Friday, March 26, 2010

Another light bulb moment for me....

Whew, what a busy week.

We started the week off with herding, Liz has taken another step back with herding, and Breeze was so amazing. Cricket got to play in the agility field and she saw a dog on the other side of the fence herding, a fast moving exciting dog. She was pretty obsessed with the same look the cat gets....But....She was able to call off and come running to me, boy what a true recall superstar she has been!!

Next we spent a few days at the Collie National Specialty. There were some awesome agility collies, wow, I had no idea collies were so driven and fast. My buddy got her Rally RAE-the Rally equivalent of a MACH at the specialty and I got to watch her so that was very cool! CONGRATS TO THE AWESOME KODI AND DENISE!!! A really great team.

I sometimes use my blog as part of my training journal, and no one else may find this whole light bulb moment interesting, but....I wanted to record it for me to cement in my mind.

This was my really exciting part of the week. I raced home from watching Collie agility to catch my class, I almost blew it off but I am so glad I got to class this week. You know how sometimes you might have heard something a million times and one day it sort of hits or you really just think about it? Well, we had our light bulb moment this week! It is the sort of thing I have always said yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that, you have to decelerate, but I was finding the place these transitions need to take place were not always where I had thought they should.

So the subject of this weeks lesson was transitions from object focus to handler focus.

For some reason I think because Liz had her problems with TOO MUCH handler focus and not feeling comfy with object focus after her heel work, it is like when scientists study someone with a disease to figure out how things work in a normal person. So seeing the problems exaggerated in Lizzie made me see where I have had problems with all of my dogs with this concept and finding the right places for my dogs to help them transition from concentrating on obstacles to knowing I have vital information about things coming up on course. Usually the handler has done a totally correct cue, but imagine driving at 70 mph and then at the last second someone yells TURN LEFT NOW! Correct cue and information but Yikes, or a handler that is like a driver riding the brakes and keeping the car at 35 mph because in a couple of blocks there will be a turn-that would be very demotivating.

So happens someone was giving away old clean run magazines and BOOM, there were two magazines with some articles from Stuart Mah on transitioning from object focus to handler focus. Talk about timely.

So in June 05-Stuart says that "obstacle focus is when the next obstacle is the logical obstacle form the dogs perspective. The dog's focus is on the obstacle staring him in the face. Handler focus is when the next obstacle is not the logical next obstacle. It is the responsibility of the handler to cue the dog promptly regarding handler focus or obstacle focus."

Cueing handler focus vs obstacle focus can be divided into six categories
1. How you move (softly or strongly)
2. Your arms and hands (static or active)--now I am thinking in my handling system Linda M says that running with pumping arms is a cue to keep going, to take the next logical obstacles, so object focus--vs if I stick out the off arm, or start cueing which means collect your stride and pay attention, something happening
3. Your voice, (stronger or softer) I have not thought of my voice and the tone, humm
4. WHERE YOU LOOK- (I thought this one was interesting)-looking at your dog (handler focus and guess you would be expecting them to look at you)...or looking at the next obstacles
5. What you think (only of the dog or your next place on course-hummm, I could use working on that one)
6. the path you take-I am a little more unclear on that point.

"To teach the dog to gear up (upshift) you should concentrate on changing from a softer voice (handler focus). Also be aware of where you are looking when in handler focus, you should look more at the dog. When upshifting, you should focus on the chosen obstacle (obstacle focus), keeping the dog in your peripheral vision.

To teach the dog to decelerate (downshift) and go into handler focus, instead of looking ahead at the obstacles in front of you begin focusing on the dog more. Instead of running hard, begin slowing your pace some and shortening your strides. Also being softening your voice commands so that you don't have that driving sound to your voice. Instead of throwing your your hands to send the dog on, start "bringing everything in", drawing your hands in more toward you. All the cues begin to tell the dog to ease up and relax more rather then drive ahead."

This is from the article by Stuart Mah, he says when you hit between jump 2-3 the handler should begin switching the dog into handler focus, the handler takes slower strides, maybe smaller strides, the handlers voice becomes quieter instead of loud and driving, the handler watches the dog more rather then the obstacle, the dog should gear down, taking off closer to the jump, landing closer and turning to face the correct jump sooner, the tunnel is taken out of place and you do not have to do call offs or have the dog go off course.

"the net result from a handler who can perform downshift transitions is a dog that is fast, not only through the straight away, but a dog that can make a quick tight turn and move on to the next obstacle more rapidly, all the while minimizing and off course"--Hey I am all for that!!!

I have known about this stuff, and decelerations for a long time but I had not thought about the other cues and this series of articles really helps you see where the transitions have to take place. You have to let your dog know before a jump something is going to be happening, they might not necessarily see what...yet...but they have to know so they can adjust their stride, their jump length and get ready to pay attention to what you are going to tell them. Some dogs need a couple of obstacles to know hey, we are going to handler focus and stay with me, some not as much time. By not cueing in time to let the dog know something is coming up and moving toward the next jump you are putting the dog into object focus and when I did that to Liz we had a beautiful off course Aframe, LOL. She knew that is where we are going because I did not slow down in enough time to tell her something was going to happen so she flew on ahead with drive and confidence. By the time I tried screaming and stopping dead to tell her something was coming up she had already committed.

So in the course we ran in class, SURPRISINGLY to me, the first time you really have to get handler focus is sometime after the teeter -object 9 and before object 11-well, before they are committed to that jump. If you need to grab focus right after the teeter, you sort of have to keep the handler focus until the middle of 10 and 11, then pull after the dog hits 11-but they can change their path because before they launched for 11 they knew to shorten their stride, to not jump so far, and to keep looking at you. Interesting. Most people were really late and ended up with off course tunnels, I was early and ended up pulling Liz around jump 11. Chloe used to really be obstacle focused so I got used to very early cueing and I am figuring out that is where I go wrong with my dogs sometimes, those early calls, LOL. Next place we had to have handler focus was right after the tunnel to set the dog on a straight line to the 15 jump. Of course on that one you have to get the dog into handler focus right after 14, and I did that way too late, tried to call her right as she was hitting the 15 jump so she had already committed to taking the Aframe, whoops.

The rest of the course can really be handled in obstacle focus, and I had a blast running it. So much fun. Luckily I got to do sit in on the class after mine and run Breeze. Having looked at the course and figured out some of the timing stuff and thinking about it, Breeze smoked the course and got it perfect the first time. It felt like so much fun.

Anyway, if you have access to the June 05 clean run and the April 05 you can check out the article-it has exercises and explains what needs to happen to give a good transition to your dog, and it sure seemed to hit at the right time for me when I was trying to figure this all out. I am going to be looking a little more carefully at myself and all the cues I give and look at where my particular dogs need to have transitions.

LIZ WAS DOING AMAZING! It was the PERFECT class, and perfect course for her after her heeling work had got her too handler focused and uncomfortable with looking at obstacles. She started out the class sort of taking one jump and whirling in front of me and barking, wandering off and sniffing and just not looking happy. Each step she figured out it was ok to just go on, and most of the course had the dog in obstacle focus and very quickly she ran the course like a pro. She also stopped looking so stressed once she figured out she did not have to have me involved in every step of the course, she could go on and just look for more obstacles. It was cool to see how great she ran, with no sniffing, no barking. YIPPIE.

I even got to stay for the second class with Breeze, so having just worked on this we were able to run the full course with Breeze with no mistakes, really fun, really fast, confident, gosh it felt MARVELOUS.

All good things must come to an end and I threw the ball for Breeze at the end of the course.....she went skidding into the ball and bent her right front leg backwards I think. She screamed a blood curdling scream and started limping, UGHGHGHG.

SERIOUSLY Breeze you do not have to be injured each and every time we go out to play!
I decided to not panic and just walk her out, she started putting her weight on it and was looking better, so I put her in the crate to go and listen to Deanna, got her out again and she was definitely still limping. We had done the course perfectly, Breeze was definitely hurting so of course we went home. Thank heavens after about two days of light walks, some ice and some heat and no agility and she looks great. All I kept thinking of though is the videos Susan Garrett posts about why not to throw the ball for your dog and how they can tweak their body, yep, she looked just like one of those. Geeze, what a bad mom I am ;-(, but she does not like tugging and she loves chasing the ball, but I am going to have to think about my rewards. The funniest part of the whole day was when I picked up another of the clean runs this gal was giving away and took it home and settled to look at it and there was a long article on how to strech out the front knee and what to do when it is hurt, so I picked that up out of the blue just five minutes after Breeze got her knee hurt...and I had no idea that article was in the magazine. The Clean run fairies were sure trying to help me out this week with information they gave me at just the perfect time, LOL.


Diana said...

Im glad you had such a great class. Sorry about Breeze but really a dog can get hurt doing anything so dont beat yourself up. I read the article by SG. I still throw the ball for my dogs. Diana

AC said...

I'm amazed at how intricate a sport like agility can be. I'm glad you had something click. That always feels good.

I'm sorry Breeze tweaked herself, but am glad to hear that she's on the mend.

And three cheers to Cricket: Queen of Recall!

Ricky the Sheltie said...

That's a lot of really good and useful information about obstacle vs. handler focus and you explained it all very well! Thanks for sharing it!

Sorry to hear that Breeze hurt herself again. I think dogs need to do what they love so if I liked to chase balls, mom would still throw the ball for me too.

I am really impressed by Cricket's recalls too!

Sara said...

I think if I took Oreo's ball away, I might as well put him to sleep. He lives for the ball.

Kids & adults get hurt all the time playing sports. Dogs will too. Part of life.

Glad you had a good class. And Yay Cricket!!!!

Nat said...

Thanks for posting the info about handler focus and obstacle focus cues!! I really need to work on that too. I've always thought that softer cues were for obstacle focus and louder cues were for handler focus, so it's interesting that they're actually supposed to be the other way around! I do think for Mika that louder cues make her pay attention more, but Wall-e could be the opposite. It's going to be tough getting used to running my dogs differently at trials, lol, they're so different!

Kathy said...

I was also suprised that Stuart said you should use softer cues, but then I tried it outside without the dog and yelling for them did make it sound more exciting and I think, perhaps I do end up yelling louder and being louder to get their attention when I have not started getting their attention and downshifting in time, then it is almost like a call off? So I am going to work on that and see how it goes ;-), I had not thought of the downshifting as seperate from actually giving the cue, which just seems to make such sense--anyway, I am anxious to play with this whole idea some more

Morganne said...

Great information! I have been working on using more direct eye contact when I need my dog's attention. It is amazing how easily they will switch to handler focus just by us making eye contact. It's a powerful tool.

Cynthia Blue said...

I'm so jealous you went to the collie nationals! I went once, in 2006, in Boise... it was FUN! I realized then that my collie Levi was a typical collie. :)