Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Poor Guy!

Oh no, it happened. I thought it would never happen to me, but it has. Just when you think you're doing great, it rears its ugly head. I suffered a case of.....Greedy Trainer Syndrome.

Greedy Trainer Syndrome happens when training is moving along great. You are progressing, you and the dog are both having fun. You keep pushing forward.....until you get to a point where you realize that you and your dog are on two different pages (and if you are really unlucky, in two different chapters!)

Kash is, by all accounts, an amazing boy. He loves to learn, he's got zest, he spills joie de vivre, and he attacks everything head on. So when I noticed he was getting slower, and sloower, and sloooooooooower in agility, doing what I consider simple stuff, I had to sit back and reassess. And it only took, oh, two minutes to realize that I was slowly but surely pushing him farther than he was ready for, or farther than we had really trained for! And I also realized that I was slowly but surely leaving some very important, but fundamental, things behind that I should be doing each day at this point. As I'm getting my girls ready for their trials for the year, I know that he's nowhere NEAR the level they are at, but yet I had him attempting some of the same things! What gives? Darn old Greedy Trainer Syndrome!

And the poor guy. It's not like he was giving up. He remained engaged the whole time, never got distracted with smells or birds, he followed me around, did what I asked, he was just....slow. It was so clear when I woke up and realized he didn't have any confidence in what he was doing. He didn't have enough understanding, and I wasn't maintaining my criteria (speed and drive while learning accuracy, breaking it down for him to keep it fast and fun). I acknowledge that for some things that speed may take a tiny dip, but not this much. I goofed up.

It's not a big deal, though, really. We're just going back to basics. Like basic basics. I am not doing anything obstacle-focused until we spend some time getting speed back. So we're going to run. Lots. And chase. And target. And tug. The only obstacle-focused activity we will do is doing simple jump grids with a target at the end, or with me racing him to a toy. Other than that, we'll simply be getting the "agile" back into agility! So far in his tunnel training he loves running a straight tunnel, so we'll use that (sparingly) as another racing game.

Today we did a session of just this. I did some one-person restraints where I threw his toy, held him back, and told him to "Get it!!!". I threw some, restrained him, and raced him to the toy. We did circle work. Once in a while a little bit of food would fall (I have a food-dropping problem that I need to be trained better for!), and he would get distracted eating it so I'd just take off running. Until he caught me. It didn't take long for him to overtake me, and I would let him grab his tug - but we kept on running. We started out fun and we ended with fun.
 He did GREAT! It's the boy I used to have, and the one I want back for agility. I know he has it in him, so I'm not going to settle for sloooow performance. I pushed him to that point, so I'll get him back out of it. And really, once I got out of "agility-brain" and into "training-brain", I realized....what's the rush? He's barely over a year old, we have a lifetime ahead of us to get there. And I know we'll get there. When he's ready.

In the meantime, here's babyKash at 4 months old playing around with some things. Even at this age he was speedy, so this is what we're going back to!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Novice Obedience - Part II

Two posts ago, I shared the first half of the Novice-level Obedience skills that Kash needs to know in order to compete in trials.  Here are the remaining three skills that he needs to work on.

Exercise 5:  Recall
In this exercise, your dog starts from a sit in heel position (at your left side).  On the judge's cue, you tell your dog to "Wait" and walk about 40' away and turn and face your dog. When the judge tells you to, you call your dog.  Your dog should come in fast and straight, sitting promptly in front of you, without being cued to do so.  Your dog needs to be close enough so that you can reach your dog without moving forward (bending obviously necessary for the shorties!).  Finally, you ask your dog to "Finish" (return to heel position).  This can be done two ways - from the left or the right, which are two quite different behaviours.

Kash's Progress:  Kash knew a generic "front" from his Rally training, but practicing it in the context of this exercise, I quickly learned that he didn't understand the position quite as well as I thought he did.  He sometimes would come in crooked, or he would self-finish, going back to heel before I cued.  So we've gone back to teaching a game of "find front" in which he has to find the position, be straight, and come in fast, from different angles. It's coming along well.  As a separate exercise, I am also practicing the "formal" version by putting him in a wait, walking away, and calling him to front.  Here is an example of what it looks like (although in this video I asked him to sit from a distance - just happened to be what we were working on at that moment when I recorded it):

We will continue to work this exercise until he is confidently and quickly finding "front" position from many angles.  His finishes are decent - they don't need much tuning up other than continually reinforcing faster and faster reponses.

Exercise 6:  Long Sit
In this exercise, all of the dogs in the Novice class will enter the ring together, and sit next to each other (several feet apart).  On the judge's cue, all of the dogs are asked to "Stay", and I will walk about 40' away to the other side of the ring and stand facing my dog.  The dogs have to hold a sit-stay for 60 seconds, at which point we return to our dogs and wait until the judge declares the exercise complete. 

Kash's Progress:  Kash finds this exercise quite simple in most environments.  Sitting for 60 seconds is not that hard for him. We have "overtrained" the behaviour so that he is actually doing 90-second stays in training. This way, 60 seconds will look easy-peasy in the ring. The only situation I need to get a bit more practice in is in dog-heavy environments.  He has no problems performing at local parks where dogs are moving by on-leash (and occasionally off-leash, despite the leash laws of the city!), in pet stores, and any part of our property, but I haven't actually worked him in a dog-heave "event" simulating a show environment.  I will get the chance to get some good practice in in a few weeks when we attend our first agility trial of the year, I'll make sure to do some stays with him there. 

Exercise 7: Long Down
This exercise is the same as the Long Sit, except that the dogs have to hold a Down position for 3 minutes.

Kash's Progress: We have been slowly working up to three minutes (haven't really worked on it much prior to this point, to be entirely honest!).  All has been going very well, though.  No real issues, we've done a few full 3-minute stays very well, although we still bounce between 2 and 3 minutes to keep it fun for him. Like the Long Sit, I will "overtrain" this up to 4 minutes so that 3 minutes seems really easy for him.  Nothing like making the ring environment seem easier than the training one!

That's the entire sequence of exercises in a nutshell.  In order to achieve this title, he needs to get a qualifying score (which means he needs a total of 170 points, minimum, out of a possible 200) in 3 different trials, under 2 different judges. 

Our goal is to be ready for October, although it's looking like we may make our debut a little bit earlier, and I may consider entering him in his first run in July to see where we are at! There's also the Terrier Specialty in Halifax in August, which I can't really say no to........oh dear. There's just too much to decide!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kash's Training Day

I had an unexpected day off this morning, so since I had some errands to do in town anyhow, I decided to pack up Kash and spend the time I would have spent with a client doing some training.  I took his breakfast with me, and he spent a half-hour working for his meals at PetSmart.

It was his first time going to PetSmart, which isn't a big deal, really, as he's used to going to lots of new places, but it was a great place to really work on some of his skills. We practiced heeling through all of the aisles, past dog food, toys, and people. There were no dogs present during the half-hour we stayed there, which I was hoping there would be, but we still had a great time.  He did really well with his heeling routine, stayed with me, sat promptly, and paid attention to direction changes.  Eye contact (which I am working on increasing when he's in heel position) is coming along nicely!

We practiced two sit- and down-stays each from a distance, which he did really well, he didn't get up at all, even when people walked past next to him or behind him.

I'm convinced it was "Take your child-under-5 to PetSmart" day today,because the store was crawling with young children!  While it made things a little interruptive at times, training-wise, (if the children weren't approaching on their own, their parents were obviously bringing their children over to visit and/or stop and watch) it was a GREAT opportunity to finesse Kash's comfort around children.  He did awesome. Spectacular, in fact.  He didn't show any discomfort with any children, had a great time showing off his tricks, and had an even better time taking treats from the little ones.  He didn't even get upset when an 18-month old boy ate the treat he was supposed to give to Kash!! We all had a great laugh over that!

I sometimes forget that Kash is still very much a teen, as he has so few "that's not MY dog" days, but when I remind myself that he's still socially immature, I remember how proud of him I really am! Today was just an awesome training day all around.  I look forward to our next training session there, I'll be scoping out a time when there are hopefully some dogs present, so we can work around them!

After his long training session we came home and "relaxed" by throwing the ball around.  Can't ya tell he was all tired out?!?!?!

(Yes, that's my boy least 4' off the ground....)

Novice Obedience - What's it all about?

(A little blurry, as it's a phone photo, but a photo of a happy heeler!)

Recently I mentioned that I am going to be making my debut into the Traditional Obedience ring with Kash.  I thought I would take a few moments and share what exactly that means, and what exercises make up the requirements for the first title, called the Companion Dog title.

Exercise 1: Heel on Leash
This exercise is pretty straightforward; it is a heeling pattern that is done on leash, following the judge's orders of the following things:  Forward, left turn, right turn, about turn (where you turn 180 degrees and go in the opposite direction, fast, slow, normal (comes after a fast or slow), and halt.  At "halt", you come to a stop and the dog is expected to sit automatically in heel position without any cues to do so.

Kash's progress: This is already a decent behaviour for him, due to his Rally training. However heeling is one of those things that always needs to be practiced and can always be improved somehow.  Our biggest work has been in making it quieter, as the biggest difference between Rally and Traditional Obedience is that you can interact verbally with your dog in Rally; in Obedience you cannot, so I've been working on removing that verbal feedback so it's not a surprise to him later. And of course just being an adolescent, distractions are important to keep working through.

Exercise 2: Figure 8 Heeling
This exercise is an extension of the on-leash heeling.  Two people stand about eight feet apart and on the judge's order, you walk a figure 8 pattern around the two people.  The dog must ignore the people and remain focused in heel position.  There are two "halts" as well.

Kash's progress: We haven't previously done much of this, so it's something we will need to practice. We have done this exercise using two trees, but no people yet.  I doubt it'll be any issue though because we do lots of regular heeling by people and he does well.  But I'll have to make a point to practice it some!

Exercise 3:  Stand for Exam
In this exercise, on the judge's order you ask your dog to Stand and Stay, and walk 6' away.  The judge then approaches, gently examines your dog by touching it, and your dog has to remain standing, without moving about, and accept the stranger's  touch. When the judge is done, I go back to my dog and he is to remain standing until the judge says we're done!
Kash's progress: We only started teaching this about 3 weeks ago.  He struggled a bit at first, as he has long been conditioned to "Sit to say hi", but I think we've had our lightbulb moment as he seems to really understand the purpose of this exercise now.  Since the initial training, he has now done four perfect Stand for Exams, from start to finish, for four different people.  Four down, forty-six to go.  Just kidding. Well, not really. If I got 50 people to do it for me, then I know he'd never have a problem again! It's something we'll do every chance I get (as in, as much as I can hassle people to help me out!), but I don't really foresee any problems from this point on.

Exercise 4: Heel Off-Leash
This is the same heeling pattern as the heel on-leash, except it is done, well, off-leash!

Kash's Progress:   This should not really be a problem for Kash.  99% of Kash's heel training has been done off-leash. We just have to work on our overall heeling, and continuing to work around distractions, as mentioned above.

Those are the first four exercises that are included in the Novice-level of Obedience.  In my next post I will share the final three exercises, which in total will make up the requirements for his CD (Companion Dog title).  Stay tuned!