dog on your left, then send him to the left of the first cone. Keeping him on your left, you then turn right as he goes around the cone, and you call “Go” to send him forwards to the next cone, while stepping in that direction.  Practice both ways, and with the cones getting further away, and further apart. Remember at the end of each success to have loads of praise for for your dog. 

2)     Line of Jumps:
Set the dog up (either in wait, or with assistant holding him) and go to the end of a line of 2 jumps.  Face the direction you want your dog to go, and look over your shoulder to him.  Have the toy in the hand you will be signalling with.  Call “Go!” and keep encouraging the dog take all the jumps and rush on past you after the toy.  Throw the toy as he takes the last jump. Develop the exercise by:

  • a)     Moving yourself further back towards the dog, so he runs past you to take the last jump, and eventually goes right from your side to take both jumps.
  • b)     Adding more jumps Each time you add another jump, start by positioning yourself at the last jump again. Face in the direction the dog is going, call over your shoulder, and move slightly forwards yourself calling Go! Throw toy as reward. (Or have some-one throw it if you are too far behind ;) )
  • c)      Remember to do this from both sides.
  • d)     Build some lateral distance Once the dog is taking a series of jumps with you close to the line of the jumps, then see if you can step out to the side a bit. Go to the middle of the line, take a step or two out sideways, and look over your shoulder to him as before.  Wait until he looks at the first jump to call “Go!” then you move forwards parallel to the line of the jumps as he takes them.  Build this lateral distance. 

3)     Curve of Jumps:
Once the dog will do a line of 3 jumps nicely with you out to one side, you can start to bulge the line into a curve.  Send the dog out, and then turn as he does, so that your shoulders help him see the direction you intend. Keep your arm out indicating he should stay out. Lift the arm a little higher when he is further away, and lower it as he comes closer to you.  Develop this by adding more jumps and a deeper curve.  Leading to either a long U shape, or a full circle.  Remember to practice in both directions.
4)     Early Turns:
Using the two cones, start with dog on left, send him around the first two cones using your left arm, then as he goes around the second cone, turn left to face the first cone again and use your right arm to send him around the first cone again.

5)     Tighten turns:
Teach your dog to “wrap” a single cone more than once. Start close-up, & use a stirring motion with your hand to indicate he keeps going around the cone. Right hand always wraps him anticlockwise, and visa versa. Develop with more than one cone.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

More than a Year!

Agility took something of a backseat for me in 2015 as my health stumbled and the exertion of agility became too much.  So it has been over a year since I last posted here.

In 2016 however, thanks to an off label drug, my health somewhat improved.  In fact, I've even stopped using the mobility scooter, and am once again walking in the ring, and "distance handling" with Finn.

I think he understands me better now too, as we are gradually collecting a few ribbons.

This was our first ever KC clear round - a Jumping round back in June at The Patch.

And at the Lisburn Show in August, we got two clear rounds in agility.  This one in G1-7:

And this one in G1-3 where we picked up second place, beaten by only 1/100th of a second!

Then in September at the Belfast DDTC show we finally managed to win our first KC Agility class!  I was so proud that he worked out what I wanted in this round - because sending him off, all on his own to those 6 weaves, was a bit of an "all or nothing" gamble. :) 

Of course, we don't always get things right, so for the sake of honesty, here's a round that is perhaps more typical with things going a bit pear-shaped!

I labelled this round Ooops!

As for training, I am still following Susan Garrett on H360, and I hope that in 2017 my co-ordination will improve some, and that we can gradually become more consistent in the ring.

Here's to 2017!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Starting KC Competitions with Finn

This is Finn & my first year competing in Kennel Club competitions.

We've a lot to work on still, but Finn and I have attempted two KC rounds so far:

Castle Ward 9th May Agility Grade 1-3

I was really pleased with this round despite the elimination at the weaves, because for the first time he didn't dash onwards and take obstacles without being sent to them.

He did a couple of spins back to me when uncertain where to go next - so I need to work on getting my directions to him more quickly and clearly.

Ballyrawer 30th May Agility Grade 1-3

Still not getting the weaves right, but his contacts were great, and apart from one small spin before the last jump he seemed totally clear about where to go... :)

I was also delighted with how he took the long jump - I think this is the first one he has ever encountered!

Flash Back...  June 2014 Finn's first attempt at a Jumping round at a Cooperhill Fun Day

This video shows just how far he has come in a year....  Obviously an elimination, because he doesn't follow directional cues much at all here, but I think this shows a certain raw enthusiasm.  He was very pleased with himself!

As far as Training goes:

We continue to attend club training, and I have been given fantastic support and encouragement from Castlereagh & District Dog Training Club.  Of course the fact that they have now moved their training grounds to our paddock makes it much easier for me to get out for training sessions.  No need to load the scooter into the van and travel now!

I have also joined Susan Garrett's online H360 course, and we are working our way through various exercises so that I can call clear instructions to Finn... Thing's like "Na na na" meaning to take the back of a jump and so on.  We haven't put many of these into practice in competition yet, but his skills are expanding and soon I hope to do most of his handling at a distance and using a combination of Susan's verbals, and our own quirky communication signals!

At the moment my health limits me to attempting only one competitive round a weekend, which is frustrating, but just part of having an illness like ME.  Actually, I am very grateful that my health is sufficient to allow me to do this, as many ME folk suffer to a much greater extent.
This helps explain my dilemma with doing agility: Well enough to drink coffee?

Oh and here's to my happy, willing dog who does his very best to work out what I am trying to tell him. I had no idea when I gave him his Kennel Club name, just how true it would turn out to be! xx

Some Finn Extra Special 

Monday, 30 March 2015

Photo Flashback!

Finn's breeder sent me some photos of when Finn was a tiny pup.  I forgot about them until recently, but they are so cute and worth sharing:

In the photo above, that's my boy on the left climbing down the step.

Oh and here he is again in the foreground. 

Injection time!  

And finally lining up with some of his litter mates for a photo.  He's the little pup on the left.  Awww!

For more puppy pics check out this post from 2013: Introducing Finn My Collie Pup

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Fun Day at CRUFTS

 So YKC Team Agility at 8.30am so all up early and into the show...

Standard seemed very high this year, with lots of clear rounds in super fast time.  Our team did great:

Clare and Taz in full flight:

Becky and Miley took to the limelight in great style:

And yet another little black dog - Patsy with Shona:

I did a little shopping...  new handbag, a slip lead for Finn, a mini bumbag thing and a Crazy Dog Lady hoodie!  :D

All in all a good outing....

... and if the hoodie fits, wear it!  LOL

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Leaving for CRUFTS this evening!

So we'll be on the overnight ferry to Liverpool this evening, and true to form everything is getting left to the last minute...

Including Patsy's haircut! So one pile of cheese treats later, and finally the little black sheep has got sheared ready for indoor competition:

The Woolly Sheep Effect - "Before"

Stream-lined and ready for Action - "After"

Keeping Warm...

Watch out Crufts we are on our way!!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

CRUFTS - Our photo competition winner

I am delighted to announce that Linda of Cheshire has won the Ability for Agility photo competition.

She wins two complementary tickets, and tells me that she hasn't been to Crufts before - she sounded incredibly excited to attend!

Which makes this all the more fun for me! Anyway, I'm sure you'll have a fantastic day Linda!  And Congratulations!

So here is the winning photograph:

Tim - my husband, who judged the photos - said that he was torn between many excellent entries, but that the title "DOG'S DAY OUT" made him think that it was important that the image showed the dogs doing something very dog orientated.

So this photo where the two terriers are completely oblivious to the camera, and obviously having a great day out, he felt best demonstrated the chosen theme.

Linda's two Jack Russells are brothers called Radley and Rascal, and she says, "This is our first time as JRT owners and they have completely melted our hearts!  Characters doesn't cover it really does it!"  I couldn't agree more!

So not long until CRUFTS now, and much still to do here to prepare.  Our wee Patsy still needs her hair cut, but with the current weather I've been putting it off.  Must take before and after photos to share.  Frankly, right now she looks like a little black sheep not a dog!  Watch this space.

Further info: 

 Crufts runs between 5th & 8th March at The NEC, Birmingham and is always a fantastic day out for dog enthusiasts.  Whatever your specialism there will be dogs, stands and competitions worth exploring at the show.