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!

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