Utility Training

As well as concentrating on continued work with Vito's ring confidence, I've also been focusing on really teaching Vito all the utility exercises.  He's been introduced to all of the exercises a long time ago but I can't say he really knows them to even the extent that I would bet him "qualifying" even in the backyard.  For the most part all our skill work has been on the back burner for such a long time as we concentrated on engagement and attitude.  To help get me back on track I've set a very lose goal of having Vito ready to enter CDSP Utility at our trial the end of July.  I don't think it's an extremely realistic goal but I can at least use it as yard stick.  Before entering in a trial the dog needs to not only know the exercises, but also have the confidence to do them in a new place.  And utility is all about confidence!

See, always a tucked leg

I've mainly been focusing on 2 exercises with Vito: signals and go outs.

Signals- Vito knows the hand signals extremely well.  However, this is the most failed exercise in utility for a reason.  Dogs get stressed as their owner walks away and everything is eereily silent.  It's often as if the dog is looking right past you as you give the signal to their blank look.  Vito doesn't do the blank stare too often, but I can tell this is not his favorite exercise.  I also have a vision of how I want the position changes to occur and with Vito this issue mainly occurs on the down.  Vito hates downs.  He has a nice fold back down but if he's even remotely out of drive he prefers butt first and even tucks an elbow.  Sometimes he also takes a step forward.  

What has been helping the most on our down signal training (and on the drop on recall) is having him back up in a down.  Most dogs I work with love backing up and it gets them in a sassy mood.  Many dogs love to bark while backing!  So having Vito back up if he takes a step forward on the down or even just for fun after he downs is a really great "correction" as well as adding in excitement.  I'm also throwing in tricks at a distance to keep happy and on his toes.

Go Outs- The big positive thing we have going on is that Vito has been doing mini go outs in CDSP Open for quite a while.  Go outs can be extremely hard for dogs to generalize to new locations and trial settings!  But I haven't done much with Vito past that half distance training until recently.  Vito's commitment wasn't very strong and he would often veer back to check in with me and get some extra support.  We're still not quite to full distance but it's going better.  Especially since I decided to tackle the jump issue.  

Until a few weeks ago Vito had never actually had the jumps out as part of his picture.  We could stand in the middle and send him, but if I was doing any greater distance I always removed the jumps.  Like any agility dog, I knew that Vito would want to take the jumps on the way out if they were visible.  So I took the issue head on, went back to half distance go outs, but also put the jumps out a slightly closer distance and less than a 10 foot isle between them.  I wanted Vito to have to make a very clear choice between taking the jump and going out to the gate.  Mission finally accomplished!  With the jumps only making a tiny isle to run between Vito is greater than 90% accurate!  

The other exercises still need quite a bit of confidence building, but overall they're more completely taught.  Gloves he has great pivots, a good mark, and I think the shaking habit went away awhile ago.  Scent articles he has oddly always enjoyed.  But he does need practice seeing the actual formal picture.  Moving stand he has rarely done as an exam, but we do practice the stay while heeling quite a bit.  And the directed jumping portion of the go out exercise hasn't had a lot of practice either but as he's an agility dog I'm not that concerned.  We will mainly need to practice being directed from the corners of the ring.

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