Running Aframe Training: Phases 7-11
Next, we will introduce the half-grid to your dog, to produce consistent “hit the target” striding needed for the downside of the aframe. Once comfortable with this new piece, we get to start layering in new challenges: obstacles & handling!
5/23/2021 NOTE: I have made changes to when/how I introduce the grid to the process. The images and text have been updated, but the video demos have not. Follow the instructions of the images/text and I will update the videos as they become available to me.
Phase 7: Half Grid
Before we add additional layers of understanding, like obstacles before/after and handling before/after, we’re going to introduce the half-grid. This mimics the down ramp of the aframe, so we are looking for a collected stride over the jump for large dogs or an extended stride for small dogs, all four feet touching the ground in between the jump and the mat/box, and then all four feet hitting in the mat/box before continuing on to the pre-placed reward. This half grid gets your dog into the same striding that they’ll need on the aframe.
I like to backchain the grid, so that the dog is most successful.
The last piece of the chain is cueing the pre-placed reward. I suspect your dogs won’t need this, since they’ve been working on this for 3 weeks already, but Skrik did need this piece, so if you find your dog not moving forward to the dish, try this out. Because of my position behind her and closer to the mat, she was not moving forward at first. I repeated this link of the chain until she was immediately moving forward to the dish without the spin.
Adding the Target: Start with your dog on the landing side of the jump and cue the target 2-3 times.
Then, set your dog in front of the jump & cue the box/mat. Every 1-2 successes (work both sides), you’ll move the dog back a foot at a time, until they’re approaching the half-grid with 9 feet leading up to the jump.
Your position should be even with the target each time and you should not be moving during this process. We want the dog to become comfortable with the spacing of the grid without having to filter out your movement and physical cues as well.
Use a pre-placed reward to help your dog to know to continue forward as you add more pieces to the grid.
Phase 8: Obstacles Before
The next layer we will be adding to your dog’s understanding of their target behavior is: obstacles before. Not only will this increase your dog’s speed on approach to the target, but it will also potentially change your dog’s striding on approach to the target. Our goal is that when your dog hears their aframe cue and sees their target, that they change into “hit the target” striding, and meet their criteria. The half-grid helps them keep their “hit the target” striding consistent.
The bigger the feelings your dog has about other obstacles or agility in general, the smaller I suggest you start. A cone, or a wing is likely less exciting than an entire jump. A jump is likely less exciting than a tunnel. When using an obstacle before, you want about 10-15 feet from the landing spot of the jump to the target. This gives you time to cue the target and your dog time to seek it out and adjust their striding.
The first setup is below. The jump is positioned in a way that when the dog lands, they have a fairly straight approach to the target. You should use a similar reward structure that you used when originally adding your motion (empty bowl, robot, loaded bowl, etc).
Since we are increasing the speed of the dog, you should start with no motion. This is easiest if you can send your dog to the cone/wing/jump from different distances.
As the dog lands the jump, turn towards the target and cue the target.
Once your dog is comfortable with this sequence without your motion, add in your motion: first at a walk, then a jog, and then a run. Remember that you can adjust the arousal level of the reinforcer you are using to help your dog be successful as you increase your motion.
You are going to reinforce for any feet in/on your target. You are going to review your videos and make adjustments as needed if you are getting more hits with only 1-2 paws, because we want to see mostly hits with 3-4 paws.
Things to adjust to help your dog:
- The reinforcement strategy
- Distance to the target
- Your position/motion
And also consider fatigue. If you start out a session great and start to see that as you go on, the hits get worse, it could be that they need a rest.
In this next setup, we will use a slightly offset tunnel to test the dog’s ability to adjust their stride and hit the target:
The tunnel is slightly offset so that the dog has to make lead changes on the way to the target in order to meet criteria and exit straight to their reward.
When sending the dog to the right side of the tunnel, the handler should make a front cross while the dog is in the tunnel and handle the target with the dog on their left. When sending the dog to the left end of the tunnel, the handler should make a front cross while the dog is in the tunnel and handler the target with the dog on their right.
The green, purple, and blue handlers show ideal positions if the handler can send their dog to the tunnel from farther away.
Introduce obstacles before the target. Begin with a jump (or wing/cone) without motion, and then add in your motion when your dog is comfortable. Next, introduce the tunnel before the target that is slightly offset. Again, begin without motion and add your motion as your dog is successful. Remember to use a reward progression that increases arousal overtime for your dog.
Phase 9: Adding Handling
When I am running agility courses and need to use handling at the exit of the aframe, it is my goal that the handling is complete before the dog begins the descent of the aframe. This means that my motion and position may no longer be supporting the dog to hit their target, but it does mean that I am on time to give information about the next obstacle. This independent aframe performance is critical for me to be able to get to my next position on course to maintain timely cues throughout.
We are going to introduce handling to the dog now, so that they can learn to prioritize hitting their target and then following your handling. Use the setup below to move your pre-placed rewards to different locations to serve as obstacles for you to handle to:
The green and orange rewards are 15’ away from the target. The blue and pink rewards are 20’ away from the target.
You should set your dog 10-15 feet away from the half-grid, so that you have time to complete your handling before the dog gets to the target, so that you are showing the reward location as soon as you mark for the correct behavior.
With each of these handling strategies, you can lead out to the ideal location so that the timing of the handling is correct. Plan your positions so that you can introduce each handling technique at only a walk, then a jog, and then a run. You know your own speed relative to your dog’s the best – so choose the starting positions that work for you!
This one should be easy for the dog, since they don’t have to adjust their stride, but just follow your handling to the different reward locations.
When handling the dog on your left, you will guide your dog to the pink and orange rewards.
When handling the dog on your right, you will guide your dog to the blue and green rewards.
Next, you will push across your dog’s path to the target and guide them to a different pre-placed reward.
When you are handling the dog on your left, you will guide your dog to the blue and green rewards.
When you are handling the dog on your right, you will guide your dog to the pink and orange rewards.
Next, we will introduce your dog to a blind cross. A blind cross is a side change that is cued by changing the direction of your eyes (connection) from one side of your body to the other by only turning your head.
When starting with your dog on your left side, you will use a blind cross to change to the right side and handle your dog to the pink reward.
When starting with your dog on your right side, you will use a blind cross to change to the left side and handle your dog to the blue reward.
Finally, we will introduce a front cross to the target training. A front cross is a side change that is cued by the handler turning their chest into the dog before moving in the new direction.
When starting with your dog on your left side, you will use a front cross to change to the right side and handle your dog to the pink and orange rewards.
When starting with your dog on your right side, you will use a front cross to change to the left side and handle your dog to the blue and green rewards.
Introduce each of these handling elements to your dog with a pre-placed reward. If the dog is not following the handling to the pre-placed reward, you can use a dropped reward after they have met criteria, or you can reward from your hand.
Remember to choose your leadout positions that you have good timing, and start with as little motion as possible and build up to running and handling, just like you would on an agility course!
A good progression is:
Work on the pulls, to all of the different reward locations.
Work on pushes, to all of the different reward locations.
Work on blind crosses, to all of the different reward locations.
Work on front crosses, to all of the different reward locations.
Work on all handling techniques to the green reward.
Work on all handling techniques to the blue reward.
Work on all handling techniques to the pink reward.
Work on all handling techniques to the orange reward.
Phase 10: Obstacles After
Once your dog is comfortable following your handling to a pre-placed reward, you can change out the pre-placed reward for an obstacle, such as:
I feel this step is more important for the handlers than the dogs. It really highlights the need to have the handling done before the dog enters the half-grid, if possible, but definitely not happening *after* the dog has hit the target. However, it does help the dog learn about moving back and forth between focusing on their target and following the handling.
One thing to keep in mind is that if your dog takes the obstacle, but misses the mat, you have to still reinforce the dog for following your handling and taking the next obstacle correctly. If they miss their target, you need to adjust something to help them be successful on the next rep.
If you see that they’ve missed the target and can cue them to come to your side for the transport before they take an obstacle, this would be appropriate. You should reward the transport, though.
It’s not how we react to mistakes in the moment that matters, but how we set the learner up for the next rep!
Here is an example of handling your dog to the obstacles, using the same handling techniques that were outlined in the previous lecture.
Try adding obstacles after your target. It will give you a good feeling for the timing of handling cues when you are running courses with a running aframe.
Phase 11: You’re Going to Need a Wing Wrap
Now is a really good time to build up your dog’s value for sending around a wing or cone. When we transition to the aframe, being able to send your dog around a wing gives you the ability to be ahead (and see the downside) without helping your dog onto the aframe itself.
There is no specific assignment this week for this, but do practice your sends on a wing, you’ll need a 10-15’ send!
If you have questions about this, please let me know and I will help you!
I mention training this skill now, even if it’s already known, because dogs will often want to skip the wing wrap and head straight for the aframe/target because the aframe is what is majorly reinforcing right now. I want you to proactively boost up your dog’s reinforcement bank for going around a wing 🙂
Repeat Phases 7-10 with a full grid: two jumps & the box/mat.