Saturday, March 12, 2011

Puppy Training - nine months old and what lies ahead

I am enjoying training my puppy, Carmine, so much.  It is really fun to train a puppy that I've known since the moment she was born.  She was labelled "wild child" because she would wiggle and yell when I tried to tube feed her, she crawled backwards so fast off the cold washcloth at three days old and she would be the last one standing whenever the puppies went on an outing.  She is still very high energy and always game to go anywhere, any time.  However with a lot of help from me she actually loves being touched, she gets carried a lot around the house because she doesn't walk - she tries to run and often is leaping over elderly small dogs.  She has two speeds stop and 100mph.  It is very hard for her to walk or even trot.  I watch her play and she runs a lot when she plays and she loves games of chase and keep away with other dogs.  I play these games with her too.  It is really fun to chase her and encourage her to run away with "go go go!"  Because I play these games with her she is very ready to chase me when I run the other way.  She is motivated to pay attention to me when we play.

After having three excellent puppy seminars over the last three months and assessing my own training programs here is where I am in training Carmine.

She has 20 feet distance with the attention/recall game.
She can do a sit stay while I wave a toy or treat around and while I walk around her.
She has verbal cues for sit and down no matter where I am and she can be several feet away.
She loves to play ball but clearly has favorite toys.
She has learned a variety of tricks using shaping including backing up on objects, putting her two right feet up on a board, pawing at things, touching her hip on walls, turning both directions around a post, she can "bow" on cue, she has a stand stay on a platform, she can do hand touches and send to an empty target (plastic lid) from 20 feet away.
She can do front and rear crosses around a cone and hoop.
She does fun recalls between my legs.
She is doing well with finding heel position off leash.
She is doing well with loose leash walking in most situations.
She can focus on me around agility activities.
She can do recalls to side.
She will send to a stationary toy.
She can do a stand to a down and a sit to a stand.
She can send and stay on a mat and send to her crate.
She will play tug on a table top.
She has a verbal cue for backing up on the flat.
She regularly offers a sit before any door whether on leash or off leash.
She is learning herding.
I'm sure there are other things she knows that I've already forgotten!
I am contemplating her running contact training.  As a training challenge for me I want to teach her a true running dogwalk and aframe.  She has a very long stride and is fast so this will be a fun challenge. 

I will digress here... I have been thinking a lot about running contacts and attended Silvia Trkman's session on it,  I also watched Rachel Sanders Running Aframes and had a lesson with her about her running dogwalks and aframes.  Training a large dog to do a running dog walk is very challenging.  I have experience with small dogs on the dog walk and aframe with true running contacts. 

Many of my students morph into some form of running contact after training a 2 on/2 off either because of failing to enforce the 2on/2off or because of a desire for a running contact.  For small dogs, especially Corgis, using quick release and then fading the release works well for both aframe and dogwalk, but they first have to be patterned to go to the end of the contact so they don't leap.  Larger breeds can be more problematic because their strides can carry them right over the contact zone.  I see so many students and others creating confusion with their dogs by not having clear criteria with proper enforcement and reinforcement.  The confusion leads to slow and/or leaping contacts.  I don't ever want to reinforce a contact that is slow - no matter how accurate it is.  I will say "good dog, let's try again!"  When they do it faster then they get a treat or toy.  Too often people only focus on the accuracy and not on the speed and inadvertently train slow contacts.  Then they want to speed it up and the dog gets confused.  Almost every dog I've seen goes through a phase early in their contact training where they stop part way down the contact, pause and reflect, and then with coaxing they will step into the 2 on/2 off.  The biggest mistake people make is to reward this with a treat or toy.  As soon as I see a dog stop I want them to step in and put a hand in their collar and gently guide them into the position.  Then verbally praise (no treat/toy) and then repeat the contact again.  I have found that this gets rid of the creeping contacts very quickly. 
Going to a running contact doesn't fix this problem - it only causes confusion for the dog.  I see many dogs who have not been taught any criteria - running or stopping on the contacts.  These are the dogs who are most likely to miss/leap over the yellow zone.  In my opinion these dogs who are leaping are more likely to harm themselves than dogs doing well trained 2 on/2 off contacts.  I have seen very small dogs leap over contact zones as well as large dogs leaping off the aframe over the contact zone. 

The aspects of training a true running contact require a lot of keen observation and videotaping.  The first step is to find the striding that will carry the dog through the contact and having that become muscle memory when going straight ahead and then training turns.  Whether that is watching the hind feet and being sure they are apart as Silvia does or whether it is marking the dog hitting near the end of a board when running - that is the first step.  Once you have that criteria established and your dog can do it on a flat board, then slanted board, then a low dog walk and then a high dog walk and then in sequences you have the first step.  This is a long step and one I find that most people don't have the patience to do, especially if they want to retrain.  Doing it only in class on a weekly basis will make this process take much longer. It is hard to do without access to full height equipment 3-4 times a week.  2on/2off can be taught very well without access to full height equipment and that is a huge advantage of that training method.  The next step in running contacts, is having the dog go into the yellow zone and make a tight turn which can be a training challenge.  I have worked on this with small dogs and I have found that there has to be some collection/short striding when making a turn.  The dogwalk is much like a jump grid.  The way a dog does it will be different whether the dog is going straight or turning.  In a jump grid dogs will add a short collection stride in order to make a tight turn on a jump.  In full extension dogs will take fewer strides in a jump grid.  The same seems to be true of the dogwalk.  It is not unlike jump training in that you have to constantly balance the tight turns with extension so the dog is clear that it can do both and when to do which one.  Dogs will start to run overly collected if too much tight turn work is done with them or vice versa they will not know how and when to collect if they do too much training in full extension.  The same is true of the dogwalk.  The third step is making sure the dog can do the running contact not only when the end of the dogwalk requires collection but also when the entrance to the dogwalk requires collection such as a tight turn getting on to it.  This in my opinion is the hardest step from my experience with small dogs. Obviously there are many smaller steps within each of these but these are the three major training challenges I see to running contacts.  The fourth one depending on where you trial would be to work on it with slatted and slatless and rubber matting and rubber granules - all things which can affect striding.  In addition the height of the aframe can vary from 4'8" in Teacup to 5' in NADAC, to 5'3" in CPE, to 5'6" in AKC/small dog USDAA to 5'9/11" in USDAA.  Lastly the 36" versus 42" contact zone on the dogwalk can make a huge difference too.

So while I contemplate this and work on my own observation skills, my puppy is running across a flat wide board.  Yes it would be easier to train her to do a 2on/2off but I feel like I want a training challenge and I know I can also bail on it and retrain to a 2on/2off if needed. Training true running contacts is not for the faint of heart and really requires a lot of time and effort to have them be independent, fast and accurate.  Meanwhile she is also going to learn 2on/2off on a small travel size plank but it won't be applied to a full dogwalk or aframe as long as I am committed to training a true running contact. 

We'll see what happens...


  1. As the owner of (now 3) corgis AND having a product (Winn) of Annelise's training methods, I am truly grateful for her instruction. I am OFTEN complimented on our nice running contacts. I think the process described is the one for me and the new pup. And training this patiently the FIRST time has to be a whole lot more fun than sitting out and retraining, down the road!
    Puppy training takes the time it takes. I am in no hurry, just enjoying what I learn every day. And the puppies aren't in a hurry---well, yeah, they are...but they don't have the "goals" that we do. If we can learn from them how to be in the moment, it will all be good stuff.

  2. I also am enjoying my puppy, and am thoroughly exhausted after reading this post! :)