Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Blind Faith

It is a miracle that we ever dig ourselves out of the holes we make.

Let's use the contact issues I have been having with Wyatt as an example. I lose confidence on course and cue him differently. He gets confused and does not perform well. Perhaps he senses my stress and that stresses him. Confidence further erodes and cuing is further changed. I wonder if we will ever be able to perform contacts as a team.

I had a similar problem with him going down on his group sits in obedience. Luckily, I have to go across the ring so I can't mess him up as directly as I do in agility.

I am thankful I was able to make progress in contacts and somehow get out of the negative spiral and start gaining confidence, which then increases my awareness on course and helps cue him better.

Just like you can have a negative spiral, you can also have a positive spiral.

The hard thing for new handlers with their first dog is that you don't have the experience to really know inside that any problem can be fixed. Blind Faith.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Latest Trial Insights

We just got back from a CPE agility trial in Connecticut this weekend. I had a good weekend. I did not get tons of Q's (3 of a possible 8) but learned a lot and had fun which are the most important things. Here is what I learned.

1) Wyatt has great potential. He earned 3 Q's in fullhouse (championship level, first place), jumpers (championship level, first place), and Snooker (level 4, 3rd place). In Snookers, there was a very difficult course. One of the (many) fun things in Snooker is to make it through the closing sequence of 7 obstacles before time runs out. In the lower level course, which was similar, I saw that handlers were not making it through the course very well so I simplified our opening sequence. I timed myself before and did not thinking there was much of a chance of making it all the way to the end. Well, we had a good run going and I was surprised when we made it to the number seven obstacle. The seven obstacle was a triple combination of 2 tunnels and one jump. Well, we made it though the 2 tunnels as I sped up trying to get the last jump before the whistle blew. Then I started thinking about where the table was (which he has to jump on to stop the clock). Sure enough, I lost contact for a second and forget to signal the last jump and we missed it just as the whistle blew. The whole place groaned. No other dog in the whole class of about 100 dogs came as close as Wyatt to finishing. So I was impressed with his ability to run fast and follow me on course in comparison to other dogs. When we are on, we are frequently getting the best or close to the best time/run of all the jump heights in our class.

2) I need to pay attention to him before the run. For our first run of the day, I had set up our chairs in the front row of the ring. I had him with me about 25 dogs before we had to go in. Sure enough, all the dogs running and people and dogs walking in front seemed to get him overstimulated and we had some contact issues on the run. Luckily, it was fullhouse so I could go back and get a better A-Frame contact. I also forgot to deliberately slow down. However, I believe what he sees before he goes in is a major factor in contact and weave entry issues. I see in class that certain dogs will get him barking and too pumped up. Usually, manic German Shepard Dogs and Border Collies are the culprits. After that, I made sure to have him focus on me when manic dogs were running and that seemed to help a lot. His contacts were not perfect after that but I got lots of 2 on 2 offs. On our standard runs, we was getting 2 out of 3. Not enough to qualify but it is great progress to be getting 2o2o in trials. It is much better that I was getting 2/3 and no Q rather than 3 just barely hitting the contact zone contacts.

3) By slowing down my running just a tad, centering before the run by doing a sit and a lead out, and probably just from experience, I am feeling much more in control on the course and much that frantic. It is as if more time is opening up and I am allowing myself enough space to able to respond to things as the happen. This is hard to describe but I am sure many of you have felt it. It is like time is running more slowly. This allows me the space to adjust, react, and most importantly, maintain a connection with Wyatt.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Weekend Agility Trial

We are off again to another CPE trial this weekend. There are run throughs Friday night again which is fantastic for Wyatt. Of course, I am hoping Wyatt's contact progress at trials will continue. However, I try and remember that progress is not always linear. Have a great weekend training and competing everyone!

Wyatt will turn 4 on Saturday. Happy Birthday, little buddy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Back to Novice

Since we have 3 tries coming up in March and April for our CD, I am doing 2 daily run throughs of the complete novice exercises and cutting back on open and utility training. I am doing the novice run throughs with less treats and verbal praise. I do make a big point of going somewhere else to get treats after the exercize(s) just like I would at a trial.

I have trained most of the pieces and some of the complete open and utility exercizes with the exception of scent discrimination, drop on recall, and the moving finish of utility signals. I am still working on getting Wyatt used to metal. He will find canning jar tops and will take a metal dumbbell from my hand but still will not retrieve a metal dumbbell. I do want to train scent discrimination when I get a metal dumbbell retrieve. I still have not given him a tuna fish can with the juice still in it. That was suggested as working for most dogs to get them used to the taste of metal.

I have started to train out of sight sits and downs but sometimes have to go back to shorter in sight sits and downs depending on where Wyatt is. I think this is going to be the hardest part of open.

I will need to also do these run throughs at dog shows and agility meets and other busy places to proof everything. I am trying not to anticipate getting a CD (we need 2 more legs) but just take everything as it comes. That is hard.

Here is Wyatt after a particulary taxing workout.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Dog Whisperer

Good dog show or bad dog show?

Cesar does seem to have a way with dogs and does appear to achieve good results in a sometimes amazing amount of time. He has helped numerous dog owners with serious issues. In many cases, the owners do need to expect their dog to obey them and he will show common sense dog training methods such as being in control of starting and ending games.

Here's what I am not as sure about.

Cesar relies heavily on the dominance theory of dogs. It seems like in every single case shown on his show, the owners are not dominant over the dog. How can this explain every single case he encounters?

He recently said separation anxiety was caused by the lack of a human being dominant over the dog because the pack leader is not used to the subordinate dogs leaving. I don't believe this is the cause of separation anxiety.

I am not sure that your dog being ahead of you on leash always mean your dog is dominant over you. Is this based on scientific observations of dog packs? If they get excited about something, rank is probably the last thing on their minds.

How much does your dog see you as another dog and how much do they see us as a separate species? I am not sure.

If you look at how he retrains dogs, he uses corrections (aversives). Aversives work. Many of us believe that the use of positives is better. In many cases what he is calling being dominant and using calm, assertive energy may really be the just the use of aversive conditioning.

His theory of calm, assertive energy is interesting. One thing lacking in the strict behaviorist model many positive, clicker training is any insight into the internal states of the dog and the owner. Behaviorism is great for training methods. Perhaps someone will someday be able to combine the strength of behaviorism, a physiological model of the human - dog relationship based on science, and appropriate incorporate of the social (pack) behavior of dogs as it relates to humans.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Progress On Contacts

Wyatt and I had a very good weekend at the CPE trial in Manchester, NH.

We got 5 out of 7 possible qualifying runs (Q's) with placements in each of the 5 Q's (1 first and 4 fourths).

Here's what I think definitely helped.

1. Sitting him at the start and doing a slow and careful lead out to center both of us.
2. Running more slowly.
3. Getting eye contact and vocal contact before the end of the contact.
4. Giving a clear "spot" command (or two) in time.
5. Slowing down gradually maintaining eye contact at the down contact.
6. Giving physical cues to support a 2 on 2 off position. This includes a wait signal and moving in front of the contact a bit especially on the A-Frame.
7. Doing 2 run throughs at All Dogs Gym including one the night before.
8. Working on independent 2 on 2 offs at home including when I am behind him and working on driving to the bottom.
9. Giving a clear "Tip It" command at the correct time on the teeter.

Here are some possible things that may have helped.

1. Chewing mints before the run.
2. Walking slowly and calmly before the run,
3. Having him sit on my lap for quite a while before the run.
4. Waiting until we are 3-4 dogs away before going over.
5. Doing some focused obedience before the run.

For our wildcard run (NQ), he seems pumped up before the run and we missed a dog walk. He was way ahead of me and jumped off when I gave a command. I was luckily in our jackpot run that he flew off the teeter but was able to go back and redo it since it is a gamblers type game. I was especially happy that we got the dreaded standard Q when he got 3 great contacts and weaves too.

Friday, January 20, 2006

More Than One Way

It's always interesting how people talk about training methods. As someone new who has really jumped in and read everything and listened carefully, I frequently hear instructors and trainers talk about their preferred methods as if it was the only way to do things. Some examples:

Stand or Wait command: most feel that this is essential; some say the dog should automatically stay until released.

Corrections: always use positives; some say correct only when the dog knows what to do; some correct all the time of course and don't use positives

We are off to the All Dog's Gym in Manchester, NH for a CPE meet this weekend. Hope you have a rewarding weekend with your dogs!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I have to confess I got really mad and frustrated with both Wyatt and Patriot this morning.

I was thinking that I should start doing daily novice obedience run throughs (weaning off treats) as we have some trials coming up in March and April. We have been focusing more on open and utility skills as well as going back to basics in heeling. Wyatt did well with the all the novice exercises until the last one - the long down. He kept getting up. So I keep telling him in a firmer and firmer voice to down and stay. Well, he finally realized he was dealing with a maniac and ran upstairs. Smart dog!

Patriot was lagging in heeling and I got into some leash tugging. Of course, that make him lag even more.

I did bring them both back down after I cooled off and did much shorter and successful sits and downs together.

I don't get mad at the dogs often so always surprises me. I think it happens the most when I believe they know something really well and they aren't doing it. But my frustration is probably bleeding in from other areas of my life.

The most likely the reason for Wyatt's trouble is that I have been working on utility signals and doing fast sequences of stand, down, and sit commands in different combinations. So he was likely anticipating commands.

Luckily dogs love us so much and seem to let go of a lot of our nonsense. Still, makes you feel terrible when you mess up and get mad and frustrated. I need to remember to quit or back up when I get frustrated and look at why MY training is not working.

Monday, January 16, 2006

My 10 Worst Dog Training Habits

1. Luring when I should wait for Wyatt to obey the command.
2. Forgetting to center myself before competing. Forgetting to get Wyatt's attention before competing.
3. Accepting and rewarding subpar performance.
4. Not having a goal for what I am looking for when practicing.
5. Not trusting Wyatt to figure it out. Not giving him time to figure it out.
6. Altering expectations or handling to get a "Q".
7. Not spending enough time proofing.
8. Rewarding too much. Rewarding for each performance. Not using variable schedules.
9. Flailing my arms when competing in agility.
10. Taking competition too seriously. Not treating each competitive run as fun training.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Heavy Metal

Lots of people suggested using canning lid jars for metal articles for Wyatt. He will retrieve them so that is good. I am continuing to work with the metal dumbbells too. He will now take a metal dumbbell with some reluctance but that is progress. He still won't retrieve a metal dumbbell. Someone suggested giving him a tuna fish can with the juice still in so I will try that too.

Now that I know he can retrieve some kind of metal article, I started some scent discrimination work. I am going to try a shaping method with 2 objects as suggested in Clicker Training for Obedience. The lightbulb has not gone off quite yet. Wyatt is funny. When he is learning something new and does get it yet, he barks quite a bit.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Run Throughs

We drove 2 1/2 hours each way last night to get to some agility run throughs at the All Dogs Gym where we will compete next week. I was wondering if I would see proofing issues there or if it would be more like practice. If it was more like practice, that would point more to my ring nerves as a cause of contact issues. If it was typical of what I see in a trial, it would point to Wyatt's ring nerves more. At our last trial, Wyatt did perfect practice contacts and then had trouble in the ring which points more to my nerves or something I was doing.

It was more like a trial. When we got there, it was very loud with lots of dogs around. During the first run, he did blow quite a few contacts the first time and I made sure I was running just like a practice. I tried the peppermint breath mint trick to mask any stress fumes but it did not seem to do anything. That still could help at a trial though when I actually do have ring nerves.

I took him back and I saw a big improvement especially as the night progressed and it got quieter. They have a low A-Frame there and we practiced that a lot. What I found was that he needs more support when his stress is higher. So I have to give him more eye and voice contacts and more body language/position to support his contacts. I can't expect to give the spot command and then have him do it independently with no connection to me even though he can do this at home.

I am still working on "spot" with me behind him. This is weaker BUT happens more at trials when he tends to run ahead of me more and I can't be there to support him.

So for the next trial, here is my strategy.

1) Center myself before the run and take a deep breath before running. Make sure he is in a good stay before running. I noticed on the latest videos that I was bending down and holding him back, a great way to rev up a dog.

2) Run more slowly.

3) Slowing down, maintain voice and eye contact on the contacts. Give a spot command or two in plenty of time. Stop at the end of the contact and give him a stay signal when he gets to 2 on 2 off position.

4) Wait a few seconds and release him.

5) If there is a problem, mark it with the "Oops" command, wait a few seconds and say "Try again". If we can redo the contact (you can do this in CPE fullhouse and jackpot due to the rules of the game) or else move on.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Running Fast and Crazy

I did a little experiment in class last night. At a recent NADAC trial, Wyatt did 10 perfect practice weaves and five minutes later had a lot of trouble with weaves in the ring. It got me thinking that the trial atmosphere and the other dogs may not be a factor in proofing issues, but something actually in the ring, my handling, or ring nerves. After viewing the videos where no obvious handling errors were seen, I got thinking about my speed. I wondering if that little bit of extra adrenalin got me running faster. So I tried running really fast last night in class and sure enough he blew a contact. It was only one data point but I am going to try slowing down in trials to make up for my speed increase.

I have tried this a few times in the past and it sometimes worked. If his adrenalin is really high (perhaps for a different reason than my speed), it can backfire as he will bark and nip if I am not queuing/running fast enough. But I am thinking that this is a problem with muiltple causes and that my running speed may well be one of them that I need to consistently adjust for.

As an aside, one time that I did try slowing way down, a friend watching us stated that she hoped I would make time as she thought we were going so slowly. We had a perfect run and still had ten seconds!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Utility Work

Wyatt is making good progress on the directed retrieve. He is getting the glove we are facing. Of course, they are pretty close at this point. I also have him going out to a target (fastened to a ring gate) and sitting down nicely. He is also doing directly jumping no problem. He is doing a moving stand easily. I have not started scent discrimination yet due to the problems with the metal articles. I have trained the drop, sit, and stand though he tends to be a bit of creeper so I am using a bar.

He is going well in open too though I have not started drop on recall. I may finish his CD first before I do that. Retrieve over jump and retrieve on flat seem pretty routine now. Out of sight sits and down may be the hardest thing in open. He tends to stand up sometimes when I am out of sight. Broad jump is no problem.

In many ways, heeling may still be harder than a lot of the retrieving and jumping as well as the group exercises. I am seeing that I need more power steering commands to fix him when he is out of position. And I still tend to lure him into position when I really need to shape it more and have him fix himself so the understanding of correct side and front position is much deeper.

Of course, with Wyatt, proofing has been one of the hardest parts. We start a beginning open class this week so I hope to start doing some proofing around other dogs.

Thanks for reading and leave a comment on what you are training with your dog!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Follow Up

Many people suggested using canning jars lids for metal articles which I am going to try. Another suggestion was tuna fish cans (making sure there are no burrs).

There are 3 opportunities for show and go's before trials this month. Even though it will be hard on our schedule, I am going to try and make all three. One is this Friday at All Dogs Gym in Manchester, NH. We compete there a lot. I am hoping to get more information on whether Wyatt's proofing issues are due to location, training, handler stress, etc.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Winter Practice Area

Here a few photos of our basement where we practice agility and obedience in the winter. We just moved a bunch of junk around to give us much more space. I also invested in more matting. It's expensive but well worth it.

Metal Articles

Wyatt does not like the metal articles. I am not surprised. He is *so* sensitive.

This photo shows how I have wrapped the metal dumbbell in vet wrap. I am gradually decreasing the amount of vet wrap used hoping I can keep using less and less. So far, so good.

Does anyone know any other tricks for the metal articles?

Friday, January 06, 2006


I was thinking about the different commands or words Wyatt knows. Here is what I THINK he knows and what I THINK they mean to him. Most of these have hand signals (HS) which he probably knows more than the actual word. In preparing for the utility signal exercise, I have changed some hand signals and have stopped using the words so much.

Sit - from stand (HS)
Up - sit from a down (HS)
Down - down in sphinx position (HS)
Stand - from a sit or down (HS)
Come - come to me and sit in front (HS)
Front - sit right in front of me (HS)
Finish - come around behind me and sit in heel position (HS only)
Heel - start moving with me
Go ahead - move away from me (HS)
Target - nose touch a yogurt top
Touch - nose touch my hand
OK - release word, get up from sit or move out of 2 on 2 off position
Spot - nose touch and get into 2 on 2 off position
Find it - retrieve a dumbbell or glove or look for a treat on the floor
Side - come up and sit beside me in heel position (HS)
Jump - jump over a jump or log
Tunnel - go into a tunnel
Walk it - go up the dog walk
A-frame - go up the A-frame (slamming into it as hard as possible - Wyatt added that part)
Table - go to a table and wait for sit or down command
Couch ( go to your couch) - Jump onto the top (back) of a couch and look very hungry (always followed by a down) HS
Stay - don't move (HS)
Fetch - get the Frisbee or toy and bring it back
Drop it - drop the Frisbee or toy
HUP - change to a faster gait
Wyatt - his name
Treat - food is coming
Bunny (get the bunny) - go after the bunny or bunny fassimile
Patriot - his house brother's name. Not sure he knows this one.
Crate (go to your crate) - just what it sounds like
Watch - look at me. This is a new one. (HS)
Easy - slow down. Not sure he really knows this one.
Click - correct, treat coming.
Oops - incorrect.
Try again - let's do it again. Not sure if this means anything to him.
Speak - make one of a amazing variety of barks or whines depending on mood. Sometimes nothing comes out but I see the air blowing out so I treat him anyway.
Go pee - just like it sounds. I am pretty sure it means pee or poop to him.
Jump hand signal - used for directed jumping. Means jump left or jump right depending on the side the arm goes out on. (HS)
Track - this is a one I have not used in a while. Supposed to mean follow tracks until you find a glove.

One thing that amazing me if how he remembers these. For example, I don't use HUP that often but he still remembers it every time.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I have started to teach Wyatt directed jumping. This is where there are 3 gloves in the ring. The judge tells you which one to get. You turn with your dog and command your dog to get the one you are facing.

We have a go ahead command and a hand signal to go straight ahead. It was clear that the straight part had no meaning for Wyatt. I think we often expect that our words have a meaning to the dog that is the same as ours. We need to remember that it could mean something different to the dog. Another example is spot with Patriot. It is supposed to mean to go to the bottom of an agility obstacle and out two feet off and 2 feet on the obstacle. It was clear that without the target at the end, he had no idea what it meant. It just happened to look like he knew it because the target was in the right place. When I moved the target he went to that and did a nose touch.

So we have to be careful not to assume the dog has the same meaning as we do. That's why you have to fade targets, move yourself around, try things in different places and positions.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What is it about entering the ring?

I went to a NADAC trial to do some really good proofing this weekend. Well, we got it.

I did see some 2 on - 2 off's offered on contacts which was a good sign. Wyatt hardly misses his 2 on - 2 offs now at home and in class but they have been rare at trials. And the great thing about NADAC is that you can go back and redo a contact if you need to.

A lot of people suggest making your dog sit or down and walking off the course if they blow a contact at a trial. So I wonder about this. Of course, the dog really has to understand the behavior AND you have to make sure you are cuing the dog exactly the same AND you have to make sure it will actually help your dog.

Here is the interesting thing. NADAC allows practice weave poles. Right before the weavers game, I took him practice. He was just awesome. He was independent, fast, and 100% accurate.

We get into the ring, he takes off very fast, and has a lot of trouble with his weave entries and skipping weaves (very uncommon at home). I was 99% my cuing was the same.

How can we walk over, in the same building and environment, and go from 100% accuracy to 50% accuracy? I believe that whatever is going on with the weaves is the same as what is going on with contacts.

What are the possibilities?

o He is picking up on my ring nerves (which are not really strong but he is a super sensitive dog). Someone suggested trying peppermint so they can't pick up a change in your scent. I am going to try this next trial. I have noticed times when I am sure I do not have any ring nerves but he seems to have his own. For example, certain breeds like German Shepard dogs, can get him stimulated. At our last show and go, when I really had no ring stress that I could detect, a GSD ran before him and he was barking and get stimulated, and he had contact issues on the run.

o I am running much faster when I get into the ring. At times, when I have tried to deliberately slow down it has helped but not always. Sometimes he gets "upset" that I am not cuing him fast enough and he will bark and nip.

o He is not getting treated in the ring setting. I don't think this is it since I use long sequences without treats in class.

o He somehow has his own ring nerves. If this is the case, why did the warm up weaves go so well? I wonder if I should get some rings for home and see if he has somehow developed an association with the what a ring looks like.

But this observation about the weaves makes me think he is not "blowing me off" in the ring but that somehow the adrenal levels are going up and that is causing a deterioration in performance in the ring which manifests on weaves and contacts. My feeling is that walking him off would just add to the stress around weaves and contacts. Mostly likely, there is a complex combination of my own and his ring stress that we will need to detangle.