Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Practice, Practice, Practice

You guys must really have practice on the brain (spring fever?), because several of you have emailed asking me to write about it and I've only been blogging for a week.

The irony is, I don't practice that much these days... Hopefully some others will chime in with their ideas, too.

Group Practices

About 10 years ago, when I first started playing flyball in Massachusetts, my club attended a Robbins seminar. (If you haven't been to one, I totally recommend it -- I've been to 3 so far, and always come away learning something new from Aaron and Kelly.) That seminar pretty much revolutionized the way we practiced and trained box turns.

Before the seminar, we ran lineups the whole practice (boring!), and used a chute to train turns (wide, 3-footed turns!).

After the seminar, we started working with each dog individually, usually for 5-10 minute sessions twice each practice. Everybody on the team helped with each dog -- you were either setting up props, boxloading, running with the dog, and/or cheering when the dog did something well. No more hanging out in little groups around the practice site, chit chatting and waiting for your dog's turn to run.

We usually started the practice with the puppies and worked our way up to the more experienced dogs so that we could do some pairs drills for dogs that needed work with passing, and if there was time left at the end (or a tournament coming up that weekend), we'd run a few lineups.

And we started using a basic prop (7" high, with a stantion on one side) in front of the box to get all 4 feet up. To teach the box at home, we trained our dogs to touch a target with their foot (using a clicker), then gradually moved the target up to the wall, then onto the box. I have to say...the 3 dogs I trained using this targeting method ended up with the best turns of all my dogs. I don't know if it's because I took more time with them (easier to train 3 dogs than 9 dogs, plus I didn't have any kids back then!), or if it had anything to do with the fact that 2 were jack russells and just had a really easy time popping off the box, or maybe I just grasped the concept of that method better than I do the other methods, but perhaps I should revisit it for some of my green dogs. Hmm...

Anyway, short individual sessions with each dog is a great way to run a practice, and pretty much every team I've been on since then has done things this way.

At our practices (with Carpe Pilam), we pretty much stick to this formula:

  • Lots of close-up box work with props (oh, how props have evolved in the last 10 years), running, and getting the dog pumped up
  • Focus work, where we'll tug and play with an easily-distracted dog next to another dog who's working, to help desensitize it to the rush-that-is-flyball
  • Recalls. Sometimes power jumping recalls, and sometimes chase recalls (for the non-herders in our gang) where green dogs get to chase more experienced dogs through the jumps
  • Side by side racing (with gates, if necessary) to get the green lookie-loo dogs used to running against another dog
  • Lots of rock music, because flyball is always better with rock music

Practicing at Home

If you're lucky enough to have a box at home (or there's one you can borrow from the team till next practice), you can do lots of little 5-min box work sessions at home. You don't want to bore the dog to death, but you also want to build up some muscle memory for a correct turn (use a prop, all the time!) I had my box set up in the den and used it pretty regularly, but my boyfriend hated tripping over it all the time (and it did get annoying when the kids shot their toys out of it), so now it's out in the garage where I never use it.

You can also prop a piece of plywood up against your house or garage door and do hit-its off the ramp. Or you can use a wall and do hit-its off the wall. (Use a prop!!)

There are lots of things you can do at home to improve your dog's recall, drive, and the overall working relationship between you two, and you don't need any fancy equipment to do that.

I'm curious to know what you guys do when you're working with your dogs at home. Especially if you aren't able to practice with your team on a regular basis -- how do you train your dogs alone?


Kim said...

At home, I don't work with the dogs as often as I should. I will do more now since I have a dog in training. I used to set up in the basement which I hated. I am now setting up in the garage. I use a board that I place against the box so I can easily change the angle to ensure a 4 footed turn and then can change it when adding a ball. I always have jumps in front of the board/box. The props will stay there for months and months, possibly always (depends on the dog).

At practice, I have a schedule that I make up in 10 minute increments with a 5 minute change of dogs. Unless there is a tourney coming up I don't normally run full lineups. For green dogs, I use gating on both sides of the jumps so they don't learn anything but to do jumps. I will do side by side recalls with gating in between (not every practice but should). I will work passing exercises and box training with jumps. I try to break it down as much as possible.

On my schedule I also give everyone a job to do - boxload, shag, be a runner, hold for recalls, etc... this way everyone knows up front what to do and when. We adjust as needed at practice. This also gives us an idea of when practice will end.

Kate said...

Seeing as I live a smidge over 2 hours from practice (one way), I do most of my practice at home. We definitely work mostly on conditioning at home, as I have no box.
We are lucky to have a flat area in our yard and a hilly area, so we do both. One dog loves the ball, and one dog loves the frisbee, so there is no competition between the two of them.
I work from home, so making time to condition the dogs is not usually an issue. Somedays, we have one hard running session. Other days, we structure it more like a tournament day - short sessions 5 or 6 times a day.
I feel like my dogs are well conditioned, as they often run their fastest times at the end of Sunday - just when I think they have nothing left, they do!

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