Friday, May 7, 2010

What have we been up to? Training, of course!

One of the reasons I haven't been blogging is that the weather finally broke in early March, and we've been able to get outside and train! So where are we?

Devon -- agility
Devon has been doing really well in agility. I'm pleased with her class work, and she's doing some great lateral distance work. Last year I started quick releasing her contacts and now I've been letting her run them. In her effort to be perfect, Devon's performance was very slow with a 2 on 2 off contact. I tried a couple of tricks to speed her up but nothing seemed to work well.

About a month ago, Devon started consistently missing her A frame contact. I worked on several ways to cue it, and about 2 weeks ago found something that worked. Yes, I have a dependent contact that probably won't hold up 100% of the time; but Devon isn't a super speedy dog so I can get there to cue it. Ian had dependent contacts, and it while not ideal it worked out just fine. I've been working on various approaches, as well as pushes, pulls, front crosses and rear crosses off the A frame, and I'm pretty happy with it so far.

Last week I had a private lesson with Jenn Crank at Incredipaws. Most of the lesson was spent on Page's foundation, but I wanted Jenn to see Devon's contacts and other work. In one sequence calling for a 180 with a jump to tunnel, I pulled Devon off the jump. I had done this sequence earlier and done it perfectly. I didn't react and kept going, which Jenn complimented me on since it was my fault and I didn't let Devon know anything was wrong.

I love training with Jenn and wish I could do it more often, because she pushes me to think through why something happened and explain it. I had rotated my shoulders, so three of my cues said go forward and jump and three of my cues said turn. With a 50/50 choice, Devon got to decide and she came with me like a good little girl.

If I have a handling issue with Devon it's usually something like pulling her off a jump. I had been thinking that I wasn't stepping forward enough to cue the jump, but now I'm going to be more aware of my body position. That last run at Gem City were I pulled her off a jump was a very similar situation and I bet I rotated my shoulders too soon.

The other thing we worked on with Devon was a Forward Moving Front Cross (FMFC). I do a lot of these, but after my lesson I realized why I'm usually late with them, as in the Sunday run at this trial. I'm not getting my outside arm up quick enough to give early information.

Finally, Devon's big nemesis is the teeter. This issue has been lingering since last fall, and I've changed up my strategy since I'm determined to tackle this problem. Devon's teeter issue is the only thing holding her back from pursuing her MACH, and it's a goal I want for both of us.

I'm now working with a series of boards, each with a progressively larger dowel rod under it (1 inch, 1.5 inch, and 2 inch). I've worked Devon steadily on these boards, asking her to bang them down and then hop on them. I use high value treats and only do enough to go through 12 of these little treats.

My goal is to get Devon comfortable in understanding she controls the movement on a small board that is not the teeter but acts like it. She's up to the 1.5 inch dowel and ready to move to the 2 inch dowel board. I'm going to take it on the road tomorrow and see if her performance holds up. It did when there were people present the other night to watch her performance.

Devon's confidence must be getting better, because she's now running to the teeter in class even though I'm working very far away from it. She also ran to the teeter in my agility yard this week, too. She gets on a full-sized teeter very confidently, but then only goes to the tipping point. You can tell she has an inner battle of wanting to go over, but not quite being ready.

After she's done a few days on the 2 inch board and is confident, I'll be ready to drop the real teeter all the way to the ground and get her playing on it. I picked up a great tip from Jenn that seems so obvious, but it wasn't what I was doing. When I went for the lesson, Page refused the teeter. Something had happened the last time she went over a teeter and she was hesitant. We lowered the teeter a little and then had Page play the bang game. This worked great and she was up and over it again in no time.

What hit home for me when I was working Page was when Jenn said I didn't need to reward the ends so much because the middle was where she didn't want to be; I should be rewarding only behaviors offered in the middle. Aaaah Ha! She was right, and I'm sure I'm doing too much of this with Devon. This week as I'm paying close attention to the exact criteria I want and rewarding that, Devon has made much better progress.

Devon -- obedience
We've been doing a lot of obedience work this winter and spring. I put Devon in one obedience trial in early April, but she wasn't ready. She would have scored a respectable 191.5 if she had not gone down with 10 seconds left in the sit. However, I know she can do so much better, and she needs more proofing to be confident.

So we've started some occasional parking lot and sidewalk heeling sessions. The first time we did heeling on a quiet sidewalk, it threw Devon for a loop. She had no idea she should be heeling and giving me complete focused attention every time I asked for it! Within a week with only three sessions of this type of work, Devon's heeling improved incrementally. She is such an amazing dog when I finally figure out how to communicate to her!

I'm also working through all the open exercises and starting to demand more perfection with them, as well as teaching utility exercises. This is giving Devon more variety in her obedience training instead of concentrating strictly on heeling. I'm not too worried about pressing for Devon's CD this year. We have so much on our plate, that it's hard to get everything done. So we'll just plow ahead and maybe check out some Wild Card classes this fall or in early 2011.

Devon -- field
Devon's field training was going well, until we went to Mitch's last week, and we put her on some big dog blinds. I had been working Devon on discipline casting and lining drills and sight blinds with factors. They were all going really well.

But then we went to Mitch's and put her on some Master level cold blinds. She wasn't ready, which was fine. But she didn't handle the pressure well and she wanted to leave the field. That was bad. On day 2 when we worked water, she confirmed this was a weakness I already knew about and again wanted to give up and come in.

Mitch reassured me none of this was bad; we just had our work cut out for us. I need to revisit over into the water and swim-by. I worked some water sight blinds this week, and she was 80% successful, with only one battle on an angle entry blind which I won.

Like obedience, I don't plan on doing any hunt tests with Devon this year except for entering one or two WCXs when I enter Page in a WC. I plan to spend this year refining her skills and setting us up for a focus on field work next year.

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