Aframe Turns

Now that I don't have to worry about adding any more height to Zumi's aframe (thanks USDAA!), I need to really start focusing on teaching her turns off the aframe.  Well not so much turning tightly as you don't really need tight turns off the aframe, but being able to handle my different positions and not powering straight forward.  With Vito this was never an issue but clearly Zumi needs to be actually trained on this.  Training, how rare!

I've done a few reps with this at home this last week and thankfully had the great idea to use her pole from the running dogwalk turn training and plop it at the end of the aframe.  I wouldn't have initially thought it would be as helpful since she doesn't really need to go as low on the aframe as I want on the dogwalk, but clearly it caused her little lightbulb to turn on!  We've had some great success!

This was our first session this week both without the pole at the start for 2 awful reps, then with the pole.


USDAA #2- Discovering People!

Zumi and I woke up well before any human should be awake to travel north for a USDAA trial.  Thanks to needing to be measured, we had to make sure we were there bright and early!

Another measurement for the win though!  And a win for me being brave and asking the judge nicely to measure her again ;)  It's hard to get a young dog to actually relax when they have been in the car for hours, arrive bright and early in a new place, and are SO excited by all the things!  But Zumi re-measured down that 1/4in to be 17.5in and eligible for that 18in jump height!

Then we had 4 runs.
Gamblers she was fast and focus.  Had 2 beautiful dogwalks, weaves, and a teeter.  And kinda messed up a very easy gamble.  But such a good dog!

Then her next run she suddenly discovered the existence of people.  Or maybe it was the further realization I set her toy down combined with the existence of people. Unlike Vito's concerns over an audience, Zumi thought the crowd was there just to see her.
It didn't help that we had to enter the ring late to help out the lovely team before us who could be a bit reactive.  Zumi was excited to enter and immediately tried to jump on a kid bar setter right behind the first obstacle.  And then had several more moments where she briefly left our course to go wave at her fans.  She did come back, but not without several "Ducky!" calls.  One such wide sight seeing adventure caused her to run by the aframe but I continued on.  Overall not a bad run, but I was caught off guard by her sudden interest in an audience when she hasn't shown any signs of caring in agility before.

Before her 3rd run I warmed up with heeling by people and rewarding her when she focused on me.  A little difficult at first, but then she remembered the game.  We still had a hard time focusing before entering the ring.  And then she started fixating on something and I couldn't tell if it was a bar setter or not.  I was able to get her jump up and do some tricks in the ring, but it wasn't smooth and easy.  On the release she bolted straight towards the cone by the weaves.  Luckily just a quick disappointed sniff.  No real sight seeing in this run, but did have some quick winks at the audience in a few moments.  I waited about a second longer on the table to release her as I wanted her to actually look at ME and not her fans, and she did.  Teeter a bit slow this time, and then I purposefully ran her to far forward with her dogwalk and aframe to ensure she hit better.  Manged to qualify though in starters standard!

Her 4th and last run was snooker. This time I warmed up with leaving her ball on the table and going away to do some tricks and heeling before putting her in a sit and going to get her ball reward.  We still had a difficult time focusing entering the ring but had even less winky moments.  My handling was not so great.  Snooker is always hard for me to handle with a purpose!  But we qualify!

Overall I'm still thrilled with where she's at.  The people issue I expect in obedience with her which is why we're not quite ready, but it threw me off guard in agility.  It was pretty minor overall and based on the improvement from just run 2 to run 3 I think it will go away quickly with more experience and some work on it.  Her next agility trial is just over a month away!


Excellent Obedience Foundations

In less than a month a brand new online obedience titling organization is going to be up and running. I know, some of you have mixed feelings on online titling and I guarantee I had the same thoughts.
But the way this program has come together is completely different than any other obedience organization out there.  Regardless of whether you want new titles or not, you need to check out Fenzi TEAM Titles just to get an extremely thorough progression of training that will take you through novice, open, utility, and well beyond.

Unlike all other obedience organizations that I know of, the TEAM program is about extremely solid foundations.  It mimics excellent training.  Instead of people just training to get through traditional novice (heeling, heeling, and more heeling), the start of retrieves, scent articles, jumping, and even backing up is in the very first level.  Actually you won't see anything resembling traditional heeling until you get to level 4!  The TEAM levels encourage people to have all the little bits and pieces before they move on.  That means teaching the dog how to move their rear end around a disc in heel position.  Teaching true side steps and backing up.  Little doodles that test if the dog truly understand heel position all before you go forward more than 2 feet at a time.

By the time you get to level 3 of the current 6 (eventually 9!) levels, you should have over half of the foundational pieces for traditional open and utility started.  By level 6 you have mastered utility.  Honestly, I've been working my dogs through the levels and none of my dogs can consistently pass level 3 each time I try.  So close, but not quite there every time.  TEAM is not a gimme.  Indeed you will see that the early emphasis on precision (often with props in the early levels!) and the distraction training built in from level 1 will really push your training to be better, no matter what level you're at.  The testing for Zumi has been especially great as it's getting her used to the feeling of formality and flow between exercises all while being at home and without the pressure of other people.

Here is Zumi working on level 3.  Almost!

And I think this emphasis on foundation, fun, and early success (level 1 should be doable with just a few months of excellent training) can help suck a lot of people back into obedience.  People that may have been wandering away to other dog sports.  Or people who just didn't know how to train past novice.  The levels setup will give anyone interested a very serious guide on how to get their training from step 1 all the way up with distractions, discriminations, and precision.

If you're interested in really good training, regardless of whether or not you want shiny titles, check out the TEAM website.  And if you need help in training any of the exercises, I will be teaching an online foundations class starting August 1st going over all of the exercises in levels 1 and 2.


Off Restrictions

Knocking on wood right now, but I think the Toller if fully back from his shoulder issue.  I've been slowly letting him play with toys again and do low jumps in agility for the last 2 weeks and I haven't seen any hints of problems.

I took Vito to his first agility class in 2.5 months this past week.  Oh my.  The Toller lost his mind.  So much screaming.  Could not even sit at the startline.  I know I allow Vito to break his start in a trial, but only because Vito is a good boy!  The very few times he breaks his startline in a practice I just tease him and he wouldn't even think of doing it again.  But at class this week Vito was fully incapable of doing anything.  Class was an epic disaster of the funniest type.  I told our instructor we should have came to the Foundations class instead of International Handling.
And wow he is faster at 16in compared to 20 or 22, especially when he's just doing his own thing.

Vito's not really in an official class right now.  My plan was to alternate tollers each week in agility but since Vito has been out since mid April that didn't really happen.  We will see if I'm brave enough to try the crazy one again next week or not!

I hope everyone has a great 4th!  Hopefully the tollers will get to go swimming again.



Acclimation and Engagement

The concepts of acclimation and engagement are the 2 things that changed my dog training the most in the last 5 years.  At that time I didn't really have any words to put to it and I muddled my way through it with Vito.  But it was game changing.  And painful.  Really painful actually as I spent more sessions not working than actually working Vito and often questioned if this was the right path.

Those 2 words were also a core concept last week at the Fenzi Dog Sports Camp.   If there is one topic I wish all teams would understand it would be this concept.  And yet is really hard to understand!

So what is it?

Acclimation is the easy part.  It is simply allowing your dog the choice to look around and get comfortable with an environment.  This may be done through a formal down stay or more commonly it is done by taking the dog on a walk through the environment while letting them see and smell the world.  

This is SO important for many teams.  I think it is a rare dog who is ready to start work in a new place without knowing where they are.  Some dogs have such a high love for their motivators that it can seem like they are ready.  Indeed Lance is one of those dogs.  He loves his cookies so much that I could ask him to work the second I got somewhere and he would, even without seeing the reward since he has been trained well to know that offering work usually pays off.  And with Lance I was lucky.  He's not a nervous dog and the fall out from working him right away would be minimal.  Thankfully I rarely did that.  Lance didn't need much acclimation time to truly give me his all, but giving him just 2-5 minutes would really pay off huge.  No little glances away in his work as he already knew what was around him and felt safe.

With Vito I could also work him right away if I had his magical ball.  And I DID do that years ago.  I tried the advice of getting Vito to go straight from the crate to work.  And if I had his ball nothing else mattered.  But with a dog like Vito who has anxieties about people pressure and who drastically loses motivation without an obsession to focus on, there was no way that approach was going to hold up in the ring when the rewards were gone.  And for some dogs it could backfire big time if they suddenly got too close to a trigger they didn't notice because they were obsessing about their reward. 

I took Vito's lessons and am now applying them to Zumi.  Zumi is more of a normal dog compared to Lance and Vito.  In a new place she wants to look and walk around a bit, but she also wants to check in frequently.  She can fool me into thinking she is ready to work before she really is.  Indeed she demonstrated this at the Camp this past week as Zumi offered sustained eye contact and even tried to further engage me a little bit just a few minutes in.  But I knew better.  I knew that if I didn't immediately shove a toy in her face that Zumi would very quickly go back to looking at the environment and that she needed to do so.  And I knew that if I did choose to shove a toy in her face and play that I could get a bit of work in, but that as soon as the action stopped and we worked on less intense behaviors then she would feel the need to look around some more.  At Zumi's stage in training I want more.  Just forcing her to walk around a bit and get more comfortable in her environment gave me the picture I wanted.  She felt comfortable and was capable of giving me her all.

Acclimation takes as long as it takes.  Some dogs are fast and are ready to work in under 5 or 10 minutes.  Other dogs might need a good hour in a difficult environment in order to feel safe and confident enough to work.  And often with Vito, well we might never get to that working piece.  And that's ok.  I know that in the long run it will pay off.  As dogs get used to the idea that they will get enough time to truly acclimate, it not only will take less and less time for the dog to do so but their work performance skyrockets as they don't feel the need to check out once work has started.

What about dogs getting ready to trial?  I still use acclimation to get my dogs used to an environment.  The difference becomes that everytime I go somewhere to work I acclimate my dogs outside of the ring, or designate an imaginary line that become my work-no work line.  My dogs can walk around and sniff in a designated area and then we work in a place they got to see but not actually walk in.  And that concept transfers perfectly to an actual trial where the dogs do not get to acclimate in the same ring they will work in.

Engagement is a more tricky concept.  It looks different with every dog and is hard to pin down.  But in general it is dog driving the work.  Denise Fenzi has written that "Engagement training is the process of moving responsibility for enthusiasm, focus and desire for work from the handler to the dog."  In early stages all the dog has to do is focus on the handler before the handler can start a party.  But the eventual goal is for the dog to work hard in order to get the handler to start play/work, all without seeing or knowing a reward is available.  That is some deep stuff!  

As I mentioned earlier, engagement looks differently from every dog.  Some dogs may just stare at you and wag their tail, others may jump up and maybe even bark.  The key with most dogs is getting them to move at you.  If you back away from your dog do they follow and keep focus?
The lines of engagement and personal play often start to blend.  If you don't reach for your rewards right away once the dog chooses to engage the question becomes will the dog continue to try and interact with you?  Can you use just yourself and no formal work cues to keep up your dog's focus and energy?  The dog making the true choice to work is thrilling and goes a long way to getting the same focus and energy you have when your dog sees your classical rewards to more advanced training when the rewards aren't on you.

In the ring you are stripped of all rewards.  There are no food, no toys, and certainly no corrections.  The only reward you can take in is yourself.  But if you've made it that far in your training there's a good chance you have a great relationship with your dog already!  Your dog chooses to work not just for the external rewards but for the whole package, including your attention, your praise, and your play.  That package of work, rewards and human interaction are blended and really can't be separated out.  Play may vary by your dog's temperament, but every dog can be taught how to engage in some form of personal play with you.

Here is Vito from a few months ago choosing to start the engagement process and gradually we flow into work. He is high as a kite in this session and is very pushy!  Note that if you're just starting out you will not get this type of response and some dogs will never look like this no matter how much experience they have.  In the below video you will also notice that while Vito does grab his dumbbell and I do some interactions with it, it's really not about the object:

And here is a much calmer Vito also starting the engagement process with me sitting in a chair.  But in this case he doesn't really mean it.  You can see how he looks around still and isn't really committed as I continue to ask him if he means it:

If I had chosen to ignore that and started work there is a good chance he would not have given me his full focus.  Or I would have needed to overwhelm him with constant food, toys, or high energy just to keep him focused.  That type of training just doesn't hold up in the long term.  Be exciting in reaction to your dog's own energy, but don't try to use your own energy to overwhelm the dog into playing with you!  The general guideline is to match the energy level your dog is giving you, or just 1 level above.  Notice I am much calmer in the 2nd video than in the first video and that is so I don't use my own energy to overwhelm and try to pull him up.

Denise Fenzi has an entire online class on how to develop engagement in your dog and spells out stages to get there on her blog as well.

I strongly believe the best way to make sure your dog is really ready for the ring is to focus on the concepts of acclimation and engagement.  When your dog is the one driving the work and pushing you to start then you're no longer the one trying to bribe your dog and shoving the rewards in their face to get work.  Instead the responsibility moves to the dog.  You don't have to try to be more exciting than their environment!  You don't have to do cartwheels to get your dog's attention!
But this does take time.  Get ready to settle in and be ready for the chance that your dog simply tells you they are not ready in that session.


Zumi's First USDAA Trial!

I have another more serious post coming about obedience training, but first I'm bursting with pride with my little girl!  Duckie had her first USDAA agility trial this morning!  It was technically her 2nd agility trial since we did the UKI trial 2 months ago with a mixture of toy runs and runs "for real."  This time there was no toy option and it was also her first experience doing agility outdoors away from our backyard.

The maturity difference and general confidence in her from 2 months ago at that UKI trial and today's trial was absolutely huge!  She actually found her lines this time and had zero incidents of running around obstacles just because Wheeee!  Zumi was x1000 calmer and focused walking into the ring.  Didn't hesitate at all with the tire, spreads, or the long chute (although she did slip coming out of the chute in standard).  And had way more focus on my handling!

Zumi had 3 runs- gamblers, standard, and snooker.  And we actually qualified in her first two!  Her very first Q's in agility!

Zumi's only real issues were with her contacts.  And that didn't come at all of a surprise to me.
Her dogwalk was very leapy in gamblers and I think part of it was her lack of experience with me layering an obstacle. In standard it was the exact same exit angle and it was very pretty :)
We didn't do any aframe in gamblers and in standard it was a pretty high hit.  In snooker I told myself to keep moving forward to support it better but she needed more than just the tiny bit of motion that I gave her and didn't even add in a second hit.  On the positive side, this was Zumi's first and last experience with a 5'10" aframe in a trial!  The new lowered height takes effect next week!  I don't feel quite as bad now about not practicing that much with the taller height.
And her stopped teeters all made me very happy.  Even did her nice bow on 2 out of the 3!

And because the good news kept coming, Zumi actually measured to jump in the 18" class!!!!  The cutoff is 17.5" which Zumi is very close too. She also likes to stand on her tippy toes and pretend she is almost an inch taller sometimes.  But I got her looking down and now we're 1 measurement down, 2 to go!
I entered her to jump 22in this trial as I didn't think it was possible to get her down.  I'll try entering at 18 next trial and see what happens!  I certainly feel more comfortable jumping her 18 long term than 22!


Sport Camp!

It's been awhile since I've posted!!  This last week was spent driving down to Missouri for the Fenzi Dog Sports Camp.  It was my first experience attending and I chose to volunteer my time helping the other instructors.

The atmosphere alone was worth it.  So many positive trainers in love with competition obedience and other dog sports all in one spot.  You just can't replicate that inspiring environment!

I took Zumi with me (non working spot) as I thought she could benefit the most from experiencing such a loud and busy venue.  An amazing coworker took Vito in for several days and swore to have no life so that I could actually go.  And Lance stayed at home with Adam.

Zumi did great.  Mostly she was in a crate but she got to come out and play during lunch and at the end of each day.  I was impressed with her ability to offer engagement in a crazy place and I mostly too advantage of the ring to do some ring confidence games.  Enter the ring and party!  We also did some setups and heeling up to people for leash removal.

And I learned that Zumi is not ready for obedience trials. Yet.  I was proud of how she could offer great focused ring entries without a toy on me.  She could even play in the ring with me, no toy.  But what she couldn't quite do was transition from work to play to work again without that toy in a smooth matter. Sure she could do it, but not without a bit of disengagement and wondering about that reward.  Before Zumi is ready to trial those transitions in the ring need to be seamless.  The exercises are the easy part, the in between stuff is the hard part!  At home she might be fine, in a new place she was just not quite there.
So I made it easy on her and rewarded frequently.  The new environment was not the time to work on more delayed rewards.

Zumi also had the opportunity to try dock diving again!  Her 3rd attempt at the sport with her other two tries never quite getting her to the actual dock.  This time it was an outdoor pool which I think helped her quite a bit.  There was still no actual ramp to practice on but there were some stairs leading into the pool.  I spent her first turn just working her from the stairs to try to build her confidence.

Her second turn I warmed up with the stairs again and then decided to try the dock itself.  Some hesitation but she jumped!  Well plopped in really.

But repeated it!  And then I ended our turn.  I have hope that if she gets to try it again she will be off the dock after a quick warmup.  And maybe would actually jump instead of plop.

I had a blast at the camp and I will write a separate post about the most important concepts of sport that were repeated again and again throughout the camp.


Disc Dog Seminar

Ducky and I had quite the adventure this last weekend.  Just the two of us headed out for a disc dog seminar and since the longish drive was made even longer due to construction I decided to camp there too.  This was the second time Zumi has gone camping, but her first overnight without the other dogs.

I must say it was really nice to not have to worry about any "special" rules like I do with Vito.  I could crate out of the car, I had the freedom to say "Yes!" to going out to dinner (even though we ended up just ordering pizza in) and she was just so relaxed and good.  The only issue was getting Zumi to drink.  I've discovered that she won't always drink much at all when at trials and apparently the heat and duration of stay didn't tempt her much more.  Wouldn't even eat ice cubes and Ducky loves her ice cubes!  So I'll have to look at getting a water supplement or something else to make it taste good enough to drink for her.

And we had a pretty good time at the seminar. Certainly getting me more motivated to actually practice the stuff with her and even more importantly to practice my throwing.  Zumi has done hardly any disc work despite my intentions, but at least she has a solid foundation with biting, tugging, and dropping.  We worked on adding a disc  for the first time into our "dog catch" that had kinda broken after I taught her to rebound off my hip.  
Then added her first time catching a disc after a leg vault vs just taking it from my hand.  That was painful, and extremely colorful reminders were left.  I immediately ordered a leg wrap when I arrived home!

We have a small disc dog event this Sunday with UpDog's Funkey game- a little of agility+disc in a snookerish type format.  

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