Friday, December 4, 2009

Joker & Ty Utility Training Update

As field training has been winding down, I've been managing more obedience work, particularly articles with both Ty and Joker.

I start my dogs off with Janice DeMello's 'Around the Clock Scent Discrimination', because I like the enthusiastic attitude it helps to produce. However, I've had a few of my own dogs and several students who were flummoxed the week the cheese goes from a microscopic dot to none. Joker was one of these confused critters. He would go out, pick up an article at random, and then turn and sit facing me. I finally got around to setting up a tie-down mat and I'm happy to report he seems to be grasping the idea. After 2-3 sessions with the articles tied tightly, he seemed to get over his anxiety about the whole thing, and is dashing out to the pile and back to me with a wagging tail. He's made enough progress that I loosened the ties on about half of them. I do 4 retrieves each time we do it, 2 of each type. I'm using a platform for the front to try to subtly work the front without having to work it. He's only occasionally tugging a tied one. I'm lengthening our distance from the pile, and need to have more and different people scenting them, but I'm hoping we're over the worst of his confusion.

He's got a pretty decent idea of directed jumping, the moving stand, and the directed retrieve. He is showing me what a nuisance it is to train a dog for Utility without a solid foundation of heel position - his pivots have been pretty ghastly, which make getting to the correct glove harder. I do see improvement on the pivots, though. I'm not looking for perfection, but I do want him close enough to heel position that he has a decent chance of following my mark signal. He dashes out and back to the glove, and mostly doesn't drop the glove on my foot anymore .

I now think signals are his least understood exercise. He's had the down and sit concept up close for most of his 8 years, but I only taught him the signal stand about a year ago. Somewhat to my surprise, he seems able to stand at a distance. I started counting steps when I leave him, and he doesn't really get signals, at least not the sit, much beyond 8 steps. Given that it was only 5 steps in mid-November, I'm happy with his progress.

I finally had Ty spayed last month, so her progress has been slowed because of that. I have her articles tied together in 2 sets of 4 articles. After using a tennis ball to reward a good delivery, she started working with a great deal of speed, but still mostly accurately. At home gloves have been mostly a no-brainer. Her biggest training lack is her signal stand stay. I put a small barrier out (same kind we used for drop on recall training) and stood her behind it and was dismayed to see how far across it she stepped as I walked away. We've spent a lot of time this past week working on 'stand still'. I put her on a 6-foot leash to reduce her sometimes wild leaping about that she offers. I do know where this lack of clarity comes from - I've used her for a year or so to demo clicker training the first night of my Fundamentals class, and one of the strongly reinforced behaviors is 'lie down and cross your front paws'. In the process, she also offers 'lie down and roll onto a hip'; 'lie down and put chin on the floor'; 'leap backwards out of the down', and probably others I'm forgetting about. So in trying to get her to simply stand still, she would start going through her repetoire. The use of the leash and clicking her for quite short stand stays has helped her make progress. While she does a decent signal down (a bit too much butt shift to my left, but not overwhelming), she also almost always immediately does her pop-up sit on her own. So I have also been clicking and treating her for holding her down longer, especially with her chin on the floor.

Both dogs do very nice full-length go-outs to a visible target here at home. I've done some work with Joker moving to targetting on a stanchion. Given the generous size of my training building, they've both done go-outs to several different backgrounds. All of Ty's field training blinds have given her a very strong response to my 'look' command (I want her to focus straight out when I say the command, and maintain that look). She just doesn't always wait for me to say 'go' :-). Joker's response isn't as strong, but he's getting there, too. He was showing a LOT of right arcing on go outs earlier in the week at a park, so I think I need to use center guides for him for a while.

Both need reminding via a side step on the first jumps we do each session, but are jumping full height confidently. I haven't started jumping them from off center (for corner go-out disaster recovery, something I'm a strong proponent of).

Both dogs have a reasonably good stop on the moving stand, though I've not done much having other people exam either one. Both can do a decent call to heel.

It's fun to be teaching/solidifying some new stuff that isn't Open :-).

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