The first snowflakes of the season :( Bye bye agility equipment. This summer was really the first time I've had my own equipment to practice on. It was so great to be able to teach Zumi's foundations at home.
And having access to a full dogwalk to teach her running contacts was a godsend. I made so many mistakes with Vito's and while I had a rough few weeks in Zumi's training and ended up going all the way back to step 1, she came back strong. I have no doubt that Zumi has a very solid understanding of how to adjust her stride to hit the end of the dogwalk on straight lines. Soft turns are deteriorating some and with Silvia's advice I've gone back to doing really hard 180 turns vs soft 90 degree turns. I can already see the lightbulb going off. Hopefully we can successfully hit the pause button until April.
I officially started Zumi's running dogwalk in May, so 6.5 months of training. This video makes me smile so much!
Zumi is 13.5 months now! Still 30lbs, just under 19in tall and currently starting another hunger strike. Well no breakfast anyway. I've cut her food back twice now in the last week but she still hardly touches breakfast. Doesn't seem to be too skinny or too fat so I guess we will just wait and see what her body decides to do.
Doing some more heeling recently. I'm really happy with how it's coming together now. Straight lines seem to be doing OK, just right circles and about turns where she wants to go wide. Halts need a lot more practice. Zumi does seem to be getting the auto sit though most of the time, just lags a bit to my liking. Difference are also dwindling between our food reward sessions and toy reward sessions.
I am in love with heeling so sharing video for those curious as to where she's at.
Also continually working on fronts with and without her dumbbell. drop on recalls, and adding the jumps to her go out picture.
Best fall ever. In the 50's today. Mid November. Minnesota. It almost makes me not hate this state! The dogs have gotten to go swimming or at least splashing around so many times this fall.
And the even better part is that my agility equipment is still up! It's going down to the 30's this week though so next weekend might be our last shot. Wouldn't it be nice though if I got to continue to train the long Thanksgiving weekend?! Fingers are crossed for no snow for just 2 more weeks.
Photo dump from this month!
Entered one day of the trial this weekend with the Corgi. A very squirrley corgi.
We were first in the ring and the judge started a little early so we didn't get to practice our squish. Straight from the crate and heeled into the ring. He's such a good dog.
Gloves were first and Lance did a very nice pivot to glove #2. Always hard for him in trials. Took off the glove a quarter of a second before I actually gave the verbal, the judge couldn't have detected the difference.
Then we had scent articles and were in for quite the delay. The articles weren't in the ring yet as this judge likes to grab them from the bag himself as it starts. So when the steward made it into the ring he grabbed his tongs and fished. Unfortunately the little hook right below the tongs got stuck on the canning ring. It was wedged in this circular trab and since the judge is not allowed to touch the article I had to try and pry it off. It felt like it took forever to finally maneuver it through an impossibly small gap. the judge said this has happened to him before with canning rings which is why he hates them! I never would have even thought it possible. Luckily the corgi is awesome and i tucked him to wait between my legs and on my feet like we do when outside of the ring. He barked once at me during the long process and the judge frowned and said he was taking a point off.
Actual article sends were fantastic. Lance sent around me very tight to the pile and must have scented on the way as both times he went straight to the correct article and immediately nabbed it.
Go outs were sadly our NQ. I hate go outs right after articles as it takes so long for hte pile to be gone and they were right where I was trying to mark Lance. I can't blame our mistake on that though as Lance DID mark correctly and knew where he was going . He pulled up quite bit short, possibly still qualifying?, but I gave an immediate 2nd cue to go out which Lance promptly did. Naughty corgi. Then Lance did not take the bar jump. Went in the correct direction and ran just 2 feet away from it instead. Very odd. And worries me. The 2nd go out he went all the way to the gate and I had him touch it before I told him to sit. Took the high jump just fine, with his bad stutter step before it.
Signals were full of forging. Forging like 2 years ago. Even before we stated I think he stook up when I answered the judge we were ready. Nailed the down signal though! And barked on the sit. Then I'm not even sure if the judge gave me a signal to call him in, he must have but I saw the judge's head down scoring the bark and Lance started to run towards me a step before he realized I didn't call him. Judge still didn't look up so I gave Lance the signal to come.
Moving Stand was more forging. I waited longer after the order to heel to make sure Lance wasn't going to anticipate again as Lance started to jerk forward before I was even asked if I was ready. Moved a bit on the exam so I told him to stay again.
Overall I was really happy with how Lance handled himself today. Very good focus, extremely engaged in between exercises and handled a very weird delay just fine. Thrilled that the down signal issue seems to be gone, for now at least. My only worry is the avoidance of the jump. I don't think it was a confusion issue but I suppose that is a possibility. But if Lance was avoiding it then perhaps he needs to be fully retired from AKC utility like I retired him from open after his injury this year.
Lance is entered both days of a big trial Thanksgiving weekend so we will wait and see how that goes.
It's almost been a month since Zumi has been at full height on her dogwalk. Progress continues to be made and I am thrilled with where she is at.
At home we're almost 100% on straight exits, with her ball being thrown only after she hits. I can be far behind, I can be way ahead, I can blind cross the exit. She is doing little bits of sequencing before it as well.
Crappy dogwalk pictures that make me happy.
90 degree turns aren't as consistent but for the most part she is always hitting the contact zone now. Just not always as deep of a hit as I want. The biggest challenge right now is getting her to actually listen to my verbals now that a ball is not being pre-placed. Zumi can get fixated with the straight ahead option and ignore my verbals to turn. Repeatedly.
Aframe I'm doing once a week now and it continues to look good. No more scary flying. I met my goal of getting it up to a height usable for class and basically won't be touching it anymore until spring.
Which brings me to Zumi's new agility class! She has done 2 weeks now of her first real group class. I've been nervous, she's been awesome. Even hitting 4 out of 4 dogwalks so far (straight exits)! Also realizing that we need to actually train a rear cross now. And apparently agility startlines are not as solid as obedience stays. Although she was better on class #2 with preemptive shaming :)
It's officially been 2 weeks and 10 sessions since I started the experiment with Vito. Seeing how far personal play can take us to maintain well taught behaviors. Seeing if dogs are actually willing to, and excited to, choose to work when they know no other reward is on the table. The difference between this approach and the work that some balanced trainers have done in the past is that here the dog has full choice. Play with me, eat grass, stare out into the world, get a belly rub.
I'm even going a step further than I did with Lance in that I'm not trying to get Vito back when he opts out. Lance didn't completely opt out much when I did this a few years ago, but I know I upped my game and tried to be more exciting if he wasn't sure he wanted to play. Not anymore. I don't mind being more fun once I have a dog who made the choice to play/work, but I'm well past the point in my learning when I used to try and be more exciting than the environment in order to convince the dog to choose to me. Subtle, but big, difference.
There's a small group of 4 of us working on this with different dogs. Currently none of us have "high drive" dogs with great "work ethics." It certainly is a different learning curve than my experience with Lance who loves to work!
But I have learned quite a bit so far. Dogs DO want to work. And sometimes they don't :) And we use way too many external reinforcers in our training sessions. It took a few days for every dog to finally realize food/toys weren't on the table. Granted these are all advanced dogs, but the fact that on day 2 and 3 dogs were still hopeful that if they kept working a reward was coming says a lot about how little food/toys are needed to maintain a consistent level of dogs choosing to work. And these are low drive dogs!
So far Vito's journey has pretty well matched my expectations.
First 2 days, complete hope. Worked well. Session 3 had a lot more checking out, but still gave me a section of nice work. Session 4 I saw the first frustration based behaviors. Vito's always been a little loud in play but here was the first time he gave me repetitive frustrated barking at the end:
I've been asked about how I've built up the value of personal play in my dog's training. Considering that is all Vito is going to be working for in his obedience training experiment play has to be very well developed!
Every dog enjoys some type of play. If you're stuck on what your dog may like, watch them play with another dog or watch how they play with a toy. In general most play behaviors are boiled down sequences of their predatory behaviors. Examples of play include
- Chase games. Either you initiate brief chase with the dog or the dog chases you. The corgi LOVES being chased and I usually go into a brief stalk mode and then cue him I'm going to getcha! Vito is not a big fan of me chasing him and not really into chasing me. He does like it when I walk backwards though and let him push towards me!
- Chasing hands. Little dogs especially love spider hands!
- Light pushes. And I mean light, unless your dog is super pushy you don't want to be physically causing the dog to move backwards when you push! Experiment with where your dog likes to be touched, I find pressure on the chest to be a great one for many dogs, sometimes the shoulder, and sometimes butt tags.
- Oppositional reflex games. Just like pushes tap into the dog's natural desire to push back, physically holding the dog back from something helps to build drive towards it. I can progress this from initial restrains to food/toys to restrain the dog from a hand touch or even just from getting to the rest of my body.
- Weird nosies. Some dogs like trills, some quacking! I usually make a "schoom" noise if I'm trying to build excitement after a push or a hold
- Jumping up on me. Dogs love getting closer to our face!
- Butt rubs. Not really "play" but for some dogs it can be very motivating!
- Lying on the ground and letting them attack you! Not easy to do in a training session, but well worth it!
And then there are a lot of play behaviors that I teach to the dogs. They're usually tricks that involve movement but are ones dogs wouldn't naturally do. Things such as
- lifting the front feet off the ground to do a hand touch
- jumping all 4 feet in the air
- jumping over your leg
- and for some dogs jumping up on the handler needs to be re-taught.
- anything the dog just loves doing. For Lance rollovers are high on the list, high fives are ok too.
For these taught behaviors I initially reward with a lot of food/toys. The dog does what I cue, and then I reward with an external motivator. As the dog progresses in their training, past the shaping stage, I start to ask for a play behavior every time before I hand over the food/toy. The play behaviors start to become strongly conditioned as being fun and since they are movement based a lot of dogs start discovering that they are just plain fun to do. For most dogs it isn't long before I fade out the external reward that comes after and just throw in play. I tell my students that anytime they feel the urge to feed their dog, throw in a play behavior half of the time. That immediately cuts down their rate of food/toy reinforcement in half and the dogs end up looking even happier and more in drive than they were before! I often go from work-brief play-and straight back to work before the dog even realizes that I didn't give them another reward. Heeling is great for adding play to the mix as it's so easy to flow in and out of!
If you are struggling with play behaviors start outside of training sessions. You can't use something as a reward if your dog doesn't value it at all! Practice at times the dog isn't expecting any food and you may initially need to involve the use of toys in order to get your dog used to the games. It's ok to even let the dog hold the toy while you play without ever touching the toy! Especially if your dog is prone to playing with their teeth, holding the toy gives them an outlet while they figure out what you're trying to do!
Some people will find their dogs enjoy personal play so much that they start getting higher arousal in their training sessions. More barking, possibly nipping, and a more difficult time thinking. For many of these dogs I would first practice the dog being able to move from arousal into doing a simple behavior that I've cued. Teach them how to think through the craziness. You will have to start very slow and gradually work up to higher and higher arousal.
Only when your dog has a brain even when excited will you have to look at your play and see if there is any way in modifying it so that you don't get the barking or nipping that comes along with it. It might mean the same play with just 1-2 second duration and straight back to work, or it might mean just the tiniest first hint of the play behavior without having to go all the way through it. In practice you could keep doing whatever play the dog likes and then in trials limit yourself to certain pieces. I think it is a very rare dog that wouldn't benefit from just the tiniest release into play in between exercises at a trial.