Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bad Habits

I attended a Sharon Nelson seminar on Thursday and Friday and learned a lot about building a relationship with your dog and putting an end to undesirable behaviors.  My pack has one bad habit that if I can put an end to it would make Sharon's seminar a bargain at twice the price.  When my neighbors come home, the dogs charge the fence and bark.  Dusty absolutely loses his mind and goes into an altered state.  Belle barks mostly out of "fear."  Libby loves to shoot off her mouth.  Max barks because the others are barking, and sometimes I suspect he does it to get them going so he can sit back and watch the chaos he has instigated.

I had planned to go up to the fence and beat on it and myself with an empty pop bottle when Dusty loses his mine barking at the neighbors.  My voice will hopefully remain upbeat and I am just going to have a fence-beating party.  I warned my neighbors so they don't call the men in little white coats to come take me away.  I didn't get a chance to try it yesterday, and today is football gathering day at the man cave next door, so I'll probably have to wait until Monday to try it.

Yesterday, the dogs went bonkers at the front window when someone pulled into the drive of my other neighbor's home.  I grabbed my empty pop bottle and joined them at the window.  It didn't have quite the effect I was hoping for--I was hoping they would all scatter.  For a short time, they all barked more intensely.  Then Dusty and Belle left the window.  Max continued to woof in his deep voice, and Libby began to howl.  (Before we moved into town, I used to lead the dogs in howl fests.  They used to really carry on when the Bears scored a TD.  I don't do that anymore because my neighbors might think I'm crazy.)  Anyway, I was less than impressed with the results of my first effort to stop the barking.  Poor Ed, my husband, was outside getting the mail.  The guy who pulled into my neighbor's drive gave him a quizzical look, and all Ed could do was shrug his shoulders and say, "Beats me."

This morning I was checking my e-mails when my neighbor pulled in.  Only Dusty and Belle were outside at the time.  When the barking started, I got up as fast as I could and grabbed my trusty empty pop bottle.  I think they may have stopped barking before I even got to the patio door, and as soon as I opened it, they come trotting to me.  AWESOME!!!!  They have come away from the fence before, but not without being called.

I'll be sure to post again if this turns out to be a success.

P.S. August 23, 2012.  Yeah, well.  The dogs will still charge the fence when the neighbors come home.  On the other hand, if I realize my neighbors are pulling into their driveway before Dusty and Libby lose it, I can often keep them from launching into full scale hysteria with a simple "leave it" or "come."

P.P.S.  April 10, 2013.  There has been a considerable improvement in the dogs' behavior at the fence.  (It's about time!)  I instituted a zero tolerance policy last fall and tried to stick with it.  Dusty is so much improved, he's like a different dog.  Unfortunately, Libby still enjoys barking way too much, but being consistently crated for doing so has helped.  I try to say "quiet" just once.  If the dog doesn't comply, then it's off for some alone time in a crate.  The most important points of my current campaign are using only one command, remaining neutral when I go get the dog to crate him/her, and of course, never allowing the barking to go without consequences.

Pain is a Good Motivator

I came to the realization yesterday that I have settled for behaviors in my dogs, thinking it was good enough.  For example, Belle was in the habit of taking treats like a piranha.  I had worked on breaking her of the habit ever since she was a puppy--she's 4.5 years old now.  I finally settled for managing the way I presented the treats to her.  Then about three weeks ago, she jumped into the air to grab a frisbee from my hand.  Unfortunately, my forefinger was on the rim where she grabbed it.  It resulted in two deep puncture wounds which fortunately are healing nicely and never showed any signs of infection.

Needless to say, this incident motivated me to put an end to Belle's fishy ways.  No more grabbing toys; no touching with teeth when taking a treat.  I didn't have to get nasty about it, but I did have to become emphatic and consistent about it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Attractive Off-Course

I also ran Belle on the Whatcom jumpers course.  The first time through, I left the bars on the ground, and was really surprised at how far we got.  I decided to put the bars up so the challenge would be a little closer to an actual course.  Belle did really well, but I quickly found that the #15 jump was a very viable off-course both in the beginning and end of the course.

I learned that if you're going to layer a jump like this one, you have to consider how you're going to handle passing through a box where one of the side jumps is not very far from the dog's intended path.

1.  Standing in the red area seems to be the worst handling choice, but even that can be overcome by issuing a quiet "out" command.

2.  When handling from a distance, a good choice is to be to the right of the off-course jump as the dog comes through the box.

3.  If running closer to the dog, running close to the off-course jump (but still layering it) seems to be enough information for the dog to continue from #2 to #3.

4.  The absolute worst choice I made was to run toward the lower right of the course as Belle passed through the box for the closing.

Needed: More Front Cross Training

(P.S. 03/23/11.  In re-watching the video, it is clear I'm the one who needs more front cross training.  I'm a late with my pre-cue almost every time.  Once Dusty is in the air, he can do nothing about changing direction until he lands.  He MUST have the information before his take-off stride in order to achieve a tight turn.)
This morning, I set up the Whatcom jumpers course posted October 23rd and ran it with Dusty.  When David ran Dusty on a Regular course a week ago, he encountered the same problem that I had with Dusty this morning--Dusty failed to heed a front cross and turn off a straight line.  After viewing the footage from last Sunday in slow motion, I came to the conclusion that Dusty was clearly not heeding a timely front cross.  When I analyzed today's footage, I found the same thing to be true.

Below are four series of frames from today.  In the first series, I gave timely signals, but no verbal command, and Dusty takes the off-course jump.

Front cross pre-cue given.

Handler rotation begun.
Handler rotated 180 degrees.

Message ignored.

In the second series, I issued a "come" command, but Dusty lands and then turns, adding a couple of strides to his path.

In this third series, Dusty is coming around a circle of jumps, but despite the really early pre-cue and "come", he fails to start turning until after he lands.

The last two photos are from our effort to do this course from the 15-point bonus line.  Either Dusty has become pattern-trained, or the use of "wrap" instead of "come" combined with my lateral distance has resulted in what I would have like to have seen in our other efforts.  Dusty is already turning as he comes over the jump.  Notice how he has shaved a couple of yards off his path to the next jump.

Here is the video:

Luckily, there are a couple of sequences I can set up using this course to work with Dusty on his ability to read a front cross when there is layering involved.  But another thing to keep in mind is that "wrap" may be more effective in getting him to turn off a straight line than "come."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thursday Night Run-Thru

Thursday night's course was an Excellent Standard course designed by Siong Black.  I was really surprised when I walked it how flowing it was for an AKC course.  The only part that was iffy was the angle of approach to the dogwalk.  Either your dog's performance of the dogwalk included squaring himself up for the approach, or you managed it to make sure they didn't fall off.  Most of the handlers managed the approach to some degree (including me).  However, there were several dogs that had been trained very well and needed no help squaring up to the ramp.

I was able to run the first time through, but then my back muscles started to spasm, so I lead out and walked slowly through the course keeping as much lateral distance between Belle and me as possible.  It seemed like she was running so slow, but her run was only 4.5 or so seconds slower, and a lot of that was sucked up by slow contacts.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A New Sport Comes to the US - Treibballing

I found a reference to Treibball when looking at the schedule for the upcoming pet show in St. Charles, Illinois.  Since I didn't have a clue, I Googled the word and found it refers to a game played in Germany that involves herding exercise balls into a goalie's net.  There are numerous videos on YouTube--most in German.  However, Living with Dogs has several YouTube videos in English that show how to begin training.  They also offer a book translated from German, Treibballing Handbook 

From watching the German videos, treibballing looks like an excellent way to exercise your dog's body and mind and to increase the handler-dog working bond.

Dusty is a reactive, over-the-top dog who gets very excited in the presence of large balls.  I took him out and worked on sending him to a mat, which is step one.  I was really shocked that he was able to go to a mat and lie down.  I didn't think I had taught him that behavior, but apparently I did.  (Either that or he learned from watching me teach it to other dogs.)

The next step was to bring out the pig ball.  (It's a hard plastic ball about 18" in diameter that was designed to keep pigs from getting bored.)  Dusty goes ape over this ball, and I very rarely let him play with it.  While straddling the ball, I sent Dusty to his mat.  He was able to do it, but it was hard for him to ignore the ball.  When released to his reward, he lunged at the ball several times.  If Dusty can learn to do this new sport, it may prove to be transforming experience as far as his general reactivity and self-control are concerned. 

4RK9's NADAC Trial

Belle, Dusty and I went to the 4RK9's NADAC trial this past weekend.  I was really hoping to have a nice course to try for a bonus run, but none of the courses were similar to what we have been training.  We did try on Saturday's Touch n Go course, but Belle had a "deer in the headlights" look when I tried to send her out.  Our distance work payed off big time in Saturday's Chances run which involved sending the dog out 35 feet not once, but twice.  Ironically, Sunday's Chances course involved no great distances and only one Elite team Q'd.  Overall, Belle and I were 8 for 12.

Dusty and I were 1 for 4 on Saturday.  On Sunday, he ran with David Jerome of the Quad Cities Dog Center and went 3 for 6.  (Actually, they would have been 4 for 6, but Dusty ran out of the ring to me after one of his runs.)  Saturday's Q is the only Q I've gotten with Dusty this year, so he will be running exclusively with David in the future.

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. - John Wooden

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chances Sequence -- Snooker Skill

I originally designed this Chances sequence with the handler's line at an Elite distance.  However, once Belle started running it, we ran into a major snag, namely the send from #5 to #6.

When I tried sending Belle to #6 from the H1 position, she ended up taking the wrong end of the tunnel.  When I stood at the H2 position, Belle either took the wrong end or took the off-course red jump on her way to #6.  It was an interesting challenge.

I taught Belle to take obstacles that present themselves as a straight line in our foundation work.  This is a skill that is extremely useful in straightforward closings, but sometimes, I find other spots where I can use it as well.  If I can just run my fastest, trusting Belle to take the obstacles that are in front of her as she hurries to catch up with me, it allows us to get a nice burst of speed in some of our runs.

I looked carefully at the path from #5 to #6, and from my point of view, the off-course jump is definitely not in line with them.  If I wanted Belle to take that jump on her way to the tunnel, I would put pressure on her line and give her a specific verbal cue to take that jump.  I think Belle took the off-course jump because the distance from #5 to the tunnel was about 30 feet--a rather big spacing between obstacles.

Although, this is not a particularly NADAC-like challenge, it is one that we will re-visit since by-passing obstacles not in line with each other is a useful skill in Snooker. Belle has grabbed obstacles on her way to my lead out position at the back of a Snooker course in the past, so we always practice this skill before a USDAA or CPE trial.  This exercise ups the ante by requiring Belle to "bypass" an obstacle on a send; something I've never tried in trial.

Video of Yesterday's Course

It is absolutely beautiful outside today, so I decided to set up the camera and video a little bit of work using the course I shared yesterday.  Since the dogwalk was already there, I added it to my course as you will see in the video.

A word about my red merle, Dusty.  He is a rescue that I adopted almost six years ago.  He has always had a difficult time with head-checking.  Possibly because I lacked the skill and timing to get my commands out fast enough.  In the early days, this was noticeable even when he was jumping; now it shows up mostly when I send him to a tunnel.  He has collided with the occasional sandbag when continuing to run at full speed while looking over his shoulder at me.

It took Dusty and me three calendar years to earn our EAC, and to date, he has only one Elite Chances Q.  Partly this is because I no longer run him in trials very often.  However, I will be running him this Saturday, so wish us luck.  Sunday, he will run with his new best friend, David.  Unlike me, David can actually run fast enough to keep up with Dusty, and Dusty really, really likes it.  In fact, he was quite miffed the first time he heard David running his own dog at a trial.  (He's gotten over that.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tunnel Sends, Discriminations and Wraps

I designed the course below so I could work on turning Belle off a straight line to a tunnel and to work on sending Dusty into a tunnel without  head checking.
It can be used for speed laps as shown, with or without the bonus lines; for tunnel end discriminations (white #9 to black #1 or white #1); for tunnel/jump discriminations; and for wrap or tight work. 

A Visitor and Another Regular Course

I found this charming fellow waiting for me out on the agility field Sunday morning.

After finishing up with the last Regular course I set up, I searched through my files, and found another one that would allow me to keep the dogwalk where it was and just move the A-frame a little.   
I was very pleased with Belle's ability to handle this with me remaining behind the 15-point bonus line.  Her only weak spot was making the turn from #4 to #5.  More than half the time on her initial run, she took the off-course tunnel.

I was amazed when I ran Dusty on the reverse of this course.  He was able to run about 3/4's of it with me remaining behind the 15-point line.  He seemed to run out of motivation or confidence around #16.  But for a dog who only is worked with lateral distance, he did very well.

Dusty had a very difficult time with the weave pole entrance.  He insisted on wrapping the first pole and coming in on the left side of the weaves.  I finally resorted to putting up a gate so that wasn't an option, and we spent some time working on weave pole entries.

I was really surprised that a dog with so many years of agility behind him didn't have enough muscle memory to keep him from entering the poles on the wrong side.  We've had weave issues in the past, but they were mostly a matter of Dusty blowing by the entry (on the right side of the weaves) because he didn't want to collect himself.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More 15-Point Bonus Work

We have a NADAC trial coming up, so I decided to start putting up full courses and practicing the distance challenges.  I set this one up yesterday.

While walking it, I got the brilliant brainstorm to do the last half first, and to my amazement, Belle nailed it.  Then we tried the first half, which involves sending Belle away from me over the A-frame.

Unfortunately, Belle has a tendency to creep into the yellow on both the A-frame and the dogwalk unless I'm running a path parallel to hers.  I don't have to be close, but I have to be moving or calling her toward me.

I was very pleased when Belle managed to do the A-frame with a minimum of creeping.  When I released her from the A-frame though she made straight for the tunnel.  I decreased my distance and tried again, showing Belle that I wanted her to turn to the jump.  (Actually, from the bonus line, it would either be a "come over" or a "left over.")

Interestingly, when I ran this course in a trial earlier this year, I failed to Q with either Dusty or Belle.  I messed up by trying to do a front cross between #6 and #7 and ended up pulling both dogs off the #8 jump.  I managed to redirect Dusty to #8, but then he dropped the bar.  With Belle, I just kept going.

This morning (Wednesday) I went out with Belle and we ran the course in full.  Everything went great until she exited the weaves and took an off-course jump.  Once I analyzed the video, it was quite easy to see why.  By the time I issued my "go over" command she had turned out of the weaves and was facing the off-course jump.  The proper cue would have been "out over."

In order to practice getting Belle to take the correct jump upon exiting the weaves, I sent her into them several more times.  There was no weave issue involved originally, but after being sent to do the weaves several more times, Belle became confused about what I wanted and her weave pole performance suffered.  Moral:  Think carefully about how to work with you dog when trying to fix a handling problem, or you may end up creating a different problem.

Monday, October 4, 2010

More Distance Exercises

I set up another Jane Simmons-Moake course this morning and had a go with Belle and Dusty.  This is the exercise we worked on:

I started with Belle and quickly discovered that getting the correct end of the tunnel (white circle #4) was a very difficult thing.  The first time, Belle took the dogwalk, and on our other attempts, she took the wrong end of the tunnel (white square #4).  I brought out Dusty and figured we'd just mess around and do what we could do with this exercise.  To my amazement, he had absolutely no trouble getting the correct entrance. 

I decided to try this exercise with Belle again and tape it.  Maybe I could see what was going wrong.  I never did figure why it didn't work, but more importantly, we eventually got it right.  Here's the video:

My statement above brings to mind advice from Fred Brattain (The Art of Getting Out of Your Own Way).  When you analyze a run, don't think about what you did wrong; visualize what you should have done.  It is a subtle distinction; but one that is worth making.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Follow-Up on JSM Distance Exercise

I've been working on the distance exercises from Ms Simmons-Moake's May, 2008 article for several days now, and I've learned a lot.
Pushing out to #7 works about 2/3's of the time for Belle and me.

Going from #7 to #8 requires a verbal "wrap" from me as well as signaling the turn to #8 as soon as Belle has committed to #7 is not enough.  It requires a verbal "wrap" or it's either not going to happen or it's going to be a very wide turn.

I can't take #9 for granted even though it's close to me.

Belle responds nicely to the drop of my arm and turn of my body to take the inside jump after #4.