Thursday, December 11, 2008

Training with Limited Space or Time

With the onset of cold and wintery weather here in the north, many people have limited training time because of darkness and bad weather. While I have the luxury of space because I have a training building in my back yard, I don't always have the luxury of a lot of time for training. I'd like to discuss how I spend that limited time to make progress towards my goals with the 3 dogs I'm currently training.

If there is room to do so, I work on heeling. Even if I only have a few minutes, I can work on building my teamwork with my dog by doing what I call Rhythm Heeling - moving with my dog at a consistent and brisk rhythm (I still use a metronome sometimes, set at 124 steps per minute for my male Flat-Coated Retriever, 122 for my female FCR, 119 or so for my terriers), with the dog's attention on me, and maintaining a consistent position at my left side, i.e., heel position. We heel in big flowing circles, just to the right with an inexperienced dog, in either direction for the more experienced dog. When my experienced dog is working well with me - maintaining attention, position, and rhythm, I might add some turns, smaller circles, pace changes, and halts. With the inexperienced dog, I don't put these elements together until my dog can "do" Rhythm Heeling consistently well. I work on the components that will become turns, halts, and pace changes separately. I use the Rhythm Heeling exercise to limber up both me and my dog before we enter the ring at a trial.

When space is also limited, I work on what used to be called doodling. I've referred to doodling as Maneuvers for years, and it's now called rally :-). Doodling consists of pivots to the left and right of varying degrees; side-stepping left and right; backing up; working on fronts in several ways; working on your dog getting himself to heel position (AKA a set up); and finishes. When did you last work finishes with your dog in all sorts of oddball but qualifying locations around you? I am currently working on front position maneuvers with Ty, my youngest dog, with a dumbbell in her mouth. She is showing definite signs of improvement, but she is just beginning to remember to hold the dumbbell without mouthing while she does the small position shifts I ask her to do. She can do this minor shifts beautifully when her mouth is empty. When we add in holding her dumbbell, it is much harder for her.

In a hallway, you can work short recalls, distance position changes (verbal or signal), beginning retrieving work, dumbbell retrieves, glove retrieves with different turns before the retrieve, go-outs, moving stands, stays, scent discrimination, fronts, and finishes. You can teach your dog to touch a target with his nose or a front paw. You can use this later for working on go-outs or the broad jump. You can proof you dumbbell pickup by placing it near a distraction, such as a toy or something that looks like food but isn't. You can also work many of the rally stations.

You can simply practice your shaping skills by playing Karen Pryor's "101 things to do with a box" game, where you put a cardboard box in the center of the room and click and treat your dog for interacting with it in a different way each training session. My Border terrier Java has circled the box, jumped in the box and sat, jumped in and immediately jumped out again, jumped on the upside box, put front paws up on the side of the box, dug in a corner once inside the box...

Do you have a formal dining room that is collecting dust? Move the chairs out of the way and heel rectangles around the table, which will help your dog make tight left turns. Do you have an office chair on wheels? You can do multiple moving chair fronts, like scoot fronts, using your legs to keep your dog straight. When you run out of space, toss a cookie behind your dog, scoot yourself back across the room, and start over.

You can work on various tricks that help to build your dog's strength and flexibility, such as sitting up/begging, waving, doing figure 8's around your legs, rolling over, and spinning to the left and right.

I have been reviewing my goals for my dogs recently and updating what I want to achieve in the coming week and month. Don't forget to do this from time to time.

If your dog is too perfect at home, talk to a friend who also trains, and go train at her house. Invite her over the next time. Sometimes just adding another dog around will cause your dog to be less than perfect at home. Be creative with your limited time and space and have fun with your dog.

Until next time, happy training!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Kay Braddock's Toffee Bar Recipe

We have a ritual at our training school - if you earn a title or something else significant with your dog, you bring treats to class. It doesn't help our waistlines, but we all look forward to it :-). Here's a much requested recipe from Kay Braddock.

Toffee Bars by Kay Braddock

2 sticks butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg yolk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t vanilla extract
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9" X 13" baking pan
2. Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolk; beat well
3. Add flour, mixing well, then stir in vanilla. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for 25 min.
4. Cover cookie layer with chocolate chips and return to oven 3 or 4 min.
5. Remove from oven and spread melted chocolate evenly. Sprinkle with nuts. (Sometimes I use toffee chips instead of nuts).
Cool completely before cutting. (Sometimes I put these in the refrigerator to firm up the chocolate).

Ingham Co. Kennel Club 11/30/08

Have you ever heard the term "Bad school, good show?" It's a phrase
that I learned when I showed horses, and it means if the schooling
(aka training) goes badly, the show is likely to go well. Gryffin was
a case in point for that phrase this week.

I hadn't shown since the Marshbanks trials in October, and while I've
been training with some consistency, it still wasn't as much as I was
able to put in in September and October. Gryff's been working slower
than usual without his much more typical enthusiasm, especially when
compared to little rocket Ty. Yesterday with only one other person
around (and she wasn't even doing anything), he couldn't do Signals -
got the old "deer in the headlights" look. I used a toy behind him
some for proofing and then to reward him when he was successful. I
also did some go-outs proofs with the toy and the results weren't
stellar - he was heading for jumps on his go outs, veering off to the
side, etc.. I considered not going to the trial today, but it was my
last trial for the year (boo hoo). Only Gryff was entered, since I
figured it was too busy a place for undertrained Joker, and I'm still
waiting for Ty to come in season... After lugging 3 dogs and their
gear, a single dog was EASY!

We showed first in utility and except for a major struggle on the 1st
article - I think he was literally working the pile for 30 seconds -
all of which cost us 2.5 points, he had a nice class, and got 1st
place of the class of 9 with a 194.5, netting us 6 more OTCh. points.
He now has 57. We left Utility, got to our crate, I gave him a couple
pieces of cheese, grabbed the dumbbell and went into Open. He had a
nice class there, finishing the individuals by 8:45 (!). All 6 dogs in
the group survived stays, hurray! There was a single runoff, which was
for 1st place. They each had a 198 (Dave Tucker and Maddy ran off),
and we got a 197.5, so we were again close to earning that elusive and
needed-for-his-OTCh. Open B 1st. After the way he's been training, I'm
completely thrilled with the results :-). That was his 5th UDX leg,
and for frosting on the cake, we earned High Combined, his 2nd one.

So it was a far finer finish to the 2008 trial season than our 3 NQ
finish last year!