Maria Hagström is a Swedish dog trainer who is extremely successful. She has been at the top in obedience and working trials for a long time and her young working kelpie Ylle was qualified for national championships in both tracking and obedience last year, only 2 years old. He also made the national obedience team. Maria’s training is a lot like ours, all shaping and reward based. We just love training with her as it always leaves us with both motivation and inspiration. This time, we had invited her to do four days of seminars at a riding facility close to where we live. I worked Missy on Thursday and Friday and Squid on Saturday and Sunday.
With Missy, I got a lot of new ideas for her training. Obedience with her has been frustrating this winter, as I have felt that she always is too high and that there are some details that I just can’t fix. Maria made me realize that the details that we are struggling with has to do with her level of arousal. When I got Missy to calm down, the details started to look much better automaticly! I have been struggling with position and straight sits in heeling, with stimulus control on stand, sit and down from heel and on keeping back feet completly still when working on distance control. I now realize that all of those things will be much easier to fi if we get Missys level of arousal down.
Maria talks a lot about active and passive reinforcement. With a dog like Missy, you would like to keep the dog as passive as possible while rewarding, and also doing a lot of “its yer choice” while rewarding. While heeling with Missy, I should mostly reward her sitting at my side, and reward her when she can focus on me while I move the treat around. It helped a lot and I can’t believe that I have had trouble with getting her arousal right when training heeling. When her arousal was right, her sits where perfectly straight.
Maria also puts lots of emphasis on preparing your dog for trials. Getting all the exercises perfect is not enough. You should do lots of training on longer sequences (2 exercises or more) without rewards (of course, dog gets rewarded at the end of the sequence). For most dogs, this is the biggest difference between training and trialing. They get lots of rewards while training, and then none when in a trial. Doing lots of longer sequences will prepare the dog for trials and also give you valuable information on what needs to be worked on. You often get problems while doing longer sequences that you don’t get when you are just training and rewarding a lot. You also get to see if your dog is doing well on the first try. If you don’t do this in training, you will have to make those misstakes in a trial, wich is both expensive for you and demotivating for the dog. It is also important to do this kind of training in new environments and in situations that look like a trial.
On Friday morning, we got to choose a sequence to do with our dogs to try this kind of training out. With Missy, i choose a short heeling pattern, a recall with stand and down and then my plan was to reward her for heeling with me to the next exercise (it’s very important to have good transitions between the exercises). I put a lot of thought into the warm up and Missy was really good outside the riding facility, calm and focused. When we got in the trial setting, she was higher, but not as bad as the day before. We need to work more on it before it works in a trial, I think, but we’re definatly on the right track!
Keeping Missy lower on the arousal curve is something that I really need to think about in agility as well. She is so high while doing agility that I don’t feel that we’re making progress while training. It is mostly my fault, since I have a tendency to just run, run, run with her. Never calming it down. I have taken the new knowledge about Missy’s obedience into our agility training. We have a really long way to go in agility, but I think it is the best way in the end. Missy has great knowledge of jumping, weaving, contacts and handling, but when she is too aroused, she will just throw herself over bars, pop out at the third weave pole, fail to collect and get out of balance on the dogwalk. This is a video from our first training session with lower arousal as our primary goal. I have edited out the most boring parts, there was a lot more sit stays and “its yer choice” in it: