Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Learning Time

I am in a major learning time right now.  It seems that, out of nowhere, I've come across quite a lot of new training and performance insights and realizations.  I guess that has come along with Tessa and I reaching the end point of where we really can go at the level of training that we have done so far.  If we want to go farther, I need to learn . . . a lot . . . about . . . a lot . . .  And this goes for Dean, as well, and maybe even . . . Speedy!

There has been a rather popular topic of discussion on a few of the lists and groups that I read this past week: the tension, if you will, between use of food in training and the fact that one cannot have food in the ring in competition.

Some have observed - and rightly - that many handlers who train with food and/or toys have a difficult time making the transition into the competition ring where such reinforcers are not typically permitted.  Granted, there are exceptions, such as World Cynosport APDT Rally, Cyber Rally-O, and the DCD Challenge in the Honor Class.  But, by and large, such reinforcers are not usually allowed in titling events.

Now, this isn't really something that I'm concerned about with Tessa.  She's a dream.  I know that I will have whatever I have with her whether I have food with me in the ring or not.  If something is trained to fluency, she will perform.

But Dean is another story.  This has been something that he has always struggled with.  He really does stress in the ring when I do not have food or a toy.  If there is food in my pocket, he is fine.

Dean is complex.  I always have to remember that his anxiety disorder can be in play when he stresses.  I can't make the simple assumption that any issues that he encounters are just training issues and I must make my training choices with that in mind.

At the same time, I also know that Dean is capable of a lot more than he has previously achieved.  He has it in him to be more confident and enthusiastic in the ring.  If he can do it when I have food in my pocket, he can do it when I don't.  I just have to learn how to build the bridge that he needs to understand that the two different scenarios are actually exactly the same!

Dean and I are at a crossroads.  I can put some consideration, thought, and work into his training and he can go into the ring and do some nice work.  Or, I can cut my losses and just play with him for fun.  And, really, I think the best approach is somewhere right in the middle of those two options.

Tessa, on the other hand, needs skills, skills, skills!  She is a thousand times more confident and comfortable than she was even a year ago.  She is ready to soar, but I need to provide her with skills!  Agility skills, Rally FrEe skills, and Freestyle skills!

And I think that my skill training needs an overhaul.  I think I can learn to train better, and I am ready to start exploring ways to do just that.

This is an exciting time, but it is rather daunting, as well.  When the comfortable tried and true has been exhausted and you have to move beyond the comfort zone, there are questions, uncertainties, and some degree of cluelessness!  Of course, there is also excitement and anticipation.

Tessa and I are going to go where I've never been before.  That's pretty cool!  But if we are going to do that, I have work to do!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TNT Sunday - Dean Dog

As I mentioned in my last entry, Dean hasn't done any Agility, save for a bit of jumping practice in the yard last week, since February!  I was very interested to see what he would do after such a long break.

Last year I was expecting Dean to be super comfortable trialing at his home training center, but I found that he actually seemed bothered by the fact that a trial was going on where things are usually much quieter!  This year, he was exactly the opposite.  He seemed very interested and excited to be there.  I walked him and Tessa up and down the long driveway several times, and he was clearly enjoying every second of it.

I realized as I was walking the course for him that I had no idea how to handle him!  It has been so long and I never know exactly what he is going to be like out there.  As my instructor said recently, Dean presents as several different dogs!  That is true - I never know if I am going to get partially shut down Dean, just a bit tentative Dean, playful goofy Dean, or drivey fast Dean!  So, how can I plan handling?  That is a question!

So, I just walked the course as if Tessa would run it.  I didn't really care about qualifying with Dean.  I just want him to enjoy himself in the ring.

His first run went well.  He missed two jumps because there was too much "Tessa bubble" between the jumps and myself.  Had I babysat them more, he would likely have gotten them.  No matter - he clearly had a very good time out there.

His second run was even better and we almost qualified.  Two little handling bobbles at the end NQ'd it, but it was pretty near perfection!

And Dean was happy.  I haven't seen him this relaxed and comfortable at a trial in I don't know how long!  I never ask for more than for Dean to feel it's good to be Dean!

Video of Dean's Round 2 Standard run.  I've watched this over and over!  I just love it!

It was good to be back doing Agility with Dean Dog.  I think he is very comfortable at the 16 inch jump height, and I believe that he can go on to enjoy this game for quite a while.

Of course, our focus has become more Rally FrEe, and that's fine.  But I'm glad we are out there running again.

Photo Credit:  Joan Dandy

TNT - Sunday - Tessa

Although it was raining lightly on Sunday morning, I decided to go back to the trial to run Tessa in the two Standard courses that I had signed her up for.  I also took Dean along to run in Level 1 Standard.

Dean hasn't done any Agility at all since I pulled him out of class back in February!  Knowing that I would probably take him up to the trial, I did have him do some jumping last week in the yard to make sure that he was still in condition to run a couple of courses.  (More on Dean's run in a post coming soon!)

We had quite a while to wait before it was Tessa's turn for Level 2.  Since Dean was with her, I left Tessa in the car while I watched the 4, 5, and C dogs run both rounds of Standard, and then Level 3 run one round.  I enjoyed having a chance to sit and watch.

Finally, it was Tessa's turn for Standard Round 1.  Unfortunately, I found that I was still concerned about the whole grass/marking thing.  I know that rain brings scents out of the grass and a lot of dogs were getting very distracted by scents out there!

Because of that, I was not the supportive handler that I always strive to be.  I was so hyperfocused on the possibility that she would catch an irresistible scent that I micromanaged the first few pieces of equipment horribly.

The weaves were 4th on the course and that's where it finally came to a boil.  Tessa saw the weaves and began to wander and sniff.  I called her but she continued to sniff, so I clapped my hands - harder than I intended to.  She looked up, very startled!  Her eyes were like "WHOA!!"

In that moment I realized that I needed to chill out.  I said, in a very soft voice, "OK Tessa, let's go over here and weave"  She did, and I gave her tons of praise as we went on.  The rest of the run was much better.  I relaxed and gave her some room to work, and she did a great job.  She did back jump the tire at the end, but I just said, "OK, now let's do it this way!" and she jumped it in the correct direction.  One off course is acceptable in Level 2 (glad it wasn't NADAC!).

I don't have any video and I'm glad.  I felt absolutely awful after that run.  Not because of anything Tessa did.  She was just being a dog in the way the good Lord made her.  If she is stress sniffing a bit at the weaves, that's on me.  I felt bad because I let my desire for the Q override my patience with my dog.

We did get the Q, but I was more than ready to put that behind me.

As we waited our turn to run our second round of Standard, I promised Tessa that I would do better this time, and I did.  It was a nice run - I wish I had video of this one.  She did struggle at the weaves again and I ended up having to hand target lure her through them.  But I didn't lose patience with her, and I didn't hyperfocus on the possibility of her marking.

We got the Q on that run, too.  Barely - we had two time faults - but we got it!

And with that, Tessa and I finished Level 2 altogether!   I am very, very proud of her for this!  She is the first dog I've run who has completely finished both Level 1 and Level 2!  Now we can put just "CL2" in her titles to indicate all that she has earned.  At least for now!

Congratulations to:


Tessa's full Level 1 and 2 Tracking Sheet, along with her placement ribbons from her last two Standard runs!

Inline image 1

Monday, May 20, 2013

TNT - the Rest of Saturday

After Tessa and I survived the most insane Snooker run ever, I was hoping that Round 2 Snooker would go a lot more smoothly.  Unfortunately, it was not to be!

I had a plan - a good one - but it all went south when Tessa came out of her first color - a tunnel.  I was running toward the next red jump when I realized she wasn't with me.  I turned and called her, but it was too late.  She had found a spot where another dog had marked and she squatted down to mark right over it.

Bummer.  I can't blame her, though.  I actually capitalize on the fact that she does that all the time.  I take her to areas where I am sure dogs have marked to encourage her to do her business faster.

This was an outdoor trial.  She really doesn't know the difference between marking in the middle of an outdoor Agility run and marking on a tree on the other side of the parking lot.

I was a little leary after that.  Our next run was Jackpot Level 2 - Tessa's first distance gamble!  We hit non-traditional Jackpots for our Level 1 Q and first Level 2 Q.  I was very eager to see how she would do with a gamble.

But . . . during the Level 3 runs, a dog stopped to pee just after coming out of the tunnel that was the first part of the gamble!  UGH!!  I was worried now that she would catch the scent and stop again!  And this time she would be over the distance line, so I couldn't babysit the end of that tunnel!

Fortunately, the distance gamble for Levels 1/2 was pulled much closer to the line, so the pee spot was a good couple of feet off of Tessa's running line coming out of that tunnel.  That made me slightly less worried.

In we went when it was our turn.  I had a pretty simple opening planned.  We only needed 16 points in the opening.  We did a jump, a jump, and then the A-Frame.  The judge was standing pretty close to the down side of the A-Frame.  Tessa looked at her and crept down slowly, but she did it.  Then, that scalawag, ran toward the judge looking for treats!  But she called right off and went with me to the next piece of equipment - the tunnel.

Then we did a two jump combination to another tunnel.  We needed to burn some time, so I brought her around to do the jump combo again.  She got distracted by the judge again, and ended up doing just one jump, so we got no points for that.  Then back into that last tunnel and, finally, to the weaves, where I planned to hang out until the buzzer.

Perfect timing!

Into the gamble we went.  No hesitation at the tunnel!  She took the gamble obstacles - a jump, a tire, and a jump - perfection!!!

Tessa is the first dog I have ever completed a distance gamble with successfully.  Maddie tried a couple and wasn't successful.  She got her one and only Jackpot Q on a non-traditional.  Dean has never even tried!

Here is our Jackpot run . . . 

That run also completed our Level 2 Strategy title, so as of the end of Saturday, we only needed two more Q's - both Standard - to finish Level 2.

Aside from the marking incident, it was a good day.  I liked this judge a lot, the company was very pleasant, and I was looking forward to going back on Sunday morning.

Tessa's Traditional Ribbon Photo with Saturday Ribbons, including her new Title Ribbon . . . 


Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Memorable Snooker Run!

Today Tessa and I went to a CPE Agility trial at Dandy Dog Training, which is actually the place where we train.  Any "home field advantage" really was cancelled out by the fact that we haven't run outside since last summer.  I actually think we would have had an easier time at Westminster, Bella Vista, or even Periland!  But we did enjoy ourselves, and - for the most part - we had a great time.

Our first run of the day was Level 3 Snooker.  The course was good and it wasn't difficult to make a plan for the game.  However, my plan went out the window at the very first jump!

Here's the play by play!

Tessa knocked the bar on the first red jump!  In CPE Snooker, you can continue if the dog knocks a bar on one red jump, but you have to go find another red and continue from there.

In all the years that I have been playing this game - and with three different dogs - I have never been in a situation where the dog knocked a bar on a red jump!  I have never, in all that time, ever had a backup plan in mind in case that happened!  I may have to rethink that in the future!

To make things even more . . . interesting . . . the judge blew the whistle!  I hesitated, mentally, for a second, thinking, "don't I get to go find another red?"  In the time that took, the judge realized what had happened and she told us to go on, so we did.

I had Tessa go to the red jump that would have been our second one of the course, and then I had her complete the tunnel-jump combination that I had planned after that one.

But after that, it was nothing but improv!

After Tessa took the jump in that combination, I thought, "find a red!"  We took the nearest red. Then "find a color . . . TIRE!!!"  Tessa had gone wide after the red jump, but she immediately came around to take the tire.

Then I realized I was in a bad spot!  I was pretty sure that if I turned in the direction of the next red jump, Tessa was going to take the #3 jump, which was not a red!  So, we broke into some Freestyle!  I called her front and I moved backwards, with her coming toward me!  Once I knew my turn would not send her to a color, I turned, and cued the next red jump!!

Then I directed her to the #3 jump, and then into the course we went!!

The course went really well, although I did come close to going the wrong way at one point.  I remembered just in time and we got where we needed to go!

The game ended after the #5 tunnel, and we headed to the table.

That felt like the longest Snooker run of my entire life!!

Here it is . . . 

I will say this - it WAS fun!!  Tessa enjoyed it, and she did a great job.  It was almost all on-the-fly handling on my part, but she read everything.  She has come a LONG way in that regard.  There is no way we could have pulled this off a year ago!

I have to give a shout out to Maddie, too.  She enjoyed Snooker so much, and was so good at it, that I played with her every opportunity I could.  That experience served me well today.  If I hadn't been able to play the game without really thinking about what I needed to do when the whole thing changed for me, it wouldn't have gone so well!!

We ended up getting the Q - just!  We needed 30 points and we earned exactly 30 points!!

I am having fun playing with Tessa in Level 3.  We have 3 Q's in Level 3 (and 2 NQ's!!), and we earned all three of them by the skin of our teeth!  We can definitely stand to be in Level 3 for quite some time while we work on kicking our skill level up a notch!

For now, we are definitely right where we should be!

Photo Credit:  Ann Hereford
Image used with Permission

Friday, May 17, 2013

Continuing Education

This summer I plan to take some time to continue my education as a trainer, and continue Tessa and Dean's education as . . . I don't know . . . trained dogs?!!?

I just ordered, and am in the process of watching, Emily Larlham's new Clicker DVD.  In spite of the fact that I have been doing clicker work for almost 10 years, there are still some clicker skills that I really need to improve.  I really want to be able to use the clicker to teach Tessa, and maybe even Dean, some really sharp fluent tricks for Freestyle and Rally FrEe.  Just from what I've seen so far, I believe I will glean some useful information.

I am also auditing Denise Fenzi's Heeling Games class at the bronze level.  I am particularly excited about this.  Dean has always adored heeling, but his skills have broken down recently.  Most likely lack of practice is the reason for that, so I am hoping that by working him through the material for this class, his former excellent heeling skills will return, and even improve beyond that level!

Ms. Fenzi is the first traditional Obedience trainer that I have come across that I respect completely.  She is almost 100% reinforcement based in her training - no "motivational pops", no shock collars, not even verbal corrections or NRM's - so I don't have to sift through a lot of correction based ideas in her work to find concepts that are applicable to myself and my dogs.  And she gets results!

I have often thought that there is quite a lot to be learned from the Obedience world that would benefit my Freestyle training.  But I have always been deterred by the strong culture of correction within the sport.  Now, finally, there is someone I can learn from without constantly having to try to weed the correction based elements out.  Ms. Fenzi is making an invaluable contribution to the Obedience world by teaching others how to train primarily through +R for success in that sport, but I believe that she brings something into dog sports that will benefit trainers far beyond the realm of competitive Obedience.  At least this Freestyler thinks so!

And this is perfect for Dean!  He has always responded well to motivational training techniques in Agility, but I am unsure of how to translate those into heelwork without overstimulating him.  I am hoping that I will learn a lot of helpful information and techniques through this class.  This may well be the key to helping Dean to be a happy and confident dog in the Rally FrEe ring, which, of course, is one of my immediate goals for him currently.

So, just a couple more weeks of school and then it's off to training La La Land!!  It can't come soon enough!!



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Quiet Week

We are on a week break from training classes, so this has been a pretty quiet week.

Biggest on our agenda has been vet appointments!  Speedy had to go in on Saturday.  He has been limping in an unusual way for a week or so.  It is not unusual for him to limp a bit now and then when his arthritis acts up, but this was different.  I thought I found a cut on a paw pad and I figured that was causing the problem.  But the cut healed and he seemed to be experiencing worse pain, so I took him in to the vet.

That turned out to be a good move.  He has an infection on his leg - just behind his largest paw pad!  I don't know what happened or how the infection developed, but it is nasty looking.  I'm amazed, actually, that I couldn't find it on my own!  Sometimes it takes a trained eye.

I was very proud of Speedy at the vet.  Years ago he actually had to be muzzled if the vet was going to handle him without my help.  He has always been fine as long as I have a hand on him somewhere, but I used to be very vigilant with him.  Now I don't even have to have a hand on him while he is being examined, and he can go into the back by himself to have blood drawn.  They took him away to clean the wound and he took it all in stride.  He even got compliments on his cooperation!

He came home with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, drops for his nose (unrelated to the paw issue), and he is feeling much better now.  The infection still looks again, but he is prancing again and he is clearly feeling much more like himself.

Last night it was Dean's turn.  He just needed a routine blood test for his medication, and it was an uneventful trip.

Tomorrow night Sammie goes for his routine bloodwork.

I really should get out some weave poles and work on them with Tessa, just to give her a reminder of what she is supposed to do with six weaves!  That may or may not happen, depending on how motivated I am one of these evenings!

In the meantime, we are all enjoying some down time.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

And In Agility . . .

We are officially working on sending to tunnels!

Last night at class we worked on some short and simple courses that had jumps, a tunnel, weaves, and a table.  Tessa did well with the sequences overall, but the time has really come to build reliable sends to the tunnels.

This is actually bit tricky.  In trials, where Tessa tends to be "up", she often does send to tunnels.  Sometimes she even runs off and grabs tunnels she shouldn't take!  But I won't consider her tunnel sends to be reliable until she can actually do them on cue in training situations, as well as competition.  And one of these days we are going to run into a distance gamble in Jackpot and I want Tessa to be ready for that!

We went back to square one with this.  I stood near a tunnel entrance and cued the tunnel with word and subtle arm/leg movement and then tossed a treat for her to chase as she came out.  Gradually I backed up.  I only got to a couple of feet before it fell apart, so this is absolutely something that we need to do some work on.

Time to get out my tunnel at home, rig up some weights, and do some tunnel training!!


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why Debate?

I have been known, from time to time, to get involved in debate over dog training topics in various online forums and discussion groups.  The main point of disagreement in the vast majority of these debates has been the use, or lack thereof, of "corrections" in training.  And I will freely admit that I generally enjoy those debates.  Sometimes they degrade into flying accusations and personal insults, but when the discussions happen with a mutual desire to understand the position of the other side, I find them to be fascinating conversations.

One observation that I have made within the context of these debates is that there are almost always participants who object to the very discussion itself!  These folks tend to jump in with, "why are we having this discussion again?" or "nobody will ever change their mind, so why bother to talk about this?" or something to that effect.  I always wonder why, if they object discussion of the topic out of hand, those particular people choose to get involved with it, but since they always do, these are questions that bear consideration.

Why have the debate?  Why participate?  What motivates those who do so?

Why have the debate?

It is true - there are those who are set on their particular position.  I will readily admit that I am one of those people.  No matter how many times somebody tells me that they prefer to incorporate correction into their training, for whatever reasons they care to share, I am not going to choose to do so.  And I recognize the fact that many of those who incorporate correction into their training are not going to choose to learn +R ways to train in place of use of correction based on anything that I have to say about the matter.

Should we not, therefore, separate into our particular "camps", do what we understand to be best, and leave it at that?  I would say . . . no!

First of all, we don't live in isolated bubbles.  Typically, we train in the same training centers, we compete in the same venues, those of us who teach classes are colleagues with those who choose different training approaches.  Many of us work with students who have worked with instructors who promote different approaches.  And, of course, when we choose to discuss training online, there are always members of a particular group who have a different point of view.

In addition, I firmly believe that, in spite of the differences that exist, there is much that we have to learn from each other.  I consider it to be a good thing to understand the motivation behind why a trainer would choose a method that I personally would not, even if I cannot, in the end "agree" with their personal training choices.  I believe that it is beneficial for those who do not have a good understanding of what +R based training is actually capable to consider the possibilities even if they cannot "agree" with my personal choices.

Sometimes a particular criticism that is made by those who choose to incorporate correction inspires me to learn to train smarter and train better.  While I am not personally a "high level" trainer, I do want to be the best representative of those who choose to train primarily through +R that I can be.  Having an awareness of valid criticisms of the practices of +R based trainers can give me information that allows me to avoid those types of errors.

Why participate? What motivates those who do?

I would imagine that the reasons why people get into these particular debates is as varied as the individuals themselves.  Some are looking to change people's minds.  Some are crossover trainers who want to share something good that they have found.  Some are intensely interested in the subject and just want to discuss it.

Personally, I find that I get drawn into this debate when a misconception about +R based training is being put "out there" or promoted in some way.  When I read things like: "+R based training doesn't work when (insert situation here) . . ., "+R training kills dogs", "+R training produces a dog who can never do anything without food", "+R trainers are really punishing their dogs, but they just don't know it", "+R training produces dogs who cannot handle pain/stress/difficult situations", and the like, I end up jumping in to try to provide clarification, present an alternate point of view, or even dispute the claim.

I am well aware of the fact that doing this annoys or even angers those who promote those misconceptions, that there are those who are not going to be open to consideration of another perspective, and some who are going to hear what they want to hear instead of what I am actually saying.  But I am also aware of the fact that there are those who are open to consideration of a different point of view.  They are not typically the most vocal participants in these debates - often they choose to lurk altogether.  But I know they are out there.  And I am convinced that those who are open to consideration of objective facts have a right to hear both sides of the argument so they can make their own informed training choices.

When I participate in training methodology debates, my comments really are for the eyes and ears of those who are open to learning the facts.

Also, I am intensely interested in the subject and I want to discuss it.

In Conclusion

There have been times when I have regretted entering into these debates.  I have been accused of lying, of creating straw men, of saying things that I never said or implied.  One time I needed to change the address of a blog that I was keeping and to make all of my youtube videos private after someone who disagreed with me started to share them on a forum, making derisive comments about them.  I've been told that my dogs don't actually know things that I have trained, that I've ruined my dogs, and that I am not qualified to have a position on this matter.

In spite of that, I still believe that this topic can be debated objectively and in a manner that does not include accusation, innuendo, or personal attacks.  And when it is handled in that manner, it is a debate that I thoroughly enjoy taking part in.  I always learn something about those on the "other side" and learning is always worthwhile.