Monday, March 29, 2010

Five-a-day challenge

I saw the five-a-day challenge referenced on a blog recently - can't remember which blog - but it motivated me to try it. It's basically doing five short training sessions per day to work on a behavior. I've had trouble sticking to multiple short training sessions per day even though I do believe they are more productive than the 'marathon' sessions I tend to do at the club. Now that the weather is conducive to being outdoors, I think it'll be much easier to just step outside for a few minutes and train. I've decided to commit to doing this for at least one week and see if I can maintain a schedule.

The behavior I'm going to work on this week is attention. Yes, it's back to basics again : ) What I'm doing is taking Jackson out in front of our house (where there are lots of distractions) and clicking and treating him for every time he looks at me. We just do this for 4-5 minutes. My goal is for his attention on me to become his default behavior. I video taped our first session today and at the end of the week, I'll video tape another session and see if I can see any difference. If I can see progress, I'll then start taking him to other places with different distractions and work on attention in those locations.

I also added some heeling to the session after a couple minutes of just standing and treating for attention. I'm a big fan of 'choose to heel,' so I walk a ways and click and treat when he gets in heel position.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


There was a fun match this morning at one of the clubs where we train occasionally. The last time we attended a fun match at this club, Jackson was really, really stressed and did not do well at all.  It's the club where they do a lot of agility and Jackson is very worried about the agility equipment and the environment in general. So, when I think back to our last fun match at that club about three months ago, I am really happy with how things went today. He was still pretty worried, but was able to work through it in both Open and Utility classes.

We arrived about a half hour prior to the start time. He was the second dog in the Open ring. We walked around for awhile and did some warm up exercises to get him used to the noise and activity in the building. However, I could tell he was worried and having trouble focusing on me. The way he takes treats is always a good barameter of his level of stress. And, today he was taking the treats slowly - he wasn't going after them like he usually does in practice.

The Open exercises went well. He stayed with me pretty much on the heeling, although I was helping him with verbal encouragement. His drop on recall was good. His dumbbell retrieves were also good - good speed and good fronts and finishes. And, his broad jump was good. I did notice some anticipation on two or three of the exercises. He will sometimes start up when he hears the judge say 'forward' instead of waiting for my signal, and he started the broad jump before I gave the command. I'm going to have to pay closer attention to that in training and work on him waiting longer for my signal. Anticipation means he knows what he's supposed to do so I don't want to give a correction for it, but yet I don't want to see it in a trial, as that would be an NQ. Overall, I was happy with the Open exercises. I had decided to treat it more like a practice rather than a formal trial-like setting, so I was 'helping' him quite a bit, trying to make it fun and build confidence.

The Utility exercises were okay. He was stressed about the judge in this ring. He usually doesn't worry too much about the judge, but for some reason he wanted to keep his eye on this particular judge. First exercise was the directed retrieve. He retrieved the correct glove but was slow coming back and kept looking around like he thought something was going to get him. The stand for exam was fine, and the directed jumping was fair. His go outs were not quite far enough but his jumps were good. Scent discrimination (articles) was where we ran into a bit of a problem. The first article was good, but then he had a problem with the second article. He was working the pile, but kept passing by the correct article. Rather than let him continue longer, I went in and pointed out the correct article. The last exercise, heeling and signals, was good.

Overall, if I were grading on a curve (comparing it to past fun matches), I would say it went well - but with lots of room for improvement : ) I have continued doing mostly fun stuff the past week in training and not asking so much for formal fronts, finishes, etc. I think that's helping because I did see a glimmer of some of the behavioral changes we've been working on coming through, even with the stress.

We're finally getting a real break in the weather this next week, which means more outdoor work in different locations this next week. And, I'm hoping to start my five-a-day challenge soon. I'll post more about that, when we get started : )

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Finally, we can train outdoors!

A touch of spring broke out this week, which means we can train outdoors. It is wonderful to be outside without freezing, so we took advantage of the nice weather and met up with our training buddy, Melody the border terrier, at the fairgrounds. This is one of our favorite places to train. It's a huge state fairgrounds with many different places to set up our training equipment. It's usually not real busy, but there are always some people walking/driving/working around there, which helps provide some distractions.

I have been sticking with my goal of training with less formality for awhile in order to build confidence and have more fun. We haven't been doing a lot of formal fronts and finishes, and I've been throwing a lot of treats. This seems to really be helping his speed and enthusiasm. I've also been 'revving' him up to retrieve the dumbbell and go to the article pile. Today in practice he actually trotted out to the article pile -- and back. He usually walks slowly, so this was a bit of a surprise. The downside of all this revving up is that he occasionally anticipates instead of waiting for my command. I'm not worried about that right now, but it's something to watch.

Overall, his attitude seems much improved in practice, so I'm hoping this will carry over. (Maybe it's the weather. I know the springlike weather is sure helping my attitude :) We have a fun match in a week, so we'll see how that goes.

I took a few pictures of Jackson and Melody training today.

Jackson and Melody practicing signals together

Practicing heeling

Working articles

Waiting for the directional jump signal

Melody and Jackson resting


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jolee's new trick - Rocking Teddy

Jolee and I have been working on a new trick. I'm trying to shape a behavior to rock the chair. This has been good practice for me with the clicker. And, even though I am sometimes (often) way off on my timing with the clicker, she seems to know that getting a treat has something to do with touching the chair. We've just had a couple sessions, but thought I would post short clips of how we're doing. We have a ways to go, but I think we're making progress. She's fun to work with because she offers behaviors. Hmmmm, I wonder if that's because we haven't done a lot of competitive obedience training?

This is our first session where I started out rewarding for any touch or interaction with the rocking chair.

This second clip is our next session.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Training update

Training has had a few ups and downs this past couple weeks. Toward the end of last week he seemed real sluggish in training. I wasn't sure what to attribute it to. I didn't know if he wasn't feeling well, was just showing his age, was distracted by more people than normal training at the club lately, or if it was something else - like maybe me! I may be the one that needs an attitude adjustment.

I thought we would take a few days off from training to give both Jackson and me a break. However, I couldn't stay away - I think I must be addicted to training : ) - so off we went to the club again. But I had decided that it was going to be different. It would just be play time and I would focus on keeping things upbeat. I was hoping that we would be the only ones training there when we first went back. I like having others there for the distractions and I enjoy their company, but I really wanted to see if I could get him up and excited with no distractions. We were the only ones there, and it really did make a difference in his attitude. He was very up and ready to work - not looking around or worried about what else was going on in the building. I think maybe my change in attitude and focus on fun entered into it also. Anyway, I'm happy to be able to rule out any physical reason for the sluggishness, so it's full speed ahead with training.

I've entered a trial in April so we have five weeks to train for that trial. My plan is to try to find small trials sponsored  by obedience clubs. Trials that have lower entries - thus, less noise, congestion, and fewer distractions. Overall, a more relaxed setting, which I think will be helpful for both Jackson and me. (I'm trying to stack the deck in favor of Jackson since he is such a worrier : )  Our training plan for the next couple weeks will focus on fun and losing the formality. I know he can do all the exercises, so my goal is to get us more relaxed doing them. To work on precision in heeling, pivots, fronts, sits, etc., I'm going to make it more of a game with treats and in some cases try using the clicker. Here are some of the things we've been doing - for fun.

One of the behaviors I'm trying to shape is for him to spin and sit. By itself, it's a fun thing to work on, but I'm also seeing how this might help his sits on go-outs for utility. Jackson's not great at offering behaviors. He's a dog that doesn't like to make a mistake, so I think he prefers to be 'shown what to do' rather than offer something. That may be partly his personality, or perhaps the way I started out training him. Hoping it's not too late to change.

The drop on recall is coming along nicely. He used to anticipate the drop so would slow down to a walk about halfway to me waiting for me to give the drop signal. We started playing a game with it where I would throw a treat for him to chase as soon as his elbows touched the floor. The other problem I sometimes had was him not coming from the drop on the first command. Again, throwing some treats behind me seems to have helped with that - at least in practice.

A new shaping/clicker behavior I'm trying is to have him put his front feet on a box on the floor and pivot his back feet around. This would be good for rear-end awareness, which will help him with his turns and pivots. I've seen this in several videos and thought it about time for Jackson and me to try it. So, the first attempt I clicked and treated him for putting one foot on the box. We got as far as him just touching the box with one foot. Like I said previously, he's really slow at offering behaviors so we'll see how far we get next time. I'm going to try hard to resist the urge to show him what I want : )

Overall, our training will mostly be fun and games and treats for awhile - working on building confidence and attitude. There's going to be a fun match at another training facility in three weeks, which will give us an oppportunity to see where we're at, and determine what our next plan will be : )