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.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Training in the country

We've been trying to find new locations to train this spring that offer new and different distractions/challenges, so we were really excited when a friend from the training club invited us out to her acreage this afternoon to train. Jackson's training partner, Melody, was also invited. Our friend has a Golden that she is also training at the utility level, and she has a new nine-week-old Golden puppy. It was a great afternoon of training and fun with the dogs.

We worked in a fenced in yard in a shady, wooded area in back of her house. We started out working on go outs, which is good since I've decided to go back to basics with the go outs to see if I can get Jackson to maintain a brisk pace all the way to the gates. I've broken down the exercise to just practicing the go out part and not including the directed jumping at this time. She trains her dogs to go out to a small platform. Jackson has not used a platform for go outs so I wondered how long it would take to get him to go on the platform and sit. Actually, I was surprised - it didn't take him long at all to get the idea and soon he was going out and on to the platform.

I think Jackson is smart and will do whatever I ask him to do - if he understands what it is that I want. That's my challenge - to figure out a way to get the message through to him so he understands what it is I want. In the case of the go outs, I want him to maintain a brisk pace all the way out. Now, how do I show him that is what I want? I'm trying putting treats out and I'm also trying 'racing' him out to the go out place. I'm hoping one of these will help keep his speed up.

We also practiced heeling and signals as well as articles. We put the articles in an unusual location - a closed in sort of area where he didn't have room to circle the pile. He did really well with it and figured out how to work the pile by walking into it instead of around it.

Overall, it was a really good opportunity to train in a completely different environment. I think we may be going out there again next week. This time I will take my camera : )

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Utility Class - Week 8

This was week eight of this utility session, and a good time to reflect on the progress we have made in these past eight weeks. Two of my goals for this session were to see improvement in the signal and article exercises. And, I'm pleased to report that I achieved those goals - I am seeing significant improvement in the signals and some improvement in the articles. Before we started this session, avoidance in the signal exercise was a big problem. We had just blown this exercise completely in the February trial because he would not look at me and consequently missed the signals - all of them! Now, he rarely misses a signal, even when there are distractions and he is stressed.

The article exercise is a work in progress. We are still using only five articles, instead of the full set of eight. Tonight in class he went right to work and got both articles quickly. This is the best scent discrimination work he has done in class, so now we will increase the number of articles to six. If he can do these exercises well in the stressful class environment, then I'm more optimistic about entering a trial.

I've been working a lot on heeling this past week. We've been breaking it down in shorter segments and working particularly on right turns and about turns. I'm making it a point now to keep him in heel position constantly, and not give him an opportunity to lag or forge. This means we're working on leash most of the time. We've also been focusing on the change of pace to slow. It was pointed out to me that I was part of the problem because I was slowing down too abruptly, which resulted in his forging. So, I'm working on my footwork and body movements too so I don't give him the wrong cues. It's amazing sometimes what minor body movements dogs can pick up on.

The directed jumping is also a work in progress. He's really slowing down as he gets out toward the gates, and then his sits are really, really slow. I don't think a judge is going to wait for him to sit. However, he does complete the jumping part of the exercise correctly. We just need to figure out how to keep him going at a brisk pace all the way to the gates - and then sit quickly. I'm going to try putting a dowel out for him to retrieve. Maybe if he has a target out there, that will get him focused on going all the way out at a brisk pace.

This video clip is Jackson practicing the signal exercise. If you are not familiar with how the signal exercise is done in AKC utility - the handler can only use hand signals - no verbal commands at all. Failure to respond on any of the signals results in a nonqualifying score.
(You will hear some verbal commands in the video coming from others working in the adjacent ring, so just ignore them!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Where I Sleep

We got tagged by Honey the Great Dane to play the 'Where I Sleep' game. In this game, we show some of Jackson's favorite sleeping places.

I have picked out his three very favorite places to sleep. I can usually find Jackson in one of these three spots. The first one is the breakfast area off the kitchen. It doesn't look like a very comfortable spot to sleep, but he has picked this out as his most favorite place. I think maybe he likes it because it allows him to keep an eye on things going on in the house - that is, if he wakes up : )

His second most favorite place is upstairs on Mom and Dad's bed. I think this is when he's really tired (like after a practice session) and he doesn't want to be disturbed.

His favorite place to sleep at night time is on the stairway landing. He's not allowed to sleep in bed with Mom and Dad, so this evidently is his compromise position - he can be close enough to keep an eye on us. I must say it does give me a feeling of security to have him between me and the outside world when we're sleeping : )

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Utility class - week 7

We had more time then normal for our utility class tonight so we did run-throughs instead of the usual class format. We each did two complete run-throughs. It was another opportunity to see how we are progressing and.... I must say, I was pleased - especially with the second run-through. I think we are making progress : )

Signal exercise - On the first run through he missed the 'come' signal, but on the second run through his heeling was good - very good; he got all of his signals; and even trotted in on the 'come' instead of walking. I'm seeing a lot of improvement in his heeling these days. I've been keeping him on lead about 90% of the time we do heeling in practice. I think this has really helped his staying close to me and not lagging. And, I'm much more confident about his signals now then I was a couple months ago.

Articles - He got the correct articles on both run-throughs. The first one he was slower to work the pile, but got the correct articles. The second run-through he went directly to the correct articles and picked them up. He's still slow out and back, but maybe more speed will come as he becomes more confident and less stressed.

Directed Retrieve - Good on both retrieves. His pivots were good and the going out to retrieve was brisk. The return with the glove - not so brisk.

Moving stand - He anticipated the stand command in the first run-through - twice. At least he knows the exercise! The second run-through, we did a 'fake out,' then a real one. He was good with it this time.

Directed jumping - All of his go outs were good - brisk, straight and all the way to the wall (although he does slow down when he gets about 10 feet from the wall). Sits were slow, but he did sit, and all the jumps were good.

Overall, I'm seeing improvement - much improvement over his performance at last Friday's fun match! I still think the biggest thing we need to work on is building confidence, so we'll keep doing what we've been doing in practice and try to get out more to different places to work in new kinds of environments with different distractions.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

High Fives - progressing

We were practicing at the club today on our 'tricks' - especially our 'high fives' - and managed to get this short video clip. He's starting to distinquish now between the signals for raising the left and right feet. I think the next step we will work on is for me to cue him with my legs instead of my hands. I'll have to look at Honey the Great Dane's freestyle video again to see how that's done : ) We're also starting to work on the 'backing' on signal, but we haven't progressed very far yet with that. He's just starting to get the idea and backing up a few steps now.

This is a nice break from the more serious utility training. Wish I could figure out how to make that more fun and games : ) I think the difference is that there is no right or wrong when teaching tricks - you just go with the flow and reward the responses you like.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fun Match tonight - D+

Jackson - waiting for his turn to go in the ring!

There was a fun match at the club where I train tonight so I did a run through to see where Jackson and I were at with our training. I've been trying to figure out a way to put a positive spin on tonight's activities, but am having some difficulty with that. But, here goes...

It started out pretty good with the heeling and signal exercise. The heeling was not his best, but okay - considering the match was more stressful than regular training. The 'down' and 'sit' signals were good, but he needed a second command on the 'come.' Although he did trot in to me instead of walk.

Things took a dip with the articles. The first article actually was not bad - very slow, but he went to work and got the correct article. He had problems with the second article though so I had to go out and show him the correct article. If I had waited him out, I think he might have gotten it, but since he knows his articles, I want him to learn that he needs to go right to work and find it - not to keep circling the pile or standing looking over at what's going on in the next ring!

Okay, so then it was the directed retrieve (glove) exercise. His pivot was not good, but he retrieved the correct glove. On to the moving stand - he locks up beautifully on the stand signal, but sometimes anticipates when it's coming, which I think he did tonight. And then he surprised me by not coming to heel on the first command. That's a new one! He did come - although slowly - on the second command.

The directed jumping was the last exercise. His go outs were good (straight and all the way to the gates), but he did not sit on the first go out, so I went out and physically put him in a sit, then we retried it. He did sit on the next two go outs - although slowly - and both jumps were good.

I'm still frustrated with the lack of speed on the exercises. Even though I can get some speed in our practice sessions, it just disappears in a trialing situation. Overall though, it was an improvement over the February trial when he avoided looking at me for signals and he refused the jump. So, I guess when I compare it to that - he is making some progress : ) Still, a long way to go I think until we're ready to enter another trial.

Holistic vet care update

Thought I would take a minute to give an update on Jackson's holistic healthcare treatments.

After several months of recurring lameness issues from an undetermined cause and after visits and treatment (x-rays, Rimadyl and rest, etc.) by our regular vet, I decided to try the holistic approach. We had our first holistic healthcare visit in March of this year. He was evaluated and given spinal manipulation therapy and acupuncture on that visit. Incidently, he weighed 165 pounds at that time.

We had a follow-up visit two weeks later with the same treatments. Prior to the follow-up visit we began seeing improvement in his movements and have seen no signs of lameness since shortly after the first treatment. We started back with our regular training routine, which included the 24-inch jumps heights. I had either not been jumping him, or had lowered the jumps considerably because of the lameness issues over the previous couple months.

Today was our third visit for treatments. The holistic vet that treats him has been somewhat surprised at his positive response to the treatments and that he is no longer showing any signs of lameness. In fact, she asked if she could take a photo of him for a presentation that she is preparing and use him as a case study! However, she did say when she took his pulse, that it was more rapid and not as strong as she would expect with a big dog. This could mean that there are still some health issues going on with him. Incidently, he weighed in at 173 pounds today. Probably not a good weight for a performance dog. Even though he doesn't look overweight, I think it would be best to try to get him back down to 165.

Now, I must also say that at the time we started the holistic treatments, I also started him on Dasuquin - a joint health supplement for dogs that goes above and beyond the traditional glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate products on the market and is only available through a vet. So... maybe the Dasuquin was responsible for the improvement. Or, maybe he would have responded the same if I had done nothing at all ????? Or, maybe it was in fact the holistic treatments????