Corgi in NADAC

Lance finally got to trial in NADAC again!  So much for the goal of finishing up the NATCH for him this year.  Saturday was only his 3rd day of trialing since December.

Since the corgi does not exactly love running outdoors, I decided to split the long agility weekend between two organizations.  Lance in NADAC on Saturday and Vito in USDAA Sat and Sunday.  Luckily it ended up being a gorgeous day for Lance, not so hot that he was melting!  Unfortunately the grass was a tad on the longer side and it's Lance's biggest pet peeve about running outside.

Chances was first and while Lance handled beautifully he just didn't have the extra oomph to do the 2nd send portion and cut back to me too early.  Sadness since of course those are the only Qs he actually needs.

In regular he did an ok job.  Weaving outdoors is always his biggest challenge and he did miss the first entrance on a set of 6 poles and then later popped out at the 10th pole on the bigger set.  Also pulled into me quite too much on an Aframe/tunnel discrimination and I had to resend him up the aframe.  Just not feeling it.

Round 2 of regular went much better.  Got all his weaves!  Only issue was a stand off above the contact zone for the dogwalk as the 2nd to last obstacle.  I shook my head and he took 1 step.  Shook my head another time and he took one more step, barely into the contact zone.  So I waited again for him to actually take it a step further.

Tunnelers was a fun Q, just barely slower than normal.

I love trialing outdoors, I just wish Lance did too.  NADAC is one of the few trials around here that actually are outside anymore.  The USDAA trial this weekend that has always been outside moved indoors this year


Coming soon...

12 days



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.


Perfection in Training

I'm on a few obedience and agility groups/lists and I often see the phrase, "But he's perfect in training!"  Usually a lament about an issue that is regularly cropping up in trials but they are not seeing in practice.

My own dogs are never perfect in training.  If I ever had a perfect training session I would have to question my ability to raise criteria and my creativity in challenging myself or my dog.  Lance is capable of getting a perfect score on his heeling in trials (something I never thought I would say even a year ago!), but in practice I'm doing tons of little moves to challenge him and to be able to tell him "gotcha!" when he fails.  And because he is an advanced dog, I'm also doing some boring traditional heeling patterns so that there is not a striking difference between what could become trials=boring and practice=constant engaging movement.

There certainly are issues that the perfect in training statement can hold true.  I have had to work very hard and be creative to even try to replicate some of the issue that Lance has had in obedience trials.  But often an issue that you're not seeing in practice can boil down to a few common reasons:
1. Stress,confidence, or anxiety issues.
2. Motivation issues
3. Foundation/generalization/arousal issues.

Dogs who stress down are pretty obvious to identify.  They might do everything slower than usual, do intense sniffing, fail to do something on the first command, or go around jumps.  Dogs who stress up in trials can be harder to identify as at first glance they might just look really happy.  But they're not.  Dogs who stress up might be frantic in their motions and in general they're brain is not in any condition to think.  I lump anxiety issues and confidence issues into this same category of problems as stress.  In all cases, the dog likely knows what to do but just can't.  These problems have many possible solutions but none are a quick fix.  The possible exception to the quick fix is for a very green dog with a stable and confident personality who manages to figure out and adjust to the stress of the ring despite a handler not knowing how to train and prepare the dog for it.  A potential help for dogs is Ring Confidence work to slowly and positively introduce the dog to all the stressors he will encounter at a trial.

Usually motivation issues are more of a problem in obedience where the work is less naturally reinforcing than in agility where the runs are short and fast paced.  Unless of course the dog is Vito.  If you think your dog's trial issues are due to lack of motivation than honestly ask yourself how you are rewarding your dog in practice.
Is the reward physically on your body?  Do you reward every single good repetition or every single set up?  Do you need to get your dog excited with your food/toys before the dog will engage with you?  Is the dog used to and comfortable with long stretches of silence and formality?  Are you able to reward the dog with just you (no external reward)?

I know I've failed on all of those above points in the past and I still need to honestly ask myself those questions on a regular basis.  If one of those points is glaring at you then it's very likely that your dog notices the difference too.  A simple test you can do is go a place your dog has never been before with plenty of distractions.  Get your dog out of the car and make sure you have no rewards on your body or even visible ones.  Stand still and wait.  How long does it take your dog to check in with you without you have to say or do anything?  On a single quiet cue that you are available for work to start, does your dog immediately give you that perfect picture of engagement and precision you want?  Are you able to do a run through and keep that engagement and effort?

For dogs without stress and motivation issues the issue may lie in the dog not fully understanding all the criteria.  This is where proofing can come in to try and see exactly what part of the exercise the dog has a problem with.  Besides duration, distance, and distractions as the most common ways to look at a behavior, also consider latency and speed.

I put arousal issues in with foundation and generalization because a solution can often be found in one of the above areas.  If your dog is as high as a kite in trials (and isn't really stressed) then I personally would recommend trying to replicate high arousal in practice as often as possible vs trying to calm the dog down (and separately work on high followed by a controlled behavior). If you're able to replicate it then it will likely allow you to systematically work through the issue.  Try hooping and hollering as your dog runs down the dogwalk.  Several drop on recalls in a row to work on anticipation of the down.  Waiting a very long time before giving a signal or flashing them at the speed of light.  Falling to the floor (gracefully!) as the dog takes a jump.  You may need to think outside the box to try and "break" your dog.  I prefer to tackle issues head on rather than avoid them.  That being said, I see proofing the issues as opportunities to build confidence rather than tear the dog down.  I laugh and tell my dogs that I fooled them on the mistakes and simply reset to try again.

The too cute for criteria stage of 2012!
And then there will be times where you exhaust all your resources and still can't figure out an issue that appears to be "trial only."  And that's when you become a super problem solver and tell yourself that your dog is making you a better trainer.


Lance AKC Obedience Trial

Lance had his return to AKC obedience after a 4 month break and the earning of his UDX title.

Utility was first and Lance turned it on.  A little sloppy and hesitant with the first exercise, gloves, but then he had one of his best utility runs of his life.  Really working his fronts and finishes, some of his best heeling, and his best go outs.

Sadly, while Lance stood properly on the signals he waited until I got across the ring and then sat.  Didn't look stressed to me, just eager for the next part.

In Open Lance showed a different picture.  Heeling was first and he was lacking a bit in the drive I love.  Back to a wide about turn and a lag on the fast.  One more lag on the first outside post of the figure 8, but also compounded by some sneezing.  Fronts and finishes on the other exercises were hit and miss.

Then the stays.  Lance's big streak of held sits had been broken earlier this year when he went down on 2 of the last 5 trials.  It's been a 4 month hiatus since he last showed so I was hoping that our continued work had "fixed" our problem.  Well unfortunately that didn't seem to be the case.  Lance lied down pretty much as soon as the whole group was out of sight.

Utility was first again and he had another nice run.  Not quite as good as Saturday's run in a few areas.  First go out he started to turn early, second go out he did a hover butt on the sit.  Fronts and finishes were hit and miss.  But he did all the exercises without much of a hitch and we qualified!  Even managed to snag 3rd place and get another tiny OTCH point.

Open was a huge improvement over Saturday.  Heeling started a little lackluster on that first exercise but he perked up as we went.  Working his fronts and finishes again!  Unfortunately he nicked both the high jump and the broad jump :(

After he went down on Saturday I debated about doing the group stays with Lance again or not.  Ultimately I decided to do them.  No amount of training is going to fix the fact that Lance knows well the difference between trials and practice- no reward for doing the sit will happen in the ring and nothing happens if he lies down.
Thankfully Lance held his sit!!!  People watching said he looked fine on the sit and then on the long down had his chin resting frequently.  So puzzling.
There was a 3 way run off for 3-5th place and Lance managed to get 4th, but no points. (And UDX leg #11!  But a UDX2 title isn't really a goal of mine).


Arousal Issues at the Park

That lovely little park I shared about earlier this week?  Yeah, it's already becoming too much for Vito.  Due to the lack of funding for trials, I've had the time to go visit the park quite a few times now.  And the Toller is getting worse and worse.  First visit he was calm and had a grand old time.  Second visit he was excited but able to think.  Third+ visit he has started Toller Screaming the second he sees another dog or if a person says hi to us.  He doesn't even care about other dogs or people, it's just an excuse to get excited.  On the way out of the park a few visits ago we passed a nice couple carrying some chuck its for their labs.  And that's when his brain completely fell out, I had the opportunity to educate about Toller Screams as I tried my hardest to haul the thrashing dog away, and now the spiraling to screaming on subsequent visits.

Training plan I'm making up as we go.  I don't want to lose this opportunity for Vito.  Normal dog plan might include hanging in the parking lot and doing mat work.  There's no way that would work for the neurotic dog.  Vito knows he has to swallow a treat when offered, but there's he doesn't want it.  And time doing nothing seems to amp him up more and more until he gets himself in a complete frenzy.  He's fine doing nothing after given a chance to blow some steam, but in the beginning he's like a tea kettle just waiting to explode.

So far my plan includes heading away from the path to the lake.  Keeping all dogs on leash for several minutes and then letting Vito the be the first one off leash for several more minutes.  If Vito is last he immediately starts screaming.  If all go at the same time, then more screaming.  If he's first, tiny scream but then there's less excitement when no one else is free.

Part two includes lots and lots of recalls.  I'm not worried about losing Vito (unless he sees a chuck it), but he gets so excited that he tends to just want to keep running and doesn't have any concept of checking back.  So lots of calling, making him swallow a cookie, and then his real reward of being released to run again.  If he doesn't come right away he goes back on leash for a minute.  Slowly might be starting to work.  At least at the end of our recent visit he started stopping on his own when he saw me stop and then I praised him and didn't make him come all the way back for the treat.  We were also able to pass some people and dogs towards the end without needing to put him on leash!

And finally no more toys.  Sorry Vito.  And sorry Gracie.


Gracie's back!

The labrador is back!  Gracie returned from prison this past Friday.  Her handlers weren't very experienced so they got to learn some of the training techniques on a nutty but well trained dog.

She did get some more training on reigning in her low blood sugar alert.  Before going to prison, I was working on Gracie not mobbing me as her alert.  I got her to the point where she was doing a nice nose nudge 75% of the time and a jumping attack the other 25%.   With other people that seemed to be in reverse, with her only jumping most of the time and only doing a nice nudge 25% of the time.  On her return it appears as though the jumping alert is mostly gone.  The downside is that she seems more confused as to what her alert should be.  She's still catching the scent very quickly and you can see her sniffing excitedly, but now she does more sitting back and staring. Waiting to be told what to do.  Some experimental pawing is happening as well.  Oh well, she has plenty of time to fix it!

Back at home I've discovered a new pond for the dogs to play in!  Unfortunately it's not quite in walking distance, but it's still fairly close.  Technically it's a disc golf park and not an actual dog park.  But it appears to be an unofficial dog park as I've seen many owners and dogs walking off leash along the paths and especially around the small lake.  I wish it were less crowded, but the few times I've been it hasn't been too bad and all the dogs seemed pretty well in control of their owners.  That's helped with the fact that the park is not fenced and there's actual disc golfers there as well who don't want dog interference!

I ordered Vito a life jacket that will hopefully come soon! While Vito hasn't gotten a ton of swimming practice over the years, he has still been in the water often enough as to where I feel he should actually know how to...not look like he's drowning!  The Toller still has no clue how to move his back legs in the water.  He's just so excited by water and his version of swimming that zero thinking is occurring.  Even without a toy for him to obsess over.  Maybe a life jacket will allow him to think about the mechanics a bit more.

Drowning in the middle of the pond.

Flying Labrador!

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