Monday, July 1, 2013

U-Turns/Over and Backs

U-turns, or Over-and-Backs (O&B's) are one of the foundation exercises for training the swimmer's turn off the Flyball box.  The dog learns to bounce over a 6" jump and bounce right back again, similar to the motion she'll use ultimately to bank off the box.
There are some fundamentals I observe when doing O&B's, which I'll go into in a little more detail later in this post:
  • I am now deciding the direction of my dog's box turn.
  • I start this as a luring exercise, with the clicker to mark the desired behavior.
  • All four of her feet must completely clear the jump.
  • I want to keep her focus low, straight ahead, not looking up at me.
  • The timing of the exercise--the dog's motion and your motion--changes as the dog comes to understand what I'm asking her to do because....
  • The most important part of the exercise--what I am ultimately going for--is a strong LAUNCH WITH THE BACK LEGS, back over the jump to me.
  • The lure must be faded as soon as possible.
I've captioned the video to explain what's happening--it looks like we're both doing the same thing over and over, but we're not.  The differences are subtle, but important!
Turning Direction:  I've recently changed my mind about this, so if you're someone I've worked with in Flyball, you might be reading this and thinking, "But that's not what you told me!"  And you'd be right.  Typically, I use the direction the dog turns when doing deadball retrieves, and that can still be an excellent way to go.  Some dogs have a decided preference for their turning direction.  My Aussie, Wyatt, turns left for everything in life, while Raffy turns right...for everything.  He turns right in order to go left--I am not exaggerating.  Some dogs don't have much of a preference--in deadball retrieves, they'll "go both ways".  So in those cases, I advise the handler to just pick a direction and stick with it.  However, recently I've observed a new phenomenon: dogs who do deadball retrieves one way, but who seem to prefer to go another way when they've just cleared a jump.  Little Dancer is one of these dogs.  She turns right every time she does a deadball retrieve, but when we started doing O&B's, having her turn right was very clunky an unnatural.  When I switched it to left, it went very smoothly.  So my advice for turning direction now is: start with deadballs, and use the dog's dominant direction from that exercise as a starting point.  But when you start doing O&B's, try both directions anyway, just to see if one is smoother than another.  Dog still showing no preference whatsoever?  Pick one and stick with it (and it's very handy for future box loaders if you pick the same direction as your other dogs' turn!)
Luring:  I start with the dog and me on one side of the jump.  I'm standing by the left upright, with the treat in my left hand.  I'm luring her over the jump with my left hand, and she is turning left.  I have to lean down, in order to keep her from having to look up at me.  I want her head/gaze to stay on the same "plane" the entire time.
All 4 Feet:  In the beginning, I'm going slowly enough to make sure Dancer gets all 4 paws over the jump before I start luring her back over the jump. 
Timing:  In this, our first O&B lesson, the timing is pretty even between the going over and the jumping back parts of the exercise.  Over...and...Back.  As we progress, I'll be working to make this change to a much faster tempo, with a small motion for her to get over, and a much larger faster motion for her to get BACK.  Go from "over...and...back" to "ovr'nBACK!"

Launching with back legs:  This goes hand in hand with the timing mentioned above.  I will be doing everything I can to get her driving back over that jump, spending as little time on the other side as she can, and doing everything in her power to get back over it as quickly as possible.  A dog doing that will ultimately be driving off her back legs, which is the main point of this exercise.

Fading the lure:  As soon as possible, I want her to understand the task at hand (jump over and drive back as quickly as she can) without having to follow my hand through the entire exercise.  I will gradually make the hand motion smaller, until ultimately I'm just giving her a little hand signal that now means "do that whole range of motion".  As long as I'm luring, she's not going to be moving as quickly as she can--she'll only be moving as quickly as I can...and she's a lot faster than I am!  So I need to get out of her way asap.

Since she's only 10 months old, I'm not pounding through these every night.  We do maybe three rep's, once or twice a week.  Can't wait til she's a year old!  This girl's got quite a lot of stamina for training.  When I don't have to worry about her little growth plates, this whole process is going to go pretty fast!

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