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To Cue, or not to Cue?

A few weeks ago, I had a bit of training dilemma, followed by a training epiphany, followed of course, by a new training dilemma.

Training Dilemma #1

Epic and I have been working a lot on heeling lately for rally trials. Occasionally Epic will drift a tiny bit. Sometimes it’s a forge, sometimes a lag, it doesn’t seem to be consistent. I want to help her and so I say “Here Epic!”. This causes Epic to come to me, and then drift away almost instantly scanning the room. This part is consistent enough that I know it’s something she’s learned but I’ve been struggling with where the communication breakdown is.

Epiphany!

After watching some video, I finally realized that “Here” is the cue I use to indicate there is food on offer and I’m going to throw it for her to snatch out of the air, or to chase along the floor. I have used this cue consistently since we started training. So consistently, in fact, that I can go to video of myself with 4 month old Epic and hear myself use it. To Epic, the cue I have been using does not actually mean what I want it to mean, which is “Pay attention,  something exciting is going to happen!” To Epic, “Here” means, “Pay attention because you are going to have to chase something soon, and you better be ready to catch it”. OOPSIE!

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Training Dilemma #2

After some thought, I came up with a potential solution. In order to rectify the cue confusion, all I need is another word that means, “pay attention come to me, something exciting is going to happen”. Simple right?

WRONG!

Removing one word from my nervous chatty vocabulary is going to be really hard for me. I have major brain/mouth disconnect when handling either dog. I see something happen and plan to adjust my handling by spitting out an appropriate cue. Ninety per cent of the time, a different cue comes out or I spend so much time thinking about what I’m going to say that I spit the correct cue out at the wrong time, usually too late!

*Silent Scream*

As I write this, I wonder if it’s a nerves thing or if it’s some kind of processing disorder. Regardless, retraining my mouth is going to be really, really, REALLY hard. Like impossible hard. Or rather, impossible hard unless I break down learning to say the new word behaviour into tiny bits, much like I break down behaviours for any of my students, human, or canine. Right now, I’m looking at a three step process.

  1. Stop saying the old word when the behaviour occurs.
  2. Teach Epic the new cue outside of the heeling context.
  3. Learn to say the new word at the right time.

After some more thought, I realise that going through the process of teaching her this cue is going to be a lot of work, even if I work on steps one and two simultaneously.

I also realise that a “pay attention” cue is really useful and something I should teach Epic, but using the cue is going to cost us a lot of points in the CARO rally ring (and eventually the obedience ring), even if I save it for The Most Dire of Circumstances.

Especially if I save it for The Most Dire of Circumstances! If she’s so far gone in the ring that I need to use my cue once, I could live with it. Right now I can see myself needing it a few times and herein lies the problem: Teaching a new “pay attention and come to me” cue, to use when I find Epic is out of heel position, will do absolutely nothing to teach Epic to maintain heel position.

What is a blabber mouth trainer to do?

In the end I have decided to just stop ‘helping’ Epic with the extra cues if she drifts. That’s right. I’m shutting the hell up! If you know me at all, you know how hard this is going to be.

Instead, I am focusing on giving her as much positive reinforcement as I can when she is with me, in position. This means a click and a food, toy or play reward. Drifting means no cues, no begging, no pleading, no opportunity for reward. Sometimes I stop moving when she drifts, sometimes I take my cookies and “go home” by ending the session and thinking about how I can help her be more successful next time.

We’ve been working on this consciously for a couple of weeks and in practice I think this is really helping. In a “real life” scenario like the rally trial we attended last weekend, still revert back to the wrong cues and they were not helpful, as to be expected. Fortunately, they were not horribly hurtful. We did qualify once, but the second run, I was so nervous that I asked Epic for a wrong station. In over 100 runs, I have never once made that mistake once with Bear, but it’s not a surprising error when I consider hard I was focusing on trying to NOT use the useless cues. We have a few months before our next trial and now I know that I still have some work to do achieving fluency with my own behaviour (shutting up) as well as Epic’s (staying in position). Stay tuned for updates!

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Pupdate – May 2014 Dog Shows

After our last dog show, I resolved to do something about how Epic appears in profile, so back to conformation handling classes we went. What I learned is that if I hold Epic’s head up by her collar just a bit, and lover the bait to almost my knees, it improves her profile a lot.

photo 1

The negative, if there could be one, is that it’s an awkward position and I feel like my contortions get in the way of the overall picture. I also know that Epic is happier and more comfortable if she can stand, move, and stay on her own. If she were taller, or I were shorter I could probably get the correct positioning standing in front of her with a cookie held ‘just so‘. As it is, I have to contort myself so I can hold her collar high enough, hold the bait low enough, and keep my eye on the “judge”. I’m not graceful. It’s awkward. So I’m going to go with this for now while working on shaping that behaviour without having to use the collar.

May 9-10, 2014 – Mid Canada Dog Association – Winnipeg, MB

Once again, a dog show coincides with a dog food order! This time, I decided we would go for an overnight trip. We’d attend two shows Friday and a show and sweepstakes on Saturday before picking up our dog food and going home.

Our first show on Friday also happened to be a Rottweiler Club of Canada Booster which means there would be prizes over and above the regular ribbons. Once again, there were no girls entered so we needed a Best of Winners to take any points. fortunately, thanks to the booster, we were guaranteed to take something home to show for our time in the ring.

I had heard some not so complimentary things about our judge online so I made sure to get there early and to watch him judge the group before us. If he seemed overly harsh with the dogs, my plan was not to show until the afternoon. As it was, the judge was very thorough, his exam was longer than any I have ever seen but he was gentle with all the dogs I watched him judge in the non-sporting group, even the ones who seemed less than impressed with dog shows in general. Having seen this, I decided we would show that morning.

We were on our own, again so I don’t have any photos or video of us in the ring which is too bad because Epic and I won her first points! FINALLY! Maybe there is hope for us yet. Thanks to the wonders of technology, I was able to catch Epic’s breeder on Facebook to let her know. She was thrilled and asked if we would get a photo. I had not been planning on it, but I did anyway because I figured it would be nice to have a photo of our first win together.

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Photo by Faye Unrau

That afternoon, at our second show, the dog show gods did not smile upon us. I got a comment from someone who was watching that he thought Epic looked bored so he thought I should talk to her and play with her to ‘jazz her up’. I wondered if maybe she was a bit tired, we drove to the show that morning and maybe travel plus 2 shows is too much for her.

Since then I have revised my thinking. The thing about Epic is that she is NOT a wild and crazy girl. From puppy hood, she has always been busy, but with purpose, always thoughtful, always watching before jumping in to do anything. Before I knew Epic was coming home with us, I asked the owner of her sire, Gable, what he was like in the obedience ring. Rich’s reply to me was that Gable wasn’t a flashy worker but he learned quickly, knew his job and he did it happily. This is exactly how I would describe Epic: Calm, relaxed, ready to work. I believe my ringside critic might have interpreted Epic’s calmness for boredom or lack of engagement. In the end, I decided not to make any major changes to our routines that weekend. We’d stick with what we knew and perhaps work on something different for the next show.

On Saturday, at our third show, Epic was exactly how she had been for the first two shows, we did not win any points but she showed well. I was pleased however, I got flack again from our critic once out of the ring. Don’t get me wrong, It’s not that I don’t appreciate the “help” but I have a hard time taking advice from someone who does’t know my dog very well and who, since I have known them hasn’t set foot in anything but a conformation ring. To say I question this person’s ‘dog sense’ would be an understatement but I don’t want to appear ungrateful or alienate them so I really, really need to find a way to tell this person to leave us alone without offending them.

Our final ring appearance of the day was an All-Breed Sweepstakes. We have never done one before but basically it’s a mini show for dogs of any breed that are 6 to 18 months of age. The show does not count for points but the entry fee is much lower ($10) and a portion of the entry fees is offered back as prizes. I entered because I figured it was another opportunity for us to gain experience.

We had a lot of waiting to do because for some reason, at dog shows, the boys go first. In the end, a very cute Samoyed was declared the best male. Then we had to wait for the 6-9 month girls and then, finally, it was our turn. This judge had all the dogs move around the ring quite a bit. First around together, then the exam and down and back and then finally around individually. I don’t think we have ever run around a ring so much. The other thing this judge did a lot of was look at dog’s faces and expression, both in the exam, the down and back and then on a final walk by. This suited me just fine since I think Epic has nice eyes, nice ears and a very expressive face. We won our 9-12 month class which meant we had to wait some more and then go back in with all the females for the judge to pick the best female. Once again we did a lot of running, Epic gave a lot of ‘good face’ and we won best female! Finally, shaking with excitement, we went back in for the judge to choose best in sweeps, we repeated the same routine as we had the first two times (by this time *I* was tired) and He. Chose. EPIC!!!!!

Needless to say I was thrilled, it was a lovely way to finish our weekend and we just might continue with this confrontation thing.

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Filed under Conformation, Problem Solving, Pupdate, Training

Pupdate – March 8, 2014

In the past two weeks, we haven’t been up to a whole lot.

Epic came with me to deliver a CARO rally obedience seminar in Winnipeg. It was her second time in hotel, her first time in an elevator and her first weekend in the portable fabric crate. We survived, the crate survived and no barking in the hotel room at the kids running in the hall!

20140222_203745 (1) She was very interested in the TV at this hotel and especially interested in the MiniPops commercial…but I’m not buying her the MiniPops CD!

Since we have our first rally trial coming up next month so I have been spending some time working on the rally exercises that we really find challenging.

“U” turns, 360 degree turns left and 270 degree turns left

Epic has the turning down quite nicely but somewhere, somehow I have taught her that if I make a tight turn to the left, she should probably sit down. Depending on the judge, this could cause a loss of points or an NQ. I could just make a wider turn but, that too would incur deductions in the rally ring so back to the stool/target work we go.

The video below is of me working with her moving to the left using a FitPAWS target instead of a stool. My plan is to click her for moving with her rear off the ground, and to reward her up in a stand. I was a bit late with the click a few times but you can see she is beginning to get it.

Sit – Stand

I have also been working a lot of stand from sit. I’d like to teach Epic a kick back stand where the dog anchors their front feet and stands from the rear as opposed to stepping into the stand.  I like this stand because it looks sharp and because it keeps a dog in heel position which sets them up better for a straight down or sit from the stand, in my opinion. I don’t have any video this time but hope to have some next time.

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Pupdate – February 21, 2014

Last weekend, Epic and I attended our very first conformation dog show. We have been preparing at home and in class for some time now and a local show provided the perfect opportunity to put our skills to the test.

Since it was Epic’s first show, and because I had some teaching commitments I decided that we would go to the Friday night sanction match, pop in for a quick visit before class on Saturday and enter one show each day Saturday and Sunday.

At the Sanction match on Friday, Epic had a very good time. she did tricks for hotdogs while we waited, she met a few new people and our time in the ring was fun for her.  Compared to our conformation handling classes, the ring was relatively empty so we had plenty of room. Epic gaited around the ring and then for the ‘down and back” without any of the sniffing she did at the last match and she nailed her free stack in front of the judge on the down and back. I felt much more relaxed than last time however the judge asked me to repeat the down and back going slower. I’m not 100% sure what this means but I’m guessing that the increased speed did not give her a clear picture of Epic’s gait.

On Saturday, we arrived in time to watch the Rottweiler class. There were seven dogs altogether, which is a great entry, last show in Brandon had only one Rottweiler entered. Most of the dogs entered were puppies about a month younger than Epic. All of the puppies were larger than she was and all of them were well prepared, since they are owned by seasoned breeders/owners/handlers.  While I watched the class, Epic had some down time in her crate. She fussed a bit as I left her but settled in nicely after that.

Sunday was our first show. I knew Epic was ready but was nervous all the same.  She showed as well as she did Saturday but the judge thought both other Female Puppies were nicer than the was that day so we left with a 3rd in class ribbon.

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Epic holding her stack ringside and paying attention. Too bad I am missing it!

I was slightly more nervous about the Monday show because our judge was a larger, taller man than I think she has seen. Epic on the other hand, thought he was just great! The judge’s ring procedure was a bit different this time and I felt like Epic got more of a look than she had on Saturday. This judge also asked me to repeat the down and back, so I really need to figure that out and/or take a valium before going into the ring! When all was said and done we got a second in class ribbon and a reserve winners female ribbon.

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Epic giving the judge her ‘hypno-stare’

Thinking back over the weekend, I am thrilled that Epic is a functional dog in a new , challenging and busy environment. She did not miss a beat and was able to do everything I asked of her without hesitation. Had I been in that environment with Bear, I am not certain I would have enjoyed myself as much. he requires much more management and vigilance and preparation before he can even think about performing.

I think we will try to attend a few more shows this spring. I don’t think she is as mature as the other dogs that will be in her class but I do think that gaining ring experience and exposure to new environments is a good thing.

On the Rally Front…

Epic and I have been taking advantage of the mini courses I have been setting for my Novice Rally Class and I am seeing some improvement in her ability to stay with me between stations. could it be that my baby girl is growing up? Below is a video from last Friday.

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Pupdate is Back!

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When I last reported before Christmas, Epic was coming up to her 6 month “birthday”. Between a short holiday over Christmas and being incredibly busy at Prairie Dog Daycare, it was easy to let things slide.

Epic is just over 7 months old now and old enough to come to ‘big dog’ daycare. She comes to work with me 3 days a week and plays with a number of other dogs both larger and smaller than her. She is definitely what I call a ‘play chameleon’, meaning that she is able to adjust her play to the intensity and preferences of her playmates. That being said she is not a pushover and, if dogs are doing something she doesn’t care for, she uses appropriate cues to end their behaviour usually, she stops, stands still walks away and, if another dog is really pushy, will bark and snap at them.

Training-wise, we have not been focusing on anything specific. We have been working on pivots, individual rally exercises, heeling, hand stacking for conformation conformation gaiting and conformation stand for exam. Since the beginning of February we have been attending a pet dog class and a conformation handling class  to work on all of the above in a busy, noisy environment.

While outdoor adventures and exercise are pretty much impossible in this weather, we still go to the groomers, to the dog wash, to the vet weekly for weigh-ins and last month, she came with me to a rally judging assignment in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Now that I have a better idea of who she is, I am beginning to set some goals which I’ll share in my next post.

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Pupdate – Week 23

23 Weeks, 1 Day

I have gradually been introducing Epic to some different adult dogs from the ones I typically allow to meet puppies. I am doing this gradually because a negative experience can have long lasting effects. So far she’s handling things very well with new dogs: she’s greeting them appropriately, inviting them to play and using great calming signals when play gets too rough for her.

23 Weeks, 2 Days

Weight: 23.4kg ~ 51.5lb

Epic and I went to the vet to have her ears re-checked after an ear infection. All looked well so we went ahead and got her rabies vaccine. I have been delaying Rabies as long as possible. Her breeder would prefer a year but in order to attempt the CGN this winter, I need to get a municipal licence and in order to get a municipal licence, I need proof of vaccination against rabies. Go Figure.

23 Weeks, 4 Days

I thought I post an update on our left pivot progress. We have been working away on the stool and Epic can pivot 360 degrees with me so it’s time to up the ante a but by trying the pivot on a different, lower surface, and I have chosen the FitPAWS Balance Disc. The disc also happens to be a bit more of a workout for her, as she has to use all of those stabiliser muscles (front and rear) to stay on the disc while turning.

I am pleased with her progress so far. She is pivoting nicely and you can see she is beginning to move back into heel position as she pivots and then look at me as if to say “Well, I did it, cookie PLEASE!”.

I am going to keep up the disc work because I think it’s a great leg workout but over the next week I am going to start using one of my FitPAWS target in place of the disc. Up until now,  have been moving around the disc but since the target is completely flat, I can step on it too and begin to make my pivots more and more “in place”.

23 Weeks, 5 Days

Recently, while practicing our rally moves, Epic has been drifting away. It does not appear to me that she drifts to anything but she kind of “checks out”. I am choosing to take this as a sign that she is not feeling well, stressed by something or that the work is not rewarding enough for her. Instead of insisting that she work (or using corrections), I am going to take a different approach that will involve micro-training and some of the great games in Control Unleashed.

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Pupdate – Week 22

22 Weeks

Today, I started teaching Epic the foundation of turning left by using our trusty stool. Turning left is one of a number of skills I think are important for rally dogs to have. The bonus is that pivoting on a raised surface is also a great way to strengthen a dog’s hindquarters and improve propriocetion. Finally, teaching her using shaping also gives her mind a bit of a workout.

Once she is moving left with me, I’ll probably add a hand signal and verbal cue (get in) before I try to transfer it to the flat!

21 Weeks, 1 Day

Weight: 21.6 kg / 47.6 lbs

Today, I started working on sit and down stays with Epic at home. First I started pivoting in front of her, then I started moving around her. Next I’ll start adding in some distance and then some distractions like toys and food.  A good stay is important for all the dog sports I’d like to do with her so I figure we’d better get started on that.

22 Weeks, 2 Days

Today, I was able to get out and do some tracking with Epic. She is really having fun but boy do I have a lot to learn. The latest video is below.

This is likely the last bit of tracking we will get in for the next few weeks. It’s going to be way, WAY too cold for us.

22 Weeks, 3 Days

Today, because the cold weather seems to give the dogs MORE energy, I took the dogs out for a long walk followed by a romp in the yard. Now that Epic is older, and taller,  we can go for longer walks and thanks to my handy hands-free leash, walking both of them is easy! Post-walk, both dogs were happy and covered with frost!

22 Weeks, 4 Days

Epic came to work with me today and we practiced our pivots and our sit/stay and down/stay. I am working on these things in both environments at the same time to help her generalise the behaviour.  She was able to stay while I walked around her (after a few tries) so I started walking away from her: sometimes coming back to reward her, sometimes calling her to me to reward her.

We finished off the session with some retrieving. She LOVES to retrieve a tennis ball and will bring it back to my hand about 70% of the time. 29% of the time, she will drop it near me. 1% of the time she can’t help herself and takes the ball on a “joy ride”. My approach has been to click/treat for balls deposited into my hand, to offer no click/treat for balls dropped near me and, to ignoring joyrides because I don’t want to encourage the oh-so-fun game of keep away! She is already much better at brining it to my hand then Bear is so I’m going to keep encouraging this and hope it can transfer to a dumbbell once we begin working on a more formal retrieve for obedience.

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