Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Utility Training Concepts

Picking up on last week’s essay’s topic, I’d like to explore some of the concepts I train on regularly when working on the Utility exercises with a dog who understands all of the exercises.

When I’m training the Signal Exercise, I vary how far away I am from my dog. I vary how long I wait between signals. Because my dogs know how to stand at a distance, I vary the order of position changes, although I more often do the order required for the Utility ring. I vary the background behind me. I glance away from my dog before each signal, simulating looking at the judge for her cues. I work on my dog’s attention at a distance, which is critical for successful signals.

On Scent Discrimination, I vary where in the pile I place my scented article. Gryffin has been having a particularly hard time when it’s in the center, so I almost always put at least one there during a session. After the first retrieve, I put the next scented one somewhere my dog didn’t check, if there are any such places. If I do more than two retrieves, I again put the next one somewhere my dog didn’t check at all or very well. I almost always have a chair nearby to put the extra articles on as there is typically one there in the ring. If I am training with someone else, I ask them to scent the articles in the pile, and also to place my scented article out in the pile. Most judges are out beyond the pile to watch your turn, so that is what I ask my training partner to do. I use the “After a sit” method of sending to the pile, so I vary how long I have the dog remain in heel position before actually sending him to the pile, and sometimes I do another couple of turns instead of sending to the pile.

On the Directed Retrieve, I sometimes give the signal to the glove, but don’t release my dog to retrieve. I vary the order in which I have my dog retrieve the gloves. As with the Open retrieves, I vary how quickly I give the retrieve command to make sure my dog isn’t anticipating. I am careful to have my gloves at the distances apart and from me that they are in the ring, though I do occasionally use different distances to simulate an inexperienced steward who places the gloves badly. I frequently have a decoy glove near the path to the correct glove.

On the Moving Stand, if I have a helper, I ask that she say, “Stand your dog!” multiple times to make sure my dog isn’t anticipating the stop. I ask for a thorough exam of my dog. If I’m by myself, I sometimes say the judge’s commands myself. I’ll go examine my dog myself when training alone. I vary how long I wait before I cue the return.

On Directed Jumping, I vary which side of the ring I put the bar jump and the high jump. I vary which side jump I have my dog take first. My first OTCh. dog Tramp developed what I called “right jump-itis” - we had the jump on my right first so many times in the ring that she learned that that was the one to do first. When we finally got the one on my left first, she went to the wrong one. At least monthly, I put my dog in many oddball places, that, although they would be a qualifying go-out, are way off center and sometimes just beyond the 10 foot mark. Then I walk to the other end and send my dog to the jumps from these odd places. I practice to gating with a center stanchion often since that is pretty common at local trials, but I also practice sending my dog to a blank wall and to gating with an off-center stanchion. I practice stopping my dog short on his go-outs. On the next send, I expect him to go all the way, but am prepared for him to stop himself where I stopped him short the last time. I correct him somehow if he does stop short. This keeps my dog sharp about listening to me.

A final critical part of Utility training and ring preparation is that of stamina. Having a dog who finds the exercises reinforcing simplifies this aspect of Utility trialing. Even an experienced and fast Utility B dog is going to be in the ring for 7-8 minutes, which means you better have your dog well prepared to work without food or toys for that length of time and longer. An inexperienced Utility A dog who works slowly might be in there as long as 10 minutes. Be very aware of time during your training.

When my dog has a good understanding of the exercises, I also add other types of proofing regularly to challenge my dog’s understanding. Simply training around other people working their dogs is a great first step. Training in several unfamiliar places is especially crucial for Utility, particularly for mastering go-outs and signals.

One of my familiar phrases for first-time Utility students is that most people enter Utility about six months before they are really ready. Take your time to be well prepared. While there are a lot of little ways to NQ in Utility that can happen no matter how experienced you and your dog are, if your dog is hardly ever passing a given exercise on the first try when training in familiar places, let alone in a trial, don’t start showing or stop showing for a while and train some more. Utility is a challenge, but it makes it that much more satisfying when you succeed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sunday at Oakland Co. KC

I showed at Sunday's two Oakland County's obedience trials (I was at my son's Solo & Ensemble music performances in Livonia on Saturday). I did all four classes with Gryffin, Novice B in the morning's trial with Ty and Open B in the afternoon's trial with Joker.

Gryffin was listed as first in each of his classes, which meant aiming to get there at 7 AM for an 8 AM start. With the roads being so bad and snow covered, we didn't arrive until 7:30. We started out with a nice steady Q in Utility B, which helped to make the ugly drive there worthwhile. We were in a runoff for 3rd place with a 193, lost it to Linda MacDonald and Wings.

Much to my embarrassment (and also amusement, I must confess), Gryff failed his drop on recall (1st ex. in Open B) because of.... a sticker on the floor! The judge used stickers to mark everything, and apparently, they were different enough (whiter and bigger) from the ones that are all over my building floor to cause a major brain blip. The drop was supposed to be close to one of the Figure 8 stickers. I cued the drop, G spotted the sticker, his eyes kind of spun around in his head, and he stopped and sat. I waited a while to see if he'd figure it out, but alas, he didn't. Given the rest of his class was pretty sloppy, at least he didn't blow a really high score . Happily, he looked VERY solid and straight when I got back on his sit stay, always a welcome sight.

I was all done with Gryffin's morning classes before showing Ty in Novice. I hadn't shown her since the weekend she finished her CD back in October. She did a nice solid job and got first in her class with a 197. We're entered a few more times in Novice since were not ready for Open yet.

In the afternoon's trial, Gryff again Q'ed in Utility with another solid performance. Well, except for a lot of moving during the exam on the Moving Stand. We had 4 solid and confident article pickups for the day, something we've been working hard on since our last trial in December. He also Q'ed in Open, which earned him his 6th UDX leg. OB and UB finished up at right about the same time. I got called for a runoff in UB, and it was admittedly sloppy. Came out of that, watching others running off, then got called into OB for a runoff. Bonnie Burman was in the Utility ring for a runoff, and we were going at almost the same time. This last runoff felt the like the best one of the day. In Utility, we'd runoff for 4th against Laura R. and Flare and she won the runoff. We had a 195.5. In Open, we were in a 3 way runoff for 2nd in OB with a 198, ended up 3rd.

Joker failed right away because he was not looking at the broad jump and stepped on the first board. He also went down on his sit stay (which was after the down stay in the afternoon trial). However, he did once again put a smile on the judge's face, and I think his heeling was less ugly than usual :-). I was even able to see him on the 2nd outside Figure 8 ;-).

Kay Braddock and Jet Q'ed again in Utility A for another 1st place in the morning trial. A bit of bad luck kept them from Q'ing in the afternoon's trial. They've had a bunch of that during their short Utility A journey - one tiny error that's prevented a Q. I saw all but her Signals in both classes, and they looked great. Unlike a lot of Utility A dogs, Jet has generalized her performances well to the ring and looks as confident and solid there as training at home.

Nancy Stein and Reuben held it together to earn their 3rd leg in Novice B in the afternoon's trial. Stays have been really hard for Reuben to master, so it was great to hear that he did them with confidence.

Linda Owens and Pam Bannick both finished their UDX's in the afternoon's trial, and Linda earned High Combined with two scores of 198. Nice going, Linda!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Adele's Confetti Bean and Corn Salad

I had a lot of requests for this recipe after serving it up at the Michigan Flyways judging seminar and at the obedience match the next day. The great thing about this recipe is it's flexibility. I would imagine other vegetables would be good. The original recipe didn't call for any grain, but the barley I used recently was a great addition. Though I used it in this recent batch, I usually skip the onion.

Confetti Corn Salad - Originally from the Ann Arbor News
Serves 12

1/2 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 C sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1 (16-ounce) can white whole kernel corn
1 (16-ounce) can yellow whole kernel corn
(I have used 4 C of frozen corn instead of the two cans)
1 (14-ounce) can black beans (optional)
1 large red pepper chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
1-2 C cooked barley or brown rice (or other grain of your liking)

1. To make dressing, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a jar. Cover and shake until sugar dissolves.
2. To make the salad, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Toss lightly to mix.
3. Add the dressing to the salad. Toss to mix. Chill, covered, for several hours before serving.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Open Training Concepts

I’d like to explore some of the concepts I typically include when working on maintaining and polishing the Open exercises. They are training ideas that I frequently include when working on a given exercise with one of my dogs.

One overall concept in all of my training is that of varying the time I wait before giving a command. Dogs have such natural internal clocks and are such creatures of habit that if you are too consistent with the timing of your commands, your dog will anticipate the next part of an exercise, not waiting for your command. While most judges use a pretty consistent rhythm, there is variation, with some hesitating longer than others.

This is particularly important on finishes. Most dogs will anticipate their finish at some point. When I was preparing my first two dogs for Open, they both did a lot of finish anticipation, mostly during training, thankfully. Going from one finish in Novice to four in Open makes this a very common problem for the new Open dog. Sometimes I finish my dog after only a brief sit in front. Usually, on the next front, I remain silent, testing whether my dog understands he should wait. After a successful silent interval (my dog waits correctly in his front sit), I might give him a treat or simply release out of the front sit, or I might finish him after this longer-than-usual pause. I always want to be ready to catch him if he starts to finish on his own.

Applying this concept to any of the retrieve exercises, sometimes I release my dog quickly to retrieve. Other times, I pause longer than usual. I might then send my dog; I might release him; or I might give him a treat. I might use some other command than my retrieve command, such as SIT or WAIT to make sure my dog is listening and waiting properly.

On the Drop on Recall, I mix some straight recalls (i.e., no drop) in with ones on which I have my dog drop. I might drop him in the first third of the recall, at the halfway point, or in the last third. I might motivate (i.e., do something fun like a cookie-toss recall or a chase recall) the recall off the sit or off the down. I vary how long I make him wait in the down, which is especially important if you do UKC Open in which a steward walks past your dog while he’s in a down. Sometimes I go give my dog a cookie for a particularly good drop.

On the Retrieve on Flat (ROF), I practice alongside a High Jump regularly, since all of my recent dogs have tried out jumping the jump when they shouldn’t. I’ll practice minimum distance throws (20 feet) and full-ring-length throws. Sometimes I purposely throw off center to make my dog work on finding fronts from different angles.

On the Retrieve over the High Jump (ROHJ), I purposely throw off to the side to proof for dumbbells that take a bad bounce. Given my training building’s rubber flooring, these bad bounces are all too common. I want my dog to understand that when I say JUMP on this exercise, he is to jump both going out and coming back, even if it isn’t the most obvious and straight path. In my opinion, this is the most important proof to work on with this exercise. I will also alternate between a ROF and a ROHJ. I use a different command on each of these two exercises to help clarify my dog’s job (FETCH on the ROF, JUMP on the ROHJ, in case you really want to know :-)). I watch where my dog focuses after picking up his dumbbell: if it’s on me, he’s most likely going to come straight to me; if it’s on the jump, he’s probably going to take the jump.

As I write this, I realize I don’t have a concrete list of concepts for the Broad Jump. I do want to see my dog driving hard enough to the jump that he is clearing it comfortably. I’ll motivate the jump itself or the return.

Since having some stay issues during trials last fall (mostly lying down during the sit stay), my dogs have been doing mostly back-to-back sit stays. They usually get through the first 3 minute sit, and sometimes the 2nd 5 minute sit, but Gryffin has gone down during the 2nd one a few times. If you have a dog who lies down on a sit stay a lot, make sure you are training sit stays frequently, daily if possible. This will help build up his core strength that he needs to have in order to keep himself up in the sit. If you correct your dog for mistakes almost every time he does a sit stay, you build up a lot of stress (been there, done that). If this is happening with your dog, go back to kindergarten: stay close, stay in sight, keep the time short. I build up duration first, then where I am in relation to my dog (not directly across from him), then being out of sight.

When my dog has a good understanding of the exercises, I also add other types of proofing to challenge my dog’s understanding. Simply training around other people working their dogs is a great step. If you increase difficulty gradually, and are fair about your proofing, your dog will be ready for the Open ring in no time.