Posts Tagged ‘dogs in motion’

2-minute dog trainer – weekly classes

May 26, 2012

In my May 11 post I described, in as much detail as was possible, our ideas for the end of our “training center” phase and the beginning of our “social club” phase.

It’s interesting to look back over my life and divide it by phases.

In 1998 my married-lady-working-40-hours-a-week phase ended with a bang. My 15-year relationship with my husband gave up the ghost without a whimper. I never knew anyone could care so little about a marriage as my ex.

Regardless, life marched on and I met a man who shared my interest in positive reinforcement dog training in general, and dog agility in particular.

We have fun together, have the same sick sense of humor, can vent to each other without worrying, and understand each other.

So the dog-training-center-facilitator phase of my life began April 1999. At Dogwood Training Center we averaged 120 students, with another 200 campers who visited for a week at a time.

In 2007 we considered semi-retirement, and my parents needed more attention from me, so we sold Dogwood and moved to Watertown, Ohio.

Our plan was to do a few camps each year, do a lot of writing and travel with our dogs, and slow down a little. We began our family-first-with-lots-of-writing phase.

Dog agility exhibitors in our area asked us to open our building for classes. We’ve averaged between 10 and 15 students since then, requiring a bit of work but nowhere near the effort required by our central Ohio site.

We have one more weeknight group class. Then we enter our TDAA-management-and-training-our-puppies phase.

Here’s how I see it working for us.

Every Monday or Tuesday Bud will set equipment in the training building and establish 3-4 training sequences which he’ll print out and post in the building.

On Tuesday evenings Phoenix and I will go to the building to do some “2-minute-dog-training” — working on obstacle performance and the specific skills a fast little dog with a slow old handler needs. If anyone wants to join us an play along, that’s okay.

On Wednesday evenings Kory and Phoenix will go to the building to do some sequence work — honing the more complex skills needed as Kory (AX AXJ) approaches his USDAA Masters titles. Phoenix and I will join them on little bits of sequences.

The rest of the week people will come and go, playing with their dogs on sequences designed by Bud, or of their own creation.

Here’s how I see it working for our local students.

Students who choose to become Board Members get access to the building and grounds, plus either or both nights of training at no additional charge. We hope they’ll help us maintain the public areas of the property.

Students who choose to be regular Members get access to the building and grounds, plus kick in a few bucks if they want instruction.

We’ll continue offering a few private camps each year. We have lots of fun with our friends from around the country. And our cottages provide sleeping quarters for folks traveling a distance and wanting private lessons.

We’ll be answering lots of questions, obviously. My basic response is “we no longer have a dog training center.” Everything else will work itself out.

Phoenix approaches age 6 months.

Phoenix has been with us 3 months. He’s been a clever little boy, interested in offering all sorts of favorite behaviors for food, for toys, for attention.

His mealtime training includes 2-on-2-off contact performance, distance sends through a series of hoops to a jump, and some sequences requiring that he follow my movement.

Every afternoon I try to break away from paperwork to play with him. We’re working on his formal retrieve and he’s currently chasing the dumbbell and bringing it back to dump it in my right hand. We’re also going to the training building occasionally to work on the more advanced equipment. He’s developed independent performance of the full-size a-frame, the skinnier dogwalk (not the full-size one yet), and the full-size teeter.

I’ve noticed he indicates lack of confidence by simply avoiding an obstacle, but he can be encouraged to be brave with food, toys, or attention.

He’s a typical border collie. He loves his baby pool, his big brothers, and stretching out on the couch.

I’m so lucky to have found him, though we have no idea of his heritage.

I love him intensely.

2-minute dog trainer – consistent reinforcement

May 10, 2012

If someone were to quote “Marsha-isms” I hope one they would choose is my favorite —

“Most dog training problems, and most dog behavior issues, are the result of ill-timed or inconsistent reinforcement.”

Dogs learn through reinforcement.

The more often they’re right, the more frequent the reinforcement for the right behavior, the faster they learn.

The smart dog trainer makes sure her dog is right 95% or more of the time.

Some unwanted behaviors are self-rewarding so the clever trainer must install the replacement behavior before the puppy discovers the unwanted behavior.

Regardless of whether it’s an agility performance or house manners, responsibility for the dog’s behavior sits firmly on the shoulders of the trainer.

My puppy cannot behave in a manner I’ve not taken the time to train.

Phoenix has two behaviors in class that really annoy me. More because they point out my shortcomings as a trainer than any other reason.

Let me start by saying he has no natural impulse control. I’m teaching him, incident by incident, how to control his puppy impulses.

At class last night he had a couple of out-of-control moments which embarrassed me slightly, and put some things on the top of my “to do list.”

1) Phoenix barks in his ex-pen when other dogs run, and when our students are excited and are encouraging their dogs. It’s just a matter of over-stimulation on his part, but I’ve not spent the time encouraging quiet.

2) When Phoenix wants to visit people and dogs he likes, my recall is worthless. I work on recall  occasionally, but need to put more emphasis on it because it is truly NOT reliable. He approaches people and dogs as if everyone wants to be his new best friend (sorry Crystal <g>).

So, in the first instance, I’ve not established enough reinforcement for the replacement behavior (quietly lying down in his ex-pen while other dogs are running).

In the second instance, I’ve not conditioned an immediate response to my recall.

Oh yeah, and he jumps up on people. And most people reinforce that. So my work at sitting-for-petting-and-attention must get more focus.

Topdog Agility Players agility club

Beginning June 1st our training center will be transitioning to a club where our agility friends can come and play, and work, and train, and even teach!

We’re not so much “closing the training center” as discontinuing classes, rosters, paperwork, and e-mail reminders.

When we become a social club we have a few expectations:
1. we’ll get assistance with responsibility and maintenance, OR
2. we’ll have less public appearance maintenance
3. we’ll grow a few new (and amazing) agility instructors, as
we’ll be allowing our members to run their own classes
4. our members will have incentive to invite members
5. we’ll spend time and effort commensurate with income

Members will have access to our instruction (Bud’s on Wednesdays, mine on Tuesdays) and we’ll still have occasional workshops. Members will have unlimited access to the training building and fields.  We’ll expect them to assume some responsibility over their training goals.

It’s all about consistent reinforcement, after all.

Bud’s been teaching agility classes for 20 years. I’ve been teaching obedience and agility for 18 years. In 2012 about 90% of our reinforcement (reward) comes from non-agility-class activities.

We’re hoping this transition allows all of us to train our dogs and have fun doing dog-related activities, gets us some assistance keeping up the public appearance of the agility building and surrounding zone, and spreads some of the responsibility associated with lesson plans, rosters, and e-mail updates.

Or maybe it will still be just Bud and I maintaining a 60×120 pole barn and parking lot, and playing with our dogs.

Some folks object to change of any sort, so it remains to be seen what the response will be to our plan.

2-minute dog trainer, Phoenix at 5 months

May 4, 2012

Phoenix occasionally joins my beginner agility class as a demo dog. His drive is lovely, though his youth is evident in his desire to visit with the other friendly handlers and dogs.

Phoenix has a bro-mance with “Bear,” a 7-month-old Aussie, and an affection for “Lisa,” a sweet little Icelandic Sheepdog.

He’s starting to attend my recall faster and faster, and we continue to work on recall skills for 1-2 meals a week.

In addition to his mealtime training on the contact trainer, and on the 30-foot dead-away send through hoops and jumps, Phoenix has begun three new training protocols.

Start-line stays

First, using the same line of hoops and jumps where we practice our “send,” we’re practicing start-line stays.

I believe I’ve created a unique start-line stay philosophy and training protocol — I’ve seen no one else addressing it in the following manner.

My philosophy is that dogs generally do not “break their start-line stay.” Instead, what they actually do with great frequency, is “anticipate the release to do agility.”

If I examine my dogs’ behaviors at the start line, and compare it with training for an obedience recall, I see two ways a dog may fail the exercise: 1) breaking the stay, leaving the task, putting nose down and sniffing, wandering off, and losing interest, OR 2) anticipating the release to follow me, or simply “jumping the gun.”

As a trainer using positive reinforcement, my responses to these two failures are distinctly different. If I treat anticipation the same as I do lack-of-interest, my training will be the biggest failure.

My training for “jumping the gun,” or anticipating the release to do agility, involves three elements.

I wish to reward the dog for staying, and will reward tiny stay performances at first, building consistently and in tiny increments with each training session.

My negative punishment (removal of reward and attention in order to extinguish behavior) for anticipating involves the absence of the reward, and having to return to the original position.

The third element of the start-line stay, and one I believe is unique to my start-line stay training, is the idea that the dog learning to stay in front of a jump, tunnel, dogwalk, whatever, must NEVER be released to that obstacle during start-line training.

Instead, I cue the “stay,” leave the dog, walk around the jump (or tunnel, or dogwalk, whatever), return to my dog’s side, reward the dog for the stay, and then release him to another, nearby, obstacle.

I want to establish in my dog’s mind the tiniest doubt that the course is going to progress in the direction of the obstacle in front of which they’re staying.

I want my dog to look to me for direction always, not assume and anticipate.

He’s able to stay while I leave his side, circle one jump or hoop, and return to his side to feed him his dinner. At first he was quite distracted and hyperactive but, once he was successful on a couple of short stays, he started catching on.

With stays I try to remind my students constantly that dogs learn through their successes so, the more successful they are, the faster they learn.

Retrieves (formal and play)

I must admit, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE training retrieves, both play retrieves and formal (aka obedience dumbbell) retrieves.

When I started training Banner (my Novice A obed/agil dog)  to retrieve in 1998, I met Sue Sternberg and was introduced to her inducive retrieve methodology. She left me with a charming self-published training brochure, with hand-drawn pictures of the trainer and dog.

Banner picked up on the training so quickly I swore I’d never use another method for training the retrieve.

Last week Phoenix started learning the inducive retrieve. The methodology is to position a treat behind the bar on the dumbbell, and the dog has to “go through” the dumbbell, touching or grasping with teeth, in order to get to the treat.

In his first 5-minute session Phoenix showed me he’s a fun guy willing to offer all sorts of behaviors which make no sense to him. He quickly started putting his teeth on the dumbbell, then grabbing it out of my hand, staying engaged and focused the whole time.

In his second 5-minute session he progressed to picking it off the floor and swinging his head, with the dumbbell still in his mouth, toward me.

In his third 5-minute session he progressed to chasing it when I tossed it 4-6 feet away, picking it off the floor, and returning partway to me with the dumbbell.

Tonight, in his fourth 5-minute session he progressed to sitting while I tossed the dumbbell 10 feet away, going after it when I said “get it!”, picking it up and bringing it all the way back to my hand.

WHEEEEE!!!   Awesome.  Mommy is VERY pleased.

For his play retrieve I began with generally conditioning him to put his mouth on various toys. When he brings the toy back to me I immediately toss it again. When he fails to bring the toy back I follow him, take the toy, put it away, and end the game.

Now, a month since I began this subtle training, I try to not over-do the play retrieve because I want to end the game while he still eager and willing to play.

Now that he’s mostly conditioned to the play retrieve, I can begin using a toss of the toy as his reward for agility performance, knowing he’ll return to me with the toy.

Sequencing (running with me)

I’m incredibly excited about Phoenix’s temperament and biddability. He’s learning everything very quickly.

But the most impressive thing about Phoenix is the calm intensity with which he follows my movement between agility obstacles.

He doesn’t bark or carry on. He leaves the start line focused and in high drive. He turns on a dime whether presented with a front cross, back cross, blind cross, whatever.

My beginner class is made up of three dogs, including Phoenix. We have plenty of time to put together and practice rather long sequences. The equipment is jammed pretty tightly into the 30×60 space.

My students are GOOD students. They try to do their homework, they listen to instructions, they watch me demonstrate, they absorb the philosophical discussion, and we progress quickly.

Four weeks ago, Phoenix was coming out of his crate for a couple of 2-minute demonstrations each class.

Two nights ago he spend nearly 45 minutes out of his crate, engaged in agility play (and flirtation).

His ability, at 5 months, to follow my movement on sequences, is breathtaking for me. Couple that with bold, fearless, obstacle performance, and you can imagine the fun I’m having.

I often think fondly of Tempest, and miss him every day, but Phoenix is providing me with a new agility life.

I would love to get comments from my regular readers! Tell me how your training is going, what suggestions you’ve tried with your own dogs, or how you’ve modified a protocol to suit your needs. Comments please!

2-minute dog trainer – months 5 to 9

April 10, 2012

Don’t worry — I’m not going to leave you hangin’ for 4 months. I just want to comment on the fact that no two puppies develop or train the same.

When Tempest was 4-or-5 months old, I took a job at a local hospital. It was entry level grunt work, but it supplied Bud and I with health insurance, plus a small paycheck.

I hated the job. I came home exhausted 4 or 5 nights a week, after an 11-to-7:30pm shift. I was generally irritated with the mean girls and dopey managers with whom I worked, and would cry about the rudeness I was forced to endure each work day. It was awful and no one deserves that life for $12,000 a year plus health insurance.

When I started the job Tempest was about 5 months old, and when I quit the job he was 9 months old. Tempest’s training was put on hold from mid-August to nearly Christmas 2010.

After quitting my horrible job, Bud and I took leadership positions with TDAA, Bud had an automobile accident in Indiana, and our lives were in turmoil. Tempest’s training slowed for the winter, and we didn’t really start sequencing until he was about 11 months old.

At 12 months he started learning how to weave, and began an intermediate agility class at a local club.

I don’t think we ever made up for those lost months. Before he got sick (Dec.2011) my plan was to spend the winter doing the training we had missed Fall-Winter 2010.

So, in other words, I was continuing with the 2-minute dog training protocols, and Tempest’s individual obstacle performance was great, but his introduction to sequencing and following handler direction cues was LATE and INADEQUATE.

I’m hoping to redeem myself with Phoenix.

My work life is different now. My work day revolves around my laptop and I spend a great deal of time in my office. I do all the paperwork for TDAA, as well as the class and camp rosters.

At 4 months of age, Phoenix is enjoying obstacle training for 3 meals a day (will be transitioning to 2 meals a day in about 2 weeks).

Once a day, for about 15 minutes, Phoenix and I go to the building where we do simple sequencing with his tug toy as a reward.

My first goal with each session is to make sure he’s conditioned with each of the obstacles I plan to use in my mini-sequence.

When he’s confidently performing each of the obstacles in the sequence I start putting together 2-and-3-obstacle bits.

When he’s putting the sequences together, I practice the longer mini-sequence (5-6 obstacles).

Last week’s mini-sequence was teeter-tunnel-teeter, with a front cross between the tunnel and the second performance of the training teeter.

Today’s mini sequence was tunnel-under-the-aframe, across an 8″ jump, into another tunnel, front cross, turn-back into the same tunnel, and through the tire.

The sequence isn’t important. What is important is that he learn to look at me for his directional cues.

I’m pleased with Phoenix’s drive to run with me, with his interest in focusing on obstacles as we run, and his quiet, calm working style.

By conditioning individual obstacle, then conditioning tiny 2-3-obstacle sequences, then performing longer sequences, I hope to build in him an understanding that agility is fun. But that the fun of agility is following Mom and doing what she says to do.

Mealtime training this week (15 weeks of age) includes: 1) breakfast = contact trainer, 2) lunch, pause table on the ottoman with an automatic down, working on STAY as I walk around the living room, occasionally disappearing from sight, 3) dinner, contact trainer or hoops / jumps in the back yard.

We do contact training with breakfast x 7 days a week.
We do pause table training with lunch x 7 days a week.
We do contact training with dinner x 3 days a week.
We do jump training with dinner x 4 days a week.

Therefore, we do 21 training sessions on obstacle performance each week.

If I add one 15-minute sequencing session 5 days a week, I’m totaling over 125 minutes of training each week with my puppy.

All without stressing his body, overworking his little brain, or interrupting my life overmuch.

That’s what the 2-minute dog training protocols are all about. They’re designed to fit training into every day with your dog, and into every interaction with your dog.

2-minute dog trainer – Phoenix at 14-16 weeks

April 2, 2012

Because Phoenix is a rescued pup we’re not sure of his birthdate. The rescue group, on Feb. 20, guessed he was born 12/20/11, and was 8 weeks old.  I thought he had to be older than that (who ditches an 8-week-old puppy in rescue?!?).

So now, the first week of April, he’s either 14 weeks old, or a little older. I’m waiting for his teeth to start falling out at that 16-week mark to have a better idea of how old he is.

I’m going to establish a birthdate of 12/15/11, making him 16 weeks old this week. We’ll see what happens with his teeth.

Regardless of the precise age of this pup, he’s learning rapidly and is a joy to train.

First, the resource guarding is a constant training opportunity for us.

Instead of a little growl when I touch his bowl, I get a happy face and a wagging tail. I always hold the bowl and stroke Phoenix’s back, and the tail continues to wag.

If I touch his face with my free hand, the tail stops wagging, but he doesn’t freeze up anymore. This is going to be a long-term training objective, and we can’t ever forget that he doesn’t like having his food bowl approached.

He has half-a-dozen behaviors which he offers in sequence when I pick up his food bowl.

He loves to offer:  sit, down, 2-o-2-o contacts, front, heel, table, and go-to-bed (get in crate and lie down).

For breakfast we work on contacts. I’m allowing him to climb the ramp now, so 2-on-2-off is done in motion, at some speed.

For lunch we work on pause table (on the living room ottoman) and go-to-bed (with his crate).

We’ve added a new exercise for dinner. I’ve set up 3 hoops (ala NADAC) in the yard and am teaching “go on” as a cue to keep engaging the hoops.

If the sequence of 3 hoops is 1-2-3, I start with #3, “YAY” and reward, then #2-3, “YAY” and reward, then #1-2-3, “YAY” and reward.

We reverse direction and repeat the exercise. I can generally get three of four of these sequences in for a single bowl of food.

2-minute dog trainer – reliable recall

March 19, 2012

Yesterday I was letting dogs out of the house for the really-short walk to the training building. We walk this off lead because everyone simply wants to run to the training building.

Unfortunately, Bud was returning home from the hardware store (working on his chicken coop — see his blog for more info on that <www.budhouston.wordpress.com) and pulled into the driveway the second I let dogs out.

Hazard and Dash returned to my side when I called them, and Kory was on lead (due to his door-dashing issues), but Phoenix floated around the driveway for a minute or two while I called him and he ignored me, or dodged away from me.

Well — that won’t do, now will it ?!?!?

So Phoenix’s mealtime training has gone to module one of my basic obedience lessons — attention to name and recall.

With every meal I walk around, allowing him to forge ahead of me, “Phoenix come!” and food for sitting in a front position and allowing me to grab his collar.

We’ll work on that for another week or so … he’s really clever so I don’t foresee it taking very long.

His agility training is going really well. He’s absorbing the 2-o-2-o training as only a puppy can. He’s showing lots of good control over his rear-end. He runs to the contact trainer when food is available.

Lots of fun!

2-minute dog trainer – Phoenix’s training week2

March 16, 2012

Phoenix has been with us for 3 weeks.

His breakfast training has focused on minimizing his resource-guarding tendencies. There’s always a hand in his bowl and sometimes the hand takes the bowl away.

He has discontinued the practice of growling when the hand comes in, choosing to wag his tail instead. Just a couple of days ago I set his bowl down, stepped away from it, then stepped back in. He looked up, wagged his tail, and backed away from his bowl. That really pleased me.

On the other hand, when the other dogs approach his bowl they still get a little growl, and they’re very accepting of it. Dogs see this as a natural behavior for a hungry puppy, I guess. (If anyone out there can tell me they definitively know what dogs are thinking please let me know.)

Phoenix’s breakfast training takes place at the dog-feeding station in the basement. In addition to working on resource guarding he’s being trained to assume a 2-on-2-off position on the contact trainer.

When we first started we went to the wider, steeper a-frame end. He was drawn into position and fed from hand.

Now, after just one week on this training, Phoenix heads to his contact trainer the second I pick up his food bowl.

He runs to the trainer and assumes his 2020 position on either the a-frame end or the skinnier dog-walk end. We’re surprised at his ability to control his back legs. For an 11-week-old pup he seems very aware of his rear end.

He’ll often hit the position a couple of times while I’m walking behind him. Occasionally he’ll be standing, watching me, and move just his rear feet into position. I find that very surprising.

Phoenix’s lunchtime training takes place in my office, in the training building, in the vet’s office, or on the road.

For example, yesterday Phoenix’s vet appointment was scheduled for 11:30am. I put his lunch and my clicker in my purse. He was rewarded for:

1) getting into his crate (x 2)
2) walking into the examination room (x 1)
3) being on the exam table, first lying down, then rolling onto one hip (relaxing), then sitting, then standing, then lying down and relaxing, etc.
4) getting back into his crate (x 1)
5) getting back into his crate after a quick walk around the nursery where I was shopping for a tree to honor Tempest (looking for an Austrian Pine) — got to finish his lunch in his crate.

Sometimes we do hand-targeting for click/food. Sometimes we walk to the training building, getting clicked/fed for loose-leash walking.

Phoenix’s dinnertime training involves more resource-guarding training, and more contact training. His little body mustn’t be stressed, so we don’t do any work with jumps, or fetching, or anything that might overwork him.

Sometimes late in the evening Phoenix gets a little snack of kibble, especially if he’s played with Kory for a couple of hours after dinner. He gets a little hungry, and will come tell me — sitting, staring at my face, jumping on my legs.

Feeding him a little snack before bedtime means I can hold off on breakfast for an hour or so after waking.

Next week I’m going to bring some hoops into the yard and get started with sending him through the hoop.

2-minute dog trainer – trials and tribulations

September 27, 2011

Tribulation  1. great misery or distress, as from oppression; deep sorrow  2. something that causes suffering or distress; affliction; trial

Here’s my theory.

Our workaday worlds are characterized by a lot of “same old thing.”  We wake, we feed dogs, we shower, we get our coffee, we go to work, we train our dogs, we visit with our friends.  Same ole – same ole.

We seek out hobbies that meet our desire for exhilaration and tribulation (aka “DRAMA“) without entering into activities with too-high risk.  I don’t, for example, go rock-climbing, para-sailing, extreme anything, off-road anything except mowing. <g>

I do dog agility and it provides me with all the exhilaration and angst I can stand.  In fact I’m slightly addicted to it. It fulfills my need for drama, for exhilaration, for tribulation.

Would agility be as addictive with a “steady-Eddie” dog that Qs every run, or a dog that runs clean every time but is slow? Do I need to live on the edge to get my agility high?

And, if my dog is a “steady-Eddie,” is the accumulation of MACh points and double-Qs and championship titles enough drama?

Would agility be as addictive with a dog that didn’t really like agility trialing?  A dog that enjoyed the training, the socialization, the travel, but didn’t appreciate the stress of the agility test?

Well, we all have our own definition of fun, and we all clearly have our individual needs in the drama department.

All I need to do is either ramp up my tolerance for excitement, or get my demon spawn (18-month-old BC) Tempest to be more predictable.  When he’s more predictable, more responsive to my movement, our trial experience won’t be as “exciting.”

He does a lot of stuff very right:  1) start line stays 99% solid,  2) 2-on-2-off contacts 100% solid,  3) weave entries 90% solid,  4) automatic down on table 85% solid,  5) recognition of jump job 80% solid.

He does a few things very wrong:   1) straight line of jumps,  2) pinwheel of jumps,  3) accepting handler movement,  4) attending to my position,  5) keeping bars up.

My first plan of attack is to continue my conditioning exercises with Tempest. Our mealtime training for winter will include:

1) straight lines of jumps (go on!)

2) pinwheels of jumps (go on!)

3) front crosses on the landing side of jumps

4) rear crosses on the approach to jumps

5) absolute directionals (jump, left! and  jump, right!)

 
I’m going to go back to jumps at 16″ and start from scratch with “handling” Tempest in jumping sequences.  He drops bars at 20-22-24-26″.  I don’t think it’s that he can’t clear them. I think he doesn’t have the skills to see the jump and estimate the effort needed to perform it. So we go back to the beginning.

At the same time I want him more accustomed to absolute directionals.  These skills will enable me to pre-cue a turn without being in front of my freight-train boy.

Additionally, I’m going to keep in mind what Bud keeps saying, “Tempest is exactly where Kory was at that age” and that Tempest is a little faster and has no regard for physical pain or survival.

I got what I wanted in a pup — self-destructive brave.  I’ve got to be the voice of restraint, calm, control.

This winter’s lessons are going to constitute the last chapters of my 2-minute dog training book for agility training from 8 weeks to 2 years.  We’ll forego trialing in favor of training, and hit the trial scene again in the spring!

2-minute dog trainer – Bud will be so pleased

August 28, 2011

Bud has pointed out a couple of miscellaneous skills Tempest doesn’t have, skills which have been on a back burner.

This week Bud’s been out of town more than he’s been home, so I’m using my free time to focus on these skills. Hopefully we’ll have great news for daddy when he gets back into town.

First, retrieving.  Tempest’s favorite game is chase-the-toy-and-kill-it, then drop-it-and-wait-for-mom-to-come-get-it.  The game the dog likes is the correct reward, right?

However, it means a ton of walking for me, and I’d much prefer a dog who fetches his toy and hands it to me.

So this week we began working on a formal retrieve. Once he is retrieving his dumbell to hand I’ll introduce various toys, and help him start generalizing the “fetch” command.

When he’s retrieving to hand I’ll be able to use the toy for a reward and get more training done. The current game is very time consuming as MY toy-fetching speed is a direct reflection of my age and physical capabilities — I’m no 18-month-old BC.

Second, absolute directionals. Bud often says, “You’ve spent the time on Tempest’s contacts that I spent on Kory’s absolute directionals.”  And the dogs’ skills reflect the time we’ve spent on training them.

So Bud can direct Kory through a complex course, using minimal movement and well-conditioned absolute directionals.

Tempest and I, however, struggle with any sequence where I can’t be in the picture helping direct him.  If I say “left!” he’s more likely to spin right, indicating two things — 1) he has no idea what “left” means, and  2) just shouting “left” confuses him and makes him spin.

“Right” is an easier directional for Tempest. Primarily, I believe, because “right” consists of a hard vowel followed by a hard consonant. While “left” consists of a soft consonant followed by a soft vowel and a hard consonant.

So our mealtime training has been to train left-and-right.  At some point in the afternoon I break away from my TDAA and computer work to do a little retrieval training with him.

Mealtime left-and-right — with Tempest’s food bowl in my hands, I have him face me.  He immediately starts guessing what I want, often getting two 360-degree left turns in while I’m setting up.

After several days of “left” training, nearly all his guesses involve “left,” by the way.

When I’m set up I say, “watch me!” then “left.”  I’m looking for an indication of his head to the left. Sometimes it’s a flicker, sometimes he does a complete turn to the left, depending on how hungry he is.

The “watch me” command settles him down just a little and stops him from countless offerings of “left” head flickers and spins.

Not that I don’t want him to offer behavior, but I’d really like him to watch me and offer the behavior he hears/sees me cue.

He’s improved from 20-25% accuracy to about 65-70% accuracy in 2 weeks. So, as Bud says, “that’s better odds than just guessing, so somehow he’s starting to make the connection,” between the left-or-right commands and the correct direction for his head turn.

With the retrieve he’s progressed really quickly from jumping on the dumbell, putting it in his mouth, dropping it, and eating a treat …. to …. picking up the dumbell and bringing it toward my hand.

I’m helping him a bit at this point, getting my hand in really quickly so he’s delivering it to hand without too much effort.

The training I’m doing is following Sue Sternberg’s “Inducive Retrieve.”  It’s the method I’ve used to train my dogs to retrieve since 1997 and I’ve always be incredibly pleased with the results.

Sternberg’s method emphasizes the retrieve-to-hand, and the dog is constantly rewarded for releasing the dumbell into my hand.

As I learned some time ago, “fetch” has nothing whatsoever to do with chasing a toy or carrying a toy around.  It has nothing to do with holding a dumbell, or trotting across the floor with a dumbell in mouth.

Fetching is the act of putting something in my hand. Period.  Afterall, dogs carry things in their mouths all the time. They chase things all the time. Neither of those activities result in the item in my hand.

Sternberg’s training puts so much emphasis on dumbell into hand, treat into mouth, that the rest of the “fetch” behavior becomes just a means to an end. The toughest part of my dogs’ retrieve training is the stay while the dumbell flies away. They love retrieving, and I’m hoping Tempest is no exception.

Sue Sternberg’s well-written publications, including the inducive retrieve brochure, are available at <http://www.suesternberg.com/00shop.html> and all proceeds benefit the dogs in her Rondout Valley shelter in upstate NY.

 

2-minute dog trainer – brave new world

August 19, 2011

It’s been 3 weeks since my last blog.  My bad.

Tempest and I had a 7-week stretch of travel and trialing, and we made great strides at improving our communication. I also felt like we were living out of suitcases. My weekly check-list included “unpack car, refresh dog food, repack car.”  It was a little tiring, and very exhilarating.

As a minor matter, we completed our stint of AKC trialing with two titles (Novice Standard and Novice FAST), a Q in Novice JWW, 2 Qs in Open Standard, and a Q in Open FAST.

I had resolved that we’d get back to our AKC trialing in the spring, after a winter of building confidence with jumps, and developing the skills to work technical jump sequences (our weakness).

Bud Houston, my husband and instructor, initiated a series of technical jump handling class lesson plans (Nancy Gye’s Alphabet Drills – Clean Run magazines March 2005 through October 2006 — book and CD available from www.cleanrun.com).

We adjusted our class offerings for Fall and Winter to reflect our shifting emphasis, from writing and teaching to trialing and focusing on our own dogs (and Bud’s “Gather and Go” handling system).

We had a weekend off, due to our entries arriving too late for a 3-day trial, and we were looking forward to a little decompression after all the traveling. I was wanting a quiet weekend for Tempest, as it was the full moon and 4 weeks since his last seizure. Then an old friend of ours passed away, leaving a USDAA club in Oregon in a lurch and in need of a masters judge. Bud headed off to Oregon and I was left home alone.

Bud’s trip was followed by 3 days of advanced agility training on Nancy Gye’s highly technical jumping sequences, with Tempest keeping the majority of bars up and surprising me with his capacity to understand and respond to technical handling. I was literally left slack-jawed, saying “where’d he learn that?”

Well, of course, he’s a dog and he follows handler motion, and all I really need to do is learn and perfect the timing he needs from me.

Having missed just one weekend of travel, having Tempest remain in excellent health, and having conquered (for the most part)these marvelous complex training sequences, I just couldn’t stay home any longer.  Our return to AKC trialing will occur in September instead of March, while we continue to prepare for Tempest’s debut in USDAA in late September.

At the same time, we’re getting our house in order. Literally. We’re doing a spring cleaning in the log home. I’m a proponent of use-it-or-lose-it, so a few plastic bags of accumulated junk have made their way to the curb.

And we’re continuing to nibble away at TDAA’s system improvements while keeping up with the day-to-day work coming in.

All the time I’m working on the house and on TDAA registrations, memberships, trial applications, and events calendar, I have this excitement and obsession on the back burner.

I completely understand something now that I didn’t understand 12-10-8-years ago — the obsession with dog agility trialing.

For the first time in my life I am blessed with a dog who loves the sport, who can go from calm and relaxed in his crate to 100% on the start line, and who is physically capable of supporting our participation.

Having done all of Tempest’s training I have been able to build my own agility dog. And I’m absolutely loving this blessing at my side.

I do not take him for granted.  His love of the sport and ability to ignore all distractions on the field makes running him a total pleasure. Nature AND nurture, not nature VERSUS nurture, have created a perfect storm, my Tempest.

I know my future will hold another dog with issues. But, for now and for a few years, I’m praying to continue enjoying the blessing of Tempest.