Saturday, May 14, 2011
Practice and boxes (and a blog hop)
Practice last night went really well. Pallo was doing great box turns and was holding onto his ball really well. He dropped early a couple times, but if I tell him "hold it" while he is on his way back, he is carrying it almost all the way to me, which is great.
Koira is doing great as well. We ran in a lineup of three against another three dog lineup, with Koira starting and running against Wyatt, a tri-color Aussie. It seemed like the competition was helping Koira a lot. She was running faster to the box than I have seen in a long time. I think the extra speed may be messing up her timing at the box, because she was fumbling a good bit, but her box turns have never been super solid. She is quite the speed demon coming back to me though, and despite turning on the speed, she was holding her ball really well.
A dog with a postage stamp on her nose
(Side note to any new visitors from the blog hop, the following might be a bit technical and sound like a whole lot of nonsense if you are not familiar with flyball. I tried explaining it as clearly as possible though. Most of the time the blog isn't quite this technical.)
After practice we got together and talked a bit about refitting some of our boxes. Three things we want to change are hole placement, hole size (and padding) and hammer placement. The hole placement on some of our boxes is, in some of our members opinions (mine included) too close to the middle. We would like the holes to be farther to the side (more like 5.5" instead of the current 7-7.5 our boxes have). This will help especially the larger dogs have a smoother, safer turn, and reduce the risk of them falling off the side of the box with their back feet. Since it will give them more area on the box for their feet, it should increase the consistency and safety of their turns as well.
The hammer placement is more of an ambiguous change to a lot of people.
First, a couple pictures of the internal components of our boxes, both for the flyball people who may have different types of boxes, and for those of my readers who have never had a chance to see the internal set up of a flyball box.
This picture is one hole's entire set up of the spring, hammer, and cocking mechanism. In this picture, the hammer is cocked back, allowing the ball to be placed in the hole.
When the dog does a turn on the front pedal of the box, it pushes the cocking mechanism, releasing the hammer, which hits the ball, propelling it out of the box and into the dog's mouth (hopefully).
Springs are attached to the hammer, causing it to spring forward when the cocking mechanism is released by the dog hitting the front pedal.
Another angle of the hammer, cocking mechanism, springs set up.
These pictures are from my personal box, not the one of the ones we use at practice, but is basically the same thing (other than my box having a snub nose).
My box from the outside:
You can see that the front 4 inches of the box are missing, with a vertical plane there instead of the front part of the wedge. I prefer this box style, but many people on my team do not, so I only have my personal box like this.
In any case, back onto the point I was trying to talk about, the hammer placement.
The farther back the hammer has to be pushed to engage the cocking mechanism (in this case something like 2.5 inches), the farther the hammer is from the ball when placed into the hole. The problem comes when a dog has a fast, snappy box turn, but has to hang on the box waiting for the pedal to release the cocking mechanism (which happens very quickly) then for the hammer to travel to the ball (which takes varying amounts of time depending on the dead space between the hammer and the ball), then for the ball to be projected out of the box.
The dead space between the hammer and the ball is really the biggest delay in this sequence, and the one that is least common for people to notice.
Problems associated with this delay time are numerous, including: "double hitting" which is where the dog hits the box with two, three, or all four feet twice, rather than once, in the course of a single box hit (for a better explination, including photos, visit Prop-a-ganda); poor head placement, where the dog has completed the box turn, but turns their head back toward the box to grab the late-releasing ball, causing their body and neck to contort; hang time on the box, where the dog hits properly, but appears to simply hang in place, which slows the dog down, encourages three footed turns, and can lead to the first mentioned problem of double hitting.
Hole size is something else that many teams probably never even think about. Most people just go with whatever their box came with (myself included, up to now). Generally, the ball hole is just a tad bit smaller than the widest point of a tennis ball, allowing for a normal sized tennis ball to easily be placed in the hole, or for a small tennis ball to be plopped into the hole as well. (A small tennis ball sitting loosely in the hole like this will be unpredictable when hit by the hammer, going in pretty much any random direction, making it much harder for the dog to get a smooth, consistent turn that includes catching the ball.)
A more reliable method, combined with the changing of hammer placement, is to have the ball hole cut much smaller. Rather than the size of a tennis ball at its largest point, have it a size so only 1/3 of the ball (or even only 1/4) can fit in the hole. This does mean the box loader will have to twist the ball into the hole to get it to stay. Using a double layer of padding on the box face, with the padding cut slightly smaller than the smallest ball the team uses, will help. The padding will then firmly hold any size ball (with a little quarter turn twist to secure it) in exactly the same place every time the dog hits the box, allowing for more consistent turns.
By moving the ball holes out, making them smaller with tighter, thicker padding, and by reducing the dead space between the hammer and the ball, I believe we can greatly improve the safety and consistency on the box of all of our team dogs.
And for fun, a dog roasting a hot dog
(This is my friend's dog Linex, who has since crossed the rainbow bridge)
And of course, please visit the hosts of our Saturday Pet Blog Hop, and as many of the other links as you can. I normally visit some on Saturday, then do additional visits throughout the next week as I have free time.