Thursday, December 31, 2009

Action plan for the new year

Well, now that we have our goal for 2010 - obtaining the UDX - I guess we need an action plan to get us to that goal. There are so many skills that we need to work on, it's difficult to decide on our top priorities. However, I've narrowed it down to these three to really focus on this winter.

1) Attention - This is really a basic, but continues to be our top priority. My plan is to do attention exercises in five to ten minute sessions twice a day - at least. These exercises include working attention sitting in heel position and also with fronts using clicker and treats. I do this at home and whenever we are out among distractions. My goal over the next couple months is to increase the length of time I can keep his attention - with and without distractions.

2) Targeting - I've been working on Jackson targeting my finger. I have been using this to improve his position in heeling and also to help him with straight fronts. He seems to be catching on quite quickly with targeting my finger in heeling. Sometimes I have a treat in my hand to give him when he touches my finger while heeling and sometimes I don't. I hold my hand at my waist when heeling so I'm hoping this transitions over to his focusing on my hand when heeling. He's never done a 'heads up, look at your face' kind of heeling, so if I can get his attention on my hand it should keep him in good heel position.

3) Speed - This is a tough one - but I'm not giving up on it : ) I am experimenting with ways to get him moving away from me to go to the article pile, retrieve the dumbbell, and on the go-outs. I'm using the restrained send and trying to rev him up to go away from me faster. I'm also running with him sometimes to try to show him what I want. On the return to me with the article or dumbbell, I am jackpotting him for trotting instead of walking. These things seem to be working well in practice, although I haven't seen a lot of carry over when I do the exercises quietly - as in the trial setting. I'm hoping we can build muscle memory with the practice and maybe eventually see increased briskness in the trials.

I'm thinking if we can make progress in these areas, the rest of it will fall into place. Anyway, it will surely keep us busy this new year.

Wishing everyone happy training in the new year!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Can one dog teach another dog to retrieve?

I think so.....or is it just a coincidence ????? I've started training Jolee (Jackson's sister) to retrieve the dumbbell. She has her CD title, so the next step is Open, which requires the dumbbell retrieve. Her personality is so different from Jackson's, that I've decided to try training her with some different techniques, and I think it's fun and educational for me to experiment with various training methods.

At first I tried opening her mouth and putting the dumbbell in it to get her used to the feel of it. That did not go so well. She was fighting any attempts to put something in her mouth. So, then I got the clicker out, and thought I would try clicker training the retrieve. Now, I don't have a lot of experience with clicker training but thought it would be fun to try. After just a few sessions with clicking and treating her for offering behaviors with the dumbbell, we progressed from standing over it, pawing it, and then pushing it with her nose. However, she wasn't offering to pick it up. (Maybe I'm just not patient enough to do clicker training.)

Anyway, I thought I would set her up close to the dumbbell and have her watch Jackson retrieve it a few times. I would jackpot Jackson when he brought it back to me just to make things more interesting to her. Then, I tossed the dumbbell for Jolee and, much to my surprise, she ran out, picked it up and came running back to me with it for her jackpot! 'Wow,' I thought, maybe Jackson can help teach Jolee to retrieve. She did that several times - sometimes grabbing it by the end instead of the middle and then dropping it before she got back to me, however, always very happily retrieving it.

Now, folks who have naturally retrieving dogs are probably thinking, "Duh, you throw anything and a dog is going to go get it!" Well, not necessarily. Our dogs have never been natural 'retrievers.' When we throw something, they are most likely to stand and look at it or they may in some cases follow it and sniff it. But, never pick it up. So, I'm thinking, this is progress. But now I'm wondering, where do we go from here ??????

Monday, December 14, 2009

Going public with our 2010 Goal!

I know it's a couple weeks before the beginning of the new year, but since I've made my decision about our new year's goal, I thought I might as well update the blog title and go public with our 2010 goal. (Also, thought it was about time to change the header photo to reflect the current season : )

Our goal for 2010 is to earn the elusive AKC UDX title! I know it is going to be quite a challenge for us, so now I've really got to get to work to develop a training plan that will help get us to that goal.

With that in mind, today Jackson and I are beginning one of our winter training projects that can be done twice daily here at home. I'm going back to basics with some attention training. I've just reread Building A Bridge from Training to Testing by Smith and Bosbyshell, and plan to work through their 10 stages of attention training. I'm going to see if we can strengthen our bond through more focused attention. Will let you know how that's going : )

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Update/random thoughts on training

After a long week off from training due to bad weather, we were back at the club yesterday to do some training. I'm beginning to think that having a few days off is a good thing because he was really up and attentive, and working much better. I guess we all need a vacation sometimes : )

I've been trying some new things lately, thanks to suggestions from Kim at doberkim blog. One of those things - I've started doing a restrained send on several of the exercises, and it is really speeding him up! I have used restraint previously on long recalls and in play to warm him up at the beginning of training sessions, but since dogs don't seem to generalize, it was not carrying over to the exercises themselves so it did not become a part of our regular routine. What's new about it now is, I'm incorporating it into the exercises themselves. Now, when I send him to the article pile or to the go out location and on the dumbbell retrieves, I hold onto his collar while I tell him 'ready, ready, ready..... GO!' When I let go, his moving away from me is much brisker.

I've combined that with special treats, which has also helped. The combination of a treat at the go out location and the restrained send gets him actually running to the location. And, the jackpotting him when he trots back with an article appears to be working too. This is actually quite a change from his former slooow walk to the pile and sloooow walk back with the article. A test to see how well any of this will carry over with distractions and stress, may come next Saturday when we have a fun match at a new location.

Something else I'm trying to do is to make the fun match/ring experiences look more like training. Instead of going into the fun match and acting like I would in a trial, I'm going to help him more and have treats. In other words - make training look more like trialing, and trialing look more like training. Not an original thought, I read that somewhere - I believe it was in Front & Finish. I think that approach might help both me and Jackson with handling stress. Maybe that's why working in the ring with a 'judge' has been a scary, stressful experience for him - because it looks so different from training. If I can make fun matches more fun and less stressful, and make training look more like trialing sometimes, perhaps he'll have a better attitude whenever he goes into the ring.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snowy day project

Winter has arrived in the Midwest! We are having our first major snow event of the season today and tomorrow. They are even using the 'b' word - blizzard, to describe conditions. So, it's a good time to sit down at the computer and work on Jackson's presents for his special friends at the care center.

I have mentioned previously that Jackson is a certified therapy dog with TDI (Therapy Dogs International). He visits residents at a local care center every other week and recently completed his 50th visit, so we can now put TDIA (Therapy Dogs International Active) after his name : )

I've been trying to come up with an idea for a little something we can leave with them on our next visit. I'm not a 'crafty' person, but I came across a kit at Hobby Lobby the other day for felt Christmas tree ornaments that can be assembled with a picture in them. I had noticed on our visit last week that most of the residents had Christmas decorations in their rooms, so I thought they might enjoy an ornament with Jackson's picture in it to decorate their tree or bulletin board.

I got busy with my Photoshop program and came up with a picture to put in the ornament, and am now in the process of assembling the ornaments to give to our friends on our visit next week.

Seasons Greetings from Jackson and me!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's full speed ahead

After several days to reflect on our performance at the recent trial in our club building, I've decided to go full speed ahead with our training with the goal - dare I say it - of earning the UDX (Utility Dog Excellent) title in 2010! I was somewhat disappointed with our performance at the trial earlier this month, which left me wondering about our future goals. However, I've been happy with our training since then, so I still have a glimmer of hope that we can do this.

We had our last utility class of the year tonight. So, it was a good time to reflect back over the last several months to see what progress we have made. It has really been helpful for him to work with the distractions and stress presented by the class situation. And, overall, I can see that he is working with much more confidence than he was a few months ago.

We started the class out tonight with heeling and signals with all the dogs in the ring. His signals were good - good attention and no misses. I'm still dealing with some lagging and slow sits on heeling at times, which tells me that he is still somewhat stressed with the distractions/activity in the class, although he is improving.

We then paired up to do articles, so there were four dogs working articles in the ring at the same time. Great for distractions! Jackson did the best he's done with articles tonight. No circling at all. He went right to work and got the correct article each time. We even threw in the distraction of having someone stand in the middle of the article pile. This is the same dog that a few months ago would circle the pile at least a dozen times before starting to work the pile.

The directed retrieve exercise went really well. Good pivots and retrieve of the gloves, with nice fronts and finishes tonight. The directed jumping also went well, except for one minor blip. His go outs were good and he had good speed heading for the first jump. Then he stopped short at the bar jump. We redid it and he took the jump fine, as well as the high jump. Did another set - all was good. It wasn't until I went to reset the jump for the next dog that I realized the jump had been set at 26 inches instead of the usual 24 inches. Maybe it was the extra two inches that threw him off the first jump.

Overall, I was very happy with his performance at this last class of the year. Sometimes I have to look back quite a ways to see the progress, but when I do look back, I can see that he really has come a long way. It gives me hope that we can accomplish our 2010 goal : )

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all our friends a happy Thanksgiving day!

No training today - just a day to eat and reflect on everything we have to be thankful for. Included in the many things that I am thankful for today, is the blogging community I discovered this year. I had no idea when I started blogging that there were so many dog-related bloggers out there. You have truly been an inspiration to me.

I want to thank everyone that has visited our blog; left comments of support; and suggestions for training. And, I am appreciative to all those bloggers who have posted about their dogs and the activities they do with them. I have a growing list of blogs that I try to visit every day to see what's new.

Leaving you with a couple pictures of our Thanksgiving Day : )

Is it time to eat yet?

My clean up help!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

We have our benchmark - now what?

Well, today was the trial at the club where we train. I planned to use it as a benchmark for where we're at and what we need to work on this winter IF we are to set a goal of getting our UDX in 2010.

For some reason he has never done well in this building, even though we train here regularly. And, today was no exception. A couple things were clear today - he continues to be very stressed in trial situations and has trouble focusing on the job at hand. In five years of training, we've just not been able to overcome the fears he has of performing in the ring, which manifests itself mostly in his slowing down - I mean really slowing down in everything he does.

Heeling and signals - We had some lagging on the heeling. The first two signals (down and sit) were good, but then he missed the come signal, so NQ right off the bat. I thought he was looking at me - but it just must not have registered with him. So, after NQing I decided to see how much training I could do in the ring - without being excused : )

Scent discrimination (Articles) was next - I'm not sure how long it would have taken him to pick up the correct article, but I had decided to interrupt any uneccesary delay by giving him a second command. So, on his second circle around the pile, when he stopped to look over in the other ring, I gave him the second command to 'find it.' He then quickly found it and picked it up. The same thing happened on the second article. I could have let him continue circling until he finally found it, but since he had already NQd, I wanted to take advantage of trying to correct this problem in the ring.

On the directed retrieve (glove) exercise we had the #2 glove. His pivot was off and he ended up looking at the #1 glove so I waited until he straightened up his sit and looked at the #2 glove before I sent him. That was a little iffy as to whether or not it would have been an NQ.

The moving stand was good - until the call to heel. He got distracted and stopped before he got to me, so I had to give him a second command to finish the heel. That was one I hadn't seen before.

The last exercise was the directed jumping. This was the only exercise that I saw some - however slight - improvement. And, that was on the go out part of it. He went straight and did not turn around until I gave him the command. Previously he would go about three-fourths of the way out then he would start anticipating and begin turning around before I gave the command. Not today - he kept going! The sits were extremely slow again, but both jumps were good.

So, now I'm in a bit of a quandry as to what our 2010 goal will be. I think I will need to sleep on it for a few days : ) If I could get the performances in the ring that I get in training I would be a lot more inclined to keep going with him. I'm doubtful though that we will ever really overcome his stress at trials. However, on the other hand, he really appears to enjoy training - and I do too - so maybe we will just continue to train through the winter and decide what to do next spring!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A glimmer of progress ???

We had run throughs in our utility class tonight instead of the usual training since several of us are entered in trials this weekend. It was interesting - in that I can see improvement in some areas, and am thinking maybe some things we've been doing lately in practice are paying off. Run throughs are good opportunities to train since I tend to get some of the same behaviors in these as I do at trials - things I don't normally see in practice.

I was pleasantly surprised that his heeling was improved over what I usually get in trials. There was very little lagging and he stayed close. I've been keeping a light string on his collar lately in practice because as soon as I take the lead off, he's not as attentive and I get the occasional lagging. With the string, I can remind him to pay attention and keep up. I'm thinking that may be what has helped his heeling. Signals were good. He trotted in and gave me a good front, but his finishes left something to be desired. The 'around .... and run' game that we've been doing to speed up his finishes evidently hasn't kicked in yet. We've only done it a few times in practice so I'm still hopeful it will help his finishes eventually.

The article exercise went very well. No circling at all : ) He worked the pile fairly quickly and picked up the correct articles. I sure hope we're over that circling hurdle. He's still slow out and back - and slow with the finishes too.

The directed retrieve (gloves) exercise was good. And, he trotted back in with the glove (usually walks when in a trial) with a nice front. The moving stand was good, as usual, although slow on the come to heel.

Then there was the last exercise - the directed jumping. Go outs were good - straight and brisk all the way out. However, the slooooow sits showed up again. Hmmmmm... I wish I knew what he was thinking when he's out there and I give him the sit command. He stands there looking at me like he's just not sure what I want him to do, but then he always ends up sitting even if it takes him forever to get his butt on the floor. After the sits, he consistently takes the correct jumps and his speed coming over and to front from the jumps is getting much better. I just need to figure out what to do about those slow sits.

So, overall, I was happy with his performance tonight, and really hopful that it's an indication that some things we've been doing in practice are sinking in -- and that those things will stay with him in the trial Sunday : ) If not, at least we'll still have a benchmark as to where we are with training and what we need to really work on this winter.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Let the Games Begin!

The finish is one of the two things I've decided to focus on for our winter training projects. The other one is fronts, but we haven't started our new games with that one yet. Today we started working on finishes with a new game. A game I'm hoping will speed up his around finish and result in him being closer and straighter at the sit end of it. Aside from speed never being his strength in finishes - especially in a trial - he often times ends up sitting too far out and forward, and crooked. The crooked is usually rear-in because he sits before he gets his rear in position.

A big thanks to Melinda (Exercise Finished) for posting the 'around... and run!' game on her blog. You can read the details on her blog, but basically the first phase is as follows: using a treat in your right hand lure the dog around behind you, then use the treat in your left hand to keep him in tight. When you see he is coming around, you take off running. Later on you will transition into adding the sit command and eventually losing the treats. I tried this for the first time today at the club and am really happy with the results. In my version of the game, I end up throwing the treat because he loves to chase treats and it keeps him going.

I think this game is really going to work for him. He loves it, and hopefully, it will speed him up and keep him in close to me when he comes around so he will be in better heel position. And, maybe if I do this all winter, it will carry over into the ring next spring!

Here's a short video of our first go at this.

And, not to leave Jolee out - I'm trying the game with her too, so here's my first go at it with her.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fun Match - lots of work ahead for us

There was a fun match at the club where we train today so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to train in a more trial-like setting. I wanted to see how the article exercise would go with distractions and what his overall attitude would be. I have entered a trial in the same building two weeks from today. I have 60 days from when we received our UD title to still enter Utility A, so my thought was to enter our club's trial to see if his performance of the article exercise is still holding and where we are with other exercises. He's never done well at a trial in the building we train in, so this may be a good test of his progress with the article exercise. It will probably be the last trial we will enter until next spring, so it will be our benchmark to measure our progress over the winter. Depending on how much we progress through the winter will determine our goals for next spring.

I'm excited that the articles went really well. No circling the pile today. He just went out and started working the pile and found the correct article fairly quickly. The moving stand, gloves and directed jumping were also good. His go outs were straight and the jumps were good. He fulfilled the basic requirements of each of these exercises.

What needs work -
The signal exercise gave him a slight problem. He anticipated the down signal so we restarted the signals. He did them fine on the second attempt, and he even trotted in on the come. The anticipated down would have NQd him in a trial. I'm not too worried about that though because it's something we can work through.

I am somewhat frustrated with his attitude (specifically lack of attention and lack of briskness) in a trial-like setting. It's really not surprising though, because we have struggled with this from the very beginning. However, I am getting more frustrated that I haven't found a way to get the positive, happy attitude I see in practice to transfer over to a trial-like setting. He becomes distracted, worried about what's going on in the next ring, and he really slows down. I'm not sure if he needs an attitude adjustment - or maybe I'm the one that needs it : ) Maybe I should try to be more upbeat in the ring. Perhaps he can sense my frustration. Maybe I should change my expectations and accept his slowed down performance in a trial. Maybe he's never going to show the briskness that's required to avoid points off. Hmmmmm... some thoughts to ponder over the winter.

I'm thinking now I will continue focusing on attention and briskness in practice, but not get frustrated when I don't get it in the ring. Because, really, once you get in the ring there's nothing you can do about it then. How's that for compromise?????

Friday, October 30, 2009

Picking a winter project

We're back at the club training regularly - trying to pick out one or two things to really focus on. In her recent newsletter, Susan Garrett talked about her winter training projects. Susan does agility, but has lots of good information in her posts that applies to obedience training and developing a relationship with your dog that I have really found helpful. Her winter training plan involves picking a new behavior you'd like to teach or a behavior you wish to change and then work at least two, 15 minute sessions a day, five days a week during the winter on that behavior.

So, I'm trying to pick a winter training project for Jackson. My challenge is training twice a day in the winter. Since the weather here is not conducive to training outdoors in the winter, I'm trying to think of a behavior that I can work on in the house. That in itself has some challenges when you have three Great Danes in the house and you need to separate one of them to train : )
I'm narrowing it down to the following:
1) Attention with/without treats and with distractions;
2) Touch (training Jackson to touch my chest at a point that gives him perfect fronts);
3) Pivots; or
4) Finishes to perfect heel position.

He loses a lot of points in the trials because of slow, crooked fronts and sits, so if we can get these fixed, we'll do a lot better in trials. I'll let you know what I end up choosing and how it goes.

Last night in utility class and today at the club we worked on articles. No problem with these in practice. No circling - even with distractions of other dogs working in the ring. I obviously need to take this on the road - go to new places with distractions, like the local pet store where he gets really distracted just walking through the store. I want to start going there once a week just to do articles somewhere in the store. And, we have some fun matches coming up locally this next month, so these will be good opportunities to train in a more trial-like setting.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

We're back!

After taking a couple weeks off to regroup, we are back with a new plan and new goals. We love to train, so we needed to set some new goals to help us focus.

We had already entered a three-day-trial this weekend before we earned our UD two weeks ago, so we decided to go ahead and go to the trials and just relax and have fun. Since we didn't need any more qualifying legs, I thought it would be less stressful and I could just see how things would go. Besides relaxing and having fun, my goals for Jackson this weekend were to get some consistency in qualifying and improve his performance. Well, we didn't get the consistency, but I was very happy that we fixed his endlessly circling the article pile behavior - at least I think we've fixed it.

His circling the article pile became increasingly worse with each of the last few trials. The judges have been willing to let him continue his circling - and even sometimes walking away from the pile to survey the audience - as long as he kept moving and came back to the pile and picked up the correct article. However, I had decided that he just couldn't continue that behavior, if we hoped to keep competing at the UD level. I do allow him to circle the pile once in practice because he air scents. In practice, he will usually circle the pile once and then go directly to the scented article without sniffing any others. However in a trial setting, he will circle endlessly. So, the first two days of this weekend trial became training opportunities for us. Now, you cannot 'train' in the ring at an AKC trial, but some judges will let you give second commands, which will automatically NQ you, but it will give you an opportunity to interrupt a behavior you don't want to see. Another thing that was really helpful this weekend was the club rented ring time after the trials Friday and Saturday, so you could 'rent' the ring for 5 or 10 minutes to work on some things.

Day 1 trial - First article - He circled the pile a few times and walked away from the pile, so when the judge motioned for me to call him in, I gave him a second command to 'find it' and the judge allowed him to go back to the pile and pick up the correct article. Second article - When he started his second circle around the pile, I again gave a 'find it' command and the judge allowed him to go back to the pile and pick up the correct article. Sometimes judges will not let the dogs go back to the pile.They will have you call them in without the article. I was fortunate this weekend to have judges that allowed him to finish the exercise.

He doesn't appear to be stressed. He just seems to be really distracted and more interested in looking around than working. To impress upon him that he had a job to do out there, we worked on this in the ring rental time later that day. One of my friends from our training club helped me with this by setting up the ring like it was a regular trial so we could get the behavior. When he started his circling routine, I didn't say anything to him, I just walked out, picked up the correct article and tossed it out of the pile. Then I took hold of his collar, took him to the article and told him to 'take it' in no uncertain terms. Now, to him, that's a correction and seemed to get the message across to him that he was expected to go out and retrieve something. We did a couple more articles and he went right to work - no circling. Then our five minutes was up.

Day 2 trial - He NQd right off the bat when he missed the come signal, so I did not hesitate to give him a second command when he started to walk away from the article pile on the first article. He went back to the pile and picked up the correct article. Second article - he went directly to the pile and picked up the correct article. Hmmm, I think he might be getting it : )

I rented the ring again after the trial to work on articles some more. No corrections needed this time - he went to work immediately without circling. Maybe there's hope for qualifying the third day. I think fun matches are essential in training because you get those types of behaviors in the ring that you don't see in practice, and there's not a lot you can do to correct it when you're in the trial.

Day 3 trial - He qualified! More importantly, he did not circle the pile. I'm thinking - this is a breakthrough! I've not posted videos of his scent discrimination exercises before because they go on and on and on - sometimes for 3-4 minutes. Yikes! However, today's second article took only 39 seconds!

Our Goals -
Okay, our short term goal is to improve his performance of some of the exercises that we are having problems with. They are sometimes good enough for him to qualify, but we still need to work on precision, consistency and of course speed. So, our plan is to continue training the utility exercises through the winter to try to get more precision and speed. If the training goes well, we will try working on our UDX next spring.

For those not familiar with the AKC UDX title, it entails qualifying in both Open B and Utility B at the same trial on the same day - 10 times. It is an awesome challenge for us. I believe there are only a few male Great Danes that have achieved a UDX title, so we have a lot of work ahead of us if we're going to try for that.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

We Did It !!!!

Jackson's quest for the UD ended today when he qualified for his 3rd leg and UD title at a trial in Mason City. WAAHOOOO! Novice A to UD - what a trip! That was my goal for 2009 - to get Jackson's Utility Dog title, and we made it with a couple months to spare! Now, I'm going to have to sit back for awhile and try to figure out where we go from here.

Will let you know what comes next : )

Jackson getting his awards for qualifying for his 3rd leg - and UD title. He was the only qualifier at this trial, so he also got a blue ribbon!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Utility Class Tonight

There were no utility classes last week due to the weekend trials, so it had been two weeks since our last class. I was hoping to see some progress in his attitude and behavior since our last class. Just looking at it from week to week it's hard sometimes to see progress. However, if I look back a few weeks or months, I can really see how far we have come.

We started out with heeling and signals. There are 7-8 dogs in the class, so the ring is pretty full and can be very distracting for him. His heeling tonight was better than usual - not as much lagging, although still some, and his signals were all good. It's hard for him to pay attention to me sometimes with all the distractions. He gets worried about people and dogs moving around behind him, but tonight he did really well with the attention.

Then we paired up to do articles. Other dogs were working articles in the ring so plenty of distractions. He did good though. He just circled the pile once each time before putting his head down and starting to work the pile. No endless circling like he did at the trials last weekend.

The remaining exercises - moving stand, directed retrieve and directed jumping - were all pretty good. I was getting some really slow sits on the go-outs though. Not sure what his problem was tonight. The sits on go-outs have been improving lately, so this was a little unexpected.

Overall, I thought he seemed more confident tonight than he has previously in class, so that was progress. Maybe working through the level of distractions and stress he experienced last weekend at the trials helped to boost his confidence - making it a little easier this time : )

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A character-building experience!

This weekend of trials was a real character-building experience for Jackson, and a learning experience for me. I had fun, but Jackson was a nervous wreck! I have mentioned previously about his irrational fear of agility equipment. Well, I did not know until we arrived at the trial site that they were also holding an agility trial in the same building - across the aisle from the obedience rings. Now, if you've ever been to an indoor agility trial in a horse arena, you know the air is filled with dust and the noise is bouncing off the walls. Add to that Jackson's fear of agility and you have a recipe for an 'interesting' weekend.

In a recent post, I wrote about adding more distractions to the exercises, especially the scent discrimination exercise. Little did I know that we would be facing the 'mother' of all distractions this weekend! Having said that, I thought, " Oh well, we're here now so let's see what we can learn from this."

Both days he was very, very stressed. So stressed he was trembling most of the time and I was afraid he was going to have a panic attack! Aside from that, I was pleased with the fact that he was able to hold it together enough to do most of the exercises. He didn't qualify either day, but I know now which exercises he is really solid on and which ones he had trouble working through.

The moving stand and the directed retrieve (gloves) were very solid both days. His heeling and signals were good today, however, he NQd Saturday because he didn't go all the way down on the down signal.

The scent discrimination (articles) exercise was really difficult for him both days. Saturday he circled the pile 8 - 10 times before he finally picked up the correct article, so he passed that day. Today he started his circling routine, but came back to me without the article. NQ.

The directed jumping was interesting. Both days he did the first go-out and jump fine. But the second time out he didn't go far enough. It seems that it's the more complicated exercises where he has to 'think' and make decisions when he's away from me that give him the most problems when he's stressed.

Overall, I'm thinking that after this weekend's trial, the next trial should be a 'walk in the park' for Jackson : ) Here's a video of Jackson's heeling and signal exercise today. Some lagging on the heeling, but a lot less than I expected considering how stressed he was.

Lessons learned this weekend:
1) Always find out as much as you can about a trial - before you enter. Jackson needs to be in a less stressful setting if he's going to be able to perform the exercises.
2) On the other hand - if you find yourself in an unexpected situation, know that there are some valueable experiences you can take away from it that will help you in future training.
3) Nerves - It's not me! It really is the dog.
4) You always meet new people, make new friends, and catch up with those you've met previously. There's a lot of down time at a trial, so visiting with people sure makes the time go faster and makes the day more enjoyable :) That's a big part of why I enjoy going to trials. And, I love the camaraderie of the Utility A folks!

Now, for the news about Jolee. Jolee qualified today in Novice B. She now has her CD (Companion Dog) title! Here's a picture of Jolee and me with the judge.

CH Robindanes She's So Fine CD CGC aka Jolee

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Working on our go-outs

We're missing our training buddy, Melody the Border Terrier, so we're working on our own for a while. Melody has a stress fracture in her foot so she's going to be out of commission for a few weeks. I realize now how helpful, and how much more fun it is to have someone to train with : ) I think that's why I enjoy training so much - you make some great friends.

We did go out to the club today to do some training, especially on our go-outs. That's part of the directed jumping exercise where you send your dog away to the opposite side of the ring; give him the sit command; then using a hand and/or voice signal indicate one of two jumps for him to take on his return to you. What Jackson needs to improve in this exercise is his speed - speed going out, speed responding to the sit command, and speed taking the jump. At the last trial, he didn't have enough speed up to take the first jump so stopped short of the jump. Hoping that doesn't happen again.

I've broken down the training into separate parts - the go-out and sit, and then the directed jumping part. To speed up the go-outs I've been putting a really high-value treat (freeze-dried salmon pieces that really smell potent!) on the gate at the go-out spot. I take a cat pill-pocket, which is squishy and sticky, to 'glue' the treat to the gate. In practice this is really speeding up his go-outs, and he's been sitting quicker - at least starting to sit - still slow getting down : )

Here's a video clip of Jackson's go-out today and his bar jump.

Did I mention we have a trial this weekend! We're going to Lincoln, Nebraska, which is about three hours from where we live for the weekend. They are having a fun match Friday evening that we're going to do also. That will give us a chance to practice in the ring prior to the Saturday and Sunday trials. Jackson is entered in Utility A both days and Jolee is entered in Novice B on Sunday. I think it's going to be a fun weekend, regardless of what happens in the ring.

Not to leave Jolee out, here's a clip of our practicing the Figure 8 exercise today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Training with distractions

Our assignment this week from our Thursday night utility class was to train with distractions. This is great, because this is exactly what we need. I feel like we do try to train with a lot of distractions already - like going to new places to train, and doing exercises with other dogs and people close by doing various activities. However, this week we're taking it to the next level.

Fortunately there were several others working their dogs at the club today, so that in itself provided for distractions. We especially wanted to work the article pile with distractions. We did several articles in the same ring that another dog was practicing dumbbell retrieves in, and my training partner was running around the ring near the pile playing with her dog. As if that wasn't enough, we put some 'foreign' objects in the article pile!

Jackson did great with all the distractions. He didn't circle the pile or stop and gaze, although the first couple articles he was rather slow working the pile, but he kept working. I think the 'foreign' objects placed in the pile were more of a distraction than all the activity going on around him. By the fourth or fifth article, he was going directly to the correct article and picking it up. So, we quit on that high note : )

I'm also jackpotting him with a high value treat when he brings the correct articles back. I can't see yet that it is increasing his briskness going and coming from the pile yet, but I can't help but think he is enjoying the article exercise more! He loves the treats that I've been jackpotting him with and the only time he gets them is when we're doing articles.

The other exercises - signals, directed retrieve and directed jumping - were pretty good. The pivots to the gloves were a little off. He still gets stressed with the gloves and loses some of his precision on the turns, and we still need to pick up some speed on the go outs and jumps. Just a few of the things we need to keep working on.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A walk in the woods

We took the day off from training for a walk in the woods this afternoon. There are miles of paved trails in our city for bikers, walkers, joggers, etc. and the beautiful fall weather we've been having is really conducive to getting out. Plus, I think we need more breaks from training to just relax and smell the roses - or whatever it is that dogs love to smell : )

The trail we were on today had a sign at the trailhead telling us that it was bow hunting season for deer in these woods, so we did not go too deep into the woods. Fawn Danes just look too much like deer to take any chances!
Here's a couple pictures of Jackson anxious to get going on the trail.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jolee's jump start

Okay, Jolee has taken over Jackson's blog today. I train both dogs but usually just write about Jackson. Jolee is quite different from Jackson in attitude so it's been fun training her too - easier in some respects and more difficult in others. We've been working on her 'jump start' to heeling. It started out unintentional. She would jump forward when we started heeling. I thought it was cute, so I've been reinforcing it with rewards. My thinking is, she'll likely lose the jump part in a trial setting, but she may be a lot quicker getting up and started heeling and thus stay in better heel position.

Here's a short clip of her jump start to heeling - pay attention or you'll miss it, it's only six seconds long : )

I also got a short clip of her heeling today. I love her heads-up heeling - something I could never get with Jackson. I think it's just a personality thing. I didn't teach her to do it, but I'm really rewarding it to keep it going. She does tend to lose it though with distractions so I'm trying to build muscle memory and work with distractions.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday fun match

After taking several days off to relax after the Monday trial, Jackson and I were back at it today at a fun match in the area. It was not at the club where we do most of our training, but it was in a familiar building where we take utility classes. There is only one ring in the building, so it is not quite as busy and distracting as the club. Jackson did fairly well today - much better than at the trial anyway : ) I think it helped to take some time off. He was still somewhat stressed at having an audience, but he worked through the exercises in spite of it.

His heeling and signals were good. He lagged a little on the turns, but he paid attention to the signals and got them all this time.

Articles - He was slow to get to work on the first article, so I helped him out by reminding him to get to work a couple times. I don't want him to get in the habit of taking so much time, so this was a good trial-like setting to help him work through his stress. He did get the correct article. On the second article, he went right to work and got the correct article right away.

Gloves were good. He had a good pivot and retrieve - even trotting back with the glove. Moving stand was also good, although he was so busy looking at the 'judge' that had just examined him that he missed the come to heel signal, so I had to give him a second command.

I was pleased with the directed jumping. His go outs were good. His sits were very slow but he did sit, and the jumps were good.

Overall, I was happy with his performance, although he is still showing stress in the trial-like setting. He's probably always going to be stressed in the ring - that's just his personality. But, his ability to work through the stress is improving - some days it's just much more apparent than others : )

So, we're back to work training next week, but my plan is to keep it fun and try to get some enthusiasm and speed. I've decided to just go ahead and enter some trials this fall, maybe the more he gets out to trials the more confident he will become.

Monday, September 7, 2009

No home-court advantage today!

Okay, I've come to think of trials as an opportunity to see where we are in training, but I am really confused after today's trial. The trial was held at the training club I belong to and where we routinely train. Now, wouldn't you think that trialing there would be much easier because he was familiar with the building? We trialed in the same ring we have been practicing in - even had the same patterns we have practiced. However, you would have thought he had never been in that building or seen other dogs before! He was totally distracted and stressed by the trial environment. I'm left wondering, why would that be? Why would he be so much more stressed in this building then he had been at trials in other places he had never seen?

Overall, we probably looked like we were doing the exercises in slow motion : ) True to form, he really slows down when stressed. He lagged some on the heeling pattern, got the first two signals, but then missed the come signal - so, NQ.

Articles - He got both articles correct, however, he really did take a long time to work the pile and stopped to gaze around a few times. Another judge could have easily had me call him in after a couple pauses, but this judge was very patient and allowed him enough time to find the articles.
Gloves - Good pivot and retrieve of the correct glove, although, slow pick up and return.

Moving stand - Very good stand, although no response on the call to return to heel, so I had to give a second command - second NQ.

Directed jumping - Now, this was really interesting. His go out was straight and to the gate - but he walked. I knew we were in trouble then. He headed to the correct jump, but since he was walking, he just didn't have the speed to do the jump - third NQ. The second jump was much better though. He trotted out, sat on command and took the correct jump. Yay! At least a good finish : )

So, I'm left to ponder, what to do now? We need just one more leg to get our UD title. I think I will give it a break for a week or so. We'll still have training sessions, but we'll work on some fun things for awhile. Maybe I'll try to teach him a few more tricks - or maybe we'll just go to the park and play. That would be something different for him - we really don't have a lot of free play time.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

We need energy!

This was our last training session before the trial Monday, and it left me wondering. Wondering what's going to happen Monday. I'm not sure why, but Jackson seems to be very lathargic lately. I'm having trouble getting him 'up' for training. This is not usually a problem in training - just in trials - but lately it seems he has no energy.

We had an appointment yesterday with our holistic vet for an adjustment and acupuncture treatment. I thought maybe that would get the energy flowing : ) He's not limping or anything like that, he's just going down very slowly and he's not getting up speed for the jumps. And even when I throw his favorite treat across the ring, instead of racing after it like usual, he just slowly trots - or even just walks to it. Now, that is really out of character for him.

I've also decided to switch to another brand of dog food. I'm going to try a higher-end brand that does not have grain in it. Well, it does have rice, but it doesn't have corn, wheat, soy or any of the other grains. This switch is partly due to the urinary tract infection he had recently as well as his lack of energy. I'm hoping that a higher quality of food will make him healthier and happier. At least help with his 'gassy' issues. Maybe that's why he doesn't feel good - could it be the gas???

Friday, August 28, 2009

Utility Class - Thursday

We missed last week's utility class because we were at the trials so I was wondering how he would do this week. The class is a real stresser for him so I was really pleased with the article exercise. The first article, he circled the pile once so I told him to get to work, which he did and got the correct article. I'm trying to break his habit of circling the pile more than once. I was surprised on the second article when he did not circle, but went directly to the article and picked it up. Hmmmm.... maybe that jackpotting is paying off. In practice lately, I've been putting a treat in the pile so he'll go directly into the pile and jackpotting him with a very high value reward as soon as he picks up the correct article.

The signals were not so good. We were doing signals with other dogs in the ring and with distractions outside the ring. It was too distracting and stressful for him to ignore them and just pay attention to me. Something we need to keep working on - doing signals with distractions.

The go-outs were not too bad. But we still need to work on him going all the way out to the gates/wall before slowing down . I've been putting a treat out to help with this and I think it's improving his go-outs. Maybe if we keep at it for awhile, we'll build some muscle memory.

There's another trial coming up a week from Monday (Sept. 7). This trial is going to be held at the club where we train. Now, having the home-team advantage didn't help us much last February when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong : ) I'm hoping this time our training will have paid off and we'll have an improved performance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A confidence-building weekend .... and 2nd Leg!

This weekend of trials really was great for building confidence - mine and Jackson's. By the end of the weekend (today) I could see where we had made a lot of improvement in our performance in the ring when compared to where we were a few months ago, and we have one more leg toward our Utility Dog (UD) title to show for it! Yay, only one more leg to go : )

We're still getting lots of points off for lagging, crooked sits, lack of briskness, etc. (all those stress-related behaviors) but, we had good solid performances on the basics of each exercise - just not always on the same day though! After our first trial Friday, I thought we were in for a long weekend (not a good thing). The building where the trials were held was really nice - only three rings and lots of room to set up crates and to warm up. The problem for Jackson was the go-outs were toward an active ring - not a wall like we're used to in practice. So, the first trial we were doing pretty good until we got to the go-outs. The first go-out was barely the minimum distance past the jumps. He performed that jump okay. But, on the second go out, he just wasn't going to go anywhere near that other ring so was not far enough out to take the jump. NQ for Friday. Lesson learned - practice go-outs to active rings with lots of distractions, not just to a blank wall!

Well, I was surprised Saturday when his go-outs were good. He had no problem going out toward the active ring. And, he performed all the other exercises satisfactorily, so we qualified and earned our second leg.

His performance at the trial today was his best ever, EXCEPT for one of the articles! He NQd today because he circled the pile one too many times without getting to work and the judge had me call him in. That's something we've been working on for quite a long time, and will continue to work on. When he's stressed he tends to circle more. The second article went much better. He circled the pile once, then went directly to the correct article, picked it up and brought it back. He passed the article exercises on the previous days without much problem, although he did circle a couple times before he went to work. I think the circling is an avoidance thing, but not sure.

The high points of the weekend -
1) His go-outs and sits at the second and third trial were great. We've been working a lot lately on speeding up the sits on the go-outs, so I was really pleased with his quick (for him anyway) sits on the go-outs. Today he only lost 2 points on the directed jumping exercise : )
2) The signals all three days were good. Another exercise I had been worried about and we had been working on quite a lot. The directed retrieve and the moving stand were also pretty solid.

Overall, I think we were able to practice some success in the ring that will help us continue building confidence. And, that was the main thing I had decided to work on lately - building confidence. I know he can do the exercises, if he is just confident enough in the ring to ignore the distractions and focus on the job at hand.

We had fun (at least I did!) I had convinced myself this was not a life and death matter - it was just an exercise to help us evaluate where we were in training. I used to get quite frustrated with him when his performance in the ring was so different than in training. Now, as I'm figuring out why he behaves the way he does when he's stressed, I'm trying to focus on what I can do in training and in the ring to help him work through the stress. Perhaps my lightening up will help : )

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fun Match today

We had a fun match at the club where we train this morning. It was an opportunity to see where we are in training. There were some areas where I was pleased with his performance, and there are still areas that need work. Overall, he is still stressed in a trial-like situation even if it's just a fun match at a place he is familiar with, so he really slows down. I don't know if we're ever going to get past that, so I'm thinking I will be less frustrated with him if I just expect him to slow down - although that seems like I'm giving up to some extent : )

On his heeling and signals - he lagged at times on the heeling and he anticipated the first signal. We restarted and his signals were fine when we tried it again. He is consistently trotting in on the recall from the signals with perfect fronts, which I am very happy about. A few months ago, he was consistently walking slowly in on the recall, so maybe there is something to that muscle memory thing. Now if we can just get it working on the heeling!

Articles - he was really slow going out and getting to work on the article pile. Stress again - seems like he's avoiding the correct article because he doesn't want to put his head down and pick it up, but eventually he picks up the correct article and walks in with it. The 'judge' said she had that problem with her dog and started putting a treat in the pile and jackpotting him when he came back with the correct article. That got her dog working faster. Hmmmm... I think I'll try that next week - got nothing to lose.

Gloves - He was fine with the glove exercise, although he walked in with the glove instead of trotting in like he does in practice. Stress!!!! Moving Stand - He anticipated so we did a few fake-outs. Then, his moving stand was fine.

Go-outs/directed jumping - His go-outs were straight, however, he slowed down to a walk before he got to the gates. His sits were slow, but he did sit and his jumps were good.

So, if this had been a trial he would have NQd on the signals and moving stand. He likely would have passed on the other exercises, but with lots of points off for lack of briskness on about every exercise.

Okay - we have three days to practice before we leave for the weekend trials. Not a lot of time to fix anything. I'm going to try the treats and jackpotting with the articles. The rest of the exercises, we'll keep doing what we've been doing, working to build confidence - and if we're lucky, some muscle memory. And, hopefully he will not be so stressed at the trial that he forgets everything we've practiced!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Training for attention and fast sits

I've decided to break down our training and just work on 2-3 things in a training session for awhile instead of doing all the utility exercises in each session. I think sometimes our training sessions are too long, and this will give us a chance to focus more on one skill at a time. Today our primary focus was on heeling and go-outs. I'm trying to break those skills down even further. I'm using the clicker and rewarding when he offers me attention in heel position - either sitting or moving. So, I spend some time with him sitting in heel position and each time he looks up at my face, I click and treat. He's not a dog that looks up at my face when heeling - never has - so when we're moving, I'm working on him targeting my hand, which is held at my waist. This is more achievable for him and when he's 'up' and attentive it looks good. If I do this enough, I'm hoping it will become his default position and he'll do it even when stressed in a trial.

We also worked on the go-outs with most of our concentration on speed and sits. I'm putting treats out at the go-out location to try to get his speed up and to keep it up all the way to the gates. When he doesn't have a target, he tends to slow down and walk the last several feet toward the gates. I also threw Bil Jac treats across the ring and/or I would run out with him. Then to work on the faster sits on the go-outs, yesterday I started running out toward him after I gave the sit command - not in a scary way to correct him. Rather in a playful way to give him a treat as soon as he starts sitting. Well, today his sits were quite a bit faster when I stayed back at the starting point. I'm wondering if it's just coincidence, or did the running out toward him with a treat yesterday result in the faster sits today ???? I probably won't know unless he becomes more consistent with the faster sits, but it seems worth it to keep doing that in training for awhile. (What have I got to lose : )

We have a fun match at the club where we train this Sunday. I'll be looking to see if I can see any improvement, especially in our problem areas - signals and the sits on the go-outs. I'm hoping for solid responses to signals, which I have been getting in practice, and reasonably quick sits on the go-outs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Back on track

After taking it easy for a few days, Jackson's urinary tract infection is completely cleared up (Aren't antibiotics great!) and we're back on track again with our training. We're looking forward to our next weekend of trials, which is August 21-23. I've been thinking a lot about what I need to do to prepare for the next trial - how I need to adjust our training to improve our performance. I keep going back to the theme of the Celeste Meade seminar that I attended a couple weeks ago - 'Attitude is Everything' - and I'm thinking that's where I need to put my effort now. I believe our biggest challenge is building confidence, so my plan for the next couple weeks is going to include lots of play training; trying to build drive; and pretty much making a game of everything.

This doesn't mean that I'm not concerned with more precision and doing the exercises correctly. I'm just going to try to achieve those goals with more games and rewards. I've been working on building drive lately with the 'get it' game. In this game, I throw a treat, Jackson runs after it, runs back and touches my finger, I throw another treat in the opposite direction, and so on. We do this at the beginning of our training session and it really gets him up and going - although if we do it for too long, it may have the side affect of tiring him out : )

Here's a clip of our 'get it' game this afternoon.

Fun matches for proofing are also going to be an important part of training. Fortunately we have two fun matches close to home prior to the trial weekend. We'll try to make the most of these to see how things are coming (if any of this is carrying over into a trial-like setting), and it will give me the opportunity to train in the ring on some things if needed.

Jolee's turn!
Since I introduced Jolee in the last blog, I thought I would follow-up a little on her training also. She needs one more leg (qualifying score) for her AKC CD (Companion Dog) title. Her personality is quite different from Jackson's, so I've been trying different things with her. I don't need to get her 'up' for training like I do Jackson. However, she needs a lot of proofing. We kinda jumped into trialing without doing a lot of fun matches or show and gos so her performance at the trials with all the distractions falls apart.

Here's a clip of Jolee's version of the 'get it' game.

And this is a clip of Jolee practicing heeling at the club today. Her heeling is great when she thinks I might have a treat in my hand, so we're working on attention without the treats and heeling with distractions.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ahhhh, the weekend - where to begin

Well, it was an interesting weekend. We managed to complete the first one of the three trials we were entered in over the weekend. The trials were in Wisconsin - about a six-hour drive from where we live so we drove up Thursday. The trial Friday went pretty well, although Jackson NQd on the signal exercise because he didn't go all the way down on the 'down' signal. This was the same problem we had in one of the trials last month, so we need to figure out a way to work on this. I think it's a result of his lack of confidence and stress in the ring. It was a distracting venue with lots going on in the adjacent rings - pretty typical of most trials. We just need to keep working on his ability to work through the distractions and be able to focus on me and the job at hand. Perhaps more fun matches, run-throughs, and proofing with distractions will help build his focus and confidence.

The remaining exercises were pretty solid on the basics. Lots of points off though for slow returns, crooked sits and lagging. Oh yes, and we got hit with points off because he did not sit on the go-outs. On the first go-out I ended up sending him to the jump while he was still standing. First time I had ever sent him to a jump while he was still standing, but he did the jump fine. On the second go-out I waited him out for the sit even though the judge had given the jump command. That jump was good also. The directed retrieve, moving stand and the articles were good, so we were able to practice some success in the ring : ) I was particularly happy with the articles because he has had problems with those previously. I wasn't really surprised by the 'down' signal problem and the lack of sits on the go-outs because those are the things that we had recognized as problems and had been working on the most. We just haven't gotten there yet - at least not in the trial environment.

Now for the bad news - before we were to go in the ring for Saturday's trial I noticed that there was blood in his urine, so I pulled him from the remaining weekend trials and took him to a vet clinic near the show site for evaluation. They determined that he had an infection - likely bladder or urinary tract - and we started him on antibiotics. Hopefully, this will clear things up. If not, we will do further testing to determine what the problem is. He had seemed lethargic and his appetite was off, but I was attributing that to the stress of traveling and the trial. After 36 hours on the antibiotics, he's eating, drinking and acting like himself, and his urine is looking more normal. We'll do a follow-up visit to our regular vet this week to see if there are still signs of infection.

Now, having said all that, I must mention that there was some good news on the weekend trials. Jackson's sister, Jolee, earned the first two legs toward her CD title. Since this is Jackson's blog, I haven't mentioned her. She's the same age as Jackson (littermate) and I hadn't really planned to do any obedience with her. She thought she was retired to a life of leisure after obtaining her championship title in the conformation ring, but I thought I saw some potential in her for obedience work and this spring starting training her for the Novice class. Her personality is much different from Jackson's so it's been a challenge to figure out what works with her.

Here's a short video of Jolee's recall exercise at the trial this past weekend.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Weekend Seminar

I didn't get much training in last weekend because I attended a two-day seminar put on by Celeste Meade. However, I did get lots of information, motivation and a number of exercises that I am most anxious to try with Jackson.

Celeste's theme for the seminar was "Attitude is Everything!" She focuses on a motivational, upbeat method of training, creating drive and attitude, and keeping attention between exercises. Since I'm really trying to focus on less formality and more fun and games in training Jackson, this really came at a good time, and I'm looking forward to incorporating these ideas in my training program. Her demo dog was a border collie, so I did have a bit of a problem visualizing Jackson performing with the speed and enthusiasm of a border collie : ) but, I did learn some ways that I can use to try to increase drive and attention.

One of the games that she demonstrated to increase drive was: throw a treat - call dog back to touch your finger - give the dog a treat and throw in the opposite direction - call dog back to touch your finger - and so on at a fast pace. Now, the one thing that I do with Jackson that really does get him revved up is to throw a treat across the ring, but.... I hadn't thought of a way to get him to run back to me. He would stay out away from me waiting for me to throw another treat for him to chase. So, I didn't know if this would work with him but thought I would give it a try. Yesterday we went out to the club and I tried it. It worked beautifully, so now I have a game to get him revved up and driving in practice. I'll try to get a video of us doing this so it will make more sense. ( I swear, he's almost as fast as a bc when he goes after those treats : )

We only have two days left to train before we leave for the weekend of trials. Today we're going to a new location to train and for these two days we're going to keep it informal, work on speed and having fun. I'm also trying to adjust my attitude because I think that's an important part of changing Jackson's attitude. You could tell when Celeste talked about her dogs how much she enjoyed them and appreciated their unique personalities - even when they made mistakes in the ring. She didn't get mad at them, she just saw it as information for training.

As I try more of the exercises/games that were presented at the seminar, I will post about them and whether or not I have success with them. I'm just hoping I can remember all that I learned!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We have a plan!

Okay, we have a plan now to get ready for the next weekend of trials, which is July 24, 25 and 26 - only ten days away! Our plan involves a lot of play time (speed training for me!) - as well as working on more precision. I'm finding that if I keep things upbeat and positive in training, he is less stressed and able to perform with more precision. So, we're going to be training at 'warp' speed for awhile. My goal is to keep things moving at a much faster pace throughout our training sessions.

I'm seeing improvement in his speed on go outs and his sits are much faster - in practice. I've gone back to putting a target out for him to aim for. If I just send him out without a target, his trotting turns to a walk the last 10 feet or so, and he seems confused as to what to do next. Having a target brings out the retrieve focus and gives him something to go after. I then stop him with the sit command before he reaches the target and am finding that his sits are much better - as if the speed of the go out carries over to the sit. After a couple go outs and jumps, I then send him out to retrieve the target. Now, for most of the dogs we train with - the retrieve is a reward in itself. Not Jackson. He doesn't get real excited about going after a dowel, so we then end the exercise with me throwing Bil Jack treats across the ring. Now that gets him excited : )

I've also been including some 'ready, set, GO' commands and racing him to the go out target as well as to the article pile. This gets him excited too. It seems the more briskness he has going out to the article pile - the quicker he gets to work sniffing the pile.

I think what it boils down to is, I need to make it clearer to him exactly what it is that I want him to do and then reward him when he does it. Jackson knows the basic exercises - now my main focus is working on the attitude and showing him more precisely how I want it performed - in most cases this means with 'briskness.'

My goals for the next trials are:
1) to see a more relaxed, happier dog in the ring - and that will be measured by tail wags. I'm hoping to see at least one tail wag per trial; and
2) to see faster sits on the go outs - that will be measured by whether or not he sits before the judge gives the jump command.

To take the pressure off myself, I tell myself that trials are just something you do occasionally to see where you are with your training. So my overall goals for this next weekend of trials is to see how this plan is working, and to hopefully practice some success in the ring with some of the exercises : )

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Learning the 'spin'

Inspired by Hsin-Yi and Honey's clicker training lessons, Jackson and I have been working on some clicker training tricks - specifically, the 'spin.' The downside of this is the bruises on the tops of my feet from him stepping on them while doing this. However, I finally got coordinated enough to keep my feet out of his way!

The video is of our third session doing this. I'm still doing a lot of luring to get him around, but occasionally he will follow my hand. As I reviewed this, I'm thinking that I should wait to put the command with it until after he has learned to do it. And, I may be talking too much. We may not be doing it exactly right, but we sure are having fun : )

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Weekend Trials - 1st leg!

I can't speak for Jackson, but I think the trials this past weekend were a real confidence builder for both of us. Recently, Susan Garrett posted on her dog training blog about the need to rehearse success to build confidence. So, that was our goal last weekend. I felt we needed to get back into the ring to try to find some success in doing the utility exercises under stress/with distractions. We had not been in a trial since last February - a trial where I discovered we had a lot of things that needed work, to put it mildly : )

I'm happy to report that we did find some success. Actually, I would have been happy to have just seen a lot of improvement, even if we didn't qualify. Needless to say though, I was thrilled when we qualified on Sunday and got our first UD leg! And, a First place no less - not because of our score, but we were the only one out of seven entered that qualified.

Overall, it was a great weekend. The trials were in Loveland, Colorado, which is quite a ways from where we live so I didn't know anyone at the trials. However, we met a lot of really nice people and found the show site and the judges to be super. (The reason we went so far for the trials is because we love the mountains and usually make a trek to Colorado each year anyway to get our 'fix' of mountains, so decided to combine the trip with a trial this time.)

There were two trials over the weekend. We NQ'd on the first trial because he did not go all the way down on the 'down' signal - he just sat. It was one of those, "He's never done that before" moments. He has missed the signal on occasion, but he's always gone completely down when he's started it. The rest of the exercises were pretty solid on the basics. He lost a lot of points both days though on lack of briskness, slow sits, crooked sits and some lagging , which was pretty much as I expected. Even though in practice we can get some speed and some good heeling without the lagging, everything really slows down under the stress of a trial.

I posted a couple short clips of the moving stand exercise and the directed retrieve (glove) exercise.

So, now we have a better idea of where we are, as far as progress we've made in performing the exercises. And, we know we need a lot of work to keep improving. It's really the same things we've been working on in the last few months - the basics (attention, heeling), building confidence and having fun! Maybe the briskness will come with the confidence : )

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Training for weekend trials

With only three days left to train for the weekend trials, we headed out to the club this afternoon. We have not done much of any training the last couple days because of the heat and humidity here - upper 90s and really humid! Judging from today's performance, that was maybe a good thing. Jackson was really up today and very focused.

Our training partners, Melody and her mom Trudy, were at the club too. After we warmed up a bit, Trudy gave us a run-thru - no treats, no cheerleading, etc. - just like in a trial. Our heeling and signals were good - really good. He was slow working the article pile, but he got the correct article both times. The glove and moving stand were also passing. The pivot on the glove exercise was good and he was fast going out, but slow coming back. The last exercise, the directed jumping was good. His go outs are getting much brisker and he is sitting - slow, but he does sit. The jumps were both good. I think the throwing treats between my legs to speed him up coming in from the jumps is paying off. His speed on the jumps is much brisker.

This is where we needed to be for me to feel comfortable going into a trial. He has shown me that he is capable of doing all the utility exercises quite well -- in practice. I expect less speed in a trial environment and I know things may go south in the actual trial, but at least I'm confident that we have a chance of passing each of the basic elements. And, I'm afraid if we wait for speed on everything, we may never get in the ring!

So, my goals for the trials this weekend are:
1) I'd like to see a happy, confident dog in the ring - which means I need to be happy and confident. (I know - that's going to be tough :)
2) I'd like to see significant improvement over our last trial experience in February - improvement in his attention to me, especially on the signals and directed jumping.
3) I'm really hoping to see some improvement in my handling skills, especially with heeling. I will try to focus on what I'm doing and how I'm moving when I go in the ring so as to not confuse or stress him. This is the one thing that I have control over.
4) And, to have FUN!

I'm looking forward to the opportunity to see where we're at in training and trialing, so I can evaluate our progress and develop a training plan for the rest of the summer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Utility Class - Week 2

A new utility class session started last week and tonight was our second week of the session. I was pleased with the improvement I saw during the last session, so am hopeful that we will continue along those lines in this session.

Tonight's class went well. We started out with the signal exercise. Half the class was on one side of the ring and the other half on the opposite side. We heeled past each other then turned and stood our dogs, left them and went to the opposite side of the ring. With the first set, we all gave the signals at the same time. The second set was more difficult because everyone was giving their dog the signals at different times. This really requires that the dog pays attention to their handler - not to the dog next to them or other handlers' signals. Fortunately, Jackson had been practicing this with his training partner, Melody, and passed with flying colors :)

After the signal exercise, we paired up and helped each other do the articles, gloves and directed jumping exercises. On the articles exercise, Jackson walked around the pile once, then went to work sniffing the articles until he found the correct article. To see the progress on this, I have to look back to one of the classes early in the first session where I watched him circle the pile more than a dozen times - without ever going to work!

The glove exercise is coming along nicely. His pivots are much improved. I'd like to see some more speed coming back, but I'm not stressing about it at this point. I'm hoping that will come with more confidence.

The go outs for the directed jumping exercise were good. Sits are still slow, but at least he's sitting. I just haven't figured out a way to speed up those sits. If I move in closer to him to give the command, he'll sit faster, but the further back from him I am, the slower the sit. The directed jumping on both jumps was good. He has been coming in from the jump really slow, but I've started throwing a treat between my legs and he has speeded up some.

Overall, I'm pleased enough with his performance in practice that I've entered a trial the weekend of June 27-28. I know we're still not where I'd like to be, but I think we need to get back in a trial and start practicing some success in some of the exercises. Maybe it will give us both more confidence :)

Training Notes: I have seven days to practice before the trial, so I think I'll focus on -
1) practicing articles and signals in a new location each day.
2) losing the formality with the returns from the article pile, gloves, and jumps to get more speed on the returns.
3) trying to get him revved up!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fun Match Sunday

We drove over to Omaha this morning for a fun match. It's about a two-hour drive but I thought it would be worth it to do a run-through in a different building. Jackson really needs the exposure to new places and new distractions. This was good, because it was kinda like a real show, but I could do some training in the ring.

Heeling and signals - He was lagging at times, which seems to happen frequently when he is at a trial. There were a lot of distractions due to the way the ring was set up. It was open on three sides with an active ring adjacent on one of the sides, and the fourth side was a wall - but it was a wall of mirrors! His signals were good though - (first exercise passed :)

Articles - The bottom line - he got both articles, but... he circled the pile and stopped at times to survey the building. After watching him circle the pile two to three times I told him to 'get to work.' At which time he went directly to the article, picked it up and brought it back to me - both times. I definitely need to get to new and different places several times a week so he can learn to work through distractions. That's my primary training goal for next week!

Gloves - Good pivot to the number 3 glove, and as usual - fast out, sloooow back. (another exercise passed :)

Moving stand - excellent! (third exercise passed :)

And, the last exercise - Directed jumping - His go out was toward the active ring so I was surprised that it was straight and brisk. Although his sit was very, very slow. In fact on the first go out I had to give him a second sit command. But, both jumps were good. (iffy on whether or not that would have passed :)

Overall, I was pleased. It really helped me see the things that we still need to work on, but I thought he did pretty well for it being a new, distracting place. Definitely worth the trip over.

Training notes for next week -
Articles, articles, articles

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Clicker training update

I got so inspired by the great feedback from Hsin-Yi on clicker training the glove retrieve, that I've gone back to square one with the exercise using the clicker. Since he already knows the glove retrieve exercise, I'm not sure what to make of his progress. Since I'm not directing him to pick up the glove and bring it to me, he is making that choice on his own. Not sure though if he's doing it for the reward, or if it's because he knows that's what is expected.

When I first started this exercise he just stood close to me for a couple or three minutes before he ventured out to pick up the glove. (That's the point at which the video clip begins.) I've read that is typical of 'traditional' trained dogs. They may be less willing to try new things for fear of getting it wrong and depend more on direction from the handler. Anyway, here's a clip of the updated glove retrieve with the clicker.

And, as Hsin-Yi has suggested, I'm going to next try it with a different object to see if the response is different using an unfamiliar object.

Stay tuned : )

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Clicker training and Jackson

Several months ago I happened upon my old clicker and tried to do some clicker training with Jackson. At that time he acted like he did not like the sound and backed off from it rather that associate it with good things. So, I put it away - thinking it was not a tool I would be able to use with him. Well, I happened upon it again a week or so ago and thought I'd try it once more. This time there was no aversion to it at all and I proceeded to introduce him to it and get him to associate it with good treats. I've also dug out all my clicker training articles and links to online resources to review. I'm happy to say, I think we're on the road to doing some clicker training.

Previously, I was doing somewhat of a modified version of it using the word 'yes' instead of the clicker to mark the behavior I was trying to shape. I think the timing with the clicker is going to be better than my verbal marker - and more neutral. So, with that in mind I've picked out a behavior that I'm trying to shape - it is the 'look up' front with the glove or article in his mouth. Now, 'look up' fronts seem to come natural to a lot of obedience dogs - but not Jackson. I've had to really work to get these fronts on recalls and now he is consistently giving them to me. However, if he has a glove or article in his mouth he will not look up when he comes to front.

I think the 'look up' front is important for him to learn because it really helps him come in straighter and to sit straight. Below is a video clip of today's training. Now, keep in mind I am a real newbie at this so if anyone has any observations or suggestions that will help me with the clicker training aspect of it, please don't hesitate to let me know : ) Even though I've only been working on this behavior for a few days, I have seen improvement in his fronts when he has a glove in his mouth. Prevously, he would never look up at my face when he came to front, he would have his head down and tend to look to the side.

Now, if I can get this behavior shaped through clicker training, maybe I can figure out a way to reward him for briskness with the clicker : )

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Directed jumping practice

When we were at the club today I managed to get a short video clip of us practicing the directed jumping exercise. This exercise includes the go out, sit, jump, front and finish. It's done twice - once with the bar jump and once with the high jump.

The clip is of the go out with the bar jump. I'm still helping him by following him out a few steps to give the sit command, otherwise, he stands there for too long before he sits. And I'm also trying to figure out a way to speed him up on the jump part. I can run away, throw treats, etc., which can speed him up some in practice but has not carried over to the more formal exercise. (The barking dog noise heard in the background is just an audio tape of trial noises.)

I saw posted at the club today a notice for a fun match next weekend in a city a couple hours away. I'm thinking it might be worth the trip over to help us prepare for an upcoming trial. So, that's my plan now, to try a fun match in a new setting to see how we do.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Training - Friday

I'm finding that heeling with the metronome is really keeping my pace more even, and faster. It seems to be especially effective when I'm practicing the about, left and right turns, as it is helping me keep up my pace coming out of the turns. The heeling seems to be going smoother now - partly because of the metronome and partly because I am really trying to pay closer attention to how I'm moving.

We were training at the club this afternoon, although we have been out to the fairgrounds and to a park this week. The smooth even floor surface makes it easier to practice the heeling and turns in a ring, however, the training outdoors in new places has also helped Jackson work with distractions. When we are working outdoors, he tends to slow down and look around, so I'm hoping that training outdoors routinely will help him work through the distractions.

Susan Garrett talks about something called “Buck Fever” in her dog training blog. This is when 'a marksman on the practice range can hit any target in any situation or environmental stressor. However put that same shooter out in the bush with the adrenaline pumping and he can’t hit the broad side of a barn.' She likened this to how handlers can do good in practice, but in the trial environment, it sometimes falls apart. The remedy - success. The more you rehearse being at a trial and performing the exercises successfully, the more likely it is that you will be able to repeat it. So, with that in mind, we're starting to think that we need to look for some trials to enter - to start rehearsing success!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Training Update - heeling

We've been training quite a bit lately, even though I haven't posted for a few days. We have been really focusing on our heeling this past week. One of my friends at the club has been helping me a lot by watching us and drawing some things to my attention that I didn't realize I was doing - or not doing. I'm coming to the realization that when Jackson sometimes lags or goes wide it's likely because he doesn't know what I'm going to do next! I've really tried to pay closer attention to making my movements smoother - and more predictable. I tend to be 'jerky' and too abrupt sometimes and am failing to give him the cues he needs to anticipate my next move. Among other things, I'm not consistent with how I do the 'halt' or how I change pace. So, this past week I've been practicing how I move and I'm really trying to be consistent. In addition to concentrating on my movements, I'm keeping him close and not letting him lag or go wide. We now have zero tolerance for lagging : ) Not surprisingly, I've really started noticing a substantial improvement in our heeling.

To practice we do short intervals of forward, right turn or about turn - then break it off and set up again and continue doing short heeling segments with lots of praise and rewards when he stays in heel position. This exercise is focusing on him staying close and driving out of the turns. It was pointed out that I tend to slow down after I turn, which in turn slows him down instead of him driving to keep in heel position as he turns.

To work on smoothing out my walking, we set up three pylons in a row across the ring and my job is to keep my eyes on the pylon I'm approaching and walk straight and at a smooth, even pace as we weave in and around the pylons. It's hard sometimes to keep looking straight ahead instead of turning to keep an eye on where he is. I just need to be more confident that he is with me.

It's really all about the heeling basics, which I think we tend to think we're doing okay with, until someone points out to us all the miscues - uneven pace, shoulder position, head turns, etc. - we are giving our dogs without knowing, and they really do pick up on the slightest movements. Tomorrow I'm going shopping to try to find a metronome to help me keep my pace smooth and even! Hmmmmm, I wonder where you buy metronomes?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fun Match - Sunday

Our local Great Dane club hosted a fun match this weekend at the country home of two of our members. We offered all-breed conformation, obedience, rally and agility activities and CGC (Canine Good Citizen) testing; and topped it off with a potluck picnic. It was really a great opportunity to get together to socialize; have some fun with our dogs; and try some new activities with them. We had 40-plus dogs participating in the various activities.

Jackson did a utility run-thru, a rally course and tried some of the jumps in the agility course. The thing that surprised me the most with him, was his enthusiasm for the agility jumps. When they bring out the agility equipment at the club, he gets really stressed, but outside in the open like it was Sunday, he did not seem worried at all. Hmmmm, maybe I will need to rethink the agility thing, and see if I can find a class that is outside. He might actually enjoy doing it in a different setting.

His utility run-thru went pretty well considering all the outside distractions. A lot different than training in the obedience building. He was good on his signals, however his heeling was not as close and sharp as I would like. The scent articles were pretty good, though he did seem to be avoiding the leather article, so I gave him the 'get to work' command. Afterwhich he went directly to the correct article and picked it up. The match judge, Sonia, said she thought I was putting too much scent on it and he didn't want to pick it up - it was too 'hot.' I've been told that before, but I've never really been able to make sense of it. Considering all the things he eats (including poop occasionally) - how can my scent be offensive - too hot? Sonia went on the explain that it's not necessarily offensive - just too 'hot' (too strong of a scent). Hmmm... I'm still not sure about this, but I've decided to try lightly scenting my articles for awhile to see how it goes.

The gloves and moving stand were good, however, we had a problem with the directed jumping exercise. His go outs were not as far and brisk as I would like. I put the dowel out but he couldn't see it in the grass, so without a target to aim for, he was a little lost. Then, the first jump did not look right to him (it was an agility bar jump) so I had to give him a second command for that. The second jump (also an agility bar jump) was good. Overall, not too bad for the really distracting environment and a new look for the ring.

Training notes:
1) keep working in new/distracting environments - it really helps.
2) scent the articles lightly - see how that works.