Epic learning a big lesson

Having three girls in heat in the house can be a challenge with three intact males. This is the first time that I have noticed that Epic really found girls interesting, and a new world seemed to open for him. Instead of trying to survive these days, we’re making the most out of this high value reward. Bitches in heat will be allowed in Swedish agility trials from this year, so it’s good to be prepared. I will let the video speak for it self:

8 – Second Day with Advanced Handling

Epic has been such a good sport these three days. He came here and had done very little sequencing. We started with double box on tuesday, moved on to more challenging sequences yesterday and today we ran courses the whole day. We were only five handlers running dogs in the advanced handling seminar, so we got to run a lot. Epic has never done a full course and he was of course not really ready for these advanced courses, so we had some mistakes and also stopped to reward often. I’m very happy with how well he has been working all three days, and he sure loved a lot running agility. I have so much to work on when we get home, but I think we have a pretty good foundation. Here is a video with some of the work we did today:

We’re staying one more night in the south of Sweden, doing some herding tomorrow morning. Then we’re heading back home. They say that there is a lot of snow and wind coming, I hope it will be alright to drive.

7 – Advanced Handling with Greg Derrett

We’re exhausted after two days of handling with Greg Derrett. Epic did advanced handling today and sometimes it was a bit too advanced for him, considering he just started to run sequences and jumping high jumps. But he did a lot of nice things too and I’m glad that he is behaving nicely and relaxing between runs. He did drop more bars than I’m happy with. He seems to take off to late and takes the bars down with front feet. It’s probably just his inexperience, but I will work more on his jumping. We have a lot of things to work on this winter and I’m looking forward to it.

6 – Double Box Seminar

I’m in the south of Sweden this week, enjoying a seminar on agility handling with Greg Derrett. Epic got to work at a seminar for the first time and did really well. He seemed to take it very seriously and tried his best, even though he got tired in the evening. I really like that he is so enthusiastic, focused and thoughtful at the same time. Squid unfortunately hurt her self last week and had to get stitches on her shoulder, so she can’t run this time. And Shejpa got spayed a few weeks ago, so she’s on a break from agility too. This means that Epic will have to do the advanced stuff tomorrow and on Thursday. It’ll be interesting. Here’s a video from today:

We’re having a lot of fun, but not much time for blogging.

5 – Seesaw Basics

I teach my dogs nose touches as the end behavior on the seesaw. This is a pretty long process for me (and I don’t hurry, I don’t think my puppies are ready for a full seesaw before they are grown) and I do most of it on stairs, away from agility equipment. Parallel to teaching the end behavior, I work on weight shift and confidence. I start by just tugging with the dog in 2 on 2 off, teaching him to keep back feet on the contact. I then let him drive the last step into 2o2o and grab the toy and then gradually increase the distance he has to run before the weight shift. Eventually, I will add a bang to this game and with time increase it. Epic always had a bit of problem with this since he likes to put all of his weight into the toy instead of shifting his weight back in the grip. It’s better, but not perfect. You can see what I mean here:

Epic’s Progress

Epic recently turned 15 months and is starting to do some big dog stuff!

Full height dogwalk:

He is doing well with his running contacts and I have started to work on turning after. The biggest problem is that he often tries to go for three strides and then is high in the contact (and sometimes misses). He is also doing full height a-frame in a nice way.

12 straight weave poles:

Weaving has been a lot of fun to teach him. He learned extremely fast and I could progress fast. Good thing since I’ve been away a lot the past month and also have put a lot of energy into his contacts.

He is also herding a lot:

Training or just luck?

13 months ago, Epic was just a few weeks old, but we had started some training. My most prominent goal was that he should fly back to me anytime he had a toy in his mouth – ready for a new game of tug. I started his training with some short games already when he was five weeks old, and have kept training for the rest of his upbringing. I’ve had a plan for all play and I have never let him run off with a toy on his own. The result? Fantastic! He is extremely nice to train since tugging with me is the best thing he knows. He pushes toys on me to get me to tug a little more. He almost seems uninterested in toys when he has them on his own, they get value in the interaction with me. I’ve often felt that I’ve been very lucky – this thought through training probably just coincided with the perfect dog. The behavior does feel so natural for him, with no resistance at all.

But then I thought of Squid. Little Squid that was so tired and hard to engage in training during her first year and a half. I had such a hard time building value for tasks, to get speed and endurance. But I had two prominent goals that I focused on from the day she came home – no matter what, she should love circle work and nose touches. What do you think happened? She was really hard to train in everything except circle work and nose touches. She just loved those two behaviors and has always put all of her self in them, even though the rest of the training sometimes was slow. Was that also a coincidence? I’m starting to doubt it. What to you think?

If you want to know more about how I worked with getting Epic to love to tug with me and fly back to me as soon as he got a toy in his mouth, you can buy access to Lesson 1 of my Foundation Class. For just 200 SEK (approximately 20 euro or 30 USD) you get access to my text and video, combined with the videos and comments made by the participants and my answers to their questions.

Contact training with Epic

This week has been rainy and dull, but it doesn’t keep us from training. Squid is back from having puppies and is getting ready for her first trial in many months. Her weaves were terrible after the long break, but it didn’t take long to get them back to where they once were. One thing I really like about the 2×2 method is that you can go back and open up the first set of poles to show the dog what we’re after. It worked really well with Squid and she is now showing both confidence and skill in finding her entries. I look forward to the trial on Sunday.

Epic is working a lot on contacts right now. We’ve actually done nose touches, running contacts and up-contacts today. This is how his running contacts looked yesterday. It was his third session on a new height:

I didn’t get his nose touches on video, but we’re making progress. I’ve had some problems with building enough value for targeting on the stairs before, but I’ve found a way that makes him very keen at the same time as he gets more relaxed in agility training in general. I mix nose touches on the stairs with running contacts. It’s a great combination to make sure that Epic offers behaviors in order to get to run through the tunnel and over the dogwalk. If he got to do just that, he’d get tense and stalky.

I’m very concerned with keeping my dogs relaxed and open minded in agility training. Of course, this applies much more to my border collies than to the cockers. You can test the openness in different ways – Do they run to me and do great, repeated nose touches if I present my hand? Can they offer getting into position at the side without help and with good rear end awareness?  Can they look up at me and walk with me between exercises? For a while, most of our running contact training was about Epic offering different kinds of behaviors before he got to run. He is much more relaxed and open minded now. I can also use running contacts to increase the value he has for behaviors that have been hard to build value for – like nose touching on the stairs. We’re now walking to the stairs between repetitions of running contacts, and he has to offer real nice and focused targeting. When he does, he gets his toy and then he gets to run through the tunnel and over the dogwalk. Perfect! It’s 3 for 1 – value for nose touches, open mind on the agility field and training his running contacts. Nice balance in training.

What about the up contacts?  When I do running contacts on the full dogwalk, I’ve put a stride regulator before the dogwalk to make sure that he hits the up contact as well as possible. I don’t think he learns a lot by that in the long run, I just don’t want him to repeat a behavior I don’t want. Now I’ve started to train his up contacts separately. This was his first session and I think the video speaks for it self: