Monday, 28 May 2012

sheltie pics

Took the dogs for a walk yesterday and got some great pics of the "kids".


Love this picture of the neighbour's horses

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Terry Simons agility workshop

I have been meaning to post about my Terry Simons agility workshop that I attended first weekend in May, so here is my recap of the event. 

This was my third year at his seminar and as always I really enjoyed it.  This year I ran Spryte exclusively,  I didn't really see the benefit in running Strider as our teamwork is probably as good as it's going to get.  The biggest lesson I probably took away from the seminar is that I tend to rush handling with Spryte instead of waiting to make sure she is committed to obstacles.  I find that because she is much faster than I am used to, I want to make sure I am ahead of her. Which means not standing around and "watching the pretty dog land". I want to give her direction and then get to the next spot on the course.  I think eventually I will be able to do that, but she is still a young dog and I need to make sure she has understood what I am asking before rushing past. It is just a learning curve for both of us and will come in time.

The other piece of the puzzle that I took away was how to improve our contact performance.  As I'm sure you all know by now Spryte struggles with holding a 2 on 2 off contact when she is over excited at a trial.  And two, I have been working on teaching her a running Aframe.  For our 2 on 2 off I was instructed to pick her up and carry her off if she jumped her contact and didn't do what was asked.  This advice didn't surprise me as redoing the contact for Spryte is just as rewarding as continuing on with the course.  It was not much different than the advice that Kathy Keats had given me a few weeks back to stop and wait a minute before continuing on.  Only taking her off the course would in theory have way more impact on Spryte because the game was now over.  It took a few repetitions of her jumping off her dogwalk and me carrying her off  before she clued in that the game will end if you don't show some control and stop in your 2 on 2 off spot.  After that she showed remarkable control and we had very few issues for the rest of the 2 day workshops.

The next issue we dealt with was our Aframe.  If the Aframe is lower, Spryte does the 2 hit running Aframe beautifully.  Once it is raised she is leaving two early and not hitting in her zone.  I have been working it like crazy, but I'm getting tired of the battle.  I would rather work on handling and proofing than constantly drilling my Aframe performance.  Anyway after several courses where Spryte either missed her contact or barely got it (Terry said she got about 20%, yikes!) Terry finally said that I have two choices, either go back to the jump grid and box and basically re due my running aframe training or return to a two on two off on the frame.  How discouraging!  If there is one thing I really hate doing its backtracking in my training.  It's frustrating for me and the dog. It is often necessary to go back a few steps if a piece of the puzzle is  missing and the dog just isn't getting what you are trying to teach.  But here I had a choice to return to what had worked before and stop fighting the running frame.  So I tried stopping her in the next course he set up and to my utter surprise she slammed into her 2 on 2 off position and held her contact perfectly.  Well my mind was made up right then and there. No more worrying about running aframes. We'll go back to what works and just do more proofing and self control exercises to prepare for the trial environment. 

I'll admit it has been nice training since then. I don't have to stress about her contacts, I can get into my positions on course and I don't have to do endless repetitions of the Aframe.  So once again I gained lots of valuable experience and tips from my seminar.  The following are some videos from the weekend. Some great moments and you'll see some not so great moments where I rushed moves or didn't handle Spryte quiet right.  But the mistakes are just as valuable to our evolving teamwork as the flawless moments are.  It's all just part of the experience of training and showing dogs.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Effort Errors

     I am a positive reinforcement dog trainer.  When training I reward behaviours that I like and want to see again.  My dogs might get cookies, a game of tug,  or I might clap my hands and tell my dog how wonderful she is while she jumps around barking.  If my dog does something that I don't like while training I do not use physical corrections.  The consequence might be no reward, a time out, a non reward marker like "oops" or something else to that affect.  What I am trying to get at is I don't get mad at the dog for making a mistake.  Mistakes are a necessary part of leaning and I don't want my dog to be afraid of being wrong.
    All too often in classes I watch as people get annoyed and angry with their dogs when they make a mistake.  The dog breaks it's start line, goes off course, brings the wrong scent article back, or comes to front too early, and the owners are quick to give a loud "no" or "akkk" while rushing in on their dogs with threatening body language.  The dogs often look confused or stressed and a little bit of the joy for the game is lost in that moment. 
    These mistakes are what we call "Effort Errors" in obedience.  Basically the dog is trying to be correct.  The dog is focused, responding to cues, trying to please and trying to get it right.  The mistake happen when the dog thinks he knows what is expected of him, but the trainer is actually looking for something else.  The dog doesn't know he has made the wrong decision until the trainer tells him. Effort errors occur because the trainer hasn't taught the skill completely, has neglected to teach some foundation behaviours or the trainer hasn't done enough proofing to show the dog that cue "X" means you respond by doing behaviour "Y" and not behaviour "Z".
    Punishing a dog in any way for effort errors is devastating to your dog and your relationship with him or her.  Your dog needs to know that he can trust you.  That if he makes a mistake the worst that will happen is the exercise is stopped and there will be a short break.  A monotone "oops" lets the dog know that what he just did was not what you are looking for and that you will try again.  If you correct your dog for an error like this your dog will be more reluctant to respond to a command in the future.  Your dog will worry that if he does the wrong thing you will reprimand him.  So  most dog's just stop trying.  It is safer for them to sit and wait for a double command or wait for help from you instead of risking taking that first move and making another mistake.
    Here is an example that I see all the time in my agility classes.  The handler brings her dog up to the start line and ask for a sit.  The handler then leads out and before she has a chance to release the dog it breaks its start line and takes the first obstacle. The handler is angry with the dog for not staying and verbally reprimands the dog while physically placing the dog back into the sit position.
     What the handler doesn't see is how eager the dog is to respond.  That dog really wants to play agility and is excited about taking that first obstacle.  The dog is so eager that he is watching the handlers body language for his release cue with so much intensity that he is noticing every little muscle twitch that the owner makes.  And he is often interpreting that muscle twitch as his release cue.
     The confusion comes because the handler hasn't been consistent with her release cue.  Sometimes she releases the dog with forward body motion (she suddenly takes off running), sometimes she releases with an arm gesture forward (like waving the dog onward), other times she releases with a verbal "ok" or maybe the dog's name.  Her dog notices every single one of these cues and because he believes that all of the above is permission to move forward the dog breaks position on the first cue that he recognises.  If this is not the cue the handler meant to use to release the dog then the dog is reprimanded and taken back to the start line for "breaking" position.  The dog is confused and maybe even stressed because he thought he did what was asked of him and now suddenly he has upset his owner with his error.         
      With too many reprimands like this one the dog will start to show stress signals when approaching the start line.  The dog might move slowly, sniff, suddenly become deaf to your commands, or do zoomies around the ring.  All of these stress behaviours are an attempt on the dog's behalf to let the handler know that he is worried about what is about to be asked of him.  He doesn't understand his job and he is afraid to make a mistake.  Agility is no longer a fun game you both play together, but instead is serious business and he had better not make an error.
     The error belongs to the handler for not being consistent in her release and for neglecting to teach the dog that you only break position if I do "X".  For me I always lead out to my position and stop all motion, raise my arm to indicate which side and in what direction we will be going, I make eye contact with my dog, wait a second and then release with a verbal "Go" command.  My dogs are taught that my moving away from then is not a release, raising my hand is not a release, stopping in position is not a release. The only release is the verbal "Go".  This way there is no confusion on my dogs part.  They know every time what to watch for and how to respond appropriately.  If my dog left position early because she misread the release, then we will simply start the exercise again.
        As dog trainers and handlers we should all celebrate effort errors.  It lets us know that our dogs are eager, they want to play this game with us and they are trying hard to get it right.  The errors let us see the holes in our training and what needs improving.  It helps us get an idea of what our dogs are thinking and how they perceive the exercise.  Effort errors help us improve our dogs understanding of the skills and in turn will lead to more success in training and the ring.  So the next time your dog makes an effort error, thank him for his enthusiasm, figure out a way to communicate to him what you actually want him to do and then try the exercise again.