Saturday, April 28, 2012

Growing puppies

If you read my last post (Sonic at 8 months), you might remember that I wrote about Sonic's floppy sit. "I think the biggest issue  is that she is very cow-hocked right now, and I think she just can't physically hold a non-flopped over sit for too long. I just have to be patient with her and wait for more maturity."

I wrote that on an airplane bound for California on a Saturday. When I next tried a sit stay - I think it was 3 days later? - she could suddenly sit with her back feet more widely spaced, which means she could and can hold a longer non-flopping sit stay. While she is still "hocky"(her back toes point out and her hocks point in vs. the typically more desireable, at least for the conformation ring, toes forward, hocks backward), she is less dramatically so. So I'm reasonably confident that continuing patience on my part and physical maturity on her part will take care of the problem. Well, some work on building strength through training will also help.

This has reminded me once again that she is, after all, still a puppy, and will go through a lot more growing before she's done. It's just not the dramatic, "wow, she looks different every day" growth.

I am in Maryland, leaving soon to start Day 1 of my "On Beyond Novice" seminar. I haven't done this one in a while, so it should be fun. I was in Austin, TX last weekend (no dogs) also for a seminar. All this travel has meant frustratingly little training time for my dogs. I did have Sonic out during Week 6 in my Maneuvers classes. I have everyone do a checkup of how many steps or turns can they do of each maneuver without food in their hand. I was pleasantly surprised at how well Sonic is doing on all except side-step left, which was her least understood directional. She has very nice understanding and control of her body, which you can see her starting on YouTube (sorry, I can't seem to add links easily on my iPad).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sonic at 8 months

Sonic at 8 months

Sonic is a very active puppy, already 23.25" tall and at least 56 lbs. She is strong. Very strong. I shudder to think what it would be like to walk her on a leash if we hadn't been training consistently since she was 8 weeks old. We practice it just about every day because of our walk to and from the training building.

Our biggest achievement in the past month was completing the 7 "weeks" of Around the Clock Scent Discrimination. Weeks is in quotes because it isn't used as an exact time of 7 days, but rather it defines the stages that Janice recommends. The most I did any stage was 6 days for Week 6, which is the week you take away any cheese on the scented article. We worked articles every day for 33 days straight, something I've never managed before. We have only done them a few more times since, including using some fresh articles the last time we did them.

We have continued to work our field-related obedience, including walking with me vs. formal obedience heeling. The latter is stylized. The former can be on either side, and I  prefer that she is looking forward while remaining aware of where I am.  I continue to struggle with her not dragging ahead of me and pulling on the leash. To counteract the forging ahead, we do lots of sits. These have improved a lot this month. We also work on her finishing to either side, coming with a sit in front, sometimes close, sometimes a bit farther away. I'll also call her directly to heel from a short distance away. She seems equally responsive to my verbal sit cue and a whistle toot.

Cookie-toss sits are improving slowly. She is able to sit with little to no creeping toward me at about 4-6 feet. What I really like is that she is turning herself all the way around to face me before she sits, something Gryff has always been poor at. A straight sit should make accurate casting in the field much easier for her. I've learned that you can do cookie toss sits outside in grass. It just takes patience while they dig the treat out of the grass.

At each meal time for several weeks now, I've been having her hold a 3" bumper while I put the other dogs' food down and they start to eat. When we started this, she was very reluctant to even take the fat bumper, let alone hold one for any length of time. She has progressed to jumping up and grabbing it and sitting while I put the food bowls down for the other dogs. Just this week, I've started requiring her to reach down towards the floor, lift and hold it. This work  only adds about 15-30 seconds onto meal time, and though it is slow, she is making progress.

We have started force fetch, but haven't done much with it in the past couple of weeks for a variety of reasons.

I have started adding her to stay lines in my classes. If you've watched any of the scent article videos, you may have noticed that she flops over in a puppy sit frequently, a common occurrence with Flat-Coated Retrievers. I find that it helps some to put her rear end up on a 1" pad. This shifts her weight forward enough to reduce gravity's effect on her sit. When Treasure was a young dog, she had a lot of trouble holding still on sit stays. I finally realized at least part of the problem was that she was sitting with her hind feet so tightly under her that she was sitting on the outside of her hocks and with her front feet quite close to the back feet. This didn't give her a firm base of support, and thus she kept shifting.  Having remembered Treasure's problems, I've tried with Sonic what helped Treasure, which is have her do a small hop, lifting her front feet a small distance off the floor to try to spread her back feet apart some. We are only having modest success. I think the biggest issue  is that she is very cow-hocked right now, and I think she just can't physically hold a non-flopped over sit for too long. I just have to be patient with her and wait for more maturity.

Our work on field marking has been greatly inhibited by a couple of bouts of lameness. She was sore on both her left elbow and right hip the first time, and more recently, she has been limping on her right front. I had X-rays taken last Thursday but haven't heard from my rehab vet who recommended the X-rays, to see what she thinks. I have not been completely restricting her from running, but have mostly been letting her choose to run vs. encouraging it through our activities.

She was in her 1st real dog show on April 7. There was a Supported Entry by the regional Midwest Waterways FCR club, which means there were majors in both sexes. It was a bit touch and go whether she would be sound enough, but she was. She was the only puppy in her classes – 6-9 month puppy bitches – both in the Sweepstakes and the regular classes. This meant she got to go in the ring 4 times, which was very good practice. The half-limp tail that her litter all seemed to have now vanishes when someone approaches and she wags furiously. We managed credible stand for exams, and her gaiting was far better than in the puppy match in January. She mostly didn't look up at me, and mostly trotted. She had to let loose with some boings during the regular class,  but that's life with a puppy.

We have purposely worked my 20-Treat exercise a couple of times. Since I gave it as homework in my Fundamentals class last Thursday, I made a point of doing it the next day in the grocery store parking lot. It tooke her 20 seconds  to look at me voluntarily the first time, and a total of 3 minutes 40 seconds to look 24 times (yes, we are over achievers, doing 24 instead of 20 :-)). This was better than the 4-5 minutes to do 20 treats a couple of weeks ago. I will try to get her out another time next week (I'm traveling this weekend and next without the dogs), to set a good example for my students.

A few days ago, I had two of my launchers out to do marks with Gryffin. I decided to do a short mark from each one for Sonic, to give her an introduction to watching the extra big throws. She thought the idea was splendid and did both marks very nicely.

She got to do her first X marking drill the next day. The gunner stands in one place, throwing 4 different singles. There are many variations on the order of throws. We did right angle in, right angle back, left angle back, and left angle in. She did a very nice 'check down' on the final mark.

I am hopeful that the lameness issues will resolve soon so we can do more retrieving work in the next month. There are of course many less strenuous activities to work on, but we both want to be out field training. It is hard for both of us to be patient!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Rule of Three

I want to decribe a training technique I've used for years, but never written about much, if at all. Maybe it's because I've never come up with a catchy name for it. The Rule of Three isn't exactly highly descriptive. But here goes:

Let's say your dog has a consistent problem on heeling, such as going wide on about turns. I assume you've taught the dog where he should be and that you are doing appropriate and accurate footwork on a consistent basis, but he still goes wide regularly. To address this, I add a leash correction* to the about turn in this way:

1) As I start into the about turn, I use my verbal cue (CLOSE), followed by a leash pop in the direction I need him to move in order to be correct, followed by praise. I might also release after the leash pop if this is very new for my dog. So Step 1 is CUE, CORRECT, [dog responds], PRAISE, RELEASE (if appropriate).

2A) I immediately try the about turn again, ideally going back to where I just corrected him. I use the verbal cue again, but NO leash pop, followed by praise if there is improvement, followed by a treat. So Step 2A is CUE, [dog responds, hopefully with some improvement], PRAISE, TREAT.

2B) Use this step instead of 2A when you want to be able to go on to step 3 in the same session. I immediately try the about turn again, ideally going back to where I just did the correction. I use the verbal cue again, but NO leash pop, followed by praise if there is improvement. So Step 2B is CUE, [dog responds], PRAISE.

3) Repeat the about turn for a 3rd time, again ideally in the location where you gave the correction on the about turn, do the about turn with NO cue and NO leash pop. In other words, like you would do it in the ring: silently. As soon as you complete it, praise, treat if you see improvement, and release. So Step 3 is DO THE SKILL IN SILENCE, PRAISE, TREAT, RELEASE.

We worked on this sequence for lagging on the outside Figure 8 post in a couple of my classes recently, and the dogs were all showing some nice improvements.

Something else I see people struggle with when learning how to use leash corrections fairly: they correct their dog, but then immediately simplify. What I prefer to do is try Step 2A first - I want to see if my dog learned anything from my correction in Step 1. What I view as a correction may not be considered a correction by the dog. If my dog does indeed show improvement - do remember he doesn't have to be perfect right away! - then that tells me the correction was appropriate. If your dog is just as bad as before, then the correction wasn't sufficient OR the environment is too distracting for your dog's current level of training OR the dog just doesn't understand his job yet. This is when it is crucial to be honest about what your dog understands. Most dogs require a lot of repetitions before they really understand how to respond properly to your cues. If you haven't put in the training time to get in the repetitions, be honest and spend more time on your homework before making it harder or adding leash corrections.

To summarize The Rule of Three (how about helping me come up with a better name for this???)
1) CUE, CORRECT, [dog responds], PRAISE, RELEASE (if appropriate)
2A) CUE, [dog responds, hopefully with some improvement], PRAISE, TREAT
2B) CUE, [dog responds], PRAISE

I hope that makes sense. Feedback is appreciated.
* I use a quick leash pop with a release as a correction - the strength of the pop appropriate to the dog's temperament, size, type of collar, etc. - enough to motivate the dog to try harder so he can avoid it the next time, but not so much it makes him quit.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Key to Sea Poodle Club Trial 4/1/12

Today was the inaugural obedience trial hosted by the Key to the Sea Poodle Club at the Toledo KC. They had 2 Specialty shows Friday and Saturday, then had an all-breed obedience trial today. Since Ty LOVES showing and training at TKC, it was a no-brainer to come home yesterday after my judging assignment in Kalamazoo instead of staying on and showing at their trial today.

Two of my long-time students went into today with 9 UDX legs. Brenda Riemer and her sheltie Liza and Barb Farrah and her Flat-Coat Vegas (who just happens to be my Gryffin's nephew) have been chugging along, almost always staying neck and neck with UDX legs. They both earned their 10th leg today, so finished their UDXs on the same day. To top it off, Barb and Vegas won the Utility B class and Brenda and Liza were in a runoff for 4th in Open B.

Raissa and Bootstrap were in a wonderfully small stay group, and Boots held his stays and earned his 1st UDX leg. Kay and Belle earned their 9th UDX leg, a remarkable 7th in a row, including a 4th place in Utility B. Ty and I earned our 6th UDX leg, just out of the placements in both classes.

Raissa & Alaskan Malamute Bootstrap, leg #1
Adele & Flat-Coated Retriever Ty, leg #6
Brenda & Shetland Sheepdog Liza, new UDX
Barb & Flat-Coated Retriever Vegas, new UDX
Kay & German Wiredhaired Pointer Belle, leg #9

It was an excellent day for our Tuesday morning proofing class folks! Nice going, everyone.