Friday, October 30, 2009

Picking a winter project

We're back at the club training regularly - trying to pick out one or two things to really focus on. In her recent newsletter, Susan Garrett talked about her winter training projects. Susan does agility, but has lots of good information in her posts that applies to obedience training and developing a relationship with your dog that I have really found helpful. Her winter training plan involves picking a new behavior you'd like to teach or a behavior you wish to change and then work at least two, 15 minute sessions a day, five days a week during the winter on that behavior.

So, I'm trying to pick a winter training project for Jackson. My challenge is training twice a day in the winter. Since the weather here is not conducive to training outdoors in the winter, I'm trying to think of a behavior that I can work on in the house. That in itself has some challenges when you have three Great Danes in the house and you need to separate one of them to train : )
I'm narrowing it down to the following:
1) Attention with/without treats and with distractions;
2) Touch (training Jackson to touch my chest at a point that gives him perfect fronts);
3) Pivots; or
4) Finishes to perfect heel position.

He loses a lot of points in the trials because of slow, crooked fronts and sits, so if we can get these fixed, we'll do a lot better in trials. I'll let you know what I end up choosing and how it goes.

Last night in utility class and today at the club we worked on articles. No problem with these in practice. No circling - even with distractions of other dogs working in the ring. I obviously need to take this on the road - go to new places with distractions, like the local pet store where he gets really distracted just walking through the store. I want to start going there once a week just to do articles somewhere in the store. And, we have some fun matches coming up locally this next month, so these will be good opportunities to train in a more trial-like setting.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

We're back!

After taking a couple weeks off to regroup, we are back with a new plan and new goals. We love to train, so we needed to set some new goals to help us focus.

We had already entered a three-day-trial this weekend before we earned our UD two weeks ago, so we decided to go ahead and go to the trials and just relax and have fun. Since we didn't need any more qualifying legs, I thought it would be less stressful and I could just see how things would go. Besides relaxing and having fun, my goals for Jackson this weekend were to get some consistency in qualifying and improve his performance. Well, we didn't get the consistency, but I was very happy that we fixed his endlessly circling the article pile behavior - at least I think we've fixed it.

His circling the article pile became increasingly worse with each of the last few trials. The judges have been willing to let him continue his circling - and even sometimes walking away from the pile to survey the audience - as long as he kept moving and came back to the pile and picked up the correct article. However, I had decided that he just couldn't continue that behavior, if we hoped to keep competing at the UD level. I do allow him to circle the pile once in practice because he air scents. In practice, he will usually circle the pile once and then go directly to the scented article without sniffing any others. However in a trial setting, he will circle endlessly. So, the first two days of this weekend trial became training opportunities for us. Now, you cannot 'train' in the ring at an AKC trial, but some judges will let you give second commands, which will automatically NQ you, but it will give you an opportunity to interrupt a behavior you don't want to see. Another thing that was really helpful this weekend was the club rented ring time after the trials Friday and Saturday, so you could 'rent' the ring for 5 or 10 minutes to work on some things.

Day 1 trial - First article - He circled the pile a few times and walked away from the pile, so when the judge motioned for me to call him in, I gave him a second command to 'find it' and the judge allowed him to go back to the pile and pick up the correct article. Second article - When he started his second circle around the pile, I again gave a 'find it' command and the judge allowed him to go back to the pile and pick up the correct article. Sometimes judges will not let the dogs go back to the pile.They will have you call them in without the article. I was fortunate this weekend to have judges that allowed him to finish the exercise.

He doesn't appear to be stressed. He just seems to be really distracted and more interested in looking around than working. To impress upon him that he had a job to do out there, we worked on this in the ring rental time later that day. One of my friends from our training club helped me with this by setting up the ring like it was a regular trial so we could get the behavior. When he started his circling routine, I didn't say anything to him, I just walked out, picked up the correct article and tossed it out of the pile. Then I took hold of his collar, took him to the article and told him to 'take it' in no uncertain terms. Now, to him, that's a correction and seemed to get the message across to him that he was expected to go out and retrieve something. We did a couple more articles and he went right to work - no circling. Then our five minutes was up.

Day 2 trial - He NQd right off the bat when he missed the come signal, so I did not hesitate to give him a second command when he started to walk away from the article pile on the first article. He went back to the pile and picked up the correct article. Second article - he went directly to the pile and picked up the correct article. Hmmm, I think he might be getting it : )

I rented the ring again after the trial to work on articles some more. No corrections needed this time - he went to work immediately without circling. Maybe there's hope for qualifying the third day. I think fun matches are essential in training because you get those types of behaviors in the ring that you don't see in practice, and there's not a lot you can do to correct it when you're in the trial.

Day 3 trial - He qualified! More importantly, he did not circle the pile. I'm thinking - this is a breakthrough! I've not posted videos of his scent discrimination exercises before because they go on and on and on - sometimes for 3-4 minutes. Yikes! However, today's second article took only 39 seconds!

Our Goals -
Okay, our short term goal is to improve his performance of some of the exercises that we are having problems with. They are sometimes good enough for him to qualify, but we still need to work on precision, consistency and of course speed. So, our plan is to continue training the utility exercises through the winter to try to get more precision and speed. If the training goes well, we will try working on our UDX next spring.

For those not familiar with the AKC UDX title, it entails qualifying in both Open B and Utility B at the same trial on the same day - 10 times. It is an awesome challenge for us. I believe there are only a few male Great Danes that have achieved a UDX title, so we have a lot of work ahead of us if we're going to try for that.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

We Did It !!!!

Jackson's quest for the UD ended today when he qualified for his 3rd leg and UD title at a trial in Mason City. WAAHOOOO! Novice A to UD - what a trip! That was my goal for 2009 - to get Jackson's Utility Dog title, and we made it with a couple months to spare! Now, I'm going to have to sit back for awhile and try to figure out where we go from here.

Will let you know what comes next : )

Jackson getting his awards for qualifying for his 3rd leg - and UD title. He was the only qualifier at this trial, so he also got a blue ribbon!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Utility Class Tonight

There were no utility classes last week due to the weekend trials, so it had been two weeks since our last class. I was hoping to see some progress in his attitude and behavior since our last class. Just looking at it from week to week it's hard sometimes to see progress. However, if I look back a few weeks or months, I can really see how far we have come.

We started out with heeling and signals. There are 7-8 dogs in the class, so the ring is pretty full and can be very distracting for him. His heeling tonight was better than usual - not as much lagging, although still some, and his signals were all good. It's hard for him to pay attention to me sometimes with all the distractions. He gets worried about people and dogs moving around behind him, but tonight he did really well with the attention.

Then we paired up to do articles. Other dogs were working articles in the ring so plenty of distractions. He did good though. He just circled the pile once each time before putting his head down and starting to work the pile. No endless circling like he did at the trials last weekend.

The remaining exercises - moving stand, directed retrieve and directed jumping - were all pretty good. I was getting some really slow sits on the go-outs though. Not sure what his problem was tonight. The sits on go-outs have been improving lately, so this was a little unexpected.

Overall, I thought he seemed more confident tonight than he has previously in class, so that was progress. Maybe working through the level of distractions and stress he experienced last weekend at the trials helped to boost his confidence - making it a little easier this time : )

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A character-building experience!

This weekend of trials was a real character-building experience for Jackson, and a learning experience for me. I had fun, but Jackson was a nervous wreck! I have mentioned previously about his irrational fear of agility equipment. Well, I did not know until we arrived at the trial site that they were also holding an agility trial in the same building - across the aisle from the obedience rings. Now, if you've ever been to an indoor agility trial in a horse arena, you know the air is filled with dust and the noise is bouncing off the walls. Add to that Jackson's fear of agility and you have a recipe for an 'interesting' weekend.

In a recent post, I wrote about adding more distractions to the exercises, especially the scent discrimination exercise. Little did I know that we would be facing the 'mother' of all distractions this weekend! Having said that, I thought, " Oh well, we're here now so let's see what we can learn from this."

Both days he was very, very stressed. So stressed he was trembling most of the time and I was afraid he was going to have a panic attack! Aside from that, I was pleased with the fact that he was able to hold it together enough to do most of the exercises. He didn't qualify either day, but I know now which exercises he is really solid on and which ones he had trouble working through.

The moving stand and the directed retrieve (gloves) were very solid both days. His heeling and signals were good today, however, he NQd Saturday because he didn't go all the way down on the down signal.

The scent discrimination (articles) exercise was really difficult for him both days. Saturday he circled the pile 8 - 10 times before he finally picked up the correct article, so he passed that day. Today he started his circling routine, but came back to me without the article. NQ.

The directed jumping was interesting. Both days he did the first go-out and jump fine. But the second time out he didn't go far enough. It seems that it's the more complicated exercises where he has to 'think' and make decisions when he's away from me that give him the most problems when he's stressed.

Overall, I'm thinking that after this weekend's trial, the next trial should be a 'walk in the park' for Jackson : ) Here's a video of Jackson's heeling and signal exercise today. Some lagging on the heeling, but a lot less than I expected considering how stressed he was.

Lessons learned this weekend:
1) Always find out as much as you can about a trial - before you enter. Jackson needs to be in a less stressful setting if he's going to be able to perform the exercises.
2) On the other hand - if you find yourself in an unexpected situation, know that there are some valueable experiences you can take away from it that will help you in future training.
3) Nerves - It's not me! It really is the dog.
4) You always meet new people, make new friends, and catch up with those you've met previously. There's a lot of down time at a trial, so visiting with people sure makes the time go faster and makes the day more enjoyable :) That's a big part of why I enjoy going to trials. And, I love the camaraderie of the Utility A folks!

Now, for the news about Jolee. Jolee qualified today in Novice B. She now has her CD (Companion Dog) title! Here's a picture of Jolee and me with the judge.

CH Robindanes She's So Fine CD CGC aka Jolee