Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Weekend Trials - 1st leg!

I can't speak for Jackson, but I think the trials this past weekend were a real confidence builder for both of us. Recently, Susan Garrett posted on her dog training blog about the need to rehearse success to build confidence. So, that was our goal last weekend. I felt we needed to get back into the ring to try to find some success in doing the utility exercises under stress/with distractions. We had not been in a trial since last February - a trial where I discovered we had a lot of things that needed work, to put it mildly : )

I'm happy to report that we did find some success. Actually, I would have been happy to have just seen a lot of improvement, even if we didn't qualify. Needless to say though, I was thrilled when we qualified on Sunday and got our first UD leg! And, a First place no less - not because of our score, but we were the only one out of seven entered that qualified.

Overall, it was a great weekend. The trials were in Loveland, Colorado, which is quite a ways from where we live so I didn't know anyone at the trials. However, we met a lot of really nice people and found the show site and the judges to be super. (The reason we went so far for the trials is because we love the mountains and usually make a trek to Colorado each year anyway to get our 'fix' of mountains, so decided to combine the trip with a trial this time.)

There were two trials over the weekend. We NQ'd on the first trial because he did not go all the way down on the 'down' signal - he just sat. It was one of those, "He's never done that before" moments. He has missed the signal on occasion, but he's always gone completely down when he's started it. The rest of the exercises were pretty solid on the basics. He lost a lot of points both days though on lack of briskness, slow sits, crooked sits and some lagging , which was pretty much as I expected. Even though in practice we can get some speed and some good heeling without the lagging, everything really slows down under the stress of a trial.

I posted a couple short clips of the moving stand exercise and the directed retrieve (glove) exercise.

So, now we have a better idea of where we are, as far as progress we've made in performing the exercises. And, we know we need a lot of work to keep improving. It's really the same things we've been working on in the last few months - the basics (attention, heeling), building confidence and having fun! Maybe the briskness will come with the confidence : )

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Training for weekend trials

With only three days left to train for the weekend trials, we headed out to the club this afternoon. We have not done much of any training the last couple days because of the heat and humidity here - upper 90s and really humid! Judging from today's performance, that was maybe a good thing. Jackson was really up today and very focused.

Our training partners, Melody and her mom Trudy, were at the club too. After we warmed up a bit, Trudy gave us a run-thru - no treats, no cheerleading, etc. - just like in a trial. Our heeling and signals were good - really good. He was slow working the article pile, but he got the correct article both times. The glove and moving stand were also passing. The pivot on the glove exercise was good and he was fast going out, but slow coming back. The last exercise, the directed jumping was good. His go outs are getting much brisker and he is sitting - slow, but he does sit. The jumps were both good. I think the throwing treats between my legs to speed him up coming in from the jumps is paying off. His speed on the jumps is much brisker.

This is where we needed to be for me to feel comfortable going into a trial. He has shown me that he is capable of doing all the utility exercises quite well -- in practice. I expect less speed in a trial environment and I know things may go south in the actual trial, but at least I'm confident that we have a chance of passing each of the basic elements. And, I'm afraid if we wait for speed on everything, we may never get in the ring!

So, my goals for the trials this weekend are:
1) I'd like to see a happy, confident dog in the ring - which means I need to be happy and confident. (I know - that's going to be tough :)
2) I'd like to see significant improvement over our last trial experience in February - improvement in his attention to me, especially on the signals and directed jumping.
3) I'm really hoping to see some improvement in my handling skills, especially with heeling. I will try to focus on what I'm doing and how I'm moving when I go in the ring so as to not confuse or stress him. This is the one thing that I have control over.
4) And, to have FUN!

I'm looking forward to the opportunity to see where we're at in training and trialing, so I can evaluate our progress and develop a training plan for the rest of the summer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Utility Class - Week 2

A new utility class session started last week and tonight was our second week of the session. I was pleased with the improvement I saw during the last session, so am hopeful that we will continue along those lines in this session.

Tonight's class went well. We started out with the signal exercise. Half the class was on one side of the ring and the other half on the opposite side. We heeled past each other then turned and stood our dogs, left them and went to the opposite side of the ring. With the first set, we all gave the signals at the same time. The second set was more difficult because everyone was giving their dog the signals at different times. This really requires that the dog pays attention to their handler - not to the dog next to them or other handlers' signals. Fortunately, Jackson had been practicing this with his training partner, Melody, and passed with flying colors :)

After the signal exercise, we paired up and helped each other do the articles, gloves and directed jumping exercises. On the articles exercise, Jackson walked around the pile once, then went to work sniffing the articles until he found the correct article. To see the progress on this, I have to look back to one of the classes early in the first session where I watched him circle the pile more than a dozen times - without ever going to work!

The glove exercise is coming along nicely. His pivots are much improved. I'd like to see some more speed coming back, but I'm not stressing about it at this point. I'm hoping that will come with more confidence.

The go outs for the directed jumping exercise were good. Sits are still slow, but at least he's sitting. I just haven't figured out a way to speed up those sits. If I move in closer to him to give the command, he'll sit faster, but the further back from him I am, the slower the sit. The directed jumping on both jumps was good. He has been coming in from the jump really slow, but I've started throwing a treat between my legs and he has speeded up some.

Overall, I'm pleased enough with his performance in practice that I've entered a trial the weekend of June 27-28. I know we're still not where I'd like to be, but I think we need to get back in a trial and start practicing some success in some of the exercises. Maybe it will give us both more confidence :)

Training Notes: I have seven days to practice before the trial, so I think I'll focus on -
1) practicing articles and signals in a new location each day.
2) losing the formality with the returns from the article pile, gloves, and jumps to get more speed on the returns.
3) trying to get him revved up!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fun Match Sunday

We drove over to Omaha this morning for a fun match. It's about a two-hour drive but I thought it would be worth it to do a run-through in a different building. Jackson really needs the exposure to new places and new distractions. This was good, because it was kinda like a real show, but I could do some training in the ring.

Heeling and signals - He was lagging at times, which seems to happen frequently when he is at a trial. There were a lot of distractions due to the way the ring was set up. It was open on three sides with an active ring adjacent on one of the sides, and the fourth side was a wall - but it was a wall of mirrors! His signals were good though - (first exercise passed :)

Articles - The bottom line - he got both articles, but... he circled the pile and stopped at times to survey the building. After watching him circle the pile two to three times I told him to 'get to work.' At which time he went directly to the article, picked it up and brought it back to me - both times. I definitely need to get to new and different places several times a week so he can learn to work through distractions. That's my primary training goal for next week!

Gloves - Good pivot to the number 3 glove, and as usual - fast out, sloooow back. (another exercise passed :)

Moving stand - excellent! (third exercise passed :)

And, the last exercise - Directed jumping - His go out was toward the active ring so I was surprised that it was straight and brisk. Although his sit was very, very slow. In fact on the first go out I had to give him a second sit command. But, both jumps were good. (iffy on whether or not that would have passed :)

Overall, I was pleased. It really helped me see the things that we still need to work on, but I thought he did pretty well for it being a new, distracting place. Definitely worth the trip over.

Training notes for next week -
Articles, articles, articles

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Clicker training update

I got so inspired by the great feedback from Hsin-Yi on clicker training the glove retrieve, that I've gone back to square one with the exercise using the clicker. Since he already knows the glove retrieve exercise, I'm not sure what to make of his progress. Since I'm not directing him to pick up the glove and bring it to me, he is making that choice on his own. Not sure though if he's doing it for the reward, or if it's because he knows that's what is expected.

When I first started this exercise he just stood close to me for a couple or three minutes before he ventured out to pick up the glove. (That's the point at which the video clip begins.) I've read that is typical of 'traditional' trained dogs. They may be less willing to try new things for fear of getting it wrong and depend more on direction from the handler. Anyway, here's a clip of the updated glove retrieve with the clicker.

And, as Hsin-Yi has suggested, I'm going to next try it with a different object to see if the response is different using an unfamiliar object.

Stay tuned : )

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Clicker training and Jackson

Several months ago I happened upon my old clicker and tried to do some clicker training with Jackson. At that time he acted like he did not like the sound and backed off from it rather that associate it with good things. So, I put it away - thinking it was not a tool I would be able to use with him. Well, I happened upon it again a week or so ago and thought I'd try it once more. This time there was no aversion to it at all and I proceeded to introduce him to it and get him to associate it with good treats. I've also dug out all my clicker training articles and links to online resources to review. I'm happy to say, I think we're on the road to doing some clicker training.

Previously, I was doing somewhat of a modified version of it using the word 'yes' instead of the clicker to mark the behavior I was trying to shape. I think the timing with the clicker is going to be better than my verbal marker - and more neutral. So, with that in mind I've picked out a behavior that I'm trying to shape - it is the 'look up' front with the glove or article in his mouth. Now, 'look up' fronts seem to come natural to a lot of obedience dogs - but not Jackson. I've had to really work to get these fronts on recalls and now he is consistently giving them to me. However, if he has a glove or article in his mouth he will not look up when he comes to front.

I think the 'look up' front is important for him to learn because it really helps him come in straighter and to sit straight. Below is a video clip of today's training. Now, keep in mind I am a real newbie at this so if anyone has any observations or suggestions that will help me with the clicker training aspect of it, please don't hesitate to let me know : ) Even though I've only been working on this behavior for a few days, I have seen improvement in his fronts when he has a glove in his mouth. Prevously, he would never look up at my face when he came to front, he would have his head down and tend to look to the side.

Now, if I can get this behavior shaped through clicker training, maybe I can figure out a way to reward him for briskness with the clicker : )

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Directed jumping practice

When we were at the club today I managed to get a short video clip of us practicing the directed jumping exercise. This exercise includes the go out, sit, jump, front and finish. It's done twice - once with the bar jump and once with the high jump.

The clip is of the go out with the bar jump. I'm still helping him by following him out a few steps to give the sit command, otherwise, he stands there for too long before he sits. And I'm also trying to figure out a way to speed him up on the jump part. I can run away, throw treats, etc., which can speed him up some in practice but has not carried over to the more formal exercise. (The barking dog noise heard in the background is just an audio tape of trial noises.)

I saw posted at the club today a notice for a fun match next weekend in a city a couple hours away. I'm thinking it might be worth the trip over to help us prepare for an upcoming trial. So, that's my plan now, to try a fun match in a new setting to see how we do.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Training - Friday

I'm finding that heeling with the metronome is really keeping my pace more even, and faster. It seems to be especially effective when I'm practicing the about, left and right turns, as it is helping me keep up my pace coming out of the turns. The heeling seems to be going smoother now - partly because of the metronome and partly because I am really trying to pay closer attention to how I'm moving.

We were training at the club this afternoon, although we have been out to the fairgrounds and to a park this week. The smooth even floor surface makes it easier to practice the heeling and turns in a ring, however, the training outdoors in new places has also helped Jackson work with distractions. When we are working outdoors, he tends to slow down and look around, so I'm hoping that training outdoors routinely will help him work through the distractions.

Susan Garrett talks about something called “Buck Fever” in her dog training blog. This is when 'a marksman on the practice range can hit any target in any situation or environmental stressor. However put that same shooter out in the bush with the adrenaline pumping and he can’t hit the broad side of a barn.' She likened this to how handlers can do good in practice, but in the trial environment, it sometimes falls apart. The remedy - success. The more you rehearse being at a trial and performing the exercises successfully, the more likely it is that you will be able to repeat it. So, with that in mind, we're starting to think that we need to look for some trials to enter - to start rehearsing success!