It has been a month since my last entry - time just flies by. A lot has happened in the last month. Now I have some down time as I transition into the winter season and wind up the outdoor training season. I've had more time to spend training Spring who is now 16 months old. It is interesting that I was just thinking that it has been good for Spring to have been laid up quite a bit during his adolesence because it actually gave me more time to work on his flatwork skills. He has probably had more training on turns, stays, following my hands and sends to targets than any of my other dogs. He just started low teeter training and low dogwalk/aframe training and he still have barriers on his weave poles. However because of all of the flatwork he has done he is now doing serpentines, 270s, wraps, 180s and straight lines with ease and speed. Adding the jumps to the flatwork was such an easy transition for him because he knew what to do between obstacles.
Stacy Peardot-Goudy talks about this in her most recent blog entry as well. It is hard to go slowly with the young dogs and spend time on these foundation skills but it so makes everything else easier. I also agree with Stacy, if you do that and you don't teach them the full obstacles then there is no danger of trialing a dog too early. I learned this with Sinco who had trouble with the teeter so she didn't do standard courses until last fall when she was about 27 months old. It also helps to wait for the obstacle training until they are older - they learn it so much better then. If we try to train 6-12 month old puppies about doing full obstacles we almost always end up having to retrain it later. Their minds and bodies are not really equipped for that kind of training and precision. Time is much better spent on training attention, stays, turns, following hands and speed cues. These are the kinds of things that puppies learn well and when taught first will stick with them for life. They are also much easier for us to train and we are less likely to "screw it up." It also gives me a lot of time to get to know the puppy and to then to make decisions about how I want to proceed with the contact and weave training. Knowing the drive, personality, physical abilities and mental stamina of your dog is important before you embark on training obstacles that require both speed and accuracy as well as balance and coordination.
It is also so important to train your dog to follow YOUR hand cues. If you don't have a training method in place when you start then your dog has to figure things out on the fly. If you are always changing your handling cues because someone told you to try something different then your dog is always a step behind trying to figure out what you are doing. Being consistent from the start with your young dog and your training will pay off in the long run.
I've started Spring on his contact training, after a lot of thought and reading and watching what others are doing, with a modified version of Sylvia Trkman's contact training method. I made a wide board about 8 feet long and 3 feet wide and laid it flat on the ground. I put a small hoop on the end of the board and then an empty target about 10-15 feet from the end. After a couple of sessions he was running down the board and driving out to the target. Then I raised the board up a few inches on to a table top. He continued to race down the board and out to the target. The target helped him to keep driving ahead regardless of where I am. We did that for awhile and then I moved him to a low dogwalk - about 18" or so off the ground. I backchained it by having him start in the middle of the down plank and go through the hoop to the target which was again about 10 - 12 feet from the end of the board. It didn't take long for him to be able to do the entire low dogwalk. We are staying at this stage for awhile. He is getting faster and faster on it all the time. Running contacts are much harder to train and take more space and more time than a two on/two off if you want it to be a consistent behavior. Feisty is almost 4 years old and I am just now starting to trust her running dogwalk contacts. It has been a lot of hard work. The aframe was much easier for her to do. However Spring is having a harder time with the aframe and I'm having to go even slower with that obstacle. But I have lots of time to work on it. Sinco and Windy were over two years old before they began serious trialing and when they did they were ready. I'd rather go slowly and make sure things are well understood by the dog rather than push him too fast.