Cathy Slot Jumping Weekend

Finally my notes are ready. Apologies in advance for the mixed fonts in this post. Can I just say that the Blogger Post editing sucks. And I don’t do HTML.

A few weeks ago now I attended and worked Cypher at a jumping weekend conducted by Cathy Slot from Queensland. Cathy has had the honour now of working with Susan Salo’s methodology a number of times now including a whole week in Canada with Susan Salo herself in 2006. She emphasised she was sharing, to the best of her ability and recollection, what she had learnt from working with Susan and also through working with handlers and dogs on the East Coast. Cathy regularly reiterated through out the whole weekend that she was by no means an expert in jumping she never the less felt that Susan’s training methods had helped a large number of dogs who struggled with jumping and even dogs who needed to make their style more efficient and tidier. Cathy said that she was happy to share as much as she could, given that Susan Salo had indicated she wouldn’t be able to come to Australia to teach everyone herself.She also referred everyone to Susan’s articles in Clean Run (US) magazine. The following notes and images were transcribed from my scribbles at the three day weekend. If you are working from these notes, please remember that there isn’t a “set recipe” for all dogs. I must say it required a quite radical change in my usual methodology towards teaching jumping. I have been of the belief that keeping grids low for too long will results in dogs’ becoming lazy over jumps especially if when toes are clicking against bars or bars are being dropped that we do not mark it in some way. I’m all for getting them jumping at competition height asap so that there is less repetition on heights they will not see in trials and less chance for bar touching/knocking. The following weekend meant a rather big change in that approach however it is the first time keeping grids low has made sense to me. I can see that there is very good rationale behind it. I am using the following grids with all three of my dogs – only one of which has a bar knocking problem, the other two are needing improvement on their general style and ability to scope and take off points. Cathy did mention that once the dog is jumping full height, Susan will continue get them to jump a variety of heights, including during sequencing/exercises, usually including higher than their competition jump height.

  • Jumping Grids are a lifelong training skill

Every time your dog jumps there are multiple components to that skill/behaviour performance.
It’s like a question with multiple parts and if one part is wrong then the whole question is wrong.
The components of Jumping:

  • Path
  • Distance
  • Appropriate Judgement of Take Off Point
  • Weight transfer
  • Angle of Elevation
  • Height

Dog needs to be able to SCOPE which equals reading ahead and adjusting their stride. We want dogs to anticipate the job ahead.

The Dog’s job is to have a focused mind and be physically able/skilled.

Susan Salo’s Theory is that as handlers we interfere with the dog’s process.

Dogs naturally want to carry 75% of their body weight on their front, in front of their shoulder line.

The efficient dog often seems to be slower in appearance when being watched but in reality is quicker.

Agility equals a hugely complex problem solving exercise.

In weaving we don’t want the ‘pitter patter’ effect but we do want to see them driving into the weaves and maintaining their rhythm. The reason why Susan Salo uses jump grids is so she can control the environment and teach the dog rhythm.

Good jumping sounds soft and rhythmic. We need to listen more carefully to our dog’s jumping style. We do not want to see the dog pulling on shoulders or being inverted over a jump.

A lot of grids will be bounce work. The grids are designed for the dog to be successful not to catch the dog out.

  • PROOFING

We are not to do these exercises to death. We do not have to perfect #1 before going onto #2 etc. Susan Salo is changing everything all the time otherwise the dog learns a habit.
There are only two scenarios in all the grid exercises where you have the heights of grids at full height.

Jump humps are for 6 month old puppies. See image.

We need to think about the bars we use for proofing and make sure we use a huge variety of colours, sizes and looks.

With regards to speed the speed will come once the dog gets understanding.

Distance Exercise – Most important because every time the dog does it the picture has changed. IE a jump has changed distance in relation to the jumps prior or after it.

On Bend Work it’s important to note that the dog’s weight is inequable in distribution. The longer the stride the harder it is for weight transfer.

Susan Salo: You cannot have a dog who is perfect across the whole realm of jumping components.

Puppies & Jump Humps – Designed to help with:

  • Spatial Awareness
  • Path
  • Extend and Collect
  • Look Ahead and Read

The Dog always determines how fast you move on.

Plus independent performance of the jumping skills is what also determines progress.

Susan Salo: The dog should do what’s in front of it unless I tell him otherwise.

When doing grid work a lure or toy is used. High drive to a toy is very beneficial however food on a target plate can also be used.

When watching the dog jump we are looking for:

  • Ease of Motion
  • Fluidity
  • Smooth movement between obstacles

Dropped Bars are a matter of Cause and Effect

The cause is often outside of the dog’s power. Therefore both Susan and Cathy believe that punishing dropped bars is inappropriate and unfair.

Every hour of agility training that you do you should be putting in two hours of conditioning work.

Susan Salo: Prior to commencing bend work get a dressmaker tape measure and measure the width/circumference of your dog’s thigh muscles on both sides. If your training is more on one side than the other then you will notice a difference in the thigh measurements from one side to the other.

Most important repetition is the one you do the very first time because that reflects the dog’s natural way of jumping and ability to read the “puzzle” set.

Dog should use minimal effort to get over bar ie just enough to get the job done.

In Foundation Work:

For an unbalanced dog – give the dog the easy side, then hard side and finish with the easy side. Always finish with the easy side for the dog.

Perch Work – the weight should be on the front. Add a jump hump to each side of the perch so the dog has to step sideways with hind feet over the jump hump.

Ladder Work – Looking for trotting and rewarding low.

Tugging – Shouldn’t do it from side to side or up and down. Tugging should be back away from you in a straight line.

If a dog is knocking the same bar in a grid then you need to make the jump before or two jumps before look different visually.

BE CAREFUL OF NOT OVERFACING DOGS.

When Proofing only change one thing at a time:

Walking

Running

Sending

Coming in from behind

Throwing of the toy

We need to constantly ask ourselves Are our expectations too high for the dog?

Sit position is recommended at the start line however not with crunched shoulder position. The angle of the shoulders in the sit should be open and not closed via the dog crouching or going ‘vulture’ like.

Susal Salo: In her opinion the dog sees each jump as a specific jump they don’t generalise well.

Bar type and stripes affect the value of the jump to the dog.

Colours & Shape – Yellows and pale greens fade into the background.

Susan Salo: Some days it may not be what you think is successful as long as the dog is still trying you are successful.

  • SET POINT – this is the place at which the dog organises their body to leave the ground. The head should be low and the back soft and relaxed.
  • REPETITIONS – The Set Point Exercise can be done up to three times a week.
  • Whenever you do BEND grids should always start and finish with STRAIGHT lines

We always start off with the SET POINT exercise because there is no speed. It presents the correct take off point to the dog.


HURDLES

  • With Wings
  • Without Wings
  • Round Bar
  • Square Bar
  • Flowerpots at Wing
  • Flowerpots Under Hurdle
  • Something flapping
  • Panel Jumps
  • Tyre
  • Double Spread as a straight oxer
  • Triple spread as a rising spread

NEVER DO THE GRIDS NEXT TO A FENCE. Why? Because then the dog is not choosing and we don’t see it’s natural style.

Susan Salo: Does not like shaping the tyre. Trains hurdle first.

When the dog jumps two bars at once in the grids: lower grid then go in and reward between the two jumps in question.

PROGRESSIVE GRID Measures: 1 jump hump plus 5 jumps at 5, 6, 7 and 8 feet apart. IE Each grid is longer than the one before.

If dog puts an extra stride in then you should compress the jumps.

Cypher was not reliant on my movement as to whether he got his rear end under him well.

When training the Broad Jump put the bar at the beginning of the boards.

MOVING GRID – (helps dogs judge distance) 4 bars plus jump hump
Jump hump then 3 ft to first hurdle, then 6ft to 2nd hurdle, 6ft to 3rd hurdle then 15 ft to 4th hurdle. 6 Repetitions.

Rep #1 – Start as above
Rep #2 – Move last hurdle out half a foot
Rep #3 – Move last hurdle out another half foot
Rep #4 – Move last hurdle out another half foot
Rep #5 – Move last hurdle out another half foot
Rep #6 – Finish with the same as Rep #1

The amount of distance to move out or in on each repetition is determined by the dog. It does not have to be a minimum amount, the main thing is that it moves every time.

Once dog is understanding the above grid and is bounce jumping then can start with the 4th hurdle at 16 ft, 17ft, 18ft and so on. Should be able to move out to 21 feet for medium/large dogs after much practice. The last jump bar only can be moved up to full height. All other bars should stay low no more than 300 and can be lowered if necessary. If dog is surprised by placement of the last bar (or perhaps you want to check if they really intended doing what they did, eg after a bounce to 15 feet, instead of one stride) then do not move that bar out to see if they repeat the same performance. If so, it was intentional, if not it probably did catch them by surprise.

For small dogs the measurements are 2ft from jump hump then 4, 4 and 9 feet.

If dogs are two striding between 3rd and 4th bar then still move out at least one inch and
lower the jumps.

Reward effort EVEN IF dog puts two strides in or jumps two bars at once. Up to 21 feet is average for a Border Collie. 23 feet expected for average large dog.

The last bar can also become a tyre, flowerpot jump or spread.
Always be assessing the mental attitude of your dog.

When do you do what grids?

BALANCE GRID – Standard maintenance is just before a competition and once after the competition. For a high maintenance dog – then 3 times a week. Once a week is sufficient for a dog with no jumping issues. Once a fortnight do the SET POINT exercises.

Maintenance should happen before working in seminars and you should do the balance grids after these and competitions.

Bend Work should be done once a month for standard maintenance.

Basic Bend Work once a fortnight.

TURNS – Most dogs can power in or power out of a turn but cannot do both.

Susan Salo: The average speed dog can beat the superior speed dog many times over if it can use what it has and knows how to bend.

SLICE: What dogs do when taking jumps at angles. Susan Salo works the tyre into the slice.

GRIDWORK SUMMARY

Start with – Straight Grids then go onto Bend Grids and then Slice Grids

Always Finish with Straight Grids.

SET POINT EXERCISE. See images.



There are two options for where the handler can stand. Option A: In line with the toy or lure but at least 2 to 3 meters away parallel. Option B: In line with the dog but at least 2 to 3 meters away parallel. Handler needs to be out of the picture as much as possible. Handler may take one step forward.

Cypher needs to work on feet not moving when I go back and reward with food on the start line.

Dogs front two feet should be as close to jump hump as possible. Dog does not have to be perfect but you want the dog to be making eye contact with the lure/toy.

If the dog just launches and doesn’t put a stride in over jump hump and he does that twice in a row then move jump hump back away from jump in 3 inch increments. Also reward in the gap between the hump and the hurdle.

When doing this exercise do not alternate between lead out and send. Pick one option and repeat a few times on both sides. Then do the one you didn’t start with. This exercise starts with bar low and works up to normal height.

If the dog is not rounding nicely over the bar and is pulling with shoulders change the look. See picture below. Start with one piece of long PVC coming down one side. If still not happy then add the second piece on the other side.


For Puppies

Start with both pieces of long PVC forming a V from each upright and use a jump hump on the ground instead of a bar.

Don’t Forget: For all SET POINT exercises change the look of the bar/uprights (whole picture) in order to PROOF.

BALANCE GRID

5 Jumps plus 1 Jump Hump

For Medium/Large dogs

Jump Hump – 3 ft – Bar 1 – 6ft- Bar 2 – 6ft – Bar 3 – 6ft – Bar 4 – 6ft – Bar 5.

This is the Basic Standard Grid.

Always place Lure or Toy 2 stride lengths from the last bar.

Things to Look For:

  • Is dog landing in centre between two bars?
  • Does dog gets it’s back end underneath them?
  • What does the dog’s jumping sound like? Loud or feather like
  • What si the dog’s head and rear end doing?

Cypher’s style/form changed when I sent him as opposed to when I did a lead out.

BALANCE GRID VARIATION

Have 3 bars low and 2 of the bars high. (Still never at full height)

Bar 1 – Low (Medium large dogs 200)

Bar 2 – High (Medium large dogs 300/400)

Bar 3 – Low (Medium large dogs 200)

Bar 4 – High (Medium large dogs 300/400)

Bar 5 – Low (Medium large dogs 200)

Still 4ft apart for Small Dogs and 6 ft apart for medium/large.

Ultimate aim: To remove Bar 3 in order to one stride between 2 and 4.

PRIMARY BEND GRID


Exercise 1. 8 Repetitions.

Rep 1 – 3 have dog bend round one side three times. Keep the dog on a circle path with the placement of lure/toy.

Rep 4,5 6 have dog bend round the other side three times. Again keep the dog on a cicle path with the placement of lure/toy. Handler always positioned on the inside. May take a step forward if dog cutting inside of uprights.

Rep 7 and 8 – One in each direction

Cypher good at bending left, bending right more awkward.

Don’t forget should always do the STRAIGHT BALANCE grid before and after BEND and SLICE work.

Exercise 2

See Image

This exercise can be worked as a figure 8.

SLICING

See image.

This exercise teaches the dog to slice jumps (ie take them at acute angles)

To make slice angle more acute move jump humps out sideways. Three reps on one side then three reps on the other side.

The middle bar can be moved up to full height.

With slices it is important to work both equally.

Basic Grids can be turned into slicing grids. Exchange the bar in the slice exercise for a tyre and for a spread.

PROOF SLICES LIKE ANYTHING ELSE.

BEND WORK IS NOT PRACTICED ENOUGH – REMEMBER TO TRY AND KEEP HANDS AND BODY OUT OF THE PICTURE.

Troubleshooting:

For dogs that jump with heads high and gazelle like do the SETPOINT exercise that is set up for puppies except instead of jump hump as a bar you use solid panels. The two pieces of PVC are also V set on the landing side of the jump (the BACK of the jump). Jump hump is 3 ft away from jump panels.

Dogs with Early take off: MOVING GRIDS.

HALF CIRCLE WORK – A progression from Bend Grids.

See Image.


AIM: Want the dog giving 3 performances irrespective of where the handler is.

Rep #1 Dog does Bar 1, 2 and 3 (Toy placed on ground between 3 and 4)

Rep #2 Dog does Bar 3, 2 and 1.

Rep #3 Dog does Bar 1,2,3,4 and 5.

Rep #4 Dog does Bar 5,4,3,2 and 1.

Problems: Change things in the following order if not successful:

1) Lower the heights first

2) Break it down into segments second

3) Bring Arc in or out thirdly

Make sure you return to a balance grid variable heights after this work.

DOUBLE OXER GRID

See image:

  • AIMS: Trying to get the dog to have rhythm
  • Cathy noted our dogs have good toy drive
  • If you do run down the lane then you automatically increase drive and length of stride and you’ll never know if he actually understands/scopes/judges well

Progression: Not testing to see if the dog bounces each jump. If the dog is not bouncing then bring the heights down THEN bring in the last two.

Testing to see if dog judges that it needs more effort for each bar.

WHY WE USE A TOY. It decreases the impact of the handler.

Susan Salo: A dog can take anything up to 12 months to develop a good jumping style. Earlier for scoping skills to develop.

SCOPING: The dog’s ability to read and adjust stride over a number of variable distances and jump heights. This only starts to happen after a dog is completing the BALANCE GRIDS very well.

Six Meter apart jump lanes can be used for handling practice.


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Self Criticism Vs Critical Reflection

Just back from first session with Cathy Slot from Queensland who is over in Perth conducting a jumping workshop based on Susan Salo’s teachings. She has worked with Susan a couple of times now, including 7 days last year in Canada, lucky girl! Anyway this will only be brief as we are back early tomorrow morning for the practical side of things. I was just struck by an observation I had made about something she was talking about. It was regarding how we probably underestimate the power of watching our dogs and others run in trials as a tool for improving our own training in terms of how our dogs jump. It made me realise there is a difference between self criticism and critical reflection. Maybe it’s my edu-speak jargon coming back to haunt me, having been a teacher for seven years now but the word ‘reflection’ to me implies something you do in order to fix things or make them better or to try and improve. I’m not sure about other handlers but quite often I come off a course in trials in full on self criticism mode, able to articulate stridently to all around me (whether they are even remotely interested or not) exactly how I managed to stuff up that run and what a complete doofus I was in not seeing something early enough and what a pity it was because it was all going *so* well up until that point. I hardly ever (in fact never) take the time to watch any videos of my runs, or think about what happened or what I saw taking place in a reflective mode that is constructive rather than negative or completely destructive. Oh sure I go home and write down what happened in each of our runs, what bar dropped and where or what other errors happened. I have the acronym HE in my trial record keeping. It stands for Handler Error. Sadly it has a depressingly regular appearance. But I digress. All I’m trying to say here is that I really need to start applying more critical reflection and less self criticism to my runs. I know Agility is simply a fun sport we play with our dogs and I have managed to get much better over the years at not holding onto those self criticisms for too long. I know there are those out there who would insist such reflection is probably over thinking things but I am of the firm belief that if we don’t try to improve or make things better or become more skilled at what it is we enjoy doing then really, what’s the point? I’m sure people can appreciate that this self improvement can and should happen on many different levels depending on the persons’ perspective. Whether it’s a brand new agility person who simply wants to achieve attention from their dog as they are walking up to a start line or a world champ level who wants to shave those extra milliseconds off their run by tightening up a particular behaviour performance. It is all relative as they say. So I’m looking forward to this weekend with a view to becoming a more critically reflective agility handler/trainer. Jumping seems like a great place to start as no matter what venue you run in or even what event you do (with the exception of tunnellers I guess) there are always going to be jumps, and they are a whole puzzle by themselves that need to be solved before you can broach the whole agility course problem.

Greg Derrett Chapter 5…The Conclusion

So this is the final chapter in my Greg Derrett Seminar series. It will finish off the Friday night seminar that concluded with Weaving and weave training and go into a run down of what we did at the final seminar on Saturday morning. The weave poles had been set up as usual. First let me post a picture or two of what our weave poles look like.

They are all made of flexible light weight pvc piping and are either stick in the ground individual poles or as in the second picture with the Border Collie they are slipped onto a metal base that is secured to the ground via tent pegs. As you can see they do bend quite substantially. So Greg had us set up twelve of our weave poles and then just asked those with the working spots to run their dogs through calling out after each one whether they single strided the whole way, double footed them or had inconsistent style (ie they flicked between both ways of doing them). The majority of the dogs had an inconsistent stride pattern. Greg said that he strives to get a consistent pattern with his weaving, he doesn’t mind which stride pattern the dog chooses to do more comfortably (however he said the single stride pattern was known to be the quickest) however he does work to make sure the dog consistently sticks to that pattern whatever it ends up doing. Greg trains his weaves using weave-a-matics and V poles and they will be the last piece of equipment that he trains a dog to do. So he explained the structure and design of the weave-a-matics for the benefit of our equipment makes in the audience, I kind of got the picture of what they should look like but I leave it up to the engineering types to make a set. Hopefully our club will have a set in the not too distance future. So Greg has the weave-a-matics out at home and when he first puts a dog on them they are of course lying nearly flat on the ground. See pictures below for examples that I got off the net.

So anyway as you can see the weaves are on a slant and they can slant all the way down to the ground (or they should be able to put it that way). He simply starts off getting the dog to run through them with him running along side with food or a toy on either side, with another person holding as he goes up the other end with toy and gets the dog to release and run through the poles to him. At this time he watches very carefully to ensure the dog is using even striding patterned footwork through all the poles. As soon as he can he brings the poles up by a couple of inches each time, always reinforcing highly and watching to ensure the stride pattern remains consistent, The second the dog starts to do something different with its footwork he lowers it back down an inch and does more repetitions at the lower position before trying to raise it up again. Greg did say that the aim was to get those poles into an upright position as soon as possible. When queried on head positions in weave poles Greg acknowledged that lower head carriage is always going to be faster than head held high (however he also stated that there are some dogs who are still very competitive despite their head position being higher than others). He didn’t have too many suggestions for how you could change this or even if you should try, again weaves being one of those obstacles where you simply should work with what the dog is physically capable of giving you and aim to make of that the best you possibly can. One suggestion was to use very, very short weave poles (ie half the height of the dog) so that the dog has to duck its head down to actually weave the poles. Greg wasn’t too sure how effective this works as he has only seen it done once and it appeared to work for that dog at that session he saw. He also noted that the type of weave poles we used meant that the dogs did not have to weave as much because he observed many dogs just pushing them out of the way because of the flex in them. This in turn caused some fast dogs to get hung up in the poles because they hit them so fast. His advice? Train on solid poles only, that way the dogs get used to not being able to push through them using their bodies as solid poles have no give in them. That way they actually weave with their whole bodies and learn not to touch the weave poles at all or rather just brush by them lightly. He has a drill to train his entries shown in the below diagram;

He got us to show how well our dogs were proofed on weaving by having us run halfway up parallel and then stop whilst they kept weaving. We then veered off to the left about 10 meters as our dogs had to finish the poles. He also go us to run with our dogs halfway up and then quickly flick around and run backwards on the same line as our dogs continued in the weaves, there were a few more I think that I can’t quite recall (didn’t get to write them down as was running Raven). He got us to send our dogs into the poles at a 90 degree angle over a jump, he then got us to run with our dogs doing the same thing. Then the final challenge was the 90 degree entry from over a jump with us rear crossing very closely. That one caught Raven out! I rear cross on her weavers often however never at that angle I must admit.That concludes his talk on weaving, the most important to points is to get fluency on the stride pattern and to bring those poles up as soon as you can. Then once you have that start proofing them!
Moving on to Saturday’s workshop, this again was done with Novice/Excellent level dogs and was the final workshop for the weekend. Jumping was first up on the agenda. First thing Greg did was set up a 4 jump grid that meant the dogs touched the ground twice between each jump. He wanted to have a look at the style of jumping on the dogs. There were one or two who needed work on judging their take off points but by and large he was generally satisfied that our dogs were good jumpers and had a nice style. He brought us back to the whiteboard. First thing he told us is that he is not in anyway a full expert on jumping and that everything he knows about it was gleaned from other more knowledgeable sources than himself. However he did say one thing he has always taught before starting any jumping is hind end awareness and weight shifting. This is where teaching your dog to go backwards and other basic tricks where they have to use their back feet is obviously one way of raising their awareness. He uses tugging as part of his method for teaching the dog to shift its weight back. He does many of the Susan Salo exercises as well as jump chute work but those things have never been a major part of any of his training although he has used them for many students who dogs with jumping issues. Greg believe that the double box work has helped to teach his dogs many of their jumping style skills and that by working double box regularly from the moment they are old enough to start jump training actually gets them well trained in jumping technique. He quickly drew up on the board some of the Susan Salo exercises which involve having bars on low to start with and placing them in a ‘W’shape using four bars with a bar at the bottom, so everything is very close together. There was also the use of a ‘V’ shape running from the uprights on one bar jump to help teach take off points. All these exercises I have seen and done before when one of our club members came back from a Greg Derrett/Susan Garrett Seminar in Queensland a few years ago. If anyone would like me to post the diagrams let me know and I’ll do so. Greg maintains that dogs (particularly Border Collie shaped/type dogs) jump better at the higher heights than the lower. He believes that Border Collies especially need to have the higher jumps to encourage that rounding of the jumping arc as they are so prone to jumping flat naturally. He said if he was competing here (where most BCs are in the 500 height class) he would be competing in the 600 height class. This was food for thought for quite a number of handlers.

Of course we brought the issue up of the bars being knocked what does he do? Greg ignores them. For two main reasons 1) He never wants that dog to slow down for any reason, it’s all about speed and if he starts trying to correct knocked bars this dog may start to slow down 2) He doesn’t believe you can ever really clearly, consistently punish for dropped bars. Out of the whole weekend or four days of seminars this is where I had the biggest difference of opinion with Greg. I knew it was a difference of opinion and knew if I said anything we’d probably just end up wasting a lot of time debating something that he is never going to change his mind on and I was never going to change my mind on. I must admit it was hard for me to fathom never ever letting a dog know that knocking a bar is *not* what I want. I should be clear here, when Greg says ‘punish’ for knocked bars I know that he would consider what I do to be a punishment. I stop running, I tell Raven to lie down (usually about three times), and I replace the bar and leave the course in a trial situation. In training I’ll stop running, tell her to lie down, replace the bar. Sometimes I will start again, sometimes I will continue on and sometimes I will leave and miss our turn. If I don’t do this and start ignoring her knocking bars she will start knocking bars more and more. Greg would probably say this isn’t working since she still drops bars. Yes she does, but she is dropping bars a hell of a lot *less* than she used to! I think to truly understand the importance of teaching your very fast, high drive, completely intense BC, to respect bars and not to touch them you have to actually own and handle a dog who really couldn’t care less if bars stay up or not (and yes I know this attitude was cultivated by when I started jumping her at around 12 months I didn’t take *any* notice of bars dropping). There are not many dogs like this, most of the ones I have seen or trained or instructed have a more careful jumping style or they just don’t have that flat out speed or they just don’t like the feel of hitting the bar. I don’t agree with any kind of negative punishment of knocked bars (ie electrifying bars, fishing line, threatening with dropped bars etc) however I do believe in the removal of the reward (for Raven it is getting to do the course or getting her treats if we are doing single bar work) if a bar is dropped, and I do believe in letting the dog think about why the fun stopped. Yes I know bars drop 9 times out of 10 due to handler error, and the majority of handlers and dogs will ignore their bars dropped in trials and training because the dog does not have a jumping issue. I will ignore most of Cypher’s dropped bars because I know he doesn’t have the same attitude and that he is a fairly clean jumper most of the time plus I need his speed up a bit more. However when you have a dog who purely knocks bars because she is just rushing her jumping too much (and this is only discerned after much soul searching) then you need to do something about it. I know I will never have Raven’s bar issue cured, there has been too many massive gaps in her foundation jump work (as in there wasn’t any…think I just went “Cool she goes fast and can jump over a bar….let’s trial!”) and her pure obsession with going as fast as she possibly can which often means leaving *no* room between her and the bar but I know I can make it better and that is what I work on. Now when we trial, more often that not I will see her try really hard (as in she will work hard to put that extra stride in to round her arc etc) to keep bars up and that is all I ask of her. Sure bars still come down and we still leave the ring but it is certainly not as often as it used to be. So coming back to Greg and his jump training philosophy I agreed with all the drills he recommended as I already do many of them. His approach to what to do with bars dropping will indeed work for most dogs, however having owned such a chronic bar issue dog from here on in I will never disregard a knocked bar. I will always stop what we are doing and put the bar up, no matter which dog I own or train in the future. I won’t have to say anything to them, they won’t have to lie down or anything I’ll just stop, pick up the bar and replace it and the game continues. This is not punishment in my book; it’s just letting the dog know that bar knocking has a consequence, if just for a few seconds.

Moving on….Greg then set up some great jumping drills that he works on at home. Unfortunately when I asked his permission to write all this up on the blog he asked me to leave out the drills from Saturday morning as they are quite new and they will indeed be on his next DVD due out soon apparently. So if you want to know what they are you may have to catch up with me at training one night when I set it up to work on or when I’m travelling around Australia to trial! Or it may be quicker to just wait for the DVD!

We then set up a jumping course that was brought to the seminar by an auditor and we discussed what way we would handle it if we were following Greg’s system for handling. It came back to the decision making again and this is something that makes perfect logical sense when it is broken down into tiny steps however to put it all together and apply to a full size course is another matter. Again we returned to the points system when looking at how to handle something. 1)Where are you going to? 2) What is the distance to the next obstacle? And 3) Where are you coming from? So when looking at a handling choice, such as in the two diagrams below (starting at #4):

There are decisions to be made about which way to take the dog over #5 and over #6. You can see the dog’s path shown by a red line in one diagram and a blue line in the other. We would have to consider where are coming from in terms of #4 to #5. If you ran it with your dog on your right the quickest line without any deviation for the dog would be for the dog to turn left over #5. So that is 1 point for left. We then look at the distance, clearly the shortest distance for the dog to take from #4 to #5 would be for the dog to be heading over #4 closest to the right upright and then wrap around to the right over #5. So that is 1 point for right. So then you go to your last handling consideration and that is looking at where you are going to according to where the last obstacle on the course is (not just where the next obstacle is). You can clearly see that the blue line from #6 to #7 places the dog on the best possible line for the run home, with that in mind looking at the decision you need to make about which way to turn the dog on #5 (remember we are at 1 point for left and 1 point for right so far) having the dog wrap LEFT around the #5 upright with you front crossing close to the upright so your dog is on your left as you head to #6 where you can do another tight front cross on the upright to wrap your dog to the right of #6 then adds 1 point to the wrapping your dog to the LEFT over #5 in the decision making. This makes it 1 point for turning your dog right based on distance but based on where you are coming from and where you are going to you get 2 points for wrapping your dog to the left. This then makes the decision about what to do over #6 no longer a decision. See diagram below with dog’s path in black.

Now this is just two obstacles on a very short sequence where we need to make a decision about which way to turn the dog. Greg’s points system is a logical way of working out the solution. It is something that I will try and use every course I walk from now on. Unfortunately it is still at the conscious steps phase for most of us, that is; we all need to literally step it through with each question and we don’t always get a clear cut answer straight away, or put it this way we don’t *see* the clear cut answer straight away. It can take us quite a while to work it through on something fairly simple like the above examples. We need to get far more proficient and natural at recognising very quickly the best path for the dog to take. As Greg said, he’s been playing this game since he was 12 years old so by now this sort of course decision making is as natural as breathing to him. The rest of us shall just have to work damn hard to get there! Another added advantage of using this system is you quickly identify what skills you need to train for or improve on. Sometimes handlers do not take the glaringly obvious quicker more efficient line for the simple reason of they don’t feel confident enough in their skills to ask this of the dog, they know their dog is not so good at it or they know they themselves are not so good at something (270s, pull throughs, rear crosses, front crosses, post turns, serpentine handling, lead out pivots etc etc) and so they end up taking a longer route, which may of course allow them to go clear, gain a qualification card and even move up a class. I have certainly been guilty of this when trying to gain titles (yet I do note what skills we need to work on and I never settle for baby sitter handling!). So this is one of the drawbacks of not using the win out system in our agility, it does allow handlers to move up even if they don’t have some of those skills at even a very primary level (ie barely proficient). This will in turn lead to some mediocre performing dogs attaining the top levels, it is inevitable. At the end of the day I don’t really have a problem with this as I know Australia will always have those handlers who will strive for perfection in every skill they need for agility and as long there are those I think the ‘must go clear’ system works very well for us.

I have one more additional diagram to include that after reading back through my GD posts I realised I have omitted in my Chapter 3 on front cross drills. I included this diagram here;

What I left out was another diagram that showed the next step up from this one. Initially we were all worried about cracked kneecaps and injured dogs when Greg first put this up.

As you can see the handler really has to move it from the #6 obstacle to well past #8 in order to pull this off. How well it was done depended on how much you had to babysit your dog over #7. However I am glad to report that there were no collisions , perhaps a few near misses but in the end just about everyone achieved it without too much trouble. Our biggest issues was that we were thinking about getting to #8 before ensuring our dogs had committed to #7. It was a very fine line to judge!

So that is the conclusion of this series on Greg Derrett’s training seminars. There was an enormous amount to take in and I certainly will be going back to these notes time and again no doubt, for many of my training needs. It will be fascinating to see his next DVD and I look forward to his long term project one day; that of taking his young pup Detox all the way from 8 weeks old to what he hopes, will be a future World Champion. Any questions, suggestions, comments or feedback greatly appreciated, it may be a long time now till our next presenter!

Greg Derrett…Chapter 4

Contacts! So this session was always going to be interesting to find out Greg’s method for his contact training. Before he started in on it he tested all of us who had working spots to see what we were doing. There were 12 of us again and most of us had a form of two on two off, some forms more precise than others. I was the only one who had the four on the floor method with Cypher (he runs through the contact and lies down with chin touching the ground). We started with the dogwalk, moved to the A Frame and finished with the seesaw. Greg put the stopwatch on all of us initially and we just ran our contacts like we would normally do in a trial. After timing us and calling the times out he then put in place several “proofing” type tests. The first one being you could only run halfway parallel with the dogwalk and your dog had to complete the contact. I think three of us managed this one, Cypher, Sage (who does two on two off) and one other, the next test was to peel off to the left of the dogwalk so laterally you were at least 12 meters away by the time the dog hit the contact. Again Cypher and Sage managed this along with 3 or 4 others this time. The next test was that you charged straight past the dog once it hit its contact position and the dog had to hold it. Next up was the A Frame and this time the last test was slightly different, you had to run past the a frame, if your dog held it’s position you went back and rewarded, then you moved away again without releasing the dog, you had to face away from your dog, have your hands clasped in front of you (this is about 5 meters away) head facing forward. You had to give your release word. This was interesting as it tested how well we had taught our release words. I think only 2 of us managed to get our dogs to release on our release word. The next obstacle was the seesaw and there was no proofing tests on this one he just simply timed how long it took our dogs to complete it.

Greg then had us all move back to the whiteboard so he could go through his method in detail. He started off by stating that the two biggest mistakes people make with their contact training is that they don’t do the Foundation work properly, and that they go into competition too early. He basically said point blank that he wouldn’t be trialling with any of those dogs he saw tonight apart from one (that was Sage who does two on two off and is close to the top level times). He went through the list of things he was seeing that he would fix – dogs not understanding what the actual two on two off position was, dogs relying on body cues entirely, dogs not being reinforced properly, dogs not understanding the release word, dogs offering other behaviours, dogs not sticking to the same criteria and handlers letting them not stick to the criteria. The only comment he made about the four on the floor one that Cypher did was that he felt it was still not clear exactly where he is supposed to lie down. He was lying real close to the ends of contacts in some points, in others he was further away. I must admit I’ve never demanded that he must lie down 0.5 of a meter away from the contact every time because I believe that it depends on what speed he is going at as to what he feels comfortable doing. Generally Cy will lie down anywhere from half a meter up to 4 or 5 meters away from the contact depending on how flat out he is going and what obstacles are in front of him. Either way I’m happy with it because it means he’s missed one dogwalk contact in his entire trialling career so far. As I’ve said earlier, the system dictates the training, far more importance is placed on accuracy in our current agility climate than on speed simply due to the limited population we have competing. Will I train four on the floor again? I don’t think so. I came into four on the floor by accident really; when I was training his a frame getting that two on two off contact at full height was creating a lot of issues with impacting on his front; he tries to do the frame as fast as he can and getting his body into that two on two off position was putting a heap of visible stress on his body, he did hand stands trying to stick it and all sorts of other weird and not so wonderful things with his spine. We worked with it lower for ages moving it up inch by inch so that he learnt to rock his weight back, which worked up to a certain height (this dog is a tug-aholic so he knows how to shift his weight to his rear very well) and then at full height it just didn’t work with him running flat out over it. He was fine if we did a standing start on the upside, his momentum was slow enough for him to manage two on two off. So in the end I trained for four on the floor which kept his speed over it but didn’t tax his joints so much. I’m still not a fan of it though for all its accuracy, he will still, if hitting the frame at max speed, end up lying on the ground with his front legs sometimes tucked or folded under him because he’s done it in such a rush. It’s been known as the SPLAT! contact method as well and I also doubt that it is faster or as fast as a quick release two on two off.

Back to Greg, in his run down of the methods Greg mentioned that it doesn’t matter what you choose to train as long as it has the following four things: 1) Clear criteria 2) High Reinforcement when criteria is met 3) Must be able to be independent 4) Should use a verbal release. Obviously this last one completely eliminates the “running contact” from list of possible methods to teach! As far as Greg was concerned after travelling all over the world and competing against all types of dogs and trainers from many different countries he is still of the opinion that there is no reliable, foolproof method for training and *maintaining* a running contact. All those brilliant running contacts we see on the Worlds and other big events are more often just fast releases of 2o2o or if they are running contacts there is no discernible method that he could see when these teams were warming up or training. Sylvia Trkman’s Simply The Best is the most consistent running contact performer as far as he’d seen but he was not confident that there was any kind of logical, rational method to that contact. So that was interesting! Greg teaches the Susan Garrett nose touch method. The main reason behind his decision to use this contact method was simply because he was very impressed when travelling round North America how quick the breeds that were not your typical agility breeds were doing their contacts and inevitably they’d used the nose touch method. He saw Dobes, Mastiffs, Rotties, Bernese , Danes really large dogs doing fast dogwalk times because of this method and he was impressed by that. Another reason was because the reinforcement level was so high for this method as well. Obviously this involves target training which evolves from the simple hand touch he taught the dogs as youngsters. He uses a 1 inch square (yes it was asked 1inch?? Yes it really is that small) clear piece of plastic. There are no verbals used at all (this is where he differs to Susan) so this is where he may use the clicker. He might hold the plastic to start off with if he needs to but then it will go on the ground pretty quick. Most dogs will tend to sit when targeting this plastic, he moves 360 degrees around the dog constantly rewarding every time that nose hits that target. By hitting the target he means he wants to see that nose wrinkle as it mashes into the target. The nose touch is crucial for giving that weight shift you need at the end of the contact. Once that dog is hitting that target on the ground with its nose constantly over and over in all situations then he will transfer the target to a set of stairs. Yes stairs. Our first thoughts were – where the hell do you find stairs of the right size and shape and amount? He told us they use the wooden packing pallets in the UK. They get a bunch of them and stack them up on each other until you have a podium like effect with four stairs going up on one side and four stairs going down on the other. He places the target so that the dog has to have its front two paws on the floor and its back two paws on the first step. The dogs head should be pointing down in such a way that its nose is poking through its front two legs to hit the target on the floor. He gradually back chains the dog moving forward into position, ie starts the dog on stair two on the down side so it takes one step to get into position, then he’ll move it back to stair three and then stair four so the dog is now at the top of the pallets and so on and so forth until the dog is climbing up and over the stairs and down the stairs into the position. Once the dog is consistently charging over the stairs and hitting the target with its nose and releasing to a game of tug he will then transfer the target to a down plank. He sets the target so that the stop point for the dog is always the same, he demands of his dogs that they stop with their front feet just off, stopper pads in touch with the wood. The down plank will be worked for 6 to 7 weeks and then he moves straight to the complete dogwalk. He will play tug with the dog in position on the down plank as well as it helps give duration and weight shifting. And that is the way Greg trains his contacts. He also said that he will travel all over for the opportunity to run in trial situations and just reward the contact behaviour (ie dog does perfect contact position in middle of run Greg says thanks very much and runs out to play tug with dog) and that the only quick releases he does are at the two or three big events he does each year. This he did admit would be quite demotivating for your average trialler, even for many competitive triallers; to drive all that way, to enter a trial and simply go in the ring to reward that contact behaviour, he claims that it is what you have to do if you want to be the best in the world. Who knows? This could be quite true, I can’t say I’ve interviewed enough gold or silver world championship medallists to find out if this what they do all year round. It would be pretty darn disappointing for me I think if this is what I had to do all year round. It is hard enough for me to stick to my one criteria of a bar being knocked we leave, and at least that means I can’t qualify anyway! For me to pull Raven (the 7 yr old who does running contacts in trials; 2on2off in training) out of a run just because she doesn’t hold a two on two off would be just too against the grain for me, especially if she has just executed an amazing running contact. Usually if she misses it in a trial I’ll just stop her and put her back on and ask her to hold the position for a few seconds. I say usually because I do it based on the judges call, if she gets called for it I’ll put her back, if she doesn’t and I still think she may have missed it I don’t say anything funnily enough! This is all incredibly inconsistent I know but as a general rule it works for me. As long as I maintain the two on two off criteria in training and make sure I do enough repetitions during the weeks between trials and highly reward that position (and I mean highly…I don’t just stuff one or two treats down her, she will get rewarded with up to ten or twelve small treats for one great two on two off in training…it keeps her in the spot for quite a while and always with her thinking this is the greatest spot in the world to get to!) I tend to find they hold up. It’s probably just this sort of thing Greg was talking about when he says he doesn’t believe there is a real, reliable and consistent method for teaching running contacts. I’m inclined at this stage to agree but that doesn’t mean I still can’t have them at trials!

With the A Frame Greg teaches it after the dogwalk or around the same time (so that targeting stuff is all there already) and basically just starts the a frame at 12 inches high and gradually raises it up. Nothing too secret or mysterious there. Now the seesaw. That one shocked me I must admit. Greg’s criteria on the seesaw is that the dog must run to the end of the seesaw hang its two front paws off the end and ride it down whilst trying to nose touch. I had visions of what might happen to some of our really fast dogs if we insisted on that sort of criteria and they were scary! They start with just a normal sized seesaw at full height and then they stack up the pallets again until they sit right underneath the end of the down side of the seesaw so that it can’t move at all. They get the dogs to run to the end and nose touch onto the pallets. Slowly they remove the pallets, very gradually so the seesaw only moves a few inches initially. And that’s how they work it, eventually all the pallets are removed (this can take many weeks or months I’d imagine) and the seesaw is slamming down at full height. The dog is still offering the nose touch all the time. He did mention that it was important that all seesaws are made to the same specs, so the tipping point and weight are all the same from one to the next. We don’t have that here in Australia yet which is another reason why I would shy away from using this method. We also don’t have a clear way for the dogs to always discern if it is a seesaw or dogwalk (no slats) they’re climbing and they do rely on us using verbals. The main reason is why i wouldn’t lean towards this method; that I can see; is accidents with noses mashing into the ground too hard, toes getting stuck under the ends, wrist joints being unduly impacted upon, neck issues etc etc. As far as I can see there is no reason to go fiddling with what most fast dogs do here which is run nearly to the end, ride it down (most commonly in the dropped or half dropped position) and take off when it hits the ground. Our seesaw times are competitive so not sure I’d mess with the seesaw training just yet. So that’s about it for contacts. I should have asked about the chin touch target training, I think the biggest complaint he would’ve had about that would be that you don’t always know if the dogs’ actual chin is hitting the target. Cypher very easily placed his chin on the target and you could see it because he rested his head as opposed to his head slightly raised which you could also detect pretty quick. The nose touch to me seems quite a risky behaviour to teach especially to the high drive, really intense BCs that often do stuff without regard at all to their own self preservation, these are dogs that will run courses with toe nails ripped half off, or severe ligament injuries or even if they suffered from acute pain if we don’t stop them. It makes me think that running flat out to a spot so they can mash their nose into the ground over and over may not be the best plan…Susan Garrett had to change her tack with Buzz because he used to give himself nose bleeds in his full on bid to do as she asked. Nobody has really taught it or insisted on it here to the extent that you will be able to easily say ok that dog uses the nose touch method when you see it compete. I think some people have taught it but have lessened off the criteria to the point where you just see the head duck down repeatedly as though they are going to nose touch. I will remain open minded about this and I hope to maybe see some well trained nose touch methods at the Nationals this year. The weaves will have to wait for my next entry! Along with his jumping thoughts.

Greg Derrett…Chapter 3

Ok onto the next part. Finishing off the Thursday night seminar Greg showed us a basic jumping sequence that illustrated one of the strongest proofs for testing your dog’s understanding of front cross cues. Below is the sequence; (Again don’t forget that all these diagrams below can be enlarged by clicking on them)

If you can lead out to where the asterisk is and guide the dog’s path to you simply by raising and changing your arms your dog has a solid understanding of the front cross cue. We didn’t put it up but it is definitely one I will try in the future. Oh and by the way Greg doesn’t walk the line around the jumps he wants the dog to take when he leads out he just takes the shortest, straightest path to his lead out position, because (as he said) he is confident his dog understands his body cues well enough that when he gets out there the dog is going to be responding to his signals not trying to take his path that he just walked out with. Next was the discussion of pull throughs. He drew a diagram for us like the one below;

This sequence could work either as a 270 or as a pull through. I had never even conceived of there being a 270 like manoeuvre in this one yet when the path was drawn and you imagined the typical 270 but just flatter it most certainly does use the 270 cues. The pull through enters the picture when the 3 is on the bottom side of that jump. This is where you become aware of that blind cross line you carry with you, can visualise the refusal plane of the obstacle and can see your active line rotating with your own body positional cues. The three key aspects of the pull through are that 1) It is more static than a serpentine (ie you will plant yourself or stand still at one point even if just for a millisecond) 2) You turn your feet 3) The picture you see through the uprights is different from that of a Serpentine situation. For 270’s Greg would use his verbals to get the nice tight turn and he said he’s seen it work equally well when handlers teach their dog to ‘dig in’ on the turn (ie take more shorter strides and fight to get in close on the turn). I think this ‘dig in’ cue is well worth some attention even if like me, you may have to cop some refusals due to your body positioning not being absolutely perfect, I use the verbals of “get in, get in, get in” when I want Raven to get close to me on a turn, the issue I’ve had with it is if I am not right next to the upright she ‘gets in’ brilliantly to the point where if she sees a gap between me and the jump upright she’ll get in on my leg beautifully without doing the jump! Can’t not reward because she did as I asked too perfectly!

A nice quick drill for working the pull through is shown below;

It is interesting when Greg talks about his most basic foundation drills for handling, most of the skills you are working on are only performed once in the short sequence. I think this comes from having the goal of perfecting such a move at flat out speed first before trying to combine more than one skill or one repetition of the skill into the one sequence. It is perfected by endless repetitions. I get the impression that this box work really is like having to practice your scales for piano, having your dog’s full attention for duration on heelwork patterns for obedience, or knowing your times table for maths; they are basic skills that need to be perfected at the simplest level before you try to test those skills under more complex situations. This is discipline I have a healthy respect for and certainly aspire to but by the same token I don’t know a single competitor in Australia who enters their dog in its very first trial and has these basic cues perfected to the highest degree. This would also seem to correlate with Greg’s summation that agility dogs (particularly high drive ones) don’t really peak until 4 or 5 and sometimes later. It is also not so much as just the dog’s peaking at this age but a combination of dog and handler finally coming into their own in terms of their timing and strength of partnership.

Finally for that Thursday night workshop Greg spoke about rear crosses and how you must have them well trained if you are to be successful in agility. He mentioned how so often evil arms come into play and verbals interfere with the smooth, good performances of the rear cross. If your dog has been trained well in the rear cross then all it should require of you as a handler is just to step across the dog’s path as you run behind it. That in itself, should be enough to let the dog know we are turning. He trains the recognition of this positional cue from a very early age by simply having the dog sit in front of you. You have the maximum amount of treats in both hands, as you step across the dogs line behind it the dogs head will turn to follow you, you feed as soon as you see that response with the hand nearest to the dogs head. Then go the other way. Repeat that for two 5 minute sessions each day and you will have put a strong foundation down for the understanding of the rear cross. A very simple, basic exercise that relies only on the dog being able to sit and being food motivated. Before the night ended someone asked about his directional verbal cues for left and right. He placed the following diagram on the board very quickly;

Greg said if the handler can stay in one spot to the right side of jump 1 and turn in a full circle three times in a row yet on the third time give the verbal cue for the dog to go left and the dog does it then your dog is fully proofed on his directionals. As far as Greg is concerned directionals are only there to get him out of a ‘deep shit’ situation on course where he has been unable to get to where he needs to be and they should be so well trained that they over ride the physical body cues for the dog (why else would he use them if they are only there to get him out of trouble). In other words the dog should on a verbal direction cue, follow it regardless of what your body cue is telling it to do. Can’t say I’ve seen too many of those dogs! So that, in as big a nutshell as you’ll ever find, is that for the Thursday workshop one. My only criticism so far was that for the working spot owners, you felt like you wanted some more individual feedback on your performance and what you needed to do to fix up your particular issues, most of us had footwork, timing and poor diagonals on the front crosses.

Seminar 2 – Friday morning Advanced masters handling, again we had 12 working spots with just about all dogs there having their Masters titles or nearly there. Greg started us off this morning with a quick assessment of our serpentine handling which he didn’t think was too bad although there was definite room for improvement with just about all of us. See the diagram below;

Greg defined serpentine handling as needed whenever you had to perform two theoretical front crosses on both sides of the obstacle eg Fx – Obstacle – Fx. Our biggest issues in our serpentine handling was that we turned our feet too much in our footwork (you should be running a very smooth straight forward line), we’d bring our opposite arm up too early causing the dog to pull through or we’d bring it up too late causing the dog to go very wide or to go past the jump altogether. Also our motion needed to be sped up yet still maintain a nice smooth flow. Key aspect of good serpentine performance is keeping that movement flowing. Again (this has come up for me on other seminars I’ve done) for me serpentine handling brought up the issue of having the dog comfortable with jumping almost into you at speed to get the tightest line. Of course you should always be moving so the dog never does make contact with you but if you want the tightest line you need to be very close to those jumps when you’re handling and it was evident that not many of our dogs are too comfortable with this and also not many of us as handlers feel too comfortable about getting so close into the jump uprights, we see just about every trial some poor handler come a cropper on jump equipment so I think most of us have this inbuilt aversion towards getting too close to the jump equipment, I know I’m often concerned I’ll bump into it!! This is definitely an art that should be practiced! The below exercise had us all really thinking about what a serpentine consists of and where on the course serpentine handling might help our times on course.


The red dashed line is the handlers’ path and the red asterisks represents where we needed to bring up our serpentine arm signals. There are two serpentines in the above diagram – jumps 3 to 5 and then jumps 6 to 8. It was good to work these skills as done well; the line for the dog was significantly smoother and shorter.

Here are some further drills;

The following one is actually a pullthrough drill;

Greg also introduced us to his method of course walking very briefly stating that he would elaborate further on. To work out the fastest way around a course Greg asks himself 3 questions (well not anymore since he has been walking courses since he was 12 years old it’s kind of like breathing to him now….if only I had started back then!). 1) Where are we coming from? 2) What is the distance to the next obstacle? 3) Where are we going to? More on this one later.

Referring back to the ‘dig in’ stride he asks dogs to do on tight turns Greg demonstrated it on the board what it should look like.

To train the dog to understand this cue they need to recognise your deceleration plus the verbals you give them. This little exercise is one Greg does to help with this;

Greg patterns the dog on both sides to extension first indicated by the blue handler path and it shows him running straight on. Then to work on recognition of the body cue of decelerating he works the three jumps again obviously slowing down and turning tightly on the spot. Again he does this both sides. Obviously there is huge reward and tug play in the reinforcement zone when the dog adds that extra stride in which they must do if they are to turn tight. It can also be practiced (and perhaps you’d do this drill first for dogs unfamiliar to the placing in an extra stride) with a static lead out situation (for example if there was an obstacle #4 right in line with #2 on either side of #2) Your body position which should be turned facing the upright should also cue the dog to put that extra stride in. It is a skill that the majority of dogs can certainly improve on given plenty of repetitions.

To finish the morning off Greg gave us a couple of front cross drills that really tested our footwork and the dogs understanding of our positional cues.




By far the one above was the most challenging as how well you performed it depended on a number of factors. First if a handler had to really babysit the 270 from 4 to 5 you were in trouble. This really showed how good your dog’s 270 training was….turns out all of us can afford to work on them! Secondly if you were able to get the smooth FC in from 6 to 7 and thus made the dog’s turn over 6 very tight you needed to really move to get in the Fx from 7 to 8. Many handlers obviously had their mind on this Fx and their dogs refused 7 coming with them as they had not ensured the dog had committed to 7 before moving into the Fx position. Everyone got there in the end with some advice from Greg. A great exercise though, thoroughly recommend everyone try it. You could do a before and after drill….before refreshing 270s and after you’ve refreshed 270s!

Phew! Ok that’s it for Chapter 3…this session I found to be the most challenging in terms of handling as a working spot owner and the best in terms of feedback for individuals. Next chapter Contacts and Weaves!

Greg Derrett Chapter 2

The first seminar was held on Thursday and it ran for 5 hours and was for the dogs about to start trialling or in their first 12 months of trialling. The first drill and many subsequent drills he put up for us were from the double box work Greg is so well known for.

Greg got us all to do this drill first up. He then sat us down to talk about some of his handling theory. Amongst many things he mentioned the points that stood out the most were (and like all these things they seem so simple you ask yourself ‘Did I just have a total mental blank here or why didn’t I see this?’) that wide turns are a very strong indicator of the dog not being properly reinforced in the reinforcement zone. That zone being that semi circle shaped area in front of your body and to the sides of your body. I never really thought about defining that reinforcement area as so cut and dried, however the way Greg talked about the zone made it clear that for him the place the dog should always wants to get to and is trying to get to is that reinforcement zone (if of course you have reinforced enough!). This placed quite a new slant on things for me and showed that I have been a very much obstacle reinforcing type trainer when I think back to how I trained Raven. Sure she gets food when she finishes her run, however whilst running sequences, training drills etc I have never really asked her to come right into me and be full on rewarded for it….I multiple treat on contacts, I go in and treat nailed complex weave entries, I have on a few occasions rewarded her for pulling off something when asked, but I have been made wary of this because she has become hyper responsive to it on some occasions pulling off at just the slightest movement (which is where Greg’s talk about consistency revealed a few problems). Cypher is different in a good way if you look at him according to Greg’s theory however I know that his highest reinforcement zone is around the tug toy instead of me but at least he’s not obstacle reinforced….I just have to transfer that toy fixation to me! He always brings me his toy to play at the end but his mission is – finish obstacles> must get toy!! So by rethinking where the highest reinforcement should be you end up having some very different goals in training that’s for sure!! He explained that the front cross for all of us needs to become more ingrained and natural, it is three simple steps but we should be practicing by ourselves out on a field somewhere till we can do them with our eyes shut, running flat out. He noticed our front crosses were happening way too early and this also resulted in us using pre-cueing techniques which he flatly told us were a waste of time and confusing ultimately for our dogs. We were good at rewarding our dogs at the finish but we needed to look at where we were rewarding them (ie there should be no throwing of toys as the reward should come from you and be around you), he was also happy for us to use the next three days to go back and reward the startline waits we got from time to time. Going back to the early front crosses he talked about knowing your dog’s commitment point to a jump and how it can vary throughout a career and that this is something that is quite naturally occurring so therefore he hasn’t seen it been altered too successfully by any special training methods. The ideal commitment point for Greg was at the takeoff point for the dog. This I found curious as it has an impact on how fast a handler can move onto the next obstacle, the commitment point came up again in a later workshop.

Greg then went on to elaborate about front crosses and why we do them, we did them in the above drill to change sides primarily and he did say this was one indicator a Fx was needed (ie that you needed a change of side). We then discussed – did you need to do one from 6 to 7 in that drill as a few people did. Greg said there wasn’t one needed there and used the reason that no change of side was required.

The second drill he got us to do was the one above. A discussion took place over how many front crosses were required. The correct answer was 1. One between 3 and 4 and that was it. We debated the merits of one between 6 and 7 since it could be argued there was a definitely right hand turn for the dog there. A suggestion came up about one between 7 and 8 and that launched into Greg’s reasons for why you do not front cross on a straight line. First though he defined our personal blind cross line (the line which if the dog crosses you no longer see them. It is the line that runs out laterally on either side of us and forms the straight line at the bottom of the semi circle which is our reinforcement zone.) See diagram below.

The handler is facing north in this diagram to help give the picture of what Greg was talking about. Basically as you run a course the dog should never cross that line and you can imagine it as this invisible line that runs out from both of your shoulders as you run….often when we get in front of the dog our dogs should be striving to get to our reinforcement zone. So it is quite possible and highly desirable that our dog is always driving in a forwards direction when we are in front to try and get there. Of course for most handlers with fast dogs we are the ones striving to keep that blind cross line moving forward from obstacle to obstacle. The 5 reasons why we shouldn’t do blind crosses on our dogs were given as follows; 1) You take your eye off your dog 2) It lowers their drive forward causing them to shut down 3) It forces them to cross your blind cross line in the wrong direction 4) It is often characterised by a late physical cue and 5) It is a major inconsistency for the dog in handling. Also on the blind cross it was brought up about how whenever Greg is interacting with his dogs he doesn’t let them do a blind cross on him, whether they’re going out for a long walk or just mucking around in the living room he will always block them from doing that blind cross and discourage it from an early age. He mentioned that this is very important with our herding breeds who often find that behaviour so reinforcing and it does show on the agility field, as Greg is a firm believer that behaviours do transfer across (hence he recommends never teaching the finish in obedience around the back of the handler). He said 7 to 10 years ago you may have found dogs in the top levels who were good across disciplines but these days in agility if your dog is a serious herding trial dog or top level obedience or top level flyball competitor you will never reach the top level in agility as well at the same time. There are too many dogs just solely agility dogs that have far better performances in agility. This was interesting….how many times on walks do my dogs cast out around me and come up from behind running at full speed for the frisbee I’m about to throw! It was definitely food for thought and probably threw the challenge down for some really driven dogs there with handlers that do compete in herding, obedience as well.

The 3rd drill we did on the double box is shown in the diagram below;

This we completed with one front cross only between 5 and 6. If the front cross was executed nicely I believe we had our medium and large dogs bounce jumping 5 to 6 smoothly. Greg spoke about our front cross moves and how the foot work needed improving (it should only be three steps; one forward, one back and one forward and should cover a decent amount of ground space – Greg’s is about 2.5m) and also reminded us that our precueing was not required if the dog understands your body cues well and that in actual fact it was the use of the evil arm. He also talked about our diagonal lines needing to be neatened up which refers to the actual placement of our feet on the cross. Dogs that were used to being handled by “Motherflicka handlers” as he so endearingly labelled them, they actually flicked off to the left over jump #2 if the handlers tried to bring up their right arms to straighten the line from 6 to 7. It did actually bring home how inconsistent our handling was by highlighting to us on the one hand when we bring our off arm up we are getting ready for the dog to turn into us, and yet when we are struggling to get to where we need to be we will bring that off arm up in the hope that the dog turns away from us to do the obstacle. I believe there are 4 front cross drills he does that are all about getting those positional cues right. They are as follows;

Drill #1
Drill #2

Drill #3
Drill #4

The drill above (#4) is not actually a front cross drill, it is a serpentine handling drill. The handler should not front cross at 4 (as in drill 2) because the line is much shorter and faster (if the serpentine cue is properly performed) to number 5. Of cours if you had obstacle number 6 located to the left of jump 5 (more in line with jump 4) then yes you would consider the front cross as an option.
The query was asked about how much verbal Greg uses on course (given that last year Jon Watts was in Perth and was trained by Greg and he told us that you have to motivate your dog through voice….turns out this is where he differs from Greg in that regard!). Greg says the only verbals he gives on course usually are the dog’s name and that is when he wants the dog to dig in on a tight turn and he’ll say the dog’s name repeatedly to get that dog to respond with a tight turn.
One of the things he went over with us also this evening was the 7 reasons why you should not do a front cross on a straight line…I managed to get 6 down I think. So here they are;

7 Reasons Why You Should Not Front Cross on a Straight Line

  • 1) It is the positional cue for serpentine handling (he prefaced this one with a promise to elaborate further when we go onto serpentine handling)
  • 2) It causes the dog to take extra strides nine times out of ten.
  • 3) You are teaching your dog to ignore the front cross cue.
  • 4) Strong possibility of the dog running into you (this is true I’ve seen it happen on at least a few occasions, plus I’m sure it’s happened to me!)
  • 5) Slows the dog down
  • 6) Affects the dogs jump arc (ie causes dropped bars)
  • 7) Did anyone else get this one? (Cathy?)

So there you go. No more front crossing on a straight line (even if you do have to change sides!!). One rule I’m going to try and stick to as it certainly makes sense to me, not that I am a notorious straight-line front crosser or anything but I believe I have done it on at least one or two really stupid occasions! That’s enough for this chapter…although we still covered more in this first seminar including pull throughs, proofing the dog’s understanding of the front cross, proofing your verbal directional commands and examining the rear cross. Stay tuned….feedback, by the way, is very positive reinforcement for this creature of instant gratification J Hint Hint!