Coaching: Handling a Fast Dog and Dropped Bars

09 Aug 2013Steve Schwarz

When my AgilityNerd Facebook page went over 5,000 likes I offered remote coaching to two randomly chosen handlers and their dogs; here are two video coaching sessions for my second team: Holly and Ember. My first team Kevin and Maverick were a pair of novice agility competitors. Holly and Ember are more experienced and, based on Holly’s preliminary email, she was interested in improving her handling with this young fast dog who sometimes drops bars on course.

Holly chose this course from the Advanced 35’ by 45’ layout in my Seventy Two Backyard Courses! article:

Advanced Course

She sent in a video and I returned it to her with this video analysis:

There were a number of reasons I suggested she try to go for two Front Crosses Learning the Front Cross - VideoFront Cross in the sequence. She moves well, I felt she would be able to give clearer cues for the wraps later in the course if she was further “downstream”, and I wanted her to work on keeping moving/driving ahead with this fast dog. I also wanted to see if her motion when Ember was jumping contributed to the dropped bars.

For the dropped bars (or any obstacle performance issues really) I will always try to reproduce the problem with as few variables as possible. Flyer would drop bars and I did what I suggested in the video: worked using one jump to reproduce the error(s). Then I could heavily reward keeping the bars up and (if the dog isn’t too sensitive) I use a No Reward Marker (NRM) - “Oops, try again” if the bar came down. I like giving input to the dog for both successful and unsuccessful attempts.

I hope you also noticed that as a trainer I’ll always say if I don’t see why something happened. I also try to explain what I’m seeing and how I interpret it. My goal is to help my students acquire “an eye” for what is happening and how the handler’s actions influence their dog’s behavior.

So on a hot and humid morning a few days later Holly and Ember gave my suggestions a few more tries. Here is one of her videos and my analysis (with a bonus at the end of me and Flyer trying the opening of the sequence):

As an aside it was challenging using Coach’s Eye for doing these analyses. There is no pause button once you start recording, so it is all in one take. If I could have paused/re-recorded during the recording I could have shortened the overall video and been a little clearer in my comments. The Explain Everything software I used in this Chalk Talk does have that ability. More importantly I had to re-record the second video three times because Coach’s Eye wouldn’t allow me to share or export the video after I was done. Very frustrating!

Holly and I discussed my suggestions via email and she found them helpful and some even echoed what some other trainers had suggested. I love helping teams with all aspects of handling and I think if Holly works on these suggestions they will start to pay off. Ember is a really nice dog and I think she and Holly will go far together.

Here's what Holly said about this experience:

I am the human half of the team featured in this blog entry…I thought I would comment here, to share my thoughts on this experience.

This was a great opportunity for me… (and I wish I had done a better job integrating the feedback) …the analysis was spot on, especially given the AgilityNerd had no prior knowledge of Ember and me. That he picked up our issues and provided the feedback he did, all based on a short video of us running thirteen obstacles, is impressive!

It was also my first experience with remote coaching. That I came away with such a good feeling of how it works…that it can and does work…and learning so much about myself and my partnership with Ember is, I think, a great indication that Steve has a bright future in this type of coaching, should he pursue it.

Thank you, AgilityNerd!!

Holly and Eromit's Red Hot (a.k.a. Ember)
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