Monday, November 22, 2010

Agility with the Little Dynamo

photo by
I am investing a lot of time and energy into training Ghilley in agility.

We are also training in conformation classes as I pursue her breed championship and definitely need the regular guidance with that as I compete against people who only focus on that as it is more a part of their livelihood.

I am training Ghilley in both weekly agility group classes and weekly private lessons. Yes, it is quite an investment, however, well worth the result, I believe.

It has been 10 years since I last trained a beginner's agility dog when Robbie was a younger dog.

A lot has changed since those days as agility has grown up and expanded.  My venue of choice is the American Kennel Club (AKC) agility.  Once the new kids on the block, the AKC quickly grew to really be the premiere U.S. agility program.  While I know some could argue otherwise, I do know that it requires advanced handling skills to succeed at the upper levels of the sport.

The upper end of the sport is where I want to play.  I believe I have an affinity for it and the breed I love adapts quite well to the game.

Another great thing, for me, is that my agility instructor loves the game too.  She has a natural talent for the sport and genuinely loves to learn and teach it.  She is a regular competitor and regularly competes at National levels of competition.  When you compete at such a high level, you bring to that what any athlete who competes at a high level does, you absorb as much information as you can from various sources.

One such source is Susan Garrett (  Susan has a long list of success, both with her dogs and also those of her students.  She also has a list of success in teaching.  Her techniques have stood the test of time and she is continually re-assessing and improving things as she goes.

One such technique are the 2x2 weave poles.  Weave poles are probably the most difficult agility obstacle to teach a dog.  They are not intuitive.  We have rules as to which side to enter (1st pole at dog's left shoulder).

Early methods taught luring the dog through the poles (the "weave-pole hula"), where you are offering the dog a cookie in each weave pole.

Another methods use "weaveamatics" where the poles lie flat and are slowly raised (picture your dog running through "v" of poles) until they come straight upright.
 The issue with the weaveamatics is that the final product (end-view) bears little resemblance to the dog than the progressive slanted poles did.  Dogs who have learned under this method frequently try to jump through the weave poles and end up getting snagged in them.

Another method, which is what I used with MacDuff and Robbie, is the "channel method".  This method is still used today and starts with the weaves spaced apart where you slowly bring them together, sometimes using guide wires.
While this method is still used, it still requires a bit of handler interaction to get the dog's entry and keep them in the poles until the end.  I believe for the average competitive agility person, they can manage to reliably teach their dogs to go out and get the weaves.

However, when I have seen dogs who have learned the 2x2 method that Susan Garrett perfected, I have seen dogs be able to perform this obstacle independently on a regular and reliable basis.

Running an agility course with a dog in the excellent class (most advanced) I find that I may come upon a course design where having a dog that will reliably hit their entry would allow me to be in a better position to handle an upcoming sequence.

I have noticed during the brief time Ghilley and I have been learning the 2x2s that she is looking the poles and staying in them until they run out.  We are still in the very beginning stages.  We are up to 3 sets of 2x2s (or 6 poles) and they are spaced out a bit.  But it will not be long before they are together and Ghilley is doing them with consistency and confidence.

The reason I like this method is that it really works on the dog thinking through what to do and using their intelligence.  It is consistent with the other training I have done with operate conditioning.

The battle I always have with myself is wanting to step in and help.  Old habits with my Border boys are tough to fight.

But Ghilley shows a lot of promise with the little bits that we have done together.  She is fun to train and I know she enjoys it.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home