Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Mary Ellen Barry/Jennifer Crank Seminar

Wow, my head is full.  It was full after only 1 day so you can imagine how it feels after 3 1/2 days.  Hopefully I can retain a bunch of it.  By the third day some stuff from the morning had fallen out by the end of the day but I think I remembered the bulk of it. 

I'm not a big joiner of groups, follower of gurus or fan of dichotomies.  Tell me someone is a guru of something and I'm immediately suspicious.  I think the notion of handling systems in agility creates something of a divide and some of the people involved in one system or another seem almost creepy in their mawkish, cult-like devotion which turns a lot of people off to the notion.  Plus all the work involved in learning the system, it seems so much easier to learn handling moves and combine this idea with that idea as it suits your needs.   But I think some people pull off the 'mix and match' method better than others and there's a lot of value in consistency when you're dealing with dogs and having an organized way to learn handling is a huge help to me.  By the end of the third day I was able to analyze and run the most ridiculously technical International style course with crazy challenge after crazy challenge with only one or two mistakes (if you want to count getting lost as a mistake : ) ).  There's no way I would have had the slightest clue what to do at the very start of the seminar.  So I'm now even more convinced of the value of taking the time and effort to learn this stuff.  If only these two instructors would come back so I could learn more. 

So much stuff.  Deceleration Rear Cross, baby.  That kind of blew my mind.  I was auditing when we learned about that and didn't get a chance to try but I'm going to give it a go on my own.  I finally learned how to do a Backy-Uppy properly and was able to figure out where to use it on several courses.  Backwards motion is not the same things as running backwards.  I also finally learned all the intricacies of a Forward Motion Front Cross.  Lots of jargon and it finally makes sense to me.  I'm not a fan of complicated jargon either but it was so helpful to have names to these handling moves.  When I initially went through this stuff on my own I didn't pay close attention to the names of all the moves so I had a bit of jargon to learn this weekend and in the end I think it was worth it.

The thing I like best about the APHS system is that the dog is cued prior to commitment to the next obstacle so in theory they know where they're going before they take the obstacle and prepare a lot better for the turn (or whatever).  Obviously this makes it easier on their bodies in the long term and one of the instructors even said her dog had a decrease in some chronic soreness after adopting this system.  Strum doesn't always heed his collection cues and sometimes if I'm early with my cues he'll pull off of an obstacle so we have some practicing to do before we're to the point where I'm cueing and he's responding before commitment on a consistent basis but after this weekend I think I have the tools I need to get him there.

I really liked both instructors.  They both explained things clearly and in detail, answered questions without making you feel stupid (seriously, we had someone come through here that seemed to relish in making you feel like an ass), and had a good eye for what was going on during an exercise.  I especially enjoyed watching Mary Ellen working out training issues with shaping because we don't get a whole lot of that around here, it's mostly luring, targets and props which aren't my favorite ways to train.  She had been to chicken camp and trained with Bob Bailey who's 5-disc DVD I'd recently waded through and it was great to be able to see examples of the training concepts in action in a number of different scenarios.  I wasn't expecting to get to see that sort of thing at this seminar and it was a pleasant surprise.

I took a working spot for only 1 day and it was all with Jennifer Crank.  The morning session was Master's Handling using the APHS system and the afternoon session was advanced handling techniques to handle highly technical, International/World Team style courses-threadles, taking jumps from the back side, wraps through tight spaces.  We started out with small, 3-obstacle exercises and worked our way up to longer sequences and eventually a course and this format worked really well for me & Strummer.  I especially liked the short exercises because I could focus on getting every aspect of the one handling move correct then later it was a simple matter of inserting it into the course.  By midway through the morning session I felt like I was finally able to slow my brain down and watch what was going on with the dog and my movements and not just be running around in a blind panic trying to keep ahead of Mr. Crazypants.  By the end of the day I had a much better feeling for when to slow down and be patient and when to run like Jehu.

I also audited a Master Handling session (not system specific), the APHS Foundation session and a Weave Pole/2x2 Fix-It session all with Mary Ellen Barry.  So much stuff.  I almost didn't go back for the weave pole session on the last day  because it was a cold, snowy day and the roads weren't great, not terrible but not great, and 3 full days is a lot already but I'm glad I did.  Like I said I got to see a lot of great dog training in action and she gave me some suggestions for trouble shooting the 2x2's for Strummer.  She does them slightly differently from the DVD that Susan Garrett put out and I'm eager to give her method a go.  It was funny, some of the suggestions I'd figured out for myself already but I felt much better having them confirmed by someone who knows what they're doing.  The big mistake I was making that she pointed out that I didn't work out for myself was my 'handling' while working the exercises.  I think I was probably facing directions that were inconsistent with the dog's motion and confusing him because this causes the mistake of the dog missing the entry and diving in past the 2nd pole which is exactly the mistake he's making.  Sometimes he even dives in after the third pole.  Anyway, I'm excited to give the 2x2's one final go.  It's been bugging me to no end that I can't figure them out and I hope these are the final pieces to the puzzle that'll help me get it.  Also, her variation on the original method is a lot simpler to me in that she only rotates the poles at the very beginning.  The pole rotation part seemed to confuse Strummer and I know it confused me a lot in the beginning so I'm eager to try this without the rotation.

We have a DOCNA trial this weekend and I feel a bit more confident about it.  Will be interesting to see how much I remember without a chance to practice.  Darn field is snowed in again.  Even more so though I'm eager to get to practice and work on a bunch of the stuff I learned.  Got to love a seminar that leaves you with a renewed enthusiasm for your training.  And huge thanks to Morganne for bringing these 2 to town.  It was a unique opportunity to be able to train with them.  If only they lived closer.


  1. Elayne,

    What does APHS stand for?


  2. I'm sorry, I'm caught up in all the lingo. It stands for 'Awesome Paws Handling System'. It's Linda Mecklenberg's handling system. I realize now I never mentioned that in the post. Doh.

  3. OMG! I think this is the first post of yours in which I've seen a smiley. :)

    Anyway, wow that seminar sounds fantastic. I use a bit of a mish-mash system I guess but from what little I know of the APHS system that's the one I would go with if I were to chose one single system. If a seminar like that ever comes up to my neighbourhood, I'm totally in. Glad you got so much out of it.

  4. I'd be interested to hear more about Mary Ellen and her 2x2, although I supposed I could pull her article out of my training binder and re-read it. Mostly, I'm wondering if you could elaborate on how she helped with Strum diving in at pole 2 or 3. Weave poles are a non-turning obstacle in APHS, which just means that the dog must complete them before acting on any turning cues you give. So I just wondered what she said about handler motion here.

  5. In general I guess I'm not an emoticon-y person but every once in a while I'll slip one in.

    Kathy-I had the same idea about weave poles, that they're non-turning so your motion/location shouldn't matter and the whole issue of location was super confusing to me. Her article is in April, 2009 Clean Run and it explains the method pretty clearly.

    Anyway, it's not so much your motion that's the problem but rather the direction your shoulders are facing. You don't want your shoulders pointed such that your dog crosses your plane when he goes to the entry. So imagine a laser beam pointing straight out from your belly button and you don't want to position your shoulders such that your dog crosses that beam when you send him to the poles. You do want to face your shoulders in the direction the dog needs to move to hit the entry. So when you look at the around the clock diagrams in the article pay close attention to the direction the shoulders are facing for the different dog/handler positions that she releases from.

    Honestly, the shoulder positions for the dog/handler location combinations still don't all make 100% sense to me and I thought I understood when I left the seminar but I'm going to think about it a little more until that darn light bulb goes off. I understand the majority of them but it bugs me that there are a few that don't seem to follow the rule so I question whether I fully understand.

    Handler motion is important for the part of the drill where you have the 2 sets of 2x2's separated by 4'. Since they're 2 separate obstacles you want to make sure you have some motion when you ask for the second set because otherwise you're sending 2 obstacles ahead from a stand still and that's inconsistent.

  6. Great that you're reenthused. Good luck with Docna this weekend.

  7. Got it, thanks!

    I bet one reason MEB emphasizes the shoulder position is for those folks who let their dogs "run across the feet." That certainly goes counter to the shoulder cue.