In our last podcast, we discussed the subtle trap that a greater than expected distance poses to an experienced dog. We devised the following exercise to test whether or not our dogs were using an expected distance between obstacles to predict their path on course.
In our training group, we ran this exercise with 2 very experienced dogs and 2 very inexperienced dogs (barely 2 years old). Which dogs fell for the trap? Both experienced dogs (I even used a verbal/physical bypass cue that she ignored)! We think that over the course of years of training and trialing in AKC events, the veterans have developed a rhythm to agility that depends on the very consistent spacing between obstacles that led them astray on this sequence. Our young dogs, without this reinforcement history, ran the sequence perfectly. Watch Sarah (success) and Esteban (off course) run the sequence in the video below.
Will your dog fall for the trap? Make sure the tunnel exit is pointed directly at the right wing of the red jump and let us know!
I tried to avoid the off-course jump using threadle handling and was largely unsuccessful because I kept rotating my shoulders toward #2 too soon. (Also, if you rotate too late, you bring the dog to the wrong side of #2.) I ultimately managed to get my threadle timing correct, but it obviously my timing needs a lot more practice.
Running straight at #2 while calling my dog’s name and jabbing at the ground with my left hand made it very clear to both of dogs where we were going after the tunnel, plus it was easy to execute.
I found my more experienced dog had less of a problem with this exercise than my youngster, although she did have the benefit of me working out the handling with my younger dog.
Even with MP who is pretty experienced with Intl style courses, I would have to use the “with me” command and withhold the “back” command until we were well established on the correct line. There are a lot of variations of this trap. My favorite was a straight section with a spread jump at the end of the section and an arc of obstacles to the left and right afterwards. The left arc (correct path) had the 1st jump significantly further away than the next jump if you took the right arc. And yes a number of dogs went right even with the handler on the left of the spread jump and calling the dog etc. I never considered that the more experienced dogs were, in essence, trained to take the nearest jump in that circumstance. I will be even more careful with this setup now. Thanks!!