Sunday, November 18, 2012

Preparing for Jump Work

Pongu has finished his RL1, so next year we'll start competing in Level 2 (and, hopefully, Level 3) Rally. This means he's going to have to do some jumps, and that in turn means I need to start laying some foundations so he can do those jumps safely.

The main reason we don't do agility -- even though it looks like a ton of fun and is by far the biggest dog sport around these parts -- is because Pongu is not physically capable of doing something that strenuous. He has lousy structure: he's bowlegged and pigeon-toed and both his left front foot and right rear foot are problematic (the former because of an old injury caused or at least exacerbated by his original owner; the latter is a mystery ailment, although these days it seems to be the one that bothers him more). After years of work, he's got reasonable coordination and hind-end awareness, but he'll never have the grace or durability needed to do agility safely.

Also, he's terrified by the obstacles. All of them.

So we do Rally, because APDT Rally is a lot more forgiving of dogs' physical limitations. And we play a little bit in freestyle, because you can tailor your routine to encompass only those moves your dog can do comfortably. (There are a couple of required elements for competition routines, but they're minimal and not particularly demanding -- just some basic heels and turns -- and, anyway, we're not currently competing in freestyle.) Up until now, we've had no need to learn jumps, because there just weren't any.

Now that Pongu's past the no-jump level in Rally, that plan has changed. APDT Rally doesn't have a lot of jump exercises (there's only one in Level 2 Rally, and I think two or three in Level 3), and they're nowhere near as frequent or difficult as the ones in agility, so I think Pongu can manage them... but to make sure he can do it safely, jump work is officially on our training to-do list.

It'll be a while before we get to the actual jumps, though. For now, we're doing some foundation exercises intended to improve his footwork and body awareness before actually starting any jumps.

The less formal of these exercises is going up the stairs backwards, which was just a little game that Pongu figured out in about three days. He grasped the basic idea almost immediately, as he already knew how to walk backwards on cue, so it was just a matter of transferring that concept to stairs. In the beginning, it was a little clumsy...

...but his skill level improved quickly.

(In this clip I have Crookytail sitting on the stairs to act as a sort of roadblock and force Pongu to target a smaller area on the stairs. Crookytail does not do the backwards stairs thing. He does, however, make a most excellent roadblock.)

We also started doing a Real Exercise, i.e., cavaletti. This concept is stolen wholesale from horse training; cavaletti are used to teach horses how to pace themselves and take jumps. They are also used to train dogs in a very similar fashion.

We started with some makeshift poles (really just our one bar jump, disassembled) lying flat on the floor. I used a sendaway-to-mat and recall to get the dogs moving, and laid out the yoga mat to guide them over the poles instead of around them.

Once they were both comfortable with skipping over the poles on the ground, I raided our recycle bin for empty Coke cans and crushed them down to hold the poles about half an inch off the floor.

I also started varying the arrangements of the poles (as best I could within the obviously small confines of our condo) so that instead of always being in a straight line, there were some curves and angles between the poles as well.

At this point both dogs started slowing up a bit and hesitating about going over the poles (mainly because those Coke cans make quite a racket when one of the dogs misses and knocks a pole), so we'll spend a couple of days drilling at this level before moving on to low jumps. Once they're comfortable and even happy about playing the cavaletti game, we'll proceed to the next step. For now, the goal is to build confidence and comfort at this level.

Tonight I'll build some low jumps using the super glamorous and high-tech combination of empty dog food cans, nails, a bag of concrete powder, and some PVC pipes. Aw yeah. It's gonna look so cool.

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