We’re really looking forward to spring now. I’m fed up with snow! Missy and I are doing a lot of obedience right now. She is really doing great and I am looking forward to the trial in April. Her attitude is a lot better and we’re working on send to square and distant control right now. I want to be ready for doing the whole program when we train with Maria Hagström March 14, so I need to get started with some longer sequences pretty soon. I find it really helpful to have set clear goals for my dogs this year. It helps me to plan and focus and believe in a way that I haven’t done before.
Squid has been working on some obedience as well. Our goal for March 14 is good heeling in a trial like setting, with turns and halts and duration, and a good stand from heel. It’s going great, but we still have lots to work on in order to make it. Here is a video from earlier this week:
We’re also working on down, send to target, picking up all kinds of objects and a speedy recall. I would like to start working on send to square with her, but she doesn’t have the drive forward that I would like to see. She is very calm when doing obedience and often seems a bit tired. It doesn’t bother me, I’d rather have a calm puppy that I need to build speed into, than a crazy, over the top kind of dog. Missy was also pretty calm as a puppy (but had more toy drive as I recall). Indoors, we have been working on some more tricks, scent discrimination (freeze your nose to the post it note that smells like me) and nose touches for agility.
Shejpa went to a trial on Saturday, where a friend of mine ran her since I couldn’t be there. She did a good job in standard, but got faulted twice. Her running dogwalk was great! Here’s the video:
We’re going to a trial on Sunday, where I will be running her again. She was great at training yesterday, but then I heard a rumour about that the judge likes to use the table in standard. We very rarely get the table in any class here, and I haven’t trained it at all. Let’s hope the judge chooses not to use it on Sunday…
Saturday and Sunday was Squid’s turn to work with Maria Hagström. Squid did really well and I couldn’t be more pleased with her! She stays in her open crate while other dogs are working and I am engaged in other activities. People with dogs have been passing her crate and giving her cookies for staying calm. Not once did she show any of the resource guarding behavior that I have seen before. She was all happy and wagging her tail. We did a lot of proofing on focus and sit stays on Saturday. And worked on stimulus control.
On Sunday, Squid got to do her first sequence in a trial like setting and we worked on the first part of a trial – entering the ring and getting ready for the first exercise. In our last session, we worked on heeling. Here is a video of some of the training from yesterday. As a bonus, I included some of Shejpas dogwalks from lunch:
We’re having really nice, sunny (but quite cold) days here. Thomas has left for Bergen again and I am alone with my three girls. Setting goals for this year has been inspiring and we have been training quite a lot. Missy has gotten at least one session of obedience every day and Shejpa has been working on her nose touches on the stairs (working a lot on the seesaw made them weaker) and some weaves. My main focus with Shejpa right now is about speed. She knows lots of things and there are really not many techical things that we need to work on. The coming months will be all about focus and drive. I hope that she, in the future, will be running as fast as she can every time I set her infront of agility equipment. That means less training, shorter sessions and always rewarding for speed.
With Squid, we’ve had some sessions outdoors today. In the first session, we worked on circle work for agility. She loves it, but sometimes she’ll get to excited and jump or bite my clothes. I’ve had to to shorter sessions, slow down a bit and reward her more with food. It has helped and if her attitude is right, she can run with me really fast and she loves it. We’ve also worked on some heeling. I love how walking backwards in our heeling sessions really helps her to differentiate heeling from loose leash walking or circle work. She is very good at the backwards heeling and I can turn around and let her walk pretty long distances before rewarding. I make sure to reward when she falls back, as I don’t want to encourage her to rush. I don’t think that a border collie puppy can walk too far behind you (not with great attitude anyway).
We’ve also worked some more on our sitstays. She has a tendency to lie down if I get to far away from her and that tendency got stronger after I started rewarding downs the other day. Working on it today helped a lot and she has a pretty good sitstay. I just have to remember working on her holding position in stand and down as well (especially the stand). Talking about staying in a down. Some people make it hard for themselves. I started rewarding her down on Thursday, and the day after, I started to shape a crawl. I sure hope I won’t get into trouble for that. The crawl is an advanced exercise in our working trials (and I plan to trial Squid in search and rescue, wich also has an obedience part in it). It’s not hard to shape a dog to crawl, but to get the technique perfect is a big challenge. I want the hind legs to work independently and with rythm, no hopping. It’s an interesting challenge. I have taught a really nice crawl with two of my dogs, but that is pretty much the only exercise where I have used some luring to get the footwork right. This time, we’re trying out shaping.
Squid got to do some jumping today for the second time in her life. Despite her fluffy, round looks, she is a very coordinated and athletic puppy. She has no problems with jumping over bumps with good rythm, I guess she’s seen worse while playing in the woods. She had no problems with the bars that made the exercise quite challenging visually, but on the other hand, she seems to love challenges. Here are some pictures:
We’re back home after a few days with the family in Gothenburg. It’s my 25th birthday today and I celebrated it yesterday with my family. Thomas is leaving for Bergen right after New Year, to continue working on his master in ethology (comparing the effects of different kinds of reinforcers), so I’ll be alone in the house with my girls for two weeks. I plan to spend my days training the dogs and I hope that the weather will be good.
This year has almost come to an end and it is time to start looking ahead and setting goals for next year. I have always been afraid of writing my goals down, and especially of publishing them on the internet. I have realized that I am afraid of articulating my goals and even of preparing really well to reach them, because I am afraid of failing. Understanding that made it easier to realize that there is nothing to be afraid of and that articulating my goals will make it easier to focus. So… Here are my goals for 2009!
Missy: My goal was originally to make it to the final in the Norwagian Obedience Championships. But since we did that this year, I thought that we need a higher goal, so that I really have to focus in training to make us better and more stable. Next years goal is to be in the top three in the finals. I don’t know how many other obedience trials we will be able to fit in to our tight schedual, but we’ll try to do some and do well. Missy will also do trials in agility, but I will not set any goals for results, as there are so many things that we need to work on.
Shejpa: The goal with Shejpa is to get to the highest class in agility during the spring. I’m also planning to go to European Open this summer. Our highest goal for this year is to get into the finals at the Norwegian Championships in November.
Squid: Our goals for 2009 are to be qualified for obedience class III and class C in search and rescue. I would also really like to do the first level in herding, but that depends on how mature she gets in herding and there is a good chance that she will be a slow starter. We’ll also train a lot of agility foundation, but she won’t be trialing until 2010.
Thanks for taking the time to post this, I am just beginning to prepare my border collie for obedience and haven’t taught him heel. How many sessions do you usually spend walking backwards? I realize that it varies by dog, but I have a tendency to raise criteria too fast so it would be nice to have a guideline to slow me down. Do you treat while moving at your left side, stop to treat, or do you throw the treat on the ground and wait for the dog to return to position?
It’s really hard to tell how many sessions is necessary. With a dog that is used to training (and likes it), but has no previous learning of heeling AND with a good trainer, it’s a pretty fast process. I usually get all three components with a puppy in the first session. On the other hand, I have students that have to struggle with some element of it for a lot longer. Let the dog be your guide! When you love his attention, move to attitude, when you love his attitude, move on to position. When he has great attention, attitude and position – do duration!
You might get it all in a few short sessions and then decide to start turning around and rewaring correct position in the right direction. But you might then decide to go back and only work on focus while you walk backwards in an environment that is distracting for your young dog. So with a puppy, I can work on different stages depending on the level of distractions. I will turn around and walk forward when everything feels perfect in a session.
I reward the dog from my left hand, at my side, in the position where I want the dog to be, or slightly beyond. I keep walking and let the dog drive to me to get the food. Only exception is for a dog that is too high, bumping into me and charging ahead even when I walk backwards. Then I will stop and feed. Biggest problem people get is that the dog isn’t coming close enough and that comes from 1) teaching eye contact (dog can’t look you in the eyes and be in the correct position at the same time – I never teach my dogs to look at my face, but they have excellent attention anyway) or 2) Stopping and rewarding and reaching to the dog to reward instead of having dog drive into position to get the reward.
In todays blog, I will try to describe how I train heeling for obedience trials with my puppies. There are many ways to do it, described in books and on websites. What I mostly don’t like about them is that they focus on areas that always come very easy for me, and pretty much ignores the areas that I find harder. My dogs like to to obedience with me, and if they didn’t, I wouldn’t be teaching them to heel. I would be playing tug with them and have them give me attention to get the tugging to start again, I would be doing lots of shaping games, I would be evaluating how well I have taught my dog to enjoy the rewards that I’m using. Getting them to enjoy heeling is not a problem. Having perfect position for a four minute heeling pattern is a much bigger problem. Having a dog that never swings her butt out, charges ahead (even the slightest) or changes the position of her head is the goal of my heelwork training. The clicker recipies for heeling that I have read (in english) has position as it’s least concern. They are more concerned about not having dogs that start to lag or looses focus.
With a puppy or new dog, I am however, going to teach focus and the right attitude before I am concerned about position. That should, however, be done very quickly with a dog that likes training if it hasn’t got any previous bad training in heeling or obedience in general. I also make sure that I work on focus and attitude in a setting that differs from the end goal. To do that, I walk backwards and have the dog follow me in heel position until I absolutely love my dog’s focus, attitude and position.
This is Pi at four months, with perfect focus, attitude and position as I walk backwards
Reasons for walking backwards in the initial stages of training heelwork:
It doesn’t look like the end behavior and therefore, I can work on one aspect at a time without concern for reinforcing unwanted behavior (i.e. bad position).
The first time my dog ever does “normal” heeling with me walking forwards, her focus, attitude and position will be perfect!
It’s much easier for a puppy to follow me with great focus as I walk backwards.
It’s much easier for me to see the puppy without having to walk in an akward position, bending towards the dog. I can look just like I do in competition from the first session.
It keeps heeling separate from loose leash walking and agility circle work until the dog understands the behavior.
I can always go back to walking backwards if I get into a difficult environment where my young dog has a hard time focusing.
I use the backwards walking when I teach my dogs stand, sit and down from heel. When I walk backwards, they are free to offer the behavior (but only if that behavior, sit for example, has been reinforced just before I start walking backwards) and I can then get stimulus control while walking backwards.
When I start this training, I have four stages. It is important to not expect everything at once. Since we’re walking backwards, it is ok for the dog to not be perfect when we start. These are the four stages:
Focus. First thing I want from the dog is focus. I want the dog to be focused on me when I walk backwards. She does not (and should not, because it is incompatible with perfect position) have to look me in the eyes. All I want is that she is looking at me and not at everything else.
Attitude. When the dog gives me attention as soon as she has finished her reward, I start to look at her attitude. I want the dog to lift her head, wag her tail, come close to me, have good rythm when walking etc. Most dogs will need “more” attitude. Some dogs need to have a calmer attitude, where I would select for not jumping, walking calmly, not bumping into me etc.
Position. The position I am aiming for is at my left side, straight and with head and/or shoulder next to the seam in my pants. Like Pi in the picture above). This might already be in place because of placement of reinforcement in the earlier stages. I might temporarily loosen criteria for focus and attitude while working on position (should only be for a session or so).
Duration. When all three components (focus, attitude and position) has come together and the dog is performing perfect heeling when I walk backwards, I will start to ask for some duration. I think 15-20 steps probably is enough. You want to look for consistency in all three criteria before you turn around and walk forward.
About rewarding I prefer to not have treats in my hands when I train heeling. I would only do it to proof the dogs understanding of position, and for the first times when I go from backing up to forward walking. There is no need to have treats in your hand when you teach heeling if there isn’t a specific issue that you need to fix by rewarding really fast. I sometimes have treats in my right hand to be able to reward faster (I pass them behind my back and always reward with my left hand). I don’t think you should have rewards in your left hand since that will most likely make the dog too focused on the treats and/or dependent on the food as a lure.
I keep the treats in my pocket (preferably on the left side) and try to walk as much like I would at a competition as possible (not counting the fact that I am walking backwards…). I will not jog or run, but keep a steady pace with long strides. When I mark good behavior, I loosen up, praise the dog and increase speed (at least if the dog needs more attitude). At the same time, I will get a treat from my pocket with my left hand and let the dog drive to the treat at my left side (where I want dog to be, or slightly beyond). The only time I would stop and reward is for the dog who needs to calm down and who has good position allready. With good placement of reward already when working on focus, both attitude and position will often come without much work. Also consider how straight your dog is when you are rewarding. You don’t want the dog to swing his butt out when you are rewarding. If you keep moving, it’s often easier to get the dog straight.
Turning around When the dog is doing nice heeling for 15-20 steps as you walk backwards, you can start to turn around and get the same behavior with the final cue (you walking forward and looking serious). Only turn around when your dog is doing his very best. Go back to backwards walking after each repetition of turning around in the begining. I prefer to take one step to the right and then walk forward. You can also turn to your right 180 degrees to go from backing to walking forward. Choose what works for you and your dog.
Reward your dog immediatly when he gets into the right position. If he doesn’t, break it off and try again. I don’t care about my puppy’s attitude when I do this, head might come down, but I will still reward perfect position as I turn around. Focus and attitude will come back soon! After many rewards for coming to the right position at your side, you can start to add more steps. Be very aware of the placement of reinforcement. You want the dog to always get rewarded in the correct position, without swinging his butt out. It usually helps if the dog has good rear end awareness and good finishes before you turn around.
There is of course more to heeling than this, but this should get you an idea of how to get started. I will try to make a video of my puppy doing this kind of training. Please make a comment if you have any questions.
I should write in this blog more often. There are so many things that I have worked on since last time I wrote here.
I havn’t done a lot of obedience training with Pi since our trial in May, but now I have decided to get ready for the next obedience level with her and I hope that we’ll be ready for a trial in four weeks, but that is really optimistic… I need to teach her send to square (10 meters straight ahead and then stop in the square), recall with stand, sit/down/sit/down at a distance, jump away from me and some other things. But she is a fast learner and maybe we’ll be ready to do a trial in November.
Both Missy and Shejpa has been working on a lot of shadow handling in the past week. For Shejpa, I have cut out all treats and I only use tug as a reward. That creates new challenges in our shadow handling, but that’s where I need to start if I want her to turn tight and respond quickly on equipment. Rewardning her with only tugging is a challenge, but I’ve been at this point using treats too and I know we’ll get better. She is already making good progress. With Missy, I realised the importance of shadow handling when I incorporated it into our training on turning tight over one jump. We’ve been working on it a lot, but progress has been really slow with both dogs. But when I put the circle work into that with Missy, she finally found a reason to dig in and turn tight over the jump. It was so cool. For her, using more high value treats (chicken necks!) and not just tugging, also has a good effect.
Shejpas dogwalk was really bad on Thursday (under new and challenging circumstances) and I realised that much of the value that she found in the dogwalk has gone away. She used to get really happy getting on the dowalk, but now it was just like any other obstacle. I think running it a lot in sequences, training turns but not going straight and mostly, just not training a lot, made that happend. I don’t think I should obsess so much about the turning. Both dogs turn pretty good if i decel smoothly. It annoys me that they don’t really get the concept of turning, but maybe it’s a thing they will grow into. It only took a few repetitions of running straight and throwing the toy to get Shejpa to love her dogwalk and hit the contact reliably.
Puppies are four weeks old this weekend. Here are some pictures from last weekend
I’m finally back to som kind of normal life at home. I spent 39 days away from home (and most of the time, also away from my dogs) during August and September. It’s a lot of fun to travel and do exciting things, but it feels so good to be at home again. World Championships were great. It was definatly more exciting this year than Hamar last year. There are lots of videos from worlds in my YouTube channel. It’s also very inspiring to see agility at the highest level and I have to control myself and not train my dogs too much now. When I got home from worlds on Sunday, I decided to not give Shejpa any more treats in training. No treats until she is tugging like crazy and can work for just toys. I thought it would be a frustrating and slow process, but it worked right away! She was of course very keen on training when I got back, she hadn’t done any agility for three weeks. What’s even better is that she seems to get more and more intense and crazy about tugging for every session we do. And what’s even more surprising, is that she is much better at bringing the toy back to me now. I would have thought that that would be one of the hardest things to accomplish without food rewards. This is really cool and I just hope that she will keep this crazy, fast and focused attitude.
Missy is just crazy. We havn’t done a lot of training lately and you can really tell. She won’t drop the toy when I tell her and she tries to bite my pants when we do circle work… I really need to work her a lot more. Both dogs did a distance grid this week and Missy has made enormous progress with her jumping. I could get her really high and then run my fastest right beside her, and she was still perfect! Here nose touches are coming along and I hope to get her on the seesaw pretty soon. We also need to to a lot of work on getting that check stride for turning tight (with both dogs…) and more double box.
I havn’t been working Pi that much lately, but she was with me when we did a seminar in Sweden two weeks ago and she got to show a lot of things and learned a lt of new stuff. I started teaching her the movements for distant control in obedience. I want her to down and stand without moving any feet. We’ve hade some sessions at home, and this is what our training looked like yesterday:
Missy did a great job in the finals. Unfortunatly, she lied down when there was 5 seconds left of the long sit. I would have trained that more if I thought we were going to the finals. It’s hard for her to sit on her own with strange dogs and a big audience. She is not a very confident dog. I thought that she would be more affected by the distractions, but she wasn’t really. You can tell from the video that she’s not really as confident as she usually is. Her tail is wagging, but her ears and mouth tell another story. I’m very pleased with her and if she keeps this up we’ll soon have our OTCH. Here is a video from Sunday.