Archive for May, 2011

2 minute dog trainer – Hazard at ARF’s first TDAA trial

May 23, 2011

This past weekend Bud and I loaded all our dogs in 2 vehicles and headed out for two separate events. We only have 4 dogs now (Dash 11, Hazard 7, Kory 2, Tempest 1), fewer than we’ve ever had since we’ve known each other.

There’s a certain freedom now that we’ve never had before. No need to call a dog sitter to see if a weekend trial is possible.

We just load up all the dogs and go. This means Dash, our old man now, is simply a traveling companion. But he walked into the trial building with a spring in his step, and accepted string cheese as payment every time Hazard left to run a course.

This was the first TDAA trial run by the folks at ARF (Agility Rally for Fun) in eastern Columbus, Ohio. The group has a large dedicated following of dog trainers and dog lovers, and we were treated to a lovely weekend of teacup agility.

My little Hazard had a 6-out-of-10 weekend. I have to keep reminding myself that she and I lose focus when we’re tired, so Saturday morning is always our best effort.  By Saturday afternoon Hazard was losing juice and being distracted.

Sunday morning we were both tired and disconnected. By Sunday afternoon I was more on-the-ball and was keeping a better connection with her, so we Q’d but were slow.

I’m working on Hazard’s TACh4, which requires a total of 75 superior standard Qs and 75 games 3 Qs.  She’s had her games for awhile, but needed standard Qs. We walked into ARF’s building on Sunday needing 15 standard Qs and got just 3 — we now need 12 more superior standard Qs.

I’d love for her to get her TACh4 at the Petit Prix, and there are 2 standard rounds there, so I really need to get 11 standard Qs this summer to be on track for that achievement.

I also need to get this little girl in better condition. I just don’t do enough agility with her and (typical Sheltie) she prefers to sleep about 23 hours a day.

One more bunch of tasks for my “to do” list.

On the other hand, Bud took Kory and Tempest to Kuliga for a 1-day seminar on Saturday (May 21). He said Tempest was a good boy to travel with, he used Tempest as a demo dog for the novice group Saturday morning, and they all got home safe and sound.

Yesterday Bud led our students in a 4-hour distance workshop, the last of our Sunday afternoon workshops and the end of the spring quarter.

I hated missing it, but thankfully all our workshops are going to move to weeknights starting in June.

I was sharing our summer training and trialing plans with Bill and Belinda Cox this past weekend and Bill said, “we never schedule any training for weekends anymore.”

When you’re training dogs to show I guess you just have to make time in your weeknight schedule for all your training. That doesn’t leave room for workshops, seminars, camps, etc.

The economy, and the wealth of trialing opportunities in Ohio, have created a situation where folks want to spend their time and money on weekend trials instead of training.

We’re adjusting our camp offerings to accommodate this shift.  I want to do 1-2-day camps.  Arrive one afternoon, get in some training, stay overnight, get some more training, maybe stay 2 nights total.

2-minute dog trainer, composing music

May 12, 2011

Bud and I talk often about the idea of an agility team — dog and handler — developing a mutual language, a language understood and acted upon by both members of the team.

In beginners and intermediates classes we also refer to the dog’s “reference library,” or the historical data at their disposal to tell them what any particular handler cue means.

This all sounds very technical and “instructor-speak,” but it’s really a matter of conditioned response from the dog to handler cues which must be replicated as exactly as possible, time after time, to improve the odds the dog will recognize the cue and respond with a conditioned behavior.

At some point along the journey with nearly every dog, this mutual language becomes a sweet, sweet conversation.

The handler’s physical cues, interspersed with the occasional verbal cue, result in an immediate physical response from the dog.

The dog’s focus and movement result in an immediate physical response from the handler.

It’s a beautiful dance.  When you have your first agility “conversation” with your dog it is an event you never forget. It’s exhilarating and moving.

So, with young dogs, we begin by explaining individual words (ex: “Walk-up!”).  We build to small sentences (ex: “Jump, walk-up, bottom, tunnel!).

As the dog gets more experienced at our language, the sentences become longer (ex: “tunnel, jump, weave, jump, tunnel!, walk-up”). The conversation is often physical and not verbal.

This process is the same for children learning how to read and speak their native language. At first nothing means anything to them but, with constant repetition, they begin to put words into context and understand more and more complex sentence structure.

The experts at this language become writers of great prose or poetry or lyrics.  When the incredibly talented combine these word streams with music, we have great songs that touch our hearts and move us.

When an agility dog-and-handler team reach the pinnacle of their training, their agility runs are like a great song — a symphony — a work of art — and we’re often moved to tears to be part of that experience.

My goal with Tempest (now 14 months old) is to build his understanding of my movement and my words in order to build our mutual language. If I set any other goal before myself, it’s a single step on the journey toward “making music” with my little boy.

Right now we’re working on “See Spot Run,” and I must be very patient and consistent.