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.


Yard Work

Love our new house!  It's so great being able to just sit outside in the yard with the dogs, being able to play whenever we want, and even be able to practice tiny bits of agility with my few jumps and new set of weave poles!

Our project to fence in the area is almost complete as well!  Since we have a corner house and our yard is all on the side of the house it was difficult coming up with a plan that would be cheap and yet still allow the dogs to actually hang out with us.  I really wanted the fenced in area to include our porch and patio area but it needed to look not too weird since it's very visible to people passing by.  Solution was the cheapest deck panels we could find.  Still not cheap once all the post parts were purchased :(

  Then strung them out along the walkway to the garage.

The rest of our fenced section is made up mainly of 14 gauge glavanized wire and then a few old  kennel panels that were free from work.  Doesn't look the greatest but it will work for it's intended job.  And the much greater distance was only 1/3rd the cost of the deck panels!  Rough size is 70x35

The Toller is a bit sad over his loss of freedom.
Also on the agenda was a gravel potty area.  The yard is way too big to go looking for poop!  Vito's training is going the easiest and Lance is reluctantly going.  Gracie is not happy.  Very used to going on rocks at work and at the obedience club, but at home is apparently different.  Major girl drama and refusing to even walk out the door if not on leash.  We've had a few 16hr holdings between pottying until she can get to work and relieve hereself...on the rocks.

Biggest downside to purchasing an unoccupied house is all the yard work that needs to be done.   Leaves and sticks are everywhere!  The amount of gopher holes are also crazy!  Took me forever to try and spread the huge dirt mounds.  The only good thing is that after a few days it looks as though only a small handful of new mounds have popped up.  Much less gophers than all the old holes made it look like!
Ticks on the other hand are a different story.  Due to the prairie area in back the dogs are bringing in lots of ticks.  So far they seem to be winning too as I've only found 2 dead ones and many well fed and happy ones. Frontline is defeated.  I'm hoping that at minimum our new fence will help to cut down on them as it limits how often the dogs are wandering to the taller grasses.  Just ordered the new pill to see if that is any more effective.


First Outdoor Trial

The first outdoor trial of the season couldn't have been on a more gorgeous weekend!  With Bubba's graduation on Saturday I could only enter one day.

Vito was unusually quiet-ish on his start lines but it didn't seem to be an indicator of anything wrong.  Happy Toller on all 3 runs and seemed to gain in speed with each new run!

Gamblers- NQ
Normal Trial Vito appeared.  Not bad, not amazing.  Got to do 2 dogwalks and an aframe, a perfect Toller plan.  Actually I was very happy with the gamble even though he didn't do it correctly.  It involved a tandem turn to the jump and weaves.  Vito read the turn away but then wasn't sure where to go so he slowly started heading towards a tunnel trap.  Good boy!  He didn't stop and come into me like he would normally do and ended up going out a pretty big distance for him!

Snooker- Q
We did 4-4-6-7 and ended up tied for 3rd in points, 4th in time.  Just lost out on a super q!  Vito actually had some nice running and it was one of his happiest snooker courses ever!

Standard- Q
I really love this run.  I could have been a bit better in my timing but he did a fantastic job.  Unsure why he didn't release on the teeter, but he sure was certain it was a test!


Graduate Schipperke

The Schipperke!  

Bubba and I were reunited briefly at his official graduation today as a diabetic alert dog.  I got to hug the little bear cub and ceremonially hand off his leash to his momma.  

Definitely a perfect match.  She embraces his Schipperke-ness and has a pretty good handle on not letting it spiral out of control :)  

And Bubba takes his job seriously.  Although he still has the best alert technique ever- repeated boinging as high as he can get :)


The Stigma of Doggy Drugs

When people hear that Vito is on drugs they're usually pretty shocked.  Mainly because Vito's worse anxieties are typically hidden from public view, unless you're lucky enough to work with me!  But secondly because most people either aren't aware that dog's can benefit from the same drugs as people or worse they think drugs are an easy way out.  Almost always our conversation includes questions on whether or not I've tried this or that natural remedy or healing technique.  While people are well meaning, regardless of my answers to their questions it means I'm on the defensive side of my choice.

Happy?  Or stressing up into a frantic nutcase?

Natural and holistic treatments can help many dogs.  They can help take the edge off for both people and dogs in certain circumstances.  Vito has complete panic attacks at least once a day, if not more, on the average week day.  I often have to choose between the lesser of his anxieties when it comes to leaving him alone, taking him with, or changing a routine.  For dogs like Vito, flower essences, DAP, chiropractic, and thunder shirts are usually not going to do a thing to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain.  Exercise is great, but increasing it is also not a magical answer and in Vito's case the adrenaline can actually make his anxieties worse.  Turning to drugs is not an easy decision but I don't think it even has to be a last resort.  If my dogs get sick I'm going to try and treat them with all of the resources available.  Let's have the same respect towards the brain as we would for a broken foot or a diabetes.

So please, stop with the helpful advice on what supplement your friend should try unless you're asked.  Chances are she's already exhausted a long list of things and has for too long seen drugs as a last resort.  I know that I saw it that way and still hate that I feel defensive about my choice even without the help from others.  Hopefully someday we will get that magical combination of drugs that will restore balance to Vito's brain and stop his panic attacks.

Better posts on this topic:
Myth: Anxiety Medication Should Only Be Used as a Last Resort
Meds and Your Dogs, Part 1


CDSP Trial

The Toller
Vito didn't have quite the level of drive he's shown in his most recent trials, but he still gave a very nice performance.  There were a few quick look away's and I actually did a tiny reset at the ring entrance as he broke focus.  Vito knew his job though and the little stutter backwards was enough to remind him of our ring rules and what we were there to do.

Heeling was nice and only slightly pushy compared to the last 2 trials.  But then again his drive level was also lower.  We actually got to do some bonus heeling as the judge called the wrong direction on the turn and then she froze and didn't know what to do.  Since you only have half a second to decide whether to follow the judge's instruction or follow what was supposed to be the pattern, I chose to do as told since that specific direction was doable (not into a ring gate or anything).  Vito seemed happy to do some hand touches and restart the pattern so all was well and was some extra practice.

Fronts were SO much better than they've been at past trials!  All but the one after the jump were spot on.  His around finishes were starting to forge and likely in anticipation of me letting him jump on me.  I tried to get him to do a hand touch first, but he refused each time.

Broad jump was actually really nice and no hints of cutting the corner like the recent trials.  I've been working on it quite a bit more in our practice the last few weeks and especially working on removing me from the picture. The running broad jump version in CDSP exasperates the corner issue for him but it looks like either the independence practice is paying off or I just got lucky :)

Drop on recall I chose to use both the verbal and hand signal as allowed instead of being brave and just using the hand signal.  Go out was nice but again we had our wide turn on the sit.  Still having that issue in practice as well.

The Corgi
Oh my.  Go outs were first and Lance didn't head out with as much oopmh as usual and certainly didn't aim for the stanchion although he wasn't that far off.  Need a 2nd command to sit out there.  Then I signaled the bar on my right and Lance headed straight in the other direction.  I gave a quick "uh ah and told him "go out" as I signaled towards the other jump but Lance then just looked confused and sad as he took the last few steps towards his preferred jump.  I didn't think my correction was harsh but apparently the corgi was offended by it!  I patted him and asked for a high five but he left me hanging.  Second go out was more confident and he sat nicely.  I asked for the same jump again and Lance took it easily.  At least neither of us held a grudge :)

Moving stand was lovely.  Signals were lovely and I chose to give a "good boy" after his down signal.
Articles were his 2nd time in the ring using his cute little baby shoes.  Had a bit of hard time but kept working the pile and eventually found it in the middle.

Gloves were another NQ.  Did both pivots nicely, even #1 which is hard for him in a trial for some reason.  But on the 2nd glove mark Lance went out correctly but hesitantly.  Then happily veered off to #2.  I just don't think he even saw the right one so I didn't call him off his choice.


Vito's 1st Master Agility Seminar

Vito and I ran in our very first masters agility seminar this past week.  It was pretty terrifying for me to enter with him since I had no idea how he would handle it.  I didn't know if Sad Toller would show up and then an internationally handling seminar would be terribly demotivating for him with it's abundance of collection needed.  Vito has done a handful of seminars in the past 5 years- Silvia Trkman when he was a young and happy teenager, Lori Michaels when he was in complete Sad Toller phase, and 2 Loretta Mueller seminars where he's been OK and then last one a year ago he was amazingly happy.

This seminar was with Rosanne DeMascio.  First run of the day was the simplest course she offered and Vito ran OK.  Actually at a pretty decent speed for Trial Vito.  And then he got his toy and I talked to Rosanne.  And his brain exploded as he realized it wasn't a trial!  Major screaming as Practice Vito suddenly made an appearance and stuck around for the entire seminar!  I think for everybody at the seminar it was their first introduction to this version of Vito.  A much louder and confident Toller.  Happiness :)
You can see the transformation in this clip of his first 2 runs: http://youtu.be/MWsFt7YNa-w
Vito's still come a long way, so the difference isn't as huge of a yardstick anymore.

We still had plenty of issues.  Especially as the day went on Vito got more and more sticky on me.  Backsides and wraps became harder as his commitment point started to scale back further and further.  But it does show me that Vito really does understand them well, especially when he's fresh.  I worked hard on running out of them and having him chase me.
Montage video of the great moments:

I wish I could have gone to more days to see the advice she gave the novice dogs.  But overall this seminar did wonders for my confidence in handling Vito.  After we all walked the course, Rosanne would go over the options of handling with us all.  A few times made me think as I would be the only one wanting to handle in a certain direction, but I was also able to see that I'm doing a pretty good job of finding the most motivational lines for him.  And I tried out a few ways of handling that I know I wouldn't do at this point with him in a trial and had fun learning that he can do it, even if it's not the best option for him yet.


Ring Confidence Class

As briefly alluded to, I organized a ring confidence class to help me with Vito's issues.  We've been doing our weekly meetings since February and are now getting ready to disband for at least a few months.  Vito and I have been doing ring entrance work for a long time so along with my co-organizer we had the 2 advanced dogs in the class.  The rest of our small group consisted of dogs who were either at the novice level or who hadn't started trialing yet.  I strongly believe EVERY dog should have experience with this ring confidence stuff, even if some dogs will pick it up along the way and make you look good without it!

We're somewhat following Denise's ideas for her class at the Fenzi Academy.  Amazing class with some great proofing ideas I never would have thought of myself.  Mainly the class is about focus and handling pressure.  Teaching the dog what their expectations are for handling all the little things that go on when you're in the obedience ring.  Stewards/judges pointing to the setup spot, removing the leash, handing off dumbbells, following orders, and so forth.  When you break it down, you can see SO many areas that could easily allow a dog to lose that connection with their handler if it's not trained.  Very important stuff!

It's really been amazing to watch the new dogs pick up on their new criteria and blossom.  At minimum they're learning how much fun the ring can be!  One of the handlers during this past week's lesson will soon have to be working on her dog not forging during heeling when just a few weeks ago there was sniffing and lagging issues!  Half the battle for most teams is knowing how to split the work down so that criteria can remain high but the dog knows how to reach success.

Since I know many of you need visuals, I put together this video from our session this past week.  We start every week with ring=party.  Since Vito is more advanced, I don't start our party until after we setup and the leash is removed.  Focus must be 100% or we leave the ring and try again.  This was a really good session for Vito.  Sometimes he's still not ready so we don't even make it into the ring and briefly skip our turn.  

We then did the same 2 exercises this week that gave us a really hard time the prior week.  First was handing over the dumbbell.  Last week he followed the dumbbell and jumped on the stewards.  This week he did a nice job but the person coming from the front was harder than from the side.  Secondly we worked on the figure 8 posts coming into the ring.  Last week he had a hard time maintaining 100% focus and his little eyes shifted back and forth as he tried so hard not to look.  This week had little glances but much improvement!  Running and stomping from the stewards was much harder though!

If you're in the Minneapolis area and interested in this work, I will likely be putting together an official class to start sometime this summer.


Obedience Work Continues

So now that Lance has completed our quest in obedience, where does that leave our training?  Lance loves obedience and I love training for it so we're going to keep at it and see how far we can go.  We currently sit at 45 OTCH points and our 3 firsts, all earned in the last 15 months and most of it towards the end of last year.  At least we will continue to learn about maintaining precision and attitude in the ring vs the backyard champion.  Certainly tons of learning left on both our ends!

- Long Sit:  Continued work on having Lance do at least one long sit on a daily basis.  He also gets the opportunity to do one formal group sit in the weekly class I teach and can do another informal sit next to a dog while I walk the course during his agility practice.

Ever since I started having people feed Lance on his sit stay while I'm out sight I am happy to report that Lance hasn't broken a single sit in practice since.  Seriously, one cookie erased the progressively worsening issue we had going on when Lance was in a lineup with other dogs.  Unfortunately it's not spilling over to trials, at least not consistently.  Out of new ideas.  It's definitely not an understanding issue with Lance but rather a stress issue.

- Go Outs:  Continued work on stanchion training for straightness and lots of proofing with stuff on the floor and gates.  He loves proofing go outs!  Vito is currently working on not taking jumps on the way out so I've moved the jumps way in so the gap is pretty narrow.  Corgi barks with glee.

- Signals:  Lots of games to build confidence, especially as I'm walking away.  The only way I can replicate an error in practice if I go more than 3 times the normal distance.  Or sometimes if he's next to a dancing toy creeping towards him.  Then his little eyes get huge as he tries so hard not to look at it that his brain doesn't have enough left over to comprehend the signal.

All the other exercises my goal is confidence, confidence, confidence.  Now that I'm not as terrified to break them, I'm going to have fun with proofing games.  Keeping it very relaxed but challenging.  Retrieve over high with barriers to go around.  Super exploding article pile.  Fast repeated work to try and fool him into anticipation.

I'm also going to start working on an entrance routine with Lance.  Vito obviously knows one really well and I'm very clear on what criteria I expect from him.  But since Lance doesn't have the same issues as Vito I've never really done any specific training of it with him.  Typically he stands between my legs and on my feet while we wait to go in the ring.  This works pretty well for us as he can look around a bit but I can also choose to make the wait time pretty exciting by bouncing him on my feet and talking to him.  What I realize I need to train still is the explosion of that position and into heel.  I've also decided that I will start training and then requiring eye contact while the leash is removed and working on exploding to the first exercise together.  Lance is hit or miss on that piece and I know it would help our connection on that first exercise.

And finally, once the weather actually feels like spring up here, I'm going to work obedience in my own yard!!!  This will be the first time this is actually a real possibility for us since a little rental we had 5 years ago!  My plan for our home turf work is to re-introduce all the work I did on fading food rewards and replacing it with personal play.  I still do a lot of that with Lance but I feel like it's morphed into jackpot style training for him since the 2 days of work I get to do with him at the obedience club is followed by feeding him dinner there before I teach.  I could feed him right before I train him, but that would seem backwards.  It's not that I think the jackpot method is hurting our training in any way, I just feel like going back to making him less dependent on the food will only help our training.

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Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.- Roger Caras

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