I seriously love my dog sometimes. I didn’t get any pictures of us at our workshop this past Sunday, maybe there will be some later, but I was too busy paying attention and trying to learn as much as I could.
Mufaasa was the least experienced dog at the Flying Tails Workshop, and he totally held his own. We have tones and tones of stuff to work on, including continuing on our circle work (apparently I’m not supposed to use nose bumps on the hand to get him to do walk next to me, live and learn). Of course next weekend we start our Agility Level 2 over at Sublime Canine, which means both our brains might explode some time in the near future.
The first thing we did at the workshop was the two on, two off exercise (well, there were a couple of smaller exercises first to get us warmed up). Before I say anything else, I’d like to point out that anyone actually interested in agility should go to a trainer, not try and use the internet or book to train by yourself. There are tones of books and videos out there, but agility is something that’s so dependent on the handler’s body language that I really think you’ll save an incredible amount of time by using a trainer. Also, while some of this stuff is harmless if you do it wrong—especially if you never intend to compete—once you get your dog on the larger equipment it can get a bit risky. The main advantage (aside from very basic truth that seeing someone demonstrate these things is infinitely better than just reading about them) is that your trainer will be able to give you lots of guidance about how you’re communicating with your dog with your body and the timing of your commands (which is just as important as your dog learning the particular skills for this sport, because if you’re not showing them properly, how can you expect them to learn properly? And after years of riding I know how easy it is to think you’re in the correct position and then have someone come over and inform you you’ve been riding with your right hand two inches higher than your left for the past hour. Yes, I did that).
So, back to the exercise. When your dog comes off of an obstacle like an a-frame, dog walk (image to the left, stollen off of wikipedia) or teeter-totter you want them to slow before coming off the end (well, in the case of the teeter-totter they need to stay on the end until it hits the ground. Unless you’re showing a yorkie, it’s probably not going to happen slowly). The reason being if they run really fast and then hit the ground hard, it can lead to injuries. There’s also the danger that you’re dog will jump off the top of the ramp rather than go down it, potentially injuring themselves if they don’t land well, which is why dogs are required to have at least have one paw hit the coloured portion at the bottom of the obstacle (such as the yellow portion in the dog walk in the photo). There are a number of ways to teach a dog to do this, and the one we were learning is called “Two on, two off,” which is exactly what it sounds like. You train them to come off of a ramp with their hind paws on the ramp, and their front paws on the ground. Your dog should have some hind-end awareness to start this training—training back-up, working with their front paws on a stool while you make them move around it, and if you were smart and did puppy class they probably did stuff on a wobble board, etc. Your dog should also have a good “nose touch” (there are plenty of video tutorials for this, if your trainer hasn’t already cover it) and you should be prepared to transfer that touch to a target (in our case a clear, plastic lid).
Mufaasa already had a habit of poking me with his nose every time he wanted to get my attention, so convincing him to do the nose touch was pretty easy. In fact, he’s boarder line gleeful about it sometimes. “I get a treat every time I poke something? Hell, yes! I will poke your hand like a mother fucking champion!”
Basically, you guide your dog onto your practice plank (note to self, get practice plank) or stairs until their front paws are on the ground, and then get them to hit their nose with your hand, trying as you go to get your hand lower and lower with the dog not moving from the two off, two on position. Next step is to do the same thing with the plastic lid, with the idea that eventually you can just leave the lid on the ground as a target, so the dog learns to touch his nose to the ground and wait for you to release him automatically. We didn’t get any farther than getting them to touch the target on the ground, but there’ll be plenty of time for that. (picture by VertKitty)
Next we did dome work with planks; short and sweet, it was probably the easiest part for Mufaasa and I all day. Basically, just putting a 12″-long plank that’s only about 1″-wide on the ground and teach the dog to run along it and come to a stop just at the end (no creeping along—this is agility, people, and I hope your dog isn’t named Miss Daisy). At first the plank was on the ground, then on some milk crates, and then spread between two tables. Mufaasa was absolutely happy to give it his all—he likes jumping on stuff just as much as he likes poking things, so confidence-wise I don’t think we’ll have any problems. (picture by VertKitty)
And last, but certainly not least, we started in on weave poles. We’re using the 2×2 method created by Susan Garrett, which she says you can do in about 12 days, but I think Mufaasa and I will wind up taking a bit longer. We’re still working on our drive to obstacles and until we have that I don’t think I’m going to get great weaves (and if you have a dog with fucked up weaves, you basically need to start at square one). We’re starting with just getting him to go through two poles, and that’s where we’ll stay until next time. Frankly, we’ve got enough to think about, and at the very least I think I might have hit on a toy he likes to tug with, I’ll be heading out to pick that one up tomorrow (provided I’m not trapped by an impending snowapocalypse) and we’ll see if that helps. Speaking of Susan Garrett, I need to watch her latest 5 Minute Recall video (if you aren’t on her Newsletter list, I suggest you get on it, lots of awesome stuff, and not just for agility).
Fhew! That was a big enough post for now, though I’ve got our Saturday adventure and a new idea for a regular feature to write up. Also at some point I need to get my leashes rant up, as well (because I love to rant). In the meantime my dog is giving me the stink eye, so I’d better head out.