Time to introduce Fidget – Thomas’ new cocker puppy. She’s 12 weeks old and has lived here for a couple of weeks, although it feels like much longer. Fidget is a working cocker spaniel and will be a field trial dog just like Kat, who turned four in March. Kat and Fidget are not related, but I think they have a lot in common as puppies. Fidget is mostly calm and quiet in the house, sometimes playing with the young border collies like Nicks or Bud. She likes to come along when we move around the house, but will stay in a room and sleep if she’s not allowed to follow. She is really good at going to sleep when she needs to, and we don’t need to confine her in any way. Just give her something soft to sleep on and she’ll go to sleep when she’s tired. She’s very happy that she can get on the sofa on her own now. Border collies sleep anywhere, cockers wants it ore comfortable!
Thomas has started some training with her. She loves to play and enjoys food, so motivation is not a problem. The biggest challenge with a cocker puppy is that they are so quick and do so many different things, often all at once. Teaching her a sit with her paws still was a challenge, but she is getting the idea now, and will sit still and release on a word. She’s also worked on recalls, picking up a toy, following Thomas with attention and self control. We’ve had a very busy time with two litters of border collie puppies (on litter is 7 weeks old and the other was born last week) and a lot of work. Thomas has been travelling and Fidget has been hanging out with me a lot. So most of the time, she’s just part of our big pack of dogs and acts like it. She just needs to go out to pee more often than the grown ups…
Few things are more aversive to dog trainers than a dog that isn’t interested in the training. Sniffing, finding treats on the floor, running away to check something out, staring into space, or taking off to say hi to another person, are all dog behaviors that really stress people out in a training setting. Because they are so aversive, the trainer often finds strategies to stop them from happening. Often, the plan is something like this: Make sure that the dog is not able to find reinforcement anywhere else – pick upp all treats on the floor (and be very upset with other people that leave crumbs) and put a leash on the dog – and get the dogs attention back as soon as he looks away or stops working. Does it work? Well, it does work for the moment. The trainer might experience fewer aversive moments of a dog that leaves training to do other things. But it does not offer a long term solution. In my experience, it often makes the problem worse.
Desperately trying to keep the dog away from distractions often makes the dog want them more. This is something that we often take advantage of when we want to make the dog crazy about rewards. Restraining the dog and letting them “steal” rewards often makes the reward much more attractive than it would be if the dog easily could get the reward. This is what happens when we desperately try to make sure that the dog doesn’t find treats on the ground, or doesn’t run away to greet another person. The dog will also be successful in getting to the reward sometimes (but not every time), which also makes the behavior stronger.
Getting the dog’s attention back as soon as he looks away or looks like he might want to leave training to do something else is also a strategy that will backfire. It feels good in the moment to prevent the dog from doing something we don’t like, but what happens in reality is that we reinforce behaviors that we don’t like with attention and action. It is not uncommon for dogs to get much more attention when they do something we don’t like (sniffing, looking away) than they get when they do something we do like. In addition, the dog learns that he doesn’t have to take responsibility for keeping focused in training. The handler will always tell him when he should come back and work.
What should you do instead? This is of course a huge question and depends on a lot of factors, so my answer will be very general. Here are a few things to consider if your dog isn’t totally focused in training. They really work!
Quality of reward. It’s so simple, but sometimes you just need better rewards. Not just tastier treats or fluffier toys – you might have to be more engaged in the reward procedure. Praise your dog, play with the food. Let him know that you’re happy with his work. Don’t just stuff rewards in the dogs face – drag toys away on the floor for a game of chase, and let the dog come to you to chase his food instead of walking to him to feed him. Your dog should look happy when you reward.
Reward behaviors that you like. Reward behaviors that you want to see more of, like attention to you. Don’t take it for granted. Even if you planned to train something more difficult, you can always reward for more simple behaviors like just staying with you or looking back quickly when there is a distraction. This also means: Don’t reward behaviors that you don’t like. If you give your dog more attention and try to be more fun when he is looking away, you are reinforcing the behaviors that you don’t want.
Try to be neutral between rewards. Make sure the dog does something you like before you burst out with praise and fun. Training is a bit like acting – you need to quickly be able to switch between roles. One second you’re neutral (even looking very strict if you’re training for competition) and the next second you’re the most happy person in the world. Then you go back to neutral and repeat.
Plan your sessions well. This is probably the most important point. Most dogs get distracted and engage in other things because we’re not well organised and focused. We often require much more from our dogs than from ourselves. Keep your sessions short (3 minutes is more than enough if you’re really focused) and make sure that you’re focused on training all the time. There should never be anything other than response or reward in the session. Either you’re focused on the dog, waiting for a response to reward, or you’re rewarding your dog. Nothing else. No just walking from one place to another, no talking to your friends, no trying to get more food from a plastic bag deep in your pocket.
Plan so that you can transport while rewarding, take a break when you need to talk to a friend, have your treats readily available and play with your dog when you need to get food from your pocket. Set a timer if you tend to train for too long. Work on your mechanical skills so that you get more efficient. Evaluate your sessions (video analysis is great!) to see if you can do things in a better way.
Training should be fun – not you. A common advice given to owners with dogs that are not focused, is that the trainer needs to be more “fun”. I think this is the reason why many try to lure the dog back by being “fun”. You should not be “fun”. Rewards should be fun (and of course, you are a part of the reward), and training should be fun. Fun happens with good sessions and good rewards, not with an owner that tries to look like a clown all the time. I think a lot of dogs get nervous when the owner suddenly tries to be “fun”. They will try to calm their owner down by sniffing, looking away and moving slowly (and then the trainer tries to be even more fun…).
Be prepared to change your criteria. Sometimes I plan to train one thing, but when I get my dog out I realise that he is not at all ready to work on that. This especially happens in new and distracting environments. If that happens, I immediately change my plan and work on attention and engagement first. I might just play with the dog. If the dog isn’t ready to engage fully in play with me, I know that he isn’t ready for something more difficult. Or I might click for attention and reward by throwing a treat on the ground and then just wait for the dog to look back at me. When he does, I click and toss another treat. When he looks back at me within a couple of seconds after eating the treat, I know that he is ready for something slightly more challenging.
I always try to keep a very open mind in my first session in a new place. I try to plan only play and rewards for attention and engagement. A short and fun session to set the tone for the sessions to come. To make sure that my rewards are rewarding and that my dog is ready to work with me.
Don’t pressure the dog. As positive trainers, we’re often unaware of the pressure we can put on a dog when we expect them to do something. Our behavior can be put a lot of pressure on the dog even if there is no obvious aversive in play. When the dog feels pressured, he might not feel relaxed and happy in the training situation, and he will try to find other things to do to calm himself – or you – down. The pressure often comes from our expectations. I try to not expect anything when I train my dogs. I don’t expect them to want to train with me – I make sure I make it worthwhile for them to do so. I don’t expect them to offer behaviors – I observe them and reinforce behaviors that I like. I don’t take it personally if they leave me, get frustrated or just do nothing.
Don’t be afraid of distractions. Some distractions are really hard. You might need to work specifically on them and gradually decrease distance to the distractions. Most things that dogs get distracted by are not distractions any more if you change your training and make it more efficient and rewarding for the dog. During the ten years of professional dog training that I have done, I’ve met a handful of dogs that were so distracted by for example sniffing that it has been necessary to work specifically on that.
Many of the things that we consider “self rewarding” is rewarding to the dog because of our training. When I trained English Setter Pi, I was convinced that looking at small birds and checking out what was happening in a distance was reinforcing to her because of her breed and age. Therefore, I interrupted the behavior with her name, a command or just taking her the other way with the leash. She would come back to work, but she would not stop her checking out until I decided to just wait her out and reward coming back to me instead. I had taught her that she could look at other things and I would always tell her when she should come back to work. Once I stopped interrupting this “self reinforcing” behavior and gave her the responsibility to start me up instead, the behavior extinguished.
If your dog is so interested in small, dry crumbs of food on the ground that he choses that before your training, it might be necessary to look at why that is. Your training should definitely be more fun than sniffing for food (or other smells) on the floor. With good rewards, well planned training and a high rate of reinforcement, the choice should be easy! So ask yourself – why is this not the case? Look at all the points above and see where you can improve.
So… Have fun training. Make it fun and rewarding for your dog. Don’t expect anything from him. Plan your sessions well. Relax. Don’t take it personally. Laugh. Play. Think. Plan. Good luck!
I read and enjoy Patricia B. McConnell’s blog about animal training and what goes on at her farm. This week, the topic of shaping came up for discussion. I have so much to say about this topic that I thought it best to write a blog post instead of a long comment. In this blog post, I’m discussing shaping from a dog trainer perspective, as I don’t train other species much. I realise that this post will discuss a lot of things not at all mentioned in the original post, so it’s not at all a criticism of the blog post, just my thoughts on the practical applications of different modes of instruction in teaching dogs new things.
Definitions are hard! I feel like I don’t even want to get into a lengthy discussion on the correct terminology. Some people will argue that it is only true shaping if you sit on a chair, or always reward away from the direction of the behavior, and if I understand this article by Karen Pryor correctly, it’s not shaping but successive approximation if you make the behavior easier to accomplish when you begin training. If that is the case, I very rarely use shaping. And I don’t think anyone does seriously. So it’s not very interesting to discuss then, is it?
This is a clip (in fast forward to fit on Instagram) from Bud’s first session of weaving. I would definitely call it shaping even though I move, reward in the direction of the behavior and make the behavior easier by using only two poles and opening them up to begin.
What is interesting to discuss is where there actually is a difference in training. I realise now that my definition of shaping is fairly broad, yet I find it more useful for discussion. This is how I would define the training that I use that I sloppily define as as shaping:
Reward based – no verbal or physical corrections. (Of course, I can see how you could shape a behavior using negative reinforcement as well, it’s just not what I mean when I say I use shaping).
Builds on the dog’s own initiative. The dog is actively offering behavior in order to get the reward. He is not waiting for a command, prompt or lure.
Behaviors are split into smaller building blocks to make it easy for the dog
There are a lot of things that could be added to that list, but I find that many of them are in the “often, but not always” category for me. That would for example include the use of a marker signal. I do use a marker signal most of the time – because it helps my timing. But sometimes I can deliver the reward with perfect timing – for example by throwing a treat over the dogs head as he is focused forward, which makes a marker signal unnecessary or even distracting (because the dog might orient towards the sound and look back to me instead of keeping his focus forward).
In that category, I would also place that wrong responses are just ignored and the dog tries again. This is what I most often do, but sometimes I need to call the dog back to me for a new repetition if he makes the wrong choice. Most of the time though, wrong responses are met with no reaction and the dog just tries again. It is not followed by a verbal correction or by the immediate help from a cue, prompt or lure.
Here is an example of a puppy learning to sit up from down in about 3 minutes:
What’s the big difference?
The big difference from other methods of training is the emphasis on the dog offering behavior. This is what, in my mind, separates shaping from a method based on luring or prompting. This is what I find makes a huge difference in the way the dog learns and performs. If the dog and trainer team are skilled with the offering of behavior, it doesn’t matter at all if you sometimes use help (lure, prompt, target) to get a behavior started. As soon as the dog gets the idea, he will offer the behavior if you just wait, and there will be no need to gradually fade the help. At least, that is my experience. On the other hand – when dog and trainer are skilled with shaping, there is rarely need to use that kind of help.
Why is it important that the dog offers behavior? To me – it’s about the long term effects and the influence it has on the teamwork with my dogs. If someone handed me a puppy and asked that it would spin clockwise on cue tomorrow, I’d most certainly use a lure to get the behavior. Luring is probably a faster way to teach that kind of moderately-difficult-but-easy-to-lure behavior (if they asked for a sit or down I wouldn’t lure because that just seems like more work) with a dog that has no prior experience with training.
With my own puppies, there are lessons much more important than getting them to spin. My focus is on what makes them great training companions in the future and for the rest of their lives, not what gets me behavior fastest right now. I know that if I teach them to offer behavior, actively work to get rewards and try again if they fail, they will learn behaviors in no time in the future. They will also learn other very important skills, like:
I will not ask you to work, you have to engage me to get rewards – leads to a dog that will be focused and driven.
There is nothing bad about not getting a reward you were hoping for, just try again and try harder – leads to a dog that doesn’t find it strange to work for longer periods of time without being rewarded, and that doesn’t get frustrated or worried when rewards are not coming.
If you want something in life, try to impress me – leads to a dog that will look to work with me in the face of distractions
What do I mean by offering?
A dog trained by me will definitely offer behavior if we’re in a training situation and I don’t say anything to them. Some situations have default behaviors – like coming to heel if I stand or walk straight and competition like. In other situations, they might just offer something we recently trained or something they enjoy a lot. I don’t really expect them to be super creative. I will not just sit and stare at them and hope that they will offer something new out of the blue. Splitting behavior into small pieces and planning my sessions well means that I very quickly will get them on the right track. I will reward very simple behaviors to get the session started (for example just standing in front of me, or looking at an object, or lying down). The dog is not really offering much, I’m capturing a starting point. I will not raise the criteria and expect the dog to do something more until he is repeating the first behavior. Once he is on the right track, I can usually raise criteria quite quickly in small but frequent steps.
A puppy, or dog new to training is never expected to offer anything at all. I capture behaviors – small, small pieces of what I want, until I see the dog repeating them in order to get a reward. Dogs do a lot of things all the time – we just need to be good observers and have good timing. I think that one reason why my dogs rarely show any frustration is that I really don’t expect anything from them. If they need time to think, I’m fine with that. It doesn’t stress me out, so my dogs aren’t stressed about it either.
Offering never stops
I add a cue to behaviors that I shape when the dog repeats the behavior happily and isn’t dependent on my position, reward placement or the environment. I like my dogs to be good at responding to cues, to wait for cues and to differentiate between cues, so I work on it a lot. But I never take away the offered behavior. Any behavior that my dog has learned can easily be offered if I need it. This is for a number of reasons, for example:
If I want to work on some technical aspect of the behavior (not related to stimulus control), I want to be able to do it without using the cue. It gives me a better flow, and if there’s something I don’t like about the way my dog performs the behavior at the moment, I don’t have to pair my cue with that behavior until it’s perfect again.
If I want to add an element of difficulty, like distance, from movement or duration. My dog might be great at “sit” when he’s in front of me. That does not mean that he will do it on a distance. Taking the cue away and working on offered behavior makes sure that I don’t associate the cue with frustration when I ask for it in a new situation. The dog gets to offer the behavior until it’s fluent in the new situation, and then I add the cue back in as a “green light”.
If I want the behavior as a starting point for shaping another behavior. I might for example want my dog to learn to crawl. If I have to ask my dog to lie down to get started, I have a problem. My “down” cue means lie down and don’t move until I release you, so I don’t want to use that when shaping a crawl. An offered down (and no release) is a much better starting point!
If I want the behavior as a starting point for a chain or sequence. I like my dogs to “ask to work”, so I like any chain to start with an offered behavior of some sort. It might be that the dog offers heel position for me to start an obedience chain, or maybe that the dog offers a sit in order to get to work on holding a dumbbell. This also makes sure that I know that my dog is motivated and ready to work before I ask something of him.
It is difficult to write about this, because the subject is huge. My point is that I think the big difference is not in what techniques you use to get behavior started (even though it makes a difference if you’re always luring and never capturing), but in how much the dog offers behavior that is not cued or prompted in training.
Last weekend was the tryouts for the Swedish WAO (World Agility Open) team. We two jumping and two agility rounds on Saturday, and the two best results (points based on faults + time in relation to the winning round) counted in team selection. Squid and I started with a great jumping run, but unfortunately with one bar (all jumps on 65 cm which is higher than we usually compete on). Then we ran a great agility round – but with one bar again. No points for us, but we still had a chance if both afternoon runs were clean. We started with agility in the afternoon, and I opted for a very conservative run with some bigger turns to save the bars. It worked! We came second, but the dog that won was very fast (good lines, running dogwalk), so we only got 27,30 points. The winner gets 50 points, if you’re one second behind you’ll get 40 points, 2,5 seconds behind is 25 points etc. A fault added 5 seconds to your time, so there was a theoretical chance of points if you were more than 5 seconds faster than the winner. In the last run I had to go all in to set a better time, and we managed to do it! With 47,30 points in the last run, we actually won the tryouts and will be going to England in May to represent Sweden. I’m very happy that at last, luck was on our side.
On Sunday, there was a games competition just for fun. And it was a lot of fun. I love snooker, and we were the only 560 dogs that got 51 points! Squid managed to win the combined (snooker + gamblers) competition, which felt great considering we will be doing games at WAO.
I love England and hope to be able to be away for a couple of weeks so that we can combine WAO with herding and sightseeing.
This fall has been very exciting. I brought my German wirehaired puppy, Alot, grouse hunting in the Swedish and Norwegian mountains for the first time.
I started training the foundations like sit stay, stop signal, recalls and delivery to hand already when she was a baby. All training is based on fun games that develop a great relationship.
I prefer to keep a balance between the level of obedience and the hunting drive that usually kicks in at six months and keeps developing until she turns two or three years.
She was only six months old the first time I took her to the mountains. She found the birds, but didn’t point yet. I shot a few birds that she was allowed to retrieve just to give her the experience. She picked them up and returned straight to me to deliver to hand.
One new thing I taught Alot which I haven’t done with my other GWPs and setter, is to teach her steadiness to the gunshot. The procedure is exactly the same as for adding any other cue.
1) Check that the dog offers the behavior fluently without any cue.
2) Add the cue right before the dog offers it.
3) Change small things all the time to avoid any patterns. Make the cue salient. Generalize it.
4) Test the cue with gradually more distractions and increase the distance.
The first sessions I used a loud hand clap instead of a gunshot to make sure not to scare the little pup. This video shows the first steps.
I could progress really fast because I already had built a lot of value for the sit behavior and because such the gunshot is a salient signal that is different from all other cues.
In September I took her to the mountains again, and let her hunt with an experienced dog. Now she was seven months old. Before leaving I introduced her to partridges. She could point, flush and be steady to the verbal cue (see short video below). But she didn’t had the experience to handle grouse in the mountains and didn’t point yet. But she was perfectly steady to the gunshot every single time.
I recommend to get the foundations done and then take the young dog hunting to gain experience. Then nothing really goes wrong because I know that I can control the dog if she tries to run in.
In October she was eight months old and we spent a week in the mountains. Now she covered more and more ground, on average 100 meters to each side and sometimes up to 150 meters. She even handled the grouse perfectly and we both had such a great time.
There are some great contrasts in the hunting sequence. The dog should hold her point and only flush the birds on cue. She should be steady to the wing and shot and wait for the cue to retrieve. When hunting with a youngster, I don’t ask for all at once. I know she will flush willingly if I ask her (like in the partridge video), so I don’t ask her to flush. I just walk up to her, flush the birds myself. This way the situations become nice and calm and I get the opportunity to praise her for making good choices. I even fetch most of the birds myself and let her hold or sniff them as I return to her to reinforce the sit stay. But she did a great retrieve on a runner. Super experience!
Kat, my 3 year old working cocker has been hunting too. She did great in two field trials and placed third and forth. In both trials she got a first prize with “CK” (certificate quality), which means that she is more than half way to the title Swedish field trial champion.
January 4th I do another round of our popular online class “Relationship building”. This class is based on my experience training gundogs, but is open for all breeds. You can join with a puppy, a young or adult dog of any breed. A great relationship is the foundation that makes both everyday life and (training for) trials fun and easy.
Bud learned the jumping stand early. I like to teach it to small puppies because they are bouncy and you can often easily capture it by just standing and waiting for it to happen when the puppy has energy and is playful. I don’t care a lot about perfection at this point, I just click and reward any bounce where both front legs leave the ground until the puppy offers the behavior in order to get a reward. I also like to name the behavior early, because I think it’s good to work on stimulus control with my puppy, and they often learn to love this behavior quickly.
I have not planned for Bud to be an obedience dog, but I love to work on obedience behaviors and think they are great for anything I want to do in the future. I’ve used his jumping stand for cue discrimination, and I have added some staying in position after the jump too. But I haven’t really worked on it, and I realized recently that he always moved his back feet counter clockwise on landing. It wasn’t pretty, and he did it every time. And I had rewarded it every time. Now, I decided that I wanted him to stay straight infront of me when doing the behavior, maybe even be able to keep his back feet still and just bounce with his front feet.
If the dog is always performing the behavior in a way we don’t like, it’s not a good idea to just not reward it and wait for perfection. The dog will probably give up in the process. You could chose to reward the better responses, and not reward the ones where he moves his feet the most – but you’re still rewarding something you don’t really like. Another solution is to think about some other behaviors to train that might help with understanding and hopefully bleed over to the behavior in question. That’s what I started by doing. I worked on backing up straight, offering a stand (not a jump, just four feet on the floor) straight infront of me and some rear end awareness and finishes on my right side (moving back feet clockwise).
This helped enough for me to get much better behavior once I started the jumping stand again. There were a lot of offered jumping stands that I didn’t reward, but he did seem to remember the exercises we’d just done when I didn’t reward, and I could jackpot some jumping stands that were much straighter than before. I still rewarded back foot movement (which I don’t really see as a problem) as long as it wasn’t to his right. If I found that he reverted back to his old style, and rate of reinforcement got too low, I would remind him of one of the behaviors used before (often just standing in front of me, or some clockwise pivoting) and then go back to the jumping stand. But most important was criteria – not rewarding what I don’t want, and rewarding all the good attempts.
I made a little video of our training today. He was doing well and had some nice repetitions where he kept back feet still, and even could go from sit to stand with his back feet planted. When I found myself just rewarding many repetitions in a row, I decided to change something – challenge him. The behavior is nice, but it’s not ever finished. Just changing something small can make it a bit harder for the dog and increase his understanding of what we want. I chose to add an open hand with treats to the left. It made it harder, but he worked through it nicely and came out more confident in what I want. I usually don’t want to use a cue for the behavior when I add a challenge like this, so it would have been smarter if I’d let him offer it freely instead. Noted for the next challenge!
Anytime you train your dog, you set rules that dictate what the dog needs to do to earn a reward – criteria. Without a criterion, you’re just feeding (or playing with) your dog. We’re all aware of this, yet it’s very easy to slip into training where we just reward without thinking about criteria. It seems easy enough in the beginning, when we’re just capturing all behaviors that can lead us towards our goal. We love to reward, and all we need to think about is setting the dog up for success and having good timing.
When the dog is on the right track and repeatedly offers the behavior we’re after, it’s very easy to get stuck on still rewarding all tries. I often get asked about what to do with training problems like the dog moving his feet in positions, chewing on the dumbbell or crooked sits. First thing you need to ask yourself is: Am I rewarding it? It might seem like a stupid question, but my experience is that in most cases, people are rewarding the very behavior they consider problematic. How on earth is the dog supposed to know that we don’t want it?
Of course, one reason why people chose to reward is because they want the dog to get rewarded for working and staying in the game, and they don’t really feel like they know what to do about the issue. In other cases, trainers are just so used to always rewarding that they’re not thinking about the possibility of actually choosing which responses to reinforce. The problem is: You get what you reward. And the longer you reward something you don’t want, the more frustrating it will be to get rid of it. In a perfect world, you set the dog up for success so that you never reward the behaviors you don’t like. In reality, you’ll often reinforce behaviors that are close to what you want, but not perfect, when you begin training. With a lot of behaviors, I don’t find this a problem if you raise criteria and move on quickly.
There are a lot of reasons why trainers get stuck with a behavior they’re not crazy about. There are a lot of ways to tweak and adjust training that will help even if you’re still rewarding all repetitions. But the bottom line is: many trainers need to get more comfortable with setting criteria and withholding reinforcement if the behavior isn’t good enough. In the words of Bob Bailey: If you want more, you have to ask for more. Of course, you can’t ask for everything at once. You need to raise criteria in small steps, but do it often. The longer you stay at one step, the more difficult it will be to get to the next one.
Why am I writing about this? Because I constantly make the mistake, and because I see how quickly I get results when I’m conscious of criteria. I’ll tell you about how I problem solved using stricter criteria in my next blogpost. Please feel free to ask any questions you might have on the subject, and I’ll answer here or in my next blog post.
I also wanted to share these beautiful pictures taken by Thomas yesterday. He’s in the north of Sweden, in the mountains, hunting grouse with old Pax (11 years old!) and Alot (8 months old). They seem to have great weather and some luck with hunting. And Alot is learning a lot about scent, as well as steadiness to birds and retrieving.
This is my awesome team on a walk in the forest yesterday. It’s a great time to just walk off track in the woods. My dogs love to run, sniff, explore, run some more and best of all – find water to run in. We also try to take some time walking slowly through blueberry bushes and uneven ground, so that they gain core strength and balance as well. The only drawback is all the bugs that get on my clothes and hair and even follow me home. There are some ticks, but they are almost cozy compared to the deer ked. Yesterday was terrible, and although I tried to protect myself with a long sleeved shirt and a tight fitting beanie that covered all my hair, I was picking the bastards out of my hair all day. One even crawled out on my forehead as I was almost asleep at night. They don’t seem to stick to the dogs, I guess I look more like a moose. Well, it’s almost worth it anyway, and we also bring nice things with us from the forest – like chanterelles.
These last two pictures are from Squid’s 7th birthday ten days ago. I made the day all about her. Here are some other pictures from her day. Agility of course, but also some herding (something she never gets to do on other days).
Home again after another weekend at an agility trial. Squid won jumpers on Sunday. Epic had a really good jumpers run on Saturday, with one bar. Agility courses were not my favourite design, and the ground was muddy. Both dogs ran well on Sunday, but picked up (the same) extra jump after a tunnel. I got the chance to reward Squid for a good dogwalk performance, so I was just as happy. I really like the relaxed attitude in Sweden that allows you to reward your dog with a toy in the ring anytime you want. You can plan it, or just choose to do it when you know you’re not going to place. I keep a small toy in my pocket for those instances. I think it’s great for training, good for the dogs (instead of a disappointed handler, you can turn it to something positive), and good for Swedish agility internationally (difference between training and competing becomes less obvious for our dogs).
Wilco had two runs per day and I really felt that I figured out more on how he needs to be prepared and taken care of in that environment. He was a bit worried about other dogs (he is very friendly and seems to take it personally if other dogs are upset in any way) before our first run, and I didn’t feel connected to him. For our other runs, I made sure that he didn’t have to be as close to other dogs. I also had more exciting play with him before and after our runs. I think he ran faster than he has before. We had some really nice parts, but he didn’t have time to weave on the first try in any run… I trained weaves at home today and he was brilliant. It’ll soon come together in trials too!
We had long days at the competition, as they ran all classes and started with class 3 (Squid and Epic) and then ended with class 1 (Wilco) with class 2 in between. Bud got to come out and play/train and just hang out around the ring. He is very good at staying calm around the ring, and also very good at focusing on training with a lot of distractions. He just doesn’t seem to view it as distractions at all. I made a video of some of the training – it’s far from perfect, but some of the things we’re working on, like:
Self control around toys
Listening to cues
Basic handling without obstacles
I hope you enjoy it even though it’s a bit too long and things are far from perfect. If you want more clips from our training (and a nice blooper from this session, where he bites my leg, blind crosses as I scream out in pain and then steals the toy), you should check us out on Instagram (@fannyftw). Today, I posted a video from his first ever jumping session.