Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Agility + obedience can actually work

I have to admit, at times I was worried that playing at agility on top of obedience might be overwhelming at best, detrimental at worst. I was worried that maybe I would have to choose one over the other... after all, three years of "watch me" certainly created a dog who will twist around on agility equipment to continue to stare at me.

But having both agility and obedience in our lives has improved things tenfold.

Maybe it's the added challenges. Maybe it's the increased exercise and conditioning. I think those things are big contributors, but I also think that engaging in exercises where Scorch gets to run ahead of me and set the pace really opened up a whole new world. With heeling, Scorch often felt barely restrained. But suddenly, heeling feels more natural, and I think it's because he has an outlet for his desire to work and run at the same time. He also seems less anxious and frenetic. He still whines if he's bored, but he calms down much faster overall.

And we've only just begun!

There's still an ongoing struggle to teach him to target 2on2off without me right in front of him. He tends to want to turn around, face me, then target, thus falling off the obstacle. But we've had a few successes and we're getting somewhere.

Tonight I pulled out the dumbbell for the first time in a while. We did 6 retrieves on the flat and 4 retrieves over the jump. We had a 100% success rate on the flat (although he was occasionally a bit far away on the front, he did better when I upped the encouragement) and a 50% success rate with the jump. He always jumped on the way to the dumbbell but in the two middle sessions he came back around the jump. Still, he held on to the dumbbell so I calmly took it from him and started over. He got jackpots the two times he was successful and we ended it there.

The biggest Open exercise we need to work on is the broad jump. His out of sight stays are coming along great and are pretty solid. I need to start attending Friday night run throughs and buddy trains to get him back into a line of dogs. It's been a while since we've done figure 8s but he always has gotten full points in trial, so I'm not too concerned.

The plan right now is to show in Rally Advanced at the Orlando trial. It'll give us some low-stress trial experience, and the judge is Robert Withers, who is a pleasure to show under. My expectations are pretty high, but I'm not putting a whole lot of pressure on it (yet).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Agility update... my downfall as a trainer

Scorch's agility training is revealing a lot to me about myself as a trainer. I'm really not as skilled as I'd like in breaking things down into small pieces, and not pushing training sessions too far.

I'm VERY lucky to have a dog who is so eager to work and does not get discouraged easily.

I want to see results. I'm very eager to see Scorch run that agility course... and I get frustrated with myself when I push him too far and behaviors fall apart.

For example: targeting the lid. Scorch is so enthusiastic about targeting that he throws his body all over the place and isn't always content to wait. I keep trying to combine multiple elements together, when I really need to be working on each element separately: the stay/rewarding for multiple targets, the targeting at a distance, sending him to target without my being at the target to reward, and targeting 2on2off without falling off the board.

So tonight we worked inside (thanks daylight savings time for stealing my daylight). I put Scorch in a stay and set the target down about 20 feet away. I set the coffee table to help channel him, and then I walked back to him before sending him. Every time we practiced distance targeting, there was either a helper ready to deliver a treat or a treat was already on the target. I don't know what universe my head was in thinking this was a logical next step... but predictably (to everybody but me), he ran to the target, touched it with his nose, then proceeded to spin around it, mouth it, pick it up, run back to me, run back to the target, then bring it to me. After I smacked myself upside the head, I simplified it a teensy bit.

I did a few refresher drills with multiple target touches so he would stay there. I still used the table as a channel. I stood right by the target and didn't ask for a lot of distance. Once he was properly refreshed and performing with a high rate of accuracy, I added distance but stayed next to the target. I would click for the first target after distance, then click when he repeated the target behavior (sometimes after 2 touches, sometimes 1, rarely 3).

Duh. I know this. Why is it so hard to follow advice that you give out? I tell students to break down behaviors all the time. Scorch was successful when I followed my own advice.

We're on day 2 of 2x2 weaving. It's tough for me. I feel very uncoordinated, but luckily Scorch is a supertrooper and is picking it up despite my bumbling efforts. Week 5 (I think? We had a skip week) of agility class is tomorrow and hopefully we'll start practicing our contacts on equipment!

Jump drills are going well. Scorch is rounding his back and is doing well with a 16" height. We'll probably go up to 18" next week if he continues. Tunnels are of course no problem. We got a super practice tunnel for $40 on eBay... it's 18' and a blast. We even can sequence the tunnel with a jump and vice versa.

I think I need to get out there and start photographing again. Or having Bryan do it. That would break up my rambling quite a bit. :)