Archive for August, 2010

2-minute dog trainer, fall 2010 classes

August 24, 2010

We face many of the instructing challenges faced by clubs and private training centers worldwide.

Our students are an even mix of dedicated (and intense) obsessed agility enthusiasts, and social (not-so-intense) weekenders who enjoy the comraderie of dog training classes.

In an effort to address the intensity of our most obsessed students we’ve created three new student designations over-and-above our former levels.

The most intense students will become Boot Campers. We want to go back to basics, retrain some old habits, get them thinking along new pathways. We want them to learn multiple strategies and build a solid toolbox of agility handling skills to answer the puzzles put forth by agility judges. We want them to engage in top level dog-training activities, and reinforce consistently the performance that will win.  We’ll do video analysis of their trial runs and work on specific issues as they wish.

Boot Campers attend all 6 Sunday workshops, all 13 Thursday night classes, get a private lesson every week (and free use of the building in between), and free attendance to our October 2-3 Houston’s Country Dream Boot Camp.

Slightly less intense students become Platinum Students. Our goals are the same but the training addresses their limited time.

Platinum Students get all 6 workshops and all 13 Thursday night classes, plus they get a private lesson every month (and free use of the building in between), and free attendance to our October 2-3 Houston’s Country Dream Boot Camp.

A step back in intensity, though still more active than our former workshop attendance, is the Weekend Warrior.

The Weekend Warrior gets all 6 Sunday workshops and all 13 Thursday night classes at a 50% discount (I expect they won’t make it to all 13).  They get discounted private lessons and are eligible to attend our Boot Camp (Oct.2-3) for $200.

Because we want to encourage these enthusiastic trainers we’ve applied our discounts to these three levels of commitment, and removed discounts from the casual-occasional-walk-in students’ registrations.

Our Sunday workshops will remain available for the casual-occasional-walk-in students at $40 each (for 4 hours) and our Thursday night classes will remain available to them for $40 for a month’s classes (4 or 5 training opportunities).

Already, with nearly 2 weeks before our first fall 2010 training event, we have 3 boot campers and 3 platinum students. How exciting is that !!

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2-Minute Dog Trainer, Tempest’s directionals

August 21, 2010

I’ve started a new job that enables Bud and I to have awesome health insurance benefits, so my puppy training is going to reflect the amount of time available to me.

Frankly, this is going to put my training more on line with most of our students (and readers of this journal), and I’m going to be focusing on how to fit little training sessions into a busier schedule.

Tempest is continuing his heeling work at mealtimes.

I put his food bowl on a table and walk away from it into the basement.  I face back toward the food bowl and get Tempest into heel position (click!).

We immediately heel forward about 2 feet (click!) and run to the food bowl.  I make this first pattern really short because Tempest will be very anxious about his food bowl, and all the other dogs eating.

After Tempest has eaten about half his food, I remove the bowl and put it back on the table.

We walk away and establish another beginning point in the basement. Tempest, knowing the remainder of his meal is on the table, gets a little “eager” (he LOVES eating <g>).

I calm him, get him back in heel position, and do a few more complex patterns.

Today, for example, we started out in heel position, facing the food on the table, and did a “Forward U-Turn from Halt” and then we heeled in a counter-clockwise square (a series of left turns) with Tempest giving me really nice eye contact and maintaining heel position.

This heeling pattern lasted about 45 seconds, and ended at the food table where Tempest offered a sit — “YAY !!” — food bowl went down and he got to finish his breakfast.

In addition to heeling, Tempest is getting schooled on his directionals by Bud.  This week’s lesson has been “Right!”

When I got home from work yesterday I said, to Tempest, “Right!” and gave him a little signal.  As he was turning to the right I sensed a great deal of movement off to my right.

It was Kory, offering right spins over and over and over. LOL  He’s such a good boy.

2-Minute Dog Trainer – puppy’s “bang it!”

August 16, 2010

When I started thinking about getting a new puppy, my wish list was pretty simple:

1) brave … “self-destructive brave” was how I phrased it in conversation … I wanted a pup who, like my last pup (Banner ’96), would go boldly where and when asked … no fear response, no lack of confidence, no questioning the sanity of the request … just brave.  Later I thought about bravery as “overcoming fear” and decided what I really wanted was a puppy who had NO FEAR.  I didn’t want a pup who had to be brave to overcome fear.  I wanted a pup who said, “what’s there to be afraid of?”  I adjusted my wish list to “unconcerned and confident.”

2) “I don’t want one of those pricked-eared, coyote-legged, black tri string beans.”  Oh well … I’m madly in love with a pricked-eared, coyote-legged, black tri string bean, and loving every minute of it.  Sooooo … back to the unconcerned and confident bit. <g>

It’s not that Bud and I don’t love our rescued, non-confident, fearful, or carsick dogs. We adore them.

But there’s something intoxicating about walking to the start line of agility, obedience, or rally, with a dog who has only has eyes for you, is unconcerned about people / dogs / gates / stewards / flooring / equipment / etc.

So you can imagine how pleased I am with Tempest’s teeter performance.

After Kory showed a lack of recognition for the teeter at his first show (Bud calls all contacts “walk up”) we decided it would make sense to use a separate name for the teeter.

I’ve always called it “teeter,” and all other contacts “walk,” but teeter sounds alot like “T” — and I use “T” as an attention-getting device when Tempest is working. “T” means look-at-me, check-in, pay-attention, etc.

So we settled on “Bang it!”  We’ve both been doing “bang it!” exercises with our dogs 1-2 times a day.

My equipment layout for Tempest is simple … straight line from a pause table is a wing jump and 20 feet of empty floor to the teeter.

Exercise 1:  the table exercise … criteria I’m rewarding includes  a) move in front of me to the table,  b) hop on without hesitation,  c) turn and face me,  d) lie down. When I approached this exercise the first time, with Tempest’s toy, he didn’t get the idea of behaving in such a specific way for the pleasure of tugging with his toy. So I put away the toy and brought out his string cheese and clicker — he got the behavior I wanted in just a few minutes. Now that he understands (as much as a 5-mo-old pup CAN understand) my criteria, I’ve brought out the toy again and reward for quick downs with excitement and release to the toy.

Exercise 2:  the stay exercise … criteria I’m rewarding include,  a) lying down or sitting for a stay,  b) staying in a nice-tucked posture — no slouchy sits, no floppy downs,  c) an implied stay, that is, if I say sit or down I expect you to maintain that position until I give you more information.  He’s had a couple of training sessions on stay, learning to let me walk away, walk around him, or stand beside him — in a sit or down.

Exercise 3:  the lead out … criteria I’m rewarding include the stay criteria above, plus  a) recognition of my release word,  b) excited and vigorous dismount of the table,  and c) coming to me across the jump.

Exercise 4:  bang-it! … criteria I’m rewarding include,  a) approaching the teeter from a wide variety of positions (Tempest puts himself on the teeter, from straight on, from the side, etc.),  b) controlling the board’s tip,  c) moving boldly to the high end of the teeter and riding it down,  d) freezing in position as the board drops,  e) stepping off the board with 2 front feet and freezing in his 2-on-2-off position.

I forward chain the complete sequence.  First we do a couple of table exercises. Then a couple of stay exercises, leading out a few feet, then walking around the jump, always returning to Tempest to reward him for staying.

After a few of these exercises, I have Tempest go to the pause table and lie down. I say “stay” and walk away.

My goal is to walk to the descent of the teeter but, if Tempest anticipates the release I calmly turn and, without recrimination, return to the table.

It usually takes a couple of tries but he’s always solid on the third or fourth lead out, so I’m confident he’s getting the idea that stay means stay, regardless of where I go.

I walk out to the descent of the teeter, turn a face him, stick my lead hand in front of his path (as a target and an indication that he’ll end his work there), and cue him “T – bang it!”

He comes boldly across the jump, runs with decent speed to the teeter, runs up the teeter, bangs it down, sticks his 2-0-2-0, and freezes.  I toss the toy ahead of him, give him his release word (“Yes!”) and let him play with his toy.

I’m pretty excited about this from a puppy.

At mealtimes we’re working on heeling.  Not long distances, but with good attention and some precise movement.  A few 180’s, some stops and starts, and backing up when he forges towards his meal.

2-Minute Dog Trainer – Tempest prepares for rally-o

August 14, 2010

Tempest has been doing tiny heeling patterns for breakfast and dinner.

In addition, he goes with me to the training building once or twice a day for agility training or just play. We’re working on training “in drive,” encouraging him to be excited and vigorous in his tugging after an accurate agility performance.

Having trained 4-5 dogs who weren’t overly drive-y, most of the training “in drive” is for my benefit. I have to learn to recognize new criteria and reward them in a timely manner with the lungewhip toy or the tug toy.

Tempest turned 5 months old today, August 13, 2010. In about 5 weeks I’m entering him in a rally-o trial (novice B of course). It’s all on-lead, and my expectation is for a happy puppy at the end of our run.

The skills he’s going to need are:  1) Let’s Go!,  2) heeling,  3) come front,  4) finish right / foward right,  5) finish left / forward left,  6) right turns,  7) left turns,  8) automatic sits,  9) down,  10) stand,  11) stay for walk around a sit,  12) stay for walk around a down.

He doesn’t have to be conditioned to respond to verbals only, or to signals only. He’s just going to dance around with me for a few minutes.

There’s probably more, and I need to review the novice signs. There’s no reason a puppy can’t do the excellent signs, and work off lead, so he’ll probably do a lot of that as well.

Bud and Kory are at their third weekend in a row for novice agility trialing. I have to keep reminding myself that Tempest has an entire YEAR to train before I can start entering him in agility trials.

I’m so excited about his training that I am tempted to rush things. Fortunately, I know better, and I’ll have Bud here to tell me to ease off.  And those long winter days will be here before you know it, trial weekends will become few and far between, and I’ll get to start running him in class.

By the first of September I’d like him to be able to do 5-6 signs in a row.  With no treats on me. Hmmmm …. I may try some toy or play training with him for rally.

Unlike tradition obedience, rally has no place for the handler and dog to break off and play. So I don’t want to fall into the habit of carrying treats or toys, but I’ll break off after the LAST sign on the course, run off and play with his toy.

The trick with Tempest, I believe, is to start with tiny courses — run off and play.   Then add a sign and go 10 seconds longer — run off and play.  Add another sign and another 10 seconds — run off and play.  Etc.

2-minute dog-trainer, Tempest at 5 months

August 9, 2010

Tempest turns 5 months old in about 5 days.

In addition to being a treasured pet he’s going to be a bit of a “business partner” for Bud and I.

When you offer dog-training classes, whether obedience or agility, your reputation and credibility rest on the shoulders of your canine partner.

As we say here at Houston’s Country Dream — your dog’s behavior is a perfect mirror of your training skills and dedication. (Of course, temperament and personality play a big role in behavior as well.)

It’s important to me that Tempest is confident. It’s important to me that he behaves in a manner that indicates he’s been properly conditioned to perform the behaviors required.

Beyond that, I want him to be a happy member of my pack, and a loving /lovable pet.

For 2010 my goals for Tempest included:

1) basic obedience completed, with systems put in place to ensure continued good behavior.

2) beginner agility begun with Tempest offering confident performances on baby equipment, and responding with excitement to my movement.

3) advanced obedience begun, using my version of Dawn Jecs’ “choose to heel.” My firm goal is to enter an obedience trial with Tempest in about 5 weeks. He’ll be entered in Rally-Novice and maybe Beginner Novice obedience.

Last week I began some short heeling sequences prior to giving Tempest his breakfast and supper.

Rather than feeding with every step, I’m asking Tempest to heel for about 15 seconds — toward his meal — with no food in my hands.

Additionally, Tempest did obedience class last evening for about 90 minutes. He didn’t work that whole time, of course, but he had several training sessions, including:

1) heeling “rally style,” with halts, sits, downs, walk-around-your-dog, call front, etc. called out by me or by my students.

2) call front exercise, working at getting Tempest to focus on sitting straight rather than focusing on the potential food in my hands.

3) recall exercise, with Tempest staying while I walk 20-feet away, and call him to me.

4) right and left turns, where Tempest is starting to get the idea that he should stop moving forward and — indeed! — move backward when I say “back” and step into his path. He much prefers right turns and forging. (Better than lagging, IMO.)

5) introduced to cone exercises, first doing rally-in-a-box where we tighten up all the exercises by specifying they be performed in a 4×4 square, and finally by setting out the serpentine exercises and working him through the “serpentine, weave twice” sign.

ALL THIS, most astoundingly, without food in my hands. The food was nearby, but my hands were empty.

I’d really like for Tempest to have the skill to stay focused in the ring, regardless of how often the reward comes.

2-minute dog trainer, advanced puppy work

August 5, 2010

I’m so lucky to have a pup who loves to go out to the building to train, who loves both toys and food, who is always interested in interaction with me.

I’m also lucky to have a pup with an “off switch.”  When he’s in the house, Tempest is relatively calm and quiet. He takes wicked-deep naps, has what I can only assume are awesome dreams of barking and chasing, and is very nearly house-trained now.

He still has accidents on occasion, but he seems more capable of holding it until he gets outside.

This week I’ve started advanced puppy work, including:

1) heeling … I pour Tempest’s food into his bowl, set it up on a table, and walk about 10 feet away with my clicker and my puppy … we turn and face the food bowl … I put Tempest in heel position in a sit … I position my hand as it would be for heeling (at my waist) … we heel forward about 2 feet and halt (with a click and sit) … another 2 feet and halt … I ask for 2 or 3 tiny heeling events … then make a big deal about putting his food bowl down.  YAY !!

In the past I’ve experienced dogs who had issues with delayed reward.  I want Tempest to realize from day one that there are going to be times when he’ll be expected to behave in a particular way even without food immediately available.  Perhaps this is the “working dog” benefit, but it seems to be working for us.

So he doesn’t get food with every heeling movement, with every sit. It’s more of a jackpot for being biddable for that entire 30-second period of time.

2)  contacts … we go out to the big-boy dogwalk a couple times a day … with our tug toy in my off-side hand … ask for a “walk it — lie down” and play tug for a completed 2-0-2-o contact performance … I try to not insert physical cues, to not handle Tempest, to let him choose to get into position … then lots of tugging and play!

The “lie down” cue is sort of a universal “look-at-me-and-freeze” command.  Since Bud will be running Tempest some, and I’ll be running Kory some, we’ve chosen to establish the same criteria, teach the same skills, and have the same verbal cues.

3) bang-it! … Bud’s teeter cue used to be “walk it!” and mine was “teeter!” … Kory demonstrated some confusion over the teeter last weekend so we decided “bang it!” might be a good meeting place for both our dogs … Tempest and I go to the baby teeter and he runs from end to end … “Bang it!” has him running to the end, riding the teeter down, and assuming his 2-o-2-o position … he really stretches forward with his front feet, waiting for …. the tug toy!

4) self-control … with a line of jumps in front of him, Tempest is able to sit and stay while I walk around the first jump … he gets his tug toy for staying … then back to his sit stay and gets to take a jump … he gets his tug toy for staying … I don’t want to always release him to the jump … sometimes I’ll release him in another direction.

Tempest shows amazing self-control, but it’s not surprising — he’s been taught self-control since he was 8 weeks old. I believe I’m seeing the benefit of all my “sit for attention, sit to exit your pen, sit to exit your crate, sit to exit the house, sit to make the babygate open,” etc.

I’m using toys and tugging for Tempest’s agility training, and food and clicker for Tempest’s obedience training. Lucky for me he LOVES BOTH !!

Bud leaves for a 4-day trial and seminar trip tomorrow, so Tempest and I will have plenty of time to ourselves.  We’ll continue our advanced puppy work with jump work and some beginner weave-work (2 poles, no twisting).

2-minute dog trainer, Tempest gets serious

August 2, 2010

With Tempest 4.5 months of age, and with the idea in mind that he may perform novice rally in a couple of months, it’s time for me to start some more serious training — beyond our foundation work, all of which will continue.

I’m going to plan on twice-daily trips to our training building to work on heeling and rally doodles. Since novice is all on lead this should be fun training for a puppy.

I don’t teach a rigid handler posture, or militaristic performance from the dog. My training is all about applying the rules of a dog in motion, and body language from the handler, to rally doodles. So Tempest should find this a fun little dance-with-mommy.

Additionally, I’m going to devote at least 3-4 sessions a week to Bud’s jump (or hoop) training.

I’d like to start with the exploding pinwheel, where puppy learns to own the pinwheel and learns “go on!”  The pinwheel starts out close and tight, with little opportunity for error, and then explodes outward to a full-size pinwheel layout.

After Tempest understands “go on” in the context of the pinwheel, the semi-circle of jumps will begin expanding even more to become 3 jumps in a nearly straight line, and finally a straight line of jumps … from the original 3 to 4, then to 5, then 6, etc.

That’s the plan, anyway.   I want to get Tempest working for toys and tugs as much as possible.

He’s a total chow-hound as opposed to anorexic Kory who lives for toys and tugging.  Bud likes to play little games with Tempest, and this weekend taught him “come by” — driving from a sit-in-front clockwise around Bud to a ball tossed from beside the left knee.

It was clear that the puppy I had working for clicks-and-treats had more drive and speed when a toy was added to the mix. Time to get serious and appreciate the drive Tempest has.

Bud started Kory’s training with NADAC hoops (no jumping), but I want to mix it up a bit with hoops and wing jumps (with bars on the floor — noactual  jumping) in separate working layouts.

Interspersing the jump work with the rally doodles should provide us with a nice mix of puppy play.  One will reward drive and distance and independent work with toys and tugging, the other will reward up close and attentive work with clicks and treats.

This is an experiment and a training laboratory, so my next report may be that toys and tugging have superceded treats for Tempest’s training.