Friday, December 9, 2011

Who is the student?

Been a busy several weeks!  Sinco and I had an awesome weekend going 6 for 6 and earning her MACH!  She and I have had some awesome runs lately and some runs that made me stop and scratch my head wondering what happened out there.  Lately she is pushing me out of my comfort zone both in training and trialing.  I really like to be quiet when I am running and rely on my dogs to follow my body language unless I need to send them out for distance then I will use more verbal cues.  Well it seems that Sinco is forcing me to use my voice more than I like.  We have been working on tighter sequences and more going past obstacles so there I need to use my voice so it makes sense that I will need to use my voice more on the more open courses too. 

Feisty is close behind Sinco in their runs for their MACHs and she earned her 19th double Q last weekend on the same day Sinco earned her 20th.  However Feisty is always making me think about our training, communication and relationship.  We have been doing a lot of AKC agility these past few months, more than I usually do at a time.  Three trials ago I rewarded her for doing the table in a standard.  She missed the weave entry on the standard run and it was the fourth obstacle and so I decided to use it to reward her for getting on the table right away.  She got on it right away and went down immediately.  I praised her and we left the ring immediately after the table and gave her lots of treats as soon as we got out of the ring.  This is my "make lemonade" out of the NQ runs.

I have always felt that it is important to make runs short whenever I know for sure I have NQ'd on a run - I either want to reward the dog with a shorter course, find something that I want to try in terms of handling that I might not do if I had an important Q on the line, or find a great obstacle performance to reward by leaving right after the obstacle.  It is easiest to do these things when an NQ has happened.  I have been known when I have something I need to improve on in a trial environment to forget the Q and leave after a great obstacle performance to a "chicken party" aka a jackpot for the dog. 

I feel this helps dogs by introducing random reinforcement to the trial setting.  Too often dogs who are not intrinsically turned on to agility count the number of obstacles and they know when they are close to #20 on the course and will get faster to the end because it is closer to the reward.  Also very often dogs will not perform as well in the trial environment as they do in training/class.  One of the reasons is that we tend to not reward the good behavior the same way we reward it in class.  For most dogs going on to the next obstacle is NOT a reward.  For dogs who do find agility intrinsically rewarding I don't let the next obstacle be a reward because if that next obstacle ends up being a knocked bar, missed weave or missed contact then it is not really a reward.  I want the best rewards to come from me and not from the agility course.  Doing agility is the secondary reinforcer for some dogs but NOT for MOST dogs out there.  Many dogs do agility because we want them to do it and they want to make us happy.  It is our job to make agility fun in and of itself and that can be a lot of work for many of us and our dogs.

So with Feisty I reinforced her table three trials ago after she NQ'd.  I thought that would fill up the table bank account again as I never take her table performances for granted.  I worked for almost a year to get her to do the table in a trial.  Well the next weekend after I had filled the table bank account, on our first standard run a male judge moved in on her as she approached the table and she squirted out past the table and turned to face him and me and then got on the table - a refusal...  I left immediately to a reward - hey she got on it in spite of being concerned about the male judge who was in her space (in her opinion).  I couldn't see any other learning opportunities on the course after that.  The next day we had a female judge but she stopped right in front of the table and peered over it and then hopped on.  It was near the end of the course and it was all jumps and tunnels remaining so we finished the course and had rewards.  So clearly the table problem was starting to return.  The third day at this trial was a meltdown on the standard run because a camera was clicking at her (in spite of my request to not do so).  So we aborted the run when she froze in fear in the middle of the ring.  We never got to the table. Then there was last weekend.  She had a fabulous double Q run on Friday and I was hopeful we were back on track.  But alas on day two of this trial she paused before getting on the table and incurred a refusal.  The judge was female and nowhere near her. 

As I always do I start to reflect on what may be causing the table problem to return.  One table refusal here and there has not worried me but now it is starting to look like a pattern.  One thing that has occurred to me is that when the male judge (even though he was softspoken and average in stature) encroached on her the weekend before she may have had a flashback to a couple of years ago when the large loud male judge startled her on the table with his booming table count.  Feisty doesn't forget anything.  Flashbacks can be scary.

So on day three of the trial this past weekend the table was in the corner of the room and the judge far away and no ring stewards in sight.  Feisty was running great - through a lot of the hard spots on the course, we were 3/4 of the way toward our 20th double Q.  It was weaves that pointed at the table but the course had a jump 90 degrees off of the weaves and then back to the table.  Well in spite of my front cross at the exit of the poles, Feisty squirted out of the weaves and headed to the table!  I managed to call her back and get her over the jump - it was a really awkward move as she somehow went behind me to the jump and then I sent her to the table.  She strolled past the back of the table by about an inch and then got on.  The crowd groaned as did I internally.  A table refusal had occurred.  So I left the ring and I didn't reward her but I picked her up and teased her a bit.  I suspect that calling her off of the table didn't sit well with her so she wasn't sure she wanted to get on the table when I asked her to do so.  I normaly don't attribute such thinking to dogs however this is Feisty.  Her training has been about making it seem like it is her idea to do things.  She is not easily convinced to do things she doesn't want to do.  Fortunately she loves to be busy and loves to do things so it is easy for her want to do things.  I usually try hard not to call her off of obstacles and probably if it hadn't been the blasted 20th double Q on the line I would have been happy that she was heading to the table after having had 3 NQs from table faults.   I let a possible Q affect me as a trainer and I was the bad dog trainer and Feisty was going to make sure I learned that lesson the hard way!!!

So once again Feisty is the teacher and I am her ever humble student!