Sheryl's Alaskan Malamutes - Cinnabar - Agility - Next Level
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Cinnabar - Agility - Next Level
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Cinnabar - Alaskan Malamute
photo by Ray Baycar - MeadowQuest Flat-Coats

Spring / Summer 2007 - Agility Classes
Cinnabar and I began taking classes at Orchard Hills Training Center with Beverly Melcher.

Our first set of 6 classes concentrating on Bev's way of training. For some of it, it's a relearn for me. It's also baby steps, we're not in a hurry.

Cinnabar's progress is excellent. If I'm doing things right, he's doing things right :)

May 7, 2007
We started at the very basics, focus. Her philosophy is very different. We don't direct behavior, we reward their attention. We worked on touch to our hand and treated everytime they touched. We worked on a square board that had a ball attached underneath and rewarded when they looked at it, touched it, stood on it and when they had all fours on it and moved around on it (Cinnabar was great at this - helps to be food motivated). The board helps them work on their balance. We then used a cone, rewarded when they nose touched it. Then with a small tire jump set up at ground level. We rewarded anytime their head came near it or through it. She emphasized that we couldn't pull them through with the treat, they've got to learn to make decisions and we reward decisions. She also called it "marking behavior". I told her I had alot of habits to break and she said don't worry, everyone does.

May 14, 2007
we worked on 3 things.

1) Six 6" high hurdles close together. This is a higher up variation of working on the ladder to get them to coordinate and think about their back legs. No jumping, they've got to use their back legs independently. Initially I had to keep Cinnabar to a slow pace to accomplish this, he was trying to anticipate. But, he got it and we were able to speed up.

2) Four regular hurdles in a row - alternating between 1 foot and 1 1/2 feet. They had to be in a sit/stay at one end and we had to call them. The hurdles were close enough together that they needed to jump again right after landing. Cinnabar didn't run around any, he came right through. His first few trips he was knocking different bars off. Bev told me not to bend down when I called him (keep his head higher by looking up at me), and to back up another 10 feet. That worked and was the end of knocking off bars.

3) See-saw - she put a 2 foot table under the high end and a 1 foot table under the low end. It still teetered a couple of inches. They had to jump on the 2 foot table and then walk down to the other end, turn around and walk back up. Over and over. If they jumped off, it was ok, just start again. Then, they had to jump onto the see-saw at the low end near the middle. The thing is only 8" wide, I believe, so it's a challenge. Cinnabar did it once and made gallant efforts after that. We want to get them to the point where they'll turn around on it, in the middle, dealing with keeping their balance while it's teetering.

Bev had one of her GSDs, who is also just learning, with her. In between the hurdles and see-saw, the 3 of them had an off leash free for all to burn off some extra energy. Cinnabar of course had no prayer of catching her GSD in a straight chase, but did well anticipating her moves and catching her. The other GSD in class is an unusual one, in that obedience is not her forte. She's a sweet girl, but not obedience minded at all. I like that Bev works with just one of us at a time and then the other gets their turn in the spotlight.

May 21, 2007
we had a one-on-one for training

We worked on hurdles - 6 hurdles in a row, alternating between 6 inches and 18 inches, with enough space for him to land and then jump again. Cinnabar held at one end, me calling him from the other end. We want to get him used to adjusting to the different heights and gathering himself for each. We did this about 20 times, getting him to get 2 clean runs in a row. This is something I can work on at home with the jumps that I have.

Then we worked on the see-saw. Starting out with a table under each end so that it banged only slightly (about 6 inches). We worked on getting him to get across as quickly as possible, no pause at the middle where it's balance shifts. Bev held him & I called him. Then we removed the tables and did the same thing. He loves the teeter so no problems with him going over. Then we did it with me running next to him, several times & then several more times with me switching sides. He made some good improvement in how quickly he goes over, and his slight pause in the middle is getting slighter!

June 4, 2007
We had one-on-one training again

First we worked on the see-saw

1) We jacked up the down end of the board so that the other end was about 4 inches off the ground. Then had to get him to jump onto it almost midway up and balance there before coming down. We worked on a bench first to get him used to jumping onto something narrow, all four feet on the bench, then moved to the see-saw. He did fine with this after the bench practice.

2) Then doing the see-saw in the normal position, getting him to go over it as quickly as possible but coming to a stop at the end of it. He's coming off of the see-saw sloppy so we need to get him to stop at the end and wait for the ok to proceed. I've got to practice with a target with him to get him to stop. Will have to pick up a board and have it on the deck steps to simulate what we're doing, and use a lid as the target.

Then we worked on jumps, but just one jump doing a figure 8 with the jump.

With him on my left signaling with my left hand for him to go over and come around to the right, then treat with right hand, switch signaling to my right hand, have him go over and come around to the left, then treat with left hand, switch signaling to my left hand. And me being far enough away from the jump to give him room, and telling him "jump" as he's coming around the side. I kept messing him up. I was too close, told him jump late, signalling with the wrong hand, oops I got it right but I'm not treating him at all. We put him in the crate and then "I was the dog" and she took me through it, and then "she was the dog" for me to take her through it and then we brought Cinnabar out and I did better. It sounds easy when I write it, but I'm the one who needs practice with this so that I've got my head around where/what/when for me so that I'm a help and not a hindrance to him. We did this both with his short leash on and with it off.

Cinnabar gets an A for the night, I get a C

June 21, 2007
We worked on:

jumping on the middle of the teeter-totter - he's doing great

figure 8's around one jump - both he AND I are doing great - I did more practicing in the last 2 weeks alone, than I did with Cinnabar & it showed

weave poles - just with 2 of them, so it's like a gateway. Reward him whenever he goes through, standing right near the end of the poles. When he got it, so that he was going back and forth fairly consistently, I moved further away from the poles. He did very nicely on that. Now we practice at home, I move further away, and change my position, eventually making a half moon around one end of the poles.

June 25, 2007
our final class in this round of 6 classes - we start again mid-July for the next round of 6

We started out one-on-one

Hurdle / teeter / hurdle / table

The hurdle after the teeter was way to the right of the teeter, so we had to work on my body positioning and specifically where my shoulders are pointing when he finished the teeter. We've never done the table before, but it wasn't an issue for my little champ. He jumped right up on it and did a sit/stay.

After a few runs with that, with me getting it right then we went table / hurdle / table - essentially doing 1/2 a figure eight with the hurdle, so that when he finished he swung around to his right doing a 180, in between me and the hurdle heading back to the table. I needed to call out table quicker, Bev said, and she was right. The difference in his speed to it was great. He wasn't hesitating, looking at me wondering what was next.

Then we did table / hurdle / hurdle / tunnel and then flipped the order, starting with the tunnel. The trick there was keeping him in a sit/stay in front of the tunnel and not barreling through the thing just because it's so much fun.

Then she invited us to join the 6pm class, to get integrated with them because we'll be joining them in July. Coolness!

There's a spaniel, a border collie, a "flat coat", and another dog whose breed I don't yet know. I was concerned they'd be quite a bit ahead of us (I think they are with some equipment - I've seen them practicing on the A frame and regulation dog walk), but that class started out with the hurdle / teeter / hurdle / table, just as we'd done before. We held our own. A couple of the dogs were coming off the teeter sloppy and had to work on that, with the down end of the teeter jacked up, they jumped up on it and then came down slowly. They also had to work on body positioning, so I felt good they weren't light years ahead of us.

Then we did a serpentine run. Hurdle / 180 to the right / hurdle / 180 to the left / tunnel / 90 to the left / hurdle / snaked tunnel

I needed to be more forceful with my shoulders from the first hurdle to the second, and not let him get behind me coming out of the first tunnel. Then he did it perfectly. He is so focused, I am really proud of him. If I get it right, he gets it right.

July 16, 2007
we started this next set of 6 classes for Cinnabar. There were just 4 of us in class. We worked on serpentine like courses where the angles of the obstacles are in no way symetrical. We worked on our positioning.

Gotta love Cinnabar, if I'm doing it right, he's doing it right.

Below is a little graphic of our 2 courses - the blue represents one run, the red the other run

Ray Baycar from MeadowQuest Flat-coats took photos this evening. Thank you, thank you Ray!!

Cinnabar - Alaskan Malamute

Cinnabar - Alaskan Malamute

July 23, 2007
Class had 3 of us, Trig (Border Collie), Xena (GSD) and Cinnabar. We did have a visitor, Chantal brought Deuce (Portugese Water Dog) to see if the commute & training were for them. Deuce was in 2 of Cinnabar's previous classes & one of Sebastian's. Looks like we won't be in class together, as Bev is going to take them through what Cinnabar & I did in our first 6 classes with her. Hopefully we'll be in the next set with them.

Bev talked about Mary Ellen Barry Camp ( and some of the stuff they went through. Some was over my head because we're not yet as deeply into agility as the others. She talked about the difference between 2 on 2 off on contacts and running contacts. She also talked about target training and not getting your hands in near the dog to treat them, but throwing their treat near them when they touch the target. The goal being keeping the dog's head at the target and not then looking up to you for the treat. She also had a target that beeps when the dog touches it, it's useful on the dog walk & A Frame. She's going to work with it more before integrating it into her training.

Then we did our run. We did a portion of a Masters run that had been setup for last weekend's competition.

We worked on where our shoulders were facing when we're guiding the dog. The trick was to get them from the 2nd hurdle to the 3rd hurdle without wanting to run into the ever inviting tunnel. Then the trick was to get them to swing around the wing, with us twisting to signal with our right arm (where everything else had been left arm) to head them to the tunnel (which was snaked under the a frame).

Cinnabar was perfect on all his runs. Since we've never done the A Frame, he didn't have the urge to try to run up it instead of entering the tunnel like the other two did.

August 6, 2007
Class last night had 4 of us, Trig (border collie), Meggie (spanial), Kayla (flat coat) & Cinnabar. We worked in the indoor ring and away from the hordes of gnats brought on by the humidity.

We worked on jumping & our positioning to make it successful:

The first course in the blue numbers was a challenge for all of us between 5 and 6 - a 270 degree turn. When we made the turn we either brought our hands in, or our bodies were too far to the center and the dogs came to us and didn't do the #6 jump. Lots of work on that to keep their momentum going, have us positioned properly (both body and signalling hand) and have them actually do the #6 jump.

The second course in red numbers had the tricky part between 5 and 6. This time though they were jumping out of the square and had to be brought back in to make the jump from within the square. I got my positioning ok for him to do the jump, but I was too close to him and he kept knocking the bar over. More work on that to get it right.

The jumps were set at 16", except for Kayla who paid more attention at 24" and did much better. We'll see next time if Cinnabar does ok at 20", we've got to get him used to the higher jumps.

He's such a good boy and did everything I asked of him.

August 13, 2007
Class last night had 4 of us, Trig (border collie), Meggie (spanial), Kayla (flat coat) & Cinnabar. We worked in the outdoor ring, no humidity it was wonderful.

We worked on back crosses - crossing behind our dog so we were in position for the next set of obstacles.

In the blue numbered course, we started on our dog's left and as they hurdled number 3 we crossed behind them calling tunnel at the same time. We were then on their right for #5 and crossed behind them as they hurdled #6 calling tunnel. The trick is making sure they're already jumping before you cross, or they stop and run with you. We must also make sure we call tunnel before they land or they run to us and not the obstacle if our timing is off. Cinnabar and I did ok on this. It didn't always look pretty, on #6 he always headed to his right, spun around and did the tunnel.

None of us made it through the red course. Kayla went first and sort of got from 1 to 2, but then started goofing off. Cinnabar was next. We had to start on their left, have them hurdle, back cross and get them to us for #2. Cinnabar always turned to the left, and then came back to me. I knew I wasn't doing something right, so Bev took him, but he did the same with her. Kayla had also turned left at #1.

We gave up the course and started working on "out" - the command for the dog turning away from you (you can either use "out" or "away" as the command). We put them in a sit on our left, started walking them, used our right hand with a treat to get them to turn around away from us (while we're also turning) ending in a sit on our right. Then the same from the right side. Cinnabar did just ok starting on my left, and not good starting on my right. Trig was the same, better on one side than the other. That's our homework for the week.

We didn't want to end on a downer, so we did the green course. The only trick being the first 3 hurdles, the way they're lined up.

I had seen some of the more advanced a few weeks ago working and calling "out", so now we're going to work on it. Of course when they did it, it was smooth as glass :)

August 20, 2007
Five in class - Kayla (flatcoat), Maggie (spaniel), Trig (border collie), Xena (GSD) and Cinnabar

We were indoors last night because of the rain, and it was chilly. Sweatshirts needed. The rally class and the obedience class were also indoors, so it was a bit noisy.

Cinnabar was all wound up looking at the sheep in the pen through the side rollup. Really had to work on keeping his focus on me during warm up and to a lesser extent during class.

First we worked on weaves. Running straight through the channel weaves set about 6 inches apart and then on regular weaves. Cinnabar kept trying to weave the channel weaves, so I left his leash on and then we ran right through them. On the regular weaves, once he settled down (of course we worked on the set nearest the view of the sheep) he did alright. I should've used a different set of weaves away from that view :) I've always used the command 'weave', Bev wants me to use "through". Every 2nd pole where they were headed away from us we through a treat down to keep them moving out. I'm very pleased with his progress on the weaves.

Then we did contact obstacle / tunnel. Cinnabar hadn't yet done the dog walk at that height (it was set at 3 feet high), and had never done the A Frame. He did the dog walk without issue, I was really proud of him. First with the leash on and then with the leash off. Bev and I worked with him on the A Frame, he wasn't thrilled, but we got him over it at regulation. She lowered it by 12 chain links, and he started struggling less and enjoying it more. Once we started doing the runs, he went over it leash free. Wow!! I was really pleased. There was a tunnel weaving under it and that was very inviting, more often than not in practice he'd finish the A Frame and head into that tunnel.

Our first run was tunnel / teeter / tunnel / A Frame . We each did that 3 times

Our second run was tunnel / dog walk / tunnel / A Frame / tunnel / teeter. We each did that about 4 times.

A couple of us, including Cinnabar are bouncing off the teeter and we need to work on them stopping at the bottom and then releasing when we tell them. He wasn't missing the contact zone, but he was sloppy off the bottom. I've got to work on me stopping my forward motion as soon as it tilts its motion to help him stop at the bottom of it. That's our homework, and she also asked me to come back tonight to work with another class that is working exclusively on the teeter. Others had issues missing the contact zone on the A Frame (especially Trig - the warp speed border collie) and to a lesser extent on the dog walk. We all had contact zone issues of some type, so that's something we each have to work on.

For me, though, the big news is that he did the "big boy" dog walk and the A Frame. Woo hoo!!

August 27, 2007
Four of us in class, Kayla, Trig, Maggie and Cinnabar.

We started out just individual practice. Cinnabar touch at the end of a contact obstacle. He's making progress, but only 25% of the time does he keep both back feet on the obstacle, another 25% is only 1 foot and the other 50% he silides both feet off to one side.

He wouldn't do the outdoor dog walk. I got him 3/4 of the way up. It's metal and he's not crazy about it. We ran indoors and did the indoor dog walk (made of wood) no problem, then had him do the teeter and A Frame inside - no problem. Back outside, and only 3/4 of the way up on the metal dog walk. Then worked to get him over the outdoor A Frame set at regulation height. With Bev & I we got him over. She lowered it and over he went again and again.

The blue course was our first course. She had us each pick our own way of doing it for the first run. I started out on Cinnabar's left and he did it fine. The trick is them coming out of the tunnel with the table behind them. Most did it the way I did, Kayla's mom went behind the tunnel on the right. Bev said we should start out on their right, when they're in the tunnel halfway through call their name so as they emerge they're facing towards the table. He did well on this, especially going over the A Frame leash free. We did that course 3 times each.

The red course was tricky in our body positioning so that we could get them toward us and then over each jump. Cinnabar did his first run perfectly. We had troubles after that getting him over the last jump. The barrier had been left open and he ran straight out of the ring towards his water one time, the next time he ran in between the fence rails towards his water. Although, one run he did do the last jump, after he brought down the tire jump before it. When he brought it down I called him to me and then over the next jump. I didn't make a big deal of the tire jump for him so that he wouldn't be scared of it. He went through it again without issue. We did alot in the hour and they were all getting tired.

He did well, I'm disappointed he wouldn't do the metal dog walk, but I must have patience.

Next week starts our next set of 6 classes, and Sebastian starts his first set of 6 with Bev. We'll work with her 1/2 hour before Cinnabar's class starts with the others. Should be interesting. I don't know if he'll ever do contact obstacles, but we'll see.

3 1/2 month old Cinnabar - down/stay
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