With two UDX legs left to go, I've looked at our performance in the last few trials and tried to pick out a couple things to focus on in training that might help us with getting those last two legs. I've decided to let the speed thing go, as I don't think either one of us has enough years left of training to make a dramatic impact on increasing his speed in the trials. He is what he is : ) So, the thing that I've decided to focus on is the sits on go outs. Since I got no sits on go outs at the last trial, it seemed like an area that we could improve.
My approach to training this has been to really up the value of treats that I'm using to reinforce the sits. The highest value reward I've found so far in training is the canned dog food. I use the little plastic containers of Cesar dog food that you can peel off the foil lid and spoon out for rewards. Throwing Bil Jac liver treats is still high value, but the Cesar's is even higher and I can deliver the reward in place. So, with my high-value reward in hand, I've been doing a lot of random sit commands in an effort to make sure he knows the command. I give the sit command when I'm close to him, when I'm across the ring, when I'm behind him, in front of him, etc., I sometimes put a ring gate between us so I can increase the distance, which is also good exercise for me because I then have to run to him to give him the reward in a timely manner. (I really need to dig out my clicker again so I can mark the behavior from a distance : ) I have in my mind a picture of an acceptable sit speed and only reward the sits that are faster than the 'acceptable' level. I'm looking for this 'acceptable' level to improve as we continue with this training.
I also combine the sit command with the go outs sometimes. I work the go outs without the jumping - varying the distance and still using the high-value reward for fast sits. We've just been doing this for the past week, but I'm seeing some improvement already. I have a few more weeks to focus on this before we're entered in trials so it will be interesting to see if there is carryover in the ring.
The other thing we need to do more of is work under some stress. It's hard to find stressful distractions away from trials, but we got lucky today at the club where I train - someone had pulled the agility equipment out in two of the rings. This is one of the most stressful things for Jackson to work through, due to his irrational fear of agility equipment. We did most of our training in the adjacent ring to the agility equipment, but when it came time to do the articles - guess where we put the article pile? Yup, right in the middle of the agility equipment. He was really stressed, but I helped him a little and he worked through it and did fine. Hopefully, putting a little more confidence in his bank account : )
The downside of using these high-value rewards and treating a lot is he's gaining weight. At his annual check-up last week, he weighed 178 pounds. Not a good thing when he's doing so much jumping. I may need to find a low-calorie Cesar dog food!