Thursday, March 30, 2006

Rally Advanced and Expert

Now that we are out of AKC Rally Novice, I am working on 3 things. Everything else seems pretty easy since we do regular obedience and agility but the 3 are:

Back up 3 steps
Side Step
Offset Figure 8

I have had some luck with luring for the back 3 steps though he tends to swing his rear around and I don't have a great wall to use. Getting this on cue will be the next step (someday!).

We are also finding the side step challenging. I am trying basically sit, heel one diagonal step, sit and gradually reducing the diagonal to a side step. I am having a hard time getting him straight in line with me again. His rear is swinging away. This would be a great skill to have for regular obedience too. Wish I taught it a long time ago. I tried getting our target stick out and gently tapping him on the rear to get the rear into position but he freaked out and jumped a mile out of position ;-)

The offset figure 8 works only if I have tons of visible treats to entice him away from the rally food bowl (which looks exactly like our regular food bowl)! This is going to be a hard one to proof because the reward is so high for not "leaving it"...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Release Word

Yikes! I noticed yet another inconsistency in my release protocol with Wyatt. My release word is "OK" but sometimes I will release him with the name of the next obstacle.

Since we clicker train and the click is the end of the behavior, it can be tricky to reward the contact but not release the dog. I usually treat without clicking and/or use a secondary reinforcer ("Good dog") and expect that the stay continue until released. I find that, at times, I have to remind him to stay with a one finger stay cue we have developed. I am working to drop this additional cue as soon as possible.

To summarize, here is what I am working towards.

1. I give the name of the obstacle to Wyatt.
2. Wyatt proceeds up and down the obstacle to the 2 on, 2 off position independent of where I am. There is not separate "spot" command or physical target. Ideally, he drives to the 2 on, 2 off position.
3. Wyatt waits in the 2 on, 2 off position until I give his release word OK. I can move around, treat him, move to the next obstacle, start heading back up the obstacle without him moving until he is released with his release word.

Of course, the hard part is keeping my handling and expectations the same at trials...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Release Problems

One thing I noticed today practicing agility is that Wyatt and I do not always have a consistent, reliable release. Sometimes I forget to release him and let it go, sometimes he will release if I turn my body or move. I see this especially going back up to the A-frame after completing one A-Frame. I am wondering if this may be contributing to our trial contact issues in that he thinks I am releasing him when I make the slightest movement or sound.

I also tried NOT giving the spot command when he is approaching the down contact. It did not make the slightest difference. I believe it will be better to not use it since he seems to jump off when I say "spot" sometimes during trials. This way, his job is to make it to the bottom without verbal or physical cues (after giving the obstacle name) and wait to be released.

Monday, March 27, 2006


I went to a NADAC trial this weekend with the goal of proofing contacts. I did meet my goal. We got to do and redo a lot of contacts. We are still having trouble with contacts at trials. After some initial improvement in January - February, we seem to be back to a pretty low rate of seeing the so-called 2 on, 2 off contact at trials. At home and in our class, it is very difficult to get him to fail.

I did a pretty good job this weekend but was not 100% consistent in expecting a 2 on, 2 off. In fact, I blew it on our first "chances" run as I kept outside the distance tape and kept going when I saw him hit the yellow (but not a 2 on, 2 off). I should have forgotten about the distance and just went out there to practice contacts. The great thing about NADAC is that you can redo your contacts a few times if you miss them.

I studied video last night and did not see a real pattern but it looks like in trials, he just hops off sometimes. I think when he has stress, he is hypersenstive and I can pull him off sometimes by the slightest body movement or voice command. So I have been trying to keep really square to the contact and keeping my upper body "quiet".

Speed also seems to be a factor. I think I need to really slow him down BEFORE the contact and not at the END of the contact, which is what I tend to do. In that case, he seems to jump off when my body moves...

We did have one of those runs you don't forget for a while. It was our first open jumpers in NADAC. He took off like a rocket but I was able to call out obstacles way ahead of time. [There were tunnels at the end of a few long runs of jumps.] I sent him way ahead to one tunnel and had plenty of time to call him over the opposite side of the start of a serpentine. We got third place and a really fast time (missed second by .02 seconds).

Friday, March 24, 2006


We have a NADAC trial this weekend. My goal is to use it as time to practice contacts in the trial setting. NADAC allows you to go back and redo a contact if you miss it. You have to go all the way back and not just do it back to back. We have 2 jumpers legs so we may be able to get a novice jumpers title.

I finished constructing a dog walk last night so I am looking forward to using that. We now have a teeter, A-Frame, and dogwalk at home. I hope everyone has a good weekend - learning lots and getting lots of Q's.

I have been working on novice, open, and utility obedience all week. For novice, I am proofing stays since Wyatt anticipated his recall last weekend, costing us a qualifying leg.

I am also working on lagging. Instead of holding out my hand for him to touch (to catch up), I am clicking him when I see his face. Progress is slow on keeping in heel position. At home and in class, he is pretty good and improving. When we get to a trial, both dogs lag a lot more depending on the activity level of the environment. I plan on practicing heeling at the agility trial as much as I can.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Have I Run Out of Things to Teach My Dog?

Wyatt and I just finished up the 7 week Around the Clock Method of Scent Discrimination. This is used in traditional obedience's highest class, which is called Utility. I have also taught his all the basics of the rest of utility and open obedience.

We have worked on the highest levels of rally obedience. There are only a few new things to teach there if your dog already knows traditional obedience: heeling in reverse, the offset figure 8 where they have to ignore treats, and side step right.

Additionally, he basically knows the agility game. We have much to do in obedience and agility especially in proofing all this stuff. Also, we could get more precise in obedience for the rest of our days.

But I did feel a real loss when we got to the end of the basic utility training. I think we both enjoy learning new things the most. While there is certain satisfaction in proofing, competing, and perfecting, I get the greatest satisfaction when my dog learns what I have asked him to learn.

I plan of teaching him tracking (enough to get a TD anyway). He knows how to lure course and race. I don't think I want to learn freestyle and I think flyball would be overstimulating for him so I wonder if we have come to the end of the line in terms of teaching my young dog new tricks. I wish there was something past utility! I have a book on dog tricks. Perhaps, I can make that into a new sport.

Scent Discrimination Again

I think the light bulb clicked on for Wyatt. He is now really searching until he finds the scented object. You can even hear him sniffing as he approaching each object.

One thing I did that helped was to make sure there is no scent on the unscented article (I handle them with tongs, even the leather dumbbells, which I used to handle by the end). I also really load up the article with my scent.

The next thing will be to proof this. I think, from past experience, that I will need to go back to the cheese when I proof him.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Scent Discrimination

Wyatt and I are still working hard on scent discrimination...

He usually does fine without the cheese but sometimes seems to just grab an article without really working the pile. If I tell him it is wrong, he will just grab another one. I am wanting him to always work the pile until he is sure...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

No Q Yesterday

We did not qualify yesterday but I was happy with our performance overall. We drove over 2 hours to find a very loud, busy, place with a hard, dirt floors. Good thing we were an hour early because it took a long time for Wyatt and Patriot to settle at all. Patriot went first and was distracted and lagging but they managed to squeak by.

Wyatt started out very well though he was lagging more than last week. I really need to remember to say NO when they judge asks if you are ready. Last week, he was looking right at me and ready to go. This week, he wasn't and he did not perform as well. Still he did not make any major mistakes (a few crooked and slow sits) until we got to the recall. I left him and he bolted before I gave him the command to come. I was very surprised because I never see that particular problem. I am not sure if I did something odd (I am working on a hand signal for come) or he just made a mistake. Though I was worried about the hard, cold surface, he did his group sit and down perfectly. So I was very happy overall though, of course, a little disappointed we did not qualify. I think I had a little bit of the third leg jitters. I even dressed more nicely than usual in case we had to get the title photo. We would have scored in the low 180's if we had qualified.

Patriot ended up tying for third with a score of 175. He had to do a heeling run-off. Off leash heeling is his hardest exercises. Luckily, the other dog also had a hard time and they tied yet again. This time, Patriot did slightly better but the other dog just stayed at the start line so Patriot got third place and best lure coursing dog in the trial. Patriot and Wyatt both now have 2 legs towards their CD.

Next trial is in 2 weeks. I will work on proofing the recall stay and take a break on the "come" signal for a few weeks. I noticed that he is jumping the gun sometimes during his scent discrimination practice so I need to consistently correct him there to. I think I have been letting it go sometimes when I am not facing him and up near the articles.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

No Cheese

Wyatt and I have been working twice a day on scent discrimination. We are using the "Around the Clock Method of Scent Discrimination", which is a seven week program. Yesterday, we arrived at week 6. Week 6 is the first week that you don't use any cheese. I was nervous as Wyatt looked around the circle for the scented object. He found the scented object all three times (in week six, you start out with mostly unscented objects). It was very exciting to see him pull out the scented object without the help of cheese. I think there is still some cheese scent on the object so the next step will be to wash all the objects.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

One More Thing That Helped

One other thing that I believed helped us greatly in obedience has to do with proofing.

As a trial approaches, I start doing a daily novice run through. I put treats on a shelf and NOT in my pockets. First, I run over to the shelf and treat for every exercise. I then do every other exercise and gradually only treat twice (after the solo part and after the group part). As I do this I also cut down on praise except at the end and between exercises.

This, in theory, gets the dog used to the treat and praise schedule of an actual trial.

Monday, March 13, 2006

What Helped?

I was reflecting on the factors that helped Wyatt go from a score of 172 to 190 1/2 since last spring. These are listed in what I believe to be the most important first.

1. Tons of proofing at agility trials and dog shows.
2. Practicing once or twice every day and going to class once a week.
3. Using cones to fix a group sit problem at class.
4. Keeping him really up between exercises. Using the time to praise and run to the next starting place if possible.
5. Keeping obedience interesting by training utility and open exercises.
6. A quiet, obedience only trial.
7. My confidence level increasing since the last trial.
8. Working on lagging.
9. Working on fronts and finishes.
10. Better footwork on my part.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

190 1/2 3rd Place

Wyatt did a great job today getting a score of 190 1/2 and getting third place in Novice A obedience. It was a tough class with some great dogs ( a golden and a GSD) getting first and second with scores of 196 1/2 and 196. I felt pretty good going in. I knew the judge Susan King from stewarding for her last year. Wyatt had perfect attention on the start line and everything felt good heeling and figure 8 on leash. We lost 4 points probably for lagging and tight leash. I should have let out the line a bit more when he was lagging. Going around the figure 8 on the outside still needs work. He sat everytime though and in heel position most of the time.

Stand for exam was perfect. Sometimes he can move if the judge is too abrupt but we got 100% on that. Off leash heeling also went very well. We lost 4 again, not doubt for lagging and maybe a crooked sit somewhere. I was really positive animated between exercises and we ran over to the recall line. His recall was very good. We lost 1 1/2 points. I think he came in a little crooked but did not anticipate the finish which has been a problem in the past.

I felt great about the exercises and I knew we had Q'ed and gotten a good score. We went first so I had a lot of time to get nervous about the group exercises. The sit has been our hardest exercise. I kept him standing during the directions and put him in a sit when the judge said to sit your dog. He went into one of those whippet specialty 1/2 sit, 1/2 downs so I quickly got him up again and in a real sit. He was facing about 90 degrees to me but I did not want to hold up the class. Well, he made it through fine. Now onto the long down. That was a very long 3 minutes because I knew that was the last thing between us and a Q and maybe a placement. We made it through fine as I checked my watch every 5-10 seconds. I saw him looking around quite a bit at dumbbells in adjacent rings and felt big waves of relief when he would put his head between his paws. But somehow the 3 minutes passed. I was so happy!

He now has 2 legs and I was thrilled to get a score in the 190's. His first leg was a 172. I think it was smart to take some time off and fix the group sit and generally improve and proof a lot more. This is probably what I should do in agility too to fix contact issues...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Long Sit

Wyatt seems to be going down on long sits again at least for out of sight sits. We went to our open class last night and he went down twice while I was out of sight and once in sight (we corrected him before he could go all the way down). The first was a 3 minute out of sight down. Looks like he will need the cones again for out of sight sits. I did do a 2 minute in sight sit at home today without problems.

One thing the instructor pointed is is to take them out of the sit before moving into the long down. That way, they will not anticipate the down. That was a good hint for me.

Hopefully, this is only a problem with the out of sight case. I thought we had corrected the normal case. Of course, we have a trial this weekend (novice) so he is probably just making sure I have plenty to worry about before the trial!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Upcoming Novice Obedience Trial

Wyatt and I will be competing Sunday in AKC Novice A obedience. We have not competed in about a year. We have one leg (you need 3 to get the Companion Dog title). I took some time off since he was going down on the long sit and I wanted to fix that and also practice a lot more to improve everything.

Here is some of the dialogue going on in my head.

"I hope we get another leg. We could have our CD by the National."

"Expect nothing. You never know what could happen. They are dogs after all."

"Yes, but you have been practicing and proofing for over a year. You and he should do very well. What kind of score could we get?"

"Just do your best as a trainer. The rest if up to the dog. Don't worry about the results. It could take a while to get the CD. What if he has trouble with stand for exam? He can be skittish."

Why hire lawyers when you have at least 2 good one in your head?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Weekend Results

Well, I am a little discouraged. After seeing some good progress in trial contacts, we had a very mixed weekend. We did get a standard Q yesterday but still need one more to finish CPE level 3. We got our usual first place in championship jumpers. We really would be much farther along if not for this issue. It is hard because he does his 2 on, 2 off so well at home and in class.

I believe I am doing all the right things though still not 100% consistent myself. We went to the Friday night run throughs and had problems getting about 50% contacts. I am noticed that one side seems to be better at trials (dog on left I think).

I had been trying to give more verbal and physical support by turning around and repeating his name and the sport command multiple times but I am going to abandon this approach and cue his just as I do at home and in class. That means keeping my shoulders square to the contact, called out "spot" ahead of time, running to the bottom of the contact, pausing, and saying OK to release. Someone noticed that my release was not consistent with what I do in class. I guess I have focused too much on getting to the bottom. Of course, many times in trials, we don't make it to the 2 on, 2 off position.

The dogwalk was not as good as the last few trials though. One time I left him on when the whistle blew so he jumped off the side. My bad.

I am wondering about walking off for blown contacts and/or not trialing in contact events unless I can go back and fix and continuing to get to as many matches as possible. In some other areas, a gradual approach has worked. For example, we now have a super, solid start line stay without ever having to use punishment. [Note that walking off is technically punishment in the operant conditioning lingo. ] Also, since I am not yet being 100% consistent, it might not be fair to ask him to be 100% consisent yet.

One good thing was that we had really good teeters and some good A-Frame contacts. Previously, I did not see any 2on 2off on the A-frame.

I guess it is normal to feel discouraged at times. Sometimes I want to start again with a new dog and do it right this time.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Contact Update

I have not posted lately on contact issues. Wyatt continues to do generally perfect contacts at home and in class and to be much more inconsistent at trials. After some recent trials, I have the following working theory.

1) I believe I have eliminated most of my ring nerve issues. I still need to run deliberately more slowly and not be "jerky". I also center him by doing a sit stay at the start line. I can usually read him now so that I can tell what kind of run we are going to have.
2) I believe the most important factor is Wyatt's overstimulation around lots of and certain kinds of dogs. I need to manage this by having him focus on me before the run especially if there is some manic GSD or BC running before us. I also need to get him used to the arena area and have him sit on my lap at times during the trial. I have been running him after manic BCs and GSDs in class.

What is good is that the teeter and dogwalk have been pretty darn good at trials (maybe 95%). The A-frame, I hope, is just the last one to get fixed. This issue also manifests as weave entry issues and weaves have been very good at trials. I still have to restart him sometimes on the on-side weaves.

We are trialing this weekend and there is a run through the night before where I can practice A-frames. This seems to help a lot. I hope everyone has a good weekend and gets lots of Qs and has lots of fun!

Thursday, March 02, 2006


I can't wait to start competing in utility. I think it is the most fun and interesting of the obedience classes. Wyatt seems to agree. We had a good directed retrieve session this morning. We are both figuring out how to direct him to the right glove. I can see him trying to figure it out. When I say oops he comes back for more direction. I am using a side of the face type signal to try to get him to mark before setting out. But he goes out and gets the glove, shakes it, and comes back tail wagging. I know he is not supposed to shake it but we can work on that later. He does have a hold it command.

We are also working hard on scent discrimination. I am still using cheese but once in a while I will hot scent an article and put it among 3-4 unscented articles and he will retrieve it. It is the coolest thing ever!