Tuesday, 3 December 2013

New Heeling Exercise

I'm going to go ahead and say that "I came up with a new idea for an obedience heeling exercise". In saying that, I fully apologize to anyone else that actually came up with the idea first. I honestly did not look to see if this existed, it was an idea I had and I tried it. For the benefit of other trainers that want new games to play in their obedience or rally-o classes, here is how it all went down!

I am currently teaching a "Bridge Obedience" class, a class that is designed to "bridge the gap" between pet obedience and first level competition obedience/rally-o. Basically, taking a loose leash walk and turning it into a heel, taking sits and downs and stands and putting them in heel position, working on distractions, focus, attention, speed, precision, etc. I like to use games to keep my students interested and entertained, so here is something I threw together and tried for the first time at last night's class.

Using masking tape, I laid out 2 different patterns on the floor. One pattern is quite straight forward and simple, encompassing some straight heel stretches, left turns, right turns, about turns, and about U turns. I used a green pylon (out of frame on the far right) to mark the start of the pattern, and an orange pylon (pictured on the left) to mark the end of the pattern. The about turn and about U turn are both approximately 1.5 feet in diameter (less than the maximum handler path of 2", but more than the ideal of on the spot). Bennett is hanging out in a sit-stay to show rough scale.

The second pattern is quite a bit more complicated. I included both left and right circles of varying diameter, acute turn angles, and a stair-step pattern that proved to be quite challenging! Again, a green pylon and an orange pylon mark the start and finish, in this case, the start is at the bottom of the picture and the finish is above it, both on the left hand side. And again, with Bennett as scale reference.

The idea that I presented to the students is that these are the visual representations of what might very well be obedience or Rally-O heel patterns. We can "see" the pattern that we have to take in our head, but our dogs can't. And as such, we tend to deviate from the "ideal" course to adjust to our dogs by cutting corners, angling off, neglecting circle diameter, or correcting our path to match the heel position that our dogs dictate. The challenge that I placed to the students was to follow the tape lines as precisely as possible. Note, that the tape lines are the HANDLER lines. Since the handler is the one setting the path of movement, the handler is the one that should be walking on the tape. They are to try and turn precisely where the tape line turns. This forces them to get out of their preferred stride length and use more inventive (and less robotic!) means of signalling direction change to their dogs.

This seems like a relatively mundane exercise, but even when I tested it out myself before class, I was able to notice inconsistencies in my own handling! Things that I do unconsciously to adjust to the movement of my dog. As a somewhat more experienced handler, I got a lot of information from doing the exercise that I can use to really add some polish to my handling skills. A less experienced handler will take from this exercise the concept of appropriate cue timing to ensure that their dog performs the given task when required, ie. When do you need to cue your dog to start turning? 1 step before the corner? 2? Do you need to ensure eye contact first, and if so, when do you cue that?

The students were allowed to play on both patterns as-is for a couple of runs, and then I added a few stationary Rally-O signs on the long straight stretches. On the simplified pattern, I also included the directional change signs. For people new to Rally-O, this helped them determine sign placement relative to line of travel, and make the association of cue timing with distance from the sign. When do you have to cue the dog to sit or come-front so that they are stationary within the required 2" of the sign?

I feel that all of the students really enjoyed this exercise, and we played on the patterns for the entire duration of the class (1 hour) without me getting the sense that interest was waning. In the class, I have handlers of all skill levels, from first time obedience handlers to seasoned pros. All had positive things to say about the exercise! I will certainly be using this one again.

Day ... I have no idea!

I stopped posting here for a couple of reasons. 1) Life has become SO busy, that I honestly don't have a lot of time to sit down and detail what we do every day in terms of training. And 2) Bennett has been fantastically NOT challenging! It was getting boring to write "I wanted to teach her X. She learned it quickly."

So, now maybe it is time for an update of where we are and where we are heading!

Bennett is about 4.5 months old now. She's as tall as Romeo (about 14") and has started losing her baby teeth. All of the front incisors are replaced with adult teeth, and her lower two canines have fallen out, with tiny nubs of "big girl" canines showing through the gums. Her hair is awkward and tufty, not deciding if it is going to be long or short just yet, and sticking out in every direction! Based on the first guard hairs and the overall thickness of her coat, it is going to be lovely when it decides to kick it into gear!

Bennett graduated her puppy class (like they would really fail a puppy!), and has moved on to a Rally 1 class. She is the youngest dog there by at least 6 months, and is keeping up with (and, dare I say, in some cases exceeding!) all of the big dogs in terms of obedience skills.

Lately, she has reverted a teeny bit to the world of "OMG everything is so interesting!" and ground sniffing to look for stray crumbs. We're powering through, reinforcing head-up eye contact and attention amid distractions. She is well on pace to being trial ready by mid-January when she turns 6 months old.

Last weekend I had Romeo entered in an AKC Rally-O trial at the Catoctin Kennel Club in Point of Rocks, MD. I took Bennett along to take in some of the trial atmosphere. On the day of the Rally-O trials, there were three rings set up and only one was in use, so competitors were using the other two rings to warm up and practice their dogs. I dared to take Bennett in for some distraction training, and no one complained or kicked us out, so we got in some fantastic practice time! I took a bit of video HERE. From the video, I was able to snag a couple of really nice heel pictures. Notice the off-leash work in the first photo?! Good girlie!!

Our primary goal at this point is repetition, precision, attention with distractions, and duration. So we're playing Rally-O EVERYWHERE we go! She is an exceptionally happy worker, full of sass and backtalk, which is always fun. I have received so many lovely compliments from people about how she is coming along, and most people are amazed at how young she is for having the skill set that she does. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Day 19

Lazy lazy Saturday! Lots of naps and cuddles most of the day.

The little bit of training that we did get done, was playing with the Nina Ottosson DogTwister brain game. Bennett had never played before, so this was her first shot at it. It took her a while to catch on, and kept offering sits and downs to try and make the trays open. But after she figured out that she was allowed to bite and scratch at the toy, nothing was going to stop her! She also worked on her first "It's not your turn" down-stays. Since I train multiple dogs, first 2 and now 3, I like to be able to switch back and forth with them to give everyone a chance to play. Gio and Romeo both know how to hold down-stays while the other is working, so it is time that Bennett starts to learn this concept, too. So while Gio or Romeo were playing with the DogTwister, Bennett worked on down-stays. I was very pleasantly surprised by how well she did! I really do need to stop being surprised with this little girl. She was able to hold her down-stay on her own while I reloaded the toy, and only needed a couple of reminders and encouragement Cheerios while the other boys were playing.

Our people greeting and door manners lessons from Halloween seem to have done some good! The pizza guy only got one bark from her when he rang the doorbell, and she politely greeted him, allowed some scratches and coo's, and stood nicely at my side while I signed for the order. Of course, then she tried to follow him back to his car ... I can't really blame her, though. He was cute, had pizza, and fawned over the dogs. This girl has good taste!! Her recall was quite nice, and after I called her back and reminded her that she lived with me, not him, she came trotting back to the door.

I also trimmed paw hair today. After a brief struggle, she settled nicely and let me shape her paws and trim around her pads. Much less painful than our previous attempts at nail trims. Perhaps this is a sign of nail trim acceptance, too? I didn't press my luck with that today, though, and just stopped with the hair trim.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Days 16, 17 & 18

Oy!! Look at me falling behind on the blog posts!

Okay, Wednesday was Day 16. I did toe nails after work. While Bennett was lovely the first time I did her nails, last week she decided to put up a fight which resulted in screaming and guilt. I didn't get any nails cut that time, so I really wanted to get them done on this attempt. Since Bennett is super food motivated, I decided to try a new little trick. I found a heavy ceramic mug and smeared a spoon of peanut butter in the bottom of it. I then arranged Bennett for nail clipping (ie. with me sitting on the floor and Bennett on her back between my legs) and stuck the mug over her muzzle. This tilted her head out of the way as she worked on getting the peanut butter out from inside. Completely distracted, I was able to clip all 4 feet without her even noticing! Fantastic!

Then it was off to puppy class. She remembered Max, her GSD buddy from last week, and they started the night off with some screaming pouncing puppy brawls. That was cut short, much to Bennett and Max's displeasure, to work on some skills. We did hand touches, downs, recalls, and then a play session with call-back breaks. Of course, Bennett had already started on each of the skills introduced, so we did some of our own stuff off to the side. Heel position, fronts, focus, and down in heel position. Her downs do need work, as I know I haven't done too much with them yet.

Thursday was Day 17, and it was also Halloween! The focus of the night was socialization. I set up the x-pen flat across the front door entry way so that no dogs could sneak out. None of them are flight risks, even Bennett I am pretty confident with at this point.  But Romeo and Gio have always prided themselves on their skills as baggage inspectors. They love sticking their heads in whatever guests bring to the door, not necessarily to steal, just to check. This makes Halloween one of their favorite nights, but tends to freak the kids out a bit.

The dogs all wore their costumes, Bennett a pirate, Romeo a devil, and Gio a dinosaur. The night was really nice, and a bunch of the neighbours were outside socializing, so the front door stayed open most of the evening. In addition to the bowl of candy, I also kept a bowl of dog treats by the door. I asked any child that paid attention to the dogs to give them cookies. Romeo and Gio showed off their tricks, and Bennett lapped up the attention and compliments! One toddler dressed as Thomas the Tank Engine freaked Bennett out a bit, but after that she was golden. Even the kid (gender unknown) that appeared to be dressed as an air conditioning unit ... essentially a giant walking box. Bennett quickly decided that she quite liked this door greeting gig, and parked herself on the door mat to be the first to catch the kids as they came up.

Today is Day 18. I introduced Bennett to the bucket tonight, an overturned decorative basket thingy, for the purpose of doing some hind end work. She's a little clueless about her back legs, and was more prone to just jumping over the basket than moving those toes around. But she did enjoy standing up on the basket with her front feet, and patterned to that really quickly. I'm confident the back end stuff will come along as we practice more. After a bit of a break we went back to the clicker for some heel patterns and downs. Now that she has a decent sit-stay, I introduced her to the rules of the 5 Steps heel position game. Interestingly, THAT game got her hind end moving very nicely, when the bucket game seemed to confuse her. She showed off a very nice 180-degree bum-swing with plenty of enthusiasm! We then did a little bit of small space heel doodling, working mostly on left and right circles. About Turns seem to be no problem for her, which will be refreshing after Romeo, who tends to lag on About Turns. The turns to the left need more polish, but she is clearly working to try and stay in heel position, just needs more control over those silly hind legs. I think with more of this circle work, the 5 Step game, and the bucket, it will all come along in short order! I wrapped the night of training up with a "down" competition. I've found with Gio and Romeo, a little bit of competition seems to help them with focus and speed. If one dog is getting cookies, you better believe the other wants in on it, too! So I let the older dogs loose from their couch stays and we played a crazy down game. Basically, me running around the house with dogs racing around me (no worries about heel position this time!) and randomly stopping and asking for a "down". Gio and Romeo know this game has a rule that only the first dog "down" gets the cookie ... but since it was Bennett's first time playing, she got a cookie each time. (Tonight, "cookies" were Honey Nut Cheerios. Anything goes for a food hound!) After a couple of rounds, she started to get the competitive bug and was racing around and sliding into downs with the big boys. She's still not the fastest with the downs, but she had a lot of fun with the game and was consistently dropping with each cue.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Days 14 & 15

Mondays mean a trip out to Frederick, MD to teach my Bridge Obedience class. As with last week, Bennett accompanied Romeo and me.  The one session of outdoor heeling that Bennett and I did on Sunday transferred fabulously to the training building. Amid plenty of distractions, dogs, people, food, noises, trains, etc, she held her focus and rocked her heel position/front position transitions, and performed some lovely heeling up and down the crating area. I'm comfortable calling it a "heel" now, despite our obvious need to clean things up and practice more tricky moves. The action is much different, in a very purposeful way, than her normal polite walking (and MUCH different than her normal IMpolite walking!). I'm not suggesting in any way that it is perfect yet, but she has grasped the concept and now we just need to repeat ad nauseum and throw all the fun complications in there! The auto-sit is coming along nicely, and she only needs reminding about 10% of the time.

I did realize, however, that we need to practice heel position "down" a little more. She is readily offering downs, and will down on command when I am sitting on the floor with her. But apparently we haven't worked it in heel much. I did, however, introduce the idea of a "go around" transition to heel and she is becoming comfortable with following the hand signals without food lures now.

For clean up after class, I let her and Romeo run and bark in the mostly empty building. Last step before leaving is to turn off the large overhead lights. I, on a whim, stuck her in a sit-stay and walked the ~12 feet away, past some chairs and around a crate, to turn the lights off. Not only did she hold her sit-stay, but she held it right up until the point that a big snuffly Lab came over to check her out. And, upon Lab inspection, she only stood up and stepped to the side, not breaking eye contact with me! Good lady!!

Today, Tuesday, was a bit of a gong show. By the time I got home after work, all I could focus on was the new bottle of sweet red wine sitting on my counter. I decided to be a good little dog owner and get some nail trims in before zoning out for the evening. I've always trimmed dog nails with the dog flipped over on their back, held between my legs as I sit on the floor. With some practice, both Gio and Romeo have become comfortable with it, and it's become the only way that I am really comfortable trimming nails. So, of course, the idea is to introduce Bennett to this same process. We've been working off and on with flipping on her back, fondling toes, trimming a nail here and there, with plenty of cookies for being calm and not screaming like a diva when I touch her feet. So far, so good. Until I broke her tonight. I had fully poked at all of her paws, treating whenever she lay still, and was about to clip just one or two nails and call it a night, when someone shifted and something happened that resulted in "I'm really not joking!!!" scream. I have no idea what got pinched where, but I felt so bad. She hated me for whole minutes!! I flipped and cookied her again, and all is fine. But, of course, I'm now letting her destroy a toy and am sharing my ketchup chips with her ... just in case she still hates me. ... Yeah, I know. Don't even say it, and let me ease my conscience this way!

Now on to the wine.

Update: Bennett is SO broken, that she was only able to manage a dozen or so laps up and down the stairs with Romeo before pouncing on him and invoking his wrath. It appears I have another diva on my hands ...

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Days 12 & 13

Day 12, yesterday: See, this is why I didn't post a video of my "awesome new idea for teaching fronts". I tried it, I didn't like it. Idea discarded! Back to the same old routine with good plans of being pickier about the final goal. So that is what we did this evening. Bennett and I worked positions, front and heel position, speedy speedy speedy, lots of enthusiasm! Play, tug, treats, I want FAST and snappy position changes. So far, so good! Bennett approves of fast and snappy, so we're in agreement.

Day 13, today: Sunday mornings are for lazy naps. Luckily, Romeo and Bennett ran themselves into the ground last night during their fits of zoomies. They were both more than happy to chill and snooze most of the morning ... after potty time and breakfast, of course!

Yesterday, Bennett's ear glue let loose, so I tried to follow instructions from her breeder to fix things. I failed. It was a big goobery, glue-crusty mess! Sewing glue EVERYWHERE! I took advantage of the lazy atmosphere to re-tackle the ear issue. Bennett was a trooper and sat nice and still while I clipped and pulled and brushed to try and sort out the mess. For the most part, she was happy to lay on the couch and chew on the string of my bunnyhug as I fiddled with her ears.

This afternoon, we took our training-so-far on the road! Well ... into the parking lot. Due to space constrictions, I can't do much moving heel work indoors. We've been working positions in the living room and that is fine, but anything with motion is a little awkward. This was our first official attempt at working a moving heel. Overall, I'm REALLY impressed with our progress ... and was even MORE impressed when I got to see it on video. We definitely have a very promising base to build on here, and Bennett even showed me a glimpse of the sassy-pants strut she is going to have once she figures this all out! YAY!! Another prancing Sheltie heel!!

I tried to upload our heel training video, but Blogger complained. So HERE IS THE LINK to the video on Facebook. Most of the people reading this blog will be my friends on Facebook, so it should work. If you somehow found your way here and are NOT my Facebook friend ... I have no idea if you'll be able to see it. Sorry.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Days 10 & 11

Day 10, yesterday, was a bust. Between work, a doctor's appointment and an evening class, there was no training done. I was a horrible, neglectful, awful dog owner! I tried to compensate with extra kisses and a shared evening snack of chips.

Today, I started teaching Bennett a front position. With Gio and Romeo, I absolutely adore how they work, and honestly don't regret any of the challenges we've had along the way. Taking into consideration my personal starting point  and what we have all worked through, I regret nothing and am absolutely thrilled with them. ... BUT ... if I got to choose one thing to "fix" about their obedience performance, for both dogs I would fix their "front"! It is my own darned fault that they have sloppy fronts. Too far away, crooked, inconsistent, and requiring entirely too much coaching on my part, even years into their obedience careers. I want to nip that right in the bud with Bennett, and am going to work on some SOLID position work with her right from the beginning. Her heel position is beyond what I could hope for at this point. She is fast, eager, and precise ... exactly what I want from her! I want that same level of enthusiasm AND precision with her front position.

I've brain-farted what I think could be a really cool idea for teaching a front. I've never done it before, and I haven't personally seen anyone do it, either. However, I make no claims of being "the first" to come up with what I think is a pretty cool idea. I'm sure someone out there has already done it and claimed it. But it's new for me, so YAY!

With that in mind, I'm making a video documenting each step along the way. ... And I'm going to keep it secret until we have something of a finished product. Muahahaha! I'm doing this for a couple reasons. 1) It might fail horribly, and I don't want proof out there on the eternal interwebs documenting my failure. 2) I know some people *ahem ahem* that will swipe in and end up finishing training it to their dogs before I can get it done with Bennett, and steal my thunder! 3) The video will be cooler if I can splice it all together with each step along the way.

So, bear with me. Long story short, Bennett remains super eager and enthusiastic about our new game. We had a couple hiccups as I tried to figure out what the hell it is I am doing. But an overall successful clicker session!

On a somewhat different, though still related, tangent ... I'm frequently getting whines and/or scratches at the patio doors for potty times now! We did have one accident during our training session tonight (eager puppy didn't want to tap out for a break, and silly me couldn't tell the difference between sniffing for crumbs and sniffing for a squat). But earlier this evening, there were 2 alerts to go outside! Hoorah! Progress!! ... Now, if only I could convince her to completely empty her bladder in one trip, instead of saving some for later. For a girly that can hold it all day while I am at work, I don't know why she feels the need to schedule pee times for every half hour in the evening!