Resolution – Getting Fit

I’m not exactly cynical about the prospect of success from those first of the year promises that we call the “Resolutions!” Let’s call it unimpressed or skeptical. Certainly over the years I’ve resolved to do many things to revamp or revitalize or redirect my life. Fortunately I don’t have a written list lying around somewhere to remind me of failures or thoughtless indifference.

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The common New Year’s Resolution is to “Get Fit”. It’s a funny expression that could apply to many things. Getting physically fit might be the most obvious translation. While at one time in my life that might have meant getting washboard abs or building muscle mass in my arms and shoulders… today I would settle for a modest regimen of stretching, long daily walks, and basic exercise that keeps my cranky old joints lubricated.

Getting fit could mean getting financially fit. This is likely a very popular fitness resolution on this particular New Year. We are challenged in our pocket books to an extent greater than anything since the Great Depression. I certainly give considerable attention to what I need to do to pay the monthly mortgage and the constant flurry of expenses. Though to tell you the truth I have no consumer debt and I worry less about meeting expenses than I ever did when I had a job in the rat race.

I do have a fitness resolution. But I just wanted to point out that it isn’t the obvious stuff.

In this lifetime I want to make a difference in the world. The truth of the matter is it doesn’t matter what you believe. For example you can be outraged and disgusted by the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals… or you can be convinced that we need to recycle to protect our environment. It doesn’t matter what you believe… if you don’t step up to do something about it then your outrage and your disgust is completely meaningless and has no weight in the world.

More on this later, I suppose. I guess what it really means to my life is that I’ll be withdrawing somewhat from the dog agility world as I write this new chapter. You’ll note that I haven’t said what I’m actually planning to do. I’ll let you know when the time is right.

Advanced – Get Out Drill; Novice Sequencing

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Any time I design a lesson plan for split-group work, the two working areas need to be clearly defined. In this plan my advanced students will be working on a get-out drill, teaching the dog to increase lateral distance on command. I use the intrusive step method in which the dog is introduced to the directional skill as the handler steps intrusively into the dog’s path perhaps even risking collision.

The Novice side of the building is given over to nice flowing sequences as much as possible. Each sequence might feature a single element of handler movement. Can you see the Front Crosses on both of the numbered sequences?

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In the evolution of the get-out drill you’ll note that the tunnel slides farther away from the dog’s line of approach on each successive repetition. You’ll note also that the handler’s path stops actually intruding on the dog’s path, though there is an implicit step the handler takes perpendicular to the dog’s path. It’s important in a group class to keep the reps coming. In this type of drill I don’t allow do-overs… you make of your turn what you will. But I will nag my students on the fine points like if they are telegraphing the change of direction or if their toes aren’t pointing in with the step.

The Novice sequences feature a bit more challenge as both sequences have become a counter-side tunnel drill. In my teaching I mostly focus on making the handler understand what his job is in directing the dog. There’s nothing magical about a “turn” or a “movement” and these shouldn’t be offered mechanically. Instead, the handler should be intent on doing his job. The movement develops in the course of that attention to detail and duty. Note that the mechanics of the movement are going to be different if the handler is forward of the dog as compared to being behind the dog.

Proofing

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The obvious proofing step in the get-out training is to introduce a wrong-course jump in the dog’s path. The handler is contained to the right side of the two jumps. Note that it’s still a good practice to take a step towards the dog. And so the handler should be working at a lateral distance that reserves enough room to take the step without actually stepping over the containment line.

We actually expect this step to be rather successful as the many conditioning steps we’ve taken to get to this point should have the dog understanding that the reward will be for getting out to the pipe tunnel without regard to the appearance of a new jump.

The Smart Aleck Test

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Now, just to test whether the dog really understands the get-out or has simply been pattered to turn after jump #2 to get into the pipe tunnel… let’s change the sequence to see what the dog does. This step is kind of fun in the training because a small percentage of dogs will bend away into that pipe tunnel after jump #2 without regard to the handler having asked for it or not.

It’s good to have a sense of humor about this test. Shaping and conditioning are valuable tools for dog training. We need to be brought back down to earth to understand that these exercises constitute introduction and shaping only. Mastery will come from practice. Mastery comes from the back yard.

 

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store

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