Perfection in Training

I'm on a few obedience and agility groups/lists and I often see the phrase, "But he's perfect in training!"  Usually a lament about an issue that is regularly cropping up in trials but they are not seeing in practice.

My own dogs are never perfect in training.  If I ever had a perfect training session I would have to question my ability to raise criteria and my creativity in challenging myself or my dog.  Lance is capable of getting a perfect score on his heeling in trials (something I never thought I would say even a year ago!), but in practice I'm doing tons of little moves to challenge him and to be able to tell him "gotcha!" when he fails.  And because he is an advanced dog, I'm also doing some boring traditional heeling patterns so that there is not a striking difference between what could become trials=boring and practice=constant engaging movement.

There certainly are issues that the perfect in training statement can hold true.  I have had to work very hard and be creative to even try to replicate some of the issue that Lance has had in obedience trials.  But often an issue that you're not seeing in practice can boil down to a few common reasons:
1. Stress,confidence, or anxiety issues.
2. Motivation issues
3. Foundation/generalization/arousal issues.

Dogs who stress down are pretty obvious to identify.  They might do everything slower than usual, do intense sniffing, fail to do something on the first command, or go around jumps.  Dogs who stress up in trials can be harder to identify as at first glance they might just look really happy.  But they're not.  Dogs who stress up might be frantic in their motions and in general they're brain is not in any condition to think.  I lump anxiety issues and confidence issues into this same category of problems as stress.  In all cases, the dog likely knows what to do but just can't.  These problems have many possible solutions but none are a quick fix.  The possible exception to the quick fix is for a very green dog with a stable and confident personality who manages to figure out and adjust to the stress of the ring despite a handler not knowing how to train and prepare the dog for it.  A potential help for dogs is Ring Confidence work to slowly and positively introduce the dog to all the stressors he will encounter at a trial.

Usually motivation issues are more of a problem in obedience where the work is less naturally reinforcing than in agility where the runs are short and fast paced.  Unless of course the dog is Vito.  If you think your dog's trial issues are due to lack of motivation than honestly ask yourself how you are rewarding your dog in practice.
Is the reward physically on your body?  Do you reward every single good repetition or every single set up?  Do you need to get your dog excited with your food/toys before the dog will engage with you?  Is the dog used to and comfortable with long stretches of silence and formality?  Are you able to reward the dog with just you (no external reward)?

I know I've failed on all of those above points in the past and I still need to honestly ask myself those questions on a regular basis.  If one of those points is glaring at you then it's very likely that your dog notices the difference too.  A simple test you can do is go a place your dog has never been before with plenty of distractions.  Get your dog out of the car and make sure you have no rewards on your body or even visible ones.  Stand still and wait.  How long does it take your dog to check in with you without you have to say or do anything?  On a single quiet cue that you are available for work to start, does your dog immediately give you that perfect picture of engagement and precision you want?  Are you able to do a run through and keep that engagement and effort?

For dogs without stress and motivation issues the issue may lie in the dog not fully understanding all the criteria.  This is where proofing can come in to try and see exactly what part of the exercise the dog has a problem with.  Besides duration, distance, and distractions as the most common ways to look at a behavior, also consider latency and speed.

I put arousal issues in with foundation and generalization because a solution can often be found in one of the above areas.  If your dog is as high as a kite in trials (and isn't really stressed) then I personally would recommend trying to replicate high arousal in practice as often as possible vs trying to calm the dog down (and separately work on high followed by a controlled behavior). If you're able to replicate it then it will likely allow you to systematically work through the issue.  Try hooping and hollering as your dog runs down the dogwalk.  Several drop on recalls in a row to work on anticipation of the down.  Waiting a very long time before giving a signal or flashing them at the speed of light.  Falling to the floor (gracefully!) as the dog takes a jump.  You may need to think outside the box to try and "break" your dog.  I prefer to tackle issues head on rather than avoid them.  That being said, I see proofing the issues as opportunities to build confidence rather than tear the dog down.  I laugh and tell my dogs that I fooled them on the mistakes and simply reset to try again.

The too cute for criteria stage of 2012!
And then there will be times where you exhaust all your resources and still can't figure out an issue that appears to be "trial only."  And that's when you become a super problem solver and tell yourself that your dog is making you a better trainer.


Lance AKC Obedience Trial

Lance had his return to AKC obedience after a 4 month break and the earning of his UDX title.

Utility was first and Lance turned it on.  A little sloppy and hesitant with the first exercise, gloves, but then he had one of his best utility runs of his life.  Really working his fronts and finishes, some of his best heeling, and his best go outs.

Sadly, while Lance stood properly on the signals he waited until I got across the ring and then sat.  Didn't look stressed to me, just eager for the next part.

In Open Lance showed a different picture.  Heeling was first and he was lacking a bit in the drive I love.  Back to a wide about turn and a lag on the fast.  One more lag on the first outside post of the figure 8, but also compounded by some sneezing.  Fronts and finishes on the other exercises were hit and miss.

Then the stays.  Lance's big streak of held sits had been broken earlier this year when he went down on 2 of the last 5 trials.  It's been a 4 month hiatus since he last showed so I was hoping that our continued work had "fixed" our problem.  Well unfortunately that didn't seem to be the case.  Lance lied down pretty much as soon as the whole group was out of sight.

Utility was first again and he had another nice run.  Not quite as good as Saturday's run in a few areas.  First go out he started to turn early, second go out he did a hover butt on the sit.  Fronts and finishes were hit and miss.  But he did all the exercises without much of a hitch and we qualified!  Even managed to snag 3rd place and get another tiny OTCH point.

Open was a huge improvement over Saturday.  Heeling started a little lackluster on that first exercise but he perked up as we went.  Working his fronts and finishes again!  Unfortunately he nicked both the high jump and the broad jump :(

After he went down on Saturday I debated about doing the group stays with Lance again or not.  Ultimately I decided to do them.  No amount of training is going to fix the fact that Lance knows well the difference between trials and practice- no reward for doing the sit will happen in the ring and nothing happens if he lies down.
Thankfully Lance held his sit!!!  People watching said he looked fine on the sit and then on the long down had his chin resting frequently.  So puzzling.
There was a 3 way run off for 3-5th place and Lance managed to get 4th, but no points. (And UDX leg #11!  But a UDX2 title isn't really a goal of mine).


Arousal Issues at the Park

That lovely little park I shared about earlier this week?  Yeah, it's already becoming too much for Vito.  Due to the lack of funding for trials, I've had the time to go visit the park quite a few times now.  And the Toller is getting worse and worse.  First visit he was calm and had a grand old time.  Second visit he was excited but able to think.  Third+ visit he has started Toller Screaming the second he sees another dog or if a person says hi to us.  He doesn't even care about other dogs or people, it's just an excuse to get excited.  On the way out of the park a few visits ago we passed a nice couple carrying some chuck its for their labs.  And that's when his brain completely fell out, I had the opportunity to educate about Toller Screams as I tried my hardest to haul the thrashing dog away, and now the spiraling to screaming on subsequent visits.

Training plan I'm making up as we go.  I don't want to lose this opportunity for Vito.  Normal dog plan might include hanging in the parking lot and doing mat work.  There's no way that would work for the neurotic dog.  Vito knows he has to swallow a treat when offered, but there's he doesn't want it.  And time doing nothing seems to amp him up more and more until he gets himself in a complete frenzy.  He's fine doing nothing after given a chance to blow some steam, but in the beginning he's like a tea kettle just waiting to explode.

So far my plan includes heading away from the path to the lake.  Keeping all dogs on leash for several minutes and then letting Vito the be the first one off leash for several more minutes.  If Vito is last he immediately starts screaming.  If all go at the same time, then more screaming.  If he's first, tiny scream but then there's less excitement when no one else is free.

Part two includes lots and lots of recalls.  I'm not worried about losing Vito (unless he sees a chuck it), but he gets so excited that he tends to just want to keep running and doesn't have any concept of checking back.  So lots of calling, making him swallow a cookie, and then his real reward of being released to run again.  If he doesn't come right away he goes back on leash for a minute.  Slowly might be starting to work.  At least at the end of our recent visit he started stopping on his own when he saw me stop and then I praised him and didn't make him come all the way back for the treat.  We were also able to pass some people and dogs towards the end without needing to put him on leash!

And finally no more toys.  Sorry Vito.  And sorry Gracie.


Gracie's back!

The labrador is back!  Gracie returned from prison this past Friday.  Her handlers weren't very experienced so they got to learn some of the training techniques on a nutty but well trained dog.

She did get some more training on reigning in her low blood sugar alert.  Before going to prison, I was working on Gracie not mobbing me as her alert.  I got her to the point where she was doing a nice nose nudge 75% of the time and a jumping attack the other 25%.   With other people that seemed to be in reverse, with her only jumping most of the time and only doing a nice nudge 25% of the time.  On her return it appears as though the jumping alert is mostly gone.  The downside is that she seems more confused as to what her alert should be.  She's still catching the scent very quickly and you can see her sniffing excitedly, but now she does more sitting back and staring. Waiting to be told what to do.  Some experimental pawing is happening as well.  Oh well, she has plenty of time to fix it!

Back at home I've discovered a new pond for the dogs to play in!  Unfortunately it's not quite in walking distance, but it's still fairly close.  Technically it's a disc golf park and not an actual dog park.  But it appears to be an unofficial dog park as I've seen many owners and dogs walking off leash along the paths and especially around the small lake.  I wish it were less crowded, but the few times I've been it hasn't been too bad and all the dogs seemed pretty well in control of their owners.  That's helped with the fact that the park is not fenced and there's actual disc golfers there as well who don't want dog interference!

I ordered Vito a life jacket that will hopefully come soon! While Vito hasn't gotten a ton of swimming practice over the years, he has still been in the water often enough as to where I feel he should actually know how to...not look like he's drowning!  The Toller still has no clue how to move his back legs in the water.  He's just so excited by water and his version of swimming that zero thinking is occurring.  Even without a toy for him to obsess over.  Maybe a life jacket will allow him to think about the mechanics a bit more.

Drowning in the middle of the pond.

Flying Labrador!


A Note to Obedience Exhbitors

To my fellow obedience exhibitors,

There has been quite a bit of great discussion on the new proposed changes to AKC obedience.  Many people are taking the time to think out what the changes could mean to our sport and we all have strong opinions.

I know that you are passionate about the sport of obedience.  You don't want to see it dumbed down.  But we too are passionate about obedience.  We want to see our sport thriving and to keep it challenging as well.  We are not a fringe group.  We are the majority of small dog handlers.  We are the handlers of dogs who have been interfered with on the stays.  We are handlers who are concerned about the safety of our own dogs and the safety of all the dogs.  We are handlers at all levels of training including people competing side by side with your dogs in the B classes.  Competitive handlers fighting for OTCH points as well as those in Novice A.  We are not the ones with the stay problems.  We abhor those who continue to show when they know they have a dog who may interfere with others just as much as you too despise them.

The continued topic of group stays is because we already have a problem.  If you are regularly competing in obedience then you know that dogs going to visit other dogs is not a rare issue.  While the A dogs sadly encounter this more frequently, we all know dogs in the B class that if they show up at a trial next to your dog you would pull.  That is a problem.  A problem not due to any type of training method but a problem due to poor training in general and a lack of consideration for fellow exhibitors.

So please, don't lump all those who want to see change into a "fringe group" of exhibitors who want to get easy titles.  I urge you all to think beyond what would personally benefit your own training to think about what would benefit the sport at all levels of participation.

Personally, I don't know whether I like the idea of only 1 stay, judges choice.  The idea of a dog earning their CDX without having to get those 3 long sits is off putting and the journey to the UDX will also be changed.  The OTCH would become easier for some dogs, but then would become harder for dogs on the cusp who have earned their points when the slightly better dogs went down on that sit.  But when I look at the problems we are having in our sport and the number of dogs effected by wandering dogs, then I can't help but support the change.  The P-classes are amazing idea and need to be given a fair chance to succeed by offering them frequently and having advanced titles in them.  But that move alone does nothing to address the problems that are currently existing in the A AND B classes.  My personal choice would be for an honor stay(s) and/or food refusal exercise.

Would any change to the classes bring back those who have left obedience and moved onto other sports?  Probably not many.  But it would prevent even more people from leaving , open the doors to some new people, and show the world that AKC isn't completely covering it's ears and eyes from the problems that are occurring.

Again, go here to write your input, and here to see the changes.


More CDSP Obedience

Back to the CDSP trial on Sunday.  Much better night of sleeping for all parties and I am hoping Friday's night of panic remains a fluke for the Toller.

I decided to run Vito in Open instead of giving another go at Utility.  I was tempted to see if we could do it again, but ultimately decided there wasn't much benefit to it.  I already had my feedback of how ready he is with the exercises (much further than I thought!) and really need to be trying to continually build up his confidence levels with exercises he has a much better handle on.

So Open it was.  Attitude was pretty high outside of the ring during our warmup.  But his focused change in our ring entrance and I actually stopped right before entering and took a few steps backwards to repeat it.  The reset helped and he remembered our rules of attention during the entrance, leash off, and run to the first setup spot.

Drop on recall was first and while it wasn't done at a run, he still had decent speed and had a beautiful fast drop to just my hand signal.  And then he did a fly by and came straight to heel like he did on the first exercise on Saturday.  He was a little flat and not wanting to do all his hand touches in the transition but still seemed happy and excitedly ran with me across the ring to the start of heeling.

Heeling was much less dog than I want.  Technically precise other than 1 lag after the first left turn.  But not a lot of dog.  Certainly not my pushy forgey dog that has been showing up even in trials recently!

Crashed the broad jump as apparently that remains our trend with the running version :(  In trials at least.
I got him to do quite a bit of jumping and play after that exercise before heading for the retrieves.

Didn't run for either retrieve and was stealing a few glances at people on his return from the retrieve on the flat.  Defienetly didn't want to jump up afterwards but I did get him to eventually.  And then I need to rethrow the dumbbell after it landed out of the ring for the retrieve on high so I got to ask for more jumping.

After the retrieves I was able to hand the dumbbell over to the judge while keeping his attention, but as went by her to setup for the mini go out he went to check her and his dumbbell out. I gave him a second to correct himself and he came back without me having to say anything.  The go out was nice.

The Corgi turned it on for his 1 run in utility!  Happier attitude, better focus, and better precision.  Practically perfect combination!

We've been working on new ring entrance routines to get his training up to what I require of Vito.  Still working on his burst into heel from his (already well known) waiting position, but did you see the eye contact on the leash removal?!  Lance has not seen the purpose of me suddenly asking for eye contact during the leash hand off in all the years he has been training.

Other new thing I tried was not pivoting to face him on the directed jumping.  I'm thinking it will make him have to work harder to find front so hopefully he will be thinking more.  And then the bonus factor of allowing him to be lined up for next go out after the finish, something I know he's already thinking about while performing!  I think it helped but time will tell.

Errors made during his run was a slight forge on the moving stand (not scored), finish on the moving stand, pretty much anticipating the 2nd directed jump, and dropping the article at my feet.  I'm not sure what he was doing as it just kinda spat out as he sat.
Great moment were doing nice glove pivots, sitting on both go outs when told, happy signals, and really good fronts and finishes.


Toller Utility Debut!

The day did not start out well.  Vito was having a panic attack staring at 12:30am and lasting until we got out of bed Saturday morning.  No apparent trigger.  Just lots of panting and pacing.  While he occasionally gets a bit frantic sometimes in the evenings, he has always calmed down immediately the moment we get in bed for the night.  So needless to say the morning car ride was not great and it broke the fabulous streak he has been having.  It took Vito quite a while to calm down at the CDSP Obedience trial but he eventually did and by the time I brought him out to warm up he looked downright sleepy.  I was too.

Vito warmed up well though and while he wasn't intensely driven in our little doodling and squishes he still had a great attitude and was eager to work.
Staring Toller in CDSP Utility A:

Great ring entrance and leash removal, but he did steal a tiny glance.  Signals were first and he started nicely with me for the tiny steps of heeling required in CDSP.  Did the stand without walking and he even did his down!!!!  It was the awful butt first and slow plop into it that he does whenever he's not super excited, but I'll take it!  I thought for sure he would just move into a sit at his first trial. What then surprised me was Vito's failure to move  into the sit and then the recall on the first signals.  I repeated my signals for both the sit and come and Vito did respond on each 2nd cue.  For some odd reason, CDSP just takes points of for a repeated signal and you can still qualify as long as you don't talk.  Then Vito skips the front and flys by around me into heel.  He does play with me at the end though and happily comes with me to articles.

Articles for some reason are an exercise Vito has never had a problem with.  He may not love them, but he never stresses over his choice!  He confidently went out on the direct send (a portion I am sad to say I very rarely practice over just informally revving him and releasing), did a fast search, and even did a nice front!

Then we had a little mixup as the gloves appeared and both the judge and I setup for them.  The judge quickly recognized the mistake in that go outs are 3rd in CDSP!  I was able to take the opportunity to play with Vito and reward his nice setup as we waited for the gloves to be removed :)  He kinda did some jumps over my leg and did one chest vault!

Go outs I was shocked!  Vito confidently went out, was straight, and actually had one of his best turn and sits ever!  No loopy wide turn to sit!  Considering I didn't start full distance go outs until a few months ago, let alone having the jumps in the picture, I couldn't be happier with his performance.  After signals I thought this would be a weak exercise for him.

Gloves were finally next! It's done twice in CDSP and we had gloves #2 and then #1.  The first pivot wasn't the greatest but he did fix himself.  The last few weeks Vito has been having some confidence issues with gloves as he goes out correctly and then stops right as he lowers his head to pick it up.  Thankfully he did not do that at the trial and as soon as he grabbed the glove I praised him!

Moving stand was last.  Vito has never enjoyed this exercise but he handled it well.  A little bit of flinched ears on the approach and first touch but not too afflicted looking.  The send around to heel from a distance is not one I practice often but he had no issue.

So we managed to qualify under CDSP rules!  9 points lost in signals and only 1/2 point lost elsewhere!

The Corgi
He's a good dog.  The end.
I was presuaded to enter him in Cynosports Rally in the morning, level 3.  I looked it up as it's been a good 2 years since he's done it.  But man is he such a great rally dog!  Lance really loves all the doodling, especially any of the moves that require hind end awareness.  Vito on the other hand is more of a straight line and curves type of dog.  Vito knows all the doodling moves but doesn't really turn on.  Give him flow.

So Lance got a perfect 210. But actually I wasn't thrilled with the run.  Lance started out a bit distracted and while he was in decent position he certainly wasn't giving me his full focus.  By the first pivot sign though (#7?) he was ON.  Very animated and focused.  Doing quite a bit of forging at the end!  And of course had had to bark on his backup away from me sign for the bonus :)

Later in the day he did Utility C (championship class for utility).  Much more focused and overall it was a fantastic run!  Only screw up was needing a second command to sit on go out #2, the first exercise done.  All other errors were 3 fronts and 1 really bad finish after the first go out.  Ended up with a 194.5.


AKC Obedience Changes

Go here, right now.  I'll wait:

WOW!  I am in utter shock at what the committee recommended.  I thought everyone would drop dead before some of these changes were proposed!
- Leashes on dogs in stays!
- Dogs who NQed not being invited back for stays!
- Only 1 group stay of judges choice!
- Broad jump on both sides!
- New P-UDX and P-OTCH titles based on scores!
And the list goes on!

Now go here:
Rate every suggestion.  Write thoughtful comments.  Make your voices be heard and pray that AKC listens to even 25% of the proposed changes.

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