A lot of people are talking about Jenny Damm right now after the World Championship. If you’re wondering what all the hubbub is about I’d suggest taking some time to listen to Bad Dog Agility’s podcast giving a great rundown on the event. The main thing people are talking about is how much Jenny Damm’s running dogwalk made a difference in her win over Lisa Frick for the individual agility competition. You can watch the comparison of Damm and Frick’s runs here (unfortunately I can’t embed the video). While the running dogwalk certainly made a huge difference, it should be noted that had Lilli had not slipped coming out of the weaves they likely would have saved even more time.
One of the points made by the folks at Bad Dog Agility is that nowadays the people competing at the top levels are all using very similar handling. There will be some slight stylistic differences (favouring blind crosses over fronts, etc), but the time of showing up with a completely unique technique or handling system that lets you blow away the competition seems to be in the past. One of the very few differences that remain is whether a competitor chooses stopped or running, and it’s clear to see that it made a big difference in Jenny’s round at WC, but it should be noted that Frick was the overall winner. Long story short: running contacts can help, but only in the classes where there’s a dogwalk!
It’s a happy coincidence then that after all this that Jenny came to Nova Scotia to teach a three-day seminar. I wasn’t able to get a working spot, but I did manage to scrape enough time and money together to audit one day. One thing I will say is for some reason European competitors seem to charge a lot less than North American competitors for their seminars and classes. Getting a working spot with a Big Name Competitor (BNC) from this side of the pond would have cost noticeably more. Some of these BNCs are known to bitch quite a bit how everyone is taking online classes overseas instead of back home, completely oblivious to the fact that in all likelihood price, not fads, are the primary reason. But I digress.
Anyway, all that editorializing has very little to do with Jenny Damm. Who, aside from having the best name on the planet, is really quite wonderful. She even brought Lilli with her, who was adorable and thought my shoes were the best smelling things in the place. (I felt honoured). Jenny’s teaching style is fun, loud, and energetic. She isn’t afraid to push you until you figure out how to get your body to do what she wants it to do. Kudos to the local handlers that worked this seminar because they definitely WORKED THEIR BUTTS OFF. The energy Jenny takes to each competition was definitely present at the seminar and the handlers responded by improving noticeably in just the day I was there, and I wish I could have seen how they were doing by the second day as well. My only complaint was that I wasn’t running a dog myself.
Jenny really favoured the blind cross (BC) for her courses that day, insisting that the handlers use it in places I would normally never think to try one, and I am a total BC addict. At times it seemed counter intuitive, but the use of the BC resulted in the dogs running really tight lines and the handlers staying well ahead of their dogs. The handlers were also taught how to use a few more “Jenny Dammisms” that day, which were:
One of my favourite things from the day was her philosophy on how the handler should be using their body. Lower body moves to the future, while the upper body stays in the present. You use your voice, shoulders, hands, and head to indicate what the dog should be doing in that moment, while your feet to your hips should be pointing towards where you’re going next. This is most notably emphasized in the “handbag” as discussed below.
The Mouse Line
She also introduced us to the concept of the “mouse line”, aka the dog’s ideal line around the course. She does not want you moving away from the dog’s line to make room for them, but rather run ON the mouse line and have the dog follow you (which makes using blinds kind of a necessity). I was hesitant to do that style of running with Mufaasa seeing as he has a history of trying to break people’s kneecaps. However, a few days after the seminar when I finally got around to trying some of her courses myself I found it wasn’t a problem. In fact, Mu has always had a proclivity for wanting to follow right behind me, so he fell into that type of running easily. And since I wasn’t making room for him I was taking less steps between obstacles and thus stayed further ahead of him with greater ease. I think he liked it better when I didn’t spend any time on making room for him and just ran. Going forward I am going to make an effort to draw the mouse line on my course maps and see just how vigorously I can work that into how I handle and see if that cuts down on our times.
The handler leans back with an arm outstretched behind them to indicate the obstacle the dog should be taking, while the handler continues to move forward. You can use it for a tight turn, a push, or for a slice. It’s hard to get used to, as it often involves reaching very far behind you to continue indicating a jump as you run off, but it does wonders for tightening the dog’s line while allowing the handler to stay well ahead (and not have to move off the mouse line at the same time).
The Double Cross
This one is pretty tricky, but also pretty neat. Essentially you perform two crosses between obstacles to shape the dog’s line. Check out the excerpt from a course map to the left (I’d post the whole thing but I’m already giving out a lot from the seminar here). The first thing I would think to do (and pretty much all the handlers chose to do) was stay on the take off side of 11, and threadle from 10-11. You could also move to the other side of 11 and do a push, but that actually put you in a bad position for the rest of the course. In the double cross the handler performs a blind while the dog is in the tunnel, picks the dog up with the handbag (in this case indicating with the right arm) to put the dog on their right until the handlers has just passed the plane of the jump, and then the handler performs another blind cross (with their verbal indicating the dog should jump, see below for discussion on verbals) to indicate to the dog to take number 11. Throughout all of this the handler continues their forward momentum (no slowing down!) and stays as close to the jump (aka on the mouse line) as they can.
So why go to the trouble, you ask? Well, if you threadle than you may have to pause to make sure the dog shifts their line to the less obvious side of 11. As you pause the dog may slow down, the handler certainly loses momentum, and the dog may bend the line more, which adds time. The handler will also probably move back off the mouse line to make room for the threadle, which means the handler has added steps for them to take to the next obstacle. Now that stuff may all be mitigated if you have a really automatic threadle, but the risk is still there. With the double cross the dog comes out of the tunnel, chases the handler down the mouse line, only bends the line slightly (provided the handler sticks close to the jump), and neither handler nor dog loses any momentum. Not a big deal if you’re just going after a Q, but could be the difference in placements if you’re looking to shave down your time.
The day ended with Jenny showing how she teaches serps, and repeating something that I first heard described in Silvia Trkman’s foundation class (remind me to do a review on that class, actually, because I took it with Raafael last winter and it was great). Basically, if your dog can do automatic serps it makes running courses downright easy at times as your dog can just go on autopilot. Jenny’s method is different from Silvia’s, but the result is the same and likely will work better for different dogs. Raafi was taught via the Trkman method a while ago, which is basically to set three jumps in a line and slowly angle them until they are parallel and the dog runs through with little handler interference. The result is the dog seeks the jumps out and loses very little speed. The Jenny Damm method basically entails starting with three wing jumps set already parallel, but with the wings overlapping so there’s no chance the dog can run between them. You start essentially asking for a 180° while in the “handbag” position (shoulders parallel to the jumps, arm nearest to the dog outstretched behind you) and then reward after the second jump with your arm still behind you. Once the dog can do that reliably you continue on to the third jump. If the dog continues past the second jump simply wait in position to see if the dog comes back, and then drop your reward behind you when they finally take the correct jump. If the dog continues to blow past the second jump, put a barrier up so that the dog has to take the middle jump and then fade the barrier. Once the dog has mastered the serpentine with all jumps pushed together, you can start adding speed and then adding space between the obstacles.
Later when I ran one of the courses from the seminar with my dogs, they did a masterful job of illustrating the idea that a strong understanding of how to perform a serpentine makes running courses easier. Mufaasa has done serpentine training, but not a lot of it. Raafi went through piece by piece through the Trkman method and has a very strong understanding of it. Mufaasa took about ten tries to get through one course, and I had to break it down into parts. Raafi did it perfectly the first time. And then perfectly again the second time. The only problems were in my handling not being as tight or timely as it could have been. Long story short, I’m going to be reviewing my serpentine training with Mu in the future. I’ll likely use the Trkman method as Mu needs to work on his extension jumping and the Trkman method really promotes that, and I feel that the Jenny Damm method is better for encouraging dogs to collect more.
Jenny is very big on verbals, as her latest video on her running contact training shows:
(See also this one on working obstacle discriminations). She wants a verbal “jump” command, as well as a turn cue (at the time she didn’t mention having a right or left, or a check or swing, though from the above video she prefers the former). It was interesting to here her say that as the trend in North America has been to move away from a verbal for just taking a jump, instead relaying on the dog understanding to “see a jump, take a jump” unless told otherwise. However, I have found myself using a “hup” cue if I thought my dog wasn’t fully committed and I wanted to move off. It’s a lot to remember as you’re running, and the timing is important (there is nothing I can’t stand more than watching people shout “jump!” when their dog is already airborne over and over again), but it’s something to think about adding to my training.
There is plenty more, and even though I’ve listed a lot of stuff in this blog it really doesn’t compare to being there and actually seeing the timing of everything and the fun of watching her really push everyone to be better. Here’s a couple of videos of Jenny Damm running her own dogs. In this video she signals the backside of the second obstacle with the double cross with the first dog she runs (named Ogin). I recall watching the video before I knew what a double cross was and thinking that was a slick little move. It clearly worked really well here. And watch all the runs for the serpentine towards the middle to really see that “handbag” arm come out.
This video is a bit older but at about the 8:40 mark she gives a run down of the different handling choices she made with each dog. Jenny’s seems to much prefer courses where there’s a few different choices to get around it, which I would think makes the results for those classes even better because it becomes less about straight up speed and more about which handler had the best strategy for their dog:
Here is her original video summation of training Lilli’s running dogwalk. She started with Silvia Trkman’s method and then switched to the Daisy Peel version (which is a modification Silvia’s method but, among other changes, involves using a Manners Minder instead of a thrown toy). It’s actually not far from what I ended up with Raafi, as the thrown toy had some complications for him. Remind me to do a post on his RC as there was a lot of problem solving involved, and more to come, actually.
And one final video showing Jenny and Lilli winning the Swedish qualifications for WC. There are plenty of other examples but at 4:42 she does a double cross, and at 3:24, 5:18, and 5:38 she shows great examples of the “handbag”.
So there you have it, about as good a run-down of the seminar as I can get. I wrote this mostly to solidify the concepts in my brain, and hopefully give people a taste of the awesomeness that is Jenny Damm. You can search out other people’s videos of them running her seminars as well, and I really suggest it. And now I get to sit around and hope she comes back to Nova Scotia, because I really, REALLY want a working spot the next time around!
You can read more about Jenny Damm and her methods on her website Lotus Education.