Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tunnel and Chute

We are getting closer to our next trial, so I guess I better get all the obstacles out of the way :) Today we have the tunnel (also called an open tunnel) and the chute (also called a closed tunnel).

The tunnel is made of flexible spring-like core and a material pulled over it. Weighted anchors hold the two ends down in place.

This construction allows the tunnel to be bent in all kinds of directions. On the picture above, it is shaped like a flattened out S - there is a bend in the middle causing the dog to go a bit left and right, and coming out facing the same direction as it entered.
Another common setup is a C-shape. This one can differ from a fairly flat curve (like these parentheses), to a full 180-degree turn.

Dogs tend to either love or hate the tunnels, though it seems that the majority love them. Sometimes the initial introduction to the dark bent tunnel can be scary, but once they understand it, it can be hard keeping them away from running back and forth :)
When training the tunnel, usually it is collapsed to be very short at first, almost like a ring, so the dog can simply walk right through it. Then the length is slowly added on while the tunnel is kept straight. Once full length is achieved, curves are introduced as well.

The chute has a rigid tunnel-like entrance...

...with an attached sleeve-like soft material that the dog has to push open in order to get through.

It is very important that the chute material is straightened out before each run through it by a dog - nobody wants the furry ones getting tangled up in there! So at a trial there is always a volunteer sitting near by that runs over and straightens it out before each dog.
Even so, the chute does tend to get a bit tangled as the dogs run through, especially if they are going fast. Unfortunately I don't have any shot demonstrating this (I'll work on that next time), but I've seen dogs come out in all sorts of ways - sometime it even looks like they take a tumble and roll over themselves while inside :)
Some dogs find the idea of the chute pretty scary, but like with the regular tunnel, they usually get the hang of it quickly.
Similar to the tunnel, the chute is also trained fully rolled up at first, with length added slowly, and person holding the material open for the dog. As the dog gains confidence, the opening is made smaller and smaller, until the dog can push all the way through on its own.

For both of these obstacles, the dog must enter from the correct end and exit at the opposite end. If the dog enters the tunnel correctly, runs back and forth inside of it without coming out, and then exits correctly, it will not receive any faults, rather just lose time. However, if the dog runs in, turns around, and comes back out of the same end, it will get a refusal. A refusal is also given if the dog goes past the entrance without going in the tunnel. If the dog completes the tunnel backwards (in at exit, out at entrance), it will get a wrong course. Note that if the exit of the tunnel is farther than the entrance, and the dog does it backwards, it will get a wrong course and a refusal since it will have to go past the entrance in order to reach the back end.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pause Table

Continuing with the equipment theme, and inspired by Bailey's woes, here's the next obstacle - the pause table.

The table is a raised square platform that the dog has to get up on and pause for 5 seconds.

The table surface is normally 36"x36" in size, give or take a couple of inches. Like the jumps, the height of the table is determined by the dog's height. There are only 3 table heights though: 8" for 4"/8"/12" dogs, 16" for 16"/20" dogs, and 24" for 24"/26" dogs.

To perform the obstacle correctly, the dog must jump up on the table, and either sit or lay down while the judge counts "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go". In USDAA the dogs always lay down, and in AKC the judge will select one or the other for the whole day. I've noticed that on weekend trials, one day will be a sit and the other a down.

If the dog passes the back side of the table (determined by the direction the dog should be coming from), it will get a refusal. Interestingly, one judge explained that once the dog breaks that plane, its approach changes, and what used to be the front become the back. So if the dog does a 360 around the table, it will get 2 refusals - it's confusing!
The judge will start the count when the dog assumes the correct position. If the dog breaks position, the judge will pause, and continue the count once the dog is back in position. The count doesn't start over and no faults are given for that, other than the obvious loss of time.
However, if the dog jumps up on the table and gets off before the judge says "Go", it will count as a table fault and the dog will have to get back on and restart the count from the beginning.
The handler may not touch the dog or the table at any time. Also, if the dog is anticipating the count and leaves right as the judge says "Go", it could earn a fault as well - it should be listening to the handler's release command, not the judge!

Several things make the table a difficult obstacle:
Large breeds tend to approach the table too fast and jump right off of it before they have the time to stop. Some of the taller dogs also have trouble laying down on the table because it's simply too small for them. Small dogs often confuse it with a jump or contact obstacle and do various silly things too.
The table's surface (as well as all other contact equipment surface) is made similar to sandpaper to provide good traction. Unfortunately, this causes many dogs to not want to sit or lay on it because their precious butt and belly are too dainty to be placed on sandpaper :)
Most importantly though, many dogs are so focused on go-go-going that it's very difficult for them to pause in the middle of the run and stay in the same position for 5 seconds. This is the whole point of the table though - the dog must show the ability to calm down and pause. A good solid table performance is great to have, these dogs will let you lead out easily (from the start line, or the table), and that gives a great advantage to the handler.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tire and Broad Jump

I covered the regular jumps last time, and here are the last two kinds of jumps as promised :)

The tire jump is just what it sounds like - a hoop that resembles a tire, and the dog has to jump through.

The height at which the tire hangs depends on how tall the dog is, just like regular jumps. Unlike the regular jumps though, it's nearly impossible to knock this obstacle down, but the challenge here is for the dog to jump through the tire, and not just through the frame. Some large breeds also have trouble with the tire due to it's constrained size - the bigger the dog, the tighter the hoop feels for them.
This is a very common first obstacle on the course since it's very easy to put the electronic timer around the tire (you can see it on the picture above). A common mistake people make in this case is placing the dog too close to the tire, making it harder to jump through.

Last, but not least, we have the broad jump.

Unlike all other jumps, the broad jump focuses on the jump length rather than height. Here, the height of the dog determines the length of the jump, and it is twice longer than a regular jump would be high (so a dog that jumps 12" will have a 24" long broad jump, dogs jumping 22" have a 44" long broad jump). The jump is slightly raised towards the end, and the dog still has to catch some air to clear it. Stepping on the jump would earn a failure to perform, and is a very common problem with smaller dogs.

Stay tuned for other obstacles :)

Sunday, April 18, 2010


We don't have another trial coming for a while, so I figured I'd cover some obstacles in the mean time. The most common or all is the jump. The rule for getting over the jump obstacles is very simple - the dog must jump over it, without knocking any bars down. The bars sit on small ledges and can easily be knocked down with just a slight nudge, so ideally the dog should pass right over the jump without touching the bars at all. If a dog knocks a bar, it will immediately earn an NQ in the run because this is considered a serious fault (failure to perform).

There are many different kinds of jumps, so let's take a look at a single jump for starters:

As you can see, it's simply a horizontal bar that the dog has to jump over. The height of the bar depends on how tall the dog is (see the jump height post for a bit more info). Other than learning to pick up their feet and not knock bars, these jumps are pretty easy and a natural obstacle for most dogs.

Another kind of jump is a panel jump.

This one is very similar to the single jump, but has a solid wall-like panel going from the ground up to the jump bar. The solid wall can be a bit scary for the large breed dogs as they can't see what's on the other side that they will be leaping to. However, with just a bit of practice, most dogs have no problem with this jump. Smaller breed rarely notice any difference at all since their jumps are very low anyway.

For a slight challenge of jumping abilities, there are also double and triple jumps. I don't have a picture of a double handy, but here's a triple.

You can see that it has 3 bars in a row, slightly ascending. The dog had to clear all three bars, which usually requires a longer and curvier move than that for a single jump. The double is similar, except that is has only two bars and they are both at the same height rather than ascending. In USDAA, there is also a spread jump, which is similar to the double, except that the bars are set further apart and require a longer jump. Larger dogs rarely have trouble with these since they tend to have a long stride anyway, but many smaller breeds land too soon, knocking the last bar.

All of the above jumps can come with or without wings on them. Wings are decorative additions on each side of the jump.

They don't make much difference to the dog, but they are harder for handling since the handler can't run right next to the jump, but rather has to get around the wings. Wings come in many shapes and color, but the basic idea is the same for all.

There are two more kinds of jumps - broad and tire. While they still require a dog to jump, they are quite a bit different from these, and have different rules too. I think I'll dedicate another full post to those two next time.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Agility Student

After writing the last post, I thought I'd revisit the timeline of Philip's Agility training. We've been training for about a year now, and have moved through 6 different classes.

February-March 2009: Beginner Agility course, just for fun.
This was the start of it all - a 5 week course, focusing on learning the very basics. We started with regular and panel jumps, tire, and open tunnel. We then added the table and the weave poles. Lastly, we worked on very low height A-frame, dog walk, and teeter. Nothing overly fancy in this class, just the very basic introduction to Agility.

May-October 2009: Basic intro course, focused on competition.
We started this class at a different place than the first one because I wanted to focus on competition. This was also a beginner class, but structured very differently from the other one. Here we focused on all the obstacles individually for accuracy, learned to put 2-3 obstacles together, and covered basic handler techniques - front and rear crosses, lead out, etc. Philip had to go back to basics on several things, but we stuck to the plan and went to class week after week.

October-November 2009: Transitional course, refining details.
After the very long beginner course, we were almost ready to move on. Before moving on to the next big class though, we attended a short transitional class. This was a quick class (30 minutes, once a week) with just 2-3 dogs total. It was basically individually focused on each dog to raise the A-frame to full height, and refine any other obstacle performance.

November-December 2009: Novice Agility.
This class, and all others after it, is structured more like trials - dogs run full on courses and we fix mistakes along the way. There are several levels of difficulty (just like in trials), and this was the lowest of them. I had to get used to remembering 10-15 obstacles per course, and running the whole thing, so that was a pretty steep learning curve for me. On courses, we had to stop and redo some parts often since Philip was still perfecting his skills, so lots of learning for him too.

January-March 2010: Another Novice Agility.
In December, our instructor said she thought we were ready to try a real trial. I decided to wait till after the holidays though, so I signed Philip up for his first trial in January. I got a new job at the same time, so had to switch to a different class time. The class we moved to was technically the same level as before, but in practice was a little more advanced, and with more serious student. All in all I still felt like we moved up in difficulty a bit.

April 2010 - Present: Excellent Agility.
Due to time constraints with work, I basically had to stick with the Novice class while Philip advanced, and couldn't attend an Open class. Since we have moved into Open level in trial though, we needed to start practicing harder courses. So earlier this week we moved to the Excellent class - a huge jump. You can read a bit more about that in my last post. The courses are much harder, and the dogs are much more advanced. It would have probably helped to go through Open level first, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right? :)

So there you have it, you can see that we spent a long time as beginners, but I think it was well worth it in the end since we skipped through to trials and other fun pretty quickly once we moved out of the beginner course. If I had to go back and do it all over again, I'd definitely stick to the same general plan (though add in the Open class transition) - good solid basic knowledge is the key to running solid courses.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Class

Today Philip and I moved to a new Agility class. Not at a different place or anything, just a higher level than before. As a matter of fact, we have now moved to the highest level of class that is offered by our instructor! Wow, to think that just a year ago we were struggling in learning the very basics of Agility, and now here we are - just back from our first super advanced class.

The class was pretty difficult compared to what we are used to, but it was super fun. We got to run two courses - one standard, and one jumpers. The standard course had several tricky turns, but it was doable. Philip only messed up the weave poles entry on the whole course, and it was a good warm up. The jumpers course was basically a killer though! It's not that it was overly difficult, but it was long, and I had to run. Boy, did I have to run - I was still out of breath in my car on the way home! There were a couple of stretches that were just straight, and Philip has really gotten fast apparently because I just could not keep up with him.

We also got to practice an evil tunnel entry where I had to be on the outside. I think I've mentioned before that Philip thinks that what ever side I'm on is the inside, so even if I'm way off to the left of both ends of the tunnel, he tends to go to the right end. I knew this wouldn't be an exception, but the way the course was set up, a cross would be hard and counter productive to do, so the instructor said I might as well practice the proper way. First time through Philip took off to the wrong end like I expected, so we went back to fix it. This time I used his name much earlier to get his attention, and we did it right - yay!

Overall, I was pretty happy with our performance considering the difficulty of the courses. This class will definitely be tough at first, but we love challenges, so I'm looking forward to it :)

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Agility Trial Experience

Ever wonder what it's like to go to an Agility trial? Looking forward to one of your own some day and trying to think what to expect? Well, let's see if I can shine some light on it :) By the way, I highly recommend you go and watch a trial before you enter one, you'll be much more prepared! I certainly felt more at ease since I have gone to watch a trial before attending the first one for competition.

In our area, the trials normally take place outside, on grass. Arriving on site, you can see a flood of tents being set up, providing shade for the dogs, who are in crates or play-pens.

In the middle, two rings are normally set up. In AKC, one is for JWW runs, and the other for Standard. If FAST is offered, it's usually manipulated into the same two rings.

The trials start early in the morning - set up starts around 6am and the first dog on the line is around 8am. In AKC, it's common practice to start with Excellent dogs first, followed by Open, and lastly Novice. Handlers check-in before their class is set up. At check-in they get their badge number and course maps, as well as have their dog measured if necessary.

Before each class, the handlers are allowed to walk the course and figure out their plan of action, but the dogs are not allowed in the rings at any time other than for their run. Once the class judging starts, no more walking is allowed. The judge will usually give a briefing and answer any questions before judging is commenced. The running order is posted near the ring, each present dog is checked in, and the handlers wait for their turn with the dogs.

Each course normally takes less than a minute to run, and after it's done, the dogs go back to their resting spots, waiting for the next run if they have more. After all the dogs in class finish running, the judge checks the scribe sheets, and the results are posted. This is when everyone finds out for sure if they got a Q and/or took one of the first 4 places. The ribbons are also dispensed here.

One judge trials tend to run as late as 4-5pm. Two judge trials can end a bit earlier around 2-3pm. At the end of the day, the equipment is put away, tents are picked up, and most people drive off for the night. Sometimes an RV or two will camp out near by.

The courses cannot be seen by anyone until the morning of the runs, so they are never set up the night before. Instead, the next day of the trial starts the same way as the first one - early morning set up, check in, etc. The second day does tend to go a little faster since the dogs don't need to be measured again, and not as much briefing needs to be done. Otherwise, each day is like a brand new trial, and just as much fun!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Trial Results Summary

I noticed that I tend to write really long write ups about our trials because I like to include little details :) It's hard to find our standings in all that ramble, plus we don't have any trials coming up for a little while now, so I thought it'd be nice to include a quick up-to-date summary.

We've attended a total of 1 USDAA and 4 AKC trials so far, and Philip now has his NA title in AKC for finishing Novice Standard. The breakdown of all the runs is below.



Monday, April 5, 2010

April AKC Trial - Sunday

Part 2 - read about Saturday's runs here.

We had just two runs on Sunday since FAST wasn't being offered, so the day went by much faster, but it certainly had it's own surprises.

We started off with Open Standard again, and this was a strange run - with a total of four tunnels! Somehow, I just had this feeling that Philip would mess up at least one of those... So off we went on the course - no problems to start with. When we got to the table, Philip ran up way too fast and flew right off of it, earning us a table fault. I got him back on it, and we continued the run back on track. Now, one of the multiple tunnels was the very last obstacle on the course, and with the way the approach worked out, I was on the outside of the curve (it's safer to be on the inside). The curve was more like an L than a C, so the wrong end wasn't too inviting and I hoped for the best, but of course Philip disagreed. He actually went out of his way to take the wrong end, ugh! This meant several things - for one he got a refusal for going past the plane of the entry, he also got a wrong course for going the wrong way, and lastly he tripped the finish line timer before finishing the course by running into the exit. I turned him around, got him to take it the right way, and basically expected an NQ for all the mistakes.

However, on my way out, someone congratulated me saying it was probably a Q. I asked why, and they said that one of each type of error was okay to have in Open, so we were probably fine, hmm... I went to my instructor, asking was she thought, and she said she wasn't sure, but yes - it was probably good, so I should go see the results. Our next run was coming up though, so I figured this could wait and went to get ready for Jumpers.

The Jumpers course was medium difficulty, but I felt confident - we were at a lower jump height and Philip did great the day before. We got to the start line and took off. Immediately, I messed up on of the front cross I had planned, and then another, but Philip was a trooper and went the right way both times. Then I heard it - the dreadful sound of his claws hitting the jump bar. Did it fall? I didn't have time to look back, so we kept on going. We crossed the last jump and I looked back on the course - the jump setter was running towards a jump, to fix a fallen bar... Oh, Philip, what am I going to do with him? As our instructor put it, I'll keep him :) Still, here we are with a yet another NQ in JWW for knocking a bar, this time at only 8" off the ground!

After the run, I finally went to see the results for the Standard course - we had an NQ, and one of each faults, oh well. I updated our instructor (Anne) on the results and went to pack up for the day. As I was coming back to pick up the crate, I see Anne coming towards me. "I saved your leg" she says. Huh? So it turns out that after I had told her about our results, another lady that overheard us thought about the whole one-of-each-error thing. The rules did indeed say that one of each error for a total of 3 was okay in Open, so why the NQ? Anne decided to go see our scribe sheet, and apparently there was an F (failure to perform, immediate NQ) on there as well, which is why we had an NQ. So she went to talk to the judge - where did the F come from? Answer - back in the days of non-electronic timers, the rules were that tripping the finish line early would earn you an F, but Anne didn't think that rule held for electronic timers. The judge told her to find it in the rule book as she wasn't aware, so Anne dug out the rule book and guess what - no F when electronic timers are used! So the judge was mistaken and would change our result to a Q! I waited while the poor secretary made a yet another change for my prince of a dog, reprinted the results yet again, and we happily walked away with a Q and a 1st place. All thanks to Anne!!! It's really great to have an awesome and knowledgeable instructor :)

April AKC Trial - Saturday

Well, we had a very interesting weekend, lots of stories to tell, so I'm going to split this up into two parts - one for each day.

After Philip had finished his title at the last trial, I had to email the secretary of this trial to move him up to Open - no biggie, we got it covered. When we got to the trial on Saturday, I figured out we needed to move a height down (read the previous post for details), so again I went to bug the secretary. This was a more complicated change, but she seemed to have gotten it down, so off we went.

First up was the Open Standard run - I thought it wasn't quite as hard as the one last weekend, but there were still plenty of tricky spots. We started off to a good run, and close to the end was the dog walk, ending to a curved tunnel straight ahead, which would turn the dog back around to the weave poles which were right next to the dog walk. I approached on the outside of the turn, and my plan was to stick a front cross in right before the tunnel while Philip was finishing the dog walk. Good plan, right? Except that Philip zoomed up and over the dog walk at the fastest I've ever seen, then he totally ditched his stopping point and sprinted to the wrong end of the tunnel, all before I could interfere. So I wait for him to get out of the tunnel so I can send him back in the right way, he pops out and sprint back on the dog walk - duh! At that point I finally get his attention, he turns his head, falls over from the dog walk up-ramp (he's fine, but it sure looked dramatic!), and then finishes the course with no other mistakes. Of course that little feat of his gave us two wrong courses, so NQ for Mr. Dramatic.

Next run was Novice JWW, and we were going at 8" height, so I hoped for no knocked bars this time, and I was right! Woohoo, Philip had a beautiful clean run, finally getting a second Q, only one more to go! Will the new lower jump height save us from all our troubles? We could only wait to find out the next day :) Oh, but the fun doesn't end there - when I went to see the results, I couldn't find Philip on the sheet for while. Finally I saw him under the 12" height, but we ran 8" so I was confused. I thought I'd go check with the secretary (who knew us by name already, ha!), and after a little double checking, she figured out that she had changed our entries only on one of the computers, while the JWW results were entered on the other one. So more changes for them to make, reprinting the results, etc., but thankfully not messing up any placing since Philip was the only dog who got a Q in both 8" and 12" heights.

We then had another run on Saturday - Novice FAST. I think I've mentioned before that FAST isn't offered very often, and other than our run at the mud trial (which basically doesn't count!), this was our first real try at it. I was surprised at how easy the course looked, with big-point items right at the beginning, and the send bonus going for a total of 30 points (out of 50 needed), so I wasn't worried about getting enough points at all. The send bonus was a jump followed by a tunnel, which also didn't look too hard at all. I devised a plan of action, and we stuck right to it, with Philip doing everything I asked of him perfectly, what a beautiful run! We definitely had a Q for the run, and we had gathered a total of 67 points, but since the places are determined by points, I waited to see what happens with that. There was only one other dog in our jump height, and when the results came up it showed 66 points them, so we got first place by just 1 point!

Read about Sunday's runs here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Jump Height

Something interesting has taken place at the past couple of trials, so I thought it would be a good time to mention jump height.

There are several different jump heights that determine the height of the jumps, tire, and table, as well as the length of the broad jump. The height that a dog is supposed to jump at is based on the dog's height at the withers (shoulders). In particular, for AKC the standard jump heights are as follows (straight from the rule book):
8 Inches: For dogs 11 inches and under at the withers.
12 Inches: For dogs 14 inches and under at the withers.
16 Inches: For dogs 18 inches and under at the withers.
20 Inches: For dogs 22 inches and under at the withers.
24 Inches: For dogs over 22 inches at the withers.
26 Inches: Dogs may be entered at this height at their owner’s discretion.

Dogs are also allowed to enter one jump height lower, but that puts them into the preferred class, which is a bit separate from the standard dogs. There are some limitations for it too, for example preferred dogs can't get a MACH - the highest Agility title.

The rule for measuring the dog is that the dog can't get a permanent jump height assigned to them until they are 2 years old (fully grown). When they turn 2, they have to get 2 official measurements by 2 different judges to determine their jump height. Since Philip's second birthday was just a month ago, we got our first official measurement at the last trial, and the second one today.

Here's the interesting part though. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi standard allows for dogs between 10 and 12 inches tall, so they tend to fall either into 8 or 12 inch jump height for Agility. Philip has been measured by our instructor and a few judges before, always coming in at just above 11", so I've been entering him into the 12" jump height.

However, at his first official measurement last weekend, the judge said he was coming up at 10.8 inches. I thought she made a mistake, so I asked her to try again, and she got him at 11 inches high. I was surprised, but hey - if we could get another measurement at 11" we'd get to move down to 8" jump height, so I wasn't about to complain.

This Saturday we got our second measurement, lo and behold - Philip came in at 11" inches again! That means that we have two official measurements of 11" and so that officially puts us permanently into the 8" jump height. This is very exciting, lower height = better! Not only is it easier to jump, it's also much better for the joints.

We should be getting our permanent jump height in the mail in about a month, and we moved down to 8" for the trial this weekend. We'll also be entering 8" at all future AKC trials, though we still have to stay at 12" for USDAA since they don't actually have an 8" height.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Picture Time!

First, in case you didn't get the hint at the end of my "farewell" post, that was an April Fools joke :) So don't worry, we are still going bonkers over Agility here, I think I'd sooner move to a cheaper apartment than take away the Agility fun from Philip and myself.

Now back to this post. Last weekend my mom came along to watch us run the trial, so I handed her the camera, and asked to try and get a couple of shots of Philip. So here are her creations:

on the dog walk

fuzzy butt!

running at super speed

end of teeter

weave poles

resting in his comfy spot in the back of the car


It's sad sad news, but with the economy crisis over the last year or so, it's with a heavy heart that I must inform you that I can no longer afford taking Philip to Agility :( All the class and trial fees add up and it's money I could be spending on rent, which is really becoming tough right now. I was really hoping my funds would pick up when I started my new job recently, but unfortunately, it isn't so - I find myself spending more than what I'm earning, so certain things must go before I end up on the street. It's unfortunate that this blog, and of course Philip's agility involvement, is so young and so full of potential. I do hope to be able to return to the sport soon and that my few readers will come back to this blog when I do. We'll still be attending the trial this weekend, who knows - maybe we'll go out with a bang and earn another title or two. I'll miss you all for the time being. Stay in touch, keep smiling, and enjoy this April Fools Day!

Edit: Yes, this is a joke =]