Thursday, December 31, 2009

Action plan for the new year

Well, now that we have our goal for 2010 - obtaining the UDX - I guess we need an action plan to get us to that goal. There are so many skills that we need to work on, it's difficult to decide on our top priorities. However, I've narrowed it down to these three to really focus on this winter.

1) Attention - This is really a basic, but continues to be our top priority. My plan is to do attention exercises in five to ten minute sessions twice a day - at least. These exercises include working attention sitting in heel position and also with fronts using clicker and treats. I do this at home and whenever we are out among distractions. My goal over the next couple months is to increase the length of time I can keep his attention - with and without distractions.

2) Targeting - I've been working on Jackson targeting my finger. I have been using this to improve his position in heeling and also to help him with straight fronts. He seems to be catching on quite quickly with targeting my finger in heeling. Sometimes I have a treat in my hand to give him when he touches my finger while heeling and sometimes I don't. I hold my hand at my waist when heeling so I'm hoping this transitions over to his focusing on my hand when heeling. He's never done a 'heads up, look at your face' kind of heeling, so if I can get his attention on my hand it should keep him in good heel position.

3) Speed - This is a tough one - but I'm not giving up on it : ) I am experimenting with ways to get him moving away from me to go to the article pile, retrieve the dumbbell, and on the go-outs. I'm using the restrained send and trying to rev him up to go away from me faster. I'm also running with him sometimes to try to show him what I want. On the return to me with the article or dumbbell, I am jackpotting him for trotting instead of walking. These things seem to be working well in practice, although I haven't seen a lot of carry over when I do the exercises quietly - as in the trial setting. I'm hoping we can build muscle memory with the practice and maybe eventually see increased briskness in the trials.

I'm thinking if we can make progress in these areas, the rest of it will fall into place. Anyway, it will surely keep us busy this new year.

Wishing everyone happy training in the new year!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Can one dog teach another dog to retrieve?

I think so.....or is it just a coincidence ????? I've started training Jolee (Jackson's sister) to retrieve the dumbbell. She has her CD title, so the next step is Open, which requires the dumbbell retrieve. Her personality is so different from Jackson's, that I've decided to try training her with some different techniques, and I think it's fun and educational for me to experiment with various training methods.

At first I tried opening her mouth and putting the dumbbell in it to get her used to the feel of it. That did not go so well. She was fighting any attempts to put something in her mouth. So, then I got the clicker out, and thought I would try clicker training the retrieve. Now, I don't have a lot of experience with clicker training but thought it would be fun to try. After just a few sessions with clicking and treating her for offering behaviors with the dumbbell, we progressed from standing over it, pawing it, and then pushing it with her nose. However, she wasn't offering to pick it up. (Maybe I'm just not patient enough to do clicker training.)

Anyway, I thought I would set her up close to the dumbbell and have her watch Jackson retrieve it a few times. I would jackpot Jackson when he brought it back to me just to make things more interesting to her. Then, I tossed the dumbbell for Jolee and, much to my surprise, she ran out, picked it up and came running back to me with it for her jackpot! 'Wow,' I thought, maybe Jackson can help teach Jolee to retrieve. She did that several times - sometimes grabbing it by the end instead of the middle and then dropping it before she got back to me, however, always very happily retrieving it.

Now, folks who have naturally retrieving dogs are probably thinking, "Duh, you throw anything and a dog is going to go get it!" Well, not necessarily. Our dogs have never been natural 'retrievers.' When we throw something, they are most likely to stand and look at it or they may in some cases follow it and sniff it. But, never pick it up. So, I'm thinking, this is progress. But now I'm wondering, where do we go from here ??????

Monday, December 14, 2009

Going public with our 2010 Goal!

I know it's a couple weeks before the beginning of the new year, but since I've made my decision about our new year's goal, I thought I might as well update the blog title and go public with our 2010 goal. (Also, thought it was about time to change the header photo to reflect the current season : )

Our goal for 2010 is to earn the elusive AKC UDX title! I know it is going to be quite a challenge for us, so now I've really got to get to work to develop a training plan that will help get us to that goal.

With that in mind, today Jackson and I are beginning one of our winter training projects that can be done twice daily here at home. I'm going back to basics with some attention training. I've just reread Building A Bridge from Training to Testing by Smith and Bosbyshell, and plan to work through their 10 stages of attention training. I'm going to see if we can strengthen our bond through more focused attention. Will let you know how that's going : )

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Update/random thoughts on training

After a long week off from training due to bad weather, we were back at the club yesterday to do some training. I'm beginning to think that having a few days off is a good thing because he was really up and attentive, and working much better. I guess we all need a vacation sometimes : )

I've been trying some new things lately, thanks to suggestions from Kim at doberkim blog. One of those things - I've started doing a restrained send on several of the exercises, and it is really speeding him up! I have used restraint previously on long recalls and in play to warm him up at the beginning of training sessions, but since dogs don't seem to generalize, it was not carrying over to the exercises themselves so it did not become a part of our regular routine. What's new about it now is, I'm incorporating it into the exercises themselves. Now, when I send him to the article pile or to the go out location and on the dumbbell retrieves, I hold onto his collar while I tell him 'ready, ready, ready..... GO!' When I let go, his moving away from me is much brisker.

I've combined that with special treats, which has also helped. The combination of a treat at the go out location and the restrained send gets him actually running to the location. And, the jackpotting him when he trots back with an article appears to be working too. This is actually quite a change from his former slooow walk to the pile and sloooow walk back with the article. A test to see how well any of this will carry over with distractions and stress, may come next Saturday when we have a fun match at a new location.

Something else I'm trying to do is to make the fun match/ring experiences look more like training. Instead of going into the fun match and acting like I would in a trial, I'm going to help him more and have treats. In other words - make training look more like trialing, and trialing look more like training. Not an original thought, I read that somewhere - I believe it was in Front & Finish. I think that approach might help both me and Jackson with handling stress. Maybe that's why working in the ring with a 'judge' has been a scary, stressful experience for him - because it looks so different from training. If I can make fun matches more fun and less stressful, and make training look more like trialing sometimes, perhaps he'll have a better attitude whenever he goes into the ring.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snowy day project

Winter has arrived in the Midwest! We are having our first major snow event of the season today and tomorrow. They are even using the 'b' word - blizzard, to describe conditions. So, it's a good time to sit down at the computer and work on Jackson's presents for his special friends at the care center.

I have mentioned previously that Jackson is a certified therapy dog with TDI (Therapy Dogs International). He visits residents at a local care center every other week and recently completed his 50th visit, so we can now put TDIA (Therapy Dogs International Active) after his name : )

I've been trying to come up with an idea for a little something we can leave with them on our next visit. I'm not a 'crafty' person, but I came across a kit at Hobby Lobby the other day for felt Christmas tree ornaments that can be assembled with a picture in them. I had noticed on our visit last week that most of the residents had Christmas decorations in their rooms, so I thought they might enjoy an ornament with Jackson's picture in it to decorate their tree or bulletin board.

I got busy with my Photoshop program and came up with a picture to put in the ornament, and am now in the process of assembling the ornaments to give to our friends on our visit next week.

Seasons Greetings from Jackson and me!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's full speed ahead

After several days to reflect on our performance at the recent trial in our club building, I've decided to go full speed ahead with our training with the goal - dare I say it - of earning the UDX (Utility Dog Excellent) title in 2010! I was somewhat disappointed with our performance at the trial earlier this month, which left me wondering about our future goals. However, I've been happy with our training since then, so I still have a glimmer of hope that we can do this.

We had our last utility class of the year tonight. So, it was a good time to reflect back over the last several months to see what progress we have made. It has really been helpful for him to work with the distractions and stress presented by the class situation. And, overall, I can see that he is working with much more confidence than he was a few months ago.

We started the class out tonight with heeling and signals with all the dogs in the ring. His signals were good - good attention and no misses. I'm still dealing with some lagging and slow sits on heeling at times, which tells me that he is still somewhat stressed with the distractions/activity in the class, although he is improving.

We then paired up to do articles, so there were four dogs working articles in the ring at the same time. Great for distractions! Jackson did the best he's done with articles tonight. No circling at all. He went right to work and got the correct article each time. We even threw in the distraction of having someone stand in the middle of the article pile. This is the same dog that a few months ago would circle the pile at least a dozen times before starting to work the pile.

The directed retrieve exercise went really well. Good pivots and retrieve of the gloves, with nice fronts and finishes tonight. The directed jumping also went well, except for one minor blip. His go outs were good and he had good speed heading for the first jump. Then he stopped short at the bar jump. We redid it and he took the jump fine, as well as the high jump. Did another set - all was good. It wasn't until I went to reset the jump for the next dog that I realized the jump had been set at 26 inches instead of the usual 24 inches. Maybe it was the extra two inches that threw him off the first jump.

Overall, I was very happy with his performance at this last class of the year. Sometimes I have to look back quite a ways to see the progress, but when I do look back, I can see that he really has come a long way. It gives me hope that we can accomplish our 2010 goal : )