Yummy Retrieve pt 2- More Problem Solving

Yummy, the service dog in training, and I are still working on that retrieve.  It's been about 12 days since our last update where I shared our progress on trying to get movement and a short stationary hold.

I'm happy to share that we now have a few steps of forward movement after picking up the dumbbell.  Yummy can pick it up and walk forward about 4ft to put it inside my bucket, or right at the edge of it.  Remember, my goal with the bucket/platform isn't really to teach a clean up at this point but more to use as a reward station to help Yummy develop a pattern.  The location you reward tends to act as a magnet!
Her consistency still isn't quite there as she regresses into flinging sometimes, and fairly frequently Yummy also just does a quick grab and immediate drop.  But with Yummy it's pretty darn big progress!

In the meantime, I was also able to slightly progress Yummy's hold so that she would pick it up off the ground directly in front of me and hold it briefly in a stand.  This was incredibly hard for her and often resulted in Yummy lying down while doing her hold or just dropping it immediately.  I was seeing too much avoidance behaviors as well.

So I abandoned our stationary hold practice except for the occasional rep while I remain holding it or she's holding it while doing a chair visit.  Then, since Yummy had started to get the concept of aiming, just a little bit, to her bucket or platform, I tried to see if just using her platform training and always rewarding in a sit would help her.  Pick up dumbbell, drop in front of platform or just barely on it, complete the "front" to get her cookie.  Hoping the reward placement and the chain itself would start to come together.  It might have helped if I stuck with it longer, but I switched tactics.

I realized that what Yummy was really struggling with was being able to lift her head UP.  Most dogs at this point I've been able to place my hands together in a big cup as I move backward.  I can shape them pretty easily in aiming for my hands with the help of my movement guiding them.  But once again Yummy needs something different.  So I started working with her "visit" to the chair cue as being her new target.  Tiny lift off ground, reward placed on the chair, and then cues to visit in between reps.  Here I liked what I started to see.

Today for the first time I added myself into the picture.  Review pick up and put it on the chair (which still needs practice by itself), and then I sat in the chair and worked on visit to my lap instead of to the chair.


All the Utility!

Agility on Saturday, back to obedience on Sunday.  I love my Toller :)  CDSP obedience of course, no AKC meltdowns here.

Vito was a very good Toller.  A bit worried about the judge at the start but as soon as we started the short heeling pattern CDSP has on signals he did so with great energy and focus.  And did his signals!  We continually work so hard on trying to make downs fun for Vito, they're just not his thing.

A bit more distracted during article setup, but then he lasered his eyes into me during the long delay as I think the judge tried to flip the article the other way.  I admit his intense focus during that wait was my favorite part of the run.

On go outs every dog got sucked into where the article pile was in the corner.  I've done gloves to the corner followed by go outs, but apparently not articles there before!  I was proud to see Vito go straight!  And then got sucked into that corner when I cued the sit.  On the 2nd send he made sure to ignore my sit cue as well to go touch the gate... twice.  Smart Toller.

Gloves were the best he has ever done in a trial.  Actually pivoted well!  And we have been working hard on making gloves fun after some weird avoidance issues since the last trial so I was relieved not to see that show up here.

Finally on the moving stand Vito stood very well for what seemed like an extra thorough exam!  Hesitant coming in again on the call to heel so something to work on I guess.

A Q in Utility!

Mr. Corgi also got to play.  We did his usualy WCRL rally run in level 3.  For whatever reason he was actually quiet for the entire first half of the run!  No barks on the pivoting!  And then his corgi sass came out for the 2nd half...

I also entered Lance in Utility for the first time since his retirement.  Not expecting much since well you actually have to practice to qualify.  But Corgi always loved to show.

Lots of great moments, and some sass of course.  
On Signals Lance did his down which made me so happy since that was one point that did stress him out about utility.  And then he said he knew the pattern and went straight to his sit.  I wasn't sure what to do there, so I gave a sit signal anyway and smiled when he lifted his butt so he could sit again :)

Articles showed his old habit of grabbing so fast that it just falls out of his mouth a few steps later.  But good boy.

On go outs Lance got sucked into that pesky article spot like the others.  Ignored my cue to sit and just came to me on the first one.  On the 2nd one he sat, and then started to go while the judge was talking to me about what I wanted to do.  I tried to signal the far jump but I admittedly didn't cue it with my normal eye flick and pause first.  Not surprised he just came to me.

Gloves were also pretty good on the pivot.  I underrotated a bit as I was rusty too and forgot that usually ended up happening to me in trials.  I had to always do a 2 step pivot towards #3 in a trial to get lined up correctly even though I never had issues in practice.  It probably helped him though as the other dogs couldn't find the glove behind the poles.

The moving stand had naughty forging and then not actually staying.  Eh.

I do miss showing The Corgi.


Vito IAC!

We took a drive down to Rochester on Saturday for the UKI trial.  Vito needed a lowly 2 points in jumpers, a single Q, to earn his IAC- the championship title in UKI.

I signed up for the first 3 runs of the day so it would be another short adventure.  2 Speedstakes runs and then his jumpers run.  Vito was pretty happy on all 3 but not as intense as he has been the last 2 trials.

Jumpers Q!

No victory lap.  I started to do one with Vito but he was confused and went to his leash right away :)  Good boy buddy, you know the routine.

Both speedsteakes runs before it were also qualifying.  Consistent Vito.

And now he is likely done with 20in jumps.  Down to 16in.  I didn't make any promises to Vito so there's a small chance I might go for a single Q in USDAA jumpers to finish up his Jumpers Championship title, but at this point I'm not really feeling compelled.

Netta came along too for her first agility trial.  Only a little fussy, mostly content to be held and walked around, and take a few little naps.  I wish she had taken a few more notes on the agility handling for future reference.


Yummy- Teaching a Retrieve

We have had Yummy for 3 weeks now, working on teaching her some mobility and autism skills.  Her temperament is greatly suited for autism assist work but I like all the service dogs to also be introduced to some of the basic mobility tasks as well as actually learning some sharper obedience tasks such as pivot skills for heel and side, moving downs, etc.  It's also possible that Yummy might not pan out for autism work due to her body sensitivity issues in wearing a bigger backpack that she would need for that placement.

So we are working on quite a few tasks.  The biggest hurdle for Yum Yum is her retrieve.  Last summer I spent weeks getting her to pick up a fleece rope and then just started to get her to levitate a dumbbell.  I have taught a LOT of retrieves to different dogs, not just labs and goldens(!), and by far Yummy has been the slowest.  When Yummy returned to her puppy raiser she was actually biting both objects and lifting them off the ground a few inches, but that was it.  Luckily this time she did at least pick right back up with where she left off.  I had levitation of a rope right away and just a few sessions later I had the dumbbell moving a few inches off the ground.  This was Yum from last summer, working on not just opening her mouth but actually getting teeth on her rope and db.  I remembered wanting to get video to show how hard it was with her db, but easier with the softer rope:

And now I've spent 2.5 weeks trying to get movement.  Any movement at all of Yummy being able to take a step or even turn her head with the object.  Baby, baby steps.  With dogs like Yummy I almost always use a reward station so the dog has a predictable spot to get their reward.  Just like how a dog will start to crab out in heel position if you always feed in front of your body, I wanted Yummy to think about moving towards the reward station with her dumbbell in prediction of food delivery!  Usually I use a bucket, but I also did some experimentation with a platform.

We are finally to the point where she can usually do head turns without dropping the dumbbell.  And if I put the dumbbell in a bit of a chute she can back out a step or two with it.  It's progress.  Eventually, my goal is for the dog to purposefully put the object in/on the reward station, to clean up, but for right now it's all about reward placement!

Yummy is also working on a hold.  Typically I don't introduce any stationary holds until after I have a decent retrieve to hand.  I backchain many things, but not my retrieve.  But with Yummy already spending quite a bit of time (well, compared to the amount of time I will have with her to try to finish it) on the retrieve, I wanted to see if it would be a better approach.

Again I chose to deviate from my usual first approach to hold training.  Since I teach dogs to tug back when biting a dumbbell to promote a strong grip, I've never been able to teach a hold with my hands on it.  Even with my own dogs, they can be given an item to hold and then can remain holding while I reach back to put my hands on it.   But if I try to give it to them and want a hold without me letting go first it's just not going to happen!
Since I hadn't gotten to that stage of tug back on the db yet with Yum Yum and didn't see it being a fast process with her, I decided to do mutual holding.  Actually I made it a 3 way with me, Yummy, and a chair to use for a chin rest.  Yummy does kinda know a chin rest to my palm, but I wanted a free hand to use reverse luring as well.  Of course :)

This was Yummy's 2nd and 3rd lesson working on a hold with chin rest:



When Zumi left to whelp her puppies I decided to grab another dog for the household.  Can't be short a dog for too long!  When I told the service dog organization that I was looking to foster for a few weeks they called in Yummy to start her "final training" with me.  Yummy just turned 2yrs old and is a golden/lab mix.

I had done her evaluation and training for several weeks last summer when I was working so already knew her pretty well.  Very sweet, calm, eager to please, maybe not the brightest bulb, but loves kids.  And she has the most amazing house manners of any dog ever to enter my house.  Has never once picked up one of Netta's toys into her mouth, somehow she came knowing the difference between dog toy and baby toy even when I struggle to see the difference.  Never ever jumps up when excited. And doesn't try to steal my food even when I walk away.  Just amazing.

And I know you're thinking that she's a service dog in training so it's to be expected.  But it doesn't work that way, they are still dogs.  Teenaged dogs.  And in a completely new house.  Our service dogs have solid temperaments for handling chaotic environments and like to please, but usually, they still do a lot of rule testing!  Yummy may not know a lot of  "skills" but wow are her manners good!


3 Weeks Old

Zumi's two girls are 3 weeks old now!  We went to visit everyone on Monday to cuddle the cuteness and I not so secretly wanted adorable pictures of puppies with Netta.

Well the lighting was dark and Netta was uncooperative.  She did let me take a few photos before demanding being cuddled, but not quite as I planned!  Puppies are always fun though.  And fat.  Very fat.



Netta's feelings.

And a lot of trying to eat the ground, her hands, and puppies.

No smiles.

At least somewhat cooperative at times.

To those curious, no we are still not taking home a puppy!  Super cute, but I want a little bit older baby and more space between dog ages.
Sadly my plan of breeding Zumi when that time to get a puppy comes closer is not going to happen.  Due to her progesterone levels needing to be supported and then some difficulty in birthing she's not going to have any more litters.  It's really ok. There are plenty of choices out there for future litters!

I can't wait to get my Zumi back next month and resume our training!


Vito UKI

Vito got to be the only trial dog again this past Sunday as I headed to a UKI agility trial.  Weird without having Zumi there!  I only entered him in 2 runs as Vito is one jumpers Q short of getting his UKI championship title.  He already has all the points he needs, just not the right distribution of points.

It was not to be.  Vito was very happy, very fast for him, and I absolutely loved his jumpers run.  But he skipped the 3rd pole on his weaves.  I don't think he has made a weave pole error in a trial in....  well I actually had to consult my record book where I have a spreadsheet of faults.  2013 was the last with a single run unless we count one run last year where he slipped in the weaves and popped out.
Oh well.

Vito's next run was speedstakes and he was still super happy, fast, and qualified easily.

I'm still thrilled with how fast Vito was running in his 2 runs.  I am hoping this great streak he is on continues!  And now Vito will force me (because I"m greedy!) to go to Rochester for the next UKI trial.  I was going to go to a closer USDAA trial that weekend but now I want another shot at getting his title.  And then most likely I'm going to move Vito down to 16in in UKI.  I love how he looks at 20 so I'm not in a rush, but man Vito is looking old these days.


Training Right Sided Heeling

Since Lance is pretty much done with his formal training for sports I've tried to still keep up with training.  He still wants to work even if his body no longer cooperates as well as it used to.  In my attempt at increasing my motivation I occasionally come up with goals to work on.

Recently I decided I want to train Lance to actually heel on my right side.  Technically Lance "knows this" to the point that if rally required right sided work (and I think the new AKC rally class does!) Lance could easily pass under rally scoring.  But it wouldn't be pretty.  So much forging and crabbing!  Does anyone remember how Lance used to be a good body length ahead of me, looking over his shoulder at me, during his normal left sided heeling?!

So I'm going to clean it up.  And that means going all the way back to heeling foundations.  Since Lance has a history of being really pushy it's going to be a lot slower going than starting fresh with a dog.  Zumi learned both left and right side at the same time and while her right side work is a little rusty, the foundations are solid so it wouldn't be hard to clean up.  Vito is kinda in between.  His foundations on the right were at one point pretty solid, but now well I've created an obsessive and pushy monster over the years in attempts to work on his motivation.

The way I teach heeling to the majority of dogs who are relatively easy to motivate is through pivot work foundations.  Stand on a perch and rotate, rotate, rotate.  Then the same thing without the perch.  Lots of rear end work going towards me.  I almost always start heeling with pivots, side steps, and backing up long before I add a single forward step.  The emphasis is on holding position with small changes in direction.

Lance's occasional sessions are still focusing hard on those small doodles.  The biggest progress so far is that his attempts at forging are WAY less.  Mostly this is due to reward position.  I did a lot of feeding behind my back with each cookie.  Now I usually don't feed quite so far back, but when I remember to I pass the cookie from my left hand to my right hand behind my back instead of passing in front.

This session on Friday I tried one of my first steps of forward moving.  I planned to counteract each forge with a pivot, but I see that Lance isn't quite proficent at doing his pivots out of motion vs starting from a standstill.  Oh and I'm completely ignoring the error of his butt being behind me right now as we work on not crabbing out.  The opposite error is ok for now!


Using a Snuffle Mat to Lower Arousal in Training

Snuffle mats seem to be all the rage recently.  For those who are unfamiliar with what a snuffle mat is, it's a rubber mat with short strands of fleece tied on the mat to make a very thick grass like look.  The idea is to scatter a few pieces of kibble on the mat so that they fall in between the fleece grass blades, allowing the dog to sniff them out.  Very simple idea.  And a very effective stress reliever for a lot of dogs.

I think we are all familiar with the idea that a dog suddenly sniffing the ground is likely a stressed dog.  Sniffing is a go to stress reliever for many dogs.  Many of us have used this to our advantage when we bring our dogs to a new environment and want to see if they can work.  At the start of every trial, or even every training session, I walk my dogs around the perimeter of the rings and let them sniff to their hearts content.  It's a nice relaxing walk that lets them get used to the area and settle in.  Even during a training session if I'm in a more difficult location I give the dog frequent chances to take a break, to "go sniff."

This need to take a break is pretty obvious in our dogs that stress down, tending towards disengagement.  But it's less obvious in dogs whose arousal levels tend to run high.  If your dog is getting more frantic they likely need a break too.  Sometimes those dogs love to work so much that they don't actually want to take a break even though their brain is turning to mush.  That's where doing a forced acclimation walk can be helpful.  Cue a break, and take a calm walk around before trying to work again.

Sometimes the stress low and the stress high dogs may not need a full break from work.  You just want to calm them down a bit before starting the next rep.  This can help prevent ever higher levels of arousal creeping into the work so, for example, that the dog doesn't start to associate heeling with bouncing and barking.  I think this is where using a snuffle mat, or a cookie scatter just in plain grass, can be very helpful!  Your forcing the dog to take a mental break as he spends some time sniffing out cookies.

At the CDSP trial a few weekends ago I noticed that Vito had a hard time finding the right scent article.  He eventually found and retrieved the correct article, but he looked a bit frantic as he quickly sniffed over each article several times before finally calming down enough to grab the correct one.  Often dogs resort to just guessing when they get like that so I was happy Vito was able to work through it.  But when the issue cropped up again in practice I knew I need to work on lowering Vito's arousal in the article pile.  More than likely it was due to stress, not excitement, but even a dog too excited will feel the stress of frustration.  So I started using a snuffle mat between reps and went back to very easy searches to build Vito's confidence.

We still have some work to go.  Vito is often a little too frantic on his first send still, although he is much more clear headed with the snuffle mat between #1 and further repetitions.  This is his session yesterday, where with distance added back in he shows this:

And yes I didn't really need an actual snuffle mat in the 2nd video when I was outside as well grass.  But I do kinda like the more defined search area it brings to the picture!

Snuffle mats have a variety of uses from general enrichment fun, stress relief, and arousal lowering.  I love that I'm starting to see people even take them to trials!

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