Sunday, November 27, 2016

Archie and The "Spread" Jumps

Archie's agility instructor only competes in NADAC. I intend to take Archie mainly to AKC agility events. So what's the difference? Jumps may be replaced with hoops which sit directly on the ground; the dog runs through them with no jumping required. NADAC doesn't use the teeter. And NADAC doesn't use the spread jumps: the double jump, triple jump, and broad jump. 

NADAC also has a lot of games where distance handling is required. Archie has some mad distance skills for a novice dog. Many novice dogs have to be babied all the way to the obstacle. As long as I am clear and consistent, I can send Archie away from me 20 or 30 feet, sometimes more depending on the flow of the course. I can even do this with contact obstacles. That takes strong commitment to the obstacle on his part, and a deep understanding of what my signals mean and what he needs to do with respect to that obstacle. 

But he's entered in his first AKC trial at the end of December. And there is no question that he will encounter the double jump, the triple jump, the broad jump, and the teeter at that trial. He has never seen these obstacles in class.

I wasted no time in finding a solution to the teeter problem. During the summer, I ordered an aluminum base and prepared the plank myself. In September, Archie and I worked our way up from a tipping plank on the ground to full-height teeter. He's rather enthusiastic about doing the teeter, sometimes pulling off the line I am working with him to run off and do it on his own. Some dogs like tunnels, mine prefers the contact obstacles.

I only started jumping him at his full jump height (16") at the beginning of November so there was no point in working on the spreads until then. And I don't actually have any real spread jumps. Rather than spend more money, I decided to take a more DIY approach.

The double didn't pose much of a problem. It is a bi-direction obstacle with two bars at the dog's jump height spaced about 8 inches or so apart, and crossed bars below to give some depth perspective. It turned out to be quite easy to set two of my jumps next to each other. Archie figured this jump out very quickly, really in just one session. He has since learned how to turn and wrap the double. Rather than trying to micromanage it, I let him figure out that I will handle it like a jump but that he has to alter his take-off and landing points a little to accommodate it. 

I solved the triple problem using a similar, but far more rickety, arrangement. The triple can only be performed in one direction. There are three bars at ascending heights. The back of the jump is the highest bar. I taught Archie a new command with this one: hup. The command "over" works for jumps and for the double, but the triple requires that the dog choose a different point to take off and that he remains extended over the jump to safely clear it. This will also change his landing point. He figured this jump out very quickly too but didn't feel comfortable extending over it, instead using the fox terrier "boing"--most inefficient. Setting jumps before and after the triple and requiring him to approach the thing at speed seems to have solved the problem. Perhaps he senses how unstable this mess of PVC is because he never touches any part of it! 

The broad jump had me stumped for a while. It is a weird obstacle made out of long, narrow wooden steps. The width of the steps can be 6 or 8 inches, and you place several of them next to each other to make an obstacle whose width measures twice the dog's jump height, which in Archie's case would be 32 inches. The tops of the steps are usually sloped with the front a little bit lower. The obstacle as a whole doesn't ascend in height though. 

I finally hit on a quick, cheap solution. I bought a wooden shipping pallet for $4 and sawed off a couple of slats to make it close to the right jumping width (it was okay in the other dimension). I slapped a coat of white primer on the top and sides, then added "racing stripes" (as recommended by AKC to improve depth perspective). I used paint I already had from preparing my teeter plank. 

Then I set up jump standards on the four corners, and voila! A very ugly but workable facsimile of a broad jump. I use "hup" on this obstacle too. Archie needed the prompt of a jump bar in the middle of it for the first few times over it, but he figured this one out quickly too. At first, he sailed over it with his hind feet tucked way too far forward but adding jumps to the approach and exit to increase his speed helped him sort this out. 

Archie will never see equipment quite this crappy in competition, that's for sure. That wobbly triple I cobble together never looks the same two training sessions in a row. But I think that's okay. As part of learning the obstacle, he is learning that although there may be variations in its configuration, his performance of it will not change. He's proving to be a smart little dog who thinks on his feet. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Diary of a Second-Year Vet Student: Dx the Dz

No vax. Tx with abx only reduces Cx.

Somewhat cryptic but you can probably figure it out: no vaccine available. Treatment with antibiotics only reduces clinical signs. 

You already know that Rx means prescription (derived from the Latin, of course). We "health care professionals" use lots of abbreviations. Ddx is differential diagnoses, a ranked list of the things that could be causing the animal's observed symptoms. Related to that is dx which is used to mean diagnostic or diagnosis. Sx is surgery. I think that X is used because it is not otherwise a super common letter in the common languages of health care and medical science (which are mainly Latin, Greek, English, and German; French and Spanish are distant players). Disease is an exception to the X abbreviation family. We simply write dz. Diarrhea and vomiting are common enough that they too are abbreviated: D and V (some people draw an arrow instead of a line but computers have been gradually shifting that).

Those are all examples of abbreviations of common usage. They are not appropriate for formal papers or presentations but many vets and doctors will use them in writing up patient notes, for example, or communicating with techs or other doctors. There are plenty of other abbreviations that we use which are actual acronyms: IV for intravenous and Ab for antibody, for example. 

The most bewildering abbreviations are those used for diseases: FMD, CPV, BRSV (foot and mouth disease, canine parvovirus, bovine respiratory syncytial virus). They get out of hand very quickly. I try to avoid them because I think they lead to an uncomfortable level of ambiguity. We already use so many abbreviations and jargon. CAE is a bad disease, but when I spell it out as caprine arthritis (and) encephalitis, I have more things to associate with it: goats joints brain. Not a nice disease at all.

Like med students, vet students must learn about various ways that each type of tissue will respond to injury or disease. But on top of all this, vet students have to constantly overlay species variations. Some canine viruses can infect other species--the resulting disease may be like the one in dogs but it may located in entirely different tissues and thus have a completely different set of clinical signs, progression, diagnostic tests, and treatment.

In gross anatomy, there were lots of mnemonics we could use, such as the one created by one of my classmates to remember the names of the 12 cranial nerves: O! O! O! To Touch And Feel Very Good Velvet After Hours. Using dz and abx are only a convenience. Most of the rest has to be learned with old-fashioned, blunt force repetition. There are no true shortcuts at this point. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Archie: Start-Line Stays and Contacts

I convinced one of the other folks in class to film me and Archie on Monday night. Here are some highlights!

It's been raining a lot up here in the Pacific NW so I've had to get creative with training in the house. I decided to tackle the start-line stay problem. Archie loses himself completely when I remove his collar and leash and toss them away. He uses this as an excuse to run off to check out other obstacles, people, bugs, etc. I tried to shape this behavior at home with the clicker. When I removed the collar and leash and tossed them somewhere else (in front, behind, next to), Archie was only clicked and rewarded if he remained sitting and looked at me (looking at the leash first is okay). Turns out, that didn't translate too well into the class setting. So I put his leash on for every run in class, made him sit, and if he broke the stay when I tossed the leash, I put his leash back on and repeated the start line routine. We discovered that the less I said, the better. Sit, stay, remove the leash, if he's still sitting, release him to the first obstacle. That's pretty tricky, really. The reward for holding the sit is me releasing him. But he is still getting plenty of rewards when he runs off. So he started choosing to let me release him over releasing himself.

In this video, he runs off when I remove his collar and leash, and sneaks in a bonus visit to the "ring crew" before coming back to me. It's a good demonstration of the basic problem.

In this video, I am resetting his start line by putting his collar back on. Not only is there manhandling (doghandling?), I'm using my dying rabbit voice to call him back to me. You can hear my videographer snickering. I'll certainly plan on toning down both in the future, although Archie is not a particularly soft dog and isn't put off by wrestling with me and his collar. Another clicker training project...

Archie gets to run the entire course in this one.