Monday, January 28, 2008

Sonic's first seminar

It’s hard to believe, but the Greg & Laura Derrett seminars have been and gone. The Advanced handling seminar was fantastic. Greg presented us with a whole array of new things to think about. It was all centred around the Blind Cross Body Line (BCBL) and using your positional cues to always indicate where your dog is going next. Riot was fantastic over the three days in really hot and uncomfortable conditions. Greg thought that he had improved a lot since last year, however there is still loads of work to go yet!! I think the hardest thing to keep up is just making sure you are consistent with the handling method. It is just too easy to run a course and change your handling to suit it, instead of keeping your handling system the same no matter what the course presents. I am determined however to try and push myself to keep the system going with Riot. Then hopefully by the time Sonic is ready to go it will just be natural for me to run him the right way all the time…

Laura’s puppy class that I did with Sonic was heaps of fun. She is such a great instructor keeping things interesting and fun for everyone. Most of the things she showed us I have already started doing with Sonic (although most still need loads more work!!) but it just highlighted to me what is more important and how much stronger I need those behaviours to be. I feel that now I can come up with a more structured plan with slightly altered goals in mind.

Some of the things we went over was the importance of tugging, playing the “it’s your choice” game, nose touches, restrained recalls, perch work, teaching balance, two on two off on a plank while nose touching, weight shift to their rear ends, hind end awareness, wobble board, jump bumps, rear cross body language, shadow handling, bang game with the see saw, restrained recalls for teaching drive forward, deceleration and front crosses and plank work on the middle piece of dog walk. All of it was centred around the puppy learning by high level reinforcement so when it comes time to teach equipment in around six to eight months time the drive to perform the basic behaviours is already there.

My goals with Sonic for the immediate future is to really build up his nose touches. I’m now using 75% of his morning and evening meal to do nose touches and I’ve just introduced circle work. When I’m at training I want to continue working his stays but I also want to do more restrained recalls, teaching him to drive to me as hard and fast as he can whether I’m stationary or running away from him. Then adding in front crosses and decel so he learns to really read my body language and cue his position from it.

I was so pleased with Sonic over the seminar. It was stinking hot both days but no matter what I asked of him he worked for me. He tugged like a trooper to the bitter end even after all the other puppies were well over it (except his brother Billy of course who was a star also :-)). Initially he was a bit overwhelmed as we were working inside a hall and the new environment was a bit much for him. The noise that was generated from eight puppies playing tug was considerable to say the least!! It didn’t take him long to adjust and ignore the distractions which I’m sure was helped by me incorporating some of the methods from Control Unleashed.

I really hope we can get both Greg and Laura back again next year. Last night a group of us took them down the beach for fish and chips to wrap up the weekend. I consider them both friends now after organising the last couple of seminars with them and I know they really enjoy themselves when they come here. It would just be so great to work Sonic under either Greg or Laura in twelve months time when he is old enough to be doing agility sequences. However we may be competing with Hawaii so I’m not sure if Perth will win the race to host them next year!!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Training really begins!

Sonic and I have had a good week this week with our training grounds finally being reopened so we can get some proper training done. Unfortunately the weather has been really hot so that makes it a bit restrictive but it has been better than trying to do everything at home. The other bonus is that his adult teeth are all through now so he is tugging much harder and I don’t have to worry about hurting his mouth anymore.

As usual I have had more training revelations with him as we discover the joys of working together. One thing I have discovered is how much he loves my plastic garden rake! At this stage I would have to rate it as number one on his list of favourite toys. It initially started out where raking the leaves in the back garden became an impossible task as he tried to rugby tackle it at any opportunity. Rather than locking him up when raking I decided to control the behaviour by only allowing him to interact with it on cue. So every time he tried to grab it I simply lifted it out of the way. As soon as he stopped or sat I brought the rake back down and started raking again. As soon as I could get two or three strokes in without the rake being tackled I released him to it. It only took about 10 minutes before I could rake a whole patch of grass without him trying to grab it. Interestingly he reverted to running around in circles “herding” the rake while I was raking while waiting for his release cue.

Last week we spent some time doing some fun stuff with the flexi tunnel in my back yard. He seems to enjoy doing it but I wouldn’t say that he’s crazy for it. To help build his enthusiasm I worked on rewarding him with a game of “kill the rake” to transfer the value from the rake to the tunnel. I actually think the tunnel may be kind of boring to him right now as I’ve only had it bunched up in a straight line. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets more of a kick out of it when it’s bent up into a different shape.

We have also been forging ahead with our Susan Salo jump work. At training I was able to move up to three jump bumps plus the stride regulator at the front with the “V” poles on the front. I initially was working with 4 foot between the jump bumps but it was getting too tight now that he’s getting bigger so we’ve moved up to 6 foot. Funnily enough he much prefers doing this exercise to running through the tunnel. I spent most of Wednesday evening working on his stay at the front. I found that even after highly rewarding his sit stay as soon as he was actually released forward to his toy he didn’t want to be set up for the sit stay anymore but rather just tried to run back down to get his toy again. Seeing how easily he is managing this exercise as a young dog with a “clean slate” made me realize how great it is to be able to start these things from scratch. Already he will easily visually lock onto the toy at the end of the grid whether I’m standing beside him or beside the toy at the far end. He drives through confidently with a nice even stride to get his toy with no body language required from me. He probably rushes a little but I don’t think that will be a problem. I’m sure he’ll settle into it as he gets more experience. We should have no problem working up to five jump bumps next week.

Other than that we have been working on the relaxation protocol from Control Unleashed and I have focused a lot on the “LAT” (Look At That) behaviour as well. Now that he is getting older he is becoming much more aware of the other exciting dogs at training and can initially be very distracted/lunging towards the source. By incorporating the “LAT” work and keeping my rate of reinforcement very high it doesn’t take long for him to switch off from the distractions and realise that it is more rewarding to just focus on me. The other night he had other dogs doing jump grids fairly close and he although initially very distracted, it didn’t take long for him to ignore them.

So my training goals for next week will be;
- up to five jumps in the jump grid
- sit stays with proofing exercises
- shadow handling

Then lots and lots of questions at the Greg Derrett seminar next weekend before I continue with much else!!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Training notes

I just wanted to make some notes about some training experiences that I've had recently with Sonic, otherwise I'll forget or won't remember them properly.

I am finding that the more he does something the more confident he becomes (fairly obvious). He'll do something for the first time and be fairly careful (never scared though) but once his confidence level rises so does his behaviour. The rate of how quickly his excitement level increases is always directly related to how exciting he finds what he's doing. For example, he only took three trips to the beach to become highly aroused by it and was subsequently shrieking and lunging to get down to the beach from the car park. However doing training of sits, downs, targeting etc took far longer for him to get high arousal, but now he's confident with the exercises they also elicite shrieking/barking at me and multiple behaviours offered rapid fire in his quest for the reward.

I have now incorporated requested behaviours before meal times. So when I prepare his dinner I place about 6 pieces of kibble aside and ask him for at least three nose touches, a sit and a down before he's allowed in his crate to eat his dinner. The first time I did this I got one of the biggest temper tantrums I've seen from him so far. Other than sitting and dropping in rapid succession he refused to nose touch my hand, a behaviour that he does easily during a normal training session. He tried every avoidance behaviour he knew to not touch my hand (including bashing Angel when she got too close due to frustration that I wouldn't let him have his dinner!). I gave him one cue "touch" and then held my hand in front of his nose. When he realised that I wasn't giving up he jerked his nose in the direction of my hand, then when he realised that wasn't going to work he smacked his nose so hard into my hand that I'm surprised it didn't bruise. After four successive feeding times when I have done this I wouldn't say he has been anymore compliant. However once he realises that I'm serious and he won't get his dinner any other way he will give me what I want. His appetite is still ravenous and he is normally finished his dinner before the others have had two mouthfuls.

Walking him on lead has become a bit of a problem as he has learnt to lean into his collar with his front feet off the ground while reaching forward and his back "thumper" legs galloping. I was able to ignore this behaviour when he was a little guy, but now he is the size of a small border collie it is too much. So working from the Control Unleashed book I have incorporated stopping everytime he goes to charge off. I wait until he reorients to me and then we walk forward, stopping again the minute he starts throwing himself forward on the end of the leash. Anytime he is in my immediate area he is also allowed to go forward. It means that walks are very slow and takes me half an hour instead of five minutes to get to the leash free area, but he needs to learn that he can only have what he wants if he gives me what I want. I'm not sure how long it will take for him to figure it out but it will be interesting to see. I actually had an interesting result from it on Sunday when we went down the beach. The weekend before I had let him drag me down there and by the time we were on the shore he was a screaming nightmare. Last weekend after using the stopping, reorienting method he was much calmer when we reached the beach. There was also a huge difference in his body language, where he was relaxed and recovered much quicker so I could release him off to play in a much shorter space of time. I think this type of technique will be so useful when I'm doing agility with him particularly if his arousal level is going to be so high.

As he goes through adolescence I'm finding that anything he finds unusual, eg. children sitting on the beach or down the park, generates alarm barking from him at the source that he is unsure of. If I have food I immediately try and feed him, but unfortunately if he's too aroused he won't take food. Down the beach I have just used the toy to distract him away from what ever is causing him the anxiety. I'm hoping that like Riot, it is a stage that he will soon grow out of. I guess that is just something you have to deal with when you have a reactive dog.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Adolescence is here

The wee laddie is now 5 months old. At last measurement he was 47cms at the top of his shoulders so looks like the crazy growth spurt he was experiencing has slowed down. Most of his puppy teeth have finally fallen out. Some fell out of their own accord, others fell out during games of tug...I have actually been trying to be gentle with the tug games as I'm sure his gums must be quite tender. His coat is starting to get a little length although compared to my other dogs it is still short! Needless to say I'm extemely happy to have a short coated border collie after having four show border collies that have much longer coats and have to get brushed weekly to avoid the dreaded tangles.
The temperature in Perth has been fairly crap of late so outside training has been off the agenda most days. Instead I've been working on some things in the house but obviously space wise it's much more limiting. In saying that it's a great opportunity to work on proofing stays and working on some basic handling manouvres. I must admit I'm really looking forward to the training grounds being reopened so I can start doing some shadow handling in a nice big space. Sonic's attitude to training is pretty great for a five month old. He has the odd adolescent moment but he certainly doesn't lack for enthusiasm. He'd play with you for hours if you let him. I was playing with him the other day and I wound him up so much that he started his shrieking noise that is generally saved for special occasions such as the beach and running with my other dogs. I was kind of excited that I could get him that excited but at the same time trying to train him when he is that high wouldn't be an option. At that point he is way over threshold and you'd have no chance of him learning anything while he's in that state. It certainly may be something I'll have to learn to work around when he starts his formal agility training.
I guess that's the beauty of having the amazing training books that are around now. Control Unleashed is all about getting you dogs mental state in the right place. I have no doubt what I teach him now about being relaxed and focused will be invaluable. There is also a Yahoo Goup for Control Unleashed so if I come across any big problems there is plenty of help and advise available. One thing I have come across recently was his high arousal state when I took him to the beach. He has learnt to love the beach so now when we go down he literally starts shrieking as I walk him down from the car park onto the sand. I thought initially that it was my other dogs running around that was winding him up but even when I called them over and put them in a down, Sonic just sat on the sand oblivious to the other dogs and stared out at the ocean whining. Food is usless when he's at that point, as I found out. Even little peices of rump steak were ignored. So I sat on the beach with him and worked on our relaxation techniques while he calmed down. When he was calm and his body posture had relaxed I released him and the others off to play.
Is he going to love agility that much? I have to say I can't wait to find out.