Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Perspective starting again with a novice dog...

I have been traveling out of town to trials a lot lately and staying late to run my novice dog, so I have a lot of time to watch runs by handlers and dogs I don't get to see very often.  It is fun to watch different teams and to watch different handling and training styles.  Often at local trials I don't have as much down time to watch runs because I'm coaching students, helping at the trial or plan to leave early to go do some chore at home.  Being out of town I have nowhere to go but the hotel room so I might as well spend Saturday afternoon watching agility.  It also helps to watch novice dogs just starting out to be reminded of what it is like to start with a green dog. 

It is interesting to watch teams that I don't know where they train, how they train or even who they are.  I watch them objectively and I often think about how I could help them do better if this were a seminar I was giving.  Trial situations are interesting because I know from personal experience that the performance that I may get in familiar training setting will decrease by at least 10% at a local trial.  I also know from personal experience and that of other top handlers and trainers that performance at a national competition will decrease another 10+% because of the stress of the environment.  If you do world competition then anticipate another 10% decrease.  These are really just abstract numbers.  I think the percentages will be higher for dogs who tend to get very excited in trialing environments and very eager to do agility and higher in dogs who are having trouble focusing on agility when in a trial environment.  So I know that you can't and shouldn't judge a team based on how they are trialing because there are so many variables.  When I don't know a team I don't know what their goals are or where they have been already on their journey.  It takes courage to get out there and perform in front of others.  I do watch the dog's demeanor because that is what is fascinating to me and I do see behavior patterns - common elements from dog to dog.  My own novice dog is experiencing that 10% decrease in performance in a trial setting so I am taking note of that so I can focus on those skills in training.

So I know with my own dogs the collection cues I give on a regular trial weekend seemed to be somewhat less effective than in training and the turns are a bit wider.  I've been trying to pay closer attention to this so when I see my dog do tighter turns at a trial so I can positively mark that in hopes of increasing that trend.  Many of us have experienced contact performances disintegrate right before our very eyes in a trial setting.  Now that I've started a little bit of trialing with my novice dog I have seen wider turns at the trial than in training and I've seen some confusion on the contacts.  Carmine stopped two on/two off beautifully with me moving past on the aframe twice on one course.  Unfortunately her criteria is a running aframe and a stop on the dogwalk.  I fully expected the dogwalk to turn into a running one as I've experienced that many times before with other dogs of mine.  She also learned to run narrow boards for a time while I was deciding whether to train a running dogwalk.  I did some proofing of her dogwalk and even did some quick releasing her and then making her stop in training in order to test her focus and understanding.  That training may be helping her stick her dogwalk in a trial.  I need to do more proofing of the running aframe to make it clearer that is what I want.  I was able to get the running aframe on two out of three runs in a trial setting with the aframe.

I rarely start trialing a dog in AKC to the degree I have with Carmine but that is where my focus is with my older dogs and I feel she is ready. So far she has gone two for two in novice standard and two for three in novice jww.  She is also the kind of dog that could develop too much obstacle focus if she stayed in novice too long so I am wanting her to get in and get out of novice.  She is training on more complex sequences but I am still wanting her to know how to extend so we do work on transitions from extension to collection and back to extension.  It is also interesting that I have not done much more than 10-11 obstacle sequences with her  in training so the 14-16 obstacle sequences of novice in a trial are the first ones she has done.  It helps that I am an experienced handler, however I don't try to do an entire course with my dogs in training.  Even if one is setup I almost always will stop somewhere along the way to reward a great performance or to redo something I want to do better. 

The thing I love about teaching is that I get to work with a wide variety of students and dogs so I know there are so many variables that go into creating a successful team in competition.  What works for one team may not work at all for another team or may only work in part.  Sometimes it is a trial and error type of learning which can be frustrating but often it is the only way.  Sometimes it takes a lot of repetitions.  Generally speaking they say you need to do 3 times as many correct repetitions for every incorrect one in order to get the desired behavior solidified.  This is why it is important to address something right away and not let it go on for run after run.  The longer you let it go the harder it will be to fix.  I am on a new journey with Carmine and I need to take notes and keep track of what works and what doesn't work with her.  She is like most dogs, very complicated.  It is extra fun to run a dog that I have literally known since the day she was born.

I enjoy starting out with a novice dog at a time when a lot of my students have young dogs too so it helps me be able to appreciate their challenges in training and trialing and keeps my perspective fresh.  I enjoy watching agility runs because it is an ongoing learning experience for me and tests my observation skills. 

What I've learned...

Many folks doing agility now never saw or met my first agility dogs.  I thought I'd share some of the positive things the dogs in my life have taught me.   Many of us like to say that each dog comes to us to teach us something.  I have been privileged to have had some really great teachers over the course of my time training dogs personally and professionally.    They have given me a broad base of experience and skills.  The provide the basis for my philosophy that dog training can not be done with cookie cutters but has to be done with individual molds for both dog and handler. They have all made this journey very fun as well as educational. 

Ashley taught me:
  • how fun obedience training can be
  • how fun agility can be
  • how fun having a dog can be
  • how loyal a dog can be
  • how horrible it is to lose your first special dog suddenly at the age of two years.

Demi taught me:

  • about the challenges of bonding with a 1 1/2 year old who has been left to play with other dogs her whole life and not been trained to do anything
  • introduced me to the concept of ring and performance stress
  • introduced me to the idea that not all dogs are cut out to be performance dogs, some just like playing the game in the backyard or class and that is ok
  • some dogs are awesome with any dog or puppy or person of any age (and some are not)

Bradish taught me:
Bradish 1998 AKC Natls
  • how much fun agility can be
  • how easy distance training/handling can be
  • how fast a dog can become ring-wise and behave differently in training and trialing
  • how athletic dogs can be
  • the need for criteria on contacts
  • how they can keep running when high on adrenaline and seriously hurt
  • the importance and value of "flow" in courses for safety
  • the importance of a reliable recall which he did not have

Nigel taught me:
  • how hard agility training can be
  • the importance of motivation
  • how to manage a dog aggressive dog
  • how some dogs can do things to get attention whether it is punishment or reward
  • how hard it is to raise two dogs 2 weeks apart in age
  • how independent a dog can be
  • how important physical soundness is and how important conditioning is to soundness
  • how hard stays and self control training can be

Leysha taught me:
  • how to motivate a dog for agility and how to reward speed
  • how easy obedience and self control training can be
  • how to handle smoothly and how to train distance
  • how stressful trials can be for dogs
  • how much dogs know about what they have been bred to do
  • how much a dog who is willing to please will do for a person

Tobie taught me:

  • how to handle a fast dog
  • how to use toys in training
  • how hard stay and self control training can be
  • how to manage a reactive dog at busy agility trials
  • how important jump training is
  • how hard it can be to maintain contact criteria in a trial when a dog is easily self rewarded by doing obstacles

Sonic taught me:
  • a deep appreciation for trial ring stress and how it affects dogs in many ways
  • how much what we do in a trial setting especially with weave poles compared to training is creating stress for dogs
  • how hard it is to teach one criteria for the aframe and a different one for the dogwalk
  • a deep appreciation for what it means to lose a dog at the peak of their performance career as well as when they are full of life and potential and are as sweet as the day is long
  • how truly sweet a dog can be to all animals and people

Amigo taught me:
  • the importance of good structure for longevity in performance sports
  • the challenges of training a dog who is "what's in it for me?"
  • the importance of a good "leave it"
  • the fun of shaping a dog to do tricks in a manner of minutes
  • how to live with separation anxiety
  • the importance of bridging the gap between training and trialing

Sinco continues to teach me:
  • a love for all dog sports
  • not all dogs enjoy shaping with a clicker
  • how much fun a dog enjoys competition can be
  • an understanding of how much dogs can want to be right
  • an understanding of the importance of rewarding what you want especially speed
  • an understanding for being careful about correcting a dog
  • a greater understanding of how much work it is to raise a well socialized litter of puppies
  • a greater understanding of hormonal changes and how they affect performance
  • a greater understanding of what aspects of temperament are hard-wired an what aspects can be affected by nurture.

Feisty continues to teach me:

  • a great understanding of the many ways trial ring stress expresses itself
  • a great understanding of how the presence of people can produce pressure that can affect a dog's performance
  • a greater understanding of how to use food to motivate and train for speed
  • what it is like to live with a  high energy dog who is very sensitive to her environment
  • an understanding of how to train to make it seem like it is all the dog's idea
  • about what sound sensitivity really means
  • how reinforcing the crowd laughing can be for a dog

Tay continues to teach me:
Cante (Tay)
  • a love of shaping a dog to do tricks
  • a great appreciation for the impact of soreness/injuries on a dog
  • an appreciation for how dogs can be very sensitive to smells, touch as well as sound
  • an appreciation for the different types and degrees of intelligence dogs can possess
  • what a truly sensitive dog is in all the ways she is
  • how really truly difficult training a stay can be for some dogs and how abstract some training concepts are and how some dogs have greater difficulty grasping those abstract concepts
  • to remember that not all dogs enjoy competition no matter how much I do

Spring continues to teach me:
  • the universe really doesn't understand "no" when you wish for something in other words don't tell the universe "I don't want a Sheltie who spins and barks" because you will get a Sheltie who spins and barks at high speed!
  • how difficult shaping as a training tool can be for some dogs
  • how hard running contacts can be even with a small dog
  • how smart a dog can be in terms of the "show me the money" game

Carmine is just starting to teach me:
  • how much fun a dog who loves a crowd can be
  • the challenges of training a highly toy motivated dog
  • the importance of on and off switches that work well
  • how to handle a fast dog
  • how hard running contacts can be
  • how training the agility obstacles can be the easy part but the rest of the relationship training takes much more time and much more work