Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Go-outs and articles breakthroughs

Tonight was Utility class again, and we had some "ah-hah!" moments!

First of all, watching Scorch work articles is amazing. It literally takes my breath away, that MY dog is working scent articles. It's so fascinating to be working at something new.

I'm still putting a thin layer of cheese on the bar the first time, but I'm generally not adding any more for subsequent retrieves. We're up to 2 metal and 2 leather unscented. Scorch generally works the pile at first, but as he gets more excited, he tends to start "air scenting" and rushes it... but he's still right, so we're not too concerned with that right now. Lisa says I may have to slow him down in the future.

He also did a couple of "visits" but he did return to the article pile and went back to work. As he gets better, I'll start adding a retractable if I have to but I just want to build his confidence for now.

For go-outs, Lisa had me loop the (unfastened) leash around Scorch's chest to build some opposition reflex, and also to get me in an upright position where I could still restrain him (and quickly let him go). He did some of his best go-outs to date. Just a couple of weeks ago, he couldn't even FIND the cheese on the stanchion, and still wasn't sure about looking away from me. Now, he's marking when I tell him to ("Spot!") and leaving straight on the send ("Run away!"). We got to about 20 feet away, which is tremendous improvement from the 5 feet or so we were stuck at. If he keeps this up, we're about ready to start using less cheese and sometimes adding a sit.

Go-outs have been our biggest challenge, and it's taken some outside the box thinking, but we're seeing the results. I've had a hard time practicing because I don't have a great stanchion right now... I'm hoping to build something out of PVC and wood that will work, because the materials I have aren't cutting it. Money's been super-tight, so it's just had to wait. At least I know our work in the training building is starting to pay off, and I know our progress will be better when I have the right "stuff" at home.

I discovered that Scorch has a great signal-sit... as long as it follows a drop from a stand. Uh oh. So I'm working to separate those a little more. I've also taken signals on the road a lot more; we worked outside of a Target and he did well. Another night, we did signals outside of JC Penney's and he had more trouble. So in comparison, he was on fire with attention in class. He didn't mind being in a line-up of dogs at all, even with an intact male next to him. He gave me some great drops, and he was attentive but confused during the sit. I'm happy with the attention and progress we've made.

But there's still nothing like watching him work articles. :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Beginner Utility work

I guess what's interesting about spending the past 4 years working on Scorch's attention is that now it's hard to get him to look anywhere else. We ran into this problem in agility, when he was supposed to target facing away from me. Now we've run into it again with go outs.

My instructor, Lisa, puts cheese on the stanchion, Scorch is in a heel position looking at me. I stare at the cheese, Scorch is in heel position looking at me. I go up and point to the cheese, return and Scorch is in heel position looking at me. Lisa makes noises and points to the cheese, Scorch is in heel position looking at HER, deliberately NOT looking at the cheese, then looking back at me.

Oy vey.

So after a couple of weeks of not making much progress, Lisa recommended we take him out of heel position entirely. She had me straddle him, lace my fingers under his chest, and lift him up slightly. AH HAH! That got him looking at the cheese. So I've gradually faded that position. We still have to start with an off-heel position somehow, but after a couple of go outs, he can be sent from heel. I'm using the word "spot" to have him focus on the stanchion. It's the word my instructor uses, which makes it easy to remember. I was going to use "look", but we play the "look at that" game sometimes with dogs he doesn't care for, so "spot" it is.

Speaking of dogs he doesn't care for... Scorch made HUGE progress yesterday at work. First, we were walking towards my office when my coworkers MASSIVE chocolate lab, Cooper, came galloping towards us (on leash). Even though he's neutered, he's still huge and Scorch froze in place. The fear on his face broke my heart. Cooper sniffed Scorch, who was stiff as a board, and then turned away, distracted by someone else. I encouraged Scorch to go visit, and he sniffed him tentatively. Once he realized he was neutered and not paying attention to him, I think Scorch relaxed a bit.

Then we walked into the office, and Brooklyn the boxer was sticking her head out from under Tara's desk. Scorch wouldn't even come through the door. No one else was in there, so I had to encourage him to pass her. He rushed past quickly and greeted his usual office-mate, Bentley. I let him off leash and eventually, curiosity got the best of him. He went over to sniff Brooklyn. She's female, which helped, and pretty gentle for a Boxer. Long story short, within a couple of hours, they were playing nicely together. What a HUGE step for a dog who was paralyzed by his fear of her.

We saw Duke the pit bull later, and Scorch politely declined to play with him. He kept his tail up and wagging though, so that's still a positive step forward.

Bliss with his fleece tug, a gift from a coworker.

In other training news, we've started scent articles!!!!!! It's really exciting to learn things that I've never gotten to work on with previous dogs, and I always dreamed of having a dog I could take to Utility. We still have to finish Open of course... but we're still having fun prepping and training. Scorch is still largely guessing with the scent articles. The nose games haven't quite kicked in yet. I'm using very small amounts of squeeze cheese, so hopefully it'll be easy to wean off of. When there's too little cheese, he starts guessing. I'm sure he'll put it together soon.

Directed jumping is also ten thousand times better than the last time we attempted it (which was the beginning of this year). The jump training we've done has paid off. Lisa recommended I do some directed jumping and put a dumbbell in Scorch's mouth too. Hopefully that will help with the Open jump refusals (only ever when he's holding the dumbbell, which makes me think it might be a comfort issue... he hated the dumbbell to start with after all).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sunday: Open A and Rally Exc B

Well, Sunday was a better day. We got there early and met up with the boxer from the day before. We did some heeling together and stays. Scorch was fine with him; certainly not interested in playing but happily ignored his presence. I'll take that. The boxer's handler admired Scorch's attention and happy attitude. I had loved the boxer's pounce on the dumbbell the day prior, but that was the only part of his performance I got to see.

We went into the Open A ring under judge Harold Doan, who had previously judged us in Rally. Scorch felt much better walking in; calmer and more in control.

Heel free: This got off to a great start. His slow transition and first sit were great. He went wide on the about turns and bumped me on the left, but his fast transition and quick halts made me happy. Maybe he was a touch forge-y on the halts... it looked like the judge might have marked me off. It's funny, some judges mark us off and some don't... probably those with forge-y dogs who understand that it's my dog's default position. I also understand how it's scorable forging. But I'm VERY pleased with his heeling. We're working on tighter about turns.

Figure 8: Oh boy. Scorch definitely knows that the judge has the dumbbell and his bumping me on the inside turn was awful and interfering... the whining also started at this point. I guess it's good that he's come so far from the dog that thought the dumbbell was "icky" (and no force fetch... EVER). Time to start working with dumbbells as a distraction more often (especially HIS dumbbell).

Drop on recall: Late but I don't care. Hurray Scorch!

Retrieve on the flat: That was the worst admissible throw ever! But my little champ tore out after it, worked through a distraction and... didn't sit. But that was AWESOME, good boy Scorch!

Retrieve over the high jump: Well, at least he didn't anticipate! During set up, he whined and got antsy. He came back around the jump... and it was such a good throw too! Ah well, things to work on. I'm proud of him for being slightly less frenetic. Then I had to tie my shoe, and my boyfriend didn't want the world to see him filming my butt so... the camera goes haywire for a second. :)

Broad jump: Wellllll... he jumped 2 boards instead of 0.5! He was headed directly for the center of the jump and I think he second guessed himself. Oh well, we were already NQ'd. The judge said my dog needs some downers or prozac. :) Probably true! I get jazzed up and it goes right down the (invisible) leash.

Out of sight stays: WE DID GROUPS TODAY!!! HURRAY!!! Scorch sat next to the boxer. As soon as we left, the boxer laid down and was really close to Scorch... but not quite interference close. The judge almost called the owner back, but decided he was ok. Whatever, because Scorch STAYED SEATED FOR THE ENTIRE THREE MINUTES!!!! Four out of the seven dogs laid down on the sit... not my boy!!!!

Then, during the down-stay, apparently the boxer got up, looked at Scorch, looked at the husky on the other side, and decided to go play with the husky. Hmmm, maybe it's a good thing Scorch told him off outside the ring... because if a strange boxer had tried to interfere with Scorch, he might have been missing a face. The husky and the boxer were both out of the ring when we returned... and my boy was holding his down-stay and hadn't moved an inch. SO PROUD.

Only one dog qualified in Open A on Sunday; but it was a very nice group of people and I enjoyed chatting with them during the stays.

After we were done, I did some quick tugging and heeling-with-treats, then I had to run over to the Rally walkthrough. The course was more challenging somehow (although we still have never encountered "heel backwards 3 steps"). I was happy to see a broad jump... that meant that Scorch would get a positive encounter with it. He kept looking back at "dad" during set-up, but boy when I said "ready", he locked on.

I took a tiny step on the 90 degree pivot, losing 5 points. Without that, we would have had a 98 and won the class... c'est la vie! It's funny, because I was most worried about the 180 degree pivot... so of course, I did that perfectly. Still, we finished 4th and completed our Rally Excellent title. :) As judge Withers says... YAY!!!!!