As a follow up to my previous post, here are the details of our most recent weekend in Regina.
Friday evening we stopped by the club so I could get my bearings and so that I could let Bear figure the building out and get some of his silliness out of his system. My plan for my few minutes of floor time was to do as much of the course as possible but to take in both cookies and my clicker for some rapid reinforcement if necessary. I did not spend a lot of time walking the course but ran through quickly twice and then took him out of the car to stretch his legs. Our run through was ok – Bear was a little distracted by a mat leading to the potty yard (which club members admitted was likely saturated with urine) and then I entered the cones for the Weave Once exercise improperly but otherwise Bear did not seem overly distracted, he didn’t do an excessive amount of scratching, sniffing, wandering or visiting and he was really really interested in the tuna treats I made a few weeks ago.
This was our first time at the Regina Kennel and Obedience Club, and I really like the space . The ring is completely separated from spectators and the crating area. The only people in the ring are the handler, the judge, the timer and the table steward(s). This is ideal for us and, I suspect, for other distractible dogs.
On Saturday we were entered in three runs: Two Excellent C runs and one Versatility run. All of our runs were in the afternoon so I spent the morning helping lay courses while Bear chillaxed in his crate in the car. Crating in the car seems to be the must successful option for us as it keeps Bear in a familiar place away from the comings and goings in any crating area.
For our first Excellent C run, I brought Bear out one dog ahead of our turn, we did some simple exercises for cookies and then headed into the ring. I took off his collar, popped a few cookies into his mouth and without wasting any time we were on our way! Bear worked really well, getting slightly distracted at a few stations which lost us a total of 5 points and, he forgot how to sit at one station and stood there staring at me with a ridiculous grin on his face. I needed to ask him to sit again which lost us another 2 points. In total we lost 7 points and earned a score of 193 (out of 200) which was high enough to earn our second C stream leg. This was the harder of the two courses for us with the black hole Tunnel and the Halt – Recall while running (Bear has to stay while I run away) so I was really, really pleased with his work.
The Second Excellent C course was also difficult with both the backup 3 steps and the spread jump. Bear had a bit of a stress scratch before our run and when he was done, I popped a bunch of cookies into his mouth in rapid succession and then we were off. Our backup was satisfactory (we got a checkmark) however Bear completely missed the spread jump, I sent him again and he took it although he was perilously close to the edge – I’m not sure I would have passed out second performance if I was judging it. Since we already disqualified by this time, for the remainder of the course, I chose to use the cookies in my pocket to reinforce any work that I thought was nice. I felt this was a great opportunity to teach him that sometimes a dog CAN get cookies in the ring, especially if he is paying attention. The judge was kind enough to continue scoring us and we did lose a few points for double commands and the few times Bear forged ahead. Had Bear taken the broad jump, we would only have lost 8 points and our run would have been another qualifying Excellent C leg. I was really happy with Bear’s attention through this course and his nice back-up work. I knew the spread jump would be problematic because we haven’t been working on it much.
Our third and final course was the Versatility course. We have been chasing this title since 2009 and only need ONE more leg to earn it. we started of really nicely – Bear had only eyes for me. he lost position slightly during a right hand heeling spiral and then forgot to stay during the halt-sit-walk around. I decided to give him the sit stay cure during the walk around in hopes that I would only receive deductions for him being out of position and for my extra commands. aside from this, the rest of the run was nice – only a second command to get bear to come in front at the second to last station. After the run I was pondering why Bear got up during the walk around – he never does this – EVER and then I started wondering whether I told him to wait or not. We ended up disqualifying on that exercise (which I believe was reasonable) and when I asked a few others if I had given him the wait or stay cue, they said I did not. Full responsibility is on me, therefore for not qualifying during out Versatility run. That being said, it was a beautiful run and we would have completed it with a score of 195 had I been more on the ball.
This certainly underscores the need for precision handling and a few people mentioned this is why they taught a sit as a “sit until you are asked to move” thus removing the need for the extra stay cue. I can see why that’s a great idea however the corollary of sit meaning “sit & stay” is that you then need to cue your dog every time you want him to move forward in heel position. While I’m judging I certainly have deducted a good deal of points for dogs that did not maintain position during the ‘walk around’ exercises but I have also deducted a good bunch of points for tight leashes when people forget to cue their dogs to move forward and the dog remains sitting until he or she is essentially dragged forward.
Both meanings of “sit” are valid, in my opinion, as long as communication remains consistent. However, I’m not about to change our training vocabulary because: 1.) Bear is 7 and it seems like we are FINALLY beginning to speak the same language; and 2.) I would prefer his default behavior to be staying with me and maintaining eye contact since he does have a tendency to wander around.
Our total practice time for this trial (since last week) was 27 minutes and I do think it helped with the back up. I also think there’s a lot of value in spending equal time plying with your dog as training. For us, the trick with Micro Training now, is to incorporate more than one set of sessions into the day to work on other behaviors like the broad jump and spirals while right side heeling.
When it was all said and done, I was thrilled with Bear and also my ability to keep my nerves in check – actually I think I totally forgot to be nervous – maybe because I had rather low expectations given our lack of practice. Either way, I’m rather confident now that we’ll be able to achieve our title sometime this spring or summer, depending on when we can get to another trial.