Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2012 Southern Odyssey

Day 2 started with a 3 hour drive to Knoxville, where I met my friend Alyce for a walk in a local park with the dogs and lunch. The weather was perfect spring-smelling weather. Delightful!

I had a reservation at the Macon Red Roof Inn. I checked my map before leaving Knoxville to find a rest area for a stop between 3:30-4, and found one between Chattanooga and Atlanta. We had a nice walk there, and given the time and distance still to go - 2.5 hours - I checked for any Red Roofs further south on I-75, but didn't come up with any. Yes, we hit Atlanta at rush hour, as many had warned me about, but I just stayed on 75 and enjoyed my book on CD.  It only took 15 minutes longer than the GPS had estimated, so really not that bad. Traffic isn't as bad to me when I'm expecting it.

The motel I'm at is unlike any Red Roof I can remember staying at - there are inside hallways instead of outside doors. Darn. I really like outside doors! I used the motel cart to unload my ridiculous amount of stuff, walked the dogs, and settled down to eat my dinner and read email. I suddenly remembered, "Conference call!" which was scheduled for 8 PM. When I looked at my watch, it was right at 8. I'm not sure why I didn't get the reminders I thought I set, but it was fine. The call went on for 2 hours (I'm on the committee looking to revise the requirements for the Flat-Coated Retriever Hall of Fame). Phew!

Feed dogs, walk dogs, call to hubby and sleep.

Today, we've got about 5 hours of driving to get to Betsy Reiney's place in Palatka, FL. While I'm not looking forward to 85 degree weather (the 60's in Tennessee is my preferred temps), I'm really looking forward to spending a bunch of time field training/swimming the dogs in the next 48 hours.

I'll see if I can get some video of Sonic swimming later today...

Monday, February 27, 2012

2012 Southern Odyssey Day 1

The dogs and I made it to the Lexington, Kentucky Red Roof without a hitch. Yes, we hit rush hour traffic in Cincinnati, but I didn't really care. What was supposed to be a loooong trip with my travel trailer has turned into a trip in just the Burb due to some problem that made the right rear wheel of T3 end up at about a 30 degree angle yesterday morning. Not something that brought warm fuzzies to my heart, let me tell you. Broken axle? I really have no idea. What leaving the trailer behind means is I can travel faster and go farther in a day. Given the strong winds during the 1st two hours of today's drive that was buffeting my heavily laden Suburban around, I was really happy to have left T3 at home!

When packing training equipment to bring along, I decided at the last minute to bring an old set of articles along, with the hope that I'd find time to get Sonic started on Around the Clock Scent Discrimination. We got to Lexington plenty early enough, so after unloading my gear (boy do I love parking right outside my motel room door), I pottied Sonic, and we got the process started. She only just started picking up a dumbbell about a week ago, with article retrieves starting a day or two later, so she needs a lot of help to take the article, but I'm okay with that. All of my dogs take a while to figure out that they should pick up the article after the cheese is gone. Joker was my most recent dog to start ATC with, and I think it was day 3 or 4 of the first week when he started picking it up. I doubt Sonic will be that quick, given the state of her retrieve, but I'll let you know...

She hasn't had much 'cheese in a can', so she thought it was nifty. It was good I'm well practiced in holding the dog's collar, because she really thought she ought to check the other articles after licking off the cheese from the scented one. I typically pick up the right one once most of the cheese is gone to help with the taking process. I found it helped to guide her to me with the collar and the other hand supporting her chin.

All in all, a fine first session. 

I gave all 3 dogs (Gryff, Ty, and Sonic are with me) a rawhide chew. Gryff has finished his, but the girls are still chomping away.

My goal is to get to the Macon, GA Red Roof Inn tomorrow, though I'm stopping to have lunch with a long time friend in Knoxville, with the additional goal of giving the dogs a run and/or some training in a park. Yes, I'll hit Atlanta at rush hour, something I was warned NOT to do by a bunch of people. The alternative is to stop before and get going early in the morning Wednesday, but then I'd probably hit the morning rush hour. I'll just see how the driving goes. 

I will spend Wednesday afternoon through lunch on Friday in Palatka, FL, field training at someone's private property that has PONDS!!! I'm so excited to get there and to see how Sonic does in a real pond. I'm hoping I go home in a couple of weeks with a puppy who can swim.

Time to feed them and get myself to bed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sonic at 6 months

Sonic turned 6 months old on Valentine's Day. It is sometimes hard to remember how young she is because of how big she has gotten. She is about Ty's size and she's got a reasonable amount of hair.

Since she lost her last puppy tooth on January 23, we've been hard at work on formalizing her hold of a dumbbell and a small bumper. A 3" big bumper is still pretty tough for her to hold. She will retrieve a big bumper, but often carries it by the rope. I haven't added a fetch command yet, though the time is fast approaching. I wait to add one until my dog will pick a dumbbell up from several feet away. As of last week, she was reaching down almost all the way to the floor and holding it reliably. She loves to use her feet to slide things around, so I'm taking my time getting it all the way to the floor. Over the weekend, I started doing hold work with a metal article. She's a bit reluctant to take it, so we need to do more. Last night, she made the big step of picking a dumbbell up from the floor without my hand nearby. I was especially proud of her given that the dumbbell we were working with has quite a chewed up end, thanks to Little gnawing on it last summer. This afternoon, we did some short retrieves of a metal article and a leather article as successfully as the dumbbell last night.

So, what else can Sonic do besides retrieving basics? All of her heel position maneuvers (heel starts, close, away, back, in, scoot sits) are roughed in and she'll respond to all of the cues without food in my hand, but for most still needs at least some help with a guiding hand to show her how to position her head. 

She can do a reasonable approximation of a finish in both direction, but needs hand motions to help her and does not end up in the right place without help. I'm very excited about her fronts, though. Except for the occasional nose poke ("Am I close enough, Mom?"), she seems to have a pretty good sense of where she should be. We've done chair fronts, platform fronts, steering fronts (side-passing in front of me), angled scoot fronts, cookie-toss recalls, recalls through a chute of broad jump boards, and a few motivational recalls from a sit stay.

I haven't formalized her sit stay much, but she can stay pretty reliably while I put the other dogs' food bowls down, and while I set out cookies for her to do various exercises. I've had a couple of people do some sit stay proofing a few weeks ago, which she handled very well. We've had some conformation exams, but not much since we showed in the Beginner Puppy (4-6 months) class at the January shows. I've done just about no down stay work. She's a Flat-Coat. She'll figure out the down stay all on her own :-).

She's had 3-4 sessions of distractions on Find Heel, but her demo at the seminar last Saturday - she visited the distractor eagerly many times - reminds me that she needs a lot more of that. We've worked a lot on Rhythm Heeling, which we started working on when she was about 12 weeks old. We usually start with clockwise heeling, but have also worked quite a bit on big counterclockwise circles. While I usually start with a treat in my left hand, we've done some work when we are by ourselves without food in my hand. I do keep the leash snug, either behind my legs held in my right hand or gathered up in my left hand, to help keep her close. At home, she can heel 15-20 steps with focus often. Saturday morning at the seminar, before we started, I had her out to get her familiar with the room. She couldn't do more than 2-3 steps without looking around. By mid-afternoon, when I got her out to demo starting Rhythm Heeling, she was great and able to heel like she can at home.

I've introduced her to the basics of about turns and left and right turns, and left and right circles, which lead to Figure 8s. I introduced her to Play Running - a predecessor to fasts - in mid-November and to slows in late December. We've done some Scoot Heels, my predecessor to halts, but I don't think she has quite enough body control to worry about them at this point.

She's done some agility tunnels and all the contacts low. I think she would love to try more, but I'm just not that interested in pursuing agility. 

She's done several sessions of angled jumping, the basis for Directed Jumping, and really loves jumping over low jumps and chasing cookies. We haven't done any of that in a while, but I don't think she'll forget. We started baby go-outs - cookies on a target - when she was 8 weeks old, and she was doing 50 foot go-outs to a cone and/or a target by late November. Her understanding of targets lead to several weeks worth of work on target wagon wheel, where I put out 4 targets in a half circle with cookies on them. I used this to work her retrieve mechanics of looking straight ahead on cue, staying until sent, getting used to my steadying hand above her head, and going to the target on a BACK command. We've worked this both from the left and the right.

We started having success with bumper retrieves somewhere around mid-December. I finally decided to use a Flexi-leash, after seeing the distance at which her brother was retrieving. The flexi prevented the choice of run away with the bumper and started building the habit of coming back to me. 

We started casting to and from platforms in mid-November a la Pat Nolan, and whistle sits to a platform in mid-December. We did quite a bit of puppy casting games for a while, and she was doing a nice job with them. She's also done some gunner-placed multiples to targets with cookies on several occasions, both doubles and triples. With our mild and nearly-snowless winter, we started some gunner thrown marks in January, and she's done some as long as 50 yds. I've also thrown bumpers into some taller grass for her to fetch. Just last week, she delivered a bumper to a platform in heel position several times in a row, something I hadn't tried in a while. I was thrilled to see that development. Her hold needs to be stronger before it is really reliable, but nevertheless, it's a start.

I started her on cookie-toss sits in late January, which will lead to sits on go-outs and whistle sits in the field. She's only reliable about sitting in place at 4-5 feet from me, but it's a start.

She graduated to using the Otto Step (google it if you've got a hitch on your SUV - it is great!) to jump in and out of the Suburban just last week, which meant I didn't have to take the borrowed ramp along to the seminar. 

She's been learning to swim in the therapy pool at the Animal Rehabilitation Facility. We have one more swim on Friday before our trip south, where I hope she gets several opportunities to swim in ponds. 

She can do a decent kick-back stand in heel position and in front of me. Her down is very much a work in progress. If I'm standing up without a barrier, she tends to want to come towards me a bit, and go into the down via a sit. If I'm sitting down, she's much more successful at lying down in one smooth motion. We haven't spent a lot of time on it lately, but enough to see some progress.

She is better at having her nails trimmed than any dog I've ever owned. I'm really hoping we can keep it that way! I still do her upside down on my lap, but I'd like her to graduate to the grooming table and from the clippers to the dremmel. She's had her feet and ears trimmed several times, had a bath or two, and had some exposure to the dog drier.

There is probably more, but mostly in the details. Sonic has benefitted greatly from me being far more available for training than when puppy Gryffin came into my life. I also have another 8 years of training under my belt, and I like to think I've learned a few things!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sonic's Hold

Up until a week or so ago, I've limited my training to indoors this winter, including quite a bit of basic field training with Sonic. We have had such a mild winter that I have been going outside to throw bumpers for Sonic in the past 10 days or so. I'm tickled with how well she's been doing on her bumper retrieving. The first time I went out with her, I had an extra bumper that I twirled as I called her back. It worked like a charm to get her to focus on me and return. She's also learning to retrieve when someone else throws for her. Sometimes she just gives up and starts back without getting the bumper, but she is showing some real promise in the field.

Since she lost her last puppy tooth on January 23, I have gotten to work on her hold in earnest. Here is a video I made in mid-November, showing her progressing on holding a dumbbell:

While she was teething, she was a bit put out when I tried to work on the dumbbell, which is not unusual for teething puppies. She was avoiding taking it quite a bit.

Puppies usually love to grab a bumper by the rope, and Sonic really likes to do that. Here is a video of our work on shaping her to take a black and white bumper at the intersection of the colors, which is the middle of the bumper, the ideal place to hold it.

And here is a video of some of the dumbbell hold work we've been doing:

Since this footage was taken, we've advanced her 'cookies on the table' work so that I can walk 10 feet away to get a cookie while she calmly holds her dumbbell.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Scheduling Training

During January, I was feeling overwhelmed with trying to keep up with training and exercising all 3 Flat-Coats and my other work-related tasks outside of my teaching schedule. I kept feeling like I was not giving adequate time to each dog, nor to my office work/administrative tasks that I am responsible for (I remain incredibly grateful for my wonderful office manager, Marcia, who deals with the large majority of the office work and phone calls). I sat down a couple of weeks ago to try to come up with a list of what I wanted to do with each dog each week, such as training and exercise, how many times for each item in a week, and then to spread it out over the week into manageable chunks. The schedule I came up with is this:

Sunday: Train Sonic, Office work
Monday: Exercise Gryff (his circuit strength workout), Train Sonic
Tuesday: Bike dogs, Train Ty
Wednesday: Office work, Train Ty, Train Sonic
Thursday: Bike dogs, Train Sonic, Train Ty
Friday: Exercise Gryff, Office work, Train Sonic
Saturday: Bike dogs, Train Ty

Yeah, I'm tired, too, just looking at it! It has only been in place a couple of weeks, but I think it is helping give me a focus for what I choose to do. If I don't get to something on a given day, I try to make it a priority the next day. I've been biking the dogs by doing laps in my big training building. Gryff has to be on leash because otherwise, he goes in the center and lies down to squeak whatever toy I provide him. I've been letting Sonic join in, but sometimes she's just too wild and has to go in her crate. Little 10 year old Border Terrier Joker just trots along a few feet behind the bike. It isn't something I taught him, but he just does it naturally. Ty dashes about at first, but usually settles into a trot somewhere near me after the initial few minutes. She prefers to have 2 tennis balls at all times. This morning, I felt like I had achieved toy nirvana in that Sonic and Gryff mostly didn't pester each other for the other one's toy. After we finished our 20 minutes this morning, I set up the iPad to capture what it looks like. Slightly atypical, in that Ty was off busy with her tennis balls.