Sunday, August 29, 2010

What I learned at the trials this weekend.....

I try to look at trials as an opportunity to evaluate where we are with our training, what is improving, and what areas we need to focus on more. So, I spent most of the trip home from the trials today trying to figure that out, and how to put a positive spin on the weekend. It was one of those weekends again. No udx legs. While he qualified consistently in Open, we couldn't keep it together in the Utility ring. One day we 'pointed out,' which means he completed all the basic utility exercises, however, too many points were deducted for slow responses for him to have a qualifying score. On another day, he got the wrong glove - due to a really bad pivot he was facing the #1 glove instead of the #2 so took the wrong glove. And, to top it off today - I sent him over the wrong jump.  I couldn't believe it (banging head against the wall :)! The judge said he would have qualified except for that error on my part.

The positive spin I put on it is - we get to continue training and trialing! After all, it's the journey - not the destination! That's what I keep telling myself anyway : ) Okay, so now for a look at what's going on with him. It's the same thing that we can't seem to overcome - his reaction to the trial environment. When we step into the ring and the leash is off, I cannot keep his focus. He goes through the motions - make that sloooow motions - of the exercises, but loses the enthusiasm, drive and precision that I see in practice. He is constantly trying to keep an eye on what's going on outside the ring and around him rather than focusing on me, which also results in really sloppy fronts and finishes.

In practice we've been playing a lot of games to increase focus and drive - the theory behind this being that if the value and rate of reinforcement is high enough for the behaviors you are shaping, the dog will choose to work with you in spite of the distractions around them. In theory, it sounds good - but, in reality, I'm not sure it can be applied successfully to all dogs - especially low-drive dogs, that are fearful and lack confidence aka dogs like Jackson! Are there some fears and/or distractions that just cannot be overcome in some dogs???

Any thoughts on that? I would love to hear them : )

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Last training session before the trial weekend

Today was our last chance to train at the club before leaving tomorrow for a four-day weekend of trials. Our training buddy (the two-legged one) has been out of commission with an injury for the past couple weeks so today was the first time we met up to train. And, I must say, I've missed having someone to train with. We've had fun on our own the past couple weeks - mostly playing games - but it really is helpful and more enjoyable to train with someone else.

We decided to do run-thrus today to see where we were at. We did both utility and open run-thrus. And, I was really pleased with Jackson's performance. He was generally pretty well focused and attentive. His fronts, sits and finishes were really nice with not much lagging at all. As always, I would have liked to have seen more briskness on the go-outs and articles, but overall he did a nice job.

Now, if he can just tune out the distractions at the trials this weekend and stay on task - but, that's always the unknown with him - how will he be affected by the trial environment?

Stay tuned........

Monday, August 16, 2010

Training update

I'm seeing a difference in Jackson's attitude since we started the e-course - a game a day for the month of August. I can't go into detail about the games, but I will say the ones that I've found the most helpful are the various versions of restrained recalls and rewarding in the 'reinforcement zone.'

We were at the club today to train - make that 'play' - and he was really up. Of course we were the only ones at the club so that may have had something to do with it : ) And, since they have agility scheduled at the club tonight, all of the ring gates were down leaving a big, wide-open space where three rings normally would be. The more room available - the faster Jackson's recalls are, so he was really 'flying' today. It's so much more fun to watch him run than it is to watch him slowly walk through the exercises.

We worked some restrained recalls and some regular recalls - throwing in a few drops too. I'm also doing a lot of rewarding in the 'reinforcement zone,' which is a variation of 'choose to heel.' I'm hoping this will help with his heeling and cut down on the lagging.

We did articles by placing the article pile in the middle of the room - about 3-4 times further than it would normally be. Instead of sending him to the pile, I ran out to the pile with him and then as soon as he found the correct article, I ran back to the other end of the room to give him his very favorite reward - a spoonful of canned dog food. I did get trotting out and back from the pile instead of the usual slow walk.

We did a few other exercises and overall, I tried to keep it fast and upbeat, which resulted in him acting a lot more focused and energized. I don't know if there will be carryover into the trial setting or when working with distractions, because we still have the lack of confidence problem that's been hard to overcome. However, I don't see how having all this fun and games can hurt, and maybe I'll be able to see a difference in his attitude at the trials we're entered in the end of the month.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Trials and Games

It's been a busy couple weeks now with training for last weekend's trials and trying to keep up with the game of the day in the e-course I'm taking, Susan Garratt's 'Five Minutes to a Brilliant Recall.'

First off, the trial weekend in Wisconsin - The trials were held in conjunction with a conformation show so there was quite a bit of activity (read that - distractions) in the building. It was air conditioned though with plenty of room for crating and warm up. The ring set-up had spectators on two sides, a rally ring adjacent on one side, and a wall on the fourth side. Jackson was worried about what was going on around him - especially in back of him. And, wouldn't you know it - the signals were at the end of the ring with the active ring behind him.  On the signal to down, he could just manage a sit. I think he was afraid that if he went all the way down, something would get him from behind. NQ. The remainder of the exercises went pretty well, although there was the usual stress-induced slowdown and some crooked sits and finishes. He did qualify in Open though. He's much more confident in the Open exercises - maybe because they're not as complicated and there's not as much opportunity to make the 'wrong' choice.

There was ring rental time after the trial was finished on Saturday. We spent our five minutes in the ring just heeling and playing - trying to get him more comfortable in the setting so he wouldn't be so stressed.

The good news now - Sunday he qualified in both Utility and Open to earn his 7th UDX leg! I don't know if the ring rental time helped, or if he was just more comfortable with the environment the second day and not so stressed, but he held it together and completed all the exercises.

Only three more legs to go! We are entered in trials at the end of the month so we'll see how things go. Which brings me to the GAMES!

I'm having great fun with the five-minute games - a different one each day - that focus on attention and drive. The things we desperately need : )  My training plans for the rest of the month are to concentrate on playing those games with Jackson with the hope of increasing his attention on me. That's the really big difference I see when we go to trials. I am so envious of those handlers whose dogs focus all their attention on them and don't seem to even be aware of what else is going on around them. If I can get just a little more attention from Jackson in trial situations maybe he won't be so aware (read that - stressed) by what else is around him. We'll see : )