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. 

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