Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Discrimination and Distance Workshops

This past weekend Ike and I attended two workshops with Debi Hutchinson. Last year I attended her Handling Fundamentals workshop and her novice distance workshop. This year Saturday focused on Discrimination and Sunday focused on Distance. Saturday’s workshop did end up incorporating quite a bit of distance.

Debi is promoting a technique called pathwork. She has been working on it for the last 6 years, but it is only in the past two years that it has really started to gel for her. Pathwork is watching the path you want your dog to take – generally watching where you expect the next footfall to occur. This means you need to use soft eyes, still watch your dog, but not be locked in on them. It was a huge challenge for all attending, but the implications are that your body then remains in the correct positive to give your dog clearer information. You could see the benefit immediately. It was really hard though!!

The two biggest things I took from the discrimination seminar had less to do with discrimination and more to do with fundamentals. Debi introduced me to a new way to practice rear crosses. She had a pinwheel set up the required a rear cross after the first jump. She asked us to run it on the outside of the pinwheel and not try to do the cross. It was amazing to watch the dogs push off the handler’s body pressure and start making the turn correctly. As they began committing to the turn sooner Debi would urge the handler to make the cross. Two novice dogs were making beautiful rear crosses in – seriously – 5 minutes. Ike and I were a different story, he was still turning on the jump but it really seemed to be helping. What typically happens for us is I shorten my stride, so Ike shortens his stride and then we get stuck! With this method that wasn’t happening. She suggested this method because it allows the dog’s confidence to continue to grow where when you both get stuck and frustrated confidence plummets.

The other thing she commented on is Ike’s tunnel performance. She said he leaps into the tunnel most of the time and that he is obviously uncomfortable with them. Yes, this is true. I have a list of trainers who I respect who have said the exact same thing. She did have a very specific suggestion – which I appreciate. She suggested I buy a used tunnel and cut it down to about 2 feet and practice the heck out of it from every conceivable angle with super high value treats. Another alternative would be a kid’s tunnel or one of those fabric leaf bags (removing the bottom). It’s funny that sometimes it takes someone stating the most OBVIOUS thing in the world to make it sink it.

Day two was all about distance. Debi said without confidence you can’t have distance. If she sends a dog out to do something and they do not do it perfectly, but they tried and it was hard, she accepts it so as not to undermine their confidence. She will try twice before moving to something easier – whether that is moving the handler in or turning over a tunnel so they choose the correct entrance. She uses a lot of gates so that the dog has less choices and the most obvious choice is the “right” choice. I was pretty pleased with how Ike did.

The exercise we ended on was a pinwheel. Debi set gates up through the center of the pinwheel (so you couldn’t go in the pocket and the dog couldn’t come in to you). You had to slingshot your dog over the first jump and maintain movement – somehow, with limited real estate – to support your dog. Ike did an awesome job! I was proud of him for trusting me and proud of me for figuring out a way to move (laterally) that would support him.

I really like Debi. I think she has great energy and a very different and insightful way of looking at agility. She adapted to each dog/handler team there and we were all very different. If you have the opportunity I highly recommend taking a seminar with her. She does compete in NADAC so she focuses a lot on distance, but the skills she uses are useful to any dog/handler team. I have some video which I will hopefully post later this week once I get over being tired!


Nancy and Stewie JRT said...

Sounds like a great workshop. I have been working on "drawing the path" for Stewie also. It really works!!
Hope to see you at Smithfield this season

Jules said...

Cool! I might come to visit, but I won't be trialing anyone. :( I had Bug's hips re-x-rayed and unfortunately he will not be doing agility in the future. We still have herding (for now - lower impact), Rally, and tracking to play with though.

Kathy said...

It sounds like it was GREAT! It makes sense when you drive no matter how hard you try if you look at something on the side of the road you are more likely to drift there which is why they say watch where you are going ;-), and fantastic plan with the tunnels. I am going to try the pinwheels with the rear cross. The seminar really does sound chock full of great ideas!

K-Koira said...

Sounds like a great seminar.

The pathwork thing sounds the same as when riding a horse- you want to look ahead, to where you want to go, not at the ground directly in front of you or anything off to the side. It naturally helps you use body language to direct the horse to the proper path. It makes sense it would work with dogs as well.

Jules said...

K-Koira - it is - she asked if any of us were horse people and explained that in part it was adapted from riding!