Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Show N Go

The Show N Go today was a success - not necessarily because he did great, but because I am really working on adjusting my attitude. (Thanks PR Gang for the reminder :) I'm trying to be more relaxed, and enjoy the time with him in the ring rather than being stressed out when he seems like a different dog in the ring from the one I see in practice.

The Show N Go was in a new building that he had never been in previously, so it was a good experience for us. We did two run-throughs, and I had decided beforehand that I would try to keep it more like practice by helping him and not behaving completely like I would need to in a trial. He was somewhat worried, but his heeling and signals were good. Articles were a challenge for him - not because he did not indicate the correct article, but when he is stressed he just doesn't want to put his head down and pick the article up, so he goes into this 'avoidance' circling mode. I don't know if it is lack of confidence in getting the right article, or if he thinks something will get him if he puts his head down????? Hmmmm, will need to try to figure out how to work through this.

The moving stand was near perfect the first time, but the second time he anticipated. I'm not too worried about the anticipation because it means he knows the exercise - although we will need to work on that to get our timing down better. The directed retrieve and the go-outs and directed jumping were good. I was really pleased with his attention and focus on those exercises.

Overall, it was a good day. Tomorrow we have a fun match at the club so yet another opportunity to practice relaxing and enjoying time with him in the ring :)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Utility class tonight

We did run-throughs at utility class tonight, and now I'm really wondering if we're going to be ready for the trials next week! (I think maybe I will lower my expectations.) There was a lot of activity in the building and adjacent rings tonight, which proved to be too much of a distraction for Jackson at times. I had trouble keeping his focus on me for the signals and the directed jumping, so I had to help him out. When I had his attention he did fine on the exercises, but I don't think a judge is going to let me wait 5 minutes until he looks at me :)

He was stressed on the articles too so it took him awhile to work the pile before he picked up the correct articles. The ring stress really takes a toll on his accuracy on pivots. He tends to end up out in front of heel position when he sits. Even though his pivots were not accurate, he did get the correct glove both times we did that exercise. His go-outs were good and the sits were not bad, but again the distractions kept him from focusing on me for the directed jump signal. The moving stand was the high point - he's got that down. Maybe because he is close to me, he doesn't get so stressed about that exercise.

I don't know how else to prepare him for the ring, except to just get out there and do it. The fun matches and run-throughs are really helpful. We have two fun matches this weekend, so we'll just have to see how things go.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Signals 101 - back to basics!

I pulled out one of my training books - "Ring Ready" - last night to get some help on signals gone bad. Their recommendation for signal problems was to stay in closer to give the signals in order to build confidence. Then gradually increase the distance. The book also recommended breaking down the signals and rewarding each correct response. So, today at the club I practiced signals from about 12-15 feet away from him, instead of all the way across the ring. I plan to continue staying closer the rest of the week, or until he's 100% correct on each signal before I start increasing distance. I started out by doing just the down signal several times and going in to reward him after each down, then restarting the exercise. After a while, I added the sit following the down and rewarded that each time. He was about 90% correct on the signals, so I'm still going to stay close tomorrow and see how it goes.

The staying close seemed to work well for the signal exercise, so I decided to do that on the go-outs also. He's been having a problem with the sits on the go-outs lately. So, today I followed him out and gave the 'sit' command from about half-way across the ring instead of staying back at the start line. He did the sits fine when I followed him out, so I'm going to do that for awhile to see if it increases the speed of his sits.

I don't know why, but it does seem to make a big difference in his performance if I'm in closer proximity to him. The hard part for me is going to be to slow down, and not increase the distance too quickly :)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Help! Signals are falling apart.

There were several other dogs working at the club this afternoon, so it was good practice working with distractions. Maybe that is why his signals fell apart. I used to be pretty confident about his signals, but lately he has been missing them - even when he is looking at me, he just stands there when I give the down signal. Or, he just sits there when I give the come signal. What I did today was to move in closer to give the signals. This seemed to help him out. When I was only a few feet away he would respond okay to the signals. I think the next few times we work on signals I will stay closer to him and we'll see how it goes. Maybe we need to take a few steps back with training that exercise and build his confidence, and I need to make sure I am consistent and clear with the signals I give.

The articles were pretty good today. I'm still not getting look-up fronts when he brings the article back though. I had him do a few fronts with the article in his mouth and he would look up some of the time. I'm going to keep working on this away from the pile to see if I can build some look-up muscle memory. I hope this will help. He is now pretty consistent with look-up fronts in the basic recalls.

I'm seeing quite a bit of improvement in his directed retrieves. He is getting a lot more confident about the gloves. Previously he was so afraid of getting the wrong glove that he couldn't think straight - at least that's how it seemed :-)

Only two weeks until the trials! We've got a lot of work to do in the next couple weeks. There are Show-N-Gos next weekend, so that will help us see where we're at.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Therapy Visit

We had our regular pet therapy visit this morning. Jackson is certified by Therapy Dog International (TDI) and we go every other week to visit our friends at a local care center. The residents at the center want to help Jackson prepare for the upcoming trial, so today we did the utility scent discrimination exercise (articles) for them. Building confidence and working through distractions is one of Jackson's biggest challenges. He is quite the worrier. The visits and performing exercises at the center have been very helpful for him in building confidence, and the residents enjoy watching him do things. He also does one-on-one visits with residents in their rooms. The exercise went well today. He was worried at first but went to work and retrieved the correct articles both times.

Below are pictures of Jackson working the pile, and then bringing back the correct metal article.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Worked on pivots and fronts today

Today we worked mostly on pivots and fronts at the club. I've been focused particularly on the pivot back for the Number 3 glove exercise. For quite some time he would end up facing the correct glove but would be sitting out in front of me instead of beside me, so I started working a lot on backing to get him used to getting back into the correct heel position. We're making progress, but not really there yet as you will see in the video here. (I have just started trying to edit and upload videos, so this looks a little fuzzy. Hopefully, that will improve with practice :-)

Friday, January 16, 2009

More run throughs today

There were lots of distractions at the club today, which was a good thing. Some training friends were there so we gave each other utility run throughs and some extra work on weak areas. The added stress of distractions resulted in some heeling issues for Jackson, as in lagging and heeling wide. I definitely need to find my old 'shark' line and work with him on that light line, especially in distracting situations. What appears to be good heeling when we are working alone, readily turns into something else when he is stressed. He did okay with the signals, although did his usual 'walk in.' The glove exercise was good, and he would have passed on the articles, even though he worked the pile for quite some time before he picked up the correct article. We're still having sit problems on the go-outs, but the directed jumping was good. Overall, the lack of speed on various exercises is going to be hard to overcome in a ring situation due to his temperament, but for now I've decided to focus on getting him to do the basic exercises correctly and worry about the speed later. Maybe that will take some pressure off both of us :-)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Run throughs at the club

We did run throughs in utility class tonight, so it was an opportunity to see where our strengths and weaknesses were in a ring type setting. He is still worried about distractions, which resulted in a missed signal and some lagging. And, he did not want to sit on the go-outs. Other than that, things went pretty smoothly - all be it slowly. I think in the next few training sessions we will focus on attention and signals, along with the sits on the go-outs. We really need to find some places to work with distractions though because that is his biggest challenge. However, with the sub-zero temperatures we've been having, it's hard to find new (indoor) places to train. Maybe we'll try Petco this weekend. Only three weeks until the trials!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tried something new today

Jackson is notoriously slow (walks in) on recalls. I have tried a number of things to speed him up, but haven't found anything that works yet. I thought of something new to try today - and it worked - at least in practice! I took his sister, Jolee, to the club with me today. I've started working with her some on obedience, and her recalls are to die for. She jumps and RUNS in on the recalls. So.... I had my husband set her up in the adjacent ring, and I set up Jackson, who was looking over at her to see what she was doing. My husband called her and she did her usual 'shot out of the cannon' recall. Then I called Jackson, and he actually galloped in! We did that a couple times and then I did a recall with him on his own, with similar results. I was surprised that her presence/behavior actually had that much affect on him. Hmmm... now I just need to figure out how to make this his 'default' recall speed. Maybe if I incorporate Jolee in our practice sessions routinely, there will be some carry over.

The glove exercise went particularly well today. He gets stressed and his pivots sometimes fall apart when he sees the gloves, so he ends up not facing the correct glove. He seemed less stressed today so the exercise went better. Maybe he's getting more confident.

We worked some more on 'look up' fronts, which are getting pretty good when he's not carrying anything in his mouth. Overall, he seemed pretty 'up' and energetic today - maybe it was the Jolee factor?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Training today at the club

We were back at the club this afternoon to train for awhile. No distractions today as we were the only ones training. He was not too responsive today, so we took it easy. He's been limping occasionally so I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe he wasn't feeling 100%. We'll rest up this weekend and hope he's back to normal next week. I always wonder if I am overtraining when I train almost every day. It takes about 20 minutes to drive to the club, so I usually train for 30 - 40 minutes when we get there. Would like to train in shorter segments, but this is Iowa - and the weather is not conducive to getting outside to train in the winter.

Having said that, we did work a little on most of the utility exercises. One of the things I've been working on with the articles is trying to get 'look up' fronts on the return. I've worked a lot on this with the basic comes and he's getting pretty consistent at looking up at my face when he comes to front (spitting treats has really helped with this). However, if he's got something in his mouth (article, glove, dumbbell) he tends to look to the side or down and not up at my face when he comes to front. I did a few come fronts with the article in his mouth separate from the article exercise and saw some improvement, but it does not carry over yet to the exercise. Would like to find a technique that would help me get look-up fronts with articles and gloves. It makes his fronts straighter and closer when he does look up.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pet Therapy visit .... and training session

Today was Jackson's day to visit his friends at the care center. He is certified with Therapy Dog International (TDI) and we go twice a month to visit residents. He is great with the residents, especially one-on-one. It's been a super good experience for him also, helping to build his confidence because he does have to work through some situations that stress him - noisy vacuuming equip., lots of carts moving to and from, etc.

Today we practiced signals in the lounge with residents as his audience/distraction. He did really well, although he was a little worried. The residents want to help him practice for the upcoming trials, so next time we are going to do articles for them.

After a couple hours of down time, we went out to the club for a short training session. Practiced heeling - mostly onlead. Worked on heeling up to the gates and on turns. He sometimes lags a little coming out of the about turns at the gate and the right turns. I threw treats periodically coming out of the turns to speed him up, which helps. Today I set out a couple cones and did some figure 8s. He had really good drive on the figure 8 outside turns. Hmmm...maybe I should do more of that to build that muscle memory.

When I set out the articles today, I put them up against the high jump to prevent him from circling the pile. He appeared to be somewhat stressed that he couldn't circle the pile, but did go to work and retrieve the correct articles. If I continue placing the articles against a barrier, maybe he will develop the habit of just going into the pile to search, instead of circling it. Worth a try.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Working under some stress at the club

Today when we went to the club to train, another member was working her dogs and offered to give us a utility run-through. I thought it would be helpful to see where we were at with a stranger (judge) in the ring. The heeling and signals were good, but when it came to articles - which in solo practice he does well - he succumbed to the pressure and started his circling the pile behavior. We worked through this by having the 'judge' step up to the pile to block his circling. This stopped his circling and, though stressed, he did work the pile and retrieve the correct article with just a little help. This circling the pile under stress has been a real problem. So much a problem in the Arizona trials that he never did pick up the articles even though he had indicated them. I'm thinking I need to create more distractions in practice and find more strangers to work in the ring with us so he'll get used to working under stress.

The gloves were okay, but the stress factor again affected his precision with the pivots and fronts. The go-outs today were pretty good, although sits were very slow. I went out and rewarded the sits then came back to start position to signal the jumps. I am really pleased with his directed jumping. I've been just giving the hand signal for the jumps lately and he has really been paying attention.

After the run-through, we did some extra work on heeling. I kept him on lead for the heeling. Gotta get a lighter lead because he knows when the lead is on. We also practiced some fronts. I've been trying the 'teach to touch' technique to straighten up his fronts and get him in closer. I'm working with him to touch a spot on my chest for a reward. This works nicely in the kitchen and in practice when I have a piece of cheese on the spot, so I'm hoping with a thousand repetitions it will become entrenched in his come fronts - without the cheese!

Another thing I am working on is his downs. When heeling, or when I am close in and give the down signal, he does a real nice foldback down. But, when I give him the down signal from across the ring, as in the utility signal exercise, he first sits then slowly goes down - moving one foot at a time in front of him until he's down. It's one continuous movement, so I think it would pass, but it would be nice to get the foldback down for this exercise. But, on the other hand, I don't want to mess up his signals by giving corrections for that.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Training today at the club

We went to the club this morning to do some training. I've been doing a little training on all the utility exercises at each session, then some extra on one or two elements. Trying to get back to basics. Did extra work on heeling today. Started using the 'choose to heel' method a few months ago and it has really helped with his heeling position. He is highly motivated by food (when not stressed), but has a tendency to lag, especially when stressed in the ring. I'm hoping to build 'muscle memory' on the heel position, so it becomes natural for him, even under stress. I also don't allow him to lag in practice. If he does, the lead goes back on for a while. I'm also paying particular attention to moving between exercises - keeping him in heel position as we move to set up for the exercises. I have seen a lot of improvement in his heeling, but still not dependable in a ring/stressful situation.

I had an epiphany today regarding the slow/no sits on the go-outs. I realized that his slow/no sits on the go-outs didn't happen until I combined them with the directed jumping. Last time I was at the club, I didn't do the jumps because he was limping a little. His sits on those go-outs were good. Then today, when I added the jumps to the exercise, his good sits disappeared. Hmmm.... coincidence, or the reason for the slow/no sits? Maybe I will work on the go-outs and the jumps separately for awhile.

We were doing pretty good on the focus/attention aspects of things until some members showed up and started moving the agility equipment out at the other end of the building. He is very, very worried about agility equipment. I have tried to desensitize him to it on several occasions by walking him around the equipment when no one else was there and giving him treats for approaching the equipment - but, he still has a fear of it. (We just may need to avoid trials where agility is going on in the same building.) Anyway, we continued to work the articles and glove exercises, which he knows well, with the distraction. He was able to do them, but still very worried about what was going on in the building with the agility equipment. Hopefully, working through his fears will be another small step in building confidence.

Next time we go to the club, I think we'll do some extra work on attention for the signal exercise. He knows the signals, but sometimes will avoid looking at me and miss the signal. I've started standing in front of him and tossing treats to him - and, he's getting pretty good at catching Bil-Jac treats from 15 feet away! I'm wondering if this is going to result in more focus on me.

Friday, January 2, 2009





A new year - a new plan

Happy New Year!

Our Goal for 2009 - Earning the Utility Dog (UD) title.
An ambitious goal - yes - especially for a green handler and a 'challenged' Great Dane! I've decided to start this blog to help me organize my thoughts on training, try to put things in perspective, and track our progress - or lack thereof. I am also hoping that anyone who happens onto this blog and has some thoughts, comments or suggestions about our training activities will feel free to post their comments or questions.

First, a little background about Jackson.
He is a four-year-old, neutered Great Dane. He is from a litter that my husband and I bred, so I have had him from birth. We've had Great Danes and have shown in conformation for many years, but this is my first attempt to train for competitive obedience. I refer to him as being 'challenged' - not because he is a Great Dane, because I do not buy into the perception that Great Danes are a difficult breed for obedience - but because of his particular personality. Jackson is very smart - but quite the worrier. Building confidence has always been our biggest challenge. He picks up on the exercises quite quickly - but being able to perform those exercises with distractions and in differing environments is something else. And performing the exercises with precision is yet another challenge.

To build confidence, we have a weekly goal of visiting and/or training in at least three new locations/situations during the week. We participate in group training classes and practice sessions. Jackson is also certified as a therapy dog (TDI) and we make regular visits to a care center.

The next trial
Today I am mailing in my entries for the local obedience trials on Feb. 7 and 8 - yikes, that's only five weeks away! This will not be our first time in the Utility A ring. Our first attempt to earn a utility leg was last October. Actually, his performance was not too bad, but some missed signals kept us from the illusive Qs. Then in November we went to Arizona for awhile and I entered him in a couple trials there. We're from Iowa where all our obedience trials are indoors. Not so in Arizona. Their trials are outdoors. This proved to be more distractions and scary things than he could handle. The Feb trials we've entered are in the building we train in, which will help. But still, trialing in the building is a completely different feeling than training there. We'll see :-)