Lessons from Gracie

Gracie has a match!  She is scheduled to meet her new mom in a few weeks to begin her work as a diabetic alert dog.  Her person goes biking on a regular basis so Gracie will get to run! I will continue to keep her at my house and work on her training until she meets her mom.  At that point I'll then leave her to live at the facility until they pass their public access test together and she gets to move in to her new home.
Her training continues to go well.  Gracie is now alerting 90% of the time with solid repeated nose nudges and only an occasional paw or jump alert.

As a puppy raiser I've had the amazing opportunity to raise a variety of dogs from puppies to (almost) adults.  Along with teaching them basic obedience and a variety of service dog tasks, I've also had the ability to experiment with training competitive obedience and agility skills.  Since none of the dogs have gotten past the foundation part and into competitions I don't know how well the training would hold up in the long run.  However all the dogs have taught me different lessons on techniques I want to keep in my toolbox for my next performance puppy and things I really need to do differently next time!

Some of the lessons learned from Gracie are below:

- Jumping stands are a lot of fun!  I think I will always teach it as a fun trick but I don't know that I like the technique for distance work.  Even though Gracie has beautiful sit-down-stand (verbal) transitions and she understands them at a distance, she manages to leap forward 2-3ft on her stand jump!  Of course out of all the dogs I've taught a jumping stand to Gracie is the only one who does the 4 feet boing into the air versus just bouncing with the front feet.

- Go outs taught as a nose touch to a stanchion/post are awesome.  Gracie is the only dog I taught it to a specific marker like a stanchion from step 1 (versus Lance and Vito learning go out to a wall/general gate first and now trying to get the stanchion target).  Her go outs are only 15ft max but they're fast, straight, and she has a very clear and strong nose nudge.  I think it also helps that she already knew how to close drawers with her nose so had a solid nose target before beginning go out training.

- Add the sit as a part of the front earlier in the process than I had been doing..  It helps a lot with straightness as it prevents the pivot butt!  And as a bonus it makes it harder for the crotch punching.  Which leads to the next point...

- Teaching a dog to target between your legs doesn't work so well with either a dog who likes to jump and/or a dog who is any taller than Vito.  Ouchy.  On the plus side, her fronts can be dead on!

- I forgot how hard it was to teach heeling in a straight line.  I always teach heel position well and teach the dogs how to maintain it through pivoting, side steps, and backwards motion before I start going forward.  Gracie is the first dog I have been attempting to teach real heel work while walking forward, not just attention walking.  I need to reward often and insert lots of little left turns and side steps to keep her thinking about what her back end is doing.  And lots of jump rewards and feeding high to prevent her from dropping her head on that first step and on right turns.

- Rear crosses also way harder than I remember.  Don't assume if the dog knows how to do it in one direction that she can do it the other direction!

- Distance work in agility can come fairly quickly if you have a dog who has high value for equipment and loves to offer things.

Here's the happy Labrador because I let her do one of her favorite activities, head butt the Toller.  Since I implemented the rule of each dog gets their own throw ball in opposite directions to minimize high speed plowing she hasn't gotten to torment Vito much recently.

Kristen  – ( August 22, 2014 at 8:35 PM )  

Re: jumping stands - we quickly add in the criteria of hind feet sticking. Over time the dogs leap less, but we maintain a criteria of some 'jump' because it gives the appearance of more intensity than some other movement patterns.

I like your summary and I'm very jealous of all your training opportunities.

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( August 22, 2014 at 9:00 PM )  

That's what the adult dogs I teach it to naturally do. Gracie has been the only one who loves the 4 feet leap and then total freeze on landing. I can see how it would be more precise with just the front feet bounce. But less fun :) Maybe the next dog I will just train the bounce and see how i like the distance work with that. I haven't trained distance stands with the dogs at work.

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