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!)