Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Starting a flyball dog- Jump drills, motivation, direction

You've decided to start flyball training with your dog. Your dog is motivated by food or toys and you are willing to dedicate some time and effort to the training process. But where do you begin?


Find the toy or treat your dog is excited about and willing to work for. I prefer using a long (4+ feet long) tug toy, and will put effort into getting a dog to play with a tug. Other people successfully run their dogs for various toys (stuffed, tugs, treat-baited, even laser pointers) or treats. I just find a tug to be easier for me and an effective motivator for my dogs (though Pallo took 2 months to become the crazy tugging maniac he is today).

Jumps (2 person, 1 dog drill):

When a new dog comes to our class, they start out with back-chaining over jumps. Four jumps are used in flyball, and back-chaining just means that we teach them the jumps one at a time. Starting close up over jump 8 (jumps are numbered in the order the dog crosses them, 1-4 on the way to the box, then 5-8 on the way back to the handler, so jump number indicates both which jump and which direction the dog is moving), the dog is held by one person close to the jump while the handler stands or crouches on the other side of the jump with food or a toy held out over the jump to the dog. Most dogs will easily go over the jump to their handler, where they are then rewarded. (We don't recommend using a sit-stay to keep the dog behind the jumps until the handler can get to the end of the course, then releasing the dog from the stay. Part of this drill is to build speed, desire, and drive, which is best built when the dog is restrained, allowing them to pull against the person holding them.)

Both dog and handler move back in increments to give the dog more options. It can go around the jump, but is encouraged and rewarded for going over the jump. This is the method we use to teach all four jumps, backing up a little bit if the dog shows a desire to run around the jumps and slowly adding another jump in, then backing up to 15 feet from jump 5. The dog can then complete what we refer to as a run-away (other teams will sometimes have other names for this). Basically, a run-away is the dog being held with its back feet on or just in front of the flyball box, then recalling quickly over four jumps to the handler.

Once the dog is doing a run-away, the handler begins to change their position to running away from the dog, with the toy/reward held out in the LEFT hand, veering to the RIGHT side of the run back area. This is important for when other dogs are added in later. It will help your dog run on the right side of the lane (which reduces the risk of a collision over a jump if another dog ends up loose on the course) and keeps the handler out of the way of other running dog/handler teams.

ETA: As Patty pointed out in a comment below, some people like to use gates to keep the dogs in line when first teaching them the jumps. We've never really found this to be needed on our team dogs, though we have one older dog who began with a different club who we do fence in because of a long-term habit of skipping out on the jumps.

Once dog and handler have run-aways solidly down, you can add in variations by changing the spacing of the jumps (in a course, jumps are spaced 10 feet apart), changing jump height (you can keep them all the same or vary the height of them), knock the jumps over, etc. This will help your dog stay safe on a course even if a jump has been knocked out of place or knocked over during a race. In an active race, if the dog continues to clear jumps as if they are still upright, the run is clean even if the jump is out of place or knocked over.

Another variation is instead of holding the dog at the box, directly in line with the jumps, you can move the dog off to the side, a little at first, then more as they are solid. This helps teach a dog to still come back over the jumps even after a ball bobble at the box sends the dog far off to the side (I can proudly say, this is something Koira excels at, even when really far over, she will still come back over the jumps).

Other Jump Drills (1-2 person, 1 dog drill):

You can also practice other jumping drills with your dog to improve respect of the jumps (important to teach dogs to not run into or smack their feet into the jumps, preventing both injury to the dogs and damage to the equipment), improve athleticism, get the dog thinking about what it is doing, and overall conditioning. We don't run this in class, but I practice them at home and find them to be a helpful additional training drill.

Two drills borrowed from agility training are four-squares and pinwheels. Both work in a similar way, with the jumps close together and the handler near by. It is useful to have an additional person to assist, but can be done with a sit-stay, unlike the run-away jump drill above.

For four-square, set up four jumps as the four sides of a square. Start by having the dog on one side of the square, sitting just in front of the jump, with the handler on the far side of the square. (Starting from a sitting position helps build rear-end muscles for more powerful jumping.) Call the dog, and reward when the dog pops over both jumps. More complicated routines with the four-square add in a turn, with the dog on the outside of the handler, then the handler will toss the toy/reward across the other two jumps of the square, encouraging the dog to complete those as well.

Pinwheel is set up with the ends of the jumps in the middle, with each of four jumps spreading out like rays. Start sitting, as in the four-square drill, and encourage the dog to jump over each jump in turn.

Another jumping drill is power-jumping. Basically, you set up jumps, in a number in excess of 4, then do restrained recalls over those jumps. Eight or more jumps can sometimes be used, helping build endurance and drive. Just be careful not to overdo it, as this is a lot of work for your dog! Then again, it is a lot of work for the handler too, as you should always be running away during restrained recalls.

Direction (2 people, 1 dog):

The other thing we always do at the first class is try to determine which direction the dog turns. Like people are right or left handed or footed, dogs turn easier either to their left or their right (as many people involved in agility or herding probably already know about their dogs). Some dogs show a strong preference one way or the other, while other dogs seem to have little to no preference. Make sure when trying this that you are not in a location with lots of distractions, as it may effect the outcome.

The way we test for this is pretty simple, but requires two people. The handler holds the dog. The other person walks straight out in front of the dog about 20 feet away, places a ball on the ground (or a toy, or a treat if the dog will not pick up a ball yet), stands stationary on the other side of the ball from the dog. The handler releases the dog to get the ball, and takes note of which direction the dog turns to return- left or right (the dog's left or right, always). Repeat 3 times. Take note of which direction the dog turns more often. This is the direction the dog turns, and will be important when you start box training.

One last thing:

Though not essential, it can be easier to train some things if your dog has a touch-stick trained behavior. This means that your dog will touch the marked end of a stick on command, including following the moving stick, jumping, etc to reach that marked target on the end. Try to refrain from using a ball on the end of a stick, and even if you have the hand-touch behavior, try transferring that behavior to a touch-stick. I taught this behavior with a clicker, but you don't need to. In fact, you don't need this behavior at all, I just find it makes training easier.

Pallo, jumping up to "touch" (note the black part at the end of the stick)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What makes a flyball dog?

Due to a comment on my blog post yesterday by Catalina, from Just A Pup, I decided I should probably do a post about flyball. Not just flyball training with my dogs, but the basics, the beginning, and what it really takes. The blogging world missed out on the early training with both of my dogs, and I only started blogging after both of them were well into their training, Pallo competing, Koira dealing with a number of training issues.

So first off, what makes a flyball dog? Depends on who you ask. My response is: Any dog who is motivated by food, toys, or a drive to please you can learn to be successful at flyball. Dogs must be physically able to run and jump, and preferably be at a low, healthy weight with healthy joints. They should ideally be non-aggressive toward other dogs or humans, though levels of aggression can, of course, be worked on with the proper trainer. A super-successful, competitive flyball dog on a world-record-setting team has a lot of other requirements, but lets face it, that't not the goal most of us have. We just want to get out and have some fun with our dogs. I'm going to write this as geared to those people who currently have a dog and are interested in learning this sport with them.

I did pick out Pallo specifically for flyball. I wanted a height dog who would be competitive. When going to meet him, I brought along Koira, some toys, and treats. I spent some time with Pallo visiting him, testing his interest in toys (super high), his willingness to work for treats (really high) and his general behavior around people, dogs, and cats. I wanted a companion dog for Koira as well as a flyball dog, so it was important that Pallo fit in with her as well as me, and he did.

While Pallo was interested in the ball more than any other toy, he would drop the ball for a treat, and readily gave it up. He also, while very interested and motivated to retrieve, would NOT do a totally mindless scramble after any ball that went rolling. While sometimes amusing, ball obsession (not to be confused with toy/ball drive) can be a huge hurtle to overcome in flyball training. It can be overcome, but is certainly not ideal. Without proper training, the dog can end up dangerously in the other lane, in the way of other dogs, stealing balls from dogs potentially protective, tripping humans, driving straight through jumps or fences to get the ball, and generally creating havoc. In flyball, the ball is part of the game, but it is not the game. The ball IS NOT the game.

A dog who is properly motivated by toys, treats, and a desire to please is easy to train. Using the right methods, they will learn fast. You just have to make sure what they are learning is what you want them to learn. A handler with experience in training will have more success with training flyball, but any motivated handler who is willing to work will be able to train their flyball dog.

The end goal of a trained flyball dog is multifaceted. The dog will, when fully trained, be able to be released 20-50 feet from the start line of a course, pass an outcoming dog closely at full speed, complete all four jumps quickly, execute a proper box turn, catch the ball from the box, return over all four jumps, bring the ball across the finish line, passing an incoming dog going full speed, and return to their handler. In essence, a trained flyball dog has 5 main skills that are trained, which altogether create a successful flyball dog: Run away from the handler 100+ feet at full speed; Pass another dog while both are running full speed without turning, slowing, snapping, or showing interest in the other dog; Jump four hurdles; Execute a proper, fast, safe box turn, including catching the ball when fired; Return to the handler at full speed, allowing themselves to be caught.

Many people have many training tips. Different techniques are used for training each step and each behavior used in flyball. I have used a number of them, seen others, heard about more, and undoubtedly have never even thought of any number of additional training methods. Each dog will need individual work, and may learn better with one method than another. In the end, a flyball dog has a willingness to please and work with their handler, allowing them to both succeed.

Since Catalina, who asked the question prompting this post (which will be one of a series of ongoing flyball training posts, hopefully) owns a Tibetan Terrier herself, I thought it would be appropriate to share some pictures of Pippin, a Tibetan I trained in flyball until he developed cancer.

He was a fun dog to work with. He had some dog aggression issues that we had to work through, but was food and toy motivated, and he loved nothing better than strutting around, pleased with himself, being told how awesome he was. (While I use past tense, I refer only to his flyball training, as he is still alive and kicking despite dire predictions when he was diagnosed.)
Pippin never made it to competitions but he loved the training we did together. I have also worked with a number of other Tibetans on flyball training, including Pippin's daughter Dharma (an active agility competitor), Fannie (Dharma's half sister), Guilty (Fannie's pup), and Sargas (Guilty's sire), as well as sisters Kizzie and Lexi. Each one had their own favorite parts of training, places where they excelled, and things they needed extra work on. I am hoping to be able to work with some of them in the future again to the point of being able to compete with them. Breed standings in NAFA flyball don't include many Tibetans, and the top dog in the breed is retired. But I guess if I don't get these guys up and running fast, Tibby might just get there first!

A few more things:

THANK YOU to every one of my 100 followers! It's an awesome mark to get to, and I am coming up with a giveaway soon to reward all of you readers, so stay tuned!

Also, on the 7 links from my own blog posting challenge, I am supposed to pass on the challenge, and haven't yet. So, here goes. I am passing this challenge on to:


Gardening with Wyatt


The Court of Tails

Just A Pup

Looking forward to seeing the posts you guys pick!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Enjoying some sprinklers!

Some of you may remember me mentioning a few weeks ago that Koira, while enthusiastic about ponds, pools, and rivers, dislikes hoses and sprinklers. That used to be true.

Early this week, I stopped by the park with the dogs in the late afternoon. We walked for a bit, I picked and ate some ripe blackberries off the vine, and then we ran into an old friend of ours, Lakshmi. Lakshmi is a super friendly mixed breed female dog. We normally see her in the winter, when the playing fields are a large off leash area. This time, however, Lakshmi was playing not with other dogs but with the large sprinklers watering the soccer fields.

I wandered over with Koira in the hopes that Lakshmi could teach her how much fun sprinklers are. It was really hot out, the dogs needed to cool down, and I didn't feel like walking halfway across the park to get down to the river, where the dogs would end up not just wet but sandy and muddy as well.

Koira watched Lakshmi for a while, frogged out in the grass panting. After a while, I got up and wandered closer, encouraging Koira to come along. She was obviously interested in this strange game. Hesitant at first whenever the water hit her, Koira watched her friend playing and gingerly tried it out herself.

By the time we left the park, Koira was confidently playing in the sprinklers alongside Lakshmi.

She enjoyed it so much, I returned there last night when our flyball class was canceled due to the heat. Lakshmi's owner had let me know the sprinklers came on at 7:30 every night. (Which brings me to an apology for the amount of noise in this pictures, due to the low lighting of shooting in the evening. But they were cute despite the low quality, so I had to share anyway.)

Koira sized up her opponent.

. Then, with a little encouragement, she went to town on it!

Pallo was a bit less than thrilled at the sprinklers though.

Koira did a full frontal attack, taking a shot in the mouth.

The spray was hard, but she was determined.


A brief break, to reassess the situation and take a fast breather.

Then another attack!

This sideways-bite seemed the most effective for preventing water from getting up her nose.

Pallo watched from the background, baffled at this strange obsession.

The spray of water was mocking her, so she mocked it right back

So she pulled out her pearly whites and showed it some business!

Koira ended up totally soaked and tired by the time we headed back to the car. It was a great way to cool down from a super hot week, and she had a blast. Poor Pallo was a little offended at this very unexciting trip to the park, however.

I love how dogs learn from each other. A week ago, Koira would have gone no where near the sprinklers, and in fact would have avoided them at all costs. But just sitting and watching another dog playing and finding them fun, and now she has a new favorite game. Maybe Pallo will learn it from her?

Now its time for a blog hop!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Kitty cats

I spent the weekend out at my mom's house for the yearly summer festival that takes place right next door. The weather was amazing, hot and clear (maybe a little too hot?).

While I was out there, I saw Sassy lounging in the sun on the back deck. I snuck up to get some pictures of her sleeping.

She saw me coming and got up to greet me and beg for pets.

She may be 19 years old, but she certainly still has her hearing and sight, and the energy to demand pets, now.

Sassy was my cat, way back when, given to me as a kitten. When I moved out, we decided she would stay with my mom, since she had lived there her whole life.
She's still going strong. Kind of mental sometimes, with random yelling in the middle of the night. But going strong.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Seven Posts

Greyhounds CAN Sit passed on a blog challenge to me earlier this week. I have finally run out of pictures from the disc dog competition last weekend, so am rounding up my seven posts to fulfill this challenge.

My most beautiful post:
This is the category I had the most trouble deciding on. Part of it was the relative difficulty of going through my archives, remembering what I posted under what titles, etc. Part of it was just trying to decide what to base the decision on.

I finally settled on this post from last Christmas. I got a lot of really good pictures of my dogs, for what seemed like the first time. I was just getting used to editing pictures, and over-sharpened some of them, which I regret, but overall I love the pictures from that Christmas, and they are some of my all time favorites of my dogs.
The post that came in at a close second was this one, about candy making in a rain storm. (That's a bad idea, by the way.) The pictures of the candy came out really well. They still make me hungry to look at right now. In fact, looking at them is making me already plan for a candy making party this fall, hopefully NOT in a rainstorm this time!

My most popular post:

I think my most popular post, based on the number of comments, is the Wordless Wednesday: Puppies post.

A lot of people asked questions about the pups, and thought they were super adorable (which they were even more so in person). For those that didn't see the update afterwards, they were Tibetan Terrier puppies belonging to a friend of mine. The one pictured with the bottle was getting a little extra to supplement what Mom produced, as he wasn't gaining weight as quickly as his siblings. All the puppies are doing great, and just turned a year old this month!

My most controversial post:
I think my most controversial post was either the post about stretching, which many people had opinions about, many of which differed, or else the Flyball Training: Not so simple post. I received a good number of responses on both of them, with people's differing opinions. I enjoyed writing both of these posts, and enjoyed the comments on both of them. Controversial though they may have been, everyone was nice to each other in the comments. This to me is what a controversial post should be, that is, an opportunity for people to share their views, opinions, and experience in a way that will be safe and respectful. Thank you everyone who commented on either of these posts!

My most helpful post:
Flyball boxes are a bit of a mystery to many people. A lot of people are familiar only through videos with the old throw-arm style boxes, or the style used in years past at the Crufts flyball event. The boxes we use in NAFA are much different, and knowing a little bit about the box being used is helpful not only to those people participating in flyball, but also to those thinking about getting involved. Proper box mechanics are part of what makes this a safe sport for your dog to participate in. Because of this, I think my Flyball Boxes post is one of the most helpful on my blog.

A post whose success surprised me:
I think it would be this one. I hadn't had a chance to go to flyball practice in a while. My dogs were wound up. I'd been reading way too many relatively depressing homesteading books, which also focus strongly on the the-world-is-falling-apart-and-about-to-end aspect of things. A lot of people commented on flyball, on the world-is-not-ending front, and on the question I asked (are my dogs too skinny?). It was really nice to go online to check out the blog and any comments and see how many people actually care about the mishmash that I posted that day. Just one more thing to love about blogging: being able to connect with people who understand.

A post that didn't get the attention I felt it deserved: (Though I should say, I don't feel like my posts deserve or require attention, and am always pleased with any comments or pageviews on a post)

With no picture on this post, maybe I already have the answer for why it was not as popular as I was expecting. But still, I thought the title of What is stranger than a camel in a minivan would garner some attention. Then, with not only a camel in a minivan, but Koira being chased down and bit by a coyote while walking a very popular, paved bike/walking path, it seemed to me to be full of action and drama. Only three comments were posted, however (unless you want to count my own comment). Maybe I should learn my lesson and only post with pictures? Or not on Thursdays?

The post I'm most proud of:
Its more my baby girl Koira that I am proud of than the post, but I think that will have to count here. What A Wonderful Weekend is the post I put up after Koira returned to flyball competitions after a year and a half off for retraining, and returned with a bang. She earned her first two titles, and did a really good showing of herself. I couldn't be more proud of my little girl.
In fact, just yesterday I ran into the instructor we started flyball with, and when she asked how Koira was doing and I shared the news, she was so happy for us as well. Its great that Pallo does good in flyball, but Koira is my first dog, my heart dog, and to see her turn on and love this sport that I enjoy so much means the world to me. I am especially proud when, looking back over posts for this project, I found this post from just last winter, wondering if I should just drop Koira out of flyball, or if I should continue on with her. Boy am I glad I stuck it out, found what worked for her, and got a chance to see her turn it on.

I will decide which blogs to pass this onto soon, and let each of them know! Thank you Greyhounds CAN Sit for the opportunity to go through all my back posts, walking a bit through the past. I really enjoyed getting this post together.

Now, everybody go enjoy the weekend, and have fun with the blog hop!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not a lot of air

In the last of my Disc Dog competition series, I want to share some photos of dogs and handlers during Distance/Accuracy at the start line.

This little corgi was a lot of fun to watch, and actually did really well.

A lot of the dogs get going, then look back over their shoulder to make sure their handler is doing their part of the job right.

Some of the dogs were so fast though that once the disc was in the air, the dog was way past being in the frame for a picture.

I love this picture, celebrating after the end of their minute up for D/A. If you look closely, the border collie is giving dad some kisses.

Ilsa, the dog, is staring at her person, wanting her to get this show on the road.

Koira is a jumping maniac when I pull her disc out, and she was not happy that Pallo got to go first. Another handler took this on my camera when we went up, but no pictures of Pallo's runs.

A happy happy bouncy Aussie.

A lot of the handlers have their dog run either around them completely (which is what I do with Koira) or else around one or the other of their legs between each throw. The dog must be behind the line on the first throw of the session, and this is a good way to train your dog to return all the way with the disc.

Since there were a lot of newcomers that wanted to try out disc with their dogs, people were allowed to use whatever frisbee-like toy they wanted. Floppy discs aren't as easy to throw and don't go as far, but some dogs like them way better.

Here are Pallo and Koira's score cards from the event. Anyone want to guess which card belongs to which dog?

And last but anything but least, a couple cute pictures of Koira and Pallo in their crate waiting their turn to play.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A lot of air

If you thought the pictures posted on Saturday were fun, you will love these pictures of dogs getting some BIG air.

Every routine pictured here was set to music, but the best music of the day was this song:

Please feel free, if you wish, to play the song as you scroll down through the pictures.

 These pictures were taken during the Freestyle portion of the disc dog event. There were only 7 competitors in this event, compared to (I think) 16 in Distance/Accuracy.

Freestyle is a set routine that you make with your dog, much like Canine Freestyle (also known as doggie dancing), only with discs added in.

Routines are scored based on a number of factors.

The competitors all came together in a group to decide who they thought should win the freestyle event.

Some of the things factored in were how well received the routine was by the audience, the throw to catch ratio (accuracy), how well the routine flowed, and a number of other things.

Vaults (the dog launching off of some part of the handler's body) are not a requirement for freestyle, though it is a popular technique.

A lot of the handlers wear neoprene vests either over or under their shirt to keep from getting bruises shaped like dog paws all over themselves during vaults.

This dog/handler team was the most impressive at this competition. They were a big favorite of the crowd.

They set their routine to some really good, fast paced music. They moved dynamically with each other, staying engaged and exciting even when collecting the discs scattered around (they can use up to 5 discs in freestyle, unlike d/a which you can only use one disc for).

This dog is seriously athletic, and you can tell the handler works with her a lot to get to this point.

This move was impressive on both the handler and the dog side of it, with the handler doing a handstand/flip, throwing the disc with his feet, which the dog then caught with a really nice bounce in the air. Unfortunately my camera is too slow to catch both parts of the trick.

I mean, look at the BIG AIR in this picture. I almost didn't even have the dog in the frame anymore.

These routines were a ton of fun to watch, and gave me so many ideas. I really want to try freestyle with my dogs, but am not sure I will ever have the motivation to get to the point all of these people were at with their dogs competing. Flyball just takes up so much of my training and my dog-related thoughts I don't know if disc will be able to seriously compete for top billing.

Hope you enjoyed the BIG AIR shots from the weekend. There are still more disc dogging pictures to come later this week. Can't bog down the load times too much with tons of pictures all at once!

I will admit, the Mr. Fancy Pants song was so distracting during the actual competition that I have no memory of which dog it was played for (though I think it was for the Aussie). But, the music certainly stuck with me, and I remember thinking the duo was moving really nicely in line with the music.