Last Outdoor Trial

Vito
Vito gets to go first as this was one of his best trials of all time.  Especially great since we've been struggling this year!  Happy Toller both days, and even Super Happy Toller on Sunday.
Sassy guy broke pretty much all his startlines :)  and had fun cursing at me before lying down on the table both days too.

No Q's for us on Saturday.  The bar knocking issue was there in standard.  Jumpers I'll take the blame for pulling him off a tunnel.  And Snooker was 100% me as I very smoothly and purposefully sent him over a wrong jump.  Sigh.

And on Sunday he managed to go 3 for 3!  Snooker he was sassy and extremely creative but I managed to think on my feet and do a completely different plan in the opening.  Sadly Vito's plan was not Super Q worthy, my plan would have been...  In standard he was pretty darn happy.  And jumpers was one of the top 5 jumpers run the Toller has ever done.  The opening was fairly technical and Vito still remained happy and actually ran!  Sadly not on film.

Sunday's Standard:


Zumi
Ducky started out much more in control this weekend than the last trial.  And then kinda became a little wild again on Sunday.  She sure has a lot of fun!
Issues remain collecting to get her weave entrance if she has a lot of speed built up and finding the jump vs just running whee!

We qualified in 2 out of 7 total runs, jumpers on Saturday and Pairs on Sunday despite a weave fault on her end.

Saturday Standard.  Almost!  Missed weave entrance, a knocked bar, and wanting to skip the jump before the dogwalk.  Pretty dogwalk :)


Sunday's Standard.  Missed weave entrance again and then came off the teeter side.  Missed a jump before the aframe which led to the wrong end of the tunnel.  And then oddly enough went around the last jump.

Sunday Jumpers.  Pretty good girl with 2 missed jumps.  1 oddly enough due to practicing an obedience go out??  I have no idea what possessed her at around 17sec to start heading to a fence post...

And that wraps up the last outdoor trial of the year.  We have one more USDAA trial left this year and it's next weekend.  I'm looking forward to trialing Zumi at the location she has class every other week.  Hoping that maybe she will be in slightly more thinking mode?

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The Big Reveal



Yup.  The dogs are going to have to share me next year.  A baby sister is on the way.  Clearly they look thrilled with the news.

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Using Run Throughs Wisely

I finally had the opportunity to do an obedience run through with Duckie.  Sadly it was only her 3rd time at an official event and she will be 2yrs old in a few weeks!  Not the amount I wanted to get in by now.

With my local Ring Confidence class just ending and my new online Ring Confidence class starting in two weeks I have the topic of run throughs on my mind.  I have a very specific plan on how to use my 5 minutes of ring time to get full benefit for future trials and I can't say it looks anything like what I watch everyone else doing during their time.

My goal for a run through is to continue my ring confidence work- attitude and focus.  I don't see any point at all in going through a full formal run and listening to the "judge."  Time and time again I see others doing that and all it usually results in is a stressed dog.  Either the dog is a bit down in attitude and focus which the handler completely ignores, not supporting their dog, or corrects like crazy in order to teach him that he can't get away with that behavior in a trial and usually results in the dog developing even more stress towards that exercise.  Even happily interrupting and resetting an exercise in a positive manner can add stress to the behavior, something I want to consider very carefully in a trial environment.  A run through is not the time to teach or fix a behavior before your show.  The dog is either trained or he's not.  In the majority of cases if your dog shows up in a trial with the same level of attitude and focus he shows in practice than the exercises themselves will be there!  Of course that is what makes trialing so hard!  How do you get that attitude and focus in a trial?!

Ring Entrances
So that was my plan tonight with Zumi.  Attitude and focus.

I started with step one of my ring confidence work.  Or in Zumi's case I actually skipped straight to step two as I knew without a doubt that Zumi would be able to offer me great focus from being released from her waiting position to entering the ring and setting up in heel.  I also had strong suspicions that she could do more than just a few steps of heeling with the energy/focus I wanted but I didn't add that in right away as being too greedy had the potential of backfiring and adding stress to this trial like environment.  So all we did was enter the ring- setup in heel- and had a gigantic party.

Left the ring after that first party and waited again for her to push me to work.  Repeat.  Since I wasn't greedy and it went well I added in removing the leash before the party.  Then slowly added more and more trial like behaviors into the mix each time I re-entered the ring and saw that she wasn't just handling it well but was excelling.  I know I looked like an idiot to the others waiting outside the ring and that added a tiny bit of stress. Perfect.  Just enough stress to replicate some trial like feelings for Duckie to experience without actually doing anything difficult.

Because Zumi has had a lot of experience with this type of work, just not in a formal show like environment, I was able to progress quickly with her and actually do bits of heeling and simple versions of other exercises she knows well.  I even did all of it with her toy on the stewards table, putting her in a sit and bringing the toy to her whenever I wanted to party.  But with a dog who has already started trialing and showing signs of stress, or a dog less experienced with ring confidence games, I would stick to pure ring entrances=party.  Exit and try again if the dog shows he's still ready to work.  Rushing through steps and trying to get to the actual exercises will only degrade the hard work you've put in.  Baby steps!

I found out that Zumi's second turn in the ring was a bit too much.  We still had several nice ring entrances but occasionally struggled with taking the leash off when she could see the dog in the adjacent ring having fun with their dumbbell.  So we backed up.  Literally actually.  We just calmly exited the ring and I waited for Zumi to decide she was ready to work with me again.  Which due to her temperament and training didn't take too long.  In the future I think one turn for Zumi is enough, at least for right now.

Choosing to Work
Vito also came along to the run through.  But unlike Zumi, I did not register him for actual time in the ring.  Vito has even more experience with Zumi in the ring confidence games, but I also knew that with the trial environment it would be unlikely for Vito to choose to work at a set time to actually take advantage of ring=fun type games.

So instead this particular location had plenty of room along the edges of the ring and in the exhibitor area to just hang out on leash and let Vito decide what he wanted to do.  I let him sniff around, let him stare at things, and occasionally asked him if he was ready.  Vito told me "no" repeatedly and I respected that.  He will offer me great eye contact, but I know Vito well enough that just eye contact is not a true indicator of being ready to work.  Vito could smell treats on me but I never pulled them out.  I knew that if I pulled out a cookie I could likely get Vito excited enough to overpower the environment but that was not my goal.  In a trial you don't have rewards to overpower the environment.
I also knew that I could ask Vito to do his squish behavior which has been trained/classically conditioned enough that when released from the position Vito will immediately engage with me and with some energy.  But I didn't want to do that either.  That trained squish I only do when I already have a dog.  Using it before he's ready to work will have the effect I want, but the more it's used that way the more it's like withdrawing money from an account versus building that behavior up to be stronger.  I only want to use it that way in an actual trial, if I have to.

So Vito and I walked around a bit, stood around a lot, he got a few butt rubs and some crouching down next to and I just supported him.  And at some point Vito surprised me by actually telling me he was ready.  Still in just the extra space outside of the rings I started personal play and a bit of heeling, and then brought out the food.  I repeated this a few times, releasing him back to sniff/stare after each cookie reward to see if he was done or not.  Only once did Vito tell me he wanted a bit of break.  We didn't play/train long, less than 3 minutes before I put him away.

And I was happy with my decision not have Vito get actual ring time yet.  If you are not yet sure if your dog will engage with you outside of the ring without being shown their rewards then you are not ready to be doing a run through yet.  Instead focus on visiting different locations and just hanging out.  Having an official ring time puts too much pressure on yourself to try and get the dog to work at just that moment.

And of course if you need help with these concepts or want a more concrete plan for  prepping your dog to enter a trial please come join my Ring Confidence class starting October 1st!

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Rattie Bonding

I've had the boys for over a month now.  Evee has been fully adjusted and living with them for awhile.  Splat really looks up to her and I'm pretty sure he brags that Evee is his cool older girlfriend.  Evee has a "just friends" look on her face though.


Splat is a funny dude. I imagine him as a cross country runner who is very obsessed with nutrition and fitness but still a really twiggy body.  He runs on the wheel a lot.  A lot.  And he will take maybe 1 treat from me, but then refuses and hops on his wheel in regret of the snack he did consume.

Spork pretty much just sleeps.  I swear there are days I never see him as he is naughty about burrowing under my cage liner no matter how hard I've tried to stop him.  I poke him to try and rouse him out sometimes but I can just feel him grumble and try to ignore me.  Spork does run on the wheel sometimes too, likely from Splat's guilt trips.  Mainly Spork just wants to eat and sleep.


I feel like a horrible rat mom often.  The boys are still awfully skittish of me.  I can't bribe Splat with food and Spork I can't even get to wake up to come see me.  They're really not coming out of their cage much at all as they're not brave enough to venture out and they don't want me to grab them.  I'm not sure what to do differently.  Penelope didn't take long at all to come out and explore- she was the naughtiest and bravest rat ever.  And Evee followed her like a good side kick.
Splat wants to follow Evee but will only follow her on top of the cage.

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Obedience Training

I haven't shared much of The Duck's specific obedience training lately.  Mostly we're just practicing skills once a week, twice if I have the time.  The Ring Confidence class I'm teaching and have her in is going very well, still surprising me with her maturity.  Specific skills are still way more of a work in progress.

Main things we're working on right now are her go outs.  Still so hard for her.  Actually that's not entirely true anymore.  Zumi is usually very straight now if there aren't any distractions near by such as the jumps being closer than usual placement, a cone kinda near, or something similar.  Then she almost always succumbs unless I start close enough to the spot that the distraction is less obvious.
But the work is paying off in making the real utility picture easier now!
The actual directed jumping portion needs quite a bit of work too.  Still very hard for Zumi not to come straight to me.  Wants to jump on the way out and not jump on the way back!

We've also been working on her moving down vs moving stand.  The moving down seemed to break when I started focusing more on the stand and she's just starting to piece together the difference.

Fronts with a item in her mouth are hard so I've recently started using a platform.  Less so for me to think that Zumi is actually thinking about the angles, but more to teach her about collection.  Zumi's a good girl and doesn't do her victory lap with her formal retrieve items in the way that she does with her toys, but I can tell that she SO wants to and this leads to less thinking on fronting as soon as she has a bit of speed with the dumbbell.  Close up we've worked different angles and are making progress.

And finally the broad jump.  I've been working on Zumi taking the broad jump and not cutting the corner no matter where I stand.  I vary my location from the normal spot to starting all the way back at her side.  I used a cone for awhile, now nothing.

This was Zumi's last session at the club.  I love using toys to reward her whenever possible, but sometimes I use her dinner to train.  Not too exciting, most of the session is on the moving stand vs moving down.

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The Obedience Experiment Conclusion

For those who followed Vito's experiment last winter/spring I never really posted it's conclusion.  Last update in April was 5 months in.  I did another month before ending the experiment, kinda took another few months break, and resumed obedience training in August.

The experiment of taking away all his food/toy rewards wasn't all unicorns and rainbows.  It certainly didn't have the results it had when I did it with the Corgi but nor did I expect it to.  Unfortunately the dogs who I think can benefit the most from really building up the value of personal play and choosing to work are also the dogs who will really struggle with it.  The dogs who naturally have great "work ethics" are likely going to excel whether they go through a learning stage like this or not.
Vito can come off as a high drive working dog, but it's purely obsession that masks his naturally low energy, low work drive.  His experiment was painful.

The last month (and remember it was still extremely few sessions each month) I tightened up Vito's freedom by keeping him on leash.  He still had full control of whether he wanted to work or not, but less choices of what to do during his time.  We would walk together around the training building and let him sniff all the things, but then I would stick to one spot.  It didn't bother Vito at all as he was still pretty darn content to lie down and watch the world.  But I do think it helped.

Actually we did have 1 downfall of doing this experiment.  Vito got in the habit of being able to sniff and explore the area before working.  Acclimation is a GOOD thing, but Vito was past the point of needing to directly acclimate in the working area vs just outside of it.  All the sniffing and crumb finding he practiced for months was quite the rehearsal.  If I had done the on leash exploration earlier in the process I think it would have helped.  For the most part, 1 month back now into jackpot training and criteria for choosing to work outside of a ring, then full focus in the ring, and Vito is back to not checking out of work to explore.  Except weirdly enough the exploration kinda seeped into agility training at home.  I never quite using toys in agility but all summer Vito runs out into the agility field when it's his turn with happy helicopter tail exploring the yard, searching for a non existent ball, for a few minutes until he runs back to me ready to work.  It's a bit odd.

I do think the pros of this experiment are still many, even for dogs like Vito.  Vito's personal play skills increased.  His value for his dumbbell increased.  He fully understands choice in working or not working and it was thrilling when he did work even when he knew there was no rewards.  Even now with the introduction of rewards back into training- still never on my body- we can go quite a long time before a reward.  It's a bit more like the rewards are a bonus than the sole reason for choosing to start work.
Precision is still slowly working it's way back, but I think it will get there again.  At least the precision errors have remained due to excitement errors and not lack of effort.  Mainly we have forging, crabbing, and creeping.

Here is a long video of Vito's training session on Wednesday.  The first 3 minutes are of absolutely nothing.  I am waiting outside the ring to see if Vito is going to choose to start work or not.  There are no rewards on my body.  Then Vito does decide to start work and once we enter the ring he stays in work mode until I decide to have him sit and bring over some treats for him.  I then repeat the process of exiting the ring and waiting.  The 2nd time is much shorter and I cut the video off once we make it back inside.

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USDAA Trial

The tollers had another agility trial this past weekend.  USDAA.  Just one more outdoor trial left for the year!


Zumi was a wild child.  She certainly is not lacking confidence. Wheee!!
There were good things.  Nice start lines, not even vulturing that much.  Nice aframes, even with 1 flip to a tunnel we haven't practiced!  And some nice dogwalks and weaves.  
Turning though was another story.  Actually she seemed to get worse in that department with every run.  Her first run on Saturday she was super responsive, almost too responsive as her rear cross "switch" cue seemed to me turn immediately and not actually take the jump.  That improved over the 7 total runs over the weekend but then she seemed to lose the ability to turn all together.  A single step from me meant run 20ft out.  

We had fun at least!  And actually we did end up with the single Q she needed in Starters Pairs to fast track her to Advanced in all the things.  It wasn't exactly clean as Zumi ran past a jump to head to her aframe, but off courses are just extra time in pairs and her partnering run was still under.  So 1 for 7 runs, and really 0 for 7 in the clean run department.

It was Ducky's first time doing pairs though!  She ran 2nd both days and was completely solid on her stay.  I left the leash on Saturday until I had the baton in my hand just to make sure she wasn't going to interfere.  But Sunday I took it off early and we just waited together.  
This was one of her wildish runs, but not her worse!

And her standard run on Sunday was pretty decent too.

Vito was Sad Toller on Saturday.  Well for those newer to the blog, Sad Toller really isn't sad, just slow.  Vito is perfectly happy to go out there and do his thing, just doesn't see any sense of urgency whatsoever without a ball in my hand.  And in this case Sad Toller also meant knocked bars.
On Sunday Vito was much more Happy Toller and running. Well kinda running. He actually improved each run and by his 3rd and last run on Sunday I thought he was moving pretty well!  Just a little refusal at the end of Fancy Standard to make a 0 for 6 weekend.

This was Vito's happiest run:

Only 2 more trials left all year, both coming up in the next month.  

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Getting Ready for Obedience Trials

I recently started another round of Ring Confidence at my training club and with a vacant spot in the class it was the perfect nudge I needed to have Zumi be a half student (only participates in the 1 dog at a time stuff, not the group activities I need to coach) and start actually prepping for obedience.  I have been training actual exercises and pieces of the exercises about 1-2x a week (with always thinking I'll train more!) but the real ring stuff that needed training I haven't done much with other than little introductions off and on (mostly off) for the last year.

So now I have a concrete route to achieving my goal of starting obedience competitions with her in the spring.  And Zumi has surprisingly blown me away with her success these last 3 weeks.
I don't know who has been training her as it certainly hasn't been me!  Maybe she's just growing up.
Today we practiced heeling up to and past a person with food and then handing over her super exciting dumbbell to a helper.

Things that really need to be worked on:

Squish- her waiting position outside the ring.  Zumi has a fabulous energetic release with immediate focus, but she's not always wanting to get into position (just wants to go!) and isn't waiting very long in it when I do get her in.

More people pressure.  It's my main focus in this class with her and it's going well, but I'm not taking the current success for granted.  Zumi LOVES people and at the same time is also secretly a sensitive and underconfident little girl who is sensitive to pressure.  We need all the practice with stewards/judges approaching, talking, and just being close!

Things I think we have nailed are:
Personal play/ transitions between exercises.  Zumi loves her jumping in the air and loves to play.  She also has very fast setups.

Delayed reinforcement.  I've stepped up our jackpot style training these last few weeks, really after being suspicious with that being a part of her focus issue at the agility trial in August, and it has been going well.  Zumi has no problem starting work without seeing her reward, and has no problem continuing to work without a high rate of reward and with the actual rewards at a distance.  It's a little early to tell if that's simply because her desire to jump and interact is so high, or if it's a bit of optimism that surely she will get a reward any second.  If it's the latter than her performance will start to dip a bit in the coming weeks and we will just build back up with a more clear understanding of the new rules.  Optimism is great, but it needs to be grounded in reality or it won't hold up in trials.

Ring Prep is my absolute favorite topic.  It can be super frustrating at times especially with Project Vito which has spanned multiple years, but I love helping others learn how to train for the little things and how to be a good handler for their dogs in the ring.


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Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.- Roger Caras

Email: lkwaudby (at) gmail.com

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