Sunday, August 3, 2014

Willie's First Trial Experience

I debated about whether or not to enter Willie in a CPE trial on August 2nd.  He was 15 months old on the 22nd of July.  I finally opted to run him in Colors, Wild Card and Jumpers since the only obstacle not fully trained (or so I thought) is the AF.

I was hoping to take the DW on the Colors and Wild Card courses, but my knee was bothering me too much to run the length of the DW and when I tried pushing Willie out to them, he took the straight tunnel that was about 10' closer to me and parallel to the DW.  A new obstacle discrimination variation for us to work on at home.

Willie's jumpers run was beautiful until the last obstacle which was a tire.  Someone thought he had hit the metal support frame with his shoulder, but in slow-motion, it looks like he missed it.  Thank goodness for breakaway tires!!!

I thought about the tire incident during the long drive home, mentally kicking myself for almost injuring Willie.  When I went to bed last night, I was still considering the matter and came up with a way to "fix" our tire problem.  All of my other dogs, except Dusty, were taught to jump through a hula hoop long before they encountered their first tire.  From there I went on and worked on transferring that performance to jumping through my arms.  Max, my late Airedale, actually won the best trick award in a local competition by impressing the judge with his ability to jump through my arms.

So this morning, I dug out my 24" hula hoop and began the process of teaching Willie to jump through the hoop cleanly.  Basically, I will be following these steps:

Begin with the hoop vertical and resting on the ground.  
1.  Reward any interaction with the hoop.
2.  Reward a few passes through the hoop no matter how many body parts touch it.  Mustn't stay at this stage very long.
3.  Only reward those passes where no part of his body touches the hoop.

Once Willie can get through the hoop without touching it, raise it an inch or so off the ground.
4.  Have him sit and wait.  Release to come through the hoop for a cookie. 
5.  Over several sessions, raise the height of the hoop until we get to competition height.  Be sure to maintain criterion of no body part touches the hoop.
6.  Put the behavior on a verbal cue.

Once Willie can jump the hoop cleanly at competition height, begin working on getting him to jump through my arms.  A big plus of jumping through your arms is that the dog will brush against you if he is of any size, and he will learn to do it with control to avoid ramming into you.  (Some dogs don't learn this part.  I could never trust Dusty to not hit my shoulder, so I stopped offering him the opportunity to do this trick.  His tire performance was also less than safe unless it was carefully managed.)

I have found the easiest way to do this is to place one hand on the top of the hoop and the other off to the side toward the bottom, holding the hoop as far from my body as possible.  As the dog gets comfortable jumping close to my body, I increase the amount of contact my arms have with the hoop.  This will also bring the hoop in closer to my body.  Once my arms are wrapped around the hoop to the fullest extent possible, it's time to see if he dog will jump through my arms without the hoop on cue--I keep my fingers about 12" apart for these first attempts.  If necessary, I have someone lure my dog through with a cookie.  Once he will jump through my arms, I start decreasing the size of my arm "hoop."