Monday, March 30, 2009

Shattering the myth

I have to share one of my pet peeves. It is the myth that you use front crosses with slow dogs and rear crosses with fast dogs. In my career with Ian, I've had many people tell me they could never do front crosses like I do because their dog is faster than Ian. 

Congratulations to Denise Thomas and her dog Zippity for winning the Challenger round of the 2009 AKC Agility Nationals. I heard what a magical weekend they had from many mutual friends, and I'm really proud of them. Below is Denise and Zippity's winning run from the Challenger Round, and it is one of the best examples of pre-cuing front crosses I've seen. And please note: There is only one rear cross on the whole course, and I think Zippity is a heck of a lot faster than Ian!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Weave work

Devon was successful on Thursday with her weaves in sequence at Pawsitive Partners. They were strong and fast and I was really proud of her. The change in her weaving is dramatic. On Friday, I took the video camera out to the agility yard to see what I could get. 

Devon wasn't all that fast through these weaves and her footwork isn't a solid hoping two step. But, she knows her job! The entrances I gave her, which you couldn't see off camera, were into the high challenge area, and she clearly knows her job. You can see all three clips on our You Tube Channel. Below is a good practice shot with her hoping two step style at the end (I don't have video editing software yet, so you'll have to enjoy the birds chirping and the wind blowing before Devon comes on screen).

Compare the weave performance above to what I was seeing just a month ago ... well, there is no comparison! She knows what she's doing now!

Now that Devon knows her job in the weaves, I believe the next time we trial our performance will be as good as it was above with jumping and handling and with great weave poles!

Field work: those darned overs

We've done field training three times this week. On Thursday, we did a T drill at a local soccer field. I stretched Devon out to 80 yards for the back pile and 40 yards on center for the side piles. On the one side (left over) the field went up a hill about 2 feet to a road. I didn't think it would be a problem for the side pile to be there; in fact I thought it would help Devon see the pile. I was wrong.

Devon's back piles and handling to them was lovely. Her whistle sits were also nice. She did well on the right over pile, but she struggled with that left over pile. I can only think it was the height. Devon also bows into me on her overs. Between bowing into me and the height, she didn't see the pile. I identified the pile and she got it. Then I sent her right back to it without an ID and she missed it. 

After 23 bumpers, I let it go with her getting in when it was identified for her. I was frustrated; not at Devon, but that I set her up to fail. Devon's T drill last week had been flawless, and I had not anticipated her struggling. 

On Friday, I set four bumpers at a permanent blind we used last fall. I have not run any lining drills with her this spring, so it may not have been fair for me to run this with her. The good news is she handled back to the permanent blind! The first time she one whistled it, and the next two times it was two whistles (with overs each time). I think she finally lined it on the forth try. Guess we need to do some lining drills!

Today, I went to a different location to see if we could get more luck on that T drill. I set the back pile at 80 yards, with the side piles at 30 yards on center. However, Devon wasn't comfortable in this location. I'm not sure if there were deer in the adjacent field or she was air scenting dogs at a nearby house. There was a loose tarp on some equipment (we were on the football practice field for a local school) that kept flapping in the wind. There was a weather front that was due to come through today, and the wind was just starting to kick up.

So my hopes of a better day didn't start well. Devon did her job, but she wasn't as upbeat as usual. I did get her spirits up and got her moving as we went through the work. I identified the left over pile for her and she did well. I sent her back and she repeated it nicely. I sent her to the right over pile and she did well. However, later when I thought I'd give her an easy over to the right, she came in on me. Since she failed, she didn't like that at all and then stopped sitting on her whistle. She did go back to the right pile without an ID, but I walked with her nearly the whole way.

We managed to hack through the drill with about 20 bumpers. Because we're also working the back pile at least once and sometimes three times between each over pile she's getting a lot of bumpers. Her right and left back look fantastic and the 80 yard distance doesn't seem to bother her.

I'm going to give her a break from field tomorrow, then do some lining drills on our next day of field work. The next time we work handling, I'm going to put the overs back in isolation. Isolating and working on the problem skill is what I would normally do in training, and I think the failures with the over piles are affecting her confidence on the rest of the work (sits and back piles). I'm also going to do some research in my training guides to find another drill that might help with this over issue.

VST practice this week

We worked two VST practice tracks this week. The first was on Wednesday, and it's pictured here. I was interested how Devon would run this track, because it had been lightly raining that morning. Everything was wet, with puddles on the pavement. I didn't use extra scent, but I did use chalk. 

The track was 505 yards long with 315 yards of non-veg (63%). It was aged 3 hours and 20 minutes. By the time we ran the track, it was sunny and the pavement had dried except for a few puddles. It was 59 degrees with 62% humidity. The wind was from the southwest at 16 mph.

Devon started well, but she wanted to go down to the little ditch that ran parallel to the start. I know ducks lurk down there. She struggled to make the first turn, but after that ran the track well. She did very well into the curb. I had a nice article reward ready for her, but someone took it. This was a church, and I figured an article near the front would be risky. She did well with her first MOT turn, but I was holding her out of the flowerbeds. They'd been newly mulched, and there were people coming in and out of the building, so I didn't want them to see her tromping around in the flowerbeds.

She did the straight line up the middle of the parking lot very well and worked well across the islands and back out to the parking lot. She really struggled with the next MOT turn. I rescented her twice and let her drink, but she continued to circle. I thought this was an easy tur,n because I laid it on a crack. I finally pointed it out to her and once I did she was off in the correct direction. The wind could have been a factor here since we were out in an open parking lot with a large hill up to the road beside us. I'm not really sure why she struggled, but this is a guess.

As we approached her next MOT turn, I realized we'd missed an article after the last turn. It was a white switch cover plate placed on a white line. She's found this before several times, but that time we both missed it. 

Devon cut the corner on the next MOT turn, but she found the next leg easily so I followed. She ended the track well and found her piece of leather even though it was hidden. There were mostly good things about that track, and I thought it was a successful day.

Friday's Track
I've decided Devon likes to track for an audience! On Friday, Devon ran a 633 yard track with 320 yards of non-veg (51%). It was aged almost 4 hours, and it was cloudy and 58 degrees with 44% humidity when we ran it. The wind was light from the east. This track was mostly transition work and curb work. Kathy from Agile Gold wanted to see Devon track, and since she was coming to work on the agility equipment, we did some tracking, too. 

I was a little worried this track would be tough for Devon. I didn't lay any extra scent, but I did use a little more chalk on the non-veg than I usually do. Usually I just mark turns and transitions. Apparently I'm going to have start begging people to come tracking with us. Devon knew she had an audience (it's quality, not quantity), and she worked like a dream! I guess this means tests won't be a problem!

The only thing she did "wrong" was again miss that white light switch plate on a white paint line. I'm really shocked she missed it twice in a row. I held her thinking she'd find it, because I thought she had smelled it; but she didn't and I finally pointed it out to her.

I have to give it to churches; they do a great job of picking up "trash" on the grounds. I lost another article at this church. It was a plastic lid. Since most of the area schools are on spring break this week, I'm headed to schools to track! At least I won't lose my articles!

All of Devon's transition work was great; I gave her angles as well as straight transitions and she handled it fine. She also work a corner up against a building nicely too. Overall it was another good tracking week!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"HEY! That's my tail!"

Connor and Devon at 10 weeks. This is one of my favorite puppy photos of Devon. Connor is really good with puppies.

A good attitude leads to success

Last night we went to the kennel club for agility class. I got there early so Devon and I could practice obedience in the practice ring before the class I help with. Devon did a great job. She was prancing in her heeling and really having fun. I switched treats last night and used small pieces of string cheeset, and she really loved it. 

Since things were going so well, I decided to ask Devon to "smack" the wall (this is an intermediate step in teaching a go-out). She has really struggled to foot touch things, and I finally realized why last night. I believe this goes back to the very first time she put her foot on the teeter board (low) and it moved and banged. That really frightened her, and she doesn't like to foot touch anything that might move. The wall has been hard when she sees my shadow moving on it.

But now, Devon has figured out the foot smack on the wall. In fact, she climbs up the wall with her front feet she's so proud of herself. I was sending her to the wall and she was climbing up it and I was giggling at her. She just thought she was so funny to make me laugh, I'm not sure she really needed any treats. 

She "smacked" several walls and then we called it a session. She went into a crate while I helped with the intermediate agility class. An hour later she came out and did her novice agility class. The first thing we worked on was a sequence involving the weaves. It was jump, chute, 12 weaves. I was sure she could do it and she did! She flew through those weaves to a big reward. Everyone was proud of her since they knew we'd been struggling with weaves.

We repeated the sequence, this time with a rear cross at the weaves. Devon handled this just fine, but she popped out at 10 when I got too far ahead of her. I told her she was silly and she must do all 12 poles, and we repeated them with the rear cross. This time she was successful. She was strong all the way through all three times at the poles and just looked fantastic.

The rest of the class went really well for Devon. She never hesitated at the teeter which was surprising since she had trouble with it the previous two weeks. This was my first clue that being successful was leading to more confidence to be successful. 

Toward the end of class we were sitting in the observation area while the 24 inch dogs were sequencing. I had asked Devon to lay down and relax, but she kept getting up. Finally, I realized she was "shaping" me to be responsible for her position. I decided to turn the tables on her. I just looked at her and waited her out, and pretty soon she realized she was supposed to lay down and that would earn her a treat. 

Well, Devon has this shaping thing well in mind. Hummm, if I offer more behaviors, I might get more treats. She backed up, and I ignored it. She got up and went to the back of the metal chair I was sitting in. As I turned my head out of the corner of my eye I saw her foot touch the chair. I started smiling! She wanted that cheese in my pocket so badly, she was giving me her toughest shaping behavior! 

I asked her what she was doing, and she heard the smile in my voice. She gave me a foot touch of the chair, and I gave her cheese! Then I decided if she was still going strong after 45 minutes of agility class, we'd see what she could really do. I got the clicker and more cheese (this got her attention), and I went to the ring gates near the practice ring. It was quiet over here and I knew I could shape her. 

She gave me a nose touch of the ring gates and got thing. Then she reached forward and smacked her foot on the ground below the ring gates. That earned her a piece of cheese. A second foot smack just under the gates earned her another piece of cheese; but then I upped the requirement. The next foot smack on the ground didn't get her anything. Hummmmm ... and the foot went out and barely tapped the gates - jackpot! She gave me several more foot touches of the ring gates, and I laughed and gave her cheese and told her how brilliant she was on each one. What a girl!

Last night reminded me that you can either spiral up with your dog or down. If you're in a rotten mood, the training session tends to go badly and everything starts to spiral to the bad. Last night, I just enjoyed my dog. I had fun training and she made me laugh. This set the mood for the whole evening. It led to our confidence and success in the weaves and on the teeter, and eventually to the success of the foot touch of the ring gates.

Attitude is everything, and you must have a positive outlook on each and every training session. You choose your attitude. I heard in a sermon one time about a man who said he didn't think he loved his wife anymore. A counselor told him every day to do something for his wife as if they were newlyweds and act like he was in love with her again. This man brought home flowers for her, did chores around the house, spent time listening to her, etc. After a couple of weeks, his attitude changed and he fell in love with his wife again. His attitude and feelings followed his actions even if his heart wasn't in it at first.

This story has stuck with me, because I think it is a good parallel to our training. Do I always want to train? Not really. But if I act out a positive attitude in my training session, my session will be successful and positive - and fun. If I continue to tell my dog he or she is brilliant and smart, the dog will act that way. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fun and games for a Monday

After a weekend of tracking, Devon did something different today. I headed down to Pawsitive Energy to work with a teenager on his tracking project for school. Ruth was kind enough to let me use her building and grounds for a little training time for me, before we worked on the tracking project.

My goal for Devon today was to give her weaves in sequence in a new building. Devon did fantastic! She drove to the weaves every time I asked for them. She easily nailed the low challenge entries and some higher challenge entries. She was very distracted in the building with the dirt and with Ruth moving around in other parts of the building. This was fantastic distraction practice for her! After being firm with her that she had to come back and work with me, she did and the distraction issues were less.

The only entry that gave Devon problems was a high challenge left entry where she came into the weaves at almost a 90 degree angle to the first pole. I worked on back-chaining it, and she was finally successful over one jump to the weaves. If I added a tunnel before the jump she was not.

I gave her a short break and reset the poles to a new location. I then asked for three more entries with new sequences. These were successful, so we stopped and threw bumpers for a reward.

Devon really knows her job and she's driving to get there. When she made a mistake, she was a little slow to come back. I think she wanted to work it out right there at the poles. But once she came back to me and I refocused her, she drove just has hard to the poles again for another try. I really liked this work ethic.

I have full confidence with her on low challenge entries, so I'm looking forward to working her in class tomorrow night. High challenge entries continue to be tough, and we'll just work through those to get them better. Weaves and contact skills will likely have to be in weekly maintenance for her entire career. 

After we were done training, Zina and Devon got to retrieve bumpers from a bumper launcher. Devon thought this was great fun and this launcher got them farther than any winger could! After her work earlier, we only gave her two long retrieves. She searched long and hard for that bumper, so she slept very well on the way home and is now snoring on the day bed. 

"I had fun. I don't know what I was doing, but it was fun!"

I think this is Ian's motto for life. I have to credit Janet Ripley for this one, but she is so right after watching Ian track on Sunday. Steve and Janet were wonderful to lay two TD-type tracks for Ian and follow along behind us to help me read him. 

Janet laid the first track which was a U-shaped track of right turns. It was aged 20-30 minutes. Ian's nose was down more than it had been last week. He was also showing the "track for 5 yards and then get distracted" behavior he showed last week. 

As we were completing that track, Steve laid a second U-shaped track of left turns. On both tracks Ian "hit a wall" after the second turn and really lost focus. He started stronger on the second, fresher track; but he still didn't track very long with his nose down before wandering off.

The conclusion by all is that he really doesn't get the game yet. He is having a lot of fun, and he wants to do it. He just isn't really sure WHAT it is he's supposed to be doing! And he was enjoying himself so much, he really didn't care too much that he had two people following him. Of course, his barking and growling don't phase Steve and Janet, which confuses him all the more!

We also had another great discussion about teaching older dogs who have been competitive in other sports the game of tracking. All the other games we play surround me telling the dog what to do. The only two games Ian has every played are agility and rally. Both require him to absolutely focus on me and do what I ask. 

Tracking is the opposite. I need to rely on Ian to tell me where the track is and pull me through it - especially on a blind track. Often this training issue is solved by having someone else handle the dog through the teaching stage and then returning the dog to the original handler after the dog understands the game. We discussed this with Connor who has this problem, too (Connor's second problem is the lack of drive to push through a test). However Ian isn't a dog who can work for anyone else.

So, I guess Ian and I have work to do. We'll be running fresh tracks that aren't too long to get him to understand the game. The good news is just like agility, he really likes this fun new game ... he's just not quite sure what it is he's having fun doing! Sigh, I do love this dog!

Sunday's VST tracks

Archie and Devon did VST tracks again on Sunday. Steve gave me a huge challenge - lay him and Archie a blind track. For the record: when a tracking judge asks you to lay a blind track for him and his dog, it is a little intimidating! But as I've said before, he hasn't fired me yet, and I remember one track last summer that would have done it!

The first track pictured is Archie's blind track. It was of legal length (627 yards) and had 57% non-veg and was more than 3 hours old when Archie ran it. It didn't have an MOT turn and my long 2nd and 3rd legs were too close together (they were closer than 50 yards). 

Archie once again covered my tracklaying faults by running this track to perfection! I wish I had this on video, because it was text book tracking on Archie's part and great handling on Steve's part. Steve says when you can run three tracks equivalent to a test, you should enter. I'd say Archie just ran his first on Sunday!

Devon's track is the second track pictured here. It was 464 yards long with 53% non-veg and it was aged about 3.5-4 hours. This was also a fun track, and Devon did a nice job on it. It had minimal chalk (I know my time is coming for a blind track since Terrie and Steve have already gone there); and I don't believe it had any finger touches (Steve can correct me if I'm wrong). 

The start was along some very high mounds with the scent drifting off both sides. Halfway along the first leg, the mounds went into a valley which would also hold scent. Devon handled this very well; however we were high and along a major Interstate as it joined into the Outerbelt. Even on a Sunday afternoon there was heavy traffic. Devon stopped and just stared at the cars zipping by; she had never seen traffic this fast or heavy. After examining it, she got back to work and even tracked past two leather gloves that were not her own saying, "Not mine!" 

Devon worked nicely onto the parking lot. Her track was along paint lines. She worked well and found her metal article easily. I knew by her body poster and behavior there was an article on the other side of that light post even before she found it. She also handled her MOT turn well.

The track then went onto a sidewalk, and Steve warned me to hold her away from working left due to some broken safety glass. Devon handled this restriction quite well and quickly committed to the right. Up and over a driveway and the track went along a grassy area before we got to what would be Devon's greatest challenge.

While most people think MOT turns are the hardest tracking challenge, for Devon the hardest challenge just might be goose poop. According to Devon, these tasty morsels are high energy snacks that must be consumed by tracking dogs. As Devon came onto the pavement again and into the curb, it edged a fountain with a pond ... and geese ... and goose poop ... lots of it. 

Devon really did a good job at first not snacking. I let her explore the track down to the water, and she respected the "leave it" commands. As we came around the fountain she found her plastic article. She worked forward and briefly inspected a drainage way down to the fountain which contained some kind of dead furry beast that she didn't investigate (thank goodness). 

Then it was across the drive to the sidewalk, and this is where her will power broke down. Goose poop heaven and she snacked. She was able to work up to the next turn, and as soon as she went left away from the goose poop I followed! I agreed with Steve that even in a test I would have followed her on that just to get her away from snacking! This was shades of her first turn on her TD test track where I wanted to go anywhere other than the deer trail to more deer poop which is where she wanted to go.

Devon worked the last few yards to the end article, a leather wallet, very quickly. She got lots of praise and the wallet was extracted carefully as it needed a little clean up after Devon's snacking. I was glad Janet was in a pick up vehicle (and actually allowed Devon in it after the snacking) so we didn't have to walk all the way back to the van. Devon did a very nice job with this track and again showed she is really understanding the game. 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fun VST track

Today I met Terrie, Steve and Janet and we worked VST tracks. It was another clear, sunny day that was cool. Terrie put in a really nice track for Devon. This track was 520 yards long with 314 yards of non-veg (60%). There were several MOT turns. 

I tried very had not to find the chalk but read my dog. I'm always so focused on knowing where I'm going, and this time I tried very hard to let my dog tell me. Devon started strong and worked her first transition for several minutes. I could see the chalk and she knew where we were going, it was just a matter of convincing herself. 

On the map with this post, the blue line is the track, with the red being the non-veg. You'll see in the first parking area, the red line is not with the blue line at all; the red line is the line Devon actually took. Because of the wind and the slight slope of the parking area, the scent pooled against the curb and that's what Devon scented. 

Although it's hard to tell, there was a steep drop along a concrete wall to water below. Devon also put her feet down there and considered making her way down the slope to the water. I know the scent spilled over and down to the water, but I knew Terrie didn't go down there! I'm glad Devon decided the same thing. 

She hesitated only briefly before following the track across the pedestrian bridge over the water and down the steps. I think this was remarkable for Devon given her difficulty in her TDX on the dam along the water. This one person wide bridge was a challenge. She searched at the base of the steps and again back toward the water (with a well timed "leave it" for goose poop) before committing out into the parking lot. She got a nice reward for this commitment by finding her metal article!

We tracked on and Devon handled the MOT turn very well before transitioning back into the grass. What you cannot tell on the map was that there was again a hill down to water. This time Devon stayed on the top of the hill where the track was for quite a while before venturing down to the water. She crittered a little at the base of one tree but then got back to work. 

I was especially pleased I didn't have to use the "leave it" command very often on the goose poop. Devon was wanting to work, and she was working confidently. She worked up to the building, across a small seating area with a quick sniff of the flowers in the planters (there was evidence of a squirrel, so I'm thinking she was really sniffing for it) and then along the building in the shade. She came around the building and found the plastic article.

After finding this article, she followed the track through several transitions: 1) away from the building on grass, 2) from shade into sun (which Steve reminded us last week was a transition), and 3) finally onto pavement. She worked this area for a long time before committing to the pavement right at the chalk mark. 

She then rushed across the drive and indicated the scent went onto large rocks that led to a ravine with water. I was pretty sure no tracklayer would go there. When I saw the faint chalk mark on the drive, I was sure. 

Devon worked this area for a while and became unfocused. We used the excuse of a vehicle leaving to get her back in the grass, watered and rescented. This did the trick, and she tracked back out onto the pavement much stronger. She went across a bridge and fringed right some, especially when she saw a "jogger" on a cell phone. When she first saw him she thought about approaching him. I think if he would have spoken to her she would have. But she did go back to work which I was pleased with.

She tracked strong until she got to the next building and worked the curb. She had a hard time staying in the curb and wanted to work up along the building on the sidewalk and even the grass and mulch up against the building. I worked to hold her, but she was pulling very hard. We wondered if the scent was pulling up against the building through here or if the scent was wrapping around the building from the front.

Devon tracked around the front of this building; and in spite of the reappearance of the jogger, she was strong to the glove. I was extremely pleased with this track. Devon showed a lot more confidence in her job than even a week ago. I appreciated Steve's guidance on when to go with her and when to let her search and when to hold her in. Terrie's questions many times mirrored my own thoughts, so the discussions we had on the track were invaluable to me. 

Terrie ran a blind track Steve set for her in a nearby office complex. It was really great to now be behind the tracking team wondering the same things I did when I was on the line! Terrie and Sage did a great job (they are way more brave than I am at this point). 

It's also very interesting to contrast the tracking styles of Sage, Archie and Devon. On Archie's track, he comes up with loss of scent just about the time Steve said he would. Devon doesn't work that wide of an area. But Terrie must work a lot harder with Sage when she loses scent. Sage tends to work out versus in, likely because of the way the Weims and Godlens differ in their field work. 

It's really rewarding when hard work in training pays off, and I felt like this is what happened today for all three teams. I think I'm getting to be a better tracklayer (Steve and Terrie haven't fired me yet), and I know I'm becoming a better handler! Best of all Devon showed great confidence in her job today.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Welcome Spring!

Today was the first day of Spring! We had a beautiful day here in central Indiana. The sky was clear and blue, but the temps were a little chilly. There was frost on the deck and in the yard when I took the dogs out for the first time this morning. I had a brisk walk into the church for exercise class. I even wore a coat and gloves to start out Devon's first weave session. The coat came off early in the session, but the gloves stayed on! I'm just glad we didn't have snow like they did in NYC and many other places on the East Coast!

So on this first day of Spring, it was only appropriate that the agility equipment sprouted up in the back lot. Well, sprouting sounds like there was little effort, which isn't true. Thanks to my Dad who was a willing helper this afternoon, we got the equipment out of the building and all the contacts put together. I was impressed it only took us an hour to get this done! 

Connor and Devon supervised and helped by cleaning rabbit poop out of the lot. Connor also assisted by being the first dog over all the contact equipment for the year. After I secured the bracing under the dogwalk so it didn't move as much, Devon took her first tour of the contacts for the year. It only took her a couple of times to get the hang of the teeter again. I see more teeter work in her future!

After exercise class this morning, working the dogs this afternoon and moving the equipment outside, I decided I could set up sequences tomorrow! I'm a little sore this evening ... nothing a little ice cream and strawberries and an early bedtime won't cure!

Happy Spring!

Today's weave training and other adventures

Devon discovered exactly what happens when she shows too much energy in the morning - she gets to go work! I got home from my exercise class and Devon was wound. A great time to get in a weave session before training later this afternoon! So out to the agility yard we went.

I put two sets of 2 poles first, then a set of 6 then the last set of 2 poles. This was a little tricky since the bases are quite different. I angled the first base so the first two poles were easier for Devon. I wanted to work those tough right entrances. 

Devon was ready to go and she nailed the first attempt from a low challenge area very well. As we moved down the entry arc to the higher challenge entries, Devon started occasionally entering with the first pole on the right. Just when she got the entry correct, she'd pop out at pole 10. I couldn't reward that! 

I'm sure the reason she popped out here was the difference in the weave bases since she hasn't shown this behavior before. After this happened the second time, I removed the 6 pole base and just worked these tough weave entrances on three sets of 2 pole bases. There was no reason to fight two battles, and what I wanted to work on was her entrances! Although I totally believe in teaching the dogs on 12 poles and moving to 12 poles as soon as possible, I see no reason to work 12 poles if you're having an entry problem. As this session demonstrated, there are other problems that crop up on 12 poles, so why battle two separate issues and end up not being able to reward at all?

OK, off my soap box and back to her session. Devon worked very hard on these right hand entrances. She was close to an 80% success rate, and she was able to get an 8:30 entrance (if the first pole was in the middle of the clock and the poles ran to 12) successfully. Although she didn't want to come back to me very quickly when she failed, she was pulling to get back to the poles and try again. I was really pleased with her work ethic.

This afternoon, I headed to the kennel club for members' training. I was able to have the building to myself since I went so early. A full 1.5 hours to work all three dogs in that building is priceless to me; well worth the price of the membership! 

I decided to work Devon on the 12 poles for the first time in this building. Based on her success on Tuesday with 6 poles and her success yesterday on 12, I was sure she could do it. I first asked for the weaves alone, and she was strong and confident on 12 poles. Then I asked for one jump to the weaves. It was a right hand entrance on the edge between a low challenge and moving into the high challenge. She missed the second attempt but came back strong.

Next I back chained two jumps to the weaves. Devon was very successful, so I asked her to take one jump after the weaves before her reward. Next I asked for a three jump pinwheel before entering the weaves with a low challenge left entry. Success! Then I turned the pinwheel around so she had a high challenge left entry; again we had success! Finally, I worked the first two jumps again to the weaves, but ran it on the left and then with a rear cross; these were also successful, including when I front crossed coming out of the weaves. 

To end the session, I did a sequence with two jumps to the weaves, front cross at the end of the poles (and I purposely front crossed early so she'd see my rotation while she was in the poles), pinwheel to the teeter and three jumps back out. Her weaves were perfect. I could not have been more pleased with her success on these sequences! 

She also worked through her teeter issue and was very strong working it today. In fact, she kept volunteering the teeter and I had a hard time getting her back to working other equipment! After a short break where I worked Ian and then let Connor have some fun, Devon came back out to work another set of sequences which included the A frame and dogwalk

I set a nice flowing course that included a "backy-uppy" out of the tunnel over a jump before racing to the A frame. I worked the backy-uppy separately, which was no problem for Devon with her one-jump, recall to heel foundation (Ian had a little more work to do before he read it). Then I back chained it with the tunnel before having Devon do the sequence leading up to the backy-uppy. I rewarded her and then put it all together. 

Devon handled this section equally well, and she stuck all her contacts. She had a very successful agility training session. I gave her another break and then worked on some obedience in the small training ring. She did a lovely job heeling and working fronts. It's nice to have mirrors to see her progress! 

And not to leave Ian out. He also had a great agility session. It's incredible how much faster he is when there's no one around. He's a different dog! He was moving so fast, I was running as hard as I could to keep up with him. It was such fun to let loose and really work him. At this point, I was very glad for my exercise class that I've been taking for a month. The muscle tone and flexibility I've gained saved me today.

Connor also had his big adventure today. I took him out on the floor with me as I was resetting bars from 24 back down to 20 for Devon. Just like last week when I let him into the barn at Pawsitive Energy, he ran around like a crazy puppy. He wagged and ran. In fact, once he jumped over a bar still set at 24 inches. He still has beautiful jumping form. He sailed through a tunnel and up the A frame all on his own, but he put on the brakes when he saw the 24 inch double. He looked back at me as if to say, "Hey mom, can you get over here and fix this? It broke my flow!" Funny how being 9 years old suddenly makes the yellow contact zone on the A frame more appealing! 

The only down side of our training session came when Devon had an accident before she started her second agility session. She likes to "boing" or jump straight in the air from a stand when she's excited. It looks something like what an Aussie or Border Collie would do, and she jumps so high she can look you in the eye or give you a kiss on the cheek (and I'm 5'6"). 

Devon was so excited to come out of the crate the second time to work (after watching both her brothers work), that she was boinging. On the third jump, she hit a table behind her with her behind, about three inches below her tail. Luckily her tail was tucked or it would have been very bad; however it was bad all the same. When she landed, her legs crumpled under her and she landed pretty hard. She kept her tail tucked when she got up and you could tell it hurt. I let her walk it out and moved her to the padded agility flooring and walked her out to make sure she didn't have an injury. As she moved, she recovered and actually volunteered obstacles, so I continued training. 

Tonight she got a traumeel, because I'm sure she's sore. I'm going to walk her out and stretch her very good before we do any training tomorrow. I'm sure there's another appointment with Dr. Bonnie in her future! She's exhausted after two good agility sessions and "helping" this afternoon with equipment. As usual, I'm sure she'll sleep well tonight. She deserves it after the great training day she had.

We have weaves, but what happened to the teeter?

Well, yesterday's agility class had highs and lows. I have been reminded what Mitch says about field work. When you're putting pressure on one thing, other things suffer (like when you're doing pile work, marking suffers). I wouldn't say the weave work has been "pressure" but it has been our focus during the last two weeks. Maybe that's why I've seen some contact issues crop up, which have been problems for Devon in the past.

I worked entries in a smaller area next to the ring. I worked on 6 poles only and used a jump. The area was narrow, so it wasn't ideal. Luckily, there were only four dogs in the class, so on the second sequence, I used my floor time to try 12 weaves. 

Devon's first attempt was from a low challenge entry area with no obstacles before it. She went into the first pole, then walked away from the weaves just as she did Tuesday night at her other class. I called her back and asked her for the weaves again, and she did all 12 perfectly! Big reward and praise. 

Next, I asked for a low challenge entry with a jump before the weaves. This was a right side entry, but it was very low challenge. She was perfect to lots of praise! The third attempt was from a tunnel to the weaves with a high challenge right entry, again we had perfect success! Finally, I asked for a table much closer to the weaves and in a high challenge left side location. Again, she was perfect, and I even had to layer a post with a bucket of table legs next to it! 

After this last attempt, Devon got to go tell Liz all about how brilliant she was. Liz was very pleased with her work, and said Devon clearly understood how to tuck her butt and get herself into that second pole - something she didn't understand before. I was just thrilled that feedback!

However, my joy was short lived. On our last sequence of the day, she refused the teeter. She bailed off multiple times. This teeter was new to this location last week, but it is the same brand of teeter I have here at home. She has successfully gone over this teeter several times and had even gone over it earlier that day. However, she bailed off about 6 times no matter which side I was on. I got her leash on her, and we were finally successful. I got a second success right in a row and then we called it quits! 

Obviously I can't wait to get my equipment out of the building and in the back lot today. We have some contact work to do! I'm sure Devon is just "out of balance" with all the weave work we've been doing. My plan is to get that balance back now that the weather is cooperating.

Mini T drill

Devon and I finally broke out the bumpers yesterday - it must be almost spring! I set a mini-T on a soccer field. The back pile was 60 yards and the side piles were 30 yards on center. Devon must have been looking forward to spring and field work, because she looked incredible. She nailed every sit whistle, and she only blew one cast in 12. I was able to re-sit her about 15 yards from the back pile and get her to take the correct cast. 

Over piles had been Devon's weakness, and she was weaker to one side than the other. I can never remember until we're training which is her weak side. I think it is her right, so I asked her for that one first. I identified the pile for her with a hand thrown bumper after I sat her, but I think she'd already seen it. She went straight for the pile and didn't banana in toward me as she had been doing. She was equally strong on her left overs, so I really can't say one was better than the other!

It was a very successful session with Devon running out faster and stronger each time. Since it had been so successful, I stopped with 12 bumpers total. Devon retrieved fun bumpers as I cleaned up the field. I think next time I'll push the back pile out to 80 yards and see what we have!

Tracking Ian: how one robin can change your plan

I had a lovely turn track set for Ian yesterday. It was in a new field for him. It was 70 yards to a right turn with one food drop and a glove at 15 yards past the turn; 40 yards to a left turn with one food drop and a glove at 20 yards past the turn; 125 yards to a right turn with no food drop but a glove at 15 yards then 80 yards to the final glove. It was cool and sunny, and I aged the track 55 minutes before we ran it.

As always, Ian was ready to go track. He started strong but then got distracted by scents other than his track. He peed; he pooped; he kicked up grass with all four feet (at this point I informed him there were NO pretty girls in the area to think he was studly); he peed again - all this within the first 60 yards! I was so proud...

I'd say the turn wasn't spectacular, but he did pull nicely around the corner. He got a little more focused on the second leg (hey, it was only 40 yards). He turned a little early, likely because he scented the food drop. He found this one and tracked to the glove. Then it happened ... he saw the robin.

I don't know why this dog is so obsessed with birds! I know they herd geese, but this boy is just obsessed with birds of any kind. He stood watching this robin finding worms and eating breakfast. Now, I love to be outside with my dogs tracking. I like the peace and the quiet and the nature. But I was not nearly as interested in the dietary habits of robins as Ian was - I wanted to track. I will say, Ian was absolutely beautiful as he posed there ears up and stacked watching this robin. That did make the hour long groom session the night before worth it.

Finally, it was clear I'd been taken down by this robin. I decided to let Ian go check out this bird or we would never get anywhere. Of course, when a big black furry beast came his way, the robin took off. You would think now that Ian couldn't see the blasted bird, it would be over and we'd get back to work. Well, if you thought that, you don't know Belgians.

Now that Ian could no longer see the robin, he wanted to know where it went and what was down that big hill it flew over. Maybe the robin was just on the other side of the hill and he could go watch it some more. Needless to say, there was nothing remarkable about the 125 yards of the third leg of Ian's track other than my blood pressure raising higher than it should and several threats on Ian's life.

I finally got Ian refocused about 15 yards before his last turn. Since this one had no food drop and Ian had been very distracted, I wasn't sure what he'd do. He did search more for this turn, but did come up with the correct direction and get the glove reward at the turn. He tracked on to the final glove, and to his credit wanted to continue the game. The great thing about Ian is he's not bright enough to take my threats on his life seriously. He knows I love him and won't give him away no matter how much I threaten (trust me, he's tested this to the max in his agility career).

This was one of those days I considered hanging up Ian's tracking harness. I figured I'd give it a few days so I could get some perspective, and even 24 hours later I feel better. He's going to take a lot of work to get him to understand the game. The good thing is he likes to do it. I think I'll give him 2 days off between each tracking day to make him enjoy the task more. Besides, I might need that much recovery time between each session!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

2x2 training day 10

Well, today got away from me a little. A cold front come in early before we got any 2x2 work done. We were able to sneak out between thunderstorms and in a few sprinkles to do one session. 

I set the jump up and did 12 poles. Devon nailed the weaves with really nice drive. She was excited to work and flew to the poles. She did some difficult left entries, but when we moved to the high challenge right entries, she broke down and started entering on the wrong side again. I finally got a few successes and stopped. 

Devon is weaving out all 12 poles with only a very few exceptions. She does know her job. I know it's demotivating to her when she hits these problem entries because she does lose drive. The good news is she continues to try.

Tomorrow I'm going to set up the 2 pole bases as the first 2 sets, then the solid 6 and then another set 2 on the end. I'll start the session with the first two sets of 2 poles open and work those difficult right entries. I may spend the whole session on working those right entries; I want to give her confidence on this side so she will weave equally on both sides.

Wordless Wednesday

Tracking Ian: today's adventure in turns

Ian continually surprises me with his desire to track. He was once again a spinning, whining, blur of black fur when he came out of the van to track. His track was 270 yards total, with three turns. His first two legs were 50 yards, his third leg was 100 yards and the final let was 70 yards. I gave him three food drops every three steps after each turn and a glove at 15 yards. The track was aged 50 minutes.

Ian tracked strong off the start. He doesn't totally have the idea to pull me, and this may be because pulling me has always been wrong for him. I also noticed that when I stopped when he was off the track, he stops too. This was the first time I've noticed this, and it might be the source of the repeatable stalling out problem I've had on the turns. I decided to play with this a little as we tracked. 

Ian got the first turn beautifully because of the food drops. His head went right down on the first one, and the next one led him onto the new leg. He was very excited about the article. He indicated it then tracked on, not caring about the extra cookies in the glove. 

On the second leg he tracked stronger. He came up with a loss of scent indication just before the turn, which was likely due to the wind direction. The food drops were again helpful to pull him onto the correct leg. His article indication was just like the previous turn. 

On the third leg, I experimented with something in my handling to help his "stall outs." When he went off track, instead of stopping I continued to move my feet but I moved them "in place" so I wasn't actually moving forward. This sound of footsteps was enough to give him the confidence I was back there and still coming, but it didn't continue to push him forward further off the track. It worked like a charm! He realized he was off track and came back to it, but he wasn't worried I'd somehow left him alone in the field (God forbid). 

I continued handling this way and he tracked this long leg nearly flawlessly. He actually gave me loss of scent indication and turned on the new leg before I realized he was on the turn. Unfortunately he also started tracking with his eyes, looking for the glove. He spotted it, after also spotting a couple of leaves that could also be articles. 

Ian's interested in the articles and realizes they are part of the game, but he'd rather track than get the cookies. I like this reaction, and it's much like Devon was when she was learning the game. She could have cared less about the food, because she was having so much fun tracking. 

Ian found his last glove and I gave him the cookies out of this one to show we were ending the game. He still tried to continue tracking until he realized he had a handful of treats! After we emptied the glove, I asked if he wanted it back. He played tug and then shook it to "kill" it. Finally, just like the Goldens, he carried his prize nearly all the way back to the van. I kept asking him if he was a retriever!

I am very pleased with what I'm seeing out of Ian. On our next track I'll try to diminish the food drops at the turns. Mostly, I'm glad Ian has found a sport he enjoys so much! 

Today's VST track

I laid a fairly motivational VST track for Devon today. I gave her some challenges, but I wanted to set her up for success after her tough MOT track on Monday. I also laid a lot of articles hidden along the non-veg. The articles were suggested by Steve to blend into the non-veg. I was interested to see if we could find things to "hide" on her.

The track was approximately 356 yards long with 147 yards of non-veg. Today our non-veg was not only blacktop and concrete (parking lot and sidewalks), but also mulch islands and gravel dividers between the parking areas. It was in the mid-50s when we ran this track and it was aged 3.5 hours. The day was sunny.

The track started with about 100 yards of lush grass with a pond on one side and a parking lot on the other. Devon started very strong. I brought her in almost directly on the track at the start. However, when it came time to turn onto the parking lot, she again acted like she didn't want to go. I think this is a bit of avoidance from the "pressure" of tracking non-veg. This is exactly why I wanted to give her a fairly motivational track today.

I held my ground and let her work through it with only a little water and a re-scent. She eventually committed to the parking lot after putting her nose right on the extra scent I left. When she committed she trotted purposefully out. 

The track angled across the parking lot. Angles are difficult for dogs. Devon committed to the angle, but when the track cut diagonally across a set of mulched, curbless islands with a thin strip of pavement between them, she allowed the islands to push her off the track. At this point, I got a little disoriented and wasn't 100% sure where the track was. I let Devon lead me, and she came back to where I thought we left the track. Once I got myself oriented again, I realized she was investigating the exact area where the track went over the set of islands. She worked through it and located the black foam article I had placed in the mulch. She was really proud of herself and so was I!

Devon headed out with more confidence after this article find. She angled across the next section of parking lot to the gravel divider and worked the gravel finding her metal article. After praise, she again set off across the parking lot. 

During these sections of parking lot, I paused if she acted like she was searching, but I went forward when I felt "tracking tension" on the line. About three different times, I saw her glance back over her shoulder to see if I was coming. I got concerned that I was pushing or guiding her, but I don't think I was. I know I only moved forward when she gave me tension, and that "tracking tension" is a different feel than pulling on the line when she just wants to go sniff something. I think she was looking for confidence and reassurance when she glanced back at me - this stuff is hard!

Devon found her black leather article on the edge of another curbless island, then went across a drive before a big section of grass. She spent some time on the grassy turn and really pulled me toward the building. I held my ground, because it was clear by her behavior she knew the track wasn't over there. She finally came back to work.

Entering the next section of parking lot was much easier for her. She worked the curb at the sidewalk and along an island into the parking lot for a few minutes, and then set off across the parking lot. I again used the tension on my line to tell me she was tracking. She worked this straight line across the parking lot very quickly, and then pulled me into the grass. She was on a mission once she was in the grass, as if she knew the end article was coming soon. She was right and we had a big party!

Devon did a very nice job on this track, and I feel like I know her tracking style a little better now. We're working through some tough stuff, and I'm really proud of her.

2x2 training day 9, evening sessions

I took advantage of some extra time yesterday afternoon and gave Devon a few more attempts at the 12 poles. I added a jump, and she did fairly well. We had a series of misses on the right entry which we successfully worked through. This was her first session where she was not 80%. 

It was hot and the dogs need time to adjust to the change of temperature. Unfortunately, we've had about 3 days of mid-60s and low-70s, but they haven't stayed around for the dogs (or people) to adjust. I think this was happening to Devon, since she's reacted to the temperature each time it's spiked. 

My plan due to her lower success rate was to go back to 6 poles and work entries. Her success rate on the right entry has been very low the last two days. We have class on Tuesdays, but I planned not to work the weaves. However, as class started, Devon was the only large dog. So we took the opportunity to work 6 poles in a new place!

On her first attempt, Devon reverted back to her previous behavior of making the first pole then walking away from them with her head up in avoidance. I called her back, got her reengaged and asked for the poles again. This time she was successful! She was thoughtful and slow, but she was successful! She got a lot of praise and reward for this successful attempt, and then her energy was through the ceiling!

Her next 6 attempts were all successful from various entries along the arc. I even included a high challenge right hand entry and she was successful. She was driving and solid on her skills. Rosie saw the difference. She said not only did she know her job now, but she was excited to do it! Yes, this was the best part!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2x2 training day 9 -- we have 12 poles!

This morning I put two sets of 6 poles 15 feet apart. Devon did six attempts, two from the middle, two from the right and two from the left. I rewarded between on the first 3 attempts, then rewarded 50% of the time. On attempt 4 she popped out early on the second set, so we redid it. Just like the DVD, she wanted to drive forward to the second set of poles and the reward was actually "interrupting" her. 

I moved the poles closer and did four more attempts, rewarding 50% and she was perfect. So for the last attempt, I put all the poles together for a set of 12 poles. On the first time she came out at pole 6 and looked around like, "Ooops!" I laughed and brought her back and this time she nailed all 12 poles. She got lots of praise for that and we quit!

The two things I like best about what she's doing is a) driving all the way through the poles and b) not worrying about where I am until she finishes her job. Devon has her head down, and she's really working those poles. I love that. And because she knows her job and is working them, she doesn't care where I am as she works. I can run with her; I can be behind her; and I can run past her and be several feet beyond the poles when she comes out. 

Devon truly has a complete understanding of her job in the weaves now. I did not keep track of exactly how many minutes per session we worked, but I can agree with the DVD that it is just at an hour total training time at the most. Have I said recently how much I love this method???

Monday, March 16, 2009

2x2 training day 8

After two days of tracking and a challenging track this morning, I only gave Devon one weave session today. I set up 6 poles, which was where we left off last time, but I was ready to adjust the 2x2 bases to help her with entries if I had to. I took a jump out with me but I wasn't sure if I'd use it. 

I started Devon with her favorite tug toy and she was ready to work. She nailed her first attempt. She was strong and had a two footed style. In the first four attempts, she only missed one entry and bounced right back. We did several (5) more in the low challenge entry area and she was perfect.

After working harder left entries, I moved to the right for some more challenging entries. I had Devon lined up so she'd have to really wrap the first pole. She had been successful on this last week, but she was not today. She entered with the first pole on her right three times. I changed her entry slightly and she was successful, which I praised. I slowly worked my way back down to where she had trouble, and she was successful to lots of praise.

I moved back to the left side for a couple of last entries. Clearly I should have stopped with our success. On the second one, she turned away from the poles and wandered off. At first I thought she had to go potty, but I called her back. I refocused her and she re-engaged. I did two more attempts to make sure I didn't pattern train a marker on her entry, and I stopped.

This was a successful session, because Devon worked through a problem on the right side entry. She was 80% successful. Tomorrow I'm going to do fewer attempts in my sessions, since I believe I did too many this time. I'm going to move to two sets of 6 poles and see if we can get 12 poles over the next couple of days.

Moment of truth turn practice

If you are not familiar with VST (variable surface tracking or urban tracking on non-vegetated surfaces), a "moment of truth" (or MOT) turn is a non-veg turn that is at least 30 yards away from any veg. It's been named that because it is the true test of a VST tracking dog. 

I have worked a lot with Devon on transitions from veg to non-veg, and I'm pleased with what I'm seeing. In the last week since the weather broke and we've started tracking again, the need to work MOT turns has become clear. So, no time like the present!

Yesterday I laid a MOT practice track much like the one here. I put it down at 12:45 p.m. However, I wasn't able to run it until 5 p.m. The early spring sun had baked that track all day, and it was 63 degrees with 26% humidity. Devon had been in the crate in the SUV since 8 a.m. I got her out and threw a few bumpers to stretch her legs and wake her up. I gave her water and she seemed anxious to get to work.

Devon started her track yesterday well, but she needed water on the first leg. It was too hot and the track had baked too long for this difficult work. I wanted to stop at the article after the third MOT turn, but she started tracking again before I could stop her. Unfortunately she gave up. I knew I would have to work through this issue later, and I walked her through the last two turns.

Devon bounced back well after her track and we both had a good night's sleep. Today, I had planned to give Devon the day off. However, I decided with the cool morning temps, higher humidity and filtered sunshine this might be a good day to work through some of our issues.

I put this track in at 9:45 a.m. and run it at 12 noon. It was 314 yards long with 243 yards of non-veg (77%). The track is pictured here and you can see it had four MOT turns. It was 53 degrees and 70% humidity when I ran the track. The sun had been filtered through clouds all morning until we ran the track and it came out full just for us!

I marked each MOT turn with chalk and finger touches in water (again, the reference is Steve Ripley's book Making Scents of the Urban Jungle). I put finger touches at the new direction of the turn and then every three steps for the first nine steps. Just as "cookie drops" help pull dogs around the corners on veg, I was hoping this would pull her around the corner on MOT.

Devon started strong off the flag. I continued to bring her in at 90 degrees, this time making sure I brought her in so the track ran to her left. I have done several starts where the track runs to her right lately. Sure enough, she went right tracking where I walked to the flag for about 10 yards before she said, "That's not right!" and did a 180 and started in the correct direction. 

Devon worked the first transition onto the pavement and I was patient. I've realized I must be more patient with her than I have been, because I believe I'm pushing her too much. Terrie is my model for her patience with Safe. Devon did a nose touch right where I left the pavement, and I waited as she continued to check the area until she convinced herself that was really the track. 

She worked the first MOT very well, working the extra scent I left for her. I kept her on a shorter line through the non-veg, ranging from 10-15 ft. When she committed, I let the line feed to 20 ft. 

The second MOT was a little tougher. Devon circled and searched. She never put her nose down on the chalk and extra scent. She started down the new leg once, so I followed her; however she circled almost immediately so I moved back to the original leg. I wanted her to tell me where that new leg was. This was hard, and I waited her out. She was unsure since I have been pushing her through these types of turns. I knew this behavior on my part had to end today.

Devon finally committed to the new leg and we were off. The article rewarded her just on the veg. She tracked on and off the islands well. However, when it came time to turn back onto the pavement, she didn't want to go. I waited her out and let her check for the full length of the line when I could. Unfortunately a group came out of the building for lunch, so I had to watch some cars. 

Again my patience was rewarded when she finally committed to the pavement. The third MOT was much like the second. She was unsure and she wanted help. I decided we'd stand here all day if we had to. The only help I gave her was water and a rescent. She searched/circled a lot and I gave her up to 30 ft. on the line, but I kept her pretty close. At one point she came in and stood next to me. She all but laid down and quit. I did give her one step toward the turn, but that was it. As with the second turn, she once went down the new leg but pulled up in a circle so I went back to where I was before the turn. 

Finally, after standing beside me and looking up at me for help (I stood looking at the turn), she trotted out in front of me, turned to her right and trotted purposefully along the new leg. Her head wasn't down, but she was giving me tension on the line. I followed and she continued. Three down and one more to go!

I wondered what she'd do at the fourth MOT since the last two had been a challenge. I left extra scent about every 12-15 yards along the leg; my thought was to make this track a learning track and give her good feedback. She was dead on this leg and I saw her check along the way and once at an extra scent spot. She came upon the turn, and she turned about 3 ft before the actual turn and went confidently down the new leg. 

The wind was coming at our faces, and I realized it pushed the scent toward her; the wind was likely why she made the turn early. She was confident and there was tension on the line, so I followed. She continued down the new leg and adjusted so she was right on the leg. Her head was up, but I knew she was tracking. What a good, good girlie!

She made the veg turn and crossed to the next island. She tracked past her glove hidden behind a tree, but realized it and came back for it. We had a BIG party, and then we sat in the grass and I told her how very brilliant she was.

I'm really proud of what Devon did today. She worked out some hard concepts without any help from me except what I left her on the track. I plan to continue running some MOT practice tracks in the coming weeks to work this skill. I'll gradually decrease her "help" as I go. I'm also going to work on moving her article rewards closer to the MOT turns and off the grass. I don't always want her rewards on veg. The difficult thing with Devon is she's very environmentally aware. This means she is visual and will pull to items on the non-veg where she can see them. It's very hard to "hide" items on paint lines. 

Devon's VST work is really getting stronger, and I'm excited about our progress!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Making Scents of the Urban Jungle

Today I had the privilege of being a "tracking slave" for Steve Ripley's VST seminar on Making Scents of the Urban Jungle. I've been lucky to work with Steve as he's been training his Golden Archie (along with our friend Terrie and her Weim Sage), and I have learned so much in the last few months about scenting. If you have any desire to learn more about VST, click on the link to the book and order it! It's presented in an easy to read format, and you will absolutely learn something!

This morning, Terrie and I laid two tracks a piece which were three demo tracks and the first working track. Then we adjourned to the lecture portion of the seminar. Before running our tracks, Terrie, Janet and I took the auditors to the working dogs' tracks, and we taught them how to lay VST tracks for the five additional working dogs.

Around 11 a.m., the demos started. Sage ran first, and she did an outstanding job! I love watching Terrie work Sage; they are such a great team. Sage never gives up. I've never seen this dog stop working a track. Terrie is the ever patient handler, and my goal is to be as patient as she is. I know this team will get a CT. 

Next, it was Devon's turn. The track she ran was a variation of the track she struggled with last weekend. Devon was thrilled with the amount of people who got up on a Saturday morning JUST to watch HER track! The map here is the track Devon ran this morning. The flag indicates the start, and the Xs indicate her metal, plastic and leather articles (in that order). It was aged 3 hours. Transitions and turns were marked with chalk and finger touches (if you want more info on this, order Steve's book!). The track was approximately 437 yards long, with 68% non-veg.

Devon started very strong as usual, but she did fringe north of the start flag. What you cannot see on map is that the start was on a small hill or mound. I'm sure the scent drifted down the hill and pocketed at the bottom, and Devon had to check it out. 

Devon is a wonderful demo dog, because every time you start to say something she does it right on cue as if she heard you. For instance, right as Steve said, "She should show loss of scent here soon since she's past the first turn," Devon's head came up. She actually came down into the curb of the parking lot as she circled and found the spot where the track entered the parking lot. However, she continued to search the transition to make sure - and to give Steve the opportunity to narrate to the crowd what she was doing!

She worked her non-veg turn at #2 pretty hard. The gallery was all around her in a J as she worked along. I can't believe her work ethic as people are standing 6-8 ft. from her - what a good girl! As Steve teased me, this usually worries me, but it clearly doesn't worry my dog at all. I think I should just relax! She finally committed around that pesky turn (can you tell MOT turns are our next thing to tackle?) and stopped after a few feet. She stood in the grass at the corner of the building air scenting - the turkey had air scented the first article!

I was very glad Steve was there to tell me what was happening. I have rarely had to "battle" Devon on a track. She's usually an "on the rails" and play by the book tracker. Not today! She air scented that article, and she wanted to cut the corner and dash! She must have known Terrie laid her track and left a cookie in it! We had a nice little battle of wills until she finally went left up into the grass. As she circled back to the right, she picked up the track in the grass and I let her have it. She may have skipped a section of non-veg, but at least she didn't go directly to the article!

Devon made the grass turn #3 about 15 yards too early (probably to get to the article), so we were to the right of the track for about 20-30 yards. Just as Steve said, "Deb you're to the right of the track," Devon heard him and made a sharp left turn through the shrubs and got herself back on the track. However, she angled off of it to the left, and just as I stopped knowing she was off, I saw that metal article in the grass next to my right shoe. Devon turned on a dime and RAN back so fast I barely had time to back out of the way so she could pounce on the article!

After a drink and a rescent, we were off. She made the turn and transition at #4 very well, but did double check herself by searching the flowerbeds. The #5 turn was also very nice, as was her curb work after turn #6. The track followed the curb and didn't go straight. I will note I didn't get myself caught up in the line as I'd done last week. However, Devon didn't make it easy by wrapping it around several trees.

Devon rounded the corner at #7 and stopped in her tracks. WHAT was that THING? She had never seen a motorcycle before, and there was a bright shiny red one sitting in a parking spot right in front of her ... and her track. Devon spent a good deal of time considering this monster. Would it attack if she turned her back? Did it move? She circled it with caution checking her track. She slowly got braver and checked the curb in front and beside this beast. Once she turned her back on it to check the grass in an island, and something made her jump, turn and glare at the two-wheeled monster. 

I finally had enough of this dance and told her to move on and track. After a minute, she trotted down the sidewalk since she had known for sometime that's where the track was. However, we weren't done with our tracking challenges for the day. There were tasty treats left by geese and ducks on the sidewalk, which was exactly where her track was. How firm do you say, "NO" and "Leave IT!" when she's actually on the track! She was obedient to these commands about 75% of the time. I'm also pleased to say she had been snacking before she found her third article. When I leaned down to praise her for her find, she promptly licked me across the mouth -- YUCK!!

We made it the rest of the way down this mine field of a sidewalk, and even though she cut the last turn, I followed. Anything to get us tracking and away from the goose poop! Devon was absolutely lovely and confident on this last leg. As she cleared the entry and after the first island, she pushed out into the parking lot to the right. It was clear the wind was blowing the scent that direction and the landscaping kept the scent contained on the sidewalk. She adjusted quickly back to the track.

Devon scented the last article about 10 ft. before she saw it tucked under the shrubs. She came back towards me and started looking under the bushes, which told me she was searching out an article. When she found it, I told her how brilliant she was and told her to show the gallery. She didn't need the release. Devon went up to each and every member of the gallery and talked to them one by one as she showed them her glove. She is so funny! This is her very best reward!

Even though the working dogs were very nervous about their "long" tracks on non-veg, all the dogs tracked incredibly well. The last working dog ran a 5 hour old track, and I doubt she's ever run a track that old. This Sheltie did it in style!

As our working dogs today proved, never doubt your dog in tracking. These dogs are very smart and they transition to non-veg very well. It's the HUMANS behind them that get all worried! So, get tracking!

Shaking off the rust on Ian's tracking

Ian loves to track. I remember telling his breeder for the first time that I laid a track for Ian, and she thought I misspoke! In fact, most people still can't believe I'm tracking Ian. However, Agile Gold knows why I'm tracking Ian. When I got him out of the van, he was so excited to track (and yes, he knew he was tracking), he couldn't contain himself. He was all tail wags, moving black fur and excitement. I asked if Kathy had ever seen him this excited to do agility, and the answer was a resounding no. Ian likes to track better than he likes agility - and that's saying something!

Now, the key is for me to be able to read him well enough for us to get somewhere! I laid a very straight forward two turn track for Ian. The track was aged approximately 35-40 minutes. It was 60 yards (with a 30 yard flag), left turn (which was triple laid) onto a 50 yard leg to a right turn (which was single laid) and 50 yards to the glove. Now, I could have been nice and actually put some food on the track since Ian hasn't tracked since October. I could have also done only one turn, since he's only done three single turn tracks in his life. But I guess I wasn't worrying about the details!

Ian did a nice job on the start. He does circle a lot, and he drives me nuts by pottying on the track (he does BOTH - boys!). However, he does nose down track and really pull me. He knows his job and clearly the age didn't bother him.

However, having a single follower behind him did bother him. Agile Gold is very good about not being bothered when a big black furry beast turns and barks at you ... three times! One would think he'd remember she was back there, but as my mother can swear to, he has a very short memory. In the past he's been a demo dog for my Introduction to Tracking Seminars. While he noticed the gallery watching on those occasions, they were farther away and not "stalking" him. Clearly if we ever make it to certification, this will be an issue. 

Ian again presented the same behavior on turns as before. He gives nice "loss of scent" indication, and he circles to find the track. At some point, I believe he locates it; however, I'm not reading his indication. I wait and wait and wait. Finally, Ian stalls out always pointing in a 45 degree angle directly on the line of the track and he looks at me. I'm sure he's saying, "Hey lady, I've already told you three times it's right there, but you aren't following me. Since I don't really know this game well, and I won't go anywhere without you, I'll just stand here until you decide we need to go down that leg." If I take one step in the direction of the new leg, he goes nose down to the track. Clearly, we need to communicate better than we are! 

Janet gave me a good suggestion today to use rewards to get him pulling around the turn in a way I can read him. I like this idea. I also think I just need to work with him more (what a concept) to really learn to read him. I've also thought about asking others to follow us (which will help get him used to that) and observe him to help me see what I'm missing. Reading Ian is much more difficult than reading Devon. However, if I'm actually going to be a good trainer, I need to figure this dog out.

I remember one of the first things a very good dog trainer said to my friend Linda Smithberger when she got her OTCH on her Novice A dog Max. Linda was told, "Congratulations! Now let's see if you can do it again!" (BTW, she did do it again.) To me, the hallmark of a good trainer, is that they can repeat their success with multiple dogs. I have an incredibly talented tracker with Devon. She has taught me more about the sport of tracking than any text book. Now let's see if I can "do it again!" 

2x2 training day 7

Devon is weaving 6 poles!!! There, I skipped to the end of our training session on Friday; but the news is too good not to share! 

We met Agile Gold at Pawsitive Energy for a really fun training session on Friday. Devon was extremely distracted on the dirt. It also didn't help she had to watch her brother Ian track (Horrors!! Tracking is Devon's sport!) and then actually watch out the window of the van as Emma tracked right in front of her nose (Triple horrors!! Her best buddy is tracking and no one invited Devon to participate!!).

For Devon's first session, we set up two sets of 2x2s with the second set only slightly offset. Then I worked some very hard entrances. Devon nailed most of them, only missing the weaves when she was distracted. She bounced right back and made the entry with each mistake. Kathy and I agreed it was time to add the third set of 2x2s. 

In retrospect, I probably should have off set the three sets of poles slightly on her first couple of tires. However, Devon was doing so well, I just knew 6 straight-up poles wouldn't be a problem for her. She missed the first entry but was successful every other time. She was nailing entrances at a level I've never asked Ian to do, and her right hand entry (wrapping the first pole) was stronger than her soft-side entry.

I think the best thing about this session is that Devon clearly knows her job now. As Agile Gold already commented, Devon is now developing a two-footed stride through the weaves. She's never had a stride or style of weaving before, because quite frankly she really wasn't weaving. As Gayle put it, "she isn't weaving, she's wandering!" And as usual, Gayle was right!

I am so excited that Devon is at this point. She's now taking a couple of much deserved days off from weave training to hang out in the Escape (while I work laying tracks) and be a demo dog at a tracking seminar. I can't wait to jump back into the 2x2s on Monday to finish out the protocol!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Let the games begin!

Today I met with Debbie and her 6-month-old puppy Amazing Grace. Debbie and Grace and Devon and I worked on Crate Games. We had a lot of fun, and the best thing was seeing Debbie get so excited over Grace's success! I know Debbie didn't think Grace could get all the way through to Stage 3: Yer In, Yer Out, but Grace just blossomed with the shaping and was successful immediately on the first attempt. It was really impressive and a testament to how smart this little girl is to watch her work through that she was to sit when mom opened the crate. What a cutie! And Debbie should have had her own "treats" for what a great job she did.

I think we have another convert to the world of clicker training! Way to go girls!

2x2 training day 6

Before I did Devon's training, I rechecked my progress with the DVD. I'm glad I did. I saw that I should have moved my location at least one more time before I closed up the two sets. I also saw that Susan opens the sets and really works the entry angles before closing them up "for good."

So today I took advantage of a change of "H" or habitat. I loaded up the 2x2s and headed to agility class. Devon had already had a full morning, so I knew I was risking her being very tired. I did one sequence with her, but we had to go back and work some extra skills. Last week Devon was refusing the A frame. This was due to her being completely out of whack and needing a chiropractic adjustment. Her shoulders were jammed in front and back and her pelvis was out. Dr. Bonnie fixed that on Sunday.

Because of the bad memories from her struggle last week, Devon refused the A frame a couple of times before she was successful. We had a big party when she was. After I ran the sequence, I went back to a jump, teeter sequence, since she bailed off the teeter, too. It was a new one and the pivot point was much farther out than she's used to. Devon is also very observant of the sandbags under teeters. I wonder if she thinks the thing might not be the safest if they have to put all those sandbags under it! ;-)

Anyway, after being successful on the teeter and the A frame, both in sequence, and greeting her fans in the gallery who told her how brilliant she was (that's really her best reward); she took a break and I went for the 2x2s. Liz is a gem of an instructor, and I'm grateful for her letting me use the rest of class time to work the 2x2s. Devon really needed this worse than she did more sequencing. 

I put the two sets on a very steep angle and about 1 ft. apart. I had a nice seam in the matting as my reward line. I worked some of the hardest entries yet, and Devon just nailed every single one. And the best thing I see is her driving through the poles! I closed them up to 2 inches, and she was again perfect! She only failed once, and that was because someone from the next class was coming in, and Devon was just sure Ginger needed to pet her! However, Devon went right back to work when Ginger ignored her. Good girl!

Again, I closed the poles up to straight. The first time Devon missed the entry and went in the second pole, but she turned right around and fixed herself! I gave her one more low challenge entry, and we called it a session!

Before dinner, I went back out to the yard to introduce a jump. I had the two sets of poles only 1.5 inches apart. Again, the best thing I can say about this session is how Devon was driving to the poles even over the jump! I gave her some low challenge entries first from the left and she was fine. 

Then I gave her what I thought would be a fairly straightforward but slightly tougher left entry, and she went in the second set. Three more attempts were failures, but she continued to try and drive. I did move the jump very slightly towards a low challenge area; I didn't move it more than 4 inches. This was just enough help that she made the entry. We had a big party, and she was successful on a second attempt at this slightly easier location. Next, I moved the jump right back to where she had failed, and she was successful twice in a row.

I know Susan said on the DVD not to help them. However, I did see her change a jump slightly when Trendi was having an issue on a difficult angle. I used this same philosophy when I "helped" her or tweaked the angle on our situation, and immediately moved it back to where she had failed. 

I then moved to the high challenge right entries. Even though this was previously Devon's hard entry area, she was successful every single time, and I threw a lot of nasty ones at her!

Finally I moved back to the hard left side and did the entry Trendi had trouble with on the DVD. Yep, so did Devon; she went in the second set of poles. But after three failed attempts, I moved the jump literally 1 inch. I was tempted just to pick it up and set it down in the same spot to see what would happen. Again, Devon nailed this entry. I moved the jump right back to where it was, and she was successful. We called it a very excellent day!

On a side note, this dog has got to be exhausted. She was up at 7 a.m. with no nap before going out to the building at 9:15 a.m. to meet Debbie and Grace. Devon worked right along side Grace for an hour (including play time with Grace before her training time). Devon came inside for a drink and then it was off to agility class. We got home at 2:30 p.m. and she crashed until about 6 p.m. when we went outside for our second session of 2x2s. I think Devon will be glad to have the rest of the evening off!

Tomorrow I'm taking the 2x2s on the road again, this time to a dirt arena. I'm planning to start again with a steep angle and only an inch apart. I'm again going to add in the jump. Based on how successful she was today, I'm planning to close the two sets up for her jumping portion. If she does that, we'll be ready to add in another set of 2 poles!