Sunday, January 5, 2014

Momentum and Cookie-Toss Retrieves

My new email signature for the month:  "If you train a young dog for momentum, precision will arrive. If you train for precision, demanding perfection, momentum will depart." - Rex Carr

Momentum is a term thrown about more often in retriever training than obedience training, but it certainly applies to obedience. To me, Rex's quote is all about training for the big picture by building in the speed first. I have always worked for a flashier performance with my dogs vs. a robotic one. Don't get me wrong; I want precision. But I also know if I work on precision too much before instilling the speed I desire, it is harder to get the speed later.

In obedience, we are judged on the speed our dog returns or comes to us: a brisk trot or gallop is required. Anything less should be penalized in some way. While a brisk trot is acceptable according to the regulations, I still strive for a gallop whenever as I can.

Earlier this week while training Sonic, I realized she is rarely slower than a brisk trot as she returns but she wasn't consistently galloping on her returns on her retrieves or on her jumping for the Open jumps. Given the sometimes scary speed with which she returns from a field retrieve–harder driving than any previous dog I've trained–I know she is capable of more speed. I just haven't explained that component well enough to her.

With that in mind, I've been working cookie-toss retrieves with both the dumbbell and gloves: as she picks up the object, I might run away from her, or command her to come, then throw a cookie through my legs when she is almost to me. As she goes through my legs, I race to the other end of the area, turn around and repeat. Sometimes she has already picked the object back up (she drops it to get the thrown treat) and is running back. Sometimes she needs a come command. I'm whooping it up with her, cheering her on, and we are both getting in some wind sprints. Since my wind needs all the help it can get, it is a valuable side-benefit of the game :-). We have been doing about 6 retrieves of the dumbbell this way, and 6 glove reps, adding in pivots and marking. It is not an overnight fix, but I think the long-term results will be very pleasing.

How is your dog's momentum?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 Goals

- Be thoughtful about what new projects I take on
- Website
   o implement Paypal for product purchases (January)
   o implement Paypal for class signup (January-February)
   o plug away at desired additions - set monthly goals at beginning of each month
- Do GTD "weekly" reviews more consistently - goal is at least 24 for year
- FlyLady work
   o keep up with kitchen
   o Zone work
- Get back to some form of aerobic exercise. Goal: 100 purposeful aerobic workouts in 2014, 15+ minutes (biking with dogs, Nordic Track, walking dogs, snow shoeing)

Joker 12.5 years old
- keep him healthy!

Sonic - 2 years old
- Show in Novice B for CD and ring experience January-early April
- show her in conformation as often as possible when she's got hair!
- show for last time in Novice B and first time in Open B at FCRSA National in June in Oregon - this will only be possible if she comes in season before entries close...
- CDX in fall
- start matching in Utility by late spring
- compete in AKC Classic in Orlando in Novice - again, will depend on her heat cycle
- start running Master tests with her - June at National if possible, July at Ft. Detroit test if not

Little - 3 years old
- work on skills for MH when she's with me

New puppy - I am hoping to have a new Border Terrier puppy by late spring...
- get puppy well started on obedience foundation

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sonic at 17 months

I just found this unpublished blog post, written in mid-January 2013. While it will show up out-of-order here, I've decided to publish it, as it is a record of where she was nearly a year ago.
I am pleased to report that last Saturday (January 12, 2013), Sonic completed the training of the field Double T to my satisfaction. We've been gradually working up to it for what seems like forever (since sometime in the fall), but the final week of it was a bit anticlimactic. After 3 days of the full Double T with very few errors, I was satisfied, and we have moved on to starting walk-out blinds. For these, you and the dog walk out into a field with several bumpers. You reach the destination of a blind, sit the dog close to the end, toss a couple of bumpers out and let the dog retrieve them from that close distance. You toss the bumpers back out, then walk to the other destination, which should be a bit closer than the 1st one. Repeat the tossing/retrieving up close, toss the bumpers out again, then walk back to the starting line. Send the dog to the one you just came from, handling as needed. Repeat with the first one you 'planted'. The two days we have done those has gone very well.

We've also been doing a lot of lining drills, including Carol Cassity's W Drill. You place 5 white stakes in a W formation, three in a row about 20 yds apart and two 20 yds away from that row, also 20 yds apart. You put bumpers at each stake and, moving around the field, line the dog to the various stakes. It gives you a lot of opportunity to work on 'slots', where they have to go between at least two closer, tempting stakes to get to the farther away one. After a few successes in one spot, you move.

I find it much easier to work on blind-related training - lining and casting - since I can do those drills by myself much more easily than marking training. But as has been pointed out to me, marking is paramount. At Clint Catledge's recommendation, I've been working a lot of hand-thrown multiples: I throw 2-4 bumpers out in an arc around us and she retrieves them one by one. This allows us to work on the mechanics of running multiples: I send her to retrieve the last one I throw - the "go bird" - and when she returns with it, take delivery facing the next one she is to retrieve. I get her focused on the area, then send to retrieve, etc. It is definitely helping with this whole aspect of teamwork.

Yesterday, in addition to two Walk-Out Blinds and hand-thrown multiples, we did some 80-150 yard 'Stand Alone' marks. I leave Sonic in a sit stay and walk out away from her. When I've reached the desired distance, I throw a bumper, then release her from out there to retrieve the bumper I just threw. She then brings it the short distance back to me and we repeat the process. I have permission to use a wonderful hay field a mile from home that has fabulous rolling hills with the chance to run across the face of the hill, something they need to learn how to do. Most dogs prefer to run down or up rather than across.

Our progress in obedience is considerably slower because we simply haven't been spending much time at it. She is my primary demo dog in my classes, so she does get practice that way. I also had someone else start teaching one of my Novice Practice classes so that Sonic and I can attend. We've been doing that for the past several months, and she has certainly made steady progress. Her focus on heeling is quite nice, though heeling with fun toys on the ground continues to be hard. I'm not crazy about her halts, but I really like the rest of her heeling. She can do some lovely left circles at a trot if I keep them big enough.

Sonic continues to be very eager for the work, which makes her a joy to train.

2013 Goal Review

Joker – 11 years and going strong

Goal is to keep him that way.
He tore his cruciate in July, but laser treatments, rest and time spent in the Ontario woods around our cabin got him back on track without surgery. He had an eye injury in the fall but seems to have recovered from it just fine.

Ty – 8 years old.

I've accomplished what I hoped to with her – Ch UDX OM2 SH WCX, and applied for the FCRSA HOF. She needs a job, but I don't know what it ought to be.
At this year's FCRSA National in April, Ty and I did obedience (2 NQ's, but pretty decent effort considering a lack of training), rally (won the Excellent B class and had a blast), and conformation (3rd place in Veterans 7-9 bitches and 2nd in the Gun Dogs Sweepstakes class she was in).
Ty tried to take over leadership of the dog pack after Gryffin’s death last year, but in a bullying and stressful way. Adele considered placing Ty in a new home for several months. When the right home came along, we made the difficult decision to do so. She is an only dog in her new home–something that we think makes her a lot happier–and there is a lot less stress in our lives. She brings a lot of joy to her new owner.

Little – 2 years old

I'd like to have her ready for the WCX at the National and for Senior by fall. Helen may do Novice with her at the National if she has Little enough to train her regularly, and maybe rally.
Little earned her RN in March with Helen.
She earned her WCX at the National with me and a BN leg with Helen.
She earned her Senior Hunter in August and September. While it wasn't a totally smooth ride–steadiness is not her strong suit, nor is handling on blinds –we still reached the goal. She then returned to Helen, who finished up her BN in October and made a stab at Novice B. Alas, the Stand for Exam is HARD for this wiggly social girl. She also earned 5 points in the conformation ring during 2013.

Sonic – 16 months old

Get to do water in the Derby at the April National, which means doing land well enough to move on to water. In my dreams, we place. But being realistic, getting to water would be a grand achievement.
We were one of 3 out of 5 dogs called back for water. Then everyone failed the water test, so there were no ribbons. Goal was met, and it was a fun new adventure.
Finish her JH.
Earned our 3rd leg at the National and finished the title in May.
Get her running cold blinds:
land (March) and water (May)
Earn her WCX - 4/21/13
Run Senior with her in the fall. While I'd love to earn her SH, that is a pretty tall order - I think. (pass 1 July, pass 2 8/17, pass 3 8/24, 8/25 TITLE!!!). When we first arrived in Florida, Little was ahead of Sonic in terms of her skill set. During that trip, Sonic got almost caught up on water, and moved ahead of her on land.
Earn her RA (March 15) and RE (4/22).
I've been completely focused on field work with her lately, and plan to continue that as much as possible this winter, so I don't know if I'll devote the time to obedience titles or not. If I do, we might do Novice in the fall. Or Beginner Novice (4/22). Or Grad Novice (10/22). Or none. WC Novice 11/22 - very nice performance! 198.5, 2nd place.


Update the Northfield Dog Training website! It has been on my list for at least a year, and other things keep getting in the way.
Finally, my web programming skills reached a critical mass in the fall, and I started serious progress on the website. Right before Christmas, I got the "get rid of frames" release done. It was a huge undertaking, but I've learned a lot, and find I still really like programming. After a brief break to get ready for Christmas, I've returned to work on implementing PayPal. The list of additions/changes I still want to make is lengthy, and will most likely continue to occupy me well into 2014.
Continue with my field training education – to that end, I'm already signed up for two seminars with Mitch White and plan to sign up for the Carol Cassity one that Marshbanks will be sponsoring in July, and maybe one with Bill Hillman in June.
I had a great time at both seminars with Mitch White, the first one a water workshop in Florida in February, and the other his 4-day summer camp in July. The following weekend was 3 days with Carol Cassity, from which I got one particularly helpful exercise, as well as a long list of great ideas.
Keep honing my Getting Things Done chops.
While I did manage several 'Weekly reviews', it is still a weak point for me when using the system. However, the overall framework of GTD is what allows me to keep on top of all of the dozens of projects I seem to have going all the time.
Blog more regularly again.
With only 12 blog posts all year as compared to > 20 for the previous three years, I'd say I failed on this one. My muse only grabbed me by the hands a few of times, forcing me to get some ideas out there.
Get back to some form of aerobic exercise. Aim for 100 workouts.
Started out the year by getting my Nordic Track functioning again and used it for a while, but then when I started PT for my neck and shoulder in late January, that stopped. I got the bike tires pumped up right before Christmas and have biked Sonic and Joker several times in the building since the cold weather has set in.
Work on some multimedia product. I have some half-baked ideas. Website first, though.
I have even more ideas for new projects, but the website will continue to dominate for the immediate future.
Back in June, I said I would take over the Midwest Waterways FCR Club's website. Worked on it a bit in August. Once I did the NDT website release, I spent < a day getting a skeleton site released. Having based it on the Marshbanks site, it didn't take too much effort.


There are a lot of ways I volunteer my time. For Marshbanks, I chair the fall obedience and rally trials; I am worker organizer for the August hunt tests; I take care of the website. I co-chair the November eye clinic. For AADTC, I help at the fall trials (stewarded this year), and just chaired an obedience match, with sign-up done using the Google Docs framework I've used so successfully for my NDT matches. The ladies who have been running the club's matches are all eager to use the new system, as it greatly simplifies the process.

2013 was a super year for me. I'm grateful I get to spend so much of my time on work that I love so much.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Big Picture

In switching back to the obedience world after several months focused on field training and hunt tests, I've been attending some local fun matches, as well as helping several students prepare for the ring, some for their first time.  It's gotten me thinking about The Big Picture. By that I mean what I am aiming for long term with a particular dog. When you are training your first dog, there is simply so much to learn. I can still remember the first time I saw a Utility class at an obedience trial (circa 1985), and thinking, very naively, "That doesn't look too hard." Wrong! Utility is hard. But Utility is also what I'm aiming at with my dog, and my early training reflects that long term goal. For example, I teach my puppies how to do the skills needed for the position change portion of the Signal Exercise - to me, the ultimate obedience teamwork exercise. I get them started on learning to retrieve and do go-outs. The former opens up all sorts of fun exercises to work on with your dog, and go-outs take a long time to solidify, so it helps to start them early.

My goal at each level is to start to show in a given class when I know the dog understands the exercises well enough to qualify in a respectable way. It doesn't always mean that we do qualify, just that there isn't any one exercise we are consistently failing. The dog has shown me through our training and our attendance at obedience fun matches that he can do so even in a distracting environment. Does my dog need to be error free before I enter? No. My dog is probably always going to make some sort of error in the ring - I've only had one 200 in my many years of showing. It is the seriousness of the error that I look at. If my dog is sitting crooked on some halts, that is a very different error than not sitting on most halts. The former is typically 1/2-1 point off, depending on just how crooked the dog sits. A no sit is pricey, and some judges will NQ you if your dog never or hardly ever sits on heeling.

When I'm preparing my dog for the ring, I want to first iron out errors that are likely to lead to an NQ or substantial deductions (3 or more points), such as no sits, auto finishes, short or not straight go-outs, really lousy pickups or mouthing on retrieves, slowness anywhere. I don't want walking from my dog anywhere except for the slow on heeling! I would much rather have a crooked front or finish, but have speed and attention from my dog. With a lot of dogs, if you nit pick them constantly about every front or finish, they usually slow down and lose attitude. I want attitude and "try" first, with precision coming with time and training.

One of the important skills I have learned over the years of competing with my dogs is that of not dwelling on mistakes already made. There were times when Gryffin failed the first exercise, and then would fail a couple more, I think because of my dwelling on the first mistake. I had to remember to let it go and concentrate on making the rest of the performance the best it could be.

Roughing in the exercises can go quickly for an experienced trainer. Like a fine wine that needs time to develop its full potential, it is the polishing and teamwork and dog's true understanding of the work that takes time. Take the time it takes to get there.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Switching Gears

Nothing like sending in an obedience entry to get me training more obedience! I've got Sonic entered in Grad Novice in about 3 weeks. My plan is to do 4 Grad Novice trials this fall, maybe a Wild Card Novice, then start in Novice B in January. We are both enjoying the change of pace from field work, and with the more frequent work we've been doing on it, I can see the lightbulb starting to go on for the Drop on Recall. To be honest, I don't think I'll be upset if we don't actually earn the GN title. I'm entering it as a 'test the water' kind of thing, and because it is getting me training. While I'm confident that she could earn her CD this fall, I want to put some 'polish' on her before we do that, and I need to greatly reduce our field training in order to have the time to do that polishing.

I am entered in what I hope are my final two hunt tests of the fall, looking to finish up Little's Senior Hunter title. To be honest, since Sonic finished her SH 3 weeks ago, my strong drive to train field drills has greatly dropped off. It doesn't help that I've been gone the past two weeks (family trip over Labor Day and seminar trip last weekend), really limiting my available time to train.

It has been 5 years since my last Novice dog (Ty) earned her CD, but I've been in the Novice ring a lot since my first CD in 1986. I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to dance the dance with Sonic. She is a blast to heel with, and I think will be one of the best heeling dogs I've had in a while. I guess time will tell!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Goals and Hard Work

I don't usually talk about goals in August. I tend to do a review of the past year in late December, and set goals for the upcoming year at the same time. Here are the goals I set for Sonic and me in late December:

Sonic – 16 months old
  • Get to do water in the Derby at the April National, which means doing land well enough to move on to water. In my dreams, we place. But being realistic, getting to water would be a grand achievement. I just have to hope that there are enough entries to hold it - the Derby was canceled in 2012 due to entries being too low. (There were 5 dogs who started the test. Three of us got to run the water, Sonic and me included, all dogs failed the water test. Still, I did accomplish my goal of getting to try it. It was WAY over our heads in terms of difficulty.) 
  • Finish her JH. (Done in May)
  • Get her running cold blinds, land (March) and water (May)
  • Earn her WCX - 4/21/13
  • Run Senior with her in the fall. While I'd love to earn her SH, that is a pretty tall order - I think. (pass 1 7/20, pass 2 8/17, pass 3 8/24, 8/25 TITLE!!!)
  • Earn her RA (March 15) and RE (4/22)
  • I've been completely focused on field work with her lately, and plan to continue that as much as possible this winter, so I don't know if I'll devote the time to obedience titles or not. If I do, we might do Novice in the fall. Or BN (4/22). Or GN. Or none.
In reviewing these, we have achieved all of them. Her field work for Senior came together much faster than I imagined back in December. And this weekend, she finished the title with some solid work. We've had a really rigorous field training schedule, but she seems to be thriving on it, based on her eagerness to hop in the Burb for another day of training.

If I can pull myself in from the great outdoors, I want to start shifting my focus over to obedience this fall. IF. My goal is to do some Grad Novice trials this fall at some local trials to test the waters for how ready or not she is, then to start her in Novice in January, with the final goal to show her in Novice at the FCRSA National in June. I don't want to stop field training, but simply reduce the number of field sessions a week and shift those to obedience training. Time will tell how well that plan works :-).