Squid and I do train some obedience. We’re working on small details and I try to do some obedience before we go to agility. We’re also playing around with obedience while waiting for our turn at agility trials. Sit, down and stand from heel, heeling and distant control are things that you can see us play with while we’re waiting to go in the ring. She is really good at it, even when she is very aroused at an agility trial.
Most of the time, I’m very happy with the precision in her work, and I hope that we’ll be ready to start class III some time. Since we’re putting a lot of energy into agility, there is no rush. I think it’s nice to just enjoy working on the details without having the pressure of getting done quickly. It’s nice, and I really like what we do, but it takes time when you don’t train that much.
I tried to teach Squid the directions for the directed retrieve for the first time earlier this week. She’s never done anything like that before, but she knows how to run around posts. She got the idea very quickly and in the next session, I will probably be able to add a third post in the middle (as a distraction, the dog never goes to the middle dumbbell in FCI obedience). If that works well, I’ll move the posts out to full distance. It’s a lot of fun to teach new exercises when good foundation makes it so easy!
This summer, we are presenting an online obedience class. The class is open for 10 working participants. You can also join as an observer. As a working participant, you will follow the class with your own dog (one dog per working spot) and post video for the entire class to see. Thomas and I will of course comment on your videos and help you through all the lessons. The observers get to read and watch all material from me, watch all the posted videos, ask questions and join in on the discussions.
This is a obedience class, much like the one we do IRL at home. The class will be based on the exercises from the FCI obedience trials, but the online class is also open for those who do obedience in other organizations. It will be great for anyone wanting to get the most out of their obedience dog using reward based methods, from the curious novice to the experienced competitor. It is a great advantage if you have done our online foundation class, or if you have the similar foundations in play, shaping and self control.
The class will run from July 9th. A new lesson with text, video and homework will be posted every other Monday, for a total of 8 lessons. Every lesson has a theme, go to the Obedience Class page to read more about the themes.
We have had a few days break from the training, so this is the next session after the previous blog
post (I’m behind with blogging, so this happened a couple of weeks ago). I had someone helping me giving Squid treats today, to be sure that she did not search for the smell of meatballs. It worked out fine; she did not seem bothered that the article did not smell like food and marked on my scent. The session in total lasted for under 3 minutes, but she still seemed a little tired at the end. I should probably keep the sessions even shorter. Maybe four repetitions per session and do it twice a day. In the end she froze briefly at the wrong articles, even though it is still very clearly when she finds the right one. I am not happy with that, but I will see if shorter sessions make her better next time. I think I will also place the articles on the grass, as I am pretty sure she can search at the row without using the wall to define it.
My plan seems to work pretty well! Placing the scented retrieve articles on the stone paves did increase the risk that Squid would use her eyes, but I trusted that she was set on using her nose, and that seems to
be right. I got a new idea and started the session with Squid picking up treats between the articles,
which seem to help her getting a defined search area.
To find the matchstick between the articles was very easy and with a nice flow this time. To find the
article with my scent on it was hard the first times (she moved the articles to mark the matchstick
lying under it), but in the last repetition you can clearly see her marking on the article even though
she’s moved it so the matchstick is visible. Yey!
But it doesn’t feel good that my hands smelled like meatballs. How can I be sure that she is searching
for my scent and not the scent of the treats? For the next session, I think I will ask someone else to
reward her so that my hands can stay clean.
Today we continued Squids training on scent discrimination and retrieve. I have decided to move quickly forward, but always keeping track of the development so I can adjust the training if needed. Today we trained on grass, which demanded more nosework than the surface yesterday. I started adding scented retrieve articles without my scent on it. The short term goal is that she ignores them and just searches after my scent. Here is the main part of today’s session:
The training got a little messy as it was hard for her to find the small piece in the grass when she didn’t have the search area defined. I moved us quickly to the row of scented retrieve articles, thinking that it would define the area, but she still floated out a bit (I have removed some of it in the video). It also made Squid tired and I think that is the reason why she picked up one of the articles at the end. She doesn’t look that sharp in the clip. I also have to decide what to do when she grabs one of the articles. I wonder if I should do nothing at this stage of the training, just wait for her to put it down again and find the piece of matchstick. The same goes for when she might freeze her nose on the wrong article. I think I’ll start with that and see how it works. If it turns out to give a lot of false marks, I’ll have to change something in the training to avoid it.
For the next session, I’ll prioritize to shorten the time of the search. I like the idea of letting the row of articles define the search area, but I’ll have to find a way to explain it to Squid without her wasting a lot of time searching at other places. I wonder if I’ll try it on the stone paves again and see how it works. If it makes her search faster without using her eyes, it is definitely a good idea. If I also put the articles near a wall and I stay at the other side, it should define the search area more.
It is almost a year since Squid competed in obedience class II and won a first price. Since then, we have not been doing much obedience training at all. But it is a shame to not use all the nice things she can do, and the long term goal is for her to become an obedience champion. Squid has got all that’s required to become a good obedience dog. I am pleased with the basics she’s got, except from her heelwork where she might always be a bit too enthusiastic, and she has got great energy and focus.
The one exercise we are hanging behind on is scent discrimination and retrieve. I have started training it several times, but it has just ended up as a couple of sessions until I have forgotten it or started training something else. For example, it looked like this a year ago. Actually, I am not sure if we have trained this exercise at all since then.
To get us started this time, I decided to try out a new method. I also decided to film the training and blog about it to raise my motivation. The new method is basically the same as with the Post It-notes, but it is easier for people to understand and go through with. The point is that Squid uses her nose to find a piece of a matchstick with my scent on it, and marks it by freezing her nose on it. The important thing on this step is that she uses her nose and not her eyes to find the piece. This is our second session, I did one yesterday while I waited for the barbeque to get warm. Since Squid is already good at freezing her nose and understands to use her nose instead of her eyes, I think we can go a little bit further with our next session and add some distractions.
I taught the last weekend of four in the south of Sweden this weekend. It’s been a very nice experience, with great students that have a lot of fun together. The theme for the weekend was training for trials, so there was a lot of working on sequences and trial-like situations. We did also have time to work on details, and most chose to work on the heelwork. A common problem is that the dog choses the wrong position while heeling – walking ahead of the handler or drifting out to the side (dogs that hang to far back is usually just not motivaded enough). It’s common, and can also be hard to fix after it has become a habit. We did make a lot of progress this weekend though.
The first question we need to ask when the dog is not walking where we want him to is WHY? Why is the dog finding value somewhere else than where we want him to be? Our training is almost always the answer to why there is a conflict between where we wish the dog was and where he wants to be. It can either be an effect of us reinforcing behaviors that are incompatible with a good position – like teaching the dog that heeling is about watching our eyes. It can also be that we place the reward somewhere where we don’t want the dog to be. We might allow the dog to walk out of position to meet the reward coming from our right hand, or that we bring the reward to the dog (in a position we don’t want) instead of having him come to the reward (where we want him to be).
What you reward
It is of course important to reward when the dog is exactly where you want him. We often get annoyed when the dog does something we don’t like, but we keep rewarding it. How is the dog supposed to understand that we don’t want him there if we reward it? If the dog has found a position that we don’t like, we need to find a way to get him where we want him, so that we can reward that. You might have to start with the dog just standing in the right place, or place the dog on a platform next to you. You can also let the dog start behind you and then click and reward quickly when he is in the right spot – before he gets the chance to pass you and walk to far ahead. Re-training the behavior walking backwards can also be a great way to get a new start. Or maybe just reinforcing the correct position when you’re out on a walk.
Where you reward
Training a great heel is so much easier, and the result gets so much better, if the dog feels that the reward comes exactly where you want him. Placing the treat on the seam of your pant can be a good point for you to remember when training. I prefer to let the treat come from behind if the dog has a tendency to walk to far ahead. I usually keep a few treats in my right hand and then take one at a time with my left hand behind my back when I want to reward.
I used to reward in the opposite direction from where the dog had a tendency to go. Today, I’m more into rewarding exactly where I want the dog, but have some criteria for what the dog should do to get his reward. If I reward just by my leg, I won’t let the dog swing his rear end out when he is eating. I want him to keep his body parallel with me. I train this early, when I teach him rear end awareness with front feet on a platform, and when I start the backwards walking. It’s often a good idea to train your routine for rewarding before you start heeling training.
If the dog is good at ignoring rewards held in my hands, it’s so much easier to get good placement of reward. I don’t want the dog to think about the reward until it materializes in position. I can try to lure the dog out of position with treats in my right hand or behind my back, but the dog will only get them if he keeps a good position (I will then take the reward to the dog). I also want to test my dogs understanding of position by using external rewards like a bowl of food on the ground. I work with the dog very freely (I don’t start from halt and I don’t use a cue) and let the dog find his position by my side when I’m walking in order to get his “get it” cue.
First Foundation Class is now finished and we’ve had such a great time looking at videos and discussing training with the participants. We’ve covered a lot of topics and given everybody feedback on their level of training. So it’s not just foundations, we’ve worked on recall with stand, distant control and many more advanced skills as well as great foundation skills. This is what one of our observers had to say after the course:
“I enjoyed all the lessons, the videos and the discussions and learned a lot. I feel so sorry that I did not go for ‘working participant’ as the course offered much more than ‘basics’ in my opinion and the working participants got so much personal feedback and guidance.”
Next foundation class starts on March 5th and you can sign up now! Thomas and I are really looking forward to working with a new group. Click here to read more and sign up.
I forgot to tell you that Thomas and Pogue went to an obedience trial yesterday to compete in class 3. They did a great job and got 290 out of 320 points, which is really good. They also won the class. Pogue was very happy and energetic and Thomas was very proud of him. He is now qualified for the highest class. We’re hoping that Pogue also will qualify for the highest classes in search and rescue, field trials and agility this year. I think he will!
Old picture of Pogue. I’ve bought a new camera that should arrive tomorrow and I can’t wait to take some new photos of the dogs.
One of my online students asked me for ideas on how to teach the dog to always take the jump back, even if you for example throw the dumbbell badly so that the dog no longer has a straight line to you over the jump. This is one of the basic exercises that we do with our dogs. We let them run between the handler and a helper and we click for jumping. We gradually move to the side so that the dog has to think about what he is doing. If the dog runs past the jump, there is no click and the dog gets to try again.
You’re welcome to post any questions on this below.