Monday, June 20, 2011

Hybrid Handling, Step 1

(aka:  Lumbar-Friendly Dog Agility, for Handlers of a Certain Age)

RIFF AND I HAD AN AGILITY LESSON TODAY!!!!!   Woohoo!!!!!  Can't tell you how great it is to be back on a field, actually guiding my dog over a couple of jumps.  Even though I walked around slower than Methusala, Riff didn't seem to mind at all.  I think he liked going slow because it was HOT - close to 90 degrees.  Thank goodness there's plenty of shade and water at LeapDog. 

My Physical Therapist says:  No twisting at the waist, leaning over, or playing tug. 

Those three "rules" change the game for me.   I often twist my upper body, to open my shoulder up to my dog. During many lead-outs, for instance.  And serps.  Even just running down the line.  And I lean over - while taking the leash off, petting Riff at the startline, picking up toys, setting poles....  Must admit I sometimes lean over while cueing, too.  (Which is a no-no, but it happens.)  Of course I also slump in my chair under the canopy.  And playing tug?'s the very foundation of our reward-based training.  My dogs love to tug. 

So.  Exactly what must I change?  How shall I change it?

Rewards:  Riff weighs about 45 pounds and he's a very powerful boy.  Tugging with him is killer for someone with two bad discs.  Food rewards are okay....he'll take them....but I really want an interactive game with a toy. 

Moe S recommended having him run back to me for a good hand-touch, then toss him a ball.   Lauri P hurt her shoulder once, and Nancy G suggested to her that she "push" the tug toy back at her dog, instead of "tug" it.  Her dog Lark loved that game.  Not too sure what will work best with Riff, but we'll experiment.   Today I rewarded his 'recall to heel' exercises with treats.  We did a little distance training, too, which involved me throwing a toy. 

Throwing that toy hurt!  That surprised me.  I'll have to figure out how to move down a line of 3 jumps and throw a toy beyond the 3rd without jerking my back around.  Perhaps if my knees were bent a little?  I could walk like the Egyptians do, on ancient vases.  Hmmm.  We'll think of something. 

Riff is pretty good at running down a line, but he's not used to me moving this slowly.  I fall pretty far behind pretty fast, and he turned to come back to me.  Distance work needed....

Lead-Outs:   A pure, well-executed lead-out pivot can be done without any twisting.  Can't it?  I have had a hard time keeping Riff in my peripheral vision, just turning my head to look back, so I often open my shoulder up too.

At lot depends on your lead-out position, relative to your dog.  And whether or not you need glasses.  (Heh heh.)  You make your choice based on the demands of the course.  So I've been practicing Mecklenburg's basic foundation exercises in our backyard, thinking "We need options!"  

As LP put it, the Derrett system is easy for a dog to understand, because it looks inviting. You're facing the direction you want your dog to go, and inviting him to come along.  Facing your dog, as Mecklenburg does in some cases, looks less inviting to the least at first.  But properly trained, it can be a wonderful way to handle.   So we're training some new options.   I may start facing Riff more often, using a "lead-out push."  I may face Riff for serps, too.  It's good to have options on course.  (Blind crosses, here we come?!) 

Startline Routine, and Picking Up Toys:  Looks like, once I have the leash off, I'll need to stop leaning over to pet Riff at the startline.  He sits tall enough I can still touch the top of his head.  That'll have to do.  I'll use more sweet talk to make up the difference.
I've been using "the golfer stance" to pick up the Riff's toys.  One leg straight out behind me, my back staying straight, one knee bent slightly.  It works!  So far.  I haven't played tug with Riff since April he's already getting used to that change.   He often runs off and plays with the toy by himself.  So...I'll need a new interactive game...

The Leash:  Leashes, and the way my dogs pull me onto an agility field, will be a whole new chapter.  It seems like I'll need to train better heel work.   Still wondering how to do that without twisting at the waist to look at my dog.    So far, I've been going to the LeapDog field when no one else is there, and leaving my dog off leash. 

Conclusion:  As LP helped me realize, my new Hybrid Handling means I have to get my body thoroughly used to doing new things.  I have a built-in disciplinarian (ouch!) that will help me remember what to do.  LP is great at making suggestions, talking through the details, and guiding me through these new waters. 

It won't be fast.  I tried a couple of running steps today and thought my leg was going to fold up under me.  It felt like a Jacob's ladder toy, with a big knot on one end.  So - more strengthening exercises.  Slow and easy.  I may bring Keeper out to the field, instead of Riff, so she can help me learn how to keep my back straight while running (er...walking) a course.  Lovely, sweet Keeper.  That way youngster Riff won't have to try to figure out the game AND a totally confused handler....


kiwichick said...

Hope you continue to feel better :-) back pain is rough...

vici whisner said...

Sending all my good thoughts to you! I know that when I had a broken toe, I worked on obstacle independence. One of the things that I feel improved the most was her weave entrances. Also moving forward off of contacts rarer than curling back toward me. Hope you improve by leaps and bounds.

Elf said...

One thing that I worked on while my disks were a mess and I was in a lot of pain was doing clicker training to teach my dog to pick up the toy and drop it into a box I was holding so that I didn't have to bend to pick it up. Jake was getting pretty good at it by the time I didn't need that skill any more.

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