January 2010

Rear Cross Foundations

Squid is doing well, but I’m letting her rest for a while to make sure that she doesn’t get sick again. She’s still eating every other hour, and I’m using that as an opportunity to train some much needed skills (while watching winter sports on TV). One of them is understanding of rear crosses. It’s not hard to teach the dog to turn her head when you cross behind, the challenge is getting it under stimulus control. The only thing that should cause that head turn, is when I cross her path. If she turns her head before I have crossed her path (because I’m closing in on her or moving my arms and she’s expecting a rear cross), that would be a flick, and I don’t want to encourage that. I love that I can do agility training in front of the TV, and know that she’ll have a great understanding once we try rear crosses on jumps. Here’s a short clip from a session today:

Poor Squid

Poor Squid has had a rough week. She started throwing up on Monday morning and didn’t keep any food or water all day. I wasn’t particularly worried, since she seemed like her normal, happy self. When I woke up on Tuesday, I discovered that she had sneaked downstairs many times during the night and left around eight yellow puddles on the floor. I also realized that she was in a lot of pain (she would close her eyes and bow) and seemed to loose her balance at times. We went straight to the vet, where they took some blood samples (that showed nothing out of the ordinary, except that she was dehydrated) and examined her. She had to stay for over 24 hours and get medication and fluid through an intravenous drip. I got her back yesterday, and apart from being very hungry and a little tired, she seems fine. I don’t know what caused her to get so sick, but I sure hope that we won’t experience it again.

She’s now eating small amounts of kibble (we usually feed raw, but she’ll eat RC intestinal for a while, doctors orders) many times a day, and she’s not supposed to eat to quickly. Perfect opportunity for small training sessions. We’ve worked on her stays, sitting rear crosses, putting on her collar (she hates it) and other calm but very useful behaviors. I’m also planning to start working seriously on her scent discrimination, it’s perfect when it’s cold, dark and snowy outdoors.

Send to square

We’ve had two great days with our favourite obedience instructor, Maria Hagström. We were lucky enough to be able to train in a heated indoor facility, made for dog training. We’re not spoiled with great indoors training in Sweden, we’re mostly outdoors or maybe in a riding hall. But change is coming; There are indoor halls for dog training popping out in many places around Sweden now. Very few of them are big enough to host trials, but we’re very glad that we got the opportunity to use one of them for this workshop. It’s been very cold for many weeks and we’ve still got a lot of snow.

Squid has really made progress in obedience. She is much more driven and focused. She is ready for longer sequences and fewer rewards (when training for endurance). One of the things that we have started working on this winter, is the send to square. In class II, you send the dog to the square ten meters straight ahead of you. In class III, you send the dog straight for 25 meters and in the elite class, you send your dog 10 meters to a cone, then to the square, 25 meters away from you, to the right or left of the cone. We didn’t start any training on this until i felt that Squid did really well in some other exercises, like send to a foot target and running full speed away from me without a lure or target.

When I started working on the square, Squid already knew how to run straight ahead in full speed. All i did was to add the four cones in her way. I rewarded with a toy thrown over her head. At first, she didn’t really notice the cones, but it didn’t take long before she started seeking them out. I’m guessing that we’ve had about eight sessions in total before this video was made. I’m really surprised by how fast she got it. Now that Squid has a lot of value for running between the cones, I have started with some work close to the square, where I shape her to move around inside the square. I don’t want to reward her for stopping there, but I want her to have a feeling of “inside the square”. I will combine this training with further training on longer sends like I have done before.

Here is a video from training yesterday:

New Year – New Trials

We’ve started the new year with four days of trialing. Both our cars have broken down, so it has been a project to get to and from the trials. I’m very thankful for my friends that help me out. On Monday and Tuesday, we went to Kista, outside of Stockholm for one standard run and three jumper runs. The carpet was very slippery, and Shejpa did not like running on it. She was clean in all four runs, but not at all fast. We came 3rd in standard, but did’nt get any good placements in jumpers. On Saturday and Sunday, we went to Gothenburg to run four classes. My parents live there, so having to take the train there was weighed out by all the great food and all the help I got. The carpet in Gothenburg was much nicer, Shejpa did only slip once, after the first jump in the first class, wich caused her to drop the next bar. She was much faster and seemed to enjoy herself more.

We got eliminated due to going off course in three of the runs. Two of them were my handling errors, one was her ignoring my threadle arm and going into the wrong end of the tunnel (that’s a first), I need to reward more first arm changes in training. In our fourth run, we got a refusal at the weaves. The weaves are still our biggest challenge and I can’t wait for spring to come so that we can do more training. We’re not entered in any trials for a couple of months now, so Shejpa will get some rest and we’ll work on details for a while. There are a lot of things that we need to improve

The next few days will be spent obedience training with our favourite instructor, Maria Hagström. I haven’t had much time to train Squid since we worked with her before christmas, but I’m hoping that the little training we’ve done has taken us a bit further. Thomas and Pogue are preparing for class II and Squid and I are preparing for class I. I’m also very motivated to work on agility with Squid. I’m really looking forward to spring!

Here’s a video from yesterday:

The Retrieve, Part 1

A few years ago, I published an article on retrieving (in Swedish). It has been much appreciated by all kinds of dog trainers and has helped many to teach a great retrieve for obedience. We still use the same methods, but training evolve over the years and there are some things that I want to update the article with. I have also decided to add video to the article, and to translate it into English.
Since I wrote the first article, we have become even better at the foundation training. Our philpsophy is to make sure that the dog knows the behavior really well before we introduce it in the setting where it will be used at a trial. In that way, we can keep a high rate of reinforcement, without ever rewarding things that we don’t like.

This is maybe most important when it comes to retrieving. We meet a lot of dogs that have a negative association with the dumbbell – even clicker trained dogs. It’s easy to put pressure on the dog without knowing, and thus creating a negative feeling. If you make sure that your dog has the perfect attitude towards grabbing and holding an object before you introduce the dumbbell, such misstakes can be avoided. Different trainers have different goals for their training, but for my part, I want my dog to have a really energetic attitude to dumbbells. The dog should grab the dumbbell as soon as she gets the chance and then hold it with a rock solid grip until I tell her to drop it. And no matter what distractions I throw at her, she should glow with confidene and joy. I am very satisfied with Missy’s retrieves, so when training Squid, this is one of my first goals. Squid has not been as naturally energetic as Missy, but as you can see in the video below, we’re getting there!

A good retrieve is based on a good game of tug, at least if you ask me. If the dog will grab toys immediatly, hold and weight shift, you have a good foundation for the retrieve. I will gladly spend a lot of time playing tug instead of starting with the formal retrieve too early. Like I have said before, I also work on an informal retrieve to hand, where the puppy picks up a toy and nose touches my hand. This is not strongly connected to the formal retrieve, but I think it is good for the puppy to move with something in her mouth, and to learn to always run to me as soon as she picks something up. I usually wait with the dumbbell until the puppy has grown adult teeth, before that we’re working on foundations like tugging and retrieving to hand.

The most important training I do before I introduce the dumbbell, is to shape the dog to pull on any object that I present to her. I start by using soft, easy things (if I’m not dealing with a dog that is crazy about tugging, in wich case I might use something a little less exciting) and progress to other kinds of objects (plastic dowels, teaspoons, pens, gloves, metal chains etc.). This is nog tug-of-war. I am passive and the dog is active. It’s always the dog that seeks out the object, never the handler that pushes the dog to grab it. I let the dog stand in the initial training, but then progress to having the dog offer a sit in order for me to present the object. I want her to sit down while holdig and shifting her weight back. I hold on to the object for a long time in training, until the dog is holding the object calmly but with a great attitude and weight shift. When the dog can do that, I will let go of the object for a short, short time. I might just let go with one hand, or release the pressure a bit. I always end by grabbing the object again, to test the dogs grip, before I click and reward. The goal is to have the dog hold on to the object with the same hard grip no matter if I’m holding it or not. Because of that, I can’t rush this training and I can’t be too predictable. I will also use self control games (like tempting the dog with treats while she’s holding) to give the dog a greater understanding of her job.

When you’ve done this kind of training for a while, chewing on the object should be something that happens very, very rarely. This gives you the opportunity to make a big deal out of it when it happens. You’re close by and can react with perfect timing. Grab the toy (ideally as the dog opens her mouth to chew or change her grip) and express how shocked you are (or do a victory lap with the object on your own). Don’t give your dog a new chance right away, become an actor and let your dog beg to get the object back. This will of course only work if you have built value for the object in your initial training, and should not be used right away.

  • Get a strong foundation of tugging and retrieve to hand
  • Train in short, energetic sessions with lots of playing
  • Always let the dog grab the object, never push it towards the dog
  • Let the dog offer a sit before you present the object (after initial training)
  • Make sure that the dog is always working for your rewards, and is not just pulling because she likes tugging on the object
  • Reward a calm, but heavy grip. You should be able to feel your dog weight shift even when he is sitting down
  • Let go of the object for very short moments in the beginning. Grag it again and reward if the dog is still holding it well
  • Gradually increase the amount of time where the dog is holding on her own
  • Use self control games to increase understanding (can be done at all the steps)
  • Do the same thing while the dog is moving
  • Use all kinds of objects
  • Only reward your dog for letting go on the click or on your verbal drop cue, not on other sounds or cues
  • Always evaluate the dog’s attitude. The dog should really want to have that object!

Here is a session where I’m doing this kind of training with Squid. It’s mostly play, but that’s how it should be:

Good luck with the retrieve! If you have access to a video camera, I’d love to see some sessions and comment on them, so upload them to YouTube and make a comment here!

Happy New Year!

We spent New Years Eve at home with the dogs. It was relatively calm here and the dogs did not seem to notice the fireworks at all. A new year means reflecting over the past year and what we have accomplished. The biggest thing that happened to us was of course moving in to our very own house. We’ve lived here for five months now and we couldn’t be happier here, it’s just perfect! We’ve had some really cold days (-20 C) and quite a lot of snow. Perfect for celebrating christmas with our families, not so perfect for dog training. We mostly do sessions indoors (and that isn’t really a problem, there are so many things to work on that doesn’t require a lot of space). We’re also fortunate to have a riding facility really close by, and we get to use it pretty much when ever we like. I have most of my agility equipment there and we do all of our classes and seminars there this winter. I’m hoping to do some herding there this weekend too, that’ll be an interesting experience.

My cute girls waiting for their turn

Looking back at this year, it has been a fairly good one. Shejpa did her first year of trialing (well, she did two trials in 2008) and got into the highest level, earned her Agility Trial Championship and qualified for swedish nationals next year. We’re still far from where I’d like to be, and we have a lot of work to do, but I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made. Shejpa and I also did a seminar with Greg Derrett in December, and I’m happy to see the amazing progress she’s made since last year (I don’t think Greg yelled “spaniel” at all this year…). Shejpa has also gone hunting with Thomas a few times and she’s really the best when it gets tough (she’s not the most obedient spaniel, but no one

Missy and I did not accomplish as much as I had hoped for, but she got her Obedience Trial Championship and did some good trials. Squid is now 15 months old and we haven’t started to trial yet. She’s taking a long time to mature and she’s been a new kind of challenge for me. I’m very thankful for everything that she’s teaching me and I feel like we’re really making good progress now! Her tugging is a lot better, she’s starting to be able to concentrate for longer periods of time and she’s got speed and passion where she needs it. She’s making progress in herding and I hope to be able to start trialing in 2010.

Squid herding on Christmas Eve

My new years resolution is to become a better blogger and writer. I’m going to update this blog more often and share videos and pictures with you all. I’m also going to write a book about shaping. (Look – no “I’ll try” or “I’ll start writing”… it took me a few tries to get that right). Right now, I’m working on an update on my article on retrieving (in Swedish). I will translate it and put it in this blog along with videos.