Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rethinking our training goals

I'm rethinking one of the training goals we were going to work on this winter. Yup, it's the increasing speed goal. I'm not sure it's attainable, and in order to avoid the frustration of not meeting that goal, I've decided to not worry about it. In a way it seems that I am giving up, but if it's not realistic then maybe I should focus on other things.

What got me thinking about it is the performance I am getting when we train in a new facility or with something different occurring, and stress becomes a factor. For example, a couple days ago we were training at the club with a few people and decided to give each other run-throughs. Not a lot of distractions, but it was a different person acting as judge and a couple dogs and handlers in the building that Jackson is not familiar with. We were doing the Open exercises. The first exercise was the retrieve on flat. I threw the dumbbell and sent him. He proceeded to walk slowly out to the dumbbell, retrieve it and walk slowly back to me. And, that was pretty much the way the rest of the exercises went. Now, in practice he can be quite animated and I was hoping this would carry over to a trial-like setting, but with the addition of a bit of stress he defaults to operating in slow motion.

I have tried about everything under the sun - and what's frustrating - it works in practice, but doesn't work when he's stressed, i.e., in a trial setting. He's just a worrier. That's his personality, and it doesn't appear that any amount of exposure to new and different settings is going to change that. He's going on six years old now, and I just don't think we've got enough training years left to change that. So, having come to that realization, I've decided to focus on the other things. Oh, I'm going to keep rewarding him for speed and attitude in practice, but I'm not going to get frustrated when I don't get it in the trial.

Having said that, there are some bright spots. His fronts are awesome. Even with the article, glove or dumbbell in his mouth, he's coming in straight and close and looking up at my face when he sits. And, his heeling has improved a lot. Even with his slowing down on retrieves in the run-throughs, he was staying with me in heeling and did especially well on the figure 8.

We're entered in a trial next weekend. I had intended to wait until spring to trial, however, I saw there was a trial about 3 hours away that is limited to working group dogs. This is a small trial in an obedience building and not being held with a conformation show, so should be a fairly calm environment. Thought I would take advantage of the setting to try for our first UDX leg. How he does at this trial may also have me rethinking our overall goal of attaining a UDX this year. We'll just have to see how things go : )

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dumbbell training con't.

After a couple more sessions at home, we took our dumbbell training on the road. I was interested in seeing how Jolee would do with the training at a new location, so we went to the club today to train. I've really been surprised at the progress she's making with the dumbbell pick up and retrieve - although not always sure we're going in the right direction : ) I'm still not real coordinated with my clicker, but she seems to be getting the idea and offering me behaviors. I'm thinking, 'Wow, this is amazing stuff!' 

A couple things that I noticed today -
1) She's able to do it in a different setting - away from home; and
2) She's correcting her pick-up method herself. When she first started picking it up off the floor, it was consistently by the end of the dumbbell. Today at the club, she was consistenly picking it up in the middle - the way she's supposed to pick it up. She evidently figured out for herself that this was the most comfortable way to do it.

I'm working it from three different directions - taking it from my hand; picking it up off the floor; and retrieving the thrown dumbbell. My next goal is to start rewarding her for holding it longer. Here's a couple videos taken today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Training update - new facility

A small group of us that train together rented ring time at a training facility that we have only been in once for a fun match. We thought this would give us an opportunity to train our dogs in a new, unfamiliar building. There were five of us so we set up two ring areas to practice open and utility. There was a lot of agility equipment around the edges and the rings were divided by agility jumps instead of ring gates, so it was a really unique type of setting. Especially stressful for Jackson since he has this irrational fear of agility equipment - but good practice for him to work under stress.

We first warmed up with some heeling and signals with multiple dogs working in the ring at the same time. Good  practice for working with distractions and dogs needing to pay attention to their handler, not the other handlers' signals or to what the dog next to them is doing. He was anticipating and occasionally reacting to other handlers' signals. Good practice for him because he needs to learn to focus on me even when he is stressed.

We then practiced some utility exercises.

Go outs - He was not overly confident. I put a treat out for the first go out. He did that one fine. The next couple go outs though were off to the side, so I did a few from a shorter distance, and I put out another treat. This straightened up his go outs some. His jumps were good.

Gloves - He was fine with the gloves - except for the #3 glove, which was in the corner where the agility tunnel was.  He headed the right way but hesitated when he saw the tunnel, but with some encouragement, he went to it and picked it up. Did it again and he was fine the second time.

Articles -  The first article was good - slow, but he went right to work and got the correct article. On the second article, he started circling the pile. When he started on his second circle around the pile, I went right in and tossed the article out of the pile and took him to it. I was a little surprised that he started circling (I had hoped we were over that hurdle), but was glad for the opportunity to make the correction here instead of seeing him do it in a trial. The next two articles were perfect. He went right to the correct article both times and even trotted back.

The Open ring was a lot harder for him because he was really stressed by the 'look' of that ring - agility equipment all around edges of that ring. We started out with the drop on recall. His recall was slow, but his drop was fine.

Then we went to the broad jump. I don't know if it was the stripes painted on the boards, or the position of the jump, or just the ring set up in general, but he did not want to take the jump. In practice, he has never refused to take the jump so I know something about this jump really stressed him. We shortened it and I put the lead on him and ran over it with him a couple times. Finally got him so he would take the jump. Added the fourth board back in and did a couple formal jumps that were good.

Heel off lead/figure 8 - He stayed in pretty good heel position even though he was stressed. Lagged some though at particular areas of the ring.

Retrieve over High - Slow pick up, but his return over the high was good and his front was good.

Retrieve on Flat - Good retrieve and return.

Overall - This was an excellent training experience for Jackson. He was really stressed by the new location, with all it's 'scary' distractions. But, this is what he needs - to build confidence and learn to work through the stress - and know that he will survive! I was seeing the same behavior and attitude that I get when we go to a trial, so it was good to be able to train through it.

Since we were all experiencing some distraction problems with our dogs, we thought this was a good training experience, and have scheduled another training session at this facility next week. I will be interested to see if he will be more relaxed and if there is improvement in his performance of the exercises.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

When it's too cold to go outside .....

We have been in the deep freeze lately with the temperature being minus 16 degrees F last night (I believe that's about - 26 C). So, a good time to stay inside and work off excess energy by training the dumbbell pick-up. Actually, I had to wake Jolee up to do this training. (I'm thankful this time of year that my dogs are couch potatoes and do not need to get out and run off pent-up energy :)

As I've mentioned previously, I'm experimenting with various ways to teach the dumbbell retrieve to Jolee using clicker training. I'm probably going about it backwards, but we are having fun. In the first session, I put the dumbbell on the floor and clicked and treated for any interest in it (walking toward it, standing over it, sniffing it, etc.). In the next few sessions, I clicked and treated for pushing it with her nose, pawing it, licking and mouthing it. Then, today for the first time, she picked it up off the floor. I clicked and treated for any time she actually picked it up.

This first video is how she started out with the pushing it around.

In the second session, she started picking it up off the floor. Even though she's picking it up by the end instead of the middle, I'm clicking and treating for any pick-up.

At the end of the session today, I held it and asked her to take it from my hand. To my surprise, she took it right away. I think she is starting to associate taking the dumbbell with good stuff.

So, in summary, we've moved from her not wanting to have anything to do with the dumbbell, especially not having it put in her mouth, to enthusiastically picking it up when she thinks there may be a treat in it for her. I'm wondering now what I should do in our next session. Maybe I should work on having her take it from my hand and holding it. Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated. This clicker training is new ground for me :)