Monday, November 18, 2013

Jumping Foundations - extension versus collection

So I spent the day watching my own dog and my students at a trial yesterday and a long time acquaintance turned to one of my students who was sitting next to me.  She said "I love how your dog jumps!"  My student pointed to me and said it was thanks to me and all the exercises I gave them to do.  Of course the student is to be commended for doing all the homework.  She then asked if I could help her with her dog's jumping.  I said it is much easier to train it correctly first than to fix it later.  Then we discussed some of the foundation work she had done but it turned out she had missed a key piece.  It is a piece that many people miss for many reasons.

For good jumping foundations I believe the one jump exercises are extremely important.  However it is important to remember to add distance/speed to those one jump exercises.  Many people forget or miss this key step.  It is crucial to transferring the collection skills from one jump to sequences and to courses.

The other piece I try to do and wish I had time to do more of with students is grid work to teach dogs how to extend and jump.  Both collection and extension skills are important for jumping.  The piece many people miss here especially with fast dogs is teaching dogs how to jump fast and extended with handler racing them down the line.  How many times has someone said "I can't race my dog because the bars will come down."  I say that is a training issue.

My first true jump training experiment was back around 2000 when jump training was much less sophisticated than it is now.  I had a fast blue merle Border Collie named Tobie.  I was bound and determined to teach him how to jump well because so many fast BCs dropped bars and crashed jumps.  I spent a lot of time in my backyard with collected jump grids and working on turns.  I used what I had read in various sources, my horse background and some intuition in creating exercises for him.  I also did extended jump grids with him and I would run with him, send him ahead and recall him.  He was a great jumper and very rarely knocked a bar or crashed a jump.  

Since then I've watched hundreds of dogs jump and read and tried many jump exercises and have selected a number of exercises I feel are most important.  My students are often strapped for time for training so I have picked the ones I deem most important to emphasize in class.  I also evaluate the dog and handler team.  I look at the energy level of the team as a whole, the dog as an individual and the handler as an individual.  I watch them through foundations to see whether the dog is more likely to work away and become obstacle focused or whether they are more likely to be handler focused.  I look at how eagerly the dog seeks obstacles/targets versus seeking the handler.  I look at how much does the dog run collected versus extended.  

If I have a dog who likes to run all out extended, likes to seek out obstacles/training tools and has a lot of energy I will focus on collection skills and handler focus more than obstacle focus and extension.  If I have dog who tends to run collected with a shorter stride, tends to watch the handler more than look for obstacles/targets and needs more motivation to go faster then I will focus on extended jump grids and extended jumping.

With a dog prone to extension it will be much harder to train collection so I will emphasize that in foundation.  As long as confidence is maintained and a brief introduction to distance is done early it will be relatively easy to train distance in this dog at age 2-4 years old AFTER the dog has learned the joy of tighter turns and handler focus.  I will do four collection drills to one extension drill with a dog like this.  I still want them to extend when needed but they need fewer lessons in it.  Adding distance and extension in later is much easier with these dogs than trying to train collection after they have had 3 years of doing what they like and running extended.

With a dog prone to collected running I will emphasize extension in foundation training.  I will build confidence and work more distance and obstacle focus.  I will do four extension drills to one collection drill with a dog like this.  They still need to know how to collect once their confidence comes up and they start opening up to run.  If too much collection is done then these dogs may not ever learn to open up and run and not learn to work away from their handlers.  It is much harder to add distance training in later with these dogs if they have become comfortable running collected and focusing on the handler all the time.

With my own dogs after my BC Tobie I have had four dogs.  Sinco is one of those dogs needed a lot of extension work to build confidence because she collected easily in the beginning.  As her confidence grew so did the need for more collection work.  I gradually added more collection work in while continuing to build her confidence.  I did a lot of foundation work on distance with her.  Distance work came sporadically for her.  I had to do a lot of balancing distance with collection because her confidence and speed would increase and so would the wide turns.  I never wanted to take any speed or confidence out of her - instead I would just tweak the focus of my training and it was a give and take.  Now that I've been unable to really run with her for the last year and a half her confidence with distance work has soared and she was able to finish her first NATCH just recently.

Tay loves to run wide and do distance and interact with obstacles.  Collection work has always been a challenge for her.  Her training has been hampered by injuries and stressful events.  She does not get clingy when stressed but instead does large zooming runs usually with her nose on the ground sniffing.  For her I do not do a lot of collection with her at this point because our focus is to keep agility fun.  For her having been in pain for awhile doing agility and then having some scary things happen we mainly try to have fun.  

Feisty loves to work away and do distance.  I did a lot of collection work with her for a small dog.  Most small dogs do not need a ton of collection work because they have short small strides and plenty of time to turn.  But Feisty could run fast and wide when the mood hit her and it was hard to bring her in.  She has always been sensitive to my pressure so coming in needed lots of rewards.  She loves to do distance and will work hard to figure out what I want and rarely comes in for help.  I also try to never call her off of things so she does not lose that distance confidence.  Again she has had stress issues at trials and often around courses that require technical and tight handling.  It is not as fun for her to work in close to me but she will do it when she is not stressed.  When stressed she is going to default to working wide and away from me.  This is why leadouts are hard for her because she does not like to come into my pressure when there is the least bit of stress in her.  She has earned three different agility championship titles and now she gets to do the agility she finds fun for her and with the least amount of stress.

Carmine is the one I knew would love to be very independent and go seek obstacles and would have plenty of self confidence for distance work.  She also is the one I knew would not be stressed by trial environments.  She tends to get high at trials.  So I did foundation distance work with her and then spent two years focusing on jumping skills and collection skills.  Now that she is 3 years old I have been working more on distance with her.  The distance skills are coming very easily because of her innate self confidence and the initial foundation training that she remembers.  She has a very nice balance between handler and obstacle focus because of how I carefully prioritized her training in the first two years.  I feel confident that she will be the kind of dog who will be able to both enjoy and excel at international style courses as well as wide open NADAC courses without difficulty.  She is already showing this tendency.  It helps that she has so much self confidence that she is not at all prone to ring stress.  

This is one of the ways I individualize the training programs for my own dogs.  I try to apply these principles to my students' dogs when I see a dog that has strong tendencies in one direction or the other.  Many dogs are more middle of the road and need a continuing balance of skills. This is why I feel jump training can be such a critical part of agility training - jumps make up most of the courses and this is where the turns and extension skills are most necessary.  If dogs can learn to extend and turn on jumps it will be much easier to train the other obstacles.

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