Broken Training Sessions

Yesterday Zumi had a horrible training session.  A session in which I attempted to go back to basics in order to try and fix a problem that's cropped up with her go out training.  But it didn't go as planned.  I attempted to make it even easier and it still didn't go as planned.  Finally, I scrapped it so I could step aside and really look at what might be some of the root issues.  I left the session feeling frustrated.  A good sign that I should have stopped even earlier than I did.  And a huge blinking neon sign that I need to break things down even further.

There will always be sessions where the unexpected happens.  Times where you feel like you're spinning your wheels.  But they

So I sat down and really looked at the problems I've been having with Zumi's obedience training.  Mainly it's in 2 areas.
1) Retrieves
2) Go outs

Both are "sends" away from me.  Both have similar symptoms of vulturing and vocalizing as soon as she is released.  And both have gotten worse.
I have mainly been focusing on the retrieve portion and have written about how I wanted to tackle her arousal levels though adding eye contact as a criteria to be sent, paying attention to her foot moving as a precursor to vulturing and scootching, working on calm duration before the send,  and when she vocalizes going into calming mode before the next rep with cookie scatters, duration hand touch, and/or a down stay with frequent slow cookie deliveries. 

But while progress seemed to be going well, it has lately gotten worse.  And since the go out has similar symptoms (and causes) it has effected it even though I have not been focusing on it.

If I had to guess where I went wrong I would point to focusing too much on her foot movement.  I don't think Zumi is consciously aware of moving her foot out and thus resetting her for a moved foot added too much stress and uncertainty. I should have noted the foot movement as a symptom of her arousal levels and made things easier the next rep, but not focus on it itself.

So the retrieve started to break with now actually moving her whole body on some short tosses as her frustration level rose.  Her eye contact criteria actually still remained pretty strong though!  I did find that stepping out of heel position seemed to help Zumi relax a bit more, less muddied waters compared to heel!

And then it makes sense that Zumi's go out mark started to get worse with the emphasis I've been putting on eye contact with her retrieve.  And with the stress of the  mark starting to creep in this led to more vocalizing on her sends even though she was still fairly straight and her nose touch still strong

When I attempted to just work on the mark portion yesterday I got this awfulness:


And sadly that wasn't the only rep I did.

Today I broke it back down more and went back to marking her cookie bowl.  That was pretty solid.  However I also saw that she's not completely confident on the duration portion.  Zumi moved that front foot and sometimes did her squeal on the release even with the short 5ft send.  We will stay with marking her a food bowl or a toy for awhile longer.  And maybe even add in a platform.

Wish us luck.

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Nala- Pivoting in Front

Nala, the service dog trainee, has been here longer than initially expected.  She passed her eval with me with flying colors and volunteered to keep her with us until another dog needed an eval.  She's my practice dog for Netta learning how to pet dogs nicely ;)

Since Nala is just turning 11 months old she's still very puppyish and even going through another crazy teenage stage right now.  A bit more testing on the rules at home than she was earlier!

We've been doing some training with her here of course.  Admittedly not a ton.  At least with Yummy I had more pressure since she was "in for final training" with me. Nala is just a pup still.

She has pretty good pivots to my left and right side now.  And I've mostly gotten rid of Nala's habit of wanting to come out in front of me to get her reward.  The dogs always have such a strong history of everyone always feeding them in front and hardly ever at the side!

So this week I started working on pivoting in front.  While Nala started out her pivot training in front of me, as I moved to pivoting at my side I always find the skill disappears.  The dogs get so excited about trying to pivot into heel that they aren't able to remain still in front even if I manage to get them there!

This was Nala's 2nd session with being re introduced to front position.  I am mostly trying to "catch" her with my treats to remain somewhat centered and prevent her from trying to get to my side.  Since Nala mostly gets rewarded on my left in heel position I try to focus my efforts on moving clockwise to have an easier time balancing out her movement.


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Zumi CD!

Quick story-
Yup we spent the weekend entering the novice obedience ring 3 times for our 3 Q's and a new title!

Long story-
Saturday Run #1:
This was her first trial run of the weekend. Not perfect, but very good attitude!  We scored a 197.5 with points of for halts and then her front on the recall.  I also got a nice lecture from the wonderful judge on how she debated about whether Zumi anticipated the recall because I said her name before cuing front.  I never say her name in practice! 


Saturday Run #2:
Run #2 was fairly similar but a few little stuff crept in.  I get hit for a handler error on not moving fast enough on fast time!  Ahh nerves!  And Zumi gave 2 small glances at our judge at each start of heeling on the figure 8.  And then a little bit bigger moment of lost connection as I make the left turn on the heel free.  I don't think she really needed the extra cue but I chose to give one anyway to support her.  But a better recall!  And I'm thrilled with how she kept focus on the stand for exam both trials.  Q for a 194.


Sunday
Sunday we went in for our final leg and with a different judge.  I thought she started very well again!  Fast time needs some work but we get that occasionally in practice too.  I find it interesting that even if she is over aroused we still don't get forging issues!  She has a little bit of distraction on the end of the heel pattern and that shows up as a bigger issue as we start the figure 8.  I give her an extra cue right at the start of the pattern as she immediately goes to sniff the ground.  And because she was now lagging I decide to switch to going left instead of right at the start!  A couple more distraction moments which I think were due to food bowl sounds.  More proofing opportunities!
We ended with some little bit of lagging on the fast and about turns and then a total loss of connection as we heeled up to where the figure 8 spot was.  :( 



Not quite the run I wanted, but she tried really hard for me when she wasn't quite feeling it! 
And then while setting up for the group stay there was a snark and loud commotion as we were getting our dogs into the sit.  Zumi startled, I startled.  I took a little bit of time to get her to jump up and reset back up. And then did some of our duration nose pocket while we waited for the other dogs who I'm assuming where effected as well.  Thankfully all the dogs held both stays even with all the stress that was in the air and all the activity that continued behind us during the stay as well.
Zumi got her 3rd Q with a 190.5.

And now I am grateful to be done with novice.  I have no reason to ever put her in novice again! I know some people like to stay in novice to perfect everything, but I don't see a reason to keep putting my dog in what I think is a way more stressful class than open!!
Zumi isn't ready for open yet as we are still working on calmness with her retrieves.  And my fingers are crossed that the proposals pass and she will never have to do an out of sight stay in a lineup of strange dogs!

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Obedience Run Throughs- The Night Before a Trial

Well tomorrow Zumi and I will step into the AKC obedience ring for the first time.  Wish us luck!

Tonight I spent time moving all the equipment and ring barriers to setup for the trial.  Afterwards there were run throughs for exhibitors to get some fun ring time where they will be showing in.  I took time with Zumi and Vito to do some ring entries before heading home.  Since it was still a little bit before we opened to the public the space was still much quieter than I wanted.  But I was able to grab a "judge" to stand in the ring.

I did a small handful of ring entries over about 3 "sessions."  I know Zumi has some weaknesses that will likely appear with the pressure of a trial, but the night before a trial is not the time to train them.  My only goal is to work focus and attitude.  I want her confident this weekend.

Interestingly enough I found Zumi was a little worried on our first 2 entries.  I don't know if it was due to how different the room looked (it's usually our agility side!) or perhaps it was due to Netta being on the floor close by.  Zumi does well with Netta but she's not really confident.

And I was a little greedy.  But I tried to rectify it!


You can see her stress in the first 50 seconds.
Then you will see the greediness. I wanted to get in that ring and work on stuff before packing up! So although Zumi didn't give me her full "I'm ready to work" behavior of bouncing when I ask the question, I cued her "up" anyway. And then she refused to go into a squish position and did a hesitant setup.
More greediness. I entered the ring, removed the leash, and still didn't reward. The stress of an upcoming trial made me a bad trainer! I finally reward her at 1.18.
Then i give her a tiny break and see some improvement. but notice I still get a failed response to a jump cue. I at least reward her much sooner this time. Then I give her a kennel break while I do some ring games with Vito.

When I get her back out she is much more comfortable! Still a little flat in energy, but whew, I at least have a dog! And then on the next rep, I am thrilled to see some forging as a sign she was feeling much spunkier!
I walk her around the ring for a few laps next and finally do one last entrance with a tiny bit more work as well mainly I was greedy again and wanted to practice a stand.

Vito did some too even though he's not entered this weekend.  He was extra bouncy!

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Dumbbell Focus with a Jump

It's been awhile since I've posted about my obedience training with Zumi!  Mainly we are still focusing on keeping her arousal levels done, especially with retrieves and go outs. 

With her dumbbell I'm still working hard with Zumi not moving a front foot, which leads to vulturing on my db throw, and then focusing on me after she marks the landing.  She's doing pretty good with longer throws now, although I usually warm her up with short ones still.

I decided to add a jump into the picture as I know that will be even harder for her.  I started with tossing the db a short distance with the jump in the background, and then a very short toss over the jump itself.  This session from 9/30 is still roughly where we are at.  Haven't had too many opportunities to train at home recently!



In general, I've really been trying to watch Zumi's arousal levels in training.  These last 6(?) months she has been doing some vocalizing in her obedience work and of course the vulturing.  It hasn't yet crept into heelwork but it is a problem with her go outs as well as the retrieves!

It's sure been interesting watch Zumi grow into adulthood this last year!

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Real Agility Dog!

The tollers just competed at a 2 day USDAA trial.  I am happy to report that my sleep deprived brain remained focused for all their runs!  Outside of the ring I can't say that was always the case, but I'll take victories where I can get them!

Zumi really stepped up her game.  This was her very first trial where she was focused and connected for EVERY single run.  Zumi has been having some great trials recently, but it's still been a mixed bag of those connected runs mixed with wheeee!!
Incidentally, it also coincided with 3 of 4 clean runs on Saturday and 1 of 2 clean runs on Sunday with the only fault being a missed weave entrance, a rare move for her.

We were at that point where pretty much all of the wide turns were about my handling and not due to just blowing by!  So proud of Duckie!


She even made it to round 2 of steeplechase and placed first!  Actually both dogs made it to round 2 which was a first for me!  I don't enter Vito very often in the tournament classes

Vito is also doing great running at 16in.  He had a table slide off he was running so fast in standard(!) although I also take blame as I forgot the lower table in performance meant I shouldn't race him to it and get in front...

Fancy Jumpers!

Steeplechase:

I am saddened that once again we will have a long break from trials.  One more trial to go next weekend, although I think Zumi got slammed by the labrador as she's favoring a foot today.  We will see if it's an actual issue or not...  Otherwise not till January!

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Stand Signals, Anyone?!

If you are at all involved in competitive obedience then you've been hearing all the hollering going on right now about the proposed change of position exercise for open in AKC.  Comments range from how impossibly hard it's going to be for the new dogs, to how much dumbing down we're doing to the sport.  Regardless of how you feel, I'm at least going to be training for it!

I guess I'm lucky that all 3 of my dogs have a verbal only stand and can do it at a distance.  I've even had fun doing some proofing of the stand cue while doing it with my back turned, lying on the floor, etc.  (Side note: TEAM level 3 also has a fun version of leave the dog, assume a weird position yourself, and then cue a position change, x2!)

But what I don't have is any type of signal to stand.  Yes my dogs can do a moving stand, or the stop in a stand position, aka signal exercise version.  But in both cases it's more of a moving "freeze" in position rather than move into a stand with a signal.  And regardless, heel position signals don't quite translate to now having to face the dog. 

So I need a new signal!!!  While the proposed regulations allow verbal and/or signals, I want to use every tool in my box to get that distance stand in a trial! 

I personally like all of my signals to start slightly different from each other.  This was drilled to me from others and I like the logic in knowing my dog knows exactly what I want from the second the signal starts versus needing it be completely finished.  But this also makes it harder to come up with new signals and not add confusion for my dogs!

So far I've settled on my left hand for the stand signal since I have slightly more signals on my right hand (down, come, finish right, take the right jump) than my left hand (sit, finish left, take the left jump). 

I'm currently experimenting with my signal starting coming in towards my body first so it looks the most different.  But of course that also makes it harder to see at a distance!

This weird wave of a hand signal is what I got so far. Very open to ideas!

I'm currently giving signal +verbal at the same time to Zumi as she's very twitchy!  If I do new signal, then pause and give the known verbal she will twitch in anticipation of wanting to do something, but then of course she doesn't know what I want so she waits for the verbal.  I don't like the twitch :) so I'm getting her used to seeing the signal at the same time for now.




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Nala Walking with Focus

I admit that I usually don't have to do much with the dogs I've raised to get nice "attention walking" or heads up heeling.  Having focus on me is always a must have before I begin any actual training with a dog each session.  I don't want to have to fight with a dog in trying to be more exciting than the environment, so I just don't.

Through our play sessions, all of my dogs have easily learned how to keep their focus on my eyes or shoulders even while moving.  They don't want to miss out on anything!  Then it's just a matter of getting that focus as part of our criteria when doing formal heeling or our less formal attention walking, but the foundation of focusing while moving has already been taught.  I don't require any of my dogs to keep their eyes on me 100% of the time when we're going on our neighborhood walk, but they can be called upon that skill when needed.

Nala has been a fantastic 9 month old puppy for me.  Very easy going, eager, and just a bit sensitive.  But she has really struggled with learning this skill.  Of course, she gets the typical level of distractability that any puppy would have, but even when "focused" and wanting to work she naturally dips her head any time we start moving, on or off leash.

As a future service dog, the ability to give eye contact while moving can be crucial in navigating crowded areas.  Nala does a great job of general "loose leash walking" but she has a long way to go in learning to focus on her person instead of getting excited to greet people, or sniff the shelves, or...

I am currently teaching Nala that it IS possible to keep her head up and still move! Rewarding UP has helped her quite a bit.




I've also found that Nala is a bit different from all the other dogs I've worked with, in that she has had an easier time learning to focus up when walking forwards than backwards.  I think we finally reached 6 steps of walking forward without a head dip vs backwards walking is still about the level she shows in the video from a few weeks ago.  Very slow progress, but progress!


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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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