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.