Sunday, March 29, 2009

Learning a new game!

After watching Honey the Great Dane's video, 'learning to weave,' we decided to give it a try at the club today. Now, we're not planning to do canine freestyle, but I thought it might be fun to try to get Jackson to go through my legs. I see trainers with smaller dogs doing this all the time to get their dogs to come in fast on the recalls, but I could never visualize Jackson running through my legs! Actually, I visualized myself flat on my back if I ever tried that : ) But, now that I've seen a Great Dane doing it, I'm thinking this would be fun to try and it might keep him coming in faster on the recalls. Even now when he is trotting in, he tends to slow down as he gets close to me. Maybe this will keep his speed up.

So, we started with Step 1 today - getting him comfortable putting his head between my legs. That's as far as we got today, as you can see in the video - this may be a slow process : )
Step 2 is throwing the treat further back so he walks through my legs to get it. I'll keep you posted on how that one goes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Continuing to work on speed

I think the exercises we've been doing to try to increase speed are working. We started last week with increasing the distance for all the exercises and we've dropped the formal fronts on the recalls. I'm starting to see a difference - instead of walking in slowly, he's now trotting in. Real progress! Of course eventually we'll have to put formal fronts in and reduce the distance, but for now we'll continue practicing with increased distance and try to build that 'muscle memory.'

There have been more distractions than usual at the club the last couple days. I think it's a sign that the spring trials are beginning and people are getting their dogs prepared. Distractions are good. He needs to learn to work with other dogs and activities going on around him. We started out with a couple long distance recalls, which went well. Then, he and his training partner, Melody, did a couple recalls together. Border Terriers are faster than Great Danes - at least today : )

He's not missing on his signals hardly ever now, so we may be over the hump on that one. No more avoidance behavior, at least not in practice. And, the articles and gloves went well today. I'm putting the articles on the far side of the ring so I can get quite a bit of distance on the return. I send him to the pile from about 20 feet away, then retreat back across the ring for the return. He's now trotting back to me with the article.

Tomorrow night we start another eight-week utility class. It's been two weeks since we finished up the last session. He's much more stressed in class than in practice, so I will be watching to see if I see any improvement in his performance or attitude in class.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I've been tagged!

Well, I wasn't going to post anything today, but I've been tagged by HawaiianDane to play the Fourth Picture Game - where you go to the fourth file in your picture folder. Then choose the fourth picture and post it on your blog.

So, here's my fourth picture in the fourth folder in my picture folder! (Jackson and his training partner Melody)
Now I've tagged Bev at FotoDanes and PRGang - (trying to keep it in the Dane family : )

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Trying some new things!

We're trying some new things during our training sessions, thanks to suggestions from someone on an obedience list that I'm on. I think this will help to loosen things up and maybe create some energy. First off, we're losing the formal fronts with the exercises - at least for now. We're starting out our training sessions with a couple long distance and/or restrained recalls to try to build speed and set the tone for the session. No fronts with these recalls, just praise and treats for coming fast - which he is doing.

When we do articles, we set the pile in a location where I can get quite a bit of distance for the return. I send him to the pile from the normal distance, then as he is going to the pile, I go the opposite direction across two rings and wait for him there. With this increased distance between us, he is trotting back with the article now instead of walking slowly. Progress! And, again, no fronts - just praise and treats.

The other thing I am trying with articles is tossing the article toward the pile. This is getting him moving faster toward the pile. I think these new techniques are having the side effect of reducing some of the stress associated with this exercise. He doesn't seem so serious and worried about it.

When we do the glove exercise, I'm also dropping the formal front. This seems to also be speeding up his return with the glove.

I've gone back to using the dowel retrieve for the go-outs. I trained go-outs using a dowel retrieve, but kinda got away from it because he was doing pretty good with the go-outs, however, he really starts slowing down when he gets about two thirds of the way out. I think putting the dowel out is giving him more of a purpose for going out and it really increases his speed. Sits are still slow, but the directed part of the jumping is good.

Overall, I think these new techniques may give us a needed energy boost in our training. I'm going to stick with using these for a few weeks and then evaluate where we are.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Obedience training videos

We were at the club practicing for a while today and I managed to get a short video clip of heeling and a video clip of finding one of the articles in the scent discrimination exercise. He's getting pretty good at going to the article pile, working the pile and finding the correct article quickly - however, the pace going out and coming back is really, really slow. Something we will work on later, after we are successful with finding the correct articles under stress and with distractions. Right now I'm working on building confidence by reducing the size of the pile - only five instead of the full set of eight articles - and making sure he goes right to work. He has a tendency to circle the pile and not wanting to put his head down and pick up the article when he is stressed and/or there are more distractions. Today there weren't many distractions at the club - just one other person working their dog - so working the pile was not a problem.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Practice at the club today

Well, the spring-like weather we had last week did not hold, so it was back to the club today for practice. We had a really good practice session today. We were the only ones training at the club so there were not many distractions. Two of the rings had been combined into one really big ring so that was somewhat different for him. The large ring though really helped with his speed I think. At least it gives him more room to get moving, and speed is one of the things we're working on now.

We started out with a few restrained recalls to get him going. I've been doing this lately to help get his speed up, and it really seems to be working. Plus, I'm trying to be more upbeat, less formal, and keeping things moving at a faster pace. We then did some heeling and signals. He was focused and the signals were good today.

We're sticking with the plan of only putting five articles out. Working on getting him to go out and go right to work. He did that today and was good on all articles, however, he was slow going out and coming back. I think I'll wait and work on speed with articles once he is more confident in working the articles under stress.

The go-outs for directed jumping were much improved. They were straight and he had a pretty brisk pace going out, and the sits were fairly quick. I set the jumps at 16 inches because I'm still concerned about the lameness issues, however, he wasn't showing signs of limping today and seemed to be moving much better. Hmmmm, maybe the acupuncture treatment is helping, or maybe it's the Dasuquin. I started him on Dasuquin, a joint supplement, this week, which may also be helping.

We finished up with the glove exercise and another set of signals, both of which went well.

Overall, I think the upbeat, shorter sessions are more productive, so I'm going to try keeping the sessions shorter for awhile.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Spring Training

We're taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather this week and visiting one of our favorite neighborhood training places - the cemetery. Training outdoors provides all kinds of new distractions - smells and sounds of outdoors, some traffic, an occasional jogger, bicyclist or dog walker, birds, etc. The cemetery we train at has several undeveloped (meaning no grave sites yet) open grassy areas for training and free play.

We spend a brief time working on the scent discrimination (articles) exercise, plus a little heeling and pivots. Then it's free time, which he uses to wander around checking out all the new sites and smells. I'm trying to increase the ratio of time spent playing and exploring outdoors with him vs. formal training. Maybe we both need to 'lighten up' : )

Between trips to the cemetery, we also stopped in our regular vet's office today to leave a blood sample. I decided to go ahead and have a complete thyroid panel done on him to rule out any thyroid problems. He just seems a lot less energetic lately. It could be some pain with the lameness issues that's slowing him down, or maybe something else is going on.

I took the camera along to try to capture some pictures of our outdoor training, but alas, the battery was dead. Maybe next time - if we get another warm day soon!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Holistic Vet appointment

Jackson had his first visit to the holistic healthcare vet today. Since Jackson has had recurring lameness issues and we have been unable to diagnose the cause, we decided to try the holistic approach. Have never been to a holistic vet, so I was not sure what to expect. I know several people at the obedience club where we train use this approach and have found it to be really helpful, so I thought, "why not?"

I could tell it was different from the regular vet's office when we walked in. It was like someone's house - well, in fact the office is in a house. Jackson usually gets very stressed in the vet's office, but today he was much more relaxed I thought. After weighing him (164 lbs) and taking his history, she had me walk him up and down the sidewalk outside the office so she could see how he was moving. She thought the way he moved his right front leg/foot was off - although he wasn't noticeably limping.

We then went back in her office and she went over him with her hands - checking his joints and leg movements - and then took his pulse. She thought it was faster than normal for a large dog, but everything else looked okay. She does spinal manipulation therapy so she manipulated his spine and said he had a neck vertebrae out of place, but that was not unusual. She then proceeded to give him an acupuncture treatment. First, she placed an acupuncture needle in the center of his forehead. She said that usually helps relax the dog. She then placed several acupuncture needles along both sides of his neck and shoulder, front legs and one in each foot. I must say he was an excellent patient. He just layed on the floor and watched her put these needles in. The needles stayed in for 15 minutes, then she took them out and the treatment was over.

As I understand it, the acupuncture gets the energy flowing in the body and this helps the body heal itself. In other words, it activates the nervous system, relieves pain, and stimulates circulation and the immune systems. It also decreases inflammation and promotes healing. At the risk of sounding like a skeptic, I asked her if focusing on the healing was overlooking the cause. But since we don't know the cause, treating the symptoms is a good way to approach it.

We have a second visit scheduled in two weeks. I am really going to be watching him closely to see if I can see improvement. Hopefully, this will help and we can proceed with training at full speed. We are continuing with regular training - just not jumping for now.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fun Match Day!

I am happy : ) We had the fun match at our club this morning, and I did get the improvement I was hoping to see. Not that we're ready to get back in the ring yet, but he did much better today than he did at the fun match and trial last month.
Signals - He paid attention today and I didn't see the 'avoidance' behavior I was seeing at the last match and trial. His heeling was pretty good, with just some lagging on the about turn. He got the first two signals fine, but he did lose focus (or maybe I did) on the come, so I had to give a second come signal.
Articles - I stayed with the plan and only put out five articles. He got the first article pretty quickly. On the next article he was taking longer (too long I thought) and almost seemed to be avoiding it, so I went out and led him to the article. We redid that one and he went out and immediately picked it up.
Gloves - His pivot was a little short so I helped him get straight, then he got the correct glove. Moving Stand - Good!
Directed Jumping - Go-outs were straight, but sits were really slow. Both jumps were good. I jumped a little lower than normal, even though he wasn't showing signs of lameness today. I didn't want to take any chances.

Overall, I really did see improvement. We seem to have the basics down - we just need some (a lot more) precision. And we need speed!

Training notes for next week -
We are going to start working on speed. I've gotten a lot of suggestions from a group list that I'm on regarding training briskness for the ring. I'm anxious to start trying some of those ideas to see if I can speed him up.