Archive for September, 2010

2-minute dog trainer – Bud’s training Tempest

September 23, 2010

These days I’m doing Tempest’s 2-minute dog training protocols with breakfast, and Bud often takes on the dinner-time training.

My focus has been on two foundation skills:  1) heeling and loose-leash walking,  and  2) two-on-two-off contact training. Our contact trainer is located in the basement, just 15 feet from where the other dogs are gobbling their meal, so Tempest is eager to perform in order to get his meal.

I’m working on new criteria for Tempest’s contacts. My idea is that Tempest should be so conditioned to the behavior that no verbal cue need be given. The contact performance I’m looking for should be the ONLY behavior Tempest associates with contact equipment.

I want him to love the 2-on-2-off position so much that he races to get into that position. His breakfast is fed, in its entirety, for being in that position.

In the meantime, when I get the time, we go to the training building and work on contact performances with his toys.

His favorite toy is a huge red, shaggy ball with a rope handle. It looks like a raggedy-ann doll head, without the face. He gets to tug with this toy for individual obstacles, as well as sequencing.

Bud has taken over Tempest’s distance training. This is very pleasing to me, since Bud “wrote the book” on distance training and has very structured training protocols in place to build a confident distance-working dog.

For example, I spent 20 minutes with Tempest last Sunday, doing initial jump training. With my clicker and string cheese, Tempest was uninspired. I faced the jump, pointed for Tempest, got him over the jump, clicked, and treated. He was distracted, sniffed the floor, just didn’t seem to be enjoying the training.

When I switched to his tug toy he got a lot more excited. But the toy drew his focus into me, rather than putting the focus on the jump. Though he was more inspired by the toy, he was not making the connection between jumping and his reward. He was dropping 8″ bars, dragging his feet, not thinking about the task at hand.

Part of the downside of my new job is that I return home after a long, stressful, day and then don’t sleep very well. After several days of work, and less sleep than I need, I get exhausted easily.

On Sunday, with clicker/cheese proving to be unmotivating for Tempest, and tug-toy proving too much stimulation for him to maintain focus, I stopped training. I figured part of the problem was that Tempest is 6 months old (and is acting, sometimes, like a jouvenile delinquent), and part of the problem was my training attitude (exhausted, uninspired).

When I returned home from work Monday night Bud had not only got Tempest jumping, but had incorporated the jump training into a distance training exercise. He was sending Tempest over 2 jumps and into a tunnel, then practicing front crossing skills on the 2 jumps coming back from the exit of the tunnel.

Rather than teaching jumps as a separate job (a training lesson I’ll pick up later with my breakfast 2-minute training protocols), Bud put jumping into a distance exercise, with the end target of a tunnel.

Tempest was doing the jumps without thinking about it, and doing jumps well. Nice focus, nice height over the 12″ jumps, driving straight down the line of jumps into the tunnel.

It was lovely, and I appreciated Bud spending the time it took to create this performance. It made my day.

2-minute dog trainer, Tempest finds heel

September 14, 2010

A week ago I came to the conclusion that Tempest was NOT going to debut Sept. 25 in rally obedience.

Because Tempest’s debut was put off (for months, actually), my goals have changed.

Instead of encouraging him to dance with me, whether in agility or rally-o or obedience, I’m limiting my movement and asking him to think about what I’m saying.

He’s learning quite a few words, including (but not limited to):

1) “T” means “pay attention to me,” versus “Tempest” which is his name. “T” is a cue in itself, while “Tempest” means another cue will follow.

2) “Come” which means “drop what you’re doing and come to me.”

3) “Leave it” which means “drop the mulch,” “walk away from Kory’s dinner without stealing any of it.”

4) “Lie Down” which means freeze in a 2-on-2-off position on the contacts. This was Bud’s language with Kory and he’ll be running Tempest some of the time, so I surrendered my choice of language on this one. Upside is we get to use the same words on an agility course. Downside is Tempest doesn’t actually know that “lie down” means “lie down.”

5) “T-down” means “lie down.”

6) “Heel” is a cue meaning “move into heel” or “move to stay in heel” position. Most important — key to my rewarding the performance — is moving. It’s important that Tempest sees heeling as a sport activity, rather than as a begging or groveling position.

7) “Settle” means lie down and relax quietly, whether in a crate or in the living room.

In addition to the words he’s learned, Tempest remembers all my foundation training, including “sit” is the way you ask for things like going out through the door, coming in through the baby gate, and entering or exiting a crate or pen.

At the strangest moments I’ll find him sitting facing the back door (Mommy, please, may I go out?).  Or sitting in the dining room facing toward where I’m sitting and the other dogs surround me (Mommy, are you coming this way to feed us?). Or sitting in the training building facing the open door as the rest of us follow him in (Kory, would you please come play with me?).

Sit has become his default, his means of controlling his environment. And I love that.

Down has become his self-control posture, and his means of calming himself. I love that, too!

2-minute dog trainer – 2011 goals

September 8, 2010

A huge (though temporary) disappointment for me was the bit of confusion over whether I’d actually be given the day off on September 25, the Saturday of a local obedience trial where I had hoped to get 2 more RAE legs for Dash (who is 10-1/2 years old), and where I planned to debut Tempest (at 6 months) in his novice rally introduction.

I had requested the weekend off but, as a new employee, I was confused and discouraged when I saw the work schedule listing me working that weekend.

I drove home engaged in an angry rant. By the next morning, however, I had decided to take the long view with my little boy, keep training, and look toward spring and brighter days. I’m going to invest the money I’d have paid for the trial in Tempest’s neuter surgery and heartworm / flea prevention meds.

In the big picture, and considering the current dismal economic picture, we’re fortunate to be seeing healthy growth in our training center, to have affordable health insurance, and to have two lovely new puppies in addition to our great pack of dogs.

So Tempest continues with heeling training with his breakfast. Now, because there’s no rush to get an extended heeling pattern from him, I’ve made his training more granular, breaking it down even more, letting him make more choices.

This week we’re working on “find heel.”  I really want him to eagerly whirl into heel position. The obedience teams which capture my attention most are those where the dog is really throwing itself into the performance. That’s the type of partner my dear, departed Banner was, and I’d love to have that back in Tempest.

I take Tempest’s food bowl away from the rest of the pack (all gobbling down their meal), set the bowl on a high table, and Tempest quickly volunteers heel position.

“Yes!” is my response for the first heel position, but no food yet.

I take either:  1) a short step forward,  2) a right pivot,   3) a left pivot,  or  4) a long step forward.

If Tempest sticks with me he gets a “Yes!” and his breakfast.

If Tempest fails to stick with me he gets a “Let’s try again!” and we repeat the exercise. His focus and desire to do work while blocking out distraction are superior to any dog I’ve had before, so I don’t want to spoil that by setting my criteria too low or allowing him to believe that sub-standard performance is “good enough.”

The best thing about a working stockdog puppy is that I don’t have to spend 50% of my training efforts building confidence and drive.

I do, however, have the responsibility of maintaining criteria. If I waver in my visualization of the correct performance, if I make Tempest question the proper behavior, my training will be set back.

Clarity of vision, and a resolve to “do it right or don’t do it at all” are my best tools with Tempest right now.

It has long been my belief that dogs make errors in performance (obed, rally, agility, whatever) because of ill-timed or inconsistent rewards in their training.

Ill-timed rewards make the dog wonder “what was it that earned the reward?”

Inconsistent rewards make the dog wonder “does she like what I offered or not?”

Clarity — consistency — constancy — these three tools will get Tempest and I to success in our journey.

It doesn’t matter whether we debut at 6 months or 14 months. It doesn’t matter whether his debut is in rally or agility. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether his debut is with me handling, or with Bud handling.

My joy is in the journey. My joy comes pouring back to me from Tempest’s eyes. His enjoyment of the process and growing adoration of me is a sustaining constant in the turmoil of these busy (and occasionally obnoxious) days.

My puppy is my joy now.  Bud’s pleasure over Tempest’s personality is my joy now.

All the rest will pass.

2-minute dog trainer, Tempest learns directionals

September 2, 2010

With my new job keeping me away from home at dinnertime, Bud has assumed the role of Tempest’s 2-minute trainer for one meal a day.

I’m still feeding breakfast every day, and Tempest is learning how to find heel position from a multitude of positions.

He seems to like my hands hanging at my side (versus left hand at my waist) and that’s going to be just fine with me. I was trained, 20 years ago, in the “old school” position, dress code, etc.

Now I’m more comfortable with a natural heel position, handler’s arms relaxed, dangling at side, dog relaxed and attentive at side.

So Tempest is learning how to find heel position without a lot of signaling from me. I’m going to teach him a lot of verbal cues, including “Heel!” for a left finish, for heeling forward, etc.

In the meantime, Bud’s teaching Tempest “Right!” with a spin to his right.

He began by luring Tempest in the turn, then began removing the lure and allowing Tempest to choose the behavior.

If Tempest makes the slightest indication to the right, Bud produces the lure/reward and helps him around.

He’s been doing this for about 10 days, and Tempest has a pretty solid spin to the right, about 50-60% reliable. Bud plans to continue along this protocol path until Tempest is 90-100% reliable on “Right!”

He’ll then begin the mirror image protocol for “Left!”

In the meantime, you can imagine the amusing options my puppy offers when he’s in front of me and I say “heel!”

First he gives me a couple of right spins, sometimes spinning straight into heel position.