2009 Year in Review!

Well another year has passed.  I felt this was a really great year and I actually met all of my goals!

Lance started competing in rally obedience this past January and is now one leg away from his Rally Excellent title.  We haven't done a lot of rally trials but Lance really seems to enjoy it.  I think it has helped a lot in getting Lance to focus more in a trial setting as the constant change of directions has forced him to pay attention and plus I can actually talk to him!  I just wish I had tried rally before I started obedience trials.  Goal #1 completed!

Lance also started competing in open obedience this past fall and now has his first leg towards his CDX!  We have struggled a bit with Lance stressing on the down stays and will likely to continue to have this problem.  But at least I know Lance can do it!  Goal #2 completed!

And finally Lance has started competing in agility!  We've only done 2 trials and both were CPE games without any contacts but still!  Lance has done a great job in the agility ring and seems to love it!  Training wise, Lance has switched from being trained on running contacts after about 4 months of work and very slow progress to doing a 2 on 2 off on the dogwalk and 4 on the floor on the a-frame.  Both are going really well.  And Lance has finally figured out how to weave on a straight set of poles!  Goal to compete was in 2010 so checked off early!

Lance 2010 Goals:
I would, obviously, like Lance to get that last leg needed for his rally excellent title.  Since we have both enjoyed doing rally I would like to continue on past that one leg.  Right now I'm just debating if I want to stay in AKC rally to go for his RAE (10 qs in both advanced and excellent at the same show) and/or do APDT rally.  I've heard that APDT is more challenging which I would like, but there's only 2 trials a year up here.

In obedience, I would love for Lance to finish his CDX!  When he does finish I know we won't be anywhere near ready for utility, so my other goal is to actually work on scent articles and go outs. And of course I want Lance to get confident in his stays so he doesn't stress in trials.  Continuing to focus on attention and transitions between exercises is a must as well.  If everything goes well, I would like Lance to be ready for the utility ring in 2011.

In agility, I would like to further Lance's understanding of his new contacts behavior so that he is confident in the differences between the aframe, dogwalk, and teeter.  I would like to have him competing in the standard classes by summer.  Get Lance weaving confidently on a straight set of poles with all types of entrances.  I don't really care what venues we compete in but I would like to continue with CPE and try NADAC and maybe AKC.

For a completely new goal, I want to try some canine freestyle with Lance this year.  Maybe not competing, but at least putting together some routines.  I love training tricks but have always been scared to try freestyle since I have zero dancing ability.  But my blog friend Honey has inspired me :)

Vito accomplished a lot in 2009 as he grew from a wee lad to a somewhat bigger but still wee lad at 30lbs.  We conquered a vast array of tricks and had a blast doing so!

In obedience we started classes at the club.  His heelwork is coming along quite amazing although he is a bit pushy.  But I would rather have a confident, pushy dog then one who lags behind!  Vito needs a lot of slow heeling to get him to think about his position.  I also got Vito to do a nice hold on the dumbbell, finally!!!  This was a huge struggle all year but now he holds it perfectly, no mouthing, for up to 30 seconds!  The main thing I'm working on in obedience right now is for Vito to not step on my foot every time he finishes to the left or comes in for a front.  It's hard since I don't even notice it because it's so quick!  Unfortunately that would be major points off in the obedience ring if I don't crack down on it.  His stays are also coming nicely although I am going slow in class and am sticking within 15ft and lots of treats to build confidence.  While he does many out of sight stays at home I don't want Vito to be stressed like (apparently) Lance is.  Oh and Vito got his CGC at 8 months so he has his first "title!"

We started agility classes at 4 months and have spent a lot of time on foundational work.  Now Vito is doing lots of short sequences with great speed and with almost no problems.  I don't know if it's because of already doing it with Lance or because of the foundational work, but I rarely have to even do a sequence over because of an error.  We also have spent a ton of time with our board in the front yard training running contacts.  A TON of work but it has transferred so nicely to the real dog walk and a-frame!  It is seriously picture perfect and I couldn't be happier!  I am hoping that it holds up over the winter when I won't have time to train it in all this snow.

Vito 2010 Goals
I would like Vito to start trialing in rally by the end of the year.  I think I will hold off on obedience trials until he is trained through open, but rally would be a nice test of where he is at.  I really want his heel work and attention to be amazing before ever setting foot in a ring.

I have no clue what agility goals I have set for Vito.  He is already doing so well and I think he has passed the point of my experience.  Same with Lance, I really have no clue how to progress my dogs' skills.  It's not like obedience where there is very visible goals and strict criteria so I still need to rely on my instructors to point out to me where I need to improve on.  I know continued obstacle focus and distance handling will be a must for Vito.


Distinguishing Verbal Cues- Nose vs Paw Touches, part 2

Well the dogs have been learning their touch vs whack cue for an additional 5 or so sessions since the last post.  Both are doing pretty well but it is still a challenge for them.  My guess is that they are hovering around 70% correct but I'm not good at actually keeping records.  I've switched to holding the target in my hand the whole time so I can easily swipe it away if I see them guessing wrong and so it eliminates the ability to paw and nose at the same like they can when it's on the floor.  Both dogs are doing better with the target held right below nose height.

I feel like they go back and forth by day who is doing better.  Lance today did fabulous with the transitions but overall gets more paws wrong then noses.  He is still very hesitant about being wrong but praising him like crazy prevent him from getting too stressed.  After a couple of paws in row today, Lance started offering waving to me when I held the target in.  I told him to just sit and wait, but of course he got the next one wrong since I then told him to touch!

Vito is still spazing.  I reward him waiting for the cue almost as much as I reward the actual behavior!  Vito much prefers the whack to touch.  His accuracy on the target has diminshed a ton as well.  While Vito is mostly offering the correct behavior he has turned it into whacking my arm and then turning his head away right before he noses the target.  Right now my plan is to let this slide a bit as long as he is using the correct body part and then to hopefully regain accuracy on actually hitting the target when he is more confident on the verbal cues.  I have also discovered that holding the target out to the right side of his body almost always causes him to whack rather then touch.  He really believes that he can't possibly turn his head to the side that much and finds it much easier to hop a paw towards my arm.  I'm not sure if this is a side effect from the limp training I've been doing with that paw or what.  It's cute, but totally wrong!

Overall I'm happy with how the dogs are doing but they still have a ways to go.  I really want to try Arwen's suggestion in part 1 on teaching the behaviors on 2 different looking targets and then gradually moving the targets closer and closer until they overlap.  I don't know if this would be easier for the dogs or not but it sounds interesting!  But I'm going to stick out my original method for now as I think it would only confuse them at this point to switch.

Vito still sleeps like a puppy.

And in another rant, the ferrets were very naughty today!  The in-laws got us a new couch for Christmas (yay!!!) and in less then a week the 2 girls managed to somehow get stuck under the lining on the bottom.  We didn't even think they could fit into the very tiny space under the couch but we should have known!  We had to tear out the staples in order to free them today.  And while I was quickly grabbing the other ferrets to put them away I managed to send Opie into a panic, (not sure how but I did grab forcefully in my rush and he is deaf), and Opie attacked me.  He would not let go of my wrist for the longest time and I now have several very large bumps on my arm.  Hurts like crazy.  But this is the first time in over 10 years that I have gotten bit by a ferret.  Sure they need to be taught as youngsters that you don't nip human skin, similar to puppies, but I've never gotten actually bit by one.  Opie was really panicked and my arm is paying for it!

Update:  Go to part 3, and part 4 of the nose vs paw touch trick


Super Weaving Vito!

The past few weeks I have been able to go to open agility time at the club and yesterday found out that Vito can weave!  I have no idea how, but Vito was doing a standard set of 12 poles.  The only time I have ever practiced Vito's weaving was in class once a week.  We started Vito on 2x2's in class and he did gain the concept quickly but I never bothered closing the poles because of his age.  Well yesterday in class I started Vito on the offsets which he did really nicely at all angles and at speed.  And then just for my own curiosity I took him over to the normal set of weaves and suddenly I found Vito just doing them!  Honestly I have no clue how Vito is able to do this!  I feel like he has even surpassed Lance who has only recently started to work on straight set.  For non-agility people, weaves are something that everyone says can not be taught once a week in class.  Everyone needs to have their own set of poles if they ever expect their dog to learn how to weave fast and without handler assistance.

So yay Vito for making me look good!  I think I'll still work him on the offsets for most of his training though because he does need a lot more work on collecting himself out of a tunnel and all that jazz.

In January both dogs will be moving to new agility classes.  Vito will be taking Lance's spot at TCOTC as Vito's current class has too many dogs with "focus" issues and I'm unable to make any other times there.  I think Lance's class will be a really good fit for him though as it has the space to allow us to go off and work something little by ourselves and most dogs are at his level.  Lance will be going to another training school, Agile Canines, which I am super psyched about!  The school has an amazing reputation and hopefully it'll actually be at the right level for him since he has long outgrown his current classmates.  I look forward to learning a lot!


How To: Teach Your Dog to Retrieve!

There's a lot of info out on this subject already but each trainer generally has thier own little twists.  The beauty of clicker training is that there is no one set recipee, you just do what works for your dog!  Most of my instructions are a combination of Shirley Chong's Retrieve and Lana Mitchell's Clicked Retriever and then just what I've found works with my dogs and others I've helped.

Play Retrieve:
I'll first start out with how I teach a general play retrieve that I do with puppies or older dogs who show an interest but have just never been taught.

Start by sitting in the hallway with one of your dog’s favorite toys.  Get your dog interested in the toy by snaking it along the ground and teasing him with it.  Remember that prey moves away from dogs, not towards it!  Once your dog is intent on getting the toy, toss it a short distance down the hallway.  Your dog should eagerly race to get the toy and barrel back.  Excitedly praise your little retriever and get ready to intercept your puppy as he tries to run past you.  Don’t reach for the toy right away, instead get his tail to wag as you praise and pet him all over.  After a short time you can then play a fun game of tug with the object, trade the toy for a good treat, or trade the toy for a second toy.  Better yet, keep your dog guessing so he never knows what reward he is going to get.  Vito really likes to tug so I used tugging as his reward most of the time but now his reward is mostly another throw!

Keep your sessions very short and always end before your dog gets bored of the game.  You will want to play this game in a hallway for awhile to channel your dog’s return back to you.  Once your dog is eagerly bringing his toy back to you, start using a variety of household objects for your dog to retrieve.  Don’t make your dog do a formal wait to retrieve yet as you want to create a strong drive to get the object.  Lightly restraining the dog as you throw the toy and getting him verbally revved up can also create a stronger drive to get it.  It may also help to keep a special toy just for this play retrieve work that you keep up on the fridge.  You only bring it down and make a huge deal out of it when you're training.

If your dog runs out to get the toy but doesn’t want to bring it back, try running a few steps backwards as you excitedly call your dog.  Or you could try showing your dog a treat or another toy to entice him back to you.  Just be careful that you don’t try this trick for more then a few times as you want the treat/toy to be a reward for bringing the toy back to you and not a bribe.  Another trick is putting a leash on the toy so you can reel it back in.

Playing tug of war is also a great way to encourage your dog to bring a toy all the way back to your hand.  Tugging gives your dog a reason to thrust the toy into your hand instead of dropping the toy at your feet awaiting the next throw.  Simply play a good game of tug with your dog and then let go of the toy.  As soon as you let go of the toy back away from your dog and call excitedly.  Cup your two hands together and move them out to the side of your body while encouraging your dog to shove the toy into your palms.  At first you will want to really exaggerate the movement of your hands and lean your entire body in the direction you want your dog to go.  The moment the toy hits your hands play another round of tug!  You are teaching your dog that the fun starts when the toy reaches your hand.  Soon you can start throwing your tug toy and get the retrieve!

Formal Retrieve:
Teaching a formal retrieve is a whole other ball game.  Even with a natural retriever I teach it step by step as I am aiming for a really nice hold.  It took me months to get through these steps with Lance the most unnatural retriever ever and Vito went through the steps quickly but we then spent months on getting a nice sit and hold.

Step 1: Interact with this object
Start with a dumbbell or dowel and have your clicker and treats ready.  Hold out the dumbbell and be ready to click the instant your dog moves to investigate it.  In the beginning you will want to put the dumbbell behind your back after each click because the reappearance of it will make it easier for your dog to investigate.  In this first step our goal is to get the dog purposefully touching the dumbbell with his nose.  Make sure to vary the position that you hold the dumbbell so that your dog learns to actively move towards it in order to touch it.

Step 2: Open mouth Only
Now your dog should be touching the dumbbell immediately after each presentation and is moving his body to do so.  We are still going to be holding the dumbbell in our hand but now are only going to click when your dog opens his mouth on the dumbbell.  The goal is to get a solid bite on the dumbbell, but any mouthing or licking will also be clicked at this point.  Don’t worry about your dog holding the dumbbell, just click for an open mouth on it.

Step 3: On the floor
If your dog is consistently opening his mouth on the dumbbell you can now put it on the floor and start over.  Begin with eye glances, nose bumps, and progress until your dog is now mouthing the dumbbell when it is on the floor in front of you.

*Step 4:  Lift off

Put the dumbbell on the floor directly in front of you and start clicking the instant you see one bell come off the ground.  You should not be waiting until the dumbbell completely levitates but should be clicking the start of this lift off.  Your dog should be dropping the dumbbell as soon as you click and that is the start of a good give!  The final goal of this step is for your dog to lift the dumbbell off the floor to about knee height.  You should not be trying to grab the dumbbell at this point, so watch your toes when you click!  If you are having problems at this step, remember that it is better to click early rather then late.  So be ready to click just a tiny hop of the dumbbell instead of waiting for a large leap.  If your dog drops the dumbbell before you click, DON’t try and click late.  If you click as the dumbbell is falling back to the floor you are teaching the dog that the drop is the important part instead of the pick up.

*Step 5: Turn to You

Start with the dog on your side and put the db about 6 inches in front of you.  If the db is placed parallel to you and the dog this will encourage the dog to pickup and already start turning back to you.  Click as soon as the dog turns his head to you with the db in his mouth.  You are not looking for a full retrieve so it doesn’t matter if the db falls to the floor.  Ideally your hand will be outstretched and ready to catch the object on this very tiny turn.  Progress until the dog is willing to travel up to 2 feet to bring the object close to your body.

Note:  Some dogs progress faster by skipping step 5 and working on step 7 where you start the retrieve back to you without the db being on the ground.

Step 6:  Delivery to hand
Once your dog can grab the db and immediately turns back to you without dropping it, you are going to work on the dog shoving it in your hand.  In this stage you can either hand your dog the db (as explained in 6b) or place it on the floor 2-3ft in front of you.  As your dog is turning back towards you while you run backwards a few steps, hold both of your hands together so that they form a little cup to place the db in.  Now move your little cup out to the side of your body while really exaggerating this movement and even leaning your entire body in the direction you want your dog to go.  It can also help to hold your top hand a little bit higher while having a visible treat right above the bottom hand you want your dog to target.

If you are having a hard time with this step try resting your hand on the floor and see if you can shape your dog to pick up or even roll the dumbbell into your hand.  Be patient!  If this is still a difficult process then skip to working on the clean up trick.  Having your dog put an item into a bucket is a much bigger target to aim for compared to your palm.

Step 7: Take from hand
At this point some dogs will be bringing you back an object from the floor but still can not grab an object you hand them without dropping it.  I find it easiest to teach this skill while the dog is already in motion.  For some dogs handing them a db while you are heeling and then continuing to heel for a few more steps can start the process.  For other dogs I work on a grab and turn to me game:

Start with your dog on your left (or right) side and have the dumbbell in your right hand.  You are going to lean forward one step and move your right hand with the dumbbell forward directly in front of you.  Your dog needs to move forward to get that dumbbell and as soon as you feel his teeth touch the dumbbell you are going to let go of it and immediately shuffle back a couple steps.  Click as SOON as your dog turns his head to you with the dumbbell in his mouth.  Don’t worry if the dumbbell falls the floor but give major praise for this first tiny take and turn of the dumbbell!  Since you are still holding the dumbbell at the start your dog should not have to take more then a few steps to be right in front of you again.  As your dog progresses you should work on running backwards a few more steps after your dog grabs it so that your dog is moving towards you with the dumbbell in his mouth.  Make this grab and run to you very fun!  This step I spend quite a bit of time on since I want a nice tight turn back to me immediately after grabbing the dumbbell.

Holding it out in front with dog at side (Lance is in a wait, but only so a picture could be taken.)

Dog moves forward to mouth it
You let go as soon as teeth connect and dog should turn towards you.  Click this tight turn and first mini hold.

Step 8:: Fading your help

Now your hard work is starting to pay off as your dog should be picking up the db off the floor and thrusting it into your hand.  At this point you can start to get rid of all your extra body cues.  Your goal is for the dog to shove the db into your hand whether your hand is held out to the side, in your lap, or even behind you.  The easiest help to get rid of is your backwards movement.  Stand still when the dog grabs the object but still assist by moving your hand backwards or to the side as your dog gets close.  Your hand moving will attract the dog’s attention and serve as a reminder for bringing the item all the way to your hand.  Gradually move your hand less and less until your dog is actively seeking it out on its own. 

Slowly fade the running backwards and start practicing this sequence with you standing still and sitting.  You will also want to break this behavior chain down and click at various spots (speedy run out, tight turn, fast return, etc.  Your dog will drop it when you click but that's ok!

Step 9: Sit and Hold

I hope you have been having fun with your little retriever, but now it’s time to add in some more formal components. The sit and hold is another huge project for some dogs and this step is where I struggled the most. See the separate blog post!

Remember Vito's levitating hold?!


Fronts and Finishes

Ugh.  Vito is doing great in most of his obedience work but one thing (well 2 things) we're struggling on right now are fronts and finishes.  Vito usually does them with great pizazz and even is in a nice straight position most of the time.  However he also steps on my foot/feet a lot.  On fronts, no matter how close or far away he is, Vito happily runs in and slams into his sit but not before quickly using my feet as a springboard.  His left finish is extra cute as he plants his left foot on top of my shoe and keeps it there as he does a lovely swing into heel.  It actually looks quite spectacular.  To those not into the competitive obedience world it may not seem that big of a deal, but each foot touch is 1 pt off and it adds up!  In Novice that would only be 2pts, but Open would be 8pts and Utility 13pts!

*sigh.*  I know it's my fault.  I have rewarded it thousands of times since I wasn't even aware he was doing it on the finish.  I honestly can't even feel his foot on mine and it's so quick as he pivots nicely into heel.  The fronts I am definetly aware of and that's the one place where I feel he's actually improving.  And then of course I have rewarded stepping on my feet in another context (Vito's "cop cop" trick).  But now I'm back to the drawing board.  I am now walking the fine line between only rewarding f&f's without stepping on my feet and not losing his great attitude.


Distinguishing Verbal Cues- Nose vs Paw Touches, part1

One of my current projects I am teaching the dogs is to "touch" a target with their nose and to "whack" the target with their paw.  As a volunteer at Hearing and Service Dogs of MN, the dogs in training are required to learn these two behaviors but most of the puppy raisers are having major problems in having their dogs distinguish between the two behaviors.  Most dogs randomly guess what they are supposed to do if they even fully understand their options at all.  The dogs are also eventually supposed to "get it" so retrieving the target also becomes an option.  So I decided that I would teach my own dogs the behaviors and see if I can learn anything along the way to help the puppy raisers.

Before starting the training my guess is that this verbal discrimination task is much harder then just teaching your dog verbal cues for sit, down, stand etc.  While getting a verbal only is hard for any behavior, this target task has the added difficulty of lack of context.  My dogs can interact multiple ways with a box (stand in it, pivot around it, back onto it) but the training context tells them which behavior to do.  If I'm standing they likely are going to pivot, if I start the dogs out with their butt towards it they are going to back onto it, or if I"m sitting and facing it they will likely start a shaping game to see what I want them to do.  Even without this context it really doesn't matter if they get it right on the first try as I can easily tell them what I'm expecting within a few clicks shaping them what to do.  But this target behavior must be done correctly on the first attempt and without any hand signals or gestures if these dogs are to become service dogs.

The puppy raisers are advised to first teach the paw touch, then the nose touch, and finally the retrieve (retrieving is taught with other things though during this time) since this is presumably the harder order to get the behaviors.  Most of the dogs naturally want to pick up the target right away, or at least nose it, so teaching a paw on the target first makes sure that you can actually get the dog to do this later in the game.  You basically start harder and progress to easier.  But my dogs already have a nose touch (their "touch", the service dog's "nudge") that I taught them a long time ago for agility and then for obedience go outs.  (Although technically it's a little muddled since in the obedience ring I no longer require Lance to actually touch the target with his nose he just has to go there and then sit right away and Vito is starting to stand on the target when he turns and sits.)

Anyway, I spent about 3 sessions teaching the dogs to paw at the target (butter lid).  Since my dogs already know shake I didn't have to shape this from scratch, I simply had the target in my hand and within a few clicks the dogs were targeting the lid with their foot.  I worked on short distances (sending the dogs up to 5 ft away to paw it and worked on heights (having the dogs paw the lid up to nose height on the wall, couch, my leg).  Once I was certain that they were no longer offering any nose touches, I started to say "whack it" right before they offered the behavior.  The service dogs say "touch" but that was already my nose cue, and I was using "punch it" for a little but but then realized that punch and touch sound the same.  So "whack it" is now my paw target cue!

After the 3 sessions focusing on paw touching I was certain that Lance knew the behavior well.  I knew he had zero clue what "whack it" meant but he was nicely offering the behavior.  So for the next two sessions I went back and started working on "touch" again.  I wasn't yet mixing up the two cues, but would start a session training one behavior and then end the session training the other behavior.  Or maybe I would alternate again so each behavior was trained twice, but I wasn't yet trying to alternate paw vs nose.  Lance still seemed to have zero clue what the words meant, but within a few clicks he would start only offering his paw or only offering his nose.  Basically Lance quicky started to learn what was paying at that moment.  He seemed to be more comfortable with his new paw behavior though then the old nose behavior.

With Vito, I spent an extra few sessions on just doing "whack it" before moving to doing both behaviors in one session.  He got the pawing behavior just as quickly as Lance but he also developed a nice almost flyball box turn when the target was up at any height.  Vito would very quickly brush the target with his nose before lifting the paw farthest away from me to whack the target as he turned back to me.  The tight turn actually looked really impressive but I wanted to be sure that Vito was purposefully focusing on the paw behavior instead of trying to do both.  I didn't fully solve this before moving on but went to the next step anyway since Vito was doing a paw only when the target was on the floor and plus I got antsy to go on :)

After those few sessions (2? 3?) of doing both whack and touch in each session with Lance, I then moved on to cuing the behaviors randomly.  It quickly became evident that I couldn't leave the target out after send since Lance would otherwise get his treat after the click and very quickly offer another behavior before I could cue him.  At first I tried having Lance wait with the target on the ground and then cuing a touch or whack, but Lance felt like the wait was a punishment.  So I am currently picking up the target as soon as he does something and then holding it in my hand.  I then tell Lance the cue and wait another second before putting it on the ground.  If Lance is right on the first try I reward heavily.  If he guesses wrong, I try to pick up the target before he has a chance to repeat it or correct himself.  I don't know if picking it up is necessary but I also want Lance to learn to think more instead of guessing until he gets a click.

I think I only spent 1 session with Vito doing both whack and touch in one session without them being randomized.  I probably should have spent more but I get too eager.  So Vito had his first session of me cuing whack and touch at random today.  Learning from my trials with Lance, I immediately started picking up the target between each successful/incorrect attempt and also waited 1 second after cuing to put the target down.

When I orginally started this project I thought that Lance would get the verbal cues first.  He tends to think more whereas as Vito tends to act first and think later!  Lance picks up things very quickly and is usually very deliberate about his actions although he also tends to slip into "just try whatever you did before, and if it's not working just try harder!" mode.  Vito usually spazes so much in training that I often need to pause and have him sit or down for a few seconds just to try and get his brain back.  He often makes huge leaps in learning something but I'm also much more tired after training Vito!  If I miss a click with Vito he will insist that we must be training something else then and will try several of his favorite tricks instead.

But after today's session I think that I predicted wrong and Vito will learn this faster!  Lance does not like being wrong and will shut down if he thinks that he is (see an example from learning to jump over my leg).  I have to be very careful to not show the tiniest bit of frustration and use lots of jackpots in Lance's training.  Lance also sees me taking away the target (even if he was right and I"m just setting up for the next cue) as a punishment.  He is used to offering behaviors and can't offer the target, nose or paw, if the target isn't there.  He is thinking very hard but I can tell that Lance is stressing about what I want him to do.  Vito on the other hand is spazzing like crazy and I am trying to reward him for sitting between cues (instead of trying to attack my hand/lap which holds the target).  It's only been one session with the random cues and I know he really doesn't know the words, but I feel like he actually had a really decent success rate.  Vito is also sensitive but doesn't care if he get it wrong.  He just wants to figure out why he didn't get a treat that time and how he can get one in the future.

Anyways, I will update again on our progress.  My current bet is on Vito but maybe the corgi will surprise me!  If anyone has taught their dog different behaviors on verbal only cues for interacting with an object (or even if you haven't!) do you have any other suggestions?

Update: Go to Part two, three, four


Free at last! (vito surgery update)

The muzzle is off!  After 16 long days of wearing the muzzle almost all day so he couldn't play with toys, eat bones, wrestle with dogs, ferrets, or kitty, Vito is free!  At our recheck the vet said things are heeling nicely even though some stitches were pulled out (likely by his tounge).  It's still not perfect but since Vito's been so depressed the last two weeks the vet didn't want his anxiety getting worse.  She granted us permission to have the muzzle off and allow some light play.  Vito can wrestle with the other animals and hold soft toys in his mouth but he still can't play tug, have bones, balls, or any hard toy.  He is very very happy :)  Back to his crazy and wild self!


Agility Trial #2!

Lance had his second agility trial (CPE again) Saturday. It was at the same location as basically the horse barn is one of the few places that winter trials are held at in MN. I froze my butt off during the 10.5hrs I was there but it was worth it!

First up was Full House, level one. In this game you get to choose your own course and just have to do a certain number of plain jumps (3), "circles" such as the tunnel or tire (2), and "joker" such as the contacts, weaves, or double (1). This is great for Lance since I can avoid the contacts until I feel he's sold enough to do in a trial and same for the weaves. I played it really safe today and kept my course to only 21pts (needed 19 to Q) even though I knew we would have plenty of time left to accumulate more. We finished our course in 19sec and were given 35sec to do it. But I wanted to make sure my baby boy was successful and left the course confident. I actually don't think it could have gone much better and I even did our first rear cross in a trial!

7 hours later was Jumpers, level two. Lance also did great in this course although I screwed up on the position of my front cross out of the first tunnel. I didn't get as far enough ahead as I wanted to be so ended up angled right in front of the jump. This of course meant that I had to then sidestep around the jump which communicated to Lance that I wanted him to turn since that's the way my body and feet were going! Good boy Lance. I was able to call him back really easily though and we simply turned back in the right direction. I felt like we lost a little bit of speed on the rest of the course, but who knows! And the thing is, I orginally was planning on doing a rear cross there but after watching levels 3/4/5/C do the course (basically the same course with some tweaks) many people did a rear cross but those with the smaller dogs mainly did the front cross. I walked the course with a front cross and knew that I would have to get far over, but I guess I still screwed up. Oh well, I was still very happy on this run!



Lance and Vito got their pictures taken with Sarah Beth Photography. I've been loving her blog forever but we couldn't afford it until we were the only bidder at a silent auction to benefit MN Bully Lovers. 3 of the ferrets (Zoe, Opie, and Bjorn) came along too, but it didn't work out so well :) Apparently ferrets do not want to contain themselves on the background paper for even a second. Opie was the only somewhat cooperative ferret although Bjorn managed to get one picture in too. My wild child Zoe didn't get any at all.

I can't post the pictures here, but you can see some of them on her blog:

And for the next 30 days you can view the whole album by going here and using the password: Vito

If you view the album, any recommendations on which ones to get?


Agility contacts

Vito's doing ok with the whole teeth and muzzle thing. We've even been leaving the muzzle off for most of the time he's home since Vito seems to be learning that lying on the sofa means freedom. Basically Vito just looks pathetic right now and sleeps most of the day. At least he's still been able to go to his obedience and agility classes this week where he's been super super excited but managed to do the best heel work he has ever done!

I wanted to post a video I made of Vito's running contacts progression. He hasn't been able to do it since his surgery and I don't know how much practice I'll get in this winter, so I wanted some memory of how good it's looking :)

We started the work in mid July 2009 when Vito was 8.5 months and made it up to full height beginning of October. Once at full height we struggled a bit with Vito running all the way to the end of the board and then pouncing off the very end of the board like it was a diving board. But I think that problem is solved as he hasn't really done it in November.

Wow was this hard work!! It was so hard for me to tell if Vito was jumping or not in the beginning. I could not see the hind leg separation that Silvia Trkman recommends looking for, so I ended up mainly watching to see if his head/front part of body went up when he left the board. If it was a higher angle then the normal bobbing you see in a run, then I concluded that he was leaping off the board. I also was pretty strict on where his feet hit the end of the board. I know Siliva says not to focus on where the dog hits the contacts, but it was easier for me to focus on foot placement and the body angle going up to know when to reward.

I know that I have a long ways to go with his contacts. Especially since my weird setup (probabally not the safest propping up of the board) only allowed Vito to start on the top of the descent ramp so he isn't used to running before getting to that point. That of course will affect his stride majorly. But he has done the full dog walk a couple of times now and while his success rate isn't as high, he clearly is transferring his learning of running to the real dog walk.

Lance wants to butt in here and tell you that he is doing really well with his stopped contacts now. I've been using my board at home for 2o2o and Lance has caught on SO quick to this. He runs to the end and sticks the 2o2o regardless of my position, running ahead, throwing treats, etc. In class Lance isn't quite as confident as is slowing down more then I would like to get to the end of the board. I'm hoping that this is just Lance trying to figure out if this is really what I want him to do and the speed will come with understanding.

Lance's 4 on the floor on the aframe was amazing this week in class too! Previously Lance had been experimenting with jumping the contact and landing into a very nice down at the end of the ramp, silly corgi. But last night he ran the entire ramp (in a perfect type way) and hit his down. Lance has also given up on trying to do a 1 rear toe contact or a 2o2o on the aframe. Of course I still have his mat at the bottom as a nice visual for him.

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