Thursday, March 3, 2011

Another Stuart update: Contacts and Control

We were fortunate enough to have a follow-up lesson with Stuart a few weeks ago.  It has certainly given us a lot to work on and think about.

The first item of discussion was contacts.  With Lexi, the discussion went on for quite some time.  Stuart believed that we should put her on a running contact...but we eventually agreed with our timeline it might be hard to devote enough time to them.  In the beginning access to equipment every day is essential--and since we're moving soon (and don't have contact equipment of our own), it was too risky.  So we're sticking with 2o2o.  Stuart was pleased with the improvement in speed that Lexi has made.  It's something that we need to continue to work on.

For Bentley, we showed Stuart what Bentley's reaction to the jump at the end of the dogwalk had turned into (jumping off the side to not have to alter his gait).  We decided that Bentley was over-thinking this, so we wanted to try something different.  Stuart brought out this board...about 4 feet long, the same width as the dogwalk (really thin like plywood).  It was painted yellow with sand for grip.  We placed in at the very end of the dogwalk, like it was an extension.  First, we put Bentley halfway up the downside a couple times and had him drive to a target plate about 1' beyond the board.  Looking good (but he wasn't running because he couldn't build speed at that short of a distance).  Then we ran the whole thing...and he hit the middle of the contact every time!  We slowly removed the first target plate and placed it beyond a jump that was beyond the board.  His stride completely evened out, and he was only shortening up a little (as opposed to what he was doing before).  It was a thing of beauty!  We also could call out "steady" as Bentley came across the straight portion to remind him to focus on the bottom.

Our homework was to work Bentley's contacts about 3 times a week (any more is too much).  Also, we should very rarely do just the dogwalk.  Instead, we should use what Stuart calls "interval training" to include the dogwalk.  A sequence might look like this:

1.  Dogwalk
2.  Tunnel, dogwalk, jump
3.  Jump, jump, dogwalk, jump
4.  Etc...

After 2-3 days with the board completely out, we would tuck the board slightly under the dogwalk (shortening it) until it was completely under the obstacle.  Obviously we have a lot of work to do (we attempted one dogwalk at our most recent trial and it was bad)...but we are only at the point where the board is tucked in about 1', so he has 3' to go.  I don't know if this is the answer, but I feel really comfortable with the fact that this isn't really a trained response, it was Bentley's natural inclination to stride through the yellow through the board.

Here is an example (please note that I have more video with this training method, but I felt it was respectful to Stuart to keep it private.  Feel free to send me a message or leave a comment and I will share the link with you):

The other thing that we worked on with Lexi is her self-control.  She has a tendency to just throw herself over jumps and equipment to just get it done. But, she needs to learn to soften up and be more controlled in her approach.  So we practice with just one jump and a jump box.  I would tell her "shh" and if she still threw herself at the jump, I would call her out on it "Wrong!"and we would try again.  It's hard to explain without seeing it!