Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New practice location - fairgrounds

We finally got a break in the weather today. It was in the upper 50s, which is like a taste of spring here in Iowa. Suppose to snow tomorrow though : ( With the decent weather, we met our training buddies at the fairgrounds for some outdoor work in a new location. We set up our portable gates and jumps on an outdoor stage there. Even though it's off season for the fairs, there was still a lot of traffic and construction type equipment moving around the grounds, so this provided some new distractions from the indoor rings.

We started out with some heeling work to warm up, then did articles. The articles went well as far as working the pile and getting the correct article fairly quickly. As he gains confidence in working articles with distractions, I need to figure out a way to speed him up on the return. Once he gets the article, he just walks slowly back to me with it. If I can figure out a way to make a game of it, maybe we can get some speed. I was pleased with the glove exercise. His pivots and retrieves were good. However, we have the same problem with speed on the return with the glove as we do with articles.

I'm still taking it easy with Jackson, and even though he wasn't showing lameness today, we didn't do the jumping part of the exercise. We did do a few go-outs and worked on speeding up his sits. The first signal exercise we did, he anticipated and started going down before I gave the signal. But, that doesn't worry me. At least he knows what he's supposed to be doing - he just needs to wait for the signal. The next couple sets of signals he did fine. What we focused on today with the signal exercise is the stand. I'm finding that when we both get stopped, we're not in heel position. He is out in front of me too far. I think this is something that I need to figure out as far as my timing on giving the signal to stand.

After we finished practicing, we went for a walk around the fairgrounds. What I realized doing that was, he's not used to just leisurely walking around, smelling the grass, etc. He tends to stay in heel position as we move forward. Maybe we need more play time outdoors and less formal training? Hmmm.... something to remember as the weather warms up : )

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Practice at club today

We were back at the club today after taking a break from training for a few days. Jackson wasn't showing signs of lameness today, but we took it pretty easy anyway. Didn't want to take the chance of overdoing it, as he still doesn't seem 100%. I've been getting referrals for holistic/alternative vet care and am hoping to get him in to see someone soon for an evaluation. I'm wondering if the jumping is what's affecting him, since it appears to be pain in his front -shoulders/legs/feet - not sure which - that results in lameness.

The agility equipment was set up in one of the rings when we got there. They have agility class tonight, but we were the only ones in the building this afternoon. Jackson really worries about agility equipment, so this was a good distraction for him and an opportunity to practice under stress.

We started off in the adjacent ring with articles. The pile was placed close to the agility equipment on the other side of the gates. He went out and started working the pile right away - all the while keeping an eye on the agility equipment. We did two sets and I was pleased with how he went to work and got all articles correct - even with the agility equipment a couple feet from the pile. The agility equipment proved to be a bit too much of a distraction with the first set of signals though. He wasn't looking when I gave the signal, so I went out and gave him a correction (collar pop) and restarted the exercise. We did signals a few more times during practice and he paid attention and got them all. We even went in the ring with the agility equipment and did some heeling and signals amongst the equipment, and he did fine.

We did the glove exercise to all three gloves. His pivots are improving and his retrieves were good. We could use more speed on the returns. Will focus more on speed after we get the basics down. We did a few go-outs without the jumps and rewarded for fast sits. Then spent some time practicing pivots and backing. His pivots and finding heel can be great when practiced by themselves, but they seem to fall apart when paired with gloves, articles or just setting up in the ring when he is stressed.

Overall, he did good with the added distraction. I'm really looking forward to the fun match at the club this Sunday. I'm hoping to see some improvement over the last match and trial.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Utility class - good news/bad news

We were back at our utility class tonight. The good news - Jackson did really well on the signals and the articles. We did two sets of signals and both times he paid attention - even with the instructor he worries about standing right behind him. I think the 'tough love' is working. He's paying much better attention and I think he realizes that avoidance is not an option. The articles went well also. We're keeping the number of articles down to four and he went right to work and got the correct articles quickly. We did the glove exercise too. His pivots and retrieves were good for all three gloves.

I was really pleased with the way things were going, however, I noticed early on that he seemed to be limping a little and it got more noticeable as the class continued. That is the bad news. We didn't do the directed jump exercise because of it. I think we'll take it easy for the next couple days and see if that helps. Since this appears to be a recurring issue, I'm also going to check with some folks at the club where I train to get referrals to some specialist that deal with 'sports' injuries for dogs. Maybe it's time to get a specialist's opinion on what may be causing the problem.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fun day at the club

Jackson and his training partner, Melody
Today we had fun at the club. I met one of my training partners there, and we took turns doing one or two exercises at a time with each of the dogs. We were very upbeat and kept things moving pretty fast. The dogs seemed to respond to our upbeat attitude and Jackson was really 'up' and attentive today.

We did signals three or four times - a couple times with both dogs in the ring - and he didn't miss once :-) Heeling was good too, with no lagging. We're keeping with the plan to reduce the number of articles and take him to the article if he doesn't get to work immediately. Well, I didn't need to do that today. He went right to work and picked up the correct articles. His glove retrieve and moving stand were both good, and his directed jumping was good also. We got some slow sits on the go-outs, but the jumps were good. I'm keeping them at 24 inches now so he gets used to picking up speed.

Training with a partner is giving him experience with another person in the ring and some distractions, but we still need to see how this transitions over to working with even more distractions. There is another fun match coming up at the club in two weeks. He had lots of trouble focusing at the last match, so I'm interested to see if there is any improvement this time.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Utility class tonight

We're back in utility class. We had taken a break for awhile but thought it time to get back in class. It's really a good opportunity for Jackson to work under some stress. There are several other dogs in the class so there are distractions for him to work through. This is what he needs now. He knows the exercises - he just needs to be able to perform them whenever and where ever asked. So, we're going to try some 'tough love' for awhile and see how it goes.

He missed the first signal because he wasn't paying attention and he was worried about the instructor standing behind him, so I went in and gave him a correction (mild collar pop) and restarted the exercise. He paid attention and did the signals fine on the next attempt. Since I know that he knows the signals, he needs to understand that ignoring me because he is worried or distracted is not an option.

The glove exercise went well. His pivots to the gloves and his retrieves were good. We're trying something a little different for the articles. His problem in the trial was the amount of time he was taking to work the pile. I don't think it was because he didn't scent the article - he just didn't want to pick it up. So, for awhile we are only going to put out four articles instead of eight and if he doesn't get to work soon, or if he indicates the right article but doesn't pick it up, I'm going to go in and take him to the article. It's not going to be a correction, it's just going to be a direction to the correct article, so he understands that his job is to go to the pile and get the article quickly.

The other exercise we worked on was the directed jumping. His go-outs were good and he had sits with them tonight. He has always had straight go-outs, although sometimes he doesn't go as far as I would like. He didn't pick up enough speed to make the bar jump the first attempt, but did the next two jumps fine. I'm not too worried about the directed jumping exercise. If he doesn't show lameness again, I think we can correct the jumping problems.

So, we'll try this approach for awhile and see how it goes.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Trial today

Well, the trial has come and gone. It was an opportunity to see where we are with utility training. My expectation was not very high since we have been having problems lately with signals and articles. So, I was not too surprised when things went south. There were highs and lows - more lows than highs unfortunately. The high points were the directed retrieve exercise and the moving stand, both of which went well. He was given the #3 glove and his pivot and retrieve were good. The moving stand was also good. I had expected these to be his most solid exercises and was happy with his performance on these.

Now for the 'lows.' There were not a lot of distractions, except for people standing around. They were finished in the other rings, so there was no ring activity. However, he went into his avoidance routine for the signal exercise. He just would not look at me, so missed the signals. The articles were also a problem for him. He started circling the pile. The judge gave him a long time to work the pile, so eventually he picked up the correct metal article. Not so successful with the leather. He worked the pile for quite awhile, then came back empty handed. I was actually quite amazed that the judge let him work the pile for as long as she did. - A very nice judge :-)

The last exercise, the directed jumping had problems also. There were no sits on the go-outs, so I gave the second sit command. Then he didn't pick up enough speed for the bar jump and stopped short in front of it. I'm thinking back to our training here, and for quite awhile I was jumping him low because of some lameness issues, so I don't think he was in the habit of picking up enough speed for the 24" jumps. He did make it over the high jump without a problem, once he got going.

Now, to assess where we are in training and what we need to work on. Overall, his demeanor in the ring was again - one of being very worried and distracted. We need to somehow figure out a way to overcome his inability to work well under stress. I think the other things will follow if we can just figure this one out. So for now, we will keep practicing and building confidence in his ability to do the exercises and when the weather breaks this spring, we will try to get out a lot more to new places to practice. And, I think we'll hold off entering any more trials until we can see some progress when working with distractions and at fun matches.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fun Match yesterday - training today

The fun match at the club yesterday was another opportunity to practice utility exercises in a distracting environment. Lots of people, dogs, noise, etc., which proved to be quite stressful for Jackson. I tried to relax in the ring - even had treats - but he still had problems focusing on what he was supposed to be doing. After most run-throughs were done we went to an empty ring and a training friend called some heeling/signal patterns for us. He did much better. Maybe he was getting more used to the distractions, and things were quieting down. I'm thinking perhaps I should bring him in earlier at the trial so he can have more time to adjust to the building noise and activity.

We were back out to the club this afternoon doing run-throughs with a couple training friends. He did much better today. He paid attention and did all the exercises satisfactorily. This was encouraging. I'm trying something new with the articles to try to break through his avoidance/circling behavior that occurs when he is stressed. If he circles the pile more than twice, I just go in calmly and bring him out and restart the exercise. Then he usually goes back to the pile and picks the correct article up right away. Hoping he learns to go to the pile and not be afraid to pick up the article and bring it back.

We have three more days this week to practice until the trials Saturday and Sunday!