Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Drop On Recall

It is so fun to see all the pieces of our training start to come together to create something that is on the way to becoming a real obedience ring exercise. Rundle has been working on all the pieces of a drop on recall since he was a wee pup and now we are starting to combine them.  Recalls, downs and wrapping around a pole are all things that Rundle has been practicing since we brought him home. We are now starting to combine these into one fun exercises.

Rundle started learning a stationary down as a tiny puppy and once that was solid, I started adding a bit of distance. Then we added a moving down while Rundle was walking beside me or following me. Now I am asking for a down when Rundle is moving at a trot or run beside me. Basically, I want him to be able drop quickly no matter what he is doing.

What does wrapping around a pole have to do with a drop on recall?  Well, nothing really, but at the same time a lot.  Rundle learned how to wrap a pole and come back to me when he was about 10 weeks old. This behaviour has a long history of reinforcement for him and he thinks it is very fun. I can now use this fun exercise to make an otherwise boring exercise much more exciting. When you think about it, the drop on recall can be a boring exercise. Sit and wait until called, then down on cue, then complete the recall. When drilled over and over this way, it can be very boring for the dog and the handler.  But, add in something fun, like a pole, and it's a whole new game!  I can send Rundle out to wrap the pole and then on his way back, I can ask him for a down.  So this way, I can practice all the elements of the DOR, with the exception of the "wait", without turning it into a boring, formal exercise. Fun for everyone and a great way for a dog to learn. 

Now that Rundle has a bit of speed, he sometimes takes more steps than I would like before he drops. When this happens, I don't make a big deal about it, I just reset him and make it easier by going in a step or two towards him, then reward when he is successful. I also don't drop him after every wrap - sometimes I ask for a front, sometimes just a recall. I do not want him patterned to think that he wraps the pole then he drops. I always want him to be thinking and wondering what I will ask him to do next. As he gets more confident with this, I will start adding more distance until we can get to a full ring length with successful drops.  So, for as much work as we have done, we still have much more to do.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


I have been working a bit with Rundle on hand signals. He was doing okay with this but then I tried to progress too fast (added to much distance before he was ready) and we started to get some creeping on the behaviours, which I do not want. So, I had to go back a couple steps and re-start the signals with Rundle right in front of me. What I want is a fast and clean response to the signals, which means a nice fold back down and a nice tuck sit, with no forward movement on either of them. Right now we are working on a down from a stand, a sit from a down, and a front from a sit.  I am happy with how the individual behaviours are going, so I will slowly start adding distance to each of them. Once I have some good distance, while still keeping my criteria of no creeping forward, then I will shorten the distance again and start to combine the signals.  It is so tempting to add more distance or start combining signals when your dog is doing well at the beginning stages, but when you go too fast and skip too many steps, it sucks to have to go back and start all over. So, the second I see any sloppiness, I need to go back a step to where Rundle was successful.

Patience seems to be the name of the game in dog training. We all want to get to the end result so quickly, but when we try to move ahead before our dog has a solid understanding of the basics of the behaviour, it often falls apart later in training or when we start trialling or adding pressure (proofing) to our training. So, it is often a battle between the thrill of seeing our dogs progress quickly and holding ourselves and our dogs to criteria that will hold up in the long run. The number one thing we need to remember is that dog training is not a race. In fact, a great deal of frustration often comes from trying to push ahead too fast.  So, if it takes me 6 months to work up to 20 feet of distance in our signals, so be it.  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spring Training

Finally it is starting to look like spring around here. That means that we can actually do some training outside where there is more room and more distractions for Rundle to learn to work around. Rundle is a dog that is very aware of his environment and so even the backyard can present enough distraction to add challenges (in a good way) to our training. Learning to focus and work amidst distractions is an important part of the training process, and so even in the yard with familiar distractions, it will help Rundle learn to ignore the outside environment while he is training. Or at least that is the plan :)

Rundle's heeling is coming along nicely. I mentioned before that we were doing a heeling class through the Fenzi Academy and it really helped me set my goals for Rundle's heeling. The class was very intense and worked entirely on the precision behind heeling. This meant that for 6 weeks we worked on where heel position is. By the end of the 6 weeks, we were just starting to add movement to our heel position and Rundle and I had not completed all the skills set out at the beginning of the class.  I think that only one or two people actually got thorough all the skills, that is how tough the class was.  I think it was worth it though and Rundle seems to have a solid understanding of where heel position is and how to stay there. Now we just need to put in the hours and hours of practice that it will take to get that nice heel position all the time. Building duration for heeling will be a gradual process as I don't want to lose the precision. 

We are doing lots of other fun training too. I am starting to add the real scent articles into the discrimination game, so instead of just indicating the correct article, I am going to be asking Rundle to retrieve the correct article. He is retrieving all three types of articles well so now it's time to start combining that with the discrimination. We are also starting to work on go outs, doing more work with the broad jump, and adding more distance and movement to our downs. So, it's a good thing we can train outside as we will need more room to do all of these. 

Since I have no picture of Rundle working, I will post a video. This is Rundle working on "wait". The wait command is different from the stay in that I want Rundle to be ready for action. So with this cue he should be watching me and waiting intensely for the next cue, which is usually an action cue (come, utitlity signals, or release to agility equipment). I don't want any movement until I give another cue, as that gets you into all kinds of trouble. You will hear in the video some noise from next door where the neighbours were getting new siding put on their house. Rundle really wanted to go see what was going on (ie bark at the workers) but was a good boy and focused on the task we were working on. I need to work much harder in these situations by keeping the sessions short and interesting (using a tug toy instead of just food) to make sure he is successful around these kinds of distractions.