Friday, August 28, 2009

Utility Class - Thursday

We missed last week's utility class because we were at the trials so I was wondering how he would do this week. The class is a real stresser for him so I was really pleased with the article exercise. The first article, he circled the pile once so I told him to get to work, which he did and got the correct article. I'm trying to break his habit of circling the pile more than once. I was surprised on the second article when he did not circle, but went directly to the article and picked it up. Hmmmm.... maybe that jackpotting is paying off. In practice lately, I've been putting a treat in the pile so he'll go directly into the pile and jackpotting him with a very high value reward as soon as he picks up the correct article.

The signals were not so good. We were doing signals with other dogs in the ring and with distractions outside the ring. It was too distracting and stressful for him to ignore them and just pay attention to me. Something we need to keep working on - doing signals with distractions.

The go-outs were not too bad. But we still need to work on him going all the way out to the gates/wall before slowing down . I've been putting a treat out to help with this and I think it's improving his go-outs. Maybe if we keep at it for awhile, we'll build some muscle memory.

There's another trial coming up a week from Monday (Sept. 7). This trial is going to be held at the club where we train. Now, having the home-team advantage didn't help us much last February when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong : ) I'm hoping this time our training will have paid off and we'll have an improved performance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A confidence-building weekend .... and 2nd Leg!

This weekend of trials really was great for building confidence - mine and Jackson's. By the end of the weekend (today) I could see where we had made a lot of improvement in our performance in the ring when compared to where we were a few months ago, and we have one more leg toward our Utility Dog (UD) title to show for it! Yay, only one more leg to go : )

We're still getting lots of points off for lagging, crooked sits, lack of briskness, etc. (all those stress-related behaviors) but, we had good solid performances on the basics of each exercise - just not always on the same day though! After our first trial Friday, I thought we were in for a long weekend (not a good thing). The building where the trials were held was really nice - only three rings and lots of room to set up crates and to warm up. The problem for Jackson was the go-outs were toward an active ring - not a wall like we're used to in practice. So, the first trial we were doing pretty good until we got to the go-outs. The first go-out was barely the minimum distance past the jumps. He performed that jump okay. But, on the second go out, he just wasn't going to go anywhere near that other ring so was not far enough out to take the jump. NQ for Friday. Lesson learned - practice go-outs to active rings with lots of distractions, not just to a blank wall!

Well, I was surprised Saturday when his go-outs were good. He had no problem going out toward the active ring. And, he performed all the other exercises satisfactorily, so we qualified and earned our second leg.

His performance at the trial today was his best ever, EXCEPT for one of the articles! He NQd today because he circled the pile one too many times without getting to work and the judge had me call him in. That's something we've been working on for quite a long time, and will continue to work on. When he's stressed he tends to circle more. The second article went much better. He circled the pile once, then went directly to the correct article, picked it up and brought it back. He passed the article exercises on the previous days without much problem, although he did circle a couple times before he went to work. I think the circling is an avoidance thing, but not sure.

The high points of the weekend -
1) His go-outs and sits at the second and third trial were great. We've been working a lot lately on speeding up the sits on the go-outs, so I was really pleased with his quick (for him anyway) sits on the go-outs. Today he only lost 2 points on the directed jumping exercise : )
2) The signals all three days were good. Another exercise I had been worried about and we had been working on quite a lot. The directed retrieve and the moving stand were also pretty solid.

Overall, I think we were able to practice some success in the ring that will help us continue building confidence. And, that was the main thing I had decided to work on lately - building confidence. I know he can do the exercises, if he is just confident enough in the ring to ignore the distractions and focus on the job at hand.

We had fun (at least I did!) I had convinced myself this was not a life and death matter - it was just an exercise to help us evaluate where we were in training. I used to get quite frustrated with him when his performance in the ring was so different than in training. Now, as I'm figuring out why he behaves the way he does when he's stressed, I'm trying to focus on what I can do in training and in the ring to help him work through the stress. Perhaps my lightening up will help : )

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fun Match today

We had a fun match at the club where we train this morning. It was an opportunity to see where we are in training. There were some areas where I was pleased with his performance, and there are still areas that need work. Overall, he is still stressed in a trial-like situation even if it's just a fun match at a place he is familiar with, so he really slows down. I don't know if we're ever going to get past that, so I'm thinking I will be less frustrated with him if I just expect him to slow down - although that seems like I'm giving up to some extent : )

On his heeling and signals - he lagged at times on the heeling and he anticipated the first signal. We restarted and his signals were fine when we tried it again. He is consistently trotting in on the recall from the signals with perfect fronts, which I am very happy about. A few months ago, he was consistently walking slowly in on the recall, so maybe there is something to that muscle memory thing. Now if we can just get it working on the heeling!

Articles - he was really slow going out and getting to work on the article pile. Stress again - seems like he's avoiding the correct article because he doesn't want to put his head down and pick it up, but eventually he picks up the correct article and walks in with it. The 'judge' said she had that problem with her dog and started putting a treat in the pile and jackpotting him when he came back with the correct article. That got her dog working faster. Hmmmm... I think I'll try that next week - got nothing to lose.

Gloves - He was fine with the glove exercise, although he walked in with the glove instead of trotting in like he does in practice. Stress!!!! Moving Stand - He anticipated so we did a few fake-outs. Then, his moving stand was fine.

Go-outs/directed jumping - His go-outs were straight, however, he slowed down to a walk before he got to the gates. His sits were slow, but he did sit and his jumps were good.

So, if this had been a trial he would have NQd on the signals and moving stand. He likely would have passed on the other exercises, but with lots of points off for lack of briskness on about every exercise.

Okay - we have three days to practice before we leave for the weekend trials. Not a lot of time to fix anything. I'm going to try the treats and jackpotting with the articles. The rest of the exercises, we'll keep doing what we've been doing, working to build confidence - and if we're lucky, some muscle memory. And, hopefully he will not be so stressed at the trial that he forgets everything we've practiced!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Training for attention and fast sits

I've decided to break down our training and just work on 2-3 things in a training session for awhile instead of doing all the utility exercises in each session. I think sometimes our training sessions are too long, and this will give us a chance to focus more on one skill at a time. Today our primary focus was on heeling and go-outs. I'm trying to break those skills down even further. I'm using the clicker and rewarding when he offers me attention in heel position - either sitting or moving. So, I spend some time with him sitting in heel position and each time he looks up at my face, I click and treat. He's not a dog that looks up at my face when heeling - never has - so when we're moving, I'm working on him targeting my hand, which is held at my waist. This is more achievable for him and when he's 'up' and attentive it looks good. If I do this enough, I'm hoping it will become his default position and he'll do it even when stressed in a trial.

We also worked on the go-outs with most of our concentration on speed and sits. I'm putting treats out at the go-out location to try to get his speed up and to keep it up all the way to the gates. When he doesn't have a target, he tends to slow down and walk the last several feet toward the gates. I also threw Bil Jac treats across the ring and/or I would run out with him. Then to work on the faster sits on the go-outs, yesterday I started running out toward him after I gave the sit command - not in a scary way to correct him. Rather in a playful way to give him a treat as soon as he starts sitting. Well, today his sits were quite a bit faster when I stayed back at the starting point. I'm wondering if it's just coincidence, or did the running out toward him with a treat yesterday result in the faster sits today ???? I probably won't know unless he becomes more consistent with the faster sits, but it seems worth it to keep doing that in training for awhile. (What have I got to lose : )

We have a fun match at the club where we train this Sunday. I'll be looking to see if I can see any improvement, especially in our problem areas - signals and the sits on the go-outs. I'm hoping for solid responses to signals, which I have been getting in practice, and reasonably quick sits on the go-outs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Back on track

After taking it easy for a few days, Jackson's urinary tract infection is completely cleared up (Aren't antibiotics great!) and we're back on track again with our training. We're looking forward to our next weekend of trials, which is August 21-23. I've been thinking a lot about what I need to do to prepare for the next trial - how I need to adjust our training to improve our performance. I keep going back to the theme of the Celeste Meade seminar that I attended a couple weeks ago - 'Attitude is Everything' - and I'm thinking that's where I need to put my effort now. I believe our biggest challenge is building confidence, so my plan for the next couple weeks is going to include lots of play training; trying to build drive; and pretty much making a game of everything.

This doesn't mean that I'm not concerned with more precision and doing the exercises correctly. I'm just going to try to achieve those goals with more games and rewards. I've been working on building drive lately with the 'get it' game. In this game, I throw a treat, Jackson runs after it, runs back and touches my finger, I throw another treat in the opposite direction, and so on. We do this at the beginning of our training session and it really gets him up and going - although if we do it for too long, it may have the side affect of tiring him out : )

Here's a clip of our 'get it' game this afternoon.

Fun matches for proofing are also going to be an important part of training. Fortunately we have two fun matches close to home prior to the trial weekend. We'll try to make the most of these to see how things are coming (if any of this is carrying over into a trial-like setting), and it will give me the opportunity to train in the ring on some things if needed.

Jolee's turn!
Since I introduced Jolee in the last blog, I thought I would follow-up a little on her training also. She needs one more leg (qualifying score) for her AKC CD (Companion Dog) title. Her personality is quite different from Jackson's, so I've been trying different things with her. I don't need to get her 'up' for training like I do Jackson. However, she needs a lot of proofing. We kinda jumped into trialing without doing a lot of fun matches or show and gos so her performance at the trials with all the distractions falls apart.

Here's a clip of Jolee's version of the 'get it' game.

And this is a clip of Jolee practicing heeling at the club today. Her heeling is great when she thinks I might have a treat in my hand, so we're working on attention without the treats and heeling with distractions.