Thursday, May 24, 2012

Push Over

Training environment makes a big difference!! 

I live on a hill, and the only semi-spacious flat spot on our property is a cement patio.  So!  If I'm desperate to do a bit of agility training, I use jumps with the bar as close to the ground as possible.  (Picture the trial set-up for 4" dogs...)  The last thing I want to do is injure my dog by letting him jump on cement. 

Running a few serps on my patio seemed to help our serp troubles a LOT, so I decided to work on a verbal command for "take the backside of the jump."  I chose the word PUSH.  I'd seen one of my classmates use it with great success.  I set up a line with two jumps on the patio (bars on the lowest cup, right next to the ground), spaced about twelve feet apart, or so.  Then we played, for about 10 minutes,  to teach Riff to go around the backside of the jump when I say PUSH.   I set him up behind the first jump and took a lead-out to the second.  I made sure I was in a good position to step toward his path and encourage him to go around the backside of the jump, take the jump as I turned, and get a reward.   He picked it up quickly!  Yay!  I was soon able to "send" him a bit of distance to the PUSH.  We worked both sides successfully. Training session done!  Treats and games! 

About ten days later, I had an opportunity to practice PUSH on a nice grass agility field.  I set the two jump heights at 20", with the jumps about eighteen feet apart, and took my lead-out.  Riff held his startline nicely, then eagerly ran onto the path to go around the backside of the second jump.....   .....   ......only to run under the bar!  I was shocked.  "What the heck are you doing?"  I asked him, and we tried it again.  And he did it again. 

Ruh roh.

I kept the height of the second jump at 20", but added another bar at 12".....and he did it again.  He paused this time, gave me an anxious glance, and carefully squeezed in between the bars after he went around the backside of the jump.  And his expression said: "Isn't this what you want?  What's wrong with you?" 

Oh, duh.  Riff learned, during our backyard lesson, that PUSH means go around the jump stanchion.  But hey - there was nothin' 'bout jumpin'!!  He was doing his best to run low and fast around the backside of the stanchion.  He couldn't figure out why I put those bars in his way, and I couldn't figure out why he wasn't jumping. 

During the next five minutes, after bringing the top bar down to 16 inches and keeping the second bar at 12," my new verbal command turned into PUSHOVER.  Oops.  Not exactly what I had in mind, but - as you know - agility is a Whatever Works game.  The lightbulb came on over Riff's head, and after he took the jump nicely a few times. "Push! Over!" with treats and tug....our training session was finished. 

We'll need to work on it again, sometime.  I'm not entirely convinced he knows what do to when he hears PUSH...and we ran out of rental time, so he hasn't practiced the other side yet. 

Yeah.  Hmmmm.   I'll need to be much more careful about how I try to teach new tricks to the amazing Mr. Riffle...

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