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 : )


Amy / Layla the Malamute said...

I believe there are some things that just can't be overcome. I don't mean to sound negative, but there are some things that just can't, and shouldn't, be overwritten.

I was interested in doing the Susan Garrett courses, but since she seemed 10000000% positive that all dogs would be able to do recalls no matter what the distraction, it kind of turned me off to the idea.

For example, Layla has the highest prey drive of any dog I've ever seen. She wouldn't just want to chase an animal, she would kill it - really tear it apart. She's also the most mellow dog at home, a wonderful therapy dog, etc., so she isn't just some psycho uncontrollable dog. She just has that prey drive.

I went to a Terri Arnold obedience seminar and somebody asked about how she deals with dog breeds that have "no business being in obedience", and looked at Layla. (Nice, right?) Terri Arnold said something to the effect of, Malamutes are possibly one of the most intelligent breeds out there in the way that if they ever got loose, they're one of the only breeds whose prey drive is still so intact they'd be able to survive in the wilderness. The issue isn't intelligence, it's trainability.

I saw Layla get in a "fight" with 2 raccoons in the yard. It was the most terrifying thing because my little mellow lap dog turned into a complete savage. She scared the two raccoons up a tree. It wasn't growling, exactly, more like a roar that I've never heard any animal make. It was like those horror movies where the most mellow, mild-mannered person becomes an axe murderer.

In my case, it's also a lot to do with breed history. They purposely did NOT keep the dogs who would obey instantly without thinking for themselves, because if the musher told the sled dogs to go left and the dogs knew it was thin ice, if they listened (obeyed instantly), they all would have died. They only kept the dogs who would think for themselves, which kind of gave them the idea that they're smarter than humans :)

The reason I brought it all up is - there's not a doubt in my mind that I will ever be able to compete with or overpower her prey drive. It's so ingrained in her that even if I never had her outside from the time she was born and she never experienced the thrill of chasing an animal, she'd still have it in her. Malamutes and Great Danes aren't as diluted as the more popular breeds (labs, goldens, even shepherds) so their instincts are a lot more pure.

So sorry to rant in a comment! - I didn't mean to turn this into a discussion on Malamutes instead of Great Danes (especially Jackson), but I wanted to show you exactly why I believe that some dogs just won't choose to work with you in spite of distractions.

tervnmal said...

Hi Kathie,

I think the best thing you can do is build value for the obedience work (reinforce the hell out of everything he does right) and strengthen your relationship (play games, teach tricks, have fun, be patient, be fair, be consistent). Even if you don't reach a UDX — and I'm not saying you won't — you will have grown tremendously as a trainer and your next obedience dog will benefit from that.

It's fabulous he's Qing consistently in Open. Keep proofing Utility so he is confident about making decisions under stressful conditions.

Love your attitude, it IS the journey, not the destination and trials are exactly how you described them, just a way to evaluate how training is going.

Good luck!

Jennifer H. said...

Hi Kathy!

I'm really wish I have more helpful information to give you but you are already doing all the things that I could think of to try.

I also think that your attitude is wonderful and I really admire it.

You know that we are always rooting for you guys! :)

Kathie R said...

Hey Guys, Thanks for posting your comments. I do agree that the best thing I can do is to keep working to build the relationship and to keep striving for that 'picture-perfect' performance - even though realistically, I don't expect to achieve it. Ahhh, there, I've said it - and I feel guilty for admitting that I don't believe we're capable of achieving perfection!

It feels like I'm kinda giving up because I tend to believe that not all dogs have the temperament to always make the choices we want them to make. And, no amount of high-value reinforcement is going to overcome what they're hard-wired to think and do.

Maybe it's just a matter of working with what you have and trying to make it the best that it can be.

Amy / Layla the Malamute said...

Don't give up because you believe that not all dogs have that particular temperament - if anything, I think you're more ahead of the game for admitting that. Instead of insisting that Jackson would/should train or behave the same way as other dogs would hinder your progress. Since you acknowledge that temperament and what they're born with plays a huge issue (which I agree with), you'll be better prepared to try new methods to see what works for you. I think believing otherwise might cause some people to be unreasonable in their expectations, and stubborn in their training methods.

You said it perfectly - it's making the best out of what you have.