Thursday, July 12, 2012

Video correction

I accidentally posted the same video twice. So here's the actual CDX-earning run:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Scorch CDX RE

This post is super-late in coming, probably because of the break we've taken from any serious training.

But we did it. We achieved the goal of the Companion Dog Excellent title.

The CDX title was always just tantalizingly out of reach. With Jack, we never finished the (UKC) CD title due to his health cutting his career (and eventually his life) short. With Wolfie, we never even started the CD due to his hips. Both dogs were trained through Novice level obedience, but both dogs only knew bits and pieces of Open work, and Wolfie cannot hold a sit for 3 minutes, so we never got that far with it.

But Scorch, my Novice A dog, has taught me more than I ever imagined. I can't believe that we conquered Open A.

We showed in Orlando in April. We got hit pretty hard for vocalizations, but other than the whining, Scorch kept himself under control and put on some of the best performances of his life. In fact, if it hadn't been for the 10 point hit we got for whining on Sunday, we would have had a 198. I'm EXTREMELY proud of that performance. His 191 and 188 still earned us 2nd and 3rd place, respectively.

With two legs down and one to go, we showed in Lakeland. We hadn't been to IPOC before, so I knew we'd be battling some anxiety demons. As it happened, Denise Fenzi had achieved a positively-trained OTCH just before our show. Some well-known local trainers were there bitching about it. It went on ALL. WEEKEND. I was stunned. One of the women, who is a fan of prong collars and "correcting every little mistake in heeling until the dog figures out where they're supposed to be", did at least say that she respects any OTCH and that no one can buy that kind of honor. But in the same breath, she also went on about how many years it took Denise to get it. Really?? The dog was busy achieving Schutzhund titles at the same time.

One of the trainers, another well-known local man, called his dog "that little shit" after their Utility performance. Then immediately went back to abusing positive training techniques. Talk about scapegoating. Bryan took to calling the group "the knitting circle" and actually got aggravated with the attitude of "the dog HAS to do the WORK".

So our first day in the ring started out OK but Scorch did become too jazzed up. I knew the second that we walked into the ring that I barely had him. He turned in a nice heeling performance that looked great, but it FELT wrong... and sure enough, when I went to pet him before the figure 8, I felt him vibrating and he was not interested in my touch at all. He NQ'd by going around the jump and also by hitting the broad jump.

Day 2 was better as soon as we walked into the building. Scorch knew where he was and what he was there to do. We did lots of down-stays near the ring and tried to get into a zen-mode. I had great attention from him, without the edge of frantic that had marked our warm-up the day before. We went into the ring and I KNEW that I had him.

We turned in a score of 195 and got 1st place. I cried a little as we celebrated after the broad jump... I was a nervous wreck during the out of sight sit stays, but after he aced that, I was completely relaxed (but in shock) during the down stays.

I didn't know our placement, but I suspected we placed. I wasn't expecting first though... and the tears started again.

My little border collie, my heart dog:

Next comes Utility, although after the adrenaline rush that was Open, I was happy to take a breather and focus on the basics for a while. Now we're starting to pick up the training again, and I can't wait for the next leg of the journey. I'll probably enroll in our 3rd Utility class in the fall and see where we're at. Maybe we can start showing again in late winter. I am so proud of my boy.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Jackpots, tugging, and breathing

I had an opportunity to speak with a trainer I really look up to earlier this week. I sent an email to Willard Bailey, author of Remembering to Breathe and OTCH Dreams, as well as the Willard Unleashed Blog. Even my mom has read his books, and Bryan is used to seeing them in various locations around the house. I emailed him asking for his input on the tugging issue I wrote about the other day. To my surprise, he responded back quickly and said to call him to discuss it further.

The conclusion we reached after lengthy discussion was that tugging amps him up too much, and I should not be tugging with him before going into the ring. I'd been using it thinking it would get out some energy, but it seems to have the opposite effect. He also didn't think I would get anywhere trying to put out the tug toy and trying to work him around it. He recommended continuing the calm, quiet petting between exercises; then, when we're done training or out of the ring, heel a distance away from the ring or outside the building, THEN use tugging as a jackpot.

We also talked about ring nerves, and he recommended giving as much attention to my dog as I expect from him. Hopefully that will help me tune out the audience, and it will help keep the connection strong between me and my dog.

I felt so much better after talking with him; some of what we talked about were things I considered, but having it organized and laid out was so beneficial to me. I feel like we have a plan now, and the difference since then has been incredible. We've had a few training sessions using tugging as a jackpot. He doesn't get the tug toy though until I've decided we've completed the last exercise, and we have to heel over to it. He has been in control and confident, rather than losing his mind in the middle like he was before.

At Utility class on Wednesday, several students and my instructor commented that Scorch seemed confident and well-composed. (They all are yelling at me to "breathe!" when they catch me holding my breath too) We also had a tremendous breakthrough with one of the games our instructor had us play.

She put gloves out. Glove 2 (middle) was one glove. Gloves 1 and 3 (corners) each had 3 gloves lined up. We sent to the corners only, which was nice since the middle is a bit of a magnet for Scorch.

I sent Scorch to Glove 1 first, but he had trouble taking his focus off of 2. He finally got it, and I called him as soon as he thought about picking up the first glove (so he didn't "shop" all three). He brought it back, I took it and finished him, then immediately asked him to look again and sent him. He got through the gloves in corner 1, and on the third one, something seemed to click.

We pivoted to Glove 3, and he immediately focused in. I sent, he came storming back, I took the glove, finished, and immediately focused him and sent again. All of a sudden, we were on fire. It was the very first time I really saw him focus and channel his drive, instead of just being energetic and galloping through the exercises. He didn't vocalize, and his fronts and finishes were great.

We did heeling and signals, with all the other dogs milling around. He reacted a little to the intact Golden, but otherwise stayed focused. He did great with directed jumping over the bar, but had a bit of trouble with the high. He's graduated to a sit box for go-outs and was fantastic. And above all, he was QUIET. After we finished class, we had five minutes of intense tugging before going home.

We've done some run-throughs at home and he's been QUIET and we've really had fun! Will we qualify in Orlando? I sure hope so, but at least I know we're well on our way, and we've really improved our working partnership.

So here's what I did to him at work today (I'm lucky he's not easily embarassed).
Scorch flower

Scorch butterfly

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To tug or not to tug?

So I tried a little experiment last night.

Scorch and I were practicing obedience in a parking lot in Lakeland. We worked a couple of heeling patterns and the figure 8. I had the dumbbell out in sight and he was reasonably quiet. We broke off from heeling for a reward, except instead of a treat, I allowed him to tug for a few minutes.

I put the tug away and we moved on to dumbbell retrieves. He was much more on edge and even barked. He was also grabby with the dumbbell and I had that "barely contained" feeling that marked so many of our runs.

He loves tugging even more than treats. He'll go into my training bag and ignore an open bag of salmon goodies in favor of a felt tug. But it sends him over the edge.

What do I do? Do I stop tugging altogether for a while? Save it for the end? Tug and then try an exercise and put him away if he vocalizes? Practice exercises with the tug toy around but don't let him have it?

What do I do when his favorite reward makes him bonkers?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Open update

Well, we're officially going to try Open again.

Scorch and I are signed up for Orlando on April 14th and 15th. I haven't been pushing the jumping issues much; we've spent a lot of time working on calm behavior around the dumbbell or other stimulation. When we get into "work mode", he's doing a lot better keeping the vocalizing to a minimum. But he is still engaging in his high-pitched keening at other times, which worries me a bit.

We went to the Marina again yesterday. I taught a private lesson first to a student whose dog was getting reactive on lead. We walked around the park and worked on his attention, then I brought out Scorch. The dogs are buddies, but he reacted out of excitement when he saw him too. Anyway, as we walked around, Scorch would occasionally start his keening when we stopped. He was overstimulated I suppose and that's what brought it on, but it's very hard to get him to "come down" when he gets like that.

But after some more walking and some obedience, he settled so I suppose there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

When the lesson was over, I did a mini run-through with Scorch. I didn't do much warm-up, and his heeling was terrible at first. We did an L-shape starting with a slow (he hates that), left turn, halt, about turn, right turn, fast, halt. We did the entire, unsatisfactory pattern, then re-did it. He was nicer the second time, although forge-y.

We did a figure 8 around two dumbbells. Again, the first go around was crummy but after that he was on. He heeled a bit wide at times but I liked that better than bumping and interfering.

I left the dumbbells on the ground and we moved to a drop on recall. He's having trouble with that one and dropping late. So I've started moving towards him when I call "down" and weaning off of the movement.

We did 2 retrieves on the flat and he was AWESOME. No whining or carrying on, went right out and came right back. His turns are a little wide after he picks up the dumbbell, which is probably part of the problem with retrieve over the jump. In practice, I'm calling "jump!" on his way back and hopefully we can drop that soon.

He did some nice stays, even with all the dogs walking around and people watching us. We have some work to do but I'm hoping we can polish those rough edges that have come up. We also practiced some Utility gloves; he shakes the glove on the way in so we tried a friend's glove with pebbles in it to break the shaking. I've also been balling our gloves up and he's not shaking them as much.

Scent articles are still on the pegboard but Lisa wants me to graduate to string instead of zip ties. Scorch still makes occasional "honest mistakes" when the wind is blowing or when my helper puts the scented dumbbell very close to the unscented. He'll sometimes pick up the one right next to the correct answer... but he's sniffing carefully and I'm not even scenting my hands with treats. It is absolutely amazing to watch him work through this.

Goals for this week are entirely centered around jumping. We have our new, lightweight broad jumps to try out, and I'm going to work hard on directed jumping and crooked retrieves.

So this entry isn't entirely photo-less, here is a picture of a Silkie chicken at our county fair. I. WANT. ONE. I want chickens anyway for eggs and because they make great pets, but this breed is just amazing to look at.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Marina Sunday

Let's talk about ring nerves for a minute.

I feel like Scorch has made a lot of progress with some of his over-the-top-ness when we're doing run throughs. However, he is still vocalizing. I fear that it may be a constant battle, that whining in conjunction with breathing that he seems unaware or unconscious of. I think when the pressure goes up, and we start working through more difficult exercises, he starts to escalate. Right now, it's staying at a low hum. I've practiced breathing techniques and calm touches. He's definitely better, but we can't seem to get over the hump.

I'm planning on showing him in a few weeks in Orlando, which is a venue he is GENERALLY more comfortable in. We still occasionally have retrieve-over-the-jump demons, and he's sometimes late on drop on recall. But he's not losing his mind AS MUCH during the heeling and figure 8s (during which I've had the dumbbell out).

We've been mostly training longer sessions at home or at the training building. Out and about have been shorter sessions, so today we went to the marina to work for longer. I didn't want to do too much of a run through because of the risk of piling on the stress, so we worked a couple of exercises at a time before running for the treat or toy. I also didn't haul out any jumps, so we just did heeling, figure 8, drop on recall, and retrieve on the flat.

He did ok. I like training there because there are heavy dog and people exposures, but it's not quite as hectic as the dog park and we have options for walking around. I might try the same thing at Arlington park; there is a dog park there that is quiet, but Scorch is very stimulated by it. At the same time, there's a walking trail where we can get out some of his tension.

His drop on recall was VERY late and we redid that one a few times until he improved. I'm lucky to have a dog that doesn't mind drilling at all; I mean, I try to keep it interesting and involved, but it's still several repeated exercises and some dogs wouldn't want to keep working. He stays checked in without a problem... other than overenthusiasm.

Other than that, he had a pretty nice run, and it was on a grassy patch with lots fo smells. He kept attention nicely and although he vocalized, he didn't feel manic.

The bay was absolutely gorgeous, so I couldn't resist setting Scorch up for some pictures. His tongue is pretty ridiculous, which I think depicts him better than the more "normal" shot I got.





Saturday, February 25, 2012

Photo dump

I cleared some photos off of my cell phone, so here's what we've been up to lately:

I bought a new dumbbell. Actually, a couple... but I think I'm happiest with this one. It's lighter and smaller than any dumbbell Scorch has had before. It's a better fit, and I'm hoping that will help with some of his reluctance to come back over the jump.

Infinite patience with a work puppy.

Visit with his friend Tyson on our South Florida work trip. Tyson is one of the few large, male dogs that Scorch is comfortable with and has been from the start. It's probably because Shepherds are neurotic, just in a different way than Border Collies... but it's close enough that they understand each other.

Norman has been on his best behavior lately. He's decided to be a (relatively) normal, friendly, housebroken, sweetheart of a dog. But snuggling with Wolfie? That was the shock of the century.

Aaaaand that photo just sums up Scorch for me.

We've been working on some relaxation protocols that my trainers recommended, and today I feel like I really saw the benefits. I warmed Scorch up before teaching. I tossed the dumbbell repeatedly like Randy had recommended, and between throws did some quiet stroking like Bev and Lisa recommended. His vocalizations stayed low and he kept focused enough to give me very straight fronts.

My class contained one of the intact Goldens that Scorch loathes. I've been working Scorch around the dogs and he has improved, but hasn't been entirely comfortable. I brought Scorch out for a demo and while I was talking, had him in heel position in a sit. I was slowly stroking the side of his face and encouraged him to lean into me, like Bev recommended. Scorch nearly melted!!! I was so happy to see such a strong effect. He was still ready to work, but it took his anxiety levels down a notch. We're going to keep working on it, but I'm really happy with the progress I've been seeing! Maybe we'll beat those Open demons yet.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Training progress

It's been a busy time here in the House of Scorch, and updating this blog has not been high enough on the priority list.

Scorch and I have advanced from Beginner Utility class to Utility. It was a bit intimidating and I wasn't entirely sure we belonged there; I knew most of the other students had already taken the class and were even already competing at the Utility level.

Last week, we had our first class and Scorch showed us that he was more than ready. He's FINALLY nailing his go-outs and we can start focusing on the turn-and-sit. One of my coworkers is building me a sit-box to work on that (and to polish up his fronts). Directed jumping has improved, despite our lack of work on it. And his signals are going well (that's been one of the exercises I've easily been able to take "on the road").

What was interesting was that we lined all the dogs up in stand-stays and went down the line dropping them on a signal. When Scorch was the 2nd dog in line, he nailed it. On the way back, he was second-to-last and the wait time earned us a refusal. So that's a new thing to work on.

Tonight we're doing article in class, and I'm most looking forward to working that. He's been working a full, tied-down pile and the increased number of articles seemed to actually help him think. He's searching carefully instead of snatching-and-grabbing (or, lord help me, attempting to bring the whole board).

Of course there are two intact male dogs in class, and one is a Golden. He didn't realize it until we were leaving, and then he got all huffy. But he kept calm, and hopefully this will be helpful to him.

We also had a brief consult with a trainer last night at a meeting I was attending. We talked about Scorch's vocalization problems in Open, especially around the dumbbell and discussed strategies. He recommended doing several dumbbell throws in a row, of varying distances. I like the idea of making it less of a "rare event" and getting him thinking, rather than being overexcited. We did a couple of throws in downtown Ft. Myers and Scorch nailed it. The trainer said he thought I wouldn't have lost a single point on the exercise, and his conclusion (which I agree with) is that our biggest hurdle will be ring nerves. Scorch is a sensitive dog, and all my nervousness goes right down the leash. I had a feeling that was the problem, but it was nice to have him observe the same things from an outside perspective.

I also think I'm going to focus more on food training around the rings rather than tugging. I think tugging is getting him too riled. I'm still trying to find a play style that works in the ring, but for now, I'm going to concentrate on quiet, calm praise. It's no fun for either of us when he's barely under control, so it's time to take things down a notch.

I'm reading Control Unleashed (finally). I'm relieved to see that I'm doing several of the exercises; hoping to get some new tips out of it.