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The Path to Perfect Sit Stays

A good, steady sit is a wonderful thing to have when you’re training or competing with a dog. It’s one of the first things I teach my puppies and something I keep working on for my dog’s entire career. It makes so many things clearer and easier in training and gives you an advantage in competition when you know that your dog will sit perfectly still until you give a verbal release. It is actually a quite simple behavior to teach. Problems that arise are usually because of either lack of clear criteria or lack of a clear verbal release.

I think the clearest criteria for a sit is that not feet move. The dog is allowed to move his head, but not lift any feet off the ground or shuffle them around. This criterion applies all the time, even when I’m close by and about to reward. Many dogs will start to lift their feet as we get close in anticipation of the reward. When we then reward, we reward the foot movement and muddy criteria. To make sure this doesn’t happen, I do all of my initial training at an arm-lengths distance to make sure that the dog will keep still when I reward. I use a very high rate of reinforcement, which gives the dog very clear information on what you like – and what you don’t like. Since I reward so often, it’s obvious to the dog when reinforcement stops and he will quickly realize what doesn’t work even if I don’t comment on it.

It’s easy to progress once the dog is perfect at a close distance. I’d like to say that 90% of the work is done there, so don’t try to get distance or duration at this stage. You should be able to reward from any angle and at any speed, without the dog moving his feet, before you move on. I don’t use any cues at this stage. The dog will make mistakes, so I don’t think it’s useful to use a “sit” cue, and I don’t think it’s necessary to use any verbal feedback on right or wrong since the rewards to the talking for you. You can add some praise in later to make increase difficulty in staying when the reward is presented, and you should definitely praise when the dog releases on cue.

Add a verbal release cue from the very beginning. A verbal release means that the dog moves out of the sit on a word from you. The word should not be depending on any motion from you to work. It’s so much easier to add with a puppy or dog that has no concept of a wait, because you know that the dog will move before long if the reinforcement stops. If your dog is already dependent on your motion to get out of the sit, you need to stop that immediately and find a way to get the behavior without any movement from you. Usually, it works to just give the verbal release and wait for the dog to get up – even if it takes a few seconds. As soon as the dog moves, you can move and reward. For the more extreme cases, I’ve sometimes just worked on getting an offered release – without rewarding the sit at all – and rewarded that until the dog offers the behavior from a sit repeatedly. Then I’ve added the cue just like I would to any new behavior I’ve captured or shaped.

The most difficult part of this is usually handler mechanics. A lot of trainers are not aware that they move every time they give a verbal release. Since dogs are so much better at reading our bodies than they are listening to what we say, they usually just respond to the motion and never really learn to release on a verbal cue. This does not only lead to a lack of response to the cue but also leads to the dog guessing when to get up based on movements from you, which leads to broken startlines in agility and other problems with stays. Using a video camera to check your own mechanics is a great tool. Are you moving when you give the release word or do you wait until the dog moves before you initiate the reward?

Here’s a video where I work with a bouncy, enthusiastic miniature pinscher that doesn’t know a stay or a release. I do some talking in Swedish, but there are English subtitles – click the CC button at the bottom of the video if they don’t launch automatically.

Let me know if you have any questions on this topic!

 

Agility Handling Foundations Online – Video

I’m at home for a few days in between Norway trips. Last week, Bud flew with me to Tromsø to teach for a couple of days. We had a great time. From there, we flew to Oslo and traveled south to Fredrikstad, where there was a trial with some interesting judges. Bud won A3 on Saturday and became Norwegian Agility Trial Champion. He also qualified for finals but popped out of the weaves in the final run. Tomorrow, I head for Stavanger on the Norwegian west coast. No dog with me this time, so I’ve tried to spend a lot of time training and conditioning my dogs while I’ve been home. We made a video where you can see some of the skills taught in the Agility Handling Foundations Online class starting on September 3rd. Let me know if you have any questions about the class. And please leave a comment and tell me what you’d like to see a video on next.

 

How I Became a Dog Trainer

Someone asked me to write a blog post on how I got interested in dogs and how my dog training career started. The short answer is – I don’t know. I’m born this way, probably. We didn’t have a dog in the house when I was a small child. Both my parents had grown up with dogs, but they weren’t very interested. My aunt was more interested in dogs and bred cairn terriers. Every time we went there, I spent time with the dogs and cried when we had to leave them to go home. My parents decided to get a dog when I was 8 years old. Since my aunt was a breeder, it was natural to get one of her puppies – a cairn terrier named Bamse. My parents took responsibility for caring for and training him as I was so young. I would accompany my mother to puppy class and I think I read all the dog books available in the library and all the magazines I could get my hands on – many times.

Bamse was a very difficult dog to train in many ways. He as dog aggressive (did not like other male dogs), did not play with me at all, liked to sniff the ground and bit me if we had different opinions on something. I still trained him a lot and waited to turn 12 when I would finally be allowed to start in my first obedience competition. I also wrote my on dog training magazine, held training classes for my friends (often with dogs that we would borrow from families in the neighborhood) and their dogs and dreamed about my future home and all the dogs I would have there. I also remember refusing to draw anything other than dogs in art class. Bamse and I went to a few dog shows, but I really wanted to compete in obedience and in the Swedish working dog program. I would spend many evenings, at all times of the year, at the dog training club. Often on my own. My father would drive me there and then pick me up later at night.

I also dreamed of another dog that would be more willing to train with me. For a while, I was very set on getting a toller, but my parents said no. When I was 13, I found an ad for a border collie litter related to a friend’s nice dog. To my great surprise, my parents told me to call the breeder when I showed it to them. This is how Twiggy came into my life. She was the perfect companion and training friend. She was friendly to everybody, loved to play, always stayed with me, and I could not have asked for a better dog as a teenage dog trainer. Twiggy and I mostly competed in obedience, but also some tracking, agility, and freestyle. I had other interests for a few years as a teenager and didn’t train much, but got back to training and competing a few years later. Twiggy became obedience trial champion and qualified for the Swedish national championships in obedience a couple of times.

How to Teach a Jump Cue for Agility

Summer has been very hot and very busy. Last week I published a video where I show how I teach a jump cue for agility (and why it’s important). I hope to find the time to do more instructional videos and that you enjoy it! We’ve also published two online classes this fall – Foundation Class and Agility Handling Foundations. Both start on September 3rd, so sign up now if you want a spot!

Bud – Swedish Team Champion

I’m indoors, trying to stay out of the intense heat. This summer has been exceptionally hot and dry, with only a few drops of rain in many months. It started already in May, which is early for hot and dry weather. I try to train the dogs late at night, take them for swims in the stream and dream of more reasonable weather. It’s not easy when you also hate snow and cold. Very few temperatures are nice to me. One thing I do love about summer is that I can sleep in my car when we go to competitions or other activities. I have a big car where I can fit a real bed, big dog crates and lots of other stuff. And it’s nice and cool at night. I actually sleep in it on the hottest nights at home too.

Summer also means a lot of exciting competitions. It started with the Swedish Championships a week and a half ago. Squid and Bud were qualified for the individual competition but were also stand-ins in teams with a good friend of mine. Squid had a good weekend and her jumping was really good. I’ pleased with my preparations beforehand to get her in the best shape possible. Unfortunately, she had some faults in weave entries which cost us some placements. Weaves are obviously something a dog needs to be reminded of even at almost 10 years of age. She was clean in the first qualifying round and had a weave refusal in the second. This gave her a spot in the finals, where she ran great but missed the weaves again. We ended up in 9th place, which I’m pleased with considering how little we train agility these days.

Bud and I did not have any good runs in the qualifying rounds, but he was still the hero of the championship. My good friend Sabina lost her great friend and accomplished agility dog in a terrible accident this spring. When Sabina asked if Bud wanted to take Adna’s place in the team I was happy to let her. The team is a great one with friends from our local clubs. They won “team of the year” 2017 and also won a round in the Swedish Championships last year. The team competition was very exciting until the very end, where Sabina and Bud had the chance to win it all or go home with nothing, depending on that run. They ran the difficult agility course perfectly! Nailing every contact and every tricky turn. They were clean and faster than everybody else by a lot, which won the team gold overall! I’m so happy for Bud stepping up and being his most awesome when it matters the most. We’re still so sad about Adna’s passing and somehow it felt as if she was with us, guiding Bud to do his very best (like Adna always did).

We’re now looking forward to five days of competitions on the Swedish west coast. A big competition with international judges and participants. From there, we just go home to reload and then drive to Austria for the European Open. Two weeks later we take the ferry to Finland for the Nordic Championships. I can’t wait to experience all this with my great friend Bud. We’ve got so much more to learn, but it’s exciting to know that he has the capacity for great runs where few dogs can match his times.

Judging for the first time

I’m now not only an instructor, teacher (educating new instructors for our agility clubs), competitor and author – I’m also an agility judge. I had my first official judging assignment this weekend. Bud and I took a flight up north to Luleå, where I judged all standard agility classes on Saturday, and all jumping classes on Sunday. I had so much fun and I really love creating courses and watching people run them.

Judging is also scary because it’s a huge responsibility. As a judge, I’m responsible for setting safe courses with safe equipment. This is probably the most important thing. But I’m also responsible for a big part of how enjoyable the trial is for the competitors. A judge can make all the difference when you compete. People spend a lot of time and money to go to trials, and the judge can really make or break the experience. Sometimes it feels like you wasted both your time and money because the courses don’t feel right. The judge, the equipment, and the footing is really the most important thing when I decide where to compete. I want safe AND inspiring courses.

A good course in the lower levels gives me a fair chance to show that my dog and I have the skills to get around a course at that level, while we’re having fun doing it. A good course in class 3 makes me excited and gives me butterflies because I know that we can do it, but I really need to trust my dog and my training and just run and never hesitate. With a good course, you either win or you learn, and you’re almost as happy to learn as you are to win.

I take this responsibility very seriously and I’m still very much learning. I’m really happy with a lot of my courses and my judging from this weekend, but I also learned somethings that will allow me to do better next time. Here are some examples of courses from this first weekend:

This is a jumpers course for class 1 (lowest level). My goal was to make a fast and flowy course with good lines. I also wanted to give the young dogs a chance to enter the weaves without too much speed. This course was a lot of fun to judge, as there were many different handling options that worked well. (And some that didn’t work as well…) Many were struggling with refusals on jump #3 and #4. Some of the big dogs came with so much speed from 1-2 that they couldn’t turn in time to get #3. And some saw the tunnel and just passed #4. The dry grass made it harder for the dogs to get a good grip to turn. I would have tweaked this start somewhat if I could do it over. The rest of the course worked very well. It was fast, so rear crosses on tunnels was a very good skill to have.

I was very happy with this A2 course. It tested some handling without being too difficult. I liked that handlers chose different paths on #12 – both the wrap and the S-turn worked well (if you called your dog out of the tunnel for the S).

This J3 course was the most fun to judge. I was scared as I set it up – afraid that no one would manage to get to #7 and that people would be upset. I was wrong. Most people got to #7 just fine. Some made a blind cross 5-6 and some rear crossed 6, and both options were good. There were a lot of other difficulties in this course and most importantly – you had to really run and work hard all the way. Some dogs ran past the second to last jump, which was very painful to watch if they’d been clean up to then. But everybody seemed to really enjoy the challenge and running with their dogs! No one could take it easy on this course, which was fun to watch. I loved every minute of judging this. I only wish I had gotten the chance to run it myself.

Here are the other three courses from this weekend, if you want more to look at:

How our puppies spend their days

Today, I did my first ever Facebook live – showing our puppies and how they spend their time with us before leaving for their new homes. We have two litters right now, both are seven weeks old. The oldest litter are out of Bud’s sister Ale and by English Tweeddale Jamie. Thomas drove to England in February to make this litter happen. The younger ones are out of Bud’s mother Fay and by our Volt – Thomas’ main sheepdog. Having puppies in April and May is really nice, as they can spend their days outdoors. Less cleaning and much more fun and healthier for the pups. Even in winter, I try to let the puppies out as much as they like.

For The Win Slip. Yes, she’s blue. We very surprised to get fancy colors in this litter. All four girls are blue, two of them with tan.

They have a pen in the garden and a place to sleep indoors where they are free to go in and out as they like at any time. When we’re around we let them out of the pen so that they can play and explore in the garden. Their mothers spend a lot of time with them but are also free to jump out of the pen and have some alone time whenever they want. The mothers also get some time away from the puppies when they join us for walks, swimming in the stream or sheepherding. Since the puppies are just four days apart, the mothers have raised them all together since they left the whelping box. They work in shifts feeding, playing and taking care of all the puppies.

I’m really pleased with both litters so far. They are outgoing, happy and playful. The first pups will move out on Thursday when Ale’s litter turns eight weeks old. Some are staying a few weeks more because it works out better for their new owners. And then there are three pups that we haven’t sold because we like them too much…

Here’s the Facebook Live video. I hope you enjoy the tour.

Puppies live! Let’s see how they spend their days.

Publicerat av Fanny Gott den 29 maj 2018

Bud is going to European Open and Nordic Championships

Two weeks ago, Squid, Bud and I went to the Swedish Team Tryouts. We have one weekend with eight runs that determine who gets a spot in the Swedish team for World Championships (four spots per size), Nordic Championships (ten spots) and European Open (twelve spots for large dogs). In order to get points, you need to run clean and not more than 4,99 seconds slower than the winner of the class. The winner is awarded 50 points and all other teams get one point deducted per 0.1 seconds that they are behind the winner. One second behind the winner gives you 40 points, two and a half seconds behind gives you 25 points, etc. In order to get on the team, you need points in both jumping and agility.

I did not feel in sync with Squid. She was picking up off-course tunnels, missing weave entries and dropping some bars. We had one clean jumpers run on the first day, and that was it. Bud and I had not had a good feeling in training leading up to the tryouts. He’d been dropping more bars than usual, and my expectations were really low. Bud is just three years old and this was his first tryouts, so I was fine with that. We were just there to learn and have a good time. Tryouts are always so much fun. You get to run great courses by great judges in really good conditions. The courses this year were challenging, and a lot of really good teams didn’t get points in both jumpers and agility.

I had no luck with Bud on the first day, where we ran three jumpers courses. On the second day, we ran three agility courses. The second course had a really challenging start where very few made it to the backside jump after the first tunnel in a good way. I walked it a few different ways and had time to decide later since I was running as one of the last dogs with Bud. Since so many struggled to make it, I decided to just take it easy and threadle-rear both jumps before the A-frame. Bud can get frustrated if I rush and I thought we had a better chance of getting through it using a more defensive approach. I was really calm and not rushing at all as I gave him the three first jumps. I trusted that he would take them nicely and just worked my way forward. I then realized that I had plenty of time to make that blind, and in a split second, I decided to run for it.

I made the blind and that difficult start just felt so easy. I ran the rest of the course as calmly as possible, just trying to get us around. All bars stayed up! And when the class was finished, I realized that we’d won it by almost a second and was the fastest dog overall. I was so happy and proud that we actually could set a time like that competing with the best Swedish teams. Many of them don’t run in the same height category as Bud normally. He jumps 50 cm in normal Swedish competitions, while most of the others in tryouts normally jumps 60 cm. Therefore, we rarely get to compete on equal terms against the best dogs in Sweden. Such a thrill! I was certain that we wouldn’t be able to run the Sunday jumping run clean since we’d been so inconsistent all weekend. That last jumping run was our only chance to get on any team if we also got enough points.

I woke up on Sunday morning with a cold and a very different voice. The jumping course was a really fun one by Jan Egil Eide, requiring both running fast and trusting your dog. I ended up not being able to do either. I didn’t trust Bud in the weaves, so I got behind and had to do a rear followed by a panicked threadle-rear. And then I couldn’t run, so Bud ran the wrong way and spun before finding the last tunnel. But we got around clean! And despite those mistakes, we were fast enough to get decent points.

Suddenly, we were one of the teams with points in both jumping and agility, and everything would be decided after the last run of the day – agility. We got eliminated at the end of this challenging course, but it was also challenging for others, so it ended up not affecting our placement. At the end of the day, two clean runs (with one win) was enough to get us on the team for European Open and Nordic Championships. I’m so happy to have three championships (Swedish, Nordic, and EO) to run with my awesome badger on speed this summer! We’re still figuring out a lot of things, but we’re having so much fun together on the way to consistency and perfection.

How to fix slow reactions to cues

I went to Switzerland to teach last weekend and I decided to bring Squid with me. She hasn’t been on an airplane for many years, but she handled everything like a pro and was an absolute dream to travel with. I really feel like teaching is so much easier when I have one of my dogs with me to show things with. Especially when teaching in another country where my style of training might be very new and different, and also especially when there is a language barrier and things get lost in translation. Another awesome thing about using my own dogs when teaching is that things happen when I show things with them, and that brings up subjects that might have been lost otherwise. On Sunday in Switzerland, I was fortunate enough to have a student videotaping most of my presentations, which made it possible to share one of these great moments in the blog.

Squid was showing some distance control to the group when I found that her “up” cue really wasn’t working the way it should. She was slow to react, sometimes didn’t react at all and didn’t go all the way up in a nice sit. I quickly realised that this was because I have used the “up” cue a lot in her agility starts, trying to get her so sit up better before releasing her in a trial. And we haven’t done formal obedience in a long time. When I started competing in agility, I would wait for her to offer the nice sit up before releasing, but for the past years I have used the cue. Often many times before I’m happy with her sit.

Cues should function as “green lights” to the dog. They should be reinforcing and give the dog permission to start a behavior that they really like to perform. I never want to feel like I have to ask or beg the dog to do something. I realise that I use the term “poisoned cue” in the video in a different way than most people would, and I will stop doing that. A poisoned cue is usually defined as a cue taught with both negative and positive reinforcement. This is not the case here, the hesitation is just a function of poor usage of the cue. It still feels “poisoned” to me, which is why I used that term, but I need to think about something else (“yellow light”, maybe?).

The fix for a problem like this is easy when your dog is used to offer behavior, even if it’s already on stimulus control. I really feel sorry for trainers who never allow the dog to offer behaviors once the cue is added. How do you fix it without nagging more? Regardless of it’s a problem with reacting to the cue, or a problem with executing the behavior correctly, the solution is the same. Get the behavior offered, reward the good responses, fix any problems with execution while the behavior is offered, make sure the dog is really eager to repeat the behavior, and then – add the stimulus control back in and get the cue to function as a green light that allows the dog to perform the behavior she’s now very happy to show you.

I would often go through this process quickly right before and obedience trial, to make sure that Squid was very eager to perform the distance control positions (especially the first one). She always had really good distance control scores.

Here’s the video where you can see the before, the process, and the result. Really quick training with a big difference in before and after.

 

Building Value for the Treat&Train

It’s a busy time for me right now with a lot of traveling. I was in France last weekend teaching a seminar, and I’m in Ohio tight now. I love teaching at new places, but the traveling takes a lot of time. France was 14-15 hours each way and yesterday was 19 hours from my home to the hotel in Columbus. I had a couple of days at home this week. I used the first to mostly rest and Wednesday to catch up on things, like training my dogs! The dogs and I spent two hours in the dog training hall close to us and had a great time. Epic has to stay at home still, which is breaking my heart. He makes a lot of improvements and the surgeon was very happy with how he looked when we took the stitches out last week. He moves normally and is ready to start some rehab and longer walks on a leash.

I have been reluctant to try the Treat&Train (remote controlled treat dispenser) with Spy because I thought she’d think it was scary with the noise it makes. She’s also much more into toys than treats which makes it harder to overcome the noise. I use the Treat&Train sometimes for running contacts training and I think it would be a good choice for a dog like Spy who is very motion sensitive, so I decided to try it this week. We started in the house on Tuesday night. In the first session I put a high value treat in the bowl attached to the machine, restrained her and sent her to it. We have worked on sends to treats on the ground before, so she knew that. As soon as she ate the treat I gave a reward marker and moved the other way and let her chase a new treat (lower value) along the floor. For the second session I started by first checking her reaction to the machine when I trained Bud and had her in the other room with the door slightly open. She was fine, so I brought her into the training room and just gave her treats from my hand when it made noise. After a few repetitions of that I went back to the original set up with a high value treat in the bowl and restraining and sending, but this time adding the beep and noise of the machine before my “go” cue. She did great! Ending each repetition with her chasing me and a new treat the other way kept the session active and fun for her.

On Wednesday, I brought the machine to the training arena, where she usually is very excited and happy to work. I used the same setup, but had her chase a toy in my hand after eating the treats in the bowl. I want to build a lot of excitement for the machine even if she’s not that interested in food – especially not the dryer food that goes into the machine. I use a high value reward with lots of energy (chasing me to a tug toy) and classical conditioning to increase the value of the machine. There is also an element of operant conditioning where she learns that she has to engage with the food in the bowl in order to get to chase me. The session went well and she would go to the machine at other times (like when I was packing up and getting ready to leave) and look in the bowl. At this point I think she’s mostly enjoying the game and getting used to the machine. I don’t think she understands the beep and noise as a marker signal and a call to action (“get the food in the bowl!”) so that will be the next step before I can use it to train other things.

Here’s a very unedited – I didn’t intend to make it public – video of our second session on Wednesday

This weekend I’m teaching agility in Columbus, Ohio (at PosiDog, where I’ve been many times before). First session tomorrow is about Speed and Motivation for agility dogs. It’s a subject that I like and that I have a lot of experience with working with dogs like my cocker Shejpa and more recently Spy. It’s also a subject that I think a lot of handlers need to consider more. Agility needs to be fast and fun before you try to teach anything else. Some dogs just love agility right from the start, but most need good training to reach their potential.

If you want a more motivated dog in agility, our Foundation Class (for all sports) is a good start. I have also for the first time added an agility class to our online curriculum. Agility Handling Foundations Online will start on April 9th. This class will also help a lot with motivation and clarity (which leads to speed) for agility dogs at all levels.