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.