Fall Maintenance Camp: Barry, Carter, Moureaux, Pinder, and Sanders
10 Nov 2006
Wow! Phew! That’s how I felt after attending a five day camp at Dana Pike’s facility in Wilmington, IL. I was happy and exhausted by the end of the fifth day. The camp was at the beginning of October (sorry for the delay in posting but it’s been one of those months and this article took ten train rides to complete :^). The instructors were Mary Ellen Barry,Rhonda Carter, Kate Moureaux, Jen Pinder, and Rachel Sanders. I audited the novice group with Meeker for the first two days with Jen and Rhonda. Then I worked with Milo in the advanced group with Rachel, Kate, and Mary Ellen.
We had pretty good weather, a little cold the first day, no real rain, and the ever present “breeze” that comes across the corn and soybean fields in the afternoons. Come to think of it, I believe the “breeze” only wrecked one tent this year.
Because these trainers are at the top of the game it is always interesting to see what training techniques they are playing around with and how their approaches have evolved since the previous year. If anyone thinks all the training and handling techniques in this sport have been worked out they need to get out more!
There were several areas I found particularly interesting this year:
- More emphasis on signalling the dog with the hand nearest the dog
- Backing up when handling
- Backing up during RFPs and clarification of RFP use
- Front Cross upper body rotation as a cue to a
- Discussion of handling with respect to different handling "systems"
Yes that right, backing up while running the course. This is one of those things that was always considered forbidden. “Leading with your butt” has always been frowned upon in the circles I train in. But for certain types of sequences moving backward while signalling the dog with the nearest arm gives the dog the clearest direction. I’ll talk more about this below and in future articles.
Another great thing I personally appreciate about these trainers is their encouragement to me about writing up their ideas. Not only did they give me the OK to write up their approaches and thoughts, they offered to review some of my articles to make sure I presented the concepts correctly. So look forward to a number of interesting articles in the upcoming cold winter months.
Also a big thank you to Linda Mecklenburg who not only replied to my email about a Threadle handling technique Rachel taught us, she even drew Clean Run Course Designer diagrams detailing her approach. I’ve got to go to Ohio to take one of her seminars.
Since I was in the Novice group with Jen I felt I learned more about her handling system and overall training progression than I had from her previous seminars with more advanced dogs where we (expectedly) focused more on course analysis and handling. Covering the first training steps for a new dog was just what I needed for Meeker and gave me even more appreciation for Jen’s skills. I’ll try to distill some of what I learned.
Here are some of her handling and training principles as I understand them:
- Initially want to work control exercises: come to handler, the key being you want to have the dog choose you over its environment.
- Want dog to work without seeing the reward or knowing if it is coming.
- Direct dog with near side hand. Call to side (hip) not to hand.
- Don't have to use verbal commands if you give clear physical cues and your dog understands those cues.
- Get the dog used to you working with food in your hands. For some food motivated dogs this can be difficult, but in that case it is just another distraction to be worked on.
Because we were a novice dog group Jen addressed some non-agility related training issues too. To calm a dog Jen puts it in a sit and uses a very, very slow (several seconds) stroking of the dog from head to base of the tail at least two times. This calms both the handler and the dog.
Another training issue Jen addressed was the dog that sniffs instead of looking up or performing an obstacle. Jen’s approach is to just be infinitely patient. Calmly and gently lift the dog’s head as many times as necessary until you get the dog’s attention. Then ask the dog to perform a behavior it knows. Praise the dog and continue. Sniffing dogs showed significant improvement just within a single day.
Jen uses Weave-A-Matic style (WAM) weave poles to train her dog’s to weave. She also believes any of the other methods can and do work, just don’t use methods with props as then you have to fade them. They may give fast short term success but you will deal with the props for a long time. She also isn’t keen on using multiple weave methods at the same time; choose one method and get on with it. Jen will start with a full set of twelve WAM poles. She likes the WAMs because training with them is less handler dependent than other methods and they give the dog a nice opening for the entrance when first spread apart. (Jen never said this, but I’d think, the V shaped gap of the first two poles has the same effect as using 2x2 poles to teach the dog the entry in that weaving method).
Initially she’ll use handler body language to help the dog get the entrance (decelerate or even stop until the dog is in the poles before continuing forward). She wants the dog’s head down when it is weaving as it drives forward. If the dog initially pops out she’ll calmly take it back around and restart.
A number of agility venues are now changing the location of the weave pole base side supports and covering the bases with traction tape/sand in an effort to help dogs that step and slip on the bases. During discussions with Jen one handler had problems with her small dog who didn’t like to step on the base at all. Jen gets the dog used to just stepping on the bases (especially at the joint of two sets of 6 with the old style AKC bases) and rewards the dogs for doing so. For really concerned dogs she mentioned getting the base material or something similar and clicker training the dog to step and walk on it.
Jen will use the clicker as a problem solving tool in weaving. For example if the dog is missing the entrance she’ll click when the dog is committed to the entrance (not when it is in the poles) and reward in the poles with her near side arm at low dog head position. She doesn’t reward the dog in the same place in the poles. Once your dog is used to working with food in your hands this won’t be a problem to reward with food. In these types of drills she will also click at the end of the poles to get the dog back into handler focus.
Some other weaving thoughts:
- She'll vary the reward location within the poles and use multiple rewards within a set of poles.
- Jen uses a three straight up poles to work entrances once the dog can weave straight up.
- As for all behaviors, don't give it your final name (i.e. "Weave") until you have the final product.
- You can work sends and recalls through a shorter set of poles. Should be able to send from your side at the end of the poles and have the dog go out and weave all the way back to you.
- Make the behavior body language independent; you want to let the dog figure it out. Be patient.
She mentioned one problem for people using WAMs is they don’t move the poles closer together fast enough. Her thinking is if you train the weaves daily you should have straight up poles in three to four weeks. Of course you have to work all the entry angles, handler sides, and handler positions throughout the training process. Jen will work all those variables as she is moving the poles to the straight up position, she doesn’t wait until the poles are straight up. Ultimately for entries she doesn’t want the dog cueing off the handler’s body language so she isn’t a fan of the handler’s body language pointing to an imaginary pole preceding the weaves for difficult entries. She gives the weave command only once (would you say “walk it”, “walk it”, “walk it” as your dog goes across the dog walk?).
Jen doesn’t use targets as something to which you send a dog. She wants the only target to be the handler. Her thinking is targets can be hard to fade and put the dog’s head down when she wants the dog focused on the handler.
We also had some discussion of contacts. Like almost all trainers now a days, Jen trains the running of the contact obstacle as a separate behavior from the stopped behavior. She’ll teach the stop away from the equipment. Whatever it is: sit, down, 1RTO, etc. teach it on the flat first independent of handler position and motion. Then put it on cue. Move to the equipment and back chain. She’ll have the dog jump onto the equipment from the side and into the stopped position and reward. The dog should be able to do the behavior independently; no cue from the handler’s body position, or motion.
Wow, that was a lot in one day! It sure didn’t feel like it though. Jen has a lot of experience with multiple training methods so she often has multiple ideas for helping a team. She trains and runs large and small dogs too which gives her a good understanding of the unique issues each face. I always look forward to training with Jen.
Just like with Jen, auditing Rhonda’s Novice group gave me a better understanding of her handling system and overall training progression. It was also interesting to see the areas where Jen and Rhonda agree and differ in their approaches.
Learning To Front Cross
Rhonda views the Call To Side. I’ll outline her approach here but I hope to write an article with pictures and diagrams. Interestingly, Rhonda has the dog learn by jumping over a jump directly to the handler’s side.as a
Initially the dog is setup facing the jump. The handler stands on the landing side of the jump with his side facing the dog and leaving a single stride into which the dog lands. Her thinking is as follows: there will be times, when no matter how much you try to avoid it, when you’ll be in the dog’s way when front crossing. By training it in this manner your dog will be better prepared for the inevitable.
Once the dog can jump over the jump to your side the handler can start moving along the jump away from the center of the jump (still leaving a single stride between the bar and the handler). This starts to look more and more like the end of a Front Cross performed over the jump.
As you would expect this handler starting position looks like the same one you’d use for a Lateral Lead Out (since you normally stand at or near the location where you’d put a Front Cross if you were running it). So another training direction in which she takes this setup is to have the handler move towards a next jump and still have the dog take the jump and come to the handler’s side. I’ll have to check Linda Mecklenburg’s Clean Run series on jumping, I think this is similar to how Linda teaches the Lateral Lead Out.
Now that the dog understands the Coming To Side after taking the jump in a number of handler orientations you can start changing the dog’s orientation to the jump. Rhonda starts with the dog at your side with both of you facing the side of the jump. Then send the dog forward and have him turn over the jump at the same time you proceed a step or two forward on the landing side of the jump. As the dog takes off for the jump you are on the landing side of the jump and turn into the dog. Then reward the dog in the same position (at your side) as you did in the other drill. From there you can start changing the dog’s distance and angle from you and the jump.
The novice dogs picked up on this quickly and were reading the tight spacing and jumping right into the handler’s side. Of course Rhonda went on to set up some simple sequences in which to work on the newly trained Front Cross.
After lunch Rhonda also worked a little on Jump Chutes.
One thing Rhonda emphasized with respect to jumping was, due to the tight jump spacings experienced on so many courses, you need to train dogs for compressed jumping. So she set up a five jump chute with the jumps only 5 feet apart. She also had dogs work in chutes where the five jumps were each one foot further apart than the previous one and another where each one is two feet further apart than the previous one. This “progressive” jump spacing allowed training the dog going into and out of extension and compression depending on the dog’s direction through the chute.
Rhonda also spent some time discussing teaching contacts. Like most trainers, Rhonda separates the contact end behavior from the running/striding behavior. She uses a hoop she cleverly constructed from those clip-on large diameter tubing weave guides that she clips onto a rectangular PVC frame. I’m going to make one so that is another article coming down the pike. She then has the dog run through the hoop, moves the hoop to the equipment and has the dog run the equipment through the hoop, practice the contact behavior separately, and ultimately combine the running and contact behavior. Of course dog’s doing running contacts wouldn’t need the end behavior.
Just to note Rhonda prefers to train weaves using channel weaves. It is what has worked for her but she has no strong opposition to other methods. Just like Jen a dog should be weaving with closed poles in about a month if you practice a few times every day. “Close ‘em up”.
As usual I enjoyed training with Rhonda and it was particularly interesting seeing and hearing her approach to starting out training these behaviors. I always learn a lot from Rhonda and appreciate her positive attitude and supportive approach to teaching.
Rachel has a direct, serious approach that gives you a hint of the intensity with which she thinks about training dogs and handlers.
Rachel gave me my first “Really?” moment of the weekend. She set up the Large Individual Jumping course from the FCI World Championship from Switzerland (which were being run over the camp weekend so we got regular updates on the proceedings). Icreated a smaller version of this course for class at Dearlove Agility the next week :^)
The course opens with a jump into a two jumpand on to a C shaped tunnel where you bypass the first opening. The “Really?” skill Rachel presented was a method of handling Threadles, based on comments from Linda Mecklenburg to another trainer, that is almost foolproof. The basic idea “falls out” of the consistency of their handling systems. First to direct the dog through the Threadle using the arm nearest the dog throughout (a common theme among all the seminarians as a general handling rule), but further to not change the arm you use. That is, no crosses, no half crosses, no RFPs (or no gyrating as Rachel called it). So Rachel thought about how you might keep the dog on the same arm and the way she and Linda do it is to face the dog and back up down the jumps and direct the dog over and between the jumps with the same arm. You just can’t be past the standard of the next jump when you direct the dog between the jumps.
I would say the first try success rate for the handlers learning this was at least 80%. That is compared to the less than 50% success rate of handlers using their normal method. On the second try using the new method all teams were successful. (I trained a dozen intermediate students using this method the next week and had similar results. They were amazed how easy it was to learn and how successful their dogs were).
The way I think of it, this is akin to handling
from one side of the jumps and using a only one arm (nearest the dog); you push the dog out from you over the jump and draw them back in to you by only using your near side arm while your body continues straight down the line of jumps. By backing up the same handler behavior applies for Threadles too.
Of course everyone wants to put a name on this type of Threadle handling. Some names thrown around included: “Backey-uppey” and “Moonwalk” handling. The best I’ve come up with is: “Serpentine Style Threadle”, we could use its acronym: SST. So I’ll be writing more about this approach with Linda’s help in the near future.
Another great aspect of Rachel’s seminar was the time we spent discussing and training contact behavior for the handler and the dog. You might think: “This is an advanced group why should you spend time training contacts?“. Well you might not have the contact behaviors you think you do. Apart from a couple multi-MACH teams, after a few quick tests Rachel pointed out that many of the dogs didn’t actually have independent contact behavior. They relied on handler cues for the stop and/or the release.
I won’t go into a full discussion of Rachel’s well reasoned approach as I believe she is working on an article for Clean Run and I wouldn’t be able to explain it nearly as well as she will. So the following are bullet points from my notes.
There are (at least) three parts to a dog’s performance of a contact obstacle: striding over the obstacle, stopping in the contact position and being released from the contact position. Rachel has thought about each of these aspects of the performance and has specific training goals for each.
Running the obstacle
Don’t have many notes on this. I believe Rachel is like Jen, Rhonda, and Dana and works the dog on running over the obstacle and might use stride regulators on the A Frame.
- When running the equipment only put the dog back on if the dog understands the speed was wrong. Otherwise the dog may change some other aspect of their behavior when trying to earn the reward and might slow down
- Start working contact behavior away from the obstacle. This is true for beginning dogs and also for seasoned dogs on the A Frame. Rachel is concerned about the force of the contact behaviors (2O2O, 4OTF, 1RTO, etc) on the dog coming down the A Frame.
- Reward the dog in position
- When you reward the dog in position you should back up significantly behind the dog (i.e. before the apex of the A Frame) and then continue the sequence by moving forward from there.
- Always perform handling around the obstacle at full speed; no body cues for the contact position
- Don't use your physical location relative to the equipment as a stopping cue
- Practice sending the dog to their contact position with the handler stationary
- If you have a dog that gets "sticky" (creeps into contact position) release the dog immediately and don't reward it. Never reward slow behavior it won't ever get faster!
Releasing From Contact Position
- The dog must only release on a verbal never on a physical cue
- Never pair a physical motion with a verbal release or you reinforce the physical release cue
- Work the release from a sit if you use 2O2O or from a down if you use 4OTF, etc. You don't need equipment to work on the release.
- Especially in training, always release the dog with the handler moving in the direction of the course. Don't do arbitrary runs past the equipment. You want to reinforce the dog working with you performing normal handling behaviors just like you would in competition.
- With the dog in position you want to be able to: move and release, move stop move and release, move past the plane of the next obstacle and release, push on the dog's line and release. These are the four critical release scenarios that need to be mastered.
Rachel makes a distinction between an Early Release and a Quick Release. A Quick Release is when you are in position and the dog is in position. An Early Release is when you are in position and the dog isn’t; never do this.
When performing a tightit is alright and expected to not see your dog for a moment. A number of us were insisting in remaining “in contact” with our dogs through the Post Turn and we ended up with wider turns. So just turn crisply (and since you never trained your dog to cut behind you) it will turn tightly as you turn.
An interesting point Rachel makes is she always wants the same behavior in training as in a trial. That sounds straightforward. But she specifically means that the dog
In general, Rachel trains that if you ask for a behavior within a course/sequence and the dog doesn’t perform it, then you should help the dog do it rather than just quiting and restarting the (sub)sequence. If you restart all the time you are practicing quitting. Help the dog with the problem and then go back and restart. If you get used to working through issues right when they occur it will give you a mental edge when you are actually competing and need to instantly regroup when your plan falls apart.
Rachel is an intense trainer who has worked and thought out a lot of handling and training issues. It is always great to spend time training with her.
This was my first time training with Kate and she brought an upbeat and, dare I say, “youthful” enthusiasm to her training even when we were bonking after eating too much lunch. Kate had us running some courses and, in addition to tweaking our handling, she introduced a method she is working on for getting tighter Front Crosses and Lateral Lead Outs over jumps. I’ll outline her idea here and write a more detailed article on Kate’s approach in the future. She kindly offered to proofread it when I write it.
Kate’s general concept is to try to keep the dog on the initiating arm a little longer than you might normally, to support the dog going over the jump, while using the rotation of the handler’s upper body to cue the dog that they will be turning.
So imagine you are going to use a Front Cross to wrap your dog around the right jump standard. As you approach the jump with the dog on your left you keep your left arm up. You keep moving toward the jump while your upper body continues to face the right jump standard. This will cause your upper body to rotate toward the jump standard (and your dog) as your left arm comes across your chest. Once the dog is committed you continue your turn and pick up your dog on your right arm. There are a couple interesting aspects of this approach. Your shoulders and upper body should never project forward over the jump, reducing the forward cue to the dog and cueing the next obstacle instead. Secondly the opposite arm plays much less of a role in cueing the Front Cross, that is done by the body rotation.
Kate also pointed out that this method also cues the dog even earlier that the turn is coming than you might even if you “pre cue” with the opposite arm. I have to admit initially this was difficult to do, many years of Front Crosses make change difficult. But we were all able to use her approach and it seemed to be easily understood by the dog. It will be interesting to see if you could measure the difference in the dog’s path or course time using her method.
The other skill Kate had us work on was Reverse Flow Pivots. Kate will use an RFP to cue the dog to collect before a jump or as part of a Lateral Lead Out. She uses the opposite arm across the chest to bring the dog in to the handler. With training just bringing the opposite arm up will cue the dog to come in to the handler. She also uses a different verbal like “Come” to get the dog to come in to her. The dog’s name is used for a check-in on course. Her goal for using an RFP is to not have to rotate her shoulders back to bring the dog to her, she wants to be able to keep moving forward.
I didn’t realize how infrequently I use RFPs until Kate setup a sequence and had us use them. Milo really didn’t read a subtle RFP cue well, I really had to “sell it” more than I remembered needing to. I guess I really need to practice all the handling skills with Milo sometimes :^) So this was a good refresher and eye opener for me.
I enjoyed training with Kate. She was upbeat, very supportive of all the teams and had a good eye for diagnosing handling issues. I’m sure we’ll continue to hear more from Kate in the future.
Mary Ellen Barry
I believe Mary Ellen Barry’s handling and training approach diverges somewhat from the other trainers and I really appreciate her different viewpoint.
It was interesting that she commented on the strongly analytical bent our group had during her seminar. I think we were all interested in answering the “why?” questions more than the typical seminar attendee interested in the “how?” questions. The great thing was she was just as interested in exploring and answering our questions as we were.
Mary Ellen also worked on RFPs with us. From a handling perspective, she also only gives a False Turn/RFP when other cues aren’t sufficient for the dog. So it is a part of her system but probably used relatively infrequently.
The classic handling for an RFP is some amount of Front Cross to bring the dog in toward the handler and then the handler turns back in the direction of travel. It is typically used to direct the dog away from an obstacle in the dog’s path. Mary Ellen set up an “S” curve of four jumps where the dog’s path coming over the fourth jump had the dog face one end of a tunnel. Of course that would be the wrong end of the tunnel. The correct tunnel entrance was 10 feet past the wrong end of the tunnel. In order to pull the dog off the wrong end of the tunnel we triedand (for the very fleet of foot) Front Crosses but with limited success.
Well it turns out the “Moonwalk” works here too. Yep, backing up. And again it is consistent to the dog. When you are facing the dog you still use the arm nearest the dog to direct it, in this example it is the arm nearest the tunnel, and pull the dog toward you and past the wrong tunnel entrance. As you move backward past the wrong tunnel opening you can either turn back in to the dog and use your other arm (now nearest to the dog) to send your dog into the tunnel or continue to draw the dog past you with the inside arm. Either way it worked wonderfully for all the dogs.
Another benefit of this handling is it gave the dog’s a much straighter line than a traditional RFP. The traditional RFP gives the dog a more “V” shaped path; when backing up the dog came straight to the handler and into the correct end of the tunnel. We also played around with a more challenging pull through sequence and Mary Ellen timed each team using the RFP and wrapping the dog the “long way” around a jump. It was interesting to see which dogs/teams excelled with each approach. So put “Backing Up RFP Handling” on the list of future articles…
Here’s a video I added 1-May-2009 that demonstrates the backing up rfp in the second half of the video:
Jump Wrap From-To-Distance
Mary Ellen went back over Greg Derrett’s From-To-Distance method for analyzing which direction to wrap your dog around a jump when given an option (yes I’ll write it up someday if I get the OK from Greg :^). I think Mary Ellen should write this one up for Clean Run.
Mary Ellen touched on, I note this here because there is one aspect of the Rear Cross that I’m always interested in: which arm(s) do different trainers use. Well Mary Ellen doesn’t use any arm cue when performing a Rear Cross. Of course she has a good reason: consistency with her handling system. She always uses the arm nearest the dog to send the dog forward (which she might do before doing a Rear Cross). She uses the opposite arm to signal a Front Cross or RFP; that leaves her “armless” for initiating a Rear Cross. So Mary Ellen uses pressure on the dog’s line from behind when changing sides to turn the dog. Local trainer and friendAnne Riba also uses this method with her awesome Malinois "Temi". This method of Rear Cross is easy to teach and I'll put it on the list of articles to write.
The acceleration/deceleration of the handler on course is an important cue to the dog and also important when training the Rear Cross. Mary Ellen wants the dog to turn slightly in toward the handler when the handler accelerates during a Rear Cross (i.e. when the handler uses the cross to change sides of the dog). This can be trained by throwing a food tube or toy forward while the handler still accelerates. When the handler Rear Crosses without acceleration Mary Ellen wants the dog to turn tightly back to the handler. In this case the handler should reward the dog at their side (just another “Come To Side” exercise).
If I recall correctly Mary Ellen also only Rear Crosses on the take off side of the jump, never on the landing side, to further simplify/clarify the handling her dog’s need to understand. A conscious side effect of that decision is her dog knows that whenever she moves to a jump the dog’s path is always forward or to her side of the jump. It will never be to the opposite side of the jump. I love that she can explain that aspect of her system and how it is consistent with her handling. I’d love it if Clean Run would include a detailed description of the handling systems used by the handlers they interview for their “On Course With…” articles.
Mary Ellen filled in a hole in my understanding of the changing trends for which arm to use when directing the dog. So maybe this Winter I’ll finally write my article on “Which Arm is the Evil Arm” that has been on my To Do page for a long time.
During Mary Ellen’s seminar I really noticed how much my mental “game” has been suffering lately. While Milo will be 8 years old in a few days, he is still plenty fast on course. I’ve been finding myself on course just “handling” the course and not mentally “being there” and handling him on the course. That may not be very clear, but, at least for me, it takes a fair amount of intense concentration to get a fast and clean run on course. I think the five days of getting up early, driving 200 miles round trip, and being outside all day took a toll on me. But it also made me more interested in looking into the mental aspect of sport. I’ve signed up for a Lanny Basham seminar next year and will try to read his articles in my pile of unread Clean Run issues. But at least Mary Ellen got on my case a little when I needed it and got my mind back into my handling.
I’ve called Dana Pike “unvarnished” for her wonderful ability to tell it like it is. Now that I’ve trained with Mary Ellen a couple times I’d say she is “frank”. She was willing to compare and contrast her handling system with that of the other handlers (they are all good friends) and I’m always fascinated with the pros and cons of different handling strategies. I really appreciate her discussions of training and competing at the highest levels and the challenges, issues and successes. She is wonderfully open in her replies to questions, thinks carefully about the sport and is a great trainer.
One thing that I might not have mentioned from my previous articles about these camps at Dana Pike’s (May 2006, Sep 2005, May 2005) is the camaraderie and the training and handling discussions between the instructors. They are thinking long and hard about all aspects of training and competing in this sport and it shows. Apparently there is no table whose contents can’t be used to represent an agility course…
At breaks and after class they will setup courses, this time from the World Championships, and run them with their dogs and critique one another. I find this fascinating to watch, because you see how each instructor really applies their handling and training methods with their dogs. It is one thing to watch them at a competition or on tape, but another to see how they work and train their dogs. They are a wonderfully supportive group, helping one another, timing different handling options, agreeing, and agreeing to disagree. This intense interaction between some of the best trainers and handlers in the world continues to make Dana Pike’s camps my “must attend” agility events of the year.
- Dana Pike, Mary Ellen Barry and Rachel Sanders Fall Maintenance Camp
- Dana Pike Advanced Class Sequence - Weave Entries
- Single Sided Threadle Handling
- Dana Pike, Jen Pinder and Rhonda Carter "2006 Spring Maintenance Camp"