Wednesday, February 2, 2011

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn!): Last Day of Trkman Seminar

Nothing like The Byrds to set the stage for my last auditing session with Silvia Trkman.  This morning I attended the portion on teaching the cik/cap turns.  I had been kicking myself for not grabbing a working spot, but am actually glad I did not. I think I learned a lot more by watching the process; this allowed me to begin training my eye for ideal behavior before involving my dog, and I was able to absorb some troubleshooting pointers by watching the working dogs.

I will say, without even having to really try it, I know with absolute certainty that I will train and USE this now. I had thought it was a ‘good in theory’ sort of idea, but wasn’t sure about enough details to know if every aspect would work for The Dog and I in practice. Having received clarification, this seems to be just what we need.  IF we train correctly, it should:

*Allow me to provide The Dog with more advance information (information good, too many options bad for The Dog. Remember, we have an over-thinker here.)

*Teach her more about turning FAST and coming out of the turn also FAST (when my timing is good with a collection cue, or I am there physically, she can do a great hairpin turn. If-IF- this happens and she does the turn, she takes several steps to accelerate back to good speed.)

*Cure our codependency issues (if I don’t have to micromanage, I can get to where I need to be: cuing the next obstacle.  Her speed also stays up if I stay out of her way, so she could use some independence too.)

*Give some efficiency, lose some time (tight turn means better lines, which keeps the whole run from snowballing out of control. So often one bad turn, or one point of being out of place throws off everything else in the run with little hope of regaining efficiency. At the very least, we get one trip to China that puts seconds back on an otherwise tight run.)

These are only the reasons to do this for me personally. There are many that may apply to you as well, and then some.  Silvia stated that of course, this is excellent for the dog with the large stride, but also good for the ‘Nordic’/hunting (straight line preferring) dogs as they learn that they can turn as fast as they could run straight, and also for small breeds/dogs with short strides. Though they may turn tight, they need extra work on maintaining drive from obstacle to obstacle (since the distance is relatively greater).
So- how to teach?

You can read the previous post from Puppy Night on getting started. Remember that you should reward the dog close to the object, with their head in the correct direction.  Silvia stated that she does teach both directions simultaneously, and assigns the words as soon as the dog is offering the wrap around the object. (Note that she did say it was ok to use the same word with both directions, but you will need to be more supportive with your body language and obviously won’t gain quite the same level of independence.

Once your dog can circle their object tightly- several consecutive circles in the same direction, without luring- you can start backing up and working on the send to the object and rewarding speed out of the (complete) circle with a toy.  She recommended restraining the dog to build excitement and also advocates giving the command several times so the dog doesn’t a) forget what it is going to be doing and b) you won’t fail with bad timing.  We were warned that the biggest issue with this not working was LATE TIMING so be aware of that.  Remember to continue to support some physically; being static builds confusion.

An important point was that, in the beginning, your turns should be more difficult (complete circles rather than a wrap). You will eventually use this to cue COLLECTION in one direction or another, not a wrap specifically.  When the dog puts full effort into the collection aspect, you may begin to use in a wrap form. (Though she did mention for a true pull-between wrap, like a threadle, you will probably need an additional command, like “come” or you will need to run your butt off in the correct direction.) Also remember that the point of this is to distinguish collected “short” jumping versus jumping long. She clarified that the cik/cap turns are NOT used on any other obstacles (even though she starts with it to teach turns off the dogwalk, she fades it out); she still uses left and right cues for other equipment. Essentially there are three different ways to jump a jump, this just gives you the power (yay, superpower!!) to request in advance which style the dog will use.  If you do this correctly, your dog will not collect until the moment off take-off and not before. 

When your dog is magnificent on the object (she thought her students probably worked on this at least a month) and sends to it and circles, with varied spacing, additional objects and your position varied as well, you can begin using a jump. Silvia stated that she starts as a ground pole and moves up very slowly in tiny increments (I think she said it takes her a year to get to full height.) She does not move up again until the dog circles the same post with perfection repeatedly. However she does start using in small sequences (usually beginning with wrapping between jumps and a tunnel). Then she will up the obstacle count and layout difficulty (but not the bars).

For dogs that are already doing agility and want to learn a new thing, she said not to consider it a retrain, just added tricks basically. She said to pretty much follow the same steps, the exception being that you could begin to incorporate in practice course work right away (first and last jumps are ideal placement), just leave the bar on the ground.  She said to bring out in competition only after you had gotten the dog to full height in practice.  It was mentioned that there can be a bit of an issue with this group when the bar went up high enough to allow the dog to jump normally. She said you must be extra patient and move even slower to full height as these dogs that had already been jumping might forget and extend too much.   Her advice on ‘corrections’ was that you should immediately redo the wide turns and then reward the amazing turns. OK turns you could go on, but then stop to reward the next good one.
Overall: amazing seminar. I find it rare that so many skills can be so universally applied to different dogs but this was such a case. So grateful to be able to work with such a successful and, dare I say, innovative handler. THANK YOU to MAC and ACTs- GREAT IDEA! THANK YOU to Silvia too of course; you can’t know how much you helped get me unstuck on more than a couple things.  Maybe someday you will Google yourself and see my appreciation… though if she ever read that last “LEADER” post I would be red. I know I provided *some* information (ha!!) but truly nothing can replace working with her and listening to her in person. There was so much more that was discussed (I know, you’re thinking HOW CAN THAT BE?? You just took up half the internet!) and the visuals helped immensely. If you have the chance to even just audit, make like The Dog and GO. 

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