Archive for July, 2012

Marsha Houston blog – 2min dog trainer – It’s ON with Haymitch

July 30, 2012

Just mailed my entries to ARF’s TDAA trial August 18-19, reserved my room, and talked Bud into staying here that weekend to veg out with 5 dogs so I can focus solely on Haymitch.

It’s ON like Donky Kong!

Now I’ve got to start doing longer and longer sequences.  I’m thinking that a series of “Minuet” sequences might be good conditioning for both of us.

Wheee !!!  A dangerous situation — me and my FIRST teacup dog all my own.

Marsha Houston blog – 2min dog trainer – Haymitch con’t.

July 29, 2012

Haymitch has been on a crash course (no pun intended <g>) to prepare him for teacup agility competition. He gets mealtime training for dogwalk contacts (a sit at the bottom of the ramp) and a few sessions with the exploding pinwheel (“go on!”). He’s great dog-on-right going counter-clockwise, and sucks dog-on-left clockwise. So I’m doing 3-4 times as many pinwheels dog-on-left.

Additionally, once a day we spend 30 minutes in the training building where we’re working on sequencing, the full-size dogwalk and a-frame, the teeter, and weavepoles.

Sequencing – Haymitch seems to really enjoy running with me. He’s pretty steady about understanding his role, and rarely by-passes an obstacle. The most-often missed obstacle for Haymitch is a jump. I want him to understand that I’m not going to babysit agility obstacles, so I condition the dogwalk approach. I run at the dogwalk from 5 feet, from 10 feet, from 15 feet, and finally from the exit of the tunnel (about 20 feet). I’m going to add a jump to the sequence, between the tunnel and dogwalk, so he learns to take the jump that’s in his path.

Sequencing (mealtime) – For breakfast and supper Haymitch is learning the exploding pinwheel, taking three jumps in a pinwheel without my having to babysit them.

Full size dogwalk, a-frame, and teeter – Haymitch’s contact training actually started on our teeter trainer. It’s a wide, heavy, low tipping board. He progressed from that to the teacup teeter. I then introduced the dogwalk and he had no problem distinguishing between the teeter and the dogwalk. I then introduced the teacup a-frame. His first sequence contained both the teacup teeter and a-frame. Yesterday I tested his confidence by asking for the full-size a-frame, which he took quite naturally, as if he’d been doing agility all his life.  I always want to challenge him, so I took him to the full-size teeter which he ran up, rode down, and sat for his treat. He repeated this obstacle half a dozen times and seemed unaffected by the height, the tip, the noise, etc. So impressive!

Weavepoles – there are as many methods for teaching weavepoles as there are agility experts, and I’m not afraid of implementing any method if I feel it will add to my dog’s understanding of the obstacle. Haymitch’s introduction to weavepoles was with two poles, with a click/treat for entering correctly. I then added a third pole, click/treat for entering and exiting correctly. I then added a second set of 2 poles, with a click/treat or tossing a toy for going on to the second set. (As an aside, Haymitch’s favorite game with a toy is “keep-away” so I can get lots more repetitions if I train with food, whether I click/treat from my hand, or click/toss the treat into his reward zone.) Yesterday I wired a set of 6 poles, put him on lead, and got him to weave through all 6 poles for a toss of the tennis ball. Because I had him on lead I had better control of the “keep away” game. I may continue with the wired weaves, then transition to other methods if his weave performance is slow or unnecessarily deliberate.

I’m getting quite excited at the prospect of actually showing him in August. I’ll be anxious to see if he is adversely affected by strange environments, strange equipment, strange people, dogs barking, etc.

Marsha Houston blog – 2-minute dog trainer – Haymitch learns the chute

July 21, 2012

When teaching a new obstacle, our goal is always to start with the obstacle set for the easiest performance, reward the dog for performing, making it a little harder, rewarding the dog for performing, making it a little harder, etc.

This methodology usually requires an assistant, or instructor, to hold the dog’s leash or to adjust equipment.

Two days ago I decided to teach Haymitch to perform the collapsed tunnel. I decided to try it on my own, while Bud was down at the pond clearing the downed trees from June’s derecho event.

I set up one of our big barn fans facing the barrel end of the chute.

The chute fabric was completely extended, but the air flow from the barn fan kept the upper fabric about 12 inches off the floor.

I presented Haymitch with the chute, and he balked.

We went to a pipe tunnel, which he’s familiar with, and performed it a few times with a treat reward each time.

I set the pipe tunnel so the pipe tunnel exit faced the entrance of the chute. I thought that his performance of a familiar obstacle might encourage him to perform the unfamiliar obstacle.

I sent Haymitch into the pipe tunnel then directed him into the chute. He scooted right through and I tossed his treat a foot or two beyond the chute fabric.

I continued to present the chute entrance to Haymitch, clicking and treating as he went through the fabric.

If I clicked too early, as he entered the barrel end, he’d come back out. I had to click when he was more than half way through the fabric.

Each time I presented the obstacle I was farther from the entrance, so Haymitch ended up running 5-6 feet to get into the chute.

With the fan keeping the chute fabric open, Haymitch learned to seek out the entrance of the chute, run straight through, and find his reward on the floor 1-2 feet away from the exit.

When Haymitch was confidently going through the chute, with the fabric blown open, I changed the trajectory of the barn fan’s air flow.

This allowed the fabric to drop slightly, as less air was directed through the chute.

I went back to my original presentation position, sending him through the pipe tunnel and then into the chute.

I continued to click/treat as he was more than half way through the fabric. In our first training session, which took about 15 minutes, Haymitch was performing his conditioned sequence (teeter, tire, jump, a-frame, tunnel) followed by a distance send into the barrel end of the chute.

Our second training session began with the fan blowing the fabric open.

After 4-5 repetitions with the fabric blown open, I shifted the trajectory of the fan breeze, allowing the fabric to drop slightly.

Haymitch continued performing the chute, thought slightly slower.

I repeated the obstacle a dozen times, clicking Haymitch as he was half way through the fabric, and tossing his treat 1-2 feet from the fabric exit.

I again shifted the trajectory of the fan breeze, allowing the fabric to drop completely.

Haymitch refused the chute the first time he was faced with the fabric lying flat.

I turned the fan to push a little air through the fabric.

Haymitch went through the chute 5-6 times for his click/treat.

I again turned the fan away to allow the fabric to drop.

Haymitch went through the chute with the fabric flat on the floor!  We repeated this performance 5-6 times, with a click as he as reached the half way point of the fabric, and getting his treat about 1-2 fee from the exit of the chute.

We finished this training session with his conditioned sequence (teeter, tire, jump, a-frame, tunnel) and fired into the chute with the fabric lying on the floor!

Bud joined us partway through this sequence, so I handed him my string cheese and Haymitch immediately shifted his focus to Bud and ran the sequence for him!

We finished the training session with a few weave entries, finishing our string cheese. I’m SO impressed with this little guy!

Haymitch’s 2-minute meal time training focuses on the dogwalk contact trainer, feeding breakfast and supper for a sit on the end of the contact.

This mealtime training carries over into his sequencing work as:  1) on the teeter Haymitch climbs the ramp, rides it down, and sits on the end of the ramp,  2) on the a-frame Haymitch slows as he approaches the contact,  3) we haven’t done a lot of dogwalks, but I’m going to encourage a sit at the end of the ramp.

Marsha Houston’s blog – 2min dog trainer – Haymitch’s progress

July 17, 2012

Getting a new dog, whether it’s a puppy, adolescent, or adult from a breeder, or a rescue with unknown heritage, is a crap shoot.

Dogs have issues with confidence, with aggression, with shyness. Dogs can get sick, can experience trauma. Dogs can experience inherited behavioral or physiological challenges.

First-time dog owners sometimes assume that every dog will be a happy, healthy pet, and that agility or obedience performances are possible with every dog.

I’ve been around the block a few times, this isn’t my first dog show (so to speak), and I know how rare it is to find a dog in rescue who is happy, confident, well-socialized with people and dogs and cats. To find a rescued dog who has all these qualities AND is an eager agility partner is incredibly rare. To find a rescued dog with all these qualities, the athleticism for agility, AND who randomly offers behaviors for the click/treat, is a treasure.

When I adopted Haymitch all I wanted was a dog who was confident, who could be socialized to be comfortable in a trial setting.

What I got is a confident dog who has no apparent issues whatsoever with people, dogs, cats, equipment, vet techs, etc.

He is as athletic as I need, easily chases and keeps up with the border collies, plays with Phoenix with confidence, climbs and jumps onto chairs and tables, has no fear of anything I can see.

When I get out my clicker and treats Haymitch looks for work. He tries all the stuff he knows — at first he only knew “jump up,” “sit,” and “lie down.”  Now he throws all three of those, but he’s added “tire,” “tunnel,” “teeter,” and “weave” to his offerings.

Yesterday we had 2 training sessions on our little circular sequence (jump, tire, teeter, tunnel, a-frame). I also added a 5 minute session with 2 weavepoles.

This morning we entered the training building and he offered the tunnel twice. Walking to the weaves he offered the tire. When he saw we were headed to the weaves he offered a weave entry and then ran beyond it to the training teeter. Like a kid in a candy store, his skills are growing and he’s able to offer double the behaviors of a week ago.

Before this weekend is over I want to be working Haymitch on his sequence, AND on the weaves, with the distraction of Bud and the other dogs in the building.

I just want to go on record as saying “I will never take for granted this fabulous little dog and the personality and skills he brings to the team.”

Thank you, Margaret Hendershot and Multiple Breed Rescue!

Haymitch timeline ….
June adopted Haymitch
July rear dewclaws removed, began agility training
July 28-29 first trial opportunity (B&D)
August 17-18-19 second trial opportunity (ARF)
September 2 trial opportunities (Four Seasons and B&D)
October last weekend PA Petit Prix
November first weekend TX Petit Prix

I’m curious about exactly what is possible for Haymitch, if I devote the time and energy he deserves.

In the meantime, Phoenix is 7 months old and will begin weavepole and full-size contacts training this winter. His first trialing opportunity will be next summer, though he may get held back so that he can debut with Django who is just 4 months old.

Marsha Houston’s Blog – 2-min. dog trainer – prepping Haymitch

July 11, 2012

Most of my 2-minute training protocols were created with adolescent or mature dogs in mind, because I developed this program when we had older rescued dogs and my classes were filled with adolescent, untrained, pups.

In the last couple of years my blog has focused on using those protocols to develop an eight-week-old puppy into an agility or rally partner.

Phoenix, at 7-1/2 months, does his 2-on-2-off contacts for breakfast and dinner. We have jumps set up in the yard and he’s also doing “go on” and “jump” for meals. I’ve begun asking for some responses to common handling at mealtime as well (front crosses with simple rotation, some back crosses) but I feel no need to rush him into more complex sequencing or obstacle performance.

Ever few days I play with him in the 2-by-2 weave poles. We don’t do a bunch of repetitions, but I want him to remember what “weave” means. By this coming winter I’ll begin emphasizing weave entries more, proofing contacts, and start putting together sequences.

On the other hand, Haymitch landed in my lap ready for action. He’s 18-24 months old, athletic, greedy for food, greedy for toys, and bright as can be. I have no idea what his past was (don’t really care) but he hasn’t shown any fear issues. He doesn’t lack confidence on equipment, with other dogs, with people, etc. The perfect rescue dog. (Thanks, Multiple Breed Rescue and Margaret Hendershot — you picked a great one for me !!!)

We got Haymitch in June — that month was his settling-in month. His mealtime activities included sitting for his food bowl and keeping his nose out of other dogs’ bowls.  Also in June he was introduced to jumps, the dogwalk, the teeter, and some minor sequencing.

I’ve also worked with him at his recall. Immediately following the June 29 derecho Haymitch found a hole in the dog yard and went on a minor “run-about.” So many trees were down there was no traffic on the highway in front of our house, and he focused his worried dashing about to the neighbor’s freshly-cut hay field, so I left the gate open, left hot dogs on the porch, and went about repairing storm damage. Fifteen minutes later he was standing on the front porch wanting in. I resolved to give more focus to his recall, though his response was due largely to the horrible storm he’d just survived, and the continuing rumbling afterwards. He didn’t so much run off as just “run.”

In July he’s had surgery to remove two worrisome rear dewclaws, and his stitches come out this week. Also in July he’s been introduced to the a-frame, the tire, tunnels, and chute.

These introductions to equipment have been the equivalent of one beginner agility session. Bud and I worked together yesterday on tire, chute, and tunnel, but it’s mostly been me casually going to the building with Haymitch for a little training.

But now training begins in earnest in preparation for late October’s TDAA Petit Prix events in Latrobe, PA, and Wichita Falls, TX.

Texas’ Kim Brewer thinks I should bring my little corgi/chi mix to Wichita Falls. I don’t know that he’ll be ready, but it should be an interesting trip for him (shopping list includes new sherpa bag), and it may mean that little Hazard, at age 8, stays home with our house-and-dog-sitter.

He may go to the Petit Prix as an ambassador versus competitor, but he’ll be entered in all the runs and he’ll be as trained as possible. We may skip every set of weaves, he may bail the teeter, he may not hit a contact all weekend — or he may do just fine.

The Latrobe, PA, trip is easier to confirm since it’s a driving trip. Of course he’ll go!  Again, we may skip every set of weaves, bail the teeter, miss our contacts — or do just fine.

This is all directly related to my investment of time and effort. His performance in PA and TX will be a direct reflection on my skill as a trainer, and his confidence level.

Job one is establishing our timeline. I want him to experience a couple of TDAA trials, to gauge his confidence level and his skill level. I want to know if he’ll stay in the ring with me, stay focused, in the presence of that level of distraction.

July 21-22 Medina Swarm — doubt if we can possibly be ready, but might be an interesting test of his confidence level, may go for one day

July 28-29 B&D Creekside — would be great to get him into the Petit Prix venue and Bud will be there for a judge’s clinic so it would be four full days in that environment — two days to adjust, two days to play on equipment

Aug 18-19 ARF — definitely will go, should be able to train weaves by then

Sept 8-9 Four Seasons — would be a great experience for Haymitch AND his ex-best-friend Margaret is the judge, so it’s a great training opportunity.

Sept. 29-30 B&D Creekside — probably our last opportunity to prep for the Petit Prix as Bud’s doing a bunch of seminars in early October.

Job two is assigning skills to the timeline.  In our classes we have great success with:  1) familiarize dogs with equipment and condition performance, 2) present obstacles with movement, 3) sequence familiar obstacles with those less familiar,  4) string together 3-4 obstacles.

In July I want Haymitch to see all the equipment and begin small sequences.

In August I want Haymitch to start weaving, and confidently performing the teeter.

In September I want to start putting it all together.

In October I want to let him have a great time at the PA and TX Petit Prix, and develop the teacup agility partnership I imagined when I asked Margaret to keep an eye out for my first teacup agility dog.

See you at the Petit Prix!