Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Spark training at 16 wks old

Our training arena is under renovations this week, so that meant a night off from teaching last night.  Most people would probably have stayed home, watched a movie and drank some wine.  Not me.  The first thing I thought of was "what can I do with my dogs!" Yes I am a little dog obsessed.  I decided that dropping in to a conformation handling class with Spark was the best choice.  It would be another chance to visit a new building, be around strange dogs, have a stranger handle my puppy and make it all positive with lots of cookies!

So Spark and I went down to Auburn Mist Kennels, only minutes away from me in Dewinton.  A friend of mine came along too with her 4.5 month old Aussie puppy. We picked the perfect night to go. It was just the two of us and one other lady with 2 Aussie puppies.  The instructor also had a golden puppy that she worked as well. It couldn't have worked out better for all our puppies.  They could work in a quiet environment with all baby dogs. No adults to spook them or come running up behind them.  And it gave the instructor lots of time to work with us and give us tips. 

Spark did great!  She was confident and happy. She let me stack her on the table and held it for a reasonable amount of time.  She let the instructor examine her without wiggling away.  She had some good moments of movement too.  She is still learning how to move at faster paces without limping. So every now and then she would throw in a hop and then would recover.  It is getting better and better. It was a great night out and I'm very happy that I went.

Spark and I continue to work on all her agility and rally skills.  I have added three videos of us working on skills at 16 wks old.  The first is some fun with tight wraps around a post and sending to a tunnel. The second is our perch work.  Teaching Spark to move her back end independently from her front legs for hind end awareness. Really important for pivots in rally and most everything in agility.  The last video is her working on sending to a mat with an immediate lie down. I use this for my table behaviour. Once she can race to the mat and lie die from any direction I then transfer it to a table.  Put the mat on the table a few times then get rid of the mat. It teaches a really nice drive to the table with an automatic down. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Justine & Jessica Agility Seminar

                                  Snap                       Spryte                            Cricket

Wow what a weekend! This past weekend I hosted an agility seminar with Justine Davenport and Jessica Patterson. We had two groups going at a time, Jessica taught the beginners and Justine had the advanced group.  Spryte and I had a working spot in the advanced group and I audited the beginner group.  Both instructors were incredible.  The explanations were very clear, their comments very helpful, they are both patient and supportive, and give an equal amount of time to each student.  I highly recommend their seminars if you have a chance to attend.

I will start with the beginner sessions.  The students were taught the four main skills used in Justine and Jessica's handling system.  Tight Turns (wraps), Backsides, Threadles and Flappy Tappy's (come to side).  The main emphasis with all the skills is to teach independence and strong verbal cues.  The dog should understand the cue and stay committed to the job even if the handler is leaving in the other direction.  The students were given lots of short drills using up to two jumps and a tunnel.  Stuff that is easy to work on at home. I too will be going home and revisiting a lot of these drills.  Our advanced session revealed some weaknesses in our foundation work.  Especially with Flappy Tappy's past tunnel mouths and Backsides with me running past on the same side.

The advanced sessions were intense!  Each drill incorporated one or two of the skills listed above in a longer sequence of up to 14 obstacles of jumps and tunnels.  They were challenging and really pushed us outside our comfort zone. We had some great runs and we had some that completely fell apart.  Some skills that I thought were stronger, broke down when combined with speed and a larger number of obstacles.  Here are some things that I learnt from the weekend:

1. Stay off the dogs most direct line.  Seems like common sense, but if you don't know the dog's most direct path you are likely to be in the way.  It helps to draw the line in the dirt so you can practise staying off it.
2. For Spryte I need to give her only as much space as she needs.  She likes to jump long and run out on turns. I need to make sure I don't drift during crosses and give her too much room to land.  I need to force her to have tighter turns.
3. Hold my arm back behind my body when running.  Turns out I am often very square to my dog.  Justine says its harder for Spryte to see what side she should be coming up on. So I need to hold my arm back and almost behind my body when running ahead of my dog.
4. When doing front crosses, send your dog across your body.  You want to be turning and heading back in the new direction as soon as possible. So use the arm closest to the dog and send the dog while rotating early and giving the tight turn cue.
5. Be really obvious with Flappy Tappys. I need to really slap my side while calling.
6. When teaching threadles, you no long feed the dog for coming in! This is huge!  This is how we used to teach it, this was the accepted way. But turns out, it teaches the dog to look to you instead of where he should be going.  Then your timing must be bang on to send them back to the appropriate side of the jump/tunnel. If you turn too soon the dog takes the wrong side. Yup this is exactly the problem I am having with Spryte!!!  So now when teaching threadles, you bring the dog in and send them out to the jump and only reward after completing the jump (or tunnel). The whole thing is a chain and the end behaviour is what pays.  This teaches the dog to anticipate the flick and look for the new side immediately, with no extra help from the handler.  I will be making this change immediately in my lesson plans.

Ok enough blabbing.  The pictures are of the Ace/Spryte litter who are now all 1.5 yrs old. All four attended the seminar. It was so much fun to see them all in one place and watch all four dogs working. Their owners have done a fantastic job with each and every one of them. I'm excited to see how their first agility trials go next month!

                   Izzy                                    Quinn                                  Cricket

The videos are of Spryte and I at the seminar.  Some are good and some show us working through some issues. Enjoy :)

Friday, 17 January 2014

Training Troop agility trial

Last weekend the Shelties and I attended the Training Troop January Fundraiser trial. It was a great trial with lots of fun courses. The biggest trend in course design that weekend was backsides of jumps. There where a lot of them!  The standard courses, the steeplechase course, the jumpers course. It felt like nearly all courses had at least one backside in it. 

The dogs did great.  Strider earned 6 Q's and Spryte earned 5, including earning her Expert Jumpers Bronze title on her jumpers run.  I was a very proud momma :)  Below are some of Spryte's runs from the weekend.

Some other updates in our lives...I have signed up for Justine Davenport's Skills and Drills online course that starts this week. I completed the foundation program in the spring and loved it.  Justine's handling style makes complete sense to me.  It has clear rules and applications.  After completing the course I knew when and how it should be applied and leaves no question in my mind or the dogs as to what we are doing on course. I think Spryte loves how predictable it is and I think she is even a little faster because of it! 

Next weekend I am hosting Justine Davenport and Jessica Patterson for a weekend long agility seminar in Calgary. I am over the top excited about this seminar.  I love how both  of them handle and have idolized them for a while.  Now I am excited to bring them to our area for my students and myself to learn from. I'm sure it will be a weekend filled with lots of "ah ha!" moments and pushing our teamwork to the max.  I will have to write a blog post once we have completed the seminar.

That is about it for now. The picture of Spark is from today. I really need to take my camera out and get some good pictures. Spryte's agility runs are below.

jumpers run
Masters standard
master standard 2
challenge course

Friday, 3 January 2014

Spark training session

I finally got around to recording one of Spark's training sessions.  It's a great chance for me to see where we are at in training and then I have a record that I can look back on in the future.

The video is our whole session from start to finish.  13 minutes long.  Spark is working for her lunch. I do most of my training for the dog's meals. When I am out in public in more distracting environments then I will use yummy food treats for training. 

One thing I really love about Spark is how food motivated she is. She is absolutely CRAZY for food.
  If we are sitting on the couch eating something, she is frantically running back and forth trying to figure out how to get up with us.  She barks at us and paws the couch. She REALLY wants that food!  For most people this would be a problem.  For me I'm just happy she is that food motivated.  The manners will come in time when she gets more obedience in her.  But for now I am encouraging the love of food by giving her little samples of all sorts of things.  She has had turkey, ham, apples (a huge favourite of hers!), cheese, peperoni, carrots, bread and many other items. When Spryte was a puppy I never introduced her to anything. All training was done for her kibble. Then I took her to a dog show at 6 months of age and another exhibitor gave her some chicken (after asking for permission), Spryte took it in her mouth and then promptly spit it out!  She didn't like it and didn't want it!  I was shocked. What dog spits out chicken???  She did eventually eat it and now she is a food crazy hound too.  But I wanted to make sure that Spark was introduced to lots of stuff from a young age.

Food motivation is important to me because 90% of my training sessions involve using food as a reward.  I like using food. It's easy, you can get several repetitions in, it doesn't exhaust the dog or me and it keeps them in a better state of mind for learning.  When Spryte was a puppy I spent tons of time building toy drive and I have a dog who loves tugging and playing.  But even though I spent all that time building it, I find I never use it. I just don't enjoy training with toys.  And people will argue that you get more speed and drive with toy rewards, but I just don't agree.  I have dogs who are so crazy for food they will run their little hearts out for the chance to earn a piece of hotdog or chicken.  So I decided with Spark that I would work on her tugging, but I wont stress about it.  It will be a game we play together but likely not a reward very often.

So in the video we are working all our skills mentioned yesterday. I am luring everything because I do not enjoy shaping. When you shape things there is too much room for error in what the dog learns, unless you are excellent at shaping and I am not. I want a certain kind of down, the stand should look a certain way, same with fronts, etc.  It is far easier for me to just show her what I want and fade the lure over time.
 In the video you can see that she really likes "front", several times she tries to come to front when I haven't asked for it.  She spins left, easier than right.  Hand and plate targeting is good, but she often tries to cheat and not actually make contact with the hand/plate.  Circling around the pole is lousy. After watching the video I have decided that she needs a way thicker pole to work around, I think that would make it more obvious for her.  The nosework is good.  She is starting to stay committed to the source even when I tempt her with food near it.  Her stays are excellent, allowing me to walk away and circle her. At the end of the session we play tug for a bit.
 I think that is about it.  Long winded post, but I guess I had more to say than I realized ;)  Pictures are from a couple of days ago.